Chapter 6 - Entry 4
April 29th cont. - April 30th
The small caravan of asylum survivors followed Silas’s SUV into the parking lot as the remainder of the Fort’s group stepped outside to greet them. With Silas, Jake Brown and Cleo working together, the process of unloading and getting folks settled went remarkably smooth. I mostly stood to the side, smoking and watching while everyone went about their business. Olora’s words were still bugging me and at that moment I didn’t feel very social.
Jake Brown’s U-Haul full of guns and ammunition brought a cheer from the crowd. Apparently firepower more than made up for the lack of food the asylum folks had brought with them. Hope went to help her parents. Cleo worked with Olora to get people assigned to rooms.
It seemed somewhat surreal as I watched the two groups merge into one. One big happy family. Smiles and laughter filled the air and there was a tangible sense of coming home rolling off the crowd in waves. The Fort’s lights were blazing beacons in the dark of night, blinding after so many weeks of scrambling to survive within perpetual gloom.
Mary caught my eye as she and Lu, he boyfriend, strode into the Fort while holding hands. The smile on her face faltered before I turned away. I wondered if things would have been different if I hadn’t rejected her advances back in the beginning. A grope while sleeping mistaken for the desire to fuck. That had been the peak of our time together. Everything went downhill afterward.
Frowning, I realized my thoughts had wandered into the realm of sentimentality. Kicking off from where my back was holding up the Fort’s brick walls, I decided to wander the perimeter to make sure no zombies were creeping up on the oblivious group of survivors.
The world was the same as it had been for weeks outside the Fort’s floodlights. Silas’s group had cleared the streets of vehicles and boarded up most of the surrounding buildings. My boots kicked up small clouds of ash as I wandered, drifting in the darkness and scenting the air from time to time. Only a single zombie crossed my path in the two hours I spent looking around. Apparently the Fort survivors had cleared the area pretty well.
Silas had split the thirty-six newcomers into smaller groups and had members of his crew giving tours and answering questions by the time I returned. A meeting was to be held afterwards in the newly finished cafeteria. I checked out the two bedroom condo assigned to me and grabbed a quick shower before heading down to the gathering. Fifty-one survivors of the apocalypse filled in and set up folding chairs for the show.
I stood in the back with Frank and his daughter Molly while Silas introduced himself and the eleven folks who already called the Fort home. He talked about stocks and supplies, limitations of the electrical systems, the lack of heat, and other mundane crap like workgroups and guard duties. His manner was somewhat gruff but thorough; lacking most social graces such as humor and pleasantries in favor of practical efficiency.
With the influx of new workers, Silas planned to focus on getting walls built around the Fort and setting up the boilers. Olora had already divided people into groups based on their skills. I noticed my name wasn’t on the list.
There was a break called after an hour and sandwich meats, coffee and soda were set up buffet-style on the shiny new serving counter. I watched Molly coax her father to eat after she’s fetched them both a plate. Frank ate meat with his fingers, ignoring the bread and cheese altogether as he stared straight ahead with a vacant expression.
Silas started up the meeting again after folks had settled back down and opened the floor up to a relaxed question and answer session. The day’s excitement was beginning to take its toll, evident in the silence that greeted Silas’s request for questions. Eventually Cleo rose, turning to where I stood in the back and speaking with a gentle smile.
“Will Jaeger be taking on any leadership roles? I did not hear her name assigned to any of the work parties. If it were not for her, I dare say most of us would be dead. Or at the very least, struggling to find a new home.”
I frowned and shifted uncomfortably as all eyes turned towards me. “Sounds like Silas has things under control,” I offered after a moment. “Besides, I know there’s a few who don’t want inhuman monsters like me living here.”
There was a commotion after that with most of the asylum group making it known they didn’t care much for that point of view. Silas shushed them down enough to make his reply.
“I’m not asking anyone to leave. Hell, I’m the one who came to get you.”
I nodded and lit a cigarette, letting my gaze fall on Olora where she sat with a trio of men nearby. She didn’t squirm or blanch. If anything her chin lifted in challenge to my silent stare.
Rising, Olora cleared her throat and spoke in that same, emotionless monotone voice of hers. “I am not comfortable with Jaeger, Frank or anyone else who show manifestations of infection being present among us. It is not a personal issue or based upon prejudice. We simply do not know enough about the infectious agent in their bodies to know if they pose a threat, even an unconscious or unintentional one, to the rest of us. They may very well be carriers of a mutated strain to which none of us are immune.”
Again there was a commotion, though a subtle shift seemed to take place as her logic struck some basic cord present in every human’s mind; that niggling little voice of distrust that whispers ‘They’re different from me’.
Molly started to move towards Olora, hands clenched into fists and body language ripe with violence. I reached out to lay a hand on one tattooed arm and shook my head when she glared my way. Frank, for his part, did nothing but stand still as a statue, mouth slightly agape in a slack-jawed expression of confusion.
