Texas Zombie Reporter:

Head in the Sand

It began, as it always does, with a somewhat cheesy but traditional voice-over.

"This week on Texas Zombie Reporter we'll be going deep into the Hill Country to visit with a man who led his family in surviving the classic Night of the Living Dead scenario, trapped in an isolated rural home surrounded by the infected. He was at the forefront of the massive post-Rising upsurge in the ostrich-raising industry and continues to reside in that same house, under a Federal Agricultural exemption. Karl Traugott has invited this humble reporter to join him and some of his ranch hands on a sweep through his lands to cull infected coyotes, deer, and whatever else we stumble across. No self-respecting Irwin could turn that down."

I paused for 10 seconds to indicate that I was done with the intro/promo to this week's show, then added, "Bobbie, stick with the POV shot out the windshield for this one, then end with the usual drive-by footage."

"Endit, sendit" I ordered, shorthand instructions for my system to cease recording and send the audio files, concurrent video files, and the previously recorded shot of me driving down this deserted rural road. They would be transmitted back to my home studio to be polished up and posted by my girlfriend, Bobbie. She refuses to answer to the name her parents gave her, Barbara. I hope they were bigger fans of the remake than of the original, otherwise I'd have to conclude that they are seriously disturbed.

I, on the other hand, bear the happily normal and un-Romero-inspired name of Robert "Rob" Phillips. No known relation to the more famous Bob Phillips of pre-Rising times, but his estate kindly permits me to borrow elements from his style of reporting.

I continued driving down what some older maps still label as being FM 1863. Most new maps don't show the road at all, as this area is off limits to most citizens, being home to large populations of mammals with sufficient mass for amplification. The turnoff to Traugott's home is easy to spot, being the only side road for miles that has regular traffic and thus is free of weeds and small trees. That, and the enclosed vehicle checkpoint sitting just beyond the decaying remnants of old mailboxes.

As I turned in and pulled up to the checkpoint, the entrance slid open as soon as my bumper was within a few feet of the door. Driving in, the door slammed shut as soon as the back end of my truck cleared them. Low-power laser scanners extended from the walls and scanned the exterior of my vehicle, including the undercarriage. I watched the monitor on the left wall of the checkpoint as the familiar outline of my surplus LAV-300 (Ambulance Configuration) built up on the screen. It was a lucky find for me, the ambulance version has a higher roof in the back, comes in handy on long trips outside the cities. Besides, the Feds wouldn't have let me have the turret weapons that come on the standard combat models.

After the checkpoint system certified that none of the infected had followed me in, were clinging to the roof, or wrapped around the drive shaft, an induction speaker/microphone dropped from the ceiling and suctioned itself to the side vision block. A computer generated voice asked, "Have you exited your vehicle in an uncontrolled area prior to your arrival?"

"Yes" I replied. After all, I had to place a camera to get the traditional footage of me driving down the road, then had to turn around to go back and retrieve it.

"Exit your vehicle and proceed to the door on your left. Use the testing device by the door and then make use of the decontamination facilities beyond. Failure to comply will result in total lockdown. Attempting to forcibly exit this facility will result in the use of deadly force as allowed under applicable Federal law."

I figured the LAV could probably bust out of here and withstand whatever offensive systems the checkpoint had, but that would have defeated my purpose in coming out here. So I got out, got a green light from the test unit, and entered the adjoining room to disrobe, drop my clothes in the sterilizer, and take the standard bleach-infused shower. I've done this so often for so long that I'm not sure even my mother remembers my original hair color.

I dried off and grabbed my clothes from the sterilizer. It was an expensive model, when my attire came out it was probably cleaner than the day I bought it, and was definitely drier than it had been after a few hours driving in the hot Texas summer sun. As I re-entered the LAV and closed it up, a 30 second countdown appeared on checkpoint door in front of me. When it reached zero, the door opened to let me drive through, then slammed shut behind me.

I drove down the narrow road, bounded on both sides by a high razor wire fence with screamers mounted on every 3rd post. Beyond the fences were the half-collapsed shells of several homes, one every few hundred feet. Looks like this area was originally divided into roughly 5-10 acre lots. About a mile further on, the road took a couple of sharp turns followed by a fairly steep downslope to a dead end.

