Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fair Warning

Spent a good deal of time yesterday working on the computer. It's still very strange to me that I sit in one place to work, don't have to rush through because of fuel constraints on our generator, and can get up to pee pretty much whenever I want. Freedom to use the bathroom is one of the perks you forget about when you're on the road.

I've been doing everything I can to get the word out to other communities about what's going on here. The marauders joined up with our own exiles can't be more than a fraction of the total number of them left out there. I'm certain beyond doubt that many more marauders will grow desperate and angry as time goes by, and that the conflict here is going to hasten that process. Better for the survivors we've made contact with to know the score and prepare themselves.

Will is doing much better. He's obviously not up on his feet yet, and the mandate given to him by the council no longer serves a purpose now that hostilities are open between New Haven and the...

Okay, I really need to call the enemy something. It's going to make life so much easier with a good noun to use here that differentiates this group from the others that we've faced. They're an alliance of marauders and homesteaders, so I could call them the allies, but that's confusing. I could call them the Axis of Evil, but that's melodramatic. I could call them something totally non-threatening like 'the bunnies', but that might serve to antagonize them.

To hell with it. I'm just going to call them the Exiles, because that's easy and it fits. Marauders choose to exile themselves from what remains of society, and we kicked the homesteaders out.

So: Will no longer has to worry about going out to find the Exiles. That doesn't mean he's not working on things. He is. Will's official pardon seems to have brought him fully back to life, and even as he sits in his bed at the clinic, he works on problem after problem. Not just defense issues, but other curious things that bug him. He's pretty sure, for example, that the people following us home from the south were probably trailing us for a long time. Scout reports indicate that the group we left trapped on the other side of a rockfall have joined with the Exiles. Will thinks they were sent to track our movements and make sure we came home, so all the New Haven fish would be in one barrel.

When I mentioned to Will that I thought it was odd that no major zombie attacks have come this way lately, he reminded me that this place still reeks of dead zombies. Evans thinks that a dying zombie might release a potent pheromone or something like it to warn off others. Add to that the very likely scenario that for a few months now, the Exiles have been massing in hidden camps all around the area and clearing out the undead, and you've got a pretty good idea of why New Haven has had such an easy time with zombie attacks.

Yeah, my people have been living in relative peace due to the efforts of an enemy that wants us all to themselves, but you have to take the bad with the good. That sounds sarcastic, but really think about it for a minute. Hard. The exiles have been staging around here for months, gathering materials and people quietly as they planned and prepared. They've been meticulous and detailed, minimizing risk as much as possible. I'm not arrogant enough to think they were only waiting for the team and I to get back--they've clearly been building up their forces for a while--but I think that factored into their time table.

All of that is bad, but it's also good. Yes, the exiles have been careful, but that caution has allowed my people to make severe modifications to New Haven itself. The new walls were up long before the Exiles joined together (at least, I hope that's the case...) but much of the new work has been done since Kincaid and his people joined up here. In their urge to be as safe and quiet as possible, the Exiles allowed my people time to turn New Haven into a goddamn fortress. And I mean that in the truest sense of the word. There are defenses here that blow my mind.

I'm not telling you what they are, but they go way beyond many of the ideas Will, Dodger, and I floated before the team and I left on our trip. Much of what I've seen has been augmented by supplies brought in by the scouts as they raided those marauder outposts. I've been curious about a lot of things since I came back, but this isn't one of them. I know why living, thinking people haven't tried to assault New Haven directly: because they recognize the suicidal nature of such an action.

On that note, I should get going. I meant to mention in detail how I spent a smaller portion of my day going out to local communities, of which there are now several. I was pretty shocked to learn that, but in the last several months a few new groups have settled in the area. Not in the county, but still nearby as such things are counted. I did the rounds with them--to Shelbyville, where I invited the folks we rescued from Tennessee to come stay with us should the Exiles make their way east to threaten them. They accepted graciously. The other three small groups were a little less open, but as they'd never met me before, much less lived with me as the Tennessee folk had, I couldn't blame them. I'm hoping to hear more back this morning.

I don't intend on leaving anyone out where the Exiles can terrorize them at will.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Severance

A day and a half has passed, and things have taken a definite turn for the worse. Every bridge leading across the river except for one has been demolished, the last one standing being just one of the two that carry interstate 64. 

We haven't been attacked directly, but that doesn't mean we haven't been damaged. All of our holdings on the east side of the river are now in the hands of the enemy. There are a lot of them, and we now know exactly who they are. Every hunting ground, fishing hole, supply dump, and the fallback point are all in the hands of a group of people made up by two of our worst enemies. 

Part of this group (and I'm going to have to come up with a name for them sometime soon) are made up of marauders. I should be very clear and say that they're some of the marauders that chose to ignore the amnesty, the worst of the worst. They're the most violent of all those who once plagued the trade routes (our fastest route to North Jackson was across the river, so that's something we'll have to deal with as well). While men like Kincaid and those who came with him have done what they can to choose a better way, these men and women were only made more brutal and merciless when the amnesty was offered. I imagine seeing so many of their peers give up the road and the madness that served as a daily routine didn't make them any more stable. 

I can even tell you why these marauders have chosen to band together against us: because New Haven infringed directly on their territory. When the team and I left many months ago, the food supplies were just starting to bounce back from the famine time we suffered not long before. I can say with certainty that we had exactly five locations off-site where excess supplies were stored. 

When we came back, there were more than thirty of those locations, and ten of them were nothing but long-term food storage. Things that last like rice and grains. How did New Haven manage to amass such wealth in a few short months? It shouldn't come as any shock. I should have figured it out sooner. 

Kincaid and his people are part of the scout teams that go out into the world and bring back supplies. Long-range trips, always. That's because Kincaid's folks know how to track other marauders, know where many of the groups within the region keep or kept their supply dumps and trading posts. New Haven's scouts have been pillaging those supplies nonstop almost since the first day Kincaid and his crew joined up. Worse, they were given the go-ahead by the leadership here to begin staging coordinated assaults on groups of marauders. 

So, yeah. LOTS of pissed-off psychopaths who are heavily armed, accustomed to fighting, and experienced with moving quickly and with perfect coordination want to kill us. That's always a good time. 

The other group that joined with them, the ones I haven't talked about yet but make up a significant number of the group now trying to cut the county in half? They're homesteaders. Our own people, exiled many months ago, have now joined with the enemy.

The last we heard from the homesteaders, they'd found a base stocked with everything they needed, from food to weapons and medicines. There was even a satellite connection to the cell network Google uses to keep the internet going, which was how they contacted us. 

To sum up for anyone who is new or hasn't been paying attention: the worst kind of enemy we could ask for is apparently here and out for our blood for entirely understandable reasons. We picked the fight. They're the most dangerous sort of people, and they've been joined by those who know us well, who've lived with us and are aware of exactly how we operate. This is about as bad a development as I can imagine. The only thing that would make it worse? Giant zombie swarm. 

I should know better than to hand the universe an opening like that, or the next thing you know I'll be pausing to tell you the alarm bells are going off, and we really are being hit by a swarm. The removal of the bridges will make it a lot harder for zombies to get to us from the east, but by the same token they'll have nowhere to go if they come at us from the west. We're the nut sitting on the anvil, and any large force of undead coming for us will be the hammer. 

The bright spot here is that the enemy has made it difficult for themselves to get to us. We're fairly sure they want to consolidate their position before trying to make war on us, and want to be free from interference. That's what I'd do if I were them. They show no signs of coming after us yet--they seem content to take our fallback point, a lot of our supplies, and to wear us down over time. They might be crazy and sick with revenge, but they aren't stupid or inefficient. 

However this scenario plays out, we aren't going to win it by simply outfoxing the opposition. Nor can it be a win only by force of arms, as they're surely better outfitted than we are in that area. Pure defense isn't the way, as we'd have to hole up in New Haven for what could be months and from a logistical point of view that's plain impossible. We need to hunt, farm, and fish. Simple as that. And we can't stop brokering trades, either...

Basically, we're in a huge mess with no clear way forward. No easy outs. 

But it's nice outside and getting nicer. So there's that. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sacrifice The Dead

Dodger and I went back out to the small copse of trees where we killed those new breed zombies. I'm not sure what we expected to find, but what we walked away with was some valuable information.

The first piece of really important knowledge we gathered from the second trip was that very close to that place, there was a camp. Not a hundred feet away, tucked in the crease of two hills that came together, was a small group of people and one vehicle. The SUV parked there matched the description our scouts gave of the one they saw the group of people pillaging our supplies driving. Dodger and I realized that the people we saw in that camp had to be a part of the group harassing New Haven.

We took appropriate action.

When we killed those zombies, the camp must have been empty. The people there probably wouldn't have used the spot again if they'd seen us so close. Dodger and I were being very quiet and very careful, so we weren't seen when we came back to investigate further. We came home, told the council what we'd seen, and dispatched a team out that way.

Our team gave them every chance to surrender. They chose to fight. At first we thought this would be an end to the harassment. We now know for sure that this camp was one of several, because a few hours later the retribution came.

The two bridges over the river that lead directly into the fallback position were destroyed. Explosives, obviously, as they left nothing but broken concrete jutting out over the water. We heard the blasts in New Haven, which is only a few miles away. Everything we'd stored at the fallback point is now lost to us, as I'm sure our enemies ransacked it before or just after they cut off quick access to it.

