Children of Fury: Hellions Chapter 3. Hammers and Tongs

Children of Fury:Hellions
Standard

Chapter 3. Hammers and Tongs

The two blacksmiths who also improved their skills on metal-working from the old country, hammered chains and formed links that they created out of the most crude of metals.

Sounds of arguments between the big men, occasionally a comment about the clan of the other, but never did it come to blows. They were friends, cousins even, but their thought processes were different.

This difference gave them an advantage in their forge and foundry. They learned to live as contemporaries of the shipwright Conn O’Danu, they took to his way of thinking outside of the normal traditions of their craft.

In their hands, metals were as clay was to the sculptor.

Bronze spikes, cast and forged, reheated and forged again. Many of the pieces ended up in a pile of ruined designs and sent back to the foundry for recasting.

They built one ship at a time, it would be sailed by Conn and then torn apart. The evolving shapes became a predator with no equal, with speed and power, bred by complexity. The crew fought as much with the ship as they did with their victims. The ships built by the shipwright were always victorious in a lopsided battle, but the village knew could do better.

By profanity and hammer blows. The latest rakish ship took shape. Local native tribes extracted promises from Conn would make the men in Red Coats pay for the broken promises.

Keegan, returned from the sea with more than a hundred of the children that the families accused the English that Parliament took the children, promised the leaders of retribution during a great council meeting. The oldest and wisest of the leaders offered drink of a steaming cup out of a fire and then the men smoked a pipe that was as long as his Bradan’s grampa’s pipe, but more solidly built.

When offered to Keegan after the council. The younger O’Danu choked and vomited outside of the circle of men, who all thought it was of great humor.

All but the eldest, who other community people called “Indian”. The council explained did not like the term, thus the Irish Conn and his son Keegan strove to avoid using it.

The day came, the father and son walked with the warrior prince of the tribe. The highly intelligent native sat on the new ship and spoke in Gaelic with Conn and his son. Directing them that to strike a blow against the redcoats would need a fist. The ship represented but one finger.

“Build another. One for adults.” The Great Prince said. It was not a a suggestion.

Conn stroked his chin. Before the evening was out, Keegan watched the elder version of himself speak with the tactical genius. The first truly new world ship began to take shape.

In the hidden cove, where Irish, German and the original residents of the lands, built two ships, the Blackfish and Cúliath.

Sister ships, one for the fathers, one for the children who refused to let the warm beds and fine meals deter them from the rage that they felt, a call to return and save those that were left behind because the Grampus was too small and out-matched by the navies of England, Spain, France.

This knowledge did little to soothe the pain in the hearts of the children, grown too soon.

Men and women of the communities up and down the bay supported the children as they came and went. Famous returning from an impossible life, the communities became igorant when the English or Spanish visited, looking for the Irish children who escaped slavery.

No one knew or heard of such children except from the two warring Empires.

The only united front the colonial powers shared, was the hunt for the hellions that sank so many ships of the empires.

Captain Elliott, in service to his Parliament, and whose mission is to find the children and bring them to justice in the Courts. He left the bay once again in frustration, no one admitted to have seen such children. No news of the small ship, stolen from a merchantman had, seemingly, vanished.

Captain James Elliott looked over the maps and gave a big sigh. Could it have been the children fell to the treachery of the Atlantic and perished? Had they become part of the vanished souls and ships that happened every year?

Two hundred children, with skills that would make any navy envious, engaged, sank or stole ships of the Navy Royale were the most wanted pirates in the western Atlantic. And he was tasked with the job to capture the one that was whispered to be the son of the devil. A redheaded youth that was known as Captain Mac Díoltas, the demon of the sea.

No one knew where he had come from.

Some said that he was one of the spirits that the Deputatum Rex of Ireland was killed by a curse on a village. Others whispered that his name, which meant “Revenge” in the barbaric langauge of Hibernian isle.

In command of the Black Eagle, he was positive he could capture the boy-pirate and bring him to justice at the end of the hangman’s rope from the yardarm of his ship, the Black Eagle. He was proud of his frigate-built warship, with it’s own list of victims from the Spanish, Dutch and French navies, few ships on the water worried Captain Elliot.

But, Conn O’Danu had drive and focus unlike any other ship builder and Captain Elliot would soon learn the lessons that other seafaring warriors had discovered. The ships from the new world were not to be discounted in a fight. Diarmuid An Dubh and Nial Gabham stood side by side while they directed the teams to build what Conn asked.

As a shipwright, Conn O’Danu never backed down from his strange ideas. He built ships that could turn in their own length, sail close to the wind with unheard of speed.

It made Conn smile when the sounds of the blacksmith shop rang all day

He enjoyed the sounds of the hammers on the ships. They were hammers that the empire would hear from the America’s to London.

Married by Mistake Chapter 21. Night In the ICU

MbM
Standard

Chapter 21. Night in the ICU

The constant, subtle sounds made an undertone that kept Kaylee from a sound sleep. Tom constantly moaned in his drugged-sleep state which further kept her popping her eyes open to check on the wounded man she was growing fond of.

Even with the heavy-duty narcotics in his system, Tom’s sleep was without rest, the arm was kept elevated with external hardware that looked like scaffolding on a building. To help the wounds to heal, wrapped in multiple layers of surgical gauze, the room was too warm for his comfort which kept him from resting and the IV fluids went into his good arm kept him from turning over.

Kaylee was over-warm, too. She could have slept naked in the room and not wish for so much as a sheet. But the compassionate nurses brought a fan in that blew across her to keep her from overheating. She still felt sorry for her husband.

Tom, stuck in one place and, for an active sleeper this was a fresh hell to live through. Plus he slept on his stomach almost always.

She asked the night-shift nurse, a skin-and-bones woman who wore a sweater that had more acronyms and abbreviations on her name-badge than anyone she had met in the ICU, if they could turn the heat down a bit.

“I’m sorry, doctor’s orders, we don’t want patients to have cold-related problems with the injuries, so we keep it close to their body temp in here.” She smiled, the wrinkled face that had seen many shifts and had answered the same question a hundred times, lit up in a comic smile and her eyes sparkled as if she was about to reveal a secret. “I am still cold, even with it as warm as it is.”

The two women hit it off, Elda, was the nurses name, offered to get Kaylee anything she needed during the night, supplying pillows hand over fist and showed her how to inflate the vacuüm packed, plastic covered items without anyone watching.

Kaylee moved the reclining seat and make-shift bed that family members used for sleeping in the same room while loved ones recovered from what life-challenges they recovered from.

Now with the makeshift pile of blankets and pillows closer to Tom, she reached out and held his good hand while she dozed in the chair next to his bed. It was an awkward arrangement, but it seemed to settle the wounded husband and author of children’s books so that he had a quiet sleep.

As his sleep became restful, she would decide that was the best thing she could do, this was the connection he needed to heal.

Starting awake when a nurse came in to check on a misbehaving IV pump, although he slept, Kaylee did not get much rest that night.

*In and out of the room all night,* She shifted in her sleep-spot. *The nurses do their checks on Tom with their rounds and wake me up.*

Like practiced witches and wizards with their practiced motions over complex and arcane machines, the magic fluid that kept her Tom…

There it was again, ‟Her” Tom. What was this that he was to her? What was she to him?

It was almost funny, in a sad sort of way, she thought as she faded to sleep again for the countless time, so tired she missed the next round of checks by the silent ninja nurse.

Kaylee woke up next and the night outside the window had gone from black to a midnight-navy-blue, becoming lighter as she stared at a flock of pelicans, illuminated by the city lights, flew in a “V” formation towards some unknown destination.

Sunrise would be soon and Tom was still asleep, but his thumb was caressing her hand as he mumbled something in a dream.

Not about her, he mumbled a man’s name, and a tear leaked out of his eye. That was odd, why would he dream about a man so much as to mention his name and weep? Then it hit her— it was not a man’s name.

It was his dead son.

Tom was having a nightmare about the night his family died, she choked and thought she might cry for his agony.

She stood and leaned over, a gentle kiss him on the forehead and he took a deep breath and opened his bright eyes.

‟What are you doing awake?”

‟That’s funny you should say that, I think you were having a nightmare.”

‟I was? Yes, I guess so, but I can’t remember what it was about, but I think I’ve been crying, is all I remember.”

‟You were trying to speak, you were saying a name I could not make it out. It sounded like…”

‟No, please. If it was a nightmare and I can’t remember, let’s leave it there.” His hoarse whisper did not sound as ragged as a dozen hours before.

Kaylee gave a soft smile and nodded, he was right. Why make a nightmare more real in the midst of the current waking nightmare of tubes, wires and synthetic fluids that dripped into his arm?

As the sky outside slowly changed from venetian-blue to more azure-grey, the fog seemed to roll in more, fighting the light of the sunrise in a futile effort of resistance against the summer sun. Patches of the dark blues giving way to indigo that surrendered to the cool blues of the new day.

Kaylee would have thought it would be romantic if not for the soft hiss of the oxygen, beeps of the monitors and distant alarms of some demanding pump that had run its course or had an error.

And Tom’s snoring. He had dropped off again.

*Men! They don’t know when to watch something of beauty.*

Another graveyard nurse, Suzanne, a nurse from South Carolina came in and did a last check and smiled at her.

