Don’t Feed The Trolls – Chapter 8
Just when she thought everything was finally settling down, Shelly is once again thrown into the fray. Her friends are stuck on the other side of the Mississippi River, with no weapons, no food, and no chance of survival without her help. Throw in the complete collapse of civilization, extremely limited technology, and hordes of zombies that are becoming more and more sentient every day…
Hey, no one said it was going to be easy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Shelly made sure to update hers just before she left.
Please note: this work contains language and themes that may not be appropriate for young readers.
Sept. 28th, 2018
Tiny says I need to tell you about Flat Rock and Saluda. I’m not sure what else I can say besides “mass grave. RIP.” But I’m supposed to try.
We were looking for shelter yesterday, cause it was raining buckets and it was cold. The boys found a movie theater just outside of Flat Rock. The roof was missing in parts, but the front area was still intact, so we thought it would work. Got everyone and the horses inside.
Everything was great. Everything was wonderful. We were out of the rain, we were warming up…a couple us even settled down for a nap. I wanted to explore the building. That’s when Tiny and Kim had to go and burst my little happy bubble.
From what Tiny can gather, the theater used to hold a fairly small community. He and Vik found at least fifty bodies. That’s not a small number, but it’s also nowhere near as big as some of the others we’ve ran across, and they managed just fine, so we’re not sure what happened here to cause everyone to choose the easy way out. Especially with all the food we found stockpiled.
Tiny said they had found the building a good half hour before the rest of us reached it, but the room with all the bodies in it also had two empty cannisters of liquid nitrogen, and they had needed to make sure the nitrogen was gone enough to be safe. The room it was in had holes in the wall, but not many, and not very big, and one of the cannisters was tipped over. Tiny said that amount of nitrogen in the room was more than enough to be responsible for all the dead bodies, and would’ve killed us, too if it hadn’t had enough time to disperse. Tiny was actually still a bit worried about how much might still be hanging around, so he kept one of the front doors propped open the entire time and would periodically go and poke one of the sleepers to make sure they were still able to wake up.
He also brought me, what appears to be, a journal. Kinda like the one I kept on my trip down from NYC. I haven’t read it yet. I’m a little scared to see what I’ll find. Tiny told me about how nitrogen kills a person, and he says he thinks everyone dying was an accident, but just because he thinks that – or wants to think that – doesn’t mean it’s the truth, and I don’t want to find out that we just left the site of a Jonestown type event. Tiny keeps saying he doesn’t think that was the case here, because of the food and water stockpile. He says it wouldn’t make sense for them to have that much crap on hand if they were planning on offing themselves.
My thing is though, what if they had been under siege, and things had gotten too much for them? People do stupid desperate things when they’re scared.
At any rate, we left there. I refused to sleep there, so as soon as the rain let up, we were up and running again. We lost so much time, we ate while we walked, and took turns napping in the wagon. We took a few breaks for the horses, but we pushed them as hard as could. We got to this storage place around daybreak, and said “fuck it. We’re done.” We had already slept the day away, so we hit the road first thing in the morning. The boys spent part of the night breaking into some of the storage units, trying to see if they can find anything useful, but it was a bust
I hope we run into another community soon. I need to see people fighting to live again.
Sept. 29th 2018,
More rain, but a surprisingly productive day. We found a better highway to take us through the mountains without us having to go out of our way. I didn’t wanna switch at first, I’m getting so sick and tired of constantly changing our route, but this is working out for the better so far. It took us through a town with a couple stores that weren’t completely ransacked. One of them, looked like it used to be a camping supply store. The sign was gone, and half the store with it, so we didn’t think we’d find anything. The boys did some digging though and found some stuff that might end up being somewhat useful.
We also found more horses. Frank and Mace saw the sign for the stables when they were looking for a stopping place. When they checked it out, they only found a few horses there, and they were all alive and kicking. Not in the best of shape, but they’re not starving, either. Doug and Kristine are trying to take care of them now, but they’re more than a bit barn sour. I told them that if they can get them ready to be on the road by the time we leave, they can bring them with us. I wish we could give them longer, the extra horsepower would really be good to have, but it is what it is.
