Chapter 5, Part I
The sky in front of me is beginning to get brighter turning a hue of blue. I can make out the roofs of the houses, their tera cotta tiles are dull but visible. I really have to start really moving more stealthily. My back is furious at me and I don’t want any other physical altercations – I’m not sure I can pull off another fight. The Albertson Fire road is pretty wide and descends out of the hills into the housing development. It’s the road fire teams would use as their main lines of attack from the North on any forest fires in the open space preserve. Loose dirt but packed down enough to allow huge fire trucks to access the preserve. It’s not bad to walk on but the loose rocks will twist your ankle if you’re not careful.
Just beyond the roof tops I can see what looks like a giant crater with debris spread out across the neighborhood. The moaning is getting louder as I get closer to the houses. The trail dips down into a ravine where thick scrub brush has overgrown making it difficult to navigate. Eventually, making my way to the backyards of the houses bordering the preserve I walk past the eerily abandoned houses. They have rod iron fences with openings 4” wide making it easy to see into their back yards, and easy for Zombies to see me as well. Luckily the only ones immediately close are three yards away and trapped there but staring at me like predatory animals in a cage, tracking my movement and beginning to become agitated, moaning louder and louder.
Water is my first priority right now. I’m out and need to find some fast but the moaning is getting louder and the sky is getting brighter every second. As it gets brighter I can feel the heat building. Continuing to work my way out to the end of the trailhead the housing development comes into view. Just beyond the second row of houses is a huge crater from where a giant passenger plane has gone down. The debris field is enormous, it’s about three football fields long. The sheer panic during the moment when they completely lost power and began to drop from the sky like a rock actually saved them from the horrors of those of us having to live in this nightmare.
I’m so amazed by the sheer immensity and scope of the crash that I lose my concentration and aren’t paying attention to the moaning which is getting even louder. They see me and are heading this way, a lot of them. Maybe 100. Doubling back I head around the back of the house going for a manhole cover at the termination point of the street just at the edge of the trail head. You can see it as you hike out of the trail system, but it’s hidden by some scrub brush from the development side. Getting to it I’m able to duck behind the brush. About 20 yards away I can see them rounding the corner. Taking off my pack I quickly untie the cord holding the tomahawk on to my pack’s ice axe loop. There’s a cut out on the manhole cover and a hole just beyond it, they’re spaced so when a worker pries the cover up using the cut out the hole slides perfectly onto the end of the tool and they can drag the circular manhole cover away from the hole. Manhole covers are round because no matter how you handle the cover it’ll never fall into the hole and hurt a worker.
I’m lucky because most of the covers in the city had been welded shut after 9/11 but this far out into the suburbs they just didn’t need to worry about security. I quickly brush the dirt and sand out from the cut out to fit the pointed end of the tomahawk to try to raise the cover. Jamming it in I use the tomahawk like a pry bar. It’s heavy and begins to move but my tomahawk isn’t designed for this and there’s only a two inch gap before it gives way and falls. They’re getting closer and I can see them through the gaps in the brush. Quickly I do it again, this time when I get to the point where it failed I jam my foot in the gap. I drop the tomahawk on to my pack and use both hands to lift. I’m able to get it on edge and balance it in the middle. Without even looking in I dump my pack and tomahawk down the hole. It’s a short drop and they land with echoing thuds. I know there’s got to be a ladder just under the surface and put my foot down into the hole. Reaching around I finally make contact and begin to descend on the slippery ladder as they see me and begin to scream in excitement about the prospect of a fresh meal. The lid slams down almost bashing in the top of my head. The manhole cover nearly makes a perfect seal and with one hand I push it up, adjust it, then letting it drop again so it seats firmly in the rim. I can hear them pounding on the cover, even if they understand how it works they’ll never get down here with out some kind of prying tool.
At the bottom I find my pack and sit on it for a moment trying to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Musty and dank the tunnel follows the contour of the street leading down out of the hills into the neighborhood. As my eyes adjust I start to make out a section where the tunnel splits, one section goes straight ahead and the other turns to the right. I can make out daylight from the right and begin to make my way forward towards the junction. At least in the tunnel I don’t have to deal with the hot sun beating down on me, I might last a little while longer with out water down here. At the turn I begin making my way towards the light and begin to hear the moaning. Light comes from directly ahead. Where the plane had crashed it gouged out the earth digging into the drain tunnel system from above. Pausing in my tracks I clearly see the end of the tunnel, light streaming in through an opening of twisted rebar and crushed concrete. Making out shapes clumsily stumbling about over the wreckage. The oder is pungent even from this distance and the moaning is echoing off the tunnel walls. Retreating quietly back creating distance from the horde I make my way back down the tunnel retracing my steps to the junction.
Stumbling through the darkness I try to be silent making my way slowly and steadily. I need to find some water and don’t have the fuel or the time to purify it right now. Being cool helps, but the clock is ticking. Light streams in through a storm grate and I see a puddle of water on the ground. Dropping my pack and fishing out my bandanna and the hydration bladder. Mopping up the water takes only a few minutes and gains me about 200 milliliters of water. Anything is better than nothing. The filter at the bottom of my bladder should take care of any nasty bugs floating around in there but I really need to find a good amount of fresh water and flush the whole system out.
Before putting my pack back on I look at my compass while taking a bite of the rabbit jerky. Its sticky, sweet and salty. A nice blend for roughing it. There’s rungs leading up out of the drain system to the street. This storm grate is at the edge of the street in the gutter allowing me to see across the street. There’s a lot of activity here I’m a little surprised how Moaners are wandering around. If I continue down this grade it’ll eventually meet up with the 101 freeway which heads mostly North and South. I’ll need to cross it then make my way through the Lake Eleanor Open Space to head towards Malibu. Lake Sherwood is at the base of the Malibu mountains and might be a good holdover before reentering a big mountainous area. The Distance between Westlake Village and the ocean is ten times as big as where I just came out of and there have been big mountain lion living in this area for years, so I’ll have to be extra vigilant. I’m wondering how long it will be before the wildlife regains what humans had taken from them. I living in an episode of ‘After Humans.’