10-10-09 – A Room With a View

Today I made some new friends.

Right away I can see why Ted likes the Stocktons. Corie and Ned are a tall, attractive couple and their two sons are extremely charming. Not in the disturbing, doped-up-on-Ritalin sort of way; they have energy and they’re talkative, but you can tell within a few seconds of knowing them that they’ve had a swell childhood. Mikey, the older son, is ten and has the intense, dusky look of his mother. He’s more reserved than his younger brother and informs me in a discrete, adult whisper that his little brother is still “just a baby.” Evan is four, a scrapper, with the All American looks of his dad and still learning to talk. He travels only by shoulders, straddling his dad’s neck, perched up there like a guru on a mountaintop. Evan wins me over right away when the first words out of his mouth are: “You kill zomblies too?”

“Yes, Evan,” I say, “Just like your mom and dad.”

It would be easy to underestimate Corie and Ned, and it’s tempting to write them off as a youngish yuppy couple who are prim and self-possessed on the outside while they hide a turbulent, hateful marriage. But they seem cool, legitimately cool, the kind of people you meet and think later on: I’d like to be like them someday. Corie’s the kind of woman you always dream of showing up at the class reunion. Then you get there, smug, educated, successful, only to discover that Corie is now a Pilates instructor and has only become more humble and likable and that she’s aged gracefully – in fact, she’s more beautiful now in her 30s then she ever was as a teenager. And you might want to hate her, but then you see her now, in a confusing, shattered world where it’s easy to become numb and depressed and she’s still laughing for her kids, still a rock solid mom.

Ned and I don’t hit it off immediately, but then, in a side conversation with Collin and I, he turns into someone I really, really want to hang out with. He and Corie lived in a suburb not far from Black Earth. When the undead arrived their neighborhood splintered; no one banded together, no one stayed to fight. One neighbor discovered that fire is a powerful weapon against slow, shambling enemies, but it also has a tendency to get out of control. Within an hour the entire cul-de-sac was in flames.

“I didn’t say: We’re staying, this is our house and we’re staying no matter what. Maybe I wanted to, but I knew we had to go. There wasn’t going to be anything left. I knew it, I could feel the house coming down around us and Evan was just screaming. They were coming up the yard, up the drive, everywhere… So I said: Honey, make sure the boys are with you, get them up. We’re getting out of here. I didn’t know where we would go, but out, out of there, was the best idea I’d had all morning.”

(Not that exciting, I know, but this next bit is when he earned my respect.)

“And so I lit the PT Cruiser on fire and pushed it down the driveway.”

Collin and I share a glance at this, both of us realizing then and there that Ned is going to fit in just fine around here. He and Collin then discover that they’re both ex-military. Ned was an engineer for the US Army in his twenties. This is enough to make them long lost brothers and they’re soon pounding each other on the back like real compadres. It’s my Freshman year of undergrad all over again, when even the most general, tenuous connection helped you befriend strangers. You’re lonely and unsure and scared and so any shared interest at all is enough to forge a life-long bond – “You like peas? No way! I like peas. Wanna get drunk?”

That’s Ned and Collin. Maybe they should be the new Hollianted – Nollin? Cod? Never mind.

I have a feeling this means I’ll see a lot less of Collin and more and more of Corie and the kids. So after listening to Evan’s spirited, broken recount of their journey to the arena, I join Collin and Ned for target practice. Ned hasn’t shot a gun in years, but the way he picks it back up again tells you he’s a natural. He’s a shot, a very good one, and he makes me look like a blind old porch sitter taking potshots at squirrels. Collin and I are both impressed, and this enrages Finn considerably who had, up to that point, been considered the best marksman.

I’ve barely seen Ted at all today. He’s become so busy with the nurses and patients at the med tent that I’m beginning to wonder if he’s actively avoiding me. I hope that’s not it, I miss having him around. Dapper is thrilled that Evan and Mikey have entered his life; the two boys are enamored of the mutt and I think it’s safe to say that the feeling is mutual. And with all of this, all this new stuff, I worry a little about Corie. It’s not that she’s fragile, the opposite really, but I know she’ll have a harder time fitting in. The Black Earth Wives have already begun to swarm, cunningly asking for her advice on motherly things when clearly no advice is needed. They’re trying to lure her into their little club and I’m afraid it might happen. Collin thinks they’re harmless, that it’s good they try to keep themselves busy instead of letting their losses rule their lives.

