Jay continued to travel the open highway for another hour or so. In all that time, on Highway 85, he didn’t see a single vehicle. An eerie feeling crept up on him and even though his leather kept his body heat close he couldn’t help but feel a chill. He was approaching the outskirts of Charlotte when he crested a small hill. As the road came into view ahead he gasped, his breath catching tight in his throat. Jay applied the brakes hard. The bike wobbled and skidded briefly on the asphalt leaving a black skid mark on the road behind the rear tire. His eyes open wide, filled with fear and disbelief, took in as much of the spectacle as they could. About a quarter of a mile ahead was a huge horde of the undead. There were so many they completely blocked the road. There was no way past them. They formed a sort of battle line like English soldiers in the Revolution. There were so many that the line stretched as far to the left and right as he could see and he couldn’t even make out the front of the mass over the slight rise in the road. He sat on the BMW and simply stared in horrified astonishment. He was behind them, the whole mass was moving away from him, headed west. As he stared at the uncountable number of zombies a strange sound drew his attention to the sky above.
Looking skyward, he saw two green military helicopters above circling the zombies’ position, hovering a few seconds here and there then moving slowly along the column. Suddenly, he heard another sound coming from behind him, grabbing for his Springfield he quickly turned to look for the source. A handful of military vehicles roared towards him from behind. Their big off-road tires whining loudly on the asphalt of the highway. Jay sat motionless on the bike watching their approach from the middle of the road. The vehicles began to slow and eventually came to a stop about 50 yards away. Two soldiers disembarked from the lead vehicle, a green Humvee with antennas sticking out of the top. Each was clad in full combat gear and carried an M4 across his chest. They approached Jay cautiously but with a somewhat casual demeanor. Jay pulled the bike back onto the kickstand and dismounted, removed his helmet and awaited their arrival, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the horde.
“Good day, Sir, Captain Mark Hale of the U.S. Army, Ft. Bragg.” The soldier on Jay’s right spoke first and extended his hand. Jay looked at it, hesitated briefly then shook it. ”This is Lieutenant Briggs.” The Captain gestured to his right with a slight tip of his head. The other soldier stared at Jay blankly and nodded. Jay did the same in response then turning his attention to the Captain he spoke, “I’m Jay.” ”Pleasure Sir, where ya headed?” ”Greenville, SC, I’ve got a buddy there, I’m hoping he’s still alive.” ”Heading all that way and not even sure he’s alive?” The Captain responded quizzically. ”What else have I got to do?” Jay said sarcastically. ”Good point I suppose. Do you know what is happening, Sir?” ”No idea.” said Jay. He thought of telling the Captain about Becky but couldn’t bring himself to recall the memory and thought it may be best to keep that information to himself at least for now. ”Well, we are supposed to round-up anyone we can and bring them with us,” Jay tensed at the thought of being conscripted against his will and the Captain seemed to notice and quickly continued, “but I’m not doing that. Hell, you’re one of the few people we’ve seen alive since we started moving. Lots of those things in the towns and cities; they were packed. Despite my orders I’m letting folks do what they want. If this is the end of the world who am I to tell you how to spend it?” Jay relaxed then nodded in agreement and asked, “You gonna destroy these guys?” Jay threw a thumb over his right shoulder toward the horde. “No, no way.” The Captain exclaimed rapidly with a bit of a laugh. “We don’t have that much firepower with us. There are thousands of those things, no way we could take ‘em out. We’ve been assigned to follow this horde’s movements and report to central command in Missouri.” At this the Lieutenant cleared his throat drawing the Captain’s attention to him and gave the Captain an odd look as if to say he shouldn’t divulge anymore information. “What? You think I’m talking too much LT?” “Uh, perhaps Sir.” The younger man sputtered, trying to answer honestly but with the proper respect hoping not to anger his superior. “Ah!” Captain Hale responded dismissively. “World’s gone to hell LT, protecting information now is pretty close to useless, just leftover protocol. Who are we keeping secrets from anyway? The Ruskies? Hell, Moscow’s probably covered up with those things. Besides if anyone wanted to attack us now they’d be fighting the same enemy we are; those damn things!” With that last statement Capt. Hale gestured toward the horde with a flick of his wrist. The Lieutenant nodded in conciliatory agreement. Captain Hale returned his attention to Jay and continued on. “Like I said, we’re tasked with following this group and reporting movements back to central command and not to engage unless necessary or ordered.” Captain Hale’s eyes drifted over Jay’s shoulder and remained fixed on the horde as he continued. “Early intel indicates this, whatever it is, started on the US borders and in a couple of big cities. What you see there comprises the bulk of the infected population of eastern NC. I’m told there’s an even larger group made up of the former residents of Charlotte ahead of this horde. We’ve received sketchy reports from around the nation, aerial recon like those guys.” He points to the choppers above. “It appears groups like these are forming a sort of large perimeter surrounding the central midwest and they are closing in. Intel thinks the infection began on the outskirts but only spread miles so far inland. These infected people are now moving inland, toward the highest concentration of, well, ‘food.’” The Captain finished.
“Anyway, you can come with us if you like or head on. I would have liked to have headed for my brother’s place but,” The Captain paused and lowered his head a moment then juast as quickly brought it back up, “he didn’t make it.” Refocusing on Jay he said, “Not sure how you’ll get through all that, you may have to wait.” Jay looked back over his shoulder at the mass of undead and responded, “Not interested in following behind that stench all the way to Greenville, I can tell you that much.” “Don’t blame you.” Captain Hale said. “We’ve got to keep moving, we’re getting off the interstate just up ahead there to recon north and see how big this horde really is. Good luck. I hope you find your friend in one, living piece.” Jay shook hands with the Captain once again. The Lieutenant had signaled the vehicles to approach when he heard the Captain begin his parting words. “You guys stay safe I hope you can handle it all.” Jay said. “No problem, Sir.” The Lieutenant said eagerly as he turned to climb into the Humvee. Captain Hale watched the man as he pulled himself into the cab and then shot a look over his shoulder to Jay as if to say “crazy kid” then opened the door to the military vehicle and climbed in himself. They pulled away from Jay and the column of vehicles rumbled past him. He watched as they drove a short way down the interstate and turned onto an exit ramp and disappeared into the distance. He turned his attention back to the horde and pondered how he’d manage to get through them all and to his friend.