April 28th cont.
I plowed through flooded streets and soggy undead in a very crowded Humvee and ushered everyone up to the roof once we reached the fire station. Introductions were made and explanations given in the pouring rain as I used a pair of binoculars to survey the town below. Dave had been right. Most of East Moodus was under a foot of water.
In a functioning society, the town could recover from that level of damage. The dam would be repaired. Bulkheads surrounding the area shored up and raised. Basements pumped free of water and treated to prevent mold from growing. Yellowstone and the zombies had destroyed any functioning society. The town was fucked.
I explained that to the small group gathered there, waiting for objections or disagreements that never came. Though young, the college students were smart and their minds already awakened to the improbable by an army of walking corpses. “Where’s this asylum?” Several hands pointed to a spot across the lake.
A thick cluster of trees blocked most of my view as I scanned the shoreline. Bare stone rose above the lake’s churning water where a hill began. Between thick foliage and the dense ash-covered tree canopy, I could barely make out the silhouette of a large, rectangular structure. “Who knows how to get there?”
A few replied, including Hope. “Alright. I want everyone packing shit up. Throw stuff in boxes and garbage bags. Every bit of food. All our tools. Get the generator disconnected and ready to roll. Clothes. Guns. Ammunition. Everything we’ll need for a week plus the stuff people might want to steal while we’re gone. Fill the bank truck up to the roof and leave enough room in the RV for most of you to fit. Henry’s in charge of weapons and tools. Kate’s in charge of food and everything else.” I paused long enough to meet each person’s gaze, waiting for heads to nod.
“Hope, you and…what’s your name? Alex? You and Alex with me. Set him up with a handgun and make sure you’ve restocked on ammo for your rifle. I’ll meet you both down at the Humvee in five minutes.”
The cigarette I smoked outside seemed like the best I’d ever had; a brief moment of privacy and quiet enjoyed in a maelstrom of activity. Aftershocks vibrated beneath my feet, causing water to ripple where if flowed like a stream along the street nearby. I watched a severed hand bobbing up and down as it floated by, beckoning me to join it for a swim. Hope and Alex arrived a few moments later, following my gaze as I watched the hand disappear down a large crack in the road.
Water was rushing over the raised road bank where it crossed Moodus Lake with whitecaps and whirlpools forming beneath the small bridges that allowed flow from one side of the lake to the other. The dirt and stone embankments were already eroding, washing away as the gaps grew wider. I doubted any of it would be left in a few years.
We crossed the lake and turned south, following a road through flooded farmland and heavily damaged residential areas. Homes lay to our right as I drove, separating the road from the lake’s eastern shore. Most were damaged. Several flattened or burned to the ground. The water was a few inches high as it lapped at the Humvee’s big tires.
“Up there. Stay to the right,” Alex offered as we neared a turn where the main road cut nearly due east from its southern trek. Trees crowded either side of the cracked asphalt trail, scratching metal and thumping against the Humvee’s armored hide. Weeds and roots had burst through the black roadway, making for a bumpy ride as we passed through a tunnel of thick tree trunks below a dense evergreen canopy. The Humvee’s nose pointed upwards and its tires left water behind as we climbed a gentle rise. Headlights showed a rusting metal sign dotted in buckshot ahead.
‘State Hospital of Middlesex County’.
The road ended at the gate of a chain link fence set before an open space covered in knee high weeds. Alex got out and used a pair of bolt cutters to remove the rusting padlock that secured the entrance. “This place gives me the creeps,” He said once back inside. I barely paid attention, focused instead on the buildings that rose out of darkness before us.
Seven ghostly-while structures rose from the gloom as drove slowly around their perimeter. All together they formed a square with a central courtyard in their midst. The largest was a long rectangle that made up the overall square’s northern wall. It rose five stories tall with a square, covered entryway. Two roughly square buildings lay to the southeast and southwest, both identical as they climbed four stories into the darkness. Between the squares and the large building to the north sat four rectangles, each three stories high, two on either side. It’d be a pain in the ass to explain the layout for the others so I asked Hope to make a quick sketch as we drove around.
All of the buildings were constructed of the same grayish stone; huge blocks with rough exteriors that seemed like stacked granite. Flat roofs all around and the multitude of high, narrow windows were all boarded up. Graffiti covered many of the walls and I could see a few sheets of plywood were missing from windows here and there.
A pair of water towers rose above square bumpouts at the largest building’s back corners, overlooking a parking lot behind the building and a single garage door likely used by trucks dropping off supplies. I parked the Humvee in the grassy courtyard and got out, scanning the area with a handheld floodlight.
I could see why Dave Fargo had considered this place to be the best location in the area. Dropping walls in between the buildings would turn it into a stone fortress set on high ground overlooking the lake a hundred feet away. Hospitals usually had cafeterias and kitchens to make food for their patients, so feeding a group of survivors would be easier. They usually had backup generators too. The fact that none of the buildings showed obvious signs of damage was a testament to their construction quality.
“What do you two know about this place?” I asked once the pair had joined me outside.
“It used to be a mental hospital. Before that it was a plague ward or something. Smallpox I think?” Alex’s voice was low and seemed to carry a bit of fear as he shined a flashlight’s weak beam in the thick darkness surrounding us.
“How long’s it been abandoned?”
Hope answered me, though it wasn’t very informative. “I remember a few kids in my class were going to stay the night up here last year.” She shrugged. “One of those dare things. Everyone thinks the place is haunted.”
