Saturday morning was beautiful, with the sole exception of the zombies in the streets. Cameron, who had minored in anthropology, was up early to keep an eye on Zed. He wanted to know as much as he could about the enemy, the better to fight him. Apparently, zombies didn't retain long-term memories, as they were milling about in the streets below rather aimlessly, with no discerinible desire to get into the Dojo. They had thinned out quite a bit, too. With his binoculars, Cameron could see that some of the charred corpses in the street were not entirely burned up - there was still plenty of muscle tissue on some of them, and their brains had probably not liquefied. If the black fungus was in fact responsible for the zombie outbreak, and functioned as some sort of parasite, then -
His reverie was interrupted as others stirred from slumber. Jack and Kevin were waking everyone up. It was probably around nine. They would want to head out soon to make the most of the day and get situated at Wal-Mart before nightfall. Sam came over to the window to join Cameron in his observations.
"See anything interesting?"
"A little. They're not bunching together. If you look out the different windows, you can see that they're spacing themselves out about half a block apart. They're staying within earshot of each other, probably so that when they detect prey and start moaning, others can join them in short order. It's actually a pretty sophisticated dispersal pattern. For zombies, that is."
"Huh. You think they know what they're doing?"
"Dunno. Could be deliberate thought processes. Could be blind instinct. Could have something to do with the parasite. But I'll give you ten to one that as soon as someone in the middle of that mess gets noticed, they'll have zombies coming from all over within an hour."
"Yeah. Jeez. Good thing we have cars, huh?"
"Yeah, if they're carpeting the city like this, we'll need to keep moving once we start, or we'll just get surrounded and overwhelmed."
Once everyone was awake, Cameron shared his observations and conjectures with the rest of the group. Then they went over the plan. The truck and the station wagon were still out front, so a load of people would jump into the wagon, with two people in the truck to clear the way if necessary. Once at The Home Depot, everyone would pile out, two to a truck, and load up on supplies. Once back to the Dojo, the rest of their food and gear would be loaded up, and they'd head out for Wal-Mart. Cameron would have a small supply of Molotov cocktails at the ready, should the need arise.
As the group headed out, the zombies started moaning and shambling after them, exactly as Cameron had predicted. None of them seemed interested in investigating the Dojo further. The drive to The Home Depot was fairly uneventful. Seamus and Kevin, leading the way in the truck, were swerving to run down the zombies in their path, which were rather thinly dispersed now that the front wave had passed.
Upon arrival at their destination, Seamus and Kevin stayed in the cab to keep watch. The trucks were lined up by the main entrance, which Dee found undisturbed, and loaded with lumber, pipes, screws, nuts, bolts, various tools, batteries of various sizes (mainly those which wouldn't be found at Wal-Mart) and a generator each. Lane and Cole were sent to raid the garden department for seeds, soil, and gardening books, to which one entire truck was devoted. As a last-minute inspiration, they also grabbed water filtration supplies from the plumbing department, hoping to purify their water without the need for distillation.
The drive back was considerably more exciting, as droves of zombies had picked up their trail in the time they had spent gathering gear. The caravan had to take several detours to avoid impassable knots of undead. Dee and Sam were at the rear, alone in the station wagon, and only had to follow - the trucks were plowing zombies out of the way whenever necessary.
"So how are you holding up, hon," Sam asked, behind the wheel.
"OK, I guess," Dee responded, smoking a cigarette.
"Well, I mean, your medication and everything. You know how long it'll be before - well -"
"I don't. And I think it's already started. But I can't be sure."
"Why not? What makes you think that?"
"I've been having dreams. Not quite nightmares. I just get the sense that some big, vast, fuckin' - thing, I don't know. Something. It's approaching. It keeps coming. And it scares the shit out of me."
"Just something huge? Could it be, I don't know, the zombies?"
"I don't know. The dreams started before the zombies, so I don't know. There's been so much stress lately, I can't make heads or tails of any of this. Everything's starting to seem familiar. Like I've been here before. It's fucked up. And the situation itself isn't helping. I keep questioning whether I'm still sane or not. I mean, when zombies are in the fucking streets, how can you tell when you've lost it?"
"You haven't lost it, love. Yeah, everything's fucked, everyone's under a ton of stress, but you're keeping it together, as far as I can tell."
