on Feb 8, 2013
According to the previous entries, we’re a few weeks into the zompocalypse. It’s late-ish summer, perhaps mid-August. Once things settled down we formed a little band of survivors, I miraculously survived, and even more miraculously I was chosen leader. We scouted around for a few days looking at farms before choosing the best location we could find.
Assuming we survived all that and the writers didn’t decide to bump me off early, then we’re now living in a cluster of houses along a river near a farm. We’re operating under a “no one left behind” mentality. Now we need to get down to the business of surviving.
Do I need to point out that our zombie fighters would wear armor? I hope I don’t. As I’ve said before, human teeth are for tearing, not piercing. Even simple cardboard ought to be able to stop those quick “gotcha!” chomps you see in these stories. And with some proper sports equipment, a person should be almost immune to bites except on the joints. (Note how zeds always try to chomp your fleshy bits and not your joints.) Zombies still have that mysterious ability to rip open abdomens if they pin you, but with the proper gear we shouldn’t have people getting bitten on a regular basis. Maybe we won’t find any sports equipment, but I’m sure we’ll find cardboard and duct tape, which should turn away most bites.
I’ll admit it’s pretty hard to defend yourself against a threat whose power is, “They always win eventually no matter what, by writer fiat.” I mean, that’s the zombie setting in a nutshell.
Walls take time, labor, and lots of resources to build. Also, pounding all those nails will generate a ton of zombie-summoning noise. Given this, it leaves us in a bit of a Catch-22. If we can survive long enough to build something as ambitious as a wall, while exposed, at the height of the zompocalypse, while making a ton of noise, then we probably don’t need a wall. Or at least, we’ll need it less by the time we’re done with it, because the local zed population will have fallen.
It’s not quite that simple of course. I imagine your wall-builders will just be your perimeter guards, and building wall is what they do between fights. Once they finish the wall they will be free to go do other jobs. Still, you wind up with a lot of strange opportunity costs and a huge up-front cost just when you’re trying to get the group off the ground.
I think the best solution here is a “staged” defensive system. First we install something cheap and quick, then we go for a simple wall, then we improve the wall. This will get us something quick to start, when we really need the help. If we ever find that zeds stop being a problem (say, after the first good freeze) then we can stop improving the wall and not stress too much over the costs we’ve already sunk into it. This is much better than (say) building this super-fortified stone wall, getting halfway done, discovering the zeds are now a minor threat, and then realizing you’ve built half a wall that isn’t helping you and that you no longer have any reason to finish.
More importantly, we chose this rural location because the zed population should be only a dozen or so per square kilometer. If we’re getting mobbed by large crowds this far out, and if they keep coming, then clearly the zeds have magical homing abilities or scouting parties or something. In that case we might as well flap our arms and fly away to safety, because this world no longer has any rules.
But still. Like the St. Johns, we should assume we’ll have some trickle of meandering zeds, punctuated by larger groups if things get noisy. Not because it makes sense, but because that’s how these things work in these stories. Here is how we’ll handle that without building the Great Wall of Shamusville…
The Walking Dead seems to present zombies as being attracted by sounds, so we’ll place wind chimes like these around the perimeter.
The sound is both loud and wide-spectrum, and generally inoffensive to the living. (Not a fan of chimes myself, but most people seem to tolerate or enjoy them well enough.) They can be made from simple bits of widely-available pipe and wire, without any special tools. If we’re lucky enough to have someone with a good ear we might be able to cut the chimes to form musical notes, which ought to make them more aurally pleasing. The chimes will be hung up on a pole or tree, out of reach of the zeds. This pole will be in the open, where we can easily see if any walkers have gathered.
We’ll also make a wind “chime” that consists of a simple window shutter on a wooden stud, which should make a steady “door slam” sound. In the first days we’ll see which sound is more attractive to the zombies and focus on building those in the future. From here on, I’ll refer to these noisemakers as “chimes”, regardless of which noisemaker we go with.
These sounds will travel… what? A hundred meters on a clear day? Probably less than that. Certainly not as far as a gunshot. The sound should be drawing in zeds that are a possible threat to the community, but not gathering up extra zombies from distant hills.
