“Yeah, well how fucking long do we have, Nerit? How long before they are at our fucking wall moaning and screaming for our guts? Huh? How gawdamn fucking long,” Curtis screamed.
“Eight days,” Greta said. “At the least, eight days.”
“How do you know that?”
The hysterical note in Curtis’ voice was sharp and desperate and Bill reached out to calm his fellow officer. Curtis avoided him and glared intently at Greta.
“Number of miles divided by their walking speed. Rough estimate,” Greta said regarding him coolly.
“So we plan. Today. All day if we have to, how we are going to deal with this,” Travis said.
Eric nodded solemnly. “Agreed. Before we terrify the rest of the people.”
“They’re going to be terrified anyway,” Peggy scoffed.
“Let’s try to give them less to be terrified of then,” Kevin said with a small smile in her direction.
Juan shook his head, his curls bouncing. “This is not going to be easy.
Getting rid of that many of the dead. We’re talking a total siege.”
“We’ll deal with it,” Nerit said firmly. “We have no other choice.”
Katie’s fingers were trembling in Travis’ grip and he leaned over and kissed her cheek gently.
Juan rubbed his brow and whispered, “We got kids and kids on the way.
We gotta do this. We can’t afford to lose all we fucking gained.”
“Then we do this,” Nerit said again. “We deal with it.”
Kevin sat down at the table, his expression pensive but determined. “Then let’s do it.”
With that declaration, Eric rolled out the schematic of the fort and they began to plan. All except one. Curtis slipped out and ran down the hall. He did not stop until he reached the roof of city hall and it was there that he sobbed until he collapsed.
No one came to soothe him.
Travis had never been so scared in his life. He had faced many terrifying events in the last year, but this had to be the worst.
The entire dining room was crammed with the residents of the fort. They were crowded around tables, lined up against the walls, filling up the aisles, their voices a loud rumble in the large room. No one knew, except a small handful, what the meeting was about and the room was filled with old and young and a small herd of dogs sitting around Calhoun.
The Reverend had brought in the PA system from his brand new church on Main Street and Travis tapped the microphone lightly. The thick booming sound that filled the room made everyone look up sharply.
He swallowed hard and glanced at Katie. She graced him with a slight, but encouraging smile. The tension in her face made him want to hug her, but he had a job to do. As Mayor he had ended up the spokesman for the council and now he stood before an anxious group of people staring up at him intently.
“Okay, let’s get started,” he said, his amplified voice startling him. He cleared his throat again, then took a deep breath. “Well, as you know, we’ve been working to make this a safe place for all of us. I want to thank everyone for their hard work out in the gardens, the fields, the ranch and on construction. And, oh yeah, the grub patrol. Last nights biscuits were awesome.”
There was a smattering of applause and Rosie smiled at him from where she sat with Juan, his children and her mother, Guadalupe.
“But, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for another reason and not a good one.” He flinched as people began to look frightened. Katie’s hand rested on his arm and she gave it an encouraging squeeze.
“What’s going on, Travis?” someone yelled from the back of the room.
Other voices chimed as the faces in the crowd grew grave with concern.
“I’m going to be straight with you. Things have taken a turn for the worse,” Travis said.
“And it ain’t the toilet paper supply running low again,” Peggy drawled, folding her arms grumpily across her chest.
This drew a bit of laughter and broke a little of the tension.
“No, no, not the toilet paper running low. It’s...we got a large group of zombies heading this way. And not in the numbers we’ve seen before. It’s around fifteen to twenty thousand zombies.”
There was complete silence and it felt as if no one in the room drew a breath for a few minutes, then suddenly the room exploded into sound.
People were on their feet, some were crying, others shouting, children clutched their parents tightly with fright, and Calhoun’s little pack of dogs started barking wildly.
Travis held up his hands. “Please, calm down! Calm down! We do have plans on how to handle it!” Despite the microphone, he felt as if his voice was small and inaudible to the panicking people.
“Are the walls going to hold them back?”
Voices mingled as they fought for dominance.
“Please, listen up! Please!” Travis could hear the firmness in his voice getting hard and angry. “I need you to fucking listen up!”
“Please listen to the man,” the Reverend called out. “Please listen before you let fear overwhelm you.”
There was much grumbling, but the din slowly lowered in volume.
“We have plans,” Travis repeated. “Solid plans. We will need volunteers to implement them, but if we work together we can do this.”
“Like what sort of plans?” an older black woman shouted.
“We need to change the direction of the mob or at least get a lot of them moving away from us. Zombies tend to follow after humans. They get going in one direction and stay that course until they find their prey. The helicopters have tried to buzz the crowd and get them to peel off, but it’s not working. So we’re going to use the Durangos from the dealership about fifty miles from here.”
The cries of dissent began again, but he kept talking over them.
“We’ll send out trucks with fully armed drivers and one passenger. Their role is to try to lure the zombies off track. We’ve mapped out how we want to do this and we already have a few volunteers. We need to split off as many as we can from the main group before they reach our area.”
“And what about the ones that do reach us?”
“Eric’s been working on estimating the amount of stress the walls can take. The safest area in the entire fort is the original wall around the hotel.
But we will defend the entire area. We’ve been working on fire straps, catapults, barbed traps and a variety of other ways to decimate any undead ranks heading our way. We have firearms and we have crossbows.
But we’re going to try to divert as many as we can and thin their ranks out on the outer edges of the town before they even reach us.”
The murmur in the room grew louder as people began to talk among themselves.
Katie’s hand was gentle on his arm as she moved closer to him. He draped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her into his side. He was as afraid as everyone else, but there was no real choice. They had to defend their home.
“It’s suicide to go out in those trucks,” someone shouted.
“And if no one volunteers?”
“I do,” Bette said, standing up, her expression grim. “I’ll go.”
Linda instantly stood up next to her and took her girlfriend’s hand. “I’ll go with her.”
“Count me in,” Bill said, and beside him Curtis scowled angrily.
A few more voices called out and the dissenter sat back down.
It was then Mary West stood up. She was in her fifties, one of the last of the survivors to be rescued and brought to the fort before the evacuation of the mall. A dour woman with a pinched mouth, she was the leading voice of the Baptist Coalition (as they liked to call themselves).
Travis felt his pulse quicken slightly as she stood up and he acknowledged her with a brief nod of his head.
“We understand your plans, Travis. But they are for naught. The sin of this fort has offended God and He will strike you down. As He passed judgment on the earth, He will pass judgment on this fort.”
The nodding heads around her and “amens” made Travis feel cold inside.
“I think many of us feel God has brought us all here to begin anew,” the Reverend responded quickly. “That He has shown us grace in our time of need.”
Mary’s tight little smile had no mirth or kindness to it. “You would think that. You have fallen away, Pastor, and your congregation is full of fornicators, idolaters, and homosexuals.”
“Hey,” Ken cried out, jumping to his feet. “Hey, I’m a Christian, too!”
Lenore’s hand came up to draw Ken down, but he shrugged her hand away.
“I love Jesus,” Ken shouted. “I read the Bible. You can’t tell me that I’m not a Christian!”