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Sanctuary (The Dark Days Series Book 2)
A Sci-fi Adventure Thriller
By Christopher Cole Posted in Fiction 40 min read
Promise of Mars Previous Our Victory Next

Chapter 1

Sonny

As I sat hidden in the brush underneath a tree cooling in the shade, I looked at my wristwatch, it was 1:30pm. I wound it again. The watch was still in good shape, despite everything that had happened – military design I suppose. This watch was clearly built to last, water and shock resistant. I looked closely and saw that it didn’t have a scratch, and the nylon sport wristband strap was slightly frayed, but holding up well, too. Watching the small and precise movement of the second hand was kind of mesmerizing – the watch had twenty-two jewels – each functional to reduce friction of the moving parts and increase the longevity of the device. I looked away from my watch to gaze at the land before me. The sky was partly cloudy with cirrus clouds stretching across the beautiful blue canvas. The trees were rustling as the wind fanned evenly with the sound of the summer cicadas breaking the silence. The summer sunshine made everything in the light brighter and the shadows darker – the green trees, the light brown soil, the grey boulders, it was all so peaceful. Yet, despite the peaceful scenery, I was looking for zombies and listening for even a small moan from them. Expecting the danger strained my muscles with a tense vigilant tone. I looked over by the bushes where Will, Cody, and Evan were at, and they were in the same state as me – expecting danger to appear without warning, staying cautious with every second. Then I spotted a female zombie slowly wander from out of the bushes, and I made a hand gesture to Will tagging its location. Will, Cody, and Evan were crouched in the brush with their weapons out and ready.

Will whispered to Cody, “Alright, just like Sonny and I showed you. You strike at the knees and then the head.”

“Okay,” Cody muttered.

“Cody,” Evan said.

Cody looked up at his father.

“You’re killing a zombie; it isn’t rocket science.”

Cody slowly approached the zombie and kicked the zombie’s knee, but he didn’t kick hard enough – the zombie growled angrily. He kicked again a little harder and that did it. He raised his knife and stabbed the zombie’s skull, but he didn’t have his feet planted right so he fell down with the zombie.

When he got up Evan said, “You kept falling, why do you keep falling?”

“I’m trying, Dad!” Cody said.

“I don’t think you are, because this happens every single time. You don’t hit the knee hard enough and whenever you stab the skull, you keep falling down and risk being bit!”

Will stepped in and said firmly, “Stop! Evan, he’ll get better. Yelling at him isn’t going to help. We still got more area to scope.”

Evan scoffed and walked off with his fire ax on his shoulder.

Will walked up ahead leaving me to hang back with Cody.

He spoke first, “I really am trying.”

“I know you are,” I said.

“I just wish he would stop being so disappointed in me.”

“You and your family have struggled out here for a long time. He’s just edgy. He wants you to be able to kill cleaner so you’ll survive.”

Cody scoffed, “It doesn’t sound like that’s what he wants. Sounds more like he’s always pissed off, because I’m not doing anything right.”

I sighed, “He may not show it, but he cares about you. He’s your father. Just give it time, he’ll come around.”

Cody didn’t really like that answer, but he didn’t say anything. The train still had some life left in her, but she ran out of railroad tracks so we had to walk. We were now somewhere in the Tahoe National Forest in northern California, and had about two hundred miles left to Fort Gold Rush. Will, Evan, Cody, and I were scouting ahead to clear any zombies while looking for military patrols that could take us to the Fort. California was truly a sight. It was beautiful with its grey mountains, green pines, and stunning landscape. The air was fresh and we had a cool breeze – the temperature felt perfect most of the time. I suppose that’s why so many people wanted to live here. All this made me miss my home in upstate New York. Like California, upstate New York had beautiful landscape and scenery, too. It was gorgeous in the autumn before the winter cold arrived. Even though we were getting closer and hadn’t encountered any problems for a while, Captain Noir still wasn’t taking any chances – he kept saying, ‘Stay frosty.’

The new family we picked up was the Rose family. Evan Rose was the father, Ginger the mother, and their sons Clark and Cody. Their oldest was the daughter, River. The other man was actually a friend of the father, Bob Colton. Just like me when this all happened, River had to kill zombies to protect her brothers. Clark, the older son, soon stepped up to protect both his sister and his brother. River learned how to bow hunt – she wasn’t an expert, but she could aim and shoot pretty accurately if the target wasn’t moving. River and Clark had to grow up fast like us. Cody was a little shy, though, and not quite ready to engage like his brother and sister.

