Family business

So, I took Elaine’s advice and put out that ad, and I got my first reply in minutes. The Winters, family of seven – no wacky religion or anything, they just like having kids, I guess. They had a farm in upstate New York they got forced off by one of those big raiding armies – gangs of thousands, operating in platoons of fifty or so, taking over whole counties. They reckon they’d been flagged up for a target before the flu even hit the city. Probably a bunch of those raiders died since the anti-virals ran out, but by that time the Winters’d been on the road for months and there seemed more point in going forward than back, they said. They’ve been hiding out and trying to find somewhere they can settle, and keeping an eye on the forums. Now they’re here.

When they first arrived I was just glad they weren’t a raiding party, but I’m beginning to wonder if I did the right thing. They’re pretty strict, way worse than my folks were, and there’s so many of them, bossing me around all the time. Littlest kid’s ten, oldest – Brad, my new roommate – is a little older than me, and it seems like at least three of them’s either laughing at me or yelling at me or asking me something I don’t know at all times. They can’t understand how much I didn’t get done here, and they keep going on about it until I go off and do whatever they’re asking just to get away from them. They don’t have a clue what it was like for me, and they won’t give me a break about any of it.

Except for the bit about burying my family. When I said there were some rank bodies in the house I hadn’t been able to deal with, and I started trying to explain what happened, they just nodded, like this was normal, and Joe and Ellen turned to the kids and said, “OK, Jen, Lyssa, Brad: masks, bags and shovels, you know the drill. Jess, Dan, go play.” So the littlest two dragged me off to throw baseballs for them. An hour later I smelt burning, but when I went towards the back of the house Joe blocked my way and said, “Just some old furniture you don’t want to see again on there. You come round the front, now.”
Two of the armchairs, the rug and most of the cushions were missing from the living room, and there was a stain on the floor and a smell of bleach. We sat on the couch and drank some juice – there’s been a crop of apples since I was raided – and I drew a picture of Jess and Dan playing baseball with a woodchuck, and they showed Joe, and then the others came in, Ellen wiping her hands on the Friendly Frankenstein dishcloth, and they ran to show her, too, and everybody made a fuss about how good it was and how it looked just like them until Ellen told them to go do their chores, and they all just melted out the room like ghosts.
“There’s a patch of dirt where you put the crosses,” she said. “We had to put those to one side. You should be the one to put them up again. You want some time alone?”
It was the first time anybody had asked me to say what I wanted in forever, and I didn’t know. I wanted to thank them for dealing with a shitty job I should’ve done months ago, but I couldn’t speak. I kind of shrugged and then nodded, and they said they’d keep the kids out my way a couple of hours. So I went out to the back and said goodbye to my family, and sat there till it was too cold. Then I came back in and said hi to the Winters, and thanks, and was there anything I could do to help with dinner, and Lyssa said, “Yeah, you can plant it three months ago,” and Brad said to leave me alone, and shoved me a pile of potatoes to peel that they got out of a field I didn’t even know still had potatoes in it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Mr. Unreliable-narrator’s spinning us a yarn again, found himself a new family, everything’s rosy – yeah, sure. No, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m past all that. It was a dark time, but I’m pulling through it, mostly because my new “family” are not exactly a fairytale dream. It’s hard giving up control of the farm. I feel like it’s mine, I inherited it, I’ve suffered for it, it’s always been my home and – shit – legally, who else’s can it be? And this family are everywhere, and I didn’t even have to say “Make yourselves at home!” before they were putting dibs on the bedrooms and turning out the wardrobes. I don’t exactly want to turn the whole place over to the Winter family and become just a tenant in my own home. But I got to admit it, they know what they’re doing, and I sure as hell didn’t. I tried to do what my family would’ve wanted, but it wasn’t even possible for one person, let alone one person as lazy as me. And from the position of hiding out and starving in a summer-house, I couldn’t exactly tell them I’d hire them to manage the place but still keep title and deed to myself. What would I pay them, anyway? If this happened a year ago, they would’ve been stealing my farm. Now, they’re saving me, and they didn’t have to, and the farm wasn’t mine anyhow because I couldn’t do anything with it, and it wouldn’t have been long before somebody else took it off me and threw me out, too. Now we’re all getting it going, and any idea that I’m the boss just cause I was fucking it up on my own before they got here would make me look pretty stupid. So it’s their farm as much as mine. More, really, but I can only try and work on that.

