Saturday, March 26, 2011

Journey To The West

Before The Fall scoured the earth with a plague of undead, the purpose of my life was stories. Rather, my goal was to unite my dream, my desire, to be a storyteller with the practical needs of survival--paying the bills, getting ahead, that sort of thing. In short, I wanted to be a full-time writer. 

Though I didn't read it until I reached adulthood, one of the most important stories that I've ever read is "Journey To The West", the greatest classical novel to ever come from China. Probably the greatest work of fiction written, period, until the modern age. This post isn't about that book, but the idea of such epic, detailed characters resonates with the true story I want to tell you. This is about Becky, and how she made her own journey west. 

When The Fall hit, Becky was in Iraq, as I mentioned yesterday. It took a few days from the outbreak in Cincinnati for the military to order a mass recall of all of their troops, and when it came Becky was far away from her base, tending to members of her unit. Just a few minutes after the order came down, you see, Becky and her unit were victims of an IED. Several of them died, and Becky was left to tend to the wounded. 

Chaos was everywhere. At the time, there wasn't anywhere in the world that hadn't started to see the zombie plague for what it was--a game changer for the entire human race. In the middle east, the chaos was more due to a sudden uprising in response to the news that all US troops would immediately be withdrawn. 

Stranded in the middle of a riot, far away from any of her countrymen, all she could do was tend to her wounded and hope for the best. Becky ended up being stuck in Iraq for more than a month, the rest of her fellow soldiers dead by that time, either from the injuries they'd sustained from the homemade bomb, violence at the hands of those Iraqis that wanted them dead, or from the growing number of zombies roaming the dusty streets. 

It was a desperate time for her, trying to move her injured friends to safe places, stealing what food she could to keep them alive. By the end of those four weeks, the baby fat that I remembered filling out her cheeks was gone. She looked as she does now--whipcord thin, darkly tanned (after weeks of nursing sunburns. Becky is fair skinned, like me) and well toned. Hauling around three injured men will make you strong or kill you. It was after the last of them died that she decided to move on, get as far away from Iraq as she could. Though her tan had helped her blend in somewhat, most of the time she had to move around at night. It was then that she started swathing herself in scarves and whatever fabric she could find. Not only did it protect her from the sun, but the thick layers saved her from more than one zombie bite. 

She's told me all of this twice now, but I still have a hard time imagining the sweet geeky girl that used to get into arguments with me about physics and biology stealing out of town in the middle of the night, dressed in rags with a knife her only weapon. The determination it must have taken to trudge from point to point through city and desert alike simply escapes my comprehension. 

She did it, though. Through northern Iraq into Turkey where she spent several months, trying to survive and find a way to continue. Much of her time there was spent in hiding, as many groups of marauders rampaged across the country looking for supplies and victims. Becky scraped by, killing when she had to and amassing what stores she could. When she had enough food and water for a few days' trek, she'd move on until she had to stop and do it all over again. Sometimes it was a few hours, sometimes weeks. 

When she got to Istanbul, she had a little luck. That was where she found a largish group of survivors who had set up shop in a huge apartment building, and were doing a damn good job of growing food there, setting up a small trade center. One thing they were lacking was someone with medical knowledge. Becky was a good fit for them. 

I have to interject a bit here to say that combat medics are a different breed than what you might be thinking. No matter what the regulations said, no matter what limitations the military might put on their practice of medicine and scope of care, nine out of ten of them went beyond. Not because they wanted to break the rules, but because of the necessities they faced in the madness of war. Not that there were a lot of regulations, though, given that Medics were the ones capable of keeping people alive. I say all this so you understand--Becky has more training and knowledge than some doctors I've met. She's got a brain that hums along like a Ferrari engine, and she used to spend hours in a given day learning biology, anatomy, and anything she could use to help a person. She's not some back country fireman who got EMT certified because she had to. She's the real deal. 

Two months with the group in Istanbul, working on their injured and training up a few people to take her place. That situation came to an abrupt end when a huge group of marauders attacked and her group had to scatter to stay alive. Becky traveled with three refugees from that group, moving through Bulgaria and Serbia together before parting ways, the others heading toward a set rendezvous in southern Romania. Becky continued on, better armed and better provisioned through Hungary and into Slovenia. 

