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Mechanical Failure, Chap. 5e (zombie apocalypse novel in progress)

Valley of Fire (278)

~continued~

Before I left each house, I piled the salvaged goods near the entryways so they would be easy to retrieve once I chose a new home. I made little marks on the outside of the doors with silver nail polish so that when I returned, I would know which places had been cleared. These marks always went in the same place on every door, and they were subtle enough that they wouldn’t be easy to detect, assuming anybody else was even alive to see them. Paint would have been too obvious, and I had tried magic markers, but they just didn’t show up well on some of the doors. The nail polish worked perfectly on everything so I stuck with that. I had plenty of it, and I no longer had any use for it.

I returned to the car, and it started right away which was fortunate since I wasn’t parked on a hill. It was still early in the day, so I decided to check out some other parts of town, driving around for almost half an hour before I finally hit pay dirt. It was a newer part of Whispering Springs, and it wasn’t even on the map, though Patrick and I had driven through once before to look at the new houses.

There was a street that circled the town’s only golf course, and there were also a few cul-de-sacs that ran off of it. The one that caught my attention had a park in the center of the loop, which must have covered at least an acre of land. There was playground equipment as well as a fountain and lots of dead grass, which could easily be converted into a nice, big garden.

The whole cul-de-sac, park and all, would be safe to move around in if I were to close off the entrance with a couple of big trucks or buses. It was hard to believe that nobody had done it when the plague had first started, since it was the perfect place to make a stand. I drove around a few times, looking for movement inside the houses or anything to let me know that someone had gotten there first, but there was nothing. My problem was going to be finding large vehicles and getting them moved. It wasn’t likely I’d be able to roll a bus down a hill and pop the clutch. I remembered seeing an RV farther down the street, and I wondered if I could jump start it with my car. It was one of those big square- looking rigs and it seemed perfect for what I had in mind. It wouldn’t span the whole distance between the two walls, but maybe I could find a second one to finish the job.

 ~*~

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Mechanical Failure, Chap. 5d (zombie apocalypse novel in progress)

Tunnels Near Lake Mead (19)

~continued~

It didn’t take long to discover that the back bedroom held something terrible. The thing started banging on the door, and it never stopped the whole time I was there. Fortunately, the rest of the house was zombie-free. Once my preliminary search was over, a trip to the kitchen netted me all kinds of goodies. I found crackers, pasta, canned goods, and several cans of soda. I chewed on some crackers while opening a warm grape soda. It had been so long since I’d had a soft drink that I was really looking forward to it. Maybe my taste buds had changed, but it was a big disappointment.

I filled some cloth grocery bags with food and put them by the front door. Taking a moment to check the garage, I found a beat-up truck that I didn’t quite trust, so I left it alone. There were a few cardboard boxes in a corner, so I brought them in to load up more of the food.

It took a few trips to get everything into the car, but I was pleased to see that the street was still clear by the time I was done. I went to check out a few other homes in the neighborhood, killing five zombies in all. One house had a bunch of tools as well as a pistol and a shotgun, both with ammo. That made my day.

I’d recently learned the basics of shooting from a man named Dan Hixson, though I still knew almost nothing about guns. I could tell a shotgun from a rifle, and I had been introduced to both a revolver and a pistol. I even knew what a magazine was. Training time had been limited, and my instructor had mainly concerned himself with making sure I knew how to plant a hole in the head of a zombie. He’d planned to teach me more, but there hadn’t been time. He and his friend had been forced to leave town suddenly, just before everything had gone to hell here. I haven’t heard from Dan and George since then. They were both really great guys, and I hope they’re still alive. I’m sure I wouldn’t even be here right now if it hadn’t been for them.

 ~to be continued~

Mechanical Failure, Chap. 5c (zombie apocalypse novel in progress)

Joshua Tree

~continued~

I spent a couple minutes searching for a key underneath the car, which is a scary thing to do when horrible dead things could be sneaking up behind you. I had no luck finding anything, and the doors were locked. A quick glance at the house had me wondering if it was occupied. Looking back at the street to gauge my time, I knew that my options were limited. I hurried up to the front door and rang the doorbell, glad when nobody answered it. My buddy the crowbar helped me to get the door open quickly, and we went inside. I decided that if I couldn’t find the car keys right away, I’d go through the back of the house and over the wall.

