By R.L. Brock ©2000
Edited by Tom Redding

"Okay, people . . . here's how it's gonna go." Bill slung his shotgun over his shoulder as he looked out at the group. He met Jolene's stare for a half-second before his gaze slithered away. "Stay in a group once we get out of the van. Keep your ammo close. No safeties on the guns. I don't want a bunch of them assholes coming at us and catching us with empty chambers. You watch everybody else's back and they'll watch yours."

In the pre-dawn chill, Jolene shivered even though she wore two sweaters beneath Jimmy Ray's camo jacket. In a sling over her shoulder, the shotgun felt unusually heavy, and the bag of shells hanging at her waist seemed to weigh a hundred pounds. She just hoped she'd be able to run if it came to that.

"Like I said," Bill continued, "we're gonna get out of the van and form a circle, guns out. Shoot any fucker that gets close. Once we get into the store, we separate into groups of three. Everybody knows their partners, and you know what area of the store to hit. Follow your lists and don't get anything that ain't on it. I want one person to gather the goods while the other two watch their back . . ."

Jolene's throat closed up, her tongue thick and woolly in her mouth. Bill had led these Sav-Mart runs a half-dozen times and had only lost a couple of guys, but all of a sudden she didn't trust his so-called leadership. She had no real reason to feel that way, but . . .

"You got twenty minutes to get your shit and get out." Bill hitched his pants up and adjusted the wide buckle of his belt beneath the overhanging shelf of his stomach. "We meet at the front of the store. Unless a window blew in or a door got opened, there shouldn't be too many of 'em waiting for us inside. Everybody ready? Let's move out."

The eight guys around Jolene ran to the van, acting like they were going squirrel hunting for the weekend. Jolene glanced back to the camp, to the women who watched her with narrow eyes, and knew what their opinion of her was. She was getting too uppity, daring to think that she could hold her own with the men. That kind of thing just wasn't done anymore. For a second, she considered going to Bill and telling him that she didn't want to go after all.

But that wasn't gonna happen. She'd put up with too much shit from Jimmy Ray and Bill and Gerdie and every other jerkwad in the camp for way too long. Getting to go on the raid wasn't much, but damn if it wasn't more than she'd had.

Jolene climbed into the van and laid her shotgun across her knees, closing her eyes for a second as the side door slammed shut. She hadn't been out of the camp since the day the dead folk started coming back, and she didn't know what to expect once the trailers were moved and they went back to the outside world again.

If the world was still there.


They hit the first pocket of dead folk about a mile outside the camp, just as the sun was beginning to make its way over the mountaintops. There were about ten of them, all dirty and grungy and half-naked, shuffling down the middle of the highway, doing that stupid deadhead walk that made them look almost comical. The sight of them both thrilled and frightened Jolene. It was her first conflict. Her first test. She gripped the shotgun tightly, ready for the zombies to attack the van.

"You fellas ready for some action?" Bill shouted as he drove. All the guys around Jolene roared their approval. Jolene licked her lips and tried to calm down. She could shoot straight and run. That was all a person needed to know how to do.

They were almost on the zombies now. Soon they'd be swarming over the van, slamming filthy hands against the windows, pressing their open mouths to the glass as they tried to chew their way through. Then they'd have to fight and-

And Bill plowed through them like bowling pins. Never even slowed down.

As the men whoo-hooed and whistled, Jolene twisted in her seat and watched the decaying rubble of the zombies smack the pavement like wet confetti. They were much more fragile than she'd expected. She knew the ones Jimmy Ray brought home were fairly easy to mess with, but . . . but somehow she'd expected the zombies in the wild to be tougher. Smarter, maybe.

But they weren't. They were just dumb old bags of meat.

For the first time since deciding to make the Sav-Mart run, Jolene relaxed. Maybe this was gonna be easy.


"Aw, goddam it!" Bill weaved the van through the skeletons of abandoned cars, cresting the hill that overlooked the Sav-Mart. "Some assholes busted up the doors. Shit . . ."

One of the guys-a skinny teenager named Buddy-grinned and spat a gob of chaw into a paper cup. "They got any porno up in there?"

"Naw, not here. Got beer though, and cigs." Bill looked into the rearview mirror and caught Jolene's gaze. "'Sides . . . what do we need porno for when we got us a prime piece sitting right here with us?"

