Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Harlen's leadership sent out a team of scouts yesterday on motorcycles. It took them a few hours to get back, but even that time is nearly miraculous in the times we live in. The roads in this area have long been cleared, making trade simple and easy, even if the gasoline runs out.

Unfortunately it also makes an easy path to follow for the giant swarm of zombies headed this way. And that's what the scouts had to report: they are definitely going to hit us. Estimates put them here sometime tonight, possibly early next morning. The new breed are strong and fast, but we don't yet know if the energy they expend comes with a price. Do they rest in short bursts? The original strain of zombies went inert in the cold to conserve energy, so maybe the new breed can't walk or run straight here without stopping. The cold isn't slowing them down, either, though what the people in this place call cold is little more than a brisk spring morning back home, and Kentucky isn't nearly as cold as some places I've been...

The preparations for the inevitable battle are going well. The team and I are going to help any way we can, but at the moment the major aspects are taken care of. I'll say this for Harlen and the surrounding communities--they're nearly mechanical in their preparations for war. Having so many people in such a small area of the country makes them a magnet for the undead, and the people here have the scars to prove it.

I've got hope that this won't be a total disaster. As I said, the preparations and defenses are good, well-designed and don't rely too much on one element. Something that caught me by surprise was that there are protocols at the nearby communities for attacks like this. There's an agreement in place for reinforcements and aid, which makes sense given how close these folks are to each other. New Haven has no close neighbors, and the outside help we've had has been from trusted friends from far off.

I'm not looking forward to the fight, I'll be honest. I'm twenty-nine years old, and I've had two birthdays since the zombie plague destroyed my world. Twenty one months of the undead, of surviving where no one had any right to manage it. I've killed the walking dead as well as living people, I've fought to protect, for revenge, for reasons less noble than both of those.

I have no appetite for it. Oh, I'm want to live and to help provide for the safety of others, have no doubt. It's just that the careful black and white picture I've had of the world has been splashed with shades of gray and color over the last few months. Hated enemies in the form of marauders have become allies and in some cases trusted survivors in their own right. The swarms of undead have become more dangerous than ever, more a threat to the things I hold dear...

...And yet I can't bring myself to hate them. Nor do I feel anger, sadness, or any of the other things that used to come to mind when the threat of being devoured was staring me in the face. The zombie threat is, in my mind, now just a part of the world. It simply is, and there's nothing I can do to change that. Much as I would use an umbrella to escape the rain, I will stand behind a wall and defend from the onslaught. But hating them, worrying about the coming storm, is to me as useless and wasteful of my energies as being angry at the gods for a hurricane.

There's change on the horizon, and it's approaching fast. Human beings are fabulous at adapting to ever-changing circumstances, and this one is no different. Maybe more difficult, but not insurmountable. Sometime in the next eighteen hours to a day, we're going to be fighting for our lives. Philosophy and reflection will take a back seat to the battle at hand, but it's the preservation of that ability, of the unique machine known as human intelligence, that will give us strength.

We'll need all the strength we can get.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Like Stars in the Sky

A lot has happened since my post yesterday. It's hard to even know where to begin. 

Since I can't talk about this community but for the barest, vague terms, let me point out a strange and illogical circumstance. It's sort of the basis of the events over the last day. 

It's this: with thousands of survivors living, working, and trading in such a small area, logic suggests that marauders would tend to stay away. After all, no band of them is big enough to raid the local areas without risking retribution by many times their number, right? 

For the most part that's true. The locals aren't threatened in their homes, though their farm holdings are huge and some quite far-flung, so marauders have been known to nibble at the edges. They also sometimes attack trade caravans, though they rarely have to harm anyone. They just take supplies, not lives or people. 

That was the case until yesterday around noon. Which was when, to everyone's surprise, a vast swarm of marauders came swooping in on us. The people we're staying with (whose community I'll call Harlen for the sake of not annoying everyone) responded with practiced ease. Bells sounded, which caused guards at posts farther away to sound others, and so forth, until even workers at the edges of the property knew that danger was coming. 

We saw the marauders heading toward Harlen from the north, maybe a hundred vehicles. There was a lot of time to see them approach, thanks to flat terrain all around, with Harlen's main cluster of buildings set on a hill looking over it. Nearly two hundred men and women, plus my team, stood on the cinder block wall surrounding the place. Most people had bows, some hand weapons, and even a smattering of guns. Our orders were to hold the maruaders off long enough for the workers farthest away to reach the safety of the wall. 

We didn't have to. 

A hundred yards away, the marauders stopped. One of them got out of his vehicle, threw down his weapons, and ran for the main gate. He was yelling the entire time, but we couldn't make out what he was going on about until he got closer. 

Zombies, he said. Like the stars in the sky, too many to count. 

The marauders stopped before the walls were all that was left of more than fifty groups scattered across the northwest, from where we were relatively south all the way to the Canadian border and beyond. A hundred vehicles remained from nearly a thousand in the original group. The marauders had warned and joined up with anyone they knew or met along the way, moving many hundreds of miles south to our location. 

I don't know that I'd have believed anything he said, but after a few minutes of talking to us from outside the wall, his cohorts realized we weren't going to shoot him out of hand. A small group of them also threw weapons down and came toward us, half a dozen people carrying something wrapped in heavy plastic sheeting. When they got close enough for us to see, they threw it down and unrolled the contents. 

It was a zombie. From our distant vantage, it certainly looked like an example of the new breed, but we couldn't tell for sure. We had to know. Because from everything we'd gleaned about zombie behavior and the spread of the mutated versions of the plague, no new breed should have been that far north. Certainly not "too many to count". 

I turned to see if the team was willing to go down with me, and found Becky and Rachel already gone. They'd run for the front gate as soon they realized there was a body in that plastic. Neither showed the slightest fear when they went through the gate, seven men before them who might be killers, rapists, and god knows what else. 

Of course, by then there were at least fifty more people on the wall with bows who had joined us while the marauder was talking. That's a lot of arrows. The marauders knew where they were pointed. 

Becky examined the zombie, cutting almost surgically with her knife to check for the telltale signs. After a few minutes she faced the wall and nodded. 

There was a lot of discussion by our hosts after that. Fast talk. Had the marauders simply killed a new breed to trick their way inside the walls? If not, could we turn them away? How could we know it wasn't a trick?

The marauders were anxious and getting impatient when a messenger shouted from below us. I recognized him--he was one of the kids that worked at the small communications center here. He shouted to us that about sixty miles northeast, another community had been hit. The people there, the few left, were running this way. One drew the short straw and stayed behind to send a warning. 

Thousands upon thousands of new breed. Coming this way. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Letting Go

I'm afraid this stop and maybe the next will be kept completely undocumented on the blog. Citing security issues, the leadership is concerned about angry people coming after them for continuing trade with Georgetown now that their secret is out. 

I wanted to be angry about people keeping the status quo with no repercussions to Georgetown, but I found it almost impossible. I was still running hot when I wrote my last post, but I've had time to calm down and talk to some people. I've gotten a fair amount of perspective in the last day. 

Here's the thing: I think I'm more angry about them not being upfront about it than anything. I'm a strong believer in redemption and making choices, especially hard ones. I don't know what each and every one of the citizens of Georgetown have done, but they all made the decision to stop. To work together. To be better. 

I can't argue with that. I honestly don't want to know what crimes they may have committed. It isn't our place to act as executioners because of things people have done. That may not be fair to those who've had their lives ruined or ended by them, but survivors understand about dealing with the now. Can humanity afford to lose so many? I don't think so. 

On that note, something important has become apparent as we've headed further west. We saw it in Georgetown, and here at our current location it's even more obvious: there are way more living people out here than we expected. The community we're currently staying in as guests has almost a thousand people, and from what I'm told that isn't especially large for this neck of the woods. 

