What a bizarre day. Genuinely fucking strange. Twilight Zone-esque even.
Mr. Journal have you ever had that feeling right after a few things occur that there had to have been something at work for it to fall into place just so? Too many coincidences involved for it to be a random event? You know, like, you leave your apartment to go out with some friends, but just as you walk away, you realize you didn’t brush your teeth, so you go back and do it. You leave again, and because of the unexpected delay you wind up meeting glances with someone who you would not have had you just soldiered on without brushing your teeth? And that was like the ONLY day you didn’t brush teeth like that?
Or like you notice your shoelaces are untied, so you bend down to tie them, and just as you do, something passes through the space your head was just in? One of those… wow. That was lucky moments.
I have that feeling right now. The past few days things have been like that. Today especially.
Remember back in the day when the first plow truck I took off campus shit the bed on me? I wound up leaving it on the side of Auburn Lake Road, and walked back until I saw the Tundra? Then I took that and used it for some time. Eventually I put dry gas in the tank of the plow when I drove by it later kinda randomly, and after some time, Charles, Patty, and the rest of the Williams people found the truck after their car died, and it started right up?
That’s pertinent for two reasons. One; mysterious fucking circumstance that it all came together like that over time, and; Two; Gilbert’s Chevy died the same exact way today when we headed out to finish off that last house on ole Walt’s cul de sac. That was the start of our day.
I should rewind a bit. Gavin is getting a cold or allergies. When he was making breakfast, he was sneezing and sniffling and had a runny nose that was pretty epic. Patty took his temp, said he was a little warm, and promptly sent him off to bed for the day. Because of that, Abby bailed on today’s recon mission, and Patty had a sudden surge of paranoia that Abby and Gavin would make a baby at precisely that moment, so she opted to stay home and mother them both.
Gilbert and I left with the HRT and his truck at about 11am and figured we’d hit the one house left near Walter’s place, take our sweet ass time if it went well, and call it a day. About a half mile from Walt’s street Gilbert radioed that his truck was sputtering, and about two second after that, it died, and he drifted over into the half inch of slush in the breakdown lane.
We couldn’t start it. Both of us are largely mechanically disinclined though, so that’s not a surprise. I immediately thought of “sweet ass Hector” and wished he was nearby. We gotta get him back here for sure to check out our vehicles.
So as we are looking under Gilbert’s hood, trying to make heads or tails of our mechanical failures as human beings, we hear a gunshot. Loud. As. Hell. It couldn’t have come from more than a mile away in the general direction of Walt’s place. Sounded pretty damn heavy, almost like a M107 going off. Not quite that heavy, but you get the idea Mr. Journal. It was a big gun. The shots weren’t fired directly at us, but that didn’t mean they weren’t just bad shots and they were sighting in on us.
We had a live one.
Gilbert and I ate pavement and we took cover behind the HRT. I got my rifle down from the truck cabin as Gilbert covered me. We heard two more shots spaced out over about a minute. Once it fell silent, we went over a plan, and I infil’d towards the area on foot, and Gilbert got up and into the HRT to drive slowly.
I started to go into the woods, then I realized more than likely, I’d lose a boot in the muck, so I stuck to the very edge of the shoulder. If needed, I could dive down into the ditch there for cover. When we came to the street ole Walt’s place was on (it was on our left), there was one more loud ass shot, and it clearly came from the cul de sac. I hit the dirt and low crawled after telling Gilbert over the radio that something was up.
Right about then Patty came over the radio back on campus and was completely farting out bricks. OMFG.. I should be there. Don’t move, we’re coming, etc etc. Gilbert told her to chill and wait while we figured it out, and I kept crawling through the slush that’d formed from the light snow we had the past few days. God it was cold, and I was soaked right to the bone in just a few seconds. I came to the edge of the trees and stopped. With the ACOG scope I was able to see all the way to the end of the loop easily, and standing sort of near the center was a tall, skinny as rails guy with a ragged black hiking backpack, holding a large hunting rifle.
He was standing at ease, scanning the area for threats, and was about to rotate to my slice of the pie, and for some unfathomable reason, I stood up. I held the M4 low so he hopefully didn’t think I was a threat, and I started to wave at him with my left hand.
As soon as he saw me, he brought his rifle up at me, and I dove behind a tree a few feet to my left. He didn’t fire, and I kept flat, and I brought the M4 up to sight him in to see what he was doing. From behind me Gilbert watched it all play out, and he told Patty and Abby to get their shoes on.
I thought about it for a few seconds as he slowly walked down the street at me. He was wearing a beat to hell winter jacket and dirty jeans. Long dark hair that hadn’t been cut in some time, and he had a five o’ clock shadow that was a few hours past five. He was so skinny. He looked my age, or maybe a year or two older. I started to holler out to him when he got to about 75 yards away.
