Dad says that any record worth its salt should cover everything from the very start, so please accept my apologies if I’ve skipped over some important stuff here. Sometimes, you get down to writing and any thoughts about a plan just fly right out the window.
Sooo…I’ll just take a few minutes here and try to go back to the start of this whole mess. The X-NET seems to be gathering a little bit more momentum every time I log back on. Dad and Billy have helped me make a timeline, and we’ve even been able to find some of the original news stories that covered the blight through the years. The social networks are still in shambles (and we haven’t found any new evidence of Mom out there, although we did run across one of her old PSU profiles, and I saw Dad tear up a little bit when he saw her picture there), but some sites are coming back online. Just this morning, in fact, a skeletal version of the old U.S. Government website showed up. It was pretty neat to be able to go back in there and search through some of the old archives. I even found a satellite map of Portland’s West Hills—it was a trip seeing the old neighborhood again, and utterly without the fires that had knocked the place down into a pile of ashes!
Dad says that whoever’s responsible for the X-NET must have some serious tech chops, and access to some big-time computing firepower. The Internet got pretty spotty when the blight walloped Europe, but it simply disappeared altogether when the big server farms in California and Oregon bit the dust.
We’re talking the ultimate Error 404 here, folks.
Part of it was the splintered workforce (I mean, who cares about keeping the servers running when your co-worker’s looking at you like you’re a pork chop, right?), but the naturalists also played a big role.
The naturalists, by the way, had really destructive factions on both sides. I suppose that was one area where people could find some common ground: the dissolution of society as we had come to know it.
So, how can I describe what’s left? Well, Sandy is utterly deserted, as far as we can tell. That’s pretty much par for the course.
There is no society.
There are homes, of course. They’re filled with dishes, pictures, furniture, televisions—all the usual stuff that people had before, but have no need for now. Heck, without a working telecom network, there isn’t even any use for phones. Mine’s somewhere back in the cabin, but wrap your brain around that one—future anthropologists and current ( I guess nonexistent) readers of this here X-NET.
Those little things were practically surgically attached to us. I mean, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing people checking their phones all the time. There was this great video of this lady that walked right into a fountain at the mall while checking something on her phone (I looked for it but, alas, that little gem hasn’t yet been restored to the X-NET).
But all of that is gone now. In less than a year, the telephone became a quaint relic. Dad says it’s about as useful as a pet rock, whatever that is.
The same thing happened to society. In just less than a year, Sandy went from a cute little town of 10,000 people to a looted husk with maybe a few hundred refugees hiding out and subsisting on whatever they could scavenge. We don’t have it much better up here on the mountain, but at least we have protection. We’ll know if somebody’s close, and Dad got the juice running, so at least there’s that, right?
But let me get back to the naturalists. Sorry about that. In the worst months of the dieback (can’t not use that word now, can I?), people weren’t just at each other’s throats—they were unraveling the very threads of what it meant to live together in a society. Billy said he once saw a full-grown man push a little girl out of her spot at one of the Mt. Tabor food lines. This was back when there was still a regional response—back when ordinary citizens showed up to swap germs and war stories for a few loaves of sourdough.
Holy sheesh, we were stupid.
The unrest took many forms, and the naturalists just loved it. They were mostly anarchists. Dad said that they wanted a return to square one—to a notion that the physically strong, and not the wealthiest, would survive. There were these brutal attacks in New York, Atlanta, and Houston. They burned down the CNN studios and they pulled J.P. Morgan’s headquarters apart, brick by brick, to hear Dad tell it.
At the same time, they were martialing their efforts in computing. When the world’s leading security systems fell, hackers drained the Royal Bank of Canada and evenly redistributed billions among the world’s population.
But who needed it? It was a symbolic gesture, but one that was powerful, according to Dad.
Money wasn’t worth anything by then. The naturalists, both blighted and healthy, had seen to that.
