Friday, August 8, 2014

Part 32

Well we got tires for the truck and some for the trailer.  Picked up a few other odds and ends too though I suppose it didn't seem like much compared to what Jace had decided to leave back in his village as being "too cumbersome and not worth the trouble."  Some of it was still nice stuff.  I even sneaked a couple of snowglobes into my pack that I didn't tell him about.  Found one in Rochelle too; maybe I'll start collecting them.  But to be honest, what we mostly got was depressed.

Jace looked like something was eating him up from the inside out.  He was lucky I was covering his back or he'd been chomped on about three times.  It reminded me too much of the way some of the people in the group used to act.  I didn't like the wiggy feeling I was getting off of him so I tried to start a conversation by saying, "That town was another one of those refugee centers where they evacuated uninfected people to."

Jace nodded grimly as he sipped some bean broth left over from the pot of beans that I'd made for supper.  "Yeah," he grunted.  "FEMA signs up all over the place."

"Don't you mean down all over the place?"

He looked at me and I could tell he was bound and determined to stay in a foul mood.  "This is no joking matter.  It looks like they were overrun by infecteds."

I shrugged.  "Not necessarily.  I know there were quite a collection of puss brains in that place but compared to some places I've been caught in, it wasn't all that bad.  Besides in the city, at least in the early days, you were just as likely to be taken out by a riot as by a flock of puss brains."

"A flock?  Didn't I just say ..."

Trying to stop the runaway train that Jace's temper could turn into I told him, "I'm not making fun Jace.  It is just what we used to call them if the group of puss brains were too few to be considered a horde and too many to be a bunch or ... or whatever.  You know what I mean."

He shook his head in disgust.  "Those people you hung out with messed you up.  You just ..."

"Just what?" I asked not sure I wanted to know.

"Don't you have any ... any ... finer sensibilities ... like a real girl?  You act ... completely ... totally ..."  He shook his head again apparently at a loss.

I looked at him and said quietly, "I survived.  Maybe I didn't survive as the same person I was to start with.  Maybe I'll never be the person I could have been.  Maybe Mom and Dad and Toddie wouldn't think I was a nice girl anymore.  But I survived.  You don't like it.  Tough."

I guess he realized he'd been a little harsh because he tried to backtrack by saying, "Dee Dee, I didn't mean ..."

"Yeah you did.  You just can't find the right words to use to say it.  Well I don't care.  I didn't ask you to babysit me.  I don't need a babysitter.  And I sure don't need someone to try and teach me manners or ... or finer sensibilities ... or anything else that just might get me killed.  But since you're so disgusted I free you from this promise you made.  Just give me my pack and ..."

He growled and said, "OK, that's enough.  You're starting to sound like a Drama Queen."  I nearly threw my bowl at him but he didn't notice because he was in the middle of spewing it out.  "Fine.  I hurt your feelings.  Let's not get all stupid over it.  I'm tired.  You're tired.  This day has sucked.  Rochelle was bad enough but then Rockford, where I'd hoped to maybe see another camp or military base, was a burned out shell.  We had no choice but to drive through there the best we could and still managed to do the one thing I didn't want to have to do.  Here we are outside of yet another f ... uh ... messed up hell hole, this one with too many infecteds for me to feel comfortable, but we had to stop because it is too dark for me to see to change another damn tire because of that mess in Rockford.  I'm sick of this.  Let's just clean up and try and get some rest."

He did look kinda bad.  In hindsight maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.  "Don't you ever look on the bright side of things?"

"You've got to be kidding me!  There isn't a bright side to this nightmare!"

"Sure there is," I told him.  "We made it across the state line only one day behind your schedule.  We found the tires we needed so we don't have to dig around in this place ... Beloit or however you pronouce it.  We found those two cases of water and those big cans of food in that FEMA truck.  We found all those packages of condiments in that other big truck.  You got some camouflage pants that are long enough and I actually found some jeans that will fit without having to cut a yard off in the leg but weren't little kid clothes so they fit my butt too which is a major bonus from a girl stand point."  All he did was roll his eyes so I continued, "And then there is some of that other junk we picked up and it all fit in the trailer even though you said there wouldn't be room for it.  We also found some more of those clues you were going on about last night ... being situationally aware to what the big picture is.  Using those clues we mostly figured out what probably happened to make the military pull back and abandon the town.  And to top it off you learned how to break into cars without having to break a window and make a lot of noise.  Courtesy of yours truly thank you very much."

He shook his head.  "You are so freakin' strange.  Demented even.  How does that nearly worthless crap balance against all of those dead bodies?!  They used to be people ... real live people ... just like my dad, Clarey, Uncle Simon, Sammy, John-John ..."

He was really getting wound up so I told him calmly, "I didn't say it balanced things out.  Nothing is ever going to balance things out.  But we are still better off than we were first thing this morning.  It counts.  It might not count for much in your eyes but in mine it is a heck of a lot better than most days in the city.  Close to Disneyland even."

He opened his mouth to shout but then seemed to decide not to for some reason.  He just kept looking at me then asked, "It was really that bad in the city?"

I shrugged and responded, "It was really that bad.  People died every day.  You had to get used to it or you'd be the next one dead.  The people weren't always in your group but someone was always dying.  And not just from the puss brains.  Trust me, if you don't already know, most people are animals at heart, especially guys.  But girls aren't always all the way human either.  Sometimes it wasn't the puss brains that were the most dangerous.  Other stuff made it hard too.  Food was getting really, really difficult to find.  We'd heard rumors that some people were going cannibal ... no one in our group but some of the inner city gangs were pretty nasty.  Clean water was scarce too ... everything was getting contaminated.  Then there is all the things people used to be able to go to the doctor for ... simple stuff like cuts and bangs on the head ... only now it can kill you from infections and bleeding that you can't stop quick enough."  I stopped, caught up in some of my memories then jumped when I felt him touch my shoulder.  I turned to look him in the eye and said, "People die Jace.  And sometimes they are the lucky ones."

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