“Hey, I’m alive, please stop shooting!”
He froze solid. I don’t mean like… he stopped and realized like, holy shit, I’m shooting at a living person. I mean he literally froze completely still. Like when prey knows it is being hunted. The look on his face through the scope was one of restrained panic, and utter confusion.
“You okay? Are you bitten? Do you need medical assistance?” I stayed low.
He turned around and looked behind him, almost as if he was expecting to be snuck up on while I was talking to him. Well, that or he was looking for someone else that he thought I might’ve been yelling to. After he searched the area to his 6 adequately, he turned back and lowered his rifle until it was pointed at the ground. He stood, licked his lips, and responded suddenly with a half hearted wave in my general direction. After a few seconds of that, he finally started yelling back to me.
“Uh, hey, hi! I’m uh, sorry! I’m Blake.”
Much better. I hollered back, “I’m Adrian. Nice to meet you sir!” I saw him smile through the scope in a really odd way. Almost… manic. Not in a scary way, but like a happy way. I think he started to hitch his breath, like he was about to cry. I guess it’s possible he had asthma too. I think he had been alone a very long time.
“Yeah it’s nice to meet you too! Were you the people shooting here yesterday and the day before? I heard you from my hiding spot and came over to see what happened! I haven’t heard guns in a long time!” He looked behind him again. Good survival instincts. Always checking his periphery.
“Yeah that was us. We are clearing houses of the dead, and collecting supplies and stuff.” I hollered back.
“Wow, wait, we? There’s more than one of you? How many people are you?” He looked ecstatic, but also worried at the same time.
I played the honesty card, “seven of us. We live on the outskirts of town in a secure facility. We’re making the town as safe as we can now that spring is coming.”
Again, the look on his face was one of excitement and fear. He looked like he had no idea how to react to that news. Enthusiastic confusion.
I radioed Gilbert. I told him this Blake guy’s description, and that I felt he was alone, and I was gonna try and take it to the next level. Gilbert said he had my back, and do this smart. Right before I stood up, I hot keyed the radio so everyone could hear our conversation.
“Blake, we’ve got a truck nearby, you mind if we drive it to the cul de sac here? I hate to have our people split up for too long.”
Petrified. “You guys have a working truck still? How are you getting fuel? Most of the gas in town is total shit already.”
Interesting eh? I wonder what the exact shelf life of gasoline is? Diesel for that matter? I wonder if all those barrels of fuel we just brought back to campus were worth a piss hole in the snow. “You having trouble with the gas in town Blake?”
“Yeah, it’s all gummed up and has water in it. You need to filter it a bunch to get it to work right again, and there’s no safe place to do that here in town. Not since that massive explosion in the industrial park.”
Apparently news had traveled fast about that. I bet it made a fucking mushroom cloud when it went down.
“You okay with us bringing up the truck?” I hollered again.
“Hell yeah!” He looked excited about the truck. Genuinely so.
I radioed to Gilbert to pull the truck up near the street, and as soon as he did, I stood up, and tried the same slow wave. Blake matched my wave with one of his own, and I slowly walked towards him as Gilbert powered down the window of the truck and readied his AK for fire if it needed to happen. That’s an assumption. I couldn’t actually SEE Gilbert doing that, but I was betting my life on the fact that he was. After awhile, you just KNOW some folks have your back.
Blake and I met in the middle of the street. We stopped about 10 feet apart and hung our weapons low. If something went bad, we could raise them in a hurry, but we weren’t threatening each other. I kept a smile on my face the walk up to him, and as we exchanged hellos. Here is the basic gist of what was said:
“Hi, I’m Adrian. Nice to meet you.”
“You’re all wet man. You fall in the snow?” He pointed his nose at the giant wet spot I had from neck to knees where I face planted in the slush. About then I caught a whiff of his body odor. He smelled sour and funky. He probably hadn’t had a real shower or bath in who knows how long.
“Yeah we hit the deck when we heard you shooting. Didn’t think you were shooting at us, but we couldn’t risk it. Some folks are bad shots.” I smiled again at him.
He nodded, “yeah some folks are. I watched quite a few try and shoot the dead people and miss a lot. Waste of ammo.”
“Well, shooting can be nerve wracking, and I’m sure there are a lot of folks using guns lately that have no business doing so. Looks like you’ve got some time with your weapon. What’re you carrying?”
He lifted his rifle out to the side and immediately the pit of my stomach dropped. He had an Enfield .303, almost exactly the same as the one I’d gotten out of Walt’s place. “I’ve got my uncle’s Enfield. It’s a beast, but it’s accurate as all hell and I’ve been shooting it for years now. Running low on ammo though. Tough being alone out here.” Blake looked at his rifle lovingly. I could see he had a history with it just based on his eyes.
