Copyright © 2012 by Leigh Fischer
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission of the publisher.
Edition: September 2012
We were the first to have access. We were the first see the signs and symptoms. But we were too self absorbed with when the next party was and who was sleeping with whom to understand the impact or predict the outcome. To us, the world was always on the verge of ending. Every time we had a fight with a friend or saw our crush flirting with our arch nemesis, we were certain that we would not live to see another day. So when the zombies came, they had to take a number and get in line behind every other daily crisis.
Beyond our typical teenage narcissism, we were also the generation that was told we could be and do whatever we wanted. We grew up with technology unimaginable by those before us. With the internet and the explosion of smart phones, tablets, and social networks; we had instant information and instant feedback. So when the apocalypse happened and society as we knew it collapsed, we were the hardest hit. We had never known loss or pain. We had never known struggle or hard times. We were the most vulnerable, with the most to lose. We had no skills that would translate to survival. As it turned out, surfing YouTube and clicking cows on FarmVille were not abilities that would prepare us for the end of the world.
Skill-less as we were, the fact that we did endure is a testament to our generation; a testament to our creativity, our determination, and our sheer unwillingness to accept anything less than what we were promised and rightfully owed.
This is my story of how I survived the apocalypse.
“What happened after I left?” I texted, sprawled on the couch in the dark living room. I let the phone fall to my chest and waited for it to buzz. I dropped my hand to the floor and groped for my box of Fruit Loops.
Being practically seniors, my friends and I had decided that we would have lunch outside. Seniors were granted the distinct privilege of spending their lunch period outside. It was a perfect spring day, clear and sunny; with all the prophesy of a promising summer. And like I said, we were practically seniors anyway.
The Girl’s soccer field was divorced from the main campus, a short walk down a dirt path surrounded by tall pines. It was secluded and unlikely that we would be noticed by any teachers or actual seniors. I lay stretched out, about midfield, daydreaming in the sun.
“Get up J! You’re on my team. No lollygaggin’ today!”
I opened my eyes to find Mitch standing over me with his yellow wiffleball bat hovering inches above my nose.
“I’m not playing . . . and get out of my sun.” I closed my eyes and returned to ignoring him. I felt the cool plastic prod me once in the middle of my forehead. Eyes closed, I swatted it as I would an irritating fly.
“Bullshit. You’re playing, whether you want to or not!” He was persistent and replaced the prod with a thump.
That was enough to get me going. I jumped to my feet and wrenched the bat from his grip. I hopped into the ready position and took a hard swing, hitting him square on the elbow. I spun around and took another swing. I released the bat mid arc and sent it spinning and whistling through the air.
“How’s that for playing?” I watched him rub his elbow. His grin told me that he knew he had already won. I couldn’t stay mad at a dope like him for long. I eased my scowl into a thin lipped smile and turned to retrieve the bat.
Through three innings Mitch and I, with the help of Tina and two other juniors that I knew by name only, had managed to hold a two run lead.
Tank stepped up to the chemistry book that served as home plate. At a towering six foot two and weighing in at the same as a small truck, the little yellow bat looked ridiculous next to his massive frame. Mitch, from behind the plate, whistled something about Tank’s speed making him an easy out.
I began my wind-up; I exaggerated my leg kick hoping to fake him out with a nice easy underhand toss. Before I could finish, Tank stepped away from the plate. His eyes had grown wide as his posture straightened. Intently, he watched something behind me.
The at-bat team grew quiet and those of us in the field turned to follow their gaze.
I caught sight of our target, hidden among the trees on the other side of the field. “The Creeper . . .” I muttered.
“What the hell is he doin’ here?” Tank asked with a challenge in his voice.
“Shouldn’t he be building bombs or something?” Tina chided.
Tank settled it. “Let’s go find out.”
As our pack headed across the field my watched beeped, signaling the top of the hour and jogging my memory.
“Shit . . . guys, I gotta go. One more tardy and they’re gonna suspend me,” I yelled over my shoulder as I sprinted in the other direction towards the school.
