Monday, February 2, 2009

Rendezvous: Chapter 5

Dee and Sam managed to pull themselves back together. They found rubbing alcohol in the bathrooms and used that to wash the gore from Dee’s body and sterilize the bloodstains on their clothes. Dee found a clean shirt in one of the closets. Then they took Tom’s keys and pistol and went out to the truck. A good deal of the liquor was still in the back, but the pills were nowhere to be found. Dee had brought her prescription bottles in to double-check names, and those were also missing. After a good half-hour of searching, they finally gave up. There were other pharmacies, they’d just have to look. Dee drove back to Walgreen’s, smoking the whole way, while Sam familiarized herself with the pistol’s anatomy under Dee’s instruction, and then unloaded it to practice squeezing the trigger without flexing her wrist.
When they got to the station wagon, Dee realized that she hadn’t eaten all day. She spotted a pallet of energy bars and got them down with the forklift, ate three of them, and then loaded the rest of the pallet into the truck and hopped back in the cab. Sam double-checked the load on the station wagon, thanked Fortune that it was undisturbed, and got in the driver’s seat. The two drove slowly back to the Dojo.
Seamus Kast couldn’t believe his ears. He had been listening with rapt attention to the walkie-talkie for the past four hours, only interrupting to radio Jack to open the door when Kevin and Cameron returned. The town was dead quiet; the only activity he had seen all day was a few people going into the church on the next block.
He recognized the truck from the night before as it came into view, going the wrong way down the street once more. Through the binoculars, he saw Dee driving it alone, Sam’s wagon behind her, both vehicles loaded with goods. He breathed a sigh of relief and filled Jack in on the situation. After the vehicles were parked in front of the door, a group of people from upstairs helped haul in all the stuff. Food and water went to the kitchen area, shelving units were staged on the roof. Seamus kept lookout from the Crow's Nest while Kevin and Cameron stood at the ready for any interruptions to their operation. People noticed the bloodstains on the girls’ clothing, but all questions were deferred until later.
Once everyone was back inside, Dee and Sam informed the group that they got kidnapped by the football team, but they got drunk and there was a big fight and they all got killed or ran away. It was the truth, just not the whole truth. They also disclosed the fact that they now had a gun, and it was to be kept in the Crow’s Nest with the binoculars and one of the walkie-talkies. They would haul the chest up there to store those, as well as some food and water. Kevin and Cameron informed them that the West Wal-Mart had no visible activity, but there were vehicles in the parking lot; the Home Depot was deserted, but Menards and the East Wal-Mart were pretty packed. The mall was a fucking warzone, though, as were both hospitals in town. Bad news - if medical supplies were already being fought over, they could be in dire straits indeed.
Once everyone had been updated, Jack switched door duty with Cole, and went to the roof with Sam, Dee, Kevin, and Cameron. Seamus greeted them and switched the walkie-talkie back to the door frequency. After filling him in on the day’s adventures, he related his discoveries.
“Ships at sea have managed to set up a sort of ring of communication. The entire world is in blackout. East Coast has it from Europe and Africa, West Coast from Asia and Australia. Planes were having a bitch of a time landing until they prioritized by fuel level. Lots of people are saying it’s the end of the world.”
“What,” asked Sam, “Four Horsemen, dead rising from their graves, all that bullshit?”
“Actually - yes. Zombies and all.”
“Oh, can it,” Dee said with impatience. “Whatever’s going on, the real stuff is bad enough. We don’t need rumors freaking people out.”
“I’m serious,” Seamus insisted. “There’s been war, famine, pestilence, and death - riots, crop fields drying up, rampant disease, and - well, death. Oh, and zombies in the streets, too.”
“Get a fuckin' hold of yourself,” she retorted. “Any large-scale disaster, and I think this fucking qualifies, will result in riots, food shortage, and disease outbreaks as infrastructure fails, all of which adds up to, hey: MORE. DEATH.”
“OK, but fucking zombies?” Seamus wasn’t letting this go.
“I don’t fuckin’ know, maybe shell-shock victims or crazies. It’s probably all exaggerated, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, “Dee’s probably right.”
Jack cocked an eyebrow at Dee. “Y’know, for someone who’s been waiting for a zombie apocalypse to happen, you don’t sound too excited about this.”
“First off,” Dee said with a sigh, “Even if I hadn’t been joking about that, just because I want something to be true doesn’t mean I’ll believe it as soon as someone suggests it. I like zombie movies because it’s an excuse to kill en masse, except they’re not 'really' people, so it’s OK. Second, wishing doesn’t make it so - my desires one way or the other won’t affect the reality of the situation.”
