Friday, August 03, 2007

how i learned to stop worrying and love the Zomb

The Zombie Survival Guide
by Max Brooks

Seems I stumbled upon this book too late. By the time I found it, curiously misfiled in the humor section of a long-derelict bookstore, most of it was already over. The zombies had come, eaten, chased off or claimed most of the people I had known, the town had been reduced to rubble and shit, and I had almost lost Dad. Twice. Still, it was nice to know that working on instinct and stubborn rage alone, we had done most everything right. On the other hand, do we need a book to prove that? We're still alive, aren't we? We must have done something right.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was wrapping up college when the outbreak went semi-public. Sure, it was public knowledge that some sort of shit was going down, but at that point, nobody had a very clear idea of what, and if they did, they weren't sharing that part. The school stubbornly held that we were under no immediate threat for over a week after the news broke, but by that time so many students had left, going to visit "sick" friends and family in all parts of the globe, that we were really just going through the motions. Some of the profs kept laptops up on the lectern, stealing glances at live news feeds and occasionally going silent for several moments before looking up, remembering where they were, and turning haltingly back into a lecture that had long since lost interest for even them. Others declared "reading time" and left radios tuned to news channels turned up just loud enough that we could all hear what was going on. A friend told me her religion prof had disappeared entirely, leaving the words "they are come unto us" and some biblical apocalypse passage scrawled across the chalkboard. For the first time since September 11, the school shut down entirely.

A lot of us had nowhere to go. I lucked out; I had the Jeep on campus with me at the time, and after throwing my bike and the biggest duffel I owned in the back and a sack of pilfered dining-hall food in the front, I started driving south. The radio told me that most of the main roads were backed up, so I took surface-level streets. It took me the better part of the morning just to get outside the city. Usually it took me three and a half hours to get home. That time, it took over two days. I didn't sleep much in that time, and yet I never felt tired until I got to Dad's house. Then I was safe. He told me later I was out for 18 hours. We didn't discuss the drive much. Not until a couple years later, when the worst was behind us.

We knew a little by then. Enough to know that it would be a long time before things were normal, and that whatever our attackers were, headshots were important. Most people by now were raiding the groceries, gas stations, and any place that sold camping or travel gear. Dad and I went to the hardware store, the lumberyard, and the garden center. I'd made fun of Dad's stash of canned goods for a long time, and still do, but more for the sake of tradition. We could never figure out where everybody else was hoping to run. For as long as it took me to get home, we knew they were really only setting out to camp in their car, somewhere on a gridlocked road. We decided instead to go on the defensive. We put in long days, as we always do when working in the yard, and ran a fence around the house, garage, and Dad's garden. We tripled the size of the garden. Later, when we had more time and needed to fill the hours, I started digging a trench outside the fence, five feet deep and four wide. we reinforced the inside wall of it to make sure that side wouldn't crumble away with weather and... clawing. When the days grew long in the second year, the depth of the trench meant that most zombies who stumbled into it would be lined up perfectly for a head shot. If they were shorter, or missing legs, we'd go out to the fence and finish them.

Dad lives in a one-story ranch house. We figured water and power would be out soon, and probably for a long time, so we ran power tools as much as possible at the start cutting everything we'd need. Then we started building a second story. Just a simple one, strong enough to take storms year-round, large enough for us to live up there as long as we needed. It really looked like a treehouse was squatting on Dad's roof. An ugly combination, to be sure, but it kept us busy when we needed distraction, and kept us safe high above the ground. That is, if anything ever got past the trench and the fence. And the rifles. Dad has two bolt-action .22s, and taught me everything I needed to know about them soon after I got back. His aim was always better than mine, but I could draw and fire quicker, and usually noticed them coming sooner. That helped when we were still working on the fence.

Once our fortifications were up... we waited. We're far enough from the center of everything, and anything interesting, that we were never completely overrun by Zach. We had a few bad days, here and there. Filling the trench with fire and spending three straight days, nearly sleepless, shooting anything that got through it from our rooftop fort comes to mind. The day when we ran too low on ammo and had go out to the perimeter with crowbars and homemade pikes to stab through the fence. The occasional forays into the world for restocking. I loved those trips for the break from the monotony, but keeping yourself keyed up and ready to kill for 16 hours straight while simultaneously thinking carefully and logically about what you need to find, where you might find it, and how much you can carry back while remaining too mobile to eat takes a lot out of you. I was actually relieved when Dad decided I could handle trips alone sometimes. I recovered faster than he did, and it also meant that at least one of us was still functional afterwards. He still went on some of the trips--cabin fever--but I did as much as I could on mine to make his life easier. Then I'd carefully avoid telling him about my closest calls, but I think he could tell when I'd had a bad trip. Like the times I had to kill something that used to be a friend. Or family.

We never heard from my brother. I wondered, sometimes, but never brought it up. Whenever Dad talked about him, he'd use the past tense, talking about old times. Sometimes I wondered if he knew something I didn't. I was just glad Mom didn't have to see any of it.

Two weeks ago, the Sweep came through. Riflemen from horizon to horizon. We thought about joining them, helping somehow, but they were getting steady rations, and we were still trying to nurse some carrots out of the ground. I'm down to 155, and Dad lost forty pounds himself. We joke about the zombie siege diet. The power's supposed to be up soon, and they say we'll be back to "normal" in a few more months.

I don't even remember what "normal" was anymore.

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posted by reyn at 4:11 PM


Blogger Kat said...

Wow, some people just have such crazy imaginations....

8/06/2007 8:36 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Crazy imaginations? Kat, you haven't become one of the nay-sayers, have you? One of those in-denial individuals who claim the outbreak was some sort of government conspiracy to purge the world of the unworthy portion of its population? I've read some of the Disbelievers' literature, and how they claim photographic and video evidence of Zach was fake and posed. It's crazy. World War Z was real. And I have the claw (not bite) marks to prove it.

Reyn, your honesty in reliving and sharing that brutal time with us is admirable. We all find it hard to look back. And it's fascinating to read what the outbreak was like in rural America. Here in the cities, mass panic was such a problem. In the beginning it wasn't even Zach who killed the most of us. No, the crushing hordes and looting mobs accomplished that on its own.

Regarding Brooks' Guide, your account proves that much of it boils down to hard-headed common sense. You and your dad may not have read it at the time, but, using your brains, you figured out the right techniques to use against Zach anyway. Well done.

Coincidentally, I think I may have encountered that religion prof you mentioned. He was raving on a street corner outside my office building, gaunt and wild-eyed, passing out pamphlets. (I think he may have been the prof you heard about because he was citing his time at your school as credentials.) Solanum wasn't a virus, he kept shrieking, but rather a plague sent from hell that killed immediately. Those who said otherwise, tried to convince him what Zach really had been, were -- in his words -- damned to fry like jumping maggots in God's big black skillet. Huh.

He also was mumbling something about how it will strike again, and how we must be prepared for God's vengeance. That is the one point of his that I won't argue. The "prepared" part, that is.

8/13/2007 10:08 PM  

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