Monday, September 7, 2015

Part 147


 
“Carp!” 

“Why doan chu jes kill it and then take the juevos … eggs?  No more ouches.  Them ducks jes nasty.” 

I looked at Miguel and asked him, “What makes the eggs?” 

I got a look like he thought I was crazy.  “Huh?” 

I tried to explain why I asked even though to me it was obvious.  “What makes the eggs?  The duck.  If I kill the duck to take these eggs – just because she’s cranky – then she won’t make eggs for me to take another time.” 

He gave me a funny look and then I could tell that the switch flipped and he got it.  “Ohhh.  So you get bit but not so bad ‘cause it gives you eggs.  I get it now.” 

“Good.  ‘Cause I don’t want you boys coming down and killing the ducks just ‘cause you’re hungry.  I said it once already and Carlos still did it anyway.  I’ll feed all of you … but only if all of you follow the rules.” 

The rules.  It was kinda hard to get the boys to understand new rules, especially ‘cause they complained about the ones they already had to follow.  Doubly especially because the new rules were coming from a girl.  But after a couple of days I earned their respect and it wasn’t so bad.  Most of the time.  Teaching them not to pee all over the place was still a chore but Kevyn finally got them to understand … but only after he said if they couldn’t follow the rules I wouldn’t cook.  I don’t care what language they speak or where they’re from, boys will do just about anything to keep their belly from growling.  The fact that I could feed them from “weeds” and “monsters” ranked pretty high though eventually I was able to convince them that there weren’t any monsters in the woods except for puss brains and they weren’t really monsters but sick people that had no self-control.  The more they understood something the less they feared it … just like me. 

I tried to show them stuff that would help them understand things.  It wasn’t always easy and I had to get rough with them a few times until they understood I wasn’t kidding that not all mushrooms and berries were good to eat.  I told them to stick with the things that I showed them and leave the rest alone, they’d stay alive longer that way.   

We ate a lot of cattail hash but that was ok.  It filled the corners and so long as it had a little taste of meat in it they seemed to not mind too much learning to eat new things.  The yampa root was something else that helped keep us all fed; and keeping us all fed was really turning into work. But it was worth having to get creative.  Keeping the boys fed helped Kevyn maintain control and teach them tactics and stuff they didn’t get in training what little bit of time they were at their bases.  That kept Kevyn from being so aggravated all the time … at the boys for sitting around doing nothing but getting into trouble and because of worrying over the things that put him in charge of them in the first place.   

And since Kevyn wasn’t aggravated or sensitive about his leadership stuff I was able to get some work out of the boys that helped me out.  I let them go on thinking that’s all they were doing but pretty quickly Kevyn figured out what was up.  At least he wasn’t bent out of shape over it. 

He came over to sit near where I was preparing yet another meal to fill the bottomless pits.  “You know they call you Little Sister.” 

I shrugged.  “I kinda figured.  Ralphealito told me what Hermanita meant.  It’s no big deal.  I’m short.  The more I squawk about it the more they’ll pick at me over it.” 

“So it doesn’t bother you?” 

Thinking it over I told him, “Not as long as they don’t get too silly.  Too silly will bother me and I’ll knock them on their tail.  I don’t want to hurt their boy pride so I’ll ignore it if I can.  They just better not make it so I can’t ignore it.” 

“Yeah ok.  Just checking.  Thing is Ralph  … well, he gets it even if the others haven’t figured it out yet.  Or maybe some of them have and that’s why they call you Sister.  They know someplace in their heads that you’re taking care of them … maybe just not how much.” 

“Uh …” 

“Ralph came to me and we talked.  It’s pretty obvious once you see it.  You’re teaching them survival skills … the kind that the militia doesn’t have time to teach them, that they are supposed to learn on the hoof out here in the bush only there’s been no time to learn that stuff.” 

Rather than deny it I told him, “It’s a trade.  They help me stock up for winter quarters and I teach them stuff in exchange.  Even stevens.” 

He half-grinned.  “Sure.  And we’ll just keep letting ‘em think that.  If they don’t think of it as lessons then they won’t fight learning it.  Thing is … it’s a good idea.  One of the things that I worry about is one of the ‘em getting lost or whatever … getting cut off from the group.  These guys do better than good in an urban setting but out here … they’re just about nothing but bait.  It’s what some of the adult militia groups use us for.  If my guys had to make it on their own without back up or resupplies they’d be toast real fast.  I’m … I’m not real sure I would have been able to take care of them all if we hadn’t found your camp.” 

“Look it’s no big deal.  I had people that taught me.  I guess … I guess I’m paying it forward.  Besides it helps me too.  More of us that can take care of ourselves the fewer of us get turned into puss brain chow.”  Getting uncomfortable with the touchy feely carp I added, “Let’s just drop it ok?” 

“Sure.  Just … wanted you to know that at least me and Ralph see it … and … and appreciate it.” 

I shrugged and returned to what I had been doing and Kevyn went off to break up an argument that turned out to be about some bet over a race between beetles of all things.  Boys.  Geez. 

What I had been doing is taking the arrowroots and yampa roots the boys had helped gather about a half mile upstream, peeling them, cubing them, and then cooking them in boiling, salted water.  After they cooked tender I drained them and then cooked them in a dry pan to evaporate the excess liquid that was left; didn’t take long, only about a minute with the pan over the flame.  Then I took them off the fire and added a little milk made from my dwindling powdered milk supply, a little olive oil since I was out of butter powder, and then two tablespoons of mashed wild horseradish the boys had found without my help.  I creamed all of that together to the consistency of mashed potatoes.  It would have been better with real cream and butter but I’ve learned to be thankful for what I do have and work with it. 

For our meal the boys had been responsible for catching their meat and since they all choose to practice snares and got squirrels I showed them how to clean and spit roast their catch, save the drippings, and make a kind of pan gravy with it.  It wasn’t anything my mother would have ever fixed but no one went to bed hungry, at least not that night.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Part 146

Quietly I muttered, "Carp."

Kevyn looked at me and sighed.  "Infecteds?"

I lifted my nose to the wind but didn't smell anything.  "No," I told him with absolute certainty.  "Better call your boys over.  I'm not sure what this is but it isn't infecteds.  Not a bear either."

What surprised me is that the boys had already picked up on something not being right.  They were all street smart in a way I never was when I was little.  I found out most of them had gone into Z-Day having some street smarts; it's how they survived those early days.

The watchers had waited too long.  If they had done the shock and awe thing they would probably have taken us but they let curiosity and caution put them behind the eight ball.

No sense in going through all of the details; I'm not sure I could explain it in the right order with the right words even if I tried now that time has passed and other things have taken place.  All I know is that I thought I was stone cold when it came to surviving and killing ... not like Mo but certainly pretty cold for a kid.  Found out that day that I still have a ways to go before I'm really as hard as I've measured myself out to be.  I still haven't decided how I feel about that.

Kevyn and those boys flat out blew the holy living snot out of the patrol of eight men that had tried to take us; Kevyn with his gun and Ralphelito using mine. Two of the men rushed in from the side and got closer than was comfortable; one of them grabbed me but then three of the boys jumped him and I don't know how many times he got stabbed before they were finished with him ... and him with this earth.  The other I got with my bat.  I continue to try and tell myself it is war and no different than putting an infected down but somehow it is and I know it is just all adding up like an unpaid bill that someone is going to present me with one of these days.  Only this isn't from overdue library books and what I'm going to have forfeit is going to cost a whole lot more than my allowance.

When it was over and we were sure there were no more hiding in the surrounding forest ... the animals had come back out of hiding ... the boys had those eight men stripped and burning in the pyre in less than a half hour.  Two of the boys had gotten hurt from ricochets and Kevyn busted his lip on his braces when one of the dead guys proved he wasn't so dead ... but he was soon thereafter.

Then it was over and only the clean up was left.  Getting irritated I snapped, "Sit still."

Miguel complained, "Aw, I don't need no girl being my mama."

I grabbed the boy's ear and yanked.

He yelled, "Ow!  What you do that for?!"

"To show you I'm not trying to be your mama ... I'm trying to clean this cut out so it doesn't get infected and make your arm fall off."

Instead of putting him in his place Miguel gave an unrepentant grin and rubbed his ear.  "Hah!  Mi madre could pull ten times as hard as that.  Lucky I still got an ear after all the times she grabbed it."

I rolled my eyes and muttered, "Geez.  Boys."

That set the rest of them laughing and something tells me when they get to be bigger boys they are going to be trouble big time.  When I was through Kevyn came over and said, "You mind if we make camp here?"

"Pick a tree, any tree."  When I saw he didn't get it I said, "Makes it harder for things bigger than you are to get you.  Have you got hammocks or something in your kits?"

Kevyn looked at the boys waiting excitedly and then nodded.  They were then off climbing trees like a bunch of monkeys let out of the zoo ... only quieter.  While they were picking the best spots out Kevyn sat beside me.  He told me, "Those men had good stuff in their packs.  I'll probably piece the guns and ammo out to my crew unless you want one."

