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I received two images for this challenge story but this one spoke to me...

Spook-Me 02 2019.jpg

The first reports of people coming back to life were brushed off as too fanciful and impossible so everyone ignored the signs and got on with their lives, right until the attacks were shown in all their gory detail on the news channels. At the time Jack was too wrapped up in his own problems to worry about what could be a stupid Halloween prank by college students, though he had to give them credit for inventiveness. Was that a real word? It sounded like a real word, he thought. He had just lost his job as a US Marshal after a fugitive hunt went sideways and he was held accountable even though it was his smart-mouthed, young, and inexperienced boss who made the wrong call and got another agent killed. His former boss might not have been so great at fugitive hunting but he had a PhD in ass-covering.

In some ways the guy had done Jack a partial favor as it meant he wasn't on duty when the world shifted sideways. Every cop and agent was mobilized to deal with the reality of a zombie apocalypse, sent onto the front line to try to hold back the new danger and protect US citizens, and they failed, taking the biggest losses while their leaders hid behind barricaded doors. The big cities fell quickly due to the mass of people and the number who had no access to medical assistance and who tried to tend to their sick at home. They were too scared to hand over their loved ones when the army went door-to-door because of rumors of mass killings, not realizing the so-called killing was taken out of context and was actually an after-death measure to destroy the brain. So the carers got bitten when their loved ones turned, and if they weren't eaten on the spot they also turned a day or two later, once the fever had run its course and killed them.

Jack had left Abby and Zoe in Los Angeles while he looked for a job just a few hours further north but when the city fell it went down quickly. The roads became grid locked with people trying and many failing to leave the cities before the zombies overtook them. The only way in was on foot and it was stupid and dangerous, but Jack wielded a baseball bat like a pro, and it was a weapon that never ran out of ammunition or caused enough noise to attract more of the undead to his position. He made it into L.A., and he tried the family home as well as the small apartment he had rented after he and Abby separated, and then Abby's office without success, finding nothing to tell him what had happened to them. No messages, though Abby's home had been ransacked and a small fire had been set in a metal waste basket in the middle of the room, so maybe Abby had left something that was no longer there.

He tried her parents but they were in no condition to tell him anything. He had never had to bash in the skull of someone he had once known but had no choice when they came at him. He found sleeping pills and a suicide note and wondered how many others had thought they were taking the easy way out. Maybe it was easier, dying in their sleep with no knowledge of their awakening as something else, something ravenous and lost.

Reality set in with the fear of finding Abby and Zoe like that, of having to show them the mercy of his baseball bat or a knife into the brain.

As he turned to leave he saw another letter on the floor, almost hidden from where it had fallen off the side after his in-laws reanimated. It had his name on it. He held it for a moment, gathering up the courage to open it.

Jack,

If your reading this, I don't hold any animosity against you for what happened between you and Abby. Life is painfully too short to waste on such emotions. Abby and Zoe got out of L.A. They are heading north into Oregon, to some military research facility that offered Abby a job last year. She thought it might be their best hope of waiting out this disaster. It's too late for us to go with her as Roger was bitten by the man next door. He is so sick.

It was signed with an apology for what he would have found here, with Abby's mom deciding to check out of the world with her husband.

North into Oregon. Abby had never mentioned a job offer last year but he recalled her taking a flight to Portland, supposedly to attend some psychobabble convention. At least he knew which direction to take now.

Getting out of L.A. was as hard as it was getting in, and he had to think fast on his feet a few times when he almost ended up trapped by the sheer number of the undead. The major routes were blocked with cars, some still occupied by those who had died waiting for rescue, trapped within glass and steel. Jack avoided them because it was too dangerous especially after night fell as the undead never slept. He kept to back roads, stealing cars when he could to shorten the journey north but often he ended up walking with nothing to occupy his mind as he put one foot in front of the other except for happier memories of Abby and Zoe, before everything had turned sour in their marriage, and certainly long before this apocalypse.

The further north he went the colder it got until eventually it snowed, but there was no one left to call the cops when he entered through the back of a small town store. He took suitable clothing off the rack including some sturdy footwear that was still light enough to make running easier should he turn the wrong corner and end up in danger. Slipping over in the ice and snow could be fatal.

Should have picked up a new rucksack too, he thought.

