I sat with my back against the cold brick wall, holding the smoking rifle close to my chest. Empty shells lay all around me, my ears ringing of the metal cackling they had made just minutes ago. I was breathing hard, my chest heaving and aching. I licked my lips and glanced at the two pistols and sniper rifle to my left. In easy reach and all of the loaded. The rifle in my hand had two shots left. I could hear them… their wretched bloodthirsty growls and screams: their from of speech.

"One shot…" my brother said… he was further down the wall-walk. We had ducked behind the outer wall… our first line of defense. It was our family castle… and we had only moved here after the pandemic. We had been lucky… unlike most. We had moved fast and had the knowledge in our family to set our little use-to-be-tourist-castle, into a fortress. My entire family had survived the epidemic, all of us immune 'because Carper's blood is strong. Carper's blood is good' my uncle would say. He use to work for the military technologies… and he knew what he was doing. His son, my father, was an architect and my mother was in some agricultural profession. My cousin, has just finished his Doctorate degree in medicine, and my second Uncle was a police chief. Both uncles were Ex-Marines. My Aunt, who believed music could heal anything, was on the bomb squad. My second Aunt was a National Forest Ranger who exceeded in everything there is to know about tracking and hunting. A family of do-it-yourself and get-her-done family, with a strong passion to serve, protect and knowledge to survive. When the pandemic hit… we moved before any retaliation could be made. We wired our castle of electricity, and set traps and explosives all around the castle. Security was set on cullis gate and drawbridge. We had two emergency exits… one consisted of crossing the lake and the other consisted climbing down a very steep very nasty rock wall mountain… but both prepared a head of time to make an exit quickly and safely.

My mother had started a garden in the courtyard… full of edible food. As it was winter, the garden was out of service… but the supply of food was not. We had grown extra and canned and froze enough to last us through four winters if need be. Our Military and Marine connections got us an endless supply of guns an ammo… but we refused to waste a single bullet regardless. Which was the dilemma we me and my brother, Alex, faced now. He had one shot… I had two.

"How many left?" he asked. I peeked over the wall, in the crenellation, or the lower part of the sawtooth shaped wall, and got a quick estimate.

"Twelve." I said.

"Wait till they hit the inner circle… you take left, I'll take right." He said. I nodded. We both stood up and aimed, facing the open tundra in which the infected advanced.

The infected were nothing less then zombies. But not the kind you see in the movies. They weren't slow and they had a relentless passion for one thing: blood. They had to eat. They would do anything to get it. And now they were moving fast, some of them tripping on the barbed wire. They passed the marker of the inner circle, and both Alex and I fired one shot. The row of bombs set off… and the last twelve were gone just like that.

"Eat that blood-suckers!" my brother yelled. The explosion when down, and I searched the area in the scope of my gun… clear. I gave my brother the signal, and he put his gun down, double checked the pistol's clip before sticking it in the back loop of his jeans.

"Roast em and toast em…" he said as he quickly descended down the stairs to the ground and out the gates. I put my rifle down and switched to the sniper, and followed my brother out as he headed towards the bodies, a container of bleach in one hand. I watched the hills for another attack, watched the tundra for hiders, and watched my brother for any infected that might suddenly revive for one last second just to sink their teeth into warm flesh before they died. My brother quickly burned the bodies… or what was left of them, and came trotting back a halfway empty container in hand.

"half an hour till we reset." He called up to me, as he ran by. I nodded and set the sniper down. I reloaded the rifle without a second thought, and put it back on the rack, that held guns and ammo. We left racks similar to this all around the wall… or at least the places we defended from. I lowered the portcullis: a wooden grille of a gate behind the iron shod, that protected the gate. My father the architect had designed the present one, as the older one had long been out of order.

Half an hour, we would go reset the explosives as our Aunt had taught us. We knew a half hour was well over the needed time to wait. If their were any infected out there, they would be able to resist the chance to eat for longer than five minutes. But a half hour to be safe.

I pulled my jacket closer over my shoulders and looked back out onto the tundra. Our Castle, Carper Castle, was set at the edge of a cliff, wedged between a reservoir and an mountain. The north side where the entrance sat and gate faced, was open land, with scatter patches of dead grass and sagebrush. Beyond that, just as hills started to roll in the distance, the tree line sat, outlining the horizon like a black marker. It was a thick forest… and vegetation, herbs, wood and meat were plentiful in the spring and summer. Snow didn't often fall here… but on the rare occasions that it came… it stampeded. It would snow and snow and snow until it was two and a half feet deep… and then snow some more. It was odd weather and the men in my family had suspected that it might have something to do with the infected, as the odd weather and zombies had happened on the same occasion. My mother would just roll her eyes and laugh, telling them that sooner or later they would find a way to blame the infected. It was always easy to blame the infected and the adults often did it. My brother just recently took to the tradition and blamed the infected for the rotting forest.