"No.  I'm good so long as Ralph gives me back mine ... and he better because I signed for the doggone thing and am responsible for it."  Kevyn nodded and started putting the stuff from the packs in different piles.  I helped him once I saw he was trying to break it down so that everybody got something.  Turning to him I said, "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"How come your boys were squeamish about the puss brains but were willing to take on grown men with sticks and knives without ... you know ... freaking out?"

In mild disgust he explained, "Because I'm still breaking them of being superstitious.  Most of them come from families or gangs that ... well, they hang onto the old ways is what I call it.  I swear, in some places they got a story going around that the infecteds started when some people got bit by a rabid chupacabra."  He put all the food in a pile and asked me to see what could be done with it then he continued, "They act like they want to be modern but there isn't a lot of follow through ... like a bad habit kinda thing.  But men?  They know they're real and what they'll do to them if they get caught.  This group all came from the San Dimas Pen ... used to be a prison for LA ... and before that most of them were probably just fodder for local gangs.  Heck most of them were already being recruited from what some of them say."

"Then if they ... I don't know ... are so ... so ... whatever it is they are ... feral maybe ... If they are like that how did they get recruited for the militia? The militia and the regular military are all bears for rules and stuff from what I've seen. You'd figure you'd have more problems with boys like them than not."

"You'd think ... and that's what the adults used to think too.  And on some things that's right.  But out here?  Man, you want a bunch of little savages like this.  My LT says they see things real black and white.  There's the enemy and the not-the-enemy.  Once they've got it in their heads who or what the enemy is they pretty much stay that way.  And they don't jack around about it.  Besides, they like eating."

"Excuse me?"

"The West Coast is running out of food and water ... and it ain't real plentiful in any of the western states from what I've seen.  As many people as has died since Z-Day there's still too many for what is easy to get.  And it is too dangerous to try and have a garden of any size 'cause the infecteds can sniff 'em out for miles.  It's been worse since those government idiots tried to take the pressure off the East by repatriating ... whatever the hell they call it ... the infecteds into areas that didn't have them before.  Groups like I run are a way for boys ... and some girls if they prove they can hack it ... to get out of the cities and get fed at least two squares a day, sometimes three.  You work your butt off but you do eat.  The food might not be great but it’s better than the one meal they're getting in the pens ... and that meal they have to fight off others from taking away."

I think I've finally learned to keep my mouth shut when there isn't anything good to be said ... or most of the time and that was one of those times.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Part 145


Boys are pigs.  Seriously they are.  I had forgotten how bad they could be when you got more than a couple in one spot.  They were arguing about who got the bigger portion and how someone was smaller so they didn't need as much ... or at least that is what I thought they said, it was kinda hard to understand them even when they were speaking in English.

I had to keep telling them to slow down or they were going to make themselves sick.  Kevyn who is the oldest of them and is fifteen, finally reached over and dope slapped a couple of them in the back of the head and told them to knock it off.  The one they call Miguel is the youngest at ten.  Miguel isn't the smallest though.  Ralphelito is even though he is thirteen; he was born here in the US but his family was from Guatemala and they are something called Chapa and not even the other boys can understand him very much when he is speaking what he calls Spanish and what the other boys says isn't.  When they started bickering about that on top of everything else Kevyn told them to shut up about something that means nothing and eat or he'd cut off the chow line.

After the bottom of the pot of arrowhead tubers, wild onion, chickweek, and duck eggs omelet had been scraped clean Kevyn looked at them and said, "Grab everything up and get it cleaned up ... not just your gear.  When you are done with that gather up some more wood and keep that pyre going.  Before we leave here I want that pile to have nothing but a few bits of charcoaled bones.  Move it!"

And the boys did it.  I gotta tell you I was surprised and told him so.

"Yeah I know, but these ones aren't half bad.  They get on my nerves with that spanglish crap but they're a good patrol.  The one I led before this one I swear I was ready to fed 'em to the infecteds.  They thought it was a democracy or some kinda crap like that.  Most of those ones from that group got dumped back in the pens because they wouldn't listen."

"The pens?"

"Yeah ... I take it you aren't from west of the Rockies."

"No."

"Well it sucks back there.  I'm from San Diego and I ain't ever going back."

Long story short in the first year the puss brains were around the military and other adults basically gathered up all the kids and put them in prisons to try and protect them.  Anyone under sixteen that is; after sixteen you are on your own since you can sign up to be a civilian contractor.  That's what Kevyn is waiting on.  But between ten and sixteen boys can join militias.

"I thought militias stayed in the state they are formed in."

"Supposed to but after those crazies attacked us from the south all bets are off."

"What crazies?"

He shrugged.  "According to our officers who explained it they are some kind of coalition deal of people that just want to take other people's crap for their own because they think they're too good to have to work for it like the rest of us.  They just don't care about nothing it seems, they're like warlords or something.  Sometimes they fight with each other and sometimes they fight against each other.  Either way it has been a lot of trouble."

"Sounds like it is just a good way to make more puss brains."

He nodded while he cleaned his gun.  "That too.  We're out here trying to kill off as many infecteds as we can so the enemy can't use them against us."

Rolling my eyes I said, "I know I'm going to be sorry I asked but ... use the puss brains against us?"

He sighed and he reminded me of someone that had seen too much and none of it good.  "It is kinda accidentally on purpose.  Sometimes they do it on accident.  Sometimes they do it on purpose.  They throw people to the infecteds too.  I've seen 'em so I ain't just blowing smoke.  They put uninfected people in with some infecteds and you know what happens from there.  Then when they have enough captured infecteds they'll haul them and dump them in an area to soften people us and make them use up a lot of energy and ammo.  Next they sweep in behind them, play hero by killing or capturing the infecteds and then take over."

Well that was a new one on me and pretty sick ... and not in a good way.  We discussed it a little more and he said, "If your patrol is out right now they probably got called up to proceed to prepare for a battle if they didn't actually run into one."

Oh jollies I thought at the time.  But at the same time I thought if that was the case at least I didn't just get forgotten about.  On the other hand, I knew I needed to watch out for myself since I had no one else to do it for me anymore.

"You said something about resupply.  Are you supposed to be meeting up with someone?"

He casually glanced over at the younger boys and then said, "Keep your voice down please.  They just about panicked on me yesterday.  We were supposed to be resupplied three days ago but no one ever came to the drop point."

"Are you sure you had the right place?"

"Yeah even though GPS isn't working.  I used the map they gave us and plotted the point just to be sure.  We were in the right place.  We even saw a couple of copters though they were medical relief crews.  Probably carrying people back from the battle or something.  It's the only thing I can think."

We're just sitting there absorbing things and watching the boys work when I noticed that it is getting too quiet.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Part 144

In the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of the snares going off ... and when I say "the snares" I actually mean all of the man-snares going off.  What was freaky was that there was no noise afterwards.  The normal night sounds didn't come back except for the occasional frog.  Even an animal will thrash around and get scared or hacked off at the snare even if they aren't caught in it.

I couldn't get back to sleep.  It was the silence and the smell.  I suppose I could have shined the flashlight around but that would have given my position away and I was already worried that someone or something had set the snares off and was now creeping up the tree to get me.  And it figures this would happen on a night without a moon.  I sat there with only the wind whistling through the trees for company.  I could have just about wet myself and nearly did a couple of times when the fear would really bite.  Then the sky started to lighten up.

Oh carp.

I looked down and all my man snares had gone off all right ... and each one held a puss brain bobbing around like a piñata.  I was trying to figure out what to do when out of the shrubbery up the path towards the road comes a patrol.  I thought for a moment it was my patrol until I noticed they were a little on the short side to be the women.  As a matter of fact they were a lot more close to my size than they were to the Amazons'.

They were confused and scared, jumping at nothing and everything.  Then I heard their voices and got even more confused.  They were boys ... but I mean boys, not guys or men.  Most of them sounded like their voice hadn't even changed yet though a couple of them had the squeaks.  What's more they were speaking Spanish.  What the heck?  Then a bigger boy stepped into my line of sight and says, "Knock that off.  You know the rules.  Speak English so I can understand you."

"What do we do with them?"

"Sanitize 'em."

"All of 'em?"

"Are you being stupid on purpose?  Yeah Gomez ... all of 'em.  You want to eat, you do the job.  And if we don't get it done before the others get here you know what happens.  Get sticks or something so we can sharpen them, I don't have enough ammo to take all of these out."

They'd waited too long, the puss brains had noticed them and were starting to struggle.  The boys couldn't get close enough to the now swinging and twisting infecteds.  The older boy was getting angry and frustrated.  I needed to go to the bathroom.  Something needed to be done.

I changed trees and then came down a few feet from the older boy.

"Sppppsssss."

He was fast, I'd give him that.  "You shoot me and you are going to be in some serious hot water.  My unit is all female and won't be happy ... not happy at all to lose their cook."

"Who are you?!  Where are you?!"

"I'm in the bushes dope.  And until you turn that gun some other direction I'm not coming out.  I swear what is it about boys and guns?  And tell that lot of yours to stop acting like this is T-ball.  If they don't put some oomph in it they'll never get the job done."