“Thanks for volunteering to come with us. It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” Cody spoke.

“No problem, but I wasn’t too keen about your mom saying I shouldn’t go,” I responded.

“She has a weakness for kids and you can’t exactly blame her. No offense, but it’s not every day you see a kid with a knife, a hatchet, and a gun.”

“Before the outbreak, there were thousands of child soldiers holding guns bigger than my pistol. There have been many times when these weapons saved both me and my friends.”

After a moment of silence, Cody asked, “Can I ask you something?”

“What?”

“I know you’ve killed zombies, but have you killed any . . . people?”

I stared at Cody blankly and he looked away realizing that probably wasn’t something you should ask.

I thought for a moment and answered honestly, “Yes, I have.”

Cody’s eyes widened. We barely knew him and his family. I know they mean well, but I’d choose my friends over any of them in a heartbeat.

“Oh,” Cody muttered.

“We’ve come across some dangerous predators out there, and there are worse things than zombies,” I told him.

“Really?”

“There are some crazy people out there. People that . . . aren’t human anymore. They may not be zombies, but you wouldn’t call them human either. We just call ‘em Predators.”

After a while of silent walking, Will searched through his binoculars for any more zombies.

“Alright, I don’t see any more. Let’s head back to the others,” Will stated.

“What? But there’s still a lot of daylight left,” Evan pointed out.

“Captain Noir doesn’t want us to wander too far away from the group. We’re heading back.”

As we headed back to the group, we heard a gunshot. We ran over the hills and headed for the sound. When we came over the hill, we saw that the other scouting party was in trouble. Father Lawrence, Captain Noir, Clark, and River were dealing with a group of zombies. Captain Noir and Clark were pinned against a tree while holding off zombies trying to bite their faces. Most of the zombies didn’t have lips, exposing bare teeth. Their clothes were unsanitary and rancid with old dark blood mixed with fresh blood all over. Their skin and eyes were discolored and devoid of any life. Despite being mostly dead, they were immensely aggressive, biting and clawing violently. We quickly ran downhill to help.

I ran down hill and built up momentum and tackled an adult male zombie. The zombie fell hard and quickly attacked. As I pulled out my hatchet, the zombie knocked it out of my hands, and I had to push back against it to prevent it from biting me. Will pulled out his machete and sliced off two zombie heads. The zombies cawed and growled as they attacked us. Evan, grunting angrily, swung his fire axe overhand into a big zombie’s head, nearly driving his axe into its throat. Captain Noir, with his wild eyes wide open and his teeth clenched, was able to gain the upper hand on the two zombies pinning him against the tree, grabbing their throats and running them straight toward a boulder. After ramming them into the boulder, he grabbed the back of their skulls, lifted them up and slammed them again into the rock. The zombies’ skulls shattered leaving blood and gray matter behind – the sound was unpleasant, the skull cracking open and the blood and brains spilling out. I kicked the zombie, rolling it over, and grabbed my hatchet and viciously swung at its head – one more second and it would have bitten my leg. My heart rate was accelerated, and I was pumped with adrenaline as I tightened my grip on my hatchet.

River let out an angry cry while trying to get a zombie off her. I ran to help her, but another zombie was in the way. I swung the hatchet at its leg and then at its skull but the hatchet stuck in its skull. I tried pulling it out, but River needed help – no time! So, I pulled out my knife and ran to help River. I got to River and grabbed the back of the zombie’s shirt to pull back and then I stabbed its skull with my knife. As my knife entered penetrated the brain, a crackling sound escaped and the blade of my knife was coated with dark blood, as I pulled it out and the zombie fell dead accumulating a pooling puddle of blood in the dirt.

“Thanks,” River expressed gratefully, while clasping my hand.

“It’s not over yet!” I replied, getting her up.

More zombies were coming at us. I grabbed my hatchet with both hands and used my foot to leverage the hatchet from the zombie’s skull and jumped on top of the boulder. I jumped from the rock and swung downward with the hatchet, striking a zombie squarely in its skull. River got her bow and started shooting arrows at the approaching zombies. She killed three zombies with arrows, all piercing their skulls. She aimed at the zombie that had Clark pinned down, but Cody stabbed the zombie with his knife before she shot – without falling. Clark looked down at the zombie then back at Cody and nodded a thank you.

