Fourteen survivors lived in a deserted campground and they were all willing to do what ever it took to stay alive.
Almost no one knew exactly when it began. It was a viral infection, spread through bodily fluid contact, similar in structure to both rabies and mad cow disease. The crazies, as they would come to be called, weren’t dead. They bled and starved just like normal humans. However, they were filled with constant rage, and they did not feel pain.
Only a handful of people could tell you that it started in the center for disease control, in Atlanta, Georgia. It was being weaponized, when an employee received a small cut from a shattered vial. The employee went home, and passed it on to his wife that night when he made love to her. Despite feeling under the weather, he continued to get on his plane to Cairo. He passed it to a passenger by drinking from their beverage cup when they were asleep, and succumbed to the illness two days later in an Egyptian hospital, where he bit and infected three orderlies and a doctor before being subdued.
The disease spread like wildfire, from first two sources, then ten, then fifty, then thousands. The spreading of the disease was exponential. Twenty days after the initial infection, cities were being evacuated as far west as Denver.
By day twenty-nine, things had reached true epidemic. Thousands had succumbed and spread and killed other humans. The first signs of the epidemic had reached Europe and South America. The airlines were shut down worldwide, but it was too late.
Day thirty-six, in other parts of the world the fights still raged, but in the small city of Bemidji Minnesota, things were just starting to quiet down, and the infected outnumbered the healthy, 62-1.
Fourteen survivors lived in a deserted campground. The campground had definite advantages to anywhere else. Isolated, a deep artesian well, and a supply of canned goods stored in the closet of the small cabin, which they had found covered in blood smears and flies when they first came.
Six men, four women, four children. Melvin was sitting on top of the three-story fire tower and keeping a lookout with his bolt-lever rifle. It was old, his father’s gun, from WWII, but it still worked just fine. Though with only fifty rounds left, hopefully they wouldn’t have to use it much.
From the fire tower, Melvin could see everyone but Jess, who was out hunting squirrels with his crossbow. Jess was a bit of a hick, quiet, but a good man. Jess had brought in most of the firepower, two hunting rifles and a .22. Bert was a middle aged accountant. Balding, wearing glasses, mild mannered. He could complain a lot, but he worked when asked, and he had brought in the CB radio. Bert was with his wife Jenna and his three kids in the open clearing.
Most people stayed in the clearing when they could, it felt safer. Jenna was a chain-smoking housewife who was trying to quit, and the mother of two ten-year-old twin boys Ben and Franklin, and her fourteen-year-old daughter Stacy.
The kids were playing with Ned, the six-year-old son of Annette, one of the other women. Annette was on her leave from the Navy when she had been caught in this mess. Her sister Janet was here too, and the other woman was a thin shaven-headed black woman named Vera.
Melvin did a head count, counting each man woman and child, mentally excluding Jess from his count. Janet and Annette were talking and washing dishes in a rusty metal tub. The kids were playing in the sand lot. Jenna and Bert were arguing about something in the shade of a no-walls tent that had been set up in the middle of the clearing. Vera was reading a thick novel in a lawn chair.
His name was Gerald Everette, but everyone called him the Doc, or just Doc. He was a young balding paramedic from Minneapolis who had been right in the thick of all the chaos, and only made it out with the clothes on his back, and some knowledge that had saved their lives more then once.
He was sauntering over to the sisters and talking, Melvin smiled. Everyone knew that the medic was sweet on Janet. Then there was Davis, a burly mechanic who had been camping in this campground in his RV when things went to hell. The last man was Harold. Melvin frowned a little. Harold was leering at Janet and Annette. It wasn’t like the fond puppy-love that the Doc had for Janet, it was just lust. Harold looked at all the women like that, even Stacy sometimes.
Harold never did anything outright, but it always just felt like the man was coated with slime. That all of his thoughts were coated with slime. That his mind was just a constantly running X-rated movie as he undressed the women with his eyes. He had been going to the college, and he was only twenty.
Melvin counted, and he heard the engine from far off. He frowned slightly into the air. It was Jess’s Jeep, but he always ran it really slow, to save gas and to make less noise. Why on earth was he coming home so fast?
