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by RatDog
Rated: 18+ · Other · Horror/Scary · #1645403
Work in progress, originally written as chapters in the interactive "Pass the Write Baton"
Work in progress, originally written as chapters in the interactive "Pass the Write-Baton

Chapter 9: Yesterday

"Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away...
Now it looks as though they're here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday..."
- Paul McCartney

It's kinda surprising how adaptable people are, how much we try to pretend everything is still normal as conditions slowly deteriorate.

I guess it's the old lobster in the pot theory. You know, if you put a lobster in a pot of cold water and turn on the stove, the water warms slowly enough to where the lobster doesn't realize he's getting cooked until it's too late.

Someone told me they do this because if you throw a live lobster into a pot of water that's already boiling, you can hear it scream before it dies. (I don't believe it, but I'm not going to boil a lobster to find out.)

At any rate, it seems like only yesterday when the whole swine flu thing was just another big non-event, like the bird flu, or terrorists on airplanes after 9-11. Then there started to be more people dying.

But the news just kept on saying there was no cause for alarm. Just wash your hands, keep you kids home if they get a fever, the usual BS.

Then a woman at work told me her friend's daughter had died. She had no previous health issues, just a normal twelve year old kid. Then she got the flu. Fever, chills, vomiting, the usual. Then she got a nosebleed. Then she started bleeding from the eyes, and coughing up blood and acting crazy. And then she died. But there was nothing about it on the news...

As soon as I heard that, I knew things weren't right and it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. I told my boss I wasn't feeling well so I could leave. (Since nearly half the department was out sick by then, he didn't think I was faking it.)

I stopped at Albertson's on the way home to stock up on supplies before heading for the cabin. Got a little fresh fruit and meat, and a couple two pound blocks of cheese. But the rest was purely survival stuff, no refrigeration needed. Salt, pepper, canned corn, peas, pears, tuna, spam, sacks of rice, dried beans, flour, sugar, coffee, and a couple bottles of whiskey (for medicinal purposes, of course).

Traffic was pretty light going out of the city, I don't think anyone realized what was happening yet.

Just outside of Joshua Tree a guy standing next to a pickup tuck flagged me down: "Mister, my wife's really sick, can you help me out?"

I looked at the man, blood was starting to drip from his eyes...


Chapter 10: Aid And Comfort

My first thought was to step on the gas and get the hell away from these plague carriers. But although I'm no longer much of a churchgoer, I still believe in Christian charity, so I had to stop and see what I could do. Besides, I was thinking I might be immune to this pig flu anyway, being as I'm over fifty.

"She's just lying there hardly breathing. Do you know anything about medicine?" he asked.

I pulled out my cell, punched in 911 and hit "Send" as we walked over to the truck: "You have reached 911. All our operators are busy. Please be prepared to explain the nature of your emergency..."

I punched "End". The way this thing is spreading, I wasn't surprised. I imagine the hospitals and EMTs are pretty much overwhelmed by now. It looks like we're on our own.

I looked down at the woman stretched across the bench seat. She had dried blood beneath her eyes, but they were now leaking a translucent yellow liquid. She was staring catatonic-like, shallow panting breath. Looked to me like she was about ready die.

The man looked at me like he still thought I could do something for his wife, but I'd pretty much done all I could by dialing 911. Not wanting to disappoint, I reached out and put my hand on her forehead to maybe check for a fever or something. In hindsight, it was a stupid move.

The woman hissed at me like a snake, reached up real quick and grabbed onto my arm with a grip like a linebacker. Before I knew what was happening she bit a big chunk out of my right bicep!

I screamed in pain and jumped back, pushing her away, started running for my truck. The guy came running after me shouting "She didn't mean it! She's sick! You gotta help us!"

I slammed and locked the door, turned the key and put the pedal to the metal. II believe in helping people as long as they don't cross the line. And biting a chunk out of my arm is way over that line.


