Friday, December 12, 2014

Part 105


Been a while since I've written but there is nothing else to do on this stupid train but write.  I almost threw this old thing away but I worked too hard for it, risked my life and suffered a beating to have it, have depended on it too much ... one of these days I will probably toss it or use it for a fire starter but that time hasn't come yet.  And I've got to write all this junk down down just to get it from running in circles in my head.

Why?  Why do things have to happen the way they do?  Why is it always on my happiest days that life does this?  Z-Day on the day I was went to town with Mom and had Dad's permission to pick out my first real grown up party dress and to go to my first dance with one of my best friends ever.  Finally finding the guts to get something for myself - this notebook - only to start the horrible running, running, running that culminated in me being left by the group.  Reaching town and "home" only to find out "home" didn't exist for me anymore.  Finally getting close to Singing Waters only to have Sunny die and Jace commit suicide.  And then that day.

Sure, of course the puss brains are part of it but I've gotten to the point where they are like my ratty old, hand-me-down-through-a-gazillion-people bedroom furniture used to be ... they're there, no matter how much I wish something was different it isn't, so I've learned to live with it and make the best of it I can.  The puss brains are what threw Cochran and I together that day, just like they brought us together in the first place.  And whereever he is now, I hope he knows that the only regret I have is we couldn't be friends longer.

It isn't like I didn't know things would come to an end.  Everything in life comes to an end, some sooner and some later.  What I did was make the mistake in thinking that I had more of the later this time rather than the sooner.  From here on out I'm not gonna count on anything staying solid for long.  If they do I guess that will be good but counting on them being there and then them not being there ... no, uh uh, don't want that pain any longer.  I shoulda just kept these stupid emotions completely buried instead of trying to pull them back out and deal with them.  They are going back in storage and if I'm lucky that is where they will stay.

I went back over the last couple of pages I had written and the last sentence was pretty prophetic.  I didn't mean it to be and maybe I should have just kept things shut up but I didn't and I didn't even bother knocking on wood to keep them from coming true.  Stupid is as stupid does.

After Lee left I knew I needed to get a move on.  It might have been kinda early in the day - we had been stuck in the bunker all night - but the weather felt strange and I figured another storm was on the way.  Water was the first need and I took care of it in three trips, filling every container I had from the bucket fulls I hauled.  I might have been able to do it in two trips but I preferred to have one hand free just in case.  I had both the gun and my bat.

After the water I did a quick circuit of my trap line.  Each one was empty; even the basket I had beneath a small waterfall that emptied into the lake to catch fish.  But this was no ordinary bad hunting day.  The traps were all torn to pieces and so was what had been in them.  I felt bad for about two seconds about the animals but I knew they would have been dead before the puss brains got to them.  That bothered me and made me extremely cautious.  It also made me mad but I didn't have time to let it out, I needed to get back and bring in some wood.

I tell you, my wood pile was a total mess.  It was spread from the cabin to the tree line and out to the road and down a ways.  I grabbed what I could but had to leave a lot that had been fouled by the puss brains.  In fact the entire clearing the cabin sat in was foul.  I'd noticed it when I went to get water but had been trying to ignore it.  To make this much mess I knew there had to have been a lot of puss brains and that sucked away what little joy I had left.

Then I heard that carpalicious noise again only it seemed to be coming from all over.  It wasn't exactly the same noise though, but it was close enough that I knew what it had to be.  I looked in every direction trying to find where it was coming from and then I got smart and looked up.  Some kind of little plane or helicopter was flying above the trees coming out of the east, actually more than one.  I knew for a fact that Sarge and his people were southwest of the lake.  I didn't like it, I didn't like it one bit.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Part 104


"Wake up."

I didn't want to.  I was warm and it was dark and for once I felt safe, so I just didn't want to wake up.  When my head was rudely knocked off my pillow however I left my dream world and shot awake like the time I'd found that Toddie had put a grass snake in my bed.  I even jumped so bad I cracked my head on something.

"Owth!"

"Huh?!" I said scrabbling for the wind up lamp.  I almost started to panic when I couldn't find it.  I must have leaned over and fallen asleep on Cochran's shoulder and when I woke up nothing was where I thought I left it.

"Eathy.  I thithn't mean thoo sthcare you," he said as he turned the lamp on.

