Chapter 7: Dave Henry, October 10, Year 0

When I woke up the girls were still asleep. It felt like old times. I was beat but I knew no matter how long I lay with my eyes closed, I wouldn’t go back to sleep. Without my phone or windows, I had absolutely no idea what time it was.

Because of the School Breakfast Program, we had individual boxes of cereal and milk in the kitchen. We’d been eating cereal for breakfast most mornings and most of the milk was gone. It was just as well. With the power out, the milk was going to go bad soon. I poured myself a bowl of cereal.

I was halfway done with my meal when the girls woke. They staggered up to the refrigerator and pulled out cartons of milk for themselves.

Jessie whined, “Oh what I wouldn’t do for a cup of coffee or even a diet Coke—damn nutrition Nazis getting rid of all of the vending machines.”

Carolyn patted her friend on the back. “Hey tiny, don’t you know caffeine will stunt your growth?”

I expected Jessie to climb all over Carolyn; I learned the hard way my redhead didn’t respond well to short jokes. I guess she was too tired. She bared her teeth at Carolyn and sat on the stool next to me. She opened her carton of chocolate milk and took a long drink. She set it down and faced me. “So Dave, what’s the plan?”

It was funny how the girls always want to know what I think we ought to do. After four weeks of living together, she has to know that while I’m bright, I’m nowhere close to being a genius. It’s not as if I don’t make mistakes or have all the good ideas. I don’t know what I would have done if Jessie hadn’t noticed the classroom doors locked the wrong way, or Carolyn hadn’t suggested reversing the doorknobs.

I’m still not sure what’s really going on here, and I still really don’t deep-down believe that this unbelievably cute girl wants me just for me. A guy like me only gets girls after an IPO. Last I checked, I didn’t have a million plus dollars’ worth of stock options, and hot, popular girls are only attracted to fat nerds with money. So what does she want? Every instinct I have tells me she really only wants to use me, but logic tells me I got nothing she would want. I studied her face carefully. She really does look like she’s attracted to me. It’s a miracle, BUT I don’t believe in miracles. Fuck it, Dave. Stop trying to figure this out and just lay back and enjoy the ride.

I thought for a moment and then answered, “After we finish eating, let’s go out into the hallway and get an idea what time it is. Next, we check on the generator to see if flipping the breakers will turn it back on. I doubt it will, but we have to try.”

Carolyn sat across from us with a bowl of cereal. She waved at me with her spoon. “Don’t mind me. Keep talking.”

“After that, I’m thinking we take showers in the chemistry lab while we can. If all the power is out, it’s only a matter of time before we lose water pressure, so we’ll also need to fill everything that will hold water. Then we start gathering the supplies for when we leave here. We’ll need backpacks, food, water, jackets, blankets, and I’d like to find or make better weapons. We’re also going to need a car. Did you guys drive here?”

Jessie replied, “I drove Carolyn here. I parked my dad’s Toyota 4Runner next to the gym. We’ll have to get my keys out of my gym locker.”

Thank God, she had an SUV. “How much gas do you have in the tank?”

She thought for a second and then smiled. “I’m pretty sure half a tank. That should be plenty enough to get us to Matt’s cabin.”

Carolyn asked, “Dave, why are you worried about water? I’ve been in plenty of blackouts, I never had any problems getting tap water.”

Jessie answered for me, “That’s probably because the power was never out for more than few hours. The water company has to keep pumping water into the water towers to keep them full to maintain the water pressure. With the power out, once the water towers are empty, that’s it.”

Carolyn frowned. “So when will that happen? Should we forget about showering and start filling more containers with water now?”

I shrugged. “It depends on how long it takes for the water tower in our area to empty. I’m guessing it’ll take at least a few hours maybe longer before the water pressure goes out. If we were going to stay here longer, it’d make sense to get as much water stored up as we can. I’m thinking we’ll leave here in the next week or two. We should have enough water stored in the garbage bins to last us until we leave.”

Carolyn looked thoughtful. “Okay, dibs on showering first.”

I’ve always wondered what ‘chagrined’ looked like. I’m pretty sure Jessie demonstrated it for me when she blurted, “I’m next.”

Why was my girlfriend acting like she’d lost a bet? Oh—got it. Even with the power out there probably was some warm water left in the school boiler. The chemistry lab’s shower at its best had lukewarm water. It shouldn’t take long for the water to get ice cold.

