Samuel finished the walk up the alley to his family’s small home and studied both directions of the alley before he opened the gate, slipped inside, and closed it behind him. Then, he waited long minutes as he listened carefully to the surrounding neighborhood. He and his wife, Selma, had lived in the neighborhood for their entire lives and now their children were being raised there also, but he didn’t know how much longer they could stay; things were worse than they had ever been before. He knew this neighborhood the way others knew the back of their hand, but since the outbreak it sounded different. Gone were the loud music, the drug dealers, and the prostitutes he hated so much, but you could still here the occasional gunshots.
In the previous years, gunshots meant gang warfare, or a drug deal gone badly, now it meant someone was alive and fighting back; the infected didn’t use guns, mostly they used fingernails and teeth, so an occasional gunshot was good. Reaching behind him he touched the .38 snubnose revolver for reassurance and then walked to the back door of the house and tapped lightly to be allowed in. The door opened and Samuel stepped past his oldest son, Micah, and set his bag on the table as Micah closed and locked the door.
“What did you find out, Pop?”
“Nothing good, I guess the President is no longer president of the U.S., the National Guard turned against the general that said he supported her and supported the Constitution instead.”
“Does that mean more trouble ahead?” Micah scratched at his scalp and then pushed the long dreadlocks back from his face. His father was tall and lean, he was Black, but much lighter skinned than Micah’s mother. Micah was shorter and broader through the shoulders, his skin tone and the build of his body closer to his mother than his father.
“I’m afraid so.”
“What did you get to eat?”
Samuel upended the bag and dumped its contents on the table, an even dozen of assorted cans, two boxes of instant potatoes, and a can of beef in gravy. Not a lot for five people and Samuel leaned back in his chair as he sighed.
Micah snorted, “That’s it? That’s all the food-guy gave you for yours and Mom’s wedding bands?”
“Bull shit, that motherfucker is gonna get nined!”
“What have I told you about that kind of talk? You wanna talk like a gangster then go live with them; I won’t have that in my home.”
Micah snatched up the family’s double barrel shotgun and stomped out of the room as Beatrice came in. She looked down at him as he passed and then looked to her father, eyebrows raised. Samuel shrugged and then gazed at his daughter as she sat and began to organize the food on the table. She was taller than her two brothers and at five foot nine she could look down at both of them. Her skin color was a cross of her father’s lighter skin and her mother’s darker and she seemed to be a cross of their body types also. Samuel tended toward thin and her mother was on the heavy side, but she fell between the two, full figured and athletic.
“This is a good haul Dad.”
He looked at the food and then rubbed his eyes, “Thanks, Baby Girl, but we both know the truth. We can eat off that for two days, maybe three if we stretch it. We’re running out of options.”
“Something will come up, you’ll see.” She stood and started putting the food away in the cabinets. Funny, since the power went off the second day of the outbreak they had kept nothing in the refrigerator, as if maybe the power would come back and they could use it again. He leaned forward and removed the pistol from the back of his pants and placed it on the table. “Tomorrow, I’ll start checking our neighbor’s homes.”
Beatrice turned around and looked at him, “Are you sure?”
“If they ain’t back by now, they ain’t coming back.” Early in the outbreak they had avoided their neighbor’s homes when they salvaged for food, Samuel felt like it was stealing from others. Now though it didn’t seem so much like stealing, it felt more like surviving.
“I’ll go with you, Dad.”
“One or both of the boys will go with me.”
“Will it be worth the trouble, the arguing?”
“I hope so, how is your mother this afternoon?”
Beatrice shrugged, “She says she needs more food, more water for bathing, shampoo, a visit to the hairdresser, sodas, bourbon, more of the same.”
“And if I wasn’t so lazy she would have everything she needs?”
Beatrice continued putting the cans away and didn’t say anything for a moment, “Marcus spends most of his time in the bedroom with her.”
“Good, if he’s in there she has someone that will listen, but not encourage her complaining.” The kitchen grew quiet as Beatrice finished and shut the cabinet.
“I’ll get something started for dinner later, in the mean time we still have a few of those granola bars if you’re hungry.”
“Your mom said they were all gone.”
“That’s because she thought they were, but I hid some so she wouldn’t eat all of them.”
“You shouldn’t lie to…”
“If I didn’t lie to her the rest of us would be starving already and she would still be complaining because she thought we were holding out on her.”
Samuel’s wife had been like this since she and almost died when she choked on a bite of food at a local restaurant when she was pregnant with Beatrice. An ambulance was called and they inserted an air tube, but the doctors said there might be brain damage to both his wife and the unborn Beatrice. Beatrice seemed to escape any ill effects, and at first his wife seemed to also, but then her personality changed. She became needy and demanding, and then began to blame Samuel for everything wrong in their lives. She could be rather difficult at times.
He rose from the chair, “There’s still plenty of light left, I think I’ll check the Carter’s cabinets before it gets too late.”
“Let me put my boots on…”
“No, I think Micah needs to get out some, I’ll take him.”
Samuel walked through the dining room, the living room, and then down the hall to Micah’s room where he rapped lightly on the door. He waited until the young man opened the door and waved for him to follow him.
“Where we going?”
“Next door, I don’t think the neighbors are coming back so I think it’s time for us to see if they have anything we can use.”
“It’s about motherfucking time we did it.”
“What have I said…”
“Why do you get mad when I talk like a man?”
“Because you’re not talking like a man, you’re talking like one of your street thug friends.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my friends.”
“Now that most of them are dead, no, there’s not.”
