This year I am going to have another bash at NaNoWriMo.
As part of my prep for the process, which starts tomorrow I have written a Prologue to the story I am going to be writing, a kind of palate cleanser and scene-setter that is useful information, but that happens well outside the timeframe of the story I am going to tell.
And so, in preparation for tomorrow and the 29 days that follow, here is the Prologue to my 2019 NaNo novel; "Camp Arklet"
It had been three days since the radio stopped broadcasting. I say it stopped, what I really mean is that the regular programming had been suspended and there was only a short daily broadcast between 0900h and 0930h which was, we were told, limited by a need to ration the diesel for the generators in Broadcasting House. That was the moment when I stopped expecting anyone to save us, or for anything to return to normal.
We were using our generator, though sparingly, and we were charging batteries on solar power packs. Somehow our internet service was still working, so I ran the satellite modem around the clock in an attempt to be as informed as possible. It took three weeks for the signal to die and in that time we made good use of dodgy tools to rip videos out of YouTube about how to build this, that and the other thing, not to mention First Aid, basic medicine, foraging and a hundred other things. I had never expected to delete The West Wing to make room for PDFs, eBooks and instructional videos, but needs must when the Devil drives.
At first the stories sounded so far fetched that we were almost amused to be living in the Zombie Apocalypse that so many films and books had fancifully predicted. Even so, there was clearly disarray in major urban centres from the beginning and the authorities struggled to confront the real, actual, walking dead.
We had always been somewhat prepared, in terms of the "Prepper" aesthetic, but for bad weather and the isolation of living at the top of the single-track road that led in and out of our tranquil but sparsely populated glen. We had not truly prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse.
From what we can tell there is no part of the globe that has been spared this terrible affliction, from Manila to Manchester there were outbreaks of what can only be described as Zombies - flesh eating, single-minded, senseless Zombies - that were attracted to sounds and the smells of the living and whose sole motivation appeared to be to kill and feast upon the living at all costs.
The stories suggested that healthy people could be made into Zombies by being bitten by someone already infected in that way, or by accidentally ingesting the blood, ichor or tainted flesh of a Zombified being. Nothing is a surprise; it turns out that we knew all along how Zombies would be. What we did not know was that there is no such thing as "Zombie speed", some move fast, some move slow. The movies and television had taught us conflicting lessons about Zombies being unwilling to enter water, or being perfectly happy in it, that only their heads remaining intact was required to maintain animation - who could forget the legless girl Zombie in the first episode of AMC's The Walking Dead? Some of these things were correct, some were not. The learned lesson of actually living through a Zombie uprising is that nothing is certain, danger is everywhere and what deals with one Zombie may not necessarily deal with another. We learned to be vigilant, and to assume nothing.
In those first few days we had not yet seen any of those grim, animated corpses. Clearly we wanted to be able to help our neighbours and friends, and we had food and fuel and, indeed, weapons, but almost right away we were wary even of people we had known for over a decade. Desperation makes people do strange things, and so does fear. I can say with some authority that the two together are a very dangerous cocktail. We knew that staying put we had a good chance of making it through whatever was to come. Of course our kids and their partners were with us; they were smart enough to head for the hills right away, and we were very glad to see them.
Hannah and her partner Kate were with us within three hours of the first reports. They were living in Milngavie and commuting to their jobs in Glasgow, so while other people were trying to figure out their options they quietly grabbed their mountain gear and all the dry goods in their house, locked up and headed on up the road. That was eight days ago. Georgia and I were so relieved to have them show up.
Nathaniel arrived in the night, his vehicle similarly packed with everything he and Laetitia had that would be of use, including their beautiful Bull Mastiff, Major.
We had been looking forward to meeting Laetitia, and even though the circumstances were less than ideal, it has been a delight to get to know this strong smart woman who our son has found, and apparently fallen helplessly in love with.
When Brexit happened - I can't believe it has been nearly fifteen years - I had started to work on Georgia about having a gun case, and one or two rifles, maybe a shotgun, so that I could hunt if there were shortages. She had long been against having guns at home, but as things became worse she did finally relent, as long as I would never tell her the combination for the locker I was going to have installed. As you can imagine, even this changed shortly after those first few days.
