Sunday, June 23, 2013


They started out the next morning with Katrin in a three-wheeled recumbent bike that neutralized her balance issues and allowed her to go faster. She pulled a lightweight pet trailer with the cats, her backpack, and supplies for the cats inside. Eve had what looked like a pedicab with Val riding in the passenger seat behind the driver's seat. On the seat near Val were bottles of water, as many as they could reasonably fit without making the pedicab impossible to move, and socks. She was certain socks were important. There was an awning they left retracted for the moment, but Eve was relieved he'd have some protection if it started to rain. Will had a slim, light, expensive bike with a price tag well over a thousand dollars, and pulled a one wheeled cargo trailer with the wheelchair in it and the rest of the gear, since Eve's bike with Val in it was heavy enough. He'd added handfuls of batteries for the radio, and he'd handed Val a startlingly bright handheld battery operated spotlight.

“Shine this in their eyes, if you see one, Val,” he said.

“Eyes-formsitave,” Val said, saluting.

Will strapped his baseball bat to the handlebars of his bike, and seeing that, Eve strapped the crowbar to her handlebars, keeping the stun gun in her jacket pocket. Unbeknownst to the children, she still had her best butcher's knife in her inner pocket. Katrin strapped her walking stick behind her seat.

“I wish we were at an REI,” Eve said, thinking of the camping supplies and the easily cleaned camping clothes.

“We can find one after we get to Fort Snelling,” Katrin said firmly.

Eve glanced behind her at Val. “Comfy?”

“Lellow!” Val said excitedly, noting the color of the pedicab.

“Lellow,” she agreed. “Will, Katrin, we ready?”

“Lellow!” they called out in unison.

“Lellow!” she said again, and they were off, having lifted all their equipment and then Val out of the smashed front window and consulted their maps. This time Eve took the front, and Will took the back, keeping Val, Katrin and the cats between them.

As they turned south again, they heard a garbled hoarse cry.


Eve glanced back at the Brood.

“Shouter,” Katrin whispered.

“Time to boogie,” she agreed, and they sped up, Will and Eve with their heads low over their handlebars.

As they began to head down a hill toward the Mississippi and the trails along the river that would hopefully shelter them, Eve caught movement on the flat roof of an apartment building. Slowing down to get a better look, she noted the glare of sun off something metal.

“Ahoy the road!” called a human voice.
“Ahoy the roof!” she called back cautiously. They all slowed to a stop, Val twisting around in his seat to make sure Shouter was not behind them.

“What's your middle name, Mother?” the voice called. The voice seemed male, and as wary as Eve felt.

“Elizabeth. Who are you?”

The metal flash moved, disappeared. A middle aged man with a snap front tweed hat that reminded Eve of Andy Capp leaned over the half-wall around the apartment roof. “I'm Gary. You all seem uninfected for the moment. At least you know how to use full sentences.”

“You got a gun up there?” Will asked, intrigued and nervous at the same time.

“Couple. Won't shoot uninfected. Why are you out?”

“We're heading to Fort Snelling,” Will said, loud enough to be heard, hoping it wasn't loud enough to attract infected attention. Behind Eve, Val pulled out his lightsaber so he held that in one hand and his spotlight in the other.

Eve gave Will a look, trying to warn him to be more careful of the information.

“Eh,” said Gary of the tweed flat cap. “Not a bad plan, if it's clear of infected. They're bad news.”

“Not like them,” Val muttered.

“How do you like Gary?” Katrin whispered, leaning closer to her brother.

Val looked up at the stranger. He shrugged. “I think he not bite people.”

Eve hesitated. “You gonna be all right up there? You want to come with?”

“Tell you what,” Gary said. “You get to Snelling and it's clear, I'll see about heading over.”

“How will you know?” Will asked.
“Come on up quick,” Gary said. “I have a good walkie set. I'll send one with you.” Will started to climb off his bike, and Eve stopped him with a hand on his forearm.

“Maybe we'll take our chances you'll guess correctly,” Eve said.

Gary laughed. “You'll do, Mother. Here, I'll lower one down. Gimme a moment.”

Eve nodded, half smiling. “Name's Eve.”

Gary laughed. “It would be, wouldn't it!” He disappeared back behind the half wall while Eve and the Brood warily watched around them for any other movement. Shortly the older man was back, with a bit of twine tied to a plastic grocery bag. He lowered over the side down to the small grass lawn, and Eve stepped off her pedicab bike to go retrieve it.

Inside was a brightly colored and surprisingly heavy walkie talkie, and several packs of batteries.

“Mother – Eve,” Gary said quietly, so just she could hear. She looked up at him and he nodded toward Val. “Your young guy over there... he infected?” Val was rocking back and forth, gently, his weapons clutched close to his chest.

“My son. Val. No, he's always been delayed like this. He's not infected.”

Gary nodded. “Good. Got no problem with the special kids. It's infected I don't like these days.”

Eve pointed to the kids in turn. “That's Val, that's Will, and that's Katrin. And in the trailer back there are Cassiopeia and Leah, the cats.”

“You got cats?” Gary said, leaning just a bit toward the trailer, wistfulness beneath the surface of his voice.

“The two,” she said.

“My Benjamin went out just before the riots. I haven't seen so much as a hair of his tail since.”

Eve's heart pinched again and she gave him a feeling look.

“I'm gonna keep an eye out a bit longer,” he said. “Benjamin's a tough old shit. Smarter'n most my neighbors, too.”

“Now or before?” Eve asked, and Gary snorted.

“You better be off, Mother. There's at least one infected around here, to the East some there.”

She nodded, getting back to her bike, and handed the bag with the walkie talkie in it to Val to tuck beside him. Val peered curiously in the bag before settling it in with the water bottles.

