That night none of them could move. They were all in too much pain, bodies broken, spirits damaged or destroyed. Robert had set one tent aside with two cages in it, apparently foreseeing that he would have to lock people up.
Jasper was losing it. Snow was what had kept him together so far. The idea of Taylor of course, but Snow’s solid presence at his side, the reliability of the big dog, the absolute loyalty, that got him through the day to day, kept him fighting when every part of him wanted to give up. He knew that he needed to get it together, to start figuring out how to get the hell out of there. He was sure Robert was going to kill him, probably as soon as he could manage to justify it, but he just didn’t have enough left in him to do what he needed to do. He was tapped.
The six of them were separated by gender, women in one cage, men in the other. Their clothing hadn’t been returned to them, and their shoes were taken when they were put in the cages. All of them except Naomi were shirtless. She was completely naked. Jasper felt more vulnerable than he ever had in his life. Naomi seemed defiant, angry instead of ashamed.
Matt was the one who gave them a chance at escape. He didn’t even mean to. He collapsed from the pain, crying out as he did so. The guard said, “Shut up. You want to bring the zombies? Shut the fuck up”.
“He can’t,” Jordan said, “He needs some water and some pain killers. You want him to shut up you give him what he needs”.
“Fuck. Alright. Just shut his damned mouth.”
The guard came over, pushing a glass of water through the bars. Jasper snapped. He wasn’t trying to escape, he needed to hurt someone. He grabbed the guard’s arm and broke it with a single quick movement. Realizing what he had just done, he said, “Give me the fucking keys. You think this hurts now? I can make it worse.”
“let go. Please. Here.” The guard handed him the keys. Jasper handed them to Jordan, keeping a firm grip on the guard. After the cage was open Jordan smashed the guard in the side of the head. The guard dropped, stunned. Jordan walked the two steps to the women’s cage and let them out as well. They got Matt up. He stopped moaning, forcing himself to get it together.
Jasper was running on autopilot. If it weren’t for Taylor he would have gone back and killed Robert. He still had a faint hope that Taylor was alive, that despite all the delays, despite the odds that she had died on the first night, she was still there, waiting for him. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
Naomi took over the leadership position. She started making decisions, not waiting for anyone else. Everyone went along, they were too broken to decide for themselves. Jasper was relieved, the burden off of his shoulders. Naomi slit open the fabric tent just above the ground and snuck underneath the back edge, looking around. Nobody was watching. It was full dark and the sky was heavily overcast, so it was nearly impossible to see.
They snuck through the camp, moving on hands and knees, crawling with their bellies to the ground. Sharp grasses poked at them, piercing bare flesh, a thousand tiny spikes.
They were in a small wooded area, a few acres at most. Most of the area was farmland, another reason Jasper had been so strongly opposed to Robert’s plan. While the town would have netted the greatest cache the surrounding farms all would have stores, some even surviving livestock. The raid hadn’t been needed.
They snuck through the woods to the nearest farm. It was hard to keep quiet, all of them had massive lacerations on their backs, being pulled open by their crawling movements. The wounds had barely started to scab over, so each step pulled the scabs loose, leaving blood dripping down their ribs. Each step forward filled them with pain, a fresh need to cry out.
They could barely make out the silhouette of the large farmhouse, a faintly darker black against the clouds. They made their way, all of them missing shirts and shoes, Naomi fully naked. With no light, they were always stepping on thorns or rocks. All of them moved slowly, painfully, towards the house. When they finally made it to the door the sun was just starting to lighten the horizon. They could make out a giant barn, many fields, a variety of farm equipment.
The door was shut, but when Jasper tried the knob it turned and the door swung out towards them. They heard shuffling and groaning from inside. With weapons and gear, individual zombies were not much threat. Without boots, let alone a knife, a single zombie in the dark was potentially deadly. If a single one of them was bitten it would be devastating. They were so few, they needed each other. With all they had just lost Jasper didn’t think he could bear to lose anyone else.
Jasper slammed the door shut. The zombie inside hadn’t reached the doorway, and Jasper made sure the door shut firmly. They looked around the porch for anything they could use as a weapon, but whoever had lived here had kept the place exceptionally tidy. There was a small shed close by. It was locked, so Matt grabbed a rock from the ground and smashed the padlock open with a single blow.
Inside they found a few gardening implements, this wasn’t where the farming tools were kept. Just simple tools for maintaining the neat patch of flowers in front of the house. Jasper took the edger, Matt took the long spade shaped shovel. The rest of the tools were small, and not useful. There were a few poles against one wall. Candice and Sasha took those. Naomi grabbed the gardening apron hanging on one wall and put that on.
They headed back to the porch and positioned themselves at the ready. Naomi opened the door and stayed behind it while the others waited, makeshift weapons poised to strike. The zombie lurched out, followed by another, and then two more. Small ones. Looked like the entire family had turned inside. Sasha moved in and pressed the pole against one of the children and Candice did the same with the other. Jasper slammed the edger into the male’s throat. He pushed, dropping his weight into the creature. The creature fell back into the wall. Jasper kept leaning his weight forward as the zombie reached for him, hands grabbing at flesh made slippery with blood. Finally, the edger hit wood on the far side of the creature’s neck. Its head fell off and it dropped to the ground.
