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Up on the Roof


On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be

And there, the world below can’t bother me

—The Drifters (lyrics by Gerry Goffin and Carole King)


“Well, that plan just went up in smoke. We waited too long to leave. Now what do we do?” Andrea Kaminski ran fingers through her hair. At the age of sixty-eight, her hair was gray now and a lot shorter, but it was still as thick as it had been when she was a youngster.

Nobody in the living room said anything. As was true of Andy herself, they were all staring at the images on the big plasma TV screen.

Staring at the images—and listening to the sounds.

“You can easily hear the gunfire,” said the TV announcer, a middle-aged man by the name of Bob Lubrano. He turned to the younger woman sitting next to him at the long announcers’ desk, who was looking at something out of the view of the audience. “Can you see anything, Karen?”

Karen Wakefield shook her head, still not taking her eyes from whatever she was looking at. Another TV monitor, presumably. “Other than the traffic jam on I-80 which we’re showing our audience, nothing. I’m not sure where that gunfire is coming from.”

Andy thought calling the scene being shown on the screen a “traffic jam” was like referring to Lake Michigan as a “body of water.” Every single lane on I-80—westbound or eastbound, it didn’t matter—was a solid mass of cars and trucks, not a single one of which was moving at all. There were a few vehicles trying to make their way along the shoulders, but not even many of those—and none of them were moving any faster than a man could walk. On crutches.

The female announcer turned her head back to face the audience. “The scene is pretty much the same no matter which interstate you look at. Here’s some footage that just came in from I-55 near Willow Springs.”

The image on the screen changed in detail; but, generically, it was identical. None of the vehicles on the interstate that connected Chicago and St. Louis were moving any faster than the ones on I-80.

“And here’s what I-90 looks like a little past O’Hare airport.” Her face twisted into a grimace. “Or what used to be O’Hare airport, before the plane crashes.”

One of the men in Andy Kaminski’s living room finally provided an answer to her question. That was Federico Rodriguez, who went by the nickname of Freddy.

“Maybe we could hole up in the Carson Pirie Scott building at Woodmar Mall,” he suggested. “The place is built like a fortress. There’s no windows at all and only two entrances. Yeah, sure, they’re pretty big—three or four glass doors, if I remember right.” He waved a big hand toward the street outside. “But I’ve got welding equipment in my truck. We could probably seal the entrances.”

His father Luis perked up a little. “We don’t have to seal it well enough to keep real people out. Just…those things…” He pointed at the screen, which was now showing a scene from the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway in the Loop, Chicago’s downtown area.

The image, like all the previous ones, was being transmitted from a helicopter. No reporters on the ground could have survived more than a minute or two. The whole area was overrun by hundreds—it might easily be thousands—of naked figures.

“Zombies,” Luis concluded. “Whatever you want to call them.”

Freddy’s proposal was tempting. Andy had shopped in that Carson’s building plenty of times and knew it quite well. It was built like a fortress, leaving aside the big entrances on the north and south sides of the store. And since they’d torn down the rest of the mall, the building stood by itself. But…

She shook her head. “Guys, we already chewed this over. We can’t take the risk of being inside a building. Whatever this virus is, it’s virulent as all hell. We need to stay outdoors and as far away from other people as we can.”

Luis’ neighbor Pedro Vargas spoke up. “Yeah, fine. That’s why we were planning to drive down to Shawnee National Forest. But like you said—that plan went up in smoke. Wherever we’re going to go, it’s got to be within a few miles of here. We’ll never get any farther than that.”

His Puerto Rican accent was thicker than that of Luis Rodriguez, but his English was fluent. So was Flora Rodriguez’s, when she chimed in.

“There’s no open area worth talking about anywhere in northern Lake County,” she said, standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “Not that I know of, anyway.”

For the first time since they started watching the TV news, Andy’s husband spoke up.

“Yeah, there is.” Tom’s heavy face twisted into a smile of sorts. “In a manner of speaking. You should head for one of the tank farms.”

Flora frowned at him. “Tank—what? Farms? What are you talking about?”

Unlike Tom, neither of the Rodriguez men nor Pedro had ever worked in an oil refinery or chemical plant. But because of the jobs they’d held, they were all familiar with the facilities. Northwest Indiana was one of the nation’s major industrial centers, concentrated especially in steel making and all types of chemical production.

“He’s talking about those big storage tanks,” said Lujis. “You know—those white cylinders you see all over the place. There’s a huge tank farm not far from here, part of the BP refinery in Whiting.”

“God, no!” said Tom forcefully. “The last place you want to be in a catastrophe is right next to an oil refinery.” He leaned forward in his wheelchair and pointed at the TV screen.

“That’s what our grandson Jack calls a zombie apocalypse. Give it a few days—hell, give it a few hours, for all I know—and that big refinery less than two miles from here is going to become a catastrophe of its own. I doubt if anybody’s still in control over there and I’m sure and certain they didn’t have time to shut down the refinery properly. Sooner or later, something’s going to blow.”

He swiveled his armchair and rolled to the side window, looking to the southeast. “Go for the tank farm down by Cline Avenue. It’s even bigger—must be a mile long, half a mile wide—and it’s not close to anything dangerous. Get on top of one of the tanks in the middle of the farm. You won’t be visible from the roads and you’ll have a clear line of fire for at least forty or fifty yards in any direction, and hundreds of yards if no other tank’s in the way. For all practical purposes you’ll be on top of a steel castle with sheer walls that no naked mindless zombie can climb. The only access to the roof is a narrow winding staircase. That’s easily defensible anyway, but if it was me I’d cut off the bottom ten or fifteen feet of the staircase with a cutting torch and substitute ladders for that stretch that you can haul up when you’re not using them.”

He wheeled back around to face the room. “Make sure you pick a tank with a fixed roof, though. Some of ’em got floating roofs. You can stand on those, more or less, but there’ll be vapor leakage.”

As he’d talked, Andy’s apprehension had steadily grown. “What’s with this you-you-you bullshit, Tom?” she demanded. “You’re coming with us.”

Her husband shook his head. “Get serious, woman.” He gestured with his hands toward what was left of his legs. “I didn’t think I could make it even in the woods, although I was willing to try. How the hell do you think I’m going to get up on top of an oil storage tank? They’re more than fifty feet high. My legs are useless and I weigh close to three hundred pounds. Just go, will you? Face it—I’m done.”

Andy knew there was more at work here than stoic practicality on her husband’s part. Thomas Kaminski had been an outdoorsman and hunter his whole life, until an industrial accident had taken both his legs off at the knees a decade earlier. He still maintained his shooting skills at a firing range and went fishing from time to time, but those activities were a pale shadow of what he’d been accustomed to. He’d been in a state of depression ever since—which now seemed to have become suicidal. There was no way he could survive on his own in the crisis that had engulfed the whole world, and he knew it as well as she did.

“I said, cut the bullshit!” she snapped at him. “We’ll figure out something.”

“Won’t even be that hard,” said Freddy Rodriguez. “You still got plenty of strength in your upper body, Tom—I’ve seen you lift weights so don’t bother arguing about it—and those spiral staircases have solid handrails. I weigh about two hundred and fifty and I’m pretty damn strong, if I say so myself. Between you working your way up on the rail and me hoisting your fat butt, we’ll get you there.”

Pedro Vargas weighed in then—and did it just the right way. “You got to come with us, Tom. We need you. You’re the only one of us was a hunter and really knows how to use a rifle. Me and Luis—Freddy, too—we all got guns, sure. But they’re pistols and shotguns.” He nodded his head toward the far wall. “I don’t think Jerry’s got a rifle, either. He’s never gone hunting that I know of.”

Jerry Haywood and his wife Latoya were neighbors who were also planning to come on what they’d all intended to be an expedition into the forested hills in southern Illinois. Jerry was a security guard for one of the nearby casinos and Latoya worked in a factory that manufactured cardboard containers. They were both around Freddy’s age—forty or so—and had two teenage children, a boy and a girl.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang. When Andy’s grandson Jack went to open the door, she could see the Haywood couple standing on the porch beyond, along with their daughter Jayden. All of them looked worried.

“Come on in,” she said.

Jerry started talking before he even got through the door. “You see the news? There’s no way we’re going to get down to Shawnee.”

Behind him, his wife said, “Hell, we ain’t got no chance of getting out of Lake County, much less the whole state of Indiana.”

“Yeah, we saw,” said Freddy. He gestured toward Andy’s husband. “Tom thinks we oughta set up on top of one of the oil storage tanks.”

Jerry stopped abruptly, frowning. “That’s…maybe not a bad idea.”

Latoya was frowning too. “But can we all fit? There’s what? Fifteen of us, right?”

“Probably be more than that,” said her husband. “Assuming our son comes back with his girlfriend and her father. Which I figure he will if Ceyonne’s dad don’t decide to just shoot him instead.”

Andy chuckled. Ceyonne Bennett’s father Jerome was a cop for the city of East Chicago, and while he was generally an even-tempered man he had the same attitude on the subject of daughter’s boyfriend that most fathers of seventeen-year-old girls did.

Luis looked at Tom. “So what’s the answer? Can we all fit up there?”

“For Chrissake, there must be at least twenty tanks in that farm,” Tom said. “Even the smaller ones are eighty feet in diameter—and I think most of them are a hundred and ten feet across. Figure out the math.”

Freddy’s business as a mechanical and electrical contractor made him at ease with basic mathematics. It didn’t take him more than a few seconds to come up with the answer. “He’s right. Even an eighty foot diameter tank gives us about five thousand square feet on the roof.” He glanced around Andy and Tom’s house. “This is what? A third of that?”

“We got fourteen hundred square feet on the main floor and another thousand or so in the basement,” said Tom. He’d been a machinist most of his life and he was proficient with numbers himself. “So we’d have twice as much space even on one of the smaller tanks. If we pick one that’s a hundred and ten feet across, we’re looking at…” His eyes got a little unfocused.

Freddy came up with the answer before he did. “Damn near ten thousand square feet.”

Latoya was still frowning. “Yeah, fine—but there’s no roof.

Tom shrugged. “We were planning to live in tents and those two big vinyl tool sheds, weren’t we? What’s the difference if they’re on top of a steel tank instead of dirt and pine needles in a forest?”

“Can’t drive tent stakes into steel,” Jerry pointed out.

“No, you can’t. But we’ve got lots of tape and every kind of glue you can think of.” Tom nodded toward Freddy. “Best thing, though, is just have Freddy weld the stakes to the roof of the tanks.”

Luis Rodriguez looked alarmed. “You want to weld stuff to a giant tank full of gasoline?”

Freddy smiled. “Relax, Dad. I’ll be using oxy-acetylene, not arc welding. And all I gotta do is tack weld the stakes. We’ll get some strong winds up there in a storm but tornadoes hardly ever come this close to the lake.”

He pursed his lips. “Now that I think about it, though…Tom, what happens in a thunderstorm? Does lightning ever strike those storage tanks?”

“You better believe it does,” said Andy’s husband. “Refinery workers stay the hell off of ’em in a thunderstorm. The tanks do have lightning energy distribution systems—basically, pointed steel rods connected to copper alloy cables running down the sides of the tanks into the ground. To be on the safe side, though, I think we’ll want to also weld on some sort of lightning rod too—better attach it to the staircase—and figure out some sort of insulation to put all the tents on. Rubber matting, if we can scrounge some up—we’ve got some in the basement—and whatever else we can think of. And I’d strongly recommend that in a thunderstorm everybody crowds into the two vinyl sheds and stays out of the tents.”

Pedro made a face. “They’re not that big!” he protested. “Ten by eight feet, that’s all.” Being an electrician, he was just as handy with arithmetic as any of them. “That’s one hundred and sixty square feet—for fifteen or sixteen people.”

