Seeding Hope Among the Ashes
12: Acts of Despair and Sacrifice

Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg

“We’re heading to Raleigh, North Carolina, next; but we’re nervous about doing so. One of our people, Monique, hasn’t contacted us after visiting Charlotte, North Carolina. If our people are endangered, we’ll be forced to slow our outreach. Instead we’ll be forced to travel fully armed, in pairs and wearing body armor. Needless to say, if that occurs, the speed with which we can reach people will be severely diminished, meaning we won’t reach as many before winter snows people in and the Great Death resumes. Thus there will be more deaths than necessary, and for each additional death, the likelihood of mankind as a whole surviving decreases sharply.

I shouldn’t need to remind you that for a species to survive there must be sufficient genetic diversity. What’s more, there’s got to be enough supporting species to assure mutual survival. We’re depending on everyone out there to do whatever is necessary to protect our people from harm. I hate threatening people by refusing access to treatment, but with only so many people who can provide treatment, we can’t afford to lose many before any hope of survival evaporates.

It’s essential for our survival that everyone pulls together. To work with one another to build communities which support each other, and to eliminate wasting the few resources we have left. Even in the best of circumstances, it’ll be a long, long time before we can restore a working infrastructure and resume manufacturing. The days of each person taking whatever they want won’t last. Even if you’re storing canned goods, remember that in a freeze, those cans will explode. If we don’t start planning to work together, once we exhaust the limited available food, many of us will starve while the rest fight to retain their supplies. In order to prevent that, you’ve got to prepare before we arrive. You need to pool your resources, train others how to survive and secure the environment so it isn’t as dangerous. It’s only by banding together that we can specialize and divide tasks, helping each of us.

If you can do that, we guarantee anyone in those communities can access treatment and hopefully survive the plagues. But our assurances only hold if you’re already in an existing community before you get sick.”

Debbie, heading south on Interstate 95 on her way to Raleigh, ran into another complication. Nearing the turn off to 64 East at Rocky Mount, the Interstate was completely blocked by a massive wreck. Not only were both lanes obstructed, but fire damaged both the north and southbound lanes. Growling in frustration, Debbie put her SUV in reverse and backed up. Because the roads were in such poor condition, she’d done this fairly often. Exiting on Dortches Boulevard, she considered the northbound lane, but decided it was too damaged. After stopping to consider her map, she chose North Halifax Road, which paralleled 95 and intersected route 64, which led to her destination, Raleigh.

The area was divided between forests, farmland and scattered houses set back from the road and surrounded by trees and fields. They were dispersed widely enough she didn’t feel the need to check them. She approached another driveway—one on either side of the road—when someone darted into the road ahead of her.

A young woman, no older than Debbie, stood in front of her vehicle, waving her arms franticly. Not anticipating meeting anyone and making up for lost time, Debbie was traveling faster than normal and swerved to avoid running the girl over. Her carefully arranged SUV bounced all over, shifting and disrupting her supplies. She hit a large pothole, and there was a loud pop from the left front end of the car. The car shimmied erratically as she wrestled to maintain control, easing the vehicle onto the grass.

When the car stopped, instead of fretting about her equipment, Debbie reached for her pistol. Often, when someone flags you down, it’s so someone else can waylay you. The girl rushed towards her, so Debbie exited the car. “Stop!” She waved her arm, motioning the girl back. “Approach slowly so I can be sure we’re safe.”

The girl did as requested and Debbie kept her pistol hidden behind her to keep from freaking her out. The girl was a young Hispanic. Her long straight black hair was frayed and disheveled. The girl flashed Debbie a hesitant smile, her braces flashing as the sun struck them at an odd angle.

“OK, come in closer, but keep your hands up so I can be sure you aren’t armed.” Debbie scanned beyond the girl, searching for hidden second parties among the trees.

“Please,” the girl pleaded. “My name is Anna Fox and you’re the first person I’ve seen in weeks! After I buried my parents, I avoided everyone but eventually realized everyone else was dead. You’ve got to help me. I don’t know where to go or what to do.”

Debbie couldn’t resist grinning at the difference between them. Both were approximately the same age, but Debbie had enough assistance and training to know what to do. Anna was utterly helpless, relying on the kindness of strangers to care for her.

