Friday, September 30, 2011

Lay of the Land

After a thrilling day working out numbers and logistics for the transfer of a large amount of homemade medicines from New Haven to the Castle, I'm ready to take a break. Lucky for me, Steve is taking the reins in negotiating today. We're working a complex trade between multiple groups of survivors, since the stone so readily available here is too heavy to move far. Instead, it's going to be sent to a little town about fifty miles from here called Carlyle, who will trade with yet another group.

Yes, it's complicated and gives me headaches. I'm almost glad I haven't heard any news about the status of the captives in their desperate fight against the marauders. I don't know if my poor brain could handle it.

Carlyle has my attention today. I'm told it's a very prosperous and sprawling community, much larger in area than any I've heard of since The Fall. It's in a quasi-rural area, hilly and difficult to traverse on foot, so less zombies make it there than most places as well. It's also large in the sense of population, more than five hundred people from what I understand.

I'm interesting in seeing it myself. I haven't got much more than the above to go on, as the people of Carlyle are very determined to keep their perimeter secure. Not many people are allowed in. I feel extraordinarily lucky that our group has been invited with open arms, provided I don't do something stupid like accidentally give away its location. I promise to keep all of that delightfully vague.

The Castle is a neat place, and I've learned in the last day that part of what makes it a functional community is due to the residents here working out a trade system long before the rest of us did. This is a densely populated area of the country as survivors go: the Castle, Carlyle to the south, three other medium-large groups within sixty miles, and the town in which the Castle rests has a smattering of small groups that have copied the defenses here for their own homes.

It's a more exciting area than any of us suspected, and the dynamic between the various groups is fascinating. At least in this town, people from the smaller groups are welcome at the Castle and vice versa. There is even a kind of 'emergency stash' that the groups in the area all contribute to, a hoard of food and supplies for hard times down the road. It's vibrant and interesting here. I'm enjoying it.


I just got an email about the fight between the captives. This is something I didn't expect. The marauders chased down by the captives weren't a part of the larger group that the captives managed to isolate. They were all that was left of the larger group we left them to face. Apparently the tactics Mason was showing them, picking off easy targets over time, killing them in ones and twos, wasn't their thing.

The captives started a goddamn forest fire.


Thursday, September 29, 2011


We've made it to our next stop. My team and I spent all day yesterday and much of the day before on the road thanks to the marauders we killed. Their camps topped off our fuel tanks nicely, and our supply of ethanol is holding out. In fact, our people back home have arranged a trade that will allow us to top off the alcohol that provides the base for our fuel.

We're staying in a community called the Castle. It isn't really a castle, but I can see why the people here named it that.

It's a big building, at one point in time an office of some kind. It's made of cut stone, heavy and thick, which I understand makes it pretty comfortable to live in. What's interesting is the security wall built around it--also stone. There's a lot of it in the town we're in, thanks to a local quarry that used to employ many hundreds of people. There are several stone yards around, and the locals used the stuff to make a wall.

I don't know how skillfully it was built, though I'd wager a good number of the folks here have had experience with masonry, but the thing keeps zombies out, that's certain. It's fifteen feet tall, and they're constantly expanding it. Once an outer section is completed, the inner section is dismantled and the stones reused.

It's a decent sized community--about a hundred. Hunting and planting are enough to feed the whole place. They've also got communications, which leads me to my next bit of news...

The captives are making a good show of fighting the marauders. The folks we left behind up north have chased a band of marauders all the way to a community New Haven has regular contact with. Drove them until the gas ran out, and when the marauders took a stand, the captives met them full-on. I haven't heard any casualty numbers yet, but I'm hoping the captives didn't suffer too many losses. I'm shocked they managed to get a group of the marauders peeled off from the main camp and chase them down. I'd have thought they'd need more time to regain their strength and come up with a game plan. I guess there's no accounting for the animal rage of a violated human being, huh?

None of us wanted to leave them behind. I'm worried. I don't go ten minutes without imagining what would happen if the marauders captured them again. Sometimes it's too much.

At any rate, we're going to be here for several days as we hammer out some details of the trade system. The larger problem we're running into is that there are few basic commodities people need, but the ones we have are important. Water and shelter aren't things we can really trade, but food is. Food is a huge concern for many with winter approaching. The folks that have stockpiles are mostly willing to trade, but every group of survivors we talk to has a group of dedicated hunters who are doing nothing but bringing in food day after day. It's sort of amazing the lengths people are going to. Some are even hoarding edible tree bark.

Hunting is going to be the main way fresh food is come by during the winter months. While survivors all over the country (and the world) have done a pretty thorough job of population control in their local areas, the wider countrysides are virtually untouched. Zombies can't make a dent in animal populations that are breeding with no human intervention, and the land around us provides all the edible plants, insects, and small animals we could wish for.

It's unappetizing, but no one should starve this year. No creature great or small is going to be off limits. Those of us capable of stocking up on food will trade freely with those who can't. And all the while we'll be moving things we don't necessarily need, like fabrics and manufactured goods, to people who trade for them.

Because the next step after survival is building. For that, we have to get what we want. What we can use to accomplish goals.

I've clearly been awake way too long. I'm starting to rant about the economics of the end of the world. I'm gonna go take a nap.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Things rarely go as planned. It's an axiom as old as civilization.

Mason's plan to strike at the marauders when they were at their weakest, doing the most damage to them possible before retreating (killing all of them was highly unlikely in any scenario) didn't work out. More marauders appeared from even more camps we weren't aware of, and the number of zombies left by the time they showed up was small enough that they probably wouldn't have given us an advantage.

The opportunity just never came, so we retreated. A good number of the marauders are dead, and the rest have been shaken by the events of the last several days. My team have used up our bag of tricks and lost the element of surprise. There isn't much left we can do here. It's a crap situation, but being pissed about it changes nothing.

The large number of captives we released are staying behind. Well, most of them. A few have decided to take vehicles we liberated from the destroyed camps and run for it. I gave them directions to New Haven. The rest are going to stay nearby and try to fight. I don't know if they'll be successful, but most of them are passionate about stopping the marauders at any cost. The ones staying behind aren't very happy that my team and I are leaving.

My team and I aren't happy about it either, but we've got a job to do. Staying here any longer would jeopardize that mission even more than we already have. Helping these people and weakening the marauders is about the best we could have hoped for.

Time is a factor. Our attacks over the last few days have essentially destroyed the careful perimeter the marauders had in place. There are zombies moving into the area, and we need to get moving before enough of them gather to make travel difficult. I don't like having to run, but it's no longer a choice.

Mason is doing what he can to give the captives help in their fight. I don't know if these people can weather the swarms of undead while trying to make war on their living enemies, but if they fail it won't be from lack of determination. They're on fire to get revenge, so powerful it's almost religious. I won't insult anyone's intelligence that stopping the marauders as a threat for the good of others is their primary driver. These folks want their pound of flesh.

Mason reports that the marauders have gathered into one large camp and are eliminating the last of the zombies threatening them. There is some base level of cooperation between monsters, it seems. Zombies work together sometimes. Why shouldn't the worst form of living human be able to do the same?

It's a little unfair that the marauders' one weakness, their distrust of one another, seems to be fading. It's going to make the fight all the harder for the captives.

