Mechanical Failure - Prologue (zombie Apocalypse Novel in Progress)
It’s hard to believe that just a couple months ago my biggest worry was the starter on my truck. The pickup was only a few years old, and it was in excellent condition, but it had begun to stall on me every now and then. I finally had to have it towed one morning when I couldn’t get it to start. I should have gotten it fixed right then, but the mechanic was able to get it running and I really needed to get to work for a meeting. I made an appointment to bring it back, but it never happened. It’s been running pretty well since then, so I’ve decided not to ditch it for something else, though I could have my choice of any vehicle in town. I think I’m the only one left alive.
I always figured that the world would end with a nuclear blast, but I was wrong. I had some friends that I used to talk to about the steps we’d take to stay alive through various doomsday scenarios. Most of these weren’t very interesting to discuss because there’s not much you can do but pray if the planet gets sucked into a black hole or if a supervolcano erupts. A zombie apocalypse, on the other hand, was always fun to talk about because it was something you could possibly survive and because it wasn’t real. Imagine our surprise when it actually happened.
I think one of the reasons that so many died in the beginning was that they just couldn’t comprehend that it was real. Part of the reason I’m still alive is because I’d played the scenarios out in my mind so many times that I was able to set my disbelief aside. As soon as the first stories hit the internet, I jumped into action, just to be safe. I filled the house with food and drinking water while most people were still nervously laughing about the odd news reports coming from Lansing, Michigan and Salt Lake City, Utah. I was able to get some decent survival items online before those sites were flooded with orders. Some of what I bought even got to me before the mail stopped coming.
After hearing the first reports, I waited almost a week before I had bars installed on our front windows and door. At the time, my husband thought that I had lost my mind since the reports were still only rumors back then. He was upset that I’d spent such a large chunk of our savings, and he told me that I was going to be sorry when we couldn’t afford to go on vacation the next summer. I said that I hoped he was right, and then I asked him to go to Lowes with me to pick up some cinder block, rebar and mortar. He did it, but he wasn’t happy about it. I remember him asking the cashier if we could return the supplies if we didn’t need them. I used them all.
In was late August when it finally became obvious to everyone that the plague was real and that it was spreading. Outbreaks were occurring all over the country, and rescue centers were set up in schools and churches. People rushed to them in droves, thinking they’d be safe. They were so wrong. Anybody that knows anything about a zombie apocalypse knows that you don’t want to be in a big crowd when the stuff hits the fan.
My husband tried to talk me into going when the plague first hit our little town, but I refused. We had a pretty big argument about it and he finally left, slamming the door behind him. He’s back now. I almost wish that I had gone to the school with him that day, because it’s torture seeing him out there with the rest of the dead.
I live in southern Nevada, in a small planned community called Whispering Springs. I never did find out who came up with such a misleading name for a town that’s planted in the middle of the desert. As much as I dislike the climate in the southwest, I was lucky to be here when the end happened. Whispering Springs is small, less than five thousand in population and it’s a good five miles from the neighboring town of Boulder City, which isn’t all that big, either. To get to Vegas from here, you have to either take the lake road, which is the long way, or you have to go through Railroad Pass, which is completely blocked with cars and trucks. I’m not complaining. That wall of vehicles is keeping a whole lot of dead people from coming my way.
Another good thing about southern Nevada is that most of the houses have cinder block walls around the back yards. In Whispering Springs, they all do. My back yard was fully enclosed except for a double gate that was big enough to drive a vehicle through. Unfortunately, the gate was pretty flimsy, and I knew it wouldn’t stand up to much. I had already done some research on masonry before we bought the supplies at Lowes, but I held off on building anything until the rumors were substantiated. Once that happened, I tore out the gate and replaced it with the ugliest block wall ever built. This was just a few days before the dead started showing up on my street, which was when my husband finally went to the shelter. I guess I was lucky that I got it done in time, but maybe lucky isn’t the word I want. Sure, I’m alive, but I’m alone in a world full of the living dead, and it’s pretty depressing.
