I always loved the Netherlands. I was born there, so I guess that might be part of the reason why. My mom, Samantha Harlder, was an accountant in the army, and I guess she hit the jackpot because she got to go straight to the Netherlands after her graduation from Officer Candidate School. That country's a pretty cool place to be. Or at least it was, at one point. Schinnen army base, the place she was stationed, may be a few hours away from Amsterdam or Haarlem, but that doesn't change the fact that she was still literally getting paid to work in Europe.
Anyways, it was there that she met my dad, James Bekker. He was actually a Dutch-American himself. Or, I guess Dutch-African-American? But he wasn't African American. Or, he was, but not the way you think. He was literally born in South Africa to an American and a South African, and then his family moved to California shortly after. I guess he didn't really like America, because by the time he was twenty-two and out of college with his bachelors, he moved straight back to South Africa. But he didn't like that all too much, either, because he then decided to apply for Dutch Citizenship. Why the Netherlands and not somewhere like Germany or France? I don’t really know. Never bothered to ask. Not like even if I did want to know that I could ask him now, anyways.
I digress. So the story of how my mom and dad met is actually pretty funny. It was actually some stroke of luck or good fortune (on my part) that my mom didn’t kick my dad in the balls after their first encounter, let alone agree to go out with him after their second. Basically, they both happened to be in Amsterdam. Now I know what you might be thinking, and no, my dad did not think my mom was a hooker. I don’t even think he even ever messed with any. I would probably know if he did, because I would then have most likely been born with a STD of some sort. Regardless, my dad was supposedly balls to the wall drunk and high as a kite, walking with a few buddies when all of a sudden, as he put it, saw an “angel that was even higher than he was.” I think that at this time my mom hadn’t even been in the country for a week, and was doing all the touristy stuff that she could, said that her schedule allowed it. Well my six foot something dad walks up to my mom who was basically half his height, and says to her in English if he could speak to her for a minute. She politely says no, but he was persistent. It got to the point where he was shouting at her that he loved her in a mix of Dutch, Afrikaans, and English, and it wasn’t until one of the guys he was with dragged him away that she was able to escape. Kinda creepy right? Well a month later they meet again, but this time he’s sober and has little memory of the incident. They both happened to be at the windmills in Zaandam. She tapped him on the shoulder from behind, not knowing it was him, asking in bad Dutch if he knew where the “grote klompen” were. He turned around and answered the question immediately, even offering to walk her there. She could tell he didn’t remember her. And I thank god for her being such a forgiving person, because she actually let him guide her to the “big clogs”. They eventually hit it off later that day, I guess, and were together from then to the end.
My mom retired after only four years in the army, but then moved back to the Netherlands to live with my dad and get married. It wasn’t until a few months after I was born that they decided to move to America to raise me. I spent the majority of my life in Austin, Texas. For as long as I can remember, though, I recall my parents occasionally saying how they regretted the move. By the time I was twelve they wanted to move back to the Netherlands, but couldn’t because they didn’t want to uproot me from all my friends or introduce me to a completely new social climate. Plus, I was never able to properly learn Dutch anyways. My mom had began to forget it by the time I was old enough to really take on a second language, and my dad had always felt uncomfortable speaking it when he knew that no one else would be able to understand him. Also, all our family was already in America. My dad’s parents were still in California, and my mom’s family was actually in Texas with us. But nevertheless I always heard them say just how awesome the Netherlands was, and how much they missed it. When I told them that I wanted to go to Maastricht University in the Netherlands, which was an International University located in that one part of the country that looks gerrymandered, they were actually super supportive.
So there I was. Just graduated high school and ready to take on the world. They wanted me to spend my summer in the Netherlands so I could have time to adapt to the new environment before starting school. It was the evening of the Fourth of July when my flight left. July 4th, 2017.
I’ll never forget seeing those fireworks from the window seat of the plane. That’s something I do miss. Fireworks. People. Signs of not just life, but of joy, too.