Damn I feel bad about leaving.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bringing The Pain

I don't know if it's poetic justice or not, but damn I felt satisfied watching our handiwork this morning.

As it turns out, there were a lot more marauders in the area than we originally thought. Lucky we killed so many of them in a small area, then, which gave us a hole in the defensive perimeter to lead a swarm of zombies through.

I don't want to take the credit here. The captives were all set to fight, but there was simply no way they would regain enough strength and emotional stability to do so before the remaining marauders got their shit together enough to hunt us down. My team hashed it out with the captives, and it was Rachel and Will, who are making an increasingly effective team, that went with them to snare some zombies.

That left Mason, me, Becky, and Steve to keep the chaos going. It wasn't that hard. A few rifle shots from concealment did a fine job of thwacking the hornet's nest.

I really wish we could have given the captives the chance to fight. I've listened to them talk about their experiences, what they'd like to do to the people we're facing. A few of them were traded between camps, meaning some of their tormentors are still out there.

Well, they might still be out there. The swarm we brought in is pretty big, three or four hundred. Probably not enough to kill the remaining marauders. Clearly enough to cause them to retreat to other camps as the swarm advanced on them, which left us with an interesting situation. The first few camps to be abandoned as the remaining marauders quickly retreated as a (temporarily, I'm sure) unified force were basically left untouched. That meant the secure locations where their captives were locked up to prevent them from escaping were left untouched.

So we broke in, set them free, and raided the hell out of the camps for supplies. Total number of captives now working with us: thirty seven. All of them armed to the teeth, though not with guns. Unfortunately the few firearms that the marauders can use with the dwindling ammunition supplies at their disposal tend to be carried around with them.

Still, we've made pretty good progress. Again, I say 'we' when Mason has been the one doing most of the strategic work, Will doing the more detailed tactics, and the rest of us doing what they suggest. Not that I haven't enjoyed playing the part of vengeful spirit. I'm comfortable shooting murderers and rapists in the back with arrows from the safety of cover.

Mason is out right now observing the battle. He's going to send one of the former captives working with him back to our camp when the marauders' fight with the zombie horde reaches the right moment. I'm not sure what that moment will be, but Mason assures me he will. When it comes, when they're weakest, we hit them. Hopefully that will be after a few more camps have been deserted and any captives freed. It's fun to watch the marauders scamper about just ahead of the swarm, living in fear of what new hell follows them.

Serves them right. Soon, it will all be over.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Volume Three: The Hungry Land

[This is an out of character post]

Hey, all. Just wanted to throw a link out there for LWtD's latest eBook collection. For now it's just on Amazon, but I'll be updating the links on the right of the blog and on the top in the next few days when I get it up on the Nook as well. I'll be pushing my work pretty hard the next few months, so any help is, as always, welcome and appreciated. If you'd like to grab the new volume, here's the link: 

I'll have a thumbnail added soon, and I'll keep pushing the book on my author blog as well, which I'll be updating soon. Thanks! 

Captive Hearts

I want to talk about the people we rescued yesterday, but I want to do it in a way appropriate in relation to the horrors they've suffered. With that in mind, please understand that I won't be going into detail about them, as they've asked me not to. Instead, a general overview so as a sort of measuring stick for those of you out there to understand what kind of men we're facing.

I don't have to tell you what the marauders in the green camp did to those women, but the men suffered the same. That came as a surprise to me, but I suppose it shouldn't. Today's modern sociopath is much more open-minded than the monsters of yesterday.

I'm short on time, but it's vital to me that you understand the level of abuse leveled against these people. Sexual, physical, psychological. Every day for weeks for the most fortunate of them, almost a full year for one of the men. They'll carry scars visible and otherwise forever. One of them is almost as despondent as the poor girl we buried the other day, but not quite there. We're doing everything we can to help him.

They're hurt and frightened, but full of rage. The one comfort they had was each other. When the worst was upon them, the others were there to talk, to share the pain. It didn't make everything peachy and fun, but a simple human connection, others who understood and could identify, may have been what kept them all from suicide.

Wow, sorry. I want to tell you how we're trying to help the captives regain strength and doing what we can to prepare them to fight. There's a lot about them I want to say, but it's too hard. I'm sitting here doing everything I can not to break down. I've seen them first hand, helped suture their wounds. All of us catch the wild-eyed, furtive glances they all share, as if one of my team is about to brutalize them at any time. It's too much. It hurts me just to think about it.

It hurts to realize I've been so consumed with our mission and what we're doing now that I haven't really thought of home in days. Now I'm terrified something will happen to my loved ones, some horrific act that will shatter them.

It's hard to think of all the beautiful moments I've seen over the last year and a half. People coming together in times of crisis seems pale and insignificant against the dark things the captives have suffered. Knowing that even a small percentage of survivors are capable of things like this makes me want to vomit. I'm screwed up right now. I'm sorry.

I'm not doing justice to these folks, but I just can't do this today.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

War Games

There's something darkly satisfying about watching very bad people die.

As you can guess, yesterday was interesting. The cycle of violence we'd hoped to incite the day before was getting off to a slow start. From our observations after the assault we staged, it became clear that most of the groups of marauders were more disciplined than we gave them credit for. Security tightened up, movement between the camps went from minimal to nonexistent, and the traders that passed between kept their distance.

Things were too tense for us to try anything obvious. Attacking a second camp would have been suicidal given how tightly wound the marauders were. So, we waited and watched. All. Day. Long.

Yesterday morning we finally grew weary with observing. No further attacks had materialized, so Mason decided to give our enemies a push. His actions were dangerous, but you have to remember that he used to do this kind of thing for a living.

Bearing a green bandanna, Mason went hunting. He made sure to attack only sentries that operated in pairs, let himself be seen while retreating after firing arrows. Mason swears it would be a lot easier just to pick them off slowly over time, that it's difficult to allow yourself to be seen without getting caught. I'm taking his word for it. He's the one doing it, not me.

When the reaction came from the camps Mason hit, he was ready. I don't know when he found the time to sneak into the other camps and steal their identifying items, but he was a fucking genius during the fights. When the other camps came together to attack the green bandanna crew (a stupid name, but it's not like I can call them 'The cobras', now is it?) Mason was there. He's like a ghost. A ghost that can kill you seven ways without breaking a sweat.

Several of the groups attacked the men in green, and Mason disrupted the whole thing, turned it into a free-for-all. One group wore red baseball caps. So was Mason when he slipped a knife into the ribs of a member of one of the allied groups. He danced around the battlefield, disappearing from one section once he'd played the part of betraying member of a group only to reappear in a different area shortly after as a member of another. All told it only took him about ten minutes to turn the rough union of men who thought they were being attacked by the greens into a bloody massacre.

Men retreated to safe areas, trying to figure out ways to either win or escape. They were scattered, confused, hurt. That was when my group hit them. Never anything obvious. We fired arrows at them from cover for the most part, or if a few of them clustered near the edge of the clearing and we were close enough, we'd slip in and kill them quietly. It took a long time, but the total number of dead left at the green camp was fifty-two.

The rest retreated. Three entire groups are dead, and none of the others that joined in the assault escaped without losses. None of them stayed behind to pillage the remains of the camp. They were too scared by the end, just wanting to escape.

We inventoried the wreckage. There are a lot of weapons from the fallen, among other items. The camp itself is a treasure trove of supplies, ammo, weapons...

