10-09-09 – Haunted

Everyone here calls it The Village.

The tents range from the very small to the extravagant, family-sized monstrosities that look capable of concealing a small circus. They have amenities here that I couldn’t even imagine finding at the apartment. Lake water, pump showers, water heaters, bandages and antiseptic wash, Q-tips, coolers, ice packs and tampons… Life is made significantly easier by things like this. You don’t realize until you’ve gone without Q-tips and tampons how instrumental they are to your comfort and sanity. Just knowing that I can wake up and clean my ears is a relief.

The Village is mainly separated into two areas: The Black Earth Wives and Everyone Else.

It didn’t take long for Ted and I to notice this split; the Wives tend to broadcast their differentness, their desire for separation like a lonely high school girl telegraphs her need for a prom date. They don’t do it with simpering smiles and awkwardly low-cut tops, they do it with their religion. Ted and I aren’t really sure what denomination they are, but it’s the very, very strict kind. Every morning at nine, like clockwork, a sign up clipboard gets passed around from tent to tent. The purpose of the clipboard is to solicit names for the prayer hour. The Black Earth Wives gather in a ring at the center of their tents and hold hands and pray, spending a moment on every single name on the list, praying for their souls or for their safe passage.

They’ve reached out to our side of The Village, mainly in the form of childcare. There are a handful of single mothers and fathers here, people who lost their husbands or wives, boyfriends or partners in the chaos and who have been left to raise a child or children on their own. It’s amazing to watch, the slow progression of the Wives as they infiltrate our half of the arena, oozing through the gaps in the tents, searching out the women and men who sit dazed, their eyes glazed over with a general mistrust of the world. But the Wives convince them, sooth them, show them that there’s nothing to fear, help them feed the kids and change diapers and sing lullabies. It’s amazing to watch. It’s our main source of entertainment.

Collin took me around today, introducing me to the families he knows the best, telling them that I helped get rid of “that bloody vermin.” It feels good at first but then it gets tired, played out. I’m not a hero and it feels peculiar to be lauded for a swift and cruel act of revenge. So I force a smile for each new face and shake their hand and listen to their stories. They thank me for getting rid of Zack and I bow my head shyly and try not to think of his agonized face and his raw, bloody stumps.

We visit the Wives last. I ask why there are so many of them, where they came from and why they are alone.

“I’m starting to think all of this started somewhere outside the city, that the suburbs went first and that’s why the city was overrun so quickly,” he says. He doesn’t go anywhere without a gun but no one here seems to mind; they look to him as their undisputed leader and protector. Today it’s a Glock tucked into the back of his fatigues. Collin greets everyone by name. “Black Earth got hit hard. One house at a time, the residents realized they had to do something. There were a lot of families there, a lot of children. They decided to round up all the kids in one van and get them out while the dads, avid hunters, went out to hold off the onslaught. It didn’t work, they were outnumbered too badly and the husbands went down ‘fighting like angels of the Lord,’ as the wives will tell you.”

“And the van?” I ask, knowing its fate already.

“They came across it when they left, heading toward the city. It was overturned in a ditch. Empty.”

It didn’t surprise me, the way their story unfolded. This is the land of hunting, of fishing and farms and Harley Davidson; I never felt close to that part of our state but I can’t help but feel for them, for the way they tried like hell to defend themselves. We cross the thin, empty strip of floor that separates the Wives from everyone else. There are plenty of people here that seem to ignore or outright dislike the Wives; they sense, correctly, that the Wives are proud of who they are and maybe a bit insane, taken to the extreme end of charity by the horrible losses they have suffered. Some children are cautioned to stay away from that side of the arena and some tents have purposely been set up as far away from the Wives as possible.

It’s a lot like West Side Story but without all the dancing.

Their tents are all gathered in a ring, the entrances facing the middle. You might expect to see a big bonfire there, but instead they’ve put up a cross made out of two-by-fours and duct tape. There is a strange kind of symmetry to it, their low hobbit holes all circled up like a string of wagons, the big, foreboding cross watching over them all. They emerge from the tents one by one, as if summoned by an invisible doorbell. It’s eerie to look at their faces, to see the wide, welcoming smiles spread beneath dead and staring eyes.

They’re hollow, completely empty, and trying so hard to be full again.

