Chapter 7 - Entry 2
The afternoon was both productive and uneventful as we hit the list of renters Molly found and managed to recover most of the equipment. Since all but one location was a home, we scavenged any food and toiletries laying around inside.
Our biggest bonus find was a three hundred gallon home heating oil tank, essentially diesel fuel dyed a different color and taxed at a lower rate, next to the third house. We came back for it with the small bulldozer just before sunset and managed to get it onto the flatbed trailer without any injuries thanks to Frank the Hulk. With plenty of fuel for the diesel generator and lots of new toys to play with, we set up lights outside the building and got to work.
I cut lengths of rebar salvaged from a collapsed home and fitted them into the first floor windows like prison bars after Molly cut holes in the stone frames. Cross bars were welded in place afterward, leaving squares barely big enough for a human hand to squeeze through. We’d eventually put thick Plexiglas on either side of the metalwork another day to keep the wind out. At that point security was the major concern and those bars made access by the undead impossible.
It took Molly and I all night and three pots of coffee to finish the first floor’s nineteen windows while Frank literally stood guard, silently moving to place himself between our backs and the dark woods surrounding us. There was no naked breakfast cooked that morning. Just oatmeal and cans of corned beef hash heated up in the bus’s microwave. Molly and I climbed into bed with full bellies and sore muscles. Frank sat in his chair.
Sleep hit me like a ton of bricks but the rack spit me out after a few hours. Wide awake, I started a fresh pot of liquid caffeine and managed to get Frank to help me maneuver the big generator set into one of the roofless outer buildings. It fit like a glove with just enough room on either side for me to walk. We got the oil tank up on cinderblocks against the building’s stone walls after that and for an hour I did some basic maintenance before rigging a fuel line. Extension cords run to the bus’s external power connector and through one of the newly secured building windows gave us all the juice we’d need for the short term. The generator's low rumbling purr was barely audible more than a dozen feet from its new stone home.
I cleared out debris, rotting wood and dead weeds from the tower until Molly stumbled sleepily inside a few hours later. By then I’d gutted the four story structure until it was just an empty square shell. We stood side by side looking all the way up in silence for a moment before she scratched her ass and took a sip of coffee.
“What are we going to do with this?”
I’d given that some thought as I worked and pointed at the four empty archways just below the flat ceiling that were open to the air. “I think we should mount a big water tank up there. Let gravity provide water pressure. When the ash clears and the sun shines again, it’ll keep the water warm. If we leave enough room then we can still access the roof. Put some sandbags down and it’ll give us a good sniper position to cover most of the area.”
She nodded and asked her next question after a gigantic yawn, “How are we gonna get water way up there?”
I stomped the flagstone tiles under our feet and wandered over to the outer wall. “Back in the old days, they used to put wells inside the castle so no one could poison the water supply. We can rip up these flagstones, dig a well and rig a pump to pull water straight up into the tank. Maybe use a low current pump that’ll run off a little wind turbine. Or a bigger one with its own generator. Would only need to turn it on every few days.”
“It’d give us enough water pressure?” She asked, bending down to tap the stones with her knuckles.
“Probably not on the square portion’s top floor. Should be good to go on the second and first floors though.” I replied with a shrug. “Honestly I don’t see much else we’d need this tower for. Place is plenty big for just the three of us. Hell, we could have a dozen folks living here and still not need the extra room. So water tower and security. That’s about it.”
“Sounds good to me.” A pause as she lit a cigarette for each of us, then, “I noticed this place doesn’t have a basement. Where are we gonna store cold food? Heat’s easy with the hot springs but a big freezer like they built at the Fort would use a lot of electricity, right?”
“Yeah. I was thinking we’d just get five or six of those chest freezers. That way we can unplug what we’re not using. Grab some refrigerators and do the same. Scale it to our needs. So if we bagged a couple of deer, there’d be space for them but if all we need is to keep some leftovers cold, unplug everything else.”
Again I shrugged, pausing long enough to breathe in a lungful of smoke before continuing my train of thought. “I don’t know how much power I’ll be able to squeeze out of the hot spring so it might all be moot. Don’t need to make heat to keep the place warm so that’s one electric load we can cross off. Lighting, cooking, some entertainment stuff and refrigeration. That’s about it.”
