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Authors: H.E. Goodhue

Tags: #Zombies

Dry Rot: A Zombie Novel (4 page)

BOOK: Dry Rot: A Zombie Novel
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-10-

 

My front door was open. The woman was in a rush. I could understand, but still, leaving the door open was a bad move. There could be more people like Ian or the homeless guy out there and the last thing I wanted was to invite them into my house. Still, I couldn’t really blame her.

I walked into the basement and found the woman and boy standing near my bunker. They were staring into the interior and turned to face me as I came down the stairs. The boy stepped in front of the woman.

“Who are you?” the woman asked.

“My name is Lucas. This is my house. I was away for a while.” I leaned my shotgun against the wall. They seemed harmless enough and I didn’t want to scare them anymore than they already were.

“Thank you,” the woman said. “I’m Danni and this is my son, Jared. We moved in next door a few months ago. Ian is my boyfriend.”

“Was,” I said.

“You killed him?” Danni asked. It was a simple question. There was no anger or sadness in her words.

“No, I didn’t kill him,” I answered. “Whatever the hell is going on out there killed him. I saw it kill some other people earlier today. I think it has something to do with the ash that fell from the sky.”

“Why didn’t it kill us?” Jared asked. He appeared to relax a little.

“Not really sure about that one,” I said. “What I’ve seen looks a little like radiation poisoning, but there’s something off about it. That should have affected everyone the same.”

“Are you some kind of soldier or something?” Danni asked. “Were you deployed overseas?”

I laughed. “No, I was a construction worker. The stuff you saw inside my bunker was…um…well, I guess it was a hobby.”

“Some hobby,” Jared snorted. “So where were you?”

“Don’t be rude,” Danni said and slapped Jared's shoulder. A puff of ashy black dust rose into the air.

There was no reason to lie. I had nothing to gain from it and if these two didn’t like what they heard, well then they could get the hell out. “I was in prison,” I said.

“Prison?” Danni asked. “What did you do?” The question came a little too easy, perhaps practiced with other men in her life.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to be rude,” Jared said. “Besides, how many times did Ian go to prison? Who cares what Lucas did?”

“Manslaughter,” I said. Again, honesty was just easier. “I served three years.”

“Couldn’t have been that serious if you only served three years,” Jared said.

“Good behavior and overcrowding,” I explained.

“Oh,” Jared said. He stepped in front of his mother again.

“But it doesn’t really matter, does it?” I asked. “I’m not telling you that you have to stay here with me. You’re welcome to leave if you want.”

“Leave?” Danni asked. “But what if we want to stay?”

“Then take you clothes off,” I said. “Both of you.”

“What?” Jared stepped towards me, his hands curled into fists.

I had been in prison too long and forgot that normal people explained things to each other. In prison, you just said what needed to be done or took it without talking. There was no time or reason to explain things to other inmates. They’d do what you said if they respected or feared you.

“Sorry.” I held my hands up. “Your clothes are covered with ash. We need to bag them up in case it’s toxic or radioactive. There are extra clothes inside the bunker. I’ll go upstairs. Find something that fits. Put the dirty stuff into one of the black garbage bags and tape it up. Make sure you use the shower to clean off. Let me know when you’re done.”

I showed them where I had set up my decontamination shower in the far corner of the basement. It was near the dry well so the water would run in. It was a small portable, single person shower that I had order from Grainger. It cost more than my first car and at the time had seemed like something I’d never use. I was glad I had it.

Danni and Jared nodded as I showed them how the shower worked and where the trash bags and tape were. They looked scared. I couldn’t really blame them.

I walked upstairs and collapsed onto the couch. A small puff of dust leapt off the sheet that covered it. Regular dust. I watched the motes waft around the room like an army of homeless fairies. I guess it was good that everything in the bunker had been in threes.

It should have been Lisa and Kara down there, not these strangers. She never should have left me.

I still missed my family.