Chapter 11: Zombie Apocalypse

So I'm trying to make it to my cabin but my arm is bleeding pretty bad. I pull over next to a little cafe where I usually stop to eat when I'm up in JT, maybe someone there can help. Looks like the place is deserted though, then I remember they're closed on Wednesdays. Just my luck.

I get out of the truck and rummage around in back, find the Jim Beam and a clean t-shirt. I rip a piece off the shirt to make a bandage, take a healthy pull off the bottle to ease the pain, pour some of the whiskey on my arm to kill the germs, then bandage it.

Just as I'm getting back into my truck I hear a woman's voice, "Steve? Is that you? You gotta help us!"

I turn around, It's Jenny, from the cafe, and she's got one of her boys in tow, he's crying. Her clothes are torn, she's looking kinda shell shocked, something bad must've happened. "You gotta help us! Billie's gone crazy! He killed little Clayton! Bit his throat out!" She breaks down and collapses into my arms, sobbing.

I hold her for a minute then grab her by the shoulders, push her back a little and look into her eyes. "We gotta get out of here, go to my cabin, we'll be safe there."

She is sobbing uncontrollably. Struggling, she won't move as I try to get her into the truck. I look down at Trevor standing next to her, he's stopped crying, he's looking to me for direction. "Hey Trev, I need you to be the man in the family here, just for a little while, OK? can you help me out?"

He pauses for a second, then says "Come on woman, get in the truck! we gotta go!" sounding just like Billie.

She looks at him and smiles a little, they both get in the truck.


Chapter 13: The Blinding Light

We take the right on Park Blvd and head for my cabin. Jenny's still pretty shaken up, but getting better. Unfortunately I'm getting worse...

Getting kinda dizzy, maybe I lost more blood than I though from the bite? No, that's not it, my arm didn't bleed that much before I got the bandage on. Suddenly the headache hits me like a bolt of lightning, I can hardly see where I'm going as I pull the truck over to the side of the road.

"What's going on Steve?" Jenny asks.

"Got this mind-splitting headache!" I say, rubbing my eyes.

My hands come away wet, and I look down as see they are covered with blood. "Oh shit!"

I jump out of the truck, Jenny hollers "Steve? What that matter!" and gets out, approaching me.

"Don't touch me, I'm infected! Get back in the truck!"

I open up the camper shell and grab my backpack, tuck in the Ruger and a bottle of whiskey.

"Take the truck, you and Trevor get out of here! We're only a couple blocks from the turnoff for Desert Shadows, you know the way to my place from there."

"Steve, I can't leave you here!"

"Go Jenny! I know this old medicine man who lives near a spring about a mile back from here. If anyone can heal me, he can. And if he can't and I show up at the cabin looking like an extra from 28 Days Later, there's a shotgun in the kitchen closet, don't be afraid to use it."

"Steve! I can't!" Jenny says, crying.

"Jenny, you gotta be strong! For Trevor! You can do it, I'll be OK, I gotta go!"

"Come on Mom, I'm scared!" Trevor calls from the truck.

She gets back in the truck and they pull away as I head up the trail...


Chapter 14: Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die

I hadn't told Jenny a complete lie. There was an old medicine man who used to live in a cabin next to a spring that you could reach by walking this trail, but the cabin was more like five miles away. And I'd last seen Johnny Red Hawk twenty years ago, he had to be pushing eighty then, so it wasn't likely he'd still be around if I managed to make it there.

No, I had another plan in mind when I left the truck. I'd hike as far up the trail as I could make it before nightfall. Then I'd set up camp, build a little fire, drink enough whiskey to get a good buzz on, then put a bullet in my head before this disease turned me into a blood-thirsty zombie.

But as they say, God laughs at our plans...


Chapter 15: Snakebit

I guess I have more energy and daylight than I thought, because I'm able to reach the cabin. But I am right about my other assumption, Johnny Red Hawk is long gone.