We are at war again, and this time by an enemy that has numbers, powerful weaponry, and a clear knowledge of how we operate. I've got theories, but that's for another day.

The second realization we gained from this excursion was that the New Breed zombies are much smarter than we thought them to be. Scouts this morning, having been ordered to search exhaustively for our attackers, report finding abandoned camps out in the county in several places. These people who've been shadowing New Haven's scouts are smart, too--they pick places where they see zombies gathering, knowing we probably won't go near it. They kill the zombies, pile the bodies together, and use it as a base. It's clever.

And they've clearly been acting as population control for the new breed around here. There are a lot of dead zombies in those camps. We can't help but come to the conclusion that those new breed we killed so close to an enemy camp were sent there on purpose. To make us see and attack the living humans who've taken up arms against us.

The world is growing into a complicated place.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Easy Money

The price you pay for living in a community of people is that you get sick. In the world as it was before The Fall, it was easier to stay clean and limit the transmission of viruses and bacteria from person to person. I've been sick more since the zombie plague came than in the previous decade. That's not the point of this post, just an observation. If I seem a little wonky, blame it on the stomach bug I seem to have picked up.

I intended to spend a good portion of yesterday trying to talk to some of my friends on the council, but that didn't work out. There were votes while I was gone, replacing many of the key people I know I can trust on the council. Add to that the fact that I myself am not the most trusted person around, and begin to understand why appealing to the leadership to change their ways directly probably wouldn't have gone well.

That being said, I never got the chance.

While we've been away, the number of zombies that actually manage to make it to New Haven's wall have been few. Only recently have new breed zombies been spotted, and if ten have been seen I can't imagine less than five times that number are in hiding. It's easy to forget when you're away from home that the people you've left behind aren't experiencing new things with you--oh, they can read what I write, but there's universe of difference between reading accounts of fighting the new breed and actually doing it.

So far, none of them have attacked New Haven, but it can only be a matter of time. In a moment of surprising competence, the council came to agree with my and Dodger's assessment that the new breed nearby are probably building numbers. The solution? Should be obvious. We rode out to see how much damage we could do.

It was a small team, just me and Dodger in one truck, three scouts in another. One of the advancements Jess came up with while I was away was perfecting plastic armor. We'd tried before to mold some pellets of plastic from the factory Jess used to work at into armor, with disastrous results. She and Patrick have worked on the problem, and the result is a skin-tight, lightweight set of gear that will easily stop a zombie bite.

It's a good thing I've lost so much weight over the last two years, or I'd look even more ridiculous wearing it.

The good thing about the stuff is that all the plates are just small molded tiles, repeating over and over. Jess and Pat can make hundreds at a time, and Jess has her small group of ladies who make armor fabricate them into suits. A whole outfit is about ten man-hours (er, woman-hours in this case) of work, or about half a day from Jess's team.

It's pretty cold right now, so Dodger and I decided to lead a strike on the one patch of hibernating new breed zombies our scouts had located. Not many of them--fourteen--but a good starting point. The scouts told us that three new breed were alert and guarding the others at any given time, so we figured the job would be easy.

And the damnedest thing about it? It was easy, and that makes me very suspicious. We parked half a mile out, moved within a hundred feet of the group with our bows out, and watched. No sign we'd been seen. No reaction at all from the zombies guarding their sleeping brothers.

We moved in. Ninety feet. Eighty. Sixty. Forty.

We were being quiet, sure, but the undead seem to locate and communicate by something close to smell. We'd all taken the time to mask our scents as much as possible, but even then they should have reacted at that range. Dodger and I gave each other confused looks, but we weren't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, either.

I gave the hand signal for a countdown, and three bows took careful aim. A few seconds later, three new breed zombies lay dead, arrows jutting from their skulls. From there it was all cleanup, as the remaining eleven zombies were still hibernating. We used the heavy, elongated machetes North Jackson made for us as their weight made cutting through tough new breed necks much easier.

I'll be honest, the whole thing felt wrong. Dodger and I talked about it for a while, and we agree that the zombies seemed to want us to find them. If that's the case, why? They didn't have a trap set for us or anything. What was the purpose?

Dodger and I are taking a trip back out to that killing ground today. Maybe a close look at the area will give us some clue what's going on.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Brotherly

I spent a good chunk of this morning hanging out with Dave. One of the many, many accomplishments he's put under his belt since I've been gone is the construction of a safe building right on the river. I'm not going to say where it is exactly, but the location is very good for fishing.

The only bad thing about the spot is that it's not far from a commonly used road that zombies like to shuffle down as they wander. Dave and I sat inside the enclosure while a handful of undead beat on the walls. It was futile, of course--my brother knows how to build things to last. But it was annoying.

I was impressed with the building itself. It hangs out over the river a good twenty, twenty-five feet, and most of the floor is made of removable panels. You can sit with your feet dangling over the edge and fish in total safety. Of course most of the time teams of people use it as a safe place to net fish since New Haven has a pretty big appetite, but today it was empty. An ideal spot for two brothers who've missed each other to reconnect.

One of the first things I asked him was how our people were managing to bring in such large amounts of materials, and such a variety. He didn't have a detailed answer, as procurement was led by a small team under the direct supervision of the council. Dave gets a report every day detailing what we have, what we might have coming, and what the council would like to see built.

It's a far cry from the way things were before I left. Then, Dave and I were mostly in charge of planning out those kinds of things. Now the process is more compartmentalized, though it seems to work. He mentioned in passing that procurement teams almost always stay out for days at a time, and that half of the members are from Kincaid's group of marauders.

Which I find pretty damn interesting, but I won't speculate until I know more.

Dave spent a few minutes showing me how he figured a way to put the fishing hut, for lack of a better term, out over the river. A load of large I-beams was brought in about two months ago. Dave was stumped on what he was going to do with them at first, so he just had the truck parked to store them. Then we lost a man out on a fishing trip, and the idea to build a safe spot to fish from was born.

Pretty simple in execution: several of the I-beams form two long arms, with a few more acting as a cross-piece running right under the middle of the hut. The 'legs' of this thing extend sixty feet back on land, twenty or so over the water. Dave counterbalanced the weight of the building with many, many tons of concrete, making a very solid structure. This part of the river is about a foot of clay right over bedrock, so the I-beams have done all the sinking they're gonna do. It's clever. I like it.

I don't like seeing Dave have to work under so much stress. Yeah, he's got a lot of help and does mostly large-scale planning and design, but he's used to being in charge of his own projects, setting his own timelines. He hates politics. He likes to build. In that way, my brother is a simple man.

I've missed him more than I imagined possible. While Dave is satisfied with making things, he's anything but unintelligent. In fact, he's one of the smartest and most perceptive people I know. In the time I was away, I'd forgotten the simple pleasure of talking with him. With Dave, I don't have to explain my thinking. He's been my brother as long as I've been alive. He knows me and the way I work better than anyone living.

It's not as though we had deep philosophical discussions every day, but siblings, at least my own, are unique people in life. My brother and I stopped being antagonistic toward each other sometime in my teens, and a genuine friendship grew. Having a friend who has known you for as long as you've existed creates a deep bond. Funny that the end of the world had to happen for us to see each other more often than every few months. Life used to get in the way so much.

Sitting over the water with a fishing pole in my hand, seeing the pride in Dave's eyes as he explained the steps he took to make the building safe, to overcome a dozen small technical problems, made me realize how different things are for him now. Dave has always been a cool operator, taking in problems as they come, breaking them down into components and solving them six ways before acting. He isn't a control freak, but he does like being the one to make the calls. Not because he thinks he's better than anyone or from some desire for power, but because experience has shown him that he has the ability to make the right choices more often than other people.

He's the driving force behind New Haven literally building the future. And from what I hear, he's being micromanaged by our council nearly to death.

Wow. I just looked back to see how much I wrote. Funny that while I was on the road, constantly alert for zombies and marauders, that I didn't get to write much. Now I'm starting to realize how free I felt. No council, no drama, no overwhelming rules. Just life and death.

Maybe I can talk to the council and see if they wouldn't mind backing off a little. Dave works best when he can operate with minimal oversight.

And dammit, he's my brother. He's spent most of his days toiling for New Haven since shortly after The Fall, and he shouldn't have to do it in a way that stresses him out even more, makes him unhappy. He wants to work. I don't know what's been going on with the leadership here since we left, but I don't like the way things are heading. Too much manipulation, too little trust...I don't get it.

Give me the open road and a hungry zombie any day. Dave and I cut down a few of them when we left the fishing hut, and it felt good. A clearly defined enemy is always the best option. Screw all this bullshit with the council. We didn't set it up to run every part of our lives.

Something is gonna give. There's no other choice.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Flip

Yesterday was sort of anticlimactic. I got put off the day before by Rich and the other people who now act as our court, instead being told to come in yesterday morning to talk to them.

This is one of the small changes I've missed out on in the time we've been gone. Whereas before the team and I left we had a simple and flexible set of basic laws for offenses and punishment, now we don't. There are still guidelines and rules for people to live by, but Rich, Treesong, and a few others have been experimenting with the idea of a much more flexible system.

The basic concept seems to be effective for a population as small and unified as ours. The basic rules are the same: no killing or rape, no stealing or infringing on anyone else's rights. The problem we had before was that too many people were afraid of the sole deciding power of judgment and sentencing residing in one person. So with this new system, the same laws exist but those who break them get a different experience. Now instead of just Rich playing the part of judge, there are five people acting as a court. Five citizen judges who are part of a pool of eleven people that are always on call to act.

