Chapter 5: Mike Kim, March 14th to August 25th, Year 0

On the 14th I skipped class. I went online to SallieMae.com and applied for a student loan for the first time in my life. Most of my friends had to take out loans to pay for their schooling. I was lucky to have parents that had the will and the means to pay for my tuition, books, and living expenses. My father had his education paid for by his parents. As payback he was doing to do the same for my brothers and me. He asked us to continue the tradition when we had our own children.

The average medical student graduates with $156,000 in debt. I had excellent credit. I was able to get $160,000 government backed low interest student loan. If the world didn’t end, I was no worse off than most of my fellow medical students. If the apocalypse came, I wouldn’t have to pay back the loan.

My plan was to use the loan money to turn the house I was living in into a zombie proof fortress. My problem was that it wasn’t my house; it was my parents’. Once I got accepted to medical school at University of Utah, my parents decided to buy a house. Because of the recession there were a number of houses near the university that were in foreclosure. My parents bought a house for less than replacement cost. The mortgage on the house was less than rent would have been. Next year, I could start the application process for in-state status. In-state tuition was a lot cheaper than out-of-state. My parents figured that by the time I graduated the economy would be better and that they would be able to sell the house for a profit.

I was tempted to start the remodeling process without telling my parents. I was worried that they would think I was crazy and refuse to give me permission. I called my older brother Jeff and told him what I was thinking. His immediate response was that I was crazy. His view was that this zombie thing was a hoax. He advised me to focus on school and not on this apocalypse crap. Jeff and I have always been close and even though we are brothers we’re good friends. He’s an egotistical twit but he has enough good points that he almost makes up for it. As a joke a couple years ago I got him a t-shirt that said “I’m not arrogant. I’m just better than you.” It’s his favorite shirt. He wears it in public at least once a week.

He almost had me convinced that I was overreacting until he started talking about my “rock like head” and my lack of common sense. I got pissed and the conversation degenerated. When it became clear to him that I wasn’t going to change my mind, he said, “Look Mike, you know I think you’re insane but if you’re bound and determined to be crazy, you need to start by being honest to the people you care about. If you are right and there’s a zombie outbreak in the States and civilization is destroyed, chances are that you’ll never see Mom and Dad in Boise ever again. Do you want to end your relationship with our parents with a lie? The worst that they can do is to not give you permission to mess around with the house. There are foreclosed houses everywhere, buy one in a shitty neighborhood with your loan money and do what you want. Don’t start preparing for the end-of-the-world by lying to people who care about you.”

I hung up angry. It took a couple hours but I eventually calmed down. Jeff was right about being upfront with my parents. As expected, when I called my parents they thought I was nuts. My mom was certain that something had happened. The University of Utah, School of Medicine was my first pick because it was less than an hour drive from seven of the best ski resorts in the country. My mom was always worried that I would get hurt. She was certain that I had hit my head skiing. She didn’t try to reason with me; she acted like I had a head injury. She decided that she had to come to Salt Lake City to take care of me because I was obviously “upset”. When she said “upset”, I knew she meant ‘brain damaged’. It took every ounce of persuasion I had in me to convince her that I had not hit my head and that she didn’t need to come to Salt Lake City.

My father was surprised by my request but to give him credit he actually listened to what I had to say. I could tell that he thought I was overreacting but he didn’t call me crazy or immediately refuse to give me permission to mess with the house. After I explained everything, he said, “Mike, I realize this is something you think is really important but I think you also realize how strange this all sounds. Let me think about this for a couple weeks. I’ll tell you then if I’ll give you permission to start modifying the house.”

I knew it would take me a few weeks to figure out exactly what to do to the house. I told my Dad what Jeff had recommended. If I didn’t get permission from them to make changes to the house, I’d buy a cheap house or a lot somewhere else and get it fortified completely on my own.

The media was focused 24/7 on zombies. Every news organization sent reporters to Somalia and Ethiopia. Nobody had been able to reestablish communications with anyone: civilians, news crews, or government officials in Nairobi or any of the other cities in Kenya after the 14th. All the talking heads on TV claimed that the only way the zombie infection could be spread was through a zombie’s saliva. It looked like there was an incubation period between the time that someone got bit to when he or she turned into a zombie. The thought was that people who had been bitten but hadn’t turned were spreading the infections. I had expected the zombie outbreak to eventually spread throughout the world; I hadn’t expected it to spread so quickly. It was freaky to see a country look normal one day and the very next see videos of a massive swarm of zombies overrunning the population.

