Into the Tame
Jasper, Naomi, and Candice hit the barrier on the island side as the first snow began to fall. It was just a few light flurries, but it was cold. The sheer number of bodies dead by the barrier was staggering. It was hundreds, too many to make sense of. All with their heads destroyed.
They walked into the town, looking for anywhere they could use for warmth. They looked through windows. Many of the houses still housed undead occupants, but they were looking for someplace with an obvious fireplace or wood stove. The couple of zombies inside wouldn’t be a major concern.
The entire province had a quarter the population of Halifax, and most of the space was taken up by farms. There weren’t very many people.
They found a place with a large wood pile stacked in the driveway. “Here,” Jasper said, trying the knob. It was unlocked. They opened the door cautiously. Nothing came at them. There was an old wood stove in the living room. The place was cold of course, it had been empty for many months, and the condition showed it. The kitchen window was smashed in. The back door was open, although the screen door was closed. The screen door pushed out. Jasper figured the inhabitants probably walked out it and then when it closed behind them couldn’t get back in. Good for him and his group. They could see a fenced yard a few houses away with a pair of zombies trying to get out.
Nobody felt like talking. They were too shaken, the grief too present, too recent.
They closed the main door and stoked a fire. After the place started to warm up they did a search, room by room. It was empty. Just a small home, portraits of a number of children, probably enough that they were grandkids. Also photos of an older couple. There were commemorative plates, commemorative spoons, commemorative mugs, hundred and hundreds of salt and pepper shakers. The furniture was mostly overstuffed and old, and the whole place still, despite being open to the elements, had a lingering smell of stale cigarettes. There were stand ashtrays next to every piece of furniture. Still, the place was warming up quickly.
They found some plywood in the basement and placed it over the window, cutting out the wind and the snow. There were some tins of food down there, and a case of bottled water. It was the cheap kind, lots and lots of small bottles, but better than nothing.
They set up a meal around the stove, cooking tinned soup with bottled water. There were saltines to break up in the soup. It tasted like heaven, like the greatest meal ever made. Jasper wanted to plan, to figure out what they were going to do, but he didn’t have the energy or the knowledge. There was also a tin of hot chocolate mix. Something that they had found in most of the homes they had raided. They made hot chocolate with more of the bottled water, then fell asleep on the living room floor in the warmth of the wood stove.
The next morning they got serious about raiding the community. It was pretty badly stripped. The house they were in was one of the few with any food in it, and then it was just the little bit in the basement, a single medium sized box.
They did manage to get some water though. Mostly just collected rainfall. There were empty containers, nobody bothered to take those. “A car would speed the hell out of this bitch,” Naomi said, “We could make Charlottetown before that motherfucker.” Nobody had to ask who she meant.
They tried every car they could find. Most didn’t have keys, and of the few that did none would start. It had been months that the vehicles had sat idle. Batteries only last so long, and gasoline goes bad.
They did manage to find a few small things. One SUV had a cache of protein bars in the trunk, one house had a couple of shotguns - small twenty gauge ones, not exactly high on stopping power. Some more bottled water tucked in the back of a convenience store. Everything else edible was gone.
It was clear this area wasn’t going to be much use to them, so they started on the road to Charlottetown. Naomi was navigating again. They also used the highway as a signpost, giving them a general route. Traveling in PEI was a tradeoff. The weather was awful, and the wind was extreme, nothing to break the wind as it sped off the ocean. It was costing them time because the cold was so severe… but it was also easier terrain. Everything was flat, and there was no forest to speak of. They were able to see a great distance most of the time and were able to spot zombies long before they came close - except when the wind, rain, and occasional snow, got so bad they could barely see at all.
They travelled for days, and then weeks. In all that time they saw nobody living, until one day they were searching for shelter, it was just hitting twilight, leaving it really close to their limit, and they spotted lights. Real, actual, electric lights. They hurried forward, wind whipping them, punishing them for every step. All of them had managed to find clothing, but it was mostly just layers upon layers. They had passed the point of noticing their stink. Electric light meant humans, meant civilization.
There was a small building, and behind it a fenced in area. The fenced in area was several hundred metres. It contained ramshackle huts, hastily constructed. The fence also had zombies around it. Lots of them. The zombies were tied to heavy stakes sticking out of the ground, straining against their ropes but too stupid to slip them. The ropes were tied around their waist and neck. The main building appeared to be a restaurant/convenience store. There were zombies on the approach to it as well, but there was a clear channel running through them. Obviously meant to channel people into a small area.
