NOTES: This is a sequel to "Fuzzy Dice" and "The Killer I Created". I strongly recommend reading the previous stories first.

SUMMARY: John and Cameron have moved to an isolated and idyllic Northwest town so they can raise their daughter in peace and seclusion from the world. Then the killing starts happening. Sequel to "Fuzzy Dice" and "The Killer I Created".

DISCLAIMER: All characters herein are the property of someone other than me. No profit has been earned.


"Land of the Living"
Chapter 1
T.R. Samuels

The wheel of the Jeep Liberty splashed through a waterlogged pothole as it trundled down the serpentine road of asphalt known as Glacier Peak Highway. The vehicle snaked a path forged by nature as the road twisted and turned, over and around moss-covered rock formations and through a dark forest of cedar, spruce, and Douglas-fir, finding the path of least resistance like the flow of a river. Water sprayed across headlights as windshield wipers metronomed against the rain, the old workhorse of an off-roader heading east into Snohomish County and the wilderness heart of Washington.

John Connor brushed a Dorito shard off the front of his jacket as he awoke in the front passenger seat, his sight a blur of moving images, ears filled with the whir of the wipers and the dull rumble of the engine as he tried to remember where he was.

The memories poured in and he smiled.

He stretched the stiffness in his limbs in what little room was afforded in his cramped corner of the vehicle. "How long was I out?" he grumbled sleepily.

Next to him in the driver's seat, Cameron glanced at over at her husband, a little smile tugging at the corner of her mouth at the sight of his dishevelment as she put her eyes back on the darkened road. "About an hour and a half."

Not bad, he nodded with satisfaction. They should be home soon. He made a yawn and groaned, muscles needling as he straightened his arms and felt blood burn back into stiffened limbs.

"Shhh…" Cameron silenced him with a finger to her mouth and motioned with a thumb onto the back seat. John turned and looked.

Wrapped in a tartan quilt like a cigarillo was their five-year-old daughter Sarah, tuckered out and dead to the world, looking like a slumbering angel in her cosy alcove as her hands clasped the rim of the makeshift blanket. John made a warm smile as his heartstrings were tugged – an indulgence he savoured in the calm before the storm when their little bundle of joy would finally awaken – like some mythical leviathan no mortal fool would disturb, least they rouse a fearsome and obstinate creature that knew no meaning of the words "go back to bed", "wash your ears" or "do your homework".

Sarah could be quite a handful sometimes, though John was relieved to say that she certainly wasn't a wayward child. She was a good girl – but bored easily and had the energy of ten children. A day spent with Sarah was an Olympic exercise and John certainly felt fitter for it. If she was asleep so soundly now then she must be exhausted. She'd had a big week.

For the last six days the Connors had been on a camping trip up in the mountains, far from their hometown of Redwood and what felt like a million light-years from the deafening bustle and crush of humanity that they remembered of Los Angeles. It had been years since they'd been to a city, and in that time of peaceful seclusion, John had gotten back to nature. Their study at home was full of nature books and guides for outdoorsmanship, the rear of the garage a woodsman's paradise and their TiVo regularly populated by the likes of Ray Mears.

Cameron supposed that it all appealed to John's survivalist nature, or because the forested wilderness of Washington State was poles apart from the Mexican desert he'd grown up in. She'd known for some time that John had a primeval, masculine drive to test himself and she was glad it had become something the whole family could share. A spell away from their daily lives was a welcome break and it had afforded them the time and opportunity to give Sarah her first lessons in survival and self-sufficiency that even now, years since their last encounter with Skynet, both of them still lived by.

Sarah had learnt how to make fire, use a cutting tool, even a few basics in marksmanship. John had showed her where to find water and food, how to tell what was safe to eat and what wasn't, shown her some simple tricks of navigation. It may have been a lot for an ordinary child to take in, but little Sarah was no slouch – not if her grades were anything to go by. What was most important though was that she had been exposed to the world beyond the human one, the wilderness that dwarfed the urban jungles, giving her a feel for what was out there and how knowledge and preparation were the keys to staying alive.

John glanced to his right as the Jeeps' headlights illuminated a passing road sign. Redwood10 miles.

Home sweet home.

He was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed again. A week in a tent in the great outdoors did wonders for his mind and spirit, but nothing for his back. Not to mention the awkward fact that there were other things he and Cameron liked to do in bed that were simply impossible when sharing a tent with one's five-year-old.