On April 2nd, zombies were seen in Spain. Someone infected must have made it across the Strait of Gibraltar. That day my dad called. He said that fortifying the house in Salt Lake City didn’t seem crazy to him. He gave me permission to start working on the house. He told me that he also asked Jeff to look into buying a small lot close to the hospital and building a new fortified home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Both Jeff and my youngest brother Bill lived there. Bill was in pre-med at University of Michigan and Jeff was getting his specialty training from the University of Michigan Medical Center.

My house was built in the 1950’s in the Sugar House neighborhood in Salt Lake City. My dad had been able to get it cheap because it had been owned by a real estate speculator who got a no-money-down-variable-interest loan at the peak of the housing bubble. When the bubble burst, the speculator immediately stopped making payments. The guy was a good businessman. He bought the smallest ugliest house in a pricy neighborhood. Since he hadn’t put any of his own money down when he bought the house, he only lost a few months worth of mortgage payments before the housing market crashed. As soon as it looked like he had made a bad investment, he walked away from the house.

Before the speculator, the house been owned by two ex-hippie communist University professors who had bought the house in 1959 and lived in it until they retired and moved to Costa Rica. On the outside it was an attractive Arts and Craft style bungalow. On the inside it was the height of cool, 1960’s style; it was hideous.

I hired a contractor that specialized in bullet proofing homes. I could have done most of the work myself but I wanted to get the job done quickly. It scared the crap out of me how fast the zombie plague was spreading out of Africa. I told him to turn my house into a fortress. I hadn’t complained about the decor when my parents bought this house. I was getting free rent. But, I wasn’t sad when my contractor recommended that I rip out the inside of my house to the studs so we could be certain that there were no weak spots on my house. I’m no fasionista, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to miss the red and yellow shag carpet and the fluorescent psychedelic wallpaper.

The exterior walls of my house were built out of brick in the front and sides and cinderblock in the back. The only good thing that came out the 1960’s remodel was that my house was one of the few in my neighborhood with an attached two car garage. Builders in the 50’s didn’t use insulation. Tearing down the walls allowed me to install special fiber glass panels layered with regular insulation and chain link fencing on all the exterior walls and under the roof. All the asphalt shingles of my roof were ripped off replaced with quarter inch thick steel tile. My windows were replaced with bullet proof glass. Retractable pull down steel shutters were installed behind the windows. My exterior doors were made out of metal sheets and Kevlar. The garage walls and door were reinforced with steel plate. The contractor said that I was the first client he ever had that didn’t change colors or modify the plans during construction. The work went fast.

Ever since I read that book about an EMP attack against the US, I’ve been paranoid about this threat. A great side effect of all the steel plate and chain link armor I had installed in my exterior walls and roof was that my house was now shielded against electromagnetic pulses. The downside of all the metal in my walls and roof was that cell coverage inside my house was nonexistent.

I live in Utah so there are Mormons everywhere. Mormons often store a year’s worth of food in their homes. Because of this there are a number of local businesses that will sell you a whole package of supplies, enough food with adequate vitamins and nutrition to last a family of four for a year. I bought one of these packages. I also bought car loads of cup noodles, Raman, and cereal.

I had a well dug for water and made sure a hand pump was installed. I bought a home wind turbine in addition to a natural gas and liquid propane generator. The price of a 200 gallon liquid propane tank was surprisingly reasonable. I put a wood burning stove and 4 cords of wood.

I knew I needed weapons. I’ve had two Sig Sauer pistols for a couple years. One chambered for the 9 mm and the other for the 40 S&W. I had already bought 1000 rounds of ammo for each last year at a local gun show. The problem was that these pistols were loud. A shot could probably be heard for miles. Every single zombie reference that I have been studying said that zombies are attracted to loud sounds. I needed weapons that would take zombies out quietly. I considered buying bows; I found that they took too much skill for a beginner like me to use effectively. I bought two 150 crossbows and a couple hundred quarrels (the proper name for crossbow arrows) but I wanted other options. Crossbows took too long to reload.

When I started researching silencers, I thought that they were illegal. I was surprised to find out that they were legal in Utah and Idaho; thirty-five states let private citizens own suppressors. I sent an application to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. My application included passport pictures, two sets of finger prints, and an affidavit from the Salt Lake City Police stating that I didn’t have a criminal record. I also enclosed a check for eight hundred dollars to get permission to buy four silencers. The ATF did a background check on me and 90 days later I got four federal tax stamps. I went to a local gun shop and gave them the stamps. Six thousand dollars later I had four .22 caliber rimfire suppressors, two Ruger 10/22 rifles and two Ruger Mark III pistols. I convinced my parents in Boise to buy ten suppressors, five rifles, and five pistols for themselves and my brothers.

