Chapter 7: Helen Hansen, February 28th, Year 1

It was morning and for the first time in months I felt rested. I had the strangest dream. I opened my eyes, “Wait. Oh God! This isn’t my bed. It wasn’t a dream.”

I was in bed with Mark. I had to get out of here. I slipped out of the bed. It was 9:30. I had a meeting scheduled in half an hour. I was almost dressed when Mark woke up. He turned toward me. He didn’t smile. He leered. I responded with a stupid grin, “Wait! What was I thinking?” I scowled. “Mark, stop it!”

He wanted to get breakfast at the Diner. I wanted to say yes. I told him that I was late for a meeting.

As I walked out of Mark’s house, I made sure to keep my head up high to make eye contact with the people out on the street and to say hello. Our population had grown to ten thousand people but we were still a very small town. The world as we knew it may have been destroyed by vampires and zombies but human nature hasn’t changed. We had newspapers again and gossip still made up most of the news. Within hours the whole town was going to know that I had spent the night at Mark’s.

I had slept with a man who was the epitome of everything I was against. He was chauvinistic, arrogant, and selfish. I should be filled with regret; I wasn’t. Last night had been incredible.

If Mark hadn’t needed my engineering expertise, this would never have happened. If our city walls had not been built, I would never have been at Mark’s house after dark. Salt Lake City streets are laid out on a grid that’s centered from the Salt Lake City Latter Day Saint Temple; 1700 South is a street that runs east to west that is seventeen city blocks south of the Temple. 700 East runs north and south and is seven city blocks west of the Temple.

We now had 60’ high walls that were 1.5 miles long on 1700 South, 2700 South, 700 East and 1700 East. Close to eight thousand shipping containers were stacked seven high in the middle of these streets. Containers were scavenged from truck yards, truck stops, the highway, rail stations, and on the railroad. Cranes were use to stack the containers. We ended up with a walled city called Fortress Salt Lake.

Our walls surrounded a section of a major highway, I-80, Sugar House Park, Fairmont Park, and Forest Dale Golf Course. Most of the major roads and all of the major highways were cleared of abandoned and wrecked vehicles so that the containers could be delivered. It made it much easier to travel through the city and also improved morale. Clogged streets had been constant reminders of the destruction that had occurred. Having clear streets again gave us the sense that we were taking our world back from the undead.

The bottom two layers of containers were filled with rocks, gravel, and, sand. Steel beams were driven though the lower containers into the streets to lock them in place. The containers were bolted and welded together. The 5 upper containers were used for storage and for housing. Since late November of last year our population had been growing a couple thousand people a month. There were plenty of abandoned homes but it was impossible to get power, water, and heat to these separate single family homes fast enough to keep up with demand. Containers were converted into apartments. The units were 8-and-a-half feet tall and wide and were either 20 or 40 feet long. They were doubled walled, and were easy to insulate with pumped in foam insulation. It was easier to get water, heat, power and sewage to the container apartments than it was to make thousands of single family homes livable again.

Newcomers were encouraged to homestead empty storage containers. The homesteaders had 3 months to improve the containers with their own sweat equity by installing things like sinks, toilets, and showers. If they did, they were given title to their units. Most of them didn’t have the cash to buy supplies. They salvaged supplies on their own. The abandoned homes just outside our walls were quickly torn down to the brick walls and foundations. Wood studs, plywood, windows (these could only be installed on the wall facing inside), and doors were all needed. The homesteaders also had to pay taxes, and have at least one adult per family train with the militia a couple hours a week. Those that fulfilled all the requirements immediately became citizens and got voting rights. Those, that didn’t, lost the right to stay in the containers and never got the right to vote. Our community was too small to tolerate parasites, much less let them vote. It was comforting to know that our fortress had a quickly available defense force living in the walls.

Sugar House became a boom town. Every employer needed help and there were no regulatory obstacles to starting your own business. We had close to a hundred companies that were repairing electrical equipment damaged by the EMP; these companies needed more workers. All the easily salvaged plumbing, mechanical, and electrical supplies in stores and warehouses were already taken. We needed more men and women to go out and get new supplies. Simple things, like toilet paper and sanitary supplies were becoming more and more valuable. Anyone that could walk and talk could start a business or find a job.

