Friday, December 12, 2014

Part 105


Been a while since I've written but there is nothing else to do on this stupid train but write.  I almost threw this old thing away but I worked too hard for it, risked my life and suffered a beating to have it, have depended on it too much ... one of these days I will probably toss it or use it for a fire starter but that time hasn't come yet.  And I've got to write all this junk down down just to get it from running in circles in my head.

Why?  Why do things have to happen the way they do?  Why is it always on my happiest days that life does this?  Z-Day on the day I was went to town with Mom and had Dad's permission to pick out my first real grown up party dress and to go to my first dance with one of my best friends ever.  Finally finding the guts to get something for myself - this notebook - only to start the horrible running, running, running that culminated in me being left by the group.  Reaching town and "home" only to find out "home" didn't exist for me anymore.  Finally getting close to Singing Waters only to have Sunny die and Jace commit suicide.  And then that day.

Sure, of course the puss brains are part of it but I've gotten to the point where they are like my ratty old, hand-me-down-through-a-gazillion-people bedroom furniture used to be ... they're there, no matter how much I wish something was different it isn't, so I've learned to live with it and make the best of it I can.  The puss brains are what threw Cochran and I together that day, just like they brought us together in the first place.  And whereever he is now, I hope he knows that the only regret I have is we couldn't be friends longer.

It isn't like I didn't know things would come to an end.  Everything in life comes to an end, some sooner and some later.  What I did was make the mistake in thinking that I had more of the later this time rather than the sooner.  From here on out I'm not gonna count on anything staying solid for long.  If they do I guess that will be good but counting on them being there and then them not being there ... no, uh uh, don't want that pain any longer.  I shoulda just kept these stupid emotions completely buried instead of trying to pull them back out and deal with them.  They are going back in storage and if I'm lucky that is where they will stay.

I went back over the last couple of pages I had written and the last sentence was pretty prophetic.  I didn't mean it to be and maybe I should have just kept things shut up but I didn't and I didn't even bother knocking on wood to keep them from coming true.  Stupid is as stupid does.

After Lee left I knew I needed to get a move on.  It might have been kinda early in the day - we had been stuck in the bunker all night - but the weather felt strange and I figured another storm was on the way.  Water was the first need and I took care of it in three trips, filling every container I had from the bucket fulls I hauled.  I might have been able to do it in two trips but I preferred to have one hand free just in case.  I had both the gun and my bat.

After the water I did a quick circuit of my trap line.  Each one was empty; even the basket I had beneath a small waterfall that emptied into the lake to catch fish.  But this was no ordinary bad hunting day.  The traps were all torn to pieces and so was what had been in them.  I felt bad for about two seconds about the animals but I knew they would have been dead before the puss brains got to them.  That bothered me and made me extremely cautious.  It also made me mad but I didn't have time to let it out, I needed to get back and bring in some wood.

I tell you, my wood pile was a total mess.  It was spread from the cabin to the tree line and out to the road and down a ways.  I grabbed what I could but had to leave a lot that had been fouled by the puss brains.  In fact the entire clearing the cabin sat in was foul.  I'd noticed it when I went to get water but had been trying to ignore it.  To make this much mess I knew there had to have been a lot of puss brains and that sucked away what little joy I had left.

Then I heard that carpalicious noise again only it seemed to be coming from all over.  It wasn't exactly the same noise though, but it was close enough that I knew what it had to be.  I looked in every direction trying to find where it was coming from and then I got smart and looked up.  Some kind of little plane or helicopter was flying above the trees coming out of the east, actually more than one.  I knew for a fact that Sarge and his people were southwest of the lake.  I didn't like it, I didn't like it one bit.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Part 104


"Wake up."

I didn't want to.  I was warm and it was dark and for once I felt safe, so I just didn't want to wake up.  When my head was rudely knocked off my pillow however I left my dream world and shot awake like the time I'd found that Toddie had put a grass snake in my bed.  I even jumped so bad I cracked my head on something.

"Owth!"

"Huh?!" I said scrabbling for the wind up lamp.  I almost started to panic when I couldn't find it.  I must have leaned over and fallen asleep on Cochran's shoulder and when I woke up nothing was where I thought I left it.

"Eathy.  I thithn't mean thoo sthcare you," he said as he turned the lamp on.

I blinked, momentarily blinded, then saw blood on his chin.  "What happened?!"

"Relaxth.  You jutht made me bithe my thongue."

"Oh geez," I moaned.  How stupid could I get.  "I'm so sorry," I added trying to wipe it away.  Then I remembered the puss brains and thought of the blood.

It must have showed on my face because he said, "Relax already.  See, getting back to normal.  If the worst I have to deal with is a sore tongue then it is all good."

"I don't know whether to feel better or like a bigger idiot.  I usually don't sleep so hard.  What did you need?  Are ... are they getting in?"

"No but I heard something.  The first time I thought I was imagining it.  Next time it sounded like something fell off the roof.  The infecteds have made some pretty weird noises after each time the noise came but I don't hear them anymore, just the noise.  Listen, it comes about every couple of minutes."

Less than a minute later I heard the weirdest sound I have ever heard.  It was made up of both highs and lows pitched horn sounds and then there was a really bass part in it that I could almost feel in my teeth.  It was a sound that made me itch.

"What is that?" I asked scratching the back of my neck.

"I think it is a third generation sound box.  They were working on it, something that really got the attention of the infecteds and called to them."

"Fine but I gotta say their taste in music is horrible.  Geez, I'm glad I don't have my braces anymore or who knows what I would hear.  The feedback in my fillings is bad enough."

He nodded then said, "If we hear it this well down here in the ground can you imagine what it must sound like outside?  Or closer to the box?"

"Eh?  I can't hear you Sonny.  I'm going a little deaf I'm afraid."

"Smart aleck."

We both agreed to open the hatch and see what the damage was and I was surprised and happy to find that nothing had gotten in but I did have a problem.

"Oh jollies.  Now how am I supposed to fix that?  I haven't even gotten the door fixed yet."

Cochran and I looked at the spots of light on the floor that shouldn't have been there.  The spots were a result of small beams of sunlight coming through where a few wooden roof tiles had obviously been ripped off.  They hadn't gotten through the plywood but it was bad enough.

Fifteen minutes later, right as we were going to try and go out to see what had become of the puss brains Cochran's radio crackled and it was some guy in a patrol vehicle parked outside.  We opened the door and exited.  They smiled and clapped Cochran on the back like they were glad to see him.

Bottom line he had to go.  I could see he was torn and he pulled me away to tell me so.  "This cabin is getting less and less secure.  Are you really sure about not moving in with that Singing Water bunch?"

"I'm positive.  I'll get it figured out.  I've just been trying to build up my supplies before the horde got here but ..."

"Yeah."  Then he turned so the guys in the truck couldn't see his mouth and whispered.  "Don't say anything about having to put those down."

"Why?"

"Because both of us could get into some real trouble.  Those docs have friends that not even the Major can fight all the time.  They call it murder and assume you're guilty until you can prove your innocence and that takes a while.  By the time your trial date comes up you might miss it because you've been shipped off shore to an old oil rig for forced labor or something ... to repay your debt for murder.  You pay is for reparations of the victim's family in the future when they're found."

I shook my head and just knew my Dad would have a few things to say about that.  Sure he was a cop but the thing he hadn't more than crooks was dirty cops and dirty lawyers and judges.  And he wasn't afraid of who knew it.  I looked back to where the bodies had been but only saw ... uh ... scraps.  I shook my head.  "That's not normal.  They'll bite and fight other puss brains but they don't usually eat their own, not even if they are fresh dead."

"You're right.  I'll report it.  Now ... just ... just stay in your cabin until someone can get back to give you the all clear."

"I can't and you know it.  I've got to get more wood in from the wood pile and I need to refill the water barrel."

"DeeDee ..."

I put my hand on his arm and told him, "I've lived with this stuff for a long time.  I'll be fine."

He was going to say something else but the driver of the truck called, "Gotta roll man!  Sgt. Cromer called to give us the coordinates of another pick up and it'll be dark soon."

He left.  He didn't want to.  I didn't want him to.  But he left.  That's the thing ... everyone leaves eventually, but not always because they want to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Part 103


We did what we were given no choice to do.  Using the gun bothers me in a way using the bat hasn't.  I'm not saying that killing doesn't bother me because it does.  I just mean the gun feels so ... so impersonal.  There is a distance to it that makes me feel somehow that I've cheated, that my life wasn't as in danger as I imagined it to be.  The bat ... now that is as personal and close up as you can get.

When I mentioned that to Cochran he said, "You're crazy.  A gun is a tool the same way that bat is a tool.  A screwdriver is a tool the same way a hammer is.  The point is to use the proper tool at the proper time.  Using that bat when there was a gun would have been foolish.  I may have some issues with killing infecteds but even I know that you can take this touchy feely guilty wilty stuff too far."

I snorted.  "Touchy feely guilty wilty?"

"Hey, if you can use demented pro-creating dust bunnies to illustrate a point I can say ... what I said.  DeeDee, get in the cabin.  Now."

I turned to look where he was looking and wished I hadn't.  "C'mon ..." I said heading for the cabin.

"I'm going to lead them off."

"Oh no you're not," I said grabbing the back of his coat and pulling.  "You are not leaving me with the guilty-wilties.  Now c'mon."

