Chapter 4 - Entry 5
April 24th cont. - April 25th
Maliqe and I climbed into the Humvee and headed east, taking the narrow road that ran across the lake. Farmland spread out to our right as I drove slowly, both of us smoking with the windows rolled down. To the left were a few commercial buildings; old warehouses converted into hardware stores, farming supply wholesalers and a lumber yard. Beyond the fields lay a huge farmhouse with an equally massive garage filled with tractors and other farming equipment. Smoke drifted from its chimney as we drove slowly by.
I turned left onto Mott Lane and followed it through dense woodland broken occasionally by clumps of residential subdivisions. The road headed northwest, following the lake’s northern contour before ending where Fall’s Road intersected it along the southwest to northeast axis. I followed Fall’s Road with the lake to our left, then turned south onto Falls-Basham Road as it followed the lake’s western bank on its way back into town.
The area had been mostly clear of zombies until that point but a large clump of them had gathered around an RV stopped in the middle of the road ahead. A woman was on the roof with what appeared to be a broom or mop handle, jabbing down into the snarling faces that tried to reach her. Maliqe and I got our weapons ready and slowly neared, noticing a handful of dead bodies laying on the ground in a circle around the RV.
The woman looked up as we approached, waving frantically and calling for help.
“Hang on.” I offered to Maliqe before putting the Humvee into low and revving the engine.
She did. Reinforced bumpers and oversized tires were introduced to squishy zombie bodies as I rammed through the crowd gathered on one side. Circling around, I repeated the process on the opposite side. Maliqe and I climbed out after that and put down the remaining broken and damaged figures as they crawled towards us.
Once the final shot had rang out, the woman climbed down and threw her arms around us both. She was in her forties, dressed in dirty jeans and a torn sweater. Her brown hair was a mess and the body odor made my eyes water.
“Oh thank God. Henry! Hope! You can come out now!”
A battered side door opened to allow a young girl of perhaps twelve to dash out and hug what I assumed to be her mother. There was a mechanical noise from the doorway and I watched as a wheelchair lift slowly lowered its passenger.
The legless man who wheeled himself a few feet forward had long red hair pulled into a tight ponytail and a scraggly beard covering his haggard face. A pistol sat in a shoulder holster under one strongly built arm. He cracked a crooked grin, regarding our eyes and clothing. “Guess you’re not the Army.”
“Happy to see you anyway. Got any gas you can spare? We were trying to make it into town.”
“Just diesel. But we can tow you back.”
He nodded and rolled backwards onto the ramp again. “We’d be very grateful if you could.”
I pulled the Humvee around and a unrolled towing chain from its bumper while Maliqe watched for more undead. The girl, Hope, stood watching me the entire time and when I’d finished she begged her mother to ride in the Humvee. Maliqe smiled and offered to ride in the RV so Hope excitedly climbed up front with me as we started the drive.
“My Daddy was in the Army. I bet he used to drive one of these,” The chipper little blond beside me chirped as I drove.
I grinned and aimed the Humvee’s nose at a zombie shuffling down the street. She laughed as I ran it over and the Humvee rocked from side to side.
“Did your father fight in the desert?” I asked once the rocking had stopped.
She nodded and looked out the side window, youthful enthusiasm dying a bit.
“Is that how he lost his legs?”
Again she nodded, obviously not wanting to talk about it. I didn’t blame her. The drive back took awhile since I had to go slow with the RV in tow but we made it with little trouble.
The road deposited us beside the office building in Maliqe’s territory so I turned left and pulled in front of the fire station. Hope stayed inside the Humvee while Maliqe and I cleared out eight zombies from the street. Gas was brought down and the center garage bay door opened, allowing Hope’s mother to drive the RV right inside. I left the Humvee parked on the street out front.
“You and Hope be going upstairs. Top floor, yes? Take showers and eat. Help self. Relax. Being safe now.” Maliqe was saying to the mother, whose name I’d later learn was Kate, as I joined them outside the RV.
Henry’s wheelchair lowered onto the concrete floor and he offered a nod to his wife before she left with their daughter in tow.
“Is no elevator.” Maliqe offered softly once we were alone with Henry.
His face darkened as he looked to the stairs. “I’ll just stay down here then.”
“No we are helping you up stairs.” There wasn’t any room for argument in Maliqe’s tone but Henry tried it anyway. She was having none of it and the sharp slap of her hand against his face rang out in the garage bay. “You are being solider, yes?”
“Not anymore.” He snapped angrily, rubbing his cheek where a red handprint was forming.
Again the slap came, her hand a blur as it connected with the other side of his face. “Once solider, always solider. Is war zone, yes? Whole country. Shove pride up ass and take help, solider.” Maliqe offered her hand then, staring hard at Henry. “I will drag by hair if making me.”