 

-11-

 

Danni came up from the basement wearing some of Lisa’s clothes. Jared had dressed in some of my old clothes. They were comically oversized. He had to roll the pants and sleeves. Kara’s NBC suit should fit Jared. He looked to be about twelve or thirteen and bigger than Kara, but it should still fit. I was never sure when or if Kara would need it, so I bought a larger size. Lisa’s suit would fit Danni fine.

I hadn’t shown them the suits. They still stared at me like I was an alien, but the longer they spent walking around without a mask and suit, the more likely they would get sick or infected. Besides, I wasn’t planning on staying here. They were welcome to do whatever they wanted, but I still needed to see my family again. That wasn’t going to happen sitting around here.

“Come on,” I said. I walked past Danni and towards the basement.

“Wait,” Danni said. She stood in the doorway with Jared behind her. I turned to look at the two of them. “Can we eat something? Jared hasn’t had anything to eat since this morning.”

“The food is down here.” I walked a few more steps, but didn’t hear them following. “What is it?”

“Isn’t the food in the kitchen?” Danni asked. She was a creature of habit, most people were.

“I wasn’t here for three years, so there’s no food in the kitchen,” I said. “Besides that food would be contaminated. There’s food in the bunker.”

Danni and Jared followed me down the stairs. I stood at the door of the bunker.

“We’re going to need to sleep in here tonight. There are beds and an air filtration system. We should be safe in here.”

They hesitated. I couldn’t really blame them. Some strange guy, who is admittedly an ex-con, busts down their door dressed like a damn space alien and then suggests that they lock themselves into his secret basement bunker. Yeah, I’d hesitate too.

“I’m not going to do anything,” I said. “Don’t you think I would have done it already? There’s no lotion to put in baskets or any other Silence of the Lambs stuff. It’s safe in here, that’s all.”

Danni nodded to Jared and then walked into the bunker. Jared looked into my mask as he walked past. I shrugged. There was no need to posture. This kid was protecting his mother. I got that.

Once they were inside, I walked across the basement and filled the generator with gas. Before I went away, I added stabilizer to my gas supply. I still wondered if it would hold up. The generator chugged to life and I checked the vent line to make sure we wouldn’t kill ourselves with fumes, though I guess there were worse things that could happen. Everything looked in order. I switched the generator off. For now, we still had power from the grid so there was no point wasting the gas.

I walked into the bunker and closed the door. The lights set into the ceiling were on and Danni and Jared sat on two out of the three chairs inside. I twisted the handle to seal off the door and made sure the ventilation system was clear.

It felt good to take my NBC mask off. Sweat beaded on my face and could feel the indentation on the sides of my face where the mask created a seal. I grabbed a can of fruit cocktail from the shelf. There were other things to eat, but I remembered how much Kara loved the stuff. That was the only reason I had it in here.

“Fruit cocktail okay?” I set the can down on a nearby table and found the opener. Even though I was out of prison, the food looked about the same.

“Yeah, fruit cocktail is cool,” Jared said. “Thanks, Lucas.”

I spooned out three servings of the stuff and passed two to Danni and Jared. They nodded and began eating.

“We can sleep here tonight,” I said between bites, “but tomorrow I’m leaving. I need to see my family.”

“Your family?” Danni asked. “You have family out there?”

“Yeah,” I said. “My wife, Lisa and my daughter, Kara.”

“They don’t live here with you?” Jared asked. His mouth was stuffed with fruit.

“No,” I answered. “They left me before I went away.”

“That happens,” Danni said. “My parents split up when I was twelve. Sorry.”

My phone sat on the table. Danni noticed as she looked around the room.

“Is that your cell phone?” Danni asked and walked towards the table it sat on. I snatched it off the table before she could reach the phone.

“Don’t touch that,” I said. Seeing the look on Danni’s face, I added, “Uh, please? These things probably won’t work much longer, if at all.” I opened it and looked at the text message on the screen. Kara’s simple words wound steel straps around my heart and twisted. I would tell her that I loved her soon.

“That looked like a text message,” Jared said. He took his phone out of his pocket. “But I guess you’re right. I don’t have any bars on my phone, either.”

