Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Year

The holidays still hold some kind of vestigial meaning to me. Nothing incredibly deep, but that sense of warm togetherness from when I was a child. We don't celebrate like we used to, and the calender is now just a way for us to find points of reference rather than a timeline of special days. The new year begins tomorrow, but aside from a slight urge to get drunk and dance naughtily with my wife (who is hundreds of miles away), I don't really have feelings about it either way. 

A big part of why this doesn't worry me is due to the zombie attack going on right now. It's a little distracting. 

Since I can't divulge any information of importance about the people we're staying with or the community they share, I've decided to call this place Block. Yeah, it's a weird name, but if you saw the sheer concrete faces of the office buildings that make up this fortress, you'd understand how fitting it is. So, back to those attacking zombies...

The team and I, as well as the injured volunteers who came back from our aborted attack on the marauders, have been told straight-up that we can't fight. I tried to wheedle my way into at least a support position. I argued that even if the stitches and dressings on my side wouldn't allow me to fire a weapon or pull a bowstring back safely, at least I could run water to the people fighting or tote ammunition around. 

Block has a strict policy of not allowing the injured to be combatants, and the leadership gives the medical staff discretion on whether people in their care are allowed to participate at all. Certainly a few of us are well enough to help in some small ways, but our physical injuries are only part of our nurse practitioner's concern. Her name is Gina, and she takes our well being very seriously. 

It's as much the psychological damage she's worried about. Gina thinks we need time to sort through our experience with the marauders, deal with the mental trauma of seeing people die around us while getting hurt ourselves. I can see her point of view, even agree with it to a certain extent, but it's not entirely justified. I think her idea of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) makes her think that we're fragile creatures who could snap at any moment. I don't think I'm suffering from such a thing, and frankly I don't know that Gina thinks so either. She truly is worried that there's some recovery needed for our psyches, and I understand that. 

She hasn't seen a tenth of the combat we have, though. So I think her opinion is flawed. 

I'm sitting here writing this while I hear the undead outside bashing the exterior doors with what I'm guessing are rocks. It's deafeningly loud and really, really annoying. I'm not afraid or anxious, taken with worry that the zombies will break the heavy steel doors from their heavy steel frames and somehow shatter all the reinforcing braces the residents of Block have added onto them. At worst, I feel the urge to put something sharp in that zombie's brain merely to stop the noise, like yelling at a loudly barking dog keeping you awake. 

I've been hurt seriously before. I've been in danger. I can stomach those things with ease and move on. Hell, I even have a fair amount of practice sitting quietly while injured as others do the fighting for me. It sucks, but that's reality. I have no desire to die to prove a point. 

What irks me right now is that we brought those zombies here, and I can't contribute at all. Nothing. We're not allowed to leave the medical wing. My brain knows that the buildings here are tough, the windows on the bottom two floors filled in with reinforced concrete and the doors stronger than the walls themselves. I know that the weak points, the spaces between the buildings clustered together here, are narrow corridors filled with debris and riddled with traps. They're killing zones where the number of zombies becomes irrelevant, as only three or four at a time can move through them. I know these things, and that knowledge does bring a small bit of comfort. 

It's just my nature to protect people. I want to prove to these folks that I'm willing to fight for them, especially considering my team's role in bringing this swarm down on them. Yeah, I really do want to prove a point, but not with a suicidal attempt to fight. I just need to do something to help. Anything. 

Gina is staring me down, though, and she has a taser. She looks like she means business with that thing, which is hilarious since it's one of those bright pink ladies' models. I'm a little surprised Hello Kitty isn't on it. Having no desire to be electrocuted by a woman old enough to be my mother (and subsequently nagged about it afterward, also like my mother...) I suppose I'll be a good boy and sit pretty. No wonder the people of Block do what she tells them to. 

She cheats!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Prayer For the Fallen

I've spent the last few days talking about the injuries the team and I have taken. I want to take today to give my thanks to the seven volunteers from this community who gave their lives in the attack.

Jerome: survived by his wife and daughter. He was the man who first started securing this massive complex by blocking off the spaces between the buildings. Because of him, the children here have a safe place to play, the adults a space to meet outdoors without fear of attack.

Micheal: Jerome's brother, a bachelor. Mike, I've learned, was a fantastic cook who enjoyed making people's favorite meals when the opportunity presented itself. Food is such a basic need, but this guy knew a beloved dish could satisfy the innate need for little pleasures in life, giving his people a needed boost.

Amelia: A quiet woman who lost her family to The Fall. She was one of a group that started gardening on the rooftops, working alone for hours on end to lovingly make green things grow atop these concrete monoliths.

Keshia: Survived by her two sons. Middle-aged, Keshia was, before The Fall, a combat instructor for the state police. She passed on her vast knowledge of armed and unarmed fighting to her children and the entire community here, giving them the tools to save themselves and the confidence to use them.

Jordan: A scout who spent almost all his waking hours outside the safety of the buildings. He relentlessly searched out food and supplies. From what I understand, Jordan was not a very likable man. He was abrasive and loud, yet very well respected for the risks he took and the returns he brought home.

"Sparky": No one knew his real name. In a community predominantly made up of people of color, Sparky stood out. He was old, at least in his early sixties, and he looked a bit like Santa Claus with his shaggy white hair and beard. He wasn't fat (who could be, anymore?) and I'm told that early on he felt very out of his element. Sparky grew to be loved deeply by the people who knew him, and he always had a story to tell any kids that sat around him.

Adam: One of the co-founders of this community, Adam was a freshman in college when The Fall came about. Almost from day one, Adam led people in the right direction, saving lives and giving hope. His candle burned out far too soon, but his legacy among these survivors will endure for a very long time--his girlfriend is pregnant with their child.

Words can never be enough to express the gratitude I feel toward these seven people. Their bravery was total, their commitment absolute. In a world where self-preservation is the most important instinct to cultivate, they gave of themselves instead.

And so, I say this to their departed spirits as a thank-you:

I may not have a god to call my own, but in each of you I see a sliver of the divine. For my life and that of my friends, I thank you. Each of you chose to be a positive force, to help others, and in so doing did tangible good. But your actions go far beyond that, teaching the young by example to care for others. You showed adults jaded by the horrors of experience that doing the right thing is possible and fulfilling even in a world like this one. You were, and are, heroes. For your deaths, brought about in an attempt to save others through action, and for your lives, which were testaments to strength of character and determination. I live to write these words because of you, and if there is justice in the universe, you can feel the love in them.

Thank you.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Spirit

I woke up this morning feeling lower than any time in my life. Too many thoughts hit me as soon as I opened my eyes--the nightmares forcing me to relive the horror of the explosions we barely lived through among them--and for the first time, I genuinely considered suicide. 

Though we work together, ultimately this is my team. The decisions are my responsibility. What happens to my people is on my shoulders. I took that job knowing the risks, just as I asked the people of this community with full awareness of the fact that any or all of them could die. 

The difference between knowing a thing might happen and experiencing it first hand is probably the most important lesson we can learn. My team has had a lot of victories both on the road these last months and before that, back in New Haven. We've struggled and won time and again. It's not that I feel defeated (though in truth those marauders handed us an abject beating) but more humbled, almost broken. Overconfidence led us to decide to attack, made us sloppy in our execution if not in our planning. As the leader, I should have been the voice of caution. I wasn't. 

Those were the thoughts I woke to. The sounds of the zombies angrily beating on the heavy steel doors that lead directly outside the protective confines of this community were my alarm clock. Zombies we led here. It took me a long time to gather the willpower to sit up, longer still to dress. The pain of my injuries didn't even register to me. I was too lost in thought, seeing the terrible wounds my friends and allies in my mind, to feel anything for myself. 

I made it to the small communal area set aside in the clinic here, where I saw Rachel sitting in a chair. She was reading. Her bandages hadn't soaked through with blood, which I took as a good sign. She didn't look up as I came in, and I tried my best to be unobtrusive. The two of us got off easier than the others. Becky and Will were both under close supervision, not allowed to move from their beds. I didn't have the slightest idea where Steve was. Last I'd seen him, he was trying to decide if he should sleep with his eyepatch on. 

I sat across from Rachel, not looking at her directly as she read but certainly aware of her. I did glance over now and then, looking for a sign that she wanted to talk. I tried to get a sense of how she was doing, but her body language when reading was pretty much the same as mine--blank. She was truly absorbed into the world before her. 

Good for her, I thought. Anything to take her mind off things...

For a while I just sat there, hoping that one of the medical staff would come in with news about Becky and Will, maybe to tell me they were awake and wanted to see the rest of us. Will was in and out of consciousness yesterday as they worked on his leg, trying to save it. 

Long minutes passed, but Rachel didn't say a word. Just when I was about to finally give up and go lay back in the bed, certain that Rachel was so upset with me she couldn't bring herself to talk, she looked up at the main door leading to the interior of the main compound. Steve came through it a moment later, holding a spear. 

The patch over his eye was black, but he'd drawn a little smiley face on it in yellow. It was...well, it was cute. He gave me a wink with his remaining eye and gestured at me with the spear. He then said something I'll never forget, something that has fundamentally changed my point of view forever. 

"I think you should start calling me Odin." 