Along the way she helped groups of people that desperately needed her skills. One such group was composed of Israeli soldiers, of all things. One of their brothers needed weeks of care and frequent checks, causing Becky to stay with them (I think this was in northern Italy) for a few weeks. During that time, she spent about half of any given day monitoring and treating the injured man, nursing his broken limbs and working on the infection that raged through him. 

In return, his brother soldiers taught Becky many things. Tips on surviving in different climates. How to turn ordinary items into weapons. Lots of different things. They made a sort of game of it, seeing what far-flung but useful skill one of them had to share with her. The one lesson she got every day, though, was the most important one: self defense. In the weeks she was with those men, Becky got a very thorough grounding in Krav Maga, the weird and eclectic set of defensive techniques the Israeli Defense Forces used to neutralize threats. It's a strange martial art that takes from many others, and works without set rules. Someone who is very good at it, with a lot of practice and experience, will be well prepared to face most threats. 

It was weeks later, in France, that Becky had to use her new fighting skills for the first time. She was only a few miles away from the border with Spain, and she was caught off guard by a group of three men. It had been a while since she'd had a bath or a shower, and Becky had scouted out a small stream far away from the main roads to risk a bath in. 

When the three men appeared, she was just stepping out of the water, stark naked. You can imagine what reactions they had. 

They went for her, and it says something about Becky that she never hesitated in her exposed condition. Palms and elbows shot out, stiffened fingers finding eyes and throats. One of them managed to get hold of her breast and squeezed it with all his might, trying to overwhelm her with pain. She screamed at him, and put an elbow into his temple with such force that his eye socket collapsed, and popped his eyeball out like a slippery grape. 

Naked as a jaybird, she killed three men with her bare hands. This from a girl that used to giggle like a five year old when I farted. 

All alone, she made her way across Spain to Portugal. There, after a long search, she found what she was looking for. A ship. And men to sail it. 

It was sometime during her amazing trek across the middle east and most of Europe that she learned about the compound. Circumstances kept her from knowing more, but the promise of a safe place to live was enough to convince the group of men and women she found to try their hand at crossing the Atlantic. There were two dozen of them when they set out in a stolen and heavily modified yacht, loaded with food and water. By the time the ship came within sight of American coastline, there were less than a dozen. 

The ship hit submerged rock a mile out from shore. The last eleven of them swam. 

One by one the others died as they made their way from the shores of Delaware toward Kentucky. Zombies took some, the cold others. Marauders killed the last two of Becky's companions while they were foraging in West Virginia. Those last few hundred miles, she walked alone. She hid when she had to, fought when there was no other choice, and kept one thing and one thing only in her mind: finding us. Getting to safety. 

Coming home. 

The satellite phone was a lucky find in an abandoned military Humvee. She hadn't talked to anyone in weeks, and the loneliness was starting to affect her mind. She says that the only thing keeping her going, the only shield she had against the dark things she had seen and done to survive, was the thought of us. She told me that every time she got a strong enough signal to call out, she tried. It had taken her a long time to remember my number, and every time she could hear my voice, she cried. With joy, she assures me, that we were really here. 

I started this blog to warn others. To help them prepare. It evolved and grew from that to be so many other things. It's a chronicle of this new world we live in. It's the closest thing we have to a book of deeds. It's a warning to those that come after, showing each failure along with the victories. On a large scale, it has also been a place where people can come to gain hope, to learn about the others out there that have survived, and who now live for the better tomorrow we work so hard for. 

With Becky's appearance, the truth of just how strong a driving force this blog can be really hit me. Not because of my words, but for what it represents--a small shred of sanity in an insane world. A voice of reason and hope amid the tumultuous cries of the dead and the angry shouts of marauders. For Becky, just knowing the blog was here, that we were here to write it, was enough to keep her going. I take no credit for that, but it fills me with joy that I can't describe. 

I've forgotten about a lot of people over the last year. I never would have been able to tell you just how much Becky meant to me had she not appeared. Her face made me remember how close we were, how much we cared for each other. How much fun we had together. How deep our bond is. The idea of this blog and what it represents are what is important to people, not me in particular. Not even, I have to admit, the others who write on here. It was that idea, the island of humanity nestled among the monsters, that brought her back to me. 

We love you, Becky. Welcome to the family. 

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