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From Humanity’s Hope by Greg Ferrell
There’s No Place Like home Camp
A siren screamed in the distance. Kyle recognized the wail’s pattern as that of an ambulance, once again making its way through the streets. That made the tenth one in the last two hours he had heard. He was beginning to realize how bad it was getting out there.
When he thought back to the attack at his house the night before, and coupled that with the reports on the news of some mysterious flu outbreak causing massive quarantines, he knew it was only going to get worse. Also, given the fact that Sam had suddenly been called in to work at the hospital. It had been twelve hours since she’d left and six since she’d called to check in with him. He thought it might be time to call and see what was happening. As he reached down to get his cell, it started to ring. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Sam’s name and number flash across the screen. “Sam, I was just about to call you. What’s going on there?”
“I don’t know what to tell you.” She was almost out of breath. “It has been utter hell here tonight. I have been running nonstop since I arrived. We are out of almost all antibiotics. People are being brought in by the dozens, wounded and … and worse. Nobody knows what this bug is or how to treat it. I’ve seen twenty bodies wheeled to the morgue in the last hour, and I hear they are shutting down the fifth floor to accommodate more bodies. Are you and the kids okay?”
“Yeah, we’re fine,” responded Kyle. “I’m just worried about you. How much longer ’til you get to leave?”
“I’m leaving as soon as I finish this last run to the E.R. Richie will be getting here soon. I’ll be home after that.”
“Okay. Please be safe and don’t bring it home with you.”
“Don’t even joke,” said Sam. “Let me go. I gotta go get a bandage real quick. One of the patients grabbed me and tried to bite me on my last trip down there. If you ask me, it’s almost like they have rabies rather than the flu. Tell the kids I love them and I will be home soon.”
“Please be careful. I love you.” Kyle hung up the phone.
Then Kyle jerked awake and sat up in his bed. “Damn, fifteen months and I’m still having the same damn dream.” Experience had bullied him with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. Not tonight. With no possibility of getting any rest, Kyle slowly got out of bed and made his way over to the oil lamp and ignited it. The soft glow of the light illuminated the bedroom, the same one he and Sam had shared for so many years. Until that one disastrous night when the whole world had went to hell and he’d lost her. Nowadays, it was occupied by him, his son Bryce, whom everybody called Patch, his 15-year-old daughter Renee, and their adult white German Shepherd named Storm. Recently, his oldest, 18-year-old Hope, decided she wanted to go back to sleeping in her old room as a way of injecting a little normalcy back into her life.
After the initial outbreak, Kyle had taken the kids and fled to his friend Ron’s house in the country, its isolation being paramount to their survival. But after their supplies had dwindled and the lack of resources available for them had dried up, they came up with a plan to fortify his former neighborhood. Eventually Kyle’s family and his friends moved back in. It took six months of sneaking in and making modifications to the existing fencing and natural barriers around the neighborhood, but at the end of that six months, they were finally able to secure a large enough area, originally encompassing only four of the houses, to live in and survive through what had been coined the final apocalypse. Now, eight months after moving back in, they had increased the size of the camp to include ten more of the surrounding houses. The later additions had become a refuge for the other twenty-five people who now lived in Camp H., as they had begun referring to their old neighborhood.
He said it stood for hope, but others claimed it stood for human.
The camp was secured on one side by the Ochlockonee River, which provided their fresh water. They had secured the other three sides with a makeshift wall constructed of vehicles taken from the roadside and from the junkyard down the road. They used the cars at first, then lumber scavenged from tearing down a few of the houses outside the camp to build a nearly fifteen-foot-high barrier all the way around the camp. One of the homes in the neighborhood had solar panels installed before the outbreak, which had provided limited electricity to the camp. That allowed them to run a couple of refrigerators and power the tools they needed to continue building the walls and to keep the fleet of cars and trucks they used for supply runs in good repair. Also, they could run the air-conditioning in the home for short periods, which became a huge relief during the heat of the summer.
Kyle slowly made his way through the bedroom as he tried not to wake anyone else as he slipped on one of his trademark football jerseys. He figured since he was up again, anyway, it would be a good time to make a perimeter sweep. As he traversed the bodies of sleeping kids, Storm roused and followed after him. Storm had been an invaluable member of the family since the beginning of the outbreak. She could smell a slab a mile away and had alerted them many times to approaching danger.
Kyle briefly looked at the crudely drawn map of the camp on the wall. He realized he’d forgotten to label who would be on guard duty that night and made a mental note to update it later in the morning.
“C’mon, old girl. Let’s go walk the fence and see how everything is going.” Storm headed to the door and waited patiently for him. He grabbed a flashlight and swung his rifle over his shoulder and the two of them headed out of the house.
