EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: WAR AT HOME 2
Earth’s Survivors America the Dead: War At Home 2 is copyright © 2016 W. G. Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons’ places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignees. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
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Project Bluechip: Before the Plagues
Watertown NY: Subterranean base.
Commanding: Major Richard Weston
Major Dick Weston read the report slowly. This was not the first hitch in SS. Last year they had lost a whole ward, three test subjects compromised, two doctors, and three control rooms, six personnel there that had to be terminated because of it.
He rocked back in his chair and pulled at his lower lip as he read the report. So it had some drawbacks, but there was too much focus on the problems, and not enough on the positives of V2765. Of all the compounds they had tested, this one did exactly what they needed it to do. It prolonged life far past the point of termination. Grave wounds, starvation, dehydration, nothing mattered. This compound changed the cells and made them able to adapt to the consequences of war. The only drawback was that it did its job a little too well. It continued to allow the subject to live after death. Everything stopped and then everything started up again. Usually with a much diminished capacity for understanding. Just the basic low end survival instincts any animal had, eat, protect, eat. And it did those things very well.
Some doctors at the third level, men whose reputations would be on the line very shortly when V2765 was released on a squadron of troops bound for the Middle East, in fact, wanted a brain biopsy. They had studied the video and decided that good Old Doctor Christmas might have been hiding something with the secrecy he had afforded the previous brain autopsies. He stopped pulling at his lip. Leaned forward and fed the paper sheaf from the incident into a shredder.
The thing is there was a secret. Major Weston had no idea what it signified, he was no doctor, but he had found the good doctor’s private files and brain biopsy reports on the previous candidates. Significant structural change to the brain cells. Not just slight modifications as the virus did when it infected the host, no, something deeper. A mutation. That file lay nearby on his desk too. He reached for it. If that information got out there would be a fast end to SS, and he could not have that. SS was not his baby, some General he had never even met had that honor, but Bluechip was his base, and SS was a feather in his cap. It meant jobs. It meant growth. It meant over a mile of top secret base three miles below ground. These were things that could not be compromised. If, in the field, there were incidents, so be it. They could be isolated. Tests so far showed that very few came back after actual death. Destroy the brain and it destroyed whatever life had kicked back in. And if there were a large outbreak, they had spent the last fourteen months working on an antidote to kill the V virus itself, Rex.
REX34T could easily take care of a large outbreak. REX34T took it all back to normal. The doctors had nicknamed it Rex. Rex, like a trusty dog that could get the job done, but what sort of job did Rex do? He didn’t know. Rex seemed to reverse the process that V2765 started. It could not undo the cell changes, but it did not leave a single trace of the V virus when it was finished. The dead died. According to this report, there was a counterpart to REX34T that was meant specifically for the living. Release it in the air, same as Rex, and it affected only the living, reversing the changes that the V virus had made, and the living went on living, maybe. The testing insinuated that the longer the process that V2765 initiated had gone on the more of a shock to the human body it was when it was removed. It suggested that some might not survive the withdrawal of the V virus.
He glanced down at the two vials that sat on the edge of his desk. Evaluation units. Below, in one of the storage areas, there was enough of each to reverse the entire world population ten times over if need be. If, he reminded himself, if. He looked down at the two vials where they sat on the desk. One small vial filled with dark red liquid. The other a small aluminum canister that reminded him of the canisters that held the V virus. They looked so innocuous, so everyday ordinary. He beat out a nervous tempo with his fingers on the desktop and then picked up the two vials and slipped them into a plastic bag. He set the bag on the desktop, withdrew the test results from both Rex drugs from the thick file and then placed the bag into the file itself. A second later he placed the file into his personal file cabinet and locked it. He called up the same report on his monitor, excised the three pages of reports, and then saved the file. He pulled a fresh file folder from his cabinet before he closed and locked it, then dropped the pages into the empty folder. He hesitated and then fed that smaller file into the shredder too.
No problem, no liability, because if there was an acknowledged problem that was preexisting in this lawyer happy atmosphere every ex-soldier would be suing when the first x-ray showed the alteration in brain cell structure. No higher climb up the ladder for Major Dick Weston, and probably General whoever he was too. And that would be a long stop from where either of them wanted to be.
“Alice?” He looked over at his secretary.
“I want you to take this out and burn it.” He pulled the wastebasket free and slid it across to her. “I guess I’ve thought it out. Those two fools who took the overdose on morphine?” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I think it was a mistake to try to save them. I would like you to take care of that personally, Alice… Doesn’t matter how. Let me know if you need anything.” He held her eyes for a moment. “That will be all,” he finished.
“Sir,” Alice said. She picked up the wastebasket and started to leave the office.
She stopped and turned back.
“Have that med closet removed. Stupid to put it in an interior control room… Have it moved to the very outside. From now on when they need something like that they can damn well get it walked in by our boys.”
Alice nodded. She turned and left the office.
