“Hold up a second guys,” Yew said softly, stopping by the side of the path.
“Damn it man,” Oak snapped, “I told you it was too early to be hiking on your ankle.”
Yew glared at Oak and silently pointed at the brush by the path. Sarge doubled back and took a closer look. “Pix, how far from the coordinates are we?”
Pixie slide her specs down from her forehead, over her eyes. “Mile, mile and a half east of here. East-ish.” She fiddled with the lens opacity, set it to clear, and left them on.
“There's a path that direction, or what's left of one.” Sarge shrugged. “Bet it was a dirt road before the Crash. Good catch, Yew.”
Oak took point, cutting off branches and brambles where they’d completely overgrown the path but otherwise the group moved silently. Pixie grabbed some of the wood Oak cut off for tinder later. The air was cooler under the trees, a slight relief against the oppressive humidity. They crossed a small creek still bound by its banks, refilling their second water skins to boil at the campsite in the evening.
An hour later, the trees thinned out. Oak held up a hand and everyone slowly joined him. The peak of a house was visible just past a small hill through a gap in the tree line. Yew brought out his bow and nocked an arrow. Oak resettled his shield; Pixie and Sarge drew their guns, and everyone slowly advanced.
The house came into view over the crest of the hill. The front door gapped open. The remains of glass windows were visible on the second floor; the two windows on the first didn’t even have shards. Portions of the roof and peaked turret on the side showed sky behind the house. There was a soft shworsh of leaves behind them and stillness in front.
Oak and his shield took point, Sarge and his gun (plus spear across his back) behind his right shoulder. They entered the front door, Pixie and Yew bringing up the rear. The front room was empty, lengths of cloth on a series of hooks marking where the coat rack had hung. Leaves crunched under foot as the moved to the side room. A decaying couch faced a pile of dirt, brick dust, and leaves spilling out of a blocked fireplace. Nothing here either. A dull thunk carried from the next room to the back. Sarge kept his gun trained on the doorway; everyone slowly inched towards the open doorway. Another thunk sounded.
Looking over Oak’s shield, Sarge aimed at the decaying figure standing at the kitchen counter. Roughly five feet, three inches tall, their clothes had rotted away enough to show the mummifying skin over their ribs. Black veins crawled down the ribs and arms, covering the fingers completely. Another thunk as its wrist knocked the counter and rose again. A rusted knife stuck up out of their foot, pinning the foot to the floor when the knife had slipped out of the corpse’s hand.
Slowly, carefully, Sarge silently put the gun away and pulled out the spear. He and Oak advanced towards the counter and Casualty blankly staring at a rotted wooden cutting board. Oak’s foot caught the edge of the counter with a knock. Everyone froze.
The Casualty never looked over.
Sarge lined up the tip at the base of the skull and slid the spear through, clean out the jaw on the other side. Oak caught the Casualty on his shield; Sarge slid the spear out and Oak lowered the permanent corpse to the floor without a sound. Pixie walked over and got thirty seconds of the face from a couple angles recorded on her 'specs.
Another twenty minutes of careful searching confirmed there were no other Casualties in the house. In the upstairs office, they found the family birth certificates and social security cards. Everything else of value had already rotted away.
One night in the house on the second floor, three hour shifts at the doorway in case anything was smart enough to take the stairs, and they’d be on their way back home in the morning. No fire tonight. Trail rations for dinner, and maybe an hour with a fire in the morning to have clean water for the walk home.
Pixie hopped online as Sarge took first watch and the other two set up bedrolls. She sent the video proof to the Sisters of Silent Mercy; their payment sat in the enclave’s cryptoserver shortly thereafter.
Pixie kissed Sarge goodnight and slid into her bedroll. A simple job, but well done. She was looking forward to going home tomorrow.