The cabin is empty, local scavengers had taken anything of value, but it is undamaged. (Too far away from civilization to be a target of vandals.)

I throw down my pack, drink the last of the water from my canteen, and collapse, exhausted from the hike and the sickness that is slowly taking hold of me. But after resting a while I feel a little better, so I decide to go out and collect some firewood before it gets dark.

I take three steps out the door when I hear a familiar hiss and I find myself staring down a red diamondback. A big sucker, gotta be almost five foot.

I try to back away but it's too late. The snake hits me just above my right knee and I fall to ground, writhing in pain. Eventually I manage to crawl back into the cabin. I pull the bottle of whiskey from my pack. (I remember reading somewhere that whiskey counteracts snakebite, and even if it doesn't at least it kills the pain.)

A few minutes later I'm sitting on the floor, my head swimming from sickness, venom, and alcohol, when the snake slithers past me. It coils itself up in a corner on the other side of the cabin, staring at me with it's cold reptilian eyes...


Chapter 16: Revelation

"I should get my gun and shoot you, but your bite might be doing me a favor. Your poison will probably kill me soon enough, save me the trouble of shooting myself," I say to the snake.

"My venom won't kill you, but your "antidote" might, unless you drink enough water to flush the poison out of your system."

"Hah, I'm hallucinating a talking snake! And even if I believe you are speaking to me, I got no water left in my canteen... Either way, I guess it's time for me to die."

"Not if I can help it! I'll get you some water, just give me a minute."

With that the snake starts to shed his skin, in the process turning into Johnny Red Hawk.

"Now I know I'm tripping, no way this is really happening!" I say.

Johnny walks out of the cabin with my empty canteen and returns a few minutes later. "Drink as much as you can," he says, handing me the filled canteen.

I gulp down several mouthfuls of the cool water, draining half the canteen, then look over at Johnny. "You really are here! What the hell's up with that?"

"I think the Great Spirit decided I wasn't done yet, so he brought me back."

"Come on Johnny, you told me you never believed in all that metaphysical shit. You used to laugh at me when I was into Castaneda back in the 70's!"

"Well Steve, I learned a valuable lesson after I died. I doesn't matter what I believe about the Great Spirit, It only matters what He believes."

"So why did you bite me, Johnny! That hurt like hell!"

"The poison will kill the sickness in your blood if you are strong enough to survive. No magic, just science."

Johnny reaches up into the rafters of the cabin and pulls down an old wool blanket. He shakes the dust out of it and hands it to me. "The desert is cold at night. I don't want you to die of hypothermia, all my work here would go to waste!"

I take the blanket and stumble to an old cot in the corner of the cabin and lie down. I say "Thanks Johnnie."

I look back to where he was standing, but he is gone....


Chapter 17: Rise and Shine!

I wake slowly, my head fuzzy, pounding, thinking "God, what a nightmare! Zombies, snakes, I must have done some serious drinking last night. Gonna be late for work again, the boss will kill me!"

I open my eyes and the fog slowly lifts, I realize it was no dream. I'm lying on a half broken cot in Johnny Red Hawk's old cabin, looking down at a pool of my congealed vomit on the floor. My leg hurts like hell, but at least I'm alive, and I feel the sickness is gone now.

I sit up on the edge of the cot until the dizziness passes and try to stand. My right leg is throbbing from the snake bite, it won't bear my full weight. I pull one of the rails from the cot to use as a makeshift crutch and hobble across the cabin to my backpack and canteen, weak with hunger and thirst.

I drink the remaining water from the canteen, dig around in my backpack and pull out an old trail mix granola bar and wolf it down. As my strength is returning I decide to do something about the snake bite. I tear a strip from the blanket to use as a bandage and soak it with the remaining whiskey to sterilize it, then wrap it around my leg. It'll have to do until I can get proper medical care.