And this isn’t to say that there aren’t places out there that aren’t trying to hold things together. When we took the truck into Portland to get Dad’s leg treated, we saw just such a place. I won’t get into it here, but there are pockets of healthy people, living with each other, defending each other, and trying to survive among the rubble.
Wow. This is getting long, and I haven’t even really started. I think this is where Mrs. Cranston would grab that trusty red pen of hers and scribble Get on with it! in the margins of my rough draft.
So I need to warn you: some of these stories are disturbing. How could they be anything but that though, right? Dad and me went through a bunch of sites and, after sifting through some of the content that’s been restored, we tried to pick the stuff that seemed most credible.
I was really small when the first signs that something was happening started to show up in the news. Not that I’m much more than a kid now, but situations like ours have a way of…well, of hastening the old maturation process, I guess. The truth is that I kind of went from playing with barbies to hiding from cannibals, and there really hasn’t been much time in between to enjoy just being a kid.
I was in elementary school when that story first aired on the news. I don’t remember it, but Billy and Dad both do. They knew about this one, and this one, too. There were loads of theories on why all of this crazy stuff might be happening, but get a load of this one (the callout below is from the story, if you don’t want to click through):
What caused this recent outbreak of attacks? Some have the drug “bath salts,” others have claimed it was caused by the LBQ-79 virus. The girlfriend of the Miami cannibal he was under the control of a voodoo curse.
I guess it got to the point where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even built their own site.
But the thing I want you to pay close attention to is that virus listed above: LBQ-79. That’s not the virus that causes the blight, but it was the blight’s precursor—an ancestor that mutated at least six times before scientists couldn’t keep up with their jobs and had to, like the rest of us, take to the hills, so to speak (Dad calls it “going to the mattresses,” although I don’t really get that one).
Here’s a picture of what the LBQ-79 became:
Looks pretty innocent, right? Like a couple of crimson jellyfish, or maybe some kid’s watercolors from school…
Maybe the virologists have named it. Maybe it’s got some long, scientific name with a bunch of numbers and letters and dashes, and the big brains in the white coats have petri dishes stuffed with the thing, just sitting on freezer shelves in secret underground laboratories.
Maybe they do, but really…who cares?
To us, it’s just the blight.
It starts with a low-grade fever before manifesting as nausea, vomiting, excessive salivation, and uncontrollable weeping. I remember standing in line at Safeway, back at the beginning, and being stunned because all around me, people were crying. And it wasn’t just a little sniffle here and there—we’re talking crocodile tears. Blubbering, is how Billy put it.
But the poor blighted person’s temperature climbs and climbs. Rupturing is not uncommon (Mom had a pretty bad nosebleed right before she left). Delirium is usually the last stop on the way to a temporary coma state. The blighted lose consciousness for a period of about forty-eight hours or so. And when they wake up, their appetites have changed.
That’s how you know it’s in you, you see. People used to call it the carrot test. Just put a veggie in front of one of the blighted and wait for the reaction. If they made it through the coma, you pretty much knew, but if they couldn’t choke down a vegetable, then it was time to leave the area.
There were stories coming out of Europe and Asia about some terrible stuff happening, but we were so insulated from all of that in American that it didn’t really register. Dad says Americans were too busy with trivial things to adequately prepare for what was coming, and after all—it was pretty tough to believe.
Cannibalism? Yeah, right…
But like I said before, things moved quickly after what happened in Canada. The networks—you have to give ‘em credit—tried to cover it right up until the end. I couldn’t find it, but there was this terrible video of an on-air attack on the replacement hosts on the Today Show. The blighted just streamed into the studio and ripped the place apart, right while they were doing the weather in between the latest on the blight.
After that, most newscasters worked from home.
The markets tumbled. The banks failed. The infrastructure died—I mean, I haven’t heard an airplane in at least two months.
