Escaping my sanctuary
I glance out the window by my reading chair and my eye floats to the end of the street where the long flatbed truck lays on its side and to the ruined minivan that sits flush against it, gently touching bumpers and the sun sparkling on the dewy grass and the stubborn blackened circle of asphalt where I burned the pile of them years ago and the white flowers that wrap around the mailbox and my shelf of pilfered books by the window and the morning rays highlighting millions of floating specks of dust and, riding on top of it all, the snarls of a few walkers on Parker. I consider the books again; a physical representation of my final to-do list. I have been here six years. With my eyes now and the magnifying glass, I’m not even ten percent through with what I had wanted to achieve before I die.
I put the finishing touches on my usual breakfast: oatmeal with dried fruit, brown sugar, pecans, and a dollop of questionable vintage margarine. I place the empty oat container next to the front door to remember to scavenge some more during my next outing.
I usually leave the house, if not the neighborhood, every day to ensure that the reinforced, barricaded fences are still intact, still doing all they can to repeal the zombies.
The neighborhood I settled in – all alone so far – is a cul de sac, with only a single entrance; the entire chain of houses and backyard fences serve to isolate it from the surrounding neighborhoods. Blocking the entrance from Pebble Vale was almost nearly done for me by a collision between a blue minivan and a flatbed truck that happened years ago.
When I found the place, I finished blockading the lone entrance with as much junk and fencing as I could drag from the garages on my street. Once the bottleneck became a barrier, I had a string of eleven houses that were safe from the monsters that roamed the streets. Then I went door-to-door to all the houses on the street, removing corpses and burning them in the street before they might reanimate. Then I fortified each fence and made sure each garage and backdoor was shut, secure, and locked.
That was six years ago; it feels like six thousand.
It wasn’t books that should have been the most important thing in my life. It should have been connections, relatedness, friends, family, acquaintances. I had failed in every area.
Some early disappointment or letdown with people had settled in my psyche and proceeded to grow roots. Some immature collection of expectations had taken hold. And the lesson I absorbed from these missteps was this: people are unreliable as a source of happiness. This experience was enough to ensure I would be miserable for most, if not all, of my life.
So rather than invest in people, friendships, family, I poured my energy and expectations of building a life into books, lists, plans, schemes for self-enrichment, personal improvement, or profit.
The greatest irony? Now that I could dedicate almost all my time to my precious books, my vision has gotten much worse. I still read a few hours a day. There is little else to do. So I read. Squinting, straining through my eyeglasses and a trembling magnifying glass, I slowly make my way through the classics, science fiction, mystery, horror, bizarre, and speculative books and novels.
And every single time I close one of the books, I am filled with so much unquenchable loneliness, I want to die.
Like Ebeneezer, I was wrong not to invest in humanity, family, and friends.
And now my only company besides the occasional birds and a squirrel or two are the packs of ex-humans, now ravenous hordes of brain-eating zombies. In life, some of these people might have wondered what was on my brain; this bunch wants to know how it tastes. Their snarling never ceases to irritate me. Oh, how I miss speech. I talk to myself, of course, but that usually devolves into an indulgent bout of despair.
Lately, Dumas has been my focus, specifically The Count of Monte Cristo.
The poor Edmond Dantes was wrongfully imprisoned.
He’s like me, I think; I am in prison, just like Edmond.
I slam the Dumas novel shut and nearly throw it. I force myself to breathe deeply, calming myself. I return the book to my lap, open it to the page I’ve already read a dozen times, and commit myself to at least reaching the part where he escapes.
Rather than using this revelation as another tool to berate myself, I will use it as motivation for escaping a prison of my making.
Not that I hadn’t left the neighborhood. As I said, the zombies do some weird disappearing act from 3 to 6 AM every morning.
I regularly wander out to search for antibiotics, dried foods, grains, oatmeal, cereals, and bottled water.
As stocked as many of the pantries were in this neighborhood when I settled here, I knew I’d eventually empty all of them if I stayed here long enough. While I never explicitly thought I’d stay here forever, once the single entrance was blocked to my satisfaction and all the fences reinforced, I began collecting books from all the other houses into mine, I was thinking it on some level.
Who likes to confront their mortality?
For years, then for months, I told myself there were no others; such a ridiculous notion. I am 66 now and not what one would call outdoorsy or especially suited for survival in this dystopian world. If I survived, there are others.
Are they too cowering behind barricades and shelters, only coming out for a few early morning runs for fresh water and toilet paper?
I make my way to the bedroom where I’d stashed the mirrors years ago. Christ, I feel old.
I look into the oval mirror in the ornate metal frame; there, behind the wrinkles and hair that’s gone white, playing at the corners of my mouth, is a wry smile threatening to erupt onto my face.
I will leave here soon. I might die, sure, but that fate awaits me whether I stay or go.
I will travel. I will scour Plano first. I will travel in elliptically widening circles, spiraling my way outwardly.
I will move about only between 3:00 to 6:00 AM each day.
I will shout as I walk the suburbs that once served north Dallas. I will sing silly love songs as I walk along. I will screech blessings, profanities, my innermost private thoughts, and secrets. I will beg for asylum. More than anything, I will seek friendship and connection.
I will fashion some type of movable lightweight shelter where I can ride out my 21 stationary hours each day or find some house which I can barricade myself in until It’s time to begin again the next day.
I will travel light, but I will put myself out there. There are others. Suddenly, it’s no longer a wish but a certainty, one I overlooked for so long.