This short story is set in the Immortal Virus world. I had originally conceived this as a storyline for my novels, but never found a place for it. Still, it was a story that needed to be told. Please accept this as a thank you for the support and patience you have shown me. I promise new material will be forthcoming.
It had been years since the pandemic wiped out most of the population. The larger cities were now little more than ghost towns. Bird calls echoed through the man-made canyons formed by the now empty buildings and could often be heard from over a mile away. Rats and other scavengers picked through the remnants of the now dead society that had built the once bustling city. Mother Nature was slowly reclaiming the land that was once Hers, though it would be centuries before even She could wipe out all traces of the men that often believed themselves capable of holding dominion over Her; but Mother Nature was nothing if not patient.
Even after the passage of so many years he could occasionally recall with great clarity what life had been like before the pandemic. More often than not it was certain smells that brought the past rushing back to him and made him miss the people who had once been his family. But even those memories were fading, and the once familiar odors he had associated with them were disappearing from the Earth, along with sights and sounds that died with the ones he had loved without condition.
Surviving on his own had been difficult at first. He was still quite young when everyone he had known died, and he had relied heavily on them to provide for him. Water had been relatively easy to find initially, but soon the easy sources dried up, and he had to go searching for new ones. Food had been a challenge from the start. After a couple days without eating he had gotten desperate, and was ashamed at what he had been reduced to. But once he had escaped the immediate area of his home, he had discovered hunting skills he hadn’t been aware that he possessed.
He spent his first few weeks on his own. Those had been the worst days for him. He missed his family and longed to find others like himself. The world was much quieter than it had been, and the sounds of nature were much more apparent: birds singing, crickets chirping, the wind blowing through the trees. This made unnatural sounds stand out all the more clearer, and he spent many of those first weeks running from them. Fear ruled over him at the onset of his time alone, made worse by those men and women who had not died along with everyone else.
He had been overjoyed at the sight of the woman walking down the street, and that had almost gotten him killed. He rushed headlong towards the woman, howling in delight, ignoring his instincts that told him something about this woman wasn’t quite right. And as he closed in on her, she reached out, he though maybe to shake hands, or maybe she wanted to give him a hug. But then she snarled, a sound that was half moan and half growl and like nothing he had ever heard come from a person’s mouth before. He tried to pull up short, but in his excitement he was moving too fast, and they crashed together.
Tangled together in the middle of the street, he tried to break free from her, but she held him tightly and painfully in her arms. He thrashed wildly, scared and confused as to why someone would act like this. One of her hands found a painful grip on his neck, and the other suddenly had a hold of his ear. Fear gripped him as tightly as the woman, and suddenly there was fiery pain as she bit through his ear. He cried out in agony, whipping his head around until his own teeth found a purchase on her wrist. He bit down as hard as he could, the familiar taste of blood and meat filling his mouth, and the woman’s other hand released its hold on him. He rolled off of her and bolted, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the crazy woman.
His ear bothered him for days afterward, but eventually it would heal, though it would forever be notched in a half-moon shape. This was the first battle wound he had received, but it was far from the last. He quickly came to recognize the crazy people and gave them a wide berth. Most gave chase if they spotted him, but they were easily eluded. As he grew and learned how to survive in this new world, and found others like himself, these crazy people would no longer instill fear in him.
He couldn’t be certain how much time had passed since the world had changed for him, the days blurred together when every waking moment was a fight for survival, but the day he finally found another like himself had been both happy and painful. While he was becoming a more adept hunter, scavenging was still the easier way to acquire food. Though all the fresh food had long since rotted and decayed, there was still packaged food to be had if you knew where to look. His travels were carrying him farther from home and closer to the city. He had been in a supermarket and had just discovered something that he had often been given by his family when the quiet inside the store was disturbed.
He froze in place. The gloom within the store caused no fear, he had grown accustomed to moving through structures lacking any unnatural light. But caution was always called for. He slowly moved his head around in an attempt to pinpoint where the sound had originated from when a dark shape rounded the end of the aisle. The shape was slightly smaller in stature, and leaner, likely due to inferior hunting and scavenging skills. But hunger can make one bolder, and more likely to fight for food that could otherwise be shared.
This case was no exception and the shaped charged forward. He held his ground, waiting for the shape to close the distance before springing to attack. They fought in near silence, with just the occasional grunt or involuntary yelp of pain when a particularly fierce attack landed, to attest to the potentially life or death struggle that was occurring. But he was better fed and stronger, and he soon had his opponent pinned to the ground. He had sustained only a few scratches and punctures in that fight before his opponent submitted; in the end they both ate well, and he now had a companion.
As time went on, others joined their little band, and they looked to him as their leader. He showed them where to find water, and how to hunt, and they quickly learned to work together as a cohesive unit. Smaller, weaker members fell by the wayside. Occasionally others would challenge him for the lead, but he was just entering his prime and repelled any challenges fiercely and without mercy. Soon, they had a territory staked out on the outskirts of the city and they defended it with equal savagery and ruthlessness. Even the crazy people that wandered into their domain were dispatched quickly and efficiently.
