Authors: Samantha Warren
Lonesome Ridge, book 2
by Samantha Warren
Copyright 2014 Samantha Warren
The following story is a work of fiction and all names and characters are strictly the creation of the author.
All rights reserved.
This publication may not be reproduced or transmitted in any manner without expressed written consent from Samantha Warren.
“Jump,” Jeremiah Gaines shouted into the wind as the train barreled along the track. He and Charity Banks leaned out the door to the locomotive, staring at the vast plain ahead of them. Fire spewed uncontrollably and the conductor lay slumped in his chair with a thick metal rod between his shoulder blades.
Charity’s face crinkled with worry as she looked between Jeremiah and the grass whipping by outside. “What if we don’t make it?” she screamed, even as the wind threatened to take her breath away.
“We’re dead anyway.” He gave her one last big, brown grin before launching himself from the train.
She watched him tumble away and out of view behind the fast-moving cars. The flames behind her were smoldering hot. They sucked the moisture from her skin and licked at her stained, torn clothes. She couldn’t feel the heat, her pain threshold was a lot higher than it used to be, but she knew it would consume her right along with everything else in its path and she didn’t want to test her limits. Pushing all thought from her mind, she grabbed the edge of the doorway and screamed a three-count. On three, she launched herself into the air and away from the burning locomotive. A screech escaped her lips as she tumbled into nothingness and then the ground came up to meet her, cutting her cry short with a hard thump. She bounced along the parched, pebbled dirt for a few feet, flattening the swaying grass beneath her before rolling like a log down a small hill until she came a stop. An aching pain blossomed in several parts of her body. She groaned and flopped her arms out to the side.
“You all right?”
Charity was lying on her back and tipped her head to the side to see Jeremiah as he jogged up to her and knelt next to her hip. “You okay?” he asked again as he brushed her hair from her face.
She groaned once more and sat up. “Who’s idea was it to attack the conductor, anyway?” she mumbled as she brushed dirt and grass from her torn skirts.
Jeremiah cocked a smile at her. “Yours, if I remember correctly.”
Charity grinned the grin of the guilty. “Oh, right.” She shrugged. “He didn’t taste as good as I had hoped. Too smokey.”
A loud explosion ripped across the plains and the sound plowed over them. Charity instinctively ducked and covered her head, but the train was far enough away by that point that they were out of the main blast zone. Even still, the waves of heat poured over them.
Jeremiah plopped down on the ground beside her and they watched the flames lick the sky for awhile. Once it had died down, he climbed to his feet and held out his hand to her.
“Think any of those we turned survived the explosion?” Charity asked as she gripped his hand and let him pull her to her feet with a little hop.
“Dunno,” he said. “Let’s go find out.”
After leaving Lonesome Ridge, Charity and Jeremiah had worked their way through the cars attached to the train. It was more full of passengers than normal, both travelers looking to head west, unaware of what was among them, and natives of Lonesome Ridge trying desperately to escape the attack on their town by the undead. Charity and Jeremiah were the only undead to escape the battle by jumping onto the train and they barely made it, clinging to the caboose. The people who were already on the train thought themselves safe from the murderous creatures that were plundering Lonesome Ridge and they were unprepared for what was coming. It was easy pickings as far as the deadly duo were concerned. They ripped and tore their way up through the cars, leaving a wake of dead and dying behind them.
“I see some movement,” Jeremiah called from where he jogged a few feet in front of Charity. As if on cue, the screaming began.
“Are they alive?” she asked as she reached the wreckage. The whole train had derailed and lay twisted on the ground like a dismantled snake.
“Can’t tell. Stay back. I’ll check it out.”
Jeremiah disappeared around the closest car. Charity trotted up to it and leaned against the splintered wood. The sun was still high in the sky and it left her skin dry and flaky. The shade felt amazing. She stayed out of the direct light and worked her way around the car.
Gunshots joined the screams and growls as Charity poked her head around the end of the broken box. Jeremiah was nowhere to be seen, but a group of survivors from the train huddled beside one of the overturned cars. Three men formed a semi-circle in front of a pair of women and a handful of children. The kids were crying and the women were trying to hush them as the men shouted at a group of undead nearby. One held a pistol and kept shooting their attackers. Unfortunately for him, he was aiming at the chest and not the head. A smile broke across Charity’s lips as the gun clicked empty.
“Work together,” a man shouted from outside of Charity’s view. “Surround them, don’t give them any escape.”
The young woman’s forehead crinkled. It was clearly not Jeremiah speaking, and yet the man spoke to the undead, commanded them as if he were their leader. They followed his lead and spread out, closing any gaps in their ranks. Charity crept along the edge of the cars, trying to reach the group of survivors before she was spotted. As she rounded a carriage that was shattered and broken, she came upon a gentleman pinned beneath it. His pinstriped suit was bloody and torn and his bowler hat lay crumpled beside him. Under normal circumstances, being crushed by a train car would kill you, and in this man’s case, it had, at first. But his ripped sleeve indicated that he had been bitten by either Charity or Jeremiah beforehand and he turned shortly after his horrific death. He was disabled, permanently crippled, and everything below his rib cage was trapped under the train, but he still had all his mental faculties and he commanded the nearby group of undead to victory over the survivors from the train even as Charity watched with mixed awe and horror.
