Chapter 4 - Entry 2
Mary woke up stiff and sore shortly before the sun was suppose to rise. I was just plain cranky. We took turns using a port-a-potty at the campground’s edge, wading through ankle-deep ash with weapons ready and sour expressions.
Aprils in Connecticut were not terribly warm to begin with but it’d been over a week since proper sunshine had graced the earth. We could see our breath that morning and the chill in our bones made us long for a hot meal. I considered getting a fire going in one of the campground’s charcoal pits but we both decided to just snack on breakfast bars and hit the road, both of us anxious to reach the college and be done with the drive.
There was a dusting of ash covering the Humvee as I topped off its tank with a gas can and it was dark enough that I needed a flashlight to see properly. They’d called it a volcanic winter. A fitting term considering the snow-like ash that coated everything in gray and the deepening cold that lay heavy in our bones.
“Three to five years of this shit,” I bitched aloud.
Mary simply nodded, expression grim.
“How are we going to survive for that long?” She asked as we left the campground and turned west onto Witch Meadow Road.
I shrugged and thought it over, answering after slowly driving the Humvee around a fallen tree. “Nothing’s going to grow so we’re gonna need a lot of canned food to make it through. Save seeds. Clear land once the trees are dead and get them ready to plant crops.” I shrugged again and ran over a pair of zombies, waiting until the Hummer stopped bouncing before adding, “Maybe bring some livestock inside and feed them hay or whatever.”
“We could get those grow lamps. Do some hydroponics.” Mary suggested.
I nodded and turned away from the road long enough to offer a smile. She wasn’t looking my way. Instead her eyes were glued to a quartet of zombies standing still as statues in a home’s front yard. A man, woman and two children. They looked like a family.
Silence filled the Humvee after that, broken only by an occasional sob from Mary as she quietly cried beside me. I placed a hand on her thigh and squeezed but she ignored it. The gulf between us seemed to silently grow wider.
For the next hour I smoked and focused on driving, dealing with a lot of fallen trees and abandoned cars. The miles crawled by and I mused that this trip would’ve taken half an hour two weeks ago rather than the eight hours that had already passed. At long last we pulled onto Newberry Road, then cut north along Basham Road.
Two bodies of water dominated the area; Moodus and Bashan Lakes. A slice of land separated the two and early settlers had built a large lumber mill along the riverbank where the Moodus Lake, at its higher elevation, drained into the smaller Bashan Lake. Both were fed by natural springs and a series of small rivers and streams bled off from Bashan Lake, eventually heading west towards the Connecticut River or feeding smaller lakes to the south.
Moodus Center had sprung up around the Mill and expanded to fill most of an irregular-shaped peninsula bordered to the northeast and east by Moodus Lake and to the south by Bashan Lake. When the waterwheel-powered lumber mill became obsolete due to more modern production methods, its owners had transformed the huge brick structure into a luxury hotel.
Moodus Center morphed into a tourist trap seemingly overnight, filled with quaint restaurants and little shops along its brick-lined Main Streets. At least according to a brochure we grabbed at a gas station just outside of town.
The Vale College campus lay tucked into the southwestern edge of the town on a small, arrowhead wedge of land that poked out into the Moodus Lake. We turned due east onto Vale Lane as it hugged the lake’s westernmost bend and slowly grew closer to our destination. Unfortunately, as we crested a small hill that overlooked the campus proper, we saw the place had not only suffered badly from earthquakes, but its walled interior was filled with undead.
I parked the Humvee and climbed onto its hood with a pair of binoculars to survey the scene. The campus consisted of three dorms that formed a courtyard in front of a large, two story building. All four lay atop a hill that sat in the college’s heart. Other buildings surrounded the dorms but most seemed to be devoid of life and badly damaged. A stone wall, collapsed in many places, separated the campus from Moodus Center to the west, effectively forming an isolated peninsula.
Mary took a turn with the binoculars and tapped my shoulder after a few minutes. “There’s a light on in one of the dorms. Top floor. And there are people on the roof of that square building near the water.”
I had a look and watched as five people started dropping furniture on the seething mass of undead scurrying about below them. Movement caught my eye and I trained the binoculars onto a school bus as it entered the campus through the main gate. Its exhaust belted out smoke as the driver rammed through a clump of zombies and came to a stop two hundred feet from the nearest dorm.
