We’d gone to sleep throwing ideas back and forth, our excitement growing, dulled only by the exhaustion that beckoned us.
The ideas we exchanged were mostly lost to the night, our words becoming gradually more slurred and the suggestions more fanatical as we struggled to stay awake.
We slept more soundly than I can remember us sleeping since this whole thing started – the deep sleep of people who felt peaceful and craved energy to put a plan in motion the next day.
By the time we woke, the next day had broken and I figured us to be sometime in the mid morning. The day was dismal, heavy clouds hanging over the house and a wind battering the old frame around.
I rolled over to find Jay beside me, wide awake, a grin breaking out on his face as his eyes met mine.
“I still think we can do it.” He paused. “I was kind of worried, you know, we’d wake up and feel stupid for thinking we could even try, but… I still feel good about this.”
“All we need is a solid plan and we can make it happen.” Even I felt good about this, that we could finally get something right. I was usually plagued by doubt and uncertainty, but like Jay, I felt like this was something we could get to work.
“Let’s eat and get to it.” Jay stood, stretched, and headed for our packs, pulling out a box of dry crackers and looking to me for approval.
“Er, not those,” I said quickly, “we’ve only got whatever’s left of the water I gave you yesterday.”
“Oh shit, okay.” He frowned, then shrugged. “Don’t think I drank much anyway, but we need to take care of that pretty quick.” He grinned and pulled out a couple of small tins of tuna.
We ate in silence, the kind of satisfied, determined silence we hadn’t shared in a long time. Having an end goal had changed us, made us motivated and improved our outlook beyond what I thought we were still capable of.
We drank the salty juice out of the now empty tuna tins and set them aside. It was too risky to drink what little water we had left before we were either desperate or had found a new water source.
“Let’s take everything with us,” I suggested, zipping my pack up. “Then we can keep moving or come back depending on what happens out there.”
“Yeah, great idea.” Jay grabbed his own pack and kissed me quickly on the lips, moving away before I had time to react.
I felt a twitch of guilt at how happy we were, but tried to push it aside. We had surely earned a day of peace. I followed Jay out of the room, down the stairs, and down to the window I’d used to get out last night.
“Leave the front door secure,” I whispered, “use this window.” I slid it open, cautiously checking on the outside world.
It stayed as still and quiet as it had last night, with nothing disturbed and no trace of danger lurking. I dropped my pack outside and pushed myself through after it, waiting a moment while Jay did the same.
“Which way?” I asked, looking around. This wasn’t familiar territory, and I didn’t know which way to head in the hopes of finding water quickly.
“Hang on a sec, I want to check this shed out. Watch my back.” Jay grabbed his pack and darted towards the rundown looking shed, forcing the door open with a dry, resistant scrape.
A moment later, he stuck his head back out the shed door, grinning widely and beckoning me over.
“Check this out!” He said proudly, wheeling a faded old mountain bike out of the shed as I approached.
“No way,” I laughed, “is there – ?”
I let my question drop as he wheeled out a second one, still grinning. “Can you believe it? They’re old, but they’re in OK shape.”
I bent down to check out the tyres, and was surprised to find he was right. They were old, but well looked after. The tyres were a iittle flat, but we could cover some distance on them.
“Hey, check for a pump,” I told him, standing up, “or anything else we can use on them.”
He propped his bike against the shed and disappeared back inside, emerging a moment later with a bike pump and two helmets. “How’s this?”
I grinned at him, not quite believing our luck. I strapped the outrageously pink helmet on – tight, but manageable – and stuck my tongue out at him.
It took us maybe ten minutes to get the tyres pumped and seats adjusted as best we could. Both bikes were comically too short for Jay, but we could manage.
“I think a couple of the next properties over were running small dams,” He said, pointing roughly back in the direction of Lakes, “let’s head that way… if nothing else, it gets us closer to the others.”
It wasn’t easy going on the bikes, and in some places, walking probably would have been faster. At one point I stopped to rip out the excess grass and weeds caught in the spokes. They handled some of the terrain well, but it was getting back on the highway we were really looking forward to.
It took us probably a couple of hours to reach the next property over, and it was bleakly dry of any water. The water tank next to the house was empty, and we soon learned why – without anyone to run maintenance, it had become blocked with leaves and other junk.
“Next one.” Jay said, taking off again. I followed, watching his backpack bounce around as he navigated the bike over the jagged landscape.
The next property was closer – probably only an hour away this time – and we were excited to trek up a grassy mound to view their small dam. It was probably only a quarter full, but that was plenty for us.
