Though Vegard and Mari have been friendly with increasing frequency throughout our journey, it wasn’t until I could hear Erik’s muffled grunts from Arianna’s yurt that I was reminded of a moment growing up back on the farm. I smile as I think of the time I asked my father if he had piled another cord of wood after I’d gone to bed, after hearing his grunting coming from the next room, because I thought I’d finished piling it all. A wry smile and brief “No son, last night was no chore. That’ll be all about that,” was his reply.
I didn’t think any more about that statement or realize what he and my mother had been doing until it all came together tonight as Erik made an unsuspecting mimicry of Dad.
I think of my family often. I like to imagine that they are all alright. I picture them living a quiet, isolated life together in the woods. Mari’s cabin was well equipped to meet their needs but it would only take a single mistake for the zombies to find and destroy them. I can’t see either fight or flight serving them well. Their only choice is to stay hidden. Just as our only choice is to keep moving.
I brought you home to please me
And please me you shall do
To please me you should know that,
Twice is once too few
Erik seems to understand and is earnestly groaning his way to success. I trust he will get the job done and am glad it is he who has had this toll exacted. I wouldn’t know where to begin.
The night is clear as we take this rest. I have found this space to be surprisingly relaxing and it seems the others feel the same way. Arianna seems to have a certain dominion over this area and, while in her care, it feels like we are safe. You have to know that feeling won’t last for long. We will soon feel Salithius’ warm stale breath on the back of our necks again. It is never long.
After a while, Arianna comes out of her home and wafts around her little yard amongst us humming and cheerfully batting her eyes – seeming to further enchant Mari. Mari, who couldn’t stop listening to her while inside with Erik now can’t stop watching and following her, emitting an occasional sigh and subtle “amazing”.
Pleasure’s been mine
And the pleasure was fine
Now time is our foe
So, ready to go?
Arianna states before she starts to walk into the swamp. We gather that this is our cue to follow. Always ready to get up and go at a moment’s notice, we’re all caught a little off guard by this swift departure. Erik in particular is a little discombobulated. Arianna wiggles her butt playfully, looking back over her shoulder and batting her eye lashes.
Moving through the swamp we meticulously watch and follow the exact steps taken in front of us. The occasional foot slips off a tussock and into the water. No one goes in past their shin, but no one touches the bottom either. It certainly feels as though a critically wrong step could prove perilous. There are trees that I’ve never seen before, growing straight out of the water. The moon is full tonight but there is an eerie and shifting fog that occasionally surrounds us, hiding the moon and stars, and at times is completely absent. Wisps sometimes seem to move in and around the trees and tussocks in a playful manner, almost hiding and peeking back out at us.
Vegard, who surprisingly has only had sex with other humans, is unsurprisingly curious to learn of Erik’s experience. Erik needs only reply, “One hole,” to send Vegard’s imagination wild and our walk continues with Vegard obviously lost in thought on how that would work and how he might one day come to experience that sexual rarity.
As we walk and the hours start to turn, fatigue starts to set and conversation wanes. Arianna can still be heard humming and mumbling to herself cheerfully. She patiently waits for us from time to time as we stumble along behind her until she abruptly stops, turns and states, “If you look forward, the swamp ends and there will be grass. Once you reach the grass, turn right and continue until the road. And friends… when will you be back?”
We say our goodbyes and thanks to Arianna and watch as she disappears back toward her home. Dolf has noticed a pattern in which grass knots will take a step and which Arianna was skipping and he takes on leading us through the rest of the swamp. The terrain quickly changes as water gives way to a muddy ground and soon to a firm and much more familiar grassland. Following the directions from Arianna we turn to our right and continue until we stumble onto a narrow pathway. We turn onto the pathway in the direction thought to be eastward, though no one is absolutely certain we’re going in the right direction. The swamp was so disorienting that precision in this regard is not possible for any of us.
We walk along the path for a bit but everyone is tired from a long day and talk soon turns to setting a camp. We find an agreeable clearing just off of the pathway and set up a simple camp. Erik and Vegard agree to take the first watch of the night and as the rest of us start to settle in to try and sleep Erik starts to ‘feel’ like there might be zombies nearby. I, as everyone does, feel like there are zombies nearby all the time. This is our fear and this is our reality. If you don’t think there might be a zombie nearby at every moment of your day, you’re not doing it right and you won’t be doing it for long. Erik deciding to share with us at this moment that he had a feeling was the most ridiculous thing to say at that time. No false alarms or inklings. Tell me when there’s danger and keep your feelings to yourself. I feign sleep as he continues his rambling but I can’t ignore it and we get snappy at each other. Though I regret losing my patience and making snide comments, I still feel that Erik was being ridiculous and needed to be quiet. Vegard natters on about sparring and it seems that’s how he and Erik will pass the time and stay awake.