Getting in and out of the house isn’t easy. When I need to do it, I go through the garage, but I never know just how big of a welcoming party will be outside. They always follow the truck when I leave, which is kind of handy. I used to keep the garage door closed when I was away from the house but the crowd outside managed to damage the door, so it doesn’t close right anymore. For some reason, I can still open it with the remote but to close it I have to get out and pull the rope to lower the door manually. Sometimes it takes me two or three tries to finally get it to stay down. Each time I return home, I have to do a sweep first and draw the zombies away, or I’d never be able to get the door closed.
I don’t go out at night, ever.
I’m thankful that things didn’t get bad here until mid-September. Lansing, Michigan was hit about the third week in August, so we were fortunate. The first reports of an outbreak in Vegas were heard in late August, and by then it was being taken seriously. There was only one road in and out of Whispering Springs and (and the road to BC) roadblocks were set up on both ends of the town. Nobody was supposed to get back in without going through a twelve-hour quarantine. That might have done the trick except some idiots used their four-wheel-drive truck and came in through the desert one night, bringing the plague with them.
Still, even after that initial outbreak, our little town hung on longer than most other places did. There were new occurrences every few days after that first one and someone finally figured out that there had been a bunch of infected people in town all along, locked in their houses. Some of them eventually managed to get out by breaking windows. Others were accidentally released by well-meaning friends and relatives who usually ended up being bitten.
I’ll never know what started the big outbreak. I just know that there was chaos at the shelter that day. When the dead broke through the chain link fence, there was no stopping them. I’d been listening to local reports on my radio up until that point, and I remember feeling like I’d been punched when someone said that the school had been overrun. I kept hoping that my husband had somehow managed to get away, but when he showed up at the house, he had a huge chunk of flesh missing from his neck. I don’t remember much more about it because I got pretty drunk and stayed that way for a couple days, up in the attic. Twice I climbed down the ladder with the intention of going outside and letting the dead bite me. Both times I talked myself out of it while my hand was on the doorknob.
After that, I never heard from anybody else in my town or saw another survivor. It seemed like the whole town was wiped out in a single day and maybe it was. I hope that there are other people still alive in town – I just haven’t seen any and it’s been a couple months now.
I keep waiting for the power to go out, but so far it’s still on. I’m guessing that since our electricity comes from Hoover Dam and the water is still moving, the dam may keep running for a while by itself. Or maybe there are people keeping it going. I just know that I don’t want to be here in the summer if the grid does finally fail. A few years ago, it got up to 117 degrees a couple times. That kind of heat can kill you. Even with my air conditioning still running, I’m going to need to move because it’s just too much work to keep a garden alive here, though I’m managing so far. Once winter is over, and it starts to get warm again, I’m going to Oregon. I guess I can do whatever I want and live wherever I want as long as the dead cooperate.
My back yard is all garden now, except for the pool. My plants are struggling, but I’m finally learning how to keep them alive. I tried planting a few things in September, but it was just too hot for them and they quickly wilted and died. After that, I got some books and started reading up on gardening, as well as other survival matters. I started growing some lettuce and squash seeds inside and once it cooled down I moved them to the yard. They’re actually still alive, and it’s November now. As long as we don’t get any unpleasant frosts this winter, they should do well.
I store water in the pool. The water was still running for a while, but it stopped after a couple weeks, and I don’t know why. I was still getting a trickle of it from the faucet for a while, but I quit using it because I started thinking that if there’s nobody at the treatment plant to run things then the water probably isn’t getting treated. Then I started thinking about things like infected bodies floating in the water and maybe blocking the pipes. I get water from my pool now and treat it before drinking it. It hasn’t rained since the first outbreak, and I noticed today that the level in the pool is dropping faster than I had hoped it would. That worries me. Maybe we’ll have a wet winter. If not, I may be moving sooner than I had planned.