Samuel led Micah to the back door and scanned the backyard closely before opening it and stepping out onto the porch, “Is it clear?” Micah asked a little too loudly for Samuel’s preference.
“Shh! What is it with you, boy!” Samuel whispered, “Do you want those crazy people to hear you?”
“A real man wouldn’t care, a real man would…” Samuel closed the door in his son’s face and stepped off the porch, quickly walking to the fence and looking over into the Carter’s back yard. He couldn’t see anyone, so he scrambled over the fence and dropped to the ground on the other side. Moving to the rear porch he peered through the window in the rear door and studied the inside of the kitchen. He noticed the window behind the kitchen sink was open and there was a thick layer of dust covering everything. There were no footprints in the dust and he reasoned it must be safe to go in.
He tried the door knob, but it was locked, so he turned around and looked over the yard for something he could force the door with and finally settled on a long-handled gardening fork. He picked it up from where it lay, carried it back to the porch, and then began to try and force the tines into the gap between the door and its frame. After several seconds of prying, there was a loud snap as part of the door splintered away, but it was still secured. He listened again for a moment and reconsidered the kitchen window he knew was open; he could crawl through it, but the window was next to the driveway and anyone walking by would be able to see him.
He returned his attention to the door and after a few seconds it popped open with little additional noise to his relief. He kept the garden fork in his hands as he entered and quickly began opening the cupboards until he found the ones Mrs. Carter had used as a pantry; food, there were dozens of cans of all kinds of food! He realized he hadn’t brought a bag to carry things in so he looked around for something to use and settled on a box of plastic trash bags with only one bag left. Opening the bag he started filling it, but before the bag was half-full the bottom tore out, dumping the cans on the floor and in the process creating more noise, loud noise.
Freezing in place, he waited long seconds as he strained his ears, finally he relaxed and began searching for something he could carry the food in. There was nothing else he could see, so he entered the living room and looked, the front door was ajar and he considered closing it, but decided to leave it untouched and there was still nothing to load the cans into. He carefully walked down the hall and into one of the bedrooms, glanced around and then stripped the pillow cases off the pillows, he could use those.
Exiting the bedroom he started to enter the living room and suddenly froze. On the dust covered floor were his boot prints passing through the living room, but now there was another set of foot prints leading from the front door to the kitchen. Someone had entered the house while he was in the bedroom! He reached around to the back of his belt where he carried the .38 and panicked, he hadn’t brought the damn thing; it was still setting on the kitchen table!
He listened quietly as he held his breath; breathing, he could hear breathing, and then the sound of a can rolling across the floor. Then the sound of wood dragging on the wooden floor and his anxiety increased. Whoever it was now had the garden fork! He took a step backwards and the floor creaked under his weight, he froze again, but it was to no avail, a disheveled Black man appeared in the opening between the dining room and the living room and stared about, his eyes wild and unfocused. On his left cheek was a shallow scar that indicated where he had been bitten and infected
For a brief second, their eyes met; Samuel’s filled with fear, the other’s filled with rage and hunger before the infected man leaped and ran across the intervening couch, the garden fork held at shoulder level and the tines pointed at Samuel’s face. Samuel used the only object he held in his hands, the pillow cases, and threw them into the face of the charging madman. Using the momentary blindness, he swiveled to his right and tried to deflect the tines passed his face, but one of them pierced his left forearm and when the tines met the wall at the end of the hall, he found himself pinned with only one hand to fend off the raging attack.
In a panic, Samuel entangled his fingers in the man’s filthy hair and managed to keep his face at arm’s length while the infected tried to twist and bite him. Samuel knew he was in dire straits, with only one arm available it was only a matter of time before the violently struggling man would either break free or get past his defense; he needed his other arm and fast!
He jerked on the arm pinned to the wall, but all it did was slide to the end of the fork’s tine and stop. He gritted his teeth and tried again, but each time he tried to pull the fork free from the wall, the infected madman almost broke free of his one-handed grasp. Then, behind the infected man he saw the outline of another, two! He began to give up hope and then realized the new person was his daughter and in her hands was the double barreled shotgun. If she tried to shoot from where she was, there was a chance she might hit both the infected and him, so Samuel allowed his elbow to collapse and as the infected closed on him he twisted and extended his arm pushing the madman through the doorway of the second bedroom.
“Bea! Come here now!”
She ran forward with the shotgun at her shoulder and when she reached the doorway she pushed the muzzle close to the infected’s face. In his rage, the infected bit down on the muzzle as Beatrice pulled one of the triggers. The effect was instantaneous; the man’s cheeks bulged impossibly, and a cloud of red chunks and mist blew out the back of his neck at the base of his skull, splattering the far wall behind him. He fell to the floor unmoving.
Beatrice dropped the shotgun and leaned into the hall as she vomited and then dry heaved. “Baby? I need your help and we need to hurry.”
She looked up, saw the tine through his forearm and paled, “Oh God!”
“I can’t pull it loose, Baby Girl, you need to pull it free so we can get out of here.”
She nodded, grasped the handle and jerked backwards, the fork came free of the wall but the tine was still in her father’s arm. Samuel grabbed the base of the tine and pulled it out through his arm with a groan of pain. When his arm was free, he handed Beatrice the shotgun from the floor and she handed him his .38, “You forgot this.” She said.
“Come on, grab those pillow cases and we’ll fill them up with everything we can.”
“We need to treat your arm so it doesn’t become infected,” she said as he pushed her down the hall.
“No, we need to get the food and then we’ll treat my arm. I’m not leaving without it.”