On rare occasion, they crossed paths with people who weren’t crazy, but the time spent hunting and scavenging on their own had made all outsiders unwelcome, and in lean times, potentially prey. There were times when they would have to shift their territory due to a lack of game or scavenging, and they were once forced to move when a larger group invaded their turf and pushed them out. But for the most part he led his group well, kept them fed, and even expanded their numbers.
As with all things, as time passed and he grew older. He had earned the respect of his followers, and they remained loyal to him as long as they could. But eventually the younger members of the group grew to an age where they wanted their chance to lead, and he could no longer fend off their challenges. His time had passed, and after a particularly brutal fight, he found himself once again on his own.
He wandered for days, finding water where he could, and scavenging for what meager scraps he could find. His knowledge of hunting was still there, but he was on his own and his ability and speed were no longer what they had once been. When he had left his group, he hadn’t had a destination in mind, but as he looked around, his surroundings felt familiar. As he continued onwards he soon recognized where he was, and broke into a run. He charged up the steps to the front porch, but the door was still closed and locked as he had left it all those years ago. He made his way to the back and entered the house through the same screen door he had escaped through.
He roamed through the house, examining the rooms of the home he had grown up in. The remains of his family were where he had left them and a soft cry escaped his throat. Finally, he made his way to the kitchen and found the item that he somehow remembered as being the first thing that had belonged to him alone. He pawed it, disturbing years of accumulated dust, gave it a sniff, and then lay down next to the bowl with the word “Buddy,” printed on the side. And with a last, soft whimper, his eyes fell shut.
I would like to shut the CB off, but Bert said we should leave it on in case someone else happens to make contact. That’s easy for him to say, the radio isn’t in his apartment and he doesn’t have to listen to the asshole’s incessant taunts. I did turn the volume down though, and I’m writing in my room with the door closed so that all I can hear is a muffled droning. If it happens to change in pitch I’ll get up and check it, but odds are nobody is going to try to break in to have a conversation with us tonight.
Yesterday afternoon we got everything set up in the lobby we would need to replace the glass doors with the steel ones. The three of us went over the plan and what our parts were multiple times so that when the time came we could execute it quickly and without any mistakes. Once we were certain we had it down pat, it was just a matter of waiting for nightfall.
A little before midnight, I slipped out the back of the building with a bicycle taken from one of the apartments; mine was still lying outside a car dealership a few blocks away. For me, this was the scariest part of the plan. We needed to make sure the assholes weren’t nearby watching. The night was clear, and though the moon was only half visible, with no lights in the city it was enough to see by. I rode quickly around our building to the one the assholes were using to spy on us. I didn’t see their car, so I continued around to all the neighboring buildings to make sure they hadn’t moved. There were only a few zombies up and moving around and I wondered briefly if they had been third-shift workers before the pandemic. Then I returned to the front of our building where Beth and Bert were waiting on me.
The zombies around our building were all sleeping, a few were even snoring which struck me as funny; the virus could stop aging and repair bullet wounds, but apparently a deviated septum still required surgery. Bert and Beth were staring at me as I pushed through the glass doors chuckling to myself. After assuring them I hadn’t lost my marbles and that the coast was clear, we got to work.
Beth’s job was to stand out front and keep watch for the assholes and curious zombies. She was wearing dark clothes and was armed with a pistol and my R/C truck with the monkey duct-taped to it. Bert and I quickly began removing the glass doors from the steel frame they were mounted in. We then removed the hinges from the glass doors and attached them to the steel doors which we had already had drilled and prepped to receive the new hinges. The steel doors were smaller than the doors they were replacing, so Bert had taken a third door, cut it down and welded extensions onto the doors we were using to make them bigger. Once the new doors were in place, Bert welded brackets onto the doorframe, two about a foot from the top, two in the middle, and two a foot from the bottom of the door. The whole process took us almost an hour.
After pulling Beth back inside, we slid steel beams made from another door into the brackets to barricade the doors. Now if anyone wanted to get in through the front of the building they would have to remove the cars and break through the windows, or find one hell of a battering ram. We have already boarded up the windows in the first floor apartments, so we all felt pretty safe now. This didn’t mean it was impossible for anyone to get in, but we felt relatively certain we could repel most attacks, or at least anything the assholes might attempt.
We got up this morning feeling pretty good about ourselves. And though Beth headed into her lab after breakfast, Bert and I thought we had earned a day off. We placed bets as to when we thought the assholes would notice our new entryway and then set about our day of relaxation. It was early evening, and much later than both of us had predicted, when Asshole #1’s voice erupted from the CB.