“Subtract me,” said Tom. “No way me and the wheelchair will fit. I’ll just have to take my chances in a tent.”

His expression was simultaneously lugubrious and self-satisfied. Imminent likely doom for the cripple, just as I foretold.

But Andy let it go, for the time being. At least Tom was now agreeing to come with them. Thunderstorms were a problem for another day.

“Still a tight fit,” said Pedro.

Jerry Haywood shrugged. His expression no longer seemed worried, just resigned to the inevitable. “Yeah, it’ll be tight—sitting room only, and some of us will probably have to stand. But thunderstorms don’t come around all that often and they don’t last long when they do. It’s better than being fried by a lightning bolt coming down a tent pole.”

There was a sudden commotion that drew everyone’s attention back to the TV screen. They’d been showing images of jammed-up highways from a helicopter, but now the scene was jumping around wildly.

Get them off of me! Get ’em—aaaah!” The camera swung around and they got a glimpse of the pilot. He was writhing in his seat and was apparently trying to tear his clothes off. A hand appeared from the side, holding a pistol. There was a shot to the back of the pilot’s head that splattered blood and brains all over the cockpit window.

An amazingly calm voice now spoke—presumably belonging to whoever had fired the shot. “He turned. I hope one of you knows how to fly this thing.

You idiot!” shouted another voice. The image on the TV screen now flittered every which way, for a few seconds, before it went blank.

A moment later, the image of the two announcers returned. Both of them were still sitting behind their desk.

“Apparently we lost the chopper,” said Karen Wakefield shakily.

Her partner Bob Lubrano rose abruptly from his chair. It turned out he was wearing blue jeans beneath the suit jacket. “To hell with this,” he said. “I’m out of here.”

A moment later he was gone. Wakefield stared after him for a short time and then brought her eyes back to the camera. “What about you, Ken?” she asked.

A voice came from somewhere—presumably belonging to whoever was operating the video equipment. “Where else is there to go? I figure we may as well keep working. But it’s your call, Karen. If you leave there’s no point in me staying.”

She took a deep breath and let it out. Then, nodded firmly.

“We’ll stay, then. The show must go on and all that.” She even managed to smile at the audience.

Andy picked up the remote and turned off the TV. “Let’s get moving, people. Tom, we got everything we need? The U-Haul’s already loaded and so’s Freddy’s truck. But we still got some room in the pickups and the van.”

Her husband tugged at his beard. “Well…we outfitted for camping, not perching on top of a storage tank. So…yeah, I can think of some things we could use.”

“Where are we going to get them?” asked Luis. “If it’s anything from Cabela’s or Home Depot or Lowe’s, forget it. Those places were already madhouses a week ago when we did our shopping. Today…”

Tom shook his head. He’d come to the same conclusion. “Yeah, I know. The Wal-Mart and all the supermarkets will be impossible too. What we need are places that nobody’ll be thinking to stock up from—or loot, by now, probably—so we can get in and out.”

“What about cops?” asked Latoya. “Seeing as how—don’t lie about it!—you’re talking about us looting too.”

Tom scowled at her. “Damn it, Latoya, I’d be happy to pay anyone who asks for money. But nobody’s going to be tending any stores today, you know it as well as I do. What choice do we have except to break in? Speaking of which—” He eyed Freddy.

“Typical white guy,” said Freddy, grinning. “Wants the Puerto Rican to do the breaking and entering.” He pointed a thumb at Jerry Haywood. “Why not get the Negro to do it?”

Haywood grinned too. “Me? I’ve never been arrested once in my life. My cousin James says I’m a discredit to the race. Well, would say, except he’s serving time himself. I’d feel sorry for him if he weren’t such an asshole, because good luck surviving a zombie apocalypse in Miami Correctional Facility.”

Latoya was scowling at all of them. She had a lighter complexion than her husband, but at the moment her expression made her seem very dark indeed. “My husband is not breaking into anyone else’s private property.”

Tom shrugged again. “He’s going to have to help break into something, Latoya. The tank farm will be chained and locked up too, y’know. So take your pick.”

Freddy stood up. “I got more room in my van than Jerry does in his SUV, so I’ll go on the shopping spree. Unless it’ll take a cutting torch to get into the tank farm?”

“It’ll just be a chain and padlock,” said Tom. “The bolt cutter should handle it fine. Who you going to take with you?”

“How much heavy lifting will be involved?”

Tom mused on the problem for a moment. “Might be…quite a bit, actually. You better take our grandson. And you’ll need someone as a lookout—and he better have a gun, too. Zombies are starting—”

He broke off, hearing the sound of a motorcycle coming down the street. “Is that Eddie?”

Pedro was already looking out the window. “Yeah, it’s Eddie—and Ceyonne’s riding behind him.”

Tom nodded. “Good. We can send both of them with Freddy.”

Latoya now focused her scowl on Kaminski. “Why you want to send my son out to break the law?” she demanded.

“I don’t want him so much as I do his girlfriend,” said Tom. “I’m willing to bet she’s carrying—and she knows how to use a gun. There are advantages to having a cop for a father even if”—he smiled up at her slyly—“it probably makes your little boy nervous now and then.”

Latoya started to say something but her husband put a hand on her shoulder. “Let it go, hon. He’s right and you know it. There won’t be any way to get anything legally today—and so what? Ceyonne’s dad is the only cop I know pigheaded enough to still be on duty. Which I’m willing to bet is why he sent her along with Eddie.”

His son confirmed that guess less than a minute later, when he came into the house.

“Yeah, that’s what happened. Ceyonne’s dad—”

“The stupid fuck!” his girlfriend snarled.

“—says he’s got to stay on the job. Now more than ever, he says.”

“The stupid fuck!” she repeated.

Eddie Haywood shrugged. “That’s what he’s like. Anyway, he told me to bring Ceyonne over here. He figures she’ll be safer with us than anywhere else.”


Ceyonne Bennett was a big girl, five feet nine inches tall, with a rather heavy build. She was normally attractive, in a round cheery-faced sort of way, but right now she just looked furious.

“He’s the only cop in East Chicago still on the job!” she said, half-wailing. “What the hell good does he think he can do on his own?”

Andy was inclined to agree with her. But there was no point in pursuing the matter so she got right down to business.

“We need you and Eddie to help Freddy and Jack go—ah—shopping. You got a gun on you?”

Ceyonne sniffed. “You mean go break into someplace and steal stuff. Yeah, I got a gun. Two of them, actually.” She moved her jacket to the side showing a small pistol in a holster in her waistband. “This isn’t exactly legal, since I’m not old enough for a concealed carry license. But my dad’s not totally crazy about minding the law. He’s the one got me the holster as well as the gun.”

She jerked her head backward. “And I got my nine millimeter in the saddlebag on Eddie’s bike. That’s got seventeen rounds to go with the six”—she patted the gun at her waist—“in this little .380. Ought to be enough, no matter what we run into.”

Jack Kaminski grinned at her. Andy’s grandson liked Ceyonne a lot. Andy thought he probably had a crush on her, but given that Ceyonne already had a boyfriend and was a year and a half older than he was—a big deal for teenagers—he’d never acted on it.

“Zombie apocalypse, remember?” he said to her.

Ceyonne blew a raspberry at him. “Zombies, my ass. They ain’t dead yet, I’ll make ’em so. When are we leaving?”

“Right now,” said Freddy.

“Better take one of the walkie-talkies,” urged his father. “Cell phones are still working, but who knows how long that’ll last?”

Freddy nodded. “I got one in the van already. You figured out where we’re going yet, Tom?”

Kaminski nodded. “The Office Depot down on Indianapolis Boulevard. If things are too crazy there because it’s pretty close to Meijer’s, then try the OfficeMax across the street. I can’t think of anything over there that’d be drawing much attention right now.”

Office supplies?” said their grandson, looking startled.

Tom chuckled. “Yeah, who’d ever think of looting that in a zombie apocalypse?”

“So what are we looking for there?” asked Freddy.

“First of all—these will be heavy and a bitch to load, but we need them—are cases of paper. Each one will hold ten reams and they’re about eighteen by twelve by twelve inches. We want…”

Tom’s eyes got unfocused again as he calculated. “At least forty cases. Fifty would be better.”

Freddy’s eyes were wide. “That many? What the hell for? You’re talking about the better part of a ton.”

“Sound proofing.”


“Think it through, Freddy. We’re bringing two generators with us because whatever else, we need electricity and when the grid goes down—which it’s bound to sooner or later—the only way to get it is with portable gas generators. They don’t make a whole lot of noise but they do make some, and one thing that’s been established about these zombies is that light and noise attracts them. So we need a way to deaden the sound.”

Freddy scratched his jaw. “Okay. But…can’t we use something like, I don’t know…”

“The only way to really deaden noise is with mass, Freddy. The best thing would probably be sheets of dry wall with insulation between them, but we’ve already agreed there’s no way we’ll get into a Lowe’s or Home Depot. The one thing that will do a good job in an office products store is cases of paper. We’ll use them to build a hut for the generators. Then cover it with plastic sheets to keep the rain off. Which is one of the reasons you also need to grab as much bubble wrap as you can find. Big garbage bags, too.”

Freddy sighed. “Fine. What else?”

“You know those clear plastic mats they sell to put under a chair so as to protect floors and carpets? Grab as many of those as they’ve got. They’re vinyl and while they probably aren’t as good as rubber mats—”

“Insulation, I got it. In case of lightning strikes. What else?”

“Bubble wrap, like I said, all you can find. And tape. We already got a lot of duct tape but we’re going to need more. We weren’t figuring on living on top of a steel floor fifty feet in the air. I don’t know if they’ll have duct tape but for sure they’ll have shipping tape, which is pretty damn good stuff.”

Jack piped up. “I saw an episode on Mythbusters where the two guys got out of being stranded in a desert just using duct tape and bubble wrap. They made insulated clothes out of it—even made a boat.”

Tom nodded. “Duct tape is the best evidence there is that God really exists.” He waved his hand. “But you need to get going, Freddy—and so do the rest of us. We’ll meet you down at the tank farm. If the cell phones go out, switch to the walkie-talkies.”

Freddy left, with her grandson Jack in tow along with Eddie Haywood and Ceyonne Bennett. Andy turned to the people still in the house.

“Okay, let’s get moving. By now, I think most everything’s already packed except the rubber matting we got downstairs in the exercise room. We’ll need to pull all that up.”

“On it,” said Latoya, heading for the door to the basement. “Give me a hand, Jayden.” Her daughter followed her. So did Freddy’s wife Victoria.

Andy looked around. “Is there anything else we’re overlooking?” She waited a few seconds. “No? Okay, then, we’ll leave as soon as we’ve got the mats loaded.”


They hadn’t gotten four blocks when Andy saw someone she recognized walking down the street ahead. It was one of the waitresses at a nearby diner. When the girl turned her head to look at them Andy saw she’d been crying.

Andy pulled the truck over. Tom, riding next to her, already had the window down.

“What’s wrong, Sam?” he asked.

Samantha Crane was short, a bit stocky—and about as pretty as any nineteen-year-old girl Andy had ever met, in a cute streaky-blonde sort of way.

“My mother,” Sam said. She wiped her runny nose with the back of her hand. “She…she tried to kill me.”

Andy hissed in a breath. She liked Sam—but if she’d been bitten by a zombie…

“Did she bite you? Even get close to you?” asked Tom.

Sam shook her head. “No. I was coming home from work—Rochelle shut the restaurant down, since there wasn’t any business anyway—when Mom came charging out of the house. She was naked. And screeching like you wouldn’t believe. I took off running and she followed me for a couple of blocks before something distracted her.”

