Z is for Zombie

by Geron Kees

Chapter 10

"I don't know what woke me up," Bennie said, as they all munched on breakfast. "But I was laying there thinking I needed to pee, and then I heard that weird creaking sound."

"Good thing you did," Mike told him. "It would've sucked to be asleep when that thing busted in to get us."

"I don't think it would have gotten inside," Jeremy countered. He and Richie had examined the hatch, the dogs, and all the mounts carefully, and there seemed to be no damage caused by the zombie's stress test. At least to what they could see, anyway. "Jack did a great job on that hatch. You'd need a rocket launcher to bust through that."

"I thought these things didn't move around at night," Marnie said quietly. "I know it was almost dawn, but that's cutting it pretty damn close."

Richie nodded. "They can evidently move at the first suggestion of daylight. But I don't think before that. I really do feel if they could move at night, our friend would have visited us in the middle of one." He shrugged. "We knew something like this might happen."

"So what are we gonna do now?" Bennie asked.

"Time to get rid of this thing," Sherry said immediately. "It's too dangerous to have around."

Richie sighed softly. "I agree."

Everyone looked at him. "So what's the plan?" Will asked.

That was the question, wasn't it? Richie and Jeremy has discussed some ideas, but had yet to let the others in on them in any detail. Even Jeremy didn't know exactly what Richie had been considering. But, now it was time they all knew.

Richie shrugged. "I've had some thoughts on using the root cellar under the barn as a kind of trap. It's right underneath the floor at the door to the tool room on the other side of the barn. If we removed the floor there, and covered it in a way to make it appear it was still there, anything coming through the door from outside would fall through into the root cellar."

Marnie cocked her head to one side. "And...how would we get the zombie to come through the door?"

"Well...we would kind of have to let it chase us through it, I guess."

Everybody started talking at once, and Richie immediately held up his hands for order. "Wait a second. This is not a set plan. Hear me out."

"How could you be chased through the door if you were gonna fall into the root cellar?" Tina asked.

"Well, we would leave a couple of feet of floor in place just inside the door, and then a narrow section along one wall where we could run to the other side of the tool room and out that door into the barn. The zombie would come straight across, and fall in."

"You hope," Marnie said, frowning.

Richie sighed. "Well, yeah, I hope. We couldn't have him right at our heels, though. We'd have to reinforce that outer door, so that when we close it, it will hold him long enough for us to get to the other side of the room and out that door there."

"And then what?" Mike asked. "Jack said these things can jump pretty high. If it fell into the root cellar, wouldn't it just jump back up to the floor and follow you?"

"Well..." Richie licked his lips. "We'd have to make sure to set off the dynamite before it could do that."

Jeremy's jaw dropped. Even though he was aware of the general plan, he and Richie hadn't discussed it quite that far yet. "And where will we be when it goes off?"

Richie scratched his head. "We would need to figure out a safe place to be where we wouldn't get blown up, too. I was thinking about the old coal bunker across from the tool room. We could set the switch there, and jump in and set off the explosives once we know the zombie has fallen into the root cellar."

Jeremy squinted at him in disbelief. "The coal bunker? That's just a dirty old hole in the floor. You think that would be safe?"

"Probably. Explosives tend to direct their force into the path of least resistance, remember? Jack told us how it worked. I was thinking we'd attach the four sticks of dynamite, two to a wall, on opposite sides of the root cellar, inside the shelving. Then we could grab some of those pallets stacked by the old corn crib and lean them up against the shelves, in front of the dynamite. And then hang all those old harvester blades on the front of the pallets. They're rusty, but they're still sharp, and they'll become missiles when the dynamite goes off. The force of the explosions will be away from the walls, and then upwards when they meet in the center." Richie scratched his chin. "Probably blow the roof clean off the barn above it, but that's a risk we have to take." He grinned then. "At least there probably won't be a fire, afterwards."

Total silence greeted his words. The other kids stared at him, all of them trying to envision the scenario he had just outlined.

