Schools out for summer
Jasper tried the school door. It was locked. Maybe there was a better way in. Walking around the building, he spotted a fire door that was not quite completely latched. A zombie wouldn’t be able to open it; you needed a tiny bit of brains, and some coordination, but not hard for a living human. Maybe there was somebody alive inside. Jasper hadn’t seen a living person in far too long. He wanted to talk to someone other than Snow. The husky was a good listener but didn’t give much back to the conversation. Jasper opened the door as quietly as he could, holding it open for Snow. The two of them checked the place room by room, methodically. Suddenly Snow took off down the hall, running full tilt, even barking a little, not his fierce bark, an excited almost puppyish sound. “Snow, wait, stop!” Jasper called, following a little slower, rounding a corner a little behind Snow. Snow was astride a ragged figure, pinning it to the ground. Jasper drew his sword and then creeping that the figure under Snow was laughing, that Snow was licking its face.
It was a woman, bone thin. She was dressed in layers of clothing, tied together with chord. Her laugh was quiet, high pitched and nervous. Jasper said, “Snow. Let her up.”
The dog backed off, tail wagging. The woman stood, slowly but with a series of quick, twitchy movements. She wasn’t that thin from just a few days without food, and the sores around her lips weren’t new. Jasper had seen a few zombies that looked healthier. Still, she was alive. He said, “Hi. I’m Jasper, and apparently, Snow has already introduced himself.”
“Mona.” she spoke in a high voice that was too fast, words slightly slurred together, “I’m Mona.”
“I have some food. It’s not a lot, but I’m happy to share”.
Her eyes lit up at the mention of food. Jasper looked around at the hallway, a nest of filth the woman had made for herself. There was an empty pipe made out of a lightbulb, an empty pot, a sleeping bag that looked as if it hadn’t been washed in a decade, and a bunch of random detritus. Jasper was pretty sure this girl was a meth head, and that she was in the earliest stages of withdrawal. He set up his small camp stove, made from the empty pop can, and heated up a can of cream of mushroom soup. He gave Mona the last of the cheese and some crackers. She would be starving at this point, desperate for food. He was only a little hungry and figured that with it being late summer the cafeteria would have started to stock some things, so he could replenish his supplies pretty easily.
He didn’t want to share dishes or utensils with Mona, he was afraid he would catch something, so after Jasper got her started eating, he told her that he was going to check out the school cafeteria to see if there was anything else he could use. She barely stopped eating to acknowledge he had spoken.
Jasper started looking for the cafeteria. After a couple of minutes, he found signs, and eventually managed to make sense of them. How did kids not consistently get lost in school? After wandering for a few minutes, he found it, a large cafeteria area with a kitchen in the back. The shelves were well stocked with large cans, and there was a walk in freezer, not to mention utensils and dishes. He would have to do something about carrying food though, his backpack wasn’t nearly large enough. Hopefully, Mona could be convinced to come with him, well, maybe, hopefully. He hadn’t decided if travelling with her was a good idea, but she was another person, and he needed another person - even if they would have to stay put for a couple of days while she went all the way through withdrawal. Best of all, the stove was gas which meant he would be able to cook while they were there.
He headed back to find Snow curled up next to Mona. The big dog opened one eye watchfully. Snow had always been a social dog, but he seemed to be acting differently with Mona, as if he knew she needed taking care of in that moment. Jasper was once again thankful for the big husky. Karen had never bonded with Snow, and had been happy to leave him behind when she moved, although Taylor had been distraught.
Might as well see if there was anything else he could use, searching through the school in detail. Not much. Summer meant that it was a lot of school supplies, not a whole lot else. The custodial closet had some things, but most were too big to be portable. A mop handle made an okay walking stick for now until he could find something more robust, and there was a pair of work overalls, greasy and stained, but not that much too big for him. An extra layer for the cold nights to come.
The labs had some Bunsen burners, but he couldn’t find any fuel for them, and the pop can stove was easier to transport, so he left them where they were. There was also some chalk, a relic from a time before whiteboards. He took as much of it as he could find.