The girl pointed down the street. “I’m heading for the diner. Rochelle’s planning to just stay there even though it’s closed because…well, she’s got nowhere else to go. I figured I’d join her. Don’t know what else to do.”

Sam and her mother lived alone. The truth is, the two of them didn’t get along that well, which Andy thought was part of the reason the girl worked so many hours on her job. Rochelle Lewis, the restaurant’s manager, had become something of a surrogate mother for her.

Andy glanced at Tom. He had that mulish look on his face that she’d come to know very well, having been married to him for damn near half a century.

She sighed. She had her doubts, because the more people they added the greater the chances became that someone had been infected by the zombie virus. But…

She pointed with her thumb over her shoulder, indicating the short line of vehicles that had come to a stop behind her. “Come with us. Get in Pedro’s truck. He’s only got his mother with him so there’s room. If need be, put her on your lap. Yarelis doesn’t weigh more than ninety pounds.”

Sam looked at the pickup. Then, shook her head. “Thanks, Andy. But I can’t leave Rochelle alone. She’s got nobody either since her mom died and she threw out that asshole husband of hers.”

Tom cleared his throat. “Rochelle’s good people,” he said. “And we got too damn many old farts. Need some more young folks.”

Rochelle Lewis wasn’t exactly “young.” Andy wasn’t sure of her age but the restaurant manager looked to be somewhere in her late thirties or early forties. But given that their group did have a high percentage of older people—Pedro’s mother was in her eighties—she could see Tom’s point.

What the hell. She liked Rochelle herself and the idea of leaving the woman all alone in a shuttered restaurant was just…


“Okay,” she said. “We’ll swing by the diner and pick her up too. Now get in. We’re in a hurry.”

As if to add emphasis to her words, they heard a screech coming from somewhere nearby. Several screeches, in fact. Zombies weren’t exactly pack hunters, but from what she’d seen on the television they did usually come in groups.

Sam hurried over to Pedro’s truck and the caravan was on its way again.

Fortunately, the diner didn’t take them very far out of their way. When they pulled up outside, Sam hopped out of the truck and went over to the door and started slapping it with her hand.

“Open up, Rochelle! Open up!”

A few seconds later, the door swung open. The African-American woman standing there was not much taller than Sam herself and just about as pretty, although her good looks were more on the elegant side than what you’d call “cute.”

She seemed a little startled when Sam gave her a fierce hug. Technically, the younger woman was Rochelle’s employee, after all, not a close friend or relative. But within two seconds she was returning the hug.

Tom leaned out of the window. “Come on, girls! We gotta move. Rochelle, there’s room in the Haywood’s SUV since they just got their daughter with them.”

Rochelle looked at the vehicle in question, then back at Tom and Andy. “Where y’all going?”

“Just…call it ‘up on the roof.’ Best place we can think of—and sure as hell a lot better than being holed up by yourself in there.”

The manager still hesitated. Andy leaned over and shouted past her husband.

“Damn it, Rochelle—come on! That door you got on the restaurant’s mostly glass. It won’t take zombies more’n a few seconds to smash their way in.”

After a moment, the woman nodded. “Okay.” She gestured behind her. “Anything in here I should bring with me? The owner’s off visiting his folks in Ohio and he’s a shithead anyway.”

Apparently, Tom had already been thinking along those lines because his answer came instantly. “Yeah, there is. Grab whatever big knives you got and toss ’em into the biggest pots you got. Then—you’ll need help”—he gestured with a thumb to the vehicles behind them—“because we want all the tablecloths you can bring.”

“Tablecloths?” Rochelle frowned, obviously puzzled.

“Yeah. They’re some kind of plastic, right? We’ll want them to collect rainwater. Ain’t no Artesian wells where we’re going.”

Andy heard the sound of more screeching. It seemed to be coming from a distance—but no distance was great enough to suit her, in a zombie apocalypse.

“Do what he says, Rochelle! And please—hurry.

* * *

It seemed to take forever, but it was probably less than five minutes before they were on their way again. They’d managed to stuff the Haywood’s SUV with all the tablecloths in the restaurant and both Rochelle and Jayden now had big pots on their laps filled with cutting implements. Rochelle had added some ladles also, Andy was glad to see. Men could wax poetically about the wonders of duct tape but any sensible woman knew that a ladle was God’s true gift to humanity.

Next stop—finally—was the tank farm. It wasn’t more than a couple of miles away now.

Freddy had quickly figured out that trying to go straight down Indianapolis would be hopeless. The big boulevard had too many places on it where looters would be congregating—and where there were looters, there were bound to be zombies. The huge Cabela’s store just south of I-80 had to be a lunatic bin by now.

So, he detoured down Kennedy. There were plenty of commercial strips on that street also, but none of the really big stores that would be drawing whole crowds.

Even then, driving was tricky, between reckless drivers and even more reckless pedestrians—not to mention a zombie here and there. They were the worst, in a way. Naked as they were and unarmed, Freddy wasn’t worried that a zombie could smash into his big commercial van before he got away from them. But what he was worried about was simple contact between a zombie and his vehicle. God forbid he should run over one and have zombie blood splattered all over the underside of the van and its wheels. Freddy wasn’t sure exactly how the zombie virus got transmitted, but he figured zombie bodily fluids were pretty much guaranteed to be a vector.

So, he had to weave around the zombies—three of them, north of the interstate; thankfully, they got sparse once he crossed I-80—which required some driving that you could either call “artful” or “crazy,” take your pick. Ahead of him, on his motorcycle, Eddie Haywood had to do the same, of course. But dodging zombies on a motorcycle was a piece of cake compared to doing it with a van designed for industrial work.

They probably couldn’t have avoided one of the zombies at all, except that Freddy had had the foresight to insist that Ceyonne ride with him and Jack instead of behind Eddie on his motorcycle. Neither Ceyonne nor Jack had been happy with the arrangement—Ceyonne because she’d rather have been with her boyfriend and Jack because no fifteen-year-old boy thinks it’s proper for a man to be riding in the middle, dammit—but it put Ceyonne at the passenger’s window.

With a gun and the temperament to match.

“Fuck you, asshole!” she’d yelled at the one zombie impossible to dodge. After Freddy brought the van to a screeching halt, Ceyonne hopped out of the vehicle, took a shooter’s stance she’d clearly learned from her father, and brought the zombie down with four shots.

And then complained about it for the next mile.

“Dinky little .380,” she groused, as she reloaded. “Took me four rounds. Coulda done it with one—okay, two; Dad trained me to always double-tap—with the nine millimeter. Which is stuck inside Eddie’s saddlebag where it ain’t doing any good at all.”

Sitting next to her, Jack’s face was even paler than usual. Truth be told, Freddy was a little shocked himself. The girl was only seventeen and he was sure this was the first time in her life she’d ever killed anyone. Yet she seemed no more rattled by what had happened than she would have been by shooing away flies.

Something in their expressions must have registered on her, because Ceyonne’s expression became half-defensive and half-belligerent. “Look, guys, they ain’t people. They got no brains left—hell, not even as much as a dog or a cat. My dad told me not to think of ’em as anything except targets.”

“It’s okay, Ceyonne,” Freddy said, trying for as soothing a tone as he could manage. “I’m just glad you’re along.”

Which, he realized, was the plain and simple truth. Focus, Freddy. Zombie apocalypse, remember?

“Yeah, me too,” said Jack.

* * *

Cutting the padlock on the gate leading into the tank farm took but a few seconds. Within a minute, the entire caravan was inside the grounds, as Andy looked for the best storage tank she could find.

She picked one right at the center of the facility, which was at least two hundred yards away from the nearest road. It was one of the bigger ones, too, which would give them the most space.

“Don’t park right next to it,” warned Tom. “Otherwise zombies might climb up on it trying to get to the roof. They won’t manage anyway, but they might wreck the truck and we’ll probably need it again.”

That seemed good advice—for later. Right now, she wanted to be as close to the base of the staircase as possible. They had a twenty-foot moving truck to unload, along with two pickups and an SUV—and then had to haul everything more than fifty feet up a narrow steel staircase. With, as her husband had pointed out, way too high a percentage of old farts to do the work.

Not to mention that getting him up there was probably going to be the hardest work of all.

Tom knew it himself. “Don’t worry about me until Freddy gets here,” he said. “Just get me out of the truck and onto my wheelchair—and hand me the rifle in the case behind the seat. I’ll keep guard while the rest of you do the scut work.”

It would have been nice if he hadn’t been smiling like a damn cherub when he said it.

Damn old fart. This was going to be exhausting.

First, they hauled the tents and tool sheds up to the top. When Andy got to the roof for the first time, she was a little stunned by how big it was. She’d never seen one of these storage tanks from up close before. One hundred and ten feet in diameter doesn’t sound like much until you’re standing on top of it. Whatever concerns she’d had that they might not have enough room vanished instantly. They had about as much in the way of square footage as a fricking mansion—a real one, too, not a McMansion.

Not so much in the way of furnishings, of course. Still, she was cheered up a lot.

* * *

Her good mood faded as the work progressed and she got more and more tired. The tank, as it turned out, had a functioning crane hoist that was capable of lifting more than a ton. But it couldn’t work that fast and they needed to get everything up on the roof as soon as possible. So while the heaviest items got brought up with the hoist, that still left most of the stuff to be hauled up the old-fashioned way. All sixty-eight of her years were complaining loudly and bitterly, before too long.

Having a husband who spent his time providing advice—while he was perched on a wheelchair—didn’t improve her mood. The fact that it was mostly good advice didn’t make it any better.

“Don’t bother setting up the tents and the tool sheds yet,” Tom said. “No point in it until we’ve got insulation down. Speaking of which”—he pointed to the south—“on the way in, I spotted a big stack of wood pallets over by the asphalt plant. We oughta use them for our base flooring. They’ll not only help insulate against electric currents but they’ll keep us above water when it rains.”

Andy might have snarled at him, but Luis and Pedro nodded and took off in the now-emptied pickups to get the pallets.

It was good advice. And so what? Andy knew she loved the old bastard, even if sometimes—like right now—she couldn’t remember why.

Trying not to curse out loud, she started up the staircase with another load. Maybe she’d get lucky and have a heart attack before she died of exhaustion.

* * *

Just as Tom had foreseen, the Office Depot was empty of people. There was a mob across the street looting the Meijer’s store—hypermarket, they were sometimes called. Like a Wal-Mart, it combined a supermarket with a cut-rate department store. Filled with stuff that people would need to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Unlike an office goods store. Quiet as a church mouse.

Until an alarm went off when they smashed in the door. Freddy was a little concerned, then. Not because the alarm would draw cops—he doubted if any were still on duty besides Ceyonne’s stubborn father—but because it might draw zombies.

“Ceyonne, you stand guard out here while the three of us gather up the stuff we need. Come on, guys. We may as well start with the cases of paper.”

As he’d expected, that work was a genuine bitch—and hauling the cases up a fifty-five foot staircase later was going to be even worse. But he was a big, strong man and his two helpers were both good-sized boys and, best of all, teenagers. Use all that energy for something more useful than what teenage boys usually got into.

Loading fifty cases didn’t really take that long. Tossing in the floor mats took even less. And while it was going to take a bit of time to gather up things such as tape and bubble wrap just because there was a lot of it, the stuff seemed lighter than feathers compared to the paper.

And even the time spent wasn’t that much, once Eddie figured out they could use big plastic containers to hold all the tape.

The only problem came at the very end. Just as they were carrying out the last rolls of bubble wrap, they heard Ceyonne hollering outside. She had a very loud voice, as you might expect from a girl with her impressive chest.

Get the fuck away from here, you assholes! I’m not fooling wit’ you! I will shoot you dead!