I grab my backpack and canteen and hobble out the door. The sun is high in the sky, and it's getting hot. I look at my watch to check the time and realize a day and a half have gone by, I must have slept damn near forty hours! Gotta try to make it to my cabin before nightfall, make sure Jenny and Trevor are all right.

I stop at the spring and splash cool water on my face, it's great to be alive! I fill my canteen, drink most of the water down and fill it again. I Take off my t-shirt and soak it in the spring, wring most of the water out and put it back on. That should keep me cool for a while.

Slowly making my my way down the trail I almost walk right into the snake again, he's sunning himself on a flat rock. I stop dead in my tracks. The snake stares right at me, bobs his head as if nodding to me in recognition, then slithers away, disappearing into the rocks.

"Thanks, Johnny," I say, still not sure if what I experienced last night was real or a fever dream.

I keep on walking, best as I can...


Chapter 18: Meanwhile, Back at Steve's Cabin...

"You listen to me, Trevor. I'm gonna walk in the tool shed and shut the door, then I want you to put the lock on and lock me in, just like we lock the bikes in our shed at home."

"I don't want to, Mommy!"

"You gotta do this, Trevor! Do you see my eyes? Do you remember how crazy Daddy got after his eyes started bleeding? I can feel it starting, you have to lock me up so I don't hurt you!"

"But I'll be all alone!"

"After you lock me in, you go get help. You walk to Miss Brenda Red Hawk's place, you remember her. She's right down the hill in that first house on the left. She'll be able to help, but you gotta get going!"

"OK, Mom," Trevor says, as he locks the door.

From inside Jenny calls out "I love you Trevor, I'll always love you. Now hurry!"

"Love you too Mommy!" he says, then takes off running.


Chapter 19: Rusted Relics

The heat and lack of food is making me dizzy. Been walking for over two hours, I should have been back to the main road by now. I must have drifted off the trail somewhere. Sun's getting pretty low in the sky, looks like I won't make it back to my cabin tonight. Hope Jenny and the boy are OK...

In the distance I spot a small cabin. As I get closer I can see the place is surrounded by the rusted remains of times gone by. Old metal and neon hotel signs, vintage gas pumps, and some crumbling junk cars that were already old long before I was born. I know where I am now, Ben Walker's place, he's Jenny's father.

I walk up and knock on the door and call out: "Mister Walker, you in there?"

No answer.

I remember Jenny telling me since her mom died, her dad spent a lot of time camping in the desert, "Prospecting". He'd come back with old salvaged objects, and rocks and crystals that he'd make a few bucks selling to the kids that ran the gift shop down the hill. Guess he must be out there somewhere now.

I don't know him all that well, just met him a few times years ago when I was seeing Jenny. But I'm pretty sure he'd forgive me for breaking in, considering my circumstances.

Most folks out here hide a key somewhere. I look under the doormat, not there, too obvious. I check above the door sill, no luck. Then I look underneath the potted plans near the door and find the key underneath the one on the left.

I let myself in and immediately run to the sink to gulp down some water. Then I look for something to eat. I find a can of Spam and some bread, make myself a couple sandwiches that I wolf down with another large glass of water. Then I lie down on the couch to rest...


Chapter 20: Wake up with a Gun

"Get up off my couch, whoever you are!"

The harsh words awaken me, I roll over and open my eyes. It's Ben Walker, and he's pointing a shotgun straight at me.

"Ben, it's me! Steve Andrews!"

"Stevie? You look like hell boy, I thought you was some vagrant that broke into my cabin. What happened to your arm? And your leg?"

"I got bit on the arm by some lady who gave me the plague, and bit on the leg by a snake that cured me. It's a long story."

"I heard something about the sickness on the radio, saying it's making people crazy. Have you seen Jennie or Billie and the boys? I hope they're all right..."

"You'd better sit down Ben. And you might want to get yourself something to drink."

I explain what happened with Jennie. I can see Ben holding back the tears when he hears that his youngest grandson is dead. We sit there in silence for a few minutes, then Ben finishes his whiskey, stands up and says "We'd best get going..."


