It’s a small world after all
They kept walking North West, and the signal kept getting clearer. Jasper was pushing hard, trying to go further every day, trying to make do with less, fewer calories, less sleep, fewer breaks. Finally, after the signal had gotten fairly strong, Mona fell over. She was walking, and then she was lying on the ground, eyes closed. Her breathing was shallow and her pulse was rapid. Jasper tried to remember if he had seen her drink any water that day. He realized that he hadn’t and that he hadn’t seen her eat at all either. “Hey, Naomi, did you notice if Mona ate or drank anything, anything at all, today or yesterday?”
“Not sure… fuck. I don’t think she did you know?”
They sterilized some water and poured a few drops down her throat, then a few more. Jasper knew it was his fault, he’d been pushing way, way too hard. Well, what could have been solved in a few short rests was now a life threatening situation that might take days to resolve. He’d been avoiding reaching out to the voice on the other end of the walkie talkie - he didn’t know anything about them other than that they seemed organized and were making regular runs. At this point, it needed to happen.
He took the walkie talkie and flipped the talk button. “Hi, my Name is Jasper Pellerine. I’m not sure of my exact location, but there are three of us, and one of us is incapacitated. We are extremely low on food. If there is anyone there, please help.” Then he waited.
The wait seemed like forever, but eventually, a strong voice came on the line, “Hi Jasper. My name’s Robert. I’m coming to you… can you give me an approximate location?”
Naomi took over the phone. “Hi, Robert, Naomi here. We are at forty-five point one three lat, minus 62 point nine eight long, or close to. Sorry, that’s the best I can do, no GPS, can’t see no stars. Shit’s hard to figure right now.”
Jasper knew she was good with directions, but to be able to give that level of detail without equipment was still surprising. Jasper sat down to wait, exhausted, but Naomi said “Come on motherfucker. Too much shit to do, you heard? Light a fire. Give the man a chance to actually find us, I’m good at this shit, but I’m probably off by a bit. Ain’t no zombies coming to check out smoke anyway. Get your ass UP!”
He set to work. Another surprise, and another underestimation. Here he was playing leader, playing the big survivor, and here he was putting other people’s lives in needless danger, while a slip of a girl and a meth head were keeping him alive with their talents and intelligence. He needed to re-think the way he thought about people. He realized he’d been dismissing them because they were women, and in his head he had it fixed that men are the survivors, the strong ones.
They kept a damp cloth on Mona’s forehead. After a little while, her breathing started to get deeper and her pulse slowed. She opened her eyes and tried to get up.
“Stay there, we have people coming to help. You passed out from dehydration, probably hunger too. Just lie there and get your strength back,” Jasper said.
Finally, two men came out of the woods, wearing camouflage clothing, carrying heavy backpacks, small crossbows in hand. They each had a rifle slung over their shoulder as well.
The two of them looked nothing alike, one was white, with blonde hair. The other one was black with a shaved head. Despite that, they seemed the same somehow. It was the way they carried themselves, the way they dressed, the equipment they carried. The blonde one said, “Hey, you Jasper? I’m Robert. Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, I’m Jasper. This is Naomi, and the one lying down is Mona. She’s in pretty rough shape. Guess I forgot that the human body needs fuel. Been pushing us way too hard for a bit now.”
“Okay. Naomi, the human GPS. Nice to meet you as well. This is Tom. He’s our medic, he’ll look over your friend.”
Tom checked Mona over, and then pulled out an IV bag from his pack and hung it from a tree, before poking a needle into Mona’s arm. He had some trouble finding a vein, taking his time, getting her to flex as much as she could, but he managed it after a few minutes.
Robert sat down by the fire on a little folding stool he carried. He offered Jasper and Naomi some beef jerky.
“What brings you folks to this part of the province?” asked Robert. His tone was casual, but there was an edge to it.
“We’re heading to Charlottetown. My kid is there.”
“Okay, that makes sense. I was actually planning on hitting PEI as well. Good farmland.”
“You guys military?”
“I am. Tom’s reserves. The group of us are a bit mixed, but mostly either active or ex. We had a plan starting before this hit. Fucking zombies. It was a joke right? Like, we had a plan for if shit went fucked up, called it the zombie plan, but none of us figured that would actually happen. Well, guess the jokes on us.”
“Yeah, I did a bunch of survival training. Used to tell my ex it was for the zombies. I was kidding. So far it’s been pretty damned useful.”
