Harvard, IL USA

[We're sitting in a makeshift art studio with canvases of detailed looking ghouls on them, some with burning landscapes, and others with disturbing images on them. The Artist, Marcy (no last name), is no older than the average college student. As we're talking she is putting on the finishing touches on a canvas. She doesn't let me see, but promises when it's done I can be the first to see it. She fixes her partially shaven hair before resuming her work. She beckons us to start]

I didn't always live in Harvard. I use to live in Elgin with my family before moving away from there.

Why did you and your family move away from Harvard in the first place?

Financial reasons and plus we had a small business in Elgin.

So you didn't move because of the reports of the first out breaks?

[she laughs]

Pardon my French, but Hell no! Back when it was first called African Rabies, it didn't concern me and my family!

So when DID you get concern?

[she pauses, as if in a trance her hand tightens on the ink brush she is holding]

When my older brother began to fight with my mother. It started when they began renting a place in Elgin to open a hair salon there. She would drive with her husband there to get to work.

Her husband? You mean your step father?

[she shoots a dirty look at her canvas]

If you wish to call him that. But he was never a father to me, only a husband to my mother and father to my younger half brother. He would treat the rest of us as second rate trash. We were nothing to him.

Sorry bout that.

It's alright. You didn't know. No one knew outside of our family knew.

So back on topic; Why did your brother began to fight with your mother?

[pauses again and squints]

When we heard more the reports of breaks out happening in more of the rural suburbs around Chicago. My brother was always looking out for the family when our father left my mother years ago. He was worried and, I known this for a fact, scared of what could happen if we move further south, closer to the outbreaks. My mother would brush it off saying God will protects us and what happens, happens. My brother would explode in anger yelling profanities at her and telling to stop being ignorant and open her eyes and ears. She would scream at him back. They would fight for hours on end.

Is that all they fought about?

Most of the time. Sometimes they fight about us moving. He was sick of moving around, always having to start a clean slate each time. He would tell me when we played videogames, watch TV, or walk around the community. I was tired of moving too, but I was young at the time so I could really say my opinion without getting mentally abused by my mom's husband.

So you went along with it?

No choice. I wanted to stay in Harvard we're it was safe and quiet, but my mom said no.

[puts her brush into a jar with inky water and gets another different sized brush]

My older brother moved out when he got the chance to and moved in with a good friend of his. We sold the house and moved away. I cried when I said goodbye to my brother and he cried as well. My mother didn't say goodbye to him. Only me and my little sister did. I cried myself to sleep that night.

[stops painting to wipe some tears from her eyes and blow her nose]

I became depressed and developed an eating disorder. My mother thought it was because of someone's bad doing, but she didn't realize at the time that she was the cause of it. We moved into a smaller house behind the business and lived there. I attended high school there, I kept to myself there and avoided people. There were only three teachers that really knew me. My art teacher, my Sophomore English teacher, and my Psychology Teacher. My Art teacher and English teacher would tell me and teach me things I would never learn from a book really. My Art teacher knew a lot about weapons and different types and my English Teacher was very fascinated about the living dead, so it was ironic really. I would tell my brother about them and hear how he was doing there. He got a small place of his own there . He told me if anything happens to take the first bus to Harvard immediately.

Your brother cared a lot about you didn't he?

[she smiles]

Yea. He would always protect me and give advice. Like a brother should do. He even sent me a survival book, so I can learn to live off the land!

You witnessed an out break first hand right?

Of course! In fact it a little before the Great Panic happened! I was down stairs in my room watching TV when something happened. My grandma was living with us at the time due to her sickness. My little brother and sister were upstairs watching TV and such as well. I was sharpening my hunting knives when I heard a loud pounding on the both ends of the doors. I stopped moving to hear what was that noise. I heard my little sister go to the front door when I heard the moaning. My heart raced and I began to yell as I ran up the stairs. The front door was open and a crawler was latched onto her foot. She was screaming and my little brother was scared shitless, crying. I'm not sure what happened in those first seconds. I saw a cross hanging on the wall and my hand grabbed it. The thing was about to bite my sister but I kicked it off of her and then began to smash the thing's head in. Black ooze came out of it's skull when I was done with it. I heard more moaning coming from the front door and saw more coming. They probably attracted to sound of the previous ghoul I killed. I order my little sister to lock the front door and barricade it. I ran to the back to hear more moaning coming from behind the door. I ran down stairs and got my bag. I also took some tennis rackets and a baseball bat as well.

Tennis Rackets?

Yup. People may not know, but during a fight with anything really. If you have a Tennis Racket at the hand, that thing will be your best friend.

Why?

Since it has little to no wind resistance anyone can bash a couple of heads in with those things. Plus it was light weight too, so it was easy to carry. Anyway I ran back up stairs and saw ghouls at the windows. Basically we were trapped. My grandmother got woken up and was asking us what was going on.

[stops, takes a deep breath]

I gave the baseball bat to my brother and tennis racket, the pink one, to my little sister. We all looked at our grandma. We couldn't do anything for her. She was practically blind, diabetic, and was recovering from a gastrointestinal surgery, she could barely stand with any help. I told her that her time came and beckoned my sibling to follow me. I closed the door in time to hear the windows break and the birds scream and flap their wings.

What happened to your mother and her husband?

They were working in the hair salon, doing their jobs. My little brother was crying for our mom and saying we should go back for her. I told him not now. There was no time and we had to leave before the ghouls break down the basement door.