It was true about the water-powered dynamo, by the way – it was already half built, but I finished it and got it going myself, and it provides all the power we need for light and comms. Not for heat, of course – Joe and Ellen are sorting out the fireplaces so we can burn those stupid fences I tried to put up, and they’ll at least be useful for keeping us warm.

I still spend a lot of time thinking about Mei, and thinking about my family, and other people I should’ve thought more about when I was with them instead of after they’d gone. I try to think more about the ones who are here, too. Fiona, it’s good to know people like you are out there – drop me a SkIMp if you’re ever heading down South. Ash, keep in touch – I appreciate all the advice and support you’ve tried to give me, and if you keep talking I’ll start listening. Elaine, if you’re reading this – you really pissed me off with that shit about my folks, but you were trying to make up for it, and it shook me out of a funk that could’ve killed me, so I guess we’re OK. Don’t get eaten by dingos. Not without a fight, anyhow. And Mei – thanks for coming back, even if it was only for a day. You’re not the girl I knew anymore, but it was good to know you. I never could’ve got this far without you guys; even when you weren’t doing anything, just knowing you were there – you had an influence.

Hey, speaking of my good ol’ Bad Influences, you know where the word Influenza comes from? They used to believe you got sick because of the influence of evil demons or bad stars or shit like that. Brad told me that. He’s full of interesting ideas. We’re starting up a Survivors’ Forum. We figure, there’s loads of practical communities for finding people and getting help and seeing what’s going on across the valley, but there’s not enough places for survivors to just share stories and be there, to give each other emotional support and shit. Check it out. I know you guys are busy, but your bad influence is always welcome. Hope to see you there one day.

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Coming clean

So, I see all my friends – those of them I’ve got left, anyhow – are wondering if I’m a lair or if I’m dead. They’re right on one count, and as for the other…well, it won’t be long now.

So I exaggerated a little about how well I was keeping the farm going, and having massive stores of food and fuel. I didn’t get much from the town, cause I couldn’t get gas in the truck. I took the car on a couple of runs before that ran out, too. Walking there and back with a trolley takes hours, and it’s been too dangerous since the gangs moved out of the city. For weeks I’ve been living mostly on mouldy beans and the odd squirrel – or woodchuck.

Most of the food I put aside when I was prepping got taken in the raids. The first one, I turned out my lights, locked the door and shivered under my bed till they left. I was afraid they’d be carrying the flu, or that they’d just shoot me, or that I’d have to shoot them. The second one – the one about a month ago – I was already kind of not quite here, I mean I half believed the stuff I was posting. I thought I could take them, and I started shooting from the window but they jumped me. They’d come in through the back while they used my rigged alarms to lure me out front, and they knocked the gun out of my hand before I could even take aim. They forced me to show them where my hidden stores were. They took almost everything. Worse, they made me go up to the main house, with a rifle in my back, to call out and see if anyone was home.

They realised there wasn’t soon as we got within 50 yards of the place. The smell. They still made me go in with them. They made me face the wall, and one of them held a gun to me while the others searched the place. I could hear the flies buzzing around, and the smell made me wretch. I couldn’t stand upright. Eventually the guy with the gun let me kneel down to puke. They put masks on and ignored the flies, like it was nothing, they see this shit all the time. They took all the food in sealed containers from the kitchen and the basement, most of the tools in the garage, the truck and most of my weapons. They left me alone in there, said they’d shoot at me if I came out before they’d gone. I kept telling myself it wasn’t real. I’d buried them, I did funerals and everything. The wooden crosses and laminated photos were there, out in the herb patch. But I didn’t bury them. I just left them in there and didn’t go over that side of the farm again. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t look at them.