We’re leaving the gate open when we leave. If we don’t get to take them with us, at least they’ll be able to leave if they need to.
Sept. 30, 2018
We have six new horses. Kinda. Doug and Kristine were able to examine them, but there was no way to get them ready to go in the time we had. We didn’t want to risk them hurting themselves if we tried to get a bit on one of those horses, but Doug was able to loop a rope around their necks and tie them in a line. He’s gonna work on them as we go, and worse comes to worst, he’ll just untie them and let them run free. Not a perfect plan, but not much else we can do.
We’re taking a break right now. It’s cloudy, and getting kinda chilly. I am so not looking forward to the coming months.
Sorry, didn’t have time to finish that. Mike brought in some more rabbits, so it’s rabbit stew for dinner again. I got pulled into helping skin and chop.
Some of the boys were talking about keeping the skins to see about making coats and gloves out of the fur, but none of us know how to do that, so that’s out. Besides, we’ve got cold weather gear in the totes, and there’s enough for all of us, and then some.
Anyway. We’re still walking. We’re at a stretch of road that has no shelter, and it’s starting to get d-
Okay, so final part of this damn entry/letter/whatever for the night. Sorry for the cut off. I don’t remember what I was writing, so it must not’ve been important. While I was writing that, Kim radioed in. Long story short, she ran into a group of people who were out looking for us. One of their lookouts had spotted us earlier, and they were coming out to make sure we weren’t raiders. Once we explained things, the leader, Joe, let us in. Said we could stay as long as we needed. This place isn’t quite like the other settlements we’ve come across so far. There aren’t any real walls here…just a giant wooden fence. They don’t have any electricity set up here, but they don’t seem to need it. They have horses and cows, and I don’t know what else. I didn’t look around too much. The whole place feels weird, and the people here…they’re very…I’m not sure of the word. But this whole mess doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on them, it seems like.
I dunno. I hate saying that, but I really don’t know. I’m glad we’re leaving tomorrow. Joe seems like a nice guy. He has a funny accent I can’t quite place, but he was talking to Doug and Kristine at dinner. They went off with him somewhere. I’m hoping they’re talking about the horses. None of us liked the idea of just letting them run free. It’s too late in the season, and I know animal instincts are supposed to be great at helping them survive, and horses are fucking smart, but…I worry.
Whatever. It’s time to get some rest.
Oct. 2, 2018
On the road again, on the road again.
For some reason, the further we’re getting into the mountains, the more little settlements we’re finding. We came across one that was based in a rest stop. That was creepy and gave me some major First Trek vibes. I didn’t sleep that night at all.
Which reminds me, but okay, first things first. What’s it called? Sitrep? That’s what Jean said it’s called, anyway.
We’re following I-40 through the mountains. It’s our best bet, even though I’m not entirely happy about having to go through Nashville. BG made a joke about making a side trip to Elvis’ grave, and I had to tell him don’t. Just, don’t.
On that note, we are in Tennessee now. Not sure where, but we passed by the “Welcome to Tennessee” sign, and another rest area with a bunch of maps and whatnot. We almost had to camp out in the open last night, but we got lucky and found a place about an hour ago. It’s full dark now, but I wanted to write this up real quick, cause as soon as we get back, we need to start branching out and finding (and marking) the little communities.
So far, we’ve marked Joe, Jan, both of the Call towns, and the rest stop. We found one based in a mountain tunnel, but we sent them on to Joe. If they stayed there, they would’ve starved by the end of the year. I figure Joe can get them more road ready and then send them on to Jan and Beth if they’re not a good fit.
Speaking of Joe, we traded horses. He said it “just made sense”, and I wasn’t going to waste time arguing with him. Gift horses and their teeth, you know?
What else. We’re marking our path on the maps we stole from the rest areas. We’ve all caught a bit of a cold (thanks rain. Much appreciated), but nothing too bad yet, and I think that’s it, when it comes to the group updates.
