Monday, September 7, 2015

Part 147


 
“Carp!” 

“Why doan chu jes kill it and then take the juevos … eggs?  No more ouches.  Them ducks jes nasty.” 

I looked at Miguel and asked him, “What makes the eggs?” 

I got a look like he thought I was crazy.  “Huh?” 

I tried to explain why I asked even though to me it was obvious.  “What makes the eggs?  The duck.  If I kill the duck to take these eggs – just because she’s cranky – then she won’t make eggs for me to take another time.” 

He gave me a funny look and then I could tell that the switch flipped and he got it.  “Ohhh.  So you get bit but not so bad ‘cause it gives you eggs.  I get it now.” 

“Good.  ‘Cause I don’t want you boys coming down and killing the ducks just ‘cause you’re hungry.  I said it once already and Carlos still did it anyway.  I’ll feed all of you … but only if all of you follow the rules.” 

The rules.  It was kinda hard to get the boys to understand new rules, especially ‘cause they complained about the ones they already had to follow.  Doubly especially because the new rules were coming from a girl.  But after a couple of days I earned their respect and it wasn’t so bad.  Most of the time.  Teaching them not to pee all over the place was still a chore but Kevyn finally got them to understand … but only after he said if they couldn’t follow the rules I wouldn’t cook.  I don’t care what language they speak or where they’re from, boys will do just about anything to keep their belly from growling.  The fact that I could feed them from “weeds” and “monsters” ranked pretty high though eventually I was able to convince them that there weren’t any monsters in the woods except for puss brains and they weren’t really monsters but sick people that had no self-control.  The more they understood something the less they feared it … just like me. 

I tried to show them stuff that would help them understand things.  It wasn’t always easy and I had to get rough with them a few times until they understood I wasn’t kidding that not all mushrooms and berries were good to eat.  I told them to stick with the things that I showed them and leave the rest alone, they’d stay alive longer that way.   

We ate a lot of cattail hash but that was ok.  It filled the corners and so long as it had a little taste of meat in it they seemed to not mind too much learning to eat new things.  The yampa root was something else that helped keep us all fed; and keeping us all fed was really turning into work. But it was worth having to get creative.  Keeping the boys fed helped Kevyn maintain control and teach them tactics and stuff they didn’t get in training what little bit of time they were at their bases.  That kept Kevyn from being so aggravated all the time … at the boys for sitting around doing nothing but getting into trouble and because of worrying over the things that put him in charge of them in the first place.   

And since Kevyn wasn’t aggravated or sensitive about his leadership stuff I was able to get some work out of the boys that helped me out.  I let them go on thinking that’s all they were doing but pretty quickly Kevyn figured out what was up.  At least he wasn’t bent out of shape over it. 

He came over to sit near where I was preparing yet another meal to fill the bottomless pits.  “You know they call you Little Sister.” 

I shrugged.  “I kinda figured.  Ralphealito told me what Hermanita meant.  It’s no big deal.  I’m short.  The more I squawk about it the more they’ll pick at me over it.” 

“So it doesn’t bother you?” 

Thinking it over I told him, “Not as long as they don’t get too silly.  Too silly will bother me and I’ll knock them on their tail.  I don’t want to hurt their boy pride so I’ll ignore it if I can.  They just better not make it so I can’t ignore it.” 

“Yeah ok.  Just checking.  Thing is Ralph  … well, he gets it even if the others haven’t figured it out yet.  Or maybe some of them have and that’s why they call you Sister.  They know someplace in their heads that you’re taking care of them … maybe just not how much.” 

“Uh …” 

“Ralph came to me and we talked.  It’s pretty obvious once you see it.  You’re teaching them survival skills … the kind that the militia doesn’t have time to teach them, that they are supposed to learn on the hoof out here in the bush only there’s been no time to learn that stuff.” 

Rather than deny it I told him, “It’s a trade.  They help me stock up for winter quarters and I teach them stuff in exchange.  Even stevens.” 

He half-grinned.  “Sure.  And we’ll just keep letting ‘em think that.  If they don’t think of it as lessons then they won’t fight learning it.  Thing is … it’s a good idea.  One of the things that I worry about is one of the ‘em getting lost or whatever … getting cut off from the group.  These guys do better than good in an urban setting but out here … they’re just about nothing but bait.  It’s what some of the adult militia groups use us for.  If my guys had to make it on their own without back up or resupplies they’d be toast real fast.  I’m … I’m not real sure I would have been able to take care of them all if we hadn’t found your camp.” 

“Look it’s no big deal.  I had people that taught me.  I guess … I guess I’m paying it forward.  Besides it helps me too.  More of us that can take care of ourselves the fewer of us get turned into puss brain chow.”  Getting uncomfortable with the touchy feely carp I added, “Let’s just drop it ok?” 

“Sure.  Just … wanted you to know that at least me and Ralph see it … and … and appreciate it.” 