The proper name for a silencer is actually suppressor. In movies suppressors are really quiet, just a faint whisper. To get this much sound suppression, you have to have plastic, rubber, or foam panels called wipes. Every time the bullet gets fired the wipes wear down. In the 1980’s US Navy Seals were issued 9 mm pistols with disposable suppressors called the Hush Puppy for ‘sentry control’. Back then it was standard operating procedure or SOP to ‘control’ sentries by firing 9 mm bullets into their heads. Hush Puppies were as quiet as anything you could see in a movie. Special subsonic bullets had to be used and after 6 shots they stopped working.

I wasn’t interested in a suppressor that became useless after a few shots. The ones I bought were guaranteed to last for at 30,000 rounds. They were made out of stainless steel and titanium and decreased sound by trapping expanding air in specially designed baffles. Without a suppressor gunshots from my rifles and pistols could be heard for miles. With my suppressors the sound of my guns only carried for a few blocks. When I test fired my guns with the suppressors on, it sounded like I was setting off small firecrackers. I chose the .22 Long Rifle round because all the larger and more powerful rounds made too much noise. I hoped that the sound of a small firecracker wouldn’t attract too many zombies.

I followed all the research on zombies as it was being published. The only way to kill a zombie was to destroy its brain. A .22 caliber round in the skull could take out a zombie just as well as a larger round.

Other advantages to using the .22 LR were the cost and ease of storage. A 400 to 500 round box of .22 rounds was the size of a small brick and cost less than 20 dollars. Five hundred rounds of 9 mm ammo cost close to four hundred dollars and 40 S&W rounds were double that. I bought thirty thousand .22 LR rimfire rounds for myself and I ordered another sixty thousand rounds for my parents and had them delivered to their house.

Buying 90,000 rounds wasn’t crazy. I knew that as people started to realize how dangerous zombies were that they would start buying ammo. When demand goes up, so does price. Ammunition doesn’t go bad. If the apocalypse didn’t happen, I easily sell the ammo. Nine grand for ammo wasn’t a big deal. If I had tried to buy this much 40 S&W rounds, I would have had to spend ninety thousand dollars.

I made six spears; the parts were cheap and didn’t take much time to make. I took a thinnest stone carving chisel I could find and then welded it to a six inch carbon steel metal cap that I fit and bolted to the end of a hollow 50 inch long fiberglass handle. Fiberglass is stronger and more durable than wood. The butt end of the fiberglass handle was also capped with 6 inches of metal to protect it from splitting. I weighted both ends of the spear with lead so it balanced well. When finished, each spear weighed three pounds. The only way to take out a zombie is to damage its brain. The sharp end of my spears could be used to stab through skulls, the butt end to crush them.

While all this was going on, I was still enrolled in school. I was distracted and I skipped every lecture I could. I was exhausted. I’ve never worked this hard before in my life. Not surprisingly my grades suffered. There were a lot of times when I was trying to juggle the work on the house and trying to pass my classes when I wondered what the hell I was doing. I looked around me and most people weren’t doing anything. There were a few neighbors that were boarding up their windows. No one else that I knew was preparing for a possible disaster to the extent that I was. I was getting sick and tired of all the extra work I had placed on myself. I’m almost ashamed to admit it but the only reason I kept going was that I was too embarrassed to quit. I had made such a big deal about getting prepared to Jeff and my parents. I couldn’t stand the idea of my jackass brother laughing about how I had finally come to my senses. Final exams sucked but I passed all my classes. It was a huge relief to be done with school for the summer.

Before the zombies, we were in a recession. Since then international trade took a huge hit. I don’t know what the official economic definition of a depression was but starting in June it seemed like we were in one. The European Union was a huge trading partner to the US. Once zombies reached Europe, trade with that continent dropped off a cliff. The US has a consumer driven economy. People were freaking out. The prices of some things dropped and others soared. Costs of easily stored food and building supplies went through the roof. When I bought my home generator, I got it for less than three grand on the internet. A few weeks later generators like mine were being sold for fifteen. Two months after that, you couldn’t find one to buy. Six weeks after I bought my ammunition, every store was cleaned out. I saw more people trying to prepare for a possible zombie outbreak in Salt Lake City. Friends that thought I was crazy a few weeks back started asking for advice on how to get their homes zombie proof. A lot of them wanted my contractor’s number. I was really glad that I had gotten all the work on the house done before the prices got crazy.