The outside walls of the containers were kept smooth and were heavily reinforced. We found through trial and error that a vampire had a maximum vertical leap of a little less than 40 feet. Our walls were too high for the vampire to leap over.

Gates large enough allow a semi truck to pass through were placed at the end of every major street that passed through our walls. Double sized gates were put up on each end of I-80. These gates were raised by motors and could be dropped into place in seconds by gravity.

A solar chimney was built on top of the Sugarhouse Shopping Center parking lot in the center of the Fortress. Local multilevel office buildings and strip malls were torn apart for the steel beams and glass. We ended up with a 30 acre greenhouse surrounding a 1000 foot high tower made out of steel girders and sheet metal.

Thirty acres sounds like a lot until you realize that there are 960 acres in 1.5 square miles. We had the room. The green house had a sloping roof that gradually slanted up toward the tower. The greenhouse only had a roof; it didn’t have side walls. At the edges the roof was 3 feet off the ground. The roof slowly angled up until it was 30 feet high at the tower. Sunlight heated the air in the greenhouse. Hot air rose and was funneled by the sloping greenhouse roof to the tower. The tower’s relatively narrow diameter caused the air speed to increase. Turbines were set up in the tower. Excess power during the day were stored in batteries and if the batteries became full, used to compress air into tanks. At night the compressed air was used to turn turbines to generate electricity.

Solar chimneys work on the basis of a temperature differences between the inside and the outside of the greenhouse. The asphalt blacktop of the parking lot helped retain heat. Even at night there was enough of a temperature difference inside the solar chimney to generate some electricity. We were getting up to 150 kilowatts of power at noon on a sunny day from our solar chimney. Before the Outbreak this would have been enough to provide power to about a hundred homes. Electricity was used operate strategically essential processes and to light homes and streets.

The EMP of October 9th destroyed almost every light bulb in the world. As soon as I knew we were going to build a solar chimney, I looked at manufacturing light bulbs. The theory behind a light bulb isn’t hard. It’s a glass shell surrounding a filament attached to a cathode and an anode. Electricity causes the filament to heat up and produce light. Before the Outbreak, incandescent light bulbs used tungsten filament. Tungsten was readily available; there were literally millions of broken light bulbs all around us. The problem with tungsten was that it has a melting point of over 6000 degrees Fahrenheit. Steel, granite, even diamonds melt at this temperature. I decided it would take too much work and research to develop the infrastructure to use tungsten filaments.

Thomas Edison’s first light bulbs used carbonized linen strings or wood splinters as filaments. He found that bamboo light bulbs will actually last for 1200 hours before they burn out. Bamboo in the amounts we needed wasn’t hard to find. Bamboo filaments were put into screw top jars filled with nitrogen gas. If any oxygen got into the jars the filaments would burn out too quickly. Every tire shop had canisters of nitrogen. All my businesses were incorporated under the name of Hansen Enterprises; my light bulb subsidiary was doing extremely well. Screw top jars that used to be trash were now valuable.

The council passed an ordinance that allowed every citizen of Salt Lake City to put a 10’ by 10’ raised soil bed under the solar chimney green house. People planted vegetable gardens under the green house. Enterprising farmers leased land from other citizens; instead of paying with cash they usually paid with produce. It was wonderful to be able to get fresh vegetables year around again. Human beings are funny. If you make something scarce and expensive, it becomes a premium luxury product and therefore desirable. People who avoided vegetables like plague before the Outbreak now wanted them.

Once the walls were up, Salt Lake City developed a night life; pubs, nightclubs, coffee shops and restaurants opened up for business. Active Mormons don’t drink alcohol. There was a revival of a Utah phenomenon, nonalcoholic nightclubs. It’s strange but it somehow works for the LDS. Mormons are able to do the same things sober that people of other religious faiths can only do drunk. There were almost no motorized vehicles inside our walls. It was still too hard to get a working vehicle or get fuel. Only successful businesses or the government had the funds to maintain a car or truck. Everybody walked or rode bikes. Even a slow walker could get from one end of our fortress to another in a half hour. During the day and into the late evenings there were people out on the streets.