I took closer look at Jessie’s blonde and supposedly not so smart friend. I was getting the feeling that Carolyn’s dumb blonde act was just that—an act. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: the smarter my friends are the better. More importantly, I’d taken a shower last night.

It didn’t take long for the girls to finish eating. Going downstairs to check on the generator by lamplight got my heart rate up. No matter how many times I did this, I don’t think I was ever going to be okay with walking into dark rooms without enough light. As expected, flipping the breakers made no difference. The generators wouldn’t start.

We went back up to the second floor and looked out of one of the windows. Based on the position of the sun, I guessed it was about 6 AM. For the first week or so after the outbreak, zombies formed packs. Since then the remaining survivors had learned to stay out of sight, and the packs had all split up into individual zombies. Whenever another pack formed, you knew some new survivors had come into view.

I started counting the zombies out on the street in front of us. There were twenty-one. I went to the classrooms overlooking the other sides of the school. There were a hundred and two zombies on the streets immediately surrounding our building. To get out of town we’d probably have to travel six or more miles. The school and the bordering streets probably took up a tenth of a mile. If there were about a hundred zombies every square tenth mile, this meant we’d have to go through at minimum six thousand zombies to get out of town. Fuck! That’s a lot of zombies.

If another horde formed and moved out of the area, we’d have a good chance of making it in Jessie’s 4Runner. But that’s not a plan; it’s just hoping for the best.

If this was a video game or a movie, one of us would have stunt driver skills and we’d have no problems getting out of town. I know for sure that I’m not that kind of driver, and it’s a good bet the girls aren’t either. I wondered if a 4Runner could force its way through a street packed wall-to-wall with zombies. We were probably fucked if it couldn’t. Did I want to take the chance? It’d be a lot easier if we thinned out the zombies before we ran for it.

How in hell were the three of us going to do that? The only way to thin out zombies was to kill them. When I told the girls we’d leave here in one or two weeks, I was talking out of my ass. I had no idea how we were going to kill a good part of six thousand zombies much less how long it’d take. I should fill up more water containers. I went to pick up every wastebasket I could find in the upper floors and bring them to the kitchen.

It was spooky how much difference the lighting made. Upstairs even with the blinds down there was enough sunlight to see clearly and there weren’t any shadows. During the day, I felt totally relaxed in the upper floors. When the fluorescent lights were working, the kitchen felt even more cozy and secure.

It was a completely different story by lamplight. If we had ominous background music, the cramped kitchen would have been a perfect for a horror flick. When you know for sure monsters are out to get you, it truly sucks to have dark shadows everywhere.

I was filling the wastebaskets full of water and then moving them to the cafeteria when Jessie stormed in, “Here you are! Why didn’t you tell me where you were going?”

I stared at her. What was she talking about?

Carolyn who had walked in behind Jessie explained, “We were expecting you to take the third shower. When we couldn’t find you upstairs, we were worried something had happened to you.”

That still made no sense. With all our barriers up and the all the outside doors locked, what could happen to me?

Jessie grabbed the front of my shirt and shook me. She then hugged me. “You can’t just leave without telling me what you’re doing.”

For crying out loud, it wasn’t like I’d tried to leave the building, and just yesterday she’d been fine with me walking by myself through our halls for hours. But the hug felt good. I got the vibe I was supposed to say something so I threw out, “I’m sorry” to see if it’d help get me out of the doghouse. I had no idea what I was sorry for but Jessie’s expression softened so I repeated, “I’m sorry Jessie. It won’t happen again.”

It must have been the right thing to say because she looked up, brought my head closer with her hands, and kissed me. “It better not.”

I still didn’t know what was going on. If she was mad at me, why was she hugging and kissing me? I hoped to God she wasn’t serious about me having to tell her exactly where I was at all times, that would get old real quick.

The kiss got passionate. Wow, if this was how Jessie going to act when she got angry, I had to get her more angry more often.

Jessie pulled back and asked, “Dave, why are you filling wastebaskets with water? I thought you said we’d be leaving here soon and we had enough water.”

I’d hoped she wouldn’t bring that up. I raised my hand up to my head and scratched a nonexistent itch. Like anyone else, I hate admitting I wrong. I wish I’d spent a little time thinking before I said we didn’t need more water.