Finally we came to an agreement and introduced ourselves the younger boys came over and were staring at me like they'd never seen a girl before.

"Knock it off already."  I turned back to the "leader" whose name was Kevyn Cormack and asked, "You got any rope?"

"Some," he said cautiously.

"Well get two of your guys on each end and then secure the puss brain by pulling it back so that it can't swing.  I'll put the first couple down so that you can see how hard you need to swing and then y’all can do the rest."

It took some convincing, and one of the boys puked on his boots, but the job got done.  And I only had to squawk once when they started cutting my snares to get the puss brains down to dispose of them.

Kevyn came over to me while the other six boys took care of the rest of it.  "You really a civilian contract cook?"

"Yeah.  My patrol is in the field.  I'm holding their position."  OK, I wasn't for sure that I was lying or not but it sounded good and Kevyn bought it which was all I wanted at the time.  Kevyn looked like he wanted to say something and I finally got tired of waiting.  "Let me guess, you all need to get fed."

"Yeah.  Resupply is late."

"Alright, I'll feed you on two conditions."

Suspiciously he asked, "What?"

"No being a weenie about what I feed you and two, you're going to tell me how you are out here leading a lot of little boys fighting puss brains but talk like you are in the military."

"We can't talk about anything top secret."

"You can't just make up anything either."

"Deal."

I stuck my hand out and though he was surprised we shook on it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Part 143


I'm dead, totally dead.  I'm gobsmacked but that doesn't mean I'm not dead meat.

I've been so busy that I haven't written anything, not to mention I ran out of paper making my lists and plans but now I have more.  I'll get to how and why I have more paper later.  First I need to kinda start back up where I left off.  Not from immediately after I stopped because I'd bore myself and since this is my notebook I can do it just the way I please.

I waited for three weeks to hear from someone and nothing, nada, zippo.  Not even the radio the women left behind did much more than hiss and sometimes crackle, though every once in a while when I turned it on it sounded like something was out there, just too far away for me to really understand what was being said.  You know that noise you make when you have a piece of paper across a comb and blow on it - stupid kind of musical instrument sounding thing - well, that's what it would sound like every little bit only the noise didn't separate out into anything that made sense so I just noticed but didn't putz around worrying about it.

By the time I passed the three week mark I decided what the heck, and started to build the dug out shelter.  I mean I gave some consideration to trying to find my way back to base but I realized I didn't know how to get back to base because of all the time in the trucks and me sitting where I couldn't see landmarks.  And even if I did find the road back to where I had been the base might not have been there when I got there so I decided to stay put.  Mobile bases are called mobile for a reason.  The base had just been set up when I got off the train and I knew that it could just have easily moved again.

It wasn't like I was making the choice to go AWOL or anything but really, why should I risk my neck fumbling around looking for people who didn't appear to be looking for me.  I had no idea what had gone wrong but something obviously had and I had no intention of making it worse by going wronger ... er, that's not a real word but it's what I mean.  So the dugout it was.  I also decided the ground wasn't the safest place for me when another bear came waddling through in the middle of the night investigating the interesting smells on the air.  Lucky for me it was only curious and not hungry.  The mess of knocked over stuff it left behind was enough to convince me though so it was into the trees I went.  I thought some and figured I would sleep in the trees during good weather and in the dugout during colder months or other bad weather.

Since I was only cooking for me it was light work to deal with as I worked on the tree house/hunting stand and the dug out at the same time.  I mean the cooking and food part was light work, not the building part.  That was hard work, a lot of hard work.

I had to go further from camp to get saplings to work with so I could keep from taking all the trees and messing up my camouflage.  Every couple of days that is all I would do ... cut saplings and drag them back to camp.  On top of that I didn't have any nails so I had to whittle wooden pegs for "nails" and use a knife as a "drill" to make holes in the green wood.  What a mess.  I also used some more of the rope and knots that Toddie, Jace, and Mr. Svenson had taught me to lash things together tightly.

That first week I worked on the tree house most ... even changed trees once which hacked me off but proved to make things easier in the long run because the tree was both taller and straighter and gave me two giant limbs that I could lay a more even floor across.  Right after I got up I'd check the snares to see if there was anything that I needed to take care of then I would dig for about an hour or so until I was ready to throw the shovel ... lucky for me one of my pieces of equipment was one of those foxhole shovel thingies.  Then I'd rest a bit by foraging.  And finally I'd spend the rest of the day working on the tree house.

As you can guess I ate a lot of squirrel at first just trying to cut their numbers down.  I think they thought I was building them a giant nest to live in and several were always coming around to get into things and tell me how much I was doing it wrong.  Now they leave me alone 'cause they recognize me as a predator.  Which is kind of a shame because one, they were good eating and now they are harder to catch, and two they were funny to watch so long as I didn't have to listen to them bark and complain and boss me around.

It took me two weeks to finish the treehouse.  It isn't something you would find in one of those fancy DIY magazines they used to have at the super market but it suited my needs.  It got me and most everything else I needed off the ground.  The bike and cart had to stay on the ground but I managed to rig a pulley kind of thing up so that I could fill the little trailer and lift it into the air to hold a lot of the bigger supplies.  My bed was a hammock strung between limbs and I covered as much as I could with the camouflage netting that the women had originally set up on the ground to sleep under.

By the beginning of July I was well into working on the dugout but I also spent a fair amount of time foraging.  Black currants, huckleberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, serviceberries, and also juniper berries for flavoring meat.  I collected more and more cattail roots to make flour with.  My roots were arrowhead tubers, burdock, wild salsify, and yampa.  My greens were cattail shoots, chickweed, dandelions, lamb's quarter, milkweed, sheep sorrel, nettle, water cress, and wild mint which when I wasn't eating it fresh I was drying to make tea with.  Miner's lettuce was getting a little long in the tooth to gather but I still found some late-in-the-season plants tucked here and there.  And the morel mushrooms had given way to porcini mushrooms.

I dried a lot of the berries - those I didn't stuff in my mouth - but I tried to get creative with them as well.  I made what Mom used to call "pocket pies" and decided that would be a good way to make meat pies as well.  I made "dumplings" from the cattail flour and cooked them in stewed berries.  I also used the berries to try my hand at pemmican since I had a lot of dried venison as I had caught two more deer.  I used lard from the bucket I had in the supplies instead of venison fat.  I sure didn't want to depend on squirrel and rabbit as my only form of meat during the cold time that would eventually arrive.  Pemmican was easier to cart around, even easier than the pocket pies, when I didn't want to stop and cook a meal for just one person or when I was away from the camp when I was hungry.

When I wasn't eating my meals in pocket pie form I was eating soup or stew.  Arrowhead soup tasted a lot like potato soup.  Lamb's quarter and some of the other greens made good soups as well when I had some broth left over from cooking meat or broke down and used things from the military like the bouillon cubes.  And I did use some of the military food.  I tried to use as little as I could because I had some idea to prove I wasn’t AWOL and that I had tried to protect what was my responsibility to protect just in case anyone ever showed up ... but I wasn't stupid either.  I used the buckwheat flour and cornmeal sparingly but I did use it.  I also used the sweeteners to make syrups with to flavor the cattail pollen pancakes I made for my breakfasts.  I ate enough greens that the rabbits complained I was hogging their buffet.  I also learned to eat lentils.  I overcooked them at first and they wound up way too mushy but once I got the hang of it I wished I didn't have to be so careful of running out.  I also used the dried beans and wild rice ... I mean in for a penny, in for a pound.  But I didn't go crazy.  In the back of my mind those supplies still belonged to someone else, I was just taking some pay out for guarding the women's other equipment they'd left behind.

The ducks had gotten used to me snatching eggs though that isn't to say they still didn't pinch the snot out of me if I wasn't fast enough.  I didn't get all of the eggs and sometimes there would be ducklings to play with when I had time but I stopped picking them up after getting pooped on once too often.  I mean that's just gross.  You know what's more gross?  When the ducks take their revenge and put a lot of poop and one place and the path down to the river gets slick and ... yeah, I think I'll leave off explaining right there.  Really doesn't take that much imagination to envision what came next.

Every couple of days I would have to deal with a puss brain or two but none of them were fresh and most of them had some kind of soft tissue damage to their eyes.  I'm surprised any made it as far as they did in the shape they were in because if I could hear them from a long way off the big predators surely must have.  Some looked like something had taken a swipe at them but it was hard to tell because of how fast they heal.  They were like marauding goats, grabbing at anything and everything as they stumbled along.  Sometimes I just let them go but only if they weren't in danger of contaminating my water source.  The pyre occasionally had to be cleaned out as it got too full of remains.

It was going on the end of July - at least I was pretty sure of the general time if not the specific date - when I saw a helicopter fly over three days in a row.  It had the Red Cross symbol on it and I started to get uneasy.  I had stuffed the women's gear down into the belly of the cart which I had hidden under leftover sapling branches.  On the third day I decided maybe I should take the gear out and haul it up to my treehouse for a while until I figured out what was going on.  Something also prompted me to fill up all of my water containers, the ones I kept in the tree and the ones that I had started to store in the partially finished dugout.  I moved them from the dugout and into the cart in place of the women's gear.  I doubled down on my foraging and stripped everything that was ripe within sight of camp and two days later was going even further afield to get some more mushrooms.

