Chapter 8 - Entry 4
May 11th cont.
Molly, Frank and I stood outside the Home, staring down at a little lever that would send scalding hot water from our makeshift wellcap into the tanks above. From there it would spread through pipes inside, filling copper like blood within our Home’s circulatory system. A small pile of cigarette butts had collected by my boots as I stared down at the little metal handle.
“Are you going to turn it on or just stare at it all day?” Molly joked from her place at my side.
“Nothing goes wrong if I just stare at it.”
“Oh for fucks sake.” With that, Molly leaned down and slowly opened the valve.
The brick I’d been holding in my colon finally fell.
There was the usual assortment of creaks and moans as hot water rushed through cold piping. Steam began to rise from the quivering metal tubes. My eyes traced the flow, imagining three tanks up on the roof filling quickly and water raining inside.
“Well. Can’t see any leaks from out here. Let’s go inside.” I said with a sigh.
Amazingly enough, the interior pipes had held without a hitch. Not a single leak met our search as we traced copper veins through the building’s belly. Water ran from shower heads, filled up toilets, poured from faucets and generally did what it was suppose to do. To say I was relieved would have been an understatement.
“I don’t know why this had you so spun up. Its just water.” Molly teased as we moved to the tower and stood staring at the tank four stories above.
“Because this isn’t exactly my area of expertise. Rigging a home’s plumbing is a big job under the best conditions. Just not something I felt confident doing.” I didn’t explain it further. Didn’t share the fact that I’d never been comfortable operating outside my box of skills. Sure, I was probably immortal, could kill with my bare hands, and knew how to make electricity work. But plumbing? Not so much. One mistake and I could’ve set our rebuilding efforts back by weeks.
Water was flowing into the tower’s tank one hour and twelve cigarettes later, meaning the three water tanks above the main living space had filled and was sending their overflow above our heads. In no time at all that final tank had filled and excess was headed outside, down the hill and to an open outlet valve near the building’s original well.
It had actually worked.
I would’ve gotten shitfaced drunk in celebration if I’d thought my body’s amped-up superhero healing crap would’ve let me. Instead, Molly and I took a really long, very hot shower together and christened the bathroom floors. And the sink. And one of the toilet stalls. All in all it was a surprisingly pleasant morning.
Then Hope’s terrified voice came crackling through the radio. “Jaeger! Are you there? Please be there! It’s Hope! Please be there!”
“I’m here. What’s wrong?”
“The Fort’s under attack!”
Yeah. So much for that. “By who? How many?”
“I don’t know! Lots of guys with guns. Big guns. Some of the trucks look like they’re Army or something.” The popcorn crackle of gunfire roared up in the background for a moment before she continued. “Dad’s been shot. Mom and I are hiding in our bathroom. Please Jaeger. There are people dying everywhere.”
It was very tempting for me to mirror Olora’s words and say it wasn’t my problem. But I didn’t. Couldn’t. Hope and her family, Marley, and even Mary despite a bit of hard feelings, were my problem and someone was threatening them.
“I’m on my way. Stay away from the windows.” I didn’t wait for her reply.
Molly and I got dressed in a hurry and loaded up for war. Frank pretty much just stood there waiting until we headed outside and climbed into the van. I drove us into a warzone fifteen minutes later.
The Fort was surrounded on two sides by several Humvees and three Duce-and-a-half military flatbed trucks. Metal dumpsters had been placed on the flatbeds with sandbags wrapped around them using chain link fencing. Men were inside the dumpsters, popping out in a steady rhythem to send shots through the Fort’s many windows.
Around two dozen men were on foot as well, moving between firing positions in a semi-professional manner, creeping closer and closer to the Fort’s gatehouse. All wore various bits and pieces of military clothing. It looked like they’d raided an Army Surplus store before heading to the Fort.
Worst of all though was the Stryker.
It was an eight-wheeled chunk of armored trouble sitting across the street where I’d parked the week before. A pair of Humvees with machine guns flanked it on either side. We watched through binoculars from a half mile away as the Stryker and its escorts sent 50 caliber death flaming from their weapons into the Fort’s upper floors, silencing a burst of defender fire in an explosion of pink mist and shattered brick.