Molly turned on her heel and headed out of the tower, passing through the archway entrance that led into the central, rectangular area of the building. “I was thinking that maybe we could make this into a workshop. Set up tools and equipment. That way the square part can be our living space. Think we could knock out part of the wall around the door there and set up a garage door? Can bring vehicles inside.”
I looked around and decided it wasn’t a bad idea. To that point I hadn’t really considered what to do with the rest of the building. “Yeah. We can do that. No basement so the floor can take the weight. Can put less effort into heating in here too and use it for storage. Rip up this carpet and leave it bare stone. Good call Molly.”
That naturally led us to the last section of the building where we both stood in silence, thinking, smoking and drinking our coffee. “So yeah. Obviously this will be like a living room, kitchen, dining room. Those wooden walls upstairs aren’t holding up the ceiling or anything, are they?”
“No. The support walls are stone like everything else. Whoever built this place just put the wooden ones there to make smaller rooms inside the larger one. We can gut it and lay out bedrooms however we want. Probably be easier to keep the big bathroom at the end of the hall though rather than try to get piping through the stone floors for private baths.” I replied. “That’s why the kitchen area is right under the bathrooms upstairs. Everything’s in a straight line down from the top. They must have a septic tank. Its probably a mess though. Might need to lay in a new one.”
“Can’t we just run a pipe down the hill and let the stream carry it away?”
“We could. Wouldn’t want to do that forever though. Probably be pretty low on the priority list.”
“So what’s next on the agenda,” Molly asked with a heavy sigh, looking around at all the work needing to be done.
“I want to sandblast the metal doors and see if they need to be replaced. If not, then we’re pretty much done securing the building and can start cleaning up. We need names for these spaces. Square section and middle rectangle ain’t cutting it.”
“How about the tower, the workshop, the common room,” That last said as Molly waved a hand to encompass the square section’s ground floor where we were standing, “the bedrooms and, well what are we going to use the top floor for?”
“Storage and defense. We don’t need to heat it. If anyone else comes to live here, then that’s where we’ll put em. That whole floor is dead last to get done. Well, assuming the roof isn’t in bad shape.”
“Let’s call it the attic then.”
“Works for me.” I agreed with a grin.
“Ok then. So first the doors and then if they’re not too bad, lets get the workshop set up so we can use it to get everything else done.”
And that’s what we did.
Two of the doors were in good shape once we sandblasted away the layers of rust and grime that covered them. The third, which was the second door leading into the tower, was too far gone to put effort into saving. After a bit of discussion, we decided to just brick the entrance over.
We sunk three lengths of heavy lead pipe four feet into the ground and stacked the hollow sections of cinderblocks over them. Quick-dry cement filled the interior and buttered gaps in between. It was air-tight and pretty solid by the time everything dried. Not as robust as the stone walls surrounding it but more than enough to stop a pack of zombies or a human armed with anything less than a sledgehammer.
Whereas bricking in the doorway took four hours, cleaning up the workshop was done in less than two. We ripped out the old carpet and sandblasted from top to bottom. The shop vacs had motors that could be set to reverse, blowing out instead of sucking in. We used them like leaf blowers and got most of the sand outside. For the rest we just used the vacs switched back to normal.
I decided to leave the door leading into the workshop alone rather than widening it for vehicle access. Instead we were going to knock out part of the wall and rig two metal barndoors that could be secured from the inside using long lead pipes. That would allow us to have the normal door for daily access and the larger opening just to move big things inside.
By that point we were going to need supplies; metal, lumber, plumbing pipes, electrical cables and all the stuff necessary to get the interior of a home working. Molly made lunch while I wandered around with a tape measure and pad of paper, writing down dimensions and using carpenter’s chalk to mark off where things would go.
I loaded up some battery powered tools we’d charged while bricking in the doorway and headed out with the flatbed trailer in tow. Our destination was a plumbing supply wholesaler listed in the phone book about half an hour away but my first stop was less than a mile down the road. I nodded towards the big highway sign mounted on an overpass above us and grinned. “There’s one half of our garage door. Just need another one about the same size and some lumber.” It was on the flatbed twenty minutes later.
The plumbing wholesaler was a pair of long warehouses set off from the road in a small industrial park overlooking a large pond. Steam rose off the bubbling waters as I drove through the huge, empty central parking lot. Other buildings sat along the lot’s edges; a trio of office buildings with reflective glass windows, a distribution center for Wonderbread that had collapsed, and a sprawling medical office building. A few SUVs and two school busses were parked in front of the medical building, whose first floor windows had been covered with sheets of plywood and lengths of chain link fence.