We were inside the cabin and barring the door in no time flat and started sliding heavy stuff in front of it for bracing.  "C'mon," I repeated.

"Huh?"

I was already sliding my trap door out of the way.  "Help me throw a few things down here in case we have to be here a while."

He looked down into my bunker and then at me.  I knew exactly what he was thinking and told him, "We won't close the hatch unless they start pushing the furniture out of the way.  Now c'mon and help.  I hadn't gotten this far in my plans and I'm ..."

I stopped and found that I was shaking.  That got Cochran moving.  "DeeDee?"

"I forget.  Every time.  I can't believe it but I do.  I get used to things being sorta normal.  Then along comes the puss brain train and I've got to warm myself up to surviving all over again.  I'm ... I'm scared one of these days I just won't have enough left to care.  That I ..."

I found myself getting a hard shake.  "No more of that.  What did you want to put down in there?"

"Huh?"

Then we both jumped a mile when there was a sudden bang on the side of the cabin.

"That wasn't a fist," Cochran muttered.

"I think this group has adapted to using sticks or something."

"Wonderful.  Just what we need.  Smart zombies."

Automatically I said, "They aren't zombies.  They were never dead and if they get dead they don't wake up."  Looking around I tried to start by carrying my food coolers over.  "I dug a trench to set these in."

It took a few minutes but the most basic stuff was quickly down in the bunker and then we got down there too.  It was pretty roomy for me but Cochran would have gotten a crick in his neck if he hadn't sat down.  "You did all this?" he asked.

"Yeah.  When I found out that those crazy docs were going to be sending wave after wave of puss brains my direction.  I thought about a treehouse but I decided I wouldn't want to be in one during a storm and I don't have enough nails to put together a good one anyway.  So a hole in the ground had to work.  You gave me the idea you know."

"I did?  When?"

"When you saved me.  You dug us a shelter."

He shook his head.  "I used a cedar tree and some snow to build a shelter ... I didn't do anything like this."

"Well, you still gave me the idea.  I know it needs reinforcing in places but at least it is better than nothing.  I don't think they'll get in the cabin but I feel safer.  Do you?"

"I'm trying not to worry about it DeeDee."  There was more banging against the cabin.  "I'm wondering if they can dig under the cabin to reach us."

"Nope."

He asked, "You're that sure?"

"Yep.  The rock walls of the foundation are cemented in place and have those concrete thingamabobs ... they are like steel sticks ... that go through the floor joists and sink into the ground spaced about ever eight to ten inches.  I think they did it when the USFS renovated this place to make it weather tight and straighten the walls and foundation so they wouldn't slip.  Dad did something similar when one of our basement walls tried to cave in and take the house foundation with it."

"Some of those infecteds could wiggle through a ten inch space if they do it crawling sideways."

"And that's why you see I built my own extra walls with all these rocks and mud dobbing."  At his skeptical look I said, "I know it isn't perfect but I'm working on it ok?"

"What you really need is some kind of wire or steel mesh ... maybe  metal fencing.  It would need good supports but I've seen where some militia units have done something like this at their checkpoints."

There was a crash and I said, "I guess I don't have a porch railing any more."

"Probably not," Cochran agreed.

Then we heard some scrabbling on the roof.  We looked at each and silently agreed that it was time to pull the hatch closed and secure it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Part 102


"Don't ... move," Cochran mouthed quietly while slowly trying to edge in front of me.

I wanted to say no kidding and to tell him to stop moving because he was going to get in the way of my bat, but I didn't dare.  A dozen puss brains were sniffing around the cabin.  The recognized human habitation and they could probably smell that it was recent but they didn't these apparently didn't have enough problem solving skills left in them to really attack the cabin to get what was in side.  Good thing I make a habit of completely closing and locking things down when I'm not there.  I've even figured out how to chain the door in place.  The only thing I hadn't done was bring in my laundry.

One of them had one of the socks I had hung to dry and was trying to eat it.  I knew exactly which one it was too.  I had dropped a can on my foot right on the end of my toe and split the nail back to the quick last night.  I didn't realize it had been bleeding until I took my boots off to go to sleep.  I changed socks and then rinsed the dirty ones this morning and laid them over the porch rail to dry.  Since the puss brain only seemed interested in that one sock (they were that fake stretchy nylon stuff) rather than the others it could only be that they smelled the blood.

The puss brains were moving slow but they shouldn't have been moving at all ... it was freaking 29 degrees in direct sunlight according to the thermometer nailed to the side of the front door.  Freezing is 32 degrees and that's when puss brains fall into a stupor.  What we were seeing we should not have been seeing.

Cochran edged us back into the tree line and we dropped down.  Despite the cold I could see sweat forming in the dark peach fuzz that made up his mustache.

I whispered, "This is wrong ... this is ... this ..."

"Adaptation," he muttered while bringing up his rifle.

"Adapt what?"

"Adaptation.  The scientists - the ones you call the dimwit docs - were all excited during a briefing the other day.  Apparently a small handful of infecteds are not as affected by the cold as originally thought.  They called it adaptation, saying it was mankind's most basic and important trait and what sets us apart from most animals.  They considered it further proof that the infecteds could eventually be rehabilitated in some way."

I thought about the run in that Jace, Sammy, and I had with the puss brains that wound up killing her ... and Jace in a round about way.  Using tools, putting on extra clothes, using strategy ... that must have been adaptation too.  And I wasn't sure that it was going to be as good a thing as the docs thought it was.  It sure as heck wasn't changing their basic biology and making them less violent.

Cochran whispered in my ear, "I've got to warn Base about this.  The leading edge of the next horde is supposed to still be two days away from arriving."

"Maybe these are locals," I whispered bac,.

"Uh uh.  See their clothes?  See those neon orange splotches?  They've been using paint balls to tag the infecteds to see how many free range infecteds get attracted to the ones that are being herded along."

I didn't make a sound but the look on my face must have said what I was thinking because Cochran nodded, "I know.  It sounds obscene but that's the way it is so I have to deal with it.  Hold my rifle so I can call the Major.  Watch the trigger, it's sensitive."

In no time he was connected and there was an unnecessary amount of noise coming out of his handset.  Gwen was saying, "We know!  We've got them here too.  Apparently a private contracting firm thought they could add their horde to the one we were waiting on and kill two birds with one stone.  All they did was !@#$ things up by disturbing the horde hiearchy.  The Major says if you can't get back here to bunker down and keep your ears open and follow the guideliness unless directly threatened with imminent infection.  He's trying to get word to the civilian camps to warn them.  We're hoping the drop in temperatures tonight will be sufficient to take them down.  We are due another cold front that should drop it into the teens during the day tomorrow or the next day.  Stay safe."

He moved back in front of me and took the rifle after securing his radio.  "You heard?"

"Oh yeah.  Right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing and vice versa."

"Not quite.  I mean yeah but this time it isn't the military's fault.  The people supporting the docs' plans let the cat out of the bag saying it was working before we are really proof positive that it will.  Lots of private contractors have been hired to do the same thing only that's moving stuff too fast.  It is too many to process and even if we can gather them up here there are not enough facilities to ship them to yet.  It was supposed to take two or three years to execute the plan completely but everyone is trying to jam up and be first to clear their area.  They want them gone, they don't think about how to make that happen or that it won't happen  without them doing their part in their area and using some patience."

We both stopped as one of the puss brains slowly turned in our direction.  He made some kind of guttural noise and then screamed and began to lope in our direction.  He was slow compared to what most puss brains could move but he was fast enough.  Cochran and I both shot at the same time.  Per usual my shot was low and caught the infected in the chest; Cochran's was a head shot and had he been any slower my foul up would have lost him the shot completely.

Instead of running away the rest of the puss brains turned to see what the noise was about and somehow got a whiff of us and started heading our way in a slow but steady pace.

"Aw Carp," I said through gritted teeth.

"That's not the half of it.  Let's get this over with and we'll do what we have to."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Part 101


A voice from behind me on the path had me spinning around.  "Sgt. Bryers sends his regards."

"Cochran!"

He smiled at my surprise and welcome.  "You hurting for company or something?"

I turned my nose up and said, "Maybe.  And who is Sgt. Bryers?"

"The guy you were working with that day you came to the work detail."  He started walking with me back towards the cabin.  I'd been down the forestry road looking for the remains of the dogs and the men.  It has been bothering me that neither got proper burials.

"Oh, ok.  I knew I didn't recognize him from any of the lake camps.  He seemed all right, just quiet."

"Yeah.  He lost his family when a refugee camp got overrun.  Their remains were never located so ..."

"So ... he has to wonder where they are."

"Yeah," he admitted quietly.

"Sometimes I wonder about my brother and mother.  I try not to but if I try too hard all it will do is cause a nightmare.  So I try to balance it out by admitting that they could be out there but that it is also likely that they aren't ... at least not anymore."  Not wanting to start that up I asked, "How did you find me anyway?"

"My grandfather loved to hunt and he taught me to track when I was little.  He said I was a natural."  I could hear the pride in his voice.  "You're small and light so your tracks aren't the easiest to follow when you aren't walking in snow or mud but now that I know the directions you travel I can usually pick out a fresh trail."

"Geez, I'm not an animal."

Startled he said, "I don't mean it that way."

