A short fic about Cal from Patient Z and a little adventure he had, before he teamed up with Mitch and the rest of his gang. You’ll probably understand the inspiration for the story after you read it, unless you already figured that out from the title!
Cal looked in the rear view mirror.
The black column was getting closer. He hit the gas pedal harder, but knew he was kidding himself. He couldn’t outrun a tornado. He had to find shelter out of its path.
The prayers he would have said, if he’d been the praying kind, received an answer he’d never asked for. As he passed a stand of trees, whipping around in the wind running ahead of the twister, a building appeared, set back from the road. A white clapboard church. A wooden building didn’t look like it would stand up to a tornado, but it might have a cellar or even a real storm shelter.
Which he would have to hope wasn’t full of zombies.
He wrenched the steering wheel around and hurtled up the drive to the church. One eye on the storm, one eye on the building, looking for zombies. Any humans would be in shelter with the giant twister bearing down, but zombies didn’t care. They didn’t take shelter or even hang on to something solid. They didn’t run away like an animal would. Whatever other temporary threats were around, they remained a constant one.
He roared past a water tower and a wooden sign reading “Come Home to the LORD JESUS! All sinners welcome!” He fit the category of sinner to a T, so accepted the invitation.
He didn’t stop when he reached the building. He drove around it, assessing it. Was it secure? Intact? If it came to it he might be better off in the car when the storm hit, than inside a building full of the undead. But all the tall windows had wooden shutters over them. The doors stood firmly closed. He took a chance. He skidded the car to a halt by a door and jumped out, taking the tire iron with him to break in. His gear lay on the passenger seat, backpack, rifle. His handgun was on his belt. He slung the pack and rifle on his back, drew the pistol and ran for the door.
The wind almost ripped his pack and his leather jacket right off his body. The great black funnel of the twister was terrifyingly close. If it hit this place directly and he wasn’t in good enough shelter he’d be dead. If there was no cellar he’d consider trying under the stairs. Or the altar. If it had a good sturdy altar table he’d crawl under that. Let the Lord protect him then.
He raised the tire iron as he approached the door, battling the gale trying to force him away. But as he approached, to his astonishment, it opened. He took a chance that it wasn’t a zombie who’d learned to open doors and hurled himself into the dark interior, hitting the floor, sliding. The door slammed closed behind him. Call rolled onto his back, backpack falling off, rifle clattering to the wooden floor, bringing up his pistol to point at a figure looming over him. In the dim light a pale white face looked down at him over the twin barrels of a shotgun. Not a zombie.
“Lower the gun.” A woman’s voice. Rather old and thin, but firm, the tone that of an order.
It was hard to do it—his guns had been useful against more than zombies. But he noticed she’d only asked him to lower it, not give it up. Cal did. He also dropped the tire iron in his other hand and endeavoured to look as harmless as possible.
“I’m human,” he said. It was the first credential you had to establish these days. “I don’t mean you any harm.”
“Young man,” she said. “Let me be clear. I let you in because Christian charity won’t let me leave you outside in the storm. But if you raise a hand against me, or if you go after my supplies, I will shoot you down without another warning. It won’t be the first time I’ve done it.”
“I’m only here for shelter, ma’am,” he said. He holstered the gun and raised his empty hands. He could see her more clearly now as his eyes adjusted. In her sixties. A country woman. One who looked like she’d grown up working the land, skin deeply tanned. Hands as strong as a man’s on that shotgun. He took her threat seriously.
“Okay, get up,” she said. “Get in here, quick. It’s the best protected room.” She pointed him at a door and he scrambled up, dragged his gear behind him and followed her into a room lit by an electric lantern. Store room he saw, the walls lined with provisions of all kinds. Food, medical supplies, large quantities of ammo and a startling array of guns for one little old lady to have.
The window was covered with the shutters he’d seen from the outside. They rattled in the fierce wind. Cal put his gear down and she lowered her shotgun. He looked her over again in the better light. A lean and fit looking older woman, but he wouldn’t have any problem with her physically if it came to that. But if she’d survived this long, and obviously managed to go out and top up her supplies, she was no pushover. He continued to take her threat seriously.