I have got to have like a trouble magnet or something.  There's no other real explanation for it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Part 142


Mom used to love this song called "It's All Coming Back to Me Now".  Beginning to feel that way myself.  Oh not the mushy stuff in the song but the title fits my life pretty well.  Being out here in the woods with nothing and no one around to distract me I've had a lot of memories coming back to me, most of them of good times of the family camping and stuff like that.  I guess I was trying too hard not to remember those things in the Northern Woods because I was too close to it but now that I'm in this place it isn't so bad to remember.  It isn't quite the same but some of it is ... well not really, I guess I'm just trying to find an excuse.  But it doesn't hurt, not right now.  And the memories are keeping me company.  It has been over a week and I haven't seen anyone since Mary left.

But it is ok because I'm thinking with just a little bit of effort I could make this a permanent camp.  I'm not going to that trouble yet but I could do it.  Toddie gave me the idea how, or at least Toddie's memory did.  He and his buddies used to get into all kinds of trouble.  Well maybe not trouble exactly although there was that as well, but they'd get up to stuff ... snares, catapults, forts, just boy stuff only they never outgrew it even when technically they were growing into men.  My brother was a tech mensa and way too smart, but he wasn't hooked on video games like most of the other guys as school were who weren't jocks or something like that.  He used to tell me stories of how the friends he made at university would do stuff like that too even when they probably should have been doing something more constructive like earning money to pay for tuition.

To give me something to do during the boring times I had to stay in camp to keep an eye on the food I am preserving, I took a good look around to see what I would do if I had to be here a long time.  And then it came to me, one of those "projects" that Toddie and his friends had talked about.  I don't even know why they were thinking of building a dugout, I think it was just to see if they could.  They started it but then the guy's mother where they were building it turned it into some kind of retention wall and landscaping project at their house.  What I would do here is near the trees where the ground starts to slope I would dig back into the hill to make three of my four walls.  I would face the walls with small saplings.  Then I would use more saplings to make a ceiling and on top of the ceiling I would put some dirt and sod after cutting out an escape hatch.  This would give me some camouflage but it would also keep things from coming through the ceiling - hopefully anyway - like rain or snow.  The front, or last wall, I would make out of rocks that I dig out of the river so that I could put a fireplace kind of thing there without having to worry about burning up my "cabin" walls ... and me right along with it.  The floor of the dugout would have to be dirt although I might could make some reed flooring using cattails.  Or right around the firepit I could use stones ... I just don't want to sleep on stones.

I figure I'd eventually wind up with something maybe a little bigger than the bunker I had at my old cabin but if I work it right it would have a place to cook which is something I never got around to in the other one.  I'd need to start it pretty soon if I wanted to finish it before snow flies around here but this isn't really all that bad of a place.  There is plenty of water, fish and other wildlife, and for now I'm able to live off the land without really having to use any of the military supplies I am guarding.

Most people might not believe me but hey, I got a deer.  Seriously, I got a deer and I didn't have to use a gun.  I nearly got myself skewered and I feel kinda bad for the poor deer but not bad enough not to kill it and eat it.  It was actually totally accidental.  Some big deer ... they weren't elk but they have a big ol' butt like elk have only these had white butts ... wandered through and started setting off all my man snares.  At first I was hacked, then I got scared when I almost got stampeded by these things practically big enough that I could ride them, and then after they all went bounding off really fast I turned around and saw that one deer had gotten tangled up by the legs and antlers in a place I had three snares spaced close together.  One snare missed but knocked the deer into the other two snares which caught it around the front parts.

The deer wasn't dead and boy was it hacked off.  I wound up having to use one of the spears I had made to try out spear fishing with so I wouldn't have to keep wading into the water and getting wet.  That thing slinging its head this way and that and then kicking out at me with its rear legs is how I almost got skewered ... uh yeah, kinda dangerous.  Not as bad as a bear but it could have still killed me just as dead.

It actually didn't take but a couple of minutes and I put the poor thing out of its misery and made it a non-danger to me but I gotta say that it is not the preferred way that I would ever want to hunt something that big.  And I still haven't reset all the snares the deer set off but mostly because I've been taking care of the deer meat.  I can't go too far from camp because I've been making jerky out of the deer, making a frame and stretching the deer hide, and in general trying to keep other animals from using my hard work to feed themselves with.

I need to figure out a better way to make racks to do the jerky on but for now I wound up just kinda making a giant "basket" over the fire out of whippy willow branches and then laying the meat strips over the "basket".  Next time I get a chance to salvage I need to find something I can make hooks with.  I sure miss some of the books I had to leave behind because I remember something about making hooks from branches but I can't quite remember how.  I've experimented a little but I'd rather have wire hooks like I made out of the hangers I found in that trailer.  I still have some of them but I use them to tie the cord to that I used to hold the tarp down on the cart's trailer.

In a way I feel like I am starting over.  I had to leave so much behind in the Northern Woods.  I gained things by becoming a contractor yes but if I do have to make this a more permanent camp I'm going to miss some of the things I had a whole lot.  And I guess, like one of those books I read pointed out, one of the biggest things I am going to miss is being able to trade with other people.

I am NOT going to hike for two or three days just to trade at some skanky ol' whorehouse.  I mean my gosh how nasty is that.  Yuck.  Not to mention it is probably not the best idea in the world for someone like me to walk into the middle of a place like that.  They could get the wrong idea no matter how much I try and set them straight.  Ew.  Makes me want to heave just thinking about it.

Mary could come back around I suppose but then again I can't count on that so I've started a list of things to trade for and beside each one I've put down whether it is a want or a need and whether I can make it or get it myself or do without or if I need some other supplies to make it myself.  I learned a lot of stuff from Jace and the people from Singing Waters but I wasn't exactly at my cabin during the best time of year.  I need experience harvesting and preserving in bounty as much as I needed the experience of doing the same thing when the weather is against me.  Both require a lot of work, each in their own way.

I keep finding myself in places where I've been able to resupply or have it fall into my lap.  In the city we salvaged as we needed it or found it and made hidden caches for when we had extra or for emergencies so we wouldn't have to carry everything all the time.  As I was leaving the city I found that stash of junk food that got me further down the road.  In my old town I got fed real food as a "guest" of sorts.  Then I ran into Jace and all that stuff he provided and the stuff we found along the way.  Even those nasty pickled turkey gizzards helped, just like the fruit cakes did.  At my cabin I found that stuff in the trailer and traded with other groups  so even though I was doing for myself I still had a little bit of fall back.  And even then, when I was just about down to my last of everything, Sarge left that pack full of cans for me and I also "earned" some food as pay.  After the hordes destroyed the lake area I was able to restock from what Singing Waters had been forced to leave behind and even still have some of it.  And then running into Lucy and the other women and MSgt. Shadwell and getting supplies that way.  There's always been something right before I got desperate.  But I can't keep counting on my guardian angel to go grocery shopping for me.

If the women do come back that will be a good thing.  I'm trying my best not to worry about them but I still catch myself wasting time doing it.  I'll keep on with Plan A.  But if they don't, I need to have a Plan B ... and a Plan C and D might be good to have as well.  Like Jace taught me ... I need to have a plan before I need a plan.


 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Part 141


Well, I know my man-sized snares work.  Not because I caught something else in the stupid thing but because I caught myself.  I actually didn't think it was going to work so I was testing it.  I am so glad that no one has to know about it until Judgment Day and by then they'll be more worried about their own stupidity getting found out than paying attention to mine.  Lucky for me this time stupid didn't hurt too badly.  Lucky too that I hadn't pulled the tree down any further than I did or for sure I probably would have wound up dancing in the air like a yoyo.  As it is I kinda think I know how those bungi cord rides used to feel.  I only wound up with one leg in the snare and balanced on my shoulders but it still wasn't the easiest thing to get down and I had to be super careful how I cut myself loose so I wouldn't waste the rope.

But at least I know that it works.  Whether it works on anything heavier than me I can't say for sure.  I'm going to reserve the snares to cover my back and sides and keep them off the main trail.  I am not even going to take the chance in one of the women stepping in one because if I live I'll never hear the end of it.

I'm really tired tonight but it is because I got a lot accomplished.  In addition to the snares I've got five pints of pickled fiddleheads and four pints of pickled cattail sprouts sitting wrapped in tea towels inside the hot dog cart.  I know they are good because I tasted what wouldn't fit into the jars.  I'd like to make more but I don't have any more jars.  I wonder if I can requisition some or maybe I should ask Sherry ... I mean Sher.  I've also got a bunch of cattail roots that should finish drying tomorrow.  I probably could have had them done tonight but I had to mess with the reflector oven some until I figured how close I could put them to the fire without cooking them.

