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79 Chapter Seventy Eight - Plants verses Zombies

    With round eyes that seemed to protrude from its green and near hairless head, the small undead humanoid lurched forward.  Each step was taken slowly but steadily, even if it appeared that it would never reach the goal it sought, the gap was closing.  Its mouth was stuck open, its remnant teeth and fleshy tongue could just be viewed; it was hungry and it could only be sated by living flesh.  And then an oversized, green pea smacked it in the chest for the umpteenth time and its head fell off its rotten body onto the ground and vanished.  The headless corpse staggered on a pace before also falling and disappearing.

    A banner appeared, declaring that the level had been won and a cheer could be heard.

    "What are you doing?"

    Patrick shrieked in surprise, patting his chest where his leaping heart lie before spinning his head around to glare at the man who'd surprised him.  Tyler just gave him a look of equal impoliteness while waiting for a response from the smaller man.  Patrick's expression became a pout, but he finally replied; "One of the people who originally worked for Nathan's parents had a version of Plants vs Zombies that didn't need an online connection to play.  I found it after I accidentally guessed his unlock code."  Really, having '123456' as the password to your phone was just asking for troubles.

    The two solar panel chargers couldn't charge every mobile phone in the house, nor the ones they ran back to the village to find.  They were already aware that even then, they would not be able to use the phones, perhaps not even unlock them.  But people used their phones for all manner of things, but they couldn't help hoping for things such as small games, the odd application that might be useful, perhaps some sort of reading material or downloaded music.

    So far, though, with this phone unlocked, the useful devices numbered two.  The other didn't have a password set up nor had the previous owner downloaded any applications; it only had what it came with.  That did, however, include a type of 'notebook' so Tyler suggested that they record any useful information they could think of on this phone for now.  It happened to have a spacious and excellent memory.  Currently, young Nan Li Liang had it in his possession, pouring the sometimes random but large amount of things stored in his brain onto the device for others to sort through.

    Patrick loaded the next level of the game, while Tyler sat on the sofa behind him and began to peruse through one of the books stored in the old farmhouse.  It could definitely be seen from the titles of books they'd collected there that one or both of the couple had had a dream of living off of the land; farming, foraging, making remedies and tinctures... it was a shame for them that they had not fulfilled their dream, but what they had gathered was a treasure for the apocalypse survivors.

    The book in Tyler's hand happened to mention wild plants and mushrooms, how to identify, which ones were poisonous and which ones could be eaten.  He never would have guessed that sap collected from birch trees in early March had such excellent medicinal properties as well as a being sweet tasting treat.  Some of these plants, also labelled weeds to the average gardener, might even be found in the gardens; dandelions being an common one.  He was already aware that Autumn picked the leaves of these whenever she threw together a leaf and herb salad, but he wondered if she knew about some of these other plants.  Some should already be in their growth periods.

    Autumn did know that some common weeds and wild plants could be eaten, but it didn't mean that she was confident of identifying them.  She had been wary of seeking mushrooms last autumn, worried she might pick the wrong ones and make everyone sick.  However, at this moment, they had a new food source; the hens had already started to lay eggs.

    "I thought it might take them a good couple of weeks to settle," Dexter admitted as he carefully held the basket in which his girlfriend was collecting the oval treasures into.  Between the six hens, five had laid eggs the day before and now all six had produced an offering.

    "Me too," Autumn smiled as she looked up at the man, the heat in her cheeks not necessarily from the warm morning sun.   The rooster crowed loudly, causing both to jump in surprise.  The noisy bird had begun to 'sing' early two days ago, waking up most of the residents as well as causing them both mixed smiles and panic.  For while it could be considered a ridiculous hour to be wakened, it represented an achievement, but also worryingly a large summoning bell for zombies and zombified beasts.

    The herd had been amongst the first to become drawn to the noise, but their instincts remained sharp and on learning that the noise came from the wall in which the vines that had thinned their herd more than once with their swift and accurate attacks.  Wandering, two legged zombies were not so bright and waddled, crept and crawled to their destruction as knives, crossbow bolts and sharpened rocks flew towards them.

    The crossbow bolts came from a weapon created by Shaun with the aid of the soldiers Faith and Luke, the latter being a weapons enthusiast.  However theory and reality often were not quite on the same page, the first bow didn't shoot, the second wouldn't shoot more than once and the third's range was pathetic.  However, with the two metal manipulators and Luke's enthusiasm, a working model was finally produced.  The range was still not great and on occasion, it still became jammed and needed fiddling with, but it was, in its way better than a gun that had only a handful of bullets left.  Faith was using the creation of bolts as practice for control over her ability, though it was still early days in her cultivation, so on a good day, she could mould three.

