Monday, January 31, 2011

Viking Funeral

I'm surprised at how well the residents here at Jack's compound have dealt with his death. I suppose I shouldn't be--he was an incredibly thoughtful and thorough man, and he had this place prepared to lose him almost from day one. He certainly knew how to plan ahead.

I almost don't want to say this, but this blog has always been about the truth no matter how hurtful or disturbing, so I will: Jack died while I was with him, and I did the last rite that all survivors have drilled into them. We don't talk about it much because of how awful it really is, but I think that by not doing so, we have done a disservice to the people who read this early on, and were not warned.

I am talking about what to do with the freshly dead, of course.

In the very early days, not many people were aware that all of us seem to be infected with the plague that makes us reanimate into zombies. Many died when a loved one or close friend gave in to sickness or injury, only to come back shortly thereafter and feed upon them. Every survivor I know has learned the hard way to give that last rite I mentioned--severe head trauma. Luckily I was at the clinic where there are tools for that purpose within reach of all the beds, death there always being a possibility. I didn't have to go far, and I did the deed myself. I had felt Jack die, been there with him as the last threads of life wore through and parted. I owed his soul the comfort of knowing that his mortal coil would not become the enemy.

I won't go into detail other than that. Most of you have probably done it in one way or another. Guns, hammers, a simple chunk of rock. It all ends up being the same. We had to do it for my mom when she died, though I was lucky enough not to be the one to do it.

I'm glad I was there for Jack. Because of my presence, I was able to do the thing quickly, and left him unmarred and perfect for the funeral yesterday. It was a beautiful if simple ceremony, one used for everybody that dies here when possible. Jack came up with it, and it's as functional as it is meaningful.

For about an hour, Jack's body rested on a bier set about thirty feet from the wall. People walked by it constantly, laying fingers on his hands or touching his cheek. Every one of them left something there, something small. Most were twigs or bits of cloth, some left things like playing cards and novels. To my great amusement, Jack's named successor and friend Susan Martin left the entire Twilight Saga there with him. I asked her about it later, and she told me that he secretly loved the series, and that she couldn't stand it. This way, she told me, both of them are happy--Jack goes into the hereafter with them, and she gets to watch them burn.

An hour and almost a thousand people later, Jack's bier was loaded so heavily with flammable objects that Jack himself was almost obscured. The bier was a piece of aluminum machined out solely for the purpose of funerals, and all around the edges there were little holes. I didn't understand what they were for until I saw the men bringing over a cage, which they put over Jack and his accumulated fuel. The gaps in it were small, less than an inch between the lines of the fencing that made it up. The workers ran retaining pins through it, locking it on.

It was a quarter hour later when a shout came from the wall. One of the funeral attendees ran inside the main building. With surprising speed, men brought a strange machine from inside it. It looked like a piece of train track, but with a block of steel on one end, all hooked up to big tanks. The men on the wall pointed sent a runner down to talk to the men setting up the machine. They loaded Jack's bier onto it, right next to the block of steel, and I was beginning to wonder exactly what was going on when I heard a clatter come from the machinery behind the steel block, and I watched as the far end of the rail raised up. After a minute it became clear; Jack's funeral bier was sitting at the bottom of a goddamn launcher.

At signals from some of the guys on the wall, the angle and direction were fine tuned, and at a final signal, one of the men running the machine ran around and threw a bucket of something over the bier and it's contents.

Then he threw a match.

The thing started burning, and after about twenty seconds, it started burning VERY brightly. Then they launched him. I watched the thing go over the wall like a shooting star, so bright I had to squint, and then I saw a bunch of the people on the wall chuck what looked like small bags of stuff out after it. I was pretty curious about the whole thing, so I walked up and looked over.

There was a crowd of zombies, and they were on fire. More of them were catching as I watched. The guard next to me saw the look on my face an explained: Jack wanted every death to mean something, even if the death itself seemed meaningless. Every person should, if possible, take a number of the enemy out with them. It was amazing to watch, the guard pointing to a small bag at his waist and explaining that it was a mixture of magnesium and a few other flammable materials. No wonder the zombies went up like candles...

The whole thing kind of took my breath away. After all, who expects the last moment of a funeral, usually a somber occasion, to end up the ejection of the deceased's fiery corpse into a swarm of the living dead? I didn't. But I can't fault it. It's not how we did things, but I understand the need for a show, for the people to see the departed well and truly gone. Philosophically it makes sense--zombie population reduced, reusable cage and bier, abundant supplies of insanely dangerous explosive metals reduced in a useful way...

Jack thought of every possibility. He named a successor, Susan, a person who worked with him every day and knows how this place works. He wanted the transition to be seamless, and it has been so far as I can tell. He did amazing things here, but he made it clear from the beginning that he was in charge. That attitude and surety of leadership has allowed the people here to accomplish much, and it all came from a man with an iron will who was simply not going to let his people die.

Again, and not to dilute the power of the word, I say that's just amazing. More so because when I look at what he accomplished, I think of Jack the leader, Jack the strategist, Jack who saw the possibilities and set up his moves ten steps ahead of the game. I almost never think about what he was before The Fall. Most of us just don't see the people we used to be and the people we are as the same. Probably because we're not.

Jack used to be an accounting person at the factory that used to be housed in the main building of his compound. He started here years ago as, or all things, a janitor. He went to school for years and mopped the floors at night, working toward something better.

That's almost poetic to me. That is how I will remember Jack, how I will think of him when the lack of his company strikes my heart. I will remember him as a man who worked for the betterment of himself, but equally concerned with the welfare of others. A man who saw the need for a strong leader, and became that leader out of necessity rather than lust for power. Who Jack was and what he became exemplify the qualities in people that I most appreciate, the things that give me hope for our species and the drive to save it.

His life can essentially be boiled down to this: a janitor that saved the lives of almost a thousand people, with nothing but his brain and common sense.

He will be missed.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Atropos' Shears

Today, I experienced one of the most horrifying events of my life. It shook me to a degree I didn't know was possible.

Before The Fall, I was a Nurse Aide. I took care of the elderly, injured, and sick for a living. It's certainly not an easy job, and while physically difficult, the emotional trauma of doing the job any length of time weighs down on you. Watching people you care for grow more out of touch with reality, seeing family members get sadder every day as their loved ones drift away and become lost inside's horrible. Seeing death is awful, but seeing it and being the one who has to care for the body after it's stopped being a person and become a shell is something that leaves a mark on your soul. You learn to deal with it better, but it never stops hurting.

When The Fall came, making the decision to stop going to work was one of the hardest I ever had to make. I didn't talk about it then and I don't really want to talk about it now, but I have to. You'll understand when I'm done.

In Frankfort, the zombies spread like wildfire. By the time they'd hit us, people all over the country knew something terrible, something world-changing, was happening. At the nursing home I worked at, the families of the residents were taking their loved ones in droves. By the time The Fall had reached a point where most people weren't going to work and most of the machinery of civilization was in chaos, there were only about twenty people left. Twenty souls who had been wards of the state, or whose families lived too far away to come get them.

Or had no one left to come for them. Worse, one or two just had families that didn't come get them. By choice.

I find it hard to blame them, honestly. I quit going to work when the numbers got that low, when everyone who was going to be taken from the facility was taken from it. By that point, society had taken a dive and was shuddering its last breath face first in the dirt. I was told by my boss that the remaining residents would be taken to a secure location run by the military. That the rest of my coworkers had been told to stay home, lock up, and keep themselves safe.

I told myself I believed that, but over time I came to doubt it. I think my boss was trying to save my life, and told me what I wanted to hear so I didn't feel as guilty about caring for my own first. What it boils down to is that I don't honestly know if those folks were ever rescued. I did the right thing in taking care of myself and my family. I don't feel that choice in itself was immoral or unethical. But I do feel like shit about it, and I should. I made the right choice, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a terrible choice to have to make.

All I know now, looking back, is that when we raided the place I used to work at, there were no people there. Not living, not dead, not zombies. No one. The doors were locked and everything was relatively neat. Maybe they did make it out. I hope so.

I'm telling you all of that so you can understand something: taking care of others is my nature. Protecting and saving people is ingrained deeply into me. I was a good CNA. Every person that died while I was doing the job has a place in my mind, their faces clear as day. When I think about them, it hurts. But I remember them with fondness also, because I grew to know them, to love them, to joke and enjoy their company.

I've seen a lot of death. At work, it was most often from the rigors of age or illness, once in a great while a complication from surgery. After The Fall, it was most often from zombie attacks or the violence of marauders. Today, it was different.

Jack, the man who has led the people of this compound to do amazing things, to survive against all odds, died in my arms.

I was working in the clinic overnight, since it's still too cold to go out on scout runs. It's been a while since I used my skills as an aide, but it's not rocket science. I moved from person to person, checking vital signs, adjusting injured limbs for comfort, even fluffing pillows. I did some wound care as well--between my mom and Gabby, I'm well trained for it.

Jack came in at about five this morning, complaining of a very upset stomach. Phil was the doctor on duty, and did his thing, checking bowel sounds and various other things. Jack took some medicine to calm his stomach, but it didn't help. Nausea, cramps, feeling full when he hadn't eaten anything, all of that got worse and worse.

At seven this morning, I went to check on Jack as he lay propped up on the cot we'd put in a corner of the clinic for him. He was laying crooked, his eyes distant, blood welling up from his mouth and running in dark rivers down the side of his face. I ran to him, turned him on his side and watched in horror as what seemed like gallons of the stuff poured out onto the floor. I screamed for Phil, but as I held him I felt his lack of breath, my free hand reached his neck just in time to feel the last few, feeble beats of his struggling heart before it stopped.