“Do you morons think a couple of new doors will keep us out if want to get in? Hell, we’ll use your own big-ass forklift to plow right through them.”
I considered this for a moment; I had the keys, so they would have to know how to hotwire it to get it going. Additionally, if we heard them start it up, or actually using it or anything else to attempt to break through the doors, we could just shoot down at them from any of the upper windows. After a moment I glanced at Bert who just shook his head, probably coming to the same conclusion I had.
I keyed the mike and replied, “Go ahead and try. If you morons think that those doors are our only security measure, then I have to wonder how you managed to survive this long.” It wasn’t entirely true, but we did have plans.
I imagined the shocked look on their faces before Asshole #1 responded. “Fuck you, kid. That’s it. Playtime is over. Our only mission now is to kill you. Everyone else is getting a pass until I’m standing over your dead body and pissing in your stupid fucking face. A little electricity and a crappy birdhouse doesn’t make you king shit of Seattle. We’re going to kill you, the old man, and the doctor bitch, and then we’re going to move into your fucking home. Then we’ll mount your heads over the doors you just installed to warn everyone else what happens if they try to fuck with us.”
Bert just gave me a shrug when I looked over at him with a cringe. Then he whispered as if the assholes might hear him, “We’ll get started on the booby traps first thing in the morning. I’m more interested in the fact that they are watching other survivors too.”
Nodding, I told him, “I caught that too. We need to figure out how to find them.” Then I spoke into the mike, “Umm, okay. Good luck with that. It’s dinnertime over here so I’m going to hang up now and start cooking. Bye asshole.”
Bert chuckled as Asshole #1 flew into a rage and began launching expletive-laced threats at us. He’s taken a couple breaks, probably to quench a dry throat, but he’s still at it. The guy has probably been a bully his whole life, and he’s probably been able to back it up most of the time. I’m nervous, but it’s a different world now and every day I survive makes me a little more confident. Having Bert here certainly helps. We have the advantage here and I think we can take this guy if he tries anything. Maybe we can sneak out and install a car alarm in the forklift.
We’re going to put the new doors on the front of the building tomorrow night, assuming all goes well. I was playing with the ham radio this morning before breakfast; we haven’t done much with it since setting it up because other items were a priority. There are a lot of knobs and switches on the thing and I discovered you could set the radio to scan through the frequencies rather than trying to do it manually. So I set it and began making breakfast. The three of us were sitting down to eat when the radio hit on a channel that was broadcasting a message on a loop:
“This is Father Ryland Bickmore. We are in the sanctuary of New Bethlehem, located due south of Lewistown, Montana. If you are seeking refuge from the demons that walk the Earth and the protection of God and Jesus, you will be welcomed here.
“I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. John, chapter 11, verses 23 through 26.”
While the three of us aren’t overly zealous in our beliefs, we all believe in God and are relatively familiar with the Bible. The Bible verses the priest quoted seemed an odd choice until Bert pointed out that the man could be like me, or at the very least had someone in his “sanctuary” that was infected with the virus like I was. We left the radio broadcasting on that frequency and heard Father Bickmore himself break in about 30 minutes later:
“Blessed morning to you, brothers and sisters. This is Father Ryland Bickmore, shepherd to my flock of faithful here in New Bethlehem. The number of believers seeking God’s protection has grown once again with the arrival of a young man who was a paramedic before God’s wrath loosed a plague upon the Earth. Only through prayer and his faith in Jesus did brother Stuart survive the gauntlet of Satan’s minions. If you too are a believer, make your way here to New Bethlehem. Jesus watches over us on this holy land where no demon dares walk. God Himself has chosen me to lead and minister to His children here on Earth. He brought me back to gather the faithful together in this sanctuary, safe under His healing hands and protected from the unholy demon scourge.
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen. Revelation, chapter 1, verses 17 and 18.”
The broadcast went back to the looping message after that. Beth surmised from his short sermon that this Father Bickmore was indeed like me in that he contracted the virus and survived; how intact his mind remained was up for debate. We all agreed that contacting the people of New Bethlehem would not benefit us, but at least we knew that there were other survivors out there and it was just a matter of time before more began using ham radios to connect with one another. We also knew that there was at least one place we could run to if we got desperate.
Beth headed off to her lab, and Bert and I began making preparations for securing the front of the building. We also made some busy work for ourselves on the roof so that the assholes didn’t get suspicious.
Everyday I seem to find something new I suck at. We took for granted that help with just about anything was a phone call or a few mouse clicks away. I was exceedingly lucky that I found Bert, even if he did shoot me when I first spotted him. He is far more knowledgeable about pretty much everything than I am. It is probably due to the fact he grew up before computers and the Internet and smart phones, and the people of his generation were expected to be more self-sufficient. Sure, I can code and fix a computer and tell you the back-story of pretty much every Marvel character, but those skills really don’t transfer to a world where society has collapsed and zombies outnumber humans by a pretty significant ratio.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a handyman. Fortunately Bert is quite capable around tools and is teaching me what I need to know. And what he doesn’t know we are picking up in books we have acquired. While I may not be handy, I am trainable. We decided that our first priority if we were going to hole up for awhile would be to install the new solar panels. This would keep Beth off of our backs and allow her to do her research and use her equipment while we did our work and could use the power tools at the same time.