I've tried real hard to keep my eyes open.  In the city I kept my eyes open for stuff we could salvage, especially salvageable stuff that could be eaten.  In the Northern Woods I learned to keep my eyes open for forage.  Out here I'm doing the same thing only the stuff I forage for is a little different ... at least some of it is.  The one thing that hasn't changed though is I need to keep my eyes open for things that want to eat me, including puss brains.

I wouldn't say this area is infested with infecteds, certainly not as bad as the city or anywhere near what you get from a horde, but they're still around.  I put down two today but let a third one go on its way since it seemed to have someplace to go in a hurry and wasn't bothering me or making a mess all over the place.  That's the way we did it in the city and I think it will work out here as well.  It does make me wonder what it was doing going so fast in a beeline but then again, I kinda don't want to know.  I've got enough on my plate without trying to figure that kind of stuff out.

But back to what I saw other than another bear, this one a small light brown one that seemed to have its own place to be in more of a hurry than I was comfortable with.  The bear skin rug was one of the things I really wished that I could have brought with me but there was just no way and it doesn't make any sense to try and make another one when I still wouldn't be able to haul it around.  Mary took the other bear skin but since her dogs had already been at it I didn't say anything.

Geez, obviously I'm more tired than I thought, I just can't seem to stay on topic tonight.  Anyway, I got a several hatfuls of morel mushrooms and they are already dried and in a plastic container in the cart.  There are other mushrooms but I don't recognize them so I'm not going to risk getting poisoned by trying them.  I know what porcini and puffball mushrooms look like and Marty - that cook for the trader convoy - said those are a big item in August so I wrote that down in my "field guide" that I am making.

I also found some wild garlic.  I thought it was wild onion at first until I got a good whiff of it.  Whew!  Dracula beware.  Found some burdock and I'm going to get some tomorrow to try and make Mom's recipe for glazed burdock.  Tried some lamb's quarter and some sheep sorrel today.  Yummy.  I especially like the lemony taste of the sheep sorrel.  It was puckerlicious.

This is a great area but if I want to really take advantage of foraging I'm going to have to start going a little further afield like I did in the Northern Woods.  I haven’t completely used up everything within sight of the camp but if I continue I'll have to start going too long between harvests of things.  There is a narrow place that I can cross the water and I'm going to try to check out what is on the other bank tomorrow.  And after that we will see.

Best part of today?  I had an omelet.  No seriously, I did.  Those ducks that I caught a couple of have nests along the bank of the river or creek or whatever that thing is called.  I got the peedoodle pinched out of my hand for swiping an egg out of a nest but it was worth the ouch.  One of those duck eggs equals about two chicken eggs.  Didn't taste bad either or maybe I was just so hungry for an egg of any type that I didn't notice.  Hard to say and to be honest I don't care.

I put chickweed in the omelet and some wild onion and if I had had some cheese I would have been in hog heaven.  That's what Dad used to say ... hog heaven.  Silly.

OK, I guess maybe it is ok to still cry every once in a while.  I don't want to do it much and I sure won't do it where anyone can see me but a few tears now and then might not be so awful.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Part 140


Everyone leaves eventually and sometimes they don't mean to ... but then sometimes they do.  Mary may have wanted someone to listen to her but seems she has even less of a tolerance level for people than I do ... or maybe it is attention span ... or maybe she is just afraid if she stops for more than a little while she won't have what it takes to keep going again.  That last is what she said anyway.

I mean she was nice about it.  We shared the bear meat though she took most of it for the dogs who seemed to be bottomless pits.  She just got ready to go and just left ... what Dad used to call having an itchy foot.  So I'm alone again.

And I do mean alone because the women still aren't back.  This is the fourth night they've been gone.  I expected one, maybe two, but not four.  On the third night Mary suggested that perhaps it was a test and I figured that was possible, I mean anything is I guess.  You think you kinda have a feel for what someone will do but I thought for a while there that maybe I didn't.  But after Mary left I changed my mind again.  Something has happened.  I don't know what, but something definitely has.  They gave me too many lectures that were too real for me to really believe that they intended to be gone twice as long as their worst case plan was.

And this is the part that didn't get covered.  The part about what to do if they don't come back, like it was unthinkable that none of them would.  Why I didn't think that must mean that I still have some stupid left in me.  But I don't want to be any more stupid than what I've already been.  Stupid can get you in trouble.  Stupid can get you dead ... or worse, chomped and infected.

I've been giving it some thought.  First off I don't want to get in trouble for going AWOL; I may be a contractor but I did sign a paper to do a job and don't want to get a bad reputation.  Second off ... or secondly or whatever ... it is too soon to give up on them.  Worst case could be just a lot worse than they figured it would be and what if they are expecting me to be here as a fallback position?  What if maybe one or more of them got injured on their way back here?  If I leave they could be in a lot of trouble.

But I can't be a fallback position if I don't have any supplies left and that is exactly what is going to happen if I don't take some action.  I've sat around on by bumper long enough waiting for something to happen, waiting for the women to come back.  I haven't been the waiting around type since early times in the city and even then half the reason I was always getting in trouble was because I was trying to do something, anything, to make things better.  But I know what I'm doing now ... most of the time ... and I'm just not going to wait around anymore.

I mean I am going to wait around ... I'm just not going to wait around doing nothing.  I've worked it out; some of it anyway.  It came to me while I talked with Mary ... or listened to her talk at me.  It's early June, time to get off my bumper and get ready to prepare for the winter.  I hear winters around here are pretty ferocious; different from the Northern Woods but just as bad.  We are at higher elevations around here so the cold is going to come sooner and last longer and the wild forage is going to reflect that.  I have my notes from Marty and Mary got a kick out of teaching me some more.

If the women come back and things still go according to plan after that we will be out "in the wild" until the end of June or so.  We'll go back for a week of RNR and then be sent back out here someplace.  Mary said mid-July is when things really take off and you only have about a month or so to really get what you can against the hard times.  But even now, early in the season - or at least this is what Mary is calling it - there are things you can gather for the future.

Already know all about the arrowhead and cattail.  You can't really preserve the arrowhead but it is available for most of the year anyway.  The cattail I know all about already and I started collecting and preparing that today.  I need the starch anyway to make what buckwheat flour I have go further.  Mary also showed me wild onions, morels, something she called Indian Plums, and fiddleheads.  My goal is to use as little of the military food as possible to see how far I can get.

In fact my dinner tonight was fiddleheads with morels.  I steamed some fiddleheads until they were tender-crisp then I took the morels and chopped them and dry-fried them to get rid of most of the water in them.  I drained the little bit of liquid in the pan off and then put a little bit of butter powder and some of the olive oil in the skillet to sauté the mushroom.  I tossed the fiddleheads back in there and then seasoned it with a little bit of salt and pepper and yum yum.  I almost ate too much.  Mr. Svenson would have said I was full as a tick.  I hope where ever he and the rest of the Singing Water people are at they are safe and healthy and doing what they need to to get set for next winter.  It seems a long way off but Mary said it would be here before you know it.

Tomorrow I've got a project that I'm not sure is going to work but it might and there is enough that it is worth trying.  I am going to pickle some fiddle heads.  I still have the jars and stuff that those nasty pickled turkey gizzards came in.  And I've got a super big pot from the military cooking kit that came with my cart.  Mary showed me some wild dill and told me how some of the people in local settlements do it.  I canned with Mom so I should get this right ... I just hope the lids re-seal.

I'm also going to dry some morel mushrooms and wild onions so that I can have them off-season.  I'm pretty sure I can use the reflector oven for that, shouldn't be any worse than drying cattails which is how I did it at my cabin.  The wild plums aren't ripe yet.  In fact some of the trees are still in bloom so I might miss them in this area but I should still be able to get them in other areas.

And the other thing I'm going to do tomorrow, if the women don't show up, is I'm going to set me a fish line and set some snares.  Most of my snares will be for animals but I have an idea after listening to some of the stories that Mr. Svenson told that I can make man-sized snares as well.  The only thing I'm worried about it maybe snaring something bigger than I can deal with ... like another bear.  That's all I need.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Part 139


Well at least the Duck Goulash didn't go to waste.  It wasn't exactly properly appreciated but then again I have to remember a person isn't supposed to do something so they get appreciated for it, they are supposed to do it because they appreciate the doing.

Oh no!  Where are all these old sayings coming from?!  I'm turning as strange as the old lady.  Not that old lady, the one I was thinking of yesterday,  I mean the new one.  Carp!  Maybe I'm the one that is three-quarters crazy now.  Old ladies, bears, dogs, ducks, and puss brains.  They are turning my brain to mush.  OK, forget it, I don't want this notebook to turn into something that reads like a soap opera ... geez, I'm all turned inside out.  I hate feeling this discombobulated, like I don't know what I'm doing.  It used to be writing in this notebook helped, now I'm not so sure.

I don't know what this notebook is supposed to be about.  Half the time it is just a place for me to vent.  The rest of the time it is a mix of fear or boredom or just being lonely.  Maybe that is what all notebooks or journals are ... a place you can spew.  Let's face it, life has been pretty spew-worthy for a long while.

