Bill was ecstatic, he had reached the solar company and found out his array had reached the trucking hub in Ames, a mere forty-minute drive away. The driver had abandoned it and left for Minnesota, which was having some issues with the infected. The hub was dealing with a backlog of abandoned and missing cargo, most of it was due to move on to other states and had just been dumped there when the truckers opted to race to where ever they hung their hats. The dispatcher was in a foul mood that brightened just a little bit when Bill offered to come pick up his package himself.
“It is a huge crate and package, I don't know if you could get it into a regular pickup. And it weighs over five hundred pounds, can your truck handle that? We can boost it up for you, we have a forklift, but how will you get it off the truck?” the dispatcher asked.
“Probably in pieces, if I can't fit it on I will probably take it out of the crate and fit it in where I can. I have a regular bed pickup, with an extended cab I can fill if I have to.” Bill said.
“Fine, look if you get it out of here I would appreciate it. It is not that big overall but we are crammed full right now and the yard is littered with trailers, so we can use every bit of space inside the terminal.”
“I will get it, can I come up now?” it was a little after eight in the morning.
“Yeah, I would like it if you did.”
Bill hung up the phone and turned to Trisha, “Mind if I take John awhile?”
Of course, she didn't. Before leaving Bill grabbed a blue diesel can, he had gotten from his father-in-law a few years back. He didn't have any vehicles that ran on diesel, but he was going to pick up five gallons of it anyway, if he could, along with two cases of motor oil, two packs of light bulbs for each vehicle and new wiper blades. Trisha doled out the money, with an admonishment to spend it wisely. Once on the road the trip up passed quickly, there was nothing unusual until they got into Ames, where they were met by a roadblock as they exited the highway. Rolling his window down Bill was surprised to see it was the Iowa National Guard, not the police, who were stopping people.
“I.D. sir,” the guardsman said, holding out his left hand, his right, Bill noticed was on the butt of his pistol.
Bill handed his ID over and started rummaging through the glove box for his insurance papers, the guardsman waved him off saying, “We are not checking any other papers, we just need identification, this your boy?”
Bill nodded, “Yes, John, get your license out for the man.” John complied and Bill handed it over.
“What is going on sir?” Bill asked.
“Nothing that isn't on the television, we are checking everyone as they get off the highway in the larger cities right now, trying to weed out any infected. You have not seen anything unusual have you Bill? Or John?”
Both answered 'no' and the guardsman continued, “What brings you to Ames? We've had a run on the stores already so if you need food, I mean really need food, you are out of luck right now.”
“No, no we came to get a package from the trucking hub off of east Lincoln. I called them this morning, they are open and said I could come grab it, they didn't mention this at all.” said Bill waving his hand at the soldiers.
“We got called out last night, some people might not know we are out here yet, especially if they don't ride the highways in.”
“I don't know if you are going to get fuel either, gas cans sold out too, everyone is hoarding already,” said the trooper pointing to Bill's blue gas can.
“Well, I thought I would try if I could. Have you, ah, seen any infected yet?”
“Only on my briefing tapes. One thing, if you see someone acting funny. Shoot them. Shoot them first and ask questions later. Do not let them get close to you, what they have is like rabies, they will attack you and try to bite you, if you get bitten you might as well put a bullet in your head to save someone else the trouble. Do you have a gun?”
“With you?” Bill nodded, “Good, we had an incident at Wal-mart last night. Some of the less well off folks decided to help themselves from the carts of people who were coming out of the store with their goods. It was a regular gunfight at the O.K. Corral. A gun might not have helped, but it wouldn't have hurt for some of those folks. Oh and if you see an infected, you have to shoot it in the head, once or twice, whatever it takes until it stops moving. They don't seem smart enough to fake dead.” Another car pulled up behind Bill's truck. The guardsman returned their I.D.s to them and waved them through.
“That’s a sign of the things to come, I think.” Bill said to John.
They drove on to the shipping terminal, the streets leading up to it were lined with trailers, there were no semis, just trailer after trailer, like a path. Hopping out they went in through the front doors. A harried looking middle aged woman with some beauty still in her greeted them at a bare, stainless steel desk. The office was industrial with no attempt to 'pretty it up,' the time clock was facing Bill and John as they entered and the woman looked up as they entered, taking her headphones off and saying, “It isn't like I can get through to anyone anyway. Everyone is calling in. You gotta be...Bill Carson, right?”