It's balmy and nice here, a comfy sixty degrees at night, and the land is farmed most of the year. It never snows (or almost never, at any rate) and the land is fertile. Lots of oranges and other fruits grow here easily. The network of survivors in just this group's immediate circles numbers close to ten thousand. 

I thought about that for a long time, and it makes sense. How else could the people here manage to trade enough food to keep the hundreds of hungry mouths in Georgetown fed as they mined the earth, unless there were many more here to work the land? I did the math, and it works out if you think about it. If the plague of zombies killed as much as 99% of the population, that would have left roughly three million people alive in America alone. 

I don't know if that's the case, but experience shows that larger groups tend to gather in areas that are easy to farm or have valuable trade resources. I can't imagine how many people are alive along the west coast. I mean, ten thousand within just a few dozen miles of each other. That's nuts. 

But all of them need metals. Georgetown might be full of criminals that have done awful things, but they're ones that all decided at one point or another to change that. They punish themselves with strict rules and a harsh, spartan way of life. From a pragmatic viewpoint, people need what they produce, and badly. There might come a time when it's logistically feasible to seek justice for the things they've done...but that time isn't now. 

My people accepted Kincaid and his bunch. Georgetown isn't asking anyone to take them in, to live next to people who've lived a lifestyle counter to what the rest of us stand for. They're doing it on their own, and for now we all have to focus on the needs they meet for thousands of people who are living and in need. Not their victims, who I imagine are mostly dead and beyond any help other than a prayer. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Revelation of Saint Bill

The rage going through me right now is so fucking powerful that I can barely make myself calm down and type. Bill finally told us what was on his mind, but he made sure to wait until we were at our next stop and set up for the night, ready to go to sleep. 

Greg explained to Bill all about Georgetown, you see, and made him promise not to tell anyone until we'd gotten far enough away that we couldn't easy or quickly get back there to make trouble. Even so, the team and I are still awake. We have been all night.

How the hell could we sleep knowing every man and woman in Georgetown were marauders?

Oh, they're "reformed", all people that wanted to give up their running and start fresh. I'm not blind to that urge, I don't doubt that people can and do genuinely feel guilty about the things they've done. But Bill told us everything Greg passed on to him, which he did cold sober, and it makes me sick. 

For example, the little place I call Georgetown still had people in it when the first fifty or so marauders called it quits and decided to settle there. Twenty-seven human beings that had survived hell and worse tried to send those first marauders packing. They chose to fight rather than let murderers or worse live with them, and it cost every one of them their lives. 

The reason we had to stay locked up the other day was because a group of active marauders were the ones coming in to trade. Yeah. They still do business with them. Greg claimed only the less destructive tribes of them get to deal with Georgetown, like Kincaid and his bunch who've integrated back home at New Haven. 

Damn it. I don't know how to feel. I'm so angry, but part of that is at myself for not realizing it myself. No kids there, because marauders don't have them. Greg told Bill that the discipline there is to make every citizen remember where they came from, and to warn them about falling back into old patterns. They've agreed not to allow any children to be conceived for the near future. 

Worried about marauders taking killing them, believe it or not. Not to mention a little fear that raising kids in such a harsh, strict atmosphere would make for rebellious and dangerous youth. Wild kids. Little marauders themselves, maybe. 

Jesus, I don't even know where to go from here. Nothing I can do about it in any case. Even if my team could put up some kind of fight against them, would we want to? They aren't hurting anyone now, and the resources they provide will be sorely needed in the coming months and years. 

After all, the zombies aren't going away. The new breed is quickly spreading, and I'm afraid they're a threat great enough to destroy the rest of us just as the first zombies did the majority of humankind. Can we afford to fight each other at all anymore?

I need to think.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Troubled Man

The shipment to Georgetown came early and was unloaded very fast, so we're on our way. We just left Georgetown about fifteen minutes ago, and I'm running the generator for the transmitter while we're on the move. It's a nice alteration to the trailer a few of the metalworkers in Georgetown did for us as a parting gift, the only one they could give. Now the generator fits into a snug port in the wall of the trailer, the controls on the inside while the exhaust stays out. There's even a sheet of metal to go over the hole for when we want to move it somewhere else. Even so, we won't run it long while it's in the trailer. I'd rather not risk it overheating or blowing up right next to my head, thanks. 

Bill is still with us, but he's not himself. He isn't a sunny, happy kind of fella to start with. Think more in terms of a monk, calm and collected but not overly emotional about small things. That's why we're worried, because he's been brooding all morning about something, but he won't tell us what it is. 

He spent most of last night talking with Greg in private. I wondered at first if perhaps Greg was looking for guidance about his drinking, maybe even having a spirited debate about religion with Bill. As the night wore on and we caught glimpses of the two men as we walked back and forth through our borrowed house, the less sure I was that either of those things were the case. 

They talked in low voices almost the entire time. Once or twice, I saw a look on Bill's face that could only be described as pure outrage. It isn't an expression that fits him well, like he's trying to mimic someone else's reaction. Eventually the conversation between them grew heated, moving into fierce whispering and tense body language. The team and I were on our toes in case things got ugly, but it never got that far. Greg left not long after their apparent argument, and Bill clammed up. We haven't gotten more than two words in a row out of him since. 

He's sitting on the edge of the bed in the trailer, five feet away from me but a million miles from here. His head is resting at an angle against the glass, and the look on his face...the best word I can use for it is haunted. He's red-eyed and lost, and I don't know what to do for him. 

I'll have to ask the others what they think, as discreetly as possible. I don't know Bill well enough to be able to get a good read on him, and I don't want to offend if I can help it. How do you go about helping a man so obviously depressed about something when you know he's the one who usually helps others? What do you say to him that he hasn't said a thousand times before?

I've been writing this blog most days for the better part of two years, yet I can't seem to find the right words to comfort him. It's frustrating to sit here and feel so impotent. I'm hoping that with a little time and the right approach, we can get Bill to open up about whatever it is that has him so bothered. He survived the deaths of every person he knew and loved, found purpose in his mission to help others, and survived on the open road for months on end despite the threat of constant attack by roving zombies. 

Whatever's wrong, how can it possibly be worse than any of that? I wonder if he had a similar reaction then, or if he's just gotten the piece of bad news that finally put him past his breaking point. Time and distance might be the only thing that will help him heal. We'll see. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Day Like Any Other

Today we don't get any turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, or any of the other delicious things that usually go along with Thanksgiving. I wouldn't even have remembered it was today if Rachel hadn't reminded me.

It doesn't bother me anymore, losing the holidays. Thanksgiving is important, but the longer we manage to survive in this new world the more I become convinced that just as society has changed and begun to evolve in a different direction, so must the old things eventually fade with them.

So today I'll think about all the people back home I miss, and reflect on how thankful I am for the members of the team who remain. Not to mention Bill, a new friend and companion.

Really, I'm thankful for a lot. I wasn't intending this post to be a predictable list of those things, but I guess it's sort unavoidable given the season. I'm happy and grateful for the people of Georgetown, who have been courteous, polite, and helpful toward us. The zombie plague has had hundreds or perhaps thousands of secondary consequences including distrust of strangers. For these people, as it is with many, this is especially true. For them to allow us to stay for so long, to work with us fairly, is amazing.

At the same time, I'm really happy that there's no prohibition against us fraternizing with people. The man thrown into the box the other day, whose name is Greg, is one of the few people here who will talk to us openly. He doesn't have the guarded demeanor most of the natives share. I've tried to ask him about some of the more curious elements we've noticed around here, but he didn't seem comfortable talking about a lot of that.

He's really personable as long as the conversation stays away from what are apparently sore subjects like the lack of children and pregnant women here. He's funny and expressive, and he's a demon at playing cards. He spent a while with us last night. I didn't smell any booze on him, so maybe his days in the box helped him kill that demon.

We should be wrapping up here in the next day or two. We've actually already finished hammering the trade deal out, the team and I are just waiting on a group of traders to come in tomorrow from our next stop on this leg of the trip. We'll be following them home, and their business here won't take more than a day. I'm happy with what we've done here, and happy to be moving on to the next stop.

