First Previous Index Next file Most Recent File
welcoming to the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı
mit comics > survival > mī message status secure controls
no time stamp available
Incirlik AB
I’ve started transcribing the copy of the “Zero Journal” we intercepted. It’s been through a few generations, and of course, due to its nature, passed through many, many hands. Apocryphally the Zero Journal was started by a Turkish soldier who was party to the Incirlik response. It has been passed from individual to individual since then, with each adding their own experiences before passing it on (often posthumously). The questionable translation and amount of blood and other damage are making the project slow-going.

Zero Journal 064
My Grandson’s Journal

Nov. 8

My grandson brought me this notebook. He’s been very good to me, since my daughter died. She tried to keep me from watching the TV the weeks before she was killed. She was sweet, but she treated me like a child since I broke my hip puttering in the garden.

She was nice enough to ask me to move in after that, but she couldn’t accept I needed autonomy, too. And she couldn’t protect me from the truth: the world is ending. I don’t know if I should believe Brother Smith, that it’s the judgment come down from God, but the dead have reason, and they’re hurting the living, and not for nothing that is in Revelation.

My daughter, Rose, not my grandson’s mother Sharon, worked at the Woolen Mill until she retired, and then she started working at the Walmart as a greeter. She loved her job, but I wanted her to quit. It wasn’t safe, with monsters wandering in the streets.

My grandson wanted me to write about my experiences. He told me, “You’ve seen so much history. I don’t think the world is over, but maybe we won’t get another chance to record everything you’ve seen. And you’ve seen so much, grandma. It would be a shame for all of that knowledge and wisdom to be seen.”

It was sweet of him to say, but I’m not knowledgable or wise, I’m just old, with a lifetime’s worth of mistakes and regret, which don’t amount to much. But I’m writing.

I met my husband, Phil, just after the war, or maybe I knew him before, but I really got to know him after. I don’t know. I know I went to work as a seamstress as soon as I’d graduated, because my family needed the money, and everybody had to help fight the Jerrys.

Phil and I were so in love. And we were young, and the world was bright and beautiful and new, and even though the war had killed a lot of people, he hadn’t been so much as scratched. And the economy was good. And everything just seemed so perfect, and I thought that we’d be together for the rest of our lives, that we’d be an old married couple.

But he died, cancer. And we had two beautiful daughters, so I raised them how I hoped he would have wanted. Eventually they grew up, got married, moved out. But I was blessed, and their children came by regularly to see me, to stay with me.

Zero Journal 065
My grandson, was one of them, and his younger brother. I haven’t seen his brother in years, and I haven’t seen my grandson in a week. I can take care of myself. I can make it to the bathroom, I have my stool in the shower. Cooking takes a lot out of me, but I can sit in a chair in the nook when I’m not stirring. But I miss my grandson. He usually doesn’t take more than a few days between visits. And he was supposed to bring me a book.

Nov. 9

I must have fallen asleep in my chair in the frontroom. My grandson asked me not to do that. He said that the dead people could see into the windows, that if they saw anyone inside it would make them mad, try to find a way inside.

It was cold when I woke up, so chilly I thought there was a draft, andit was still very dark outside. I looked to the sliding glass door onto the deck. It was closed. I wondered if someone could have opened a window in Rose’s old bedroom, or broke into my bedroom. I wanted to make some cocoa, or go to bed, but I was terrified that someone had gotten in, terrified to know for sure if my home was no longer safe, so I covered myself in the afghan I’d been knitting for my grandson’s girlfriend. After a few minutes I fell asleep.

And I woke to the sun shining onto my face through the window. I had not been killed in my sleep, had not had my home ransacked or invaded. Out of habit, I opened the fridge, already tasting fresh milk or orange juice on my tongue, smacking my lips, but the smell from inside the fridge was rancid, even though we’d thrown the food out almost immediately after we lost power.

I took a box of already stale raisin bran from the cupboard and walked to my chair. After the first week, when rationing started, I stopped writing in the crossword puzzles in the paper. I figured that way I could do them again, and again if I had to. I think that came from growing up in the Depression. Depression…

I really enjoyed being a grandmother. And it was so much different from my own childhood, my own lack of plenty. Even my daughters, we were poor, and not poor in the way its meant so much today, but truly poor. There were days before Phil died where he or I wouldn’t eat, so our daughters would have enough food to be healthy. I don’t mean to say that for anything, save to say it was a different kind of poor we were.