“Yeah, that's me.” Bill said.
The curly haired, slightly overweight blond called down the hallway to an unseen person, “Hey Ricky, Carson is here!”
A short man with black hair, a mustache and a swarthy Italian complexion came out of a doorway. He was wearing a blue and white button up shirt and khaki pants, with heavy steel toed work boots, he came out and shook Bill's hand. “I don't suppose you have a CDL do you?”
Bill knew what that was, a commercial license to drive tractor trailer rigs, his brother-in-law had one, though he hadn't worked as a trucker for years. “No, sorry.”
“Damn, I would have hired you on the spot, no record checks nothing. You need work? I bet the cops are not checking these things too close these days? I could have you out on the road by this afternoon after a few test runs through the yard.”
Bill smiled and shook his head, “No, I am good, I think I am going to sit this one out at home.”
The man snorted, “You and all my drivers. Fuck. Sorry Gail.” he said to the blond woman. "I moved your pallet to the third-bay door, you can't miss it, it is the only bay door that doesn't have a trailer on it right now. The numbers are above it on the side of the building. Drive around to the side and I will meet you there and get you loaded up. Gail, why don't you knockoff, it's obvious we should lock up and go, nobody is working today.”
“What me to lock up, or wait until you get mister Carson taken care of?”
“Wait until I get back, maybe we will try the retired list to get drivers. Around to door three Bill.” Rick said to them.
Bill drove his pickup around the building and backed up next to the bay door with a large number 'three' painted on it. Unlike most of the others, this door was set at ground level, not ramped down for semi-trailers. There were trailers crammed into every other conceivable spot on the lot, leaving a path just large enough for a semi to carefully pull through them; Bill had no trouble maneuvering around in his pickup truck. The crate was huge, he didn't remember it being so large the first time. Next to it was another package about eight feet long, which should be the brackets and support frame for the panels.
Ricky looked over Bill's truck, then at the crate and said, “Shit, this is going to be close, but I think we can do it. Should I try and just drop it into the bed? I will lift it and hover over the bed, so we can get a better idea of how to position the load.”
Bill nodded and waited for Rick to hop on the forklift and bring the crate over. He hovered it until it was just above the sides of the truck bed, then killed the engine and hopped off to have a look with Bill. Bill noticed the smell of diesel when Rick shut off the engine. Ricky saw the blue gas can Bill took out of the back of the truck to empty the bed for the crate, both men looked at each other and Ricky looked about ready to say something when John interrupted them.
“Dad! Over there!” John was pointing to the alley in front of the truck. All of them turned and looked at the rough man who was staggering around the front corner of the trailer to the left of them. The man was dressed in military fatigues, he was wearing tennis shoes and dirty white socks, his face betrayed him as middle age, with no meat on his frame. He had a week old beard and dark, silver, black hair that was shaggy and in need of cutting. On the top of his head was a ragged hole with a thick, crusted over scab, dried black blood was oozing from the wound. The man stumbled forward, towards the bay.
“John give me the shotgun.” Bill said without hesitation.
John complied and brought out the thirty-eight pistol for himself. Bill aimed the rifle at the man and Ricky pushed the barrel up, “What the hell are you doing?”
Bill stepped back and pointed the gun towards the ground at an angle that still included the man slowly shambling towards them. “We ran into the national guard on the way here. They told us to shoot first, not to let them get close.”
“You can't just shoot the guy! That is not right!”
Bill looked over at the man, maybe he wasn't infected. Maybe Bill had almost made a mistake. “Hey! You!” Bill called to him, the man came on slowly, persistently, he did not answer.
“There. He is one of them. Look at him, look at his eyes.” Bill said. He raised his gun again and took aim, bracing on the open door of the truck.
Ricky looked at the man, noticed the opaque eyes, the oozing head wound, noticed the black, rotted blood coming from the wound. He backed up a step, giving Bill a clear line of fire.
“Right, wrong, you're the man with the gun.” Ricky said, though his voice betrayed his belief that Bill was right.
Bill sighted down the barrel of the gun, looking at the man, who was about ten feet from the front of the truck. He tried to pull the trigger, then hesitated.
“Dad!” John said in a worried voice, “Dad!”
“I got him, let me do this, I don't want to miss.” Bill aimed the gun lower, aiming at the guy's leg instead of his head. In a loud voice he warned, “Last chance man, answer me or I am going to shoot you.”
