[Hidden away in a corner of Montana sits the settlement of Paradise. The only proof it exists from the highway is a bill board that's been painted in cheery red spray paint "PARADISE THIS WAY". As I near the stronghold, the ground begins to slant upwards and the trees become scarcer. Finally, I reach the place I've been searching for, another uphill walk past a few barricades to what appears to be nothing special, just an old beaten barn and a fairly new looking building. Along the way up I pass young men all hard at work, plowing, chopping wood and sowing seeds. Some smile and wave while others just watch the jeep cruise past.
Outside the rundown barn stands a young woman in her mid twenties. She wears her long black hair held back loosely from her grinning heart-shaped face. She is waving as we pull up.]
Hey, you're the interview guy aren't you?
I am. And you must be Camille.
[Smile] That'd be me. You don't mind if I work while we talk do you? [Gestures to the ancient laundry system set up. It's one of the models from the early 19th century with rollers meant to squeeze the water from the fabric.] It's a bit archaic I know but up here electricity's spotty at best. The government hooked us up with a generator but we like to conserve fuel. Anyways, welcome to Paradise.
Why did you call it that?
Can I just start by saying we're not a cult. Not polygamists, not Jews who have heard God's voice and certainly not one of those new 'Zack is judgement day' groups. We are a group of kids who happened to get lucky and find this little place to hole up when Zack came a'knockin'.
We just had one reporter come in and she started spouting all this stuff about our religion and stuff like that I just want to make that clear now. [Violently tosses a shirt into bucket] Here in, we are in no way affiliated with any religious group.
I mean the name Paradise is more of a joke than anything, a sort of homage to how perfect this place was during the war.
Well… the ground slopes up, so a.) Zack has a harder time getting at us and b.) if he does decide to pop in for a visit we've got plenty of warning. There's an aqua duct right underneath which keeps the well watered. The already abundant soil and of course… [points above our heads to a square door cut into the ceiling.] There's the loft up there. Wicked for retreating and storing anything you don't want Zack to get into.
It does seem well equipped. How'd you end up here in the first place though?
Well that's a bit complicated. As a group we all lived in a town down that a ways but me? I'm from Montreal. Up in Canada? A bit far off from rural Montana I know. My mother was from here but she ran away with a smooth talking French man when she was twenty. They got married and lived up there for almost a decade, popping out my sister, my brother and I. When they got divorced we moved back here to live with my grandfather, the pastor at the Lutheran church in the town that was just down that aways (Gestures towards the west). All that happened when I was eight.
That must have been hard for you.
The divorce wasn't so much as moving here was. I was an oddity, the new comer who spoke a heavily accented English and came from a far off place with no daddy. The most of the kids shunned me so I joined up with the outcasts. By high school I had lost the accent but I still hung out with the them, they were my friends. They understood me and liked me despite of it. They're good people those guys.
Did you ever go back to Montreal?
Oh yeah, loads of times. My father might not have been a good husband but he was a proper parent. We'd got up and visit him over the summer, first all of us then just my brother and me when my sister moved away. That's where I was supposed to be when the war started.
Why weren't you?
Exams. It was my junior year of high school when the war really started to get moving. Antoine has already gone up to see him since he was twelve and ended classes earlier than me. I was due to follow him at the beginning of July.
But you didn't?
[Shakes her head] That's when everything started going to hell in the southern states. We started hearing the reports and people panicked. Borders were closed, cities barricaded their highways. Baker, the town we all came from, was so very scared. People started packing to go north, following rumors or advice from people passing through. Those who didn't go flocked to the churches and prayed. I had never seen so many people packed into my grandfather's church before then.
My sister had moved down to New Mexico but was visiting us when the first reports came in. Her husband who was supposed to follow her up as soon as his vacations started never came. Lena waited and waited but we never saw him again. Thankfully she had brought her newborn baby up with her, this tiny little boy who would ball up his red face and scream all night. She was so protective of him, so careful that she rarely let him out of her sight. For the most part we just sat tight and waited.
How long did that last?
The waiting? Almost a full year. The night it hit Baker we were all out here, celebrating the Graduation we should have had. School had closed in September since half the kids were gone and now we had nothing to do. I spent a lot of time wondering which was worse, waiting and knowing what was coming for you or being blindsided by it. That's why we were out here, couldn't stand the cloud of worry that hung over everyone and suffocated us.
So you just stayed out here?
No, we went back. After we were done for the night the twenty or so of us who had come out all piled back into whatever vehicles we'd come in and headed back into town.
And what did you find when you got back?
Burning. Our town was burning against the black of the night sky. Everything was pandemonium. They had come.
A note from your lovely author.
Hey all you zombie lovin' readers out there! This story is a companion to another one I wrote called Eureka Springs High School. You should check it out if you liked this! Don't forget to review because I love hearing from you!