“Well they’re fucked. No way can we tangle with that much fire power. Small arms won’t even scratch that thing’s armor and they were smart enough to keep more mobile units within defensive range so no one on foot can get near it.”
“We should get out of here then Jaeger. Nothing we can do for them.”
I swept my binocs over the Fort, searching for movement and hoping an idea would come to mind. The backside that bordered the lake and river seemed to be clear of attackers with no visible signs of damage.
“Hope. You there?”
“Jaeger! Oh thank God.”
“Do you know where Marley is?”
“No. Maybe in her apartment? She’s on the second floor with Mary and Lu. I don’t….” An explosion cut her off.
I couldn’t see its source but the spray of debris, smoke and fire that erupted skywards originated from inside the Fort’s L-shaped courtyard beyond my view. “Hope?”
“What the hell was that?” She shouted into her walkie-talkie.
“Never mind that right now. I need you to focus and listen closely to me.” I leaned over and pointed towards a bulldozer, its cockpit enclosed with sheets of metal, approaching the Fort’s gatehouse.
Molly looked that way and frowned.
“Hope. This is a rescue mission now. There’s too much out here for me to take on. You need to get your family down to the first floor and meet me at one of the windows overlooking the lake. If Marley’s apartment is on the way, grab her too but you need to hurry. There’s gonna be bad guys inside the Fort any minute now.”
“I don’t think we can move Dad. He’s hurt pretty bad Jaeger. There’s blood everywhere.”
“What apartment are you in?”
I nodded, then realized she couldn’t see me. “Ok Hope. You stay put. Keep your head down. I’m coming for you.”
Molly grabbed my face and planted a long kiss on my lips after I’d clicked off the walkie-talkie. She stared into my eyes, worry etched on her features. I kissed her nose with a grin and pulled away.
“Take the van back the way we came and cut left at the first street that intersects this one. Take another left and come up around the other side of the woods opposite the river. Find a place to park out of sight. I’ll call you on Hope’s walkie-talkie when we’re clear. Stay out of sight and don’t try to take these assholes on. Snatch and grab. Got it?” I asked, after handing her my radio.
We traded seats as I got myself ready, double checking magazines for the HK and my handgun. A nod and tight-lipped smile was exchanged before I stepped outside.
“Get back to the Home if you haven’t heard from me in two hours.”
“See you in a bit.” Was all she said in reply.
The bulldozer briefly took some fire as the Fort’s defenders tried to stop the inevitable. Machineguns on the Stryker roared in reply and men died screaming. I ran, digging inside to spark extra speed from Maliqe’s gift until my legs were a blur and buildings streaked by. No one noticed, or cared about, my presence as I dashed from point to point. The Fort’s southern walls soon lay ahead.
I jumped from an embankment and landed in waist-deep water just beyond the lake’s eastern bulkhead. Hugging its sides, I hurried along until I reached the middle of the Fort’s rear residential wing. A quick hop and roll found me standing beneath someone’s bedroom window.
The windowsill was just beyond my reach so I jumped, grabbed, and did a pull-up until I could peek inside. Curtains blocked the view so I simply punched glass and ignored the brief flash of pain before it healed.
“Anyone inside? I’m not with the group attacking. Here to get folks out.” Silence answered. The apartment was empty of people and furniture as I crawled inside and did a quick sweep. The hallway beyond was another matter.
I opened the door and felt heat wash over me. Smoke billowed thickly, making my eyes water while cries of pain and fear rang out from the left, right and straight ahead. Bodies were on the ground, twisted and ruined as they lay just beyond the shattered remains of a burning apartment’s walls across the hallway. Apparently the Fort’s inner courtyard had been hit by high explosives.
I ran then, legs pumping like mad as I beat feet down the hall until the metal emergency stairwell door at its end was reached. The surface was cool to the touch so I pushed it open and headed upstairs.
Five people were huddled in a sobbing pile on the second floor landing. More thick smoke and open flames filled the hallway. Nothing moved as I hesitated, wondering which room belonged to Mary and Marley. Something inside one of the apartments exploded as I watched. The people at my feet cried louder.
None looked familiar so I ignored them and continued on. The building shook and dust rained down as some explosive weapon struck a nearby outer wall. The blast sucked air from my lungs before the backlash nearly sent me falling back down the stairs. Small arms fire grew louder.
