Victor woke up early that morning, just before dawn. It was a cool fall morning, he had on a pair of heavy canvas pants, a tee shirt, a flannel button up shirt, a fleece vest, and was still cold when he walked outside. One of the worst things about living without modern conveniences was that in the fall, winter, and spring, he stayed cold. No matter how many blankets he slept under, he always woke up cold. It took him until well after sun up to get warm.
He walked into the kitchen and packed up a bunch of food. Victor found Marshall out by the diesel f250 Victor recovered from the Haversham farm. It seemed like an eternity ago, although in reality it hadn’t even been two weeks. Marshall was loading all kinds of tools in big steel tool boxes into the bed. They were tool boxes we’d always called job boxes. Roughly the size of a chest freezer, they were the type of thing construction companies used to keep hand tools locked up at a job site. At the end of a job, the construction company would use three or four men to push them up onto the back of a truck at a loading dock. Marshall lifted each one easily up into the back of the pickup by himself. Each time he set a box in the bed of the truck, the truck sank a little lower on its springs.
“What time did you get started? Why didn’t you wake me up?” Victor asked, putting the small cooler of food in the back seat.
“I was going to in just a minute. I wanted to get all this stuff packed while I was thinking about it.”
“What is all that?” Victor asked.
“If we’re going to armor up a train car, we’re going to need tools. I figured it would be easier to bring them than to find them there.”
“That’s why you’re the smart brother.” The younger Tookes said with a grin.
“You brought the food,” Marshall replied laughing.
“That’s why I’m the fat brother. Or used to be.”
The two of them climbed up into the cab of the truck. It got terrible gas mileage, but Victor thought they might need the power, and they had a lot more diesel than gasoline in the tanks down at the barn. The truck held more than enough fuel to get them to and from Charlottesville, where the train yard was. Also, the pickup truck was wide enough to straddle the train tracks if they had to.
“I know that this place is somewhere near Renee’s high school on the back side of town. I’m not really sure where it is though. I know where there is a bridge over four or five sets of train tracks, its got to be somewhere near there.”
“Alright, lets head there. Worst case we can drive down the tracks until we find it,” said Marshall.
The drive into town was fairly uneventful. They made it all the way through the town of Orange before encountering the first zombie. It was a leg dragger, one of the easiest kind to put down, Marshall hopped out with an aluminum bat and literally knocked its head off. Most of it exploded into a fine pink mist of gore and bits of bone, but the top half flew like he was swinging for the fences. It flew across the street and crashed through the plate glass window of a bakery. The hand painted window of Hats Off Cakes and Pastry crashed down onto the sidewalk.
Marshall climbed back in the truck, and now it was Victor’s turn. There were two fat, bloated corpses stumbling towards the now broken plate glass window. The first one fell out of the window, landing flat on its face. Its ass followed with more momentum, folding its spine in half. The fetid corpse sat on its own head.
The second made it out of the window with much more grace, only falling onto its side, before scrambling back to its feet. The glass did a number on its hands, slicing the flesh open, releasing a putrid pussy looking fluid. When it regained its feet, it started limping towards the truck. Victor’s typical style was to push their hands out of the way as they inevitably grab for his neck, but he didn’t want to touch this one with that goo oozing out of it. Victor could smell the rotten flesh from across the street and he had plenty of time to work. The first zombie was still trying to unfold itself.
Rather than standing in the path of its hands, he sidestepped and swung his favorite hatchet as hard as he could at its shoulder, severing one arm. His follow up swing landed squarely in the putrid creature’s temple. It fell limply to the ground, and Victor levered his small hand axe out of its skull.
“Nice one, little brother!” called Marshall. Victor looked up at him and grinned, thinking about when they were kids. Victor remembered playing catch with Marshall in the front yard of the house, and hearing the same thing after a good catch. That whole world was dead now, and Victor felt like he had to fix it. He got his wife killed; he’d let them get Max’s mother. They’d lost their house. All of Max’s things. Max would never get to play football with the neighborhood kids. He’d never go to the prom. He would never go to college. Victor and Max had lost virtually everything.
The second one successfully unfolded himself, and rolled over on his belly to stand up. He was on all fours when Victor’s hatchet cleaved its head off in one clean sweep. The head rolled about two feet; stopping right beside Victor’s boot where he disembodied face clamped its jaw down on his toe. It couldn’t penetrate the boot, but Victor yelled out in pain at the pressure. He shook his foot, but the head would not come loose. Finally he kicked the curb; smashed the back of the skull inward. The last of the un-life faded from the creature.
