Authors: D.L. Robinson
Tags: #Post Apocalyptic
Copyright 2015 by D.L.Robinson
This book is for Mom and Dee Dee,
who were always prepared.
Thank you to Gary and Severed Press, thank you faithful reader Sandy, and special thanks to Ellen Zachos for her great book on foraging. Special thanks to my nurse friends Joanne and Shana, for their expertise. And as always, thank you James and DB.
I am starting this diary because I want to leave something behind if we don’t make it, if the whole human race is wiped out. I honestly think that’s possible now. The everyday, business-as-usual horror of this new world has made me long for normalcy, for how it used to be. Maybe it’s just a little bit of vanity on my part, but I have this terrible urge to yell, “I existed! I lived here, I mattered!” But the truth is I probably don’t matter. Or if I’m long dead when some archeologist uncovers this, maybe I should say I
The days pass so quickly now. I’m so tired, maybe that’s why. I guess the modern woman just isn’t used to physical labor any longer. Well, at least I’m not. Back in the day, when my husband and I were really young and poor, I did a lot more. I had to hang wet clothes out to dry when the washer broke, and chase after a two year old all day. That’s the last time I remember this kind of tiredness. My head used to hit the pillow and I was out. Didn’t know anything until the next day when I had to get up and do it all over again, but I never had to do anything like what I’m doing now. Finding firewood, sneaking out to the river for water; it’s hard.
I can hear my husband Lee rooting around in the basement, trying to get the old antique pot- bellied stove of my great uncle hooked up and vented out a window. It’s been down there for ages. I only took it after my folks died, when no one else wanted it. For nostalgia’s sake, I guess. I’ve always been the family hoarder—I was the one with the big house, the walk-up attic, the basement with eight foot ceilings—so I stored all the stuff no one else in the family wanted. And that old stove, I have to shake my head over that one. I remember when I was a kid my mom wanted it after my great-uncle died. This was during Mom’s “Early American” furniture phase—and she had to have the stove set up in the living room, exhaust pipe and all, “vented” out the wall above it. Fake of course, but it had to look real to achieve the effect she was going for. I wasn’t even a teen yet, but I remember my fascination with that old pot-bellied stove, the idea that my relative actually used it for cooking and heating back in the day. It turns out I needed it after all, and I’m using it just the way my great-uncle did in the 1800s. In fact, that old stove is a huge blessing very few have access to in this modern age. Never in a million years did I think I would ever use it. There are lots of things now I never thought I’d do.
I guess I had better go back to the beginning, before the greedy airlines wouldn’t stop the flights, before our modern complacency and utter denial finished the job. They call it the red death, like the old Edgar Allen Poe story. We just call the infected ones, Reds. Red eyes glaring at those who are well, red sores oozing crimson, dark red arterial blood gushing from every opening on their bodies at the end. It’s as close to zombies as the world will ever know. In some ways, I think it is worse.
Ebola. A funny name. I wish I’d never heard it.
March 10, 2015
Tara Green turned on the news in the TV room upstairs and cranked it up, planning to listen as she got ready. She and her husband didn’t use that room much anymore. Sometimes in winter when it was chilly downstairs, they would bring up their laptops and sit there in the coziness of the small space. It was just big enough for two easy chairs, her old sewing machine against one wall and a TV against the other. Two tall bookcases filled the only empty places in between. Those were full of books on various hobbies Tara had grown interested in over the years. Everything from antiques to knitting was represented, along with a lot of Stephen King, Tara’s guilty pleasure.
She had slept in that day as usual, but had some errands to run and bills to pay. The weather had finally turned warmer, a little early for March. Nevertheless, it was a nice change. As what she needed to do scrolled through her head, Tara jumped in the shower. Afterward, she dried herself off, and as she was applying moisturizer and trying not to notice the lines around her eyes, Tara heard the TV newscaster in the other room talking about Doctors Without Borders. They were a missionary group that volunteered and staffed clinics around the world, helping poor and third world countries receive good medical care. As she rubbed the cream onto her skin, she walked out of the bathroom to glance in at the TV.
“We’re trying to control the outbreak, but the burial practices of villagers are perpetuating the disease. The families of the deceased go through a ritual washing of their loved one’s bodies, and Ebola spreads mostly through bodily fluids.” The handsome young doctor appeared grave.
“So how can you get them to stop washing the bodies?” asked the reporter. The doctor sighed. “We can’t, so it is spreading, often killing within days of showing symptoms. With this strain, Ebola Zaire, up to a 90% death rate, it’s tragic. In fact, rumors among the people here are that westerners bring the virus, so they avoid us. They run away when we approach, and hide their sick relatives from us. It’s a nightmare.”
Unreal. Those poor people.