"You're crazy," Sherry whispered. "You could get killed."

"I don't think that will happen," Richie countered, with far more assurance than he really felt. "We'd have a lot of earth between us and the blast. The tool room will get destroyed, I'm sure, so we need to move all the tools someplace else. But the interior of the barn is all open space, mostly, and there isn't a wall on this side anymore, just the frame. We used all the boards there to build the camp. So the blast is going to expend itself pretty quickly."

"You hope," Marnie said again, shaking her head. "Boys are all nuts, you know that?"

"We try," Jeremy said, clearly coming to Richie's defense now. He turned to smile at his boyfriend. "Let's consider this the basis for a plan. The details need to still be worked out, but...it's a start, and it's better then doing nothing."

"You think that would be enough to kill the zombie?" Mike asked.

"Well..." Richie considered that. "Jack set off one stick at the hardware store in Mitersville, as far as we could tell. He and the zombie were only a few feet apart, and everything was thrown away from the blast." Richie stopped, trying not to remember what they'd found when they finally had reached Jack in the rubble of the store's back room.

"The concussion killed them, mostly," Jeremy added, seeing the look on Richie's face, and wishing to gloss over the details. "So if we set this up with four sticks, and place stuff in front of the blast wave, it's going to be set moving just damn fast. All those metal harvester blades suddenly moving at six hundred miles per hour, or whatever...yeah. I think it will kill the zombie. Probably not be a lot left, after."

Richie smiled at his boyfriend, the speed with which he had come on board with the plan an indicator of his love and support. Jeremy might not agree with it yet, but he was willing to wait and see what they could come up with before expressing his concerns in front of the others. If he even did that.

"Will it destroy the whole barn?" Tina asked. "Don't we want to keep that?"

"I don't think the whole barn will go, no," Richie said. "But...I don't know, either. The walls and the roof and the interiors are of wood, but the pillars supporting the frame and the roof are all concrete. I think they'll hold. Once the explosion comes up out of the root cellar, what doesn't go up towards the roof will have plenty of open space to dissipate some before hitting the other walls. And, there are doors and windows in all the walls, and the outer wall facing us here is missing entirely. Probably going to be some damage...but, we can afford to do that."

No one seemed comfortable with the idea of so violent a method of dealing with their enemy, but no one could suggest anything better, either. The alternative was to go hunting the zombie, which would place them out in the open, and at a clear disadvantage. The zombie might not charge them out in the open fields, where the Thompsons could easily be brought to bear. It would wait until they were among the trees and brush to attack, and the chances they'd be taking with the creature's speed and power there were just too ridiculous to consider.

So they would not leave the fields and enter the brush, and the zombie would probably not leave the brush and enter the fields...it was a vicious circle, and nothing would get done. They had to have the zombie come to them, and they had to allow that to happen in a situation that they could survive, while hopefully taking their attacker out for good in the process. That left their options somewhat limited. Richie was not of a mind to expose the camp itself to another attack, one in which their all-important home might suffer. The barn was the only other nearby place where a confrontation might be successfully planned and executed.

"Then it's settled," Richie said, letting his eyes move among his friends. "Jeremy and I will look at the root cellar today and see what needs to be done. Mike and Sherry will come with us as guards. Everyone else will have window duty, and blow an air horn if you see something suspicious."

These last were simple cans of compressed air with a horn attachment, brought back from the hardware store in town. They could be heard for some distance, and would serve well to alert those inside the barn if anything was seen approaching by the watchers at the camp windows.

"Do you need to use all four sticks of the dynamite?" Marnie asked. "That seems like an awful lot."

"They're small," Richie explained. "Jack said they come in different sizes, and different strengths. These ones from the hardware store were probably for things like blowing up stumps and stuff like that. I don't think four will be too many."

"I wouldn't think they could sell dynamite in a store," Marnie said then, frowning at them. "What was this guy doing with that stuff, anyway? Was that even legal?"

Jeremy laughed. "Probably not. But all sorts of things go on that aren't really legal."

