This Shattered Land - 02

BOOK: This Shattered Land - 02
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COPYRIGHT

 

 

 

 

This book is a
work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the
author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

SURVIVING THE
DEAD BOOK TWO: THIS SHATTERED LAND Copyright © 2012 By James N. Cook. All
rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By
payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive,
nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No
part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled,
reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and
retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or
mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written
permission of the author and Amazon.com.

FIRST EDITION

Library of
Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data has been applied for.

Epub Edition © JULY
2012

 

 

 

Author’s Note

 

 

Two years ago,
writing was something that I only dreamed about doing. I thought up story ideas
and bored my wife for hours going over them in endless detail. One day she got
sick of listening to me and put down her cell phone to fire a level stare at me
across the couch.

“James,” she
said. “I’m not listening to any more of these story ideas until you write one
of them down.”

I started, “But
babe…”

“Zip it.”

“I know but…”

“Zip it.”

I frowned.
“Fine.”

Then she screwed
up. She went and bought me a Kindle.

I don’t think I
talked to her for three months. Or maybe she didn’t screw up, maybe that was
her idea all along. Either way, I learned about the world of independent
publishing, and my life hasn’t been the same since. In short, you can blame my
wife for my newfound love of writing. If not for her, I probably never would
have sat down to write No Easy Hope.

Thanks, Babe.
You win again.

Where will this
whole writing thing take me? I have no idea. But it will be a lot of fun along
the way. I hope you come along for the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once more we
hear the word

That sickened
earth of old:

"No law
except the Sword

Unsheathed and
uncontrolled."

Once more it
knits mankind,

Once more the
nations go

To meet and
break and bind

A crazed and
driven foe.

 

 

-Rudyard Kipling

For All We Have
and Are

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Unexpected Guests

 

The
spring thaw was late. Normally by May, the Catawba River would be running swift
and swollen, and tearing at the soft red clay bordering its banks. That was not
what we saw looking down at the riverbank. The river had shaken off the
sluggishness of winter, but it still ran steady and calm across the Carolina
mountain country. Gabriel was not happy about it. He scratched his thick black
beard and frowned at the muddy brown water.

“Do
you still think heading over to Marion is a good idea?” I asked.

Gabe
shot me a sidelong glance and deliberately stopped scratching his beard. The
whole face-scratching thing is something that my overgrown friend does when he
is agonizing over a decision.

“You
want those supplies as much as I do.” Gabriel said.

“True,
but do you think we can get there with the river like this?” I replied. “It
gets pretty shallow in places, and I don’t want to have to walk back here
through miles of forest if we lose the canoe.”

“I’ve
gone farther downstream when the river was lower.”

“Right,
but it’s been over two years since there was anyone around to keep the
waterways clear. Who knows what kind of junk is waiting under the water where
we can’t see it?”

Gabriel’s
scowl deepened. He had already considered that, and it did not bring him any
closer to making a decision.

 “Well,
what do you think we should do? Do you want to chance it, or do you just want
to go ahead and leave for Colorado?” He said.

I
crossed my hands over my walking stick and rested my chin on my knuckles as I
stared across the river. The trees around us, and over on the far bank, were
still brown, bare and lifeless. We should have seen brightly colored little
green leaves budding along the tips of branches by now, but the long, cold
nuclear winter was reluctant to loosen its grip.

“More
than anything else, I want caffeine,” I said, smiling, “but we also need
medical supplies. I don’t fancy the thought of going all the way to Colorado
without a plentiful supply of antibiotics and painkillers.”

Gabe
nodded and adjusted the rifle sling on his shoulder. “Well that settles it.
We’ll take a couple of days to get ready, and then we go.” 

Gabe
turned and trudged back up the steep embankment, stepping carefully along the
narrow walkway of rough-carved terraces topped with cracked and broken
flagstones. The sun washed the valley in brilliant golden light, but it did
little to warm the chill mountain air. It was early May, and the daily
temperatures were still hovering around the mid-forties. Normally it should
have been hot, humid, and miserable by this time of year. The thought renewed
my irritation at the Middle Eastern countries that decided to make a bad
situation worse by launching nuclear weapons at one another whilst the dead
rose up and devoured the world. As if things were not bad enough without a
cloud of radioactive crud filtering out the sun’s warmth.

The
two of us huffed and puffed our way up the ridge to the south, and then began
the three-mile hike back to our mountaintop cabin. The weight of my pack and
rifle felt familiar and comfortable, where once they had been an annoyance. I
had grown used to walking long distances, to constantly scanning my
surroundings for signs of the undead, and to never letting my eyes rest on the
same spot for too long.