At this point, the fences veered away from the road to enclose a larger area that included several houses that were in good repair and clearly inhabited. I could tell from the stumps remaining that this area had previously been heavily wooded, but all that had been cleared except for a handful of large oak trees. Following the directions that I had been emailed, I continued to the end of the road and turned in to the driveway on the right.

The drive led to a bridge over a small creek and then on to the house itself. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought it was a post-Rising structure. Essentially, it was a cube with a masonry exterior pierced by narrow windows, and instead of a foundation it sat on wooden piers that raised the house high enough that you could almost walk under it. Only the broad porch, running the full length of the front of the house, seemed unnatural to my post-Rising perspective.

I pulled in and parked next to a pick-up, then walked up the steps to the front door. Before I could knock, a nearby speaker went live and a voice announced "Come on in." I opened the door and entered, pulling it shut behind me and hearing it lock solidly. I found myself in small enclosed space with a door and one of the ubiquitous testing units to my right. I inserted my hand and endured the pinpricks, then waited until I was greenlighted and the inner door opened.

I entered a room decorated in a style that I can only describe as "pre-Rising man cave" and turned to see the man that I presumed was my host. He was a few inches shorter than my 5' 11", and powerfully built in the manner of a fat man who found a strong incentive to start exercising. His face was hidden under a short gray beard, under a head of hair that still had a fair amount of black in it.

"Hey there Mr. Phillips, Karl Traugott, you can call me Karl," he said, visibly resisting the urge to reach out for a handshake. He was clearly aware that such casual contact with a stranger would make someone my age, who grew up after the Rising, very uncomfortable.

"In that case, please call me Rob," I replied.

"Well, my guys are still getting the gear ready, be half an hour before we can get out in the field, so why don't we go sit on the patio while we wait. I expect you want to hear The Story."

I could hear the capital letters in his voice. "Yes, my viewers would be very interested," I told him, "if you are finally willing to grant an interview about it."

"Hell, you're the first reporter of any kind that's been willing to come out here instead of expecting me to go to them, so I figure you deserve it," he stated.

I followed him past the entrance to a narrow stairway leading upstairs, into the kitchen, then out a side door onto a wooden deck with an assortment of chair and tables, not to mention a jacuzzi and a bar. Surrounding and roofing the deck was a metal frame set with large glass panes. I shivered a bit inside.

"Glass?" I asked. "I know you have a secure perimeter but this doesn't seem safe."

"Not glass," he replied, "transparent aluminum. The steel frame will give way before the 'glass' does, and since this deck is at no point less than 5 feet above the ground, any infected would have a hard time getting any kind of leverage."

He motioned me to a table and walked over to the bar, reaching into the refrigerator to pull out a Dr. Pepper. "Can I get you something?" he said, "We've got just about anything you could ask for."

"A Dr. Pepper would be just fine," I replied, setting up my interview camera on its tripod and adjusting it so that it would have both of us in view. I then joined him at the table where he handed me the ice cold can and we popped the tops in unison.

"Ok," he said, "this is not comfortable to talk about, and I ask that you hold any question until I'm done."

I nodded my assent and he continued.

"We were the only family on this street that stayed out here. We had a good stock of food, weapons, and ammo. We even had a generator, not big enough to run everything, but it could at least keep the refrigerator and the well pump going. Turns out we didn't need it, power stayed on the whole time, as did the Internet. And news from the cities was bad, spontaneous outbreaks everywhere, even some shelters where everyone became infected. As I saw it, the more people who left the neighborhood, the safer we were."

"Besides, I was a Romero fan from way back, and an insomniac. One of the many things that occupied my mind during sleepless nights was pondering just how I would defend this house from a horde of zombies. So I pulled down the front steps and drug them out into the woods, then nailed boards across the gap in the railing. Hadn't built this deck yet, so I did the same with the back steps."

