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Living With the Dead_ the Wild Country - Joshua Guess

Living With the Dead_ the Wild Country - Joshua Guess

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11/16/2014

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The Wild Country

Volume Four of Living With the Dead
Joshua Guess
 

This work is ©2012 Joshua Guess
Cover art by Rosie Coleman
 

A note from the author:
Do you like how I made that all bold and stuff? Neat. It's attention-grabbing. Usually I save these notes for the back of the book, but I wanted to let you know that after the Living With the Dead collection you're about to read, there's a bit of bonus material. It's a short story I wrote for the annual Zombiethon on Slacker Heroes, a website I write for. It's called “An Ode to Brains.” Consider it thanks for supporting my work.Now, onward to a world darker than our own.

Visit JoshuaGuess.com for the latest updates on my work.You can Like me on FacebookYou can follow me on Twitter

The following is the fourth collection of the historical record following the cataclysmic outbreak of the plague (referred to by the author as an event called "The Fall") and presented unaltered from the original.From an historical perspective, one wonders at the ability of the survivors of The Fall to maintain electronic communications for such a length of time. Thanks to the ingenuity of several groups of survivors and the abundance of communications satellites in use at the time, this hurdle was overcome.This particular collection focuses on the need to go beyond long-distance interaction, as you'll see. Humanity needs face-to-face encounters to build strong bonds. The survivors of The Fall seemed especially aware of this fact with their constant efforts to escape the trap of isolationism.Read on.

Friday, September 2, 2011
Twisted Nerve
Posted by Josh Guess
I've been sidelined for the last day and a half. Evans thinks I pinched my sciatic nerve, and given the debilitating pain shooting from my back to the tip of my right foot, I tend to agree.It's been good and bad, though. The bad is obviously a lack of mobility and having to sit in precisely the right position that I don't cry from the agony that comes with moving around. The good is that it's given me time to work on a few things, chief among them the upcoming trip across the country. I've picked my last team member: Rachel.You remember her, right? She's an old friend of mine, one of the people we helped escape from their home in Kansas. You might wonder what she brings to the table as far as skills go for what is sure to be an arduous journey.Well, she's not an expert in marital arts, has no dead-eye marksmanship skills, and knows no more field medicine than the average person. That's not to say that Rachel doesn't have the requisite skills to survive. Clearly she does or she wouldn't be here now. Rachel is tough, smart, and resourceful.No, the reason she's coming is simple: she asked. Though I told her we'd be gone a long time and we probably couldn't bring her husband (who was supportive of her choice if unhappy about it) she still wanted to come. Rachel has a strong desire to see the world around us, and a part of that is she, like me, has the heart of a storyteller. I've focused my efforts on sharing the goings on in my own life, and the community I live in. She wants to gather the stories of everyone we meet.Plus, she's got an almost perfect memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of tons of different subjects. That's not a physical skill, but it does offer potentially huge levels of help to us on the road. She's as good an addition to the team as I could hope for.Someone suggested to me that I take someone else, maybe a scout or one of the hunters. Someone with a lot of experience dealing with zombies in close quarters, someone physically stronger...basically, another male. I pointed out that Rachel has TONS of experience fighting zombies, and she's always done so with no regard for her gender. I guess no one told her women are supposed to be weak, right? She's fearless when defending herself and others. I want someone like that at my back.I'm not trying to belabor the point, really. I'm just annoyed because as I've been stuck in the house working on our game plan, I've had to listen to people pelt me with their ideas and suggestions. The experience has made me realize just how many old prejudices and stereotypes have survived the fall of human society. "Women are weak" is the one stuck in my craw this morning.Let me set it straight, then--my mother was a tiny woman with a gentle heart, yet I watched her mercilessly kill living people when the need arose. Rachel was the driving force in her community in Kansas, leading her people and keeping them safe. She fought tooth and nail for them, against terrible odds. She used her wonderful mind to work around a hundred problems, and she never shied from her duty. She did those things despite being less physically strong than the men around her. That's bravery.With her, the roster is finished. I couldn't be happier about it. Given how the pain in my back is wearing my self-control down, the next person to politely suggest that this decision is wrong may get the unhappy, grumpy version of me that swears a lot...Tentative date for our departure is Monday, contingent on my back getting better.Saturday, September 3, 2011
Picturesque
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm up to hobbling around now, which is a vast improvement over my mobility the last few days. I'm still having trouble switching between sitting and standing, but I can walk. If we were going to be camping this would be a serious problem, since zombies don't wait for you to get up slowly around the pain. Good thing for us we won't have to sleep outside.My brother had a hand in designing the modifications to the vehicle we'll be taking, but the actual work was done by others. It's a beautiful thing, our rugged machine and trailer, but I don't want to go into details today.As difficult as it is for me to walk around, I felt a strong urge to do it this morning. In a few days I'll be gone, and all I'll have of New Haven to sustain me while I'm away are memories. It struck me as I limped down the streets how the feeling of a place and its appearance can be so dramatically different. New Haven is being repaired and rebuilt in a hundred little ways (and a few large ones), but it still bears the scars of all the recent problems. Scorched earth where the fires nearly destroyed the inner wall. Houses with broken bricks from the heat. Craters outside the walls where bombs went off. Houses all over have had their exteriors stripped, patched, and modified in a dozen ways. It hardly looks like my old neighborhood at all.That's a good thing, I guess. Our home is evolving into something new and better, changing along with us to meet the needs of our times. I watch men, women, and children scramble to finish so many tasks and projects, energetic and eager to a degree I'd have thought impossible last month.I can't help but think of New Haven as a grizzled old cat--much like one of my own, Simon--battered and scarred from constant turmoil, but hale and strong and with a loving heart. I know that's a weird thought to have, but it hit my brain and had to go somewhere. There you go.As I type this my pets (minus the ferrets, who are both outside in the garden hunting bugs and trying to climb the fencing to go explore) surround me. The dogs are laying at my feet. Alexander, my kitten (no longer, I notice--he's fully grown now) is perched on my shoulder. Nathaniel is sitting in my lap. Simon is curled up on my desk and looking at me like he wants to rip my face off. That's not unusual, he always looks like that.I'll miss them almost as much as I'll miss Jess. With her it's an obvious thing, being my wife, best friend, and all that jazz. The difference is that she's a grown woman, a human being that can understand the rationale behind my trip, and can take solace in the company of friends in my absence.My pets can't. They'll miss me, pine for me at least for a little while, and won't understand. I'll miss them too, more than is probably healthy. Through all the hard times, and that's what the last year and a half have been almost without a break, they've been there. When Jess was shot, I spent a lot of time worrying, crying, and my pets often whined along with me, laying their heads on my lap and offering what comfort they could give.Wow. I really didn't mean to go on about my pets. I get emotional when I have to leave home, so I know you'll all forgive me. I'm just going to miss this place, every bit of it. Every person in it. We've all risked our lives together, done amazing things.It's going to be strange for me not to hear the plaintive howls of New Haven's dogs at night, nor the low growls and deep barks that warn us of nearby undead. I won't be able to give Patrick a hard time or learn a new bit of medicine from Evans. I've been away before, but this is bigger and more involved than anything I've ever done. It's daunting, exciting, scary, and full of possibility.As well as one certainty: I'll play back the memories each night as I lay down to sleep, from the faces of my brothers and sisters here to the pleasant rumble of a cat's purr, to give me comfort. It'll be the hope of coming home to make new ones that will keep me going.Monday, September 5, 2011
Roundabout
Posted by Josh Guess
A bit of a confession: I fibbed a little about when we were leaving.I've been on the road with my team for about six hours now. We left at midnight with a group of soldiers from North Jackson on their way back home to resupply. It seemed better to start our trip off going in a direction we're familiar with, to a place that's very friendly with us. It'll also be a nice jumping-off point to the larger journey, which first will take us to Canada.We're going to spend a few days with the folks in NJ. There have been a few changes in our relationship with them in the last week, and I've been itching to tell you about it. I haven't thus far only because nothing in our negotiations was set in stone, but I can proudly say that things are officially better for all of us after finalizing our agreements.It's pretty simple: in return for providing the people of North Jackson with a reasonable amount of medical supplies, we're getting a permanent contingent of soldiers and workers assigned to us. They'll rotate out on a regular basis, and there won't be a lot of them, but their entire purpose is to help New Haven work on our various projects. The soldiers will help bolster our defenses. We'll share the fruits of our labors with the people of NJ, obviously, and their engineers will give us a hand with any design problems we may encounter.This is a big deal for a lot of reasons, the most obvious and important being zombies. The numbers of them around New Haven right now are pretty small, but our scouts have seen swarms roaming not too far from Frankfort despite our daily efforts to clear them out. It's an unavoidable fact of life that there will always be more undead out there, and that we'll need constant protection from them. Especially when working out in the open.Oh, one other thing we're providing for NJ as a part of this deal--we're training doctors. We've done something like this before, giving a bunch of their people a decent grounding in emergency medicine, but this time Evans and Phil (maybe Gabby if she has time) will be doing some intensive training over a long period of time to a few candidates who've spent a lot of time teaching themselves the basics. I doubt we'll be churning out physicians with the wide breadth of knowledge the pre-Fall docs had, but frankly doing that seems like it would be a waste. Right now what we need are men and women who can diagnose and do surgery to meet the basic needs of the people. The good thing is that the bare bones of medicine don't actually take that long to learn.I know, that sounds crazy. It isn't, really. People who're learning medicine in the here and now don't have four years of pre-med to do. They don't have a lot of classes to take. They'll learn their anatomy and physiology by doing and watching. It's much easier for most people to learn about the human body, how it works and how to fix it, by observing and participating. In the world that was, we had time to let our medical students work slowly toward their practical education. The world that is requires them to learn on the fly, which greatly accelerates the process. Also, no math classes or fillers, so the whole thing should go quickly.That wasn't where I intended this post to go, but I'm glad I wrote about this. It's important to me to chronicle the way some things have changed, and the rapid pace with which our students learn skills isn't limited to medicine, though it's a good example. Most things are like that now, people learning by doing, unencumbered by all the useless crap they don't need. Not to say there won't be classes, but Evans is of the opinion that it's far more important for a student to understand how, say, a finger works and know how to set the bone than what the scientific name of it is.Down the road when we have things like hospitals again, that may change. For now, it's enough to have the skills.Our agreement with NJ is important. It serves as a template for cooperative effort and mutual gain that I'm hoping to replicate with many of the groups we're going to be visiting. The world is a bigger place than it was two years ago, our settlements struggling most times and groups of living humans far apart. Few of them have the resources to make regular travel possible. The best chance we have, and by 'we' I mean humanity in general, is to work together to make the highest number of people possible safe and productive. If that means scouring the country for vehicles that can run on E85 and setting up a distribution network for fuel, then that's what we'll do.That's presuming a lot, I know. We still need to meet many of these people, set up channels of trade, and figure out what resources will be needed to make those trades possible. It's a daunting challenge.Right about now, I'd love to say something epic and inspiring about how I never back down from a challenge. Cue music from Rocky, and start montage. Right?Except that's not true. I have doubts like anyone else, and before The Fall I was as prone to laziness and procrastination as anyone else. I feel that I've grown more mature and determined since then, but here I am riding in our vehicle, armed and armored, festooned with extra storage and fuel tanks, writing twice as many words as I intended. Putting off thinking about how big the job ahead is.It's a roundabout way of saying I'm worried about failing, I know. But I am. The difference between the old me and the me that writes these words is that where before I would give up before even trying, now I'll do everything I can to make it work. I'm still scared to fail, but if I do it won't be from lack of effort.Whew, okay. Time to wake up a few of the others. Dawn is coming, and it's going to be a long day.Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Bastion
Posted by Josh Guess
I've got a few minutes before I sit down to have a very long and hopefully productive discussion with the leadership of North Jackson. I want to spend them babbling my amazement at the changes here since my last visit.It's clear that the best possible thing that could have happened to North Jackson was the soldiers joining them. The sheer amount of manpower freed up by not having to patrol or provide defense has allowed the people here to massively expand. Where one main building used to house almost all the citizens, now a truly huge area is under their control. They've kept the old walls, much as we tried to do, and built large berms around the entire area with barricades on top. And around the outside of the berms--you guessed it--trenches from the excavated dirt.It's an amazing setup. New buildings have been raised, but built partially below the ground to keep the temperature stable. The level of farming here is outstanding. NJ has taken to growing food with a passion. The building we loving nicknamed the "hydroponics bay" is now a verdant greenhouse, the ground aside from footpaths and roads is crisscrossed with plots of vegetables everywhere.They've even put up some light barriers around a large area adjacent to the main compound that's only for farming. No structures, no paths. Just food.I've asked around about where they've managed to get all the materials from, and the answer explains a lot. Parties have been out and about for many months stripping every useful item from the surrounding areas. When that began to peter out, the teams began to range farther and look harder. They've got stockpiles of materials we can't even dream of. They've been finding abandoned tankers and siphoning every vehicle they can, but that's been just enough to keep their trips out for materials going. Well, that and keeping the construction equipment going. It's a constant process around here.The one really strange thing is the behavior of the local zombies, which is opposite to what we've been experiencing lately. Ours have learned to be afraid of us to a certain degree, and our daily runs around town to thin out their numbers keeps us from having to deal with too many of them at once. The smell of burning zombies tends to drive away the rest of them.Here, that isn't the case. North Jackson has been doing the same things we have, but the number of undead doesn't seem to be dropping. They don't seem frightened. The best defense NJ has aside from their walls is the fact that there are more than a thousand people here, and they all pee. There's almost an industry here for reducing urine into its constituent parts to produce ammonia. There's a lot of it around here, more than enough to defend their walls for weeks at a time. This is good, as ammonia would be a good trade item...The facilities here are better than anything we have back home, and the few chemists here have managed to collect other parts of waste products and distill elements and compounds from them. It's neat. It's also too much to go into here.We'll be here for a few days, and then off. I need to hammer out some details with the leadership before we head out. Seeing what I've seen, I've had a few ideas for trades I'd love to make.Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Ecosystem
Posted by Josh Guess
Saw something really neat this morning. The North Jackson leadership is being very generous by giving us some food to take with us, most of it in the form of potatoes and dried meat. Rather a lot of dried meat. Which isn't all that odd except that we've had fresh meat with each meal we've had since arriving.I asked about that, and the guy assigned to be our aide took us out to a farm. It's only a mile or so from the edge of the main complex, and it's HUGE. Like, all capital letters huge. When I said they've been stripping places bare, I may have been understating the case.The very large tract of land NJ is using to raise animals is surrounded by fences and barriers. It's the sort of hodgepodge you grow to expect from groups of survivors who use whatever they can find to build things. The really neat thing about the animal enclosure is that for the most part, it's a living ecosystem. There are two small ponds and a large creek running through it, and the populations of animals inside live as naturally as possible. Except for the fact that they're in a pen and the population controls they live under, it's pretty close to the way they'd live in the real world.Add the animals they slaughter to keep the habitat viable to the hunting they do as far as a hundred miles away, and you get a place that has access to a surplus of meat.North Jackson needs that. While I've been writing this, there have been two attacks of moderate size by zombies. 'Moderate' being a term relative to the size of this community. If either of them had hit New Haven, our people would have all been called to defend at once. The soldiers and guards can't use ammonia for every attack, but it isn't necessary for medium ones like today. So, they fight. Every day.Protein is important. We all know that. Physiologically, animal meat contains fat for energy, protein to build muscle, B12 for proper mental function. Beyond that, the psychological satisfaction from feeling full and strong, not fighting constant and exhaustive battles, is priceless.That simple difference between North Jackson and New Haven makes this place seem like a whole other world. My people are doing better now than they were six weeks ago by orders of magnitude, but we're still hungry. We've found a renewed determination and resolve, but as of yet no true level of comfort. My people still fight tired and hungry, still afraid of the slip-up that could kill us all. Not living in fear, but it's there.Not that I'm complaining. Not at all. My home is better off today than yesterday, and tomorrow better yet. I'm just starting to get into the mindset of understanding the differences between us. Everywhere we go from here on out will be a study in evolution, each community as isolated as the Galapagos islands. The people living in each will have their own strengths and weaknesses, needs and wants. I'm trying to look at those pieces of information and glean what understanding I can from them.Tonight or tomorrow we'll be heading out and the mission starts in earnest.Thursday, September 8, 2011
North Country
Posted by Josh Guess
We're taking our first stop right now in Canada, and it's fucking COLD. I mean, the cold snap that hit us the last several days seemed to drive a stake into the heart of summer, but it never got below fifty-five in North Jackson.Right now it's in the forties, and the wind is blowing. We're a lot farther north than you'd think, because we've made amazing time getting up here. The roads have been empty of zombies and clear of debris. Now if only this unnaturally cold wind would die out, we'd be set.It's not all that bad for us, to be honest. Our setup is pretty secure from the elements, except that we have to go outside to use the bathroom. Since we've stopped for some breakfast, I can take a minute to tell you about our home for the next few...weeks? Months? Who knows.It's kind of a monstrosity to look at, I'll be honest. The main vehicle is an extended cab pickup truck. Obviously, it's a flex fuel vehicle. The truck has an extended bed which has walls welded to it to protect the tanks there. We've got enough fuel to get us amazingly far. Our mechanics made some very interesting modifications to this thing. It's very efficient for a truck.Fortunately, the place we're heading in Canada has a good stock of ethanol handy, and we're taking any gasoline we find along the way. I don't see us running completely dry any time in the near future.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Famous Last Words
Posted by Josh Guess
So that whole thing where I completely counted our chickens before they hatched was a bad idea. I should know better by now than to hand the universe an opening by saying things like, 'Everything is going well, we should be there soon'. It wasn't an hour after my last post that we hit an impassible road block. Trees, and lots of them, and us without a chainsaw.Which is dumb. We really should have thought to bring one since downed trees are such a big problem. No road crews to remove them now.We've spent a lot of time scouting alternate routes on foot since then. We're using maps, paper and electronic, to find a safe way to our destination, but the area of southern Canada we're in is pretty rough. It looks like one hell of a storm came through here at some point, ripping up trees and even breaking roadways. It's only been a day, and we aren't in a huge rush mainly because we're also scouting the area for useful stuff. We've replenished some fuel, but aside from that there isn't much. It's mainly taking so long because we don't want to burn more gas than we have to. Hoofing it is time consuming.Zombies are thin on the ground around here, too. We've seen several wandering about, moving very slowly and looking emaciated. I know the undead have a great capacity to store extra nutrients from the flesh they consume, but I begin to wonder at what point the organism controlling them starts to cannibalize the cells of the bodies that host them.I imagine the handful of them we've seen were lying dormant somewhere, just waiting for some outside stimulus to wake them. We've seen the ones back home do that a lot. Hopefully these aren't just the precursors to a larger swarm about to wake up. That would be the icing on the cake, wouldn't it?Other than that, not much to share here. The local environs have been effectively stripped of useful materials and supplies. It's farther south than I would have expected the group we're meeting with to have gone, and farther north than our friends in NJ range. Weird. Maybe there's and unknown group around here somewhere. That would be cool, I'd love to make a solid first contact with some new blood.Wow. I just reread that. I sound optimistic to the point of suicide, don't I? Let's hope I'm only joking there.Sunday, September 11, 2011
Catch and Release
Posted by Josh Guess
Less than a week into our trip, and we're already dealing with a potential death-stroke to our mission. Will and Rachel have been captured.We spent all of yesterday and a lot of the day before trying to find where they'd been taken. It happened while we were scouting alternate routes to the group we were on our way to see. Will and Rachel went out together, as none of us goes anywhere alone, and it took a while to realize they'd been caught. One of them might be dead or severely injured. We found a liberal splash of blood at the scene of their capture.There was a fight, to be sure. We knew they were taken because their bodies weren't there, and zombies tend to leave pretty obvious messes. Plus, in the day and a half since, we've located where they're being kept. Mason is watching the place as I type this. Through the scope of a high-powered rifle.We've tried communicating with the people inside the small fortress we're watching, but so far we haven't had any luck. At least we know why the area has been stripped of materials so thoroughly. This place is impregnable.Two large apartment buildings make up most of its living space. They're four stories tall and made of cinder block. Each floor looks like it has four apartments, good size ones. There's a wall fifteen feet tall at its lowest point surrounding the whole thing, all told about the area of a football field. I don't know what theses people do for farming, but it isn't inside their wall from what I can see. The wall itself is a hodgepodge of materials from aluminum siding to steel plate and wood. It's all held together by what looks like hardened foam of some kind. Probably the expanding polyurethane stuff used to insulate houses. I used to install that stuff, and the heavier versions of it are as good as cement.Hmm. I wonder if I could make armor molds with that stuff. I'll have to look into that....Mason and I are discussing the options with Steve and Becky at the moment. We're going to get Will and Rachel back, dead or alive, but we'd prefer not to have anyone killed. That the people who took them have a permanent residence says good things about them: they aren't averse to cooperative effort, probably aren't bloodthirsty killers, and are unlikely to be cannibals. I won't rule any of that out, but signs are mostly positive.We don't have a lot of choices. Becky is offering to walk to their gate and knock. We'll spend the next little while trying to come up with pretty much any alternative to that. I don't have high hopes. Yelling at them from the safety of the trees isn't working, and I don't think they've got electricity at all, so the internet isn't an option.Damn it.Monday, September 12, 2011
Bang Bang Bang
Posted by Josh Guess
Yesterday, Mason killed three people. Living human beings each cut down in a blink of an eye. The purpose of our trip was to build new alliances and strengthen old ones. Yet in a flash of gunfire we made new enemies. The kind you aren't likely to lose.How it came about is a story unto itself.After much discussion we came to the conclusion that the only real option we had was the one least appealing: one of us would have to go up to the door and make our presence obvious. Becky ended up going, banging on their gate until someone poked their head over the top and yelled at her. The finer points of the discussion were lost to Mason, Steve, and I, as all of us were at a safe distance.After the fact, I know that Becky asked for our people back. I could see that the person speaking to her wasn't pointing a gun at her, but Mason was keeping an eye through the scope of his rifle just to be safe. Becky's body language was tense but not panicked, but that changed when the main gate opened.The idea was for her to ask for the release of Will and Rachel, no threats involved. She would explain the situation, that we were travelers heading toward a destination and were interested in setting up trade with everyone we could.She did all that, and the gates opened. Four men walked toward Becky, armed with weapons ranging from homemade spears to machetes. She didn't bolt in fear, but things were obviously going to get ugly. That was when I got on the bullhorn. I told them to stop coming toward Becky, but they wouldn't. I warned them that we'd open fire unless they halted and released our people. They didn't seem to care.It was lucky the men were so close together. Mason dropped three of them in less than ten seconds. The last one dropped his weapon and put his hands up in surrender. Apparently everyone else was inside the walls of their apartments. Next thing we saw, Will and Rachel were running toward the gate, met up with Becky, and all of them ran like hell toward the rest of us.We didn't waste a lot of time getting out of there. Will and Rachel brought back some observations and information about the place and the people in it, but that's for tomorrow. Right now, we're settling in at the community that has been our destination for so many days. We made it here in less than three hours after freeing our friends.A mission of peace and hope, and the first encounter we had with new survivors ended with shots fired and lives lost. I want to think it can only get better from here.Time and again, life has taught me the sad lesson that no matter how bad the situation, it can always get worse. We're alive, and safely tucked away with allies. That's about the best outcome we could have hoped for. Still, it doesn't feel like enough.Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Testimonial
Posted by Josh Guess

