I hit the floor with a thud, fumbled for the 45 under the pillow, stood up and fell back on the couch. Some nights the dreams were more vivid then others. Tonight was very vivid. I tucked the 45 in my pants as I walked over to the kitchen window. The moon was bright and I could see the two horses across the street in the corral. Their heads were down as they chewed on their hay. I made my way up the stairs. Ned poked his head out his door.
“It was a dream, Ned. I fell off the couch.”
Ned shut the door.
I finished my business and cleaned up just like in the dream. There was no knock on the door. I walked out and down the stairs. I lay back down on the couch, tucked the 45 under the pillow and was sleeping in moments.
I thought I was dreaming again. The aroma was tickling my senses. I could almost taste the coffee. I opened my eyes and could see Ned and Jean sitting at the table again.
“Did we wake you?” Jean asked.
“Not you. The coffee, it smells so good.” I was all but drooling.
“One mug of thick, brown paste coming up.” Ned joked as he poured me a cup.
“Don’t dare water it down. I haven’t had any in a while.” I took the mug in my hand. I inhaled and then sipped at the steaming dark liquid. “Oh yeah, that will coat the gut for a while.”
We finished the “Hobo Stew” left over from the night before. The conversation soon changed from my dream to checking on the Amish who lived near the local town.
“Meadowton is about nine miles from here.” Ned explained. “We can make it in an hour or so on foot. The Amish have their meeting house on the near end of town. Most will likely gather there for information.”
“Sounds like the meeting house is our initial destination then. We can make plans once we get there.” I finished off the coffee, got up from the table and packed up my gear.
We decided to walk the horses instead of ride since Ned was on foot. He tied a pack off on Jean’s horse. He loaded his Remington 870 Express with the 12 gauge rounds I traded him and loaded a nice shiny Taurus Judge with some of the 45 colts. We were soon on our way and moving at a decent pace. Our conversation flipped from life before the plague to our hopes for the future and if there was one. The time and distance passed quickly and the town was within sight before we knew it.
“There doesn’t appear to be anyone moving around.” Ned said what we were all thinking. “More than Amish live here. Regular families with cars and such and a hunting and farm store.”
“You’d think there would be zombies dragging around town if the plague made it this far.” I mentioned.
The roadway came out of the woods through fenced pastures before entering the town. There were some horses grazing in the pastures. They didn’t appear bothered by our presence or much of anything else. We saw some damage to buildings as we moved closer. There were blood stains on the sidewalks and porches. As we came in to town we could see wrecked vehicles in the street. A large barn blocked out view of where Ned said the Meeting House stands. We could see some smoke rising from that same area.
“Is that from the wood stove?” Jean asked.
“No, Jean.” Ned answered. ”That smoke is too dark.”
We each armed ourselves without speaking a word. We rounded the barn and saw the ashes and piles of refuse. The building was burned to the ground. Several of the black Amish wagons nearby were charred. You could see remains of human corpses inside. They were burnt to a crisp.
“Can that be everyone?” I said with a gasp as the smell of charred flesh rode the breeze to our nostrils. The horses were fidgety. “Ned, is there any other place the folks around here could have gathered?”
“The old elementary school.” He answered. “It’s over by the store.”
“Okay, let’s go over there.” I started to move. “Ned, is it this way?”
“Yea…Yes, this way.” He started walking.
“Ed, can a zombie start a fire?” He asked me.
“No Ned. This was someone else.” I answered. “Someone had to lock them in there and set the fire.”
“I hope they killed themselves when they finished.” Ned stepped out and took the lead.
The store was still intact. We tied the horses to the posts out front. Jean stood at the door as Ned and I cleared the building. There was no one inside. Most of the supplies were gone. There were saddles and tack in the equine section. We collected the items Ned would need to saddle a horse. I grabbed a small bag of apple flavored horse treats from a display.
“Ed, Ned come here, quick.” Jean whispered and waved us back to the door. We looked out beyond the horses and saw a lone figure standing about 100 yards down the street. The figure was tall and lean. He wore black pants, a dark blue shirt and a black wide brimmed hat. He carried a long bladed scythe in his hands in front of him.
Ned stepped out on the porch.
“Seth, is that you Seth?” He called as he walked toward the figure.
“Ned, don’t go out there.” Jean pleaded.
Ned started walking toward the figure. The man looked as though he was huffing and breathing very hard.
“Seth, It’s Ned, Ned Simons.”
The figure lifted the scythe above his head and started for Ned at a dead run.
“Ned, back off.” I yelled to him. “This guy isn’t happy Ned.”
“Seth, Seth.” Ned was determined to speak with the man. The figure lifted the scythe high in the air.
“Ned, get back man.”
Ned moved closer as the figure closed in one him.
I leveled my pistol at the figure and cocked the hammer back. “Stop!” I yelled at the approaching figure. He kept coming at a sprint. His eyes told his story. Tehy were open wide under his furled brow. The tall figure had murder on his mind and Ned was his current target.
He was just three or four paces from Ned when I shot him in the chest. The figure crumpled to the ground at Ned’s feet after trying to use the scythe as a crutch. He was breathing in long gasps. His eyes were still filled with a silent rage.
Ned shoved me away as I walked up to the tall man.
"What do you think you're doing?" Ned yelled. He took two steps in my direction.
"Ned, stop." I told him. "Look at his eyes. He's still full of rage."
Ned knelt down beside the tall man in plain clothes. He threw the scythe away and whispered over him. The man grabbed Ned by the shirt and tried to lift himself up. He let out a low growl and collapsed to the ground.
I walked closer. "Ned, this thing, this disaster we're in. It affects people in different ways. Some break."
"He was my brother Ed."
“Ned, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll leave.” I began backing my way to the horses. I looked up and could see some people walking from behind buildings and off of porches. They had stayed hidden as we road in to town. They were alive.
“Ned, look Ned.” I warned. “Jean, move toward the horses.”
Ned stood up and looked toward the people coming down the street. Some were dressed in traditional Amish clothing. Others were in normal clothing.
Ned spoke first. “Jeremy, my brother, your son is dead.” A smallish old man in plain clothes stepped up to Ned.
“Have you returned?” The old man asked.
Ned dropped his head before saying another word. “I have returned father.”
The old man took Ned in his arms and held him tight. “Your brother had gone mad Ned. He killed your cousin Joshua Fischer. The outsiders have brought terrible madness upon the world. This man may have saved your brother’s soul from more blackness.”
“Seth and Joshua corralled the mad people in to the meeting house and locked them in. It was people of the town and our own. Joshua was bit by one of them and had gone mad. Seth killed him with the scythe. He then set the meeting house afire. He had a rage in his eyes. He began to chase anyone who came near him. He swung the scythe at Matthew Stoltzfus and near cut off his arm. We’ve been hiding ever since.”