And people. Locked safely away in a school bus that's had some seriously disturbing modifications made to it, we found six women and four men. Naked, many of them injured, all of them thin as rails, but gloriously alive.

That's another story altogether, one I'll tell tomorrow. For now, rest easy knowing we've got them with us, safe as we can make them, and most of them are willing to fight. With the haul we took from the green camp, I think accommodations can be made.

The only down side to the whole day is that we're pretty sure the surviving marauders know someone is out here. Once they grow enough spine to go back to the camp to scavenge, they'll be sure of it. We had to cut chains off the captives to get them free.

I'm sort of looking forward to what happens next.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Domino Pattern

There are three factors that weigh in the survival of human beings in the midst of the zombie plague. Luck is one, that's undeniable. Determination is the second. That allows you to use the third: knowledge. Having a grasp on the enemy and your situation gives you better odds in a conflict. 

Mason, Becky, and I had a very productive night. All through our activities, Mason instructed us in some of the finer points of causing chaos among your enemies. I can't take much credit--most of what we did Mason devised. Becky and I followed orders. 

The hardest problem to overcome was the huge advantage in numbers. Ideally we'd have led a pack of zombies right up to the closest encampment, then repeated the process when they finished. Sadly, the one area marauders are very proficient in is clearing out the undead. Fortunately, their trust for one another is nonexistent. 

Much like street gangs (and I'm sure groups of marauders in some places originally were gangs) the different groups tend to use specific signs or colors to easily identify members of their own group. So, Mason did what seemed logical to him: made a plan to fan the flames of distrust to a white-hot state. 

The three of us infiltrated the smallest camp last night, just eight people. Eight marauders, that is, all men, and one captive. She was tied up in a tent, strapped to a cot. We found her after we'd finished picking off the four men on watch. None of them were really expecting an attack, and we were silent. The first to die had his throat cut by Mason, the second silenced by dual stab wounds to the kidneys. Also courtesy of Mason. You learn a lot of disturbing facts working with him. One being that getting stabbed in the kidney hurts so badly that it effectively paralyzes your throat. It tightens so hard you can't even scream, or move your muscles. 

The last two were unaware we'd killed the men on the other side of the camp. Becky and I were only about thirty feet away in the darkness. They were sitting in front of a fire, eyes dazzled by the light of the flames. We might as well have been invisible. Two neat arrow shots to their throats as Mason started working his way into the tents. 

I would have had a hard time killing men in their sleep. Oh, I'd have done it; I have before. But I'd have felt terrible and maybe hesitated. Mason may have felt the same, but he didn't show any signs and it didn't slow him down a bit. He did get pretty upset when we found the girl, who had been used for the obvious purposes. Mason was just as enraged as Becky and I, talking about how he wished he'd been able to kill those men slowly.

Can't say I disagree. 

I've seen women deal with the terrible wrongs that were inflicted on that poor thing. She was in her late teens, at a point in her life where she should have been worried about which boy liked her. Not which man was going to ruthlessly violate her next. I've seen other women find the strength to overcome what she'd endured, but the truth is that all people have a breaking point. She was well past hers. 

When we woke her and she began to understand that we weren't going to harm her, she begged for us to kill her. We tried to explain that we would keep her safe, but that wasn't enough. As I listened to her beg again and again for death, I began to understand.

The world wasn't a place where she could ever feel safe or right again. No amount of security could set her mind at ease, because the possibility, however small, was still there that she could fall prey to the desires of brutal men again. I've always believed that every person should have the right to choose their own time and place to end it if they wish. I can't think of anyone who deserved the peaceful release of death more. 

Mason offered to do it, though I could see the anguish in his eyes. The girl was frightened of doing it herself, dreaded making a mistake and going through a slow and painful process. Becky took the lead, then. She ushered me and Mason out of the tent, and a short time later called us back in. 

She'd given the girl, whose name we never learned, a massive overdose of morphine. More than half of the supply we brought with us. Should some future injury cause me pain, and Becky is without a painkiller because of last night, I'll consider it bargain. Compared to what she endured, every other pain is minor. I'm actually glad we could help her go painlessly. It still hurts. 

We took the time to bury her beneath a willow tree, and that's how I'll think of her. Willow seems as good a name as any other. 

That took place after we left the camp, of course. On our way out we left a green bandanna, carefully stolen from a larger camp by Mason, clutched in the hand of one of our victims. The traders that service the camps should be passing through any time now. I wonder what will happen when they see the obvious: the tenuous peace between the marauders was broken by another camp. Eight men killed. There will be panic, anger, confusion. 

And hopefully, violence. After the night we had, I hope to hear their screams all day. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I'm writing this as I get ready to sleep for a few hours. Steve, Rachel, and Will all stayed at camp, which is very well hidden, while Mason, Becky, and I went scouting for marauders. We moved on foot, obviously, and it took effort to remain undetected, but we've managed to learn a phenomenal amount about these people.

We discovered six different encampments in a five mile radius. We didn't capture anyone, since this trip was only intended for information gathering, and we didn't want to risk making any of the marauders suspicious. Missing people tend to do that. The ones we killed out on the highway could have been written off as a one-off encounter. If people start vanishing, I'm sure the men and women we're watching will go on high alert.

I can tell you for sure that there isn't much harm in posting blogs about it. I've yet to see one person in any of the camps use a phone or have any electronics other than short-range radios. There are no cell towers around here other than the portable we brought with us.

Mason theorizes that the lack of long-range communications here is why this particular part of the country has become a corridor for marauders to pass through as well as camp in. No one can get word out that incredibly dangerous people are nearby. It's perfect cover.

It also means a lot of them concentrate here. We counted more than a hundred between the camps we've found, and there may be many, many more. Today, after we wake up and the whole group is together, we'll work on strategies. The one good thing about being here is that the marauders are very efficient about clearing zombies out of the area. Guess they have to be, roving around and making camps with no permanent protections.

We can't spend a ton of time here, and with just six of us there may not be a lot we can do, but we have to try. Whatever options are open to us will be considered. The things these people do...we can't let them just walk away to do it again.

With enough data, time, and resources, we could kill every one of them. Unfortunately data is the only one of those things we have enough of.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This morning as we were breaking camp, Mason thought he heard sounds coming from the highway. We were parked off the road about fifty feet, screened in by trees. We try to stay hidden whenever possible. Good thing, too.

Not far from us, a truck towing a livestock trailer trundled down the road. We could see it easily from the woods. The thing moved slowly, the truck lurching and sputtering as it strained to make it up the gentle hill our stand of trees grew on. It was obvious the truck's engine wasn't up to the task of hauling the trailer. Steam and smoke roiled from under the hood as the vehicle made it to the crest of the hill.

That's when we were able to hear the screams.

People were packed into the trailer so densely they didn't have room to move. We could see them when it came close, the holes in the trailer covered with window screening to keep casual observers from noticing the truth.

Mason didn't say a word, didn't hesitate. He put bullets into the cab of the truck with mechanical precision. He left one of the passengers alive, so we could question him. That was a mistake.

Even as we were making our way cautiously through the trees to subdue the surviving captor, the trailer went up in a gout of flames. Charges of some kind put in place to keep the merchandise from being stolen. Merchandise. That's the word the last captor used when Mason questioned him.

