Chapter 8 - Entry 3
May 5th cont. - May 11th
Molly and I spent several days in an up and down schedule that at times felt like Heaven, but was mostly Hell. Quite simply, we worked our asses off on the Home in between irregular patrols around the Woods and a few extended scouting trips. Guns were always within reach. Meals snarfed down quickly. Sleep and sex had whenever we could fit them in.
The first night of our ordeal began after I’d returned from the Infected’s camp and Molly stopped being pissed that I’d gone. We decided to call them that, Infected, rather than Yellowskins because Olora and a few other Asian-Americans back at the Fort objected rather strongly to the term. Apparently it was a racial slur neither Molly nor I knew about. Piss-Skins didn’t go over too well either. Go figure.
So after that night, broken up as it was by patrols and security sweeps, we rose early in the morning and met with Silas at the Fort. We’d gone there to pick up the well digger and feel out the group’s mood regarding the Infected. A few private words made it apparent the survivors had no desire to go looking for trouble and a simple quote from Olora summed it up nicely.
“Thus far it’s their problem. Not ours.”
I made a few more stops before heading back Home, grabbing Quick-Dry cement, various bolts, nuts and nails, several large sheets of thick Plexiglas, and other miscellaneous crap from a contractor supply warehouse three blocks from the Fort.
The Clamshack, a small…well…shack, sat across the street from the warehouse we were looting. Silas’s workcrews were there and had already put a high chain link fence around the oversized parking lot’s perimeter. The shack itself was boarded up tight and had a ring of sandbags piled atop its flat roof for cover. Two men with hunting rifles stood watch over the whole affair as others worked on beefing up a pair of gates leading inside.
“Think it’ll actually take off?” Molly asked as we leaned against the van, smoking and resting after loading up the cement bags while the men worked across the street.
“Yeah. I do. For a little while at least. Folks are starving for a little normalcy and a weekend flea market will feel like old times.” I shrugged and crushed my discarded cigarette butt with the heel of one boot. “Except for all the guns and zombies shuffling around.”
A thorough sweep of the area followed our return home, yielding nothing except an agitated Frank who’d stepped outside to silently greet his daughter.
Our first order of business was to secure the Home better. We cut the Plexiglas to shape and placed sheets on either side of the makeshift bars in each of the lower windows. Bolts held the squares together with the rebar in between while silicon calking slathered around the edges made the seal air tight. Between measuring each window and pausing to do frequent patrols beneath a blood-red sky, the endeavor nearly took an entire day.
All three of us were up and busy at the asscrack of dawn the next morning. Much coffee was guzzled as Molly and I both started to feel the weight of stress and too little sleep sinking into our bones. Still we pressed onwards, scrambling to cram as much work as possible in between security sweeps.
We used our little bulldozer/backhoe combo Caterpillar to clear vegetation, topsoil and debris from a spot right next to the Home, just outside the kitchen wall. Once done, Silas’s well digger was put to work. I didn’t expect to hit water very near the surface since our Home sat atop a small, subtle hill. Nor did I expect a geyser to erupt just four feet down. Molly barely avoided the jet of scalding water when it burst outwards like an overripe pimple. I wasn’t so lucky when it rained down on the well digger where I’d been standing.
Once the burns healed, Molly and I headed back into town and hit a little volunteer fire station, grabbing several sets of firemen suits before heading back. We both looked ridiculous standing there outside the Home, dressed in yellow and black protective suits that were at least three sizes too large. It made us look like kids playing dress up with Daddy’s equipment. Still, they protected our skin from the steaming hot water as it fell.
I really had no idea what to do but felt pretty damn grateful it hadn’t happened inside the tower where I’d first thought to dig the well. Water pressure certainly wasn’t going to be an issue. With no better idea in mind, I used the well digger to deepen the hole and dropped the well casing into place just as we’d planned. I’d half expected the waterflow to lessen. Instead the casing served as a funnel, sending scalding hot water ten feet into the air.
Molly suggested we use a sheet of plywood to deflect the flow away from the Home. Rope secured it to the backhoe before I swung the metal claw into the stream. It worked like a champ. Afterwards, we did another sweep of the area and had lunch, sitting outside and watching water blast away at the trees nearby.
“We need to cap it. Like an oil well.” She observed around a mouthful of Raman noodles.
I nodded in agreement. “Yeah. I know jack shit about geology but I wonder if the pressure will drop at some point. Maybe the hole is slowly releasing pressure? Eventually it might taper off.” A shrug. A sporkful of noodles. A sigh. “Nothing’s ever easy, is it?”
Molly laughed and patted my thigh. “Dude this could be a good thing. At the very least we won’t need a hot water heater. Or a pump. Maybe you could rig up a water wheel or something to make electricity too? Hot water and electric, all in one spot.”
She amazed me sometimes. It was obvious she had no book smarts but damn if she wasn’t bright. Smarter than me anyway. I stared at the problem with new eyes.
