Thursday, February 3, 2011

Glass House

Jess and I are hunkered down right now in what used to be a rest area about a hundred and fifty miles away from Jack's. Our SUV's gas reserves are holding out well--we brought about a hundred extra gallons. We've been siphoning from anything we find anyway, just to be safe.

Thank god we decided to take a smaller SUV, and loaded it up so well with provisions and fuel. We only did it in the first place because we were worried that we might get stuck somewhere and have to leave the engine running to stay warm. It ended up being a godsend, because the extra capacity has given us the ability to stay our longer and look a little harder for things we might need.

We found some big caches of stuff, ranging from construction materials to a pretty large stock of fence, which we've been looking for pretty hard. The best find was a good sized town that was stripped bare of every scrap of food and valuables. Valuables under the old way of looking at things, not the way we look at them now. There wasn't any cash or jewelry to be found there, nor so much as a cracker. I guess you can chalk it up to the town being fairly isolated, but it seems like the people that looted it fled not long after, and no one stayed to try and hold their ground.

If they had, we wouldn't have run across what amounts to a treasure trove of materials. There's a small factory that made plumbing supplies: pipe, hoses, fittings, the whole nine yards. There's a huge distribution center for lumber that has more stacks of planks, boards, timbers, and sheets of plywood than any place I've ever seen. Best of all, there are several flatbed trucks that have diesel in them, which means we can get loads down to Jack's provided Jess and I can make it there.

It's a coin flip at the moment. Just in case we don't get out of here, I've sent detailed directions to all of the little caches of stuff we found over the last few days as well as a map to the town with the lumberyard.

We stopped at this rest area to try and contact Jack's. This places we've been over the last two days have had zero cell service, and have been seemingly deserted by living people completely. The dead, however, seem to be numerous and omnipresent, which has made it slow going at times and difficult when one of us has to go to the bathroom.

A good number of rest areas around the country have emergency cell towers run by solar arrays. I've mentioned that before several times, but it never hurts to repeat information that can be so valuable for a person on the run. We stopped here because our phones started getting signals, and we were eager to stretch out and catch a nap somewhere (anywhere, really) that wasn't the cramped interior of our CR-V.

Lo and Behold, my friends and readers, it was a MIRACLE! Not only did we manage to climb in through an unlocked bathroom window, but the place was untouched. We broke into the vending machines and let me tell you: my first coke in months was like a bit of heaven. A little flat, and I didn't exactly search for an expiration date...but it was great. The snack machine still had some candy and chips in it, though we stuck with a few candies. We did check those for expiration dates. We weren't going to take too many risks...

We found a couch inside the tiny office where the rest area attendant presumably worked when they weren't up front. The car was locked and safe outside, the doors were all secured, and Jess and I snuggled up together at about five this morning to catch a few z's. When we woke up a while ago, there were zombies clustered around the place thickly enough that busting out some of the glass and running just isn't an option.

I don't know if we drew them here with the sound of our car crunching through the snow or what. I can hazard a guess that maybe a group of them were watching this place, a dim memory of motorists stopping here on a regular basis giving birth to the concept of an ambush. Sounds pretty smart. Which makes sense--there are smarties among the dead faces pressed against the heavy glass in the lobby. A lot of people ask how you can tell the difference just by looking at them; what makes the smarties stand out from their less intelligent brethren?

Your average zombie has that thousand yard stare coupled with the knitted brows of a hungry beast angrily searching for a meal. It wanders aimlessly until it finds prey, and then it gets focused. A smarty can and will hold back the base instinct to feed if it sees a need. Its mannerisms are more controlled and methodical: it watches you, trying to figure you out. Sort of like the way Velociraptors were described in Jurassic Park. You're being studied by a walking corpse when you look at a smarty. A dead body that has thoughts about you and the best way to catch you.

There are two pieces of information I will leave you with that seem important to pass on. I will let you decide if they matter or not. One is that the group that's currently putting a distressing amount of weight against the glass walls of the lobby are all covered in blood, and it looks fresh. They've been feeding. They're also covered in bits of fur, and a few have the mangled remains of what might be rabbits or squirrels in their hands. This group, anyway, has been doing what most zombies only do as a last resort--eat animals.

This concerns me for several reasons. One is that they must be desperate for nutrients indeed if they are going so far as to eat animals--I've talked about that before, how they seem reluctant to do it. The other is the fear that given how easily the zombie plague seems to mutate, animals will start to be affected by the plague if they get such intimate exposure.

The other piece of information I feel a need to share? There is one zombie in particular, one smarty, that seems especially intent on us. He's more alert than the others, his eyes almost human as he looks at me. He's watching me type on my phone as if he knows exactly what I'm doing. Every so often he raps a knuckle against the glass. I ignore him when he does this, though I do glance up without moving my head now and then, getting a look at him without letting him know I'm doing it. A few minutes ago, he slammed his hand into the window so hard that I couldn't stop my reaction--I looked up at him.

And he smiled at me.

You can imagine, it wasn't what I'd call a sunny grin. I've never seen the undead exhibit anything other than vacant stares or hungry rage. What I saw on his face might have been an instinctual reaction to my fear, but to me it seemed to be what it looked like: a joyous response to a predator that knows it has just frightened its prey to its core. A smile can mean so many things. I think this one means that there are depths to the smarties that we haven't considered.

That's something to think about.

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