Since I can't talk about this community but for the barest, vague terms, let me point out a strange and illogical circumstance. It's sort of the basis of the events over the last day.
It's this: with thousands of survivors living, working, and trading in such a small area, logic suggests that marauders would tend to stay away. After all, no band of them is big enough to raid the local areas without risking retribution by many times their number, right?
For the most part that's true. The locals aren't threatened in their homes, though their farm holdings are huge and some quite far-flung, so marauders have been known to nibble at the edges. They also sometimes attack trade caravans, though they rarely have to harm anyone. They just take supplies, not lives or people.
That was the case until yesterday around noon. Which was when, to everyone's surprise, a vast swarm of marauders came swooping in on us. The people we're staying with (whose community I'll call Harlen for the sake of not annoying everyone) responded with practiced ease. Bells sounded, which caused guards at posts farther away to sound others, and so forth, until even workers at the edges of the property knew that danger was coming.
We saw the marauders heading toward Harlen from the north, maybe a hundred vehicles. There was a lot of time to see them approach, thanks to flat terrain all around, with Harlen's main cluster of buildings set on a hill looking over it. Nearly two hundred men and women, plus my team, stood on the cinder block wall surrounding the place. Most people had bows, some hand weapons, and even a smattering of guns. Our orders were to hold the maruaders off long enough for the workers farthest away to reach the safety of the wall.
We didn't have to.
A hundred yards away, the marauders stopped. One of them got out of his vehicle, threw down his weapons, and ran for the main gate. He was yelling the entire time, but we couldn't make out what he was going on about until he got closer.
Zombies, he said. Like the stars in the sky, too many to count.
The marauders stopped before the walls were all that was left of more than fifty groups scattered across the northwest, from where we were relatively south all the way to the Canadian border and beyond. A hundred vehicles remained from nearly a thousand in the original group. The marauders had warned and joined up with anyone they knew or met along the way, moving many hundreds of miles south to our location.
I don't know that I'd have believed anything he said, but after a few minutes of talking to us from outside the wall, his cohorts realized we weren't going to shoot him out of hand. A small group of them also threw weapons down and came toward us, half a dozen people carrying something wrapped in heavy plastic sheeting. When they got close enough for us to see, they threw it down and unrolled the contents.
It was a zombie. From our distant vantage, it certainly looked like an example of the new breed, but we couldn't tell for sure. We had to know. Because from everything we'd gleaned about zombie behavior and the spread of the mutated versions of the plague, no new breed should have been that far north. Certainly not "too many to count".
I turned to see if the team was willing to go down with me, and found Becky and Rachel already gone. They'd run for the front gate as soon they realized there was a body in that plastic. Neither showed the slightest fear when they went through the gate, seven men before them who might be killers, rapists, and god knows what else.
Of course, by then there were at least fifty more people on the wall with bows who had joined us while the marauder was talking. That's a lot of arrows. The marauders knew where they were pointed.
Becky examined the zombie, cutting almost surgically with her knife to check for the telltale signs. After a few minutes she faced the wall and nodded.
There was a lot of discussion by our hosts after that. Fast talk. Had the marauders simply killed a new breed to trick their way inside the walls? If not, could we turn them away? How could we know it wasn't a trick?
The marauders were anxious and getting impatient when a messenger shouted from below us. I recognized him--he was one of the kids that worked at the small communications center here. He shouted to us that about sixty miles northeast, another community had been hit. The people there, the few left, were running this way. One drew the short straw and stayed behind to send a warning.
Thousands upon thousands of new breed. Coming this way.