“Alex, get back in the Humvee and lock the doors. If you see anything, honk the horn a bunch.” I turned to Hope then and nodded towards the largest building. “You ok to check it out with me or do you wanna stand guard out here?”
I nodded and grabbed a crowbar from the back as Alex climbed inside. Together Hope and I circled the building, checking for disturbances where ash clung to windowsills and mud layered the ground.
“Doesn’t look like anyone’s been up here since everything fell apart.”
“Let’s hope so,” I offered before prying open the front door and stepping inside the building’s musty foyer.
Dust and debris littered the floors and the air carried that stale, faintly moldy quality of a grandmother’s basement. Water pooled on stained linoleum where plywood had been removed, but overall the building wasn’t in bad shape. Little furniture remained. Not a single light bulb had been left behind. Here and there we found the remnants of parties; broken alcohol bottles, charred wood and stained mattresses.
Half of the first floor was dedicated to a large cafeteria and kitchen. No appliances met our flashlight beams as we surveyed the open space, though the industrial freezer and refrigerator, each nearly a room onto themselves, seemed intact. Apparently the state had taken anything of value and left the buildings boarded up tight.
I led us to the back corners where they jutted out from the rectangle’s smooth rear wall and found a pair of large double doors blocking access to the ground floor. The crowbar pried one off its hinge with a scream of ripping metal that echoed in the cold, empty halls. Beyond lay a pair of hulking boilers and a large diesel generator that dominated in a room easily two stories high. Huge support beams ran from floor to ceiling with metal crosswalks that formed a spider web of grated decking overhead.
We climbed a spiral staircase to what I assumed was the third floor and discovered a trio of empty fuel tanks. They looked somewhat new and were made of thick plastic rather than rusting metal. A door marked ‘roof access’ lay atop another set of stairs.
“Do you think you can get it working?” Hope asked as he headed back downstairs and passed the massive generator.
“No clue. Not a priority right now.”
The other side was identical to the first and I spent a few minutes reading control panels and circuit breakers in an effort to understand the setup. From what I could gather, the campus was divided in half with one boiler, generator and water tower servicing each side. It looked workable and I figured we’d at least be able to get one side up and running by scavenging parts from the other. A metal plate on one of the boilers read ‘1987’.
“Ok. Top to bottom again. This time look for cracks and water stains on the ceiling,” I told Hope before leading her through the building once more. Overall the structure was in good shape, initially needing only a thorough cleaning and some basic repairs. Luck, for once, seemed to cut me a break.
Back outside again, I set up road flares where I wanted vehicles to park and sent Hope back to the fire station with Alex driving. Alone at the asylum, I smoked a cigarette and did quick sweeps of the remaining buildings.
Between the bathroom fixtures and labels left on the doors, I figured out that the lakeside wing had been for female patients and staff, leaving the opposite wing for their male counterparts. The two square buildings were mostly administrative while the central rectangles apparently served as apartment-style dorms. The largest structure had rooms for hospital treatment and recreation in addition to the cafeteria.
I wandered around the outer grounds and found the high chain link fence mostly intact; a few places cut here and there by urban explorers and vandals. It wouldn’t stop a living human or small group of zombies from getting inside, but at least the framework was there for future reinforcement efforts.
The broken remains of greenhouses and what looked to be an orchard gone feral occupied the northwest corner of the grounds, overlooking the lake beyond. A few small service buildings scattered here and there were empty and damaged by neglect. Useless for the most part.
My floodlight’s beam fell upon steam as I reached the campus’s southeastern-most tip, an area of exposed rock that rose above the lake to it’s west and a rushing river that ran from east to west. Steam rose from those swift currents as they fed into the lake and the scent of sulfur reached my overly sensitive nose. I ran a hand along the bare rock beneath my feet and found it warm to the touch. Further investigation was put on hold as car horns blared and headlights danced in the darkness behind me.
The others had parked and were beginning to explore the buildings by the time I reached them. Flashlight beams crisscrossed the air and I realized then that the rain had stopped. Henry rolled up in his wheelchair, ignoring everything else once he spotted my approaching form. “What are your orders?”
I chuckled. “Orders?”
“Yup. I had a talk with everyone while you were gone. You’re in charge. Period. Its all settled and agreed.”
“Hell fucking no.” I held up a hand to stop his reply and nodded towards the largest building. “I’m gonna get you guys set up, help fortify the place, and handle security but I am not, capital N, O, T, not, in charge. I’d end up shooting people just to end drama.”
Henry chuckled and slapped my knee. “Good enough. Let’s just say you’re in charge for the next week and then we’ll revisit cause nothing will get done otherwise.”
I fired off three rounds from my gun and waited until everyone was gathered around before describing what I’d learned about the buildings. After that I started giving orders, laying out where I wanted the generator and supplies. Teams were established to clean while others unloaded supplies and set up lights. Henry, Hope and I stood watch while things got done.
Not a single soul wasn’t exhausted by the time I let them call it quits for the night. Grumbling forms climbed into makeshift beds and the cafeteria glowed a soft orange from space heaters scattered about. While the others slept, I made the rounds again and locked the building up tight before climbing up to the roof.
Sleep didn’t come for me that night as I stood watch, scenting the wind in utter darkness. It wasn’t because I needed to protect everyone. No. I didn’t sleep because I was too pissed about having people to protect.