The really different part of it is that while the laws pertaining to daily life for citizens are the same, the rules for punishments have been totally revamped. Gone is the meticulously detailed chart describing specific punishments and duration times for offenses. Instead the court itself takes in all factors in an offense and sets whatever punishment is most fitting for the person.

Seems dangerous to put that kind of power in the hands of a few people, and potentially at least, it is. But the intent here isn't a grab for power--it's to individualize punishments to maximize their effectiveness on the individual while maintaining security for the group. So if a mother of two is found guilty of stealing, she won't be sent away from her kids and her normal duties, which would weaken the group. Instead she might be forced to work double shifts, making amends to the wronged party with her work, but still able to care for her family. I'm fuzzy on a lot of the details, but from what I hear crime is virtually nonexistent at the moment. Even in our best times, New Haven had its fair share of rowdy hotheads and disagreements gone too far.

Not anymore.

The general lack of zombie attacks here in the recent months led to this decision. As it turns out, people used to spending their days worrying about the next wave of undead have a hard time adjusting back to relative peace. Energy can't be created or destroyed, and it has to go somewhere. Sometimes that means into drunken fistfights. The problem wasn't overwhelming but it was escalating slowly over a period of weeks, thus the change in how the judiciary works. Effective to say the least. And the whole thing runs with careful oversight by the council.

I learned all that the day before yesterday, after I'd been told to come back in the morning. I was worried that I'd have to really fight to get Will's sentence revoked, or that Rich and the other judges had become a bit enamored with power. Months of constant vigilance for the slightest threat have made my natural caution kick it up a step into paranoia, as I've mentioned before.

So imagine my surprise when, after giving the five people in charge of Will's fate my opening statement, they unanimously agreed to return him to full citizenship. It was easy, far too easy. There was a lot of bad blood between Will and many citizens of New Haven, and I didn't understand at first why my request had been immediately granted.

Being paranoid, I dug into the background quite a bit. Turns out that Dodger, who you may remember is in charge of New Haven's defenses, is too important to be allowed out on long or dangerous trips. There is growing concern with the shadowy group that appears to be taunting our citizens, however, and something needs to be done. Whoever these strangers are that move around the area mostly unseen, they're dangerous and something needs to be done about them. So far they haven't done any major damage to us, but the council thinks it's only a matter of time. A few bridges out in the county, ones that lead to places where we hunt or gather food in the warm months, have been collapsed. Three large houses where we've set up caches of spare supplies have been ransacked.

Which means they've been watching for a long time. Unseen, but over our shoulders. Will has been tasked with the job of finding them and figuring out exactly what needs to be done. Dodger is important to New Haven's defenses, even though Will designed most of them. Will is a full citizen again, but the politics of the move are clear--knowing he'd accept the job, he was asked to do something necessary yet incredibly dangerous. He's going to have to spend days at a time out there, dealing with hungry zombies, whoever these people are attacking our supply chain, and probably the odd marauder or two. Worse, he's got to start as soon as possible which will be very hard on him. His leg is healing but won't be of much use to him out there.

Fortunately much of Will's value is in his brilliance rather than his strong arm. He'll have help, and as long as he doesn't have to move from the passenger seat of a vehicle, Evans thinks he'll be able to go out in a week or so. He sure as hell won't enjoy the experience, and the trips will have to be short at first, but he's going to do it.

I, for one, am not happy about this. Will has done more than almost anyone here to safeguard New Haven, and for longer than most of them as well. Yeah, he's made mistakes, but I don't see that as good enough reason to send an injured man out there where, if he meets with an unfortunate end, the people back home who detest him won't be very upset. It reeks of political maneuvering, and it makes me sick.

Bet your ass I'm going out with Will on every trip.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land

The chimes we had set up around the camp yesterday did go off, but it was only one of New Haven's scouts coming to get us. We were led home over safe roads, untouched by whatever shadowy group is moving around the area making trouble and setting traps. I'll get to them some other time, because today is about one thing and one thing only: coming home.

I cried when I came through the gate. I've missed this place so much, and pushed that feeling into the back of my mind for so long that when New Haven came into view, I couldn't stop the flood of relief. So long away from home and so many changes have happened. It's hard to know where to begin.

New Haven itself looks different. When we left all those months ago, the stone walls had just been put up. Many of the additions to them were missing and several finishing touches not even begun. Dodger and Dave had been busy men while we were away. The walls are festooned with homemade guns, bolstered with spikes and walkways, and there's now a solidly constructed chain-link fence all the way around the top of it. There are sections of the chain link that open like windows and doors spaced all around the perimeter. Where the hell Dave found so much pristine fence is one of many questions floating around the back of my head.

I've been kept in the loop about some things that have gone on in New Haven since we left, but not being in charge of day-to-day operations meant that a lot of stuff wasn't included in those reports. The project I was planning on starting before I left, a giant heat-powered refrigeration unit, is done. Once the parts we needed came in, Dave set to building it with gusto. Being able to store meat without fear of it spoiling is a huge advancement for us. Bless Ferdinand CarrĂ© for inventing the absorption refrigerator. When he realized how efficient the thing was going to be, Dave built it much larger than the original design called for. We've got enough food stocked up in there to take us through a very lean month or two.

Maybe I'm going on about my brother's work too much. With fair weather for much of the time we've been gone and a large workforce to draw on, Dave has accomplished a lot. I'll get into more of that in other posts. I'm home now, there's time for things like that.

I wish I could tell you that I'm a good person and went to visit all my friends, but I totally didn't do that. I went home, kicked the small gathering of people out of my house, and got reacquainted with my wife. Three times.

(I'm cleverly pointing out that I had lots of SEX yesterday. In case you missed that.)

Jess is looking good. She was getting skinny not long before I left because of the food shortages, but the fall and winter have been good to her and New Haven. She's healthy and strong, as well as eager to show me some of the new skills she's been learning while I've been away. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a little frightened that she wants me to wear armor for one of those demonstrations.

With her, it feels like I never left. Jess is a paradox that way: in many important aspects, she's as steady and unchanging as you could hope for. She's endlessly curious and evolves as a person with a speed that surprises most people, but the core of who she is never changes. She's my wife, my love, my perfect other half. There was no awkwardness between us, no nervous shuffling about. Just joy.

The rest of the place, though...

So much has changed here that you'd think we were gone for several years rather than several months. I'm stumped as to how so much work has been accomplished, even with the easy times New Haven has had lately. I'll have to ask Dave how he managed it, and where all the new materials came from. It's not just buildings or extra supplies whose origins I'm unaware of, either. The people are different. There's an air of relaxation and contentment that is completely new.

That caught me off guard, I'll admit. My folks took in Kincaid and his group of marauders not too long ago. I was sure there would be some obvious signs of distrust and tension, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Either I'm way too cynical, or Kincaid is doping the drinking water with something.

The sad thing is, I'm halfway considering asking Becky to check the water out.

I've been lazing about the house enough since I've been back. Will is being seen to by Evans and Phil, and by Gabby all last night. I didn't get to see any of them because I'm a sex maniac, but I should get off my ass and go say hello to a few people. But before any of that, I have something very important to do.

Will went with us on this trip of his own volition, even though he was still technically a prisoner. He risked his life time and again with no thought of escaping. I'm heading over to talk to a few people on the council, maybe even try to see Rich, our judge. Will has more than earned his freedom, and I intend to see he gets it.

I admire Will more now than ever. He's faced the hordes of undead at my side and at times taking the lead. He has protected us all, thought creatively, and done his utmost to serve the needs of the group. He kept Rachel, one of my oldest friends, from despair when they were captured together. Enough is enough.

There are a lot of things to look into, a dozen little mysteries to explore, people to catch up with, duties to resume, lost friends to mourn...

But I'm home. We're home. And it's a sweeter homecoming than I thought possible

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Home Stretch

We're very close now. We'd have made it home yesterday but once more, caution got the better of us. I can't say much here, but I can tell you that we've got good reason to believe that the roads nearby have been trapped. We've had reports from scouts detailing some strange happenings, which include instances of sighting observers spying on New Haven and the scouts themselves. Everyone is cautious.

We're waiting until New Haven's scouts can get to us. They're doing a thorough inspection of the route from where we've gone to ground to back home. Until then, we're sitting tight.

Will is holding up, but he's eager to get home. We've had to hunt already since we set up camp yesterday, as he needs a lot of protein to continue healing. I'm more than a little worried at how how wounds look, but his temperature isn't near any danger zones and the stitches are holding together. I guess his injuries look worse for all the jostling and transfers he's had to deal with. I hope that's all.

It's bitter cold around here, so the zombie activity is minimal. I'd like to see us head home while the intensity of the cold is still at this level so we can minimize the risk in traveling. We're tired and worn thin by the stress and weather. We're almost done in.

...

Steve is yelling. Something's tripped our early warning system. Time to go.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

HailDown

We're a lot closer to home than we thought we'd be. Yesterday afternoon we outran the swarm of zombies we had following us for protection. The idea was to let the people following us get slowed down by them and gain a little distance. It worked like a charm. We managed a good ten mile lead on our pursuers.

Let me preface this next part with a disclaimer: killing zombies wantonly is one thing. They're always a threat, and I've yet to see a reason why I should hesitate from killing one when it's posing a threat to me. Killing human beings is sometimes the only right thing to do, and sadly those times are all too common nowadays. But I try not to do it indiscriminately.