I smiled to let him know I was just kidding and he relaxed in relief.  I asked him, "How has the work detail thing been going?"

"All the quotas were met and surpassed.  Yesterday was the last one until the horde gets here."  We were almost to the cabin, walking in companionable silence, when he asked me, "Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Why didn't you come back?  Was it the work or the people or ... or what?"

I sighed.  "Being around that many people was kind of strange but when it started to bother me I just ignored them.  My Mom used to love this old musical and one of the lines in it was 'peoples is peoples'.  She said it alot and I never knew what she meant but I think I'm beginning to.  As for the work ... it was just work."  I shrugged.  "Yeah, maybe it was the work.  But not because it was too hard or anything.  I just ... I just don't want those kinds of memories running around and making babies with the memories I already have.  I've got enough demented dust bunnies trying to crawl out of my ears and escape."

He gave me a strange look.  "The way you put things ... memories making babies and demented dust bunnies."

"Sorry.  I'm just kind of ... visual I guess."

"No, it's ok.  I guess it is how you cope.  It just makes me want to laugh only I'm not sure if I should."

I shrugged again and then banged into him with my shoulder.  "It's ok to laugh.  Just don't start laughing if you think you won't be able to stop.  People kind of give you strange looks for that and threaten medication, straight jackets and stuff."

He smiled and shook his head.  "I've already been there.  I think I'll stick with you demented dust bunny visualization techniques.  It makes me feel better than the crap they tried to spoon into me before."

I tripped and he grabbed me to keep me from falling.  He asked, "You ok?"

"Yeah but ... I guess my mouth really is an unlicensed weapon.  I didn't mean to bring up that bad stuff for you."

He shook his head.  "You didn't.  It's always in the back of my head.  Not paying any attention to it is just as bad as paying too much attention.  Kinda like you wondering about your family.  I gotta remind myself not to get hung up in a thought loop."  He looked at me and said, "That time during the storm, that's the worst I've been in a long time.  Mostly I let some of the guys I had to bunk with get to me and I started cycling but right now I don't feel it."  He sighed.  "The Major and everyone else keeps waiting for me to go bonkers again but for some reason I don't.  I think knowing that there is someone out there that really does understand helps me not to feel so ... so disconnected."

"Me?  You mean me?"

"Yeah you.  Who else?  Even if you do have hang ups about rabbits."

"Not rabbits ... dust bunnies ... evil, procreating dust bunnies."

We reached the clearing where the cabin was on a smile but then stopped in shock.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Part 100


I need a bath.  My body needs a bath and so does my brain.  My eyes I would like to take out and soak in bleach for a while.  My ears ... I won't even go over what they need.

Oh be careful little eyes what you see
Oh be careful little ears what you hear
Oh be careful little mouth what you say

Yeah, my mouth could probably use some soap too.  The heck with it, I'm taking a bath even if I freeze to death.


--------


Rats!  I got water drops on this notebook.  Serves me right thinking that I could actually take an honest to goodness bath.  It's freezing outside but I just couldn't stand how bad I smelled.  It has been coming on for a while but after today .... GAG!  Washing your pits, hot spots, and feet just is not enough.  No way, no how.  How the old time pioneers could stand it is beyond me.  Maybe their noses were broken or something.  But I can't imagine the man and wife could stand ... never mind, I am not even going there.  I'm pretty sure I don't want to know.

I am so totally glad there was no one around with a camera.  I emptied out one of the largest plastic tubs that I use for storing stuff in, set it in front of the fireplace on some plastic sheeting, and filled it with water as hot as I could stand it.  I haven't been totally undressed since Dr. Riccardo's uber invasive inspection.  Even though I had the door blocked and both the inside and outside shutters locked and bolted I still caught myself looking over my shoulder.  I must have looked like a complete spazz.

Geez did I scrub.  I'm probably ten pounds lighter just getting all the dead skin and dirt off my body ... you add all the oil and nasty carp that came out of my hair and that's probably closer to twenty.  I know I feel lighter.  I was freezing my backside off by the time I finished but I do feel better.  All I've done is drag the tub over to the corner of the room.  I'll empty it tomorrow.  No way am I going outside until my hair is completely dry.  I might have joked about being willing to freeze to death so I could have a bath but I don't want to die of pneumonia, that's a hard way to go.

It was a good thing I had mostly clean clothes to get dressed in afterwards because I sure didn't want to put on any of that dirty stuff I took off.  Peee-you.  I'm wrapped up in the fur blanket while my hair dries.  I also trimmed my toe nails.  I tell you, I was just plain gross; like a little Sasquatch.  And don't laugh but I tried to trim the hair on my legs when my scissors but it only made it look worse.  Then I tried to tweeze a few hairs out at a time and that was like Chinese water torture.  So hairy legs and pits it is.  It isn't like there is anyone around to see anyway.

I'm letting the clothes I took off soak in the tub of water.  It is going to be a mess tomorrow but hey, it is better than letting them walk around the cabin all on their own.  And it isn't that my clothes are really as nasty as some people at the work detail got theirs, but really ... they are disgusting after having to wear them so many times without washing.

I've been around too many puss brains for too long not to have come prepared for some grossness at the work detail.  I made a poncho for myself out of a torn tarp and I took my waders too.  Made all the difference in the world to be able to wash them off and hang them to dry.  I also had a pair of those dishwashing gloves to go over my regular gloves.  I got a few hostile looks for being prepared but I wasn't the only one to tie a cloth across my face.

I only saw Cochran a few minutes as he was working with Sarge.  He was the one that handed me my detail assignment.  He also whispered that he had to be careful not to show favoritism at all.  I could understand that but it doesn't mean that I would think he was playing favorites if he waved or anything but I guess other people might.  Jamie and Shane kept their distance too and that was perfectly fine.  I suppose I'll make myself get over being mad at them but it will be take some work.

I got stuck in the only group with women in it.  And when I say stuck I mean stuck.  Geez, they were all older than me but they acted like such ... never mind.  I'm just cranky because they treated me like I smelled, which I did of course but by the end of the day so did they.  I suppose I also freaked them out because I just wanted to get things done and over with so if a puss brain needed to be moved I moved him or her.  I always took the head part because they acted like the puss brains were gonna bite them or something but how the heck is a dead puss brain supposed to bite?

See it worked like this ... the scientists were already tagging the puss brains.  Black plastic tape meant they were dead and needed to be carted off to the pyre.  Red plastic tape meant they weren't dead and needed to be hauled off to the shipping containers so that they could be taken away.  The full shipping containers got taken away to a convoy that was carting them to a rail line and once loaded onto a flatbed railcar they were transported out west.  The only thing we had to do was put them in one of the two places "for disposal" - pyre or metal shipping container.  Not what you would call rocket science.

But it was totally gross ... I mean totally, totally gross.  Some of the dead ones were ... ugh ... never mind.  Forget it.

Eventually the women just wouldn't have much to do with me and this guy started helping.  He had a skid that we'd load up a couple of bodies on, use bungie cords to hold in place, and then pull to the pyre.  It was after they got the pyre going (finally) that things got wiggy.  The docs being not nearly as smart as they thought they were weren't always right with their black tape/red tape designation.  The fire heated the stack of puss brains up and it turns out some of them aren't near as completely dead as the docs thought.

What a lot of squawking and running around.  I don't know who made worse noise, the people that had agreed to the work detail when they found out that some of the puss brains were a little on the lively side once they were warmed up or the docs when a few of us decided to do things properly and destroy the brain or heart before placing the bodies of the puss brains on the pyre.

Sarge had to get involved in that one.  I started talking - to no one in particular really - and said, "It just isn't right.  Uninfected people get embalmed and get taken care of that way.  I don't understand why the scientists aren't allowing us to put these poor people to rest like we should.  Everyone knows you make sure the brain or heart is destroyed so that they can't feel any pain."

Now about half the people there bought that hook, line, and sinker even though it wasn't really logical which tells me that there are more crazy people in the world than even I have suspected.  Another group of them grumbled at having to do one more thing to get their pay for the day.  But a small group of them got it and joined in to pressure the scientists to "do the right thing by those poor people."

Sarge gave me an irritated look then shook his head as the scientists used agreeing to cover up for the fact that they had goofed.  He later sent Gwen out to tell me to stop meddling because he knew that is exactly what I had been doing.  I told her, "Of course I was.  My feet are cold and I don't want to have to stand around and wait all day for those weirdos to make up their minds.  The sooner we get moving the sooner we all get to go home."

"That's ... that's callous," she said.

I shrugged and tried not to take it personally.  "Not callous, realistic.  Those scientists cannot or will not admit that they are making mistakes.  That pyre is warming the puss brains up.  Those that are dead won't feel it .. those that aren't will.  Lively puss brains will make work more dangerous than I'm pretty sure anyone wants it to get.  And they may be puss brains but they are still people.  Better to ... to show them some mercy before they go into the fire than have to watch them die a pain-filled real death in it.  These infected bodies don't belong to zombies ... they belong to people.  Even a puss brain deserves some compassion and mercy."

I couldn't tell if she understood what I was saying or not.  When she walked away the man that I had been working with let me know he'd been listening by nodding and saying, "Where ever my wife and kids are, I hope when they meet their end its as merciful as one that you would give them."

We didn't talk much for the rest of the day but we parted with understanding.  I got some strange looks and the women avoided me all together.  Oh well, you can't be friends with everyone.