When it did, the face of every person who had died ran through my mind. Every resident from work, every fellow citizen from the compound, every friend and loved one over the years of my life. Now, this man, who had done the impossible in gathering and saving almost a thousand people with nothing but his iron will and a determination to survive that I have never seen matched, was gone.

I can't tell you why this particular death hit me so hard. I've lost less people than some, but my mother and my unborn son were among them. Those deaths wounded me, and I grieved. But seeing Jack die so suddenly, so messily...I don't know why. Call me a broken record. I can only say that my mind can't let go of the image of his face and the pool of blood beneath him. My fingers still feel an imaginary tingle from the memory of his pulse going quiet beneath them. My ears ring with the faint gurgle that dwindled to silence as that last uncatchable breath was given up for lost. The smell of old blood, rich and coppery, won't leave me.

So, I had to write. It's my way of dealing. Today, it isn't helping at all. People all over are grieving for the loss of a great man, and no amount of trying to distract myself will erase the impression of his passing from my mind. It hurts, and it disturbs me, and it makes me sick to my stomach.

So why can't I cry?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lead Us Not

We were stuck outside Jack's compound until almost dark yesterday. Zombies kept coming in relatively small but steady waves, but a just before the sun set an indescribably cold mass of air swept in. The majority of the undead are resistant to cold now, but in less than an hour it dropped from about twenty degrees to below zero, and kept on falling.

Below zero, even the SnowTroopers freeze up.

Someone had, at some point during the fracas, come up with the brilliant idea to run a hose out to the wall where the main force of the attack was happening. Jack's people have done this before, you may recall, but this time they weren't electrocuting the undead. They were soaking them.

They didn't use more than a few hundred gallons, easily replaced in the water tower with snow. The thing is heated, so we can just pile snow in there until it's topped off again. We drove closer as the cold front dropped down on us like a lead coat; if it was going to get so cold that our vehicles might not work, we wanted to be able to at least try a run for the walls.

I got to watch as the zombies slowly froze. First it was their clothing. Those that weren't mostly naked from the constant wear and tear of their unchanging outfits turning them into rags were slowed down first. The ice restricted their movements as it stiffened the cloth. Then their skin started to frost over, eyeballs hardening next. It took a while, but as they got really slow my team moved in, breaking skulls open and cutting off the heads of the undead. It was really easy at that point, and the ones that managed not to get hosed down hurried off when they saw how outnumbered they were. A few took backwards glances at us. Hunger is a powerful driver.

We're staying here in the compound until it gets warmer. It's about ten below right now, and none of us want to risk getting caught in that. Not only for our own sake, but we also don't want to chance ruining vehicles, either.

While the sudden cold certainly helped with the zombie attack, they would have lost eventually. Jack's people are too practiced and too numerous to be taken that way. They have some technology that helps them against big swarms, but this attack wasn't bad enough to call in the big guns. It was just annoyingly long. It does give me some ideas about alternative defenses, though...I'll have to talk to Jack about that sometime soon.

This place is on minimal crew right now. There are people at the guard posts, kept warm by fires near the small buildings they're in (as well as those very hot rocks I mentioned the other day). There are lookouts on the roof, also in small shacks that have heat pumped directly to them from their own fires inside the main building. The rest of us are cuddled up inside the wooden barracks inside, people going out in turns to throw logs on the fire and shuffling around the heated stones that warm our plywood quarters.

This intense cold and the lack of work have given me a lot of time this morning to think about where we are. By 'we' I mean the refugees from the compound. Most of us have made it to Jack's now, and I expect word from Dodger, Jamie, or my brother any day about locating Patrick and his girls. More than a hundred of us, and we're getting comfortable here. I don't like that.

Don't get me wrong, Jack and his folks have made this a great place to live. Mason has made a point of telling us how the people of this place are way ahead of the folks back at Google in some ways. He's taken a like to Jack's, and is teaching the people here many...interesting things.

It's just that I don't want us to get too comfortable. I know that probably goes without saying, and I don't think that any of my people will forget about those left in the clutches of the Richmond soldiers back home. I just don't want to get so used to being here that we start making excuses to put off our eventual attempt to get home. I guess this worries me so much because I know we're going to be here for a while, at least through the  worst parts of winter.

Maybe I'm just worrying too much, I don't know. I'm snuggled up next to my wife, whose arm is draped over my waist as I lay here and type. I'm warm, comfortable, and there's a box of cereal bars next to me that are calling my name. It would be all too easy to get used to this.

If I can feel that way, the guy who founded the compound in Kentucky in the first place, how much easier would it be for someone who came afterward? I couldn't blame them, of course.

I just don't want to lose people to the easy choice, knowing that a harder one is down the road.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nature of the Beast

I'm stuck outside Jack's compound with my wife and the rest of our scout team. Twelve of us all told, and we can't get back inside any time in the near future. We only left a few hours ago, but we turned around when I got the call that Jack's was under attack from a swarm.

We're sitting on a low hill in our vehicles watching the action. We're about as far away from Jack's as the factory that we're converting into a hydroponic mega-garden, say a quarter mile. From this distance it's easy to forget that the small figures darting about in front of us are people (or used to be people, depending on which side of the wall you're seeing).

I wish there was something we could do to help, but we were given orders not to fight. We don't have much in the way of guns or ammo with us as supplies are still very low. Courtney brought some with her, but her team had trouble finding people willing to trade for ammo, which is totally understandable. We've mainly got handheld, melee weapons with us, which wouldn't do a lot in a fight with what looks like at least four hundred zombies.

Maybe if we were driving some of the modified vehicles that worked so well during the huge attack a few months ago up here, we could make a difference. We're not. Those things aren't used for scouting trips. So, instead of driving in to the crowd of undead and mowing them down in a blaze of glory, we wait.

It's surprising how much waiting you do in your life when distractions like television and the like are gone. It takes a lot of work to make daily living happen nowadays, but there are still long periods of time where there's nothing to do but sit and talk, or look out at the world around you. I'm sitting here tapping away on my phone, glancing up occasionally to make sure the swarm hasn't breasted the berm of dirt that makes the base of the wall around Jack's. It hasn't, though the piles of broken blacktop and debris that form the wall itself are littered with bodies. I hope they're the enemy...

Hmm. Pause!

Ok, sorry. I never know when to insert something that mentions time has passed between paragraphs, but now it's about twenty minutes later than it was before I said "Pause!". Jess got a call while I was typing, telling us to drive around the far western and eastern sides of the clearing that Jack's is in. The lookouts there saw movement in the trees and wanted confirmation. We got it; looks like a hundred or more zombies waiting in the little woods that are left around here. They're getting antsy and shuffling around.

We're back to our little hilltop. Nothing seems to have changed on the walls at Jack's.

As I look at the building that houses the majority of his people, I'm realizing something that had been in the back of my mind for a while. I've been thinking about it without knowing I've been doing it, I guess.

Nature is going to take back almost every square foot of land we ever stole from her. Back at our own compound, we had some animals around that moved from house to house, grazing on the bits of grass that hadn't been plowed up for growing food. Most of our yards, back and front, had been broken up to make farm land. For us, there wasn't a lot of upkeep on yard work. We took down all of the trees within the compound. Our numbers made it easy to do the little maintenance required.

Jack's is the same. The vast majority of the ground inside the walls is for growing food, and the kudzu and other creeping plants that try to move up the walls of the buildings here are killed by the citizens here regularly. It seems that most places that have a decent amount of people tend toward being neat and untouched by the destructive power of a living, growing thing.

Elsewhere, though...

We've been scouting off and on since we've been here. It's winter and the ground is mantled in snow, but the signs are still there to see. Grass left uncut for months sticks out through the smooth white coat everywhere you look. Houses are being covered in vines, though many are brown and dormant right now. Weeds are breaking through the concrete all over.

It says something deep to me. Seeing the slow march of earth's greenery, temporarily halted though it is by the season, take over and break apart the things that have marred the beauty of the land amazes me. It's a perfect example of the persistence of life. I don't want to get all emo here, so let me quote a movie: Life finds a way.

It really does. The slow crawl of creepers over brick, shattering them with time and pressure, is an obvious and awesome example to be sure. Think also of people, survivors; we're converting a factory into something that will make food, grow living things. It will take time and effort, but we will make life work there. Plants do as their genetics command them. Are we any different? Our chromosomes are packed with the base pairs that give us conscious thought, creativity, and ingenuity. The structure of our cells makes we human beings strive to not just live, but to alter our circumstances consciously to better survive. To thrive. Spectacular.

And I am reminded, as I look at the figures methodically bringing makeshift spears and clubs down on the advancing hordes of undead, that our most prevalent enemy is perhaps the best example of life's determination to persist that I can find. Something--a bacteria, fungus, or parasite--infiltrates our bodies as we live and breathe. From what we can tell, it learns us and how our bodies operate. When we die, that silent invader takes the empty shell and makes it useful again. Makes it walk and survive.

And eat.

Terrible, it's true, but remember also the adaptability of whatever it is that reanimates our dead. It got better at using the intelligence of the its host (us), making the smarties. Thankfully only a small number of zombies seem to be able to handle that strain of the disease, or we'd probably all be dead. Think about the much greater (I would guess approaching total) number of them that have adapted to the cold. We went from not seeing any undead when it got below forty five degrees or so, to watching them move toward us, half frozen, when we ourselves could barely move even within the layers of clothes we wear.

