Thursday, January 10, 2013

Less Traveled

In the movies, farmhouse doomsday lunatics always have a store room or cellar crammed with canned goods and preserving jars filled to the brim with fruit and vegetables brined or sugared into oblivion, their glass jars caloric bombs waiting to be unsealed and lining orderly  if dusty shelves.  The farmhouse I found myself in now had no such stores.  A few items in the sparse pantry were usable, but the house had long since succumbed to the madness of it’s occupant. The shooter, whose screams were mercifully short, had been devoured in moments by the undead horde.  The ghouls had moved on after their meal  following whatever ruined mental compass seemed to propel their aimless shambling between hunts, Finn and I erased from their corroded minds as quickly as we had become the focus of it.  

We had survived, this boy of mine and I, though I couldn’t tell why or to what end.  I had no guesses as to how long we would be able to continue.  There was no sense of victory here, or despair.  All of it seemed to flatten out as the tasks piled up before me.  My wife, asphyxiated in a silo just a few dozen yards from the shattered, blood stained hovel I found myself in; my son, small and hungry and distressingly quiet tied with rags to my chest.  Food, transportation, shelter, all at crisis.  In the years to come, upon reflection, searching for a moment of decision, the closest I would recall was now, swaying with exhaustion and fear in a broken farmhouse amid the vast agricultural wilderness of middle America.  There was no conscious decision to press on.  That was the great revelation.  Survival bypasses the mind.  It’s a catharsis of the body; a stubborn physical refusal to die.  

There was precious little to salvage.  A .308 rifle, covered in gore, cleaned as best I could in a short time, a small ammo can of loose and annoyingly heavy ammunition, a few ancient looking cans of stewed tomatoes, a can of sweetened condensed milk, a passably sharp kitchen knife, and a gallon of water pumped from a decidedly sketchy red water pump found near a wash basin.  I tore sheets from the bed and reslung Finn, tore the rest for rags and diapers and shoved all but the rifle into an old newspaperboy’s sack I found hanging in the garage.  I wet my fingers with the sweetened milk and fed Finn the syrupy goo, hoping it’s calories would get him through the day, wondering abstractly what would get me through.

I walked outside, marveling at the overwhelming liar’s cheerfulness of the afternoon sky, it’s bright light and cloudless sky belying the lurking, lumbering reality on the ground.  It always struck me as incongruous, this difference between the external and internal environment.  I stood for a long moment just outside the battered front door doing nothing but breathing.  This house had been a source only of danger and misery, yet I found myself oddly reluctant to leave it.  Despite its congealing mess upstairs and the appalling lack of even the most remedial resources, it was still a house and therefore a tiny piece of a familiar world, with walls and rooms that made sense.  Walking away from it felt terribly exposed.  There were, of course, no other options.

Shouldering the newspaper bag, checking Finn, and grasping the rifle, I lumbered out into the day, turning down the long grassy drive, listening and watching for any movement, any sign of the undead.  It wasn’t long before the grassy drive forked.  I paused for only a second to decide.  I took the one less traveled by, hoping that would make all the difference.