I was smart enough to bring an empty pack with me and I loaded the stuff from the box I was handed into it and handed the box back to the guy that had given it to me and signed my name where he told me to.  It had been a long day and I was depressed.  I thought I had seen a lot in the city but what I've seen today has added a layer of ugliness to certain memories that I really didn't want or need.  And I'm not going back tomorrow.  A box of food just isn't worth the extra ration of nightmares.

Part 99


"Not who but what?"

"Huh?"

"Got an axe?  I'll chop some of this down."

"That's not your job," I told him.  What Mr. Owen had said was stuck in my head and I started to worry about whether Cochran was the same way as Jamie and Shane.

"Hey, I'm not those other guys."

I jerked my head up and it was like he had read my mind.  I wanted to run and hide.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

He shook his head.  "Oh yes you do.  But I won't say anything else because you look like you are going to either run away or ask me to leave.  I just don't want you to think I came over here for that reason.  And I didn't bring the lunch for that reason either.  And I'm not going to chop this limb up because of that reason.  And I won't expect anything in return."  He walked passed me and into the cabin and came back out with the axe that I kept on a nail by the door.

Before he could start chopping I asked, "Then why are you here?"

He looked right at me and then away into the woods like he was seeing something he didn't like.  "Because ... because you understand.  Not even the Major understands the way you do."

"You mean about the puss brains?"

"Yeah.  If I could just think about them like they were monsters it wouldn't be so hard to live with what I had to do."

I went to stand near him but not too close and I leaned against the cabin.  "People are so strange.  Most of them mean well but they think meaning well is all they need for a good enough reason.  They never seem to be able - or maybe want - to see how meaning well isn't enough and doesn't justify the things they say and do.  I know Sarge means well, but he is stuck doing a job that if he doesn't do it then someone with less commonsense would make a mess doing.  I'm pretty sure that Dr. Riccardo meant well though look where that got her.  For all I know even those dimwit docs mean well.  But Mom always said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  People need to stop trying to fix the puss brains and just let them die or suffer the same kind of consequences the rest of us would if we went around trying to eat people and tear up the world."

"Is that why you don't have a problem killing them?"

"Who said I didn't have a problem killing?  I do.  And I know one of these days I'll probably get called on the carpet for it somehow.  But that doesn't stop me from doing what I've got to do here on earth cause I only do it when the puss brains don't leave me any other choice.  I say we leave them alone to live so long as they don't try and hurt anyone else ... the human race shouldn't be a twenty-four hour buffet for puss brains.  On the other hand, I don't think we should be scooping them up and sending them to some puss brain dude ranch out west either.  Letting them starve sounds cruel but in the end it is crueler to do what the docs want to do."

He nodded but still look troubled so I gave him a glimpse of the part I hated most.  Quietly I told him, "It is the kid puss brains that are always the hardest for me."  Then I told him what happened with Jace's cousins.  "There is just something so wrong with it that ... that ..."

He came over and leaned against the cabin beside me.  "I knew alot of them," he said.  "And somehow I think they knew me too.  I could see it in their eyes ... something was still home in there, of the person they used to be, but it was all warped."

I nodded.  "When people turn it hurts; them and us that know them.  I've seen it.  They get so confused ... angry.  They lose focus, their priorities change, and they get hungry.  Some realize they are sick but most don't ... or they don't want to know and care.  Even those that do, most of them are too busy blaming other people for them being sick to do the right thing.  The hunger takes over too fast.  First they are just hungry like they aren't getting enough.  Then it is like they are somehow entitled to food more than other people or entitled to other people's food.  Then they are just hungry and they don't give a rip about anything else ... just give it to them.  Beyond that their mind is completely gone and I don't know what they are thinking or if they are even thinking at all."

"You've been that close to that many people who have gotten infected?"

I nodded.  "I don't recommend it.  It can twist you up really bad in the head.  I've seen uninfected people get just as crazy as a puss brain though without the virus to make them that way.  There was one group in the city ..."  I shuddered.  "They got this weird religion going, only it wasn't really a religion they just ... I don't know.  It was like they felt guilty about the puss brains or something.  They used to catch people - people that they thought weren't being fair or had it too good - and they'd ... they'd ..."

"They'd what?"

"Feed them to the puss brains.  Sometimes slowly, a bit at a time, and sometimes all at once."

"Geez," he said in disgust.

"Yeah."  I shook myself to get rid of the pictures I had in my head and added, "Then you had people that were on the other end.  Some hated the puss brains so much that they'd do anything and everything they could when they got the chance, really sadistic carp."  I looked at him out of the corner of my eye but he didn't say anything about my phrasing.  "Most of the rest of us were someplace between the two ends.  Some felt helpless.  Some were angry.  Some were ... just all sorts of people feeling all sorts of things."

After a quiet moment Cochran said, "I'm not those other guys.  Maybe if things were different I might want to be but I'm active duty.  I don't know where I'll be tomorrow.  And I've got ... got things I need to work out.  I'd rather just leave it at I want to be here because you understand than have to ... to think about it any other way and know that tomorrow I might have to move out and ... life just happen."

Carefully I said, "Wellllll ... I ... I might like it from you when I don't like that stuff from anyone else.  But I think I like it more that you've thought about being my friend before you are anything else."  Then I clunked my head against the cabin.  "That made absolutely no sense.  You must think I'm totally stupid."

He wasn't grinning when he said, "No.  I don't think you are stupid.  And ... and I'm glad that if things were different I might stand a chance.  But things aren't different and we both need to remember that.  We can be friends but ..."

"But anything else isn't the best idea."

He nodded.  I nodded.  The quiet was getting uncomfortable then he said, "Be real still and look off to the left of the trail back to the creek."

In awe I asked, "What is it?  That's not a deer."

He answered, "Elk.  Big one.  That's what we felt watching us ... or at least I'm pretty sure it is.  He has a harem deeper into the woods but he's been watching this open space for a long time.  I think he wants to come out and graze but isn't sure it is safe."

"Aw.  If we start chopping wood we'll scare him off."

That snapped Cochran out of his mood.  "That's his business.  Making sure you have enough wood is more important than admiring his rack and if they weren't so scrawny I'd shoot you one of them so you'd have fresh meat."

"Scrawny?  Look at him.  I can't believe he can actually get through the woods without getting tangled up."

Cochran started bringing down the ax and the bull elk turned tail and trotted back into the tree line.  "Yeah scrawny," he said.  "The bull still has some meat on him but the harem's condition says that it has been a really rough season."

"Maybe they came here to find food.  They are the first elk I've seen around here.  I know they are around in the national forest but I've never seen them in person."

"Maybe the horde pushed them out of their previous habitat."

"Maybe," I agreed.  "But ... please don't tell anyone.  I don't want people up here trying to hunt them."

"Bambi lover," Cochran said with a snort.

I shook my head.  "No.  My own skin lover.  I walk around in these woods all the time and don't have to worry about loopy hunters that shoot at anything that moves.  I don't want to have to start now.  I'm sure people are nervy enough thinking a horde is coming."

Cochran said, "A horde is coming.  The leading edge should be here within the week according to reports but maybe sooner than that if this warm weather holds."

We both smirked at the idea of what we were in being warm weather but it was true.

The rest of the day was ... nice.  No pressure.  Friend kind of stuff.  Another canvas truck - a patrol - came by and gave Cocran a lift when he was ready to head back.  This meant I didn't have to think about him missing dinner or roll call.  I spent the hour after he left doing a little more digging on my bunker but I kinda lost interest in it, plus I ripped a nail back which really hurt.

I fixed a little cattail hash, finished rolling and storing the squirrel sausage that I showed Cochran how to make, messed around a little with the rest of the cattail roots to preserve them, then sat and wrote in this notebook with one of my pencil stubs.  I told Cochran I wasn't sure I would go to the work detail tomorrow or not.  The idea of getting more food is tempting all right but what I will have to do to get it isn't.  Hunting up puss brains and stacking them for shipping or disposal is not my idea of a good time.  But, unless I change my mind between now and then I guess I might as well.  Maybe the elk will come while I'm gone and get a good meal in.  Wish all I needed to do was graze to get the food I need to survive.

Part 98


"Who is that young man?" Mr. Owen said in a way that reminded me of the Sheriff a bit.

"Cochran.  He's my friend."

"Friend?  Do you think it appropriate to have a young man here while you are alone?"

I had to try real hard to not roll my eyes.  "Jamie and Shane are here all the time and no one has said anything."

I opened the door and could have kicked myself when Mr. Owen said, "As to that, I had my reservations about that practice from the beginning.  When Uncle Joseph was well enough to supervise it was not a problem but apparently it has become one."

"Not because I wanted one or encouraged it," I snapped.  "I can't believe those two would think I was some stupid bone to fight over.  For one thing Jamie already has a ... a ... a thing or whatever you want to call it.  And for another the only reason ... and I mean the only reason ... that Shane wants a ... a thing ... is because he doesn't have one.  It has nothing to do with me at all ... he just wants what he sees the other guys have.  He all but admitted it when he didn't come around after I told him to go take a flying leap if that was the kind of friendship he and Jamie were after ... or if he was only around to make sure that Jamie didn't get more than his fair share."