The noise bothered me a lot at first. I thought I was going to go crazy with all the moaning. I used to get annoyed by the neighborhood dogs when they barked too much and the cars that drove down the street with their radios blasting. What I wouldn’t give to hear those sounds again. Now I wear earplugs when the noise gets to me, though only when I’m in the attic where I know I’m safe. I wouldn’t dare do it anywhere else.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about clearing out my neighborhood. I drove around it the other day to see just how many walls I would have to build to close it off. If there were other survivors, it might be worth blocking off the whole neighborhood. For just me, I only need a big enough area so I don’t have to see, hear or smell the dead all the time. Four walls would take care of the problem; one at the top and bottom of my street and the street behind me. That would give me some breathing space. I figure if I could bring over a semi or two with a long trailer, I could block off the streets long enough to build the wall, though the dead might be able to crawl under the trailer. I’ll have to think about the best way to do this, especially since I’ve never driven a semi and have no idea if I could do it. I don’t think I’ll add a gate since I couldn’t guarantee that it would be secure enough. I’ll just build good solid walls and keep my truck outside them. I can climb over to get to it when I need it.
Once the walls are done, I’ll have to do some zombie hunting. I have a whole lot of ammo, and I haven’t even started to raid houses yet, so I’m sure I’ll find more. I don’t like killing the infected. I don’t like being anywhere near them, but I want them gone, and I’m the only one that’s around to do it. I really hate hauling the bodies to the desert to burn them because it requires actually touching them. I’m also always afraid I’ll look in my rearview mirror and find one looking back at me from the bed of the truck, though I’m pretty careful to make sure they’re completely dead before loading them up. I keep thinking there has to be a better way to dispose of the bodies. Some of these guys are heavy, and I’m pretty small. I’m strong for a woman, but a 250 pound rotting corpse can get pretty heavy, not to mention just plain gross. I don’t use my truck to haul the bodies since there’s no easy way to clean it out. I found a junker with keys in it and it runs pretty well, so I use a rope and a ramp to pull them into the back of it, but it’s a little tricky. I park the junker behind my truck and then set up the ramp so that I can drag the bodies into the bed of the old truck. I have to run a rope from my bumper all the way to where the body is lying at the base of the ramp. The tricky part is when I pull my truck forward, I have to go perfectly straight, so the rope runs over the other truck and doesn’t move off to the side. When that happens, the body usually falls off the ramp, but I’ve gotten this down to a science.
The biggest problem is that it takes time to do this, and the dead don’t give me a lot of breathing room. I’m lucky to load one body before I have to lead the dead away again. It takes hours to take a whole truckload of bodies to the desert. Sometimes I give up and just drag them behind the truck, one at a time, though that uses a lot of gas.
One good thing about my new life is that I’m not ever bored. I never realized just how great I had it before, with a washer and dryer and grocery store. I wash my clothes by hand now and hang them in the back yard over the garden. I try to cook from scratch as much as possible because I want to become self-sufficient. I even converted my neighbor’s yard into a garden and planted some cool weather crops over there. Getting over the walls to water the plants used to be a real pain, but I finally got smart and built some stiles, using ladders on each side of the wall and a platform on top to connect them. When the zombies see me go over the wall, they go nuts, so I try to do it fast. Eventually, they forget about me again. I’m sure that keeping a garden will be much easier when I get to Oregon.
Besides the garden, the zombie killing, and all the research I do, I also make shopping trips, as I like to call them. I guess it adds a semblance of normalcy to my life to say that I’m going shopping. It’s really a little more complicated than that. I risk my life every time I leave the house, and I’ve had some close calls on these expeditions. And I used to think that the grocery shopping trips to the local mega stores were bad. At least nobody ever tried to bite me back in those days. Well, only once and that was a really intense Black Friday sale.
I wonder how things will be in Oregon. It’s hard to say because I haven’t been able to reach my family up there for a while. For that matter, I haven’t been able to contact anybody on the internet lately, so I don’t know what’s happening in the rest of the world. In the beginning, I had a whole list of people with whom I kept in touch. One by one, they quit replying until there was nobody left to talk to. I told myself that it was just because they lost their electricity. Not everybody has hydroelectric power, and I’m guessing that the grid has failed in most places. I think a lot about the nuclear plants all over the world. Since most of us had some warning about the plague before it spread, I hope that people had time to shut these plants down or that there is some kind of safeguard in place. I found a map and I know there are a couple of nuclear plants in southern California and southwest Arizona, and there’s one in Washington. Other than that, the west doesn’t have too many. I worry about people on the east coast. They have nuclear power all over the place.
