Potential spoilers ahead.
April 4, 2018
Z-Day + 169
The next morning, Sandy came awake at a slow, relaxed pace that he’d become unaccustomed to in the past few months. Snatches of sleep caught here and there while being on guard for ravening infected was hardly prescriptive for good rest. He’d needed it — his watch and the angle of the sun proclaimed that it was just shy of noon. He’d slept for almost sixteen hours straight.
Before he’d turned in for the night he’d made a quiet but thorough search of the RV. It had turned out to be a veritable treasure trove, and all the while he’d been half-wondering just what it was Buddy had done before the outbreak. Sandy hadn’t found drugs or anything overtly illegal, but the shotguns, multiple boxes of ammunition, Tasers, and other equipment he couldn’t immediately identify alluded to something above and beyond the average camper.
Whatever the case, it was far more than Sandy could comfortably carry. He’d stocked up on a single shotgun and plenty of shells. The plethora of food allowed him to pick and choose. There was still plenty left, and he left the cabinets empty and cached the remainder under the bed. If he had to come back this way, at least he’d have some readily available supplies and a secure place to rest.
Munching on a granola bar, Sandy folded a creased road atlas to center on his current location and considered his options. He was a decent swimmer, and any office pudge he’d carried before the outbreak was long gone. But no way was he going to try and swim the Mississippi. The smaller creeks and rivers he’d crossed on the way had been bad enough, and the one thing he hadn’t found in the RV were trash bags that he could have used to waterproof some of his gear.
In the end, it came down to population density. St. Louis was south. There were towns to the north, but there wasn’t anything quite as big for a while. Big populations meant more infected. Sandy thought about the lab, and shuddered. He’d barely made it out of . . .
“Over and done, over and done.” He muttered. “Just gotta keep movin’ on.” He looked up. “Gotta leave you here. Sorry, Buddy.”
The corpse wasn’t nearly as talkative in the daytime.
“Yeah, well, thanks for the hospitality,” Sandy said. He zipped up his coat and hoisted his backpack up onto his shoulders. The sudden weight of a newly-full pack came as a surprise, and it took his balance a moment to adjust.
Despite the newfound-shotgun, his softball bat was still his weapon of choice. He’d shoved the firearm down one pouch of the backpack and closed the zippers around it. It would hold the gun study, but if it came to it he needed only to reach up and draw it out.
It was trickier getting the bar back on from the outside, but he managed it, then tucked the bent antenna behind one of the RV’s wheels. Maybe someone would come along behind him and find the supplies, and maybe not, but either way, he had a good place to hole up in if he had to make a run for it.
The river had no beach to speak of on the eastern side. North of the marina, the trees went right down to the waterline. Leery to force himself into close quarters and limit his line of sight, Sandy stepped back to the main road and backtracked for a bit. The first street heading north just ended up curving into a private boat ramp north of the marina, but there was a rough dirt and gravel road that proceeded north before the turn-off. The rough going forced Sandy to slow his walk down to a leisurely stroll, but he didn’t mind. The air was still and the midday sun beat down hard enough that sweat began to drip down his face.
Need to track down a hat or something, he mused. Something rustled in the trees to his left, and he froze, taking up the Easton in both hands. After a moment, the rustle repeated itself, but faster, and moving away. A raccoon or something, he judged. Infected moved a lot slower and never, ever ran away.
The sudden boom of gunfire made Sandy gasp, and he bolted for the trees. He nearly stumbled in the underbrush, but he got among the trees and hit the ground.
Gunfire boomed again, and he realized that it wasn’t directed at him. With a frown, he eased up off of the ground and peered in the direction of the noise. He saw the glint on window glass, and he heard the vague sound of shouting.
Despite himself, Sandy found himself creeping forward on his hands and knees. The trees thinned out and gave him a better view, but it also meant that he was more visible. His bright red windbreaker was hardly effective camouflage. He spotted a fallen tree close to the road and crawled behind it. Peering over the top, he was able to see a grouping of vehicles clustered around a glass-walled building. He wasn’t able to make out the entire building, though — there was a strange white blur surrounding the glass.
With the sudden lack of gunfire, he heard vague shouts.
“. . . have anything!”
“Come in and see . . .”
“. . . you!”
“. . . next time!”
Doors slammed and engines turned over. The noise rose, and Sandy ducked back down behind the tree. He had the vague sense of tan and olive drab vehicles whipping by, until the sound of their passage faded into the distance.
He lay there and tried to figure his next move. With that much noise, any infected in the area were bound to home on. So he needed to get to cover. Heading back south to Buddy’s RV seemed a bad idea, though. Who knew how far the vehicles that had just passed by were going. With the good luck he’d had last night, it was bound to turn at some point. Best not push it. He looked up and over the log again at the glass windows.
Sandy swallowed and took a deep breath. Whether it was the months without human contact or just the need to know, he stood in a convulsive fashion and shucked out of his backpack. He didn’t know what sort of resources these people had, but it seemed prudent to him to not appear to be too well-off.
He pulled a rolled-up duffel bag out of his backpack and took a few minutes to shift his supplies of canned food and a few other bits of gear inside. He lift himself a couple of odds and ends that an ordinary traveler on the road might have — best not seem too ill-prepared lest he been as a beggar. The shotgun might be too much, though, he judged after a moment of consideration. He secured the weapon inside and wedged the duffel bag sideways underneath the fallen tree after zipping it shut. He collected some loose greenery and tore down a few branches to serve as temporary camouflage, making note of the location in his head.
He considered leaving the pistol behind, but decided against it. Best not to seem too defenseless. The bat, he kept. At this point it was practically a lucky charm. If they forced him to submit to a search, he’d have little more than some extra clothes to lose.
Sandy could have picked his way north through the trees, but he didn’t want to spook the people up ahead more than they already were liable to be. He stepped back into the center of the road and resumed his slow stroll up the lane. The sun glittered off of the windows of the elevated building. It seemed a strange, out-of-the-way place to put an office, but as he got closer he realized the strange white lumps surrounding the structure were the hulls of boats. The raised plot was pitched at a high grade to put the building a good six feet above the flood plain. With their hulls up, the lines of upside-down boats added a few more feet of slick surface to that barrier.
Infected can’t get past it, he realized. Even if they were able to climb, there’s nowhere to grab on the bottom of a boat. They’d slide right off.
Against human opponents though, aluminum and fiberglass might as well not even be there. Several of the boats had holes shot through them, the fiberglass wrecked by the impact of high-speed projectiles.
On the side of the office building closest to the river, a paved ramp led down to a boat launch. To the north, the rough road that Sandy walked on turned into paved blacktop.
The line of boats ended on either side of the ramp. The occupants of the compound had rolled a van over onto one side to block off most of the opening at the top of the ramp. A truck with a snowplow attachment on the front seemed to serve as the mobile portion of their gate. At the moment it was pulled back, and a crumpled form lay on the ramp in a growing pool of blood. A couple of other survivors crouched on the ground nearby. They looked as though they were attempting to provide first aid.
As Sandy drew closer, a man standing in the bed of the pickup truck saw him and shouted a cry of warning. At once, the heads of the people crouched on the ramp jerked around to stare at him, and still others popped up from behind the wall of boat hulls. He saw at least three gun barrels pointed in his direction, though there were sure to be more.
“Don’t shoot!” He put his hands up high and wide. “Don’t shoot — I’m a doctor!”