Authors: Robert Schobernd
OUTNUMBERED vol. 6
A Zombie Apocalypse Series
Published by Robert Schobernd at Smashwords
Copyright 2016 by Robert Schobernd
Cover Art by Katrina Joyner
A storm is brewing. Whispers of it waft around me as low grumbles or snide looks. Conversations stop, and people I considered friends look sheepish as I pass. When I broached their behavior with my wife, Kira, she reluctantly agreed with my observations; she'd also seen and heard the rumblings of discontent.
We've not encountered a zombie since moving to this remote section of the Missouri Ozarks. That's the good news. On the down side, we've not met another human being in the past five years, either. Are we the sole remnants of the once thriving human race? That though should humble even the strongest of survivors, me included, if I believed it.
Tom Jacobs 2033, fifteen years after the Zombie Apocalypse began.
Elderberry wine. I hadn't tasted an alcoholic drink in fifteen years. The sweet, dark, heavy-tasting liquid was appropriate for the occasion. The taste and color made me think of Mogen David wine. A lifetime had elapsed since I'd tasted that brand. I wasn't at all sure there were actually any similarities, but that was my immediate impression. It took me back to childhood Christmases when all the small kids were allowed a small glass of Mogen David and 7-Up.
I made a toast. "Here's to our continued success as we face the declining world around us."
Kira smiled as she slapped my thigh sharply. "It's New Year’s Eve; don't be so gloomy. We've survived the zombies, our kids are healthy and intelligent, and we'll continue to thrive despite whatever rears its ugly head in the future."
Silently I mulled that for a few seconds as it bounced around in my brain. "Okay, you're right. We assume billions of other humans around the globe succumbed to the zombies and the roving bands of murdering outlaws they unleashed; yet our group is still alive and functioning. That is something to celebrate."
Our glasses clinked before Kira leaned over and planted a brief kiss on my lips. "Be sure to thank Morgan for the wine and tell him how great it is. Do you know where he makes it?"
I shook my head. "No, and I didn't ask. The ban on alcohol hasn't been officially lifted, and I'm hesitant to boil the kettle by stopping it right now. I suspect the dissention we've noticed runs deeper than I can imagine. I've been surprised lately at some of the suggestions and complaints rendered at the monthly group meetings. A segment of people are pushing for more social freedoms. Jesse Pitchford even wants to lift the smoking ban that's been in place since our group formed."
Kira snorted. "I remember, he became loud and adamant about his civil right to choose.... Have you talked to Shane about this?"
"Almost daily. Alcohol isn't a major issue yet, but we're seeing more signs of occasional intoxication with every seasonal change. I suspect someone is making corn mash whiskey and bartering it for other services or goods, but I'm hesitant to make it an issue in the precarious, socially-charged atmosphere that's evolving. At some point soon, I'm sure it will have to be addressed."
"Has any mention of smoking or alcoholic drinks been made in the Leadership Committee meetings? It seems to me that's where these issues should originate."
I mulled her question for long seconds. "Only when Shane, Richard, Doc or I brought up something related to it. Then most of the others looked sheepish and moved to table it or simply let it drop and die."
Kira moved to sit on my lap and cuddle. "That's strange; that group has never held back before, why now?"
I shook my head and lost interest as I kissed and fondled my beautiful, loving wife.
A month later, I rose before the sun and was dressed when it finally poked its rays through the leafless trees. Quietly, I opened the entrance door so I'd not wake the kids. Across the road stood a small herd of six nice-sized does and three younger ones. The largest probably weighed one hundred-thirty pounds. Just as carefully, I pushed the solid wood slab door closed and grabbed a .30 caliber lever action rifle from the wall rack. Kira was in the small, waterless bathroom, sitting on the ceramic thunder pot. I whispered, "Pull your clothes on and grab your rifle. Deer, across the road."
Outside, we stealthily maneuvered to keep a big oak between the grazing animals and us. "You take the biggest one," I whispered. We'd hunted together before, so she knew the routine. We each used our side of the tree to steady our shot.