Marnie blinked, and the frown turned into an evil grin. "Men do that kind of stuff."

Neither boy could argue the point. Richie recalled what he had heard of Mr. King, the owner of the hardware store over in Mitersville, from Jeremy. Apparently that man had things in his arms collection that bordered on the legal, at best. That he had dynamite hidden away in an armored storeroom in his store wasn't all that much of a shock. They really would have to hunt up the man's home, and see what kind of goodies he had stored there.

"We'll be fine," Richie reassured her. "Four sticks will get the job done."

"You hope," Jeremy whispered to him, as they made ready to go outside.

Richie nodded. "Yeah. I hope, is right."

They checked outside via the peephole in the hatch, and then Richie climbed down, holding a Thompson in one arm. The interior of the ladder tube was blackened from the fire, and would need to be cleaned out when time permitted. The metal of the tube was dented, and one steel rung of the ladder - presumably where the creature had stood while it applied pressure to the hatch - had a noticeable dip in the center of it now. The quarter-inch steel plate which covered the underside of the camp within the tube, while blackened, was unscathed, and had prevented the wood beneath from fire damage.

Richie reached the ground, and fingered the grips of his Thompson anxiously as he carefully did a three-sixty, his eyes examining everything. It only took moments for him to decide that the coast was clear, and he signaled the others to follow. Jeremy came next, and then Mike and Sherry. As soon as everyone was on the ground they formed a group, each one taking a quarter to guard.

Richie looked back up at the hatch, where Marnie was watching them quietly. "Be back soon. Keep an eye on things, huh, Marn?"

"Always do." But then she smiled. "Be careful, okay?"

Richie nodded, and the hatch came down with a gentle thump and the dogs rasped into place. "Okay, let's go."

It was a pretty morning, with nothing feeling dangerous about it at all. In the copse of trees by the drive, butterflies moved back and forth on the butterfly bush there, and birds sang in the trees above. That seemed to say that only the winged-ones were present there, and Richie eyed the distant patch of growth only a moment longer before letting his eyes move on to the fields around them. The grasses were coming back after the last burn-off, but they weren't more than a few inches high yet, leaving little room to hide in. Everywhere his eyes touched there was nothing to signal danger, and after a moment, he let his gaze travel to the barn itself.

They could see within the structure, as the outer wall on this side had been removed to provide wood for the building of the camp. There was a warren of stalls at the back end of the building, with a loft above them; and a large open area to the front, with big double doors on the end, now closed. They parked the truck inside this area most of the time, but had not done so since the zombie had first appeared.

Against the inside of the far wall, towards the front of the barn, they could see the boxlike structure that held the tool room on one end and storage on the other. These rooms were each only one story tall, with loft space above for other storage, which presently was empty. There was some distance to the roof of the barn above, and Richie again felt that there was a good chance that the barn itself would survive the blast. Explosions created a fierce blast wave, but only things that resisted that wave even momentarily were destroyed by the force of it. And everything that resisted the wave, even briefly, slowed it down and robbed it of some of its force. The tool room would be destroyed, certainly, and also the loft above it. But by the time the blast hit the roof of the barn, it would probably have been weakened enough to allow for that structure to deflect it to the side and out through the open wall. Probably.

Richie paused a second, and turned back and looked at the camp. The old silo should be far enough away to receive no damage from the explosion...but, shit happened, too. Explosions could throw stuff a long way. The stout walls of the camp could take a pretty good impact, but it would be best if no one was at the windows on that side when the blast went off.

"What's the matter?" Jeremy asked, turning to look back with him.

"Just eyeballing the distance back to the camp. Wondering if anything can be tossed far enough to hit it."

Jeremy frowned. "It's possible. I kind of doubt it, though." He smiled then. "Those walls could take being hit by those trees tossed by our zombie friend. I think anything else will be small in comparison."

"Maybe. But the windows are weak points. I wouldn't want one of those harvester blades going through one with someone standing on the other side."