So when we set the explosives, it wasn't with the intent to kill anyone. Just stop them for a good while.

The idea was to find a section of highway that was cut into a hill. they're all over Kentucky and there are a few places like that where we are as well. Becky put together some homemade stuff a while back, sort of a rainy day bomb fund. When we found a good section of road with the familiar craggy cliffs on either side, we set up. Explosives in the deepest cracks we could find in order to blow out both sides of the rock face. I've seen what a bad ice storm can do to those cliffs many times. They're perfect for a makeshift obstruction.

So we set the timer and moved up a few hundred yards. We figured there was at least ten minutes from when we clicked the start button to when our pursuers showed up. We only gave the clocks on the explosives five minutes.

In all fairness, that part worked out well. The eruptions of stone and dirt from the hillsides were almost simultaneous. Rocks ranging in size from pebbles to watermelons rained down on the road, and two large slopes of debris formed very quickly as more and more newly loosened material tumbled from the heights. There were many high-fives exchanged. Rachel looked smug: it was her idea.

The dust was incredibly thick. That's probably why the people following us got so close. They must not have seen us down the road a ways, and we could just make out the forms of their vehicles as they approached the mass of broken earth before them. Pieces were still falling like dirty snowflakes, though they'd slowed down.

From our position hundreds of feet away through the glass of our windows, we heard the crack that came next. High up along the cliff face a huge boulder broke free, spinning as it smashed the pile of rubble below it. The sudden change in momentum slammed the thing sideways like a spinning top that bumped into a bowl on a table. It was vicious and sudden, causing the boulder to fragment into two smaller pieces and slam into the lead vehicle.

The SUV at the front of the pack didn't stand a chance. It was almost ripped in half.

Some of the pursuers had to have seen us at that point, because we heard gunshots and saw divots of asphalt spew into the air behind us. What could we do at that point? Explain ourselves? Who would believe that our intentions were (relatively) good? I don't think I would have if I were in their position.

So, we ran. We're still running. That section of road would have taken a lot of work to clear, time that we've used to put space between us and them. I was watching through binoculars as we pulled away, trying to gauge the number of people after us.

I couldn't get an accurate count. But the strange thing? Some of them looked familiar.


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Tools at Hand

I'm keeping it short today as we don't have time to waste. Late yesterday Rachel caught a glimpse of whoever is following us. Getting confirmation from someone else is nice, but it also means I'm not just paranoid and that we have a serious problem. The question is whether they're following us home or just waiting for an opportune time to attack us.

We're not in very good fighting shape, that much is obvious. Even if their numbers match ours we'd be greatly overwhelmed. Will came up with a solution, and it makes me think he's crazier than the rest of us put together.

We're using zombies. We've spent the morning slowly accumulating a train of them behind us. We're moving at a snail's pace so they can keep up and don't lose interest. The bag of raw meat we're trailing behind us helps with that a bit.

They've created a buffer for us. It would be impossible for anyone to get close enough to do us harm without having to deal with our pet swarm. Yes, it's stupidly dangerous, but so is having some marauder jam a knife in my throat while I'm sleeping. Trust me, I know.

The debate has been whether or not to keep heading for home. Now that we know we're being followed, I have to ask why. Where New Haven is located isn't a secret. We aren't necessary for anyone to find their way to Frankfort. Any map would do the trick.

I've talked to Jess and some of the others at New Haven, and they're telling us to come on home. The citizens are ready to deal with whatever may come. The walls are strong, weapons ready. I don't know if it's the right thing to do, but I'm leaning that direction.

We're making slow progress today, but my hope is that we can lose our pursuers when we get closer to home. I won't say how I plan on doing that since they might be reading this, but I have some thoughts.

That's about all I have time for. We're threading a needle with these zombies, and time is critical. I'll check in again when I can. Cross your fingers for us.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Certain Kind of Madness

I've had a few emails from people worried that my lack of a post yesterday was due to delayed shock or something over killing Alex. I take days off from posting regularly, but intended to write something yesterday anyway. I didn't have a chance.

Let me assure you: for better or worse, I'm not losing any sleep over Alex's corpse. He was a rapist and a tyrant, and he deserved worse than he got. You're welcome to disagree.

Yesterday was too busy for us to justify time writing. We traveled the first part of the morning, but around lunch I had to seriously pull rank for the first time. About two hundred miles from home, we came across a huge mass of zombies. And I do mean huge--they carpeted both sides of the highway from the bottom of the hill in front of us all the way to the top and maybe beyond. At least hundreds, maybe thousands.

The debate was whether to drive through them or not. They were all laying down doing the hibernation thing. Usually with new breed zombies there are some who stay conscious to keep watch. Luckily for us it was so cold, down in the single digits and very windy, that none of them moved around. Will theorizes that the new breed uses a lot more energy and has less reserves to draw on, making it harder for them to be active in extremely low temperatures than other zombies.

The team wanted to drive over them and keep going forward. I didn't. The team wouldn't be what it is if there was no respect for its structure, so they didn't mutiny on me and tie me up or anything. They disagreed with my decision to turn back and find an alternate route, but they did it. I can't say I blame them for wanting to be home as quickly as possible, but the closer we get the more obsessive they become about it. Once we made the choice to head home, something clicked in all our heads. The urge to get there is powerful, and I'm not immune.

I'm just more paranoid and likely crazier than the others. At first I didn't think about why they were so upset, but when we got turned around and headed south again I remembered that the last few exits we'd passed were choked with cars. We'd have to go back twenty miles at least. That was time consuming but not terribly so.

Things got more complicated when we'd backtracked for a few miles. No one else seemed to see it, but I was convinced I saw moving reflections in the distance, like someone was driving away from us. We haven't been all that worried about being followed, having seen no signs, but this made me nervous. Then I had to pull rank really hard, and so now we're taking a wide detour to get home. Like, the 'adds a few days to the trip' kind of detour. We're going better than a hundred miles out of the way to circle around and head back home to Frankfort and New Haven. No one is happy about it, but I'm not sleeping with one eye open. Even if my friends were secretly soulless killers driven by hate, they wouldn't take me out. One less person in a group this small makes a big difference in a fight.

Not that I'm worried, but again: paranoid. I can't stop myself from figuring the odds.

With any luck we'll be home in less than a week, barring zombies or marauders. The detour is taking us to a road I know to be in good repair and clear, so there shouldn't be any more surprises on that front.

Now to just get to it. These backwoods are a mess, and the going is slow. All work and no play make Josh a dull boy...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

With Bells On

I killed a man in cold blood this morning. I cut his throat while he slept, and I held him down as he bled to death.

I don't feel bad about it at all.

Yesterday afternoon, we stopped at a small homestead. We'd seen the smoke from the road and decided to investigate. The long driveway was peppered with zombies, a few dozen maybe. We drove past them, as they didn't seem interested in attacking our vehicle. They were new breed undead, and they followed us toward the house.

The house itself was grand--a big old farmhouse that had clearly been around for a century or so. There were additions sprawling out from it, and a wall built around the whole thing maybe a hundred and fifty feet across. A big circle with a single gate, ten feet high. The top of the thing sloped outward, as if someone inside had taken the last two feet of wall and pushed it at an angle. Spires of metal jutted out like claws. All in all, a good defense. Maybe not as effective against the new breed, but clearly the people that lived there were good at keeping them at bay as well.

A face poked up over the gate as we approached, an arm followed. The small boy pointed at the undead following us, his intent clear: clean up your mess before you come in. Steve, Rachel, and I climbed onto the roof of the trailer with our bows as Bill parked the truck. We only had to kill half a dozen of them before the rest made a tactical retreat back to the edge of the woods nearby, giving us time to get through the gate.

I'll say this much: the primary goal wasn't to get a warm place to sleep. The weather is insane right now, going from deadly cold to almost spring-like. It stormed hard yesterday and we wanted a place to park with at least some protection from the wind.

I introduced myself to the small group of women and children that came out to greet us. Most of them were family, the ladies a pair of sisters plus one of their friends, the children belonging to the three of them. Plus one orphan who had wandered onto their property. I introduced myself and the team, but only I was invited in. We were strangers, after all. Trust is a beautiful commodity, but at times has to be treated as precious goods. Not easily shared.

The team didn't want me to go in alone. I agreed it was a bad idea, and I went anyway. My reason was simple--I was curious. Not about a small group of survivors out here on their own, I've seen too much human tenacity and resilience to be surprised by that kind of thing anymore. The thing that got my attention was the body language of the women and kids who met us. They screamed nervousness with the way they carried themselves, but it wasn't me causing it. When those women looked at me, I saw something else entirely.

Hope.

I won't give you a long account of how my evening went, just the broad strokes. I had dinner with the whole group of people who lived on that farm, twenty-two of them. Of that, six were children. Twelve were women. The other four, men. Well, two grown men and two boys that were old enough to shave but barely that. The leader of the group was a big man named Alex. He was probably six-three, two forty or so. Solid guy. His manners were impeccable with me even if his treatment of the women and kids was more brusque than I'd have liked. We talked about the trip I'm on, the team, New Haven and all the places I've been. He seemed genuinely curious.

Naturally, I wondered what was making the women and children (and from what I could tell, the other three adult males there as well) so afraid of Alex. Was he abusing them, and if so why didn't they just take matters into their own hands? Did he have some kind of hold over the rest of the group I couldn't guess at?

