“I am going to shoot that fucking dog.” Stewart said, “I swear to God I will.”
“Calm down, take a breath Stewart,” said Tom, while Amelia slowly cut away part of Stewart's pant leg with a pair of medical scissors.
“I was goddamn playing with the kids!”
“I know, I know. You know how Riley is.”
“So I get bitten because 'I know how Riley is'? Bullshit. Ah!” she said as Amelia got the cloth away from the dog bite.
“Oooh!” said Amelia, “That's bad.”
“I think I knew that already. Just bind it up, you can, right?”
“All my years in the gulf war prepared me for this, yes,” joked Amelia, “No seriously I think I can get it. This might sting.” she said as she poured some hydrogen peroxide over the dog bite.
“Hey Max!” Stewart called to the man who was about thirty feet away with the barking dog and the kids, “Does the thing have tags on it? Or do I need to worry about rabies too?”
They saw Max talking to Seth, then Kenny got involved animatedly moving his hands as he spoke. Erin and Nick were petting Riley, who was barking at some zeds coming towards them slowly across the park's grass. “The boys say the dog had shots, but there isn't any collar on it.” Max yelled back.
“Fuck a goddamn duck, my lucky day. No tags means no shots where I come from.” Stewart muttered, then drew her breath in as Amelia bandaged her leg up.
When the younger woman was finished Stewart took the boot off of the bitten leg and tossed her sock out into the street, it was wet with blood and hydrogen peroxide. She then limped over to the trunk of the cruiser and pulled a new pair of socks out and put one on her bare foot. “I should just get some flip flops,” she muttered looking at her wet boot. Scanning the stores around the small town's square she found one was a hardware store, which might have what she needed.
They were in Nebraska, but just barely, the road had been made all but impassible by a huge line of stalled vehicles where interstate seventy-six hooked into interstate eighty. When they hit the pile up, which had quite a few zombies squirming around in it, they had to backtrack and take a side road that led them, eventually, back to the small town they were in now. It was about noon and the kids were hungry and irritable, so they had stopped to give them a break and check the maps they had for the best way to proceed to Tom's family farm. The town was empty, not a soul in sight, living or dead. Max and Amelia were still watching the area while the children ran off some steam. The kids, with Tom and Stewart, had been playing in the park when Riley had mistaken Stewart's rough and tumble play with the boys as a threat and bit her on the leg. The dog had to be pulled off of her by Kenny.
“That dog sure does like those kids.” Tom said shaking his head as he approached the back of the squad car.
“And hates adults. I figure Kenny and Seth have got to be mental cases, that dog was treated just like they were, like shit, that is. They were all stuck together with what they had. Kenny, obviously had some problems when he was born, and I think Seth's were given to him by his parents or guardians or whatever the fuck you want to call them. I would shoot that goddamn dog right now if I didn't think it would kill those boys.” Stewart said this while looking over at the group of children playing around on the park once again. Riley was tagging them and jumping up to chase them on the playground equipment as immersed in the game as the children.
“You were pretty heated when we got Riley off of you. I thought you were going to kill the thing then and there.”
“Tom, I had a dog biting my leg. Anyone who gets bit would have felt the same way.” With a sigh Stewart pulled the other sock on the same foot and sat her boot up on the trunk of the car in the sun. Tom raised one eyebrow questioningly at her double socked foot and she said, “I am going to the hardware store to get some dry footwear. I knew we should have stopped by my place before leaving Denver, nuke or no nuke it would be nice to have my own clothes.”
“All right, I will go with you.” Turning Tom called out, “Amelia, Stewart and I are going to the hardware store, will you and Max be okay out here?”
Amelia nodded, “Yes, sure Tom. See if you can find...uh, well some dog treats and maybe a better collar and leash for Riley, would you?”
“And a muzzle.” Stewart muttered softly under her breath.
“What?” Amelia asked.
Tom laughed and they walked across the street to the faded storefront. “It looks locked up.”
“Yeah, just the sort of place a human who had been bit would go to hide away from the mob.”
“You're too paranoid,” said Tom.
“After all that has happened you can't be 'too paranoid,' that is an oxymoron.”