And my daughters were very sweet. I wanted to do more for them, to give them more, but it was as much as we could do some years, just to get them new clothes for school for

Zero Journal 066
their birthdays. And they never complained, though I know they must have been teased in school for it.

I’m choking up at the thought of my daughters; I hope my tears don’t ruin the writing too much, and I know my old chicken scratch is already hard enough to decipher. It’s so hard to think of Rose. She had such a hard life, married to Al. I never believed in divorce, but that man, that man taught me that sometimes divorce is necessary.

Rose was always such a good wife to him. She worked. Raised the children she bore him. And she was Christian enough she didn’t even count the money he took from her, didn’t keep track of the money he gambled away when he sold her house. She turned more cheeks than Jesus would have, bless her, until even I had had enough.

He hadn’t worked in years, unless you count his seasonal trips to Reno, or the money he lost reselling junk he bought in garage sales. But still she worked, still she provided for him, cooked for him.

And she might well have kept it up, only he started to turn mean- not to her, because he’d been mean to her for most of their marriage, but mean to someone Rose would defend: me. And I’ve gotten feistier, Sharon says, and I don’t know that I agree, except then, when I was arguing with Al. He got me so mad I shook my fist at him, thought about pushing out of my chair to put my finger in his face, like he was waggling his in mine.

And Rose might not have done anything; she wanted to defend me, she did, but the Bible says specific things about her role and her deference to her husband, but Sharon’s seen enough and fought enough that she was having none of it, and amongst the three of us we finally saw to it that Rose filed for divorce. She got a restraining order, and, if she’d lived just a few weeks more, she would have been rid of that moocher forever.

And now, now I wonder, if it weren’t for me, if I hadn’t broke my hip, if I hadn’t ended up here, if she would be alive. If maybe, in his overbearing, evil way, he might have told her to stay home and she would have. And would she be happier, alive, but yolked to that man? I can’t think that way. If I think that way I’ll never write another word. I’ll never get past things that may have gone differently.

Nov. 10

I know what I said, but I couldn’t write anymore, couldn’t put it to the side. It’s hard enough to bury a daughter, worse to know you might have been what killed her. And I’m worrying, now, too, about my grandson. There was only once since this happened when

Zero Journal 067
he was away for this long. And I didn’t like how he came back. He was always a very sweet boy, quiet, yet talkative if you got him alone, if you let him get comfortable first.

But once he came back after that week he was different. There was a cloud about him. He never once told me why, what he’d seen, what was done to him or what he might have had to do. But he was haunted. I remember some men who’d seen war, the way they were haunted by combat, it was like that. But it also wasn’t, because men who see war see it with other men, and there’s a bond between them that lets them share things they wouldn’t otherwise. But my grandson was alone, and nothing I could say could pry it from him. I think he wanted to protect me from it, too, like Rose; maybe he wanted to protect himself in my eyes, ashamed how I might see him now.

But my panic was rising again. I think I’d talked myself out of blame for Rose, but him, I’d asked him for more cocoa, because I was out, and the water in the pipes had started to taste like foil. He told me, and I could see he was reluctant, that pickings were slimmer, that last time when he’d gone to the little convenience store- and then he’d stopped, clammed up. After that he didn’t say anything, then said he’d try to find some. But he wouldn’t look at me, and when he did I knew it was because there were things in his face he didn’t want me to see, so I pretended not to, but in pretending I pretended enough that I couldn’t search for their meaning in his eyes and his face. His secret stayed with him.

And one thing did change, and I think it’s a small thing, but it mattered, too. He stopped holding my hand. And he always held my hand, ever since he was a kid, and we’d sit on the couch eating jelly candies, watching Nickelodeon. And he stopped wanting to hold my hand. In fact, he stopped touching me. Even when he brought me food, when he’d mix me something in the kitchen, he was very careful not to let my hands touch his. It didn’t seem like he was afraid to touch what I touched, because he still took away my glasses, helped me dress, but he didn’t want to touch me at all, like whatever had happened had tainted him.

I shouldn’t have let him go out again, not like that. He lost interest in caring for himself, not just grooming, but changing clothes, even though he insisted I change at least every other day. He was shutting down, I can see that now, and we had enough food and enough water for probably a month or more, and I let him go out.

