Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Forlorn Hope

Treesong here. Now that I've made it to The Compound, Josh has given me access to the blog. I'll probably use this sparingly because I have my own writing to do, and an unfortunate amount of other work to do. I feel a need to write something now that I'm here, though, so here goes.

I'm capitalizing The Compound because that's what people call this place. I'm hoping we get a more inspiring name for it eventually, but in the meantime, it'll do.

The Compound itself is an inspiration. I don't know how Josh and everyone else in this community managed to build a castle, even an ad hoc wood and brick and metal one, in such a short amount of time.

Actually, I take that back. I do know how they were able to do it. In the short time I've been here, I've already seen what hard workers they are. There's some serious tension here -- but the work of building and growing and patrolling seems to be their distraction from all of the in-fighting and the pain, so they throw themselves into it fully. Now that I've had some time to rest and recover, I've started joining them in the work.

Words can't describe what any of us have been through. The final incident at Gaia House, though, was the worst thing I've seen since the first wave came into town. At first, I was frustrated and ill because I thought the presence of Josh and Steve's rescue team had triggered the Marauder attack. But once the adrenaline wore off and we were on the road, I realized that the Marauders were probably just coming to kill us all anyway. The rescue effort is almost certainly the reason any of us are alive today, and for that I am forever grateful.

It's hard to say that, though. It's hard to say that I'm grateful to be alive when so many people have died. A part of me -- a very real, deep, visceral part of me -- wishes I had just died with them. For better or worse, though, I'm mostly just numb now, spending almost all of my waking hours focused on actions and strategies of survival rather than what has been lost.

When the first wave came, thousands of people died in Carbondale. Thousands in a single day, in a town of maybe 25,000. But we were in hiding, so the high body count seemed almost abstract at first -- like a mass extinction that took place while we were sleeping in our makeshift shelters. But our last moments in Carbondale were gruesome, brutal, personal.

I lost a lot of friends in the span of a few heartbeats -- a lot of good people, people with big and tender hearts, most of whom would have argued in defense of these Marauder's lives, even after what they've done. And yet, the Marauders seem to have no mercy, no conscience, no basic human empathy or compassion. They just take what they can from us, then murder us. It's that simple.

A part of me is shaken to the core by this. And from the stories I've heard, this area is plagued by a similar menace. Most areas probably are -- which to me is more sickening than the mindless violence the "zombies" direct at us.

The "zombies" have an illness. What's the Marauders' excuse?

A part of me just wants to hunt down these Marauders with a ruthless brutality worthy of the soulless monsters they've become. I know now what it feels like to fire a gun, and I want to feel the weight of that recoil pressing against me as I fire again and again into a hoard of Marauders, watching the hot steel rip through them one by one until none of them are left standing.

But another part of me still recoils in horror at the thought of violence. When I close my eyes, I can still see the twisted faces of my friends dying all around me. I can still smell the blood and guts and piss and shit of my murdered friends scattered on the lawn of a formerly quiet and peaceful community center. The weight of a gun in my hand feels far too heavy -- not because I'm weak, but because I know I have the strength and the skill and the will to use it. And the thought that I will have to use it again -- and again, and again -- to defend the ones I love is too much for me to bear.

With that said, though, there is still cause for hope, however forlorn we may all feel at times. In my moments of solitude, I let the horror of it all rush back in. But those moments are few and far between. For the most part, now that I'm mostly on my feet again, I find myself quite busy, and surprisingly full of hope. We are alive, we are strong in numbers, and The Compound actually has a shot at carrying us through until the last of the zombies are dead. (I hate calling them zombies, but it's hard not to, given their current state. Besides, it lends a darkly humorous slant to an otherwise horrific and soul-crushing situation.)

My main concern at the moment is not zombies, or even outsiders, but inner stability of The Compound. It seems to me like Courtney has been ostracized for advocating mercy, which I've been very sad to see. It also seems to me like the Carbondale crew hasn't fully found a place in our new community yet. This is partially due to the fact that we're all in various states of shock given the fact that we just watched a lot of people we know die all at once. But it's also due to other factors such as cultural differences, and the fact that we were a sudden influx of refugees rather than a trickle of individuals. But these all seem like decent, hard-working people, so I have high hopes that with time spent working side by side, we'll learn to get along.

I haven't had a chance to talk to the other Carbondale survivors yet about whether or not they want me to mention them by name. If you're from Southern Illinois and want to know who's here, let me know in private.

For people who know me, I will say that my friend Aur is not with us, but is with his family and a few friends. They are well-fortified and well-stocked at an undisclosed location. Also, you may be surprised to hear that Rich Whitney, who was the Illinois Green Party's gubernatorial candidate before the apocalypse, is alive and uninjured and has made the journey with us.

Rich came in third place last election cycle, carrying 10% of the statewide vote. In spite of this relative celebrity, he's a very down-to-earth and hands-on member of the community. Some of us have joked (rather darkly) that in light of the rumored destruction of our state capitol, the office of Governor should fall to him.

Rich played a pivotal role in organizing our camp and was somewhat reluctantly elected our Director shortly before the fall of the center. True to his pre-apocalypse beliefs, however, he still holds out hope (however grim) for recreating some semblance of a democratic society once we've dealt with "the pandemic" and its consequences. The whole ordeal has shaken him terribly, and he seems rather ill and sullen at times. I suppose a lot of us do. But his eyes brighten when he talks about the prospect of building grassroots democracy among the survivors. He was passionate about such things before the apocalypse, and now I think it may be what keeps him going.

I think I'll end on that hopeful note. Besides, even with my lingering exhaustion, there is other work that needs to be done, and I think some people are growing impatient with my rest and my typing.

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