We
reached the top of the ridge and followed the path south along the crests of
hills that were once part of the Appalachian Trail. The bleached white bones of
several corpses littered the ground along the way, most of them the remains of
undead that either Gabe or I had put down over the last couple of years. In the
days since I first drove my old grey Tundra up the mountain, we had spent a
great deal of effort keeping the area around our home clear of the undead.
Regular patrols and constant vigilance were a necessity. The long winter months
that were just beginning to wane had made things both easier, and harder. The
freezing temperatures immobilized the dead, making them easy targets and all
but eliminating their constant threat, but it made virtually every other aspect
of life in the high country brutally difficult. Now that it was warming up, we
had to deal with both the cold and the walkers. As if we didn’t have enough
problems.

 “Movement.”
Gabriel said, breaking my reverie.

My
thumb flipped the safety to semi-auto as I brought my rifle up and scanned the
surrounding trees for infected. None appeared. Gabe moved to my left and melted
silently into the edge of the forest. I followed suit. The bare birches and
pines provided cover while we waited, tense and alert. Gabe raised a hand and
slowly pointed toward the crest of the hill ahead of us. The scope on my rifle
magnified three figures as they detached themselves from the far edge of the
old two-lane highway that intersected with our hiking path and scurried across
the ridgeline at a brisk trot. Gabe watched them through his little binoculars
until they had disappeared from sight before turning to look at me. I met his
gaze, no doubt matching his surprised expression with one of my own.

Those
were living people.

The
undead do not move that fast, nor do they carry packs or firearms. Gabe had
been living here since the beginning of the Outbreak, and other than me, he had
not seen another living soul. He stood up and moved off in the newcomer’s
direction, and I followed. There was no discussion necessary. Gabe and I knew
each other well enough to guess what the other was going to do before he did
it.

I
shadowed Gabriel’s swift, silent movements as best as I could through the dense
Appalachian woodland. It was soon obvious that the people we pursued were
either laying a trap for us, or they were absolutely terrible at covering their
tracks. Their trail would have been easy for a blind man to follow. They took
no care to avoid breaking tree limbs, overturning rocks, disturbing moss and
lichen, or leaving behind obvious footprints in the muddy ground. Gabe and I
tracked them for the better part of two hours until they stopped at a campsite
in the shadow of a steep overhanging ridge. Looking at their camp through my
scope, I could see that they had a couple of tents, a fire-pit, a small steel
drum converted into a makeshift grill, and the beginnings of a log cabin. They
had dug the necessary footings for it, and the first layers of carefully
trimmed logs lay neatly interwoven over top of one another. The trio of
survivors started taking things out of their packs and organizing them into
little stacks on an old white plastic folding table. Gabriel looked back at me
and motioned me forward. I took my time, working my way down to his hiding spot
as quietly as I could over the thick carpet of pine needles and dead leaves
that covered the slope.

“What
do you think?” He whispered.

“Not
sure.” I replied. “They’re awfully close to our place. They might have noticed
our cabin.”

“I
don’t think so.” Gabe said.

“Why
not?”

“Cause
if they did, they would have either tried to rob us or make contact with us by
now. Besides, this terrain is too steep for the infected, they can’t get up
here. It’s a good spot to set up a permanent camp. I’m willing to bet that’s
what they’ve decided to do here.”

“How
can we be sure?” I asked.

Gabe
shrugged. “One way to find out.” 

I
glared at him for a long moment, and then heaved a sigh.

“Alright,
fine. Guess it had to happen sooner or later.”

Gabriel
smiled and clapped me on the shoulder.

“Hey,
it was your idea to be the diplomat.”

“Just
keep your eyes peeled.” I grumbled, staring down the hillside. “I’ll leave my
rifle here, but I’ll keep my pistol. If they so much as twitch wrong, light ‘em
up. Got it?”

Gabe’s
grin vanished like the moon behind a storm cloud. His expression grew deadly
serious. He dropped his pack and took out a tubular black case with a
Nightforce scope inside. When equipped with long-range optics, Gabriel’s SCAR
17 functions well as a rough and ready sniper rifle at distances less than
six-hundred yards. His marksmanship would protect me from all but the most
swift and violent of assaults. I took off my pack and stashed it along with my
rifle in a thick tangle of brush near Gabriel’s position. A quick glance told
me that the three people down the valley from us had not yet detected our
presence.

Gabe
used a rangefinder to calculate adjustments for his scope, and soon would no
doubt put on his ghillie suit to better blend in with the hillside. Regardless
of where our new neighbors might decide to take cover and shoot at me, Gabe
would be able to pick them off quickly with aimed fire if necessary. After
quietly moving far enough away from Gabriel’s hide so as not to draw any
unwanted attention to him, I gave up all pretense of stealth and trudged openly
down the muddy slope. Two of the people at the bottom of the hill noticed me
coming and snatched their weapons up from the table. As I drew closer I could
see that there was a man, a woman, and a young boy who looked to be maybe
eleven or twelve years old. The man pushed the boy behind him and brought the
stock of his rifle to his shoulder.

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