Second Dead

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Chapter 50: Home at last

Theo and I walked out from the sanctuary. Moaners lay everywhere in the melting hail. To a corpse, their skulls were crushed. The fields were thick with bodies but not the road. No, the road remained clear and after a brief inspection, we returned to the others and moved out.

We traveled through pleasant but forlorn countryside. It seemed to me I had awakened from a dream.

Dad made a sharp left onto a gravel road. We drove past the cement plant. The road plunged downwards and hooked to the right. He came to a stop.

A formidable metal fence barred our way. Dad sported the most satisfied grin I’d ever seen on him. “There’s the front door. We’re home.”

“Yeah, but how are we going to get through?” Theo asked. “Ram it?”

Dad laughed and pulled a set of keys from the glove box. “One of the perks of good relations with your neighbors.”

Dad unlocked the gate. Theo pulled it open. Dad waved the other vehicles through and told me to pull his truck in before he locked the gate.

Back in the truck, Dad instructed me to keep to the right and stop when the road stopped. Good advice, Dad. We passed through a narrow gap cut through a hill. The rock walls towered over the road. To our right, a vast expanse opened up. Bigger than two football fields, this parking lot was quarried deep into the side of the tall hill.

“Holy shit,” Theo exclaimed when the facility came into view.

“Yeah.” Dad grinned. “Keep going, Anna. You’ll see when we get there.”

Twelve dock doors lined the concrete wall to our right. Parked trailers blocked three doors. Odd in its normality, this place appeared undisturbed from the last several months of trouble. Behind the concrete loading facility, the rock wall towered upwards over one hundred feet. The massive hill soared even higher.

I drove past this impressive complex and the road again narrowed. The warehouse hill encroached toward the road. Ahead, the quarry wall to our left opened up and fell away from the road. When we passed through the gap, we found ourselves confronted by a second, even larger warehouse complex.

Nestled under the hill stood another concrete loading dock. Massive refrigeration units sat atop the roof. The cliff towered above this building before giving way to the unadulterated mountain as it sloped upwards toward its crown.

Much less protected than the first complex, this place lay open and accessible in places. A chain link fence encompassed the parking lot and ahead stood a small gate. It consisted of nothing more than a metal tube hinged and connected to a post. Behind this gate stretched the dirt road to my grandparent’s house.

I veered to the right. Dad told me to stop when we neared the dock.

“Well, let’s go see what the others think,” he said.

We gathered around the Humvee and discussed our next move.

Dad pointed to the refrigeration units on the roof. “I didn’t expect those and I’ve got to say they’re worrying me a little.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Penri said. “They’re secure enough and anyway, any moaner who falls onto the roof won’t be in any condition to move again.”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Dad said thoughtfully. “Whatever’s in there, if anything’s in there, was meant to be refrigerated.”

“Yeah, so?” Chris said.

Dad grinned, not a pleasant grin by any means. “Six months spoiling in a warehouse? I rather think it’s not something we want to deal with on our first day.”

“Hmm yes, Dave, I rather see your point,” Penri said, wrinkling his nose.

Dad came to a decision. “Let’s put in at the first building. I can’t say I’m happy about it. We have much better access to the spring from here, but we’re a mess. We need to get settled in with the least amount of fuss possible.”

Dad stared around. Finally, he turned to Penri and asked, “Well, Major, what do you have to say?”

Penri remained quiet for a moment. “I must confess something. I rather thought you’d been lying this whole time. I assumed you concocted, or at least elaborated on this place as a way to keep morale up. But now I see it with my own eyes, I understand your point. It’s perfect,” Penri said, gazing around.

“Beautiful too. I can’t wait for spring,” he remarked with unexpected relish. “There are vulnerable spots. I don’t trust the fences, but they will do for now. The two spillways and that dinky gate at the end of the parking lot will be our weakest points. Special attention will need to be given to those immediately.”

“Well, let’s just worry about getting settled in for now,” Dad said. “Let’s go back up to the first warehouse.”

