Let's Meet the Players
So, let’s go back to TV once more. Remember those shows that I referenced earlier? Of course you do. Who didn’t make posts, send out a Tweet or a #hashtag concerning the cliffhangers that the week’s episode brought?
Remember how everyone always seemed to be in the woods, or some dilapidated compound? Everyone was covered in filth, and you could practically smell them through your TV screen. They did their laundry in any lake or river that they could find, in the wide open wilderness, yet were always in constant fear of the deaders that were chasing them? Only the smallest part of that even stretched towards the truth.
The reality was much more mundane. Power ran out pretty quick as you can imagine. With nobody working the cranks, driving the gears, so to speak? Yeah, it was in short supply. As for being dirty? Well… I guess that kind of depended on the person. Granted, none of us could be called Lysol fresh, but we didn’t look like we’d just crawled out of a garbage mound, either.
But living in the woods? Like I said earlier, a bunch of people ran to the mountains, but that had always seemed ludicrous to me. Why leave a structurally sound, fortified building to go live in the wide open woods where you could never watch every direction at once? It’s damn near asinine. Our group had evaluated our options, and we’d all decided to stay in our homes. Our decision wasn’t just based on the houses, though; it was about the layout of the neighborhood.
See, we lived on a cul-de-sac; typical suburban America. I had bought my corner lot house so much that I liked it, but because it was only a handful of doors down from my family. Not that I had much in the way of family. My younger sister Lacy and her husband Francis- stupid name, but pretty good guy- had rented a house a couple plots down a few years before. My home was initially bank owned- following the always resurgent fallout of 2008- and it appealed to me because it was under market value. Meaning it was cheap.
It was a pretty big place for one person, and I tried to convince Lewis and his girl to share the space and split the cost. My best friend was open to the idea, but his girlfriend- Jasmine? Jessamyn? I really don’t care- wanted a place of their own. Consequently, they rented the house across the street from my sister and Francis. The cost of the mortgage on my own didn’t much matter to me, though, at least not in the end. After all, in the end, no one had a mortgage to worry about.
You got me and Lewis living a few doors away from each other. Lacy and Francis across the street from Lewis. Larry, our tag a long pharmacist, actually ended up living with me. He was a bit of an odd duck; a little off kilter, so to speak. He kept mostly to himself, but it was pretty easy to see that he didn’t like being alone. He’d mentioned any number of times moving into one of the empty houses along the cul-de-sac, but he never seemed to follow through. Didn’t bother me much; I wasn’t too fond of being alone, either.
Next you have Nancy, a widow edging into what you could call her “twilight years.” She used to walk her two Scottish Terriers up and down the street at least twice a day. That is, of course, until one of them got eaten, acting as the fodder that inevitably spared Nancy her life. I don’t know what purpose Nancy really served beyond whining and worrying, but- when she was sober- she helped with the cooking and the gardening. She was part of our group, and nothing mattered but the group.
After that you have D'wayne (His name was Dwayne, but with his Cajun twang it sounded a bit ethnic.) He was a retired air conditioning repair man, and lived next door to me. His accent made him a little hard to understand at times, but I don’t think that there is anything in this world that he couldn’t fix or build. His wife’s name was Cecille, and she was as equally pointless as Nancy. Sweet woman, though.
Sister Tracy: now this is one tough, hard-nosed bitch. She’d been retired from the habit for God knows how long, but she still had that natural air of disdainful wrath and Catholic guilt. She had to be pushing seventy, but in the early days I’d personally seen her fight off two deaders by herself with nothing more than a garden hoe, hacking away at them with divine ferocity until they were nothing more than twitching mounds. The sister had a heavy voice in our meager council when we made decisions. She and Lewis got along great, but she had a cold eye for me. We were cordial to one another-worked together as a team- but that was the best that could be said. She always got a bit frosty when I was about, almost like she could sense how much I loved my job, my position in our community. It was like she could sense that I was a bit off, skipping outside of the careful boundaries laid out by the Lord.
But hey, the Lord wasn’t here, was he? Or maybe he was, and this had been his plan all along. Maybe he finally got fed up watching his creation destroy themselves; watching us wrench and rape each other physically and morally, flogging and murdering, pillaging and burning. Maybe that almighty being just got tired of it all, and remembered an old story- told so long ago- about a believer, a boat, and a flood…
Nah, I’m just kidding. I’ve never had any reason to give a shit about any of the spiritual stuff that people seem to cling so hard to. I’ve always seen organized religion as the most well-structured business in the world; kudos to them. And the Bible thumpers? Even worse.
Let’s be clear. I’ve known that there was something off inside of me since I was a child, but even I can’t wrap my head around the hypocrisies of the Bible; it’s nothing but words written on a page by a plain ol’ Joe, and interpreted anyway that the reader wants. That is the word of the Lord.
But here’s what’s real, and this is fact: we didn’t survive by the will of God. We didn’t survive by some fluke chance. We survived because we banded together, using that magical adhesive- dah-dahn-da-duh!- common sense.
Now, for full disclosure, I had to kill more than a handful along our street that had turned, but in my own defense I did it as mercifully as possible, doing my very best to ignore the sense of burgeoning freedom in my belly. Once they were taken care of- and when it came to the actual deed, they all became nameless faces- Lewis and I got to talking, with Francis chiming in. It all seemed very, very clear to us:
The world was in accelerating chaos; order had fallen; the dead were walking the earth.