"What I didn't count on was zombie cows. A pack of infected coyotes attacked my neighbor's cattle. They got trampled in the process, which is how we later discovered it was coyotes, but the whole herd went into viral amplification. The bull broke his neck ramming the gate open, and after the rest of the herd stripped his carcass to the bone they headed our way."

"It was bizarre, watching cows trying to climb and jump onto the porch. I didn't think there was any way they could make it, but then they got so frenzied they started climbing on top of each other. So, I went out with a shotgun and put them down. I was pondering climbing down and using my truck to pull the bodies away from the house when the first human infected came out of the woods."

"I got it with a headshot, but then a dozen more showed up. I'd used up most of the shells I had handy on the cattle, so I retreated inside. I'd already boarded up the windows, so I had my wife and daughter start nailing a table up over the door while I grabbed a rifle and headed up to the balcony."

"There used to be a subdivision several miles from here. It was a new gated community, and most of the residents stayed, trusting the gates to keep them safe. For some reason they'd decided to have a block party, maybe to keep their spirits up, maybe out of some idea of safety in numbers. Nobody knows what happened, there were no survivors, but at least 180 people went into viral amplification, and for some reason a pack of 73 of them came this way."

"I got about a third of them before they got up to the house. Then I was leaning over the railing and firing straight down at them when they started climbing up on the bodies of the cows and then onto the porch. I went back downstairs to help finish boarding up the door. Afterwards, I got my chainsaw with the idea of cutting holes through the balcony so I could shoot down to the porch."

"But then the door started to give way."

"Turns out that closing the gap in the porch rail was a mistake. The whole pack squeezed in front of the door and collectively forced their way through it. If the gap had still been open, the ones at the back would have fallen to the ground instead of adding their strength to the effort."

"I sent my wife and daughter upstairs. And speaking of the stairs, they've been torn out and rebuilt since then. The bottom of the stairs used to be right across from the door. As the first of the infected came in through the door, I fired up the chainsaw and cut her head off, then started cutting away the steps. I didn't think there was a way in hell I was gonna make it, but then our Rhodesian Ridgeback, normally the laziest dog you ever saw, came charging downstairs and tore into them."

"He crippled half a dozen of them, giving me time to cut away the stairs up to the landing. He kept fighting even as he started going into amplification, and they tore him apart before he fully converted. Kind of glad of that, at least I didn't have to put him down myself."

"Then I sat on the landing and picked off the rest of the infected with the shotgun, starting with the rear of the pack so I didn't leave a convenient pile of bodies for the rest to climb. Once that was done I rigged a rope ladder and broke through the floor into the kitchen to gather up all the canned food and take it back up. We holed up for a couple of weeks after that, taking out two more packs of infected, until an Army unit did a sweep through the area."

"And that's about it," he finished, looking at me expectantly.

"Wow. And after all that, you continue to live here?" I asked.

"I'm known for being a bit stubborn. It runs in my family," he replied. "We evacuated to San Antonio for a while, but then I hired some laborers to come out with me to clear out the trees, improve the fence, and put in a double gate. I had a modest inheritance, and I invested about a third of it buying the rest of the houses on this end of the road and two neighboring ranches. As you might expect, they were pretty cheap. When the Centers for Disease Control certified that poultry did not carry Kellis-Amberlee I bought a nearby ostrich farm, along with the birds. By the time the government started enacting restrictions on rural residency, I had a thriving operation that was supplying better than 15% of the meat consumed in the San Antonio Metro area. As you know, Texans generally don't go in for vegetarianism, so my Representative and both Senators went to bat for me and got me an exemption from the Department of Agriculture as being 'a vital regional food producer.'"

"I bet the previous owners of those ostriches were kicking themselves," I stated.

"Yep. They sued me for fraud, of all things, as if they didn't have access to the same info I did. I cut a deal with them, beefed up security on their old house, and as long as they're willing to live out here and work for me, they get a percentage of the profits. Experienced ostrich raisers were pretty rare back then, so it worked out for all of us."

"Does your family still live here?" I asked.

"Our daughter got married and moved to San Antonio. My wife stays out here, but right now she's off in Georgia helping usher in the latest addition to the clan."

