Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Part 82


I had a dream that I was a bear and that there were too many bears in the cave with me.  I was so warm it was uncomfortable and I was sweating.  And things were getting smelly.

Well smelly alarmed me.  I suddenly realized I was in a dream but that somehow I was still smelling.  My nose is very sensitive and that had me waking up real quick with puss brains on my mind.  However, as soon as I woke up I realized it wasn't puss brains - or bears for that matter - that I was smelling, it was little ol' me.  I needed to bathe.  I also realized that I really was sweating.

For a second I freaked thinking the "fort" or the cabin was on fire but as soon as I dug out from under my covers I realized I had made another mistake.  Nothingwas on fire, in fact the stove had burnt real low.  Then my eyes stung and I realized that there was smoke in the cabin.  The next thing that ran through my head was worry that the roof was on fire but I shined my wind-up flashlight in all directions and there was no evidence of fire.  In fact there was frost crystals on the nails that protruded down into the cabin.  There couldn't be frost and fire at the same time.

The smoke was getting bad.  As much as I didn't want to I needed to get a shutter open or dying from the smoke was a real possibility.  Last winter our group had walked into a building to get out of a storm to find a room full of newly dead, uninfected people.  They hadn't been killed by puss brains but had died in their sleep.  Doc said they had killed themselves accidentally by suffocating.  They'd built a fire but hadn't made sure there was enough ventilation to let the smoke out and fresh oxygen in.

I tried the first set of shutters and they wouldn't budge.  That sometimes happens and I didn't worry.  By the last set of shutters out of four, with none of them budging I did start to worry.  I unbarricaded the door, opened it, and was met by white.  Not a storm of white but a block of white.  It looked like I was staring at a white styrofoam wall.  Oh carp, I wasn't snowed in ... I was snowed under.

I ran and got what I use for a broom - a bunch of twigs tied together on the end of a long stick - and shoved it up as far as I could.  The snow was packed very tight, almost like a block of ice in places, so it wasn't very easy.  After some real work and deep coughing I finally broke through and I realized the snow was piled up to at least the edge of the roof.    A beam of light came down through the hole and that told me that it was daylight and that my guardian angel had done me a favor by waking me up or I might have been done for.

I spent a couple of minutes inhaling the sweet, fresh air even though it was cold as the dickens.  My throat, nose, and mouth felt coated with nasty gunk but it was the kind that was thick and caked on and I couldn't just blow my nose or clear my throat to get rid of it.  I was really starting to gag on it.  Then I gave myself a dope slap and ran over and opened the fireplace damper and felt the foul air being pulled out faster.

The storm had been a brief one but it dumped a lot of snow on top of the previous storm's snow.  The wind probably picked it all up and piled it up against whatever got in the way.  Since the cabin was right at the base of a trail that went into a ridge I figured that was the reason why I was buried but there was only going to be one way to find out.

I started scooping out snow out with a plastic bowl but it broke so I had to switch to a skillet and had to be careful not to break the handle.  It took me over an hour but I finally moved enough snow that I could climb out through the tunnel that I had made.  Snow was everywhere in all directions.  Not much of it was quite as deep as it was around the cabin but it was still pretty bad.  And the angle of the sun told me I hadn't just slept through the night but through much of the next day.  The sun was already past being straight up and was heading deep into afternoon.  It would soon be dark again and I'd just escaped the dark of the cabin.

I guess I was sitting and pouting - and freezing my rear end off - when I heard a sharp whistle.  I went down in my hole real quick and just listened.


 

Part 81



I was tired of being cold.  I hadn't slept very well during the last storm.  Then the horde carp and all the stupid girly emotional carp of seeing Sarge again and running around in the snow and cold and then prepping for the next storm ... scratch being tired of being cold, I was just plain tired, am tired not just was.  I decided that the bed curtain idea was really great but that it just wasn't enough when it was so cold the air froze your lungs and the heat never went more than a few inches from the stove.  A new strategy was needed.

First I pulled the bear skin rug over near the stove and spread it out evenly.  It wasn't a huge rug because it hadn't been a big bear, but it would help keep the cold from coming up through the floor.  Then I pulled the mattress and my existing bedding off the bunk and put it on top of the bear skin rug.  This was my foundation.  Next was the stupid but fun part ... I built a "fort" over the top of my bed.  I used what I could spare from keeping the door shut which meant I was pretty well left with a couple of chairs, folding card table, and two igloo coolers.

I set the card table up over the center of my bed.  Good thing I was short or I would not have even been able to sit up without getting a crick in my neck.  Then I set the chairs up on either end of the bed facing away from where by feet and head would be when I laid down.  Then I started drapping all of the sheets and blankets I had overthe top of the table so that the ends drapped over the chair and the side of the table away from the stove.  To keep the chairs from falling over I put a cooler in each seat on top of the covers.  The back of my "fort" still flapped a little and let out the heat from the stove so I went around the cabin and found things to weight down the covers there.  All in all the cabin wound up a royal mess but working had kept me somewhat warm and boy did I need it.

My next project since I was up and moving and nervous was to check out my food supply.  The few cans that were left from the supply that Jace had put in the truck were in danger of freezing so I put them inside the coolers and decided to figure out a way to use them up first.  I hated to since they were my "long term storage" but I decided better to use them up sooner than to lose the food to a frozen and split can.  In fact, the can of chili that I had set out for my supper popped the topped as I was looking at it.  One of the weirdest things I've ever seen.  It reminded me of the prank that Toddie and some of his friends pulled at this block party our neighborhood had.  They shook up all of the 2-liter soda bottles and then set them on the drink table.  The way I heard it they just thought someone would open one and get sprayed really good but what actually happened was like a chain reaction.  First one 2-liter blew its lid and then they all started doing it; it was like one of those geysers out at Yellowstone.  OMG what a mess.  Enough adults thought it was funny that Dad didn't kill Toddie but again, OMG what a mess.  It wouldn't have been so bad if Mrs. Jarlson's stupid poodles hadn't decided to play in the stuff and then run through all the mulch in the yard because they didn't want to get caught and given a bath.  Did I meantion, OMG what a mess?

Memories.  Sometimes I like when they pop in for a visit and sometimes I don't.  It wasn't so bad this time - maybe the hurt is starting to let go of me or maybe I'm learning to deal with it.  But they do tend to steal time that I need for other things.  And the other thing I needed to do right then was do a food inventory.  Seeing how few cans were left gave me the heebies.

I still had some of the convenience thingies - like baking mix - leftover from Jace's supplies.  Not much but some is better than none.  Where food is concerned that has always been true and will always be true.  Sure you may still starve but at least it will take a lot longer for you to get there and you have more time to fight.  I used acorn meal and cattail starch to make the baking mix go further but not even that solution would last forever.  Eventually everything gets used up just like eventually everyone goes away.  It doesn't matter what you want, that's just the way it is.

All of those glass jars of pickled eggs and pickled turkey gizzards - blech, definitely an acquired taste I never acquired - were used up.  I miss eggs like crazy but since I couldn't wiggle my nose and get me some I tossed the thought out in the storm where it belonged and was more useful.  I was using the jars to store my acorns (for meal), dried cattail starch (for flour), and other roots.  Using glass in this cold was a risk, I'd already had two jars shatter when I picked them up after taking my mittens off.  Now I left my mittens on when I touched them.  Last thing I want to do is have to sew up my own finger again just because of a stupid piece of glass.  I nearly had to change my pants after that bit of work.

I had a few other odds and ends but staying alive was beginning to require as much creativity and work as our group had to use right before I escaped the city.  There was no place to salvage here in the woods, not unless you got really, really, really lucky.  Spring and fresh green things are still a long way off.  The animals are just as hungry as I am and the ones I catch may have thick winter coats but they have less and less meat on their bones.  Fishing is about the only truly productive food source I have and the more thaws we have the harder fishing is going to get because only stupid people go out on the ice when it starts to thaw.  Hypothermia from falling into icy water has killed a lot of people.

So has hypothermia from any kind of cold.  I had to switch to writing with pencil because my ink and gel pen tips keep freezing.  I suppose I should try and just get some sleep anyway.  My "fort" is working better than the bed curtains did so I will likely leave it up until it starts to warm up.  It isn't as comfortable sleeping on the floor but on the other hand it is a lot warmer than sleeping so far away from the stove.  What Mom would have called "six of one and half a dozen of the other."  I just hope I can sleep over all of the awful moaning and groaning of the wind.  It is making me lonesome and when I get lonesome the memories try and crowd out reality.  Definitely not cool.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Part 80


A much calmer Cochran stuck his head in the door and said, "Sorry Major but Base is calling.  That storm system has done a U-turn after running into another front and is about to slam into this area again.  They said it has also picked up strength as the two fronts have combined or some jibberish like that.  According to them that means that this storm is going to be worse than the last one."

Sarge looked at me in concern.  "Kid ..."