On The Road
The camp was up before dawn, tents packed away and breakfast and coffee taken quietly together around the low embers of the camp fires. The breakfast didn’t consist of much more than the coffee and a few energy bars, but it suited their purpose well enough. The Dog, who still had no name, was going person to person and begging little tidbits even after his own breakfast of canned meat.
As the sun was touching the horizon, the small caravan of six vehicles were once again winding their way southward, leaving the roads where they were impassable and taking to the fields.
The two Suburbans that had been fitted with lifts and bigger tires had no problem with the on and off road transitions. It was tougher for the other four vehicles.
They monitored the radios as they drove along. Bits and pieces of conversation and skip came through the static. Sometimes clear, sometimes garbled and barely intelligible, but there were no conversations they could follow. Mike had never been a C.B. Radio fan, but Bob had been and he explained skip to everyone.
Skip could be two thousand miles away, or only a hundred. It was a signal that hit the atmosphere just right, or cloud cover, or a mountain range, and carried farther than it normally would have. You might talk to someone a thousand miles away as clearly as though they were no more than a mile down the road. And you might have that conversation for ten minutes or two hours and then suddenly they were gone because those atmospheric conditions that had allowed the conversation had changed.
Early on, Mike had thought about Ham radio. You could reach around the world with Ham radio. But Bob had explained that Ham radio accomplished that with relays. All the people that did the relays were most likely gone, at least for now. Maybe they would be back eventually, but they had heard nothing but a soft electric hiss cutting across the miles the two times they had tried the bands, and no one had answered their calls.
The F.M. Band had also remained dead. It seemed all the traffic was on the C.B. Channels. The V.H.F. Bands, normally used for Marine conversations, were empty too. But that offered a secure option for them to talk without being overheard. As they drove through the morning now, they talked back and forth on the V.H.F. Band, monitoring the C.B. and the F.M. Bands.
They filled their tanks two hours after dawn at a collapsed gas station next to the interstate. A length of rubber hose connected to a hand operated Kerosene pump made the job quick. The only hard part had been locating the underground tank. The cover had been found though, the cap spun off, and the odor of gasoline drifted up into the air telling them that the underground tank had not been ruptured.
The little area that serviced the interstate contained a large garage, two small Mom-and-Pop stores, the gas station and a chain auto parts store right next to the garage, probably built with the garage in mind.
On the other side of the asphalt parking lot sat a motel unit that had seen better days. Most of the units were flattened. The swimming pool was cracked and empty; wire mesh and what looked to be a bottomless void graced the middle of the rust stained pool. A second row of motel units running parallel to the pool looked to be untouched. Across the road were two name brand outlet stores, obviously placed to take advantage of the interstate. They had pulled the trucks onto the cracked pavement of the gas station, and after they had finished gassing up the trucks, Mike had gathered everyone together.
Bob and Tom came back from checking out the garage and the auto parts store just after the trucks were gassed up. Bob nodded his head at Mike.
“You noticed Bob and Tom looking over the garage,” Mike said. “We’re thinking of stopping here. We’d probably end up here for a few days while Bob and Tom work on the other four trucks. And we need a few other things: tail gate swing outs that can hold a spare tire, gas can too, roof racks to carry gear, lifts, better, bigger tires… In short, the things we had intended to do back in Watertown.” He looked around, trying to catch the eyes of each person individually.
“You can see how much easier it is for the two Suburbans to get around wrecks, buckled roads, down in to and out of ditches. It just makes sense to give the other four trucks that ability, otherwise they’ll just be slowing us down. You saw a little of that this morning.”
“Makes sense,” Janet Dove agreed.
Molly nodded. “My only concern is, are those…” she paused and her face reddened, “People,” she managed after a long pause, “coming after us?” Her eyes were dark and questioning. Mike could read the fear in her posture.
“I doubt it,” Candace said. She spoke quietly but forcefully.
“We’ll listen in on the radios,” Nellie added.
“They won’t come. In the city they knew how to get around… Out here,” Patty waved her arms around, finally lifting them to the sky. “They wouldn’t know what to do. Couldn’t sneak up on us.” She shook her head. “I just don’t think they’re the kind that want to deal with even odds.”
Candace nodded in agreement. “You know, Molly. Spineless, right?”
Molly nodded and Mike watched the fear leave her and something closer to determination replace it. She nodded her agreement once more, looking directly at Candace as she did.
Mike cleared his throat and continued. “The reason we traveled on was to put some miles between us and them. It’s a long way for them to come. I don’t see it,” Mike said. He let the silent nods continue for a moment and then continued.
“There are other things we can do, things we need. Canned goods, maybe one of those cows, or a deer. They seem to be wandering everywhere. There really is enough to keep all of us busy for the next few days while Bob and Tom get the truck situation straightened out.” He paused but no one spoke. “So… If there are no real objections?”
“Let’s do it,” Molly said.
“Yeah, I’m for it,” Patty added.
As Mike turned away, Patty, Candace, Molly and Nell began to set up a plan for monitoring the radios. Everyone agreed that they would probably hear about anything coming their way long before it reached them. Molly went over to the garage a few minutes later and pitched in, helping Bob and Tom move whatever was in the way so that they could reach the racks and garage bays. There were two tow trucks that they used to do most of the work, but chains and muscle power accomplished the rest.