Kyle and Storm first walked the western banks of the river, being careful not to get too close. Most of the bank was very high and with a steep drop-off, which prevented anything from climbing up. However, a few areas of the riverbank were accessible, and they’d had to build a couple of fences in those areas to keep out any unwanted visitors. Apparently, water was not the huge deterrent they had hoped for, as they had learned the hard way when they had to fend off a few groups of slabs over the winter when the water levels were low. After checking the riverside with no sign of activity, Kyle and Storm headed over to the eastern wall. As they approached the first guard tower, Kyle tried to remember who would be on duty that evening.
Suddenly, a light from the tower shone down and a voice rang out, “Identify yourself!”
Kyle placed the voice’s owner as Kenny. “Darth Vader,” Kyle responded and Storm let out a bark as if to make her presence known as well.
“Hey, man, what are you doing out here tonight?” Kenny yelled down to them.
“Couldn’t sleep. Figured I would check and make sure you weren’t also.”
“Man, if the Marines taught me one thing, it’s to never fall asleep on your watch.”
Kenny was Sam’s younger cousin. He had been around Kyle pretty much his whole life, and Kyle treated him like one of his kids. In fact, all three of Kyle’s kids looked up to Kenny as an older brother rather than a cousin. He had been on leave from the Marines when the outbreak occurred and was not able to rejoin his unit after all the airports were shut down. He had planned to hook up with a unit if one ever made its way through the area, but so far no major military presence, other than a few National Guardsmen, had been seen in the Tallahassee area. He decided that as long as he would remain in camp, he could help keep everyone safe.
“Ten-four. I’m just gonna do a sweep of the area,” Kyle said. “Figured it’s less than an hour ’til sunrise, so I might as well be productive. See ya at breakfast.”
Kyle’s next stop would be the southern main gate, and entrance sealed with a school bus they had boarded up on the side facing away from the camp. Using the bus provided an easy way for the camp to block the main entrance with a moveable gate. The idea was that the bus made the gate wide enough to allow them to drive almost anything through that they managed to salvage from the outside world. As he arrived at the gate, he could see the outline of the only other bald-headed person in the camp—Pete. He was also the only other original resident of the neighborhood. His house, however, was on the opposite side of the neighborhood, so it wasn’t part of the camp. He had been holed up in his house for four months until he heard the racket going on when Kyle started to secure his part of the area. After he realized what was going on, Pete came out and helped keep the area safe while Kyle and his friends built the walls.
“Hey up there, all clear I hope?” Kyle yelled out to Pete.
“Holy shit! You scared the piss out of me. Yeah, I ain’t seen anything tonight.”
“Alright, just making my rounds. See ya at breakfast.”
Pete waved as Kyle and Storm proceeded on to the west wall.
When they arrived at the tower, Kyle didn’t see anybody manning the post. “Stay here, girl, I’m going to go up.” Kyle patted Storm on the head and as if the dog understood, she sat right in front of the ladder and waited as Kyle made his way up the ladder and peeked over the side of the tower wall to the interior of the guard tower. Just as he had suspected, there was Billy and Tim asleep in opposite corners of the platform. Kyle cleared his throat and Billy jumped up and scrambled to his feet while simultaneously kicking Tim in the leg.
“Hey, guys, see anything tonight?” Kyle wore a smug grin on his face.
“Hey, Kyle,” Billy responded as he sent a harsh look over at Tim, who was still in no hurry to get to his feet. “Man, I’m sorry. It was so quiet, we were gonna just sleep in shifts. Sorry, dude, won’t happen again.”
“Okay, y’all stay alert. Even with the fires going, they could still get a whiff of us in here.” Kyle turned to look at a sleepy-headed Tim. “Why don’t you run down to the kitchen and get yourself some coffee? That will get you through ’til Ron shows up to relieve you.” Kyle then climbed back down the ladder and joined his dog.
Billy and Tim had been inseparable since they were found together about four months ago on a supply run. David and Kyle had decided to check out the local soft drink warehouse and found the two of them holed up in there safe and sound with about two thousand cases of soda left in the warehouse, along with an equal amount of bottled water. The two young men decided they had lived off the canned foods they had scavenged long enough, and besides, they were out of ammo, too. Loading up the last truck with some fuel left, they followed David and Kyle back to Camp H. The truck’s trailer had since been fitted into its own place on the wall. The two young men had since become productive members of the camp. Well, at least most of the time.
Kyle hopped off the ladder and again patted Storm on the head. “C’mon, girl. Christi will be up by now preparing breakfast. Let’s go see if we can get a few scraps before she’s done.” Storm let out an approving bark and the two headed to the kitchen house.