I laughed. I laughed so goddamn hard I cried. Just the sheer silliness of it struck me stupid. My friend and his damaged face, half the light of the world denied to him, and he was making jokes about ancient Norse mythology. There wasn't any sadness on his face, no pain of loss. Steve made us laugh, and set his spear up against a wall before plopping down in a chair like nothing had happened. He watched Rachel and I shake off the last of our chuckles with a satisfied look on his face. 

The part of me that felt, that feels, guilt about what happened the other day is still there. I can't help those emotions. But even as the guilt began to reassert itself, pressing me to ask Steve how he was dealing with his injuries, begging me to ask a thousand other questions to try to see if he blamed me, I got control of myself. The intellectual part of me stepped in and kicked my guilt in the face, really making me look at the situation. 

Steve has no guile. He isn't a deceptive person. He rarely lies, and tries not to argue. If you harm him, he'll stab you even if he feels bad about doing it. If you betray him, disappoint him, or otherwise treat him in a negative way, he'll calmly explain how you've done wrong. 

He told us a joke. That was how he started his day with Rachel and I. His attitude said more than he himself would have: he chose to come on this mission. He chose to fight those marauders. He made the same mistake the rest of us did, and he paid for it just as we have. Steve is damn hard to keep down, and his wisdom is profound and amazingly simple. What I took from his attitude was...

Well, shit. It was life-changing. And the damnedest thing is that it wasn't some new lesson. I knew it already. We all do. Every one of us has had to take some terrible damage. All survivors have had to learn to live with it and move on. We acclimate and evolve ourselves, and those mental and physical scars become just another part of who we are. Steve reminded me of that fact just by being himself after such a traumatic and life-changing injury. 

I can't fully shake the guilt, but I won't wallow in it either. Steve really is just naturally wise, and it rubs off. He's dealing with the reality he's in and not looking back. He isn't focusing on what he lost, but keeping an...eye on the future. 

I laughed out loud just there. 

We are where we are, and we can only learn from our mistakes and move on. That we're still alive to regret them is the important bit, as Steve's humor showed. His injury and ours act as warning that life is far too short and risky to waste with a burden of guilt too heavy to bear. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Damage Done

We were wrong to attack that group of marauders. The last day and a half have been awful, each of us full of guilt and self-recrimination.

We managed to get some help from some locals. All told, twenty of us attacked the fortified camp the marauders were staying in. Bill stayed back with the truck and trailer, as he's healed up enough now to drive. Our volunteers from the nearby community did the same, leaving getaway drivers ready to peel out if need be.

If we hadn't taken precautions, all of us would be dead right now. They may have known we were coming, they may not have. Either way, those marauders were ready for anything. We hit them from two directions, but their sentries were wearing some kind of dense plastic body armor. I only know this because one of the arrows we fired into the trees caught a sentry in the throat, and Will saw the armor. The rest of them took chest shots, which pretty much just pissed them off. Not having a yard of arrow through their lungs gave them the chance to sound an alarm.

Even then, we thought we'd be safe. Will had managed to get close to their camp the other day, and he drew us detailed maps of the area. Our idea was to take out the sentries, get in close, and rain arrows down on the unsuspecting bad guys.

They must have seen Will's tracks after he came back to camp, because the defenses were much better this go round. Two of the volunteers with my attack group were moving about thirty feet in front of the rest of us, and when they got within a dozen yards of the location we were to fire from, the ground beneath them exploded.

Fucking land mines. Though I couldn't hear it at the time as my eardrums felt shattered, the other assault team encountered mines at almost the same time. When those explosions hit, it was game over. We rushed forward to see if the volunteers were alive, and when we saw that they were clearly dead we ran like hell. Everyone on my team had sustained some kind of injury from the blast. The whole escape was unimaginably chaotic, running while trying to keep the more seriously injured on their feet.

We'd moved a few hundred feet when the gunshots started. I was leaning on Rachel when I took a graze to my thigh. She got a bullet right through her shoulder, and I ended up being her support. Some people fell as we ran, and I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't slow to see who they were or if they lived. In shock from the explosion, running in what felt like a hail of gunfire, the only thought in my head was to keep moving. To get away.

You can guess the rest. We hit the vehicles and told our drivers to go. I took enough time to note that my team wasn't missing any members before passing out. I wasn't really aware of it at the time, but I had a chunk of wood embedded in my side. I lost a fair amount of blood.

Seven volunteers died. They took the lead in the assault, chose to do it, because of their familiarity with the area. This was their home, they said. They had the right to lead. Seven people who can't be replaced. The toll on the team isn't as bad as that, but the damage done is severe enough that we're considering heading home if that's even possible.

We're staying with the volunteers in their home right now. It's relatively safe, as the population of their community is in the hundreds. More than enough to deal with the zombies beating at the doors. The massive complex of buildings that make up this stronghold are thick-walled and the spaces between the buildings clogged with cars and heavy debris, making an effective barrier to the undead. But the zombies followed us in, smelling our blood, and they aren't going anywhere.

There's a few competent medical personnel here, but no surgeons. The nurse practitioner that sees to the needs of these people has had to learn as she goes, and her skills so far have been enough to keep my side from killing me, and to manage Rachel's wound, though that's a touchy injury.

Steve took a spray of gravel to the face, tearing his cheek open and destroying his right eye.

Becky was standing in front of him, and was peppered with the same gravel and wood. They're still working on her. This is round three of trying to removed the splinters from almost her entire front. She heard the click as the mine was stepped on, and her hands were already up since she was holding her bow ready to fire. Covering her face probably saved her life, though she's got some terrible damage to her arms.

Will was closer to the blast. He didn't step on the mine, but he took an enormous amount of damage to his right leg. My respect for his resourcefulness and presence of mind has increased a hundred times over: he used his belt to tourniquet his own leg, saving his own life while also shouting orders at the others. Get away, he told them. Run. Reach safety.

Will kept his head, and because of that two of my other friends are still alive, along with eight volunteers. He's one hell of a man.

And he's probably going to lose that leg. He says it's more than worth the trade. As I sit here watching Steve smile as he tries on eye patches, his flesh torn but his spirit whole, I can't find it in me to disagree with Will. I'd trade my leg to save so many. In a heartbeat.

I don't know where we go from here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Path Before Us

We've moved on yet again. The places we're visiting now are more familiar to us, the people having met Steve before. This portion of the trip is mostly his ball game, given his previous encounters with many of the communities in the south. It's a bit difficult to write anything of importance at present, mainly due to the overwhelming requests for privacy by those we visit and the short duration of our stay at each stop.

Right now we're between communities. We stopped to have lunch, and Will decided this would be a good chance to help Rachel hone her hunting and forestry skills. He's more experienced than she is, and they both thought a little practice would be a good thing.

Here's a tip: always walk as quietly as possible. It helps keep from scaring away animals, and if you happen upon a camp of marauders it could save your life.

For obvious reasons, I'm not mentioning where we are. Because that quip about marauders isn't a hypothetical. Rachel and Will spotted the smoke from their fire about an eighth of a mile away, and Will made his way toward their camp alone. It was only sheer luck he wasn't spotted by their sentries, who were clearly not looking Will's direction from their perches in the trees surrounding the camp.

Will saw them first, and ducked under a shelf of rock. He observed them from there for almost half an hour, until the sentries changed shifts and he took the chance to leave.

From what he tells me, these people are almost professional. They keep strict order in their camp, constant watch duty, and discipline among them seems tight. We would probably be leaving them alone completely except for one thing--Will saw captives being moved from one vehicle to another. They weren't the ragged, emaciated lot that marauders usually make out of their victims over time. These must have been freshly captured, some of them still had blood on their clothes.

Will estimated their numbers. He thinks we have a shot at taking out this camp. Those people could well be from our next stop, maybe our last. Either way, if there's a chance we can help them, we'll try. I'm hoping to get some volunteers from our next stop to come meet us nearby and give us some backup. I don't like the odds, even with the element of surprise.

The choice is to do nothing or to risk our lives. The more time I spend away from home, seeing people I've never met struggle and triumph even as they suffer, the more convinced I become that being pragmatic can only take you so far. Some people will always try to take and take. There has to be a time when someone says "Enough", and takes action. If enough people fight back, eventually intelligent enemies will learn to be wary of attacking.

Taking a stand is always risky. That's their nature. We can't leave these people in good conscience, so there really isn't a choice at all.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Colorado Blues

I was hoping no one would notice, but a few of you pointed out to me that I left the strange lack of life in Colorado hanging without telling you if we discovered the source. It's been a while since I've posted twice in a day, but after reading some of the messages I've received about this and talking with the team, I feel an additional post is called for.

I'm sorry if this dampens whatever holiday spirits you may have...

The answer to the mystery is as simple as it is awful. Before I tell you, understand that the reluctance I've had to revisit this topic is for two reasons. The first is that I didn't want to horrify anyone more than the present conditions of the world already do. The second will become clear in a moment.

We searched in a very wide circle for several hours. We finally began to see signs of life about two miles from the mall, but nothing larger than a chipmunk for another mile after that. Something had killed everything there, utterly and completely, and it had been catastrophic enough that the rest of the creatures nearby were still afraid to return.

The source was at the mall: what appeared to be military hardware for dispersing chemical and biological weapons. We found many canisters, all empty. Some were in the mall itself, others in the backs of vehicles. Army vehicles. There were signs that the gases had been driven around while dispersing, probably to cover a greater area.

