Monday, July 21, 2014

Part 6



They starved them!  They starved the puss brains!  That's why I haven't seen a bunch of live ones.  They pulled back, stripped everything as they went, and then somehow funneled the puss brains toward the river and back towards the city where a lot of them came from in the first place. That is so totally freaky!

I know what happened because I came to a wall ... a concrete block wall made up of those big things they build the interstate overpasses with.  They look like giant, concrete Lego blocks and fit together just about the same way.  The wall stretched for a long way in both directions.  It was crap to climb I tell you that much.  Especially with my pack.  I finally had to tie a rope to it, climb to the top of the wall which was a good fifteen feet high, and then use the rope to pull the pack up to where I was sitting.

I looked around from up high and saw ... nothing.  One side of that big concrete fence didn't look much different than the other side.  It reminded me a little bit of the Great Wall of China only not as tall.  It stretched as far as I could see in both directions.  It looked like they'd used a highway so it would stand up straight without falling over.  I found out later that it was also so they wouldn't have to bulldoze down any buildings as they were running out of time.

I lowered my pack and then climbed down; going down was definitely easier than going up.  I decided to leave my skates off for a while and look around.  The buildings on this side were stripped too but not as neatly.  Then I walked into this real estate office and I smelled it.  I hadn't smelled it since I'd left the city but I sure smelled it then.  Not even that morgue had smelled like this.

It felt like it took me forever to pull my bat and get ready.  I was mad at myself for getting careless.  Then I saw it chewing on one of those cheap naugahide sofas like it tasted bad and I knew I wouldn't get a better chance.

SPLAT!!

I looked around and listened but I didn't hear another one.  I was wiping my bat off with a curtain when a voice said, "Thanks Kid."

I turned around swinging but didn't hit anything but wall.  "Damn Kid, guess I better be glad my leg is busted or my head would be as flat as Henry's there."

I looked down and there was this man sitting in the door way of one of the offices.  He didn't look too healthy, like he was hurting in places he didn't know he had.  Saw a lot of that in the city.  I probably looked the same.  I started to back up and he said, "What's your rush?  Do I look like something to be afraid of?  Look at the shape I'm in."

I just looked at him.  "Silent type are you?"

I still wasn't biting.

"Geez I suck at this.  Why do I always get stuck with the special cases?"

I snapped, "I'm no one's special case."

"Hah, so you do have a tongue in that head of yours."

A little in spite I told him, "You talk funny ... sound funny I mean.  You aren't from around here."

"Nope.  Born in North Carolina but I've been travelling quite a lot since then. And since we are on the subject of origins you want to give me yours?"

I suddenly noticed the patch on his shirt and tried not to get excited but I figured I had a way to test the man in front of me.  "Who is the Sheriff around here?"

"No clue Kid.  Liberated this from a cruiser out back a couple of days ago when some woman yacked all over me.  That's when Henry here decided he wanted to dance and I busted my leg."

"Why are you calling that puss brain Henry?  Was that his name before he got sick?"

"Yeah.  Or at least that is the name on the tag on his shirt.  You probably can't see it beneath the mess you made."

I had fallen silent again, losing the little bit of hope that I had.  Stupid.

"You gonna tell me where you're from or not?"

"Not."  We just stared at each other and I figured out he was trying to play tough.  He didn't know me anymore than I knew him.  "Are you thirsty?"

"Hell yeah.  You got any water?"

I took a bottle of water out of a pocket on the side of the back pack and rolled it towards him.  "Cautious type huh?"

I shrugged.  But when he started to chug the water I told him, "Ease up or you're gonna puke."

He gave me an irritated look but then nodded and set the bottle down.  "This all you got?"

"You can keep it.  I've got a filter."

"Filter huh?  Those things are only good if you've got something to filter in the first place.  Take this kid.  Can't promise there isn't backwash in it but ..."

"I said you can keep it.  I know how to make do.  Besides there's an artesian fountain over by the Baptist church on third street."

"All fountains and water sources were turned off and capped by order of the Governor months ago."

I shrugged.  "Unless somebody from the church did it, there's still a spigot in the baptismal."

"Take it you're from around here."

I shook my head.  "A friend from school used to go there.  Her uncle was the minister."

"That still means you are from around here close."

I shrugged.  He let it go.

"Kid.  I need my pack.  I gotta call in.  I been out of touch for over 48 hours.  Don't want to give them the idea that I up and died on them or anything.  There's a Ford Explorer three buildings down on the other side of the road.  Give me a hand to get over there ... or if you won't do that at least give me a hand to get up off this floor."

I looked at him and looked good.  He had a buzz cut that was graying around the edges and really hard features.  Especially his eyes.  They were like chips of ice.  He could play at anything he wanted to but I knew a hard case when I saw one.

"Are you a criminal?"

"Hell no Kid.  What gave you that idea?"

"The top dog of the group I was with was a criminal before the puss brains attacked the city jail and he escaped.  You've got the same kind of hard eyes."

"When the hell were you in the city?  Are you telling me that's where you came from?  Dammit.  That means the ... ARGH!"  He'd tried to stand up and had done something to his leg.