The door proved a much tougher nut to crack than expected. Although no one would say it, a locked door had simply been overlooked. Anthony saved the day. Some drilling and a screw through the hole was all it took to pull the latch free.

“Listen, anything in here will know we’re here,” Dad said while he pressed his ear to the door.

Steel flashed in the sunlight as knives, machetes and improvised stabbing weapons were hefted and aimed at the door.

“Right. On the count of three,” Dad whispered.

Chris pulled the door open. Mom and I sprinted up the steps behind Susan and Klara and in through the door we went.

We entered in quick succession. Theo and Penri brought up the rear with the children. Skylights let in sufficient light. I let out a small yelp when the door snapped closed.

“Really?” Chris said. “You can fight off moaners, but a door?”

“Sorry,” I muttered, surprised everyone gawked at me.

The warehouse was much bigger than it appeared from outside. The ceiling stood forty feet high and the floor stretched away into the darkness. One hundred feet into the warehouse the skylights ended and the rear of the facility disappeared into darkness.

An office door stood to the right. Chris tried the handle but found it locked. We made our way deeper into the warehouse. Fifty feet from the door, we came upon a ticket counter. Dad and Chris shined their lights through the window. Dad pushed against the window with his hand.

“Plexiglas,” Dad said, as if this explained everything.

This time with much greater force, Dad shoved the window in. Chris failed to catch the plastic and it fell to the floor of the office. Dad leaned in through the window and shined his light about.

Apart from the piece of plastic, this room stood tidy and clean. Incredibly, ranged along the computer desks were personal items and even two sweaters on a coat rack. Whatever happened here toward the end, the final day of operation appeared well managed.

Dad pointed to Susan, Klara, and Chris. “I need you to go through the office and open the door for us.”

After they cleared the doorway and vanished from sight, we ran back to the front of the warehouse. We were just in time to see them emerge from the office. We entered and swept each room for moaners. Ten minutes satisfied Dad the office was unoccupied.

We left Anthony, Maria, and Penri with the children. Going back toward the ticket window, we made our way to the end of the office wall. Four tall forklifts lined the stone wall behind the office. Each properly plugged into long dead chargers again gave the impression of normality.

Susan and Klara squealed with delight. I caught sight of what excited them and grinned like a fool. Toilet paper. We entered the darkened portion of the warehouse and even more rows of product.

Dad had guessed right. Well beyond his wildest dreams, he’d been right. Towering racks reared up in the darkness before us. Row after row of metal shelving reached toward the dark roof. Most were stuffed with pallets of product that disappeared into the darkness.

“Must have been an order fulfillment operation,” Dad said thoughtfully.

“How could all of this have escaped confiscation?” Theo asked.

Dad replied. “I guess the transportation network broke down fast. By the time anyone thought of this place it was too late. When orders dried up the owner had to sit on the product. Probably drove him nuts.”

We hit the jackpot and everyone knew it. Although well over half of the warehouse stood empty, enough food remained for a hundred years. Packaged food of every description was here. Hell, there was even a row of canned ham. Theo hobbled over to a skid containing cases and cases of energy drinks.

“Mine, all mine,” he whooped and hugged the pallet of boxes. Kind of creepy. I laughed.

He ripped open a box, pulled out a can and drained the entire drink in one go. He tossed it down the aisle and the clatter when it hit the floor echoed across the warehouse.

Something fell over in the darkness. Everyone pointed their lights toward the noise. I caught fleeting glimpses of figures dashing across the aisle and down a row. I joined Dad and Chris as they ran after the people. The rest ran past our aisle and headed down the next one in an attempt to cut them off.

Dad yelled, “Stop, stop. We just want to talk to you.”

We reached the end of the aisle and nearing the dock doors, Dad and Chris turned right in pursuit of the fleeing people.

Dad fell in front of me. Buckshot zipped past me. I skidded to a standstill. Time slowed to a crawl. Dad’s upper torso spun around and pulled his feet from the floor. His body slammed against the concrete.