Later in the evening one of the women, a slip of a sixteen-year-old girl, managed to get me away from Alex for a few minutes. Turns out that outhouses are becoming quite the rage, and those people don't let anyone go out alone. Alex wasn't thrilled to see me leave his sight with one of the women, but I'd been searched for weapons, and the girl had a small knife pointed at one of my kidneys. I suppose I should have been angry at those kinds of measures, but again, I've seen too much to blame anyone for their caution. I can have a good pee under pressure. Lots of practice.

During the sixty seconds or so we were outside, the girl fiercely whispered a story to me. The gist was that Alex was the only one with guns, safely locked away in his room with a stockpile of ammo. He only let the others use them when zombies were very close to the walls and in such numbers that firearms were the only choice. Alex was, she told me, very dangerous. He was fast, strong, and clearly had combat training. He carried a small .38 snub nose on him and could whip the thing out and fire with lightning speed.

He was dangerous, and he'd killed the last person who stood up to him with a shot to the head. In front of everyone.

The girl told me that Alex's room was rigged with bells to alert him to intruders, though he never locked the door. He didn't lock it because each night he demanded the presence of one of the women in his room. Whom he then did as he pleased with. He always sent the woman away before he fell asleep, only then securing his bedroom.

Alex invited me to sleep in the house, in the room with the other three men. It would be cramped, he said, but warm. I told him I needed to talk it over with the team, and he agreed. He stood at the door of the trailer as I went in to 'talk' to the others. What I was really doing was grabbing some medicine we'd snagged from the pharmacy and ground into powder. I put the little baggie of it into my mouth where Alex wouldn't see, and went through the motions of talking with the team.

I managed to slip the girl, whose name was Sara, the baggie. I mouthed "his drink" to her, and hoped she got the idea.

She did. Sara volunteered to go to Alex's room, and she made him his usual whiskey and coke. The little baggie made him very sleepy very quickly, and when she came to wake me I was ready. The other men didn't stir as I made my way toward Alex's room. I picked my way carefully across the hardwood, watching the way the moonlight played along the floor to catch the fishing line strung about. It wasn't that hard.

I watched him sleep for a few minutes, and oddly I didn't wonder why so many people had lived with this man for so long, enduring his attention and abuse. In the world that was, someone like him might have gotten away with it for years, but chances were good that he'd get caught or stood up to eventually. Alex was clearly too cautious to be caught off guard, and those people had seen him shoot a woman in the face for daring to protest her own rape.

There's been a lot of discussion since The Fall about morality and what is right. I can tell you with utter certainty that some ultimate truth exists, and I found a small piece of it last night. That man used his willingness to kill to force others into a state of constant fear for their lives. A dictator will brutalize his subjects so effectively that they will lose all but a vestigial urge to fight back. Fear is the most powerful motivator for survival we possess.

I looked down on him, drugged beyond belief but still twitching as if on the edge of consciousness. Almost as though he knew something was about to go terribly wrong. I saw then that shred of pure truth: he needed to die. It was the right thing. The moral thing. I didn't feel trepidation or guilt, nor did I feel good. The only thing that went through my mind was the resigned sadness that another life full of human potential had to end. Also, I really liked the boots I'd gotten from Block and I didn't want to ruin them with blood.

So I did it. With some consideration but no hesitation, I whipped the blade across his neck even as I slid an arm around his face. When he flopped over, thrashing to get away, I wrapped my legs around his body. It didn't take long, though it wasn't easy. We rolled across the floor, snapping lines of string and twine, his ruined throat unable to produce more than a wet rasp.

Alex died with the sound of bells.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Horizons

We're on our way again. We left our little town behind a few hours ago, and we're making decent time. The weather actually turned in our favor yesterday afternoon, melting much of the snow on the roads, but we wanted to leave fresh and rested rather than only go for a few hours and have to find a campsite.

Will is holding up pretty well. Becky is stiff with all her stitches, but she can take care of most of her own wounds without help and has no problem tending to Will's as well. My primary concern with moving him was with infection, getting caught far away from any safe haven that we could care for him in. That was before we ransacked a pharmacy, however. Barring any further trauma, we have enough medicine and supplies to handle just about anything Will's body can throw at us.

I wish I could say that the trip from Block has been easy on him so far, but that's not the case. It hurts him to move at all, and we have to care for all his needs. I don't mind being the guy with the bedpan, as I was a nurse's aide when The Fall came around. I don't like having to move him around and jostle his leg at all. Every time is a risk. When we transfer him on the stretcher we brought from Block (one of many they'd taken from abandoned ambulances in the area) we do a little better, but he still yells out in pain when we hit the smallest bump.

You'll understand why we keep him pretty doped up. The amount of pain one person can deal with is finite, and Will Price has a lot of tolerance. He won't ask for pain meds until he's already hurting so bad that he can barely speak. We make that choice for him.

As the official leader of this little group, the ultimate call is up to me. I'm not comfortable with the idea of basically forcing him to medicate. Philosophically, it bothers me to make that choice for anyone. On a practical level, I've spent way too much time in healthcare. You wouldn't believe how many people get addicted to pain medicine. It's way, way more than you think.

Get down to brass tacks, though, and we don't really have much choice. Will can twitch in his sleep and wake up screaming. On the road in relatively warm weather where zombies may be out walking, that's a recipe for disaster. Not to mention the psychological damage enduring so much agony for so long can do to someone. It's a lot like being tortured, only you can't give up information to make it stop.

Still, we're on the road now and every minute brings us closer to home. I can't tell you where we are right now, but we're several hundred miles away. If the roads were totally clear of snow, cars, and trees, I'd say we could be there as early as tomorrow. We're still finding long stretches that have had the cars cleared from them only to abruptly end in huge traffic jams of abandoned vehicles. Trees are down all over, causing us to detour often. Patches of ice make the going even slower. We can't afford to be anything less than cautious at all times.

We're also stopping every two hours. All of us have needs to attend to, and it's imperative that we keep a close eye on Will's leg. We're in a hurry, but we can't afford to be hurried, if that makes any sense to you. It's worth stopping for ten minutes every few hours if it means whoever is driving won't be distracted at a critical time by a full bladder. It's worth it if changing Will's bandages far more often than they need it keeps his wounds from getting infected.

Slow and steady, just like the turtle. Every mile of this last bit of the trip is us exploring a new place, even if it's only through a window.

Time's up. We're packing it in to continue on, and I'll have to turn off the transmitter. Stay warm out there. Stay safe.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Evolution of Man

A comment on my post yesterday got me thinking. The reader pointed out that we should be careful with the tanks of propane we gathered, as they might contain anhydrous ammonia, an incredibly volatile and deadly substance used in meth cooking. My thanks to that reader for thinking of our safety, but I was already aware of the danger. That thought, remembering my firefighter training and the meth fire I helped put out while I was in school, led me to this post.

I've always been a curious person. Before the zombies came and burned our world down, I'd had a lot of jobs. I've talked about that before, but I think it bears repeating. I've got a degree in Fire/Rescue Technology, and a ton of training in all the crazy things you need to know to be a firefighter. I loved school, loved the fact that a good firefighter has to be a solid generalist. You've got to know a lot about the construction of many kinds of buildings, the materials that go into them. How they burn, their strengths and weaknesses. I got an EMT certification during the first six months of the program, which is a whole other set of skills. I know ropes and knots, the tensile strengths of a dozen kinds of ropes made of various materials. I was fascinated.

I've always been that way with my work. I've worked a broad spectrum of jobs that made me surf the web, learning more about all manner of details of what I did for a living. Combine that with my curiosity in general, and you've got a person with a very broad set of skills. I can build a house. Set a bone, stitch a wound. I spent many years pursuing education in the martial arts not because I wanted to be a badass, but because I wanted to build an understanding of the mechanics of the human body and how to exploit them. The philosophy also attracted me, obviously.

I don't say this to make myself sound impressive. Of all the skills and pieces of knowledge I've picked up, none are as dear to me as the survival skills I learned. Those classes were fun but far more important gave me the rudimentary knowledge I needed to survive in very harsh circumstances.

In short, I was lucky. I had many chances to fill my brain with information that might come in handy one day, and I took them. The larger realization that hit me yesterday was that most people who've survived The Fall are the same. Maybe not slackers like me who were directionless in their lives as long as I was, allowing me the time to learn at my leisure, but generalists with a lot of very useful knowledge. Many people have had to learn on their feet since the zombie plague hit, and I'm damn impressed by that. I had the luxury of calmer times and quiet reflection to amass my skills. Most other people had to pick it up or die.

This is a subject I've talked about before, as I've said, but I can't help banging this drum. If you're reading this (and sometime in the last few days, LWtD reached 100,000 hits, which is nearly a miracle) then you've survived under conditions and facing threats that were too much for the vast majority of people to handle. I see Rachel, Steve, Becky, and Bill working around our little cottage here, shoring up drafty spots in the roof, working leather into usable clothes, making meals that efficiently combine nutrition and calories, and a hundred other little things. They are little things, but I really want you to think about that.

Think about all the small things you've had to learn since all this began. Did you know how to sew? Could you have done a decent set of stitches in a ripped pair of pants? Maybe, maybe not. But I bet you learned. I bet you put your mind to that and a ton of other skills that are simple but incredibly useful in daily life. I've said before, with many caveats and moments of hesitation, that The Fall has some silver linings to it. This is one of them. People are improving themselves to meet the challenges of the world we live in. We have to.

