Friday, July 20, 2007

Paddy Wagon Field Trip

After Tom and I left in our neighbor’s car, we were almost immediately apprehended by some seriously disgruntled military folk, and loaded into a paddy wagon. Yes, a paddy wagon. We were in very close quarters with 8 other people who looked just as frightened and hesitant as I felt. No one spoke. I wondered if we were being quarantined, or led off to be killed. I felt like a prisoner of war, and the whole scene reminded me of Nazi prison camp movies. They weren’t answering questions, and we often just listened quietly as they fought and killed what we perceived to be huge numbers of zombies. If they failed, we would be sitting ducks in this locked wagon. At Tom’s insistence they grumpily gave me blanket and a few cloths to use as diapers for Finnegan. He had developed a hell of a diaper rash sitting in that nasty diaper during the trek form my van to my garage. They kept us there with no food and little water until nightfall, when be joined a military caravan heading to what they were calling the ‘safe camp’.

It took us hours to get there, and I’m not sure where we were, except that it was about an hour south of route 30. I got the impression they were taking the long way around and trying to complicate our route so we wouldn’t know where we were. The camp was in an old grade school. Something about the painted cinder-block walls brought me comfort.

Once we arrived at the camp, the uniformed officials explained that this is a holding facility, which is protected by the USMC. They told us we were survivors of a highly contagious mystery pandemic that was causing infected people to cannibalize other people, thus infecting their victims. They diplomatically avoided the word Zombie, and referred to them as ‘the infected’. The irony of propaganda and diplomacy at a time like this was ridiculous. They said we would be examined for contamination before we were allowed in, but that once admitted we would be given a bed, rations, and would be expected to contribute to the survival of the colony. Colony? This was getting sort of creepy... it reminded me of ‘28 days’ where the military nut jobs decided they needed to repopulate with a 13 year old girl.

But I think the word pandemic was what scared me most. I still held out hope that this was a local menace, to be contained and exterminated in a matter of weeks. After which I could get an insurance check for my house and start my family’s life all over again in a safely insulated, Starbucks-laden suburb. Was this to be a permanent shift in the survival of civilized life? What would become of our culture, values, and infrastructure? They wouldn’t answer any questions, and though unsettled, we were glad to be safe. Family units still clung to one another, though now there was a bit of chatter between the groups.

I looked around and guessed there were about 20 of us, and more than 100 uniforms. We didn’t stand a chance of rebelling, and let’s hope we wouldn’t have to. Next, they announced that the men were to be separated from the women for medical exams, and I was very distressed to be taken away from Tom. The look in his eyes as they lead the men out said so much... he was trying to be strong for me, but after being separated once, it was difficult to hide his fear that he wouldn’t see us again. He mouthed the words ‘I love you’ and just speaking them seemed to strengthen his resolve to be optimistic. He squared his shoulders and looked bravely ahead with his fists at his side as they lead the men inside. This moment had the opposite effect on me, and I melted into woeful sobs, tightly gripping my son to my chest. He looked so brave, and I hoped he wouldn’t have to be. The other women and children sobbed unabashedly, and the tension in the air seemed to rise in concert with our cries.

We were next lead to the 'medical wing' which was formerly a third grade classroom, and were told to strip down to our undergarments. It was strange to feel so vulnerable while surrounded by finger paintings and childhood masterpieces. The exams were humiliating but brief. There were no female officers, which seemed to heighten everyone’s wariness of the exam, and were put into a line to undergo partial exams from several different men. We were made to lay on a table and every inch of our bodies was looked over slowly and carefully for cuts and scrapes before passing us along to the next officer. They even parted our hair, checking our scalps for signs of infection. I couldn’t understand what they were looking for. All the zombies I had seen seemed to turn immediately. They checked Finn first, and he was quickly cleared for occupancy. My turn took longer. They lingered near my legs and feet which were torn up quite a bit from my trek in the woods. They took a long time checking them and cleaning them with iodine. I don’t know how they could tell if we were infected by just looking, but I suppose they were looking for bite marks. They were not gentle. The men wore rubber gloves, white coats, masks, guns, and goggles over their camoflaged fatigues.

We were examined out in the open in front of everyone, and even had to briefly remove our panties and bras. I refused at first, fearing their intentions, and wishing for Tom. I told them I would NOT submit to a pelvic exam. Thankfully, they only wanted to check for bite marks. I sarcastically asked if they knew anyone who had oral sex with a zombie and lived to tell about it. The officer coldly told me I could comply, or I would be coerced. I acquiesced to the rest of the humiliating exam while the elderly woman in front of me who had already finished her exam shivered and quietly cried while she did her best to comfort a distressed Finn. He seemed to take extra long moving my pubic hair about looking for wounds, and almost seemed to enjoy checking my butt, thighs, and breasts for marks. It took all I had not to spit in his face when he told me I was finished and could move on to the next man in the line. I won’t ever forget his face.