The kitchen was my first stop, and I lucked out. Next to the refrigerator there was a whiteboard in a wooden frame. The bottom of the frame, which held an eraser and a blue marker, also had a build-in key rack hanging beneath it. I quickly scanned the keys, grabbing the set that looked like they belonged to the car. Back outside, I was dismayed to see that the crowd had moved much closer than they’d been two minutes earlier. I unlocked the car and immediately tried to start it with the key. The battery was deader than a doornail, as my grandmother used to say.

From both ends of the street, the dead were shuffling their way closer, but I knew that there was still time to get the car running, or so I hoped. I opened the driver’s door and turned the steering wheel downhill. Bracing my feet on the cement, I pushed the vehicle as hard as I could, rolling it very slowly out to the street. Once I was free of the driveway, I gave the car one more shove to keep it moving, and I jumped in, pulling the door closed. Some of the uphill zombies were within fifteen feet now, which was far too close for comfort. I was also rolling too slowly for my liking, and I knew that if I hit one of the downhill zombies the impact just might bring me to a stop. Fighting with the steering wheel, I weaved between the bodies, barely missing my old paper boy on the left and two men on the right. It was really hard to steer and I was certain that I was going to hit one of them, but before I knew it, I’d passed most of the crowd and was picking up speed. I was almost at the bottom of the hill when I popped the clutch, yelling with joy when the engine sputtered a bit then started. I was getting pretty good at this, but there was never a guarantee that it was going to work.

I had a grin on my face as I turned the corner and went up the next street. There was so little to be happy about these days, but avoiding a horrible, painful death always made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. As I made my way around the neighborhood, I finally got up the nerve to swing by my house. There were a few of the infected milling about, and my truck was obviously trapped behind the crushed garage door. The dead turned to follow me, and I soon collected a small parade of them.

My list of needs included food, a better vehicle, and shelter, and I set out to see what I could do about it. Leaving my neighborhood, I drove across town, ditching the horde of zombies that had been following. My destination was one of the neighborhoods I’d seen on the map, and when I reached it, it was obvious that it wouldn’t work for my plans. Not only were the houses all single story homes, but it was a neighborhood that had wooden fences, many of which had already been knocked down. I needed a good, solid cinder block wall surrounding an entire neighborhood.

Still, that didn’t mean that the homes couldn’t provide food or a better vehicle. I stopped the car and looked around, seeing no movement. Though I was reluctant to turn the engine off, it was necessary since the noise would draw the dead. Stepping out of the vehicle, I eased the door closed and approached the nearest house with my knife ready. After ringing the doorbell, I waited, and when nothing answered I tried the doorknob. I finally used my credit card to gain entrance then stepped aside quickly. Nothing rushed out, and nobody shot at me. The day was getting better all the time.

“Hello?” I called out. “Is anybody here?” Again, no reply. I stepped inside and pulled the door shut before looking around. The smell of death was strong in the house. That might mean death, or it might mean zombies, but I had to find out. Taking a deep breath, I began my search.

 ~to be continued~

Mechanical Failure, Chap. 5b (zombie apocalypse novel in progress)

~continued~

I took a side street before reaching my house, not ready to face it yet. I was still angry that I’d been driven from by home, but I also had no idea what to expect, and I didn’t want to get trapped inside if I decided to do some exploring. The street I turned onto wasn’t exactly devoid of un-life, and one of the faster creatures lunged at me as I passed. I was able to dodge him, but there were two more ahead of me that were going to be a bigger problem. I could have avoided them easily if I’d been walking, but I was still acquainting myself with the bike, and wasn’t quite confident in my ability to nimbly slip around the two corpses. Since they weren’t too close to each other, I lay the bike down and went after the first one, jabbing the knife into its eye and twisting. It dropped instantly, its body jolting with a few spasms before laying still. The next one was bigger and therefore more of a threat. I needed to take it down before I could kill it, but that was never difficult since they’re not very smart. I moved the bike so it was lying lengthwise across the zombie’s path then I stood in front it, glancing behind me to make sure there was nothing else to worry about. As I had hoped, the dead thing tripped over the bike and I was able to jam my knife into the base of its neck before it could get up again. Getting the heavy body off the bike was the hard part, and one glance behind me told me that others were getting close. There wouldn’t be time to drag the bodies off the road, but I’d come back and get them when I could do it.