Melvin ran down the tower as the dull green Jeep winked into sight. “Jess is coming in fast, I think something might be wrong!”
In a flash, the camp pulled together. Bert and the Doc grabbed the hunting rifles, Davis grabbed the .22, and Harold grabbed a baseball bat. The women herded the children together and picked up their own weapons. Annette grimly held out a 12-inch hunting knife, Janet had a crowbar. Jenna and Vera both had shovels.
Ned started to cry as the Jeep rolled in. Dust boiled from the tires. Jess screeched to a halt and jumped from the vehicle, hair in a disarray. He was a young man with sandy tangled hair, wearing camouflage pants, a black shirt, a camo hunter’s vest, and a dull red baseball cap over his wild sandy hair. His eyes were bright blue slits in his frightened, squinted eyes.
“I found a kid. He’s got a bandage on his arm, and wont tell me what it is. He’s in the trunk.”
“You put him in the trunk!?” Janet moaned. She was so afraid, and still she was angry at the treatment.
Jess ignored her and pulled open the trunk. He grabbed the arm of a lanky teenage boy and yanked him from the trunk.
The boy was trembling and almost comatose, no wonder he hadn’t said anything. He was dressed in a filthy sweat-stained shirt and jeans cut-offs. His arms and legs were scrawny, and he had a makeshift bandage over his forearm. The boy was crying, and shaking his head.
“He was up in a tree.” Jess grunted. “Couple of crazies at the bottom.”
The boy’s eyes were huge and surrounded by deep dark hollows. His lips were swollen and cracked. He was just standing there, crying soundlessly.
Harold was sweating, there was a sheen of sweat on his fat upper lip. “Well? Aren’t one of you gonna shoot him!? He’s bit! You know what that means!”
Harold’s voice was edging on hysteria. The boy looked in the direction of his voice. The clothes hung in tatters on his rack-thin body and he was shaking like a frightened animal. Those swollen discolored lips opened. “H-Harold? Is…Is that y-you?”
Harold flinched back to hear his name whispered from this deathly, shaking little thing. “I don’t know you, who the hell are you!”
The Doc pushed him down. “That’s not important now. Were you bit? Answer me!”
The boy looked at him, trembling and dazed. He let out a weak sob and shook his head.
“Really? Take off the bandage, now!”
With weak fumbling fingers the boy took off his bandage. He was wobbling dangerously, and would faint very soon.
The cut was swollen and infected, but the Doc could instantly see that it was not a bite. He ran to the boy without a second thought and caught those slender shoulders moments before he fell down.
“Put the guns down, it’s just a cut! Jesus, can someone get me some water and bedding, I want to get this poor kid somewhere to lie down. How long do you think he was up in that tree Jess? Any clue?”
Jess shrugged. “The trunk was covered with a lotta scratches. There was a canteen, and it had some piss in it. I think he got really thirsty after a few days helpless in that tree, started pissing in the canteen and drinking it.”
Jess’s face was stony, but his voice was choked and full of pity.
Melvin got back up in the tower to keep watch for stray crazies. Down in the camp, Janet and the Doc nursed the dehydrated boy back to health.
“How do you know Harold?”
His name was Jonah, and Vera was spooning soup in his mouth, because his hands were trembling too badly.
“We went to Bemidji State University together. I was getting my generals for nursing, and he was in the business classes. I only knew him because he was one of my friend’s roommate.”
Jonah looked down at his hands. “He…He doesn’t remember me, but he was at a rally I was at. He was throwing eggs and toilet paper at us.”
Vera looked him up and down. Jonah had angled features, and a soft feminine quality to his speech and mannerisms. His hair was longish, down to his jaw, and he tossed it out of his eyes in a feminine way.
“A Pride rally?” She asked quietly.
He bit that full lower lip and nodded. He drank the next spoonful of soup gratefully. “Should I be careful? I was with some guys, they beat me up and left me when they… when they found out what I was.”
Vera sighed. “I wish I could tell you to be proud of who you are. I wish I could tell you that it doesn’t matter what any of them think, but it does. Watch yourself Jonah. I think the sisters will be alright with you, but Jenna and Bert, definitely not. Harold’s out, and I think Davis is the basher type too. I’m not sure with Melvin and the Doc, but definitely watch out for Jess. He’s a damn good hunter, but he’s also a hick.