The animals grazed leisurely, unaware of the stalkers one-hundred-fifty yards away. They were in meager shadows cast by the rising sun behind the tree branches. Grass and remnants of last year’s garden provided fodder for grazing on the frozen ground. At the report from Kira's AK, I dropped a deer, jacked in another shell, and then focused the 8X scope on the neck of one running straight away toward the edge of the woods. It dropped as I heard Kira fire again. I counted the carcasses on the open ground; Kira had downed a second doe also. There'd be a plentiful supply of fresh venison to feed our forty adults and nineteen kids. I headed toward the horse barn to get a stallion to drag the deer over to the block and tackle at the butchering tables. Kira took my rifle and headed to the cabin to tend to our three children. Richard stepped out of his cabin and yelled to me, "I heard four shots; how many did you get?"
By then he was close, so I held up a hand with four gloved fingers raised as I gloated.
"I'll help," he said as he fell in beside me. Richard had grown to be a good friend as well as a staunch supporter of my goals and methods.
Shane and Morgan joined us and pitched in to help butcher. When he arrived, Shane said, "The timing for this was good. The wild hog meat and venison I brought in last month is almost gone. Soon, I'll go out to replenish the supply while we eat this."
"Be careful, there were signs of a panther in the bottoms downriver, and we hear at least two packs of wolves at night."
"There hasn't been any heavy snow accumulation on the ground for a period of time, so the wolves should be finding enough food...the panther, too. And the black bears should still be hibernating."
"Yeah, you're right."
It was late morning before the butchering finished, the meat was hung in the smokehouse, and a hickory and crabapple fire was started. We parted and went to our homes for lunch.
Near lunchtime, Kira held class in our cabin. I listened to ten-year-olds Tom Jr. and Dominique read as I grabbed enough fried squirrel meat to be my lunch. When I left, seven-year-old Kat started her reading assignment. Kira was adamant all three kids learn to read and write. I didn't see a big need for it. No books or newspapers are being published to read, and our supply of reading materials, both books and magazines, are limited and fifteen-years-old at best. We're even about to run out of paper to write on. There's no mail delivery service to exchange letters, and we're not aware of any other humans to communicate with. So what good is reading and writing if it's not going to be used even on a weekly basis?
Geography is a different matter. Hopefully, at some point in the future, descendents of our group might want to strike out and explore the rest of the land mass that was the United States of America and Canada. Those names mean little now, but the depictions of the land, existing roadways, rivers and mountains on maps will be invaluable to future exploration. The locations of bridges may even help for an indefinite period of time. Without traffic on them, steel and concrete bridges may last hundreds of years before deterioration makes them impassible even for light loads.
I left the house and walked to Shane's cabin. Vivian met me at the door with a wide, happy smile. "He's at the horse barn." The sky had clouded over. She looked up. "Feels like it could snow."
"Yeah, first in two weeks." Over her shoulder I saw and heard her and Shane's two small children and grandson.
Fifty feet from the barn, I glanced to the right. Suzie Radcliff and Sarah Thompson stood at a large iron kettle moving a huge wood paddle through the steaming, bubbling contents. Without stopping, I waved and said, "Hi." They were making lye soap from animal fat and wood ash. The pungent smell drifted on the light breeze out of the northwest. The women had a small cottage industry going and bartered the soap to others for their products or services.
Shane was in the barn mucking out a stall. I stood beside him as he stopped and frowned, "Jessie Pitchford's family is supposed to maintain this stall and two others and look after the draft horses in them, but they seldom do it. I got tired of reminding them and listening to their lame excuses, so I'm doing it myself. I feed and water the horses occasionally or they'd be ready for the glue factory."
I nodded. "Do you remember in high school history classes the stories of the pilgrims landing on the East Coast? They had the same problems with slovenly behavior; some stepped forward to do their share and more while others shirked their duties. Without a strong form of internal government that all must abide by, some tend to ignore their responsibilities to the group. In the case of the pilgrims, half of them starved to death during a harsh winter."
Shane nodded. "Jesse wasn't always that way. He's changed over the years, and if you say anything you're a butt-hole out to make them look bad. It was so much simpler when we all lived at Deliverance and everyone was assigned duties weekly."