And I couldn’t say any of that, here. Mei was reading, and she was just dealing with it all, like it came easy to her. She didn’t need anything from me. And if she saw that I wasn’t coping, that things were falling apart for me… I’d look so weak and stupid. So I lied. I wanted to impress her. I wanted her to change her mind about me. I thought, my life might have been going nowhere in the old world, but now that the shit’s hit, it’s my time, and I can be the one to keep it going, and bring it back from the brink. That’s what I wanted her to see. And I wanted her to regret brushing me off, and know she’d have been OK if she’d only come to join me when I asked her to. So yeah, I guess it was pretty pathetic. And petty, and mean. And it didn’t even work. Whatever I said to big up my life, she never regretted staying in Beijing for a second. She could barely find time to think about me. So the whole sham was pointless then, and it’s even more pointless now.

So I guess now I get what I deserve: to sit in an empty house on a wasted farm with no family, no friends, no food and no way out. All I got now is one loaded pistol, a backup I hid when I was prepping. So perhaps I got a way out after all.

BIG NEWS

OK, guys, brace yourself for the most exciting news of these troubled times – Mei’s here! Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. Turns out there’s still some flights going on – vaccines and government deals and shit – and after Mei left the quarantine her doctor friends got a job with one of these secret labs working on the vaccine, and they got Mei a job there. They don’t got many pilots left, so she trained up, and soon as she got onto a flight out to the US she detoured here. Stole a plane just to find me again.

I know that might seem pretty unbelievable, given that she wasn’t all that hot on the idea of coming out here before, but after thinking it over all this time she realised the one place she wanted to be was here.

It was late last night I heard the proximity sensors go, and when I ran for the window with my rifle I just saw her standing there, waving up at me. She’s not here right now, cause she insisted on quarantining herself over at the other house, but we’re counting down the 28 days till we can finally be together again.

Another raid

This time there were more of them. I’d gotten too confident, and they snuck past the traps and alarms while I was asleep. Time I’d woken up and seen them off, they’d already found the main store and made off with a few sacks of beans and flour. I’m pretty angry at myself for getting so lax. I’ll manage without the food, I have some more in a second location, but I just don’t feel so secure now. I’ve started chopping down our little pine forest we used to harvest for Christmas trees, using the straight trunks to make some spiky fencing for a second barrier around the perimeter. That’s keeping me busy, and of course I’m keeping watch, only sleeping a few hours at a time.

It was a bit of a shock to the system, if you know what I mean. I mean, I’m fine, I’ve still got everything I need, but they kind of got in under my defences. I had to shoot to kill, and y’know, dealing with bodies again and everything, brought a few things back. I’m fine, though. And knowing I can do that, when I need to, I guess it makes me feel safer, in a way. It just got under my skin a little, is all. But hey, what doesn’t kill us makes us hard asses, I guess! That’s the way it is from now on. And before anybody comes in with the sympathy for the raiders, these guys were totally prepared to shoot me if I didn’t get them first. If I hadn’t stopped them, they’d have taken everything, and that’d be even worse. So I did what I had to, and they got what was coming to them. That’s an end of it.

So, I’m just wondering if anybody got a message from Mei? I figured that what with Ash and Elaine both having some close calls lately, she might have been concerned and just, you know, sneaked in a quick SkIMp to say “hang in there”. Not my place to check up on her, I know, but I’m kind of worried. I just hope she’s OK. Just, y’know, let me know if she’s said anything – you don’t have to say what she’s said, just if she’s said anything, that’d be a comfort to me to know. And I hope you’re both recovered, too.

I know Mei’s out there

Wishful thinking?  Don’t believe me?  Here’s how I know.  Mei’s had stuff going on since the first quarantine that she never put on her blog.  There’s a lot of political factions trying to take control of the campus.  There was stuff she couldn’t go public about, and I can’t tell you all of it – I don’t know all of it, myself – but I picked up some details when we used to SkIMp every day.  That’s how I know what to look for.