    Her progress could still be somewhat seen, however it was not so for some of her comrades.  Luke was still optimistic, that was a part of who he was, so despite not producing more than a millilitre more water than before, he was fine with this.  "It's been just over a week," he reminded them, his smile still warm as they wandered over towards the first mansion.

    "I still don't see how this 'meditation' rubbish is going to work," Thomas complained.

    "Don't you feel... different afterwards though?" Zak asked.  "Sort of refreshed."

    "No."

    "Oh, I do!" Luke agreed without hesitation.  "I look forward to doing it again the next afternoon as well!"  Ren Zexian had suggested that they 'cultivate' after lunch in the afternoon, when, as he put it, the yang energy was at its peak for the day.  He wanted them to focus on cultivating for at least one hour each afternoon, more if possible, but they must stop before dark.  He had told them he would reassess their conditions after a month.

    The others either nodded in view of everyone or chose to do so in their hearts, with the exception of Thomas.  Faith looked at the stubborn man and wondered if he was even following the instructions at all, but could only sigh in her heart.  No one could force him to learn if he truly didn't want to.  She could only hope he changed his mind when the rest of them produced some sort of results.

    They reached the door of the first mansion, it was unlocked as expected and they let themselves in, completely drawn in by the fragrance of delicious food emanating from the kitchen.  Their mouths began to water and they forgot all about cultivating and abilities.  They also didn't notice that Thomas lagged behind a bit, his eyes drawn upwards towards a window on the first floor.  He hesitated a moment longer, before following his comrades in.

    Breakfast was a small omelette with some fried mushrooms, bacon and salad greens with herbs on the side and a cup of tea, which tasted a little like black tea, but not quite.  "It's raspberry leaf tea, made from some new leaves from our raspberry bushes," Autumn explained as she poured it.  "Nan Li Liang, he's the oldest of the children here, mentioned his mother used to like this drink and once made it from fresh leaves rather than boxed tea from a supermarket."

    "It's full of vitamins, such as B vitamins, vitamin c, potassium and magnesium," Tyler mentioned as he entered the kitchen, still reading his book, which just happened to be on a page mentioning these facts.  Autumn passed him a cup of the hot beverage and he thanked her.

    "There's cheese in the omelette??" Luke almost squeaked with wonder.

    Autumn blushed as Dexter teased her; "My girl has been keeping some secrets from me.  She produced this from where she'd stashed it in the basement this morning."

    "I wasn't sure if I could make it well," she admitted, after all, she had experimented once with unpasteurised cows milk, but this was sheep's milk.  Who knew how the final product would turn out with the vinegar she had made during the winter months from apple cider brought back from the supermarket that time.  The cheese was somewhat gamey and a hint of sharpness thanks to the vinegar, but it burst into flavour upon tastebuds that had sorely missed the fatty product in any incarnation.

    "There's no bread?" Brooke happened to question as she sat with the second seating for breakfast.  Monika rolled her eyes behind her back, but said nothing out of respect for her boss sitting beside the young woman.  She honestly felt like Autumn's cousin had become more unreasonable over the past couple of weeks.  The little baby boy, currently asleep in Autumn's arms, had become her excuse when Brooke didn't want to help with something, such as the gardening, washing clothes or simple dusting.  However, she'd still managed time to sneak out to the third property across the road and sunbathe in its grassy gardens, leaving the baby with Tyler at that time as Jonah had been guarding the wall.

    What had followed, when the older man had found out, had been quite the argument.  Jonah had been completely right to chastise her, not for just neglecting their son and lazing around while everyone else worked tirelessly, but also because she'd been alone, exposed.  Zombies did not just walk or run across the ground.

    "What if you'd attracted a flying type?" He'd yelled at her, hoping to get her to understand.  "What if you'd left James without a mother, me without my usually clever and amazing woman?"

    Some apologies and sweet sounding words later and he'd forgiven her, but in Monika's opinion, the girl hadn't learned her lesson.  But what could she do?  So long as Brooke didn't cause anyone any harm, she'd put up with her as always.  They all would.

    Patrick entered the kitchen not long after, Autumn explained that they were down to the last sack of flour, which might only last two or three weeks if she continued making loaves every day.  He sat in a chair opposite Monika in a manner that suggested he was not only sulking, but wanted someone to ask him what was wrong.  Monika obliged him; she found the vertically challenged man amusing.  "So I was playing Plants vs Zombies, I'd unlocked a phone," he grumbled, "but as I was attempting to beat level twelve for the third time, the phone ran out of charge!  I was just about to clear it as well..."

    "Really, playing games?"  Dexter lay a large hand on his shoulder.  "Weren't you down for weeding the corn and wheat fields across the street today?"

    "Ha ha," Patrick scratched his head.  "I'll get on to that after breakfast?"

    "You sure will."
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