Chapter One: Making Contact

It rains a lot more around here in the fall, but that’s actually a good thing. Dad says it makes it harder for the blight to spread, which means that we’re just a little bit safer. Billy and I don’t have to stay so close to home in the fall, and even though the rain is cold and neither of us care for bundling up, it’s much better to go out with Dad on his trips than it is to stay cooped up inside the cabin all day.

We walk everywhere, Billy and Dad and me, saving the little bit of fuel that we have left in case we have to make another run into Portland. We’d last gone into the city back in June, after Dad had been bitten by a rattlesnake while fishing on the banks of the Columbia River. We’d had to trade our last two chickens for treatment, but that didn’t bother us so much.
There would be other chickens someday, but there was only one Dad.
It’s true that we mostly stay out of the city, but we have been leaving the safety of the mountain and going into Sandy and Eagle Creek a lot more often lately. We search for things that might be useful, things we can carry home, things that haven’t been touched by the blight.
And we’ve been looking for Mom, too.
I can tell that Billy and Dad both miss her, but I just can’t imagine that they miss her as much as I do. Sometimes, I feel like I’m just a tiny part of who I used to be, and that the big part that’s missing is Mom.
She used to keep my hair in braids. Boy, you don’t realize how nice that is until you don’t wear them much anymore (and I don’t blame Dad for not knowing a lot about hair; he has other things on his mind—that’s for sure—but at least he tries from time to time). Mom used to sing to me throughout the day, and she read me a story every single night. Even after the blight flashed through Oregon like a wildfire, she was still a really, really good mom.
I say a prayer every night that we’ll find her and that she’ll come back to the cabin with us. She knows where it is, of course. But she left because she felt that she had to. She thought she was…well, I guess she thought that she was showing symptoms.
I don’t really know what to think about that. Well, that’s not true all the way, I guess. I have a little bit of a different theory about it.
I think she left because she didn’t like to see Billy and me so hungry all the time. Right before, Mom just stopped eating with us. It was like she didn’t feel like it was okay anymore, kind of like every bite she took was one less for Billy and me. Dad begged her to stay with us, but when the vomiting started, I guess he felt that he had to let her go. I think he was scared that she might actually have the blight, but that didn’t stop him from hugging her. I’ll never forget the way Dad held her—squeezing her so close while her body quivered with that terrible fever. He was crying, Dad was. It’s the only time we’ve ever seen him do that, and it scared me and Billy bad.
I hope I never see it again. Dads aren’t supposed to feel so sad.
Billy’s kind of like Dad. He thinks Mom was contagious, but if that was true, why hasn’t Dad gotten sick? I mean, he was holding her, and that’s all it takes with the blight…
We’ve been combing through what’s left of Sandy, just picking our way through the outskirts of downtown. It’s tiring, always worrying about what might be out there. And honestly, there’s just about nothing useful left to gather. We found a big cachet of canned peas about a week ago. When Dad got them open, the three of us just about passed out, the stench was so bad. He said that some air must have gotten into the cans, so we had to throw them all out.
It’s really a shame, because we haven’t had anything green to eat in an awfully long time.
Is this getting through out there? Is anyone reading this?
I’m curious, because I can only log onto the X-NET in spurts. There was a huge void in information after the Internet went away, of course, but people are obviously making a fresh go of it somewhere with this X-NET deal. Some entire sites have even been recovered, and Dad thinks it’s probably helping those leading any recovery efforts that might be taking place.
Sometimes we have electricity. Most of the time we don’t, but that’s okay. We’ve adjusted. Our home is secure, and I don’t write this journal from the cabin anyway. There’s no sense in tipping our location, and I’m fine with making the hike to a workable hot zone.  
We found this computer in an abandoned R.V. just outside of the old Foster Farms. Well, Dad found it. He was the only one that went inside, and when he came back out he had this computer and some shampoo and a small bag of brown rice and a very pale complexion. He stuffed the computer in my pack, told me that it was mine to keep, and then he got really sick behind the R.V.