I thought it was odd that he had the same gun as the one we’d just found. I thought it was odd he was almost out of ammo, and we’d just found some. I thought it was odd that Gilbert’s truck died just far enough away that we weren’t threatened by him, but could still hear him. I thought it was odd that had it not died this morning, we’d have driven right up on him. I thought it was odd that of all of us, just Gilbert and I were the first to meet him.
We might’ve been shot, shot him, or gotten him bitten if we scared him.
“You’ve been alone all this time?” I was sincerely concerned. The more I observed him up close, the younger he appeared. With the gaunt features and long, scraggly hair, I initially placed him at 30, or even 35, but the more I watched, the more I thought he was 25 or so.
“Yeah.” He looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet. He wasn’t embarrassed, like Gavin was when he talked to Patty and I. Blake was- I dunno. Almost regretful. Guilty.
“Wow. How old are you man? 25?” I cradled the M4 as we settled into the conversation.
“I’m 23. Been alone for awhile. My parent died when I was 17, and I lived with my uncle for a year, but he died too. I used to live in his trailer over in Douglas Park off Route 18. I stay on the move now though. Can’t fortify anything. Takes too long, and makes too much noise.” He put his chin up slightly when he said all that. He was proud he made it this far. Proud that he was a survivor. Rightfully so in my book.
“That’s smart. We’re pretty remote, and we’ve taken down all the undead nearby. We can make a fair amount of noise now so there’s no worry about that. Where are you living now?”
He frowned, “I’d rather not say. I don’t know you.”
I smirked, “that’s also smart.”
“So we had planned on taking the stuff out of that beige cape right there today. It was the last house on this street for us to empty of stuff. Do you need anything? You’re welcome to anything inside.” I gestured at the house as I talked about it.
Blake turned and looked at it. He started to say something then hesitated. Finally he said, “is there food? All I need is food and ammunition.” He looked back vaguely hopeful.
“I’m sure there’s some food in there. You want to go ahead in and check it out yourself? Take whatever you need and check in with us after?” I shrugged at him. I wanted to show him we were generous. Peaceful. Altruistic even.
He turned and looked at the place again, thought about it, and took a few steps directly at the house without saying anything. I started to turn away to walk back to the truck, but I stopped when I heard him stop walking.
“Adrian?” He asked.
“Yeah Blake?” I stopped, half facing him.
“You don’t mind? You guys did all the work inside to make it safe right? I feel like I’m stealing if I just walk in and take stuff. I don’t want to take advantage of you.”
I waited and thought good and plenty about how to answer that, then came up with this, “Blake we have food. We have water, we have soap, and we have guns and ammo. Judging by your general disheveled appearance, your rail thin body, and your stink, you need whatever is in there a lot more than us today. I’d rather you ate, and we made friends. I’m sure you can think of something you can do for us later to square it away.”
Blake lit up when I said the part about how he could do something for us. I don’t think he’s been in a position to do anything for anyone else in a long time, and the thought of being useful to someone definitely appealed to him. He nodded with a slow smile, and trudged off in the thin layer of melting snow.
I listened to the sound of his boots crunching in the slush as I made my way to Gilbert. I killed the hotkey on the walkie and climbed up the gas tank to get to the window of the HRT where he sat. Gilbert nodded slowly, and told me that was, “well played.”
We went over what to do next, and we both agreed that this kid was shaky. Unsocialized in a big, bad way, and he needed to be brought in slow. We went over a few different conversational tactics for when he came out, and just as we wrapped up our last idea, he came walking out of the house. His beat up black backpack was noticeably fuller than when he’d gone in.
I hopped off the gas tank and hot keyed the walkie again. We met at almost the exact same spot in the middle of the street. He had a look on his face of almost joy. Nearly glee I’d say. He started talking at me before I reached him, and I waved for him to stop. When I got closer, he started again.
“Wow man they had a lot of food in there. There was a whole box of dry spaghetti, a jar of sauce, two cans of sauerkraut, whatever that is, and three cans of fruit cocktail. Gonna eat damn good this week.” Blake looked *stoked.*
“You’re gonna make that last all week?” I lifted one eyebrow skeptically.
“Hells yes. That’s a haul man. I owe you guys big time.”
“Nonsense Blake. Mind if I ask you what you did for work before all this shit went down? We’re trying to figure out what everyone can do. I was a… A bouncer, and a soldier.” I didn’t want to tell him right off I worked at the school. He might put two and two together and figure out where our “secure facility” was.
