Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Barrel Of Malt, A Bushel Of Hops

For this battle, Travis recommended they use their guns. Will had no experience with guns, so he wasn't provided with one. Instead he and Ben, who preferred not to use guns, crouched near the broken doors to the warehouse with their hand to hand weapons, ordered to hobble anything that came through. All four had worked to block the doors so only a single biter could come through at a time, using furniture from the home section and shelves they could move without making enough noise to disturb the sleeping biters.

Once they were set up properly with a bottleneck for incoming zombies and Travis and Amanda up higher on top of some of the shelving they'd carefully cleared, Ben tossed what he called his noise grenade into the darkness. The noise grenade was a battery powered toy fox that danced and sang loudly to “What Does The Fox Say”, all over the low whine of its own mechanical skeleton; Ben started it up and threw it overhand far into the dark back room.

Within seconds of the vulpine noise grenade hitting the ground while shrieking out what Amanda considered the most annoying song in the world, they heard the biters begin to snarl and call, broken words and phrases overlapping each other. As soon as the stuffed motorized fox fell silent amid the snarls and scrabbling, Will started hitting the floor of the store with his hoe and shouting the beer song.

A long time ago, way back in history,
when all there was to drink was nothin' but cups of tea.
When along came a man by the name of Charlie Mops,
and he invented a wonderful drink and he made it out of hops.
He might have been an admiral a sultan or a king,
and to his praises we shall always sing.
And look what he has done for us he's filled us up with cheer!
Our Lord bless Charlie Mops, the man who invented beer beer beer

By the time he shouted out the last few words the first two biters were scrambling over the makeshift barrier. One of them was swearing. Ben turned his battery powered spotlight on and shone it directly in their faces and they pulled up short just long enough for Amanda and Travis to take them out with two sharp gunshots each.

Will's whole body reacted with a tremor of shock; he had not been prepared for the noise, though Amanda had warned him, or the mess, as remnants of the biters' heads fell, dripped, and slid down through the stacked furniture. Ben gave him a hard, encouraging look, and Will managed to start the song over, keeping time with the iron clang of his hoe on the floor.

The next two came further over the barrier, slipping in the remnants of their brethren, before Amanda and Travis took them down. For a moment, nothing more moved, and Ben signaled to Will to be silent so they could listen. Ben glanced up at Amanda and made a questioning hand signal at her. She shook her head and signaled back to let him know there were definitely more in there – at least one more.

Whoever was left was not calling out. The silence became eerie, and they all felt the hair raise on the backs of their necks.

The makeshift barrier began to move, seeming to crumble from the other side. Ben swore.

Hold fire,” he shouted, and stood up, sweeping with the spotlight, to see what was going on.

Two biters were crouched behind the barrier, tugging and pulling out what they could from the bottom of the barrier. Their bodies were blocked by the barrier itself. Behind them, Ben could make out at least three more, one standing, two crouching, far back near where the mechanical fox had landed. The standing biter was making a chewing motion but was otherwise motionless, its hands resting on the heads of the biters near it. He swore again, under his breath, and backed away.

He shook himself off and ran forward to the barrier, crouching down opposite the biters. “Be ready!” he shouted to Amanda and Travis. “Will, help me!”

Will fast-crawled forward and began tearing the barrier down with Ben. One of the biters on the other side snarled and began to bolt up over the barrier, the other soon copying it. Behind them, the standing biter snarled low, and one of the barrier-breakers fell back down; the other hesitated but continued forward, up and over, only to be shot squarely in the chest by Amanda.

Travis had his gun ready, but Amanda was the better shot.

They're moving,” Travis called. “Hold fire so Ben can look.” Ben stood again, shining his spotlight into the darkness.

They're retreating!” he shouted, and one of the biters snarled back and fell silent again.

Shit,” Amanda whispered.

