So I guess the biggest news is that we’re going to attempt to visit a man in the city—a doctor. Some claims have been made that we can’t help but investigate for ourselves. I wish I could post here more often, but the power has been so sporadic lately, and the nights are getting so much colder. I don’t like making the hike up here as much when it’s this cold. There’s ice crusting on the edges of the creeks, and Billy and Dad and me have to really layer up when we head out on the prowl.
It’s been four days since the euphoria of Thanksgiving, and Dad’s been out hunting every morning since. We had no idea, but it turns out he’s been scouting all sorts of waterfowl for a few weeks now. Our Dad, the mighty hunter! That would have been pretty hard to call a few years ago, I have to say. If we had more shells, I don’t think we’d want for protein much at all anymore. A lot of the larger birds have left with the weather change, but there are still gulls coming off of the Columbia and there are loads and loads of ducks, of course. It’s just a matter of picking out the birdshot, to hear him tell it.
And he thinks he knows where there are more turkeys, which is a really comforting thought. But they’re wily creatures, those turkeys. He came up empty on a shot two days ago and I think he mourned for that spent shell—I really do.
Still…our bellies are mostly full and our spirits have been good since the holiday. These turkeys living on the mountain are actually kind of scrawny (we’re not talking hormone-filled Buttberballs here), but we ate like pigs and then put some aside as well. We keep a cold box in the creek on the far side of the property for when the juice is off. So far, nothing has spoiled and, even though it’s lumpy and it could really use some butter, that giblet gravy has been sooo good!
Hello, tummy! Do you remember what it was like to just walk right into the grocery store? To look around and see clean, fresh food? To walk down the aisles, a little bit of light music in the background, just studying the tantalizing pictures on the front of all those colorful boxes?
Do you remember hamburgers? You do? How about bacon double cheeseburgers?
Oh man. I need to stop this before the nostalgia becomes too much. It was such a short time ago…
Anyway, we learned about this guy Dr. Camille when we were in Sandy (we’re just about done with our searching, by the way—that little town has been picked clean). This was just yesterday morning, and we’d had a really lucky day. We’d found some pretty useful stuff. There was a nice little bag of cornmeal and some yeast packets and baking soda. We found a little first-aid kit with iodine. There was a small bottle of chewable kids vitamins. Billy found a really nice tackle box, which will come in handy when the water levels drop in a few months. Dad found three cans of canned clams and a portable transistor radio with a hand-powered crank that actually worked.
The radio was a revelation. I’ve found a few sites on the X-NET that claimed to host radio content, but none of them actually worked. They were probably skeletons (I guess they’re kind of like Billy and Dad and me in that way)—remnants of what once was a viable community. I haven’t been able to make much out of the organization of the X-NET, by the way. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why some sites seem to be filled with updated content (like this little journal, thank you very much!), while others are nothing more than hollow reflections of what they were when the worldwide web was the thing. It’s not like I have a lot of time to research it, with the power coming and going the way it does, but it’s still pretty fascinating to poke around and see how people are living. There is actually a little colony living on an island off the coast of Australia; supposedly, there are no traces of the blight! There are almost 30,000 healthy souls living there.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum. Remember that crazy insignia we saw on the side of the military vehicles all those weeks ago in Sandy? It is the sigul (Dad’s word; who knows where he got that one) of the Rising Red. That’s the name they’ve chosen for themselves.
Pretty stupid if you ask me.
If you read through the stuff on the X-NET (and believe me, I think Dad has spent more time up here than I have lately—at least, that’s what the battery is telling me), they get all bent out of shape if you use the word “blight” when talking about what happened. They fancy themselves a new, hardier humanity. That’s some serious delusion for you, but at least you know what we do, and that’s what they call themselves.
There are sites hosting out of Seattle, Denver, Jacksonville, Vancouver—it looks like they’re the ones behind the X-NET. Heaven only knows when they’ll figure out a way to hack my little site here…
But I digress, and I can’t do that. We’re getting ready to leave, you see. It’s almost time to go into the city.
So anyway, we sat down at the kitchen table of an old farmhouse and switched the radio on. There was a little lake of dried blood on the floor and one set of bare footprints—small, heartbreaking footprints—heading out of the kitchen and off down the hallway.
We ignored it. After everything we’ve seen in the last few months, it’s just another pattern in the linoleum. Your mileage will vary, but I imagine you’ve adjusted at least a little to the new normal where you are…
Dad thumbed through the dial and we listened. I haven’t heard anything on the radio since the summer, and that’s a real shame. Music goes a long way in lifting the spirit. KINK was one of the last stations on the radio, bless their hearts, and they really tried to make a go of it, right up until the end.
The FM side was pure static, top to bottom. Not even a Ke$ha jam to pass the time (I joke, I joke).
But the AM side was a much different story. The first hit was on the low end. We heard the crackle and pop of an old recording (Dad said something about vinyl). Some choir sang “Bringing in the Sheaves” with a warbling brass accompaniment. It was bad enough to elicit a group cringe, and then the song ended and a man with this weird, high-pitched voice came on and cried for a little bit while he read from the book of Revelation. There was no telling if he was crying because of what the blight had done to our part of the world, or if it was because he was showing early symptoms.
The cynic in each of us, I’m sure, assumed the latter. Anyway, he launched into a bunch of “amens” and “selahs” before putting on another hymn.
Time to move on.
The next broadcast chilled me to the bone. Just typing this out here sends a shiver up my spine.