In the end, they cleared out three stalls that they could work in. Molly stayed, and not long after Nell found her way over and began to work side by side with her.
The garage was a prefab steel building that, either because of a whim of the Gods’ or its design, had remained standing. By the time some others were returning with a cow and two large does in the back of one of the pickup trucks, the garage was ready to go. Molly and Tom wheeled out a towering chain-fall for the hunting party to use to dress out the animals and then went back to work.
By late afternoon the third Suburban was well under way. The lift was done, brush-guards installed and they were working on the carrying racks. Mike and Ronnie stopped by to look over the effort and were amazed. The Suburban looked like something that had rolled out of some sort of Safari outfitters garage, or a futuristic end of the world epic, Mike joked. But that sent them all into silence for a few moments, and Mike didn’t mention it again.
Molly and Nell were working on bolting a huge winch to the front bumper of one truck while Tom and Bob worked on stripping out one of the pickups to get it ready for a lift kit.
Tim and Annie had made their way to the garage and then found themselves drafted and made part of the work crew. Annie was in the third stall laying out the parts they would need for the lift on the pickup truck while Tim worked at mounting the oversize tires to new, larger rims, using a pair of heavy iron bars and his body weight to accomplish the work. He and Annie joked back and forth as they worked.
They were using a small twelve volt air-compressor to inflate the tires after they had them mounted. They both seemed to be enjoying themselves, Mike thought, and they seemed happy to be in each other’s company.
Outside, near the far end of the garage, the chain-fall had been set up, and a group led by Janet Dove, which included Sandy and Susan, were hoisting a large cow up into the air.
“Mike,” Janet said as he and Ronnie passed by on their way out of the Garage.
“We would like to smoke most of this meat… If we’re going to be here a few days, I thought…”
Mike nodded. “Yeah. Might as well, Jan. We have the time,” He assured her, “And, it’ll help to have the meat with us, who knows what’s ahead.” He shrugged.
Janet Dove smiled, turned away, and Mike stood watching as the huge cow began to lift into the air from the back of the pickup truck before he and Ronnie turned and walked away.
A few minutes later, the two of them fell in with Candace and Patty who were sifting through what the chain stores had to offer in the way of clothing, canned goods and whatever else they came across that they could find a use for. They passed by Lilly who had taken over the toy department, blocked off one aisle, and was keeping Brian and Janelle busy. She smiled and waved as they passed. Janelle waved back. Her dark eyes finally looking rested and happy.
Brian had built himself the biggest Lincoln Log village that Mike had ever seen and was now busy populating it with dozens of green, plastic Army Men. Mike smiled and Brian took the time out of his game to smile back at him and Ronnie. He held a large plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex in one hand which seemed to Mike about to wreak havoc on the village and its population of Army Men.
A half dozen trips with Candace and Patty, and late afternoon turned into early evening. Fires were burning to smoke the meat. Two large roasts were spitted over a huge fire pit made of field stone. A stew was bubbling in a pot that had been suspended over the flames. Nearly everyone had found a reason to stop by the area Janet Dove had set aside for cooking, most arriving just as she had been about to send some others out looking for everyone to round them up for dinner. The Dog was running around in circles, happily racing from person to person, tail wagging crazily. The smell of roasting meat hung heavy in the still, cool air.
Everyone sat close together at several wooden picnic tables that Janet had drafted a few volunteers to bring over from the collapsed section of the motel. They had sat in a small clearing not far from the building, untouched, while everything around them had been leveled.
The temperature was in the low forties, but with the early evening sun still shining, it felt much warmer.
Mike sat next to Candace, Ronnie on his other side. Across the table, Molly sat with Nell. They were both laughing, involved in conversation with each other. It was the happiest that Mike had seen Nell or Molly.
Canned potatoes, fresh beef and venison, a stew that held a bit of everything in it and a steaming platter of peas dominated the table center. Everyone had heaped up their plates. Too long eating thrown together meals or energy bars had left them hungry for real food.
Their basic protein needs had been met, but there was nothing like real food to make you… Happy, Mike decided. He looked around the table at all the smiling faces. It was actually a mood elevator, he decided.
“What’s on your mind, Baby?” Candace asked. Her eyes smiled, but her mouth wore a question he had come to know was more serious than her smile insinuated.
He bent forward and kissed her, making the smile on her face spread wider still. “I was thinking how happy everyone looked.” He turned his head and let his eyes sweep the tables once more, then turned back to Candace whose eyes and face now wore another look he was becoming familiar with. He bent forward and kissed her once more. “I’m pretty sure I love you,” He told her.
She laughed, “Pretty sure!” She slapped his arm with one hand. “You better be more than pretty sure, Mister.”
Mike laughed and kissed her again. “Positive,” he said. “I’d be lost without you.” His eyes turned serious. “That’s the truth,” His voice dropped to a near whisper as he leaned even closer. “I love you so much that I don’t have words for it. I only know it’s real. I only know I need you.” He kissed her once more and sat back up to catch Annie giggling and looking away.