I took just a moment to clean my weapon on the dead thing’s filthy clothing. Sheathing the knife, I continued on to the next street, ignoring the vehicles I passed, since this street was flat and I needed a street on a hill. I turned the next corner and rode the bike up the incline, but I didn’t see any vehicles that looked like they might have manual transmissions. I had no more luck on Oleander Avenue, and by the time I reached Ocotillo Way, I had company. Two of the undead were following me and moaning loudly. Great. The dinner bell. I turned down Ocotillo, knowing I’d have to find a vehicle soon, or I’d need a place to hide. I was almost halfway down the street when I saw a nice, new truck that looked like it should have been safely tucked away inside a garage. I held my breath and peered inside, but was disappointed to find that it was an automatic. I continued all the way down the street without finding a single vehicle that would work, which meant I had to ride back up the next street, not seeing another choice. My legs were growing tired, but I pushed on and finally found something toward the top of the street. It was a small car, parked in a driveway, but it had a large shifting knob with a diagram on it that told me it was a manual transmission. It looked like it would be light enough for me to easily push out of the driveway. I hoped so, because now there were zombies at the top and bottom of the street. I was going to have to jump over a wall if the car wouldn’t start.

 ~to be continued~

Mechanical Failure, Chap. 5a (zombie apocalypse novel in progress)

~continued~

I slept and read a lot those first few days. Partly it was my body trying to recover from the fall, but it was also a way to escape reality. By the third day, the pain in my back was tolerable, though my ankle was worse. I had never seen human flesh turn that color of purple before, and I hoped that I would never see it again. These days, the smallest of injuries could easily be deadly.

For the next three weeks, I stayed inside the house except to go into the back yard and quietly use the grill or collect water from the pool. I had a couple of close calls. Once I almost dropped the grill lid on the flagstone patio, but I caught it in time. A loud noise like that would have had every zombie for miles around at the door. I did drop a full bucket of water into the pool on another occasion, but it was windy that day, and the sound of the loud splash was muted.

I found several bottles of liquid chlorine in the garage, as well as a large plastic pail full of chlorine tablets, and I put it all to good use. Carrying buckets of water inside while using crutches was not easy, but it had to be done if I wanted to keep the dishes washed and the house clean. Having a few dirty dishes didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it gave me something to do. While I continued to read a lot, I knew that I needed to stay as active as possible, or I’d fall into some bad habits that could hurt me later. The cleaning was part of that routine, and I began to add in some daily exercise as soon as my back allowed it.

At my house, there was a treadmill and a weight machine, and I had used them religiously. Jeanette had nothing like that so I had to improvise. I started with the little bit of yoga I remembered from a class I’d taken years earlier, figuring that I could at least stretch my muscles and give them a bit of a workout. As my back healed, I added some calisthenics and found some creative ways to exercise while not putting weight on my ankle. I even found that I could do squats and lunges using either my crutches or the wall for support. While I was carrying the bucket of water one day, I also realized that I could use items around the house to do weight training. The bucket of water worked well, but the water kept spilling out, usually all over me. After this happened a couple times, I finally got smart and dumped out the water, adding rocks from the yard instead. I had to wrap a towel around the handle so it wouldn’t dig into my hands, but it worked well. There were a few other items that got worked into my weightlifting routine: a heavy iron bar that I found in the garage, a cast iron frying pan, and a bronze statuette that stood on a table in the living room. The only thing I was missing in my workout was aerobics, and doing laps around the yard on my crutches just wasn’t cutting it.

I quickly fell into a routine as the cleaning, exercise and reading filled my days. There were other little things I did, too, like cooking meals and treating drinking water once the five gallon jug was empty. I had to use pool water, but I filtered it with a clean linen tablecloth then boiled it on the grill before adding a couple drops of bleach. I was nervous the first few times I drank it, but I never got sick, so I think that my system worked.