Oh no ... while I'm sure his kind of protection was the well-meaning kind that didn't mean that I was going to make an exception.  I backed up a bit and told him, "I'm fine.  I've survived back-to-back storms before I just need to make sure and get everything tied down and fill my water barrel."

Then there was some squawking coming from Cochran's coat and I realized where the radio was being kept.  He stepped back outside and then turned around in a hurry.  "Situation at base."

"Dammit.  Are they at it again?!"

"Yes sir," Cochran said apologetically.

Sarge turned to me and said, "Dammit Kid ..."

"Go.  You've got things to do.  I've got things to do."

He was torn and I could tell he was fighting ordering me around.  "Aw hell.  Don't know how you've managed to get under my damn skin.  I barely know you."

I smiled and said, "I'm just like that.  Kinda like a rash or something."

He didn't really want to let it go but he nodded.  "A really bad one you awful brat.  The kind of itch you can't reach.  Now you listen to me, I fully intend on coming back.  You will not run off or disappear or anything else approximating that.  You got it?"

"Got it Sarge," I told him, my smile slipping.  "Seriously, if you're gonna go then go.  I've got to do a few things and entertain guests isn't one of them."

"Aw hell."

They were finally gone as a stripped down 4x4 carried them off.  Stupid thing looked more like a canvas covered dune buggy than a real vehicle.  But Cochran had said something to the effect that they had stripped everything off to make them more fuel effecient.  Crazy.  I tell you if I was driving around a bunch of puss brains I'd prefer a tank or something like that, not some tent on wheels.  I won't even go into what a bear could do to a flimsy, soft-sided thing like that.

I watched them drive off and the quiet they left behind was eerie.  No birds or other animals - not even the scavenging kind that should have been after the remains of the puss brains.  That more than anything told me that the storm coming was going to be a dilly.  Mr. Svenson had told me that since God took care of the animals that it only made since for us to keep an eye on what they were doing.  When animals hunted up their holes it was usually a good idea for humans to do so as well.  Thinking on what I needed to do to secure my "hole" I decided the scientists weren't the only ones that could experiment.  But first I needed to know that the Singing Waters camp knew another storm was on its way.

I met two of the younger cousins - named Isaiah and Adam - when I was a little more than half way there.  I stopped short, not sure how to deal with them.  It was obvious they'd been crying - their eyes were red rimmed and their face was blotchy from more than the cold - but it was just as obvious they filled with the importance of their mission.  One of them said, "Storms coming."

I nodded.  "Thank you for thinking of me.  I just heard the same thing from a very irritated Major."

I think it was Isaiah that asked, "The one that had a fit 'cause those others were shooting at Shane and Jamie?"

"That'd most likely be the one.  Big guy, a few gray hairs - I guess about like Mr. Owen - and sounds really, really Southern."

"Yeah, that's the one.  He sure says funny things when he gets mad."

"Yeah.  Well since you know, you know I know, and I know you know, you better get back to camp and I better get back to the cabin.  I don't think any of us want to get in trouble for what Mrs. Svenson would call dilly dallying."

They gave me a curious look, then shrugged their shoulders like whatever they were curious about wasn't worth the time to figure out, and turned to leave.  I stopped them just for a moment to ask, "Is ... is Mr. Svenson really ok?"

"Oh sure.  He ain't happy about how Aunt Ava and Aunt Paulette have laid into him and made him stay in bed but I guess anybody that can growl that loud ain't that bad off."

"Uh ... what about ... you know ... how is everyone ... you know ... Mr. Joe and all."

They looked at each other and then Adam answered, "Mother says we're all shook up but that its as much about what a good man Uncle Joe turned out to be in the end as it is that he isn't going to be with us here on earth no more.  Uncle Owen says to be happy that he's in a better place and that all the things that used to ride him when he was still living can't ride him no more."

I nodded and said, "Guess that's about as good as you can look at it.  Can you please tell your Aunt Ava that I asked how they were doing?  I don't want them out in this weather but I don't want them to think I'm not thinking about them."

"Oh sure.  And Uncle Owen said to tell you that someone will be by as soon as the storm lets up and folks can get out - depending on how much snow gets dumped - to check on you."

We both took off fast after a good puff of icy air suddenly whipped through the pines and set them to squeaking.  After that it was nothing but work for a couple of hours.  Water needed to be brought in.  I piled nearly my entire wood pile inside the cabin.  Then I set to building my experiment but didn't finish before dark closed in and the wind started to pick up all over again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Part 79


"You said it was some kind of experiment."

"I did.  The infecteds are so dangerous that right now convincing the general public is going to be too hard."

"Too hard for what?"

He looked like he wanted to pinch me.  "Too hard for what we've just been talking about."

"Oh ... the political stuff."

"Yeah," he snapped.  "The political stuff."  Calming down he said, "I keep forgetting how young you are."

"I'm sixteen."

"Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.  You're a whole sixteen ... which means you were fourteen when this whole mess started and you haven't exactly had the advantage of any kind of stability."  There was no need to debate it because we both knew it was true.  "Sweetheart, you are going to have to start thinking bigger.  Personal survival is important but a lone person doesn't stand much of a chance in this world.  You need friends and you want them friends to have the same basic worldview that you do."

"I know all that already.  In the city I was part of a group.  Even when I left there and wound up in town I was alone for only part of the time because there were people that considered me part of their group.  Then I left and I hooked up with ..."  At the interested look on his face I snapped, "Not that kind of hooking up, don't be awful."

"Just wondering.  You seemed kinda ... girly ... when you talked about that Jace fella."

I shook my head.  "No.  I didn't know him well enough and what I did know had some issues.  Anyway, getting away from the nasty stuff, even here I'm not really alone.  Mr. Svenson and Jamie have both taught me stuff.  I've traded with Singing Waters and through them with some of the other camps.  Maybe I'm not part of a camp exactly but I'm not exactly alone either."

"Got a boyfriend?"

"Oh honestly, is that all ..."

"Guys think about?"  He laughed sadly.  "Seems like it doesn't it."

"What about ... uh ... Dr. Riccardo?"

He looked away and I was sorry I asked.  "She was one of the people that were sent off because they were raising the wrong kind of doubts.  They were working in a little outpost, unaware of what was going on, and they were overrun.  They never stood a chance and all had to be sanitized ... the ones that remained intact enough to survive to the infected state."

That was a clinical way of saying some got tore to pieces and some didn't but that they'd all been chewed on.  "You didn't have to ...?"

He shook his head.  "No.  But I had to identify the remains."

"I'm ... I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have asked."

"No.  I'm glad you did.  Hell of a lot easier than figuring out some way to bring it up.  But that is just another example of what these people will do to shut up any resistance to their ideas.  The docs, when they escaped, made it to safety before the majority of the survivors did.  And those who speak first are usually the ones listened to the most.  They spun their actions so that it was hard for those that came in behind them to undo it."

"And ... and Lee is part of this?  Dr. Hanson and her bunch?"

"No, not really.  See Michelle ... she's ..."

"She's knocked up.  I got that part."

"Yeah she is but Lee has lost everything and right now Michelle is ... she's saying all the right things, doing all the right things ... but ..."

"But she's still her mother's daughter?"

He shrugged.  "I think so.  But maybe not.  Hard to tell and Lee and I don't exactly run in the same circles.  Dr. Hanson has friends in high places but not so high that I wasn't able to force her to come on this little safari this time around.  And not so high that she's been able to pull all the strings that she wants to.  Lee and Michelle live in general civilian quarters and Michelle, because she doesn't have any kind of specialized training, has to work in the fields and on salvage runs.  When she starts to show more that might change but for now she's not allowed any special privileges just because of who her mother is.  It is hard to tell how it is affecting her outlook.  I do know that there are some places that she is restricted from going that Lee can go and that really irks her ... and her mother ... because it also restricts their privacy and their ability to correspond with one another without oversight.  There are some that blame the daughter for the mother's action ... she catches it as much as Lee does over in the civilian sector of the base.  Lee is starting to gain a few friends but from what I've seen, Michelle is a fish out of water and is having trouble navigating her new reality."

Putting the Lee/Michelle soap opera aside since it wasn't any of my business I asked, "So what is this big experiment?"

Sarge took the change of subject with good grace and answered, "Like I was saying the infecteds are too dangerous, too uncontrollable.  One of the few things that we know will slow them down besides violence is ..."

He was obviously waiting for me to finish the sentence.  "Cold.  Cold slows them down, kills some of them too."

"Exactly.  The first part of the experiment occurred in December when a survey was done in the far north to make sure that cold slowed them down as much this year as it did last winter."

"I take it that it did."

He nodded.  "More so because it has been a vicious winter for many areas."

"What's the second part of this experiment ... although I'm beginning to think that someone has been playing Pied Piper."

He nodded sardonicly.  "Got it in one Kid.  Those noise boxes?  They've been repurposed."

