After abandoning the rest stop, the group decided they needed to drive at least ten or twenty miles before they could feel comfortable. Brad espoused his theory that the different freaks they kept running into were like a “diversified portfolio,” the various efforts of a single force throwing things at the wall to see what would stick. Rasheed was convinced that there was something behind the darkness, but that it was something less direct and more inchoate—not a person as much as a force.
The group finally settled on a small roadside motel, clearing it of zombies before looting it and bedding down for the rest of the night. The next morning, they made good time to Pottsville, and then beyond to the Locust Lake Women’s Penitentiary. They found fenced-in but surprisingly welcoming grounds, albeit without much in the way of cover. There were no sniper towers or anything like that, just a chain-link fence—with dead zombies scattered around the perimeter.
A shadow moving from building to building and the crack of a gunshot let them know that they weren’t alone. A woman with a rifle appeared out of the administration building, warning them to back off and leave. Doris and Governor Byrne explained that they had come to try and find Rosalie’s big sister, and Brad was surprisingly eloquent at convincing the women that they weren’t a threat.
When they said Rosalie’s name, the woman behind the fence immediately recognized it. Rosalie’s sister, Crystal, was alive! Guns were lowered and the survivors were escorted inside the fence, where they found almost a hundred women living in the former prison compound. Somewhere nearby, Rasheed could still hear the moaning of zombies, though—hundreds of them.
Rosalie had a tearful reunion with her big sister, who had become something of a leader to the women of SCI Pottsville. Crystal was able to explain that the prison had once housed almost a thousand inmates, with over 300 full-time staff. Most of them had gotten sick, and the staff packed the sick prisoners into the bunk halls and the medical center. The sick ones started turning, but they had all been put together, so the guards just locked the doors on the cell blocks and left the zombies locked inside.
When the power finally went out, one of the last guards on duty decided to set everyone who wasn’t sick free rather than just let them die in their cells like dogs. After he had only freed a few of them, though, the remaining guards shot him in the back. A short riot followed, and the guards that survived were sent packing with only the clothes on their backs. About half of the prisoners had decided to take their chances on their own, but over a hundred had stayed behind to fortify the prison and make their stand. The hundreds of zombies sealed in the cell blocks were still there, so the women did their best to stay away from the sealed blocks and keep themselves busy to avoid listening to the awful moans and screams coming from them.
The prison survivors had plenty of canned and dried food for the winter, and there had been a gardening program at the facility for several years, so they already had plots set aside to grow potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables come the spring. They had managed to get civilian clothes out of lockup, and the ones who had stayed behind were mostly short-timers, people who had been used to “going along to get along,” so there were no hardened criminals or would-be tyrants among them.
The big problems facing the compound were twofold: First, their emergency generator had died almost three weeks ago. As the weather became colder, that generator being able to power heat in at least a couple of buildings could spell the difference between life and frozen death during the miserable Pennsylvania winter.
Second were the Horsemen.
About a week prior, the prison survivors had been approached by men and women riding motorcycles and calling themselves “the Horsemen.” They offered the prisoners a chance to join up with their gang, but the women had refused, not wanting to leave the safety of their former prison. The Horsemen reps acted satisfied and left, but they came back that night with guns and numbers. Only Crystal’s quick thinking had pushed them back, killing one of the raiders—but at the cost of two of their own.
Since then, they had been keeping an eye out for the bike gang, but they knew they would be seriously outgunned if the bikers returned. The prisoners had only a few guns and very little ammo, since they had been unable to break into the prison armory, and Crystal believed that the Horsemen had only left because they were startled. She was sure they would be back.
Wanting to tackle one problem at a time, Rasheed offered to repair the prison’s emergency generator if they could take him to it. They made a quick pass around the sealed cell blocks to make certain the barriers were holding, but Rasheed was worried that leaving the zombies caged for too long might force them to respond by “evolving” something more horrific, as seemed to happen whenever the horde was stymied for any length of time.