I shrugged and returned to what I had been doing and Kevyn went off to break up an argument that turned out to be about some bet over a race between beetles of all things.  Boys.  Geez. 

What I had been doing is taking the arrowroots and yampa roots the boys had helped gather about a half mile upstream, peeling them, cubing them, and then cooking them in boiling, salted water.  After they cooked tender I drained them and then cooked them in a dry pan to evaporate the excess liquid that was left; didn’t take long, only about a minute with the pan over the flame.  Then I took them off the fire and added a little milk made from my dwindling powdered milk supply, a little olive oil since I was out of butter powder, and then two tablespoons of mashed wild horseradish the boys had found without my help.  I creamed all of that together to the consistency of mashed potatoes.  It would have been better with real cream and butter but I’ve learned to be thankful for what I do have and work with it. 

For our meal the boys had been responsible for catching their meat and since they all choose to practice snares and got squirrels I showed them how to clean and spit roast their catch, save the drippings, and make a kind of pan gravy with it.  It wasn’t anything my mother would have ever fixed but no one went to bed hungry, at least not that night.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Part 146

Quietly I muttered, "Carp."

Kevyn looked at me and sighed.  "Infecteds?"

I lifted my nose to the wind but didn't smell anything.  "No," I told him with absolute certainty.  "Better call your boys over.  I'm not sure what this is but it isn't infecteds.  Not a bear either."

What surprised me is that the boys had already picked up on something not being right.  They were all street smart in a way I never was when I was little.  I found out most of them had gone into Z-Day having some street smarts; it's how they survived those early days.

The watchers had waited too long.  If they had done the shock and awe thing they would probably have taken us but they let curiosity and caution put them behind the eight ball.

No sense in going through all of the details; I'm not sure I could explain it in the right order with the right words even if I tried now that time has passed and other things have taken place.  All I know is that I thought I was stone cold when it came to surviving and killing ... not like Mo but certainly pretty cold for a kid.  Found out that day that I still have a ways to go before I'm really as hard as I've measured myself out to be.  I still haven't decided how I feel about that.

Kevyn and those boys flat out blew the holy living snot out of the patrol of eight men that had tried to take us; Kevyn with his gun and Ralphelito using mine. Two of the men rushed in from the side and got closer than was comfortable; one of them grabbed me but then three of the boys jumped him and I don't know how many times he got stabbed before they were finished with him ... and him with this earth.  The other I got with my bat.  I continue to try and tell myself it is war and no different than putting an infected down but somehow it is and I know it is just all adding up like an unpaid bill that someone is going to present me with one of these days.  Only this isn't from overdue library books and what I'm going to have forfeit is going to cost a whole lot more than my allowance.

When it was over and we were sure there were no more hiding in the surrounding forest ... the animals had come back out of hiding ... the boys had those eight men stripped and burning in the pyre in less than a half hour.  Two of the boys had gotten hurt from ricochets and Kevyn busted his lip on his braces when one of the dead guys proved he wasn't so dead ... but he was soon thereafter.

Then it was over and only the clean up was left.  Getting irritated I snapped, "Sit still."

Miguel complained, "Aw, I don't need no girl being my mama."

I grabbed the boy's ear and yanked.

He yelled, "Ow!  What you do that for?!"

"To show you I'm not trying to be your mama ... I'm trying to clean this cut out so it doesn't get infected and make your arm fall off."

Instead of putting him in his place Miguel gave an unrepentant grin and rubbed his ear.  "Hah!  Mi madre could pull ten times as hard as that.  Lucky I still got an ear after all the times she grabbed it."

I rolled my eyes and muttered, "Geez.  Boys."

That set the rest of them laughing and something tells me when they get to be bigger boys they are going to be trouble big time.  When I was through Kevyn came over and said, "You mind if we make camp here?"

"Pick a tree, any tree."  When I saw he didn't get it I said, "Makes it harder for things bigger than you are to get you.  Have you got hammocks or something in your kits?"

Kevyn looked at the boys waiting excitedly and then nodded.  They were then off climbing trees like a bunch of monkeys let out of the zoo ... only quieter.  While they were picking the best spots out Kevyn sat beside me.  He told me, "Those men had good stuff in their packs.  I'll probably piece the guns and ammo out to my crew unless you want one."

"No.  I'm good so long as Ralph gives me back mine ... and he better because I signed for the doggone thing and am responsible for it."  Kevyn nodded and started putting the stuff from the packs in different piles.  I helped him once I saw he was trying to break it down so that everybody got something.  Turning to him I said, "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"How come your boys were squeamish about the puss brains but were willing to take on grown men with sticks and knives without ... you know ... freaking out?"

In mild disgust he explained, "Because I'm still breaking them of being superstitious.  Most of them come from families or gangs that ... well, they hang onto the old ways is what I call it.  I swear, in some places they got a story going around that the infecteds started when some people got bit by a rabid chupacabra."  He put all the food in a pile and asked me to see what could be done with it then he continued, "They act like they want to be modern but there isn't a lot of follow through ... like a bad habit kinda thing.  But men?  They know they're real and what they'll do to them if they get caught.  This group all came from the San Dimas Pen ... used to be a prison for LA ... and before that most of them were probably just fodder for local gangs.  Heck most of them were already being recruited from what some of them say."