We found men and women in Army uniforms among the many dried and rotten corpses. I don't know if this was a military action, or the act of rogue troops who went crazy during The Fall, or if the military was trying to kill the zombies alone, or even if some civilians overpowered the soldiers and used the weapons instead. The bodies were little more than bones and gore long gone to rot, wrapped in barely recognizable clothes.

Too many possibilities from the evidence we found to say with any certainty what happened. The reason we kept quiet and ignored the matter on the blog was due to fear that there might be canisters of weapons there we couldn't locate, which would make powerful weapons for any group that had them. A liter of some neurotoxins I've read about could wipe out a population the size of New Haven in minutes.

So, when it became clear that people weren't going to leave this alone (which is my fault for posting about it in the first place) we asked some people we've been in contact with and trust implicitly to head up to the mall and clean up. To be blunt, the place isn't there anymore. Not in any meaningful way.

I have no desire to sow distrust of anyone. Not survivors, not the scattered military around the nation. I didn't want to ruin anyone's Christmas with this, but it had to be said at some point, and I see no reason to make anyone reading this blog curious enough about Colorado to go looking. Especially since now all you'd find in that location is a smoking ruin and cars on fire.

Weapons of mass destruction should be left in the past right along with all the other horrible things we lost in The Fall. Consider this matter closed, because I am. Also, if you're looking to acquire those kinds of weapons, consider this a warning.


Black Christmas

Wow, that title sounds ominous, doesn't it? I promise not to be all dark and angsty. Today is definitely a black Christmas for us, for the simplest possible reason: we're underground. Not in the way that many independent bands were underground before bands stopped existing. I mean literally underground. Beneath the earth. Beyond the reach of the sun and stars.

We're staying with a group of people who've made their homes in a system of natural caves near the town most of them come from. The caves open in some areas, as they're pretty close to the surface, and that's where I am right now. Sitting by our truck, parked next to a wide opening in the earth. This is one of a few entrances to the cave system that zombies have a very hard time finding. The path here is hard to find, and slants down between two high hills, cutting a narrow chasm. It's nice.

We'll be here all day at least. It took a little creative driving for Will to shake the zombie swarm we ran into a few miles away. The last thing we wanted on this leg of our trade mission was to accidentally bring a swarm of undead right into the home of our allies.

Not that they don't get quite enough traffic from the undead without our help. This area is warm year round, and the terrain and large populations of people at the time of The Fall made for a seemingly endless supply of the dead.

Part of me wants to do a post about Christmas and what it means. The other part of me just wants to take the day off. We all had a nasty emotional shock yesterday with the death of that man and his family. None of us are feeling all that festive. We're all tired. We miss our home, our friends, our families--especially today.

So I think I'll cut it short and do that. I'll give Jess and a few others a call, and take the day for myself. I woke up about two hours ago, but I think a nap is in order soon. Maybe I'll sleep off this malaise.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Head Case

We'd barely been on the road an hour this morning when we came across a horrible sight. It was a small building, surrounded by the corpses of fallen zombies (and a few live ones). The small town we were passing through when we arrived on the scene wasn't on our map of known settlements, so we decided to investigate.

It was awful. People had obviously tried to defend the place, their bodies pulled through windows and half-eaten. The few remaining undead were wary, as most of their brethren were either dead from head injuries or writhing on the ground as they tried to extinguish their burning flesh. That fire was tenacious--homemade napalm is my guess.

We mopped up the last few zombies, firing arrows from the bed of the truck as we slowly circled the place. When we were convinced there weren't any hidden enemies outside the building, we grouped up and made entry. We called loudly in case there were survivors inside too afraid to come out. There were no responses.

It only took about ten minutes to search the inside. One survivor out of a dozen people. He was so traumatized he wouldn't do anything but sit with his knees against his chest, arms wrapped around him. We tried everything to reach him, but the poor guy was destroyed.

I pulled Will to the side and asked him quietly to make sure the slain bodies of the man's friends didn't come back. He gave me the nod I always associate with Will--a short, concise bob of the head. Not sharp or angry, but not lazy either. The response of a man who knows his duty and deals with having to perform it by doing it well.

Will grabbed the nearest body and picked it up with a careful reverence. He got about two feet away before the traumatized survivor snarled as he jumped to his feet, screaming that he wouldn't let us hurt them. He lunged toward Will, who even in his surprise didn't drop the body, and yanked Will's gun right out of his holster.

I didn't see the others pull their weapons, and I heard Steve, Becky, and Rachel's shots as one single noise, they were so close together. We've practiced as a team a lot. Putting ourselves at angles to reduce the chance of accidentally shooting one another in situations like this comes naturally to us now. Recognizing and reacting to danger with necessary force is ingrained into us. Dealing with the psychological consequences of those actions, though...that's something you can't teach. People are still people. The good ones feel pain and guilt when they kill.

Will's gun didn't get high enough to shoot above his knee before three large-caliber rounds smashed into the man's body. Steve and Becky put two rounds in his chest, Rachel's went right through his right eye socket and out his left. It was gruesome.

The man dropped. Last survivor of his crew, dead at our hand. It's a hard lesson to learn that on the road you have to be a harder person than you are at home. Zombies can come from anywhere. Threats can be found in the most unlikely places. And people are all strangers when you get down to brass tacks. The ultimate choice for us is to react slowly and assess the situation with caution...or to shoot on first instinct and ask questions later. It's a sad way to live, but there's little choice. I wouldn't have put Will's life at risk on the chance the crazy guy was just going to point a weapon at my friend and that we might be able to talk him down.

It's a goddamn shame. Especially because upon further examination of the remains, it became clear that the fellow wasn't part of a group of people brought together by chance. Everyone here looks a lot alike. Family. They share the same straight nose, the same dark hair. They were all olive-skinned, though that's paling now as they all lie here sharing the same quiet fate.

Friday, December 23, 2011


After driving relentlessly for what felt like endless hours, we made it to Texas. This is kind of our 'reorienting' stop. From here we change direction sharply, heading southeast for quite a ways and making more frequent stops than we have recently.

We're staying at a decent-sized homestead in the northern part of the state. There are thirty people here, and my team slept in what is clearly some new construction: a long communal house, meant to hold around fifty people. It's not as spare as I would've thought given how hard it is to build things nowadays, with lots of space for families and privacy plus many small creature comforts. I mention this only as a fact interesting to me, since my brother has been moving toward this design in his constant efforts to rebuild and improve New Haven.

The reason the long house is bigger than it needs to be is that these people are expecting to raise more kids here. Four of the women are pregnant, and there are already five young children here. There should be six, and that sad and simple fact is what I find most fascinating about our stay here.

Sandra Duncan and her husband Brad are parents to two of those five children. The older one is five, and from what I've seen a pretty damn good shot with a rifle. The younger child turns a year old in January. Her name is Jenny. She's adorable, and I'm happy to report that during a minor scuffle with a small pack of New Breed zombies, I was pressed into babysitting while her parents picked off the attackers with gunfire.

I'd almost forgotten how great babies are. Given my experiences over the last few years, I might have tried to forget that on purpose. The moment struck me as pretty amazing, making nonsense words to the little girl and trying to make her smile while the muffled sounds of gunshots rang in our ears. I did it, too--she cooed and giggled, her soft smile and shining eyes gave my heart a little boost.

I'm a sappy guy, I know. I can't help it. Kids bring that out in me.

After, I talked with Sandra and Brad for a while. I learned that Jenny had a twin brother named Thomas who died just before he turned six months old. These people are regular contacts of ours--they know the lay of the land as well as anyone. Losing their child devastated them as it would any parent. They were inconsolable. Add to that horrible tragedy the knowledge, gained by hard experience, that they'd have something about poor little Thomas after the plague activated in his small frame, reanimating him, and you can understand why it's taken this long for them to tell anyone about it.

They put Thomas to rest in a small makeshift crib with high walls after he passed, unable to bring themselves to harm their child's body as it lay still. When he came back, perhaps things would be different, they reasoned. Their instinct to protect themselves and their other children might kick in, and though they would hate themselves for it, they would act.

Except that didn't happen. Every person I've seen die (with the exception of people who've suffered severe trauma) comes back, unless you take steps beforehand to ensure it doesn't happen. You've all seen it. I know I have. And I've seen kids reanimate. Thomas didn't. He stayed gone. Eventually the family buried him, after it became clear that they wouldn't have to watch their child die twice. The longest I've seen a body go before turning is about ten hours, I think, though that's not counting people who were caught in the elements. Extreme cold can stretch that process into a few days.

Thomas died in the spring, and he lay in that crib for two days. It appears that he was never infected, which is something new. I don't know if it's important to our survival directly, if it's something that is more common than we think, or if this is just a one-off situation. I can speculate to the ends of the earth about why Thomas only had to go through the doors of death once, but the why of the thing is less important right now than the simple fact itself.

This child was not infected. We're all infected. That's what we thought. Every one of us a carrier, the hidden invader within us waiting for the heart to stop and the brain to cool before taking over. This is new. This is...I don't know the word. Amazing. Full of potential. If there were still a CDC or a government to run it, I'd beg for a vial of Jenny's blood to send out for testing. Maybe then it would be possible to create a vaccine so that none of us would have to worry about being eaten in our sleep after a loved one died in theirs next to us. Maybe then we could have a little hope that the next generation of people could live in a world where eventually there would simply be no more zombies.