The only concern I have is that the part of the country we're headed into is very heavily populated by zombies. Worse, it's painfully clear that the new breed is spreading quickly and is going to cause problems for us. They're already causing disruptions in the local trade, and it isn't going to get better as they spread.

We'll fight them, of course, but they're strong, clever, and difficult to kill.

So I guess more than anything this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for long-range weaponry and well-calibrated sights.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Birthday Bash

Yesterday was my birthday, the second I've had since the zombie plague came. It was also one of the days we were asked to stay inside while a shipment came. We complied, obviously--we have no desire to antagonize our hosts. Not only for the sake of fanning the flames of friendship we've started here, but also for practical reasons: we really want to trade for metal at some point. Eventually the easily recycled stuff will run out, and iron will be a much needed commodity.

From what we could hear inside the small home we're staying in, things didn't go smoothly. There was a lot of muffled argument filtering through our windows. We couldn't make out the words, but the tones were extremely harsh. I didn't hear any fighting erupt, but then the visitors and our hosts were moving as we heard them. Anything could have happened a hundred yards away and we'd never know about it.

That said, none of the natives seem concerned. No one looks like violence happened yesterday. No one seems upset. So either nothing happened, or the people here are universally unconcerned with it. I give that a small chance of being the case, and that only because Georgetown is culturally pretty stoic. Restrained.

We made the best of it, though. Will and Rachel had the forethought to bargain for some supplies, trading an extra bow for cake mix, milk, eggs, and a can of icing. Bill, it turns out, loves to bake. The mental image of the wandering preacher, a tough as nails, desert-tanned zombie killing machine and survivalist, will forever be marred by the actual memory of him humming as he moved about the kitchen making my birthday cake.

It was a pretty good cake, too.

I wasn't expecting presents, but again I was surprised by my team. Will gave me a weapon he traded for here in Georgetown--a steel spike, about a foot long, with a grip on it and a guard to keep my hand from slipping down when I use it. The hilt is tapered and has a split chisel tip, which lets me use it as a prybar.

Bill made the cake, which was present enough. Rachel gave me a small journal she'd written a story in, just for me. That's a hell of a thing. Steve, who has a lot of practical experience with massage therapy, worked out some of the kinks in my upper back. Becky gave me three homemade grenades. She's so sweet.

We sat in our little house and played games, talked for hours, and ate food. For a time we weren't teammates, survivors, or any of that. We were just friends. Five who knew each other well, one who we enjoyed getting to know a little better. Those kinds of days are much more rare now, but they're so much sweeter for that. It's been a long while since I've do I put it? Special? Pampered? I'm leading the team, so I'm usually the center of attention, but it was really nice for it to be a wholly positive and stress free kind of attention for once.

I'll fully admit, it was nice to have what felt like an old-school birthday. For the day to be just about me. Everyone had a good time, and I'm thrilled about that. I love seeing people smile and have a good time, and the memory of my friends, old and new alike, sitting around a table together with no concern more pressing than making each other laugh is one that will sustain me. One I will cherish.

It was a good day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Third Law

Newton's third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I'm a physics nerd, but I wish Newton had spent a little time studying people. Sometimes what should be equal and opposite reactions are a bit...uneven when it comes to people.

In the middle of the night, I heard that clanging of bells. From the sound of it, a few dozen of them. There's electricity here, but it's limited and not enough to power floodlights. So the people of Georgetown set up an ingenious early warning system: bells hooked up to tripwires.

We were told within the first ten minutes of being here to listen for the bells, what they meant. So when the team and I heard them, we reacted. We've been warned not to try to insert ourselves into defensive formations, for our safety as much as the people in them. We haven't drilled with them and would probably throw their rhythm off.

Fortunately, the company that built this place back before The Fall wasn't very creative with the housing they put in place for the workers. The on-site dwellings are uniform and flat-roofed, and the Georgetown natives were smart to choose to live in them and build their wall nearby. We climbed onto the roofs, the team and I, and used our bows to great effect.

From our perch on the roof closest to where zombies were coming over the wall, we could see the field. A few men had set up large, battery powered lights. New Breed zombies were moving across the land outside, repeating their trick of dragging and carrying long pieces of trees with them. Groups of them set the logs against the wall, running up them and leaping over the wicked spikes on top of the barrier in front of them. The section they'd chosen to attack had fewer defensive measures on top than others. A weak spot, one I'm sure was deliberate to invite attack at a place where the inner defenses were strongest.

My team and I, using our bows, had good luck picking off zombies as they ran toward the top of the wall. After a few minutes I noticed other groups doing the same from other rooftops. They even threw us more arrows when we started to run low.

Seeing the wall was covered, I ordered the team to start choosing targets down below. Enough zombies managed to get over the wall that the fighting had spread more than fifty feet in toward the center of town. We had to be careful, obviously. We didn't try to take down any zombies that were actively engaged with defensive groups.

At least, not until a few of the zombies started running up the backs of their counterparts and landing inside the hollow defensive squares. Then we didn't have much choice.

It was a bad night. We finally cleared them, but Georgetown lost twenty people. The survivors seem as stoic about their losses as they are about everything else. I haven't seen a tear fall yet.

It's disturbing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good With the Bad

The people of Georegetown adhere to a very strict schedule. It applies to all things--trading especially, but sweeps, mining shifts, food, and most other aspects of life here. Even our visit is scheduled closely: there are certain days next week that we've been asked to stay indoors during. Just for a few hours, early in the week on two separate days. Some of the local communities are apparently pretty worried about security. They don't want us seeing where they come from or where they go.

This morning wasn't such a day. I watched a caravan come in about an hour ago, twenty semi trucks full of food. It was a major delivery, one Georgetown only sees once every three months at best. These were winter stores, traded for raw iron to a group of survivors a hundred miles or so to the west.

It was a very orderly affair, including the cleanup of the fifty zombies that followed the trucks, as well as several that had stowed away under the trailers. Again my hat goes off to Georgetown--they handled the killing and cleanup of the undead with mechanical efficiency. I guess this happens a lot. With their ability to defend themselves so well honed, it's no wonder large groups of zombies no longer attack here.

The same discipline that serves them in fights and in running a tight ship also extends to punishment for people who fail to meet their standard. I had no idea when the shipment came in that there was a man missing from the welcoming committee Georgetown puts together for every group of transports. It was only after, when I saw the guilty party slowly walking toward the gate where the trucks were being directed through, that I became aware that something was wrong.

The man was clearly hung over, and the person in charge of overseeing the shipment had a very loud, angry talk with him. He wasn't belligerent or over the top, but more sounded like a military commander whose soldier had failed him. Disappointed him.

I watched the whole thing, listened to what they said. It was an educational experience. I'm not one to judge another community on how they carry out punishments for failing to comply with agreed-upon rules. If these folks have all decided that alcohol is not a good idea in the face of zombie swarms, that's their business. If the drunkard in question failed his duty because he broke the rules, I can't argue when he accepts the punishment.

Which, by the way, is three days in "The Box". After asking about it, one of the locals showed me.

The Box is a cinder block structure about five feet high with a flat aluminum roof. It's maybe three feet wide on a side, which means a man of average height wouldn't be able to stand or sit comfortably in it. People who go in there get no food but as much water as they can drink--there's a tap inside that's fed by the local well--and a drain in the floor for bodily waste. It isn't the most inhumane setup I've seen, but it's pretty bad.

Worse, when you realize The Box sits about twenty feet from where they process the iron ore. The heat is tremendous. The Box gets to about a hundred and twenty degrees inside on a bad day. I can't imagine anyone putting themselves in the damn thing by choice, but it's widely accepted in Georgetown. Failure to meet standards for safety of the group means time in solitary.