Freddy dropped his bundles of bubblewrap and raced outside, fumbling at the pistol he had holstered to his own hip.

When he passed through the door, he saw that Ceyonne was confronting three zombies. Two females, one male—but with zombies, even naked like they were, gender distinctions didn’t register much.

He finally managed to get the flap undone on the holster. But before he could draw the pistol, Ceyonne started firing.

She was using her big Smith & Wesson M&P now, not the little Ruger. The nine millimeter rounds packed a lot more punch than the .380, but the recoil wasn’t as bad because the gun was more than twice as heavy as the Ruger. That probably didn’t matter all that much, though, given that Ceyonne had big hands to go with her overall size.

Bam—bam. Bam—bam. Bam—bam. Three double-taps and all three zombies were down. Down, and either dead or dying. He thought she’d missed one of the shots but it hadn’t mattered.

Ceyonne stepped forward a few paces, aimed carefully, and shot all three in the head.

“Gotta shoot zombies in the brain or they don’t stay down,” she explained.

By then, Jack was outside too. “Uh…they’re not actually undead, you know. Just people infected by a virus that makes them insane. I don’t think you really need to shoot ’em in the head.”

“I seen it on The Walking Dead,” Ceyonne insisted. “Hell, watch any zombie movie.”

“It’s not worth arguing about,” Freddy said forcefully. “Come on, let’s finish loading and get the hell out of here.”

“I’m riding with Eddie on the way back,” Ceyonne said, even more forcefully.

Freddy didn’t contest the issue. Ceyonne was looking more and more like Annie Oakley or Calamity Jane and who in their right mind is going to argue with women like that? Much less seventeen-year-old girls.

* * *

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life,” said Sam. She was perched on a stack of goods with her elbows on her knees and her head hanging down.

Next to her, Rochelle Lewis was trying to bring her breathing under control. “Me, neither,” she said, almost gasping.

But as exhausted as she was, Rochelle’s spirits were higher than they’d been in days. No, weeks—maybe even months or years. After her divorce three years earlier, she’d buried herself in her job as manager of the diner. That had kept her busy, but she realized now that she’d done it at the expense of being very lonely. And then the zombie apocalypse—she still thought that was a ridiculous name because, first, the people infected by the virus weren’t actually undead even if they were monsters, and second, she’d studied the Bible and knew damn well this wasn’t really the apocalypse, just a man-made catastrophe—had come along and left her completely alone. She’d thought she’d die in the bowels of that restaurant within a day or two—or, worse, get turned into a naked mindless shrieking monster herself.

Now, she had a purpose again—and people to share it with. Impulsively, she put her arm around Sam’s shoulders and hugged her. “I’m really glad you’re here, sweetie.”

Sam’s arm slid around her waist. “Me too, boss.” Boss carried a weight of affection in it that was not usually found in that particular term.

Down on the ground below, they could see Tom Kaminski trying to maneuver his wheelchair. The old man’s expression was a cross between determined ferocity and exasperation. He had his rifle perched on his lap and was simultaneously trying to keep it from sliding off while he patrolled the area looking for any signs of approaching zombies. He was at least one hand short of what he needed.

It was kind of funny, actually. Both Rochelle and Sam started chuckling.

“I’d better go down and help him,” Sam said. She rose and headed for the stairs.

“A guardian angel for a guardian angel,” Rochelle murmured to herself. “Hell, who knows? Maybe this is the apocalypse and Saint John just got some of the details wrong.”

* * *

They’d gotten about half of their goods along with all the pallets up onto the roof when Freddy Rodriguez arrived with his industrial van full of more stuff to haul up—including fifty cases of paper each of which seemed to weigh a ton. They didn’t have the equipment to bring up a lot of cases at a time using the hoist, so most of the paper had to be hauled up by hand. Fortunately, Freddy was a big man and the three teenagers he brought with him were all fresh and rested.

The general unspoken consensus among the old folks was: let them finish the job.

“Yeah, take a rest,” said Freddy. “But not until you get all those pallets into position. And see if you can glue them down. We’ll have to attach the tent stakes to the pallets instead of welding them to the roof, so we don’t want them sliding around.”

“What sort of glue should we use?” asked his wife Victoria.

“I got no idea, honey. Try all of them and see what works best. But before you do, see if you can scrape the paint off the roof using the chisels and files we got. Glue will bond better to naked steel than it will to paint, especially if it’s roughed up a little.”

The look Victoria gave him was not exactly full of spousal fondness. “I thought we were getting a break?” she said. But she didn’t complain any further before setting to the work. Jerry and Latoya Haywood joined her, along with their daughter Jayden. So did Andy, after she got a little more rest.

Since there was no way to find out which sort of glue would work best before they had to start piling stuff onto the pallets, they just made sure to use every kind they had on every pallet. Gorilla glue, epoxy glue, super glue, Elmer’s glue, Loc-tite—if they had it, they used it. Fortunately, Tom Kaminski had been adamant on the need to bring lots of glue even though their original plan had been to camp out in the woods. “Nothing’s handier than glue except duct tape,” he’d insisted, “and you never know when and how you might need it.”

The old fart turned out to be right. He had a habit of doing that, which Andy had found annoying for decades. Forty-eight years, eight months and two days, to be exact, if you counted from their wedding. Longer than that, if you counted from their first date—when he’d claimed he knew a better Italian restaurant than the one she proposed and…hadn’t been wrong.

By the time they got all the pallets in position and glued down, Freddy and the youngsters had gotten everything from the vans and trucks onto the roof.

“The rubber mats next and then the plastic floor mats for whatever the rubber won’t cover,” Freddy ordered. “They all need to be glued down too, because we don’t want any metal—not even nails or staples—connecting us to the roof, and the pallets are already full of nails.”

A shout came from below. “I need to get up there!”

Freddy took a deep breath and ran fingers through his hair. “Okay, I guess it’s time to haul up the gorilla.”

“Don’t call my husband a gorilla,” said Andy. “He’s not that damn big and he’s mostly bald now. Who ever saw a bald gorilla?”

“He’s big enough to break my poor back,” muttered Freddy. But he was already going down the stairs.

It took them a while to get Tom Kaminski up onto the roof. They didn’t want to take the risk of using the hoist since they had no suitable rigging. Even as strong as he was, Tom was seventy now, so he needed to take a lot of breaks. Sam tried to help at first, but she was too small to make much of a difference and just got in Freddy’s way. In the end, she got assigned to bring up the wheelchair, the rifle, and the custom-made shooting bench that Tom had had designed for him after he recovered from the accident that took his legs.

But, finally, it was done. And Tom didn’t take more than a ten minute rest before he started patrolling again—and this time he had a nice flat steel surface to roll around on, along with a helper.

“Come on, Sam,” he said. “You can be my spotter and set up the bench whenever we need it.”

“Only if you teach me how to shoot the rifle.”

“It’s a deal. But you got to carry the rifle too.”

“What am I, a caddie?”

“Hell, no. Caddies get paid.”

* * *

By sundown, what everyone was starting to call “tent city” had been erected and most of their goods stashed away somewhere. The two vinyl tool sheds were positioned in the center of the roof. By mutual agreement, one of them would be inhabited by Tom and Andy Kaminski and the other by Pedro Vargas and his eighty-one-year-old mother Yarelis, but they’d both serve as emergency shelters for everyone in case of a thunderstorm.

Surrounding the sheds were all the tents. Those ranged in size from a couple of eight by twelve foot dome-shaped tents that would hold all four of the Haywoods and Freddy and Victoria and their two kids, to a couple of eight by six tents—one for Luis and Flora Rodriguez and one that had been intended for Jack but got turned over to Rochelle Lewis, Sam Crane and Ceyonne Bennett.

Jack would have to settle for a two-person tent. They’d brought several of those, figuring they could use them to hold supplies. Assuming that Ceyonne’s father eventually showed up, he could have one of them also.

The two generators were positioned in the hut they’d constructed with the cases of paper. The roof for the hut was made out of metal shelving Freddy had found in the Office Depot with more cases stacked on top of them. They used the hollow steel tubes that were originally intended to provide the frame for the shelving as a lightning rod that Freddy welded onto the staircase.

There hadn’t been time to cut off the lower part of the staircase before it got dark, so they’d put that off until the next day. Someone would have to stand watch at the top of the stairs all through the night. Ceyonne volunteered for the first shift, from sundown until midnight. Freddie would take the next four hours and then he’d wake up Jerry Haywood for the last stretch.

Eventually, once the lower staircase was removed, Andy figured they could rely on the teenagers to be lookouts at night. But that brought up another problem—which, happily, she’d already foreseen.

“You know what’s going to happen soon enough,” Latoya said to her, “we let teenagers stay up at night without supervision. It ain’t just gonna be my son and Ceyonne, neither.”

Andy chuckled. “No shit. My fifteen-year-old grandson—he’ll be sixteen next month—is already eyeing both your daughter and Sam and you give it another month and he’ll be panting after Lucinda Rodriguez too.”

“Jayden’s a good girl,” Latoya said, a little stiffly.

“They’re all good girls. So was I and so were you, at that age—and I don’t know about you but I got my cherry popped when I was sixteen.”

Latoya sniffed. “I was older. Seventeen.”

“Right. There’s not going to be much to do up here and when winter comes along in a few months there’ll be even less to keep them busy.”

They were standing near the edge of the roof—not right next it, though, since there was no railing—looking at the sun go down. Andy gestured with her head toward the tent she and Tom were sharing. “I got a big box in there full of rubbers. I cleaned out the whole condom section in Walgreens.” She cawed like a crow. “You should’ve seen the look I got from the cashier. She might as well have said out loud, what kinda old slut needs any rubbers at all, much less hundreds of ’em?”

Latoya was by nature and upbringing a lot more straightlaced than Andy Kaminski, but she couldn’t help bursting into laughter. After the laughter passed, she admitted quietly, “I bought some too, for Eddie. Me and Jerry don’t need to worry about it because he got fixed after we had Jayden. ‘Two kids is enough,’ he said.” Her expression got a little stiff again. “And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Ceyonne’s already making him use rubbers, whether he likes it or not. That girl’s…not exactly your best Christian.”

Andy didn’t say anything in response. She and Tom had both lapsed from Catholicism long ago, and she had her own opinion as to what constituted “proper Christian behavior.”

Whether or not Ceyonne Bennett was the world’s finest Christian young lady, Andy was glad she was with them. By now, they’d all heard about the shootings Ceyonne had done earlier that day.

And now, another shot rang out from behind them. Andy recognized the sound, having heard it before. That was no pistol firing. That was Tom’s deer rifle, a Remington 700 .30-06.

Turning around, they saw Tom Kaminski near the opposite edge of the tank roof. He had his shooting bench in position and was taking aim at something in the distance past the fence surrounding the tank farm.

“You got ’im, Tom!” said Sam excitedly. She was bracing his wheelchair from behind and peering through a set of binoculars that Tom kept in a bag attached to it. “He’s down. And now the other one’s—”

Tom fired again. The recoil jarred him back a little, but between his own size and the wheelchair being both locked and braced by the girl with him, he wasn’t thrown out of position. He worked the bolt and jacked another round into the chamber.

“Call it, Sam,” he commanded. “Like I explained.”

“That one’s down too. The third one’s still off a ways. I’d say two hundred and fifty yards, thereabouts, but it—well, she—is coming toward the fence. Uh…ten o’clock. Well, maybe nine-thirty.”

“I see her. Wheel me around a bit.” As Sam did so, Tom raised the bench with one hand while he kept the rifle high in the other. Within three seconds, he was back in position.

He didn’t spend more than another three seconds aiming, and then—

“She’s down, too!” Sam exclaimed. “Boy, you shoot good, Tom.”