In the kitchen they filled the pillow cases, but there was still more to be had, so Samuel returned to the bedroom with the body in it and stripped the pillows in there also. Once they were filled they carried the four bags of food to the fence and dropped them over. On the other side of the fence, they carried the food into the kitchen and left it on the floor as Beatrice gathered their meager first aid supplies and tried to treat Samuel’s punctured arm. Cleaning the wound was the hardest part, when the tine had pulled out it left behind particles of the sheetrock it had become imbedded in.
Micah and Marcus watched the process, Marcus with concern, Micah with contempt. “Figured you would do something stupid sooner or later and get yourself fucked up, or killed. Why do you think I don’t like going out with you.”
Beatrice glanced at him and then turned her attention back to her father’s arm, “How would you know if you liked going out of the house, or not? You haven’t been outside since all this started.”
“There hasn’t been a need for me to go out.”
“You’re right there,” she said. “Because Daddy always goes so the four of us stay safe.”
“I don’t need him to go for me! I’m a man and I don’t need some old fool going for me!”
Beatrice clenched her teeth, “Then go, go now and see how well you do!”
“What for? We’ve got all the food we need for a while!”
Beatrice locked eyes with Micah, and then, “You’re so damned selfish; I ought to bitch slap you into tomorrow.”
Before it could escalate further, Samuel intervened, “That’s enough, both of you.” He turned his attention solely to Micah. “Next time I go out for food? You’re going with me until my arm is healed. Marcus? You are going to help also.”
Snorting, Micah sneered at his brother, “Shit, if Mama’s Boy is going you can count me out, he’s probably more dangerous than you to be with!”
Micah stood up and walked out of the kitchen as Marcus watched him go, “I will, Dad, when you want to go just tell me. We can’t tell Mom though or she’ll raise holy you know what.”
“Your mother is the reason I’ve never asked you go with me.”
Beatrice began wrapping the wound on Samuel’s arm, “That’s the best I can do with what we have. I wish we had some medication, antibiotics or something.”
Samuel nodded, “The food guy has some, but I wouldn’t want to pay the price I’ve seen him ask for.”
Beatrice perked up, “What’s he want? Maybe…”
“No,” her father said sharply. “The price is too high.” He had already spoken to ‘Travesty’, as he was known on the streets, about antibiotics and Travesty had suggested a swap, Beatrice for the medicine. The man needed to die a slow death and Samuel was willing to provide it if he ever had the chance.
As the days passed, Samuel spent hours each day increasing the security of the house. From the Carter’s home he removed all of the solid wood interior doors and used them to reinforce the entrances and windows of his family’s house, being careful not to change the outward appearance. The infected wouldn’t notice a change, but the sub-humans who predated the infected would. Unfortunately, the gangs had succeeded better than any other group at surviving the plague and its aftermath because of the number of guns they possessed and used.
Several days passed and he visited Travesty again to see if he had any anti-diarrhea medication for his wife, Selma, but what he learned was more valuable than anything else. The ex-Speaker of the House, or ex-President, whatever she was now, had announced the creation of the Western States of America with her as its Prime Minister. She had arranged for the inclusion of many of the surviving gang members into the army and was requiring all males to sign up for the Selective Service. Travesty hinted there were plans for single females also in another form of government service to the army and seemed to gloat over the fact Samuel’s daughter was single. Samuel hurried home and began to make plans; maybe it was time to leave Oakland.
He gathered the family in his wife’s bedroom and told them of his plans to leave.
Selma shook her head, “It’s not safe out there and I’m not going anywhere. I have plenty of food and drinks and if you would get the water working again I could bathe more often, when are you going to do that?”
“Selma,” Samuel said. “I can’t turn the water on for the whole city. If the city doesn’t have water, we don’t have water.”
“Nonsense, you haven’t been to work in weeks. What happened? Didn’t you pay the water bill?”
“There is no work, Mama.” Beatrice shifted uncomfortably.
“Then your Daddy needs to find another job fast because I want a bath!”
Samuel sighed, “Okay, I’m going to start trying to find gasoline for the Chevy, and I’ll try and find a truck or something we can haul our belongings in. If we can get out of the Bay area the roads will open up some and we should have a fairly clear run to wherever we decide to go.”
“We need guns,” Micah said. “When Beatrice followed you to the Carter’s she took both of the family guns and left us here with nothing.”
“Yes,” Samuel agreed. “We do need more guns, I’d like for all of us to have at least one for personal protection and to protect everyone else at the same time.”
“Travesty will have some,” Micah added. “Go there and trade some of the food you found next door for them.”
“We’re going to need the food,” Marcus said.
“Shit man, if we have guns we won’t need to trade, we can just take what we want!”
Samuel gritted his teeth, “It sounds easy, taking from others, but sooner or later you’ll run into someone with bigger guns, or better guns, or maybe they’ll just be better at knowing how to use them. What are going to do then?”
“Shit! I’ll just pop them and we’ll be on our way with their stuff.”
“No, you won’t. If you’re going to be with the family you’ll act like an honest human being. Do you understand that if you just shoot people for what’s theirs other folks will start thinking it might be safer if you’re dead? Did you think about that?”
Micah settled back in his chair, “Someone tries to shoot me; I’ll just shoot them first.”
“Jesus,” Marcus said. “You’re going to get all of us killed if you keep thinking that way.”
“Don’t worry,” Beatrice said. “Micah is all mouth, he would have to pull a trigger and he’s too lazy to do it.”