“Look out!” Clark shoved Cody out the way.

A zombie ran downhill and leaped for Cody, but Clark saw it coming. He grabbed the zombie midair and threw it to the ground. He stomped on its skull repeatedly until its face caved.

He was out of breath when he finally stopped stomping he asked, “Is that all of them?”

“I think it’s clear,” Father Lawrence answered, pulling his machete out of a zombie’s skull.

“We’re heading back. Let’s go,” Captain Noir ordered.

I helped River collect her arrows and we all headed out. I saw Evan, Clark, and Cody talking ahead of us. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it looked like Evan was being more supportive and letting Cody know how well he did. It made me smile involuntarily, but I felt a tinge of pain in my heart – I miss my mom and dad more every day.

“You alright?” River asked.

“Yeah, I’m . . . I’m fine,” I answered.

“Okay,” River stated, with a tone that sounded like she wasn’t convinced.

After a while of silent walking, River spoke again, “Thanks again for back there. I would have been screwed if you hadn’t shown up.”

“Maybe,” I replied honestly.

“No, I think I was in serious shit. That zombie was bigger than me and he had a stronghold.”

“Don’t doubt yourself, you’re faster and resourceful.”

River raised an eyebrow and questioned, “Oh? Is that how you do it?”

“I just tell myself that I have people I want to protect, so I can’t fail. You made the same decisions yourself to protect your family,” I answered honestly.

River nodded and agreed, “Yeah, I did.”

By the look on her face, she looked a little upset. I thought I should change the subject to something positive.

“Can I ask how your parents named you River?” I asked.

River gave a slight smile and started, “You know how sometimes there’s a story whenever someone is born? Like a rainstorm finally coming after a drought. Or, the father drove through a million red lights to get to the hospital?”

I answered while nodding, “Yeah.”

“Well, when my mom called my dad to let him know that I was coming, he drove to the hospital. On the way, he waits at a long red light. As he’s sitting there waiting, this little kid, Mickey James, fell into the river and he couldn’t swim. So, my dad got out of his car and jumped into the river to save him,” River explained.

“Wow,” I said, impressed.

“Yeah, wow. That’s why he showed up at the hospital completely drenched, freezing his ass off.”

That must have been a proud day for Evan and Ginger – baby’s coming and along the way, he saves a kid from drowning. I’ve heard of some pretty amazing stories about people being born, but that one takes the cake!

“That’s quite a story,” I declared.

“Yeah, made the front page of the town’s newspaper. What about you? Any famous tale about you being born?” River asked.

I looked down and away. I did have a story, too, that my parents told me when I was born, but I’m not sure if it’s as happy as hers.

“What’s wrong?” River asked.

“Uh, mine isn’t really that great,” I said.

“Oh, come on! Come on, tell me!”

“Alright, well my parents said that they got married a little young. They weren’t kids, but you know it was a little sooner than most. While my mom had me in her belly, western Washington State was going through a very unusual drought, because in the northwest it’s usually wet and grey. There were clouds, but the rain just didn’t come. On the day that I was born, there was this huge thunder and lightning storm with lots of rain. Each lightning strike lit up the whole sky, and the thunder shook the windows of the building. My dad said he never saw such an active storm in all his life,” I explained.

River’s eyes widened and spoke, “Wow, really?”

“Yeah, my father said that I was the lightning in that rain. He said I must have been the storm itself. But after I was born, the storm ended and there was a break in the clouds. The sun break was so beautiful, that they all said it looked like God showed up. That’s why my mom always calls me Sunshine.”

River smiled, “Sonny, like sunshine, but spelled differently. That is . . . an awesome story! And you said it wasn’t that great! Sonny, that’s a great story. A storm shows up and then a sun break, and that’s how you’re named – how is that not a great story?”

I shrugged.

River slowly looked up and said out loud, “The lightning in the rain, the thunder in the storm. That sounds kinda cool.”

“I guess.”

River spoke, “Lightning, that’s your new nickname. Lightning.”

“Let’s just stick with Sonny.”

“Uh-uh. No way! I am so calling you Lightning from now on. Like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief!”

