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A day outside

Tom Merke

After climbing down from their caravan, Derek and his son, Justin walked across the dust covered street of their village which has been their home for the last eight years. The morning cold had set upon the dirt, and the spring flowers that had just begun to bloom. This would be the eighth spring they had spent in this village. Derek told his son that today would be a special day, that today he would join him outside for the first time.

They passed a small corn field and then another. They went beyond a cluster of old trailers, and buildings made of tin. As they arrived at the edge of the compound and the long wired fence that protected the perimeter, Justin felt his stomach clench with nervousness. He was familiar with the sight of them. He had seen rotten bodies creeping outside the fence. His father had instructed him on how to protect himself, had he ever encountered one. Still, he had yet to put those teachings into practice.

Derek approached the gate, guarded by a man so gaunt he hid his jaw behind a beard as unkempt as the barbwire wrapped around the fence itself. The man tucked a metal baseball bat beneath his arm as he spoke with Justin’s father. After ten minutes, and the occasional glance back towards Justin, the man unlocked the gate, watching as Derek and his son departed. As the two of them retrieved two bicycles from the shed, the gatekeeper kept his vigilance. Behind them, as they peddled away, the gate behind them shuddered to a close.

Justin had heard many times where the road from the compound leads. But now he saw everything with his own eyes. The sight of the great trees and vegetation was very different from what he was used to. There was no fence, no caravans and no other people. He wished to detour from the dirt road and go into the forest and soak in everything.

They reached an intersection where the road was paved. Without another soul in sight they cycled a few kilometres when Justin spied a building and some weird structures around it. Derek told his son how he used to stop with his car here to fill up in the old days. The windows were broken and vegetation has overgrown the walls.

Ahead was the endless road surrounded by hills and greenery. Justin was taking in the look of the lush forest, the paved road and the traffic signs. One read: Colebrook 35 km. He remembered how his father told stories of life in the city.
In some time the pair passed the bridge over the canal and the burnt out remains of a farm house. Justin recognised the large water tanks as they had similar objects on the compound.
The sun was shining high as they rode through the valley and began the long climb to the mountain top. On their way up they encountered lots of abandoned cars in the ditch hiding behind tall grass.

The climb was tiring but Justin was so enthusiastic that he hardly noticed the ascent. Once on top Derek showed the way to a lookout. Justin had trouble comprehending what he was seeing. On the horizon was Colebrook with its high rise buildings in downtown and the suburbia which surrounded it. Little nooks of parks everywhere and wide roads. All empty and in silence. It was an astonishing sight for Justin who couldn’t say a thing for minutes. Derek began to tell the stories about the outbreak and what he and his girlfriend did in order to survive. City life was chaos not just because of them but the riots and lootings.

Derek told Justin how his father owned a property in the countryside. The compound was a family farm and self-sustained. They quickly erected the fence and nearby survivors moved there and built a new community. Adjusting to the new way of life had many challenges but they had no choice. There were people who couldn’t reach the farm in time. Some has been bitten. The people on the compound learned that their way to survive in the hostile world is to trust and rely on each other. They have been winning for the past years as the little tight-knit community was safe inside. But the long term plan was to reclaim more land and restore order. Eventually the community will reach the city but who knows when. At this point Justin knew his destiny lies in returning home when he is ready.

Derek was talking when they heard a noise from the bush behind them. The pair hopped on their cycles and pedalled away quickly. Justin looked back and saw one of them slowly moving towards them. It was once a human being, now a disfigured. rotten monster dragging its leg behind. A minute later they could barely see it.

Justin was daydreaming how he would return and live a life in the city. The skyline was glorious and he envied his parents for their chance to live there. All these thoughts went through his head. He wanted to go to school there. He wanted to live in the house his father talked about. He wanted to go back to the outlook again. They passed the old service station, turned left to the dusty road and were riding until the they disappeared behind the gate.