Parker and I stayed outside for an hour or so more before heading into the RV and spreading out on the floor, too tired to care where we lay our heads. The kids and ladies were in the back room and Cal had taken over the bench bed. It didn’t matter. I was content to have the warmth of Parker by my side and fell quickly asleep into blissfully forgetful dreams. I awoke to muted chatter and a shiver of cold passing over me as a dim light shone through an uncovered window. I struggled to open my eyes, my head feeling heavy with sleep and road weariness. It took a few minutes to feel awake, rolling on my back and enjoying the stillness that came from being in a shelter away from the constant movement of nature and decided to remain lying down for a while longer and think about the day ahead. I pictured a leisurely drive out of the woods and into the throngs of zombies that were surely on the highway waiting for something to get their attention. My wandering mind hearkened back to the videos and images Parker had seen on the blog.
The coincidence of his presence here nagged at me and I had a wild thought that perhaps he had recognized the highway in the video and seen me in the images and had decided to head out into the zombie infested woods to find me. I shook my head banishing the absurd thought. It was too early and I was still too tired to be having deep thoughts about Parker’s motivations and apparent ability to blindly locate me. The whispering returned from the back of the RV followed by the light foot falls of Marla and Heidi I guessed. The sharp snap of the door made me jump as it broke through the morning stillness. I tossed the blanket on Parker who seemed to still be asleep, glanced at Cal’s back rising and falling slowly, then headed out after the ladies.
The morning seemed dull even though dawn had passed leaving grey and whites clouds littering the sky, drifting past and intermittently blocking out sunlight. Standing a good 10 feet away from the motor home, Heidi and Marla huddled close together appearing to be in deep conversation and not aware of anything around them. I didn’t stand on courtesy and walked to join them making my footfalls heavy so as not to alarm them. Somewhere along the way they had acquired cigarettes and as they puffed in the dim morning light, the embers glowed across their strained faces.
“Hey Louis, sleep well?” Heidi asked between puffs.
“Considering it was on the floor of a motor home, I actually did.”
“Beats a rocky cave floor eh?” Marla stomped out her smoke. “So we were talking about getting out here today but we’re not sure, you know, where to go. Hearing what Parker said about the roads and cities and stuff, it sounds like things are pretty bad in the civilized world.”
I flat out told them that I didn’t know what to do and how it seemed like at every turn it seemed like we were being pushed back into this forest. I mentioned what Parker has said about the state of the world outside this wooded purgatory; chaos being the only world I could use to convey the vagueness of what he had told me. Maybe we would just have to gamble and hope it wasn’t as bad as that word implied. What I thought of with words like apocalypse and chaos were marauders and pirates creating havoc and terrorizing citizens already in fear for their lives from the zombies.
“Louis, are you alright, you seem to be drifting?” Heidi nudged me from my thoughts of devastation.
“Yeah, just thinking about our next move should be and what’s waiting for us out there.”
Marla and Heidi looked at each other like there was something they wanted to say but were hesitant to share. I said what, my voice more tired than annoyed about this beating around the bush. They told me they weren’t sure about the plan to continue north. Marla said they had made it back to the road after we were separated there was nothing but abandoned vehicles, blood, bodies and walking corpses. Not even that many of the latter but there also hadn’t been any live people or anyone you would expect to be present during a state of emergency.
“There were no signs of police, fire or ambulances. I told Heidi and Parker I would even have been happy to see the military.” The way Marla said it I understood her meaning and it reminded me that my brothers in arms were the last protection that she thought of as saviours.
“I’m not sure the military is what any of us wants to see especially since you’re travelling with a deserter.” I felt dread at the very thought of the words I said. “Aside from that, what are you two thinking our next move should be if not heading north? I’m open to what anyone else thinks is the best option at this point.”
“We should continue north Louis. Trust me.” Parker had silently walked up to us at some point during our conversation.
“Why?” Marla couldn’t keep the incredulousness from her voice.
“You don’t know me and I’m sure I haven’t done much to assure you that I’m on the level.” Parker paused and turned to Cal who had also joined us. “I haven’t seen Louis in 3 or 4 years so trust may have faltered between us but I know there is a safe place if we keep going north.”
