Chapter 4 - Entry 4
April 23rd cont. - April 24th
There was food. Music. Speeches. Maliqe and I watched from the Humvee’s hood, leaning back against the glass and sharing Vodka from her flask. Eventually things quieted down and the flask ran dry, signaling an end to the festivities for everyone.
Mary and Marley joined us for a brief conversation, the end result of which was their desire to stay and ours to go.
“Stay for few days. Jaeger and I are near. Keep radio. Be safe.”
I gave both girls an M9 pistol with a few extra clips before Maliqe and I hopped into the Humvee and headed out.
The town outside of Lockwood’s little bubble was a mess. I drove slowly, avoiding potholes and sharp debris while Maliqe gave me directions. We cut west a few blocks, then turned north with the lake to our right beyond a large park. The area given to Maliqe in exchange for rescuing Lockwood’s daughter and the other Vale survivors was at the town’s northeastern-most tip.
Like the college, it sat on a bit of land that jutted out into the Moodus Lake. A road crossed the lake below the rectangular peninsula, rising above the waters on a stone embankment with frequent small bridges. Unlike Lockwood’s happy dream, Maliqe’s territory was still a mess.
A square, flat-topped fire station, three stories tall with three garage bays, rose above the street as far to the northeast as you could go. Its aged brick facade overlooked the area from a higher vantage point that was practically a hill rising above the water and its backside ended where a concrete bulkhead began. There was a gravel parking lot beside the station, separating it from a row of two story storefronts which included a Chinese restaurant, a small pharmacy and an office building. A tall water tower rose above the fire station, anchored into the parking lot with thick metal legs moored in concrete. Across the street sat a row of apartment buildings divided into three groups of units by paved parking lots.
Maliqe hopped out as I pulled the Humvee in front of the fire station, dropping two zombies with two shots and too little effort. She’d secured thick metal sheets over the first floor windows on either side and had a heavy chain looped through the front door’s handle.
The middle garage bay door cranked open after she’d stepped inside so I pulled the Humvee into its empty space and killed the engine. There was a large generator in one of the bays, one of the self contained units on its own trailer used at construction sites, quietly rumbling as it fed electricity to the building. An armored bank truck occupied the other. She grinned when I looked at it and offered me a shrug.
The second floor was being used for storage and Maliqe had several of its rooms packed full. There was food, furniture, electronics and equipment in neat lines and a small gasoline generator powered several deep freezer chests in the central room. Most of the bigger spaces were filled with building supplies. Upstairs was a large apartment.
“Owner made fire station into vehicle repair garage, yes? Second floor was being full of office furniture. Top floor already place to live.”
I looked around while she started a pot of coffee and stripped off her windbreaker. There was a thick surfer’s wetsuit under it, clinging tightly to her slender form. The apartment had two bedrooms, though the smaller one was filled with canned and dry foods. Its bathroom had been turned into an armory filled with rows of weapons and a considerable amount of ammunition. She’d stripped off the wetsuit top by the time I stepped back into the spacious living room, humming softly as she smoked a cigar in the kitchen. Topless.
The black veins were prominent across her torso and one arm. Tattoos covered the remaining arm from shoulder to wrist. She was lean and solidly built with muscles that rippled beneath her tanned skin with every subtle movement. I didn’t consider her pretty or cute, but there was a deadly grace to her that felt very desirable.
“Is being map of town on table. Ham in fridge. Eat. I go shower and change clothes.”
I grabbed the big ass plate of ham and brought it to the table along with a beer and picked off meat while looking at the map. It was hand drawn with notes in what I presumed to be Albanian off to the side. While Maliqe did her thing, I studied the layout.
She’d drawn what looked to be borders around the fire station, thick dotted lines that ran west and south for two blocks to form a thick rectangle. Where the water’s edge ended just beyond the row of buildings next door, she’d used a red marker to draw a fat line across the street, connecting with the last apartment building’s side. A thinner red line ran out from there with X’s over the buildings beyond. Behind the apartments was a small alleyway and then the rear of businesses on the other side. She’d put more thick red lines in front of those other buildings.
“Have not cleared or secured any other than here and China place. Much food in China place. Was good find.” Maliqe padded barefoot into the room, now wearing a pair of sweatpants and long tee-shirt. “Block off where water is not protecting side. Make a square. Knock down buildings and plant when ash is gone, yes?”