"Then if they ... I don't know ... are so ... so ... whatever it is they are ... feral maybe ... If they are like that how did they get recruited for the militia? The militia and the regular military are all bears for rules and stuff from what I've seen. You'd figure you'd have more problems with boys like them than not."

"You'd think ... and that's what the adults used to think too.  And on some things that's right.  But out here?  Man, you want a bunch of little savages like this.  My LT says they see things real black and white.  There's the enemy and the not-the-enemy.  Once they've got it in their heads who or what the enemy is they pretty much stay that way.  And they don't jack around about it.  Besides, they like eating."

"Excuse me?"

"The West Coast is running out of food and water ... and it ain't real plentiful in any of the western states from what I've seen.  As many people as has died since Z-Day there's still too many for what is easy to get.  And it is too dangerous to try and have a garden of any size 'cause the infecteds can sniff 'em out for miles.  It's been worse since those government idiots tried to take the pressure off the East by repatriating ... whatever the hell they call it ... the infecteds into areas that didn't have them before.  Groups like I run are a way for boys ... and some girls if they prove they can hack it ... to get out of the cities and get fed at least two squares a day, sometimes three.  You work your butt off but you do eat.  The food might not be great but it’s better than the one meal they're getting in the pens ... and that meal they have to fight off others from taking away."

I think I've finally learned to keep my mouth shut when there isn't anything good to be said ... or most of the time and that was one of those times.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Part 145


Boys are pigs.  Seriously they are.  I had forgotten how bad they could be when you got more than a couple in one spot.  They were arguing about who got the bigger portion and how someone was smaller so they didn't need as much ... or at least that is what I thought they said, it was kinda hard to understand them even when they were speaking in English.

I had to keep telling them to slow down or they were going to make themselves sick.  Kevyn who is the oldest of them and is fifteen, finally reached over and dope slapped a couple of them in the back of the head and told them to knock it off.  The one they call Miguel is the youngest at ten.  Miguel isn't the smallest though.  Ralphelito is even though he is thirteen; he was born here in the US but his family was from Guatemala and they are something called Chapa and not even the other boys can understand him very much when he is speaking what he calls Spanish and what the other boys says isn't.  When they started bickering about that on top of everything else Kevyn told them to shut up about something that means nothing and eat or he'd cut off the chow line.

After the bottom of the pot of arrowhead tubers, wild onion, chickweek, and duck eggs omelet had been scraped clean Kevyn looked at them and said, "Grab everything up and get it cleaned up ... not just your gear.  When you are done with that gather up some more wood and keep that pyre going.  Before we leave here I want that pile to have nothing but a few bits of charcoaled bones.  Move it!"

And the boys did it.  I gotta tell you I was surprised and told him so.

"Yeah I know, but these ones aren't half bad.  They get on my nerves with that spanglish crap but they're a good patrol.  The one I led before this one I swear I was ready to fed 'em to the infecteds.  They thought it was a democracy or some kinda crap like that.  Most of those ones from that group got dumped back in the pens because they wouldn't listen."

"The pens?"

"Yeah ... I take it you aren't from west of the Rockies."

"No."

"Well it sucks back there.  I'm from San Diego and I ain't ever going back."

Long story short in the first year the puss brains were around the military and other adults basically gathered up all the kids and put them in prisons to try and protect them.  Anyone under sixteen that is; after sixteen you are on your own since you can sign up to be a civilian contractor.  That's what Kevyn is waiting on.  But between ten and sixteen boys can join militias.

"I thought militias stayed in the state they are formed in."

"Supposed to but after those crazies attacked us from the south all bets are off."

"What crazies?"

He shrugged.  "According to our officers who explained it they are some kind of coalition deal of people that just want to take other people's crap for their own because they think they're too good to have to work for it like the rest of us.  They just don't care about nothing it seems, they're like warlords or something.  Sometimes they fight with each other and sometimes they fight against each other.  Either way it has been a lot of trouble."

"Sounds like it is just a good way to make more puss brains."

He nodded while he cleaned his gun.  "That too.  We're out here trying to kill off as many infecteds as we can so the enemy can't use them against us."

Rolling my eyes I said, "I know I'm going to be sorry I asked but ... use the puss brains against us?"

He sighed and he reminded me of someone that had seen too much and none of it good.  "It is kinda accidentally on purpose.  Sometimes they do it on accident.  Sometimes they do it on purpose.  They throw people to the infecteds too.  I've seen 'em so I ain't just blowing smoke.  They put uninfected people in with some infecteds and you know what happens from there.  Then when they have enough captured infecteds they'll haul them and dump them in an area to soften people us and make them use up a lot of energy and ammo.  Next they sweep in behind them, play hero by killing or capturing the infecteds and then take over."

