Year of the Dead-Chapter 19
Chapter 19: Helen Hanson, September 16th to October 9th, Year 0
As soon as Art got off the phone with Director Jones, he and almost all the men went outside to kill zombies. For the first time since the 11th, people were smiling and laughing. I got my parents on Skype immediately and told them about vampires and then got into contact with as many wards as possible by cell phone and ham radio to let them know what Director Jones had said about gunshots, the actual number of zombies, and about vampires.
Everyone who had the strength and height to be able to stab a zombie through the head took part. I took a turn at the fence for about an hour each day. It took more effort than I had thought to jab a bayonet through the eye. Many of the ward members had mental difficulties with stabbing a zombie. This was especially true when the zombie had been a person they knew. Hiram didn’t have a problem with it. I grew up on a farm. As I child I slaughtered chickens by twisting their necks. I helped my father and brothers geld cattle. I can promise you that this is not an experience that a bull likes and that it isn’t a job for the squeamish. In my childhood I had to prove everyday that I was tougher than my brothers. I don’t have much sympathy for helpless women. I guess my childhood experiences helped me prepare psychologically for killing zombies. My difficulties were purely physical. At the end of the day, zombies weren’t people.
The first time you gut a chicken or slaughter a cow, it is difficult. Cows are cute with huge eyes that look at you as you are prepared to kill them. People can get used anything especially if their lives depend on it. Zombies weren’t cute. It’s easier killing something that isn’t cute. Most of the ward members got over their mental reservations and learned how to take out a zombie.
Art Bingham, maybe because he was a doctor, never had any psychological hang ups about destroying a zombie. Doctors need to have strong stomachs. He suggested another, more ergonomic way to kill zombies. It was possible to jab a zombie in its open mouth or under its chin from below, causing the bayonet to pierce the roof to its mouth into the brain. It was easier to swing up with your hands below shoulder height than to raise the rifle to eye level and stab directly across.
Even with the easier more ergonomic method, my arms tired quickly. It was easy to hit the bayonet on a fence link while trying to thrust through it, and if you did, you lost so much momentum that you couldn’t get through the skull into the brain. If you got past the fence without hitting the metal links, the effort it took to cause the bayonet to penetrate through the back of the eye socket or through the roof of the zombie’s mouth was tiring. You could feel the resistance and shock through your hands and arms as the bayonet blade penetrated bone.
Hiram Rockwell and some of the other men really pulled their weight. If my friend Cecilia had been here, she would have described Hiram as “strong as bull and just as smart,” which wouldn’t have been a totally fair description. He was an extremely strong man who preferred to bull through life using his enormous strength and physical skills rather than thinking about anything. He probably had at least an average intelligence, but he spent so little time using his brain or thinking about anything that he seemed stupid. There were no grays in his life; everything was black and white. I grew up with men like Hiram so I knew how to deal with him.
He and Cecilia would have hated each other. I hoped Cecilia was doing well in the co-op. Every time I thought of her it was hard not to feel sad. Our last conversation had been so bitter. It would be wonderful if we had a chance to talk again. I tried multiple times to contact her by cell phone or Skype but was never able to reach her.
Hiram was in his element. He got so busy killing zombies that he didn’t set up a schedule for rotating people on the fence. Art was a typical sedentary professional man so he didn’t have unusual upper body strength. He got tired quickly, too. He set up a rotation schedule of men to take their place on the fence.
Art is a great guy but he has an unthinking male chauvinism. I guess you could have called him chivalrous if you wanted, but in some aspects, chivalry is chauvinism. He didn’t even think that any of the women wanted to take part in killing zombies. I set him straight quickly enough and I made sure that out of our fifteen bayonets, at least two at all times were being used by women. We women, LDS or not, wanted to kill the zombies as much as any man. Almost every adult woman took her turn at the fence. Both Stacy and Cheryl, Art’s wife and daughter, took part. Cheryl is coordinated and did well. She must get her coordination from her dad, because Stacy had no coordination whatsoever. She was so funny. She screamed at all times. This was not a scream of aggression but the scream of “Ewwh, I’m doing something gross and it’s disgusting” while swinging her bayonet wildly. I don’t think she was able to ever get her bayonet cleanly through the fence. I couldn’t be sure but she looked like she had her eyes closed. Everyone took special care to stay as far away as possible from her. She was so loud, so obviously disgusted, and so uncoordinated that everyone who watched her had to laugh. She was brave. She didn’t wimp out. She was so incompetent at killing zombies; she was good for morale.
The second time she took her turn with the bayonet, Art went up to her and, in front of everyone, gently tapped her on her shoulder and took the bayoneted rifle from her hands. He said, “Honey, for your safety and the safety of others, I think its best that you not do this.” I laughed so hard I cried.
Instead of the ten thousand that Director Jones had estimated that we would kill per day, we probably killed twice that number. By the morning of the 18th, all of us, including Hiram, were tired. When I woke up, my arms felt like they were going to fall off. Going outside restored everyone’s spirits, including mine. We all had something to do. The adults formed rotations to kill zombies. The children ran around helping to give refreshments to the adults.