“Think they’re trying to rescue the students?” Mary asked, chewing her lower lip.
I shrugged. Sighing, I knew that was coming next.
“We need to help.”
I gave Mary a crash course on reloading an M16’s magazine and had her climb in back to grab ammunition and empty mags while I drove down the hill and through the campus’s main gate. A single figure was moving on the bus’s roof, already sitting in a lawn chair and setting up a rifle on a tripod. Details became clearer as we neared.
She was barefoot and wore olive drab cargo pants and something bulky under a black windbreaker. Her long black hair was a messy mane of dreadlocks, braids and untamed curls. I stopped the Humvee a hundred feet from the bus and used binoculars to get a better look. What little skin I could see was tanned and riddled with black veins. As I shifted my view to her face, I found her watching me through a small pair of field glasses, bluish lips frowning. There were streaks of white in her hair, I noticed, and when she lowered the glasses I wasn’t terribly surprised to see a pair of milky white eyes.
“She’s like me,” I offered softly to Mary, who failed to understand until she had a turn with the binoculars.
The gasp that escaped her lips told me she didn’t consider that to be good news. A gunshot rang out, causing Mary to flinch as I had a second look. The woman had started shooting zombies and the faces of more survivors peeked through windows from another of the dorms’ second floor.
“Well, might as well help her out.”
Mary hesitated before nodding as I put the Humvee into drive. Zombies were beginning to surround the bus so I used the vehicle like a weapon and cleared them away from the far side. The woman ignored us and continued a steady stream of gunfire, heads exploding with every single shot. A valley filled with undead had formed between the bus’s broad side and the nearest dorm so I cut across on a perpendicular leg for a clear line of fire.
I rolled down the window and started adding to the noise with my M16, sending out a steady stream of lead in single fire mode with Mary handing me fresh magazines as needed. My shots were not nearly as accurate as the other woman, who seemed to score a kill with each pull of the trigger, but the bodies piled up from my efforts regardless.
Part of the mob diverted towards us so I shifted to full auto and cut through legs, thighs and knees, effectively forming a wall of damaged undead twenty feet from the Humvee’s side. More flowed around them and I knew there was no way to stop the tide so I rolled up the window long enough to shift to handguns. With an M9 pistol in each hand, the killing grew easier as a steady flow of faces appeared in my window, only to fall away with a smoking hole in their foreheads.
Wisely, the woman on the bus was shooting distant zombies so fallen bodies didn’t gather at the vehicle’s base and offer other undead an easy way to reach her. Though I didn’t have the view she did, I estimated there were easily three hundred zombies remaining despite our combined efforts.
“Wish I had grenades.”
I noticed my guns were the only ones firing ten minutes later and I looked for our unknown ally as zombies hammered against and clamored over the hummer’s armored hide. She’d disappeared inside the bus and was climbing back up top through a hatch in its ceiling with a large duffel bag slung over one shoulder. A flash of flame lit a little cigar held between her blue lips as she reclaimed her seat on the lawn chair. Then a rag stuffed into the neck of a glass bottle was put to the fire. She glanced my way and smiled.
She spoke into a little walkie-talkie as the Molotov cocktail’s rag continued to burn and heads disappeared from the dorm windows a moment later. Considering the thick herd of bodies, I wondered how she’d break the glass since those cocktails only really work when they break and the flaming liquid can spread. Arching an eyebrow, I watched her pull a large pistol and toss the bottle, shooting it a foot or two before it reached a zombie’s head.
Burning liquid rained down over the zombies as she smoked her little cigar, watching the result for a few minutes while the scent of burning hair and meat filled the air. Given my heightened sense of smell, it made me gag a little but I didn’t disapprove of the tactic. She repeated the process twice, displaying the same uncanny marksmanship, and I finally began to see the method to her madness.
Her rifle’s gunfire had created channels by dropping bodies into piles. She was tossing the cocktails into little valleys those channels formed and the fire was spreading in the tightly pressed mass of shuffling forms. Occasionally she’d shoot into the group, dropping a few as if herding the undead. Their numbers were dwindling rapidly.