Well that was a new one on me and pretty sick ... and not in a good way.  We discussed it a little more and he said, "If your patrol is out right now they probably got called up to proceed to prepare for a battle if they didn't actually run into one."

Oh jollies I thought at the time.  But at the same time I thought if that was the case at least I didn't just get forgotten about.  On the other hand, I knew I needed to watch out for myself since I had no one else to do it for me anymore.

"You said something about resupply.  Are you supposed to be meeting up with someone?"

He casually glanced over at the younger boys and then said, "Keep your voice down please.  They just about panicked on me yesterday.  We were supposed to be resupplied three days ago but no one ever came to the drop point."

"Are you sure you had the right place?"

"Yeah even though GPS isn't working.  I used the map they gave us and plotted the point just to be sure.  We were in the right place.  We even saw a couple of copters though they were medical relief crews.  Probably carrying people back from the battle or something.  It's the only thing I can think."

We're just sitting there absorbing things and watching the boys work when I noticed that it is getting too quiet.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Part 144

In the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of the snares going off ... and when I say "the snares" I actually mean all of the man-snares going off.  What was freaky was that there was no noise afterwards.  The normal night sounds didn't come back except for the occasional frog.  Even an animal will thrash around and get scared or hacked off at the snare even if they aren't caught in it.

I couldn't get back to sleep.  It was the silence and the smell.  I suppose I could have shined the flashlight around but that would have given my position away and I was already worried that someone or something had set the snares off and was now creeping up the tree to get me.  And it figures this would happen on a night without a moon.  I sat there with only the wind whistling through the trees for company.  I could have just about wet myself and nearly did a couple of times when the fear would really bite.  Then the sky started to lighten up.

Oh carp.

I looked down and all my man snares had gone off all right ... and each one held a puss brain bobbing around like a piƱata.  I was trying to figure out what to do when out of the shrubbery up the path towards the road comes a patrol.  I thought for a moment it was my patrol until I noticed they were a little on the short side to be the women.  As a matter of fact they were a lot more close to my size than they were to the Amazons'.

They were confused and scared, jumping at nothing and everything.  Then I heard their voices and got even more confused.  They were boys ... but I mean boys, not guys or men.  Most of them sounded like their voice hadn't even changed yet though a couple of them had the squeaks.  What's more they were speaking Spanish.  What the heck?  Then a bigger boy stepped into my line of sight and says, "Knock that off.  You know the rules.  Speak English so I can understand you."

"What do we do with them?"

"Sanitize 'em."

"All of 'em?"

"Are you being stupid on purpose?  Yeah Gomez ... all of 'em.  You want to eat, you do the job.  And if we don't get it done before the others get here you know what happens.  Get sticks or something so we can sharpen them, I don't have enough ammo to take all of these out."

They'd waited too long, the puss brains had noticed them and were starting to struggle.  The boys couldn't get close enough to the now swinging and twisting infecteds.  The older boy was getting angry and frustrated.  I needed to go to the bathroom.  Something needed to be done.

I changed trees and then came down a few feet from the older boy.

"Sppppsssss."

He was fast, I'd give him that.  "You shoot me and you are going to be in some serious hot water.  My unit is all female and won't be happy ... not happy at all to lose their cook."

"Who are you?!  Where are you?!"

"I'm in the bushes dope.  And until you turn that gun some other direction I'm not coming out.  I swear what is it about boys and guns?  And tell that lot of yours to stop acting like this is T-ball.  If they don't put some oomph in it they'll never get the job done."

Finally we came to an agreement and introduced ourselves the younger boys came over and were staring at me like they'd never seen a girl before.

"Knock it off already."  I turned back to the "leader" whose name was Kevyn Cormack and asked, "You got any rope?"

"Some," he said cautiously.

"Well get two of your guys on each end and then secure the puss brain by pulling it back so that it can't swing.  I'll put the first couple down so that you can see how hard you need to swing and then y’all can do the rest."

It took some convincing, and one of the boys puked on his boots, but the job got done.  And I only had to squawk once when they started cutting my snares to get the puss brains down to dispose of them.

Kevyn came over to me while the other six boys took care of the rest of it.  "You really a civilian contract cook?"

"Yeah.  My patrol is in the field.  I'm holding their position."  OK, I wasn't for sure that I was lying or not but it sounded good and Kevyn bought it which was all I wanted at the time.  Kevyn looked like he wanted to say something and I finally got tired of waiting.  "Let me guess, you all need to get fed."

"Yeah.  Resupply is late."

"Alright, I'll feed you on two conditions."

Suspiciously he asked, "What?"

"No being a weenie about what I feed you and two, you're going to tell me how you are out here leading a lot of little boys fighting puss brains but talk like you are in the military."

"We can't talk about anything top secret."

"You can't just make up anything either."

"Deal."

I stuck my hand out and though he was surprised we shook on it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Part 143


I'm dead, totally dead.  I'm gobsmacked but that doesn't mean I'm not dead meat.