OH SHIT, I just had a thought that made me want to upchuck. Our cell phone and flashlight batteries had died during the night. What if the car batteries had too?

Jessie asked, “What’s wrong?”

I turned off the water. “Hold on a sec.” I ran over to my toolbox, grabbed the cordless drill, and pulled the trigger—nothing happened. Its battery was dead. I switched the battery out. This battery was dead too. I’d recharged both batteries yesterday.”

Jessie no longer sounded angry. There was concern in her voice when she asked again, “Dave, what’s wrong?”

Carolyn’s voice wavered as she answered for me, “Every battery we’ve tested since last night is dead. That probably means the 4Runner’s battery is dead too.”

Jessie now sounded scared. “Oh shit.” She crossed her arms tightly around herself. Carolyn looked just as freaked out.

I walked over and put my arms around both of them. “Not having a ride is a problem but we’ll figure it out. We always have. It might take us a while though to get ready to leave so we should probably store as much water as we can.” I guess it’s human nature to seek physical contact when frightened. I don’t know how the girls felt but I felt better holding on to Jessie and Carolyn.

I had a question I should have asked a long time ago. “Um guys, where’s Matt’s cabin?”

Jessie’s voice was tense but steady when she replied, “It’s in Garden Valley about an hour drive from here up 55. It’s really nice. It’s got two full-size bathrooms, a loft, and two bedrooms. We’ve had twelve people up there at the time; it was a little crowded but everyone had a place to sleep.”

I’d been to Garden Valley before. I’d gone car camping there with my parents. It was probably a little over fifty miles from here and a thousand feet of elevation gain. It’d take days to walk there but we probably could get there in three to four hours on bicycles. I pictured trying to fight off zombies while trying to pedal—I guess a couple of days of walking might not be so bad.

A group hug can only go on for so long without getting awkward; I let the girls go before it got to that stage. Jessie and Carolyn picked up wastebaskets and started filling them with water. I started carrying the full wastebaskets into the cafeteria. With the water running, I had to shout so the girls could hear me, “Did Matt tell you what his family did to prepare for zombies?”

Carolyn motioned me closer and spoke into my ear, “Dave, do you think zombies can hear us?” She asked the question as if she was just curious.

I looked at the metal door that led outside. It didn’t look all that sound proof. I had no idea if zombies could hear us; I hoped not. I gave her an excruciatingly embarrassed smile by way of apology and went back to moving full wastebaskets.

Since I didn’t want to shout or speak right into Jessie’s and Carolyn’s ears, I had time to think. The only zombie I’d killed was Mr. Johnson. Luring him into the building had gone fairly well. I remembered how it’d felt to crush in his skull with crowbar. Even worse than killing him had been dragging his body outside when the street was clear and then watching from a window as other zombies devoured him.

To make it safe to go outside, we had to kill most of the zombies that were in our way. I pictured a system like the ones used to slaughter cattle: a passageway that funneled zombies into our building one by one, so we could smash in their brains with the least amount of fuss and bother. If we built a barrier with a two-foot diameter hole in it about knee height, zombies would crawl through the hole to get to us. It should be easy to bash in their heads while they were coming through. It’d be a pain to get rid of the bodies afterwards. We’d have to drag them up a couple flights of stairs and throw them out a window.

If we followed this plan, we had to avoid drawing a horde. I could imagine how tired I’d be swinging a hammer or crowbar into zombie heads a hundred times or so. Even with us taking turns, there’d be no way that we’d be able to crush ten to fifteen thousand heads in one day. And then, what to do with the bodies? We’d never be able to drag dead ones away fast enough. After a couple hundred zombies, we wouldn’t have room to swing our arms.

We had to make sure that no more than a few dozen zombies came at us at one time. I thought back to how the zombies had reacted when they ate Mr. Johnson. Had they screamed? I motioned to the girls to turn off the faucets. “Hey guys, when the zombies saw Mr. Johnson’s body, do you remember if they screamed?”

Jessie rubbed her chin, “I don’t think so.”

Carolyn nodded, “They didn’t scream. Funny, they did that when they chased us into the building on the 11th”

I explained to Jessie and Carolyn my idea about slaughtering zombies like cattle and why we had to make sure we didn’t create a horde.

Carolyn asked, “So how are we going to stop a horde from forming?”