I stood right in front of her to stop her and look at her square in the eye.

“No. Hell no! There is no way I am going to be called Lightning or Lightning Thief,” I said clearly.

“What’s wrong with Lightning or the Lightning Thief?” River asked.

“His weapon was a pen.”

“. . . that transformed into a sword.”

“His. Weapon. Was. A. Pen.”

“That turned into a sword!”

“River, we’re not doing this.”

River smiled and gave me a look saying, “Alright, suit yourself. I’m just saying; you could’ve had a cool nickname.”

“Yeah sure, insert groan here,” I said, sarcastically.

I wanted to change the subject again.

“Your mom, Ginger, she talks a lot about the beach. She must really love it, huh?” I asked.

“Yeah, she’s only been there a few times, but each one was special. It’s kind of weird, because my mom grew up in the Rockies. So, it’s like Paul Bunyan wanting to be SpongeBob,” River answered.

“Hmm.”

We later made it back to the group, who were all sitting in the shade underneath a few trees. It was strange looking at the whole group like this, I recalled that after we lost Pat and Cindy, I said we needed more people. I wasn’t even sure if we would ever find any; now there are twenty-two of us.

Kayley saw the blood on our hands and asked, “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, we’re good. Had a few close calls, but we handled it,” Will answered.

“How are Izzy and Blair?” Captain Noir asked.

“We’re fine,” Izzy answered.

“You’re sure?”

“We’re not made of glass, Captain, we’re just pregnant,” Blair answered.

“Alright, we cleared the way up ahead, so let’s go.”

We continued walking, but I couldn’t stop looking at the landscape and scenery. I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. I really wished I had a camera. Mom and Dad were born in Seattle, like me, but they never told me about California. I’ve heard that this state along with Oregon had some beautiful sights, but this is prettier than I’d imagined. Taking it all in made me feel better, filling me with small comfort and relaxation.

Tracy caught my smile, “You look happy.”

“It’s so beautiful out here,” I said.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Carrie agreed.

Even though we had just cleared the way ahead, we were still keeping our eyes out. I had my hatchet in my belt, but had my hand just under the axe head ready to draw it out. Will and Father Lawrence each had one hand gripping their machetes while scanning the brush. Carrie was walking with her brush axe resting on her shoulders. We kept Izzy and Blair in the middle, protecting them from all sides. We were all staying frosty.

“Is Gold Rush City a pretty city?” Ashley asked.

Tracy walked next to me and place her arm around my shoulder.

“Well, it’s certainly a big city. It’s got some nice areas,” Tracy answered.

“You’ve been there before?” I asked.

“Twice, when I was a kid. It seemed like a nice place. It was way better than Idaho Falls.”

“Idaho Falls isn’t your favorite place?” Molly asked.

“For everyone, there is a town or place you love and then there are places you don’t. I hated Idaho Falls. It was just . . . a good place to be from.”

“So, what’s your favorite place?” Carrie asked.

“Yellowstone. That place was awesome! What about you guys?”

We walked out of the brush and into a field, but Captain Noir was directing us to stick to the side rather than be out in the open. Didn’t want us to be easy targets he says. We took a few small paved backroads, but stayed clear of the main roads.

I thought for a moment and answered, “The Adirondack Mountains in New York.”

“Really? Mine’s Disney World in Orlando,” Carrie said.

“Yeah, that place was pretty fun, but there’s something about the mountains and the trees that I love. Ashley, what’s yours?”

“The Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our family and Sonny’s went there for summer vacation and I had so much fun at the beach. We even did a side trip and toured where the Wright brothers first flew, and visited a bunch of lighthouses,” Ashley answered.

We talked for a while about the places we’ve been and places we wished we could go. Kayley and Will joined in and told us about New Zealand. They said even though it’s a long flight, it’s worth it to see all its stunning landscape. We stopped again to let Izzy and Blair rest and took the opportunity to have lunch.

River got up and Ginger asked, “Oh, where are you going?”

“I have to pee,” River answered.

“Take Sonny and Jess with you,” Corporal Wade said.

I looked up, “Huh?”

“Why us?” Jess asked.

“No one goes anywhere alone,” Corporal Wade answered.

“No, I mean, why Sonny and me? Make Clark and Cody go.”

“Eew! I’m not watching my sister pee!” Cody whined.