He trudged onward, brain and blood splattered baseball bat in one hand and the rucksack in the other, dangled by the broken strap. He had nothing of true value inside it, knowing he might have to lighten the load by dumping it should he get into trouble and need to move faster. Throughout the long journey he thought about what he would do once he got closer to Portland. There was a military base a little way east of the city. Jack only knew about it because his dad had been stationed there when Jack was younger. His only hope was finding someone there who might know about this military research facility, or maybe he would find a clue from whatever was left behind if the base had gone. He just hoped he wouldn't find it overrun by the undead.

It took a month to get there, and it looked deserted. The electric fence was inert and damaged in a few places. Wire cutters made short work of a small section and he made sure to mark the section in case he needed a fast escape route. Inside it was eerily silent like so many places these days and he imagined the soldiers either lost on the front line against the undead, or deserted to get to their families. A bang and low moan made him jump and he smiled wryly as the undead soldier still guarding the camp slammed a bloodied hand against the glass door, the gun hanging off his uniform long forgotten by the undead creature wearing his face. Jack opened the door to let the undead soldier out, knife thrust into the soldier's brain before he-it could get a hold on Jack. Banging on the inside of the door gained no further response so Jack ventured in and located the commander's office, going through paper work and maps in case something caught his eye, and it did. Not a something but an absence of something in Mount Hood National Park. Most might think it was simply an un-mapped area but Jack felt the sixth sense he relied upon for fugitive hunting kick in.

An abandoned Jeep took him most of the way but he ended up on foot again, walking along roads that were already showing signs of nature reclaiming them. At a fork in the road he had two choices but he spotted recent tire tracks heading in one direction, barely visible beneath the freshly fallen snow except on the corner where it looked as if the car may have skidded just slightly on the ice. He carried on walking until he saw a sign for a small town. Eureka, he though, and smiled because that word also meant success. He just hoped it lived up to its name but the town was deserted. With night falling, and the temperature along with it, Jack holed up in an abandoned cafe.

Cafe Diem, he thought, wondering if it was a play on words for Carpe Diem. He liked that movie. Seize the Day. Surprisingly he found the makings of a meal in a cabinet. Nothing fancy, or hot, but it beat starving. Nothing stirred all night and yet Jack found it hard to sleep with his sixth sense kicking into high gear. He was convinced he was being watched.

He rose at first light and tracked the car through the town and along more country roads, using judgement calls and his sixth sense to guide him through each turn but it all came to nothing when he reached a gorge seeing no way across. The bridge that should have spanned it was dilapidated and yet the very faint tire tracks led straight onto it. Jack edged forward slowly. He spotted some pebbles on the ground and picked up a handful, wanting to get an idea of how far it was to the bottom of the gorge but instead of falling the pebbles lay scattered in mid air.

"What the...?"

Hearing his own voice after days of silence actually surprised him but he turned his attention back to the weird sight. He used a long branch to tap the empty air ahead of him only to hear it thump back. Cautiously he walked forward, one small step at a time, disoriented when the dilapidated bridge disappeared, replaced by a solid structure.

A holograph?

His intrigue vanished at the sight of a vehicle pulling up at the far end of the bridge. Two soldiers got out along with a tall, good-looking man in an expensive suit. Refusing to feel intimidated, Jack walked forward more confidently and stopped a few feet away, bloodied baseball bat still held in one hand.

"I'm not looking for trouble," Jack stated, almost amending his words because Zoe had been trouble since the divorce, playing out and even running away from home on the pretext of wanting to be with him. "I'm looking for my wife... ex-wife, and my kid."

"What makes you think they are here?"

"A hunch... and the fact you haven't shot me. Abby and Zoe Carter."

The man had a great poker face but Jack was trained well and he saw the faint sign of recognition cross the handsome man's face.

"So, you really are Jack Carter. It wasn't easy to confirm."

Jack was aware of how he probably looked thinner and ragged from a tough month on the road. "I clean up good," Jack shot back, making the other man smile.

"I bet you do," he murmured and then pointed at the bat. "You won't need that."

"I'd rather keep it to hand."

Looking back years later it had been the strangest first meeting with one of the soldiers gingerly taking the bat and putting it into a sealed bag in the trunk. Jack had been surprised when Nathan Stark allowed him inside the car, barely remarking on Jack's unkempt and unwashed state even though Jack bet he stank of sweat and worse. Jack still recalled the second time they met, a day after his emotional reunion with Abby and Zoe. Nathan's interested expression and the words, "So you do clean up good," were the start of their flirtation, and years later they were still sparring words but also trading more than kisses while Nathan's scientists searched for a way to end the apocalypse.

END