Authors: Dan Yaeger
Before ’28, I would have gotten onto the Internet or a cloud community where I could learn from others and participate in a global knowledge-base. With the Internet and all the immersive cloud communities gone, we had entered an information dark-age across the globe. Connectivity and data centres went down progressively until it ceased to function in ’29. The global information network, which we had learned to rely upon for everything, left us like a parent leaving an over-coddled child. We had to fend for ourselves all of a sudden. There was no font of all knowledge to ask questions, appreciate and share our irrelevant, self-indulgent ideas and selfies. The parent who had loved our finger-paintings and indulged our every whim was dead. We had relied on this parent, this entity of the Internet, with such conviction that physical records and books had become unwanted antiques. But we were abandoned and let down. The world grieved as the information died without as much as a funeral. Even the zombies I had dispatched got that; an end and some ceremony to it. The information age just faded away in 12 months. I refocused on the bonfire which was both a pleasing beacon and a tool of intense, cleansing flame. In an ancient message, the fire meant “I am here, I am powerful and I can survive, no matter what and like all those who came before me”, I thought. "But what would I have to survive through?" The future was less certain than being starved and alone in the bush just 12 hours before.
I watched the mess that was Blackbeard shrivel in the heat. What was left of his face peeled back, revealing teeth of a Hollywood smile. "Those teeth are too white," I bit my lip and shook my head as I found myself trying to work out the events of the day and my future once more. Zombies that were clean, spoke, thought and organised were in breach of so many of the defining features of what made them a zombie. I wasn’t religious but had read the bible on many a cold and lonesome night during winter. People behave and act as they are supposed to according to some guide or rules; a rulebook or bible of sorts. Be it in the image of their creator, if you believe, and if you do not, a church that exerts control and taxes on people’s lives through consistent messaging and inconsistent behaviour.
"God, gods, leaders, movie-stars, kings, queens-" Then it came to me: there was a controller. Zombies are normally about viral-self sustainment, but this was about personal preservation. If you looked at what had transpired, spreading the virus was not on their minds, nor was feasting on flesh. The chits had to have something to do with that. Something had made it about preservation and they were being managed and rewarded by what mattered to them.
As the fire did its work, I ran inside, excited. I had it. "A controller!"
I left one fire to go to another. While I had a spark of thought I didn’t have electricity. So the firelight by the hearth was my light and company that evening. I sat in my cane chair and began to write. Old-school pen and paper were used to make notes on what had happened. If I was to be ended I could only hope that, while big Internet had failed, the raw words and meanings in a journal may help others like me. I had a new project and, like a spark in me, a new fire was lit. Something amazing was happening and I didn’t even know what it was just yet. Isolated, up there in the mountains, I knew there was a whole world out there and change had come to me. I had survived but the world out there called to me to find out more. Going to all my windows, I manually cranked all of the formerly electric shutters that were like blast-doors or the doors to modern mechanic’s garage. I locked and bolted my doors. My home, my fortress, was just so perfect in many ways. The nightly lock-up was a safe, familiar routine which helped me prepare for sleep, on a normal night that is. I sat down again, picking up where I left off.
I would chronicle and journal a scientific explanation of zombies, what I knew, what I had seen and maybe, just maybe, this information would be shared with someone else who could benefit. I wasn’t going to give up on Charlemagne’s dream of the Great Library of Wonder. Internet or not, I would do my little part for leaving some knowledge for others. While the current distribution network for information was dead, I resigned myself to the fact that I would find ways of sharing the knowledge and trying to make contact with other survivors. This close encounter with the unknown, speaking zombies was almost as exciting as meeting an alien being. "Too bad we wanted to kill each other," I thought.
The whole situation over the past 12 hours was an excuse for the inevitable; I had to get out there again. It was almost like the zeal my dad described of 1995 when the Internet and e-mail arrived, or the horror the Great Change itself and I was part of it. I had a bath and thought about things as I poured buckets of warm water over my head. I had heated the water over my fire into the old-style but very modern bathtub. "Old meets new, Jesse. Old meets new," the thought was an interesting one.