"Thanks, babe. I just - it's hard, you know? I wish I could - dammit, why can't I just have a light or a gauge or something, up in the corner of my vision, that tells me whether I'm crazy or not? Like in a video game."
"Ha ha! That would be too easy. Also, magic."
"Yeah. Still. Every power station on the planet is out. From the looks of things, it's by bombing. Who would do this? And fucking how? And what the fuck zombies?"
"I know. It's fucking weird. Shit, I'm starting to think I'm going crazy, at times. But whatever. I mean, we just have to get everyone to Wal-Mart and hole up there, then wait out the bullshit until things get back to normal. Right?"
"I hope so. But - fuck, what if there is no back to normal? I mean, what if this is really it? There are probably scattered outposts around the world, I'll bet the Green Berets are having a fucking field day with this, but what if nobody makes it in the long run? What if this is just the death throes of the human race?"
"Then I guess we go out with a bang, huh? I mean, we all gotta die some day. The Sun's gonna go out eventually. It can't last forever. Right?"
"I know, it just - shit. That sounds like something I would say. When did you become the stoic one?"
"Heh. Maybe somewhere between 'zombie' and 'apocalypse.' Hey, can I bum a clove off you?"
"Sure." Dee fished the pack out of her jacket pocket and handed it to Sam, along with her Zippo.
"Thanks. Here's hoping I live long enough to die of cancer."
Sam lit up and took a drag, inhaling deeply. She had smoked before, both cigarettes and marijuana, but she started coughing fiercely. She almost had to pull the car over. Something foul came up from her throat, and she spit out the open window. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, it came away black.
"What is it?"
"Fucking - ugh! I just coughed up black shit!"
"Well, Christ, get it out!"
Sam kept hacking up black slime. The globules of sludge felt like swallowing an oyster, but backwards. Dee pulled a tissue from the glove compartment and spit into it. Clear. Strange. Finally, Sam stopped coughing.
"Gross. Tastes like shit. Blech." She kept smoking.
"Look at the road, Rosie. You can see those little black lichens everywhere. It's hard to pick 'em out from the blacktop, but we're going slow enough, you ought to be able to see 'em."
"Fuck me running, you're right. You think - Jesus, I think I just hacked that stuff out of my lungs. What the fuck is this thing?"
"I don't know. Once we get things stabilized at Wal-Mart, though, we should raid a hospital. I don't know what we can find out, but we need to figure out as much as we can. This is some heavy shit, here."
"You said it."
By the time they got back to the Dojo, there were no zombies in sight. While everyone loaded the rest of their supplies into the remaining truck space, Dee went to the smoke shop below the Dojo to grab all the cloves she could find. She went to the truck and handed a clove to Kevin.
"Rosie just had a drag and started coughing up black slime. She smoked pot on - what was it, Tuesday? Wednesday night? Look, I think the spores might be infecting our lungs, so smoke this. If you cough up black shit, then I think we'll know for sure."
"OK - whatever." Kevin lit up with Dee's Zippo and started hacking immediately after taking a drag.
"OK, keep coughing that up, get it all out. When you smoke, inhale as deep as you can. You want to kill it all and spit it out."
"Jesus fucking Christ, Dee," Seamus said. "You mean this shit's in the air?"
"Looks like it. Try to get everyone to start smoking. Let's just hope that smoke keeps killing it."
Kevin's car had the back seat filled with smoking paraphernelia. By the time the group left the Dojo, there were puddles of black ooze on the sidewalk. A few people vomited. Nobody missed the irony that smoking was now saving lives. Someone pointed out that there was already black lichen growing fresh on the charred corpses in the street. It was taking root in the mortar of the buildings. There was no outrunning it - it was everywhere.
On the drive to Wal-Mart, the caravan passed the leading edge of the zombie wave. It was still about a quarter-mile East of their destination, but they'd close the distance by nightfall. Cars were still in the parking lot, though it seemed that there were fewer now, only a dozen or so. Seamus and Kevin were still in the lead, and as they pulled up, they saw a teenager sitting in a lawn chair in the entrance. Upon seeing the truck, he got to his feet and grabbed a rifle from behind where he had been sitting. Kevin got out and knocked at the door.
"Look, we don't want to start any trouble. There's some major shit going down in town, though, and - well, there's about eighteen of us out here. We'd like to join you."