“Shit… Jasper Pellerine. You took the wilderness survival stuff at Canada Survival School a few years back didn’t you?.”
“Wait, that was you? This place man, it’s like a small town of half a million. Yeah, I remember you. Big Rob the superstar student. I remember you got that fire going in the middle of the rain storm. Damn, good to see you.”
Jasper hadn’t liked Robert all that much during training, but he seemed to be the only one. Everyone else was grateful to the big man who could make fire under any circumstances, could make a shelter in half the time the rest of them took, managed to get a dozen fish when the rest of them couldn’t get a single one. Jasper knew that he tended to be a judgmental prick and that just the fact that someone owned a hockey jersey unfairly prejudiced him against them. Not to mention Robert clearly had a competent group with lots of supplies and lots of food. The fact that he was headed to PEI was a major bonus. Screw prejudice, better to go with them and survive to find his little girl.
After a while, Tom gave the all clear for Mona to move. Robert told them that he was set up just outside of Upper Musquodoboit, a small town a little to the north. They walked for a couple of hours, moving slowly to accommodate Mona’s condition. Roberts camp was invisible until they were standing almost inside it. There were tents, a dozen small ones and a few large ones, covered in branches and leaves. The whole thing was in a depression in the ground, which made Jasper nervous until he noticed a wide swale that would let water drain out, preventing flooding.
The camp was tidy and industrious. It was also very, very quiet. Somehow the group of people there seemed to be able to work in almost perfect silence. There were other defences once you got close. Ditches filled with spikes pointing out. Pits covered in dirt that were almost invisible until you were on top of them. Snipers in trees that could only be seen once you were on the other side of them. That probably meant more that were simply invisible unless you were right on top of them.
Robert brought them into one of the large tents. A mess hall. The inside was lined with some sort of silver material. “Sound dampening, we can talk in here, still not too loud,” he answered when Mona pointed it out.
There was a makeshift counter with trays and food containers. “Grab a bite,” Robert said, “It’s edible, barely.”
They grabbed trays, thankful to finally have something to eat. The food selection was limited. Scrambled eggs, some bacon, pancakes. A breakfast spread despite it being nearly supper time at this point. They wolfed down the food as Robert sat there and waited. Finally, when they were done he got to the point. “Look, everything I have given you so far is free of charge. However, we don’t carry dead weight here. If you want to join us, you have to contribute. You are welcome, hell, there’s not enough living humans around for us to turn away able bodies, but you have to carry your own weight and you have to follow the rules. The rules are strict, but they aren’t arbitrary. Follow orders. No conversation in the open. We scavenge empty places. Anything scavenged goes into the communal pot. Everything. No gunfire obviously, it draws them. We have crossbows. I notice you have traditional bows. That’s all good, you keep those. The dog. Does he bark?”
“Nope,” Jasper said, “He’s only barked once to let me know there was one about to get me. He’s figured out how to take down a zombie and keep away from the dangerous bits.”
“Alright. He’s welcome too. Just like you though, has to pull his weight. Other than that, we don’t usually stay in one place very long. You folks clearly have been sharing a tent. That seems like a reasonable arrangement for now. You will get watch duty. Clearly, Mona needs a day or two before she’s going to be able to do her turn”.
“I’m tough, used to not sleeping. Can keep watch now.”
Robert chuckled. “No, I think we give you a day or so. Not worried about you being tough enough, just don’t to waste all that nice saline fluid Tom dropped in your veins.”
They got squared away and then one of the other soldiers showed Jasper where he would be set up for watch. The camp seemed to be about ninety percent male, and there seemed to be a lot more people than the number of tents would indicate.
There was also a low wooden platform in the middle of the camp. It didn’t seem to fit. A round platform of wood that was large enough to fit about ten people if they were tightly packed. It was on legs that were less than a foot tall. The whole thing might have stood a foot and a half above the ground. Everything else had a clear purpose, but the platform was just there.
Watch was uneventful but hard. The camp was doing three hour watches, and staying awake for three hours starting at two o’clock in the morning was a challenge after pushing so hard for so long. The camp had a few pairs of night vision goggles, and Jasper was issued a set for his watch. The landscape was converted into a series of greens and blacks, but the goggles made it clear and easy to see. When he was relieved he was still awake and alert. The first light had started to appear on the horizon, just a faint glimmer.
Jasper lay down in the tent and slept instantly.