‟We will be going off duty now, we are giving report in fifteen minutes, your next nurse team is led by Randy, he took care of your husband yesterday.” She smiled. “Would you like some coffee? We have fresh made.”

‟Yes, thank you.” Kaylee smiled when the small, round smiling woman walked quickly and quietly out the door. Kaylee never knew anyone who could walk with such silent speed.

She had to get up and out of the way while the men and women in white coats poked, prodded, inflicted pain making Tom yelp and made him wiggle fingers that had swollen during the night. The swelling seemed to make the team of medical magicians worried.

Arcane questions and language were tossed around. Someone poked at Tom’s hand who yelped again and uttered a profanity.

Randy came in after reports had been given and doctors filed in and out.

‟We need to get you breakfast, how did the night go?”

‟Tom had a bad night. Some nightmares just before dawn.” Kaylee reported. “Then the doctors came in and hurt him.”

‟Yes, that happens, they keep to the first rule of medicine, to do no harm. But they can inflict as much pain as they deem necessary.” The nurse chuckled. “Sometimes they get carried away. I think they like test the limits of tolerance.”

“The drugs he gets are known to cause some sleep disturbances.” Randy said with a teacher’s wisdom. ‟Sleeping here, does not help, either. Strange bed, strange sounds, odd smells and pain. Not a good combination, like the old saying, there is no place like home.”

‟That reminds me, how long will he be here? What things do we need to buy to help him heal?”

‟That.” Randy smiled like a hospital’s own Santa, ‟Is the purview of the Doctor, I cannot say. Every time I do, they make a liar out of me and I get in trouble.”

‟When will we see him, again?”

‟Doctor Tribbing? He is making rounds now. You should see him again, maybe with his team in a few hours or so. Right now, we have to take another reading of Tom’s fingers to make sure of the circulation is still there, I can look and see that it is normal color, they left notations that the hand is swollen, and they want to document numbers. So I will be back in with another tool, it’s busy elsewhere at the moment. I read he did well during the night. They took a measurement and the numbers looked good, but his fingers were swollen slightly.”

‟I saw her do that, but I was half-asleep and didn’t ask.”

‟She would have loved to talk to you, she is a wonderful lady.”

‟You two are keeping me awake.” The voice from the bed was barely above a whisper. ‟You know what time it is?”

‟Good morning to you too.” Randy laughed. ‟And yes, I know, I just got here. Your wife is giving me a report on your night, she said it was kind of rough.”

‟Yeah, I couldn’t sleep, I’m a stomach sleeper and y’all don’t have me any kind of close to that.” Tom voice was stronger.

‟Well, talk to the doc. He is the master of this domain.”

‟Okay. And the pin-happy doctor who poked at me was not helping.” Tom took a deep breath. “I’m kind of hungry, too. Is there breakfast?”

‟Sure thing. The menu is on the TV control attached to your bed. Follow the prompts on the screen and the food will make it here as long as you order in the next twenty-minutes.”

‟Okay, I want a pizza from Alioto’s on the Wharf.”

‟Hah. Good luck with that, but our kitchen makes great food.”

‟I’ll buy pizza delivery for the entire floor today.” Tom croaked out.

‟That’s nice of you Mister Harte, but the Department, I think you mean.”

‟No, I mean the floor. And remember, my name is Tom.”

‟The floor has a dozen stations, you are talking a lot of pizza.”

‟Party hardy Marty. Pizza is coming, I need my phone.”

Laughing Randy left the room.

“I don’t think Randy did not believe I can do that.” He laughed. “He does not know Thomas Harte has both the resources and, even drugged as I am, the will to do it.”

“Kay, dial this number for me please?” His voice was stronger, the power of his soul danced in his eyes. She enjoyed looking into those emerald-green eyes of the writer.

She could see what he had in mind and it made her laugh.

*He has a surprise for everyone on this floor.*

Fire: The Oasis

Standard

Fire: the oasis

He had worked his way up through the ranks of wildland firefighting. Part-time, seasonal, and then full-time, taking classes when they came out. He excelled with his motivation. Reibold Rasmussen was never much of one to laugh, his humor always kind of quirky.

But he feared fire since a child. His house caught fire when a car ran into the garage. Dad scooped him up with his two sisters and ran like a like an Olympic sprinter through the back door that mom held open, returning for the dog that was still in the house, barking behind the armored bars that covered the windows.

The deep boom of something rupturing in the house blew the door shut. Dad, hit the door going in like a human  freight-train breaking it off the hinges as he did so. Then appeared with the unconscious Great Dane in his arms.

Zeus the Dane, famous for his deep bark in the neighborhood would live to be Reibold’s best friend for years to come, except for the bald patch on one ear, he suffered no injuries in the fire.

In the years to come, the son of the family hero did the father proud. Firefighter of the year, EMT then a Paramedic. Finally becoming a Wildland Firefighter and traveled around the country, where the job needed or where classes could be 

His own son looked up to him, now seven-years of age, Nicholas watched for dad on every news report of forest fires.

The memory made Reibold smile as he touched the drawing of a heart with the three family members inside. “Team Rasmussen” in a child’s writing. He kept it for luck, taped to the inside of his locker door.

Well, not for luck. He just loved his son.

“Vegetation fire.”  The dispatch went out calling upon the men and women that were the foot-soldiers in the yearly dry-season battle of protecting life and property.

Reibold the father was different from Lieutenant the smoke jumper and a hand crew leader for ground fire attack in the forests. Glittering blue eyes missed little and showed a high intelligence with a quick wit that on occasion was misunderstood by his peers, often that making him laugh even harder at his singular wit that only his son might catch.

Today, in a parking lot barely large enough to hold all the equipment, the “Mountain Mike’s” shopping plaza became a wildland command center. The fire plan posted locations of the rest of the fire teams and equipment around the valley in the pockets of school grounds and church parking areas.

Weather reports came in and sent out from the command center, plotters predicted on the weather service map predicted that unpredictable winds with a low pressure system moving in.

Reibold sighed as he read the dispatch on the computer aided dispatch display, called a CAD for short. No part of the display was good news. 

A low pressure system meant a reasonable possibility of rain which would help. However the downside with the heat rising from the large wildfire could create thunderstorms. Lightning! By any measure, this would work against the fire campaign. The fuel for the fire, the wood and grass in the forest with months of heat and sun, became explosively dry.

By noon, dressed in his fire-resistant gloves, jumpsuit and helmet. They flew in by helicopters to an oasis at the foot of a mountain for a mission. Condor Mountain was the local name of the tall peak, at the base of this high desert rock was an oasis of fresh water that sprang naturally from bedrock artesian wells.

Today’s Mission: Create a fire break and save the oasis of palm trees and protected wildlife refuge.

The Plan: First arriving hand crews would clear back the light grass and brush before the arrival of the bulldozers that were on their way. The large equipment slow speed meant a delay of four-hours behind the hand crews.

Reibold lead his twelve-man crew while they cut and tossed brush to create a path that connected natural firebreaks around the oasis.

Sweating heavily under the unrelenting sun, the breeze began to pick up, alarming Reibold a little. The fire was on the far side of the mountain, some fifteen miles distant, but it could cover that distance faster than many people would think. 

Still, the fire observation radio code “Airboss” that flew in the two-seat spotter plane in circles kept reports coming in about the fire that threatened the mountain. Orders came from the Airboss to pull all personnel off the threatened side of the mountain. The fire was moving too quickly to stop it before they finished building a firebreak and fire command ordered the effort abandoned.

Reibold nodded; This put the pressure on Bravo-Team to save the oasis. Airboss just wrote off the mountain.

Bulldozers arrived and cut a line wider than an interstate, hand crews cleaned up the edges of the firebreak. A call of team leaders and Reibold answered.

Standing with the other leaders, each with a book out as the plans for the next effort of defending the line.

“Fight fire with fire.” Was the plan, a backfire would to burn up the close face of the mountain to the top. The speed of the mission was critical with the weather system moving in. Agreed and commanded, the leaders adjourned to their respective crews.

The planned backfire had the fire crews stand in line along the firebreak. Three bulldozer blades wide, down to bare mineral soil. Reibold stood his twelve firefighters in line. Ax’s, shovels, gloves and face wraps against the dust and heat.

The radio crackled with the “Go hot” with the order of the backfire. Two officers walked along the fire break with drip torches filled with diesel. Flames consumed the brush next to the bare mineral soil like a teenage boy consumes food from mom’s pantry.

A lot of heat came off the backfire. Too much! Lt. Rasmussen turned around and looked at some of the palm trees behind them.

The radiant heat was enough to force his crews look away from the flames and protect their faces. The firefighters watched for embers to prevent the fire from jumping the line, but Reibold had the angle to view directly behind them. And he saw it, a half-dozen tendrils wafting towards the main backfire the trees were smoking!

“Shovels! SHOVELS! Throw dirt on the trees! Cool the trees down!” Lt Rasmussen called.

“Too much fire, too much heat!” Another Lt. Yelled at the Forest Ranger in charge of the torch, who walked along the line.

Grabbing his radio, Reibold called and reported that the fire was flaring up too hot. The radiant heat off the mountain’s face was putting them and the oasis they were to protect in jeopardy. Bark on trees was smoking and they needed back pumps with water and shovels of dirt to stop the smoking trees from catching fire.

