Friday, August 17, 2007

Camp, Chaos, and Corn

Tom had been having bad dreams for eight days, now. I think we were all starting to show signs of PTSD now that we were in the relative safety of the camp. Several times each night he seemed to wake with a fury, ready to fight. I never asked him what he dreamt about, it seemed obvious. I, too, was dreaming, but of my father. Each time the circumstances varied, but each time the message was the same—be ready to get out, you’re not safe yet. I was grateful he wasn’t alive to see all this.

The first 48 hours in camp were the roughest. But we soon learned that things were not as they seemed. After two days, almost to the hour, we were all lead back to an open encampment behind the school. There were probably 25 open air tents, and several areas designated for kitchen, firearms, etc, and it was all closed in by a fence. The camp was outdoors, and there were about 100 people already living there. The perimeter of the camp was set a quarter of a mile out from the fence on all sides, and guarded by men with guns, and dogs. At all hours we heard the static of radio communiqué of the guards checking in from their posts. There was even a makeshift watch tower.

All in all, we were relieved to see that life would not consist of an elementary school gym, and were pleased to assist in the cooking and upkeep of the camp. There were cold showers that we were allowed to take in 60 second increments twice per week. They let me have 15 seconds longer so I could wash Finn, as well. One kindly, older officer even gave me an extra pair of fatigues and shoes since my skirt and torn flip flops weren’t going to make it much longer. They gave me fabric scraps to make cloth diapers for Finn, and as long as I washed them daily, I had enough. The food wasn’t great, but the safety and comeraderie was. We made friends and settled in, not sure if were there to ‘wait out’ the threat, or to create a new, enclosed civilization.

The guards and officers kept their distance from us for the most part. Their sleep tents were at the opposite end of camp from us, and it was clear they were trying to maintain some secrecy. We didn’t ask, and they didn’t tell—a policy we were all familiar with. We learned to clean firearms, and took turns digging latrines, doing dishes, cooking, and helping out wherever needed. It was beginning to feel like home.

On our second day in the open air camp, another paddy wagon arrived. We saw another group unloaded, checked and quarantined for 48 hours. Then again on our fifth day, but this time something went wrong. The people had been transported in the back of a semi-trailer, which appeared to have hit the building, and when they opened the doors, zombies spilled from the cargo hold. It took under 30 minutes to contain the threat, and we were all grateful, if not morosely astonished at their efficiency. That night, the truck was loaded with the bodies of the slain undead, and driven away, not to be seen again. Tom seemed to be really affected by this, and his dreams were especially turbulent that night. No one could say it wasn’t nerve-racking, but then, no one said much about the incident at all. The air was heavy with grief, and the sudden reminder of what we had all survived before we got to this place.

On our eighth night, I awoke at my father’s insistence, he said it was time to go soon, and to be watchful. I woke Tom when I heard the commotion, and we listened to the lookout tower soldier hollering to one of the guards on his radio to retreat post haste, and we heard dogs and shots erupting like wildfire from our left. An automatic weapon was unloading, and it was soon joined by another and another—a chorus or machine fire filled our ears and chests as we waited, and the camp seemed to erupt into chaos. Campers were crying and huddled, fearing the worst. Tom and I sat quietly on our cots, hoping for a sign of what was to come. I wondered if it was really time for us to leave.

After about fifteen minutes of this, we were told in no uncertain terms by a very persuasive soldier that we were to remain in our tents, be quiet, and await further instruction. He told us there was a potential security breach, but that protocol was being followed and we would remain safe. We heard shouts that a soldier was compromised (bitten…?), and that he needed to be quarantined. We were surprised that he hadn’t already changed…and the rumors began circulating.

By dawn, we had ascertained that the soldier had been asleep at his post when the lookout saw the threat, and tried to rouse him over the radio. We weren’t sure if he was bitten or not, but we did know he was being held in the quarantine gym, so must have been exposed somehow. Despite the rumors, campers settled back in to their daily routines despite their bleary eyes and weary hearts.

The next night I woke again, my father urging me forward, telling me it was no longer safe. I know it’s crazy, but I could feel in my bones that he was right. Something was wrong here, and it was too damned quiet. I woke Tom, told him my feeling, and insisted that we needed to leave. He asked the practical questions, “How could we leave? Where would we go? What would we use to protect ourselves? and Are you out of your fucking mind?”. I had no answers, but I knew it was time.

The soldiers moved quickly, quietly, and with purpose, as the other campers lay sleeping. Once more we heard gunfire, but this time it was coming from the school. My heart sunk as I realized that the quarantine was broken, and there were zombies inside the camp. The solider must have been bitten last night, and now he would infect us all. We were under attack from an undisclosed, and soon to be exponentially endless number of zombies, and one hurried glance told me that Tom was ready to leave now, as well.

We grabbed our blankets, and I quickly tied the baby to my back with them, using a pillow to pad his back in case I fell, or ran into something. I was surprised to see a pair of bolt-cutters from the manual labor tent emerge from under tom’s pillow. He didn’t meet my eyes, I knew he was embarrassed to have shown me his fear, but now his precaution told us how we would get out.

The campers were starting to stir now, but we waited until the coast was clear, and cut through the fence. We couldn’t afford to travel in high numbers, and we didn’t want to be apprehended and forced back in by the soldiers. One glance behind me revealed that a few had seen us but stayed on their cots, as if their stillness would protect them from the legions of undead that would soon be upon them.

We crawled on our bellies and made our way slowly through the tall grass until we were past the unguarded perimeter. All the soldiers must be in the camp now, trying to save it. We could hear screams and destruction from behind us, but we dared not look back to see our new friends ripped asunder. We had seen enough carnage to last a lifetime.

And then we ran. We ran all night, stopping only for a minute or so every half hour to rest. I never knew I had it in me. I managed to nurse while jogging a few times to comfort Finn, and I was grateful for the pillow and blankets so I could keep my hands free to swat away branches and debris.

We were in the country somewhere, and as day broke, we approached a small deserted town. Where were the zombies? Or the people? How could there be none here at all? I saw my question reflected in Tom’s incredulous expression, and we moved slowly and stealthily through the thoroughfare, hoping to find a clue or some food.

We were both too frightened and weary to search the homes just now, but we did manage to gather up a splintered baseball bat, a box of paper towels, and a few large rocks. We took our bounty with us into the surrounding corn fields, and began to erect a shelter.

I always hated those survival shows, but had never been happier to have seen them! We used the bolt cutters and corn stalks to erect a shelter, and laid down one blanket to keep the bugs off the baby, and the other overhead for some shade. I found a nearly dry creek bed, and used the pillowcase to filter some water from the mud. We were surrounded by feed corn, which was hard but still edible, and we did out best to eat some of that. We used the paper towels to keep Finn’s bottom clean and dry, since it seemed diapers were a thing of the past. By mid afternoon we had made camp, and I volunteered to take first watch while Tom slept with Finn on his chest.

As I stood watch my mind began to drift:

What the hell was next?

Where were we, and how would we stay safe?

Where would we go from here?

What the hell happened to that town, and why was no one in it?

I wonder if we can find a car there…

God, I’m hungry…

And then I was sleeping.

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