He paused for a moment, glancing at his watch. "Should be about time to gear up. Oh, and we might have a little something more to contend with, beyond what I mentioned in my email. Sheriff called this morning, said PETA had reported some of their people missing in the area, and that their van had been found abandoned up on 46. So, there just might be some 2-legged infected running around."

PETA was overjoyed that Kellis-Amberlee killed the beef, pork, lamb, and fur industries, much better from their point of view than mad cow disease. But once the initial euphoria wore off, they redoubled their attacks on poultry producers. I wasn't at all surprised that they would target Karl's operation.

"Ok," I replied, "Just let me grab my gear out of the LAV and use the restroom."

"There's a half bath just off the kitchen if you'd prefer."

"Unless it's set up for flash sterilization, I need to use my own. I've got nephrotic K-A," I explained. Although I have some fame from my reporting, I'm best known around the world for being Patient 0 for nephrotic K-A, a reservoir condition where there is live-state virus in one or both kidneys. In my case, it's the left one, and I'm required to use special restroom facilities due to the slight chance of there being live-state virus in my urine. CDC is considering recommending surgical removal, but one slip of the scalpel could have me going into amplification on the operating table.

"Sure," he replied, "just meet us out front."

I headed out to the LAV and made a quick visit to 'the facilities' and hit the button to incinerate the contents. Then I pulled on my usual chainmail and helmet, then my tactical vest with holstered Colt 1911, extra mags, and several pockets full of field cameras. I docked my interview camera and told the system to upload the footage to Bobbie, then buckled on the belt holding my bangstick and shells, and finally slung my trident over my shoulder. I activated my helmet cam, running through all the usual settings to make sure it was working, then stepped back out of the LAV to see Karl waiting with 2 men and 2 women near my age.

They were all wearing leather jackets and chaps with an odd pebbled surface. Karl had a lever-action carbine slung over his shoulder, and a western-style gun belt with a holstered revolver and belt loops full of .45 Long Colt rounds. The rest had Browning Hi Power semi-autos on their belts and the one hispanic man also carried a Mini-14 on a combat sling.

"Hey Rob, this here's Big George, Jorgito, Francine, and Sarah."

They nodded at me as he named them. Not surprisingly, the 2 men were among the many named for George Romero, though this was the first time I'd heard it in hispanic form. I suspected the women were named for the female survivors of Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead respectively. If so, their parents at least showed a little more sense than Bobbie's had.

"That's a LAV-300, right?" Karl asked. "It won't have any trouble keeping up if you want to bring it along instead of riding with us. We're heading up to the section closest to where the PETA van was found, so we've got to go about 7 miles cross country."

"Sounds like a plan." I replied.

I settled into the driver's seat of the LAV, choosing to ride head out of the hatch for better visibility. The rest piled into the truck I'd parked next to, with Jorgito climbing into the back with his Mini-14 and using a body harness to secure himself to the roll bar behind the cab.

They drove down the driveway towards the gate, and I pulled out to follow them. Exiting the gate, they turned right, going through another gate into a pasture, splashing through the creek, then stopping to hook a small flatbed trailer to the truck before heading north. We followed a pair of ruts between the low hills for about 5 miles, fording another couple of small creeks, before turning off into the woods.

Along the way, I spotted what had to be hundreds of ostriches, and at one point Jorgito shot a deer that charged the truck. Got him in the neck, severing the spine. Pretty nice buck, too bad you can't find a taxidermist anywhere anymore that will even touch a mammal, much less mount the head. Sarah got out, used a long handled hook to sling the buck onto the trailer, and then we moved on.

We pulled into a clearing and stopped. Karl and his crew got out, opened up a cabinet on the side of the truck, and took out some implements I'd never seen before. They looked sort of like butterfly nets, except they were built sturdily, had a curved butt piece and a couple of levers on the handle end, while the 'net' was solid and opaque.

