Chapter 4 - Entry 1
April 22nd cont.
I pulled the Humvee onto a railroad track and headed northwest out of Noank beneath rolling black clouds tinged with a mustard lining. The air reeked of smoke and a thick layer of ash seemed to coat every surface. With no real sunlight able to pierce the dark canopy overhead, our world had been reduced to shades of gray. It was a bleak, depressing sight that soured our previous excitement and left us both in a brooding mood.
According to all the maps we’d gathered from Green Acres, using the railroad track would allow us to skirt areas in downtown New London where we assumed the undead would be thickest and provided an alternate passage across the Thames River in case the Goldstar Highway Bridge was down. We’d hop onto I95 and head west through New London’s outskirts after that.
There were no cars and few zombies on the tracks and we made decent time until an earthquake hit. I put the Humvee in park while trees swayed violently and already damaged buildings suffered badly. A few Shamblers shuffled towards us from the parking lot of a huge office building to our left, falling on their asses several times from the quake’s intensity. We rolled up the windows and waited.
A Runner hopped onto the hood as the tremors subsided, cocking its head sideways and sniffing at the glass inches from our faces. One of its hands, filthy and ending in long, yellowed nails, scratched at the windshield, leavinga smear of grim and blood in its wake. Mary and I held still and watched; she in fear and I in fascination.
It had been seven days since the ash started falling in this part of Connecticut. I assumed a corpse would begin to rot and decompose in a week. Yet this one hadn’t. Covered in dirt and dried gore, its skeletal frame and tattered clothing made it look more akin to a homeless bum than a flesh eating zombie. Except for the milky white eyes, bluish skin tone and black veins.
For a moment I wondered if there was intelligence behind those eyes as it simply tapped on the glass rather than launching into an attack. Its facial features seemed slack as if all the muscles were relaxed. Greasy hair sprouted from its pale, hollow face and I wondered if hair and nails continued to grow in its undead state. Maybe food helped its body heal too, or at least kept it from rotting.
I’d been content to kill them before but as I studied the creature crouching before us, I had a strong desire to understand them better. Then its shuffling friends reached us and started pounding on the Humvee’s armored hide.
Mary yelped as the first fist landed a blow and the runner on our hood locked its eyes onto her. The transformation from slack-jawed curiosity to bestial rage was instant. I could feel its hunger. Sense the raw, primal anger and desire to kill as it hammered at the glass, black drool and spittle coating the windshield. I put the Humvee into drive and drove a hundred feet before slamming on the brakes, then ran over the body with a satisfying wet crunch after it’d flown off the hood.
The rest of our trip to the bridge was uneventful, if not bone jarring from the Hummer’s rigid suspension rolling over railroad ties. I hopped off the tracks and circled through a few side streets before cutting across grass embankments covered in thick layers of ash. Fresh fires were beginning to burn behind us, adding dense smoke to skies already nearly black. An overpass gave us a good view of the devastated urban wasteland that had once been historic downtown New London. It was apocalyptic and awe inspiring.
“We’re witnessing the end of civilization,” Mary whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks.
I couldn’t help but agree and together we simply watched New London burn, the glow of its fires far brighter than the sun’s weak efforts above. Mary turned to me and nodded after awhile, lighting up a cigarette and shrugging. “It was a pretty shitty civilization anyway. Pizza deliveries got to your home faster than the police. Let’s go.”
We were both surprised to see the Goldstar Bridge not only still standing, but completely clear of vehicles except for a lone police car long looted and abandoned. Thankful for our luck, we shared a meal while I drove as fast as the Hummer would go.
There were police cars and fire trucks blocking most of the exits as we roared down I95. Apparently they’d wanted to keep this section clear since it was a vital link across the Thames River. It was eerie to be the only thing moving on a major highway that was usually bustling with traffic. Surreal in a way difficult to explain. Lost in an overwhelming sense of dread and insignificance, I nearly missed our exit and the dark humor in that simple fact helped shatter the melancholy.
I used the Humvee’s reinforced bumper to push the blackened shell of a police SUV out of the way and turned off the interstate to head northwest on the Hartford Turnpike. The route led us past the area's largest mall and several big box stores; national chains like Home Depot, Target and Best Buy. The Crystal Mall’s parking lot was packed with zombies as we drove by. The swarming mass was trying to reach distant figures on the roof with rifles but further details were hard to make out and I didn’t feel like stopping. I certainly didn’t envy them though considering the numerous entrances they’d need to secure.
Our progress slowed to a crawl as abandoned vehicles and the undead grew thick near an intersection where I395 joined the Turnpike. I drove off the road and onto steep, grassy inclines, four wheeling around the worst areas at dangerous angles that threatened to flip even the Humvee’s wide wheelbase. The knot of congestion ended abruptly beyond the interstate’s overpass, leaving a dark and lonely stretch of road surrounded by forests before us.
Small farms, supply warehouses and entrances to residential subdivisions flanked the road as it headed northwest through dense woodlands. The landscape transitioned swiftly from mostly level ground to rolling hills, then yet again to rocky crags with jagged bare stone.
According to our maps, the area was riddled with small lakes and streams that meandered among valleys carved between those rocky outcroppings. The terrain had no doubt made this place difficult for early settlers and no major cities had been established. Aside from homes and the occasional commercial building, the place seemed largely untouched by man’s hungry efforts to expand.
I turned off Hartford road and cut due west for the final leg of our trip just as the dark gloom began its steady decline to pitch black. We decided to stop for the night so I parked the Humvee behind the main pavilion of a place called Witch Meadow Lake Campground.
Neither of us had remembered the President’s address or even thought to turn on the radio. We’d traveled mostly in silence that day, each lost in thought while watching the devastated landscape crawl by. It felt as though some barrier was growing between us and I had no clue how to even address the issue.
Surprised at myself, I went to sleep feeling sad and a touch lonely. The only person left alive that I gave a shit about was steadily growing distant from me in a world where too few people remained.