Emotions warred across his face, not the least of which were anger and shame, but Maliqe had called out to the solider inside and it responded by raising his hand to clasp her own. She hefted him over her shoulders and carried him piggy-back up the stairs while I brought the wheelchair.
Once Kate had taken a shower and filled the tub for a very excited Hope, the adults sat down for a talk.
“Decided on ride back that family is to be staying here for now. They are not wanting to join with Lockwood.”
I nodded, turning to regard Henry as he spoke with a bitter tone.
“We were renting a home from Lockwood outside of town and he nearly evicted us when my disability check didn’t come one month. I wouldn’t serve with that man if he was the last person left on earth.”
“Be staying in bedroom tonight. Will figure out where to put you all tomorrow.” Maliqe rose then and stepped out of the room, returning a few minutes later with one of the Remington 700 rifles. She handed it over to Henry. “You are being Overwatch. Everyone pulls weight in my turf. Tomorrow we find little .22 for Hope. Is being your job to make sniper out of her, yes?”
Kate started to object but Henry silenced her with a raised hand. The nod he gave to Maliqe was short and sweet but there was a deep intensity in his gaze as dirty fingertips glided along the rifle’s synthetic black surface.
Maliqe and I moved food out of the second bedroom and brought a mattress up from the RV for Hope to sleep on. We spent the night on the second floor in an empty room after hanging out with Henry’s family for awhile. The smell of breakfast cooking woke me up in the morning.
Rest and purpose had helped Henry a great deal. He sat at the dinner table with the rifle pulled apart, cleaning it carefully using oiled rags as his wife cooked. The beard was gone along with the long hair, leaving him cleanly shaven with red hair worn in a neat, short style. Kate brought coffee out for the three of us as Maliqe and I joined him at the table. A remade man sat with us, full of energy and drive.
“So I was looking out the window this morning after I found your map. If we make bridges between the apartment buildings then I can get across them and cover the whole street. We can take one of the top floor apartments and I’ll rig a hatch in the roof. Just leave a second wheelchair up there and I’ll be fine. What do you think?”
Maliqe smiled and I nodded in agreement.
“Sounds good. Maybe an apartment in the middle building would work best? Then you could fire from the window if need be.” I sipped coffee after offering my two cents.
Maliqe remained quiet and thoughtful, watching Henry continue to clean his rifle over the edge of her steaming mug.
We’d all eaten breakfast by the time Maliqe spoke her mind, smoking one of her little cigars as she leaned back in the chair and shifted her gaze between Henry and his girls. “Am going to have each apartment building like own fort. Self contained, yes? All with own defenders. We do as Jaeger says and put family in top floor of middle building. Henry is being in charge of building and people in it. Organize and train. Mange inventory. Defend if needed. When apartments are being full, expand to next building. For next few days, family is staying here. Am needing to make building things work and secure against demons.”
“Am I really going to be a sniper?” Hope asked a moment later, breaking the silence as all the adults mulled over Maliqe’s plan.
“No honey.” Henry deadpanned before cracking a broad grin. “You’re going to be the best damn sniper there ever was,” A hand lifted to cup his daughter’s face. “Maliqe and Jaeger are going to find you the right sized rifle for your body and I’m going to teach you how to use and take care of it. You’ll be up on the roof with me every day, keeping us all safe.”
The smile on his daughter’s lips threatened to split her head in half. Kate didn't seem very happy as she rose silently and headed into the kitchen.
I followed her and started helping with the dishes, speaking softly for a private word. “Hope is going to be on a roof about as far from the zombies as you can get.” I began, pausing to look into the woman’s face with a stern expression.
“The old world is dead. No more police to call if someone breaks into your home. No hospitals full of doctors waiting to treat a broken arm. We have to survive on our own now. She’ll be able to protect herself and those she loves. Little girls don’t get to play with dolls and fuss with makeup now. When they’re old enough to hold a rifle, they learn to use it.”
I’m not sure if my words eased her mind but she at least nodded and joined us all on the roof some time later.
Henry sat in his wheelchair, rifle in hand, surveying the street below with his daughter by his side. Maliqe brought up a box of ammunition and taught Hope how to properly load an empty magazine while her father fired off a few rounds, hitting a distant zombie in its chest.
“Are needing head shots to kill demons.” Maliqe instructed.
A scope was brought up and fitted to the rifle a few minutes later and Henry was dropping bodies consistently after he’d adjusted its optics.
I left a walkie-talkie with him before Maliqe and I headed back downstairs, leaving the family on the roof. Henry and Hope were smiling and I chuckled to myself, thinking it odd that giving a man a gun could make him want to live more.