There wasn’t enough power for people to run refrigerators or electric stoves. We no longer had the ability to get natural gas to individual homes. In the depths of winter people kept food outdoors. For breakfast and lunch most people ate cereal or used canned food. Currently people were using propane grills. For dinner most people ate out. One of the best restaurants in the Fortress was called the Diner. It was co-owned and operated by Mary Black and Hannah Redding. Both of their families had been rescued after the Outbreak by Mark; they actually lived in Marks’s house for a few months. Mary and Hannah had a special relationship with Mark. They catered dinners over to Mark’s house whenever he wanted. He paid for his meals but no one else got this service.

Dinners at Mark’s house quickly became legendary. Mary and Hannah always served good food at the Diner. They seemed to take particular care to have incredible food at Mark’s. I guess it made sense. All the movers and shakers in our community usually ended up eating at Mark’s at least once a month. They really liked Mark and it was good advertising for them to have the most prominent members of our community raving about their food.

Mark had two jobs. He was the Federal Director of Emergency Services in Utah and he was the Director of the Salt Lake City Militia. He was appointed to both positions. He never ran for an elected position. Theoretically he wasn’t a politician but everyone knew that by far he was the most popular official in our community. If he had announced that he was running for the position of Dictator for Life, he would have won in a land slide. If it hadn’t been for him, every living human in Salt Lake City probably would have died. To give him credit. He had absolutely no interest in being dictator. In fact he was one that came up with the idea of having elected officials. If he hadn’t nominated me for a position on the Council, I probably wouldn’t have run. I’m pretty sure that if I had run without his support, I wouldn’t have been elected. Close to eighty percent of our population was Mormon. I’m not Mormon and I’ve an avowed feminist.

I never had issues with Mark’s leadership. My problems have always been with his personality. Mark Jones doesn’t have a Napoleon Complex. Napoleon Bonaparte had a Mark Complex. I make a lot short jokes when I refer to Mark. He’s actually not that short. He’s probably 5’8”. His personality is short. He’s the perfect example of the overcompensating short man.

Mark’s political role in our community was similar to the Queen of England’s role in Great Britain. He didn’t have any official power; he had vast unofficial influence. If a project didn’t have Mark’s unofficial seal of approval it never got off the ground. Mark hated official government meetings. He preferred informal get togethers. He would often have small dinner parties at his house. It was typical for him to meet with the City Councilors one on one over dinner.

Mark started inviting me over to his home for dinner in January. He treated me exactly the same as the other councilors. Meals with Mark followed a pattern. The first half hour was straight business. Mark asked questions about what was going on with the council and with Hansen Enterprises. I wasn’t offended when he asked me about my personal business interests; they were pertinent. I had become an essential component of Salt Lake City’s Industrial-Military Complex.

Business stopped as soon as dinner started. Mark can be charming when he wants to be. He’s also a very good listener. Surprisingly for such an egotistical man, he didn’t try to pretend to know everything. When he asked me a question, he really wanted to know what I thought. I’ve never been very social. I grew up on a rural farm. My companions were my younger brothers. In college and in my doctorate training I was busy with school. It wasn’t after I had gotten a job at University of Utah that I got a social life. Even then I had just one close friend. My best friend before the Outbreak was Cecilia Swanson another professor at the University. I initially thought that she had died after the Outbreak. It was wonderful to find out she hadn’t.

Cecilia was now living with me. I was routinely working eighteen hours a day. I had a full time job as a city councilor and another full time job as the CEO of Hansen Enterprises. If I hadn’t had Cecilia, I think I would have gone crazy. The food at Mark’s house was consistently amazing and despite all of Mark’s flaws, he is funny. We spent much of our dinners laughing. He was almost a friend.

A few weeks after I started having dinner with Mark, the rag called the Sugar House Herald (imagine the bastard child of the National Enquirer and People Magazine) started publishing rumors that we were an item. These rumors didn’t get far. Most people knew that Mark met with all the councilors in a similar fashion. Until last night, I had always left Mark’s house the same time the other councilors did right around 8 pm.