I was going to share some of the observations Will and Rachel made during their captivity today, then update you on our progress with the group of survivors we're staying with. Instead I'm going to post a comment Rachel herself made on yesterday's blog:RichLayers said...
Can I just say, for those of you who still have any doubts about Will's character or behavior -- fuck you.I was scared out of my mind for the last two days and I would have gone nuts if he hadn't been there.I mean, I am generally a pretty calm, mellow person, and I have seen my share of shit go down since All This Started. And I have generally kept my cool, I think it's fair to say of myself.But I have never been kidnapped at the point of weapons and locked up with NO IDEA what was going to happen to me. I have new levels of sympathy for the poor people who have been rescued from similar--or worse--situations, who are now at the compound.Last night we had been there just long enough that I thought the others must have gone on without us. (sorry for doubting you guys! xxoo) Will took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Rachel, I really think they'll get us out of this. But it doesn't matter. If they're gone, or if they're waiting for the right moment, it doesn't matter. We are here, together, and that means that we will get out of this together, whatever it takes. We're not going to be stuck here, we will go on or go home."After that I calmed down... well I was MORE calm, and we spent the night planning various strategies, which turned out to be unnecessary thanks to Mason and Becky. But I will say that Will is a strategic genius, and though he may have made mistakes, if you can't see by now that he was doing what he thought would save the most lives, then open your fucking mind. I challenge any of you to come up with something better if you were in his position, and the choice was between seeing immediate slaughter, or coming up with something else later.Ummm... anyway, we're okay. Thanks Josh, sorry for going all ranty on you there.
She posted a second comment correcting her use of "the compound" instead of New Haven, but I think that's pretty understandable. I still think of home that way a lot of the time. I wanted to make this trip about our experiences as they related to the mission at hand, but the events we've lived through are important as well. I'll get back to that tomorrow. For now, I want all of you to read the above again. Maybe more of you will understand Will Price a little better. I hope so. He's done a lot of good, and now he's kept one of my oldest friends from possibly doing something stupid and getting herself hurt or killed. He was the voice of calm reason that helped her deal with a situation that would have tested any of us.I want you to think about that. Think about what Will has endured at our hands, and how the decisions he made must weigh on him. As heavy as those choices are to him, is it fair that we continue to add to them, knowing he saved lives by doing the hard thing?Ask yourself. You may not like the answer, but he deserves that much. Some men choose the easy way, others the difficult path. The best of us do what is right, and happily suffer the consequences.Wednesday, September 14, 2011
New Breed
Posted by Josh Guess
Life after the end of the world can sometimes seem very black and white. Survivors tend to think of most things in black and white terms, and people are no exception. They're living or dead. Living ones are either marauders or simply survivors like the rest of us, scavengers that try not to do harm if it can be avoided.It's easy to forget, due to the low numbers of living human beings left, that there we are amazingly diverse as a species. People will surprise you. It's a constant.Take Will and Rachel's observations during their captivity as example number one of this truth. Most marauders we've run into tend to rove around. Yeah, they will make a base for a little while to work from, but they don't stay in any place for more than a few weeks. They take what they want and move on.I tend to call the remaining people out there, including my own, survivors. Yes, I know all of us survived The Fall, but marauders don't fit the image in my mind when I think of survivors. They don't plan for the long haul, don't pick a spot and defend it in order to build something better and stronger. They don't have a sense of community with others. They travel and kill, taking what they want and putting in no work to get it.Until now, apparently. While temperaments vary, I've always thought of survivors as essentially one class of people, defined by their willingness to cooperate and their commitment to the group. From our point of view, the survival of the clan is predicated on the idea that banding together with common purpose and goals is the only real solution. Zombies are the largest threat by far, and two hundred people together are exponentially more equipped to deal with a swarm of the undead than one alone, or a bare handful. While we've had disagreements with other groups of survivors before, I have long held to the belief that it's impossible for any of us to do the things marauders because of the very basic empathy required to be a part of a community.I said all that to say this: I was wrong. I'm sure my wife is clapping at that admission. I don't make it often.Will and Rachel didn't get a lot of hard data from their captors, no names of people or even if the group had a name for the place they lived. What they did get was a good impression of how those people lived their lives. Bits of conversation overheard and the obvious spoils of the work of others made it clear: those people have been doing some very nasty things. One conversation of particular note Rachel overheard mentioned that our group might be "an even better catch than the last one that came through."There was evidence that the people who took them have been capturing people who pass through their territory, stealing their supplies, and either killing the victims or setting them loose in the wild with nothing. Not even weapons. Brutal.However, Will noted that the conditions inside their complex were good. The people were friendly with each other if not their captives, everyone seemed well-fed, and there was love between them. The kind of deep care that comes from suffering the worst together, and choosing to stick out whatever may come side by side.At first I wanted to come up with some clever name for these folks, since they seem to combine elements of the two groups most prevalent in what's left of society. Then I realized it was only my own preconceived notions and point of view in play. These people are just another group, shared experience leading them toward different ways of doing things, harsh though they may be. I can't boil them down into a simple buzz word and leave it at that. Looking back, I kind of hate that I started doing that in the first place.Survivors. Marauders. Looters. All this time, I've been looking at the stark differences between us without ever trying to understand the subtle ones. Beyond that, I've been blind to the greater truth: I should have been looking not at what divides us, but commonalities that might bridge the space between. At the most basic, what are we?Every single one of us are people. We've got to remember that.Friday, September 16, 2011
Slow Going
Posted by Josh Guess
We're on the road again, and I've been lax in my duty to report on how our primary mission has been going. For obvious security reasons, I can't tell you where we were other than to say in southern Canada with a community of survivors.It was a big place, about three hundred and fifty people. They'd taken refuge in an abandoned industrial facility, one with heavy steel walls and plenty of floor space. Over the last year and a half they built inside it, creating in interesting multiple level honeycomb of small, private residences as well as larger communal ones. The exterior of the building is surrounded by a wall made of gravel and large rock held together by wire mesh. It's big, intimidating, and pretty much impossible for zombies to get through.I'd have thought people stuck in a place like that would have had a hard time farming and hunting, but that's not the case at all. The community near their new home was a small and relatively rural one. There are a lot of fields to farm that are fenced in and easy to defend. The hunting is plentiful, given how much of Canada was still wilderness even before The Fall.The people there have ample food for trade, and they're also focusing on making light, strong blocks that interlock and don't need much mortar to hold them together. It's an interesting concept, one that several other groups have expressed interest in if they can make the idea work. There's transportation to consider, but I've got news on that front......because our next stop, which will take a while to get to, is a group that has been living quietly in a massive storage facility for gasoline. It's a reserve that holds untold thousands of gallons of fuel. I think it may have been a government depot at one time. They want to trade services for items, namely providing transport for many of the communities that wish to trade but don't have large reserves of fuel. Another good idea.It's going to take us a while to get there for several reasons. One is that we have to circumvent the assholes who captured Will and Rachel, a route that took way longer than it should to plan out. Another is that we've been encountering zombies a lot more through the border states, which is why I couldn't update yesterday. The undead were so thick around us that I didn't even dare to climb into the bed of the truck through the back window to fire up the cell transmitter. We were worried the walls protecting the truck's bed wouldn't hold. We spent seven and a half hours in one spot, waiting for the crowd of zombies on the road to clear. If they hadn't thinned out by eight hours, we were going to hit them with a dose of ammonia. We've been trying to conserve our supplies. This is gonna be a long trip.So far, no one in the group has an overwhelming desire to strangle anyone. Or, if they do, they aren't admitting it. Maybe eighteen months of living in close quarters has made us more tolerant, but I would have thought someone would have become frustrated with the tight confines of the truck and trailer. So far, all of us are staying professional and keeping our cool. Becky, who sleeps on the same shift (and on the same bunk) as me, has even ceased whacking me in the face with her elbow every time she turns over. That by itself is a minor miracle.There are zombies on the road. Not enough to stop us or even threaten us, but enough to slow us down. Looks like a shift of standing in the bed of the truck with a section of wall lowered, putting machetes through skulls. The blade goes up, then down, the zombie falls. Repeat. A fucking lot. Tedious and boring, not to mention disturbingly mechanical. Those used to be people, after all...A long, long day. Off to it.Saturday, September 17, 2011
Long Town
Posted by Josh Guess
We've run into another group of survivors we didn't know about. They haven't tried to kill any of us, unlike the last surprise group we encountered. They aren't doing a lot to help, but that's fine since they don't have much to trade with. They've been nice enough to let us stay at their place overnight. It's definitely the most...unique structure I've seen built by survivors so far.They call it Long Town, and it's a community built in a grassy median between two sides of a large highway. The distance between the roads averages about fifty feet where they built their home, and it lives up to its name. It's really long. Like half a mile.The Walls are made up of abandoned cars. The first few people that camped here did so because they noticed how hard the giant traffic jam around the place made it for zombies to cross the road. Over time, more people stopped here and gathered as a group, each new set of hands helping to strengthen the wall. Windows busted out of cars and trucks, then filled with wood which could be removed a little at a time from the interior side to be used as fuel. A clever storage system. The spaces between vehicles are jammed tight with tons of stuff, mostly pieces of other cars. There's even heavy equipment used to stack cars on top of each other when needed. They may not have a lot of extra to spare, but this place isn't lacking in ingenuity or sophistication.The really helpful part is that the residents here have scouted and salvaged the surrounding area very extensively. We've promised not to take anything, and in return they gave us a comfy place to sleep and a map. There are about fifty people here, and the area inside the walls of cars is enough to farm in for them. Apparently there are more of them, but there are always people out scouting and bringing stuff back. They must hunt, too.With the map, which covers several hundred miles, we'll be able to make better time. We're trying to trim where we can, so we're heading out, well...now.Back into the great unknown. It's an adventure, all the more for the fact that any time, bullets can fly or a zombie can try to bite my face off. In stories, this kind of thing is always simpler and more magical.Monday, September 19, 2011
Blank Pages
Posted by Josh Guess
Sorry I couldn't post anything yesterday, apparently there were problems in Mountain View, where the remaining engineers and programmers at Google HQ are holed up. They've been nothing short of amazing in their efforts to keep lines of communication up, but even their dedication can't keep everything running smoothly at all times. It was kind of frightening to me not to be able to post a blog, but Blogger was down and there was nothing I could do about it.I'm not used to that sort of helplessness. Cell service was also out of commission, so we had no way of letting the folks back home know we were okay. It's a scary look at how things would be if the folks at Google weren't doing their thing day after day.I'm really hoping we can make it all the way to California to visit the place, but I don't know if that will be possible. None of us have any idea how bad the zombie swarms between here and there would be, or if we'd be able to secure enough fuel to make the trip. As of right now there are at least ten stops we're planning to make in communities that will be able to refuel us with the mix of ethanol and gas we need to keep on going. For the moment we're doing fine, but the future is a fuzzy, vengeful bitch.Our night in Long Town was fun. That group, relatively small though it is, know how to treat guests. They couldn't share food with us, but they did entertain. A few of them put on a small stage show, an act from Romeo and Juliet, a few others had worked up a new and interesting game that combined basketball, short-distance track and field, and target practice. It was neat to watch but the rules were so complex that I couldn't even follow how the scores were kept. All in all they seemed like a happy group. I've given them all the relevant contact info for New Haven. The people of Long Town know they'll eventually have to deal with human threats, not just zombies, and they know their home can't hold up to an assault. Maybe my people can work something out with them.We're gonna be on the road a few days yet. Everywhere we go it looks like massive storms have laid waste to the roads, but the truth is much simpler: no road crews. It's something I've noted before, and recently, but it still bears repeating to anyone out there who is thinking about traveling any significant distance. Close to home, we've made a point to police our own roadways and make sure they're clear. Most of the major roads and highways in Kentucky had treelines set far enough back from the roads that downed trees aren't that much of a problem. The same is true of the interstates we use to maintain trade with North Jackson--they're designed for minimal maintenance after storms.The back roads and byways are another story, an obvious one I don't have to spell out. All I'll add here is that we did manage to locate some chainsaws, and even some premixed fuel for them. Don't know how long that will hold out, but it'll do for the near future.Wow, look at that. One day of being cut off from communication and there I go blathering for several paragraphs about to most everyday, inane things. I'll be honest--it feels good. I can't see my wife, who is the usual victim for the boring minutiae I find so endlessly fascinating. Out here on the road, seeing how America has evolved over the last year and a half, I can't help but move that burden onto you. I hope you don't mind.Fair warning: I've been told that communications could go down again. The engineers said that it may get patchy, and some of us may be able to communicate when others can't. If that happens, and New Haven can still access the internet, I may have friends from home send out updates from there. We'll be safe and careful, so if you don't hear from me, don't worry. We'll be fine.Holy shit, did I really just type that? It's just a bad idea to hand the universe a line like that. At least I didn't say "What's the worst that could happen?". That would have been an invitation for disaster.Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Trailer
Posted by Josh Guess
This morning as we were breaking camp, Mason thought he heard sounds coming from the highway. We were parked off the road about fifty feet, screened in by trees. We try to stay hidden whenever possible. Good thing, too.Not far from us, a truck towing a livestock trailer trundled down the road. We could see it easily from the woods. The thing moved slowly, the truck lurching and sputtering as it strained to make it up the gentle hill our stand of trees grew on. It was obvious the truck's engine wasn't up to the task of hauling the trailer. Steam and smoke roiled from under the hood as the vehicle made it to the crest of the hill.That's when we were able to hear the screams.People were packed into the trailer so densely they didn't have room to move. We could see them when it came close, the holes in the trailer covered with window screening to keep casual observers from noticing the truth.Mason didn't say a word, didn't hesitate. He put bullets into the cab of the truck with mechanical precision. He left one of the passengers alive, so we could question him. That was a mistake.Even as we were making our way cautiously through the trees to subdue the surviving captor, the trailer went up in a gout of flames. Charges of some kind put in place to keep the merchandise from being stolen. Merchandise. That's the word the last captor used when Mason questioned him.The overwhelming majority of survivors out there are decent people. Some may be rougher than others, more isolated and mistrustful but essentially good. Despite the ease with which we could fall into barbarism, most of us don't. We strive to do right by our loved ones, and are learning to trust and cooperate on a larger scale.But there are always exceptions. Maybe it's because there are so few people now and crime in general is so rare, but it seems the worst of our society since The Fall are so far beyond what they were before it. Marauders kill and rape wantonly, and now we've learned that there are even groups of them that go around capturing innocent people to sell to other marauders. I guess when you're a sociopath with no regard for human life or decency, you have to stick with others of your kind.That there are enough of them nearby to necessitate a market for this is extremely worrisome. There is only one possible way forward.We're going hunting.Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Data
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm writing this as I get ready to sleep for a few hours. Steve, Rachel, and Will all stayed at camp, which is very well hidden, while Mason, Becky, and I went scouting for marauders. We moved on foot, obviously, and it took effort to remain undetected, but we've managed to learn a phenomenal amount about these people.We discovered six different encampments in a five mile radius. We didn't capture anyone, since this trip was only intended for information gathering, and we didn't want to risk making any of the marauders suspicious. Missing people tend to do that. The ones we killed out on the highway could have been written off as a one-off encounter. If people start vanishing, I'm sure the men and women we're watching will go on high alert.I can tell you for sure that there isn't much harm in posting blogs about it. I've yet to see one person in any of the camps use a phone or have any electronics other than short-range radios. There are no cell towers around here other than the portable we brought with us.Mason theorizes that the lack of long-range communications here is why this particular part of the country has become a corridor for marauders to pass through as well as camp in. No one can get word out that incredibly dangerous people are nearby. It's perfect cover.It also means a lot of them concentrate here. We counted more than a hundred between the camps we've found, and there may be many, many more. Today, after we wake up and the whole group is together, we'll work on strategies. The one good thing about being here is that the marauders are very efficient about clearing zombies out of the area. Guess they have to be, roving around and making camps with no permanent protections.We can't spend a ton of time here, and with just six of us there may not be a lot we can do, but we have to try. Whatever options are open to us will be considered. The things these people do...we can't let them just walk away to do it again.With enough data, time, and resources, we could kill every one of them. Unfortunately data is the only one of those things we have enough of.Thursday, September 22, 2011
Domino Pattern
Posted by Josh Guess
There are three factors that weigh in the survival of human beings in the midst of the zombie plague. Luck is one, that's undeniable. Determination is the second. That allows you to use the third: knowledge. Having a grasp on the enemy and your situation gives you better odds in a conflict.Mason, Becky, and I had a very productive night. All through our activities, Mason instructed us in some of the finer points of causing chaos among your enemies. I can't take much credit--most of what we did Mason devised. Becky and I followed orders.The hardest problem to overcome was the huge advantage in numbers. Ideally we'd have led a pack of zombies right up to the closest encampment, then repeated the process when they finished. Sadly, the one area marauders are very proficient in is clearing out the undead. Fortunately, their trust for one another is nonexistent.Much like street gangs (and I'm sure groups of marauders in some places originally were gangs) the different groups tend to use specific signs or colors to easily identify members of their own group. So, Mason did what seemed logical to him: made a plan to fan the flames of distrust to a white-hot state.The three of us infiltrated the smallest camp last night, just eight people. Eight marauders, that is, all men, and one captive. She was tied up in a tent, strapped to a cot. We found her after we'd finished picking off the four men on watch. None of them were really expecting an attack, and we were silent. The first to die had his throat cut by Mason, the second silenced by dual stab wounds to the kidneys. Also courtesy of Mason. You learn a lot of disturbing facts working with him. One being that getting stabbed in the kidney hurts so badly that it effectively paralyzes your throat. It tightens so hard you can't even scream, or move your muscles.The last two were unaware we'd killed the men on the other side of the camp. Becky and I were only about thirty feet away in the darkness. They were sitting in front of a fire, eyes dazzled by the light of the flames. We might as well have been invisible. Two neat arrow shots to their throats as Mason started working his way into the tents.I would have had a hard time killing men in their sleep. Oh, I'd have done it; I have before. But I'd have felt terrible and maybe hesitated. Mason may have felt the same, but he didn't show any signs and it didn't slow him down a bit. He did get pretty upset when we found the girl, who had been used for the obvious purposes. Mason was just as enraged as Becky and I, talking about how he wished he'd been able to kill those men slowly.Can't say I disagree.I've seen women deal with the terrible wrongs that were inflicted on that poor thing. She was in her late teens, at a point in her life where she should have been worried about which boy liked her. Not which man was going to ruthlessly violate her next. I've seen other women find the strength to overcome what she'd endured, but the truth is that all people have a breaking point. She was well past hers.When we woke her and she began to understand that we weren't going to harm her, she begged for us to kill her. We tried to explain that we would keep her safe, but that wasn't enough. As I listened to her beg again and again for death, I began to understand.The world wasn't a place where she could ever feel safe or right again. No amount of security could set her mind at ease, because the possibility, however small, was still there that she could fall prey to the desires of brutal men again. I've always believed that every person should have the right to choose their own time and place to end it if they wish. I can't think of anyone who deserved the peaceful release of death more.Mason offered to do it, though I could see the anguish in his eyes. The girl was frightened of doing it herself, dreaded making a mistake and going through a slow and painful process. Becky took the lead, then. She ushered me and Mason out of the tent, and a short time later called us back in.She'd given the girl, whose name we never learned, a massive overdose of morphine. More than half of the supply we brought with us. Should some future injury cause me pain, and Becky is without a painkiller because of last night, I'll consider it bargain. Compared to what she endured, every other pain is minor. I'm actually glad we could help her go painlessly. It still hurts.We took the time to bury her beneath a willow tree, and that's how I'll think of her. Willow seems as good a name as any other.That took place after we left the camp, of course. On our way out we left a green bandanna, carefully stolen from a larger camp by Mason, clutched in the hand of one of our victims. The traders that service the camps should be passing through any time now. I wonder what will happen when they see the obvious: the tenuous peace between the marauders was broken by another camp. Eight men killed. There will be panic, anger, confusion.And hopefully, violence. After the night we had, I hope to hear their screams all day.Saturday, September 24, 2011
War Games
Posted by Josh Guess
There's something darkly satisfying about watching very bad people die.As you can guess, yesterday was interesting. The cycle of violence we'd hoped to incite the day before was getting off to a slow start. From our observations after the assault we staged, it became clear that most of the groups of marauders were more disciplined than we gave them credit for. Security tightened up, movement between the camps went from minimal to nonexistent, and the traders that passed between kept their distance.Things were too tense for us to try anything obvious. Attacking a second camp would have been suicidal given how tightly wound the marauders were. So, we waited and watched. All. Day. Long.Yesterday morning we finally grew weary with observing. No further attacks had materialized, so Mason decided to give our enemies a push. His actions were dangerous, but you have to remember that he used to do this kind of thing for a living.Bearing a green bandanna, Mason went hunting. He made sure to attack only sentries that operated in pairs, let himself be seen while retreating after firing arrows. Mason swears it would be a lot easier just to pick them off slowly over time, that it's difficult to allow yourself to be seen without getting caught. I'm taking his word for it. He's the one doing it, not me.When the reaction came from the camps Mason hit, he was ready. I don't know when he found the time to sneak into the other camps and steal their identifying items, but he was a fucking genius during the fights. When the other camps came together to attack the green bandanna crew (a stupid name, but it's not like I can call them 'The cobras', now is it?) Mason was there. He's like a ghost. A ghost that can kill you seven ways without breaking a sweat.Several of the groups attacked the men in green, and Mason disrupted the whole thing, turned it into a free-for-all. One group wore red baseball caps. So was Mason when he slipped a knife into the ribs of a member of one of the allied groups. He danced around the battlefield, disappearing from one section once he'd played the part of betraying member of a group only to reappear in a different area shortly after as a member of another. All told it only took him about ten minutes to turn the rough union of men who thought they were being attacked by the greens into a bloody massacre.Men retreated to safe areas, trying to figure out ways to either win or escape. They were scattered, confused, hurt. That was when my group hit them. Never anything obvious. We fired arrows at them from cover for the most part, or if a few of them clustered near the edge of the clearing and we were close enough, we'd slip in and kill them quietly. It took a long time, but the total number of dead left at the green camp was fifty-two.The rest retreated. Three entire groups are dead, and none of the others that joined in the assault escaped without losses. None of them stayed behind to pillage the remains of the camp. They were too scared by the end, just wanting to escape.We inventoried the wreckage. There are a lot of weapons from the fallen, among other items. The camp itself is a treasure trove of supplies, ammo, weapons...And people. Locked safely away in a school bus that's had some seriously disturbing modifications made to it, we found six women and four men. Naked, many of them injured, all of them thin as rails, but gloriously alive.That's another story altogether, one I'll tell tomorrow. For now, rest easy knowing we've got them with us, safe as we can make them, and most of them are willing to fight. With the haul we took from the green camp, I think accommodations can be made.The only down side to the whole day is that we're pretty sure the surviving marauders know someone is out here. Once they grow enough spine to go back to the camp to scavenge, they'll be sure of it. We had to cut chains off the captives to get them free.I'm sort of looking forward to what happens next.Sunday, September 25, 2011
Captive Hearts
Posted by Josh Guess
I want to talk about the people we rescued yesterday, but I want to do it in a way appropriate in relation to the horrors they've suffered. With that in mind, please understand that I won't be going into detail about them, as they've asked me not to. Instead, a general overview so as a sort of measuring stick for those of you out there to understand what kind of men we're facing.I don't have to tell you what the marauders in the green camp did to those women, but the men suffered the same. That came as a surprise to me, but I suppose it shouldn't. Today's modern sociopath is much more open-minded than the monsters of yesterday.I'm short on time, but it's vital to me that you understand the level of abuse leveled against these people. Sexual, physical, psychological. Every day for weeks for the most fortunate of them, almost a full year for one of the men. They'll carry scars visible and otherwise forever. One of them is almost as despondent as the poor girl we buried the other day, but not quite there. We're doing everything we can to help him.They're hurt and frightened, but full of rage. The one comfort they had was each other. When the worst was upon them, the others were there to talk, to share the pain. It didn't make everything peachy and fun, but a simple human connection, others who understood and could identify, may have been what kept them all from suicide.Wow, sorry. I want to tell you how we're trying to help the captives regain strength and doing what we can to prepare them to fight. There's a lot about them I want to say, but it's too hard. I'm sitting here doing everything I can not to break down. I've seen them first hand, helped suture their wounds. All of us catch the wild-eyed, furtive glances they all share, as if one of my team is about to brutalize them at any time. It's too much. It hurts me just to think about it.It hurts to realize I've been so consumed with our mission and what we're doing now that I haven't really thought of home in days. Now I'm terrified something will happen to my loved ones, some horrific act that will shatter them.It's hard to think of all the beautiful moments I've seen over the last year and a half. People coming together in times of crisis seems pale and insignificant against the dark things the captives have suffered. Knowing that even a small percentage of survivors are capable of things like this makes me want to vomit. I'm screwed up right now. I'm sorry.I'm not doing justice to these folks, but I just can't do this today.Monday, September 26, 2011
Bringing The Pain
Posted by Josh Guess
I don't know if it's poetic justice or not, but damn I felt satisfied watching our handiwork this morning.As it turns out, there were a lot more marauders in the area than we originally thought. Lucky we killed so many of them in a small area, then, which gave us a hole in the defensive perimeter to lead a swarm of zombies through.I don't want to take the credit here. The captives were all set to fight, but there was simply no way they would regain enough strength and emotional stability to do so before the remaining marauders got their shit together enough to hunt us down. My team hashed it out with the captives, and it was Rachel and Will, who are making an increasingly effective team, that went with them to snare some zombies.That left Mason, me, Becky, and Steve to keep the chaos going. It wasn't that hard. A few rifle shots from concealment did a fine job of thwacking the hornet's nest.I really wish we could have given the captives the chance to fight. I've listened to them talk about their experiences, what they'd like to do to the people we're facing. A few of them were traded between camps, meaning some of their tormentors are still out there.Well, they might still be out there. The swarm we brought in is pretty big, three or four hundred. Probably not enough to kill the remaining marauders. Clearly enough to cause them to retreat to other camps as the swarm advanced on them, which left us with an interesting situation. The first few camps to be abandoned as the remaining marauders quickly retreated as a (temporarily, I'm sure) unified force were basically left untouched. That meant the secure locations where their captives were locked up to prevent them from escaping were left untouched.So we broke in, set them free, and raided the hell out of the camps for supplies. Total number of captives now working with us: thirty seven. All of them armed to the teeth, though not with guns. Unfortunately the few firearms that the marauders can use with the dwindling ammunition supplies at their disposal tend to be carried around with them.Still, we've made pretty good progress. Again, I say 'we' when Mason has been the one doing most of the strategic work, Will doing the more detailed tactics, and the rest of us doing what they suggest. Not that I haven't enjoyed playing the part of vengeful spirit. I'm comfortable shooting murderers and rapists in the back with arrows from the safety of cover.Mason is out right now observing the battle. He's going to send one of the former captives working with him back to our camp when the marauders' fight with the zombie horde reaches the right moment. I'm not sure what that moment will be, but Mason assures me he will. When it comes, when they're weakest, we hit them. Hopefully that will be after a few more camps have been deserted and any captives freed. It's fun to watch the marauders scamper about just ahead of the swarm, living in fear of what new hell follows them.Serves them right. Soon, it will all be over.Soon.Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Resurgent
Posted by Josh Guess
Things rarely go as planned. It's an axiom as old as civilization.Mason's plan to strike at the marauders when they were at their weakest, doing the most damage to them possible before retreating (killing all of them was highly unlikely in any scenario) didn't work out. More marauders appeared from even more camps we weren't aware of, and the number of zombies left by the time they showed up was small enough that they probably wouldn't have given us an advantage.The opportunity just never came, so we retreated. A good number of the marauders are dead, and the rest have been shaken by the events of the last several days. My team have used up our bag of tricks and lost the element of surprise. There isn't much left we can do here. It's a crap situation, but being pissed about it changes nothing.The large number of captives we released are staying behind. Well, most of them. A few have decided to take vehicles we liberated from the destroyed camps and run for it. I gave them directions to New Haven. The rest are going to stay nearby and try to fight. I don't know if they'll be successful, but most of them are passionate about stopping the marauders at any cost. The ones staying behind aren't very happy that my team and I are leaving.My team and I aren't happy about it either, but we've got a job to do. Staying here any longer would jeopardize that mission even more than we already have. Helping these people and weakening the marauders is about the best we could have hoped for.Time is a factor. Our attacks over the last few days have essentially destroyed the careful perimeter the marauders had in place. There are zombies moving into the area, and we need to get moving before enough of them gather to make travel difficult. I don't like having to run, but it's no longer a choice.Mason is doing what he can to give the captives help in their fight. I don't know if these people can weather the swarms of undead while trying to make war on their living enemies, but if they fail it won't be from lack of determination. They're on fire to get revenge, so powerful it's almost religious. I won't insult anyone's intelligence that stopping the marauders as a threat for the good of others is their primary driver. These folks want their pound of flesh.Mason reports that the marauders have gathered into one large camp and are eliminating the last of the zombies threatening them. There is some base level of cooperation between monsters, it seems. Zombies work together sometimes. Why shouldn't the worst form of living human be able to do the same?It's a little unfair that the marauders' one weakness, their distrust of one another, seems to be fading. It's going to make the fight all the harder for the captives.Damn I feel bad about leaving.Thursday, September 29, 2011
Castle
Posted by Josh Guess
We've made it to our next stop. My team and I spent all day yesterday and much of the day before on the road thanks to the marauders we killed. Their camps topped off our fuel tanks nicely, and our supply of ethanol is holding out. In fact, our people back home have arranged a trade that will allow us to top off the alcohol that provides the base for our fuel.We're staying in a community called the Castle. It isn't really a castle, but I can see why the people here named it that.It's a big building, at one point in time an office of some kind. It's made of cut stone, heavy and thick, which I understand makes it pretty comfortable to live in. What's interesting is the security wall built around it--also stone. There's a lot of it in the town we're in, thanks to a local quarry that used to employ many hundreds of people. There are several stone yards around, and the locals used the stuff to make a wall.I don't know how skillfully it was built, though I'd wager a good number of the folks here have had experience with masonry, but the thing keeps zombies out, that's certain. It's fifteen feet tall, and they're constantly expanding it. Once an outer section is completed, the inner section is dismantled and the stones reused.It's a decent sized community--about a hundred. Hunting and planting are enough to feed the whole place. They've also got communications, which leads me to my next bit of news...The captives are making a good show of fighting the marauders. The folks we left behind up north have chased a band of marauders all the way to a community New Haven has regular contact with. Drove them until the gas ran out, and when the marauders took a stand, the captives met them full-on. I haven't heard any casualty numbers yet, but I'm hoping the captives didn't suffer too many losses. I'm shocked they managed to get a group of the marauders peeled off from the main camp and chase them down. I'd have thought they'd need more time to regain their strength and come up with a game plan. I guess there's no accounting for the animal rage of a violated human being, huh?None of us wanted to leave them behind. I'm worried. I don't go ten minutes without imagining what would happen if the marauders captured them again. Sometimes it's too much.At any rate, we're going to be here for several days as we hammer out some details of the trade system. The larger problem we're running into is that there are few basic commodities people need, but the ones we have are important. Water and shelter aren't things we can really trade, but food is. Food is a huge concern for many with winter approaching. The folks that have stockpiles are mostly willing to trade, but every group of survivors we talk to has a group of dedicated hunters who are doing nothing but bringing in food day after day. It's sort of amazing the lengths people are going to. Some are even hoarding edible tree bark.Hunting is going to be the main way fresh food is come by during the winter months. While survivors all over the country (and the world) have done a pretty thorough job of population control in their local areas, the wider countrysides are virtually untouched. Zombies can't make a dent in animal populations that are breeding with no human intervention, and the land around us provides all the edible plants, insects, and small animals we could wish for.It's unappetizing, but no one should starve this year. No creature great or small is going to be off limits. Those of us capable of stocking up on food will trade freely with those who can't. And all the while we'll be moving things we don't necessarily need, like fabrics and manufactured goods, to people who trade for them.Because the next step after survival is building. For that, we have to get what we want. What we can use to accomplish goals.I've clearly been awake way too long. I'm starting to rant about the economics of the end of the world. I'm gonna go take a nap.Friday, September 30, 2011
Lay of the Land
Posted by Josh Guess
After a thrilling day working out numbers and logistics for the transfer of a large amount of homemade medicines from New Haven to the Castle, I'm ready to take a break. Lucky for me, Steve is taking the reins in negotiating today. We're working a complex trade between multiple groups of survivors, since the stone so readily available here is too heavy to move far. Instead, it's going to be sent to a little town about fifty miles from here called Carlyle, who will trade with yet another group.Yes, it's complicated and gives me headaches. I'm almost glad I haven't heard any news about the status of the captives in their desperate fight against the marauders. I don't know if my poor brain could handle it.Carlyle has my attention today. I'm told it's a very prosperous and sprawling community, much larger in area than any I've heard of since The Fall. It's in a quasi-rural area, hilly and difficult to traverse on foot, so less zombies make it there than most places as well. It's also large in the sense of population, more than five hundred people from what I understand.I'm interesting in seeing it myself. I haven't got much more than the above to go on, as the people of Carlyle are very determined to keep their perimeter secure. Not many people are allowed in. I feel extraordinarily lucky that our group has been invited with open arms, provided I don't do something stupid like accidentally give away its location. I promise to keep all of that delightfully vague.The Castle is a neat place, and I've learned in the last day that part of what makes it a functional community is due to the residents here working out a trade system long before the rest of us did. This is a densely populated area of the country as survivors go: the Castle, Carlyle to the south, three other medium-large groups within sixty miles, and the town in which the Castle rests has a smattering of small groups that have copied the defenses here for their own homes.It's a more exciting area than any of us suspected, and the dynamic between the various groups is fascinating. At least in this town, people from the smaller groups are welcome at the Castle and vice versa. There is even a kind of 'emergency stash' that the groups in the area all contribute to, a hoard of food and supplies for hard times down the road. It's vibrant and interesting here. I'm enjoying it.-----I just got an email about the fight between the captives. This is something I didn't expect. The marauders chased down by the captives weren't a part of the larger group that the captives managed to isolate. They were all that was left of the larger group we left them to face. Apparently the tactics Mason was showing them, picking off easy targets over time, killing them in ones and twos, wasn't their thing.The captives started a goddamn forest fire.Developing...Saturday, October 1, 2011
Wildfire
Posted by Josh Guess
The fire started by the captives is still raging. It has consumed a huge portion of the area the marauders were using as a gathering place. I've gotten a full report from the group the captives have taken refuge with.The survivors of that group have imprisoned them for endangering the entire area. I hate thinking those people, who've suffered so much, are back under lock and key. But if their desire for revenge drove them to such dangerous lengths, I can't see how they can be allowed to roam free. So far the fire hasn't spread to the nearby community of survivors thanks to strong winds blowing in helpful directions. The locals are doing what they can to build firebreaks. It's going to have to be enough.Every time I think I've got a handle on this insane fucking world we live in, something comes along and smacks us in the face. Zombies have spread like a plague across the earth? Check. Oh, then they started evolving in strange ways, forcing us to change tactics to match them. It's almost funny that the undead were the root cause of the destruction of human society, yet it's the dangerously unpredictable reactions of living people that threaten what we've managed to rebuild.I feel partially responsible, and so does my team. We were the ones who freed the captives, stayed with them for such a short time and encouraged them to fight. On the one hand I find it hard to blame them for changing their own tactics when they realized the methods of fighting the marauders they were using wouldn't be enough.On the other hand, they killed what I have been told was around fifty to sixty people just like them. Captives we hadn't been able to get to and free. Chained and shackled in trailers and shacks, unable even to run as the flames sucked the oxygen right out of their lungs before scorching every inch of them. The marauders didn't give their captured victims a second thought as they ran from the flames. What disturbs me is the fact that the freed captives who set the fires didn't either.The whole situation begs the larger question: how much consideration should we give to our interactions with people now? Hindsight is a tricky bitch, because she tells me now that maybe giving those men and women their freedom was the wrong thing to do. Yet at the time, it was the only right option.I'm not usually one to get overly worked up about the consequences of other people's actions. If these had been healthy, undamaged human beings I would just be angry at them. They aren't. They're hurt and frightened, furious beyond comprehension, and they've got every right to be.My mistake, our mistake, might have been in not realizing how damaged they are. The captives have suffered through things that no living creature should ever know. We freed them like heroes out of some story, and we gave them a small portion of our time before pushing them in the direction of their enemies with a casual 'Go get 'em!'. We had tunnel vision about them. All we saw was the pain, and we missed what the pain caused.Some men are monsters waiting to happen. All it takes is the right context, the proper circumstances, for the shell to crack and fall away. That's what marauders are.The captives were made into monsters. They suffered, were broken, and when the healing began all the pieces fit together wrong. Bent on revenge with no consideration for the ramifications of their actions. No one to tell them no, no one to urge caution and restraint on them. Least of all me and mine. The marauders shattered them, but in the final analysis the facts can't be ignored.My people and I are the ones who set them in motion. We're the ones who put their feet on the path and stoked the embers of their rage into flames. We urged them forward with justice in mind.That makes us murderers every bit as much as they.Sunday, October 2, 2011
Americana
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm not dealing with the events of the last few days very well. I'm worried about the captives (now captives again) and still mourning their actions for the lives they cost. I'm still feeling guilty and responsible. I say this because this morning, right now, I am in Carlyle, the secretive community in close quarters to the Castle. And being here, seeing what the people of Carlyle have accomplished, makes it damn hard to feel down. If my tone seems changed, it's due to the inevitable reaction any person has on a gloomy day when rays of sunlight peek through the clouds.The name Carlyle was adopted by the residents at random. They literally drew it out of a hat. Instead of keeping the same name, the people here decided that, for safety, a new one would be chosen. They're very particular about their security, and now it's obvious why.This town has no walls. And it is a town. It's really more of a village, but the streets are clean, the houses in good repair, and it has an air of normality that I hadn't realized I yearned for until I took a tour of the place.Sure, there are signs here and there that Carlyle has experienced fallout from the zombie plague. There are well-made outhouses behind most buildings, rain catchers that drain into cisterns all over the place. Not many vehicles to be found, though every one I did see was functional and clean. Every square foot of land that wasn't designed for travel is farmed. The houses all have foodstuffs growing inside them as well, some homes modified in ways to make use of their exteriors to grow food.Those are the visual clues that this place has changed to meet the needs of the times. The really strange and nostalgic part is how bizarrely normal life here is. Kids play in the streets. People amble down sidewalks. I saw a couple sitting together on a bench eating popcorn as the unseasonably cold wind tried to knife through the large coat they snuggled under. They were giggling at some unknown and doubtless inside joke. It made me miss Jess terribly.The terrain around these parts coupled with the general lack of undead in the area means they folks here never had to build a wall. We're in a rural area, one that's pretty far away from major highways. Not many people knew this whole region was here even before The Fall, now it's almost a complete unknown.For all the people in the various groups around Carlyle that could let something slip about the region's population and existence, no one has. Overall it's a pretty smooth setup, and this little hamlet is the heart of it all. There's a massive field adjacent to the south end of the town that is many times the area of the town itself. That field is the nexus of how the local economy functions. It's the governing factor that oils interactions between the many nearby groups.In it, a variety of animals live and die. Rabbit, deer, even duck. Mostly sheep. It's a really, really big pen. Wire fence seven feet high and three layers thick contains an assortment of livestock that could feed everyone here for a year if all the animals were slaughtered at once. I can't imagine the amount of effort it took to carefully remove every foot of fence they could find and relocate it here. The process took months, I'm told. Then having the patience to capture enough animals and sitting back to let them breed, even during the hungry times most of us went through during the winter? Amazing.To be frank, I thought Carlyle would be full of standoffish people with little love for outsiders. I imagined a place hostile to new things, mainly because of the almost neurotic emphasis our hosts have for security and secrecy. Being here, seeing what conditions they live in every day, I totally get it. If this were my home, I'd stab the first person to threaten it.Not one wall anywhere, and yet I don't see caches of weapons in strategic locations. New Haven is pocked with them. Carlyle isn't defenseless, of course--just outside the window of town hall, where I sit to type this, there's a group of ten young people, men and women, doing drills with spears. A few minutes ago it was knife practice. They're a part of the all-volunteer defense force. They look very comfortable and practiced with those weapons. Some of those kids have scars.They've fought enemies here. Living men and the hungry undead alike. They've taken many of the same steps other groups have used for survival, and have made them work. It's part of a pattern I'm finally starting to see. Like every group of human beings, survivors grade themselves on a bell curve of how well they're doing. My own people are probably about three quarters the way over. Carlyle is almost in the right corner.My naturally cynical nature combined with a lot of empirical data about how badly things can go is urging me to find some deep flaw here. Maybe the land isn't quite as forgiving as I've heard, and zombies could pour down from the hills at any moment. Or perhaps they kill anyone who reaches a certain age a la Logan's Run.I kid, of course. I've seen a few elderly people around, some of my first since The Fall pretty much guaranteed death for anyone incapable of defending themselves. I want to believe it's as wonderful here as it appears to be. I just don't know if I can take that leap of faith.I will say this much: though the houses are fairly new, and the whole place decidedly modern, Carlyle feels to me like the fifties. Or rather what movies and TV showed the fifties to be, since I was born in 1982. It feels safe in new (old) ways. It feels wholesome and pure. It feels like a small slice of Americana, something I haven't encountered. It feels like the world as it was, all thoughts of the world as it really is banished.Home. That's the closest I can get to nailing the sensation down.Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Wild Justice
Posted by Josh Guess
Every one of the people we freed from the marauders, all the ones that stayed and fought them at least, have been executed. I'm told their deaths were as humane as possible. It's cold comfort.The fire they started made its way to the group of survivors that held them prisoner. Thankfully the weather in that area turned, storms drenching the blaze before it could reach their home. That's the only way the fire could have done more damage to them, if it had consumed the buildings they live in. As it is, the future of the group is in the air.The fire ravaged the entire area, killing game and destroying the late crops they'd been cultivating. The captives were being held until the final results of the forest fire they started could be fully appreciated. What started as a mission of justice against the worst kind of men ended with the destruction of livelihood for an entire group of peaceful survivors. I'm doing what I can to arrange food for them this winter to make up for this entire awful mess, but it may not be enough.I've called on the goodwill of other survivors often. I've built a lot of personal credit with other groups, but those chips are running low. I've had emails from a lot of people telling me that I'm quickly becoming seen as a dangerous person to know. I've heard a lot of reasons. I made rash decisions. I act before I think. I involve myself in problems that aren't my own. I don't know how to keep my mouth shut.At first, as I struggled to find trades to help those poor, burned-out people, I was angry. Every call and message was harder than the last. Even as I talked to people, they began to contact each other to spread the word that I was asking for help. One of the few truly stalwart group of friends I have, the leadership in North Jackson, told me about it. The whole situation boils down to me causing chaos. People are tired of going out on a limb to clean up after me.The anger turned to depression. They're right. I've always seen myself as a good guy, but frankly everyone does that. No one is the villain in the story of their own lives. I've got a powerful sense of right and wrong, and the good I've done in saving others from the plague of zombies in no way makes up for every mistake I've made since.All those people, the captives, suffered horrible things. My team and I tried to help them. Look at what we caused. Their deaths. The deaths of countless other captives. The destruction of land and animals that would have seen an innocent group of people through hard times. The deaths of those marauders, no matter how much they deserved it, doesn't make up for that. Does it?I'm still wrestling with that thought. How many people since The Fall had those men and women tortured, killed, and raped? How many lives have been ruined? How many more were saved? The answer I keep coming up with is that I don't know. I can't know. It's all speculative. The facts in front of me, however, are concrete. The results that followed are there to see.I'm trying hard not to wander off into a philosophical debate with myself here, but the concern that rises from this situation is one that is both important philosophically as well as practically. Morality has always had to shift and change with the times. Now more than ever we have to judge situations for what they are, for what the consequences will be. There's far too much at risk for rash behavior, no matter how heroic we might think they are. Would it have been better for us to leave the marauders be, and organize a force to attack them at a later time? I don't know how much damage they'd have done in the interim, but I know what damage we did by attacking.This entire situation has been eye-opening. I find myself playing through hypothetical situations in my mind, what I'd do if confronted by a similar situation again. The same answer keeps coming up. Wait. Ignore the screams of the innocents. Gather more information. Plan an attack, gather forces, wait for an opportunity. Don't give in to my heart and the ache it feels for those under the power of monstrous men and women. I can't come to any other conclusion. I'd do it, if the day ever comes. I'd play the long game and plan for total victory rather than give in to the urge to rescue right then, to help regardless of consequences. The last few weeks have taught me that lesson. I've learned it.And it frightens the hell out of me.Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Pandora's Box
Posted by Josh Guess
Scattered all across the country, bodies are being found. Some are only pits filled with ash and bone, some are in piles six feet high. All of them are fresh. Recent.It's my fault. One brave group of survivors caught some marauders as they were making one such grisly pile. They were killing their captives one by one, bashing their skulls in and throwing the bodies into a ditch on the side of the road. The marauders were subdued and...questioned.The answer was simple: all along the lines of communication between the marauders, they're spreading the word that a group of people are killing men and women they find with captives. Anyone that looks like a marauder is treated as such.I don't know how many of them read this blog, but I'm sure some do. A lot of them don't have access to wireless communication, so they use etched symbols in places other marauders pass through often. Kind of like hobo codes. There's one that basically means, "Danger, eliminate captives". Once prisoners have been disposed of, a group of marauders looks like any other set of travelers.Hundreds of dead across the US because those men and women are worried some vigilante group is after them. This is too much. I can't even think straight right now.Thursday, October 6, 2011
Stemming the Tide
Posted by Josh Guess
In the last day, I've sent out emails, made calls, done anything I can to halt or even slow the number of captives being killed by marauders around the country. I find myself in the odd position of giving the marauders the comfort of knowing no one is hunting them. There's no freelance vengeance squad after them. Even now, in the aftermath of the zombie plague, rumor still has a curious power to move faster than the speed of light.I don't know if it's working or not, but hopefully time will tell. My efforts may end up coming to nothing, but I can't sit idly by and let innocent people be murdered because of my actions.I also can't afford to let this situation take over my life. As much as it pains me, I have to get back to doing the job I'm out here for. My team and I have barely seen each other since we came to Carlyle, who as a community have been gracious enough to welcome us in. Here, at least, the people seem to understand our urge to protect the innocents captured by the marauders. They applaud our decision to release them, even knowing the eventual repercussions. I wonder if they'd feel we were so blameless if the flames were licking at their own doors.That being said, I really do need to move on. I've got a pretty awesome bit of news that needs to be put out there for ALL survivors.A few days ago I got an email from home. Some of our scouts have been ranging to secluded areas not that far from New Haven, no more than a hundred miles. When you think of that radius, it seems a pretty small one to search over more than eighteen months. It isn't. And it's really hard to search all that space carefully. It's equally easy to miss the ridiculously obvious. We've been so hard up for food at times, hovering on the edge of starvation for weeks at a time.It's frustrating to know we were driving past dozens of acres of food without even realizing it. The problem lies in the fact that our scouts aren't farmers, and the fields in question are pretty far away. They're full of white clover. Which is edible and pretty nutritious. It has to be boiled for humans to more easily digest it, but that's not especially hard. We boil our water anyway.Literally tons of the stuff. And when the scouts mentioned it to some others, it started a frenzy. The thing about white clover is, it's invasive as hell. Once it starts growing in a place, it spreads and kills off other plants. Bad if you're trying to cultivate other food, good if you have thousands of acres of empty land and a huge supply of seeds.My folks have started looking for seeds, and it has been easy to find. They've got hundreds of pounds. There's an old abandoned store downtown that had ten huge bags sitting right out back. There's bound to be more.Soon, all the land we can manage to sow will be growing clover. Not this year, but early next. And every year it will spread. We're passing this on to as many others as possible. Eat it if you find it, use it to make the rest of your food supplies stretch. Mason and some others are putting together a list of other common edible plants.In what seems like an endless stretch of bad news, it's a bright spot. Maybe it will help ease the food problems all of us might face this winter. I hope so.Friday, October 7, 2011
Freeman
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm exhausted. I've only had a few hours of sleep in the last few days. Between coordinating trades and trying to keep abreast of the situation going on with the marauders across many states, I haven't had much time for rest. I ate something, though. That's good, right? I think it was yesterday morning.Mason is making me lay down. He's pulling rank, as it were, by pointing out how weak and tired I am and how fresh and strong he is. He told me he'd put me in bed forcibly if I refused. I asked to write a blog first.For the record, that big fucker is way more scary when he's talking to you calmly than when he's out murdering the hell out of zombies. Just putting that out there.The reason I was so insistent is because the number of bodies being found has dropped to nothing. In fact, one group of marauders did something...unprecedented. They let their captives go. Alive.I'm not hopeful this will become a trend, and frankly it confuses me. It's not in keeping with what I've observed about the kind of people marauders typically are. Their psychology is surely a lot more complex than I can imagine. Some people, a very small fraction of a percentage, probably had the perfect storm of mental problems or just plain evil waiting inside them for a trigger. Seeing the rule of law disintegrate overnight might have done it. Maybe watching loved ones die was the cause.Some of them might be caught up in group hysteria. There are a lot of possible causes for men and women to do the things they do. What I have to wonder now is whether or not the recent actions of the captives we freed have made a few marauders reconsider their lives. The things they do.Was this a single act of goodness, or a desperate gamble for self-preservation? The results for that group are the same as if they'd killed their captives instead of making them free men. They'll be able to blend in if they choose. Pretend to be normal people, the kind that don't rape and murder innocents. Why leave witnesses alive? Why take that risk if they were so afraid of the consequences of being caught?It's something I'll have to sleep on, and that's not a turn of phrase. Mason is flipping one of those extendable batons in his hand. It's as close to subtle as I've seen him get.Sunday, October 9, 2011
Stuck In The Middle
Posted by Josh Guess
My team and I set out from the nice, comfortable cluster of communities we've spent so much pleasant time in. Carlyle's warm atmosphere, polite people, and safe streets are now behind us. We've done a lot of good, mostly boring and complicated trade agreements. But the bad still follows each member of my team in their thoughts.It's early, just a bit after six in the morning. We decided to camp for a day or two, all of us spending some quiet time together to wrap our heads around the insanity of the last several weeks. Things with the marauders have calmed down, and I'm tentatively going to say that I think they've stopped the mass killings of their captives.We've been gone from home a month, and the changes in my team seem too drastic for such a short period of time. Rachel is more somber than I've ever seen her. She's always been so...I don't know what the word is. Carefree isn't it. Maybe it's just the relentless energy that comes with her curious nature. Whatever that bright spirit in her is, it's more tempered now. Captivity didn't treat her well, and seeing so many die as a result of our choices has made her a little darker. More contemplative.Will, on the other hand, gains confidence with every day. Out here he isn't treated as a criminal. He's a valuable resource to our team and he knows it. Even on his worst days back in New Haven, will was calm, collected, and controlled. He acted the part of penitent lawbreaker to the letter. He was crushed by the guilt of the choices he'd made. He's unhappy about the events of the last few weeks, but overall his attitude has brightened.Steve, always funny and ready with an incredibly nerdy quip, is mostly silent now. His entire personality is hidden most of the time. I talk to him pretty often, and I see glimpses of the laughing friend I've known for more than a decade. They're gone in a flash, hidden behind the armor he's pulled tight around his mind. I think someone as gentle and sweet as Steve just isn't meant for a world this harsh. It's a crime to see him hurt so badly that he has to shut out everything just to get by.Mason is...Mason. He deals with it. He moves on.Becky makes it a point to lose herself in work at every opportunity. She's a fair hand at mechanical things, so she works on our vehicle and trailer a lot. She's got a brain that runs like Ferrari's engine, and I know she can't shut off the constant replay that goes through it. Our choices, our actions, and the consequences of them. She plays over the scenarios over and over again. I've seen her wipe away tears when she thinks I'm not looking. I've felt her shiver on the bed next to me when we go to sleep. It breaks my heart.And me? As if you need me to tell you, right? I pour my soul out almost every day. You see it. You know.This morning is cool. It's a brisk fifty degrees. I'm the only one awake, safely tucked away as we are and not needing guards. I've heard words of comfort from every friend I have. I've come to the same conclusion that every person who's ever had to deal with unintended consequences has come to: I can't change the past.I can only choose to move forward. If there is such a thing as Karma, it may come around to bite me in the ass. I can't fight it if it does. I know I'm a more careful man for the horrible events of the last weeks, and a colder and more calculating one as well. The fire inside me that has always pushed me to act, to help, to save, is just embers now. I'll be more cautious. I'll do what I can, but never again can I let so many monstrous acts spring from my kindness. The past is over, and a new day is breaking over the land. There are a lot of other places we've got to be.We've got a mission. A job. Purpose.Better get to it.Monday, October 10, 2011
Evolver
Posted by Josh Guess
All the drama of the last few weeks has almost been enough to make us forget the most pervasive threat to human beings in the world today. Zombies have become a part of the background for us, albeit a dangerous part, but every so often something happens that reminds every survivor how dangerous it is to marginalize them.We've seen the undead, or at least the organism that animates them, evolve to meet the needs of the environment around them. When The Fall began, some zombies were slow, shambling creatures. Some were fast, better coordinated. Then smart zombies started appearing, with the ability to infect a small percentage of others with their own version of the plague, sort of upgrading normal ones into smarties. When the cold became too powerful, the plague mutated again, making the zombies functional when the temperatures dropped. We've even seen one example of a zombie, who is still held captive in New Haven, that produces a...discharge that acts as some kind of territorial marker that drives away others of his kind.I'm told that Evans, New Haven's head physician, has finally given it a name. George.Early this morning, we came across a scene that stopped us in our tracks. Mason, Will, and I were out hunting before we left out toward our next stop when we stumbled upon a group of undead in the woods. They were inert, laying in neat lines in a small clearing. That isn't unusual; when there's a lack of food, most zombies will go into a deep rest mode to conserve the stores of liquefied proteins and fats they keep in their bellies. Hunting parties run across them fairly often, and for the most part smaller groups aren't that dangerous. They take twenty or thirty seconds to get going once they know you're there. Plenty of time to start running or, alternately, go on a killing spree if you're so inclined.These were different. Will noticed it, and signaled for Mason and I to look carefully. Each of the six zombies laying before us had strangely rough skin, darker than the medium gray normally associated with the undead. The closest thing I can compare it to was leather, covered in small, fine wrinkles. Will took a few steps into the clearing to get a closer look, which was when they woke up.We managed to kill all six of them, but it was a lot harder than it should have been. Their skin really was tougher than normal, and there were strong, fibrous growths in their necks that made hacking off heads one hell of a chore. We ended up going for the old classic: breaking their heads. Causing severe head trauma is the safest and easiest way to do it.Except, their skulls were thicker. Will kept one of the heads to study, and he thinks the bone is about twice as thick as it should be. There was also a pretty dense layer of the same fibrous stuff under the scalp.I'm putting out the word as widely as I can. Word needs to be spread if these things start showing up more elsewhere. I can't tell you where we found them on this blog, but send me a message if you've encountered something like this. We're on the road in ten minutes, heading southwest. We'll be at our next stop by tonight if all goes well, and will stay for a day or two. I'll do what I can to look into reports from anyone else who's seen these things then.Keep your eyes open. I don't like this.Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Tracking Changes
Posted by Josh Guess
All across the country, people are seeing changes in the undead, now that they know to look for them. There are obvious ones, like the extra-tough zombies we ran across, and more subtle differences. Reports indicate that some zombies are working in coordinated, leaderless units when they hunt. Others point to some smarties, the smart version of zombies, becoming sharper and even more clever.The advantage human beings have over the mindless swarms is that they're mindless. We're clever and can think on our feet. We face an enemy that for the most part has been predictable and relatively easy to kill. The game is changing on us, and no one likes it. The good news is that we've managed to catch many of these changes before they could be sprung on us.The community we're in right now, our latest stop, is the one that's noticed the small coordinated groups. It was something the survivors had to look for, but once they saw it the truth became obvious.It's only in the last few weeks that they've had to start hunting. Most of the year the residents here (the folks call it Sparta) just trade for most of their food. What they farm and hunt gets stocked up for the winter. Though I've never mentioned it by name, I've talked about Sparta before. They're the people who're sitting on top of a stock of fuel whose volume is measured in the tens of thousands of gallons. This stop is especially important, as Sparta is bound to become a hub of activity. We're negotiating trades for fuel to make pretty much every other trade we've brokered possible.As I said, they've just now started hunting for the season. A couple of their hunters, some very sharp-eyed women who look as tough as Mason, noticed movement in the distance. They thought it might be a deer, so they stalked very carefully in the direction of the motion.It was a deer, all right. And four zombies took it down in about twenty seconds. One startled it, flushing the animal out into a small copse of trees, and another popped out in front of it to make it stop. That was when the other two hit it from the sides, breaking the poor thing's legs and tearing into its flesh.Apparently, those particular zombies are pretty fucking strong as well. Deer are all muscle.The hunters (huntresses?) made a quick and quiet retreat back to Sparta, where they reported the odd behavior. That was a few days ago, and further observation has proven this to be a trend in the area rather than a one-time thing.Coordination like this would only be truly dangerous for a person alone, unarmored and unarmed. I don't know any survivor anywhere that would be out alone without protection and something bite-proof on. So I'm not as much worried about the activity itself as I am what it portends.We've dealt with marauders. That's had its ups and downs, but generally their numbers are so small compared to the rest of us that they aren't a threat to any given group of survivors. We've faced a lot of threats, and until now I thought we had the primary one, zombies, under control. The rules are changing right in front of us. We can't be sure of anything anymore.Some of the worst damage done to my own home was at the hands of Smarties. The major attack this summer was run by a small group of maybe fifty smarties somehow commanding a horde of over five thousand regular undead. Fifty moderately intelligent beings, and the force they brought against us was nearly fatal.You know what I'm thinking. I'm imagining what even fifty VERY smart zombies could do. Just by themselves. Worse would be their capabilities when blessed with a contingent of extra tough or strong zombies. Or ones that can work together seamlessly. Or god knows what else.It's good that people are being proactive. I'm glad to see we aren't brushing aside the threat or marginalizing it. Survival is a long-term game.One I intend as many of us as possible to win.Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Snared
Posted by Josh Guess
I went out with a group of hunters this morning. I'll say this: the people of Sparta may only hunt seasonally, but they know their craft well. We brought down two deer, three ducks, several rabbit, emptied a dozen traps that contained squirrel...and we caught ourselves six marauders.The last were an unintended bonus. We caught them releasing several prisoners. The ladies I was hunting with questioned them very, very carefully.It turns out that many groups of marauders keep in touch with each other quite often. They wouldn't divulge the details of that, at least not when I was with them, but whatever means of communication they're using is faster and more reliable than the system of coded symbols left behind as messages to other marauders that swing through a given area.The ones we nabbed this morning had the bad luck to be passing through. The central living area of Sparta is very well hidden, almost impossible to see until you're within a hundred feet of it. The marauders thought they were moving through an area bereft of human beings. That we happened to see them offloading their unwanted captives was a stroke of luck.These particular men are part of a larger group. The locals have them locked up for now, waiting to see if their friends come looking for them. While they're...guests here, the leadership of Sparta has given Mason and Will permission to be present and participate in the questioning. That's going on right now. Mason will send Will out to update me when and if he hears anything of interest.Steve, Courtney, and Becky are all out on a scouting run into the countryside. They want to see if the local zombies are developing any new traits aside from learning to work together. Steve is in charge of their group while they're out, though that's kind of a loose term. All three can look out for themselves, and know how to work together. My team is practiced at that.I'm interested to see what Steve and the others find, and equally curious what the captured marauders have to pass on to Mason and Will. Given the state of the captives the marauders let go, I'm not inclined to believe they were being compassionate. The poor souls were almost starved, and their clothes were basically just rags. They had no food, water, or tools. They would have been lucky to last the night. Very lucky.Still, the freedom to walk the world without fear of abuse...I imagine those folks would have seen their last hours as the best in their lives. We found them, brought them to safety. They're having a hard time understanding that Sparta is somewhere they won't be molested or beaten. It's so much more than they probably hoped for.It's looking like the marauders were doing their best to look like anything but what they are. Letting those people go, in this case, appears to be self-serving. I'm hoping for better, that there was some kind of moral imperative, but I doubt it.Hey, maybe Steve and the girls will find a nice cluster of hungry zombies that know how to work together. It would be interesting to see how they function against living, thinking human beings. The six marauders should make adequate test subjects.Here's hoping the leaders here find those half-dozen guilty. You know...for science.Friday, October 14, 2011
Blame The Walrus
Posted by Josh Guess
Rachel made an excellent comment on my last post. She pointed out the importance of maintaining our humanity, in believing that even people who've done the terrible things the captured marauders have done might be helped. She posed the possibility that they're sick...or maybe they aren't.I was angry and hurt when I wrote it, and if one lesson has shone forth in the last year and a half, it's that the worst thing we can do as survivors is to forget our most basic humanity. Those men will be tried for their crimes. I'm not saying that killing them is wrong, I still feel it's completely deserved. But there is a difference between killing men in the field who are actively holding captives and killing them while they're captives themselves.I was upset, but I blame the walrus.That's an inside joke among my team. As I was thinking about my rash words the other day, so casually suggesting throwing those six men to a pack of zombies out of hand, I felt guilty. I got my head on straight, tried to remember the basic but vital differences between Us and Them. No false modesty here: I think people like me, who've tried to help as many others to survive as possible are just better people than marauders. We have a moral line that we try not to cross.And honestly, sometimes it's the little things that keep me from slipping across the line. Enter: the walrus.When we set out on this trip, the necessities of the journey meant that creature comforts would have to be limited. None of us brought books to read, or virtually any personal items. Space in our trailer is cramped and weight is an issue. Our tiny traveling world is bare.On the second night out, Becky and I were jammed onto the tiny bed while Will was driving. She and I aren't strangers to sharing a mattress, as she often crashed on my giant bed back home with Jess and whoever else might have needed a place to flop at my house. Funny how desperate times breeds new comfort levels...So the limited sleeping space wasn't really an issue. Becky and I share warmth and space. Will, unfortunately, wasn't paying much attention to the road for some reason. He hit a big pothole, and the trailer actually bounced. We were thrown off the bed, which flipped over on top of us. Only our dignity suffered wounds. We are, after all, survivors of the zombie plague. Hardened colonists in a frontier of the dead. It was clearly below us to have our asses handed to us by a bed.Beds are tricky bastards.As we untangled ourselves and straightened out the trailer, Becky noticed a stowaway. It was a small stuffed walrus. Someone had put it under the hard board the mattress was mounted on. No idea who.I made my way up to the cab of the truck, and harangued Will about his driving. I didn't realize I still had the walrus in my hand, Becky having handed to to me. Will took being berated by a stuffed-animal wielding, sleep deprived maniac with stoic passivity, then calmly said the following:"Don't look at me. Blame the walrus."I laughed. Totally out of proportion to the hilarity of the statement, I laughed. I had tears in my eyes.Since then, when something goes wrong, "Blaming the Walrus" is an acceptable option. It isn't always used. The timing and situation are critical. It makes us laugh. It's a silly, irreverent thing, more suited to small children than my team, or so you'd think.The whole idea of it strikes me as something special and important. Just as the walrus shows that we consistently refuse to give in to despair at the state of the world or the difficulty of our lives, choosing instead to find laughter and light where we can......So does treating even the worst of men and women with a base level of respect and due process show that we are, at least in some small way, different than they. Better. We have to choose as honorable a path as we can. Rachel was right, completely. We have to take a stand somewhere on the right side of honor.Survival is not enough. Our choices bring meaning to our struggle. They should be the right ones, that can be looked back on with pride.Saturday, October 15, 2011
Common Cause
Posted by Josh Guess

