“Hello the camp,” the voice repeated.
Mike unclasped the radio from his belt and raised it to his mouth and spoke. “I guess you mean us,” he said more calmly than he felt.
“I do,” the voice answered. “We've been traveling. Saw your fires from about five miles back... I guess the question is, are you okay? If you've been living in the same world that we've been living in I guess you'll understand that question.”
Mike keyed the mic. And let the smooth static play out for a few seconds then he spoke. “You must have stopped quite a way back... We didn't hear the sound of your vehicles.”
“... We did... Like I said, it's a funny world... Listen. We kind of wanted to feel you out. … I'm Jeff... Jeff Simmons,” he finished.
“Mike... Mike Collins,” Mike told him. “I understand your point... We've been through a few things too... Do you want to come in?”
“Well... We do but we're stopped now for the night... In the morning? Would the morning be okay with you?”
“That will work... I... I guess breakfast will be on us,” Mike told him. “You know where we're at?”
“Yeah we do,” Jeff told him. “I sent a couple of scouts down... It looks like a little build up off the interstate... No actual town or anything... We're a couple of miles back. But we can see the light of the fires from here.”
“I would've sent scouts too,” Mike allowed. “It's about like you imagine, a wide place in the road. Garage... Motel... A few chain stores... It looks like it all built up around the truck stop diner that's also here... There's plenty of gas here... Plenty of supplies too,” Mike finished.
“That's good to hear, Mike. We swung down from Vermont. We're all from there. We've been avoiding the cities as best we can... Trying to get out West... Somewhere where we don't have to worry about winters,” he said.
“I hear that. We're in the same boat here only heading South... Or at least right now we are. I guess we're still undecided where we'll end up... We're pretty heavily armed, Jeff... I guess you'll see that when you come in tomorrow. We've been through some stuff too... I won't apologize for the weapons,” Mike finished.
“Don't need to... We're loaded too. I don't exactly like it but it's the way life is now... I... Well... I couldn't come in unarmed, Mike. I couldn't... I'm sure you see that.”
“I understand that,” Mike told him. “And I'm sure you know we'll be on the defensive for the first little while ourselves... I don't like it either but, same as you I do what I have to... We do... We got some good people here, Jeff. Good people and we're careful.”
“Us too... Well... There's eight of us, Mike. I don't like to give away numbers but you'll know soon enough anyway.... We'll be eight in the morning.”
“Sixteen of us here, Jeff.” Mike told him.
“Wow. No wonder you got so many fires going... We wondered about that.”
“Yeah, well, some of it is the people, but we're smoking meat to take with us too... There are Cows and Deer everywhere. We figured we might as well get some fresh meat while we can. Beats the hell out of stuff from a can.”
“You'll have to show us how to do that... We don't have anyone who knows how to do that... I don't think we even have a hunter of any kind either,” Jeff said. “I can shoot, but I've never hunted.”
Mike laughed. “We're all learning to do new things,” He said. “And we're lucky to have some people with us that do know how to do those things.”
The radio hissed silence for awhile.
“Well, Mike... It was good to talk to you and we'll see you in the morning,” Jeff said.
“Okay, Jeff. Same here. And I meant that about breakfast, so come hungry,” Mike said.
“Will do,” Jeff said. “Out.”
~The old woman in the ditch~
They had come across the old woman at near morning. Near morning was the best she could do. Time was not a real concern to her anymore. She understood near morning because the sickness, the sickness that began to send the searing pain through her body, had started. The boy had already been whining low in his throat for an hour. In pain. It was like that whenever the night began to end. When the morning was on the way. Soon to be.
She remembered sunlight. Her old self had needed sunlight just as she now needed darkness. Absence of light. That had been Donita too, but a different Donita.
They had been crossing the rock filled ditch to get to an old house on the other side. The basement of the house was what she had in mind. Quiet, private, darkness. She had been scrambling down the steep, sandy side when the scent had found her eyes and froze her brain.
That is the way she thought of it. Frozen. Everything... Every thing besides that smell of flesh was frozen out. The boys whining, the coming dawn, the constant hunger in her belly, the moon silvery and bright so far up in the night sky. Nothing got by that desire. Urge. Drive. It consumed her, and it had then.
It had started with her brain and then had spread out into her body. Her legs had stopped moving and she had nearly tumbled all the way to the bottom of the rock strewn ditch before she had caught herself, her head already twisted in the direction of the smell. Her ears pricked, her tongue lick licking at her peeled, dead lips.
She could smell the old woman. Knew that she was an old woman. It was in the smell. Somehow it was in the smell. And her flesh. And her fear... The boy had slammed into her then, still whining and nearly knocked her to the ground.
She had come up from that near fall in a crouch and the boy had slammed into her once more, so she had grabbed him to steady him. He had thought she meant to kill him and had pulled away but a second later he had caught the scent and they had both gone tearing down the ditch.