By Kevin Gillihan
Location: Firewatch outpost #37GiffordPinchotNational forest
Southeast of Forks,Washington
It was Sunday. At least that was what Frank liked to think. Sunday was a day of renewal, maybe even hope. Set high above the Evergreen tree line, Firewatch outpost #37 was a haven against a storm. A 360 degree view surrounded Frank Williams but despite this, the same knot in his’ gut told Frank he was far from safe. For nearly 3 months, Frank had called this tree-top outpost his home. Although he didn’t mind the solitude, Frank wished (as he did every day) that he could have one decent conversation with another human being. Of course he had his daily check-in with the local town and resistance just 15 miles or so from his location on his two-way radio but that wasn’t exactly soothing. It was nearing dusk. The time Frank dreaded because of the fading light and the approaching darkness. Darkness, in these times, was not a friend. Frank set about doing his daily check of supplies at hand; flashlight, various lengths of rope, two 5 gallon gas cans (for the generator), radio with tape player, clothes, and old pick-axe, a few road flares, some canned soups, water, binoculars and a 1911 Colt .45. Frank smiled to himself as he no longer had any ammo for his beloved Colt. He still carried it on his side though because it belonged to his grandfather. I quick scan of the horizon through his binoculars revealed nothing out of the ordinary. No creeps out tonight, Frank observed. Perhaps I might even get some sleep tonight, Frank hoped.
If Frank Williams had been a drinking man, these were the times in which he would have drunk himself into a blissful stupor. As he was not a drinking man, he found that the only cassette left in his ancient radio perfectly fit his somber mood. Thank God for George Jones, was something he told himself on a daily basis and tonight was not an exception. In the background of this horrible God-awful scenario, where people died before you could even put a name to their face, George Jones knew exactly what to say. I’ve had choices, since the day that I was born; I’ve heard voices, that told me right from wrong. If I hadn’t listened, I wouldn’t be here today. Living and dying, with the choices I’ve made. There never had ever been truer words spoken in the English language, Frank thought. Complacency was a bad thing for any human being. Complacency was what got you killed. Frank knew this. It was the only rule he lived by. Not having human contact was what cultivated complacency and Frank was a master gardener in this aspect. Don’t be soft, his Grandfather used to say. You get soft and complacent and then you get killed. Of course Franks’ Grandfather could not have known how his words would ring so true with your neighbor down the street trying to eat your face. No, he was speaking of his time in the Marines, Frank thought. He fought two tours of duty and had the scars to show. Seeing your best friend step on a mine and loose his entire lower body could do that to a person. As always, Franks’ Grandfather was right. And with that motivation clearly in his mind, Frank set out checking the watch towers’ meager security. Windows locked, radio at a reasonable level, escape hatch secure. Frank sighed to himself every time he did this because he knew that small bits of metal and wood wouldn’t hold for long if it hit the fan.
At one point in his life, Frank had had a wife and children. Mary his wife, Thomas his son and a daughter named Ellen. Frank called her ‘Ell’ for short. Not so long ago (at least he thought) they were his one and only thought in his life. It’s been 7 years, no 8, since he last saw them, he remembered. Frank headed off to work at the sawmill and when he returned home, well he didn’t like to think about the details. They were gone. It might as well have been a hundred years ago. Sometimes it felt as long. Frank had done his grieving a long time ago and although it still hurt, he could not afford to let it occupy much of his thought any longer. Almost check-in time, Frank reminded himself. If he could not have much peace himself, at least his ‘all clear from up here’ would do that for the families who depended on his report. Early on the major cities fell quickly. It’s amazing what a viral outbreak can do to a persons’ sanity. In the early days after the attack, you could trust a creep more than you could a regular human being. At least you knew what the creeps were up to. The humans that survived began to turn on each other. Killing, looting and everything else the Bible says is bad. That’s what separates the humans from the monsters. Not the creeps but the people who trade their humanity for greed with a side of genocide. A few years of that and the ‘real’ survivors were left. Those that still had their sanity intact and knew that in order for humanity to survive, they had to get the hell along with each other. Frank reached for the two-way radio and thumbed the call button on the side. Firewatch #37 for outpost 2, come in. A few seconds of static and Frank heard: This is outpost 2, go ahead Firewatch. Outpost 2, all clear from up here, Frank stated. How are things on your end, he asked. Oh just fine. Got a 3-course meal and champagne on ice, the familiar voice chuckled. Same up here, Frank laughed. Well don’t get too cozy up there, we got a replacement coming up for you day after tomorrow Frank, the voice said. Yeah, I heard that one before Ted, Frank joked. Well this time it’s a sure bet, said Ted. You take care buddy, outpost 2 out. Same here, said Frank. Firewatch #37 over and out. With his check-in complete, Frank pulled a blanket over himself and tried to get his eyes to stay shut.
Franks’ eyes slowly opened to darkness. Man, thought Frank, this is a time when a working watch would come in handy. He eased himself up to a seated position and found nothing out of the ordinary accept that he had forgotten to turn off the cassette player. Crap, Frank said himself. I hope they didn’t hear it. With deliberately slow movements Frank came to his feet and reached for his small flashlight. Night in the forest is so completely black that Frank had a hard time even making out the room he had spent 3 months living in. Frank did not turn his flashlight on as any unnecessary light in this pitch-blackness could be seen for miles. Instead Frank listened. For long moments he could only hear the sound of his own breathing. His head cocked abruptly to his left. What was that? Frank said to himself. It sounded far away, or at least very quiet. A kind of scraping sound that an animal might make. Again!! but louder this time and much, much closer. Franks’ mind raced. I have to open the hatch and make sure Frank told himself. He eased himself towards the center of the room and bent down to take hold of the lock. Carefully Frank slid the lock towards the opposite side. A small squeak and the hatch lifted fully away. Frank turned on the flashlight and peered over the edge into complete darkness. The light gleamed down to the forest floor through the rungs of the escape ladder but revealed only slightly brighter darkness. Frank was about to breathe a sigh of relief and close the hatch when his light touched on something new. A Foot!! Franks’ mind screamed. As he moved the light towards what his mind pleaded against but his heart already knew, a grotesque figure came into view. Frank nearly dropped his light in horror as one, two, three, four, five and dozens more shambled into the yellow light. NO!!!! Frank screamed in vain. He slammed down the escape hatch just as several abominations began climbing the ladder towards him. Despair, anger and fear washed over Frank like a swarm of insects as he paced and began to sweat freely. What do I? I can’t let them..but the outpost!! Franks’ thoughts rushed at him and pushed at his sanity. And all at once Frank stopped as a familiar sound washed out the pounding and moaning under his feet. Living and dying with the choices I’ve made. Frank smirked to himself as he picked up the radio. Outpost 2 this is Frank, come in! A tired voice came on: Frank? This is Ted, what’s going on? Take everyone and get out. They’re here! Frank replied. What? Asked Ted. How? It doesn’t matter, take everyone and go!!! NOW!! Frank yelled. Ok, ok but you’re coming too right? Asked Ted. Don’t worry about me just go!!! screamed Frank. With his job done, Frank dropped the radio and turned towards his supplies. I can’t let these creeps get past me Frank told himself. The pounding on the hatch turned to splintering and Frank had only seconds to act. With one hand he gripped the two 5-gallon gas containers and with the other he struck a road flare to life. Everything on earth seemed to stand still as the music came to Franks’ ears once again. Living and dying with the choices I’ve made. Frank closed his eyes and smiled as heat and light filled the night sky.