Chapter 21: Jennie Insane

Why did I let you lock me in this shed! I should have gone with you, gone for help!... My poor son, all alone now...

But at least you're still alive, not like your brother Billy... Billy, can you hear me? Are you up there with the angels?

Billy, my head is killing me! My eyes are bleeding, could you go get your mommy some Tylenol?

Billy, I always loved you best... Such a sweet kid, not like your brother!... Trevor was always too smart for his own good, always sassing back. I shoulda beat his ass, Billie! I shoulda beat him with a broomstick, just like your daddy beats me! And now he's locked me in this tool shed with no food and one lousy bottle of water!

I can't drink the water Billie! It burns my throat! I need blood! sweet, salty, warm BLOOD!

Jennie pounds her fists and claws at the locked door, screaming.

AAAAAH! TREVOR! Are you OUT THERE? LET ME OUTTA HERE! I swear to God, when I get out I'm gonna BEAT YOU and BITE YOU and YOU'RE GONNA BE SORRY!


Chapter 22: Quarantine

"...headaches, light sensitivity, and bleeding from the eyes. If you or anyone you know is displaying these symptoms, please call 1-760-555-3242. Help will be dispatched from the 29 Palms Marine Corps Medical center. You and your family will be escorted to the quarantine area for your own safety, and the safety of others... This is a public service announcement from radio station KXCM. Due to a medical emergency situation the communities of Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms are under a temporary curfew until further notice. Do not attempt to leave the area, all highways have been blockaded by military police. Please remain indoors, and do not allow any strangers into your home, or anyone displaying the following symptoms..."

Brenda turns off the radio, muttering to herself, "Well, Ken, it looks like they've really gone and done it this time... Wish you hadn't gone off and got yourself killed in Iraq, I really could use a man around here right now," she says, looking at his framed picture on the wall.

There's a frantic knock on the door: "Miss Brenda, it's me, Trevor! Please let me in! My mom is really sick, you gotta help!"


Chapter 23: Open the Door

Brenda hesitates. She looks over at the picture and says, "I hear you Ken, I know that boy could very well be contagious and cause my death. But if I didn't help him I'd be killing my own humanity." Then she says "Come on in Trevor, the door's open!"

The boy bursts in and says "You gotta help my mom, she's really sick! She had me lock her in Mister Andrew's tool shed!"

"Trevor, don't get to close to me, OK? You might be contagious, you know what is?"

"Sure, It's like when one of the kids in school gets a cold and I end up getting it from them."

"If I get too close to you and end up getting sick, I won't be able to help you."

The phone rings and Brenda picks it up. "Hello."

"Brenda? This is Betty from down the street."

"Oh Hi Betty, are you all right?"

"Not really. George is pretty sick, his eyes are bleeding and he's pretty agitated. I gave him a sleeping pill to calm him down. And now I have this terrible headache. I called the number on the radio a while ago, they're sending someone out to take us to quarantine. I wanted to ask if you could... hold on a second, there's someone at the door..."

Betty puts the phone down on the table and answers the door. Brenda listens in on the phone and can hear her conversation. "I'm so glad you boys made it here this quick. And I those surgical masks are a good idea, I wish I had worn one when my husband first got sick."

A muffled voice says "And where is your husband now, Mrs Palmer?"

"He's lying down right over there on the sofa."

Another muffled voice says "Don't get too close to him John, looks like he's a stage three. And the woman, her eyes are starting to bleed. Looks like we'll have to sanitize this place."

Betty's voice: "What are you doing with that gun?" followed by the sound of a scream and machine gun fire, then silence.

Brenda, horrified, hangs up the phone. She walks over to the window and looks over at her neighbor's house, sees two soldiers in a Humvee driving away.

Trevor calls from the kitchen, "Miss Brenda? There's a man on the radio that says if you have sick people you can call a number and he'll put them in a Corateen to help them! Maybe we should call him about Mom!"

