Originally Posted: 29 Jun 2013, Titled “Welcome to Virden”
As soon as we passed through the gate, a girl yelled, “Come on, this way, let’s get under the pharmacy’s awning!” She wore a large rubber army poncho and also carried an umbrella to further retard the rain’s ability to reach her. We ran behind her as she made her way to the front of the town’s pharmacy less than a block from the town’s walls. We ducked under the wide striped awning, both of us unsure what to make of our guide.
She closed the umbrella and leaned it against the building’s brick wall and pulled the hood off of her head to reveal clean, straight blonde hair. Her eyes crinkled as she smiled behind the mask she wore. “My name is Samantha, Sam. Welcome to Virden,” she said.
“Hi Samantha, I’m Chuck, this is my wife Rebecca,” I said as I indicated Becca.
Sam gave us both a quick once over with her eyes. “You guys been on the road long?”
“We’re coming from Chicago, the city became too dangerous. We’ve been traveling for a little over two weeks,” Becca said while she self-consciously tried to smooth out her wrinkled and dirty overcoat.
“Oh wow. You made that trip with only a baseball bat for protection? You’re either really brave, or stupid…” Her eyes widened as she realized she’d accidently insulted us. “I mean…Look, I’m sorry, ok. I didn’t mean to say you guys were dumb, it’s just really dangerous outside of the town’s walls,” she stammered.
I wondered how old our hostess was. It was nearly impossible to tell from her voice, but I guessed she couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17. “Hey, no problem Sam. I know what you meant by the statement. We left with what we could carry and I already owned this baseball bat,” I said as I patted the big fat logo stamped across the bat’s surface. “We stayed mostly to the roads and kept hidden at night when the dangerous folks were out and about.”
“Well, I’ll take your word for it Chuck. I came from only a couple towns over and…” she stopped abruptly again. “It was a difficult trip.” She glanced quickly towards the street and squeezed her eyes shut a few times. In the gloom of the rain, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like she was trying to get rid of tears without wiping her face with potentially contaminated hands.
“Anyways, Virden is a pretty safe spot for you guys,” she continued. “We have everything we could need for the foreseeable future. There was a large grocery store here with tons of canned food and our guys are constantly going out in patrols to get more food from the surrounding area. Our town’s leader, mayor, sheriff, whatever you want to call him, was like this crazy apocalypse prepper-guy so he like sprang into action right away after the bombs started exploding. He convinced the high school principal to allow him to fill up the gym floor with dirt, so they brought in tractors and saved enough dirt from the acid rain that we can grow crops inside once we get the lighting and irrigation down.”
“Geez, that was really smart. I’d have never thought of something like that.”
“Yeah, well, like I said, he was one of those preppers. He even got featured on that TV show about people like him. He’s made us all watch it a few times since he still has power at his place, I guess to validate his abilities or whatever, but he’s alright. He’s a little eccentric, but then again, I probably would be too if I’d been made fun of my whole life for believing something and then suddenly everyone who was still alive realized that I’d been right all along.”
“Funny way of thinking about it, but I guess you’re right,” Becca said.
The snapping noises of the dirty black rain hitting the awning above us began to lessen. “Looks like the rain is letting up, so we’ll be able to go to the guest registration office soon.”
“I’m sorry, did you say that the town has a guest registration office?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. Allen, the prepper-guy, likes to keep track of everyone in town and the office helps him do that. Also, if you plan on staying, you have to figure out what you’re going to do for work. They really don’t like people who don’t bring anything of value to the town. As you can see,” Sam said with a slight curtsey, “the tour guide position is already filled. They’ll tolerate you for a few days, but if you’re not gonna stay, you have to bring something to the community that they don’t already have.”
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun. “Ok, that’s our cue. Come on, the registration office is about half a mile or so down Main Street here.” Sam picked up her umbrella and started walking before we had a chance to say anything else.
Virden was the first real, functioning town that we’d seen since we left our neighborhood in Chicago. As we walked down the road, there were hand painted signs for seamstresses, a doctor’s office, a restaurant and an outdoor survivalist store. I made a mental note to visit that last one as soon as I could.
“I don’t suppose anyone in town needs a financial advisor do they?” I asked half-jokingly to our guide.
“Seriously? That’s what you did before the apocalypse? Wow, that must have been boring.”
“Well, I thought it was exciting. There was a different challenge every day.”
“Nope, don’t think we’ll be doing too much investing around here. What about you, Rebecca. What skills do you have?”
“I was an elementary school teacher,” she said as we continued to follow Samantha down the street.
“That, we can use. I don’t know what happened to them, but less than half of the school’s original teachers are around. We’ve got about 40 or 50 kids per class, so that’s a huge help.”
“The town is still doing school?” I asked incredulously.
“Oh yeah. Allen says we’ve got to continue educating our kids, so he’s made it mandatory for them to attend up until twelve years old. Then, if the parents can spare them, he recommends that they be allowed to continue. Right now, most parents are letting their kids go, but everyone knows it won’t always be that way. We’ll need more wall guards as we go along and we’re already beginning to need more people to do the long-range scavenging…I mean gathering.”
“Gathering, scavenging, it’s the same thing right, what does it matter what you call it?” Becca asked.
“The scavengers are the crazies out there, so Allen doesn’t want us associated with them. He forbids anyone from calling the gathering of supplies for the town ‘scavenging.’”
“Well, it’s an intellectual difference at best,” Becca pressed.
“I don’t know what you mean by that, but just remember that we ‘gather’ we don’t ‘scavenge’ and you’ll be alright,” Sam said as she looked over her shoulder at us pointedly. “Look, here’s the registration office. This is as far as I go. I gotta go back up front in case anyone else comes in for the evening. I’ll see you guys around.” She waved goodbye with her free hand as she headed back towards the gate.