I blinked, momentarily blinded, then saw blood on his chin.  "What happened?!"

"Relaxth.  You jutht made me bithe my thongue."

"Oh geez," I moaned.  How stupid could I get.  "I'm so sorry," I added trying to wipe it away.  Then I remembered the puss brains and thought of the blood.

It must have showed on my face because he said, "Relax already.  See, getting back to normal.  If the worst I have to deal with is a sore tongue then it is all good."

"I don't know whether to feel better or like a bigger idiot.  I usually don't sleep so hard.  What did you need?  Are ... are they getting in?"

"No but I heard something.  The first time I thought I was imagining it.  Next time it sounded like something fell off the roof.  The infecteds have made some pretty weird noises after each time the noise came but I don't hear them anymore, just the noise.  Listen, it comes about every couple of minutes."

Less than a minute later I heard the weirdest sound I have ever heard.  It was made up of both highs and lows pitched horn sounds and then there was a really bass part in it that I could almost feel in my teeth.  It was a sound that made me itch.

"What is that?" I asked scratching the back of my neck.

"I think it is a third generation sound box.  They were working on it, something that really got the attention of the infecteds and called to them."

"Fine but I gotta say their taste in music is horrible.  Geez, I'm glad I don't have my braces anymore or who knows what I would hear.  The feedback in my fillings is bad enough."

He nodded then said, "If we hear it this well down here in the ground can you imagine what it must sound like outside?  Or closer to the box?"

"Eh?  I can't hear you Sonny.  I'm going a little deaf I'm afraid."

"Smart aleck."

We both agreed to open the hatch and see what the damage was and I was surprised and happy to find that nothing had gotten in but I did have a problem.

"Oh jollies.  Now how am I supposed to fix that?  I haven't even gotten the door fixed yet."

Cochran and I looked at the spots of light on the floor that shouldn't have been there.  The spots were a result of small beams of sunlight coming through where a few wooden roof tiles had obviously been ripped off.  They hadn't gotten through the plywood but it was bad enough.

Fifteen minutes later, right as we were going to try and go out to see what had become of the puss brains Cochran's radio crackled and it was some guy in a patrol vehicle parked outside.  We opened the door and exited.  They smiled and clapped Cochran on the back like they were glad to see him.

Bottom line he had to go.  I could see he was torn and he pulled me away to tell me so.  "This cabin is getting less and less secure.  Are you really sure about not moving in with that Singing Water bunch?"

"I'm positive.  I'll get it figured out.  I've just been trying to build up my supplies before the horde got here but ..."

"Yeah."  Then he turned so the guys in the truck couldn't see his mouth and whispered.  "Don't say anything about having to put those down."

"Why?"

"Because both of us could get into some real trouble.  Those docs have friends that not even the Major can fight all the time.  They call it murder and assume you're guilty until you can prove your innocence and that takes a while.  By the time your trial date comes up you might miss it because you've been shipped off shore to an old oil rig for forced labor or something ... to repay your debt for murder.  You pay is for reparations of the victim's family in the future when they're found."

I shook my head and just knew my Dad would have a few things to say about that.  Sure he was a cop but the thing he hadn't more than crooks was dirty cops and dirty lawyers and judges.  And he wasn't afraid of who knew it.  I looked back to where the bodies had been but only saw ... uh ... scraps.  I shook my head.  "That's not normal.  They'll bite and fight other puss brains but they don't usually eat their own, not even if they are fresh dead."

"You're right.  I'll report it.  Now ... just ... just stay in your cabin until someone can get back to give you the all clear."

"I can't and you know it.  I've got to get more wood in from the wood pile and I need to refill the water barrel."

"DeeDee ..."

I put my hand on his arm and told him, "I've lived with this stuff for a long time.  I'll be fine."

He was going to say something else but the driver of the truck called, "Gotta roll man!  Sgt. Cromer called to give us the coordinates of another pick up and it'll be dark soon."

He left.  He didn't want to.  I didn't want him to.  But he left.  That's the thing ... everyone leaves eventually, but not always because they want to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Part 103


We did what we were given no choice to do.  Using the gun bothers me in a way using the bat hasn't.  I'm not saying that killing doesn't bother me because it does.  I just mean the gun feels so ... so impersonal.  There is a distance to it that makes me feel somehow that I've cheated, that my life wasn't as in danger as I imagined it to be.  The bat ... now that is as personal and close up as you can get.