But we don't have that capacity. There's still hope, of course, don't mistake me. I'm thrilled at this development, and it reinforces the romantic view I have of people as constantly evolving beings that can meet any challenge. How much more proof do we need than this? We might not be able to make a vaccine or, even better, a cure that could drop the zombie population in its tracks, but that's okay. Because we have proof now that the plague isn't unbeatable. We have a little light to guide us down a dark road.

I made little Jenny smile. She's a good girl, because believe me, she returned the favor.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Touch the Sky

We've had to take a detour, because I'm dumb. I've been working on navigating our route down south, and somehow forgot that there's a huge range of mountains in our way. While it would probably be easier to just avoid them and go south, the team and I have agreed to take the chance of traveling as close to the Rockies as possible. We won't try to make it over them, that would be ridiculous. There's probably enough snow up there to stop us from making it very far, or to kill us with bad roads or avalanches. That's assuming the roads up that way aren't packed with abandoned vehicles. I somehow doubt people have made any effort to clean that area up.

We're travelling the foothills because damn it, we want to see the mountains. I've never seen one up close. Well, I've been through the Appalachian range twice, but they aren't what I think of when I hear the word 'mountain'. I want to see a part of the earth reach up and touch the sky.

We're stopped right now outside of a huge shopping complex in northwestern Colorado. We're siphoning fuel to top the tanks off again, just to be safe. It's not all that cold here, but there's been no sign of life or habitation since we left Karen and her people yesterday. No more farms after we exited her area, very few zombies. After a few hours, there were no zombies at all.

It's peaceful here, but not comfortably so. This mall seems dead in a way that most places don't. I can't put my finger on it exactly. None of us want to stay for very long. I'm only writing instead of helping gather fuel because Bill is still having trouble walking, and we refuse to leave him alone and defenseless in case something bad happens.

Will, Becky, and Steve are siphoning and hauling gas from the cars in the parking lot. Rachel is making a very careful exploratory trip into the mall itself to see if there are any supplies we can use. Given the ridiculous number of cars here, I'm guessing not. There's a Costco here, though, so maybe we'll get lucky and find some food that hasn't expired yet. Even if it's just some well-preserved rice, that would be a nice addition to our current fare. We've got potatoes (thanks, Iowa!) and plenty of dried meat, but a lot of the time we have to gather edibles from the wilderness. That's pretty hit or miss. This time of year, where we are? More miss than hit by far. Anything to bolster our stocks would be a treat. I honestly don't know how we run so low on food so often.

Still, we can always hunt. We won't starve.

Huh. I just realized what's weird about this place. There are no animal sounds. Usually you hear something, even if it's just a bird way off. I haven't seen so much as a squirrel. That's...very disturbing. I think I may need to take a walk outside for a minute.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Night's Song

We spent the day and evening with Karen and her folks, and they were happy to accommodate us by graciously not actually trying to attract zombies to our location. Yeah, they do that. They don't try to bring in a swarm or anything, but there are they do sleeping in shifts, so at least five of them are always awake. 

They try to get the attention of any wandering zombies nearby by singing. Softly at first, then louder if a fair amount of time goes by without an attack. The idea is to A) kill zombies, which is pretty much their whole thing, and B) grab the attention of any undead so that the ones sleeping aren't murdered while they're dreaming. 

They didn't do that last night, instead just keeping a standard watch. A few of them did sing as they sat around the fire, though it was too low to carry more than a dozen feet. One of the singers, an older man named Nelson, has a wonderful voice. I didn't ask if he'd been a professional singer before the fall, but he could have been. Even pitched not to carry, the sounds coming from between his lips were clear and strong, smooth against my ears. 

Karen's people don't have a set list of songs they do or anything. They just sing, whatever happens to strike them. Nelson is a fan of belting out very loud opera in languages I don't understand, and he sang one to me last night. It was a quiet thing, meant for the ears of us around the fire. He sang in Italian, a haunting flow of subtle notes that went beyond language. I didn't have to know the words to understand the story. 

It was a sad song, bringing to mind all the loss we've suffered. Parts of his song had edges, rough pieces that contained trace anger. I found myself thinking about everything that's gone now, all the potential the world no longer has in it. As Nelson breezed through the words, I remembered every friend who'd passed too soon, every family member lost to this cold, dark world and its hungry citizens. 

It put me in a mood, let me just say that. 

I've been down lately, but I've tried to keep my chin up. It's getting harder. More and more, I feel as though I've let my friends and remaining family down back home. I've fostered so much discontent, rightly or not, that I was essentially forced out on this trip. Is our goal a worthy one? Absolutely. I'd have done it even if I thought there was a choice involved. I miss my wife terribly, and I know she misses me. I don't feel like I've failed them because I'm gone. I feel that way because I've had a lot of time to think about my actions and words since The Fall began, and I truly regret not doing more to broker peace and build bridges. 

Nelson's song stuck a chord in the larger sadness that's been plaguing me off and on for months, but I'm glad for that. All of us have outlived loved ones, dear friends, even society as we knew it. We've all got the ghosts of terrible choices haunting us. 

But the real lesson here is that we've got more to lose. Every one of us has some stake in the world even as it is now. It may be something as simple as a mission--say, to kill zombies so that others might be safe--but if we didn't have a reason to struggle and fight...I don't think most of us would. Not with the weight of our traumas cutting into our hearts. Each of us goes on for some reason, some driving force, and it's our responsibility not just to do what it takes to keep going, but to do so in the best way. 

I've been up all night thinking about this. Nothing that's happened since The Fall is as black and white as any of us might think. I know our trouble with the homesteaders might have been dealt with better. Betrayals aren't necessarily all of a kind, are they? Maybe we've acted too rashly and with more haste than we should, and I deeply regret my role in pushing people toward that. Not to mention acting that way myself on more than one occasion. 

Regrets are a part of life, just like everything else. We deal, we move forward. We must. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Close Encounter

Before The Fall, Idaho was known mostly for two things: being the state with the funniest shape, and potatoes. As it happens, there are still people here growing spuds, and they've got lots of extra. Potatoes are a favorite food of mine (i'm incredibly Irish) not only for their taste (delicious) but for the ease with which they're cultivated and the huge span of time throughout the year they can be grown in. It goes without saying that the small communities we've spent time at over the last few hours or so will be getting any trade we can offer. These people had to compost a bunch of their crop in the summer because there was no one to take it off their hands. 

It was after the third stop when we encountered a group of people traveling on foot. We'd spent ten or fifteen minutes each with the groups of farmers we ran into before we hit a nice open stretch of road. The team and I meant to keep on rolling for a good long while, as we've been driving since midnight and wanted to cover as much ground as possible. When we saw folks just walking across the road in the middle of nowhere, we had to stop. 

There were twenty of them, mostly men but a few women. Turns out they were only walking back to their vehicles when we spotted them. At first the numerous weapons draped across them and the ragged state of their clothes made me think they were marauders. But the usual reactions marauders have when surprised and confronted with new people were absent. In fact, though it was obvious they were eager to get some rest, the lot of them were happy to sit with us and chat. 

All of them are either widowers or widows. Most of them lost kids. None of them have any family left to speak of, no close friends. The farming communities here haven't suffered through starvation as many others have, and marauders have been less of a problem here than other places mainly due to the huge excess of easily stolen food. The worst problem here has been the zombies, which comes as a surprise to no one.

The group doesn't have a name for itself. Their leader's name is Karen, a younger woman who is scarily comfortable with her weapons and looks like a college cheerleader. She's kind of a barbie, if there was ever a Barbie doll dressed in tattered clothes soaked in the blood of the undead and carrying a hatchet. Karen tells us that there are no large groups around here. Most of the farms are run by families and friends who've come together to survive. She hasn't come across a group anywhere in her patrol area with more than twelve or thirteen people together. 

Yeah, Karen and her folks patrol. The zombies around here spread out quite a bit to match the farmers being so far apart. Everyone with Karen is someone who lost everything, who felt no sense of purpose until she found them. After she lost her own family, Karen fell into a deep depression and almost gave up. Something inside her, whatever spark it is that makes us survivors, took over. It wasn't enough to make her want to pursue a new life with new people, to settle somewhere else and try again. But it was enough to make her angry and to mold her fury into a weapon. 

Too broken to live a normal life but with too much tenacity to die, Karen and those who've joined her choose instead to fight. They move between the local farms, clearing out any zombies they find and sleeping wherever they can find shelter. Some nights that's in the homes of the very farmers they protect. Occasionally it's out in the open, with only fires to warm them and their own senses to protect them from danger. 

Karen doesn't seem fatalistic, nor do any of her people. There's a certainty to their mannerisms, as if they've found a satisfaction that's almost perfect. Maybe it's the clarity of purpose, or the simplicity of their chosen work. I don't know. None of them look happy, but I don't think they'd rather be anywhere else. 

Except being with their lose loved ones, of course, but only death might make that happen. Is that what they're looking for? I wonder. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

From Washington

Ah, freedom never tasted so good! Yesterday Will finished his repair work and the rest of us were let go. In point of fact, we were pretty much thrown out. Those people didn't want us around in a very serious way. So, we started the next leg of our journey north. One bright piece of news is that we're topped off on fuel. Our captors had no problem with us draining every vehicle we could find outside the confines of their defenses.