I've been so busy that I haven't written anything, not to mention I ran out of paper making my lists and plans but now I have more.  I'll get to how and why I have more paper later.  First I need to kinda start back up where I left off.  Not from immediately after I stopped because I'd bore myself and since this is my notebook I can do it just the way I please.

I waited for three weeks to hear from someone and nothing, nada, zippo.  Not even the radio the women left behind did much more than hiss and sometimes crackle, though every once in a while when I turned it on it sounded like something was out there, just too far away for me to really understand what was being said.  You know that noise you make when you have a piece of paper across a comb and blow on it - stupid kind of musical instrument sounding thing - well, that's what it would sound like every little bit only the noise didn't separate out into anything that made sense so I just noticed but didn't putz around worrying about it.

By the time I passed the three week mark I decided what the heck, and started to build the dug out shelter.  I mean I gave some consideration to trying to find my way back to base but I realized I didn't know how to get back to base because of all the time in the trucks and me sitting where I couldn't see landmarks.  And even if I did find the road back to where I had been the base might not have been there when I got there so I decided to stay put.  Mobile bases are called mobile for a reason.  The base had just been set up when I got off the train and I knew that it could just have easily moved again.

It wasn't like I was making the choice to go AWOL or anything but really, why should I risk my neck fumbling around looking for people who didn't appear to be looking for me.  I had no idea what had gone wrong but something obviously had and I had no intention of making it worse by going wronger ... er, that's not a real word but it's what I mean.  So the dugout it was.  I also decided the ground wasn't the safest place for me when another bear came waddling through in the middle of the night investigating the interesting smells on the air.  Lucky for me it was only curious and not hungry.  The mess of knocked over stuff it left behind was enough to convince me though so it was into the trees I went.  I thought some and figured I would sleep in the trees during good weather and in the dugout during colder months or other bad weather.

Since I was only cooking for me it was light work to deal with as I worked on the tree house/hunting stand and the dug out at the same time.  I mean the cooking and food part was light work, not the building part.  That was hard work, a lot of hard work.

I had to go further from camp to get saplings to work with so I could keep from taking all the trees and messing up my camouflage.  Every couple of days that is all I would do ... cut saplings and drag them back to camp.  On top of that I didn't have any nails so I had to whittle wooden pegs for "nails" and use a knife as a "drill" to make holes in the green wood.  What a mess.  I also used some more of the rope and knots that Toddie, Jace, and Mr. Svenson had taught me to lash things together tightly.

That first week I worked on the tree house most ... even changed trees once which hacked me off but proved to make things easier in the long run because the tree was both taller and straighter and gave me two giant limbs that I could lay a more even floor across.  Right after I got up I'd check the snares to see if there was anything that I needed to take care of then I would dig for about an hour or so until I was ready to throw the shovel ... lucky for me one of my pieces of equipment was one of those foxhole shovel thingies.  Then I'd rest a bit by foraging.  And finally I'd spend the rest of the day working on the tree house.

As you can guess I ate a lot of squirrel at first just trying to cut their numbers down.  I think they thought I was building them a giant nest to live in and several were always coming around to get into things and tell me how much I was doing it wrong.  Now they leave me alone 'cause they recognize me as a predator.  Which is kind of a shame because one, they were good eating and now they are harder to catch, and two they were funny to watch so long as I didn't have to listen to them bark and complain and boss me around.

It took me two weeks to finish the treehouse.  It isn't something you would find in one of those fancy DIY magazines they used to have at the super market but it suited my needs.  It got me and most everything else I needed off the ground.  The bike and cart had to stay on the ground but I managed to rig a pulley kind of thing up so that I could fill the little trailer and lift it into the air to hold a lot of the bigger supplies.  My bed was a hammock strung between limbs and I covered as much as I could with the camouflage netting that the women had originally set up on the ground to sleep under.

By the beginning of July I was well into working on the dugout but I also spent a fair amount of time foraging.  Black currants, huckleberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, serviceberries, and also juniper berries for flavoring meat.  I collected more and more cattail roots to make flour with.  My roots were arrowhead tubers, burdock, wild salsify, and yampa.  My greens were cattail shoots, chickweed, dandelions, lamb's quarter, milkweed, sheep sorrel, nettle, water cress, and wild mint which when I wasn't eating it fresh I was drying to make tea with.  Miner's lettuce was getting a little long in the tooth to gather but I still found some late-in-the-season plants tucked here and there.  And the morel mushrooms had given way to porcini mushrooms.

I dried a lot of the berries - those I didn't stuff in my mouth - but I tried to get creative with them as well.  I made what Mom used to call "pocket pies" and decided that would be a good way to make meat pies as well.  I made "dumplings" from the cattail flour and cooked them in stewed berries.  I also used the berries to try my hand at pemmican since I had a lot of dried venison as I had caught two more deer.  I used lard from the bucket I had in the supplies instead of venison fat.  I sure didn't want to depend on squirrel and rabbit as my only form of meat during the cold time that would eventually arrive.  Pemmican was easier to cart around, even easier than the pocket pies, when I didn't want to stop and cook a meal for just one person or when I was away from the camp when I was hungry.