“I’m Cal,” he said, offering his hand.
“Veronica,” she said. “Most folks used to call me Ronnie. Was the wife of the minister here before the plague came.”
“You’re alone here now?”
She looked at him suspiciously. “Just me and all these weapons,” she said.
Cal chuckled. Point taken. “Ronnie, I’m honestly only here to get out of the storm. Are we safe in here? Don’t you have a storm shelter?”
“Had one. Can’t go down there no more.”
Her face was briefly haunted and he decided not to ask any more. His skin rose in goosebumps up his back.
“This room is—” she began, but screamed and dropped when a massive crash came from the windows. The shutters ripped apart. Cal threw himself down over Veronica instinctively as timber from the shutters and the giant Come Home to the Lord Jesus sign, smashed into the room. The fucking sign. The storm had ripped it up and threw it at the window, destroying the shutters.
That wasn’t all the storm threw at them. Cal didn’t hear anything over the roaring wind. But he saw the dark shapes fly in through the window and drop to the floor, loosed from the grip of the wind. No. It couldn’t be. It could not be. The storm did not just throw zombies at them.
It did. The shapes on the floor flailed and struggled. One began to get to its feet. Cal’s gun was in his hand. No memory of drawing it. He fired on the one close to getting up. Two others were still trying to figure out how to stand on legs smashed into matchwood. Cal shot one of them, Ronnie the other. She’d put down the shotgun and Cal had no idea where it might be in the debris, but she had a Desert Eagle gripped in both hands.
Cal breathed again, but it wasn’t over. A shadow cross the window. A figure, started to clumsily half climb half fall over the low sill. There were more of them out there and they had a way in.
Ronnie’s shot sent the figure falling back, but another loomed behind it. Cal scrambled to his feet, hauling her up with him. He shoved her toward the door.
They rushed out and slammed the door behind them. Locked it. That would hold them.
“Check the rest of the building,” Ronnie ordered. “Any breaches.”
Cal ran through the double doors that led into the nave of the church. Still dark, all the high window shutters intact. He walked down the aisle, walked past the altar, giving in to the long ingrained habit of crossing himself. The cross over the altar was plain wood. No suffering Christ figure familiar to him from the Catholic churches of his youth.
He heard Ronnie’s footsteps behind him, heading off to a different part of the church.
Despite the howling wind outside, there was a stillness in here. No dust he noticed. Ronnie kept the place swept and polished. No supplies stored in here. When he made his way through to some rooms behind the altar he found them dustier and less used, but all of them had some supplies and a couple of guns to hand.
All the windows and doors were secure. No breaches of the walls. He walked back out into the church. The wind had actually dropped now, the twister moving away and the sun had come out. It sliced beams of light into the dimness. Cal walked through them, back up the aisle to where Ronnie stood waiting at the doors.
“All secure,” he reported.
“At this end too. My living quarters. Everything’s tight. The storm is passing.”
“Yeah.” Cal rubbed his hand over his eyes. “We need to see outside. See what’s out there.” Was his car intact?
“The bell tower,” she said. “You can see for miles up there.”
They collected a couple of long barreled hunting rifles and she led him to a narrow door, that opened to a tight spiral staircase which took them as far as the roof. The top of the tower they had to reach by ladder. He went up first, found a tiny platform surrounding the great bell, which swayed in the wind that came in the open sides of the tower, but was silent.
“They made us take the clapper out years ago,” Ronnie explained as Cal helped her onto the platform from the top of the ladder. “Some nonsense about noise ordinances. We had to use recorded sound.” She pointed at a couple of speakers, badly weathered and permanently silent.
They surveyed the damage. Debris of various kinds lay around. Cal’s car had slid a few yards from where he’d parked it, but hadn’t turned over. He could still drive out of here. The snapped off posts of the sign that had smashed into the shutters stood up from the grass, a trail of debris between them and the church.
But the strangest debris of all lay, crawled, staggered or dragged itself around the yard and grass surrounding the church. Zombies. The tornado had picked them up like they were pieces of wood, and dropped them as it swept on. Their bones would be shattered, and looking closely, with binoculars kept up here in the tower, Cal saw several with leg and arm bones sticking right out of their gray flesh.
