Day 1. We lost Jesse. Worse, his loot lay out of reach. It all went down in the town of Pustoschka. I curse that town, from its pre-Infection Neo-Nazi leanings to the slim pickings of its supermarkets. More like Supermark-nyets. Rewinding back throughout the day, it seems now difficult to believe we could overlook the warning signs broadcast by our soon dead companion, but these were grim times. Hell was on earth and there was no time to stop for reflection.
[Editor's Note: Some of the local Vikings have been playing DayZ, a mod for Arma 2, a not-terribly-beloved military simulation available on Steam. DayZ is FPS gaming on hardcore mode. Good guns and ammo are hard to find. Hell, food and water can be hard to find. When you die, you die. Sure, you can respawn, but you'll be somewhere random on the southern shore of the zombie-infested nation of Chernarus, and all that precious gear you scraped together will be gone. You can't blast your way out of trouble, because the zombies keep coming, and other survivors are keen to headshot you and steal your stuff. Stealth and planning are required. DayZ has become massively more popular than Arma 2 ever was. We've been loving it. If you want to play, there are plenty of tutorials out there explaining how to install the mod (which is free, but you have to buy Arma 2). You'll have to travel that road alone -- but if you get to Cherno, look us up.
Zombie war correspondent Michael Bolis has been providing reports of our group's semi-nightly adventures/tragedies. We're now happy to bring them to you here on Robot Viking.]
Sure he occasionally shot one of us, but behind his dead eyes and starched baseball cap lay a brother-in-arms, one whose stoic resolve was summed up in that fateful church stand-off: “Run!” he said, and run, we did. We slipped past his desperate grasp and over his broken-bone legs. In this tempest of panic he gave us wings. When all he could muster was mumbled sobs and a feebly voiced, “Where are you guys going?” or “Help!” he inspired us all and kept us alive that night. Later, in the safety of the thickets near the town, we all imagined that his spirit was reborn that very same night, somewhere far away on the coast. No time to rest and mourn this brave soul, especially when there was no good loot in this town. We picked up our heads and headed north.
Our mainstay on the Makarov, that spry Irishman with a somber lilt in his voice, Gavin, opted to stay behind earlier that morning. He mentioned some unfinished business. We set a rendezvous and saluted farewell. The four of us left the fields of Bor, heading toward a farmhouse. There was rifleman Scott, best damn kid I ever saw on the Lee Enfield, eagle-eyed and ambitious, but not in a way that rubbed you the wrong way. Then there was former pugilist and our own secret Zombie decoder ring, Ed, who brought a touch of class to our threadbare outfit. Brought it all the way from negligent to unsuitable. We were rough men. Jesse was still with us, our sargeant-at-arms. O, I fondly recall that time he rolled around in a putrid zombie carcass for a lark, always the one looking to boost our morale. O, those nights his facial tic became more pronounced and he would get that far-away look in his eyes, whispering, “Hopeless,” thinly to the night air—I knew it was his way to prod us on, to strive. Then there was me, your humble chronicler, your undead war correspondent. Whether I inspire more by my girlish, panicky night terrors or by my septic trouser wettings, only the men of action I keep company beside can tell, but these taciturn warriors allow none of the same reflection I have allowed myself. I count myself lucky among them.
We made good time and looted the barn. We avoided the beret-wearing French walkers that would shamble toward us in stilted motion. We evaded hopping Russian corpses and the well-dressed Danish crawlers. Our working theory is that the initial spread of this infection directly related to the sad state of Chernarus’s male factory outlet stores. Maybe seeing so many fellow countrymen wear the same belted trousers, or realizing that 29 people in your town all thought berets were back in fashion, might give spontaneous rise to the zombie-apocalypse.
We pushed still north to Zelenogorsk, imagining ourselves sightseers on vaction in the highlands, even though no film was in our broken camera <cough remapped wrong screenshot key ahem>. A more lucrative grocery store was found. Outside, Jesse heedlessly drew the notice of the creatures. Looking back, I can see foreshadows of his end. A careless move here, a “I just want to die, please why won’t you let me die,” there. He kept on living. Kept on inspiring. We all had rifles, compasses, watches, full canteens, food, and precious ammo now.
Again, our push north. We avoided the next few settlements, poked our noses in the occasional building, and then we laid eyes on that evil town, Pustoschka. It had inviting havens. Rising above the skyline was the church that would hold Jesse’s solemn valediction. We made it safely inside the silent temple, and good loot was found. We even had a moment to sit and crack a smile together, though it was too brief. No one to this day can recall how the zombies took notice of us, but soon the damn things were choking our only exit. We put down dozens in the rotting horde. Then came Jesse’s battle cry of, “Run away!” and so we did. His last act of valor. Jesse fell in the mad scramble, and with our parting shots we made him a gangrenous coffin of the dead. We ran, we scattered. Poor Jesse. We could hear the crunching of bones, yet we stayed away; the gurgled screams, we stayed away. We managed to regroup. After all that disquiet and confusion we remained resolute. North, now, but as three.
We followed a road to the next town, Vybor, and it was almost as if we could still hear the buoyant chatter of our fallen brother. “Hey, I’m respawning in Cherno, wait for me!” Or, “Where the hell are you guys?” Whisper, sweet angel, whisper to the Heavens now. We sought high ground in an office building. Scott scanned the horizon with his worn binoculars. North-west, a barn. Beyond that, the military tents. Was that an airfield? Could salvation be at hand? We lie on the roof and throw our hopes at the stars. It’s almost morning. We murmur and wonder aloud if tomorrow could bring any respite. Only the moans of the dead and the scuffing noise of their budget khakis answer.