"So it's just like the city.  The docs didn't give a rip about people in the way of their plan ... they just did it."

Sarge shook his head.  "Not quite.  The eggheads don't run everything.  The plan couldn't be stopped - they had too many interested parties on their side - but controls could be put on it.  The armed forces, national guard, militias, you name it ... word went out and they cleared a path by evacuation, some of it forced evacuation.  Bridges and tunnels and roads were dynamited when necessary to funnel the infecteds down the chosen route.  And it was just fine until a cold front retreated and the Jet Stream got involved."  At my puzzled look he said, "Before this storm did you have a warm spell?"

"Sorta if you want to call it that.  It caused a little thaw but not much of one.  The creek didn't even unfreeze though the center of the lake got a little slushy and made ice fishing a little dangerous."

Sarge nodded.  "Well it was warmer south of here.  Somehow or other just as we were ready to make the final push into Michigan the infecteds got caught up in and followed the warmer path into northern Wisconsin.  Then cold air came in behind and cut off their retreat and a cold front came down and crushed them betwixt and between.  It wasn't cold enough to force them into that hibernating thing they do but it wasn't warm enough that they had much to eat either.  They were going crazy.  There was also a lot more of them than was expected and planned for.  After the first couple of runs the sound boxes weren't even needed, the size of the horde seemed to draw all the local infecteds as they passed through.  The doctors were trying to decide how to proceed when things got out of hand and the horde started acting independently of any of the controls we'd try to ensure.  They did a lot of damage and then the storm system that created the blizzard caused a group of them to break off and run in this direction.  Locals that we'd rescued told us about the folks living up here in the national forest land and ... we got here the same time the blizzard did and got bogged down.  Radio was hit or miss.  Some got the message, some didn't.  The ones in this immediate area didn't.  I'll be reporting this and making a damn big deal out of it with my superiors.  The docs bit off more than they could chew ... again ... and people died because of it."

"But you're saying the docs think this is a success."

"They've been collecting the infecteds and putting them in storage containers to be taken by train to a holding facility."

"Oh ... that's going to end well."

We both made a face.  "One disaster at a time Kid, one disaster at a time."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Part 78


"What you are going to have to understand is that the infecteds aren't zombies."

I rolled my eyes.  "What do you think I am?  A little kid?  Zombies are nothing but spook stories.  Puss brains aren't dead, they're ... they're sick with an incurable disease that makes them very violent and ... uh ... very antisocial."

He gave me a look and then a very strange grin.  "You have no idea how much you sound like the docs."

That twisted my guts.  "Now just wait a minute.  I didn't do a thing to deserve that kind of insult."

He shook his head.  "Calm down Kid.  I didn't mean it as an insult ... or compliment.  Just saying that that's what you sound like."

"So?"

"So this ... the difference is in what you do with that kind of statement.  For you it is simply a fact.  Sure they're people but they're incurable.  To you putting a violent infected down is more putting the person out of their misery.  You see the pain they're in and you know there is nothing that is going to change that and you give them mercy and make it as quick as you can ... it's not about revenge, or justice, but about the right to defend yourself against an attacker.  You don't go looking for it.  You don't consider it a mission to rid the world of infecteds.  You simply eliminate them once they become immediately dangerous to you."

"Yeah and?"

"And you don't get all freaking philosophical or try to make it something it isn't.  You don't rationalize it or justify it.  You don't glorify it.  You know you are killing a living being and you don't do it lightly."

"And I repeat ... And?"

"DeeDee ... Sweetheart ... listen to me.  You do only what you have to.  That's all.  No more.  You aren't out to save the world or anything else.  There are people out there that are ... are ... geez how can I put this so I can get you to understand without sounding crazy."  He scratched his chin in an agitated kind of way and then leaned over and said to me, "You look at an infected, you see someone with an incurable disease that is likely terminal.  You see that an infected may act monstrous but that they aren't monsters.  At the same time, because you recognize them as people, you also hold them to be accountable for their actions.  If they try and kill you, you feel you have the right to defend yourself.  If they leave you alone you'd leave them alone ... but you've got enough commonsense to know that isn't happening and you prepare accordingly for what will inevitably occur.  To you their lack of intelligence or self control - even if it is because of a disease - is no excuse."

"Well, sure.  That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  I still don't see why you are going all wiggy."

"Because Kid there are people out there that think that you and your thinking is just as monstrous as the infecteds are.  They think that the Constitutional rights of the infecteds are being abused and that they should be declared a protected class.  They are trying to get it put under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are petitioning for money to be set aside to house and care for them."

I just looked at him and then snorted.  "I'd heard something like this was happening out West - not everyone is completely cut off and that kind of news gets around - but are you telling me that its here and not just out West?"

"Yes.  But ... but it's ... dammit.  Look, how much about politics do you know?"

"Enough to know it made Dad swear ... a lot ... and Mom make serious prune face."

He barked a cynical laugh.  "Yeah, I just bet it did.  Damn protected classes and all the handcuffing they did of law enforcement that prevented them from doing their job the way it needed doing.  I got to know Sheriff Berio pretty well and he was about as conservative as those back where I come from which is to say pretty damn conservative.  I'm sure he took a lot of flack from certain quarters."

"Sure, but anyone that does their job usually does ... or at least that is what Dad used to say.  But he always got reelected because people may have cursed him in public but in private enough were always happy with the way he did his job."

I was sad as it sunk in that the Sheriff was dead and Sarge patted my shoulder awkwardly.  "He was a good man and I was proud to know him.  He died the way he lived, trying to protect the people of his town.  Too few people like that in this world.  Too many of the other kind that are jockeying for power.  And that's what we have here.  Try and understand something DeeDee, just about everything comes down to power and the desire for power.  There are people that are going nuts because they've lost the people that put them in power.  The cities were devastated by this virus ... all over has been devastated but especially the urban centers.  The politics of the rural folks and the city folks has always been different but in the last couple of decades that difference has made for some very serious problems as the balance of power kept shifting around.  People would vote for whoever gave them the most never realizing nothing in life comes for free ... and that's on both sides of the political fence.  This pandemic, it has been so devastating that it has left a vacuum.  A lot of people are trying to fill that vacuum."

When he drew breath I said, "Ok, but what has that got to do with me?  What has it got to do with what is going on right now?"

"Girl, dammit, because what gets created today is what you are going to be left dealing with tomorrow."

It has been a lot to think about.  I haven't liked all of the thoughts it has created in my head.

Aggravated I told him, "So I kinda understand what you are saying but that still doesn't explain what is going on right now."

He sighed and leaned back.  "Maybe the picture I've tried to paint is too big for you to take in."  He scratched his chin again and said, "Let's get back to these so-called rights of the infecteds.  You know and I know that the infecteds do not have the mental capacity to do much more than eat to survive and survive to eat.  That's it, for the most part that is the sum total of their existence.  Eventually their lack of ability to plan and prepare for the future ... heck, to think of anything outside of their hour by hour, immediate needs ... will put a period on their existence.  If we can just wait them out, destroy the worst of them that create a safety problem, then the problem will correct itself through natural selection or whatever you want to call it.  But there are people that don't want to waste a good disaster.  They don't want nature taking its course, or natural consequences to happen.  They are taking people's good intentions and they are twisting and using them for their own agenda.  Let's think about this, what do you think is going to happen if they do make the infecteds a protected population?"

I shrugged.  "Well I'm toast because they'll have me up on murder charges and stuck so far back in the halls of justice that I'll never even be allowed to come up for air."

Surprised he nearly shouted, "Well aren't you all damn calm about it."

I shrugged again.  "I've thought about it.  But frankly it is what it is.  I'm not going to go shouting to the heavens what I've done - that would be like bragging about taking your turn as executioner which is just nasty and sick - but I'm not sitting around crying about what I've done either.  And one day it will likely be my turn to leave and go away.  Everyone goes away eventually ... everyone leaves someone at some point ... and not always because they want to."

He was quiet.  "You're right.  I don't want to admit it but you are.  But there is going away and then there is being taken away Sweetheart.  What some people plan to do is make it illegal for people to even defend themselves against an infected for any reason; they are saying that due to illness and environment the infected are not responsible for their actions.  Further, they are talking about rounding up as many infecteds as they can and putting them all in protected zones ... feeding them ... clothing them ... providing all sorts of services so they don't suffer.  Eventually the scientists even think that they will be able to come up with a way to rehabilitate infecteds enough that they can contribute to society in some way but that even if they can't we still have a responsibility as humans to look after the infecteds."

"Sounds nice ... except that it is so stupid it's funny.  Ever watched that move Sean of the Dead?  The ending was kind of like that."