My bathing routine normally just involved a bucket full of treated water, but I allowed myself a real bath every now and then. This was quite an ordeal because not only did I have to treat the water, but I had to heat some of it on the grill before dumping it into the tub, which was upstairs. It took me a good hour to get the tub about halfway full. Needless to say, the water was usually lukewarm by the time I got into it, but I can’t begin to express how good it felt to sink into that half-tub of tepid water and relax for a while.

Even keeping busy with the cleaning and exercise, I had so much time to read during the three weeks I was at Jeanette’s house that I went through most of the books in her collection. While it felt kind of nice to relax, I wasn’t used to being so idle and it began to bother me. Before my injury, my days had been filled by keeping the gardens going and making scavenging trips around town. I missed those activities, and I was anxious to start them again, but every time I almost convinced myself to go outside and do some recon, my ankle reminded me that it was not ready for that yet.

The house was cold since there was no gas for heat, so I wore warm clothes while working or exercising. I stayed wrapped up in a thick comforter while I read. The temperatures only dropped to 30 or 40 degrees at the worst, which was fortunate. I know it got below freezing once or twice because I saw ice on the pool on those days. Still, it was tolerable; more than the heat would be in the summer.

By the time I could walk again and feel comfortable doing it, I’d had a lot of time to think. I couldn’t move back into my house, and I couldn’t stay at Jeanette’s place much longer. I had only remained safe there because the dead hadn’t found me. Once I started making trips away from the house, they’d catch on. Since it was still winter, there was no way I could think about going to Oregon for a few more months, as I’d be traveling through the snow-covered mountains. That meant that I needed a place in town that I could fortify a little better.

For some time now, I had been considering blocking off my whole neighborhood with big trucks, if I could figure out how to drive them. Assuming I could get them into place, I thought they might hold the dead back long enough for me to build a couple of block walls to close off the top and bottom of my street. But now that I couldn’t stay in my own house, I wasn’t sure there was any point of confining myself to that area. I thought that maybe I could find a better setup in a different neighborhood.

I dug through Jeanette’s kitchen junk drawer, and I was lucky enough to find a local phone book with a map in it. I looked it over, trying to find an area of town that would work for my plan. There were a few possibilities, but if I remembered correctly, these areas all had only one-story houses. Since it was time to go shopping anyway, I decided I’d do some exploring while I was out and about, but would need to find a vehicle first. It was likely that my truck was still in running condition, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get it out of the garage without a fight. Even if it wasn’t overrun with the rotting dead, they had managed to crush the door in, and it would have to be removed before I could get the truck out.

I decided to take the bike and do some recon. If nothing else, it would be good exercise. My ankle was still a little sore, and I was nervous about that, but I really had no choice. I’d used up all of the food that was in the house.

I wrapped my ankle, and dressed as I usually did for one of these excursions, putting on thick socks and long, tight-fitting pants and shirt. That made it hard for the zombies to get a grip on me. My hair went into a baseball cap, and I found some gloves and a fairly tight jacket to top it off. It wasn’t ideal, but I was just glad that Jeanette’s clothes fit me. The pants were a little short, but I didn’t think anybody would notice.

I watched the street for a while and it looked clear, but that didn’t mean much. Sometimes the undead wandered around, and sometimes they just stood in one place for hours or even days. They could be anywhere. When I decided that it was as safe as it was going to get, I quietly unlocked the door and eased it open. It sounded so loud to me, but apparently nothing outside heard it. I stepped out and looked around, spotting one of the dead at the far end of the street to my right. It was looking the other way, just standing in a yard. The thing could decide to stay there for a week, so trying to outwait it was pointless. I checked the knife that was attached to the belt loops of my jeans then I quickly made my way down the driveway with my bike, keeping an eye on the dead guy down the street. If he was going to see me, it was better if he couldn’t tell where I was coming from, since I didn’t need him hanging out at the house. Odds were, he’d follow me anyway, but I had no idea what sort of memories their rotting brains could hold and I didn’t want him remembering which house I’d exited. Glancing back, I saw that he was still looking the other way, which was a huge relief.

I hit the intersection and immediately saw a handful of the horrible creatures down the hill. I guess it was better than uphill, since that’s where I was going, but still, I was hoping not to be followed.  The hill was steep, and I quickly grew out of breath. Three weeks of almost no aerobic exercise had not been good for me, and I was paying the price now. Pushing on, I covered another block then risked a glance over my shoulder. I was relieved to see that they had fallen back, but the steep hill was wearing on me, and I began to wonder if this was going to turn out to be a bad idea.