On the north side of Orange, the undead population was much higher. At first, the brothers were stopping every half mile or so killing a zombie. By the time they were ten miles above Orange, about halfway to the Charlottesville city limits, the undead were getting too thick to take out so easily. They saw them wandering in groups, fours, fives, even one group of eight. On a couple of occasions, Victor was able to nudge them down with the truck and drive over them without too much trouble. Most of the time he was too worried about damaging the truck, so he just swerved around them. They would be there another time, when were in less of a hurry or had more backup.
The University of Virginia was in Charlottesville, about twenty-thousand students. Victor wanted no part of a super-horde of hoodie wearing half rotten college coeds. The university was right in the middle of old town, which was the most direct way to their destination. That route was clearly out of the question, so they stuck mostly to side streets and back roads.
“Keep an eye out for houses that look looted,” said Marshall.
“That’s a good idea, do you think there could be any survivors this close to town?”
“You never know, doesn’t hurt us to look for signs. None of our people have been this far yet,” said Marshall.
As we drove along, Victor watched the houses along my side of the street. Mostly they all looked the same, but every now and then they’d pass one that had been boarded up. Most of those that had been secured had their doors standing wide open, with the boards sticking out at odd angles.
“Marshall, look at that one,” Victor said. “Do you think that was zombies? It looks different than the rest.”
“I don’t know. Why that one? Why one in the middle of the street? If a group were looting houses, don’t you think they’d be a little more systematic about it? Start at one end of the street? We mark every house we loot, and close it up when we’re done, hoping to keep it fairly safe from zombies. I’d like to think that somewhere someone has holed up for the night in a house that we cleared, and had some safety because we’d been there before. Its the same reason we don’t take every single scrap of food out of the houses. We always try to leave a little something behind, whatever we can find that will last the longest.”
“I don’t know, but the door doesn’t appear to be broken, it looks different than all of the others.”
“Do you want to stop and check it out?” Marshall asked.
“Nah, but lets try to remember it and check it out later.”
The Tookes boys followed the neighborhoods around the outskirts of the city, until they were on the north side of town. When they got to the street Victor thought merged with the main road, it was actually a dead end. There was a hundred yard section of dirt and grass between the street they were on, and the main road Vic thought he was heading for.
The truck was pretty powerful, and it hadn’t rained in more than a week. Without hesitation Vic put the truck into four wheel drive and bounced slowly up over the curb onto the overgrown grass. They drove at an idle between the two houses and through the back yard.
“Oh shit, Vic! Check that out!”
Victor craned his neck around and saw a monstrous pile of trash on the ground underneath the kitchen window of the blue house to the right.
“I think we have to check it out. Do you want to do it on the way in, or on our way back out?”
“Lets go on to the train depot. Its not even eight in the morning, seems kind of early to come calling.”
They both chuckled at that thought while the truck idled along through the back yard and bounced down onto the main road. Another mile down the road, they were at the tracks.
The bridge crossed high over the tracks. Victor stopped the truck in the middle of the old rusty steel truss bridge, so he and Marshall could get out and try to figure out which way the train yard was. There were five sets of tracks running under the bridge. Within a quarter mile of each side of the bridge, the tracks curved out of sight, but on the east side of the bridge it looked like two of the tracks merged just before the curve.
“It looks like it must be west of here,” Victor said, pointing eastward towards the merging tracks.
“Seems as good a guess as any, Vic. Lets see if we can find a spot to get the truck down there.”
The younger Tookes backed the truck up to the entrance of the bridge, and the brothers looked down the embankments on either side. On the west side, there was a very steep hill, reasonably free of trees and rocks, but with a chain link fence at the bottom. On the east side, the trees were thicker, and the hill was steeper, but there wasn’t a fence.
“There was a road heading west about half a mile back,” said Marshall.
“Lets go back and see if that gets us any closer. I don’t want to risk turning the truck over or getting stuck. You might be able to carry these massive tool boxes, but I don’t think I could even budge one. With all that weight up in the bed we’re pretty ripe for a rollover.”
The side road led them right to the loading depot. It was a huge train yard, way bigger than either of them expected. Off to one side was a red train garage, with tracks running up to four huge rusty steel roll up doors. At one end of the yard there was a gigantic metal warehouse with tractor trailers backed up against the loading docks and giant cranes on the train-side for loading shipping containers onto the flat bed rail cars.