I sighed.  Then backed up.  "Are there any more puss brains around?"

Sweating he said, "Puss brains?  That what you call the infected people?"

"Yeah.  If you've cracked open a few you know why."

"Yeah," he said in disgust.  "Yeah I do.  But you're too damn young to know what the inside looks like."

"No one is too young.  You figure it out or you become puss brain chow."  I repeated, "Are there anymore around?"

He shook his head.  "Naw, not that I've seen.  This guy shouldn't have been around.  This area gets sanitized on a regular basis.  Shouldn't be any more."

I rolled my eyes.  "Yeah well, Shouldn't Bees still sting."  He gave me a funny look and I shrugged.  "Something my dad used to say.  He said his mom used to say it to him a lot when he was a boy."

"Yeah.  Got a few of those rattling around in my head too.  So Kid, gonna give me a hand up?"

"No.  I'll bring your junk to you though.  If there are any puss brains around you'll just slow me down too much."

"Hell's bells," I heard him mutter as I backed up and then turned out the door.

I was much more cautious.  Sanitized or not where there was one puss brain there could be more.  But my luck was in and I made it to the truck he'd told me about with no problems.  Except for the fact that it was locked.  But after being around Moses and some of the other people in the group locked vehicles were not a problem.  The slim jim didn't work on the truck door because it was a newer model but punching the lock never failed, I just didn't like doing it because it was loud in all the quiet.

Fifteen minutes later I was huffing and puffing as I dragged in the man's stuff.  "Geez, you got lead in this stuff or what?"

The guy had been attempting to crawl to the door but stopped, slack jawed when I appeared.  "Well damn Kid, you really did come back."

"I said I would."

"Yes you did.  Now hand me that radio and I'll get us a ride out of here."

I wasn't sure what to make of that bit of news so I let it slide.  He'd gotten kinda bent when I asked him if he was a criminal so he probably didn't think of himself as one.  I knew he wasn't a cop because he all but admitted it.  But he was something and his gear looked all military and stuff.  That still didn't mean doodly squat.  I wasn't going to be dumb enough to take candy from a bad man.

From all the noise on the other end of the radio it sounded like whoever he was talking to was happy to hear from him.  They didn't talk long and it was mostly in what sounded like code but he looked pretty satisfied when they signed off.  "They'll be here midmorning.  We'll catch us a ride and I'll get this leg looked after."

"I can look at it if you want me to ... but no ... you know ... stuff."

"Huh?"

"Look, I may not be much but I didn't let the others drive me to that.  And I learned a few things from Doc and I can at least make sure it is set right.  But not if you want something ... and since you're a grown man I shouldn't have to spell it out to you."

"Kid you aren't making any sense.  You ..." He slowed to a stop and then sighed.  "Aw hell.  I guess you are after all.  You musta had some guy mess with you.  Well I ain't that kind.  If I was Major Jeffries would have strung me up a long time ago.  She and Colonel Matthews don't tolerate that kind of thing.  Not for any reason."

"Are you in the military?"

"National Guard.  Or what's left of it."

"OK.  But just so we're clear.  And no one has messed with me.  Moses wouldn't let them.  If I had said yes that would have been different but he said girls had to be willing.  The other girls did it but I never did.  It's gross."

"We're clear Kid.  Moses your top dog you mentioned?"

"He wasn't mine, he was Sherry's.  They still left me behind though so don't think just because you have eyes like Moses it means anything to me."

I went to work and then gave him what for.  "This is a total sucky job.  No wonder it hurts.  Nothing is broken that I can feel, you've just knocked it out of whack.  And what's the big idea of cutting off the circulation?  Good way to give yourself a dead leg."

"Ok.  Ok you little spitfire.  My skin is tender enough as it is, you don't need to rake me over the coals and make it worse."

I snorted but left off.  For a big guy he was pretty good at not hitting out while I was hurting him but I could tell he was in a lot of pain anyway.  When I was done stabilizing the knee the way Doc had shown me I leaned back and pulled the first aid bag out of my pack.  "Percoset or Tylenol?  The percoset will make you feel better but the Tylenol won't slow you down ... or at least not more than you already are."

"Tylenol."  I handed him two extra strength and he dry swallowed them.

He leaned back and was breathing heavy then I realized it really stank and knew I'd have to move "Henry" if we didn't want to have to smell him all night.  I stood up and went to do what had to be done but the man reached out and grabbed my calf so fast I nearly screamed.  I got loose and backed away and found myself in the worst place you could be ... a corner.

"Hey Kid.  Sorry.  Didn't mean to scare you like that.  Just ... I'm a little jumpy and Henry there ... we need to make sure he won't get back up."

"He won't," I said cautiously looking for an out.  "I felt the crack all the way up the bat to my hands."

"Yeah well, pardon me if I would feel better when I see a bullet properly lodged where it belongs.  I need my gun."

"No you don't.  Besides how are you going to hit it from the other side of the counter?  You need to stay put."

"You shoot him."