Mary yelped as spiderwebs formed on the Humvee’s window beside her, cracked beneath the continued onslaught it was taking. We’d have to move. I rocked the Hummer back and forth a few times to clear zombies off the roof and hood, then put it into reverse and circled clear of the mob. Another cocktail rained fire before the woman leaned back in her lawnchair and popped open a beer. It made me like her even more.
I drove the Hummer along the bus’s far edge and parked with the cracked window nearly touching the side. It left Mary’s door nestled against the bus’s entrance. The woman came down a few minutes later, still smoking her little cigar and staring at us through the glass. There was an HK MP5 submachine gun on a strap pointed our way but her hand wasn’t on the trigger.
“Heya.” I offered with a smile.
She returned it, staring hard at my eyes and hair before nodding and opening the door. The woman was older than I’d thought, late thirties to mid forties, and her face and hands were heavily scarred. I climbed over Mary through the Humvee’s window as the woman took a few steps back, watching us warily.
“I’m Jaeger. That’s Mary.”
She nodded and cocked her head to the side, studying me while zombie fists hammered away on the bus’s metal siding.
“I am Maliqe. Get stuff and meet up top, yes?”
I nodded in agreement and had Mary start handing me weapons and ammunition while Maliqe climbed up onto the roof again.
“What kind of accent is that?” Mary quietly asked as I helped her onto the bus and closed its door.
“Eastern European. Maybe Ukrainian.” I shrugged and joined Maliqe on the roof a few minutes later with Mary and our gear in tow. She’d reclaimed her lawn chair and lit a fresh cigar by then. Bodies were still burning down below and the thick stink felt greasy in my throat. As Mary and I took a seat and laid out our weapons, the woman looked down and pointed to a small cooler behind the chair.
“Is being cold beer inside. Help self, yes?”
“You talking to someone inside the building there?” I asked, grabbing a beer for myself after loading a fresh magazine into my M16.
She nodded and tilted her chin towards the closest dorm. “Niece inside. I came from Waterbury when shaking first started. She is student here. Gave radio and food yesterday. Sixteen others with her. Ten more in west dorm. Unknown in clinic building.”
“What’s your plan?” I asked while mentally tallying up the remaining zombies. Close to a hundred were still upwardly mobile.
She shrugged and kicked a duffle bag full of ammunition at her bare feet. “Put them down. Get people from buildings. Take to big stone hotel in town. Is simple, no?”
Her accent was so thick and English so choppy that I was having a hard time understanding her words but the calm manner in which she spoke hinted at utter confidence in what she had in mind. I lit another cigarette and watched her reload several magazines for the black Remington 700 rifle on its tripod stand.
Together, Maliqe and I sent a steady stream of bullets into the remaining zombies while Mary sat behind us and reloaded. Maliqe’s accuracy was unbelievable. Inhuman. Whenever she pulled the trigger, something died. I had thought myself to be dangerous but compared to her I was a girl scout.
By the time we paused for a lunch of MREs, the number of remaining zombies was down to a dozen or so. I’d easily shot a few hundred rounds and was getting uncomfortable with what I had remaining, reluctantly reaching for a new magazine and taking my time to make every shot count.
Maliqe seemed to sense this and offered a smile. “Is much more laying around for taking now, yes? Be at ease.”
As the last zombie’s head exploded in a cloud of pink mist, Maliqe simply rose, folded up her chair and tossed stuff down into the bus as if a day at the beach were over. “You are keeping guard while I clear lower floor inside?”
I nodded in agreement and she was done in ten minutes.
Mary guided the first survivors into the bus while I stood watch atop its flat roof, occasionally picking off an approaching zombie using Maliqe’s rifle. It was a police sniper rifle, I’d later learn, that she’d taken from a SWAT armory along with other weapons on her way from Waterbury. Damn accurate and decidedly deadly.
Maliqe and what I assumed to be her niece were the last ones to leave the dorm, walking arm and arm into the bus as I hopped down to drive the Humvee. There were only a few zombies outside the clinic and none remaining at the final dorm as gathered survivors from each.
By the time all was said and done, the bus was packed with an even forty exhausted yet jubilant students and faculty. Mary stayed with them on the bus while I followed Maliqe into town, wondering what reception we'd find and filled with questions for our new acquaintance.