My phone vibrated, bringing me back to the dark living room. Tina had responded with three rapid fire messages.
“we followed him back to school”
“tank was right on his ass”
“kept proddin him with the bat”
I shoved a handful of Fruit Loops into my mouth and imagined Tank tailing the skinny little Creeper, with the rest of the crew following behind. I heard the back door open and close.
“J! Are you home?” Mom yelled from the entryway.
“Eh,” I acknowledged.
She went from room to room, flicking on lights. “Why are you sitting in the dark?”
“Meh, phone’s backlit.”
She sighed. “Could you at least pretend to be doing homework when your dad gets home?”
“Too late. I’m already home. And I am already pissed. Jennifer! Kitchen! Now!” Dad announced from the front door.
With his head still in the refrigerator, he pointed to a chair as I sulked into the kitchen.
“I ran into Beth today. She says you’re flunkin’ chemistry.”
I scowled. As luck would have it, my chemistry teacher lived in our neighborhood, grew up with my dad and was still good friends with him. She loved to tell him about my mediocre performance in her awful class. I was certain that her relationship with my father was an infringement upon my teacher/student confidentially privileges.
“I’m not failing. I have a good solid D.”
Chewing on some sort of leftover meat hauled from the fridge, he furrowed his brow. “Same thing.”
Dad was a solid guy, thickly muscled through his shoulders and neck. With his tight cropped hair and dark eyes he could easily pass for a Marine or some other uptight military hard-ass. He had no patience for failure in any form.
“If you want to live in this house, and eat our food, and talk on my cell phone -”
I began to protest, but he quickly reasserted his point. “MY CELL PHONE! If you want to throw away opportunity and waste your education, you are going to work.”
I had only been half listening, but my interest was suddenly piqued at the mention of work.
Dad had always said that it was his and Mom’s responsibility to work and provide for the family. It was my responsibility to get an education. I had my whole life to work. And my whole high school career to be broke.
“Wait, you’re gonna let me get a job?” The words were barely out of my mouth before I was texting Tina to see if she could get me an opening at the yacht club where she worked.
“But you said -”
“I said you are going to work, I said nothing about you getting a job.”
My cell buzzed back from Tina, but I just stared in confusion at my father with his glinting eyes. He smiled wide, exposing his pleasure with my bewilderment.
When he had decided that he had tortured me enough, Dad nodded to a paper bag sitting in the corner. He said that he had gotten me a gift to go with my new found responsibility. Peering, hesitantly, into the bag I immediately understood my father’s words. I flung a string of profanity at him as I stormed off to my bedroom and barricaded the door, stopping only momentarily to glare at my laughing mother.
Timothy Cooper had grown up in a nondescript fishing town at the end of the Earth. His father and grandfather had both been fishermen and had lived their entire lives in that little fishing village. It was a family first when Timothy went to college; his grandfather hadn’t even finished high school.
After graduation, Timothy moved to Washington DC and began what could have been a successful career as a top aerospace engineer. But after a few years he tired of bustling city life and longed for the monotony of small town life. He moved back to Podunkville and married a girl from high school. He raised a son and a daughter.
When he first moved back, he did odd jobs around town to provide an income. He worked as a plumber, an electrician, a welder, and a mechanic. He was a true jack of all trades. But that wasn’t enough for him, he was still missing something. That’s when he started going to sea with the local fleet. He went long lining for tuna and dragging for cod. During the summer he would hire on as a sternman on a lobster boat. Shrimp season was one of his favorites. The catch was plentiful enough that, had they not threatened mutiny, he could have fed his family on shrimp alone. And the captains gladly took him aboard; he was strong, a hard worker, and they appreciated having a mechanic aboard.
However, he found his place when he took to digging clams. He could be home with his family every night. He relied only on his own strength and ambition; no engines, no machinery, no captains or crew. It was just him, the gulls, and the crabs playing in the mud. His love of digging only grew when he realized that he could use it to make me miserable and pay me back for being a troublesome teenager.