Jolene felt her stomach drop and her bile rise all at the same time. She didn't much like the tone of Bill's voice, and she definitely didn't like the way the other fellas were looking at her now. It was like he'd flipped a switch in their heads.

She cradled the shotgun close and kept her mouth shut. Maybe he was joking. The man had no sense of humor, but . . . maybe he was just joking anyway.

"Old Jimmy Ray won't like anybody messing with his woman," another o ne of the guys said. This one, Roy, had blond hair and a billy-goat beard, and when he leaned in too close to Jolene she c aught a whiff of rotted teeth and stale beer.

"Jimmy Ray's the reason she's here," Bill said as he drove into the Sav-Mart parking lot. Zombies were everywhere-crawling out of abandoned cars, stumbling through the parking lot aisles, throwing themselves against the closed glass doors of the store. Jolene was only barely aware of them now, more afraid of the men around her than the monsters outside.

"It's a sad thing when a man gets tired of his woman." Bill's piggish eyes met hers in the mirror again. "Jimmy Ray said she's gettin' a little too hard to handle. Said we might just have to knock her down a few pegs."

Jolene saw the smile on Bill's face, the leers on the faces of the men around her, and felt like throwing up. She wondered how much Jimmy Ray was getting for her. An extra carton of cigarettes? A six-pack? Sorry ass bastard . . .

"Yep . . . real shame Jimmy Ray didn't feel like makin' it this morning," Bill said, backing the van up to the open doors. He pulled in at an angle, pinning a female zombie against the concrete wall, messily crushing her torso. The zombie flailed her arms, still baring her teeth and trying to scrabble her way free, but nobody was paying much attention to what was going on outside the van.

Jolene tasted metal, felt her spit flow until it flooded her mouth and gagged her.

"So this is how it's gonna go down," Bill said, smiling as he turned in his seat and stared at Jolene head on. "We are gonna march your skinny ass inside. Then the boys are gonna do their thing and then, well . . . then the dead folk are gonna get whatever's left." Bill's smile turned even meaner. "But don't worry, Jolene. Somebody'll put a bullet 'tween those pretty little eyes before you come back. Promise."

Jolene could only stare at him. Her entire body felt hollow, icy. She felt the stares of the eight men around her, knew what they were thinking, what they were planning, and wondered how many shots she could get off before they overwhelmed her. Part of her couldn't begin to understand why they were doing this to her now. She knew these guys, had lived with them in the trailer park for years, had grown up with some of them. She looked them each in the eye, silently begging them to realize what they were doing.

And nothing changed.

"Come on," Bill said gruffly. "We're wastin' daylight. Let's go."

Before Jolene knew what was happening, Buddy was sliding open the van door, heedless of the rush of rotted arms that suddenly filled the van. The men easily held them off with well-placed shots, laughing as they nudged the zombies away with the barrels of their guns. As goat-bearded Roy grabbed her arm, Jolene felt one of the dead folk brush her free hand; she cried out at its touch-so cold and vaguely slimy-as she recoiled backwards, right into Roy's lap. He laughed in her face, blasting her with that dead meat smell, and Jolene could instantly imagine him on top of her, forcing himself in her . . .

In a panic, she launched herself off Roy and into the grasping mass of arms. She went into them without hesitation, turning off her mind as she raised the shotgun and blasted whatever stood in front of her. A zombie in a flannel shirt went down, followed by a woman with curlers in her hair and fuzzy slippers on her feet. The other zombies backed off, something like comprehension dawning in their glazed eyes.

She was only dimly aware of the men's cheated shouts from the van, only vaguely aware of the hungry moans of the zombies as they tried to catch up with her. Instead she sprinted across the parking lot, heading for the second set of doors that led into the supermarket area of the store. There were only a few zombies be tween her and those doors, and she'd damn sure rather have their dead hands on her than Roy's live ones.

Bullets whined past her and she knew that the fellas weren't aiming for zombies. She zigzagged through the dead folks, her heartbeat pounding in her ears, her breath ragged, painful. As she got closer to the second set of doors, she could see that vandals had broken through them as well. Didn't matter. Inside the store there'd be places to hide.Jolene squeezed through the broken glass, hoping there wouldn't be something waiting on the other side.



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