I spent a couple of minutes on top of the container, watching Wilbur James and his grandson carry the two M60 machine guns up a ladder. They set them up to bracket the highway, each one settling in about 75 yards on either side of me. I nodded my approval and as each of them started working with a couple of teenagers they’d brought along to act as gun crews I turned to look back to the north. Four more containers were arriving and the forklifts split when they reached the wall, two going to the right and two to the left. Another four containers. Another 160 feet. Two vehicles with red and blue flashing lights were fast approaching and I climbed down the ladder to meet them as another rumble of thunder, closer this time, rolled over the town. The air felt heavy and charged with energy and I expected we were in for a hell of a storm.
When I reached the ground an ambulance led by Sergeant Jackson pulled to a stop. The driver side door of the ambulance opened, activating the dome light, and I could see Rachel and Dog climb down out of the vehicle. A large pickup truck that I hadn’t noticed pulled in next to the ambulance and the driver, one of Jackson’s officers stepped out and waved me over. Curious I went to the back of the vehicle where he was standing and couldn’t suppress a big grin. In the bed of the truck was a crated 60 MM mortar and half a dozen crates of mortar bombs. The officer was smiling too and used his night stick to break off the lid on one of the crates of bombs. The crate held 20 HE – high explosive – bombs nestled into wooden cut outs and padded with shredded cardboard.
“Thought you’d like this,” he said, looking at the grin on my face.
“You have no idea,” I said, pointing at a spot 100 feet behind the wall and in the center of the highway. “Can you put it all right there?”
“You got it,” he said and jumped back into the truck to move the weapon to the middle of the street.
Dog had trotted over and was nudging my hip with his head. I absently scratched his ears and turned as the man with the cans of spray paint came running up, pushing a rattling shopping cart half full of spray cans.
“Where?” He shouted to me without breaking stride.
“By the ammo supply.” I pointed. “Grab someone to be ready to help you and stand by. We need a few more containers first.” He nodded and ran to where I had indicated, pushing the cart to rest against the tall tires of the truck, then looked around for someone who wasn’t doing anything.
A screech of tires sounded in the parking lot and an aging Buick came to a stop. The man that owned the radio shop waved from behind the windshield then he and the women who had gone with him jumped out and started loading up their arms with stacks of walkie talkies from the trunk. He walked over to me and I picked two of them, handing one to Rachel.
“Sorry it took so long. We put batteries in each one and set them all to the same frequency. They’re ready to go.”
“Excellent,” I said. “Hammond!” I shouted to the Coast Guard NCO who was making sure the football team was stacking the sand bags neatly as they were filled. He trotted over and I pointed at the radios and told him to make sure each NCO received one. He nodded, grabbed one for himself and waved for them to follow as he set off to get our communications distributed.
“Alright, in the ambulance.” Rachel said, grabbing my left arm and pulling me towards the vehicle. She led me to the back and opened the doors, climbing up inside and sitting on a padded bench that ran the length of the wall. I joined her and Dog jumped up as well, giving Rachel a look when she kicked him out and made him wait on the ground just outside. Rachel opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of medical scissors that she used to cut the bandages off each hand. Thunder rumbled louder while she worked.
“I’d better do something to waterproof these when I re-bandage,” she said without pausing in her work. “Sounds like we’re about to get soaked.”
Bandages off she examined my wounds under the bright lights in the back of the ambulance and nodded to herself. From another drawer she produced more antibiotic ointment which was liberally smeared onto my wounds. Standing up she dug through her pocket for a key she used to open a couple of locked drawers. Leaving the key in the lock she picked through and pulled out two different syringes wrapped in paper and a couple of different vials of liquid, one clear and one cloudy and yellow. While she was getting what she needed Sergeant Jackson walked up to the back of the ambulance and stood next to Dog.
“Are we going to be ready?” He asked.
“We have a chance,” I said with much more conviction than I felt, but I wasn’t going to let anyone see a shred of doubt. Right now my outward confidence was as important as any preparation we were making. “How’s the evacuation going?”
“The railroad guys are getting a train hooked up and I’ve got men going through town and sending people to the passenger terminal. I’ve got to get back in a few but I got a call from the hospital that they were under attack and I had to run over.”
He watched as Rachel inserted the smaller needle into the vial of clear liquid and extracted enough to fill the syringe.
“You know she took the key for the narcotics cabinet there from an EMT at gunpoint, then stole the ambulance. All of this after she threatened to shoot one of the doctors in the balls.” I looked at him then turned and caught Rachel grinning as she held my right hand and prepared to insert a needle.