I was getting really wound up and angry again.  Stupid I know but apparently Mr. Owen accepted it for what it was ... honest, righteous indignation.  "Well, as to that, boys will be boys.  You didn't have to encourage it because you didn't discourage it."

I made a face.  "I shouldn't have to always assume that guys that act like my friends are after ... you know ... other stuff.  I thought I left all those weirdos behind in the city.  I mean Jamie and Shane didn't, you know, do the weird stuff but the goal is the same."

"In a word, yes, you need to always wonder.  You may not intentionally encourage them but men have needs and sometimes these needs overreach their commonsense and upbringing."

That was so outrageously unfair I nearly screamed with frustration.  He sensed it and smiled gently - or gently for him anyway.  I imagine he probably thought he was speaking to me the way a father would which only made me itch to kick something even more.  Dad would have never said that I was the one that had all the thinking and behaving to do, more than once I heard him tell Toddie that it was his responsibility as a man to behave properly regardless of the signals he thought the girl was giving off.  And that if he didn't he was going to kick his butt from there to Tulsa.

"Deandra Dawn, I know that it isn't something you intentionally caused or encouraged.  I've been concerned at how suprisingly unworldly you are considering what you've been through.  However, because it doesn't seem that you can see the problem - regardless of your innocence - I'm being forced to put my foot down and intervene."

I knew what that meant.  "You don't want Jamie or Shane to come around anymore."

He sighed regretfully.  "No.  I don't.  I would have preferred some other course of action but after finding out that they let the situation become such a problem between them that they failed to complete the job I gave them - which was to let everyone know about the work detail - I don't feel I have any other choice.  You'll probably see Adam and Isaiah from time to time, at least until Uncle Joseph is well enough to chaperone once again, but until then I think it best if the boys keep their distance."

"Well they can just continue to keep their distance after Mr. Svenson starts coming around too.  It was just plain wrong for them to act like my friend when they really weren't.  How am I supposed to trust them anyway?  None of you Misters ever treated my family like that." He opened his mouth to speak but I kept right on going.  "I know you think I'm a kid.  I know you think I don't know much.  And maybe you're right about it kinda sorta.  But what I know, I know.  I know I'm not your family.  I know it was probably stupid to come up here with all my dreams.  I know that you were just protecting your family - and are this time too - when you turned me away at the gate.  But I also know you made the decision to help me even though technically you had no reason to.  I know you've looked after me, maybe more than I know, despite not being family.  I thought Jamie and Shane were like you and Mr. Svenson.  I know that was stupid but it is what I thought.  I also know I don't want to stop being friends with you and Mr. Svenson and the rest of the Misters just because Jamie and Shane were stupid and ... and weird."

He suprised me by patting my shoulder.  "We're all still friends here and like you I want to keep it that way.  I suppose that you've forgotten that Jamie and Todd were like two peas in a pod ... there was a reason for that that hasn't changed much despite the times.  I expected a little more maturity out of Shane but as you say, he misses what he thinks some of the other men have.  Both of them are at that stage of manhood when the way they feel sometimes overshoots their commonsense.  And you being a pretty thing that isn't near as fragile as the females they are used to dealing with ... well it has caused them to forget that you deserve the same respect they would expect for their sisters.  I aim to make sure they realize the error of their ways."

The way he said it made my face get hot.  I also almost felt sorry for James and Shane.  Mr. Owen isn't exactly a lightweight when it comes to the authority department and handing out consequences.  But what he said next made my face get even hotter.  "Now about that young man ... Cochran ... I've heard both good things and ... concerning things ... about him.  Nevertheless I have seen he is a hardworker and I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.  However, I want you to keep in mind that just like with Jamie and Shane, you need to ... to be ... hmmm ..."

"Don't lead him on?"

Mr. Owen nodded.  "Whether you mean to or not.  Now I'm dropping this.  It's stirring up my acid reflux.  Normally I leave my wife to handle the girls.  Less gray hair that way."

He was grinning so I grinned back or at least gave him a small one.  I didn't have to agree with everything he said not to understand he meant well.

He left after telling me that there was another work detail scheduled for the next day and where the meet up was to be.  Not too coincidentally Cochran came back dragging the limb right as Mr. Owen headed off down the forestry road.

After he'd gotten the limb all the way to the door he said, "Know why we felt someone watching us."

"Who was it?"

Part 97


"Uh ..."

I asked him, "Uh what?"

"Be right back."

I thought he was having a moment until I saw him heading for the outhouse real fast.  Guys.  I just don't get them.  I used to have to listen to Toddie and his friends say crude things like how they needed to "water the trees" but here Cochran was not even able to say where he was going.  I swear they have to be from another planet or something.  More than half the time guys make absolutely no sense ... and when they do I usually want them to go back to making no sense.

He'd handed me the bag so I carried it in and hung it from a nail near the stove and was debating on whether to take the fort apart when Cochran came back.

"What are you looking at?" he asked when I just stood there staring.

"You want to eat at the table or in front of the fire?"

"Like we did before ... in front of the fire."  He looked around.  "Didn't you open it?"

"Open what?"

He looked at me like he was questioning my sanity and said, "The bag ... you know ... the B-A-G."

"Of course not, it's yours."

"Aren't you curious what's in it?"

"If I wasn't do you think I'd be trying to figure out what to do that will keep me from looking stupid and telling you to open it like right now?"

That made him grin.  He took the bag off the hook and handed it to me.  "Go ahead.  Open it."

I started to then stopped.  Remembering some of Toddie's stunts I had to ask, "Nothing is going to jump out is it?"

He laughed.  "No."

I undid the tie and then opened the bag.  What I saw almost made me drop it.  I looked up at him and asked, "Is it real?"

"Of course it's real.  Here, I've got a knife that will slice it."

"Where did you get it?" I asked, my mouth watering so much spit almost dribbled out when I talked.

"When we were passing through Wisconsin the Major did a salvage operation on a dairy processing plant that the refugees and Infecteds both missed.  It had a cheese factory attached to it and a shed full of smoked meat too.  The docs tried to claim it all but the Major put a stop to it ... and he wouldn't let them ship it back to their bigwig friends either.  All the troops get a ration at the beginning of the week of both some kind of hard cheese and some kind of sausage.  We got some extra this time because ... well because of the same reason there is canned food to use for barter.  I just thought you might like to have some."

As much as I wanted a taste of that cheese I tried to do the right thing and say, "I can't take this from you.  This is yours ... part of your pay kinda."

He shaved off a thin slice of the bright orange stuff and handed it to me.  "That's right, it's mine ... to share with whomever I want to and I want to share it with you.  There's crackers too though they are probably broken ... they usually are ... but crumbs are still good."

Cheese, sausage, and crackers.  Wow.  I haven't had anything like that in a long time.  That stuff went away really fast in the city once the electricity went out.  It was so good I almost cried but I didn't.  I don't want Cochran to think I'm a wuss.  Bad enough that I turn into a girl everytime he comes around.  Not that I mind being a girl 'cause I don't of course.  I just mean that I wind up acting stupid for reasons I do not want to think about.

We were finished eating and Cochran had just asked me if I needed help with anything when a big fist banged on the door making us both jump.  Before I could even decide what to do Cochran was standing in front of me and had his rifle up.

"If you shoot me I am going to be highly pissed."

Upset I shouted through the door, "Then you shouldn't bang on the door like you're a buffalo or something."

"A-OK Major?" Cochran called out.

"Permission to stand down granted."

I rolled my eyes.  "Please tell me you don't talk like that all the time."

After we moved the dresser and let Sarge in he grinned.  "It does sound a little out of place but think of it like code.  Someone could have a gun to my head and if Cochran had disarmed before I gave him the all-clear we'd all be in a world of hurt."

That's when I looked and realized someone was with him.  When I got a look at his face I asked, "Mr. Owen?  Is something wrong with Mr. Svenson?"

That softened him and he shook his head.  "He's getting better and sends his regards."

I was so relieved I sagged.  "Oh.  I ... I thought ..."  I shook my head and tried to play it off.  "Well so long as he is ok.  What can I do for you?"

That's when Mr. Owen looks at Sarge and I get suspicious.  And after another minute I turn and give the squinty eye to Cochran.  "Were you really using the outhouse or were you blathering my business?"

"Blathering?" Cochran snorted completely unrepentent.  "What kind of word is blathering?"

I crossed my arms and then he added insult to injury by saying, "Get you bottom lip off the floor DeeDee.  The miscommunication needs to be figured out so that someone doesn't get their feelings hurt."

"Now you listen here ..."

"No you listen.  If word gets around that you got left out ... got left out on purpose ... people from the other camps might start wondering if they're gonna get left out of the loop on purpose.  That is the kind of thing that starts big trouble and big trouble we do not need with another horde expected within the week."

Sarge stepped in and said, "Enough.  It seems that it was a legitimate miscommunication.  Owen here had delegated the task to three different people to run the information to the other camps.  I believe him when he says it wasn't intentional that DeeDee was passed over.  Each of the three thought the other had stopped here."

I wasn't done being mad at Cochran.  "Did I say my feelings were hurt?  Did I?"

"You didn't have to.  I could see you were upset when you found out.  And its not like you can't use the food as much as the rest of them."

If he had been shorter and I taller we would have been nose to nose ready for a real argument.