The Wives are bustling today, excited. A new family has arrived, the Stocktons. They’re not from Black Earth but that doesn’t matter; any and all families are warmly welcomed and invited to live among the Wives. The Wives are, across the board, turned down. But the Stocktons seem promising, or that’s the rumor. I don’t remember meeting them.

“They’re at the med tent,” Collin murmurs, “The father suffered a few minor abrasions, maybe a sprained ankle. You should meet them later. I’ll introduce you.”

But first I need to meet the Wives. It’s a daunting experience, a bit like parachuting into the middle of Stepford and being bombarded with questions and pats on the back. Collin, of course, tells them about my harrowing deed, the vanquishing of the evil Zack. Of all the villagers, they are the most impressed, the most thankful and awed. They stare at me as if I’ve just come to hand them the blood of Christ, their mouths forming wide O’s of shock. It’s their reaction that frightens me the most.

“Bless you, bless you, God bless you for seeing to that… rat.”

“God be with you – He must be. He must be.”

On and on it goes. I try to be humble, to look like the martyred hero they expect. But it doesn’t feel authentic; I just feel like I’ve committed a crime in the middle of a busy square while everyone had their backs turned, while the police were on their coffee break. Collin notices my discomfort and steers me away from the group, bringing me over to one wife sitting apart. She’s perched on an empty plastic crate, her hands tucked demurely into her lap. She’s wearing a gingham skirt and a loose blue sweater with daisies embroidered around the collar. Her permed red hair is matted and greasy. When she looks up at us I see that the front of her sweater is stained down the front with a broad brush stroke of blood.

“Marianne? This is Allison.”

She doesn’t extend her hand or really even show that she’s seen me. Her eyes go straight through my body, through my veins and bones and I can feel the steely chill. At first I think we’re done, that Collin is going to drag me away from this phantom, this ghost, but her eyes crackle to life suddenly and her chapped lips drop open.

“My son,” she says in a whimper, breathing hard as though she’s just noticed that he’s gone missing, “My son… My son ate my baby girl. My son ate my baby girl!”

She repeats it again and again, her voice rising until she’s screaming at me at the top of her lungs.

“MY SON ATE MY BABY GIRL!”

This is when Collin drags me away, shooting a look at the other Wives who hurry over to take care of Marianne. They enfold her in a tangle of arms, rocking her, clucking softly at her like a brood of giant mother hens, their foreheads all bowed to touch her face. Marianne disappears behind them, silenced, lost in the sea of their sudden and overwhelming care.

“Holy shit,” I mutter, shaking my head to try and stop the painful ringing in my ears. Collin nods.

“Marianne is… Well, she’s lost, I think. Lost to the world. There are a few people like that here but she’s the worst. I asked Susan about her once. She told me Marianne’s house was hit first, that she watched her son… Well… You know.”

I do. It’s hard to get that sound out of my head and when I blink I see her terror-stricken eyes. They look like Holly’s: vacant, swept under.

Collin takes me out of the arena and down a long, narrow corridor. We go outside into a fine October mist. It’s certainly brisk out here, but there are plenty of extra clothes now and the Wives have been busy sewing blankets and turning university away jerseys into thick, patchy sweaters. They’re not very warm but they do a decent job against the wind. As soon as we walk outside I hear gunfire. I’m getting used to that, to hearing shots every time I step into the open air.

The pale sun behind the clouds and their teasing hint of warmth has made the mist rise up on the horizon. Everything is gray beyond the close boarder of the arena yard. You can just make out a hint of tennis courts and a sidewalk, and a few yards in front of that a parked truck with a man standing guard behind it. There’s ash in the air and the strange, briny smell of warms. It rained last night but now the ground is almost dry.

Luckily, the nearest gunfire is just practice. Collin and his nephew, Finn, have set up a firing range out here. They’ve decided to take Ted and I and turn us into soldiers; Ted is still inside at the med tent. He seems far more interested in learning how to suture wounds and set bones. This interest does not extend to target practice.

“Where did they all come from?” I ask, nodding toward the gun he’s now aiming at a far-off stack of wooden crates. There are so many weapons, so many supplies, that I can’t help asking. It seems like something that should be left unsaid; it doesn’t matter where the guns came from, it only matters that there are people here who know how to use them.

