ZOMBIE PLAGUE: BOOK TWO
Zombie Plague: Book Two is copyright © 2010 Geo Dell. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
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ZOMBIE PLAGUE: BOOK TWO
On the road
~ March 26th ~
The camp was up before dawn, tents packed away and breakfast and coffee taken quietly together around the low embers of the camp fires. The breakfast didn’t consist of much more than the coffee and a few energy bars, but it suited their purpose well enough. The Dog, who still had no name, was going person to person and begging little tidbits even after his own breakfast of canned meat.
As the sun was touching the horizon, the small caravan of six vehicles were once again winding their way southward, leaving the roads where they were impassable and taking to the fields.
The two Suburbans that had been fitted with lifts and bigger tires had no problem with the on and off road transitions. It was tougher for the other four vehicles.
They monitored the radios as they drove along. Bits and pieces of conversation and skip came through the static. Sometimes clear, sometimes garbled and barely intelligible, but there were no conversations they could follow. Mike had never been a C.B. Radio fan, but Bob had been and he explained skip to everyone.
Skip could be two thousand miles away, or only a hundred. It was a signal that hit the atmosphere just right, or cloud cover, or a mountain range, and carried farther than it normally would have. You might talk to someone a thousand miles away as clearly as though they were no more than a mile down the road. And you might have that conversation for ten minutes or two hours and then suddenly they were gone because those atmospheric conditions that had allowed the conversation had changed.
Early on, Mike had thought about Ham radio. You could reach around the world with Ham radio. But Bob had explained that Ham radio accomplished that with relays. All the people that did the relays were most likely gone, at least for now. Maybe they would be back eventually, but they had heard nothing but a soft electric hiss cutting across the miles the two times they had tried the bands, and no one had answered their calls.
The F.M. Band had also remained dead. It seemed all the traffic was on the C.B. Channels. The V.H.F. Bands, normally used for Marine conversations, were empty too. But that offered a secure option for them to talk without being overheard. As they drove through the morning now, they talked back and forth on the V.H.F. Band, monitoring the C.B. and the F.M. Bands.
They filled their tanks two hours after dawn at a collapsed gas station next to the interstate. A length of rubber hose connected to a hand operated Kerosene pump made the job quick. The only hard part had been locating the underground tank. The cover had been found though, the cap spun off, and the odor of gasoline drifted up into the air telling them that the underground tank had not been ruptured.
The little area that serviced the interstate contained a large garage, two small Mom-and-Pop stores, the gas station and a chain auto parts store right next to the garage, probably built with the garage in mind.
On the other side of the asphalt parking lot sat a motel unit that had seen better days. Most of the units were flattened. The swimming pool was cracked and empty; wire mesh and what looked to be a bottomless void graced the middle of the rust stained pool. A second row of motel units running parallel to the pool looked to be untouched. Across the road were two name brand outlet stores, obviously placed to take advantage of the interstate. They had pulled the trucks onto the cracked pavement of the gas station, and after they had finished gassing up the trucks, Mike had gathered everyone together.
Bob and Tom came back from checking out the garage and the auto parts store just after the trucks were gassed up. Bob nodded his head at Mike.
“You noticed Bob and Tom looking over the garage,” Mike said. “We’re thinking of stopping here. We’d probably end up here for a few days while Bob and Tom work on the other four trucks. And we need a few other things: tail gate swing outs that can hold a spare tire, gas can too, roof racks to carry gear, lifts, better, bigger tires… In short, the things we had intended to do back in Watertown.” He looked around, trying to catch the eyes of each person individually.
“You can see how much easier it is for the two Suburbans to get around wrecks, buckled roads, down in to and out of ditches. It just makes sense to give the other four trucks that ability, otherwise they’ll just be slowing us down. You saw a little of that this morning.”
“Makes sense,” Janet Dove agreed.
Molly nodded. “My only concern is, are those…” she paused and her face reddened, “People,” she managed after a long pause, “coming after us?” Her eyes were dark and questioning. Mike could read the fear in her posture.
“I doubt it,” Candace said. She spoke quietly but forcefully.
“We’ll listen in on the radios,” Nellie added.
“They won’t come. In the city they knew how to get around… Out here,” Patty waved her arms around, finally lifting them to the sky. “They wouldn’t know what to do. Couldn’t sneak up on us.” She shook her head. “I just don’t think they’re the kind that want to deal with even odds.”
Candace nodded in agreement. “You know, Molly. Spineless, right?”
Molly nodded and Mike watched the fear leave her and something closer to determination replace it. She nodded her agreement once more, looking directly at Candace as she did.