Human beings adapt by changing the circumstances we're in. Sort of like Captain Kirk hacking the computer that gave him the Kobayashi Maru test, the unbeatable scenario now winnable through his manipulation of the test itself. (If you don't know this reference...shame on you. Everyone should! Ask a nerd about it.) We do that--changing the rules around us to make survival and thriving possible.

Zombies, though, seem to change themselves. That's a huge advantage. If human beings were capable of single-generation mutations that way, there's no telling how far we could have gotten. It's staggering to think that we face something like that, and fills my heart with pride to know that we've stood against it and found ourselves equal to the task.

Time will be the judge of which way is ultimately better. It will have to be us or them eventually, and we're tough. We won't lose easily.

Back to watching the battle. We will try to get in through the gate if there's any break in the fighting. I don't have much hope for that anytime soon; my instinct says this will be a long, long day of waiting...and thinking about the way our enemies work.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Break It Down

Human beings are incredible creatures. Look at the history of our species, and you'll see more variety than you can comprehend. Or, at least I do when I think about us.

We're capable of terrible atrocity. We kill for land, religion, food, water. We kill for skin color and, sometimes, for no reason at all. The interesting thing to me is our capacity for cooperation and harmony held against our violence tendencies in as stark a contrast as I can think of.

I just got back from a short run to the lumberyard we've been getting supplies from. I got up at about two this morning to take a shift leading a group to transport from it. Jack has decided that it would be best for us to gather those supplies here and store them for when the heavy work on the hydroponics bay starts. Yes, I called it the hydroponics bay. Enough of the people here are nerds like me and fans of Star Trek that the name was suggested and stuck in record time.

What brought on this sense of amazement is the flurry of activity I see over the screen of my laptop. I'm sitting just inside the door of the factory we're going to be using for the hydroponic food, watching between paragraphs as more than two hundred people scurry and work. Men and women are taking apart the remaining machines with almost robotic speed and precision--these are folks that have a lot of experience working on industrial equipment. They are handing off parts to waiting gophers who pass them on. Nothing is wasted, every nut and bolt saved for possible use later on, even if it's just melted down for the metal.

Lines of people are passing pieces down to the doors where teams are loading them into trucks and hauling them to the main building of Jack's compound. Others are working on measuring the roof for cuts to be made later on to add in more skylights. Yet others are taking measurements to determine just how much pipe and hose will be needed to convert the sprinkler system into an irrigation system for the plants.

It's pretty awesome to behold. If the work continues at this rate, they will have the place empty in a few days, a week at the outside. The only thing slowing us down is the long corridor of open land between Jack's and here. The zombies in this area have been fairly quiet lately, but crowds of them as large as a dozen still drift right through the little road that connects the two factories a few times an hour. The guards that accompany each truck between the two places have to stop, clear them out, and make sure they are really, super dead.

There's talk of bringing in every roll of chain link fence we can find, and anything that can be used as a fencepost. I mentioned yesterday that it's about a quarter mile between the two, and that's a hell of a distance to cover with fence. Jess and I are going back out today on a long scouting trip to look for as much fencing as we can find, because what there is at the lumberyard isn't going to be anywhere near enough. Not to mention that we'll have to find chain link that's tall enough to keep zombies out, which most residential fencing just isn't.

We'll figure something out. This is Michigan, after all, and you can't throw a rock in any direction without hitting a building that manufactured or stored something in industrial quantities. There is a solution, we just have to find it. Not that we're in a great hurry or anything, because it's still about four degrees here. The ground is way too hard to dig holes in for fence posts.

Wow, I really didn't expect to write that much about fences and such. I just get excited about seeing people come together to do something truly helpful for their community. Seeing people come up with ingenious solutions to their problems gives my heart a little boost. Being a part of it makes me proud.

I'm off to catch a nap before Jess and I go out with our team. I'm happy to report that Courtney and Steve will be going with us, since both of them know the immediate area very well. Hopefully we'll find something useful, but at worst we will know where not to look next time, and be more efficient.

The wind chill is so bad that even the cold resistant zombies (which seems to be almost all of them around here, now) are taking it slow. Which is good. I don't feel like fighting today.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I'm sitting on a platform high above the earth. It's swaying beneath me, and cold, but here I have a sense of peace that I had forgotten was even attainable.

We got back yesterday, and it was amazing. Seeing Courtney, Steve, Little David and all the rest made my heart fill with love and relief to overflowing. I missed them and their company in ways and to depths that words will never be able to convey. More, just the idea that they had survived the trip around the country to come back to us was nearly unreal in itself. They were all gone when Will Price gave us up to the Richmond soldiers. We haven't seen them since before then.

Jess and I spent a lot of time with Courtney and her crew yesterday, catching up as we began the process of unloading the vast haul of stuff that was sent here with them. And I do mean vast--truck after truck packed with things, three fuel trucks, two school buses packed from front to back. So many things in so much variety that it's going to be days just sorting through it and cataloging it for use.

We had a good time yesterday, to be sure. After so many hours together, we went to sleep. I woke up not too long ago in the crowded wooden barracks that form the refugee camp within Jack's compound, and I needed some air. I went up on the roof to walk around for a bit and maybe write, laptop tucked in to my backpack. I found a ladder leading up to a taller section of roof, and there I found the tall platform I'm sitting on as I type this, circling around the water tower that keeps this place hydrated.

Looking out over the battered landscape, things are in perspective. I can see zombies moving around below, but from here they're impossible to tell apart from living people except for their movements. There's something poetic in that, I think, but I'm too tired and buzzed from last night to name it.

There's a big job to be done here, which is what I mentioned yesterday. The main complex of Jack's compound is pretty much occupied, but right in the same industrial park not a quarter mile away is an unused and mostly empty building. It used to be a factory, like most of the buildings around here, and it was in the process of being emptied out when The Fall came. We're going to empty it out all the way.

It's going to become a hydroponic garden. It has its own water tower, and we're going to tinker with the sprinkler system to create a makeshift water delivery mechanism. We're working on plans for it, and the ideas are looking good. It's going to be a major endeavor, many levels of indoor food production all year round...if we can figure out a way to heat the place well enough. That's going to be the hard part. That, and figuring out how to get enough light to the plants.

That's down the road. Over the next bit, the hard part is going to be clearing it all the way out, bringing in loads of construction material and soil, and all the like.

I'm starting to freeze up here. I better go...

Monday, January 24, 2011

There and back again

Just got going again, no thanks to a horde of zombies and an empty gas tank.

We stopped in this little town to search for diesel fuel, since we were close to running out and there weren't any other prospects. One of the things you learn over time is that the end came so quickly that there are usually still some pockets of supplies and fuel that haven't been filched yet. There just aren't enough people left to have used them all up.

That being said, it was still a lot of work to gather fuel for the bus. We have gas cans to take around with us, and no survivor leaves home without a siphon. It took a lot of work to empty out the tanks of the few diesel trucks we found, which should be enough to get us to our abandoned cars. It will certainly be adequate to get us to the train yard, where we should be able to top off the bus if nothing else, though the zombies there have probably returned from wherever it was that Mason lead them.

We encountered groups of zombies while we worked, and these looked better fed than most. There was fresh blood frozen on their fronts, still bright and some of it not even turned to ice yet. Most of them came at us in ones and twos, which was fine since we moved in teams of two. One of us worked while the other defended, a method that has been successful for us for a very long time.

The real problem was when the big group of them showed up. Not a lot of drama there--we've dealt with swarms before, and if you are reading this, chances are good that you have as well. We were all separated and spread out, and the swarm seemed to come from everywhere at once. It was the same old song and dance: run and outmaneuver, meet up at a predetermined location.

In short, we made it out.

I've talked to several people this morning, and I'm excited to get back to Jack's. Gabrielle has managed to find and bring in a couple truckloads of medical equipment. Jack's people are working on getting all of it working and setting up a permanent clinic area. Evans, Phil and the rest of the medical staff are still working tons of hours, but now Jack has assigned people to observe and learn while our people do their thing. Evans wants to set up classes for Jack's people if there is ever enough time.

The best news is that Courtney and her convoy have finally made it to Jack's. I sort of feel like our whole trip to hide copies of the Ark pales beside that. Seems weird to say, but there it is. It's been so long since I've seen those folks that it doesn't even seem real to me. Courtney is bringing with her a huge amount of useful things, and now that the people who stayed behind at Jacks' are mostly done building our little habitat in the storage building, we'll have a place there to call home. It feels like my family is coming back together.

There are still missing pieces. Jamie and Dodger are still out in the wild with my brother and his family. They've taken it on themselves to do some work that needs doing. Stuff I can't talk about for fear of risking their lives. But after some discussion, Dodger has agreed to make a run the where Patrick is to retrieve him and the kids with him. He's closer to them than we are, and the timing will work out a lot better that way. Also, it saves resources. That's going to be a big concern from here on out. The increasing difficulty in locating supplies has made us aware just how prudent we're going to have to be...

Tomorrow, I've got some interesting news to tell you all about Jack's compound and some steps they will be taking toward long term sustainability. It's an intriguing idea, and I want to give it my full attention.

We're about an hour from our abandoned vehicles now, close to the trainyard. I think Mason is going to try and top off the tanks one more time, and assuming our SUV's are where we left them, we'll be on our way home.

