Drip, drip, drip.
Patter after patter, drop after drop, Jeremy slowly came to.
He had overslept, sun was going down already, residual rain from the damaged roof dripped into his abode, a small puddle forming in the corner of his bedroom - who knew how many hours it had been raining, how long this puddle had survived? These thoughts, mindless thoughts, ran through Jeremy's head as he slowly opened his eyes, lethargic from the physical trials of the day before, the stab wound; though patched up, taking it's toll on his body. He rose out of bed a little too quickly, resulting in an all too familiar sharp pain in his left side courtesy of the more or less fresh stab wound just below his heart sustained in a knife fight with what amounted to little more than a child the night before last. Getting his equipment together, Jeremy fitted the near-empty bandolier over his chest, shotgun slung over his right shoulder. He clipped his sheathe to his belt, old school military field torch not far from it. He put his satchel on, grabbing his saddle before making his way to the door, stepping out into the crisp sunset over Monroe's streets. He fit the saddle to Stonewall, receiving some funny looks from passers by as he got ready to go outside the walls even in his current state. He unhitched his horse, leading it through the streets to Job's blacksmith shop, hitching him right outside as Jeremy headed in. "Job." Jeremy greeted with a nod of his head, looking around at the man's forge. "You sharpen that blade for me yet?" He asked, refocusing on the hard-working man; at least ten years his senior. "Yep. Right over here, let me just finish up." Job responded, Jeremy idly milling around as Job worked. It was five minutes later before Job finished his current task, presenting Jeremy a freshly polished machete, the blade recently sharpened, it's handle retooled and strengthened. "Thanks. Oh - here, for your troubles." Jeremy said, reaching into his satchel. He retrieved a cloudy bottle labelled 'Jameson' from inside, around half of the brown liquid still in the glass confines. He handed it over with a shake, Job taking the 'reward' graciously. "Appreciate it, Jeremy. Stay safe out there." Job concluded, going back to his work. Jeremy made way for the door, looking over his senior's handiwork - the blade wasn't much, but it was his, and he had carried it for years. "Enjoy your drink." Jeremy said as he stepped back out into the streets, night having fallen. He unhitched Stonewall and headed for the gates - heading out on pretense of another 'supply run'.
It wasn't exactly a lie, was it?
Jeremy mounted his horse just outside of the gate, readjusting himself in the saddle. He flashed the peace sign to the gate guards as he trotted off down the overgrown street, taking care to note his surroundings. He dealt with a few red-eyes from horseback, testing the machete's balance in the process. Job did a fine job, a testament to his skill at his craft - something Jeremy has and will continue to take advantage of. Minutes turned to hours as he rode towards his destination, the far-off supply cache pointed out by the man he had 'saved' the night before last. Night turned to day, to night again - the journey was relatively quiet, scant red-eyes littering the open country between Monroe and his new quarry, himself dealing with a few. It was around three in the morning on the 25th of October when he reached the purported 'stash', having been thrown off course several times through his journey. He figured it might help out, some of the guards being asleep would make things less complicated. He hitched Stonewall about a half mile from the site, hiding him in some concealment. He took the saddlebags from the horse, slinging them over his shoulder as he pulled the shotgun from it's slung position over his right, making the trek towards the spot. As he got closer and closer, it became apparent the man he had saved was telling the truth. He happened upon a series of early-warning alarm systems in the woods surrounding, laying eyes on the building a little while later. It was a log cabin on a lake, a low fire crackled in the yard before it, at least four men visible sitting around it - drinking. Jeremy picked out a spot in the brush, setting his saddlebags down. He pulled his binoculars from his satchel, using them to scout the camp in more depth. He noted two additional guards, sleeping, one of the men having stepped away from the fire and headed in the woods near to Jeremy. The unmistakable sound of a twig snapping and a heavy pair of boots followed, and Jeremy was quick to place his binoculars on the ground. He listened in carefully, keeping his cool and his bearings. Jeremy's new friend was clearly drunk, a fact only helped by the audible noise of piss hitting a tree - an easy target, he thought. He left his gear in his perch, keeping low to the ground and watching his footing. He pulled his knife from his sheathe as he got closer to the man - looking older than the ones he had killed before, slowly rising to his feet. As the man was pulling his zipper back up, Jeremy wrapped his left arm around his throat - holding the knife against his back.