The overwhelming majority of survivors out there are decent people. Some may be rougher than others, more isolated and mistrustful but essentially good. Despite the ease with which we could fall into barbarism, most of us don't. We strive to do right by our loved ones, and are learning to trust and cooperate on a larger scale.

But there are always exceptions. Maybe it's because there are so few people now and crime in general is so rare, but it seems the worst of our society since The Fall are so far beyond what they were before it. Marauders kill and rape wantonly, and now we've learned that there are even groups of them that go around capturing innocent people to sell to other marauders. I guess when you're a sociopath with no regard for human life or decency, you have to stick with others of your kind.

That there are enough of them nearby to necessitate a market for this is extremely worrisome. There is only one possible way forward.

We're going hunting.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blank Pages

Sorry I couldn't post anything yesterday, apparently there were problems in Mountain View, where the remaining engineers and programmers at Google HQ are holed up. They've been nothing short of amazing in their efforts to keep lines of communication up, but even their dedication can't keep everything running smoothly at all times. It was kind of frightening to me not to be able to post a blog, but Blogger was down and there was nothing I could do about it.

I'm not used to that sort of helplessness. Cell service was also out of commission, so we had no way of letting the folks back home know we were okay. It's a scary look at how things would be if the folks at Google weren't doing their thing day after day.

I'm really hoping we can make it all the way to California to visit the place, but I don't know if that will be possible. None of us have any idea how bad the zombie swarms between here and there would be, or if we'd be able to secure enough fuel to make the trip. As of right now there are at least ten stops we're planning to make in communities that will be able to refuel us with the mix of ethanol and gas we need to keep on going. For the moment we're doing fine, but the future is a fuzzy, vengeful bitch.

Our night in Long Town was fun. That group, relatively small though it is, know how to treat guests. They couldn't share food with us, but they did entertain. A few of them put on a small stage show, an act from Romeo and Juliet, a few others had worked up a new and interesting game that combined basketball, short-distance track and field, and target practice. It was neat to watch but the rules were so complex that I couldn't even follow how the scores were kept. All in all they seemed like a happy group. I've given them all the relevant contact info for New Haven. The people of Long Town know they'll eventually have to deal with human threats, not just zombies, and they know their home can't hold up to an assault. Maybe my people can work something out with them.

We're gonna be on the road a few days yet. Everywhere we go it looks like massive storms have laid waste to the roads, but the truth is much simpler: no road crews. It's something I've noted before, and recently, but it still bears repeating to anyone out there who is thinking about traveling any significant distance. Close to home, we've made a point to police our own roadways and make sure they're clear. Most of the major roads and highways in Kentucky had treelines set far enough back from the roads that downed trees aren't that much of a problem. The same is true of the interstates we use to maintain trade with North Jackson--they're designed for minimal maintenance after storms.

The back roads and byways are another story, an obvious one I don't have to spell out. All I'll add here is that we did manage to locate some chainsaws, and even some premixed fuel for them. Don't know how long that will hold out, but it'll do for the near future.

Wow, look at that. One day of being cut off from communication and there I go blathering for several paragraphs about to most everyday, inane things. I'll be honest--it feels good. I can't see my wife, who is the usual victim for the boring minutiae I find so endlessly fascinating. Out here on the road, seeing how America has evolved over the last year and a half, I can't help but move that burden onto you. I hope you don't mind.

Fair warning: I've been told that communications could go down again. The engineers said that it may get patchy, and some of us may be able to communicate when others can't. If that happens, and New Haven can still access the internet, I may have friends from home send out updates from there. We'll be safe and careful, so if you don't hear from me, don't worry. We'll be fine.

Holy shit, did I really just type that? It's just a bad idea to hand the universe a line like that. At least I didn't say "What's the worst that could happen?". That would have been an invitation for disaster.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Long Town

We've run into another group of survivors we didn't know about. They haven't tried to kill any of us, unlike the last surprise group we encountered. They aren't doing a lot to help, but that's fine since they don't have much to trade with. They've been nice enough to let us stay at their place overnight. It's definitely the most...unique structure I've seen built by survivors so far.

They call it Long Town, and it's a community built in a grassy median between two sides of a large highway. The distance between the roads averages about fifty feet where they built their home, and it lives up to its name. It's really long. Like half a mile.

The Walls are made up of abandoned cars. The first few people that camped here did so because they noticed how hard the giant traffic jam around the place made it for zombies to cross the road. Over time, more people stopped here and gathered as a group, each new set of hands helping to strengthen the wall. Windows busted out of cars and trucks, then filled with wood which could be removed a little at a time from the interior side to be used as fuel. A clever storage system. The spaces between vehicles are jammed tight with tons of stuff, mostly pieces of other cars. There's even heavy equipment used to stack cars on top of each other when needed. They may not have a lot of extra to spare, but this place isn't lacking in ingenuity or sophistication.

The really helpful part is that the residents here have scouted and salvaged the surrounding area very extensively. We've promised not to take anything, and in return they gave us a comfy place to sleep and a map. There are about fifty people here, and the area inside the walls of cars is enough to farm in for them. Apparently there are more of them, but there are always people out scouting and bringing stuff back. They must hunt, too.

With the map, which covers several hundred miles, we'll be able to make better time. We're trying to trim where we can, so we're heading out,

Back into the great unknown. It's an adventure, all the more for the fact that any time, bullets can fly or a zombie can try to bite my face off. In stories, this kind of thing is always simpler and more magical.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Slow Going

We're on the road again, and I've been lax in my duty to report on how our primary mission has been going. For obvious security reasons, I can't tell you where we were other than to say in southern Canada with a community of survivors.

It was a big place, about three hundred and fifty people. They'd taken refuge in an abandoned industrial facility, one with heavy steel walls and plenty of floor space. Over the last year and a half they built inside it, creating in interesting multiple level honeycomb of small, private residences as well as larger communal ones. The exterior of the building is surrounded by a wall made of gravel and large rock held together by wire mesh. It's big, intimidating, and pretty much impossible for zombies to get through.

I'd have thought people stuck in a place like that would have had a hard time farming and hunting, but that's not the case at all. The community near their new home was a small and relatively rural one. There are a lot of fields to farm that are fenced in and easy to defend. The hunting is plentiful, given how much of Canada was still wilderness even before The Fall.

The people there have ample food for trade, and they're also focusing on making light, strong blocks that interlock and don't need much mortar to hold them together. It's an interesting concept, one that several other groups have expressed interest in if they can make the idea work. There's transportation to consider, but I've got news on that front...

...because our next stop, which will take a while to get to, is a group that has been living quietly in a massive storage facility for gasoline. It's a reserve that holds untold thousands of gallons of fuel. I think it may have been a government depot at one time. They want to trade services for items, namely providing transport for many of the communities that wish to trade but don't have large reserves of fuel. Another good idea.

It's going to take us a while to get there for several reasons. One is that we have to circumvent the assholes who captured Will and Rachel, a route that took way longer than it should to plan out. Another is that we've been encountering zombies a lot more through the border states, which is why I couldn't update yesterday. The undead were so thick around us that I didn't even dare to climb into the bed of the truck through the back window to fire up the cell transmitter. We were worried the walls protecting the truck's bed wouldn't hold. We spent seven and a half hours in one spot, waiting for the crowd of zombies on the road to clear. If they hadn't thinned out by eight hours, we were going to hit them with a dose of ammonia. We've been trying to conserve our supplies. This is gonna be a long trip.