She stayed hidden in the shadows and waited for the undead to wander off to find more victims before she approached the man.
“Hello,” she said as she crouched beside him, hidden by the train car from view of any casual watchers.
He narrowed his eyes at her, but nodded politely. “Hello. I know you, do I not? You’re the one from the train, the one who attacked us.” His voice was a muddle of accusation and curiosity and by his facial expressions, he couldn’t decide which was more important.
Charity raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “Possibly. And who are you?”
He stuck his hand out from his awkward position wedged under the heavy wooden car. “Michael Evanson, at your service, my dear lady.”
Charity smiled and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Michael Evanson. You’re quite the gentleman.” The smile stayed plastered to her face as she released his fingers and reached forward with both hands.
“What are you doing?” he demanded as her palms settled onto either side of his skull. He jerked his head around and tried to dislodge her fingers. His hands flew up and gripped her wrists.
“Consider it a mercy.” She gripped his head so hard his skull creaked and she twisted quickly. The crackle of his spine snapping gave her a weirdly sick pleasure in the depths of her stomach and he sagged against the ground. She let his head fall and rose to her feet just as Jeremiah came around the corner.
He eyed her and the man pinned beneath the train. “What happened?”
Charity cocked a shoulder and told him what she had found, how the man had commanded the undead, how she had killed him.
“Well, what’d ya do that for?” Jeremiah’s lips pulled into a frown as he looked at the still form on the ground. “He coulda been useful.”
“How?” Charity demanded. “He was trapped under the train. He wasn’t going anywhere. Even if we got him out, he would’ve been utterly useless to us in any attack.”
Jeremiah shrugged. “I dunno. But he was smart. Ain’t many smart ones.”
“No,” Charity admitted. “There aren’t.” She walked away from Jeremiah and headed toward the front of the mangled train. “How many do we have left?”
“I think about seven.” He trotted behind her to catch up. “Most were burned or crushed. Darn things keep movin’ around so I can’t get a good count.”
Charity’s lips pursed, but she gave a short nod. “Seven will do for now. It’s a start, anyway. Gather them up. We’ll stay in the shade until the sun goes down.”
Jeremiah bobbed his head at her and gathered up all the undead he could find. There were seven, as he had said, not counting Charity and Jeremiah. The small group found a spot away from the flames and sun, tucked between two freight cars that had mostly managed to survive the destruction intact.
“You hear that?”
Charity was sitting on the ground, leaning back against the car. She had her eyes closed and was dreaming of the day she would have her own kingdom in New York City, the day she would take her deceased husband’s mother by the throat and rip out her cold, withered heart. “Hear what?”
Charity’s eyes snapped open and she bounced to her feet. Jeremiah was near the edge of the car and she crossed quickly to him. “Horses? How many?”
“Not sure yet. Can’t see ‘em, but I can hear ‘em. They’re comin’ from over that way, near the hills.” He raised his hand and pointed. “See the dust cloud?”
“I do. Everyone stay quiet,” she commanded the undead that were growing restless. “No attacking unless I say so.”
They waited in hushed silence as the group came into view. Five horses held four men and one boy who couldn’t have been older than thirteen. All the men had beards and wore blue. They all carried shotguns.
“Hold up,” the man in the lead called. They pulled to a stop a little ways away from the train and dismounted. The boy held the reins as the men moved away from their horses.
“Search for survivors,” the man instructed the others, and the group split up.
“Too easy,” Charity whispered to Jeremiah. He gave her a quick smile and snuck around the corner. She gave the rest of the group some quick, whispered commands and they all spread out. She heard the crunch of a man’s skull, followed by a short, strangled cry.
Gunshots ripped through the air, but they lasted only seconds. Horses screamed, the young boy screamed, and then all was silent once more.
“How are we?” Charity asked Jeremiah as he crouched over the still body of the lead man. The man’s throat was torn out and his eyes stared blankly at the sky.
Jeremiah pulled his head away from the man’s throat. His mouth dripped with blood. “Lost two. But I think that one might turn.” He indicated a bearded man laying on his back over by one of the train cars. “This guy tried shootin’ one of ours, but he missed an’ got the bearded one in the chest. He’s dead, but bit.”
Charity glanced around at the rest. Their nine was down to seven, but they might be able to add one. “We’ll wait until the sun is below the horizon. If he turns by then, we’ll take him. If not, he stays here.”
“Where we goin’?” Jeremiah asked as he stood up and wiped the blood from his mouth.
Charity looked toward the hills. “We’re going to follow their tracks. They came from somewhere. With any luck, it’ll be someplace we can gather more soldiers.”