"I know, living in separate housing and cooking and eating individually has diminished the close communal ties we had then."
Shane stood his pitchfork against the stall. "Plus the constant threat of zombies or outlaws pulled us together. You and I have talked about this several times. I still don't see any way to re-instill that sense of togetherness we had when we started. A majority of the people have changed, and it's not for the better."
"I agree, forcing them to change isn't feasible. That leaves us as the parties who need to change. Me, you, Richard, Jesse and to some extent Morgan are the best hunters in the group. Instead of providing meat freely we should become meat suppliers and trade it for services from other people."
"I like that idea. But what about where we're standing? Who takes responsibility for the livestock? There's this horse barn, a cattle barn and pigs, chickens and goats to look after."
I squatted on my haunches and chewed on a straw stalk as I studied the dirt floor. "We'll have to divide the livestock among the families. Each will then be responsible for the health and maintenance of their property. We'll draw numbers to decide who chooses first and so on. Each can pick a horse or cow to own. Then next summer, the owners will be responsible to raise enough hay for feed and wheat to provide straw throughout the following winter. Those who don't grow enough, or run short, can barter for more or sell their animals."
Shane squinted in thought as he counted on the fingers of both hands. "I count twelve families. With Doc's pancreatic cancer advancing so quickly, he's out of this. It will be up to us to take care of him until he passes. And Andrea Margherio isn't capable of caring for horses and cattle properly by herself; she could be allotted extra chickens, pigs or goats to compensate."
As I stood, I commented, "Keep thinking along those lines. I'm sure it won't be as simple as it seems now, but it's a start."
I left the barn and headed for Doc's cabin. The wind had kicked up a notch and carried a deeper chill with it. I shuddered and pulled my coat zipper tighter.
Doc lay in bed. His emaciated body had been bedridden for almost two months. Our nurses, Marcie, Carmen, and Verlie looked after him daily, and all of the women took turns bringing him food at meal times. Lately, he waved it away most of the time. I made it a point to visit with my old friend almost daily. It was difficult because Doc seemed to slip away a little more each time we spoke. Often, he appeared too weak to even follow our conversation. But then he'd surprise me and talk with a new found vigor.
I tossed three sticks of wood in the heating stove then sat on a chair next to the standard size double bed. The older man's breath was shallow and labored, his skin pale and stretched tight across his bones. Pancreatic cancer was a bitch, and that was no way for a proud man who had given so much to others to end his life. A jolt of pain caused Doc to grunt. Seconds later his eyes opened, two narrow slits focusing on the wall in front of him. Then his head tilted toward the figure beside him. He smiled faintly. "Should have woke me. How long have you been there?"
"A few minutes, I'm not rushed."
The patient's eyes fluttered, then closed. A minute later they opened wider. Doc focused on me. "Anything new going on?"
"Same ole, same ole. Kira and I brought down four does this morning. They were in the gardens across the road from the cabins.
"That girl is something." He smiled weakly at some recollection. "I recall that soon after she came to Deliverance you angered her, and she almost shot you.” He chuckled then coughed hoarsely long and hard. “Still, you're lucky to have her, you know?"
"Yeah, damn lucky."
"How are the kids? Junior and Dominique are smart, they'll do alright. But that little one, Kat, she's the one to watch. She's a natural leader. We need more kids like all three of them."
I peeled my coat off and dropped it on the floor. "If there aren't other groups of survivors out there to provide fresh gene pools we'll finally have inbreeding occur. We need to find some other blood lines."
"I truly believe there are others, but be careful of what you wish for. We've had a belly full of bad experiences with other groups of humans. Not all but far too many."
"Yeah, that we have."
"You'll be alright for a few generations, if you pay attention to the family trees. Our people have held up well for the most part. Only Marilyn Jarnigan and Anthony Margherio have died since we moved here. Marilyn simply gave up after Ed was blown up. She had no interest in living without her mountain of strength standing beside her. And Anthony's pneumonia, that was the result of being out of shape and overweight. I tried to tell him, but it didn't sink in."
"There'll likely be more of that; more people are overweight now than I've seen since we grouped together. But on the positive side, we've had what...fourteen births in the last five years?