How did you guys manage to get out if you were surrounded?

There was a window in the basement there that we could easily slip through. We managed to get out and make a break to for it. We got on them and fled. My little brother was practically crying as we sped passed some ghouls and speeding cars.

Fled to where?

There was this bike trail that lead to the Fox river. I had some money with me and figured I could bribe someone to take us up to McHenry or possibly further North. Luckily there was small, kind, family with a speed boat that took us up on our offer and took us up North. We passed a lot towns that weren't infested yet, but many people where fleeing, panicking, and rioting. We stopped to refuel, once. At that point I decided to call my brother and tell him what happened.

How did he take it?

Not well. When I told him that our mom was probably dead and then telling him about leaving Grandma for dead was the hardest.

[takes a heavy deep breath]

He was crying on the other end, bittersweet tears. Happy that we were safe, but sad that our mom and grandma was gone and he never got a chance to apologize to her. He told me he will pick us up on Route 14 and to get off the boat when we arrive close to McHenry. I asked them where to drop us off. They did so, and before leaving the woman gave use some blankets and canned foods, and wished us luck. I wished her luck as well. I never saw that family again. Sometimes I wonder what happened to them.

After parting ways was it difficult to get to your rendezvous point?

Of course! Luckily we brought our emergency bag but when entering town. People began to ask us questions.

What kind of questions?

Where did we come from? Do you have any idea why the power went out? Or where is it safe? Those kind questions. All forms of communications were down, so people can only rely on passing strangers with stories of what's going on, I would barter in exchange for some answers I get some supplies. They did so and we were ready to go again. We had to get there to meet our brother. We finally got on Route 14, and it was filled with empty cars and walking people heading North to Canada or Alaska. We treaded onwards into the darkness.

Wait on your way there, didn't you encounter more ghouls?

Yes. That's how I lost my younger brother. It was dusk the day after when we were walking. Somehow a body was laying under the car and reanimated itself. It's hand shot out and grabbed my little brother's ankle. In a panic he tripped over his legs, falling onto his stomach. The ghoul bit him on his leg and that sent some people running, others crying, and a few just looking at the ghoul biting my brother. I stepped on the head hard and killed it immediately. The bite mark went very deep and blood was oozing it's way out like a river, my brother was crying in pain begging me to make it stop. He got infected and his skin was starting to go pale.

Did they kill your brother?

[she hesitates but answers, her eyes down cast]

No. I did. I took the bat from him. I told him to sit up and I started crying. I ripped a piece of cloth from my jeans and tied it around his eyes. I took aim and…the sound of his skull echoed through my mind like a broken record. My sister screamed and hitted me as I bashed his head in until it was no more, more ooze poured out.. She keeping screaming and yelling at me and I shoved her off. I went on my way and took off. I looked over my shoulder and saw my sister cradle his body in her arms, mourning for him. I kept going, but I allowed tears to flow freely from my eyes. Night fell and I kept going, I had a flash light on to spot any ghouls or anybody in road. God was on my side and there no trouble as at all.

So you left your sister behind?

I did. She was letting her emotions get the best of her plus since she touch my brother there was a chance her getting infected as well, and I couldn't let happen to me as well, so I left her reluctantly.

[she crying now, but forces it down]

I met my brother later on and we went to back to his place. I told him that our siblings didn't make it. That I had to end one them myself and abandon the other since she went into hysterics and possible infection. He didn't yell or scream at me, he just hugged me. For the first time since I cried over the loses and guilt that kept eating away at me.

What happened after that?

The town went on lock down and everyone had to move in with others that lived in the center of town. It became a town of trades and haven for travelers or people looking for a new life. They a lot of dogs around town, stray dogs or dogs with homes. They were allowed to wandered to help keep an eye out if any ghoul got past the patrols. Everyone gave the dogs food and water, they were the ones helping us spot infectees.

Did the town ever get infested?

Only by a few ghouls, but the patrol and minute men around the border lines took care of them and if they ever got bitten, then they would take their lives. My brother took care of me supporting me and his girlfriend at the time. I would offer my services in wood cutting and waste body clean up for food and such.

Body clean up?

Even though people didn't die by ghouls, they still had fight off nature's other illness. I helped with the funeral preparations and body burning. We couldn't spare land to bury the dead, so we had no choice but to burn them.

So you stayed there until the End of the War?

Until the military men should up. They checked us to make sure we were in good health and such. My brother and I were lucky to stay in town when they began to relocate people to different areas for their skills.

What skills did your brother have?

Other than the town's dog caretaker? Not much really. They kept me and him here to care for the dogs that were still in town. We made friends with some of them and I even made best friend with one of them. His name was Venn. He was 20 something and he was the only survivor his family. I stayed with to help him out with his loses as he did with me. We had each other when we lost a lot.

[She finishes her painting and stands up, she beckons me to look.]

There was another reason why I was kept here. They knew I had a vivid imagination and wanted me to paint a memorial to those lost. And guess what? You the first to see it.

[The painting shows a Zed's hand above ground with random faces painted into it with tuffs of grass sprouting out round it in a barren landscape.]

Pardon me asking but what does it represent?

Death. Death may show an ugly side, and that's what a lot of people saw during the Great Panic and the War. Even when death occurs life goes on in different forms. With great losses comes great overcoming. And that what we did with those Ghouls. Shows that even when humanity is at it's breaking point, we will over come in the end.

[she smiles at me and I smile back.]