He says this to me and I can’t help but think he’s not referring to the Wives at all…

I’ve been thinking about the nature of potential, about how all of us maybe have the potential to be what Zack was. I think there is a kind of ugliness inside of me, a violence that I never knew existed, that I never had occasion to encourage. I try to push that part of me down but then I remember how often it’s saved me and saved Ted. It hurts to think that I might steal and kill, or that if I’m bitten, infected, I too will become of those horrible things. All of these things are locked away inside of me but now, one by one, they’re beginning to emerge. I wish I had the key. I wish I knew the combination to the lock.

Collin asks me again if I want to join he and Finn for a drink and this time I accept. I thought maybe he wouldn’t ask me again, but it cheers me up considerably to find that he hasn’t written me off completely. It’s pleasant. So pleasant, in fact, that there’s almost nothing to say about it. Finn is even more fiery and blasphemous when he’s drunk and Collin seems to be one of those people that’s simply immune to alcohol. He might have gotten a little rosier, but he stayed, as always, a bit of a mystery, reserved and tucked away from us. It’s something he’s very good at, I think, presenting the illusion of openness while really concealing most of his personality. I don’t think he has anything to hide, he just prefers to sit behind a veil of secrecy, silently and comfortably apart.

When Finn has passed out with his head on the table, Collin takes me to the radio booth. I see now where his broadcasts came from. He’s been using the glass box over the arena, the booth where the newscasters would call the games. It’s a bird’s eye view of the Village, and for a moment or two we sit together quietly and watch the darkened camp sleeping. Every once in a while a flashlight will bounce around the ceiling of a tent, lighting up the colored nylon like a glow worm in a green glass jar.

There’s a stack of books on the floor by the swivel chair. I pour over the titles, entranced just by the simple act of holding the titles in my hands. They were able to pool the books survivors had saved and ones they had rescued from the library.

“Should I read one?” he asks, sitting in the chair.

“Now? It’s so late.”

“Didn’t you listen late at night? Isn’t that how you found us?” he asks. He’s right, of course, and I nod, chuckling. “What’s so amusing?”

“It’s silly… No… It’s gross.”

“What is it?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“Yes. Absolutely,” he says, helping me sort through the books. He pauses over Wise Children.

“I listened to you one night and Zack was there next to me. I thought I was going to… I don’t know, fall for him or something. God. Can you imagine? Can you even imagine being that idiotic?”

“I can, actually. I was married to an opera singer once, and I dated an Olympic speed-skater.”

“I’m not seeing the problem there.”

“Oh? Then imagine being woken up every morning at four and being knocked about the ears, berated for not being awake. I drove her to practice every morning. Trust me, it didn’t last long.”

“Still, that’s not so bad. At least she wasn’t a kleptomaniac.”

“That I know of.” He nods toward the neat stack of books in my hands and I take the seat across from him. I can’t decide. There are too many good ones. “Which one will it be?”

I’m a little drunk, so I pick Durrell’s Justine. Collin briefly questions the choice with a raised eyebrow and then takes the book from me anyway. It’s a slim volume, not a tremendously long novel, but so full of hurt and strange meanderings that I can’t help but want to hear it read aloud. I realize then how few books I’ve actually heard spoken, how I’ve only absorbed the words with my eyes and not with my whole breathing organ.

“I’m not even going to ask who rescued this one,” I murmur, settling back into the chair like a Persian cat angling for a nice, long nap.

“It was me if you must know.”

“Hedonist.”

Mountebank.”

“Oh! Good one!”

“May I begin or would you like to trade insults for a while longer?”

“Sorry,” I say, blushing furiously for no discernible reason, “Please start.”

I see then that there’s a ripped page taped to the space above the switchboard. Collin turns a few knobs and clears his throat, scooting the chair closer to the microphone. He begins to speak, slowly and deliberately in that great, rusted old voice of his. He reads from the page.

“I don’t know how many of you are listening, or how many of you are still trying desperately to survive, but I want you to know this: All hope is not lost. You have somewhere to go, somewhere to seek. It’s late and you feel afraid, hopeless, but don’t despair,” he pauses here in the familiar shpiel and looks over at me, smiling faintly, “Why, just a few days ago a woman came to us. She was very nearly killed trying to get here but she made it. She heard us, she persevered, and I’m very grateful that she arrived in one piece. Her name is Allison. And so to honor Allison and her courage, I’ve chosen to read from a book of her choosing this evening. So dear listeners, close your eyes, let the worry drain away and listen, and remember, if you don’t like this book, it wasn’t my choice.”

I scowl and raise my fist and threaten him silently as he chuckles at my indignation. Then he clears his throat again, takes a brief moment to scan the open book in front of him. He seems nervous, as if he might not go on, as if it’s too difficult. The room around is so dark, so soft and silent that I can almost hear the deep thunder of his heart. And then, at last, he begins to read.