The kitchen house was lit up when Kyle arrived, telling him Christi was already there. It was the house with the solar panels, so they could have a place to cook and refrigerate perishables in a central location. Christi, David’s wife, had taken over the kitchen immediately upon their securing it, and every morning since, she’d get to the house about thirty minutes before sun up and start prepping their morning meal. As soon as the sun hit the panels on the roof, she fired up the two stoves and prepared a breakfast for everyone in the camp. Some days it was just eggs and grits. Lately, though, Kyle knew there had to be plenty of meat after they had gotten three hogs the prior week near the river, and that meant bacon.
“Ah, my morning ray of sunshine,” Kyle greeted as he and Storm came through the door. “How ya doing, Christi?”
“Morning, you two. Come here, Storm, I saved you some fat I trimmed off the bacon.” Christi bent down to greet the furry visitor.
Storm happily accepted the scraps before heading over to her bed in the corner of the kitchen. Storm had staked out the spot the moment the house was secured as her favorite place away from home.
“I see you have the propane stove we found last week already fired up.” Kyle reached over to sneak a freshly cooked piece of bacon. “So what’s the menu for today?”
“Eggs, grits, and”—Christy smacked Kyle’s hand with a spatula—“bacon.”
“Alright, I’ll wait.” Kyle inspected his hand for damage. “What’s the inventory look like? You need anything?” He took a seat at the table.
“We’re pretty good right now. If we keep at the current pace, we should have at least a two-month supply of almost everything. But if you have the opportunity, we could use more salt and coffee. I’ve been diluting the coffee and reusing old grounds just to stretch it out, but it wouldn’t hurt if you found some more. Oh, and if you happen to see a good set of pots and pans, I could use some more of those, too. Most of mine are all scratched up and they’re starting to burn more than cook.”
“Gotcha,” answered Kyle. “David and I are going out on a test run with his new toy today, and we’ve got a hot tip on some supplies.”
“You two be careful. And don’t let anything happen to my man, or you better not come back.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kyle said as he got up and headed towards the door. “Well, I’m gonna finish my rounds and be back for some breakfast. C’mon, Storm.”
Storm just looked at him and laid her head back down as if telling him she was fine where she was. Kyle got the message and decided to go on his own.
The next stop was the east wall, currently manned by Leon, one of the first survivors they’d found on a supply run, who had decided to come back with them and stay. He was a resident of Tallahassee they had found in a strip mall that they had checked for supplies. After they’d almost gotten shot by him they convinced him to move into Camp H and to bring his arsenal of weapons. He had been a huge help ever since, and the only man with more outdoor survival skills than Kyle.
The eastern wall overlooked the edge of the swampy area that led to the river that provided them with their game. Kyle looked up and saw Leon as he looked through the sight of his rifle off into the distance. Leon raised his hand slightly toward Kyle with a motion to keep silent. He then returned his hand to the rifle and slowly squeezed the trigger. A loud bang echoed out into the darkness, and Kyle quickly bolted up the ladder to where Leon was standing.
“What was it? A slab?”
Leon handed the rifle to Kyle. “Take a look. Over by the tree line at the water’s edge.”
Kyle peered through the scope and saw the body of a large boar lying on its side as it took its lasts few breaths. “Awesome! More pork.”
“Yeah, I’ve been hearing him out there for the last hour. He finally made the mistake of stepping into the light.” Leon laid the gun over to the side. “I’m going to wait ’til the sun comes up and see if Brian will go out with me and retrieve it.”
“Sounds good. We keep this up, and we’ll have enough meat to fill one of the freezers full for the winter.” Kyle started back down the ladder. “Go get you some breakfast when your relief gets here, and I bet you’ll find Brian there, too. He never misses a meal. In fact, I think he’s the only person who has put on any weight since this all began.”
“No doubt.” Leon laughed along with Kyle as he took off back towards camp. Stopping at one of the gardens on the way, Kyle surveyed the site and saw fresh tracks going under the fence. The damage done to the lettuce and broccoli were telltale signs that some little furry bandits had come back. I’ll get to y’all later
It had been an intense challenge to build the wall and create the camp. Lately, though, he had begun to feel like they had an honest chance at surviving the nightmare they had been living in for the past fourteen months. The losses had been huge, but the fact they had made it as long as they had was a reassuring sign. The slabs had become scarcer lately, as it appeared they were mostly staying in the cities.
The garden was producing enough food that they were actually starting to can and save rather than eat it as it matured. The meat freezers were filling up with wild game; and the recent find of an overturned grocery truck filled with canned goods, definitely helped. Kyle took one last look as the sun was just clearing the horizon, and saw a fully functional community coming to life. People came out of the kitchen with plates in hand and headed to relieve those on watch as others made their way into the kitchen house. He let a small smile slowly creep across his face as he headed towards the chow line. Hell, we just might make it.
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