Z is for Zombie

by Geron Kees

Chapter 11

The next morning they were back at work, bright and early.

The first order of business was to examine the tool room doors. The door from the outside opened inward, and was stout, but it only had a simple wooden latch to keep it closed. They added a crossbar to the four-by-four frame, which could be quickly swung down to secure the door. Based on past experience, it would not keep the zombie out, but would at least slow him down for the ten seconds they would need to get through the tool room, close the inner door, and get themselves into the coal bunker.

They surveyed the view of the tool room from standing within the coal bunker and peering over the edge across the floor of the barn. They would need to see when the zombie actually fell into the trap. But the inner door of the tool room went right down to the floor, so they took it off the hinges and cut three inches off the bottom, and when it was remounted they then had a good view across the length of the tool room floor to the outer door. There would be no missing the action now, when it finally happened.

Then they lowered eight pallets into the root cellar, to be used, four to each side, as mounts for the harvester blades; and then they lowered the blades themselves. There were twenty of them, two feet in length, old and a little rusty, but still with a good edge on them. They were dense and heavy, and would become potent missiles when propelled with sufficient force.

Next they nailed flathead nails into the sides of the floorboards at one-foot intervals along both sides of the hole in the tool room floor, and stretched the baling twine as tight as they could across the gap between them. The flathead nails would support the tensioned twine easily enough to keep it in place, but not the weight of a full-grown man - or zombie. When they next laid the big tarp across the hole and stretched it tight and lightly tacked it to the floor, it was reasonably level. There was still some slight dip in the center, but you would have to stop and examine it closely to see it.

The back corner of the tarp, over the moved staircase down into the root cellar, they left free. When they were done, they would simply pull it tight and lay another pallet down flat over it to hold it in place, and set a few boxes of expendable junk on top of it to give a reason to be there. It was makeshift, but it would only have to work once. They could quickly lift and move the whole thing, and peel back the tarp there in order to gain access to the stairs if they had to do so. But once they were done in the root cellar, they had no plans to go back.

The entire floor of the barn was strewn with ancient hay, and they gathered some of that and cast it about on the tarp. The addition of the hay finalized the appearance of the floor - at least in the low light available within the tool room - as that of ancient wood trod into submission by generations of human feet. The effect was amazing, even though they knew the 'floor' would not support any weight to speak of.

"This might actually work," Jeremy said, looking as if he didn't quite dare believe that it would.

Next came the work in the root cellar, which was the scariest part. By flashlight, they carefully placed the four sticks of dynamite to rear uprights of the shelving on each side of the cellar, back against the earthen walls, and secured them in place with duct tape. Each stick of explosive had a hole in the end, into which would be inserted a blasting cap, which were tiny aluminum cylinders about two inches in length. Two wires sprouted from the end of the cap, about six feet in length, the ends of which were stripped but wrapped in an insulated plastic tab. The tab prevented a static discharge from setting off the cap, a very real danger in dry environments.

They set the caps in the middle of the shelving for the time being, far enough away from the dynamite that one of them accidentally going off would not also set off the explosives. Jack had said that the caps needed to be in contact with the sticks of dynamite in order to supply enough compression shock, quickly enough, to set them off. Then they ran four paired wires across underneath the floorboards to the old coal bunker, and ran a quick continuity test on them to make sure they were conductive. The four runs were combined at the bunker end, and a piece of electrical tape wrapped about each paired end to prevent them absorbing a static discharge. Then they removed the tabs from the ends of the cap's wires, attached the paired wires from the joint run to them, and wrapped the connections in electrical tape. They now had a connection established from the coal bunker to the root cellar.

They were going to use a car battery to set the things off. Jack had set off his stick using the three volts supplied by the batteries in his pocket flash, but it had only worked because modern alkaline cells packed a good punch when they were fresh. The caps specified 6 volts minimum, and they had a good extra battery for the truck they could use as a power supply. This would ensure that the caps would detonate when they threw the switch.

They stood the pallets up on end against the shelving in front of the explosives, and nailed brads into them to act as hangers for the harvester blades. Then they hung the blades, ten to a side, held in place only by their own weight. They would become deadly missiles when the explosives went off.

When they were done, they carefully examined their handiwork by flashlight.

"I wouldn't want to be down here when it all happened," Jeremy said quietly, as if realizing for the first time how destructive the trap would be. "Jeez, I hope we know what we're doing."

Once the blasting caps had been pushed into the dynamite they would not risk reentering the root cellar, so they had to be certain that everything else was done first. They checked everything twice, and then argued briefly over who would insert the caps.

"I'll do it," Richie said, waving a hand at Jeremy. "You go back to the coal bunker."

"The hell I will. I'll stick the things in, and you go back to the bunker."

They stared at each other, each pointing their flashes at the other's chests.