I was on summer break and was planning on going back to Boise for two weeks when my parents called. My dad told me that he had just sold his practice and his house in Boise and that they were moving to Ann Arbor. I had to listen to my mom explain the obvious. Their decision to move to Ann Arbor was based solely on the numbers (there were more sons in Ann Arbor) and not a reflection of how they felt about me. She was concerned that my feelings would hurt by their decision. I love my mom. Her tendency to explain the obvious at great length is one of her most annoying traits. I kept trying to tell her that I got it and that I wasn’t offended but she kept going on and on about how much she and my dad loved me. After what seem like hours but was probably less than half, my mom stopped trying to sooth my ‘hurt’ feelings. They wanted me to fly out to Michigan and hang out with the whole family until school started back up again in the fall.

Before the zombies, I took my family for granted. I assumed that I would have all the time in the world to spend time with them. Starting in March for the first time since I left for college, I began to miss my family.

Mom and dad were first generation Asian immigrants. Family is important to Asians but education trumps everything. In Korea the ability to speak American style English is considered a competitive advantage. It’s not uncommon for Korean parents to spend more than fifty percent of their income to educate their children in the US. To me that’s insane but that’s the culture my parents came from. When I was a kid my parents would send me to school with a 103 temperature. Growing up my brothers and I were actually beaten if we didn’t get straight A’s. Yes I know that most Americans think that spanking a child for not getting good grades is barbaric. My parents believe that it would have been child abuse to allow us to achieve less than our full potential. Jeff is a doctor. I’m in medical school. Bill was in a combined college/medical school program at University of Michigan. Mom and dad had no regrets about how they raised us.

I’ve been asked what I think of my upbringing. To be honest getting beat once a week or so was probably good for my brothers and me. I’m a naturally lazy guy; without my dad’s loving encouragement on my derriere, I doubt if I would have gotten the grades that allowed me to get into Cal Tech and then medical school. By the time I was in college, I was so used to getting good grades that I was actually self-motivated. Last quarter was the first time since junior high that I hadn’t gotten good grades.

My two brothers were both born with excess testosterone. I think naturally without the influence of my brothers, I would have been a reasonably well behaved kid. I stopped trying to shop lift when I was in grade school because I kept getting caught. I found out early that I’m a really bad liar. Both my brothers were amazingly good at petty crime. For some strange reason my brother Bill has decided that it would be a major accomplishment to steal every single Disney animation video made; he doesn’t steal anything else. He said that watching a stolen DVD of ‘Little Mermaid’ made it better. He’s still doing this in college. So far he hasn’t been caught. Growing up, it seemed like Jeff was getting into fights a couple times a week. Not because he had a temper or because he was drunk but because he liked to fight. He’s had guns pointed at him twice. My brothers were on the edge of being out of control even with my parents beating on them regularly. It would have been scary to see how they would have turned out without corporal punishment. As it was, growing up they got me to throw lit firecrackers into open windows on hot summer nights, throw snowballs at passing cars during winters, and toilet paper trees all year round. When we got beat for these things, we knew we had it coming.

Based on how my parents raised us, I wasn’t surprised that my dad would quit his practice as an ob/gyn and move to another state before asking any of his children to quit school or training.

My parents chose their battles. They didn’t hassle us much about getting drunk or smoking marijuana as long as it didn’t get out of control and we kept our grades up. Everyone in the family knew that Bill and I smoked weed. Right around the time that my folks were looking for a place in Ann Arbor, Bill’s favorite drug dealer was looking to sell his place. His name was Bobert Dobbs. Bobert wasn’t a nickname; that was his real name. Dobbs was a libertarian survivalist drug dealer who had a five acre compound just east of the Ann Arbor Arboretum along the Huron River. He started his career after the first Hash Bash at University of Michigan on April 1st, 1972.

In 2009 Michigan passed a medical marijuana law and selling pot became legit. Dobbs put up the first legal dispensary in Ann Arbor. Bobert had been making good cash before but since it became legal to sell pot, he was getting filthy rich. Dobbs dealt pot for close to forty years; that’s a long career for anyone. He had already been thinking about retiring when zombies came into the picture. Once zombies started spreading out of Africa into Europe, he bought a compound in the middle of nowhere in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. He put his Ann Arbor property on the market just when Bill and Jeff began looking for a house.

Selling pot was legal now but for most of Dobbs career it wasn’t. Until he opened his medical dispensary, Bobert sold marijuana at his compound. He turned his home into a modern day castle. He built gates, walls, and hedges all over his property. Bobert’s home was completely off the grid. He had his own water supply, septic system, and a solar panel array that powered his house. Jeff paid Bobert a million cash for his place. By cash I mean bundles of 100 dollar bills. The loans that Bill and Jeff had gotten and the proceeds from the sale of my parent’s house just covered the cost of Dobb’s place. Bobert was a libertarian survivalist drug dealer. He probably hadn’t paid taxes since he got into dealing in 1972; getting cash was the kicker that convinced him to sell.