I nodded and leaned back, drinking my beer as I studied her. “You changed like me. What happened?”
“Spirits made me a little stronger. A little faster. I do not know words in English, but I am not missing with gun now. Hands do what brain wants done.” She looked at me over her shoulder and smiled. “Is gift. Demons wear dead skin now so ancestor spirits give gifts to chosen ones.”
I hadn’t expected a religious explanation from such a practical and efficient woman, but then I remembered she came from a different culture than my own. If that was how her mind wanted to see this, then who was I to argue? For all I knew, she might have been right.
“Do you heal quickly too? Better sense of smell?”
“I am healing quickly if wound not bad. Little cuts in a minute. Was shot on highway two days ago. Is almost healed. Does not hurt. Smell is same. Hearing is same. Eyes are different inside and out. Hard to explain, yes?” She shrugged and I filed that away before offering a rundown of what had happened to me.
“Is different. You are filled with spirit gifts after bite. I am changing when ash first fell. No hunger in me like you. Will be issue, I am thinking, made by others though. Not human, as you say. Meaning we are being different from them. Others not like different.”
I nodded and looked down at the map. There were ten blocks separating the edge of Maliqe’s territory from theirs. I hoped it would be enough.
The master bath had one of those tankless water heaters and a huge jacuzzi so I took a long, hot bath and let the stress melt away. Maliqe’s clothes fit me pretty well so I borrowed a set of sweats and curled up in the bedroom’s big ass king-sized bed. I slept like the dead and woke up in the morning with Maliqe’s back pressed up against mine. The SMG rested on her nightstand. My handgun sat atop mine.
We ate a big breakfast and looked at a map of the whole area while she called her niece on the radio to check in. She and Mary were sharing a room at the old hotel and things were going well.
Our goal for the day was to clear out and secure the buildings inside her planned safe zone. We’d seal them up and use a bulldozer to clear the streets if time allowed. Tomorrow we’d block off the streets.
Maliqe dressed herself in the same wetsuit, which drew a curious look from me.
“Is kind used in waters with sharks. Teeth not get through.” Her gaze flicked to my M9s and she returned with another HK MP5. “Use like pistol, yes? Holds thirty rounds in magazine. Nine millimeter too. Was made for urban fighting. You try?”
I nodded and together we went over its features, clearing phantom jams and committing its operation to muscle memory. The little submachine gun wasn’t much heavier than my pistol without the clip and the full auto capability was a nice bonus. She had ten of them in her bathroom armory.
We finished getting dressed and ready, then cleared a handful of zombies wandering around the street outside. Maliqe was barefoot again and I asked her about it as we crossed the gravel parking lot on our way to the little pharmacy next door.
“I am growing up poor. Never wore shoes as child. Bothers feet. Shoes being luxury in twenty years, yes? Get used to life without them.” A shrug. “Cuts on feet heal fast. Not need shoes for protection now.”
There was a single large window to one side of the pharmacy’s front door. Darkness lay beyond. I sniffed the air, nostrils flaring, and crept to the doorway. When I closed my eyes, my brain could filter out the scents and with a bit of concentration I knew there were no zombies inside. Maliqe looked impressed as I relayed the information and took my word at face value.
Our sweep of the pharmacy was thorough and done in five minutes, working together well as a team. A doorway in back led to a small hall with stairs leading up to the second floor. I could smell the undead above and warned Maliqe a few moments before we heard their shuffling footfalls. She pulled me close for a whispered conversation.
“Is being better maybe to kill without making mess, yes? Others may live here some day. You are good with hand to hand?”
I shrugged and pulled a combat knife from its home on my belt. Maliqe considered it for a moment before pulling her own melee weapon free.
It was a knife of sorts with a twelve inch double blade. The sides between its sharpened edges were rounded, making it look more like an oval with sharp peaks than a knife proper. Its pommel was a pistol grip with a circular hand guard.
“Is from old days. Punch through metal armors, yes? Is not getting stuck in bone.” A second one slide free from its sheath after she’d tucked the SMG over her shoulder.
I nodded when she looked my way, one of scarred hands on the doorknob to the space upstairs.
