April 17th cont – April 18th
Mary got the shiny new GPS working while I filled the camper’s interior with the scent of home made organic chicken soup. Fresh from the can. And microwaved. There was a steaming mug of coffee in my hand as I walked over and peeked at the little screen. She was hooking it up to a laptop liberated from Radio Shack, a feat that was beyond my meager computer skills. The microwave timer dinged, drawing my attention away while she finished up.
“Ok. I got it working. Here’s the fastest route to Mystic. Its only 43 miles. Not too bad.””
I nodded and leaned over, frowning at the results. “That takes us through New London and Groton though.”
Mary looked over her shoulder with a curious expression. “So?”
“Submarine base is in Groton. Nuclear reactors run by zombies? Probably not a good place to be. Plus Pfizer is right there. Chemicals in the water. Imagine all those radiated fish with constant erections from the Viagra leaking into the river.”
“Oh. Well we can cut over here, north of the Thames River, then head south.” Mary suggested.
I nodded, liking that plan better.
She did computer stuff and a purple line marked our new path. “Why don’t we go to an island? There’s like a million of them off the coast. Then we can just clear it off and be safe.”
“Cause if you thought of that, then a shitload of others did too. Eventually even the biggest island is going to run out of supplies and its still months away from any harvests being ready. Assuming this ash clears up and crops can grow. So that means raiding the mainland. Which means burning fuel for boats instead of generators.” I shrugged and sipped my coffee before adding. “Besides. You really wanna be on an island without the Weather Channel giving warnings of big storms heading your way?”
We got going soon after that, the semi’s bright red paint job having faded from age and covered with ashes falling like snow. The truck, though old, still had all the bells and whistles, including a dashboard that looked more like a space shuttle than a ground vehicle. No one answered my calls over the CB so I gave up while Mary worked the radio.
A few local stations were broadcasting something other than static and a man’s voice stopped her fingers from station surfing.
“….vises everyone to seek shelter and remain indoors. Do not attempt to travel at this time. Avoid hospitals, churches and schools as the infected are heavily concentrated there. FEMA is in the process of establishing new shelter sites and is expected to begin distributing food and medical aid by noon tomorrow. This station will announce new locations as we receive them.
All reservists and active duty personnel are ordered to report to the nearest military base immediately.
The President will address the nation tomorrow night at eight PM Eastern Time. This station will relay the broadcast as it occurs. No further news has been released from the Center for Disease Control beyond their warning late night to avoid all contact with the infected and to boil drinking water for at least fifteen minutes. National Weather Centers report the thick cloud cover and presence of ash will remain for at least another week. No information is available regarding the Yellowstone eruption or expected seismic activity. This message will repeat every fifteen minutes.”
Mary turned down the volume as the recorded message began again and chewed her lip in silence. She looked confused. “Why would they need to tell all the military people to come in? Aren’t they all on bases already?”
I shook my head and blew smoke out the window. “No. Most military folks live out in town or in nearby base housing. Probably having a hard time getting them to leave their families. Desertion rate’s gotta be pretty high in all this confusion.” I shrugged. “It’ll be a long time before they figure out who’s dead and who’s deserted. If they ever do.”
“I’d have gone to a base right away. Seems like the safest place to be.”
“Most probably did, for all the good it did em. The doctor I talked to said about twenty percent died when they breathed in the ash, then got up and started eating folks. Means there wasn’t any place safe. You could be hunkered down inside a fuckin fortress and next thing you know the guy next to ya is trying to eat your face.”
“Were you in the military?”
“Yeah. The Navy. For ten years. I was a Seabee.”
Mary grinned. “Like John Wayne in that old movie?”
I chuckled and nodded. “Sorta. Seabees build shit and our rates, what we call our jobs, are broken up into specialties like plumbers and mechanics. I was a Construction Electrician.”
“Did you go to war? You guys fought too right? Like with machine guns and stuff?” She was getting that little kid wide-eyed expression of wonder as she asked her questions. It was kinda cute.
“Yup. I went to the expeditionary combat skills course down in Gulfport, Mississippi. Map reading. Battlefield first aid. Patrolling techniques. That sorta thing. We mostly used M16s and M9 service pistols as standard gear. That’s what I learned to use. Didn’t really get to play around with the machine guns and grenade launchers though. I stayed inside buildings and ran cabling most of the time. Set up generators. Learned a little about diesel engines. Just enough to be dangerous.” I shrugged again. “Did a full tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan before I got out.”
“What did you do after that?” Mary asked.
I shrugged. “Killed some people and went to prison.”
“Did they deserve it?”
My answer was a soft chuckle and another shrug.
"Oh." She fell silent after that, chewing furiously on her lower lip.
We turned off the highway and onto route 66 to skirt around Willimantic. There were a lot more abandoned and wrecked vehicles. Several still held zombies banging away at windows or chewing on seat belts. Progress slowed to a crawl as I drove the semi onto narrow shoulders, slowly pushed through traffic, or had to backtrack to other exits in order to take side roads around impassable sections. It made me wonder how much effort it would take to convert the big rig to a six by six.
At one point we stopped beside a water truck, the kind that delivered big bottles to office water coolers, and took a bunch from its back. Mary filled up the camper’s potable water tank while I siphoned enough diesel out of the truck to move our needle firmly above full. She was reading the owner’s manual by the time I finished, figuring out how to turn on the propane hot water heater. She really wanted a hot shower.
It took the better part of the day to reach Ledyard, which lay five miles north of I95 where we had to cut due east towards Mystic. During the trip we saw suburbs burning and countless zombies but not another living soul. There were signs of human activity here and there though. A raided supermarket supply truck. Some vehicles had been pushed aside between two exits to make a clear path at one point. Highway signs with graffiti warning us to repent or face judgment were getting common.
‘The End Is Very Fucking Nigh’ was my favorite.
Gunfire rang out from time to time but always in the distance. Then Mary spotted a helicopter flying low overhead, just beneath the black clouds. It didn’t slow down as it passed us by but I recognized it was a Coast Guard rig from the bright orange and white paint job.
I decided to find a place to park for the night about an hour before sunset, not that the dark gray gloom we’d traveled through really counted as daylight. The driving had been too difficult to attempt in darkness so I pulled into a residential area and parked behind someone’s garage. The rest of the house was a burned out shell and most of the other homes nearby showed signs of earthquake damage or fire. Mary took a hot shower while I cooked some meatless yuppie chili from the health food store. Then it was my turn to get wet while she cleaned up the dishes.
There was a big LCD TV and DVD player on a swing mount in the bedroom area so we watched a movie in bed together. It almost seemed like nothing was wrong. Peaceful. Normal. Then gunshots rang out in the distance, shattering the illusion. We turned off the TV so its light wouldn’t give us away, snacked a bit and went to sleep early.