"No Trevor, I think we'd better try to help Mom on our own."

Brenda walks over to a closet, opens the door and pulls out a Ruger Mini-14 and a couple 30 round clips. She looks over at the picture on the wall, "Glad you left me this for self defense, Ken. Never thought I'd need it. Wish me luck.."

"Miss Brenda, why you got that gun?"

"There might be bad people who want to hurt us out there, Trevor. We have to protect ourselves. Now lets go help your mom..."


Chapter 24: Quiet, Like Coyotes

"Miss Brenda, how come we're going this way? The road is shorter, it goes right to Mister Andrew's house!"

"We're going to sneak up the wash to get there, so nobody sees us. You know how sometimes if you're really still you can see coyotes hiding, moving from one bush to the next, stalking prey? We're gonna be like that. We don't want anyone to see us, in case they are bad people. Can you be real quiet, Trevor?"

"Sure, Miss Brenda, I'll be quiet like a coyote."

They hear the sound of a truck approaching and duck behind a creosote bush until it passes.

"That looked like Mister Andrews in that pickup truck!"

"Maybe it was, Trevor. We'll know soon enough."

After walking a little further they hear another vehicle and they hide once again.

Brenda looks out from behind the bush as Humvee drives up the road in the same direction as the pickup...


Chapter 25: Help on the Way?

"... address is one fifteen Desert Shadows Road. Neighbors reported loud screaming, possibly a stage three. Approach with caution."

"Roger."

John slows the Humvee as he takes the corner, looks over at his partner.

"Should be the last house on the left. Ready for another one, Matt?"


Chapter 26: Daddy? Is That You?

We pull up in front of the cabin and park behind my truck. We walk up to the cabin, the door is locked. I unlock it and we enter, calling out "Jennie? Trevor? Anyone home?" No answer.

"Where do you think they went, Steve?" Ben asks.

"I don't really know," I say, looking over uneasily at a half-eaten sandwich and a glass of soda on the kitchen table.

Then we hear banging and screaming coming from outside, and we rush out the back door. The noise is coming from the tool shed. Ben recognizes the voice screaming voice. "Jennie! Hold on girl, we'll get you out!"

"Daddy? Is that you? Why did you lock me in here! AAAAHHHH!"

"Open the door and let her out, Steve!"

"Ben, she's not herself, she's infected! If I let her out she'll probably bite us! We'll have to restrain her, can you go back and get that rope from your truck?"

Ben goes his truck and I walk back in the house and get my gun. We meet up back outside.

"Give me the rope, Ben. You take the gun."

"What for?"

"I'll unlock the door and try to restrain her, you stand back. Jennie's probably gonna fight like hell. If I can't hold her down, you might have to shoot."

"I can't kill my daughter!"

"Just shoot her in the leg to stop her, if you have to. You can't let her bite you, you'll get infected. I should be immune."


Chapter 27: All Hell Breaks Loose

I open the door and Jennie rushes out, screaming. I knock her to the ground, she's thrashing around, she bites deep into my shoulder. I manage to get he pinned, face down, and I'm preparing to tie her up when I hear a harsh voice behind me call out: "Old man, drop the gun! And you sir, step away from the infected woman!"

I look up and see two soldiers, one with a gun pointed at me, the other has disarmed Ben. I freeze...


Chapter 28: Leave My Mom Alone!

Brenda and Trevor creep up out of the wash behind Steve's place, hear the commotion going on. She looks over at the boy and holds her finger to her lips. Trevor whispers, "Quiet, like coyotes,right?" She nods in reply.

They sneak up and crouch behind the Humvee. Brenda feels a bad headache coming on, leans forward, rubbing her eyes. She pulls her hands away and stares in horror, seeing the blood on her fingers, knowing what it means.

Meanwhile Trevor has been watching what is going down in front of the tool shed. When he sees the soldiers draw their guns he runs toward them, yelling at the top of his lungs "LEAVE MY MOM ALONE!"