"Didn't I say that was enough?"  Sarge's tone let us both know that he'd reach his tolerance level.  He turned to me and said, "I'm just making sure that I can tell anyone that asks that we've cleared the air with all parties and that it was just a minor understanding that has been dealt with."

Mr. Owen turns to Sarge and offers to shake his hand and Sarge reaches out with a smile on his face.  "Owen, since I've got to head back the same way would you like a ride back?"

"Actually Lock, I'd like a word with DeeDee here."

I had to know, "Who's Lock?"

"I am Squirt."

"Lock Wat ... son."  It clicked and I started grinning.

"You watch that mouth.  My sainted mother was a librarian before she and Dad married.  If you think my name is bad you should hear my sisters'.  All of them are named after the sappiest romance writers ... my oldest sister is name Clare Darcy Watson, next one down is Barbara Cartland Watson and it only gets worse from there."

I tried not to laugh, I really did ... but Sarge ... my Sarge ... is named Sherlock Watson.  No wonder he told me to always call him Sarge.  And I thought I had a name problem.  I wonder what his father thought of his children's names.

Sarge just shook his head at my struggle not to laugh out loud, grinned, and then turned to leave.  "You coming Cochran?"

"I was going to help DeeDee get some wood or whatever else she needed help with."

He gave Cochran a look somewhere between fatherly and Majorly and told him, "You know head count is at eighteen hundred hours."

Cochran stood straight and said, "Yes sir."

Sarge nodded and said, "Very good."  Then he went out to one of those canvas trucks and the driver took him back to his base camp.

Cochran looked at me and said, "I'll go bring that branch back that we moved off the trail to the creek."

I nodded, realizing he was giving Mr. Owen time to say his piece.

Part 96

Had a visit today from both Sarge and Mr. Owen, but only after Cochran hiked over for a visit and to ask me why I hadn't come.

"Come where?" I asked him looking at the muddy mess the melting of the deep snow had left around my cabin.

"To the work detail.  Is your brain frozen?"

I gave him a look to let him know that while he might have said it kiddingly, I was in no mood to play.  "What work detail?"

He looked at me with a scowl and said, "You didn't know ... didn't get the message."

I shrugged.  "Obviously not I guess."  I debated and then asked him, "Can you tell me while we walk to the creek or are you busy?"

"Creek is fine.  It's my day off."  Shaking his head he said, "I don't get it, they said they'd pass the info on to everyone and a lot of people from the different camps showed up."

"Who's they?" I asked as we walked along trying to avoid the worst of the mud on the trail.

He took the plastic pail I was carrying from me and then pushed a leafless branch out of my way before answering.  "That Singing Waters crew.  They said they would pass the word around about the work detail.  We got the go ahead from HQ to barter up to three days per week per person for food or hygiene junk."

I stopped suddenly and then started back up just as quickly trying to look nonchalant but he still noticed.  In a serious voice he asked, "What's up?  I thought you were supposed to go live with them but then I heard you didn't.  They didn't act like it was a problem."

I shrugged.  "I don't know.  Their business.  Just drop it."

"Uh uh."  When I didn't stop he did and then grabbed my arm.  "C'mon DeeDee.  Let's get this cleared up before the Major has to get involved."

That made me think.  "I don't want him involved.  It's nobody's business."

"They kinda made it the Major's business when they told him they'd pass the info to everyone ... you are part of that everyone.  If they intentionally are holding back it will cause problems that we don't need."

"What's this 'we' business?"

We started walking again though a little slower.  "You know what I mean.  Us.  Active duty personnel.  We have the food that would have gone to the men who have died or AWOL'd and the Major is using it to pay the barter.  He could have given double rations to the enlisted crew but he didn't.  We aren't hurting ... we get fed ... but no one is getting fat.  There was a little grumbling when it was announced that the food was going to the purpose it is."

Concerned I asked, "Is Sarge in trouble?"

"No, but he isn't exactly making friends either.  The men have put up with it because it means a lighter workload for us but if something hinky is going on ..."

I stopped him right there by saying, "I don't know if anything hinky is going on."

We had reached the creek and I pulled on the rubber fishing pants that I use so I don't get soaked digging in the creek.  That didn't mean I didn't feel the cold when I stepped in the water.

"Geez that doesn't get any warmer no matter how many times I do it."

Cochran asked, "Want me to do it?"

I looked at him in surprise then smiled and shook my head.  "No, it's ok.  Besides these things would probably only go up to your knees and you would get soaked."

He smiled back and shrugged in agreement.  "OK, but toss me the roots and I'll put them in the bucket for you."

It didn't take long to get a rythmn down so we kept talking.  He started by saying, "I could see it on your face you know.  You may not know for sure there's a problem but you've got reason to think there might be."

Trying to push the subject off I told him, "I'll deal with it."

"Uh uh.  I already told you."

I tossed him a couple of roots and said, "Cochran, it's ... it's just stupid stuff."

"Having friends not act like friends isn't just 'stupid stuff' these days.  And you looked like your feelings were hurt."

"Don't."

"Don't what?"

"Just don't.  Feelings are bad."

"No they're not."  Then he stopped and really looked at me.  "Did you ... did you like one of those guys that were hanging around?  Did they ... you know ..."

I snapped, "Oh don't you start too."

He blinked then asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that guys are just ... just weird and ... and stupid.  I thought you were different ... so don't prove me wrong."  But I'd already started to get mad again and before I could stop myself I told him, "You think they're your friends and then you find out that the only reason they've been coming back is because you're like a bone they've been fighting over ... only you didn't know what was going on ... but then suddenly you do and you tell them if they are going to be that way they don't need to come around any more.  And they don't."  I brushed some hair off my forehead and got even more irritated when I felt a cold glob of mud take the hair's place.  "I thought I told you not to bring up any of this touchy feely carp."

A surprised laugh came out of him and he asked, "Carp?  Did you just say touchy-feely carp?"

I stomped my foot even though I was standing in the water.  I almost kicked the water at him too.  "Are you making fun of the way I talk?"

"Uh ... no ... no I ..."  He tried to stop snickering.  "Can't you just say crap like a normal person?  Even my grandmother said it."

"Well I'm not your grandmother am I?  My Dad would have a fit if he knew I said some of the things I say, the least I can do is try not to swear and make it worse."

He shook his head but got serious again.  "So those guys hurt your feelings."

"I told you ..."

"I know.  You don't have feelings.  You're super girl or something."  I threw an extra muddy cattail root at him.  It didn't faze him.  "That's not going to work.  I've got three older sisters that are a whole lot meaner than you'll ever be.  Now fess up.  What happened?"

I explained what had happened after he and Sarge had left then came up out of the creek and asked him, "Do you think I was being too much of a girl?"

He was thoughtful and said, "Uh, I'm not sure.  Maybe you misunderstood and maybe you didn't.  Have you talked to your old dude friend ... Mr. Svenson?"

I shook my head.  "No.  I haven't seen anyone since that day until you.  Besides, Mr. Svenson is sick or something like that and shouldn't be out in this weather."

He let it go and he helped me take all the roots back to the cabin.  I'm glad, that bucket was very full and very heavy.  In exhange I offered to fix us something to eat but he shook his head.  "Actually I brought something this time."  He reached into his back and pulled out a drawstring bag.  "Let's take it inside in case someone is watching.  The back of my neck is itching."  I'd had the same feeling so didn't tell him how crazy it sounded.

Part 95


Haven't seen anyone in three days.  Don't care.  Would have been nice to have heard from someone but really, I don't care.  I've had more than enough to do and it was nice to get things done without interruptions.

Snow has started to melt from around the cabin and it is causing me all sorts of trouble.  The heat from the cabin, even if it is next to nothing in amount, has been just enough to create an ice cave so that there is about a foot of space between the packed snow and the walls.  The ice that has formed around the "cave" is very brittle and breaks with little to no effort.  It has made it hard - even dangerous - to climb out through the tunnel.  It is still horribly cold but down here it sounds like it is dripping rain all the time.  I decided to stay inside after  I fell into a deep air pocket in a drift and was a real popsicle by the time I was able to dig myself out.  Staying in is definitely safer.  It has also given me time to work on my puss brain bunker.

With my luck things will go just as hairy as they did last time a horde came through.  The cabin door still isn't back on its hinges and when the snow goes away that's going to be more of a security problem than it already is.  Even if I get it back up the puss brains could just bang it down again.  The last thing I wanted to have to do that night was fight against so many of them at one time.  I won't do it again unless I absolutely have to.  The odds are too high against me.  So I've decided I need a safe place I can run to ... a bunker.

Anywhere Inside the cabin is pretty useless - hiding under the bed is stupid too - but the root cellar idea is pretty good, or at least I think so.  I've already made a trap door and walls for my "freezer."  What I've been doing is expanding that space.  I moved the walls out a bit and I'm using the foundation supports to brace the new walls against so they won't topple over and bury me.  I need to collect more rock but there is actually a pretty good selection to start with under the cabin.  I guess they put it there to keep animals from burrowing into the crawl space.  The frozen ground was a challenge to dig until I remembered something that I had read in a history textbook one time about some ancient people building a fire right on the ground to thaw it and make it softer and easy to scoop out.