Mike cleared his throat and continued. “The reason we traveled on was to put some miles between us and them. It’s a long way for them to come. I don’t see it,” Mike said. He let the silent nods continue for a moment and then continued.
“There are other things we can do, things we need. Canned goods, maybe one of those cows, or a deer. They seem to be wandering everywhere. There really is enough to keep all of us busy for the next few days while Bob and Tom get the truck situation straightened out.” He paused but no one spoke. “So… If there are no real objections?”
“Let’s do it,” Molly said.
“Yeah, I’m for it,” Patty added.
As Mike turned away, Patty, Candace, Molly and Nell began to set up a plan for monitoring the radios. Everyone agreed that they would probably hear about anything coming their way long before it reached them. Molly went over to the garage a few minutes later and pitched in, helping Bob and Tom move whatever was in the way so that they could reach the racks and garage bays. There were two tow trucks that they used to do most of the work, but chains and muscle power accomplished the rest.
In the end, they cleared out three stalls that they could work in. Molly stayed, and not long after Nell found her way over and began to work side by side with her.
The garage was a prefab steel building that, either because of a whim of the Gods’ or its design, had remained standing. By the time some others were returning with a cow and two large does in the back of one of the pickup trucks, the garage was ready to go. Molly and Tom wheeled out a towering chain-fall for the hunting party to use to dress out the animals and then went back to work.
By late afternoon the third Suburban was well under way. The lift was done, brush-guards installed and they were working on the carrying racks. Mike and Ronnie stopped by to look over the effort and were amazed. The Suburban looked like something that had rolled out of some sort of Safari outfitters garage, or a futuristic end of the world epic, Mike joked. But that sent them all into silence for a few moments, and Mike didn’t mention it again.
Molly and Nell were working on bolting a huge winch to the front bumper of one truck while Tom and Bob worked on stripping out one of the pickups to get it ready for a lift kit.
Tim and Annie had made their way to the garage and then found themselves drafted and made part of the work crew. Annie was in the third stall laying out the parts they would need for the lift on the pickup truck while Tim worked at mounting the oversize tires to new, larger rims, using a pair of heavy iron bars and his body weight to accomplish the work. He and Annie joked back and forth as they worked.
They were using a small twelve volt air-compressor to inflate the tires after they had them mounted. They both seemed to be enjoying themselves, Mike thought, and they seemed happy to be in each other’s company.
Outside, near the far end of the garage, the chain-fall had been set up, and a group led by Janet Dove, which included Sandy and Susan, were hoisting a large cow up into the air.
“Mike,” Janet said as he and Ronnie passed by on their way out of the Garage.
“We would like to smoke most of this meat… If we’re going to be here a few days, I thought…”
Mike nodded. “Yeah. Might as well, Jan. We have the time,” He assured her, “And, it’ll help to have the meat with us, who knows what’s ahead.” He shrugged.
Janet Dove smiled, turned away, and Mike stood watching as the huge cow began to lift into the air from the back of the pickup truck before he and Ronnie turned and walked away.
A few minutes later, the two of them fell in with Candace and Patty who were sifting through what the chain stores had to offer in the way of clothing, canned goods and whatever else they came across that they could find a use for. They passed by Lilly who had taken over the toy department, blocked off one aisle, and was keeping Brian and Janelle busy. She smiled and waved as they passed. Janelle waved back. Her dark eyes finally looking rested and happy.
Brian had built himself the biggest Lincoln Log village that Mike had ever seen and was now busy populating it with dozens of green, plastic Army Men. Mike smiled and Brian took the time out of his game to smile back at he and Ronnie. He held a large plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex in one hand which seemed to Mike about to wreak havoc on the village and its population of Army Men.
A half dozen trips with Candace and Patty, and late afternoon turned into early evening. Fires were burning to smoke the meat. Two large roasts were spitted over a huge fire pit made of field stone. A stew was bubbling in a pot that had been suspended over the flames. Nearly everyone had found a reason to stop by the area Janet Dove had set aside for cooking, most arriving just as she had been about to send some others out looking for everyone to round them up for dinner. The Dog was running around in circles, happily racing from person to person, tail wagging crazily. The smell of roasting meat hung heavy in the still, cool air.
Everyone sat close together at several wooden picnic tables that Janet had drafted a few volunteers to bring over from the collapsed section of the motel. They had sat in a small clearing not far from the building, untouched, while everything around them had been leveled.
The temperature was in the low forties, but with the early evening sun still shining, it felt much warmer.