Matt swung his shovel at the woman. He caught her low, hitting her on the shoulder. She got one hand around him and started pulling herself toward him, teeth gnashing. Jordan grabbed her and pulled her back. Jasper came in and slammed the creature in the side of the head. She dropped, fluid leaking from her temple.
The kids only took a moment. Jasper hated it when he had to deal with child zombies, but it was slowly starting to bother him less. He wasn’t sure he was okay with that. Killing children should bother him, even if they are already dead.
They went into the house, cautious but fairly confident. It was getting light out bit by bit and at this point, they could see fairly well. The entry was open to the interior of the house. It had a simple wooden bench, with tole painted ducks on it. There were boots next to the bench and jackets hung up above it. Past the foyer, they found a living room. It had a well-stuffed couch and chair, a lay-z-boy. There was a very large television on the wall.
Jordan was the one that noticed a light on the TV. Just a small red standby light. It meant that there was power in the house though, somehow. They found the remote on the TV and hit power. The TV came on to static. They kept flipping channels until finally, they found one that was broadcasting. It was nothing but a text screen on coloured bars, the emergency broadcast system. It was also making a horrible noise, but they hit mute.
“It appears that the dead have come back to life. They are atempting to murder and consum the living. If you see one of these creatures destroy the creatures brain or cut its head off. No other injuries will do the job”.
The language of the message was informal and brief. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense and didn’t give them any other information. It contained spelling and grammatical mistakes. It was the closest to anything official any of them had seen.
“Well, fuck,” Matt said, “The world really has gone to hell.”
“Not like we thought it would be different,” Naomi said as she grabbed a pair of shoes from the bench. The shoes were her size. That left Sasha and Candice out of luck, both had larger feet than Naomi. Naomi managed to find some other clothes as well. They were all much, much too large for her. She didn’t care, it was better than being naked. All of them managed to find shirts that worked, even if they were far too large. The guys all had smaller feet than the farmer, but with extra pairs of socks, they were okay.
They spread out to search the house. Jordan called out from the back room, “Guys, come quick... we have guns here. Farmer John was a hunter.”
Next to the guns, there was a bunch of cold weather gear, a pair of short range talkies, and two large packs. The kitchen was stocked, and the fridge was full of food, still running. Civilization, even if they couldn’t stay for long. “This is the shit.” Naomi said “We need this. Let’s take a minute, get rested up, hit the road tomorrow.”
Jasper didn’t have the heart to answer. He dropped on the couch, the pain in his back when he sat down was almost enough to knock him out, he let out a low grunt, then turned over onto his stomach, passing out almost instantly. The group spent the day recovering. They all took hot showers, took naps, relaxed for the day. It was needed. There was also a decently stocked medicine cabinet. They spread antibiotic cream over the whip marks, bound their wounds properly, healed, and rested.
That night they spent in the house. They made sure not to use lights that were visible to the outside. There was even a spare room and a fold out couch in the living room. In the end, each of them had a bed to themselves. They hauled the bodies out of sight and locked everything up. Jasper was sure they should have set a watch, but with all the pain and loss of the last day he couldn’t work up the energy to suggest it.
The next morning they explored the farm, looking for anything they might use. Progress was slow, none of them could move fast. There was a giant barn. They opened the door… the stench was unbelievable. The cows had been without food since the zombies appeared, and whether it was that or disease spreading through them, they were all dead. Had been for a while. The barn was hot, and the smell of rotten meat was thick in the air. The corpses of the cows were covered in flies, their flesh writhed with maggots. The smells of cow shit and sour milk were there underlying the rotten meat.
They shut the door on the barn. Naomi said, “Winter gonna be bad. What the fuck are people going to eat?”
Nobody had an answer for her.
They headed to the garage. There was a large truck inside, a jacked up hot wheels toy with an extended cab, full of gas. They knew that the vehicle was going to attract zombies, but decided it was worth the risk to get ahead of Robert and his people. The truck roared to life and they headed out. The flatbed full of food and supplies.
Sasha took the wheel, the most experienced driver of the bunch. “Which way boss lady?”
“Take the highway. No way we going through town. Sides, I don’t know shit about Truro. Ain’t never been before. Too many fucking zombies.”
They hit the highway going fast. They were easily doing a hundred and sixty by the time they made the town. There were a few cars, but the highway was nice and wide by that point. They managed not to hit any of them. There was also a couple of zombies, Sasha kept her foot on the gas and the hood aimed right at them. They went right through the zombies like they weren’t there.
The exit they wanted, the one leading west to New Brunswick, had an overturned semi-truck on it. The truck had crashed into the support pillar, and the entire highway in that direction was hanging on by a thread. Jasper had done a course in Tatamagouche a few years back during the winter, and he had taken the back roads to it, so he vaguely remembered the route. It would get them to PEI eventually. They hit the other exit and moved off the one oh two onto the one oh four, going east instead of west.
The road was decent going this way. Nobody seemed to have been fleeing towards Cape Breton. One or two derelict cars, otherwise their route was clear for the time being.