Baltimore Zombies 002: The Crate Situation
The single granola bar from this morning should sustain me for two days, maybe three if I can lay low. My meal card will let me refill provisions soon. We are permitted to restock food and supplies once a week. The government has been airdropping supplies to a few stores and hospitals, though they’re scarce and the contents don’t satisfy the number of people still in here. Most places taking meal cards are run by organized groups who like to make up their own rules. In other words, gangs. Gangs run the only constant source of food. After the stadium debacle, all registrations moved to local police stations. To obtain a meal card you had to register and provide identification, causing many to go hungry. With more deaths due to starvation than attacks from the dead at night, it’s a no wonder people defend stashes with their life.
Seagulls squawk overhead, the smell of the salty harbor reminds me that certain things are still the same. Lopsided and cumbersome, the cobblestone is almost as difficult to walk on as it is to ride a bike. I walk the bike through Fells Point and notice someone fishing in the harbor. Friends and I joked about never eating something that came from the bay, knowing how polluted it is. Today, I would trade my virginity (if I were a virgin) for fresh meat; to hell with polluted waters. The man fishing has a gun visibly strapped to his side. I am a dog begging for a scrap from an empty table; time to move along.
The historic Recreation Pier juts out over the water just up ahead. It’s a large building previously empty until recent days. The show Homicide: Life On the Street from the 1990s and a few other motion pictures were filmed at the Rec Pier. Before making the space was used for filmmaking it was used by shipping companies to store cargo, which is why the center of the building is hollow with an opening in the middle about one and a half stories high and fifty feet across. Straddling the opening and sitting another two stories high is a stacked brick structure resembling a bank. Columns and long decorative windows adorn the tall walls and two large doors on opposite corners of the opening stand guarded by Rec workers. The Rec Pier is a hot spot for all things going on in this part of town.
I roll my bike into the rack along with several others. Each of us use several locks to ensure our property stays where we put it. Clasping the last lock, my ring finger stares back at me naked and alone. Bike or ring? It’s not the worst thing I have had to do to survive, but it seems to stay with me longer than most wrongdoings. Vendors set up and people mill around; a curious line is forming on the far side of the Rec Pier.
“What’s the line for?” I ask a bulky man at the end, hoping everyone isn’t trying to get a sleeping space for the night already.
“The Rec is looking for new members. Strong men to do work,” he says then turns his back to me. My interest is piqued; this could be the opportunity I need to get into a place with power. The line is already fifty people deep; I settle in behind the big guy and stand straight trying to appear taller and more threatening. It’s not working.
An hour passes, my book bag is dragging me downward. Shuffle, shuffle, every so often we creep forward. How am I going to convince a group of strangers to incorporate me? Running, bribing, and telling lies is what keeps me alive. I suppose these are all useful skills.
Behind me, a couple walks up with a blanket covering a large box; it might be a dog crate based on the man’s hand gripping a handle at the top. The container sways, something is alive inside. The woman looks at me; I recognize them. It’s Nadine and her husband Mike, friends I met through my husband Drew.
Drew. I wonder if they have seen him. I remind myself, Calm down. Eagerness can get you in trouble. Her husband walks beside her with the crate in his hand. Coming towards me I see they are both too thin with dark circles under the eyes making their faces look even more hollowed out; and, their clothes are gray and tattered. I can’t tell if either of them place me, which is unsettling. Standing next to me but without looking she asks, “Which way to the shelter?”
“Nadine? It’s me, Shelby.” She doesn’t move; her eyes fix on nothing in the distance.
“Shelby?” Mike looks at me squinting, trying to pinpoint a memory.
“Yeah. Shelby. You were good friends with my husband Drew?”
“Oh my god! Shelby!” Nadine snaps to attention and reaches for me. Her hair is stiff, and she smells like the gutter, but I recognize her British accent even as it trembles. I stumble back as she nearly lifts me off the ground in an embrace. Her hair brushes my lip, and I draw them inward holding my breath until she releases me.
The crate rocks in Mike’s hand. My heart sinks as I connect with what’s inside. How can they be this stupid? I need to get them away from me.