The man took three more steps and Bill fired, the shot hit him dead in the center of his leg, blasting through his femur in a shot that was no less fatal than shooting him through the heart or head would have been. The thing fell over and Bill wondered why he had bothered shooting the leg. At this close range the shotgun was like a fist that punched through anything it hit. He lowered the barrel of the gun, keeping the butt secured to his shoulder.
“Shit you did it, I didn't think you would...hey, he is still moving.” said Rick.
The three of them watched as the man struggled to stand up, after a couple of tries with his leg offering no support at all he began to crawl towards them, a trail of black blood was left behind him as he moved.
“Holy fuck, he is one of them, look at his eyes, look at his eyes! Shoot him again Carson!”
Bill took aim and shot the man in the head, the close range flipped the man over on to his back, where he didn't move again.
“Now what do we do? Call the cops? Call the sanitation department? Who the fuck cleans up zombie bodies?” asked Rick rhetorically.
Bill started to answer, but stopped and listened, standing where he was he could hear Gail screaming from both outside and inside the building, it was a strange stereo kind of effect.
“John c'mon!” Bill said and he started running outside back towards the office.
“No Carson! Wait, come through the building it'll be faster!” Ricky shouted, Bill reversed course and turned to follow a running Rick. John, nervously ran after them, but not before switching the safety on his gun.
“Gail! Gail! Run back through the warehouse! We are coming through the warehouse, meet us here!” Rick screamed at the top of his lungs.
'For a small guy, Bill thought, 'he sure can scream loud. Probably it was a talent he'd had to use over the years in his position.'
They all ran towards an industrial brown painted door, which was propped open at the bottom with a wedge of wood. Gail appeared there screaming hysterically, she saw the men and ran towards them.
“Ricky! Ricky! Its them, the infected they came inside. Ricky it's real!” She ran behind him and turned on her heel, all of them stopping and looking at the hallway that led to the front desk. Nothing moved. Everything was quiet.
“Where were they Gail?” asked Rick.
“They pushed through the front door, started coming towards me at the desk, while I was dialing Seth Peterson.”
“Seth? Oh yeah, good call on that, he only retired last year, his license is probably still active...”
“Not the time Ricky!” said Gail.
“They were on the other side of the desk?” asked Bill.
Gail nodded and Bill went into the hallway cautiously, followed by John, Rick and Gail. Bill checked each office as he went by it, but each was empty. He got to the front office and there were two of the infected there. They were both at the desk Gail had been sitting at. One was a middle aged woman, she was wearing a nightgown, which was blood stained and ripped, revealing a pallid, cellulite laden stomach that had a gaping wound. Bill thought he was going to throw up just looking at her, but the young man was worse. Something had happened to him. His left arm and shoulder were completely gone. Bill saw the sharp ends of ribs and bits of clavicle and collar bone jutting from the meat of his body. The fact that the boy was only fourteen or fifteen and completely naked just made the destruction seem worse. Both infected oriented on Bill as he appeared in the hallway, but neither, moved around the desk to get at him, it was as if they could only follow a straight line and now that they were blocked they were stuck.
Bill raised his gun and fired at the woman first, the back of her head splattered the office windows and walls, one of the pellets shattered the glass in the front door. Aiming at the boy, he was struck by how it looked right at him, up the barrel of the gun. The boy's eyes were not so opaque at the woman's had been, and he was edging around the side of the desk, another minute or two and he would have a clear shot at the hallway. The boy looked like a younger version of John, or maybe an older version of Will, Bill's thirteen year old. He aimed the gun at the boy's head, squinted his eyes almost closed and fired. The youth dropped soundlessly onto the floor.
Gail was screaming again in the background as Bill stood there next to the zombies he had killed, he felt almost...energized, then the adrenaline crash came and he was shaking all over. Ricky, was not so hesitant, he stepped around and twisted the lock on the front door, then moved a low table and several chairs over in front of it, John sprang to help him.
“We are closed.” Rick said, “Gail why don't you write up a sign telling any drivers who show up to pick up their loads, if they want, and telling the others to park along the street or pull them home if they can.”
Gail nodded and Rick turned back to Bill and John, “I will get you loaded up, let's go.”
It was Bill's turn to nod, as they walked back to the loading dock, he reloaded the shotgun and wondered why putting four rounds into three of the infected didn't bother him so much.