So much of our time is spent moving from one place to another that it's hard to find a moment to explain the variety of people we find at the communities of survivors we visit. That was a thought I had when I woke up a few minutes ago, and the next thing that went through my head was somewhat enlightening:It's our similarities that are more important.Every survivor is unique. When we clump together in groups, common cause tends to shape the attitudes of the individuals. A lot of what makes up the personality of the various communities is external; the number and frequency of zombie attacks, how safe their fortified home(s) may be. Access to food and water is a big factor. The easier those are to attain, the more relaxed and easygoing the people tend to be. The people of Long Town, for example, had a fairly secure wall, which made them relatively trusting. They were polite and courteous toward us, yet not generous. Their food was limited, so they made it clear from the get-go that we'd have to fend for ourselves.The commonalities are just as interesting an probably more vital to cooperation. Every place we've been, there has been an almost palpable sense of community. A general feeling of affection and even love between the people. It's not hard to figure out, we've all felt it and seen it. Soldiers have always grown bonds between them in battle. Survival requires the conscious choice to risk your life for another, and they for you.Humanity is unique in the animal kingdom, because we've moved beyond the lower-brain instinct to feel loyalty, at most, at the herd level. Right now we're threatened by the zombie hordes, our fellow men, hunger, weather, disease. Those immediate factors push us to feel more strongly toward the close group around us.I have simple goals for this mission. Well, simple in theory, maddeningly difficult in reality. Trade between the surviving clusters of people is necessary. We have to work together to survive in the long term. We need more than that. We need to recapture that wide-sweeping urge to see all people do well. Survival of the species, not just the tribe.We're all people, after all. We face the same threats and hardships. We see it more and more every time we stop. I told you all about the walrus yesterday, but there isn't enough time in the world to tell you about even half of the tiny but crucial interactions between the people we've met. All the jokes and shared stories, the smiles and commiserations alike.I can't be any more plain. These are people. Flesh and bone like all of us. Every one of them deserves a chance at life and to find happiness in a dreary, dangerous world. I've met so many of them, most for only short periods of time, yet I feel that urge to protect. To do what I can to make things better.This isn't just a trade mission anymore. It's growing into something bigger. More important. That could just be my ego talking, trying to make the miles and danger and time away from home seem worth it.But I'll tell you this: I've made a few trade agreements with Sparta that benefit them more than us. Because the vital resources they lack are very dear to them, we're giving a little more. And they know it. They know I did what I could to help them, backed by my people in New Haven. They're grateful. We're glad to help.Our medical supplies might save the lives of their children. A small act of kindness goes a long way. We've seen how badly that can go lately.I'm thrilled to see some positive results now, too.Sunday, October 16, 2011
Cannibal Corpse
Posted by Josh Guess
We're at our next stop, a community that's set on top of a tall shelf of rock only approachable on one side. The residents call it Black Mesa. It's not actually a mesa, but it's almost as defensible as one. Some of you will recognize the name Black Mesa from the Half-Life series of video games. The locals took to the name with abandon, and for a pretty good reason. hey're almost all teenagers.There are a few people over twenty here, but all of them are in their late thirties or better. Maybe ten or fifteen out of more than two hundred and fifty people. The rest are all twenty or less. These folks are what remains of an evacuated school. The adults are teachers and one of the vice principals, who made the choice to stick with their students when the evacuation order came instead of trying to make it home.The mesa (that's what I'll call it for lack of a simpler term) used to be a very large hill. It's been blasted away on three sides, turning it into a raised plateau twenty feet high at the lowest point. It's very, very big. It was part of a development site for a shopping center that had ceased construction due to the worsening economy. The military, I'm told, stocked it with weapons, a temporary wall across the narrow band of ground still connecting it to the large field it's located in, tons of rations, sleeping bags, and the like. Its proximity to the school made it a perfect evacuation point for the kids.Things didn't go as planned. When the order to run came, the army was supposed to be manning the mesa. They weren't. No one knows why. More than two thirds of the students who ran from the school died, either on the run there, from injuries shortly after, or during the last eighteen months.Those left behind have done amazing things to stay alive. This place has had a lot of work done to it, but to be honest it wasn't even our next stop until the rash of strange mutations in the zombie populations became known. We were heading to a place farther west, but when the kids here finally managed to get a message out, the contents sent my team and I running as fast as we could.Communications with Black Mesa have been limited and short. We've known a group was here, but they're self sufficient enough that they haven't asked for any help from outsiders. They're frightened and young enough to be terrified about giving away the fact that half of them would still be minors if the world hadn't come to an end.They didn't call us for help, or for trade. They called because they've seen something so potentially dangerous that they were willing to risk exposing themselves to get the news out.Here, they have zombies that eat other zombies. That's completely new. Until now we thought it wasn't possible, that the flesh of the living dead was somehow incapable of sustaining another zombie. We've only been here since last night, but we've seen it happen right in front of us. It isn't just a matter of one zombie tearing another apart. That would be bad enough. No, what I witnessed was more horrible...You see, we've theorized that the organism that reanimates the dead somehow communicates from host to host, keeping them from eating each other. Likely through smell, since that seems to be the most powerful sense they have. I watched a group of three zombies corner a fourth against a large boulder. For a few seconds, they all stood there, the three gazing with empty eyes at the one.Then the lone zombie began to thrash where he stood. After a few moments it looked like he'd begun bleeding through his skin. I was watching the whole thing through binoculars, and it wasn't that far away. It took me a bit to realize what I was seeing wasn't blood. It was pieces of the organism animating the zombie, forcing its way through the thing's muscles and skin. Trying to escape? Looks likely.Then the zombie fell over. Totally motionless. It didn't twitch as the others tore it to shreds. If you aren't breaking out into a cold sweat right now, you may want to reread this post and think hard about it.There are still millions of them out there. Many die off from lack of food, a greater number go into hibernation to conserve the reserves of protein they keep in their bellies. Far more of them simply slow down when starvation begins to set in, barely getting by on whatever scraps or animals they can find. The thing is, even a recently fed zombie is always hungry. And if they can eat each other now, a plentiful source of very easy food, they'll be at the peak of their strength and speed (and god knows what other advantages the damn things are evolving) when they come for the gourmet dish: us.Let this serve as a warning to you. Tell everyone you know. The game has changed.Monday, October 17, 2011
Epicenter
Posted by Josh Guess
Black Mesa is in the middle of a very dangerous wave of zombie activity. Though the kids and handful of adults that live here are pretty secure on their platform of rock and dirt, and the narrow strip of land that connects it to the field is easily defended, I don't think this a survivable location. Not for much longer.They've done well with hunting and scavenging, even farming. The supplies the army left here are still holding out thanks to the forethought the people here have had to supplement them with other food. That said, the local zombies are more dangerous than any I've ever seen. In fact, my team and I have spent the last day doing nothing but working in the field in an attempt to learn as much about them as possible. What we've found is pretty grim.Whatever mutation is allowing the local undead to eat their own is apparently spreading among them and is universal.  I've had a long talk with New Haven this morning. Evans thinks the plague organism must put out spores or something similar for the changes to spread so rapidly. Every single local we saw eating was doing it at the expense of one of their own.It didn't even dawn on me until this morning that the zombies I saw yesterday were working together to kill their fellow undead. Add that to the list. We saw smarties out there yesterday. We saw some of the ultra-tough zombies (who I refuse to call 'toughies'. One stupid name for a type of zombies is enough for me) outside as well, and one that we think might have all of those attributes.The last one is the one that really worries us. We're not a hundred percent sure it's one of the smart zombies, but it for sure has the ashy, thickened skin of a tough one. It definitely works in a group, and can eat other zombies. It's fast and strong, and when it saw us, it did something I've never seen undead do before.It ran away. The damn thing saw how well armed and armored my team was, gave us a calculating look, and took off. I tend to think it's a smarty for that reason alone, though the fact that his small group followed him rather than try to eat us helps.That group was pretty fast, pretty coordinated. It worries me to death (maybe literally...) that the locals are right at the crossroads between evolutionary leaps. This place seems to be a busy intersection for undead from different areas. That means these attributes are likely to spread.It also means the large number of them here are going to get smaller in number as others kill them off for food, but those others are going to be smarter, stronger, faster, and much harder to kill than anything we've faced. I don't like it at all. A zombie, even a smarty, that runs from a person strikes me as a very bad sign. I've got a feeling something is brewing here, what with the plateau acting as a large dinner plate, full of succulent people.There's some bad mojo coming, I can feel it. Fortunately, I'm not the only one. The people of Black Mesa tell me attacks have gotten more frequent and harder to repel. The council at New Haven and every other person I've talked to about this place agrees that it's likely a large swarm is going to try to get to these kids. It's what zombies do, after all. And the ones here have every possible advantage except the high ground.So, there are two options. Fight or run. We'll be spending the next day trying to figure out which will be the better option for the people hereWednesday, October 19, 2011
Leaving The Rock
Posted by Josh Guess
It's a hell of a thing to see people come together for a purpose. On a small scale, all survivor communities are examples of this. The last day, we've seen it on a large scale, and the willingness of people to go out of their way to help is pretty astounding.I've got commitments from Sparta to provide fuel. Half a dozen communities within a reasonable distance have agreed to provide the manpower and vehicles for transport. No single community can absorb the sheer numbers of people from Black Mesa, so we're having to separate people into groups. I'm very proud to say my people at New Haven estimate that with the recent influx of trade goods and food, they can accommodate up to fifty Black Mesa residents.It's a big undertaking, but the kids here and their small cadre of teachers are working through the details pretty quickly. I don't know if the other communities willing to take them in are going to do so permanently, but I've got promises to see them through the winter. That will give all of us time to work out something if needed.Another piece of news that goes along with this: a group of marauders has offered to help. They claim they've never taken anyone captive, only killed when needed. I tend to believe them only because they openly admitted  to stealing from others, hijacking caravans and the like. Their leader contacted me late yesterday, and we talked on the phone for a good long while. The name he gave me was Kincaid.Kincaid has offered his help, and we'd be stupid to turn it down out of hand. I talked to my team, and Steve was the first to pipe up. He suggested that we put severe restrictions and security measures on Kincaid's group, so tight and restrictive that they'd have to be sincere to accept. I'm going to pose them to him this morning and see what he says.His reasoning for wanting to help is sound and seems genuine. Kincaid told me he and his people were stunned by the news that a large group of kids was out here. He's tried to keep his crew from spiraling into something worse, closer to what other marauders are. I'm prepared to take a leap of faith. Partially because we need them. Partially because I want to believe there is hope for people like Kincaid and his crew.That being said, we're not taking that leap blindly. Or without caution. We'll pose our demands and see what the response looks like. All there is to it.We need every body and vehicle we can get. Since The Fall, I don't think anyone has tried to move so many people at one time. The local zombies are a greater threat than I think any of us can fully comprehend, and their numbers are slowly dwindling as the strong devour the weak. Observations lead me to believe they're planning something.I really hoped there would never again be a point in my life where I was worried about zombies, re: dead human beings animated by an organism of unknown origin, actively using mental prowess to formulate a complex action. Now we're in that place again, much as New Haven was a few short months ago, where an unknown number of them could come down on us at any time, forcing us to fight.Oh, and add to that the clearly spreading strains of mutation, making them stronger, tougher, smarter, and more cohesive as a unit.Fun times, right? I wonder if this place has any whiskey...Thursday, October 20, 2011
Unlikely Allies
Posted by Josh Guess
Well, I'll be damned.Kincaid and his people accepted our terms wholly and without complaint. They're on the way. His group of marauders are going to be taking a large group of kids and two teachers all the way to New Haven. We made that one of the conditions, since New Haven's location is well known. I don't want to hand potential enemies the location of a group of survivors if I can help it.Kincaid's bunch won't be going alone, of course. They'll be joined by a task force of our people heading this way even as I type this. There will also be some folks from Sparta and a few other places making that trip. Overall Kincaid's marauders will be outnumbered four to one if you include the people they're transporting. On top of that, his people won't have any guns, and only one in three will be allowed hand-held melee weapons. We aren't even letting them have bows and arrows.Oh, and when Kincaid's group gets to New Haven, they're staying. It remains to be seen whether or not they'll be allowed to move about freely or given sentences for the crimes they've admitted to, but either way New Haven is going to have some interesting new residents aside from the kids we're sending there.And we need to send them soon. Fleets of vehicles have been moving in and out over the last day taking kids to safe locations at nearby communities. I feel a lot better about sending those young men and women to places I've been to live with people I've met. Time is a factor, however, and even if my team and I had to send them away with strangers, we'd do it.The local zombies are already moving against the caravans leaving Black Mesa in groups of twelve to twenty. They're moving with purpose--fast, organized, and never attacking the same way twice. So far there haven't been any casualties, but we've only moved about forty people. Would be more, but we're trying to work all the logistics out while figuring ways to keep the zombies from doing any real damage.Mason has been doing recon a few miles into the surrounding areas. He's the only person doing so, as he's not letting any of us join him. No matter how right that decision is, it never stops being irritating to be reminded he sees the rest of us as dead weight for things like this. Chalk it up to two decades of service, most of which were spent slipping into enemy territory undetected to gather intel.He's a ghost. Comparatively, the rest of us are people with broken feet walking in very noisy armor. His recon trip yesterday wasn't enlightening as far as specifics go with the local zombies. He didn't see any of them drawing diagrams or anything, giving him some idea of what's in the works. In general terms, he thinks the local undead are building a strong force to assault the place. There's a lot of organization going on outside the limits of what we can see. Groups of three are systematically killing the weakest zombies, getting stronger. There's even a small copse of trees where, Mason swears, a small group of undead seem to be gathering the surviving trios for the purpose of deliberately spreading the mutations that are already so rampant here.So, yeah. We think something just might be up. It's not a mystery. It's just going to make this especially dangerous. My people should be here in the next day. Kincaid and his early this evening. With luck we'll pull out before whatever is in the works can happen. Fingers crossed.Friday, October 21, 2011
The Other Shoe
Posted by Josh Guess
We've been carefully evacuating the kids for two days now, only opening the way through long enough for a few vehicles at a time to cross onto the field. Tension has been ratcheting up the entire time, more so in the last several hours.The local zombies, you see, have been watching us.Not too close. Not near enough for us to waste the energy attacking them. They're arranged around Black Mesa, maybe a hundred of them, in a rough semicircle. None are within a hundred yards of the place. None of them have moved since they got here.They're waiting for something. Word got back here about twenty minutes ago that the last caravan we sent out was attacked. Not unusual in itself, but this one had zombies drop into it from trees overhanging the road. Right into the back of a high-walled truck bed. Eleven kids, all of them sixteen years old, died. The four guards with them didn't make it either.Three zombies did that. I'm told they displayed signs of the mutations all the locals have been passing to each other. Everyone here is upset, angry and hurt at the loss, but right now we can't afford to lose control. We have to focus on the job at hand, or it could all go off the rails. The absolute last thing we need is the place devolving into chaos.The crew heading for New Haven is still here. That's a plus, anyway, as it will give us a good number of experienced fighters if the zombies outside are some kind of vanguard for a larger force. We're even letting Kincaid's crew have weapons.Ah. Crap. I'm being told the zombies are moving toward us. No new ones have showed up yet, but it looks like they're going to attack. Thank god this rock is tall and overhangs almost all the way around. If they can climb trees, a sheer rock face might be doable.I'm off to the gate. That's gonna be where they hit us. That's where we'll make a stand.Saturday, October 22, 2011
Tooth and Nail
Posted by Josh Guess
We lost more than fifty people in the assault yesterday. Survivors from New Haven, kids from Black Mesa, and members of three other communities. Kincaid lost three of his people as well.We got tunnel vision, and it cost us. We underestimated the enemy.The assault began pretty much as we imagined it would. About fifty of the mutated zombies came for the gate at once. It's been added to and improved in the year and a half since The Fall, but the basic structure of the gate is still the same--an expandable, mobile steel and aluminum structure left here by the military. With ladders built into it from the inside, the twelve-foot tall thing is easy to defend. Thankfully, the people here have added to the mesa a lot, including building a low wall about three feet from the edge of the rock face of the mesa.Platforms built up behind the walls allowed many of us to fire weapons into the crowd of zombies. That worked pretty well until the second wave of them came from the woods. Another hundred of so followed the first wave not ten minutes after the fight started, and the second wave started hurling rocks at us.Not huge ones, but a fist-sized chunk of stone can kill or incapacitate a person just as easily as a bullet. The excavated area around the shelf of rock we fight from is filled with hundreds of thousands of pieces of broken ground. More than enough missiles to kill all of us by sheer statistics if all of them were eventually thrown.So we turtled up and protected ourselves. The only people not hiding under the protection of a shield or small structure were the people defending the gate, and even they were only popping their heads out to make sure no zombies managed to get over it.None of us thought the hail of rocks was anything other than a straightforward, direct attack. We were shocked enough that the zombies were using weapons against us that we didn't consider the possibility it could be anything else. We were so wrong.A hundred very strong undead throwing deadly projectiles at us was enough to make us take cover. I think the zombies knew that. They've watched us, seen how we as survivors go on the defensive more often than not. And why wouldn't we, you know? Zombies are dumb, lack creativity, and can be endured if the defenses hold up.God, we're arrogant. No matter how hard we try to keep alert for new threats, we human beings have such a hard time predicting changes. We easily assimilate them when we see them, but the whole goddamn point of the assault was to keep us from watching.They wanted us to focus on the gate, they wanted us to cower under the rain of stones. They wanted us to believe they'd hit us from a direction they've always attacked from.Hiding under sheets of plywood, inside roughly built huts, we never saw the third wave coming. There were at least two hundred of them, and between them they carried five very long logs, covered with the stumps of branches. Five pieces of salvaged trees, tall enough when footed to a vertical position to lean against the lip of the mesa.That was how they got up here. If we'd have faced them right at the edges, we'd have died. The stone throwers would have kept dropping missiles on us as we fought, collapsing our defenses. Will was the one who realized that, saw it almost immediately. He had Rachel and Steve running around, shields held over their heads, warning everyone to draw back to the center of the mesa. If the zombies started to crowd the rock, the throwers would have to stop their assault.It was the only way.I'll have to finish this tomorrow. There's far too much to do today for me to spend more time on it right now. We're here, and that's the important thing. We fought tooth and nail to survive, but it cost us. Tomorrow, then.Sunday, October 23, 2011
Bravehearts
Posted by Josh Guess
Now the rest of the story...The attack wasn't going well for us. The worst part was having to allow enough zombies onto the mesa that the throwers would have to stop hurling rocks. We huddled and waited, drew back behind the low structures that dot Black Mesa in concentric rings, and whether the storm.It took about ten minutes, but it was the longest six hundred seconds of my life. The zombies climbing the logs around the edge of the mesa were fast, so ten or twelve would come at us at a time. The kids were fighting alongside the rest of us, as there just weren't enough adults to cover all the holes.By the time the stones stopped falling, at least twenty people were down. We fought back, as hard as we could. I saw Mason whipping his machete through zombie after zombie, but after a few minutes the blade broke. When I say this new breed is tough, I'm not kidding. Only about half of the ones he attacked were killed. The rest kept on fighting.I couldn't tell you how many ended up on this rock with us. All I remember is the mindless rise and fall of my weapon, the terror of watching young men and women give their lives to protect others. The confines were too close, the numbers against us too many, and the enemy so much stronger than our expectations.If it weren't for Becky and Rachel, we would have probably been overwhelmed. I remember with perfect clarity Becky's hand snatching my arm to get my attention. I saw a look of calm determination in her eyes as she spoke to me."Hold them for a few minutes," she said. "I've got an idea."She grabbed Rachel on her way, and I had no idea what was coming. My mind focused on two things: she had a plan. And we had to survive long enough to let her get it done.Out of the corner of my eye I saw her helping Rachel into a set of the heavier armor we bring with us. It's the stuff we use when we have to wade into a group of zombies. Hard as hell to move in, but virtually invincible to zombie attacks.It was, of course, untested against the new breed.A minute or so later, I saw Rachel helping Becky into her armor. At no point did I consider they'd actually head out into the swarm, thinking only that Becky's plan meant she had to get close to the edge and needed the extra protection to ensure she didn't fall before she was finished. I was very wrong.About two minutes after she and Rachel vanished from my sight, I heard the first explosion. Hell, more than heard it--I felt it. A great wave passed under my feet, the rock beneath us surging with the power of the blast. I saw about a dozen zombies on the edge of the mesa simply drop, and a few seconds later another blast sounded from the opposite side with the same results.There were five large explosions, ones close enough to the edge of the mesa to cause small collapses. Becky and Rachel hit every one of the logs, blowing them to splinters and killing every zombie within twenty feet of them. They'd run through the front gate, which had been left mostly alone by the zombies at that point, and thrown their dynamite from a distance, as most of the undead were clustered around the logs. Each cratered section of ground helped clear a path close enough to the next log for a hard throw.The last log fell, but we'd realized what the girls were doing well before that. When the final explosion came, Mason and Will screamed for everyone to lower what shields they had and push. PUSH! With everything we could muster.We shoved the majority of our attackers over the edge. With improved strength and coordination comes the instinct to dance backwards when shoved. If they'd have been slow, shambling zombies that tactic wouldn't have worked for us. By the time we'd gotten the majority of them shoved over the edge, Becky and Rachel had made their way back through the gate. Mason had ordered a few people to start lobbing dynamite over the edge. By then the stone throwers had joined the rest of the mob, and the explosions falling at random were enough to break whatever willpower the horde had. They ran. We'd become too costly a target.It was a victory. Survival is always a victory. But it cost us too many irreplaceable lives, their potential contributions to the world eradicated in a fight that took less than half an hour, start to finish.We're almost done with the evacuation now. We pushed as hard and fast as possible, and everyone is eager to get away from here. The new breed of zombies is spreading, and Black Mesa taught us a lesson about our future none of us are likely to forget. Ever.Things change, and not always for the better. Threats can and do get worse. We can be brave, and strong, and practiced, and in the end it still might not be enough to save us.Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Primal Fear
Posted by Josh Guess
My team and I are on the road again, or we will be in a few minutes as we pack up camp. We left Black Mesa last night and put as much distance between us and it as possible. Call it a hundred and fifty miles. We were the last ones to leave, not long after the last caravan went through the gates. Whatever happens to those kids and their teachers now is in god's hands. I hope he's gentle with them.Reports are being shared among every survivor who can get them about the widening spread of the new strain of zombie mutation. From what I've read, it looks like the second generation of the mutations have all mixed together into one. People in Sparta report that tagged zombies, ones they marked with spray paint to observe, have been infected by the new strain. Worse, they have infected others, and the transmission rate is...total. The tagged zombies have passed on the improved intelligence, toughness, and the rest to every other they've come in contact with.The good news is that for now, the zombie population is thinning itself, and aren't attacking us in large numbers. Us as in human beings, by the way. The bad news is that the ones eating the others are getting crazy strong and better fed than they've been pretty much ever, which means we're potentially fucked to a degree the English language doesn't have a scale for.Still, my team and I had some fun with the zombies at Black Mesa before we left.We made sure the fuckers could see my team. They learned their lesson about attacking high ground with a large number of people on it, but when it was just the six of us, they decided we were easy prey. God knows we tried to make it obvious enough. They might be smart and are probably getting smarter, but the undead have yet to learn to be properly suspicious of human beings. We're grudge-bearing assholes toward things that kill us.There we were, sitting around a camp fire. Pretty much every structure and piece of equipment was gone except our truck and trailer, broken down for parts and taken with the caravans. Black Mesa's gate was still up, but left ever so slightly open.The six people on my team, including me, sat around the fire in our heavy armor. It took about half an hour for the zombies to come for us. That whole thing where they work together meant that more than a hundred of them eventually walked through the front gate to get us, one huge mass to tear us apart. They surrounded us as we watched them, staying back about thirty feet until they completed their circle.That was when Steve very casually threw a bunch of magnesium dust into the fire. The flare of light blinded the undead, and we piled into the back of the truck as Will jumped in the cab. Good thing he'd already started it. We plowed through them, heading toward the gate.Just as we went through it, as the horde began to sweep closer to us, Mason made a call on my cell phone. Our portable cell transmitter was running.The phone he called was wired up to ten gallons of propane and a stick of dynamite. Wrapped up in about a hundred pounds of gravel.Boom.The explosion leveled the zombies our truck hadn't yet pulverized, and set off the low piles of alcohol-soaked wood and fabric we'd left around the edge of the plateau. Rachel noted as she was blowing up the logs the other day that even smart zombies still have a deep aversion to fire. They're still terrified of it. The flaming ring on the plateau drove the few remaining undead toward us, and we didn't give them a fair fight as we stopped the truck. Becky hit the fleeing zombies as they bunched up at the gate with the last few sticks of dynamite.We may not have killed all of them. We're okay with that. If this new breed can learn things, then I think the experience has given them a new piece of information to assimilate.Human beings are just as dangerous as fire.Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Weaves
Posted by Josh Guess
We're at our last stop before a very extended drive out west. The community we're in right now is far enough away from the epicenter of the new wave of mutations that there are no reported sightings here yet.We're in a little town called Greenville, and the community here is pretty big. It's the largest I've seen aside from North Jackson, which has more than eleven hundred people in it at last count. Greenville has somewhere north of eight hundred, and the place is prosperous. It sits in a wooded span of hills, the centerpiece of the town a very large textile mill that used to employ (and now houses) many of the people here. There's a lot of farm land being worked, but the folks here have a lot of other resources.The woods are good for hunting. The lake is huge and teeming with fish, frogs, turtles, and all the other things you'd expect. The mill itself contains a massive amount of materials, which Jane, the elected leader here, directs her people to work in a variety of ways.Jane's the woman who really runs the place. Sure, she has a staff to manage the details, but she's the idea lady. To look at her, you wouldn't expect a survivor. She's a bizarre sort of throwback to the world that was. She dresses with stylish professionalism, pant suits or conservative skirt combos. Her nails are manicured but not pampered. She wears makeup that smooths her features but isn't gaudy. Hell, she wears perfume of all things.And on her, all that makes sense. When Greenville was hit, she was the one that came up with solution after solution where others couldn't. She's a brilliant woman who understands that appearance and confidence are vital to being a successful leader. I'm not even from here, and I'm impressed as hell with her and the projects she's put into motion.Take this, for example: when news reached her that the new breed of zombies would almost certainly be spreading this way, Jane ordered traps put into place all over the perimeter of their holdings. Traps the zombies (and most people) couldn't see. Pit traps. Tripwires. Nets. Lots of nets.She didn't hesitate, instead pulling forty people from other details just to make those nets. Way more than any reasonable estimate said they would need. Jane wanted every person to be able to slow down and tangle up a zombie if need be. She designed them herself. They're lightweight, compact when folded properly, and strong.I know it may not sound like much, but it's a pretty brilliant idea. Especially given how lightly Greenville has had it since The Fall. The large number of survivors hereabouts can be attributed to light and infrequent zombie attacks, and a low overall population of undead.Think about every time you've been chased by a zombie, too afraid to turn around to get a proper aim with your gun. Or maybe the thing was too close behind for you to stop and smack it in the head with your hammer or hatchet. If you'd had a net, you could have glanced over your shoulder for a split second while throwing, and the tangle that ensued would give you time to put the monster down without undue worry.I'm pretty impressed with how the people here work together, and how well-managed the defenses, food, and other resources are. Jane is a tough person to negotiate with, but she's fair. And I think reasonably compassionate. I think we'll have a good time staying here.If the preparations they're making are any sign of how well they work together in a fight, the new breed won't have a chance. There's not a bit of grumbling or complaining about the extra work, nor disbelief at the capabilities of the mutated zombies. Just rugged determination, a lot of hard work, and a coordinated effort from the leadership on down the chain that should make my military friends blush.Oh, that's funny. Because Jane invited Mason to dinner almost as soon as she laid eyes on him. I've never seen the big guy go red for anyone. He's always so cool and collected, so "I'm the scary Navy Seal that saves your ass with a snarky comment". Yeah. He got asked out on a date, and he looked freaking worried about it. It was such a...human reaction, and it caught all of us off guard.Naturally, we will never let his royal badassedness forget about it. We'll probably give him hell about it every ten minutes, pretty much for the rest of his life. I'm glad Mason is finding some enjoyment out on this trip. Maybe we all just need a small break and to relax for a bit.Thursday, October 27, 2011
Common Good
Posted by Josh Guess
For all of the horrible events since my team and I left home, we still manage to find small pieces of surprising goodness here and there.Greenville doesn't really need to trade with anyone. They're in a resource heavy area, with a social structure designed to make the best and most efficient use of those resources. Don't get me wrong, there are things they can use--raw and worked metal goods, pieces of technology, weaponry they don't have to make themselves, medical supplies--but none of it vital. All things they can live without.Still, Jane and the committee that runs Greenville are happy to trade. They know that helping to build a strong network of survivors will be key to keeping humanity going. Jane and her people see the long term. That sounds pretty cold and calculating, pragmatic to the nth degree, and it is.But that's not the only reason. I've talked to her quite a bit, as have the members of my team. Jane is remarkably compassionate for someone who has a job as hard as hers. When I ran New Haven, it had about a quarter the people that Greenville does, and that was a nightmare of biblical proportions. She offered fair trades, if ones that leaned more toward benefiting her people, without us having to pull the sympathy card for all the hungry people out there in need.Things here are pretty standard for the trip. I'm glad Courtney and Steve laid so much groundwork last year. It has made things a lot easier for us. Most places we've traveled to have been pretty receptive.Tomorrow, we head out for parts unknown. People we've been in contact with but never met. Roads we've never gone down.Motherfucker. Why do I say things about how well it's going? There's some kind of alarm going. Damn it.Friday, October 28, 2011
Stowaways
Posted by Josh Guess
Thank god, the alarm yesterday wasn't an attack. Which isn't saying there weren't zombies. There were. But slow, old school ones chasing one of Jane's scouts.The bad news the scout brought in is that the new breed is spreading faster and farther than we thought. It's good he found out, because the sneaky fuckers are using a means to travel we can actually do something about. They're stowing away with marauders. The scout, while in hiding, saw three zombies manage to either sneak up undetected to latch onto the bottom of a vehicle, or fall from a tree onto trucks.I've suggested we spread the word for everyone to redouble their efforts to check their vehicles at every opportunity.Jane sent out scouts to try to warn groups of marauders. Kincaid, whose group made it to New Haven safely, has been helpful with contacting them. We'll see how that works out.There's not much else I can say today. We're on a tight schedule, and we've got to make a rendezvous to top off our fuel supplies in about two hours. The road into the unknown is bound to be full of surprises, and we want to carry all the extra fuel we can manage. It's really too bad we couldn't have just rigged up something with horses, but then the zombies would eat them in an instant and we'd be screwed.I've never been farther west than St. Louis before. Despite the crazy mess the USA has become, I find myself excited to see areas of the country I've only read about before. I don't know how many stops we'll be making for sure, but between here and Mountain View, there are at least a dozen settlements of survivors we're to see. Whatever else happens between is in god's hands.I'll try to do a more comprehensive post tomorrow or the day after. We've been running so hard for so long that the weariness is getting bone-deep, and it's hard for me to concentrate. Where we're going, lack of focus could be more fatal than normal.Sunday, October 30, 2011
Long View
Posted by Josh Guess
I talk about what's going on around me a lot, and who important this trip is. I yammer about the things that have happened and how brutal some of them have been. I was going to focus today on the nearly herculean effort of Sparta to set up fuel depots all over the landscape. I'll still give it some time, because it's worthy, but after I want to tell you something simple.We carry enough fuel to go a VERY long distance without running dry. The bed of our truck is stuffed with homemade tanks that give us the mobility to go somewhere between seven and nine hundred miles without refueling. That's ignoring idle time and the like, but it's a lot of backup gas to have. We've topped off a few times, and the folks from Sparta have done their part to make sure the convoys of supplies have enough go juice to make trades happen. It isn't just the massive stockpile they're sitting on, either--the whole area of the country Sparta sits in is chock full of fuel supplies. Enough to probably keep trade in operation for years if the gas doesn't go flat and useless. Enough time to breed horses to take over when the gas runs out. Slow, very slow, but maybe the only option down the road.That's just one small speck of the larger economy we're trying to build. Thinking about the challenges we face as a species to survive and thrive in the months and years ahead is enough to take the focus away from anyone. Do communities try to move from less than ideal locations and merge together? Maybe, but that comes with the risk of putting too many eggs in one basket, endangering more lives in a given area if there's a zombie attack. Also, the strain on local resources is always something to consider.A million thoughts like this fill my head pretty much all the time. So, today, I'm taking a break from it. There's been so much going on during this trip that some very basic truths about it are overlooked. I write once a day, four out of five days, and maybe I give the impression that I'm always slammed with things to do. When we're at a community, that's usually true. On the road in between, there's a lot of down time to think about all the stuff I wrote above. It can become overwhelming to the point of insanity.So I'm doing something simple and fun today. I'm reading books. My little solar charger still works despite the weakening sunlight from winter coming, and I've charged up my Kindle. Kind of a funny thing, really, me buying such an expensive piece of consumer electronics when I couldn't really afford it. I've used it on and off since The Fall, as it has copies of probably three hundred books I bought on it. I'm a bibliophile, and a nifty device that holds hundreds of books is like hard drugs to an addict. It's a good thing The Fall happened when it did, as I was spending WAY too much money on books before the world ended.Kidding, kidding. But I'll admit, it's a little freeing to know I won't have to pay those credit cards back, you know?So today I'm getting to read a series of books I've managed to avoid over the years. Not intentionally, it just seemed there was always something else to read that was more important. I'm going to sit back, relax, and dive into a world of fantasy for a day. A little escapism is just what I need to get my head back in the game.I think everyone should find some time to do the same. In the long term, it's the only way to keep from losing perspective.Monday, October 31, 2011
Holiday Spirit
Posted by Josh Guess
I realized when I woke up a few minutes ago that today is Halloween. There's certainly no candy out here, and we're hours away from any other survivors at the absolute best, so there's little chance of getting any celebration in. It's always been my favorite holiday, but this go round it doesn't look like I'll be putting on a costume and having any fun.I can't help but think about the zombies out there, deadly and hungry for our flesh, and giggle a bit. Today is Halloween, and that makes the undead seem just a shade silly to me. They're monsters that we used to make fun of, dressing up as them to scare kids. For all the reality that they're a threat to our very existence, something about today just makes it a little easier to remember the way we used to see them.Not that there are many undead out here. The area of the country we're traveling through at the moment is pretty empty. Of everything. Mostly just scrub and flatland, leading up to the edge of desert country. We've been on the road continuously for a good long while now, and we've gone very far. I'm told I slept right through a stop at one of the fuel depots to top off. Mason was supposed to wake me up to take a shift driving, but he let me sleep through.We've been passing the time trying to get Mason to spill to juicy details of his date with Jane. He refuses to call it a date, which is in itself suspicious. He's being gentle about it so far, but knowing me, Becky, Will, Rachel, and Steve, eventually we'll wear him down to the point where he either tells us, or shoots us to shut us up.I give either possibility a fifty percent chance.It's boring and lonely out here, but at least we've stopped long enough for me to write and talk to the folks at home. My former trainees back at New Haven are handling all the communications with other groups of survivors I usually manage since we can't stop often enough to be effective at passing important news. I've heard some interesting things this morning, but most of them are sensitive, so I have to leave you hanging.One I can tell you about is crazy to the point of suspicion, though. Kincaid and his people have, at the encouragement of the council at New Haven, been extending the olive branch of peace to other groups of marauders. As it turns out, resources out in the wild are getting harder to come by, which is part of why so many bands of marauders have started getting more violent. That's really bad for them, because one of the advantages of staying put in a compound is that you build up resources, defenses, and plans. The high ground is ours. That makes raiding a costly and dangerous affair for marauders.And it's cold as hell outside. Which means less people on the roads, less prey for marauders. I don't know if many (or any) of the groups Kincaid has talked to will give positive responses, but we can hope. Every person who isn't attacking others for their supplies (or worse, to capture people) is a victory for the rest of us. I don't know how the communities out there will deal with men and women who've done the terrible things many marauders have, but it seems like they can't all be really terrible. Not all of them are rapists, as Kincaid proves.It's a sticky situation, but potentially a very good thing. Damn, I've gone way over what I intended, and Will says it's time to move out again. Stupid time limits.At any rate, happy Halloween. Don't forget to eat something bad for you. Try not to get eaten.Ha.Tuesday, November 1, 2011
True Grit
Posted by Josh Guess
Well, we might be in trouble. I wish the title of this post reflected our toughness or how truly hard we've had to fight to survive this long. Hell, I wish it was even about the movie of the same name. Nope. It's about fucking sand. And how it's done something very bad to us.We're stuck. Which, when you're out in the desert, is a total bitch. We're far away from any help, no one to come pull us out. We aren't even that far from the road. We had to pull off to avoid a large swarm of undead that would have caught us off guard if not for the endlessly flat road through this part of the country. We saw them from a long way off.There are a few small towns dotting the landscape along the way, but I can't imagine how so many zombies managed to survive out here for so long. There clearly isn't enough food to support even a handful of them, much less the fifty or sixty we saw.Then again, there were buildings in the area. The thought crossed my mind that maybe a group of survivors has (or had) somehow managed to make it for quite a while. Enough people could keep a small swarm like that going...It would take a lot of people, though. Even if there are or were people around, there isn't anything we could do for them. Our resources have to stretch for a long while, and we're only six people. Totally aside from that, we camped on the scrub and now we're mired in sand. The truck is stuck, and Mason is trying to figure out how to get us free. We couldn't go help even if there was a chance we could do any good.We're only about half a mile away from where we saw the swarm, so getting hit is a real concern. The zombies clearly heard us coming, but they must not be very good at tracking in this area, since none of them have found us yet. The wind is favoring us so far, so they haven't caught our scent. Again, that's obvious by the fact that we're still breathing.I'm sending out some emails with our location in them. If anyone has heard of a settlement here, get back to me. I don't think there's much chance anyone who might still be left alive would be able to help, but I'll grasp as any straw right now. If the zombies do find us, we'll be able to withstand an assault for a while, but eventually they'll beat through and get us.Or starve us out. Or make us die of thirst. We've got water to last a while. But not forever.I'm due for a watch. Time to perch up on the rocks and keep an eye out. If we get free today, I'll try to post something.Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Sand Trap
Posted by Josh Guess
We're still stuck, which when you think about it is pretty ludicrous. Of all the possible threats and problems we could have been hit with, sand turns out to be the one that stops us cold.We've all tried to use the materials at hand, which are sparse by the way, to finagle a way to get the truck free. We gave up around nine last night. Mason set out on his own this morning to try to sneak into the nearby town, find something that might help, and get back as soon as possible. If the swarm of zombies there is still as cohesive as it was a few days ago, it may be a while before he can make it back.The rest of us have been spending our time making sure our weapons are sharp, our guns clean, our armor in good repair. That took about two hours. Fortunately, I've still got my Kindle, and Will brought one of those little pocket-sized travel games. Chess, checkers, and backgammon. I've learned some important facts during the boredom.Will is really good at all of these games. I'm really, really bad at them. Rachel will swipe my Kindle and start reading if I don't watch over it while I'm playing. I guess she misses books as much as I do. Becky and Steve, using those massive brains that have almost scary capacity, have been playing a game of their own creation against each other for weeks. The pieces and board, if their game has them, are in their heads alone.Mason tends to be the only one of us who doesn't really do things to enjoy himself. He's not anti-social or anything, just more focused. He talks to the rest of the team when we need to vent, but his eyes never stop scanning the horizon for threats. He's the one who takes the initiative on stuff like what he's doing today, going out into dangerous territory alone to gather information or supplies. It's not that we aren't willing, of course, but that the rest of us are possible dead weight to him, depending on the circumstances. He's the one with the insane training, not us.So, we sit around and pass the time. I'm on top of the trailer keeping watch as I type, which is why it's taken me an hour to write even this much. If Mason comes back trailing a swarm, we'll be ready to help. Enough zombies would make that help a symbolic gesture, but if death is staring me down either way, I prefer to fight. After so much time together, I'd kill or die for anyone here. My team has become family.Friday, November 4, 2011
The Escape
Posted by Josh Guess
Some days it's easy to forget how human we all are. All of us expected Mason to get back fairly quickly, loaded with supplies to help us get out of the sand. It took him until nearly dark to finally make it to us.We saw him coming from a long way off. He was carrying a torch, crude and obviously improvised while he was in the nearby town. He was limping heavily and dragging a huge bundle of something wrapped in one of those cheap blue tarps you used to be able to find at Walmart. His armor was shredded--not surprising since he'd removed the heavier bits to move about more quickly.Behind him maybe a hundred feet were a dozen zombies. They were clearly following him, but the few times we saw him stop on the plain heading toward us the undead mimicked him. That's strange behavior, as most of you know. Usually the only thing besides the vomit of a very specific zombie or ammonia that will stop zombies in their tracks is a large fire. Say the size of a car. Certainly the guttering torch Mason held in front of him wasn't enough to slow one zombie, much less stop twelve of them.We made our way to him when he got within forty yards. We'd have gone to help sooner, but Mason was the one who established most of our safety procedures, and that was one of them. Never go farther from base to provide support than you can run at a dead sprint without stopping. I'm pretty sure we'd have ignored that rule if the zombies on his tail had been more aggressive, but they seemed to treat him with...I'd almost call it deference.Will gave Mason a shoulder to lean on as Steve and I hauled the tarp and its contents back to the truck. Mason is a big guy, and in great shape, but I don't know how he was pulling that thing along at all, much less with one arm. Steve and I nearly gave ourselves hernias.Mason waved off Will when they got within twenty feet of the truck. Tired as he was, the big guy turned and faced the oncoming zombies, torch in one hand and heavy knife in the other. Again, the undead stopped, this time about fifty feet away. They just stood there staring at him, motionless as only the dead can be.Mason watched them for a minute, then turned to the team. He told us to start working on getting the truck out, that he'd watch for attacks. When Will asked him about the curious zombies watching us, Mason just shook his head.He said, "They're not stupid enough to attack me again."Thoughts began to percolate through my head. Zombies, no matter how smart, are still base creatures. If one of them in a group knew we were there, then the rest did. All of them would be coming for us. That meant that those twelve were the only ones left of a horde of more than fifty. Had Mason killed all the rest?If so, I could see how the surviving undead might see him as a threat equal to fire, one of the most primal fears inscribed in the deep, dark parts of our brains.We got to work, and it didn't take very long. Mason had found some long tracks clearly taken from the back of a truck, the kind you use to load a car onto a trailer. Four of them together wedged under the tires, just long enough to reach the lip of the small depression it was stuck in. It took a few tries, but we managed to get the damn thing out. Then we used the truck's winch to haul the trailer up, using the tracks to make it go a little smoother.All through this, the zombies waited. They might have edged forward a bit, but Mason didn't seem worried. It took a little time to get everything ready to go, but when Will hopped into the cab and shouted for Mason to join us, the big guy just sighed and threw the torch to the ground. He started unbuckling his armor. He was remarkably efficient at it, so quick that most of us only got over our confusion enough to throw half-formed questions asking him what he was doing before he got his chest plate off and we saw the injuries.He'd done something to the damage on his left side to close the wounds. Becky guessed super glue. It was messy and obviously infected badly. The flesh around the gouges and tears, themselves barely held together and gaping in places, was dark. Parts were black.Zombies are riddled with bacteria. Even their claws can cause serious infection very quickly.He kept removing his gear, finally stripping down to just his boxers. He'd left everything in a neat pile on top of his chest plate, which he motioned to without looking away from the watching zombies. We could see other wounds, including what must have been six or seven bites, a few of them with chunks of flesh missing.Still facing away, he told us to leave. And here's where things got strange.We didn't argue. We didn't plead with him. We didn't promise stupidly that he would be alright. He knew just as the rest of the team did that his long term survival chances had finally reached zero. He might have made it days, maybe even weeks with a constitution as hardy as his. But Mason knew that to do so would be to risk the mission. He'd chew through our medical supplies like fire in a dry field, and in the end...In the end, we'd have to put him down.So Mason chose his own terms. Steve wordlessly picked up the bundle of armor and clothes, on top of which was the heavy combat knife Mason had carried with him through his military service and beyond. Steve tried to offer it back to him, but Mason smiled and told him to keep it.We asked him what he was going to do. He pointed to the dozen zombies, and said three words."Fight the enemy."He bent down and picked up a rock, tossing it between his hands a few times to get a feel. He started to walk away, but turned for a moment and flashed me a grin I'll never forget. It was full of brightness and light, the face of a happy warrior who could see the final battle ahead of him. He met my eyes, and I could see laugh lines around his. How had I never noticed them before?"The date I had with Jane wasn't a date at all," He said. "I kept meaning to tell you. I'm gay."Then he laughed, and ran with a rolling, uneven gait toward the undead. I saw him strike down two of them in as many seconds before Will distracted me by screaming for me to get in the truck.As we escaped the sands that froze us by night and scorched us by day, so did he escape a world, a life, that had surely been full of pain and difficulty. He was a brave man, in ways great and small, obvious and subtle. That was how he lived.And that was how Mason died.Saturday, November 5, 2011
Moving On
Posted by Josh Guess