"No." Jeremy eyed the silo again, and shook his head. "I think we'll be okay. We were a lot closer to the back door of the hardware store when Jack set his stick off, than the silo is to the barn. It blew the door out, and the windows, but only part of the wall."

Richie didn't want to think about that anymore. "We need to make sure the outer door of the tool room will hold for at least a few seconds of pounding by the zombie. We'll need time to cross the tool room and close the door on the other side, and get to the coal bunker, before it gets inside."

"How do you plan to get it to chase you?" Sherry asked. "You can't just send it an invitation."

Richie laughed. "Actually, we can. I'll bet it's healing today after being burned, but normally it must watch the silo to see what we're doing. The day it hid in the copse and attacked the truck when we got back says it has to know our movements."

"Then it must see us when we go out to empty my traps," Mike said, giving a quick look around.

"I'm sure it does. But we only go to the ones nearby now, and not the ones in the woods. Even so, I'm actually a little surprised it hasn't tried to get at us when we do that much."

"Just shows again we don't really know what moves this thing," Jeremy muttered.

"There's three traps on the tool room side of the barn," Mike pointed out. "Maybe something with them?"

"Maybe. That's a good suggestion. Let me think on it."

They reached the barn, carefully walked around it, and then just as carefully explored the inside. Only after finding it empty did they all take a deep breath to quiet their anxieties. "This thing is scary," Sherry said, stating the obvious.

Richie just smiled and nodded. "You aren't alone in feeling that, believe me."

They set watch positions where Mike and Sherry had a good view of the approaches to the barn, and Richie and Jeremy inspected the tool room. There was a pair of workbenches along one wall, and pegboards above it holding a variety of tools. Most were old and well-used, but they were still serviceable, and many were of the type they might only need occasionally. They had a large, eight-drawer chest of tools inside the camp; but some of the tools stored in the tool room were not also represented there, and Richie wanted to conserve this resource as much as possible.

The other side of the room was made up of bins holding a variety of hardware, which they also wished to save. There had been shop tools in the middle of the floor once: a table saw, a drill press, a sander, a grinder, and a lathe. These had been sold off when the farm had ceased formal operations, and now only their outlines on the floor served as a reminder of times gone by.

There was also a trap door that, when lifted, presented them with steep, angled staircase down to the ample root cellar below. Jeremy lifted the door and peered into the murky darkness, considering the root cellar more from memory than what could be seen. "That's ten feet down, at least, wouldn't you say?"

"At least." Richie stared into the space below. Once upon a time the shelves that lined the walls had held all sorts of vegetables, canned away in their Ball-Mason jars. The end of the farm as a working producer of crops had dwindled the supply, and the family had used up what was good and discarded the remains long before the Changes had descended upon the world. There was a single light bulb that hung down in the middle of the room, but no power now to run it. They would need portable lights to work here.

Jeremy waved a hand at the benches, and the pegboards lined with tools. "We can move all of this stuff to the old leather room in the back of the barn," he suggested. "Just a couple of screw plates holding the benches to the floor, and the pegboards will be easy to remove. That room is about the same size as this one, I think." He nodded to himself. "We can probably do it all in a few hours."

"Let's do it, then," Richie decided. "The sooner this room is cleared out, the sooner we can get everything in place."

It took them four hours to carry all the tools to the former leather room in the back of the barn, and then to remove and relocate the benches, the bins, and the pegboards. After that they were hungry, and returned to the silo for a late lunch.

"How's it going?" Marnie asked, as she and Mom set plates of tuna biscuits and canned pear slices before each of them.

"The tool room is cleared out," Jeremy said. "Now we can figure out the trap."

"Haven't seen anything of our friend," Sherry offered, biting into a biscuit. "It's been boring for us. Mike and I are counting nail heads in the floorboards."

Mike laughed. "Much better than counting the rounds I'm letting loose at some blue-face."

Marnie smiled, but then turned a thoughtful expression on Richie. "Any idea why they look the way they do? Blue is not exactly a people color."