“Maybe.” Tom was holding a crowbar, which he had picked up from one of the many vehicles they had rummaged through on their trip. The metal bar was about three feet long and had a flat pointed shaft on one end with a hook for prying on the other. He wedged the flat end between the door's lock and the frame and gave the other end a quick push. The door popped open and swung inwards.
“Fire code violation,” said Stewart.
She pointed at the door, “This. Doors on businesses have to open outwards, in case of fire. So people don't get crushed against them. This is against the fire code. I wonder how old this building is?”
Tom stepped inside, “Hello? Anybody in here? It seems empty.”
“Yeah, cause the zombies are all big on talking.”
“Man you are in a bad mood.”
“Probably just the dog bite. Tom, stop.”
Tom froze. Stewart pointed towards the back of the store, there was a display rack of paperback books knocked over in the aisle and other products pulled off of the shelves in the same area.
Stewart raised her pistol and quietly made her way towards the mess. Tom stayed behind her, but moved over to one side to look down the aisle next to the one she was moving down, then went to the other side to check for zombies as well. Stewart stepped over the books and other boxes until she came to the end of the row, then Tom followed. When he reached her, he looked on the ground and pointed out blood droplets that Stewart had already seen. She nodded and pointed along the ground in a path that the droplets followed, after about fifteen feet the blood looked smeared as if whoever had been bleeding started to crawl or had been dragged. The blood ended at the stockroom door. There were tracks in the blood as well, the tracks were from some sort of boot, as if someone had walked over the blood a few times going back and forth. Stewart avoided the blood, although it was long dry, and gently pushed the door, it swung open easily on well-oiled hinges
The back room of the place was mostly dark, however down one row of industrial sized shelving light seeped in from a dirty window. The window was set near the top of a staircase that led both with stairs leading both up and down, the blood trail splattered its way to the stairwell. Stewart checked all of the back room that she could see and then headed for the stairs, Tom followed closely behind her, his shotgun seemed large and awkward in the confined space. The blood was all over the stairs in both directions, Stewart started to go up the stairs, then paused as if listening. A low sound came from the basement of the place. At the bottom of the stairs was a faded green door with a frosted glass window. The stairs leading down were poured from concrete, enabling both of them to get to the bottom quickly, once there they could see that the door opened into the basement and was slightly ajar. Pressing her eye to the crack Stewart saw that the basement was lit up by old kerosene lanterns, there were four of them lighting a path across the basement, which ended in another door. The basement itself was stacked just as high as the stock room, but unlike that room's clean efficiency the basement appeared to be piled with junk. Stacks of moldy paper were standing to one side of the door and large, cardboard cutouts advertising various sales and products were standing to the other. Something about the pile caught Stewart's eye and she held up her one empty hand, bringing Tom to a halt.
“There is a fishing line pulled across the door,” she whispered to Tom, while pointing it out, “See? It disappears into the pile of papers, the door is almost touching it. You gotta knife?”
Tom pulled out a worn Spyderco knife and flipped it open with his thumb, handing it to her by the handle. Stewart took the knife and gently pressed it against the fishing line. The line parted as if it were made of butter, the loose ends spiraled up to hang uselessly by the pieces of paper. Stewart scanned the opening for other lines, then folded the knife and handed it back to Tom, “Thanks.”
She slowly pushed on the door hoping it would not squeak, when no sound was forthcoming she eased it the rest of the way open and stepped into the room. Tom followed her inside then watched as she turned and looked at the fishing line, the one side that they had seen clearly disappeared into the pile of papers, passed through them and was secured to a metal shelf post, closing the door enough so they could see where the other end of the line went Steward pause, then softly swore. The other end of the fishing line ended inside of a tin can. Pulling out a pen light, Stewart shined it into the can. “Holy fuck. Hand grenade.”
Tom backed up a step and Stewart seemed inclined to go with him, then she paused and flashed her light around again, on the floor behind the door was a small metal ring attached to a straight piece of metal. Stewart picked this up and eased the grenade out of the can, holding a strip of metal down along the side of the weapon as she did so. Once the object was out of the can, she put the pin into the hole by the handle, then turned to Tom and said, “Sweet. Free grenade!” Tom's face was even paler than it normally was as he shook his head slowly.