The teams killing zombies started counting how many they had killed. Men being men, they started competing to see which team killed the most zombies. Even Art, someone I would have expected to be an adult, got into it. He and Hiram set up a roster to make the teams as fair as possible. The children were referees. Their job was to keep a fair count. Of course, the women were excluded from the zombie count and weren’t made parts of the teams. The team with the lowest zombie count got silly punishments like noogies from the winning team. It’s amazing how most men never really grow up. I kept hoping to see Hiram get a noogie, but his team never lost.
It wasn’t hard to figure out how many zombies were around our enclosure. I measured how deep the zombies were around our fence and the total area that they took up. I counted the density of the zombies over a ten-foot by ten-foot region and then extrapolated the number in 10 square feet over the total area of zombies around us. According to my calculations, there were approximately 180,000 zombies around our fence.
Every day, right before dusk, the Director called us. Before the 11th, I would have called him Mark. Most Americans avoid using titles. For example I never asked my students to call me Dr. Hansen and most of them didn’t. But since the 11th, I’ve been in the enclosure with Mormons. Outside the ward, most Mormons don’t use titles, but inside they are prone to call each other brother or sister and use titles like Bishop. I soon began calling Mark Jones “Director.”
There was something comforting about having some outside government agency looking out for us. It was a shock after the 11th to lose contact with all levels of the government and also the LDS General Authorities. Director Jones made it a point never to talk about how many people were outside with him. He kept apologizing for having limited resources. He let us and the other wards know that he was working on rescuing one ward at a time and that we were the first one. None us ever asked him how limited his resources were because none of us wanted to know.
Most Americans think that ‘government competence’ is an oxymoron but all of us in the ward knew we needed help and a plan and we all hoped that Director Jones would provide both. So far, that’s what he’d done. There’s a saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” It would be cheesy, perhaps even blasphemous, to call anyone Savior other than God or Jesus Christ, but we all wanted a hero. It sounds kind of silly, but referring to Mark Jones as Director made everyone feel better, including me.
It helped that Director Jones sounded amazingly relaxed and confident whenever we talked to him. It was clear that he was wandering outside amongst the zombies almost daily. He would give us details that made it clear that he was personally keeping an eye on us. He tried to make it sound like it wasn’t a big deal to be outside without any protection but all of us, especially Hiram, respected him for it.
Among the teenage girls and even some of the older married young women, Mark Jones, sight unseen, had become the new heartthrob. Forget about Leonardo DiCaprio or Johnny Depp, Director Jones had become our biggest celebrity. I did not join the Director Jones fan club and I didn’t get into giggly discussions with teenage girls about what he probably looked like or whether he was married. I’ve met Federal administrators before; he was probably bald and 50-pounds overweight and married.
The only weird quirk that Director Jones had was his insistence that we keep as many flashlights, walkie-talkies, regular batteries, and laptops as possible in our refrigerators to extend the life of their batteries. I tried to explain to him that it was an urban myth that keeping batteries in a refrigerator made them last longer. Theoretically, cold temperatures should help maintain a battery charge but it was so miniscule a difference it wasn’t noticeable. He responded to my comments by saying that I was probably right but that it wouldn’t do any harm to do as he requested. He said it take much extra effort. He asked for the contact numbers of all the other wards that we had been able to reach.
Once he found out that I was in contact with my family in Nebraska, he asked for their contact information, also. On one of my daily conversations with my father, I brought up the Director’s surprising insistence on keeping batteries in refrigerators. My father commented that he and Mark Jones had recently been on Skype together. He thought Mark was unusually competent for a Federal administrator and if that was his only quirk, we were lucky to have him.
October 9th had been a good day. There were now parts of the fence that were not packed with zombies. Because we were tired and because there wasn’t a huge press of zombies forcing the closest ones to us up right against the fence, it was harder to kill them. We had killed so many zombies. The ones still alive had eaten so many of the ones that we’d killed, that almost all of them had enlarged bellies. They all, male and female, looked like they were in their third trimester of pregnancy. Their bellies made it difficult for them to press up against the fence, which made it harder to stab them. Our morale was still great. We could see that in a few days—a week at the most—we would wipe out most of the zombies outside our fence.
Everyone in the ward had been busy. People who weren’t actively killing zombies were helping support those who were. Many of the women had stopped taking their turns at the fence. I was one of the few that kept at it. I had been sleeping really well the last couple weeks due to physical exhaustion.
We could all see the progress that we had made in clearing out the zombies. We made sure everyone was in the gymnasium before dusk. All the lights were kept on at all times. I answered the usual phone call at dusk from Director Jones; I’d become the de-facto receptionist for the ward. He talked to Art by speaker phone as usual. While he and Art talked, there was complete silence in the gymnasium. Even the small children wanted to listen to what was being said. Art kept Director Jones updated on our progress.