After a few more miles the rain had subsided and Cameron pulled the jeep onto the forecourt of a lone gas station, sliding the vehicle in next to the old-fashioned pumps of the service outpost in the middle of nowhere that had seemingly been there since time began. Apart from the small convenience and hardware store that contained the counter, the rear of the station was a horseshoe motel with a couple of out-of-state cars parked outside the rooms of their respective owners. The proprietor lived somewhere out back, in what John remembered from their previous visit as a weathered timber dwelling in the middle of an old farmyard that had long since had its day, where moss and undergrowth reigned supreme and turn-of-the-century tractors went to die.

Cameron pumped gas and topped up the tank – it would save them doing it tomorrow when their agenda was packed to the brim. John made his way over to the light of the store, remembering fondly all their previous pit stops at this rustic establishment. This sure was an old-fashioned place. In the daytime, the kid gas jockey would have beat them to the pump and done it for them. Washed the windshield too. John liked its style and had had a good chuckle when Cameron nearly wrestled the kid to the ground for the pump nozzle when they stopped here the first time before moving to Redwood, the etiquette of a by-gone era an alien custom to her.

The bell jingled as he crossed the threshold and took in the store's bucolic charm. "Ah, Mr. Connor. Nice to see you again." The owner said from a rocking chair behind the counter.

His name was Vladimir Kamarov. He and his fearsome wife had moved here after escaping the Soviet Union and had run this place since the coal mines dried up in the 80s. They were quite the closet survivalists and had come to Redwood to escape what had once seemed to them as the inevitable outbreak of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. The irony that he and Cameron had moved here for similar reasons wasn't lost on John.

Aside from that, he didn't know a huge amount about him – other than that his estranged brother was a sailor in the Russian Navy.

The old-timer lay his novel down flat on the page he was reading and groaned his bulk to its feet. "How was the vacation?"

"Great, thanks. There's nothing like the country we have up here. Managed to get some real peace and quiet." Compared to Los Angeles, Redwood was all piece and quite, but after what was now almost five years his definitions and perceptions had changed considerably. He didn't think he'd last five minutes anymore in the deafening cacophony of downtown LA.

John picked up a faded packet of wicked-strength Bombay mix and plonked it down on the countertop. "And the gas, please."

Vladimir tabulated on the old-style register that looked like it had the processing power of an abacus, the mechanics clunking within before it pinged up the total and regurgitated the cash drawer like a tongue. John handed over some crisp banknotes and tore open the packet as he waited for his change. He'd had nothing but wild food and toasted marshmallows for a week and the taste buds that had cut their teeth on Mexican cuisine needed a hit of something spicy.

"See any bears while you were up there?"

"No, unfortunately. We found some prints and spoor, but didn't see any of them."

Vlad huffed. "Count yourselves lucky then."

"Why's that?"

"I take it you haven't heard the news about the man-eater then?"

Johns' eyebrows made for his hairline. "Someone's been killed by a bear?"

"Three have been killed. A logger and a couple of hikers over the last week. Papers say they were torn to bloody rags. You best give the sheriff a call when you get home; they've probably been worried about you guys. Especially having the little one with you."

John had the uncanny feeling of having dodged a bullet, something he hadn't thought about for a long time – then he smiled at the thought of a bear trying to get past Cameron. She wouldn't let the wind blow the wrong way on little Sarah, and woe betide the creature that stumbled into their camp looking for diner.

Suddenly, from the back of the store, what sounded like an oncoming freight train barged inside and made a beeline for Vladimir like a laser guided missile. John's heart skipped a beat, half expecting a grizzly. His mouth burned with the spicy mixture and his hand was halfway to the nearest improvised weapon when Vladimir's wife Ulga emerged from the service door, looking like thunder and piercing her husband with a glare that Perseus would only face with the inside of a shield.

"If you think I'm washing that fucking mess you've made you've got another fucking thing coming, Kamarov!"

From somewhere braver than John had ever known, Vladimir's spine straightened and he hauled a hot coal of defiance from somewhere inside him. "I'll leave whatever mess I want in my own house, you hateful witch!"

"Not when I'm living with you, you won't!"

"Do you mind? I'm trying to work here!"