I used to ask Mom why she kept a journal - what she called her House Account Book - which was sort of like a cross between a garden journal, a book on the house budget, and a personal diary - and she told me it was to help get things out of her head so that her mind wasn't so cluttered with stuff she wanted to remember but didn't necessarily want to have to remember all the time.  I wish I knew why I like this notebook so much.  I'm not too far from running out of paper and I only have a couple of pencils left.  Better figure it out sooner or later before I have go to the work of finding more.

In the meantime ... less confusion, more clarity.

Yesterday was depressing.  Last night was not much fun either as something was prowling around which leads me to think I should start figuring out a way to string our supplies up in the trees or risk losing them.  I can lock the hot dog cart but that won't stop a bear or a determined human.  For that matter when the women are gone maybe I should try stringing me up in the trees ... maybe like a hammock or something ... or a tree house or hunting stand.  I'd take a hole in the ground if I had one only something big might dig me out or I could get blocked in.  I think I like the tree thing much better after all.

This morning was better, pretty good actually.  At least for a while.  There were ducks down at the creek which gave me the idea of using my fishing net for something other than fish.  I managed to catch three ducks in one throw ... well four but the forth one got away so it really wasn't caught.  Man were they angry ... and noisy.  I stopped their quacking as quickly as I could and then got on about the business of getting rid of innards and feathers.  This is where things got more interesting than I had prepared for.

It seems that bears are not averse to duck innards.  I'd tossed the nasty stuff to the side on top of the ashes of the pyre until I could set it to blaze again - there were still bones that needed to be dealt with from the smellies and yesterday's puss brain.  Dumb me.  I was never this careless in the North Woods and why I would be so stupid here I don't know.

My first inkling that something was up was a low grunt.  Before I even turned I knew what it was and before I finished turning I was heading for the nearest tree.  Bear must have wanted something a little more lively than duck innards as it came after me at a trot ... not too fast but not slow either; just speedy enough that I wasn't far up the tree before it was at the trunk.  I guess either the young male bear was in the mood to play with its food or it was hungrier than I thought before it was climbing the tree after me.  Great.

Then there was barking.  I thought either I was going barking mad or God decided I needed wolves on top of bears.  But then I realized wolves don't arroooooooo and don't have big floppy ears.  Three more dogs shot out of the underbrush to go with the first only they had short ears and big round faces ... and sharp teeth.  Lastly out of the bushes came what I thought at first was another bear ... only bears don't carry shotguns.

KABLAM!!!!

The bear fell out of the tree.  Heck, I nearly fell out of the tree.  It sounded like a freaking train had exploded.  When I dared to come out of my crouch against the tree trunk I saw the injured bear fighting with the dogs.

"Get out of the way!  Get out of the way!!!" the lump of humanity bellowed that looked like a walking mound of furs and rugs.  It took me a moment to realize she was talking to the dogs and not me.

KABLAM!!!!

The shotgun went off again but didn't deal a death blow.  As a matter of fact it only hacked off the bear and it turned on the gun owner who squawked and tried to reload but wasn't going very fast.

I'm an idiot.  A grade A, first class idiot.  But if I hadn't joined in there would have been another corpse for the pyre ... or part of one anyone after the bear finished off what they wanted.

I slid down the tree and grabbed the rifle that Sgt. Shelly had left for me and I ran up and stuck it in the bear’s ear and pulled before my good sense had time to catch up.  I summarily landed on my backside and then cracked my head on a rock where I fell over because I hadn't really had time to set myself for the recoil.  As for the bear ... well I'd like to see the living creature that could take a rifle going off point blank in its ear and survive beyond a few steps.

I came to with dog noses in my ears, shirt collar, and another part of my anatomy they had no business sniffing.

"You ok?" I heard a scratchy old voice ask.  I was afraid to answer.  The dogs where getting a little frisky and I had a feeling had I opened my mouth they would have licked in there too.  The voice snapped, "Get off you blasted muts!  Let me see what it is."

As soon as the dogs gave me some breathing space I said, "It is me."  Hearing my voice got the floppy eared one all excited again and back it came sniffing.  I couldn't help it.  Dog noses tickle when they get under your collar.  I squealed.

The old lady laughed and said, "Henrietta seems ta like you."

"Tell her thank you but I bathed not that long ago," I responded right before dissolving into squeals again.  How do dogs know your one ticklish spot?

Finally I was able to get up and away.  "Down.  Geez you crazy dog.  Do I look like a squeaky toy?"

"Ya sound just like one," the old lady laughed.  "Now what's a child like you doing out in these woods all alone?  There's bad men out here."

I looked at her and I could see a bunch of loose screws floating around behind her eyes but I could also tell she was harmless.  Or as harmless as people get these days.  I learned the difference in the city.  Some homeless were ok ... some were definitely not.  "I'm not a child ... I'm sixteen.  And I'm not alone, my patrol will be back today."

She tilted her head and she looked just like a bird ... well sorta anyway.  She wasn't especially built like one but she pursed her lips and blinked at me so that it reminded me of a curious blue jay.  "Hmmm, one of those are you.  Heard they were getting kids younger and younger.  Different in my time but my parents and grandparents said it was that way in theirs.  Got anything to eat?"

"Will have if my ducks aren't ruined."

As it turns out the duck carcasses weren't ruined.  And as it turns out Mary - that's the name of the old woman - is crazy all right but she knows stuff too.  Like how to deal with a bear ... and how to share.  Tonight we shared the ducks.  Tomorrow we'll share the bear.  She's got some drying in some kind of folding oven she has rigged up.  Some she chopped up and cooked for the dogs.

"Providential I ran across you.  Hate to see all this meat go to waste or attract them freaks from the city.  If your friends come too-morry then even more can get eat before it spoils."

Having learned well at Dad's and Mr. Svenson's knees I asked, "Why hunt something too big for you to eat before it spoils?"

She nodded her head.  "Don't normally.  This fella here though, he was becoming a nuisance.  Felt him tracking me for a bit then he caught up and kilt one of my dogs last week so I been trackin' it to give it some justice back."

I figured I was the last person to complain about that and then she noticed what I was doing - gathering nettle with gloves on - and that I knew about plants and she started quizzing me and I actually learned a couple of things once I got beyond being irritated at her being so nosey.  She also kept trying to nose into the hot dog cart so I put a padlock on it after I took out all the supplies I needed for the duck goulash.

Mary said she ran away the "home" where her kids had stuck her before Z-Day.  There used to be more older folks with her but the others had either died or given up and gone back to towns that they had passed.  "Lotta foolishness if you ask me.  Who wants an old woman or old man?  Ain't like there is much we can do.  The kind of man that would want us around I ain't interested in being around if you ain't too young to understand what I mean."

I understood all right.  Gross.

I think Mary is like me, she was hungry for someone to talk to ... or to talk at since she didn't seem to need me to answer most of the time.  It wasn't until the sun went down that she stopped talking.  Now she lays in a small tent near the fire with her dogs ranged around her for warmth and protection.

I kept thinking that the patrol would get back today, then tonight, but I guess I need to give that idea up.  It wouldn't be all that smart for them to try and move in the dark.  There's been no word on the radio either.  I mean nothing.  Probably because there is nothing to hear.  Or maybe the radio just isn't strong enough to get through all the hills and mountains where I'm at.  Or maybe I'm doing something wrong.

I'm just glad Mary showed up even if she is crazy.  Being crazy together seems to be better than being crazy alone.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Part 138

Had a lot of time to think today.  Too much time.

There was an old lady at our church that Dad would grumble about all the time.  When he got particularly bad Mom would pinch him for being rude about the elders.  Funny I should remember that.  Dad and Mom didn't fight but they could get irritated with each other.  Maybe I would have noticed more as I got older but I honestly don't remember them ever fighting or even raising their voices at each other.  Dad did like to irritate Mom and then laugh and Mom could give as good as she got when in the mood.  They were both good sports most of the time but about this old lady, for some reason Mom really didn't like Dad's attitude.  I think the old lady used to babysit Toddie or something like that or maybe she was some distant relation to Mom, I don't know.  Anyway I sat with Dad too many times and listened to his side of things when he would come in beat up from a bad day at work.  Mom took care of him but I guess sometimes he just needed me and our ritual late night secret snack the same way Mom needed Toddie and their ritual of getting the decorations down the day after Thanksgiving ... it was tradition, something to count on, and basically just one of those strange parent things you aren't supposed to understand until you're a parent.

This particular old lady was a lot of trouble for Dad and the other deputies.  She called the cops all the time ... if she couldn't find one of her cats after checking for like five minutes out the front door only when the cop got there they'd find it sitting on the back porch.  If someone was in her parking space at church on Wednesday nights you better pray you had a handicap tag on your car otherwise you were in for it even if it was just an accident.  If she thought someone was "stepping out" on their spouses because "there might be a murder when the spouse found out about it" and you knew that she'd be the one telling.  If she heard noises in the middle of the night it meant something must be going on; and, if she didn't hear noise in the middle of the night, it was too quiet so something must be going on.  Children playing in the road in front of her house, children playing too loud in the park that was behind her house.  It was always the kind of stuff that took Dad and the other deputies away from the serious stuff like burglaries, domestic calls, drunks, and stuff like that but if they hadn't answered her calls and it was something real it would have been bad.

