Final Story: A Moment of Warmth

A Moment of Warmth

I hadn’t really thought about it before. The process of getting up early in the morning for studio had become typical in my mind. But you know, sometimes typical can be good too. I had been at Virginia Tech for a few months and wanted a little change of pace.

The morning was crisp, and cool. The leaves had changed to shades of orange, red, and yellow, preparing to drop for the winter. I snaked along a sidewalk on campus, looking down at my feet. It was early morning and no one would be out anyways. Nobody to run into.

I wonder what camera trapping will be like? I thought.

The sidewalk curved slightly and then ended at the parking lot where we were going to meet. The lot was minimally filled. Hokie Stone buildings, clad in limestone, fenced in the lot on all sides, casting long shadows in the morning sun. The sun felt good, contrasting the slight breeze that had begun to rustle the fallen leaves.

Regardless, no one was around from the group yet.

I walked up to the meeting spot and sat on the stone wall. As time passed more people began to appear. In the end, there were four of us, not many this week, I was told but then again camera trapping is not your typical Saturday morning. We all piled into the van and headed out for the station.

It was almost comical. All of us dressed like marshmallow men, as if a snowstorm were about to hit campus: heavy coats, boots, rip-stop pants. No one was going to take a chance on being any more cold and miserable than we had to be up on Salt Pond Mountain. Though it was fall here, it was already in the depths of winter there.

We flew down 460 towards West Virginia. That was one thing I never understood about wildlife folks: their innate desire to drive very, very fast.

“You doing alright, Ken?” someone asked.

I said nothing. My white knuckles should have said it all for me. I shook my head yes.

“Silly freshman,” said one of the others. I was told that this would not last.

After traveling for a little while the van made a quick right onto a smaller road and started our ascent up the mountain. We sped up the road and it began to wind around the different ridges as we continued to climb. This road was not meant for the light hearted. There were several instances where rounding a ridge meant a turn in the road that was almost 180 degrees. I imagined a large semi-truck could not handle this kind of turn, and would go over the edge.

I fear the abyss, the edge.

We rounded one of the hairpin turns and it was everywhere. Snow was everywhere. It was like a person had painted the ground white. What was fantastic was that we were the first to drive over the snow, leaving a trace for a small while of where we had come from, aimed towards our destination. We went up over a hill and came upon Mountain Lake Hotel. As we roared past, the scene blanketed in snow, stood tranquil against the hillside, waiting for visitors.

After traveling for a little while the van made a quick right onto a smaller road and started our ascent up the mountain. While we drove along, Mountain Lake appeared and disappeared through the trees. Flashes of blue mixed in with the red and orange of the leaves. This road gradually faded away, becoming a gravel road.

The gravel road went around the backside of the mountain and then dropped a little onto a plateau in the mountain range. The car pulled into a gravel lot and we all piled out. The camera trapping was going to be done at the Mountain Lake Biological Station, which was a public works project from FDR’s tenure. The structure was solid, completely made of load-bearing stone and small windows over a set of arches that obscured a recessed doorway.

I turned around, away from the station and towards the grassy field. I squinted a little and saw the cabins in the tree line.

Cabins? Those look interesting.

As I reached the edge of the concrete, I was greeted by a small two step stair, and came under a small awning. That’s when I realized that the wind was mainly blocked by the barrier the awning provided. The space was not large, but just by cutting the wind, I felt invited to the structure.

I want to know more. I reached for the door. It was unlocked and I stepped inside.

The outside, which had been a warm wood shell, revealed an entirely different interior. The uniform exterior morphed into a repetitious bay, spaced by… pallets? They were pallets, things forgotten and discarded to be left to the elements, which were now providing the character of a sheltering space. Light flooded in from a large bank of windows that ran the length of the cabin, falling and breaking upon the rough brick floor and volume that rose vertically through the space. I leaned to the left and saw that the brick tower was actually a bathroom. I stepped inside.

The space was very narrow, but all through the space, the shadow of tree branches danced along the tall walls, radiating down from a large skylight overhead. The opening looked as if were simply open, the edge of the volume blending into the light shining through.

And in that moment I felt its warmth.

I went back out into the larger space, and saw the beds, constructed out of pallets as well, followed the module that had been set forth by the bays above. This guy really liked his pallets. A pallet of pallets….