They cautiously moved to the truck, checking for any more infected, with John going to far as to get down on his hands and knees to look under the trailers out in the yard.
“Nothing dad, no legs anyway.” he said.
“I think you can drop it where it is.” Bill said referring to the large crate hanging over the back of his truck bed, as an afterthought he turned to John, “Thanks, keep half an eye out will you? I think Rick and I can get this stuff loaded, I am more afraid other infected will show up.”
Rick slowly dropped the crate towards the truck bed, they had to scoot the crate over a little to one side to avoid coming down on the truck wall, but it fit, barely.
“You are going to have a helluva time carrying the second package.” said Rick. The bed was blocked side to side by the crate, leaving about a foot on both the front and read side of it in the bed, but the bed was only four feet wide, and the package was eight feet long.
Bill reached into the cab of the truck and pulled out two red tie down straps and an old wool blanket. “I figure I will just lay it on top, with one end on the crate and the other on the top of the cab, then throw these around the middle and back, it should hold.”
Ricky looked it over and then nodded, “Yeah, that will work. You do this before or are you always this prepared?”
“Well, the other one was delivered, so I kind of had an idea of what I was getting.”
“Ah fair enough, if you don't mind my asking, what exactly is this? What makes it so important to you that you would risk coming out to get it?”
“Solar array, it's a small one, but it will double the capacity we have at the house, actually more than double it as it is a little more efficient than the first one I bought. Everything is ready for it, we should be able to assemble it and plug it into the other one we have already. The first one is the bitch, 'cause you have to have the electric work done, the next one just plugs into a slot on the first one.”
“Hmm, this could be mighty handy in the days to come, if things are as bad as I hear. We can't even get through to Denver, forget about anywhere further west. I bet they lost the power grid. I can see why you needed to pick this up now. That can just along for the ride then?” asked Rick pointing to the blue diesel can.
“No, I was hoping to fill it somewhere.” said Bill and he and Rick lifted the supports on top of the crate and truck cab.
“You are somewhere. I won't regret filling it for you. We have a tank out back to top off the trucks.”
Bill grinned, “You just made my life a lot easier, thanks!”
“No, thank you. You did good by me and it is the least I can do, I wish I could do more for you, I feel like you just saved me and Gail.”
“Thank you Rick.”
“You know we got in three more of these on the same truck, they were supposed to go to other places, one down in Pleasant Hill, the others further south.”
“Huh, what are you thinking?”
“Do you have more room for them at your place?”
“Oh, I couldn't take them, that is too much, plus how would I get them there?”
“I wasn't thinking that, if these just plug into each other and you already have the ground work done, it might come to the point where it would be better for them to be set up at your place than sitting in a truck unused.” Rick held up his hand, “If we get to that point I might give you a call, okay?”
“Yeah, sure, I see what you are saying.”
“You got a spread of land?”
“Yeah, a few acres.”
“So you have room then. I won't hesitate to use anything left here to help anyone out, if things get scarce. I mean that Bill, you saved us, so do not hesitate to call me. I am going to give you my home phone and cell phone, in addition to my address, if you want for anything you think I might have, you just let me know.”
“Well Rick, I don't know what to say but 'thank you' and I know you would have done the same for me. If I need anything, I will call you.”
Rick shook Bill's hand, then moved to John and shook his as well, telling the young man thank you as well and not to hesitate to contact him if they needed anything at all.
Ricky then made sure Gail was okay and behind a locked door in the office. After scribbling a copy of his contact information onto some plain white paper he photocopied it and handed both copies to Bill. Bill asked him if he wanted his information and Rick laughed, saying he already had it in the system for the package delivery. Then Rick led them to the diesel pumps around the back of the package terminal. There was a rusty old ground tank surrounded by a chain link fence that had been repaired many times already. The fence gate was locked, and there was a lock on the pump handle as well with a third lock on the 'on/off' switch. Seeing Bill looking the situation over, Rick said, “When diesel went through the roof, we got robbed, again and again and again, I've even had these locks sawed off twice, so this is barely a deterrent. The pump still works and the tank is nearly full right now, five gallons won't make a dent in it.” He topped off their blue container and even lugged it back to the truck for them.
Bill and John stayed around long enough for all of them to get in their cars and head out to the main road together, they didn't see any other zombies creeping around the area.