I ran into my house. I needed a shower. Unlike some I had hot water at my house. Owning one of the most profitable businesses in the Fortress has its advantages. Cecilia was waiting at door. She should have been at work. Since the Outbreak there wasn’t much call for Professors who specialized in French Literature. She was now working as a research librarian. The EMP last October destroyed most computers and took down the internet. We had to go back to using books. All books were precious; those with information essential to our survival were priceless. Librarians were necessary to catalogue all these books.

“Helen, you spent the night at Marks!”

“Why aren’t you at work?”

“You think I can work when you spent the night at Mark’s? I took a personal day. You have to tell me what happened.”

“I’m going to be late for a meeting. I have to take a shower and get changed. I promise I’ll come back and tell you what happened right afterwards.”

“You slept with him right?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh my God, how was it?”

I muttered, “Incredible.”

“What was that?”

“You heard me.”

“Oh my God, you slept with the most eligible bachelor in Utah and he was incredible. You better come back from that meeting ASAP.”

I made it to the meeting on time. I was totally distracted. I kept thinking about last night. Yesterday’s dinner started off like any other. We talked about the problems we were having building a hydroelectric plant at Mountain Dell Reservoir. Before the Outbreak this reservoir had been the primary water source for our city. We had gotten the water back running from the reservoir. Almost everyone’s taps worked. We didn’t have the water treatment facilities working so people had to boil the tap water. People who could afford to get a well dug still did so because well water didn’t have to be boiled.

Once we got tap water back online. The next step was to use the reservoir to generate hydroelectric power. We found out the hard way that vampires can tell if an electric wire is live. If it is, they destroy it. We tried encasing transmission wires in metal and then in concrete. In each case during the night vampires ripped up our wires. Mark wanted to get my input on how to solve this problem.

I got the sense that he wasn’t asking for my opinions because it was politically correct. He really wanted my ideas. I was the third counselor that he had talked to this week. Evidently Mark’s previous brainstorming sessions with the other two counselors hadn’t been helpful. I brought up the idea of building a hydroelectric generator inside our fortress walls. Vampires didn’t care about running water. If the water was first piped inside the Fortress walls and then turned into energy, the vampires wouldn’t be a problem. Mark told me that this idea had been brought up before but that so far no one had come up with a good way to implement this idea. I’m an engineer first, businessperson second. Going to meetings, making payroll, maintaining quality are all essential aspects of running a company but it’s tedious. Pure design is fun.

Mark and I lost track of time. I came up with the plans and performed the calculations; Mark played devil’s advocate trying to poke holes in my ideas. It wasn’t until around 10 pm when we were confident that we had a workable idea. To celebrate, Mark pulled out a bottle of wine to go with our now cold dinner. It had been a long time since I had this much fun. I drank two glasses of wine in forty-five minutes. I was relaxed, not intoxicated when I decided that it was time for me to leave. Mark asked if I wanted him to walk me home. I laughed him off. With our walls up, I didn’t need to worry about zombies or vampires. Our town was small enough to be safe and in the worst case scenario, I always carried a pistol.

I was in the middle of thanking Mark for a great evening, when he leaned over and kissed me. I froze. I’ve had this happen before, where men mistake the beginnings of friendship for something else. It usually turns ugly.

Mark stopped. He looked into my eyes and saw complete rejection. He started to laugh.

“I’m sorry Helen. I remember you telling me that you are not attracted to me at all. I want to assure you that you haven’t been giving me any mixed signals. It’s just that I was born with a defective ego. My subconscious can’t accept the fact that there are women out there who aren’t attracted to me. Thank you for rejecting me. I need this. It will be a growth experience.” Mark kept laughing. He thought being rejected was funny.

Helplessly I started laughing too. I was grateful that this evening was not going to end badly. It was such a strange and hilarious way to end an evening. I don’t know why but I felt truly safe for the first time since the Outbreak. I fully intended to say, “Thanks Mark” and leave. Instead I kissed him. From that moment til I woke up this morning, I didn’t have a single conscious thought. I understood what I was doing but I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t thinking, worrying, or planning like I usually do. I lived in the moment. My parents have a home movie of me taken when I was four years old. I had gotten to a banana cream pie that had been left unattended. I used my hands to devour that pie. I had pie all over face, hair and body. The entire time, I had the expression of complete ecstasy. Last night, Mark became my banana cream pie. I don’t know that this means.

Chapter 8