I stopped the van in the parking lot’s center and watched the medical building for ten minutes, smoking several cigarettes as my ears strained to hear any noise. No lights were on that I could see. No signs of movement met my stare.
“What do you think?” Molly asked, keeping her eyes to the side and checking out the van’s rear camera view.
“Don’t know. Good place to hold up as any I suppose. Medical supplies. Pond’s putting out steam so they’ve got heat and water. Might’ve even been a generator for the building already in place.”
I shrugged and drove the van over to one of the plumbing supply warehouses, backing it up until the rear door was only a few feet from the building’s entrance. “Ok. I’m going in. You’re staying here with the rifle in case anyone shoots at me. Honk the horn if you see movement. Shouldn’t take me more than half an hour to get what we need.”
The van’s armored back doors almost reached the building’s walls, effectively sheltering me from the knees up as I stepped outside and pushed against the entrance. There was a locked glass doorway leading into a small lobby full of dead plants and uncomfortable furniture. A crowbar popped the lock like the perfect key it was.
I was making my third trip back to the van, dragging lengths of piping through the building’s abandoned interior, when Molly honked the horn. The copper echoed loudly as I dropped my load and ran back to the van. Molly looked over her shoulder at me through the opened back doors and tilted her head out towards the parking lot.
“We’ve got company.”
Six men and two women were crossing the lot from the medical building’s direction. None looked starved. All had weapons of some kind, though only one gun, a shotgun, was visible. Axes and baseball bats seemed to be the flavor of the day.
“Ok cover me. Take out the shotgunner first if need be.” I told Molly before closing the back doors and stepping around the van. Frank seemed content to stay with his daughter.
A glance towards the medical building told me a shot from there would be tough to make with anything less than a high powered rifle and decent training so I walked about fifty feet towards the approaching group and waited. They stopped a dozen paces from my position and shuffled around so an older woman with graying hair braided into a ponytail could take center stage.
“Just after plumbing supplies?” She asked, voice quivering slightly as she called across the distance.
I nodded and tilted my head back towards the two warehouses. “That’s all. Just want to grab some stuff and then we’ll be gone. Less than an hour. Those two buildings only.”
“Make sure you lock the place up when you’re done. We don’t need to walk in one day and find it full of the infected.”
Again I nodded before making a reply. “No worries. I had to pry the door open with a crow bar but I’ll secure it with some rope or something before I go. How are you folks doin? Haven’t seen many survivors who weren’t try to jump me or try to get me to join em.”
“We’re fending for ourselves just fine but thank you for asking.” A deep breath was taken and a bit of the woman’s true age crept in the weary exhale. “I apologize if we seem standoffish but there have been some issues the last few days. It was obvious you weren’t part of their group when we saw your skin but your eyes warranted caution.”
“Yeah I get that a lot. What do you mean about the skin though?” The statement didn’t make sense considering there were two black men and one Hispanic woman with them.
“You haven’t seen them then.” It was spoken as a statement rather than a question. “You’ll know what I’m talking about when you run across one. Yellowed skin. Jaundiced. Bloodshot eyes that are almost solid red. Look for heavy clothing. They seem to dislike being cold.” Then, said so softly that I could barely hear the words, she added, “The infected ignore them. Only them. As if they’re…tainted.”
“The survivors based out of the old factory that got converted into condos came across a group that walked right by zombies and didn’t get attacked. I didn’t stick around to find out what happened but it had them pretty spooked. They’re causing you trouble?”
She nodded and looked about as if expecting the boogiemen to attack at any moment. “Six of them came looking for medical supplies. They got violent when we turned them away and tried to ambush us the next day when we went to get water.”
The woman shivered and the man beside her placed an arm around her shoulder, speaking softly as he tried to turn her around. “Let’s get back inside.”
“Just be careful if you see one. It’s like a light switch flips. One minute they seem calm and reasonable. The next and they’re trying to rip your throat out with their teeth.”
I lit a cigarette and watched them hurry back to the medical building, pondering what the fuck was going on. We pulled out of the parking lot twenty minutes later, leaving the door tied shut and another group of survivors behind.