Trip returned to the garage to tell the group about the task the sheriff gave him. Before he could make a selection, one of the Marines who came to town with Major Morgan paid a visit to the garage. He introduced himself to the group as Corporal John McCutcheon. Some members of the group got to meet him briefly back at Rescue Station LeJeune. Corporal McCutcheon thanked the group again for taking care of his mother and father in-law, Henry and Eleanor Stevenson. McCutcheon’s wife and in-laws boarded planes for Colorado’s “Relocation Zones” from LeJeune.
Trip didn’t deliberate much before making a selection. From the Marines, he chose Gny Sgt Thomas Odenson, Cpl John McCutcheon, and 1st Sgt Jake Hauser. From the townies, he chose John Myers, Greg (the guy who seemed to be the most staunch anti-military guy in the town militia), and a guy everyone called “Red” (because of the color shirts he always seemed to wear). Accompanying them would be Trip himself, Mike Fulmin, Bryce Winters, Alison Gandry, and Brooke Abrams.
The patrol, which was on foot, wound their set route out from the town. Greg heckled the Marines for not taking point at first, with Hauser reminding him that the townies knew the land better than them. Finally, the Marines got sick of the jawing, which Myers tried half-heartedly to control, and took point. Eventually, Myers directed them to the hill outside of town where the broadcast towers for the local radio and television stations were set up. From the top of the hill, Mike Fulmin scanned the countryside with his night vision goggles, as the sun was not quite up yet. In the distance, the soft glow of Jacksonville’s fires could be seen in the east. Against that glow, Mike could make out something moving in the extreme distance, but could not tell what it was. Make asked for Bryce’s rifle to use the goggles through the rifle scope, but Bryce, not trusting Mike after his poor decisions back at St. Jude’s, wouldn’t hand it to him. Instead, Mike passed the goggles to Bryce, who still couldn’t tell what it was exactly, but that it seemed to be a large mass of people moving along the main road. They decided the wait on the hilltop until sunrise. They sent Red, Brooke, and Hauser back to alert Major Morgan.
Once the sun got far enough above the horizon that they weren’t looking directly into it, Bryce used the rifle scope to determine that it was indeed a large group of people, but these people weren’t refugees. The mass coming towards them was likely upwards of a thousand or so of the walkers. Most of them were shambling, but there were fast-moving ones darting around the slower ones, still keeping pace with the horde. Making their way back to town, the group encountered Major Morgan, who insisted on seeing the approaching horde for himself. Upon seeing the horde, Morgan started calculating possible courses of action. Even though the people of Pink Hill didn’t seem to want his men here, he still felt a duty to protect these people. Stinging from the loss of Jacksonville and Rescue Station LeJeune, he didn’t want to let these people die.
The patrol rushed back to town, where they sought out Mayor Lewis. After checking the Town Hall, the doctor’s office, and even the “secret meeting” building, they finally asked Ken at the bar. Ken told them the mayor was eating breakfast at the diner. Brooke and Trip arrived at the diner to find it closed and under guard. Telling the guards they had important information for Mayor Lewis, they were quickly escorted into the building to find Mayor Lewis and his brother eating a sumptuous breakfast of steak and eggs. Trip, sitting across from the mayor, immediately ordered the same thing they were having, with a plate of the same for Brooke as well, to “put some meat on her bones.” The governor, not impressed, asked their important news. Brooke and Trip filled in the details about the approaching undead horde. Mayor Lewis stood up, pale, asking pertinent questions and clarifying details. He knew that there would be no way to evacuate the town before the horde arrived. There was not enough fuel nor enough working vehicles to get the residents to safety. He immediately decided that his best bet was to fortify the town. Mayor Lewis immediately began giving orders to his men, sending them to call a town meeting and telling one to get Fred, the owner of the local hardware store. Finally, he turned to Brooke and Trip and asked them a favor. He acknowledged that they didn’t have to do this, but that it would still take a few hours at best to get some of their vehicles repaired, so he would give them 4 of the town militia and 4 of the patrol trucks to go to the nearby town of Beulahville and raid an intact Home Depot for needed supplies to defend the town. Before Trip could say anything, Brooke enthusiastically agreed to the expedition, and set off for the garage to tell the others, leaving Trip just shaking his head and following behind her.
Back at the garage, word of an intact Home Depot excited Thomas and Bryce. They immediately started making a list of the supplies they wanted. Thomas decided to take the Humvee he and Hauser brought from LeJeune in addition to the 4 trucks. They decided that, in addition to the 4 townies, Bryce, Brooke, Mike, Alison, and Thomas would be going on the supply run. They would leave Trip, who has decent repair skills, along with the other Marine from the motor pool to continue vehicle repairs. The remaining Marines were out helping make plans and strengthen the town’s fortifications. Fabiana went to help set up Doctor Lewis’ office as a trauma center for the inevitable battle ahead.