As I supplied water to my tub I thought about the supply of something. “What was it that the zombies supplied to their controller, the person writing those chits? And what was it that the controller used to control the zombies? Were the zombies being controlled to go get supplies or eliminate competition?" I needed to know. After a good wash, I got into a stolen/perhaps purchased hotel robe. "Nah, it is stolen," I mused to myself. The tradition of stealing bathrobes had certainly not changed, zombie apocalypse or not. I lay in my bed, burning candle after candle, writing my journal. It needed a name: The Alpine View of the Zombie Apocalypse. It was quirky, almost academic and included a double meaning. I liked my own work and the candle went out. Outside the fire still raged. I would then try to sleep, but that didn’t go well.
Nightmares of the faces of the taken, zombie and human alike plagued my slumber. But that was when I had fallen into a sleep-state. For the most part, I lay awake, thinking of this new type of zombie; the Tom Wrights and Rebecca Falconers and what they were, who they were working with and what they were working toward. Organisation meant some purpose, order, enforcement, rules, structure – civilisation. It was an incongruous concept that zombies were working to the beat of some drum. Appealing to their addiction to flesh, yes, addiction, someone was controlling them or placating them. These thoughts milled around in my mind in fitted sleep. I reasoned and debated with myself until I succumbed to lassitude.
“Morning, glorious morning, again,” I said aloud, sitting upright and stretching. I was alive for another day and slept, uninterrupted until late. It wasn’t a very refreshing sleep with the churning sea of thoughts and concepts that was rocking my world. I went outside, putting on gum boots and a coat that was for life around the cabin. My cabin coat was in good condition, very warm and didn’t have the character of my military coats and smocks that were standard wear for hunting, fighting and scavenging. These more domestic clothes enabled me to create a clean world for myself when I wasn’t in the dirty business of being a modern-day survivor and hunter-gatherer. I walked over to the remnants of the bonfire; it had done its work. A pile of ash, whites, greys and a little charcoal and embers were left. To start with such a large mass of wood and bodies to get to this was always a little amazing. The ash made good fertiliser for my vegetable garden which I needed to tend. After an hour of shovelling ash and tending my garden, I walked to the small orchard and my olive grove. Ironically, the veggie garden, orchard and small olive grove were overgrown and unkempt when I had arrived. The eco-retreat where I lived had once had been a farm-stay and “harvest your own” venue. With people becoming lazier and lazier, this novelty had been let go some time in the 2020s. During the winter, I had pruned and tended the garden, taking learnings from a gardening book that someone had kept for show on a bookshelf in my cabin. That book had meant life. I was never much of a dedicated gardener before the Great Change but now it was one of those hobbies that kept me connected with the cycle of life and what was normalcy. It was also quite utilitarian as it described a means to live and live well.
A couple of apples and plums were my harvest for the day. It was early in the season so more would not come in great abundance until a few weeks later. The prospect of fresh fruit was making me drool like a zombie. I hadn’t eaten fresh fruit for a while. I bit into the apple; it was juicy fresh and sweet. “Heaven.” I thought.
The plum was a little under-ripe but also had a fresh flavour that offered a vitamin-rich sensation on my taste-buds. All was good in the world at that moment. This would be my first harvest after the work I had put in to cultivate the mess I had found when I had arrived. After yesterday’s exertions, I needed some meat as well. I felt like fish today. I had a last piece of trout stored in the cellar where I kept fish and meat. After that small piece of trout, the cupboard would be bare, as they say.
It had been a cold, harsh winter with slim pickings in hunting, fishing and gathering. I had not prepared too well and had only worked out pickling, storing in jars, salting, smoking and preservation of food along the way. These old ways were ironically new to me. But what I was used to was hunting and it had yielded success and survival, yet again. The deer meant all the venison I needed for a time. But that meat needed some preparation. That last piece of prized, smoked trout did not and I enjoyed it in one fell swoop.