I sighed forlornly.  "I can't hit the broad side of a barn, not even this close.  My glasses are all scratched.  I could hit him again but that'll just make a bigger mess for me to clean up.  Let me drag him out and I'll put something through its heart if it bothers you that much."

He gave me a weird look.  "You been on the street a long time."

It was a statement not a question so I didn't lie as I pulled "Henry" off the sofa and started to drag him outside.  "Since the first attack or whatever you want to call it.  Mom and I had gone to the city to look for a homecoming dress that wouldn't freak my dad out too much.  I was going with Lee Berio."

I kept tugging and eventually got the body out to the side walk and then used a piece of broken furniture from the next store over to make double sure like I had told the man I would.  I came back in and saw him tuck the radio back down.

I looked at him suspiciously and he nodded.  "Yeah, I was talking to base.  Gonna make something of it Kid?"

"Not so long as that is what you are really doing.  I don't want to wind up some slave girl or anything disgusting like that."

"Damn you've got some imagination."

"You try living in the city with your only protectors a criminal, a high priced hooker, and a doctor that is also a druggie and you see how much trust you got."

"And you got a hell of a mouth on you too."

"So?  It's not like we're besties or anything.  I don't even know your name."

"Watson.  Sgt. Watson to you Short Stuff."

"I'm not short.  I'm height-challenged.  The school nurse said so."

"Oh she did did she?"

"He said so.  Don't be so sexist.  We're way beyond the 20th century you know."

"Don't remind me."  But he was grinning.

I wanted to but I still wasn't sure I trusted him.  He kinda reminded me of some of my dad's friends but a girl can't be too careful.  Men are weird.

"Hey, can I ask you something?"

"If you tell me your name."

"Why?"

"Would you rather me call you Short Stuff?"

I thought it over.  "DeeDee.  Why was that puss brain such a light weight?  He should have weighed more?"

"DeeDee?"  He started laughing so hard he bumped his leg and then had to bite off what I figured was a lot of bad words.  After he got his breath back he asked, "Seriously?  Your name is DeeDee?"

"Yeah.  It's not like I had a lot of say in what my parents picked out so I just have learned to live with it."

He laughed again but then settled down as I cleaned my hands with the Everclear and dumped the scissors I had used to cut his pants in a tupperware container and poured some of the booze over them and then put the lid on and set it aside.

"Who taught you that?" he asked.

"Doc."

"The druggie?"

"Yeah.  So what about it?  Why was Henry ..."

"... such a lightweight?"

I nodded and that's when I found out about them starving the puss brains.  After he explained he said, "There were too many to corral and after the doctors explained that there was no cure for the condition everyone agreed there were simply too many to euthanize like we'd been doing.  No one really thought it was a great idea but it was the safest one for the uninfected and the kindest for the ... the ones you call the puss brains."

"Did anyone think there might be some people ... uninfected people ... still in the city?"

"Kid ... DeeDee ... like I said, no one thought it was a great idea.  And by the time they got around to it the cities had been cut off.  We thought anyone left would be one of the infecteds and we had no way to screen people for bites and other wounds."

The world was hard and it wasn't fair.  I knew that.  Still, it had sucked to be me.

"I guess.  Are you hungry?"

"Hell yeah.  Push the rest of my pack this way and we'll split some rations."  He started digging around and pulled out a sealed pouch.  "Hadn't even gotten around to opening this up yet."

He pulled the tape off, looked inside, and then made a face.  "That jackass Mendelsohn."  He sighed.  "Well Kid, it ain't gonna be great but it'll fill most of the empty spaces.  You want ginger ale or this lime tea crap?"

"What else you got?"

"Not much."  He proceeded to pull out a package of saltines, a small can of Vienna sausages, a can of sterno, and a can of creamed corn.

I looked it over and said, "OK.  You gonna go berserk if we light your sterno in here?"

"That's what it’s for Kid."

I pulled out the mess kit I had found and popped open the creamed corn and poured it in one of the pots.  Pulled out a bag of fried potato sticks and crunched them up a little and put them over the top of the corn then dug the cheese out of a package of cheese dip and glooped that on top of the potato sticks.  I wiped out the can the corn had come in and then cut some air holes into its sides.  Then I lit the sterno and set the can of the top of it.  When I was sure the sterno wasn't going to go out I set the mess kit pan with the corn and junk in it on top of the can.

Sgt. Watson just watched me through slitted eyes as he leaned back.  I could see the pain lines around his mouth and eyes.

Next I pulled out the kabob sticks that I had made months ago as I'd learned to make do with whatever the group let me have.  I threaded the Vienna sausages on them and set them to the side.  Next I took an empty water bottle and filled it half way with the tea and the other half with the ginger ale and mixed it together.

"That's gonna taste like ... er ... crap."

"It might surprise you."

Soon enough the weird dinner was finished and in our bellies.

"You know Kid, that wasn't near as bad as I expected it to be."

"Told you."

"Smart mouth."

"Yeah, well you aren't going to like what comes next."

He looked at me suspiciously.  "What?  Did you poison me?"

"Don't be silly.  No.  You gotta get up so you can go do your business.  You're lucky though.  You're a guy so all you have to do is point and shoot."

"Damn Kid!"

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