"Move, you're a goddamn cripple." Jeremy spat, keeping his voice low as the man slowly raised both hands to shoulder-level, going somewhat limp; knowing what was to follow. "How many?" Jeremy questioned, digging the knife further into the man's back - a pained, low groan escaping his lips as Jeremy slightly loosened his grip on the man's throat, letting him speak easy. "Seven." He responded with hatred in his voice - though he knew if he misspoke, he was dead. "Guns?" Jeremy asked next, twisting the knife's point slightly against the man's spine. "Rifle, fuck - yeah, yeah, rifle." He responded, Jeremy taking a moment to think. "What's your name?" Jeremy inquired, the man quickly responding "Carmine.". Jeremy took a few more moments, checking his surroundings. "Listen, just let me go - they're gonna get curious, probably gonna come looking. I won't say anything, man - I know how it is." Carmine pleaded, slowly lowering his hands. "Call them over." Jeremy said. "What?" Carmine responded. "Your friends. Call them over, I wanna meet 'em." Jeremy carried on, holding the knife against his back. Carmine looked more confused than anything - his hands by his sides. "You fucking nuts, mister? You wanna die or something?" He questioned, purely confused. "Yeah. Call 'em over - now." Jeremy ordered, pressing the tip of the knife against Carmine's spine. "Guys! There's... Get over here, you wanna see this!" Carmine called - even from his far position, he could hear them stand, the rustle of the leaves and the clank of slowly approaching boots made itself known. "Thanks, Carmine. You really helped me out here today." Jeremy said, driving the blade into Carmine's carotid artery - not for no reason, either; Carmine had been reaching for a knife, nearly getting it out of the sheathe by the time he had died. Jeremy released Carmine, letting him fall to the ground with a thud. He rushed back to his equipment, sheathing his knife - watching the approaching bandits as they made their way through the clearing towards Carmine's position. He heard them calling for him, chatting amongst themselves and questioning the validity of Carmine's drunken bullshit as he grabbed his shotgun from the perch, slowly making his way over to where he had left Carmine. He chose another spot in the brush, bracing the sawn off shotgun against a tree as the group ran into Carmine - falling straight into Jeremy's ambush. Carmine tried to warn them, still alive, choking on his own blood - all he could make were gurgling noises as the life drained from his face, the color with it.
"My brothers!" Jeremy called out, drawing the attention of the group. He ripped back on the trigger, sending a shell straight into the closest's head - blowing it in half. He racked the pump of the shotgun as the two others ran for cover, sending another shell down-range - hitting the tall one in the leg, causing him to fall to the ground and crawl his way into cover. Jeremy knew the others would have heard, and they'd be coming. He made a tactical retreat as the bandits yelled out - taunting him, calling their friends for help, making his way back to his perch - where his equipment was. He reloaded his shotgun with two of the three extra shells from his bandolier, grabbing his saddlebags from the ground - slinging them over his free shoulder. He slowly backstepped through the woods, hearing the bandits setting positions around Carmine's lifeless form. His plan had worked, flawlessly. Jeremy cautiously made his way through the woods towards the cabin, scanning his surroundings diligently as he made his way right up to the front door. He had his hand on the handle when he realised there was a problem.
Carmine said seven.
He had only counted six.
The roar of a shotgun penetrated the serenity of the area once more as the bandit inside loosed both barrels into the wooden door, sending a handful of the pellets into Jeremy's left forearm - causing him to recoil and fall back against the frame. He heard the sounds of the shells ejecting inside, and, knowing the ones from the woods would certainly be rushing back, kicked the door in. He fired the shotgun at the bandit behind the overturned table, sending the poor fucker flying backwards with buckshot filling his chest. Jeremy hurriedly pulled the door shut - what remained of it at least, using a chair to jam the handle. He hopped the table, taking the bandit's old position as he lay slumped against the wall directly across from the door. Jeremy pumped his shotgun once more, frantically patting the corpse down for extra shells - finding a couple. He loaded one into his shotgun, slotting the others into his bandolier just as the bandits from the woods returned. He had killed three, that left four to worry about. But he only heard the sounds of three voices, three pairs of boots - where was the fourth?