Maybe, he said, before the week he was gone, that he was going to help Sharon leave town. The city was becoming more violent. Her husband had gone out to his brothers’ outside town, and they’d been fortifying the house so it would be safe for her. But he wanted to help his mother get there safely. My grandson’s always tried to hide it, but I don’t think he much liked his stepdad; there was bad blood I wasn’t privy to, so I tried

Zero Journal 068
not to judge him too harshly on it.

I know my grandson, land’s sakes, why haven’t I been calling him Erik? Erik didn’t agree with his stepdad. He wanted Sharon to come up 14 on her own, thought that a single person would arouse less attention. Erik thought he was scared, scared enough he’d let his wife go unprotected like that. I don’t know which account I believe, but Erik thinking how he did he had to go help his mom.

And it was a long way off, better part of six hours just getting to her house from here. He said it would take him a few days, half a week maybe. But he made sure I had supplies for near a month, just in case he had to hold up someplace.

I remember he left before dawn. He said that the country road, and even 3rd, weren’t likely to have many people on it; most of the people would have been near their homes, or maybe in the bigger shopping places. He figured he could sneak through even in the moonlight, without making much noise.

I woke up only for a moment, when he kissed my forehead, then he told me to go back to sleep, and he smiled; I don’t think I’ve seen him smile like that since, a younger boy’s smile: hopeful, even against the task he’d set himself. I slept fitfully after that. I dreamt of the trip I knew by car, and how much harder the trek up that big hill would be, how much longer the miles were on foot.

I imagined him dodging under cars to avoid danger, then swimming across the river when he came upon a pair of men sharing a smoke on the bridge, a pair of hunting rifles on their shoulders; he’d told me enough that I knew he wouldn’t count on the kindness of strangers. Then he emerged, sopping, on the other bank, full of grim purpose, then ran across the grass growing in a city field, taking the circuitous route through tall reeds and then the park, so he had to cross as little bald residential as possible.

Halfway through he crossed a parking lot, where Sharon did her banking, only the lot shifted as I remembered that they’d gotten a coffee shop and a sandwich store, and as he came to the track crossing the train came, fast and dark through the night, and with every chug of its stack it changed, tiny details shifting. Its spokes and arms flailed away from its wheels and became legs, and the smooth roofs of the cars became pods, connected, and the lights on its face became a frothing, hungry mouth. Terrified, Erik leapt as the roaring caterpillar came, but the leap was shallow, and he was caught up in its blackness as it passed.

I woke up with a little cry, the word “No” on my lips, though I was too out of breath to

Zero Journal 069
give it voice. My fingers were clawed through my Afghan, and for a moment its bright Easter pinks and yellows and oranges became dark and gray, and it stuck to my fingers like a web, and the thought of spiders after the caterpillar dream was just too much and I threw it to the floor.

For some minutes I sat in my chair, my breath harrumphing as I tried to get my heart beat slower. I was soaked in sweat, and it was making me cold, so I decided to make myself something to eat. It was a roll and a muffin; I eyed the candy dish beside the microwave, half-eaten. I hadn’t touched it since Rose passed, because putting those in the little crystal dish was the last thing she did before she went to work that day. I hadn’t eaten anymore since I found out what had happened.

I never ended up eating the roll, and I only pecked at the muffin. My mind was still miles away. I had to think sweet thoughts, because even though I knew the story in my head of Erik was a fantasy, I couldn’t leave him to that fate, so I forced it to change.

As the caterpillar train hit him it dissipated, in a great waft of black smoke, acrid and burning his lungs, but he was all right. And he was within sight of his mother’s home; he’d planned to be careful, to sneak along the fences to expose himself as little as possible- but that was his mother’s home, and he knew it was becoming less safe every day, and he had to know she was all right, so caution be darned he ran, till his feet slapping on concrete hurt, until the crisp morning air burnt his lungs as much as the smoke; he was still wet from the river when his mother answered the door.

The sun was just rising. He’d planned it like that, on getting there as the sun rose, so they could travel with the daylight, and so they wouldn’t be caught unawares. But it was a dangerous plan, too, because it would take all the daylight they had to make it to her husband’s brother’s. If there were any complications at all they might end up staying up past sunset, or worse, have to hold up some place along the way.