The bag had contained a pair of rubber hip boots and a clam hoe.
For the uninitiated, there are two pieces of equipment required to be a digger: hip boots and a clam hoe.
Hip boots are less of a piece of equipment and more of a fashion statement. They are heavy rubber boots that reach to the crotch. They keep out the mud and water and make navigating the mud flats easier. But the absolute best part about hip boots is that they are two in one. You can wear them digging, but you can also roll them down and wear them around town. They clearly say ‘I’m a working man and I know how to look good.’
The clam hoe, on the other hand, is definitely a piece of equipment. It is a bastardized pitchfork; the head having been removed from the original handle and remounted on a shorter one, about a foot long. In addition to the shorter handle, the head is mounted perpendicular to the handle as opposed to inline, as it was when it was a pitchfork. In order to provide leverage in heavy mud, the tines are then bent downward to curve slightly back towards the handle.
Every digger has his preference: some swear by four tines; others prefer six; some like a flatter, wider tine; others like them thin and needle-like.
My father, he didn’t trust the ones you bought at the general store or the marine supply store. No, he would go inland to the farming supply store and buy the most rugged, four pronged, needle pointed pitchfork he could find and rebuild it himself. A stamped Chinese steel clam hoe never made it into his collection.
He made it clear that I should consider myself lucky to have a Tim Cooper original.
If I hated anything worse than my father, it was digging.
As a kid in a fishing town I had been clamming. When we were little, my brother and I would run around and fling mud at each other while our parents dug a mess of clams for dinner. But I had never before been digging.
I spent the first half of my summer vacation bent over a hole, up to my knees and elbows in stinking black mud. It stained my clothes and hands. It was sweltering when the sun was out and frigid on the days when it rained or when we dug after sunset.
It was awful, backbreaking work. We could only dig on the low tides and the tides do not yield to a teenager’s sleep patterns. Dad would wake me before the sun was up and drag me out to the flats. Sometimes we would dig the night tides, trudging through the mud at midnight, while my friends were out partying the summer away.
During my first week out, I was texting and walking the flats. Not paying attention, I stepped into a honey pot: a deep soupy sucking mess, the digger’s quicksand. I fell forward, thrown off balance, by my leg being sucked in thigh deep. I tried to pull myself out, only to find my hands sinking into the muck. I began to panic and scream. Laughing, Dad stepped up behind me and deftly hauled me from my doom. He even managed to salvage the boot that had been left behind. But my phone was long gone; dinner for the crabs. After that I got what my Dad dubbed the Fisherman’s Special: ultra basic, ultra cheap and ultra lame.
By the first of July I was exhausted and had blisters that made even the most routine of manual tasks painful. By mid-July my blisters had burst and I learned how to grit my teeth and bear a mild oozing infection. By the end of July, my wounds had become callused and my back and arms strong enough to survive a day on the flats. I had all but given up trying to get the mud out of my ears, nose, and fingernails. I was ready for summer to be over. I was ready to go back to school. I wanted nothing more than to spend a day sitting at a desk listening to a teacher drone on about anything other than clams, even Chemistry.
I had only seen my friends sporadically. I was too tired and they were too busy.
“J?” Dad stirred sugar into his coffee.
“Whaaa?” I had been mere seconds from passing out and doing a face plant into my cereal.
“Eric is coming home tonight.”
“He’s going island camping. He asked if you and your friends wanted to go.”
“Gotta werrrk,” I groaned like the dead.
“You’ve been working hard all summer. Take the rest of the week off.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yea, you’ve earned it. Spend some time with your brother and your friends.”
“Can I go back to bed now?”
He smiled and jerked his thumb over his shoulder giving me the go ahead. I sprinted back to the comfort of my bed and went into hibernation for the next twelve hours.
When I returned to the world of the living Eric was rummaging through the pantry. “Hey there mud monster. How was your nap?”