When I wasn't eating my meals in pocket pie form I was eating soup or stew.  Arrowhead soup tasted a lot like potato soup.  Lamb's quarter and some of the other greens made good soups as well when I had some broth left over from cooking meat or broke down and used things from the military like the bouillon cubes.  And I did use some of the military food.  I tried to use as little as I could because I had some idea to prove I wasn’t AWOL and that I had tried to protect what was my responsibility to protect just in case anyone ever showed up ... but I wasn't stupid either.  I used the buckwheat flour and cornmeal sparingly but I did use it.  I also used the sweeteners to make syrups with to flavor the cattail pollen pancakes I made for my breakfasts.  I ate enough greens that the rabbits complained I was hogging their buffet.  I also learned to eat lentils.  I overcooked them at first and they wound up way too mushy but once I got the hang of it I wished I didn't have to be so careful of running out.  I also used the dried beans and wild rice ... I mean in for a penny, in for a pound.  But I didn't go crazy.  In the back of my mind those supplies still belonged to someone else, I was just taking some pay out for guarding the women's other equipment they'd left behind.

The ducks had gotten used to me snatching eggs though that isn't to say they still didn't pinch the snot out of me if I wasn't fast enough.  I didn't get all of the eggs and sometimes there would be ducklings to play with when I had time but I stopped picking them up after getting pooped on once too often.  I mean that's just gross.  You know what's more gross?  When the ducks take their revenge and put a lot of poop and one place and the path down to the river gets slick and ... yeah, I think I'll leave off explaining right there.  Really doesn't take that much imagination to envision what came next.

Every couple of days I would have to deal with a puss brain or two but none of them were fresh and most of them had some kind of soft tissue damage to their eyes.  I'm surprised any made it as far as they did in the shape they were in because if I could hear them from a long way off the big predators surely must have.  Some looked like something had taken a swipe at them but it was hard to tell because of how fast they heal.  They were like marauding goats, grabbing at anything and everything as they stumbled along.  Sometimes I just let them go but only if they weren't in danger of contaminating my water source.  The pyre occasionally had to be cleaned out as it got too full of remains.

It was going on the end of July - at least I was pretty sure of the general time if not the specific date - when I saw a helicopter fly over three days in a row.  It had the Red Cross symbol on it and I started to get uneasy.  I had stuffed the women's gear down into the belly of the cart which I had hidden under leftover sapling branches.  On the third day I decided maybe I should take the gear out and haul it up to my treehouse for a while until I figured out what was going on.  Something also prompted me to fill up all of my water containers, the ones I kept in the tree and the ones that I had started to store in the partially finished dugout.  I moved them from the dugout and into the cart in place of the women's gear.  I doubled down on my foraging and stripped everything that was ripe within sight of camp and two days later was going even further afield to get some more mushrooms.

I have got to have like a trouble magnet or something.  There's no other real explanation for it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Part 142


Mom used to love this song called "It's All Coming Back to Me Now".  Beginning to feel that way myself.  Oh not the mushy stuff in the song but the title fits my life pretty well.  Being out here in the woods with nothing and no one around to distract me I've had a lot of memories coming back to me, most of them of good times of the family camping and stuff like that.  I guess I was trying too hard not to remember those things in the Northern Woods because I was too close to it but now that I'm in this place it isn't so bad to remember.  It isn't quite the same but some of it is ... well not really, I guess I'm just trying to find an excuse.  But it doesn't hurt, not right now.  And the memories are keeping me company.  It has been over a week and I haven't seen anyone since Mary left.

But it is ok because I'm thinking with just a little bit of effort I could make this a permanent camp.  I'm not going to that trouble yet but I could do it.  Toddie gave me the idea how, or at least Toddie's memory did.  He and his buddies used to get into all kinds of trouble.  Well maybe not trouble exactly although there was that as well, but they'd get up to stuff ... snares, catapults, forts, just boy stuff only they never outgrew it even when technically they were growing into men.  My brother was a tech mensa and way too smart, but he wasn't hooked on video games like most of the other guys as school were who weren't jocks or something like that.  He used to tell me stories of how the friends he made at university would do stuff like that too even when they probably should have been doing something more constructive like earning money to pay for tuition.

To give me something to do during the boring times I had to stay in camp to keep an eye on the food I am preserving, I took a good look around to see what I would do if I had to be here a long time.  And then it came to me, one of those "projects" that Toddie and his friends had talked about.  I don't even know why they were thinking of building a dugout, I think it was just to see if they could.  They started it but then the guy's mother where they were building it turned it into some kind of retention wall and landscaping project at their house.  What I would do here is near the trees where the ground starts to slope I would dig back into the hill to make three of my four walls.  I would face the walls with small saplings.  Then I would use more saplings to make a ceiling and on top of the ceiling I would put some dirt and sod after cutting out an escape hatch.  This would give me some camouflage but it would also keep things from coming through the ceiling - hopefully anyway - like rain or snow.  The front, or last wall, I would make out of rocks that I dig out of the river so that I could put a fireplace kind of thing there without having to worry about burning up my "cabin" walls ... and me right along with it.  The floor of the dugout would have to be dirt although I might could make some reed flooring using cattails.  Or right around the firepit I could use stones ... I just don't want to sleep on stones.