“I don’t need babysitters, but you’re there to stand watch for zombies, not to watch me pee shit-for-brains,” River said to her brothers.

“I said go!” Corporal Wade ordered us.

“Alright! We’re going,” I said, getting up.

We followed River over the hill while she did her business and kept a lookout for zombies. I was anxious to see this Fort Gold Rush – I hoped that it was still standing.

River showed up and said, “Well not that it was necessary, but thanks for standing guard.”

“No problem,” I replied.

“Why is that Jarhead such a prick?”

“Corporal Dickhead follows whatever the skipper says or does,” Jess answered as we walked back.

“They’re both just trying to keep everyone safe,” I countered.

“Sonny, he chewed your ass out for saving Molly and the two yet to be moms!”

“What? Are you kidding me? You saved one of your own and he cusses you out for it? What a fucking jerk!” River jabbed.

“No, he was doing his job as he sees it – in his mind, the safety of the group is more important than any one person. So, don’t throw ‘em shade. Anyway, we just have to make it to Fort Gold Rush together in one piece. Let’s not run into any surprises along the way,” I stated.

They both gave a slight nod in agreement.

As we walked back, River spotted a huge RV, “Whoa! Look at that thing! It’s as big as a bus!”

We all turned and saw a big Class A RV Motorhome. It was huge with ten wheels, swirling black, grey, and white colors all over, and its manufacturer’s logo on the front.

“Let’s take a quick look,” Jess suggested.

I started, “What? No, let’s just— “

“Race you to it!”

Jess and River sprinted toward the RV leaving me behind. I sighed and jogged to the RV. River won the sprint – she’s faster, but it was a close race. The RV was indeed big, practically the size of that intercity bus we drove out of Denver, but it looked like it’d been sitting here since the beginning of the outbreak. The RV was parked in a small turnout, off the side of a two-lane road. I scanned everywhere for zombies, but didn’t see anything – though there could be zombies inside the RV. Besides the RV, there were only two other vehicles nearby, one had crashed into a tree and the other was on its side.

“Can’t believe I lost!” Jess said panting.

“I can, I ran track!” River stated.

“Ahh, you’ve had training.”

“Now, let’s see if there are any goodies for us inside this bad boy.”

Before River opened the door, I warned, “Wait! There may be zombies inside, so open it carefully and be ready.”

River nodded and pulled her Bear & Son Damascus bowie knife out. Jess and I got ready with our weapons as River carefully opened the RV door. When she did, we expected a zombie to pop out and attack, but none came out. River entered the RV and came back about half a minute later.

“It’s all clear,” River called to us.

When Jess and I entered inside the RV, we were amazed by how much space was in here. It had everything; a couch on one side, a dinner table, and an oven with a microwave above it, and a few beds with a master bed in the back. The wooden cabinets and leather sofas were a nice touch – although I was amazed that there was more than one plasma TV in here. It was really nice, despite the dust and the whole thing looked like it hadn’t been touched since the outbreak – probably because the RV was sitting next to a small road far from the highway. If it had been seen it would have been looted already. I closed the door behind us to keep zombies from sneaking in on us.

“Cozy,” I spoke.

River sat in the driver’s seat and spoke excitedly, “God, how fucking cool would it be to drive this thing along the coast?”

“We drove an intercity bus from Denver to Salt Lake City. That was kinda cool,” Jess mentioned.

“Yeah, but I mean this . . . how awesome would this be to stroll through Fort Gold Rush with style?”

I thought for a moment and stated, “I think it would be cooler if we drove this thing on the open road before the outbreak.”

Jess and River looked up at me.

River nodded and said, “Yeah, drive all over North America with this baby to see all the amazing sites! Like Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and the Great Lakes!

Jess added, “Yeah and Chicago, Hollywood, New Orleans, Orlando!”

I continued, “Olympic National Park, Yosemite, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Glacier, the Outer Banks, Vancouver, BC, and Alaska!”

River listed, “Montana, Texas, Wyoming, Mexico!”

Jess praised, “Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami, New York Cit—!”

Jess clapped her hands over her mouth and turned to me with scared eyes. The expression on her face looked like she hurt me and really didn’t mean to. Like when you break something and you’re really sorry you did it. I wasn’t feeling too bad about hearing that name, but my heart felt a longing for my parents.