We made it to Washington state with no problems. An unexpected advantage of the new breed strain of the zombie plague being so virulent is that the small clumps of undead seem to consistently congregate into larger groups. This area of the country is running low on zombies, or so it seems. We only caught sight of a handful on the trip up here.

The roads are clear thanks to the huge number of people across the whole of the west coast that trade with one another, as well as the marauders that have slowly cleared away obstructions for purposes less constructive. I guess if you're looking for silver linings, that's one--marauders do make travelling easier for the rest of us. Or they did...

There have been few reports of marauder bands attacking anyone since the amnesty. We know they are out there thanks to the information being supplied by so many of their number joining with us. We know that several large bands still operating consist of the more crazed elements, men and women who've basically lost all sense of right and wrong. A few of the people who joined New Haven with Kincaid were originally from such a band--their previous leader tried to kill them for wanting to leave.

They sound like swell guys.

I'm trying to stay optimistic, but the combination of knowing the remaining marauders are also the most vile and dangerous of them along with reports that the new breed of zombies is making its way across the continent with terrifying speed is a little much. Even if the team and I started home right now, abandoning the rest of the trip, we probably wouldn't make it to New Haven before the new breed became fully entrenched in Kentucky.

We won't stop, of course. We have only one stop here in Washington state, and it's not for trade. Well, it is in a way, but not for trade goods. This is an information trading stop. We're going to be receiving some data about the locals, but they don't want it transmitted electronically, at least not all of it. Some stuff is marked as being alright to share, other bits not so much.

As backward as it seems, we'll be heading south again after this. We'll head in a nice diagonal from our next stop, cutting across the map above most of our previous stops and heading for the deep south. We'll have to refuel a few times, but with the huge amount of extra fuel we carry at all times, that shouldn't be all that difficult. Not to mention the caches of gas and ethanol the good people of Sparta have been nice enough to leave along our projected trail for us.

If we avoid disaster, we shouldn't get low enough on fuel to have to scavenge. Fingers crossed.

We're past the halfway point in the trip. We've got very few stops between here and the warmer climes of the south, and from there we'll be running east before swinging back toward home. If all goes well, we'll be home by the end of January. It's strange to even think about. After all this time away, all the places we've been, and all the new things we've seen, I feel like a totally different person. It's almost unreal to me that within two months, god willing, the people in my life won't be a static crew of five others and a constantly changing group of strangers I may never see again.

Don't get me wrong, I'm eager to be home. I miss my friends and family. I miss my dogs, cats, and ferrets. I miss my wife more than words can say.

And dammit, I miss having sex. A LOT.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Free Will

‎"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."--Carl Sagan

I've been stuck in this cell for a few days. I've had a lot of time to catch up with people from around the country and especially back home. A great many events have transpired that are of interest to me, though not necessarily to you. One thing that I damn well should have talked about but lost track of was the amnesty for the marauders. The quote above, my favorite quote of all time, seems especially apt considering the events the amnesty brought about.

I'm going off the rails here in just a minute onto a philosophical bender. Fair warning. Before I do that, I'll just give you the dirt: during the amnesty week, more than a thousand prisoners were released alive to various communities around the country, even a few in southern Canada. During that week, more than twice that number of marauders willingly chose to give up their ways and join communities of survivors. Most of them are living under strict guidelines, which they accept. Maybe being guarded and made to do the hardest work seems a fitting penance for the things they've done. This experiment is young, and only time will tell if it's a success.

My two pennies is that a thousand released captives is a success any way you slice it.

The almost insane amount of correspondence I've had over the last few days has given me a huge data set to work with. I'm sort of a polymath, not in the whole "being a genius at everything" sense, but more that I enjoy learning about virtually everything and looking at large problems or situations and trying to work out every side of them.

The central question I asked myself when I learned that so many people had chosen to give up being marauders and to face the possible consequences of their crimes was a simple one: Why?

That's a vague question, I know, but it spawns all kinds of reactions in my brain just as it must in yours. You know the facts well enough in a general sense to ask the same follow-up questions. Why would men and women so hell bent on surviving that they'd kill others to steal from them choose to face possible death from the very people they'd been preying on?

A thousand other questions rise up as well. The amnesty was never meant to be a blanket pardon for all the things those people have done. Instead it was intended to serve as a cessation of hostilities (many communities have "kill on sight" orders when it comes to marauders) for a long enough time to establish a dialog. To move past the black and white stereotypes of Good guys and Bad guys. To make some headway into dealing with the violence between those who make a life for themselves and others and those who only take, take, take.

I don't have a clue how many marauders there are (or were) in the US, so I can't hazard a guess on how effective the amnesty was in the sense of reducing their numbers through conversion. I don't believe we can think about the situation with the remaining marauders still wandering the highways as some kind of war we can win. It's a situation that exists, and one that has a huge range of possible and probable outcomes.

I'm not focused on that right now. No, I'm still thinking over the deceptively simple question, "Why?". I've put a ton of time and thought into it, having nothing else to do, and I've come up with one simple answer and one very complex one. The complex first.

Choice, free will, is a very human concept. The Fall took many options from us, the zombie plague destroying vast swaths of humanity and bringing our technological capability to a level about a century back for the most part. The Fall wiped clean most of the spectrum of choice, limiting our free will for surviving. I think that many of the people who became marauders probably did so incrementally, taking easy supplies at first, maybe not even from others. Maybe they just wandered and found caches much as we have. As those finds grew more sparse, self-preservation took over, and justifying taking from others wasn't so hard.

A downward spiral. As resources grew thinner and thinner, it's easy to see how quickly these people were drawn into one terrible act after another. I'm not forgetting that there were and are some people who simply tore away the veneer of civilization from the beginning, killing and raping from day one. Humankind has always had its barbarous elements. The Fall only reminded us that small groups of them can do damage far larger than their numbers would imply. Group hysteria is a powerful thing.

But those others, the ones who may have started out innocently enough, made choices perhaps based on what they thought was for the best at first. That's what our lives are--a series of choices. We decide what kind of people we will be, and no matter how far down we fall there is always a chance that a right choice can begin to correct us. I think that's the case with the marauders who've turned themselves over to survivor communities. I think that many of those people spent a long time believing they had no path to redemption, no way to make themselves into something better.

Until we gave them an option. Have they done awful things? Yes. Maybe unforgivable acts. But who among any of the survivors of The Fall hasn't? Can we who chose to make stands in our groups, doing terrible things in the name of the community really judge those who made the same choices for selfish reasons? Can we condemn all marauders for doing what we have done, just for different reasons?

I don't speak for anyone but myself, but I can't.

The clear fact is that when presented with this choice, those two thousand marauders exercised their free will to do something better, to be something better, than what they were. I think that merits a lot of thought and consideration.

The second and very simple reason I think they did it? Love. Maybe not love for others, at least not yet. But the amnesty gave them a chance to atone, and to eventually find a way to love themselves again. That sounds very preachy and pop-psychology and sappy, but it's true and powerful. With very few exceptions, people can't accomplish great things living in a pit of self-hatred.

Sagan's quote was referencing the great expanse of the universe. The cold, empty deeps of space and the pale blue dot of Earth floating in it, insignificant to the larger cosmos. Love, even just loving oneself, is what Sagan suggested makes our tiny sphere matter. Love is what gives our lives meaning and context. Love is what keeps us from riding over the brink of destruction as a species.

The Fall, the zombie plague, is our vastness. The empty places where mankind once lived are the equivalent of the huge distances between stars. In the face of the bleak world before us, surrounded by a universe unconcerned with our struggle, love makes we small creatures fight on.

I believe that now more than ever.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Work Release

The rest of us are being kept under lock and key until Will serves his sentence--he's got to rebuild the door and doorframe of the house he broke into. That's not a quick and easy job like it used to be. He has to take the raw lumber (thankfully there's a supply of it here, this being Oregon and all, or he'd have to cut down a tree and start from scratch) and work it into what he needs. The door is salvageable with some work, but the frame is gonna be a job. He's putting in twelve hour days until it's finished, and spending his nights here in the cells with the rest of us.

I wasn't wrong when I called these folks isolationists. As it happens, they've deliberately stayed away from outside communications since the first weeks of The Fall. The zombie attacks in this neck of the woods have been shockingly steady as undead move back and forth between California and Washington. The massive swarm that hit Harlen recently came close to this place, though that's a relative statement. Call it twenty miles from the main roads. We only came this far away from the highway because our next stop is westerly, and the maps we were given put us on this path. Said it was quicker. Ha.

I don't know the names of anyone here. I don't know the original name of this town, or what they call it now if it's different. The desire to keep to themselves is strong, and I'll respect that. I won't share the location on the map with anyone, nor will my team. If these folks want to be left alone, that's their business.


They aren't totally cut off. As I mentioned yesterday, marauders do make their way here once in a while. The locals have developed methods of dealing with the zombie swarms that take hand-to-hand combat out of the equation for the most part, and drastically reduce the need to expend ammo. I say that so you understand that every group of marauders to come this way has been met with overwhelming force in response. They save bullets and arrows by not having to use them on the undead. People with guns of their own are a different matter.

