Friday, June 23, 2017

Chapter 1: Once Upon a Time

To explain fully how Jess and I ended up living in Iowa with a bunch of other survivors would require me to drop a huge information bomb. There are a bunch of ins and outs, and most of it has been written about here before. Even the more secretive aspects are now well-known. 

Worst opening for a story ever, right? Fine, then. Let me say this. 

After three and a half years of building a community, of surviving the plague of zombies salting the earth, after losing more than any sane person should ever have to cope with, we didn't actually want to leave. Haven was our home, and even with the terrible pain we'd suffered, I always thought it would be. 

But as you may now be aware, we had a diamond hiding in the rough. I called him K or Big K, but his real name is Kell McDonald. He's the one whose work was stolen and used to accidentally create the plague. Long story short, I and a few other people had interesting symptoms that Kell thought he could study and use to create a cure. That's why we left the safety and prosperity of Haven for a farm so truly in the middle of nowhere that seeing even one zombie was the exception instead of the rule. Kell was planning to save the world. We wanted to help. 

That isn't where the story starts. Why would it be? Every survivor knows the basics. We found a property, built it up, made a home. This isn't about daily life on our little farm.

We were attacked. That's where it begins for me. After a few years of relatively idyllic daily life, we were targeted by a group from the east coast. They wanted Kell and his research. This too is mostly public knowledge by now. I've seen the updates on the repository website. 

I suppose the above is the groundwork needed to understand the tipping point, the instant in time when the momentum of change marked the real beginning of my recent history. 

It's always hard to figure out the exact moment in time to tell a story. Think about every time you've relayed one to a friend. Where does your adventure--or misadventure, as the case may be--start? It's difficult to put a finger on the space between heartbeats and decide which pause is the right one to begin your tale. 

Sometimes you just have to take the plunge. 

* * * 

After the attack, I slept for most of two days. Jess and I escaped with our lives and not much else. We weren't stupid; the farm was always a target and we'd prepared for that. All of us had. There were caches of supplies and a few hidden places safe enough to hunker down in for a little while. Jess got away clean, which was good for me because she was healthy enough to help haul my ass away from the farm. I torqued my lower back and left knee hard as we escaped through the tunnels. Pain was not a new acquaintance of mine by any means, but enough of it slows down anyone even when running for their life. 

Because of her--which should be the title of my biography--we made it to safety. The two of us curled up around a pair of backpacks loaded with canned food and jerky after downing enough water to drown us under normal circumstances, and we slept. Ten straight hours of running and evading will do that to you. 

"Are we going for the rendezvous?" I asked her when we were finally both awake and resembling something close to human. "We're going to have to find a vehicle if so."

There were quite a few of them dotting the surrounding area, trucks and cars made to look like the rest of the abandoned hulks we'd put back together and refueled for just such an emergency. I knew where several were, Jess knew of others, but getting to any of them would require a lot more walking. 

She hesitated in a way I knew to mean there were layers to the expression. Pursed lips, looking down and away, a new tension in her shoulders. She was about to say something I wouldn't like. 

"I think we should find a car, but not to go to the rendezvous," she said. "Whoever those people were, they can't follow all of us. We're probably safer on our own."

I nodded along with this statement. "We'd eventually have to go somewhere, though. We can't just wander forever."

Jess gave me the curiously flat look that told me I was being stupid and she was being nice enough not to say that out loud. "Yes, thank you very much, captain obvious. I know that. I think we should get to the cabin. Stay there for a while and keep an eye on the repository so we can read about whatever's going on from a safe distance. Did you notice the guys who shot at us were all wearing matching gear? Using military weapons? They were organized. This wasn't some random group of marauders."

I blinked. She was right--she usually was--but I hadn't really thought about the logic of our situation. "Okay, the cabin is fine with me. But I don't think a single tank of gas is going to get us there. We'll have to walk a bunch of the way."

Jess waved a hand roughly in the direction of my still-aching back and knee. "We'll take it slow, and I'll drive once we find one of the stashed vehicles. You'll be able to rest and recover. Don't worry, sweetie. I'll carry your water like I always do." She said the last with a gently mocking smile, just giving me a hard time,  but there was a lot of truth in the words. No relationship is perfectly equal, and since The Fall began, Jess had blossomed into an almost entirely different person than she was before it. Confident and outspoken when she'd been withdrawn and quiet, a decisive leader instead of happily letting others set the tone. Circumstance determines a lot about behavior, or so I concluded years ago about the origin of those slow but powerful changes in her personality. 

We stayed in our little hole, which was in the manager's office of an oil-change place, for another half day to regain our strength. Jess used the ladder bolted to the inside of the bay wall to scamper onto the roof every hour or so, scanning the area for any enemies who might be looking for us. Unlikely since we were nearly ten miles from the farm. The tiny little burg was mostly built around a truck stop. I doubted more than two thousand people had lived there in its prime. 

Eventually my leg felt solid enough to walk on, and we moved out. It would take time to find the nearest of the camouflaged escape vehicles, assuming there were any left, but we'd do it as we did most things. 


I had no idea how fleeting that state of existence was for us.