“Jeez, Dee.” The sarcastic tone hadn’t left Jack’s voice. “No wonder no religion would take you. You don’t know the first thing about blind faith, do you?” Dee rolled her eyes and lit a cigarette. “All I know is, if any zombies show up, I’m grabbing that gun and shooting myself in the face as soon as possible. I don’t want to be zombie food.”
“Better one in the head than the living dead,” Cameron added with a nod.
“Say, Cam,” Kevin said, pulling at his goatee. “Earlier, at the mall and the hospitals. You think -?” Cameron scratched his head for a moment and shrugged.
“Your guess is as good as mine, man. Those would be the first places for a zombie outbreak, though, if I had to pick.”
“You guys are serious,” Sam asked, echoing Dee’s thoughts. “You’re actually taking this seriously?”
“What do you think is more fucking likely?” Seamus was raising his voice. “That everyone, coast to fucking coast, is exaggerating zombie reports to scare one another, or that there’s actually some fucking truth to this? Don’t forget that the entire world is without a functioning power plant. I don’t think zombies are that big of a jump on the impossibility scale.”
“No, you’re right,” Dee said, exhaling smoke. “The last couple days have been really fucking rough. If these outbreak stories are everywhere, then there’s probably something to ‘em. Besides, there are already documented parasites that induce zombie-like behavior in their hosts - the sacculina parasite, the rabies virus, that jungle fungus that infects the ants. Fucked up as it is -“ she paused to take another drag. “I dunno. It could happen. But I’m still gonna have to see a zombie before I believe it.” At the back of her mind, she thought that if there was indeed a zombie outbreak, at least everyone would have something to keep them occupied.
The sun was still up, so Dee set about building a rain cache with the help of Seamus and Ethan. They welded shelves together in a wide V shape to catch as much rain as possible, with the holes at the front of the shelves at the bottom of the V. Below the holes, they placed rain gutters from around the roof, which fed into the neighbors’ bathtub which they’d hauled out for the purpose. Everything was bolted to a wooden frame they rigged up on the spot.
As the sun went down, they started drawing up schematics for the distillery, which was tomorrow’s project. Coming up with something that would work was no problem, the challenge was to design something they could actually build. The main headaches they were running into were the matters of cooling the steam quickly enough, and removing the distillate receptacle for continuous operation, should the opportunity of heavy rainfall arise. With sub-optimal equipment and the inability to machine custom parts, it was a more complex task than they had foreseen.
Another party erupted on the roof. Hank and Mary shared the last of their marijuana with anyone who cared to partake, and alcohol was still plentiful. There was a bit of nervous tension, since everyone had been informed of the worldwide blackout and the zombie rumors, but the overall tone was one of apocalyptic revelry. If this was indeed the end of the world, none of the college students wanted to miss out on what might be their last chance to party hearty. Nobody was formally given lookout or door duty, but various individuals volunteered throughout the night, so there wasn’t a lapse in security. After Kevin discovered two other people having sex in his bed, improvised “Vacant/Occupied” signs were taped to the doors of every bedroom. Normally, he would have been upset over this, but his sense of hospitality told him that selfishness in this situation just wouldn’t help anything.
Tom Morrigan was staring out a window on the second-floor of his house, holding a shot of tequila in his right hand. The left one ran through his hair, and came to rest at the back of his head, where he firmly massaged the stiff muscles at the top of his neck. Linda was sprawled on an enormous bean bag, staring at the ceiling, a half-empty beer bottle within arm’s reach. Tom’s left hand fell to his side, and he did a few neck rolls, then picked up a wedge of lime.
“Well,” he said, contemplating his shot, “Here’s to cosmic fuck-ups and missed chances,” then downed the tequila and bit into the lime.
“You said it.” Linda reached for her bottle and took a long pull at it as she got to her feet and joined her husband at the window. He put his arm around her shoulder, she placed hers around his waist.
In the street below, people were literally tearing each other apart. Shambling figures, oblivious to the shovels and bats of their attackers, latched onto screaming victims with claw-like hands and ragged teeth. Tom emptied the last of the tequila into his shot glass and downed it, then went downstairs to perform a few last checks. He had locked and barricaded every door, boarded up every window, and turned off the generator. He scribbled something on a sheet of paper and then went back upstairs to join his wife, who had crawled into bed.
“You ready,” he asked as he settled in next to her.
“As I’ll ever be.” They embraced and kissed. Tom’s steady hand placed the note on the nightstand and returned with a bottle of sleeping pills.
Dee dreamed of zombies, rooftop shootouts, and long rides through barren countryside. The immensity on the horizon was closing in all around her, suffocating yet still out of sight. She couldn't outrun it, she couldn't fight it. She could feel the world closing in. Her tossing and turning woke Sam at several points throughout the night.
Friday morning arrived with hangovers for some, but renewed determination for most. Jack, the first to wake, went up to the Crow's Nest to take lookout. Kevin was up next, spotted Jack on duty, then made a note on the whiteboard that Jack was on lookout and he was taking door duty. He grabbed a book and headed downstairs.