The space, though regulated, felt dynamic. I wanted to move through the space and see more. As I moved from the bank of windows, I realized how close the ceiling of pallets had become, the articulated beams now extending past the pallets lower into the space, giving the recessed pallets a frame. I rounded the edge of brick volume and saw a small fireplace in the middle of the cabin. I could imagine a fire in that place. The fireplace became a central place of warmth in the heart of the cabin in which people could gather together.

A small hallway had been hidden behind the brick volume. As I peered in, a different light came from above, showcasing wooden shelves and storage. The light fell further, onto the polished concrete in the small space, reflecting back. The storage, necessary, but mundane thing was also celebrated in light.

“A place for everything and everything in its place,” I murmured as I slid my hand across the top shelf.

After encountering the polished floor in the storage space, I became aware that the spine of the cabin had been polished concrete also, reflecting light up, further into the space, further absorbing its warmth. The cabin was surprisingly warm, even without any heating by simply accepting light into the space.

Passively warm, inviting, a celebration of the mundane in a sea of light.

“A place for everything and everything in its place,” I murmured as I slid my hand across the top shelf.

After encountering the polished floor in the storage space, I became aware that the spine of the cabin had been polished concrete also, reflecting light up, further into the space, further absorbing its warmth. The cabin was surprisingly warm, even without any heating by simply accepting light into the space.

Passively warm, inviting, a celebration of the mundane in a sea of light.

I was reluctant to leave the cabin, but I was here to do a task. What I knew though was that if I had to stay here long, this cabin would always be ready to accept me after a long hard day elsewhere.

Always ready, always willing. I closed the door behind me and hustled back over to the group.

“Where were you?” the professor asked.

“Just looking at the cabin,” I explained pointing back out into the snow, the cabin obscured by distance. The cabin had become a place of shelter in a somewhat inhospitable landscape.

“I think I will come back next week…” I said, turning towards the path towards the next adventure.

Then we heard the shuffles, then the low moans.

“MMuuurh” Frank sighed, interrupting my story.

But that had all happened in the past. It had been several years, the hordes of zombies had come and gone; people though few, had remained. I will spare you all the carnage and mayhem that ensued in favor of a more subtly unnerving tale. I had not talked to another human in a long time.

“How you doing, Frank?” I asked.

“Weeeerrrghhh!?” Frank responded

“That’s how I feel too, but then again Frank I don’t quite know what to think about our personal relationship now that your interrupted my story yet again.”

“Bbbllaaarrrghh!”

“You really didn’t need to be so crass! We may both be men here but I will not stand for such behavior.”

“mmmuhhh…” Frank slid down the wall, coming to halt abruptly on the ground with his legs splayed out.

“Sorry Frank, I just got a little worked up.”

I walked over to the side of the station and entered. The old stone walls sat heavy, wet from the recent storm. The rain stained the tops of the stones making the structure even drearier. Passing through the threshold, is noticed the claw marks on the doorframe, left from years of struggle as people came and went. Blood was smeared all along the walls, none of it mine, and it really did not faze me anymore.

“Another day gone,” I paused and cut a mark into the wall for the day. Adding the marks meant that today was 2679, or three months past seven years ‘alone’.

I rounded the corner in the hall and paused breifly as a pair of rats ran for cover.

“Nick, Raymond, I asked you to be cleaner and be cautious or Frank will get you.”

My life was pretty well fucked up, but I felt as though nothing had changed.

The human race had been infected by a virus. An infected person started off with a fever, then a set of chills, followed by a degradation of motor and cognitive functions, then death.

Ring around the rosy, ashes, ashes, we all fall down…

At least that is what was released when humanity began its organized resistance to the epidemic. What I overheard on the radio was that governments everywhere failed to admit was that people began to come back.

The days ran together; I had been walking, moving slowly, always alone. In a way it was more difficult now that zombies were infrequent as a single zombie could sneak up on you. I moved during the day and slept up in trees.

They could not climb trees.

I learned that early. While the infected did not move quickly, they still retained and used some cognition. One time I had actually been surrounded by two packs of zombies that had trapped me up against a series of cliffs at the station. I ended up climbing one of the trees out of desperation and had to stay there for a day or two.

