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.

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