Over the past week we’ve occasionally caught glimpses of the assholes watching us work and they periodically taunted us over the CB, but they haven’t shown any signs of trying to get into our building. Beth suggested that they might be waiting until we finished everything on the roof so that they wouldn’t have to do it themselves. Bert and I have discussed this and have been drawing up plans to make the building more secure. The weakest entry point is still the front of the building. The cars piled up in front of widows to either side of the doors are great, but the doors themselves are still glass and easily broken. The stairwell doors are all steel reinforced security doors, so our plan is to replace the glass doors with two of the stairwell doors and then add a crossbar or two to secure them. Once we have all the details worked out, it will have to be done quickly and at night when the assholes aren’t watching.
We also finished building our pigeon coop this week. We placed it on the opposite end of the roof as far from the solar panels and water collection as possible; we don’t want to be cleaning bird crap off of the solar panels all day long, and the water is mostly covered and is being filtered but thought of all those birds bathing and shitting in our water is just, gross. Attracting the birds to our coop shouldn’t be too difficult; there are plenty in the area and we’re using seeds (sesame, sunflower, poppy) that we’ve found in the apartments. Hopefully we can get a bunch in here and breeding soon. It will be nice to have some fresh food for a change.
You would think that the end of civilization would leave you with a lot of free time on your hands, but it seems that the opposite is true; the amount of work that is required to survive is never-ending. On the bright side, all the work keeps your mind off the much greater potential for death in this new world.
After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that we only needed to venture out of the building one more time, at least for the time being. There was quite a bit of work we needed to do here: finish clearing the apartments, complete Beth’s lab and isolation ward, build the pigeon coops and garden on the roof, and many other minor tasks to make the building livable and, hopefully, self-sustaining. All we needed was the equipment to generate a little more electricity.
Our hope was that if we could remain inside for an extended period, the assholes would no longer find us amusing and they would move on. We would still be at risk if they acquired a high power rifle and tried to shoot us from one of the taller buildings nearby, but since there were only three of them, it seemed unlikely that they would attempt to break in and attack us. We had the home field advantage, so to speak. So we just needed to survive one more scavenging run.
Beth asked a question that prompted a solution to the first problem we had: where can we find equipment to generate more electricity? What she asked was, “Where did the solar panels we already have come from?” I’m not sure how old the building is, but it certainly was built before green energy began becoming more commonplace. We went down to the super’s apartment, searched his office and found his maintenance files for the solar panels. The company that manufactured, installed, and serviced them was local, and we obtained their address. Unfortunately that was the easy part of the problem. We then had to come up with a plan to go out, get the new solar array, and get it back here and inside the building.
The assholes weren’t watching us constantly. We didn’t believe that they had taken up residence across the street. So we decided our best chance was to make our run at night. Bert and I would take my forklift to the company’s location, use it to get into their warehouse, and then haul the equipment back here. Once we had it here, we could take our time figuring out how to get it up to the roof and install it. It seemed pretty straightforward, and the sooner we did it, the less likely the assholes were going to catch us.
We waited until midnight, saw no obvious signs that the assholes were in the area, unless they were using night vision goggles to watch us, and headed out. Neither Bert nor I had made any scavenging runs at night; going out in the dark with zombies running around seemed like a very bad idea. What we learned was that we were mistaken in our thinking. While the zombies may have been monsters of a sort, they were still essentially human, though their intelligence was likely lower than most animals. And all animals, humans included, needed to sleep.
Though we spotted a few zombies moving about on our trip to the solar panel company, most that we saw appeared to have just stopped where they were and went to sleep when the need came over them. The forklift was by no means a quiet vehicle, and any zombies we passed close to were awakened, though few arose to pursue us. There were several zombies along our route that had chosen to sleep in the street, and the forklift’s giant tires made their slumber permanent.
The company was located just outside of the Atlantic neighborhood of Seattle, and right off of I-90 in a small industrial park. The only vehicles in the area appeared to be work vehicles: pick-up trucks, vans, and larger commercial trucks. There weren’t any obvious zombies in the area around the building, and the lack of personal vehicles seemed like a good sign that there would be no zombies inside. There was a single large bay door on the loading dock that we would have to get open. The building attached to our target building belonged to a dog kennel/grooming business and had a smaller bay door with a chain-link gate in front of it; both were open.