I finally got around to reading the journal thing from Flat Rock. I got bored staring at the ceiling back at the rest station and that was the only thing available. There wasn’t much in it. They mostly kept notes on supply runs, which stores were empty, which stores they hadn’t checked yet, etc., so I skimmed a lot of it. Near the end is where things started to come together.
They – whoever it was, they only talked about other people, not themselves – started talking about how they had too many people, not enough supplies, and no weapons beyond something they called “the poles”. So a group of them got together and decided to sacrifice themselves to give the others a chance.
The last entry was dated back in January. They talked about how they found the easiest way to end things and went into way too much detail about how they were gonna do it. When I told Tiny and asked if he thought that would work, he looked at me like I had sprouted ten extra heads. He said in theory, maybe, but it wasn’t a very good plan, and it certainly made a few things make more sense. He said most of the time when people die from liquid nitrogen, it’s because they didn’t even know they were slowly suffocating. There’s no gasping for breath and whatnot, there’s just…death.
His new working theory is that someone must’ve passed out before they expected it, maybe even a couple of them, but in any case, when the one cannister got knocked over, the others probably weren’t in any condition to pick it back up or put the lid back on the other one.
I still think he’s just looking for a way to make the whole thing seem like an accident. My faith in humans isn’t that strong. Not like it matters, really. It won’t bring them back, and it’s not like we’ll ever know.
Anyway. No trolls today. Well, none up close, anyway. Ty and Mike saw some in the distance, but Poppy didn’t seem concerned, so either they were too far away to smell, or they weren’t twitchers.
I don’t have anything else to report today. I’m not on watch duty tonight, so I’m gonna try and get some sleep.
Oct. 5, 2018
We had to change routes again. There was a river and Ty and BG figured we’d have a better chance of finding a bridge over it if we took a back highway through the mountains. I didn’t like it, but they were right. The bridge we found had cars on it, but it was still in one piece. Also, if the boys did their math right, we shaved an entire day off our travel time.
That’s a win, no matter how you look at it, and right now, I want all the wins, cause I am not in a happy place.
We are smack dab in the middle of a shitload of houses and Poppy kept showing signs of agitation earlier today. Not ‘bad cloud’ level, but…I don’t know. She kept looking really confused. She’d stop, sniff the air, give this little huff, and frown…then start walking again. Tiny tried asking her what’s wrong, but she keeps saying “I don’t know.” Tiny’s been working on increasing her (and our) vocab, but whatever is bothering her, she doesn’t have the words for yet, I guess.
Whatever. BG says we’ll reach Knoxville tomorrow…if our luck holds and we find another bridge intact. He knows of a couple that head into town, and he’s hoping at least one of them is still standing. Or, at least, intact enough for us to make our way across. I’m just hoping we’ll be able to get in and get out quick. I hate going through the big cities. Honestly, I think we all do. When BG told us that we’d be going through tomorrow, you could almost feel the difference in the air. No one played cards after dinner or sat around talking, or anything. They just headed straight to their rolls or their post. Is this the mental equivalent of the ‘thousand yard stare’?
I refuse to end this on a gloomy note, so I’m gonna tell you about something kinda funny that happened earlier. Remember I said Poppy was looking confused and kept saying “I don’t know”? Well, Tiny and Vicki are the only ones fluent enough in sign language to really communicate with Poppy, so they were taking turns walking with her. They have much different approaches, when it comes to talking to her. Vicki tends to leave her alone, or will ask her things like “are you hungry?” and then wait a while before saying anything else. Tiny, on the other hand…
Well, at one point, Poppy apparently got tired of being asked the same questions over and over, and when Tiny asked her (for the millionth time), “bad cloud?” she growled at him and signed something that looked rather rude. He looked like someone just slapped him with a wet fish. I only understood “mouth” and “stop,” so I’m guessing it was her way of saying ‘shut up’, but I’m not sure what else she said along with it. I asked Tiny, but he refused to tell me and Vicki wasn’t there to see it. I tried mimicking what I had seen, but Vicki said she had no idea what I was trying to say. I think she’s lying to save (what’s left of) Tiny’s dignity, but I’ll weasel it out of one of them eventually, just you watch.