He had told me they would stay on the road that’s just off the freeway, that follows along it. That was best, he thought, because most of the way it was protected from the freeway side by bushes and by trees, but only flanked by houses on the other side. Houses, he said, could hide anything, from bandits to “them.” He didn’t call them “the dead,” maybe because he doesn’t like it when I talk about Revelations, or when his mom does, or when Rose did. He may not believe they’re dead at all, because the way he’s talked about them, calling them dead would make them still vaguely human, when to him they are not.

I don’t know why that is. I remember when Phil came home from the War it was “Nips” this and “Japs” that; it wasn’t until Frank Moo-hyun moved into the house across our

Zero Journal 070
street, and they started fishing together, that he was able to make himself call them “the Japanese.” Of course, Frank was Korean, but we didn’t learn that for a few years more. He and Frank got into all manner of trouble together. It was a shame, when his mother got sick, he went back to Korea. That was the last time we ever saw him. After Phil passed, I always meant to write him.

One day we were in the garden, and I think he was trying to kill a mole, and Phil said something about the “Japs in Iwo Jima.” And I asked him why he called them that, and he blushed. He said it wasn’t Christian, but neither was killing a man. One way of, and you understand there were tears in his eyes as he said it, but one way to make it easier was to believe the enemy were less than men. Calling them Japs, showing them as exaggerated monsters- it was all to make it so a man could do what he had to to save himself.

I didn’t know what “they” are, or whether my grandson has killed one, or was preparing himself in case he needs to. But I bowed my head, to pray he wouldn’t, or if he did, that God would forgive him, and help him forgive himself.

I think I’ll write to Frank. I don’t think there’s any post to get it to him, but I think it would make me feel better.


This is Virginia, Phil’s wife, your old neighbor from the states. So much has happened that I don’t know where to even start. Phil’s been dead a long time, now. I should have written to tell you.

I know it was hard on you leaving. Phil didn’t have a lot of friends, but you were one of them. He always missed you after you’d gone, and we always hoped you’d found a better life there. You’ve been in my heart and my prayers.


What else can I write? His friend is dead, and I’ve been a coward not telling him. I’m setting the letter to the side, right now, to go back to the happy story I was telling myself about my grandson.

He was leading my Sharon down the street, and while the houses were full of “them” they didn’t see them, because God was watching over them; it was like Daniel in the lion’s den, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in that fiery furnace. And they walked

Zero Journal 071
down that whole road, made it all the way to the edge of the county. The woods here were dark, and surrounded the sloping, winding road. “If ‘they’ were smarter, grandma, that would be the most dangerous place. But they don’t plan, don’t coordinate; as far as I’ve seen, they’ll cohabitate but that’s about it, they don’t work together. It’s the closest to an advantage we get.”

And in my mind’s eye I saw them, surrounded suddenly by a forest of eyes, and my grandson stopped moving. The shadows warped and transformed, and started to take on human shapes; but I stopped myself, forcing the darkness to dissipate, forcing myself to see light breaking impossibly through the forest dark. They continued onward, and when the walking became harder for Sharon, my grandson let her lean on him. Just as dark approached, they reached her new house, and safety.

Nov. 11

Of course, the fairy tale I’d told myself was never going to be anything like what really happened. I found myself hoping for simple inconveniences; that maybe my grandson would be slowed on his walk down to his mother’s, so that maybe they’d delay another day, rather than attempt the entirety of the trek in one day, a suicide’s run for safety.

By the fourth or maybe the fifth day I’d gotten worried, frustrated. Even I can only knit so many blankets or scarves or afghans before I have to put my needles down and think. And I couldn’t help myself but think dark thoughts. The world had been a harsh place; but it was getting darker. It was harder to find things to be hopeful about.

On the sixth day I made myself some tea; it was the first time I’d had something warm since my grandson left. I barely drank it; I knew what finishing that cup meant, and I wasn’t ready to admit it. I sipped at the cold tea the next day, watching it fall lower in the cup. I could see the bottom, white porcelain, through the last few sips of bitter tea.

The next night I woke to the sound of the door whining as it opened. It was still a few hours before sunrise, and I couldn’t see. As my eyes adjusted I could make out a black, moving shadow that closed the door softly behind itself. I tensed, but tried to keep my eyes open only as slits, pretending to be asleep.

The figure crossed the front room, down the two steps into the living room. My heart was rocketing in my chest, and I worried it would give me away. The figure in the dark bent over me, and kissed my cheek. “Hi, grandma,” he said, and I knew it was Erik.