It makes my skin crawl. I know, I know, New Haven has some pretty brutal means of reminding people of the importance of the group, and I'm not judging. Maybe it was the years of training back in college, days spent wearing turnout gear as I learned what it was to be a firefighter, but I just hate the idea of crouching uncomfortably in a little stone shack, cooking for days on end.

I can only theorize what must have happened to these folks to drive them to such extremes. Whatever it was, it had to have been horrible to degrees that I can't fathom. I'm feeling sick just thinking about it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Georgetown may not have much in the way of variety when it comes to industry, but these people sure as hell know their defense. The wall is solid and strong, and because iron is so plentiful, they've got enough weapons to arm every citizen three times over. Every person is required to participate in combat drills several times a week. 

Last evening I got to see it in action. I thought our people worked as a unit well, but not even our dedicated group of spearmen, our Spartans, match the average person here. 

I've got a meeting in a few minutes, so I'll keep it brief. 

We went out on a sweep of the surrounding area. For about a hundred feet in every direction is a flat, featureless plain. After that the terrain changes, trees and rocks as well as hills and folds in the land giving good hiding places for zombies. We weren't disappointed in our search. The group I went out with had fifteen people in it counting me, and when they saw the two dozen or so zombies, they snapped into formation. 

Hollow square, four men on a side, two in the middle (three, with me there. It was snug.) It's a classic tactic, one my own people have used. The team all carried shields, shorter than I'd have expected, only about two and a half feet tall. What surprised me was that the shield wall guys worked together as a unit flawlessly. They made no mistakes, and didn't even have to use log weapons like spears to hold off the zombies. Their defense was perfect. 

When the new breed zombies attacking thought to drop to the ground since the shields didn't go down very far, I was caught off guard again when the men on that side dropped with it, slamming the edges of their shields down on the attackers. Turns out those things are sharpened on the top and bottom for just such an occasion. 

We were outnumbered, but practiced thrusts of heavy spikes by the defenders meant one shot, one kill. It was the best display of teamwork I've ever seen. I'm told that part of why people here have gotten so good is because before that wall was built, they had no other choice but to fight the undead hand to hand every time zombies wandered near. 

That went on for a long time. Zombies wandering in the streets with only a narrow plank of metal-banded wood and a handheld weapon between them and the living. 

Which leads me to wonder once again what happened to the children here...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fistful of Iron

We're finally at our next stop. I have to call it something, so I've nicknamed the place Georgetown. Lots of places are called that, right?

So, the incredible thing about Georgetown is that it has a giant iron mine and plant to refine the raw ore into ingots, and both are being utilized. Yes, that's right. These folks have been putting in an enormous amount of work to pull raw metal from the earth and make it into something useful.

Granted, they aren't putting out hundreds of tons of the stuff, but it's enough to get some very healthy trade going in this part of the country. Bill actually stopped in Georgetown a while back, though it's the only place on our planned route that intersects with our own. He tells us that the people here are tough, almost scarily clannish, and quiet about the things they've been through.

He's right about the last, that's for sure. No one here really talks about the past. Some survivors see more combat, danger, and loss than others, and these folks must have been through hell. I don't want to push, but it makes me powerfully curious what could have happened here that was so bad none of them want to talk about it.

One frightening clue is that there are no children. Absolutely none. The youngest person anyone knows of is in his early twenties. If something bad happened to a lot of kids...well, that's never easy for anyone. If they want to talk, I'll listen. But I won't press.

There are also more people here than we originally thought. I can't go into details, just...a lot more. How they manage to feed, clothe, and supply themselves is beyond me. I wouldn't have thought a group of people as large as this one could subside wholly on trade, but that's the way it looks. There are a lot of communities this far west, and the need for raw metals to work is apparently high. No one in Georgetown is fat, but none of them look underfed, either.

While the terrain is on the border between desert scrub and more verdant land, there isn't a lot of farming done. The mining takes too much time and effort, I suppose. The cluster of buildings everyone lives in has a high wall, mostly brick and block, though some sections are made of rocks and leavings from the mines. It's tall and daunting, and topped with wicked spikes. Not shocking, they're made of iron.

Though the people here have been nothing but polite, they are distant. We're guests here, and while none of them have said anything, we are clearly not going to be looked at as friends or family. There are lines drawn on where we can go and what we can say. They're invisible but startlingly obvious.

Again, I'm reminded that not all places and people evolve the way my own home has. New Haven is more open and frankly happier. We trust easily, sometimes to our detriment. The zombie plague and the end of the world affected all of us differently, and if there's one thing about this trip that I'm glad for, it's the chance to see how many different kinds of people have adapted to it.

The Fall has made us what we are, for better or worse. It's not something we can help, being broken by such awful events. It is, however, our responsibility to do the most we can with what the fates have given us.

I'd say "for the kids" right here, but that's clearly not the motivation for some people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Westward Ho!

We decided to top off our fuel at the closest depot left by the good people of Sparta before we moved on to our next (and long delayed) stop. The consensus among the team is that we had little choice with the Bunker but to leave. We told Bill about it, and he agreed with us. That kind of surprised me, given his natural predilection toward compassion.

I feel bad for the kids and the more reasonable adults at the Bunker, but the risk of staying there wasn't worth it. Bah. On to other things. I'm gonna get all guilty and maudlin otherwise.

Our next stop is a little town on the edge of the desert that houses an impressive number of people. We've had pretty constant communication with them for a good long while, but never managed a visit. We're told they've got a population of better than a hundred, which doesn't sound like a lot until you remember the area we're in and how hard resources are to come by. I can't tell you the name, again for security reasons, as the folks there just use the actual name of the town. No cute nicknames like the rest of us.

A few people have sent me messages expressing concern over us taking Bill on. They're saying we don't know him, asking how we can trust him, things like that. The simple answer is that no, we don't know him, and any man capable of surviving on foot on his own for any length of time against the zombies is someone to be reckoned with.

That being said, his ankle is broken. He can barely walk. Give us a little credit--we took his weapons away. Bill seems like an upright kind of fella, but my suspicious nature leads me to believe that my best friend might, at some point, be inclined to stab me in the neck while sleeping.

I've been known to bring that out in people.

Bill is okay with our requirements. He had survived on his own, and had to fight his way out of some tight scrapes with other survivors. He knows what betrayal is, and how hot tempers can get in some situations. Our caution is as natural as breathing. He gets that.

So he'll be travelling with us for a while. Bill has some interesting stories to tell, a few of which are a LOT more off-color than I'd expect from a man so devoted to god. That's one thing about him a enjoy: Bill lacks conceit about his faith. He isn't one of those guys (at least not anymore) that pushes the small details. His message is bigger, more sweeping. It's enough to make me remember why I chose to become born-again when I was in middle school.

The others seem to get along with him as well. Will most of all. They've been huddled together in the trailer with me as I write this, and from the bits and pieces I've caught, Will seems to be telling Bill his story. How he came to be at the compound when it was still called that, and all that's happened since. There's been a lot of friendly pats on the shoulder and body language that says, "I understand". I think Will even teared up at one point. I know the poor guy still feels guilty over some of his decisions.

If Bill can make him rest a little easier, I'm all for it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hell's Half Dozen

New breed zombies are a bitch to kill. They're stronger, faster, tougher, smarter, and work in groups. In every conceivable way they're better than their less evolved counterparts.

Fortunately, they have not yet developed an immunity to trucks hitting them at thirty miles an hour. Especially ones that have armored spikes mounted on the front.

The rest area where Bill locked himself up wasn't quite swarming with the things, but there were enough that hand-to-hand wasn't an option. We had no desire to call every one of the damn things in the area with gunshots, so our options were limited. I couldn't help sharing the thought with the rest of the group that Mason, were he still with us, would have probably gone all action-hero on them and killed the lot single-handedly.