"Carper's are survivors." My uncle would say at our traditional camp fire dinners, "Carper's will see this through… or we'll see the end." I remembered how my mother would scold him for saying such things… I was just a little girl at the time and death really hadn't any effect on me. But now… now it was different. Now I just missed my family.

"Vee!" my brother called up to me, "It's getting dark… let's just do it early." He said. I nodded, and opened the gate again. Instead of taking the stairs, I jumped off the wall-walk… a jump that would have broken my legs. But I was a Carper… I wasn't stupid. I gripped the bricks sticking out of the wall as I fell, and slowly descended down. Par-kor, my father had called it. It was really just acrobatics in the air… defying gravity jumping off walls and suspended gymnastics without the matt. My brother called it ninja skills, and my mother called it monkey tricks. Either way, it was a fast and easy way to move around the castle, and it kept you fit and balanced. My father had redone walls and towers, specifically for par-kor… which would give us the advantage if ever the infected got further than the front gate. The closest they had gotten to the gate in seven years was about ten yards away... and that was only because my father was training my brother and I.

I landed next to my brother and took up the wires and tool belt handed to me. He handed me a pistol, and I checked the clip. I stuck the gun, in the back of my jeans and looked at Alex. I knew that look… and he knew mine.

"What! I know. I know…" he said.

"That's the third attack today… more then we've had all month." I said, "Alex something is wrong. Something is scarring them out of the forest."

"Ya… or driving them out… it's been a cold winter. Food is scarce out there. They're just getting hungry and hunger is driving them to suicide missions like today." He said, "There's always more then one way to look at Vee." He clipped his tool belt around his waist and started off. But I was in deep thought. What he said made sense… but something was telling me otherwise… telling me to be careful. My gut instinct was teling me he was wrong. 'a Carper's greatest weapons is their instincts. Their sharper than anybodys." My grandpa would say.

"Vee…" my brother had stopped outside the gate calling to me. But I didn't hear, "Vee… Vera!" my full name caught my attention and I snapped up. "Let's go! Before it gets dark!" I caught up with him and we quickly took off towards the 'off zone' where the explosives had set off, and it was safe to walk. My brother and I had memorized the 'off zone' as it really was the only safe path when the electricity was turned on. For tonight though… it was off. Saving energy was key, my father always told me. 'save… even when you feel you have enough to last a lifetime."

Dark fell fast, and I had rewired four different explosives just as my brother finished three.

"You were always better at this then I was…" Alex said with a smile. Fact was, I was a year younger than him, but a faster learner. Alex knew as much as I did… I just did them faster.

"I'll finish up the last two… why don't you go in and get dinner ready?" Alex said.

"Why don't I finish the last two…" I started.

"Naw I got it. I could use the practice." He said. I licked my lips, about to argue, but knew better. Alex always took the riskier jobs and refused to intentionally put me in danger. He was always looking out for me… as our parents did. When they no longer could… Alex assumed the role and took care of me and taught me all our family taught him that I didn't already know.

"Fine." I gave him a smile and headed back. The sun was low, and dusk brought a cold chill, making our breath visible. Quickly, I set a fire in the kitchen, an oddly modern looking room, with gas ovens, a microwave, and powered sink. I heated up some ground beef, a package from the oversized refrigerator in the cellar below the kitchen, and began to make dinner. By the time the meat was cooked, I began to get suspicious. He should be done by now… Alex should be back. Why wasn't he? Where was he? I pulled the meet off the heat and went out to the gate.

Instantly, the sense before me made me sink into the shadow of the gate, stealth mode taking over. Out in the tundra… the area where my brother was suppose to be rewiring the bombs… was a car. It's headlights were bright and were aimed right at my brother who had his hands in the air. I saw figures get out of the car… each of them with a gun. They weren't infected… their movements were sober unlike the drunken movements of the zombies. My mind went into hyper mode. Me, in Hyper mode, had only happened three times before. My uncles claimed it was the Carper family weapon. Generations before us called it a curse. But the Carper hyper mode was what made us survivors. The first two times I zoned in on my hyper mode, was eight years earlier than any Carper had. They all agreed my hyper mode was the strongest they had seen in a long time. The third time I went into hyper mode, my entire ex-military, ex-marine, cop, tough chick, bad-a family went with me… but I was the only one who pulled out that night. The only one who survived. My hyper mode was dangerous… and Alex was the last off my family setting my hyper mode top notch.

Whoever held their guns on my brother, infected or not, harmless or not, bad intentions or good intentions… they do NOT mess with a Carper without paying the consequences. I left my pistol in the back of my pants, knowing it would be to loud… to messy. I sunk into the shadows, a sharp object glinting in what light was left. They had no idea who they were messing with.