 ~to be continued~

Mechanical Failure, Chap. 4b (zombie apocalypse novel in progress)

~continued~

Jeanette’s kitchen clock let me know that it was noon. My growling stomach had already told me as much, but it was good to know that I still had a feel for the time. I tried to light the stove, just to test it, but it didn’t seem to be working. There was no hiss of gas so that explained it. My gas water heater had quit working a while back, and so had my heater, telling me that the gas had finally stopped flowing. My stove was electric so that hadn’t been a problem at my house, but I was going to need another method of cooking here. I found a charcoal grill on the patio, and after a bit of quiet digging, I found a couple bags of charcoal and some lighter fluid. I’d have to use it sparingly, since I didn’t know how long I’d be staying, but it was enough to last me a while.

In the beginning, I’d worried about using the grill at my house, but it had soon become obvious that the zombies weren’t at all interested in cooking odors. They seemed focused on live human flesh, and they weren’t smart enough to make the mental leap between humans and human activity such as cooking. Even grilled meat didn’t seem to attract their attention.

I heated up a pan of chicken broth, and added some white rice and canned tuna. There was no way to refrigerate the leftovers so I ate it all, promising myself that dinner would be something small, if I even bothered with dinner. I just wanted to crawl into bed and rest for a while, so that my battered body could start to heal. First I had to fill a couple of empty chlorine jugs with water to take upstairs for flushing the toilet. I also dragged up some candles and a flashlight that I found in a drawer, though I had to put new batteries in first. As an afterthought, I brought up some things that I could eat without cooking, so I wouldn’t have to go downstairs again for a while. There were some crackers and chips as well as some canned foods that could be eaten cold, and I brought the can opener up with me as well. I couldn’t carry up the 5 gallon bottle of water, so I poured some of it into smaller containers and brought them up. Navigating the stairs on crutches wasn’t easy, but it would have been impossible to get between floors without them. The backpack allowed me to carry what I needed, though it made me feel off-balance and I thought I was going to fall backwards more than once. By the time the last load was carried up, my good leg was shaking, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t have made another trip if my life had depended on it.

I blocked off the top of the stairs with a heavy dresser, which was ridiculously difficult to move. It wouldn’t keep me safe forever, but it would slow the dead down if they made it that far. A few empty cans stacked on top of the dresser would act as an alarm system.

Locking myself into the master bedroom, I slid a dresser in front of that door as well. Jeanette had a full bookcase and I planned on making use of the books. I was set for a while, I thought, as I walked over to look out the bedroom window. There were a couple walking corpses near the house and several still gathered together at the intersection, but I wasn’t worried. If they hadn’t found me yet, I was probably safe here unless I did something stupid. I promised myself not to play any music, and I’d sleep when it was dark so that I wouldn’t need to light the candle unless I had to. The bedroom window was a thick, expensive one, meant to keep out the harsh Nevada sun, yet I could still hear the moans of the dead outside. Someday the noise might just push me over the edge, but not today. I was too tired to care. I grabbed a book and went to lay down on the bed, exhausted.

 ~to be continued~

Mechanical Failure, Chap. 4a (zombie apocalypse novel in progress)

~continued~

A bit of the intersection was visible from the far edge of Jeanette’s large picture window, so that’s where I waited. It was only about five minutes before the first of the dead began to appear. At first none of them turned onto Mulberry Street, so I hoped that maybe they’d lost me. I was actually starting to relax when I noticed movement from the corner of my eye. Stepping back quickly, I forgot and put weight on my injured leg. I bit back a scream of agony, grabbing the wall for support until the wave of pain finally passed. When I felt that I could move again, I hopped closer, and carefully looked outside to see what had caught my eye. One of the dead things stood in the street, just past the house. He seemed to be looking around, and I wondered if he was searching for me, or if he had maybe just followed a bird or cat this way. That happened all the time. The dead would trail something for a while then just stop and stand around when they lost sight of it. Some of them eventually returned to a specific place, and others didn’t. I always saw the same teenage girl zombie loitering outside the theater, clutching a red purse. Perhaps a residual memory had her standing there, eternally waiting for a boyfriend that would never arrive. Thoughts like this saddened me and they made it a little harder to kill the undead. I wanted to think of them as mindless husks, possessed by some other force that I needed to drive away.