“Beatrice,” Samuel said, “We need to work together and when we insult each other…”
“Daddy, Marcus is a clown and all he does is clown around.” She brushed back some of her hair from her face. “If he doesn’t want to be insulted he shouldn’t insult others.”
Samuel took a deep breath, he had been trying to hold the family together, but it seemed to be exploding in his face, “I want to leave within a week, so we’re all going to work together to find what we need.” He looked at everyone, “I mean it, and we will work together from now on, all of us.”
Selma snorted, “You can go if you want, but I’m staying right here!”
Samuel was silent for a moment and then said, “If that’s what you want.” He then stood and left the room.
“Daddy!” Beatrice whispered loudly, “Look what I found!”
Samuel stepped over a decomposing body and into the living room of the house they had just entered, “What is it?”
“Guns, two of them and they are the same kind!”
The two rifles were scattered on the floor along with four or five empty magazines and several bodies. On the destroyed coffee table was a large box of ammunition. He picked up one of the rifles as Beatrice picked up the other. Turning it over in his hands he found some printing on the side and read it aloud, “SU 16, 5.56mm, Kel-Tec CNC Inc., Cocoa Florida, Made in the USA.”
“Do you know how to use it Dad, you know, load it and all?”
“No, I’ve never seen one like this, but maybe there is a book or, something around, like an instruction manual.”
“There were two boxes in the kitchen on the table, maybe they were for them?”
Samuel and Beatrice walked back to the kitchen and inside the boxes were two manuals. They scanned them quickly, noted the characteristics of the weapons and experimented with them. “These are pretty cool”, Beatrice said. “See how they fold up so they take less room? And this front piece opens up for a rest if you’re lying down!” She picked up two of the magazines and inserted them into the stock which held them in place. “Look! It holds the spare clips in the stock!”
“Let’s load them and then we’ll take the ammunition with us when we go. It looks like we really lucked out here.” Samuel carried the box of ammunition to the table and they quickly started feeding rounds into the magazines.
“Ten! Ten bullets, Dad. That’s more than your pistol and definitely more than the shotgun. Heck, it’s more bullets than the pistol and the shotgun together and there are spare clips! These are much better than we had!”
For a moment Samuel was a little dumbfounded, Beatrice had always preferred girly things except she loved competing in sports, yet here she was getting all excited about rifles. He guessed what was considered exciting was changing in the new world they found themselves in.
“Well, carrying all this ammunition is going to be hard to do if we don’t come up with a way to do it, any ideas?”
“Let’s use pillow cases the way we always do, we’ll fill two cases, tie the tops together, and let them hand around our necks, or over a shoulder like saddlebags.”
Beatrice gathered the pillow cases from the beds in the house and they transferred the smaller boxes of ammo to the cases. When they were done loading the ammunition they searched for food and found several cases of freeze dried camping meals, but the boxes were bulky and were going to be hard to carry along with the rifles.
“I wonder if they had any spare pillow cases.” Samuel asked.
“No, I got two from the bed and two from the linen closet, that’s all there was.”
“Did you see any jeans, or pants? We could tie off the bottoms of the legs, fill them with packages of camping food, and then use a piece of rope or twine as a drawstring to close off the waist.”
“I’ll check the closets and see.” She returned with two pairs of pants which they quickly adapted with pieces of clothesline Samuel cut from the rear yard. With the use of a little force, they were able to load all of the freeze dried meals into the legs and the seat of the two pairs of pants. Finally, Samuel ran a cord through the belt loops, cinched it tight so nothing would fall out, and used more of the cord to make slings for their new rifles. They left the house for home with the four pillow cases of ammunition and the pants draped around the back of their necks.
When they arrived Micah derided them about how ridiculous they looked with the stuffed pants around their necks, and then demanded one of the new rifles as his own, but Samuel wasn’t going to have any of it.
“You want to use one of these rifles then you go out with me to scavenge because that’s whose going to get to use it, the person who goes out to help me.”
“Alright, when are you going again?” Micah asked.
“Maybe I’ll go this afternoon, after I rest a bit.”
“I can’t go; I told Marcus I would sit with Mom while he took a break from her.”
“Then you can’t have one of the rifles.”
“That’s bullshit! Everything you bring home is for the family, so I get one of those fucking rifles!” He stated as he tried to snatch the one Beatrice was holding.
She jerked it back and he tried to punch her in the face, but Samuel deflected the fist and shoved Micah back and away from her. “Micah!” Samuel raised his voice. “If you touch your sister…”
Marcus stepped into the kitchen, “Mom sent me to find out what the ruckus was about.”
Samuel turned to Marcus, “Is Micah going to sit with your mother so you can take a break this afternoon?”
“Uh, I don’t know what you mean?”
Samuel turned to Micah, but spoke to Beatrice, “Bea, give the rifle to Micah, he and I are going out to scavenge now.”
“Give it to him.” Beatrice hesitated a moment longer and then handed the rifle to Micah.
Samuel looked at Micah and jerked his head towards the door, but Micah didn’t follow him. He turned back and furiously stared at him, “Either come with me now, or leave my house now.”
“You can’t make me go and this isn’t just your house, it’s our house and I think you should get your old fool ass out before I run you out of it.”
Beatrice laughed, “Who’s going to find your food for you if Dad’s gone? It won’t be me because I’ll be with Dad.”
Marcus reached out and placed his hand on the rifle Micah was holding, “Give it to me Micah, I’ll go with Dad and you stay with Mom.”
“Oh, so now the only thing I’m good for is babysitting an old woman that won’t even clean herself? I’m a man and I do man-things, not pussy things!” He stepped to the door and glared at the three of them as he spoke to his father, “Well, is it clear out there?”