Sarge snorted.  "As a matter of fact I have seen it and you aren't far off.  Makes you wonder what movies the nerdy little eggheads have watched.  And while I can see some people falling for that kind of stupidity the fact of the matter is that there are some people that know it is stupid but they'll go along with it if they think they can work it to their advantage.  There's talk - and that's all it is at this point thank God - of designating guardian ad litems or social workers for each infected to make sure they get their fair share of services.  These legal guardians will then get to know their charges so well that they'll supposedly be able to know who they'd vote for if they were able to vote."

"You've got to be kidding me."  And then I saw it.  "You mean that someone would pick who the guardians and protectors would be and it would be like automatically doubling the ... what's that thing called ... the voting block or whatever."

"Now you've got it."  He sighed.  "Damn, I'm just a simple man and all of this makes my head hurt but now that I know I can't just walk away.  What they are doing is wrong on so many levels.  But what they are doing right now to try and get their way in the future is my most immediate problem ... and yours too."

I crossed my arms though it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to do with my coat on.  "So now we finally get to this horde business?"

He nodded.  "Now we finally get to this horde business."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Part 77


Everyone stirred their stew for a moment before shoveling it in their mouths.  These days, no matter what is happening, you have to fuel your body when and where you can.  The story upset me but it didn't stop me from eating.

Knowing I wouldn't like what I heard I still asked, "How long did it take?"

"Two days after activating the sensors on the wall we lost contact with every patrol out that direction.  A patrol was sent out to check on them and never returned.  We didn't have to wonder after that because the leading front of the biggest number of infecteds I have ever seen - up to that point - was bearing down on the town.  A few of us figured out what had happened right off ... come to find out there were a few of the docs and their staff that were against deploying the sound boxes but they were ... er ... shut up."

At that point I was dying to know two things.  What did he mean by "up to that point" and how were the dissenters "shut up"?  I didn't say anything though because Sarge kept on rolling the story out.

"There was no fence or wall that was going to keep out that horde.  The scientists were just plain freaked out by how wrong they had been proven to be  They'd put just about everything they had into the boxes being successful at controlling the infecteds.  When the proof that it didn't was staring them in the face several of them simply shut down, unable to process their total failure and its consequences.  The rest made their escape using vehicles only a very few had known they had - I didn't at the time and I've made it my life's work to make sure they don't have any more secrets like that.  I also make sure they are in the thick of it so that their personal skin is on the line ... none of this arms length crap.  If we bleed then they bleed."  It took effort but he controlled his obvious anger and got back on track.  "But that's now, back then all we could do was organize a mass and immediate evacuation of as many as we could.  We tried to grab the kids and old folks first but it was like trying to grab and hold onto water with your hands."  He stopped and gazed stonily at the stove pipe so hard I expected the poor thing to shiver.  When Sarge started talking again his voice had a dead quality to it.

"Thanks to the damn eggheads we'd lost the confidence of the people; no one wanted to listen, all they did was panic or run off on their own.  Vehicles left the compound half empty.  Our armory was emptied by the mob.  Those that prepared had a better chance but there are never any guarantees.  Most of those that tried to prepare got out of town but not all of them made it to safety.  A bunch of folks got caught in the cross fire as too many panicked and were fighting to get onto what vehicles remained.  We were overrun almost immediately.  We grabbed who we could and threw them in what armored vehicles we'd managed to maintain."  He paused and said, "I used to fish down in Key West a couple of times a year.  One time I went shark fishing with some buddies and one of the guys accidentally - accidentally on purpose you might say - chummed the water up more than was wise.  It started a shark feeding frenzy.  Scariest damn thing to be in the middle of.  The freaking fish were trying to take chunks out of the boat and it was rocking as it took multiple hits from some of the biggest monsters I've ever seen in the water.  A couple even tried to swim up into the boat.  Those panicked people and the infecteds acted just the same.  They were all just crazy."

I noticed Cochran shuddered so bad he nearly dropped his bowl.  He caught me looking and carefully set both spoon and dish down and stuck his hands in his pockets and walked off to stand outside even if it meant freezing his butt off.  All Sarge did was nod at Gwen and she followed him out.  Then he turned to me.  "Cochran got left behind by his patrol.  We found him during clean up two weeks later up in the attic of the school, half surviving on rats and water from the pipes.  It was another week after that before he said a single word.  Realistically he should have been discharged straight to the booby hatch but Command doesn't see it that way.  He's better than he was but ..."

"But you keep him with you to keep an eye on him."

Sarge nodded.  "He refuses to talk about what he went through but whatever it was it gave him an insight into the way infecteds act that has helped tactically when we are planning operations.  I keep him on my staff because I can and frankly 'cause it's owed him.  He gave up his seat on one of the last transports out when several little kids were found running around all alone.  I reassigned him to another vehicle but the message never got where it was supposed to go.  SNAFU."

"Will he be OK?"

"I think he will.  But he needs time he isn't going to get for  a while if ever.  At least I can make sure ..."  He stopped and shrugged.

"There's no such thing as a sure thing.  There never was," I tell him.  Then I told him a brief synopsis of what went on after I left and went out on my own.  "So you see ... even I've had to learn life isn't fair all over again and I thought I'd learned it pretty good the first time around.  But something tells me we still aren't through.  For instance, why exactly are you here?  I don't mean in my cabin but here here ... I mean here on the heels of this winter horde, a thing that shouldn't exist unless the puss brains have gone through a change or something."

"Or something," he said nodding.

"And that something would be?"

"The damn docs."

"Is this another experiment gone wrong?"

He shook his head.  "In their eyes this is an experiment gone right."

"Right?!"

"Just let me tell it DeeDee.  It won't change the fact that they're a bunch of dumb asses but at least you'll see what we are up against ... and what you're gonna be up against."

I didn't like the sound of that at all.

Part 76




I wanted to start asking questions right away but I bit my tongue since I'd agreed to give him a chance to tell it without interruption or distraction.

"It probably goes back further than you showing up but I'm going to call that point my personal awakening.  I certainly became aware that I was getting used and manipulated."  I assumed he was talking about Dr. Ponytail but I didn't say anything because behind the anger I could see a little bit of sadness as well.

"So you come, stir up trouble with a capital T, and then you take off making sure that enough people know it was because of how you'd been treated and that you didn't like being called a liar.  You also left little gems like there were still uninfected people living in the city and how what some people had assumed had made them safe was bound to sooner rather than later come to an end.  In other words you scared people ... scared them into thinking.  Scared them into realizing they weren't nearly as safe as they had thought they were ... had been told they were.  Scared people into questioning the people that claimed to be in authority over them.  You made them wonder who was the liar ... the people that had said they'd come from this city - not just you but those that had come before you - or was it the people in authority that were lying.  Then when word go out that command had broken down and the docs had hidden that fact to maintain their control over the town ... well the crap really hit the fan.  A few were preparing and a few were panicking but neither group was very large.  Mostly people were thinking which was good start, but as it turned out, too little too late."

Gwen said, "I wasn't there for that part but I've heard that what really brought things to a point was when the Sheriff called that town meeting after finding out about the experiment the scientists were about to conduct."

Sarge nodded.  "Yeah, that did it all right.  The egghead docs had apparently been experimenting with captured infecteds - they called them specimens if you can believe that - and claimed to have found a way to use sound as a nonlethal way to control them.  I saw one of their videos and what they said was controlling them was little more than herding them from a secure point A to a secure point B."

Against my best intentions I stopped him and asked, "Did the sound hurt them to push them or excite them to call them?"

He jumped up and pointed at me but seemed to be talking to other people.  "See?!  Even a girl child has more sense than those damn eggheads.  She asks the questions no one else asked."

He stormed around as much as the little cabin allowed then leaned against the wall for a moment breathing hard before sitting back down.  In a highly agitated voice Sarge said, "If that question had been asked there'd be hundreds of people alive today that didn't have to die."

I almost forgot to stir the pot but caught it right before it scorched the bottom of the kettle.  Deciding it was as warm as it needed to be - nearly volcanic while the heat lasted - I started putting it in bowls. Sarge continued by saying, "Hindsight is 20/20.  If you watch it more than once you can see that it is actually pretty ambiguous.  All it really shows is a scientist saying what the infected 'specimen' is going to do, then a button getting pushed followed by the infected specimen doing exactly that.  Only a few people wondered how many times they had to try that until they got the result they were looking for or whether the video had been spliced or photoshopped; and no one was openly wondering how the device actually worked.  The eggheads had gotten it so that people didn't think they could understand their work ... that the average guy wouldn't be able to understand any kind of explanation ... so people didn't ask for it to be explained; they sure didn't ask the commonsense questions like you just did."

"So was it some kind of new gun or something?"

Sarge snorted.  "The mistake would have been found sooner if they'd started out small like that.  But oh no, no they wanted to start big.  They put the same sound boxes on the wall, only made them bigger, and then they mounted them on smaller and smaller circle perimeters around the town.  The ones furthest out were battery operated but the ones closest to town were powered directly by the town electric plant that was run from the dam."