He probably wouldn't have approved of us using the truck to mow down so many of them, but we didn't have a lot of options. Yeah, damage beyond our ability to repair would likely have been a death sentence for us, but the risk of that was pretty small. The old girl was modified to be light but tough as hell, and once we dropped the trailer off a few miles down the road she became a lot more agile.

Rachel, as it turns out, is really good at combative driving. I think she might have some deep, unresolved rage issues.

While she drove and Becky rode in the cab, Will, Steve, and I locked our legs into the supports for the extended walls of the bed. From there had a great view of the surrounding area. We shouted locations of zombies to the girls, making it much easier to kill them. It was great teamwork.

When we'd drawn the majority of them from inside the rest area and thinned them out, we took the fight to them. About fifteen of them were left when Becky shut the back window, pulled the aluminum cover over the inside of it, and hit the release for the back gate.

Will, Steve, and I have spent a lot of time working as a unit. We've trained to fight together, cover each other. Will and I Were using short spears, modified to use on zombies. Steve was our center man, and he had a slim, lightweight pick as his primary weapon. All of us were armored. All of us carried shields. The new breed zombies are tough, like I said, but most of the ones still moving had broken limbs or other severe damage. Only a handful were uninjured and fully mobile.

It took us about ten minutes to kill them. Pretty simple tactics--block with shield, bash zombies in the face, piston weapon arm up toward the soft underside of the zombie's jaw as it reels back, stunned. The crossguard on our spears kept them from getting hung up. The points are just the right length the scramble brains, not long enough to go all the way through. Steve did his part, his smaller shield making him the obvious target, drawing the attention of the zombies. We worked together well, bodies close, shields locked.

The armor kept us safe, and the girls kept the last of the zombies from mobbing us. There were three left beating on the door inside the rest area, but we boxed them into the hallway. Easy kills.

Bill is with us now, and suddenly we're six again. He can't walk very well, and Becky is seeing to his broken ankle. Looks like he's going to be with us a while. He's enough of a realist to know we aren't dropping him off at the Bunker and don't have time to take him anywhere else. So he's coming with us to our next stop. If he wants to recuperate there, and they'll have him, then we'll part ways then. If he wants to come with us from there, I have no objection. Bill seems like a nice guy, and he's refreshing.

Not to mention he's helped bring us out of a funk we didn't even know we were in. Mason's death has hit all of us harder than we imagined. Bill is filling that void a little.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Finding Bill

We've been travelling in the wrong direction for most of a day. The reason for our delay in heading toward our next stop, which we can afford since we left the Bunker much faster than anticipated, is that we got a call from Bill Friese of all people.

Bill is holed up in a rest area. He carries a satellite phone, and we were the nearest people he knew of when he got injured. He said a trio of zombies chased him into the rest area, and he broke his ankle kicking the door shut on their faces. He's safe, but in pain. He has the food and water he carries with him, so he won't starve or die of thirst if we get to him relatively soon.

We've got to be pretty close. All of the landmarks are exactly as Bill described them. From what we gather, we're not more than ten miles from his location. The problem may be getting to him. Since the last time we came through here, zombies have appeared. New breed zombies.

There aren't a ton of them, but enough to make this a tricky day for us. If the ones we've seen on the road are any indication, the rest area will be a pain in the ass to assault.

I'm not a fan of rest areas. Spending so much time on the road, I've been in many of them over the last year and a half. I've been trapped in one. They're damned convenient places to crash for a night, but zombies, even old-school stupid ones, seem to have some basic memory that they are places large numbers of people gather. It usually means trouble. I'm glad Bill was able to find a safe location. Just wish it wasn't a goddamn rest area. AGAIN.

I suppose we'll have to scope out the situation when we get there. We've got no definite plan of attack. I'm hoping Bill will be able to give us more information about the zombies surrounding the place when we get closer. I don't like flying blind.

Off to it, then.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mob Rules

The team and I are hiding. We had to make a run from the Bunker.

When we told them we weren't going to make the trip with them, the leadership (such as it is) understood but weren't happy about it. When the news hit the general population, there was a lot of grumbling and some angry talk about keeping us there. My team and I can deal with a lot of threats, but hundreds of people to our five made us a little wary. So we made sure to keep our gear ready to go just in case.

As it turns out, it takes about twelve hours for a group of twenty people to talk each other into doing something stupid. They tried to jump us in the night, while they thought it'd be easiest. All five of us were awake, and it was Rachel, the gentlest and least violent member of my group, that got her gun aimed at their faces first.

I won't lie. I was pretty damned proud of her.

Five armed veterans of the zombie plague are nothing to sneer at. Those people were, I have to assume, the most cowardly the Bunker had to offer. After all, they were the ones who decided it was fair to try and take us captive and steal our vehicle and supplies. Oh, sure, they tried to tell us they were coming to talk, to convince us to stay. I might have listened had they not all been carrying makeshift weapons. At two in the morning.

The situation became too unstable when a few of them yelled out when they realized we were going to leave. We had them disarmed at that point, laying face down. A few people showed up, and then it was all a mess. We were holding guns on their people, who were lying through their teeth saying they were checking out a disturbance. The whole ordeal got heated, and Will decided to break the tension by firing his .45 into the air.

Revolvers are loud. Definitely an attention grabber. He explained very calmly what the situation actually was, and when our erstwhile attackers tried to argue, he shot the sky a second time. Will told the second group of people to show up what happened, and that we were leaving.

And we left. Becky and I covered the lot of them from the top of the trailer as we drove away. Thank god none of those idiots had a firearm.

I don't feel bad about it. I wish I did, but any group of people so lax in discipline that they'd let guests who are trying to help them be threatened by their own people are probably doomed to die. I can't see them making the long trek across the flatlands out here. Period. If the Bunker's citizens leave as one group, I think they're going to fail. Unless they do the impossible and pull their heads out of their asses. If the more reasonable among them, especially the few who have made an effort to learn survival skills, splinter off into groups with each other, then they've got a shot.

I hate to think in these terms, but the safety of the Bunker didn't do these people any favors. The zombie plague killed a lot of capable people, but it killed a lot of cowardly, stupid, and selfish ones with them. Though there are always exceptions, most survivors are pretty good at staying alive, and making the effort and hard choices that entails.

The Bunker was an empty space, filled with locals who had no crucible to burn away the dross. Without the constant struggle, or even the initial shock of the zombie plague and the violence that swept across the world, these people have no...what's the word I'm looking for?

Hmm. They haven't been inoculated. They've lived in a shelter that has made them safe and kept them from building up an immunity to the world around them. It isn't their fault. It's just sad. I hope the best for them, but I also don't feel any responsibility to make it happen. My life is my own, and I won't risk it or those of my friends for them.

That might make me a bad person.

I don't care.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fix Your Wagon

There's a small town about ten miles away. It has almost nothing of value in it, not because it's been looted but simply due to location and a population that mostly evacuated here. The locals came to the Bunker, and they brought most of the food and other supplies with them.

One thing they left were the cars, trucks, and other vehicles. The whole town had a population of less than a thousand, but luckily there's a mechanic's shop. We've got a dozen people working to strip down every vehicle we can use to the frame. There isn't enough gas to use them to transport everyone, not by half. So we're doing the only thing we can think of--removing the engines, panels, anything and everything we can to lighten them up, and we're going to use them to carry supplies. They'll have to be pulled by people, but with three hundred of them, it won't be hard to do. Just annoying.

I'm helping oversee the rationing of the supplies for the trip, so today's meeting is being run by Will and Becky. Steve is helping organize packing, and Rachel is feeling out some people who want to learn the real necessities of surviving and fighting out in the real world.

I don't envy Will and Becky for today's meeting. They've got the unfortunate task of telling these people that we aren't going with them when they leave. Hell, we can't even stay long enough to see them go. We've been put so far behind our schedule on this trip that we could get stuck a thousand miles from home when the snows start to hit. We can't afford to miss our revised times for a few of the appointments we have.