“Lellow!” he chirped. “Lellow phone!”

“Lellow,” Eve said. She waved up at Gary, he saluted the family in return.

“Lellow,” Val whispered to his sister. “Phone is lellow too!”

“Lellow!” she said, grinning.

They made it the rest of the way to the actual bike trail without running in to another living human being. A few cats bolted away from them, Will even saw a dog, but no human showed its face. As they turned onto the trail, they slowed down. Eve pulled up next to a bench and stopped, and they had a break for bottled water.

“It's a bit twisty from here, but it should be clear of cars and... people,” Eve said, meaning dead bodies in specific.

“Need snack,” Val said.

“It's only been twenty minutes,” Eve protested.
“Still hungry.”

“It's time for second breakfast!” Will said, and Val grinned.

“Takin' hobbits to Isengarg!” he said.

“The hobbits, the hobbits, the hobbits!” Will said, and Val laughed.

At the end of his chuckle, he gave his mother a steady stare. “Still hungry.”

“Fine, fine,” she said. “We should be ok with food. You can have a couple granola bars.”


“Fine, chips instead.”

“Chips too. Chips and 'nola bars. Five.”

She raised her brow at him, but opened a snack sized bag of chips and two granola bars for him. Katrin checked the cats to be sure they still had food and water.

“About fifty minutes now, even as slow as we're going,” Will estimated. “Trip's only supposed to take thirty.”

“Thank you for the update,” Eve said, brow still raised. “I don't think that took current traffic conditions into consideration.”

“My bag chips!” Val said, snatching his food away from Katrin.

His siblings each grabbed a small snack from the stash and devoured them quickly. Even so, before they were done, Val was alert and staring back in the direction they came from.

“Go now,” he said quietly. “We go now.”

The hair raised on Will's neck. “Yeah. We go now.”

And just like that, snack time was over and they were off down the trail.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


They took off as quickly as they could go, shooting up several blocks before Will halted in front of her. Eve and Katrin stopped right behind him, alert, heads cocked as they listened for movement.

“There's a bike shop that way,” Will whispered.

“We have bikes,” Katrin whispered back.

“This place has new bikes. Lighter weight. Better shape. And probably better accessories, better trailers.”

“Ok,” Eve said. “Yeah, we should look for lighter bikes. Something easier to get where we're going. Something we can go faster in.”

“That way,” Will said, pointing to the west.

“No,” Val said sharply, out loud.

“Val!” they all said as one, trying to hush him.

“No,” he said stubbornly. “Zombie that way.”

Will and Eve exchanged a glance.

“It's down on the highway,” Eve said. “How far is the bike shop?”

“Five blocks that way,” Will said. “It's by that coffee shop.”

“All right, let's go fast and quiet,” Eve said. She looked at Katrin, who gave her a worried look, but resolutely nodded her head. “Val, you have to be quiet, unless you see one of the infected. If you see one of the infected, then shout, ok?”

In answer, Val extended his lightsaber.

Beside him, Cassie calmly stared up at Eve. For some reason, this reassured Eve more than she would have thought possible in that moment.

Selby Avenue had cars on the road too, blocking the road itself and at one point up ahead, blocking the sidewalk they were using. Most of the cars here were parked in a fairly orderly fashion, as if the drivers had come to a halt at some point before the degeneration had struck. In a few cars they saw people who had been killed trying to get out of the back doors of the cars.

“Child safety locks,” Eve whispered. “Damn.”

They zipped up the sidewalk, Eve working to keep the bike stable for Katrin, Will in the lead watching carefully up the side roads for any sign of movement. It wasn't until they were approaching the crash that had stopped the traffic so neatly farther back that he saw any notable movement.

The crash had not only blocked the sidewalk but the street itself as well, with no easy way around it. Once the first car had veered, it had been struck by cars coming either way on Selby. There wasn't a lot of evidence of death left, most of the bodies having been picked over during the last week or so by carrion eaters, including the Red Flu infected.

In the same moment they were realizing they'd need to detour around the block, Will caught movement to the north, coming up a cross street. He snapped out “Shit, Mom, we need to go!” at the same time Val shouted “Zombie!” and pointed his lightsaber directly at what they saw.

Dragging a half-eaten arm, a ravaged woman was staring at them, snarling something quietly to herself. Half her upper lip was missing but well-healed, the rest of her covered in scars. Fingers were missing. What remained of a dress covered her only in tatters, her feet were bare and her hair matted and wild.
“Go, go, go!” Eve said desperately, pointing up the cross street to the south. “Go!” Even as she said it the infected woman shrieked and gave chase, dropping the arm she was carrying. As they skidded around a corner, Will spun his bike and trailer so that Val was behind him and dropped his bike to the ground, leaping forward, brandishing the bat he'd strapped over his back the same as Katrin had done with her walking stick.

“She's going too fast,” Will yelled. “We can't outrun her dragging these trailers.”

“God damn it,” Eve shouted. She pulled her bike so the trailer blocked Val's trailer. “Katrin, stay back, protect Val. Unbuckle him.” They both jumped off the tandem bike in different directions.

The woman was bolting at them faster than Eve had ever seen someone run, a flat out feral run. She was still a block away and gaining quickly, Will was right, there was no way they'd have been able to outrun her. If she'd reached them while still on the bikes, they'd have been even more vulnerable.

Eve took out her stun gun. She had a sudden, frozen fear that this small device would not work against the zombie. Not a zombie, a Red Flu victim, she reminded herself.

No, she thought, watching the snarling woman coming at them, definitely a zombie right now.