I pretended to wake up, feeling silly about being scared. He told me he’d tried to stop

Zero Journal 072
back at his mother’s house, but raiders had found it and were squatting there, so he’d had to walk all through the night.

I asked if everything had gone to plan. He hesitated a moment, not sure what to say. “She didn’t get killed like I thought.” When I tried to press further, he put up his hand. “I’m thirsty. Can I get you anything from the kitchen?” He was always thirsty, or hungry, or had something else to do, if ever I asked. Eventually, I stopped asking, and prayed instead, hoped. But I was running out of hope this time.

Nov. 12

I woke up covered in sweat. I knew I shouldn’t have written down what I thought, or what I thought I knew, about what happened to Sharon. Because the nightmares were back. Horrible things. I didn’t know exactly what the dead did, if they bit people, tore at them with teeth and fingernails, if they used weapons, maybe even guns. I didn’t know if they had less strength than a healthy man or more; but in my dreams they had all of them, mixed together, some of them feeble in muscle or mind, others strong and violent and sharp as a hungry dog.

I saw through her eyes. And I screamed and cried out for help or mercy; the more they hurt me, the more pain I felt, the more pitiful my cries became until I asked to die, but death wouldn’t come, either. What woke me, eventually, was Tigger. He’d been perched on my lap, and had put up with quite a bit of wailing and thrashing before he decided to put a stop to it and put his claws into my leg.

I wanted to swat him away, but instead I scooped him up and held him, sobbing loudly into his fur until the fear and pain of the dream had left me; the poor cat squirmed and meowed until I set him back down on my lap, where he “mirred?” before deciding to sit back down.

I decided that I knew something had happened to Sharon. At one point, after Eric had come back, I found myself listing the possibilities, and why he would have kept it from me, but it just gutted me, and I had to stop. There was nothing I could do for my daughter, nothing he could do, now, or else I knew he’d have been somewhere else doing it.

So I put it off. Like I put it off when Sharon told me she’d been raped when she was a child. No. I put it off even before then, because I knew, if not that exactly, I knew something. But you didn’t talk about it, then. You didn’t do anything about it, then. Because it wouldn’t matter, or it would. And it shouldn’t have.

Zero Journal 073
I told Phil’s brother to stop it. If I’d have told Phil, he’d have either killed his brother, or told him to stop it or he’d kill him. That’s just the way it was done.

But I couldn’t put it off anymore. Phil’s brother had been dead longer than him, but this was different. I couldn’t live just thinking my baby was out there, being hurt. I had to know, or at least know as much as I could know. So I started to write it down, everything that might have happened to Sharon, and why Eric wouldn’t tell me.

Hurt he would simply tell me if she’d gotten hurt
Raped? (possible)
Murderered (maybe)
Taken (most likely- shame, below)
them he might be able to tell me if that had happened; after all, he told me about Rose
Stepdad? (seems unlikely)
someone else he might feel responsible, feel ashamed

And that made sense. Whatever had happened, Eric blamed himself. Either he’d been wrong or it hadn’t mattered and he’d somehow failed, in his estimation, to protect his mother. It explained why he’d been distant. It perhaps even explained where he’d gone. If he thought he could find her, or help her

And there’s another possibility entirely. He could, perhaps, be looking to avenge her, or seek revenge for whatever wrong was done to her. The thought hurts me. I think back to him, laying against my side in church, listening intently. I’m trembling just thinking about him going so far from that. “Vengeance is mine” said the lord; I fear for Eric’s sole if he’s seeking vengeance in the world.

I tried to sleep again, but dreamed of Eric. Being Erik was far more horrible than being Sharon, because as Erik my fear was he’d become a predator. I’m prepared as was my lord Jesus to suffer at the hands of others, but not to force suffering on others. To watch that sweet boy’s hands tear through lives, strangling a woman and cutting at the flesh of a child, I woke in tears again, but this time there was no cat for comfort. I heard behind my chair, crunching at his food bowl; I knew better than to try to call him.

I was tired and it wasn’t even morning yet. I knew I couldn’t sleep again, not knowing the dreams that lay in wait for me. And it’s hard enough to write in the little moonlight that reflected into the room, but it’s impossible to read a book in it. My books. I feel a little silly about them. I’m an old woman, years past my own romances, yet I can’t stop
First Previous Index Next file Most Recent File