Andy’s husband didn’t say anything in response to the praise, but she knew what that expression on his face meant. She’d spent most of her life with the old fart and knew him better than she knew anyone, including maybe even herself.

After ten years of depression—no, more than eleven years now, since the accident—Tom Kaminski had found his life again.

A guardian angel in a wheelchair. Well, why not? Andy wasn’t as familiar with the Bible as either Rochelle Lewis or Latoya Haywood, but she knew this apocalypse was a bastard version of the one in the Book of Revelations. You couldn’t hardly expect archangels with flaming swords to show up for this sort of low-class brawl, after all.


Andy had been a little worried that Tom’s shooting of the three zombies on the perimeter of the tank farm might have drawn attention to them. But the next morning, when she studied the scene of the killing through the binoculars, she saw that her fears had been groundless.

“I told you,” said her husband. He nodded toward the knot of zombies in the distance who were still feeding on the corpses of the three zombies he’d shot the evening before. “That’s somewhere between two hundred and fifty and three hundred yards from here. Even if they were still real people with brains, they wouldn’t have been able to tell where the shots came from.”

With the free hand that wasn’t holding the rifle on his lap, he made a little circling motion. “We’re in flat land, up high, with nothing to focus the sound. At that distance, the sound of the shot would have seemed to be coming from everywhere or nowhere, however you want to look at it.”

He lowered the hand and shrugged. “Zombies? They wouldn’t have even thought about it. A mysterious noise coming from somewhere—anywhere—in the distance? Could have been anything, if they had enough brains to think about it. But they don’t.”

“Okay,” she said. “But I think you ought to avoid shooting any zombies except ones trying to climb over the fence.”

“I haven’t seen a single one try to do that,” he said. “Why would they, unless they thought there was something on the other side they wanted? The chain link fence that surrounds the tank farm is at least six feet high and it’s got three strands of barbed wire on top of that. Any naked-ass zombie tries to climb over it’s going to get pretty badly cut—and the minute they start bleeding, you know other zombies are going to go after them.”

“Yeah, but that’s my biggest worry, Tom. From what I’ve seen on the TV, once zombies go into a feeding frenzy it gets out of control. Their own noise and the mayhem they’re causing attracts other zombies and before you know it they’re starting to swarm all over.” She pointed at the distant fence. “Enough zombies pile against up against that and it’ll go down, barbed wire or no barbed wire. And then we’ve got zombies swarming into the tank farm. Maybe we can hold them off, as high up as we are on these steel tanks. But then we’ll be surrounded by rotting bodies—dozens of ’em, maybe hundreds. D’you really want that?”

Her husband had a mulish expression on his face. Tom really wanted to shoot zombies. From long experience, Andy knew the best thing to do was not argue any further about it but just let Tom think it through himself.

After a while, he sighed and said, “I guess you’re right. But that still leaves the problem of the gate we broke into. We could weld it shut again, I suppose—but we’ll probably want to be able to get out ourselves at some point.”

“Fine. You see any zombies heading toward the gate, go ahead and shoot ’em. Just try not to draw any attention. Our best defense is always going to be having zombies not even realizing we’re here in the first place.”

“Won’t be a problem. The only thing any other zombies will know or care about is that there’s some fresh meat lying on the ground.”

She made a face. Andy still wasn’t able to think of zombies as something other than…call it “very disturbed people.” Tom’s cold-bloodedness toward them was a little alienating.

You couldn’t even ascribe it to the indifference of old age. His nineteen-year-old spotter and assistant Sam Crane was downright bloodthirsty on the subject of zombies. As she demonstrated again that moment by saying with great satisfaction:

“Especially ’cause there were only three shots. Total.” Proudly, almost possessively, she squeezed the big shoulder of the man sitting in the wheelchair in front of her. “Papa’s really good, Mama. One shot, one kill.”

So it was “Papa” now. That was okay with Andy. She wasn’t really surprised. In a catastrophe like this one, when people had their friends and families ripped into shreds right in front of them, it was only human nature for people to make new attachments wherever they could.

Truth be told, she was feeling pretty motherly toward the girl herself.

Grand-motherly, rather. Her days of dealing with the messy business of raising her own children were long behind her.

That memory brought a moment’s anguish. Their son George didn’t live anywhere nearby. George and his wife Janny weren’t even in the country, since George’s company had sent him off to Brazil for a couple of months to handle some sort of problem that had come up in their operations down there. That was the reason she and Tom had been taking care of their grandson Jack over the summer.

Their daughter Rita was long gone, killed in a car accident fifteen years earlier. She’d had no children of her own, and since her husband had never gotten along with Andy and Tom, they no longer had any contact with their daughter’s step-children either.

She’d tried to reach George on her cell phone, even though Andy wasn’t sophisticated in the use of cell phones for international calling. Eventually she’d asked Rochelle to help. But while the restaurant manager did know how to do it, she hadn’t been able to make any connections either.

Which was not all that surprising, of course. As her grandson Jack liked to say, zombie apocalypse, remember?

* * *

About an hour later, Ceyonne Bennett’s father Jerome showed up. He’d gotten in touch with Ceyonne via cell phone and she’d told them where they were.

Still in uniform—he’d probably slept in the damn thing—he slowly drove his police car into the tank farm until he came to a stop below them and perhaps twenty yards away from the tank they were on. By then, Ceyonne was halfway down the staircase, shouting “Dad! Dad!” For all the girl’s grousing on the subject of her pigheaded and unreasonable father, she was obviously very attached to him.

Andy wasn’t sure what had happened to the mother. Jack had told her that Ceyonne had told him that her mother had run off with a traveling salesman, but Andy was sure the girl had just been pulling his leg. That story had all the earmarks of a tall tale. Did traveling salesmen even exist anymore? She didn’t think so—not the kind that went door-to-door and talked to people, anyway, as opposed to so-called “sales reps.”

Before Ceyonne reached the bottom of the stairs, her father was backing up and waving her off. “Don’t come near me, Ceyonne! Get back up on the tank.” When the girl hesitated, he shouted, “Do it now. Don’t fool with me, dammit!”

“What’s the matter, Dad?”

He shook his head. “I’m sick. Feels like a flu—but I doubt if it is. I’m pretty sure I got infected with the zombie virus.”

By then, Rochelle Lewis had started down the stairs. Seeing her come, Jerome Bennett said, “You’re the manager of the Indiana Restaurant, aren’t you? I’ve eaten there a few times.”

“Yes, I am. Name’s Rochelle Lewis.”

He nodded. “Pleased to meet you. Do us both—do us all—a favor and keep my daughter up there with you. Do not let her come down here.”

Exactly how Rochelle Lewis was supposed to restrain a teenage girl who was half a head taller than she was and outweighed her by at least thirty pounds, was not very clear.

But Ceyonne had stopped on her own, still a good fifteen feet off the ground. “Dad!” she cried out. The sound was a sheer wail.

He shook his head again. “There’s nothing either of us can do about it, girl. It’s the way it is. I just came by to say good-bye.”


Andy was at the top of the stairs, now. She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted down to the police officer. “Where d’you plan to go, Jerome?”

He shrugged. “Home, I guess.”

She shook her head. “Stay here. You may just have a normal flu, you know? And even if you got the zombie virus, some people survive it—I mean, don’t get turned into…well, monsters.”

Jerome made a face. “I’ve been briefed on the odds. We got a notification from the CDC in Atlanta. There’s two stages to the disease. Stage One—that’s what I think I got—just seems like a bad flu. Ninety-five percent of people survive it, but then they come down with Stage Two of the virus. That’s the zombie stage. Twenty percent will die right off, and of the eighty percent who survive, almost all of them will turn into zombies. There’s a few who don’t, who survive both stages, but it’s not more than ten percent.”

Tom had wheeled himself to the top of the staircase. “Those are still better odds than pancreatic cancer, Jerome.”

The policeman laughed humorlessly. “They measure cancer survival rates by a five-year standard. The zombie virus is all over, one way or another, within a few weeks. Three weeks, the CDC says, to run its whole course. Not even a month.”

“Better still,” said Andy. She pointed at one of the storage tanks next to their own, about forty yards away. “Get yourself up there and we’ll see what happens. At least that way, if you do survive, you got people right here to keep an eye on you.”

“And an eye out for you,” added her husband. He pointed to a different storage tank, next to the one she’d indicated. “But go up on that one. I can see the whole staircase so even if you’re out of commission ’cause of the disease I can take out any zombie tries to climb up and get you.” He lifted the Remington off his lap and brandished the rifle. In its own way, the gesture was rather dramatic.

Jerome looked at him for a moment, then looked at the storage tank. “I don’t have any supplies,” he said. “Not even anything to sleep on.”

“We’ll bring what you need down to you,” said Andy. “But get back in the car and drive off a ways, will you? We don’t know how far that virus can travel, if you have it.”

Fortunately, Bennett hadn’t parked near the bottom of the staircase. So after they put together a couple of bundles for him—one holding enough food to keep him going, along with a walkie-talkie, and the other a sleeping bag and a small two-person tent—his daughter Ceyonne and Rochelle Lewis carried the bundles down the staircase and set them on the ground about halfway between their storage tank and the one that Bennett would be using. By then, the cop had moved the squad car still farther away and was waiting by it until they finished. He was now carrying a shotgun to go with the pistol at his hip. He had a bag holding something heavy, too. That was probably ammunition for the two weapons, Andy figured.

Soon enough, Rochelle and Ceyonne were back on their tank roof and Jerome was setting up his tent on the neighboring roof. He was close enough that, if need be, he and his daughter could communicate by shouting, but as long as the cell phones stayed operational they’d do far better. So would the walkie-talkies, when—nobody thought it was going to be “if”—the cell phones stopped working.

Unlike the tents on the first roof—which Jack Kaminski had taken to calling “Alpha Tower”—the one Jerome Bennett would occupy wasn’t attached in any way to the storage tank. But although no one said it out loud, everyone thought that was a moot point. If he survived the virus, Jerome wouldn’t be moving around much for at least a week. His own weight would keep the tent from being blown off the roof.

And if he didn’t survive—or, worse, turned into a zombie—he made arrangements to handle that as well.

He’d had his daughter provide him with Tom Kaminski’s cell phone number, which he called as soon as he got the tent set up.

You said you’d shoot any zombie who tried to climb up the staircase,” the policeman said.

“That’s right,” replied Kaminski. “Even if I’m asleep, we’ll always have someone—two someones, in fact—on guard at all times. They’ll keep an eye on your tower too.”

I’m not worried about that. What I really need to know, Mr. Kaminski, is if you’re up to the job of shooting a zombie who’s trying to get down from this roof. That zombie would be me, you understand. Or what used to be me.”

Tom hesitated. He hadn’t given that problem any consideration at all. Stalling for time, he said, “Please. Call me Tom.”

I come out of this alive and still human, I’ll call you Tom. For the time being, though, I think ‘Mr. Kaminski’ works better. And you didn’t answer my question.

Tom could see Ceyonne staring at him. The expression on her face was both anxious and fearful. The girl might have a brash personality, but she was plenty bright enough to have figured out why her father had wanted to talk to Tom Kaminski.

Tom sighed. “Yes, Mr. Bennett. If it becomes necessary, I’ll…take care of it.”

Thank you. If you can manage it, shoot me when my daughter’s not looking. But don’t take any real risks. I’d a lot rather she had PTSD from watching her dad get killed than become a zombie herself.

Tom would talk to Eddie Haywood about that. He’d make sure the kid understood that if the time came, his job was to make sure that Ceyonne didn’t see it happen.