“He taught me everything I know,” Rachel sassed then the needle went into the raw flesh of my hand and liquid fire flowed into me.
“Fuck me,” was the only reaction I made, but I wanted to jump, yell, scream and flap my hand in the air like a maniac. Fortunately I didn’t because moments later the pain started easing and blessed numbness began to spread across my palm. Several injections later Rachel turned my hand over and did the same thing on the back. Finished with my right she moved and started working on my left. While she worked I tested the hand, making a fist and squeezing, then wiggling each finger individually. Not perfect, but at least the pain was gone for the moment. Finished with my left she started bandaging me back up.
“Sergeant, is his pack still in your car?” Rachel asked without looking up from her work.
“Yes, ma’am. Do you need it?”
Rachel finished the bandaging then slipped a latex glove onto each hand to protect the heavy gauze and used medical tape to seal the cuff of each glove around my wrist so water wouldn’t run down inside. More thunder, much closer, and Jackson returned and deposited my pack in the ambulance. Rachel opened it and looked through until she found a pair of thin leather gloves that she handed me. Slipping them on I secured the Velcro tabs at the wrist so they were tight and tried my hands again. I was able to open and close my hands most of the way, but more importantly I could grip my rifle and pistol without pain. Without much pain would be more accurate. I reached behind my back and drew the Kukri, but wasn’t confident I could grip it tightly enough to be effective with it. Oh well, good enough for now.
“One last thing,” Rachel said, filling a much larger needle and syringe with the yellowish liquid.
“Oh shit. Really?”
“Yep. Stand up, turn around and drop your pants.” She said with a grin.
“I’ve been waiting for you to say that to… Ouch!” Rachel jabbed the needle into my ass, probably harder than she would have if I hadn’t been being a smart ass. As bad as the needle was, the antibiotic hurt like hell when she pressed the plunger. A moment later, syringe empty, Rachel pulled the needle out and swabbed the spot with an alcohol pad then pulled my underwear back up and snapped the elastic waistband into place.
“Just because you were crucified doesn’t mean you need to get a God complex. You need a shower,” she said, slapping my ass on the exact spot she had just injected then started straightening up the supplies she had used. The loudest peel of thunder yet sounded and Dog whined and jumped into the ambulance with us, willing to risk Rachel’s wrath rather than stand out in the open. He pushed up against me and shoved his head behind me to look at Rachel from a safe distance.
“Sounds like we’re all about to get a shower,” I said, properly put back in my place. I pulled my pants up and buckled my belt.
Stepping down from the ambulance I looked up at the wall and an idea struck me. I turned to Sergeant Jackson just as the first rain drop fell, splattering directly on my nose. Wiping the water out of my eyes I asked him, “How many fire trucks in this town?”
“Three,” he said after a moment’s thought.
“Get them here. Now.” I said, turning back to the wall and starting to count containers. Four more had just arrived and the forklifts were roaring back into town to get more. I heard Jackson on the police radio issuing orders and heard the acknowledgement that the fire department was on their way. He wished me luck and took off to make sure the evacuation was progressing smoothly. I didn’t think there was any way we could stop the infected, rather my plan was to hold them at the wall for a while. Hopefully long enough to get all the people in the town loaded onto a train that would head west towards Kansas City.
It took me a few minutes to finish counting and by the time I was done four more containers were arriving. I added them to the total and came up with 44 containers. 1,760 feet. We were getting there. I dashed forward and climbed the first ladder I came to and looked up and down the top of the wall. It was already impressive, but not enough, I knew. Turning to my left I started jogging along until I came to the end of the final container. Ahead I could see Forrest Avenue curve to the south and decided this was far enough. Running back I reached the center of the wall just as four more containers arrived. Climbing down I trotted to Jim’s forklift and gave him updated instructions. Only one container was going to the left, east, and it was going to be at a 45 degree angle to the wall, the far end of it angling south. I had noticed the terrain quickly grew very rugged as I had jogged east, and I expected that the more difficult terrain would help to keep the infected funneled along the highway. I hoped.
Climbing back down I found the paint guy, waiting right where I’d asked, a woman standing next to him. I started explaining what I needed as soon as I walked up to them. “I want the wall broken up into numbered sections. Every three containers makes up one section. Start at the far east end and the first three containers are number 1. The next three are number 2. Got it?”
The both nodded their heads.