“Holy shit Marshall. This is better than I expected, look!” Victor said, pointing up by the cranes. There was a train half loaded, the huge black diesel locomotive was already facing east. Victor was pretty sure they needed to go a few miles east to get to the main north-south tracks that ran from Virginia to North Carolina.
“Vic, do you think you can figure out how to get the rear cars uncoupled? I’ll work on unloading that shipping container. Its already half armored, all we need to do is cut slits to look out of, armor up the bottom few feet, and protect the widows on the locomotive.”
The truck lurched and bounced as Victor jockeyed it over the first sets of rails. He spun the tires a couple of times when the front and back tires were both against a rail, but it wasn’t anything the powerful pickup couldn’t overcome. He stopped even with the locomotive, just one full set of rails away.
Neither of them had ever seen the way trains were coupled together before, it turns out it was pretty simple. There were large S shaped pieces of steel attached to either end of a train car. On the underside was a lever that released the bottom of the S. Then there was a cable which passed electricity from car to car. Connecting or disconnecting that was just a matter of twist and pull. The last piece was a hose, Marshall suggested it was probably hydraulic fluid. At either end there was a lever valve. Victor turned the valve to ‘off’ before unscrewing the fitting. It was just hand tight. No tools required, fifteen minutes to figure out how to de-couple a train car. “Marshall, I’m pretty sure we could get that in under two minutes now that we know how,” Victor said proudly.
With the locomotive and one car, the rest of the cargo would be left behind. Victor moved up to the locomotive. He read in one of the books that this kind of engine had three gears, two forward, one reverse. This locomotive was diesel powered, but not a diesel engine like in their truck. This was technically an electric train. Two huge diesel-fed electric generators powered electric motors that turned the wheels.
Inside the cab of the locomotive were hundreds of gauges, dials, knobs, levers, switches, and lights. Victor searched gauge by gauge until he found one bank labeled “Fuel”. There were two indicators, one of them “Head End Power Unit”. Victor knew that was the electric power for the rest of the train, only really necessary if towing passenger cars. The second was labeled “Thrust Power Generation”. Both tanks read full. “Luck is with me for once,” he thought.
He pulled a huge book out of his backpack and flipped to the first dog-eared page, labeled “Start-up procedure”.
- First a walk-around of the loco is done ensuring that the loco appears in condition fit for duty. This takes around 10 minutes. All the fluid levels (coolant, lube oil) are checked at this stage. After being started, the loco is checked once again before leaving the shed or stabling area.
- Close the battery master switch inside the short hood compartment.
- Close the fuel pump breaker and wait for the fuel oil pressure gauge to start showing some reading. The presence of fuel oil pressure means that the fuel is present at the injectors when the engine is cranked.
- Close the crankcase exhauster breaker – this blower removes explosive vapours from the crankcase during operation.
- Ensure: loco brakes on, generator field breaker open, reverser in the neutral position, Engine Control Switch in the Idle position, throttle in the closed position.
- Press the green start switch – the bell will sound inside the engine compartment warning anyone working there that the beast will wake up soon. I think it takes a second push of the button during which the engine is cranked.
- The switch is to be held down till all the cylinders start firing.
- Once the prime mover is running, observe the oil pressure, air pressure, brake pipe pressure being build up.
- Observe the battery charging taking place. The battery charging ammeter in the electrical panel always shows a (center) zero reading – this indicates the charging and discharging of the battery is perfectly balanced. The charging is checked by operating a toggle switch near the ammeter – this toggle switches off the field to the auxiliary generator (meant for battery charging, etc.) and the ammeter immediately shows a small negative deflection indicating a loss of battery charging. Once the switch is closed, the ammeter swings back to the center zero position.
- Another check of the loco – some drivers open the crankcase exhauster breaker at this stage – the positive pressure inside the crank sometimes shows up oil leaks faster.
- The throttle is moved to ensure that loco is responding to being notched.
- Release the parking brake, remove any wedges, wheel blocks, or rocks placed at the wheels to stop the loco from rolling.
- Move the Engine Control Switch from Idle to Run position.
- Observe the signal being pulled off, release the loco brakes and honk before moving!
The batteries were very low, but enough to start the pony engine. The pony engine is a smaller gasoline powered engine that turns the flywheels on the gigantic generator. He flipped the lever that engaged the gennies. They struggled, but started after just a few seconds. Victor let the batteries charge for about fifteen minutes with the engines running before increasing the throttle. The ammeter needle bounced in sync with the increased revs.