Wanting to get this creature away from her children, she snarled just as loudly, all fear dropping away, and she sprinted forward toward the enemy hurtling toward them. She dropped her shoulder and slammed into the arm-dragger right below the woman's sternum, lifting her up and back. As she did, she fired the stun gun into the woman's belly.

The infected creature was bowled over backwards and Eve rolled to the side, scrambling to her feet. The woman was trembling and still snarling, but now Eve could hear what she was saying.

“Help. Help. Help,” she growled, her eyes bugged out and blood red, her mouth foaming, her expression enraged. Eve stepped back in shock.

The woman was up on her feet, wobbling, but upright, in a heartbeat. She lunged toward Eve.

Will shouted, “Down, Mom!” and Eve dropped just in time for the baseball bat to swing, whistling, over her head and take the zombie right in the face.

The creature flew backwards again, blood spattering.

“Help,” she roared, gurgling blood.

“DOES. THIS. HELP?!” Will shouted, smashing the bat down repeatedly onto her head, until the only movement the infected woman made was the jiggling twitching as her brain died.

Eve and Will watched in silence, breathing heavily. From a short distance, Katrin and Val watched too, without a word spoken.

Finally Eve said “Does this help...” and started to helplessly chuckle. Will burst out laughing, almost startled by his own laugh, and had to sit down. Katrin and Val hugged each other and giggled in triumph. Eve and Will laughed until tears ran down their faces, and hugged each other.

“I know I scary,” Val said, grinning, when his mother and brother walked back to the bikes. Katrin buckled him back in.

“Yeah, we're kinda badass here,” Will said, and they all laughed again.

Eve was stricken in mid-laugh with the memory of the torn and scarred creature calling out “Help. Help.” and fell silent.

“Damn it,” she said, and started to shake. She stumbled up onto the curb and threw up into someone's yard. Katrin and Will ran to help her up.

“We better get moving,” Will said soberly.

“Mom's bleeding,” Katrin said, and the kids looked at their mother. Blood was dripping from Eve's face and neck where the infected attacker had scratched her while Eve was tackling her. Will got out the first aid kit while Eve wiped her face off with the hem of the flannel shirt she was wearing over her tee.

“If it's not actively bleeding, we can deal with it when we get to the bike shop and are surrounded by walls,” Eve said. Will nodded. Only the two deeper scratches on her face were still oozing blood, so he put a bandaid meant to cover a scraped knee over them.

“We'll clean it up and bandage it better when we're safe,” he said.

Eve smiled gratefully at her son. “Thanks, kid. Let's beat it, huh?”

The three of them, Val safely buckled in again, righted their bikes and headed around the block to avoid the crashed cars blocking Selby. They all felt terribly aware, every sense vigilant for signs of danger. Eve and Will were both worried the noise of the altercation, the sound of the woman shouting “help”, might have drawn the attention of any other infected nearby. They moved as quickly and silently as they could manage.

The front window of the bike store had been smashed open, and there was blood inside. The front doors had been hit by a car that blocked the door pretty effectively, so the family went around back while Will went in with the crowbar he'd brought from the used bike store to see if he'd need to pop the back door open. Val would not be able to easily clamber over the window sill.

Will opened the door into the employee's area of the store, it was unlocked. He figured most doors would be unlocked, a locked door would be a sign of someone who had survived at least the first few days of the Red Flu riots.

The back door to the employee parking lot was also unlocked, and Will opened it just as Eve was unbuckling Val. She and Katrin had pushed Will's bike around back, leaving their bike still out front. While Will helped Val into the bike shop, Katrin untied the cats from the trailer one by one and carried them into the store. Eve went back around to the front and pushed the tandem bike back to the back door.

“If we leave them out here, they might alert zombies,” Will pointed out as came back out to help her unstrap Val's wheelchair and bring it in.

“I am not sure,” Eve said. “Do you think they can understand things well enough to know? Leaving the bikes here might also signal to a survivor that we're here.”

“I think we should worry about finding survivors after we're safe at Snelling,” Will said. “Besides, there's no guarantee another survivor we find here is going to be a good guy and not, say, that jerk who mugged me, right?”

“Good point,” his mother said, and they dragged the bikes, trailers and all, into the shop while Katrin held the door open for them and Val held onto the cats' harnesses.

Happily the doors were undamaged enough to be able to be locked, both the door going out to the parking lot and the door into the main part of the store, and both doors were heavy steel. There were only small windows set high in the cement block walls in the employee area, so that too seemed adequately safe.

Val gave the cats water from his water bottle to drink, and Katrin spread old newspapers for them to pee on.

“Let's just stay here for the night,” Katrin said, and the others quickly agreed. She set up her lanterns on the lunch break table. Will broke open the vending machines with his crow bar, and brought sodas and packaged snacks to the table. Eve gazed longingly at the coffee machine, useless without power, and then started ransacking the employee's lockers for lunches.

“I gotta potty,” Val announced when he'd finished feeding and watering the cats.

“I'll take him,” Will said, and the two peered out into the hallway leading the employee break room, saw it was clear, and headed to the restroom. Katrin locked up behind them and stayed by the door to listen for their return. When they were done, Eve and Katrin took their turn.

While Katrin used the toilet, Eve washed her face and neck with bottled water from the vending machine. The scratch on her neck was superficial, but one of the ones on her face was deep enough and wide enough it would probably leave a scar arcing below her right eye socket, from mid-cheek back to her hairline. Thank goodness the creature had only had two fingers left on that hand.

She thought about the germs and gagged. She applied plenty of antibiotic cream before covering the wounds with bandages.

The toilet didn't flush on its own, but was still a relief after a week of using a bucket. Eve poured a few Diet Pibbs in to force a flush when they were all done.

