Chapter 6 - Entry 5
April 30th cont.
The road cut south, crossing the lake’s northern tip on a raised strip with water on either side. Frank’s hand pointed straight ahead, unswerving as we drove. I followed the road until we’d driven through the lake and reached solid ground at its northeastern side. It was then that Frank tapped the dashboard and hooked his fingers to point towards a street to our left. Molly and I shared a look but with no other destination in mind, we both shrugged and I steered the van where Frank wanted us to go.
The street wove northeast through a sparse residential area surrounded by dense woodlands. Following Frank’s mute directions, we turned left onto what appeared to be a main road that ran northwest. A forest lay to our left with the Fort a mile or so beyond. I’d driven a mile or so before Frank tapped the dashboard again. This time he gave no direction.
“You want us to stop here Dad?” Molly asked. Frank’s head nodded in a jerky motion.
I looked around and saw nothing but a few homes, most spared damage from earthquakes, and dark woods filled with ash-coated evergreen trees. Molly began to load magazines for her Glock into coat pockets. Frank sat motionless between the front seats.
“Ok. I’m not leaving the van parked in the middle of the street. I’ll pull it behind that house over there.” Frank seemed a little agitated as I pulled behind the house, tapping on the dashboard over and over. He stopped when I killed the engine.
The three of us climbed out of the van, Frank beginning to walk as soon as his feet hit the ground. Molly moved to stand in front of him, a hand on his chest, to give me time to get ready. Once I’d grabbed flashlights and extra mags for the HK, Molly let Frank move and we fell in line behind him.
He headed back down the road to where I’d stopped before, then turned north and started walking into the woods. There was a trail of sorts; it appeared to have once been a dirt road with shallow ditches on either side. The path wound through dense trees and what seemed to be an abundance of rose bushes, their thorns painfully sharp, gone feral and wild.
“Any idea where he’s leading us?” I asked, lighting up a cigarette whose cherry glowed weakly in the near darkness.
“No. Mom grew up around here though so he knows the area fairly well.” She paused, grabbing Frank’s belt to halt his progress, and shined her flashlight into the ditch nearby. “Is that steam?”
I moved to the roadside and shined my own light down into the ditch, finding water flowing slowly there with steam rising from its surface. Time and erosion had turned the once-steep ditchbank into a gentle slope covered with weeds and bushes. I pushed past them and dipped a hand into the water. It was bath-water warm. “Yup. Its warm.”
Frank started moving again, pulling Molly along as she tried to hold onto his belt. I climbed out and jogged to catch up as his shambling pace increased. More steam met my flashlight’s beam as I scanned the woods; little pools of hot water bubbling here and there with steam hanging above them in the windless air like clouds. The scent of sulfur tickled my nose.
“You ever been in these woods before? I asked, moving to walk beside Molly as Frank pushed onwards.
She shook her head. “No. Dad moved to New London after Mom died. I grew up there.”
Frank’s quick pace ate the miles, though distance was hard to judge since the road meandered like a snake through the woodlands. Eventually we reached a low stone wall, covered in dormant rose bushes, which surrounded a clearing. Frank followed it until a pair of rusting metal gates, secured with a thick chain and padlock, blocked his path.
He reached out then, gripping the bars of one gate in his gnarled hands, and pulled. The metal flexed and groaned before hinges ripped free of their anchors set into the stone wall. It was an impressive display of strength.
Molly leaned over and whispered as her father casually hefted the gate aside. “He’s really strong now. I watched him toss a zombie about twenty feet. Guess its from the infection, ya know? Fucked up his brain but gave him crazy badass strength.” She shrugged.
Frank was moving again, oblivious to his daughter’s words as we fell in line behind him. Beyond the gate lay a mostly open space, overgrown with weeds and bushes. My boots clunked softly on a moss-covered stone path that led from the gates up a gentle rise. The shadow of a large building sat perched atop the low hill’s peak.
Molly and I walked around the building while Frank stood motionless, staring at the aged stone walls with a vacant expression. I couldn’t tell what purpose the building originally served from the outside but it seemed to have been abandoned for several years.
There were three structures joined together. One was a tall, flat-topped tower that rose four stories high and reminded me of a church’s belltower. A square, three story building with a domed-shaped roof sat opposite the tower. A one and a half story rectangular building with a flat roof lay between them. Everything was made of a beige stone, covered in many places by dead vines. Trees and weeds pushed right up against the walls.
Rotting wood panels covered all the windows and heavy chains secured rusting metal doors set into the tall tower and the square wing. Molly guided Frank towards one of the tower doors and pointed at the chain.
“Can you open this Dad?”
He did, thin arms shaking as he pulled hard at the heavy padlock, twisting it back and forth until the metal snapped like brittle ice. I put my shoulder against the door and pushed, dust falling around me as it moved inwards slowly. Frank stepped forward and pushed with one hand, causing the door to fly open with a screech of metal on metal.