“Muuuuuhhhh…”

The clawing noises, the low moans, and the shuffling continued endlessly as the horde grasped upwards. It slowly began to eat away at my emotions. The constant and repetitive sounds of death were so near. Then as suddenly as they had appeared, they disappeared. I assumed that they just lost interest.

Silence came over the cliffs, only to be broken by the whisper of a slight breeze.

At least that is what was released when humanity began its organized resistance to the epidemic. What governments everywhere failed to admit was that people began to come back, come back to life after physically dying.

“Surprise Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore”

I moved in and out of the traps I had set on the property. Since there were so few large hordes anymore, were the traps for the no-longer existent hordes or for other humans.

“Hey Frank,” I quipped.

“Muuuurrrrr…”

Frank simply tugged on the chain that restrained him to the concrete wall. His stench pervaded everywhere on the compound keeping his kind away.

“Honestly Frank you are my favorite zombie. My favorite, my favorite, my favorite…. he he he.”

Power had long been cut at the station, but with all of the wildlife either consumed or frightened off by the hordes, berries and other edible plants made a huge resurgence in the area.

“Little berries just for me and not for thee…”

I picked the berries off of a couple bushes near the far end of the station and moved back through the traps to Frank.

“You might be undead, but without anything you will inevitably die.” I said.

“Gnnaarrr….”

Frank looked at the berries and then took one, ate it, then spat it out. He grimaced and looked longingly towards me.

I moved back to the step of the station and looked feverishly from side to side looking for any sign of movement beside Frank shifting slowly as he stood, swaying as if in response to the breeze.

I still do not know how it started, but it came quickly, burned through a majority of the world’s population, and then flickered out. The time between dying and re-animation varied widely, resulting in many attacks within families. You know, a family member would die, the family would begin to mourn and then the relative would come back to life, and attack the other members of the family.

“The in-laws will take a real chunk out of you…”

I felt as though I would see the end soon anyways. I could not see an end to the loneliness. How would I have a family now without anyone else?

“Mmmrrraaaaaww?” Frank asked.

“No Frank, you are not as pretty as you think, and besides one of us is missing the prerequisite parts to have a child.”

“HHUrmph.” Frank retorted.

“Fine, be that way Frank!” I threw a rock at him and made wild movements at him.

Frank simply turned away and sat down on a pile of leaves he had pulled together from nearby. He then listed over and slouched into the wall.

“So you think I am lower than you Frank? That will be the day, I am not a fucking dolt like you.”

Frank just sat there silently with his back turned towards me, unmoving.

As the virus spread, either by transmission on contact or consumption, its origins were lost in the mayhem. In then end only a cure was desired, its origin did not matter. Only the end of the madness could be conceived.

“Live and live and live to regret.” I mumbled.

I had heard over the radio that something was to be dropped in by helicopter in the hopes that those still alive would find it and take the contents. The military and government were still there, just very restricted, limping along with the infected trailing close behind. Many saw this as a blessing and took the contents, a vaccine, immediately. I was one of the masses. After being terrorized by the infected for years, I wasted no time getting a dose of the miracle cure. It was hard to get to the one of the distribution sites.

I took the vaccine and went back to the station.

I took a look at Frank and then got my things together to leave the station.

“See you around Frank.” I said.

I walked along the gravel road and then left to compound for good, looking for other people. As I was walking away, a small piece of paper fell from my pocket and onto the gravel.

“Long term effects have not been studied; preliminary tests suggest insomnia and extreme, unending thirst, followed by no cellular division, but cellular preservation. We caution the use of what is an elixir of immortality”

This is my story of traveling to many places and learning how to cope with immortality. I would continue live. Instead of becoming infected, dying, reanimating and living again only to die shortly after, the vaccine made the uninfected immortal. I would live forever.

I turned around and saw Frank stand up, snap the chain that held him to the wall like a piece of string and then begin to shuffle towards me.

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed.

“Mmmasster, forrrgetss Fraaank.”

This is the story of the success humanity had in creating a vaccine, a “cure” for the zombie condition. I cannot really say for sure if the vaccine was a success, but it certainly was effective in stopping the disease the plagued the world.

[HRCNBD]

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