A flame, not large, grew rapidly up the trunk of a coconut palm. Extending its reach up to the dried and hanging palm fronds that hung down like hands. Paper thin, tinder dry.

Reibold lifted up his radio to his mouth. “Emergency traffic, zone 6, crew 4488. Fire in the trees, crowning fire.”

The worst words possible, “crowning fire”.

The first tree lit like a match, three officers and the Forest Ranger all nodded and gave orders to their crews.

“We are bugging out.” Reibold sounded as if he was ordering a burger at a leisurely pace in contrast to the stress he felt. “All crews in zone 6 pull back to fire safety zones. We have lost the oasis.”

“RUN! RUN!” The Fire supervisor yelled to the dozen men and women that carried hand tools. A wind was building and blew in their faces.

Behind them the flames from the one burning tree hit the dried palm fronds of the line of trees and like a match that ignited in a matchbook. The gale force wind became a hurricane wind of heat and grit, drawn in by the column of fire and smoke that rose up into the atmosphere. The fire made its own weather had produced the winds that rushed to feed the intensity of the firestorm 

Lt. Rasmussen fought his way with the increasing wind that tore at his clothing, he tried to protect his face with the shovel, only to have it torn from his grip by the screaming wind that fed the monster that ate tree, bush and flower.

Although it was midnight, Reibold could see his shadow was visible on the ground as he looked down.

Looked down?

Wait, what? LOOKED DOWN!?

The fire was right above him, moving faster than a man can run!

Another gust of wind– picking up stones the size of his fist– pelting him as he and the crew struggled against the breath of the devil, the radiant heat was making the back of his uniform overheat.

Finally! Cresting the hill into a parking lot, he stumbled over the edge to the asphalt of the parking area. The heat on his back did not let up, the backs of his gloves were smoking, the insulated leather was hot enough to sear the back of his hand, flames blew vertically up into the sky at the Lieutenant’s heals. Screams echoed in the parking area.

Running feet. Hands, many hands..

The sudden, unbelievably cold feeling on his back..someone had dumped a bucket of water on him as the pain set in and he blissfully, quietly let the soft darkness of shock and coma take him into sweet unconsciousness.

Days later, Reibold awoke. His Commanding officer was sitting in the chair near him with eyes half-shut.

Steve?” Reibold’s voice croaked more than it should have, surprising himself. His throat felt like he had gargled with salt and broken glass.

“Reibold? Sheesh, man you have us a hell of a scare! You were the last one out and came over the crest into the staging area with the fire at your heels. ” Steve Womack sat forward. “You were on fire, brother. Your web gear, fire tent and the helmet you were wearing were smoking and your helmet is half-melted.”

Reibold sat back into the bed. “Did we lose anyone?”

“No, your call on the trees was just in time. We lost the oasis, but no one died.”

“When do I blow this joint?” asked the Lieutenant. “I’m not that hurt and my son will be worried.”

“In a while, you had inhaled a lot of smoke. Your voice still sounds like a rusty gate, they had you on a ventilator for two days.” The Commander explained the timeline. “Your son has been here with your wife. There is something on your hand. And Rei, brother, you have been in a drug induced coma for the last few days. Don’t expect to come back soon. Go home, be with the boy, love the family and let them love you for a few weeks.”

“Aye, I can feel it. Steve,” He sighed.“I feel this is my last year. I’m going to request a transfer to investigations.”

“Granted. I’ll put the paperwork in straight away.”

Reibold the Lieutenant soon-to-be-investigator laid back on his bed and closed his eyes.

Slipping back to that moment where he knew, the call to abandon the oasis was the right one.

Looking at his hand, a heart drawn on it and in a child’s lettering. 

“DADS A HERO!” was visible. 

The hero of a  seven-year-old smiled. The boy was right, 

Today, Reibold Rasmussen felt he made the heroic choice.

No one died.

Excerpt: Children of Fury, Chapter 20. Old School Medicine

Standard

(Setup: Beli O’Danu, shot with an arrow and is bleeding to death. The knowledge of the Draoithe (Irish Druid) are what stands between him and death.)

20. Old School Medicine

Donal continued to help his old friend down the path to the river. Conn with his father’s arm around his neck helped to partly carry and partly drag the elder O’Danu to where the two men directed.

“Here! Put me down, here.” Beli grunted painfully, as they came to a clearing.

Beli’s shirt was sticky with clotted blood and matted with a paste of moss and herbs he had smeared on his own chest. Putting the poultice where the arrow protruded, the herbs had slowed the bleeding.

“Conn, collect some wide-flat rocks and build a small fire.” Said Donal as he went down to the riverside and began selecting plants with a critical eye. “Clean and heat the rocks over the fire until the water cooks off.” The High-Priest directed while he searched for those plants needed to save his friend’s life.

Beli wheezed out orders to Conn on what rocks to look for. Donal returned with an armful of roots, twigs and herbs with fleshy leaves, setting them down on the ground, he began to wash his hands in the clear water of the stream, cleaning the mud off his fingers.

Conn collected several large, flat rocks, about the size of his two spread hands, he cleaned them well with clean water and placed them near the pile of twigs and leaves.

While Donal was sweating from his exertions of grinding the leaves and the moisture from the herbs had mixed with the bark that he had collected in a small mortar and pestle into a smooth dough like texture. Time was short and his friend’s life hung in the balance. The longer they took, the weaker Beli was getting.

Conn started the fire with the use of flints, gently blew on the ember that he had been able to spark. With the growing fire. Conn began to wash two stones near the stream, cleaning the stones with a soapwort rub, then washed with water until it was clear. Then, with the fire burning hotly, Conn put the two stones near the flames to dry.

Conn’s father-in-law made himself as comfortable as possible, kneeling near the fire, putting a collection of bark and herbs on one of the rocks that had a concave surface, then began to press the medicines together with a small well used silver rolling-pin.

As Donal pressed the juices from the succulent greens he had just picked, chosen with an expert eye, Conn watched closely as the elder Draoi crushed and mixed the ingredients with the experience that would let him watch for the proper texture and color of ingredients.

Placing more herbs, Donal continued to grind the organic bits together on the hot rock, the mixture sizzled and put off a strong smoke that made him blink and cough.

“It is better at an alter, the smoke does not drift into my face so I can use it for bandages and not choke or blind me.” Donal coughed again. His voice quavered slightly and he cleared his throat, getting back to his task.

Conn suspected, however, that not all the tears were from the smoke.

Conn helped Donal by slowly pouring water over the tops of the rocks with a small silver cup that the elder Draoi handed him. While Donal tore a leaf apart and began to mix it with water, heating it until it bubbled.

Donal touched a branch taken from a willow tree to the mixture, the thick, hot viscous liquor coated it cooled on the smoothed carved twig.

Beli, who had been watching this turned his eyes down the path, Gael, Conn’s mother and teacher walked towards them from the ocean where they had taken refuge from the advancing armies of Parliament.

Several of the women burst out in tears at the sight of the wounded Beli laying on his back, only to have the Gael silence them with a wave of her hand.

“Time now is not for tears! Now is the time to repair and save a life. We need the finest, clean linen that anyone has.”

Gael invoked her title as a High Priestess, the Ard-Draoi. The Baker family who were Druid Priests and Priestesses of the Scots, the name of Baker had a huge influence wherever they walked and Gael was not to trifle with when it came to her knowledge of the Draoithe.

From within a pouch she carried at all times, Gael produced smaller bags of salts and knelt by Donal who looked up and nodded. Taking several small bags laid them next to the fresh herbs that Donal had collected.

Niamh, Conn’s mother-in-law and High Priestess in her own right, directed the women to gather strips of clothing to prepare for dressings. Setting down her own bag of collected medicinal herbs that exceeded Gael’s in the form of infection control herbs.

Niamh took a handful of linen from Anne MacNamara, who had grabbed anything she could while running from the advancing troops. The clothing was the best she had, giving it up to the priestess who had the intense look and a sense of urgency not seen before. Anne was not about to cross Niamh the healer.

Walking with the armful of dresses, Niamh stopped and pulled up some roots of a nearby plant. At the stream, tearing strips out of the clothing that Anne had given her, Niamh began to wash the makeshift bandages in the clear water of the river while she ordered the other women to build a fire nearby.

Gael nodded to herself as she directed what kinds of plants to use for the fire. The three Draoi worked together with intensity to save the life of their friend and mate, for what was about to come was the hardest and most difficult part for them to do.

Beating the strips furiously with a stick over one of the rocks that Conn had gathered, the plants and cloth formed a thick lather that Niamh instructed the helping women, including her friend Gael to rinse out in the flowing clear water for some minutes until all the water flowed clear of the strips. One after another Gael and Niamh inspected the linen strips carefully. Those that passed inspection were hung to dry in the smoke of the slow fire that they built using bundles of incense gathered by the remaining women and children. The smoke of the herbs, they explained, prevented infection later.

These treated linens Gael handed Conn, instructing her son to hold them by the corners and not to interrupt her while she was explaining how to do what he needed to do.

Detached from the activities that would save his life, Beli laughed silently, no matter how old her son was, he was still Gael’s child and would follow her directions.

Conn, used to giving orders and being in charge  bowed to his mothers sharp tongue and the father-in-law’s orders of what to do and how to do it.