Samuel nodded and opened the door before stepping outside; Micah hesitated, and then tentatively followed his father out the door.
“What the fuck! Why are we going to houses that don’t have anything left in them?”
Samuel sighed as he looked at the empty cupboards of the kitchen they stood in. “From the looks of it,” Samuel whispered. “These folks left and took most of their food and stuff with them, not everyone just ran away in panic, and for the last time, keep your voice down!”
He walked to the back door and stepped into the backyard, “We’ll check the next house.”
“Fuck that, I say we go home.”
“One more house, come on,” he said as he left the rear porch and walked to the gate leading to the alley. Opening it carefully, he scanned the alley and then ran to the next gate and opened it as Micah crowded close behind him. “Micah, I told you not to stand so close, if we’re too close together we’ll get in each other’s way if we have to shoot!”
“Now you’re an expert on tactics right? Shit!”
“Shut up! God, why can’t you just shut up?”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you. I’m the only person in the family that knows you for what you are; just a tired old man on a fast track to the grave.”
“Micah, I really don’t know why you hate me so much, but if you don’t be quiet you’re going to not only get me killed, but you too. You might want to think about that for a minute; if they find me, they find you and these new guns only hold ten rounds. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t even fired one of these so I might not be real accurate with it and I’ll probably miss a few times.”
Samuel entered the backyard and watched the rear of the house for a moment; the back door was open and he didn’t much care for that little fact. Moving forward, he crossed the yard, stepped up on the porch beside the open door, and bent over slightly to peer inside with only his head in the doorway.
Micah walked past and into the kitchen of the house, “Fuck, stop all this commando bull shit and let’s get done with this crap.”
“Damn it, Micah!” Samuel raised the rifle to his shoulder and aimed at the entrance of the dining room as he followed his son into the kitchen. “Check for food and I’ll keep a watch.”
Micah was already going through the cupboards and he wasn’t being quiet about it. “Ain’t nothing here, but some flour and shit. There’s some bottles of seasoning shit, that’s all; nothing to eat.”
“Grab everything you can and put it in a bag.”
“What the fuck! It’s only flour and…” He checked one of the bottles, “Stuff like Garlic and onion powder; it’s no good to us. There’s no cans of anything!”
“God damn it, Micah! Come over here and watch the front door while I load up what we can use.” They traded places and Samuel started filling the pillow case he had stuffed in his rear pocket. After a moment he glanced at Micah who was watching him load the bag instead of the door, a slight sneer on his face.
“The door, Micah, watch the damn door!” He started pulling other items from the shelf.
“Shit!” Micah said as he turned around and then walked into the living room.
Samuel heard a loud bang and thud as he twisted the top of the bag, “Micah! Damn boy you’re…” He stepped into the dining room and saw Micah’s rifle on the floor and his feet kicking as they were dragged out the front door. “Micah!”
He ran to the door and aimed his rifle outside in time to see one infected, his hands entangled in Micah’s dreadlocks come to a stop and a second swing down a piece of pipe onto the base of his son’s skull, and then a second blow, and a third. Micah went limp as the third blow resulted in a wet crunch. Samuel started pulling the trigger of the rifle in his hands and emptied the magazine, all ten shots as the two infected fell. Starting to run to his son’s body he saw a group of infected running his way from up the street; he stepped back inside the house and pressed his back against the wall next to the door, then reached out, grabbed the doorknob, and closed it. Tears started to trickle down his face as he squeezed his eyes shut; the sound of his son’s head being crushed reverberating through his mind.
Retracing his steps, he slung his rifle over his back, and then picked up the one Micah had dropped. Re-entering the kitchen he swung the bag of supplies over his shoulder and ran out the back door, through the backyard and into the alley where he headed for home and temporary safety. He had lost his son and there was no one to blame, but himself, he shouldn’t have brought him, he knew Micah’s intemperate personality and should never have brought him along.
When Samuel returned home the kitchen door opened as he approached and he saw Marcus’s eyes widen when he noticed that Micah wasn’t with his father, and his father was carrying both rifles. “Dad?”
Samuel simply shook his head and walked through the door, set the rifles on the kitchen table and sat in one of the chairs. He began to sob as Marcus closed and locked the door. Beatrice walked into the kitchen from the living room and stood there quietly for a moment as she took in the scene, and then kneeled next to Samuel and embraced him as he cried. “Oh, Daddy.”
“He wouldn’t listen to me; he kept making noise and arguing with everything I said.”
Beatrice hugged him tighter, “It isn’t your fault, it’s his, he should have…”
“No! It is my fault! I knew how he was and I made him go with me anyway! I should have left him here where he would have been safe!”
Marcus laid his hand on Samuel’s shoulder, “I better go tell Mama, it will be better if I do it.”
Samuel nodded as Marcus turned away and left the room; Beatrice kept whispering in his ear and trying to comfort her father as he slowly composed himself. Several minutes passed as he listened for the sounds of his wife’s grieving, or her anger, but there were only quiet murmurs from her room, finally, Marcus came out and sat down across from his father.
“Mamma wants to know if you found any bourbon.”
Samuel blinked rapidly, “What?”
“I don’t think she knows what’s going on anymore, Dad.” Marcus stared at his folded hands resting on the surface of the table.
Samuel wiped his eyes, “Beatrice, I want you to start packing up our food and supplies we have left, so we can leave this place. I’ve tried to find backpacks whenever we scavenge, but so far there hasn’t been any. Maybe use pants like we did before.”