Richie finally nodded. "I think maybe we can both do it. You take one side, and I'll take the other. If something happens, I'd rather go with you, than be left without you."

Jeremy compressed his lips, but nodded. "Okay. Let's do it quickly, and get the hell out of here."

They each took a side, and reached back behind the pallets and inserted the blasting caps, first one, and then the other, into the ends of the sticks of dynamite. Then, without a further word, they climbed the stairs, pulled the tarp taut, and placed the pallet over it. They set the three boxes of junk on the back corner of the pallet by the wall, leaving them enough free room to step across the pallet when the time came to pass through the tool room. And then they went into the barn and closed the inner tool room door behind them.

Only then did Richie take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Shee-it. I could not do that every day for a living. I don't know how people that work with explosives handle it."

Jeremy came to him and put his arms around him, and they pulled each other close. "If this works, we'll never have to do it again."

They kissed, and then held each other quietly a moment. Sherry, who had guard duty on that end of the barn, glanced in at them, and then shook her head. "Hey, no goofing off in there, you two."

Richie laughed, kissed Jeremy one more time, and then stepped back from him. "Later. Tonight."

Jeremy grinned, his eyes twinkling. "Count on it."

They discussed the next phase of their plan over lunch: how to get the zombie to chase them into the barn.

"I was thinking about that," Marnie said, as she and Mom laid out plates of food. "Zombies will chase anything that moves, it seems. But they also seem to recognize people, and attack them even if they're not moving. That gives me an idea."

"Well don't keep it a secret," Jeremy said, winking at Richie. "Tell!"

Marnie swatted his arm. "Just keep it up, Jeremy Campbell, and I'll let you figure this out for yourself."

Everyone laughed.

"Seriously, Marn," Richie put in, "what do you have in mind?"

"Well, remember the clothing store in town? There are mannequins there, dressed in the latest fashions. I was wondering what a zombie would do it if saw a couple of them standing in the field on that side of the barn."

Richie and Jeremy glanced at each other. "I doubt it would fool a zombie." Richie said. "At close range, anyway. The simple fact that the mannequins didn't run away when they saw the zombie coming would be pause for thought all on its own."

"And mannequins couldn't run into the tool room and be chased," Jeremy added. "And we need that to happen."

Marnie raised an eyebrow. "No, you're right. But suppose you put the mannequins out in the field, far enough from the barn and close enough to the woods to tempt the zombie out of hiding? Then the two of you stand outside the tool room door. The zombie might get to the mannequins and see they weren't real, but wouldn't it keep on coming if it saw the two of you? That would put you far enough away from the thing to see it coming and still have time to get away."

Richie frowned. "We'd be armed. It would see the Thompsons, and not give chase."

"I don't know about that." Marnie shook her head. "We've had the Thompsons with us all along, and they have not stopped this thing from coming at us."

"Maybe...maybe it doesn't know what they are," Mike said then, looking startled by his own idea. "They're guns to us, but...what are they to the zombie? It doesn't seem to run until we actually shoot at it. It might just know the sound they make. Or even just how it feels to get hit by the bullets. But if it has no tech-sense left, it might not understand how we even do it."

Richie and Jeremy looked at each other. They were used to the idea that zombies had keen senses. But that the creatures might not understand everything those senses told them was a new idea altogether.

Richie nodded. "Interesting thought. You're saying maybe it doesn't get the idea of the guns at all, until we are actually shooting at it. And even then it just knows it's in danger?"

"That kind of makes sense," Jeremy said. "That goes back to us wondering why the thing just didn't take off after easier game."

Sherry leaned forward across the table top. "So if you just don't shoot at it, there won't be anything to keep it from chasing you."

Marnie nodded in agreement. "You could wait by the door, and see if it tries to attack the mannequins. If it comes out of hiding to go after them, and no one shoots at it...it will come after you, too. Don't you think?"

"Maybe." Richie nodded. "Just maybe."

"Why do you need the mannequins at all then?" Mike asked. "Just stand outside the door and see if it charges you."

"No, I see what Marnie means," Jeremy said, glancing at the other boy. "There's a lot of ground to cover from the woods to the tool room door. I wouldn't want to stand out close to the woods and then try to outrun that thing if it charged us. But if we put bait out there - non-human bait - it may just come out of hiding for it. That leaves us close to the door, and with an avenue of escape. That way it would be coming to us, instead of the other way around."

Sherry grinned. "This sounds like a movie script, or something."

"It's nuts, is what it is," Bennie put in, from over by a window. "All that play acting...what if it doesn't work?"

"Mannequins wouldn't fool me," Tina said, from another window. "I'd think you were up to something."

Marnie shook her head. "But these zombies don't seem to think quite like we do. I've been considering the way this thing operates, and it's like it's really smart, but that it's also oblivious to a lot of things we take for granted. We know it plans, because it set up that ambush on the guys and the truck." She frowned. "But if it really understood us, it would know that we had weapons, and yet it seems like it has forgotten that fact after each attack, and keeps on trying."