It’s like her paintings, all disconnected bits and you have to piece it together.  She knew I understood that.  I think she only dumped me to protect me; maybe they were onto our SkIMp calls and maybe they could’ve reached me to put pressure on her, who knows, they could have people in the US, that’s not so unbelievable, is it?

She has a plan she’s trying to tell me.  I think she needs to make it look like she’s dead, but she’s planning something big, bigger than the occupation and the quarantine, bigger than the CPC even.

Did any of you notice her new picture?  It’s a message to me.  It looks like the one from before the first quarantine ended, but it’s not.  The horizon’s further, the sky’s clearer, you can see the mountains – it could mean she’s getting out of Beijing, maybe out of China.  I mean, look at her new avatar!  How much clearer can you say: “I’m not here anymore, I disappeared.”

I don’t know where she is, and I don’t know where she’s going, but I won’t give up on her.  I’ll hear from her again, I know it.  You’ll all see.

Taking responsibility

I’ve started seeing regular police patrols between the town and the city, sometimes cars and sometimes helicopters, and not so many raiders, so I’m cool to stop keeping a lookout from my loft window at all times and even to start using SkIMp and playing some W4 games again.  It takes my mind off things, and I need to do that, or I’ll lose it big-style.  I catch myself zoning out of reality – not exactly believing that everything’s normal, but that if I were to go up to the big house at that moment, my folks would still be there.  It’s not a good way to think, and I have to distract myself.  Playing games is one of the healthiest things I can do right now.  It’s weird to say that and not have my Dad yell at me about taking responsibility, but I think I’m being pretty responsible right now.  I’m taking care of myself and keeping things going.

I’ve been reading back through my blogs and my comments, and I guess Mei was right about a lot of things – that it would come here eventually, that none of us were safe, that we had to be prepared.  I think I did pretty well at all that.  I still feel sad about what happened with Mei – a sweet, light kind of sadness that sometimes breaks through the deep, heavy sadness of everything else.  I guess in a way it was a good thing we put a bit of distance between us, because we’ve both got enough to deal with right now.  But I still regret that I couldn’t persuade her to come here, because although I lost my family at least my situation’s relatively safe and stable.  It hurts me to hear she’s got to go through another quarantine, and spend a month alone again with barely enough food to survive and water that might not be safe and her community falling apart, while I sit here with food in the stores for years to come and crops growing well and secure shelter, and even the time to put my feet up and play games. I mean, if things had to happen this way, and there didn’t seem to be any way of avoiding it, I think I’ve done as well as anybody could do.  My one regret is that I couldn’t persuade Mei to share it with me.

Defending the farm

It’s been a tough couple of weeks.  Since all the police got called to the cities, a lot of small towns in the area broke out of quarantine and folks went looking for a bunch of stuff they didn’t have: food, clean water, safe shelter away from the riots, and a lot of them started looking in the farms not too far from the towns.  I guess a few of them had escaped the cities, too, and I got to be really careful of them – not only are they almost definitely carrying the flu, they’re probably either on anti-virals or steroids and all those other drugs the rumors say might help, drugs that incidentally lower capacity for rational thinking and increase aggression.  They take this shit thinking, what?  If they can prolong their suffering a little a cure will be developed and folks’ll bring it them on a plate before the end?  And in the meantime, they continue to go breaking into homes and stores, spreading the flu to everyone they touch.  Perhaps they are the walking dead.  They want brains, alright.