She scoffed incredulously. "You don't know the meaning of the word!"

"And you do you bone-idle bitch?"

Ulga turned to a paling John and looked him in the eye. John turned to stone. "Ha! Spends most of his damn time sitting on the toilet!"

"Ulga! Leave the customer alone!"

"If he worked half as hard as his bowels we'd be millionaires!"

As the ensuing battle of indomitable will continued in machinegun Russian, John struggled to restrain a growing chortle, focussing on something non-descript as he waited patiently for his change and his shoulders began doing an impression of a workman digging the road with a jackhammer.

With some choice words and a slam of the door, Ulga vanished the way she had came and Vladimir took a soothing breath, leaning hard on the edge of the counter like he'd just fended off a shoplifter wielding an Uzi.

"Take my advice son," He exhaled, handing over John's change. "Never get married."

John smiled through any embarrassment, unrepentant as he pocketed the coins. "You're about five years too late for that." The bell jingled again as he opened the door to the night. "Take it easy, Vlad."

####

After getting back in the jeep, the Connors drove another three miles in comfortable silence, letting Sarah sleep despite John's growing concern that she would be too amply rested and be up at the break of dawn tomorrow morning. That exhausting possibility and several others were still playing on his mind as he ferreted in the centre compartment, searching in vane for a boiled sweet or some chewing gum, when he felt his seatbelt tighten across his chest and the tug of inertia as Cameron applied the breaks, bringing the vehicle to a rolling halt.

"John…" The wariness in her voice rousted him from his search and he followed her gaze onto the road ahead.

Looming out of the darkness was a sight that immediately put John on edge, the cliché scenes of a hundred horror movie scenarios playing out in his mind's eye as he surveyed the scene of ominous destruction that rolled out of the darkness to greet them less than seven miles from home.

He set his jaw with displeasure. "Ah crap…"

About thirty yards ahead of them in the opposite lane was the smashed wreckage of an SUV, its rear length blocking half the highway and its crumpled nose buried into the trunk of a tree. The driver side door hung wide open and glittering granules of glass spilled out across the road, reflecting the light from their own vehicle like jewels. John leaned forward as he noticed something lying amongst the debris on the black tarmac and his wealth of firearm knowledge kicked in when he recognised it; a pump-action shotgun, Remington 11-87; spent florescent shell casings littering the ground around it, looked like double-ought buck.

"Well…" John reached into the glove compartment. "This can't be good."

He pulled out a long flashlight and opened his door.

"Where are you going?" Cameron looked at him like he was insane.

"Someone might be hurt. I'm gonna check it out."

"I'll go. You stay here."

He suddenly felt nostalgic, a wave of memory and associate feeling from when Cameron was first and foremost his absolute protector.

"To be honest, I'd rather you stay. Keep Sarah safe." They both looked on the peaceful form of their sleeping child before John opened the door all the way, feeling the cold night air wrap around him like a wraith. "Open the back."

Cameron reached over and unlocked the rear compartment as John stepped out and moved around to the back of the jeep. He opened the liftgate and began rummaging inside. Their cargo was a neatly stowed array of camping gear and supplies, loaded with Cameron's optimal efficiency, leaving the least amount of idle space that was physically possible.

John might have been the chess grandmaster, but Cameron reigned supreme at Tetris.

Reaching between the folded down tent kit and a pair of rucksacks, John pulled out a Remington 700 hunting rifle, sliding open the bolt-action chamber and fed the weapon with a round from a secure strongbox of ammunition. He slid the oiled metal closed as quietly as he could and pulled the liftgate down to rest on its catch, not wanting to disturb Sarah, before he stepped out and made his way over towards the crash.

The vehicle was a write-off if ever there was one. Coolant and gas pissed out beneath from a ruptured main, running down the slope of the road in the opposite direction. The windshield was a craggy mirror, the passenger door window granulated across the road and the hood and engine block caved in around the massive trunk of a soaring Douglas-fir that, as far as John could determine, seemed utterly unmoved or affected.

Nature had won this round.

John poked his head inside the cab, looking around the empty compartment, senses wired to detect the tell-tale signs that would spin the yarn of what happened here; a hastily packed suitcase on the back seat, clothing trapped between the lid; a half-empty box of shotgun shells on the passenger seat and some .38 specials; a bottle of Wild Turkey lying in the footwell, its precious cargo soaked into the carpet.