“The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes… I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child — Melissa’s child. I do not know why I use the word ‘escape.’ The villagers say jokingly that only a sick man would choose such a remote place to rebuild. Well, then, I have come here to heal myself, if you like to put it that way…”

After only a moment I begin to feel sleepy. I’m drunk off of Collin’s “retirement” whiskey, a fancy bottle he had been saving for many years, a bottle he was hoping to open after his retirement from teaching. That day would have been many years off still, but he was sick and tired of waiting, and so he decided to share it with Finn and me. It’s probably the most expensive liquor I’ve ever had and while it burned on the way down it was a good, satisfying ache, like the first glorious sunburn of summer. I feel warm and ancient and I start to realize that Collin is watching me over the flimsy lip of the book.

Somehow the radio didn’t quite convey the loveliness of his reading voice. It distorted it, as if all the death and ugliness hanging between us in space had corroded the quality of his voice until it was a thin imitation. Even then, even with Zack next to me, it had been beautiful; but now, seeing him, being in the same room as the text and the man and the voice, it was incandescent.

Potential.

There are times when our potential grows weary of trembling in shadow and comes suddenly, violently, to the fore. Like a song forced through our pores, or water crashing over a broken dam, that potential arrives, determined, demanding our attention. Maybe there are other things in that locked vault – maybe there’s more than just violence and deception and desperation. Maybe there is radiance, love, a kind of longing that singes you inside.

P.S. – Morning of the 11th

You don’t know what it means to me that you all take the time to write, to say that you are finding a way through. That’s how I see it: A long, twisted tunnel cluttered with debris. I think right now that debris looks unmovable, but every time I read about one of you collecting rain water or turning into a family or going out to survive at sea, I feel that wall, that clutter, shaking to its foundations. Evan and Mikey are enamored of the idea of going to sea. They want to become pirates, “Scrooge of the Zomblies,” as Evan will say, and then Mikey corrects: “Scourge of the Zombies, dodo head.” They’re so young, but already they’re turning into fighters.

10 Responses to “10-10-09 – A Room With a View”

  1. Does anyone have any knowledge about what this is from? Please help. Resources limited… anybody found any antibiotics or anything that can reverse it? Please… my son… I have to save him.

  2. God Jehovah makes known our potential through His only Son:

    “However, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves. We are pressed in every way, but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out; we are persecuted, but not left in the lurch; we are thrown down, but not destroyed. Always we endure everywhere in our body the death-dealing treatment given to Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our body. For we who live are ever being brought face to face with death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our mortal flesh. Consequently death is at work in us, but life in YOU.”
    II Corinthians 4:7-12

  3. That’s the problem not being in a large city. In the city, there are supplies from any number of different available sources. In a “city” with basically a Wal-mart, college and drugstore, it dictates the need for a more nomadic lifestyle. There is no more supply train here, zombie truckers don’t deliver. Eventually, what we have will be gone, and there will be no more available. We’ll have to move. To where? Well we have a plan, and then we have a plan for when the first plan invariably fails. We must go to a nearby pseudo-city and try and finagle some supplies there, perhaps find more survivors. Wouldn’t it be great to just clear an area of undead and start a new community? Create a self-sufficient little place, creating a knitted band of communities, as if we were resettling the U.S. itself. Until eventually civilization sprung forth anew. What a far off and worth while dream. However as for the now, we must go now. While the supplies we have still are bountiful we must pack what we have and move. It will take a few days to reach our destination. But I have confidence my rangers and scouts can navigate a path so that our less combat involved personnel can proceed through without incident. Tonight we feast upon the rock laid bare by mother Earth herself. With an old home behind and a dim light on the horizon. This may be our last communication with you. It’s only been 3 days but I feel we’ve grown…closer to humanity than we’ve ever been before. Who knows what we’ll find in the wild landscape of this place. Allison, take care of yourself out there. Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow survivors of this place. Until our next encounter.

    ~λ~
    Lambda

  4. My next door neighbor wore a tinfoil hat — he really would — only at certain times of the year (he said the tilt of the Earth had something to do with it), but you know what — god bless him. He was prepared for this apocalypse and then some. Luckily i helped him out with a few minor scrapes with “The Jackboots” (his phrase not mine) and he felt that as far as lawyers went, i was okay. Anyway, when the “Groaners” came, my family was able to camp out in Tim’s house (it’s on stilts — like i said, he was prepared). He’s got generators, fuel, satellite uplinks — you name it (guns too).

    It’s just the 5 of us, but the kids find Tim amusing, which he can be if you don’t get him started on what actually started this whole thing. He has 6 different theories…

    I’ll check here each day. Right now we don’t have too much activity from the zombies, but we’re not in any rush to leave either. Haven’t heard of too many outposts near our neighborhood (we live in North Carolina).

