***Note: Not everything may be accurate, not everything may seem plausible, and it may seem a bit rushed. I’m doing this for fun, yo. The well-researched, thought out, re-written, agonized-over piece is still under wraps. I just wanted a project with a little less blood, sweat, and tears. My apologies to anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about in this kind of situation. I AM WINGING IT SO HARD.
I trained for 9 months. In that time, the zombies rose up. But we didn’t call them zombies. Wayyyy too on the nose. I was opposed to walkers because, duh, copyright infringement. They were just known as the Infected. Which was highly accurate. They did want to eat flesh, any living flesh, and they roamed. They weren’t very fast, but they could be dangerous in hordes. Luckily, no one in our fragile city had the virus. I mentioned before, there were heavy quarantines prior. But thanks to a few HAM radios, we could get some news in and out of what was going on. They were already covering the Southwest, so it was only a matter of time before they reached us.
Meanwhile, nuclear winter is the pits. I don’t knowwww if anyone has told you that, but it is. Like…seriously sucky, dude. It’s cold, dark, everything feels gross and a little dusty, and food becomes a major concern. Also, our water was intensely irradiated so while we did the best we could to attempt to purify it, I did notice my already very pale skin had a certain..glow to it. And no, I wasn’t pregnant.
Anyone who had been close to the larger cities that were decimated suffered worse from the radiation. Most people were vaporized, but those that didn’t tended to have scars like burn victims. THEY looked like the zombies we thought were coming. But they were all fine. Delightfully normal—as normal as one can be after a traumatic event.
As for myself, I lived at the Central Barracks. Cushy situation to be honest. The downtown of my city had been walled off as best as possible with scraps of metal, wood, and concrete, and the Central Barracks used to be a sweet hotel. My parents lived in one of the little shotgun houses by the mayor’s house. We still had a mayor. He just really answered to our commander, Commander Stokes. I saw my family and the mayor about once a week. Luckily for me, the mayor—unlike Sgt. Tibbs, the man who whipped me into shape—found me charming, if quirky. Definitely irreverent.
I’ll be frank: I hated military life. I found the structure to be chafing, and I’m sure my superiors found my presence to be chafing. We were all just chapped at that point. But I had gotten to be a decent shot (shout out to all of those Pre-War video games), and I could pack a wallop unarmed. I wasn’t outstanding, but it sufficed. Plus, I could talk my way out of a lot of things if need be. My mouth was my greatest weapon. If this had been normal times, if this was Pre-War military, I would have been gone so fast. But times had changed and as long as you fell in line when it was crucial, you were tolerated.
Pre-War. Everything was Pre-War. I think it was one of the shortest wars in history, with everything ending in hours. Who knew, we could have still been in the war and not known it. There was hardly a way to find out what was going on in the rest of the world. HAM radios only did so much.
We didn’t even have uniforms. The desert camouflage of the wars in the Middle East was useless in the grey and white landscape. So we scavenged and made do in our grey, blue, and white parkas—hard to find in a Gulf Coast Alabama town. But we did it. Most of us also had gas masks on standby. We looked like creatures from one of Dante’s circles of hell. But we didn’t look as bad as the things that attacked the scrap walls we had built around our city. The people who wanted to slaughter us and take our supplies. The creatures were bad, but bloodthirsty people…they were vicious.
The day before my life changed, I picked up some Kool-Aid packets from the commissary. I really, really hated how life was going. I know, in times like this, you’re supposed to suck it up buttercup and just survive. Common good. Fall in line. Blah blah blah. I just couldn’t do it. So with a final urge of stick-it-to-the-man-ness I had left in me, I dyed my hair hot pink. Or to be more precise, I flavored it “Pink Swimingo.” And it smelled amazing. I went to bed that night with a towel on my head, my fellow privates shaking their heads, and I fell asleep with a smirk on my face.