Karl waived me over and explained, "This is something we've developed and field-tested out here, should turn up in catalogs as soon as the marketer comes up with a catchy name for them. We've been calling them ICADs, for 'Infected Capture And Decapitation' device, but there's some concern we'll get sued by Apple. What you do is, you put the bag over an infected animal or human's head, then brace the end against your body and pull back on this lever. This causes 6 blades to swing out and sever the neck. On smaller animals, you've got enough leverage to go right through the bone. On larger animals and people, you might have to wiggle it a bit to get between the vertebrae. The bag is kevlar, so they won't chew through it before you remove the head. This other lever swivels the bag to a 45 degree angle from the shaft, works better for dealing with animals that way. I've got one for you if you'd like."

"Thank you," I replied, "but I think I need to stick with gear that I'm familiar with."

"Fair enough," he said. "Normally, Big George and I take the lead, Francine and Sarah cover the flanks, and Jorgito keeps watch behind us. I'd like to put you up front with me."

"Works for me," I replied, setting a 12 guage shell in the bangstick, checking to make sure the Colt had a round in the chamber, then unslinging the trident and carrying it at the ready.

"Ok, move out," Karl said. "Remember, keep to the open areas. No need to go in the brush looking for them, they'll come to us."

We moved through the area for about half an hour, finding nothing but a few cloven hoof prints. We followed the prints as best as we could until they led into the woods, then circled around hoping to pick them up on the other side. Then there was the sound of something pushing through tangled branches and stumbling over rocks.

I thumbed the activator on one of my field cameras and tossed it about 20 feet behind me, then readied my trident. The field cameras are something I had custom made by a small electronics shop in San Antonio. They have 4 telescoping legs spaced equally around the casing, so no matter how it lands 3 of them will support the camera with the 4th sticking straight up to act as a wireless antenna. I should say cameras, because there are 4 of them, one that stays focused on me by tracking a transponder I wear on a necklace, and 3 wide angle lenses that together provide a 360 degree view.

Just as I heard the field camera land, a herd of deer burst out of a copse of cedars, with a buck in the lead. While not as impressive as the one Jorgito shot earlier, it still had a decent rack, and it occurred to me that Karl's ICADs might have a bit of a flaw in this situation.

Big George stepped forward a bit to meet the buck, got its head in the opening of the ICAD, and it turned out I was right. The antlers blocked the head from going all the way in, preventing him from decapitating it. But then, in what was obviously a familiar maneuver, Big George worked the lever to clamp the blades down on the buck's skull, forced the head down, then drew his handgun and put a round through the back of its neck.

Then the does were on us. Karl got the first one, catching and removing its head in less than 2 seconds. I got the next one with my trident, the spikes on the sides pressing against either side of its neck and guiding the broad center blade right through its spinal cord. I pulled my weapon back out in time to meet the next one, not catching it at the right angle and having to give a twist to finish it off. I heard a rifle go off next to my ear, and looked up to see the last doe go down with a bullet hole between the eyes. It had one front leg torn up, probably from the attack that sent it into amplification, and had lagged well behind the rest.

I looked around, noting 11 dead deer carcasses on the ground, all but 4 neatly beheaded. Maybe I needed to get one of those ICADs after all, whatever they ended up being called when they finally went on the market.

We checked around the immediate area a while longer, finding nothing, so I collected my field camera and we continued on. We circled around several more hills, pausing briefly to take out an infected dog. It wasn't moving real well, Karl said it had likely been kicked by an ostrich. It seems ostriches do remarkably well in dangerous areas like this, being fast enough to flee from infected animals, and strong enough to cripple them.

Finally we went back to the vehicles, driving along our previous walking route so the crew could load the carcasses on the trailer. We followed a different rutted trail, leading to what I thought was a typical stock tank. But when I got a closer look, it was more like a small lake. Karl pulled the truck up next to the shoreline and walked over to me as the rest of the crew exited the truck. I got out of the LAV to meet him.

"There isn't any natural surface water around here, and regular stock tanks made for ideal spots for infected animals to ambush my birds." He said. "So I had this reservoir built. Thousands of acres drain through here, with nearly a dozen dry creeks coming together. Runoff from rain storms keeps it pretty full, and I can supplement it from wells if need be. Water from the lake is pumped to various points uphill, where it runs through the creek beds and back here. That gives the birds access to water without having to gather at any one point."

