Authors: Robert Schobernd
I led seven people, and Richard led the other seven in parallel columns. Near the edge of the clearing, we stationed our backup crews. They hunkered down amid puddles in the mud.
Richard and I led our two men to the barn to secure it first. Although the big sliding doors on the front stood open, we approached a single-man door at the backside. Byron slowly opened it. The rusty door hinges squeaked as the wood plank door moved outward dragging through the muck. I cautiously entered alone and listened intently as I slithered forward. Dim light spewed through the big open doorway. In the gloom, two loaded wagons sat in the center isle. There was rustling up in the loft.
Above me someone furtively whispered, "Shhhh."
Loudly in a gruff voice, I yelled, "Get your worthless asses down here and give me a hand. Now, dammit."
I heard voices speak softly. A half minute later, multiple pairs of feet clomped down a set of stairs. I reached the bottom of the stairway at the same time Elizabeth stepped to the dirt floor. Her clothing and hair were disheveled. She tried to button her pants as she walked.
A man behind her said, "What the fuc—" I shot him in the head. A man two treads behind him took three silenced 9mm rounds in his chest.
I grabbed Elizabeth before she could react and scream. "It's me, Tom Jacobs. We're here for you." She threw her arms around my neck and sobbed as she hugged me tight against her. "Do you know if anyone else is in here?" I asked.
Through tears and sobs she blubbered, "I don't think so." As we spoke, each body took another headshot.
We hurried to the back door as she held my hand in a death grip, afraid of being left, I supposed. Outside, my three friends were surprised at the sight of Elizabeth.
I cut the jubilation short and asked her, "There are six cabins. We know which one is the kitchen and eating area. Who is in the other five?" I moved from the shadow and cover of the barn's roof overhang and scratched the cabin locations in the mud as rain drenched us.
"All the prisoners are kept in this one." She indicated a cabin behind the kitchen. "A man and a woman stay in there all night with us. The little kids sleep in the loft. They'll be inside out of the rain playing now. One of our girls and two guards should be there now. They make us take care of the kids. At night we bed down on pallets on the floor. Only the guards have beds; unless they drag one of us there with them."
Richard asked, "It's still early; will the doors be barred or locked by this time?"
In the faint light, Elizabeth shook her head. "No. They bar the doors when we bed down for the night."
I turned to Richard and pointed on the ground. "You and Byron take this building and then this one and this one. Elizabeth is going with us to the kitchen." I turned to her and gripped her hand as I rethought our plan. "We need you and the other young women to take the younger kids into the woods. You'll need to carry the little ones and keep all of them quiet. The rest of our group is waiting there. Can you do it?"
"To get away from here? Yes, we can do it."
I walked her to the corner of the barn nearest the woods and pointed to where they should go.
Before the five of us reached the opposite corner of the barn, I heard a low growl. Around the corner, a wet mongrel snarled even louder. Its feet were planted wide and its chest was low to the ground. It barked twice before a single bullet in its head caused it to emit a low moan and roll over on its side in slow motion. I checked my watch; it showed five-forty-five. With cloud cover blocking the moon, darkness could envelop us around six-thirty.
Richard split off from us. He and Byron ran hunched low with short, fast steps for the nearest cabin. My team went the other way to the kitchen.
The three of us slipped and stumbled through the mud. Smoke from the kitchen stove hung low due to an inversion of the air currents heavy with moisture. I noticed Elizabeth was bare-foot; my moccasins were soaked through and filled with water inside. I nudged her onto the porch and then motioned for her to go inside and quickly step to the right side. She nodded then pushed the door open.
I heard, "Well, the little whor—."
Mitch and I burst through the doorway. I recognized Molly and Merriam and made a quick guess as to another captive. Mitch shot a woman who had a gun on her hip and a man sitting at a table in a corner raising a fork to his mouth. I shot another woman who stood and snarled something hateful at me. A third younger woman raised her hands and said, "Surrender, I'm unarmed." My weapon went SPLURT, and a bloody hole appeared on her forehead. Mitch kicked the door shut.