He must have gone to get help.
For the first time in a long time, Jeremy felt a certain emotion. Fear. How many would our fourth man bring? He only had seven or so shells, three left to deal with - he had no chance even if he landed every one of his shots. Anxiety filled the usually cool, collected survivor as the bandits outside bashed at the door, trying to get in. He hopped the table as he heard one of the bandits reach their hand in through the hole caused by the double barrel, tossing his own shotgun down. He pulled the machete from it's sling inside his jacket, using it to brutally maim the poor fucker on the other side of the door, taking his hand clean off in one swing. Thanks, Job, he thought as the screams filled the air - a voice being heard. "Fuck this! Let's just wait for the others!".
He had forgotten about them.
Something had to be done - and very, very fast. He replaced his machete in it's sling, picking up his shotgun. He searched the cabin high and low for the supplies, his left arm more or less unusable on account of the buckshot peppering it. Thought became an idea, idea became a reality. He pulled the hip-flask of moonshine from his satchel, unscrewing the top. After downing a healthy glug of the paint-thinning liquor, he used it to douse the walls of the cabin's front room, pocketing the flask shortly after. It pained him to waste the last of his liquor on such a venture, but it was the only option he saw. Going back to his search, Jeremy found something in the bedroom. Loose floorboards, right between the wardrobe and the bed. He lowered himself down, peeling the boards from their place - lo and behold, the stash. His eyes lit up at the sight of the loot, a wide grin dominating his facial features despite the impending doom and intense agony. He pulled the saddlebags from over his shoulder, laying them flat on the floor. He loaded both with real medicine, canned goods, spices, liquor and even some ammunition - having to pick and choose between necessities for the town and pure selfishness.
His joy was fleeting, his conquest a mere footnote. He grabbed the saddlebags as he heard the sounds of a dozen or so pairs of boots, knowing what this meant for poor old him. He made his way back into the front room, taking a deep breath as he took up position behind the table. "Get the hell out here!" A voice boomed, the sounds of firearms cocking audible even from the cabin. "How about I don't do that - how about we just talk, huh!?" Jeremy replied, bracing the shotgun against the table - aiming for the hole in the door. "Talk!? You wanna TALK!? You killed half my goddamn men!" The voice shouted, Jeremy weighing his options in the interim. He looked around the moonshine soaked interior of the cabin, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "I assume since you ain't just rushed in here and killed me, you know if you do all your damn loot goes bye-bye, huh!?" Jeremy responded, settling in behind the table with a deep exhale. He rested the shotgun against his thigh, painfully wrapping a bandage around his left forearm. He looked across at the dead bandit ahead of him, with the double-barrelled shotgun still in his lap. An idea came to light. "And I assume you know all about the little hostage I got here with me!?" He shouted, keeping his eyes locked on the dead man. It was only a matter of time until he turned, Jeremy thought - only a matter of time. He set the shotgun down, crawling across. He dug his hand into his satchel, pulling a pair of cable ties from it. He used them to bind the corpse's hands, crawling his way into the bedroom. He could hear the bandits outside discussing amongst themselves, clearly not having known about the 'hostage' or the prospective loss of their loot, either. Jeremy grabbed a pillow from the bed, taking it out of it's case. He crawled back to the front room - the 'hostage' slowly coming back to life. He got there just in time, covering it's head with the case before it fully reanimated - and, despite the buckshot in his chest, it looked quite human with it's hands bound and head covered. He hoped it would be enough to buy him some time.