May 23, 1136 – 7am
Erik still wants to argue about his feelings and playfully slaps my face. Not the time, friend. A stern look doesn’t seem to impress upon him that I’m not interested in sparring with him. He was likely embarrassed by Vegard and wants to know he’s not the worst fighter amongst us. I am not who he should test his ego against. His second playful slap was less playful and elicited a less playful response. Two swift and un-checked punches saw him on his back, out cold. It’s not my manner to lose my temper, but it was time for Erik to be quiet.
It is now the early dawn hours and having made it through the night watch we decide to take advantage of the day and get walking early. As we march the night’s events play through my mind. I am still angry with Erik but for no particular reason. Sure he was an irritant last night but it was my own impatience that had shifted and changed the situation. I think on our group and realize that, with the exception of Dolf, who I would trust to the end of the world and back, I do not feel the warm trust of family here, and sincerely miss it. We have been cast together in this quest through sheer happenstance. Why these seven? What are we trying to accomplish? I wonder daily whether I would be serving my family better if I’d stayed with them. What if something has happened? Before leaving, Father was clear that this was my role to play. He was as certain as if he had expected it. And turning back is certainly no longer an option.
Vegard has snuck off ahead of us and returned with alarming news. Ahead on the path there seems to be another not-of-this-world zombie creature ominously waiting. This one, he says, is basically a tentacled orb floating in the air and as foul smelling as the latrines at the mines.
We all start to smell the moist reek in the air as Vegard leads us into the grass in a long arc around where he saw the creature. Through a few tricks, we manage to escape the stench and hopefully, this foul beast. As light begins to show over the horizon and we feel further and further away (Erik isn’t feeling as much) talk of this new creature and whether or not to confront it or avoid it carries on, though no one thinks a confrontation will go well. Seemingly out of nowhere, Aija eurekas that it must smell like an outhouse because it had been inside the one we’d tossed Salithius’ evil ring into. This thing had the ring and was communicating or being commanded by Salithius through it!
Avoidance was our best option.
May 23, 1136 – 6pm
We covered considerable mileage that day as we hoped to outrun our latest adversary. As darkness approaches and the fog sets in we turn off the path to set a camp for the night. We take a considerable distance off the path and set up a simple camp. An unfortunately brief period of time passes before our pursuer is seen again behind us, with it’s glowing spotlight visibly searching for, finding and following our tracks.
We begin to move silently through the grass, hoping to gain an angle to escape from this spot. We are, without a doubt, in a little bit of a bind. Skill, luck or some of each and we’re back to the path, with our tracks hidden and our noise silenced, we take off as quickly as we can for as long as we can. We run until the pre-dawn light begins to show and our exhaustion is becoming too much to bear.
May 24, 1136 – 5am
An impassioned argument about our tactics ensues as it is clear that we are being tracked. Whether or not we lose it or out run it, and whether or not we can actually accomplish either are the main points of contention. Ultimately we figure that Salithius knows that we can only hide our tracks for so long and that we will ultimately have to return to the path. We opt for an avoidance strategy, hoping that our flying dung hole would pass us by and continue on. We would then continue on our way after giving it some time. There is risk to this plan but in all, we feel that every time Salithius figures out exactly where we were (and possibly how long ago), the tighter his noose draws.
Shortly after executing our strategy and hunkering down, the shit pile does float by. A momentary pause causes us all to question the decision we’d made but in the end it carried along. We lay down to rest, for the moment, feeling relieved.
The sun passes through it’s daily pinnacle and the days warmth finally spurs us into action. We agree to progress, hoping we’ve left enough distance that we won’t come upon it. Vegard is walking ahead of the rest of us as a scout. I guess what we really hope is that we’re not being waited for in an ambush. As the day continues the air changes and the humidity increases. There is a scent to the air that is new to all of us but immediately known to be the sea air written of in books. A final knoll crested and we look down upon a small village, dim lights shining through the setting darkness and a wide open expanse of deep darkness beyond. Boats moored to their buoys can be seen bobbing with the roll of the sea. We’ve made it this far. May help be near.
(session ended May 24, 1136 – 4pm)