“My name is Debbie Allen and, boy, did you stumble on the right person. I not only have supplies, but I’m heading to Raleigh to start a regional treatment center for the plagues. I can not only give you a lift, but tell you how best to survive.”

“Oh, thank God!” the girl gasped moving closer. “I was afraid you might be some homicidal lunatic. I’m so glad you’re another girl like me.”

Debbie held her hand up, taking a step back. “Just be aware, while I’m immune to the plagues, I’m a carrier. You can’t touch me or you’ll contract the plagues through me.”

Anna backed up too. “You’re contagious? Why the hell should I take advice from you if your advice didn’t protect you?”

“Don’t worry. I’m cured. I’m only contagious if there’s direct physical contact. Otherwise I’m perfectly safe. Believe me, we’ve researched this and determined what’s safe and what isn’t.”

“You’re sure?” the girl asked, her previous smile disappearing in a sudden cloud of doubt. “They found a cure after all this time?”

Debbie smiled. “They didn’t find anything. The CDC and every hospital we’ve encountered are gone. We’re a collection of survivors from West Virginia who stumbled upon a cure. Luckily, we had enough electricity and other resources to investigate how it works. Do you need food, supplies or medical care?”

“No, we had a full stock of canned goods and supplies we pickled and bottled ourselves. That’s why I never needed to leave home until after everyone died. I tried a few nearby houses, but no one answered and the few times I tried breaking in, everyone was dead. I decided breaking into infected houses wasn’t the wisest move.”

Debbie laughed, delighted her humor triggered Anna’s as she once again flashing her braces. “No. Having done it enough, I can confirm it isn’t.” Debbie turned and regarded her vehicle, walking around the SUV until she found what she was looking for. The left front tire had blown out. “Damn. That’s just what we needed. Look, could you stand watch as I change this?”

“Are you kidding? I’d push the damn car myself to get somewhere with a few more people.”

Both girls giggled over their cursing about such minor theatrics. “OK, you keep watch while I get the tire and jack out of the back.

Anna didn’t seem to be as hapless as Debbie feared and was both talkative and self-assured. She seemed nervous whenever she noticed Debbie’s pistol. To ease her mind, Debbie put the pistol and the rest of her gear beside her as she loosened the nuts on the tire. It was a slow process, and Debbie described what Anna needed to know as she changed the tire.

“Well, well, well. Look what we have us here,” a voice drawled behind them. Anna spun around, so caught up in discussing events she’d completely forgotten about keeping watch. Debbie however, immediately dropped the jack and reached for her pistol. A gunshot and the spray of dirt and grass inches from her hand disabused her of that notion.

“Now, now. Shooting at guests ain’t neighborly, is it? What the hell are two pretty things like you doing in this neck ‘o the woods?”

Debbie held her hands up so the gunman wouldn’t think she was trying anything. She stood and slowly turned around before dropping her hands again. As she did, her mind raced trying to imagine how Alice or David would handle the situation.

The man threatening them was a clean-cut guy with short hair, wearing a sweatsuit and jacket. He seemed too young to have served in the military, but he imitated a military bearing. Debbie hadn’t heard any vehicle approaching, so she had no clue where he’d come from. She wasn’t about to take her eyes off him to search for his car.

“I’m on a mission of mercy,” Debbie protested. “I’m on my way to Raleigh to help survivors there. I just encountered Anna. You really don’t want to stop us, as I—”

“Look, little Miss Privileged Princess, I’ll do whatever I want. You don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. You’ll do whatever the hell I want, and you’ll hop to it ... or else!”

“No, you don’t understand.” Debbie realized she was losing her chance to win the man over before things turned ugly. “I can cure people. I have a treatment for the Great Death plagues.”

“Fuck you!” the man snarled, his face contorted with anger. He raised his pistol, and time froze for Debbie. She watched as he aimed, his arm swinging slowly, his finger tightening on the trigger. She noticed Anna recoil in her peripheral vision. There was a loud bang and everything sped up. Flames leapt from the barrel, the pistol recoiled in the man’s hand and Debbie felt like she’d been kicked in the gut by Jacob. She was thrown back like a rag doll, twisting around and striking the SUV hard enough to leave a substantial dent. The impact dislodged the jack. The SUV groaned and tilted towards Debbie. The jack collapsed and the car crashed to the ground as Debbie slid off the vehicle, narrowly missing being crushed by it.

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