Darkness seemed to fall early, even for autumn. The lanterns were lit, and the two couches from the break room were dragged into the manager's office, which had another couch in it. Katrin made a pile of sofa back cushions to sleep on, and the others all chose a couch, grateful to be able to stretch out and not be crowded. Will used his couch to block the office door, even though it was also locked. He set the radio on top of a file cabinet.

The cats curled up on the desk, and Katrin set their food and water dishes on the desk near them, spreading more papers out in the farthest corner from the couches so they could go to the bathroom. They covered up with blankets, though the chill that came with nightfall was not as bad in such a small area, and shut the lanterns down to avoid notice from anyone outside.

“In the morning, first thing, we'll get new equipment and head out as early as we can, so we can do most of what we need to while it's quiet.”

“That zombie's eyes were very red,” Will said.

“Yeah. I think the light does hurt their eyes, like Robbie Rocket said.” Soft music played from the radio, but Robbie Rocket himself had not made a voice appearance this evening. Eve hoped he was safe, well, and resting.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Not exactly what I expected

Shit,” Will said, as they sheltered in a doorway, out of sight as much as possible, surveying University Avenue.

Eve gave him a look.

“Shit,” Val agreed, distinctly pronouncing the word, though much of his speech was difficult to understand.

She sighed. “Yeah. Looks like a car won't do us any good.”

University was full of empty cars, some crashed together, doors open, batteries long dead. It would be impassible by car.

“We should get moving,” she said. “We still need that map.”

“Bikes?” Will asked.

“The Sibley Bike Depot!” Katrin whispered. “They have bikes, and trailers.”

“Yes, the Depot first, and then the map,” Eve said, turning the wheelchair back to the east. The Sibley Bike Depot was about a block to the east from the apartment.

They hurried back the other way, Eve bent low over the wheelchair as if by hovering over Val, she could keep him safer. Will ran on ahead a bit, Todd's old and bent aluminum baseball bat in his hands. Eve had the stun gun in her pocket, Katrin had a sturdy walking stick Will had made her from a downed branch a couple years ago, and Val had his plastic lightsaber in his hand. He was ready and determined to help protect them.

Eve also had her best cooking knife in her jacket pocket, opposite the stun gun. Just in case. But she hoped most fervently they wouldn't even see any infected.

The Bike Depot was locked up, but the main window was smashed, so Will went in and unlocked it from the inside so they could get Val inside safely. They went into the workroom and storage area, and barricaded the door with a desk.

They found an older, heavy tandem bike for Katrin and Eve. Katrin had Sensory Integration Dysfunction, which affected her own perception of her body in three dimensional space and made balancing on two wheels difficult for her, but it would be easier with Eve's help. Will found a workable bike for himself, and they found two trailers, one meant to carry a couple toddlers and an old two wheeled trailer without sides. While Will made sure the bikes were ready to go, Eve and Katrin pulled back and secure the zip off top off the passenger trailer so Val would fit in it without having to curl up in a ball. Katrin pulled a cushion off the ratty old couch that had been near the desk and put it into the passenger trailer while Eve helped Val transfer over. She tucked the wheelchair bag and the bag Val had been carrying in with him, then folded up the wheelchair and strapped it to the cargo trailer with bungie cords that had been hanging on the wall toward the back of the workroom.

Katrin and Eve made a holder for Katrin's walking stick, a gnarled and heavy chunk of wood, by making a sort of sheath for it that could be carried over Katrin's back, out of ropes in the workroom. Eve looked at her tall eleven year old daughter, who still had a child's face and hands, with a weapon strapped across her back, and she didn't cry, though she thought she should.

Will connected the bike trailers properly. Eve started strapping the backpacks on top of the wheelchair, for one thing so Katrin would have less unbalancing her.

When she reached for Katrin's backpack, the girl yanked it away from her, her eyes suddenly huge and shocked. As she did so, the bag meowed.

Cassie, the elder calico, tiny in size and huge in attitude, shoved her face up to the hole left in the zippered top of the backpack, her scarred eye lending her a somewhat crazed appearance that for a crazy moment reminded Eve of Jack Nicholson axing open a door in the Shining.

“Oh, by... all the...” Eve muttered.

“Stars and stones, Mom,” Katrin said helpfully.

“Hell bells!” Val added happily, both of them using oaths from the Harry Dresden books she'd been reading them. 
“Hells bells,” Eve agreed. “Fine.”

She used lengths of cord to fashion harnesses for the cats, who were happy to be out of the backpack. In place of the cats in the backpack, Will stuffed bike repair supplies. Eve and Katrin tied the cats' harnesses safely into the passenger trailer with Val, Val offered them water and handfuls of the dry cat food.

“Mom, look,” Will said as they pushed the bikes and trailers through into the main shop room. He pointed to the cashier's counter – bike trail maps. He grabbed a handful and tucked them into the different backpacks while Eve spread one out on the counter.

“This is a good idea, Will,” she said. “The bike trails are much less likely to be blocked by vehicles.”

“Or zombies,” Katrin added.

“Or the Red Flu victims,” Eve corrected.

“Which became zombies,” Katrin said.

“We can take trails all the way to the Fort,” Will said. “It's more complicated then taking the roads might be, but we can take the trails all the way to the Fort itself.”

So, an hour later than she'd hoped, they were on the move again, Will pulling Val and the cats, who weighed together more than Val's wheelchair and the backpacks did. Carefully, they inched the bikes out of the Bike Depot, peered up and down University to be sure nothing was moving, and slipped out onto the sidewalk, mounted their bikes, and were off, brightly colored helmets on their heads.