Hmm. I think that's the first time since we fled the compound that I've referred to Jack's that way. As home. If not, it's certainly the first time I truly thought of it that way. It's my deepest hope that we can go back to our own compound one day, but if not, at least I am with as good a group of people as I could hope for as a man in exile.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

At The Midnight Hour

Mission Accomplished.

After several days of slogging through the frozen hell that covers every part of America that we've seen, the Ark is now safely ensconced in its hiding place. Mason is relieved to be done with carrying the copies around with him, and he surprised us by producing more of them from the storage compartments of the bus. The ones he had in his backpack were our copies, the ones he could afford to lose.

He has agreed to come stay with us at Jack's for a while. I was worried that he might not be able to come, thinking that he would have to head back to California and set out to distribute and secure more copies of the Ark, but he informed us after the deed was done that he was just one of dozens of couriers who took the job. He sent messages to Mountain View tonight letting the folks at Google know that he'd be a while in coming back.

Last night was the worst since we left Jack's compound, by far. Yes, I include the full day we spent in the cattle car, locked up and with no food or drink. It got so cold that we had to hole up in an abandoned (seems sort of redundant to say that at this point--most things are abandoned now) house, one with a fireplace, and wait out the cold. We risked someone seeing the smoke and coming to investigate for exactly one reason--we had to. It was four below zero outside, and the wind was kicking up fiercely. It was build a fire somewhere out of the elements, or run the very serious risk of freezing to death.

We're back in that same house now, but will be on our way home instead of the other direction. It isn't as deadly cold out there right now as it was a day ago, but our energy reserves are still low from nearly constant cold and several intense bouts of running and fighting with packs of zombies. I'm thinking about a warm spot next to my wife with the sort of disbelieving hope that a man dying of thirst has about a nice glass of water.

We're going to try and get back as quickly as possible, and that's going to be a trick. We've got enough fuel to get within a hundred miles of the vehicles we left behind, but that's about it. We're going to need to find some more diesel before then or it's going to be a long walk back to our SUV's. If they are still where we left them, that is.

I've been in touch with Google tonight as well, and they have a pretty good fix on where Patrick's cell signal is coming from. My hope is that I can get back to Jack's and resupply, which will be made a lot easier if Courtney and her roving group have made it there. They've been on their way for a long while now, but several interesting opportunities have sidetracked them. Call them...chances for good trades. Once we're stocked up and ready to roll out, it will only be a matter of days before Patrick and his kids are safe with us.

Pat, Courtney and the others have been away so long that it seems impossible to me that I may even see them again. I love Jess, and she is my best friend, but my other friends are as vital to my mental well-being as she is, just in a different way. I'm excited about it, as well as getting the copies of the Ark we have with us back to Jack's. Their copies will help them to create a lot of really useful things...his compound could become the manufacturing center of a new world, if we can all live that long.

It's cold and I'm tired, the stew we cooked a little while ago is sitting heavy on my belly. It's putting me to sleep. Not to mention all the people around me who look angry at the constant pecking on my laptop, which I only managed to get charged this evening. I'm going to run away now, before they mutiny and hold me down to wrestle it out of my hands. We'll be home soon, god willing.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Running Back

Fire warm.

That's about all I was able to think about last night after we got free from the train car full of dead cows we were trapped in. We finally got a break in the zombie activity around our location, enough that Mason could slip out through the door. He snagged his machete from the downed zombie he had left it in and managed to draw the crowd of them away. He had warned us not to do anything until he got back. I had asked him how long we should wait until we had to assume he was dead. He said, and I quote:

"I've outrun and outlived terrorists and counterintelligence agents on five continents. I'm not getting killed by a bunch of zombies."

So, yeah. We waited.

It took about an hour. Mason told us that he lost them a few times, but he had to go running back to the zombies each time because he wanted to get them as far away from us and our abandoned vehicle as possible. Then he had to creep back to us silently enough to stay hidden. He saved our lives. Again.

So, we managed to top off the tanks and get out. Mason found us a nice spot to camp, a clearing about twenty feet across right in the middle of a bunch of pine trees. They surround the campsite in a ring, and we had to get on our hands and knees to get through the branches. We got a fire set up and broke out the supplies. After all that time in the meat locker with nothing, we were dehydrated and starving.

We are well supplied for this trip, with sleeping bags rated at negative forty among many other useful items. Of course, we have to cover our faces when we sleep without a tent like we did last night, which I forgot to do. So I felt the first flakes of snow start to fall before anyone else. When I woke Mason up to tell him it was snowing, he made us all cram into the short bus, and that's how we spent the night. A bunch of freezing, smelly people jumbled across each other. It was while I lay there, someone's elbow occasionally jamming into my neck or ribs, that I remembered the significance of today.

It's my wife's birthday. And here's me, far away from her in danger yet again. Well, in more danger relative to the constant threats we all live under. I hate to be away from her right now. Jess has always been childlike in some ways, and her birthday is one of them. For her it's a reason to have a party, to be the center of attention. It's one of the few times she wants to be in the spotlight, most of the time she's really shy though that's changed a bit since The Fall.

I want to be there with her right now, telling funny stories and trying to make this day special for her. I can't, and so I will do the only thing I am able--keep on with the job at hand. The best gift that I can give to her is the one I am helping to secure for the human race: the contents of the Ark. It's going to be a game changer someday, maybe soon but likely much later. Also, getting done with this will mean going home, and back to her, which is almost as good a gift. Right?

...maybe I should have gotten her something, like a new gun or a guitar...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Meat Locker

I couldn't be more happy that Pat is alive and safe. It kills me to hear that he had to suffer through so much, he's like my brother. 
My team and I, including the courier, are currently stuck on a train. The car we're in? Yeah. Full of dead cattle. Really, really dead for an unbelievably long time. When you're running from a hundred or so zombies, you take any port in a storm. 
We met up with the courier on time, and took the first day to plan our route and discuss the location we decided on to hide the Ark. For security reasons, the courier wasn't told anything about it until he got here. He's pretty happy with our choice, and I'm pretty glad that's the case. 
This guy, the courier, takes his job pretty seriously. I can't blame him--he's carrying items that equate to multiple copies of tens of millions (or more) of pages of documents, videos and the machinery to view them. A trove of knowledge to help those of us who survived the end of the world begin again. He's almost religious about protecting it, and I get why. He might literally be carrying the fate of the human race on his back. 
It's in a really nice backpack. 
His name is Mason. He's fucking terrifying. 
He's not an engineer from Google. He's one of the people that Google took in early on, when chaos was still rampant across the entire country. Mason is a big guy, six three or so, and about two sixty. Think about that for a minute. Two hundred and sixty pounds and virtually no fat. I can't imagine what he must have looked like before food became something you had to hunt rather than buy. 
Mason used to be a Navy Seal. He didn't go into a ton of detail, but from what I've heard him say, he's had a lot of experience getting into enemy territory, doing very bad things, and getting out alive. 
He's why all of us are still alive right now. We were traveling along in the modified school bus he was driving, one of the short ones. It's got armor all over it, but not metal. Some kind of ceramic plates wrapped up in kevlar. The back of it is stocked with supplies and giant extra fuel tanks. We had to ride with him to conserve fuel, since we had no ready supply for our own vehicles. 
We stopped close to this train yard last night to look into topping off the bus's tanks, since there were diesel train engines parked here. We went together, guarding each other's backs, and ran smack into a swarm. We ran for it, and got cut off by another group of zombies as we were heading for this cattle car. 
Mason pulled out a heavy black machete and a pistol with the longest magazine I've ever seen. He started firing shots, fast but measured, into the crowd that blocked our way into the cattle car. He looked like one of those competition shooters you used to see on the history channel, not even seeming to aim as he fired. It only took him about ten seconds to take down most of the second group, and then he was running between them, cutting into heads. His machete got stuck in the last one, and he let go of it and grabbed a grenade from somewhere inside his coat. 
The zombies still following us got that as a nasty little surprise. The explosion didn't kill more than a couple of them, but it disoriented them long enough to let us get to safety. 
They've been beating on the sides of this thing for a long, long time now. We're getting hungry and thirsty, and so far there hasn't been a break in which we could even crack the door to see what we're up against. We get little glimpses through the vents at the top, but all I can see when I look is the faces of the dead. 
I will admit that I'm sort of shocked at how swiftly Mason reacted to our situation. I'm used to dealing with insane dead people trying to eat me, but I froze right along with the rest of the group when our flight from the large group ended with another pack of undead. It wasn't that we wouldn't have reacted, pulled weapons and fought. It was that Mason simply seemed to go instantly from running to fighting with no in-between. His mind didn't take the time to freak out or dwell on what he was facing. It simply acted, and his body followed. 
I consider myself an able survivor. But this guy could teach us so much. I am going to do whatever I can to get him to stay with us for as long as possible. 
If we can get out of this metal coffin, that is. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Some things are a blessing in disguise, like the beep of a cellphone at 3 in the morning. Most of my life that would have been enough to drive me through a wall at being woken up in the middle of the night, yet tonight it was more than welcome. Tonight it brought me out of my pain killer induced coma and reprieve from the nightmares that I haven't been able to escape whenever I sleep.

Forgive my rambling but I'm still groggy and typing away is helping me stay awake. Funny the things you can get used to. Not even the booming sound of undead hands on the security gate keep me up any more.

