Monday, February 2, 2009

Rendezvous: Chapter 11

The Wal-Mart crew was about a dozen strong, and once Bill explained the situation, they were quite receptive to the group from the Dojo. Most of them were happy to see other faces, glad for both the company and the knowledge that there were other survivors. The trucks were unloaded quickly, and then staged outside the loading docks for quick loading or, if need be, escape. The rest of the vehicles were parked in the auto garage.
Bill and Dee began sorting out priorities for securing the building against the coming zombie assault. With any luck, the leading edge of the zombie horde would pass without noticing them, if they could stay dark and quiet. However, they could not rely on that, and they would eventually be noticed in some way or another, which would inevitably bring Zed's full strength down upon them. They had to fortify.
There were two main entrances to the store proper, and a third through the garden center. The latter was enclosed within a sturdy fence and had locking gates, but the two main entrances were comprised more of glass than of stone or metal, and had to be further secured. They decided that the best course of action would be to simply forget about the outer wall and fortify farther in, making two choke points out of the inner passageways where the anti-theft tag detectors were located. They worked out a way to stack shopping carts by lashing them together with zip-ties, and laid them three high and three deep in a makeshift barricade, wheels at odd angles so that the whole structure couldn't be rolled in any direction. Next, right-triangle wooden frames about four feet high were constructed from two-by-fours to support the barricade from behind, with metal shelving screwed into the front, to prevent entrance in the event that the shopping carts were somehow removed. The frames were moved into position and bolted straight into the floor. Sand bags were piled over the two-by-fours where the bolts had been driven, in order to prevent the whole structure from being lifted out of the ground.
Bags of gravel were piled against the gate in the garden center so that it couldn't be pushed in. It was built to open out, but it was the only part of the structure that had moving parts and was not welded together, and was therefore the most likely to give under sustained assault. The store had two powered lifts, and these were positioned under roof access hatches at opposite ends of the store. After being raised into place, in order to conserve power, ladders were secured to the criss-crossing supports with metal pipe strapping. Free-hanging rope ladders would have to be constructed later, so that the lifts could be used elsewhere.
All this work was done by candlelight or flashlight, as the interior of the store had no windows. With the exception of the three entranceways, it made no difference whether it was night or day. Dee made a mental note that the generators would have to be installed as soon as the zombie assault was dealt with - she could probably scavenge wiring supplies from what was already in the store, but she would much rather take another trip to The Home Depot. The sun was setting, and the zombies were coming within a stone's throw of the building. Cameron gave his instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails again, this time with instructions on how to mix in motor oil to thicken the fuel, now that he had access to it. He explained how this process would make it sticky, like napalm. Dee and Seamus showed everyone how to use the shotguns and rifles in the sporting goods department. There was plenty of ammunition to go around. Those who had any experience whatsoever with firearms were selected for gun duty, and Cameron took the remainder for his grenadiers. All told, there would be eight shotgunners at the barricades, four riflemen and eight grenadiers on the roof, and the remaining ten would bring water or other supplies to the front, and provide relief if needed.
One ladder was designated 'up,' the other 'down,' and then everyone started carrying supplies up to the roof. With three trips from everybody, half of the ammunition and all the grenades were transported. Cameron was watching the advancing horde through his binoculars. Zed looked left and right, but appeared to have no interest in what was above him. Their presence had not yet been revealed. So far, so good.
Then a zombie hit the wall and stared blankly at it for a moment before looking straight up its face. Upon seeing Cameron, she began to moan and reach her arms up for him. She had no hope of climing the vertical surface, but the others took notice of her actions and joined in. Soon, the whole wave was converging on the store, wrapping around as it passed to surround the building. The derelict zombies that trailed behind the forward edge of the wave began howling and picking up their pace, leading those behind them to do the same, and so on.
Grenadiers were stationed around the roof and began lobbing Molotov cocktails as soon as Zed came within range. Dee and Seamus took three people each and stationed themselves with shotguns at the entrances, waiting to see if the zombies breached the glass windows and doors. If they did, the groups of four would take position atop the shopping carts, in the two-foot gap between the barricade and the top of the inner entranceway, and start shooting at the zombies that came in. They didn't want fire inside the building, if they could avoid it.