Mike sat next to Candace, Ronnie on his other side. Across the table, Molly sat with Nell. They were both laughing, involved in conversation with each other. It was the happiest that Mike had seen Nell or Molly.
Canned potatoes, fresh beef and venison, a stew that held a bit of everything in it and a steaming platter of peas dominated the table center. Everyone had heaped up their plates. Too long eating thrown together meals or energy bars had left them hungry for real food.
Their basic protein needs had been met, but there was nothing like real food to make you… Happy, Mike decided. He looked around the table at all the smiling faces. It was actually a mood elevator, he decided.
“What’s on your mind, Baby?” Candace asked. Her eyes smiled, but her mouth wore a question he had come to know was more serious than her smile insinuated.
He bent forward and kissed her, making the smile on her face spread wider still. “I was thinking how happy everyone looked.” He turned his head and let his eyes sweep the tables once more, then turned back to Candace whose eyes and face now wore another look he was becoming familiar with. He bent forward and kissed her once more. “I’m pretty sure I love you,” He told her.
She laughed, “Pretty sure!” She slapped his arm with one hand. “You better be more than pretty sure, Mister.”
Mike laughed and kissed her again. “Positive,” he said. “I’d be lost without you.” His eyes turned serious. “That’s the truth,” His voice dropped to a near whisper as he leaned even closer. “I love you so much that I don’t have words for it. I only know it’s real. I only know I need you.” He kissed her once more and sat back up to catch Annie giggling and looking away.
Candace laughed beside him. An easy laugh that eased the seriousness of the conversation.
“I hope we’ll have some time later on,” she said, her voice still low, husky.
“I’ll make sure of it,” Mike told her.
“I was looking at that garage building,” Ronnie said from beside him.
“It’s one of those industrial prefabricated jobs. I’ve put up a few, but I had no idea how well engineered they were. They hold up pretty well, or at least this one did. The buildings not really damaged at all.”
“I noticed that too,” Mike agreed, “What are you thinking?”
“Well,” Ronnie grinned, “When we get where we’re going, it may not be a bad idea for a dwelling… or dwellings. At least for a temporary dwelling until we build… if we build. Lightweight, easy to put up. Easy to insulate. Not bad in an earthquake, if that stuff’s not completely done with us.”
Mike was nodding his head. “I’m for it, but are they hard to come by? I mean, where could we get one?”
“Not as hard as it seems. There are outlets where you can buy them in larger cities. And there are thousands already set up. We could take them apart pretty easily, take them where we want them and put them back up. All the structural supports are pretty much the same. You just add more or take away to make the building the size you need. Very lightweight, so they’d be easy to transport. They’d go up or down pretty fast,” Ronnie finished.
“Has my vote,” Bob added. “Fast, easy. They seem solid. It will save us a ton of time.”
“I’ve seen them around. I think it’s a good idea. We wouldn’t have to worry about wooden structures falling down on us.” Mike looked around. “Almost all the wooden structures are down. Concrete seems okay, for the most part, steel. But wooden structures just give too easily. Putting them up fast would also be a plus,” he finished. He raised his eyes from the ground – he had a habit of looking at the ground to visualize his thoughts – and saw that Molly and Nell had been listening to their conversation. They were nodding their heads in agreement.
“That garage is really solid,” Molly agreed.
“Cement’s cracked here and there, but the building itself held up really well,” Nell agreed. “I don’t even like walking into a wooden building anymore. You can feel it move, hear the creaks and groans… pops.” She shook her head.
Mike and Ronnie both nodded.
”It’s a good plan,” Mike said. He turned his head to Molly. “Where did you learn to turn wrenches?” he asked her.
Molly smiled. “My dad had a race car. It started out as a hobby but became something else. He’d work on it all week long and then run it in races on the weekends.” She smiled shyly. “When I was a little girl, as far back as I can remember, I used to go out and watch.” She laughed. “Pretty soon I was fetching wrenches, parts.” She laughed again. “The first time I came in with greasy hands, I thought my Mother was going to die. When I was fifteen, my Dad bought an old beat to shit Mustang. A sixty-four. It was a project car, he’d said. We’d work on it in our spare time together, finish it up and sell it for a profit.” She smiled and her eyes misted as she seemed to be looking back through the years.
“It took nearly a year of work. That was also the time I was eligible to get my permit. The day I got my license, he handed me the keys,” she finished, smiling happily at the memory.
“Pretty nice,” Candace said.
