On Watch

Writing Prompt: “The day was scorching hot and bone dry, the air smelled like burnt toast, and everyone’s nerves were on edge. Only Zeke was calm. He patrolled the perimeter making jokes about…”

…the heat. Whenever days got really hot, which seemed like everyday, he’d joke about how much hotter it was in Texas.

Zeke was originally from Virginia, but he lived in Texas for two years when he was in middle school.

“Oh, you think this is hot? You should have lived in Texas,” Zeke would say, to nobody in particular. “In the summertime it was like the sun had a personal vendetta against Texas. Shoot, it was twice this hot even when the sun wasn’t out.”

“I remember there was one day where I sweated through a whole week’s worth of shirts in an afternoon,” Zeke remarked.

This brought on a few chuckles from the fellow men and women stationed here at Outpost Recovery. A military stronghold in what used to be Arizona. One of the few places where humanity was able to stay relatively safe from the infected and set up a community. The large military base here was at one point the only secure place, but slowly they were expanding the safe zone and clearing the area of infected.

“Hey Zeke, tell them about the one time you tried to dive off the highboard,’ One of the soldiers shouted.

Zeke laughed.

“You all heard this story about a thousand times by now,” Zeke said.

“And I bet we’ll hear it a thousand times more,” Another soldier said.

“Yeah. Yeah. Whatever,” Zeke laughed it off. “Well it all started on one of those hot Texas summers. I decided I’d beat the heat and head off to the city pool. Of course the place was packed with others all trying to beat the heat as well. Well, there was this really pretty lifeguard there who I’m pretty sure attended high school and I thought I actually had a chance to impress her.”

Zeke let out a laugh joined by a few other soldiers.

“I know. I know. Anyway, there happened to be a high diver there at the pool, but most kids were scared to go up there and dive off of it. Of course, being a dumb kid, I thought I’d climb up there and dive off of it. My dive would be so great that the pretty girl would have no choice to fall in love with me. Well I started climbing up the metal railing and I thought the skin on my hands was going to burn off. But no, I kept on going, too stupid to turn back now, and I climb up to the very top. I didn’t know how tall it was really and once I got to the top, I felt my heart bottom out. I start to breath real quick and my legs get shaky. I -”

In the middle of Zeke’s retelling, the radio between the group of soldiers starts to buzz with static.

Zeke holds up a hand silencing the group before picking up the handheld radio transmitter.

“Come in Outpost Recovery. This is Outpost Guardian,” The voice said over the radio.

“Morning, Outpost Guardian. This is Zeke at Outpost Recovery. Coming in loud and clear,” Zeke said.

“Morning Outpost Recovery. Sorry for a loss of communications -”

“Yeah we thought you all might have gone under,” Zeke said. “Made some of my men a bit nervous.”

“Our communication tower was damaged by some raiders and we had to scavenge spare parts in town to fix it. It is not fully operational but we are slowly getting back up to speed.”

“These raiders? What we talking here? Infected?” Zeke asked.

“We don’t believe so. There seems to be a group of raiders that moved down from the North. Probably just scavenging.”

“Still in the area?”

“Negative. This group seems to be heading West toward you, Outpost Recovery,” The man said over the radio. “We are warning you unsure what their path may be. If they continue due West, they’ll be upon you in about a week.” 

“How many people we talking?” Zeke asked.

“No exact numbers but some scouts reported at least a dozen people heavily armed. They seemed to just miss us on their way to you.”

“Thanks for the warning, Outpost Guardian,” Zeke said. “Any signs of refuelment or additional supplies from out East?”

“Negative. Communication with the any Eastern Outposts haven’t been established since Winter. Any chance with the Western Outposts?”

“As far as we know, we are the Western Outpost. No signals from anybody west of the Rockies,” Zeke replied.

The radio fell silent for a bit.

“At least we got each other,” The man said with a sad chuckle.

“Glad to hear from you all,” Zeke said. “Keep that communication tower up and let me know if you hear anything.”

“Yeah you too, Outpost Recovery. Over and out.”

The radio then fell silent.

The soldiers standing around were equally as quiet. Zeke looked down for a moment, hanging his head before his smile recovered.

“Good news that Outpost Guardian is back up and running,” Zeke said. “It’s good to have someone to talk to.” 

There was a general grumble of agreement but Zeke could tell that he was unable to lift the spirits of his fellow servicemen and women.

Just then another voice caught Zeke’s ear. He turned to see a woman running toward him. 

He recognized her as a woman named Ester who lived around here before the dead started rising. She was a strong community leader and usually interfaced with the military stationed here on behalf of the people. 

“Zeke! We got movement on the Eastern wall,” Ester yelled as she ran up to him.

“What sort of movement?” He asked.

“Raiders?” Another soldier asked.

“It looks like a cluster of infected,” Ester said.

“Infected? Where did they come from?” Zeke asked.

“We’re not exactly sure,” Ester said. “We had a group go check out the old water plant to see if we could possibly get it backup and running. They haven’t returned but there’s a group of two dozen infected. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”

“Right,” Zeke nodded. “Alright everyone. Get your weapons ready.” 

One soldier grabbed Zeke’s arm and leaned over to him.

“Without an immediate supply drop, something like this will use up most or all of our munitions,” They said. “We won’t have anything for those raiders if they show themselves.”

Zeke nodded.

“Listen up, everybody. Let’s grab our quieter weapons. Use as few bullets as we can,” Zeke said. “No need to bring anymore to us if we can help it.”

“Thanks Zeke. I’m glad you guys are here,” Ester said. “We would have been doomed if it wasn’t for you guys.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Zeke said with a slight smile. “It’s good to have people we can rely on.”

With this the group of soldiers made their way off the base proper and out into the town, heading toward the Eastern wall. 

Zeke let out a heavy sigh as he ran, thinking about all that had been lost and all that he continued to hold on to. Strangers on the other end of the radio brought him some sort of joy and knowing he was needed in the town brought him a mix of guilt and joy. It was nice to feel needed but he knew that was a selfish thought in a world where community is more important than ever.

The bright sun shined down on the back of his neck and he thought back to the pretty lifeguard at that Texan pool. He wondered what had happened to her. Was she a survivor like himself, was she long gone, or was she walking among the infected? He probably would never know. It’s not like tracking her down would be easy even if he wanted to. He just hoped everyone he had met in that small Texan town was somehow out there surviving and weren’t among the infected.


Header Photo Credit to Pexels.com
https://www.pexels.com/photo/adventure-arid-arizona-barren-414136/

Writing Prompt comes from Piccadilly’s book “Complete The Story.

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