Dad calls it provincialism. People banded together, leaving the cities. The blighted took advantage of the empty cities and fire, that age-old tool of conquest, was used to ferret out the stragglers. Our old neighborhood is gone (Dad and Billy have gone back twice; Mom and me went back the first time with them, but it had been burned to the ground when the guys made their second trip), and so are most of the others. Multnomah Village, Sellwood, Mt. Tabor, most of the West Hills—heck, even little ol’ Corbett is nothing more than a pile of ash and steel and sooty, busted rebar.
The naturalists took down the zoo. Someone made a film of a pack of elephants crunching through the remains of the old Zupan’s down on Macadam. I can’t imagine what happened to the big cats.
The four of us had taken to the basement of our house. Dad boarded up the windows and doors—from the inside. I have to give him credit. He hates guns, but he went to Walmart and purchased the shotgun really early on in this whole mess. Billy’s revolver we found in Sandy, but the shotgun was Dad thinking this through from the very start.
Anyway, there used to be this show on television about getting ready for disasters. We never watched it, but there was this thing they used to talk about that we came to value when everything hit the fan here in America.
The people on the show liked to talk about bug-out bags—basically, they were these backpacks filled with survival stuff. When the first cannibalism clusters showed up in Minneapolis, Grand Forks, Kalispell, and Spokane, we got our things together pretty quickly.
Six weeks later, the schools were shuttered. Six weeks after that, the fires started. We were asleep in the basement when the smoke detectors upstairs went off. We went out the back, through a corner window that was kind of tucked away, but the blighted were already out there waiting for us.
Dad had to use the gun. He actually used it a few times and we made it out of there, all four of us, even though we could tell that some of our neighbors hadn’t been so lucky. Billy once told me that he saw Janie Kittredge just lying there in the street that night. Someone had hurt her really bad, and Mr. and Mrs. Kittredge were on their knees, just crying over their little girl, holding her there in the street for an instant before the blighted were upon them.
Billy said he saw it, and I believe him. When the blighted get their dander up, they can become positively savage.
Janie was in my class at OES, by the way. We used to sleep at each other’s house all the time.
So we spent that first terrible night in an abandoned houseboat down on the south waterfront. Dad pulled the tether and we eventually beached on a little island a few miles downstream. We stayed inside for three full days, just watching the news—watching Portland fall apart.
Then, when night fell on the fourth day, we started for the mountain. We traveled by night, covering as much ground as we could. There were others like us—their flashlights telling the story—but we avoided them. Too dangerous. It was better just to circle the wagons, Dad said.
He had done a lot of work out in East County throughout the years, and had always talked about buying a cabin on the mountain. We walked for days before melting into the Mt. Hood National Forest.
We walked another ten days, pushing further into the wilderness, crammed into that little survival tent at night, before we found the cabin.
The road is barely there. We’re talking two microscopic dirt tracks. There are saplings growing right in the middle. It’s impassible to just about everything but maybe one of those hummers.
The owners had left the place alone for all of those years. There are two rooms and one well filled with cold, sweet water. There’s an outhouse and a little shed filled with hand tools.
So there you have it. There’s the how. You probably want to know the why, but that way lies madness, I think.
Why did this happen? How could that same God that I pray to every night when I pray for Mom to come back to us let these terrible things happen?
Gosh, it beats me. It really, seriously does.
But what I do know for sure is that it did happen. Heck, it’s still happening. And that’s all. I don’t think I need to know much else, to be honest.
There’s this old movie I used to love. It’s called Cloverfield. It’s about this crazy dinosaur that attacks New York. I remember this one time, Janie Kittredge slept over and we watched it. When the movie was finished, Janie said it was stupid and I asked her why she thought that.
She told me that it just didn’t make any sense. “Why would that even happen?” she said. “Why on Earth would that creature even exist?”
I remember telling her then that the why didn’t matter—that the why wasn’t the point. What did matter was that it very certainly was happening, and the point was first acknowledging that, and then doing whatever it took to survive. Janie wasn’t buying it, but I remember thinking, even way back then, that the why didn’t matter.
The how did. How does one react to such trying circumstances? And how did we get here in the first place?
And so there you have it. That’s the how.
For whatever it’s worth…