Silas met my gaze from across the room and a real war of emotions raged across his features. It was obvious he wanted me to stay yet equally clear that doing so would raise the potential for drama.
“Shut up. Everyone just shut the fuck up.” I don’t think they expected that from me but mouths snapped close after I’d spoken.
A long drag from my cigarette filled the brief time before silence hung heavy in the air. “I’m going to stay here for three days. Long enough to get the lay of the land and figure out where to set up shop. I don’t care how any of you feel about it and I don’t give a shit what you think about me or my condition. Don’t ask to come with me. Don’t ask me to stay. This place is the best bet for all of you and if me being here is gonna cause an issue, its just best that I leave.” Grinning, I added after another lungful of smoke, “’Sides. Crowds make me nervous.”
There was silence when I turned and walked out, tossing Molly a wink as I passed her by. Frank followed me without a word. Apparently the monsters were going to stick together.
It took a bit of effort on Molly’s behalf to get Frank back to their condo after we’d left the meeting. He obviously wanted to stay with me but I was in a foul mood. In the hours that followed, a steady stream of knocks sounded on my door. All of them were ignored. The date on my watch clicked over and the Fort grew silent as I sat staring out my window, watching water ripple gently across the lake beyond.
The scent of breakfast cooking pulled me out of my funk. Black clouds grew a shade closer to gray as morning weakly broke across the sky. I stripped and slipped into the shower, basking in the warm stream and inspecting scars collected since the world ended. My body was a patchwork of them. A road map of violence.
Even my face hadn’t been spared and I realized while staring in the mirror that I barely looked human at all. Dead white eyes. Raised welts of scar tissue. Was it any wonder others felt uncomfortable in my presence? Did they tolerate me simply because of what I had done for them all? Did fear keep them from showing their disdain for me? “Fuck them,” I growled, turning away from my reflection to get dressed and ready for the day ahead.
Meals were divided into two sittings with half the group eating each time. I ignored the protocol and went downstairs to eat, sitting alone at a corner table and glaring at anyone who headed my way. Hope arrived midway through my meal and took a seat beside me, smiling cheerfully despite the cloud of grump that hung over my head.
“So we’re going to start looking for a new place today? What time are we leaving?”
I swallowed down powdered eggs and leveled my gaze on the blond teen for a full minute before speaking. “You’re not coming with me Hope. I’ll let Frank come along but that’s it.”
“But you were going to let me go with you before!”
“Different reasons. You need to stay here. This place will be a fortress once Silas is done. They’re going to need you here more than I need you with me.”
My words stung, leaking the bitterness trapped inside. Frowning, I reached across the table and put a hand on Hope’s forearm before continuing in a softer voice. “Look. Hope. You’re one of the few people here I give a shit about. It’ll be safer here for you than with me and its not like I’m going across the country or something. I’m going to look for someplace nearby. You can visit whenever you want and I’m sure I’ll swing by to say Hi from time to time. Just stay here and take care of your folks. Ok?”
She sounded a bit like a kid who didn’t get the puppy they wanted for Christmas. Socks instead. To her credit though, Hope gave me a nod and rose, slipping out of the cafeteria without any theatrics. My toast had grown cold by the time Molly took a seat at the table.
“When are we headin out?”
I sighed and got ready to object but she cut me off before I could speak.
“Dad’s not right in the head. Not since he got bit. He’s sorta simple. Like a kid. So if you’re gonna let him come with you, you gotta let me come too.” Lower, she added, “I’ll kill that bitch Olora if I stay anyway so don’t give me any shit. Got it?”
Laughing, I simply nodded and ate my cold toast.
Molly and I packed for the three of us an hour later; sleeping bags, blankets, food, water, guns and ammunition. The basics. Since Jake Brown hadn’t asked me for the van keys, I assumed he meant for me to keep it. I’d seen him arrive at the Fort in the Humvee anyway. Seemed like a good trade.
The Fort had a pair of fuel oil trucks parked in back so I topped off the van’s tank and got ready to leave. Silas walked up to the driver’s side and tapped on the window. There was a roll of papers in his hand.
“I got some maps of the area together for you last night. Tried to bring them over and have a chat but you didn’t answer your door.”
“Didn’t feel like having company. Thanks though.”
He nodded and looked away, expression glum. “I hate that you’re not going to be staying with us but I wanted you to know I appreciate the reason you’re leaving.”
“Can it Silas. Its bullshit and I’m pissed but I’ll deal with it. Just take care of the others and stay out of my way. Understand?”
I didn’t hear his reply over the van’s diesel engine as I tore out of the parking lot, leaving him in a cloud of dust and exhaust. Molly laughed beside me and lit a cigarette before offering me the pack.
Frank surprised us both by leaning forward to tap on the dashboard. There was a look of concentration on his face as he stared out the windshield, hand pointing left where the road turned south.