I’m Living Downtown
“Fuck. Days. We are losing days getting around this shit.” Jasper was frustrated by the delay once again. It seemed like every time they found a path into the city flooding was stopping them in their tracks.
“Nothing we can do. Just keep walking. You know we gonna make it. River don’t give a shit you wanna go faster.” Naomi was patient. To her, it was all very much the same. She was sticking with Jasper out of loyalty and had no hopes for Charlottetown over any other place. The small city seemed viable, lots of forage around, lots of empty homes, nothing else really to recommend it though. It was a small and poor place, all small buildings.
They finally reached the city, ragged and tired. The first houses started to show up. Again, many of them had burnt. You could see whole swaths where one house had caught fire and the flames had leapt to the next house. The signs of civilization being wiped from the face of the planet. Jasper wanted to make it to the downtown core. Karen had been living with her boyfriend on Spring Park Road. They were going to need to rest before then, to recoup some strength. Too many dead between them and downtown.
They found a small farm, within the city limits. It was, however, a working farm. There were cattle in the field, looking somewhat worse for wear, but alive. The farmhouse was in good repair. They opened the door and met the owner, an elderly man wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, body blackened with blood pooling and rot, guts protruding over his boxers, stained with shit and piss. His smell settled around them, turning the air thick. They say you can get used to anything, but if there was one thing that Jasper hadn’t managed to get used to about this new world it was the smells. Sweet rotten meat mixed with human waste followed the zombies wherever they went, building a miasma of stench that was almost solid, almost a thing you could touch. The smell pervaded his senses, bringing him to the edge of vomiting. The cold, clear late fall air and small number of zombies had left him unused to the stench again. He drew his machete and smashed through the old man’s skull.
Inside they found what had ripped the man’s face apart. There were two dogs, starved to death from the look of it. Lying in the living room, rotted and decayed. Jasper didn’t want to stay there. “I can’t. Too much. I can’t stay here.”
“I know honey, but you gonna. This ain’t Snow. Now, grab the other end of this rug. Let’s get them bundled up and out of here.”
Jasper pulled himself together and did as Naomi said, the two of them hauling the remains of the dogs outside.
They build a fire in the stove and raided the kitchen. As usual for a farmhouse, there were preserves and lots of canned food. Having the wood stove to cook on made a huge difference, as did the oil lantern that was hanging in the kitchen. If there’s one thing an Islander is used to, it’s power outages.
Jasper started packing canned food into his bag. “Okay, so let’s grab what we can, head out.”
“Hell no. You can barely stand up white boy, and I ain’t carrying your ass. We staying here until we get a rest. Taylor still alive right now, she still be alive in two days. Don’t be fucking stupid.”
“Shit, I just, I’m so close now. I don’t know how to wait anymore. I’m sorry.” Jasper broke down into tears, big gaping sobs, unable to catch his breath. Naomi put her arms around him and held him until the tears subsided.
They spent two days in the farm house. The house was set up with grates leading from the living room into the other rooms, a way for the wood stove to heat everything, and some of the rooms also had fireplaces. This house had stood long before central heating became available. They slept in comfort their two nights there. Jasper was never able to get the dogs out of his mind though.
Finally, they gathered up everything they could and left, headed for downtown.
Jasper knew that one of the places with a community was an apartment building on the corner of Spring Park. He thought that was the best starting place, because of how close it was to where Karen had lived before the collapse. Spring Park meant making their way into the most densely populated part of the city, but densely populated was a relative term. As they walked Jasper said, “Does it seem like there should be more zombies to you?”
“Yeah, now shut up about it. We don’t want to tempt fate. I’d say knock on wood, but we probably get 50 fucking zombies running over cause they heard it.”
“Good point. Still, though, this place was decent sized. Over a hundred thousand I think. The flood probably helped a bit. We better keep a good eye out though.”
They passed subdivisions, and then neighbourhoods, and then the university. Naomi pointed to the university grounds. “Smoke. Just a bit though.”
“Looks like a cooking fire. Probably we have survivors there. That’s amazing! Survivors! Wanna go check it out?”
“Was thinking yeah, but zombies between us and them, lots of them. Maybe we skip it, come back once we find your brat.”
“Sounds like a plan. Still, people alive! Amazing news. If the building turns out to be inhabited that’s two groups just in this city.”
Downtown was denser, there were zombies wandering the streets. Jasper and Naomi moved from cover to cover, travelling through back yards where possible. Back yards meant fences, and that meant they could climb, while the zombies would be stopped. Normally it would be an hour or so from where they were to Spring Park. The hours walk took them a day and a half. Eventually, they could see the building. It was surrounded by zombies, but they saw smoke coming from the chimney, and there were other signs that this was a place inhabited by humans. The parking lot was now fenced in, with high barricades. There were stakes driven into the ground, pointed out. Many of the stakes had zombies impaled on them, still trying to pull themselves forward despite the damage it was doing to their bodies. There were also long ropes leading across the street to many of the surrounding houses. All of the ground floor windows were boarded up, although the windows on the upper floors seemed fine.
By Charlottetown standards this building was large, but by any other standard, it was tiny. The thing took up one street on a short block and was only three stories tall. Jasper was trying to figure out how to get to the building then the problem solved itself. Someone came out on the roof and yelled down to him, “Hey, get up on the roof over there if you want to come in.”