“If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to use chicken tenders for zombie bait. If zombies aren’t into chicken tenders, we’ll have to find a way to kill just one zombie and use its body for bait. As long as the zombies aren’t screaming, a horde shouldn’t form.”

Jessie put her hand on my shoulder. “That certainly sounds like a plan Dave, but it might be a whole lot less work if we wait and see if the zombies pull away from here on their own. If that happens, we won’t have to have our own little zombie apocalypse and we can just take off. So we should probably get our supplies and gear ready to go before we build a slaughterhouse.”

I put my hand over hers. “Yeah, sure, that makes sense.”

Carolyn chimed in. “We should also try to start Jessie’s 4Runner before we leave the city. We won’t lose much time if it doesn’t start. If it does start, we’ll save days of walking through zombie infested territory.”

Having a plan makes everything better. Once we got done filling all the wastebaskets with water, we went back to the lockers to get backpacks, water bottles, candy, and lighters. Carolyn suggested making crayon candles—they’d be a lot easier to carry than oil lamps—so we started collecting crayons too.

We’d cut all the locks off the lockers in our first week, and we’d already gone through about a thousand lockers just to find the chargers for our phones. We’d also found two cheap pairs of binoculars, some MP3 players which were now dead, and some clothes.

We looked for CamelBak style hydration packs but couldn’t find any. I was going through another backpack when I found a small keychain LED light. I tried it for no real reason; I was just messing with it. I was shocked when it lit. “Hey guys, look!”

We tested every single battery operated device we found. On average every fifth or sixth locker had something that ran off batteries—flashlights, MP3 players, cheap watches, and a couple of Kindle eBook readers. We found one iPad but its battery was dead. I was hoping for a working phone, laptop, or tablet but I guess that was too much to expect. Who’d leave their phone or laptop at school over a weekend anyway? We searched the last of the lockers and found six flashlights and two cheap watches that still worked. It was nice to know that it was 11:18 PM.

Every working battery operated device we found gave us hope that Jessie’s 4Runner would start.

It was 2:37 PM when we got all three of our survival packs ready to go. Each pack had a water resistant jacket, a sweater or hoodie, sweatpants, first aid kit, handful of lighters, three liters of water, flashlight, small notebook and pen, knife, fork, and spoon, roll of toilet paper, and a multi-tool. I strapped the bolt cutter to my backpack. We divided the candy bars we found and those went into the backpacks too, and then we stacked the packs next to the door that led outside.

I pulled my tool belt off. It felt great to get the weight off. “I guess it’s cold hotdogs for lunch.”

Jessie went into the freezer brought out a pack. “Not unless you’ve got something to start a fire with.” She glanced at Carolyn’s and my face and then shrugged. “Cold hotdogs it is.”

It was still early and I was exhausted. All we’d done today was go through the lockers and put together the survival packs. I was okay physically; mentally I was beat. The girls didn’t seem any better. We ate in silence. Once we were done and cleaning up, Carolyn said. “I want my own tool belt.”

Jessie nodded. “So do I.”

I wore my belt all the time. I only took it off to work out, shower, and sleep. The crescent wrench fit nicely in a belt loop. It also had a nylon carrier for the multi-tool and an easy snap attachment for the keys to the school. Even with our barriers and locked doors, I felt better having a weapon on me.

Carolyn thought out loud. “There’s a sewing machine on the desk in the prop room. With the power out it won’t work but I bet there’s sewing supplies in one of the drawers. We could take apart some backpacks and make our own tool belts.”

Jessie looked up at me. “If you don’t mind, I’d like the crescent wrench. The three pound hammer and crowbar are a little heavy for me.”

That made sense. I caught Carolyn’s eye. “So Carolyn, would you rather have the crowbar or the hammer?”

“The hammer will hang better from my waist than the crowbar.”

I didn’t have a problem with the crowbar. It’d worked perfectly against Mr. Johnson but I couldn’t get it to stay on my tool belt. While the girls were making their belts, I could make a sheath for the crowbar that I could carry over my shoulder or attach to my backpack.

Carolyn called it; there were sewing supplies in the prop room, and best of all a pop rivet gun with lots of packs of different sized rivets. We brought them up to a third floor classroom and started making Bat Utility Belts. All I needed was a crowbar sheath attached to my backpack, but after getting nowhere fast with needle and thread, I cheated and used the pop rivet tool.