It was late enough that Jasper decided to chance it. Despite the experience with Robert he still believed that most people would be trying to stick together, to make the species survive. Plus he was willing to trade protein bars for shelter if need be.
As they approached the door a young woman stuck her head out of a second story window. She had a rifle in her hands, just a bolt action twenty-two, but not something Jasper wanted pointed his way. “Stop. Lay down any weapons you have. We don’t want to hurt you, but we have to make sure you can’t hurt us.”
They did as the woman commanded, laying down gear and guns. Jasper even took out the spare knife he had in his boot. A couple of men came out and frisked them. The men looked rough. Lean and dangerous, long beards over dirty faces. They searched the group and then beckoned them to follow.
Inside the place was lit. They could hear a humming sound that was clearly a generator. It was a restaurant, and there were people at the tables. They were eating, drinking coffee, talking. There were even a few waitresses, dressed in blue dresses with aprons, running around taking orders and topping up cups. The entire scene was surreal, like running into a live Dali painting. The men beckoned Jasper and his crew to the convenience store side. Inside it was very different. The place had been emptied of shelving, and there was a large table with chairs around it. An older man and woman were there. Both were large and looked extremely strong. Hard working farm types. “I’m Beth. This is my place. This is Conrad”.
“I’m Jasper, these two are Naomi and Candice. Pleased to meet you.”
“You folks look pretty rough,” Beth asked, “You had a hard time of it I take it?”
Jasper told her about his journey, from start to finish. He didn’t want to leave out any details, there were potential consequences for Beth and her people from things he had done, and he wanted to make sure they were prepared. There were too few people left to let his pride endanger any of them.
“Well shit, we had some issues, but I guess we had it pretty easy compared to you folks. I used to live right near here, Conrad was in the area too. I mean we lost people, of course, but I think I had to travel all of ten klicks. I came here to raid the place, couple days after the zombies showed up. Found out it had a working genny, lots of spare gas. Hell, the freezer was still working, full of food. Set up shop right away. Conrad came by couple days later. He built most of the compound out back. We were friends before, so I trusted him right off.”
“Wow, sounds like you guys hit a bit of luck.”
“Damn right. Once I found the owner I knew the place was mine. He was up in the apartment above the restaurant, trying his darndest to eat my brains. Never did like the old lech. Used to hit on the waitresses something fierce. Anyway, as we were setting up a couple boys came up and tried to take over. Conrad took a bullet, but he bashed both their brains in with a hammer. After I got him patched up we started collecting the zombies, made a good deterrent to folks who wanted to sneak up on us. We’re still open to newcomers though. We got plenty of food, this area’s all farms, enough food that we got ourselves set for the winter and had to leave most of it on the ground. Tried our best to save the livestock too, but had to butcher more of it than we wanted. We let the ones we couldn’t use or care for go. Careful, lots of wild cows roaming around this winter...”
“You seem to have picked up a few extras.”
“Yeah, lots of em’ I figure everyone with a pulse in a hundred klicks stopped in here at some point. Not your Robert fellow though, I’m glad of that. We like newcomers, folks who can do different things. Anyone who stays more n’ a day or two we expect to pitch in, build themselves a place, help keep up the community. New faces though, it’s enough that you bring news with you, or even just stories we ain’t heard bout a hundred times already.”
“Do you have any idea what Charlottetown is like?”
“Yeah, had a few come through from there a few days ago. Couple little spots with people still in them. At least three I know of, could be more. The University has some folks, another bunch set up in Victoria Park, took advantage of the terrain. Another group in an apartment building. I think it was Spring St., someplace around there.”
“My daughter and her mom were around there.”
“Well, that’s some good news at least. Seems like people turning in the night might be a bit less likely if your family didn’t turn. Maybe you not turning means your daughter didn’t too. Course we don’t know for sure, just stories. Anyway, stay for dinner, the food is simple, and we ain’t got a lot of spices, but it’s good stuff. All local grown, we ate all the stuff from the grocery stores months ago.”
There was a small menu, a choice of chicken, pork, beef, or fish. Jasper had the roast beef, something he had never expected to eat again. The food was amazing. Jasper wasn’t sure if it would have been the best meal ever had he not been so hungry for so long, but it stood a chance at it. The beef was slow cooked and smothered in gravy. There were mashed potatoes with it, drenched in butter. The vegetables were also simple fare, peas, carrots, a bit of corn. It didn’t matter, it was all delicious.