Using a crowbar, Bert got the door to the solar company open and we made a quick search of the building to make sure we weren’t going to get any surprises. Everything in the warehouse was neatly organized and clearly labeled, and we found what we needed already palletized. After moving what we wanted next to the bay door, Bert figured out how to open the big door manually, and I got ready to pull our new solar panels out onto the dock. When the bay door cleared my head, I started pulling the loaded pallet jack out.
The sound of growling sent a chill through me and I froze. I was wearing an LED lamp on my head and turned slowly to look over my right shoulder. The concrete loading dock where I stood was about four feet above street level. As I angled my head down, half a dozen sets of glowing eyes looked back at me. The light then revealed the sharp teeth beneath the eyes of the growling canines.
“Oh shit,” Bert whispered from the bay door behind me.
“What do I do?” I whispered back.
“Don’t make any sudden moves.”
“No problem. I’m too scared to move.”
“Very carefully, let go of the pallet jack, and slowly make your way back into the warehouse.”
“Okay.” I let the jack’s handle rise back up into place and eased my hand off of it as the dogs continued to growl at me. They all looked to be medium to large sized dogs, perfectly capable of doing me great harm if they chose to. Without taking my eyes off of them, I backed towards the bay door, bumping against the crated solar panels. I heard a chain rattle as Bert began to lower the big metal door.
At the sound of the chain links clinking together, one of the dogs charged forward and tried to leap onto the loading dock. It got its front paws and head over the edge, and I heard the claws of its back paws scratching against concrete as it tried to gain purchase and pull itself all the way up. That was enough for me and I spun and bolted for the warehouse. Screaming, I jumped up and grabbed the bottom of the bay door in an effort to use my weight to close it faster. The rest of the dog pack broke and ran for the stairs up to the loading dock.
“Get it shut! Get it shut!” I hollered at Bert.
“I’m trying!” Bert shouted back as he pulled on the chain for all he was worth. My feet touched the ground and I continued pulling the door down, losing sight of the dogs. The bay door slammed to the ground, the crash echoing through the warehouse, as the lead dog collided into it. The pack barked and snarled as I dropped to the ground breathing heavily.
As the dogs scratched at the metal door, Bert sat down next to me and said, “Looks like there’s one more danger we have to watch out for.”
“Think if we just chucked a tennis ball out there we could get away?”
Bert laughed, “You have one?”
“Nope, not on my scavenging list.”
“Not sure it would have worked anyway. I suspect they’ve been dealing with the zombies long enough that they probably don’t trust anything on two legs anymore.”
I thought about that for a minute and then asked, “So shouldn’t they have just run away when they saw us?”
Bert shook his head and replied, “My guess is that when they come across a horde they’ll run. But it looks to me like they’re reverting to their old instincts and pack behavior. They need to scavenge for food just like the rest of us, and when it’s not readily available they hunt. I didn’t notice any smaller dogs out there,” he reported, not having to add that this probably meant they’d been eaten. “And they’ve probably figured out that one or two zombies on their own are relatively easy kills for them.”
“Great, the top of the food chain is starting to get crowded. Any ideas?” The dogs were still scratching and sniffing at the bottom of the bay door.
Bert looked around the warehouse for a few seconds and the light from his headlamp came to rest on an electric forklift. He then said, “They are just dogs, I bet they’ll still scare fairly easily.”
The forklift’s battery still held a charge. Bert drove it up to the door and slid the forks underneath it. When he gave me a nod, I started banging on the door and screaming at the top of my lungs. As he started raising the door with the forklift, I jumped up next to him and he began leaning on the horn and yelling along with me. We both had our guns out just in case, but when the door was high enough we saw the pack hightailing it down the street.
As we got our pallets loaded onto our big forklift, Bert explained that the dogs were still skittish since we weren’t that far removed from the pandemic. But it wouldn’t be long before they lost that fear and became the wild animals that they had once been. It wasn’t that noticeable in the city yet, but old Mother Nature would be reclaiming a lot of things man had attempted to steal from her.
We got the solar panels back to our building and inside without running into the assholes, or any other trouble. I think we’ve only gotten a small taste of what the world has in store for us in the future. Zombies, other humans, now wild animals; surviving isn’t just about finding food and shelter; it’s going to be a daily struggle to hold onto what we’ve already found. I wonder if there will ever come a point when I’ll feel like my only option is to try and take what someone else has found…
While Bert was setting up the radio gear yesterday, I went through the six apartments on the fourth floor we were going to use for Beth’s isolation ward. I basically gutted them, setting aside anything that might be of use in the future and dumping the rest into another apartment. Though there wasn’t any danger of a zombie using anything as a weapon, we didn’t want to leave any places to hide, or anything to hide behind. I’m still not entirely comfortable keeping zombies in the building on purpose, but I understand why Beth needs them. And I have made it clear that if even a minor loss of containment occurs, I will kill the zombies and there will be no more live studies in the building; Bert backed me up on this.