Smashed zombies, but still dangerous—expect for those that had landed on their heads and crushed their skulls. They felt no pain. If they could no longer walk, they crawled and dragged their carcasses around. In long grass crawling would render them more dangerous than walking. The grass here was mostly short, thanks to sheep, gone wild since the plague as Ronnie called it, who had roamed all over this area—though none were in sight right now. Obviously lying low some place.
“How good a shot are you?” Ronnie asked.
“At least they’re moving even slower than usual.”
Without another word, the two of them raised their rifles and started picking off the zombies one by one. Within twenty minutes the land surrounding the church was still. Many bodies. None moving.
“Okay,” Cal said. “Now we have another problem. Your supply room.” More than her problem, his too. His stuff was in there. Okay, he could resupply. His car keys were in his pocket, so that was okay. He was fond of the Winchester rifle he’d looted a month ago, but he’d find something else. And Ronnie could resupply even that whole room of stuff.
But that wasn’t the problem.
“We can finish the ones in there now,” Cal said. “But you can’t just lock the door of that room and forget about it, because any passing zombie that gets in can lurk around and wait for the next time you go outside. It’s a hiding place for them.”
She nodded. “I’ve got to clear them out and secure the window. I’ve got a roll of wire I reckon could do the trick temporarily. Then I can board it up.” She looked at him with a question in her eyes. Was he going to help?
Cal considered for a second just leaving. He could get to his car. He could head off to the next deserted town and get new supplies. But she’d given him shelter. He owed her something. He could ask her to come with him, offer her his protection. But he didn’t want a travelling companion. And he doubted she’d leave. Not when she’d committed so much to surviving here.
“We can board it up,” he said.
They came up with the plan between them. The first thing that had to do was get the zombies out of that room and dispose of them. Cal descended the tower ladder to the landing where the stairs ended. A dormer window gave him access to the roof and he climbed out. He had a rope, which he secured to a sturdy banister inside and also around his waist, only allowing enough slack so that if he slipped he couldn’t crash to the ground and lie there helpless until the zombies came for him.
The roof wasn’t steep and he managed to scramble to the edge of it without disaster. He loosened and unwrapped the rope from around his waist. He pulled on the leather gloves he’d fortunately had in his pocket and not his pack.
Right. All clear below. No movement. He took a firm grip on the rope, turned his back to the edge of the roof. He looked up at the tower. Ronnie gave a thumbs up to indicate it was safe to go. She could see all around, Can could only see the ground and view at this side of the church. He didn’t want some wandering zombie to come bumbling around the corner before he got to the ground.
Cal pushed away from the edge. With nothing but rope and leather gloves he couldn’t really abseil down like someone with the proper equipment to play the rope out. But the clapboard sides of the church gave him enough grip to slow his descent. Even so his gloves were burned through with friction by the time his boots touched the ground.
He discarded the gloves and drew his handgun. The rifle on his back would be the primary weapon for this exercise, but until he got into position his handgun was a comforting weight in his hand. Taking a few deep breaths to get it together he prepared himself.
One last time he considered getting the fuck out of Dodge. He had his jacket on and a rifle. His car keys were in his pocket. He could run for the car and blast out of here. Tackling those zombies was not his job.
No. He was a sinner right enough, as Ronnie would say. A hustler, a grifter, a thief. But he wasn’t a coward.
He jogged along to the smashed open window of the store-room. He could try taking out the zombies that had got into it from out here. They’d be slow and clumsy getting over the sill. But the room was dark inside. He’d be wasting ammo. No, the plan was, get them out here, bring them into the light and kill them.
He didn’t have to do much to lure them. One, “Hey, fucknuts,” into the window and they came lumbering out, eager for a taste of the Bronx.
