The snow didn’t stop. It was relentless and unforgiving. Once it started that first day it kept on coming, which meant that Dar and I stood no chance of returning to Boston until the roads had cleared. Every couple of days we received a fresh coat of powder. It glistened and radiated in the sun’s sallow glow, obscuring the debris that lay strewn across the hardening crust. We took turns shoveling in order to keep clear the path between the doorway and the barn. Every day Rick plowed the snow until the banks built up like a massive wall in front of the driveway. He plowed it up all around the farmhouse so as to provide a natural barrier from the creatures. Other than the flying ones, it would be difficult for the dead to reach us. We made sure to have two sharpshooters tag along with the people shoveling just in case the dead flew down from the roof.
The power died and never returned, which meant that we had to rely strictly on the generator. Rick turned the generator on for about two hours a night. At around nine we lit candles and read or played cards by the flickering light. He’d insulated the house a few years back by spraying foam in the walls and laying loose insulation along the attic floor. That combined with the fireplace kept us relatively warm and dry. We ate cereal and canned goods for breakfast and lunch, and we took turns preparing hot meals for dinner. Coffee in the morning got reheated over the fireplace.
We learned to live with each other, to put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies and help deal with the post-traumatic stress we suffered on account of living among such cruel demons. As a result, we worked to tolerate each other’s needs as best we could. The children behaved relatively well, considering the situation we found ourselves in, but they acted up like most children do. Gunner had his hands full taking care of them, especially when Emily cried out for her mother. We all tried to help out as much as possible, but there was only so much any of us could do. Thorn was the exception when it came to the kids. He didn’t want anything to do with them. He did, however, make up for it by performing many of the laborious tasks that no one else wanted to do. In his defense, he claimed he’d rather fight hand-to-hand combat against five flesh-eaters than have to deal with kids.
The snow piled up against the house in long, sweeping arcs, and the temperatures often dropped below zero. Most days the wind whipped hard down from Canada and whistled through the snow-swept valley.
On Thanksgiving Day we ate a hearty meal cooked up by Kate. Instead of turkey we had one of the chickens Rick processed this past summer and stored in his freezer. He kept three freezers filled with poultry, beef, deer and moose meat out in the barn. Though the freezers stopped working because of the power outage, the arctic temperatures did the work for us. Rick had a room in the basement filled with canned goods, dried foods and other supplies, which he figured would last us until the end of spring, assuming we rationed the food in a sensible manner. Had it been just him and Susan, it would have lasted much longer. Although we all changed our eating habits, Thorn seemed to have a hollow leg when it came to his appetite. If we made it to spring, I had high hopes that the government or military would have a handle on the situation and we’d all be allowed to return home.
We played cards often and broke out the board games that first month. I became quite good at chess, though not good enough to beat Thorn, who was quite adept at it. I studied one of his chess books for hours on end, trying to understand the complex strategies involved in the game, imagining the opposing pieces as the dead. I also read a lot. Rick had a considerable library out in the barn that we helped ourselves to. He also had a vast collection of DVDs and VCR tapes that contained everything from old TV shows to movies. Every night at seven he switched on the generator and we all settled in and watched a movie or television show. We even made popcorn from the kernels stored in the large plastic container he kept downstairs.
When not reading, playing chess or performing one of our required daily chores, I began to write. I found myself writing constantly. It kept my mind off the evil that awaited us outside. At first I jotted down a few random notes, but after awhile I began to become more expansive, writing pages at a time about our daily life inside the house. Upon waking early each morning, I made sure to perform my ritual of one hundred push-ups and sit-ups. After that I would jog in place for fifteen minutes. The physical exercise kept my mind focused and helped reduce the stress caused by this suffocating existence.
Rather than a hindrance, the snow proved to be a godsend in more ways than one. We filled buckets of it and piled the snow into the bathtub, where it melted and provided us with life-sustaining water. We used the water for many different things: to flush the toilet, wash and brush our teeth, cooking, and brewing coffee. Rick had devised an ingenious system for showering when he’d retrofitted the house. He’d set up a small, enclosed stall in the basement just below the tub. Utilizing gravity, the cold water would empty below from the nozzle. Although there was not much pressure to the stream, it kept us clean. The water was so cold that we could only spend a few minutes inside, but at least we could take a shower once a day.