“The police… They’re not trained for stuff like this. Maybe in New York or Chicago they would have experience with rioters and extraordinary situations, but here they just weren’t prepared. There’s a difference between keeping a cool head under pressure and being intelligent under pressure,” Collin explains. He must be immune to the sound of gun fire because he barely flinches as he pulls the trigger and the round explodes out of the barrel. I, however, am not used to this sound and its deafening and scary every single time. “They wanted to get citizens into the arena, to keep a safe, solid perimeter and have a central location for survivors to go to. That was a good step, a good idea. But then they set up a barricade right out front, right down the main artery. I’m sure they were thinking that a wall would keep the undead out. They were right, sort of, but it also kept citizens out. I don’t know if you can guess, but when you have panicking citizens with a barricade on one side and undead on the other… Well now you have a problem because you have three times as many undead as you did before. That barricade is coming down and your perimeter has gone to hell.”

“So the police, they left? They just left those people there to die?”

“No,” he says, lowering the gun, “They died too.”

“So the flak jackets and the truck and the guns… Those belong to the cops?” I ask.

Collin nods, reloading the gun slowly so I can watch and then handing it to me. It’s warm from his grip.

“Finn served in the RAF, so did I. It was a family tradition. I kept my uniforms around for, oh I don’t know, something like the sentiment, the reminder of being a young man. The uniforms are just for peace of mind, for show,” he says. “If you have a bunch of people flailing ineffectually, desperate for help, nothing creates a little order like uniforms and assault rifles. Once you have order you can organize raids on the corner markets, on the libraries and the pharmacies and the ambulances, and once you have supplies you have happy people.”

“You did all that by yourself?”

“Finn helped.”

“Right… But you did it by yourself?”

“Of course,” he says, tapping my elbow. He’s impatient. He thinks I’ll make a good soldier if I can just learn to shoot without tensing up every time I squeeze the trigger. I can’t help it. I know that sound is coming, that explosion. “You don’t think in situations like this, Allison, you act. I think you know that already.”

“But you’re just so… So calm. How do you do that? How do you not just completely lose it?”

“Hold on,” he says, firmly pushing on my arms until the gun is pointed at the ground in front of us. “Did you lose someone? More than one person?”

“My mother. I don’t… I don’t know where she is.”

“I see. I lost my wife. I don’t know where she is either, but I can guess. I’m not invincible, Allison. I’m just doing the best I can. And really, that’s all I’m asking of you.”

Target practice goes badly; I can’t focus, I can’t stop thinking about my mom. Ted doesn’t come back to the tent until very late. He’s been taking care of the Stocktons. He really likes them, especially the two young sons. Dapper is my only company as I wait up for Ted and even the dog seems uninterested in my sulky mood. When Ted gets back he falls asleep right away, exhausted by a hard day’s work. I want him to stay up, I want to talk and joke.

Collin has asked if I want to have a drink with he and Finn. He wants his nephew to apologize, he wants us all to get on. That’s the phrase he uses, “Get on.” I politely tell him no, that I’m not interested, that I’m very tired.

Now I wish I had accepted the invitation because I’m sitting here reading what all of you have said. You’re alive. A few of you are doing more than surviving, and I can easily imagine your disdain for someone like me, someone who can do nothing but sit around and wallow. I shouldn’t be alone like this; I should be having a whiskey with Collin and his nephew, I should be letting myself live.

But then again, every time I think of Collin, of his voice and how I looked to it for guidance and peace, I automatically think of Zack. After that catastrophic misstep, how can I trust my judgment? How can I trust myself?

Tomorrow, Collin wants me to meet the Stocktons. They’re a very nice family, he says. A real, whole family.

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13 Responses to “10-09-09 – Haunted”

  1. We call it the Compound, that’s where my family is. The 32 men and women in this barricaded safehouse, they’re my family. We’re pretty whole. We do things by committee and everyone lends a hand. Everyone mops, everyone cooks, everyone shoots. Julie, our sharpest shot, makes the most amazing pancakes. Luckily where I come from, people have firearms in their homes. You know the type of people. I had a shotgun and a shield, like a SWAT officer who got his riot equipment at a Renaissance festival. Each of us managed to get to the place we thought would be safe. We met, we made plans, we found others. We visited hospitals, searching for survivors, and if there were none, we took supplies and left coordinates to find us. It’s not fair raiding and leaving others with no where to go and nothing to use. I found an M9 on an undead police officer who’s head I had crushed with the shield. I kept it and passed on my firearm. Sharing, helping, working as a unit. That’s how you survive. That’s how early man survived, as a tribe, a family group. That’s what we are . A real, whole family. With no one related.