So far, no one in the group has an overwhelming desire to strangle anyone. Or, if they do, they aren't admitting it. Maybe eighteen months of living in close quarters has made us more tolerant, but I would have thought someone would have become frustrated with the tight confines of the truck and trailer. So far, all of us are staying professional and keeping our cool. Becky, who sleeps on the same shift (and on the same bunk) as me, has even ceased whacking me in the face with her elbow every time she turns over. That by itself is a minor miracle.

There are zombies on the road. Not enough to stop us or even threaten us, but enough to slow us down. Looks like a shift of standing in the bed of the truck with a section of wall lowered, putting machetes through skulls. The blade goes up, then down, the zombie falls. Repeat. A fucking lot. Tedious and boring, not to mention disturbingly mechanical. Those used to be people, after all...

A long, long day. Off to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Breed

Life after the end of the world can sometimes seem very black and white. Survivors tend to think of most things in black and white terms, and people are no exception. They're living or dead. Living ones are either marauders or simply survivors like the rest of us, scavengers that try not to do harm if it can be avoided.

It's easy to forget, due to the low numbers of living human beings left, that there we are amazingly diverse as a species. People will surprise you. It's a constant.

Take Will and Rachel's observations during their captivity as example number one of this truth. Most marauders we've run into tend to rove around. Yeah, they will make a base for a little while to work from, but they don't stay in any place for more than a few weeks. They take what they want and move on.

I tend to call the remaining people out there, including my own, survivors. Yes, I know all of us survived The Fall, but marauders don't fit the image in my mind when I think of survivors. They don't plan for the long haul, don't pick a spot and defend it in order to build something better and stronger. They don't have a sense of community with others. They travel and kill, taking what they want and putting in no work to get it.

Until now, apparently. While temperaments vary, I've always thought of survivors as essentially one class of people, defined by their willingness to cooperate and their commitment to the group. From our point of view, the survival of the clan is predicated on the idea that banding together with common purpose and goals is the only real solution. Zombies are the largest threat by far, and two hundred people together are exponentially more equipped to deal with a swarm of the undead than one alone, or a bare handful. While we've had disagreements with other groups of survivors before, I have long held to the belief that it's impossible for any of us to do the things marauders because of the very basic empathy required to be a part of a community.

I said all that to say this: I was wrong. I'm sure my wife is clapping at that admission. I don't make it often.

Will and Rachel didn't get a lot of hard data from their captors, no names of people or even if the group had a name for the place they lived. What they did get was a good impression of how those people lived their lives. Bits of conversation overheard and the obvious spoils of the work of others made it clear: those people have been doing some very nasty things. One conversation of particular note Rachel overheard mentioned that our group might be "an even better catch than the last one that came through."

There was evidence that the people who took them have been capturing people who pass through their territory, stealing their supplies, and either killing the victims or setting them loose in the wild with nothing. Not even weapons. Brutal.

However, Will noted that the conditions inside their complex were good. The people were friendly with each other if not their captives, everyone seemed well-fed, and there was love between them. The kind of deep care that comes from suffering the worst together, and choosing to stick out whatever may come side by side.

At first I wanted to come up with some clever name for these folks, since they seem to combine elements of the two groups most prevalent in what's left of society. Then I realized it was only my own preconceived notions and point of view in play. These people are just another group, shared experience leading them toward different ways of doing things, harsh though they may be. I can't boil them down into a simple buzz word and leave it at that. Looking back, I kind of hate that I started doing that in the first place.

Survivors. Marauders. Looters. All this time, I've been looking at the stark differences between us without ever trying to understand the subtle ones. Beyond that, I've been blind to the greater truth: I should have been looking not at what divides us, but commonalities that might bridge the space between. At the mose basic, what are we?

Every single one of us are people. We've got to remember that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I was going to share some of the observations Will and Rachel made during their captivity today, then update you on our progress with the group of survivors we're staying with. Instead I'm going to post a comment Rachel herself made on yesterday's blog:

RichLayers said...
Can I just say, for those of you who still have any doubts about Will's character or behavoir -- fuck you.

I was scared out of my mind for the last two days and I would have gone nuts if he hadn't been there.

I mean, I am generally a pretty calm, mellow person, and I have seen my share of shit go down since All This Started. And I have generally kept my cool, I think it's fair to say of myself.

But I have never been kidnapped at the point of weapons and locked up with NO IDEA what was going to happen to me. I have new levels of sympathy for the poor people who have been rescued from similar--or worse--situations, who are now at the compound.

Last night we had been there just long enough that I thought the others must have gone on without us. (sorry for doubting you guys! xxoo) Will took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Rachel, I really think they'll get us out of this. But it doesn't matter. If they're gone, or if they're waiting for the right moment, it doesn't matter. We are here, together, and that means that we will get out of this together, whatever it takes. We're not going to be stuck here, we will go on or go home."

After that I calmed down... well I was MORE calm, and we spent the night planning various strategies, which turned out to be unnecessary thanks to Mason and Becky. But I will say that Will is a strategic genius, and though he may have made mistakes, if you can't see by now that he was doing what he thought would save the most lives, then open your fucking mind. I challenge any of you to come up with something better if you were in his position, and the choice was between seeing immediate slaughter, or coming up with something else later.

Ummm... anyway, we're okay. Thanks Josh, sorry for going all ranty on you there.

She posted a second comment correcting her use of "the compound" instead of New Haven, but I think that's pretty understandable. I still think of home that way a lot of the time. I wanted to make this trip about our experiences as they related to the mission at hand, but the events we've lived through are important as well. I'll get back to that tomorrow. For now, I want all of you to read the above again. Maybe more of you will understand Will Price a little better. I hope so. He's done a lot of good, and now he's kept one of my oldest friends from possibly doing something stupid and getting herself hurt or killed. He was the voice of calm reason that helped her deal with a situation that would have tested any of us.

I want you to think about that. Think about what Will has endured at our hands, and how the decisions he made must weigh on him. As heavy as those choices are to him, is it fair that we continue to add to them, knowing he saved lives by doing the hard thing?

Ask yourself. You may not like the answer, but he deserves that much. Some men choose the easy way, others the difficult path. The best of us do what is right, and happily suffer the consequences. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bang Bang Bang

Yesterday, Mason killed three people. Living human beings each cut down in a blink of an eye. The purpose of our trip was to build new alliances and strengthen old ones. Yet in a flash of gunfire we made new enemies. The kind you aren't likely to lose. 

How it came about is a story unto itself. 

After much discussion we came to the conclusion that the only real option we had was the one least appealing: one of us would have to go up to the door and make our presence obvious. Becky ended up going, banging on their gate until someone poked their head over the top and yelled at her. The finer points of the discussion were lost to Mason, Steve, and I, as all of us were at a safe distance. 

After the fact, I know that Becky asked for our people back. I could see that the person speaking to her wasn't pointing a gun at her, but Mason was keeping an eye through the scope of his rifle just to be safe. Becky's body language was tense but not panicked, but that changed when the main gate opened. 

The idea was for her to ask for the release of Will and Rachel, no threats involved. She would explain the situation, that we were travelers heading toward a destination and were interested in setting up trade with everyone we could. 