Elizabeth was with the three captives explaining about us. We told them our plan for rescuing the children, and then we left the kitchen.
At the prisoner's cabin, three of our women stood against the wall on the porch. I whispered to Mitch and Elizabeth. She looked at us then confidently flung the door open and barged in.
As the door opened, I yelled, "Get in there, Bitch!" Mitch and I charged in while Elizabeth ran across the room to a stairway on the right.
I tried to stop with my machine gun pointed at a woman on the right. Mud on my soaked moccasins caused me to slip on the slick, worn wood floor; my legs danced to keep me up right. Mitch's MP-5 spat several times at his targets, a man and a woman. The woman in front of me reached to her left and pulled a revolver from a holster hanging on a straight wood chair. Her right arm flung toward me as I balanced and triggered a burst of shots at her upper torso. The pistol fell from her hand and dropped to the floor at the same time she did. Elizabeth clasped a young woman closely. When the shooting ended, they ran up the steps.
I opened the door and brought the other women inside. They raced up the stairs to the loft and helped with the children. Children began coming down and paused on the lower stair treads. They stared at us and the bodies with eyes wide and curiosity in their expressions. Several recognized me and Mitch and grinned. There were two older children about ten years old I didn't recognize. Elizabeth had each of them securely in her grasp. Mitch and I cleared the two back bedrooms while the migration from the loft continued. Five of the smaller children were in the arms of the women. A minute later all the captives raced across the muddy, weed covered yard to the woods. In the fading light I saw dappled figures step away from the edge of the woods to guide the escapees through the stand of trees. Mitch closed the door behind us and we moved to our next target.
The next building was the kitchen. We passed it and sloshed through rain puddles onto a wide porch across the front of our third building. Four wood rockers sat forlornly in the dark under the overhanging roof. I looked at Mitch and nodded as I reached for the door knob. The door pushed open but scraped noisily on the bare wood floor.
We rushed inside as two loud gunshots rang out in the distance. Mitch and I were six feet into the room standing side by side firing at four targets. We'd almost trampled several kids playing in the middle of the room. Two men and two women fell in bloody heaps under our weapons.
I turned my attention to four small children who looked at us in terror. Mitch checked the two back bedrooms. No one was lurking there. The kids were between three and six, I judged. We herded them to the porch. That they were afraid and confused by what they'd seen was obvious. I glared at them and gave harsh orders for the older ones to hold the hands of the youngest. They looked eager to escape, so I told them to run for the woods or I'd find them and punish them for disobeying me. Obviously, they understood punishment, and they'd felt its pain before. They left the porch. One boy stopped and turned to glance back at me. Three fast steps toward him convinced him to yelp and run harder as he pull the younger girl with him.
Mitch and I trudged off in the direction where Richard and Byron should be. More loud gunshots signaled a fire fight between Richard and Byron and our targets. We had to get to them fast. I figured Mitch and I had dealt with six men and seven women. We had no idea how many were left. Obviously enough enemies remained to give Richard a hard time.
We were stooped and scurrying through the mud under dimming light when I motioned for Mitch to stop. We stood next to a cabin wall and changed thirty-round magazines.
Mitch and I had cleared the barn and three cabins. Enough time had passed that Richard had surely been through his first two targets. The unsilenced shots must have been from his last destination. Luckily, that was our sixth and final one.
The rain had slowed but still fell steadily as the final vestiges of dusk faded into darkness. Gunshots became fewer as we reached the end of the cabin. I peeked around the corner and saw a muzzle flash from a window at the sixth cabin. Two subdued bursts from a silenced weapon shot at the shooter and moved him away from the opening. Our man was under the porch of the adjacent cabin. In the deepening shadows, there was movement between the two buildings in front of us. A figure slinked along the cabin wall where our people had taken cover under the porch.