As Beli lay on the ground, weakly moving his hands as if to guide the operation. A dozen of the villagers that had found refuge among the bluffs of the shore worked furiously to gather herbs under the directions of Donal and the Priestesses. Few had time to stand and watch, praying for the injured elder while they foraged for the needed herbs. So many had died that day, no one wanted to watch another one of their own also pass at the hands of the Parliament’s Agents.

“By the stones!” Beli wheezed out, his agitation growing with the pain. “This is beginning to seriously hurt!”

“It is going to hurt more before it gets better old friend, “Donal knelt next to Beli, “this might have been easier if I had the Spoon of Diokles with me, but that all burned with the village.”

Beli tried to interrupt but Donal shushed him.

“Yes, I have the Saultis Ominus nearly ready. Yes, our wives have the dressings nearly dry over the fire and clear of bad airs. Yes, we have the proper herbs.” Donal pressed a finger to the wounded man’s lips. “Shut up and rest.” There was no appeal to Donal’s command.

Then Donal’s tone softened as he touched his friend on the shoulder.

“Beli, to take this spike out of your chest will be difficult and the wound is deep.”

“I have made it this far,” Beli looked slowly around at the mountains and then the sky. “I’m ready to do this. This is hurting more with each breath. But I am not coughing up blood, my fingers are not white at the nails, if it has caused a hole where the blood flows, it is plugging it up now. When you pull it out, it will unplug the hole like a bung from a barrel. Then I would be dead before you could stop the bleeding.” Beli wheezed painfully.

“Beli,” Donal said softly.

“I know…” Grimacing against the pain he interrupted as he grabbed at his old friend’s chest, “I cannot live with this in and every moment it is in me, the more damage and the more pain it causes. It must come out, one way or another. It is good that it is you, you have the best knowledge to do this. You have pulled these out of men before during battles.”

Donal nodded, mixing the dried and powdered herbal potion with the smallest amount of water to mix a paste on the cleaned linens. Conn brought some powdered leaf over on the warm rock with the willow branch, now cut by Gael who carefully heated the twig over the fire until it turned color, she was careful as not to burn the wood as it would be ruined, and Gael did not have time to prepare a new branch.

Taking the remaining uncooked paste, Donal smeared the pungent mixture over his hands. Donal who wrinkled his nose at the smell.

“It tingles my hands and burns my nose — Aye, it is a strong mix. This will either cure you or kill you old friend!”

“Where is my bite rag?” Beli groaned. “Be good and sure it has the medicine in it.”

Conn brought the linen pouches that they made up for the procedure. One, moist but light in weight and green, the other that was heavier but dry and colored tan. Careful to kneel next to his mother as he held them out to Gael on a cleaned rock, who took the light one and handed the larger, heavier tan wrap to Donal who set it along on the edge of the heated rock.

Donal nodded at Gael and Beli, everything was ready.

“Put it in your mouth. Beli, bite down a few times.”. Gael gave no room for debate as she looked down at her husband, holding the thumb sized green rag to his lips.

“I know what to do!” Said Beli, with his voice muffled by the green linen bag.

“Shush and chew, husband.” She kissed his forehead. “Before I thump you.” The threat was without weight of malice. The only emotion she let be obvious, sharp she might be, he was the love of her life.

Donal looked at Conn, “I will need you to pack the wound with the flat of the willow-branch there. Scoop up the powder and dump it in and around the hole after I remove the spike until the bleeding stops or there is a pile over it. If he bleeds too much, your father will not stand a chance. But I venture an opinion that it has missed his vitals.”

One last breath Donal braced himself, wrapping his hand around the iron neck of the arrow-bolt, he held it for a moment, looking into the eyes of his friend and son-in-law’s father. Beli had become quiet. He had a familiar, dreamy look on his face and an odd glazed look in his eye that showed that he was already in an induced sleep.

“No pulsations from the shaft, this is a promising sign. Okay, straight out and easy.” Donal said quietly.

“Niamh, Conn hold on to his arms. Gael, keep him calm.” Drawing a deep breath, he looked at his old friend. “Beli, see you on the other side my brother.”

A gentle pull and Beli became wide-eyed with a grunt as the pain exploded through him. Gripping the green grass underneath him tightly.

“Keegan! Keegan! Tá brón orm! Fill ar ais go dom mo garmhac! Tar ar ais chugam!*” Beli screamed.

(*Keegan! Keegan! I am sorry! Return to me my grandson! Come back to me!)

Gael, kneeling at Beli’s head squeezed red juice from a cloth with bark and berries into her husband’s mouth, the extra plant extract calming him further. Taking care that Beli would not stop breathing under the narcotic effects of the herbal medicines, the effects were rapid and predictable.

Donal kept pulling, not letting up and not letting go for worry that it would do more damage as it returned to its resting place. But, if he pulled too hard it would cause a suction that could kill his patient.

Moments passed and the shaft did not move. Then slowly as Donal applied a little more pull on the arrow, it began to back out. Imperceptibly at first as sweat beaded on Donal’s forehead, then the arrow shaft started to move steadily backwards out of the chest of his best friend and family member.

It was out the length of a fingernail. Dried blood on the shaft was the marker how deep it had been.

“Pour some powder around the base of the shaft.” Donal told Conn.

“Keep him from moving his head as much, he flexes his muscles here and in his back when he moves. It is making it difficult and more painful.” Donal admonished Gael as he kept the tension on the shaft.

Width of a finger out.

The dart began to slide out of the wound more easily, the tapered shaft, Donal thanked the Gods it was not a broad head. Built with socket-fitted tip on the wooden arrow.  They forged the tip to penetrate armor and then wedge in the metal skin with the wood fibers, made for piercing armor and disabling but it was not efficient at killing.

Wisdom held that it took more men of the enemy to remove the wounded from the field of battle than to tend the dead. Those that were left then would have the archers come down and the killing would be done with knife, sword or ax on the battlefield.

Two fingers width of arrow withdrawn.

“More powder, get the cloth ready to staunch the bleeding.” A small trickle of blood was visible. Donal had one hand on the patients chest, pushing while the other hand pulled on the iron neck of the arrowhead.

With a wet sucking sound, the needle sharp arrowhead came out of Beli’s chest.

“Now, pour some powder in the hole and cover it up with the cloth and press firmly, until I tell you to stop.” Donal told Conn, “Not TO hard! Don’t break your father’s ribs. He won’t like that.”

His hand firmly over the hole and watching the blood soak into the cloth as he pressed directly on the wound, Conn was now sure that the old man was going to live. Donal carefully put down the blood-slicked spike. It was well made, fortune was with them, no barbs or splinters anywhere on the edges and no bleeding salts had been on the shaft. Donal did not cause more damage with the removal. The arrow did all the insult to the body at the moment when it entered his chest.

Turning back, “You can take your hand away,” Donal covered Conn’s hands and smiled. “apprentice, you have done well! You teach us how to build ships, we will teach you, yet, about herbs, medicines and how to heal.” Donal said as he dressed the wound with the bandages prepared by the women.

Conn chuckled, it had been a long time since anyone dared call him an apprentice, but here? Here he was well outside of his normal circles. Looking at his mother, she smiled at him, making him feel young again.

“You did well, Conn.” Croaked Beli, “Don’t you agree, Gael?”

“Shush, you old shoe.” Gael looked down at him. “You made me a near widow, when you are fit I will make you fear me more than death, enough to step away from any arrow. I will not do this again with you! I’ll find me a handsome young man and toss you out!”

Tears were in her eyes as she spoke, there was no conviction in the words. He might be an old shoe, but he was hers and she took care of all her belongings. She was the queen of collecting in the family and her family was her prize collection, Conn her only child and Beli her only mate. They taught and treated together many children and people, every day it was another family that needed to help a child born into the world or a negotiation between clans. Gael’s family was her soul.

Donal opened a pouch withdrew a couple of stones, setting one aside, then another.

“No, wrong effect. This one is wrong, too. There! This one.” Then with a skilled touch, Donal began to grind a small chip into a powder.

Conn looked and recognized a few of the stones in the pouch, many he did not.

“Bloodstone, feldspar, rubháid bairestone. What is this?”

“That, my son, is ‘Sruthfola’, it can cause severe bleeding. Only used in scant amounts to keep blood thin to promote healing on some injuries.” Beli whispered, “Or stuck into someone to cause them bleed for a long, long time without stopping.”

Conn looked at his father, he was still glassy-eyed from the herbal cloth that Gael pushed into his mouth, but he was still awake and able to talk.

“Dittany, is a plant that stops bleeding and promotes healing. I’ll be well enough in a day.” Moaned Beli, his voice a bit stronger now.

“NO! Beli! I will thump you!” Growled Gael, pulling her husband of so many seasons down to his back by an ear. “You will heal and rest.”

“She’s right. No herb or magic can take the place of healing. Magic can fix the problem, but the body must go back in balance.” Donal said to Beli, he would not dare oppose Gael now in any case.

“Then catch up with my son. He is walking with that look in his eye again. He is thinking of something.”

Flee

Standard

Flee

Fracking.

That’s what they called it, but whatever the title it might have, it was a disturbance in places long hidden from the light.

Humans dug deeply into the earth, disturbing the ancient bedrock. Minor quakes rattled places that humans had yet to explore.