I figure I'd eventually wind up with something maybe a little bigger than the bunker I had at my old cabin but if I work it right it would have a place to cook which is something I never got around to in the other one.  I'd need to start it pretty soon if I wanted to finish it before snow flies around here but this isn't really all that bad of a place.  There is plenty of water, fish and other wildlife, and for now I'm able to live off the land without really having to use any of the military supplies I am guarding.

Most people might not believe me but hey, I got a deer.  Seriously, I got a deer and I didn't have to use a gun.  I nearly got myself skewered and I feel kinda bad for the poor deer but not bad enough not to kill it and eat it.  It was actually totally accidental.  Some big deer ... they weren't elk but they have a big ol' butt like elk have only these had white butts ... wandered through and started setting off all my man snares.  At first I was hacked, then I got scared when I almost got stampeded by these things practically big enough that I could ride them, and then after they all went bounding off really fast I turned around and saw that one deer had gotten tangled up by the legs and antlers in a place I had three snares spaced close together.  One snare missed but knocked the deer into the other two snares which caught it around the front parts.

The deer wasn't dead and boy was it hacked off.  I wound up having to use one of the spears I had made to try out spear fishing with so I wouldn't have to keep wading into the water and getting wet.  That thing slinging its head this way and that and then kicking out at me with its rear legs is how I almost got skewered ... uh yeah, kinda dangerous.  Not as bad as a bear but it could have still killed me just as dead.

It actually didn't take but a couple of minutes and I put the poor thing out of its misery and made it a non-danger to me but I gotta say that it is not the preferred way that I would ever want to hunt something that big.  And I still haven't reset all the snares the deer set off but mostly because I've been taking care of the deer meat.  I can't go too far from camp because I've been making jerky out of the deer, making a frame and stretching the deer hide, and in general trying to keep other animals from using my hard work to feed themselves with.

I need to figure out a better way to make racks to do the jerky on but for now I wound up just kinda making a giant "basket" over the fire out of whippy willow branches and then laying the meat strips over the "basket".  Next time I get a chance to salvage I need to find something I can make hooks with.  I sure miss some of the books I had to leave behind because I remember something about making hooks from branches but I can't quite remember how.  I've experimented a little but I'd rather have wire hooks like I made out of the hangers I found in that trailer.  I still have some of them but I use them to tie the cord to that I used to hold the tarp down on the cart's trailer.

In a way I feel like I am starting over.  I had to leave so much behind in the Northern Woods.  I gained things by becoming a contractor yes but if I do have to make this a more permanent camp I'm going to miss some of the things I had a whole lot.  And I guess, like one of those books I read pointed out, one of the biggest things I am going to miss is being able to trade with other people.

I am NOT going to hike for two or three days just to trade at some skanky ol' whorehouse.  I mean my gosh how nasty is that.  Yuck.  Not to mention it is probably not the best idea in the world for someone like me to walk into the middle of a place like that.  They could get the wrong idea no matter how much I try and set them straight.  Ew.  Makes me want to heave just thinking about it.

Mary could come back around I suppose but then again I can't count on that so I've started a list of things to trade for and beside each one I've put down whether it is a want or a need and whether I can make it or get it myself or do without or if I need some other supplies to make it myself.  I learned a lot of stuff from Jace and the people from Singing Waters but I wasn't exactly at my cabin during the best time of year.  I need experience harvesting and preserving in bounty as much as I needed the experience of doing the same thing when the weather is against me.  Both require a lot of work, each in their own way.

I keep finding myself in places where I've been able to resupply or have it fall into my lap.  In the city we salvaged as we needed it or found it and made hidden caches for when we had extra or for emergencies so we wouldn't have to carry everything all the time.  As I was leaving the city I found that stash of junk food that got me further down the road.  In my old town I got fed real food as a "guest" of sorts.  Then I ran into Jace and all that stuff he provided and the stuff we found along the way.  Even those nasty pickled turkey gizzards helped, just like the fruit cakes did.  At my cabin I found that stuff in the trailer and traded with other groups  so even though I was doing for myself I still had a little bit of fall back.  And even then, when I was just about down to my last of everything, Sarge left that pack full of cans for me and I also "earned" some food as pay.  After the hordes destroyed the lake area I was able to restock from what Singing Waters had been forced to leave behind and even still have some of it.  And then running into Lucy and the other women and MSgt. Shadwell and getting supplies that way.  There's always been something right before I got desperate.  But I can't keep counting on my guardian angel to go grocery shopping for me.