I just find it very impressive. It's a bit funny as well--for example before The Fall, I knew maybe one or two people who knew how to make gunpowder. I can think of three dozen who do now off the top of my head. I know men who had never done a bit of auto repair, always taking their cars to the shop at the smallest sign of trouble who can diagnose and fix any of twenty common problems with their vehicles.

I see it in the efforts of the team to make our little temporary home more comfortable and livable. We used to focus so much on how hard it was to live in this new world that at times we ignored the lessons it was trying to teach us. I guess what I'm saying with this long, winding rant is that I'm proud of us. All of us. We may never reach our full potential, but by god we're gonna keep on trying.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Glass

I went out on a round of searching early this morning. We've decided to wait out the weather here in our little abandoned town and our stone shack. Since we're stationary for a while, it seemed like a good idea to stock up on everything we could use. To that end we've redoubled our scouting efforts and started doing house-to-house searches and venturing farther away from our base.

Rachel found a farm supply store not far from where we are, and we raided the hell out of it. I've got a new set of insulated heavy boots, a set of very nice coveralls, and more scarves, toboggans, and gloves than I could ever need. I like to dress in layers when I'm going to be outside when it's less than twenty degrees out.

I went out with Steve about two hours before dawn. We decided to make our way to the edge of town and move in a broad circle around the perimeter. The buildings out that way are farther apart, but they're also surrounded by thick woods and undergrowth that made us hopeful the contents hadn't been disturbed too much. Someone has looted this town in the past, but not heavily. It looks like whoever has been through here only snagged easy items from the homes nearest the main road.

For example, the first pharmacy Rachel found had barely been touched. There were lots of medications and supplies to be had, which is nearly a miracle considering our current situation. The same can be said of the houses on the outskirts of town. The first few we went to hadn't been touched, and produced a variety of items that might come in handy. We've found more guns and ammo than we can realistically carry given our limited space, so we've put them into a stockpile to be sorted later.

The fifth house we found was the most interesting of all. Two stories high, old but well maintained, the place looked like most of the other places nearby. Aside from being so screened in by trees that we almost walked right past it, the house didn't seem at all different from the neighboring places a hundred yards on either side. That was what we thought, right up until we walked into the place.

The first thing we noticed was the heavy locks on the doors. Expensive ones. Took us a few minutes to get in. The interior didn't seem off at first glance, though the fireplace was bricked over in what was clearly an amateurish bit of work. We searched the first and second floors, not coming up with anything of great significance. A few hunting knives, some .45 caliber bullets. A whole box of trashy romance novels, which we would have used in the fireplace to warm the house while we searched. Oh, a few Stephen King paperbacks, which I stuffed in my backpack.

Don't want to forget the meth lab in the basement. That part was unexpected.

I was scared to go down there at first. I've had this deep aversions to unlit basements since I was a little kid, when my brother David began telling me that all the bad guys from slasher movies were going to come up from there to get me. Rationally, I know that's not the case, but the seed of fear in my psyche has had decades to grow and now has heavy roots.

Completely aside from that, meth labs are scary for totally rational reasons. They contain explosively flammable gases, some of the deadliest chemicals known to man, and are usually run by people with no training in chemistry or lab safety and who are addicted to the substance they're making, which turns their brains into overcooked pot roast.

So yeah, fun times. The lab itself was reasonably neat and orderly. There were supplies to harvest, mostly in the form of tanks of propane and some burners (which we plan on cleaning very thoroughly before we use) plus a few other things.

The really insane part was the pound or so of crystal meth sitting on the counter. For a few seconds, my brain rebelled at the idea that what looked like a giant back of rock salt was of any value in any way. It was just this stuff you couldn't eat (safely), couldn't use for pretty much anything. Plus it alters your mind, which is always a huge risk. Useless stuff.

Then my outlook shifted just a tiny bit. Ice. Glass. Meth. The stuff had been a plague on the US, especially in the south. That bag had, at one point, been worth tens of thousands of dollars. Now what value did it have? None that I could see. Steve and I left it where it was and took the other gear upstairs. The people who had owned the lab must have enjoyed four-wheeling. Steve and I found three of them in the garage. Gas, too.

If I weren't worried about starting a forest fire, I'd go back and burn that house down. There are some things that should be left in the past. Humankind has enough threats, from zombies to our own people, hanging over our heads. One less thing to damage us is a win, in my mind.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bare Bones

I'm writing this offline and firing up the transmitter just long enough to send it. We're not in mortal danger yet, but things are not good for us.

We've been struggling with downed trees and other roadblocks for days. Our rate of travel is somewhere around what a baby is capable of if it were wearing a lead onesie. The cold has gotten truly bone-chilling, which has sent the zombies into retreat mode. That's about all the good I can see in the weather, since I imagine the cold is what keeps on snapping trees.

We've been stuck in a small town for the last day and a half. Always productive, we've spent a good portion of that time gathering what supplies we can find and siphoning fuel. I'm pretty sure we'll have to begin figuring a way to give the gasoline we find a bit of pep, as most of it is going on two years old now. I remember trying to start a lawnmower with year-old gas once, and that was a task to reckon with.

We've made camp in an old house. A really, really old house. I think it was a historical site before The Fall, because the place looks Victorian at least. We spend our waking hours in the house itself or out in the cutting wind searching for supplies, but we're actually sleeping in the small servant's quarters built just off the main house. It's small and made of heavy brick, and has been very well preserved or refurbished with a wood stove and even a pile of firewood. It's a tight fit for all of us at once, but we need to keep Will somewhere we can keep heated at all times. He's still so weak...

The trip from Block to here has been a rough one for all of us, but especially for him. He's tough as old leather, but I can see the cold and travel have taken their toll on him. I'm praying for a break in the weather so we can get him home safely. Maybe I should add a postscript onto that message to god, asking that He kindly stop slowing us down with detours around trees.

We're a pretty experienced crew, used to getting along under less than prime conditions, but the cold is making all of us irritable and muzzy. Steve's eye socket is still healing, and it apparently hurts like ten kinds of bastard when the wind gets under his patch. He's been putting dressings on it the last day, but has to be careful how many he uses, as Will requires a lot of supplies for his leg. Becky isn't much easier on our rolls of gauze, though thankfully most of her wounds were stitched early on and have healed up enough not to bleed.

Rachel and Bill are working together, and they get along famously. Bill is up and about, limping heavily but able to walk on his own. He and Rachel seem to be handling the incessant biting winds better than the rest of us, so they're doing most of the supply hunting farther out into town. Not that they can go more than a hundred yards without frost forming on their skin.

We still don't know why the roads have been so relatively free of cars, but I haven't seen any tracks in the snow that would indicate other travelers out here with us. For the moment, at least, it feels like the road is ours and ours alone. It's relieving because that means we probably aren't in much danger and the feeling of dread is baseless and just shows that I'm a needless worrier. It's also sad because being on the road, no matter how bad the conditions, feels lonely. Empty. Highways should bustle with other drivers. It's not like I haven't been driving all over the country for months and from time to time before that. You'd think the feeling would be something I'd encountered before. Maybe it's just the urgency of our trip or how the pristine snow around us makes it so starkly obvious that no one else is out there. I don't know. I just find myself sharply missing people a lot. All people. Any people. Even asshole drivers that cut you off because they're on their phones.

Ugh. Getting maudlin again. That's my cue to go. I need to make some breakfast anyway. Steve brought down a deer last night, and there's stew left over. We need all the calories we can manage. I should heat that up while the others are out stomping around in the snow. Maybe I'll break out my emergency stash of hot cocoa mix, that might lift our spirits.

God knows we need it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fortune

We got lucky today. This morning it got much warmer, into the high thirties by eight or so. Rain started to fall pretty hard, and that helped clear away a lot of the snow. Well, it made the snow into slush, but for our needs that was fine.

It took a while to dig ourselves out yesterday, and the going was terribly slow. I think we managed about seventy miles before we stopped to camp again. It was just too dangerous to go more than ten miles an hour most of the time and there were spots where we had to stop and scrape the road clear to make sure the irregularities we saw in the snow cover weren't missing sections of road or hidden pieces of debris that would cripple the truck.

That being said, today we've had to take several detours off the main roads we're using to try to get home. The first came about ten minutes after we got rolling this morning, in the form of about two dozen new breed zombies waiting in the road for us. The truck makes a lot of noise, so I can't say I'm surprised that they heard us coming.

That was a fun little diversion. We saw the undead, immediately went off onto the nearest side road, and Bill drove like mad to lose the swarm before it could catch and overwhelm us. He maybe hit a top speed of twenty MPH. In the end, Steve and I climbed up through the hatch in the trailer's roof and picked off the faster zombies chasing after us. Eventually we lost them, but it was a tense few minutes.

Our other major detour came not long after we got onto the main road. We ran into a downed tree we couldn't drive around, but it seemed a bit suspicious to us. It was right in the middle of a swath of overgrown bushes and trees that hugged the sides of the road. None of us wanted to get close enough to cut through the tree. The whole thing screamed 'obvious trap' to the team.

