*** Quick author's note here: I apologize for falling off the radar for the last couple months. I meant for this part to be much longer than it is, but I ended up writing a scene that takes place a little later in the story and i haven't tied it in yet. I thought I'd better post something before you all thought I forgot about you. In any case, enjoy. ***
I turned and followed her out of the room and we rejoined Mark and my brother who were already moving down the last wall of the warehouse. We caught up quickly and helped to check behind large stacks of boxes. As we approached the door we entered through, Mark remarked, “I don’t think there’s any of the suckers left in here.”
“Let’s head to the middle and make some noise. We’ll wait a few minutes and see if anything shows up,” I whispered back. Zach lead us down the largest passage which bisected the warehouse down the center. It was wide enough to allow two forklifts to pass each other with room to spare. We formed a loose square, each of us checking and double checking every aisle we passed until we met another similarly wide passage that bisected the space perpendicular to the one we were following.
“Time to make some noise,” Mark said, picking up a crowbar hanging next to several others on a nearby shelf. He struck it on the metal tubing of the shelf and the sound echoed throughout the cavernous room, shattering the fragile silence. He struck it several times more, ringing the shelves like a church bell. The rest of us stood in a circle facing out toward the darkness around us, sweeping back and forth slowly with our lights, waiting nervously to see if anything would show. Mark stopped ringing but kept the crowbar in his hand and stood silent, listening intently. The sound of the ringing still echoed in my ears when I heard Mark whisper, “Think I got somethin’ over here.” He took a few cautious steps into the darkness down his aisle, bringing his light up, searching the shelves to his right. Zach followed a few steps behind him. Ellie and I hung back at the intersection.
“Bingo!” Mark yelled, “Just one.” I heard two thuds. I looked at Ellie. She shrugged and rolled her eyes in a manner that said “boys will be boys”. Zach and Mark returned a few seconds later, a few specks of blood that dripped from Mark’s crowbar made a dotted line behind them. Mark wiped the crowbar on a box. The goop oozed down the side, tracing a thick, dark red line to the floor.
“Bugger was stuck in some boxes. He was a fat fella,” Mark said.
We waited about ten more minutes and, when nothing else showed up, decided that we could declare the warehouse cleared and safe. Twenty minutes later, we had the bodies removed, adding to the mound over the edge where we’d dropped the ones from the day before. After a short break, Mark declared he would check out the generator and see if he could get it running in case we needed it. Ellie said she’d get started cleaning out the spoiled food from the grocery section. It had been several days since anything had been refrigerated and the grocery area was starting to smell. Normally, someone would have started the back-up generator to keep the refrigerators running if the store lost power, but with the circumstances the way they were, no one had been around to do it.
Zach and I took on the grisly task of cleaning up the gore plastered floor. Our battles with the undead thus far had left quite a mess and would need to be cleaned up or the place would wreak. Mark and Ellie headed off to attend to their tasks, each keeping their weapons close. Mark kept the shotgun slung across his back and had adopted the crowbar as well, tucking it into his belt like a saber. Ellie had her M9 pistol, Zach had the .357 revolver in the leather around his waist and I stuck with my Glock. Zach and I searched around the store for the utility room where we found buckets, mops and cleaning supplies. I was happy to see that we still had water pressure, though the water from both faucets was frigid. Zach went to a shelf and searched through the bottles of cleaner.
“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully, “Grease, paint, juice; not seeing anything that will take out zombie blood.”
I chuckled at his joke and said, “Eh, just mix me up a batch with a little of everything.”
“Can do,” Zach replied, unscrewing the cap from a bottle. He dumped a generous amount into a pair of buckets and reached for the next bottle in line. I stretched a hose from the sink and filled the two buckets up with water. Zach finished mixing his caustic cocktails and the room now stank of rancid industrial cleaners. It was a welcome smell opposed to the stench of blood and death that my nose had recently grown accustom to smelling. I presented Zach with two identical mops.
“Choose your weapon,” I said. Zach snatch one and grabbed his bucket.
“I’ll take the stair-side, you can have the other side,” he said, assigning me the side where we had been surrounded the day before, “Meet you in the middle.”
“I’ll be waiting for you, slowpoke” I taunted.
“And now come the unprovoked insults,” he said, as he walked off, pretending to be hurt by my verbal jab.
I headed off to my side, deciding to start on the dark half and get that over with first. I came to the spot where Zach had saved me and set my bucket down beside the dried pools of blood from the creatures he had killed while I lie stunned on the floor. I gripped my light alongside the handle of the mop and dunked the mop head into my bucket. The mop hit the tiled floor with a wet slap, and I began sloshing the water into the gore, creating a large red puddle. I sighed. This was going to be long and tedious work.
