THE FORGOTTEN CITY
IT’S FUNNY the things that get stuck in your head. Little things, I mean. Like the woman who gave me this notebook. I never knew her name, barely even saw her face, but I remember her so clearly it’s like she’s sitting across from me as I write this.
She wasn’t National Guard or CDC. Red Cross is a possibility, but the cut-rate hazmat suit she was wearing makes me think she was from one of the smalltime charities that flooded the Quarantine Zone right after the outbreak. The October Sixteenth Fund, maybe, or Remember Black River. They’d show up in Monument Park with backpacks stuffed full of clean socks, toothbrushes, and soap. Some candy for the kids. Others, like the Remember people, brought Facebook profiles, old yearbooks, and printouts from the DMV, promising to “help reunite you with you.”
This woman was different. All she had was notebooks.
“We thought some of you might want one,” she said. “So you can record things about yourself or your family, or what’s been happening here since the quarantine. That way if you get, you know, infected, it could be like your memory.”
That was almost a year ago. I’ve been carrying one of her notebooks around in my backpack this whole time, but I’ve never even opened it until tonight. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what made me do it now. The last thing I need is help remembering. I remember everything, it’s just that it’s all so jumbled up in my head. Maybe I’m hoping that if I spill it out in front of me like this, it’ll finally line up in a way that makes some kind of sense. Maybe then I’ll know what to do.
Dad told me once that when he knew a story was going to be hard to write, he’d pretend he was telling it to just one person, like he was writing them a letter. That way, no matter how tough it got, he’d never feel alone. The only trick, he said, was choosing the right person. For me, that part’s easy.
I choose you.
IT ALL STARTED with a fight Greer and I had one morning up on Lucy’s Promise.
This was eight months after the outbreak. I was walking through the woods, gathering branches for a project I had in mind. Once the quarantine cut Black River off from the rest of the world, we had to rely on the National Guard for just about everything—food, clothes, medicine, mail deliveries—so every other week they brought in a shipment and handed it out in Monument Park. In one of the last ones there were a few packets of seeds, and they got me thinking I could start a small garden in this clearing not far from my tent.
The only problem was the hundreds of deer and squirrels that lived on the mountain with us. They’d devour anything I planted as soon as it came out of the ground. I’d been about to ditch the whole idea until Gonzalez—that’s Hector Gonzalez, the National Guard lieutenant who checks on us every once in a while—figured out how I could make an enclosure for it. He sketched it out and even hauled a roll of chicken wire all the way up the mountain for me.
So that’s what I was doing that morning. Looking for branches I could use as a framework to hang the fence on. I’d collected about half of what I needed when I heard Greer’s voice coming along the trail that ran up the mountain from his camp.
“Yo! Cardinal Cassidy! Where you at?”
Snow Cone and Hershey Bar came bounding through the woods just ahead of Greer and plowed into me. Hershey Bar was a black and tan German shepherd, and Snow Cone was this huge white pit bull, terrifying-looking if you didn’t know she was a total pushover. They’d limped up to Lucy’s Promise a few months earlier, half starved and bitten bloody by fleas. The fleas were gone, and the dogs had filled out a little, but there was still this red, hairless patch on Snow Cone’s side. I’d hoped it would clear up on its own without a trip to town to see the doc, but that wasn’t looking very likely.
There was a rustle out in the trees. Greer was getting closer. I left the dogs and went to my backpack to grab my mask and gloves.
“It’s okay, man. I’ll keep my distance.”
Greer kneeled down by an old tree stump and started petting the dogs. I gauged the space between us. It was something I’d gotten pretty good at over the last few months. He was five feet away, maybe six. The virus—technically, it was called Lassiter’s Viral Amnesia, but most of us just called it Lassiter’s—worked like an especially contagious strain of the flu, and you caught it the same way. Once you did, you had maybe ten hours before it took effect. You know how if you put a really big magnet against a computer’s hard drive it’ll delete everything on it? Well Lassiter’s does the same thing, only to people. Who you are, where you’re from, your family, your friends, your whole history—wiped out. Anyway. Like I said, it spreads like the flu. Even without any protection, staying four or five feet away from someone who was infected was generally considered safe. But I hadn’t stayed uninfected as long as I had by taking chances. I took a last breath of the woodsy air, then pulled my mask down over my mouth and nose, cinching the rubber straps tight to make sure I had a good seal. The air that made it through the charcoal filters tasted like hot rubber and sweat. I put on my gloves and started gathering up the branches I’d dropped.
“Did I ever tell you I’m pretty sure I was a professional golfer before the outbreak?” Greer was sitting at the edge of the clearing now, a blade of grass stuck between his teeth.
“Nope,” I said. “Don’t think you mentioned that.”
Luckily, Gonzalez had been able to score me one of the newer masks, so I didn’t sound like Darth Vader with a mouth full of cotton balls when I talked.
“Oh yeah,” Greer said. “Isaac found this old set of clubs in the supply shed. All we had for a ball was a walnut, but—man, when I hit that thing? It just felt right, you know? Like I’ve been doing it my whole life. Do pro golfers make good money?”
“Yeah, but they have to wear weird pants. I thought you were getting the kids ready to go on the supply run.”
Greer picked up an acorn and chucked it into the woods. “Yeah, but I had to get out of there. Breakfast time? Those kids turn into a bunch of piranhas. I try to tell them that I’m, like, their savior. That we both are. That if it wasn’t for us, they’d all be fending off the gropers in that Guard shelter in town.”
“Please tell me you don’t let Benny and DeShaun hear you say things like that.”
He waved me off. “Ah, they’re fine. All I’m sayin...