I have to be careful not to build the fire too high or I'll catch the floor of the cabin on fire.  And I have to be careful about the smoke or I hack and cough like I'm about to lose a lung.  But it works.  And what dirt I dig out I have been turning into mud and using to rechink the cabin walls on the inside.  The outside is going to have to wait until there is less run off from the melting ice and snow.  I tried and the chinking just gets washed away.  The space I've managed to dig is now big enough for me to stand up in with the trap door closed but only if I crick my neck over.  The deepest part of the hole comes to just above my waist and then the crawl space is the rest of it. No way could Cochran use it unless he beant himself up like a pretzel.  I've still got a lot of work to do but even if I never use it for bunker it will still make a great root cellar.

I wonder what Cochran is doing.  Sarge probably keeps him pretty busy so he doesn't have time to dwell on his nightmares or whatever it is he is going through.  That's what I do to keep my nightmares in their place ... stay busy.

Speaking of Sarge I guess I never did record what was up with the pack.  To put it bluntly Sarge is a stinker and I wish I knew more stinkers just like him.  Dad would have liked him I think.  They aren't alike exactly but they aren't that different either.  Mom and Dad both probably blessed him from where they are at in Heaven if they saw what he did for me.  I just hope he doesn't get in trouble for it.

When I came down the tunnel after telling Shane off I tried to move the pack and nearly fell on my face.  I think I did pull something because my shoulder was sore all yesterday.  And Sarge had set it down like it didn't weigh anything.  He must be really strong.  As I opened the pack up I almost expected a practical joke or something but instead all I see are cans.  Yeah, that's what I said, cans.  All shapes, all sizes - except those ginormous ones like they used in the school cafeteria - and some of them don't even have lables but have what is supposed to be in there written with some kind of black marker.  There were so many cans I didn't have room for them in my cooler storage so I have them in a foot locker set near the fireplace so they won't freeze and burst.

Those cans take a load off my mind.  Ever since I did that inventory of food I've been wondering how I was going to survive until spring greens start sprouting.  Soon enough I won't be able to hunt because of baby animals being born and needing to be taken care of.  If all the animals get hunted then there won't be any babies to grow up and get hunted next season.  There's still fish ... unless the puss brains contaminate things.  And that includes drinking water sources and all the other things in the water to eat like the mussels and frogs.  Even my cattails could get contaminated which will be a huge problem for me since I depend on them so much for carbs to keep me going.

Even a pack full of cans will only go so far and if that is all I eat it won't go far at all.  That's why I'm going to bed early even though I'm going to have a hard time sleeping.  I want to get up really early in the morning, before the sun is up and the snow and ice start dripping again, and try and get out to the creek and see what I can find.  I am out of cattail roots and my fresh meat is all gone as well.  I also used the last of the cattail starch to make "crackers" to eat with the can of tomato soup I picked out for supper tonight.

I know everything comes to an end eventually ... even people ... and I know worrying about it won't change or fix that problem.  I just wish it wouldn't happen so often and hurt so much when it did.

Part 94


Not like it?  Yeah you could say that.  But I've spent too much of my life dealing with the consequences of things that were beyond my control; what was going to happen was just more of the same.  Was, not might.  Since it was, I might as well accept it.

"Fine.  Whatever.  But I swear if one tries to chomp on me I will do whatever I have to.  I'm gonna die one of these days but I don't want it to be because I became someone's snack cake."

Sarge and Cochran both scowled when I added, "And you can tell those loopy scientists that if they don't like it they can go ice fishing during the Spring thaw.  There is no way this ends well.  I bet some camps are demanding you evacuate them to someplace the puss brains aren't."

Sarge nodded.  "You know these people well.  Gwen has already had to deal with three delegations this morning demanding just that.  You think your friends from Singing Waters camp will do the same?"

"Them?  No.  They are tied here by generations.  I don't know what they'll do but it won't be a demand for evacuation."  In fact it worried me a little that I didn't know for sure what they would do.  I told them both, "You just be careful when you deal with them.  I like them.  They are good people.  But they aren't people that you fool with.  They can be ... hard.  Not mean but ... but hard.  Family is everything to them."

Cochran said somehow knowingly, "And you aren't family."

I looked at him and shrugged. "Not really.  Right after the horde they made noise about me coming to live with them but they were buried under a bunch of emotion having just lost one of the Misters - one of the brothers I mean.  Mr. Joe was kinda a bad boy but he was still family and ... well ... I'm not sure how they are going to take it."

Sarge said, "Understood."  He got off the floor and said, "I hate to break up the party but we gotta go."  I watched them both go to the door and then saw that Sarge had left his pack.

"Hey Sarge, you forgot something."

He looked back and then made an exaggerated act of looking around.  "I don't see anything.  You see anything Cochran?"

Cochran for his part picked up on it fast.  "Huh?  I don't see nothing.  DeeDee, you must be snow blind.  Go lay down and get some rest before you get really sick or something."

With that they left and I followed them slowly out after pulling my hood up and putting my mittens on.  I came up just in time to see them pull away ... but just barely because there was a big stack of wood sitting right by the tunnel's exit.

They didn't look back and I didn't wave.  But I did watch until I couldn't see them anymore.  I crawled all the way out of the hole and sat on the wood.  Things were awful quiet when the last of the sound of the motor disappeared.  Too quiet.

I raised my voiceand said, "OK ... Jamie, Shane, or whoever.  That's enough.  Do I look stupid or something?"

Shane came out of the bushes and called, "Or something."  He finished walking over and sat beside me.  "You ok?"

"Yeah, why shouldn't I be?"

"I don't know ... you look kind of bummed out."

I shrugged.  "Been a long, rough couple of days."

Shane scowled. "Did that guy ... bother you?"

"Which one?  Cochran?  No ... he actually saved my life.  I got treed by some feral dogs right as that last storm hit.  I was up a tree with only a tarp between me and the wind and had kinda ... Anyway, he got me down and got us in a snow shelter.  We just dug ourselves out yesterday and barely got back here before we crashed and burned."

He looked at me and then snorted.  "That's more words all strung together than we can usually pull out of you with both hands and a stick and prompting you every third word."

"Maybe I'm just tired of your prompting," I told him with a little snap to my voice.  Then, "What's the big idea of hiding out instead of coming out and saying something?"

"Don't know if we can trust that Major or not.  Lot of military activity around you all of a sudden."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means if you're going to come live with us ..."

"Who said I was?"

"Wellllll ... the family decided."

I was not in the mood for this.  "Shane, I appreciate what your family is offering but no way am I going to be part of asking that kind of sacrifice from them.  What was true in the beginning - where I live here and you all just keep an eye on me - is the way it is now and is gonna stay.  I like your family alot but I'm not one of you and I'd always feel it."

"But Dad and the Uncles said ..."

"And what they said can be unsaid.  I appreciate what they are offering but you've lost men ... you don't need another girl to worry about."

He looked at me and shook his head.  "You know, Aunt Ava of all people said you'd be this way."

"What way?"

"This way.  Stubborn.  She said you'd had too much freedom and that you wouldn't want to give it up to come live under our rules."

I just looked at him.  "Your rules or your rule?" I asked quietly.

It took him a few seconds to puzzle out what I'd said.  "Is that really the way you feel?"

"I'm not sure."  I sighed and then because I didn't want bad blood I tried to explain.  "Mrs. Svenson is kinda right and kinda not.  It's not rules that I have trouble with.  I can follow rules.  I've had to or I wouldn't have had a group to belong to in the city.  I didn't run away from there because of the rules.  Having rules makes sense even if you just make rules for yourself."

"Then what?"

"It's when people ... look ... rules are important but I don't want to get beat up with the rules to force me to change and ... and ... conform I guess ... just to fit someone else's idea of what I'm supposed to be."  I turned to look at him.  "Shane, how would you like it if I said that you had to come live with me in this cabin and even though I know you've got boatloads of commonsense that you had to live my way and my way only just because I didn't think you'd recently had the ... the structure and boundaries that I think you should have had.  That I think you worry way too much about not having a girl of your own, that you aren't allowed to hang out with Jamie because you two argue too much, and that your family's religion isn't my religion so you were going to have to change and do it my way."

He opened his mouth and then closed it as what I'd said started getting passed his instinct to tell me to stuff it.  "Is that the way you see us?"

"Not exactly because I know you all are good people and you'd only do those things because you want to ... to protect me and stuff.  But ... but all that I've been through Shane ... and I'm not going to go into it all because I'm just not going to ... has made me a person that is different from the kind of people you and your family are.  You still have each other.  You have family.  I don't Shane.  It doesn't mean that I'm mad that you do and I don't; it's just the facts.  I can understand why those men in your camp got to the point of being ... being growly. They weren't family and they knew it and they felt it.  You made sure they felt it to keep them in their place, not because you are bad people because you aren't but because family comes first no matter what.  They felt excluded.  I felt that when I first got here ... excluded.  I've dealt with it because I've had my own place and my own space.  It would be a lot harder to deal with if I lived in the camp."

"You make us sound ... I don't know ..."

"No, that's not what I mean.  It's right that family comes first ... whether it is your family or whatever.  Family comes first.  I don't have any problem with that.  And I don't have any problem with being excluded.  I just don't want a dose of it every time I turn around.  Put yourself in my shoes."

"I can't.  I don't understand.  Do you want to be alone?  Maybe for the rest of your life?  And maybe a short life at that?  Another horde - maybe more - is going to be thrown at us."