My mouth was hanging open.  "Wait, are you saying ...?  Any kind of sound attracks the puss brains.  If they are hungry nothing seems to hurt them enough to stop them.  Putting out a bunch of noise makers would be like putting lunch bells out that never turned off."

"Pretty much Kid ... that is pretty much exactly what happened."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Part 75


The Misters left taking Jamie and Shane with them for better medical attention than the little bit of first aid I had been able to provide.  They also gave Sarge, Cochran, and the woman - who turned out to be named Guinevere Lancelot of all things - what Dad would have called the hairy eyeball.  I'm not sure I get what that means exactly but I recognize it when I see it.  Sarge didn't say a word about their attitude and the other two took their cue from him.

I skinned the rabbit double time and then did what needed doing with the fur while Sarge and the others looked around the yard, taking note of what I'd done that morning.  After the Misters were out of earshot I said, "They are decent people, you just shot two of their kids up is all.  And they're Northerners ... they like to take their time getting to know people."

Sarcasm dripping from every word Sarge asked, "Is that all?"

I shrugged.  What could I say?  It was the truth.

Cochran wasn't shy though and said, "We didn't shoot those guys up, those bonehead recruits from the refugee camp did.  I still can't believe they tried to use a Stinger.  What they heck were they thinking?"

Gwen answered, "They weren't, that's the problem.  They let other people do their thinking for them.  I warned command about the problems using know-nothings would cause but they had their ears shut.  Those types make good cannon fodder, but they're not so good for tactical and political situations.  The docs prefer dumb troops and probably told them to take it and they just accepted the order without question never even taking into consideration the docs don't know what they are talking about three-quarters of the time."

I looked at the three of them.  "OK. Why are things so messed up and how did they get this bad?"

Sarge said, "Stinger.  Wrong tool, wrong tactic, wrong circumstances.  Docs.  Wrong authority, wrong logic, wrong everything.  Recruits.  Wrong tools for the job, and shouldn't be here in general."

"Uh ... that makes things less than clear," I told him.  Sarge rolled his shoulders like he was too irritated to explain.  Dad used to do that sometimes during a particularly bad case or after a bad day.  I did what Mom did when faced with a grumpy man and started food and some warm cider.  The cider is something I make from the pruned up leftover fruit I sometimes run across on wild apple trees.  Sometimes I throw in the dried up cranberries I find in the boggy land to give it a little extra pucker.  I don't find that stuff often so I'm stingy with what I have but I figured that I'd make an exception since I had guests and one of them a "long lost friend."

The stove was soon going and Sarge tossed me a big can of something called Muligatawny stew.  Cochran and Gwen looked at each other and and from their packs they added a can of beans and a can of carrots.  As I looked at what I had to work with, I wondered at something.

"Why are you all carrying heavy cans instead of that military junk that is lightweight?"

Gwen answered, "There isn't any of that military junk left ... at least not in our sector.  It requires special processing to make it shelf stable and production capacity is all but nil right now."  She must have seen something on my face because she said, "Marketing and Manufacturing was what I was going to school for before I was drafted a couple of weeks after Z-Day.  You know what that is?"

I decided not to be insulted and simply answered, "Yeah."

"Good.  Then hopefully you'll understand what it means.  With very little being manufactured in this country - or anywhere else while this pandemic continues - that means that the military, rather than get their supplies from a central shipping point from the government, has to feed itself out in the field.  Totally unconstitutional what was going on for a while - forcing towns to take on and support military units in exchange for security - but little by little bases have been retaken from the chaos and that has allowed the armed forces to start being more self sufficient.  Means a lot of grunts but then again, that's the kind of work it is for the most part.  Hungry troops are sloppy and uncooperative.  Put food in their bellies and things run a lot smoother.  We've also built penal institutions that grow and manufacture useful items for the public good as part of their restitution to society."

I glanced at Sarge and he snorted.  "She's clean.  I know she sounds a little like the damn eggheads but she's proven to be on our side."

I shrugged.  "None of my business."

Gwen sighed.  "Maybe not in a technical sense but I'm not fond of making enemies that I don't need to.  It isn't the least constructive.  Major Watson has spoken of you fondly and I don't want my presence to be an issue here at your unexpected reunion."

I'd think about the rest of it later but something else had caught my attention.  "Major Watson?"

Sarge only snorted.  I looked at Cochran and got a half grin and then it faultered.  He looked at Sarge who refused to explain then at me.  Keeping a look out to make sure he wasn't going to get his head bit off Cochran said, "Battle field promotion."

"I only ever watched old John Wayne movies with Dad but even I know that's a lot of jumps in rank in a short period of time."

Sarge finally sighed and decided to see if one of the few chairs I had would hold his weight.  "Long story short ... Cochran is right as far as it goes.  But listen here Kid, that rank that is hung around my neck doesn't change things much.  I'm still getting dirty doing whatever it takes.  The only reason it happened at all is because there are so few available to be out in the field."

Gwen added, "While that's true Major, you know it is also a matter of being willing, able, and capable as well."

Sarge did that shoulder role again.  I asked, "So do I go around calling you Major now instead of Sarge?"

"No," he answered forcefully and a little angrily.  "You call me anything else and we'll have words.  Like I said Kid, the promotion is mostly just for show.  Chain of command.  All it means is that I get my butt chewed on a little sooner and a little more before it rolls downhill."

"Ok, ok ... I didn't mean anything bad by it.  I just wanted to know."

Sarge sighed.  "Sorry Kid.  I know you didn't.  Seeing you here in the middle of this mess ..."  He stopped for a moment and then looked at the other two and then back at me.  "What I'm going to tell you right now is that you don't say a damn word about what you did here this morning.  Not a single damn word to anyone.  You hear me?"

He couldn't have been more obviously serious if he'd tatooed it on my forehead.  "Why?"

He growled a little bit and I thought it was because I'd asked why but then he growled a little more and said, "What in the hell were they thinking?  Just what in the hell and then to do this?"

I was more confused than ever.  It was like being able to hear only one side of a phone conversation.  "I'm obviously missing some important facts here because nothing you said made a whole lot of sense."  I looked over at Cochran and Gwen but got no help in that quarter.  If anything they looked more serious than Sarge did.

Finally Sarge said, "Kid ... DeeDee ... I know you need an explanation and I'm gonna do my best to give you one so you'll understand how bad and how serious this is but there are somethings you are just going to have to trust me on.  And try and save your why's until I've got most of it out.  It'll save time."

I nodded and he started.

"Some of it goes back to your little appearing and disappearing act.  I'm not saying any of this is your fault or responsibility because you aren't but if I have to have a starting place for my part that would be it.  You got people thinking.  Not a lot of people at first but enough that the condition became infectious to more than half of the community."

Part 74


"You move through this stuff pretty good," Sarge huffed and puffed as he had to break a fresh path through the snow.

"Good enough," I agreed.  "You can get used to anything.  Plus I'm lighter and don't break the snow down as much.  I walk on it, not through it."  We were passing one of my traps and I said, "Hang on."  Sure enough there was a rabbit frozen stiff caught in the snare.  I turned to the rest of them and said, "Something to add to the pot."

Sarge asked, "What do they forage on this time of year?"

"Not much which is why they are kinda scrawny but some meat is better than none.  And I need the fur for my project.  Mr. Svenson is teaching me and I'm making some fur-lined mocassins for myself for when these boots wear out."

He nodded then added, "You've learned some new skills or did you come here knowing how to live off the land."

I shrugged but only he was close enough to see me as everyone else was spread down the path we were breaking through the snow.  "Both I suppose.  It was learn and practice or starve.  I'm still not as good as I want to be, not as good as I need to be, but I do all right."

Jamie and Shane ranged a little ahead and then whistled back.  I told Sarge, "We've got company at the cabin.  No danger but let me check to see who it is first."

I jogged up and into the clearing to find Mr. Noah and a couple of the other Misters.  "Geez," I muttered disliking their focused attention.

Mr. Noah walked up to me and took me by the shoulders and asked, "Are you OK Child?  Uncle Joseph won't rest until he knows for certain."

"Well someone run and tell him I'm fine.  He doesn't need to be out in this cold or get upset.  The boys told me he'd had another near attack."

He turned and said, "Jamie, Shane, get home.  Have Paulette look at you.  I guess we have some settling to do here."

"Oh no you don't," I said forcefully.  "I don't mean to disrespect the Misters but Sarge has already rung everything but blood out of the ones that did this.  I have a feeling he isn't done with them either.  And if you set things off I might not be able to find out what is going on.  Let me do what I can and I promise I'll tell you what I find out."  He opened his mouth to say something but I stopped him by saying, "And I'm awful sorry about Mister Joe.  But it sounds like he did what was necessary and honorable.  I'm sure that Mr. Owen wants the family all together during this time."

Mr. Carter came up and it was one of the first times I'd never seen him with laughter hiding in his eyes.  "You're right about what Owen wants, but he wants you to come too."