They started to get a rundown on the situation on the island. There were a number of settlements. Like Jasper had guessed, the island had come through the zombies better than Nova Scotia by a huge margin. In Nova Scotia, they had run into exactly two other groups, only one of which had a base of operations. PEI had a number of advantages. The low population density and large farming population meant that people lived far apart and tended to have guns. Also, with that much of the land used for farming food security was pretty much guaranteed for the winter. Next year might be more of a challenge, but it was close to harvest when things fell apart, so most of the active work involved with growing was done. The people left just needed to grab and store as much as they could. Generators were common.
Apparently, the bridge defence had gone badly though. The defenders set up the barricades and then got overwhelmed at the Borden-Carleton barricade when a large horde hit them in mid-September. The sentries on the bridge rushed to the rescue and mostly got killed. It was bad planning and bad luck.
Jasper had hope. Despite the delay in getting there, there was a chance that Taylor was still okay. The fact that Charlottetown had surviving communities, one close to her home, cemented that in his head. He was frantic to get going.
They were shown a small guest shack they could stay in. It was crudely built and drafty, but it had a makeshift wood stove and a couple of cots. They also had a bit of candle their hosts had provided them. The electricity was reserved for the main building, although they had strung lights around the fence, to use if they were attacked. They were kept dark the rest of the time.
“Okay,” Jasper said, “This is good news. There’s a chance, a real chance, that Taylor isn’t dead. More than I could have hoped for when I started out.”
Naomi sat down on the cot. “Damn. I happy for you, surprised though. Didn’t think it was really possible. Man. I think we stay here couple days though. Get our strength up, take no chances.”
“Yeah, absolutely. We have managed to get lucky way too many times so far. It’s hard though, we’re so close now.”
“I know, but that don’t mean we shouldn’t wait. If homegirl is aight she gon’ still be a’ight if we wait a minute.”
“I know, I know you’re right. It’s just hard, how do I make myself wait?”
Candice cleared her throat, “Look, um, I love you guys. Really. People say I’d die for you all the time, but I would... you know I would. Here’s the thing: I don’t know if I can keep going.”
“You mean stay here, join the community?”
“Yeah, it might turn out Beth is another snake like Robert, but I don’t think so. I think she’s a good person. I’m tired. I don’t want to abandon you, leave you in the lurch, but I’m so fucking tired.”
“Look, you don’t owe me anything. In fact, at this point, I owe you, my life at least, and probably the next few lives as well. After what happened with Sasha, Matt, Jordan, even Snow, I don’t know how many more people dying on my quest I can deal with. Stay, make a life here. We will find a place in Charlottetown, somewhere with decent people. We’ll be in touch, a few months down the line at least we’ll know there’s other communities out there to trade with.”
Naomi gave Candice a hug. “Me, I got Jasper’s back girl. Don’t even worry bout it. We good aight?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna miss you though.”
“I know. Gon’ miss you too. Still, all good. Me and Jasper, we be fine.”
After, when they got a quiet moment, Jasper said to Naomi, “Thank you. I’m actually glad Candice is staying here. I could use her, but at least she’s going to be safe. Don’t know if I could have kept going if you’d bailed too though. It’s still a long way and going it alone... I don’t even want to think about.”
“All good. You probably get lost five feet out the front door, I don’t go with you.”
Jasper and Naomi stayed two days at the Blue Goose settlement and then hit the road. During that time they worked hard on whatever was needed. Jasper also demonstrated making rocket stoves and explained the concept of rocket stove mass heaters. When he left they were in the process of figuring out how to produce enough mass heaters for the entire compound. He also gave them a basic rundown on how to create cob buildings. The labour involved was pretty high, but the benefits for a situation like this were also huge. He was surprised none of them had looked at it, but really it was more of a hippie thing, and the farming community on PEI tends to be more conservative. He only knew about them due to spending so much time studying prepper stuff. As they were leaving Beth handed each of them a heavy machete and said, “Good luck. You are welcome back anytime, both of you. If you do manage to settle in Charlottetown keep us in mind. Might be good to have some other communities, maybe start trying to rebuild something here. The blades are payment for the stoves, so take them. We’ve got lots more.”