The blight has that effect on people. I’m glad I didn’t have to go inside and, even though he won’t admit it, I’m sure that Billy was too.
Anyways, the computer works. I hacked the password and found an X-NET connection almost immediately. Dad says my technical skills are “the birthright of our generation.” It’s funny, because he’s doing the exact same thing that I’m doing here, only he records his thoughts in an old paper notebook.
Dad’s kind of analog.
The power comes and it goes in rolling surges. We’ll get three hours here, and then two days off; two days on, then nothing for a week. There’s no sense in trying to predict it, so we just make use of it when we can.
I’m taking Dad’s advice and just writing. It was what I did before the blight came to Oregon, and it’s what I’ll do now. Mrs. Cranston always said that I was the best writer in class, and I don’t think she was just saying it to be nice. Trust me, I’ve read some of classmates’ essays. Mrs. Cranston had a lot of patience.
By the way, is anybody reading this? It’d sure be nice to know if this is actually making it out there…
Sooo, what else? Oh, yeah—our family. My name is Allie (short for Allison) May Keane. My parents are Marjorie Diane Keane and Clifford Dawson Keane, and my brother is William Dawson Keane. Dawson is a family name, of course, and one day I will pass it along to my own children.
I will be thirteen in January.
What else? Oh, I used to attend Oregon Episcopal School. I liked it, and I miss school an awful lot. Billy’s almost giddy that the schools are in shambles, but Dad says he can’t see much of a future unless we can get them back up and running.
Dad is waaay smart, by the way. He’s an engineer, and he’s the one that was able to find the cabin and get everything wired up correctly so that the electricity works.
Mom’s pretty amazing herself. She taught environmental science at Portland State, which is another reason Dad and Billy think that she might have actually been sick—that maybe she knew that the virus that causes the blight had taken hold in her bloodstream, and that she could turn on us at any time.
Still, I’m just not buying it. I have to keep my hopes up, right? I mean, if I lose that, what else is left? Besides, I don’t care how sick Mom might be—she would never turn on any of us. Not in a million years.
So anyway, back to the family. Billy is my older brother. He’s awesome too, even though we sometimes fight. Billy was a freshman at Central Catholic. He was a star on the soccer team, even though he was only a freshman. Also, Billy’s just a big old softie at heart, but he puts up a brave face. He’d absolutely do whatever it took to keep me safe, and I love him for that.
So that’s pretty much it for now. I’ll post here as much as I can—and as often as the power allows.
If there’s anybody out there with a working X-NET connection, I’d sure like to hear from you…
Three days without the juice. Dad thinks the people down at BPA are rationing it, but there’s really no telling how the electricity is being dispersed. We don’t even know if there are people down at BPA.  Maybe the whole place is just running on autopilot, and that’s why it’s impossible to detect a pattern. Maybe the water just tumbles through those big old turbines all day and all night, and then when it builds up to capacity, the system vents a surplus and we get the juice for a day or two.
Who knows?
Sometimes, on clear nights, the three of us hike over to the lookout and peer out at the city. Most nights, Portland is pretty dim. Yesterday, though, the lights came on right in front of us. Bam—the place lit up a like a Christmas tree! It was really cool to see that.
So, I think I’ll take Dad’s advice with this little writing space that I’ve carved out here. He thinks I should be making a record—that instead of just trying to connect with others (by the way, did anybody read this? Hello!?), I should also be trying to document what’s happening. I like the idea, and that’s what I’ve decided to do.
I digitized an old painting that Dad found in the cabin’s bedroom for the header. It was pretty and it was hopeful, so I decided to use it. Then, I came up with that title. I think it fits.
We (by that I mean the three of us and maybe you, if there is any “you” out there reading this) are the remnants, and this is our record.