I wanted to change the subject. “Once we know what’s going on out there, we can figure out what our next move is.”

“How are we going to do that?” Jared asked. “All the radio and television stations were nothing but static.”

“Regular radios maybe,” I agreed. I pointed towards a boxy HAM radio in the corner of the bunker. I had pieced this one together myself, swapping out parts and antenna to make it broadcast further.

“Does it work?” Danni asked.

“Let’s find out.” I walked over to the radio. Static crackled through the receiver. I checked a few channels. It was more of the same.

“Wait, go back.” Jared rushed towards the radio. “There was something there. Go back. Go back.”

Underneath the electronic fuzz, I could hear that Jared was right. There was a voice, maybe even more than one.

“Can you talk to them?” Danni asked.

“Not right now. I think the ash and storm are screwing with the signal,” I said. “I’ve got an idea on how we can boost the signal tomorrow. Probably not a good idea try and fly a kite tonight.”

“A kite?” Jared asked.

I would really need to work on the whole explaining things and people skills thing if I didn’t want to sound crazy all the time. Or at least for whatever time was left.

 

-12-

 

Boxes of old toys and clothes were stacked in one corner of the basement. I hate clutter, but could never bring myself to throw away any of Kara’s things.

“There should be a kite in that box.” I pointed to the box labeled ‘TOYS.’ Jared began searching through it. Both he and Danni had put on NBC masks and suits. I still couldn’t be sure what was going on outside, but wanted to be safe. I remembered something coming through the bus radio about an attack on cities, but found it hard to believe that any terrorist group could pull off something like this. Maybe a volcano had erupted or maybe Yellowstone finally blew? Those seemed more plausible than a terrorist attack. But with no TV or radio, we had no real information and any guess could be true.

“So what are you going to do with this, Ben Franklin?” Jared asked as he handed me the kite. I could see him smiling behind his NBC mask. He was a good kid.

I began putting the kite together. “Go get that thin spool of wire from the work bench over there.”

“You’re not really going to try and catch a lightning bolt, are you?” Jared handed me the wire.

“No,” I laughed. It had been a while since I heard the sound of my own laughter and it sounded clumsy and out of practice. There wasn’t much to laugh about in prison, unless of course you were a psychopath, in which case prison was hilarious. “That signal we picked up last night was weak. We need to find a way to boost our range. My HAM radio antenna is on the roof and I’d guess that all the ash that’s in the air is screwing up the signal. This might help us get a better one.”

“You’re going to tie the wire to the antenna and try to fly the kite above some of the ash?” Jared studied the kite. “That’s a good idea.”

The kid was smart, too. That’s probably how he managed to survive the string of losers that his mother brought home. I couldn’t blame Danni. Hell, I was a loser too, but I never would have hit Lisa or Kara.

“Danni, you ready to go?” I asked. She walked out of the bunker. “You’re going to need to hold the ladder. Jared, you go about halfway up and feed me the wire as I let the kite out.”

“I’m as ready as I’m ever gonna be.” Danni started up the stairs. I had offered to let her take one of my guns, something easy to use, like a .45, but she refused. Guns scared her. Besides, she had argued, everyone outside was dead, so what was the point of a gun? Jared volunteered to carry one. Danni looked like she wanted to kill him. I promised him I’d show him how to use one later.

Outside of my house was silent. There was a light wind blowing ash down the street like ragged black ghosts, but I didn’t see any other people. They could have been holed up in their houses. They were probably dead.

“There’s an extension ladder around the back,” I said and walked off the porch. Small clouds of ash puffed underneath my boots with each step. I found myself wishing for rain to wash away some of the crap that choked my yard and street.

My ladder was underneath the back porch. Jared helped me pull it out and lean it against the gutters on the second story. I never was a fan of heights, but figured there were worse things to worry about these days. Danni held the bottom of the ladder as Jared and I climbed up.

“Wait here,” I said to Jared when he was a little more than halfway up. I didn’t want the kid to slip. “Feed me the wire as I let the kite out, okay?” Jared nodded.