There was no sign of the driver.

John moved around the other side of the vehicle and clicked the flashlight on, shining it over the dark side of the accident that remained in shadow beyond the jeeps' headlights.

He saw blood.

A smudged handprint of crimson red was smeared over the passenger side door. He followed the trail with the beam and shone it onto the broken undergrowth that fell away into the steep slope of a shallow valley that led down towards the river, hearing the roaring flow somewhere in the distance at the bottom of the black abyss. The light struggled to penetrate the dark, the bank rolling down on a suicidal incline and drenched by the rain into mud. There was no way he could follow.

He pictured the scenario of some drunken fool joyriding out here at a night, maybe kicked out by his girlfriend and had to pack in a hurry, finding his way up here and losing it on the bend. If he was injured he could have stumbled out and fallen ass-backwards down the slope a hundred feet to the bottom, dead in a ditch somewhere or if not, soon to be. There wasn't a hell of a lot he could do about it, having no idea where the driver was and it would be no good getting himself into trouble in the dead of night.

He armpitted the rifle and made his way back.

As he passed them by, he gave the fallen shotgun and spent shells an uncomfortable glance – the one oddity of the situation that didn't fit into any of his scenarios. It looked like the driver had got off a dozen rounds or so. Double-ought too. Big game gauge. It didn't make sense. He'd lived here for years now and found it hard to believe that this might have anything to do with a bear attack, no matter what Vlad told him the papers we saying.

He slid his arm through the rifle strap and swung it over his shoulder, making his way back to the jeep. When he got there he leaned on the ledge of the passenger window as the whir of its electrical motor swallowed it into the door. Cameron looked across at him, a look of curiosity only he could read.

"No driver and not much sign. There's a blood trail leading down the slope. Not safe enough to follow though."

"We can tell the sheriff when we get in," She lifted the phone that was flipped open in her hand. "There's no reception up here until we reach the edge of town."

He nodded in agreement. "Alright. I don't think we can…"

John bolted as he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. His arm made to swing around for the rifle as an adrenaline surge he hadn't felt in ages flooded through his veins, preparing him to fight.

Then, just as quickly, it was gone.

He took a breath and almost laughed, feeling his cheeks colour as he looked at his daughter.

In the dark pane of the rear passenger window was the silhouette of Sarah, her nose pressed against the glass, face just barely visible, her breath a triangle of condensation and her little eyes like a pair of black stones watching him from the dark. In the blackness that surrounded them it looked like a reflection of something crouched behind him in the forest.

"You little monkey! How long have you been awake?"

Her mouth curled up in a big grin. "Not long."

Cameron hid a smile as John put his hands on his hips and scrunched his mouth and brow in annoyance. "Well sit down and put your seatbelt on. We're moving on now." He went to the back of the jeep and began stowing away the rifle, feeling the obligatory shake in his hands as the adrenaline broke down in his system.

"He was shooting that way…"

John glanced up as he unbolted the rifle and stowed it back where he had got it, tossing the bullet back in the ammo case and locked it up tight. "Who was, sweetheart?"

"The man."

She pointed up the hillside above their car, away from the crash, where the forest towered over them on the high ground and the undergrowth and treetops swayed in the wind, the trunks and branches creaking and swaying like the distant rumble of the ocean. It sounded like breathing. The trees the alveoli of the great organism of the forest.

John looked up and scanned the tree line, his eyes and imagination making shape and sense out of form and shadow. At the periphery of his vision he saw an old man grinning, but when he turned and shone the light it was just the random shape of some branches that looked vaguely human. There was nothing there, but cold still ran down his spine with the uncomfortable feeling they were being watched.

The old woods around these parts had a way like that about them.

The area they were travelling through was a place known as Coalman's Barrow, an area that had a sordid and unfortunate history stretching back over a hundred years. Tales around the campfire of mountain men, cannibalism, and all humanity lost in a frigid winter of the 1870 that saw a party of miners and lumber workers stranded for months without provisions. Nothing to eat and no where to go as their fear and starvation destroyed them. The rest, as they say, was history.

"Come on," John heaved the liftgate shut and got back in the jeep, the door slam behind him like a portcullis, protecting him from his phantom pursuers and the demons of his past that no longer chased him. "Let's go home."