“Hey, you two!” An angry man followed by three others start toward us from under the Rec Pier. I assume they belong to one of the Rec’s many security teams. He points at the crate and his pace increases. Nadine squeezes my wrist; I pull away from her grasp.
“Mike! Save her! We have to save her!” Nadine pushes Mike on the back begging him to run.
He moves in the clunky way we do when carrying a heavy and awkward object. The men gain on him quickly. One of them grabs Mike’s jacket pulling him backward; the crate falls from his hand and hits the ground. Hissing escapes from within. Mike gets his hand back on the handle, though a man also grabs it, and they begin a tug of war. Another security guard comes and grabs Mike’s arms pinning them behind him, causing Mike to lose his grasp on the crate. Mike sinks to his knees, and Nadine’s mouth stretches wide screaming with no sound. A sudden jerk of my arm, and I am being pulled forward and out of line along with Nadine.
“I’m not with them!” I shout and plant my heels in the ground. His fingers dig deeper into my bicep. I repeat gritting my teeth as loud as I can, “I’m not with them; they just asked me a question! I don’t know them!”
The man pauses and looks at me; though I’m filthy, I am not as disgusting as they are. He releases me and drags Nadine away. She loses her footing, but he continues to tug. I regain my place in line, aware of the eyes boring into me. Looking back at the inquirers, I cock my head and jut out my chin, “Someone looking to say something to me? No?” When I’m sure I have regained an equal weight amongst those in line I turn to find my old friends.
They have Mike, Nadine, and the crate at the water’s edge. A tugboat pulls over, and the men force them to board. Nadine wails when the container plunges overboard into dark the water. Bobbing and rocking from the beast within, I hear snarls and catch a glimpse of tiny fingers protruding from the air vents. “Olivia! No! Please!” Her screams won’t stop. She steps up on the ledge and tries to jump in after Olivia, the poor infected child in the crate. The girl is a risk to everyone and had to be disposed of; witnessing her demise will keep me awake tonight. One of the men pulls Nadine down and butts her in the back of the head with his rifle; she drops. Mike kneels next to her and looks up at me. I want to hold his gaze but I can’t. Swallow it. Hard decisions like this keep you alive; I remind myself. I turn to face the line when an anxious merry-go-round of memories plays. The first person I betrayed.
It was my friend Nora. After the stadium situation, a few friends came to my house; misery loves company. The others went to register at the police station, leaving Nora and me behind. Nora had a fever and started speaking in bizarre ways. We all worried about her but assumed she would snap out of her hysteria. Even with the news reporting the spread of an unnamed virus, we didn’t make the connection – or perhaps we didn’t want to. Sitting alone in the living room the house was still; I decided to check on Nora. Climbing the spiral stairwell to the third floor, I could hear her clawing at the walls inside a closet. When I opened the door I saw her pupils were dilated, her blonde hair wet and matted to the colorless skin of her face. She hissed and lunged at me taking me down. I landed hard on my back, and she was on top of me. I held her shoulders as her hair whipped around us, and she clawed at my face. Exposing her teeth, she snapped her jaws at me. I was able to get my foot under her torso and thrust upwards pushing her off. On all fours, I scrambled to the bedroom door and slammed it shut. The door shook as she threw her body against it like an animal trapped in a cage. Run! My feet skipped steps as I ran downstairs. Instinctually, I grabbed my book bag before leaving. The door flew open, and I was in the sunlight; people mingling on the sidewalk gawked at me. I wanted to tell them, Infected inside. Someone help us! I couldn’t speak. Was I protecting myself or the girl I used to call a friend? I didn’t try to find help or wait for my other friends to return; though a week later, I tried to go home hoping to find my friends. Instead I found strangers. An ugly confrontation confirmed this was no longer my house. I abandoned my allies and lost the only place I thought I might see Drew again.
I wonder how many of us abandon people we love when times get tough. How many people here in this line have lost friends and family? I must be the only person behind these walls with no one to watch my back. The line no longer builds behind me; it’s getting too late in the day. The door to go inside is a few people away. It will be my turn to show a group of strangers my worth. Lies. Lies. Lies. They have to be familiar with this routine. Maybe I should tell the truth; see where it leads me. Probably not a good idea. What good is a Human Resource Manager during a zombie apocalypse?