Candace laughed beside him. An easy laugh that eased the seriousness of the conversation.
“I hope we’ll have some time later on,” she said, her voice still low, husky.
“I’ll make sure of it,” Mike told her.
“I was looking at that garage building,” Ronnie said from beside him.
“It’s one of those industrial prefabricated jobs. I’ve put up a few, but I had no idea how well engineered they were. They hold up pretty well, or at least this one did. The buildings not really damaged at all.”
“I noticed that too,” Mike agreed, “What are you thinking?”
“Well,” Ronnie grinned, “When we get where we’re going, it may not be a bad idea for a dwelling… or dwellings. At least for a temporary dwelling until we build… if we build. Lightweight, easy to put up. Easy to insulate. Not bad in an earthquake, if that stuff’s not completely done with us.”
Mike was nodding his head. “I’m for it, but are they hard to come by? I mean, where could we get one?”
“Not as hard as it seems. There are outlets where you can buy them in larger cities. And there are thousands already set up. We could take them apart pretty easily, take them where we want them and put them back up. All the structural supports are pretty much the same. You just add more or take away to make the building the size you need. Very lightweight, so they’d be easy to transport. They’d go up or down pretty fast,” Ronnie finished.
“Has my vote,” Bob added. “Fast, easy. They seem solid. It will save us a ton of time.”
“I’ve seen them around. I think it’s a good idea. We wouldn’t have to worry about wooden structures falling down on us.” Mike looked around. “Almost all the wooden structures are down. Concrete seems okay, for the most part, steel. But wooden structures just give too easily. Putting them up fast would also be a plus,” he finished. He raised his eyes from the ground – he had a habit of looking at the ground to visualize his thoughts – and saw that Molly and Nell had been listening to their conversation. They were nodding their heads in agreement.
“That garage is really solid,” Molly agreed.
“Cement’s cracked here and there, but the building itself held up really well,” Nell agreed. “I don’t even like walking into a wooden building anymore. You can feel it move, hear the creaks and groans… pops.” She shook her head.
Mike and Ronnie both nodded.
”It’s a good plan,” Mike said. He turned his head to Molly. “Where did you learn to turn wrenches?” he asked her.
Molly smiled. “My dad had a race car. It started out as a hobby but became something else. He’d work on it all week long and then run it in races on the weekends.” She smiled shyly. “When I was a little girl, as far back as I can remember, I used to go out and watch.” She laughed. “Pretty soon I was fetching wrenches, parts.” She laughed again. “The first time I came in with greasy hands, I thought my Mother was going to die. When I was fifteen, my Dad bought an old beat to shit Mustang. A sixty-four. It was a project car, he’d said. We’d work on it in our spare time together, finish it up and sell it for a profit.” She smiled and her eyes misted as she seemed to be looking back through the years.
“It took nearly a year of work. That was also the time I was eligible to get my permit. The day I got my license, he handed me the keys,” she finished, smiling happily at the memory.
“Pretty nice,” Candace said.
“Yeah, except it got smashed flat when this,” she lifted her hands and gestured helplessly, “happened. But once we’re where we’re going to be, I think I’ll try to find another one, or maybe a two door sixty-two Chevy Impala. I’ve always liked the way those Chevy’s look.” She shrugged, “Crazy, I guess, but I really think I’m gonna do it. There must be one somewhere.”
“I can see that,” Patty said. “Or something else worth rebuilding.”
More than a few heads nodded in agreement.
“Sometimes,” Patty added as an afterthought. “The thing you find is better than the thing you thought you wanted.”
Nell looked at Molly. Molly smiled, and Nell leaned closer and kissed her.
“You two?” Candace asked.
“Nell tempted me,” Molly said.
“It’s like Patty said, sometimes the thing you find is better than the thing you thought you would find… or want. I hadn’t expected this much out of life in the old world let alone this one,” Nell said smiling, but serious. She worked her hand into Molly’s and leaned closer to her.
Mike’s eyes swept across Patty’s face, expecting to see a smile but finding a distracted, sadness on her face instead. Patty swept it away so quickly though that he wasn’t sure just a second later that it had really been there at all. Maybe, he decided, he had imagined it. After all, Patty had found the better thing she hadn’t known she would find in Ronnie. There would be no reason for that sadness to be on her face. He found his own hand holding Candace’s, and she leaned into him for a kiss.
“Get a room, you guys,” Tim said as he and Annie passed by. Annie was blushing but had a huge smile on her face.
“Horn dogs,” Tim told her as they walked away, laughing with each other and holding hands as they went.
“Horn dogs?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know about you but I am no horn dog,” Janet Dove joked as she passed by.
The thought of prim and proper Janet Dove making a statement like that caused everyone to crack up. Janet stopped, a shocked look on her face.
“Good one, Jan,” Candace said.
“I can’t believe I said that,” Janet said.
Everyone cracked up then, including Janet Dove.