Honestly, I'd love to say that I want to stay and help these people. That I want to help them prepare and get to safety. Part of me wants to make that statement. The rest of me is already sick of them and irritated at how much most of them whine and complain, constantly moaning about the dangers they'll have to face. They've been locked up, I get it. I don't blame them for that. But you'd think, after explaining that the options are to deal with what's ahead rationally and decisively or to die, that more of them would get control of themselves and forge ahead.

Nah. I certainly don't wish them any harm, but after all these months, after all the death and loss and struggle, I just can't bring myself to feel much real pity for their shock and anger. Part of that might be because I know if they don't knuckle under and work, they're going to die. Quickly. And we can't afford to grow attached to people who aren't likely to make it.

Too many emotional traumas already. I'll check on our makeshift wagons in a bit. While I'm here, you can bet my team and I will do everything we can to get these people ready.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Climb That Mountain

Things didn't go as badly as we expected yesterday. The people here took the news that they would have to walk away from here rather than ride pretty well. They even dealt with the immediacy of the problem with reasonable aplomb. I think it gives them some focus to have goals after so long merely hiding away and worrying. Knowing the mountain of work ahead of them before they can even take the first step toward whatever unknown home appears to be motivating to some degree.

We're trying to work with the few local communities to make that unknown home a little less mysterious. None of my team know the area around here at all, so we've enlisted the aid of anyone and everyone within a three hundred mile radius to pass along what info they can. I don't have to go over the specs with you, we all know the drill for resources and shelter. It's good that we can farm out some of the leg work to others. I think they feel guilty that they can't take these people in.

The Bunker is big. Really, really big. I don't know what it was before it was turned into a shelter, but it has vast empty spaces that must have held something at some point. There are several areas that have never been explored, the doors leading into them locked and impossible for the folks here to breach.

They didn't have a Becky with them. Their loss.

She's working on making some of the inaccessible areas a little more user-friendly. Maybe there are more supplies in them or at least something useful. We have to explore any and all options, because our resources here are limited.

We have managed to come up with an idea for transporting supplies a little easier, though I don't know how well it's going to go over with the natives. I'll be bringing the idea, which Will, Steve, and I came up with together, up at the morning meeting in ten minutes.

I'm very cautiously optimistic. Few here seem happy with the fact they have to leave, and a disturbing number of people have openly (and loudly) expressed their desire for 'someone to help them' and for the 'government to do something'. I've explained to a few that there is no government to speak of, that we're on our own. That they are on their own. But some people don't seem capable of accepting the reality that there isn't anyone out there to save them. That they are going to have to buckle down, do the work, and save themselves.

Huh. That paragraph was supposed to be about optimism. I guess the truth came out while I was writing it. Put bluntly, I'm really only optimistic because less people in the Bunker are freaking out and wailing at the unfairness of it than I expected. It's looking like it will be difficult to convince a number of them to put forth effort, that they'd rather bitch and moan and talk about how hard it is.

Damn it. I want this to work. I don't want to see these folks fail, but I just don't know if most of them can overcome the shock at how bad the world has become to live through it.

My team concurs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Long Walk

We've decided to make camp away from the Bunker itself. Things here are so much worse than we could have imagined. It isn't the logistical problems, exactly. There's enough food and water to last the people here a while yet, maybe a month if they stretch it.

It's their attitudes and outlooks. Sure, there are a few we've met who seem genuinely interested in learning how to survive the world as it is, but the majority of the people in the Bunker are terrified almost to the point of insensibility. They've had secure walls and no zombies this whole time, little contact with the outside world until their supplies started to run low and their machinery started to break down and they had to pull their heads out of the sand.

Most of them have no desire to make it on their own, to live somewhere else and take the risks everyday life comes with now. They're scared and in shock now that they know just how bad it is, and learning about the new breed of zombies has only made it worse. I don't know that I would have made the choice to tell them had I known the kind of overwhelming panic it would incite in them.

Worse, they see my team as saviors. They've been catching up on this blog, they know the things we've seen and done, the odds we've overcome. They think we can make a miracle happen for them. As if the most skilled member of my team didn't die less than a week ago. We aren't superhuman. We can't wave a wand and make this better. The collective goodwill of the communities of survivors was helpful in saving the kids at Black Mesa, but everyone in that part of the country has expended what resources they can spare. There isn't room for all these folks.

Worse, I've asked the people at Google to start canvassing every group in this area, though there aren't very many of them close. Three within two hundred miles, scheduled stops all, but we've never met them before, only communicated via phone or internet. They're small groups with few resources. There just aren't any groups close enough with the resources to do any good.

All of which I've got to explain to the people in the Bunker. We can help them get ready to leave, but when and if they go, it's got to be on their own feet. Mason was brilliant enough to leave suggestions for this possibility written down, ideas to help the people here survive a trek through the arid southwest toward a place capable of sustaining them for the long term.

My team and I are under no illusions. Even a best case scenario with them moving on foot is going to mean losses in the dozens. I'd bet closer to half, and that's not counting an attack by a large swarm of zombies. Three hundred people exposed on open land? Such an attack is an eventuality rather than a possibility.

Still, the advantage of the local terrain and sparsity of human beings is that the people in the Bunker have few zombies to worry about. Their hidey hole was a good place to avoid notice, and far enough away from anything that they'd have likely been undiscovered even were it above ground.

There is no part of me that's looking forward to telling them what I have to tell them today. That they've got to leave their home soon, with all the food they can carry and all the water they can coax out of their wells. We'll see about rigging up carts or something for bulk transport of supplies, but I don't know what we could possibly use.

Enough stalling, I guess. On to tell them the bad news.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Man of God

We'll be arriving at the Bunker shortly, but we haven't broken camp yet. We decided it would be better to approach the place during the day given that we have no idea what the defenses around the entrance might look like. I'm less worried about armed guards and guns than landmines or something even harder to see. So we'll approach with caution.

Yesterday we ran into someone on the road. One person, walking alone, as impossible as that sounds. He was dressed in heavy clothes, worn but taken care of. He wore a backpack, stuffed with what I have to assume were supplies and festooned with melee weapons. His boots were the only part of his gear that seemed on their last legs.

We stopped and talked to him for a while. His name is Bill Friese, and he's a preacher. Before The Fall, he ran one of those mega-churches that held enough people to host a professional sporting event. Bill was on top of the world--regional televised show once a week, twenty thousand congregants making his house of faith prosperous and strong, and a happy family life with his wife and five kids.

Bill told us many things about his life before The Fall, and how he felt compelled by his faith to help others in need. In an age of profitable religion, he tried to be a man who used the wealth and influence of his position for a greater good. He organized missions of mercy to provide medical care for children in foreign countries. He aided the poor and starving. Every Monday the fellowship hall at his church ran a massive open kitchen program where volunteers cooked meals for the homeless.

I'm a fan of people doing good deeds for any reason. And I hate to see people with genuine faith, who do those good deeds in its name, have their world view shattered. That's what happened to poor Bill.

Bill came from a small family in the backwoods of north Louisiana. He spent his youth farming, hunting, and learning the tricks and trade of survival in the wild. His pop was a vet, and a country boy himself. For them, learning to stay alive out in the woods was a practical necessity in case a hunting trip forty miles from anything ended with a broken-down truck or getting lost.

Even as he grew up, Bill kept those skills sharp. He taught his own sons and daughters, those who were old enough, how to fire a gun, a bow, build a shelter, make fire. He passed on some of it to his wife.

But those skills weren't the ones he used when The Fall came. Instead of running from the zombie swarms like so many others, Bill and his family made the decision to open their church to survivors. This was in the very first days, when the country was still a chaotic mess and the majority of people had no idea what the zombie plague really was.

His intentions were good, but it all ended in disaster. More than four thousand people came into the place over a period of days, and at the time no one there knew it was the dead that were rising. No one knew how quickly the bites could kill by spreading god only knows what kinds of bacteria. No one knew that putting so many people into such a small space was a recipe for slaughter.