Speaking of remnants, it’s kind of hard to put that idea into perspective, but Dad told us yesterday that we should think about everything that’s happened in terms of halves. He said that’s how things like this work—and he used a funny term for it.
There you have it—not exactly a hopeful word, is it?
Anyway, it was hard at first for me to wrap my brain around what he was saying, but now it makes some sense. Dad said that all populations (from amoebas to human beings, and everything in between) have what he calls a carrying capacity. When things get too large, certain natural factors have a way of placing things back into balance.
In our case, it’s the blight that’s doing that. Like I said, it’s kind of hard for me to think in halves. When I think about all of my friends at OES, I hate the possibility that half of them are gone, and that the other half might be…well, more on that later.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, was prepared to handle the blight. It tore out of Asia, ravaged most of Europe, then cascaded down over America from Canada, where the first cannibalism clusters surfaced in Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. The United States shuttered its borders immediately, but those Canadian cities were too close. Dad thinks that there might be large pockets of uninfected survivors further south—he’s been reading the X-NET a lot when the power is up—but we can’t be sure.
What we do know is that Portland isn’t safe, and that Seattle is completely over-run.
But anyway, Dad’s theory of halves assumes that maybe 50% of the population contracted the blight. That created a very difficult social dynamic, of course, because that means that the other half of the population immediately became food.
Yes, you read that correctly. It’s why the media called them “cannibalism clusters” early on.
And before you roll your eyes about zombies, you have to understand that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Afraid so.
Not quite.
Although the fever did make many of the affected sluggish, there was no loss of cognition (another of Dad’s terms, but I already knew it from school anyway) among the blighted. There was no death—no stilled heartbeats. There was no mindless shambling, no searching for human brains.
No, we’re actually talking about calculated shambling here, folks.
Sorry—bad joke. I couldn’t resist. The thing is, the affected simply underwent a change in constitution. No more chicken. No more broccoli. No more apples (man, just writing that word down here makes my stomach growl), no more pork, and no more bread.
Just…well, just other people.
When the President admitted that she had contracted the virus, she immediately ceded her office to the VP. When he admitted that he had it…well, things went downhill pretty quickly from there. I can’t imagine where they are now, although I’m sure there’s no shortage of food for them. The VIPs, as I understand it, are still eating well.
You see, that’s the problem. The blighted are smart (as smart as they ever were before, anyway) and they’re also hungry. Ravenous, in some cases.
So, if half get infected and the other half becomes food, you can see the inequality, right? Once you begin to cull the herd, some of the blighted starve. There goes another half.
And so on. And so forth.
And then there were the conscientious infected. Hundreds of thousands of people simply starved to death. The specter of devolving, of doing such terrible things to other human beings, was just too much to bear. When the blight swept across the face of the world, many preferred to wait peacefully for the end rather than attack their families, their neighbors, their fellow man.
And many more took their own lives before hunger even entered into the equation. I often think about what I might do if I get infected someday.
I’d like to think I could be that brave.
Famine farms popped up in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami—heck, all over the country…all over the world! Whole families, infected by the blight, reported to the farms to die together. A man in Buffalo wrote a story on the X-NET claiming that the smoke from the bodies they were burning at the football stadium carried on the wind, clear up to Niagra Falls.
And so there you have it. The dieback has begun, and it’s now a question of reaching equilibrium. Dad says that, barring a medical miracle and the capacity to reverse what has happened to the blighted, the process will sort itself out eventually, but probably not in our lifetimes—and that’s even if Billy and me live to be a hundred.
But like I said, not everybody was content to report to the famine farms. Many, many of the blighted have adapted to their new reality. Dad believes that there are more of them than there are of us. They live together, and they are organized. Dad says that, at least in the early going, they have the advantage. You see, there’s been no military response on our side. There’s been no formal reaction at all by the ones who remain

uh, oh…we just had a little flicker there.
I’m saving and posting this right now. Back online soon, I hope…

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