I don't know why I'm thinking about all of that stuff except this woman was just ... geez ... she was just I don't know what.  All I know is that I don't want to turn into her if I manage to live as long as she had.  For all I know she is still alive; I can't imagine a puss brain really wanting to get close enough to chomp on her ... she was liable to chomp first.  She wasn't what you would call a happy person - completely pessimistic to be honest - and I remember she kept predicting to anyone who would listen that I'd never see my next birthday because I was such a runt, sick all the time, that my brain was miswired, you name it.  I think that more than anything really bothered Dad.  And all those useless memories bubbling to the surface only because I remembered what she used to say when people asked how she was doing:  "I guess you can get used to anything."

That's how I've felt all day today.  I guess you can get used to anything ... whether you like it or not.  Unfortunately it seems that I've gotten used to being around people again.  I warned myself and warned myself all along that this could happen if I wasn't careful.  And now I realize that I've started letting my guard down and worse ... caring about them.  I should know better.  How many times does something have to happen before the lesson sticks permanently?  You let people in you are going to get hurt.  I feel ten kinds of stupid but I don't know how to turn it off now that it has started up again.

I miss Sgt. Shelly's quiet confidence and always knowing what to tell people to do.  I miss Gayle being around because even though she was way too easily irritated it turns out that she is just as fast to get irritated for you as at you.  I miss Lucy's acceptance.  She was the first, and she believes in me in a way the others don't.  Believe it or not I even miss Josie.  She makes me uncomfortable, not because we are so different but because I'm finding too many ways we are similar.  But in a way because of that she understands me better than the others do.  It doesn't stop her from picking at me but I'm learning to live with that too.  It is like having four un-asked for older sisters or aunties.  I'm not sure I want that kind of pressure.

They left out early this morning after an oversized lecture where the four of them told me what to do, what not to do, what to watch out for, etc.  I know they meant well but it said a lot about how little confidence they have in me ... or at least in my survival skills.  Now granted I'm not Daniel Boone or Mountain Man or even a mountain woman but I can do for myself just fine.  Unless of course I run into a horde.  The way my luck is ...

Today has been fairly quiet.  I did have a run in with a puss brain but it was sad rather than scary.  It ... he ... was probably one of those that escaped from the places they were being moved to from urban areas east of the Mississippi.  Someone had done a number on him.  I'm not sure if it was done by the scientists as they tried to find a way to minimize the risks of the infecteds' violence, if some cruel people had caught him and tortured him for sport, or if there had been some kind of accident and the infected has healed it enough to hide it from being obvious.

He had no teeth.  And no fingernails either.  He looked worse than those pictures in the history books of places like prisoner of war internment camps.  The clothes he had on hung like rags; his skin wasn't much better.

I was down at the creek gathering some wild food for a couple of experiments.  When I realized what was hung up in some elderberry shrubs - he didn't even have enough energy to push his way through - I don't think I've ever felt so sorry for a puss brain and I've seen some pretty sorry things happen to them.  It was like a wreck that was so bad you just couldn't look away.  There's no way he posed any direct danger to me but I knew I couldn't let him contaminate the water source.  Where puss brains are concerned there are very few I feel badly about releasing from their misery but this one is probably going to stick with me for a long time.  This one was as bad as having to deal with a kid puss brain and that's pretty bad.

I burnt the body on the ashes of the previous pyre after making note of any identifying marks, hair color, and all that on the form we have to fill out.  It's been bothering me ever since even though I try not to wonder where it ... he ... came from and who could have done that to him.  I can't start pitying them.  I've got a job to do.  There's no making them better.  Whoever they used to be is long gone and they pose a threat to society that is so big it nearly destroyed our country ... and has destroyed others.  As a group their deeds are too horrific to excuse, even out of pity.  But there are individual puss brains that just get to you; especially when you know that they've suffered too.

Depressing.  But I guess you can get used to anything.  Because it didn't stop me from doing what I had to do which is put the puss brain out of its misery - and mine - and find some way to extend our patrol's food supply.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Part 137


"Ahhhhh, peace and quiet at last and room to stretch.  Place even smells better."

Josie was being a smart aleck in a way that only she could get away with but I have to say I completely agreed with her.  However, my only comment was a shrug.

Josie poked me with a stick before she snickered and threw it on the fire.  "Seems poor Pvt. Harris couldn't get no lovin' no matter how hard he tried to chat you up."

I was definitely not going there.

Josie scooted so she was out of the smoke and gave me a long look.  "You really don't do you?"

"Don't what?" I asked pretty sure I didn't want to be part of the conversation.

"Men, boys, males.  You ain't a hater but you don't seem to want one ... or even borrow one for a little while ... for some private usage."

"No."

She got a serious look on her face after she figured out she'd run into one of my personal taboos.  "You know I'm just messing ... most of the time ... right?"

Frankly I was surprised she cared.  I looked at her and said, "Yeah, I get it.  And yeah I know you don't mean anything bad by it.  I also know everybody expects a girl my age to be boy crazy or something stupid like that.  And no I'm not emotionally stunted ... I've heard that too but I'm not.  I just don't ... don't ... Look, I just don't go there and let's leave it at that."

"'Cause you're not sure you like that flavor?"

I sighed having had that question posed as well.  "I know what flavor I'd like if I did like a flavor.  I'm just not into it."

"Honey your daddy isn't around to introduce you to Prince Charming ... even if such an a$$hole did exist.  You're gonna have to put yourself out if you plan on having any fun in this life."

Irritated I slammed the storage box on the dog cart shut.  "I don't have to do anything.  As a matter of fact I don't know why I should even want to.  Look around ... anybody that wants that kind of complicated trouble ... never mind."

Gayle decided to do her own digging and teased me with, "You nursing a broken heart for some farm boy?"

"No!"

Lucy smiled and muttered, "That no sure sounds like a yes."

I was just about to explode but I am no fool.  We are in the middle of nowhere, deep in puss brain territory.  These women, regardless of what they say, could up and leave me with nothing except some hurt.  I reined my temper in and sat down.  "Look, I haven't got the time for that kind of kid stuff.  In the city I saw ... things ... happen to girls when they made the choice to go down that road.  Most of them were older than me but not all of them.  I saw what it did to them ... got most of them dead or worse.  I don't want to wind up like that.  Call it how my parents raised me or some kind of trauma disorder or whatever else you want to make up, I don't care."  I sighed.  "Now I'm asking you nicely, please just drop it.  Maybe I am broke inside or something ... how many girls my age do you know that have lost count of the number of people they've had to put out of their misery?  If I was a different kind of girl from what I am I sure as heck wouldn't be out in these woods cooking for four deadly amazons who are doing whatever it is they are supposed to be doing.  And for the record, I don't hate guys ... or people in general ... I'm just choosy about who I hang around with."

Josie said, "Hey!  You're hanging with us.  I feel special.  Gayle don't you feel special?"

Before things could get worse Sgt. Shelly said, "Oh you're 'special' all right.  Now knock it off.  She holds the coffee ... I like my coffee ... I like it even better when it tastes like coffee and not like bear $#@%.  So let's keep the cook happy ... m'k?"

Then Josie, Gayle, and Lucy started acting silly ... well, sillier than I've ever seen them anyway ... and then abruptly lost interest in whatever game they were playing and started talking logistics and grid patterns and junk like that while I provided the coffee that Sgt. Shelly liked so much that she'd tell them to knock off the teasing.

After thinking about it I guess they are trying to get to know me.  I'm just not sure I want them to know me because if they do they'll probably have even more things to laugh at me over.  If they really knew me stupid stuff like Pvt. Harris not getting that I wasn't interested would be the least of my problems.

And speaking of problems the helicopter that picked up the men soldiers brought new orders for our patrol.  We aren't going to be here a week ... we are going to be out here a month.  There is only going to be one re-supply ... and that's assuming we can make it to the drop off point and that weather or other stuff doesn't interfere.  The women are putting a good face on it, or they don't seem worried anyway.  Sgt. Shelly is a little stiff but she's like that normally.  Gayle looks irritated but that's her normal state of being too.  It is really Josie and Lucy that let me know that stuff is bubbling beneath the surface ... Lucy is quiet which means she is stressed and trying to control her stutter, and Josie is making too many jokes and irritating people more than she normally does.  I'll put up with it so long as she doesn't get too vicious and too nosey.

I guess, if I'm being honest, I'm a little worried ... scared ... about tomorrow.  It isn't anything that I haven't faced before but I'm in completely new-to-me territory and I won't have anyone around in case there is a problem.  Tomorrow the women head out to rendezvous with another patrol to pick up some maps and information.  Due to the distance they are going to have to travel they will likely be gone overnight.  They will be a full day out and a full day back and if something detains them they may be gone two nights/three days.  They are taking MREs with them which leaves me wondering exactly what I'm supposed to be doing if they are gone so much that all they are going to need are MREs.