Perhaps they should not. For there are places in the earth that were buried so deep as to be forgotten.

They should remain forgotten.

But not this day.

All that remained for those still standing, with all their maps and explorations, was

Flee 2nd cover

1. Brisbane

The red haired Yank drew his bow and sighted over the arrow at the horror that approached him from forty-paces away.

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.

Thirty paces and closing, its breath wheezed audibly in decaying lungs. This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the other undead.

Twenty paces.

His focus was a laser point as he aimed, he pushed fear of approaching death down into a small compartment in his soul.

He waited, measuring.

Fifteen paces.

The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to the living. The Archer took a deep breath and let it out slowly, at one time this was a handsome youth.

Five paces.

Archer shot the arrow into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened and fell over backwards.

“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.

RCMP when he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.

“Bone is thinner there, with luck it’ll punch through hole that the optic nerve passes. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried build wood arrows, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge, even starting as dowels.” Archer said. “But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find any high tech arrows in stores someday.” The Archer pulled out a straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a tip made from a silver spoon he had pounded into shape with a discovered hammer, but was no arrow that Archer was willing to shoot. “Ah well, let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said, as he pulled his arrow out of the head of the nightmare that had been walking at him— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.

A dead-dead person.

“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.

The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.

You could say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.

Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.

Chaos.

It began in the land of Oz.

In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. A virus the newscasters said.

A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. The walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and security forces.

The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent arrows made a path without attention.

The shuffling dead did not know or communicate when an arrow had stilled one of their own.

The pair made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Hiding behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after he walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.

Andrea St. George the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to, while Andrea held a single-shot rifle ready.

The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.

Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back

“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”

Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Two jars of Vegemite he set on the counter.

“You have taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have here.”

“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “

“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.

“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected I’d say, it’s safer.”

Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said. 

#

Chapter 2. Eating Well


“We need to move before sunset. Tomorrow we need to head down to the marina.” The archer said. “I’d say if we head south, we will head into the mess at Darwin. Sydney is the best way out of this hole.”

Aw, you don’t like my BrissVegas?” Andrea laughed.

The archer chuckled while accepting a biscuit from Andrea, who was instructing the Yankee on how to eat the Vegemite and bread before he continued.

“The boats down at the marina will allow us to sail with safety.” The archer said softly as he choked on the Aussie treat. “Damned lucky for beer.” He gasped out.

You Yanks have no taste.” Andrea laughed. “I told you to take a bite, not pop the whole muffin in your mouth. It will pull your tongue out by its root and beat you over the head with the bloody end.”

“I do have a taste, I like beer.” He winked. “And it was bite sized after all! This is saltier than ocean water.”

“We will need to fight our way to the marina.” Al interrupted. “It’s a long ways there to run and the how those creatures move about, we need more ammunition.”

“Guns equal attention.” Stormy said. “I watched it happen when they first attacked the police roadblock. Shooting our way there isn’t viable.”

The chance that saved your ass in that bus.” The archer said as he stood. “These… zombies… were going after the cops and their guns, that kept them away, they were inside the terminal going after the officers that were making so much noise. Those that were injured, turned. The others won’t be awarded medals for bravery, but they lived by running, it was FUBAR.”

FUBAR?” Zac asked. “What’s FUBAR?”

Fucked up beyond all repair.” The archer said.

Or reason.” Al injected.

Or recovery.” Gail added.

Nodding and chuckling, the archer continued. “I needed to choose, clear the coach or the cops out. I opted for the civilians, it was a tough call. But… Cops took an oath, you folks did not.”

His lowered his voice to almost a whisper describing the scene, looking at a bit of plastic on his finger.

It was a nightmare. I took down thirty of them beasts before they knew I was there. Before they knew anything, I had recovered enough arrows to cover the difference. That’s when I yelled through the door.”

Well. Let’s dash over to the police station. It’s six blocks away, but in the right direction of the marina.” Al said putting his hand on the archer’s shoulder.

Let’s walk, no tripping.” Andrea said softly, kissing the crimson-haired Yank on the cheek. “Archer, I’m glad you made the choice.”

#

3. Stepping Out

 

The door of the bank opened quietly, there were few creatures in the street, not one of them alerted to the humans.

“Okay, quiet, cover each other’s back. I’m first, Stormy to my right, Andrea and Zac in the middle, cover sides and up. Gail, Al, you have the rear and up. Keep them from dropping in on us from fire-escapes or windows.” Archer said as he placed an arrow on his bow.

“Why is the Mountie not first?” Gail asked.

“I shoot faster with my rig than he can until he gets practice.”

Al loaded up a vertical crossbow, holding it so that anywhere he looked, the arrow aimed naturally.

When they stepped out into the street, a single shabby ex-human shambled towards them from where they were going. The Archer loosed his arrow and it fell to the ground as they walked quietly towards the police station. No other of the animated dead that patrolled the area

The Archer paused as they walked past the body and pulled the arrow out of the head of the horror-come-archery target.

The Archer kept his place on point as they headed to the station, an arrow nocked, his bow ready to draw in a heartbeat if a need arose. and carefully moved forward to the gate of the fortress-like structure. It stood ajar and opened silently on high security hinges.

They dragged the body of a large Rottweiler by its thick harness, Al cried when he saw it wore a badge. The head of a half-eaten corpse of the police dog blocked the spring-loaded gate from fully closing. Toothmarks on the badge where something had chewed, obliterating the badge number. Torn bodies lay about, decaying in the concrete courtyard. The K-9 cop did not die gently, as evidenced of a furious fight by the bodies in the courtyard.

“Never thought a dog could tear limbs off of a body.” Jameson said.

“Canine officer. They teach them well and they require robust intelligence with these dogs.” Al said softly, tracing his index finger over the mutilated badge.

A bullet-proof glass and steel enclosed observation area inside the building controlled the gate.

Sergeant Frobisher, quickly figured out how to operate the lock and secured all the exits with a control panel.

“Excellent.” Al said. “Now we can relax.”

“No, now we need to check all the cells and rooms.” The Archer said. “I’m not sleeping without clearing this place from top to bottom.”

“You need to sleep, no matter what.” Andrea told The Archer. “When was the last down-time for you?”

“It has been a day or so.” The Archer nodded. “We will rest when the building’s secure.”

“Al and Zac stay here. Stormy, Gale and Jameson upstairs. Andrea and I will search below.” Archer said.

The Sergeant nodded.

“Here,” The Sergeant reached over into a locker as the groups were getting ready to leave. “I found these radios. Keep them on this channel I selected. Radio checks every five-minutes, everything is voice activated, so I will hear you the moment there’s a sound louder than a deep breath. As the Archer said, no rest until this entire building is cleared.”

Archer taped an LED torch (as the label on it said) to the side of his bow and he adjusted the beam to fill a room with the glow from the diminutive light. Andrea stood next to him loading a police shotgun liberated from a gun-rack they found. She had used a key she found in a drawer and was quite proud of her discovery that allowed all the other firearms in the station available to the others.

“Right, ready.”  Andrea said as she racked the riot gun and chambered a shell. “Buckshot and slugs. That’s what this girl is made of.”

For good measure, the Aussie filled her pockets and a bandolier with shotshells she had found while digging around the observation port. Al pointed it was not police issue.

But Andrea could not care less.

#

4. Revelation

 

The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.

Vampire Skull Northern Ondode/Nosferatu

Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.

But they were not alone.

Movement…

Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.

Stop walking.”

It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.

Something hissed at Andrea, avoiding the lights as it moved.

It went under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.

“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.

The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger and drove the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment, an arrow buried its tip into the head of the shadow causing a shriek of anger, a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.

Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.

The Archer’s earpeice buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”

“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.

Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot an arrow at the wrong shadow and it stuck out in a stupid angle that made him shake his head while nocking another shaft to the string, tracking the correct shadow – the one with teeth.

“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”

The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell. An arrow intercepted the creature, penetrating it in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.

The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, knocking over a video projector that shattered on the floor. The creature landed on all fours and its face unbelieveably rebuilt as it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.

Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, but suddenly bi-pedal. Still, its features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.

However it was immensely strong and changing shapes, wriggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it.

Point-blank range, she fired another load into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.

Gristle and meat, black blood and bone splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her head.

The angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked, clawing at a wooden arrow stuck in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.

“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.

“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.

Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.

No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.

You shouldn’t talk, that thing is LOUD.”

“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes in the sheetrock.

The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had too many fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.

“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”

“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.

“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.

“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”

“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”

Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.

“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.”

“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”

“It means,” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”

“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.

“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creature, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”

“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus!  We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG!  NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…

“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.

“Coincidence.”  The downed man moaned out.

There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”

There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”

Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.

No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”

Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that.  Vampires terrified me as a child.”

No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”

“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.

“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”

“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”

“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”

“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”

“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.

2 Dracul Skulls ("Noble" caste, Possibly "Royal" Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, "Identification of skulls" Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views.  Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skul

#

 

 

 

5. Debriefing


The group walked into the cafeteria , Zac was carrying the skull, carefully turning it over in his hand as they all sat down..

Archer poured himself a coffee in a styrene cup from a stack he had found in a cabinet, handing one to Andrea and to Al.

So what happened down there?” Al asked.