A few times over the last couple of weeks I’ve driven groups of them off the farm with a rifle.  I don’t have the best security – we’ve never really needed a lot of alarms or cameras here before – but I built up the fences a little and concreted some broken glass on top where there’s no barbed wire, and I get a good view of the gate from my loft window.  It’s so quiet round here now, the gravel path is as good as a burglar alarm.  And yeah, I know I’m not the first to have to deal with raiders, and that some are just ordinary families trying to get by, but with drug-crazed infected psychos around I can’t afford to take chances.  I figure there’s no point blowing my supplies on folks who’ll be dead in a few days, either.  It’s selfish, I know, and it’s not that I’ve got anything against these people, but I owe it to my parents to look out for myself.  What was the point in them shutting me out of the house as they died if I’m only going to open myself up to infection from every stranger who comes by?

I’ve put up warning signs, and I give two warning shots before I aim to kill.  I can’t afford to waste more ammo than that, and anybody not taking the hint I figure is either determined enough to deserve what they get or desperate enough that it’s a mercy.  They’ve mostly run at the first shot, but a couple who came snooping today started shooting back.  Thankfully, they only had short-range pistols, and they misjudged where my shots had come from, anyhow.  The second warning shot might have given away my vantage point, but it hit close enough to make them run for cover behind the garage.  I knew they couldn’t sneak out to the gate or the house without me seeing, so I watched till nightfall.  When I first saw the creeping shadow I thought it was a raccoon, but then I saw it was too big, and I took aim.  I hit the water butt three feet away, but I can repair it tomorrow, and it had the right effect – two shadows ran full pelt for the gate and didn’t come back.

Wondering who’s out there.

Thought I should probably post to let people know I’m still alive. When I sit around too much I begin to get morbid, so I’m keeping busy.
I want to feel like I’m not letting my folks down, so I’m keeping up with my chores, drying out beans for long-term storage, learning to make bread, checking the water tower for leaks. I’ve also been looking at using a stream that runs a little way out past the fence as a water supply and maybe a backup power generator – it’s not a strong current, but it’s constant and a wheel on a couple of small dynamos turning 24/7 can cover all my lighting and communications needs. Technically, it’s not my stream, but it’s only a hundred yards into the neighbor’s land and I didn’t see them since before my folks died. I’ve been trying not to think it, but somebody from every farm in the county went to that produce fair. I might be the only one left. I SkIMp the New Jersey flu helpline every day and get the same recorded message: stay calm, follow the advice, they’ve received my message, I’m on the list.
I don’t have permission to break the seal, but I’m running low on gas, so I got to go into the town sometime. Guess I’ll find out then how many others are left alive out here.

Where I belong

Meritocracy, e.g. A Modern Utopia by H.G. Wells.

Meritocracy, e.g. A Modern Utopia by H.G. Wells.

A place for everyone, and everyone in their place. This is just a little sinister, but of course Wells was writing without the benefit of hindsight that we now have about “socialists” who favour rigid hierarchies with a faint whiff of eugenics. Meritocracy is often a very appealing concept to those who get to define merit. Freedom is being satisfied with your allotted place.

See the story behind this quiz at http://badinfluences.org.uk

Which Utopia are you building?

So, on top of my life falling apart, I get a meme calling me a fascist just cause I think people should do what they’re good at. Figures.

I guess it’s difficult for people to get where I’m coming from. Kids who grow up on farms are supposed to spend their teens longing to get away to the big city. My school buddies did. Carla did. But I was happy with where I was and what I had. I knew I was where I belonged. Mom and Dad never got that. They always wanted me to have some ambition beyond the farm.

Way I always saw it, I had the W4, why did I have to go anyplace else to do what I wanted? Why would I go to college to draw comics when there’s hundreds of online vidcast courses I could do from here? I only agreed to go on that Extreme Research thing to get my folks off my back about “new experiences” and “meeting people”. Sure, I enjoyed it, I had new experiences, I met people. But what good is meeting somebody you never get to see again? What good is wanting to be somebody you’re not, and going looking for things to want other than what’s right in front of you?

Now, all those opportunities everybody bugged me to go chasing after are gone, and all anybody wants is to know where the food’s coming from. Everybody’s got to re-evaluate their ambitions. A farmer is pretty much the best thing you can be now. Staying here turns out to be the best career move I ever made. It’s just a shame my family will never know it.