The third floor hadn’t suffered too badly, though smoke lay thick in the hallway. Emergency lights were on, creating little halos near the ceiling where the black smoke was most dense. I ran, reading room numbers until I reached 305.
“Hope! It’s Jaeger! Open up!”
Something whizzed by my head as the door opened and a big chunk of plaster exploded, raining down on Hope and I as I dashed inside and pushed her to the ground. More high caliber rounds followed, blasting craters in the apartment’s ceilings and inner walls.
“Fuckin assholes,” I muttered once they’d stopped, rolling off Hope and helping her up.
“Oh thank God Jaeger. Thank you thank you thank you!” A steady verbal barrage replaced the attacker’s machine guns as Hope threw trembling arms around me in a death hug.
I patted her back a few times before gently pushing her away. “No time. Where’s Henry?”
Hope led me through the apartment until we reached an open bathroom door. Beyond lay Henry, sprawled out in the tub in a bath of blood. Kate sat on the floor beside him, holding her husband’s limp hand as her shoulders jerked violently from the sobs wracking her form.
An explosion on the lower floors knocked Hope off her feet and caused me to loose my balance. Gunfire erupted from somewhere nearby and angry shouts sounded in the brief silence that followed. I reached down to help Hope up again, just in time to see Henry’s eyes flutter open and lock their lifeless gaze on the hand holding his own.
Despite my heighten reflexes, there just wasn’t enough time to stop him. Kate didn’t cry out until Henry’s teeth tore into her forearm and ripped free a sizable chunk of meat. The hand I’d offered Hope instead gripped her hair and flung her backwards. She tumbled into the living room with a cry of pain and surprise.
My gun barked twice, turning Kate and Henry’s heads into hamburger and Hope into an orphan.
I closed the bathroom door and squatted down to lock my gaze on Hope’s. She was in shock. Terrified. And yet she knew. Understood. The hysterics ended when I pulled a cliché and smacked her face hard.
“Get the fuck up and let’s go. We don’t have time.”
She vomited then and would have face planted in the mess if I hadn’t taken another grip in her hair. A hiss of pain and angry glare followed as I pulled her vertical.
“Hate me later.”
I managed to get her out to the hallway when the stairwell door burst opened in front of us. Men in an assortment of military fatigues were clustered on the landing. All had guns aimed outwards. Towards us. Poor Hope went flying again as I shoved her back inside the apartment. Pain erupted up and down my exposed side when they opened fire.
There was no real thinking involved after that. I jumped backwards and crashed through the plaster wall of the apartment across the hall. Wounds healed as I leaned through the hole and emptied a clip in full auto towards the doorway. Men shouted in pain and surprise.
The hunger began to gnaw at my stomach as I ducked back inside and ran full speed through the wall separating two apartments. The empty mag was swapped for a full one just as I kicked open the front door and shot two startled men in the face. They hadn’t expected me to appear from that spot, evident by the surprised expressions my rounds destroyed.
I ran right at the two remaining then, taking a hit to the throat and shoulder before I put them down. Memories roared into focus as blood flowed into my lungs. Burning pain. Drowning. The deputy’s knife blade scraping across bone in a field outside of Green Acres. It took a few minutes to recover from both the wounds and the memories.
“Hope! Let’s go!” I shouted after scanning the stairs leading up and down. She ran to me, pale skin dotted with my blood.
With one hand I grabbed a dead man’s body and held it out before me like a shield, descending the stairs with my HK sticking out from under its limp arm. The second floor stairwell door was open still. Flames licked at the walls on both sides. More men in the same mismatched military clothes ran down the hallway towards us.
They hesitated before firing, likely seeing one of their own amid the chaos and confusion. I didn’t, sending four shots into four faces without missing a step. Shouts came from the first floor below us.
“Jaeger! Look!” Hope stood behind me, a shaking hand pointing at something on my meat shield’s belt. I grinned and dropped the corpse, kicked the fire door shut, and carefully pulled free his grenade.
“Wait! What if its people from the Fort?” Hope asked as I was about to drop the little pineapple of death.
I shrugged. “War’s a bitch.”
The explosion sent shrapnel, dust and debris shooting upwards, thankfully blocked by the concrete stairs separating us from the detonation. Screams rang out in the deafening aftermath but I didn’t wait for the smoke to clear. Grabbing Hope’s hand, I pulled her along behind me and stepped into carnage.
