The Survivor Journals Omnibus [Books 1-3], page 17part #1 of The Survivor Journals Omnibus Series
I had to wake Meri to get her to eat some breakfast. I made an oatmeal gruel that I found in a recipe book. I cooked it over a low fire in the hearth that made the annex much too warm. I fed it to her a small spoonful at a time. The first bite she rejected for its blandness, so I spiced it with a little brown sugar and she ate more steadily. She kept her eyes closed though, and she said nothing. I was able to get her to take Tylenol for her fever and an antibiotic for her infection. It was all I could do. After she ate, she rested again. I checked her temperature. She was still hovering in the 103 area. The ice packs might have helped a little, and the lack of stress might have helped a little, but she was still long from being out of danger.
I didn’t go about my routine that day. Normally, that day would have been a day that I would take the Cruze out and explore. Instead, I stayed inside by Meri’s bed, and tended to her as best I could. At one point, she asked to use the bathroom. I helped her out of bed and half-carried her to the restrooms. She moved toward the women’s restroom, but I redirected her, telling her it was my shower area. Her fever-dulled eyes lit up at the mention of a shower. I helped her into a stall and gave her privacy to do what she had to do. When she called for me, I helped her back to bed. Throughout the day, I gave her sips of water and bites of gruel. Predominately, she slept. I listened as she breathed the heavy breaths of someone who was closer to coma than sleep. She cried out occasionally, but it was unintelligible noise.
After dark, Meri seemed to rouse slightly. I helped her to the bathroom again, and helped her back to bed. I gave her water. She was showing signs of dehydration. I propped her up in bed with pillows and she drank a full liter of water. I said nothing, but watched as she sipped. She stared into the middle distance, seeing nothing, as she did. She had the haunted gaze of someone who had seen too much, a survivor’s stare. After she finished the water, I gave her some food, chicken soup. She ate slowly and dispassionately, barely seeing her food. When she finished, I helped her to lay down again, covering her with blankets as I did.
I returned to my chair and the book I was reading, a Young Adult novel by Geoff Herbach about a high school kid who hit puberty and almost overnight became a jock. It took place in southern Wisconsin, near Platteville. I liked the locality of it. After reading over two pages, I was aware that I was being watched. I peeked over the top of my book and saw Meri laying on her side, curled fetal beneath the covers. She was watching me with her dark eyes.
“You’re very kind.” Her voice was thin, but clear.
“Thank you. I try to be. My mother was very big on kindness.”
“You didn’t have to be,” she said. “I held a gun on you.”
I shrugged. “That’s in the past. I’m okay with it. If I’d seen you first, I might have done the same.”
She reached up and wiped her eye. I couldn’t tell if she was tearing up, or if her eye just itched. “This world…It’s all screwed up now. It’s a mess.”
I said nothing. I just nodded slowly and set my book aside.
“Why do you think you survived?”
I shrugged again. Lucky wasn’t a word I wanted to use, but neither was cursed. “Immunity. I’m just immune to that virus. Like in The Stand.”
“The Stephen King book? I never read it.”
“A bunch of people are just immune to the super virus. They survive. That’s the only explanation I can give at the moment.”
She uncurled in the bed, grimacing from pain as she did, and looked at the ceiling. “How many people did you lose?”
“All of them. What kind of question is that?”
“I meant how many people close to you. Family.”
“My parents. My girlfriend and her family. My friends at school. I was going to be a senior in high school before the Flu hit. Grade Twelve, I guess you say in Canada. How about you?”
There was a long silence. She eventually held up her left hand and showed me a ring. “My husband, Richard. My son. My daughter. My parents. My best friend. I watched all of them die.”
I couldn’t imagine losing a child. As if to let me know that I could, Rowdy gave little bark. In his sleep, he was chasing something. His back legs moved slightly as he ran in his dream.
“Why me? Why us?” she said. “It makes no sense. Who am I? Why did I survive? Who are you, and why did you survive?”
There was nothing to say to that. I had no answers, either. “Tell me about your kids.” It was the only thing I could think to say. Maybe she was desperate to talk about them.
“They are dead. They were wonderful, but now they are dead. They are dead and I am alive. What more can I say about them?”
“What were their names?”
Meri paused. Saying the names aloud was painful for her, I could tell. “Henri and Lily.”
“How old were they?”
“Henri was seven. Lilly was only two. She was the first to die. Henri went quickly after. My husband lasted another day after Henri.” Meri said it all without any emotion. She could have been reading the list of ingredients from a cereal box. “Then I was alone. I wanted to kill myself.”
“Why didn’t you?”
She waved a hand in a careless circle. Her fingers made a gun and she mimed shooting herself in the side of the head. “Maybe I did. Maybe we both did. Maybe this is what happens to people who kill themselves. Is anything real anymore?”
I couldn’t answer that either, so instead I blurted, “I was going to kill myself, but a tornado stopped me.” A profound silence hovered between us. I felt my neck and face flush crimson. I hadn’t felt that stupid since I crotch-punched myself swatting a mosquito the previous summer.