As was natural in any situation, we were bound together against our will; friendships and alliances formed. Thorn and Dar’s friendship grew and I suspected that it had evolved into something more than just a friendship, although I couldn’t be sure. Dar delved further into the recesses of her own neurosis, becoming more reclusive and mysterious as the days passed. She’d turned eighteen a few days after Thanksgiving and shaved off all of her hair, except for a swathe near the frontal part of her scalp which she dyed platinum blonde. Thorn had pierced her ears, nose, lips and other body parts, and she’d taken Susan’s jewelry and worked them into the nooks of flesh. Homemade tattoos began to sprout up over her hands and arms, and then finally on her scalp and neck. Her transformation frightened me, and as time passed she ceased being the daughter I knew and raised, and became someone totally different.
Thorn proved enigmatic. I found him highly intelligent, and at the same time rude and offensive. As much as I would have disapproved of their relationship in normal times, trying to prevent it now would have made matters worse. And yet he worked hard in keeping the house running, often working for hours on end carrying in wood or running between the barn and the house to retrieve various items. He even knew a few things about engines and was able to help Rick when there was a mechanical issue with the truck.
Gunner spent much of his free time with his kids, but when the kids went to bed I noticed that he and Rick had developed an odd bond. This bond, I observed, took its cue from Rick, and it made sense. Rick’s towering intellect made it almost impossible for him to treat another person on equal terms, myself included. Although I’d made considerably more money than him, I had no doubt who was smarter. The discrepancy between my celebrity and wealth and his intellect seemed to be the root of our sometimes complicated sibling rivalry. But in America, money had been the primary indicator of success—until the crisis struck. Now all my millions in mutual funds, stocks and bonds meant nothing. Conversely, his little farmhouse stocked with water, food and firearms meant the difference between life and death.
Of everyone in this house, it was Gunner who worried me the most. While everyone seemed to be adjusting to the situation as best as could be expected, I noticed that Gunner’s mood had become more sullen and withdrawn as time went on. Caring for his kids had taken an obvious toll on him. Of course watching his wife become sick and die had a traumatizing effect as well. It was a good thing he didn’t know that Rick kept her captive down in the basement, studying her every move for the benefit of science. Blackness ringed his eyes and he often spoke despairingly of the situation we now found ourselves in. We all tried to encourage him, give him pep talks, take his kids off his hands for a few hours so he could relax, but it didn’t seem to help. He responded only to Rick’s cue. Rick was his leader and he would follow him to the ends of the earth. He seemed completely unfit for the difficult future that lay ahead, and he lacked the mental discipline required to maintain his bearing amidst the crisis enveloping us. I couldn’t blame him. We all struggled with the horror in our own way, compartmentalizing our lives for self-preservation. We needed a reason to go on, to live.
That left Kate and I to pair off. At first we found it difficult to connect. Kate kept to herself and stayed busy performing her chores in the kitchen, which everyone happily ceded to her. She preferred to be alone. As time passed, however, we began to sit together at the dinner table and converse about matters that interested us in better times. Kate had little interest in watching movies at night, choosing instead to sit in the dining room and read one of the paperback novels that Susan had kept around. At first I found her to be somewhat plain in appearance. She wore her blonde hair up in a bun and never wore any of the makeup in Susan’s bathroom. She was thin but athletic, and surprisingly stronger than I expected. Rarely did I see her smile. But the more we hung out together, the more appealing she became. I found myself fantasizing about her at night, the erotic confused with the horror. My vows to my wife meant everything to me, but I felt vulnerable and in need of a woman’s touch. I chalked up my growing attraction to her as a product of the barbarity of the situation, being cooped up in this house day after day, the intimacy a byproduct of proximity. A selfless and a tireless worker, she had a curious mind that made our daily conversations a wonderful respite to the brutal nightmare we’d been living through. And yet she revealed nothing about her personal life. I tried to get something out of her, but when I probed she either walked away or buried her head in her book. So I stopped asking.
The snow proved to be our savior. Never a fan of the snow, I came to appreciate its beauty and utility, and the fact that it protected us from the inhumanity outside these walls. It provided us with water and helped us stay clean and hygienic. I loved the way the sun’s rays reflected off the icy wall surface and reflected heat back into the house—a brilliant move by Rick to plow it into a fortress. It kept hidden the dead buried under the icy mountains. Like clockwork, Rick plowed the freshly fallen snow every day. Any diseased stragglers left standing disappeared into the massive mountain of snow, out of sight and out of mind.