“Dad,” Marcus said. “Mom isn’t going to be able to walk far.”
“I know, I plan for us to drive, but it might be necessary for us to walk at some time, so we need to pack with that in mind. I’ve been around the major roads and the freeway and they won’t be of much use to us because of the gridlock on them, but we might be able to find our way out of here on the side streets.”
“What about the gangs, Dad.” Marcus asked, “They aren’t going to like us passing through without paying them.”
“I’ve collected some jewelry from some of the houses we’ve been to, but mostly I want to travel at night; the infected seem to spend the night time resting and so do the gangbangers.”
“When do you want to leave and where are we going to go?”
“Tomorrow I’ll start looking for a truck to haul our stuff and try to siphon gas from cars in the neighborhood. Of course that means we need containers for the gas and that’s going to take up room also. As far as where to go? I don’t know, we’ll have to figure that out along the way; for now, just plan on leaving as quickly as possible.”
Both of the kids nodded and then Beatrice said, “Dad, we have a lot of flour, but we don’t have any yeast, I can make some hard tack to take with us.”
“You know how to do that?”
“Yes, remember I made some for my sixth grade history project?”
“Yeah, I remember now. Go ahead and make as much as you can; will that toolbox we use as an oven work okay for that?” When the natural gas had stopped coming Samuel had made an impromptu oven from an old toolbox off of a work truck and used a propane camp stove for heat.
“Yes, but it will take a while because it’s small and we are going to need some more propane.”
“I’ll try and find some more propane bottles.”
“No,” Marcus said. “We’ll try and find some more propane. I am going with you from now on.”
“I’ve already lost one child, I’m not going to lose another, from now on I will scavenge alone. Besides, if you’re gone your mother will become a problem.”
Six days later, Samuel had located a power company truck and stripped it of all the tools and equipment except what he might need to do minor repairs with. The crew cab would give them plenty of room and therefore their old Chevy was un-needed. A paint supply business had supplied twenty, five gallon metal cans originally containing paint thinner, he could use those to hold siphoned gas and they had decided to leave in two days.
Samuel rose early the day before they were going to leave with the intent of going on one last salvage run and was sitting at the table having a cup of coffee when in the distance he heard what he first thought was a freight train on the nearby tracks, but the noise continued to rise and suddenly the house leaped into the air and fell back even further. Earthquake!
The sheer violence of the event was staggering and Samuel thought it would never end as the house began to collapse around him. He struggled into the living room and he could hear his wife and Beatrice screaming from their bedrooms, but he kept being thrown backwards as he tried to reach them. Finally the violent rocking tapered off and he thought it was over, but he noticed the ground was still moving slightly and there was a constant rumble that was so low in frequency he couldn’t hear it, but could still feel it through his hands and knees where he kneeled on the floor. Rising up, his head hit the ceiling and he realized the roof had collapsed atop of the fallen walls of the house. He scrambled through what remained of his home and searched for his family.
In his wife’s bedroom he discovered the roof had completely collapsed and he was unable to reach her, when he called her name she didn’t answer. He wondered if Marcus was in there with her. He crawled through the rubble and called out to Beatrice and was rewarded with the sound of her terrified voice.
“Daddy? I’m alright, but I can’t get out!”
“Okay, Baby Girl, I’ll be back to help you, but I need to find some tools to cut or remove the debris. Do you know if Marcus was in his Mother’s room, or his own?”
“Okay, we’ll work on getting you out and then them okay?”
Her trembling voice answered, “Alright.”
Samuel worked his way through the destroyed home and then out to the truck where he gathered a bow saw and a three foot crowbar, and then returned to Beatrice’s room. He was afraid to make very much noise because of the infected, but eventually he freed his daughter and they set to the job of reaching his wife and remaining son. Several times they had to stop as violent aftershocks struck and they huddled together, helpless to avoid injury or death if the house finished collapsing, but eventually they reached Selma and Marcus; they were both dead.
They crawled out into the hall and held one another for a while as they cried. Finally, Samuel led Beatrice back to her room where she gathered the rifle she had within and all the clothes, and blankets she could bring out. Returning to the kitchen, he found his rifle and the pillow cases of ammunition, which they carried out to the truck and loaded into one of the toolboxes of the utility bed. They gathered their food, propane stove and the spare bottles of gas for it, and then all the clothes Samuel could find of his own. He had been gathering two liter soda bottles and filling them with water treated with bleach; they loaded twenty-one bottles for their escape attempt, the rest had been crushed.
By mid-morning the truck was loaded with what little they could save from the house, and then they quietly looked at the remains of their family home before climbing into the truck and driving away. They didn’t get far before they ran into the first instance of what would become a recurring problem.
Looking through the windshield of the truck Samuel was distressed as he looked at the wall of earth before them. “I thought there might be some problems with damage to the roads, but I never imagined this,” he said as he examined the thirty foot wall in front of them.
“What happened? Was that part of the city pushed up?”
Taking his rifle, Samuel exited the truck, walked to the wall, and stared up at it. Beneath his feet he could still feel the low rumble he had heard all morning emanating up through the soles of his boots. “I guess, who would have thought…”
The ground lurched violently again and he felt a sudden sensation of lightness before his true weight returned. They glanced at one another and then they both turned to look behind them in the direction of the San Francisco Bay. They couldn’t see very far, there was a tremendous amount of dust and smoke in the air. Samuel kneeled at the base of the wall of ruptured earth and stared at the point where the surface of the upper region had once resided. It took a moment, but finally he saw it; the upper level had not risen, the lower section was dropping ever so slowly.