Cameron turned the ignition and pulled their away into the night, around the aggregate of glass and shotgun shells as best she could until the red of the jeep's taillights shrank into the distance.

####

The Connors arrived home around midnight, pulling onto their driveway in the manicured cul-de-sac known as Glacier Court. The neighbours' lights were all out, save for porch lamps and what little street lighting was permitted under Redwood's vehement beautification regulations. John had never found them particularly oppressive, it made the stars at night all the brighter – but there were times when he wondered what would happen if he dare put a plastic flamingo on the lawn.

Cameron would probably put a bullet through it. Since becoming a wife and mother she had nested quite strongly in their new home and things that clashed with her sense of order and establishment didn't last long under her vigilance.

They had called the sheriff's department upon entering town, getting one of his subordinates named Joe Dawg – a most unfortunate happenstance considering he was a deputy. John had tried to keep the grin from his voice as he recounted their discovery on the road and confirmed that they were perfectly alright after their week away. As it turned out, the sheriff had been worried, and the news they were home safe would certainly sooth the lawman's concern the following morning.

John took a moment as he opened his door and smiled quietly to himself. Home sweet home. He always got the same feeling when pulling up to it. A welcoming warmth and sanctuary. A homecoming. Contentment and familiarity. Their two stories of idyllic suburbia off a winding country road just a quarter of a mile from town. Only a half dozen neighbours, not a bad egg amongst them, and many with kids of their own.

The rain had stopped now and as they got out of the jeep John's nose filled with the sweet smell of freshly mowed lawns and honeysuckle, tasting wood bark and pine needles on the air, everything fresh and rejuvenated by the downpour and washed clean for the coming day. He just hoped it held off for tomorrow.

Sarah had gone back to sleep again and John endeavoured not to wake her as he unbuckled her seatbelt and scooped her into his arms. Her little frame hugged against him, arms finding their way around her father's neck as she rested her head on his shoulder. He dug out his keys as he held her with one arm and opened the front door, the bristles of the draft excluder brushing over a pile of mail demanding payment for one thing or another. He stepped over them and made his way up the stairs, intent on wasting no more time in finally putting his daughter to bed so that she could get a good night's sleep.

Sarah's room was at the back of the house overlooking the garden – a generous rectangle of emerald grass that backed onto the edge of the woods. Coloured sports balls and a go-cart littered the lawn and a sand pit and swing set dominated the far end, beyond which lay the vast darkness of forest that surrounded Redwood in all directions.

He excavated Sarah's bed from beneath a mountain of cuddly animals and pulled back the covers, slipping the unconscious girl down onto the mattress as she stubbornly clung to him. He reached up and un-knit her hands, like he was unclasping a necklace. Her grip could be like a vice sometimes and she didn't know her own strength. Eventually he was free and he pulled the covers over her, tucking her in and deciding not to bother with her pyjamas. He kissed her cheek and slipped out, staying as quiet as he could as he snuck down the stairs and went to help Cameron unpack.

"Is she asleep?" She asked, carrying two rucksacks of heavy camping gear in each hand and depositing them at the back of the garage.

"Yeah, thank God. You need any help with this stuff?"

Cameron was touched. John was so chivalrous sometimes when it came to the household chores. "I'm fine. Go and get ready for bed. I'll be there in a few minutes."

He was about to object when she scooped up the cast-iron camping stove, the rear suspension of the jeep groaning up off the axle some visible inches as she turned and made her way with it into the garage.

"Okay…" He knew that his help wasn't necessary, but felt like a dog all the same. That and just a little turned on at the way Cameron's backside flexed against her jeans as she knelt down to place the stove on the floor. It'd been a long week sharing that tent.

"I'll… err… get ready for bed then."

As John reached the top of the stairs again he was about to head into the bathroom and start his nightly ablutions when the crack of light emanating from Sarah's bedroom drew his attention. He peered inside, wondering if something was wrong or that she needed him for anything, then immediately felt torn between utter indignation and disbelief.

Sarah was wide awake and bouncing up and down on her bed like it was a trampoline, reaching for the ceiling and getting closer with each jump. He dug his fists into his hips and he glared at her.

"Sarah Kylie Connor! I thought you were asleep?"

Sarah froze like she'd just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, the look of innocence quickly overridden by an air of cheekiness as she tried and failed miserably to keep the grin from her face. "I was. I'm awake now."