Now, I don't want to brag but I have killed hundreds of zombies, thousands if you count the traps and counter measures used in big swarms, but hundreds face to face. And not once have I hesitated because of recognition of features or some sign of humanity. Not once did I think that one of the shambling corpses used to be a father, mother, son, daughter, friend, or really even a human. That has changed and is the cause of many of my current nightmares.

It's been close to two months now since I went out looking for my family and just over a month since I found what was left of them, yet every time I close my eyes I feel the emotions of those memories just as clearly as when they happened. The excitement I felt when pulling my bike into my parents neighborhood and seeing all the changes and precautions my family had made to the house. The pride I had felt that they had listened to me and trusted me enough to do what I'd asked of them with little or no proof. The relief when I saw that other houses had followed suite.

End the good emotions. The worry of no dead walking around or even rotting in the streets. The dread of seeing scorch marks on the locks of metal door gates, or seeing them pulled from their hinges lying on the lawns.

I pulled into my parents house and went right to the front door. Where I saw that the security gate was still intact but open, there was dried blood on the front step and wall by the door. The bars over the windows were also still intact yet the windows were all broken, from the inside.

I knew before I left that odds weren't good but I came anyway because I had to know. Yet I stood in front of that house for over an hour. Straining my ears for any sign of life, praying that I wouldn't open the door to find a horror movie scene like I have in so many houses when out scavenging.

Finally the sound came that told me it was time to move my ass, the low moan of the undead with prey sighted. I turned and found that three zombies had come closer to me than was safe to go unnoticed. Others were further away but headed straight for me, must have heard the motorcycle. I quickly dispatched the three with my sword so not to announce myself to any others in the area.

I lifted a quick prayer to heaven, nutted up and went to get my crowbar off the bike. Went quickly to the door and tried to open it, it was locked. I rammed the pry bar into the door frame with long practiced motions and had the door open in moments. A quick scan of the front room showed no signs of life but of a hasty packing job. I went back out and brought my bike into the house with me, something that has saved my life more than once on this trip. Then I started to look around, trying to find where my family had gone.

I found it right off. Written in big black letters on the fridge in block letters was a quick note that read " WENT TO MO'S DAD HAD HEART ATTACK THEN BIT MOM ARE IN ROOM COULDN'T DO IT KATIE." I see that note every time I close my eyes, feel the horror of what it meant. I tried to feel happy knowing that my sister and her children had gone to my oldest friend living only a few towns away. That when I called to tell him about the zombie outbreak he'd already figured it out and started to fortify his house. But I couldn't focus on that, only that my parents were dead or rather undead and that I couldn't leave them that way.

I did what I had to, but no amount of time will wash away the last images of my parents, bodies shrunken from being trapped for months without food. Their cloudy eyes only seeing me as meat, the stink of death. My final image of my mother, wheelchair bound for the last twenty years, shambling at me in hunger, her face sunken and dry. Lips pulled back in a snarl that showed her empty gums. Guess she didn't die with her teeth in. Dad had a few contusions on his head, guess Katie tried to save mom but couldn't bring herself to do it right.

I've never been a great shot but I have gotten much better over the last ten months. It still took a full clip to put them down, guess I kept closing my eyes.

Since then my instincts have kept me alive when coming against the undead, instincts hard won in many battles, but I will never again see them just as the mindless monsters that need to be put down.

My signal is starting to fade so I'm going to post this before it's gone altogether, will try to post again when I can. Thank you for playing the part of my shrink and listening to me even if I don't make sense. Finally thank you to google for trying to find me using my phone signal.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Patient Ratio Blues

[This is a post by Gabrielle]

Hey all, long time no see. As you may have read yesterday, Josh and a small group of people are left this morning to see to a few matters, combining their trip to meet with the courier from Google with some long-term scouting. Josh asked me to post today since he's going to be busy trying to help the courier get to the hiding spot where some copies of the Ark will be secured.

I'm just as upset at what happened to Nora as the rest of the group, but as one of the people treating her injuries I sort of have to push back my feelings about it. It's not easy. No woman could see what happened to her and not become angry. I've had my share of troubles in the past, and seeing the bruises and cuts made put me in a place mentally that I haven't been to for a long time.

Ok, getting away from that line of thought. It doesn't go anywhere good, and I have a lot of work to do today.

I guess that's the only really hard thing about living here at Jack's compound. There are so many people, and so much work for those of us with medical training. Keep in mind that they still manufacture a lot of stuff here, and people get hurt in the process all the time. There are also a lot of pregnant women here in various phases, from 'just found out' to 'my shoes could be soaked from my water breaking any minute'. That's an excellent problem to have, pregnant women, but it means that Evans, who is pretty strict about very frequent examinations for the fairer sex, is pushing them to come in every day if possible. The medical staff are outnumbered a hundred to one by the population here.

I spend most of my days working on wounds and diagnosing sick people. Evans and Phil work on the exams and do stitches, set bones, whatever needs done. I've gained a lot of skills and knowledge since I've been working with Evans, but some stuff is still doctors-only for now. Not because I don't have the ability (I can sew a wound better than either of them, to be frank) but because there has to be a division of labor that works for all of us. I'm a wound care specialist, and though Phil and Evans are doctors, I've seen WAY more infectious disease than either of them. Which means that when someone comes in with a set of symptoms that could be a cold, the flu, strep throat, or a host of other things, I get to look at them. I am the one whose face gets coughed in. I'm the one that gets vomited on, or has to collect the stool sample.

It's always been that way between doctors and nurses. They collect the glory, we catch all the shit. Haha. See what I did there?

It works out well, though. I like what I do, and though it keeps me pretty busy, I wouldn't change a thing. The only real problem is going to be medical supplies and the like. We've got a sizable population to take care of, and they are burning through what we took from the hospitals with alarming speed. We need to do some scout runs to look for new sources of supplies. Not only supplies, but Jack had the idea that since this place has access to a lot of electricity (and more every day--one of the things they're making is more wind turbines and solar panels. The only thing they're short on is batteries to store up the extra.) he thinks it would be an excellent idea to truck in as much advanced medical equipment as possible. Some things are so large that there's no way we could bring them, but we'll be making our own run sometime real soon to see what we can find.

Evans and Phil want to set up a small lab if we can swing it, for them to study whatever it is that makes people into zombies. We did that at our own compound, but the lack of equipment and supplies for running a lab made limited what we could learn.

I want a damn x-ray machine. It doesn't have to be big or fancy, but something that puts out a digital image in high def would be amazing. Of course, if it were possible, an MRI would be great, but I don't think that one is gonna happen.

I have a full day ahead of me, people coming in for follow-ups and a few really sick folks to keep an eye on when I take over the shift. Thankfully, Jessica stayed home from this trip to stay with Nora, so that I wouldn't have to sacrifice myself or one of my staff to do it. It's not that we would have minded doing it, but we've got a full patient load at the moment, and doing so would have strained our personnel to the breaking point.

Hopefully the people that are sick and injured now will get well without complication, and with luck no new ones will get ill or hurt for a while. With this many people, the size of the medical staff is vital. We've got to get people trained quickly so that we don't have to push ourselves so hard. I feel like I haven't really seen my kids in a week, and you can forget sleeping with my husband. I usually just curl up in the corner of our work area and nap. I need to get laid.

Wow, I can't believe I wrote that. I'll leave it there, though, because while it might be uncomfortable to read (especially for my kids, HA! Mom has SEX!) it's also true. I think all of us need to find some time to unwind and relax, to enjoy the company of others.

Recent events have proven that.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rising Stars

All the refugees in my group are still reeling from the brutal assault on one of our own. For the sake of discussion, we'll call her Nora. That isn't her name, but it works.

Nora is still recovering. The physical damaged she took was shocking even to people that have spent the better part of a year watching friends die at the hands and teeth of the plague of zombies outside our walls. She's going to be a long time recovering from her wounds, but that isn't why I'm still talking about her.

Nora is an amazing woman. Jess has spent most of the last two days with her, guarding her and giving her a shoulder to cry on and someone to talk to. I've visited her as well, sparsely at first and more often as I realized that she wasn't afraid of me because I was a man.

I've talked to her a quite a bit, actually. That's how I know just how tough and strong she really is. When Nora heard that we were getting to work on building our little home inside the storage building, all she could talk about was how she wanted to get up from the bed Gabby and Evans are making her stay in and help. She hates laying down and feeling useless. She hates being treated like a victim.

Rape is one of the most devastating events a person can endure. I've known victims of it that spent years living with uncontrollable fear and anxiety. Not Nora. She's angry as hell, but not afraid. She's hurting and sad, but she's eager to move on. To heal.

I don't know how anyone can be that resilient. Oh, she's got a lot of emotions boiling just under the surface, and she breaks out into tears at random times. She's suffering the effects that anyone would. She isn't allowing them to control her, though. She cries, but she forces herself to be calm and gain control. She makes the tears go away after shorter and shorter lengths of time. I don't know if what she's doing is healthy, to be honest. It's natural and necessary to grieve and hurt, it's our way of processing pain and healing from it. Nora is determined to get back to normal life as quickly as possible.

I don't know if it's healthy, but it is certainly impressive. Many months ago, we rescued a group of women from a hotel. Most of them had gotten the same treatment that Nora had. I had the good fortune to be a part of the team that helped them, and none of those women went two days without getting a visit from me if I could manage it. Call me old-school or sexist, but I have this urge to care for women, to help them and keep them safe. It was that urge that lead me to check in on each of them, to worry about how they were dealing with the horrific trials they had endured. It took most of them a very long time to be able to find comfort around groups of people, especially men. It took months for them to smile without an edge of terror to it.