It was a slow go at first, with Katrin whimpering in worry beneath her breath, trying to figure out how to balance on the back of the tandem bike. She'd had her own bike when she was smaller, but when she outgrew training wheels, she'd given up bike riding because she didn't believe she could balance properly. Eve hoped in this moment she would discover differently.

Will didn't realize he was holding his breath watching his sister try to balance herself until he caught himself sucking a breath in when she wobbled to the side.

“We're ok,” Eve told her daughter. “You got this.”

“I don't!”

“You do,” Eve said firmly.

Katrin met her eyes in silence for a moment, then nodded, her jaw squared. “I do.”

The map had them heading to the west on University, then turning south to cross the freeway and get to the actual trails that would take them to Fort Snelling. As they turned south, though it was still bright daylight, they heard Shouter a few blocks to the east.

“Must go faster!” Val whispered. He extended his lightsaber.

“Must go faster,” Will agreed, and took off up the sidewalk, which was mostly unblocked, around his mother and sister. Eve and Katrin peddled furiously to keep up, Katrin completely forgetting her fear of losing her balance in her fear of Shouter seeing them.

“You must shush,” Val whispered to the cats. Cassie was standing on his lap, alert, staring to the east. She'd defended her children against a wide range of creatures from grasshoppers to collies, and she was prepared to defend against Shouter as well. Leah hid behind Val's back. Both cats were completely silent.

They slowed down when they could no longer hear Shouter. Eve was forty and out of shape; she thought it best they go at a pace they could sustain. If nothing else, they could seek refuge for the night in a building between their home and Fort Snelling.

Nothing was moving around them until they reached the bridge over the freeway. They stopped for a moment to look around them.

“The freeway's more clear than University is,” Will said.

“The police kept it clearer as long as they could,” Eve said. “And the soldiers.”

They were silent for a moment. First responders fell defending those they were evacuating and fighting to maintain any sense of order. The hospitals were destroyed quickly by rampaging infected, who in those first days had enough ability and cognizance to use tools and weapons, to burn and destroy buildings even as the first responders fought to quarantine and control them. As the first days passed, more fell infected. The military was overrun by infected within their own ranks, as were the first responders.

When it became clear no one could protect them, Eve and the children had retreated to the attic. Not a moment too soon, either, as the explosion of the elementary school showed them. Looking to the west up the freeway, they could see the charred remains of the building that had once been a school and a polling place, with a playground where children had gathered.

Eve shuddered, holding in words. There were likely few children left. So vulnerable to the changing adults around them, even those children who had not succumbed to the second round of the Red Flu had likely been destroyed. “Let's go,” she said, suddenly desperate to get her children to safety. Her whole little family had survived, hopefully other families had as well. There must have been a genetic component to the resistance to the Red Flu.

We'll get to Snelling, and we'll secure it, she thought. And then we'll figure out how to find any other families and bring them there too.

“Mom,” Will whispered, and pointed farther to the west.

Something was moving along the freeway. She squinted, but her eyesight wasn't what it once was.

“It's a zombie,” he whispered. “It's just walking around yanking on car doors.”

“How do you know it's a zombie and not a survivor?” she asked.

“Because it's also dragging around someone's arm.”

“Let's get the fuck out of here,” Eve hissed.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Viking!

Eve snuck downstairs when it was dark enough out to disguise her movements, but light enough to not require a flashlight. Will followed her, locking each door as she passed through, waiting for her to knock to be let back in. She grabbed soft food for the cats Cassie and Leah, toilet paper, and people food, stuffing it into some of the reusable grocery bags she kept hanging on the back of the front door to their apartment.

Mice – or rats – scattered as she slunk around her own apartment, listening for any noise from the street. To the east she could hear someone shouting a name, hoarsely, over and over, the inflection just off enough to mark it as the voice of one of the infected and not someone searching for a loved one. She peeked out the windows around the house, saw several in the back of the house were broken and her heart stopped in fear that one of them had come inside and she hadn't heard them moving around.

Holding her breath, she scrambled as silently as she could back to the attic door, whispering and knocking for Will to let her in. He swung the door open and locked it as soon as she was through, and she stood a moment, trying to catch her breath and slow her heart down.

“There's a lot of damage to the neighbor's house,” she whispered to Will. “Windows are broken in my room and the pantry.” She nodded up the stairs and they hurried back behind the rest of the attic doors, locking anything they could, barricading the main door of the attic itself as well.

The kids ate cold canned soup from the can. Will emptied the bathroom bucket out in the main attic room, into a forgotten barrel he'd emptied of ruined clothes. Eve ate one of the last granola bars, then tucked the kids, Will included, into the mattress bed and took Will's place in the broken chair, pulling the chair close to the window. Once the lanterns were out, she pulled the blanket back from the window just enough to watch the street.

The voice yelling a name over and over came closer, faded toward the south, than came closer again. Glancing at the children, Eve saw Val was awake, his eyes gleaming in the dark, his arm wrapped as tightly around his little sister as Katrin's arm was wrapped around Bertram. She did her best reassuring smile for Val, then held her finger to her lips to remind him to be quiet.

Shouter, as Eve had begun calling him in her head, came into sight up the block to the south and east, calling out a name with every breath. He was terribly thin, slumped over as he walked, his gait erratic. He didn't avoid the bodies and wreckage in the street, and stumbled frequently. In the moonlight, his eyes appeared to be bulging, his hands shaking. His voice wavered, disappeared, and returned threadily. As far as she could tell, he was yelling “Linda”, but didn't seem to be looking for an answer. As she watched, he sat down in the street and began tearing away handfuls of flesh from one of the bodies – one of her neighbors' bodies – and stuffed the flesh into his mouth.