“Yeah, except it got smashed flat when this,” she lifted her hands and gestured helplessly, “happened. But once we’re where we’re going to be, I think I’ll try to find another one, or maybe a two door sixty-two Chevy Impala. I’ve always liked the way those Chevy’s look.” She shrugged, “Crazy, I guess, but I really think I’m gonna do it. There must be one somewhere.”
“I can see that,” Patty said. “Or something else worth rebuilding.”
More than a few heads nodded in agreement.
“Sometimes,” Patty added as an afterthought. “The thing you find is better than the thing you thought you wanted.”
Nell looked at Molly. Molly smiled, and Nell leaned closer and kissed her.
“You two?” Candace asked.
“Nell tempted me,” Molly said.
“It’s like Patty said, sometimes the thing you find is better than the thing you thought you would find… or want. I hadn’t expected this much out of life in the old world let alone this one,” Nell said smiling, but serious. She worked her hand into Molly’s and leaned closer to her.
Mike’s eyes swept across Patty’s face, expecting to see a smile but finding a distracted, sadness on her face instead. Patty swept it away so quickly though that he wasn’t sure just a second later that it had really been there at all. Maybe, he decided, he had imagined it. After all, Patty had found the better thing she hadn’t known she would find in Ronnie. There would be no reason for that sadness to be on her face. He found his own hand holding Candace’s, and she leaned into him for a kiss.
“Get a room, you guys,” Tim said as he and Annie passed by. Annie was blushing but had a huge smile on her face.
“Horn dogs,” Tim told her as they walked away, laughing with each other and holding hands as they went.
“Horn dogs?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know about you but I am no horn dog,” Janet Dove joked as she passed by.
The thought of prim and proper Janet Dove making a statement like that caused everyone to crack up. Janet stopped, a shocked look on her face.
“Good one, Jan,” Candace said.
“I can’t believe I said that,” Janet said.
Everyone cracked up then, including Janet Dove.
Candace lay in the crook of Mike’s arm as they talked quietly.
“Gotta go in about five minutes,” Mike told her. “My watch.”
“No,” Candace said. “You can’t go if you can’t get out of bed. Besides, we paid for the room for the night,” she finished and laughed.
Mike chuckled. “This is nice. Privacy, first we’ve had in… well, forever.”
“When we leave, we’ll be back to getting none at all again,” Candace told him. She snuggled against his side, one hand resting against the flat of his stomach, her index finger drawing small circles. “But,” she lifted her eyes to his. “I guess I have to let you go. Just think about that alone time for later.” She kissed him softly. “Something to keep you thinking about it.” She turned away, swung her feet to the floor and began to get dressed.
“You do give me things to think about,” Mike told her. He trailed his fingers down her back, bent forward and kissed her shoulder.
Candace looked back at him. “Do you want to make that watch?”
Mike laughed. “No, but I have no choice at all.” He leaned forward and kissed her mouth. “Later,” he said.
“Later,” She agreed.
The room had not been in bad shape. It was funny how fate could be, Mike had thought. One wing flattened, one untouched. From sleeping in a cave a day ago, to sleeping in a real bed the next.
The room was dusty, a slight musty, unused odor, but dry. The roof had held up. The walls seemed untouched.
“Where are you going?” Mike asked.
“You’re not on, Babe,” Mike grinned.
“Correction. I wasn’t on. You had Patty on, but she wanted to spend time with Ronnie, so we switched. That way, when we’re done, we can come back here again…” She cocked her eyebrows. “And take our time?”
“What, not be rushed?” Mike asked.
She stood and turned into him as he was getting ready to leave. A beautiful woman wearing only a pair of white socks, which was all she had managed to get on. She stretched up onto her tip toes and kissed him. His hands pulled her close. She pulled away with a smile.
“I thought you were coming with me,” Mike said.
“I am,” She giggled.
He reached for her once more, but she skipped away. “We’ll never get there, Baby,” she told him.
“As it is, I’ll probably be thinking about you throughout the whole watch and waiting to get back here. God, Candace, you’re so beautiful.”
She looked at him seriously. “Keep that up and we’ll never get out of this room.” She crossed the short distance between them and kissed him once more. “Say it just once more?”
“You’re beautiful,” Mike told her as he pulled her close.
It was about an hour and a half past sunset when Mike took over one of the perimeter guard posts from Susan. It was simply the far corner of the garage complex that overlooked a field and the highway beyond it.
“Quiet?” He asked.
“Pretty much. The dog… what’s that dog’s name anyway?” she asked.
“He doesn’t have one,” Mike admitted. “We, uh… we just call him The Dog, you know. He survived. He got through it same as us; he made it, you know. He’s The Dog.” Mike finished lamely.