Things within the team are strained right now. It's not that anyone is upset with anyone else, really, but more that none of us really knows how to deal with Mason's death. Steve seems to be handling it the best, seeming a bit quieter than usual but otherwise in good cheer. I notice him resting his hand on Mason's knife in those silent moments. The blade seems to have taken a permanent place on his belt.Rachel and Becky, as different as they are in personality, seem to be bonding over the whole thing. There haven't been lots of tender moments between them, at least not that the rest of us have noticed. Neither are really the weepy girl stereotype. It's nice to see them talking to each other about normal things, getting to know each other a little better. I hadn't even realized how little socializing the two of them did until now.Will is not handling it very well. He's angry, more so than I've ever seen him. His knuckles tighten on the steering wheel often and his eyes get tight with rage. I've been there many times--playing the events over and over in his head, trying to imagine what we could have done differently. Wondering if maybe the big fella would have made it. If it would have been worth the risk to run through our medical supplies out here where the next batch might never come.And me? I'm crying a lot.I'm not a crier, usually. I've spent little time as an adult doing it. When I'm sad and overcome with it, crying is just not my go-to reaction. I get quiet, I think, I clench my teeth a lot. I can count the times I've openly wept in the last ten years on my fingers and have a few left over.Until the last few days. I find myself struck by bouts of uncontrollable tears at odd times. I suppose I should find it embarrassing, but I'm not. The others don't seem to mind. Steve is usually there with an arm around my shoulder when it hits me. He's always been there for me that way. When I met him all those years ago, my first impression of Steve was that he was a nerd (he was and is) and that he didn't let much bother him. He's a video game expert, a Star Wars fanatic, and not someone you'd expect to be an emotional rock for when the bad times strike you down.Funny how people can surprise you.It's almost annoying how much I feel Mason's loss. I can't stop thinking about how hard it must have been for him to be in the military all those years, unable to tell anyone who he really was. He was competent, dedicated, and hard working. And he could have lost it all, just because he happened to prefer men over women.Then I start thinking about the places we're heading, the sights we'll see and the people we'll meet, and I remember that he won't get to experience any of that with us. The practical, analytical part of me wonders coldly how many people will die down the road because he wasn't there to come up with a clever solution to a defense problem. My sense of humor asks the question: who will be the scary badass military stereotype now that he's gone?But he is, and there's nothing to be done about it. Mason may have played his cards close to the chest, but I know he believed in this mission. He spoke at times about how important it was that the remaining people out there build bonds of friendship, that we try to see each other as people first and work from there. He knew as well as the rest of us that while this trip was halfway an excuse to get me away from home, it's evolved into something of real importance.Had I, or Will, or any of us been the one to die, Mason would have saluted our sacrifice and chosen to move on. He'd have recognized the need to continue over any other factor. How can I honor his memory by doing any different?Sunday, November 6, 2011
Bunker
Posted by Josh Guess
Our next stop is a day or two away. This stretch of the country is pretty bare of survivors, but the largest place within several hundred miles is called the Bunker. As with most communities, I can't tell you where it is, though chances are even if I did you wouldn't be able to find it.The Bunker is exactly what it sounds like--a heavily fortified shelter designed to protect a number of people for a certain amount of time. I'm sure this one was intended for use in the event of a nuclear blast, but the zombie plague beat mankind to the punch on that one.Mason was the one who put us in touch with these folks. He was in the know on the location of the Bunker and had a vast working knowledge of its capacity and capabilities. For example, it was provisioned to handle a hundred and fifty people for five years. The current population is twice that, and they're running out of food. And their water treatment system is failing. As is their waste management.It was a refurbished government facility, apparently known to the military and intended for important people like congressmen and senators. At some point very early during The Fall, locals became aware of it and flooded the place.Basically, there are a little over three hundred folks there who've been living in safety for the last twenty months or so. I envy that, to a degree: they've been spared the horrors and atrocities the rest of us have had to suffer through. And as unfair as it is, I feel a bit resentful toward them for the same reasons. They haven't had to live in a world where every day brings the risk of a fatal attack from zombies or marauders. On huge set of thick steel doors and thousands of tons of protective rock, and those problems might as well have been on another planet.I can't blame them, of course. It isn't like they did anything wrong by going to ground somewhere safe. Many of the people there are families, parents trying to keep their kids safe, I'm sure. I'm just irritated to a degree because their safe haven is now becoming empty and useless, and they need help.There's no farmland around them, or I'd try to help them set up some kind of agriculture so they could keep on living there. There's nowhere near enough game to support so many people, either. The problem is so much bigger than it looks.I mean, a small fraction of them might have some kind of survival skills. Maybe. But the majority are just scared people who haven't had the brutal experiences since The Fall that have forged the rest of us into the survivors we are. It's a bit like having three hundred children who need to be watched and protected at all times, because they don't understand the dangers around them.I think because we managed the evacuation of Black Mesa, there's some expectation we can get them out and send them to different places to settle with the same ease and speed. That just isn't the case. A lot of chips got called in for that, and every place within a reasonable distance (and a few an unreasonable distance away) took who they could. The options are limited at best, and I don't know that the logistical problems we're facing can be solved at all, much less by the five people that comprise my team.Still, we'll have to take a crack at it. This part of the country is pretty far removed from Black Mesa and those groups of survivors. We're closer to many groups we've never had the pleasure of meeting face to face, so there might be some options there. Mason seemed to think so, and his instincts were usually good.We'll keep on following the directions Mason left us until we get there or die trying. I can't help but feel the absence of him beside me as the miles roll by beneath us.Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Man of God
Posted by Josh Guess
We'll be arriving at the Bunker shortly, but we haven't broken camp yet. We decided it would be better to approach the place during the day given that we have no idea what the defenses around the entrance might look like. I'm less worried about armed guards and guns than landmines or something even harder to see. So we'll approach with caution.Yesterday we ran into someone on the road. One person, walking alone, as impossible as that sounds. He was dressed in heavy clothes, worn but taken care of. He wore a backpack, stuffed with what I have to assume were supplies and festooned with melee weapons. His boots were the only part of his gear that seemed on their last legs.We stopped and talked to him for a while. His name is Bill Friese, and he's a preacher. Before The Fall, he ran one of those mega-churches that held enough people to host a professional sporting event. Bill was on top of the world--regional televised show once a week, twenty thousand congregants making his house of faith prosperous and strong, and a happy family life with his wife and five kids.Bill told us many things about his life before The Fall, and how he felt compelled by his faith to help others in need. In an age of profitable religion, he tried to be a man who used the wealth and influence of his position for a greater good. He organized missions of mercy to provide medical care for children in foreign countries. He aided the poor and starving. Every Monday the fellowship hall at his church ran a massive open kitchen program where volunteers cooked meals for the homeless.I'm a fan of people doing good deeds for any reason. And I hate to see people with genuine faith, who do those good deeds in its name, have their world view shattered. That's what happened to poor Bill.Bill came from a small family in the backwoods of north Louisiana. He spent his youth farming, hunting, and learning the tricks and trade of survival in the wild. His pop was a vet, and a country boy himself. For them, learning to stay alive out in the woods was a practical necessity in case a hunting trip forty miles from anything ended with a broken-down truck or getting lost.Even as he grew up, Bill kept those skills sharp. He taught his own sons and daughters, those who were old enough, how to fire a gun, a bow, build a shelter, make fire. He passed on some of it to his wife.But those skills weren't the ones he used when The Fall came. Instead of running from the zombie swarms like so many others, Bill and his family made the decision to open their church to survivors. This was in the very first days, when the country was still a chaotic mess and the majority of people had no idea what the zombie plague really was.His intentions were good, but it all ended in disaster. More than four thousand people came into the place over a period of days, and at the time no one there knew it was the dead that were rising. No one knew how quickly the bites could kill by spreading god only knows what kinds of bacteria. No one knew that putting so many people into such a small space was a recipe for slaughter.Bill lost his entire family. Wife, children, congregants. He escaped, ran for his life. Everything he'd built, all the good he'd done, gone.So, he started walking. At first because there was little else to do. Then as he encountered others, gathered supplies and traded, because Bill found he could still help if on a much smaller scale. Bill walked on, stopping to preach the word of God, still a comfort to him in the darkness at the end of the world. And Bill teaches others how to survive. How to hunt.He was walking away from this area as we were heading toward it. He's spent nearly a month with the people in the Bunker, trying to ready them for what they'll face on the outside. We offered to give him a lift, asked him to come back to the Bunker with us, but he refused.I wonder if he'll ever stop moving, if some place will ever strike him as home. I hope so. Bill seems a good man, and solid in his beliefs even after everything he's been through. I don't know if he's still running from his personal tragedies, or feels the urge to help out of guilt for the deaths of his family and flock, but I hope he finds peace somewhere. All of us, every survivor, knows the burden of living where others have died. If his needs to be channeled into making sure others live, then I can't think of anyone who'd argue against that choice.Hmm. All alone on the open road for more than a year and a half. The fact that he's still alive is almost enough to make a believer out of me again.Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The Long Walk
Posted by Josh Guess
We've decided to make camp away from the Bunker itself. Things here are so much worse than we could have imagined. It isn't the logistical problems, exactly. There's enough food and water to last the people here a while yet, maybe a month if they stretch it.It's their attitudes and outlooks. Sure, there are a few we've met who seem genuinely interested in learning how to survive the world as it is, but the majority of the people in the Bunker are terrified almost to the point of insensibility. They've had secure walls and no zombies this whole time, little contact with the outside world until their supplies started to run low and their machinery started to break down and they had to pull their heads out of the sand.Most of them have no desire to make it on their own, to live somewhere else and take the risks everyday life comes with now. They're scared and in shock now that they know just how bad it is, and learning about the new breed of zombies has only made it worse. I don't know that I would have made the choice to tell them had I known the kind of overwhelming panic it would incite in them.Worse, they see my team as saviors. They've been catching up on this blog, they know the things we've seen and done, the odds we've overcome. They think we can make a miracle happen for them. As if the most skilled member of my team didn't die less than a week ago. We aren't superhuman. We can't wave a wand and make this better. The collective goodwill of the communities of survivors was helpful in saving the kids at Black Mesa, but everyone in that part of the country has expended what resources they can spare. There isn't room for all these folks.Worse, I've asked the people at Google to start canvassing every group in this area, though there aren't very many of them close. Three within two hundred miles, scheduled stops all, but we've never met them before, only communicated via phone or internet. They're small groups with few resources. There just aren't any groups close enough with the resources to do any good.All of which I've got to explain to the people in the Bunker. We can help them get ready to leave, but when and if they go, it's got to be on their own feet. Mason was brilliant enough to leave suggestions for this possibility written down, ideas to help the people here survive a trek through the arid southwest toward a place capable of sustaining them for the long term.My team and I are under no illusions. Even a best case scenario with them moving on foot is going to mean losses in the dozens. I'd bet closer to half, and that's not counting an attack by a large swarm of zombies. Three hundred people exposed on open land? Such an attack is an eventuality rather than a possibility.Still, the advantage of the local terrain and sparsity of human beings is that the people in the Bunker have few zombies to worry about. Their hidey hole was a good place to avoid notice, and far enough away from anything that they'd have likely been undiscovered even were it above ground.There is no part of me that's looking forward to telling them what I have to tell them today. That they've got to leave their home soon, with all the food they can carry and all the water they can coax out of their wells. We'll see about rigging up carts or something for bulk transport of supplies, but I don't know what we could possibly use.Enough stalling, I guess. On to tell them the bad news.Thursday, November 10, 2011
Climb That Mountain
Posted by Josh Guess
Things didn't go as badly as we expected yesterday. The people here took the news that they would have to walk away from here rather than ride pretty well. They even dealt with the immediacy of the problem with reasonable aplomb. I think it gives them some focus to have goals after so long merely hiding away and worrying. Knowing the mountain of work ahead of them before they can even take the first step toward whatever unknown home appears to be motivating to some degree.We're trying to work with the few local communities to make that unknown home a little less mysterious. None of my team know the area around here at all, so we've enlisted the aid of anyone and everyone within a three hundred mile radius to pass along what info they can. I don't have to go over the specs with you, we all know the drill for resources and shelter. It's good that we can farm out some of the leg work to others. I think they feel guilty that they can't take these people in.The Bunker is big. Really, really big. I don't know what it was before it was turned into a shelter, but it has vast empty spaces that must have held something at some point. There are several areas that have never been explored, the doors leading into them locked and impossible for the folks here to breach.They didn't have a Becky with them. Their loss.She's working on making some of the inaccessible areas a little more user-friendly. Maybe there are more supplies in them or at least something useful. We have to explore any and all options, because our resources here are limited.We have managed to come up with an idea for transporting supplies a little easier, though I don't know how well it's going to go over with the natives. I'll be bringing the idea, which Will, Steve, and I came up with together, up at the morning meeting in ten minutes.I'm very cautiously optimistic. Few here seem happy with the fact they have to leave, and a disturbing number of people have openly (and loudly) expressed their desire for 'someone to help them' and for the 'government to do something'. I've explained to a few that there is no government to speak of, that we're on our own. That they are on their own. But some people don't seem capable of accepting the reality that there isn't anyone out there to save them. That they are going to have to buckle down, do the work, and save themselves.Huh. That paragraph was supposed to be about optimism. I guess the truth came out while I was writing it. Put bluntly, I'm really only optimistic because less people in the Bunker are freaking out and wailing at the unfairness of it than I expected. It's looking like it will be difficult to convince a number of them to put forth effort, that they'd rather bitch and moan and talk about how hard it is.Damn it. I want this to work. I don't want to see these folks fail, but I just don't know if most of them can overcome the shock at how bad the world has become to live through it.My team concurs.Friday, November 11, 2011
Fix Your Wagon
Posted by Josh Guess
There's a small town about ten miles away. It has almost nothing of value in it, not because it's been looted but simply due to location and a population that mostly evacuated here. The locals came to the Bunker, and they brought most of the food and other supplies with them.One thing they left were the cars, trucks, and other vehicles. The whole town had a population of less than a thousand, but luckily there's a mechanic's shop. We've got a dozen people working to strip down every vehicle we can use to the frame. There isn't enough gas to use them to transport everyone, not by half. So we're doing the only thing we can think of--removing the engines, panels, anything and everything we can to lighten them up, and we're going to use them to carry supplies. They'll have to be pulled by people, but with three hundred of them, it won't be hard to do. Just annoying.I'm helping oversee the rationing of the supplies for the trip, so today's meeting is being run by Will and Becky. Steve is helping organize packing, and Rachel is feeling out some people who want to learn the real necessities of surviving and fighting out in the real world.I don't envy Will and Becky for today's meeting. They've got the unfortunate task of telling these people that we aren't going with them when they leave. Hell, we can't even stay long enough to see them go. We've been put so far behind our schedule on this trip that we could get stuck a thousand miles from home when the snows start to hit. We can't afford to miss our revised times for a few of the appointments we have.Honestly, I'd love to say that I want to stay and help these people. That I want to help them prepare and get to safety. Part of me wants to make that statement. The rest of me is already sick of them and irritated at how much most of them whine and complain, constantly moaning about the dangers they'll have to face. They've been locked up, I get it. I don't blame them for that. But you'd think, after explaining that the options are to deal with what's ahead rationally and decisively or to die, that more of them would get control of themselves and forge ahead.Nah. I certainly don't wish them any harm, but after all these months, after all the death and loss and struggle, I just can't bring myself to feel much real pity for their shock and anger. Part of that might be because I know if they don't knuckle under and work, they're going to die. Quickly. And we can't afford to grow attached to people who aren't likely to make it.Too many emotional traumas already. I'll check on our makeshift wagons in a bit. While I'm here, you can bet my team and I will do everything we can to get these people ready.Sunday, November 13, 2011
Mob Rules
Posted by Josh Guess
The team and I are hiding. We had to make a run from the Bunker.When we told them we weren't going to make the trip with them, the leadership (such as it is) understood but weren't happy about it. When the news hit the general population, there was a lot of grumbling and some angry talk about keeping us there. My team and I can deal with a lot of threats, but hundreds of people to our five made us a little wary. So we made sure to keep our gear ready to go just in case.As it turns out, it takes about twelve hours for a group of twenty people to talk each other into doing something stupid. They tried to jump us in the night, while they thought it'd be easiest. All five of us were awake, and it was Rachel, the gentlest and least violent member of my group, that got her gun aimed at their faces first.I won't lie. I was pretty damned proud of her.Five armed veterans of the zombie plague are nothing to sneer at. Those people were, I have to assume, the most cowardly the Bunker had to offer. After all, they were the ones who decided it was fair to try and take us captive and steal our vehicle and supplies. Oh, sure, they tried to tell us they were coming to talk, to convince us to stay. I might have listened had they not all been carrying makeshift weapons. At two in the morning.The situation became too unstable when a few of them yelled out when they realized we were going to leave. We had them disarmed at that point, laying face down. A few people showed up, and then it was all a mess. We were holding guns on their people, who were lying through their teeth saying they were checking out a disturbance. The whole ordeal got heated, and Will decided to break the tension by firing his .45 into the air.Revolvers are loud. Definitely an attention grabber. He explained very calmly what the situation actually was, and when our erstwhile attackers tried to argue, he shot the sky a second time. Will told the second group of people to show up what happened, and that we were leaving.And we left. Becky and I covered the lot of them from the top of the trailer as we drove away. Thank god none of those idiots had a firearm.I don't feel bad about it. I wish I did, but any group of people so lax in discipline that they'd let guests who are trying to help them be threatened by their own people are probably doomed to die. I can't see them making the long trek across the flatlands out here. Period. If the Bunker's citizens leave as one group, I think they're going to fail. Unless they do the impossible and pull their heads out of their asses. If the more reasonable among them, especially the few who have made an effort to learn survival skills, splinter off into groups with each other, then they've got a shot.I hate to think in these terms, but the safety of the Bunker didn't do these people any favors. The zombie plague killed a lot of capable people, but it killed a lot of cowardly, stupid, and selfish ones with them. Though there are always exceptions, most survivors are pretty good at staying alive, and making the effort and hard choices that entails.The Bunker was an empty space, filled with locals who had no crucible to burn away the dross. Without the constant struggle, or even the initial shock of the zombie plague and the violence that swept across the world, these people have no...what's the word I'm looking for?Hmm. They haven't been inoculated. They've lived in a shelter that has made them safe and kept them from building up an immunity to the world around them. It isn't their fault. It's just sad. I hope the best for them, but I also don't feel any responsibility to make it happen. My life is my own, and I won't risk it or those of my friends for them.That might make me a bad person.Monday, November 14, 2011
Finding Bill
Posted by Josh Guess
We've been traveling in the wrong direction for most of a day. The reason for our delay in heading toward our next stop, which we can afford since we left the Bunker much faster than anticipated, is that we got a call from Bill Friese of all people.Bill is holed up in a rest area. He carries a satellite phone, and we were the nearest people he knew of when he got injured. He said a trio of zombies chased him into the rest area, and he broke his ankle kicking the door shut on their faces. He's safe, but in pain. He has the food and water he carries with him, so he won't starve or die of thirst if we get to him relatively soon.We've got to be pretty close. All of the landmarks are exactly as Bill described them. From what we gather, we're not more than ten miles from his location. The problem may be getting to him. Since the last time we came through here, zombies have appeared. New breed zombies.There aren't a ton of them, but enough to make this a tricky day for us. If the ones we've seen on the road are any indication, the rest area will be a pain in the ass to assault.I'm not a fan of rest areas. Spending so much time on the road, I've been in many of them over the last year and a half. I've been trapped in one. They're damned convenient places to crash for a night, but zombies, even old-school stupid ones, seem to have some basic memory that they are places large numbers of people gather. It usually means trouble. I'm glad Bill was able to find a safe location. Just wish it wasn't a goddamn rest area. AGAIN.I suppose we'll have to scope out the situation when we get there. We've got no definite plan of attack. I'm hoping Bill will be able to give us more information about the zombies surrounding the place when we get closer. I don't like flying blind.Off to it, then.Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Hell's Half Dozen
Posted by Josh Guess
New breed zombies are a bitch to kill. They're stronger, faster, tougher, smarter, and work in groups. In every conceivable way they're better than their less evolved counterparts.Fortunately, they have not yet developed an immunity to trucks hitting them at thirty miles an hour. Especially ones that have armored spikes mounted on the front.The rest area where Bill locked himself up wasn't quite swarming with the things, but there were enough that hand-to-hand wasn't an option. We had no desire to call every one of the damn things in the area with gunshots, so our options were limited. I couldn't help sharing the thought with the rest of the group that Mason, were he still with us, would have probably gone all action-hero on them and killed the lot single-handedly.He probably wouldn't have approved of us using the truck to mow down so many of them, but we didn't have a lot of options. Yeah, damage beyond our ability to repair would likely have been a death sentence for us, but the risk of that was pretty small. The old girl was modified to be light but tough as hell, and once we dropped the trailer off a few miles down the road she became a lot more agile.Rachel, as it turns out, is really good at combative driving. I think she might have some deep, unresolved rage issues.While she drove and Becky rode in the cab, Will, Steve, and I locked our legs into the supports for the extended walls of the bed. From there had a great view of the surrounding area. We shouted locations of zombies to the girls, making it much easier to kill them. It was great teamwork.When we'd drawn the majority of them from inside the rest area and thinned them out, we took the fight to them. About fifteen of them were left when Becky shut the back window, pulled the aluminum cover over the inside of it, and hit the release for the back gate.Will, Steve, and I have spent a lot of time working as a unit. We've trained to fight together, cover each other. Will and I Were using short spears, modified to use on zombies. Steve was our center man, and he had a slim, lightweight pick as his primary weapon. All of us were armored. All of us carried shields. The new breed zombies are tough, like I said, but most of the ones still moving had broken limbs or other severe damage. Only a handful were uninjured and fully mobile.It took us about ten minutes to kill them. Pretty simple tactics--block with shield, bash zombies in the face, piston weapon arm up toward the soft underside of the zombie's jaw as it reels back, stunned. The cross guard on our spears kept them from getting hung up. The points are just the right length the scramble brains, not long enough to go all the way through. Steve did his part, his smaller shield making him the obvious target, drawing the attention of the zombies. We worked together well, bodies close, shields locked.The armor kept us safe, and the girls kept the last of the zombies from mobbing us. There were three left beating on the door inside the rest area, but we boxed them into the hallway. Easy kills.Bill is with us now, and suddenly we're six again. He can't walk very well, and Becky is seeing to his broken ankle. Looks like he's going to be with us a while. He's enough of a realist to know we aren't dropping him off at the Bunker and don't have time to take him anywhere else. So he's coming with us to our next stop. If he wants to recuperate there, and they'll have him, then we'll part ways then. If he wants to come with us from there, I have no objection. Bill seems like a nice guy, and he's refreshing.Not to mention he's helped bring us out of a funk we didn't even know we were in. Mason's death has hit all of us harder than we imagined. Bill is filling that void a little.Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Westward Ho!
Posted by Josh Guess
We decided to top off our fuel at the closest depot left by the good people of Sparta before we moved on to our next (and long delayed) stop. The consensus among the team is that we had little choice with the Bunker but to leave. We told Bill about it, and he agreed with us. That kind of surprised me, given his natural predilection toward compassion.I feel bad for the kids and the more reasonable adults at the Bunker, but the risk of staying there wasn't worth it. Bah. On to other things. I'm gonna get all guilty and maudlin otherwise.Our next stop is a little town on the edge of the desert that houses an impressive number of people. We've had pretty constant communication with them for a good long while, but never managed a visit. We're told they've got a population of better than a hundred, which doesn't sound like a lot until you remember the area we're in and how hard resources are to come by. I can't tell you the name, again for security reasons, as the folks there just use the actual name of the town. No cute nicknames like the rest of us.A few people have sent me messages expressing concern over us taking Bill on. They're saying we don't know him, asking how we can trust him, things like that. The simple answer is that no, we don't know him, and any man capable of surviving on foot on his own for any length of time against the zombies is someone to be reckoned with.That being said, his ankle is broken. He can barely walk. Give us a little credit--we took his weapons away. Bill seems like an upright kind of fella, but my suspicious nature leads me to believe that my best friend might, at some point, be inclined to stab me in the neck while sleeping.I've been known to bring that out in people.Bill is okay with our requirements. He had survived on his own, and had to fight his way out of some tight scrapes with other survivors. He knows what betrayal is, and how hot tempers can get in some situations. Our caution is as natural as breathing. He gets that.So he'll be traveling with us for a while. Bill has some interesting stories to tell, a few of which are a LOT more off-color than I'd expect from a man so devoted to god. That's one thing about him a enjoy: Bill lacks conceit about his faith. He isn't one of those guys (at least not anymore) that pushes the small details. His message is bigger, more sweeping. It's enough to make me remember why I chose to become born-again when I was in middle school.The others seem to get along with him as well. Will most of all. They've been huddled together in the trailer with me as I write this, and from the bits and pieces I've caught, Will seems to be telling Bill his story. How he came to be at the compound when it was still called that, and all that's happened since. There's been a lot of friendly pats on the shoulder and body language that says, "I understand". I think Will even teared up at one point. I know the poor guy still feels guilty over some of his decisions.If Bill can make him rest a little easier, I'm all for it.Friday, November 18, 2011
Fistful of Iron
Posted by Josh Guess
We're finally at our next stop. I have to call it something, so I've nicknamed the place Georgetown. Lots of places are called that, right?So, the incredible thing about Georgetown is that it has a giant iron mine and plant to refine the raw ore into ingots, and both are being utilized. Yes, that's right. These folks have been putting in an enormous amount of work to pull raw metal from the earth and make it into something useful.Granted, they aren't putting out hundreds of tons of the stuff, but it's enough to get some very healthy trade going in this part of the country. Bill actually stopped in Georgetown a while back, though it's the only place on our planned route that intersects with our own. He tells us that the people here are tough, almost scarily clannish, and quiet about the things they've been through.He's right about the last, that's for sure. No one here really talks about the past. Some survivors see more combat, danger, and loss than others, and these folks must have been through hell. I don't want to push, but it makes me powerfully curious what could have happened here that was so bad none of them want to talk about it.One frightening clue is that there are no children. Absolutely none. The youngest person anyone knows of is in his early twenties. If something bad happened to a lot of kids...well, that's never easy for anyone. If they want to talk, I'll listen. But I won't press.There are also more people here than we originally thought. I can't go into details, just...a lot more. How they manage to feed, clothe, and supply themselves is beyond me. I wouldn't have thought a group of people as large as this one could subside wholly on trade, but that's the way it looks. There are a lot of communities this far west, and the need for raw metals to work is apparently high. No one in Georgetown is fat, but none of them look underfed, either.While the terrain is on the border between desert scrub and more verdant land, there isn't a lot of farming done. The mining takes too much time and effort, I suppose. The cluster of buildings everyone lives in has a high wall, mostly brick and block, though some sections are made of rocks and leavings from the mines. It's tall and daunting, and topped with wicked spikes. Not shocking, they're made of iron.Though the people here have been nothing but polite, they are distant. We're guests here, and while none of them have said anything, we are clearly not going to be looked at as friends or family. There are lines drawn on where we can go and what we can say. They're invisible but startlingly obvious.Again, I'm reminded that not all places and people evolve the way my own home has. New Haven is more open and frankly happier. We trust easily, sometimes to our detriment. The zombie plague and the end of the world affected all of us differently, and if there's one thing about this trip that I'm glad for, it's the chance to see how many different kinds of people have adapted to it.The Fall has made us what we are, for better or worse. It's not something we can help, being broken by such awful events. It is, however, our responsibility to do the most we can with what the fates have given us.I'd say "for the kids" right here, but that's clearly not the motivation for some people.Saturday, November 19, 2011
Sweep
Posted by Josh Guess
Georgetown may not have much in the way of variety when it comes to industry, but these people sure as hell know their defense. The wall is solid and strong, and because iron is so plentiful, they've got enough weapons to arm every citizen three times over. Every person is required to participate in combat drills several times a week.Last evening I got to see it in action. I thought our people worked as a unit well, but not even our dedicated group of spearmen, our Spartans, match the average person here.I've got a meeting in a few minutes, so I'll keep it brief.We went out on a sweep of the surrounding area. For about a hundred feet in every direction is a flat, featureless plain. After that the terrain changes, trees and rocks as well as hills and folds in the land giving good hiding places for zombies. We weren't disappointed in our search. The group I went out with had fifteen people in it counting me, and when they saw the two dozen or so zombies, they snapped into formation.Hollow square, four men on a side, two in the middle (three, with me there. It was snug.) It's a classic tactic, one my own people have used. The team all carried shields, shorter than I'd have expected, only about two and a half feet tall. What surprised me was that the shield wall guys worked together as a unit flawlessly. They made no mistakes, and didn't even have to use log weapons like spears to hold off the zombies. Their defense was perfect.When the new breed zombies attacking thought to drop to the ground since the shields didn't go down very far, I was caught off guard again when the men on that side dropped with it, slamming the edges of their shields down on the attackers. Turns out those things are sharpened on the top and bottom for just such an occasion.We were outnumbered, but practiced thrusts of heavy spikes by the defenders meant one shot, one kill. It was the best display of teamwork I've ever seen. I'm told that part of why people here have gotten so good is because before that wall was built, they had no other choice but to fight the undead hand to hand every time zombies wandered near.That went on for a long time. Zombies wandering in the streets with only a narrow plank of metal-banded wood and a hand held weapon between them and the living.Which leads me to wonder once again what happened to the children here...Sunday, November 20, 2011
Good With the Bad
Posted by Josh Guess
The people of Georgetown adhere to a very strict schedule. It applies to all things--trading especially, but sweeps, mining shifts, food, and most other aspects of life here. Even our visit is scheduled closely: there are certain days next week that we've been asked to stay indoors during. Just for a few hours, early in the week on two separate days. Some of the local communities are apparently pretty worried about security. They don't want us seeing where they come from or where they go.This morning wasn't such a day. I watched a caravan come in about an hour ago, twenty semi trucks full of food. It was a major delivery, one Georgetown only sees once every three months at best. These were winter stores, traded for raw iron to a group of survivors a hundred miles or so to the west.It was a very orderly affair, including the cleanup of the fifty zombies that followed the trucks, as well as several that had stowed away under the trailers. Again my hat goes off to Georgetown--they handled the killing and cleanup of the undead with mechanical efficiency. I guess this happens a lot. With their ability to defend themselves so well honed, it's no wonder large groups of zombies no longer attack here.The same discipline that serves them in fights and in running a tight ship also extends to punishment for people who fail to meet their standard. I had no idea when the shipment came in that there was a man missing from the welcoming committee Georgetown puts together for every group of transports. It was only after, when I saw the guilty party slowly walking toward the gate where the trucks were being directed through, that I became aware that something was wrong.The man was clearly hung over, and the person in charge of overseeing the shipment had a very loud, angry talk with him. He wasn't belligerent or over the top, but more sounded like a military commander whose soldier had failed him. Disappointed him.I watched the whole thing, listened to what they said. It was an educational experience. I'm not one to judge another community on how they carry out punishments for failing to comply with agreed-upon rules. If these folks have all decided that alcohol is not a good idea in the face of zombie swarms, that's their business. If the drunkard in question failed his duty because he broke the rules, I can't argue when he accepts the punishment.Which, by the way, is three days in "The Box". After asking about it, one of the locals showed me.The Box is a cinder block structure about five feet high with a flat aluminum roof. It's maybe three feet wide on a side, which means a man of average height wouldn't be able to stand or sit comfortably in it. People who go in there get no food but as much water as they can drink--there's a tap inside that's fed by the local well--and a drain in the floor for bodily waste. It isn't the most inhumane setup I've seen, but it's pretty bad.Worse, when you realize The Box sits about twenty feet from where they process the iron ore. The heat is tremendous. The Box gets to about a hundred and twenty degrees inside on a bad day. I can't imagine anyone putting themselves in the damn thing by choice, but it's widely accepted in Georgetown. Failure to meet standards for safety of the group means time in solitary.It makes my skin crawl. I know, I know, New Haven has some pretty brutal means of reminding people of the importance of the group, and I'm not judging. Maybe it was the years of training back in college, days spent wearing turnout gear as I learned what it was to be a firefighter, but I just hate the idea of crouching uncomfortably in a little stone shack, cooking for days on end.I can only theorize what must have happened to these folks to drive them to such extremes. Whatever it was, it had to have been horrible to degrees that I can't fathom. I'm feeling sick just thinking about it.Monday, November 21, 2011
Third Law
Posted by Josh Guess
Newton's third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I'm a physics nerd, but I wish Newton had spent a little time studying people. Sometimes what should be equal and opposite reactions are a bit...uneven when it comes to people.In the middle of the night, I heard that clanging of bells. From the sound of it, a few dozen of them. There's electricity here, but it's limited and not enough to power floodlights. So the people of Georgetown set up an ingenious early warning system: bells hooked up to tripwires.We were told within the first ten minutes of being here to listen for the bells, what they meant. So when the team and I heard them, we reacted. We've been warned not to try to insert ourselves into defensive formations, for our safety as much as the people in them. We haven't drilled with them and would probably throw their rhythm off.Fortunately, the company that built this place back before The Fall wasn't very creative with the housing they put in place for the workers. The on-site dwellings are uniform and flat-roofed, and the Georgetown natives were smart to choose to live in them and build their wall nearby. We climbed onto the roofs, the team and I, and used our bows to great effect.From our perch on the roof closest to where zombies were coming over the wall, we could see the field. A few men had set up large, battery powered lights. New Breed zombies were moving across the land outside, repeating their trick of dragging and carrying long pieces of trees with them. Groups of them set the logs against the wall, running up them and leaping over the wicked spikes on top of the barrier in front of them. The section they'd chosen to attack had fewer defensive measures on top than others. A weak spot, one I'm sure was deliberate to invite attack at a place where the inner defenses were strongest.My team and I, using our bows, had good luck picking off zombies as they ran toward the top of the wall. After a few minutes I noticed other groups doing the same from other rooftops. They even threw us more arrows when we started to run low.Seeing the wall was covered, I ordered the team to start choosing targets down below. Enough zombies managed to get over the wall that the fighting had spread more than fifty feet in toward the center of town. We had to be careful, obviously. We didn't try to take down any zombies that were actively engaged with defensive groups.At least, not until a few of the zombies started running up the backs of their counterparts and landing inside the hollow defensive squares. Then we didn't have much choice.It was a bad night. We finally cleared them, but Georgetown lost twenty people. The survivors seem as stoic about their losses as they are about everything else. I haven't seen a tear fall yet.It's disturbing.Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Birthday Bash
Posted by Josh Guess
Yesterday was my birthday, the second I've had since the zombie plague came. It was also one of the days we were asked to stay inside while a shipment came. We complied, obviously--we have no desire to antagonize our hosts. Not only for the sake of fanning the flames of friendship we've started here, but also for practical reasons: we really want to trade for metal at some point. Eventually the easily recycled stuff will run out, and iron will be a much needed commodity.From what we could hear inside the small home we're staying in, things didn't go smoothly. There was a lot of muffled argument filtering through our windows. We couldn't make out the words, but the tones were extremely harsh. I didn't hear any fighting erupt, but then the visitors and our hosts were moving as we heard them. Anything could have happened a hundred yards away and we'd never know about it.That said, none of the natives seem concerned. No one looks like violence happened yesterday. No one seems upset. So either nothing happened, or the people here are universally unconcerned with it. I give that a small chance of being the case, and that only because Georgetown is culturally pretty stoic. Restrained.We made the best of it, though. Will and Rachel had the forethought to bargain for some supplies, trading an extra bow for cake mix, milk, eggs, and a can of icing. Bill, it turns out, loves to bake. The mental image of the wandering preacher, a tough as nails, desert-tanned zombie killing machine and survivalist, will forever be marred by the actual memory of him humming as he moved about the kitchen making my birthday cake.It was a pretty good cake, too.I wasn't expecting presents, but again I was surprised by my team. Will gave me a weapon he traded for here in Georgetown--a steel spike, about a foot long, with a grip on it and a guard to keep my hand from slipping down when I use it. The hilt is tapered and has a split chisel tip, which lets me use it as a pry bar.Bill made the cake, which was present enough. Rachel gave me a small journal she'd written a story in, just for me. That's a hell of a thing. Steve, who has a lot of practical experience with massage therapy, worked out some of the kinks in my upper back. Becky gave me three homemade grenades. She's so sweet.We sat in our little house and played games, talked for hours, and ate food. For a time we weren't teammates, survivors, or any of that. We were just friends. Five who knew each other well, one who we enjoyed getting to know a little better. Those kinds of days are much more rare now, but they're so much sweeter for that. It's been a long while since I've felt...how do I put it? Special? Pampered? I'm leading the team, so I'm usually the center of attention, but it was really nice for it to be a wholly positive and stress free kind of attention for once.I'll fully admit, it was nice to have what felt like an old-school birthday. For the day to be just about me. Everyone had a good time, and I'm thrilled about that. I love seeing people smile and have a good time, and the memory of my friends, old and new alike, sitting around a table together with no concern more pressing than making each other laugh is one that will sustain me. One I will cherish.It was a good day.Thursday, November 24, 2011
A Day Like Any Other
Posted by Josh Guess
Today we don't get any turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, or any of the other delicious things that usually go along with Thanksgiving. I wouldn't even have remembered it was today if Rachel hadn't reminded me.It doesn't bother me anymore, losing the holidays. Thanksgiving is important, but the longer we manage to survive in this new world the more I become convinced that just as society has changed and begun to evolve in a different direction, so must the old things eventually fade with them.So today I'll think about all the people back home I miss, and reflect on how thankful I am for the members of the team who remain. Not to mention Bill, a new friend and companion.Really, I'm thankful for a lot. I wasn't intending this post to be a predictable list of those things, but I guess it's sort unavoidable given the season. I'm happy and grateful for the people of Georgetown, who have been courteous, polite, and helpful toward us. The zombie plague has had hundreds or perhaps thousands of secondary consequences including distrust of strangers. For these people, as it is with many, this is especially true. For them to allow us to stay for so long, to work with us fairly, is amazing.At the same time, I'm really happy that there's no prohibition against us fraternizing with people. The man thrown into the box the other day, whose name is Greg, is one of the few people here who will talk to us openly. He doesn't have the guarded demeanor most of the natives share. I've tried to ask him about some of the more curious elements we've noticed around here, but he didn't seem comfortable talking about a lot of that.He's really personable as long as the conversation stays away from what are apparently sore subjects like the lack of children and pregnant women here. He's funny and expressive, and he's a demon at playing cards. He spent a while with us last night. I didn't smell any booze on him, so maybe his days in the box helped him kill that demon.We should be wrapping up here in the next day or two. We've actually already finished hammering the trade deal out, the team and I are just waiting on a group of traders to come in tomorrow from our next stop on this leg of the trip. We'll be following them home, and their business here won't take more than a day. I'm happy with what we've done here, and happy to be moving on to the next stop.The only concern I have is that the part of the country we're headed into is very heavily populated by zombies. Worse, it's painfully clear that the new breed is spreading quickly and is going to cause problems for us. They're already causing disruptions in the local trade, and it isn't going to get better as they spread.We'll fight them, of course, but they're strong, clever, and difficult to kill.So I guess more than anything this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for long-range weaponry and well-calibrated sights.Friday, November 25, 2011
Troubled Man
Posted by Josh Guess
The shipment to Georgetown came early and was unloaded very fast, so we're on our way. We just left Georgetown about fifteen minutes ago, and I'm running the generator for the transmitter while we're on the move. It's a nice alteration to the trailer a few of the metalworkers in Georgetown did for us as a parting gift, the only one they could give. Now the generator fits into a snug port in the wall of the trailer, the controls on the inside while the exhaust stays out. There's even a sheet of metal to go over the hole for when we want to move it somewhere else. Even so, we won't run it long while it's in the trailer. I'd rather not risk it overheating or blowing up right next to my head, thanks.Bill is still with us, but he's not himself. He isn't a sunny, happy kind of fella to start with. Think more in terms of a monk, calm and collected but not overly emotional about small things. That's why we're worried, because he's been brooding all morning about something, but he won't tell us what it is.He spent most of last night talking with Greg in private. I wondered at first if perhaps Greg was looking for guidance about his drinking, maybe even having a spirited debate about religion with Bill. As the night wore on and we caught glimpses of the two men as we walked back and forth through our borrowed house, the less sure I was that either of those things were the case.They talked in low voices almost the entire time. Once or twice, I saw a look on Bill's face that could only be described as pure outrage. It isn't an expression that fits him well, like he's trying to mimic someone else's reaction. Eventually the conversation between them grew heated, moving into fierce whispering and tense body language. The team and I were on our toes in case things got ugly, but it never got that far. Greg left not long after their apparent argument, and Bill clammed up. We haven't gotten more than two words in a row out of him since.He's sitting on the edge of the bed in the trailer, five feet away from me but a million miles from here. His head is resting at an angle against the glass, and the look on his face...the best word I can use for it is haunted. He's red-eyed and lost, and I don't know what to do for him.I'll have to ask the others what they think, as discreetly as possible. I don't know Bill well enough to be able to get a good read on him, and I don't want to offend if I can help it. How do you go about helping a man so obviously depressed about something when you know he's the one who usually helps others? What do you say to him that he hasn't said a thousand times before?I've been writing this blog most days for the better part of two years, yet I can't seem to find the right words to comfort him. It's frustrating to sit here and feel so impotent. I'm hoping that with a little time and the right approach, we can get Bill to open up about whatever it is that has him so bothered. He survived the deaths of every person he knew and loved, found purpose in his mission to help others, and survived on the open road for months on end despite the threat of constant attack by roving zombies.Whatever's wrong, how can it possibly be worse than any of that? I wonder if he had a similar reaction then, or if he's just gotten the piece of bad news that finally put him past his breaking point. Time and distance might be the only thing that will help him heal. We'll see.Saturday, November 26, 2011
Revelation of Saint Bill
Posted by Josh Guess
The rage going through me right now is so fucking powerful that I can barely make myself calm down and type. Bill finally told us what was on his mind, but he made sure to wait until we were at our next stop and set up for the night, ready to go to sleep.Greg explained to Bill all about Georgetown, you see, and made him promise not to tell anyone until we'd gotten far enough away that we couldn't easy or quickly get back there to make trouble. Even so, the team and I are still awake. We have been all night.How the hell could we sleep knowing every man and woman in Georgetown were marauders?Oh, they're "reformed", all people that wanted to give up their running and start fresh. I'm not blind to that urge, I don't doubt that people can and do genuinely feel guilty about the things they've done. But Bill told us everything Greg passed on to him, which he did cold sober, and it makes me sick.For example, the little place I call Georgetown still had people in it when the first fifty or so marauders called it quits and decided to settle there. Twenty-seven human beings that had survived hell and worse tried to send those first marauders packing. They chose to fight rather than let murderers or worse live with them, and it cost every one of them their lives.The reason we had to stay locked up the other day was because a group of active marauders were the ones coming in to trade. Yeah. They still do business with them. Greg claimed only the less destructive tribes of them get to deal with Georgetown, like Kincaid and his bunch who've integrated back home at New Haven.Damn it. I don't know how to feel. I'm so angry, but part of that is at myself for not realizing it myself. No kids there, because marauders don't have them. Greg told Bill that the discipline there is to make every citizen remember where they came from, and to warn them about falling back into old patterns. They've agreed not to allow any children to be conceived for the near future.Worried about marauders taking killing them, believe it or not. Not to mention a little fear that raising kids in such a harsh, strict atmosphere would make for rebellious and dangerous youth. Wild kids. Little marauders themselves, maybe.Jesus, I don't even know where to go from here. Nothing I can do about it in any case. Even if my team could put up some kind of fight against them, would we want to? They aren't hurting anyone now, and the resources they provide will be sorely needed in the coming months and years.After all, the zombies aren't going away. The new breed is quickly spreading, and I'm afraid they're a threat great enough to destroy the rest of us just as the first zombies did the majority of humankind. Can we afford to fight each other at all anymore?I need to think.Monday, November 28, 2011
Letting Go
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm afraid this stop and maybe the next will be kept completely undocumented on the blog. Citing security issues, the leadership is concerned about angry people coming after them for continuing trade with Georgetown now that their secret is out.I wanted to be angry about people keeping the status quo with no repercussions to Georgetown, but I found it almost impossible. I was still running hot when I wrote my last post, but I've had time to calm down and talk to some people. I've gotten a fair amount of perspective in the last day.Here's the thing: I think I'm more angry about them not being upfront about it than anything. I'm a strong believer in redemption and making choices, especially hard ones. I don't know what each and every one of the citizens of Georgetown have done, but they all made the decision to stop. To work together. To be better.I can't argue with that. I honestly don't want to know what crimes they may have committed. It isn't our place to act as executioners because of things people have done. That may not be fair to those who've had their lives ruined or ended by them, but survivors understand about dealing with the now. Can humanity afford to lose so many? I don't think so.On that note, something important has become apparent as we've headed further west. We saw it in Georgetown, and here at our current location it's even more obvious: there are way more living people out here than we expected. The community we're currently staying in as guests has almost a thousand people, and from what I'm told that isn't especially large for this neck of the woods.It's balmy and nice here, a comfy sixty degrees at night, and the land is farmed most of the year. It never snows (or almost never, at any rate) and the land is fertile. Lots of oranges and other fruits grow here easily. The network of survivors in just this group's immediate circles numbers close to ten thousand.I thought about that for a long time, and it makes sense. How else could the people here manage to trade enough food to keep the hundreds of hungry mouths in Georgetown fed as they mined the earth, unless there were many more here to work the land? I did the math, and it works out if you think about it. If the plague of zombies killed as much as 99% of the population, that would have left roughly three million people alive in America alone.I don't know if that's the case, but experience shows that larger groups tend to gather in areas that are easy to farm or have valuable trade resources. I can't imagine how many people are alive along the west coast. I mean, ten thousand within just a few dozen miles of each other. That's nuts.But all of them need metals. Georgetown might be full of criminals that have done awful things, but they're ones that all decided at one point or another to change that. They punish themselves with strict rules and a harsh, spartan way of life. From a pragmatic viewpoint, people need what they produce, and badly. There might come a time when it's logistically feasible to seek justice for the things they've done...but that time isn't now.My people accepted Kincaid and his bunch. Georgetown isn't asking anyone to take them in, to live next to people who've lived a lifestyle counter to what the rest of us stand for. They're doing it on their own, and for now we all have to focus on the needs they meet for thousands of people who are living and in need. Not their victims, who I imagine are mostly dead and beyond any help other than a prayer.Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Like Stars in the Sky
Posted by Josh Guess

