Richards woke with a start, a cold chill clinging to his sweat-covered body. “Was I screaming again?”
“Yeah, bro. You all right?” Garcia asked, passing him a bottle of water.
He took a swig, looking around the small room as he did. The space next to him on the sweat-soaked cot was empty. “Where’s the girl?”
“I told her to get back to her quarters. She came to us, said to check on you. Said you were thrashing around, moaning. She thought you might be turning. By the time I got here you were screaming. Lucky she left instead of putting a bullet in your head.”
Richards nodded. The world had made a lot of people trigger-happy since the outbreak. Show even the slightest sign you might be turning into a zombie and you’d find a bullet in your head before you could blink. He’d seen an older woman shoot a toddler in the face after she’d bitten her older brother. The child wasn’t infected, she was just a normal child doing what toddlers sometimes did. The kid’s mother, one of the actresses who’d traveled from California to Fort Huachuaca while the base still stood, killed the woman immediately after. He’d done nothing to prevent it, understanding where she was coming from.
Nightmares of what Jen did to Scotty still haunted him along with the guilt of knowing it wouldn’t have happened had he been there to protect them from the infected person who’d attacked her and left her to turn, left her to eat her own baby. The research that had been done since the outbreak suggested Jen wouldn’t have known what she was doing, but he still couldn’t forgive her.
“You good?” Garcia asked. “I need to get back on watch.”
“Yeah, man.” Richards reached down for his pants. “I’ll be out in a minute to join you. I’ve slept enough.”
“Cool, bro. See you in a few.”
He pulled his pants on and washed up, using the soap and water in the bucket in his small room, before pulling on his army issue T-shirt. This was the second place they’d established a makeshift fort since their original military base had went down. It wasn’t much, but it was shelter, and the Russian bastards who’d blown up their base didn’t know about it.
A lot of soldiers had died that day, along with several people seeking sanctuary there, killed by spies within. All of the bases had been hit, but Nebraska had taken the worst punch. No one had survived. A new set of survivor bases had been established by what remained of the military and his men were one of many crews faced with the task of finding survivors and getting them to the safety of those bases. They made temporary shelters along the way, stayed long enough to find people, and then their caravan continued north.
They’d lost some along the way. Not everyone in their group was survivor material and tended to hinder their progress, but they couldn’t leave those people behind. Those were the people they’d joined the military to protect in the first place. Even the spoiled celebrities who’d came to Fort Huachuca in the beginning, flooding in from L.A. Many of them expected special treatment, luxury in the zombie apocalypse. Their sense of reality already distorted before the outbreak, they continued expecting to be catered to after the country became a warzone between the living and the dead. Many of them were the first ones to die. Grammy and Oscar trophies didn’t mean shit when zombies were on your ass.
Richards had watched the lead guitarist of one of his favorite bands get eaten. There was a time he would have mourned the loss, having worshipped the band, but in the end the guy was just a guy. Actually, he’d been an alcoholic shithead who’d trampled a woman and two children while trying to avoid getting bitten. You might outrun a zombie, but karma was a fast bitch. He knew. He’d spend the rest of his life trying to stay one step ahead of the bitch himself. She’d already taken his wife and child though. He honestly had nothing else to lose except his life. Some days he thought that might not be a bad thing, but then he’d see a child in need of help. Saving them was the only thing saving him.
He met up with Garcia at the fence surrounding the shipping yard. As far as temporary campsites went, it was pretty good. They’d emptied the shipping containers, taking useful supplies, and turning them into shelters complete with cots or sleeping bags. A nearby stream provided fresh water, and the whole area was protected by the fence.
“This isn’t a bad camp,” Garcia said around the cigarette in his mouth, seeming to read his mind. “Almost hate to leave it tomorrow.”
“We’ve spent enough time here,” Richards advised. “We’ve found all the people we’re going to safely find. There are many more out there who need us to find them.”
“True dat,” Garcia said before blowing out a series of smoke rings. They walked the perimeter in silence for another ten minutes before Garcia spoke again. “You dream of your wife and kid, don’t you?”
“We all dream about the ones we lost, the ones we failed to protect. It comes with the job.”
“Yeah, the recruiters never told us that part.”
“Would it have mattered? We’re all soldiers now, even the ones who’ve never been trained. It’s all of us against all of them.”
“Them being the walking dead or the Russian bastards that sent them here?”
“Both. Two different horns coming from the same devil.”
“Devil is right.” Garcia tossed his spent cigarette butt to the ground and stomped it out. “I swear we’re all walking through hell now.”
Richards nearly tripped as an image from his most recent nightmare replayed in his mind. Raven Bleu, the young blue-haired girl from his hometown, reached out to him through a circle of flames licking away at her, telling him to hurry. It was as if she called for him to help her.
He knew she was most likely dead, just like his parents. The dream still filled him with a sense of urgency, a feeling he needed to be at a certain place at a certain time to help her. It was crazy, the thought he’d ever see the girl he left behind in Kentucky again as he traveled North from Arizona to whatever remained of the base in Nebraska, but it gave him a daydream to entertain, something to hope for.
He desperately needed to hope for something.