Bill lost his entire family. Wife, children, congregants. He escaped, ran for his life. Everything he'd built, all the good he'd done, gone.

So, he started walking. At first because there was little else to do. Then as he encountered others, gathered supplies and traded, because Bill found he could still help if on a much smaller scale. Bill walked on, stopping to preach the word of God, still a comfort to him in the darkness at the end of the world. And Bill teaches others how to survive. How to hunt.

He was walking away from this area as we were heading toward it. He's spent nearly a month with the people in the Bunker, trying to ready them for what they'll face on the outside. We offered to give him a lift, asked him to come back to the Bunker with us, but he refused.

I wonder if he'll ever stop moving, if some place will ever strike him as home. I hope so. Bill seems a good man, and solid in his beliefs even after everything he's been through. I don't know if he's still running from his personal tragedies, or feels the urge to help out of guilt for the deaths of his family and flock, but I hope he finds peace somewhere. All of us, every survivor, knows the burden of living where others have died. If his needs to be channeled into making sure others live, then I can't think of anyone who'd argue against that choice.

Hmm. All alone on the open road for more than a year and a half. The fact that he's still alive is almost enough to make a believer out of me again.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Our next stop is a day or two away. This stretch of the country is pretty bare of survivors, but the largest place within several hundred miles is called the Bunker. As with most communities, I can't tell you where it is, though chances are even if I did you wouldn't be able to find it. 

The Bunker is exactly what it sounds like--a heavily fortified shelter designed to protect a number of people for a certain amount of time. I'm sure this one was intended for use in the event of a nuclear blast, but the zombie plague beat mankind to the punch on that one. 

Mason was the one who put us in touch with these folks. He was in the know on the location of the Bunker and had a vast working knowledge of its capacity and capabilities. For example, it was provisioned to handle a hundred and fifty people for five years. The current population is twice that, and they're running out of food. And their water treatment system is failing. As is their waste management. 

It was a refurbished government facility, apparently known to the military and intended for important people like congressmen and senators. At some point very early during The Fall, locals became aware of it and flooded the place. 

Basically, there are a little over three hundred folks there who've been living in safety for the last twenty months or so. I envy that, to a degree: they've been spared the horrors and atrocities the rest of us have had to suffer through. And as unfair as it is, I feel a bit resentful toward them for the same reasons. They haven't had to live in a world where every day brings the risk of a fatal attack from zombies or marauders. On huge set of thick steel doors and thousands of tons of protective rock, and those problems might as well have been on another planet. 

I can't blame them, of course. It isn't like they did anything wrong by going to ground somewhere safe. Many of the people there are families, parents trying to keep their kids safe, I'm sure. I'm just irritated to a degree because their safe haven is now becoming empty and useless, and they need help. 

There's no farmland around them, or I'd try to help them set up some kind of agriculture so they could keep on living there. There's nowhere near enough game to support so many people, either. The problem is so much bigger than it looks. 

I mean, a small fraction of them might have some kind of survival skills. Maybe. But the majority are just scared people who haven't had the brutal experiences since The Fall that have forged the rest of us into the survivors we are. It's a bit like having three hundred children who need to be watched and protected at all times, because they don't understand the dangers around them. 

I think because we managed the evacuation of Black Mesa, there's some expectation we can get them out and send them to different places to settle with the same ease and speed. That just isn't the case. A lot of chips got called in for that, and every place within a reasonable distance (and a few an unreasonable distance away) took who they could. The options are limited at best, and I don't know that the logistical problems we're facing can be solved at all, much less by the five people that comprise my team. 

Still, we'll have to take a crack at it. This part of the country is pretty far removed from Black Mesa and those groups of survivors. We're closer to many groups we've never had the pleasure of meeting face to face, so there might be some options there. Mason seemed to think so, and his instincts were usually good. 

We'll keep on following the directions Mason left us until we get there or die trying. I can't help but feel the absence of him beside me as the miles roll by beneath us. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Moving On

Things within the team are strained right now. It's not that anyone is upset with anyone else, really, but more that none of us really knows how to deal with Mason's death. Steve seems to be handling it the best, seeming a bit quieter than usual but otherwise in good cheer. I notice him resting his hand on Mason's knife in those silent moments. The blade seems to have taken a permanent place on his belt.

Rachel and Becky, as different as they are in personality, seem to be bonding over the whole thing. There haven't been lots of tender moments between them, at least not that the rest of us have noticed. Neither are really the weepy girl stereotype. It's nice to see them talking to each other about normal things, getting to know each other a little better. I hadn't even realized how little socializing the two of them did until now. 

Will is not handling it very well. He's angry, more so than I've ever seen him. His knuckles tighten on the steering wheel often and his eyes get tight with rage. I've been there many times--playing the events over and over in his head, trying to imagine what we could have done differently. Wondering if maybe the big fella would have made it. If it would have been worth the risk to run through our medical supplies out here where the next batch might never come. 

And me? I'm crying a lot. 

I'm not a crier, usually. I've spent little time as an adult doing it. When I'm sad and overcome with it, crying is just not my go-to reaction. I get quiet, I think, I clench my teeth a lot. I can count the times I've openly wept in the last ten years on my fingers and have a few left over. 

Until the last few days. I find myself struck by bouts of uncontrollable tears at odd times. I suppose I should find it embarrassing, but I'm not. The others don't seem to mind. Steve is usually there with an arm around my shoulder when it hits me. He's always been there for me that way. When I met him all those years ago, my first impression of Steve was that he was a nerd (he was and is) and that he didn't let much bother him. He's a video game expert, a Star Wars fanatic, and not someone you'd expect to be an emotional rock for when the bad times strike you down. 

Funny how people can surprise you. 

It's almost annoying how much I feel Mason's loss. I can't stop thinking about how hard it must have been for him to be in the military all those years, unable to tell anyone who he really was. He was competent, dedicated, and hard working. And he could have lost it all, just because he happened to prefer men over women. 

Then I start thinking about the places we're heading, the sights we'll see and the people we'll meet, and I remember that he won't get to experience any of that with us. The practical, analytical part of me wonders coldly how many people will die down the road because he wasn't there to come up with a clever solution to a defense problem. My sense of humor asks the question: who will be the scary badass military stereotype now that he's gone?

But he is, and there's nothing to be done about it. Mason may have played his cards close to the chest, but I know he believed in this mission. He spoke at times about how important it was that the remaining people out there build bonds of friendship, that we try to see each other as people first and work from there. He knew as well as the rest of us that while this trip was halfway an excuse to get me away from home, it's evolved into something of real importance. 

Had I, or Will, or any of us been the one to die, Mason would have saluted our sacrifice and chosen to move on. He'd have recognized the need to continue over any other factor. How can I honor his memory by doing any different?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Escape

Some days it's easy to forget how human we all are. All of us expected Mason to get back fairly quickly, loaded with supplies to help us get out of the sand. It took him until nearly dark to finally make it to us.

We saw him coming from a long way off. He was carrying a torch, crude and obviously improvised while he was in the nearby town. He was limping heavily, dragging a huge bundle of something wrapped in one of those cheap blue tarps you used to be able to find at Walmart. His armor was shredded, which wasn't surprising since he'd removed the heavier bits to more quickly move about. 

Behind him maybe a hundred feet, were a dozen zombies. They were clearly following him, but the few times we saw him stop on the plain heading toward us, the undead mimicked him. That's strange behavior, as most of you would know. Usually the only thing besides the vomit of a very specific zombie or ammonia that will stop zombies in their tracks is a large fire. Say the size of a car. Certainly the guttering torch Mason held in front of him wasn't enough to slow one zombie, much less stop twelve of them. 

We made our way to him when he got within the last forty yards. We'd have gone to help sooner, but Mason was the one who established most of our safety procedures, and that was one of them. Never go farther from base to provide support than you can run at a dead sprint without stopping. I'm pretty sure we'd have ignored that rule if the zombies on his tail had been more aggressive, but they seemed to treat him with...I'd almost call it deference. 