The girls chose packs that had detachable padded kidney belts with adjustable Fastex buckles, so the belt part was easy. There were enough straps and buckles to make all the loops they wanted and to attach various pockets without them having to do any sewing at all—and all of the loops and pockets were movable and adjustable.

I was done faster than they were because all I had to do was make a crowbar sheath for my backpack and a special dedicated loop for the crowbar on my belt.

They were trying on and adjusting their handiwork when I happened to peek out the window. “GUYS!”

Jessie asked, “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

“Something’s got their attention, and I think the zombies are starting to swarm. They’re all moving away from us in the same direction.”

Jessie and Carolyn ran to their own windows.

Jessie spoke again, “Are they … does it look like they’re headed to Timberline?”

It did. Jessie’s face was white. Carolyn’s looked almost as bad. “We can get a better look from the roof.”

We ran up the stairs that led up to the roof. Jessie got to the door first; she couldn’t get it open. When I came up, she snatched the keys from my hands and fumbled through them. “There’s no key for the roof!”

Carolyn asked, “Are you sure?”

Jessie thrust the keys out toward her friend and screamed. “SEE FOR YOURSELF!”

I pulled out my crowbar. “Guys, get out of the way.” After the girls stepped away from the door, I put all of my weight into a two-handed swing on the doorknob. It was a sturdy knob, but I put a lot into the swing. It bent slightly down and exposed enough of a gap to get the end of the crowbar into. I levered the doorknob off and then had to lever out the latch from the inside to open the door. “Please guys, stay away from the sides so we can’t be seen from the street.”

All the zombies around our building were screaming. I took the binoculars from my tool belt. A horde was definitely swarming around Timberline, but the low power binoculars didn’t have enough magnification for me to see if any of the zombies had made it inside the building.

Hands grabbed at my binoculars. I started to shove them away before I realized it had to be Jessie. I let her take them.

It took a couple seconds for Jessie to focus on Timberline. She moaned, “Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.”

Carolyn asked, “Are the zombies there? Can you tell how many?”

I nodded. “A lot. Thousands.”

Jessie pulled the binoculars from her face. “There’s a telescope in Mr. Frankel’s classroom. It’ll be better than the binoculars.”

I expected Jessie to start running. She didn’t, and it took a couple of seconds to realize why: she feared the worst and didn’t want to know if the worst was true.

Mr. Frankel’s classroom was on the second floor, and a tripod-mounted telescope was in the corner under a dust cover. I’d never had him as teacher, but from the posters on the walls, I gathered he taught general science. He probably had it to view the night sky with his students, but I couldn’t imagine how he’d do that during daytime school hours. Whatever; it wasn’t the first time that I’d seen a teacher do something that made no sense. That said, who was I to complain? We were lucky he brought his scope to class. I carried it back to the roof and set it up.

I asked, “Jessie, do you want me to look first?”

She shook her head, and bent down to viewer and fiddled with the direction and magnification. When she moaned and pulled her head away with tears streaming down her face, I hugged her tight against my chest

Carolyn took her turn. When she straightened up, she was crying but her voice was steady and calm. “Once all the zombies have cleared out of here we have to leave. I’m going to get our stuff ready.” She went back downstairs.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell Jessie that her family was okay, that there was a chance they’d been able to lock themselves into one of the classrooms. But if that was true, how long would that last? What were the chances they’d have food or water in one of those classrooms? I imagined having the choice of letting the zombies in and being eaten alive or slowly dying of dehydration. I didn’t know which death I’d choose. The only way I could reassure Jessie was by lying, so I said nothing and kept hugging her. We stood there for a long time.

Finally, Jessie pulled back and wiped her eyes. “Carolyn’s right. We have to leave today.”

“I’m sorry Jessie.”

She sniffed and then caressed my cheek. “I know you are. I really wanted to introduce you to my mom and dad” She started crying again, “and even my brat brother.”

I flashed back to all the people who tried to talk to me after Mom died. Now I wish I had been nicer to them or at the very least, minimally polite. I had no idea how hard it is to not say something stupid to someone who’s lost family, and I’d been an unmitigated ass. There weren’t words to tell Jessie what I felt. I hadn’t realized before how much better I had it not knowing what happened to my dad; I could still have hope. So again, I said nothing.

Chapter 8: Carolyn Roberts, October 10, Year 0