Oct. 7, 2018
Well, kinda. It’s not like it used to be, obviously, but a surprising amount of people have made their way back into town…most of them from the east side, which is interesting, considering the only way across the river was an old railroad bridge. It took us forever to get across it. Granted, we had the horses to fight with, but still.
Brandon, one of the guys in charge, said they’ll start working on fortifying the bridge ASAP. They’ve been keeping an eye on it, because it’s their only route across the river, but now they’re talking about trying to find a way to block it off with the rest of the city. They’re also gonna try and spruce it up a bit. Brandon said he’s gonna put his best people on it. If his “best people” are the ones who made the city streets into a maze to keep out the trolls, I’m fully expecting to come back to the next Golden Gate Bridge.
I’m actually quite impressed with the people here. They don’t really have any “food” animals, they’ve been struggling there, but the fields they got going on are on level with the ones you’ve got, Will. They even have glass houses. Kinda. You’d have to see it to understand. There’s way too much to go into.
The only thing they were really behind on, was keeping people warm through the winter. They got the plants figured out, but the people? Yikes. Last year, apparently everyone just found random houses outside town that had fireplaces and made the trip into town to take care of the fields. It was dangerous and if a horde came through, they were stuck in the house for days while it passed. We told them what Jan’s group did, with that one community building for the winter months, and they loved it. Jay and Garcia sketched up some plans for them, and Brandon started assigning teams to the two different projects that night. He did say that he’s gonna have both teams working on getting the winter house mostly ready first, instead of having them split up and work on both at the same time. He wants the winter house to at least be livable before he lets the bridge pull focus, simply because “dead people can’t work on bridges,” and you know what? That’s fair. I’ll allow it. He promised to have more people watching the bridge though, and he had a couple people show us where I-40 used to lead out of the city, which was a damn good thing, cause we probably would’ve been searching for hours, if not the entire fucking day.
So many of the roads there were either melted or blocked off with debris.
On the plus side though, Poppy stopped looking so confused. She’s back to chasing butterflies. Tiny still hasn’t told me what she said.
Oct. 10, 2018
I knew it wouldn’t last. At least it waited until we had made camp to start raining, but still. Tomorrow’s gonna be cold and wet, and I’m already over it. At least the boys say we’ll be sticking to the roads for a while. I dunno if I could deal with having to dig out the wheels from the mud, on top of everything else right now. .
We’re stopped at a hotel for the night. There’s a settlement just down the road from us. They have the opposite problem we found at Zeke’s. A tiny amount of people, and a shit ton of space. They were excited when we told them they’re not alone out here. They’re going to start making the road between here and Knox safe to travel on. They’ve already sent a rider over to talk to Brandon about maybe both sides working on the road together.
Wish I had thought to suggest that to the other groups we’ve ran into.
Oct. 11, 2018
She’s doing it again.
Oct. 12, 2018
I will never not be the person yelling at the movie screen when someone says, “hey, team, let’s split up!” That being said, I will also not bitch too much at the boys for deciding to split up this time. Only because it worked in our favor though.
We made it to the mountains, that’s the good news. The bad news is that the maps we have failed to tell us that 40 splits into two different roads.
We looked for signs for which one goes where, but there’s nothing. The boys scouted the roads but there wasn’t enough left standing to go off of. I wanted to give the boys time to travel the entire way and back, just to be sure the roads were clear, but with Poppy still being all growly, we couldn’t risk it. So, BG, Jean, and Ty took the high road, and the rest of us took the lower with the wagons.
It was pitch black when we finally found a place to stop, and we still haven’t reached the end of the road yet. We’re hoping we’re at least halfway through. Mike said he saw a kid walking with a group of people, so he thinks we’re headed for another settlement. We’re just not sure if it’s further up the mountain, or at the end of the road, or what. It would be easy enough to send someone looking, but I don’t want the boys out there tonight. Not until we know what has Poppy agitated. She hasn’t gotten worse, but she hasn’t gotten any better, either. She hasn’t started signing bad cloud, but now she’s doing the pacing thing, so we’ve doubled the watch tonight and moving on as soon as there’s enough light to do so.
Oct. 13, 2018
They have the kid.