When I got off my flight from Salt Lake City, my whole family was waiting for me at the Detroit Airport baggage claim. For the first time I in my life, I got an apology from Jeff. “Mike, I can’t remember the last time you were right and I was wrong but I guess even a stopped clock is right twice a day. You made a damn good call when you got your loan and started buying up supplies before the prices got too high. Because of you, Bill and I got government backed loans before they started limiting how much money we could borrow.”

“Thanks Jeff, it must hurt like a bitch to realize that your younger brother is smarter than you.”

“I don’t think about it as being smarter or dumber. I think of it as being related to biological destiny.”

“What?”

“When you think of it, genetic diversity is a survival trait. All families have genetic spread. Of all of us in the family, besides Mom, you’re the most girl-like. It makes sense since you were born to be a natural worrier that you would pick up on how dangerous the zombies were quicker than everyone else. I on the other hand am the most masculine of us all. It makes perfect sense since I have so much testosterone that I would be the slowest to recognize the threat. I’ve been thanking God every day that you were born with a weak bladder.”

“Jeff I accept your apology. I understand why you need to rationalize why I was right and you were wrong. You’re ego is too fragile to take the fact I’m smarter than you. This must be so painful for you. The thought of how much you’re suffering is causing tears to well up in my eyes. I wish I could buy you an emotional Band-Aid to sooth your boo-boo.”

The whole family starting laughing, we all knew how unusual it was for Jeff to apologize and how hard it had to have been for him.

My complex that my family had bought was crazy. When I said Bobert Dobbs was a libertarian survivalist, I wasn’t kidding. Dobbs grew up during the height of the cold war and Robert Heinlein’s ‘Farnham’s Freehold’ was his favorite book. His house was a three thousand square foot bomb shelter.

Bobert had lived on our lot since 1972. He put a chain link fence around the perimeter of his five acre lot and then another fence enclosing the center acre of his lot. He planted Osage Orange saplings along both fences. As the saplings grew, he weaved the branches into the fence and into the neighboring trees. Currently the hedges were fifteen feet high and eight feet wide. Nothing larger than a squirrel could get through the hedge.

Dobbs had installed his solar panels during the Carter Presidency. They were on their last legs. The problem was that it was impossible to a hold of new ones. Every dealer I contacted was out and didn’t know when they would get new panels. I went to Cal Tech before med school and got a degree in biomechanical engineering. I didn’t know much about solar panels but I knew more than the rest of my family. I was able to call some of my friends from College and get enough advice to jury rig some fixes. It was clear that the panels wouldn’t last much longer. I helped my parents buy and install a natural gas/liquid propane generator similar to mine but larger for an astronomical price.

I hadn’t spent more than two weeks at a time with my parents since I left for college. My brothers were the same. Because of the situation, I was happy that I could spend more time with my brothers and family. Bill has a mellow laid back personality and he’s pretty much good with anything. Jeff was going a little crazy. He has the classic Type A, first son personality and he was constantly clashing with my mother. He was used to calling his own shots and my mom was used to the concept of her house, her rules. She was freaked out by the zombie threat. The problem was that Jeff’s idea of risk management was completely different from hers. My brother didn’t have a problem following my mom’s rules for a couple weeks. He had a problem with following her rules without an endpoint. He knew mom meant well; she was trying to look out for him. You can’t be her son and not know she loves you. He was dealing with the stress at home by spending as much time after work, mountain biking or sparring with his buddies at the U of M Taekwondo Club. Once he was physically exhausted, he didn’t care as much about what was going on at home.

I have the classic middle child personality, peacemaker. I tried to make peace as much as I could. As long as Jeff got to exercise like a maniac for couple hours, things were fairly calm. I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning of things. But it was getting pretty scary. In the beginning of August all of Europe was overrun by zombies. A week later Congress closed all of our borders. Anyone that tried to come into the United States could be shot.

The summer went fast. It seemed like an instant before it was time to fly back to Salt Lake City. Men in my family are allowed to cry only if a close relative dies or during sad movies. It was tough keeping up a manly front at the airport. I wanted to say, “The hell with school, I want to stay here with you guys.” I didn’t. Education is everything to my parents. Even my mom who was crying didn’t bring up the possibility of me quitting school. I told my parents that I was going to apply for a transfer from University to Utah to Michigan as soon as I could.

Chapter 6