Others woke up in various states, Dee somewhere in the middle. She had a brief moment of panic when she couldn't find her pills, then remembered the previous day's events and calmed down. This is OK, she told herself, I can handle this. She reasoned that as long as she made every attempt to keep a firm grip on reality, she ought to be able to keep it together. She then got a bottle of water and located the distillery schematics from last night. On a fresh sheet of paper, she attempted to draw up a new one, incorporating the best workable elements from each while trying to figure out how to solve the previous night's difficulties.
At some point, Dee realized that the generator hadn't been hooked up. The walkie-talkies had been charged on - what, Tuesday? Today was Friday morning, and - oh, Christ, how she needed a shower - but the walkies had been in almost continuous use. Even if the boys had rotated them based on battery level, they'd be close to empty now. She stepped out back with the charging dock, lighting a cigarette as she went to the roof, and worked on getting the generator running.
Jack August was sitting cross-legged in the Crow's Nest. He was looking through Cameron's binoculars with one eye, pretending he was a pirate in a real crow's nest surveying the horizon with a spyglass. There were no cars in the street, no planes in the air, no people on the sidewalks, and he had to come up with some way to keep his mind occupied.
Kevin radioed in to let Jack know that he was taking door duty. Jack responded, "Copy that," now feeling like a commando in some high-stakes military operation. Playing through the fantasy in his mind, he barely noticed as the back door opened and sounds of tinkering began on the main part of the roof below him.
Jack lowered the binoculars, leaned back, and stretched out his arms as he yawned. Looking around with both eyes now, he took in the sight of the ghost town below him. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning his head, he saw the silhouette of a single person in the morning light, a couple blocks North. Raising the binoculars to his eyes once more, he took a closer look.
It was a man. He walked haltingly, his head hanging limp from his shoulders, only occasionally raising it to look at the road ahead. He had bits of black stuff on his exposed skin. The shambling posture, the aimless wander, the empty expression - there was no doubt about it: this was a zombie.
Lowering the binoculars, Jack shrugged his shoulders and got to his feet. Walking to the chest, he opened it and retrieved the 9mm pistol that had been stashed there the night before. Setting the body of the weapon on the roof, he grabbed the clip and pushed a bullet into it. After sliding the clip up through the grip, he pulled the slide back, as he'd seen done in movies. Pressing the muzzle against the fleshy area between his chin and his throat, Jack closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger.
Damn, that fucker was hard to pull.
Jack squeezed harder. Even with both fingers, he was unable to fire the pistol.
Shit, he thought, I forgot to take the stupid safety off. Searching the device, he eventually found the lever that would allow him to escape the coming zombie hordes.
Wait a minute. Most of the zombie apocalypse scenarios Jack had envisioned involved him either being alone in his apartment with throngs of the living dead beating down his door, or being among the first to turn. Barricaded in the Dojo, with days of food and water and a distillery in the works, he was in much better shape than he had imagined he ever would be. Jack found the button to release the clip, pulled the slide back again to eject the round in the chamber, and placed the whole mess back in the chest. Walking to the edge of the Crow's Nest, he spotted Dee working at the generator.
"Hey, Dee!"
"Yeah-huh?" Or did she say, Yeah, hon? It was one of her eccentricities that Jack had never been able to figure out. The first opportunity of his new lease on life did not escape him.
"Did you say, 'Yeah - huh,' or, 'Yeah, hon?'"
"Err - well, I actually mean 'Yeah - huh,' but I try to make it sound ambiguous."
"Oh. OK. Well, you should come up here and take a look at this."
Dee set her tools down, casually stood, brushed off her knees and the seat of her pants, and then walked over to the ladder and climbed up to join Jack.
"What's up?"
"Well, I was looking around, and - I think that's a zombie." Dee took the binoculars and peered through them for a long moment. Her curiosity satisfied, she handed them back to Jack.
"Yep, I'd say so. Goddamn."
"So what's the plan, then?"
"Well." Dee paused to think a moment. "We'll only get surrounded here. We need more exit points. I think the thing to do is to head to Wal-Mart."
"OK. I'll go tell the others."
"Hey, what ever happened to shooting yourself in the head?"
"Oh, that. Well, I tried, but I forgot to take the safety off. Then I realized that I'm much better off than I thought I'd be, so I decided to see how this goes."
"Oh. Good." Dee nodded thoughtfully, almost indifferently. Jack was slightly disappointed. He knew that Dee was a lesbian, but still, he had kinda hoped that she would be more upset at the prospect of his death - for some reason or another. No, Jack realized, he just hoped that she was attracted to him.
He had always wondered what it would be like to fuck a lesbian.

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