As far as I know, most of them still carry weapons at all times. Blame it on zombies if you want--I know better.

Nora is doing as well as could be expected. Better, I would have to say. She says that the last ten months have changed her, made her stronger. I hope that's true. I hope that this isn't just a brave face put on for the people that worry about her.

One thing that she said to me stuck with me, and made me think that maybe she's genuinely dealing with this whole ordeal as well as she seems. She told me that she felt sorry for the man that did it to her. That she wished he hadn't been killed. She doesn't remember much of the attack, but she said that there are flashes of him after the fact, tears streaming down his face when he realized what he'd done. She still hates him, and the rage in her is obvious to see whenever she talks about him. She just doesn't let it blind her to the facts.

Still...on my part, I am glad that he's gone. The bloody hamburger that was made out of his skin by those thin rods (I asked later--they were giant lengths of metal file stock, uncut and roughened specifically for the purpse they were used for...Jack's people are a little scary. I like that.) was the least he deserved. Nora might have some degree of pity for the man who did this to her, but I think of him as the guy who did it, and maybe wept, but still tried to hide the evidence. Still acted normal afterwards.

If she were healthy, I would take her with me in a second when I leave out tomorrow. I always like having tough and resourceful people with me when I go on runs to the outside, and this trip will be a long one.

I'd love to take her with us to meet the courier of the Ark, have her at my back when we lead a team to the hiding place where several copies of what is essentially the collected knowledge of humanity will be secured.

Maybe she'll be hale and hearty by the time we get back, at least enough to join the team that's going to go out and look for Patrick. I hope so.

When I look at her, I should see darkness and shadow. Any person in her situation might fall into depression and constant negativity. I can't see that. The clouds that veil her eyes and heart are there, but there is sunshine also. There is laughter trying to get out. In her eyes, I see pain and the reflections of wounds that will one day scar.

But in them, I also see dazzling stars rising to the surface, shining and hopeful.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Full Dark

Before I get into the details of the sad events that prompted today's post, a few notes. 

Another snowstorm blew in this morning, thankfully after we got back from retrieving Aaron and the kids with him. We can't even go out and scout, much less look for Patrick, though I'm relieved and happy that he finally managed to get in touch with us. We also got word from the courier who is bringing copies of The Ark from Google. He's much closer, and if the weather lets us we will leave out tomorrow to meet him. God only knows how he got here from California so quickly, but I'm happy he's OK. 

Now, to more somber news...

Last night, one of the women that came with my group of refugees was found in a pile of industrial trash, raped and beaten almost to death. The jumble of scrap metal and discarded wood was just outside the walls of Jack's compound, and only her thin cries for help alerted the guard nearby that she was there. 

Evans, Gabby, and the rest have been caring for her. They say that she'll probably live, though I can't imagine the pain she must be going through. 

I won't give her name, nor will I name the man responsible, other than to say he was not one of our refugees. The victim knew the man, had been showing some interest in him since our arrival here. Through her tears and anger, she told Jess (who has been staying with her, weapons in hand to keep the poor woman feeling secure) that she had intended to consent.

Her attacker seemed to think she was teasing. He struck her, and took her. 

Sorry. One of the things in this world that pushes my rage to uncontrollable levels is rape. I'm trying to type softly, because thinking about what she went through, knowing the details, is making it hard not to beat on something with all my strength. 

He did it. There was little doubt. He tried to deny it, but he had wounds from her scratches, and every part of the evidence linked up with her story. There wasn't a trial. There wasn't a defense for him or any judge other than Jack and the people who examined both the victim and the accused. The decision was quick, and the punishment...

Every person not on the walls was in attendance. Everyone was called over the PA system here, and gathered in a massive circle outside. The guilty man was brought into the wide empty space in the middle of that huge swarm of people, and his crime and punishment were announced via bullhorn for everyone to hear. 

Ten people came forward. I'd have to guess that they were volunteers who served this duty in a rotation, because there was no hesitation to their movements. Each of them carried a thin, flexible metal rod. They looked dull, not shiny or polished. It was only afterward that I found out the reason: they were covered in tiny points and barbs. I watched for almost twenty minutes as they whipped him bloody, the force of their lashing ripping his clothes to shreds and leaving him virtually naked. 

The scent of all that blood brought zombies to the wall. You could hear them crunching through the snow. He was still alive when they pulled him by his arms through the frozen and snowy gravel, moans of pain escaping him as the rocks dug into his wounds. He was conscious when they reached the edge of the wall. I know, because I could hear him begging in a broken voice not to do it, that he was sorry. I don't know if he really felt remorse for the suffering he brought. I am certain that he regretted his actions, if for no other reason than the horrible consequences.

He was still begging for mercy when they dumped him over the edge. Still at it as he was bitten and torn, right up until a wet crunch signaled that his throat had become part of the main course. 

It was a dark night. I think he got off easy. 

Because people always talk about their pain as a means of trying to cope with it, much of last night after the punishment for me was spent listening. I heard people who knew the condemned man comment on how lonely he had been, how hard he had found it to connect with others. In the time everyone I talked to had known him, he had never been seen so much as kissing a woman. 

Until yesterday, he had been known for his politeness. For kindness. He often covered shifts for other people so that they could attend a social gathering or get needed rest. He spent much of his free time reading to kids. He was, from everything I heard, a very nice guy. 

Which goes to show you what kinds of stress people are under, and how the constant fear and danger can warp a person. Or maybe...maybe it doesn't. Before The Fall, nice men still did things like this. In the world that was, good people lost control on a depressingly regular basis and ruined lives with the consequences. It's nothing new, nothing original. Yesterday was just another example of the human beast acting in accordance with its nature. 

I don't want to believe that. I want to hope that it was the terrible months of devastation we've endured that pushed him to his limits. Like most people who are faced with senseless and inexplicable acts of violence, I just. Don't. Know. 

I have a lot of faith in the survivors of the world. There are violent men and women out there, but it's been easy for us to think of them as simply our enemies, the raiders and marauders, even the Richmond soldiers. It's much harder to deal with the stark reality that within the best of us there might be something just as dark and violent waiting for the wrong moment. 

Self control is what keeps us alive, by making us cautious and thoughtful. People who lose it are a liability, and people who harm others by losing it are a danger that can't be ignored. I hate that this has happened more than I will ever be able to describe. The wounds that woman carry on top of what she has already endured are more than any person should be expected to shoulder. It's unfair, and I feel despair in its truest form at the thought of what she must be feeling. 

I'm babbling now. I'm going. This is too much to deal with. 

Friday, January 14, 2011


I'm so sorry that I haven't posted or got in touch with any one in a while. Had a good reason though, was unconscious most of the time and getting no signal the rest of it. The pain and exhaustion both mental and physical finally caught up with me, that and I have been fighting infection from my impromptu amputation. Obviously the mundane infection and not the zombie kind or my typing would be much worse.

The girls and I are still at the place we last posted from all of us trying to get our strength back. Glad to hear that every one was able to meet up at Jacks, extra smile for Aaron and the kids keeping their head and getting out of there alive. Thank you every one for the text messages they have been getting through to my phone every couple of days, I just haven't been awake during the brief window of service.

The only reason I'm able to post this evening is I begged the girls to wake me if the phone received a text. Took them better part of the week to do it having received two bunches of texts earlier this week, guess they felt I needed the sleep more. Really what pre teen girl can't hear a text alert even in a dead sleep. It's sweet and sad, that with every thing that they've gone through that they feel the need to protect me even if it's from my self.

Even though I'm done with the lone hero bullshit, I still can't call for the calvary because I don't know where the hell I am other than some where north of Tampa. Sorry guys we spent the better part of two weeks on foot constantly running from a small but determined group of smarties. Every time I got their numbers down to some thing I could manage they would let out a loud moan howl thing that brought all the zombies in the area running. The only thing that saved us was the cold and how slow they moved in on us. Fast enough to get my hand though, sorry still bitter.

We got lucky though and stumbled into an abandoned neo-nazi compound. I shit you not, fucking nazis saved our lives. Judging by the crime scene and lack of any weapons or ammo that the place was raided. Yet the place has 12 ft. cinder block wall all around all three buildings and the steel gate was still intact only the lock was burned out. We manged to wedge it closed with a car. The food stores and fuel for the generators were stocked up. So although we are lost and the dead have the place surrounded we are safe and getting stronger by the day.

Don't know when I can post again but don't worry about us the only monsters that we have to deal with here are in our nightmares and souls.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Story Time

Today, I want to do something a bi different. I want to tell you a story. It goes something like this...

Josh powered up his laptop and checked his mail. He had been hoping to hear something from Aaron or Patrick, since he had managed to stay in touch with all the other refugees from the compound save those two. As Gmail opened, he noted with sadness that there was still nothing. Damn, he thought, when are they going to contact me? Are either of them still alive?

Josh went through his rounds, checking his voicemail and text messages, hoping that he had missed something. Nothing. More nothing.

He was just giving up hope when his wife, Jess, handed her phone to him. "Look," she said, her eyes bright with excitement, "Aaron posted on the blog today. Pay attention to what he wrote..."

Josh typed in the address of the blog, looking at the post left there by the friend so long out of touch. Something about it was off, but he just couldn't put his finger on it...