No one said anything for a moment, and Richie was aware of the eyes upon him as he turned the facts over in his head. There was something odd about the way the zombie operated...but who knew what was going on in the thing's mind? Yet, so far...so far the zombie did not seem concerned about their guns until after it started receiving a lot of damage. The fact that the group was armed had not deterred the creature from trying to attack them several times. So maybe the human's weapons were not a factor considered in the attack. Only when that amount of damage the zombie was taking reached a certain critical point did some flight sense kick in and tell it to be on its way.

So did the zombie even understand the nature of guns at all?

If an unarmed human being with a knowledge of guns found himself facing an opponent with a Thompson submachine gun, he would be inclined to make himself scarce and find some other way to get things done. But suppose...just suppose that, somewhere on earth, on some island in the middle of nowhere, or deep in some jungle, you happened to find a human being who had never heard of guns. If you stood before him holding a Thompson, while that primitive had a spear, he might consider you undefended, or at least armed only with a weird-looking club. Without recognizing that you were armed to the teeth, the primitive would have no real idea of the danger he was facing. If he then attacked you and was met with a hail of bullets - and survived - would he even then know that some kind of weapon had been used against him?

If zombies had somehow lost all sense of technology, then gunpowder, ballistics, and weapons technology would almost be like magic to them. Or, at the least, an unknown force that interfered with their attack on humans. Their own zombie had showed ingenuity in trying to get at them, but had been driven off each time by superior force. In a human, that would certainly give one pause for thought. But the zombie seemed to act like each new attack was the first time. It either did not learn from its previous experience, or it simply did not care.

There seemed to be no immediate answer.

Richie shrugged. "Hell, I don't know. Those are some crazy ideas to consider." He looked around at the others. "We don't know what goes on inside a zombie head. Mannequins may not fool our friend at all, or they might be indistinguishable from one of us."

Jeremy laughed. "So we give it a try?"

"Yeah. Why not? Let's give it a try and see. The worst that could happen is that Zombo will sit back and laugh at our attempts to fool him. Then we'd just have to think of something else."

Jeremy squeezed his eyes shut and winced. "That means another trip into town. I kinda wanted to replace that door on the truck before we went out in it again."

"We'll do that first thing tomorrow morning." Richie grinned, and patted his boyfriend's wrist. "I'll help you. And then we'll zip into town and visit the Jeans 'N Things, okay?" He looked over at Marnie then. "And we can make a quick stop at the library and grab some more reading stuff, too."

The girl smiled. "That would be nice. I've read some of these magazines like ten times."

"Who's going?" Mike asked. "You two have been having all the fun lately."

Richie and Jeremy both laughed at that idea, but Sherry spoke up before either boy could say a thing.

"You went last time," she said accusingly, gently slapping Mike's forearm. "If they need a hired gun, it's my turn."

"I wanna go," Will said. "I never get to go anywhere."

"Four is all we can get into the cab of the truck and still have room to breathe," Jeremy pointed out.

Richie looked over at Marnie. The girl was smiling. "I suppose you want to go, too?" he asked.

Marnie laughed. "Yeah, right. You never take me anywhere, Richie Kincannon." She turned her nose up in mock disgust. "I've been ignored so long it feels normal to me. I wouldn't go if you begged me."

"That means she doesn't want to go," Jeremy translated playfully. "She likes being mistress of the castle."

Marnie laughed then, but nodded. "I would like to go some time, just not this time. Maybe when this zombie thing is over." She looked around at the other kids. "I couldn't go to town and leave my babies by themselves."

Bennie looked astounded, and Mike tossed his head back and howled.

"Babies!" Bennie said, pounding a hand on the tabletop. "I can shoot as well as you!"

"Probably better," Marnie said, dropping a hand on his shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "I'm just teasing you, sweetheart."

"Oh." Bennie's face gently reddened, and Richie tried hard not to smile.

Jeremy turned to Mike. "What about it? Willing to let Sherry have a turn?"

Mike looked over at the girl, but then sighed, and nodded. "It's only fair, I guess."

"So Sherry and Will this trip," Richie said, winking at Bennie. "And Bennie next trip."

"Yay!" Will looked elated.

"What about me?" Tina asked peevishly. "I need a vacation, too."

That brought more laughter. Richie nodded. "Okay, Bennie and Tina on the next run. Any objections?"

There seemed to be none. Everyone started talking, comparing notes on what lay ahead.

Richie leaned closer to Jeremy's ear. "All this decision-making is enough to wear a guy out," he whispered. "I could use some, um...relaxation. What are you doing a little later?"

The other boy's eyes twinkled. "Sleeping with you."

Richie sighed, and laid his head on his boyfriend's shoulder. "That's the right answer."

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