“I worked at Mark’s Garage doing auto body and mechanic work. Mostly auto body. Welding, buffing, painting you know. I liked it. That crazy motherfucker Walter stopped in there sometime in like September and took all the barrels we had. Dude he was loony. He shot so many people here I didn’t dare to come this way. Things went quiet here about two weeks ago, and when I heard you all shooting it up the other day, I decided I’d finally investigate. I’m glad he’s gone. He was fucking dangerous.” Blake looked appreciative.
“Yeah he injured his leg bad and it killed him from the looks of it. We put him down again when we breached his house. He was crazier than you can imagine man. Had his house wired to blow with hotdogs and Twizzlers.” I laughed.
Blake didn’t. “You know he had real dynamite right? He drove around town a couple times tossing sticks out the window of his truck late in the summer. I heard them go off at least twenty times. He drew so many of those… those things over here it was impossible to move around on foot for a long time.”
That was humbling to hear. We kinda knew Walt had explosives, but hearing it confirmed from someone was a different matter entirely. I nodded at him.
“What’re your plans now Blake? Do you need a place to live? Are you safe?” I wanted to extend a gentle offer of assistance.
“I move around. Only way to stay safe and find food reliably. I’ve been moving around more and more after dark since the snow levels came down. They have a hard time seeing me, but I also have a hard time seeing them. I might start laying low more often though. They’re getting around a lot easier, and I think the rest of us still around are getting nervous.”
“The rest of us? I thought you said you were alone?” I was confused.
“I am alone. But when I move around, I sometimes see other people moving around, or I can see lights at night or smell the smoke coming from their fires. If I can, I watch them with the scope on the Enfield. I kinda know some of the pockets of survivors now.” Blake seemed unfazed by how amazing this information was in the big scope of things.
“Blake that’s outstanding. We can save lives with all that. How many people are still here in town?” I was giddy.
Blake thought hard about it for a minute or two before replying. “I can’t say for sure. I haven’t done a real loop in some time. I know there are two or three houses with folks in them. Maybe two or three people in each house. Plus right near the high school there’s a small apartment building that got secured down early on, and I think there might be five or six folks there. Maybe 25 survivors across town all in all? That I know of at least.”
Mr. Journal, I am not sure how to respond to that. 25 seems absurdly low for a town our size. I guess if you factor in us as well as the people who died at STIG, we might be approaching what I thought was a correct amount. 25 seems like such a small number.
“Well Blake I’m sure that information will be useful later on. Is there any chance you can show me where those houses are? On a map maybe?” Knowing where we might encounter survivors might make things a lot safer for both us and them.
“I would like to get to know you better man. I don’t know you from a hole in the wall, and if I point out where those folks are and you raid them or something, I’d be pretty damn sore about it.” He looked defiant, serious.
I nodded at him in agreement. “Well, can we agree to meet again somewhere and maybe trade for it? After we learn more about each other maybe?”
“Trade for what?” He licked his lips. A little creepy, but I think he just had chapped lips.
“Well you said you need food. And you said you needed ammo right? .303 British if my memory still works in my advanced age?”
“Yeah wow. You have some? I snagged four boxes of shells from Moore’s when everything went to hell last summer. Apparently I was the only person who used it around here. I’d love more. That and .38 shells. I’m getting slim on that too.”
“Blake you’re slim everywhere. Need to fatten you up so the girls will like you.” I winked and grinned.
The joke was entirely lost on him. He looked utterly lost when I said “girls.”
“Anyway man, I’ve got some .303 British I can trade you, as well as some canned food, and if you want, I think I can spare some milk, and a few cans of food.”
I shit you not Mr. Journal, but his mouth slowly opened, and his jaw drifted downward until he looked like he was going into shock. He had no reply for a solid minute. Finally I waved my hands in front of his face and he snapped back to reality.
“Wow totally. What can I do to make it up to you?” It was his turn to be giddy.
“Well, for starters, we had a truck die on the way here, about a half mile maybe up the road. You said you had a little mechanical experience, and if you could, I’d like you to take a look at it. If you can get it running, drive it back here to the cul de sac. And also, if you feel comfortable, anything at all you can tell us about town would be really helpful. I don’t even mean telling us about the survivors. I mean where can we find good stuff, equipment, concentrations of the dead people, whatever. Any intelligence is going to either save our lives, or the lives of other folks.”
Blake nodded emphatically. “I’ll get moving right now. I’ll see you tomorrow at noon right here?”
I checked my watch and agreed with him. He literally jogged away past me, and waved at Gilbert in the HRT as he went. Gilbert smiled in his clever ass old man way and we both knew this could be an important day for us.
When I got into the HRT, all Gilbert said to me was, “and that’s how you develop local allies. Well done kid.”
We cleared the house of remaining goods (marginally worth the time), drove by Blake with his head under the hood of Gilbert’s truck, and made our way home.
We’re meeting him again tomorrow at noon. Hopefully, he’s a little less edgy, and little more trusting.
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