Nothing happened the way it was supposed to happen. They said they had it under control. They said it was contained. They told us not to worry. They said everything would be fine. They were wrong. Things began to change. People began acting differently. People began looking different. That’s when we made our move; and not a moment too soon
Finally, we made it to the dirt road. The gathering was supposed to be here. We had been travelling all night to avoid detection. I had no idea if this was the right place. It was a shot in the dark. We turned down the long, endless dirt road branching off of US-92; the gravel strewn pavement morphing into a mix of sugar sand and that dry southern dirt. After a few miles I began to doubt that we were in the right place. But, after looking down into the sand I realized we had made it. I noticed at least 6 different pairs of tire tread and even a couple footprints. Then, cars began appearing on both sides of the road; parked halfway on the road and half in the ditch. Alexis and I took shelter underneath a tattered, graffiti covered old VW bus and quickly fell asleep.
The sun shone bright and hot the next morning. We got up, brushed the sand off of our clothes and started walking. After about a half of a mile we came upon what appeared to be an RV. It was, upon inspection, an old school bus that had been converted into a home. There was an old man sitting in a chair underneath a makeshift awning made out of an old, stained blue tarp. I walked up to the man; he was still unconscious from the night before. He had a long, grey beard extending down his chest. His beard rose ever so slightly with every breath, as if it were alive in itself, a creature calm as the breath in which it took. His clothing was frazzled and unkempt; I could smell the stench of neglect of hygiene for twenty feet after passing him by. I would later find out his name was Baloo. I decided to keep moving, so to not disturb the locals. I needed food, I needed water, and I needed shelter. Alexis hadn’t uttered a word in days; I had almost completely forgotten her presence. Regardless, I had to find what we needed. I knew it was here, somewhere.
I had heard from other travelers fleeing the sickness that it was a long, rough walk to the heart of the woods. We stepped off of the dust covered road and into the unknown. My shoes had worn thin and fallen off miles back down the road, so the feel of the white sugar sand, warm from the morning sun, was pleasing to my feet. Alexis was doing better than I, I broke into a convenient store on the road. I got her all of the womanly supplies I thought she would need for the trip, including new shoes. The trail was mostly white sand, with roots jutting out like hands trying to grab you off of your path. You could tell that it had been a lot harder to traverse. There were machete marks on just about every branch, limb or root that made the mistake of growing out into the white path. The scenery was so calm, so serene, that neither one of us needed to speak a word. We walked for miles before the silence was broken.
Safety Pin and Gaze broke the silence. As I walked with my eyes on the ground I failed to notice that I was walking right into a couple carrying a large wooden structure, seemingly covered in trash. I waved and smiled, saying "hey brother!” He yelled back, "GOOD MORNING FAMILY!", and they lowered their cargo, careful to drop nothing. I had to ask my new friends what they were carrying. Safety Pin told me that it was other people’s trash, and asked me if I had any pocket trash. "Why would I keep trash in my pockets?” I wondered. Gaze said "Because it does not belong on the ground!” We smoked a pipe, they shared their water, and they were on their way to bring the family’s trash to the road.
We walked for about two more miles, until we came up to a bridge. Not some bridge made of concrete and metal. This bridge was all natural. This bridge was made out of sticks and vine. It was only ten in the morning or so, and I had already been amazed. This was truly a marvel of human innovation. Someone had taken the time to drag logs out of the woods and into the river, stand them up, tie them together, and then string a whole line of smaller logs across the top to make a safe walkway for people to cross.
Upon crossing this precarious structure of the forest, we moseyed into our new home. What we saw was a sight for sore eyes. Just beyond the bridge, behind a grove of sapling pine trees, I found what we so desperately needed, a water station.
This was no water fountain. It consisted of two plastic tanks. These tanks had a network of black tubing that was foreign to us. There was a sign that told us not to drink from the river without using the purification system. After we made a few failed attempts at extracting the precious liquid, the sleepy-eyed hobo, Baloo slowly made his way around a bend in the trail up from behind us. He took the black tubing from me and put it to his mouth, used it like a straw, and water came flowing. It took some fiddling’, but we drank until we our thirst was quenched. I filled up my water jug, washed my hands and face with the solar bag, and we continued on our way.
A short distance farther down the main trail was a sign saying “Fat Kid’s Camp”. Occupying this camp are some of the most intelligent, caring people I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with in my life. Alexis and I entered the camp as strangers, and within five minutes we were fully functioning family members. I quickly realized this was all we needed. I set up my tent, and got to working on dinner. There was a row of buckets set up on top of a shelf, made entirely out of branches from trees and things found in the surrounding area. There was a bleach bucket, for cleaning cooking tools, a soap bucket, and two more buckets to rinse off stuff that had been in the other buckets. Everything was clean by dinner time.
Dinner was prepared throughout the day, a little was done by each one of us. Meals were made at all times, and anyone who could hear the food bell was welcome to indulge. The ovens were made out of nothing but old fifty-five gallon drums and mud. They took wet mud and built a mound around the drum with an area underneath to get coals burning. There were five batches of muffins being made. The smell intoxicated me. By the end of the night we fed everyone in the woods.
There was some time before dinner. I decided to go explore. I left Alexis to socialize with Lilly, the days’ laundry person for the camp. I walked down the trail where I hadn’t been, behind my tent and Pizza Box’s tent. After about a mile walk, there was no short walk out in the woods, I cast my gaze upon a spring.
I had completely forgotten what part of Florida I was in. I felt like a Seminole Indian going to the watering hole; like Ponce De Leon finding the Fountain of Youth; I was overcome with happiness. My happiness quickly turned into euphoria upon noticing the long, double knotted rope swing hanging within arm’s reach. I shed my clothing and climbed the trunk of the old cypress tree holding the rope. I got to the rope, tested the length, tested the strength, and climbed a few feet higher. I pulled back as far as I could and let go. I flew like I had never flown; I had never felt so free. I flew far, with the weight of a life left behind and a thousand memories lost. I hit the water like a ton of bricks and became weightless. The water was ice cold. Without concern for breathing I dove. I could see everything around me. I was taken back to a time before all of this, a time when my mother would take my younger sisters and I too Miami Beach, a carefree time with crystal clear water, warm sand, and loving family. I kicked and pulled myself as far down as I could go. I had nothing to lose, nothing holding me back anymore. I hit the bottom with my feet and dug my toes as far as I could into the sediment. I needed to root here.
I closed my eyes and let go. I quickly shot to the top of the water and gasped the first breath of a new life, free from worrying about money, jobs, and trivial everyday nonsense. I was free. We were free. Babylon was gone and was not coming back. This was life; and it still is to this day.
My name is Matthew Sweeney, or as they call me now, “Rooster.” Our government failed us. Mankind’s struggle for survival at capacity was lost. I am a survivor living in Ocala National Forest. We are a nomadic, tribal people. We take care of each other and make a conscious effort to not destroy the places in which we make camp. I broadcast on all frequencies once a week, in hopes of more survivors, but as time passes that is becoming unlikely. If you are alive, we can provide food, water, shelter, and security. If anyone is out there.