“Baby Girl, I think we better get to the top of this wall pretty soon.”
“I think we’re sinking into the Bay.”
Her eyes widened and she looked quickly to her left and right, “It’s straight up and down for as far as I can see.”
“Get in the truck and we’ll see if we can find somewhere to get up.”
Returning to the truck they turned around and searched for a side street they could turn along, but after several miles of driving along the escarpment they had found no way to drive up.
“Beatrice, we may have to abandon the truck and just find a place to climb to the upper area.”
“What about all of our stuff, our food, and the extra ammunition, and…everything?”
“I don’t know, maybe we can take all of our stuff up a load at a time and then find another truck? Bicycles, shopping carts, something we can carry more inside of.”
“I think we should keep looking for a way to drive the truck up somewhere, we’ll lose so much if we don’t!” She sounded as if she were about to cry; could he blame her? The on-going earthquake, the deaths of her mother and brothers, was it becoming too much?
“Okay, but we need to find some way to get higher, maybe then we can spot something.” He strained his neck trying to look past everything that was blocking their view, “From down here we can’t see very far.”
They drove along the new cliff for another mile before Beatrice told her father to stop. “Dad, there’s a telephone pole leaning on the cliff at the end of the last street we passed, do you think we might be able to see something if we used the pole to get to the upper area?”
“It’s better than anything we have seen so far.” He stopped the truck and backed up till he could turn down the street she indicated. He saw the pole and parked the truck beside it because the foot pegs screwed into the pole were too high above the ground, but from the utility bed they would be able to reach the foot pegs. Getting out of the truck he slung his rifle over his back, climbed into the back of the truck, and then climbed to the top of the pole where it leaned on the cliff; the wires that hadn’t snapped were stretched taunt.
Samuel looked to his left and right, but for as far as he could see there was nowhere he could drive the truck up, they were trapped on an area of ground that was slowly dropping into the Bay. Looking back towards the bay he realized they were going to have to leave the truck behind.
“Beatrice, there’s no way to get the truck up here that I can see for miles,” he looked out towards the Bay again, was the water closer than it had been? He kept watching the shoreline for a moment, it was getting close! “Baby, climb the pole and be quick about it.”
She tilted her head to look up at him, “Why?”
“The Bay is coming.”
She climbed the pole and joined her father; looking towards the Bay she shook her head, “How much time do we have?”
“It’s hard to guess looking at it from this distance, but you can see the water rising.” He turned his back to the drop off and looked inland. It occurred to him he hadn’t seen very many infected people all morning.
“I’m going to leave you up here and I’ll go down below. There’s a rope in one of the toolboxes that I think should be plenty long enough for us to raise our stuff up here.”
Samuel climbed down the pole, pulled out the rope and then carried it back up. “We’ll loop the rope over this cross board and drop both ends down. I’ll go back down and tie off our stuff and then you pull up on the rope and I’ll pull down to lift each load, okay?”
Beatrice nodded and Samuel climbed down. His first priority was the spare ammunition, then the food, followed by the bottled water. Then the cans of gasoline he had siphoned from abandoned cars, their camping stove and bottled propane, tent, tarps, tools, and finally their clothes. By the time he had tied off the last load the oncoming edge of the water was a block away.
It was fast approaching late afternoon, so they located an empty house they felt they would be safe in for the night, carried a portion of their gear in, had dinner, and then sat quietly until they were tired enough to sleep. The next morning they ventured out in search of another vehicle. It took several hours, but they found a Ford Excursion that someone had sunk a great deal of money into. It had twenty inch chrome wheels and the type of tires Samuel liked to call “pancake tires”, but they were able to replace the dead battery, clean the dried blood from the inside of the windshield and get it started. They returned to the place they left their supplies and were soon on the road again trying to find a path out of the suburbs of the city. They traveled a good ten miles alongside the main train tracks until the tracks crossed a canyon and then they followed a road up into the hills, but soon they found the road blocked by abandoned cars.
“Do you think there was an accident or something that blocked the road?” Beatrice asked.
“It doesn’t make sense, if there was an accident, why didn’t the people blocked in just push the damaged or disabled cars out of the way. Why would they leave their cars behind? They could have turned around and tried another route.”
“What do you want to do?”
“The road is uphill, if we take the cars, turn the wheels and pop the transmissions into neutral, they’ll roll backwards and off the road.”
Beatrice followed the line of cars with her eyes, “That’s a lot of cars, Daddy.”
“I know, but the alternative is turning around and going back the way we came. That’s going to be a lot of lost time and gasoline, so let’s try it and see how hard it’s going to be.”
Samuel climbed out of the Excursion and slung his rifle over the front of his chest, retrieved a hammer from the back of the SUV and approached the first car in the long jam. He tried the door and found it unlocked, and then found the keys in the ignition. Turning the ignition on, he started the car, backed it up to where it was pointed at the edge of the road and then shut off the engine leaving it in neutral. He jumped out and allowed the vehicle to roll backwards and finally off the road. Going to the next car he tried the door, but it was locked, so he broke the window, unlocked the car and tried to turn the steering wheel, but without the keys he couldn’t unlock the wheel.
“Can we break the steering wheel lock?” Beatrice inquired.
“I don’t know, there must be a way because cars get stolen without keys all the time, but I don’t know how to steal a car.” He scratched his head, “This is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time; maybe we should walk up to the front and see if we will be able to get by before we spend the time trying to clear a path.”