I fell to my knees. He gasped for breath and clutched at his side. Dad’s coat turned red with blood. Stuffing fluttered across the still warehouse and slowly drifted to the ground.

I ripped open the coat and watched helpless while his shirt filled with the spreading bloodstain. I cried out for Jane. Dad clutched my arm tightly while he coughed up blood. I held him while he struggled for life. Barely noticed, Jane and Mom knelt down next to us.

“You need to be over there,” Jane hissed while she ripped Dad’s shirt open. “Go, save them.”

I stood up and walked toward the shouting. Confused cries mingled with yells. A lone frightened voice begged for mercy. Children’s voices reached my ears. Fearing the worst, I broke into a run. I ran into the aisle Dad’s assailant had gone down.

Chris and Klara both pointed their weapons at an elderly woman. Theo and Susan had corralled several small children into a row and Theo violently pushed the oldest into a kneeling position. Panic, tinged with fury, filled the air.

“She killed Dad, she killed Dad,” Chris screamed.

“Dad’s not dead,” I yelled while I removed the weapon from his hand. “Theo, Susan, knock it off. They’re only children.”

Could we have really turned into such savages so easily? I glared around until the others recovered their senses and lowered their weapons. I waited until the enormity of their actions slowly seeped into their minds. Theo stared at me with self-loathing and threw his shotgun as far from him as possible. He lifted the frightened girl from the floor.

My anger left when I set my sights on the children. Eight children knelt before me. The youngest appeared no more than four. The oldest, the girl Theo had been so forceful with, looked maybe thirteen. The younger children cried in fright. The older ones stared at me with terror in their eyes.

“You two know better,” I shouted at Susan and Theo. “Get them off the floor.”

I walked back to the old woman who still knelt on the floor, pleading for the children’s lives. I took her by the shoulders and helped her to her feet. After she stood up, I cupped her chin and forced her to look at me.

Speaking slowly and with all the kindness I could muster, I said, “We’re not here to harm you. No one else need get hurt. Do you understand?”

I waited until the old woman nodded. “I need to know -- to prevent another tragedy -- is there anyone else in here?”

Still locked in fear, the old woman gazed into my eyes and shook her head no.

“Good, that’s what I needed to know.” I let go of her chin.

The old woman dropped her gaze and stared past me toward my father lying on the floor.

“Oh my God,” she whimpered. “I didn’t mean to…. What have I done?” Tears welled in her eyes.

Memories of a child’s blood on a snowy hill intruded on my mind. “You made a terrible, tragic mistake. One we all will have to live with for the rest of our lives.”

“Maria,” I cried out and turned away from the woman. “You and the kids take care of these people. The rest of you come with me.”

We walked toward my father and I said to Klara, “I need you to keep a lookout. They may have people on the outside.”

Klara didn’t reply but ran toward the middle dock door.

I knelt down next to Jane. Mom applied pressure on Dad’s wounds with her jacket. “What do you need?” I asked.

“A doctor,” Jane replied bluntly.

“You are our doctor. Do what you can for him…please,” I said, not looking at my father’s bloody torso.

“First, I need to get him off the floor and someplace warm and sheltered with plenty of light.”

“The office,” Susan said. “There’s lots of light coming in through the windows and there’s a big conference table we can lay Dad on.”

“Take Anthony and get it ready,” I told her.

Jane had more to say. “I need towels, boiling water, something to disinfect with, bleach would do. I also need my medical kit. The major’s, too. It’s in my car.”

I glanced up at Chris who hovered over us. I nodded to him. He turned and ran toward the front door.

“I got the towels and bleach,” Theo yelled after Chris.

“Is he going to make it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Jane said, sighing. “He’s lost a lot of blood. There’s internal bleeding. Something major was hit. I’m going to have to get in there, operate on him. You know? If there is organ damage there’s not a lot I can do.”

“Do what you need to do,” I said trying to hold back my tears.

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