Monday, November 10, 2014

Part 100

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 99

"Not who but what?"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You mean about the puss brains?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They'd what?"

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

"Geez," he said in disgust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Bambi lover," Cochran said with a snort.

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

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

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

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

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

Part 98

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

"Cochran.  He's my friend."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't lead him on?"

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

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

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

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

"Who was it?"

Part 97

"Uh ..."

I asked him, "Uh what?"

"Be right back."

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

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

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

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

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

"Open what?"

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

"Of course not, it's yours."

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

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

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

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

He laughed.  "No."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A-OK Major?" Cochran called out.

"Permission to stand down granted."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Now you listen here ..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am Squirt."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cochran stood straight and said, "Yes sir."

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

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

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

Part 96

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's this 'we' business?"

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

Concerned I asked, "Is Sarge in trouble?"

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

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

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

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

Cochran asked, "Want me to do it?"

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

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

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

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

"Uh uh.  I already told you."

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

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


"Don't what?"

"Just don't.  Feelings are bad."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I told you ..."

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

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

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

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

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

Part 95

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 94

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey Sarge, you forgot something."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah, why shouldn't I be?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's that supposed to mean?"

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

"Who said I was?"

"Wellllll ... the family decided."

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

"But Dad and the Uncles said ..."

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

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

"What way?"

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

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

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

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

"Then what?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"What about Jamie?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Part 93

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

"Squirrel sausage hash."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Your brother?" he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Part 92

I woke to someone rubbing my back.  "It's ok.  C'mon DeeDee, don't.  It's gonna be ok.  Really."

I jumped.  "Wha ...?"


"What are you doing?" I asked, shocked to find myself practically buried in Cochran's chest.

"You were having a bad dream.  It was a bad one too from the sound of it."

I shook my head.  "I don't remember."  He stopped rubbing my back and stiffened like he didn't believe me.  I told him, "I'm serious, I don't remember.  I used to remember my dreams all the time but lately ..."  I shrugged.  "Lately I don't.  Maybe because they're old reruns that I've watched too often or something."

He relaxed and snorted.  "I've got a few reruns too.  You sure you're ok?"  I could hear in his voice that he understood so well there wasn't any need to discuss it.

"Yeah," I answered and then wiggled, not sure where I was trying to go.

"Feeling closed in?"

"Kinda.  Mostly ... I'm just not used to being ... being touched so much."

"It bother you?"

"Sorta."  He backed off.  "Look, it isn't ... I mean ..."  Then in a rush I told him, "It isn't you.  It's the whole guy thing.  I ... I guess I'm just ... broken ... like a toy or something."

Quietly he said, "You aren't a toy DeeDee.  I didn't mean to make you think I thought of you that way."

"You didn't ... don't ... well you did before but that's was a long time ago and not what I'm sensing now.  I just mean ... geez ... I don't want to talk about it."

"Ok.  Just so long as you know I wasn't really trying to make a move on you.  Just because its been a while doesn't mean that I don't have some self-respect.  I'm not gonna jump your bones just because."

"I know.  Even when I forget I know ... I just may not act like it.  Can we change the subject?"


"Like how are your hands?"

He accepted the change in subject pretty well ... better than Lee would have.  "Better.  I was able to put my gloves back on."  After a moment he said, "I hate to do this but I need to check outside.  I've lost track of time and I need to check the weather."

It was awful to lose all the heat we had built up but necessary.  It was still snowing pretty good but not storming.  And it was daylight.  "We need to move," he said bringing his head back into the shelter.  "Think you can make it to your cabin if I break the path for you?"

"I'll do whatever I need to.  How deep is the snow?"

"Maybe another foot of snow on the ground and more building up.  It's mostly how it has drifted that is going to be the problem.  Some of those things are over my head so for you ..."

"Yeah, I get it."

We both looked a little for any remains of the two men but it was useless.  We couldn't even find remains of the dogs though we knew they had to be there so we headed out.  I've never had such a hard time traveling to the cabin.  It took two hours to get what would have normally taken thirty minutes and by the time we got there Cochran was soaked to his hips.  I was wet up to my chest where snow had snuck inside my jacket and melted.  And we were both exhausted and losing our core body heat.

"No way is the Major going to be out traveling in this."

I asked, "Want to try and call him anyway?"

"No because it won't do any good.  They'll have the equipment secured because of the storm."

He looked around and then looked down and around.  "I covered your tunnel opening with a tarp but I'm not sure where it is at now."

"I ..." then I yelled.

"See you found it."

"Yeah Einstein," I muttered as I tried to crawl back up the slippy slide.

"Just move back if you can and I'll slide down."

"You ... you sure you'll ... Hmmm ..."

I didn't want to bring up bad things but I was worried about his claustrophobia.  He understood and said, "If I could lay in that casket shaped shelter for as long as we did, your cabin will be ok ... at least for a while ... so long as I know I can get out."

He slid down and after that we both basically sleep walked through the next hour as we took some privacy to change into dry clothes, started a fire in the fireplace instead of the stove because it's stove pipe was clogged with ice, and ate some broth I heated.

"We gotta sleep," Cochran mumbled.

"Yeah," I mumbled back.  "Help me move this stuff over here.  You'll have to watch your head and feet 'cause they are going to stick out ... and watch your head if you sit up."

The "fort" was rebuilt and we both climbed in without a word and then arranged ourselves and went to sleep.

I didn't think a thing about it - we just did it.  That is until I woke up and realized we were wrapped around each other the way we had been in his makeshift shelter despite there being a lot more room.  That's when I started weirding out.  I tried to move but all the sleeping Cochran seemed to let me do is turn so that I faced the fire.  He had a hold of me like I was a teddy bear or something.  It was just too embarrassing.  Not because of what he was doing but because it didn't bother me that he was doing it.