The long drive to Oregon will be risky, but I have some of it worked out. I’ve gotten pretty proficient at siphoning gas, for one thing. The first time was terrible because I swallowed some of it and was burping up gasoline the rest of the day. The second time, I was gun shy and almost couldn’t do it. I’m good at it now, and I’ve been collecting it in cans to take with me, so I don’t have to stop along the way. I thought about finding an RV and putting a cow catcher on the front and bars on the windows, but honestly, I wouldn’t have a clue how to do all that stuff, so I gave up on the idea. I’ll just be careful with my route when I go. I want to avoid cities at all costs and that’ll mean taking the long way around Las Vegas, too.
Today was shopping day, so I’m pretty tired. I did well at the grocery store and filled the back of my truck. The store smells terrible because of all the rotting food, but I wear a mask when I shop now and it helps somewhat. I can’t imagine how bad it will be once the refrigeration goes out. Even with the coolers still running, the produce section is filled with rotting vegetables and fruit. I usually take some of the rotten stuff and add it to my compost pile. It looks disgusting, but I shovel it into garbage bags, so it’s easy to transport.
I picked up enough frozen food to fill my freezer again, but I noticed today that the freezer shelves are starting to look pretty bare. Once the fresh produce and meat was gone, I started in on the frozen stuff. I’m saving the canned goods for once the freezers quit working.
My routine is to back the truck into what I call my car corral. Over the last couple months, I’ve moved a few cars into place to form a little square around the doors of the store. I left an opening just big enough for my truck, and if I park it just right, nothing can slip past easily. I can still get in and out of the driver’s door, and I can usually load up the truck when I’m done shopping without being bothered by the dead. The only problem is that once I leave, they move right in. Since the glass in the front door to the store is broken, a few always manage to make their way inside, so I always have to kill a few every time I go shopping. I wish I could lock the doors when I leave, but I haven’t figured out a good way to do that yet without having to move a whole lot more cars.
I had to kill about ten zombies inside today, which was more than usual. I had a moment where I was almost surrounded, but I was able to shut off my mind and do what I had to do. That’s the only way I can keep from panicking when things get unpleasant, though my heart is always pounding the whole time I’m there. I always use a crowbar, so I don’t make noise and draw others. I’ve gotten pretty decent with it after lots of practice. I know just how hard I have to hit them and what part of the head to aim for. So far I’ve been lucky, and I haven’t been swarmed by a big group. I carry a pistol, but I try not to use it when I’m someplace where I could be easily trapped. Even when I use it outside, it seems that every zombie in town hears it and comes running . . . well, they don’t really run. It’s more of a shamble.
After I finished shopping this morning, I went to the library. I filled up the whole back of the truck with books and even got a bunch of fiction just in case I ever get time to read for pleasure again. I found a book on solar power, and I’m trying to figure out what I need to install it at my house in case the grid fails. It sounds kind of complicated. I’ve spotted several solar panels around town, so I’m sure I can get the parts I need if I can just figure out how to hook it up.
I dropped the books off at my house just a few minutes ago, and I’m completely exhausted from loading and unloading the truck twice, not to mention the zombie killing. That’s a workout. Still, even though I’m ready to drop, I think I’m going to go back out. I thought I saw a water truck by one of the municipal buildings. If I could find keys for that and drive it, maybe I could refill the pool. I’m not sure if I could figure out how to get water from the public water tower, but Lake Mead isn’t far away. There’s a pond, too, over in Boulder City. It’s a lot closer than the lake, but the lake is probably safer since there weren’t many people living down there when the end came. I know I can put this off for another day, but I just want to check it out.