Aha! Of course! Embedded into the post was a code, a simple numerical substitution that had been taught to various people from the compound as a way of sharing location without letting anyone who read the message know exactly how. Josh pored over the text, double checking each part of the code. He ran the converted digits through his GPS app, and got a location.

Aaron and his kids were being held against their will, and not that far away. Maybe two hours if they took a vehicle capable of running down whatever obstacles might be in their way...

...and two hours later, a team of eleven people slowly worked their way behind Josh as he crept toward the lonely building, smoke barely rising from its decaying chimney. The neighborhood had clearly been prosperous and expensive at one point, but nearly a year of warring survivors and unchecked fires had decimated it, leaving a lone home standing amid a field of the blackened skeletons of what had once been homes.

The house was large, perhaps 3,500 square feet, and guarded by two men on each side. So, Aaron had been at least in the ballpark about their numbers. No survivor would leave so many people outside for guard duty unless there were even more inside to watch the prisoners.

The low mounds of rubble pushing up against the small wood Josh and his group were crouched in offered some cover, but the best advantages they had were the cover of darkness and the element of surprise. The men standing guard looked haggard but tough, and they were armed with small arms. No rifles among the ones that he could see.

Behind him, the gentle crunch of snow stopped, and a warm gloved hand gently brushed his shoulder. It was the sign letting him know that his people were in position. Now, to wait for the signal from the other team...

From the far side of the clearing that had once been a cul-de-sac in the ruined neighborhood, an angry chattering sound erupted. The guards nearest to Josh jolted with surprise but made no sound. Experienced men, obviously used to dealing with threats in the night.

The raccoon scrabbled across the snow and ice, moving with the quiet desperation that only wild animals confronted by men are capable of. The guards, still away from their positions with their backs facing Josh and his team, never heard the sharp thrum of the bows, nor the whistle of the arrows that struck them. Instantly, six of the men were down, arrows transfixing them in various places. The men screamed, trying to go for their weapons, but the third team had already rushed in, slaughtering the downed guards in the confusion.

Josh assumed that team four had done the same to the pair of remaining guards on the far side of the house. There was no chance that the men inside hadn't heard the racket, but that couldn't be avoided.

Josh raised the bullhorn to his mouth. "You inside the house. You have some of my people captive. Let them go, now, and we will let you walk away from this. Harm them or take too long, and we'll kill every one of you."

There was silence from inside. After thirty seconds or so, a scuffling sound could be heard, and a body came tumbling through the front door, a knife plunged into its neck. It wasn't anyone Josh recognized. There must have been an argument among the captors about how best to proceed.

A man came out, his hands raised in surrender. "We're sending them out. Just don't start shooting."

Josh nodded to the man, but kept the arrow nocked in his bow just the same. He was ready to drop the bullhorn, draw and fire in a heartbeat, and the dirty man with the raised hands in front of him could clearly see it.

One by one, Aaron's kids came shuffling out. They joined the group behind Josh, and with the last of them came Aaron. Josh looked him over quickly, and didn't see anything seriously awry other than the obvious hunger and exhaustion on his face.

Josh tipped his head toward the house, and spoke to the filthy man in front of him. "We're going. You and your men will stay here until we're gone. Try to follow us, and we'll kill you. Come after innocent people again and we catch you....and you'll wish the zombies got you first."

The man's face darkened, but he gave Josh a terse nod all the same.

The assault teams backed away from the house, guarding the retreat of Aaron and his kids as the man went back inside. The groups had all nearly reached the safety of the woods when a loud argument could be heard from the house. Screams filled the night air as someone was put through a window on the second floor, and the thundering blast of gunfire filled the night. Bullets winged into the earth nearby, causing Josh to duck and weave. Puffs of dust and ash sprang up wherever the bullets hit, coming closer to his party with every shot.

Josh fell to his side behind a pile of rubble, and nearly knocked out some teeth when he slapped the bullhorn to his mouth.

"TAKE IT DOWN!" he shrieked.

A few moments later, small bright points could be seen from the edges of the cul-de-sac. The flaming bottles made shining arcs as they flew through the air, smashing to brilliant life against the siding. A few broke windows. It only took moments to set entire structure ablaze. Those that ran through the doors were picked off one by one. There were no survivors. The End.

Aaron and his kids are safe, and the people that took them no more than ashes on the wind. Such is the fate of anyone who comes for us or our people.

Call it a parable. Learn the lesson it teaches.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nowhere To Go

So I'm allright.  I suppose.  If you can call being Held captive by some of the most desperate people I've seen since the fall, all right.  It's my fault we're captive really.  I should've been a tad bit more cautious rather than typing away and not keeping an Eye out.  I figured we were safe.  If ya remember when last I left off writing, I mentioned some people had come up to the comp.  What I didn't have time to write down was that they were armed and had taken one of the kids hostage.  Me and the rest of the kids were ordered to throw down our weapons and well, honestly, I've seen too much death already.  I'm not about to Let another one of my kids die.  Not for anything, Plus I could see at least another dozen men around us all with guns aimed at us.  It wouldn't have been much of a fight.  So I've been captive for a few days now.  This is what I can say.

There's at least a dozen of them, maybe two.  Apparently they're used to be more, but the winter has been really harsh to them.  In fact, the harshness of the winter is why I'm in this predicament, and even have time to write at all. It's been consistently below freezing, I'd dare say even in the lower teens or upper single digits. Windchill's been bad too. Feels like it's -23 or so out their.  Apparently, they've had access to the blog (indeed, they will likely read this one to make sure I don't screw up their plan) and recognized my group as one of the ones that fled Richmond.  They've been low on food and fuel for quite some time, and quite honestly, they don't have much in the way of winter gear either.  So, upon discovering my group they came up with a plan.  They just needed to wait for our guard to be down, and then they'd ambush us and capture us, so that they could "sell" us back to Richmond.  Well, apparently their plan has panned out.   We started marching about three days ago and I could tell the group was in good spirits.  Upon a bit of questioning, found out that not only Richmond agree to their request, but even invited them to come and stay with them at the Compound.  Bastards.  

The upswing is that given their optimism, they've decided to let me back on the computer, though they will be monitoring rather heavily what I put up here so as to not give away their current position.  Not like I would.  We'd only be leaving in a day or so anyways. 

Anyways folks, don't worry about me or the kids.  We might be captives, but we're safe.  I wish the rest of you the best of luck.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Very Hot Rocks

My scout run this morning was only an hour long, mainly due to the sudden and ridiculous snowfall. We wanted to ride out further to look for supplies, but all we manged to do was tag a couple likely places before being called back to Jack's.

One of the great things about having a couple dozen people in our group with nothing do do other than scout is that things get done quickly. Jack's engineers have been working on plans to turn the storage building into a habitat for us since yesterday, and once we trucked in the construction materials we nabbed from the lumberyard  they started to finalize designs. It helped that they made a shopping list for us, to help us take the types of lumber and other supplies they'd been using in their blueprints.

So, our group is now heartily working on building a little home. It's pretty amazing what can be accomplished when people work together with plans laid out in front of them. I wish my brother Dave was here, but he and his family are out with Dodger and Jamie. I don't know how I missed out on telling you that. My own brother, and I forgot about him...

At any rate, I was curious about how the heating system was going to work, so I asked one of the guys who designed the longhouse on the factory floor. He's also one of the people who have helped design our own little place. See, I wanted to know exactly how they got heat into the structures without suffocating anyone or running the factory into a brownout.

The answer is in the title of this post: VERY hot rocks.

This might seem like a silly thing to write about, but it's pretty fascinating to me for several reasons. There are huge fire pits spaced around the edges of the wall of dirt and debris that protects this place. Jack's compound is big, and it requires a little creativity to keep the watchers on the walls warm and safe. Ergo, fire pits. In which large chunks of rock are heated, and then brought into guard posts to be set into makeshift hearths and the occasional small grill. An easy and clever solution, given just how much wood is around here to burn. They're constantly felling trees to fuel the fires.

As it turns out, the heated rocks also act as a handy weapon when zombies get too close to the wall. Some part of their instincts are still human, and recognize fire and extreme heat as a potential threat. So, when the undead get a little froggy, guardsmen dump buckets of burning gravel onto them. It's pretty brutal and scares the shit out of other zombies that happen to see the target get drenched. I've suggested they try the same thing with sand...

Those same hot rocks are brought inside and shoveled into a densely insulated compartment underneath the longhouse on the factory floor. There's a blower set in there, running slowly to keep from cooling them down too quickly, and there are people designated to shovel out the cool rocks from half the space and load in freshly heated ones, once every hour. It isn't perfect, as in it isn't central heat, but it definitely keeps the sleeping folks comfortable.

So why the post about it? Because to me, it's an encouraging sign of our adaptability. Mankind has been nearly wiped out with the coming of the zombie plague. Some people have pointed out that all of the real technological advances that matter have happened in the last century or so, and that we will be able to come back from this much faster, since we don't have to figure it all out the way our grandparents' generation did.

I say to that, think about manpower and infrastructure.

The reality we face is that there are just not enough of us left to make all the pieces and parts of modern society work again. At least, not in the way they did a year ago. We have tons of information on how to accomplish things, but most of us have no clue how a cell phone really works, or the best way to generate electricity on a large scale. The details of how most things are manufactured, as well as how they function, are all things we'll have to teach ourselves. That will take time.

Not to mention people to do it all. Power plants need skilled operators to work, and three shifts running all the time. Think about that. How are less than ten thousand (that we know of) going to make even half the things that took millions before, work?