The figure was pointing to one of the houses across the street. Jasper and Naomi headed for the house, moving fast. A few of the zombies had noticed them, but only a few. Most of them were still fixated on the building. They headed inside and up to the roof. There was a line running from the building to the house, but once they got close it was clear it was a very, very thick length of aircraft cable, doubled on itself. Kind of like a clothes line. There were handles that could clip on to the cable and had a loop of padded wire hanging off of them, to allow someone to sit in them. The person on the roof yelled, “Get one of the loops around your butt, we’ll pull you over.”
Jasper got himself seated in one of the loops, Naomi took the next one. They needed both hands on the handle part to stay stable, and they were basically helpless the entire time they were being pulled across. It was friendly, easy, and a death trap if the people in the building wanted it to be. The cable started pulling them across, high above the heads of the zombies.
There was a group on top of the building. Six large men dressed in camo gear and layered rags. They looked happy, smiles on all their faces, but they were heavily armed. All of them had ragged beards. The loop left Jasper suspended about six feet above the roof, and he still needed his hands to steady himself. If he let go he started spinning. There was no easy way down. The group of men brought a wheeled platform close and then started asking them questions. He cut them off by saying, “Hey, you guys know Karen Smith and Taylor Pellerine?”
“How you know them?” one of the men asked.
“I’m Taylor’s dad. Karen’s my ex.”
“Well shit, that’s crazy. Taylor’s going to flip. Hell, even Karen might be happy. Let’s get you guys down! Jed, go get Taylor and Karen.”
They waited. Jasper was so amped up he couldn’t keep still. He explained their journey to the men, but kept bouncing up on his feet, excitement bubbling out of every pore. Everyone seemed to be catching Jasper’s joy, even Naomi was hyped up, talking fast, words bubbling out at a million miles an hour.
Taylor came bursting out of the rooftop doorway, a bundle of thirteen-year-old energy. She was still half little girl, dressed in cast off clothing. Her face still had a bit of baby fat. In the months since Jasper had seen her, she had grown up a lot. Her dark hair was cut short and her face was dirty. She took a running jump and landed in Jasper’s arms, knocking him over. He didn’t mind at all. He hugged her, holding her close to him. All this way, and finally, finally, he had found her. Karen came up a little slower, a little more reserved. It made sense, after all, she was his ex. They didn’t hate each other, but the divorce had been hard. At that moment Jasper didn’t care at all.
Naomi stuck out a hand “Hey, I’m Naomi. Been walking with Jasper since just past the airport. Sorry, it took a minute to get here.”
“Hey, I’m Karen. The hyperactive teenager wrapping herself around your... friend is Taylor .”
“Figured. She’s just like he said. So glad you alive, both of you!” Naomi replied.
Karen gave Jasper an obvious look as she met Naomi. Right, that was part of why they broke up, the jealousy. No way she could know that Jasper saw Naomi as, if not quite a sister, maybe something even closer than that, a comrade in arms. Any chance of them hooking up had evaporated hundreds of kilometres back down the road. Karen looked good for the circumstances, not as thin as she might have looked, less weather worn, like she had survived the apocalypse relatively unscathed. “Did Pete make it?”
Pete was Karen’s boyfriend, the reason she had moved to the island.
“No. He turned that first morning. Taylor and I had to run. I was up doing my Pilates when it happened.”
“Lucky. If you’d been asleep… I don’t want to think about it.”
They talked, each giving their stories. Karen’s was a lot less harsh than Jasper’s. Taylor cried when she heard that Snow had died, and even more when she heard how. Jasper tried to minimize it, but it was still too raw for him. Karen introduced Jasper to the people in the building, and explained more or less how things worked. The setup was pretty secure, but it had weak points. Nothing a zombie could easily overwhelm, but in enough numbers they could be an issue.
The building had annexed the rest of the block, and was planning on converting the backyards into crop land, and the houses into additional quarters. The whole thing was low key, and ambitious in a minimal sort of way. They had drawn up plans to take over the surrounding blocks over time, piece by piece. Each block had to be secured and then access built to bring it into the fold. Their overall plan was a series of cells, each one linked to the others, but with gates that could close. That way if there was a breach, if the zombies did get in, it would be limited in impact. Apparently someone in planning had watched zombie movies too.
The building had some electricity even, although it was pretty limited. A bank of solar panels on neighbouring roofs, some lead acid batteries pulled from cars and set up down in the basement. It meant they were able to run a few freezers to keep some frozen food available, and keep the furnace pumps going.
It was a pretty loose community. The people all came from different backgrounds, different lifestyles, etc. They didn’t even get along all that well. Didn’t really matter. They had one guy, a young student from the college who lived in the building, John. He was the closest thing they had to a leader, despite only being in his early twenties. He had set up the solar collection, the idea of the cells, the winch system. Apparently he was very unhappy with the rear parking lot. It had a single sliding gate they had set up, and he was trying to figure out some other system, something more secure. For the most part they didn’t use it, but if a foraging party brought back something large it would need to open, and that was weak point for the building. The working plan was to set up kind of an airlock, fence either end of the block the parking lot was on, and between the houses across the street. That would allow them to get large items in and the dispatch any zombies that followed in a controlled manner, before opening the final gate and letting the load in. Problem was the weather had turned, and they needed the materials and manpower to do it.
Other than that, the building was well supplied with food. They had a full cow in the freezers, lots of frozen vegetables, lots of canned food. Someone had raided a supermarket and managed to get a full refrigerated truck into the lot two days after first night, and it was enough that they were still living off of it.
Jasper had seen a few viable communities in his travels, but this was the first he had seen in a city. It showed that it was possible, that abandoning cities wasn’t something that needed to happen. Humanity could continue its pattern of building specialization into society, lots of people with different skill sets doing different jobs. He felt in that moment like they were going to make it.