After Bennett got off the phone, it dawned on Tom that there was another problem—and one that would be a lot more intractable. If the cop did turn zombie and Tom had to shoot him, what in God’s name would they do with the body? Whether Tom shot him on the roof or while he was coming down the stairs, the naked and slaughtered body of Ceyonne’s father would be visible to the girl any time the sun was up.

For weeks—because they couldn’t take the risk of sending someone over to bury the man, for fear of being contaminated with the virus.

“Hell’s bells,” he muttered.

Quietly, making sure Ceyonne wasn’t around to hear, he raised the problem with his wife and Freddy Rodriguez.

Freddy came up with the best answer—not a good one; not even close, but the best they could manage. He’d weld together a jury-rigged grappling hook which they’d attach to one of their ropes. Then, if the time came, they’d toss it onto Bennett’s corpse from a distance. Freddy figured he could manage the feat from at least ten or fifteen yards away. Once the grappling hook was embedded in the body, they’d attach the other end of the rope to one of the pickups and just haul the corpse out of sight.

“And what if the hook comes out?” Andy demanded. “You can’t retrieve it and try again or you might get contaminated.”

Freddy ran fingers through his hair. “We’ll just have to make up another grappling hook.”

“And hope we don’t run out of rope,” said Tom.

* * *

Around noon the following day, another caravan of vehicles came into the tank farm. It was a smaller group than their own, just two pickups and a minivan, and clearly not as well equipped.

The three vehicles drove up to Alpha Tower—by now, everyone was using Jack’s name for the tank—and a man got out of the driver’s side of the leading pickup. He was somewhere in early middle age, anywhere between his mid-thirties and mid-forties, and clearly Hispanic, but Andy couldn’t tell if he was Puerto Rican or Mexican, either by birth or ancestry. In that part of Lake County, he could just as likely be either one. He might be from somewhere in Central America, too, but that was less common.

“Hello, up there!” he shouted. “I’m Bob Vasquez.” He pointed a finger at the woman she could see sitting in the passenger seat. “That’s my wife Rosie.” He now pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. “Behind us are our two daughters and their families.”

He had no accent at all, beyond the clipped nasal one shared by millions of people in the Chicago area, which meant he was probably native-born rather than an immigrant. Not that Andy cared either way. She’d met some individual exceptions, of course, but by and large she got along fine with Hispanic folks, wherever they came from.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Andy. “I’m Andrea Kaminski and this”—Tom had rolled up his wheelchair by then—“is my husband Tom. The rest of the people up here are our neighbors. Where you from?”

“Hessville, me and Rosie.” That was a neighborhood in Hammond not far from the tank farm. “Our daughter Leticia and her husband Jim come from there too, and our other daughter Teresa and her kids live—well, used to—in Hegewisch.”

Hegewisch was a neighborhood of south Chicago just across the state line, about a fifteen minute drive away. Not surprisingly, they were all local people.

“Our son-in-law saw you up here yesterday while he was driving by, and we talked it over and decided this was probably the safest place around. Is there any chance we can join you?”

Andy’s decision came instantly, which meant that she must have been chewing on the problem somewhere on the back of her mind without realizing it.

“Yes and no. You’re welcome to set yourselves up on one of the other storage tanks here, Mr. Vasquez. But—I’m sorry, it’s just medical necessity—we can’t let you come up onto ours. Nothing personal. It’s just we got no way of knowing if any of you has been infected by the zombie virus. The symptoms don’t show up right away.”

Jerome Bennett joined the conversation from his own roof top. Apparently, he was still well enough to do so.

“She’s right,” he said, half-shouting. “I’m Jerome Bennett, with the East Chicago police department. We got a notification from the CDC—”

“What’s that?” asked Rosie Vasquez. She’d come out of the pickup and joined her husband.

“Centers for Disease Control,” explained Jerome. “They’re based in Atlanta and they’re more-or-less the national public health service. Anyway, one of the things they told us was that it takes three to seven days after you’ve been infected before the first symptoms show up. So one of you could already be sick and no one knows it yet including them.”

He pointed to the people on Alpha Tower. “For that matter, one of them could be infected too. This is for your protection as well as theirs.”

Bennett now pointed at himself with his thumb. “I’m almost sure I’ve gotten infected, which is the reason I’m up on this tank roof by myself even though my daughter’s over there.” He lowered his hand and shrugged. “It’s cruddy, but there it is.”

The Vasquez couple looked at each. Rosie said something too quietly for Andy to hear, and her husband nodded.

“Okay!” he said, looking back up at them. “Any suggestions as to which tank we should pick?”

Tom lifted his rifle and used it to point at a tank that was next to theirs but some distance away from Jerome’s. It was also, Andy noted, a tank that had a spiral staircase that was within view of the people on Alpha Tower. She was quite sure that was one of the reasons Tom had selected it—just as she was quite sure he wasn’t using the rifle as a pointer by accident. It wasn’t subtle, no, but it was a way of making sure the Vasquezes knew they were armed without directly making any threats.

Partly to allay any antagonism that the sight of the rifle might have created but mostly just because she thought it was a good idea, Andy got one of the walkie-talkies and tossed it down to Bob Vasquez.

“You know how to use it?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m familiar with them.” He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. “These are still working, though.”

“Yeah—but for how long? But since they are for the moment, what’s your phone number?”

After Vasquez gave it to her, she called him from her own cell phone just to get her number registered.

Which was a waste of time, because less than ten minutes later all the cell phones stopped working.

* * *

By mid-afternoon, the Vasquezes had gotten set up on the tank that Jack solemnly informed them was “Gamma Tower.” (He’d already bestowed “Beta Tower” on Jerome Bennett’s new domicile.)

“Why ‘Gamma’?” asked one of Teresa’s two boys. His name was Tony Ramirez and he looked to be about eleven years.

“We’re naming ’em after the Greek alphabet,” Jack explained, just as solemnly.


Jack spent the next several minutes in a long-winded and convoluted explanation that basically came down to “Because.” Young Tony still seemed dubious of the logic but he didn’t pursue it any further.


The big oil refinery in Whiting blew up just before daybreak the next morning. The initial blast was enough to wake everyone up, and even if it hadn’t been the series of rolling explosions that followed over the next hour or so would probably have awakened the dead.

It certainly woke up all the zombies in the area—probably all the zombies within a fifteen-mile radius. Using the binoculars and the scope on Tom’s rifle, they could see dozens of naked figures moving rapidly in the direction of the refinery.

By then, there was a huge column of smoke rising above the refinery as well. Between that and the ongoing explosions and the flames leaping high into the air, the zombies were drawn like moths to a lantern.

“How far away is that?” asked Rochelle Lewis nervously. “That smoke looks pretty toxic.”

“About four miles,” Tom answered. “And, yeah, it’s nothing you want to be breathing.” He pointed to the smoke plume. “But the way the winds usually blow around here, it’ll go out over the lake. Might be pretty rough for anyone still alive in Miller, but I don’t think we’ll get hit with it.”

“Unless the wind changes direction,” Andy said.

Freddy Rodriguez spoke up. “You’re all being way too gloomy, folks. The way I see it, we got one hell of an opportunity here.” He pointed at the disaster in the distance. “That’s going to last for a while, isn’t it, Tom?”

“Oh, hell yes,” said the former refinery worker. “Without a functioning fire department, it could burn for days—not even counting for the fact that it’s almost sure to set other things on fire. Property values in Whiting are about to take a nose dive. Well, they would—if the zombies hadn’t already trashed them.”

That revived Rochelle’s anxiety. “If houses start burning…That fire could work its way down here, couldn’t it? And we’re sitting on top of huge tanks of gasoline.

“Relax, Rochelle,” said Tom. “There are a hell of a lot of fire breaks between here and there. The Indiana Harbor Canal, two huge steel mills, the high school and its grounds and the small golf course north of that, U.S. Route 12—not to mention that big vacant stretch of Cline Avenue that got condemned a few years ago which the damn politicians never bothered to rebuild.”

As she pictured the area in her mind, Rochelle started nodding. “Well, yeah. But there are still likely to be…I don’t know, cinders maybe?”

“Which brings me back to my point,” said Freddy. “This is our chance to make a supplies run, folks. Every zombie in Lake County is going to be heading toward Whiting.”

He turned and pointed to nearby Cline Avenue. “We can hop right onto Cline and head down to the shopping mall where it meets Ridge Road. That’s not more than five miles away. Ten minutes there, ten minutes back.”

It was tempting. Despite the “avenue” appellation, this stretch of Cline was a limited access elevated highway. Counting the wide shoulders, it was three or four lanes wide on either side. A vehicle could easily drive at seventy or eighty miles per hour. They could reach the shopping mall quickly and easily.


Andy shook her head. “Even if you don’t run into zombies—and they can’t all be heading to the refinery—you’re still running the risk of getting infected with the virus.”

Freddy made a so it goes gesture. “Andy, there’s no way to eliminate that risk, no matter what measures we take. All we can do is lower the odds against us. But zombies and the virus aren’t the only risks we face, y’know. Just to name one other one that’s getting really prominent, we don’t have an outhouse and we’re getting low on toilet paper. The longer we just keep shitting off the side of the tank—”

“Tower!” insisted Jack.

“For crapping, it’s a tank. And as I was saying, there are other diseases we need to think about. I was talking to Rochelle—”

He turned to her. “Tell ’em what you said to me.”

She grimaced. “Well, with open sewers—and we don’t even have that—you’re always at risk for cholera and typhoid fever. And we’ve got other problems that’ll get worse as we head into the fall. We didn’t bring enough bedding, for one thing. It’ll get chilly up here at night and if—more like when—we start getting rained on…”

Andy raised her hands. “All right, all right! But wait until the afternoon. You want to give the zombies time to move out of the area on their way up to Whiting.”

“Okay,” said. Freddy. “I can use the morning for other things, anyway.” He pointed to the staircase. “The ladder in my truck will extend to fifteen feet, so I’m going to remove the bottom twelve feet of the stairs with my cutting torch. Whenever we’re all up here, we just raise the ladder. Unless there’s a zombie out there who can break the world high jump record, we’ll be untouchable.”

“Can you do the same for the other two towers?” asked Jack.

Freddy hesitated. Andy shook her head.

“Too much risk of infection,” she said. “Sorry, but there it is. I’m none too happy about making a supplies run. I’m putting my foot down on violating the tower quarantine rules.”

She made a note to herself to write down Official Quarantine Rules and pass them around. The one thing they had plenty of was paper, after all.

“There’s only the one tall ladder anyway,” pointed out Luis. “The other one we got is a six-foot stepladder. What’s the point of cutting away just five feet of a staircase?”

“I guess you’re right,” Jack said reluctantly. “I don’t like it, though, us being so much better protected than the Vasquezes or Officer Bennett.”

Andy didn’t see any point in responding. The boy’s sentiments spoke well for him as a person. He was a genuinely nice kid. But reality was what it was.

Ceyonne slapped Jack’s shoulder playfully. “Hey! Aren’t you the one keeps going around saying zombie apocalypse, remember?

* * *

One other benefit of having the refinery exploding was that the noise was more than enough to cover the sound of the two generators running. Until then, they’d been careful only to run the generators very briefly and only one at a time. With both of them going they were able to recharge all their batteries—at least, the ones capable of being recharged—cook on all the electric appliances they had—there were four of those—and, best of all from Andy’s viewpoint, she could use her laptop without having to worry about running down the battery.

Most of the Internet was down, as she’d expected—more precisely, the sites were still there but obviously hadn’t been updated lately—and most of the active sites she could find were apparently military since they were encrypted. Oddly enough, a couple of weather sites were still current. She was relieved to discover that the ten-day predictions indicated rain on a couple of days but no severe thunderstorms. She really wasn’t looking forward to experiencing a thunderstorm while perched on top of a huge steel storage tank.