I had no idea how oil companies capped wells so I winged it. Another trip to town provided us with flexible metal ductwork ripped out of an office building’s ceiling. We forced that down into the well shaft and duct tapped the fuck out of any leaks. In essence, we made a hose to keep the waterflow out of our way.
Next we poured an island of cement, encircling the hole in the ground with threaded pipes set into place around the makeshift ductwork diverter. That took a few hours and the cement would take awhile to set and dry considering it was nearly three feet thick so we made a list of supplies and went back to town. Specifically the plumbing supply depot.
I pulled the van up to the medical building’s entrance and stepped outside, leaning against the hood while smoking a cigarette and waiting. The survivors came out a few minutes later, led by their older leader who approached with a smile.
“Why hello again Miss Jaeger. What can we do for you?”
“Well first, how about a name?” I answered with a grin.
“Ah yes. That would help. I’m Marsha and this is David.”
David was the guy with the shotgun and perpetual frown. I nodded in greeting and tapped the van’s hood.
“Anyone here with medical experience or did you guys just pick this building for its survivability?” I asked, waving Molly outside.
Marsha frowned and looked up to meet David’s face for a moment, sharing some silent communication.
“Look. It’s just the three of us. Frank and I don’t need medical help. Probably never will. But Molly got shot with an arrow by one of those Infected people with the yellow skin. I’d just like someone to take a look at the wound to make sure its ok. We won’t tell anyone if there’s someone here with training.” I flicked the cigarette away and leveled my gaze at Molly, who’d stepped out of the van in time to hear a bit of what I’d said.
She didn’t look happy but I was having none of it. “I brought some stuff to trade and can help get you what you need.”
“I was a trauma nurse at the hospital,” David finally admitted. “Let me have a look at the wound.”
Despite Molly’s objections, she was down to her panties a few minutes later with David poking around the wound. I couldn’t smell any infection and hadn’t over the past few days. David confirmed she was in the clear.
“Looks ok. Just keep it clean and dry. You have any antibiotics?” He asked once a red-faced Molly had put her jeans back on.
“Nope. Got any to trade?” I knew we could get them elsewhere for free but I was hoping to foster a bit of cooperation between our groups. Molly didn’t heal like Frank and I.
“Yeah. They’re a pretty important commodity now-a-days. It’s going to cost you.”
“What do you folks need?”
We haggled for a little while, though I didn’t really put up much of a fight. Having someone with medical know-how was important to me because Molly’s health was an issue. Slowly I watched as David relaxed, shotgun gradually held more casually while we talked about supplies. In the end it was guns and ammunition.
“Alrighty. I’ll get the stuff to you in a few days. Did Silas tell you about my encounter at Camp Cannibal?”
“He did but I’d like to hear it from you, if you don’t mind.” Marsha replied.
I nodded and told them what I’d seen, leaving out some of the fight details that might spook folks not used to my altered state. We tossed around theories about why they’d chosen to eat zombies and what effects it might have had on them. Funny how talking about a mutual enemy brings folks closer together.
We parted ways just as nightfall painted the sky in deep shades of violet and maroon. Our shopping excursion to the plumbing depot was done an hour later. Exhausted, we made a series of sweeps around the area. No bad guys jumped out to attack us and nothing had been disturbed at home, though some bad news was waiting for us at the well.
“Son of a bitch!” Molly exclaimed as we rounded the corner.
Our makeshift ductwork had failed before the concrete fully set and made a huge mess of things. Most of our efforts needed to be redone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a jet of scalding hot water knocked out the nearby Plexiglas window and a stream was shooting right into our kitchen. Fortunately the shop vacs could suck up water. Neither of us slept that night.
I wasn’t fucking around the next morning, cranky after spending most of the night cleaning up water that coated the whole common room and repairing the broken window. We dressed Frank up in a fireman’s suit and had him hold a salvaged length of ductwork while I ripped up chunks of cement and laid down a fresh foundation. Molly and I used the shop vac’s in their blower mode like giant hair dryers to hasten the process. I was glad Frank didn’t talk, though Molly and I bitched enough for the three of us.
After the cement dried, we were left with a doughnut ten feet in diameter and four feet deep. Metal pipes with their threads exposed jutted out around the hole in the center. I cut a six inch hole in the middle of a thick sheet of metal that had once covered a pothole in town and proceeded to use a sledge hammer on the thing until it was roughly domed-shape. Smaller holes were then cut around its outer edge where the ring of exposed pipes would fit.
A six inch diameter connector, basically a short pipe with threads on the inside and outside, went through the cap’s central hole and got secured on both sides by big washers screwed onto the outside threads. I fitted a three foot length of pipe into the inner thread and put some flexible piping at the top.
After that the three of us put on the firemen suits again, ripped the temporary ductwork free, and muscled the heavy sheet of metal into place. Frank held it down against the water pressure, Molly aimed the flexible pipe at the top away from us and I bolted the whole thing down using big washers and lugs fitted over the exposed pipes set into the cement.
“Ugly as fuck but it works,” Molly commented once we’d all stepped back to regard our handy work.