Jonah took another few spoonfuls of soup in silence. “I guess I just wont tell anyone. It’s alright, I did that for eighteen years.”
Vera raised her eyebrow. “How old are you?”
Jonah slurped the soup from the spoon and wiped his mouth with his trembling hand. “Nineteen. I didn’t have to hide in college.”
It was laundry day. The sisters and Vera and Jenna took washboards down to the creek. Davis came along with a hunting rifle to cover them. So far, only one of the crazies had been spotted near the camp, and that had been a week ago, but no one wanted to take chances.
Jonah watched them leave. He had been resting in his makeshift bunk in the no-walls tent. Five meals, two good nights of sleep, and several canteens of water had restored him immensely. His skin seemed fuller and healthier, and the hollows and shadows were almost gone from his eyes and cheeks. He was still sunburned on his cheeks and arms, and very thin, but far healthier.
Jess was out hunting, Melvin was in the tower. Bert and Harold were still sleeping, and the Doc was looking through a textbook and muttering under his breath.
Jonah decided to join the women. His dirty clothes had been stripped off him while he slept (presumably Vera) and had been replaced by a pile of clean clothes. Jonah put on a large, billowy Minnesota Twins T-shirt, faded boxers, and a massive pair of jeans shorts that had been built for a man of much thicker waist and legs. He had a belt, which didn’t go tight enough so he had to tie a knot, and a pair of sandals.
Feeling ridiculous, Jonah went up to the Doc. “Um, is it okay if I go after the women? I want to help.”
The Doc looked around. “Why are you asking me?”
Jonah blushed. “Sorry, is someone else in charge?”
The question struck a funnybone in the Doc, and he laughed into his hand. “No, guess not. Feel free, just try not to sneak up on them. I’m sorry I shouted at you that night, we were all pretty scared that you were infected.”
“What would you have done if I was?”
The smile left the Doc’s face in a hurry. “Don’t play dumb Jonah, you know what we would have to do if that ever happened.”
Jonah did know. He ducked his head, mumbled an apology and ran down the trail after the women.
He managed to come up on them without scaring them. He hid behind a tree and called out when he was within sight.
“Well come on and join us Jonah, it will be nice to have one of the men help for once!”
Janet laughed out loud when Davis muttered something about keeping watch. Jonah grabbed one of the heavy mesh laundry bags from Vera and walked with them, mostly keeping quiet and listening to them talk. It was amazing how quickly he had been accepted. Jonah was afraid for his new family. He had seen the viciousness of the looters, and despite being well armed, no one was in charge. A band of three hardened looters would be able to cause chaos in the loose little camp, not to mention crazies.
At the stream, the five launderers got out washpans and powdered soap and washboards. Davis sat on a rock in the shade. He was vigilant at least, standing on the rock and scaling a small ridge every few minutes to check for crazies. During one of his little hikes, Annette told Jonah that they asked for Davis on purpose.
“Well, look at the others… Bert and the Doc are pretty alert, but their both terrible shots. Jess is always busy hunting, and Melvin is a sweet old man, but he tends to fall asleep if he’s sitting. He’s good in the tower, but not on the ground. And Harold… Oh where do I begin with Harold…”
“Creep!” Shuddered Janet.
“Pervert!” Spat Jenna.
“Disgusting little prick!” Growled Vera.
Annette laughed grimly. “If I had to kneel here, knowing that Harold was watching my behind, I’d go crazy. Not only is the scumbag a total creep, but whenever any of the women are around, he doesn’t look at anyone else. One of the crazies could probably get right up close and take a bite before he noticed anything but my tits.”
Janet shuddered. “At least Harold is the only one that bothers you… I’m twenty three years old, and I was single when all of this shit happened so all of the guys seem to think that I’m some bouncy brainless little blonde that will fuck their brains out if they talk sweet. I’m sick of it! I mean, Harold bugs everyone, but I’ve had the Doc, Davis, Jess, and even Melvin hit on me! He’s old enough to be my grandpa!”
Jonah giggled helplessly. The look of anger on her pretty young face was just, deliciously funny somehow.