I thought I knew what this job was when I signed up, now I'm kinda wondering.  Actually the alone time doesn't sound all that awful; it is being alone in unfamiliar territory that is bothering me.  That and Sgt. Shelly pretty much started off saying I was not to leave camp.  I finally got her to admit that to do my job I would have to be able to go at least as far as the creek but she wasn't happy about it.  I am to be armed at all times.  And careful.  And just about everything my parents ever told me to be.  I so don't need a second mother or a big sister at this point in my life.  I think if she could think of a way to drag me along to this rendezvous she would but since the terrain isn't made for hotdog carts I have to stay here.  Which is my job to begin with, whether either one of us likes it or not.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Part 136


"Stay the F#$% away from me."  Well if that was the way he wanted it that was exactly what he was gonna get.  Geez, what a sore head.  It was not too long after our shift started that that turned out to be just as true literally as it had been figuratively.

I had taken the long way around to my position and climbed the tree outside of the strips of moonlight that laced the forest.  Up in the tree I had a pretty impressive view of the surrounding area.  The deciduous trees hadn't fully leafed out yet and there were enough of them that the evergreens didn't really block my line of sight.  Sound also got carried to me better than had I been stuck in the bushes on the ground.  And when I heard a soft grunt I turned to look in the direction I knew Winton was just in time to see him slump to the ground.  From that point things moved pretty fast.

Two guys came out of the bushes but they were looking in and making hand motions so I knew there were more where they'd come from.  Lucky for me they were over confident and had stepped into a strip of moonlight or I might have thought I was smelling a skunk or something similar.  Man, they really did stink ... but not puss brain stink; this was plain ol' I-haven't-bathed-since-summer stink with a side order of my-clothes-are-so-dirty-they-can-walk-all-by-themselves.  I knew I wouldn't get another chance so when they walked beneath my tree I dropped the whole sack of big rocks on them and then gave a loud, powerful whistle with my fingers.

I almost wasn't fast enough at moving positions.  I'd stirred a hornet’s nest and made someone mad.  They went from super stealth tactics to shock and awe so fast I knew they'd practiced this before.  But then again, so I had I.  It took a little warming up but soon enough the trees were just skinny buildings and the path a crumbling concrete road, the same as it had been in the city.  I hit the ground while they were still shooting into the trees and swiped the rifles and ammo bags from the two fallen smellies as fast as Moe had taught me, running down the path like it was an alleyway leading to safety.

Josie was up and covering my escape and then we both got set behind our perimeter.

Sgt. Shelly whispered calmly, "How many?"

"Two less than they started with," I said laying the rifles out so whoever needed one could grab them.  "The rest stayed in the bushes."

There was a strangely quiet "poof" and then a shout from the down the trail.  "Make that three down," Josie said.

I tried to figure where the shot had come from and from whom when there was another "poof" and another yell, this one a little closer to our camp.  Sgt. Shelly grinned and said, "Guess Pvt. Harris wasn't bragging after all."  She turned to Josie and said, "You know the drill."  To me she said, "Keep an eye on Bedford, and no it isn't babysitting.  Gayle said he needs watching."

I stayed low and crawled over to the gurney.  Bedford was unconscious which I suppose under the circumstances was good for him, but bad for us if we had to change positions.  I heard a couple of more shots from our side and from theirs but no more screams or shouts.  I worried that they would try and come up behind us if they weren't already doing it but Sgt. Shelly was ahead of me and had Corporal Lewiston guarding that side.

Two hours passed.  Every time we thought they had given up and left Sgt. Shelly would force us to give it a few more minutes and sure enough they'd lose patience and show themselves again by shooting a volley at us.

One thing began to bother me.  If this area was so full of puss brains there had to be some close enough to have heard the noise.  The smell of sweat and gunfire got in my nose but I was still sniffing the air every few minutes.

Gayle caught me at it and asked, "Anything?"

"Not yet.  Geez those men stink.  It's hard to catch anything but ..." and then a stiffer breeze than any before it brought with it a scent I knew all too well.  "Oh carp."

Gayle looked at me closely as she reloaded.  "How sure are you?"

"They're close, maybe down by the creek.  You'll hear the screaming soon enough."

Two minutes later there was a barber shop quartet of yells and more gunfire ... but not directed at us.  Josie took that moment to snicker, "A cook and a bloodhound.  We got us a two-for-one this time Shelly."

Without any emotion Sgt. Shelly said, "Shut up and take up your position."  She turned to me and asked, "Can you tell how many?"

Trying not to be irritated or embarrassed I told her, "Geez, I've got a good nose, not infrared vision.  More than a couple, less than a bunch ... I don't know ... enough of them to cause us problems if anybody panics or they run at us en mass.  If you listen you can hear them shuffling through the leaves, making a beeline for the smellies.  The one thing I do know is they're moving like their still fresh and healthy."

Lucky for us the puss brains that attacked didn't seem to have formed any kind of hierarchy.  They were together by accident, not because they'd been organized by a horde leader.  All they wanted was something to eat and they weren't too particular what was on the menu.

==========

Dawn was cracking its back and stretching its muscles to start the day when the last body was tossed onto the pyre.

"God all mighty that stinks," one of the men said putting his coat jacket in front of his nose.

I would have snapped no kidding except I completely agreed with him.  The puss brains were worse than the smellies but not by much at all.  A couple of them men looked at the pyre and I could tell they weren't having happy thoughts.  I wonder if they had gotten to this part yet ... what you do after you've stopped a puss brain from being an immediate threat.

I turned to look at Pvt. Harris and he saw me looking and I could tell he didn't know what to say.  I made the mistake of trying to be kind and told him, "You do what you have to and you find a way to live with it."

He shook his head.  "You ... you killed ... two of them.  With just a bat."

"In a firefight I'm not too good with a gun.  My glasses tend to get all fogged up.  Besides ..."

"Besides what?" he asked.

"Besides, you have your way of dealing with what you have to do and I have my way."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked almost snapping.

"Don't get offended.  Geez, sensitive much?  I just mean you're really good with a gun.  Even Sgt. Shelly said something about it.  You should train as a sniper or something.  If you can do what you did in the dark I imagine you're even better during daylight."

He shook his head.  "Actually I'm better at night because that's how I learned to shoot ... when Dad and I would go hunting.  The sun wrecks my vision."  He took a breath and I could actually see him making the choice not to be mad.  "So if you weren't kicking at my shooting what do you mean?"

"I mean that ... that you use the weapon you are comfortable with and I use the weapon that I'm comfortable with.  You learned to shoot in the dark, well I learned to put puss brains out of their misery with this," I told him holding my bat up.  "I know what I'm doing and I can do it without hurting anyone else.  And you don't need to tell me I'm strange, I've heard it enough."

He sat looking at me for a moment before saying, "Yeah you're strange ... but if seems to work for you."  I swear guys need to come with an instruction manual.  Like maybe where the off button  or volume is because he started talking again when I was in the middle of making sure all of our supplies were intact.  "Tell me again.  Were you really stuck in the city after Z Day?  The news said they didn't blow the bridges until they were sure that no uninfecteds remained."

I snorted.  "And you believed them?  There were thousands of us still in the city and uninfected."

We continued to "discuss" things and how they happened though Gayle snapped that if we were going to "bicker like a couple of two-year-olds" she'd find us something constructive to do with our time.  We ignored her but did tone it down a little and then stopped all together when we heard the others going through the packs of the smelly men.

One of the men said, "Crazies.  They had to be."

I looked at Pvt. Harris and asked, "Crazies?"

It was Corporal Lewiston that answered for him.  "People that have chosen to get rid of their civilized nature, if they had one to begin with.  In some places they cause more problems than the Infected do."

I grumbled, "More fun and games.  Infecteds, smellies, crazies ... the list just goes on and on.  And I thought being cooped up in the city was bad."  I looked around and then sighed.  "How bad is Winton?  Gayle looks hacked and she usually doesn't have the energy to get this bad until after the first cup of coffee."

Corporal Lewiston growled, "They koshed him so hard they broke his skull.  They half scalped him at the same time.  Damn savages.  He's laid out beside Bedford but I doubt he'll make it back to base.  There's  ... stuff ... leaking out of one of his ears."  He was as foul as Gayle and I don't blame him for it but there was no need to take the conversation the direction he decided to take it.  "How I'm going to explain this to his mother I don't know.  Why didn't you cover his back?"

The question caught me off guard which made me too honest.  "'Cause he told me to F off and leave him alone and because he's the soldier, not me.  I did what I was supposed to and took up my position ... he didn't even go to the position Sgt. Shelly had assigned to him but into the bushes on the other side of the trail."

Lewiston tried to deny it.  "He wouldn't disobey an order like that."

I stood there and crossed my arms and just looked at him.  I wasn't nasty.  I wasn't rude.  I didn't buck his authority.  I just looked.  But he sure did start to squirm.  Finally he turned and walked away; a gloating person might have said he stomped away in a royal snit.  Prissy pants.  They need to plant that guy behind a desk because he sure doesn't belong out here leading a patrol.  I shook my head and went to clean up so I could make something that passed for an omelet even if the eggs were more fake than the spray tan the head cheerleader used to get in the middle of winter.