Parker pulled out his cell phone and I stared mesmerized at the familiar device just now realizing that I hadn’t seen one in days. Something that was almost always present in people’s hands had become an absent object in light of the crisis. And why wouldn’t it? There was likely no signal in the places I had been and there was really no one to contact. By the way Parker told it the truth of what was happening wasn’t in the media either or least hadn’t been when came out here. But for none of us to have even pulled out a phone over the past couple of days, was odd but spoke to our states of mind. I thought for a moment about my own cell and wasn’t sure if it was still in my foot locker (burnt to cinder by now) or if I had absently added it to my pack when I raced out of camp. I looked at the others and saw Cal and Heidi absently reached into their pockets and come up empty-handed. I wasn’t the only one who had thought about the device that our society had become so dependent upon.
Parker turned the phone to us, tapping the screen to show a photo of something that looked like a couple of school buses draped with a banner reading: Refuge Here. He swiped the photo to a map with red circle around a nondescript spot just past the border and the word Safe written beside it. Parker told us that he had connections with a network of hyper paranoid friends who would be among the first groups to find safety behind the defenses of others. One of them had texted the photos before he lost cell coverage and he was able to get a general idea of how far past the border it even though the map was blurred in the picture. He figured it to be 50 miles northwest of the marked border crossing that I had passed before finding Marla and Hunter. I asked why he hadn’t just headed that way instead of coming out here.
“Zombies man. The roads were and probably still are a mess. I couldn’t have made it on my own but now with you and the others and this RV I, we have a better chance.”
“That’s all well and good but putting up a sign and the Safe or Refuge doesn’t mean it truly was or still is either of those things. If this was taken what 2 or 3 days ago, who knows what state that shelter is in now.” Cal was right as he pointed out the obvious.
I looked over my 4 companions then focused on Parker wanting to accept his claims as fact since he seemed so sure that this was the place to go. I wanted to tell him that but I also wanted to tell him the truth, that I couldn’t take his word for it and that we may be putting ourselves in greater danger. Before I could decide which sentiment to convey he played a video. The shaky cam showed that the makeshift shelter was real and much to my dismay guarded by military personnel. There was no audio just the camera sweeping over the heavily armed soldiers, some on the ground others on top of the barricade of buses or semi-trucks. Considering it had only been about a week, whoever was in charge had set-up a pretty good wall even if it did look only temporary. There were noticeable gaps where more soldiers gathered and I wondered if that’s all it would be – a temporary sanctuary or if people would put down roots and live under military guard if that became necessary.
I turned away shaking my head. How could this even be an option, a consideration, making a home in a place surrounded by the military to protect us from zombies? For a hundredth time I tried to accept that the impossible and fantastical was our new reality. Would any of us ever be able to return to our real homes or was part of the new reality living under armed protectors while the beasts chomped at us from behind barricades.
“Louis? Where are you?” Marla touched my shoulder and I realized that I had been doing that a lot, drifting and forgetting the others were waiting for my input.
“I’m just trying to come to grips with the possibility of somewhere like that becoming home.” I turned away again knowing that’s not what I really wanted to say but not able to get out anything else. “I think we should go there. I’ll help get us to that sanctuary safely but I’ll be honest Marla, I don’t think I can stay there.”
Cal, Heidi and Parker looked stricken by my declaration but Marla seemed to understand as sadness clouded her face and she nodded. I didn’t know if she truly understood or if she just accepted that I would leave her and Hunter. Cal asked with anger in his voice why? Why wouldn’t I go to some place that could offer a guarded shelter at least until we knew how bad the situation was or how the government and military were going to contain the zombies, if they hadn’t already. I admitted being in a safe and secure environment for at least a little while would do wonders for my aching body and maybe even ease the strain and stress on my fatigued mind but it was the military offering that security that gave me pause and doubt about being surround by them once more.
I wasn’t a totally self-absorbed and believed that I was somehow one of their most wanted deserters but still, it was possible that I would know some of the soldiers and even under these dire circumstances, I feared they would still court-martial me or worse – recruit me and I would be back under the thumb of the army.
“Louis are you sure that you want to keep moving even after we reach this place?” Parker’s words had an edge of nervousness causing me to turn toward him.
“If it is what it seems to be yes, I will go on to someplace else.” I wanted to have conviction in my words but I just sounded tired at the prospect of making any decision and at the thought of not stopping.
I finished my thoughts, concluding the conversation by pointing out that it was all a moot point until we knew what was happening out in the world beyond the woods. For all we knew the outbreak was contained and the zombie threat might be over and it wouldn’t be necessary to go there. I looked at the sky as it tried brighten behind a shroud of clouds hanging over the morning light.
“We should get ready and head out soon.” Marla stopped me from my depressing talk and made the effort to move us forward.
No one else said anything and we started the task of preparing to head into the unknown like too many time before this moment.
© 2015, Denise Pasutti