When I mentioned that to Cochran he said, "You're crazy.  A gun is a tool the same way that bat is a tool.  A screwdriver is a tool the same way a hammer is.  The point is to use the proper tool at the proper time.  Using that bat when there was a gun would have been foolish.  I may have some issues with killing infecteds but even I know that you can take this touchy feely guilty wilty stuff too far."

I snorted.  "Touchy feely guilty wilty?"

"Hey, if you can use demented pro-creating dust bunnies to illustrate a point I can say ... what I said.  DeeDee, get in the cabin.  Now."

I turned to look where he was looking and wished I hadn't.  "C'mon ..." I said heading for the cabin.

"I'm going to lead them off."

"Oh no you're not," I said grabbing the back of his coat and pulling.  "You are not leaving me with the guilty-wilties.  Now c'mon."

We were inside the cabin and barring the door in no time flat and started sliding heavy stuff in front of it for bracing.  "C'mon," I repeated.

"Huh?"

I was already sliding my trap door out of the way.  "Help me throw a few things down here in case we have to be here a while."

He looked down into my bunker and then at me.  I knew exactly what he was thinking and told him, "We won't close the hatch unless they start pushing the furniture out of the way.  Now c'mon and help.  I hadn't gotten this far in my plans and I'm ..."

I stopped and found that I was shaking.  That got Cochran moving.  "DeeDee?"

"I forget.  Every time.  I can't believe it but I do.  I get used to things being sorta normal.  Then along comes the puss brain train and I've got to warm myself up to surviving all over again.  I'm ... I'm scared one of these days I just won't have enough left to care.  That I ..."

I found myself getting a hard shake.  "No more of that.  What did you want to put down in there?"

"Huh?"

Then we both jumped a mile when there was a sudden bang on the side of the cabin.

"That wasn't a fist," Cochran muttered.

"I think this group has adapted to using sticks or something."

"Wonderful.  Just what we need.  Smart zombies."

Automatically I said, "They aren't zombies.  They were never dead and if they get dead they don't wake up."  Looking around I tried to start by carrying my food coolers over.  "I dug a trench to set these in."

It took a few minutes but the most basic stuff was quickly down in the bunker and then we got down there too.  It was pretty roomy for me but Cochran would have gotten a crick in his neck if he hadn't sat down.  "You did all this?" he asked.

"Yeah.  When I found out that those crazy docs were going to be sending wave after wave of puss brains my direction.  I thought about a treehouse but I decided I wouldn't want to be in one during a storm and I don't have enough nails to put together a good one anyway.  So a hole in the ground had to work.  You gave me the idea you know."

"I did?  When?"

"When you saved me.  You dug us a shelter."

He shook his head.  "I used a cedar tree and some snow to build a shelter ... I didn't do anything like this."

"Well, you still gave me the idea.  I know it needs reinforcing in places but at least it is better than nothing.  I don't think they'll get in the cabin but I feel safer.  Do you?"

"I'm trying not to worry about it DeeDee."  There was more banging against the cabin.  "I'm wondering if they can dig under the cabin to reach us."

"Nope."

He asked, "You're that sure?"

"Yep.  The rock walls of the foundation are cemented in place and have those concrete thingamabobs ... they are like steel sticks ... that go through the floor joists and sink into the ground spaced about ever eight to ten inches.  I think they did it when the USFS renovated this place to make it weather tight and straighten the walls and foundation so they wouldn't slip.  Dad did something similar when one of our basement walls tried to cave in and take the house foundation with it."

"Some of those infecteds could wiggle through a ten inch space if they do it crawling sideways."

"And that's why you see I built my own extra walls with all these rocks and mud dobbing."  At his skeptical look I said, "I know it isn't perfect but I'm working on it ok?"

"What you really need is some kind of wire or steel mesh ... maybe  metal fencing.  It would need good supports but I've seen where some militia units have done something like this at their checkpoints."

There was a crash and I said, "I guess I don't have a porch railing any more."

"Probably not," Cochran agreed.

Then we heard some scrabbling on the roof.  We looked at each and silently agreed that it was time to pull the hatch closed and secure it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Part 102


"Don't ... move," Cochran mouthed quietly while slowly trying to edge in front of me.