One day it hit me. I feared the arrival of spring. Spring meant that everything would melt and the frozen corpses would emerge from the ensuing thaw. The arrival of spring would make it easier for the dead to travel freely and attempt to gain entrance into our fortress. Liberated from the shackles of winter, I envisioned them parading en masse onto the driveway, overtaking the house and flooding it with their shuffling and unearthly moaning. I suffered terrible nightmares where the monsters reached out for me, tearing at my limbs and trying to take bites out of my head and body, and often I would bolt up out of sleep, my face covered in sweat.
From time to time, Rick kept me updated on the world situation. Tumult and chaos had ensued, though news was getting harder to come by. The rumor floating around was that the President had enacted martial law and had blocked all flow of traffic. But no one knew for sure because all television broadcasting had been halted, except for a government-sponsored program that ran twice a day. The program, political propaganda designed to ease citizens’ fears, tried to put a more positive spin on the crisis. Soup kitchens and bread lines had been set up at various locations in most major cities. Armed forces stood guard and tried to keep the peace. And yet violence ensued everywhere. Armed civilians set up in abandoned buildings and fired at soldiers randomly. Military snipers set up in buildings and killed anyone they deemed suspicious. Tensions between citizens and the government grew to the point where rebels were setting up bases all around the country. Secret anti-government groups were forming at a rapid pace and the government didn’t have enough forces to combat them all, especially when troops began to defect en masse after their paychecks bounced. Toilet paper had more currency than the almighty dollar. Alternate currencies spawned. Governing on a national level was becoming untenable.
The situation in other parts of the world seemed worse. Many of Rick’s contacts on the CB radio simply stopped communicating altogether. Others gave brief descriptions of horrors too unfathomable to contemplate, then suddenly that contact would never be heard from again, and the worst was assumed. Rick reported that the short wave signal was degrading with each passing day. Something seemed to be scrambling the signals and making the airwaves incommunicable. Governments around the world had been violently repressing their citizens. Food riots became ubiquitous. One woman in Germany claimed that her family was living off the turtles, grasses and fish from a nearby pond. A man in South Africa claimed that the local bird population had been decimated. An Asian contact said that a swine flu epidemic was killing many people in his city and that vaccines were not being offered.
All of these personal accounts led me to the conclusion that Rick had made the correct choice by moving up here to northern Maine, where it was cold and snowbound, and only the resourceful would survive.
Rick spent most of his days holed up in his basement, conducting research on the various plant and animal samples he’d collected. He recorded all of his findings in a large journal he kept stored in a bookshelf in his lab. The vast database of genetic information stored in his computer allowed him to contrast and compare the various genetic data he’d gathered out in the field. He maintained a separate generator designated solely for his computer, and it was as powerful as the one that he used to run the house. He filled this covert generator with gas twice a day to insure that the computer would run nonstop comparing the DNA strands. He compared these computations to finding a needle in a haystack, but he was convinced that he could narrow the possible suspects to a manageable few, depending on the size and species of the genetic sampling.
The sight of Gunner’s dead wife never ceased to offend me. On the days Rick allowed me inside, I would often pull up a chair next to her and simply observe her peripatetic jerking and fits of mastication. It seemed with each passing day she weakened and became less animated than before. She began to move in what seemed like slow motion. Her eyes did not fluctuate as wildly as before and she never made eye contact with me, instead staring off into the distance. I assumed that her brain was being starved to death, but Rick held a different view. He’d taken samples from her and had discovered that far from dying, her cells were going into what could best be described as a state of hibernation. In this hibernating state they were busy replenishing and fortifying with a new form of cellular activity he’d never before seen—a cellular activity that appeared so strange and complex that even he couldn’t understand the dynamics of the process. Rather than stimulate my intellectual curiosity, it made me want more than ever to put a bullet in her brain and end her misery. I envisioned her soul to be in a state of flux until the time came when the entirety of her being could be laid to rest.
Other than these developments, I had no idea what other discoveries Rick had made down there. He was not forthcoming about his findings. His massive journal filled me with both trepidation and fear—and made me optimistic that a cure might be discovered. I found myself wondering about the ideas, formulas and theories he’d written in that book of his. I began to regard his journal with an almost mystical awe, wondering if he would ever let me read it. And yet at other times, I had no interest whatsoever in reading it, fearful that it might reveal a Pandora’s Box of horrors, of which I was not mentally equipped to handle. A nonbeliever, Rick was able to keep an open mind and be as unbiased as possible when it came to learning what nature had in store for us, both good and bad. In my case, ignorance was bliss and I prayed constantly, begging God to watch over us. It was faith that got me through each day. Faith was my crutch and I was glad to have it.
