Suburban Survival

It’s been very cold here the last few weeks and my creative thoughts have been mostly absorbed by crafting instead of writing. But I finally put the finishing touches on Chapter 2 of my zombie book and have changed the working title to Suburban Survival. I’m sure the title will change at least four more times before the book is finished. If you haven’t read Chapter 1 yet, make sure you go back a post and catch up before reading this one. I hope you enjoy the further adventures of our heroine and her family. Leave me a comment and let me know what you like about it (or hate about it. I have a thick skin. I can take it.)

Chapter 2: Surreal Block Party

Josh and I stood there stupidly with our hands in the air while the kids crowded us from behind. Kate was sniffling and I could feel Andrew trembling at my side. We waited for the shots to come and I couldn’t help thinking we’d have been better off just staying home.

“We just want to get to our camper,” Josh said. His soft words echoed off the metal doors of the storage units. “That’s all. We’ll hook it up and be on our way.” I wasn’t entirely sure where we would go but I thought Josh was smart to say it.

More people appeared from behind buildings and the vehicles parked in the storage spaces. I don’t know how we hadn’t heard them when we pulled up but we were pretty focused on surviving the biters outside. I recognized some of the adults and was glad to see some kids there as well. Maybe humanity will survive this after all, I thought.

The man pointing the rifle at us didn’t look familiar but he lowered the weapon and nodded to the others to do the same. Andrew and Kate came out from behind their dad and waved at some classmates in the crowd. Breathing a little easier, I thought maybe we would survive this too.

“I’m Brent Wilkins,” the man said after climbing down from the roof. “I lived on Rushing Rain Court.”

“Josh Bennett,” my husband said, “my wife, Samantha, and our kids, Kate and Andrew. Until a few minutes ago, we lived on Whispering Brook Lane.”

“Sorry for the unwelcome welcome but we had to make sure you weren’t here to hurt us or steal our supplies,” Brent said.

“It’s understandable,” I said. “We didn’t think anyone would be here but I’m glad to see so many others have made it this far.” I looked around the crowd. There were maybe 20 adults and half as many kids standing around, staring at us. Most of the grownups looked rough but the kids, being resilient little buggers, appeared to be faring much better with the bizarre turn our lives had taken. I was sure many of the families eying us had lost loved ones in the last few weeks — wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, all gone in a matter of days in a way no one ever really expected. Josh and I had joked about a zombie invasion over the years but never believed it would actually happen.

There had never been an official explanation for where these monsters had come from. We didn’t know what had caused the dead to reanimate or where the outbreak had first started. Rumors were abundant in the early days. The outbreak was attributed to everything from aliens to a bioterrorism attack by our own or another country’s military. The only thing we knew for sure was that we had to survive and we had to protect Kate and Andrew from the nightmare. Our kids had grown up in the comfortable confines of the suburbs. They had never had to go without necessities and hadn’t had to worry about their safety before this insanity was thrust upon those of us still living. I was proud of the way they were handling themselves and realized they would probably adjust better to this new world than Josh or I would.

“You’re welcome to stay here. Go get settled into your camper and then we can talk some more later,” Brent said.

Our assigned parking place was toward the back of the lot and as we drove that way I saw that some of the other trailers had been occupied. I hoped we would find ours empty because I didn’t want to have to confront a squatter after just fighting zombies. I was tired and just wanted to sit on the couch for a few minutes. I murmured as much to Josh who nodded his agreement. As we approached our Fun Finder — I hated the name as much as I loved the trailer — I saw the living area slide was already out. I nudged Josh and he placed one of his zombie killer knives in his lap. Telling the kids to stay in the car, we made our way to the door of the camper. The inside door was open but the screen door was closed. I heard singing from inside and thought I recognized the voice. I eased open the screen and tried to step lightly up the stairs. The whole trailer swayed under my weight and the person sitting at the dinette looked up.

I dropped my pistol to my side and rushed forward. “Beth!” I said. “I’m so glad to see you,” and wrapped her in a hug. I’m not normally a huggy person but I was so relieved to see my best friend from the neighborhood that I couldn’t help myself. I had been trying to reach her since this all began but the phones had been one of the first utilities to go. Even though she only lived a block away, the monsters had made it too dangerous to venture down the street to her house.

“Where are the kids? Where’s David? How did you get here” I asked her.

“The kids are here,” Beth said, “but I don’t know where David is. He was at the hospital when it got really bad and I haven’t seen him since.”

I hugged her again. “I’m sure he’s okay. He just hasn’t been able to get here yet,” I said. She nodded but the tears in her eyes said she wasn’t convinced. She shook her head and wiped away the moisture. Our new reality didn’t leave room for self-pity or indulging in doubts. Only the strong would survive in this world.

“I hope you don’t mind that we took over your camper,” Beth said. “We got here not long after this started and I saw that the others were breaking into the trailers. I didn’t want yours to get hijacked so I took it instead, knowing you’d make it here eventually.”

I rolled my eyes in answer because, of course, I didn’t care. “So what’s with this Brent guy?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Beth said. “He was already here when we got here. He seems alright but there’s something about him I don’t like. I can’t even tell you what it is but there’s something off.”

I knew exactly what she was talking about. Not about Brent specifically because I’d only had one short conversation with him but there were a lot of people in our area that I felt that way about. They were nice enough on the surface but you got the feeling there wasn’t a whole lot under the surface. I had never really fit in with the other women in the neighborhood. I didn’t have much in common with them. I didn’t care about the same things they did. While they were busy shopping and hanging out at the country club, I was tramping about in the wilderness with all my gear strapped to my back. They didn’t understand me and the feeling was mutual. Beth and I became fast friends in our mutual dislike of the superficiality of our suburban stomping grounds. Our children quickly banded together, too.