When Bert was ready to setup the antenna for the radio, I went up on the roof with him to keep an eye out for the assholes. The roof of the building isn’t just one flat surface; some sections are higher than others, there are some low walls that separate the roof of one apartment from the next, and there are structures that house elevator and A/C equipment. So while Bert didn’t have to stand out in the open to mount the antenna, he did need to run wires, and that left him briefly exposed. It also made us both more comfortable knowing I was watching his back.
Along with the short wave radio, Bert also hooked up a CB radio so that we could communicate with Beth when went out scavenging. We also planned to use the CB to contact the assholes. Once Bert finished connecting the antenna, we placed a sign on the roof where the assholes couldn’t help but see it saying that they should call us on CB channel 13. Part of the idea of the sign was to hopefully spook them a bit by letting them know that we knew that they were watching us. Beth asked us why we didn’t just sneak out the back, circle around to building where they were watching us from, and then kill them. Bert pointed out that neither he nor I were Navy SEALs, and that kind of action was much more likely to get us killed.
Bert and I sat staring at the CB all morning, and he explained everything he knew about using the short wave radio as we waited. Both of us jumped when a voice came over the CB at around noon. I’ll recount the conversation as best I can:
“What the hell are you people doing over there? And how is that peckerwood we shot still alive?”
We hadn’t really discussed what to say, so I had to wing it. “What we’re doing is trying to survive, same as everyone else that’s left. Why are you going out of your way to keep us from doing that?”
“It’s survival of the fittest, and we didn’t think you looked very fit. Neither did the two old farts you’re running around with.”
“Surviving isn’t just about strength you dumbass. One of those ‘old farts’ is a doctor. Possibly the only one left in the world. You really think it’s a good idea to kill her just because she’s a little older. You assholes don’t seem very fit to me.”
“So you’re still alive because the doctor patched you up. Maybe we should just take you out and take the doctor for ourselves.”
I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Beth was a doctor, but it was out there now and I couldn’t take it back. “Look, you saw us bring in all that stuff from the hospital, right?”
“Yeah. You setting up your own private clinic or something?”
“Not exactly. The doctor is studying the virus. She’s trying to figure out if there’s a cure for it.”
I heard laughter in the background as he responded; “You really think there’s a cure for the zombies? Maybe your doctor ain’t that smart after all. Did you check her diploma?”
“We’re not doing anything to hurt you, and there’s more than enough to scavenge in this city for all of us. There’s no reason for you to keep bothering us. If anything, you should be trying to work with us. But if that’s not possible, then just leave us the hell alone.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but there’s not a lot left to do besides scavenging and killing zombies. We’re bored. You three losers are providing us some much-needed entertainment. And we don’t give a good Goddamn if the old broad is a doctor, the president of the United States, or the Queen of the fucking zombies. We’re going to keep ‘bothering you’ because it amuses us to do so. Pile up all the cars you want in front of that building, keep as many zombies as you want around the building, but we’ll be watching. And once we’re done fucking with you, we will kill you. And there’s not a single fucking thing you can do to stop us. Over and fucking out.”
As I set the microphone down Bert said to me, “That didn’t go very well.”
“At least we now know exactly where we stand.”
“Any ideas what to do about it?”
I shook my head; “I’ve got nothing at the moment.”
“Guess we need to prepare for a fight.”
“I suppose we do.”
We spent the rest of the day working on Beth’s isolation rooms, figuring out how to generate more electricity, and wondering how to deal with the assholes.
As days during a zombie apocalypse go, this wasn’t a bad one. We left Beth in her lab fiddling with her equipment and Bert drove us to his marina. We took surface streets, staying on the same street for several blocks at a time to watch for the assholes, but never spotted them. Once at the marina, Bert and I took a boat ride.
As I mentioned before, the marina where Bert kept his boat docked was quite small. But about three miles to the northwest was the much, much larger, Elliot Bay Marina. Bert said that more than 1000 boats could dock there at any given time, and that included dock space for super-yachts. He believed that the Seattle Yacht Club, which had a building at the marina, would have the radio equipment we were looking for. We might also be able to find some useful equipment in the harbormaster’s office or in some of the larger boats.
The boat ride to the marina was fairly pleasant. Sure, the bodies of zombies floating in the Sound could be a bit disturbing, and the complete lack of life on shore was somewhat eerie, but if you ignored all that, it was a nice day and a peaceful trip. Bert had been to the marina a couple times since the outbreak, so he knew what expect when we got there.
More than a few people who had boats docked there had taken them out in the hopes of avoiding the effects of the pandemic. Approximately one-third of the berths were vacant. A few boats could be seen drifting in Puget Sound and Bert said he had approached a couple without seeing any life on board. I don’t know how many made it to the Pacific, or if they managed to avoid getting sick by doing so, but I do hope that some folks got lucky. I wonder if anyone who wasn’t immune to the virus could successfully have gotten away, and if they did, would they be able to return without getting sick now? That might be something for Beth to look into.