  2. We survivors know your soul, Allison. I read aloud from what you write in the Kingdom House here in Atlanta. And it was my Jamal, all of nine, who offered me both solutions to your moral problem.

    Allison, you can’t know if what you did was a sin. You know you had righteous cause and you sought virtuous justice. Your manner may have lept towards malice–your soul may have blackened with a stain of mere, cruel vengeance–but God does not command that we forgive our enemies. Jesus Christ our Lord has demanded we treat others as we would be treated ourselves. And I know, just as I feel His spirit stir in your words, that His word would move you. If you stole a collective’s food, you’d demand your own hands be taken, just as our forebears demanded of thieves.

    And Allison, do you believe for a second it was a coincidence that your salvation came to you in your moment of need? That the Lord, Jehovah Almighty, didn’t guide your eyes to Zack’s, seeing him changed? In his benevolence and wisdom, his love for you, Allison, we delivered you as rightly as Collin and Finn.

    If Zack changed, Allison, you didn’t kill him. Left for dead, and dead, are not nearly, not NEARLY the same thing in the eyes of our Creator. You need see but a hair’s breadth of scripture to know that.

    His eyes told you the tale, the window to his immortal soul– he was damned from the moment you met him, and you but delivered him to his master below.

    I say again, and LISTEN, girl. The Lord is working through you. The damned killed that boy, not you. You introduced him to his kin.

    And as for the other thing. His named be praised Jehovah, in his infinite glory and wisdom, will forgive you the technicality.

    Wrists. Ankles. Temples. Throats.

    It’s all The Lord’s work.

  3. Took a while to find it, working internet. Such a thing I used to take for granted, but you know the saying. See, where I’m at here in Colorado, we had warning. A few sparse broadcasts before They came. Most of us just meandered on with the daily routine, but some of us… Some of us knew that it wouldn’t stop before it got to us.

    We, myself and a few others from the area where I work, took the two weeks of warning, and prepared. At least I thought we did. In retrospect there wasn’t much we really could have done to truly prepare for what was coming. A few of us even got arrested by the police for stealing before the infected even showed up in … person. Not sure what happened to them, but lets take a look outside the window shall we? It’s not too terribly hard to guess. I guess the military taught me things I never really realized. Survival is not a right, but more something earned. Survival of the Fittest indeed.

    God or not, keep up the good fight. There ARE others and we WILL “fix” this, even if that means putting a 9mm bullet or the blade of a sword or axe in between the eyes of every last one of Them.

  4. Matthew H Says:

    Dear Allison,

    Your words give us so much hope. Just knowing that there are others who have made it is so very encouraging. I’m very sorry to hear about your friends who have passed. We have each lost loved ones here as well.

    We found this yesterday via Blackberry (we have a charger(!), a working outlet just outside(!!), and the satellite Internet still works for now – I wonder for how long?). There are four of us staying in a storefront church on the north side of Las Vegas. There’s a coffee supply warehouse around back, and we’ve been primarily living on cookies, M&Ms, and more gourmet coffee than you could imagine. Water somehow still runs in the bathroom, thank God. No shower, but we have a working toilet(!!!). We also have the pastor’s library, some hymnals, and a piano. And when it’s necessary to go outside, we have plenty of makeshift clubs from chair legs, and they get the job done just fine. Most importantly, we have each other, our motley congregation of four. More than surviving, we are so lucky compared to some who have posted here.

    No sign of life anywhere else though, from what we can tell so far. Nothing online about what’s happening in Vegas. We have no radio. Outside is crawling with Them, so we haven’t ventured far yet.

    You write of the “disdain” that we must have for you. Allison, nothing could be further from the truth. You have brought us into a network the living – that gives hope, not resentment. Please continue to keep us posted. We’ll stay in touch. We are so very grateful that so many of you are alive.

    In peace,
    Matthew, Caroline, Jamie, Gideon

  5. Andrew N Says:

    Allison,

    I wish you, Ted, and The Village all the best. Finding your words and the stories of fellow readers gives me hope that not all is lost and that humanity will survive.

    After cashing out my stocks at the Dot-Com I was at, I decided to sail around the world. I took my boat out of Newport Beach, California and headed north to Alaska as my first destination. I had heard some murmurs of something happening over the radio, but nothing definite; just hearsay from passing sailors.

