Friday, November 28, 2014

The New Barbarians-09

Well, one benefit of this weird "Ken" character is that we didn't need to feed him. Whatever happened to make him weird changed what he needed to eat to zeds, and maybe other weird and unnatural things, at least we didn't have to deplete our stocks to be hospitable to him. Since he came in peace, and had something we needed to hear, I decided that he would be heard and allowed to stay the night. A few of the women weren't happy about that, but a look from me was enough to shut them up.

"I heard from The Necromancer's goons that you folks had something he wanted to take out. Since he and I aren't on speaking terms, if you get me, I had to come up to see for myself."

"I have no idea what he's on about." I said, "Ain't nothing weird about us."

"That, I think, is the very thing."

Just then, one of the men came in with someone from the White Earth band. Ken sniffed the air and his eyes widened.

"I think I see now." Ken said, "Shaman don't bother travelling much without need."

"I'm Jack." the name said, "And the dead-eater is correct- I am a Shaman."

I know that this Jack has another name, as all of them do, but he didn't give it and it doesn't matter. "Jack" is fine, no less than "Ken", and I'm not so stubborn a disbeliever that I ignore fortune when I see it. Jack knew--for obvious reasons--that I was the chief here, so he joined Ken and I at the table.

"The spirits told me that a new tribe of white people would come up here, some days away from my people's land, but without knowing why. I am told that many of you have ties to a past tribe of whites, explorers and warriors, who knew the ways of wind and water. True?"

"Yeah. Most of us have ancestral ties to the Norsemen of old. We're German, Norwegian, Swedish, Swiss, and so on."

"This new world thinned the walls between worlds. The spirits of my people tell me that your people's spirits are trying to reach you. I can help your people hear them."

I looked over to Ken. "You got a problem with that?"


Friday, November 21, 2014

The New Barbarians-08

The last of the Winter chill faded by the time we arrived. We were well into the northern wilderness, where the border--such as it was--between the United States and Canada used to be. This was once the Boundary Waters, and deep within it we would settle. We followed a known path deep into the interior, eventually leaving our vehicles behind and going the rest of the way on foot. Because we had little concern of the zeds catching up to us, especially since I switched destination sites after the last turning, we concentrated on getting things to the settlement site. Our vehicles we used as an outpost at first, and then build camouflaged shacks to hide them from others once we shifted entirely to the site.

The site had a clear build plan: first we set up yurts, following a plan I got from Bob, and a pallisade around a lakeside area. We cleared paths to nearby clearings which we repurposed as farming plots and built up wooden frames so we could easily keep them clear in the Winter. Clothing lines would also double as the basis for food drying racks. We set up solar cells, water purification and storage tanks, sheds, and everything we needed right away within the first few weeks. After that we began a longhouse, following a historical model I knew from the old days. That would take felling some trees and adapting classic log cabin methods, but we did it anyway.

We managed to get the frame of the longhouse ready by high Summer, but we had to get some distance above the lake to do it lest we get flooding in the basement--and we did not need that--which would ruin its value as a storm shelter and low-tech storage area for stuff needing some degree of climate control. It took a good amount of work on the inside, using old-time methods, to make the log cabin style of longhouse complete and ready for all four seasons. It was, truly, a long house in the ancient style; one big room, with some of us shifting to making smaller things like chairs and tables after that while the rest of us moved most of our work back outside.

Everything was done, in terms of the preliminary work--the stuff we needed to do to get settled properly--by the end of Summer. We had food in the plots coming up, supplemented by the fish we took from the lake and what grew in the wild. So much of our daily life revolved around preparing for the Winter now that the zeds shifted to the back of our mind; it was something we thought of only when we dealt with health and safety, rather than as a clear-and-present threat to our lives. I was far more concerned about our site's long-term viability by this time, to be certain, but the zeds never truly left my mind.

We hunted and scavenged widely in the Autumn, and we again filled our larders and kept the women and children busy with preserving and cataloging all of our resources while the men and I prepared our Winter provisions for getting around the land we claimed as our domain. Our migration was now complete; this is now Anderson Hold, and I am the chieftain of the Anderson Clan.

As we decided to mark the occasion with a well-earned feast, we had a visitor. A man, a single solitary man, with the skin as white as a blizzard and sunken yellow eyes as well a hairless body. He said he was a man named "Ken", and he tracked a bunch of zeds coming this way- and ate all of them. This got my attention, for certain.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The New Barbarians-07

The Winter was a long episode of coping with shut-in madness. Even with the ice on the lake permitting ice fishing, I did not perceive that this was an excuse to relax. Instead, I got the radio up and running and had it manned day and night; we got word out of Duluth, and the man there had kept us informed as best he could as to what was going on, but he soon went silent. When he came back, he assumed the unnatural quality to his voice that led me to believe that he'd been found, hounded, and turned into some sort of smart zed. I was not inclined to keep giving him any attention thereafter, but the men and Bob said that we were safe enough until the thaw and this zed's talk was not without benefit.