I wanted to say no kidding and to tell him to stop moving because he was going to get in the way of my bat, but I didn't dare.  A dozen puss brains were sniffing around the cabin.  The recognized human habitation and they could probably smell that it was recent but they didn't these apparently didn't have enough problem solving skills left in them to really attack the cabin to get what was in side.  Good thing I make a habit of completely closing and locking things down when I'm not there.  I've even figured out how to chain the door in place.  The only thing I hadn't done was bring in my laundry.

One of them had one of the socks I had hung to dry and was trying to eat it.  I knew exactly which one it was too.  I had dropped a can on my foot right on the end of my toe and split the nail back to the quick last night.  I didn't realize it had been bleeding until I took my boots off to go to sleep.  I changed socks and then rinsed the dirty ones this morning and laid them over the porch rail to dry.  Since the puss brain only seemed interested in that one sock (they were that fake stretchy nylon stuff) rather than the others it could only be that they smelled the blood.

The puss brains were moving slow but they shouldn't have been moving at all ... it was freaking 29 degrees in direct sunlight according to the thermometer nailed to the side of the front door.  Freezing is 32 degrees and that's when puss brains fall into a stupor.  What we were seeing we should not have been seeing.

Cochran edged us back into the tree line and we dropped down.  Despite the cold I could see sweat forming in the dark peach fuzz that made up his mustache.

I whispered, "This is wrong ... this is ... this ..."

"Adaptation," he muttered while bringing up his rifle.

"Adapt what?"

"Adaptation.  The scientists - the ones you call the dimwit docs - were all excited during a briefing the other day.  Apparently a small handful of infecteds are not as affected by the cold as originally thought.  They called it adaptation, saying it was mankind's most basic and important trait and what sets us apart from most animals.  They considered it further proof that the infecteds could eventually be rehabilitated in some way."

I thought about the run in that Jace, Sammy, and I had with the puss brains that wound up killing her ... and Jace in a round about way.  Using tools, putting on extra clothes, using strategy ... that must have been adaptation too.  And I wasn't sure that it was going to be as good a thing as the docs thought it was.  It sure as heck wasn't changing their basic biology and making them less violent.

Cochran whispered in my ear, "I've got to warn Base about this.  The leading edge of the next horde is supposed to still be two days away from arriving."

"Maybe these are locals," I whispered bac,.

"Uh uh.  See their clothes?  See those neon orange splotches?  They've been using paint balls to tag the infecteds to see how many free range infecteds get attracted to the ones that are being herded along."

I didn't make a sound but the look on my face must have said what I was thinking because Cochran nodded, "I know.  It sounds obscene but that's the way it is so I have to deal with it.  Hold my rifle so I can call the Major.  Watch the trigger, it's sensitive."

In no time he was connected and there was an unnecessary amount of noise coming out of his handset.  Gwen was saying, "We know!  We've got them here too.  Apparently a private contracting firm thought they could add their horde to the one we were waiting on and kill two birds with one stone.  All they did was !@#$ things up by disturbing the horde hiearchy.  The Major says if you can't get back here to bunker down and keep your ears open and follow the guideliness unless directly threatened with imminent infection.  He's trying to get word to the civilian camps to warn them.  We're hoping the drop in temperatures tonight will be sufficient to take them down.  We are due another cold front that should drop it into the teens during the day tomorrow or the next day.  Stay safe."

He moved back in front of me and took the rifle after securing his radio.  "You heard?"

"Oh yeah.  Right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing and vice versa."

"Not quite.  I mean yeah but this time it isn't the military's fault.  The people supporting the docs' plans let the cat out of the bag saying it was working before we are really proof positive that it will.  Lots of private contractors have been hired to do the same thing only that's moving stuff too fast.  It is too many to process and even if we can gather them up here there are not enough facilities to ship them to yet.  It was supposed to take two or three years to execute the plan completely but everyone is trying to jam up and be first to clear their area.  They want them gone, they don't think about how to make that happen or that it won't happen  without them doing their part in their area and using some patience."

We both stopped as one of the puss brains slowly turned in our direction.  He made some kind of guttural noise and then screamed and began to lope in our direction.  He was slow compared to what most puss brains could move but he was fast enough.  Cochran and I both shot at the same time.  Per usual my shot was low and caught the infected in the chest; Cochran's was a head shot and had he been any slower my foul up would have lost him the shot completely.