Cal ran, fast enough to stay ahead of them, not so fast the ones inside lost interest when he got too far away. Five of them clambered out and followed him. He ran for the water tower. It was a small one, collected rain and piped it into the church, according to Ronnie. Cal climbed the rusty ladder up the side of the tower’s supports. One rung, rusted out entirely, broke under his foot and he grabbed on hard, swearing, panic tearing at his mind. He glanced down at the zombies gathering at the foot of the tower. Waiting for him. Fall and break a leg and he’d be finished.
But the rest of the rungs held and he made it to the tiny platform at the top of the ladder, that gave access to the tank. He sat, wrapping his legs around the railings to keep his ass on the narrow wooden ledge.
He took the rifle off his back and waved to Ronnie in the bell tower. She waved back and he saw a glint of sun off the scope of her rifle as she raised it.
Between the two of them they made short work of the zombies Cal had lured out. It was so fucking creepy Cal thought, how they just ignored each other. As the zombie at its side dropped, its head blown off, the one left standing ignored it and went on reaching as if it could get at Cal twenty feet above. If you fired on people only one had to fall before the rest ran. That was what set those things apart most of all, he thought. No survival instinct. But after all, they hadn’t survived. If you’re already dead why try to survive?
When the five zombies lay in a heap at the foot of the tower, Cal climbed down again, still cautious, watching for so much as a twitch. Nothing. He jumped down over the heap and ran for the open window into the store-room. Just in case any of them hadn’t made it out.
But no, he must be irresistible. The room was empty of walking corpses. In a few minutes Ronnie appeared at the front door and let him in. He hadn’t cared to climb into the open room in case anything showed up to trap him in there behind its locked door.
“Job’s only half done,” he said.
The spent the next few hours securing the room, working fast to get the temporary fix of a sheet of chicken wire up before dark, to at least slow down anything that showed up, perhaps attracted by the sound of gunfire. Then they worked through the night boarding up the window. The sign that had caused so much of the damage proved to be useful on that score, providing most of the wood that closed off the gap permanently.
Sinners no longer welcome. They’d sent a bunch of them home to the Lord today.
As dawn broke the two were sweeping up the last of the glass and small bits of shattered wood from the room. Most of the supplies were undamaged. Cal’s gear, including his prized Winchester rifle, was fine.
They ate breakfast in her kitchen, the room warm from the solid fuel stove she used. Yesterday’s bread, warmed through in the oven. Canned meat fried up, cheese she made herself. And coffee. The all too familiar stale coffee that was all a person could get these days. If Cal ever wanted a good cup of coffee again he was going to have to make his way to South America and find a coffee plantation to live on.
After breakfast he slept. She let him use one of the guest bedrooms and he slept like a dead man. When he woke in the afternoon she was up and around. He didn’t know if she’d slept.
“I’ll heat up some water so you can wash,” she said. “Will you stay another night?”
“Do you need me to?”
“It seems safe now. The building is secure. But you’re welcome to stay. I’m grateful for what you did. I couldn’t have done that on my own.”
He felt sure she’d have coped. “Hey, you gave me shelter. Just returning a favour.” It actually felt strange that she’d think of him as being selfless. He shrugged.
“I didn’t do it as a favour to be returned,” she said.
“Right. Christian charity.”
She frowned at his flippant tone.
“You’re not a believer, Cal?”
“I was raised Catholic, but it never stuck.”
“Oh really?” Her frown turned into a small smile. “Then why do you cross yourself every time you pass the altar?”
She’d seen him do that? Embarrassing.
“Old habits die hard.”
He helped her haul out a big pot for heating the water for washing. He checked the time as she set the pot to boil. After three in the afternoon. By the time he washed up, got something to eat, it would be five and he’d only have a few hours of daylight to find himself somewhere safe for the night.
“I’ll stay one more night,” he said. “Then I need to move on.”
Need to? It sounded as if he had a goal in mind.
“Where are you heading?” she asked, as she started gathering food for him.
South America for the coffee? Home to New York? He had no answer really. He had no destination.
“I’m heading for California.” He didn’t know quite where the answer came from. Was it a lie? To what purpose? “Warmer there for the winter.”
She nodded. “And no tornadoes.”
“Right. Because I can live without the weather throwing zombies at me ever again.”
“Then good luck to you, Calvin. I hope you find what you need in California.”