“I’m gonna pull forward a few feet. I need to test the brakes and get us decoupled. Be ready, I have no idea how to stop this thing!” Victor yelled to Marshall over the loud engines.
He pushed throttle back to idle, and looked over the entire train for anything labeled “Parking Brake”. It took him almost three minutes, but he finally found it. The last book he read had him looking for a lever, but in this train it was just a small toggle switch. When he flipped it, a huge air hiss rushed from the dump valves over the wheels and he felt the train rock a little bit. He moved the engine control switch from “Idle” to “Run” and felt the train jerk forward. One single click of the throttle lever caused the train lurched forward, rolling about five miles per hour. A few seconds later he pulled the throttle back and squeezed the brake lever handle, ratcheting it back. The wheels locked up, stopping the lightweight train in about a foot, throwing him into the control panel.
“Shit! He yelled, laughing. “The brakes were made for hauling a lot of weight!”
As Victor picked himself up off the floor of the locomotive, Marshall was standing in the doorway.
“Tell me about it. Note to self, the brakes work!”
With the train idling, he reversed the start-up procedure, shutting the huge generators down. It was a complete success as far as he was concerned. He started and drove a locomotive. Now they had real work to do; armoring the shipping container that was the only car behind the locomotive. Marshall handled the heavy work. Victor helped cut two shipping containers apart with an oxygen and acetylene torch from one of Marshall’s job boxes. In the time it took Victor to cut one side, he noticed Marshall had cut an entire container apart.
“Dude. Where the fuck did you find a plasma torch? And give it the fuck over, I wanna play with it!”
Marshall grinned at him. “Come get it little brother!”
Victor ran up towards him, cocking his fist backwards. Victor watched Marshall’s decisions, waiting for him to be tricky. Victor hit his brother squarely in the jaw, at about quarter power. Marshall didn’t move. He grabbed for Vic to put him in a bear hug, which of course Victor saw coming. He ducked under Marshall’s arms, and punched Marshall as hard as he could square in the thigh.
“Ouch! Fuck!” Marshall limped around in a circle, my patented charlie horse maneuver was successful again.
“That move has worked since I was 10 years old! I can’t believe you fell for it!” Victor laughed.
“I’m gonna smash you!” He reached for me and wrapped me in a hug.
“I love you big bro. I’m glad you’re here with me. Once we get Renee, we’ll just be missing Bubba. I sure wish he was with us too.”
“We’ll find him. If anyone is alive, Bubba is. Shit, he’s probably bigger than me. He was strong as a moose before all this shit.”
They worked all day on the train car. Victor built sliding windows in the side of the cargo container by cutting the sides out with the plasma cutter and welding three sets of brackets in place. The first set held the piece he cut out in its original position, closing the window. The second allowed it to slide down about an inch, leaving a small gap to shoot out of. The third set held the steel wide open, for maximum air flow. Marshall found a sleeper sofa in the employee lounge of the train yard. It was ragged, but clean. Victor found a dining table and four chairs, a couple of lamps, and a rug. They could easily get electricity from the locomotive back to this car, but wiring the car for it was going to be a little more work, and they didn’t have the stuff they needed. That would have to wait for another trip.
“Marshall, we’re going to need more rugs, its cold in here.”
“Dude, you put rugs in it?”
“Hell yea! We’re going to be living in this thing for a few days. Max is going to be living in this thing for a few days. Its got to be comfy, ’cause he’s not getting out of it. I’d like to put book shelves and a TV and an xbox and whatever else would make him happy.”
“Maybe, but its kept all of us alive until now.”
“True,” said Marshall.
They both whipped their heads towards the rear doors of the shipping container. Outside, closing in on the back of the train, four zombies were lurching their way forward. They were having a hard time on the tracks, stumbling over the rails and the ties. Behind them was a larger group, Victor quickly counted eight.
“Marshall, we need to get out of here.”
Victor hit the ground and rolled, smashing his shoulder into a railroad tie. When he stood back up, it wasn’t just twelve of them. They were closing in from all sides.
“Marshall, get ready to do some work,” Victor shouted up to his big brother.
Victor drew his hatchet out of its belt loop, and his pistol out of the holster on his left hip, and had just stepped up when he felt Marshall land on the cross tie behind him.
The two Tookes brothers waded into the mob, back to back, ready to commit some violence.