Instead of running away the rest of the puss brains turned to see what the noise was about and somehow got a whiff of us and started heading our way in a slow but steady pace.

"Aw Carp," I said through gritted teeth.

"That's not the half of it.  Let's get this over with and we'll do what we have to."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Part 101


A voice from behind me on the path had me spinning around.  "Sgt. Bryers sends his regards."

"Cochran!"

He smiled at my surprise and welcome.  "You hurting for company or something?"

I turned my nose up and said, "Maybe.  And who is Sgt. Bryers?"

"The guy you were working with that day you came to the work detail."  He started walking with me back towards the cabin.  I'd been down the forestry road looking for the remains of the dogs and the men.  It has been bothering me that neither got proper burials.

"Oh, ok.  I knew I didn't recognize him from any of the lake camps.  He seemed all right, just quiet."

"Yeah.  He lost his family when a refugee camp got overrun.  Their remains were never located so ..."

"So ... he has to wonder where they are."

"Yeah," he admitted quietly.

"Sometimes I wonder about my brother and mother.  I try not to but if I try too hard all it will do is cause a nightmare.  So I try to balance it out by admitting that they could be out there but that it is also likely that they aren't ... at least not anymore."  Not wanting to start that up I asked, "How did you find me anyway?"

"My grandfather loved to hunt and he taught me to track when I was little.  He said I was a natural."  I could hear the pride in his voice.  "You're small and light so your tracks aren't the easiest to follow when you aren't walking in snow or mud but now that I know the directions you travel I can usually pick out a fresh trail."

"Geez, I'm not an animal."

Startled he said, "I don't mean it that way."

I smiled to let him know I was just kidding and he relaxed in relief.  I asked him, "How has the work detail thing been going?"

"All the quotas were met and surpassed.  Yesterday was the last one until the horde gets here."  We were almost to the cabin, walking in companionable silence, when he asked me, "Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Why didn't you come back?  Was it the work or the people or ... or what?"

I sighed.  "Being around that many people was kind of strange but when it started to bother me I just ignored them.  My Mom used to love this old musical and one of the lines in it was 'peoples is peoples'.  She said it alot and I never knew what she meant but I think I'm beginning to.  As for the work ... it was just work."  I shrugged.  "Yeah, maybe it was the work.  But not because it was too hard or anything.  I just ... I just don't want those kinds of memories running around and making babies with the memories I already have.  I've got enough demented dust bunnies trying to crawl out of my ears and escape."

He gave me a strange look.  "The way you put things ... memories making babies and demented dust bunnies."

"Sorry.  I'm just kind of ... visual I guess."

"No, it's ok.  I guess it is how you cope.  It just makes me want to laugh only I'm not sure if I should."

I shrugged again and then banged into him with my shoulder.  "It's ok to laugh.  Just don't start laughing if you think you won't be able to stop.  People kind of give you strange looks for that and threaten medication, straight jackets and stuff."

He smiled and shook his head.  "I've already been there.  I think I'll stick with you demented dust bunny visualization techniques.  It makes me feel better than the crap they tried to spoon into me before."

I tripped and he grabbed me to keep me from falling.  He asked, "You ok?"

"Yeah but ... I guess my mouth really is an unlicensed weapon.  I didn't mean to bring up that bad stuff for you."

He shook his head.  "You didn't.  It's always in the back of my head.  Not paying any attention to it is just as bad as paying too much attention.  Kinda like you wondering about your family.  I gotta remind myself not to get hung up in a thought loop."  He looked at me and said, "That time during the storm, that's the worst I've been in a long time.  Mostly I let some of the guys I had to bunk with get to me and I started cycling but right now I don't feel it."  He sighed.  "The Major and everyone else keeps waiting for me to go bonkers again but for some reason I don't.  I think knowing that there is someone out there that really does understand helps me not to feel so ... so disconnected."

"Me?  You mean me?"

"Yeah you.  Who else?  Even if you do have hang ups about rabbits."

"Not rabbits ... dust bunnies ... evil, procreating dust bunnies."

We reached the clearing where the cabin was on a smile but then stopped in shock.