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Outbreak Chronicles: The School

Interview with Randall Markowitz

Randall works at William Henry Harrison Middle School in Santa Monica. In his spare time, he creates fantastical weaponry and armor.

All interviews are video recorded and transcribed for accuracy.

Outbreak Chronicles Interviewer: Hi Randall, thank you for meeting with me today, I know you’re very busy.

Randall Markowitz: Yeah, we started rebuilding properly. It’s like round-the-clock stuff. We’re working even on the weekends, which is pretty rough. Harrison Middle is the only school in the Santa Monica district that’s in decent shape, so right now we’re hosting K-12 kids. Basically anyone who wants to go to school in the area, goes to our school for now.

OCI: Can you tell me about the first few days just after the outbreak?

RM: Uh, which one? (Laughs.) Like October, I guess? That was the big one. So uh, I was working at Harrison. I was the shop teacher there before. Now I teach shop, phys ed, uh, team sports, and I sub in for American Government sometimes.

But back then I was just shop. Teaching 8th graders how to make CO2 rockets and building the best egg carrier so we could drop them from the roof, that kind of thing. I liked dilly-dallying with the tools though, so in my free period I’d work on designs for stuff.

OCI: What types of stuff?

RM: Uh… weapons, mostly. Which sounds horrible, because it’s a school, but you know, considering what happened and all… Anyway, I’d come up with this idea for a bladed bat that day. I was sawing into a bat to set a paper cutter blade in it, because, I mean, think about cool that would be! You could just swing-slice people’s heads right off!

OCI: That sounds very dangerous.

RM: Oh, it totally is! But I’m really careful, and I don’t bring out scary stuff around the little kids, you know.

Anyway, I’m sawing into this wooden bat when Greg comes running in from across the hall all wild eyed.

I knew something was up already, because my classes were getting small, you know? Kids out sick, teachers out sick, everybody out sick. Even the principal had called in. There were maybe 5 kids in each class that day, sometimes less.

OCI: Do you know why the school didn’t just shut down? Considering the rabies epidemic was just starting to be publicized?

RM: A lot of schools did at first. I think the government stepped in, said things like “Hey just keep going on like nothing’s wrong, we got this.” So kids started getting shipped to like, the closest school that was open. Something like that. I’m not into conspiracy theories, despite what the weapons obsession might make you think. (Laughs.)

Whatever happened, I’m thankful the school was open that day, because my apartment was set ablaze, I found out later. Some crazy thought they could “burn out the plague”… wild, I know. These people… It’s not enough everyone is covered in rabies or getting beaten to death in the streets. Why not just set some buildings on fire?

Anyway, I didn’t really have anywhere to go, not that I knew it at the time. I just knew I didn’t want to go outside.

OCI: How bad was it then?

RM: I took the bus to work back then, or I’d walk if it wasn’t too hot, and you’d see people coughing a lot. Looking real ill. Just gross.

It got worse. Soon the buses kind of stopped running. No one to man them, I suppose. Lot of places were boarded up. It felt like people were hunkering down for something.

You’d see armed cops and military people a lot. Like more than I was definitely comfortable seeing considering Santa Monica isn’t near a base, you know?

You’ve seen like, Dawn of the Dead, right?

OCI: No.

RM: Really? It’s a classic! It’s an old Romero movie, you know, the zombie director guy. I think zombie stuff has really just sunk into the culture, what with the Walking Dead and stuff, so people really bought into this being the end times or whatever. Supply stores were cleaned out of everything- food, water, survival gear, anything. People were getting desperate real fast.

OCI: It really was just rabies, though, right? Spread through dog and bat —

RM: Again, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but the shit I saw didn’t look like just rabies. And like, the military guys sure were aiming for the head a lot, if you see what I’m saying.

But say it was, you know, just rabies or whatever. That shit is bad enough. It’s a total death sentence after a few days, and you might as well be a zombie. Like those fast ones from 28 Days Later. Terrifying.

Anyway, Greg comes running in my room. He’s the art teacher at Harrison, and he’s shouting about zombies and nightmare shit. “The news said this” and “they’re shutting down the school”. He’d kind of lost it, so I gave him a quick yank, you know, and he calmed down a bit. Said the news was saying the rabies stuff was at “epidemic levels” in LA, and a bunch of people were fleeing the city.

OCI: Did you think about leaving then?

RM: Hell no. Have you seen the freeways when there ain’t nothing going on? That’s it’s own nightmare. This town was not built for people, and they got like 4 million trying to shove in from all directions.

They had helicopters and such circling around where the 405 meets the 10 and it’s bumper to bumper. Might as well be a parking lot. Nobody going nowhere.

Then you see a bunch of infected. A whole herd of them, moaning and screaming and stumbling their way down the freeway. Pulling people from cars, right through the damn window. Their mouths and eyes all bloody from God knows what. Probably beating someone to death. I saw that happen once right outside the school.

(Shakes head.) No, thank you. (Taps desk.) I’ll stay right here.

OCI: So what happened next?

RM: Well, I calmed Greg down and I tell him we’re gonna just stay put. The government knows what’s going on, rabies and shit. They’ll handle it all, we just need to not get in the way, right? Meanwhile the kids, whoever is left at that point, are getting pulled out of school right and left. I don’t know why parents think they gotta do that, a school is much safer. They could have even come and stayed with us, but… Desperation again. I guess you just want to know, right? Even if you can’t keep them safe, at least your kids are with you, right?

So by lunch, it’s me, Greg, Nurse Becky, and Miss Lewis, one of the librarians. Oh, and Tyrell. He’s Harrison’s security officer. He’s retired from the force; a really awesome dude. Really strong and like, has this air of authority about him. But we’re all the adults left on the campus, and between us we got maybe 15 kids left, that’s it.