    The zombies eventually have to run out of gas don’t they? Whatever “created” them — they’re still organic. How long till they start “dying” off?

  5. Carlene Says:

    Allison~
    I take what little time I have every day to check back and see if you’re still here. It sounds like you’ve found a safe-haven for now. Your blog gives me hope!

  6. Trace…

    They are organic, yes, but whatever changed them keeps them going too. I have seen the same shuffling corpses outside our place for weeks now. Some look a little rough, others seem to be in the same state as before. If they were dead, I mean, really really dead, they should be swollen with gas and sloughing off dead matter.

    But they don’t. They look the same. The virus is a) preserving energy, b) making use of other food stuffs, c) utilizing unusual biochemical processes to self cannibalize the body but still d) maintaining overall physical function.

    They may be dead, but they are not dying by any measure we can see. We have to prepare for the long haul here. Especially if they are able to hibernate. Go into some form of stasis until a food source is made available. It could be years. Years.

    Allison – keep it up. We are in downtown Denver, and have utilized a number of the generators at the federal building to keep things going. The fed bank is a freaking fortress. We have two major drugstores on 16th, and enough food and water to keep our community of 30 going for months. We hope to attract more. We found a shortwave a couple days ago at the fiber bldg behind us. We start broadcasting tonight.

  7. grant…
    i am also in denver, holed up in a dumpster behind a starbucks on colfax, supplies are extremely limited…i’ll head towards the fed bank, but it will take a while on foot
    hope you’re still there when i arrive

  8. Thank you Allison. I can’t convey my gratitude with a keyboard, but thank you. I’m not alone anymore.

    If you or anyone else has the time and the inclination to read it, here’s my story:

    I was at the leaving party for my college when the virus hit. A bunch of half drunk kids and a few teachers dancing to bad music in a fancy hotel bar, with stupidly expensive drinks. I was complaining loudly about the music when the power went out, and for a moment it was silent. Everyone was still. Then the screaming started. I don’t know if the power cut was deliberate or just horrifically unlucky timing, but moments after the lights went out undead staggered in through the lobby. People got bitten in the crowd, glasses shattered in the dark. I could barely see. Someone broke a window, and I saw the headlights of a car on the road outside. I scrambled out the window and cut my left hand on the glass, but I didn’t register any pain. A hand grabbed my leg as I jumped, and I landed badly on the pavement. In the headlights of a car, with chaos behind me, I couldn’t think. I just stood there. Then I heard the car door open, and what used to be the driver stumbled into view. What you said about the eyes is so true, Allison. Soulless, and hungry. Then I heard a sickening crack from behind me, and I span to face the window. There was this girl – a student at my school. She’d broken her arm as she fell. I stepped forward to help her up, to do anything I could, but she groaned softly and I stopped. Realizing she was one of them, I turned back to the car to see the white eyes of the driver just inches away. I pushed him hard in the chest, and he fell backward, smacking his head on the concrete. I ran then. Not to anywhere, just away.

    I’m currently sitting in a small internet cafe near the town center. It took me a while to find this blog, but I’m so relieved. I’ve found no other evidence that anyone, anywhere, survived.

    But there’s something I haven’t mentioned, and I’m frightened of what will happen. On the first few nights, the undead pursued me just as doggedly as they have been pursuing you and your friends. Then they stopped clawing at my door, only attacking when I made desperate runs for food from my safehouse, a small newsagents with window shutters. Now they show only a slight interest when I walk close to them, if that. And the cut on my hand from the window still hasn’t healed. Its still bleeding freely, I keep having to swap bandages. My left arm twitches occasionally. I’m not one of them, but somehow I need less food than before. And less sleep, only a couple of hours a night.

    I’m a ghost amongst the dead.

    • allisonhewitt Says:

      I don’t know how to tell you this, Isaac, but find a doctor and have them remove the limb. I don’t know if it gets in your blood or if it moves through the tissue but I hope you can find help. One hand gone is better than losing yourself altogether.

  9. We have to head out now… We’re out of food, and the attacks are just becoming too frequent… I’m wanting to head west, to Ft Leavenworth for supplies and hopefully allies, but I want to know if there are any survivors out that way first. Thankfully we’ve managed to retrofit a plow blade to the front of the truck, so we shouldn’t have too much trouble with keeping it moving….

    Caleb/Lambda, if you manage to get this, and can respond, I would like to know where are you all heading toward? If we can communicate and co-ordinate the forming of a walled outpost somewhere for the survivors that would be excellent.

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