We were then allowed to dress and taken outside to be sniffed by the dogs. There must have been 20 German Shepherds out there, and we each prayed they wouldn’t bark at us. A few people were removed from the line and taken for ‘additional testing’, and their families roared with fear and grief—until they were taken as well. Little did we know we wouldn't see those people again. I could hear more dogs in the distance, and gunfire. I think they were being used to signal the arrival of more undead at the perimeter of the camp.

We were then reunited with the men who had undergone similar exams. Tom and I held each other in a wordless embrace that calmed my seething mind, and Finn abruptly stopped crying. We were then lead to men with clipboards who recorded our names, addresses, social security numbers, and a few other personal details before handing us all a bottle of water, a protein bar, and showing us into the gymnasium. Here we were told to find a cot with a scratchy pillow and a blanket for the night, and if nature called we were to use the buckets in the back of the gym. It wasn’t 4 star, but it was safe and we were together. Soon we were locked in, and we all did our best to sleep through the barking dogs, gunshots, and soft, muffled crying from the surrounding cots.

The next morning we were given water and some goopy oatmeal type stuff. It was flavorless and slimy, but it was food and I was glad to have it. We were told we could not go outside, but they brought in a basketball for the kids to play with, and the adults huddled in small groups, introducing themselves to one another and speculating on what was happening out there, and what was to happen to us. I expected to be given jobs to ‘aid the survival of the colony’ like they said yesterday, but we weren’t given any. Armed guards sat at the three entrances to the gym and we wondered if they were there to protect us, or to protect others from us. It was unbearably hot, and soon the gym smelled like body odor, feet, and open latrine gas.

I met a couple name Ava and Daneen. They were expecting a baby but hadn’t told the officers, and she wasn’t so pregnant yet that you could tell right away. I wondered which would be harder, protecting an unborn child like hers, or an infant like mine. He was a fireman with broad shoulders and a dark complexion, and he no doubt sought out Tom for being one of the stronger looking men of the group in case there was some kind of battle. She was sweet looking-- sable black hair with high cheekbones and full lips. They had been travelling from Park forest when apprehended, after being driven from the firehouse by zombies. He’d had to kill a lot of them, and agreed that their key vulnerability was their stupidity, and their strength was their numbers.

We were soon joined by two other couples and the same elderly woman who cared for Finn during my exam. Her name was Matilda, but went by Tilly, and she told me I was brave to have a mouth like that with those men. I disagreed that it was probably foolish to pick a fight just then, but like an animal, I bite when cornered. I thanked her for holding Finn and keeping him safe during my exam. I didn’t want to hand him over to them. They would have scared him mercilessly with their masks and goggles. Tilly’s kids were there, and they were also from old Matteson. I recognized the wife, Molly —she was a teller at my bank in her late-forties, and her husband, Scott, was a retired elementary school teacher. They were seized while out looking for their tween and teenage children, and were terrified to think that they may not see them again. The other couples names were Henry and Ramona. Henry was a pastor at a church in Richton Park, and Ramona was a homemaker who seemed the type to make just about anything from scratch. Perhaps it was just the circumstances, but they all seemed very picturesque.

We all speculated about how this started, and to an outside observer, we must have sounded like whacked-out conspiracy theorists. Some thought it was a virus, others a mutation, and others thought it was biological warfare from Al Quaeda. Some wondered if it was merely a disease with a very short incubation period. We were all able to agree that a swift, hard blow to the head seemed to kill them, but short of that they were impervious to pain, injury, or fear.

The guards would patrol the gym every couple of hours. Twice while Finn was asleep they would ask how long he had been down, and if that was normal. They even seemed apprehensive when I breastfed him. I pretended not to notice their vigilance, and I wondered why on Earth they would be so concerned with such a tiny little boy. He can barely crawl.

By the end of the first night we were all sitting in groups playing word games, telling stories, and smiling as if we were old friends on a camping trip, instead of zombie-killing-vigilante-hostages being held at gunpoint in a school gym with dogs barking outside to hunt the undead.

Before bed, Henry and Ramona lead us in prayer. Even in this climate of primitive fear, and dire circumstances, I could not bring myself to believe. This unsettled me more, as I had nothing for comfort, and right now nothing looked more bleak than our future in this camp. Feeling isolated and uncertain, Tom and I went to bed, and I took Finn onto my cot.

I dreamt of my dad. He told me we weren’t safe yet.... he held my son and told me to be vigilant, that the time for rest was not here yet. I awoke to find Tom watching me sleep, reached for his hand, and joined the choir of muffled cries as I listened to the dogs and gunshots in the distance.

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