OCI: Why weren’t those students pulled out of school?

RM: Dunno. I imagine some of them, their parents got held up, or infected, or who the hell knows. Most of them reunited with their families later, but 2 didn’t, and they live at Harrison with me and Beck in one of the trailers out back by the football field.

OCI: So you live at the school now?

RM: Yeah, yeah, it’s makeshift, but better than nothing. Or one of the shelters. They’re packed with people now, the ones that weren’t overrun. Not to mention just the smell and regular disease stuff. And we couldn’t just leave those kids to nothing.

OCI: Do you see a lot of unconventional family units like yours now in the aftermath of the outbreak?

RM: Yeah, more often than not. People just banding together, you know? That’s probably the only nice thing to come out of this whole shit pile. Pardon my language.

OCI: So back to the school, there were about twenty of you.

RM: Yeah, yeah. The adults are all securing the doors and windows, using whatever we got from the shop and the library to bar up from the outside. Nailing planks of wood, nailing doors into their frames, whatever works. The kids were so helpful during all that prep work. Kids love being useful, it’s amazing really. Even if it’s just holding a hammer or pulling a screwdriver from the tool box… (Pauses, smiling.)

So it’s uh, us five adults and these kids, and you gotta give kids something to do otherwise they’ll lose their damn minds, so I have them working on painting some rockets since the whole place is boarded up pretty tight. Mindless stuff, but creative. Takes their mind off the news.

One of the kids, Tim, smart kid, he lives with me now, family’s dead or missing or whatever. He asks me “what’s this gonna help against the zombies?”

Good point, right? That’s when we turned the shop into weapons factory.

OCI: Isn’t that dangerous?

RM: Sure is, if you let kids just run wild with power tools and the like. But you know, they’re scared, they’re looking for leadership. They’re like 13 year old kids. If you stay calm, they stay calm. So I show them my plans for this bladed bat and the kids are into it. They start doodling their own weapons, armor, the whole shebang. Some of it is even like, real. Like I’m looking at this shield this kid Alexander is drawing and I tell him “we can make that dude” and he is pumped.

OCI: How long did you stay holed up in Harrison Middle?

RM: Hm, it was about three and a half weeks, I think, before some military personnel came in through the front doors, all armed and terrifying. Scared the kids and Miss Lewis practically to death, the psychos.

We had a couple of run-ins with infected banging through a window before that too. And that pack of dogs…

OCI: Can you tell me about one?

RM: Sure. So, it’s rabies right? The news is saying people are getting bit by all these stray dogs, to avoid stray dogs. But like, it’s getting so bad that even people’s pets are getting attacked, and then people are getting attacked in their homes by Fluffy and Squeaker, spreading it to people who are even holed up pretty securely.

School’s these days are built like prisons, though. Hard to get in, hard to get out. We were pretty safe.

Except this one night, maybe a week into us really like, boarding up in Harrison, we start hearing this howling. A pack of dogs is roaming the campus, probably going crazy over the stench of all the kids and people they can smell. The kids are terrified, hell, I’m terrified. We decide to hole up in the library with book cases against the doors but these damn dogs are getting louder and closer —

OCI: They’re hunters.

RM: Exactly. Dogs are smart, especially in a pack. First they’re roaming the campus, looking for a way in. I swear they could smell us in the library all the way outside somehow.

They start slamming their bodies at the doors. One jumped through a window in the 6th grade science classroom that we hadn’t had the wood to board up and a few of his buddies joined. Between Tyrell, me, and Becky, we took pretty good care of them. Turns out my bladed bat is really good on dogs, if not very… clean.

OCI: Eventually the dogs left?

RM: No way! They’re all suped up on however this rabies stuff works in the brain, and they don’t quit until they’re all dead. Super rabies or not, though, they’re still just dogs. Mind you, I wouldn’t be feeling so cocky if it were some of those infected people beating down the doors.

That was probably one of the scarier nights at the school.

OCI: You mentioned you were at the school for a few weeks. What did you all do for food?

RM: Becky was in the Peace Corps a few years back, so she knew about survival and rationing, so we had two square meals a day from the cafeteria and some snacks for the kids. Food keeps people feeling safe, I won’t ever forget that. You get hungry for long enough, you start getting desperate and crazy. We didn’t need any of that.

OCI: And eventually police showed up?

RM: Yeah, or the government or whoever. They kick in the doors, scaring the shit out of all of us because we think it’s rabies nutters finally finding a way in, and then everything just sort of happened really fast after that. They set up quarantine tents to make sure none of us were infected, gave us shots and whatever else. Sprayed us down. Kids starting getting reunited with whatever was left of their families over the next couple days, but Tim and another boy named Miguel didn’t get picked up.

Turns out Becky’s place was under quarantine from a huge outbreak of rabies, her neighbors are all dead or carted off to one of those “treatment centers” and whatever else; the place is a nightmare we drove by a few weeks ago… anyway, she’s got nowhere to go, and I’m finding out my place is burned down, and these two kids got no family left, so we just commandeered one of the trailers on campus and made a go of it.

It’s tight, but like I said, better than nothing.

Honestly, I’m glad to have the company most nights. We all have nightmares.

OCI: And you receive benefits, correct?

RM: (Nods.) Oh yeah, we get the weekly check and food supply that all the survivors get. It’s weird, though. LA was like, 4 million people and now it’s like a quarter of that, but still so busy.

It makes you wonder how we got on before the outbreak, holding that many people packed together.

* * *

Outbreak Chronicles is a daily series interviewing survivors from the 2017 rabies epidemic in Los Angeles County. A new report will be posted each day in November in the Outbreak Chronicles publication on Medium.

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