Most zeds that stray near the property will be drawn towards the chimes and away from the squishy center where our survivors hang out. Even magic ninja zombies that somehow appear IN the camp at night would be drawn outward, towards the chimes and away from the people. For the first few weeks it might be part of the morning routine to go out and destroy all the zeds that have collected around the wind chimes overnight, but sooner or later their numbers ought to run out.
At night, the guards will go around smacking the chimes with a stick as they walk their route or sit their watch. This will ensure that we get sound even when the wind is down, and will also give the people inside an audio cue if something is wrong. If we stop hearing the distinctive ring of someone striking the chimes, then there’s trouble. The guard has either been attacked or fallen asleep.
Also, we should rig up a way to trigger the chimes from within a house. If the worst happens and moaners besiege the place, we should be able to make a bunch of noise to lead them away. (Not that I think it’s likely this far out, but you never know what kind of shenanigans the writers will pull.)
We’ll get the wall up as fast as we can, but in the meantime the chimes should keep us safe from the early-morning “gotcha” zombies.
It’s very likely that this area will already have some sort of fence. There might be fence around fields or crops to keep cattle in or pests out. However, I don’t want to cheat by claiming, “And then we find walled city and live there.” If there are electric or wooden fences, then certainly we’d make use of those materials. But it’s unlikely there’s enough fence to cover the neighborhood or that it’s formidable enough to keep the zeds at bay. So let’s just assume we have to build the whole thing from scratch.
We don’t want to waste time building a stupid vertical wall for zeds to shove over. That’s a ton of work, requires a ton of wood, and is prone to structural failure. Instead our fence will be outward-facing pikes, staggered at different lengths and angles. The point of this wall isn’t to stab the zombies to death. I mean, Duh. The wall is there to present something impossible for a mindless zombie to climb over. Their blind “run forward” instinct isn’t smart enough to wedge the pikes to one side so their zombie brethren can enter. Heck, a human could just pluck spears from the ground until there’s an opening, but rotters will just shove forward and either impale themselves or become entangled in the poles.
Wooden pikes are easy to make. (At least, compared to two-by-fours.) They don’t need to be perfectly cut. Unlike lumber, they don’t have to conform to certain size specifications to fit together. They can be ugly and slightly crooked and still do their jobs. The wall won’t require any nails or hammering. Even better, we can build the wall in stages. First we shove the stakes into the ground a meter apart, tilted outward at (perhaps) a forty five degree angle. Then we put more stakes at the midway between those ones, except tilted at (say) thirty degrees. Then another group of stakes between those ones, except pointing at a (suggested) sixty degree angle. The actual angles will be determined through experimentation, but you get the general idea.
I don’t expect untreated wood to last more than a year or so. Maybe someone in the village will know how to treat the wood to make it endure the weather longer. I could swear I’ve heard of a technique where you singe the outside of a bit of wood to protect the inside. Maybe you wet the wood first? Or after? I can’t remember. Hopefully someone in town knows about this.
Now we have spikes every 20cm (every 8 inches or so) that stand at varying angles. Zeds trying to shove forward will get stuck and won’t be able to produce the leverage needed to overcome the spikes. The guards can then make the rounds and dispatch the snared zombies at their leisure, without needing to go outside the wall.
The staged building of the wall means that we can get something around the city in a short amount of time, and we can improve it only as long as we need to.
The numbers I’ve read suggest that you need 4 acres of farmland to feed a family. That’s a lot of real estate. We’ll probably want to build a wall around just the houses to protect our non-combatants. This means the the fields will be in the danger zone. Still, this will make it so that the only people facing zeds will be armed, healthy adults who are aware they’re going into danger. The sleeping, the weak, the children, and the sick should be kept safe.
Once the houses are protected, we can consider the larger and more formidable task of walling off our fields, assuming that seems like a worthwhile investment.
I thought I was being a clever monkey when I wrote this series. I planned to end it just as Season 10 and our coverage of The Walking Dead ended. But now this series is going to drag on for one more entry. At least.
To be continued…
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.