The locals aren't quite as shy telling us the hearsay they get from the marauders they encounter. One place in particular I talked about with my guard is Crater Lake. I've been interested in it for a while, just as a bit of a geology nerd. It's the deepest lake in the US, a huge circular caldera from a collapsed volcano in the Cascade Mountains. The area itself was a national park before The Fall, and I've wanted to go there for a while. The views are supposed to be amazing. But my real point of interest is the island on the edge of the lake, Wizard Island. Yes, it's really called that. It's pretty big, and the summit of the thing is called the Witch's Cauldron, a 500-foot wide depression at the top of the volcanic cinder cone that built the isle.

I've always thought it was neat, but now there are apparently people living there. I don't think we could make it up that far into the mountains in our vehicles at this time of year even if we had the time to try. The overwhelming likelihood is that the whole area is snowed in, given the altitude.

I can't help but be curious, though. The island isn't huge, and the resources would be slim. Are they hauling what they need to build from the mountain itself and leaving the trees on the island alone? Are they hunting and fishing as their primary source of food? How many people live there, if it isn't a lie told by a desperate man? Damn my genetics for breeding an insane level of curiosity into me. I wanna know. Were the zombies in this state so terrible that people would decide to move thousands of feet up into the mountains rather than face the hordes? I want to know!

But like most things in life, I'm probably not going to get my way. I have to admit, though, that the curiosity has been a nice distraction while we're locked up. I hope Will hurries, or we'll all die of boredom.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Bluff

Being prisoner is not my idea of a good time, even if it's relatively pleasant captivity.

You may have guessed, but for the record we found the people who live in this town. As it turns out, the beacon we saw wasn't for us. It was for the zombies that had massed around the town to attack. Sounds a little confusing, so let me tell you what happened to us. I think that will make it clear.

We made our way to the hill in the direction the light was coming from not long after my post yesterday. It wasn't a perfect slope, raising up and dipping down pretty steeply before cresting again. In that small valley we saw the machinery that raised the signal light and the arm that housed the light itself. The whole thing goes up nearly a hundred feet, then retracts at the push of a button.

We walked to the edge of the hill, and I say edge because the crest leads to a sheer drop of about two hundred feet. The other side is the remains of a quarry or open-air mine, I don't know which for sure. Whatever it was, the whole thing had been abandoned for decades because the people operating it blasted into the wall of the hill one day and discovered a magnificent set of natural caves. Cue civic response to save the caves, a lengthy legal battle, and after some time the site is shut down.

As you can tell, I've asked some questions. Now that I'm writing it down I realize how stupid it was not to wonder whether it was a mine or a quarry. That's going to bug the hell out of me.

At any rate, we made our way to the top of the hill and saw at least a thousand zombies at the bottom. Most of them were dead, burned and crushed by massive rocks. The people of the town were in the caves, gathered at the large blast hole in the side of the cliff that became a scenic overlook after the caves became a protected area. It was from that hole and from platforms set into the side of the cliff that were accessible from other, smaller holes that the townspeople rained down hell upon the swarm.

The idea is to signal the staff on duty in the cave, who will raise the light tower and start the siren. That gets the attention of the zombies. The townspeople lock their houses and gather at the northwestern edge of town, where a large sewer entrance awaits. They discovered years ago that only a thin partition of earth separated the sewer from the caves. When The Fall came, they decided a nice hidey hole was just the thing. One knocked out wall of dirt and stone later, and you have a huge cave system to hide in.

The folks here are practiced at luring zombies into the pit. They've got a pair of baiters that ride out on dirt bikes to get the zombies' attention and keep it once the siren goes off. The elegant part of the whole thing is that even if that doesn't work, by the time the zombies are paying attention to the town again, the people in it are gone, so they give up on attacking it. I've lost track of the number of creatively brilliant defenses I've seen since I left home, but I'll add this one to the list.

Now, if they'd just let us out of these cells, my day would be perfect. At least they let me have my laptop and phone. I was kind of shocked to see cell service this far out, but these folks are self-sufficient in a lot of ways. They're suspicious of us because the only people they have contact with are marauders, who haven't been treated nicely (which is fair since marauders don't treat others nicely). They use their cell tower for communication with each other, and that's about it. They don't have a lot of curiosity about the rest of the world. They seem to be isolationists.

I think they would have let us leave, if under guard, except for one detail: We broke into one of their houses. I don't think they're going to execute us or anything, but for the moment we aren't going anywhere.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


We're still in Oregon. The team and I were making our way up to Washington state, where the last leg of our west coast trip will take place, when we caught a burst of sound from somewhere far away. It's lucky we had the windows cracked or we might not have heard it.

It was a tornado siren. It came on and off seemingly at random, until Will realized it was Morse code. In the movies, someone always knows Morse code. I have two former military personnel with me, and yet none of the six of us could catch whatever it is those faraway people were trying to say.

So, like idiots, we started to follow the sound. It may well have been a warning to stay the hell away, but on the off chance someone was calling for help, we had to at least check it out.

Last night was when this happened. We followed the sound, which started a little while before dark, until it was too dangerous to drive. As we stopped to set up camp, we noticed a light burning in the far distance. It flickered with artificial regularity, going in and out in time with the breaks in the siren. A message, both audio and visual...curious.

We've been searching the area for a while, but we can't figure out where the damn light was coming from. Based on where it appeared in the night, it was in the sky. But there are no mountains in that direction, nothing but a steep hill way too low to have been the source of the light.

It's super irritating to know that someone was signaling deliberately, and that we can't find them. The whole damn point was to use the signal to find them, wasn't it?

So we're on a break. The hill is going to be our next stop. Most of our view of that jutting fist of land is blocked by the town around us, so maybe checking out what's on the other side of it will help. Maybe we're missing something, like a water tower or a thin radio tower that we can't see from here. It's thin reasoning, but thin is going to have to do with no other leads to go on.

A few observations about this town lead us to think that something strange is going on. Will and Becky scouted ahead a little bit, and they note that the place is in good repair. No trash on the streets, no evidence of fire or severe damage. Cars parked neatly, defensive barricades carefully installed and tended. This isn't some town abandoned in The Fall as zombies ran through it in waves. This is, or at least was until very recently, a large community of obviously capable and hardworking survivors. Steve and Rachel noted in their own run that large stores of food are secured in pockets around the town.

Whoever lived here, they didn't die. There are no bodies. They didn't get hit by a swarm from what we can tell, and even if they did the swarm clearly didn't overwhelm the place. It looks like everyone ran at one time, but some of my own observations while walking beside Bill as he hobbled on his crutches lead me to think that we haven't begun to scratch the surface of what happened here.

The houses, the shops, all the buildings here were obviously utilized. As far away from other survivors or major maruader travel lanes as we are, they had to have done it on their own. God only knows how they managed, but they did. We had no idea this little town existed until a few hours ago. I'm willing to bet that no one else did, either.

So why, if the people that live here ran from something, did they take time to lock every door and secure every window with armored plates and wood? Why go to those lengths if you were running for your life from some kind of threat? Will broke into a house, thinking maybe they'd all locked themselves in and died (a gas leak or something?) but the house was empty.

I love a mystery. As long as no large groups of zombies threaten us, this is one we'll put the time in to solve. If the undead do appear, this town will have to become a memory for us. Fingers crossed, all of you. I want to know what happened here.

I need to know.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oregon Trail

A few things about Oregon:

I've never been here.

And it's cold. Almost biblical in intensity.

Luckily there seems to be a limit to how cold a zombie will get before it just says to hell with it and goes into the weird hibernation state they have. Pretty much all of them used to get stiff and begin to wind down when it got into the fifties or lower. Then the damn things started getting cold resistant. Lucky for the human race that when the mercury hits ten degrees below freezing or so, they begin to freeze up and lose mobility.

Funnily, that seems to be the temperature our portable heaters seem incapable of dealing with as well. Or at least that was when the first one started going wonky on us. We decided to make camp and get cozy, setting up a nice fire and throwing up canvas around it in a dome to hold some of the heat. It isn't ideal, but we decided not to risk a propane heater blowing up on us.

Human flesh will freeze at a certain point, be it human or zombie. We're unconcerned with being attacked given it's about fifteen degrees where we are. If there's a zombie walking anywhere around, we'd hear him crack the frost on the ground and the crunching sound of his frozen skin long before he could be a threat to us.

The team and I find ourselves in a strange situation. We've stopped, made camp, and have a good amount of leeway before getting to the next community on our list. Will is taking the chance to get some hunting in to replenish our food supply (and because he gets some sick thrill from murdering furry woodland creatures, I'm sure) while Steve stays here and plays homemaker.

He's humming as he flits about the camp, making food and checking the canvas, setting up chairs and getting plates out. Steve has become a darker and more dangerous person since The Fall began, but moments like these, where safety isn't as much a concern, remind me just how much of that is necessity. When he doesn't have to be violent and deadly, the truest parts of him have a chance to shine. His thoughtfulness, his concern for others. The happy smile on his face that shines when we thank him for the wonderful food and all his effort. Some nights I let myself remember what I'm missing back home in New Haven, and the loneliness starts to overwhelm me. He's always there with a hug and words of understanding. He never shows it, but I know he misses Courtney something fierce.

He's a stronger man than I am by far. You might never know it to look at him unless you got to know him well. I kind of feel bad for people that don't know him as I do. Everyone should have a Steve.