“Are you just going to harass me all weekend?”
“Why else would I invite you to go camping with me?”
“Because you’re lame and want to borrow my friends to cover up for you not having any.”
“Ouch. You cut me deep, Sis,” Eric said, “but there may be a touch of truth to it. Everyone from school either went home or is on some amazing adventure.” He sighed and slopped some peanut butter on a slice of bread.
Two years older than me, Eric had just finished his freshman year of college at a pseudo-military school upstate. They wore uniforms, marched, and played military games but most of the students would never actually serve. The student body was made up of Eagle Scouts, outdoor enthusiasts, paintballers, survivalists, hard-line protectors of the second amendment, and even a few militant fanatics.
My brother fit in perfectly. Mr. AJ Squared Away was an Eagle Scout, president of his high school class, valedictorian, and every other amazing honor that could be bestowed upon his greatness. He even looked the part. Though a little on the scrawny side from lacking the lifetime of hard physical labor, he was the spitting image of our father; square jawed with dark eyes that could crush your soul when he really wanted to be an ass.
“So we are going to head out to the island tomorrow afternoon. Do you want to call the guys and assign some supplies for them to pick up?” Eric asked.
“No. If I left shopping up to them we would end up with nothing but Slim Jims and Ring Dings. I‘ve called everyone and they are all down. They’re just gonna throw some cash my way.”
“Ok. I’ll take care of rounding up our gear and in a couple of hours I’m gonna head out to the island to set up a couple of tents and stake our claim.”
“Sounds like a plan. I will double check to make sure everyone has sleeping bags and tents but you might want to throw a spare bag on the pile. I know someone will forget something.”
Eric grunted as he lifted a fully loaded cooler onto the twenty-one foot Boston Whaler. “Jeeze, you think you got enough food? There’s enough here to feed an army.”
I grinned. I may have gone a little overboard. If it could be eaten cold, grilled, or cooked over an open fire, I bought it. Tank had specifically requested an entire case of hot dogs. I followed those up with hamburgers, chicken, kielbasa, cans of chili, various chips and dips, marshmallows, a couple of cases of soda, bottled water and Gatorade. Basically, all the necessities for a great island party and camping trip. I was wicked excited and looking forward to the first and possibly last opportunity for me to have a summer vacation.
Just as we finished loading the boat, Tina trotted down the ramp and joined us on the float. “I parked behind the Eric-mobile.”
Eric nodded. “That’s fine, as long as you didn’t block Mom or Dad in.”
Tina had been my best friend since before we could remember. We lived in the same town and our dads had fished and worked together. She was tall with a slight frame, freckles, green eyes, and a hair color that changed with each passing whim. This week it was bleached nearly white, but it may have been from living in the summer sun rather than chemicals.
“Permission to come aboard, Captain?” She winked and tossed her duffle bag at me.
“Granted,” my brother responded, without the slightest hint of sarcasm.
Tina climbed aboard and we let loose the lines. Eric slowly motored us away from the dock and out of the cove. We passed an exposed ledge with a herd of harbor seals lying in the sun, barking from time to time. The water was like glass except for where it was disturbed by a diving gull or our own wake.
I sat on the stern rail staring up into the sky, watching puffy white clouds roll by and sunning myself like the seals. The air was salty and fresh, not like the stinking and stagnant mud to which I had grown accustomed over the last six weeks. Suddenly, I was pulled from my daydream by the roaring of the outboard beside me and a forceful jerk pulling my legs out from beneath me, leaving my upper body behind. One minute I was sitting peacefully and the next I was in free fall. The chilling water sucked the breath out of my chest as I splashed down. Eric had goosed the throttle, dumping me off the boat.
“I’m gonnaaa keeeel you!” I shrieked, treading water awkwardly in my now heavy clothes.
Eric spun the boat around and hauled up beside me; his grin was ear to ear and his eyes were squinted into tiny crescents. Tina was in hysterics, holding her sides and gasping for breath.