He decided that his best bet was the hunting store he used for his arrows, he drove the extra distance out of town because he liked the place, liked the owners, and they were free with expert advice. The place was far enough away from the city that it might be reasonable to get access to. Next stop after he left the school then.
One issue that wasn’t going away was the problem with carrying things. There was nothing in the school to alleviate it, no large trail packs, no wagons, no wheel barrow, he would have taken even that if he could get it. Many of the things the school did have that would be useful were too big to carry, or not worth more than the things he would have to leave behind for them. Already he looked like a walking trash heap when he moved, festooned with objects tied on, strapped on, hanging off each other.
There were computers everywhere, but no power. Again he felt completely isolated. For all Jasper knew this was just Nova Scotia, and the rest of the world was fine, not likely, but there was just no way to tell for sure, no reliable sources of information.
After his walkthrough, he made his way back to Mona. She was still sleeping, no surprise. He settled down to wait, and after a while dozed off himself. He woke to the sound of Mona digging through his bags. She was pulling stuff out, frantic, messy. “Mona, calm down. You are welcome to look through my stuff, but please try to keep it a bit tidy. We might need to book in a hurry. Oh yeah, I don’t have any meth”.
“What? No, I’m not looking for meth, just looking,” she said in a rush, still pulling stuff out of the pack, “I’ll put it all back nice and tidy as soon as I’m done”.
Jasper didn’t care enough to fight about it, so he let her keep going, but kept an eye on where everything was. He noticed a large hockey bag, half hidden under the piles of garbage that seemed to appear around her spontaneously. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than what he had with him.
Finally, Mona ran out of energy. She whimpered and went back to her sleeping bag. The sleeping bag struck Jasper as a tremendous asset, but he still didn’t want to touch it. Even if it wasn’t infested with anything, it was still disgusting, and the odds it wasn’t infested with anything seemed slim. He decided he would just boil it in one of the large pots in the cafeteria and hope they didn’t need to run before it dried.
The next few days passed much the same. Mona would wake up for brief periods. Often she would cry, sometimes she would talk about killing herself, how there was no point in her being alive. Jasper waited, knowing that there was no way around this, she had to go through it. Withdrawal from meth was a bitch. He used the first aid kit in the nurse’s office to clean up and disinfect her sores, and they started to fade. Her teeth were probably a lost cause, but she began to gain some weight, just a little, and stopped looking like she was already one of the zombies.
Meanwhile, Jasper and Snow kept exploring the school, going through every room in detail. In the teacher’s lounge, Jasper found a hoodie that had been left behind by some staff member when they headed out for the summer. The nurse’s office was the biggest treasure trove though. It didn’t exactly have high-end medical supplies, some over the counter pain medication, disinfectant, thermometers, bandages, scissors, etc. He made sure that Mona was aware of exactly what he found so that she wouldn’t decide to ravage through his stuff in the mistaken idea that he might have some drugs, painkillers, in particular, they might ease her withdrawal.
By the time Mona was able to move around again, Jasper was pretty sure he had managed to find everything that was of any use. He said “Look, I’m heading for PEI. My daughter is there, and I need to know if she’s alright.”
“I’d like you to come with me.”
“Well, more people have a better chance at survival. It means we can take turns keeping watch, things like that.”
“I know that. Why should I leave?”
“This place is time limited. If enough of the zombies figure out someone is here it will be a thousand deep, the doors won’t stand. There is food, but not that much. Won’t be long before we’re starving here, hell, you could eat through this kitchen on your own in no time.”
“Kay. Makes sense. Stuff to do. Then we leave.”
“Alright, what stuff, maybe I can help?”
“Need to get clean. Stink. Clothes stink.”
“Alright, I have a plan for that. Come join me in the kitchen.”
They washed her clothes in a large pot of boiling water. She stripped naked right there and threw in everything she was wearing. Her body had apparently undergone lots of hardship, but the few days of eating well had started her back on the path to health. While she was still underweight, she didn’t look completely emaciated. She noticed Jasper looking, and struck a flirty pose. “Like what you see?”
“You look good, no question.”