Reluctantly, I kept monitoring him. I doubled the watches; something didn't sit well with me, and I wanted mutual support should something go bad. Soon enough, I got vindication: one of the less stable men went wonky one night and the other guy had to tie him down after a tazing. We shut off the radio after that; there was no one else broadcasting, and no reason to release our location by doing so ourselves. As for the one who went off, he began babbling about hearing voices and going on about seeing a city of the dead where the Cities used to be, and knowing about someone--which I took to mean the hive mind--controlling the zeds calling himself "The Necromancer".

I didn't think much of this until he started ranting about how The Necromancer knew who we are and where we were and that we threats to his power due to something about DNA and someone who seemed to be a threat to him called "The Stalker", and if he got to us first he could put a stop to the threat we held to him. Well, it's just as likely that this "Stalker" was no less dangerous- but he was not so much a threat to us as he was to the zeds, so that was in our favor.

In time, the mad man turned for the worse; he choked on his tongue, and we had to put him down before he turned and rose against us. That was it; I called for bugout preparations early, before the thaw, so that as soon as the roads cleared we could get back on the road and towards our original destination. I suspected that we wouldn't have much in the way of leeway either, if these zeds knew where we were and still wanted to come for us. My suspicion turned out to be correct when some scouts reported a horde coming up from the Cities- and I do mean a horde, several hundred strong.

We had little warning, so we hurried to put obstacles in their path to slow them down. Useless cars set up in makeshift walls barricading the road, hidden spikes to impale zeds as they trip up and fall over, and other passive things we don't have to work with actively. We'd monitor them from a distance as we loaded up, and we set up several layers of such obstacles. They were rather aggressive in getting at us, climbing over each other and otherwise acting more like a blob than a mass of corpses, albeit at the pace of shambling corpses. We did not take this lightly; we retreated in good order, but at best speed possible.

As we fled, with the snows barely passed and ice still on the big lake, I resolved to not allow such a threat to get that close again. I hoped to reach out final destination before the Summer, and with things as they were I had good reason to believe that we would not only reach it, but that we would be firmly fixed and settled before next Winter arrived.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The New Barbarians-06

Once we broke the word to the others not present, the reaction was something of a sigh of relief by the adults and a guarded optimism by the kids. Bob and I went around the town and decided that, despite the lack of zeds around right now, this couldn't last and that we should resume travelling further north into the wilderness- but, with Winter coming soon, we decided that riding out Winter here would be the best of a host of bad options.

Having committed to this course of action, we fanned out and scoured homes and farms for everything we could haul away that was of any use to us; hardware stores and lumber yards provided enough tools and materials to start a rushed fortification project at the most defensible option on the lake for us. We got the boats up and ready to run, and fished plenty to fill larders; ice houses we also brought on site so we could keep this up over the Winter. Deer, Elk, and Duck soon came to the kitchens to be cleaned, smoked, and stored. Our arms stores also increased, mostly with the sort of deer rifles and duck shotguns that were commonplace outside of the Cities and the ammunition that they used. We stocked the pantries, the larders, the infirmary (which we made by converting the concierge office), and put up pallisades to constrict unwanted movement. This became our first castle.

As the night grew long and cold, we embarked on our promised skill exchange. My men and I trained the capable adults in how to use and maintain the sorts of firearms we preferred--AR-15s, AK-47s, tactical shotguns, service pistols, etc.--and they taught us how to process game carcasses, how to skin and tan leather, stalking game, and other more outdoorsman applications of skills many of us already had some familiarity with. The children, especially the boys, greatly enjoyed learning how to do all of these things- though there was some teasing over the more messy elements of it.

It was not without incident. Bob said that the older folks were on borrowed time, and for a few that was short in supply. A few would expire in their sleep, and then turn overnight; we had to put their risen corpses down before they spread their infection to anyone else. By the time we got snowed in for the season, all but Bob had died- and so had the weak children. The children who remained now had seen first-hand why we kept on them so much to do as we told them; at the cost of their innocence--there was no way to get through this without getting hardened by it--they ceased to be bothersome and quarrelsome at times, and instead snapped into obedience now that they saw the price of refusal- and they wanted none of it.

I am not bothered by this. We no longer live in a world where this sort of thing can be tolerated. If this sort of ritual initiation, this sort of traumatization, is what it takes to get and keep cohesion between myself and the others at all levels then so be it. We will not endure any longer as anything but a well-knit tribe with a clear chain of command. Even Bob began to refer to me as "Chief" or "Boss" now, and I confess that I like it this way.

I've taken to carrying a machete or a hatchet on me at all times, in addition to a knife. The moments when being armed proved vital have convinced me that this is just a good practice to cultivate now. The other men have now mimicked me, carrying hammers if they can't get a machete or hatchet, and the women are now carrying knives at all times. I've heard the boys complaining that they should have knives too. I'll deal with that shortly.