In just under an hour, the crowd of zombies was filling the parking lot and the surrounding streets and fields. There were still about a dozen five-gallon jugs of gasoline left, so Kevin and Cameron heaved half of those over the roof, where they smashed and spilled into the parking lot below. After each jug was tossed, a grenade was thrown down to ignite the spill. It had the desired effect. The motor oil in the grenades was throwing up a thick black smoke that made it difficult to see what was going on at ground level, but the gasoline fire was easier to see through. Cameron watched through his binoculars as zombies engulfed in flames eventually collapsed and began screaming. They had not completely burned away, but it seemed as though the fire killed off the parasite. Unfortunately, the human host could not be saved by this method, but maybe there was a way to cure the infection? If so, there might be light at the end of the tunnel yet - though it still left the questions of how the power stations had been bombed and how the two occurrences were connected.
Dee was having the same thoughts while she watched the zombies through the barricade. She also took heart at the fact that she had not been hallucinating the events while fighting Zed outside the Dojo yesterday. There had actually been a church full of people singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the zombies actually started screaming like normal humans when the parasite burned away - but there was still that song that had been running through her head. Mine eyes have seen the horrors that have risen from the tomb - where had that come from? Paradoxically, it seemed both foreign and familiar at the same time.
No matter, Dee thought as she heard glass crack and shatter. Zed was breaching their outer marker. She had work to do. The four of them climbed up the back of the barricade frame and settled in the middle row of shopping carts, plastic shopping bags full of ammo at their sides. The fires outside were illuminating the night, giving them targets while lending a surreal atmosphere to the whole event. The zip ties held fast - they had used a lot of them to secure the barricade, and it would be exceedingly difficult to move or tip the whole structure.
"Wait for them to break the glass and enter," Dee told her companions. "We don't want to do any of their work for them." For the moment, only isolated limbs were pressing through the openings, the teeming mass outside crushing those in front against the walls. But soon, the doors gave way and broke inward. The clamor of shotgun-fire rang loud against the stone construction of the building. The noise drew the attention of more zombies from outside, and soon they were clawing at the windows, trying to break through rather than idly reaching for the group on the roof.
The zombies were literally climbing on top of each other to get through the windows. At each entrance, the living were holding off Zed with their shotguns, but he kept coming and coming. As they piled up outside and inside, it became hard to see as the firelight was gradually blocked. Seamus shouted for flashlights, and soon four more people had joined each barricade, painting targets with their lights, which served both to reduce redundant shooting and increase accuracy.
The zombies just kept coming. Cameron ordered supplies to be hauled to the roof to make more grenades: motor oil, glass bottles, and shirts. Ethan was able to haul up a jug of gasoline all by himself, so he did that while the rest of the grenadiers grabbed the other supplies. Fifteen of the last thirty gallons of gasoline were designated for use to make more Molotov cocktails - Cameron set half of the grenadiers to keep assembling them after two dozen had been made, who would then rotate after they had made replacements while the previous throwers made more. In that way, they could keep bombarding Zed without running out of grenades.
With most of the attention focused on the roof and the two entranceways, the bay doors to the shipping docks and the auto garage were holding, as was the fence surrounding the garden center. Back at the storefront, bodies had piled up so high as to seal the entrances. The gunners had a few minutes of respite from the assaulting mob, but soon, the dead bodies at the top of the pile began moving again. The flashlights revealed that they were not reanimating; the trampling swarm outside was beginning to churn the pile of bodies underfoot as they clambered up the mounting dead. Runners were sent to fetch more shells, and a few minutes later the assault renewed.
Zed just kept coming. His numbers were in the tens of thousands, and the defenders just didn't have the supplies to fuel their resistance. It was three hours into the battle, and the corpses at the entranceway were piling up within arm's reach of the top row of shopping carts. The zombies were coming in steadily over the churn of dead bodies, but the view to the outside was still blocked. With no idea how many more there were, and shells running low, Dee gave the order for retreat. She told everyone to head to the roof, then went over to Seamus' barricade, where he was in the same situation.
"Seamus, let's get to the roof!"
"The fuck, Dee? Just give 'em the store?"
"No. We'll have to take it back. But we can't hold them here. They're piling up, and soon they'll just crawl in over the barricade."
Seamus grumbled in protest, but was powerless to argue. He didn't like this option, but couldn't think of a better one at the moment, so he complied. They still had some time before the zombies entered the store proper, so everyone grabbed backpacks and brought food, water, and weapons up to the roof. They made as many trips as they could, until the first zombie was spotted clambering over the barricade. Then they removed the ladders from the lifts, lowered the lifts to just within the ladder's reach, and finally hauled the ladders to the roof after everyone was up.
The hatches were shut. They were safe for the moment, but Zed was still coming. They had nothing to do but get what sleep they could, and hope that the zombies lost interest by the morning. The screams died down as the fires went out, but the moans persisted long into the night.

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