…and we lived in a cul-de-sac surrounded by eight foot high cinder block walls with only one route of access.
Well, we built a wall out of anything that we could find- and there was plenty; in the early days aspirin wasn’t the only thing that most people didn’t think to grab- right across the entry to our street. D’wayne engineered it and directed us, and by the time our gate was done it was probably more formidable than the cinder blocks that encircled the rest of the street. The sturdy gate was ten feet high, hinged at the wall so that we could open it when we needed to, and reinforced in every possible way. We’d even run supported platforms across the length of the cinderblock walls so that whoever was on watch would have an easier time patrolling the street. Just like that, boom: secured compound.
The next thing we did- well, to be honest, the next thing we did was kill off a neighboring street where everyone had turned- was establish our hierarchy. You can’t have animals in the wild- and believe me, in our own way we were animals; we had to be- without a hierarchy. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the roles that we were all going to play.
As in the wild, genetics and personality decided who stood in what position. It was a lot like our disbanded government, except that in our society everyone’s vote mattered. No matter the station, no matter the purpose, we talked and worked our way to a consensus. It didn’t matter if you were silver tongued Lewis speaking with worthless Nancy; your opinion mattered. If you were Wife of God Sister Tracy talking with me; your opinion mattered. It was never a long debate. Everything was terse and quick because- especially in the early days- it had to be. We’d reach a consensus, and then we’d move on.
The next obstacle that came up was self-supportive food. Now, thanks to Larry, Lewis, and me, we had enough antibiotics to last us for years. But vitamins wouldn’t keep your belly full. My sister Lacy was actually the one to come up with the idea to turn all of the front yards into garden patches. Personally, I didn’t know the first thing about gardening, but thanks to a couple dozen packs of seeds pilfered from a nearby dollar store, by the time our perishable food stuffs started running out we had several yards growing with corn. Sure, we had patches of tomatoes and potatoes, but mostly it was corn.
Sound too mundane and simple? That’s only because you don’t realize how much you can do with corn. Don’t take it personally; neither did I. Lacy did, though. Corn, apparently, has a thousand different uses in every different culture- bread, masa, tortillas- and my sister knew almost all of them. And then, once the corn had been shucked from the cob, we had something to wipe our asses with. The true genius, though, came from Francis.
Now, I need you to understand my brother in law; see him very clearly, if you will. Francis was a good ol’ boy, rotund and ornery. He chewed tobacci’ until it ran out, and then he figured out how to grow his own. He hated niggers, and was still a die-hard fan of the now defunct Florida State University Football team. Hail, ‘Noles! But for all of his rough neck demeanor, Francis had a thinking man’s mind combined with good ol’ hillbilly perspective. You know what he showed us how to do with batches of Lacy’s corn?
How to brew moonshine the old fashioned way.
Now, I know how weak that might sound. Most of the survivors in Southern Nevada would have either derided us- or killed us- for a sip of that clear brew. It was never about the alcohol, though, (although, admittedly, we all indulged in a few sips here and there); it was that, when burned down enough, moonshine could be used as a rough form of fuel for vehicles. So all those movies of survivors straggling through desolation on foot? Yeah, those weren’t true, either. We still had several cars on our street, and Francis’s moonshine is what fueled them when we decided to take them out.
What about gasoline? I’d imagine that you’re asking right now. Why not just siphon some out from all of the abandoned cars and put them into your own? I mean, it seems so simple; that’s how they did it on TV.
Yeah, that is how they did it on TV. They did a lot of things on TV. Doesn’t necessarily make it right, though. I’ll tell you why in a moment. Just shut up and be patient.
Now, provided that we could find the keys, we basically had the pick of any vehicle that we wanted. Not that we really had to search them out, though; there were ample cars on our street. With our homemade fuel they never went as fast as they were built to, but it was a fair spot better than walking. The short coming to Francis’s hooch was that it took time to brew, and the engines burned through it pretty quick.
As to why didn’t we siphon fuel? Well, we could have and we did. The reality was that one gallon of gas doesn’t get you as far as you’d expect, and lugging twenty gallons of it a dozen miles is a harrowing endeavor. It’s no fun, trust me. Moreover, gas that sits in the tank for too long grows stagnant, and will clog and eat out the hoses and engines, which caused more of a problem than it was worth. Not only were we stranded, but we lost the vehicle, too. If we went out it was generally on foot, and if we had to use a vehicle, it ran on Francis’s moonshine.
Now, there’s only one thing missing from this picture I’ve painted so far, and any parent out there will know what it is: children. I won’t go into the details of the how or why. I love that in this broken down world I can basically give in to my primal instincts and kill with a smile on my lips, but I’ve always had a soft spot for kids. Our street started out with eight; we were down to three, two girls and a boy. Their parents were Shawn and Deidre, and they had been two that I’d had to put down in the first few days after “the first case” was reported in our area. Everyone on the street acted as surrogate parents to them, but they lived with Lacy and Francis.
I’d die before I let anything happen to those kids. They loved my sister, and adored Francis like a favorite eccentric uncle, but for the most part they were beyond wary with me, especially the younger two. I have a hard time understanding why. I’d saved them, after all, killing their parents before their parents could kill them. It wasn’t my fault that they were in the room when I did it.They would understand when they were older.