That I hadn't expected.  I took two steps back.  "I appreciate it Mr. Carter ... I really do.  But ... but this is my place and ... look, I don't want the family to be seen by anyone to be taking in strays.  Other people might get the wrong idea and try and take advantage.  Let's wait until things settle down before we start making those kinds of decisions."

Mr. Noah and the other Misters that were there nodded slowly, some reluctantly and some not, when Mr. Carter looked their way.  He turned back to me and said, "OK.  We won't force you but something needs to be done about that door.  So long as you barricade it tonight you should be fine.  I'm sure Owen will want to send some of the boys out here tomorrow to see about rehanging it properly."

Then Sarge made a bigger production than he normally would about coming into the clearing.  I think in part it was so he wouldn't startle anyone but I also think he was smart enough to have listened in a little bit.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Part 73


"Come back to my cabin with me and I'll show you all the puss brains we had around here."`

"Kid, I want to talk to you like you don't know but I've got to find a couple of guys that have gone missing from one of the camps around here."

"What camp?" I asked since I had gotten to know quite a few of them of them over the weeks.

"Place called Singing Waters.  They went out to check on someone and ..."

I sighed.  "Well Sarge, you're in luck.  Your boys just about shot them up but they aren't too far off."

"Oh s@#$."

"Hey!  That wasn't nice."

"Sweetheart, this isn't a nice situation we've got here."  He turned to the woods and gave a piercing whistle.  "Yo!  If you boys are James and Shane and you're still in the woods you better hightail it home on the quick.  Your pops is not one bit happy right now."

Shane cautiously came out of the tree line followed by Jamie.  "We aren't going to leave her," he said throwing his head in my direction.

"Aw knock it off you two.  This is Sarge.  I told you about him."

"Yeah you did.  But that's who he was then.  Do you know who he is now?"

I was going to give him a snotty comment but then I stopped and turned to look at the man in question.  I looked at him good and hard and then turned back to Shane.  "I know enough that he could have taken advantage of me then but that he didn't and he could have tried to fool me this time around but he didn't.  What's the measure of a man except his deeds?"

Jamie sighed.  "Please don't start talking like again.  It makes my head hurt."

Sarge looked at me like I'd grown a third eye on the end of my nose and asked, "What in the Sam Hill did you just say?"

"Can't a girl try and sound a little educated every once in a while without you guys sounding like you are going into shock or something?"

Sarge snorted.  "Oh.  Is that what you're trying to do.  Sounded more like one of them silly books my sister the English teacher was fond of reading.  I take it you've picked up the habit same as most females."

I shrugged.  "Not really, but boredom and a small bookcase limits my options of keeping myself from developing cabin fever."  I shrugged again.  "Now that you've found the two 'boys' do you want to come to the cabin or not?  Pickings are a little slim but I can make some soup or something and some stewed cranberries."

He gave me a smile.  "Seems like I remember a similar circumstance the first time we met.  How about I pick up the tab this time?"

Since his offer was genuine and because I wasn't kidding about pickings being slim I accepted.  He turned to Cochran and the other guy and asked, "Any gear left behind?"

Cochran said, "Only the Stinger Sarge.  They even remembered to pick up all their casings."

"'Bout time they managed to do something right," Sarge muttered like he wasn't talking to anyone but himself.  "All right.  Let's head out.  Keep your eyes peeled for any strays."

"Stray whats?" I asked.

"Infecteds," he answered.

Before we could go any further Shane says warningly, "DeeDee ..."

"Oh for ... what now?!" I wanted to know.

"No way is it proper for you to be alone in your cabin with five men."

"What five men?"

"Those three and us two."

"Who said you were invited?" I sassed him.

"Uncle Joseph and Aunt Ava said we were to always keep an eye out for you and ..."

If I hadn't been trying to act dignified to prove to Sarge I wasn't a little kid I would have gobsmacked Shane in the face with the biggest wad of snow I could.

Just then the third guy pulled down his parka hood and said, "Are you kidding?  Do I look like chopped liver these days or what?"

See the "guy" wasn't a guy, nor a him of any variety.  Him was a her.  Shane and Jamie both stood there with their mouths open and their tongues hanging out.  I suppose from a guy's perspective they had reason.  She was tall for a woman, like all the Singing Waters men were, but she was also about as red headed as you could get.  And even I had to admit that her eyes were really pretty now that she'd taken her snow goggles off.

I sighed and said to no one in particular, "Please excuse them.  Most of the females around here are either their relations or covered in fur.  Jamie there is spoken for but only kinda sorta I think.  Still ... a fresh face and ..."

Jamie and Shane shouted in unison, "DeeDee!"

Sarge barked an amused laugh.  "Same old mouth."

I nodded.  "Same old mouth.  So are we going or not?"

Part 72




"Why you little ..."  Suddenly I was engulfed in a bear hug and then next threatened within an inch of my life. "I ought to turn you over my knee and paddle your behind so hard it will be a month of Sunday's before you'll even think about using your sitter!"

I snickered a laugh.  "Sure, sure.  But first, can you call your dogs off?  I don't want them blowing up my cabin and my friends are already needing medical attention where they've been shot at."

From a short distance away I heard an exasperated, "DeeDee!"

That was Jamie.  He was obviously unhappy with me revealing they were less than 100%.  Sarge however took things in hand and blasted the men under his command.  The ones that had I had rolled over with the landslide were sent back to their base with their tails between their legs ... minus the rocket launcher which was being looked over by the two men that had come with Sarge. He barked out orders left and right for a couple of minutes.

Next he turned to me.  "That was a good faith move.  Your turn.  Tell your guards to stand down.  Lord knows we got a major problem on our hands and don't need to make it worse."

Turning I ran up into the trees.  However, I didn't start going the correct direction until I was in the trees and out of their sight.  Jamie and Shane met me and I could see they weren't happy.  Not a thing I could do about that so I just told them to remember my stories of "Sarge" and to come out and meet him if they wanted.

I took off back at a rabbit lope and then skidded to a halt in front of Sgt. Watson.  "They might come they might not but they've put their guns down ... temporarily.  I'm not going to go any place I don't want to go," I told him so that he understood I wasn't going to be marched any place for my own good or anything like that.

He nodded then said, "So this is where you ran off to.  Everything you hoped it would be?"

I shrugged.  "Little girls grow up and dreams and memories are nothing but stardust."

"Another one of your folks' sayings?"

I shook my head.  "No.  That one is original to me.  It means that things are what they are and were never going to be anything else."  After a second of mutual silence where I could tell he was trying to unknot what I'd just said I asked, "Didn't the Sheriff tell you where I went?  I left him a note."  Strictly speaking it wasn't a note but Sargeant Watson didn't need to know that.  Then he got a flat look on his face.  I'd seen that look too many times not to know what it meant.  What little good I was feeling fell away like it had never existed.  Quietly I asked, "When and how?"

He put a hand on my shoulder and said, "About a month after you left the town was overrun when some damned experiment failed."

Cautiously I asked, "Did someone put him down?  Take his suffering away?"

Trying to be kind he said, "It never got to that point.  He was inside the power plant with some others trying to disconnect the experiment's electrical source when there was an explosion.  He died a hero just like he lived.  Took out enough of the infecteds that we could evacuate those few people that had been smart enough to take some of your words to heart.  It was a lot fewer than we should have been able to save but it was more than what would have made it a month earlier."

I was afraid to ask.  "And Lee?"

"He's alive."

I could hear that there was more to the story and asked, "What?"

"We can talk about it in a bit.  First though ..."

"No," I told him.  "We'll talk about it now."

"DeeDee ..."

Then from behind Sarge another voice from the past spoke up.  "He don't want to hurt your feelings."

It took me a moment to recognize him.  Cochran of all people.  Yet it wasn't him ... or the same him.  His face held a hardness that hadn't been there before.  That didn't bother me.  What bothered me was the idea that I was somehow being protected against my will.  "I don't have too many feelings left to hurt so you might as well go ahead and spit it out."

Sarge shook his head.  "Later."

"Now," I said, refusing to give ground.

Cochran sighed and repeated, "It's just a matter of hurting you DeeDee.  And it's a long involved soap opera.  Lee ... look, he ... he's with ..."

Both men looked at me and realized that I wasn't budging.  Finally Sarge just shook his head and said, "He's alive but he's dug himself a deep hole of misery.  The damn fool boy was messing around with the wrong girl and after the tragedy that struck the town it came out and a lot of people ... not that there were alot left mind you ... a lot of people turned on him.  He got comfort from the quarter he shouldn't have and now ... er ..."

He faultered and I looked at Cochran who finally said, "Dumb ass got Michelle Hanson knocked up.  Apparently their ... er ... relationship started as a way to control the Sheriff through Lee and wasn't supposed to go as far as it did but it did and she is and there's a mess."