Revolted and horrified, she let the curtain drop for a moment, then carefully lifted to watch him again, to make sure he didn't approach the house. She didn't have any real weapons, just the stun gun, and she wasn't sure how he'd react. Robbie Rocket said the infected were unpredictable, that they didn't seem to feel pain, that they seemed to lose complex motor skills and while many spoke, they didn't make any sense, often just repeating a word or phrase, as Shouter was doing between bites of putrefying corpse. The infected were very hungry and ate nearly constantly; people, animals, food they could get open, each other. It was Robbie Rocket's fervently spoken hope that the infected would die out; die of whatever left them in this state, or die at each others hands. Yesterday morning, the sixth day in the attic, Robbie said he'd received communication that estimated as many as 90% of Americans were either infected or dead already, that there wasn't much information from outside the US coming in to him. He had a satellite phone and a generator and access to vending machines; he'd locked himself into the radio station and he'd stay there as long as he could, doing what he could to get information out, but at this point he was not going to open the doors for anyone short of a 4 star general, and then only one who could speak in complete sentences and answer questions about When Harry Met Sally.

Robbie Rocket reported the sickness had started with a sort of genetic treatment meant to affect metabolism and help people lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Once human testing had been allowed, the treatment, used in a specific patient, had mutated and changed, becoming something like a virus. From there it spread like a flu – the Red Flu that had rushed around the world a year earlier. People got sick, some few died, most got better and went back to regular life; then a year later, somehow, the Red Flu had awakened again in a rush, and almost everyone who had been ill... changed. Became one of the Infected, one of the Flu Rioters, awake but not really aware, physically changed by a strange metabolism and nerve and brain damage; aggressive, starving, plagued at first by hallucinations and delusions. It didn't take long before the infected were no longer raving, were no longer speaking anything effectively, but by then the world had already ended – at least, all the world that Eve could see from her window.

She watched as Shouter gorged himself, watched as he wandered off, listened to his voice get farther and farther away, then checked the lock on the door and that her stun gun was close at hand, and dozed off in the broken chair at the window.

“So, we need supplies, and we need a more secure place to hole up,” Eve said the next morning to the kids. “We don't have weapons, and we're not really trained in anything.”

“I meant to take karate,” Will said.

“I wanted to be a Girl Scout,” Katrin piped up.

“I VIKING,” Val said firmly.

“Right. But still, no weapons or training. And we need to figure out where we're going.”

“Fort Snelling,” Katrin said instantly.

“Wait... Fort Snelling? That's... a long way from here. It's brilliant, but it's a long way from here, and I'm not sure how to get there from here, and there's no GPS with no cell phone. No Google Maps.” Eve gestured to the dead phone.

“The Super America up the road has maps of the Cities,” Will said. “And supplies.”

“Yeah, but if there's food there, there may be infected there. We'll have to be careful. And... it's still a long way to Fort Snelling.”

“We'll get a car. You're not supposed to drive, but who's gonna stop you now?” Will said.

“Todd will go to Fort Snelling,” Katrin said. “Remember? We went to visit the Fort and watch them fire the canon off, and Todd said that's where he's going when the zombies attack.”

“Todd's 500 miles away, Kat. He may not be able to get here.”

“He's coming.”

“Todd coming,” Val piped in.

“Ok, fine. We'll leave some kind of note. Robbie Rocket ever say if these people can read anymore?”

“The zombies,” Katrin corrected.

“Sweetie, they're not really zombies -”

“Close enough,” Will said, suddenly sounding exhausted. “May as well be.”

Eve sighed. “Ok, so far it's as good a plan as any. So we just need to find transport. We'll all go out to the gas station, we'll get a map and some food, and we'll find a car.”

“There's the auto repair shop up past the Super America,” Will said. “They'll have cars and keys.”

“Want truck,” Val said.

“That might be perfect, if we can find one,” Eve said. “Then, the other thing is... we will have to let Cassie and Leah go. It won't be safe to try and haul them with us while we're running around and trying to get maps and a vehicle. They might be safest if we just let them go, so they're not trapped here in this house if it burns later.”

“No way,” Katrin snapped, her eyes huge and betrayed. “No cat left behind.”

“Sweetie, I don't think we can carry them, supplies, and push Val in his chair, and what if they make noise? Run from us? They'll be safer if we just get make sure they can get in and out of the house and we leave them here.”
“Little Bunny,” Will said, using her babyhood nickname. “We'll come back when it's safe, and we'll make it so just one of the basement windows is open, so no one can get in, but they can get out to get food and get out if there's a fire.”

She glared at him, her lip trembling, but didn't answer.

“I promise, we'll come back if we can, as soon as we can. I'm trying to keep them and us safe, Bunny.”

“Ozzie watch them,” Val said. Katrin held in a sob and climbed onto Val's lap, something she hadn't done since she was much smaller, and Val cuddled his baby sister. Katrin, at 11, was as tall as most women, with feet bigger than her mother's, but she was still Val's cossetted baby sister.

They prepared carefully. The infected seemed to avoid the bright light of day; Will wondered if it hurt them. Their eyes bulged and were red and bloodshot, occasionally even bleeding, according to Robbie Rocket. Will had seen the infected the first few nights in the attic, fighting in the street, chasing the uninfected and other infected alike, shouting and tearing and eating. The last couple nights, only Shouter had been in evidence; there was plenty for him to eat around here.

“This is going to be gross and smell bad,” he said, thinking out loud.

“Yeah,” Eve said. “Oh, yeah.”

