Baltimore Zombies 003: The Consul
Sometimes I have to remind myself that an apocalyptic situation hit my city over six months ago. At least, that’s when it was obvious there would be no escaping city limits. The government quickly put up walls around interstate 695, which circles the city. This is just over a 950 square mile area. Seems large, right? Truth is, it’s nearly impossible to move between different sectors of the city without being mugged or killed or eaten and mugged and killed.
In these few short months the city has been divided; like a child scribbling on the pavement with chalk, lines have been drawn. Hopscotching across the divides is suicide. I know this from watching others. Once I saw my friend Jeff try to take a shortcut down an alley that was clearly tagged and marked as a territory owned by a group…gang. No warning was given. He was shot once, clean through the forehead. Several men came out from row homes and dragged Jeff away by his ankles. It took two men to drag his tall lanky body away. They deposited him into a manhole at the end of the block.
Today I will sit in front of the consul at the Rec Pier in the section of Baltimore known as Fells Point. This group of people will decide if I have any value to their organization. They want runners is my suspicion. Runners are people who scout out different sectors of the city looking to make connections and gather supplies. They are well known in the city; a lot of different sectors have their own runners. I will sit and nod at all of their questions, wondering if they are eating the bullshit I will try to feed them.
Still standing outside the Rec Pier, I am now at the head of the line. Someone waves their hand at me, gesturing me to come forward. The first thing I notice when I walk inside is the smell of food. It almost cripples me. Oblivious to the next steps due to the erotic smell of meat in the air, I am suddenly in a room and asked to sit at a table with four people; two men and two women. My eyes fall on a girl, my age, I know her. I start to stand up and reach for her, “Lindsay? What are you doing here?”
She looks at me, cold. With no words returned I lower myself back to my seat. Regaining my all business approach I ask, “Lindsay? It’s good to see you, how is Chad doing?”
She looks at me blankly and says, “He snored.” Everyone in the room nods in understanding. This may not seem like much, but if you are a loud sleeper, the infected will find you eventually. Sadly, this is why most people with babies and young children are no longer around. Night time noise is the mark of death. Lindsay looks different, her eyes are swollen and dark, there is no expression on a face I’m used to seeing kindness and compassion. How did she get in here, I wonder. Lindsay flips her dark blonde hair behind her shoulder and ignores me. She will not be my ally, clearly.
The other woman is notoriously known around town as Mona, the elderly council member who leads the group. Her dark skin meets wispy white hair that is swept up in a bun. She looks soft, but I have heard she is the one that makes the final decisions. I feel no comfort or connection with her as she sits, hands clasped on the table in front of her. Beside her are two men, one sits quiet but attentive; I believe he is around my age — he looks like he’s been through a lot. His glasses are tapped together in one corner, and a fat lip is still healing. He introduces himself as Jason, the lead runner. The other is a slender man named Nauman who sits tapping his pen on the table, eyebrows furrowed, letting me know he is as serious as he looks.
“What was your job before the wall went up,” Lindsay asks. As if she didn’t know.
“I was an HR Manager.”
“Do you have any other interests that benefit us?”
“I flipped a few houses with my husband. I’m handy around construction and a quick learner. I have gardened all my life. I’m in fairly good shape, I have run the Baltimore Marathon every year for the past four years.” My mind sings; one of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong.
“What’s in your bag?” Lindsay asks.
“Not much. Clothes, cell phone, charger, hairbrush,” I can tell I am not interesting them by how little eye I’m given.
“Dump it out please Miss,” Nauman says.
I do as I am told. The contents of my book bag sprawl out on the table. This is embarrassing. All of the things I mention fall out, as well as a few photographs, a map with red dots I have marked, tampons, Vaseline, matches, a crumpled joint, keys, sunglasses, pens, and three knives of different sizes.
“What’s this?” Nauman points to the map.
“My sister is inside the wall too. She’s a racehorse vet at Pimlico. I have been trying to make my way to her.” Just the mentioning of my sister shifts my attention. She is a real person, I love her, and god do I miss her. The only person I know that is safe inside here and the only reason I have to keep trying to live.
“Do you connect with her?
“Yes. I check my phone every Thursday and she checks her phone every Tuesday. This is how we talk to our family on the outside and each other.” Battery life is the only reason any of us inside the wall know what’s going on outside. There is sporadic electricity, mostly around emergency settings like hospitals and government buildings which have been overtaken by the strongest alliances. I have a charger, but nowhere to plug in.
“You know she is alive then?” Nauman uncrosses his arms and leans towards me.
“Yes, she’s fucking alive! I’m trying to figure out how to get up to her.” I grab the map and wave it at his face. “It’s been hard to travel alone. I got caught out after dark last night just trying to find a safe pass.”
“You were outside after dark?” Lindsay snorts.
“It’s not the first.” I know what I’m saying sounds bizarre. All of them are quiet. No one sleeps on the street at night, but I have figured out the tops of buildings and abandoned cars can be a decent hold-over.
Jason’s now sits up erect and looks at a device in his hand. “So, you have been outside at night. Okay. Tell us about this guy. We’ve seen him walk the cobblestone at night. Alone.” He holds out a phone with a picture of a man walking along with a white dog.