    When I got to Anchorage five days later, it was too late; the port was ravaged. It was all I could do to gather up supplies before going back to sea. The infected, or whatever you want to call them, don’t seem to like the water very much. I’m guessing they don’t have the higher brain function to swim, but they’re “smart” enough to wait on the coast.

    I’m working my way down the pacific coast stopping wherever I can to get fresh supplies. Fresh water is running low. At least I have solar panels to help me out with the electricity. Satellite internet is spotty; I lost the sat-phone in Salem after being chased by Groaners. I haven’t found any other sailors in CB radio range. I keep trying every hour.

    Any other sailors out there, I should hit San Francisco Bay in a few days time. I have enough supplies to last till then; then I’ll need to worry about fresh water.

    Good luck to everyone out there.

  6. Ed down The Winchester Says:

    Holy Fuck! The internet works, wait till I tell Shaun maybe we can watch porn and order pizza from Bub’s….. anyway we’re holed up down the Winchester. Beers a bit warm ’cause the coolers off but we’ve got a Breville for making toasties, a jukebox and there’s a rifle above the bar so I think we can hold them fuckers off for a bit.

    Good luck

    Ed

  7. Carlene Says:

    Luckily for us, most the homes in our clan collect rain water into cisterns or water tanks. We boil everything before we drink it… We haven’t decided if the runoff carries the virus, but it’s likely that it carries some remains of the zombies.
    I read everything… Your whole story. I’m intrigued by your survival. I feel we’ve had it easy… Maybe too easy. Reading your story makes me think the worst is yet to come…

  8. Carlene Says:

    Andrew N.~
    Stop in Ketchikan if you need anything, even if it is just to see a fresh, human face. There are quite a few of us holding up well here. We’re on cb radio…. if you’re sailing the inside passage between Gravina and Revilla we’ll be keeping an eye out for you.
    Just stay away from the main city. That’s where all the zombie tourists gather.

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    At the outset, we managed to make it to a sailboat that my boyfriend’s father owns in Newport Beach, CA (hello Andrew!). There are three of us. Me, my boyfriend, and his dad. We tried to get my boyfriend’s mom to come with us, to try to run ahead of the undead masses, but she was always a homebody and took off to “save” her Alzheimer’s ridden mother. We waited for as long as we could at the dock, but she never showed.

    Thankfully the boy’s dad was more of a survivalist than I imagined, so we’re ok here. Staying off the coast of Orange County, though sometimes we venture up to LA, where the only thing there seems to be the never ending column of black smoke blowing off the city. We’ve raided a little, but as Andrew said they huddle at the ports, waiting. And though they don’t like the water, we’ve found a few desperate enough to wade in and try to climb up our anchor when we’ve anchored at a place too shallow, especially the sand bars. We keep hoping to see someone, anyone, on the seas or alive at the ports, but it looks like even Avalon (on an island) didn’t escape the undead. Maybe a passenger ship transported the undead? Who knows. Maybe we’ll find survivors on the other islands, trapped at campsites. It’s still so risky here to go on land, there are still so many undead waiting for our inattention. I just hope that they can die of hunger. Maybe if they can’t get more of us, it’ll end. Keep posting, Allison. There are other survivors here, maybe more than we think.

  10. fallout11 Says:

    Sorry to report that the link to the October 7th entry (Letters To A Young Poet) in the sidebar doesn’t work.

    • allisonhewitt Says:

      I just tested the link to that entry and it seems to be working for me. Maybe it was a temporary issue?

      • fallout11 Says:

        Yep, working normally now. Weird. Thanks for checking, and for your wonderful writing! ^_^

  11. It took a while too find this page. I’m from London, Ontario Canada and whatever they are have reached here. I’m traveling with a small group and we are trying to get out of here and head to a less populated city probably Sarnia if we can make it that far. We are currently staying in the White Oaks Mall and have barracked ourselves inside a Sunrise Records CD store, taking internet from a near coffee shop. I’m sorry Allison if I can’t relate to how you are feeling right now or the situation that you are in, this is more of a message to anyone in the area to tell them NOT to go to White Oaks Mall its overrun with them.

    I have to go they have broken down the barrack and gotten into the store.

    Good luck everyone…hopefully this isn’t the final time I get to talk to any outsiders.

    Peace. Sean

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