In a clinical, perfectly matter-of-fact tone, this woman read from a list. “In Olympia, there are thought to be in excess of sixteen hundred remnants, though there appears to be very little in the way of formal organization. There are reports, unconfirmed, of a sizable collective taking refuge in Capitol High School. General Ambrose, we trust, will soon investigate these reports. The following families have been reported as splintered, their remnants unknown: Abrams, Aikens, Allens—the families of both Ryan and Michael, Amundsons…”
Dad held us in place with his eyes. He was searching for an indication that we understood what we were hearing, and he certainly got it.
Suddenly, that farmhouse felt like a crypt. My heart hammered in my chest like it used to before a track-and-field event, and I looked over at Billy. He swallowed thickly, and I knew he was feeling the same thing.
The blighted (can’t call them the Red Rising…sorry, jerks) were organizing. Not only that, but they were actually informing on their own kin.
They were keeping a list—documenting their resources. Remember Dad’s theory of halves? Well, there must be some empty bellies among the blighted as well. What they were talking about here amounted to genocide, although I don’t think that word really works when we’re talking about systems of food production.
Twenty minutes later and little miss cannibal robot moved on to a town call Omak. Omak’s list was much, much shorter.
We listened for a time, but other than those terrible lists, the woman offered no other insights into what life was like where the radio stations were up and running. We had the name of some guy named General Ambrose and the terrible feeling in our guts that our family name might one day appear on the lips of that horrible woman.
Dad thumbed the dial and we found still a third station. It was a stronger, clearer signal—probably coming out of downtown Portland. I watched in wonder as a little smile formed on Dad’s face. He recognized the voice.
“That doesn’t change,” the woman purred. Her voice was pure and smooth. It was vaguely familiar, and I could tell from his reaction that Billy had also heard her speak before. “These are still your family members, regardless of everything that has transpired. Regardless of all the terrible things they’ve done. They are still our brothers and sisters in humanity, and Dr. Camille’s treatments can, possibly, restore them to you. I want to stress that these treatments represent possibilities—they represent hope. Will there be trying times along the way? Of course there will be. Of course. Nothing like the blight has ever happened in our lifetimes, but similar pandemics have happened before. Even when all of this is all over, it’ll likely happen again.
“Fifty million people died in the flu pandemic of 1918. In 1968, a virus came out of Hong Kong that might have actually been an ancestor of the blight. And in…”
On and on she went, documenting the millions of people whose lives had become forfeit to organisms invisible to the naked eye. Dad put the macabre inventory aside, still smiling. “Do you kids know who that is?”
We shook our heads, and he laughed. “Well, of course you wouldn’t. You’re not exactly in her target demographic. That woman’s name is Delilah. She used to have this late-night call-in show on the radio. Real lovey-dovey stuff. Folks would give her a sob story about a break-up or the loss of a family member, and she’d hit them with some Toto or a Whitney Houston song. Your mom and I would listen to it on the way back from Volcanoes games down in Salem. I can’t believe she’s on the radio. Heck, I’m surprised anybody’s on the radio, but this is really strange. And it’s got to be close—that’s a clear broadcast. I wonder what she’s doing up here in the Northwest.”
We turned our attention back to the radio. “…Dr. Camille’s treatment has worked wonders. Early human trials have been successful beyond measure, with many, many blighted reporting the full reversal of all symptoms. The mortality rates have been, unfortunately, very high. A little more than 20% of trial participants do not survive the treatment. But still, that number is diminishing with every new cohort, and Dr. Camille believes he understands why these deaths are happening. The truth is, if you’re afflicted with the blight and you have a strong constitution, it’s time to come back into the city. It’s time to allow yourself to be pre-screened at the Pearl Point Security Facility…”
“I have to go,” Dad said, turning the radio down. “Look kids, this sounds too good to be true, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least look into it.”
“What if it’s a trap?” Billy said. “She might be some famous disc jockey from back in the day, Dad, but what if she’s working with them? I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Dad sighed. He looked on Billy then with genuine pride. “Great point, Son. I just got so excited by the possibility of it. News like this would bring survivors into the city in droves. But still…what if it’s true? What if they’ve found a legitimate treatment?”
The idea of it just kind of hovered there in the room for a long moment. I don’t know what they boys were thinking, but in that moment I was with Mom again in my mind. She was laughing at a cookout we’d had to celebrate the end of the school year, long before she’d felt the need to steal away from the family she loved with all her heart on some gray, miserable day on the side of Larch Mountain.
“We won’t let you go without us,” I said. I tried to muster as much conviction as I could, but I doubt I was all that convincing. I looked at Billy and he nodded his agreement, so I pushed forward. “We’re staying together, Dad, whatever we decide. You can ask us to stay behind, but there’s no way you’ll know for sure if we will. And you don’t want us on our own out there, do you?”
To this, he could only respond with another heavy sigh.
“How much fuel is left, Bill?” he said.
“A little less than forty gallons. More than enough to get down into the city and stash the truck.”
Dad’s eyes darted back and forth, searching the faces of his children for the resolve needed to risk the very worst. I couldn’t imagine what he must have been feeling as a parent right then.
“Okay,” he said, swallowing thickly. “Okay, we’ll sleep on it tonight and push into the city tomorrow. We’ll stash the truck and approach this checkpoint on foot. What’s the address?”
“11th and Davis,” Billy replied without hesitation. The address was a tattoo on my mind as well, and I knew that Dad was just testing us. There was no way we were ever going to forget what that Delilah woman had just said on the radio.
Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom….we’re coming, Mom.
“Let’s get the truck packed up then, kids. See if we can’t figure out what’s what down in the city.”
As I type this, they are finishing up the preparations. It’s an hour until darkness—an hour until we head down the mountain. We don’t know where we’ll be staying, of course, but if I find an X-NET hotspot you can be sure that I’ll be back online here soon…