So we backed the hell up and took another side road, trusting Bill yet again to steer us back toward the highway eventually. I'm up to drive next, so I haven't a lot of time, but I'll add here that one other fact has presented itself to us: the roads are suspiciously clear of abandoned vehicles. When survivors travel certain roads often, they tend to make paths through them. Sometimes they just drive heavy vehicles that can take a beating and nudge cars and trucks out of the way. Less often they'll take a shot at driving what vehicles they can off the roads. Sometimes we'll even fiddle with the steering wheel if we don't have keys to use, put them in neutral, and push them out of the way with sheer muscle.

There are tools for that kind of thing. Our mechanic back home is brilliant that way. Makes it easy for us to move cars we can't start. Many survivors do it.

Thing is, no one uses this route for trade. Yet all of the main roadways are very clean. The side roads are even relatively so. If trade doesn't explain this, the remaining options are far from happy ones. I'm trying not to worry about marauders right now. Especially since I have to drive.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Snowbound

Well, it's official: we're trapped by the snow. Oh, not at Block. No, no. We left out yesterday in an attempt to get back home before the real winter came in and schooled us all on what the season is supposed to be.

Fortunately it's not cold on a biblical level, staying in the high twenties right now. We drove most of yesterday and finally had to pull over for the night when the snow hit about six inches. Driving in the dark during heavy snow showers is just too dangerous. Imagine my surprise when I woke up a little while ago to find another three inches had fallen while we slept.

There isn't any zombie activity nearby that we can tell, but we're going to keep our eyes open. We've got to dig the truck and trailer out of the drift that built up overnight, and we'll head out soon. Slow going doesn't even begin to describe this trip right now, and while we have huge stockpiles of fuel with us, if the weather doesn't let up we're gonna burn through it fast.

The weather used to be the stuff of small talk and idle conversation. How funny is it that we're back to it being a serious threat to be worried over? Not that it wasn't that way last year, but I can't help chuckling at the fact that we're stuck here until we dig ourselves out. I miss snow plows.

This is going to be another short post, but I should be back tomorrow. I've been taking one day off from writing here every fifth day, but in the near future I'll probably change that up. Right now I need to strap some armor on and take watch for a bit while Steve, Rachel, and Bill do their turns digging. I'll give each of them breaks and eventually switch off with them. Right now I smell breakfast cooking outside. Steve got a little propane-powered griddle while we were in Block, and our hosts were nice enough to send some fresh bacon and eggs with us.

I was surprised, too. I guess my emotions really were on super high settings considering I spent virtually no time thinking about what all those floors of the buildings that make up Block were filled with. Turns out some farm animals are totally cool with living inside. With a little redecorating, chickens and pigs do just fine.

Okay, I'm rambling. I don't want to go out into the cold. I'm comfy right where I am. Still, we've got to get home as fast as possible, and lollygagging on here isn't moving us there. I'll be back tomorrow.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Heart of Winter

We've had such nice weather lately that when an incredible spike of cold hit Block early this morning, it caught us all off guard. Yesterday it got into the fifties by mid-morning. Today it's in the teens and snow is starting to sputter in.

We've had word from some folks in the east, and it isn't good. There's snow coming down hard all over the place. Looks like winter is on it's way. That makes things difficult for the team. Faced with the possibility that we'd be stuck here for a long while or having to face the snowy roads, we've made a choice.

We're leaving. Soon. I won't say when we're heading out exactly, but it isn't going to be long.

The cold snap has, thankfully, driven many of the zombies away. The new breed are as hardy in the cold as most other undead, but it still slows them down and requires more energy for them to move about. Scouts here report clusters of them grouping together and going into the strange hibernation zombies use to conserve energy. The difference between the new breed and the old school zombies is that the newbies don't risk getting cut to ribbons by enterprising survivors when they go inert this way. Some in their group stay awake, watching for danger.

They're faster, stronger, more durable, and work together better than the old school zombies. And damn it, they're all as smart or smarter than the smarties, who only had intelligence going for them. While I'm thrilled that we'll have a break from the swarms if it stays this cold when we leave, I can't help but worry about the threat such highly adapted enemies pose to us.

The trick is going to be leaving while it's still cold enough to slow down the undead, but not snowing badly enough to make the roads too dangerous to drive on. We didn't come totally unprepared for this situation, though, as we've got the parts stored on top of the trailer to make a plow for the truck. It's all aluminum, and honestly pretty roughly made, but it fits on the brackets our mechanics back in New Haven put on. Whether or not it works properly hasn't been tested. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

Hate to cut it short today, but there are some things I need to deal with before we can make plans to leave. Tons of details to work out in order for the team to have a good chance at making it home with all members intact. If the staff here don't think Will can travel, we may have to consider leaving him here. I don't like the possibility, but there it is. The unspoken worry that's been gnawing at me for the last day or two. Will may not survive the trip home. Part of what I need to do right now is try to figure out all the ins and outs of Will's care to see if taking him with us is going to be manageable. I hope so.

Shit. It's starting to snow heavily.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Undaunted

I'm happy to report that Becky is now allowed to move about with some limited freedom. She still has to hang about the clinic due to the nature of her wounds and how often they need to be checked, but she's smiling and wandering around in a wheelchair.

The days of being immobile and fading in and out of consciousness with all the work being done on her have left her looking pretty frail. She hasn't been able to keep a lot of food down, and even before The Fall Becky wasn't known for being overly full-figured. Now she's almost frighteningly skinny, her cheekbones starkly jutting from her face.

Then again, she's been eating like it's her last meal most of the morning, so I'm not that worried.

Getting her nutrition in check is going to do a lot to help her heal faster. I've been worried about her more than I can explain, so much that I've had to leave off focusing on her too much when I post. I already worry, writing about it would just drive me nuts. Maybe now I won't feel the need to sit next to her bed most nights and hold her hand as I watch over her. Sometimes I pet her face or stroke her hair.

It's not nearly as creepy and stalkerish as it sounds. Really. I just love my Becky.

Still, I'm shocked at how well she's dealing with the our situation at present. She knows we're heading home soon, and that we'll be heading through some areas we've never seen before. The warmer climes down south mean more zombies up and about during the day, and until now she's only been peripherally aware of the nearly constant attacks on Block. I didn't want to wipe the smile off her face with bad news, but she asked me for an update on our status. So I gave it.

And she took it well. Becky as she was when she appeared at the gates all those months ago is a totally different person. She still has moments of darkness, times when she needs to be held while she wails at the ghosts of her memories. She's suffered more than almost anyone I know. She's also tougher than most people who survived The Fall. She soldiers on.

This morning the news that we'd soon be making our way north was met with a simple nod from her, and she helped the rest of us (sans Will, who slept in. Another small surgery last night) work on a plan for our imminent travel. There's not a lot known about the route we'll need to take to make it home quickly, but Becky was asking all the right questions. She even pointed out that we've got the fuel to backtrack quite a ways and take the longer but safer route home.

We'll see. A lot of it's gonna depend on Will and how long he can go without supervised medical care by someone who knows what the hell they're doing much better than I do. The rest of the day is dedicated to more planning. It's going to be a long one, but not too bad.

I've got my friends.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Empty Nest

I've finally been cleared to leave the clinic, and I've even been allowed to go out with a scout team and look around the area. The proviso there was that I didn't put myself into a combat situation, retreating to safety if the scouts saw any signs of danger.

Naturally, the first place we went was back to the spot where the marauders nearly killed me. Yeah, I know, it sounds incredibly stupid, but it wasn't. Long-range observation showed the marauders vacating their hiding spot less than ten hours after we assaulted it. The reports are patchy since most of the people of Block were needed for defense since we brought a swarm of undead in with us, but we know they've left the immediate area. No clue whether they've camped out ten miles away or a hundred. Honestly, as long as they leave us be, I don't much care at the moment.

And before you start cursing my stupidity, no, we didn't just march in looking for clues. Among the many, many items located in the caches gathered by the people of Block were three cases of those cheap remote control cars you used to be able to get at big department stores. No one seems to know who bothered to grab them, since they don't really seem useful, but my guess is that it was someone with a kid. Not that it really matters.

Batteries that work are hard to find, but there were rechargeable ones in with the cars. Our generator did the work there, and suddenly you've got handy little mine detectors.

This particular band of marauders must have been vicious as well as prepared, because we went through eight of those little cars before we were certain there weren't any more mines waiting for us. Well, reasonably certain. The actual space their camp was in is pretty bare, and we'd be able to see if they dug fresh holes to hide mines in. It was getting over the lip that marked where my team and the volunteers from block were almost all killed that was the tricky part.

There isn't much to tell about the camp site. The marauders left no clues for us to follow, cleaning up after themselves seems to be ingrained in their behavior. All we saw apart from the leftover mines, clearly meant to kill anyone who came snooping around, was a filled in latrine pit and tire tracks. A few footprints, but those don't do us any good.

One thing the scouts noticed that might be of interest is the lack of zombies here. There's not a one of them around, and at first it was a complete mystery. Maybe the marauders were here long enough to make the local zombies afraid to come near? No. Those kinds of tricks don't work for long against the new breed, and there are plenty of them around. Then we started wondering if there were traps left behind that we'd missed.

Then one of the scouts noticed that there were quite a few different kinds of evergreen shrubs in the area. He noticed because they smelled so strongly. I'm not sure if that would be enough to keep zombies away, but we know that some sharp smells interfere with their own olfactory senses, which seem to be part of how they communicate. Maybe enough of these shrubs together combined with the wind are making the smell hereabouts unpleasant enough to nudge the zombies away. I doubt very seriously that the undead would stay away for anything short of fire or ammonia if they knew people were in this little nest, but the theory seems reasonable.

