432 90 0

Dylan and Wade slipped silently through the forest. The slanted morning sun made laser-like steaks of light through the trees causing the men to squint as they walked into one and slightly hesitate for a moment as their eyes adjusted when they moved out of it. 

Alert, Dylan kept an eye and ear open for any Sick or Infected, better to be on the lookout even when they thought the woods were free of them then to be sorry later. Sometimes, it seemed just when they thought they had cleared out an area; another group would make their way in. Spying their trap, Wade moved in on it to release its prey, most likely their dinner for tonight.

On the mountain, if a man could hunt, then he did hunt, to provide for his family and to trade with those that didn't. Even to willingly give away, if need be, to some of the widows and orphans that had little means to provide for themselves. There wasn't a lot of them, and they more than did their share of work, helping out around the community, cooking, sewing and more but they didn't have the skills necessary yet to scavage, hunt or fish. But they were learning. The corner of Dylan's lip curled as he thought that one day, they might even be better than him.

Wade took a knife to the rabbit, then stuffed it in his pack, and the men headed back. Knowing the area was safe the need for silence was gone, and they crunched happily through the trees disregarding the snap of twigs under their feet.

"Been kinda tense around the cabin," Wade said. "Nice to be out here for a while."

"Yeah," Dylan took in a deep breath, inhaling the earthy smell around him, a scent that had become his own. "They'll work it out."

"Still," Wade said.

Still, it was nice to be outdoors, to feel the crisp air against their skin and to roam the forest. Dylan could feel the tension melt from him the minute he stepped through the treeline and as it started to pool again as he headed back toward it. And it had to do with everything but Skye and Jesse.

Skye was the sun in his life now, and the boy made him happy. It was as if he had always wanted them, always known they were coming and just hadn't known it. To be next to Skye gave him the same feeling as when he was running free in the woods, and that was the best compliment he could give to a person.

No, she and the boy would be fine. He had confidence in both of them. It wasn't that.

Before it had just been him and Wade, taking care of themselves, saying hey to a few neighbors now and then. Him, Wade and the forest. Like today.

Somehow, they'd become something to people. Something way more then he had ever dreamed anyone would think them capable of, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it.

It was one thing getting a woman and a boy. It was another to get a village.

Everywhere he turned people were looking to him for something. Advice, lessons, help of some kind or another, and he gave it, willingly. But as he looked at these people, the ones from the town at least, he wondered if they realized who they were asking help from. That he was that guy, they used to side eye and make snide remarks about while secretly quivering and hoping he didn't hear.

He never asked to be their leader, and he sometimes wondered how long it was going to last before they decided they didn't need him anymore. Until then, they were all fired-up for the Cole brothers even renaming the mountain after them.

When he'd first noticed the townsfolk calling it 'Cole's Mountain,' he'd asked Tom why.

"It was you two," he'd said, "When everything else was in ruins, and no one knew what to do, you were there, helpin' out on the mountain and in town. Tellin' us to get ourselves up to that mountain. People started callin' it that, and it stuck. Seems fittin'. The town was named after your forefathers that gathered those people together. Seems right the mountain is named after you when you did the same thing here."

Dylan had to admit it'd meant a lot to him and Wade, knowing they had helped people and to see that they had somehow restored the family name to the good standing it'd once had.

Nobody to blame but ourselves then.

Pushing through a bit of brush, Dylan stopped suddenly, and Wade immediately followed his example. He listened for a moment. With the men quiet, the wildlife started coming alive. One, then two birds tweeted in the trees around them, a chipmunk scurried, then the chatter of a squirrel could be heard. But that was not what Dylan waited to hear.

There is was. The long, low moo of cattle. The men exchanged a glance and changed direction, heading toward the sound.

The forest gave way to a small opening where eleven cows laid or stood. Those laying chewed in contented silence, while the five that stood made the calls. A cow that moos is usually an unhappy cow, and Dylan could see why. The cows had been roaming, for some time, from their rough condition.

But it was like finding a treasure. These were beef cattle, and they could be the start of a herd, the beginning of a regular meat source. When hunting got thin, this could help them make it through any tough times.

Dylan and Wade worked their way over to the standing cattle. Getting closer, Wade made a sound of disgust drawing Dylan's attention. "Looky here," he said pointing to the cow closest to them.

On the cow's back, the flesh had been torn. Its thick skin laid open and hung from its body, flies covering the oozing wound. When Wade waved his hand over the flies disturbing them, Dylan couldn't believe what he was seeing and felt the need to ask his brother if he saw it too. "Is that-," he started to ask.

"Yep, it sure is, brother."

A human bite mark. A human had bit this cow, ripping its skin apart.

"It wasn't for food," Dylan said. "See, nothin' is gone, it's just ripped up. 'Sides, once the illness gets advanced enough they're attackin' people, they can't seem to keep anything down."

"Skye said the rabies side of it rewires the brain to bite to spread the disease. Pry what happened here," Wade said.

"That's some tough hide to get through, that's one strong-minded disease."

"And one good set of chompers."

"Let's look at the other ones," Dylan said walking around the small herd. Each of the cows that stood had marks, the ones laying down did not.

Wade waved toward the standing cattle. "So you think these ones got it?"

"I think it's best to assume so, better put 'em down."

"And the others?"

"I'd like to talk to someone that knows about this kinda thing. I'd hate to leave the good ones behind if they'd be somethin' we can use."

Wade nodded his agreement. "Let's get back home and figure this out then."

The men walked through the forest, heading for the truck they'd left on the side of the road. A few minutes in, they heard the unmistakable raspy, heavy breathing of the Sick echoing through the trees.

A/N: Well, we couldn't go too long without having a run-in with the sick, could we? I hope you enjoyed the chapter! If so, please press the little star. :)

Sanctuary's Aggression Book 2: The CapturedRead this story for FREE!