Beyond Exile: Day by Day Armageddon
John, William and I took off early yesterday morning toward the west. We snuck out to the aircraft just before the sun came up on the eastern horizon. We pushed it to the grassy strip where we would take off. In the distance, we could see some shambling stragglers moving about. It wasn’t long before we were airborne. It was a last-minute decision to take Will. He insisted that he go. We were able to establish a communications link with Hotel 23 via the VHF radio on the Cessna. If the girls were to get into any trouble, we would be able to communicate with them. We were looking for a large airport outside a major urban center. Before forcing myself to go to sleep last night I picked out William P. Hobby Airport. It was just south of Houston, outside the center of the city.
It was not a long flight. En route we flew over numerous small towns, all with the same speckles of walking dead dominating the streets below. It wasn’t forty-five minutes and already we were in sight of Hobby Airport. I thought it safe to lower my altitude, as I would be able to see any living human figures below trying to shoot at me from the open concrete. Approaching the large expanse of paved runway and taxi area I saw yet another symbol of death.
A Boeing 737 was on the tarmac with severe fuselage wrinkles indicating a hard crashed landing. It was the only large plane in the airport. There were other, smaller aircraft—executive jets and smaller props similar to the Cessna—but this was the last of the large passenger jets here at Hobby. We circled around once more to make sure we had the proper assessment before we landed. I could see a fuel truck in the distance near one of the aircraft
hangars. The hangar was large compared to the others and was most likely for Boeing aircraft just like the one that is forever disabled on the runway.
Our curiosity propelled us and we decided to land the plane near the large aircraft to see if anything of value might be inside. One advantage to this was that it was out in the open and not adjacent to any buildings that would leave us an easy mark for someone or some thing to sneak up on us. William would stay outside near the aircraft to keep watch as we found an entry point. All of the window shades were down on the 737. It wouldn’t really matter since the windows were nearly fifteen feet off the ground anyway. The over-wing escape hatches were secure and we were not successful in getting them open as the fuselage ripple stresses had jammed them tight. That left the co-pilot’s escape hatch on the starboard side of the cockpit glass.
I looked up, ten feet into the air on the right side of the cockpit, and saw how we were going to gain entrance to this aircraft. Using a grapple that Will and I had previously constructed from the rope and some metal left over from last month’s tanker explosion, I was able to climb up to the window. First, I supported John’s weight on my shoulders as he reached up to open the emergency access latch, releasing the airtight seal to the cockpit.
I almost dropped John when he carelessly fumbled the unattached piece of cockpit glass to the floor inside the plane. I cursed when I finally realized what he had done. I grunted under his weight on my shoulders and asked him if he had heard any reactions to our noise from the interior of the aircraft. He replied no, but also said that the smell coming from inside was beyond terrible and that the cockpit access door was closed. Using the pitot tubes jutting from the aluminum skin of the aircraft, John climbed back down off my shoulders and we made a decision.
This was enough for me. I wasn’t going to risk my ass trying to squeeze through the tight emergency opening only to get it bitten off as I tried to regain my balance on the inside. This aircraft was a tomb and it was going to stay that way. I can only dream of the horrors that are waiting inside. Buckled passengers writhing to be set free from their belts, dead flight attendants carefully walking the aisles, still performing their duties even in the afterlife.
We returned to the aircraft to continue formulating our plan for getting the fuel and any other supplies we deemed necessary. The hangar was our goal. I doubted we were going to be able to move the fuel truck to where the aircraft rested so we all climbed back in and I started her up and taxied toward the hangar and the fuel supply. The closer we got, the more we knew the value of “ground truth” intelligence. We could see movement inside the airport through the aircraft windows. Dead, all of them. I gave them no more thought when I saw the horror spilling out of the open hangar that we were quickly closing on.
I stopped the aircraft and left the engine running as I jumped out, rifle in hand. John was out quick and Will followed, spilling out on my side. He started to walk past me when I reached my hand out, the way my mother used to reach out across my chest when our car was about to make a quick stop. He was fixated on the creatures and nearly walked himself into our aircraft’s spinning propeller blades.
We fell back and began our task of killing them. There were roughly twenty that I could see. I could see shadows of movement dancing underneath the belly of the fuel truck. I screamed out over the engine for the men to kill the ones approaching the propeller first to avoid any aircraft damage. We needed the fuel and we needed to keep the engine running until we were safe from them. It was a Catch-22. I began firing and they followed suit. I killed five before number six refused to go down. Two shots to the head and it still came at me. I gave up on the head and shot its legs out from under it.