I gave their words some thought and decided then and there that something must be wrong at me because I wasn't feeling much and what I did feel seemed to be coming from a long distance away.  I asked what was of more immediate concern to me.  "So you coming here was just a coincidence?"  The two men looked at me and then at each other.  I snapped, "What?  Did you expect me to pull a drama queen or fall to my knees in dispair?"

Sarge said, "Well, to tell the truth ... yeah.  I thought you and that boy ..."

I shook my head.  "There never was a 'me and that boy.'  We were friends.  Maybe if the world hadn't changed it would have been more than that but we were just kids when it did and we got spun off into different directions.  So maybe I did have a little girl's crush on him at one point.  But I'm not a little girl anymore and haven't been for a while.  I'm sixteen ..."

A voice from the bushes asked, "When did you turn 16?"

Jamie.  Typical.  "A couple of weeks ago."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"'Cause I didn't.  Now leave me alone about it."  I turned back to find Sarge and Cochran sharing a look.  "And you two knock it off too.  Geez, guys seem to be worse about thinking everything is about romance or sex than females are."

Cochran asked, "Just now figuring that out?"

I gave his question all the consideration it deserved which is to say none.  Instead I blew them away by saying, "I knew about Lee and Michelle.  I caught them doing some serious making out when I was on my out of town.  I figured it had to be something like you described it ... manipulation or whatever ... I just figured Lee had more sense.  I even warned him.  And if not him then her to have more sense than to wind up ..."  I stopped and then asked, "What about her mom?  Dr. Hanson?"

Sarge shook his head.  "I'm not talking about this standing around in negative degree weather.  It's too damn cold for it."

"This isn't cold.  Cold is what it was last night when the puss brains broke down my door.  Speaking of which you know you're going to tell me why I've had to clean up a horde today and had you show up right behind it?"

The look on his face said that was another story and one that I wasn't going to like any better than the first one I had to drag out of him.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Part 71




I took the usual path that brought me in behind the stand only I was even more careful than I usually was. I'd learned to be crafty to avoid running into any of the men from the area and I added that to what Moses and Jace had tried to teach me. However, what was the biggest help was remembering the lengths to which I would go to spy on Toddie and his friends. They were good at getting away, I was better at finding them ... they just didn't know that and I had never enlightened them.

Once I got to a good vantage point I looked down. I couldn't see who was inside the stand, just the top of their toboggan covered head. They were dressed in a gray and white camouflage but were still moving around so much that I could see them ... yes them. There looked to be five of them. A couple were on the smallish side so they were either women or boys. I didn't care. I had to take action. They were bringing up what looked like a freaking rocket launcher. I'd come too far and gone through too much to get to Singing Waters. I might not have been living in the camp of my memories but it was someplace that was "mine" and it was relatively safe. OK, so I had just gone through a horde of puss brains that had busted down the cabin door, but that was still better than anything I'd had in a good long while. A door was fixable. There was no fixing a cabin that was blown sky high so I decided they just weren't going to be allowed to do it. I remembered as an afterthought to add they were not going to blow up Jamie or Shane either.

I looked around for a distraction then realized that the snow right above the stand was looking kinda dangerous. I usually had to clear it some or risk having it come down on me but these yahoos hadn't done that and I could see a big jagged crack in the overhang. The build up was also larger than I'd ever seen it.

I usually dropped the snow by starting a small landslide higher up and I was hopping that would work this time. As I made my way over I saw three more camouflage dressed people running to join the five; only running in snow isn't exactly what they were doing. They were chugging through the snow with the big one in front breaking the path. His body language said he was in a major hurry.

I got up there in a hurry and started pushing over a buch of loose baby boulders that happened to be handy. And yeah, it worked. Kinda a lot better than I had expected because not only did the overhang of snow give way but the force of the slide went backwards as well as forward. The ground under my feet gave way faster than I could run away and I would up skiing down the hill on my butt until I could grab hold of a tree and skinny up the limbs, all the while praying the the pine would stay upright.

The noise settled down for about five seconds and then a terrific roar reached my ears. It wasn't another landslide. It wasn't the rocket launcher going off. It was the big guy that I'd seen coming this way.

"Who the hell gave you blinkety blankety blank wipes permission to requisition a blankety blinkety Stinger?!!"

I heard a muffled, "The docs said ..."

"The docs?! The DOCS?!!!" I thought he was going to have a seizure right there. "How many times do you have to be told to clear their orders before following them?! The docs are the ones that got us into this mess you buncha filth and foul and filth and foul idiots! Get your sorry, good for nothing blankety blankety blanks outta there! If one hair on any civilians head is damaged I'll feed you to the damn filth and foul infecteds myself!!!"

All his yelling nearly caused another avalanche and did scare the snow hanging onto the ends of the pine branch that I was holding onto. I grabbed the branch with my arms and legs just in time as the snow let go of the pine needles and fell straight down on top of the righteously PO'd man immediately below.

The branch, relieved of the heavy weight of the wet snow, bounced up and down nearly throwing me off. I wound up hanging by my hands and sliding fast. Someone shooting up at me was the last straw and down I went with both the snow and a very large man who was still trying to dig himself out of it to break my fall.

We both let out a loud, "OOMPH!" He, with obviously more reason than me.

Someone yelled, "Don't shoot! You'll hit him too!"

Another someone yelled, this someone I recognized said, "That's right, don't shoot ... 'cause it you do we'll put a bullet in every last one of you!" Jamie ... subtle definitely wasn't his thing at all.

The man beneath me finally brushed the snow out of his face and then nearly went bug eyed when he saw me above him grinning. I said, "Hey Sarge. I do believe we have what you might call a situation on our hands."

Part 70




There was another crack and suddenly I found myself face down in the snow.

Trying to clear the snow out of my orifices I squalled, "What the ...?!"

"Shhh!  And stop wiggling!"

With just barely enough air in my lungs to squeak I told both Jamie and Shane, "Get off me!"

"Hush!" Shane snapped.  Then, "Move Jamie.  I've got her."

"You move," he snapped right back.  "I've got her."

Jamie repeated, "I said I've got her!"

Shane came right back with, "You don't need her.  You need to move."

I suddenly realized what a bone being fought over by two feral dogs felt like.  I finally wiggled enough where I jabbed Jamie in the eyebrow with one elbow and Shane in the cheek with the other.  "Ow!" they said in unison.

"You'll get more of that if you two tubs of lard don't get off me.  I can't breathe!"

They only marginally uncovered me, and then one on each side the drug me into the woods and behind a large tree.

"Have you two lost your ...?!"  Just that moment there was another crack and splinters from the tree we were behind added to the scratches that I'd given them just a moment before.  "Uh ... Was that a gun shot?"

Jamie snorted in exasperation.  "No DeeDee.  You somehow must have hacked off the squirrels and they're throwing their entire winter supply of acorns at us with miniature rocket launchers."

Well, in my mind there wasn't any need for him to be that sarcastic but I guess all things considered he was a bit stressed out so I let it go.  Then, of all the bad luck a single ricochet put both my would be protectors on the injured list.  The bullet hit a big bit of stone that USFS had drug up there keep the forest visitors from backing down what used to be an old forestry road.  Two things then happened simultaneously.  First the bullet had just enough velocity to go through the meaty part of Shane's upper arm.  Second, a piece of that rock flew and caught Jamie in his eyebrow and it started to gush blood.

I could go into what kind of quick first aid I gave them but it would just be a waste of paper and pencil.  I did what I did and I did it  quickly and then my anger boiled over and I left the guys sitting there bleeding and with their mouths hanging open trying to grab me before I could make my escape.  See, I had figured out where the shooter was.  The jerk was using my own hunting stand.  I'm ashamed to say that that was what really torqued me and not just being shot at and having the guys get hurt.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Part 69




The outhouse event over with if not out of the way, I began to notice some odd bumps in the snow.  I kicked the snow away thinking lots of big pieces of tree trash fall had fallen during the storm ... only it wasn't tree trash.

I turned in a full circle and everywhere I looked there were odd lumps in the snow.  Terror was leaving behind fury.  I had gotten to the point where enough was enough.

I stomped up to the cabin, kicked aside the screen door that was barely still hanging on by one hinge, and pulled the storage box from under my bunk.  Out came the machete and sharpening thingie that Jace had given me.  It wasn't a traditional whet stone like you would use on good knives, this thing was more for kitchen shears and stuff like that.  Well I put an edge on that machete like you wouldn't believe and then stomped back outside.  I tied a double layer of bandana around my face and then went back to the original "lump" I'd uncovered.

Popsicle puss brains.  Grrrr.  They littered the land for as far as I could see, even into the tree line surrounding the cabin.  I had no idea if the cold had killed them or if they were hibernating or whatever it was they did when they got too cold, but no way was I going to wait for a thaw to find out.  I had learned the hard way the first winter back in the city that trying to crush a frozen skull made my bat vibrate painfully all the way from my hands to my shoulders.  It also took a lot more energy to dispatch a frozen puss brain that way.  Some had preferred to do it from a distance using a spear to pierce the heart; however, many of the puss brains around here had too many clothes on and I couldn't be sure of it working the way I meant it to.