Eric reached over the gunwale and pulled me aboard. “You have your swim suit on anyway. Besides, you should have been paying more attention.”
“You are absolutely right. You were just looking out for me. You are such a good big brother.” I gave him a big soggy bear hug, squeezing just as much water onto his clothes as possible.
Once Tina had regained her composure she handed me a towel. I shook my head. “Forget it, might as well get some rays,” I said and peeled of my dripping t-shirt.
The run to the island took about fifteen minutes from my parent’s house. It was just one of many, scattered throughout the bay, but this one was perfect. It was a small horseshoe shaped island, with a well protected cove. It could hold five or six tents comfortably and was well wooded, providing shade and protection from the wind. There was a much larger island to the east that blocked our island from the winds and waves of the open ocean.
Eric carefully nosed the bow into the sand at the head of the cove. After unloading the gear we pushed off and went to go pick up the rest of the campers.
We pulled into the yacht club where Tina worked during the summer months. Mitch, Tank, and Crystal were already waiting at the end of a float for us. They tossed their gear aboard and stepped over the gunwale. The deck was still slick from the water that had come aboard from my impromptu swim and it caught Mitch off guard. His foot slid out from beneath him and he landed with a hard crash on his tailbone.
I snorted. “Smooth. What’s with the PFD, Marine Patrol?”
“Huh?” He looked confused as he climbed to his feet.
“The lifejacket. Why are you wearing that? Even Captain Safety here doesn’t wear one,” I said, pointing to my brother.
Mitch was wearing a bright orange horse-collar life jacket that would have kept him afloat in a hurricane. “I don’t swim well or care much for the water, you know that. Besides, Tina texted me a picture of what already happened to you.”
I glowered. “Whatever, let’s get going.”
Back on the island we had finished setting up tents and were sitting around the fire pit, heckling Eric as he tried to work his Boy Scout magic and get us a fire.
I noted that Tina and Mitch were snuggled up next to each other with their backs against a fallen log. I raised an eyebrow. “When did this happen?”
“While you were busy playing in the mud,” Tina said.
I ignored the zing. “‘Bout time, it sure took you guys long enough.”
Tank whistled. “Amen to that sister.”
Eric nodded in agreement. We turned our attention back to the fireless fire pit and returned to harassing the Boy Scout.
“Have you guys heard about the flu outbreak down south?”Crystal asked. It seemed to be the first time she had spoken all night. She was not part of our usual group. I had only met her once or twice before. She and Eric knew each other from high school and would get together occasionally when they were home. She seemed like a nice enough girl, but we didn’t know her and hadn’t exactly done anything to change that.
Everyone gave a nod of vague acknowledgment except for me.
I was completely lost. “The clams don’t talk much. I don’t think they have the internet either. Or maybe they do, now that they have my Droid.” I pouted over the loss of my phone, but when no one seemed to care or feel my pain, I continued. “So what’s the deal? Another swine flu scare?”
“Maybe it’s just another scare.” She appeared to be scanning something on her phone. “But it seems different. Quieter. It’s not getting the same media attention, but seems to be equally dangerous, if not more so.”
The sun had long been down and the night air was cool on my back. The fire flickered and popped. Tank threw the skeleton of a dead tree on the fire. It roared up and I backed my chair away from the sudden increase in heat.
“It’s weird. Information seems so . . . so conflicting,” she said.
“What are the symptoms?” Usually I would have been uninterested. The Flu is for the old and disenfranchised. I might get sick, but a couple days in bed and some NyQuil and I would be golden. But in this setting, Crystal was telling a ghost story.
“Mostly the usual: fever, nausea and vomiting. But then the information gets vague. It seems that people are experiencing debilitating pain. They become delirious, disoriented, and confused. There have been accounts of patients becoming violent. There have been deaths. A lot of them.”
Everyone leaned in, waiting for her to continue. Apparently everyone had heard about the flu, but no one had listened.