The plane touched down at Schiphol Airport without any complications and I was able to get to the apartment that my parents had rented for me after another day of travel and lots of confusing train stops and general navigation. Things were fine for a bit. I toured the different cities, went sightseeing, ate lots of food, etcetera. But then after a couple days things began to get weird. For one, public transportation got harder to use. There were decked out police at every populated stop, and there appeared to be less and less busses. Ok, not too big an issue, maybe it’s to prevent potential terror threats. Then my phone data shut off. I couldn’t contact my parents through Whatsapp without being connected to WiFi. Then a curfew was put into place. First it was just in cities around the border, but eventually it spread throughout the whole country. By then, rumors of people going crazy and doing insane things had developed. Myself and my parents knew something was wrong. They arranged for me to fly back to Texas as soon as possible. But I never made it home. When I got back to Schiphol airport, I was told at the gate that a quarantine had been enacted and that I simply could not leave. A quarantine for what? I didn’t know. It was also getting late, nearly at curfew. I tried to reason with the officer that I had no way of getting home, and no where to put my luggage, but they told me that it was my problem, not theirs. So I took it at face value and started walking. The streets near the airport were anything but desolate. Cars lined up bumper to bumper with whole families sitting inside. It was like something out of a movie. But as I got farther and farther, I saw less and less people. My goal at the time was to find a way to tell my parents what had happened, and to let them know that I couldn’t come back to them any time soon.
I spent that night on the street. I slept a bit under a bridge by a canal, but I was awoken by what I at first thought was popcorn popping. It was gunshots. They rang out the entire night, and came from the direction of the airport. I’ve never been someone to go into panic mode even in the most dire situations, but at that moment I knew that I wasn’t safe. I had to get away. I unpacked the essentials from my carry on bag into my backpack and booked it. For what felt like weeks but was probably days, I walked. The few people I did see either didn’t want to make my acquaintance or were dead. There were so many dead people. At one point, I spotted someone just standing in an open field somewhere in what I’m guessing was South Holland. They didn’t have any gear or anything, and they were just standing there. It was the most peculiar thing. It kind of intimidated me. And then, for the first time in a while, a gunshot went off relatively close but in the opposite direction of me. The person, or thing, I suppose, just cranked it’s head a full one-eighty and bolted towards the gunshots faster than I could ever imagine an average person running. That was my first encounter with an “infected” person, if you can even call that an encounter. What I did know at that point was that I would need to be a hell of a lot more stealthy than I had been, and I was lucky that I hadn’t had any closer encounters prior to that one. The longer I walked, the more and more infected I saw, and the more and more dead people I saw. I managed to stay out of trouble for about a year. In that time I had both made and lost friends, and even killed a starving girl who managed to successfully take a bite out of someone who I had been able to group up with. He died from the infections that ensued. By the time I had wandered into the Balkans, I managed to meet two kind folk who had a car. Said they were brothers. They had an old Audi with two doors but it had folding front seats and two back seats, so I was able to fit in the back, albeit somewhat snuggly with all out gear in the seat next to me.
At first I didn’t know where we were driving to, and I thought it’d be rude to ask. Regardless, I just wanted to be somewhere far away from other people and all the infected. They eventually told me that we were headed to Central Kopec in Chernarus. Family or something. We did make it. No kidnapping stories here. We drove through Takistan and along the coast of the Green Sea, through North Trikani and eventually landed in Dobkovicy. I only know the names of these countries and provinces because the two guys I was with, Jared and Chris, wouldn’t shut up about how lovely and rural their home country used to be. They were good company. But when we got to what I assumed correctly was their childhood home, all we found were smashed windows and knocked over family portraits. I could tell it weighed pretty hard on them. They had high hopes that their siblings or parents would still be there, and when they were nowhere to be seen, it devastated them. We camped out in their old home for a few days, until one morning Jared handed me the car keys and a small canister of gasoline and told me to leave. He wasn’t angry about it, he was more longing, or solemn. I think he and Chris killed themselves later that day. I can’t be sure, but the implications I made from the way Jared and Chris had been acting seemed to suggest so. I didn’t ask any questions. I hugged them both farewell, vainly wished them the best of luck, and drove off. I’m really glad that I learned stick back in high school. By the time I ran out of gas, I had made it to a military checkpoint on the eastern edge of South Zagoria near Zabolotye. I’m not sure what to do next.
Grainger has since committed suicide. During his time in South Zagoria, he gained a hording problem due to the sheer amount of loot to be found. Upon reaching an intervention, he deemed to himself that he would rather die than give up his precious water bottles.