This is not good,” Travis said. They climbed down carefully to help Will and Ben dismantle the barrier, and the four of them entered the dark back room, guided by Ben's spotlight. Travis and Amanda holstered their guns and held their bludgeoning weapons in hand, a baseball bat for Travis and a cricket bat for Amanda, signed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at a con so long ago in the pre-Red Flu past.

The rioters were gone. A rolling door was open just enough to allow them escape, and they'd taken it. By the time the four got the door open farther, there was no sign of them. Ben closed and latched the door against them and the four returned to the front of the store.

There was a boss,” he said. “There was a boss zombie.”

We're fucked,” Amanda said. “If there are biters who can keep other biters in line and keep them from killing each other, this is a whole lot worse than we thought.”

Language, Mandypants,” Ben said reflexively, and she punched his arm as reflexively.

We need to get back to the encampment,” Travis said. “Get what you can and we're leaving now. Twenty minutes and we're out, no more; don't give them time to come back.”

You two go get your stuff from Home Depot,” Amanda said. “And Will, grab what you need here. I'll stand watch from the roof of the minivan.”

They all took off at a run to do as ordered. Will grabbed a cart, and felt a little like someone in a gameshow allowed to grab whatever he could while running through a store. He grabbed canned goods and an abandoned walker left in the pharmacy section, just askew in one of the aisles, with a purse in the basket. He grabbed random boxes from the camping section, sleeping bags, cat food and litter, and several foam mattress pads, all at a dead run, then shoved his overloaded cart as fast as he could out the front doors toward the minivan, which was running and had the side door open.

By time he had everything thrown inside, slammed the side door, and slid into the passenger seat, Joe's truck in front of the Home Depot was already peeling out. Amanda took off almost before Will even had his feet inside; he slammed the passenger door and buckled himself in as they slipped out of the parking lot, hot on the tailgate of the old brown Toyota.

They drove north, got onto the Crosstown Highway, and fled from the setting sun behind them.

They parked outside the front doors of the Fort. Ben and Travis threw a tarp over the vehicles, staking the tarp down into the cold ground, and Eve let them all inside. The four followed Eve back to her house, where lanterns cast light out into the gloaming settling over the parade ground and fires crackled merrily in the fireplaces. Kat and Val were sitting in the parlor, and Kat was reading one of her Warriors books to Val while Val brushed the cats.

She looked up at Will hopefully, pausing in her reading when she saw her older brother come in. The adults went into the kitchen to sit around Eve's table; Will stayed behind just long enough to give his brother and sister each a candy bar and a juicebox from his pockets, dug out of the stash in the van.

Did you find raviolis?” Kat asked. “In the red can?”

I might have,” he said mysteriously. “You'll have to find out tomorrow when we bring everything in.” Val clapped his hands excitedly. He hated raviolis from the red can – there was meat inside – but he liked his sister to have them. Cassie stretched and purred, rolling over to bare her white fuzzy belly to be brushed. She mewed imperiously at Val when he did not return to his work fast enough.

Will sat at the kitchen table as Ben was finishing up the story. Eve had given up any pretense of stirring dinner, listening intently. They were all quiet for a long moment.

I think you need to tell Gary this. And I think Gary needs to tell Robbie Rocket,” she said finally. “When you come back, we'll have dinner ready.”

I'll do it,” Ben said. Travis stood with him.

I'll get a fire going for us. And Amanda.”

I think I'll just stay with you guys tonight,” Amanda said, and Travis nodded with relief.


The young men headed down to the commissary to talk to Gary over the radio and set a fire for the evening. Amanda got up and moved into the parlor to hang out with Kat and Val and the cats.

This is bad, isnt' it?” Will asked his mother after the others had left the kitchen.

That they can take orders from some kind of alpha zombie rioter?” Eve asked. “If that is what was happening, and I'm not doubting you guys, it will be a real problem. We need a lot more information. Maybe it will mean we can communicate with them, though.”

But maybe it means... they'll survive the winter, and they'll start hunting in packs.”


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