BONES: Forest Empire

Prologue

They were making good time, Javor thought as they came up over a rise and ahead were a small four corners intersection.

“Zombies off to one side,” Sue said as she pointed out to the right ahead.

Something had come through here earlier, they figured, and killed some of same as Javor slowed the truck.

Dead zombies get eaten, they all knew and few of the twenty or so even raised their heads, blood and torn flesh dripped out of their mouths. The number of corpses couldn’t be counted from the cab but as no one offered to get out to take a body count and Javor drove on.

“Okay, thing is,” Sue said, “bodies mean someone was here recently to kill some of those zombies. And we have no idea which way those killers went from the four corners.”

That got a trio of nods and Wayne spoke up.

“Then as we’re going straight through on Regional 17, we gotta just hope that they were on that side-road, is all…” he said and that too got a smile.

As he drove, Javor wondered what kind of time had gone by since those zombies had been killed.

He wondered as the farmlands stayed on either side of the road. Farms that once had been farmed, growing crops and helping to feed Bones. But now, they lay in anything but working order. Barns had been burned, out buildings wrecked, paddocks and corrals were missing boards and posts too. At some time in the past, livestock had been killed and butchered—the bones now lay in piles that anyone could see. Occasionally, a silo had fallen and the grain from inside lay all about, rotting now and un-usable as seed for a new crop.

Off to the left coming up a rise in the road, there was a fire somewhere behind a barn as smoke was drifting up though the burning items themselves could not be seen. That looked a bit suspicious, Javor thought. That also made him slow down to just twenty miles an hour, and he moved over to the part of the road farthest on the right hand side.

Ahead just over the rise as Nutty cleared the top, and down the long straight stretch ahead, four vehicles lay in the ditches. The closest one, they could see, was a bright blue pickup truck that had been twisted off the road somehow on the other side. As Javor motored by same, he could see that the truck’s tires were all ripped and rent with shards of the rubber hanging down over the rims themselves. The truck he noted too, had not a scratch on it, but was in pretty good shape except for the tires he could see. It had been carrying something in cardboard cases, as the cardboard now flattened lay all over the road ahead like it’d flown out at speed and had been run over too.

A few yards further down the road there was a small compact type of car, with it’s snout buried on this side of the road in the ditch. On the road itself, the asphalt had been gouged somehow by the car before it left the road itself.

Javor was now only going fifteen miles an hour as he approached the garbage and detritus of previous accidents all over the road.

As the truck crunched over some of the pieces of metal and plastic and glass and those flattened cardboard cartons under the tires, the sounds of the front two tires exploding broke that crunching noise.

Bam! Bam!

And the steering got suddenly more difficult and then the rear tires too both exploded.

Bam! Bam!

“Damn” Javor said as the truck lurched to the left and without tires slowly drifted down into the deep ditch and as he jammed on the brakes, what little of the rubber left on the wheels gouged the asphalt and the dirt and Nutty tipped over on her side.

Sue ended up on top of him and she was cursing as she slowly lifted herself back up onto the passenger side. In the back crew cab seat, Bixby was barking as both he and Bruce had ended up on top of Wayne.

The driver side doors were within a couple of feet of the ground, so Wayne opened up his door and Bixby scampered out, but he was too big to fit. With Bruce’s help, they were able to clear themselves out the passenger side door and were soon joined by Sue and Javor too. Bixby was looking at Javor with what he thought was a look of ‘how could you do this to us’ and Sue nodded too.

“Was that some kind of booby trap?” she asked.

Wayne had gone back the few feet to the roadway and had picked up a few of those flattened cardboard cartons.

“Yup, sure was,” he said, “what’s called a ‘spike strip’ in some places. Course, this one is homemade but good enough to end Nutty’s days,” he said and what he said was true. With no tires, Nutty wouldn’t be moving again.

Someone had put some the cardboard and accident detritus and dead weeds or hay or some such brown rotting cover to try to hide the strip that had a series of barbs pointing upwards that would deflate any tires that rode over it. At speed, it would blow out all the tires which often then meant the car or vehicle would spin off the road.

“That’s enough, nonbelievers” a voice yelled out from above them in the left hand ditch.
Standing there, were a handful of men—rifles trained on them all. Two of them had their rifles up at their shoulders, aiming directly at Javor and at Sue just outside the passenger doorway. Three more, had shotguns at their hips, pointing at Wayne and Bruce who were taken by surprise.

But it was the look of these ambushers that was the most surprising thing.