Mitch said, "I've got him." He sent a barrage on full auto before the man screamed, fell to his knees, and keeled over sideways in the wet muck.
Bullets immediately hit the corner of our building. I flipped the MP-5's selector switch to single fire and aimed the iron sights at the window where the shooter had last fired. Four fast shots from left to right stitched across the glassless opening.
I told Mitch, "Stay here and provide cover fire for Richard. I'll work my way around several of the cabins and get to the rear of number six. Don't shoot me when I cross that open space where you shot that guy on the ground."
He replied, "Be careful, there's almost no light left. It's nearly impossible to know friend from foe."
I grinned in the dark. "I'll fix that."
Five minutes later, I'd sloshed through the muck as fast as my slipping and sliding feet would let me. Seven loud shots had been fired during that time. I couldn't imagine what was going through the minds of our backup crew waiting to help us. They had no way of knowing if any of us were wounded, captured or dead.
The space where Mitch shot the sneaky interloper loomed before me. If this cabin had a large living room space in front and two bedrooms behind that like the others, I knew how to drive the occupiers outside. Pushing off from the wall beside me, I crossed the open space as fast as possible. Under my parka, I grasped an M-67 fragmentation hand grenade, then pulled the pin. The barrel of the MP-5 poked through the glass, and then the grenade was lobbed inside.
While squatting low behind the cabin's wall, I felt for and found an incendiary grenade. Seconds after the initial blast, there was the sound of gunfire from within the room. That was my cue to launch the phosphorous grenade through the opening. I hated those things because of the extra short fuses they carried.
I was squatting low again when white hot phosphorus shot through the window opening and momentarily lit the area in front of me for several seconds. A terrible scream emanated from within the cabin from someone trapped in the fire zone. I rose, and through the smoke and flames fired a full automatic blast into the room until the magazine was empty. The screams stopped and I ducked down well below the window opening to slap in a fresh magazine.
The fire inside the wood structure was gaining strength as I inched around the corner and along the wall toward the front of the building. Smoke seeped through cracks between the outside wall and the roof.
I called out. "Richard, this is Tom, don't shoot me."
He replied, "Roger, I see you. That's the last cabin, finish it fast. Byron is hit hard and needs help."
At the front corner of the burning cabin, I heard Mitch fire several bursts at the front wall. Smoke roiled out broken windows on either side of the door.
Suddenly, a barrage of loud shots was fired; muzzle flashes pointed toward Mitch's position. Two figures ran from the burning building firing wildly at Mitch and Richard. All three of us returned fire until both men stumbled and slid face down in the mud.
A female's voice yelled, "Don't shoot, I surrender. I have my hands up.” A figure stepped away from the doorway. Eerie light from flames inside outlined the woman; her arms were up but bent at the elbows with her hands down near her neck.
Suspicion gnawed at my guts and sent a warning to my brain. I flipped the selector to full auto as I made the high step up to the porch deck. The move left me slightly off balance before both feet planted on the wood decking. The woman's right hand suddenly flashed overhead toward me. A chrome pistol glistened in the orange glow of flames. My finger pulled the trigger as I leaned left and fell to the cabin's front wall. A line of 9mm. bullets started to the right side of the woman and trailed to the left and up her torso. To my right Mitch had unleashed a barrage, too. She got off one shot of what sounded like a .22 caliber. Instantly I felt a smack to my right leg and knew I'd been shot. She'd planned to die and take me with her. I cursed myself for giving her that chance. Even after all the battles I'd fought in the past fifteen years, it was still difficult to overcome the sense of fair play and honor I'd been taught early in my life and up to the time of the zombies.
The rest of the evening was a blur. Byron was taken to one of the cabins where his mother treated his wound. Carmen had been an Army nurse in field hospitals and had assisted with many operations on battlefield gunshot wounds. She became the surgeon charged with operating on her own son to remove bone fragments from a shattered rib. The final prognosis was iffy. She gave him a sixty/forty chance of a full recovery if the damage didn't become infected.