"That was less than two minutes ago!"

"I know."

John's eye narrowed and he advanced on her, ready to give her the fireman's lift if she resisted. "Well then, since you're wide awake, you can come and brush your teeth and have a wash."

Sarah gave him a look then as if he'd just given her the death penalty.

"Now young lady." He affirmed, pointing out of the door and across the landing.

Her shoulders slumped and she dismounted the bed as slowly as possible. John stood firm, watching her every move. Sarah could be as stubborn as a mule – getting her to eat fruit or vegetables was like pushing a piano up a fire escape – but he secretly liked that about her. She was his little Resistance soldier, ever ready to give the system a war of attrition. Eventually though, he saw defeat hunch her over and she trudged past him down the green mile on her way to the gallows.

"Drama queen."

They made their way into the bathroom and Sarah clambered up onto her footstool so she could reach the sink. John took out her pink toothbrush and deposited a pea-sized droplet of Colgate on the bristles, handing it to her as he reached for his own. Sarah took it and began brushing, running it in the most cursory sweep possible over her teeth.

"Keep going…" He insisted over his brush.

If it was even possible at this point, Sarah slumped a little further and he finally saw the scales tip. She was too tired now and knew he was watching, the futility of continued resistance obvious and she finally relented, giving her gums and teeth a good two-minute work over.

"Well done," He said as he rinsed out the sink and clicked in the plug, twisting on the hot and dropped her facecloth in the rising water. "Now hold still while I wash your ugly mug."

Her mouth puckered at the frivolous insult as John wrung out the excess from the steaming cloth and started rubbing it over her face. Sarah's expression scrunched up as he worked it over her cheeks and forehead, down the ridge of her little nose, fetching off a film of undetectable grime to reveal silky, rosy skin underneath. He moved around to her ears, a particular bête noire she found especially objectionable and tried to wriggle out of his grasp. John held her tight until he was finished.

"Oh my gosh!"

"What?"

"Look!" He pointed in the mirror and she looked. "I found a beautiful little girl!"

Her mouth dropped open and she looked at him like he'd just dealt her the most grievous of offences before he scooped her off her feet, throwing her over his shoulder and carried her back to her room. She squealed and giggled, legs kicking forward as she slapped his back with her hands until John returned to her room and flopped her down on her bed.

He changed her into her flannel pyjamas and got her tucked in, her arms reaching for her favourite teddy bear and held it tight as he wrapped her in the bedclothes, shoving the edges under the mattress and cocooning her in the feather-stuffed blanket.

"Get plenty of sleep because we've got another big day tomorrow. It's Sunday too, so no waking mommy and me at half six in the morning."

"What's happening tomorrow?"

"It's the big town festival. Everyone will be there."

"Everyone? Will Charlie be there?"

"Which one's Charlie?"

"A friend."

John raised an eyebrow. "Oh? 'A friend' is he?"

"Yes."

"Boy-friend?"

"NO!"

The plot thickened and he started to snigger, the look on her face priceless as he began to sing. "Sarah and Charlie sitting in a tree…"

She pulled the covers over her head. "Boys have cooties! You get them if they kiss you!"

"Does that mean daddies have cooties too?"

She narrowed her eyes the way her mother did sometimes. "Maybe…"

John bowed his head in mock sadness. "So daddy doesn't get a goodnight kiss?"

She frowned hard, thinking it over. It was like watching a miniature Cameron decide what lived or died. "You don't have them."

"Oh? Why not?"

"Girls have cootie antibodies and mommy kisses you all the time so you've been immunised."

He huffed and drew his mouth in a big smile, shaking his head gently. How she knew about antibodies and immunisation the latest mystery of her keen, and at times unnerving, little intellect. "You're a very smart girl, y'know that?"

She nodded with a sage and worldly wisdom decades beyond her years, giving out a big huff, the future of world peace and climate change resting firmly on her shoulders. "I know."

John laughed and kissed her cheek, feeling her kiss him back before he rose from the edge of the bed, moved to the doorway and clicked off the light. "Goodnight, trouble."

"'Night, dad."

John pulled her door closed, turning the handle like he'd always done then went to the bathroom, reaching in the shower and pulling the lever all the way around. Full blast, full heat. A week without a shower made him feel like a vagrant. He shed his clothes into the hamper and set his watch, wallet and old iPhone 4 in a make-shift cairn next to the soap dish.