While the raid group prepared to leave, Timothy Hickman approached Bryce about the events of the morning. He heard that the group was planning to leave. He told Bryce that he wanted Samantha to live a normal life and not always be on the run. In an emotional conversation, Bryce reassures Tim that they will eventually be able to stop running, but only after they got to a safe area farther west that was not as heavily populated. Tim finally pulled himself together and went back to gather his and Samantha’s things.
The group arrived at Beulahville and got their first look at the town that was blacked out on the map Mike found. The town was fortified much like Pink Hill, but with a tall chain link fence inside the wall of vehicles and makeshift barricades. Inside that chain link fence they saw heaps of bodies, with dried blood spattered all over the fence. The place had turned into a death trap once the things got into the town. They heard the living dead before they saw them, but not by much. There were dozens of the shamblers visible, their moans echoing off the buildings, with the high pitched screams of the runners punctuating the cacophony.
Adjacent to the fence around Beulahville they could see the Home Depot. A tall fence surrounded the building, the gate padlocked. The doors of the store were covered with plywood and chained shut, secured by another padlock. Across the street from the Home Depot, the group saw a long warehouse building with a guard post in the parking lot. The townies with the group greeted the guards, explaining to the group that these were men from Pink Hill, guarding Beulahville and the Home Depot. The guards let them know that they would be available to reinforce the town if needed. The town men unlocked the fence and the patrol trucks backed up to the front of the store. Thomas parked the Humvee in front of the doors, and the townie unlocked the padlock.
Once inside the store, the group split into three smaller groups. The first group, with Thomas, Brooke, and a townie, went to the right, towards the tools and generators. The second group, with Mike, Alison, and a townie went towards the supplies the town needed to reinforce their defenses. The third group, with Bryce and two townies, went after the flashlights and first aid kits. They could see footprints of at least a few of the things inside here, disturbing the blanket of dust that coated everything.
As Thomas’ group approached the tool area, a man in his 40’s turned the corner out of the tool area. In the light of the townie’s flashlight, they could see that his nose was missing and his left eye, rotting, was hanging on his cheek. Thomas aimed and squeezed the trigger, the gunshot echoing through the metal building. The thing went down immediately, its head burst open from the bullet. As the echo of the shot faded, it was replaced by the sound of moans, punctuated by the higher pitched screams of runners, and a blood-curdling sound that can only be described as a mixture between a crying child and an injured cat. Mike remembered that sound and his blood froze.
On the heels of the moaning, the things could be seen approaching from the rear of the store. The runners were in the lead, with the shamblers following behind. A couple of tiny running bodies could be seen darting between the legs of the other things. Thomas’ group began to back up, while Bryce’s group held their ground. Mike’s group moved back toward the exit, except Mike. He climbed the shelves and set up a sniper’s nest on the top shelf to pick the things off with their rifle.
Soon, there were more than three dozen of the things moving toward them. They began to fight their way back to the exit. Mike began picking some of the fast ones off with the rifle, which Bryce had traded him for a crossbow. One of the townies went down under the assault, clawed and bitten. The group continued to back up, leaving the man writhing under a horde of the things. The rest of the group moved back to the exit, taking a stand in front of the doors. A man ran into the store from outside. Nobody had ever seen him before. He was wildly swinging a 2×4, likely looking to loot something from the now open store, but quickly finding himself fighting for his life.
Thomas and Brooke ran outside and jumped into the Humvee, with Brooke behind the wheel and Thomas manning the .50 cal on top. Brooke gunned it toward the front door, crashing through. Bryce and two surviving townies made it out just in time. The Humvee crashed into the front door area, sending pieces all over the area and crushing one of the baby-things under the wheels. Alison and the stranger fought a line of the things right in front of where the Humvee came to a rest. As the stranger goes down, Alison executed a masterful backflip onto the hood of the RV and climbed up over the vehicle as Thomas began to open fire with the machine gun.
Finally, everyone was out of the building, except Mike. Seeing himself cut off by the things swarming the Humvee and snacking on the two men that had gone down, Mike began to retreat toward the rear of the store, looking for another way out. Thomas, looking for a way to get Mike out, pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it in front of the Humvee as Brooke slammed it into reverse and backed out of the store. The grenade blast sent body parts flying, tearing a number of the things apart.Seeing the explosion, Mike began to systematically take out the remaining things with his rifle, shooting each one in the head.
With all of the things dispatched, the group gathered their supplies, filling the patrol trucks and the back of the Humvee. Mike moved toward the loading dock in the back of the store, looking for a delivery truck to load additional supplies. What he found froze him in his tracks. In the loading dock area of back of the store, the things had built a nest. Lots of the cardboard boxes and shipping materials were shredded and arranged into a crude nest. This was definitely new behavior for these things.
The encounter in the Home Depot had chilled the group, but the supplies were gathered and loaded, and the group hurried back to Pink Hill.
To be continued…