If you are new to this series here is the link to Chapter 1 Part I.
CHAPTER 3, Part I
Sitting upright in the bed and gasping for air the room is so stale and dark it takes me a minute to get my bearings. This time of the year the sun is just setting, but this window faces East and the curtains are thick so it’s almost pitch black. Reaching for the bottle of water I take a long pull and stand. Lying on this soft bed has stiffened my back and I try my best to stretch it out. This is a typical mid century valley home with mirrored sliding closet doors. In the darkness I can still make out my shape, I’ve lost a lot of weight and my beard has grown far longer than I’d ever want it to be in this heat. In the reflection I see a crack of light under what must be the bathroom door.
The window has beveled glass letting in warm soft light. Lifting the tank lid on the toilet, there’s still a good quantity of fresh water. Under the cabinet is something worth more than gold at this point in history… Toilet paper. Salvation! You never really appreciate the small things in life till they’re gone. The medicine cabinet has the typical assortment of items, most I either have or don’t need. I close the door and look at myself in the mirror. I stand there staring at my reflection for quite a while trying to recognize this Guy. Now more gaunt and weathered, eyes sunken with dark circles from exhaustion I feel like I’ve got a permanent hang over. I need to refresh and recharge. I pull my shirt off, the upside is I can see in the mirror that I’ve lost so much weight I’ve got a pretty good six pack. Forever the optimist.
Using a pair of short scissors from the medicine cabinet I begin cutting tufts of my beard off letting them drop to the floor. Soon I look like a chemo patient with uneven patches of hair on my face. Sealing the drain on the sink I use my cooking cup to scoop water out of the toilet tank and pour it into the sink basin. I wash and let the water soak into my face. The old man used Barbasol shaving cream with the blue and red striped can. His razor must be from 1960, the old school type which actually became all the rage among the hipsters in 2010, You unscrew the handle to replace the double edged blade. A little chuckle about it actually being called a ‘safety razor’. Safe, my ass.
Pouring more water into the basin I’m able to get through the process with only two cuts, and only minor nicks at that. I wipe away the remaining shaving cream from behind my ears and survey the damage. A little bit of blood dripping from my chin, I blot it with the towel and use a small dot of toilet paper, pressing it to the wound.
“Human.” I say audibly. My voice cracks and I’m surprised at the sound of my own voice. Other than moments of stress in a fight with a Moaner, this is one of the few times I’ve heard my voice in months.
Ah toilet paper… There’s enough water left in the tank to actually let me flush. It goes down easily but there isn’t any water to replace it in the bowl. Sucks to be the next guy, if they’re smart they’ll use some of the water still in the hot water tank but that’s my secret for now.
I stuff the roll of toilet paper inside my pack. I wish I had a zip lock baggie to put it in to keep it dry but I’ll take what I can get. Pushing it down into the center of the pack with the other items I retrieved and slide the loop of the sheath for the knife onto my belt. With my pack securely fit on to my back I make my way to the back door.
“Thanks.” I say kneeling beside the old man. “Maybe I’ll come back through this way sometime and come for a visit.” Exiting, I look back while shutting the door. “Don’t get up, I’ll shut the door behind me.”
Walking through the neighborhood at night is cooler and easier, I thought I’d risk it and walk down the center of the road hoping that the lack of moonlight would allow me to make some stealthy distance. I’m sure I can make it to the edge of the open space preserve and if I can remember the correct trails I might get far enough to where there won’t be too many Zombies to deal with. It’s completely still, there’s no moaning from the locals and there are no planes, trains or automobiles. No sirens, doorbells, car horns or stereos. The star field amazes me every night, time and time again. It’s one of the few things left in this world which gives me a sense of awe. I pause and look up while walking and think ‘This is what Galileo saw, what the great Astronomers in the past were able to see with the naked eye.’ The view I have now might even be better than what our forefathers were able to see. Even they had some light pollution from the oil lamps and candles burning through out their towns and cities. The last time the milky way appeared this bright to humans may have been over 10,000 years ago.
Opening my eyes at first light I find myself tucked up against the rock face just above the housing development on the edge of the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve. I grab my pack and secure the tomahawk to the ice axe loop on the outside of my pack. I’m fairly confidant that I won’t be running into any Zombies out here. Making it here without incident allowed me a couple of hours of uninterrupted shut eye. It’s about another 4.5 miles to the stream crossing. I’m hoping there’s some water flowing so I can refill my hydration bladder. If not, things might get interesting.
Working my way up the side of the hill, I try to pick the best line around the scrub brush and the thorns. The trail is overgrown, not many people even ran this part of the route let alone travel it now. Thinking to myself I review the statistics. At the time of the release of the virus there were almost 400 million people in the US. The influenza outbreak of 1918 is known as one of the single greatest natural disasters to ever strike humans. Killing 20-50 million people. Sounds big, but that was only 1-2% of the population of the planet at that time. Lets say this hybrid virus… I haven’t thought of a good name or acronym for “Mad Cow Disease mixed with Rabies” yet. But lets say this virus was as effective as say Ebola which kills 90% of the people it comes in contact with. That means that there’s still 40 million people walking around in America unaffected by the virus. Okay maybe it’s even a greater killer than Ebola. Lets say it kills 99% of all people, which feels more accurate based on the amount of people I’ve run into in the last few weeks. That brings the number down to 4 million people. Roughly the number of people in the United States when Jefferson ordered the first census back in 1790. Heck, there should still be 13,000 people left in Los Angeles.
“How do I know this stuff.” I mutter to myself. Remembering back to my high school history teacher Mr. Green, he was big on Jefferson. Day dreaming again and trying to pass the time I almost step on it. Coiled and sitting upright, using his tail to rattle and let me know I came too close. It stops me dead in my tracks, I start to back away slowly. Keeping my eye on him I look around when at a safe distance, there’s a long branch within arms distance. Bending down I slowly pick it up keeping my eye on the rattler. Using the KaBar, I quickly strip away the few leaves and twigs revealing a natural Y shape at the end. I work my way around to his back. He’s already starting to calm down and slither away. My first attempt to pin his head down with the Y misses and he coils again rattling louder. My second attempt is just as fruitless, striking at the stick he get angrier hitting the stick about six or seven times in about three seconds. He’s fast. Reacting, I hop back and slip. The weight of my pack brings me down to the ground forward, even closer to him. The rattle is the only thing I can hear, it’s going full force and he’s angrier now than ever. In a push up position with my chest on the ground face to face I stare into the black eyes of the snake.