A lot has happened since my post yesterday. It's hard to even know where to begin.Since I can't talk about this community but for the barest, vague terms, let me point out a strange and illogical circumstance. It's sort of the basis of the events over the last day.It's this: with thousands of survivors living, working, and trading in such a small area, logic suggests that marauders would tend to stay away. After all, no band of them is big enough to raid the local areas without risking retribution by many times their number, right?For the most part that's true. The locals aren't threatened in their homes, though their farm holdings are huge and some quite far-flung, so marauders have been known to nibble at the edges. They also sometimes attack trade caravans, though they rarely have to harm anyone. They just take supplies, not lives or people.That was the case until yesterday around noon. Which was when, to everyone's surprise, a vast swarm of marauders came swooping in on us. The people we're staying with (whose community I'll call Harlen for the sake of not annoying everyone) responded with practiced ease. Bells sounded, which caused guards at posts farther away to sound others, and so forth, until even workers at the edges of the property knew that danger was coming.We saw the marauders heading toward Harlen from the north, maybe a hundred vehicles. There was a lot of time to see them approach, thanks to flat terrain all around, with Harlen's main cluster of buildings set on a hill looking over it. Nearly two hundred men and women, plus my team, stood on the cinder block wall surrounding the place. Most people had bows, some hand weapons, and even a smattering of guns. Our orders were to hold the marauders off long enough for the workers farthest away to reach the safety of the wall.We didn't have to.A hundred yards away, the marauders stopped. One of them got out of his vehicle, threw down his weapons, and ran for the main gate. He was yelling the entire time, but we couldn't make out what he was going on about until he got closer.Zombies, he said. Like the stars in the sky, too many to count.The marauders stopped before the walls were all that was left of more than fifty groups scattered across the northwest, from where we were relatively south all the way to the Canadian border and beyond. A hundred vehicles remained from nearly a thousand in the original group. The marauders had warned and joined up with anyone they knew or met along the way, moving many hundreds of miles south to our location.I don't know that I'd have believed anything he said, but after a few minutes of talking to us from outside the wall, his cohorts realized we weren't going to shoot him out of hand. A small group of them also threw weapons down and came toward us, half a dozen people carrying something wrapped in heavy plastic sheeting. When they got close enough for us to see, they threw it down and unrolled the contents.It was a zombie. From our distant vantage, it certainly looked like an example of the new breed, but we couldn't tell for sure. We had to know. Because from everything we'd gleaned about zombie behavior and the spread of the mutated versions of the plague, no new breed should have been that far north. Certainly not "too many to count".I turned to see if the team was willing to go down with me, and found Becky and Rachel already gone. They'd run for the front gate as soon they realized there was a body in that plastic. Neither showed the slightest fear when they went through the gate, seven men before them who might be killers, rapists, and god knows what else.Of course, by then there were at least fifty more people on the wall with bows who had joined us while the marauder was talking. That's a lot of arrows. The marauders knew where they were pointed.Becky examined the zombie, cutting almost surgically with her knife to check for the telltale signs. After a few minutes she faced the wall and nodded.There was a lot of discussion by our hosts after that. Fast talk. Had the marauders simply killed a new breed to trick their way inside the walls? If not, could we turn them away? How could we know it wasn't a trick?The marauders were anxious and getting impatient when a messenger shouted from below us. I recognized him--he was one of the kids that worked at the small communications center here. He shouted to us that about sixty miles northeast, another community had been hit. The people there, the few left, were running this way. One drew the short straw and stayed behind to send a warning.Thousands upon thousands of new breed. Coming this way.Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Horizon
Posted by Josh Guess
Harlen's leadership sent out a team of scouts yesterday on motorcycles. It took them a few hours to get back, but even that time is nearly miraculous in the times we live in. The roads in this area have long been cleared, making trade simple and easy, even if the gasoline runs out.Unfortunately it also makes an easy path to follow for the giant swarm of zombies headed this way. And that's what the scouts had to report: they are definitely going to hit us. Estimates put them here sometime tonight, possibly early next morning. The new breed are strong and fast, but we don't yet know if the energy they expend comes with a price. Do they rest in short bursts? The original strain of zombies went inert in the cold to conserve energy, so maybe the new breed can't walk or run straight here without stopping. The cold isn't slowing them down, either, though what the people in this place call cold is little more than a brisk spring morning back home, and Kentucky isn't nearly as cold as some places I've been...The preparations for the inevitable battle are going well. The team and I are going to help any way we can, but at the moment the major aspects are taken care of. I'll say this for Harlen and the surrounding communities--they're nearly mechanical in their preparations for war. Having so many people in such a small area of the country makes them a magnet for the undead, and the people here have the scars to prove it.I've got hope that this won't be a total disaster. As I said, the preparations and defenses are good, well-designed and don't rely too much on one element. Something that caught me by surprise was that there are protocols at the nearby communities for attacks like this. There's an agreement in place for reinforcements and aid, which makes sense given how close these folks are to each other. New Haven has no close neighbors, and the outside help we've had has been from trusted friends from far off.I'm not looking forward to the fight, I'll be honest. I'm twenty-nine years old, and I've had two birthdays since the zombie plague destroyed my world. Twenty one months of the undead, of surviving where no one had any right to manage it. I've killed the walking dead as well as living people, I've fought to protect, for revenge, for reasons less noble than both of those.I have no appetite for it. Oh, I'm want to live and to help provide for the safety of others, have no doubt. It's just that the careful black and white picture I've had of the world has been splashed with shades of gray and color over the last few months. Hated enemies in the form of marauders have become allies and in some cases trusted survivors in their own right. The swarms of undead have become more dangerous than ever, more a threat to the things I hold dear......And yet I can't bring myself to hate them. Nor do I feel anger, sadness, or any of the other things that used to come to mind when the threat of being devoured was staring me in the face. The zombie threat is, in my mind, now just a part of the world. It simply is, and there's nothing I can do to change that. Much as I would use an umbrella to escape the rain, I will stand behind a wall and defend from the onslaught. But hating them, worrying about the coming storm, is to me as useless and wasteful of my energies as being angry at the gods for a hurricane.There's change on the horizon, and it's approaching fast. Human beings are fabulous at adapting to ever-changing circumstances, and this one is no different. Maybe more difficult, but not insurmountable. Sometime in the next eighteen hours to a day, we're going to be fighting for our lives. Philosophy and reflection will take a back seat to the battle at hand, but it's the preservation of that ability, of the unique machine known as human intelligence, that will give us strength.We'll need all the strength we can get.Saturday, December 3, 2011
Bodies
Posted by Josh Guess
This is going to be a very short post, because I'm writing instead of eating on my lunch break. We've been working nonstop since the battle to get rid of all the zombies outside the walls of Harlen. Turns out that thousands of bodies are a bear to get rid of, even with help.If they were all or even mostly dead it wouldn't be a problem. That isn't the case. Some of them were burned so badly that enough of the pervasive organism controlling the bodies was destroyed that they're dead. That helps. But most of the burned ones were only damaged and trapped, their immobility ranging from total to the ability to crawl.Then there are the ones taken out by traps. Cutting off feet and damaging legs in general is a great way to greatly decrease how much of a threat they are, but it means having to go out and finish them off as well. We're working in two person teams. Steve is my partner. One of us carries a shield to deflect potential attacks and to hold the zombie down, while the other uses a "push spike", which is a nifty weapon designed by one of Harlen's residents. It's basically a four foot length of metal with a wicked sharp point, and a footrest about a foot from the bottom.Guy with the shield bashes the prone zombie stupid, holds it down by the neck with the shield, and you lift the spike with your foot on the rest. Push with your arms as you step down, and it treats a skull like butter. Rinse and repeat.Like, three hundred times. We lost count.There are about two hundred of us doing this job. Most of the others are managing the pyres, which teams of porters are carrying in after we kill the zombies. They pyres are fed by wood being cut from the edge of the clearing, which is why it's so far back. They've done this every time a big attack has come this way, taking the treeline back a little every time. Fresh wood doesn't burn well, of course, but douse it with enough accelerants and eventually it goes. Helps that zombie physiology makes them burn pretty easy.Everyone is working two shifts a day. Half of us are doing cleanup while the other half works the fields. The ashes will be used to fertilize the crops, which would bother me if I didn't know how fire treats bacteria and other harmful organisms. They've been doing it for months with no negative results, which is enough for me.Shift change will come at four, when the people in the fields will come to relieve us, and the people clearing now will head out to finish whatever's left of the picking, watering, and hauling before coming back to make dinner and help in whatever way is needed. Everyone but my team have their jobs laid out--we just clean up, sixteen hours a day. Which isn't all that bad, to be honest.As soon as the cleanup is done, we'll be heading to our next stop. We've managed to get a lot done in our off hours since the attack, because the leadership of the surrounding communities came here to help. They stayed, saving us from running the circuit to them, and in a few short hours the team and I have managed to get all the deals we were going to offer to them hammered out and done.That's saved us weeks, in all likelihood. I'm glad this attack happened, which sounds strange. It saved us a lot of time and taught the team and I some brilliant defensive ideas. New Haven will be well served by them, as will everyone else that can use them.I'm thrilled we managed to get the other local leaders to hang around. Not having to visit them and getting it all done now is perfect. Yeah, the team and I lost a lot of sleep, but we can now make an uninterrupted run for Mountain View. It's a long drive, but our next stop will take us to Google HQ.Finally, I can thank them in person. We won't be staying there long, but the few hours of our visit will be...game-changing.I went too long. I hear the bell telling me I'm late for work.Sunday, December 4, 2011
Amnesty Day
Posted by Josh Guess
Wow. Not being home has its disadvantages. I've grown used to the fact that I'm not in the middle of all the command decisions around New Haven anymore, but I still usually get a heads-up when big things are going down behind the scenes. What with all the zombies attacking and various outbreaks of crazy shit over the last few weeks, I've been out of the loop.Part of this is because I have a big mouth, and I probably wouldn't have been able to keep this news to myself. Starting today, for one week, all marauders will be granted amnesty at any of the communities within the trade network we've established. Any prisoners they may have can be released peacefully with no questions asked, and the captors will be allowed three days of grace to move toward any distant community that will take them. For seven days communities all over the country will be allowing marauders an avenue to escape the horrible cycle they're locked in.I have to admit, I'm kind of excited to see how it works. Word from home is that Kincaid and his people have adapted well to New Haven even with the restrictions they've been given. It's nearly impossible to live with the kind of group psychosis it takes to do the things the marauders have done. It must take a toll, and I imagine that many communities will impose punishments or restrictions of their own in exchange for taking in these men and women. I've also been led to believe that most marauders will accept them.There will be a darker side to this. I don't see how it can be avoided. There will certainly be people who will not choose to accept a place with other survivors under any circumstances. I imagine this amnesty will cause a huge wave of turmoil among the more hardcore marauders. I can't begin to guess how that's going to play out. Hopefully without bloodshed...I'm going to cut this short. There's still cleanup to do, and it looks like we'll be finished by early afternoon. The team and I want to get moving as quickly as possible, so it's time to finish up the job at hand, then pack. We'll be on the road by dinner.Monday, December 5, 2011
The Waves
Posted by Josh Guess
We're in California right now, and what I'm seeing is truly incredible. I'm on a beach, sitting back on a towel. I'm eating a hamburger. It's hot and fresh.We're not in a major metropolitan area, but the folks back in Harlen were nice enough to send us toward a small group of people that act as intermediaries between the Harlen area communities and Google (and the survivors who live nearby) to the north.I even went swimming. Granted, the water is about sixty degrees, so it wasn't for long, but I went. The world is a darker and more scary place than it was two years ago, but I'll be damned if my first trip to the west coast was going to be made without a dip in the ocean.It's funny to me that we've faced zombies and other threats, fought for our lives time after time and scrabbled in the dirt to make our own food grow...yet when presented with a safe section of beach and a hot meal, I can fall right back into the old comfortable feeling of the way things were. Right now we're being fueled up to head north (since our last stop was further east and much more southerly than where Google is) and the locals told us to take a load off, enjoy some relaxation.Can't say it was a bad idea at all.In talking with our hosts, I've learned quite a bit about this area of the country. A lot of people have survived around here, and the zombie population is nowhere near as bad as you'd expect. The sheer numbers of people in places like Los Angeles, for example, kept the zombie population down even as the outbreaks spread. One person would turn, and six would kill the new zombie. Then five. Then four, and so on until the zombies were thinned out to small numbers and the remaining survivors had learned to steer clear of them. Fighting the undead is sometimes necessary, but successfully hiding from them is always smart.It helps that California is huge and capable of supporting many different kinds of crops. Yeah, it gets fairly cold here, but nothing close to what we deal with back home. It's about fifty degrees out right now, and it feels good to me. No rain. The guy cooking the burgers (there's a huge cattle farm about an hour from here) is wearing a winter coat. It's unzipped, but still...There are also several different industries being kept up in this state aside from the work the good people at Google are carrying out. Estimates are that nearly half a million people are still alive in this state, though I have to think that's probably a very high guess. I'd say realistically about half that, since two hundred thousand is the last number put together by any kind of census. It's enough people to manage large-scale farming all over the state, work metals, even build new structures and vehicles if there are parts available.In fact, there is way more than enough being produced here than the various communities need. Moving any of it on a large scale to those of us who want to trade for it, especially as far away as my old Kentucky home, is the problem. Fuel will only last so long. Google is hopefully going to help us come up with a solution.I have a few ideas of my own. We should be there by tomorrow night if all goes well.Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Stranded
Posted by Josh Guess
Will is not my preferred driver. It's not that he's bad, just that he doesn't pay attention as well as he should sometimes. Take this morning, for example: we decided to take it slow yesterday, camp out someplace cozy and spend some time enjoying the scenery on the last leg up to the Google campus. Naturally, when we hit the road, Will had to slam us into a pothole roughly the size of Jupiter, which had some debris in it. Pointy metal debris.We lost both tires on the rear driver side of the truck. Now we've got to go searching for replacements somewhere, which is going to eat up a lot of time. Not to mention the area has a zombie population, though how much of one I couldn't say. It's lucky we're driving a truck that's not uncommon, even though it's the heavy duty six-tire version.I'm at the camp we set up next to the truck and trailer. Bill is with me, since he still can't get around very well. He's walking, though, which is a good sign. The crutches look good on him.The others are working in one team. Rachel and Becky will provide cover for Will and Steve if they find a suitable vehicle. The girls have proven to be a very strong team, and they seem to have an almost instinctive ability to watch out for each other with little to no prompting. Will and Steve are good, but they are both pretty confident as fighters, maybe a bit too confident. I'm glad they'll be doing the heavy lifting portion of the trip. Will and Steve are more suited to it, while the girls are faster and more responsive.Yeah. This is me trying to keep myself sane as we're hit with another delay and an avoidable one at that. It's gonna be a long day, even if the first vehicle they come to has what we need. Of course, if the team happens to run across such a thing, we might spend a bit more time stripping spare parts off it.Hmm. There are a couple of zombies roaming around the edge of the woods a few hundred feet away. Even from here I can see they're original flavor, shuffling around clumsily and without purpose. We'll keep an eye on them, and put arrows through their heads if they get too close.Damn, a few more just followed them out of the woods. I think we've been spotted.Thursday, December 8, 2011
The Slammer
Posted by Josh Guess
Those zombies we saw were playing possum with us. They were new breed, pretending to be slow and weak to throw us off. Bill and I had to make the choice on whether to fire at them with guns and risk drawing more of them down on us, or use our bows and maybe get killed. So I made a command decision.I tucked Bill into the trailer, as his bad leg wouldn't have let him go anywhere, and I drew them off by running down the road like a madman.I know, it sounds stupid and careless, but it really wasn't. We haven't survived on the road for this long by being idiots who don't plan ahead. I snagged my backpack when I left, which holds food for several days, canteens and water purification tabs, and a small battery powered transmitter that gives me about twenty minutes of cell use. More, since my solar charger is with me as well.Would have been nice to remember my gloves, but at least I'm wearing my winter coat. It's a bit chilly.The portable transmitter was a gift from Harlen, one I hoped never to need. It fits the plans the team and I came up with for search and rescue very well, and while I don't like having to use it, I'm happy to report that I've just been on the phone with Will and the others, who have the truck up and running. They're probably outside my hiding place right now, trying to figure out how to set me free without getting me killed. There's a little town about three miles north of where we were stranded, and the team knew to search in very specific parameters for me. Luckily the transmitter allowed me to save them time and just tell them where I was...Hell, I might as well come out and say it. I'm in jail.When you have a swarm of thirty undead behind you (I picked up a few on the run here) any secure location is a good location. The doors to the police station were barred and locked, the place looked like no one had been in it since The Fall began. So I dug in my pocket for one of the best survival tools in the world--shavings from the ceramic on a spark plug--and flung it at the glass double doors of the station. They shattered as if I'd put a bullet in them, and I ducked in.The zombies were right behind me, maybe twenty feet. The cells were all open, and they were old ones. No electronic locks that I could see. Not that I had a lot of time to look. I grabbed a set of cuffs off the floor as I ran, just in case, and slipped into a cell. I threw the bars shut and locked the cuffs on the door and the stationary portion of the bars, making my own lock. Not that I needed it, as it turns out. The click I heard as I closed the thing was indeed the door lock engaging.The zombies came into the station behind me, having been slowed by the doors a little. Guess it took them a minute to figure out how to duck through. They just crowded around the door, watching me. They didn't try to stick their hands in to grab and I wasn't stupid enough to get close enough to tempt them.Look at me, talking in the past tense. I'm still locked in here, and they're still out there. I've had a good long time to study this little station house. There are guns here, and what looks like a good supply of ammo. I think I saw a gas pump through the back door as I ran in. Maybe there's still fuel to be had. Got to love these little old police stations, having their own gas delivered. Bless them.Bill isn't very happy we made a plan to keep him safe without telling him. He didn't like being left behind, but a sustained attack on the truck and trailer would have led to us getting killed and the team left without a vehicle. I had to run because he couldn't, had to draw off the enemy. Done it before, will probably have to do it again one day.I'm irritated that it took so long for the others to get the truck mobile, but apparently there's a real scarcity of giant truck tires that will fit our rig. They got there in the end. They'll get here soon if they aren't already. I just wonder how they're going to kill all these zombies with any kind of safety. Can't fire guns without risking a ricochet hitting me. Even if they manage it, don't know how this door is going to open.I'm really hoping there's a key around this place somewhere.Friday, December 9, 2011
Jailhouse Rocked
Posted by Josh Guess
When it comes to scaring off zombies, fire usually works really well. When those same zombies have set up a relatively clever defensive position inside a building, something with a little more subtlety is called for.God, did I pick the wrong team for subtle.You'll be happy to know that I'm no longer trapped in a cell with hungry new breed zombies waiting for me to make a mistake. Will, Rachel, Steve, and Becky tried a frontal assault yesterday, but I shouted at them before they could breach the front doors. They might have cleared the token force of undead left outside to guard, but the majority were in with me. Waiting. About half of them hiding in clever little spots, waiting to drop down on one of my friends, or to snag an ankle from under a desk.Becky's idea of subtlety was yelling for me to flip the bunk if possible and cover myself in the mattress to block debris from the explosion.Yes. The explosion.She's scary at times. Becky had a bit of her homemade  dynamite left. We used all the big sticks, but she made some smaller ones for occasions when a whole lot of boom wasn't needed. Three massive waves of compressed air slamming me against the wall later, and the zombies were in a panic. Those that hadn't been incapacitated or outright killed by the blasts (more numerous than you'd think. The explosions weren't that large) were scared out of their minds by the light and noise. They lost all cohesion as a unit, running to escape careless of the dangers.My people were ready for them. It was a slaughter.We've learned something very important about the new breed with this incident. Old school zombies, excepting smarties, were mindless and unafraid of most things. Fire scared them, and ammonia drove them off. Their sense of smell is a key element to how they operate, I think that's obvious now. But loud noise and brief flashes of light were not the sort of things that ran them off, much less drove them crazy.And it wasn't a brief sort of madness the new breed was showing. A human being, when hit with a flash/bang grenade, will have his senses of sight and hearing overwhelmed for a short while. People, living people, have the intellectual capacity to override the panic and confusion that such a device creates. New breed zombies clearly don't.That's HUGE. If sound can affect them so strongly, if overwhelming their senses can drive them to mindless fear, then we've got weapons to use against them. I have to assume that ammonia will still work on them since they use their noses like all zombies. I wish I could take the time to test some of the ideas I have. Damn the zombie apocalypse for making me feel like a mad scientist!I suppose I should mention that we made it to the Google campus safely. We'll be here the day, then off again tomorrow. I'm going to take tomorrow's post to tell you about a project the engineers here want to attempt on a small scale to see if it's viable. It's neat. I'm eager to tell you!But not today.Saturday, December 10, 2011
Trains
Posted by Josh Guess
I told you yesterday that the good folks at Google were working on a project. It's a potential game changer. The largest single problem we face as a society is that we aren't one single society anymore. We're a scattering of survivors, most of whom want to trade and deal with each other but limited by the fuel we can find or have stockpiled. Once that's gone, we're back to horse-and-buggy days. Which doesn't do much for sending perishable goods thousands of miles.While we're using the massive fuel reserves from Sparta, they won't last forever. There are doubtless millions of gallons of fuel out there, and pretty much everyone has people looking for and gathering it. Again--once those reserves are gone, we're in trouble.So the lads and ladies here are working on a solution. They're building a hybrid engine for a train that basically uses alcohol to power a generator to run the electric engine of the train. It's the same thing many trains have done for years with diesel fuel, but this is a fuel we can make ourselves reliably. The really hard part is (apparently, since I'm not a mechanical engineer) getting the efficiency high enough to make long trips. Remember, back home in Kentucky we've got access to tens of thousands of gallons of the stuff, and we've got stills set up to reduce it to pure ethanol.Yes. The idea these geniuses have is to enable trade by powering trains with moonshine. It makes a country boy proud.It isn't exactly an engineering conundrum, don't misunderstand. It looks very likely that success on the project is close. The larger problem is going to be planning routes, organizing trade stops, refueling, and of course making sure that the tracks aren't screwed up everywhere they want to send the thing. That means teams of people traveling all over America checking rails and making sure the right switches are engaged. It's huge and complicated and makes me thankful these people have lots of computers at their disposal. Just thinking about managing that huge mess is giving me a nosebleed.On the small scale side, the idea is to run a closed route between Google HQ and the communities near Harlen. It's ideal since Harlen and the rest provide literally tons of food to the Googlers. If it works out, then they'll begin work on a much farther-reaching version. I've got my fingers crossed.It just takes time. We've got some leeway for trade with the remaining fuel out there, but I'm confronted by the interesting reality that eventually things are going to change. I was such a big supporter of alternative fuels and energy sources, and now I'm seeing new infrastructure being born for them. It's not that we wouldn't use the old stuff if we could, but that's just not possible anymore. I'm not happy that it took the destruction of everything I knew to make this happen, but I'm not sad to see these changes happening.Silver linings, you know?I'm happy to see any foundations for our future being laid. We don't have the power or people to mine coal or run big power plants. But all of us can raise a crop and ferment it with a little training. Anything we can use to make the future brighter and easier is on the table for us. Ironic that large-scale ethanol production wasn't feasible before because so much of it would have been needed to service the population, and the drastic reduction in the population now makes it a perfect fuel.We're heading out. I'll be thinking about this for days now.Sunday, December 11, 2011
Oregon Trail
Posted by Josh Guess
A few things about Oregon:I've never been here.And it's cold. Almost biblical in intensity.Luckily there seems to be a limit to how cold a zombie will get before it just says to hell with it and goes into the weird hibernation state they have. Pretty much all of them used to get stiff and begin to wind down when it got into the fifties or lower. Then the damn things started getting cold resistant. Lucky for the human race that when the mercury hits ten degrees below freezing or so, they begin to freeze up and lose mobility.Funnily, that seems to be the temperature our portable heaters seem incapable of dealing with as well. Or at least that was when the first one started going wonky on us. We decided to make camp and get cozy, setting up a nice fire and throwing up canvas around it in a dome to hold some of the heat. It isn't ideal, but we decided not to risk a propane heater blowing up on us.Human flesh will freeze at a certain point, be it human or zombie. We're unconcerned with being attacked given it's about fifteen degrees where we are. If there's a zombie walking anywhere around, we'd hear him crack the frost on the ground and the crunching sound of his frozen skin long before he could be a threat to us.The team and I find ourselves in a strange situation. We've stopped, made camp, and have a good amount of leeway before getting to the next community on our list. Will is taking the chance to get some hunting in to replenish our food supply (and because he gets some sick thrill from murdering furry woodland creatures, I'm sure) while Steve stays here and plays homemaker.He's humming as he flits about the camp, making food and checking the canvas, setting up chairs and getting plates out. Steve has become a darker and more dangerous person since The Fall began, but moments like these, where safety isn't as much a concern, remind me just how much of that is necessity. When he doesn't have to be violent and deadly, the truest parts of him have a chance to shine. His thoughtfulness, his concern for others. The happy smile on his face that shines when we thank him for the wonderful food and all his effort. Some nights I let myself remember what I'm missing back home in New Haven, and the loneliness starts to overwhelm me. He's always there with a hug and words of understanding. He never shows it, but I know he misses Courtney something fierce.He's a stronger man than I am by far. You might never know it to look at him unless you got to know him well. I kind of feel bad for people that don't know him as I do. Everyone should have a Steve.Becky and Bill are sitting on the other side of the fire. Steve keeps refilling their tea (I have no idea where the tea came from. Steve is just magic.) over their protests that they can do it themselves. The two of them are playing cards. I don't know the game, and I'm willing to put money on the idea that neither of them really knows it either. It looks complicated and involved. I'm glad I'm not playing, my brain is too muzzy and warm from the fire to care much about games at the moment.Rachel is writing next to me. She's not using a laptop. She likes her notebooks. It's one of the few concessions to carrying weight all of us agreed on. Rachel got to bring a stack of blank notebooks and a bag full of pens. She's a great storyteller, and her (almost creepily) good memory catches almost everything. She spent days writing about Mason after he went off to die, and today she's filling pages about Google and the brief time we spent there.You may wonder why I don't focus on that myself. I would, but the fact is that I was asked not to. Most people with any kind of internet access know the people in Mountain View are out there keeping communications open. Too many of the wrong people can read this blog. It's best if I don't share too much.One thing I can mention safely, though--they gave me a new laptop. They have a good stock of that kind of thing, obviously, and mine was getting a little buggy. This one was state of the art when The Fall came around, so it's the best I'll probably ever get to use. I don't know that we'll ever reach a point where computers are manufactured again in my lifetime.The thought doesn't bother me as much as you'd think. We're building again, and getting back to producing technology won't be nearly as hard this go around since no one has to start at square one. I'm just happy to see so many survivors, more than I'd have ever dreamed. A vast trove of people, with their experiences and skills being built on and passed to others. It's an excellent way to start over.Ah, I heard a gunshot. If Will hasn't had to drop an errant zombie, that might be our next month's supply of meat on its way. This is going to be a good day. So cold it makes your chest hurt, but good.Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Beacon
Posted by Josh Guess
We're still in Oregon. The team and I were making our way up to Washington state, where the last leg of our west coast trip will take place, when we caught a burst of sound from somewhere far away. It's lucky we had the windows cracked or we might not have heard it.It was a tornado siren. It came on and off seemingly at random, until Will realized it was Morse code. In the movies, someone always knows Morse code. I have two former military personnel with me, and yet none of the six of us could catch whatever it is those faraway people were trying to say.So, like idiots, we started to follow the sound. It may well have been a warning to stay the hell away, but on the off chance someone was calling for help, we had to at least check it out.Last night was when this happened. We followed the sound, which started a little while before dark, until it was too dangerous to drive. As we stopped to set up camp, we noticed a light burning in the far distance. It flickered with artificial regularity, going in and out in time with the breaks in the siren. A message, both audio and visual...curious.We've been searching the area for a while, but we can't figure out where the damn light was coming from. Based on where it appeared in the night, it was in the sky. But there are no mountains in that direction, nothing but a steep hill way too low to have been the source of the light.It's super irritating to know that someone was signaling deliberately, and that we can't find them. The whole damn point was to use the signal to find them, wasn't it?So we're on a break. The hill is going to be our next stop. Most of our view of that jutting fist of land is blocked by the town around us, so maybe checking out what's on the other side of it will help. Maybe we're missing something, like a water tower or a thin radio tower that we can't see from here. It's thin reasoning, but thin is going to have to do with no other leads to go on.A few observations about this town lead us to think that something strange is going on. Will and Becky scouted ahead a little bit, and they note that the place is in good repair. No trash on the streets, no evidence of fire or severe damage. Cars parked neatly, defensive barricades carefully installed and tended. This isn't some town abandoned in The Fall as zombies ran through it in waves. This is, or at least was until very recently, a large community of obviously capable and hardworking survivors. Steve and Rachel noted in their own run that large stores of food are secured in pockets around the town.Whoever lived here, they didn't die. There are no bodies. They didn't get hit by a swarm from what we can tell, and even if they did the swarm clearly didn't overwhelm the place. It looks like everyone ran at one time, but some of my own observations while walking beside Bill as he hobbled on his crutches lead me to think that we haven't begun to scratch the surface of what happened here.The houses, the shops, all the buildings here were obviously utilized. As far away from other survivors or major marauder travel lanes as we are, they had to have done it on their own. God only knows how they managed, but they did. We had no idea this little town existed until a few hours ago. I'm willing to bet that no one else did, either.So why, if the people that live here ran from something, did they take time to lock every door and secure every window with armored plates and wood? Why go to those lengths if you were running for your life from some kind of threat? Will broke into a house, thinking maybe they'd all locked themselves in and died (a gas leak or something?) but the house was empty.I love a mystery. As long as no large groups of zombies threaten us, this is one we'll put the time in to solve. If the undead do appear, this town will have to become a memory for us. Fingers crossed, all of you. I want to know what happened here.I need to know.Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The Bluff
Posted by Josh Guess
Being prisoner is not my idea of a good time, even if it's relatively pleasant captivity.You may have guessed, but for the record we found the people who live in this town. As it turns out, the beacon we saw wasn't for us. It was for the zombies that had massed around the town to attack. Sounds a little confusing, so let me tell you what happened to us. I think that will make it clear.We made our way to the hill in the direction the light was coming from not long after my post yesterday. It wasn't a perfect slope, raising up and dipping down pretty steeply before cresting again. In that small valley we saw the machinery that raised the signal light and the arm that housed the light itself. The whole thing goes up nearly a hundred feet, then retracts at the push of a button.We walked to the edge of the hill, and I say edge because the crest leads to a sheer drop of about two hundred feet. The other side is the remains of a quarry or open-air mine, I don't know which for sure. Whatever it was, the whole thing had been abandoned for decades because the people operating it blasted into the wall of the hill one day and discovered a magnificent set of natural caves. Cue civic response to save the caves, a lengthy legal battle, and after some time the site is shut down.As you can tell, I've asked some questions. Now that I'm writing it down I realize how stupid it was not to wonder whether it was a mine or a quarry. That's going to bug the hell out of me.At any rate, we made our way to the top of the hill and saw at least a thousand zombies at the bottom. Most of them were dead, burned and crushed by massive rocks. The people of the town were in the caves, gathered at the large blast hole in the side of the cliff that became a scenic overlook after the caves became a protected area. It was from that hole and from platforms set into the side of the cliff that were accessible from other, smaller holes that the townspeople rained down hell upon the swarm.The idea is to signal the staff on duty in the cave, who will raise the light tower and start the siren. That gets the attention of the zombies. The townspeople lock their houses and gather at the northwestern edge of town, where a large sewer entrance awaits. They discovered years ago that only a thin partition of earth separated the sewer from the caves. When The Fall came, they decided a nice hidey hole was just the thing. One knocked out wall of dirt and stone later, and you have a huge cave system to hide in.The folks here are practiced at luring zombies into the pit. They've got a pair of baiters that ride out on dirt bikes to get the zombies' attention and keep it once the siren goes off. The elegant part of the whole thing is that even if that doesn't work, by the time the zombies are paying attention to the town again, the people in it are gone, so they give up on attacking it. I've lost track of the number of creatively brilliant defenses I've seen since I left home, but I'll add this one to the list.Now, if they'd just let us out of these cells, my day would be perfect. At least they let me have my laptop and phone. I was kind of shocked to see cell service this far out, but these folks are self-sufficient in a lot of ways. They're suspicious of us because the only people they have contact with are marauders, who haven't been treated nicely (which is fair since marauders don't treat others nicely). They use their cell tower for communication with each other, and that's about it. They don't have a lot of curiosity about the rest of the world. They seem to be isolationists.I think they would have let us leave, if under guard, except for one detail: We broke into one of their houses. I don't think they're going to execute us or anything, but for the moment we aren't going anywhere.Thursday, December 15, 2011
Work Release
Posted by Josh Guess
The rest of us are being kept under lock and key until Will serves his sentence--he's got to rebuild the door and door frame of the house he broke into. That's not a quick and easy job like it used to be. He has to take the raw lumber (thankfully there's a supply of it here, this being Oregon and all, or he'd have to cut down a tree and start from scratch) and work it into what he needs. The door is salvageable with some work, but the frame is gonna be a job. He's putting in twelve hour days until it's finished, and spending his nights here in the cells with the rest of us.I wasn't wrong when I called these folks isolationists. As it happens, they've deliberately stayed away from outside communications since the first weeks of The Fall. The zombie attacks in this neck of the woods have been shockingly steady as undead move back and forth between California and Washington. The massive swarm that hit Harlen recently came close to this place, though that's a relative statement. Call it twenty miles from the main roads. We only came this far away from the highway because our next stop is westerly, and the maps we were given put us on this path. Said it was quicker. Ha.I don't know the names of anyone here. I don't know the original name of this town, or what they call it now if it's different. The desire to keep to themselves is strong, and I'll respect that. I won't share the location on the map with anyone, nor will my team. If these folks want to be left alone, that's their business.However.They aren't totally cut off. As I mentioned yesterday, marauders do make their way here once in a while. The locals have developed methods of dealing with the zombie swarms that take hand-to-hand combat out of the equation for the most part, and drastically reduce the need to expend ammo. I say that so you understand that every group of marauders to come this way has been met with overwhelming force in response. They save bullets and arrows by not having to use them on the undead. People with guns of their own are a different matter.The locals aren't quite as shy telling us the hearsay they get from the marauders they encounter. One place in particular I talked about with my guard is Crater Lake. I've been interested in it for a while, just as a bit of a geology nerd. It's the deepest lake in the US, a huge circular caldera from a collapsed volcano in the Cascade Mountains. The area itself was a national park before The Fall, and I've wanted to go there for a while. The views are supposed to be amazing. But my real point of interest is the island on the edge of the lake, Wizard Island. Yes, it's really called that. It's pretty big, and the summit of the thing is called the Witch's Cauldron, a 500-foot wide depression at the top of the volcanic cinder cone that built the isle.I've always thought it was neat, but now there are apparently people living there. I don't think we could make it up that far into the mountains in our vehicles at this time of year even if we had the time to try. The overwhelming likelihood is that the whole area is snowed in, given the altitude.I can't help but be curious, though. The island isn't huge, and the resources would be slim. Are they hauling what they need to build from the mountain itself and leaving the trees on the island alone? Are they hunting and fishing as their primary source of food? How many people live there, if it isn't a lie told by a desperate man? Damn my genetics for breeding an insane level of curiosity into me. I wanna know. Were the zombies in this state so terrible that people would decide to move thousands of feet up into the mountains rather than face the hordes? I want to know!But like most things in life, I'm probably not going to get my way. I have to admit, though, that the curiosity has been a nice distraction while we're locked up. I hope Will hurries, or we'll all die of boredom.Friday, December 16, 2011
Free Will
Posted by Josh Guess
‎"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."--Carl SaganI've been stuck in this cell for a few days. I've had a lot of time to catch up with people from around the country and especially back home. A great many events have transpired that are of interest to me, though not necessarily to you. One thing that I damn well should have talked about but lost track of was the amnesty for the marauders. The quote above, my favorite quote of all time, seems especially apt considering the events the amnesty brought about.I'm going off the rails here in just a minute onto a philosophical bender. Fair warning. Before I do that, I'll just give you the dirt: during the amnesty week, more than a thousand prisoners were released alive to various communities around the country, even a few in southern Canada. During that week, more than twice that number of marauders willingly chose to give up their ways and join communities of survivors. Most of them are living under strict guidelines, which they accept. Maybe being guarded and made to do the hardest work seems a fitting penance for the things they've done. This experiment is young, and only time will tell if it's a success.My two pennies is that a thousand released captives is a success any way you slice it.The almost insane amount of correspondence I've had over the last few days has given me a huge data set to work with. I'm sort of a polymath, not in the whole "being a genius at everything" sense, but more that I enjoy learning about virtually everything and looking at large problems or situations and trying to work out every side of them.The central question I asked myself when I learned that so many people had chosen to give up being marauders and to face the possible consequences of their crimes was a simple one: Why?That's a vague question, I know, but it spawns all kinds of reactions in my brain just as it must in yours. You know the facts well enough in a general sense to ask the same follow-up questions. Why would men and women so hell bent on surviving that they'd kill others to steal from them choose to face possible death from the very people they'd been preying on?A thousand other questions rise up as well. The amnesty was never meant to be a blanket pardon for all the things those people have done. Instead it was intended to serve as a cessation of hostilities (many communities have "kill on sight" orders when it comes to marauders) for a long enough time to establish a dialog. To move past the black and white stereotypes of Good guys and Bad guys. To make some headway into dealing with the violence between those who make a life for themselves and others and those who only take, take, take.I don't have a clue how many marauders there are (or were) in the US, so I can't hazard a guess on how effective the amnesty was in the sense of reducing their numbers through conversion. I don't believe we can think about the situation with the remaining marauders still wandering the highways as some kind of war we can win. It's a situation that exists, and one that has a huge range of possible and probable outcomes.I'm not focused on that right now. No, I'm still thinking over the deceptively simple question, "Why?". I've put a ton of time and thought into it, having nothing else to do, and I've come up with one simple answer and one very complex one. The complex first.Choice, free will, is a very human concept. The Fall took many options from us, the zombie plague destroying vast swaths of humanity and bringing our technological capability to a level about a century back for the most part. The Fall wiped clean most of the spectrum of choice, limiting our free will for surviving. I think that many of the people who became marauders probably did so incrementally, taking easy supplies at first, maybe not even from others. Maybe they just wandered and found caches much as we have. As those finds grew more sparse, self-preservation took over, and justifying taking from others wasn't so hard.A downward spiral. As resources grew thinner and thinner, it's easy to see how quickly these people were drawn into one terrible act after another. I'm not forgetting that there were and are some people who simply tore away the veneer of civilization from the beginning, killing and raping from day one. Humankind has always had its barbarous elements. The Fall only reminded us that small groups of them can do damage far larger than their numbers would imply. Group hysteria is a powerful thing.But those others, the ones who may have started out innocently enough, made choices perhaps based on what they thought was for the best at first. That's what our lives are--a series of choices. We decide what kind of people we will be, and no matter how far down we fall there is always a chance that a right choice can begin to correct us. I think that's the case with the marauders who've turned themselves over to survivor communities. I think that many of those people spent a long time believing they had no path to redemption, no way to make themselves into something better.Until we gave them an option. Have they done awful things? Yes. Maybe unforgivable acts. But who among any of the survivors of The Fall hasn't? Can we who chose to make stands in our groups, doing terrible things in the name of the community really judge those who made the same choices for selfish reasons? Can we condemn all marauders for doing what we have done, just for different reasons?I don't speak for anyone but myself, but I can't.The clear fact is that when presented with this choice, those two thousand marauders exercised their free will to do something better, to be something better, than what they were. I think that merits a lot of thought and consideration.The second and very simple reason I think they did it? Love. Maybe not love for others, at least not yet. But the amnesty gave them a chance to atone, and to eventually find a way to love themselves again. That sounds very preachy and pop-psychology and sappy, but it's true and powerful. With very few exceptions, people can't accomplish great things living in a pit of self-hatred.Sagan's quote was referencing the great expanse of the universe. The cold, empty deeps of space and the pale blue dot of Earth floating in it, insignificant to the larger cosmos. Love, even just loving oneself, is what Sagan suggested makes our tiny sphere matter. Love is what gives our lives meaning and context. Love is what keeps us from riding over the brink of destruction as a species.The Fall, the zombie plague, is our vastness. The empty places where mankind once lived are the equivalent of the huge distances between stars. In the face of the bleak world before us, surrounded by a universe unconcerned with our struggle, love makes we small creatures fight on.I believe that now more than ever.Sunday, December 18, 2011
