THE COMPOUND is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2013, October. All rights reserved. The reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Byzantium Sky Press, Milton, Delaware. THE COMPOUND is copyrighted and any use in any other works is strictly prohibited. Any violation will result in punishment to the fullest extent of the law.
Gretchen froze and peered through thick pines. Gooseflesh pimpled her skin and the sunlight, bright overhead, hindered the view through the brush. This was her third month on patrol—a career by the current life-expectancy standards—but she still felt that adrenaline rush at unknown noises, that initial jolt of excitement. She tried to identify the sound in the woods among the shuddering branches and crunching leaves.
The sudden stillness around her as she stood between her comrades—Warren and Chef—armed with a handgun, a hunting knife, wearing her leather gloves and jacket, seemed to be the calm before an ice storm. But Gretchen was hot—sweaty. She was in layers of clothing and bulletproof vests and anxiety. Even though deep winter. The bitter cold seeped into every crevice in the compound, every room, every bed. The days were short, the nights freezing. Fires were low and usually inside, to keep the light from the Dead.
“Just a rabbit.” Chef whispered as he aimed then released his crossbow into the underbrush. “Stew for six.” He leaned down to pick up the now-dead furry creature, inspecting it before shoving it in the cinch sack at his side. Not only were they the patrol on the west side, but they were the hunters for the day. And no potential food source went unchecked for scratches or wounds or bite marks. No chances were ever taken.
They had a small farm on the compound. Actually, not exactly a farm—it was a twenty by thirty foot garden inside a greenhouse made from covered plastic and whatever wooden structures they’d found to hold it together. They grew vegetables—tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, carrots, beets, lettuce, peppers. A woman in the group was even big on natural cures and had asked Gretchen to bring back seed packets of herbs on a run in late summer. And they kept a pantry in an old camper with canned and boxed goods they were able to raid from abandoned houses and picked-over supermarkets.
Gretchen had lost count of how many weeks she’d been on her own before finding The Compound, as it was called. She had lost count of the days when she had felt small and frail, her body malnourished and weak with lack of clean water and food. She’d lost count of the nights she’d spent in trees, on roof tops, in old barns and sheds—anywhere that had felt barely safe.
The first night she’d been allowed at The Compound she slept like a child: Cocooned, wrapped up in the protected and patrolled, fenced-in area. For the first time since she’d started running, she had felt like she had a chance.
She allowed a small smile—her fortune was not one awarded to many. She had been lucky enough to find the small refuge. “Just think,” she whispered. “If the dead don’t destroy all the animals, we can catch and raise some wild rabbits and pigs. We already have the cows.”
“Just waiting on the one to give birth.” Chef looked at her and grinned. “Veal a la whatever comes out of the garden. I can’t wait.”
Chef had actually been a chef. He had owned a taqueria in some big city. He’d been visiting old friends in Delaware when the world went to hell.
Warren held up a gloved fist a few yards ahead of her—a signal for them to halt and stay quiet. Gretchen hurried to his side, kept her voice low. “What is it?”