River looked over confused and asked, “What? Hey . . . what’s wrong?”

Jess released her hands from her mouth and approached me.

Jess started, “Sonny, I’m-I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I . . . I didn’t mean— “

“It’s alright, Jess. Really, it’s all right. I’m fine,” I said with a faint smile.

“Uh, someone want to fill me in? I’m confused,” River said.

“I’m from upstate New York and . . . my parents are still there.”

River’s eyes widened with realization.

“Oh . . . I’m so sorry. I’m sure they’re fine,” River claimed.

“Yeah,” I muttered.

River placed her hand on my shoulder declaring, “Hey, if you’re as strong as I think you are then your parents are twice as strong.”

I nodded and mentioned, “You know, I went to NYC once.”

“Really?”

“What was it like?” Jess asked.

I took a moment to remember what it was like.

“Big, everything there was big. My mom was trying to get a job for this big company and she took me with her. New York City was nothing like I expected – a big place of skyscrapers and subways, a huge place of endless crowds. I have never seen so many lights in one place. You have to be there to know what it’s like. When you look up at the buildings it’s like you’re in a forest of concrete, steel, and glass. Then when you’re up on top of one, you can see everything in all directions,” I explained.

River and Jess smiled as I described the city.

“Mom took me to the top of the Empire State Building and it was amazing to see all those buildings stretch for miles. I never knew people could build such things and the bridges looked like they were made to last forever.”

“Wow,” Jess expressed.

“That must have been one hell of a city,” River said, with her hands on her hips.

“The biggest in all of America,” I stated.

“Listen, Sonny, I really didn’t mean to make you feel bad,” Jess said.

“You didn’t, Jess, it’s fine,” I told her.

It was quiet for a while until River suggested, “So, let’s check this place to see if there’s anything useful, or if you’re like me you’ll snag a souvenir . . . or souvenirs, plural.”

Whoever owned this RV definitely loved to travel, because there were postcards, photos, and cut out pictures on the walls of places. There was a family photo attached to the wall on a thumbtack. The father looked like an old veteran with his navy hat and his greyish-brown beard. The wife looked a little bit younger, like ten years younger, was pretty with long blonde hair and a friendly smile. There were three sons; one looked like he was in his early twenties, one looked like he was River’s age and the last one looked maybe my age. We searched through the RV for anything useful. Most of what we found was useless, too old, or not to our liking. We searched through the suitcases and bags for anything. We found shirts and pants that were our sizes despite the ordinary colors and designs. I didn’t care how old they were or if they smelled old – new clothes were always a good thing. River found a Remington 700 VTR in a closet across from the bathroom. She pulled it out of the bag and examined it to see if it still worked – it looked like it was in pretty good shape. The rifle needed to be cleaned, but it should still work.

River pulled the bolt back and stated, “Well, it’s not Chris Kyle’s rifle but it’ll get the job done.”

River pushed the bolt back in and got two boxes of ammo from the shelf. I looked through the top cabinets of the main bedroom and found a Smith & Wesson M&P45 and a four-inch barrel Smith & Wesson 629 revolver with wooden grips. I checked the guns and they were both loaded. There was a box of ammo for both and two extra magazines for the M&P45. The father must have had a taste for guns. I had enough room in my backpack for the M&P45 and its ammo, but not enough for the S&W 629 and its ammo.

Jess walked in to help search and saw the revolver.

“Turn around Jess, you got room in your pack for this,” I said.

“Okay,” Jess said, and turned for me to put the revolver in her backpack.

After I put the revolver and ammo in her backpack, I searched through the cabinets and found two Polaroid instant cameras. Both were digital Z340s except one was in a camera bag and the other was still in a sealed box. I remembered that most of the photos in the RV were instant photographs. There was film, cords, and plugin battery chargers – the whole set!

“Oh sweet! You found cameras!” River said.

“Yeah, pretty cool huh?” I asked.

“When we find Fort Gold Rush, we so have to take photos to make memories!”

I found two bunk beds and saw that one of them had pictures of aliens all over the wall next to the pillow. There were also DVDs and books of the shows Invader Zim and Ben 10 lying on the bed. I remembered from the family picture that the younger kid was wearing a black and green alien T-shirt – this must be his bunk.

“Huh, looks like the baby of the family had a thing for aliens,” I said.

