The Last Laugh

'Oh! Jesus Christ! I'm hit,' he said; and died.
Whether he vainly cursed or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped-In vain, vain, vain!
Machine-guns chuckled,-Tut-tut! Tut-tut!
And the Big Gun guffawed.

Another sighed, -'O Mother, -Mother, - Dad!'
Then smiled at nothing, childlike, being dead.
And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud
Leisurely gestured,-Fool!
And the splinters spat, and tittered.

'My Love!' one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,
Till slowly lowered, his whole faced kissed the mud.
And the Bayonets' long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed.

Wilfred Owen

Everyone took the news of the soldiers the way I had expected. Tiffany ranted, Kurt look scared, Richard uncomfortable and Judith started to cry and apologise. Jeb, like me, started to plan.

"How many?" he asked.

"Five, that I saw."

"They are more," Jeb said, stroking his stubble. "They would be scouting the area. More than likely they saw us before they took the other shelter, and now they are checking us out."
"Why are they holding back?" I asked. It was the only think that was confusing me.

"We are an unknown entity. They have no Intel on us. They can't get the tank at us, not until they widen the dirt track. Even then, they don't know the interior layout. If they use grenades or the tank, they risk hitting ammo or food. And they don't know our strength. For all they know, there are thirty of us in here, all fully armed," Jeb murmured.

"They didn't have any intel on your parents' bunker," Judith said.

"Desperation," Tiffany suggested. "And from what you told us, Charles parents were ready- they abandoned the place without a fight, so they were expecting to be overrun."

"They were, but not this soon. So, we get the buses ready to move. Fill them with as much food and weapons as we can, then we get ready to fight or run. We may have to raid the town for fuel," I said.

Jeb smiled at me.

"A good student, you are," he mimicked.

I grinned. Tiffany was looking at us.

"So, how do we get ready? I've seen your armoury. You are well stocked, but you are lacking body armour and rocket launchers," the last bit was said with the barest hint of sarcasm.

Together, Jeb and I moved the table. Richard then opened the hatch down to the containers below ground.

"Oh Tiffany," I said sadly, "we are better prepared than you imagine."

I got a guilty sense of pleasure at the stunned look on her face. That sense of pleasure grew as I gave Tiffany and Kurt the grand tour. One thing got Tiffany's attention thought.

"What's this metal cover for?"

"Tunnels," I answered, after getting a nod from Jeb.

"Tunnels?" Tiffany asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yep. We have an escape tunnel. The exit is about three miles from here, near an abandoned farm house. We have escape vehicles there," I answered.

"What about the buses up top?"

"Now that's a story. If the soldiers ever get a helicopter in the air, and since they are already surrounding us, they are for show. Since mostly everyone from the last shelter had escape vehicles, the smart thing for them to do is to assume we have them too," Jeb said.

"But if they know we have them, and we plan to use them, how are they for show? Why not bail out when they least expect it?" Tiffany asked.

"Do you really think we would be able to get through a ring of soldiers in them? Especially if there is a chance they would have a tank waiting for us on the road?" I asked. Tiffany didn't answer.

000

Jeb was patrolling the roof in full riot gear, with a submachine gun in hand and a rocket launcher strapped to his back. He also had another surprise for us, one that even I didn't know about. Every container above ground had a small rectangular section that opened and allowed someone to look out- or slide out the barrel of a gun. So far, these little precautions seem to have halted the soldiers. The sounds emanating from the woods - the sounds of trees being cut and a tank advancing—had stopped.

We had split into teams. Jeb, Richard and Judith were the "base" team. Jeb and Richard were to be seen patrolling the roof while heavily armed. Judith, owing to her experience as a warehouse manager, was to be in charge of stock taking and to make sure that our emergency back packs and weapons were ready to go.

Tiffany, Kurt and I were the "tunnel" team. It was our job to go through the tunnel and raid the town for fuel and vehicles to use. The exit to the tunnel came out at the bottom of a slight hill at the edge of the woods, right beside a run down farmhouse, and we would be well hidden from anyone in the woods so long as they weren't right at the top of the slight rise. From the farmhouse itself, we were only a twenty minute walk from the edge of town.

The first time we came to the farmhouse, we did a full search of the house and outhouses. They were all clear, bar from one thing that became our "insurance police." It was a zombie called "Smiler." Kurt had called him "Smiler," due to his hideous facial injuries. We came to the conclusion that the fact that he was still staggering around on his leg cast as a good sign. It meant no one had being to our evac site. If he stayed that way...

"Time to move out," I said, securing the straps on my riot gear, and hoisting my semi-automatic rifle.

After fifteen minutes of steady walking, the outskirts of the town was in sight.

"So, what's the shopping list again?" Kurt asked.

"First" I said, pointing at the prison transport bus, "we see is that still working. Then fuel, padlocks, food, water and anything we can use to make the bus more liveable."

After three days, we had made great progress. We had gotten the prison bus and a school bus to the farmhouse and kitted them out- removed seats to make beds on top of food crates, racks for guns, drums for carrying water and fuel, etc.

The school bus had been tricky to acquire though. While nearly empty, there were still a few zombies on board. We couldn't afford to use our guns, since we wanted to avoid detection for as long as possible, so we used knives. It was hard, as most of the zombies were children. Tiffany and Kurt were sick afterwards. I had to force myself not to join in their vomit fest.