Best of all, though, she was able to write up the Official Rules and Regulations she figured they needed by now, and run them off on her printer. Of course, the Official Rules and Regulations had no official authority backing them up whatsoever, but she figured her chances of getting people to accept them anyway would be improved if they weren’t hand-scrawled.

There were two of the notices:


Anyone entering the White Towers compound must set themselves up on an uninhabited tower. NO EXCEPTIONS. Do not visit a neighboring tower and do not exchange items of any kind until a minimum of three weeks has gone by—for both parties—with no sign of illness. This is to ensure that the zombie virus is not spread around.

When you first arrive, please register with Alpha Tower. A tower will be assigned to you and you will be provided with a walkie-talkie so you can stay in touch with the other towers.

She wondered if she should qualify that last part. They only had enough walkie-talkies to equip a total of eight towers with the devices, including their own. But she decided to leave the statement the way it was, since she had no idea how many more groups would show up at the tank farm. There might be none at all, or only one or two.

She consulted with Tom on the second notice.





Do not shoot at zombies beyond the fence except on two conditions: They are trying to climb the fence (or dig under it) or they are within 50 yards of the entrance.

Do not fire more than three shots at any one zombie. If you can’t hit it with three shots, you shouldn’t have been shooting at it in the first place.

Notify Alpha Tower via walkie-talkie whenever you spot a zombie and ESPECIALLY whenever you plan to take a shot at one.

Remember: DON’T BE STUPID. Our best defense against zombies isn’t our weapons, it’s that they don’t notice us in the first place.

“How much good do you think these’ll do?” she asked Rochelle Lewis.

“Hard to say,” replied the former restaurant manager. “But if nothing else it’ll get everyone who reads it to at least think about what we’re saying. All of those so-called ‘rules and regulations’ are just common sense. Of course, we live in a world where people think ‘common sense’ justifies the stupidest things you can imagine.”

Andy chewed her lip. “What we’re going to need, if a lot more people show up, is some sort of government. That way any rules we pass can actually be official instead of just me saying so.”

Rochelle shrugged. “I guess. But right now, that’d be a little silly. It’s just us and the Vasquezes and poor Jerome. If he survives.”

* * *

Less than half an hour after that conversation, another caravan pulled into the tank farm. There were five vehicles in this one, including a small bus, and they were just about as well-equipped as the original party.

This new group consisted of four families and several other individuals, all of whom were African-American and all of whom belonged to one of the local African Methodist Episcopal churches. They’d made an attempt to get out of the Chicago area and find sanctuary somewhere in the countryside, but had turned back after a couple of days. The roads were just as hopeless as they’d looked on the TV.

The one place they’d found that initially looked promising turned out not to be. That area of rural Indiana was inhabited entirely by white people whose none-too-racially-tolerant attitudes had been put on steroids by the crisis. The AME group did have a number of guns with them and several of the men were experienced in their use, but they saw no point in getting into an armed confrontation with the local residents. So, they’d turned around and headed back to Lake County.

Their pastor, James Collins, explained that he was in charge of the group. Andy knew what that meant in the real world. While everyone in his congregation listened to him respectfully, the key for him to be able to get anything done was to convince the three very formidable-looking matriarchs with the party that he was right.

That was fine with Andy. She approved of matriarchy and thought the world would be a lot better run place if they’d just put the tough old biddies in charge.

Edith Jones, Yolanda Smith and Estelle Dubose. She could see them, down there on the ground, looking up at her and obviously taking her measure.

After she got through tossing down a walkie-talkie and a few of the Official Rules and Regulations—and then going over the latter thoroughly, explaining all the reasoning involved—she pointed to a couple of the nearby tanks. “You can take those two, if you’d like.”

Ever alert to maintain protocol, Jack piped up, “Those are Delta and Epsilon Towers.”

The matriarchs looked at the two towers, then briefly conferred with each other, and then marched over to Pastor Collins and made their wishes known.

“We’ll just need the one tower,” Collins said firmly, as if he’d made the decision in splendid isolation. “It might be a little crowded, but we’d rather stick together.”

They had a total of twenty-six people in their group, eight of whom were children—ten, if you counted the two teenagers. They could all fit on one tower, although depending on how many tents they had, they might be living very cheek-to-jowl.

“Wait a minute,” Freddy said. “Let’s not make the same mistake we did with the Vasquezes. I won’t have time to cut away the bottom part of the staircase, but before you go up there let me weld a lightning rod for you onto the tank.”

After the logic behind that was explained, the matriarchs and the pastor shooed their charges off to the side, allowing Freddy to move his welding equipment over to Delta Tower without getting close enough to them for either party to infect the other.

That took a little over two hours, which brought them late enough into the afternoon for Andy—grudgingly, reluctantly, but she did it—to let the expedition take off.

Freddy took Jack in the truck with him. As before, Ceyonne rode behind Eddie on his motorcycle, the two of them scouting ahead.

* * *

They were back before sundown, with the truck piled high with a truly weird assortment of goods. The strip mall they’d gone to leaned heavily toward discount stores and had already been picked over pretty thoroughly. So it was understandable that their foraging had been hit or miss.

Many of the items were certainly welcome, especially the toilet paper, blankets, sweaters, bleach and lots of jars of sauerkraut. For whatever reason, the people who’d looted the stores before them had passed up the sauerkraut. Fermented cabbage wasn’t Andy’s favorite food, by a long shot, but it was quite healthy and would make a welcome change from the steady diet of canned beans, canned corn, rice and processed dry sausage.

But some of the stuff had Andy scratching her head until Freddy or one of the others explained the logic.

Six mattresses, which made sense—but what was the point of all the plastic filing cabinets?

Put the mattresses on the filing cabinets laid sidewise—and you don’t have to worry about getting the mattresses soaked when it rains.

What good were three big containers of Round-Up with spray wands? They were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and they were worrying about weeds?

Dump out the herbicide and replace it with water and a cup or so of bleach—and you’ve got a pretty handy all-purpose disinfectant spray.

A bunch of folding metal chairs made sense—but why all the plastic tubs and containers with lids? They wouldn’t possibly need to collect that much rainwater.

And what in God’s name had possessed them to load four big shopping carts on top of the pile?

Specially designed rooftop toilets. And the shopping carts are for privacy screens, once they’re cut up. We’re tired of crapping out in the open.

It was agreed by consultation over the walkie-talkies that the following day Freddy would cut away the bottom part of the staircases leading up to two other towers. Jack promptly labeled them Kappa and Omega, which wasn’t maintaining proper alphabetical order but his knowledge of the Greek alphabet was hit-or-miss and it was the best he could manage. Freddy would also weld on lightning rods. After he was done, he’d spray bleach over everything he’d touched or walked on and the AME people and the Vasquezes could relocate from Delta and Gamma—which they’d also sanitize with bleach so that any newcomers could move onto them without too much risk of cross-infection.

* * *

At dusk, not long after the nearby street lights came on, the power grid finally went down. A few hours later, when the sun was well below the horizon, the people on the towers got their first experience of just how dark the world could be without electricity and with a new moon in the sky. The only light being provided was coming from the fires still burning in and around the refinery in Whiting. That was a fair amount, actually, but it was miles away.

They did use a few flashlights and lamps in the huts and tents, but Andy insisted that the people standing watch had to make sure that none of the light was leaking out. Any gleam of light was sure to draw zombies, in that darkness.

Andy herself spent a fair portion of the night using the walkie-talkies to consult with Pastor Collins and his three matriarchs, on the one hand, and the Vasquezes on the other. They all agreed that it would be wise to establish an official ruling body so that joint decisions could be made and any new arrivals could be presented with a formally established setup which they were welcome to join but had to obey the rules.

True, there was really no way to enforce those decisions, but they figured that as long as they were obviously common sense people would be willing to abide by them.

So, Andy’s previously established “Quarantine Regulations” and “Zombie Rules of Engagement” got formally adopted. And they worked out the language for another set of regulations which Andy then keyed into her laptop and printed up.


Each tower will be provided with a toilet that can be used on a roof. The toilets will include portable sanitation tubs which must be kept covered except when in use. Once a sanitation tub starts getting full, it needs to be lowered off the roof with a hoist and taken to a trench which each tower is responsible for digging for its own use.

Freddy and his fellow scavengers had brought back enough folding chairs and tubs to make eight toilets. They’d need three right off, for Alpha, Kappa and Omega Towers. Up on Delta, Jerome Bennett was still alive and unturned, although he said he was sick as a dog, but he’d just have to keep making do with a chamber pot until he got better. If he got better—but if he didn’t, sanitation facilities for him would be a moot point.

If more than five more groups showed up…

Well, they’d deal with that when the time came.

A shovel will be provided for any tower that needs one.

Right now, they only had five suitable shovels. But shovels should be easy to find.

Each sanitation trench has to be at least three feet deep. After you dump the contents of a tub into it, cover it up with dirt. Keep doing that until you need to dig a new trench.

Each trench should be at least twenty yards away from your tower and farther than that from anybody else’s tower.

While someone is digging a trench or emptying a sanitation tub, at least two lookouts have to be maintained on your tower.


After she was done, Andy and Tom looked it over and then passed it around to everyone else on Alpha Tower for their input.

“Well, the prose isn’t up to the standards of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison,” said Rochelle, “but it serves the purpose.”

“Fine for them to get all flowery and eloquacious,” said Tom. “They were just dealing with redcoats, not zombies.”

Jack thought the whole thing was hilarious. “They never talk about stuff like this in the movies and TV shows and adventure novels. People fight off alien invasions and extra-dimensional arch-villains and giant prehistoric monsters and nobody craps even once.”


The next morning, not long after daybreak, they heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching. Everyone came out of their tents and shelters and stared up at the oncoming aircraft. The helicopter passed by not more than three hundred feet overhead and then circled back around. Painted on the fuselage was the logo of one of Chicago’s news stations.

“Jesus, they’re making a racket,” said Tom. “Everybody keep an eye out! These idiots will draw every zombie within miles. And they won’t all be at the refinery.”

The helicopter was now hovering over the tank farm. Freddy was practically hopping up and down, he was so agitated. He kept making gestures at the ground and running his finger across his throat. The meaning of which should have been obvious to anyone:

Land the goddam thing and TURN IT OFF.

It took a couple of minutes, but finally the helicopter set down on the open area between Alpha and Kappa towers. Unfortunately, the pilot kept the rotors turning while someone hopped down onto the ground.

It was a young woman, and as she approached the tower Andy recognized her.

“That’s Karen…What’s-her-name,” said Tom. “You know, the TV news announcer on Channel…whatever-it-is.”

“Karen Wakefield,” Rochelle supplied. “What in God’s name is she doing here?”

Remembering the last broadcast they’d watched, Andy said, “I bet she stayed on the job until the power grid went down. Gutsy lady.”

A man got out of the helicopter and came after her, carrying a big video camera. By then, Wakefield had gotten close enough to the base of the tower that Andy shouted down at her.

“Welcome to the White Towers, Ms. Wakefield! But please don’t come any closer. We’re maintaining strict quarantine measures.”

Wakefield stopped and looked up at her. Then, cupping her hands around her mouth, shouted back up, “Can we join you? We don’t know where else to go and we’re running short of fuel.”

Andy pointed to a nearby vacant tower. “You’re welcome to use that one, but—”

“That’s Phi Tower!” shouted Jack.

Andy waved at him to be silent. “But we haven’t got much to offer you. We’ve got some extra blankets and food we can send down, and some water. We’re using all of our tents and sheds, though. It’s plenty warm at night, but it’s supposed to rain in a couple of days. I don’t know what you’ll do for shelter.”