“On the top of each container I want the number of that section painted every 10 feet, so you’ll paint a number four times on the top of each container. On the face of each container, right in the center, paint the same number very large so it can be seen from a good distance. Repeat back to me what you’re doing.” They repeated it back correctly and I sent them on their way, the woman running east along Forrest Avenue pushing the shopping cart, the man rushing up a ladder and heading east along the top of the wall. I wanted the numbers every ten feet so in the heat of battle if someone needed help they didn’t have to look far to find their location.
Looking around I was pleased to see a large group of women seated on the ground, surrounded by crates of loose ammo and empty magazines. They were loading the magazines and stacking them into waiting crates. The football team was organized and kept moving the full crates to the side and placing empty ones back within easy reach of the women. I dug the walkie talkie out of my pants pocket and raised it to my mouth and pressed the transmit button.
“All NCOs attention. All NCOs attention.” I gave them a moment to hear their radios and listen, then started transmitting again. “Get your shooters armed and on the wall. First unit on move all the way to the east, then let’s fill from there. Each unit spread out across three containers. Let’s go!”
There was almost immediate movement from the large group that had been sitting quietly out of the way. A man I recognized as one of the NCOs stood up and 25 people stood and followed him to where the rifles were neatly lined up by the two deuce and a halfs. As each man, and woman, moved down the line they grabbed a rifle, moved forward where they were handed half a dozen loaded magazines, continued on to grab a sandbag that was held out to them by one of the football players then climbed a ladder and headed east. The next NCO had his group lined up behind the first one and ready to go. Satisfied things were working for the moment I called Rachel on the radio and told her where to find me. It took her a minute but she trotted up with Dog at her side.
“I need you right next to me,” I said. “There will be things that need done that can’t get done over the radio once the shooting starts.”
“Whatever you need,” she said.
“Thanks. And I want you to keep Dog with you.” Rachel nodded and we stood and watched the shooters continue to arm themselves on their way to the wall.
Containers were still arriving, Jim waving as he roared by with another section of the wall. Behind the last forklift three bright red fire trucks arrived, swinging into the parking lot and coming to a stop, side by side. I walked over, Rachel and Dog trailing me, and met the fire captain when he swung down from the lead truck. He introduced himself and I shook hands with him, suppressing the wince that wanted to form on my face when he squeezed my hand. I looked at the three trucks and quickly explained what I wanted. He grinned, nodded and climbed back into the cab of the truck and got on the radio to explain to the other firemen what was happening. I headed back to the wall and climbed a ladder to the top, Rachel following as Dog sat at the bottom of the wall and watched us.
The rain had started, big drops but not a lot of them and lightning lit the night like a strobe light. The thunder wasn’t far behind, the bass boom so loud it rattled the metal container I was standing on. Shit. Metal in a thunder storm. Maybe not my best idea, but it was all we had. The infected should be arriving very soon and we didn’t have time to do anything else. The shooters were moving quickly and efficiently and the wall was quickly getting lined with people laying on their stomachs, rifles resting on sand bags and pointing to the south. Diesel engines roared behind me as more containers arrived. More engines added to the noise as the fire trucks maneuvered into place and I turned to watch.
The largest fire truck, one of these impossibly long ladder trucks that has to have a pivot point in the middle and another driver at the very back, came to a stop on the side of the highway and across Forrest Avenue, front bumper only yards from the wall. With a whine of hydraulics it extended two giant legs on each side that would stabilize it when the ladder was raised. Firemen scurried around the truck, two of them dragging a thick hose across the pavement and connecting it to a fire hydrant. Other firemen set about raising the ladder and I could see the captain himself sitting in the basket at the top of the ladder. He waved then hit a switch that turned on a bank of brilliant halogen lights. The lights were 50 feet in the air and aimed over the wall and lit up the highway like it was noon. The other two trucks, both ladder trucks but smaller, positioned themselves to either side of the big truck, directly behind the two machine gun emplacements, raised their ladders and turned their lights on too. The result was a 250 yard width of wall that was as well-lit as any stadium I had ever seen at night.
More containers arrived and the shooters kept filing up the ladders and into their sections. Lightning flashed again, close enough that the thunder rattled my fillings almost before the lightning faded. The rain started falling harder and the wind picked up a little, blowing out of the south and driving the rain directly into the faces of the shooters. I lifted the walkie talkie to my mouth and reminded the NCOs to enforce fire discipline, making sure their people were firing single shots only, not full auto. That done, I didn’t know what else to do at the moment, so I stood in the rain and waited for the first infected to appear on the highway.