"You got Henry!?" The leader called from outside as Jeremy slowly got to his feet, bringing the infected with him. He jabbed the barrel of his shotgun against it's back as he made his way toward the door ever so slowly, pressing the infected against it to keep it shut as he kicked the chair away. "Oh, yeah! Me and Henry are reaaaaal familiar. Ain't that right, Henry? Oh - he can't speak on account of the fact I broke the living shit out of his jaw, but other than that he's fit as a fiddle!" Jeremy called back, beads of sweat rolling down his face - keeping the barrel of the shotgun pressed against his back. "Fact of the matter is, my friend, I ain't nothing but a forward scout. The whole damn might of the, uh..-" Jeremy stopped to think. "C-P-F are out looking for you right now, and, as luck would have it, I got a radio! I called them right here, right to you! So, do yourselves a favor and just give the hell in - least of all for old Henry here, cause I will blow his head off in the next two minutes if you don't figure something out!" Jeremy beckoned from inside, speaking with the utmost confidence - praying to god he'd be able to con these two-bit thugs into believing he was a ranger from the CPF hunting their gang. Minutes passed as the group outside bickered between themselves - some believing the ruse, others not so much. "Tick-tock, folks! Henry's got thirty goddamn seconds before I paint the walls of this very fine cabin you've got here a messy shade of red." Jeremy ordered, pulling the strings in a way that exploited the fear and inexperience of some of the bandits outside. He heard several of the crew protest, several of them pleading with their leader to negotiate - they were mostly young, inexperienced, and unready for the surprise attack. "You wanna talk?" The leader called. "Let's talk! I'm sure you're a rational man, we can figure something out!" He carried on, Jeremy licking his lips into a slight grin at the ruse paying off. "Here's what i'm offering - what's your name!?" Jeremy called. "Rufus!" The man called back, inner conflict still audible on the outside. "I'll give you back Henry. Y'all don't have to turn yourselves in, and I ain't gotta surrender. I got backup on the way, ammo and a damn good position here. What'dyou say, Rufus!?" Jeremy called, holding Henry's bound, concealed reanimated corpse against the door. "I'll give you a minute to think on it, bud - but a minute's all I got. Clock's ticking on that backup!" He continued. Each second felt like an hour as Jeremy questioned his own intelligence, taking this job by himself in the first damn place - but he didn't like playing with others on jobs like this. He wanted his pick of the loot, and clearly, made a mistake driven by his personal greed. "You'll give us Henry?" Rufus called, less agitated than before. "That's right, Rufus! I ain't a bad guy, reasonable just like you said!" Jeremy continued, looking around the room frantically for an escape plan. The windows were boarded up, but he was confident he could get through the one near the fireplace - only problem being it'd drop him straight into the lake, leaving him an easy target.
Fuck it, he thought. It was his only real option.
"Send Henry out! But I swear, you try any funny stuff, we'll come in there and rip you to pieces!" Rufus called, Jeremy breathing a quiet sigh of relief - the adrenaline picking up again as he calculated his escape. "Alright! On three, he's coming out." Jeremy shouted, pulling the infected back from the door just a tad. He set his shotgun on the drawers next to it, gripping the handle. "One--" Jeremy shouted, ripping the door open and giving the reanimated Henry a sharp push outside - sending him flying flat on his face on the ground just in front of Rufus. He slammed the door shut, diving for cover as the bandits opened fire. He wore a grin on his face as he grabbed his shotgun. "Uh-huh, Rufus. That was a dirty, dirty move!" Jeremy shouted, getting to his feet. He made his way behind the overturned table once more, slinging his shotgun. "Henry, here - let me help you. Thought I lost you for a minute back there, brother." He heard Rufus speak in a lower tone, the firing having stopped. Rufus dragged Henry up to his feet, removed the hood - and Jeremy's duplicity was revealed. The reanimated corpse of Henry took a chunk out of Rufus' cheek, driving the posse of bandits outside wild with confusion. Jeremy heard the screams, and they were his cue. He pulled a box of matches from his pocket, striking one - tossing it into the very flammable moonshine. The front of the cabin went up like a Christmas tree as Jeremy covered his face with his limp left arm, grabbing the double barrel shotgun from the floor. He used it as a club to beat the boards on the window down, the roar of gunfire present outside - the moans of a red-eye dying down. His window was closing, but the bandits were still very much confused. Some of them expected CPF rangers to charge from the woodline, some others turned tail and ran at the prospect. Jeremy barely managed to break through the boards, slinging both shotguns over his shoulder. He stuck his head out of the window, eyeing his drop - taking a deep breath of fresh air before clambering out of the tight window, landing in the lake below with a splash. He heard the door break down almost as soon as he hit the water, the bandits scurrying inside with their fearless leader dying in the front yard in a pool of his own blood - looking for Jeremy, but, as Jeremy knew would happen - they cared about the loot more. He heard the scurry of boots towards the stash as he began his one-armed swim back to shore, his left making several attempts at strokes as he did. He barely managed the swim, loaded down by the bounty of loot he had procured from the cabin plus the shotgun, making it to shore on the opposite side of the lake in about ten minutes - devoid of energy and soaking wet. He slowly caught his breath on the shore, looking back toward the bonfire that was once the death trap of a cabin he was stuck in, the far-off figures of the surviving bandits scurrying off into the woodline loaded down with the rest of the supplies.