John and Will were making short work of the others as I picked off the remaining undead behind the fuel truck. We were clear for now. I checked the fuel truck to see if it was in working order. Using the butt of my rifle, I struck the tank. The sound that resonated indicated that there was fuel inside. One thing seemed odd. Why would a small prop aircraft fuel truck be parked in front of the Boeing hangar? I now began to think that I was not the only pilot that had visited this airfield since things went crazy. I wondered if this truck had been used recently/reused, or if I was just overthinking.
I climbed up to the driver’s window and peered in before I
opened it up. Nothing. Keys were inside and it appeared to be in decent condition. I turned over the ignition and it coughed to life on the first attempt. Either someone had been maintaining this vehicle or I was just especially lucky with the battery charge. I flipped the switches for the pumps and got out. Before shutting down the aircraft, I checked our perimeter to make sure we weren’t about to be blitzed. As the prop spun down and the engine noise abated, the unnerving clicking sound of jewelry hitting the terminal glass a couple hundred yards away filled my ears and grabbed my attention. The undead almost seemed to protest our taking of the fuel. They could see us from the inside and they were thrashing the glass in protest. Watches, rings and bracelets sounded like loud rain on the tempered glass even from this distance.
I unplugged the fuel caps and walked over to the truck. When I opened the control box to flip the switch, a yellow piece of folded legal-sized paper fell out and started to drift downwind. I ran after the paper, caught it with my boot and unfolded it to read:
Davis family, Lake Charles airfield, Louisiana. 5/14
It was a family . . . survivors. It was brilliant of them to leave this note inside the exterior fuel pump control switchbox. Davis had shown himself to be an intellectual with this single gesture. He didn’t overtly spray-paint the runway with his name and location; he left it in a place where another pilot could find it. Aircraft fuel is useless to automobiles, rendering an aircraft fuel truck the same. I took the note and put it in my pocket. Walking up to the aircraft, I could tell John and Will were edgy. I filled the aircraft tanks to the top as I watched them. Will’s skin seemed to be getting lighter in color in anticipation of what I was going to say next.
Time to check out the hangar.
I don’t know why they were afraid. The hangar doors were wide open and anything that wanted us could just walk out here and try. After all the gunfire, I was nearly certain that there were no more of those things inside this hangar. I was right.
As the three of us broke the threshold of the large rolling hangar doorway, I almost pissed my pants. Something swooped
in out of the darkness and nearly hit me in the head. It seems that a family of swallows had a summer nest just above the entryway and the mother didn’t like me near her young. I could hear them chirping above. Makes me wonder how many undead eyes she had poked out in the previous weeks. I steered clear of the nest and made my way back to the supplies. The hangar had numerous Plexiglas skylight openings. It was a nice sunny day. The smell of death was in the air, but the smell of rot had followed the undead outside the hangar to their demise at the hands of our small team. It wasn’t long before we found the door to the large supply room.
Slowly, I opened the door with a long pole commonly used to clean out-of-reach aircraft windows. Nothing but the smell of mothballs rolled out to meet us. This room was clean. I was acclimated to the smell of the undead but I could surely tell when their smell was absent. The supply room could almost have been considered a mini warehouse. The shelves were lined with superfluous aircraft parts and equipment. This was the Boeing supply and maintenance hangar. However, I wasn’t looking for jet engine parts, I was looking for survival radios and equipment. It was then that I came upon something that I couldn’t leave home without. There were rows of black briefcase-looking devices labeled “Inmarsat.” We had stumbled upon aviation portable satellite telephones. I had no idea if they were still operational. However, four of them on the right side of the shelf were still sealed in plastic. We took those four and moved them to the door. Continuing our loop around the supply locker we found numerous portable distress radios, inflatable life rafts and other things of that nature. We took the satellite phones and portable VHF maintenance radios and made our exit.
We were full on fuel, had four new satellite phones, some portable VHF radios and had also made a startling discovery that a family had headed out to an airstrip in Louisiana weeks ago. It was time to leave. We all loaded up the aircraft and began our journey home. This time I stayed above seven thousand feet until I was almost on top of Hotel 23. I didn’t want to take the chance of any stray weapons fire shooting me down. As I approached the compound I called out over the radio to Jan and Tara, telling them,
“Navy One is three down and locked for a full stop.” I mused at the use of the presidential call sign, but no one got it. I bet Davis would get it. We landed and hid the aircraft once again. I entered the complex thinking of the Davis family and wondered if they ever made it to that airfield.