Maliqe knocked on the door and said something in Albanian that sounded like a taunt. She waited then, listening intently until fists started banging on the door. One hand turned the doorknob while the second braced herself for a kick that sent the door flying open. It crashed into the body behind it, which she’d already jabbed through the skull by the time I got inside.
She was squaring off against a very fat zombie with both knives held before her like a boxer’s fists. A pair of undead children were approaching from the side. I ran forward and put one boot into the chest of each kid, landing on my back as they flew across the room. By the time I sat up and sent the knife blade into each of their heads, Maliqe had disposed of the fat zombie and was opening a window that overlooked the street below.
Together we checked the upper floor and found it to be clear of further threats, then heaved the bodies out the window and spent a half hour securing the pharmacy’s lower windows and doors using sheets of plywood.
Maliqe had already cleared the Chinese restaurant so the office building was our last stop on the fire station’s side of the street. She readied her SMG and nodded towards the building.
“Is sturdy. Will be like fort on end of street. Not to live in. Guard post, yes?”
I nodded in agreement and together we kicked in the front door.
The first floor was divided into four office groups, each empty of zombies and filled with the usual assortment of business furniture and equipment. A central stairwell and elevator occupied the middle beyond the entrance foyer.
There were zombies running down the stairs when we started our climb. Together we took aim and fired, each covering our own side and the center. One by one the runners dropped, rolling down the stairs as their slower companions shuffled behind. A large window overlooking the stairwell shattered from one of my missed shots. Maliqe 'tsked tsked' and teased me about making a mess of the place.
Nine zombies were dead by the time we finished and stepped over their bodies to reach the floor above. Two more had barricaded themselves into a conference room while still alive. Eleven more corpses were dumped into the street and an hour passed as we secured the building’s lower floor.
We sat outside on a sidewalk bench, smoking and having a cold lunch while a strong wind blew dust and ash down the street before us. Maliqe was quiet, watching the apartment buildings for signs of movement in between pulls from her tiny cigar.
“Am thinking we not use guns inside, yes? Keep place ready for people to live right away. Use China restaurant as meeting area for new community. Is bar inside. Make parking lots into fields for food. Connect buildings at roof.” She sighed and took a swig from her hip flask before handing it over. Vodka straight was her drink of choice. “Is so much to do.”
“You’re making all these plans that include other people. Where are they going to come from Maliqe?” I asked, letting smoke billow from my nostrils and handing back the flask.
“Three kinds of people at Millhouse, yes? Some trust Lockwood and love plan. Some do not trust Lockwood but are feeling safe so will stay. Some think all is bullshit and will leave. Common sense in those that leave. Common sense is what I am wanting.” She shrugged and idly lifted her SMG with one hand, firing a single round that caught a zombie between the eyes at the end of the street.
“Others live outside of town. Will see safety in numbers. Some go to Lockwood. Some come to me. I am thinking hotel is safe but making bigger area around it will stretch security too thin. Size of island, like Lockwood calls them, is needing to match population. Bubbles pop when too big, yes?”
“Yeah. Guy I talked to from the government said these clouds and ash will cover the earth for three to five years. That means we’re gonna have to live on canned food until they pass. Save up seeds to plant when the sun starts to shine. If we have too many people then it’s going to be that much harder to keep them alive.”
Maliqe nodded and slapped my back with a grin. “Am thinking fifty at most. All fighters. All workers. Everyone equal, yes?”
“Works for me. Now let me go get my baseball bat and we can clear out those apartments.”
Maliqe used a five foot length of rebar like a spear while I aimed at legs and knees. The simple process we established worked amazingly well. She’d open the door. I’d whack their legs. She’d ram the rebar through their skulls while they tried to get up. Without a single shot fired we cleared all three apartment buildings in four hours.
The street was littered with our kills by the time we finished clearing and securing the apartments. She’d stashed a massive bulldozer just outside of town so I drove it in while she hung onto its side and provided cover fire against any zombies trying to reach its open cockpit. I lowered its huge blade and plowed down the street, pushing bodies, rubble and debris away from her territory and leaving it piled up a few blocks away.
With a few hours of daylight left, we sat down to eat and consider what to do next. Since I wasn’t familiar with the area, we decided to go for a relaxing, scenic drive.