Not everyone had died in the explosion but most were too fucked up to fight. That was good enough for me. Some would turn into zombies and add to the chaos. The more the merrier.
There were men further down the hallway, though it was hard to make out details amid the thick black smoke that filled the passage. I put a shoulder into the first apartment’s door and pushed Hope inside before crouching down to open fire.
Kneecaps and shins exploded, blood and bone clearly visible beneath the billowing black smoke. Disorganized return fire whizzed around me as I rolled into the apartment with Hope and ran towards the living room window.
“You’re going to jump out of here and run your ass off towards the woods. Don’t stop until you can’t see the Fort through the trees. Got it?”
Hope offered a quick nod as I lifted the window and peeked outside. A few other survivors were climbing out of windows further down, back towards the main road. A body fell screaming from the roof above.
“Ok. Carefully hop down. Don’t break an ankle. Then run.”
My back erupted in pain just before I jumped. I didn’t even look back. Just tucked the gun under my armpit and sprayed the apartment behind me as I fell. My legs and feet were numb when I landed outside. I could hear bones break from the impact but couldn’t feel a thing.
Hope tried to help me up but I waved her off, rolling onto my back and rocking in a fresh magazine while aligning my sights on the window above. “Go! Stay low and run girl.” A head popped out and looked down before it exploded from my shot.
I was just getting to my feet when Hope screamed. She’d run to the Fort’s northern corner and stopped like a proverbial deer in the headlights. I watched as she threw herself backwards just before the ash-covered grass where she’d been standing exploded from gunfire. Growling, I limped that way, willing my legs to heal and cursing the hunger inside.
She’d sat down hard with her back against the Fort’s stone walls, legs drawn up to her chest while rocking back and forth. Her blank gaze didn’t register my presence when I crouched down beside her.
I risked a peek around the corner and was rewarded with a face full of rock-dust and stone shards that stung like a bitch. Still, I’d seen enough. One of the Humvees had parked at the other end of the building with six men on foot around it.
The contents of my last magazine went screaming down their bearing without even looking around the corner. At least my legs had regained feeling by then. I used one to kick Hope in the shoulder. “Get the fuck up girl!”
I pulled the Glock and spun when the sound of an engine rumbled behind me. Another Humvee was driving full bore along the sharply angled slope between the Fort’s back wall and the lakeside. Words cannot describe the relief I felt when I noticed it was Cleo’s face in my sights behind the wheel.
Survivors were hopping into the Humvee as it passed them. Some made it. Others didn’t. Cleo wasn’t slowing down. Jake Brown managed to stand up in the back and take position behind a familiar looking 50 cal machine gun. I watched them draw near and heard the big gun’s firing bolt rock into place.
He winked as they drove by.
Hope was nearly cationic, having shut down from the shock of it all. She reeked of piss and shit as I hefted her over my shoulder and waited for the firestorm. It started as soon as the Humvee’s nose cleared the building’s corner and didn’t end until Jake’s body was torn apart from return fire.
I ran, putting the Humvee between me and the attackers as it slowly drifted forward. Those survivors who’d jumped aboard were enough of a distraction to see me safely into the woods, providing target practice for the trio of men remaining.
I turned once we’d reached cover behind the treeline to watch for a moment. Jake had taken out the machine gunner, driver and three of the men on foot before they’d gotten him. The attacker’s Humvee looked like Swiss cheese. Cleo lay unmoving and slumped over the steering wheel. Bodies outside the vehicle were arrayed in a twisted and mangled circle around her.
There was nothing more I could do. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I ran northwards through the woods with Hope draped over one shoulder. Every muscle screamed and burned from the exertion. My senses were on overload, straining to pick up any sight, scent or sound beyond my labored breathing and Hope’s sobs. Gunfire and explosions slowly grew more distant.
“Molly. We’re clear. I’m in the bushes of a yellow house with a green minivan in the driveway. Come get us.” I radioed once we’d stepped out of the woods and into a dead suburbanite’s back yard. The van was the second most beautiful thing’s I’d ever seen as it pulled up out front a few minutes later. Molly, when she stepped out to kiss me, easily came in first.