As they reached the old workshop, Crystal noted that the steam tunnels had been sealed off since the power went out, so they had no idea what was down there. The heroes insisted on helping out as best they could, and Crystal decided to accompany them into the dank, partially flooded tunnels to protect Rosalie.
Down in the dark, they wandered for several hours before finding the generator room. Unfortunately, it wasn’t empty. Crystal recognized the horror before them had once been someone she knew, a woman named Sadie, but now she was a twisted, monstrous thing, dripping acidic bile from her blistered lips. The noise of their explorations had also attracted a small crowd of walkers who were filing into the tunnels behind them, cutting off their escape!
Rasheed acted quickly to lay down a mystic barrier across the doorway while Rosalie held off the horde with her blade. Brad blew half the monstrous one’s head off with his shotgun, but it only made her madder. Governor Byrne threw himself at the beast, only to have it turn and vomit searing, acidic bile on him. He barely managed to tear his shirt off in time to suffer only minor burns, but that cinched that the thing had to die. In an acrobatic display, he jumped up onto the steam pipes and launched himself at the monster, feet-first, crushing her head under his heels.
When the creature dropped, melting and writhing into the water, its belly burst open to reveal a tiny, clutching hand. The abject horror was too much for Governor Byrne, who turned aside, weeping and vomiting. Something seemed to snap inside Doris, though, and she began roaring and screaming. To Rasheed’s horror, she sounded just like the “angel” summoned by Elijah Mathis, and even her features seemed to be changing.
Brad coldly shotgunned the zombie infant while Doris threw herself at the line of zombies blockaded outside the generator room—only to find that she couldn’t pass through the barrier herself. She rounded on her allies, seemingly ready to attack them, but managed to gain control of herself through an act of sheer willpower. With the battle past, Doris was confused as to what had happened to her. Crystal said a few ugly things to her sister’s supposed “guardian,” but Rasheed calmed things over by reminding them of the mission.
The heroes managed to find the generator and repair it, as well as finding a shorter way back to the surface through an area that only guards would have had access to before the Fall. Doris and Brad both donated gasoline for the generator, and the prisoners celebrated the minor victory by turning the lights on in three buildings.
During the celebration, Brad got to try his hand at gambling with the inmates, though they had only dominoes and not dice or playing cards. Rosalie spent time catching up with Crystal, and Rasheed and Governor Byrne sat down for a long talk with Doris. Rasheed expressed his fear that Doris had become infected with something “evil” through her bite, and Governor Byrne wanted to make sure she was going to be okay. Doris assured them both that she would never dream of hurting any of her companions or an innocent person—with the implication of something more final if it came down to it.
The celebration was interrupted by a woman with a hideous gut wound staggering into the mess hall, collapsing on the floor. Rasheed rushed to her side, determined to use his powers to aid her despite how public it might be. The others went outside to find Horsemen bikers on the grounds, some of them making their way toward the living blocks on foot while others were trying to cut a hole in the fence to let in their brethren on bikes.
Rasheed couldn’t bring himself to face the living in combat and instead focused on keeping the inmates calm, rallying them to reinforce their defenses. Governor Byrne charged the man with the wire cutters, knocking him out cold and throwing the cutters away. When his companions raised their guns at him, he dragged up their unconscious friend to use as a human shield, making them hesitate long enough for Brad and Rosalie to join him.
Brad distracted the bikers while Rosalie and Doris laid down gunfire. Doris opened fire on the bikers with her scavenged M-16, cutting the legs out from under one of them and plugging another in the chest. She felt bad about taking a life, but she was determined to protect the peaceful survivors at any price. Rosalie shot out into the dark, more hoping to scare the bikers than hurt them, but was horrified to find one of them staggering up toward her only to drop dead at her feet, a messy bullet wound in his skull.
With their ranks decimated, their surprise lost, and their way in blocked, the remaining Horsemen fled into the night. The few who were still standing tried to flee, but Governor Byrne kicked one of them unconscious and slapped the other silly. The remaining conscious Horseman threw down his gun and surrendered, ready to spill his guts rather than have them spilled for him…