Meri actually stopped staring at the ceiling in order to roll her head forward and goggle at my idiocy. She laughed aloud, one short, quick laugh. “How did a tornado stop you from killing yourself?”
I had to tell her the story of the gun and the tornado that destroyed my old neighborhood. When I finished, she actually smiled. “That sounds unbelievable.”
“It is truth. Honest. When you get better, I can show you my old neighborhood.”
“If I get better,” she said. “I died when my children died, and I died again when Richard died. Recovering from their deaths was hard enough. And then I died again after that. I don’t know that I have the strength to recover anymore. Perhaps it’s time for me to finally die.” Meri curled into a ball again, rolling herself to face away from me. There was a long, tenuous silence. I wanted her to speak more, but I didn’t know if she would, or if she wanted to.
“What was his name? The man who held you prisoner?”
Meri held up an arm. “My wrists?”
“Looks like handcuffs to me.”
“He will come looking for me.” She looked toward the windows. Her eyes looked tired. “He is...crazy. A beast.”
“I am tired now.” She shrugged her covers up to her shoulders. “I feel awful. I am hot and then cold, and then hot again. My stomach hurts.”
I tried to redirect her. “If he’s coming to find you, I could use all the information I can get so I can protect you.”
“You are a boy. He will kill you without thinking.”
“I hope it won’t come to that.” I looked at the pistol next to me. I hadn’t even successfully shot a deer. Other than a cow at point-blank range, I was not a gunman of any sort.
Meri didn’t speak. I think she was trying to feign sleep. I walked to the bed and stood at her feet. “Meri, if this guy is coming for you, the more prepared I am, the better the chance both of us have. I can tell he handcuffed you, kept you against your will. I bet he shot you, too. Probably when you escaped, right? What happened?”
She did not move, but her voice was small under the blankets. “You are not like him, you know. Thank you for that.”
“Then tell me,” I said. “Please.”
Meri rolled to her back and sighed. “Get me an ice pack for my forehead again, and I will try to tell you.”<
I did as she asked. I popped the cold pack and shook it to distribute. I put it on her forehead and she sighed again. Her eyes closed for a long moment. She looked horrible. Her skin looked gray and clammy. Her eyes had deep circles under them.
“I was in Thunder Bay when the Flu struck. I lived with my husband and children. My husband drove a truck. I had a job at a flower shop. I took my son to hockey practice. Pretty typical blue-collar Canadian life, really. When everyone died and I didn’t, I spent the summer just staring at the walls of my house. I had nothing better to do. I pissed in the backyard because we had no running water. I went for walks through my boarded-up, shuttered town. I was waiting to die, you know?”
“I felt the same way for a little while.”
She nodded. “When summer started to turn to fall, I realized that I couldn’t live in Thunder Bay without heat. I hadn’t done anything to prepare for the winter. My house didn’t even have a wood-burning stove. I needed to move south. So, I used a gas siphon to fill up my car’s tank and I drove south. I made it just outside of Duluth, Minnesota when I passed another living person, a man. He was cutting wood alongside a highway. I was so overjoyed to see someone else that I didn’t think. I slammed on the brakes and stopped my car. I jumped out and ran to him. I was going to ask him to go south with me.”
“I assume this is the man who handcuffed you?”
“He told me his name was David or something like that, but that I was to call him Adam from that moment on. And he said he was going to call me Eve. He said that God sent me to him, and that God gave him the Earth as his new paradise. He said that he and I were to repopulate the Earth, as God had commanded him.”
I know that I said something stupid at that point, well, not said, but more of an exhalation of something stupid. Something like Hoo, boy! or equally dumb. I honestly felt terrible for her at that moment. It was my great fear, that I’d find someone else alive and they’d be insane or irrational. I’m all for believing in God if that floats your boat, but to take it a step further and see a mutated virus as a plague that was meant to kill all mankind so that you could be the one to repopulate the planet, that was a leap of logic that I hoped to avoid. Meri didn’t hear my stupidity, or at least chose to ignore it.
She continued her story. “I tried to run away right there, but before I could restart my car, this madman was in my window. He hit me in the face and dragged me from my car. I tried to fight him, but he was tough, large. He was also one of those guys who believed in the apocalypse long before the Flu. He had a compound, a fully-stocked compound, with guns and ammunition, with food and supplies. He dragged me there in his truck, handcuffed me to bed, and basically became my jailer, my provider, and my rapist for the course of the winter. He would make me read the Bible to him while he cleaned his guns at night. I tried to escape, but if he caught me trying to peel one handcuff off my wrist, he would put on a second one and stretch my arms apart. Once winter hit, he knew that I could go nowhere. To leave would be to freeze to death, so he gave me more free reign during that time, during the cold months, but every night I was handcuffed to the bed again. He would rape me and claim that he was trying to make babies for the Lord.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t get pregnant.”
“Lucky?” She looked at me through narrowed eyes.
“I mean,” I stammered stupidly for a second, insensitive dolt that I am. “I just meant…you know. I’m sorry. I’m an idiot.”