I was on the verge of falling asleep when all our light fixtures exploded. Kids started screaming. We were in the gymnasium and there were no windows. It was pitch-dark. I couldn’t even see my own hand. I heard men cursing. Hiram yelled out in his distinctive voice that he couldn’t get his flashlight to work. Other men and women yelled out that they had the same problem. I kept my backpack beside my sleeping bag. I had candles and a flashlight in my pack. After a few minutes of fumbling I was able to get a candle lit. Shortly afterwards, other people had candles lit.
I tried to turn my cell phone on, but it was dead. I tried the satellite phone. It was dead, too. I tried to turn on my laptop. It wouldn’t turn on. I called out to Art and Hiram.
“Please, everyone. I think I know what’s going on. Can you please quiet down so I can talk to Art and Hiram?”
Hiram bellowed, “Everybody, please shut up!”
Art cried, “Please, everyone. Dr. Hansen thinks she knows what is going on. Please quiet down so we can all hear what she has to say.”
It quieted down. “Everyone, I think there’s been an EMP.”
Someone called out, “What’s an EMP?”
“EMP stands for Electromagnetic Pulse. Has anyone seen the Matrix movies?” Only a few voices yelled out yes. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that many Mormons won’t see R-rated movies and all of the Matrix movies had been rated R.
“An EMP is an electrical impulse so strong that it can travel by air and when it hits any conductive surface like an electrical wire or circuit, it will send an electrical impulse through that wire or circuit strong enough to burn out the wire or destroy the circuit.”
Hiram asked, “Can any of the electronics shut down by the EMP be repaired?”
“If it has an electronic circuit board, probably not. This means that anything with a computer chip in it—including our generator, cell phones, computers, cars, and trucks—are all dead; it won’t be easy to repair them. The fact that even simple devices like our flashlights aren’t working is a really bad sign. This looks to have been a really strong signal, so everything that has a thin electrical wire and needs electricity to work is probably destroyed and will need to be completely re-wired.”
Art asked, “Is there anything we could have done to protect ourselves from an EMP?”
“Well, the only thing that we could have done is to try to put our electrical equipment into Faraday cages.”
Hiram butted in again, “What’s a Faraday cage?”
“A Faraday cage is a metal cage connected to a ground that surrounds the electrical device you are trying to protect. It would have been impossible to protect our lights or generator; we don’t have access to enough metal. Wait, can someone please go to the kitchen and pull out some flashlights and a walkie-talkie and bring them here?”
Hiram gestured to a couple of his militia men and they took off to the kitchen. They returned with lit flashlights and a walkie-talkie. Hiram handed the walkie-talkie to me.
I spoke to the ward: “A plugged-in refrigerator is a Faraday cage. With the EMP the refrigerator itself would likely be destroyed but every electronic device in it would be protected.”
I turned on the walkie-talkie and put it on channel 2, sub channel 2. “Calling: this is Helen Hansen looking for Director Jones. Please respond. Over.”
“Calling: this is Director Jones; I’m glad you followed my advice and stored some electronic devices in your refrigerator. Over.”
“Did you know we were going to be attacked by an EMP? Over.”
“I didn’t know for sure but I thought it might be a possibility. Since there wasn’t anything you could do in the ward besides putting some electronic devices in your refrigerator, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to warn you about something that was only a possibility.”
I couldn’t believe he hadn’t told me the truth before. “So you didn’t really think that refrigerators kept batteries alive longer?”
He chuckled. “Well, like I said to you before, I didn’t think it would hurt. Can I please talk to Art Bingham?”
I’m sure I grew bright red. I could feel the warmth growing over my face. He wasn’t even bothering to apologize. What a patronizing jerk!
“This is Art Bingham.”
“Art, I apologize for not warning you about the possibility of an EMP attack. I thought it wasn’t very likely and at best the only thing you could have done in the ward, even if you had been warned, was to do what I already had asked you to do, which was to keep flashlights, walkie-talkies, batteries, and computers in a refrigerator.”
Of course he apologizes to a man. Art sounded testy. “Director Jones, I think I understand. Is there anything else in the past that you had thought was unlikely that we may want to know now?”
The Director chuckled again. “I still think I might be overreacting but I think there is a small possibility that you might be subject tonight or in the near future to a vampire attack. I think it’s best that three other men and I join you in the ward. I will be bringing in a replacement diesel generator. If I remember correctly, you said before that you have diesel fuel.”
Everybody started talking. A vampire attack! The Director coming into the ward! Art cried out, “Brothers, sisters, please! We need to hear what Director Jones is saying.”
It got quiet again. “Director, you think a vampire attack is possible? How are you planning on getting into our enclosure? We are still surrounded by thousands of zombies.”
“Art, I think it’s possible that vampires will attack. I don’t think it’s probable. But you don’t know how to fight vampires and you don’t have bullets, so I think it’s best that I and three other men join you. We have a plan to draw the zombies away from you. We will keep in touch by walkie-talkie. Please do not try to contact me. I will be keeping my walkie-talkie off until it is safe for me to talk. I will get in touch with you. I will need you to keep your walkie-talkie on. ”
“Oh, you will also hear from my deputy Jim Wright. We will be in contact soon.”
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