Ash covered the roof of my house. It looked like Christmas in Hell. At any moment, I expected to see Satan flying by in a sled with skeletal reindeer and flames. He was evidently busy somewhere else. I was alone on the roof.

The HAM radio antenna was bolted to the side of my house at the highest point of the roof. I made my way to the top and sat with one leg on each side of the roof. The wind felt stronger up here, but it could have just been my fear and imagination getting the better of me.

I held the kite up and tested it against the wind. The fabric bowed and puffed out. It looked like it would fly.

“You ready?” I asked Jared. He gave me a thumbs up from where he stood on the ladder.

I angled the kite and let it go, feeding the thin wire through my hands. It climbed higher and higher. Jared continued to feed out the wire. I squinted, trying to keep the kite in view.

“Hold up,” I said to Jared. I felt the wire go taut in my hands. I reached to my belt and withdrew my Leatherman from its sheath. Flicking my wrist, I opened the pliers. After the wire had been wound around the antenna, I cinched the wire with the pliers. A few belt clamps completed the job after I tightened them around the antenna with the flathead screwdriver. I checked the wire again. It looked like it would hold. It would have to, there were no more kites in the basement.

“Is it all set?” Jared asked as I shimmed down to the ladder.

“We’re good,” I said. “Now let’s go check the radio before we lose our chance.”

I was almost to the bottom of the ladder when I heard Danni cry out. Jared leapt the last few rung and landed on the ground in a black cloud of ash. I was close behind.

Ian, or what had once been Ian, stood in my backyard. A leathery corpse, clad in Ian’s clothes, shuffled towards Danni. Its hair was gone and eyes a dull, dusty gray, but it definitely had been Ian. She held my shotgun I left it near the ladder. Now it was in her trembling hands. The barrel danced all over the place. There was no way she would be able to get a clean shot off.

“Ian?” Danni asked. Her words sound weak and distorted through the mask. She looked frozen.

“Mom,” Jared yelled and ran to his mother’s side. “Come on.” He tugged at the sleeve of Danni’s NBC suit. Danni didn’t move.

I got there just as Ian lunged for Danni. His fingers were little more than bone wrapped in hardened, yellow skin. The boils on his face had burst and dried into black rings with jagged points of skin surrounding them. Images of that ice mummy some scientists had found flashed through my head.

I swung my arm, smashing it into Ian’s neck. He stumbled back a few steps and then dove for my extended arm. I felt a strong squeeze on the sleeve and realized Ian was biting my arm. The thick fabric and layer of charcoal lining in my NBC suit kept him from getting through, but it still hurt like hell.

“Give me the gun,” I said as I reached with my free hand. Jared grabbed it from Danni and passed it to me. I drove the stock into Ian’s face and felt his nose crunch beneath it. He stumbled backwards and fell to the ground with his legs splayed out like a giant toddler.

I aimed the barrel in Ian’s face. “Get the fuck out of my yard.” He showed no recognition of the threat or command and scuttled forward on all fours.

Jared leapt past me and dropped onto the middle of Ian’s back with both feet. I heard a dull snap and Ian’s legs stopped moving.

We all watched, stunned and silent, as Ian continued to crawl across the yard. He showed no reaction to the damage or pain that had just be inflicted. His yellowed teeth chattered and clacked as he pulled himself forward.

“Shoot him.” Jared pointed at Ian. “Shoot him.”

I didn’t hesitate. Ian’s head exploded in a cloud of black and red. Bits of him splashed across my dusty yard, getting lost in the drifts of ash.

“I thought you said Ian was dead?” Danni asked, waking from her stupor.

“I checked him,” I said. “He was dead.”

“He is now,” Jared snorted and toed the headless corpse with his boot. A thick black gel oozed from the ragged stump that had once been Ian’s neck, but there was no blood.

“Let’s get inside,” I said and racked another shell into my shotgun. I had a feeling I was going to need it.

BOOK: Dry Rot: A Zombie Novel
3.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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