We skidded down the muddy sides until we reach the edge, water lapping at our sneakers.
Jay kneeled down, cupping a handful of water and sipping.
“I guess we live another day, huh?” I said, bending to drink.
We stayed for probably ten minutes, resting and drinking our fill before replenishing all our bottles and washing our hands and faces.
We worked our way back to the bikes.
“Now what?” Jay asked, cupping his hand over his eyes to block out the sun. “I mean, I guess we’re just short of halfway back to Lakes, but what’s our plan?”
“Why don’t we stay here? There’s water here, and we can plan this thing out properly. We have nothing but an idea to share with the others right now.”
He nodded, turning his attention to the farmhouse a few hundred metres away. “Let’s check it out.”
We pushed our bikes through the overgrowth and hid them down the side of the house. The house loomed over us, quiet and seemingly untouched. Jay retrieved the pistol from his pack and approached a ground floor window, pressing his face up close to the dirty glass, trying to see in.
“I can’t see shit,” He muttered, trying to push the window open. The glass, dirty and covered in cobwebs, didn’t budge. He looked around, looked at me, then shrugged and drove his elbow through it.
We held still for a long moment, waiting for any sound of alarm. When nothing came, he handed me the pistol and forced his way through the window, grunting. I checked behind me and handed the pistol through the window, forcing my way through after him.
“There’s nothing here,” He whispered, “you can just tell? Can you feel it? The emptiness?”
I knew what he meant, but neither of us was willing to risk our lives on a feeling, no matter how strong. We checked the house thoroughly, relieved to find it not only empty but relatively untouched.
We moved back downstairs, setting up base in the tiny study we’d found. It held an impressive desk, an executive chair, a small armchair, and a now useless computer. We pushed the monitor back and rifled through the desk drawers until I found a couple of pens and a pad of paper.
Jay pulled the curtains open, letting the daylight fall over us.
I ripped the pad in half and we each sat in front of blank sheets, lost in thought.
“We need a starting point,” I said finally, feeling frustrated. “There’s too much to cover, I can’t think straight.”
“Okay… What’s the purpose?”
“Rebuild. Find a safe place to house us. Find more survivors. Stop wandering, stop relying on finding supplies.”
Jay nodded. “I guess we need to work out what might work and what won’t. We need to be as far away from Harvey as possible, for example.”
I scratched the pen across my paper, jotting our thoughts as we hit on good ideas. We probably sat there for a few hours, talking excitedly while I wrote furiously, barely keeping up with Jay at times.
“Okay.” I said finally, leaning back in the armchair. “I think we have enough to present to Ken and the others, but we still have no plans for where.”
“So do we scout around before we go back, or do we attack it as a group?”
“I want to know if they’re in or not,” I said, thinking aloud. “I mean, if they don’t want to join us, that changes our plan. It would be better to know.”
“Yeah. Okay, I agree.” Jay nodded, then stood and stretched. “What did we get down?”
I read through the key points on our list.
Distance from Harvey
Defense – boundaries, fences? Run sentries at all times.
Livestock and gardens for food sources
Main supply kept rationed – food, first aid, blankets, clothing
Scouting groups for more supplies as needed
Train any kids to defend themselves, how to travel quickly and without detection
Keep society open – anyone welcome unless they introduce danger to the group
Weapons – need to find and collect more weapons/tools
Discuss and share knowledge between group, determine what useful skills each person may have to benefit the group
We’d gone into further detail on a lot of points – storage, sleeping arrangements, and so on – but most of the other stuff depended on where we ended up and what we could find.
“It’s a start.” Jay said, nodding. “I think we can get the others on-board. They want to keep Toby safe just as much as we want to with Annie.”
Late afternoon was settling in around us.
“Let’s sleep for a few hours and head back to Lakes tonight?” I suggested.
Jay laughed. “I think I’m too excited to sleep. We can really do this, Charlie!”
I hugged him, wanting to savor the warm happiness we’d found. It had been so long. “Come and lie down with me, then – I want to have nice dreams.”
We left most of our gear downstairs, bringing only the pistol and a couple of bottles of water. Upstairs, we chose the biggest bedroom, settling in together in a stranger’s bed, hidden under their blankets. We felt safe, warm and happy – a feeling I wanted to fall asleep with, and get lost in thoughts and dreams of these strange, happier times.
In just a few hours, we would head to Lakes, and share our plans with Ken and Laura. Only time would tell if they would share our happiness, or crush it.