Candace lay in the crook of Mike’s arm as they talked quietly.
“Gotta go in about five minutes,” Mike told her. “My watch.”
“No,” Candace said. “You can’t go if you can’t get out of bed. Besides, we paid for the room for the night,” she finished and laughed.
Mike chuckled. “This is nice. Privacy, first we’ve had in… Well, forever.”
“When we leave, we’ll be back to getting none at all again,” Candace told him. She snuggled against his side, one hand resting against the flat of his stomach, her index finger drawing small circles. “But,” she lifted her eyes to his. “I guess I have to let you go. Just think about that alone time for later.” She kissed him softly. “Something to keep you thinking about it.” She turned away, swung her feet to the floor and began to get dressed.
“You do give me things to think about,” Mike told her. He trailed his fingers down her back, bent forward and kissed her shoulder.
Candace looked back at him. “Do you want to make that watch?”
Mike laughed. “No, but I have no choice at all.” He leaned forward and kissed her mouth. “Later,” he said.
“Later,” She agreed.
The room had not been in bad shape. It was funny how fate could be, Mike had thought. One wing flattened, one untouched. From sleeping in a cave a day ago, to sleeping in a real bed the next.
The room was dusty, a slight musty, unused odor, but dry. The roof had held up. The walls seemed untouched.
“Where are you going?” Mike asked.
“You’re not on, Babe,” Mike grinned.
“Correction. I wasn’t on. You had Patty on, but she wanted to spend time with Ronnie, so we switched. That way, when we’re done, we can come back here again…” She cocked her eyebrows. “And take our time?”
“What, not be rushed?” Mike asked.
She stood and turned into him as he was getting ready to leave. A beautiful woman wearing only a pair of white socks, which was all she had managed to get on. She stretched up onto her tip toes and kissed him. His hands pulled her close. She pulled away with a smile.
“I thought you were coming with me,” Mike said.
“I am,” She giggled.
He reached for her once more, but she skipped away. “We’ll never get there, Baby,” she told him.
“As it is, I’ll probably be thinking about you throughout the whole watch and waiting to get back here. God, Candace, you’re so beautiful.”
She looked at him seriously. “Keep that up and we’ll never get out of this room.” She crossed the short distance between them and kissed him once more. “Say it just once more?”
“You’re beautiful,” Mike told her as he pulled her close.
It was about an hour and a half past sunset when Mike took over one of the perimeter guard posts from Susan. It was simply the far corner of the garage complex that overlooked a field and the highway beyond it.
“Quiet?” He asked.
“Pretty much. The dog… what’s that dog’s name anyway?” she asked.
“He doesn’t have one,” Mike admitted. “We, uh… we just call him The Dog, you know. He survived. He got through it same as us; he made it, you know. He’s The Dog.” Mike finished lamely.
“Oh. Sounds like a little guilt there, Mike. Maybe we should all get together and name it,” Susan suggested.
“Well, anyway… The Dog kept looking off towards the highway. He didn’t, like, bark or anything. I thought maybe deer, cows, something else. But with the meat drying, it could have drawn anything at all. The fires and so many people should be enough to keep anything away. Even if it’s wolves, they’ll probably stay away, right? I just thought you should know about it.”
Mike nodded. “Could be something, but you’re probably right. Most likely it’s nothing. I imagine the smell of the meat will draw every carnivore in the area. That’s okay as long as they don’t try to bother us. There will be plenty of scraps when we’re gone.”
Susan nodded this time. “Mike,” she hesitated and Mike nodded for her to continue. “Well, I wondered what you thought about Jan and Bob’s idea of settling in the wilderness. You know, deep in the middle of nowhere… a new Nation.”
Mike nodded slowly. “I think they really want to do it. I think they really believe in it, Susan,” he shrugged. Her eyes questioned him. “Okay… and… And I wish I could believe in it the way they do. Not that I believe it won’t work. I think anything we do will take hard work, a good deal of hard work,” he shrugged again. “And I think they’ll put the work in, I really do. Maybe you’re asking me what I want to do, and I can’t tell you that. I don’t know… I haven’t decided. It’s something Candace and I would have to take the time to sit down and decide, and we just haven’t had the time to do that.”
“You know, in my head the old world was selfish. It was all about selfish. The me-generation? Something like that. And I’m not saying I was any better. I wasn’t. Oh, I had my friends, and I helped them when I could, but when it came down to push or shove, it was me. It was me, and a lot of the people I knew, worked for, with, associated with, were the same way. Social on the surface, but scratch that surface and it’s a different story. Push or shove… and not an overly hard push or shove either.” He looked at her and Susan nodded.
“At least for me it’s been that way. I guess I sound cynical. But it’s not that way anymore. I’m not that way anymore. It’s not about me. It’s about me and Candace. And it really isn’t about us either. It’s deeper. There are people here I’ve really come to care about. I mean really care about. Do you realize that I haven’t watched T.V. Since the night this all started? Sounds ridiculous, right? None of us have, but I did computer work. Scripting, C, C plus, plus, graphics, more. I used to turn my computer on, turn on the T.V. for company and go to work. Eighteen hours sometimes, even longer on occasion. It… That… was my life. No relationships. No one to really care about. No time for it. And everyone I knew was the same way. Superficial. Shallow? Yeah, that too. Well… I don’t do that anymore; I don’t want to.”