The next morning, as I was scrambling to get to my post, sliding over the icy cobblestones and pavement, someone ran clear into me (for once, it wasn’t my fault) and papers scattered everywhere. I stopped and began apologizing profusely as I helped him pick the papers up.
“No, no, don’t worry, it was my fault,” rumbled a deep voice, “I was in a hurry and—Private Frasier, what on earth have you done to your hair?”
I froze and looked up into the steely blue eyes of the Commander. I gulped and sort of saluted. It looked sloppy, I’m sure. “Kool-Aid spill?”
“And that isn’t your natural lip color, is it?” he asked slowly.
“No, sir. But there’s no reason you can’t look your best, even in a nuclear winter,” I said without thinking. I gave him an awkward “Oops” smile and began playing with the zipper on my parka. I was turning into Fran Drescher in The Beautician and the Beast. Not a good look currently.
His eyes narrowed. “Indeed. Sgt. Tibbs will have a fit you know.” I gave him a lopsided grin and what I hoped were convincing puppy eyes. Not that they seemed to work on anyone around here. “I was going to come find you anyways. Where were you off to?”
“Just…uh, watching the wall. You know, the usual…sir,” I wobbled, mentally wondering why I get myself into things.
Commander Stokes reached out to a new recruit who was jogging by. “Tell Sgt. Tibbs to have someone fill in Private Fraser’s post. Now. Get to it.” I watched the wide-eyed recruit stammer and salute and scurry away.
“Well, Frasier, walk with me,” he said, heading towards our government building. “You know, you’re a noticeable person, even without the, um, tragic Kool-Aid spill. I’ve seen you at a few parties at the mayor’s and heard you talking in several situations. You know quite a bit about Pre-War foreign politics, nuclear deterrence, and general diplomacy.”
“Um…Thank you, sir?” It was my undergrad so…
“And people, well, people who aren’t giving you orders on a daily basis, seem to like you…And those that don’t you can tolerate it seems. You’re diplomatic is the point I’m making. I’m sending out ten teams to do some recon. I had you in mind for a simple mission out to Louisiana, but now I’m thinking something different.” He looked at my hair and smiled. “I think you might be the person I send up to DC. I’m sending my best soldier, my best sniper up. It’s important that whomever goes up with him can work with him and listen to him when it counts.”
“Well, sir, I don’t have the most obedient reputation,” I began slowly.
“No, you really don’t,” he chuckled. “But, I think out of everyone, he’ll like you the most…or, at least work with you the most. Besides, I think that if there’s anyone left up around DC, you’re the one best suited to getting them to help us.” He sighed and fixed his steely blue eyes on me. “You’ve got spirit, kid. You’re going to need it.”
“Well, sir, I’ll do my best…” I began, not arguing. This mission would be dangerous and there were high chances I’d die, but golly, I had to get out.
“I’ll be honest, kid, I don’t think you’re a great soldier,” he blurted. Gee, thanks. “But, you would have been a decent politician back before all of this. Lucky for you, that’s what I need right now.”
We walked inside the grey, over crowded government building, sandbags and troops all over the place, and he began briefing me on what I needed to know and look for. Military, resources, weapons, other cities or settlements. Any group of people we could possibly work with—or watch out for. We climbed the stairs and got to his office. Inside stood a hulking man with his back to us, looking out the window. He had a .300 Win Mag slung across his back. I’m not a small girl, 5’7” and broad-shouldered, but I felt like a teacup Yorkie looking up at that man. I probably had the shakes too.
“Private Fraser, this is Master Chief Petty Officer Moustafa. He’s been working down at the docks.” We had the basis for building a sort of tiny navy for the city, and our engineers were working overtime to make it happen. While our military was cobbled of all the former branches and then newbies, most of the former Navy and Coast Guard were at the outpost there. I nodded. “Master Chief Moustafa, this is Private Fraser.”
He turned around and looked at me and made a noise at the back of his throat that sounded like a growl. Which I have to say, sounded way better than my yelp of surprise. I make great first impressions.