Will gave Mason a shoulder to lean on as Steve and I hauled the tarp and its contents back to the truck. Mason is a big guy, and in great shape, but I don't know how he was pulling that thing along at all, much less with one arm. Steve and I nearly gave ourselves hernias. 

Mason waved off Will when they got within twenty feet of the truck. Tired as he was, the big guy turned and faced the oncoming zombies, torch in one hand and heavy knife in the other. Again, the undead stopped, this time about fifty feet away. They just stood there staring at him, motionless as only the dead can be. 

Mason watched them for a minute, then turned to the team. He told us to start working on getting the truck out, that he'd watch for attacks. When Will asked him about the curious zombies watching us, Mason just shook his head. 

He said, "They're not stupid enough to attack me again."

Thoughts began to percolate through my head. Zombies, no matter how smart, are still base creatures. If one of them in a group knew we were there, then the rest did. All of them would be coming for us. That meant that the twelve were the only ones left of a horde of more than fifty. Had Mason killed all the rest? 

If so, I could see how the surviving undead might see him as a threat equal to fire, one of the most primal fears inscribed in the deep, dark parts of our brains. 

We got to work, and it didn't take very long. Mason had found some long tracks clearly taken from the back of a truck, the kind you use to load a car onto a trailer. Four of them together wedged under the tires, just long enough to reach the lip of the small depression it was stuck in. It took a few tries, but we managed to get the damn thing out. Then we used the truck's winch to haul the trailer up, using the tracks to make it go a little smoother. 

All through this, the zombies waited. They might have edged forward a bit, but Mason didn't seem worried. It took a little time to get everything ready to go, but when Will hopped into the cab and shouted for Mason to join us, the big guy just sighed and threw the torch to the ground. He started unbuckling his armor. He was remarkably efficient at it, so quick that most of us only got over our confusion enough to throw half-formed questions asking him what he was doing before he got his chest plate off and we saw the injuries. 

He'd done something to the damage on his left side to close the wounds. Becky guessed super glue. It was messy and obviously infected badly. The flesh around the gouges and tears, themselves barely held together and gaping in places, was dark. Parts were black. 

Zombies are riddled with bacteria. Even their claws can cause serious infection very quickly. 

He kept removing his gear, finally stripping down to just his boxers. He'd left everything in a neat pile on top of his chest plate, which he motioned to without looking away from the watching zombies. We could see other wounds, including what must have been six or seven bites, a few of them with chunks of flesh missing. 

Still facing away, he told us to leave. And here's where things got strange. 

We didn't argue. We didn't plead with him. We didn't promise stupidly that he would be alright. He knew just as the rest of the team did that his long term survival chances had finally reached zero. He might have made it days, maybe even weeks with a constitution as hardy as his. But Mason knew that to do so would be to risk the mission. He'd chew through our medical supplies like fire in a dry field, and in the end...

In the end, we'd have to put him down. 

So Mason chose his own terms. Steve wordlessly picked up the bundle of armor and clothes, on top of which was the heavy combat knife Mason had carried with him through his military service and beyond. Steve tried to offer it back to him, but Mason smiled and told him to keep it. 

We asked him what he was going to do. He pointed to the dozen zombies, and said three words. 

"Fight the enemy."

He bent down and picked up a rock, tossing it between his hands a few times to get a feel. He started to walk away, but turned for a moment and flashed me a grin I'll never forget. It was full of brightness and light, the face of a happy warrior who could see the final battle ahead of him. He met my eyes, and I could see laugh lines around his. How had I never noticed them before?

"The date I had with Jane wasn't a date at all," He said. "I kept meaning to tell you. I'm gay."

Then he laughed, and ran with a rolling, uneven gait toward the undead. I saw him strike down two of them in as many seconds before Will distracted me by screaming for me to get in the truck. 

As we escaped the sands that froze us by night and scorched us by day, so did he escape a world, a life, that had surely been full of pain and difficulty. He was a brave man, in ways great and small, obvious and subtle. That was how he lived. 

And that was how Mason died. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sand Trap

We're still stuck, which when you think about it is pretty ludicrous. Of all the possible threats and problems we could have been hit with, sand turns out to be the one that stops us cold.

We've all tried to use the materials at hand, which are sparse by the way, to finagle a way to get the truck free. We gave up around nine last night. Mason set out on his own this morning to try to sneak into the nearby town, find something that might help, and get back as soon as possible. If the swarm of zombies there is still as cohesive as it was a few days ago, it may be a while before he can make it back.

The rest of us have been spending our time making sure our weapons are sharp, our guns clean, our armor in good repair. That took about two hours. Fortunately, I've still got my Kindle, and Will brought one of those little pocket-sized travel games. Chess, checkers, and backgammon. I've learned some important facts during the boredom.

Will is really good at all of these games. I'm really, really bad at them. Rachel will swipe my Kindle and start reading if I don't watch over it while I'm playing. I guess she misses books as much as I do. Becky and Steve, using those massive brains that have almost scary capacity, have been playing a game of their own creation against each other for weeks. The pieces and board, if their game has them, are in their heads alone.

Mason tends to be the only one of us who doesn't really do things to enjoy himself. He's not anti-social or anything, just more focused. He talks to the rest of the team when we need to vent, but his eyes never stop scanning the horizon for threats. He's the one who takes the initiative on stuff like what he's doing today, going out into dangerous territory alone to gather information or supplies. It's not that we aren't willing, of course, but that the rest of us are possible dead weight to him, depending on the circumstances. He's the one with the insane training, not us.

So, we sit around and pass the time. I'm on top of the trailer keeping watch as I type, which is why it's taken me an hour to write even this much. If Mason comes back trailing a swarm, we'll be ready to help. Enough zombies would make that help a symbolic gesture, but if death is staring me down either way, I prefer to fight. After so much time together, I'd kill or die for anyone here. My team has become family.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

True Grit

Well, we might be in trouble. I wish the title of this post reflected our toughness or how truly hard we've had to fight to survive this long. Hell, I wish it was even about the movie of the same name. Nope. It's about fucking sand. And how it's done something very bad to us.

We're stuck. Which, when you're out in the desert, is a total bitch. We're far away from any help, no one to come pull us out. We aren't even that far from the road. We had to pull off to avoid a large swarm of undead that would have caught us off guard if not for the endlessly flat road through this part of the country. We saw them from a long way off.

There are a few small towns dotting the landscape along the way, but I can't imagine how so many zombies managed to survive out here for so long. There clearly isn't enough food to support even a handful of them, much less the fifty or sixty we saw.

Then again, there were buildings in the area. The thought crossed my mind that maybe a group of survivors has (or had) somehow managed to make it for quite a while. Enough people could keep a small swarm like that going...

It would take a lot of people, though. Even if there are or were people around, there isn't anything we could do for them. Our resources have to stretch for a long while, and we're only six people. Totally aside from that, we camped on the scrub and now we're mired in sand. The truck is stuck, and Mason is trying to figure out how to get us free. We couldn't go help even if there was a chance we could do any good.

We're only about half a mile away from where we saw the swarm, so getting hit is a real concern. The zombies clearly heard us coming, but they must not be very good at tracking in this area, since none of them have found us yet. The wind is favoring us so far, so they haven't caught our scent. Again, that's obvious by the fact that we're still breathing.

I'm sending out some emails with our location in them. If anyone has heard of a settlement here, get back to me. I don't think there's much chance anyone who might still be left alive would be able to help, but I'll grasp as any straw right now. If the zombies do find us, we'll be able to withstand an assault for a while, but eventually they'll beat through and get us.

Or starve us out. Or make us die of thirst. We've got water to last a while. But not forever.

I'm due for a watch. Time to perch up on the rocks and keep an eye out. If we get free today, I'll try to post something.