Will went down to the main apartment while Eve got everything ready to move out. He painted to the largest wall in the living room, in 3 foot high letters, “Fart Smelling”, with the bright orange paint left over from painting Katrin's room. He didn't know if the zombies, as Katrin insisted on calling the infected, could read any longer, but if one of them saw this, it wouldn't be a clue to where they were heading.

But if Todd came to the apartment and let himself in with the key Will knew he still had, he'd see it, and he'd know where they were. If the Uncles came, they'd know. Maybe there wasn't a lot of hope, but there was still some hope, and Will clung to the hope his family would be together again somehow. The Uncles, Eve's brother and his husband, and Todd, Eve's partner and the children's stepfather for half a decade before the break-up, were his family. The father they'd fled years before was not, and Will hoped the zombies had eaten him already, though he wouldn't mention that to Eve, because it would upset her. No matter what their father had done to them, Eve didn't want them to hate him, as if simply forgetting him was a viable course of action.

Will knew it hadn't worked for her. Todd wasn't the only one who'd been awakened by the screaming nightmares.

At noon they headed down the stairs, supplies packed into backpacks and the wheelchair bag. Val carried a bag on his lap of mostly lightweight things – a clean change of clothes for each of them, socks, the thin metallic emergency blankets, his own flashlight. Katrin had her small backpack, bulging with her things, a little opening left in the zippered top so Bertram could breath. No one wanted stuffed Bertram to suffocate, after all. They'd considered bringing the huge duffel bags with them, but they decided being able to move quickly was more important at the moment.

The street was quiet of any sign of human life. The buzzing of flies was much louder than it had seemed inside the attic, and frightened dogs slunk away at the presence of Eve and the Brood. Will carried the wheelchair down to the alley, Katrin and Eve helped Val down the stairs and out to the alley to be settled in his chair.

“Do we buckle him in?” Will asked, hesitantly.

“I hadn't thought of that,” Eve said. Would they have to get him out of the chair in a hurry? Or should he be buckled in in case they had to run with the chair and risked the chair falling over? She dithered, unable to decide which was the worse scenario.

Val gave an aggravated sigh and buckled himself in and settled the bag he was carrying on his lap. He gave them all a glare daring them to mess with his arrangements.

“Well, we buckle him in,” Eve said.

And off they went, walking quickly and as quietly as possible. A block up to University, then left toward the gas station.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It begins.

The family spent nearly a week holed up in the attic of their building doing their best to make no noise and draw no attention when the Shit Hit The Fan, as 17 year old Will liked to say because he wasn't supposed to say “shit”, but who really cared now.

They did all right, the four of them and two cats, because it was an old and withered looking Victorian; less starchy and frilled grandmother and more the grand old lady left in her rocking chair in a back room long after death. You could see where beauty had once been, and how the house must have been a sight back in her day, but you also might avoid getting overly close out of fear a stiff wind might hit her wrong and knock the whole place over. The abandoned look of the place seemed to keep anyone from trying to get into it.

Eve Aubrey, mother of the Brood, as she liked to call them, had decided pretty early when what was at first referred to as “the riots” began, their downstairs apartment was not safe, nor was traveling the streets to get someplace safe an option. Mass transit was down almost immediately, though while the radio was still broadcasting news on every channel, there were tales of heroic bus drivers or train operators getting their passengers to safety even after someone – or more than one someone - started losing it on their vehicles.

Chunky, out of shape Eve had grabbed the tornado box, handed it off to 11 year old Katrin, had Will help his wobbly, ailing older brother up the stairs to the attic. By the time Will got back down to the main apartment from the third floor attic, Eve had packed water, buckets, and food in the huge duffle bags that had sped them all away from pain and terror eight years ago. Will dragged those up, and Eve grabbed blankets, and they made it upstairs just as the sounds of the first gunshots and sirens in their neighborhood reached them.

In the attic, Will and Katrin covered all four windows with blankets to hide their presence. Katrin set up lanterns in case the power went out;it did by morning. Eve dragged a dusty old mattress out of a pile of left-behind junk from previous tenants and pulled it into the maid's room, the place she judged to be most secure. The maid's room had a heavy wooden door and a bare, unpolished wooden floor; it had been used for nothing more than storage for nearly a hundred years. Once they were safely locked in that room, there were four locked doors between them and the outside, all heavy, Victorian, hardwood doors locking into solid oak frames. After Katrin, Val and the cats were safely locked in, Will and Eve ran back down – as quietly as they could, gathered a few more last minute things, and locked all the downstairs doors, then the downstairs door up to the attic, the second floor door to the attic, and the upstairs attic door.

Katrin let them in and locked the door behind them again; Val was rocking in place on the mattress, munching on a granola bar and playing his Gameboy with his earbuds in.

“Shit,” Eve said, looking at her elder son as he rocked, occasionally stilling to pet the cat curled up on his lap. “His wheelchair.”
“Should I -” Will started, only to be interrupted by some kind of explosion nearby.
They crowded around the window, peering out into the darkening twilit city. Several blocks away, there were flames rising from what appeared to be the elementary school.
“No,” Eve said. “We'll reassess in the morning.”

Eve, Katrin and Val slept curled up together on the grimy mattress, sharing a blanket. Will sprawled in a legless armchair that had been tipped on its side in the maid's room for decades; Eve fervently hoped there were no spiders in it. She wasn't sure she could NOT scream if there were spiders. Sleep was fitful and interrupted by shouts, shots, sirens and crashes, but no further explosions.

They did all right for a week. That first morning they managed to get downstairs and grab Val's wheelchair from the foyer while Katrin sat with Val himself. Val listened to the radio, rocking now and then, but not as often as usual. Eve wondered how much he understood, considering she'd once been told he'd never progress farther than a five year old. Clearly he understood far more than a five year old would, but he rarely spoke, and it was hard to judge what he thought about all this, other than he was afraid. He flinched at noises, rocked back and forth more slowly and less than normal, and stopped speaking altogether, so she knew he was scared – she was too.