Archer took a tentative sip of the steaming black water while Andrea spoke.

“We entered the classroom and I would hazard a guess that it was asleep and we surprised it. It wasn’t even aware we were in the building.” Andrea said to Al as she sat with the others in what was once a cafeteria.

“If Andrea had not seen it and fired first, I’m not sure we would have survived. It came straight at her and my aim was not on. I shot the wrong shadow.”

Stormy found some herbal tea in a cabinet, saying it would be better for Archer, she took away his coffee.

You sure I can’t have the coffee?”

Stormy gave Archer an icy look and shook her head. “I’m worried about your caffeine intake.”

“I was lucky, it happened to come over the table where I was pointing the riotgun, I pulled the trigger when it startled me.” Andrea said.

Al chuckled and turned to the Archer.

“How did you decide to shoot it with that arrow you made from a dowel? I know you carry that one you keep fooling around with. What made you think of that?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure, but if I was wrong, we were in for a hell of a fight. But, one way to destroy a vampire is to run it through the heart with a stake.”

“Okay,” Al pulled at his ear. “What you are getting at?”

“Okay, wooden stake in the chest. Can it be thrown? Could it be larger? A spear? Wooden shafted and driven through the chest?”

“Um, yes, it follows.”

“Okay then what is the difference between an arrow and a spear? A javelin and an arrow? Size? So, I used that wooden arrow that I have been working on.”

“You thought that during the fight?”

“Well,” Archer chuckled, “A significant deal more than that, but I’m being succinct about it.”

“Heh, my friend, if you think that fast after you drink your coffee, don’t you ever quit.”

Everyone except Stormy chuckled, who failed to appreciate the humor in Archer living on caffeine.

#

6. A Good Night


“Okay, we are cleared, top to bottom. Windows are secured, we have a room for us to sleep in. Who will take the first watch?” Al asked.

The Archer raised his hand.

“I’ll take the night half.”

“No.” Stormy, Gale and Andrea made a harmony of the word.

“Sorry, you need some sleep.” Gale said.

“Besides, you reek.” Andrea pointed out. “If I wake up and you are standing there, I will shoot your Yankee arse for one of those walking dead.”

“Okay, shower. Then I will do the watch.”

“No,” Stormy Knight argued. “Is it true that you have not slept at all? Then you need to sleep.”

Archer shook his head.

“Okay, just lay down for awhile. Rest.”

“Oh, all right. I’ll relax and recuperate for a bit. Al could you do first watch?”

“Naw, right now I need some shut-eye for a couple hours. I’m beat. I’ll volunteer Jameson. He’s slept quite well the last few nights.”

Jameson cleared his throat.

“Archer never woke anyone for the next watch, he did the whole shift!”

“No matter.” Andrea said. “You have first watch. Archer has a night off.”

The Archer shook his head slightly and winked at Jameson.

“YOU!” Stormy pointed a finger at the Yank. “Gingersnap, off to the showers with you. The men’s side has a shower system. I looked it over when checking out for any nasties that might be lurking there. You wash up and then lay down.”

“Your clothes, too, deposit them outside the door of the showers. There is a laundry . We’ll need to wash all our clothes.”

Heh.” The Archer said without trying to hide the humor. “Lawyers will always take the shirt off your back.”

The look from the attorney of the United States was enough to for the fearless Archer to move quickly at her command.

Archer spoke loudly as he walked down the stairs, “Clean mind, clean body; pick one.”

Anyone else want to cross swords? I will send them to the showers, too.”

Gail raised her hand. “With him?”

Andrea laughed and raised her hand. “Community shower?”

Oh hush. I’m first in that case.” Stormy laughed. “I like the redhead.”

We all do.” Andrea and Gail said in chorus.

#

7. Morning’s Early Light


Stormy nudged Andrea before dawn.

“Mm- mmph.” It was Andrea’s wittiest conversation she could have before morning coffee— her “Cuppa”.

Looking around Andrea nudged Gail.

“Wh’.” Was the best that the petite, muscular blond woman could verbalize as she stirred out of the best nighttime hibernation in a long while. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“The Archer is gone. Jameson is asleep.” Stormy said, matter

“Jameson!” Andrea threw a pillow at the coach driver with uncanny accuracy. “When did you come in?”

“Not long after Archer finished his shower. All you shelia’s went to bed, Al was asleep, he was up and said he was my relief and you were okay with it.”

In the control room, Al and the Archer were talking.

“ARCHER!” The women yelled as they came down the hallway.

“Uh-oh. Busted.” The Canadian chuckled. “You violated curfew.”

“Better to apologize than to ask permission.” Archer winked.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping.” Rachel said.

“You said to rest, and I did. I rested for an hour but could not catch any luck on sleep, so I came up here so that I would not disturb anyone.”

Stormy grumbled like distant thunder with lightning flashing her eyes, living up to her nickname.

“Men and children, the only difference are their sizes.” She said to Andrea.

Andrea laughed, looking at the two men that continued to gaze out the window at the outside world.

“What are you blokes looking at?” Andrea asked.

“Well,” Al said and looked out the window. “Birds.”

“Listen.” The Archer opened the heavy, armored-glass door to the outside courtyard.

The sounds of birds singing in the early morning light.

“I have not heard that in over a month. Birds stopped singing when all this happened.” Andrea said as she walked to the door listening to the music of nature’s composition for the first time in a long while. “What’s changed?”

“I’ve been standing watch for the last four hours. ” Archer said, Stormy sighed at this news with fire in her eyes. “There has been not a single shuffler meander by. Not one.”

“Are they gone?”

“I couldn’t know about that, just that I have not seen them from the observation area. The only change is that we destroyed that vampire yesterday. After Al and Jameson ran down the street and took it into a church. We can rest assured it is not in control of anything at the moment.”

“Control?” Jameson yawned as he stumbled in. “Y’all disturbed m’ sleep.”

“I’ll do more than just disturbing your sleep.” Gale was dangerous sounding. “I should kick your arse down the hallway and back for not finishing your shift.”

After my run down to the church there and all.” Jameson said, sounding a little more awake.

Shut it!” Gail said, then turning to the Canadian. “Taking it into a church killed it?”

Zac, Jameson and I took it down the road to the church— Catholic by the by— and when Jameson dropped it into a baptismal tub full of water. It bubbled and then burst into a flame, it was quite impressive.” Al said. “You’d think we dropped it into a vat of acid and gasoline, eh. It was quite exciting for a moment.”

“Yes, I would venture a guess that that did it.” The Archer continued. “I’m not positive, just a theory. Now that it is lighter, there are bodies are visible, lying all around out there. Those bodies— over there and there — we didn’t shoot them. It looks like they collapsed suddenly, what ever it is that energizes them was abruptly cut off.”

“The vampire?” Stormy’s asked. “Are you saying the vampire controlled these zombie creatures?”

“That is what I’m supposing.”

“So you think it was controlling them.” Gale asked.

“I cannot say that for sure. It could just be motivational. A bit like saying ‘rise up and walk’ and then just let them shuffle around, aimlessly. No direction, just setting them loose to put pressure on the humans.” Archer shrugged. “It is a hypothesis based on the scantest of information.”

“So.” Stormy’s logical side took over. “You are saying that it is not a virus?”

“In the way it appears as of now. The jury is still out. If you excuse the term.” The Archer winked. “It could be a sort of, I do not know, a sort of control that is passed on by senescence – death. You become dead, your systems are inert and are open to control. A frog’s leg, for example, can move even though the frog is dead or even if the leg is amputated. That could explain why those shufflers out there are not something to be reasoned with. There is no mind. Just a power control.”

“That kind of power is unknown, nothing I have ever heard of can do that.” Gale said. “And it is spread by contact with the zombies, not vampires. That makes no sense.”

“Yes, and true.” The Archer answered, nodding. “But it is all I have for now. Bigger brains than mine will need to think it over. One more reason to find a military center where they may have a fortress and are holding out against this. This started in Darwin, Sydney is the largest city, it should have a military base somewhere around the water.”

“Yes,” Jameson nodded. “There is a naval base on Garden Island there.

“Perfect. An island is easily protected!” Al said. “That’s our destination.”

The Archer nodded. “Agreed.”

“No, it is not what you are thinking. It’s an island, but has been connected to the mainland by bridges. Like your Manhattan island, for example.”

“Still.” The Archer said slowly. “It is a base, it will be defended, I hope, and a place we can dock a boat to without walking across land with those flesh-eaters hunting fresh meat.”

“Okay, then prepare to leave. Pack light. We leave at sunrise.” Al said.

Archer agreed.

Archer.” Zac said sleepily. “You were in the showers when we came back. I wanted to give this to you, but I was asleep before you were finished. The mum’s would not let me stay up.” Zac pointed at the women as he held up an exotic shape of limbs and string.

Where did you find that?” Archer’s eyes widened.

I found this in a shop, it was in a glass case. The Sergeant said you would like this.” Zac smiled.

Thank you,” Archer smiled as he ran his fingers over the four limbs of the bow. “You have any idea what you have here?”

A bow. It is unusual, I have never seen one like it.” Zac said, his eyes glittering with glee that the face of the redhead lit up with a rare smile. “I never saw one with forked arms before.”