“Anyway, you’ll see,” Beth said. “Nearly everyone here gathers together for meals so you can judge for yourself.”

We sent the kids out to play in the relative safety of the storage yard while Josh and I brought in the supplies from the Jeep. Beth told us that she and her kids, Olivia, Eliza and Wade, drove here before the power went out. She knew the code to open our garage door because  Olivia had taken care of our diabetic cat when we were out of town. Hoping we used the same code for access to the camper, Beth risked all their lives to get somewhere safer. The large windows of the houses in our subdivision had been big selling points before the zombies but were now liabilities when trying to defend against the monsters.

Josh, Beth and I unloaded the supplies from the car and tried to find places for all the goods in the tiny storage areas in the camper. Beth filled us in on the workings of the storage-yard society.

“Meals here are a potluck,” she said, “everyone brings a dish to share. You take your own plates and utensils and such because there aren’t any extras. It’s bizarre because it feels like a block party but you can still hear the moans of the biters outside the fence.”

The three of us sat relaxing under the awning of the camper, shaded from the bright sun, and watched the kids play games on the pavement. Seeing the kids make up games with what toys they had reminded me of my own childhood before electronics were as all-consuming as they had been just a few weeks ago. I smiled to myself as I was again reminded that the younger ones would adjust much easier than the adults. It was a pleasant afternoon despite the creepy sounds coming from the other side of the fence.

For our first meal in the community, I cooked up three cans of baked beans to share with the others. I debated with myself about how much to share because, although we were well-stocked at the moment, it wouldn’t last forever. I didn’t want to seem like I was holding out but I also didn’t want to use up our entire food supply in three days.

Folding tables had been set up in the open area by the main gate. Casseroles made from canned meat and vegetables were in abundance on the first table. Only a few weeks into this nightmare and I already missed fresh meat and vegetables. If this went on much longer, I’d have to learn to hunt and garden. Side dishes filled the second table and desserts were crowded onto the third. Beth was right; it was a block party, complete with people laughing and drinking and kids playing. The only thing missing was the smell of grilling burgers and hot dogs. My stomach growled at that memory and I hoped we’d get to eat soon.

Brent gave the signal and we all lined up to fill our plates. Folding camp chairs and blankets served as dining areas. I looked around at the members of our new community, noting the ones I recognized and wondering about those I didn’t. I listened to the conversations drifting around me and was surprised no one was discussing the situation outside the walls. It seems like my new neighbors were determined to pretend this really was nothing more than a block party. One gathering was talking politics as if a government still existed and another was talking about their favorite TV show as if the cable was coming back on any second.

“Does anyone here talk about it?” I asked Beth.

“Not really,” she answered. “They all just act like everything is normal.”

“But our supplies won’t hold out forever,” I said. “Has anyone discussed what to do when that happens?”

She shook her head and turned away, ending our conversation. Beth never shied away from a discussion so I was a little confused that she did now. I’ll ask her later when we’re back at the camper, I thought, and decided to join the group in temporarily ignoring the problems outside.

I was dismayed to find more than a can of beans left in the pan I’d brought to the dinner as the meal ended. I looked at the rest of the containers on the table and found almost all of them still held food. Without electricity there was no way to keep the leftovers. All of this is going to go to waste, I realized. We cannot keep doing this. I picked up my beans and decided to force feed the rest to my family and friends. No way was I going to let them go bad. I hated baked beans but I’d eat some, too, just on principle.

That night we cleaned up the kids as best we could with baby wipes and dry shampoo. I’d give nearly anything for an actual hot shower. A week ago, I’d finally broken down and used some of our precious bottled water to wash everyone’s hair but we were all looking pretty greasy again.

“Let’s take a walk,” Beth said, as we closed the door to the kids’ bunk room. “We can do a few laps around the yard.” The kids were asleep and safe enough so the three of us set out.

We strolled past the tents and campers into an area of the compound that didn’t yet have any residents. Beth glanced around. “I’m sorry I cut you off earlier. Like I said when you first came in, there’s something strange happening here. I don’t know what it is but if you try to talk with people about saving food or water, they look at you like they have no idea what you’re talking about.

“I’ve tried to discuss this with Brent but he shuts the conversation down even faster than the others. It just seems off and I don’t understand it. I get the feeling that if you question things too much they’ll send you outside. I didn’t want to keep talking during dinner and all of us have a problem later if things get even weirder.”

Beth’s uneasiness with the situation at the storage facility mirrored my own. That was one of the reasons I liked her so much; we were often on the same wavelength even if neither of us could put words to it. “That is odd,” Josh said. “There are no measures in place to monitor or ration supplies and I saw that no one has opened any of the lockers to see what might be inside.”

Beth bent down to tie her shoe. “The guards on the roofs keep looking this way and I don’t trust them,” she said in a low voice. “Let’s keep moving. We can discuss this later.”

The trailer was stifling as I tried to sleep that night but it wasn’t the temperature keeping me awake. I was trying to figure out why on earth Brent and the other inhabitants would choose to ignore the reality outside our fences. Nothing I came up made sense. I decided to start rationing our own things and setting out containers to collect rain water. We could use the rain water to bathe and I could always filter it if we ran out of bottled water. I finally fell asleep, comforted by knowing we would survive a little longer.