I'm not dealing with the events of the last few days very well. I'm worried about the captives (now captives again) and still mourning their actions for the lives they cost. I'm still feeling guilty and responsible. I say this because this morning, right now, I am in Carlyle, the secretive community in close quarters to the Castle. And being here, seeing what the people of Carlyle have accomplished, makes it damn hard to feel down. If my tone seems changed, it's due to the inevitable reaction any person has on a gloomy day when rays of sunlight peek through the clouds.
The name Carlyle was adopted by the residents at random. They literally drew it out of a hat. Instead of keeping the same name, the people here decided that, for safety, a new one would be chosen. They're very particular about their security, and now it's obvious why.
This town has no walls. And it is a town. It's really more of a village, but the streets are clean, the houses in good repair, and it has an air of normality that I hadn't realized I yearned for until I took a tour of the place.
Sure, there are signs here and there that Carlyle has experienced fallout from the zombie plague. There are well-made outhouses behind most buildings, rain catchers that drain into cisterns all over the place. Not many vehicles to be found, though every one I did see was functional and clean. Every square foot of land that wasn't designed for travel is farmed. The houses all have foodstuffs growing inside them as well, some homes modified in ways to make use of their exteriors to grow food.
Those are the visual clues that this place has changed to meet the needs of the times. The really strange and nostalgic part is how bizarrely normal life here is. Kids play in the streets. People amble down sidewalks. I saw a couple sitting together on a bench eating popcorn as the unseasonably cold wind tried to knife through the large coat they snuggled under. They were giggling at some unknown and doubtless inside joke. It made me miss Jess terribly.
The terrain around these parts coupled with the general lack of undead in the area means they folks here never had to build a wall. We're in a rural area, one that's pretty far away from major highways. Not many people knew this whole region was here even before The Fall, now it's almost a complete unknown.
For all the people in the various groups around Carlyle that could let something slip about the region's population and existence, no one has. Overall it's a pretty smooth setup, and this little hamlet is the heart of it all. There's a massive field adjacent to the south end of the town that is many times the area of the town itself. That field is the nexus of how the local economy functions. It's the governing factor that oils interactions between the many nearby groups.
In it, a variety of animals live and die. Rabbit, deer, even duck. Mostly sheep. It's a really, really big pen. Wire fence seven feet high and three layers thick contains an assortment of livestock that could feed everyone here for a year if all the animals were slaughtered at once. I can't imagine the amount of effort it took to carefully remove every foot of fence they could find and relocate it here. The process took months, I'm told. Then having the patience to capture enough animals and sitting back to let them breed, even during the hungry times most of us went through during the winter? Amazing.
To be frank, I thought Carlyle would be full of standoffish people with little love for outsiders. I imagined a place hostile to new things, mainly because of the almost neurotic emphasis our hosts have for security and secrecy. Being here, seeing what conditions they live in every day, I totally get it. If this were my home, I'd stab the first person to threaten it.
Not one wall anywhere, and yet I don't see caches of weapons in strategic locations. New Haven is pocked with them. Carlyle isn't defenseless, of course--just outside the window of town hall, where I sit to type this, there's a group of ten young people, men and women, doing drills with spears. A few minutes ago it was knife practice. They're a part of the all-volunteer defense force. They look very comfortable and practiced with those weapons. Some of those kids have scars.
They've fought enemies here. Living men and the hungry undead alike. They've taken many of the same steps other groups have used for survival, and have made them work. It's part of a pattern I'm finally starting to see. Like every group of human beings, survivors grade themselves on a bell curve of how well they're doing. My own people are probably about three quarters the way over. Carlyle is almost in the right corner.
My naturally cynical nature combined with a lot of empirical data about how badly things can go is urging me to find some deep flaw here. Maybe the land isn't quite as forgiving as I've heard, and zombies could pour down from the hills at any moment. Or perhaps they kill anyone who reaches a certain age a la Logan's Run.
I kid, of course. I've seen a few elderly people around, some of my first since The Fall pretty much guaranteed death for anyone incapable of defending themselves. I want to believe it's as wonderful here as it appears to be. I just don't know if I can take that leap of faith.
I will say this much: though the houses are fairly new, and the whole place decidedly modern, Carlyle feels to me like the fifties. Or rather what movies and TV showed the fifties to be, since I was born in 1982. It feels safe in new (old) ways. It feels wholesome and pure. It feels like a small slice of Americana, something I haven't encountered. It feels like the world as it was, all thoughts of the world as it really is banished.
Home. That's the closest I can get to nailing the sensation down.