He was extremely uncomfortable with the situation, not interested at all, but didn’t want to hurt her feelings. She kept getting closer to him, invading his space, her naked body so close now that he could feel the warmth of her. Her breath was awful, intolerable.
Jasper stepped back, giving himself a bit of space. “Look, this isn’t a good time. Maybe later, not now though, okay?”.
“Sure, no worries”.
She didn’t seem offended, and maybe she was even a tiny bit relieved. She dropped it right away. Jasper did his clothes next. They weren’t much better than hers. One little bonus they managed to get from the nurse’s office was a pack of toothbrushes and some toothpaste. There were also shower rooms next to the gym, so they got clean in the frigid water as their clothes dried. No towels, but it was still warm out. Finally, they were clean, dry, well fed, well rested, and had all the gear they could carry. It was time to leave. Despite the urgency though Jasper wanted to wait until morning. One last night in relative security and warmth. Mona didn’t seem to care.
The next morning dawned bright and early. Since the world ended Jasper found himself going to bed with the end of the day, and get up with first light. Not much could be done in the dark, which left them well rested by first light. It also meant that they measured time by the sun. No schedule other than the one imposed on them by nature.
They started moving very shortly after getting up. A quick breakfast of pancakes with orange juice made up from concentrate before hitting the road. They would not be able to eat like this for a long time, if ever again, so might as well make the most of it.
They started into the early morning light, moving quietly. They were able to see many nearby houses. There were zombies milling around, but they were far away and didn’t seem to notice the trio. They kept moving for hours, quickly making it out of the populated areas. Finally, Jasper was out of town, only a week and a bit after he started moving. The forest was dense, with a lot of scrub brush. Jasper was wearing a decent pair of boots, but Mona had an old pair of skate shoes, that were already full of holes, they would need to replace them if the weather got worse. Snow was the happiest Jasper had ever seen him, walking with his pack in the open air, he wore a perpetual doggy grin, tongue hanging out to one side. Jasper was navigating as best he could, but the thick tree cover made it hard to get sun sightings, and neither of them had an analogue watch, time was an estimate. From time to time Jasper would climb a high tree and try to get his bearings. He knew that he wanted to move northwest, probably more north for a little bit.
After a few hours, Jasper spotted a road he knew, which at least gave him a bearing. He was pretty far off course, but it was correctable. There was an undercurrent of panic in his mind, Charlottetown was a long, long way away and every day increased the odds that something would happen to Taylor.
As the day went on Mona started to look tired, stumbling as she walked, slowing down. Jasper had the giant hockey bag, leaving Mona with the small backpack. Lots of her stuff had to be left behind, but none of it was worth anything, most of it was random bits of garbage. Jasper found a spot that was higher than the ground around it and well protected from the elements; then he set to work building a short-term shelter. It was a bunch of pine boughs laid out on the ground with a very small lean to, barely enough room for the three of them - Snow was an added heat source, the big dog always ran hot. Even though the air was warm the ground sucked the heat out of their bodies, they slept on the sleeping bag, unzipped. The gear had to live outside the shelter. The whole thing was hidden deep in a cluster of trees, hard to see from even a couple of feet away, and with the bows laid out the way they were the shelter was nearly invisible. He did take the risk of heating up a small pot of macaroni and cheese and some tea. The pop can stove was small, didn’t cast light any distance. The smell of cooking worried him, but the zombies hadn’t come to the school, so maybe the smell of food wasn’t going to be a problem.
The night passed uneventfully. They didn’t talk due to fear of the noise carrying. At first light, they headed out again. Every day was like that for a while, the same drudgery. Water was plentiful, but food was scarce, not much they could forage. The days started to blend.
Mona was always tired, but having an extra set of eyes, an extra pair of hands, it meant the difference between barely surviving, or possibly not surviving, and doing well. Jasper wanted a few more people, of course, hopefully, ones who weren’t meth heads who had been on the edge of starving to death before the world ended. Ones with useful skills for this kind of situation. On the bright side, she didn’t complain, taking the pain and exhaustion as if it was just a normal part of life, he guessed because for her it always had been.