She did all that, and the gates opened. Four men walked toward Becky, armed with weapons ranging from homemade spears to machetes. She didn't bolt in fear, but things were obviously going to get ugly. That was when I got on the bullhorn. I told them to stop coming toward Becky, but they wouldn't. I warned them that we'd open fire unless they halted and released our people. They didn't seem to care. 

It was lucky the men were so close together. Mason dropped three of them in less than ten seconds. The last one dropped his weapon and put his hands up in surrender. Apparently everyone else was inside the walls of their apartments. Next thing we saw, Will and Rachel were running toward the gate, met up with Becky, and all of them ran like hell toward the rest of us. 

We didn't waste a lot of time getting out of there. Will and Rachel brought back some observations and information about the place and the people in it, but that's for tomorrow. Right now, we're settling in at the community that has been our destination for so many days. We made it here in less than three hours after freeing our friends. 

A mission of peace and hope, and the first encounter we had with new survivors ended with shots fired and lives lost. I want to think it can only get better from here. 

Time and again, life has taught me the sad lesson that no matter how bad the situation, it can always get worse. We're alive, and safely tucked away with allies. That's about the best outcome we could have hoped for. Still, it doesn't feel like enough. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Catch and Release

Less than a week into our trip, and we're already dealing with a potential deathstroke to our mission. Will and Rachel have been captured.

We spent all of yesterday and a lot of the day before trying to find where they'd been taken. It happened while we were scouting alternate routes to the group we were on our way to see. Will and Rachel went out together, as none of us goes anywhere alone, and it took a while to realize they'd been caught. One of them might be dead or severely injured. We found a liberal splash of blood at the scene of their capture.

There was a fight, to be sure. We knew they were taken because their bodies weren't there, and zombies tend to leave pretty obvious messes. Plus, in the day and a half since, we've located where they're being kept. Mason is watching the place as I type this. Through the scope of a high-powered rifle.

We've tried communicating with the people inside the small fortress we're watching, but so far we haven't had any luck. At least we know why the area has been stripped of materials so thoroughly. This place is impregnable.

Two large apartment buildings make up most of its living space. They're four stories tall and made of cinder block. Each floor looks like it has four apartments, good size ones. There's a wall fifteen feet tall at its lowest point surrounding the whole thing, all told about the area of a football field. I don't know what theses people do for farming, but it isn't inside their wall from what I can see. The wall itself is a hodgepodge of materials from aluminum siding to steel plate and wood. It's all held together by what looks like hardened foam of some kind. Probably the expanding polyurethane stuff used to insulate houses. I used to install that stuff, and the heavier versions of it are as good as cement.

Hmm. I wonder if I could make armor molds with that stuff. I'll have to look into that....

Mason and I are discussing the options with Steve and Becky at the moment. We're going to get Will and Rachel back, dead or alive, but we'd prefer not to have anyone killed. That the people who took them have a permanent residence says good things about them: they aren't averse to cooperative effort, probably aren't bloodthirsty killers, and are unlikely to be cannibals. I won't rule any of that out, but signs are mostly positive.

We don't have a lot of choices. Becky is offering to walk to their gate and knock. We'll spend the next little while trying to come up with pretty much any alternative to that. I don't have high hopes. Yelling at them from the safety of the trees isn't working, and I don't think they've got electricity at all, so the internet isn't an option.

Damn it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Famous Last Words

So that whole thing where I completely counted our chickens before they hatched was a bad idea. I should know better by now than to hand the universe an opening by saying things like, 'Everything is going well, we should be there soon'. It wasn't an hour after my last post that we hit an impassible road block. Trees, and lots of them, and us without a chainsaw.

Which is dumb. We really should have thought to bring one since downed trees are such a big problem. No road crews to remove them now.

We've spent a lot of time scouting alternate routes on foot since then. We're using maps, paper and electronic, to find a safe way to our destination, but the area of southern Canada we're in is pretty rough. It looks like one hell of a storm came through here at some point, ripping up trees and even breaking roadways. It's only been a day, and we aren't in a huge rush mainly because we're also scouting the area for useful stuff. We've replenished some fuel, but aside from that there isn't much. It's mainly taking so long because we don't want to burn more gas than we have to. Hoofing it is time consuming.

Zombies are thin on the ground around here, too. We've seen several wandering about, moving very slowly and looking emaciated. I know the undead have a great capacity to store extra nutrients from the flesh they consume, but I begin to wonder at what point the organism controlling them starts to cannibalize the cells of the bodies that host them.

I imagine the handful of them we've seen were lying dormant somewhere, just waiting for some outside stimulus to wake them. We've seen the ones back home do that a lot. Hopefully these aren't just the precursors to a larger swarm about to wake up. That would be the icing on the cake, wouldn't it?

Other than that, not much to share here. The local environs have been effectively stripped of useful materials and supplies. It's farther south than I would have expected the group we're meeting with to have gone, and farther north than our friends in NJ range. Weird. Maybe there's and unknown group around here somewhere. That would be cool, I'd love to make a solid first contact with some new blood.

Wow. I just reread that. I sound optimistic to the point of suicide, don't I? Let's hope I'm only joking there.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

North Country

We're taking our first stop right now in Canada, and it's fucking COLD. I mean, the cold snap that hit us the last several days seemed to drive a stake into the heart of summer, but it never got below fifty-five in North Jackson.

Right now it's in the forties, and the wind is blowing. We're a lot farther north than you'd think, because we've made amazing time getting up here. The roads have been empty of zombies and clear of debris. Now if only this unnaturally cold wind would die out, we'd be set.

It's not all that bad for us, to be honest. Our setup is pretty secure from the elements, except that we have to go outside to use the bathroom. Since we've stopped for some breakfast, I can take a minute to tell you about our home for the next few...weeks? Months? Who knows.

It's kind of a monstrosity to look at, I'll be honest. The main vehicle is an extended cab pickup truck. Obviously, it's a flexfuel vehicle. The truck has an extended bed which has walls welded to it to protect the tanks there. We've got enough fuel to get us amazingly far. Our mechanics made some very interesting modifications to this thing. It's very efficient for a truck.

Fortunately, the place we're heading in Canada has a good stock of ethanol handy, and we're taking any gasoline we find along the way. I don't see us running completely dry any time in the near future.

The trailer we're pulling is big but not all that heavy. It's been gutted and rebuilt on the inside to let three of us sleep at one time if needed. A table folds out for us to all sit and eat together, and there's a hatch that leads directly to the bed of the truck. It's neat.

The best part is that I was able to wrangle one of the cell transmitters from the compound. No loss of signal here!

Breakfast is almost done, so I need to be too. I have to drive this next bit. Assuming no zombies and no major problems, we should be at our destination in about three hours.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Saw something really neat this morning. The North Jackson leadership is being very generous by giving us some food to take with us, most of it in the form of potatoes and dried meat. Rather a lot of dried meat. Which isn't all that odd except that we've had fresh meat with each meal we've had since arriving. 

I asked about that, and the guy assigned to be our aide took us out to a farm. It's only a mile or so from the edge of the main complex, and it's HUGE. Like, all capital letters huge. When I said they've been stripping places bare, I may have been understating the case. 

