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. 

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