By then, the AME people had gathered at the edge of their tower. “We can spare a tent,” called down Pastor Collins. “It’s just a two-person tent, though. How many of you are there?”

“Three,” replied Wakefield. “Me and Ken”—she nodded toward the approaching cameraman—“and our pilot, Fred Vecchio. It’ll be tight but we’ll manage, and thank you all very much.”

“Okay, then. Stand over by your tower,” Andy instructed her. “We’ll bring down the supplies and put them somewhere in the middle. We’ll do our best to sanitize the stuff with disinfectant spray, but…I’m afraid you’ll just have to take your chances.”

Freddy now chimed in, very loudly, “And tell the pilot to shut down the damn helicopter engine! You’ll draw zombies!”

“Too late,” said Sam. The young woman pointed at something in the distance, coming down Chicago Avenue.

Andy looked. “Well, shit,” she said. A small mob of zombies was approaching them from the east. As they emerged from below the Cline Avenue overpass, she saw that it wasn’t that small a mob, either. There were at least fifty of them, with more appearing every second.

The crack of the rifle jarred her. Tom was already in position and starting to fire. But even if he didn’t miss a single shot, the zombies would start swarming over the fence very soon—or, still worse, might head down the access road toward the open gate. Tom wouldn’t be able to shoot at them for most of that stretch, because other storage tanks and part of the asphalt plant would be in the way.

This was exactly what Andy had always feared the most. Once a mob of zombies got attracted, the sound of gunfire would simply draw more zombies. Soon enough, they’d be buried under a swarm of the monsters.

“Dad!” shouted Ceyonne. “What are you doing?

Turning, Andy saw that Jerome Bennett was coming down the staircase of the tower he’d been perched on. They hadn’t seen anything of him for a day and a half, although he’d occasionally spoken to his daughter over the walkie-talkie. He was still very sick—he looked it, too—but at least so far he hadn’t turned into a zombie.

Somewhat unsteadily but with obvious determination, Bennett made it to the bottom of the staircase and then started toward his patrol car, which was parked about thirty yards from the tower.

“Dad!” Ceyonne shouted again, now sounding a little hysterical. Her father looked back, waved his hand in a gesture making clear he did not want her coming after him, and kept going toward the patrol car.

Ceyonne ignored the gesture and headed toward the staircase of Alpha Tower. She was intercepted before she got there by her boyfriend Eddie, who tried to restrain her.

She wrestled with him for a moment and then started yelling incoherently and punching him. Ceyonne was a big girl and the punches were powerful, but Eddie just got a determined look on his face and kept clinching with her while ignoring the blows as best he could.

Andy looked back at Bennett. The policeman had reached his patrol car and started the engine. Slowly, he drove toward the open gate leading out onto Gary Avenue. By now, just as Andy had feared, the mob of zombies had come down the access road instead of trying to climb the face. They’d reach the gate within a minute.

But as soon as Bennett pulled out of the tank farm and onto Gary Avenue, he turned on his siren and lights. The racket that produced—not to mention the red-and-blue light show—completely distracted the zombies from the sound of the helicopter. Which, Andy saw when she looked, had finally been shut down by the pilot so it wasn’t making any more noise anyway.

Bennett waited until the nearest zombies were only a few yards away and then drove slowly under Cline Avenue, approaching the entrance to I-90.

The zombies went after him. Andy realized what he was planning to do. He’d lead them onto the interstate and then, moving slowly ahead of the mob, take them either toward Ohio or the Illinois state line. Once he got a few miles down the highway, he could speed up and escape them easily and come back to the tank farm after getting off on one of the exits.

Assuming he didn’t collapse from being sick.

“Come here, Sam,” said Tom.

He laid the Remington down on the shooting bench and backed his wheelchair away. “Pull up a chair,” he said. “It’s time for you to get some live target practice.”

Sam stared at him. Tom pointed at the receding mob of zombies. “Hurry up, girl! They’re getting away!”

* * *

Sam missed her first two shots, then took out a zombie’s leg with the third. From then on, she didn’t miss any more shots—seven, in all—until the last zombie was out of sight.

She hadn’t killed all of them, of course. So now Tom had her shoot the ones she’d wounded until he was sure they were all dead.

It was a grim exercise. But the nineteen-year-old former waitress seemed to take a fierce satisfaction in the work, and, in any event, Andy knew what her husband was thinking. Between his age and health problems, Tom Kaminski had reached that point in life when a person could die on any given day. Maybe not for years to come, sure—but it could be tomorrow, too.

However short the rest of his life might be, though, he wouldn’t be leaving his people unprotected. The guardian angel was training his replacement.

* * *

By nightfall, the TV news people were set up on Phi Tower—and were starting to film again.

“We’re doing a documentary now,” explained Karen Wakefield. “I figure we’ll title it How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse. Smile, everyone. Young man, if you carry through with that threat to moon us, just remember you’ll be on video foreeeevvver.”

Turning, Andy saw that her rambunctious grandson was hastily rebuckling his pants.

“Jack!” she chided him.

“I didn’t do anything!”

* * *

By then, Jerome Bennett was back. It took him five minutes to climb back onto his tower after he parked the patrol car, but he made it. Without saying a word, he rolled into his tent and was out of sight.

Ceyonne had to be restrained again. By now, her boyfriend was starting to show bruises. He didn’t seem to mind too much, though.

Andy wasn’t surprised. Eddie was a happy camper, these days. Once Ceyonne’s father had set himself up in splendid isolation on Beta Tower, she and Eddie started sharing a tent—after she came to Andy and got a supply of condoms. The girl might be headstrong but she wasn’t foolish.

* * *

The next day, another caravan entered the tank farm. It was the largest one yet, at least in terms of people. There were only three vehicles, but one of them was a bus, whose distinctive red-white-blue paint stripes and CTA logo announced that it was—or had been, anyway—the property of the Chicago Transit Authority. It turned out that one of the members of the group was the bus driver and he’d seen no point in returning the vehicle to the compound once the catastrophe started getting completely out of hand. Instead, he picked up his family in the bus along with the supplies he and his wife had put together. Then, after adding two of the neighboring families, he’d driven to his church and more-or-less shanghaied the two priests who’d been there along with the dozen or so people who’d come for sanctuary. Those who couldn’t fit into the bus after they loaded everything in the church that might be of use crammed into the priests’ two cars.

Being an enthusiastic gambler, the bus driver—Harry O’Malley, he was called, and he looked the spitting image of a red-headed Irishman—led everyone out of Chicago, across the Skyway, and into the enormous parking structure of one of the big casinos by the lake. O’Malley figured the parking structure would be ignored by zombies since there was no food source in it, and it was so big that as long as they stayed in a far corner in one of the upper floors, they’d go unnoticed.

His plan worked for a few days. But then a car full of gangbangers showed up and tried to rob the bus. O’Malley was an ex-Marine as well as a hunter and three of the other men in their party were also well-armed. The gangbangers were too arrogant—or too desperate, after being on the run from zombies—to plan their assault. They just came swaggering up to the bus, brandishing their pistols, before two of them got cut down by the ensuing hail of gunfire and the other three ran off into the casino.

Which…turned out to be full of zombies. So, back they came into the parking lot—two of them; apparently the third had become a zombie snack—and exchanged more gunfire with the people in the bus.

The gangbangers got the worst of that exchange, as well. The one uninjured survivor raced off to parts unknown while his now-lamed companion got swarmed by the zombies who’d followed them out of the casino into the parking structure.

Got swarmed by some of the zombies. Most of them came toward the bus—which had to make its own hurried departure, trailed by the two priests’ cars.

They’d then spent a day trying to get out of the area, which was made especially difficult by the refinery burning nearby. They’d just happened to be coming down Chicago Avenue when one of their number spotted the people perched on the oil storage tanks.

They set themselves up on Sigma and Pi Towers. Which put Jack’s back against the wall because that exhausted his knowledge of the Greek alphabet and if anybody else showed up…


The following day, two more family groups showed up. Jack threw in the towel and announced that their towers would be Tango and Foxtrot.

“Since when do you know how to dance?” Ceyonne demanded. “And if we’re gonna start naming towers after dances, why are you picking ones from the Stone Age?”

Jack spent the next several minutes in a long-winded and convoluted explanation that basically came down to “Because.” But Ceyonne let it go. Her dad was finally starting to move around and said he was feeling better—and still wasn’t a zombie.

* * *

The next day, defying any and all to stop her, Ceyonne moved from Alpha Tower to join her father on Beta Tower. She insisted that by now he couldn’t still be contagious and he obviously wasn’t going to turn into a zombie, but he was still a sick man and needed help from his family—which meant her.

Eddie was not thrilled, to put it mildly. He offered to accompany her, but…

“Do I have this straight?” asked Ceyonne. “You want to keep sharing a tent with me right next to my cop dad? Well, you may be crazy but I’m not.”

She patted her boyfriend on the cheek. “Don’t sweat it. A week or two from now if I’m not sick either, I can come back over here for a visit, every other day or so.”

She looked around. By now, the hodgepodge of tents and tool sheds that provided shelter for all the people on Alpha Tower had been melded together by a crazy-quilt of plastic sheeting and tablecloths from the diner held down by what looked to be a couple of tons of duct tape and designed to simultaneously shed rainfall and collect it in drinking containers. Ceyonne had seen a photograph once of slums in one of the big cities in Brazil—favelas, they were called, if she remembered right—and the housing on top of the storage tank sort of reminded her of that. Gamma, Sigma and Phi Towers were even more extreme.

“In this rabbit warren,” she said cheerfully, “we can get laid without my dad being any the wiser. But not over on Beta. I’m not even sure where I’m going to sleep over there myself, since we’ve run out of tents.”

* * *

Rochelle provided the solution to that problem. As did every adult in their group, she’d spent time looking out for zombies with the binoculars. In the course of doing so, she’d noticed a wooden shed on the grounds of the asphalt plant that formed much of the southern boundary of the tank farm.

“We’ll use that,” she announced. “Freddy, Jack, Eddie—get the truck and let’s move the shed up on Beta Tower. If we have to, we’ll dismantle it first.”

“Ceyonne doesn’t need anything that big,” Jack protested. “That shed looks heavy. And it’s probably full of tools.”

“Good, we can use more tools,” Rochelle said, in the same tone of voice which in times past had quelled incipient unrest on the part of waitresses, cooks and dishwashers alike. “And it won’t just be Ceyonne because I’m going with her. She and I can share the shed.”

“Why are you going?” asked Andy.

Rochelle spent the next several minutes in a long-winded and convoluted explanation that basically came down to “Because.” But Andy was sure the real reason was that Rochelle was looking to the future—which they were all starting to do, at least a little. Now that it seemed fairly certain that Jerome Bennett was going to survive the flu and remain human, she’d figured out that he’d make a nice partner for a single woman about the same age. If she didn’t dilly-dally.

Andy wasn’t concerned. Rochelle Lewis was nothing if not sensible. Should something start to develop, she’d come to Andy for a supply of condoms before any problems arose.

And wasn’t that something of a wonder? Here she was, Andrea Kaminski, sixty-eight years old and one of the tough old biddies who more or less ran the White Towers settlement. (Harry O’Malley had brought his mother, his aunt, and his grandmother in the bus and not one of them wasn’t up to snuff.) And she was worrying about having to deliver babies before they were ready to handle the problem.

Things were looking up, sure enough. All they had to do now was last another three or four months until winter arrived.

That would be a Chicago winter, with temperatures regularly below freezing and sometimes dropping down to zero—even below it, on occasion—and the wind cutting like a saber. She didn’t think the naked monsters would last very long under those conditions.

Zombie apocalypse, wimps and whiners called it. No wonder the archangels weren’t bothering to show up. Let the junior varsity handle it.

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