The very large tract of land NJ is using to raise animals is surrounded by fences and barriers. It's the sort of hodgepodge you grow to expect from groups of survivors who use whatever they can find to build things. The really neat thing about the animal enclosure is that for the most part, it's a living ecosystem. There are two small ponds and a large creek running through it, and the populations of animals inside live as naturally as possible. Except for the fact that they're in a pen and the population controls they live under, it's pretty close to the way they'd live in the real world. 

Add the animals they slaughter to keep the habitat viable to the hunting they do as far as a hundred miles away, and you get a place that has access to a surplus of meat. 

North Jackson needs that. While I've been writing this, there have been two attacks of moderate size by zombies. 'Moderate' being a term relative to the size of this community. If either of them had hit New Haven, our people would have all been called to defend at once. The soldiers and guards can't use ammonia for every attack, but it isn't necessary for medium ones like today. So, they fight. Every day. 

Protein is important. We all know that. Physiologically, animal meat contains fat for energy, protein to build muscle, B12 for proper mental function. Beyond that, the psychological satisfaction from feeling full and strong, not fighting constant and exhaustive battles, is priceless. 

That simple difference between North Jackson and New Haven makes this place seem like a whole other world. My people are doing better now than they were six weeks ago by orders of magnitude, but we're still hungry. We've found a renewed determination and resolve, but as of yet no true level of comfort. My people still fight tired and hungry, still afraid of the slip-up that could kill us all. Not living in fear, but it's there. 

Not that I'm complaining. Not at all. My home is better off today than yesterday, and tomorrow better yet. I'm just starting to get into the mindset of understanding the differences between us. Everywhere we go from here on out will be a study in evolution, each community as isolated as the Galapagos islands. The people living in each will have their own strengths and weaknesses, needs and wants. I'm trying to look at those pieces of information and glean what understanding I can from them. 

Tonight or tomorrow we'll be heading out and the mission starts in earnest. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I've got a few minutes before I sit down to have a very long and hopefully productive discussion with the leadership of North Jackson. I want to spend them babbling my amazement at the changes here since my last visit.

It's clear that the best possible thing that could have happened to North Jackson was the soldiers joining them. The sheer amount of manpower freed up by not having to patrol or provide defense has allowed the people here to massively expand. Where one main building used to house almost all the citizens, now a truly huge area is under their control. They've kept the old walls, much as we tried to do, and built large berms around the entire area with barricades on top. And around the outside of the berms--you guessed it--trenches from the excavated dirt.

It's an amazing setup. New buildings have been raised, but built partially below the ground to keep the temperature stable. The level of farming here is outstanding. NJ has taken to growing food with a passion. The building we loving nicknamed the "hydroponics bay" is now a verdant greenhouse, the ground aside from footpaths and roads is crisscrossed with plots of vegetables everywhere.

They've even put up some light barriers around a large area adjacent to the main compound that's only for farming. No structures, no paths. Just food.

I've asked around about where they've managed to get all the materials from, and the answer explains a lot. Parties have been out and about for many months stripping every useful item from the surrounding areas. When that began to peter out, the teams began to range farther and look harder. They've got stockpiles of materials we can't even dream of. They've been finding abandoned tankers and siphoning every vehicle they can, but that's been just enough to keep their trips out for materials going. Well, that and keeping the construction equipment going. It's a constant process around here.

The one really strange thing is the behavior of the local zombies, which is opposite to what we've been experiencing lately. Ours have learned to be afraid of us to a certain degree, and our daily runs around town to thin out their numbers keeps us from having to deal with too many of them at once. The smell of burning zombies tends to drive away the rest of them.

Here, that isn't the case. North Jackson has been doing the same things we have, but the number of undead doesn't seem to be dropping. They don't seem frightened. The best defense NJ has aside from their walls is the fact that there are more than a thousand people here, and they all pee. There's almost an industry here for reducing urine into its constituent parts to produce ammonia. There's a lot of it around here, more than enough to defend their walls for weeks at a time. This is good, as ammonia would be a good trade item...

The facilities here are better than anything we have back home, and the few chemists here have managed to collect other parts of waste products and distill elements and compounds from them. It's neat. It's also too much to go into here.

We'll be here for a few days, and then off. I need to hammer out some details with the leadership before we head out. Seeing what I've seen, I've had a few ideas for trades I'd love to make.

Monday, September 5, 2011


A bit of a confession: I fibbed a little about when we were leaving.

I've been on the road with my team for about six hours now. We left at midnight with a group of soldiers from North Jackson on their way back home to resupply. It seemed better to start our trip off going in a direction we're familiar with, to a place that's very friendly with us. It'll also be a nice jumping-off point to the larger journey, which first will take us to Canada.

We're going to spend a few days with the folks in NJ. There have been a few changes in our relationship with them in the last week, and I've been itching to tell you about it. I haven't thus far only because nothing in our negotiations was set in stone, but I can proudly say that things are officially better for all of us after finalizing our agreements.

It's pretty simple: in return for providing the people of North Jackson with a reasonable amount of medical supplies, we're getting a permanent contingent of soldiers and workers assigned to us. They'll rotate out on a regular basis, and there won't be a lot of them, but their entire purpose is to help New Haven work on our various projects. The soldiers will help bolster our defenses. We'll share the fruits of our labors with the people of NJ, obviously, and their engineers will give us a hand with any design problems we may encounter.

This is a big deal for a lot of reasons, the most obvious and important being zombies. The numbers of them around New Haven right now are pretty small, but our scouts have seen swarms roaming not too far from Frankfort despite our daily efforts to clear them out. It's an unavoidable fact of life that there will always be more undead out there, and that we'll need constant protection from them. Especially when working out in the open.

Oh, one other thing we're providing for NJ as a part of this deal--we're training doctors. We've done something like this before, giving a bunch of their people a decent grounding in emergency medicine, but this time Evans and Phil (maybe Gabby if she has time) will be doing some intensive training over a long period of time to a few candidates who've spent a lot of time teaching themselves the basics. I doubt we'll be churning out physicians with the wide breadth of knowledge the pre-Fall docs had, but frankly doing that seems like it would be a waste. Right now what we need are men and women who can diagnose and do surgery to meet the basic needs of the people. The good thing is that the bare bones of medicine don't actually take that long to learn.

I know, that sounds crazy. It isn't, really. People who're learning medicine in the here and now don't have four years of pre-med to do. They don't have a lot of classes to take. They'll learn their anatomy and physiology by doing and watching. It's much easier for most people to learn about the human body, how it works and how to fix it, by observing and participating. In the world that was, we had time to let our medical students work slowly toward their practical education. The world that is requires them to learn on the fly, which greatly accelerates the process. Also, no math classes or fillers, so the whole thing should go quickly.

That wasn't where I intended this post to go, but I'm glad I wrote about this. It's important to me to chronicle the way some things have changed, and the rapid pace with which our students learn skills isn't limited to medicine, though it's a good example. Most things are like that now, people learning by doing, unencumbered by all the useless crap they don't need. Not to say there won't be classes, but Evans is of the opinion that it's far more important for a student to understand how, say, a finger works and know how to set the bone than what the scientific name of it is.

Down the road when we have things like hospitals again, that may change. For now, it's enough to have the skills.