Tara finished applying the moisturizer and walked back into the bathroom. She had read about Ebola years before. It was one of the bad ones. After the first case in 1976, scientists believed it originated in bats. The initial victim had gone hiking in a cave with a lot of bat guano, and that was the only connection they could make. Ebola promptly disappeared after that first outbreak. As a newer disease, very little was known, even now. One fact was that among Africans who ate “bush meat”— bats, monkeys, rodents—every so often a person would develop fever, muscle aches, headache and sore throat. This was soon followed by profuse vomiting and diarrhea. Very few survived, and when hemorrhagic symptoms began, bleeding from the eyes, nose, and other orifices, it was usually too late. The virus actually dissolved your internal organs.
Tara listened to the young doctor on TV for a moment longer, and then went back to her routine. She finished her makeup and washed her hands, running a quick comb through her hair. But she couldn’t shake the doctor’s words— it was spreading fast and killing 90% of people, and when bleeding started, it was too late.
I imagine it’s pretty hard to recover from projectile vomiting up your liquefied internal organs. What an awful way to die.
Tara felt sorry for them, but it was all so far away in Africa, it wasn’t real. She had too many other things on her mind. And that was the first warning.
The virus had no conscience, no morals, and no compassion. It was a model of efficiency, built to overwhelm this new source of procreation. Its only purpose was to survive, multiply, and win. The extinction of the host was not even of consequence. In the final death throes, so much virus was expelled in vomit, feces and sweat, the odds of continuing its life cycle in a new host were virtually guaranteed. The bodies were so highly infectious, they had to be handled in full biohazard suits and burned.
And so it multiplied, took hold, ravaged and travelled. Person to person, surface to hand, hand to eye or mouth—one micron on the armrest of a flight from Africa; one sneeze circulating infected droplets in the enclosed cabin of the plane and 100 more victims fell within 8-21 days. Those victims infected their own quota before they died, many times even afterward.
Ebola was a brilliant, invisible killing machine.
August 26, 2015
A strange noise came from somewhere outside the house and it drew Tara away from her laptop to investigate. The new novel she had started kept her so engrossed she had ignored the sounds at first. She crossed her old-fashioned kitchen and leaned across the sink, opening a slat on the wooden blinds over the big window. The view was of her neighbor’s house just 20 feet across her drive. The neighbor’s back breezeway opened just at the passenger side of a car. An old piece of particleboard blocked the lower half of the opening, preventing their tiny dog’s escape.
Tara and her husband Lee had lived in their early 1900s house for nearly twenty years, and their neighbors were only the second family beside them in all that time. They were younger than Tara and Lee by ten years, pleasant enough and not too rowdy. This was far more important to the Green’s than anything else, the older they got. Although the neighbors weren’t what you’d call friends, both Tara and her husband had shared many conversations over a bag of groceries on the way into their house. Frank and Marla were good neighbors too, offering extra chairs at Tara’s occasional fire pit gatherings, or the use of their rototiller for Lee’s small garden patch each spring. Tara sometimes delivered a plate of cookies to their backdoor at Christmas.
Tara peered curiously through the blinds and caught movement on their patio. It was the neighbor woman, Marla. She was yelling at her husband Frank.
“You bastard! I told you I was sick,” she screeched. A huge crash followed, and Tara saw a green plastic porch chair fly past. Then a car door slammed on the other side of their house where the driveway sat, followed by the sound of squealing tires on concrete.
Now that’s weird. They never fight, let alone scream at each other!
Tara narrowed her dark eyes as she watched Marla stagger past on the patio. Alarmed now, she thought it might be the neighborly thing to do to stick her head out and see if the woman needed any help.
Tara opened her back door and crossed her tiny porch in three steps. It was walled off on Marla’s side, so with one arm wrapped around the end post, she leaned out past the wall.
“Marla, are you okay?” she called.
The sound of scuffling greeted her ears—then Marla’s white face appeared above the particleboard, but something was wrong with her. Her usual placid expression was gone, replaced by twisted frenzy. Her eyes were bright red, bloody looking almost.
“I’m sick.” Marla rasped. “Caught something in Texas.”
Tara knew the neighbors had been visiting relatives in Dallas a week or so before. Marla had asked her to keep an eye on their place while they were gone.
“Oh no. Is there anything I can do?”
“No, thanks, goin’ to bed.”
“Marla, did you hurt your eyes? They’re really red.”
Marla shrugged and wiped at one. A smear of blood came away on the back of her hand. She stared at it, dumbfounded.
Oh, my God! Blood in her eyes?
Tara’s mind pushed away this evidence, not accepting it, but Tara felt she should do something. “Are you sure you’re okay? Did Frank just leave?”