Susan nodded. “Everyone I knew was too busy living to think about how they were living,” she said.
“That I do understand,” Mike said. “But not now, you know, somewhere, in some secure building, on some secure server I have a couple of bank accounts that were well over a million dollars each.” He laughed. “All means nothing now, Susan, nothing. I am happy with what I have. I don’t want what I used to have.” He sighed.
“The Nation? Probably a great idea. I can think of only a few things that I could do that would matter as much to me as that does to them. Kids… love… Candace, you know? Do it right, not like the old world? And that’s the rub. It depends on Candace… and the baby. She’s trying to get pregnant. It seems like almost everyone is.” He rubbed the flat of his palm along his jaw feeling the stubble that was softening into a beard. “If she wanted to do it, yes. If she wanted to travel to Alaska, yes. When the time comes, and it’s probably not all that far away in the scheme of things, but when the time comes for Bob and those that have committed to go with them, and those that will – I know there will be more – when that time comes, if Candace wants to go with them, I’ll jump in with both feet. That’s the truth of it.”
Susan’s eyes were misted. “Thank you,” she said.
“Thank you for being long winded and entirely too personal on short notice?” Mike asked.
Susan laughed. “No, for being honest. I think I’m going to go have a talk with a young lady. I’ll see you later, Mike,” she said. She smiled and then walked off into the shadows of the night.
Mike watched her go. Apparently everyone was more appreciative of people now, not just himself, he thought. He turned his attention to the field and the highway. After his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could see the dark shapes of cattle grazing in the field, a few deer mixed in with them.
He thought about what he had just said, how much he felt for Candace. How for the next few nights they would have a real bed. His mind filled with thoughts of her. He almost missed the radio call, almost wrote it off as one of their own, until he realized it wasn’t.
“Hello the camp,” the voice repeated.
Mike unclasped the radio from his belt and raised it to his mouth and spoke. “I guess you mean us,” he said more calmly than he felt.
“I do,” the voice answered. “We’ve been traveling. Saw your fires from about five miles back. I guess the question is, are you okay? If you’ve been living in the same world that we’ve been living in, I guess you’ll understand that question.”
Mike keyed the button and let the smooth static play out for a few seconds before he spoke. “You must have stopped quite a way back. We didn’t hear the sound of your vehicles.”
“We did. Like I said, it’s a funny world. Listen… we kind of wanted to feel you out. I’m Jeff… Jeff Simmons,” he finished.
“Mike… Mike Collins,” Mike told him. “I understand your point. We’ve been through a few things too. Do you want to come in?”
“Well… we do but we’re stopped now for the night. In the morning? Would the morning be okay with you?”
“That will work. I… I guess breakfast will be on us,” Mike told him. “You know where we’re at?”
“Yeah, we do,” Jeff told him. “I sent a couple of scouts down. It looks like a little build up off the interstate… No actual town or anything. We’re a couple of miles back. But we can see the light of the fires from here.”
“I would’ve sent scouts too,” Mike allowed. “It’s about like you imagine, a wide place in the road. Garage… Motel… A few chain stores. It looks like it all built up around the truck stop diner that’s also here. There’s plenty of gas here, plenty of supplies also,” Mike finished.
“That’s good to hear, Mike. We swung down from Vermont. We’re all from there. We’ve been avoiding the cities as best we can, trying to get out West… somewhere where we don’t have to worry about winters,” he said.
“I hear that. We’re in the same boat here, only heading south. Or at least right now we are. I guess we’re still undecided where we’ll end up. We’re pretty heavily armed, Jeff. I guess you’ll see that when you come in tomorrow. We’ve been through some stuff as well. I won’t apologize for the weapons,” Mike finished.
“Don’t need to. We’re loaded too. I don’t exactly like it, but it’s the way life is now. I… Well… I couldn’t come in unarmed, Mike. I couldn’t. I’m sure you see that.”
“I understand that,” Mike told him. “And I’m sure you know we’ll be on the defensive for the first little while ourselves. I don’t like it either, but same as you, I do what I have to… we do. We’ve got some good people here, Jeff, good people, and we’re careful.”
“Us too. Well… there’s eight of us, Mike. I don’t like to give away numbers, but you’ll know soon enough anyway. We’ll be eight in the morning.”
“Sixteen of us here, Jeff.” Mike told him.
“Wow. No wonder you got so many fires going. We wondered about that.”
“Yeah, well, some of it is the people, but we’re smoking meat to take with us. There are cows and deer everywhere. We figured we might as well get some fresh meat while we can. Beats the hell out of stuff from a can.”
“You’ll have to show us how to do that. We don’t have anyone who knows how to do that. I don’t think we even have a hunter of any kind either,” Jeff said. “I can shoot, but I’ve never hunted.”