“Redneck engineering for the win.” I replied with a wink before slapping her ass.
What we had was a metal dome secured into a concrete base with a six inch pipe sticking straight up from the center. The flexible piping attached to that central column pumped scalding hot water out like a hose with enough pressure to knock bark off of trees.
“So what now?”
“Well, I don’t think feeding the flow into a tank without some sort of outlet is a good idea. Would probably build up too much pressure and bust the pipes inside or rupture the tank. So I’m thinking we set up the tanks and then have an overflow pipe set into the top that runs across the roof and into the tower. That way we’ll have some water pressure inside the tanks but not too much.”
I spoke while smoking, envisioning the design as I made it up on the fly. “Put another water tank in the tower like we’d planned before. From that tank we’ll run a fat pipe that tapers down and turns a water turbine to make electricity. The water runoff will get routed down the hill through a pipe buried in the ground until it meets up with the other well outside. Guess we’ll dig out a pond there. Be like a giant hot tub.”
Molly whistled and shook her head. “That sounds like a shitload of work Jaeger.”
“Not much more than we had planned. I think we’ve got all the piping we need already. Just gotta find some water tanks.”
“Won’t all the water be hot?”
“Yeah. Not much we can do about that. Just going to have to put water in the fridge if you want it cold. On the bright side, we’ll have plenty of hot water for showers.” I grinned and nudged her ribs. “The only tricky part will be figuring out the flow rates. Need the output to be just a tad bit under the input.”
A call to Silas on the radio provided us with a few ideas on where to get water tanks. In the end we grabbed four metal home heating oil tanks that hadn’t been used from a supplier just outside of town. One hundred gallons each. In addition to being metal, and thus more durable, they already had piping connectors in place at the top and bottom. We daisy chained three on their sides after hauling them up to the rooftop and mounting them on plywood frames filled with sand.
Between making two trips for the tanks, building the heavy-duty frame to hold them on the roof, getting them mounted and set up, and stopping our work to make frequent patrols, the day was done and midnight approaching by the time we called it quits. I felt myself beginning to relax in regards to security since nothing had reared its ugly head. That made me nervous enough to put more attention into the effort. Getting lazy could easily see Molly dead.
The fourth tank was a bitch and took us an entire day. Basically we had to build a second tower inside the stone tower’s shell using railroad ties and a few telephone poles cut to the right height. Then we had to muscle the tank to the top using a jerry-rigged pulley system until it rested on its new cradle. I poured a fresh layer of cement over the floor; basically filling the tower’s interior about a foot thick to anchor the inner tower’s legs in place. More patrols, a little sleep and not much sex killed that night.
I let Molly sleep in the next morning. Four days of constant work and vigilance was really taking its toll on her. It was starting to affect me but I found the effects weakened by simply eating more. Finishing up the water system was the current priority but getting more food would soon become an issue. I got to work after making a thorough patrol of the area.
Running pipe from the Home’s square section’s rooftop to the tower was fairly simple since I didn’t need to poke holes in anything. Still I took my time, making sure each pipe-to-pipe connection was solid and mounted firmly to the roof where possible. In essence, the pipe exited the trio of tanks from the third story roof, ran down the wall for one story, crossed over the workshop’s roof and climbed up the tower’s wall two stories where it entered through a window and connected with the tank mounted inside.
Molly woke up just as I finished laying the last length of pipe where it descended from the tower’s watertank and exited from the stone base outside.
She handed me a cup of coffee with a smile as I stood staring at my work. “Hmmm. Maybe you should put some valves or something in a few places where the pipes connect? You know, so you can shut off water if there’s a problem?”
I groaned and agreed with her. Together we made it happen.
The sun was beginning to set by the time we finished everything outside. I’d run a pipe from our makeshift wellcap up to the first water tank and connected it to the input using a Y fitting with valves at the two output ends. Basically I rigged it so water would either go up to the tanks, spray out towards the trees, or both depending on how the little levers were set. The water was spraying into the woods at that point, creating an odd, steaming rainbow in varying shades of red.
We spent most of the night connecting our trio of water tanks to the Home's internal plumbing system with new pipe meeting old through a freshly cut hole in the ceiling. Later, as we lay in bed, Molly pointed out what I had obviously missed.
“What about heat? Weren’t you going to run pipes inside like a radiator system?”
“Mother. Fucker. I completely forgot.” Sleep didn’t come for awhile after that as I pondered what to do. Eventually exhaustion won out over frustration and the sun rose just four hours later.
Molly made breakfast while I did a long patrol, sweeping our area before heading back to the Infected’s campground for a quick peek. Nothing had changed since my last visit; bodies still lay rotting and no signs of a return could be found.
Secretly I was dreading what we had to do that day so I made another long sweep of the Woods before heading back for breakfast. Naturally the first thing Molly said upon my return addressed the very issue that had me so anxious.
“So we’re testing the plumbing today?”
Groaning, I simply nodded and stabbed my hashbrowns to death.