Becky and Bill are sitting on the other side of the fire. Steve keeps refilling their tea (I have no idea where the tea came from. Steve is just magic.) over their protests that they can do it themselves. The two of them are playing cards. I don't know the game, and I'm willing to put money on the idea that neither of them really knows it either. It looks complicated and involved. I'm glad I'm not playing, my brain is too muzzy and warm from the fire to care much about games at the moment.

Rachel is writing next to me. She's not using a laptop. She likes her notebooks. It's one of the few concessions to carrying weight all of us agreed on. Rachel got to bring a stack of blank notebooks and a bag full of pens. She's a great storyteller, and her (almost creepily) good memory catches almost everything. She spent days writing about Mason after he went off to die, and today she's filling pages about Google and the brief time we spent there.

You may wonder why I don't focus on that myself. I would, but the fact is that I was asked not to. Most people with any kind of internet access know the people in Mountain View are out there keeping communications open. Too many of the wrong people can read this blog. It's best if I don't share too much.

One thing I can mention safely, though--they gave me a new laptop. They have a good stock of that kind of thing, obviously, and mine was getting a little buggy. This one was state of the art when The Fall came around, so it's the best I'll probably ever get to use. I don't know that we'll ever reach a point where computers are manufactured again in my lifetime.

The thought doesn't bother me as much as you'd think. We're building again, and getting back to producing technology won't be nearly as hard this go around since no one has to start at square one. I'm just happy to see so many survivors, more than I'd have ever dreamed. A vast trove of people, with their experiences and skills being built on and passed to others. It's an excellent way to start over.

Ah, I heard a gunshot. If Will hasn't had to drop an errant zombie, that might be our next month's supply of meat on its way. This is going to be a good day. So cold it makes your chest hurt, but good.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I told you yesterday that the good folks at Google were working on a project. It's a potential game changer. The largest single problem we face as a society is that we aren't one single society anymore. We're a scattering of survivors, most of whom want to trade and deal with each other but limited by the fuel we can find or have stockpiled. Once that's gone, we're back to horse-and-buggy days. Which doesn't do much for sending perishable goods thousands of miles.

While we're using the massive fuel reserves from Sparta, they won't last forever. There are doubtless millions of gallons of fuel out there, and pretty much everyone has people looking for and gathering it. Again--once those reserves are gone, we're in trouble.

So the lads and ladies here are working on a solution. They're building a hybrid engine for a train that basically uses alcohol to power a generator to run the electric engine of the train. It's the same thing many trains have done for years with diesel fuel, but this is a fuel we can make ourselves reliably. The really hard part is (apparently, since I'm not a mechanical engineer) getting the efficiency high enough to make long trips. Remember, back home in Kentucky we've got access to tens of thousands of gallons of the stuff, and we've got stills set up to reduce it to pure ethanol.

Yes. The idea these geniuses have is to enable trade by powering trains with moonshine. It makes a country boy proud.

It isn't exactly an engineering conundrum, don't misunderstand. It looks very likely that success on the project is close. The larger problem is going to be planning routes, organizing trade stops, refueling, and of course making sure that the tracks aren't screwed up everywhere they want to send the thing. That means teams of people travelling all over America checking rails and making sure the right switches are engaged. It's huge and complicated and makes me thankful these people have lots of computers at their disposal. Just thinking about managing that huge mess is giving me a nosebleed.

On the small scale side, the idea is to run a closed route between Google HQ and the communities near Harlen. It's ideal since Harlen and the rest provide literally tons of food to the Googlers. If it works out, then they'll begin work on a much farther-reaching version. I've got my fingers crossed.

It just takes time. We've got some leeway for trade with the remaining fuel out there, but I'm confronted by the interesting reality that eventually things are going to change. I was such a big supporter of alternative fuels and energy sources, and now I'm seeing new infrastructure being born for them. It's not that we wouldn't use the old stuff if we could, but that's just not possible anymore. I'm not happy that it took the destruction of everything I knew to make this happen, but I'm not sad to see these changes happening.

Silver linings, you know?

I'm happy to see any foundations for our future being laid. We don't have the power or people to mine coal or run big power plants. But all of us can raise a crop and ferment it with a little training. Anything we can use to make the future brighter and easier is on the table for us. Ironic that large-scale ethanol production wasn't feasible before because so much of it would have been needed to service the population, and the drastic reduction in the population now makes it a perfect fuel.

We're heading out. I'll be thinking about this for days now.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jailhouse Rocked

When it comes to scaring off zombies, fire usually works really well. When those same zombies have set up a relatively clever defensive position inside a building, something with a little more subtlety is called for.

God, did I pick the wrong team for subtle.

You'll be happy to know that I'm no longer trapped in a cell with hungry new breed zombies waiting for me to make a mistake. Will, Rachel, Steve, and Becky tried a frontal assault yesterday, but I shouted at them before they could breach the front doors. They might have cleared the token force of undead left outside to guard, but the majority were in with me. Waiting. About half of them hiding in clever little spots, waiting to drop down on one of my friends, or to snag an ankle from under a desk.

Becky's idea of subtlety was yelling for me to flip the bunk if possible and cover myself in the mattress to block debris from the explosion.

Yes. The explosion.

She's scary at times. Becky had a bit of her homemade  dynamite left. We used all the big sticks, but she made some smaller ones for occasions when a whole lot of boom wasn't needed. Three massive waves of compressed air slamming me against the wall later, and the zombies were in a panic. Those that hadn't been incapacitated or outright killed by the blasts (more numerous than you'd think. The explosions weren't that large) were scared out of their minds by the light and noise. They lost all cohesion as a unit, running to escape careless of the dangers.

My people were ready for them. It was a slaughter.

We've learned something very important about the new breed with this incident. Old school zombies, excepting smarties, were mindless and unafraid of most things. Fire scared them, and ammonia drove them off. Their sense of smell is a key element to how they operate, I think that's obvious now. But loud noise and brief flashes of light were not the sort of things that ran them off, much less drove them crazy.

And it wasn't a brief sort of madness the new breed was showing. A human being, when hit with a flash/bang grenade, will have his senses of sight and hearing overwhelmed for a short while. People, living people, have the intellectual capacity to override the panic and confusion that such a device creates. New breed zombies clearly don't.

That's HUGE. If sound can affect them so strongly, if overwhelming their senses can drive them to mindless fear, then we've got weapons to use against them. I have to assume that ammonia will still work on them since they use their noses like all zombies. I wish I could take the time to test some of the ideas I have. Damn the zombie apocalypse for making me feel like a mad scientist!

I suppose I should mention that we made it to the Google campus safely. We'll be here the day, then off again tomorrow. I'm going to take tomorrow's post to tell you about a project the engineers here want to attempt on a small scale to see if it's viable. It's neat. I'm eager to tell you!

But not today.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Slammer

Those zombies we saw were playing possum with us. They were new breed, pretending to be slow and weak to throw us off. Bill and I had to make the choice on whether to fire at them with guns and risk drawing more of them down on us, or use our bows and maybe get killed. So I made a command decision.

I tucked Bill into the trailer, as his bad leg wouldn't have let him go anywhere, and I drew them off by running down the road like a madman.

I know, it sounds stupid and careless, but it really wasn't. We haven't survived on the road for this long by being idiots who don't plan ahead. I snagged my backpack when I left, which holds food for several days, canteens and water purification tabs, and a small battery powered transmitter that gives me about twenty minutes of cell use. More, since my solar charger is with me as well.

Would have been nice to remember my gloves, but at least I'm wearing my winter coat. It's a bit chilly.

The portable transmitter was a gift from Harlen, one I hoped never to need. It fits the plans the team and I came up with for search and rescue very well, and while I don't like having to use it, I'm happy to report that I've just been on the phone with Will and the others, who have the truck up and running. They're probably outside my hiding place right now, trying to figure out how to set me free without getting me killed. There's a little town about three miles north of where we were stranded, and the team knew to search in very specific parameters for me. Luckily the transmitter allowed me to save them time and just tell them where I was...

Hell, I might as well come out and say it. I'm in jail.

When you have a swarm of thirty undead behind you (I picked up a few on the run here) any secure location is a good location. The doors to the police station were barred and locked, the place looked like no one had been in it since The Fall began. So I dug in my pocket for one of the best survival tools in the world--shavings from the ceramic on a spark plug--and flung it at the glass double doors of the station. They shattered as if I'd put a bullet in them, and I ducked in.

The zombies were right behind me, maybe twenty feet. The cells were all open, and they were old ones. No electronic locks that I could see. Not that I had a lot of time to look. I grabbed a set of cuffs off the floor as I ran, just in case, and slipped into a cell. I threw the bars shut and locked the cuffs on the door and the stationary portion of the bars, making my own lock. Not that I needed it, as it turns out. The click I heard as I closed the thing was indeed the door lock engaging.

The zombies came into the station behind me, having been slowed by the doors a little. Guess it took them a minute to figure out how to duck through. They just crowded around the door, watching me. They didn't try to stick their hands in to grab and I wasn't stupid enough to get close enough to tempt them.

Look at me, talking in the past tense. I'm still locked in here, and they're still out there. I've had a good long time to study this little station house. There are guns here, and what looks like a good supply of ammo. I think I saw a gas pump through the back door as I ran in. Maybe there's still fuel to be had. Got to love these little old police stations, having their own gas delivered. Bless them.