While I'm disappointed we didn't find anything of value here as far as the marauders go, I can't say I'm upset with the trip outside overall. I wish the others could have come with me, and I do feel guilty that they couldn't but they encouraged me to go. Even Will, whose leg looks better but still closely resembles one of Dr. Frankenstein's less ambitious experiments.

We're still not sure when we'll be heading home, and I probably won't say when we're leaving until we're already on the road. Security is first and foremost now. Getting home safely is paramount to me. I know the team wants to keep on and finish what we've put so much time into, but it isn't in the cards. I know it and they do as well--knowing you can't protect your teammate properly is a big incentive for making the hard choice and retreating. I'm immensely proud that my people can make that decision, difficult as it is.

For now, we wait, and hopefully we'll stop imposing on Block soon. It's a beautiful day, and I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Field Test

In the realm of interesting ways to start my day, watching Steve purposefully lure in a few zombies goes down as one of the most nerve-wracking. We finished a wrist guard made of small squares of our aluminum weave, backed by canvas and covered with leather. Deer leather, actually, which is pretty easy to find around Block. 

No one put their wrist in the thing, of course. We rigged the bracer up to a piece of wood and hung it over the lip of one of the blockades, but we made sure to saturate it with blood. Deer blood. Also not hard to get. 

The zombie was one of the old school undead, dumb and lacking the other mutations that makes the new breed so dangerous. They've been slowly dwindling around here as the new breed feeds from some of them and converts others. The zombie gnawed on our prototype armor pretty hard for about thirty seconds, then Steve shot it in the head with an arrow. 

Well, he got it with the second shot. Having one eye pretty much screws your depth perception. He's doing his best. 

The results were encouraging. The leather was ragged and full of holes when we pulled the faux arm back in, and the metal weave had some severe dents and gaps in it. The canvas was held to the weave with thick threads sewn through both of them, and a lot of those snapped. The canvas itself was undamaged, proving the design works fairly well. We're working on making a larger loom armature so bigger squares are easier to fabricate. 

It feels good to have added something positive to the world, small as it may be. There are enough awful things out there that making people feel safer gives me a boost I can't really put into words. It's especially helpful right now, because we're facing a reality that just can't be avoided anymore: we have to give up the rest of the trip. 

The team and I have talked it over between us, and I've been on the horn to New Haven's leadership. The consensus is what you'd expect with injuries to the team being what they are, so we're going home. Not today or even in the next few, as Will and Becky still need time to stabilize and heal before we can risk such a long drive. But soon. The last leg of our trade mission will go unfinished. 

I'd have thought the idea would bother me, but it doesn't in the least. I look back over the last months and remember the places we've been, the people we've seen, and the goodwill we've shared, and I can feel nothing but pride. We've made mistakes, screwed up badly at times, and good people have suffered for it. Those are unavoidable truths. But we're as human as the next group, and our actions were never malicious toward those trying to live peaceful lives. That's important. 

In the final equation, the good we've accomplished and the bonds we've built far outweigh the errors in judgment and the losses accrued. The choice is between allowing myself some pride for this team or dwelling endlessly on the ways in which we weren't perfect. I choose to celebrate the good while remembering the bad and learning from those mistakes. Steve's lesson to us, all over again. 

It's not all sunshine and butterflies, I know. There are still many problems we and the other survivors in this country have to face. The good mojo I'm feeling doesn't protect anyone from the threat of the remaining (and likely more dangerous) marauders, nor does it do the first thing to protect us from the new breed of zombies. I know this. We have challenges, huge ones, and they're going to cause us heartache. For the team and I, that might be sooner than we think given the long hours we'll be spending on the road in the near future. I don't relish the thought of limping home on unknown roads with a crew of injured friends barely capable of defending themselves. Two of them might not be capable of it at all.

Still, it needs to be done. The injuries the team has suffered need long-term treatment and rehab, and New Haven is much better suited to the task than Block, though I have nothing but praise for the people here. 

All that other stuff aside, ignoring the logic and the reasoning of it, we're hurt. And we miss our home. Like most animals, we'll head home when wounded even if the way is dangerous. Going on from here with the mission would be suicide. Staying isn't feasible.

Soon enough we'll be homeward bound. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Laugh is Human

My wounds are doing well, but the others aren't going to be mobile any time soon. If I were to give my own humble assessment, I'd say continuing this trip is right on the edge of impossible. If it were safe to move everyone, we'd probably be heading back to New Haven right now. Sadly, even going back to Kentucky isn't in the cards at present, as two of my team are still dealing with minor surgeries and a lot of pain.

I've recruited Steve, Rachel, and Bill to work with me on weaving all this aluminum wire into usable armor. So far the results are ugly but functional. We'll get better as we practice. I hope.

One interesting thing that happened yesterday while we were all working was a conversation. It was strange and memorable, but not a discussion I ever thought I could have so casually. It started out with Steve musing aloud about how many other communities both large and small might be out there, totally unconnected to the rest of the world and unknown to us. That's not an uncommon topic for us, as we've discovered a few of them on this trip, but it went to strange places from there.

Somewhere in the discussion one of us (I think it was Rachel) put forward the idea that many celebrities and wealthy people are probably still alive out there. Her logic was hard to argue with--during The Fall, people with wealth had the best ability to purchase and stockpile supplies. Money still meant something then, and I can't believe that some of them didn't buy a lot of weapons, food, medical supplies, and the like and just hole up behind the walls of their expensive homes. It seems reasonable, doesn't it?

You know how some really long conversations can meander their way from one topic to another in mysterious and funny ways? That was us yesterday. We found ourselves wondering if the zombie swarms had passed by Burbank to leave Jay Leno and his wife telling jokes to one another while wondering what they were gonna do with all those cars. We all agreed that Ted Nugent, he of "Cat Scratch Fever" fame, was probably doing nothing different with his life except taking insane joy in being able to shoot people as well as animals.

It all came so easily. We didn't share guilty looks or get quiet in reverence for the subject matter. It was black humor, true, but nothing so terrible that we felt bad about it.

But should we have? I mean, this is the world we're talking about. The real world. The zombie plague has destroyed most of humanity, and we were cracking wise about it. I feel bad that I don't feel bad, but to me it's the same as making a joke at a funeral. It's just a natural reaction.

Just a strange musing this morning, as all else is quiet.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Wire

Like most survivors, the people of Block have hoarded huge quantities of supplies since The Fall began. There is a lot of room to spare, so they've had little reason not to bring in stuff that doesn't have a clear use. I spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon wandering around the storage areas, seeing if there was anything there I could use to make weapons but mostly to relieve the boredom.

I saw a few coats of chainmail, and I asked about them. My guide was a guy named Ron, who does double duty as a scout and nurse's aide. Ron told me the mail coats were abandoned early on, as they are very heavy and can reduce mobility. He explained that the added protection wasn't enough to justify moving slowly and tiring much faster.

When I picked up one of the things, I understood why. They'd had to use steel rings instead of aluminum. Back home, we rarely use full coats of them, either. It's too time intensive to make an entire coat. Better to layer very thick and strong fabrics over the torso and add some type of tactical or other kind of nylon vest over it, then use chainmail to protect the neck and head. Some areas of the body especially vulnerable to zombie bites might have sections of mail sandwiched in between layers of fabric.

Most people in New Haven have this type of armor, homemade and simple as it is. I don't know that it will hold up to an extended beating from the new breed of zombies, them being stronger and smarter than their predecessors, but historically it's worked well. Here in block, they don't use it. Partly because it's not really needed on a large scale as there aren't extensive walls to patrol, and partly because the weight really is just too much.

In my nosing around, however, I found some aluminum wire. It's very fine, much too thin to make decent chainmail (or at least, I don't have good enough vision to work on rings that small) but perfect for another use. I've been thinking about a project for a while now, in fact for about the last year, but lacked access to the materials to work on it. That, and I've been busy.

Right now I've got nothing but time, and the wire I found will work perfectly. There's a ton of it--and that may not be just a figure of speech, either--so I have plenty to work with.

I'm gonna weave some aluminum cloth. I don't know how well it'll work, but I want to give it a try. I think I'm gonna try several configurations, see what has the best combination of strength and flexibility, and go from there. My first project once the testing phase is done, after I get a rough loom set up, is to make a protective sheath for Will's leg.

The leg that looks like he's going to keep. God only knows how.

The damage was severe. I spent a lot of time in healthcare facilities growing up, and I was never one to shy away from injuries or wounds. I've seen a lot more of them since The Fall, and I can say with reasonable certainty that Will's leg shouldn't be doing as well as it is. He took terrible lacerations, messy and jagged, all across the thing. He lost circulation for a long time, and much of the tissue should have suffered for it, but it seems he got very lucky.

That's not to say it's going to be dandy. There was a lot of damage to the structures of his leg. Muscles are resilient things, but ligaments and tendons not so much. Even if the deep injuries don't sour and rot, it's unlikely that Will is going to be able to manage more than a fast walk ever again. I don't like to think about it, but I can take some consolation in knowing that Will's value has always rested in his mind and creativity, not the speed of his legs or strength of his body.

I intend to see that leg protected while it heals. So I'm gonna get to work. I'm so happy to have a project that I'm humming as I type. I hum when I'm excited. When I work on a project, I sing and hum to myself. It's sort of an "all systems green" sign.

I'm ready to do something useful.