I can see the water truck now. There’s a small group of the undead around it, and they’ve heard my engine. It still creeps me out to see their heads turn slowly my way when they first notice me. Now they’re walking over in that slow, lumbering way they have, but it’ll take them a while to reach me. I wait until they’re almost at my door then I quickly drive across the parking lot to the water truck. I know I only have about a minute, so I move quickly, getting out and checking for keys. Nothing. I get back into my truck and drive slowly around the building as I try to figure out where the keys would be kept. Of course, there’s no way to tell from out here. I just don’t want to go inside, but I will have to do so. It’s going to be risky, and I need to plan this well, but I’m getting used to that.
I see a back door that is flush with the building and doesn’t have a stoop or anything. If I can get the door open and drive right up next to it, I can leave the passenger window of the truck down and just crawl back through it when I have to leave. The truck will hold the door open. I’ve done this before. The only risk is if one of the infected gets under the truck or on top of it, then they might get in, but I’ll be armed. I am debating on whether I should just do this now while I’m here or if I should put it off for another day when I am not so tired. I think about it for a few more minutes then I decide that I’ll do it now, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about it later. I circle the parking lot again and make sure they’re following me before I pull out onto the street with a little parade of the dead. Others join us along the way, and I lead them all out toward the highway that continues to Las Vegas. I wish they would could keep going, maybe walk over the mountains, but I know they’ll stop when they hit the wall of cars at the pass. They always do.
When I decide we’ve gone far enough, I hit the gas and race down the highway, swerving around the cars that have been left on the road. I already moved enough of them to make a decent path. It comes in handy when I need to try to lead the dead away from town and maybe, deep down, I’m hoping that someone else will use that road someday. If that happens, I hope it’s someone good. I saw a lot of evil in people when this whole thing started and that thought always lingers in my mind.
I manage to lose my followers, though I know they’ll be back. I take the first exit off the highway and head away from town before connecting to a power line road. I am able to sneak back into Whispering Springs through a different route so my little parade won’t be able to follow. I pick up a couple of others on the way back in, but I drive fast enough to lose them, too.
When I reach the municipal building again, it seems to be clear, so I drive around to the back and jump out. I have to use the crowbar to open the door, and I can’t help but notice the little chips of blood that flake off. I cleaned it after I left the grocery store, but sometimes I miss a spot or two.
Glancing around again, I see that I am still alone, so I knock a few times then wait. After about a minute, I pull the door of the building open, and I jump back. When nothing comes out, I know it’s probably safe to go in. I turn on my headlamp and aim it around the room. This wasn’t something I bought while in survival mode. My husband decided to be a miner for a Halloween party one year, and it was part of his costume. He doesn’t need it anymore, so I use it. It’s come in handy over the years, when camping or working in the attic, but it’s been invaluable since the world ended because it allows me to keep my hands free to wield my crowbar.
When I determine that the room is safe, I go back out and do a little maneuvering with the truck to get it into position. I’m pretty adept at this part now. I prop the door open with a rock, then I pull the truck forward and get it as close to the building as I can, before backing up until I reach the door. I can hear the metal scrape as I back up farther, wedging the door tightly against the wall. The passenger window is now lined up with the open doorway, and there is no room for anything to squeeze by the truck. Climbing through the window has gotten easy with practice. The first few times it was a little tricky, but I’ve gotten in better shape since then. I’ve lost over twenty pounds, and I’m more physically fit than I have ever been. I’m sure I’d be dead by now, otherwise.
I search the office and find nothing, but I’m not surprised. It would be too easy to find the keys in the first place I look. I have to go out into the hall, and I have no idea what to expect, but at least the door has a window in it. I look through it and see nothing on the other side. Crowbar ready in my right hand, I take a deep breath and try to keep from shaking as I unlock the door with my left hand and ease it open. I look both ways and it appears to be clear, but you just never know. I’ve had some surprises, and I don’t mean the good kind. I mean nasty, smelly, scary surprises. I check to make sure the door is still unlocked then I quietly close it before making my way silently up and down the hallway to see what I’m up against. The whole building appears to be clear, but since it’s not very big, I decide to make sure. Once I see that the building is empty, I decide that I may as well do some scavenging while I’m here, rather than risking a second trip later. I go through, office by office, and each time I find something worthwhile, I add it to a growing stack by the back door. Whenever I add something to the pile, I glance out to make sure the parking lot is still empty. So far, so good.
