Once we broke the word to the others not present, the reaction was something of a sigh of relief by the adults and a guarded optimism by the kids. Bob and I went around the town and decided that, despite the lack of zeds around right now, this couldn't last and that we should resume travelling further north into the wilderness- but, with Winter coming soon, we decided that riding out Winter here would be the best of a host of bad options.
Having committed to this course of action, we fanned out and scoured homes and farms for everything we could haul away that was of any use to us; hardware stores and lumber yards provided enough tools and materials to start a rushed fortification project at the most defensible option on the lake for us. We got the boats up and ready to run, and fished plenty to fill larders; ice houses we also brought on site so we could keep this up over the Winter. Deer, Elk, and Duck soon came to the kitchens to be cleaned, smoked, and stored. Our arms stores also increased, mostly with the sort of deer rifles and duck shotguns that were commonplace outside of the Cities and the ammunition that they used. We stocked the pantries, the larders, the infirmary (which we made by converting the concierge office), and put up pallisades to constrict unwanted movement. This became our first castle.
As the night grew long and cold, we embarked on our promised skill exchange. My men and I trained the capable adults in how to use and maintain the sorts of firearms we preferred--AR-15s, AK-47s, tactical shotguns, service pistols, etc.--and they taught us how to process game carcasses, how to skin and tan leather, stalking game, and other more outdoorsman applications of skills many of us already had some familiarity with. The children, especially the boys, greatly enjoyed learning how to do all of these things- though there was some teasing over the more messy elements of it.
It was not without incident. Bob said that the older folks were on borrowed time, and for a few that was short in supply. A few would expire in their sleep, and then turn overnight; we had to put their risen corpses down before they spread their infection to anyone else. By the time we got snowed in for the season, all but Bob had died- and so had the weak children. The children who remained now had seen first-hand why we kept on them so much to do as we told them; at the cost of their innocence--there was no way to get through this without getting hardened by it--they ceased to be bothersome and quarrelsome at times, and instead snapped into obedience now that they saw the price of refusal- and they wanted none of it.
I am not bothered by this. We no longer live in a world where this sort of thing can be tolerated. If this sort of ritual initiation, this sort of traumatization, is what it takes to get and keep cohesion between myself and the others at all levels then so be it. We will not endure any longer as anything but a well-knit tribe with a clear chain of command. Even Bob began to refer to me as "Chief" or "Boss" now, and I confess that I like it this way.
I've taken to carrying a machete or a hatchet on me at all times, in addition to a knife. The moments when being armed proved vital have convinced me that this is just a good practice to cultivate now. The other men have now mimicked me, carrying hammers if they can't get a machete or hatchet, and the women are now carrying knives at all times. I've heard the boys complaining that they should have knives too. I'll deal with that shortly.