“It wasn’t luck.” Meri pointed to a spot on her arm where some raised bumps showed. “Jadelle. I think it was called Norplant in America. It’s a long-term birth control. I had this implanted a few months before the Flu started.” She heaved a sigh and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “The rape I could deal with. I don’t know what I would have done if I had to deal with carrying that man’s child. Or worse, trying to raise a child near that man.”
“Was he abusive, I mean besides the rape and kidnapping?”
“Not at first. I think he really thought he was a servant of God. When he first kept me, the handcuffs and the nightly rape was as bad as it got. Thankfully, the rape never lasted long. He would do what he wanted, finish quickly, and then read the Bible. As the winter progressed though, he began to get angry as the weeks progressed without me getting pregnant. I was very glad he never inspected my arm. I doubt he had any idea that I was on birth control.” She smiled, as if the thought of tricking him was her happiest memory of that place.
The smile ran from her lips quickly, though. She found her voice again and continued her story. “Anyhow, as the winter progressed, he would start drinking in the late afternoons. He would scream at me, curse me. He would slap me, but never to the point where it could really hurt me. He would go on long, elaborate rants about how I was to be a vessel for his son, the new son of God. He believed that we were chosen for a reason. I endured months of this stupidity. I wanted to scream back at him, I wanted to tell him that a real God never would have taken my children from me while I held them in my arms. I wanted to tell him that a kind and loving God would have put me on a path to avoid that man. I wanted to tell him that given the abundant evidence of death around us, the odds of there being a God were about the same as me ever loving him as he commanded to me that I must.” She winced and blew a breath through clenched teeth.
I gave her some water to sip along with some valium for the pain. “How did you get away?”
Meri took the pill and water gratefully. “Just like how anyone gets away; he made one mistake. We carried on in our routine for months. Spring came, and I still wasn’t pregnant. He was drinking more and more. He would leave and raid liquor stores and homes in the area and bring back huge boxes of booze. He was drinking heavily one night and passed out while he was trying to rape me. He fell asleep on the bed next to me. He usually slept in his own bed in a different room. His pants were still around his knees, so I reached into the pocket and found the key to the handcuffs. I handcuffed him to the bed and proceeded to try to gather clothes and food to make an escape.”
She paused and rubbed her eyes. “I should have just shot him. I don’t know why I didn’t. There were guns all over the place. I could have easily put a bullet in his head.”
“It’s not easy to kill,” I said.
“Have you killed?”
“I put a cow out of its misery.”
“I should have put that man out of his misery. Instead, I ran. I loaded supplies into his truck. I got food and water. I got blankets and a tent. He was overloaded with supplies; he wouldn’t need them. It took me too long to do everything. Somehow, before I was done, he awoke. I heard him screaming and cursing. I had only handcuffed one of his hands, so he could still move too much. I should have done more.” She paused, shaking her head slowly. “I should have killed him.”
She spoke with a vigor that she hadn’t mustered, by then, as if the memory of the panic was fueling her. “Instead, he started jerking the bed around, trying to smash it. I had thrown the key far into the woods, so I knew he wouldn’t get free immediately, but if he broke the bedstead apart, he would be free. Even if he was dragging the head of the bed with him, he could still hurt me. I ran into his shed and got that handgun I had last night. He had three vehicles: a car and two pickup trucks. I shot the tires of the car and one of the trucks and jumped into the other truck. It didn’t want to start, but I stomped on the gas pedal and screamed at it until it did.
“Adam came out of his house with a small rifle in his hands. He was red-faced and screaming like a wounded bear. He yelled that I was his property and he raised the gun. I slammed the truck into drive and hit the gas so hard that I sprayed rocks and dirt for a few seconds as the truck tried to get traction. He fired once. From the height he had on his porch, the bullet shattered the passenger window and hit me in the side. I fired back at him as I left, emptying the gun. The truck sped out of his driveway. The last image of him I have was him taking shots at the truck as I drove away, his pants still
Meri slouched back down in bed. She looked exhausted, as if the mere act of telling me that story had been as taxing as a marathon. Beads of sweat perched on her forehead. “I only tell you this because I think I’m dying. I think you’ll be dying too, once he shows up. He is crazy. I do not know how long it will take him to get one of his cars in working order. I do not know how long it will take him to come looking for me, but mark my words: he is coming.”
Meri rolled over in bed and slept after that. She lapsed into sleep quickly, almost immediately beginning the slow, rhythmic breathing of deep slumber. Meanwhile, I went into full-on panic mode. I didn’t show it, of course. It would have done me no good to start hopping around the library annex like a bad sit-com caricature, but I still felt my head, heart, and stomach go into worry-overdrive.
I knew that I would need to finish my preparations and get far away from southern Wisconsin. A zealot like the guy she described would most likely come after his prize, and I had put more than enough information about my location all over Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, and northeastern Iowa. If Meri found me, then David/Adam could probably find me just as easily. I needed to get on the road.
I looked at the dog who was still sleeping by the fire. He slept most of the day now. I knew he wouldn’t last much longer, but I had hoped to let him pass in Wisconsin. Now, I knew I would have to take him with me, or put him down before I left. I didn’t have the heart to do that.