It takes me an hour but I finally find the key to the water truck in one of the last rooms down the hall. It’s in a little locked cabinet which I have to open with the help of my best friend, the crowbar. I’m relieved to see that the key I want is clearly marked since I had visions of trying out a hundred of them to see which one would fit.
My pile of salvaged goods by the door has grown over the last hour, and I check again to make certain it’s still clear outside. When I’m sure, I climb through the window to move the truck. I won’t start the engine yet since that would be pushing my luck right now, but I do roll the window up. After putting the truck into neutral and turning the steering wheel, I go out the driver’s door and quietly close it again, moving into position behind the vehicle. I push it forward, constantly checking over my shoulder. I don’t have to move it far before the doorway is free, and then I get out and prop the door open with the rock again. I load up as quickly and quietly as I can and then I take my pickup around to park it next to the water truck. The windows don’t line up, so I am going with my backup plan. I turn the truck around so that the two driver’s doors are facing each other with barely any room in between to open them, though I manage to do it.
I jump into the driver’s seat of the water truck and put the key into the ignition. It takes me three tries to get it started and now I’ve attracted some unwanted attention. I can’t believe how loud it is. I let it run for a minute, but then I have to shut it off as the dead are almost to the trucks. I jump out, leaving the keys where they are. They’ll be right where I need them when I’m ready to collect some water and I kind of doubt that anybody is going to take the truck joyriding in the meantime. After closing the door of the water truck, I get into my pickup and close my door just before a bloody hand slaps against the window. I know I’ve pushed my luck again by letting them get too close, and I promise it’ll be the last time. I always tell myself that. More hands begin to slap at the window. I hate it when they do that. The blood is dry so that isn’t the problem but they always seem to leave some green, yucky stuff behind when they pull their hands away. I guess it’s just the rotting flesh, but I’m not sure.
I have to run over a couple of the semi-dead on my way back home. Too bad the car washes aren’t open anymore. I hate to bring the truck into the garage with gore all over it, but there isn’t much I can do about that.
I get almost halfway home when I start thinking about the pond in Boulder City again. My husband and I used to go there for walks and to enjoy the sunsets or I’d go for lunch and just sit on a bench and watch the ducks. The more I think about it, the more I want to go. It’s a stupid risk just to see the pond, and I’m so tired right now, but then again, there is so little in life to enjoy anymore, I decide it’s worth it. Instead of turning toward my house, I turn to go toward Boulder City.
I pull into the park, and I’m thrilled to find it deserted. Even if I only have a couple of minutes to sit here, I will cherish the time as I never have before. I smile, watching the ducks float across the pond as though the world has not ended. I know the dead will eat animals, but I guess the ducks have learned to stay away. Most of the faster animals have because I see them running loose all over town. I lean back in my seat and relax a bit, though I keep checking the rear view mirror.
A loud slap against the window makes me jump, and I wake with a start. I don’t know how I managed to fall asleep except that I was extremely tired after a brutally long day. I’m glad for the thin layer of glass that separates me from the blood-crusted face on the other side. Fully awake now, I look around and am dismayed to realize that my truck is almost surrounded. Shaken, I turn the key in the ignition only to hear click click click. I feel the blood drain from my face as I try again with the same results.
The dead outside are getting more violent now, clawing at the windows as more and more of them press against the truck. There is no way out of the vehicle. They’re surrounding me on three sides, and while I don’t see any behind me, I know that I’d never be able to get out the back window without being grabbed. My truck isn’t a big one, and they’d be able to reach me easily.
I hold my breath for a moment as I reach out to turn the key again. If it won’t start, I know I’ll die here, and it will probably happen soon. Again, I get no response from my truck.
Some of the dead have climbed up onto the hood and are hitting the windshield with their fists. A small crack forms and the moans are growing louder. I know that others will come and eventually they’ll get in.
I lean back in my seat and close my eyes. The thought hits me that just a couple months ago my biggest worry was the starter on my truck.