If the women do come back that will be a good thing.  I'm trying my best not to worry about them but I still catch myself wasting time doing it.  I'll keep on with Plan A.  But if they don't, I need to have a Plan B ... and a Plan C and D might be good to have as well.  Like Jace taught me ... I need to have a plan before I need a plan.


 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Part 141


Well, I know my man-sized snares work.  Not because I caught something else in the stupid thing but because I caught myself.  I actually didn't think it was going to work so I was testing it.  I am so glad that no one has to know about it until Judgment Day and by then they'll be more worried about their own stupidity getting found out than paying attention to mine.  Lucky for me this time stupid didn't hurt too badly.  Lucky too that I hadn't pulled the tree down any further than I did or for sure I probably would have wound up dancing in the air like a yoyo.  As it is I kinda think I know how those bungi cord rides used to feel.  I only wound up with one leg in the snare and balanced on my shoulders but it still wasn't the easiest thing to get down and I had to be super careful how I cut myself loose so I wouldn't waste the rope.

But at least I know that it works.  Whether it works on anything heavier than me I can't say for sure.  I'm going to reserve the snares to cover my back and sides and keep them off the main trail.  I am not even going to take the chance in one of the women stepping in one because if I live I'll never hear the end of it.

I'm really tired tonight but it is because I got a lot accomplished.  In addition to the snares I've got five pints of pickled fiddleheads and four pints of pickled cattail sprouts sitting wrapped in tea towels inside the hot dog cart.  I know they are good because I tasted what wouldn't fit into the jars.  I'd like to make more but I don't have any more jars.  I wonder if I can requisition some or maybe I should ask Sherry ... I mean Sher.  I've also got a bunch of cattail roots that should finish drying tomorrow.  I probably could have had them done tonight but I had to mess with the reflector oven some until I figured how close I could put them to the fire without cooking them.

I've tried real hard to keep my eyes open.  In the city I kept my eyes open for stuff we could salvage, especially salvageable stuff that could be eaten.  In the Northern Woods I learned to keep my eyes open for forage.  Out here I'm doing the same thing only the stuff I forage for is a little different ... at least some of it is.  The one thing that hasn't changed though is I need to keep my eyes open for things that want to eat me, including puss brains.

I wouldn't say this area is infested with infecteds, certainly not as bad as the city or anywhere near what you get from a horde, but they're still around.  I put down two today but let a third one go on its way since it seemed to have someplace to go in a hurry and wasn't bothering me or making a mess all over the place.  That's the way we did it in the city and I think it will work out here as well.  It does make me wonder what it was doing going so fast in a beeline but then again, I kinda don't want to know.  I've got enough on my plate without trying to figure that kind of stuff out.

But back to what I saw other than another bear, this one a small light brown one that seemed to have its own place to be in more of a hurry than I was comfortable with.  The bear skin rug was one of the things I really wished that I could have brought with me but there was just no way and it doesn't make any sense to try and make another one when I still wouldn't be able to haul it around.  Mary took the other bear skin but since her dogs had already been at it I didn't say anything.

Geez, obviously I'm more tired than I thought, I just can't seem to stay on topic tonight.  Anyway, I got a several hatfuls of morel mushrooms and they are already dried and in a plastic container in the cart.  There are other mushrooms but I don't recognize them so I'm not going to risk getting poisoned by trying them.  I know what porcini and puffball mushrooms look like and Marty - that cook for the trader convoy - said those are a big item in August so I wrote that down in my "field guide" that I am making.

I also found some wild garlic.  I thought it was wild onion at first until I got a good whiff of it.  Whew!  Dracula beware.  Found some burdock and I'm going to get some tomorrow to try and make Mom's recipe for glazed burdock.  Tried some lamb's quarter and some sheep sorrel today.  Yummy.  I especially like the lemony taste of the sheep sorrel.  It was puckerlicious.

This is a great area but if I want to really take advantage of foraging I'm going to have to start going a little further afield like I did in the Northern Woods.  I haven’t completely used up everything within sight of the camp but if I continue I'll have to start going too long between harvests of things.  There is a narrow place that I can cross the water and I'm going to try to check out what is on the other bank tomorrow.  And after that we will see.

Best part of today?  I had an omelet.  No seriously, I did.  Those ducks that I caught a couple of have nests along the bank of the river or creek or whatever that thing is called.  I got the peedoodle pinched out of my hand for swiping an egg out of a nest but it was worth the ouch.  One of those duck eggs equals about two chicken eggs.  Didn't taste bad either or maybe I was just so hungry for an egg of any type that I didn't notice.  Hard to say and to be honest I don't care.

I put chickweed in the omelet and some wild onion and if I had had some cheese I would have been in hog heaven.  That's what Dad used to say ... hog heaven.  Silly.

OK, I guess maybe it is ok to still cry every once in a while.  I don't want to do it much and I sure won't do it where anyone can see me but a few tears now and then might not be so awful.