By former standards, the piece of smoked trout was not much of a meal; to me it was a feast. Gourmet as it was, it was perhaps 100 grams or less. Protein was at a premium in the world. I salivated at the thought of the fish and could use the conditioning of this type of meal every day. I ventured into the cellar to check on prepared and curing meat.
It was cool and dark down in the cellar and my torch, getting increasingly weaker, almost gave out as I retrieved a solid helping of trout. My meat cupboard was such a good find. Someone in Tantangara had an antique meat cupboard being used as a bookshelf. I had read a book only weeks before that had depicted one of these antique items that were used prior to refrigeration. It used clever evaporative techniques. I had been prospecting through a house when I had noticed it, to my great luck. This little cupboard come bookshelf was something whimsical, funky, retro or curious to someone and yet it had meant survival to me. "How my priorities have changed."
That little meat cupboard had been lovingly loaded into an old four-wheel drive I had acquired. With great confidence and high hopes, that four-wheeler almost got me home until it broke down. The vehicle would make a good emergency shelter, around two-thirds of the way home from Tantangara. The situation had left me a long way from home with a cupboard I would have to carry. I smiled at the memory and recalled the hard work to getting the cupboard home. That last stretch of road felt like forever and I had to strap the heavy piece of furniture to my back. Every hard step of the way, the straps rubbed and muscles burned. It was worth it as the cupboard had given my food more longevity and in turn, the same gift to me.
As my torch flickered and almost went out and my mouth stopped chewing, ending my smoked trout supply, I realised I needed more supplies.
I was running low on some simple things; soap, tissues, toilet paper, batteries, toothpaste, packaged and canned things, everything really. My diet had become very Palaeolithic and raw because of it. My stomach growled and I was hit with the realisation that I needed to go into Tantangara. I had been putting it off for some time as I had fared pretty badly in the last run into that town by the lake. While I had cleared my home of many of the roaming zombies, Tantangara was something else. Where there had been large populations of people, there were large populations of zombies- simple.
My torch went out, just to hammer things home, and it reinforced my resolve that my next trip was into Tantangara for supplies. The thought made me nervous and uncomfortable and I fumbled with the torch. I regained my composure and turned the batteries around in the dark; got it working weakly. "Whew," the relief of not being completely in the dark. I had been hiding away up at home for some time and had long before run out of toilet paper. I had found an alternative in great supply; used office paper. So many people had so much crap printed out on old office paper; it was readily available and readily used. All that printed crap was good for, well, crap. I had an oil change tray that had never been used for its intended purpose. I used it to soak sheets of used office paper in water. The paper would go soft and was OK on the face as a tissue or to wipe your rear end. It wasn’t ideal but it was clean and could be left to dry and then burned. I flushed the toilet without putting the paper in it. The paper went into a plastic bag. Much like when I holidayed in Greece many years ago. I would say it was “doing it Greek” but that would give people the wrong impression of me. Anyway, my paper situation worked for me. Toilet paper, tissues, baby wipes, paper towel were all luxuries, if you could find them. Even my office paper and associated plastic bags were running low. I needed to go “shopping” in Tantangara.
"Tomorrow," I told myself. "Tomorrow I go to Tantangara. Today, I will go fishing, prep some food and get my kit ready for the trip." The plan was in motion and I gave myself a little space to deal with the emotions of going back there.
"Tomorrow," I told myself again, trying to be OK with the prospect. "Tomorrow I go to Tantangara. Today, I will go fishing, prep some food and get my kit ready for the trip." The plan was in motion. I felt nervous; last trip had been at such a cost. "This time," I thought bitterly, "I will be prepared and won't make any grand entrances. This time, I will be like a fucking commando." I was resolute that no-one else would come to harm on that trip.
There was calm, a routine, before the storm. I was ready to get into the whole plan, trek, explore mission into Tantangara. I had to keep telling myself I was mentally ready to confront the place after what had happened the last time. I stopped thinking too much and got on with it. With what little torchlight I had left, I quickly negotiated the stairs and was ready for preparing future meals.