I looked over to the water, hearing a splash, and saw Sarah and Big George tossing a deer into the water while the others kept watch. The rest of the deer and the dog followed.

"Don't worry, the water for the houses comes straight from wells," Karl chuckled.

I heard another splash, and glanced over to see a large alligator dragging a deer carcass farther out into the water.

Karl said, "Yep, I stocked it with gators. If the FDA and CDC ever approve them for human consumption, I've got a couple of dozen grocery stores and restaurants waiting to buy gator meat. Folks get bored with poultry and fish all the time."

"What's the problem?" I asked. "Reptiles can't carry Kellis-Amberlee."

"But they eat mammals that do, and that's proving to be a sticking point. In the meantime, we use and sell the leather," Karl said, tapping the front of his leather jacket, "and we eat some of the meat ourselves. So far there has been no problem, and we take the precaution of separating out the gators we're going to eat, isolating them and feeding them tofu for a week to clear any infected meat out of their digestive tracts."

Karl looked out across the water, and suddenly he scowled. "Look sharp! We've got infected nearby!"

I followed his gaze, and saw a gator resting on a large boulder that stuck above the water's surface, chewing on... a human leg still wearing a sandal. I activated and tossed 2 new field cameras, drawing my trident and scanning the area. 6 infected humans came out of the trees, following the shore but keeping a good 20 feet from the water line. Apparently they'd learned to stay clear of the alligators, especially the one crawling along on its hands, one knee, and the stump of its right leg.

They were recently converted and moving fast, even the one crawling was moving at a good clip. The one that rushed me was male, surprisingly clean-cut, and wearing a polyester suit. As I went to ram the trident through its throat, it got an arm up. I managed to force the middle blade through its spine but one of the side spikes went through the forearm. As it went down, I heard Jorgito's Mini-14 firing rapidly behind us. The infected took my trident down with it, and as I was trying to wrench it loose I heard Bobbie's voice in my helmet (she must have been watching the live feed) yelling "Behind you!" just as I felt something clamp down on my calf.

I looked down to see a coyote biting the back of my leg. I dropped the trident, grabbed my bangstick, and whacked it on the side of the head to knock it loose. I rammed the bangstick down on top of its skull, seeing the brains splatter as the 12 guage shell went off.

I looked up, saw Jorgito down, strugging to hold the jaws of another coyote away from his face. I ran over, kicked the coyote off of him, then finished it off with a round from my Colt. The bodies of 8 more coyotes littered the ground, apparently they'd rushed us while the rest of us were paying attention to the human infected, and Jorgito had gotten most of them.

I turned back to see Francine dumping the head of the crawling infected out of her ICAD. Then Karl drew his revolver and pointed it in my direction.

"Ok, you two back off," he said. "Sarah, get a bag of testing units."

Jorgito and I backed away from the rest of the group, seperating from each other as well. I pulled up the chainmail and leather covering my calf, saw the skin was unbroken, but scrubbed the area with a bleach swab anyway. Sarah brought the testing units, and Karl tossed one to each of us. We opened them up and pressed our thumbs down at about the same time, watching the lights flash.

Mine came up green. Jorgito's locked on red.

"Here, try another one," Karl said, tossing a second unit his way.

That one also turned red. Jorgito drew his handgun, stuck it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. His body fell lifeless to the ground.

"Damn," Karl said, looking down at the body. "He didn't have any wounds, must have been saliva dripping into his mouth or eyes." He paused. "Ok, load 'em up!"

Sarah and Big George loaded the bodies onto the trailer while the rest of us kept watch, laying Jorgito neatly at the front, tossing the former PETA activists and their heads into an untidy pile at the rear.

"We don't feed human remains to the gators." Karl stated. "In fact, that reminds me... Could you do us a favor? We've got a boat and a swamp buggy in the shed over there, but it would be faster if you'd take me out on your LAV to retrieve that leg."

"Sure," I replied.