Hannah and Nathaniel had both learned to stalk deer and take fowl off the loch, before their lives took them away towards the cities, not to mention rabbiting and fishing the lochs for all they had to offer. Now I was glad that we would be able to work the land together. Age is a terrible thing in many ways but knowing that you can’t do three miles with a buck over your shoulders is a grim realisation the week that you also discover that Zombies are real.
We spent those first few days making preparations together, laughing and joking all the while that in a few days’ time the armed forces and the authorities will have dealt with it all and we were going to be left looking like deranged militia people from the American backwoods.
We built “jangle lines” around the property boundary, along with a forest of stakes like the ones we had seen on The Walking Dead. We also built a couple of traps on the open ground about a mile from our place; noise makers in the middle of pits that we dug as deep as we could, about eleven or twelve feet down. Checking on them became a daily task; we realised that if they worked we would have to clear them pretty quickly or they would climb out over each other.
I do not really know why we did all of these things. Nathaniel and Laetitia had seen Zombies on their way over from North Berwick, but only once, and none of our neighbours had seen a single one.
I would go out on my bike each day to meet up with the neighbours in the Glen. We had already organised groups to go out checking the deer fences; we knew that Zombies might get caught in them and would need putting down, but we also needed to know in advance what on-foot routes were still blocked, and which were open if we needed to flee. Added to these reconnaissance arrangements we started taking it in turns to watch the road and keep an eye out for the Dead and for anyone else as well. The Community came together the way I expected, which was a huge relief. We pooled resources, like the collection of walkie talkies we all dug out of the back of various cupboards, and we started to step up our usual level of looking out for one another. We still saw nothing of the Dead.
Hannah and Nathaniel started taking turns to come out with me and rather than tip our hands to everyone we only carried crossbows and knives, the guns stayed at home. I was pretty sure that we could count on our immediate neighbours being interested in mutual aid and yet being respectful of property and boundaries, but their was wisdom in not letting everyone know what we had right away. I knew that James and Kendra at The Garrison Farm had rifles, and they knew I had at least one, as we had hunted together, but they were being as cagey about their armoury in public as I was about ours so I was able to surmise tbat they agreed with me. Discretion was for now the right approach.
On the sixth day, the day after Radio Four went off the air, we headed down to Aberfoyle to see what fuel we could get and to see if there were any supplies left in Town. The whole place was deserted. I had expected that some people would have made off, but it looked as though the entire population had upped and left. As we wandered down Main Street one of our neighbours, Henry from the Pier Café, found a hastily printed flyer with instructions for a mass evacuation to Falkirk being organised by the Army. We all wondered why they had not come up the road to find us, but in the end none of us liked the idea of being in a temporary Army billet in Falkirk, crowded in with thousands of other rural evacuees. Surely this approach was asking for trouble? What if one or two in the temporary camp were to be bitten? The contagion would spread like wildfire and no one would be able to put real distance between themselves and the newly minted Zombies. No, it seemed to us that we were far better off using the lay of the land in Strathard to our advantage.
The petrol station still had power, so we quickly took as much diesel and petrol as we could in the various gerry cans and so forth that we had been able to collect together. We also took all the camping gas in the shop and all of the full propane tanks that we could find, honestly believing that when this was all over we would happily settle the debt.
I look back on those first few days with nostalgia now; the innocence of believing that anything would ever go “back to normal” ever again seems to be an almost unobtainable flower of hope. I realise that I make it sound far worse than it was, for us at least. There is no doubt that we were amongst the very luckiest. What tales we have heard since then from people that have passed through, even the one or two who have stayed with us since they escaped from Stirling or Falkirk or Glasgow, are enough for me to be forever thankful, and no mistake.
I decided to start this memoir when we had weathered a full year after the fall, and as I look back to then I realise that we had little to fear from the Dead, even though at the time they consumed all our thoughts, ruled our approaches to survival and haunted our dreams.
No, the real horror was yet to come; as Satre said and I had long rejected, "L'Enfer est Les Autres."
Photo Credit: Arklet Photography