The tower’s interior was covered in a thick layer of dust. Rotting wood lay strewn about the floor and jagged edges protruded from holes in the decayed ceiling above. A stone staircase hugged one wall, ascending upwards into darkness. I climbed up one story and found the floor, which had been made of wood, was unstable. In essence the tower was a four-story hollow shell.
We moved on to the next section and found the rectangular space was likewise covered in a thick layer of dust. Carpet lay rotting atop large flagstone tiles. Interior walls were brittle and decayed, again leaving the stone structure a mostly empty shell.
I circled the interior and found a granite plaque set into an archway leading into the building’s square wing. Molly joined me as I read it aloud.
“To take care especially to protect from the contagion of the world, to train in piety, to imbue with the rudiments of literary studies, and to foster in them the seed of a divine vocation."
“What the hell?” Molly whispered.
I shrugged. “A seminary or something? Maybe a religious boarding school for orphans?”
We passed through the archway and entered the square section, finding it mostly intact. Flagstones lay beneath our feet in the large, open space before us. Rotting tables and chairs occupied the room’s center, set before a huge hearth the dominated one wall. Rusting cast iron stoves and a large wall oven like pizza places used to use lay behind a half stone wall with a flat countertop.
“Looks like a cafeteria.” Molly concluded. I had to agree.
We climbed the stone staircase up to the second floor. Wooden walls had crumbled and collapsed in many places, though from the basic layout it seemed a safe bet to assume the space had been used as a dormitory. A large gym-style bathroom sat on the far end, opposite the staircase. Rusting metal bunkbed frames lay beneath moldering mattresses in several of the rooms. All together there had been eight rooms with two bunkbeds in each. The third floor was much the same, though single beds lay in the slightly larger bedrooms. I assumed staff or clergy had used the space as their quarters.
With the initial walk-through complete, we started again from top to bottom with an eye on what would be necessary to turn the place into a functional home. While the exterior walls were solid, the interior would need to be gutted and rebuilt. Electrical wires and plumbing were too damaged to be used. The cast iron radiators seemed salvageable.
We headed outside for a closer look at the surroundings and found two large stone buildings with crumbling roofs at the overgrown clearing’s edge. One looked like it had been a stable. The other held the rusting hulk of a large coal-fed boiler. I couldn’t find any electrical lines leading into the area. It would be a huge amount of work just to get the place livable.
“Dad?” Molly called out, flashlight scanning the ash-covered ground. “He was right behind me a minute ago.”
I joined her in searching for Frank, grumbling in annoyance that he’d wandered off. We found him standing in front of a stone well. The old kind villages used to haul water up with a bucket. It was filled to the top with steaming water that overflowed where a few stone blocks had washed away. A stream poured down the hill, carving a narrow channel through the soil as it rushed off into the darkness. I dipped a hand into its surface and jerked back, hissing at the brief flash of pain. My fingertips were burned, raised blisters popping as they quickly healed.
“This right here? This is reason enough to stay.”
Molly gave me a questioning look as I stared at the overflowing well. Grinning, I nodded towards the building that lay twenty feet uphill beyond.
“We can use this to make electricity and heat the place. Hell, it might even be hot enough to cook with.” I lit a cigarette and turned in a slow circle, giving the area a second look with new eyes. “Yeah. This is it. Our new home.”
“Ok. What do we need to do?” Molly asked, lighting her own cigarette as she too had a second look around.
“First we’ll clear the road out some so we can get vehicles and equipment in here. We’ve got a shitload of work to do. Probably take a few months.”
“We could get one of those big ass campers. Or one of those luxury RV buses. Something to live in while the work gets done.”
I nodded absently, agreeing it was a good idea as my mind raced through an impossibly long list of gear and equipment we’d need.
“I don’t think we should tell the others where this place is,” Molly began, her words surprising me. “Maybe we just claim the woods around here as our turf. Tell em to keep out.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Why?”
“When I lived in New London, I sorta hooked up with a gang. You had to claim turf and defend it. Let others know to stay clear or you’ll get your ass handed to you. Its like that, but more. Just the three of us here. If that hot water thing is so important, we don’t want others trying to grab it right? Especially if we put a shit load of work into making the place our home. Might not be the people from the Fort we gotta worry so much about but people talk, yeah? What happens in a few years when some group runs out of gas or food? Or another earthquake knocks down the building they’re livin in?”
“Let me think about it,” I replied. “For now we’ll keep it a secret. Move a bus in here like you suggested and get the windows and doors secure. We can go get the generator from the asylum for power until I figure out how to set up a system using the hot spring.”
Frank turned and started shambling away, heading back towards the gate. Molly shrugged as I chuckled. Apparently it was time to go.