“Maybe we should.” She returned to the Excursion and removed the key and a two liter bottle of water and then rejoined her father. Together they started the long walk to the front of the jammed traffic.
It took twenty minutes to reach the head of the line and they passed scores of bodies along the way. Most of them looked as though they had been fed off of and the two travelers grew increasingly nervous. At the end where the traffic had been stopped, several cars were perforated with bullet holes; fifty feet in front of the line were hundreds of empty shell casings of several sizes and a Military Ambulance painted dark blue with California Air National Guard painted on the door. The ambulance was parked in a manner to block one of the lanes and Samuel assumed another vehicle had blocked the other. The Air Force had blocked the road?
Approaching the ambulance they could see a man sitting in the front seat and another lying on the ground beside the vehicle, both were dressed in military clothing and wearing thick vests covered with pockets. Around the vehicle were at least twenty empty magazines. The military had attempted to stop people from leaving the Bay Area; it could be the only reason for what they were seeing. Beatrice picked up an empty shell casing and looked it over.
“Dad, this was the same type of ammunition our rifles use.”
“Yeah,” then she picked up an empty magazine. “You know what? The top of these clips look the same as the top of ours.” She pulled the magazine from her rifle and compared the two, “I think they are the same!”
“No, Beatrice, they’re bigger.”
She slipped the empty mag into the magazine well of her rifle, “It fits, Dad! Look!”
“Really?” He stepped closer, then stripped some rounds from one of his own magazines and fed them into the longer ones. Removing the magazine from his rifle, he replaced it with the one they found, looked around, and quickly fired the rounds from his weapon.
“They are the same, Baby Girl, I never would have noticed. Let’s pick them up and keep them.” As they gathered them Samuel looked at the body on the ground and noticed the pouches on the front of his vest, they looked like they would hold several of their new magazines each, so he removed the pouches. He would have taken the whole vest, but the body had decomposed inside of it and he doubted he would ever want to wear it.
“Beatrice, these vests the men are wearing have pouches for the clips, so let’s take those also.”
She frowned, “The vests?”
“No, just the pouches, check the vest on the driver of the truck too.”
As he bent down to pick up the magazines and slip them into the pouches he heard Beatrice gasp and then back away from the truck. He looked up and saw the man who had been slumped behind the steering wheel staring at her with milky white eyes, his gray hands pressed against the rolled up window.
“Careful Bea, he’s probably infected.” Stepping closer he brought his rifle to bear and started to pull the trigger, but stopped instead. “Do you suppose there might be gas in that truck?”
“I guess, maybe.”
“Move over here so he can’t just jump out at us and get ready, I’m going to open the door and see if he’ll get out. If he does we can shoot him and try the truck to see if it will start.”
Beatrice nodded and moved to the front of the truck as Samuel moved to the door and quickly stepped away when he opened it. They waited as the infected man slowly stumbled out of the truck and fell to the ground, then he awkwardly rose and started to walk towards them. Samuel shot him once through the head.
Beatrice shuddered, “Why was he moving so slowly, Dad?”
“He was trapped in there a long time, maybe he was dehydrated and starving; whatever the reason we were lucky again. If he would have been infected a short time ago he might have over-powered us.”
Stepping forward he stripped off the man’s vest and tossed it aside, and then climbed into the truck. The fuel gauge read half a tank. “It’s got gas and if we bring up the cans we have we should be able to go pretty far with a really good four wheel drive, what do you think?”
“It’s a lot bigger, so we could carry a lot of stuff we might find along the way.”
“Same thing I’m thinking.” He twisted around and looked in back of the ambulance. There was a great deal of medical supplies and equipment, plus two body bags containing corpses strapped to stretchers. “If we clear out this stuff in here there are even beds we can sleep on. Let’s take it.” He climbed out and went to the back where he opened the doors and started removing the stretchers, on the floor were an additional two vests and helmets. Some of the magazines looked full and he swapped his ten round mag with one of the larger ones before he gave Beatrice one also.
Climbing out he looked for Beatrice and found her beside the truck looking at the gas filler pipe. “What is it?”
She pointed above the gas tank cap, “It says diesel only.”
Nodding his head, he replied, “Okay, maybe we can’t use the gasoline we have, but there are a lot of trucks around with diesel fuel in them, I still want to take the ambulance.”
After walking back and forth numerous times to gather their belongings, they left the excursion, started the ambulance and drove over the crest of the mountain road and into the San Joaquin Valley. The roads were open and they worked their way across the valley to the other side and stopped for the night, cooked their dinner and then went to sleep. During the night they were awakened several times by intense aftershocks and come morning they were greeted with a shock.
Behind them the road they were on disappeared into a vast lake of water. Stepping out of their truck they stood in awe at the spectacle before them.
“Dad, what happened, did a damn break from the earthquakes?”
“I don’t think so, maybe, but do you still feel the vibration in the ground?”
“Yeah, if I think about it, why?”
“I think this whole area is sinking down lower than the ocean and now it’s turning the whole valley into an inland sea like it used to be.” He stood there looking out across the debris laden surface of the water. “I hope the normal people got out of the way and the infected didn’t.”
She watched her father’s face for a moment, and then, “Where are we going?”
“You’re mom and I used to pass through a town called Placerville when we went to Tahoe so she could gamble.”
“I remember going there, Mom would gamble and you would take us to the lake on those boat trips. I used to love the trips up there.”
“Tell you what, you drive and I’ll start filling those clips we found and rig up those military vests for both of us, what do you say?”
Beatrice loved to drive, “Okay, so Placerville, right?”