Our agreement with NJ is important. It serves as a template for cooperative effort and mutual gain that I'm hoping to replicate with many of the groups we're going to be visiting. The world is a bigger place than it was two years ago, our settlements struggling most times and groups of living humans far apart. Few of them have the resources to make regular travel possible. The best chance we have, and by 'we' I mean humanity in general, is to work together to make the highest number of people possible safe and productive. If that means scouring the country for vehicles that can run on E85 and setting up a distribution network for fuel, then that's what we'll do.

That's presuming a lot, I know. We still need to meet many of these people, set up channels of trade, and figure out what resources will be needed to make those trades possible. It's a daunting challenge.

Right about now, I'd love to say something epic and inspiring about how I never back down from a challenge. Cue music from Rocky, and start montage. Right?

Except that's not true. I have doubts like anyone else, and before The Fall I was as prone to laziness and procrastination as anyone else. I feel that I've grown more mature and determined since then, but here I am riding in our vehicle, armed and armored, festooned with extra storage and fuel tanks, writing twice as many words as I intended. Putting off thinking about how big the job ahead is.

It's a roundabout way of saying I'm worried about failing, I know. But I am. The difference between the old me and the me that writes these words is that where before I would give up before even trying, now I'll do everything I can to make it work. I'm still scared to fail, but if I do it won't be from lack of effort.

Whew, okay. Time to wake up a few of the others. Dawn is coming, and it's going to be a long day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I'm up to hobbling around now, which is a vast improvement over my mobility the last few days. I'm still having trouble switching between sitting and standing, but I can walk. If we were going to be camping this would be a serious problem, since zombies don't wait for you to get up slowly around the pain. Good thing for us we won't have to sleep outside.

My brother had a hand in designing the modifications to the vehicle we'll be taking, but the actual work was done by others. It's a beautiful thing, our rugged machine and trailer, but I don't want to go into details today.

As difficult as it is for me to walk around, I felt a strong urge to do it this morning. In a few days I'll be gone, and all I'll have of New Haven to sustain me while I'm away are memories. It struck me as I limped down the streets how the feeling of a place and its appearance can be so dramatically different. New Haven is being repaired and rebuilt in a hundred little ways (and a few large ones), but it still bears the scars of all the recent problems. Scorched earth where the fires nearly destroyed the inner wall. Houses with broken bricks from the heat. Craters outside the walls where bombs went off. Houses all over have had their exteriors stripped, patched, and modified in a dozen ways. It hardly looks like my old neighborhood at all.

That's a good thing, I guess. Our home is evolving into something new and better, changing along with us to meet the needs of our times. I watch men, women, and children scramble to finish so many tasks and projects, energetic and eager to a degree I'd have thought impossible last month.

I can't help but think of New Haven as a grizzled old cat--much like one of my own, Simon--battered and scarred from constant turmoil, but hale and strong and with a loving heart. I know that's a weird thought to have, but it hit my brain and had to go somewhere. There you go.

As I type this my pets (minus the ferrets, who are both outside in the garden hunting bugs and trying to climb the fencing to go explore) surround me. The dogs are laying at my feet. Alexander, my kitten (no longer, I notice--he's fully grown now) is perched on my shoulder. Nathaniel is sitting in my lap. Simon is curled up on my desk and looking at me like he wants to rip my face off. That's not unusual, he always looks like that.

I'll miss them almost as much as I'll miss Jess. With her it's an obvious thing, being my wife, best friend, and all that jazz. The difference is that she's a grown woman, a human being that can understand the rationale behind my trip, and can take solace in the company of friends in my absence.

My pets can't. They'll miss me, pine for me at least for a little while, and won't understand. I'll miss them too, more than is probably healthy. Through all the hard times, and that's what the last year and a half have been almost without a break, they've been there. When Jess was shot, I spent a lot of time worrying, crying, and my pets often whined along with me, laying their heads on my lap and offering what comfort they could give.

Wow. I really didn't mean to go on about my pets. I get emotional when I have to leave home, so I know you'll all forgive me. I'm just going to miss this place, every bit of it. Every person in it. We've all risked our lives together, done amazing things.

It's going to be strange for me not to hear the plaintive howls of New Haven's dogs at night, nor the low growls and deep barks that warn us of nearby undead. I won't be able to give Patrick a hard time or learn a new bit of medicine from Evans. I've been away before, but this is bigger and more involved than anything I've ever done. It's daunting, exciting, scary, and full of possibility.

As well as one certainty: I'll play back the memories each night as I lay down to sleep, from the faces of my brothers and sisters here to the pleasant rumble of a cat's purr, to give me comfort. It'll be the hope of coming home to make new ones that will keep me going.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Twisted Nerve

I've been sidelined for the last day and a half. Evans thinks I pinched my sciatic nerve, and given the debilitating pain shooting from my back to the tip of my right foot, I tend to agree.

It's been good and bad, though. The bad is obviously a lack of mobility and having to sit in precisely the right position that I don't cry from the agony that comes with moving around. The good is that it's given me time to work on a few things, chief among them the upcoming trip across the country. I've picked my last team member: Rachel.

You remember her, right? She's an old friend of mine, one of the people we helped escape from their home in Kansas. You might wonder what she brings to the table as far as skills go for what is sure to be an arduous journey.

Well, she's not an expert in marital arts, has no dead-eye marksmanship skills, and knows no more field medicine than the average person.That's not to say that Rachel doesn't have the requisite skills to survive. Clearly she does or she wouldn't be here now. Rachel is tough, smart, and resourceful.

No, the reason she's coming is simple: she asked. Though I told her we'd be gone a long time and we probably couldn't bring her husband (who was supportive of her choice if unhappy about it) she still wanted to come. Rachel has a strong desire to see the world around us, and a part of that is she, like me, has the heart of a storyteller. I've focused my efforts on sharing the goings on in my own life, and the community I live in. She wants to gather the stories of everyone we meet.

Plus, she's got an almost perfect memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of tons of different subjects. That's not a physical skill, but it does offer potentially huge levels of help to us on the road. She's as good an addition to the team as I could hope for.

Someone suggested to me that I take someone else, maybe a scout or one of the hunters. Someone with a lot of experience dealing with zombies in close quarters, someone physically stronger...basically, another male. I pointed out that Rachel has TONS of experience fighting zombies, and she's always done so with no regard for her gender. I guess no one told her women are supposed to be weak, right? She's fearless when defending herself and others. I want someone like that at my back.

I'm not trying to belabor the point, really. I'm just annoyed because as I've been stuck in the house working on our game plan, I've had to listen to people pelt me with their ideas and suggestions. The experience has made me realize just how many old prejudices and stereotypes have survived the fall of human society. "Women are weak" is the one stuck in my craw this morning.

Let me set it straight, then--my mother was a tiny woman with a gentle heart, yet I watched her mercilessly kill living people when the need arose. Rachel was the driving force in her community in Kansas, leading her people and keeping them safe. She fought tooth and nail for them, against terrible odds. She used her wonderful mind to work around a hundred problems, and she never shied from her duty. She did those things despite being less physically strong than the men around her. That's bravery.

With her, the roster is finished. I couldn't be happier about it. Given how the pain in my back is wearing my self-control down, the next person to politely suggest that this decision is wrong may get the unhappy, grumpy version of me that swears a lot...

Tentative date for our departure is Monday, contingent on my back getting better.