Mike laughed. “We’re all learning to do new things,” He said. “And we’re lucky to have some people with us that do know how to do those things.”
The radio hissed silence for a while.
“Well, Mike, it was good to talk to you, and we’ll see you in the morning,” Jeff said.
“Okay, Jeff. Same here. And I meant that about breakfast, so come hungry,” Mike said.
“Will do,” Jeff said. “Out.”
“We’re out too,” Mike said. He clipped the radio back to his belt. He thought about making love to Candace. How she had swapped time with Patty to make it all work out so Patty and Ronnie would have time together too. He thought about how he was going to have to wake Bob, Tom and Ronnie… Patty as well. Well, he realized, most of the camp. Hell all the camp except the two kids. The V.H.F. Squawked as he was thinking. Candace calling for him.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I’ll help you get them all up,” she told him.
“Thank you, Babe. Tell them it won’t be overly long. They can go back to sleep after we talk.”
“Okay, Babe. Out,” Candace said and giggled.
Mike’s face broke into a grin.
“Uh, Babe. You need any more help?” Lilly’s voice came through.
“Okay,” Mike laughed. “You can go wake up a few as well. And, Lilly?”
“Yeah?” she asked.
“I’ll want you there too,” Mike said.
“Um… okay, Mike. I’ll go help Candace,” she told him, sounding flustered.
Mike was able to keep the meeting short. In the end, there was not a lot to say or to discuss. They asked a few questions, made plans to be up early in the morning and then everyone went back to bed.
Sandy’s Diary – March 26th
I should start calling this a diary not a journal. It’s funny, but we started these to leave at the cave but then we brought them with us to keep for the children. Now it’s becoming something more, although still for the children, so they can see who we were or are… or both.
I was about to write when I found out we’ll have visitors in the morning. I hadn’t expected it so soon. I wonder if they are people we can make a part of us? I guess we’ll all see tomorrow. I’m excited, but I was already.
Susan and I, well we’re together. As in living, as in sleeping together. I cannot believe I took the step. I didn’t know I could. I didn’t really believe there could be someone out there for me. But she made it clear to me how she felt and that she will go with me where ever I want to go. You know, up until right then, all I wanted to do was go and help Bob and Jan start this Nation. I thought that was all I had in my mind. It wasn’t though. If she asked me not to go, I wouldn’t.
I’ve never known an emotion that could affect such change inside of me so quickly. I’m not sure I’ve even known this emotion before… not like this. People are coming, and that is exciting. I’m with Susan, and that is life. Do you know what I mean? And that means I’m a lesbian. I guess I knew that. It is important to me to know who I am though. To say it, to own it. In our so called enlightened society it wasn’t universally accepted. Oh, on the surface, sure. But not really. And where is that world now? Gone. I guess it’s just us now. We don’t have time to be so judgmental, or for me, to care if I am judged. I’m happy!!!
In the Dark
The cow turned her head towards the woods, nervous. Her large eyes reflecting silver glints from the moonlight.
The smell of death and corruption was nothing new, and that was the smell that came to her now. But there was something wrong with it, something not right with this smell… something different. Her calf nuzzled her and began to nurse. The smell of humans came to her along with smoke and mumbled snatches of conversation, and she stopped thinking about the dead smell, turned away from the woods and stared at the firelight across the fields.
In the Trees
The eyes watched her and the other cows from the cover of the trees. The hunger was terrible, all consuming, and it came in crashing waves. The impulse to feed seemed to be the only coherent thought she had. It was hard to think around, hard to think past.
A few weeks ago she had been… Been? But it did no good, she could not force the memory to come. A name came, Donita. She had been Donita; she knew that, but that was all she knew. And a name was not everything she had been. She had been something else… something more, but she could not get to whatever it was. Something that did not wander through the woods. Something that was not driven by all consuming passions that she could not understand.
She turned her eyes up to the moon. It pulled at her. Something in it spoke directly to something inside of her., something deep, something she believed had always been there, but there had never been a need to address it because it lived under the surface, out of her line of thought, sight… below her emotions. Now it didn’t. Now it ruled everything. It was all she could do not to rush from the trees, find the smell that tempted her and consume it. Eat it completely. Leave nothing at all. Oh to do it… To do it…
Her eyes snapped back from the moon, and a low whine escaped her throat. The calf, sated, had wandered away from her mother. Behind her, the boy made a strangled noise in his throat. She turned, gnashed her teeth and growled. The thin, skeletal boy fell back, hungry but frightened. She could feel his fear. It fed her, tempted her to taste him, but he was no food for her. She knew that much. It was a sort of instinct… drive… something inside of her. The boy was not her food. The boy was not her sustenance. He was one of her own. Corrupted. And corrupted flesh could not feed and sustain itself on corrupted flesh. Fresh flesh was needed, live flesh. Fresh human flesh, she corrected.