“Well what? Did you want to leave a live grenade behind us? We better go slow and watch for any other little traps. Okay?” Tom nodded and let Stewart take the lead. Although the basement was lit up with the hanging lanterns, Stewart used her penlight to look for other wires and anything suspicious on the floor. Halfway down the aisle they came to another fishing line strung between the shelves.
Stewart looked it over to see where the ends went, one was tied securely to a post the other led back over the top of the bottom shelf about knee high to the ground. Tom had his knife out again and was approaching the line with it when Stewart grabbed his wrist and shook her head. He raised his eyebrows questioningly and she leaned close and whispered, “Look at it.”
From the door ahead of them came a pounding beat of some music, a low constant bass that was just loud enough to be heard from where they were. Stewart was not too worried they would be overheard and said again, “Seriously look at it Tom.”
Tom changed places with Stewart and squatted down to trace the fishing line back. This one led to another tin can, only there was something different about this one. Tom leaned in for a closer look, he used his shotgun to brace himself as he crouched down down lower and used his other to shine his own light at the can. The can was attached to one of the metal shelving legs with a bracket of some sort, securing it so that it hung upright just below the level of the shelf and about six inches off of the floor between the bottom and next lowest shelf. On the bottom shelf were three cans filled with old bits of metal, nails, bolts, screws and other odds and ends, the space behind the shelf was clear, leaving a hole. Tom was wondering what this meant when Stewart leaned in close and said, “There is no bottom in the can, if you cut the fishing line the grenade falls out into the clear spot and detonates. Ka-pow.” she said softly. “Or if you hit it with enough force it would probably pull it out the top too, same result. Look for the pin.”
Tom searched around and found it in the top of one of the cans, he held it up for Stewart, who said, “Don't you want a free grenade?”
He shook his head vigorously and handed her the pin. Sighing Steward carefully removed the grenade and put the pin back into it. She handed it to Tom, indicating that she had no more room in the fanny pack she wore, “You carry it.”
Tom just stared at her for a moment, the put his hand out for the explosive, he tucked it with some reluctance into this front pocket. Just as he finished securing it, sure that it was going to go off and blow him up, a cry came from behind the closed door of the basement. It was muffled, but loud enough that both of them knew what it was. Stewart started forward, methodically slow, checking for more traps. They didn't run into anything else along the aisle and Stewart examined the door closely when they reached it. The door was metal painted in the same green color as the wooden one had been. There was a keyhole in the handle and another on in the dead bold above that. Stewart touched the handle and tried to turn the knob, it did not turn. Another scream sounded from inside the closed room, followed by a man's voice screaming profanities that did not quite make it into the basement room. Both voices were so muffled that Stewart suspected there was some sort of sound proofing around the room.
“Locked,” she said looking over the door frame, “Metal frame, check this out.” Stewart dusted off a sign hanging on the wall. It showed a radiation symbol and the words 'Designated Fallout Shelter' in yellow and black lettering. “Shit. Here we have been fucking around trying to be all quiet and the music in there must be blasting for us to hear it at all. These walls are cement, the door is metal. Any ideas?” she asked Tom.
“Turnaround and leave?”
Stewart gave Tom a look that he interpreted as 'No really what do you want to do?'
“Well, I don't know,” he whispered, “I don't think we could shoot our way in? When was this place built? The fifties? We'd need a battering ram to get through the door. And if they had grenades to leave around as booby traps they probably have more firepower than we do.”
“But we have the element of surprise.” Stewart said.
Abruptly the deadbolt unlatched and the door handled turned, surprising them both. Stewart stepped back in time to avoid the door which swung out quickly and almost caught her. Tom stumbled and fell to his butt behind her, as he fell he tried to catch himself on one of the shelves and his hand contracted and the shotgun when off firing into the junk of the basement.
Stewart brought her gun up and yelled at the surprised man standing in the doorway, “Freeze! Police!” in a voice that carried authority beyond those of the words along. The man was older, probably in his fifties, he was in good shape, but had a paunchy beer belly which was visible because he was completely naked. His gray hair was cut short in a military style and he stood about five and a half feet tall. In the hand that he had not been opening the door with he held some sort of assault rifle. His body was splattered with blood and loud, pounding music blared out of the room behind him, it sounded like some sort of punk band from the late seventies.
“Don't do it!” yelled Stewart as the man stepped back trying to pull the door with him as he brought his gun up and fired.