"I ... I don't want to be alone forever.  But living with you all ... it would make me feel alone ... more alone than I do right now when I really am alone most of the time.  Because I would feel that I was different ... left out.  You aren't mean people, you wouldn't want me to feel that way, but I would.  I like you and your family.  A lot.  I always have.  You guys are like ... like a connection to ... to my parents."

"But?"

"But you can't be my parents.  And that is what the Misters and their wives would want to be for me."  I bit the inside of my cheek and added, "I think I'm beyond that.  I need friends.  I have them.  I need people I can work with and learn from.  I have that too.  But I don't need anyone to be parents to me.  I had that and then I didn't and I had to learn to live without it.  It's been too long.  No matter how much your family is trying to be nice, they are trying to force something on me that I'm too far gone from.  I ... I just don't think I can ... can conform the way your family would need me to so that I didn't cause problems.  And in the end it would mess things up.  I don't want things to get messed up Shane."

Quietly he asked, "What ... what if ..."

I knew what he was trying to say and stopped him before we both got embarrassed.  "I'm not ready for what if.  I might not ever be ready for what if.  It doesn't matter how nice the guy is.  I'm sixteen.  Just like I'm not in a place to take on new parents, I'm not in a place that I can ... can ... deal with what if.  I think I might wish I could but I can't.  I've still got a lot to figure out and one of those things is how to survive the rest of this winter.  Beyond that, I just don't have a lot left to work with."

"What about Jamie?"

"What about Jamie?" I asked a little confused.

"You know he ... he thinks about you alot."

I shook my head.  "Well he doesn't have any business thinking about me.  He's already in a ... in a 'what if' and he should be dealing with that what if before he starts trying to find any more of it."

"So even though you won't go with me, you won't go with him either?"

I sighed, stood up and gave him a hard stare.  "Is this all your friendship has been?  A competition?  'Cause if it has you can leave and neither one of you need to come back again."

I grabbed some wood and tossed it down the tunnel and then started climbing down after it.  He tried to stop me but I shook him off.  I didn't come back up until I was sure he was gone.  I was mad.  Still am but not as mad as I was.  This getting back in touch with your emotions carp is for the birds.  You can't just pick and choose what you feel ... like you can't only feel the good things.  Oh no, you gotta feel it all, the good and the bad and that really, really, really sucks.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Part 93


In the end his reaction was so funny it kind of cancelled all of the angsty carp I was feeling that was making me queasy.  See it was weird having him so close and practically on top of me but I wasn't freaking out so bad that I was going to give up the warmth of the fireplace so I just sat there and wrote in this notebook.  Actually it wasn't bad which is weird but anyway ... then he wakes up.  I had warned him he needed to watch his feet and head but I guess he forgot.

"What the ... ?!" I yelped in surprise as I started to tumble backwards.

His arm was around my waist and when he had started to roll over he didn't let go and kinda took me with him.  Well when I yelled he yelled in more surprise because he'd only been half way awake and then tried to sit up only we were already tangled and he forgot where he was.  First he banged his head so hard on the card table that it started to fall over.  I grabbed it but it was too late and too over balanced and even if I had been able to stop the table, I couldn't stop the chairs from falling over even though they had the coolers in the seats because the card table falling had jerked all the covers too much.

Poor Cochran was in a panic because he couldn't figure out what was going on and all I could do was laugh because it reminded me of the time that Dad had come home late but forgotten that Toddie was having a bunch of his friends over to watch a marathon of horror movies.  Dad walked in and didn't take two steps inside the dark house before he starts tripping over boys.  They start yelping and eventually Dad goes down and squashes a couple of them pretty good and they're all howling thinking one of the monsters from the movies is after them.  Mom comes running from upstairs and I come running and get blinded as she turns on the light.  It was a sea of blankets, pillows, and teenage boys and Dad practically riding the waves.  Mom starts laughing and I start laughing because she is laughing.  It took us forever to untangle everything and for Mom and Dad to get the boys calmed back down especially after one of them started to have an asthma attack.

Trying to calm Cochran and get untangled was about like that and when we finally managed to get our heads out from under the covers all I could do was keep laughing because the look on his face was exactly like Toddie and his friends.

Finally Cochran wakes up enough and notices the mess that he'd made.  Card table and chairs flipped, covers every which way, cans rolling all over the place and then me laughing like a loon.

"Uh ... whoops?" he said like he wouldn't mind finding a hole and crawling in.

All I can do is keep laughing and finally he starts laughing and that must have gone on for another five minutes.

Finally we catch our breath and he asks, "What the heck are we laughing about?"

"Beats me but it feels ... I don't know ... good.  I haven't ... not like this ... in a long, long time."

He gives me a strange look but he's still smiling.  "So is that a good thing?" he asked.

"I guess.  Either that or I've finally lost it.  Either way is fine with me.  All I know is that I'm not picking up this mess by myself no matter how funny it is."

So we got up and straightened things up.  We never said anything about the other stuff.  He did say, "I need to go check the weather and try and call in."

"OK.  I suppose I can figure some food but don't expect anything fancy."

He turned and looked at me before he crawled out of the hole and nodded although I thought he was going to say something at first.  He'd taken his flashlight with him and the fireplace didn't give off much light so I had to crank the wind up lamp so I could look at what I had.  It was cattail hash using some of the last of my fresh/frozen roots and a little bit of squirrel sausage I had to dig out of the "freezer" I had cobbled together in the beginnings of my root cellar.  It was just a cooler filled with ice I had chipped out of the creek and then hidden under a "trap door" in the floor.  I had collected big rocks to build "walls" around the cooler and a couple of really big ones to sit on the lid to keep the animals out of it and so far it was working.

I was three quarters of the way finished cooking when I wondered where Cochran was.  I was about to turn around when I heard him coming back down.

"And here I thought you two would be starving popsicles in need of rescuing.  Instead it smells like a damn diner in here."

"Sarge!"

I jumped up and ran and gave him a hug and he looked surprised for a moment before laughing and hugging me back.  "Watcha cooking Kid?"

"Squirrel sausage hash."

I was thinking about how to make enough to share when he told me, "Stop thinking so hard, you're gonna smoke us out.  I've already eaten and so have the men that came with me.  Just feed Long Tall Sally here so I can return to base without him fainting of hunger."

Cochran scowled until I handed him his share and then he was too busy eating.  I was hungry too but I don't like eating in front of people that aren't doing the same thing.  Sarge parked himself in front of the fireplace with us and started shooting questions like we were his soldiers and he expected a report.  I guess Cochran was but I wasn't so I let him do the talking.

Sarge turned to me and asked, "What the Sam Hill did you get so far from the cabin for?"

I shrugged and said, "I don't need the lecture.  I already got the lesson instead."

"Humph.  You gonna need to watch that mouth one of these days."

"I watch it all the time and it serves me well."

I was coming close to the line of his tolerance and I knew it but I just wanted him focused on something besides looking for a reason for me being out in the woods.

He decided to be generous and said, "Well, at least you were prepared for an emergency and had a way to escape those dogs.  We had a report this morning that a patrol found some chewed on remains and a couple of the camps in this area have admitted to losing people and animals to the dogs.

I nodded.  "Yeah.  Singing Water keeps their numbers on this side of the lake down when possible.  But that's not the first time the dogs have bothered me.  Jamie and Shane can tell you about it."

Cochran asked, "Those are the guys you were trying to save?"

"When?  Oh you mean the other day?  Yeah.  They are about the only ones I can stand to have around.  All the other men eventually start acting like jerks.  Jamie and Shane are just annoying in the same way Toddie could get."

"Your brother?" he asked.

"Yeah, you know ... bossy, know it all, teaching me things but never letting me forget they had to teach me, that sort of thing."

He leaned back and burped making me wrinkle my nose.  "Gross."

"Then you shouldn't cook so good.  It makes me eat too fast."

"Yeaaahhhhh.  Blame me because you're disgusting."

Cochran just grinned and Sarge looked between the two of us and then he grinned too.  But then he sighed.  "Sorry you two but Cochran you need to head out with me.  We're badly short handed for what the docs want to do.  We lost an entire guard shack of men during the first storm and then too many of the idiots that went AWOL.  We're still finding them ... or what's left after the animals have gotten to them."

"Will the docs get in trouble for ... uh ... inciting or whatever you call it?" I asked letting him know that I at least had a little understanding of what had happened.

"Yeah ... at least from the military side of things.  From the civilian side ... not as much as they should.  People are too desperate to find a solution to the massive number of infecteds.  They'll put up with some losses if in the long run the solution is effective.  Now what about you?"

I didn't have a clue what he meant.  "What about me what?"

"I've been authorized to barter with locals for some work hours.  The age limit is sixteen - which you say you are."

I already had more work than I could handle but you never say no until you find out what you might be saying no to.  "What would I be doing and how many hours are we talking?"

"We are collecting the frozen infecteds and those that are in suspended animation are going to be transported out west to the rehabilitation facilities that are being set up out there and the ... uh ... dead ones are going to be cremated.  We don't have long to get a handle on this.  Another horde is being driven in this direction and pretty soon we are going to have more bodies than we can safely deal with."

I nearly dropped my bowl, "Another horde?!"

"Easy DeeDee.  I don't like it any better than you do but the powers that be have decided.  If you think you got it bad you should listen to what is coming out of those small communities out west that are going to be near the rehabilitation centers."