The weather was bad, not terrible. Cold drizzle, no snow. They headed down the road, missing the compound as soon as they got outside. The sky was leaden and low. One thing that they had learned at the compound: It was early December. The sixth in fact. This was the first time in months that Jasper had known the date.
The landscape was flat and empty. They passed houses and the wreckage of houses that had burned. PEI might have fared better than Nova Scotia, but that didn’t mean everything there was okay. It was in pretty rough shape. Jasper thought that about one in every three houses was a burnt out shell. Zombies were infrequent and easy to spot from a distance.
Their route was picked using info from the community. One of the major factors was that there was an area that was considered dangerous because of a band of bandits, right in the middle of the most direct route. While most of humanity was pulling together, these guys were preying on anyone they could get near. That meant staying near the south shore or moving all the way up to the north shore. They stuck to the south, staying mostly in sight of the water. As they were walking one day, Jasper nudged Naomi and said, “Hey look, fishing boats!”
It was true, a dozen or so small boats were headed out to sea, despite the bitter cold. That particular day the skies were clear and blue, a few wispy clouds high up. Most were motoring, but a couple had crisp, white sails out.
The road passed through rolling fields, broken by the occasional small patch of trees, mostly next to the road. The trees were barren, brown and grey sticks thrust against the emptiness. Most of the fields were covered in crops, unharvested and rotten, decaying on the ground. After the day with the boats, it rained, ceaselessly. Tiny daggers of cold hitting their skin, as much ice as water half the time. The rain kept falling, miserable and damp. It was just the two of them, seemingly alone in the world.
They knew they weren’t far. Probably a week or two’s journey in this new world. In the old world it would have taken less than an hour. Jasper had a moment of sorrow when he realized that his entire journey, months of it, would have been less than a day before. A long days drive sure, but just a day. It was a drive he had made many, many times in the past. One that nobody would ever make again. The world had shrunk, closed itself off. Jasper had spent some time in Vancouver, he doubted it would be possible to get back there in his lifetime. The journey would take years. This former single days worth of journey had taken more than forty lives, it was hard to imagine the cost of reaching the far side of the country.
They kept pushing, putting in the miles every day. They found shelter in abandoned homes most nights. It might be a few hours walk between homes, but you could usually see the next one from where you were. The roads they were on were small and winding. Often it was easier to cut across the fields, so that’s what they did.
Things got tense again around New Dominion. There was a bridge, and Jasper had developed a bad feeling about bridges. He managed to find a vantage point that gave him a clear view of both approaches. PEI is fairly flat, so there wasn’t much, but most of the roads do have some trees next to them. He climbed a tree despite the cold freezing his fingers. It had started to snow, light fluffy flakes lazily falling from the sky. The air was still. It was cold, but the kind of cold that feels sheltered and mild. Jasper couldn’t see anything near the bridge and he had a clear view of both shores, so they made their way across, as cautiously as they could manage.
The snow was still falling, and it was sticking to the ground. Still, they walked on. Finally, the snow got to be too much. It was building up rapidly, impeding their ability to walk. They had managed to walk past most of the houses, but there was a farm nearby. The house itself was a charred ruin, but the barn appeared to be intact.
The barn doors were closed, however, there was a small side door that was unlocked. They made their way inside. It was cold, frigid stale air. No animals inside, living or dead, and no walking dead either. There was a hayloft with a ladder up to it. The hay was low, clearly, it hadn’t been harvested that year, but it wasn’t empty.
They formed a little nest out of hay and waited in the chill. The hay was decent insulation, but it was cold enough to see their breath. They huddled together and stayed the night.
The next day dawned crisp and clear. The temperature was low, but high enough that they could see the snow melting. Once enough of it had cleared they started out. The walking was hard, and they were moving even slower than usual. They were close, so very close. A single days walk in the old days. A few minutes drive. It took them days to get in sight of Charlottetown. For the most part, they were able to find places to stay, but the snow kept coming and the roads kept getting worse. The one night there was a storm, one that brought the temperature up. It started to rain, and it kept raining into the next day. The snow cleared, but in its place it left rivers of mud, every puddle turned into a lake, every ditch a raging torrent. Everything started to flood. There were places where the road vanished under fast flowing water.
Finally, they saw the city. The road into town went over a low bridge, and right now that low bridge was two feet under water. They had no way across where they were. Jasper knew they could get around the river heading west, although it added even more time to the journey. Resigned they set out again. Jasper wished for snow shoes, a truck with a high wheel base, a boat, anything.