One of the soldiers clubs the kid with the butt of his rifle, knocking him unconscious. He looks over at the other soldier and says "Maybe we should just waste the lot of 'em, Matt. They're probably all infected anyways."

Brenda looks up in time to see what's happened and the rage starts to build in her. She jumps out from behind the Humvee, point her gun at the soldiers and yells "DROP YOUR WEAPONS!"

The soldiers turn and fire at her, she instantly shoots back. In the hail of machine gun bullets they all fall down...


Chapter 29: Life From Death

I wrestle and hog-tie Jennie with the rope, and step back out of biting range. She's rolling and thrashing in the dirt, but at least she can't hurt herself or anyone else now. I call over to Ben, "Are you all right?"

"I'm OK Steve, we'd better check on the others."

We look at the soldiers, they're both obviously dead.

We walk over to Brenda Redhawk. She's bleeding badly from the bullet wounds, gasping for breath, calling out incoherently, "Ken ... I told you that damn gun wouldn't do me no good ... ... don't you worry 'bout me honey... I'll be along shortly... got some business to attend to first... "

I look down and see her blue eyes turn a dull gray, and I know she's gone.

I hear a faint rustling sound and I look down and see a rattlesnake slither from the right leg of her cutoff jeans, glistening as if it's just shed it's skin.

The snake stops and looks up at me for a couple seconds with it's gray eyes and black slit pupils, then slithers away...


Chapter 30: Snakebit II

"Aaaah! Help me!" one of the soldiers cries out. We thought they were both dead, looks like one of them is still alive.

We hurry over to see what we can do. He's got bullet wounds in his gut and his right leg, the leg wound is bleeding quite badly. I take off my shirt and tear a strip off and tie it tightly around his leg above the wound, but it's still bleeding. I pick a stick up off the ground and use it to twist the bandage tight, the bleeding stops. I say to Ben, "How's Jenny doing, is she OK?"

He looks over towards her, jumps up and shouts "Fuckin' snake just bit her!" and he reaches for the soldier's gun.

"Let the snake be!" I call out, stopping him from shooting, "The bite mighta just saved her life!"

"I hurry over to Jenny, she's unconscious. The snake is still there, staring at me. I look back at the snake and say "Thanks, Brenda, I appreciate the help... And if you're looking to visit your grandpa before you move on, he's probably up near his old place."

The snake flicks it's tongue at me, turns and slithers into the wash, heading back towards Johnny Red Hawk's cabin...


Chapter 31: A Time for Healing

I look over at Ben, he's helping Trevor up, the boy is a little unsteady. "I'll take him inside and have him lie down, then come back and help with the others," he says, " we'd best get them out of this heat."

I untie Jenny, she's still unconscious. I pick her up under the arms and and start to half carry-half drag her toward the cabin. Ben comes out and helps me bring her the rest of the way. We lay her down on the bed in my room and go back outside to see to the soldier.

He's still unconscious, but the tourniquet has stopped the bleeding. Ben and I carry him into the cabin and put him on the couch.

Trevor is up, he walks over to see what we are doing. "Is he going to die?" he asks , looking at the soldier.

"I don't think so," I reply.

"Where's my mom?" he asks. "Is she OK?"

"She's in my room. Can you help us, find some washcloths and a basin of cold water?"

"OK Mister Andrews, I'll help," he says, as he hurries towards the kitchen.

Jenny is burning with fever from the sickness and the snake bite. Ben takes one of the washcloths from Trevor, squeezes most of the water from it and places it on her forehead. "Your'e gonna be all right," he says to her...


Chapter 32: The Soldier's Story

With Ben and Trevor watching over Jenny, I walk back into the living room to check on the soldier. He's still unconscious, but his breathing is normal. I loosen the tourniquet to let the blood flow back into his leg. The bandage seems to be stopping the bleeding on it's own now, a good sign. I don't feel all that kindly towards this kid but still, I'd hate to see him lose his leg.