“You’ve see him at night around here? That’s impossible –“ my voice trails off. It’s Drew and our dog Jessie. I reach for the phone but Jason withdraws it.
“You know him? There have been sightings of Nightwalkers. These aren’t infected people, at least we don’t think so. They can talk, but they can also walk around at night without being fucked with.”
I’m not sure what to say. I saw Drew only once since we were separated at the stadium. I was without a place to take cover for the night – again. It was dusk, a dangerous time to be wandering around when a flash of white fur caught my eye. My heart leaped at the idea that it was our dog, Jessie. Instinctually, I called to her, “Jessie? Jessie? Come here, girl.” I knelt to one knee and patted my leg. Then she was there. It was really her. She was so dirty but I clung to her and cried while she did her happy dog dance and licked anything her darting tongue could find. Laughing and crying I looked up to find Drew about ten feet away from us. He called to her and she ran over to him. I stood and started towards him with my arms reaching, but he put up his hand. It was so stern and final. He pointed to a door and nodded towards it, “Stay there tonight. Lock the door. They are right behind you.” I could hear the infected starting to crawl out of their dark hiding places. There was no time. I ran for the door and looked back hoping Drew was coming with me, but he was gone.
I’m not sure how long I was silent. I brush a tear from my cheek with the back of my hand and crackle out, “I have only seen him once. He wouldn’t let me get close to him.”
“You do know him then?”
“Of course she does. That’s her husband Drew. Isn’t it, Shelby? I couldn’t figure it out before. It’s your dog Jessie, I should have seen that.” Lindsay seems proud of herself for outing me. I nod and look at the group of people before me.
Mona breaks in, “Young lady. Let me get to the point. We need medical staff here and we are interested in your sister. Jason might have another agenda in regards to the man you say is your husband, but first, we need to get your sister here. If you help us, we will grant you and your sister access to our facility. Are you interested?”
“Am I interested in getting my sister here? Yes. Yes! Of course!”
“We need doctors here. A war is coming.” She waves her hand towards some people standing behind me that I hadn’t noticed. Two men dressed in black and armed with guns walk over, while Jason stands to attention. “This is Geronimo and Emmanuel. They are runners under Jason. They will take you to retrieve your sister and bring her back here. Jason is going with you. We can’t risk losing a doctor.”
Gripping the chair arms I push myself up, “What are you saying?”
“She’s saying you’re in. Once you’re in, that’s it, you stay. The only reason we kick someone out is if they are infected or an asshole. Pardon my language Mona,” Jason reaches out a calloused hand towards me, I take it. “Welcome aboard.”
I’m in. I feel light headed. My sister is out there and I’m going to find her. “I have to text her. I have to warn her. She’s not in a good place. We have to be careful, they could hurt her. When can we leave. I have a map I’ve been tracking ways to get there.”
The consul members are all standing and starting to disperse, I’m not sure anyone heard my rapid fire mouth going off. Lindsay and Nauman turn and walk away without a second glance. Perhaps they have been here before. Open promises bigger than the sky. Mona reaches for her cane and with Jason’s help, she stands.
“Tell those outside to go. We’re not meeting anyone else,” Mona says to Geronimo and Emmanuel, who depart the room quickly. “Shelby, right? Jason is going to be your brains and muscle. Listen to him. He is your boss. Got it? Alright then. Good night.”
There I am, all of my belongings still on the table; a strange man with guns strapped to his hip is my new boss. The two of us are left in the room.
“Let’s clean you up. Follow me.”
The smile vanishes from my face. With big sweeping motions I get all my crap back into my bag. I’m careful not to bend the packet of photographs. Jason has already left the room.
“Pimlico? That’s fucking great. It’s outside the territory we’ve covered. We won’t be leaving for a few days.”
“I usually text her on Thursday. She checks her phone on Tuesday. Today is Monday so there is time to get her a message still. I just need a charge.” I feel jittery, I’m probably talking too fast again.
“We can do that. No offense, but you need a shower pret-ty bad.” He leads me to stairs we climb upwards. I stick my nose towards my shoulder, the smell reminds me of cumin and acid. It’s bad. My hair is slicked back into a braid, my clothes are stiff and there is grime under my fingernails that may never come out. I notice I feel like an untouchable at the same time I notice Jason is a man. It’s not as if I didn’t realize that before, but dutifully my woman instincts tell me I have let down the entire female race even during an apocalypse. I am the scum at the bottom of the urinal and a man just told me he noticed.
“Here. This is your room for tonight. Don’t get used to it. It’s my room, there is a sofa for you until we find a permanent space.”
He said, permanent space; like I have a home again. A place to keep my stuff and rest my head. I feel my face flush and I bite my lip to ward off an ugly cry. Then I wonder if he plans to stay here tonight also, which makes me squirm. Times are different now; maybe there is another test to pass. The one thing I haven’t done since the walls were up and I don’t plan on doing with anyone other than my husband. This man, Jason, will suffer if he thinks I will let that happen. They didn’t take my knives. I have defended myself more than once and I can do it again.