This is a Penobscot style bow, it is custom made by White Wolf in the United States. Look at this here. It is called a Wind Warrior. And here? This is the number of the bow, the boyer’s name and the draw it has. This one goes up to seventy-pounds. I don’t think I have heard of one that went that high before, the name etched into it here “Midnight”. I don’t know if that is the color or the name of the bow.”

Name?” Zac asked.

A few shooters named their bows. I was one, but I’m considered a bit eclectic. My favorite bow was the Gertrude. But this one is my favorite now, she is beautiful.”

She?” Andrea laughed lightly.

Beauty, thy name is woman.” Archer said, looking again at the four-limbed bow as he held it up to the light. “The name of the bow is Midnight. Thank you, Zac, this is a wonderful gift.”

Oh! You could use your nickname with it and call it Midnight Thunder!” Zac was pleased with his thoughts on the subject.

Archer chuckled and looked down. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

“Now if someone can point out the direction to my clothes, I have gotten chafed wearing this prisoner’s jumpsuit. It rides up a bit.” The Yank said, changing the subject.

Quiet snickers could be heard as he disappeared with Stormy down the hallway towards the laundry room, pulling at the prisoner garb uncomfortably.

I keep getting a danged wedgie.”

#

8. Recognition

The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.

He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.

“Any changes outside?”

“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”

The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.

“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”

“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.

“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought you equipment and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”

“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”

Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.

“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”

“You have a family. Your son is supposed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”

“Yes, I opposed him being pushed to be an archer on the team by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed the suit for an invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”

“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.

“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer sighed. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”

He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.

I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”

He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.

“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”

“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.

“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”

“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”

You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”

Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did.”

From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.

“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.

Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. There were bodies with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.

He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.

“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”

“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.

They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.

The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.

#

9. Out On The Docks

For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The presence of ravens feeding on the dead was oddly reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens to be a good sign.

The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.

Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.

I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.

There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”

A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.

By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”

Stormy?” Archer asked.

Yes, love?”

You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”

You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.

You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”

They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.

As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.

Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.

Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.

Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”

Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.

“Hey!” He yelled.

Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.

“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”

“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.

“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”

The skipper paused.

Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.

“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”

“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”

“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.

The skipper swore under his breath.

“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”

The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium sized, but well appointed.

“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and have been waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”

“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.

“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”

“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.

Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.

“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”

“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.

“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”

The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.

“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”

“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.

“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”

“Here here!” Andrea laughed.

Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.

“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”

“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”

The Captain stopped talking for a moment.

“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”

Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.

The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.

“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.

“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.

“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.

“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”

The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”

“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.

“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”

Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”

Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.

“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”

Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.

You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.

Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.

Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”

Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that should be impossible.”

The Captain shook his head land laughed.

Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”

#

10. Ocean and Freedom

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have been drinking that brand for years.

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine has been extended to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopters their weapons repeatedly.

Only after the Calliope’s shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water the gunships returned to base on shore.

The haze and smoke slowly dissipated as the killing machine moved off, returning to the carrier.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders and turned away back to its patrol.

#

Epilogue


Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:

Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”

Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.

“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”

“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the whole of the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”

Yes, my Lord.”

The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night.

That night, over a month ago.

Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.

Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.

A bow floated on the wreckage, an unusual penobscot bow made of exotic woods. The bow lay on a raft of floatation devices, hastily lashed together, clear of the water with a quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.

<Finis?>

Dragon Master University Chapter. 29. Gorgons. Myth or Fact?

Standard

Chapter 29. The Gorgon, Myth or Fact?

 

 

Walking up and down between the chairs, the Green Wizard showed signs of the last of the green leaves that sprouted from his beard and hat where turning brown in the dead of winter.

Known for his ability with the plants, his were the last to die back, the first to sprout anew.

He was the Green Man.

“The cycle of life in the forest changes with the place on this world. In two places, not a tree grows, the sun in winter never rises, in summer it never sets. Here, where I hold sway, snow falls last, although around us, snow piles up during the winter and feeds the streams and ponds you see around the mountain. Life goes on and renews.“ He walked slowly, the hat he wore had cocoons in various places, one hibernating furry creäture that no one could identify, curled up on the moss lined brim. “In the spring, six weeks from now, you will be back here to study if your professors believe you’re ready for that level.”

Standing in the middle of the classroom, the Wizard eschewed the traditional straight lines of how most classrooms at the University taught. Teaching instead that, nature abhors straight lines. A tap with his staff on the middle of the floor, the Green Wizard displayed the night sky on the ceiling of the room.

“In an age past, dragons roamed the sky like the birds of today. They are descendants of a great civilization, destroyed by a group of small dragons and humans that worshiped destruction and death. They title of the leaders of this group was the Csu.” The Green Wizard looked around. “Remember this, those who seek a single solution to life, a single rule, death is the result. Life is a chorus, man, dragon, woman, swimmer, flyer. All the others that we have spoken of in the past weeks. The steps each takes is different and follows, will follow, and has followed a slightly different path.”

Smiling, as he paused for effect.

“Whether you have skin or scale, each has a life to live and the creative ability to impress the world.” Turning a slow circle, the stars changing. “The Csu did not believe this. One answer, one voice to the deity they spoke to. Death and destruction was their answer to it all. Trees fell, whole communities wiped from the earth. Then they met the Gorgon in battle.”

A hand raised up. T’sing’s eyes were bright with curiosity,the small dragon from the far side of the world was willow thin and beautiful. Her side of the world, dragons are good luck to have in a family. A dragon that graduated from school such as DragonMaster U, was doubly so. Human graduates in the same family, members considered them as the seed of a dynasty.

One such family, had sent a human son, Qin, with T’sing to attend together. Together they promised to build a country that would last forever.

“Sir, who is Gorgon? My mother told me when I was very young to stay indoors, because Gorgon would eat small dragons and humans alike.”

“Good question, T’sing.” The Green Man said. “The proper term is they are the Gorgon, it is a group of Gorgon, the race of the amphibian creatures are as different as Gorilla and Human, but without the gulf of intelligence. They have their own society, and while they do not fear dragonkind, they do avoid them. It was not until the Csu got involved with the Gorgon, at great cost, that the leadership of the Gorgon converted to the Csu religion. We will discuss the Csu religion another time, but the Gorgon are something to cover now.”

Another tap of his staff on the floor of the room, images ran across the ceiling.

“The Csu with the Gorgon army now under their control, swept out of the warm seas of the lower latitudes, catching dragons and humans alike unaware and unprepared. Humans were given a choice to convert to the way of the Csu book of laws, or die. Dragons received no such consideration, called instead as throwbacks to an age where great lizards walked the earth, cousins to Gorgon who tolerated no competition for skies and sea for food. They slaughtered dragons everywhere they found them.”

A gasp from the classroom.

“I was but in my fiftieth summer then. Professor Vale was, and still is, my son and protoge’.”

“Sir, did you have a name during that time?” Jona asked.

“Aye, I did. Though I scarcely remember it. Cranndair, if I recall.” The mentor stroked his beaded facial hair in thought. “No matter. Regardless, the Csu fell only when there was a rise in a sect within their own ranks. Sensing the division, The Gorgon as a body rebelled against the law of the Csu.”

Waving his staff, the huge Gorgon armies stopped chasing dragons and humans, turning instead on their masters.

“The Csu are the single most effective lesson on domination. People of any kind, Dragon, Human or Gorgon give their loyalty voluntarily. Force of threat, of death to family or self always ends up in failure.” He looked at the class. “Call it what you will, but the force of fealty at the point of sword, tooth or claw is bound for failure.”

“But Sir, if you hold by force, they cannot break it.”

“No empire has ever stood on force alone.” Cranndair the Mentor said. “In my studies, I see a human empire that will rise and last for over a thousand-year period and become the greatest civilization that the humans will ever know. What we learn here, will allow dragons to also be a part of that. If we are not fully successful, Dragonkind hide in the cracks of human society, but Dragons will survive. In those days after the wars and the fall of the Csu, The Gorgon did what they do. They withdrew from all societies and to their caves. Content to hibernate and only come out on rare occasions to forage.”

“It is their way to devastate an area, many humans put it down to demons, Dragonkind however, blame such things as natural disasters and storms.” Rubbing his nose. “Often it is the Gorgon causing storms, floods and volcanic destruction. Some human societies still blame dragons.”

“How does a society endure for a long time?” They asked nearly as a body of students. Everyone of the large group nodding. He rarely took this many, but his son, Vale, talked him into it, saying that the students this year were exceptional.

The old man smiled. Hunger for knowledge had started today.

No longer lecturing to bland minds that could not care less for law and lore, or math and science, these seeds of the future now wanted to know where they came from, so they could see where they were going in their growth.

Much as he hated teaching, he loved when children learned.

It would be another age, an age of ages into the future, that the “Light Bulb” would illuminate in their minds.

(*Author’s Note To Pronounce The Following Word:

Csu: “Chew” is closest that a human can say.)

 

 

United States Thanksgiving: Please be with family. In or out of US.

Standard

In this time of the season, whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere. take time sometime this week and give thanks for the family you have. So many lose a loved one, sometimes we don’t tell them– out of anger or oversight, or the most wrong thing.

We take it for granted.