The assault rifle sent bullets ricocheting off of the metal door back into the room, Stewart watched as one of his own rounds tore through his leg just above the knee. The bullet spun him around and he fell onto the floor, where he lay moaning and grasping at the blood pouring from his leg.
“Fuck!” Stewart yelled, unable to hear her own voice. She stepped into the room scanning it for other adversaries, looking right and left she saw no other moving people. The room was longer than she expected, and after about four feet there were two steps down into the main area of what looked like a fallout shelter. There were two sets of bunk beds up against the walls and another set had been broken down into two beds in the main area of the room. Along the far wall hung a set of green metal cabinets, to one side of them was a portable toilet on the other was a shower curtain. On the upper level of the room was another counter with stools setup to form a bar like area, shelves above this counter held dozens of bottles of alcohol and there were three coolers on the counters too. Near the far end of the counter was a gun rack, there was another assault rifle there and what looked like a few cases of ammunition. The shelves also held a large stereo which was plugged into an array of car batteries with a converter box. There were two overhead lights hanging down off of the ceiling that also appeared to be plugged into the car batteries, they kept the place well lighted and Stewart wanted to retch at what she was seeing.
Tom stumbled into the room after her and was mouthing something at her that she could not hear. Finally, he turned and went over to the stereo and pulled the plug on it. The man on the ground was moaning as the pool of blood grew around him. Stewart went up to him and kicked him, “You son of a bitch! You fucking son of a bitch!”
Tom didn't stop her. Instead, he went down to the beds in the main room and checked the two bodies tied to them, both were also nude and sported various cuts and bruises. One looked like it had been there for a few days, the other had a fresh wound in the ribs, where a trickle of blood flowed. The very dead one was a young man, perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old, the other was a young woman. Their faces were similar enough that they could have been siblings. Tom stood over the woman while Stewart kicked the man down the steps into the main room.
“Stewart!” She didn't respond, “Stewart! She is still alive! Stop and help me!”
Stewart looked up, the man on the floor was not moving, the blood from his leg wound was only seeping out slowly now. “What?”
“She is still alive!”
Stewart came over and checked the woman's wounds. She had plenty of them, her face was bruised and swollen and she was breathing raggedly. Tom used his knife to cut her free of the bed and Stewart checked the girl's pulse. The girl pulled in a deep breath and the blood from her chest wound bubbled as air hissed through the opening.
“Fuck! He must have shot her as he went down, the bullet went into her lung. It’s going to collapse or already has. We need some plastic and duct tape, Tom, now!”
Tom started searching the room and found a plastic bag from the hardware store and some duct tape on one of the counters. He hand them both to her, but while Stewart was taping the plastic over the hole in the woman's chest she stopped breathing. Stewart looked across the body at Tom, both knowing they could start cardio-pulmonary-resuscitation, both realizing it wouldn't do any good.
“Fuck.” Stewart said slowly, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Tom, still holding her gaze, repeated her words and they both started to shake at the same time. Stewart got up first and held her hand out to Tom, he took it and she hauled him up to his feet where she, gave him a brief hug.
When they parted he said, “I didn't think you were the kind of woman who liked to hug.”
“I'm not, that was for you.”
“What do we do about this?” he said, gesturing around the room with one hand.
“This? Fuck me if I know. I am taking the guns and the ammo and if there are grenades I am taking them too. As much as we can carry, but no more than that. When we leave this basement, I am not coming back down.” Stewart checked the body near the door to make sure he was dead, "He must have hit an artery in his leg." she said looking at large pool of blood surrounding the man on the floor.
Five minutes later Tom and Stewart left the hardware store lugging a heavy army green box between them, on top of the box were assorted dog treats, dog food and one flip flop. Stewart was wearing the other one over her socks. Amelia, who was standing by the cars keeping a look out noted the blood on their clothing and started to ask a question. Stewart stopped her, “Don't worry about it. Just the run of the mill shit we find everywhere we go. We did get some good stuff this time, weapons and hand grenades, the guy must have been a gun nut. You guys didn't hear us firing from out here?”
“No.” Amelia admitted, “Where was he?”
“In the basement, with all this stuff. Funny how none of it did him any good in the end. How about me and Tom get cleaned up and we get the hell out of po-dunk-ville?”