He looked at himself in the mirror, giving the guy that looked back a homo-wink. He thought he'd matured pretty well since being a teenager, and now, on the first rung of his twenties, he was a pretty good looking guy. His hair was longer than before. He'd stopped liking it short – it made him feel too much like a soldier, but he never wanted it as long as when he was a kid – then he felt like a homeless guitarist.

Despite a wet shave every morning, his chin always looked like it could stand a trim. But Cameron seemed to like it. She said it made him look sexy and rogue-ish – high and unusual praise. He could sure live with that. All he needed to do now was permanently eliminate the hair kept threatening to spread from the back of his neck onto his shoulders and everything would be jake.

He opened the Perspex door and stepped under the steaming stray, feeling the thunderous water kneading his muscles and flesh, the heat dissolving a weeks-worth of outdoor life that had accumulated over their trip. He washed his hair and body, lathering generously and scrubbing hard, feeling his hair untangle and skin sing beneath the blitzkrieg of shampoo and shower gel.

As he was finishing, a lustful smile curled his face, eyes closing and the hard muscles around his abdomen pulling taunt as Cameron moved a soft hand around his waist and up his chest, resting her palm when she found his heart. He felt her body press against him, her mouth kiss his back, every inch of her skin somehow hotter than the cascading water.

"I had a feeling you might be calling."

"Did you?"

John cocked his eyebrow. "It's been a long week. There're some things you aren't patient for." Cameron didn't reply. Instead she reached around with her other hand, this time moving down, taking what she found there in her skilful grasp. John felt blood rush and things start getting firmer. "See what I mean?"

He turned around and faced her, as naked as he was, as smaller and dainty to him as she was stronger. His eyes drank deep – those legs, those arms, her perfect breasts, the slim waist you'd never know had been pregnant. What was left of him to get hard did so in seconds as his gaze reached the heaven between her legs and her arms reached up around him, pulling him down into a kiss, their bodies melting together under the steaming spray.

When they had finished they retired to their bedroom and started over again. Then again when they had finished. It had been a much longer week than they realised. In the end, they stayed up more than they should have, time passing by on flash scan until the last few minutes of the witching hour, when husband and wife were finally sated and there was no one else in the universe either of them wanted more than the other.

John sighed hard and buried his face in her chest as Cameron kissed his hair, hands cupping his head and neck as she straddled him, feeling the uncontrollable, rhythmical waves contract through his body and his hands squeezed her shoulders as hard as he could. He loved that no matter how hard he hugged her, he could never begin to cause her harm.

Cameron's mouth curled into a lustful smirk, her hands easing his head back and she kissed him as deeply as she could. "Did you like that, John?" Her eyes were dark with the confidence and satisfaction that only came with the carnal victory of bringing your lover over the edge.

She let him go and his head collapsed into her chest again. "Uh-huh." He managed between breaths, feeling himself come spiralling down from whatever place in thermosphere Cameron had taken him.

"Do you think Riley could have done that to you?"

He shook his head, a muffled 'uh-uh' emanating from the same general area. She smiled, the best possible compliment bestowed on her and she held him close, waiting patiently for John to put the pieces of himself back together after she'd taken them all apart. After five-years together, Cameron knew every part of John inside and out, had scanned and recorded him many times. Her map of his pleasures was absolute and there wasn't a single way she couldn't play his body however way she wanted.

Skynet would have killed for the plethora of knowledge she had on John Connor. It had killed, and all it had to show for it was a few sketchy facts and a dozen conflicting descriptions from a Machiavellian shut-in to an eight foot super-soldier that killed terminators by the hundred. If it had known what she knew, it could find and break him easily, have him spill under torture his every last secret.

Cameron tortured him now of course – but it was the type of torture he liked.

As John felt his consciousness slowly coalesce, his mind wandered through the trail of events that had led him to this happy existence, the stepping-stones he'd chosen and the ones that had been chosen for him by fate and destiny to bring him to this wonderfully anachronistic and truly unexpected chapter in his life.

Two years ago, Judgement Day had finally arrived. April 21, 2011. The day he had dreaded and prepared for his entire life.