From Washington
Posted by Josh Guess
Ah, freedom never tasted so good! Yesterday Will finished his repair work and the rest of us were let go. In point of fact, we were pretty much thrown out. Those people didn't want us around in a very serious way. So, we started the next leg of our journey north. One bright piece of news is that we're topped off on fuel. Our captors had no problem with us draining every vehicle we could find outside the confines of their defenses.We made it to Washington state with no problems. An unexpected advantage of the new breed strain of the zombie plague being so virulent is that the small clumps of undead seem to consistently congregate into larger groups. This area of the country is running low on zombies, or so it seems. We only caught sight of a handful on the trip up here.The roads are clear thanks to the huge number of people across the whole of the west coast that trade with one another, as well as the marauders that have slowly cleared away obstructions for purposes less constructive. I guess if you're looking for silver linings, that's one--marauders do make traveling easier for the rest of us. Or they did...There have been few reports of marauder bands attacking anyone since the amnesty. We know they are out there thanks to the information being supplied by so many of their number joining with us. We know that several large bands still operating consist of the more crazed elements, men and women who've basically lost all sense of right and wrong. A few of the people who joined New Haven with Kincaid were originally from such a band--their previous leader tried to kill them for wanting to leave.They sound like swell guys.I'm trying to stay optimistic, but the combination of knowing the remaining marauders are also the most vile and dangerous of them along with reports that the new breed of zombies is making its way across the continent with terrifying speed is a little much. Even if the team and I started home right now, abandoning the rest of the trip, we probably wouldn't make it to New Haven before the new breed became fully entrenched in Kentucky.We won't stop, of course. We have only one stop here in Washington state, and it's not for trade. Well, it is in a way, but not for trade goods. This is an information trading stop. We're going to be receiving some data about the locals, but they don't want it transmitted electronically, at least not all of it. Some stuff is marked as being alright to share, other bits not so much.As backward as it seems, we'll be heading south again after this. We'll head in a nice diagonal from our next stop, cutting across the map above most of our previous stops and heading for the deep south. We'll have to refuel a few times, but with the huge amount of extra fuel we carry at all times, that shouldn't be all that difficult. Not to mention the caches of gas and ethanol the good people of Sparta have been nice enough to leave along our projected trail for us.If we avoid disaster, we shouldn't get low enough on fuel to have to scavenge. Fingers crossed.We're past the halfway point in the trip. We've got very few stops between here and the warmer climes of the south, and from there we'll be running east before swinging back toward home. If all goes well, we'll be home by the end of January. It's strange to even think about. After all this time away, all the places we've been, and all the new things we've seen, I feel like a totally different person. It's almost unreal to me that within two months, god willing, the people in my life won't be a static crew of five others and a constantly changing group of strangers I may never see again.Don't get me wrong, I'm eager to be home. I miss my friends and family. I miss my dogs, cats, and ferrets. I miss my wife more than words can say.And dammit, I miss having sex. A LOT.Monday, December 19, 2011
Close Encounter
Posted by Josh Guess
Before The Fall, Idaho was known mostly for two things: being the state with the funniest shape, and potatoes. As it happens, there are still people here growing spuds, and they've got lots of extra. Potatoes are a favorite food of mine (I’m incredibly Irish) not only for their taste (delicious) but for the ease with which they're cultivated and the huge span of time throughout the year they can be grown in. It goes without saying that the small communities we've spent time at over the last few hours or so will be getting any trade we can offer. These people had to compost a bunch of their crop in the summer because there was no one to take it off their hands.It was after the third stop when we encountered a group of people traveling on foot. We'd spent ten or fifteen minutes each with the groups of farmers we ran into before we hit a nice open stretch of road. The team and I meant to keep on rolling for a good long while, as we've been driving since midnight and wanted to cover as much ground as possible. When we saw folks just walking across the road in the middle of nowhere, we had to stop.There were twenty of them, mostly men but a few women. Turns out they were only walking back to their vehicles when we spotted them. At first the numerous weapons draped across them and the ragged state of their clothes made me think they were marauders. But the usual reactions marauders have when surprised and confronted with new people were absent. In fact, though it was obvious they were eager to get some rest, the lot of them were happy to sit with us and chat.All of them are either widowers or widows. Most of them lost kids. None of them have any family left to speak of, no close friends. The farming communities here haven't suffered through starvation as many others have, and marauders have been less of a problem here than other places mainly due to the huge excess of easily stolen food. The worst problem here has been the zombies, which comes as a surprise to no one.The group doesn't have a name for itself. Their leader's name is Karen, a younger woman who is scarily comfortable with her weapons and looks like a college cheerleader. She's kind of a barbie, if there was ever a Barbie doll dressed in tattered clothes soaked in the blood of the undead and carrying a hatchet. Karen tells us that there are no large groups around here. Most of the farms are run by families and friends who've come together to survive. She hasn't come across a group anywhere in her patrol area with more than twelve or thirteen people together.Yeah, Karen and her folks patrol. The zombies around here spread out quite a bit to match the farmers being so far apart. Everyone with Karen is someone who lost everything, who felt no sense of purpose until she found them. After she lost her own family, Karen fell into a deep depression and almost gave up. Something inside her, whatever spark it is that makes us survivors, took over. It wasn't enough to make her want to pursue a new life with new people, to settle somewhere else and try again. But it was enough to make her angry and to mold her fury into a weapon.Too broken to live a normal life but with too much tenacity to die, Karen and those who've joined her choose instead to fight. They move between the local farms, clearing out any zombies they find and sleeping wherever they can find shelter. Some nights that's in the homes of the very farmers they protect. Occasionally it's out in the open, with only fires to warm them and their own senses to protect them from danger.Karen doesn't seem fatalistic, nor do any of her people. There's a certainty to their mannerisms, as if they've found a satisfaction that's almost perfect. Maybe it's the clarity of purpose, or the simplicity of their chosen work. I don't know. None of them look happy, but I don't think they'd rather be anywhere else.Except being with their lose loved ones, of course, but only death might make that happen. Is that what they're looking for? I wonder.Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Night's Song
Posted by Josh Guess
We spent the day and evening with Karen and her folks, and they were happy to accommodate us by graciously not actually trying to attract zombies to our location. Yeah, they do that. They don't try to bring in a swarm or anything, but there are they do sleeping in shifts, so at least five of them are always awake.They try to get the attention of any wandering zombies nearby by singing. Softly at first, then louder if a fair amount of time goes by without an attack. The idea is to A) kill zombies, which is pretty much their whole thing, and B) grab the attention of any undead so that the ones sleeping aren't murdered while they're dreaming.They didn't do that last night, instead just keeping a standard watch. A few of them did sing as they sat around the fire, though it was too low to carry more than a dozen feet. One of the singers, an older man named Nelson, has a wonderful voice. I didn't ask if he'd been a professional singer before the fall, but he could have been. Even pitched not to carry, the sounds coming from between his lips were clear and strong, smooth against my ears.Karen's people don't have a set list of songs they do or anything. They just sing, whatever happens to strike them. Nelson is a fan of belting out very loud opera in languages I don't understand, and he sang one to me last night. It was a quiet thing, meant for the ears of us around the fire. He sang in Italian, a haunting flow of subtle notes that went beyond language. I didn't have to know the words to understand the story.It was a sad song, bringing to mind all the loss we've suffered. Parts of his song had edges, rough pieces that contained trace anger. I found myself thinking about everything that's gone now, all the potential the world no longer has in it. As Nelson breezed through the words, I remembered every friend who'd passed too soon, every family member lost to this cold, dark world and its hungry citizens.It put me in a mood, let me just say that.I've been down lately, but I've tried to keep my chin up. It's getting harder. More and more, I feel as though I've let my friends and remaining family down back home. I've fostered so much discontent, rightly or not, that I was essentially forced out on this trip. Is our goal a worthy one? Absolutely. I'd have done it even if I thought there was a choice involved. I miss my wife terribly, and I know she misses me. I don't feel like I've failed them because I'm gone. I feel that way because I've had a lot of time to think about my actions and words since The Fall began, and I truly regret not doing more to broker peace and build bridges.Nelson's song stuck a chord in the larger sadness that's been plaguing me off and on for months, but I'm glad for that. All of us have outlived loved ones, dear friends, even society as we knew it. We've all got the ghosts of terrible choices haunting us.But the real lesson here is that we've got more to lose. Every one of us has some stake in the world even as it is now. It may be something as simple as a mission--say, to kill zombies so that others might be safe--but if we didn't have a reason to struggle and fight...I don't think most of us would. Not with the weight of our traumas cutting into our hearts. Each of us goes on for some reason, some driving force, and it's our responsibility not just to do what it takes to keep going, but to do so in the best way.I've been up all night thinking about this. Nothing that's happened since The Fall is as black and white as any of us might think. I know our trouble with the homesteaders might have been dealt with better. Betrayals aren't necessarily all of a kind, are they? Maybe we've acted too rashly and with more haste than we should, and I deeply regret my role in pushing people toward that. Not to mention acting that way myself on more than one occasion.Regrets are a part of life, just like everything else. We deal, we move forward. We must.Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Touch the Sky
Posted by Josh Guess
We've had to take a detour, because I'm dumb. I've been working on navigating our route down south, and somehow forgot that there's a huge range of mountains in our way. While it would probably be easier to just avoid them and go south, the team and I have agreed to take the chance of traveling as close to the Rockies as possible. We won't try to make it over them, that would be ridiculous. There's probably enough snow up there to stop us from making it very far, or to kill us with bad roads or avalanches. That's assuming the roads up that way aren't packed with abandoned vehicles. I somehow doubt people have made any effort to clean that area up.We're traveling the foothills because damn it, we want to see the mountains. I've never seen one up close. Well, I've been through the Appalachian range twice, but they aren't what I think of when I hear the word 'mountain'. I want to see a part of the earth reach up and touch the sky.We're stopped right now outside of a huge shopping complex in northwestern Colorado. We're siphoning fuel to top the tanks off again, just to be safe. It's not all that cold here, but there's been no sign of life or habitation since we left Karen and her people yesterday. No more farms after we exited her area, very few zombies. After a few hours, there were no zombies at all.It's peaceful here, but not comfortably so. This mall seems dead in a way that most places don't. I can't put my finger on it exactly. None of us want to stay for very long. I'm only writing instead of helping gather fuel because Bill is still having trouble walking, and we refuse to leave him alone and defenseless in case something bad happens.Will, Becky, and Steve are siphoning and hauling gas from the cars in the parking lot. Rachel is making a very careful exploratory trip into the mall itself to see if there are any supplies we can use. Given the ridiculous number of cars here, I'm guessing not. There's a Costco here, though, so maybe we'll get lucky and find some food that hasn't expired yet. Even if it's just some well-preserved rice, that would be a nice addition to our current fare. We've got potatoes (thanks, Iowa!) and plenty of dried meat, but a lot of the time we have to gather edibles from the wilderness. That's pretty hit or miss. This time of year, where we are? More miss than hit by far. Anything to bolster our stocks would be a treat. I honestly don't know how we run so low on food so often.Still, we can always hunt. We won't starve.Huh. I just realized what's weird about this place. There are no animal sounds. Usually you hear something, even if it's just a bird way off. I haven't seen so much as a squirrel. That's...very disturbing. I think I may need to take a walk outside for a minute.Friday, December 23, 2011
Landmark
Posted by Josh Guess
After driving relentlessly for what felt like endless hours, we made it to Texas. This is kind of our 'reorienting' stop. From here we change direction sharply, heading southeast for quite a ways and making more frequent stops than we have recently.We're staying at a decent-sized homestead in the northern part of the state. There are thirty people here, and my team slept in what is clearly some new construction: a long communal house, meant to hold around fifty people. It's not as spare as I would've thought given how hard it is to build things nowadays, with lots of space for families and privacy plus many small creature comforts. I mention this only as a fact interesting to me, since my brother has been moving toward this design in his constant efforts to rebuild and improve New Haven.The reason the long house is bigger than it needs to be is that these people are expecting to raise more kids here. Four of the women are pregnant, and there are already five young children here. There should be six, and that sad and simple fact is what I find most fascinating about our stay here.Sandra Duncan and her husband Brad are parents to two of those five children. The older one is five, and from what I've seen a pretty damn good shot with a rifle. The younger child turns a year old in January. Her name is Jenny. She's adorable, and I'm happy to report that during a minor scuffle with a small pack of New Breed zombies, I was pressed into babysitting while her parents picked off the attackers with gunfire.I'd almost forgotten how great babies are. Given my experiences over the last few years, I might have tried to forget that on purpose. The moment struck me as pretty amazing, making nonsense words to the little girl and trying to make her smile while the muffled sounds of gunshots rang in our ears. I did it, too--she cooed and giggled, her soft smile and shining eyes gave my heart a little boost.I'm a sappy guy, I know. I can't help it. Kids bring that out in me.After, I talked with Sandra and Brad for a while. I learned that Jenny had a twin brother named Thomas who died just before he turned six months old. These people are regular contacts of ours--they know the lay of the land as well as anyone. Losing their child devastated them as it would any parent. They were inconsolable. Add to that horrible tragedy the knowledge, gained by hard experience, that they'd have to...do something about poor little Thomas after the plague activated in his small frame, reanimating him, and you can understand why it's taken this long for them to tell anyone about it.They put Thomas to rest in a small makeshift crib with high walls after he passed, unable to bring themselves to harm their child's body as it lay still. When he came back, perhaps things would be different, they reasoned. Their instinct to protect themselves and their other children might kick in, and though they would hate themselves for it, they would act.Except that didn't happen. Every person I've seen die (with the exception of people who've suffered severe trauma) comes back, unless you take steps beforehand to ensure it doesn't happen. You've all seen it. I know I have. And I've seen kids reanimate. Thomas didn't. He stayed gone. Eventually the family buried him, after it became clear that they wouldn't have to watch their child die twice. The longest I've seen a body go before turning is about ten hours, I think, though that's not counting people who were caught in the elements. Extreme cold can stretch that process into a few days.Thomas died in the spring, and he lay in that crib for two days. It appears that he was never infected, which is something new. I don't know if it's important to our survival directly, if it's something that is more common than we think, or if this is just a one-off situation. I can speculate to the ends of the earth about why Thomas only had to go through the doors of death once, but the why of the thing is less important right now than the simple fact itself.This child was not infected. We're all infected. That's what we thought. Every one of us a carrier, the hidden invader within us waiting for the heart to stop and the brain to cool before taking over. This is new. This is...I don't know the word. Amazing. Full of potential. If there were still a CDC or a government to run it, I'd beg for a vial of Jenny's blood to send out for testing. Maybe then it would be possible to create a vaccine so that none of us would have to worry about being eaten in our sleep after a loved one died in theirs next to us. Maybe then we could have a little hope that the next generation of people could live in a world where eventually there would simply be no more zombies.But we don't have that capacity. There's still hope, of course, don't mistake me. I'm thrilled at this development, and it reinforces the romantic view I have of people as constantly evolving beings that can meet any challenge. How much more proof do we need than this? We might not be able to make a vaccine or, even better, a cure that could drop the zombie population in its tracks, but that's okay. Because we have proof now that the plague isn't unbeatable. We have a little light to guide us down a dark road.I made little Jenny smile. She's a good girl, because believe me, she returned the favor.Saturday, December 24, 2011
Head Case
Posted by Josh Guess
We'd barely been on the road an hour this morning when we came across a horrible sight. It was a small building, surrounded by the corpses of fallen zombies (and a few live ones). The small town we were passing through when we arrived on the scene wasn't on our map of known settlements, so we decided to investigate.It was awful. People had obviously tried to defend the place, their bodies pulled through windows and half-eaten. The few remaining undead were wary, as most of their brethren were either dead from head injuries or writhing on the ground as they tried to extinguish their burning flesh. That fire was tenacious--homemade napalm is my guess.We mopped up the last few zombies, firing arrows from the bed of the truck as we slowly circled the place. When we were convinced there weren't any hidden enemies outside the building, we grouped up and made entry. We called loudly in case there were survivors inside too afraid to come out. There were no responses.It only took about ten minutes to search the inside. One survivor out of a dozen people. He was so traumatized he wouldn't do anything but sit with his knees against his chest, arms wrapped around him. We tried everything to reach him, but the poor guy was destroyed.I pulled Will to the side and asked him quietly to make sure the slain bodies of the man's friends didn't come back. He gave me the nod I always associate with Will--a short, concise bob of the head. Not sharp or angry, but not lazy either. The response of a man who knows his duty and deals with having to perform it by doing it well.Will grabbed the nearest body and picked it up with a careful reverence. He got about two feet away before the traumatized survivor snarled as he jumped to his feet, screaming that he wouldn't let us hurt them. He lunged toward Will, who even in his surprise didn't drop the body, and yanked Will's gun right out of his holster.I didn't see the others pull their weapons, and I heard Steve, Becky, and Rachel's shots as one single noise, they were so close together. We've practiced as a team a lot. Putting ourselves at angles to reduce the chance of accidentally shooting one another in situations like this comes naturally to us now. Recognizing and reacting to danger with necessary force is ingrained into us. Dealing with the psychological consequences of those actions, though...that's something you can't teach. People are still people. The good ones feel pain and guilt when they kill.Will's gun didn't get high enough to shoot above his knee before three large-caliber rounds smashed into the man's body. Steve and Becky put two rounds in his chest, Rachel's went right through his right eye socket and out his left. It was gruesome.The man dropped. Last survivor of his crew, dead at our hand. It's a hard lesson to learn that on the road you have to be a harder person than you are at home. Zombies can come from anywhere. Threats can be found in the most unlikely places. And people are all strangers when you get down to brass tacks. The ultimate choice for us is to react slowly and assess the situation with caution...or to shoot on first instinct and ask questions later. It's a sad way to live, but there's little choice. I wouldn't have put Will's life at risk on the chance the crazy guy was just going to point a weapon at my friend and that we might be able to talk him down.It's a goddamn shame. Especially because upon further examination of the remains, it became clear that the fellow wasn't part of a group of people brought together by chance. Everyone here looks a lot alike. Family. They share the same straight nose, the same dark hair. They were all olive-skinned, though that's paling now as they all lie here sharing the same quiet fate.Sunday, December 25, 2011
Black Christmas
Posted by Josh Guess
Wow, that title sounds ominous, doesn't it? I promise not to be all dark and angsty. Today is definitely a black Christmas for us, for the simplest possible reason: we're underground. Not in the way that many independent bands were underground before bands stopped existing. I mean literally underground. Beneath the earth. Beyond the reach of the sun and stars.We're staying with a group of people who've made their homes in a system of natural caves near the town most of them come from. The caves open in some areas, as they're pretty close to the surface, and that's where I am right now. Sitting by our truck, parked next to a wide opening in the earth. This is one of a few entrances to the cave system that zombies have a very hard time finding. The path here is hard to find, and slants down between two high hills, cutting a narrow chasm. It's nice.We'll be here all day at least. It took a little creative driving for Will to shake the zombie swarm we ran into a few miles away. The last thing we wanted on this leg of our trade mission was to accidentally bring a swarm of undead right into the home of our allies.Not that they don't get quite enough traffic from the undead without our help. This area is warm year round, and the terrain and large populations of people at the time of The Fall made for a seemingly endless supply of the dead.Part of me wants to do a post about Christmas and what it means. The other part of me just wants to take the day off. We all had a nasty emotional shock yesterday with the death of that man and his family. None of us are feeling all that festive. We're all tired. We miss our home, our friends, our families--especially today.So I think I'll cut it short and do that. I'll give Jess and a few others a call, and take the day for myself. I woke up about two hours ago, but I think a nap is in order soon. Maybe I'll sleep off this malaise.Merry Christmas.
Colorado Blues
Posted by Josh Guess
I was hoping no one would notice, but a few of you pointed out to me that I left the strange lack of life in Colorado hanging without telling you if we discovered the source. It's been a while since I've posted twice in a day, but after reading some of the messages I've received about this and talking with the team, I feel an additional post is called for.I'm sorry if this dampens whatever holiday spirits you may have...The answer to the mystery is as simple as it is awful. Before I tell you, understand that the reluctance I've had to revisit this topic is for two reasons. The first is that I didn't want to horrify anyone more than the present conditions of the world already do. The second will become clear in a moment.We searched in a very wide circle for several hours. We finally began to see signs of life about two miles from the mall, but nothing larger than a chipmunk for another mile after that. Something had killed everything there, utterly and completely, and it had been catastrophic enough that the rest of the creatures nearby were still afraid to return.The source was at the mall: what appeared to be military hardware for dispersing chemical and biological weapons. We found many canisters, all empty. Some were in the mall itself, others in the backs of vehicles. Army vehicles. There were signs that the gases had been driven around while dispersing, probably to cover a greater area.We found men and women in Army uniforms among the many dried and rotten corpses. I don't know if this was a military action, or the act of rogue troops who went crazy during The Fall, or if the military was trying to kill the zombies alone, or even if some civilians overpowered the soldiers and used the weapons instead. The bodies were little more than bones and gore long gone to rot, wrapped in barely recognizable clothes.Too many possibilities from the evidence we found to say with any certainty what happened. The reason we kept quiet and ignored the matter on the blog was due to fear that there might be canisters of weapons there we couldn't locate, which would make powerful weapons for any group that had them. A liter of some neurotoxins I've read about could wipe out a population the size of New Haven in minutes.So, when it became clear that people weren't going to leave this alone (which is my fault for posting about it in the first place) we asked some people we've been in contact with and trust implicitly to head up to the mall and clean up. To be blunt, the place isn't there anymore. Not in any meaningful way.I have no desire to sow distrust of anyone. Not survivors, not the scattered military around the nation. I didn't want to ruin anyone's Christmas with this, but it had to be said at some point, and I see no reason to make anyone reading this blog curious enough about Colorado to go looking. Especially since now all you'd find in that location is a smoking ruin and cars on fire.Weapons of mass destruction should be left in the past right along with all the other horrible things we lost in The Fall. Consider this matter closed, because I am. Also, if you're looking to acquire those kinds of weapons, consider this a warning.Don't.Monday, December 26, 2011
The Path Before Us
Posted by Josh Guess
We've moved on yet again. The places we're visiting now are more familiar to us, the people having met Steve before. This portion of the trip is mostly his ball game, given his previous encounters with many of the communities in the south. It's a bit difficult to write anything of importance at present, mainly due to the overwhelming requests for privacy by those we visit and the short duration of our stay at each stop.Right now we're between communities. We stopped to have lunch, and Will decided this would be a good chance to help Rachel hone her hunting and forestry skills. He's more experienced than she is, and they both thought a little practice would be a good thing.Here's a tip: always walk as quietly as possible. It helps keep from scaring away animals, and if you happen upon a camp of marauders it could save your life.For obvious reasons, I'm not mentioning where we are. Because that quip about marauders isn't a hypothetical. Rachel and Will spotted the smoke from their fire about an eighth of a mile away, and Will made his way toward their camp alone. It was only sheer luck he wasn't spotted by their sentries, who were clearly not looking Will's direction from their perches in the trees surrounding the camp.Will saw them first, and ducked under a shelf of rock. He observed them from there for almost half an hour, until the sentries changed shifts and he took the chance to leave.From what he tells me, these people are almost professional. They keep strict order in their camp, constant watch duty, and discipline among them seems tight. We would probably be leaving them alone completely except for one thing--Will saw captives being moved from one vehicle to another. They weren't the ragged, emaciated lot that marauders usually make out of their victims over time. These must have been freshly captured, some of them still had blood on their clothes.Will estimated their numbers. He thinks we have a shot at taking out this camp. Those people could well be from our next stop, maybe our last. Either way, if there's a chance we can help them, we'll try. I'm hoping to get some volunteers from our next stop to come meet us nearby and give us some backup. I don't like the odds, even with the element of surprise.The choice is to do nothing or to risk our lives. The more time I spend away from home, seeing people I've never met struggle and triumph even as they suffer, the more convinced I become that being pragmatic can only take you so far. Some people will always try to take and take. There has to be a time when someone says "Enough", and takes action. If enough people fight back, eventually intelligent enemies will learn to be wary of attacking.Taking a stand is always risky. That's their nature. We can't leave these people in good conscience, so there really isn't a choice at all.Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Damage Done
Posted by Josh Guess
We were wrong to attack that group of marauders. The last day and a half have been awful, each of us full of guilt and self-recrimination.We managed to get some help from some locals. All told, twenty of us attacked the fortified camp the marauders were staying in. Bill stayed back with the truck and trailer, as he's healed up enough now to drive. Our volunteers from the nearby community did the same, leaving getaway drivers ready to peel out if need be.If we hadn't taken precautions, all of us would be dead right now. They may have known we were coming, they may not have. Either way, those marauders were ready for anything. We hit them from two directions, but their sentries were wearing some kind of dense plastic body armor. I only know this because one of the arrows we fired into the trees caught a sentry in the throat, and Will saw the armor. The rest of them took chest shots, which pretty much just pissed them off. Not having a yard of arrow through their lungs gave them the chance to sound an alarm.Even then, we thought we'd be safe. Will had managed to get close to their camp the other day, and he drew us detailed maps of the area. Our idea was to take out the sentries, get in close, and rain arrows down on the unsuspecting bad guys.They must have seen Will's tracks after he came back to camp, because the defenses were much better this go round. Two of the volunteers with my attack group were moving about thirty feet in front of the rest of us, and when they got within a dozen yards of the location we were to fire from, the ground beneath them exploded.Fucking land mines. Though I couldn't hear it at the time as my eardrums felt shattered, the other assault team encountered mines at almost the same time. When those explosions hit, it was game over. We rushed forward to see if the volunteers were alive, and when we saw that they were clearly dead we ran like hell. Everyone on my team had sustained some kind of injury from the blast. The whole escape was unimaginably chaotic, running while trying to keep the more seriously injured on their feet.We'd moved a few hundred feet when the gunshots started. I was leaning on Rachel when I took a graze to my thigh. She got a bullet right through her shoulder, and I ended up being her support. Some people fell as we ran, and I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't slow to see who they were or if they lived. In shock from the explosion, running in what felt like a hail of gunfire, the only thought in my head was to keep moving. To get away.You can guess the rest. We hit the vehicles and told our drivers to go. I took enough time to note that my team wasn't missing any members before passing out. I wasn't really aware of it at the time, but I had a chunk of wood embedded in my side. I lost a fair amount of blood.Seven volunteers died. They took the lead in the assault, chose to do it, because of their familiarity with the area. This was their home, they said. They had the right to lead. Seven people who can't be replaced. The toll on the team isn't as bad as that, but the damage done is severe enough that we're considering heading home if that's even possible.We're staying with the volunteers in their home right now. It's relatively safe, as the population of their community is in the hundreds. More than enough to deal with the zombies beating at the doors. The massive complex of buildings that make up this stronghold are thick-walled and the spaces between the buildings clogged with cars and heavy debris, making an effective barrier to the undead. But the zombies followed us in, smelling our blood, and they aren't going anywhere.There's a few competent medical personnel here, but no surgeons. The nurse practitioner that sees to the needs of these people has had to learn as she goes, and her skills so far have been enough to keep my side from killing me, and to manage Rachel's wound, though that's a touchy injury.Steve took a spray of gravel to the face, tearing his cheek open and destroying his right eye.Becky was standing in front of him, and was peppered with the same gravel and wood. They're still working on her. This is round three of trying to removed the splinters from almost her entire front. She heard the click as the mine was stepped on, and her hands were already up since she was holding her bow ready to fire. Covering her face probably saved her life, though she's got some terrible damage to her arms.Will was closer to the blast. He didn't step on the mine, but he took an enormous amount of damage to his right leg. My respect for his resourcefulness and presence of mind has increased a hundred times over: he used his belt to tourniquet his own leg, saving his own life while also shouting orders at the others. Get away, he told them. Run. Reach safety.Will kept his head, and because of that two of my other friends are still alive, along with eight volunteers. He's one hell of a man.And he's probably going to lose that leg. He says it's more than worth the trade. As I sit here watching Steve smile as he tries on eye patches, his flesh torn but his spirit whole, I can't find it in me to disagree with Will. I'd trade my leg to save so many. In a heartbeat.I don't know where we go from here.Thursday, December 29, 2011
The Spirit
Posted by Josh Guess
I woke up this morning feeling lower than any time in my life. Too many thoughts hit me as soon as I opened my eyes--the nightmares forcing me to relive the horror of the explosions we barely lived through among them--and for the first time, I genuinely considered suicide.Though we work together, ultimately this is my team. The decisions are my responsibility. What happens to my people is on my shoulders. I took that job knowing the risks, just as I asked the people of this community with full awareness of the fact that any or all of them could die.The difference between knowing a thing might happen and experiencing it first hand is probably the most important lesson we can learn. My team has had a lot of victories both on the road these last months and before that, back in New Haven. We've struggled and won time and again. It's not that I feel defeated (though in truth those marauders handed us an abject beating) but more humbled, almost broken. Overconfidence led us to decide to attack, made us sloppy in our execution if not in our planning. As the leader, I should have been the voice of caution. I wasn't.Those were the thoughts I woke to. The sounds of the zombies angrily beating on the heavy steel doors that lead directly outside the protective confines of this community were my alarm clock. Zombies we led here. It took me a long time to gather the willpower to sit up, longer still to dress. The pain of my injuries didn't even register to me. I was too lost in thought, seeing the terrible wounds my friends and allies in my mind, to feel anything for myself.I made it to the small communal area set aside in the clinic here, where I saw Rachel sitting in a chair. She was reading. Her bandages hadn't soaked through with blood, which I took as a good sign. She didn't look up as I came in, and I tried my best to be unobtrusive. The two of us got off easier than the others. Becky and Will were both under close supervision, not allowed to move from their beds. I didn't have the slightest idea where Steve was. Last I'd seen him, he was trying to decide if he should sleep with his eye patch on.I sat across from Rachel, not looking at her directly as she read but certainly aware of her. I did glance over now and then, looking for a sign that she wanted to talk. I tried to get a sense of how she was doing, but her body language when reading was pretty much the same as mine--blank. She was truly absorbed into the world before her.Good for her, I thought. Anything to take her mind off things...For a while I just sat there, hoping that one of the medical staff would come in with news about Becky and Will, maybe to tell me they were awake and wanted to see the rest of us. Will was in and out of consciousness yesterday as they worked on his leg, trying to save it.Long minutes passed, but Rachel didn't say a word. Just when I was about to finally give up and go lay back in the bed, certain that Rachel was so upset with me she couldn't bring herself to talk, she looked up at the main door leading to the interior of the main compound. Steve came through it a moment later, holding a spear.The patch over his eye was black, but he'd drawn a little smiley face on it in yellow. It was...well, it was cute. He gave me a wink with his remaining eye and gestured at me with the spear. He then said something I'll never forget, something that has fundamentally changed my point of view forever."I think you should start calling me Odin."I laughed. I laughed so goddamn hard I cried. Just the sheer silliness of it struck me stupid. My friend and his damaged face, half the light of the world denied to him, and he was making jokes about ancient Norse mythology. There wasn't any sadness on his face, no pain of loss. Steve made us laugh, and set his spear up against a wall before plopping down in a chair like nothing had happened. He watched Rachel and I shake off the last of our chuckles with a satisfied look on his face.The part of me that felt, that feels, guilt about what happened the other day is still there. I can't help those emotions. But even as the guilt began to reassert itself, pressing me to ask Steve how he was dealing with his injuries, begging me to ask a thousand other questions to try to see if he blamed me, I got control of myself. The intellectual part of me stepped in and kicked my guilt in the face, really making me look at the situation.Steve has no guile. He isn't a deceptive person. He rarely lies, and tries not to argue. If you harm him, he'll stab you even if he feels bad about doing it. If you betray him, disappoint him, or otherwise treat him in a negative way, he'll calmly explain how you've done wrong.He told us a joke. That was how he started his day with Rachel and I. His attitude said more than he himself would have: he chose to come on this mission. He chose to fight those marauders. He made the same mistake the rest of us did, and he paid for it just as we have. Steve is damn hard to keep down, and his wisdom is profound and amazingly simple. What I took from his attitude was...Well, shit. It was life-changing. And the damnedest thing is that it wasn't some new lesson. I knew it already. We all do. Every one of us has had to take some terrible damage. All survivors have had to learn to live with it and move on. We acclimate and evolve ourselves, and those mental and physical scars become just another part of who we are. Steve reminded me of that fact just by being himself after such a traumatic and life-changing injury.I can't fully shake the guilt, but I won't wallow in it either. Steve really is just naturally wise, and it rubs off. He's dealing with the reality he's in and not looking back. He isn't focusing on what he lost, but keeping an...eye on the future.I laughed out loud just there.We are where we are, and we can only learn from our mistakes and move on. That we're still alive to regret them is the important bit, as Steve's humor showed. His injury and ours act as warning that life is far too short and risky to waste with a burden of guilt too heavy to bear.Friday, December 30, 2011
Prayer For the Fallen
Posted by Josh Guess
I've spent the last few days talking about the injuries the team and I have taken. I want to take today to give my thanks to the seven volunteers from this community who gave their lives in the attack.Jerome: survived by his wife and daughter. He was the man who first started securing this massive complex by blocking off the spaces between the buildings. Because of him, the children here have a safe place to play, the adults a space to meet outdoors without fear of attack.Micheal: Jerome's brother, a bachelor. Mike, I've learned, was a fantastic cook who enjoyed making people's favorite meals when the opportunity presented itself. Food is such a basic need, but this guy knew a beloved dish could satisfy the innate need for little pleasures in life, giving his people a needed boost.Amelia: A quiet woman who lost her family to The Fall. She was one of a group that started gardening on the rooftops, working alone for hours on end to lovingly make green things grow atop these concrete monoliths.Keshia: Survived by her two sons. Middle-aged, Keshia was, before The Fall, a combat instructor for the state police. She passed on her vast knowledge of armed and unarmed fighting to her children and the entire community here, giving them the tools to save themselves and the confidence to use them.Jordan: A scout who spent almost all his waking hours outside the safety of the buildings. He relentlessly searched out food and supplies. From what I understand, Jordan was not a very likable man. He was abrasive and loud, yet very well respected for the risks he took and the returns he brought home."Sparky": No one knew his real name. In a community predominantly made up of people of color, Sparky stood out. He was old, at least in his early sixties, and he looked a bit like Santa Claus with his shaggy white hair and beard. He wasn't fat (who could be, anymore?) and I'm told that early on he felt very out of his element. Sparky grew to be loved deeply by the people who knew him, and he always had a story to tell any kids that sat around him.Adam: One of the co-founders of this community, Adam was a freshman in college when The Fall came about. Almost from day one, Adam led people in the right direction, saving lives and giving hope. His candle burned out far too soon, but his legacy among these survivors will endure for a very long time--his girlfriend is pregnant with their child.Words can never be enough to express the gratitude I feel toward these seven people. Their bravery was total, their commitment absolute. In a world where self-preservation is the most important instinct to cultivate, they gave of themselves instead.And so, I say this to their departed spirits as a thank-you:I may not have a god to call my own, but in each of you I see a sliver of the divine. For my life and that of my friends, I thank you. Each of you chose to be a positive force, to help others, and in so doing did tangible good. But your actions go far beyond that, teaching the young by example to care for others. You showed adults jaded by the horrors of experience that doing the right thing is possible and fulfilling even in a world like this one. You were, and are, heroes. For your deaths, brought about in an attempt to save others through action, and for your lives, which were testaments to strength of character and determination. I live to write these words because of you, and if there is justice in the universe, you can feel the love in them.Thank you.Saturday, December 31, 2011
Another Year
Posted by Josh Guess
The holidays still hold some kind of vestigial meaning to me. Nothing incredibly deep, but that sense of warm togetherness from when I was a child. We don't celebrate like we used to, and the calender is now just a way for us to find points of reference rather than a time line of special days. The new year begins tomorrow, but aside from a slight urge to get drunk and dance naughtily with my wife (who is hundreds of miles away), I don't really have feelings about it either way.A big part of why this doesn't worry me is due to the zombie attack going on right now. It's a little distracting.Since I can't divulge any information of importance about the people we're staying with or the community they share, I've decided to call this place Block. Yeah, it's a weird name, but if you saw the sheer concrete faces of the office buildings that make up this fortress, you'd understand how fitting it is. So, back to those attacking zombies...The team and I, as well as the injured volunteers who came back from our aborted attack on the marauders, have been told straight-up that we can't fight. I tried to wheedle my way into at least a support position. I argued that even if the stitches and dressings on my side wouldn't allow me to fire a weapon or pull a bowstring back safely, at least I could run water to the people fighting or tote ammunition around.Block has a strict policy of not allowing the injured to be combatants, and the leadership gives the medical staff discretion on whether people in their care are allowed to participate at all. Certainly a few of us are well enough to help in some small ways, but our physical injuries are only part of our nurse practitioner's concern. Her name is Gina, and she takes our well being very seriously.It's as much the psychological damage she's worried about. Gina thinks we need time to sort through our experience with the marauders, deal with the mental trauma of seeing people die around us while getting hurt ourselves. I can see her point of view, even agree with it to a certain extent, but it's not entirely justified. I think her idea of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) makes her think that we're fragile creatures who could snap at any moment. I don't think I'm suffering from such a thing, and frankly I don't know that Gina thinks so either. She truly is worried that there's some recovery needed for our psyches, and I understand that.She hasn't seen a tenth of the combat we have, though. So I think her opinion is flawed.I'm sitting here writing this while I hear the undead outside bashing the exterior doors with what I'm guessing are rocks. It's deafeningly loud and really, really annoying. I'm not afraid or anxious, taken with worry that the zombies will break the heavy steel doors from their heavy steel frames and somehow shatter all the reinforcing braces the residents of Block have added onto them. At worst, I feel the urge to put something sharp in that zombie's brain merely to stop the noise, like yelling at a loudly barking dog keeping you awake.I've been hurt seriously before. I've been in danger. I can stomach those things with ease and move on. Hell, I even have a fair amount of practice sitting quietly while injured as others do the fighting for me. It sucks, but that's reality. I have no desire to die to prove a point.What irks me right now is that we brought those zombies here, and I can't contribute at all. Nothing. We're not allowed to leave the medical wing. My brain knows that the buildings here are tough, the windows on the bottom two floors filled in with reinforced concrete and the doors stronger than the walls themselves. I know that the weak points, the spaces between the buildings clustered together here, are narrow corridors filled with debris and riddled with traps. They're killing zones where the number of zombies becomes irrelevant, as only three or four at a time can move through them. I know these things, and that knowledge does bring a small bit of comfort.It's just my nature to protect people. I want to prove to these folks that I'm willing to fight for them, especially considering my team's role in bringing this swarm down on them. Yeah, I really do want to prove a point, but not with a suicidal attempt to fight. I just need to do something to help. Anything.Gina is staring me down, though, and she has a taser. She looks like she means business with that thing, which is hilarious since it's one of those bright pink ladies' models. I'm a little surprised Hello Kitty isn't on it. Having no desire to be electrocuted by a woman old enough to be my mother (and subsequently nagged about it afterward, also like my mother...) I suppose I'll be a good boy and sit pretty. No wonder the people of Block do what she tells them to.She cheats!Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The Wire
Posted by Josh Guess
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 chain mail, 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 chain mail 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 chain mail (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.Wednesday, January 4, 2012
To Laugh is Human
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Thursday, January 5, 2012
Field Test
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Saturday, January 7, 2012
Empty Nest
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Sunday, January 8, 2012
Undaunted
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Monday, January 9, 2012
Heart of Winter
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Snowbound
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Fortune
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Friday, January 13, 2012
Bare Bones
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Saturday, January 14, 2012
Glass
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Sunday, January 15, 2012