An approximately 2000 foot long breakwater protected the 14, 900-foot-long piers that made up the Elliot Bay Marina. Though both ends of the marina were open, about 1000 feet to the east was the Smith Cove cruise ship terminal, and this, along with the breakwater, kept many of the bodies of zombies from drifting out into the Sound. And there were quite a few bodies floating around the piers of the marina.
Bert piloted his boat into the marina, and between piers I and J, in order to dock as close to the yacht club’s building as possible. I heard bodies bumping against the hull, and could hear soft moans coming from a few of the docked vessels. The third mooring from the start of the pier was open, and Bert quickly docked and we got the boat tied up. Though there were no obvious zombies moving around near the piers, we had to be careful. There were some floating near the shoreline, and if any of those revived, as the floating zombies did periodically, they could gain there footing in the shallower water and come after us.
Bert led the way to the yacht club building and drew his pistol before entering. He informed me that he hadn’t ventured into the yacht club, and so I drew my tomahawks and prepared to follow him through the door. The blinds were drawn shut, so we couldn’t see inside. Bert tested the doorknob, and then he pushed the door open a crack. He looked back at me and I gave him a nod. Bert shoved the door and it swung about three inches, thumped against something, and bounced closed.
Bert chuckled and holstered his gun. He opened the door again and this time gave it a gentle push until it stopped. Leaning his shoulder against the door, Bert began putting his weight against it, slowly forcing the door open against whatever was blocking it, until the unknown object moaned and began moving on its own causing Bert to jump back with a shout. Adrenaline surged through me and I took a step past Bert, raising my leg and kicking the door right next to the doorknob as I had seen on so many TV cop shows. I was swinging the tomahawk in my right hand up, preparing to step through the door to take out the zombie that was behind it. But once again TV let me down. The door bounced off of the zombie, knocked the tomahawk out of my hand, and slammed into my face. Bert’s shock quickly turned into hearty laughter at the sight of me rubbing my now bleeding nose.
I was angry with Bert, the door, the zombie, and myself. So after retrieving my tomahawk, I took my anger out on the emaciated zombie; and the two others we found inside. Once my adrenaline was spent, I was left with embarrassment and a sore nose. I was also left with the snickering of Bert as we loaded the radio equipment onto his boat. In retrospect I could see how what had happened to me was funny, but I still find my ineptitude frustrating.
We spotted the asshole’s red BMW parked behind the triangular building when we got back. So we unloaded the radio gear in the alley behind our building. Once Bert gets it setup and working, we’ll see if we can’t figure out what these guys want.
For the last three days Bert and I have been going back and forth to the hospital collecting materials to create an isolation ward for zombies while Beth sets up her lab in another apartment. I have no idea if any of this work will help Beth find some kind of cure or immunization for the virus, but at least it gave us something to keep us busy for a little while. We decided to set up the lab on the floor below mine, and the isolation rooms two floors down.
Two issues have arisen during all this work. The first is that the solar panels on the roof don’t provide enough electricity to power our living quarters and Beth’s lab. Of course Beth’s initial reaction was that her work was of paramount importance and we should just cut the power to the living quarters. My response was to threaten to chuck her and her equipment out the window. The discussion sort of broke down at that point. Bert’s cooler head prevailed, and after calming us down he pointed out that we just needed to install more solar panels or some sort of wind turbine to generate more electricity.
The bigger issue was that I spotted the three assholes watching us. I caught glimpses of their red BMW tailing us between our building and the hospital. Also, there is a triangular shaped building diagonally south of ours that is two stories taller than our building, and I’m certain I’ve seen heads peeking over top of it. They have to be wondering what we are doing, and I can only assume that is what has kept them from attacking us when we go out. Bert seems to be as concerned as I am, but Beth is becoming lost in her work.
Bert and I have discussed trying to approach them, mounting our own attack against them, and ignoring them in the hopes they will just go away. Neither one of us believes that the assholes will just get bored and go away. Our biggest concern now is that there are several buildings taller than ours that could be within shooting distance if they decided to just try to pick us off. We’d rather not try to move as we have already done a great deal of work here, and seeing us moving might prompt them to attack. Neither Bert nor I have any commando training, so we are working on some sort of plan to communicate with the assholes.
Bert knows a little bit about ham radios, so we’re going to go find one tomorrow and try to set something up. Hopefully this will work…
I’ve never been a fan of haunted houses or horror movies. Having someone, or something, suddenly jump out and scare the crap out of me is not my idea of a good time. I know that there are many people who like the sudden rush of adrenaline, the hammering of their heart in their chest, and cold sweat induced by the fear that these activities bring about, but I just don’t get it. Perhaps it’s the fact that they know in the back of their minds that they aren’t in any true danger that allows them to find enjoyment in these sensations. I just don’t like being scared.