Not bad, Jeremy thought - not bad at all. He lethargically got to his feet, his soaking wet clothes weighing him down as he made the trek back through the woods - taking about half an hour to reach Stonewall, who had remained hidden. He slung the saddlebags over the horse's back, tucking the double barrel into the saddle. He struggled to mount the beast, but once he did, he felt an air of calm was over him. He leant down, unhitching the horse before beginning his ride back to Monroe. He rode hard, and fast - needing urgent medical attention on his arm, despite his hatred of doctors. And so, the ride was quicker than the night before - the sun at it's peak in the afternoon by the time he reached the gates, being greeted with the same apathy as before from it's keepers. Jeremy's early morning raid wasn't news, wasn't spoken of, hell - nobody even asked where he had been. People knew he wasn't exactly a home bird at the best of times, and this was no different to them. Without hesitation, he rode for the doctor's office, hitching his horse to a fence outside it. He limped his way in, the doctor treating Jeremy with great disdain even as they pulled the buckshot pellets from his left forearm, wrapping it up properly and leaving it in a cast. Spirits were lifted somewhat however when Jeremy returned shortly after with real medicine, painkillers, antibiotics - a bottle of liquid morphine. Jeremy just winked as he set the supplies down, making his way back outside - no questions were asked, but it was clear the doctor appreciated the donation.
Jeremy unhitched Stonewall, leading him through the streets of Monroe - the half dead man seeming like an apparition to the townsfolk he passed without a word. He donated most of the canned goods he had stolen to the town's stockpile, no questions being asked, along with some of the herbs and spices he had lifted as well as the double barrel shotgun he had lifted from Henry's corpse. He passed off a few boxes of real ammunition, too - rifle, pistol, even some shotgun shells; though he kept some of that for himself. He lead Stonewall through Monroe yet again, passing by Job's - he felt he had to thank him properly. Hitching his horse to the post in front of Job's forge once more, he pulled a full bottle of bourbon from his saddlebags along with a can of peaches and a few tubs of assorted spices, making his way inside. He greeted Job with a nod, setting the loot down on the nearest table. Job caught a glimpse of the machete hanging from it's sling under Jeremy's jacket - blood staining it's blade, though didn't ask any questions. Without a word, Jeremy made his way back outside, leading Stonewall all the way back home before hitching him up, heading inside. Shithole as his place was, it was a relief to be home. He damn near collapsed on the couch, exhausted from the events of the past few days.
Jeremy sat there on the couch, staring at the wall ahead - his chest rose and fell with each breath taken, the exhaustion taking hold. He contemplated his actions, if Monroe was truly a fresh start for him or if it was just more of the same.
He helped that one guy, at least.
That was nice of him.
As his eyes slowly closed, as much as he wrestled to keep them open, he wondered about the man and his family.
He wondered if they even existed.
He hoped they did.
He hoped they got out.
Nonetheless, his raid had thrown a gang of raiders into disarray, at least for the time being.
Jeremy didn't fight for a paycheck, or an ideal.
He just wanted their stuff.
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