"We're fine. We don't need any help."
"Hey, I bet you guys are safe and sound in there. We want to be safe and sound, too. How many of you are there."
"Enough for what? I see about a dozen cars out here."
"We're fine. We're just gonna stay here until the power comes back on and things get back to normal."
"I don't know if you've heard, but the power station has been bombed or something. There's not going to be any 'back to normal' for a very long time. What's your situation?"
"I told you, we're fine. Just go on an' get outta here."
"Do you guys have a generator going?" At this point, Seamus got out of the truck and joined Kevin at the entrance.
"Don't need one."
"Well, are you growing food on the roof?" The boy stammered before saying that they were not. "You're probably going to want to do that, too." As Seamus got to the door, the boy raised his rifle to aim at them.
"Hey," Seamus said, "We don't want any trouble. We're looking for a safe spot."
"Well, it's not here. Now get going."
"I think we could help you out," Kevin responded. "We have a few generators, more people to help do some work, and a lot of know-how between us. Who's in charge?"
"The night manager."
"Why don't you bring him out here, and we'll talk this over?"
"Don't need to. You folks just move along."
"How long have you been here," Seamus asked.
"Since the power went out."
"Well," Seamus continued, "It sounds like you might not be aware of what's going on. We'll just wait out here, if you want to go get the boss, and we can tell you guys what the situation is." At this point, Dee joined them at the door.
"Look, we're fine, and we don't need anyone else. Now get going, or I'll have to shoot." He adjusted the rifle at his shoulder, but his posture was clumsy.
"Your safety's on," Dee said, after sizing up the boy. "Is that even loaded? Do you know how to fire it?"
"I'm not joking. If you don't leave now, I'm going to shoot."
"You don't have any ammo. Even if you shoot one of us, we'd definitely overrun you by the time you got back to the sporting goods department."
"Dee, shut up," Seamus said. "Listen, kid - no, I'm sorry, what's your name?"
"Nice to meet you. I'm Seamus. OK, Jim, look: the power's out all over the country. It's probably out all over the world. And, I'm not joking, there are zombies out there."
"Bullshit," Jim interrupted.
"I'm serious. They're about a quarter-mile away from us, and they'll be all over this place by nightfall. Now, if you just want to turn us away, fine, we're not going to fight you. But if we go, you'll be losing out on a lot of helping hands, as well as the supplies we've brought with us."
Jim hesitated for a few moments, then lowered his gun and said he'd be right back. Dee went to get Cameron's binoculars, and he came back to the entrance with her. Soon afterward, Jim returned with a taller man with short, black hair.
"Jim says you have information and supplies?"
"Yes," Seamus responded. "We've been in the middle of town since the blackout started. We've also done some scouting around, and from what we can tell, things aren't getting back to normal any time soon."
"What's this about zombies?"
"They're about a quarter-mile away. You can probably see them from out here, if you take a look through these binoculars."
"And how do I know you're all not just crazy?"
"Look, if things were fine, we couldn't get these trucks and all this gear. Just come take a look, OK?" The manager thought this over for a moment, then unlocked the door and came outside. He didn't want to have people he didn't know in his store, but they looked civil enough, and it sure was mighty strange for the power to be out for over a week. At this point, zombies weren't that much of a stretch.
"OK, what's this I'm lookin' at, here?" Cameron handed over his binoculars and spoke.
"Take a look at the horizon to the East. You see all those people?"
"Look to the North. OK, now look to the South."
"Shit. That's - that's a Helluva lot of people." He stared out the binoculars for a good long moment. He couldn't see them clearly, not individually, but he saw that a whole lot of people were making their way in his direction.
"Yes. And they're all zombies, and they're all coming this way." The manager kept looking at the horizon. After a solid minute of silence, he spoke again.
"And you folks plan to help us out against them?"
"Absolutely. We've had to fight them off before just to get out here. We don't want any trouble. We're actually glad you're here - more people give us better odds for survival."
"Well, we haven't seen anyone since Wednesday, so - what the Hell? I don't see as how it's any worse to let you in than give you a reason to fight with us." He handed the binoculars back to Cameron. "Why don't you folks bring those trucks around back to the loading docks? We'll get you settled and introduced." He shook hands with each of them as they introduced themselves. "My name's Bill. Welcome to Wal-Mart."