The power went out the first morning in the attic. Eve and Will did what they could to hide the maid's room door behind piles of boxes and junk in the main room of the attic. They took down the blankets in case that looked more suspicious, keeping only the one covering the maid's room window. They locked themselves back in to the maid's room and waited, listening to the radio as quietly as possible.

There was nothing from the upstairs neighbor in the apartment right below the attic. Will said he was out of town at a concert down South somewhere, and his cat was boarded with one of his friends. Though Upstairs, as Eve called him, being terrible with names, often left his door unlocked, they'd locked his place up as they'd retreated up to the attic.

With the power out, they used Katrin's lanterns for light at night. The radio ran off batteries, as did Eve's phone and Val's Gameboy; the radio lasted just fine but Eve's phone was off by the second day and Val's Gameboy the day after that. Will and Katrin were perfectly capable of keeping busy reading books, but Val couldn't read, so Eve began to read the Harry Dresden books out loud, one ear cocked for the sound of anyone else in the house.

“Todd is like Harry Dresden,” Katrin said mournfully in the middle of book three, as she rummaged in the tornado box for another notebook, having drawn all the way through the first one. The tornado box was a very large Rubbermaid bin with a cover in which Katrin kept any supplies she felt she might need if there was a tornado. Before the tornado box, storms and high winds were a source of terror for her; afterward, while still frightened, she was at least grimly prepared.

Inside the tornado box was a disposable litter box, dry cat food which Cassiopeia normally disdained but begrudgingly ate after Day 2, notebooks, snacks, writing supplies, comics, juice boxes, small toys for her and for Val, and a massive first aid pack ordered from a camping supply catalog. Katrin had dragged the heavy box up the stairs that first night, with Bertram tucked beneath her arm.  Bertram was the stuffed tiger that Todd had given her years ago, when Todd had first moved in.

Eve lowered the book, Grave Peril, and looked at her daughter, her mouth pulled back with a sadness held in check. “Harry is a lot like Todd, yes. They're both tall and sarcastic.”
“And brave, and fierce, and protective of little girls,” Katrin said staunchly. Eve smiled, a little bittersweet.

“Yeah, that too.”

“I miss Todd,” Val said, speaking up for the first time since they entered the attic.

“I know you do, kiddo,” Eve said.

“Do you think he's ok?” Katrin asked. By now it was more than clear that the world outside the attic had gone mad, whole cities had gone dark, there were no more sirens blaring in St Paul, and no one moved on the streets. Sometimes there was still screaming, but not too near. The formerly grand old Victorian and most of the neighborhood still stood, but Eve had stopped letting the kids watch out the window because bodies lay untended in the street. The city smelled of rot and smoke, Will said. Eve had no sense of smell.

“I hope so,” Eve said.

“He's strong and smart,” Will said. “He's probably fine.”
“He's probably on his way here!” Katrin exclaimed, clasping her hands together excitedly.

“I don't know-” Eve started.

“Todd comin',” Val insisted.

“What about the Uncles?” Katrin asked.

“They're up north in Duluth on vacation. Maybe Duluth is ok.”

And they stayed in the attic for days after that. Sometimes Katrin held Bertram and reassured him that Todd was coming, and Eve pursed her lips and said nothing. There was no way to know if Todd was still alive, if the Uncles still lived – no way to text them, no way to email, no way to call. She'd had no news for several days, not since the cell phone had died. Eve didn't even know if the cell phone network worked anymore. They ate emergency food, drank water

“Are we waiting to be rescued?” Will asked one morning, looking over the last two granola bars.
“I am not sure,” Eve admitted. “We probably need to decide that. We can't just run out for supplies and leave your brother and sister here, we need to stick together.”

“Firemen coming,” Val said.

“I can run out for supplies,” Will said.

Eve's heart pinched hard.

“Give me a bit to consider everything. This neighborhood wasn't safe before all this, I am not betting it's safe now. Radio says there are still actively infected people out there, roaming the streets.”

“We could see if we can get to the radio station. We know there's an uninfected survivor there.”

“He's already asked us not to do that. He ain't opening the door for anyone right now.”

In the background, Robbie Rocket's voice came over the radio again. There were long periods of silence today, and some music playing off and on. Val was of the opinion Robbie Rocket was “aseep”. Will worried Robbie Rocket was sick, a later acting active infection.

“Most people abandoned the Cities in the riots,” Will said, thinking out loud.

“Those who are left are not safe,” Eve said. “I don't know how many others there are who aren't infected who survived the riots. I haven't seen anyone outside.”

“Ozzie?” Val asked.

“Haven't seen Ozzie, kiddo,” Eve said. “Ozzie's hiding for now.” If he was smart, he was, she thought, and Ozzie, a long haired, feral black cat who roamed the neighborhood, was plenty smart. She snickered a little and the kids looked at her, waiting for her to explain. “Oh. Ozzie. Ozymandias. 'Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair' – it just seems fitting all of a sudden.”

“I don't get it,” Will said.

So Eve recited, one of the few poems other than Jabberwocky she knew well enough to recite:

“I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away. “

Will shivered.

“That's Shelley,” Eve said. “I named Ozzie after that poem.”

“Creepy, Mom,” Katrin said.
“Oh, sure, coming from you, Wednesday Addams the Second,” Eve said, with a grin. The kids grinned back, Val chuckled, then they all laughed, and it felt wonderful.

“Ozzie all fine,” Val said stoutly, then turned his attention back to the two toy cars he was driving over the mattress.