Each was bald, except for a topknot of long hair what was braided and hung down to their mid-chest levels. Each was naked to the waist, with some kind of tattooing on their chests of various designs; stripes and animal silhouettes and even lightening bolts. All were in assorted colors but the overall hues were in reds of various tints. If the word tribe was used as a descriptor, Javor thought, then yes this was a tribe for sure as he gazed at their brownish shaded leggings and boots too.

He knew that his Colt could be seen by them and he was directly in their sights, so he stood still, wondering what to do next.

Sue had a pistol, so did Wayne in his ankle holster.

Except that they have us sighted in…

The cadre group stood frozen, while the ones with shotguns, collected Bruce and Wayne. Each was frisked and then one of the tribe whistled and three women came running out of the farm to the left side of the road. Each was like the males—bald except for the topknot of long hair, each naked to the waist, wearing the same leggings and short boots too. Javor noted though that the man who’d frisked Wayne had not checked his ankles so they had one gun at least so far.

Breasts, Javor could see were like women he’d met all over the human worlds, some big, some small. But each was covered again with the same kind of reddish tinted tattoos too. Between them they carried a string of chains and shackles, and while they got Bruce and Wayne shackled to the chains, two more came to the cab of the truck.

He too was frisked, the Colt taken away and then was shackled together with Sue, who also lost her pistol, to the string of chains.

One tribe member said something in a language that he didn’t know and the man shook his head.

“You have a dog it appears—but he just turned and ran,” he said and Javor realized that Bixby had in fact deserted them. That made him wonder but a yank on the chain brought him back into the present.

The leader motioned them all to go back down the road to the farm drive and then turn left and slowly climb the driveway to the barn. At the barn, the door ahead, opened by sliding off to one side and another tribe woman dipped her head and they went by into the barn.

Inside there was power, first thing they all noticed as lights hung from the high rafters, some lit in the dimness of the very high structure. There were tables and a whole hodge podge of chairs at same and some were holding tribe members who were eating others talking and chatting. But all stopped when the newest captives appeared.

One of the tribe members rose and ambled over to look at them all.

“Four more—well done, believers!”

That got an acknowledgment from all of their captors via a huge loud tribal yell of “Huzzah!” and the tribal man grunted.

“You belong now to the Red Tribe,” he said with a degree of force in his voice.

He pointed at them all and went on.

“We will be on our way up to the Forest Empire outpost—not far really so the walk will not help you all get in shape very much. Once there, you will be sold to them—they need fodder for their next games and the prices are good right now. We will also take your truck too, not that I’m told it may run again—we thank you for this as it is not everyday that we in the Red Tribe find such value on the road. Even from the spike trap from years ago…who knew that there was even a truck still alive?”

He grinned at them and went on.

“Amal, add these to the master chain and give them each a portion of the dinner. We need them to be in as good a shape as we can.”

Another tribe member, a man, nodded to the two shotgun tribe members who still had them under cover, and he grabbed the end of the chain off the barn floor and walked towards the far wall. There, a locked door was unlocked by a woman who looked like she was the guard person and then Javor entered the side room.

It was a long one, at least thirty feet long, and inside same sat a dozen more captives it appeared.

Some men, some women—no children Javor noted and he watched as the man connected the end of their chain to the large ring that held together all the sub-chains. Then he left the room and he could hear the guard locking the door.

As they’d been effectively closed off, he moved over to sit as close to his group as he could.
Someone spoke up and said “where you all from?”

It was a man, in a cammo set of clothes and he looked like some kind of soldier. There were four of them all dressed the same, Javor noted and the rest were plain looking civilians.

Sue half smiled and said “we’re from Maxwell, on our way to Arlington…till today that is.”

He nodded.

“Know anything about this Forest Empire tribe or group? Or this one?” he asked.

Sue shook her head. No sense in providing intel unless you were sure of the advantages for yourself and Javor squeezed Bruce’s good arm at the same time.

Later, as they ate the dinner—some kind of stew with a big chunk of bread across the top of the foil bowl killed their hunger pretty well. As he ate, he looked at and finally caught Wayne’s eye—and then stared down at his left ankle, then back an Wayne, then the ankle.

Wayne nodded and said as a part of the dinner conversation about Lindos the free city, that yes he too had heard that a free city was a spot to enjoy…as long as one was armed.

Javor nodded. Wayne had somehow gotten his revolver back into his ankle holster.

They had a gun…and hope…