“This is far too morbid for me.” Tina stood up and stretched. “I’m going to bed.”
“Me too!” Mitch jumped up enthusiastically.
I eyed them scrupulously. “Am I not sleeping in Tina’s tent?”
Tina’s eyes dropped to her feet and Mitch focused on a spot behind me and slightly to the left.
“I’ve got plenty of room in my tent,” Tank offered up with a slight edge of hopefulness.
“I’m not sleeping with Tank,” I dismissed quickly.
“You’ll sleep with me,” Crystal said.
I had completely forgotten about her as an option. I hadn’t even given one though to her or my brother’s sleeping arrangements. I glanced at Eric and his eyes were clouded with the recognition that he would be remaining firmly in the friend zone for the night.
I grabbed my sleeping bag out of Tina’s tent.
She was standing nearby quietly. “Are you mad?”
“I’m not mad. I’m just . . . just disappointed,” I said. I turned and walked away, smiling to myself. I had pulled off the perfect mom voice. Hopefully it would make her feel too guilty to do anything stupid. Or at the very least, keep her from subjecting the rest of us to her stupid.
I crawled into the tent, arranged my mat and pillow, and slithered into my sleeping bag.
Crystal was already in hers. “I like him, you know?” Eric’s shadow was thrown up on the tent wall as he watched the fire die.
“I’ve liked him for a while. That’s why I came out here.
“But he has to work harder if he wants me. I think he just assumed I would come out here and bunk up with him. Oh so romantic. He hasn’t even taken me out on a proper date yet. We just hang around in groups.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t have to tell me about my brother’s arrogance. I knew it firsthand. But, he was still my brother and I didn’t need to go on a tirade to the object of his affection. “The look on his face was priceless.”
Crystal snorted. Maybe I would like this girl that could be interested in my brother without swooning like an idiot.
“Are you still awake?” I asked softly. I didn’t want to wake her.
“Yea,” she said. She sounded more alert than I had expected. “What’s up?”
“You never mentioned how it spreads.”
There was a slight pause before she answered. “ No one seems to know.”
“Oh . . . wait? What do you mean?”
“Well, there doesn’t seem to be an ‘official’ consensus. And like I said earlier, there isn’t a whole lot of information out there.”
“But someone must know.” It was one thing for me to be in the dark, but something entirely different for the professionals to not know.
“There is one thing that does seem consistent. Close proximity. People who are becoming infected have had close contact with someone else that was sick; a family member, a friend or a co-worker. With how fast it seems to be spreading, they’re saying it is probably air borne. Blood borne pathogens don’t transfer this quickly. They take time to cultivate.”
“You say that there isn’t much information out there, but you seem to know a lot about it.”
“Hmph, I wish,” she scoffed.
“Why? I mean what’s it to you? We live out in the middle of nowhere. Even if it hits us, there are too few of us and we are too spread out for it to be a big deal like in the cities down south.”
“True . . .” Her hesitation was painful, drawing me in further.
“My cousin, really she is more like an older sister to me. I am an only child and we grew up together. When we were young, we were as close as two kids can be. She was my best friend. Still is. Anyway, she is a nurse in a big hospital in Boston. Last week she called me.
“For the most part it was a pretty routine conversation. You know, asking about my parents and school and all the normal stuff. But then she starts talking about some of her patients and the weird symptoms she has been seeing. That triggered alarm bells. When we talk it’s rarely about work and when it is, it’s never in detail.
“She sounded worried. There was a definite edge in her voice. She told me to trust the rumors. What kind of medical professional says that?”
I shook my head pointlessly in the dark.
“Anyway, that was last week. I haven’t heard from her since. I’ve tried to call her a couple of times, but haven’t been able to reach her.”
“And that’s odd? You talk to her often?”
“Usually two or three times a week.”
“Well she’s bound to be busy.” I tried to sound nonchalant. I don’t think it worked.
We lay in an uneasy silence for a while. She was ready for the question when I asked it. “What rumors?”
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