"No idea." Richie took a bite of his own biscuit, considering every conversation they had ever had on the subject. "Even Jack didn't know. He did say once that it was interesting that nearly everybody had been turned into blue crystal, and that zombies were very close to the same color."

Will, standing over by one of the windows, grunted, but didn't take his eyes off the view outside. "Maybe they just didn't turn all the way during the Changes."

Richie nodded at that. "You just could be right, Will. I think that's what Jack was hinting at, and the colors are pretty close."

"Zombies have some purple in them, too," Sherry pointed out. "The crystal people are pure blue."

"Zombies still have some kind of blood flow," Jeremy responded. "Zombie blood is red, just like ours. Maybe it just looks purple through their skin."

Marnie patted him on the shoulder. "I'll bet you're right. I read somewhere that blood is never really blue like a lot of people think. It just looks blue in the veins we can see because the light is slightly slowed down as it passes through the skin."

Bennie, at another window, laughed at that. "Popular Science strikes again!"

Marnie smiled. "It was not. It was Scientific American, Mister Smarty-pants."

They had brought back tons of reading material from the Hanford town library, on the theory that it was just going to waste sitting about on the shelves there. The group had not continued with any formal schooling since the Changes, but all of them were readers, and they had a great time discussing the things they had found in the books and magazines brought back from the library. Richie made a mental note at the mention to stop at the library the next time they were in town and bring back another load. Even he remembered the article on blood flow that Marnie was talking about, signaling that he had read the magazines they had in stock one time too many.

He grunted. "Whatever the reason, it doesn't seem to bother them. For one thing, they can't seem to bleed out like a person can. Cut them or put a hole in them, and there is a little blood, but then it's like it seals off right away. That's one reason they're so hard to put down. You put a bullet in a regular human, the damage may not even be that greatl, but the blood loss can kill them, all the same."

Bennie actually turned away from his window a moment, drawn by the conversation. "It's like they have a super-fast metabolism, or something. That would account for the way they move, too. And the way they heal."

Richie pointed a finger at Bennie's window, but smiled at the boy. "You could be right, too. There's just too much we don't know."

Bennie grinned, and turned his eyes back to the outside world. "I know they don't like Thompsons, not one bit."

Mike and Sherry both laughed at that, and the pleasure there was noticeable.

Richie smiled at the lights that had appeared in their eyes. That both of the kids were fond of their very lethal weapons was well-known. They treated them as friends, even more than they treated them as tools for protection. Richie understood that. As a boy he'd read a volume on frontier life, back when North America was still being explored by Europeans. A man placed a lot of value on his rifle then, and treated it well, lest it fail him at a critical moment. Rifles were often named, and talked about almost like people. And, talked to. A man that talked to his rifle back then would not have been considered in need of therapy by his peers. He would have been considered quite normal, indeed.

Richie thought highly of his own Winchester Model 70. The rifle had helped to feed him for nearly two years, and it was always ready to defend him, too. He smiled, recalling how many times he had had a deer in his sights, and thought something like, "Okay, buddy, I'm going take a breath, hold it, and give your trigger a little squeeze, and you just do your stuff, okay?"

He had never spoken to the rifle out loud, and it didn't have a name, other than 'buddy'. He'd have felt silly referring to the weapon that way in conversation...but he did understand how the others felt about their weapons. There was nothing quite like a like a staunch and powerful friend to stand between you and hard times.

"No, they don't like Thompsons," he agreed. "It's our only true advantage over them, too. Without the Thompsons, I don't think we could stand against even one of them. You just point a Thompson and kind of go with it, but if it's pointed in the right direction, it's going to destroy anything at close range. You can't operate a bolt-action rifle quickly enough for more than a couple of shots, and even the shotguns don't seem to bother them that much, when you can hit one of them with one in the first place."He laughed. "And the pistols are about as accurate as a thrown rock when you're all hyped up. They're hard to hold down, and you pull that trigger fast enough and you'll find yourself shooting at birds. Only Jack could hit a zombie more than once with a Colt automatic pistol. Zombies move too fast, and we're too jittery under pressure to be accurate."