“Wonder if he’s on Mars right now and not here,” Jess said.

“If he is, then I wonder which is worse; zombies or aliens?” River asked.

I thought for a moment.

“Zombies have teeth and human claws. Aliens have laser guns and spaceships, they’re harder to kill,” I smiled.

“That is true, Sunshine.”

We all chuckled and I was happy she stuck with Sunshine and not Lightning.

I searched through what I think was the kid’s backpack, but it just had his schoolwork – lousy handwriting. Then I found a keychain, but not just any keychain – it was an alien from the movie Toy Story. The tiny little planet crest on its chest was a button that made its three eyes light up. I liked it and it made me feel nostalgic for the Toy Story movies, but I felt guilty that I was taking it. I knew it was a little late to be feeling guilty, but I never lost that feeling that you’re in someone else’s space, poking around in their things. It was bad enough that we’ve taken clothes and guns, but small items like these had more meaning – personal meaning. Despite feeling odd about it, I chose to keep it – maybe I’d find a better home for it – I placed it in one of my vest pockets. I told myself the kid would want me to have it rather than it just sitting here in this old RV forever. I picked up an old shirt and wiped the dust off from the bed covers and pillows before collapsing on it. Jess and River joined me shortly after. The master bedroom had a window in the middle of its ceiling – the three of us laid there watching the sky and the clouds peacefully.

“You think it’s there?” I asked aloud.

“We’ll know soon enough,” Jess answered.

“Yeah, but do you think it’s there? Do you believe it?”

“I want to believe, but I don’t know if I do.”

“It has to be there, we’ve come too far for it not to be,” River declared.

“I don’t even know what to do if it’s not there,” I remarked.

“You’ll stick with us. That’s what you’ll do,” Jess stated.

I turned to Jess.

“It’s like you and Ashley say, it’s the small things. Those are more precious with friends. And it’s like Molly said, we’re blood now.”

I nodded while agreeing, “Yeah, you’re right.”

“I know what I’ll do if it’s infested with zombies,” River said.

Jess and I turned to River.

“I’ll kill every zombie in the city and we’ll take it.”

“That’s pretty hardcore, a big job,” I responded, half impressed.

“If you can bring an entire cult down to save Molly, then I think I can take a city for my family – besides, I’m not alone. We can do it.”

“Yeah, the place may be there like Captain Noir says, but if it is, then it most likely belongs to whoever was strong enough to take it. In other words, somebody’s in charge and what are they like? If we want to stay, I’m betting we’ll have to obey their rules.”

“We didn’t come all this way to get kicked out because some asshole doesn’t want us. I know you didn’t come all the way from New York to get turned away.”

She’s right about that. I didn’t come all the way across the damn country to be sent packing. If the place is there, they have to let us in. If not, then I don’t know where else we can go, because this is our last option. Though, I suppose there is still the option of going back . . . but that may be a death march. If the place is overrun with zombies then the option of taking it might be possible. We could lure out the big herds and kill the stragglers left inside.

“If it’s filled with the dead – do we need all that space? A whole city?” I questioned.

“It’s better than a neighborhood or a shopping center, because it’s a whole city. All of it ours,” River said, with a confident smile.

“Okay, you two are killing me with this, we need something positive. For example, is Sunshine here ticklish?” Jess asked, with a smile.

She started tickling and I began laughing.

“Oh, he is!” River expressed excitedly with a grin.

Both began to tickle me and even as I tried to resist, it was hopeless. I was laughing so hard I had tears coming out of my eyes. My laughter made Jess and River giggle. It was time we headed back to the group.

“There should be some sort of rule about this!” I protested.

“Aww, but I thought you like it when we do that,” Jess said with an innocent face.

“Tickling should be outlawed.”

“You know you love it,” Jess grinned.

I still kept my arms crossed.

“Come on, you love us,” River smirked.

“Yeah, I like the affection, but you make me wish I didn’t,” I said, as we exited the RV.

“Sticks and stones, but you love us!” Jess sang.