Unfortunately, necessity required that I walk into a building that I was unfamiliar with and knew contained an unknown number of zombies that would like nothing better than to eat me alive. Having both Bert and Beth with me did not ease any of the tension that I was feeling. I suppose that I didn’t really have to go into the hospital. I was perfectly content not knowing what made the virus tick. I didn’t need any of the items on Beth’s shopping list, nor did I need any of the materials to set up her isolation rooms. If Beth was right about what the virus is doing to me, then I most likely would never need any of the drugs she suggested we should look for either.
But if I’m going to have other people living in my building, and we’re going to work together for our mutual survival, then there are going to be times when I’m going to have to do things that I don’t particularly want to do. So I walked into that hospital with Bert and Beth. Bert hadn’t wanted Beth to come with us, but she knew her way around and it would save us a great deal of stumbling about in the dark looking for exactly what she wanted. The buildings on the hospital campus were all connected, though the ones separated by streets were only connected by walkways over the streets. We entered the hospital building that Beth said was primarily laboratory and research spaces.
We were a rather pathetic looking assault force: me with tomahawks in both hands and a gun hanging on my hip, Beth behind me with a pistol, and Bert bringing up the rear with a shotgun. We all wore LED lamps strapped to our heads to keep our hands free, and they did a good job of illuminating the hallway ahead of me. The building was quiet, and the halls were empty on the first floor. I kept expecting a zombie to jump out at me from one of the doorways, or at least smack a window as I passed a door, but it didn’t happen; which just made it worse the longer I went waiting for it to happen. Beth gave me directions, whispering behind me, and we made it to a stairwell.
I noted that there was a keycard reader next to the door, and I was really hoping the door wouldn’t open when I gave the handle a tug. But I guess that they wanted people to be able to get out in an emergency should the power go out and the door opened easily. The stairwell went all the way to the top of the building, and down two sub levels, and I listened carefully as the door clicked shut behind us. I attempted to peer up between the handrails, but my light only illuminated about three floors and didn’t really show me anything. But I continued to stare up into the darkness, straining my eyes and my ears in an effort to make certain we were alone in the stairwell.
Then Beth tapped me on the shoulder. I yelped loudly and am relatively certain my heart leaped hard enough to do actual physical damage inside my chest. I’m not sure if the virus kept me from passing out, but I suspect that without it, Beth would have had to put her medical skills to use to revive me.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Beth!” I hissed loudly. “You can not just sneak up on someone like that in a dark fucking stairwell that could be full of zombies!”
“Oh relax and grow a pair,” she responded, and actually had the nerve to sound annoyed at me. “You knew I was behind you. We only have to go up to the second floor. There is a lab there that should have all the equipment I need.”
I was about to snap at her again, but Bert caught my eye and just shook his head. I’m not sure if Beth could read the anger in my face. I suspect she is one of those doctors that are completely oblivious to other peoples’ feelings, having learned to tune them out in order to more easily deal with patients that could potentially die at any moment. So I inhaled deeply, released as much of the anger as I could, and then made my way to the next floor. After peering through the narrow window of the door and not seeing anything, I slowly pushed it open and stepped into the hall. Beth brushed past me, saw no obvious zombies, and took the lead.
When Bert saw the irritation in my eyes, he said softly, “You’ll get used to it.”
“Sure. You only needed 60 years.”
Bert snorted lightly, “That sounds about right.”
We followed after Beth, but didn’t catch up to her before she yanked open a door. Neither one of us could stop her as she raised her pistol and fired it into the lab. We found a zombie in a lab coat slumped over against a work table sporting a bullet hole in it’s head. Seemingly unfazed, Beth moved around the lab taking inventory.
“Damn it, Beth. BJ could have taken care of that one quietly. Do you want to bring every zombie in the building down on us?”
Ignoring her brother’s ire, Beth just said, “You two can start with that electron microscope.”
Bert just sighed at my raised eyebrows and made his way over to the microscope Beth had indicated. Though they don’t take up entire rooms anymore, the three-foot-tall device wasn’t easy to move. In the end, we had to tie a rope around it and lowered it down an elevator shaft to the first floor. After about two hours of work, and dispatching half a dozen zombies that Beth’s gunshot eventually attracted, we got all the research equipment Beth wanted loaded into the truck we were using. Before leaving, we located most of the isolation supplies we would need in order to save time when we came back for it. And so we could leave Beth behind.
While Bert and I unloaded the equipment in the front of our building, Beth kept the zombies occupied in the alley behind the building with the R/C truck and monkey. It was a long day, and hopefully it will be worth it.
I left this blog unattended for much longer than I had planned. But I have finished, and published, my second novel in The Immortal Virus series, and will now continue Barnett Jane’s story. I have some more ideas for this blog that involve The Immortal Virus universe, but for the time being, BJ needs to get off his ass and back into survival mode. I apologize for the extended break.
Scott A. Mehlman