The soldier stirs, opens his eyes and looks at me. "I didn't... want... to kill them," he says.

"I know, just following orders, right?" I say somewhat sarcastically, remembering hearing those words spoken by an aging German vet in a documentary, when questioned about his role in the Holocaust.

The kid nods his head, looking ashamed. I don't say anything, just trying to get past the fact that him and his buddy had killed Brenda, and were considering killing the rest of us... Then I try to put myself in his shoes. If I was half my age, serving in the military, expected to follow orders, scared of being infected with an incurable virus, what would I have done?

I walk out to the kitchen to get a glass of water and bring it back for the soldier. He sits up enough to drink, wincing in pain, then lies back down. "My father... can help... phone?" he says.

I hand him my cell, he punches in a number, hits "send", and then loses consciousness. I take the phone from him and hold it to my ear. It rings a couple times, then a man picks up and says "Matt?"...


Chapter 33:

"No sir, this isn't Matt. My name's Steve Andrews, your son's been injured, we need help..."

Matt's father tells me he's in Medical Corps out at the Marine base. I explain our situation, and how we figured out that rattlesnake poison kills the virus. He thanks me and hangs up to call for help.

I check the soldier, he's unconscious, but breathing OK. I walk into the bedroom to check on Jenny, she's awake and talking to Trevor. "I really could use some ice cream, how about you?" she says.

I walk over to the bed and hold her hand. "Glad to see you're back with the living," I say. "Trevor, there's some Cherry Garcia in the freezer, why don't you go get a couple bowls."

A few minutes later I hear the whir of helicopter blades, and a chopper lands in the back yard...


Chapter 34: The Desert Winds

Three Months Later...

The kitchen phone rings, I call out to Jennie, "I got it!" and I answer it, "Hello."

"Steve? It's me, Sandra, Brenda's sister."

"Hey Sandy, long time no hear! How've you been?"

"Just great Steve, been sober eighteen months now..."

"Good for you, Sandy, glad to hear it! So what's up?"

"Well, I got Brenda's ashes after the funeral, you know."

"Yeah, that's what I heard."

"I promised her years ago if I outlived her I'd scatter her ashes in the desert, where she could be with our ancestors. And tonight is a full moon so I thought it would be a good time to do it, and I was wondering if you and Jennie would like to be present?"

"Sure Sandy, we'd be honored! Would it be OK if we brought Trevor with us?"

"I was going to ask but I didn't know if it would be upsetting to the boy, considering the way she died."

"I appreciate your concern Sandy, but Trevor is not your typical twelve year old. Brenda would probably say he has an "old soul". I'm sure he'd want to be there."

"All right Steve, you think you all can you make it here before nightfall?"

"Sure Sandy, no problem, we'll see you soon."


Chapter 35: A Celebration of Life

"Sorry these winds have kicked up tonight, made it pretty chilly. You guys OK with this?"

"Sure Sandy, we can handle a little cold after all we've been through," Jennie says.

"Is Miss Brenda going home to Heaven tonight?" Trevor asks.

"Yes Trevor, I believe she is," Jennie says.

We stand there in the back yard of Sandy's cabin, looking West, facing empty desert and Joshua trees. She pulls a a Marlboro from her pocket and puts it in her mouth, cups the end with her left hand as she lights it.

She exhales a puff of smoke to the North and says, "To the cold winter, a time for contemplation of our lives..."
Then she turns East, breathes a puff of smoke and says "To the rising sun, who brings us each new day.

Then Sandy turns again, breathing another puff and says "To the warm south wind, bringing us the bounty of springtime."
Then she turns again, inhales, breathes out another puff and says "To the West, the land of the spirits. Please accept my sister into your world."

With that she opens the lid on the container and empties it. The wind blows strongly westward, scattering Brenda's ashes across the desert into the cold night air...

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