Marla nodded. “He’s sick too. But he’s goin’ after flu medicine for us,” she slurred.
Tara backed up instinctively as the ill neighbor woman leaned out her way.
Ugh. Whatever it is, I don’t want to catch it.
“Okay, well, I hope you feel better soon.”
Marla nodded and shuffled toward her back door, disappearing from view. Tara heard her gag, and then a splatter of what sounded like vomit hitting their cement patio floor.
Nothing she could do and she sure didn’t want to get some weird Texas flu bug.
Tara pulled herself back onto her porch. She pushed back her long brown hair and closed the door behind her.
She’d always had to be a bit of a germaphobe anyway due to a chronic case of Crohn’s disease. Since her immune system was kept somewhat suppressed by the meds to treat this, Tara was particularly mindful of illness around her. She had to be. She’d learned to wash her hands a lot, and to be aware of anything she touched. This caution came after years of constant illness and catching every seasonal cold and flu virus that cropped up. Tara finally realized that shopping carts, doorknobs, gas station pumps— all those innocent-seeming, everyday surfaces were teeming with germs for her. It was a hard lesson, learned young, but well learned nonetheless. These days she rarely got sick.
Back inside, Tara heard the sound of her neighbor Frank’s car returning. Not long after that, while she and Lee sat together in front of the TV, the siren of an ambulance somewhere nearby intruded. Tara didn’t put two and two together until she heard a local newscaster on the radio the next day while grocery shopping. An area woman and her husband had been taken to the hospital with a mysterious illness. They were in critical condition—in quarantine.
Tara’s hand flew to her mouth. She stopped herself just before touching her lips, glancing down at the cart handle squeamishly. She made her way to the cleaning aisle and picked up two containers of alcohol wipes. Looking around, she popped the cylinder open and took one out, wiping first her hands, then the cart handle. She dropped the used wipe in the basket and set the container back in as well. Silly maybe, but you just never knew.
Tara suddenly remembered the news saturated with a first case of Ebola in America the month before. She hadn’t paid a lot of attention, just enough to experience a cringe-worthy moment over the disease spreading to the USA. Tara’s book had been due at the time, and pushing up against the deadline was all that consumed her thoughts.
Come to think of it, wasn’t that case in Dallas?
Colt Stevens ran headlong onto the playground at noon recess. He and his friends were going to play a game of tag. He kept one eye on Tasha Moore, hoping to get her on his team. It was her birthday, and he was excited because she had brought cupcakes to share with the class later.
Colt was a rough and tumble little boy and nothing much slowed him down. Even his mother, who was a nurse, despaired of him sometimes. Just that morning, he’d been running a slight temperature and she wanted to keep him home, but Colt wouldn’t hear of it. He’d missed too much school already while they were away in Dallas visiting his mom’s family with Aunt Marla.
Colt grabbed Tasha’s hand and pulled her over to his side. She smiled and stood beside him as he explained the rules to the others. The wind kicked up and blew a speck of dust into her eye and she rubbed it.
She and Colt played and ran, tagging others, grabbing at their hands and arms. Later, when they all went back inside, they took turns sharing the piece of chalk and writing on the blackboard. Colt was the teacher’s favorite as well as Tasha’s, so afterward, the teacher allowed him to hand out each cupcake to the class in honor of Tasha’s birthday.
It was almost the end of the day when Colt suddenly threw up beside his desk. It was gross according to popular opinion, and Colt went down to the principal’s office. The janitor came to clean it all up. The teacher called everyone to the front of the classroom to distract the kids while he did to avoid any sympathy puking. Soon, the bell rang and it was time to go home. None of them washed their hands.
Tara watched the neighbor’s house next door and waited, even calling the hospital several times to ask about them. At first, the admissions desk refused to give her any information, and later, they denied Marla and Frank were ever even there. This made Tara uneasy, but with the new HIPAA laws, she understood they couldn’t tell her anything. So she brushed off the bad feeling in her gut.
Summer was almost over and the end of season chores waited. Tara worked in the garden out back for several days, clearing the spent plants and harvesting some tomatoes and peppers. She kept one eye on the neighbor’s patio, hoping someone, maybe even Marla or Frank would finally arrive.
The rest of Tara’s time was focused on editing and turning her book in to her publishing company. Each time she crossed between her back porch and the open breezeway of Marla’s house, it yawned emptily at her. No one came and Tara’s concern increased with each passing day.
Where’s their little dog? Did someone come get it?
This worried Tara as much as Marla and Frank’s current conditions, but she could not hear the dog barking, so she hoped their friends or family had picked it up. She didn’t want to have to break a window to get the animal out, but decided she would if she had to. The days ticked by with no word, and Tara’s uneasiness grew.