Karl strode over to the truck, taking a shotgun out of one of the side cabinets, and loaded one round. He aimed across the water and fired. It must have been a beanbag round, I saw it bounce off the base of the animal's tail and drop into the water while the alligator took off like its ass was on fire.

Putting the shotgun away, Karl got out a long-handled hook and climbed on top of the LAV while I dropped in through the driver's hatch. Driving to the edge of the lake, I eased into the water and headed for the boulder. The trip was quick, because the water wasn't deep enough for the LAV to float. Karl hooked the sandaled leg and we headed back to the others. Depositing his grisly trophy on the pile, Karl climbed into his truck. The rest piled in with him, with Francine reloading the Mini-14 and taking up Jorgito's former position in the back.

I got out long enough to retrieve my field cameras and drop my trident and bangstick into the sterilizer, then followed them back to the gate. I had a long talk with Bobbie on the way, assuring her that I was ok and learning that a teaser she'd released of our encounter with the deer already had more than a quarter million hits. Looked like this Saturday's episode would give us a nice jump in the ratings. I decided that this would not be an opportune time to share that information with Karl.

Arriving back at the house, Karl and I used the decon showers in an outbuilding while the rest unloaded the bodies. Another man, similarly armed and wearing the same alligator leather attire but bearing a document case and a PDA, met them there. Karl and I went through the lock into the house one at a time, then settled down back out on the patio. It still seemed unnatural and dangerous to me.

Karl made a call on an antique flip-style cell phone, waited for an answer, and spoke into it, "This is Karl Traugott. Tell Sheriff Holder that we found his wayward PETA people. They can either arrange to pick up the bodies or we'll incinerate them here. Our deputy coroner is certifying them now."

Karl put away the phone, turning back to me. "There will be a wake this evening. You're welcome to join us, but your cameras are not."

"I understand completely," I replied.

We talked on inconsequential subjects for a while, then I excused myself to go out to the LAV and start the meticulous process of cleaning and sterilizing my field cameras and the rest of my gear. Then I spent some time talking to Bobbie back home, working with her to edit my footage until the wake was due to start.

There were 4 people I hadn't met patrolling around the house, and inside there were 17 people in the living room and on the patio, including Karl and the survivors from today. After a meal that left me wishing that alligator meat would be approved for sale really soon now, the serious drinking started. The patio bar proved to be remarkably well stocked, and after not much convincing I agreed to let my Dr. Pepper be adulterated with a healthy slug of Bacardi 151.

I sat quietly as the others reminisced about Jorgito, all of us drinking steadily. Next thing I knew, I awakened in a recliner in the living room. I was glad someone was kind enough to guide me inside before I passed out, waking up with a clear view of the outdoors would have seriously freaked me out. A desperately full bladder sent me hurrying out to the LAV, then I returned to the house to make my goodbyes. I suppressed my natural caution long enough to offer Karl a handshake, which he happily accepted. Then I returned to my LAV and started the drive home.

Author's notes:

If the subtitle doesn't make sense to you, it's an ostrich reference, albeit a fallacious one. The main title is takeoff on the long-running program, "Texas Country Reporter."

If you are unfamiliar with hispanic names, Jorgito essentially means "Little George."

The LAV-300 is an amphibious light armored vehicle, first saw service in Vietnam and there are updated models in use today. Rob's is an ambulance variant with a higher ceiling in the back and no mounted weapons, modified with the addition of a special toilet and computer system with video editing capabilities and voice command input. It also has a cot, food storage and cooking facilities, and sterilization equipment sufficient to keep him in the field for one week, and increased fuel capacity for a 600-mile range.

Transparent aluminum is not just the stuff of Star Trek anymore. It is currently in production and being considered by the military for use in armored vehicles and some aircraft. It makes sense that it would be in full-scale production by the time of Newsflesh, though probably still fairly expensive.

A bangstick, also known as a sharkstick, is a short spear with a chamber for a standard firearm cartridge, in Rob's case a 12g shotgun shell, where the spearpoint would be. It is fired by hard contact with the target. Rob's is modifed with a forward-facing bell guard just behind the business end to keep blood and other biomatter from splattering back at him.