Evolution of Man
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Monday, January 16, 2012
New Horizons
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Tuesday, January 17, 2012
With Bells On
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Thursday, January 19, 2012
A Certain Kind of Madness
Posted by Josh Guess
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...Friday, January 20, 2012
The Tools at Hand
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Saturday, January 21, 2012
HailDown
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Sunday, January 22, 2012
Home Stretch
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Monday, January 23, 2012
Stranger in a Strange Land
Posted by Josh Guess
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 Carré 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.Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The Flip
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Thursday, January 26, 2012
Brotherly
Posted by Josh Guess
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 time lines. 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.Friday, January 27, 2012
Easy Money
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Saturday, January 28, 2012
Sacrifice The Dead
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Monday, January 30, 2012
Severance
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Fair Warning
Posted by Josh Guess
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.Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Waste
Posted by Josh Guess
Since the bridges came down, we haven't had any encounters with the Exiles. On the surface I want to say that's a good thing, but it also makes me very suspicious. Fortunately, I'm not the only one with that reaction, so I don't seem crazy.We've begun the process of hauling in all the stuff from the supply dumps we can still reach. The weather has become unseasonably warm, and there has been a corresponding increase in zombie activity. The council made the call to empty our storehouses, rather than face the possibility that we might have to fight our way through hordes of undead to get to our caches in the event the exiles went after the rest of our supplies.Looks like that was a good call, because the very first cache we went to had been tampered with. It was a food storage site, mostly grains we'd traded for, and the signs that someone had been there were subtle. It was a lucky thing that one of the scouts that went to empty the place had been there just a few hours before and remembered seeing a particular chair having been in one spot. When he got back, it'd been moved.Naturally we expect the worst, so the food has been destroyed. It wasn't a huge blow to our excess food supply, and thankfully the other suppl dumps left to us have been left untouched. Still, knowing the enemy had been there and left the food in place sends shivers down my spine. We took a sample to see if it had been poisoned, though our means for testing it here are pretty limited.Right now, our outlook is decent. All things considered, the immediate future doesn't look too dangerous. I know those are more famous last words, but they're the truth. The only quick access the Exiles have to this side of town is across the remaining bridge carrying the interstate, and we've got people watching that. There are other bridges farther away, of course, but steps have been taken to assure we get a lot of warning should the Exiles use any of the ones in adjacent counties.One of the good things about the new communities hereabouts choosing not to come stay inside New Haven's walls is that they have to keep a close eye out for any movement by the exiles. As things stand, it would be nearly impossible for the enemy to flank us with a large force. They might be able to get folks across the river somewhere else and circle around to the west, but we're going to see them coming if they do.The biggest worry right now is that they have boats. Or, god help us, some piece of military machinery that will throw a bridge across the river.But we can't focus on what might be. All we can do is prepare for what we expect to come, and deal with the rest when and if it happens.I'm hoping to get fully back into the groove today. I've talked to the council and there are several odd positions that need someone with experience in planning and logistics. All the people I trained are occupied doing their respective jobs, so I'll take on the hodgepodge of part-time positions that need me. One is in defense, one in meal planning, one in materials coordination...There's a surprising amount of structure and bureaucracy in New Haven's government now. From what I see, much of it is good and ensures that no piece or part of the system that makes sure the needs of all our citizens are met can threaten the whole by failing. It's not the system in place that bothers me--most of it was implemented by my trainees, and they have good heads on their shoulders--but rather a lot of policy set by the leadership. That is where we have to make inroads, because this new council seems to have some large blind spots.That's one more job I'll add to the pile.Thursday, February 2, 2012
Priority Shift
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm a little disturbed by the way the council has shifted since I've been gone. I'll give you an example from this morning to shed some light on exactly what's happened to the leadership's outlook.The weather continues to stay very warm for this time of year, and to the south a large swarm of zombies was spotted forming by our scouts. This was yesterday, when the scouts saw the swarm--zombies gathering together a few miles down the highway. New breed zombies at that, and they were doing their damnedest to convert the plain zombies that moved toward the group in steady streams. It wasn't a huge gathering, maybe a hundred and fifty at the time, but the threat alone was enough to send the council into emergency session.The call came down to our entire scout force as well as the auxiliary soldiers stationed here from North Jackson: this morning, we hit that swarm. Coordinated assault from multiple sides, swarm destroyed.That happened, sure. Our people are well-trained and experienced and managed to kill the entire swarm in about forty minutes. Nearly half the men and women who participated in the assault took injuries of one kind or another, and seven people died. Seems like a decent ratio if you look at it as an abstract, but those seven people are a loss we can't afford, not with so few people living in this part of the country. Not with the Exiles and the threat of attack hanging over our heads.The injured people are taking a toll on our resources. Medical staff working nonstop for hours, supplies being used up at ludicrous rates. The number of able-bodied fighters here has dropped by a staggering percentage, and for what? To kill some zombies that may or may not even have attacked New Haven. If they had, our defenses would have been sufficient to mow most of them down before they got within spitting distance of the wall.Were we a larger community, this would have been less of a problem. Hell, even if this morning's assault on the zombie swarm were a one-off event it wouldn't be so bad. But that isn't the case. This action is just one of many that put our people in needless danger because of the changing attitude of the council.Before, we were led by people who believed more in reactive measures than proactive ones. Yeah, not all that brave a way to live and certainly it came with drawbacks, but not going out picking fights was a great way to keep our people alive.It's evident with this morning's assault and just as evident in the recent spate of scout runs that the council has gotten tired of the 'wait and see' way of doing things. I'm all for long-range search and recovery of any and all supplies we can find, but why on earth do we have to send our people on missions where they're going to knowingly engage the remaining marauders. The most unreasonable and violent of the marauders, I'll add. Is the risk in going after them worth the rewards?I talked to the council yesterday and again this morning. I made my case as best I could, and they were fair enough that they listened without interrupting. They answered my questions, and the hardest part is that I could and can see where they're coming from. For them, it makes perfect sense to send parties against marauder camps. The advantages are obvious: you reduce the number of active marauders out in the world, and the camps are treasure troves of materials and supplies. Marauders, when questioned, are also apparently very knowledgeable about where to find other supplies, since they search everywhere they go constantly.The old me would have agreed with this, but I can't be that cold anymore. I can't see my fellow citizens--or, for that matter, my fellow human beings in general--as just numbers in an equation. I can't think of the people we lost today and how that weakens our defenses without also feeling the loss that their friends and families must be dealing with.Yeah, the council's actions are logical, but there has to be an element of humanity to the policies here or the situation in New Haven could potentially snowball into a much worse one. How many people will die out on these trips before it sets off a riot among those left behind? How many reluctant citizens will risk their lives time and again when it isn't absolutely necessary, creating the sort of hate for those that order them to go which leads to revolution?In the end, my meetings with the council were cordial, even professional. There was every indication they kept their minds as open to what I had to say as I did to their position. A small comfort, but that's the way things are with people. Only comic books and bad Hollywood scripts have clear-cut bad guys. The rest of us are just human beings with differing opinions. I told them mine, and the final call by the council was to ignore my advice and continue on with the status quo. They told me that I should come talk to them again if I had any new ideas, but I read the subtext of the conversation perfectly.They would listen, they would agree with parts of what I had to say, and in the end they'd just do what they thought was right. My words were just wind to them.This...isn't good.Saturday, February 4, 2012
Encampment
Posted by Josh Guess
Just before dawn, I went out on a recon trip with a group of scouts. It wasn't part of any of the odd jobs I'm now responsible for. Just my own curiosity. The council isn't thrilled with my urge to gather information about the Exiles and they certainly seem to be getting tired of my opinions, but so far they're not stopping me or shutting me up. This is my home, and I can't help feeling responsible for it.The warm (for winter) weather continues unabated, and the countryside is starting to fill in with zombies. There are only so many you can kill in a day, and the new breed are some clever bastards at staying out of sight. Not that I'm overly worried about clearing out zombies since we live in a walled fort. The more undead out there, the harder it is for the Exiles to move around. I just wish the council would see it from that perspective.No, I went out this morning for a very specific reason: I wanted to see what the Exiles were up to. The scout team I went with was very efficient and quiet, we weren't spotted by the enemy despite the clump of zombies we had to cut down in order to get a good view of the Exile camp.They've set up across the river, right at the base of the broken twin bridges. I have to assume they've taken over the entire fallback point, which means they've got a lot of room to stage their vehicles and more than enough room to allow everyone to sleep indoors. We spent a lot of time making that place comfortable.The Exiles look like they're preparing for war. They've got men set up in a perimeter around the fallback point, guards walking the surrounding area with binoculars to keep an eye out for any incoming danger. I don't know what they're so worried about, really. It's not like we can fly over the river to attack them. And given my people's penchant for breathing regularly and keeping our blood inside our veins, we aren't likely to try any long-range assaults across the river. We lack the needed equipment to do more than irritate them that way.Even the council, so bent on being proactive and going after any prize that presents itself, is smart enough to realize how hard it would be for us to make any kind of concerted assault on the Exiles. I feel a bit of strange pride that our reputation is apparently so good that we inspire this kind of unreasonable fear in our enemies.I don't know if that was sarcasm or not.Of course, I could be reading the entire situation wrong. Maybe they've spotted a big swarm of zombies coming from the east and want to be ready for it. New Haven might not even be a blip on their radar right now, since there's no easy passage across the river. Our guards at the remaining bridge tell us that the Exiles have posted their own a few hundred yards away. Stalemate.For now, life in New Haven has to go on. We're keeping safe and trying to prepare for anything, but until more information reveals itself (or until we're attacked) there's no sense in letting the mere presence of the enemy stop us from living our lives. The zombie plague put us in a world where danger is constant; this is just the flavor of the month.Damn it, that made me want ice cream. Stupid end of the world killed all the Baskin-Robbins.Sunday, February 5, 2012
On Angel Wings
Posted by Josh Guess
It shouldn't surprise anyone out there to learn that New Haven has been cut off from all trade for the time being. No one wants to send their people into what is sure to become a war zone soon, and our people aren't holding that against them. It does create a slew of potential problems down the road if we can't reestablish trade, but for the time being all is well.One exception, though. We are connected with a group of survivors that are very secretive, and who have access to a large quantity of aviation fuel, a cargo plane, military air drop crates (with parachutes!) and a pilot brave enough to come this way. So yeah, we're working on having some trade goods we've been waiting on for a while dropped right on our doorstep. Okay, not actually anywhere near New Haven itself, because no one wants to be crushed by a huge box falling from the heavens. But still. Air drops. How freaking cool is that?Yes, I'm excited. Inside every grown man is a boy still obsessed with 'army guys' and their associated toys.Still, we'll be in a bad situation if we can't find a way to get goods out of here. We could subsidize all the items we ship out and just send team after team of people on long-term trips, but that would be stupidly inefficient. The whole point of the trade system is to spread the cost in fuel and effort among all the groups within it, saving any one group from having to use way more resources than they can spare. We'd only be able to manage for a short while before we had to stop. We've got a lot of fuel and a lot of ethanol to mix with it, but the future is a long time to go without...We're the only producer of antibiotics of any kind, as far as I'm aware. Most of what we make it topical, but we live in a dirty world where wounds are incredibly prone to festering. I hate to think of the people out there who might suffer without our goods. Not that there's a lot we can do about it, since we don't have a skyhook just laying around, or for that matter anyone to do a flyby and grab it if we did.Will is working with Dodger to come up with a solution. Safe routes are difficult to cultivate, but given how quiet things are with the Exiles at the moment, it's a problem we can work on. They're still holed up in the fallback point, and have given us no signs they're attempting to come across the river. Which of course makes me mad with curiosity, because why the hell would they be so nonviolent, so complacent, if they weren't up to something? It makes my brain hurt.I will admit to one satisfying piece of good news. We've been pretty happy about the increasing number of zombies showing up around here, and the face that most of them are on our side of the river. The undead are dangerous, sure, but they make it much harder for the Exiles to move around in our part of town. At least, they would do that if the enemy were crossing over to it.So, the scout team and I had a little fun yesterday. We trotted around town, gathering up a trail of zombies behind us. We must have had fifty or sixty following when we gunned our engines and left them all at the river bank. Right across from the fallback point. All those zombies, standing at the edge of the river, watching the tasty humans on the other side. Dangerous to the Exiles? No, probably not as long as they don't try to cross. Annoying as hell? Yep. I'd say that's likely.Sometimes being petty is deeply, deeply gratifying.Monday, February 6, 2012
Slow Game
Posted by Josh Guess
It's taking armed guards holding some of out people at gun point to keep us from starting a war. Well, escalating a war. The Exiles started it, but it took us a few days to realize how deep a game they were playing.Last night about a dozen people got sick. Really, really sick. By this morning, five of them had died. We track everyone's meal assignments at the mess, and it's obvious what the cause is. They've been poisoned.We were so goddamn arrogant to think that the storehouses had been left alone. We saw signs of tampering and assumed that since the same signs didn't appear elsewhere that we were safe. The Exiles didn't want to kill all of us, or they didn't have enough poison to go around. Instead they simply laced a bag of black-eye peas, the only bag we had, with something deadly. Everyone who ate those peas are victims of this conflict.One of those victims was a child of five. He died just after midnight.I want to haul ass down the hill and rain down bloody murder on these fuckers, but I know it isn't a viable option. It's taking all my willpower to sit here and write this rather than load up a gun and fight my way to the river bank through the zombies still walking along it. Jess is a great help in keeping me steady. I only wish I could do the same for all the others who've lost someone or may lose someone to this attack.Make no mistake, I'm furious with the Exiles, but I can't escape a lesser rage at the council. The situation isn't entirely their fault, since we all chose to kick out the homesteaders and to give amnesty to the marauders. But they did make the situation worse by attacking the remaining marauder camps. That was likely a big factor in bringing two different groups of enemies together against us.I can't get my thoughts straight this morning. And I really don't have much time to write. I have to help sort through all the remaining supplies we brought back from our storehouses and see what we can salvage. God only knows if anything else has been poisoned. You'd think the Exiles would have done something bigger if they had the means. It's pretty clear they mean to fight us despite how roundabout they've been about it. Maybe this is just an attempt to keep New Haven off balance.I can't say much, but I will say this: Newton had it right. For every action, there's a reaction. Don't doubt it.Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Tiny Little Pieces
Posted by Josh Guess
There was no question that we'd retaliate against the Exiles for poisoning our people. The difficulty was trying to figure out a way to do it. We wanted to hurt them as they hurt us, but logistical problems denied us at every turn. We went through a lot of ideas.There was the plan to go down the hill and simply lay into the fallback point with a rain of arrows and a hail of gunfire. This was discarded immediately for practical reasons: we can't afford to waste the ammunition. Also, the fallback point was designated as such because it's really hard to attack. Doing so across the river in this way would be wasteful to the point of stupidity.Then we moved on to stealth. The idea was proposed to send an elite group made up of our best scouts and some of the military folks from North Jackson on a mission to hit the Exiles where they live. It would have taken a while since they'd have had to travel pretty far north or south to get to a bridge the Exiles aren't guarding. Then they'd have to manage sneaking past security and finding a way to damage the enemy without being caught. This one was vetoed quickly also, due to the extreme risk involved for anyone that went.Another that was shot down was one I came up with, and I wasn't ever serious about it. I only mention it here because I think it shows how irrational rage can make even the most reasonable person. See, I had the idea that we could build a catapult...For the record, very few good ideas begin with building a catapult.Anyway, I was trying to think of ways we could get zombies across the river to do some real damage to the enemy. There were dozens of reasons this wouldn't work--building the damn thing, the fact that zombies like to attack and getting them on a catapult would be impossible, the inevitable broken limbs that would happen when the zombies hit the other side, making them far less effective as killing machines. The idea was stupid and cartoonish, but we'd gone through a dozen others by that point and weren't any closer to a solution.So, I took a break and picked up the book I'd been reading to clear my head. It was one of the Sword of Truth novels, and as I was reading I was struck by an idea. In one of the novels in the series, a small group is threatened by an overwhelming mass of enemy soldiers. The solution they came up with was creative and awful for their enemies.Our original idea was to copy that maneuver outright. We were going to send teams in to nearby buildings to take all the glass they could find. We were going to crush the glass into dust and fling it at the Exiles over the river. Yeah, who wants to inhale jagged pieces of glass dust? Or get it in their eyes? Or swallow it. The idea was beautiful and had merit, but the logistics of it failed as a few of the others did. We tried crushing the glass, but when it got close to being dust one of our people accidentally inhaled some. We decided it was too dangerous to attempt on a large scale.The next best solution? Sand. Specifically very hot sand.We rigged up one of the compressed air tanks that power some of the defenses on the wall (I'm gonna kiss the guy to found the air compressor and hooked it up to our small solar grid) to a good-sized air cannon kept inside the walls as an extra. We tested it with sand, and it worked really well. At a hundred feet, the sand was still cohesive enough to knock a man down. After that it starts to disintegrate into a cloud and disperses quickly.We set up five of these cannons in the back of pickup trucks, easily raised to a firing angle in a few seconds. Laying flat, the cannons were virtually invisible as we made our way down the hill. We went unarmed in the hope that it wouldn't drive many of the Exiles inside the buildings. We made our way down the hill slowly, both to make the enemy curious and to keep the wind from cooling the pots of sand too much.I should mention here that the curious shape of the hill leading down to the fallback point gave us a huge advantage. The road goes between two tall cliffs, was in fact cut from the bedrock that used to be between them. It's a hill blown in half and the whole thing acts as a perfect corridor for any wind. A slight breeze compresses when it hits the cliffs, turning into pretty hard gusts by the time it hits the river.We stayed back about a hundred and fifty feet, and we acted quickly. From the time we stopped our vehicles, it was maybe twenty seconds before we fired our cannons. Five loads of sand hot enough that we were a bit worried it would fuse to glass or melt the PVC of the cannon barrels went into the air almost at the same time. One of the shots actually did knock down one of the enemy, and the resulting impact spread the sand all around him instantly.We only got a rough glance in before we ran like hell, but I'd guess there were at least forty people in the clouds. I heard a chorus of screams as they writhed to get red-hot grains of silica out of their hair, from inside their clothes. Some of them are probably blinded. I don't feel good about causing so much pain, but I don't feel bad about it either. I wish I could be the kind of man who still has the moral strength to regret this kind of thing even while finding it necessary, but I'm not. They got what they deserved, and my only wish is that I could have made it cleaner and just killed them.They're rabid dogs, the Exiles, and as such they need to be put down. That's just not possible right now. So we'll do what we can to weaken them until they finally decide they've had enough and attack us in earnest. It can only be a matter of time.Maybe the pain they're dealing with right now will teach them caution in the future. I'd like to think they've learned a lesson about doing unto others. I hope, but I don't believe it.Thursday, February 9, 2012
Precipice
Posted by Josh Guess
We're standing on the edge of a cliff, and the wrong move could push us off it.I've got to keep this very, very short due to the war council meeting that starts in a few minutes. But a quick word needs to be said, so you at least know why we're heading in the direction of open conflict. We know the Exiles are holed up in the fallback point, licking their wounds from our assault the other day. We know this because one of the two scouts we sent up one of the cliffs to spy on them told us.The other scout took a rifle bullet to the chest. He died before his partner could get him back to New Haven.So, we know they have snipers. We know they're done being subtle. We've thrown the first stone in terms of outright physical confrontation, and they've responded with high-caliber rounds. This situation isn't going to resolve easily or without loss, but we're used to hard and dangerous circumstances.Our next few steps need to be mapped carefully or we'll all pay the price. I'm making sure I'm early to the meeting in hopes that I can moderate some of the council's ideas, because given recent events I'm certain they'll be too risky. This is not the time to make errors we can avoid.Again, sorry this is short, but I'll make it up to you by not taking any days off until some kind of resolution is enacted. It may be a fight, it may be something else entirely, but I'll keep everyone in the loop.New Haven feels somber, like the air itself knows the risks we're going to take...Friday, February 10, 2012
Subtrefuge
Posted by Josh Guess
So maybe I wasn't totally honest when I said the other day that we discounted many ideas on how to attack the Exiles. Misinformation is a key aspect of warfare, after all.Now that our teams have come home, I can report on their activity. I feel pretty safe telling you this (and have approval to do so from the council, though it irks me that it's required) since the methods our people used can't be defended against. You'll understand when I explain.The Kentucky River is long. Very long. It's impossible for our enemies to patrol even the portion of it that's in this county, much less sections that are much farther away. Two teams made up of a mix of scouts and soldiers went to a location I won't disclose and set up a rope line. That required one of our people to go across the river, but that wasn't such a problem. Jet Skis aren't that hard to find. Not a tactic I'd care to see repeated given the incredible risk involved, but it worked. Zombies were attracted to the noise, but our folks got across once the line was up pretty quickly.Then several days of sabotage took place.We knew that getting our folks into the fallback point itself was far too risky. Instead they moved about the area, mostly at night to remain as stealthy as possible, and generally fucked things up. Hitting the Exiles' vehicles was also out of the question, but our boys and girls did a fantastic job setting traps all around the area. Explosives, homemade traps, and some other things I'm sure the Exiles haven't found yet. We know they've run across several of our little presents, because we've had people out listening from safe spots for the explosions.What's really strange is that they haven't tried to retaliate. I'd have thought something would have happened by now, but our watchers report that the Exiles are hunkering down and keeping close to their base. It makes me nervous.I'll admit that yesterday's post was also a bit of misdirection, though not entirely false. I really am worried about the possibility that the council will choose to act in a way that will endanger more people than absolutely necessary. The feeling that we were on the edge of a very dangerous moment was real also. Because the teams we sent out had just finished their work, and we were worried about what the response would be from the Exiles.As it turns out, the most unnerving response they could have given us was this one. Nothing. An enemy that reacts to your attack is a predictable one. Borderline psychotics like the marauders that make up a big chunk of the Exiles should not be capable of the kind of deliberate self-restraint we're seeing. I find it difficult to believe they're so frightened of us that they won't come out of their hidey-hole.The question remains: what are they doing in there?I can't conceive an answer that doesn't end in bloodshed. The trick is going to be anticipating what their response will be. It's gonna be that much harder since they've got the homesteaders with them. No one will be more useful in finding sneaky ways to attack us. The Exiles might consist of two very different groups of people, but together they're as much of a threat to us as anything I can imagine.In short: if we don't get an edge on them and figure out what they're going to do, we're potentially fucked.Saturday, February 11, 2012
All These Diamonds
Posted by Josh Guess
The groundhog must have seen his shadow, because winter has made a sudden and vengeful reappearance. Snow all yesterday afternoon and through the night melted into a thin layer of water that froze into ice when the temperature took a dive and bottomed out in the low twenties. Zombie activity has slowed to a crawl, but we've got our scouts out in full force anyway.Not because of the undead, or not only because of them. The new breed are dangerous and crafty, resistant to cold, and probably smart enough to wait until it got cold enough to drive us indoors to attack. Wouldn't put it past them. But the very same thing can be said of the Exiles: our expectation was that they'd start coming out when they thought it was safe, which would logically be right now. Our ability to be outdoors is hampered, so naturally they should take advantage of that.And lo and behold, they are. While the Exiles defied our expectations by going to ground after our attack instead of hitting back, today they're reacting as we'd expect. They're out in force this morning, though we can't make much sense of what they're doing. The assumption was that they'd be working on some attack plan, like constructing a bridge or gathering boats. Which, to be fair, they might be doing in a location we haven't found. At the fallback point, they definitely aren't.They're clearing the roads. Of ice, of snow, and with great caution of explosives and other traps. I'm beginning to wonder if the Exiles realize that they're not going to find us easy prey and have decided to cut their losses and fight again another day. There's always a chance that the utter horror of being trapped in your own clothes with sand hot enough to melt skin was enough to send them packing. Maybe having some of their number blinded in that attack, then others blown to dust by explosive traps days later finally drove home the point that we are simply not to be fucked with.It sounds good in my head. Epic, even. I know in my heart that's probably not the case. This isn't a fairy tale. The good guys don't get an easy win by scaring the bad guys. These are real human beings, and they react like real people do.Which means they're probably angry to a degree I can barely fathom. Worse, they're clearly not letting that anger distract them. Instead, the opposite seems to be the case, giving them a common enemy to hate and focus on as they follow through with whatever plans they have. We know their larger goal is our destruction, but that doesn't really help. You know a butcher is going to slice up a carcass, but unless you know where the first cut is going to be you have no way of predicting how he's going to do it.Still, we can make a few reasoned guesses based on what the scouts report. There are few reasons why the Exiles would need clear roads: to leave (we can only dream), to bring in more of their brethren to perhaps try and match our numbers, to be able to field hunting parties if they're low on food, or to reach points elsewhere from which to stage a river crossing to attack us. Sure, there are a lot of other possible reasons, but those seem like the most likely given their mindset.The most worrisome aspect of the situation is the council. They might be a bit too fast to act for my taste, and their judgment questionable when it comes to putting our people at risk, but at least with a defined threat they react predictably. There's a lot of nervous tension in the council right now. They don't like not knowing what the Exiles are up to. I'm afraid that with the cold hitting the zombies so hard and essentially relegating them to a background threat, they'll react badly to the Exiles' every move. Worry and fear will make the most reasonable person react with blind stupidity after a long enough time building up. The pressure is slowly increasing.Time is ticking by. As I looked out at the beautiful layer of ice coating the world this morning, sparkling and pure, I couldn't help envisioning what all those billions of diamonds would look like on a New Haven burned to the ground or flattened by bombs. The hardest truth of all is that the ice would have been just as lovely on a set of ruins that mark the tomb of a community I love, that I built, as it does a thriving home filled with the living. In the larger scheme of the world, that image shows just how small and unimportant New Haven's survival is. The universe does not play favorites. It's us or the Exiles, no help from greater powers than we.Good thing my people have grown used to taking care of themselves, isn't it?Sunday, February 12, 2012
Seeing Reasons
Posted by Josh Guess
Our scout report for this morning made everything clear, and the entire situation with the Exiles has changed. Overnight, our people saw loads being brought into the fallback point through the cleared sections of road. People, supplies, but most frightening of all, seedlings. Plants.They brought in lots of things, but the majority of what was transported were items used to create a long-term settlement. The Exiles aren't just staging for a war with us, though I'm sure that's coming. They're digging in for the long haul.They're building a community.If it hadn't been made so clear by their actions that they're actively hostile toward us, I'd have some hope that we could manage to coexist. Stranger things have happened in the history of the world than two bitter enemies learning to live side by side. The world wars taught us the value of putting hatred aside and dealing with the reality that constant warfare isn't the way to move forward. In this case, I don't think that's possible. The world isn't as it was then, and while there are certainly enough resources to be had around Franklin county to supply both New Haven and the Exiles, peaceful coexistence just isn't in the cards.For better or worse, we've trained ourselves to respond decisively and with finality to threats. You'd think our overactive council would be gung-ho to nip this godawful development in the bud, but they're responding slowly and with hesitation. As it turns out, Dodger and Will have been feeding the council detailed reports containing strategies and assessments for a full-scale assault on the Exiles. They've concluded that, with the resources we have available, the only way we stand a chance of beating the Exiles quickly is full-on assault.At least, that would have been true until this morning. Because when I say the Exiles have been bringing in loads of things, I mean it in every way. Estimates lead us to believe they've almost doubled the number of people living at the fallback point. They've been bringing in farming implements and foodstuff to grow, but they've got enough bulk food to last a long, long time. We can't starve them out. And now that their numbers are so much larger, we can't fight them with less than every able-bodied person.Turns out the council is only cavalier about risking the lives of other people. When Dodger laid out the bare bones and explained that we'd need every single person on board, they balked. Granted, that's a high-risk scenario that we'd risk only as a last resort, but still. I'm putting out there for the people of New Haven and everyone else so they know exactly what the conditions here are. What kind of leadership we're dealing with.The council is unwilling or unable to act right now. My guess is that they're terrified of having to put themselves in danger, but I admit that I might be wrong. Unfortunately, the longer they take to act, the more entrenched the enemy gets and the harder it's going to be to clear them out.It's good that I have a backup ready. It's a last-ditch effort and dangerous in ways I can't explain without telling you what it is. What happens next is on me.Monday, February 13, 2012
Watershed Moment
Posted by Josh Guess
Since my post yesterday, a string of events has played out that will have lasting ramifications for New Haven and everyone that calls it home. In short, I've played every ace I had in the hole and made every desperate gambit I could. Things have changed.Back in Colorado, we encountered a large area that was totally bereft of life, even zombies. We discovered that the area had been blasted with chemical and possibly biological agents, and only after I contacted some trustworthy allies to raze the place to the ground did I comment on what we'd found. I couldn't risk any remaining weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands.Funny, isn't it, how we always think our hands are the right ones.Now that I've taken action, I can tell the whole truth. You've probably already guessed that I salvaged some of the unused canisters from that place, hid them in the trailer and brought them back home. Two metal containers about the size of a small kitchen fire extinguisher, yet with enough destructive power to wipe out hundreds of human lives in one stroke.After my post yesterday, the council sent guards to make sure I didn't leave New Haven before they got a chance to talk to me. I went without a fight, because fighting would have been pointless. Also because I wouldn't have posted something like that without fully expecting a consequence of exactly this type. When I stood in front of the council, as they rained questions down on me, I stood calmly without speaking. I waited until their excitement turned into anger that I refused to respond. Past that, I waited until they finally fell totally silent, realizing I wasn't going to speak so long as they were ranting at me.That was when my people entered the room without announcing themselves and informed the council that their services would no longer be required.Since well before the team and I returned home, we've been in touch with people at New Haven about the dangerously unpredictable people in charge of the place. The only person on the team that is innocent in all of this is Bill, who finds himself thrust into a volatile situation in his new adopted home. Becky, Rachel, Will, Steve, and I have all been organizing and fomenting resistance on the off chance we'd need to act. Yesterday, the need became pressingly clear.Understand, please, that we did this according to the rules. One of the many changes the new council made to New Haven's charter (or constitution, whatever they're calling it now) was to give the people the ability to vote in a single leader during times of conflict. All it takes is a majority vote. I think the council expected to have the clout to make sure it would be one of them if crunch time came.They were wrong. As of today, against all expectation, Will Price is our leader again.You may think that I would be the logical choice, but I've been down that road. Maybe someday I'll have the maturity to handle that kind of power, but not today. Not soon. Will has been a soldier, a general, a spy, a slave, a criminal, and an intrepid explorer. Through all he's suffered at the hands of New Haven's citizenry, he's maintained a love of this place that is almost matchless.The other reason we rallied the people for Will instead of me is that I was the one who had the chemical weapons. Whoever went to to deliver them against our enemies was expected to have a 50/50 chance of returning, and Will is still crippled from his injuries. So I was the one who went. I was the one who carefully read the instructions on the things for the fiftieth time, who wore a gas mask, who made his way through the tall, frozen grass lining the hill leading down to the fallback point.The freezing wind was merciless, but at least it drove the zombie swarms to ground. I didn't have to worry much about them as I crawled several hundred yards dragging a huge nylon bag behind me. I was alone and not in danger from the undead as I set up the air cannon, whose double barrels were cut short to fit in the bag. I hadn't expected to get close enough to actually get my shot into the fallback point, so I settled on firing my charge just far enough to be on the edge of the river, my side of the river. The wind would carry the gas across and into the ranks of the enemy. There was enough of it to kill most of them if we were lucky.We weren't lucky.My shot was off, and the wind was hitting me from two directions. One of the canisters misfired completely, landing only a few dozen feet from me and only issuing a small leak of gas. The other overshot wildly, bounced off the riverbank on the far side, and fell into the river. All I managed to do was waste a valuable weapon, get seen, and make the Exiles realize the lengths we were ready to go to against them.Still, half our goal has been reached. The enemy may be more alert to us as a threat now, but control of New Haven and her resources is in the hands of the people with the willpower, intelligence, and creativity to use them to best advantage. We're going to need that once the Exiles mobilize, and since we tried to wipe them out with a WMD I'm certain they will, because we're outnumbered. Cut off from allies. And probably outgunned. I dodged rifle fire on my way up the hill after my air cannon malfunctioned. And those fuckers were not sparse with the bullets.I can't help feeling a little relief that the canisters didn't get to do their work. I was resolved to doing what had to be done, but to end so many lives at once...just thinking about it makes me wonder if my conscience could have taken the strain. Strangely, I don't doubt that I would do it again, but part of me is almost happy it didn't work out.Jess is furious that I didn't tell her any of this. I doubt I'll hold on to that happy relief if or when the Exiles finally attack us outright.Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Put Out
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm writing this from Patrick's house, as Jessica has kicked me out of ours. Turns out her anger is a little more durable than I expected. She's not a happy camper that I went on a potentially suicidal mission without consulting her. My personal life probably isn't as interesting to you as it is to me, but if I seem distracted or a bit off today, that's why.Our watchers keep sending us steady updates on activity at the fallback point. The Exiles continue working on setting up a permanent home for themselves, though most of the work has been done for them. When our extra people moved from the fallback point to New Haven, they took a lot of stuff with them, but an even larger amount of equipment was left behind. All the rows and rows of raised beds and the tracts of arable land are still there just waiting to be worked. There are quite a few homemade weapons, though what the homesteaders bring to the fight from whatever military base they raided is surely superior.All in all, it's kind of depressing.Will and I are working with many other people on contingency plans. We've got a ton of ideas on how to defend ourselves, some thoughts on how to prevent an all-out assault on New Haven, and other ideas that may or may not be feasible. One of our tried and true tactics--using swarms of zombies as weapons--wouldn't be possible for a while yet given the weather even if the new breed weren't clever enough to figure out what we were doing eventually.The Exiles aren't ignoring us, however. Our guards at the remaining bridge have been forced to pull back quite a ways, driven away from their posts by rifle fire. We've got our own riflemen set up at the new watch post, but they can't guard the bridge itself. By the time the enemy comes into view of our people, they'll have already crossed it. That's a small but important defeat, but we'll adapt to it and deal as best we can.There's a bit of concern right now for what happens when warmer weather comes through. While the Exiles will certainly be a major concern for as long as they continue to exist within two time zones of New Haven, we're rapidly approaching the time of year when the weather gets nicer day to day. The new breed is terribly creative in their desire to consume us, and while the team and I have a solid grounding in how to fight them and anticipate their tactics, the rest of New Haven doesn't. We've handled smart zombies before, but only in small numbers. Dealing with the Exiles and the new breed during clement weather might be impossible.I guess that means we're on a schedule. As I said, there are many options on the table, but an equal number of concerns and worries to go with them. We've got to think of security and the overt threats against us, sure, but we also have to feed our people, find a way to trade with the outside world, and a hundred other things that go with having a community of any size.I'm rambling, I know, but barring a miracle, we're going to be stretched pretty thin very soon.Hmm. I've just had an idea. I need to go find Will.Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Ravager
Posted by Josh Guess
Another day passes, and another attempt to destroy the Exiles fails utterly.You may remember that we'd talked to some survivors with access to a plane capable of performing air drops. We'd intended for them to drop some trade goods on the west side of the county, far from any inhabited area. I remembered early yesterday morning as I was finishing up my post that they were supposed to make that drop last night. A light bulb went on in my head, and I had to go talk to Will and Dodger.It was logical to wonder: if they could drop supplies out in the boonies for us, why couldn't they drop something less pleasant on the Exiles? It made sense. All we needed to know was whether or not our contacts with the plane had access to something suitably destructive. That didn't seem to be a stretch since their plane is military hardware.Our observers watched from as far away as possible, but were in radio contact with the plane. We were worried about the response from the Exiles if they saw the attack coming, and we wanted to have eyes on the ground just in case. Damn good thing Will thought of that, because the Exiles heard the plane coming well before it came into sight. Our scouts saw the Exiles scramble to the tops of the buildings in the fallback point with some very heavy gear. A couple of them had heavy sniper rifles, and one had a rocket launcher.Needless to say, the scouts called off the run.Our friends diverted their flight, climbed as fast as they could, and headed back home. So, yeah. We didn't get our supplies and the enemy didn't take so much as a scratch. It was just *awesome*.Reality is starting to sink in. Logistically, we can't fight the Exiles openly. We've got heart and all that hero crap, but they have numbers, ammunition, and many other advantages. I hate to say it, but the consensus around here is now leaning toward a longer-term situation than we've previously considered. The Exiles and New Haven are in a stalemate: our defenses are strong enough to cost them dearly to take us down, while their advantages keep a direct assault on our part virtually impossible. Add to that the laundry list of attempted and discarded attack options, and you've got a pretty honest look at the problem.So, for the moment, we're going to shift our focus to the other concerns that need to be addressed. Preparing for spring, the planting schedule, working out new trade routes, and the like.I know many of you out there in our sister communities expected some kind of hail-Mary end to this situation, but this isn't a Dean Koontz novel. No hero is going to show up with a personal army and destroy our enemies just in the nick of time. There are limits to the time, effort, and resources we can dedicate to this fight, and we've reached them. For now at least, the Exiles will be just another threat to be monitored, one that will require vigilance and cleverness to keep in check. But if you were hoping to see us pull a stunning last minute victory out of our magic top hats, I'm sorry. Sometimes the home team has to concede a tie game.That being said, we aren't going to ignore them. Our eyes and ears will be open, just as they are for threats from the undead. Speaking of which...Two pieces of news on that front, one good and one bad. The good is that we've been told a large herd of zombies, likely new breed, have been spotted heading toward central Kentucky from the east. When I say large, I mean in the hundreds at least, though the contact who saw the herd pass by couldn't get an accurate count. They're heading in this general direction, but no one can say for sure if they'll end up in Frankfort or if they'll miss us by miles. Too much distance between them and us to have any idea how it will go. The good news in there is that the Exiles are on the east side of the river, so those undead hopefully won't be our problem if they manage to hit our town.The bad news is that the folks flying the plane spotted a similar large herd moving roughly southeast toward my side of town, also from a good distance away. They aren't even in this state yet, and they'd have to go through Louisville to get to us. Chances aren't great they'll hit here, but I have to wonder at the likelihood of two separate groups moving in the general direction of this state at the exact same time. The first (and most pants-shittingly terrifying) thought that popped into my head was that the New Breed we're seeing here in larger and larger numbers are just the forerunners of something larger.The second and almost equally frightening thought was that zombies seem to communicate by smell. That's been our theory for a long time. So, what if those groups are heading this way because other zombies left a trail for them to follow?Exiles and zombies. If one of them doesn't destroy us, the other will surely try. Strangely, I'm sort of okay with honest and straightforward threats. I'd rather have a villain to fight than worry about the idiocy of community politics, infighting, and all that jazz.Which is what I have to deal with right this second. Enough people requested new council elections that now I've got to organize one of them. Giving the people the power to oust their leaders when needed is excellent for keeping authority in check, but it creates a lot of extra work for me.Thursday, February 16, 2012
Preventive Measures
Posted by Josh Guess
I'm on my way with a small team to get a look at the oncoming zombie swarm. This post is by necessity going to be short, but given my wordiness lately I doubt many of you will complain about that.Becky and Rachel came with us, the rest of the team being made up of scouts. They're the ones who will try to get close to the swarm and gauge its speed and size, while the ladies and I set up what will hopefully be an effective deterrent. The idea is to lay tripwires across the highway where we expect the zombies will travel, preferably at a bottleneck like a bridge. The tripwires, when struck, will pop the valves on a few tanks of ammonia we had altered for the purpose.If we get it right, the swarm might be put off completely. If we screw it up, then at worst we've wasted several gallons of ammonia. I know I don't want to be here when those valves go--this is pure ammonia, anhydrous. It's going to expand into a gas very quickly once the pressure valves go. The pressure inside those containers is pretty dangerous. I'm not a huge fan of having them in the truck with us, to be honest.Will has promised to contact us if the Exiles make any sudden moves. Leaving home again, even for a day trip, is not my first choice in assignments. Especially when my wife still isn't letting me sleep in our house and my home is under threat from outside forces. Er, more under threat, I guess.Compared to much of what we've faced, this swarm doesn't seem like as much of a big deal as it could, and that's a problem. We can't allow comparative thinking to affect how seriously we take the threat of zombie attacks. Maybe it's the fact that the new breed around New Haven hasn't been attacking us in any serious way that's thrown us off. Maybe the new breed is smart enough to have planned that, to lower our defenses. I don't know.After months on the road, dealing with threats so often that they became mundane and not even worth mentioning (almost every day we camped outside a community, we had to clear at least a few zombies out. It eventually gets sort of boring), this doesn't seem like much of an adventure. Setting this trap will certainly help a lot, potentially saving us from a major confrontation with one of the deadlier threats we face. Still sort of feels like a day at the office to me. I dunno, maybe I'm just off because Jess won't talk to me much and Patrick is a poor substitute for a loving wife.Bah, time's up. I'll try to update later if possible, but I don't think it will be. Wish us luck.Friday, February 17, 2012
Surge
Posted by Josh Guess
We'll know in a day or so if our trap is going to be effective in putting off the undead heading this way, but for the moment our focus is back on the Exiles. Like, WAY back on them.Our watchers reported that overnight, a flood of vehicles arrived at the fallback point. They came in with their lights off, but our people have some military hardware of their own. Cover of darkness loses to night vision technology.All told, we estimate another hundred or so people have joined the Exiles. That brings their numbers to a dangerous point, one where attacking us wouldn't be the suicidal gesture you might think. We probably wouldn't be as worried about it if there weren't other things going on at the fallback point this morning that make us think an attack is in the works.It's not that hard to decipher: the Exiles are outfitting vehicles with armor plates, attaching weapons to them, and forming up ranks out in plain view of our watchers. Will thinks they've been putting up with us for this long because they were waiting for this last group of allies to bolster their numbers, as well as for the supplies the new group brought with them. Which seem to be mostly weapons.We now have every reason to believe that the Exiles are coming for us today, finally. I really thought that they'd continue to be more cautious, unwilling to risk an assault on us until they were in a vastly superior situation than us. I can see the reasoning behind choosing to do it now--we're still mostly cut off from allies, we're still furiously working on more defenses, and our leadership structure has just changed. If I were them, I'd see this as the best chance they'll have in the near future of dealing us a potential deathblow.I can't say they're wrong.Still, there's only one way they can be coming if they're going to hit us with any kind of speed, and that's across the remaining bridge carrying the interstate. We may not have to worry about the zombie swarm headed this way just yet, but it's looking like today is going to be a game-changer one way or another. I don't think I'm giving away any tactical secrets by saying that we'll have to try standing up to them at the bridge. It's a natural bottleneck, and they've got the advantage in firepower and numbers of people they can put in the field. We'll do what we can to hold them there, but I expect fairly high losses. No one in New Haven has any illusions about that. We'll fight hard, we'll use every dirty trick, but a lot of us are probably going to die today.Unless they try to work their way around us, which would mean a few days of grace as they head toward another county to use other bridges. But that would leave us too much time to prepare or run, since we know they're coming. I think the Exiles are acting so openly because they're angry and want us afraid. We've been doing all we can to hurt them, but now they have a chance to return the favor.It's almost a blessing that they took out all the other bridges. At least this way we know what they're planning on doing, where they're going to be. It's not much of an advantage, but we'll certainly take it.Jess has asked me to stay here instead of joining the volunteers that will be staging on our side of the bridge. I've agreed, and only because she asked me to. I want to be out there with the others, doing what I can to keep my home safe, but in the event the Exiles make it past our lines and to New Haven, I want to be here to defend it. I started this refuge back when it was just called the compound, back when it was just my house. I'll fight till my last breath for it and the people I love. If I'm going to die, it's going to be on my own soil, next to the wife who has made this awful world worth the struggle.Ah. Just got a call. Our people are ready. Thank god we've planned for this, had our vehicles ready and stocked up. The Exiles are coming. They've just started piling people into their vehicles.I'll try to write again later today if I can...Saturday, February 18, 2012
The Great Division
Posted by Josh Guess
It's just after six in the morning, and I still haven't been to sleep. The world is a smaller place than it was yesterday, and it's because of some hard decisions that had to be made.An interesting thing about the events of the last twenty-four hours: the local zombies have been keeping to themselves. I don't know if the new breed is beginning to understand what weapons and armor mean, but our people barely saw sign of the undead as they staged closer to the edge of the I-64 bridge than we've gotten in days.The remaining span over the river was where we chose to make our stand, knowing the Exiles would have to take that path if they wanted to hit us with any kind of speed. In this, the enemy did not disappoint. We lost six people in the push to get close to the bridge, their damned snipers on the tops of the cliffs taking a toll on our fighters as our forces moved forward. Our people eventually did get in position, and a few of our own marksmen forced the enemy snipers to retreat.Our people only beat the Exiles to the bridge by a few minutes. If we'd been a hair slower, I probably wouldn't be alive to type this right now.The Exiles weren't interested in a prolonged confrontation across the bridge. Apparently worried about damaging it, they didn't use explosives of any kind as they slowly moved forward. Though we put as many people into the field as we could and still be able to defend New Haven, the Exiles outnumbered our forces by a wide margin. Our people did what they could, firing precious bullets with all the accuracy they could muster, but most of the time the volunteer warriors from New Haven had to hide behind armored plates. The Exiles moved across the bridge cautiously but with a constant hail of suppressing fire.During the agonizing minutes it took the exiles to reach our side of the bridge, New Haven lost another twenty-one people. Three of those were from the group of allies in Shelby county, women we'd rescued from Tennessee. Four were from the new neighbors who've joined with us from the surrounding areas. Seven were soldiers from North Jackson.Each of those lives lost are a blow to us, measurable in the loss of their productive and protective capabilities, immeasurable for the lost laughter and fellowship that left the earth with them. Their potential is forever gone. That is the price we paid to defend our home. That is the sacrifice those people knew they might make to give the appearance of a united and dedicated front.Because once the Exiles got to the edge of the bridge, we detonated the explosives.This was not a small, controlled piece of demolition designed to blow out the middle of the bridge and simply make it impassable. The reason our people got as close as they did was to make a good show, and to take out those snipers. We could probably have been closer, but the bombs were designed to literally rip the bridge apart and to utterly ruin the steep edges of the river valley they were attached to. The mistake the Exiles made was thinking that we wouldn't cut off our own hand to save the body. That we wouldn't destroy our best remaining way across the river. That our appearance at the bridge signified our determination to stop them with their tactics. Self-sacrifice doesn't seem to be a concept they're keen on.Our best guess is that about forty percent of their people and weaponry were on the bridge when it went. The volunteer fighters from New Haven took withering fire, many giving their lives to guarantee as many of the enemy were on the bridge as possible when we took it out. Even those who survived the rain of bullets have suffered much more than anyone should--seeing friends die before them, splattered with the blood of allies. Having to make sure none of our dead would rise again as zombies. Terrible memories to carry.But they carry them anyway. And I respect that choice just as much as I respect those we lost in the fight.One major aspect of this assault we didn't anticipate, however, was that the Exiles would find a way to attack on two fronts. Even as the major assault group left the fallback point, another group about half the size of the first made their move. Maybe the Exiles assumed that the scouts we've had posted on the hills and cliffs around the fallback point would come back to New Haven once it became clear we were going to have to mount a defense.Leave the enemy base unwatched during an armed conflict? I don't think so.That was why we knew they'd pulled a trick on us. Will and I, along with many others, have constantly asked why the Exiles would stage so much right in front of our scouts knowing we were watching. The natural assumption is that the enemy had other tricks and deceptions up their sleeves, and we were right. We just didn't know how much we'd missed.There were three bridges leading across the river right in front of the fallback point. Two of them were elegant arches of concrete before their destruction. They were shattered in such a way that I can't think of any way to repair them or bridge their gaps. Too much open space, and the remains are at steep angles. The third bridge was an old railroad bridge, straight as an arrow and flat. The middle part of it was destroyed, leaving a gap sixty or seventy feet across.The Exiles hid a military bridge-layer on the far side of the fallback point, where our scouts couldn't see. Will says it was probably an M104 Wolverine, whatever that is. He says given how old the railroad bridge is and how much damage it sustained, he's surprised the weight of the Wolverine didn't collapse the half of the bridge it had to roll across to lay the replacement section.I mean, the thing used to hold freaking trains, so it had to have been built tough, right?Anyway, our scouts reported what the enemy was doing even as they were driving the Wolverine out of its hiding place. The remaining people in New Haven got the news, and we were readying to leave, to make our way down the hill to hurl explosives and anything else we could bring with us at the enemy.Then the Exiles must have had a call from some of the survivors who hadn't made it onto the bridge before we blew it up, telling the people back home what had happened. Because they retreated back across that makeshift span as fast as they could, then retracted it and dug into their new home.Apparently, there's a difference between being the other half of an attack force, the surprise half, and being the only group left capable of attacking at all. The Exiles left at the fallback point were only happy to give up their secret weapon and fight as long as they thought they had a huge advantage. Once they learned how badly we hurt them, they scuttled back to safety like the cowards they are.Yes. I'm saying this. Exiles:You can attack us if you like, but understand what will happen. We will go to any lengths to protect our home. We will do anything we have to in order to assure the safety of our children and loved ones. You can come back across the river any time and we probably won't be able to stop that. But remember when you do what happened to your people. You want to hurt us, to kill us, because you're angry and vengeful. And honestly? You've got every right to feel that way, even though we have done what we've done because our point of view makes you the bad guys.But remember this: while you're coming after us for revenge, we fight for survival. Tooth and nail, to the bitter end. Whatever it takes to make sure the group endures. So, attack if you want, but remember that we will kill ourselves gladly to take you with us.I told you before. We are not to be fucked with.I will also say this, as it comes from our newly elected leader and our even more newly elected council: we're done attacking you. Though we consider you to be a horrendous group of people, murderers, rapists, and thieves as well as traitors and probably worse, we also want to live. So we're offering this truce to you. Stay on your side of the river, forgo assaulting groups of survivors for any reason save self-defense, and we'll leave you alone. Break those terms, and this whole destructive cycle can begin all over.The future is now in your hands. The choice is yours.Make the right one for once in your lives.Monday, February 20, 2012
Disintegration
Posted by Josh Guess
The fallout from our conflict with the Exiles is starting to settle. It's been a hard and tearful few days, as we've treated our wounded and consigned brave men and women to their funeral pyres. There's an overwhelming sense of sadness around New Haven right now, but also new shoots of hope rising through the ashes.Our fallen friends and family will be missed, but even those most deeply wounded by their passing recognize the bravery with which their lives were given. Without those we lost and their willingness to stand against an enemy that seemed unstoppable, without their help in our desperate gamble, New Haven would likely be a smoking ruin. I've lost count of the times I've said this over the last two years, but thank you.Not just thanks for those who died, but to those who lost loved ones in the struggle. The fallen have moved on from the danger and death that lurks around every corner in this world. It's you who are left behind that deserve equal respect. You've lost husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, best friends. A little bit of the light that brightened your world has gone out, and your lives are that much darker.I see the pain on your faces and the tears in your eyes, yet you go on. You honor the memory of those lost in the best possible way: you live. And though your hearts are heavy, you'll soon laugh again, and enjoy warm days and sunsets from a home that continues to exist because of the generous hearts of people unwilling to bend or break in the face of annihilation. Once the wounds begin to heal, you'll take comfort in that.You will not fall apart.In the world that was, disintegration happened to people all too often. Life would strike one blow too many, and something deep and vital would break. We've been through too much, fought too hard to make it with all the world seemingly against us, to ever let that happen. It isn't a matter of strength, necessarily. I've seen strong people give in to depression. I don't know what it is, for sure, but I know that even as you hurt you see the need to use the lives and freedom that were bought and paid with the sacrifice of dear friends to the fullest.There will always be threats. Zombies will, on those warmer days, move against us as they have from the first moments of The Fall. As long as the undead exist, our lives will be contingent on our wits, resourcefulness, and willingness to stand as one.There will likely always be people like the Exiles as well. Human beings are bred to hate, to kill, to make war. Our genes make us our own worst enemy, and even among the most peaceful there will doubtlessly be born those who commit acts that run counter to that way of life.We've seen all things fall apart. The world has ended in all practical senses of the term. Society as it was has fallen, infrastructure is mostly useless. Social, political, and governmental structure have all been reset to zero.Yet here we are, working against entropy to build something new. Something that evolves as we choose it to evolve. Because we recognize that being human and being alive is only worthwhile and meaningful so long as we choose to find worth and meaning. We see the truth; that survival is a means to make a better life for those who come after.So mourn our lost, as is fitting. But remember every moment of danger and effort that led us to right now. Remember to give silent thanks to the fallen, as I give written thanks to you. We hurt as one, but we're strong. Some of us will die, but the community will live on.We're survivors. When things begin to fall apart, we are the ones who choose to put them back together.Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Deafening Silence
Posted by Josh Guess
We've heard nothing from the Exiles. Our watchers have seen minimal movement at the fallback point, almost entirely guards moving about on their rounds. For the moment we're working on the assumption that no news is good news and that the Exiles will abide without attacking us for now. If nothing else, they'd have to build up their numbers, weapons, and equipment again, since so much of what they had was lost when the bridge dropped.Jess has tentatively allowed me back in our house, and I'm trying to appease her in any way I can. She still hasn't forgiven me, but I can live with what progress I've made. Now that the immediate threat is over, she is more open to listen to my point of view. Which I'm cautiously meting out in small doses, because she's still angry and has access to a high-powered rifle.Our trick with the ammonia worked, driving the zombies away right at the Sherman-Minton bridge that connects Louisville with Indiana. We're not entirely sure where the swarm went after that, but some of our contacts in the Louisville area assure us that it wasn't across the I-65 bridge. Maybe the undead we put off their course are still in Indiana, wandering around looking for a way to pick up whatever trail they're following.Which reminds me: we're now certain that the new breed can track scents over very long distances. We've had multiple reports from around the country in the last few days of people being attacked on the road, and then having some of the same zombies attack them again days or weeks later when the travelers had been at their destinations for a good while. One story related to me pointed out that during a zombie attack, the defender had cut the hand off a zombie, whose stump then brushed their vehicle. That same zombie appeared with a swarm to attack three days later. We've guessed for a while now a zombie's sense of smell is way more powerful than our own (or at least the organism that animates the undead can detect odors way better than we can, it's all semantics) but now we've got pretty convincing evidence that at least the smell of zombies themselves persists for a long enough time to act as a guide for other undead.What I'm saying is that I seriously doubt the swarm we hit with the ammonia trap will stay away for long. If they find a way across the river, they'll eventually find us. Large groups of people attract zombies like moths to a flame, so there are thousands of scent trails leading right to us.We'll deal with that when it comes. New Haven has been a flurry of activity over the last few weeks as the defenses have been bolstered again and again, so we've got little to fear from anything other than truly overwhelming numbers of zombies, even if they are new breed. Our home is set up to defend against even those tricky bastards, and the team and I have seen enough of their tactics to give us solid grounding to the rest of our fellow citizens. The new breed might choose to attack, but we'll have our eyes open for anything unusual.Worst case scenario, we won't go down easily.I have to say, I really miss Aaron. I've been so busy lately that I haven't had the chance to comment on him being gone, but I'm glad he left before all this insanity broke out. He's a gentle soul, a rare thing in the world as it is now, and the less horror he has to face, the better. I've got to catch up with him if he manages any kind of internet access soon so I can pick his brain. Aaron probably has some good ideas on the new breed, and I imagine he's put quite a bit of thought in their direction.I still have that wound-up feeling, that tension all through my body and mind that screams to me that something bad is going to happen. Not that the sensation ever truly goes away nowadays, but it's intense at the moment. As if every second is the last before a soul-chilling scream splits the air.Yet, there's nothing. The Exiles are holed up and beaten, surely planning but unable to reach us easily and too short on bodies to attack if they wanted to. The local undead are cleverly staying under the radar. I'm sure given the new breed's penchant for sneakiness, there are far more of them around than we think. Maybe the group heading toward the Exiles from the east is close. I don't know that anyone has checked on that, or even has the capacity to.It's the silence that bothers me, I guess. The quiet in New Haven and the quiet outside the walls aren't good things. It isn't the dull absence of trouble that once brought us peace. It's the calm you hear before a tragedy, the dramatic pause before the serial killer strikes from the darkness.That's the way it feels to me, but I have zero logical reason to feel that way. Just months of living on the road, usually in immediate danger of some kind, then weeks of record-level stress here. My mind is probably just overcompensating for the sudden cessation of dangerous outside stimuli. I'm sure I'll go back to normal (whatever that is) in a few days. For now, I'm going to fully embrace the fear and roiling sense of doom in my belly, which I can use as an excuse to curl up on my couch and be a curmudgeon.On that note, I'm taking the rest of the day off. I'm sure tomorrow will be incredibly busy, and I've had precious little rest in the last few days. Maybe some isolation and mental decompression is what I need.Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Minor Threat
Posted by Josh Guess
Being away from home for a long time has always been a surreal experience for me. When I was a kid I'd go visit my dad and other family in Illinois for extended periods of time in the summer, and coming back was strange. The house seemed smaller and small changes never ceased to throw me off.New Haven is constantly evolving, and that means any given day can bring a change you haven't been aware of. Stay away for months and you're bound to feel like a stranger when you see the new and amazing things your people have done in the interim.Hell, just since we've been back there have been a lot of alterations to the fabric of New Haven. War, losing people, gaming the broken system to put Will in charge and then fast-tracking elections to get the dangerously unpredictable councilors out of power.Then there's construction, which I've mentioned recently. We've got a functional refrigeration unit that can hold literally tons of food for us. We've got the fishing hut my brother took me to. The annex has been fully cleared and exploited for farmland, and some greenhouses have sprung up there as well. All over our little city on a hill, houses have begun changing as people convert their roofs into gardens where possible. A very large communal living building is going up, capable of housing nearly a hundred people.The most stunning change I've come across is the defenses, as I saw first-hand last night near dusk.Mother nature, being an insane bitch, hit us with ridiculous cold in the early morning but let the mercury rise all day. By the time the sun got close to the western horizon, it was in the high forties, maybe the low fifties. The sentries were on high alert, given the recent loss of so many people, and were using binoculars to watch for threats. Our people wanted to catch anything long before it could get to us.What they saw was a mass of zombies to the south, admittedly the hardest part of New Haven to defend. Far outside of bow range, the undead were too few to pose a threat high enough to justify picking them off with bullets. Estimates ran between thirty and fifty of them, and even from a distance we could tell they were new breed. An interesting aside--the cold weather has apparently been accelerating the change in the color and texture of the new breed's skin, making it much easier to tell them apart from regular zombies.The bulk of the group stayed where they were, a common scene among smart zombies. A smaller unit of ten new breed came toward the walls. The head sentry on duty called for the others to hold their fire, wanting to see what the approaching zombies would do.By the time the undead had made it to within three hundred feet of the wall, I was there. I watched them get closer, slowing as they moved. Clearly the zombies expected something, and it wasn't for us to just stand there watching them. They were being as cautious as it was possible to be when you're moving on open land toward an enemy fortification.Then they hit the first trap.A lot of work has been done to make New Haven as safe against swarms as possible. One of the strokes of brilliance we had a while back was trying to make weapons that use compressed air as a firing mechanism, since in a worst-case scenario we can hand-pump air if our compressor is offline or the power is out. I had no idea how many people had taken the concept and run with it until last night.The first zombie to step on a trap hit a switch buried in the matted tall grass, releasing a valve that filled a tube, which pushed a spear of wood straight up from the earth to a height of six feet, impaling the zombie from its crotch and clean out through the side of its neck. Damn thing tilted its head at the last second. But the spring-loaded barbs, a very simple design, popped out after the tip of the spear exploded from flesh and expanded, securing the length of wood in place and keeping the zombie from moving.I could almost swear the other undead gave each other looks at that point, as if to say, "Fuck this noise. We're out!". But they moved forward anyway.Other traps of similar design were sprung, as well as one of them falling into a well-disguised pit. By the time the remaining three of them got within a hundred feet, the zombies were clearly wary. Their dysfunctional brains, less astute than a living person's but far brighter than that of your average walking corpse, had picked up on the fact that getting anywhere near our wall had cost them the majority of their numbers. And that was just the hidden traps, the ones lurking out of view inside the earth. There were others, more obvious and avoidable, designed to slow down attacking zombies or damage them if they were pushed against them by the crush of a swarm.When they crossed that imaginary hundred foot line, the lead sentry gave a hand signal.With a hiss like some giant, angry cat, three air cannons let loose at one time. Each cannon aimed at one zombie, and the load of gravel and shrapnel that spread out had enough force behind it to travel that distance and still rip the undead to shreds instantly. It was like watching people explode but without all the pretty flames.Those cannons are insanely powerful. And our wall is covered in them. I'm starting to feel a bit better about our chances should the Indiana swarm make their way here. I haven't even touched on a lot of the other stuff, but I can't give away too much about what keeps us safe. We have enemies, after all.At any rate, I thought I'd share that. We've had a hard time lately and things are still gloomy at home. I felt uplifted by the show of defenses, not only for the safety they bring us but also because they represent the creativity and power of the human mind operating under terrible circumstances. And that's enough to make me smile.Thursday, February 23, 2012
Terrible Two
Posted by Josh Guess
I try my best not to focus on the time that's passed, but no matter how much effort we mere humans put into it, we can't help but notice the turning of the seasons. I realized this morning as I walked through the greenhouses Jess supervises that we're just days away from ending our second full year living after the end of the world.Some of you might be thinking in biblical terms, such as the rapture and those left behind. Some are probably considering all the apocalyptic fiction that you've encountered and how the reality differs. Maybe you're reflecting on how wrong the Mayan calendar was, since the world ground to a screeching halt far in advance of the advertised date in December of this year. I'd wager a few out there are even thinking about how hard the future will be, based on experiences so far.Me, I'm thinking about radishes.I've said before that our goal should be to look at the world and our place in it with a large degree of comparison. We have to consider how far we've come, and how far we've yet to go. To measure our achievements, survival chief among them, rather than days gone by. As I walked through the greenhouses with Jess, I realized that I hate radishes, and that there was enough food being grown that I wouldn't have to eat them. My wife's hard work in designing and managing the sprouts destined to be crops this year means that New Haven will be fed with a variety of foodstuffs in such quantities that we'll have choices in our meals.For someone two years ago who had a hard time picking between two different kinds of frozen lasagna at the supermarket, this probably wouldn't seem world-changing. For me, now, having been hungry in ways that can only be described as third-world, it's close in accomplishment to the discovery of the DNA molecule or harnessing the power of the atom.Okay, I'm probably being hyperbolic here, but you have to understand that I fucking hate radishes.Granted, we've got enough troubles to write a century's worth of blues songs. The weather today is already warm and probably headed for balmy heights, which means more probing attacks by zombies. The Exiles aren't going anywhere and my crystal ball tells me they aren't going to give us a pass for dropping half their buddies into a river valley, so that's a comforting thought to carry around.But dammit, we won't starve through it. With all the worries my people and I have, food hopefully isn't going to be one of them this year. Jess has truly taken ideas and made them her own. Some things she's growing aren't all that tasty, but we can easily grow in bulk--such as clover. Boil it, and it's not so tough to digest. The stuff grows just about anywhere, is relatively nutritious, and at present hundreds of millions of seeds are being spread everywhere we can drive. That, in addition to the clover seeds we spread last year, will give us a huge supply to draw on.A stable food supply is just one example of the progress made here, and much of that has been achieved while I was away. I learned even more about the defenses after yesterday's post, and I'm now certain that any group of zombies is going to have a tough time getting inside the walls, regardless of numbers. There would have to be thousands for me to seriously worry. I'm gonna knock on wood, of course, because it's not as though we haven't fought that many at New Haven before.There are plenty of reasons for us to get depressed and give in to worry. That's just honest fact. We could focus on the challenges ahead in a negative way, worry endlessly about the ever-present threat of zombies sneaking up and swarming us suddenly, too fast for the defenses to matter. We will certainly sweat as the Exiles rebuild their strength and call in new allies if they can manage it. Those things and the hundred tiny difficulties that come with daily life can weigh us down.I'm not trying to sing a happy song and ignore all that. I'm not saying there won't be times when the hurt and worry will drive us to bed, shaking with the overwhelming stress of it all. Surely we'll have moments of weakness.What I am saying is that we've survived more times and in more dire situations than your average group of settlers heading for the west two centuries ago. We've persevered, and even gone beyond mere survival or maintaining the status quo. We've done a lot of good for ourselves and others, created a complex trade system that will be instrumental in strengthening ties to other communities and rebuilding a larger society.I'm just saying that when we're tending out wounded from the next unexpected zombie attack or fending off the advances of the Exiles or even just bitching about how hard everyday life is, we should remember that.The funny thing about the future is there's always more of it to be encountered. Or defeated, conquered, or just plain won. It's going to be a rough journey, but remembering our victories is the best defense our hearts can mount against the many small defeats that will surely come.So keep your chins up. No matter how long it takes, be it another two terrible years or twenty, we'll get there.Saturday, February 25, 2012
Up On High
Posted by Josh Guess
We've still got people watching the fallback point on a continual rotation even though it's tough to spare the extra people at the moment. We're feeling the recent losses in emotional damage and in more concrete terms as those of us still walking the world of the living struggle to prepare for the planting season.Not just that, but we've got loads of other things to work on, one of the most important being resuming trade. Now that there are no easy ways across the river nearby, we and our allies feel it's safe to begin trading along alternate routes. That's a big part of why we're still mounting a full scout team at all times to keep an eye on the exiles. That's going to be harder to manage when the weather gets permanently warm but we'll find a way.As it is, the psychotic force of mother nature has given us another cold snap intense enough to drive off the zombies. It's a blessing and a curse, since the unpredictable rise and fall of temperatures is hard on us and our plans for the growing season. One night we're fine without fires, the next it's so frigid we have to spend half the night stoking our fires back up.But hey, it keeps the undead away, and that's worth it.We've decided to set up permanent watch stations on the various cliffs overlooking the fallback point. The fallback point itself is nestled on the flood plain of the Kentucky river, while our side of the divide has the high, sheer cliffs that define the river valley. given how much of this state is relatively easy to farm and not pocked with land prone to heavy flooding and huge shelves of rock tumbling off cliff faces, I fail to understand how the founders of Frankfort said, "Yep. This place will do. Let's build our town right on this flat bit that fills with water and hope we don't get smashed to death by boulders."Still, it's advantageous for us. We were concerned about putting up any structures on the hills or cliffs overlooking the Exiles' new home. They lost a lot of equipment in the fight with us, but they still have a lot of dangerous long-range weaponry that makes any obvious buildings risky.Our idea was to move in some simple prefabricated structures my brother came up with, basically just wooden boxes that collapse on hinges when the support pins are pulled. The fronts portions are armored in a very creative way that I'm told I can't share.Dave had several of the boxes built and we hauled them into place. None of them have sustained any attacks from the Exiles. It looks like the enemy is abiding by the simple terms we gave them, at least for now. The only activity that's been reported inside the fallback point in the last few days is safe stuff, the Exiles working on getting their agricultural sections ready for planting.It should bother me more that the Exiles really seem to be making their home here. Don't misunderstand, I'm not happy that people who have committed such atrocious acts are squatting on what is our land by rights. I'm not thrilled that they're not leaving, or that they're probably plotting some long-term moves against us.But it should bug me more. I understand why I feel less upset than I should, but I'm saving that for tomorrow. After tomorrow's post, I may have to take a few days off to tend to many of the responsibilities I've shirked while we've been working on so many other things. A few days to focus on other things and get our house in order. I know you’ll forgive me, or at least I hope you will.Sunday, February 26, 2012
Sail
Posted by Josh Guess
We live in profoundly strange times. Sometimes the weirdness of the world as it is now can become a part of the background so that we forget the moments in time, the events both good and bad, that shape the present we live in.I said yesterday that I'd explain why I'm not as upset about the Exiles being able to freely thrive despite the horrible things they've done. As it's another dangerously cold morning and the zombie swarms are quiet, I'm going to take a good deal of time to write this post. I think it's important to give perspective and to explain how a viewpoint can change so much over time. Or rather, how a viewpoint can change with the times.I've been turning this over in my head for the last day. I've been struggling to put in words the concept that sometimes you just have to let things be. And how you have to do that even for acts that are so contrary to civilized society that it makes you taste blood at the idea of not handing out justice.A few thoughts. Not perfect comparisons by any means, but I think I've managed to get close enough to make my point. That being said:When explorers many centuries ago traveled across the oceans, they lost people. Colonists and pilgrims, conquistadors and mapmakers, all of them faced the same sets of odds. Each of them knew when they left home that they'd have to beat some heavy odds in order to make a new life or a fresh discovery. Most of them chose to make those trips.We didn't have a choice.But like any settlers,we've moved into a world entirely different from the comfortable one we grew up in. We've done awful things to survive. Almost all of us have had to kill living people as well as the undead. We've done so without mercy when needed. Think about that for a minute. I know most of you have given it some reflection, and I obviously have over the last two years on this blog, many times.Think hard. Could you have seen yourself burning alive a rapist or shooting an attacker in the heart two years ago? Not as an abstract, I mean. Not in your stray thoughts. I mean in the harshest, most realistic terms. Was there ever a point in your life that you imagined the things we have to do on a regular basis would even be possible for you? I know I didn't.Now that you're in that frame of mind, another question: could you have imagined a circumstance,any circumstance, in which you'd allow a murdering rapist who ravaged the lives of peaceful human beings to get away with it?I've said a lot about the standards by which we live on this blog. I've said that some actions, some behaviors, can't be ignored. That a response must come no matter what the cost. As much as it pains me to admit it, as dirty as it makes me feel, I was wrong. A part of me wants to believe that the Exiles are redeemable. I want very badly to hold on to some shred of possibility that our enemy, those very same murdering rapists, could come to a moment of enlightenment. That guilt could drive them to submit to justice by others if for no other reason to attain some kind of atonement.I don't believe that, which makes the whole thing so much worse.If the Exiles choose to make a go of building a home of their own in a truly long-term way without going back to the awful deeds that made them infamous, I can live with that. I can go on about my business for the rest of my life knowing they might never pay for all the lives they've ruined. I can suppress the rage and sense of injustice it springs from...pretty much forever.I can do that because much like those intrepid people who left the old world for the new, I recognize that some fights aren't worth the cost. Should I push my people toward more warfare, surely to be destructive to us, possibly fatal to our community, simply to quiet the rage inside me? Should we as a community be allowed to let that rage, felt in every heart among us, to overcome our sense of self-preservation and build into an urge to destroy that can't be stopped no matter how badly we'll damage ourselves?I know what some of you out there are thinking. I've made the arguments myself many times. People like the Exiles aren't deserving of the first grain of consideration. For the safety of everyone else, they must be eliminated.I still think that, but the larger problem is that my own people are deserving of consideration. We've been beaten stupid more times than I can count. We've been hurt in so many ways you could write a definitive work on the subject of human suffering with our stories. All we've ever wanted to do is live our lives without more fear of the future than absolutely necessary. The Exiles have done so many horrific things, but for now they're keeping to the truce. They aren't hurting anyone right now, and it would be profoundly stupid for us to pursue a war with no possible good outcome when we don't have to.On a personal level, I'm tired. Not in a world-weary suicidal way. I've stood and fought many times in defense of my life, those of my friends, my home, my principles. I'm not eager to do it again unless I absolutely have to. The last two years have been insane in many ways and on a dozen different levels, and I'd give anything for some peace and time to grow.Even, as it turns out, my conscience. I'll never forget the things the Exiles have done, to us and to the victims they've preyed upon over the last twenty-four months. But like the oceangoing colonists before me, I can witness the horrors, be aware of them, and recognize the reality that trying to make amends just isn't compatible with surviving.Nothing is static. Human beings are, at their best, incredibly dynamic creatures. We evolve constantly, (in the case of the zombies themselves, in a literal sense) shaping our views in the now based on our experiences. Holding to a set of moral standards, like not suffering people like the Exiles to live, is a very pretty and noble attitude to have.Right up until it gets you killed, that is.Time will tell if the situation with the Exiles will remain nonviolent. I don't expect any particular outcome. Things change, and a time might come when the enemy decides that attacking us is off the table, but they want to pick up their old habits again and go after weaker, smaller groups. If they do, we'll see what happens then.For now, we've got relative peace. Spring isn't far off, and with it comes a lot of hard work. Too much time and effort is wasted on fighting, and it's time we make the call to set aside the more extreme elements of our principles and deal with the fact that sometimes the bad guys don't die in the end.And for that matter, that in reality the lines between the good guys and the bad guys is often fuzzy and ill-defined. After all, what kind of heroes (if that's what we're supposed to be) allow this kind of injustice to go by unpunished?We're people. Survivors. We do the best we can, but we're imperfect. Our ultimate responsibility is to ensure the continuation of our community, no matter how many sleepless nights it may cost us. And I do see a few of those in my future.But I'll get over it. When you're on rough seas and the ships around you flounder in the storm, sometimes the only choice is to sail on.

