Monday, November 10, 2014

Part 99


"Not who but what?"

"Huh?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You mean about the puss brains?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They'd what?"

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

"Geez," he said in disgust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Bambi lover," Cochran said with a snort.

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

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

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

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

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

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