Thorn continued to avail himself to Rick’s supply of alcohol, which he kept stored in the barn and which he had to bring back to the house in order to thaw. Thorn was a sloppy drunk and when Rick found out that his stash was being looted, he put a lock on the barn door and controlled all access to the beer, wine and spirits. At first Thorn complained about getting shut off, but when he realized that this was how it was going to be, he stopped drinking altogether and embraced a more militant attitude toward his health. He took up exercising with me in the morning. When we finished, he would go outside and shovel snow for hours on end. Exhausted, I would stare out the window and watch him. Some days he tossed snow for hours, eventually staggering inside, his clothes drenched in sweat. Thorn’s body underwent a noticeable transformation during this period. Where before he was tall and lean, now his biceps began to bulge and his lats formed a perfect V that tapered down to a thin waist. In short, he resembled an Olympic swimmer.
This was how we spent the winter. Did I mention that there was much crying? We cried all the time. After awhile we stopped being ashamed about crying in front of each other. The kids cried loud and often. Kate and I often leaned on each other’s shoulders and wept in long, sorrowful sessions. Rick did it in the privacy of his basement when he thought no one was listening. But I would sometimes wander downstairs, where I could hear his hyperventilating gasps. He grieved for his wife and the future they had lost, and he hoped to find part of her remains come spring so that he could spread her ashes on her favorite part of the farm. Surprisingly, Thorn cried as much as anyone, though his crying jags were usually quick and violent, and then followed by an act of bravado that was a veiled attempt to disguise his vulnerability.
The only one who didn’t cry, or who I never witnessed crying, was Dar. She moved inward while the rest of us hung out our emotions for all to see. It was almost as if she were using this crisis to gain strength and vitality from the cruelness bearing down upon us. Her self-confidence soared. Where before she harbored many fears and insecurities, the outbreak appeared to give Dar a reason to live. Everything from her past fell away as easily as a snake shed its skin. Her history got erased—only the present existed. She became a secular zealot and wanted nothing more than to save the world by killing the dead.
Thorn tattooed the words “BORN TO KILL! across her back. “I was born to kill fuckers,” she could often be heard saying. She said it so often and with such passion that it soon became second nature to us to refer to the dead as fuckers. The term became as much a part of our vocabulary as anything else in the wintry days that we were holed up in the farmhouse. I wanted them to disappear from the face of the earth so that the world would revert to its normal state and we could return home and reunite with our families. The resumption of normalcy was my ultimate goal. I wanted to sit behind my desk and write novels. But Dar wanted nothing to do with her previous life. She had her own plans for the future, and I had a sinking feeling that they didn’t include me.
“It’s never going to be the same once this situation dies down,” Rick said to me one night, shaking his head. “In fact my belief is that it’s all going to get worse—a lot worse, before it gets any better.”
“You’re such a pessimist.”
“Not a pessimist, Thom, a realist. A scientist who looks at things objectively and without bias.” He laughed. “Think that big fat bank account of yours is going to be waiting for you when you return to Boston? You can forget about that nest egg.”
“Once the government gets control over this situation the financial system will return to normal, and everything will revert to the way it was.”
“Ha! That’s even more farfetched than your belief in an afterlife. You’re truly naïve if you believe that, Thom. The almighty dollar is gone, a relic in the footnotes of monetary history. Only food, water and fuel will be currency in the new order of things.”
“Why do you always have to be in competition with me, Rick? Just because I’ve made more money than you?”
“It’s not about competition or money. The truth is that you wagered all your money on a losing pony. But the good news, brother, is that you’re alive and well with someone who wagered correctly.”
It killed me inside to admit it, but my brother was right. Rick had made the correct call in moving up here. He’d gone back to the land where food, shelter and water reigned supreme. My millions of dollars were worthless, other than fuel for the fireplace or wiping the shit off our asses. But I had faith on my side, and I spoke directly to my creator. Faith was the currency that kept me spiritually and mentally afloat.
And then the snow started to melt.
And I knew we were all screwed.
Purchase the book HERE!