The boy trembled and grinned sickly, his one good eye rolling in his head. The other eye was a ruined mass of gray pulp sagging from the socket. A great flap of skin below that socket had curled and dried, hanging from the cheek. He felt at it now, carefully, with his shrunken fingers. She hissed at him and his hands fell away. She turned her attention back to the wandering calf that was nosing ever closer to the edge of the trees.
She desired human flesh. She needed it, but it didn’t absolutely have to be that way.
Two nights ago it had been a rabbit. The night before that she and the boy had shared a rat. The night before that they had come upon the old woman. She thought about the old woman as the calf wandered ever closer to the line of trees.
The old woman had been good. They had brought her back here and her bones lay here still, in the weeds at the edge of the clearing behind her. She turned and gazed back past the boy into their makeshift campsite, searching for what was left of the old woman, finding her bones where they lay at the edge of the clearing they had made. She turned back to the field, watching the calf as she remembered the old woman…
The old woman in the ditch
They had come across the old woman at near morning. Near morning was the best she could do. Time was not a real concern to her anymore. The concept held no meaning. She understood near morning because the sickness, the sickness that began to send the searing pain through her body, had started. The boy had already been whining low in his throat for an hour in pain. It was like that whenever the night began to end, when the morning was on the way, soon to be.
She remembered sunlight. Her old self had needed sunlight just as she now needed darkness, absence of light. That had been Donita as well, but a different Donita.
They had been crossing the rock filled ditch to get to an old house on the other side. The basement of the house was what she had in mind. Quiet, private, darkness. She had been scrambling down the steep, sandy side when the scent had found her eyes and froze her brain.
That is the way she thought of it. Frozen. Everything… everything besides that smell of flesh was frozen out. The boy’s whining, the coming dawn, the constant hunger in her belly, the moon silvery and bright so far up in the night sky, nothing got by that desire. Urge. Drive. It consumed her, and it had then.
It had touched her eyes and then seeped into her brain; then it had spread out into her body. Her legs had stopped moving and she had nearly tumbled all the way to the bottom of the rock strewn ditch before she had caught herself, her head already twisted in the direction of the smell. Her ears pricked, her tongue licking at her peeled, dead lips.
She could smell the old woman. Knew that she was an old woman. It was in the smell. Somehow it was in the smell. And her flesh. And her fear. The boy had slammed into her then, still whining, and nearly knocked her to the ground.
She had come up from that near fall in a crouch, and the boy had slammed into her once more, so she had grabbed him to steady him. He had thought she meant to kill him and had pulled away, but a second later he had caught the scent and they had both gone tearing down the ditch.
The Old Woman
The old woman had heard them coming. She had begun to whine herself, replacing the boy’s whining which had turned to a low growl. The panic had built in her as she heard them coming. Her heart pounded, leapt, slammed against her ribs, bringing pain with it. The pain rebounded and shot down into her broken leg, the leg that she had broken the day before trying to scramble down into this ditch to reach the house across what was left of the highway so she would have a safe place to stay. The pain slammed into her leg, and she cried aloud involuntarily. A split second later, the female slammed into her.
She had been on her belly. The pain was less that way. When the female hit her, she drove her over onto her back. A second after that, she was ripping at her flesh, biting, feeding and she could not fight her. She was too strong, too….. Animal strong. And then the boy hit her hard, pouncing on her chest, driving the air from her lungs, and before she could even react, catch her breath back, he was biting at her throat.
She felt the pulse of blood as he bit into her jugular, and it sprayed across his face. She felt it go, felt her consciousness drop by half, her eyelids flutter, flutter, flutter and then close completely. And the biting was far away, and then it was gone.
The boy had her throat, but Donita had been biting her way into her chest. She had felt her heart beating, and she had been gnawing against her ribs when she felt it stop. They had both calmed then, loosening the grips they had on her, and settling down to feed.
She glanced now at the calf that was less than three feet from them, its huge moon eyes staring curiously at them. The calf did not know death, had not seen it, she thought. It knew its mother’s tit, the sweet grass of the spring field, the warmth of the sun and nothing else. It edged a little closer.
She had killed the old woman. She had no use for her at all. They had eaten so much of her flesh, that she was useless to them. Couldn’t sit up all the way. The boy had taken one arm off at the shoulder and carried it away like a prize.
Donita had eaten so much that she had vomited, but that had only forced her back to feeding until she was once again filled. She had looked around the ditch and spied the rock. The old woman had come back already, and she was trying to raise herself from the ground, trying to raise herself and walk once more. She had picked the rock up from the ditch. A big rock, but she was powerful, and she had smashed the old woman’s skull in as she had tried to bite at her. They had dragged her into the woods a little farther down the road, this place where they still were.
She turned again to the calf. The calf was not what she wanted, but the calf would have to do for now. She let her hand fall upon the boy’s thigh and they both sprang at the calf.
The calf did not have the time to react. It did not even bawl. One second it was standing, and the next it was on its side, Donita’s teeth clamped tightly across its throat. A second after that, it was sliding across the dew wet grass and into the woods, one wild eye rolling and reflecting the silver of the waning moon, as Donita and the boy dragged her into the trees… …