Bill isn't very happy we made a plan to keep him safe without telling him. He didn't like being left behind, but a sustained attack on the truck and trailer would have led to us getting killed and the team left without a vehicle. I had to run because he couldn't, had to draw off the enemy. Done it before, will probably have to do it again one day.

I'm irritated that it took so long for the others to get the truck mobile, but apparently there's a real scarcity of giant truck tires that will fit our rig. They got there in the end. They'll get here soon if they aren't already. I just wonder how they're going to kill all these zombies with any kind of safety. Can't fire guns without risking a ricochet hitting me. Even if they manage it, don't know how this door is going to open.

I'm really hoping there's a key around this place somewhere.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Will is not my preferred driver. It's not that he's bad, just that he doesn't pay attention as well as he should sometimes. Take this morning, for example: we decided to take it slow yesterday, camp out someplace cozy and spend some time enjoying the scenery on the last leg up to the Google campus. Naturally, when we hit the road, Will had to slam us into a pothole roughly the size of Jupiter, which had some debris in it. Pointy metal debris.

We lost both tires on the rear driver side of the truck. Now we've got to go searching for replacements somewhere, which is going to eat up a lot of time. Not to mention the area has a zombie population, though how much of one I couldn't say. It's lucky we're driving a truck that's not uncommon, even though it's the heavy duty six-tire version.

I'm at the camp we set up next to the truck and trailer. Bill is with me, since he still can't get around very well. He's walking, though, which is a good sign. The crutches look good on him.

The others are working in one team. Rachel and Becky will provide cover for Will and Steve if they find a suitable vehicle. The girls have proven to be a very strong team, and they seem to have an almost instinctive ability to watch out for each other with little to no prompting. Will and Steve are good, but they are both pretty confident as fighters, maybe a bit too confident. I'm glad they'll be doing the heavy lifting portion of the trip. Will and Steve are more suited to it, while the girls are faster and more responsive.

Yeah. This is me trying to keep myself sane as we're hit with another delay and an avoidable one at that. It's gonna be a long day, even if the first vehicle they come to has what we need. Of course, if the team happens to run across such a thing, we might spend a bit more time stripping spare parts off it.

Hmm. There are a couple of zombies roaming around the edge of the woods a few hundred feet away. Even from here I can see they're original flavor, shuffling around clumsily and without purpose. We'll keep an eye on them, and put arrows through their heads if they get too close.

Damn, a few more just followed them out of the woods. I think we've been spotted.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Waves

We're in California right now, and what I'm seeing is truly incredible. I'm on a beach, sitting back on a towel. I'm eating a hamburger. It's hot and fresh.

We're not in a major metropolitan area, but the folks back in Harlen were nice enough to send us toward a small group of people that act as intermediaries between the Harlen area communities and Google (and the survivors who live nearby) to the north.

I even went swimming. Granted, the water is about sixty degrees, so it wasn't for long, but I went. The world is a darker and more scary place than it was two years ago, but I'll be damned if my first trip to the west coast was going to be made without a dip in the ocean.

It's funny to me that we've faced zombies and other threats, fought for our lives time after time and scrabbled in the dirt to make our own food grow...yet when presented with a safe section of beach and a hot meal, I can fall right back into the old comfortable feeling of the way things were. Right now we're being fueled up to head north (since our last stop was further east and much more southerly than where Google is) and the locals told us to take a load off, enjoy some relaxation.

Can't say it was a bad idea at all.

In talking with our hosts, I've learned quite a bit about this area of the country. A lot of people have survived around here, and the zombie population is nowhere near as bad as you'd expect. The sheer numbers of people in places like Los Angeles, for example, kept the zombie population down even as the outbreaks spread. One person would turn, and six would kill the new zombie. Then five. Then four, and so on until the zombies were thinned out to small numbers and the remaining survivors had learned to steer clear of them. Fighting the undead is sometimes necessary, but successfully hiding from them is always smart.

It helps that California is huge and capable of supporting many different kinds of crops. Yeah, it gets fairly cold here, but nothing close to what we deal with back home. It's about fifty degrees out right now, and it feels good to me. No rain. The guy cooking the burgers (there's a huge cattle farm about an hour from here) is wearing a winter coat. It's unzipped, but still...

There are also several different industries being kept up in this state aside from the work the good people at Google are carrying out. Estimates are that nearly half a million people are still alive in this state, though I have to think that's probably a very high guess. I'd say realistically about half that, since two hundred thousand is the last number put together by any kind of census. It's enough people to manage large-scale farming all over the state, work metals, even build new structures and vehicles if there are parts available.

In fact, there is way more than enough being produced here than the various communities need. Moving any of it on a large scale to those of us who want to trade for it, especially as far away as my old Kentucky home, is the problem. Fuel will only last so long. Google is hopefully going to help us come up with a solution.

I have a few ideas of my own. We should be there by tomorrow night if all goes well.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Amnesty Day

Wow. Not being home has its disadvantages. I've grown used to the fact that I'm not in the middle of all the command decisions around New Haven anymore, but I still usually get a heads-up when big things are going down behind the scenes. What with all the zombies attacking and various outbreaks of crazy shit over the last few weeks, I've been out of the loop.

Part of this is because I have a big mouth, and I probably wouldn't have been able to keep this news to myself. Starting today, for one week, all marauders will be granted amnesty at any of the communities within the trade network we've established. Any prisoners they may have can be released peacefully with no questions asked, and the captors will be allowed three days of grace to move toward any distant community that will take them. For seven days communities all over the country will be allowing marauders an avenue to escape the horrible cycle they're locked in.

I have to admit, I'm kind of excited to see how it works. Word from home is that Kincaid and his people have adapted well to New Haven even with the restrictions they've been given. It's nearly impossible to live with the kind of group psychosis it takes to do the things the marauders have done. It must take a toll, and I imagine that many communities will impose punishments or restrictions of their own in exchange for taking in these men and women. I've also been led to believe that most marauders will accept them.

There will be a darker side to this. I don't see how it can be avoided. There will certainly be people who will not choose to accept a place with other survivors under any circumstances. I imagine this amnesty will cause a huge wave of turmoil among the more hardcore marauders. I can't begin to guess how that's going to play out. Hopefully without bloodshed...

I'm going to cut this short. There's still cleanup to do, and it looks like we'll be finished by early afternoon. The team and I want to get moving as quickly as possible, so it's time to finish up the job at hand, then pack. We'll be on the road by dinner.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


This is going to be a very short post, because I'm writing instead of eating on my lunch break. We've been working nonstop since the battle to get rid of all the zombies outside the walls of Harlen. Turns out that thousands of bodies are a bear to get rid of, even with help.

If they were all or even mostly dead it wouldn't be a problem. That isn't the case. Some of them were burned so badly that enough of the pervasive organism controlling the bodies was destroyed that they're dead. That helps. But most of the burned ones were only damaged and trapped, their immobility ranging from total to the ability to crawl.

Then there are the ones taken out by traps. Cutting off feet and damaging legs in general is a great way to greatly decrease how much of a threat they are, but it means having to go out and finish them off as well. We're working in two person teams. Steve is my partner. One of us carries a shield to deflect potential attacks and to hold the zombie down, while the other uses a "push spike", which is a nifty weapon designed by one of Harlen's residents. It's basically a four foot length of metal with a wicked sharp point, and a footrest about a foot from the bottom.

Guy with the shield bashes the prone zombie stupid, holds it down by the neck with the shield, and you lift the spike with your foot on the rest. Push with your arms as you step down, and it treats a skull like butter. Rinse and repeat.

Like, three hundred times. We lost count.

There are about two hundred of us doing this job. Most of the others are managing the pyres, which teams of porters are carrying in after we kill the zombies. They pyres are fed by wood being cut from the edge of the clearing, which is why it's so far back. They've done this every time a big attack has come this way, taking the treeline back a little every time. Fresh wood doesn't burn well, of course, but douse it with enough accelerants and eventually it goes. Helps that zombie physiology makes them burn pretty easy.

Everyone is working two shifts a day. Half of us are doing cleanup while the other half works the fields. The ashes will be used to fertilize the crops, which would bother me if I didn't know how fire treats bacteria and other harmful organisms. They've been doing it for months with no negative results, which is enough for me.

Shift change will come at four, when the people in the fields will come to relieve us, and the people clearing now will head out to finish whatever's left of the picking, watering, and hauling before coming back to make dinner and help in whatever way is needed. Everyone but my team have their jobs laid out--we just clean up, sixteen hours a day. Which isn't all that bad, to be honest.

As soon as the cleanup is done, we'll be heading to our next stop. We've managed to get a lot done in our off hours since the attack, because the leadership of the surrounding communities came here to help. They stayed, saving us from running the circuit to them, and in a few short hours the team and I have managed to get all the deals we were going to offer to them hammered out and done.

That's saved us weeks, in all likelihood. I'm glad this attack happened, which sounds strange. It saved us a lot of time and taught the team and I some brilliant defensive ideas. New Haven will be well served by them, as will everyone else that can use them.

I'm thrilled we managed to get the other local leaders to hang around. Not having to visit them and getting it all done now is perfect. Yeah, the team and I lost a lot of sleep, but we can now make an uninterrupted run for Mountain View. It's a long drive, but our next stop will take us to Google HQ.

Finally, I can thank them in person. We won't be staying there long, but the few hours of our visit will

I went too long. I hear the bell telling me I'm late for work.