I know, I know.  These aren't zombies or vampires or any other kind of thing that goes bump in the night.  Well, they did go bump in the night but I just mean they weren't supernatural ... aren't supernatural in any way, shape, or form.  They're humans; live ones, of a sort anyway.  Sick humans.  Humans that had become ruthless and unthinking.  Their only goal was eating to survive and surviving to eat.  They accomplished nothing but feeding off of others.  They were sick, and as far as I could tell after dealing with them for so long, literally unable as much as unwilling to control themselves or make other choices.

I'm sure the history books and certain people will have lots to say on what I did that day; what a lot of us had to do to survive the invasion of the Northern Woods.  I'm sure I'll not go around being proud and bragging about it either.  In fact I've been told to shut up about it.  And if this notebook falls into the wrong hands - and doesn't that sound all spy-ish and stuff - I'm sure it will be used against me and I'll wind up prosecuted for "crimes against humanity" and probably locked up as criminally insane or worse.  But none of that stopped me.  It was cruel work but it was necessary work.

Someone afterwards told me to think of myself as a soldier in a war.  I suppose that could be true.  But on that day all I thought about was how disgusting it was but that I was bound and determine to survive even if I was the last one standing.  I was hours doing it.  I'd go from lump to lump, kick the snow away and then deliver a single (usually a single anyway) chop to the back of the neck.  Doc had devised this back in the city; he called it "the procedure."  This served two purposes.  First off it severed the spinal cord from the brain which stopped any possible movement from occurring.  Secondly, it was humane because it stopped the brain from being able to send any kind of pain signals to the rest of the body.  Those two points combined meant that there was too much damage for the disease to repair before the brain shut down permanently.  And if it didn't, well you didn't think about that too much when you were putting the bodies in a pile to burn and dispose of.

Lucky for me the puss brains only spread out into the surrounding woods about a hundred feet and came no where near my creek ... at least not the up end that I used to get my water from.  Also lucky for me that Jamie and Shane had enough sense to duck when they made the mistake of sneaking up on me.

"Whoa!  Whoa, whoa, whoa!!  Put that thing down!!"

I was exhausted and ... hmmmm ... let's call it what Ms. Austen would have.  I was distempered.  OK, let's not be polite ... I was in a raving fury.

I ground out at him, "I could have sliced you open you ... you ...!"

"Uh yeah.  Kinda noticed that," Jamie stuttered looking at me with a growing temper of his own.

Shane said, "Knock it off.  We should have whistled or something.  She's probably been scared to death.  Look it this mess."

"I see it," Jamie snapped.  "Uncle Joseph is going to have a barrel of kittens and he's already had another attack."

"What?!"

My attention changed from the puss brains I'd been piling like cord wood to what I considered a more immediate emergency.

Both men looked perturbed to have let that cat out of the bag.  Jamie walked off at my question and was busy counting the bodies - I was close to adding his number to them - when Shane finally said, "Aunt Paulette says it wasn't a full blown attack, more like a warning shot across his bow.  He and Aunt Ava got blocked into their place and we couldn't get to them until this morning."

"Is ... is he all right?  Mrs. Svenson?  Anyone ... anyone ..."

"Get infected?"  I nodded.  "One of the single cottages.  Uncle Joe left a note saying that one of the men panicked and tried to go out a window.  They were just waiting on the other side of it and once the shutter was off ..."  He stopped.  "Dad and Uncle Owen and the others ... they're ... they're ... we all are ..."

"Grieving," I said finishing his sentence.  Trying to think what I could do for them I asked, "Should I come ... you know ... take care of things?  That way no one in the family ..."

Jamie's head jerked around and I thought he was going to blow but I'd completely misjudged him.  "You'd do that?  Even after everything?"

"What everything?"

"Us not ... not letting you in the camp.  Holding you off, not letting you passed the gate, making you live out here and take care of yourself ..."

He sounded like he was getting wound up and I was desperate to shut him up.  He was making me uncomfortable.  I suppose I could have made an issue of it but it just isn't worth carrying a grudge of that size to weigh me down.  "Whatever Jamie.  For pete sake, get over it 'cause I have.  Do I need to go down to camp or not?"

Shane broke in again and said, "Not.  Uncle Joe took care of it himself.  His note said to forgive him but that he was less of afraid of censure at Judgment than he was of what he'd have to answer for if he hurt his family."

I nodded and tried not to let it show how unexpected I thought that.  Mr. Joe had never been my favorite of the brothers, especially given his friends.  "Brave man.  And thoughtful.  I'm not sure that any of the Misters or the rest of the family see it that way right now though."

Shane shook his head.  "They understand, they just hurt too bad to appreciate it.  After what we've all had to do today ... and we honestly ... you know didn't expect ... well ... you're just a girl and all.  Uncle Owen and Uncle Joseph are pretty cut up thinking ... well you know what we expected to find up here."

"Well then run back and tell them not to be, at least not over me.  I've faced a horde more than once, but I suppose I have to admit this is even stranger than that.  Why would one puss brain, much less a horde of them, march into the cold when usually they are doing everything to avoid it like a reptile would."

I turned toward him to say something else when there was the sound like a limb cracking and Shane dropped to the ground.

Part 68




Blood froze where it had splattered and my eyebrows and lashes were frosting over as well.  I looked at the gapping hole where the door had been and nearly cried.  I know I was having a reaction but there just wasn't time for it.  The cold would kill me as surely as the puss brains had tried.  Then I realized if there were six there could be sixty.  All wandering in the night and storm looking for a tasty bucket of sustenance named DeeDee.  As a matter of fact, a picture of an old fashioned bucket of chicken kept floating through my head only instead of the bucket saying "original" or "crispy" it said "Spicy Popcorn Deandra Dawn".  Oh yeah, I was on the edge all right.  The edge of running into my own crazy.

I wasn't nice about it.  There is a time for respect for the dead and a time that you just pray they are already where they are going and don't mind what you do with the shell they left behind.  I pray that when I put a puss brain down that when they get where they are going they count it more of an escape than anything.  Guess I'll know one of these days but I hope that it is a long, long time off.

I just tossed the mess that I had made of the puss brains down my stairs and out into the night, whatever it took to get them out of the cabin.  I'd scrub the rest of the mess up later.  I actually hoped wild animals would find the remains outside and carry it off so I wouldn't have to deal with that too.  Then I manhandled the door back into the gap.  It wouldn't stay up by itself because of the wind so I pushed and shoved what furniture I had in front of it to hold it up ... a five drawer dresser full of cans, the little frig full of dried smoked fish and cattails, and a folding chair I used as a brace to hold everything in place.

Cold continued to pour in where the door frame had been damaged so I shoved what I could into the gaps.  The floor and walls were covered in frost, my drinking water (thankfully covered and undisturbed) was a solid block of ice, and the fire had gone out in the stove leaving me in almost total darkness except for what little light the wind up lamp created which itself was fast fading as the cold made it difficult for the batteries to keep a charge.

With the wind held at bay - definitely been reading too much of the Bronte sisters - I shuffled to the stove, my ankle and arm feeling like they were still being chewed on.  I got the stove going but it only seemed to warm a couple of inches of space away from its surface.  I wanted to look at the "bites" really bad but I knew if I took off my clothes to see them I would lose what little warmth I had.  I also didn't want to be less than dressed if another bunch of puss brains showed up.

I stayed huddled up near the stove for the rest of the night, straining to hear any unnatural noise in the storm.  Eveything sounded unnatural after what I'd done - no matter how I might talk I'm beginning to admit I'm not immune to the emotional muck putting puss brains out of their misery leaves behind.  I think I did hear something legitimately unnatural once or twice; and, after what I found when the storm finally blew itself out the next day I probably didn't hear quite a bit that I should have.

At some point I had fallen asleep, my body and mind shutting down both from shock and I suppose what was near hypothermia.  I woke in pain.  I had lost my balance in my sleep and fallen over on my arm.  I nearly screamed; and would have if Moses's training hadn't been instilled so deeply.  When I got my breath back I realized from the lack of sound that the storm was over.  I got up and hobbled over, and after moving a blanket aside, I peered out a gap in the damaged door frame that it was daylight.  I wasn't sure what time exactly but is was a couple of hours before noon if I was judging the angle of the sun correctly.

After debating with myself I finally moved everything out of the way and went outside.  Not because I had any great desire to be out there but because I needed to take care of nature's call.  I have to tell you the truth, I nearly had to change my underclothes whether I wanted to or not after finding that some puss brains had gotten so desperate they'd climbed down inside the outhouse.  What is left of them is still there and I now keep a bucket in the cabin for at night because no way do I want to go through that again in the dark.  Once was absolutely enough for multlple life times.