Eventually Cochran fell asleep so hard I could wiggle away and sit up which is what I've been doing for a while now.  I don't need much sleep, I never have, and this situation has been no exception.  But I usually don't spend my time thinking about the things I've been thinking about.  Like there's this guy that saved my life and I stink so bad that there is no way he can't smell me.  Like reliving the feel of being so close and having his hands in places ... like when he was searching for the water bottle the first time.

And Cochran has moved over until he is right up against me again ... and it still doesn't bother me.  And the fact that it doesn't bother me is really bothering me and I don't know what to say when he wakes up.  Which seems to be right about now.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Part 91

"Cochran!  Slow down!  If we go out, we go out together!  It's not good to get separated from your group!!"

He clipped me good fighting me.  It wasn't a punch or anything like that, he was just kind of scrambling around and there wasn't a lot of room.  It was pitch black but I still saw stars and he made me mad.  I reached into his hood and got a good hold on his ear and yanked as hard as I could.  "There!  How do you like that?!"

He yelped, "Ow!"

"I'm gonna make you holler some more if you don't stop it!  That hurt you big doof!!"

I don't know if it was because I still had hold of his ear or if he was calming down but he stopped fighting so much, but he was still pushing me away.

"I told you ..."

"Just stay away from me!" he yelled.

I yelled back, "Well since this place isn't exactly the Taj Mahal there's not a whole lot of room for me to back up and give you your precious space!"  He was breathing heavy and I asked him, "Now if we're going to do this you can't run off.  Your legs are too long for me to keep up.  Help me push the snow away and we'll crawl out sensibly."


Irritated I asked, "What do you mean no?!"

Quietly he answered, "I mean no.  The storm is still going."

"No kidding.  But you were just ready to ..."

"I know what I was just doing," he snapped.  "I told you ... I'm ... I'm not always safe to be around."

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself," I growled.  "Trust me, I've been there and it is a good way to get dead fast.  For the last time are we going out or not?"

"I already said not," he growled back at me.

"Then get over here and let's get everything put back in place.  It's cold doggone it."

We were both shivering, some from cold and some from nerves.  I needed to sleep, was desperate to sleep, but now I couldn't because I was afraid that if I did he would try and leave again.  He must have sensed my feelings because he said, "It's ... it's over."

"What's over?" I mumbled as I was trying to recreate the warmth we'd generated before by putting my mittens over my cheeks to keep the warmth from my breath near my face.

"My crazy."


We were both quiet for a while.  Not a good quiet but a real tense one then he said one of the bad curse words.  "Hey!"

"I'm an idiot."

Snidely I asked, "And that's news?"

"Apparently not to you."  He shook himself and then said, "It looks like we are going to be here for a while."

"Obviously.  Besides you've said that already."

"Sure but ..."  He was moving around and I finally realize he was trying to get something out of his pack.

Trying not to let my anger get in the way of my commonsense I asked, "Need some help?"

He stopped and sighed.  "Yeah.  I've got a spare sleeping bag in a stuff bag.  If we unzip it we can lay it over us.  It's not rated for this kind of cold but it'll be something and I should have thought of it before.  I'm so freaking stupid."

"Don't start throwing your issues around Cochran 'cause I've got enough of my own to deal with.  Now hold still or my knee might wind up some place you don't want it."

He froze and after some tugging I got his spare sleeping bag out, pulled out what seemed like an enormous amount of material for such a little storage bag and let him unzip it and arrange it over us since he was taller and stuck out more.  In no time I could tell the temperature was going up.  Cochran asked, "Warmer?"

"Yeah.  Getting there.

After a few more quiet minutes while I tried to keep my nose from burying itself in the front of his jacket he asked, "Would you have really left and gone out into the storm with me?"

"Sure," I mumbled sleepily.  "Wouldn't have been the best idea for either one of us but we're a group right now.  Separating from your group isn't smart or safe."

After I jerked awake for the third time he said, "Go to sleep DeeDee.  I think we'll stay warm enough with this over us that sleeping a little isn't going to hurt."


"Look, this hole is ventilated so we won't suffocate either if more snow covers us.  Just ... just get some sleep."

And I did.  For awhile anyway.  I woke up with chalk mouth ... really, really dry and thirsty ... but I was still so tired that it was hard to move.  Then I jumped like I'd been goosed when I felt cold hands crawling under my coat.  "Jerk!"

I realized he was in real distress when he couldn't talk because his teeth were chattering so hard.  "Cochran, what did you do?  Did you go out?!"

"Uh ... (shiver, chatter) ... uh."

"Then why are you so cold?"  I pulled his hands and started rubbing them with my mittened hands and he jerked away.  "Did I hurt you?"

"L .. lllllet me ... pppput ... mmmmy ..."

"Why?" I asked suspiciously.
"Fffffilled bbbbottle."

Then I realized.  "You took your mittens off to put more snow in the canteen?!  You nut case.  Ohhhh ... go ahead but if your hands do anything more than warm up I'll pound your nose flat."

He leaned into me and put his hands under my coat and just laid there shivering.  He was being so careful that I put my arms around him to try and hold him while he shivered because it started to sound like he was hurting.  "Cochran are you ok?"

"Wwwill be.  Hands hhhhurt."

"You said something about a flashlight.  I need to check your hands for frostbite."  When he didn't respond I said, "Cochran?"

"Not frostbit.  Frostnipped.  Just hurts but it doesn't feel the same as frostbite."

"And how would you know what frostbite feels like?"

"A bunch of us got frostbit toes when we hit the first storm heading north.  Our feet got wet, we still had to march ... yyyyyou get the picture."

"Yeah I do," I told him, but it was an ugly one.

Eventually we both went to sleep with the bottle of snow between us so it would melt.