Marnie carried plates of food over to the kids watching the windows. "Eat, but don't forget to look, too."

"We're going to need that portable rotary saw to cut the floorboards in the tool room," Jeremy said, turning the conversation back to their plans. "And we can only charge one battery for it at a time. I just hope it stays sunny for the next few days."

Portable power tools had been a godsend to them. Jack had rigged a way to charge the batteries for them, but only one at a time, off the solar array on the roof. The array supplied DC current at 24 volts, the same voltage that the batteries in the power tools used. When they had built the camp, they had used regular power tools run off a portable generator. But after Jack had found the solar array and installed it, they had dispensed with the generator, relying afterwards on the low voltage system for lighting and power needs. With all the construction done by that point, Jack had only set up one charger for the power tools, as they had a half dozen good batteries, and Jack felt that that there would always be at least a couple available with a good charge. The rule was simple: use a battery, charge it when done.

"I think they're all charged right now," Richie considered. "One battery will probably be enough, though. We're lucky that the joists run right to left in relation to the outside door of the tool room. And the floorboards run from outer door to inner door. We only need to cut across the floorboards at each door side of the room, and then the joists beneath. If it was a solid floor, it would be different. But we'll just use the gaps between boards as the sides of the hole. No cutting needed there, except at the joists."

Jeremy brightened at that. "That's right. Hey, this might be a one-day job, after all."

"What are you going to cover the hole with?" Mike asked. "It's got to look enough like floor for our buddy not to notice."

"I was thinking one of those big brown tarps they used to use to wrap the tractors in the winter. They're close to the same old brown look that the barn floor has. Throw some straw on it here and there, and Zombo will never know the difference."

"Zombo?" Mike laughed. "Is that his name now?"

"It's as good as any." Jeremy frowned. "My main concern is that, even stretched tight, the tarp is going to sag in the middle. That will not look like a solid floor."

"That's easy, "Will said, around a mouthful of biscuit. "Tarps aren't that heavy. Take some of that twine they used to tie bundles of hay with, and stretch it tight across the hole every few feet, both ways, like a grid. It will support the tarp, but not Zombo when he steps on it."

Richie and Jeremy stared at each other a moment, and then Jeremy barked out a laugh. "Will Conlon, boy genius!"

Will looked surprised, and then pleased. "Well, I was just saying."

"It's a good idea." Richie nodded. "Ideas are always welcome, guys, so speak up."

"Are we going back out today?" Sherry asked.

"I think we should," Richie answered. "We should take advantage of the zombie's healing time. It's at least a day, so for today, at least, we shouldn't have any trouble. I'd like to get the floor cut, at least, before that thing comes back around to watch what we're doing. That saw can be heard a long way off. If our friend decides we're up to something in the barn, it may be a lot harder to draw him inside."

It was agreed, and they finished their food and returned to the barn, taking the power saw and two blades with them.

By dinner they had the floor removed, and the lumber stacked at the back of the barn. They had left three feet of floor inside the outer door, a two-foot wide path down the left side of the room, and four feet of floor in front of the door into the barn proper. The cut hole was about twelve feet across and fifteen feet long, and proved to be eleven feet deep. They moved the staircase to the back of the hole and reattached it so that they could climb down from the floor by the rear door, and then called it a day. The last thing that Richie did was lock the outer door and throw the deadbolt, just in case their friend wanted to explore when they were not around.

Hopefully, though, the only time the zombie would come through the door into the tool room, it would be the last thing it did in this life. Richie had feelings on the matter, and was still unhappy that they were killing something that was thinking and feeling, but he did not share the thoughts with the others. Survival was a treacherous business, and only those willing to play by the rules of the game would live to see the light of the new day.

And they were committed now, to survival. The zombie was expendable, and that was all there was to it.

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