“Oh. Sounds like a little guilt there, Mike. Maybe we should all get together and name it,” Susan suggested.
“Well, anyway… The Dog kept looking off towards the highway. He didn’t, like, bark or anything. I thought maybe deer, cows, something else. But with the meat drying, it could have drawn anything at all. The fires and so many people should be enough to keep anything away. Even if it’s wolves, they’ll probably stay away, right? I just thought you should know about it.”
Mike nodded. “Could be something, but you’re probably right. Most likely it’s nothing. I imagine the smell of the meat will draw every carnivore in the area. That’s okay as long as they don’t try to bother us. There will be plenty of scraps when we’re gone.”
Susan nodded this time. “Mike,” she hesitated and Mike nodded for her to continue. “Well, I wondered what you thought about Jan and Bob’s idea of settling in the wilderness. You know, deep in the middle of nowhere… a new Nation.”
Mike nodded slowly. “I think they really want to do it. I think they really believe in it, Susan,” he shrugged. Her eyes questioned him. “Okay… and… And I wish I could believe in it they way they do. Not that I believe it won’t work. I think anything we do will take hard work, a good deal of hard work,” he shrugged again. “And I think they’ll put the work in, I really do. Maybe you’re asking me what I want to do, and I can’t tell you that. I don’t know… I haven’t decided. It’s something Candace and I would have to take the time to sit down and decide, and we just haven’t had the time to do that.”
“You know, in my head the old world was selfish. It was all about selfish. The me-generation? Something like that. And I’m not saying I was any better. I wasn’t. Oh, I had my friends, and I helped them when I could, but when it came down to push or shove, it was me. It was me, and a lot of the people I knew, worked for, with, associated with, were the same way. Social on the surface, but scratch that surface and it’s a different story. Push or shove… and not an overly hard push or shove either.” He looked at her and Susan nodded.
“At least for me it’s been that way. I guess I sound cynical. But it’s not that way anymore. I’m not that way anymore. It’s not about me. It’s about me and Candace. And it really isn’t about us either. It’s deeper. There are people here I’ve really come to care about. I mean really care about. Do you realize that I haven’t watched T.V. Since the night this all started? Sounds ridiculous, right? None of us have, but I did computer work. Scripting, C, C plus, plus, graphics, more. I used to turn my computer on, turn on the T.V. for company and go to work. Eighteen hours sometimes, even longer on occasion. It… that… was my life. No relationships. No one to really care about. No time for it. And everyone I knew was the same way. Superficial. Shallow? Yeah, that too. Well… I don’t do that anymore; I don’t want to.”
Susan nodded. “Everyone I knew was too busy living to think about how they were living,” she said.
“That I do understand,” Mike said. “But not now, you know, somewhere, in some secure building, on some secure server I have a couple of bank accounts that were well over a million dollars each.” He laughed. “All means nothing now, Susan, nothing. I am happy with what I have. I don’t want what I used to have.” He sighed.
“The Nation? Probably a great idea. I can think of only a few things that I could do that would matter as much to me as that does to them. Kids… love… Candace, you know? Do it right, not like the old world. And that’s the rub. It depends on Candace… and the baby. She’s trying to get pregnant. It seems like almost everyone is.” He rubbed the flat of his palm along his jaw feeling the stubble that was softening into a beard. “If she wanted to do it, yes. If she wanted to travel to Alaska, yes. When the time comes, and it’s probably not all that far away in the scheme of things, but when the time comes for Bob and those that have committed to go with them, and those that will – I know there will be more – when that time comes, if Candace wants to go with them, I’ll jump in with both feet. That’s the truth of it.”
Susan’s eyes were misted. “Thank you,” she said.
“Thank you for being long winded and entirely too personal on short notice?” Mike asked.
Susan laughed. “No, for being honest. I think I’m going to go have a talk with a young lady. I’ll see you later, Mike,” she said. She smiled and then walked off into the shadows of the night.
Mike watched her go. Apparently everyone was more appreciative of people now, not just himself, he thought. He turned his attention to the field and the highway. After his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could see the dark shapes of cattle grazing in the field, a few deer mixed in with them.
He thought about what he had just said, how much he felt for Candace. How for the next few nights they would have a real bed. His mind filled with thoughts of her. He almost missed the radio call, almost wrote it off as one of their own, until he realized it wasn’t.
“Hello the camp,” the voice repeated.
Mike unclasped the radio from his belt and raised it to his mouth and spoke. “I guess you mean us,” he said more calmly than he felt…
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