Tell them. Hug them. Enjoy the family. It doesn’t matter if you are a New Zealand, Aussie, Yankee, Canuck, Russian, Chinese, Mongolian and any of the others I am too danged lazy to write out. Take your mom, dad, brother or sister, son or daughter and give thanks that they are in your life.

No borders need stand in the way of that thanks.

Have a good week folks. I am taking a few days away. You all might get ONE chapter, but I won’t promise for the next week.

 

Even the Bradach Ard Ri gets a week off sometimes.

 

 

Dragon Master University Chapter 5. The Ride

Standard

Chapter 5. The Ride

 

“This insulated armor is for harsh environments, you better be getting yours on, too. You will stick out like a wart if you don’t wear the proper garments.” chuckled Aed.

Watching closely as his father picked up the over sized knife, his father looked him in the eye and then hit the side of his leg with the cruel cutting edge of the sword. Not so much as a dent in the material was left by the cutting edge. Smiling at his son at the strength of the armor that he had kept quiet for lo’ the many years that the son had come to join them. He helped Jona dress in his student armor.

Jona dressed, the leather smelled newly tanned, the touch of it made him feel like a warrior of his own, slightly taller than his auburn haired mother, his jerkin fit him perfectly, as if it was known that he would be wearing it.

“Come, son! Time to get going!” Dearbhail said. Her strong will reasserting itself once again. The family hiked out into a meadow outside of the village, past the Crannog used since as long as anyone could remember, should the wild men of the sea invade.

In the middle of the field, dimly lit by the two torches carried by the adults, Jona had the dubious task of carrying the heavy gold griddle, stood a large wicker basket, enough to carry perhaps as many as ten people and all their food, bedding and still have room left over for any animals they might want to bring.

The wicker was tightly woven, enclosed but for shuttered holes that served as windows to the outside. Aed opened the stout, side door and Jona could see the reclining seats inside. Just sitting there, Jona looked around for the cart or wagon that had brought it. Not quite understanding, he looked for a place to put down the bag that carried the heavy, gold cookware.

“What is this?” Jona asked, learning not to make comments, because the truth of the last few days made his wildest imagination pale in comparison.

“This, Jona, is our way to get to the school, we ride in it.” Aed said as he and Dearbhail climbed in. “Get comfortable, you will find your first lesson in dragons.”

Opening the top of the basket with a lever that telescoped the apex of the basket back to the sides so they could see out, his dad made a sound like he did when he was snoring, Aed seemed to make a whole sentence from the snorting and snoring sound.

Jona began to laugh at his dad, when there was the sound wind coming from the sky, no clouds, but as Jona looked up, the something blotted out the stars.  It… He could not believe it… It was the biggest flying thing that Jona had ever put his eyes on.

Jona squealed like a cat with its tail stepped on and he fell over backwards when he craned his neck to look up, great orange eyes looked down on them from the sky and wings that went from edge to edge of his vision he had to turn his head to see all the wingspan of the huge dragon that hovered over them as it sat down on the grass as lightly at a bird.

His face and eyes twitching as the lips of his mouth formed a big “O” without a sound when great orange eyes looked down on them from the sky and wings that went from edge to edge of his vision, he had to turn his head to see all the wingspan of the huge dragon that hovered over them as it sat down on the grass as lightly at a bird.

His face and eyes twitching as the lips of his mouth formed a big “O” without a sound.

After a few minutes, the only sound he heard was the rush of blood in his ears and a small funny sounding squeak like a squirrel made when caught in the claws of a hawk, only to come and realize that the squeak was coming from his own mouth, echoing laughter from far away was his own mother and father.

Aed stood over his spasm-riddled son and looked down with laughter as his wife roared with laughter, all the first time students that had seen their first full-sized dragon had same reactions— normally they passed out or ran away in panic.

“Jona, you did better than most kids! You at least stood your ground the first time you met the transport, even if you did a very good apoplexy dance before you fell, were you frozen or did you find it curious?” Aed laughed as he spoke to his son.

“Wahh-wahh-wahh-wahh-wahh…” Jona repeated for several minutes, until finally he complained that the weight of the gold platter was holding him down.

“Let go, son, let the bag go.” Dearbhail said, “It is not holding you down, you are holding yourself back from standing up.”

Jona suddenly realized he had a death grip on the bag that held the heavy gold platter to his shoulder, releasing it, he stood up with his eyes still fixed on the winged beast that sat quietly in front of him, A thought that struck Jona in his mind and he turned to his father with eyes as big as dinner plates.

“Y-y-y-y-” his voice faded away and he cleared his throat.

“Spit it out!” smiled Aed, “What are you trying to say, son?”

Jona looked around, the sun was breaking over the horizon, coloring the clouds crimson putting the dark, shimmering dragon that looked down at him with a bemused expression, its orange eyes still glowed in the early light.

“You speak dragon!?” Jona finally got out.

Aed chuckled as his mother rocked back and forth on the edge of the giant wicker basket.

“Of course we do. Yes! Both of us speak dragon, all two – hundred dialects. Your grandpa spoke more, but many dragons have disappeared out of the world.” Aed said.

The great dragon overhead nodded slowly and sadly. Seemingly to understand human speech.

“IT understands our language?” Jona choked out. His eyes looking at the shimmering creature.

“She does, as most dragons do. It takes years for us to learn their language, but they know ours easily. I will explain as we go, now IN the basket with you, we are losing our cover.” his father said with a smile. ‟The reclining seats. Keep the fur blankets close at hand.”

“Jona, get this jacket on, you will catch your death of cold otherwise.” His mother reverted back to her concern about her only son. “Hat on, too.”

A small cap that seemed familiar, but could not recall just where, he pulled it on. It was the same kind as the hat both his mother and father wore, with the exception that theirs had feathers in it. His mother’s was a white feather, his father’s was shimmering green.

“What are we going to do in this basket?” as they sat on snug, tightly woven reclining seats with odd metal hook and eye fastened straps that wrapped around their waist. “What are these for?”

“My own addition, we have had a few people fall out of the chairs over the years, this is my answer and seems to have been a good one.” his father answered.

“How do they fall out? What are weeeeeeee……” Jona never finished his question as he instead screamed while the great drago took flight and latched its massive claws on the crossbar of the great wicker basket and took flight lifting them off the ground rapidly, going up into the sky.

The elder Samhain’s laughed and their eyes shined with excitement as they gained altitude, the dragon lifted them up into the air and into the clouds. Their hair flying behind them as they held hands and enjoyed the ride.

“If you are going to regurgitate your breakfast, son, please lean out the window. ” Aed said with a laugh.

“I did not bring any change of under clothes for you, so you better keep control of your bodily functions!” Dearbhail yelled as she slapped her husband as she pointed down over the edge of the open window.

Below the sun shown on the harbor, the black ship of the day before was still at dock– high tide was not due for several hours, the crew of the ship was seemingly gathered on the breakwater with many of the locals standing around them as they seemed to entertain the people in the early morning light.

“That Master O’Danu has his crew out again.” Aed said. “I always like listening to them when I have time.”

“W-what?” Jona asked as he peeked over the side at the group of men on the ground far below.

“The sailors on the ship are also poets and artists. Often the sing at dockside a cappella at the end and beginning of the day. Sailors work hard during the day, morning and night in the slack tides they have time to show their stuff. Here, this morning they are singing on the docks.

‟Is he a Dragon Master?” Jona asked as he looked over the edge. His knuckles white as he gripped the wicker rail tightly.

‟Captain O’Danu? Yes. He was a few years behind us. That son of his will have a great surprise on his own, like you.” Dad said. ‟They spend a great deal of time on the water, Captain O’Danu trains water-dragons, water horses, sea nymphs and mer-folk. He keeps all the pirates in the area away from our harbor and makes sure we are left alone.”

‟He keeps pirates away?” Jona shook his head in disbelief. ‟How?”

‟Son, you noticed they had the ship painted differently?”

‟Yes, it was all black with some white.”

‟Yes, that is the ship Orca. Captain O’Danu is the Pirate King on our side of the world.”

‟On our side of the world?” Jona blinked. He had seen the red-headed captain several times as he had grown up. Never thinking that the ship that he was on was a pirate ship, or the crew who sang and brought smiles to merchants were all pirates.

‟Well, not a pirate in the typical sense. The Empire that has hunted him and his crew for years has labeled him that. He took the title after his ship defeated a pirate fleet in a three-on-one disadvantaged battle, pirates in the area called him King. He takes tribute from all of them, a few gold pieces each, but there are many of those that ply their trade on seas. A good man to have on your side.”

‟What about his son, is… I think his name is odd. Dana I think.

‟Oh yes, his boy Dana is too young yet, I would say. Unless he understands how to train puppies and has an open mind. Some children and adults cannot wrap their minds around a school with dragons.” Mom said. ‟It’s an old story on both sides. Those with limited education are given to hate more. It is what we try to change as a Dragon Masters.”

‟Why are you called Dragon Master if you are teacher?” Jona asked as the big wings of the orange dragon as it took a now-rare flap of leathery wings. The blast of wind was shocking, but bearable.

‟We have mastered the subjects to teach the two worlds how to live together.”

Quaint?  Did he ever think of his mom and dad as quaint?

They flew in a covered basket carried by a huge dragon without blinking an eye.  This was…

Jona decided he had a lot to learn.

By a large margin.

This was nothing like school was over the last few years.