I often saw some of my deceased neighbors near my house, and my husband, Patrick, tended to spend most of his time there as well. It would have been so much easier if he’d have gone somewhere else where I didn’t have to see him. It was pure torture for me. His thick blond hair was now matted with blood and gore from the gaping wound where his ear used to be. His eyes, which had always been a vibrant blue, were now the same milky white that I saw on all of the dead. Most of his throat had been ripped out, so I knew that even if a cure was ever found, he was beyond help. I couldn’t look at him without wondering about his last moments, certain that he had died in terrible pain. What kind of terror had he felt as his last breath had left his body?

I blinked away tears, not wanting to think about him. When I didn’t dwell on Patrick, my life was tolerable, and I kept busy just trying to survive. The other times, the times that I let my mind linger in the past, I didn’t care so much about staying alive, and I always began to ask myself if I even wanted to exist in this sort of a world. Those dark thoughts were dangerous, and it was best not to let them take hold, but I knew that as long as Patrick was around, the darkness would fester inside me.

Pushing the bad thoughts away, I eased a little closer to the window again and peeked out. It appeared that much of the group that had followed me from my house was loitering in the intersection, and had that “bored and distracted” look about them. This usually meant that something had caught their attention momentarily, which was not good. I’d counted on them continuing down the street until it dead-ended before wandering back up the hill.

Some of them were turning onto Mulberry and moving my way. Others were returning the way they’d come, and a few looked like they were continuing the trek down the hill. I wished that I had a better view of it all, but I wasn’t going to risk getting any closer to the window. If one of them got so much as a glimpse of me through the shutters, or saw a shadow of movement, I’d be found out.

I backed farther away and looked around. The house would not be easily defendable because it had a lot of big windows downstairs, but it did have a second floor that I might be able to block off. If I kept quiet and didn’t let the zombies see me, I just might be able to stay long enough for my ankle to heal.

Making my way to the kitchen, I looked out the back door at the yard. Like my house, this one was also surrounded by a cinder block wall. There was also a pool, but the water in it was green and thick with algae. My purification tablets were back at the house, but hopefully I could find some bleach or chlorine to make the water useable. If not, it would have to be boiled.

I did a quick search of the first floor though I’d already checked it once when things had first gotten bad. Jeanette had told me that she was going to go to the shelter, but I’d had to visit her house to be sure. I’d been both disappointed and relieved to find the place empty, knowing that her absence meant that she was probably dead. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with her walking corpse, which would have been almost as bad as seeing Patrick.

I had appropriated some supplies on my last visit. There had been a lot of pasta and flour, and I’d taken most of it, knowing that the bugs would get into it if it sat around too long. The canned goods had been left behind for later.

Going through the cupboards again, I was thrilled to find a blue 5-gallon bottle of water in the back of the pantry. I hadn’t seen a water dispenser so I wasn’t sure why she had the bottle, but I didn’t care. It would work well for drinking and cooking, leaving the pool water for bathing and other things.

The garage was full of odds and ends, which made searching for the crutches difficult. The slightest noise would give me away, and I had to move at a crawl to keep that from happening. It was almost an hour before I finally accomplished my goal and was able to move back into the house.

I adjusted the crutches to fit me, since Jeanette was a little shorter than I was. Once that was done, I checked the front window again and was pleased to see the street almost empty. I made my way to the downstairs bathroom, and used some first aid supplies to clean my cuts and scrapes. If any of the open wounds had been contaminated with zombie blood or saliva, I was as good as dead, but there was no point in dwelling on that too much, since there was nothing that could be done about it. Cleaning the wounds thoroughly would at least decrease the chances of other infections, since running to the pharmacy for antibiotics was not going to be an option. Saving my ankle for last, I wrapped it with an Ace bandage. It was horribly swollen and turning purple and I still didn’t know if it was broken or sprained, but it didn’t matter. I was out of commission for a while, one way or the other.

~to be continued~