Back at our shelter, the lack of zombies coming out of the woods, and the recurring gunfire told is that the soldiers were keeping our perimeter clear of that threat, so less work for us, and less drain on our ammo. The soldiers were becoming bolder though. They were no longer hiding. They were now coming out to take pot shots at whoever was on the roof. Since they didn't hit anyone, Jeb rationalised that they were trying to demoralise us. It was working. They had also taken to creating a lot of noise at night, to keep us awake. They had started widening the road again, trying to get the tank through.

It made an appearance on the fourth day. It lumbered out of the woods and rolled straight over the first two perimeter fences. The roof hatch popped open, and a woman in camo fatigue, with the rank insignias of a Major clambered onto the roof. Her only weapon was a handgun strapped to her waist. Her chestnut hair barley brushed the top of her ears. She wore no jewellery bar a wedding ring. The soldiers in the woods slipped out and fell into position around the remains of our fence.

"Who's in charge here?" she called.

Jeb ambled over to the edge of the roof; holding his rifle as non threateningly as one could hold an M16. He was wearing his old dog tags, I noticed. For once, he wasn't drunk or stoned. He had traded his Hawaiian shirt, sandals and colourful shorts for a pair of jeans, boots, and a vest that showed off his old military tattoos.

"I am," he answered. "Who am I addressing?"

The Major squinted up at him, her quick eyes taking everything about his appearance.

"I am Major Sandra Noose. Formally of the United States Cavalry. Now I command a mix of various branches. Judging by your appearance, you were a soldier to. Who am I addressing?"

"Lieutenant Jebadia Woodword, Unites States Marine Corp, retired," Jeb answered.

"Well, Lieutenant, it looks like we have a problem," Major Noose said.

"And what would that be?" Uncle Jeb asked.

"Me and my troops are hungry, and running low on supplies. Now, we have orders from the top to seize and use any supplies we can to assist us in combating the plague that is currently rampaging through our country. Our problem is, people don't seem will to contribute to the cause. Your actions over the last few days tell us that you are among the majority who have trouble sharing your assets."

"From the way we hear it, you shoot civilians and drive those you can't kill out of their hiding places to use their supplies for yourself and leave the people you are robbing to be eaten by the infected."

The Major grimaced.

"Nonsense made up by a shock jock in Dallas and a crazed truck driver," she said pleasantly, waving away what Jeb had said like an annoying fly.

"What about the other survivors, in the other bunker?"

"Them? Unwilling to contribute to the struggle. They let us in and then robbed us, running out the back door."

Jeb chuckled darkly.

"Robbed you? How? By defending their supplies?" Jeb spat.

The Majors faced darkened.

"We are at war," she shot back. "This is Total War, and everyone has to contribute. Those who don't have to be forced."

From my vantage on another container, I saw Jeb make the agreed sign to run.

"Forced? Hmmm. I'd agree that if we were fighting, everyone has to contribute. But I don't think you are fighting for America. You are nothing more than hyper survivalists, using your military training to bully others," I heard Jeb say as I began to descend the ladder. I saw he Jeb had began to move back from the edge of the container.

"Sir, they are running," a soldier from my side of the perimeter shouted.

"TAKE IT DOWN," the Major called.

Jeb didn't use the ladder. He jumped off the roof, landed and rolled and sprinted to the door I was holding open. There was a deafening BOOM and the gate was blown to bits. I caught sight of two soldiers advancing through the remains as I slammed the door and bolted it. I heard Jeb calling "GO, GO, GO," as I ran towards the kitchen.

I caught sight Jeb's balding head as he descended the ladder. Rapid gunfire at the door told me that the soldiers were shooting at the lock. I followed Jeb, shutting the hatch as I went. The soldiers were at the hatch in a few moments and were working at the lock. Jeb was standing at the entrance to the tunnel, holding an oil lamp. I grabbed it and handed him a flashlight. As the feet of the first soldier appeared, I threw the lamp onto the ground and flames danced up in front of the tunnel entrance. I turned and ran after the light of Jeb's flash light.

000

When I got out the other end of the tunnel, I saw the school bus pulling out of the barn with Richard in the driving seat. Judith was on board with him. Tiffany, along with Kurt, was pulling the prison bus out from behind the farmhouse. Smiler was spinning in circles, confused by the noise. Jeb was waiting at the tunnel exit. One look at his face told me he was pissed.

"They are here," he whispered to me, indicating the top of the hill with the barrel of his gun.

In the distance, at the top of the slight rise, I could make out several figures in combat fatigue. From the tunnel, I could hear shouting.

"Looks like they found a fire extinguisher, we don't have much time," I muttered.

We began to make our way towards the buses, but as it turned out, we had less time than I thought. While Tiffany had been snarky about us not having a rocket launcher, the soldiers didn't have that disadvantage. There was an explosion somewhere, and before I knew it, I was flying though the air. The gable wall of the farmhouse had collapsed, and I was aware of my body twisting in midair to avoid hitting it straight on.

Then I wasn't moving anymore. I was looking up at the sky, thinking how beautiful it was. The clouds were a mix of greyish blue and light pink in the east, though vanilla and darker pink in the middle and a deep crimson shot with a darker vanilla in the west. Not been able to share this beautiful sight with someone was getting to me. Another part of my mind said 'Hey, Smiler is here!'

Smiler had hoved into few in the corner of my eye. I smiled at him. He began to descend towards me, as if to kiss me. It was all happening in slow motion. I was focused on a little bulge on his fore head. It began to split open and then a bullet appeared. I started to laugh, then everything went black.

Authors Note: Continue. Yes? No?