I heard a branch break and quickly turned toward the noise. I scanned everywhere but didn’t see or hear anything.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I don’t k— “

Before River could finish her sentence, a large hand quickly reached out and grabbed her. Two men grabbed Jess and I before we could react. A man had me pinned to the ground and held a tight grip over my mouth, so I couldn’t call for help and held my right arm against the ground so I couldn’t go for a weapon. Another man was pointing his assault rifle at us, so I couldn’t do anything with my left. The men were wearing military camouflage uniforms like Captain Noir and Corporal Wade, but they had Oakley military sunglasses and bandanas covering their faces. These guys weren’t like Captain Noir and Corporal Wade; they had high-end gear and their weapons looked brand new.

The soldier that held me down asked, “Who are you?”

“I was gonna ask you that,” Captain Noir said, pointing his assault rifle at them.

The soldier pointing his gun at me rose at Noir and it sounded like a few other soldiers did the same thing. Captain Noir, Corporal Wade, and Will were standing behind some cover with their guns aimed at these guys.

“Easy guys, easy. We don’t want trouble,” Will said, keeping his shotgun pointing at the men.

One soldier asked, “What kind of shit storm ran into us?”

The soldier holding me questioned, “You two, you Marines?”

“Captain Mark Noir and Corporal Troy Wade, Marine Raiders,” Captain Noir answered, lowering his gun and saluted.

“What’s left of it, Captain,” Corporal Wade added, while saluting.

The soldier that pinned me down lowered his bandana mask, lifted his sunglasses over his head, and saluted back, “Captain Derek Benson.”

“Wait, Marine Raiders? As in MARSOC?” Will asked.

“Yep.”

“You never told us that, Captain.”

“You never asked,” Captain Noir replied.

“So, are those guys Raiders, too?” Will asked.

“Nope, we’re former Navy Seals,” a soldier answered.

“Pulled from retirement,” one soldier joined.

“Well, we were SEALs, now we’re part of the U.S. Pacific Army,” another soldier said.

“What are you doing out here?” Will asked.

“That’s my question, what are you doing out here in my hills?” Captain Benson asked.

Captain Noir started, “Actually sir, the corporal and I came out of Fort Gold Rush to provide support to Camp Jefferson four months ago, but it was overrun with biters. So, we headed for Fort Denver, but now that place is gone too.”

“Fort Denver’s gone? Are you fucking serious?!”

“Yeah, it’s gone. We had a hard time getting out of there. The dead took it,” I said, still lying on the ground.

Captain Benson looked down at me.

I looked at him square in the eye and stated clearly, “I lost two friends in that city – if you lost friends there, I understand how you feel.”

Captain Benson glanced at everyone, and then studied my face.

“I suppose you do,” Captain Benson stated.

“So, this means you’re not bandits or crazy people, right?” a soldier asked us.

“No, we’re not,” Will said, clearly.

Captain Benson lifted me up and said, “Sorry about the rough introduction.”

“You still haven’t answered what you’re doing out here,” River announced, getting up.

Captain Benson and his troops were silent for a moment before speaking.

“Actually, we were uh . . . looking for a deer.”

“A deer?” Corporal Wade questioned.

“One, in particular, we got a little score to settle with that bastard.”

We all stood there confused until Captain Benson turned to one of his men, “It took a piss on my stuff! I’m gonna hunt it down, kill it, cook it, and eat it.”

River looked at them like they were idiots and asked, “Really guys? The world ended and you Special Op guys are spending your time on a Bambi vendetta?”

“Well, it’s not like we can go to Afghanistan or Somalia to do anything important, the world ended. Our orders are to look for survivors and refugees. You guys are the first ones we’ve seen in months. So, it gets really boring out here,” Captain Benson replied.

“Really?” I asked.

“There were a few others, but mostly bad characters, bandits. One of them shot their own, so we’ve axed most of them off. So, you’re looking for Fort Gold Rush?” Captain Benson asked.

“Yes, we are. There are more of us over this hill,” Will said.

“Captain Noir, these people you have, do you trust them?”

Captain Noir looked at Captain Benson without even blinking and said, “I do, sir, these are good people.”

“Alright, we’ll take you there,” Captain Benson stated.

“You serious? So, the place is real?” I asked.

“Yep, it’s real. Private Dwayne, call it in. Tell Command we found survivors.”

Everyone let out a sigh of relief . . . except for me. For them, their search was likely over, but for Ashley, Carrie, and me, we knew it wasn’t over. Captain Noir led Captain Benson to the rest of our group and they took us to a rendezvous to wait for vehicles to take us to Fort Gold Rush.


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action & adventure horror post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller


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