We can't. Not yet. What we can do is innovate, and find ways to use the resources we have at our disposal that get the most from them. Heating up rocks to keep warm is a very simple, very old idea. Combine that with a creative ventilation system and the basic knowledge that heat rises, and you get a relatively simple but effective method of warming a medium sized space.

Brilliant in its simplicity. For right now, simplicity and functionality are what we need. Reliable things. If or when we get our compound back, this will be one of the things that we'll try to implement. We tried something like it, but here I see how we can improve on our original designs.

See? It's a perfect example of ingenuity, efficiency, cooperation, and functional adaptation. Exactly what we human beings need to do to not only continue to survive, but to thrive as the future unfolds. All of that from something as simple as very hot rocks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day By Day

Yesterday was all about a big, sweeping statement of intent.

Today is all about living. Jack's compound is a big place, as many of you may know. I've been here before, and many of our people were here during the horrible waves of zombies a few months back, helping with the defenses and running raids. For all the hate we now bear for him, Will Price was a vital part of making sure this place survived.

Now it's on the shoulders of we refugees to do the same. The cold resistant zombies are up and about around here, though it seems the general population of undead hasn't recovered from the beating they were given a while back. I guess the cold slowed down whatever migration pattern they follow, because there isn't anything like the thousands that battered the walls here before.

It's wonderful to have at least some heat again. Granted, since this place is a complex of factories, the facilities aren't exactly ideal for comfort, but lots of improvements have been made since I was last here. One big one is that a large swath of floorspace of the main building has been cleared out of machinery that can't be used, and a large multilevel sleeping hall has been built there. It's about a hundred feet on a side, and three stories tall. Mostly made of wood, it's packed with insulation and all the entrances to it are sealed tight. It has no bathroom facilities, but a wonderfully complex system of heating and cooling. The solar arrays and wind turbines that give this place juice around the clock (thanks to the huge battery setup in the basement) allow for the sleeping area to be heated at night. It takes surprisingly little power, as the hundreds who cram into that structure during any given shift produce a lot of body heat to keep it cozy.

Of course, adding in a hundred plus refugees will be difficult. Only about half of us are here and things are already too tight fr comfort. It's an issue that my folks are working on alongside Jack's, and we're going out today to scavenge supplies from wherever we can to work on a separate space for us to stay in. One good thing about this complex--there's a lot of unused space. We're looking at a storage building that's been mostly emptied of the pallets it used to hold. Just big enough for us to sleep in and store our stuff, if we go in three shifts like everyone else here at Jack's compound does. Shouldn't be too difficult, most of us were already used to the schedule back home.

Jess and I have volunteered for scout duty. Now that the stress of being leaders of our group is gone, we really don't want to fall back into the roles we had at our compound just yet. I don't relish the idea of sitting at a desk, working on logistics, and she wants a break from teaching people about one or another of the many weird skill sets she carries around in that huge brain of hers. It's not that we hated those jobs, not at all. It's just a comfort thing. We don't want to get used to doing what we used to do. Not until we manage to get back home. Until that day comes, we want to stay as sharp as possible, do as much as we can to stay in physical and mental readiness for the day when we march toward the compound.

It's safe to say that if we do manage to reclaim our home, I will be content to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life if that's what I am called to do. All this excitement is for the birds.

Scouting up here is a lot different from back home. The land is flat and full of lakes and ponds, the areas around us mostly industrial compared to the wooded hills of Kentucky. The advantage there is that while the nearer parts of this region have been scoured clean of supplies by the citizens of Jack's compound, there are still troves of untouched (at least by us) factories and warehouses outside of their normal search areas. That's where the team that Jess and I will lead will be helpful. We are extra bodies, not needed for sentry duty or to work on some engineering problem. We can lead longer runs out into the surrounding areas to look for...well, pretty much anything.

That will be starting tomorrow. Today, as I said, will be a run to find building supplies and more insulation to make ourselves a cozy guest house from the steel building that we're going to all be staying in. It shouldn't be that hard--Jack's people raided a lumberyard for what they took to build their longhouse inside the factory, and they didn't take but a fraction of what was there.

All told, we're pretty happy with the situation here. When Courtney and her big group reaches us, there won't be any concerns about the refugees pecking away at the food reserves here when the edibles we brought with us run out. It's also nice to have a place where my dogs can run around and stretch their legs, and the storage building is secure enough that my cats and ferrets can frolic about until the work of construction begins. It's actually been nice seeing the folks in our group play with them and laugh at how silly and uncoordinated the ferrets are. Feels a bit like home.

Really, the only disappointing thing about this place (other than it not being our own compound, but it can't help that) is the lack of ammunition. There are just too damn many people here with too many large-scale conflicts at the walls with zombies. They ran out a while back. So it's melee weapons all around. At least everyone has something useful to use--one of the advantages of living in a building with a variety of steelworking tools and a fully functional machine shop. Easy to make weapons.

Sort of related, but kind of sad--I've retired my Iaito for the foreseeable future. It was the one I took with me when we left the compound, the katana that served as my cutting blade over the last ten years of my training in marital arts. It has been a constant companion, and served me well in surviving...

But she's damaged pretty badly. In our haste over the last weeks to stay alive, my sword took a lot of abuse. I've tried to take care of it, but the fact remains that it was never a weapon meant to cut into human bodies day after day. There are chips taken out of the edge, and what looks suspiciously like a crack in the blade. I've never seen steel crack before, but that's what it looks like.

Jack's shop was nice enough to make me a replacement weapon. It lacks the elegance of a finished blade, but works all the same. It's heavier than my katana, but not so much that I'll have trouble using it. It's basically a machete, but longer and thicker than any I've ever seen. It also has a hilt long enough for me to hold it with two hands. I like it.

Well, we leave out for our first scouting run in seven minutes, and I need to get running. Hoping to hear from Pat and Aaron soon, but for now I have to put my worries into the back of my head. Distractions can equal death.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Onward To Ragnarok

Sometimes it's easy to forget that people read this blog and find hope in it. I began Living With the Dead as a warning when I and others around me saw the violence around the country for what it was. We hoped we were wrong, we hoped that we would be made fun of in a few days when the whole thing blew over. We didn't expect it to happen. We were right.

In the time I've been writing this, it has transformed from a basic log of my life, my perspective, during The Fall into something else. Many of you have been there from early on, reading about the lives of the handful of people who formed what would become the compound. You followed along as we struggled to wall in our home, to bring in more people. You watched as many others chose to join us and lend their strength to ours. It took months to make our home secure, and more cooperative effort than I had thought we were capable of. Eventually, though, we did it. We became a unified community, efficient and powerful in the needs that arose to ensure our survival.

We lost it all in a single day.

We've fought the undead in the thousands. Killed and outsmarted marauders and raiders time and time again. The citizens of the compound have always struggled to retain the hope for peaceful coexistence during the violent times that define us. We've been practical and sacrificing when necessary. Today is the day when that gets put to the test.

I've told you that I have been in contact with numerous people still inside the compound and under the thumb of the Richmond soldiers who took it from us. I've been talking with them at every opportunity to feel out their views on what the next move of those who escaped should be. All of us on the outside have been cautious to the extreme, doing everything we can to make sure that our actions don't put those left at home in danger.

The overwhelming response I've gotten from our trapped citizens whose safety has been paramount for we refugees?

"Take back the compound. By any means necessary."

Understand what I'm telling you here: our folks at home are willing to risk everything to oust the Richmond soldiers from our home. And they want the soldiers to know it. To see it coming. To know that they will be reaping the consequences of taking our home.

I wish it were that simple. I don't have a personal army to call on, no troops to send at them to reclaim what's ours. However, I am done with pussyfooting around the issue. Every refugee is now clear on the facts. The folks back home want their oppressors to know that somewhere down the road, there will be a fight. We're fine with them knowing that.

Now that the majority of survivor groups we've worked with or been in contact with have agreed to embargo the Richmond soldiers, the situation has changed. Now there are 250 hostages back home as the only barrier for us taking the place back. There won't be anyone joining the soldiers in the fight when it begins. They will be a little less than a hundred against whatever we can throw at them.

Someday, we'll have the weapons and people, transports and fuel needed to make that happen. Because this blog represents who we are as a community. It represents the mindset and desires of the people who made the compound, who helped it grow. It gives hope to some people out there that people still exist who listen to the voices of the better angels of their nature.

The message is clear: We will allow no tyrants. Though the soldiers might kill every last person left at the compound, the only purpose such an act would serve would be to make us angry and remove the last barriers for us to level the place around them. We will teach them someday that death is better than enslavement.

But not today. We don't have the resources, and the season is against us.

So the refugees are gathering at a place that can handle our numbers. A place we promised not to endanger with our presence, yet has offered us refuge time and again. Now, we accept that offer. Our hosts are welcome allies in our eventual plans to take back our home. Jack and his people welcomed us to his compound in Michigan last night.

Within a week, the rest of us should have made it here. Hopefully the few who have been out of touch will get here as well. There is work to be done in the way of paying our fair share to Jack and his people. We need to help look for food and supplies, and come the spring work to clear fields and plant crops. For now, this is our home, and we will defend it to the death.

Someday, we'll be back home. No more threats. No more promises. Only a simple statement of fact.

You've seen what our determination can do. It lead us to survive when others fell, to fight against the swarms of zombies and men who would kill us. It made us learn and grow, to adapt to the needs of a struggle to live.

Now we're focusing on taking back the compound. God help you.