* * *
Several uneventful days and nights passed, each of us finding things to do to keep busy. Mark worked in the warehouse arranging pallets of merchandise and clearing shelves to create a fallback position. It was a good twelve feet off the ground and would keep us out of reach if the undead managed to get in. He was still working on a way to escape if we ever happened to get trapped up on the shelves. Ellie, Zach and I continued sorting the food. There was a lot to go through. We created several caches of supplies. One in the warehouse, one on the roof and one we left in the retail area. I also found some useful emergency survival gear and stashed it on the roof. Among the gear was an emergency flare gun. I planned to use it if any aircraft happened to pass over our safe house and made sure everyone knew where it was. Zach and I also went through our backpacks and took inventory of everything we had and everything that was still lost in the Jeep. Luckily, most of the important stuff such as ammo and tools were in our backpacks, leaving mostly food, water and our sleeping bags in the Jeep. We had plenty of those things now, so we weren’t too worried about it. Zach was still a little sore about abandoning his brand new Jeep, but I told him he’d get over it soon enough.
I’d gotten to know Mark and Ellie much better over the seemingly endless hours we all spent working together. Mark was a wholesome, down-to-earth guy who had been born and raised on a cattle ranch in south east Montana. Though he’d left the ranch decades ago, the cowboy in him shone through quite readily. He was an avid outdoorsman, hunting big game all over North America. He told me he was somewhat of a wanderer and couldn’t stand staying in one place too long and he’d lived in several states over the last few years. He was tough as nails, sensible and very mechanically inclined. He’d worked as a carpenter and a mechanic, among other things, and had a knack for fixing anything that wasn’t working.
Ellie was definitely one of the most headstrong women I had ever met. She was absolutely devoted to her husband and wore her wedding ring like a badge of honor. She insisted that she would survive to be reunited with her husband, and I didn’t doubt that she would. She had no problem doing her share of the work and almost never asked for help. She was always ready to take on another project, as if she had an unlimited source of energy. If Ellie was ever afraid of anything, she never showed it. I guess it made sense that she had made it this far. She rarely joked around or even smiled when Zach or I were present. Mark was the only one who could get her to laugh and only if Zach and I were at a distance. I had a sneaking suspicion that she didn’t quite trust my brother and I, though I couldn’t think of anything either of us had done to betray her trust. Quite the opposite actually, at least the way I saw it. Zach and I had pretty much saved their lives by clearing the building, not that I thought that either of them owed us for it. We would have tried to clear it if they hadn’t been there and now was not the time to play the “you-owe-me” game. We were all in this together and we all knew it. Anything positive we did benefitted us all.
It wasn’t too difficult to keep busy. During the day, we would do what we could to continue cleaning out spoiled food or give Mark a hand in the warehouse. The generator worked great and we used it on occasion to provide light in the warehouse when our flashlights weren’t sufficient. Other than that, we left the generator off. It drew fuel from a nearby fifty-gallon drum. Next to that were two more identical drums. That was all the fuel we had for it and we certainly didn’t want to waste it.
By day five the warehouse shelter was almost completed. We pushed several of the shelving units together, side by side, creating a large square platform about twenty feet to a side and about eighteen feet off the floor. Mark moved all the products off the shelves below the platform and also moved all the shelves adjacent to our platform at least twenty feet away in all directions. We removed the two lowest shelves but left the one directly below our platform intact, giving us a second level for some extra storage space. We all agreed that it was unlikely that the infected would be able to climb the structure. Mark made a trap door on the upper level to give us access to the lower deck. He installed several deadbolts on the top side, just in case. The support beams of the warehouse roof hung about six feet above our platform giving Zach, Ellie and myself enough room to stand up straight. Mark, who was a few inches taller than six feet, had to be careful not to bash his head on them when he stood up.
A large ladder allowed us access to the upper platform and would be either kicked down or pulled up in the event of a breech. After using up all the propane we had available for the forklifts we’d been using, Mark rigged up a block and tackle elevator that we used to hoist supplies up to the two platforms and store them away. The upper level had a supply of food, water, ammunition, batteries and bedding. The lower lever was all food and water. By sunset of day five, we had the Last Resort, as Mark had taken to calling it, as ready as it could be. The final step would be to cut another trap door in the warehouse roof to give us an exit if we needed it.
“We’ll do it tomorrow,” Mark said with a dismissive wave, “Done enough today. My back is killing me.”
“Fine by me,” Zach agreed.
We threaded our way back though the store, each of us grabbing as much food as we could carry. Over the last few days it had become a habit not to go up to the roof empty-handed. We were still working on building up the food supply up top. We had a respectable stash, but there was still plenty of room on the roof and plenty of food in the store.
After dinner we all settled down on the furniture we’d moved up to the roof. We had a complete living room set facing out toward the edge of the roof, overlooking the parking lot. The mob of undead had grown steadily the first few days, but lately the size of the horde seemed to have stopped increasing. If I had to guess, I’d say there was between one thousand and fifteen-hundred infected below us.
Mark sat in a plush recliner strumming a guitar he’d found and humming a tune along with it. I recognized it as later Jonny Cash. Lounging lazily in his own recliner with his eyes half closed, Zach began tapping his foot, keeping rhythm. I couldn’t help but hum along to the song, the words to which I couldn’t remember exactly, but I knew it was a song about the end of time. I couldn’t help but wonder if what was happening to us was part of what the song talked about, prophecy come true.