It had been a Thursday like any other – sunny and golden, not a cloud in the sky, temperatures in the mid-70s. Obama had received Medvedev at the White House, California opened the world's largest solar power plant, Pakistan launched its first satellite and Afghanistan was still a war zone.

But no fire fell from the sky.

No supercomputer took control. The US didn't launch its missiles. No retaliatory strike was made.

Nothing happened.

They'd been prepared, waiting for it to all go down, safe in the basement of their home and the remoteness of Redwood. Skynet wouldn't spare a nuke for a township of less than a thousand when it had bigger fish to fry.

But nothing happened.

Nothing happened the next day. Or the next week. Or the next month. Two years of ordinary life went by, and then, out of the blue, just to hammer the point home – the nuclear states of the world signed an agreement to disarm their arsenals of deployed nuclear weapons. No more missiles waiting on launch pads, no more boomers putting to sea with nukes. The massive stockpiles remained of course, mothballed in high-security warehouses and bunkers – but nothing, for instance, which could be launched at a moment's notice by a malevolent, synthetic super-intelligence that had just become aware of what it was and passed judgement on its creators in a nanosecond.

It was over. They'd won.

Even if Skynet came online one day in the future, it had no nuclear arsenal to destroy the world.

John didn't know whether it was because they'd killed enough terminators, saved the right eggheads or sabotaged whatever line of fateful computer ancestry would bring about the beginning of the end. Maybe some combination of everything. He didn't care.

The reality didn't sink in at first and John had carried on as normal. Then one day, he'd gone out on his regular jog when it all hit him at once. So hard and fast that it took the legs out from under him and brought him to his knees, raw emotion tearing him between crying his heart out and laughing himself to death. The result was an indescribable, schizophrenic mess that coursed through his veins like opiate, a heroin that put him on a bizarre trip of denial, hope and ecstasy.

He'd eventually pulled himself together, gone home, kissed and hugged his little girl for an hour, called his mother direct, told her to come find them and then made love to Cameron all night.

The next day, food tasted better than he remembered, the air smelt sweet, every ray of sunshine was manna from heaven. He began feeling healthier, like the shadow of a terrible cancer had been excised from his soul. He took up hobbies, read vacation magazines, even thought about buying a boat.

John was finally out of prison and he could at last be a Connor again. No more fake names, no more lies or half-truths, only normal secrets, no more looking over his shoulder or feeling the hand of destiny poised above his head like the Sword of Damocles.

"What are you thinking about?"

He looked over at Cameron as she lay next to him in their bed; flushed cheeks, chocolate eyes, cascades of beautiful hair spilling out across her pillow, the bed sheets wrapped around the naked curves.

"I was just thinking…" He beamed as sleep took him. "I love being John Connor…"

####

Fir-needle branches and palmately leaves brushed past the man's face like sandpaper and razors, cutting and stinging deep, the knees of his muddy khakis bloodied caps of shredded fabric and flesh. His breath came in short gasps, panicked and deranged as he forged onward madly through the underbrush. His muscles burnt with lactic acid and the stitch in his torso grew, feeling like a bullet wound that tore wider with every step.

His foot caught on an exposed root and he fell flat on his face. Mud splattered and pain spread through his body as he cried out, feeling the tendons in his ankle twist in an unnatural way. More than the pain though was the immutable thought of what the injury meant – he was doomed now and this patch of muddy ground in the dark and rain drenched forest would be his grave.

He pulled the old revolver from his pants pocket, pointing it at every shifting shadow as he dragged himself up against the trunk of a tree. The weapon had been in his family for three generations, used by his grandfather in World War 2. He never thought he'd ever come to use it.

A shadow moved in the dark. Bigger and darker than any of the others.

The man clutched the revolver in his shaking hand and squeezed the trigger. The shot was deafening, the recoil so hard that it sent a pain into his wrist and up his forearm.

The shadow grew larger as it rushed towards him.

He fired again, the pain searing now in the frigid rain.

The shot went wide and useless and the shadow came upon him. The man screamed as it seized his leg and threw him up into the air like a rag doll, tearing his flesh and snapping bone. He wailed in agony, his eyes wild as his killer was revealed in the muzzle flash of his final shot before his head was cleaved from his shoulders and his body began to be eaten.


Hope you liked it, there's more to come. It feels good to be writing with these characters again after my spell away on other projects.

Thank you for reading and please leave a review.