An Ode to Brains
Joshua Guess
My eyes opened, light flooding my vision. I stood with muscles stiff and slow to respond. You know how it is when you just wake up.All around me were friends. They looked concerned, maybe something beyond that. It struck me that I’d never really appreciated how beautiful they were. Lovely didn't begin to describe them. In fact, the only thought I could muster when I saw them was that they smelled...delicious. Like Thanksgiving dinner being cooked.I took a step toward the nearest of them, but it came out a stumbling shuffle. That wasn't right, was it? I’d been walking since I was a child. I was damn good at it. So what was up with that?She backed away from me, a stream of gibberish coming from her lips. She was obviously excited, so I talked to her in soothing tones. In my head, it went like this:“Don't worry! Everything is going to be fine. I know I'm a little clumsy right now, but I'll get my feet under me in just a minute, and then you'll understand that I'm okay. Then we can have a talk about why you smell like a home-cooked meal, and how much I want to nibble on you.”It came out like this: “Braaaaaaiiiiinnnns!”That was when the lot of them started to run. I tried to talk to them, but they weren't interested in anything I had to say. The men glanced back at me with rage in their eyes, the women shot me looks of fear. Really, it was like high school all over again.I followed them through the building, but they were a lot faster than me. When I finally made it outside, my friends piled into a big metal thing. A memory tickled, like I should know what the metal thing with its round feet should be. One of them stood next to it, watching with nervous eyes as I approached, a smaller metal thing in his hands.In the front, another of my friends was trying to turn something, and the...car, that's what they're called...car made a sound every time he did. When I was several paces away, the one standing there pointed his metal stick at me and shouted. I didn't understand the words, but the tone was clear enough. Offended, I went to have a talk with him. He smelled pretty good, too. In fact--The metal stick—my sluggish brain informed me it was called a shotgun—made a loud noise, and I was thrown off balance, falling to my back.While I was laying on the ground, the car made a noise that kept on going. I looked up as the last man hopped in, and it moved away from me.A few seconds later I began to work my way back to my feet. I felt an odd looseness as I did, and looked down. There were ropy, slimy things hanging out of my belly. That was new.Some small part of me had the urge to put them back, but that faded as I walked in the direction the car had gone off in. The ropy things weren't in my way, they didn't hurt...In fact, nothing hurt. Other than being completely famished, physically I felt pretty great. Strong. But I was a little upset that my friends had run off on me.I wandered down the road, staggering at times, holding my arms out in front of me for balance. Occasionally I’d talk to myself out of boredom and loneliness, doing long monologues on various topics as I tottered along, arms ahead.“Braaaaiiins,” I would say, clever as always. “Braiiiins?” I would ask in reply, inquisitive as ever. That's how I amused myself as I went in search of my lost friends. Maybe I’d eat when I saw them. I hoped they could fill the empty place inside me.

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