Thursday, January 22, 2015

Part 117

So guess what my first "test" was?  I, along with all the other new cooks, had to serve the older, experienced cooks a day of meals.  And they got to grade us and based on our grade is the kind of supplies we would get for our patrol.  OMG.  No pressure there.  It was like being back in school and suddenly finding out there is a huge exam, that it is all on stuff you've never studied, and you only have a couple of hours to study and take the exam.  I mean carp ... seriously just total carp.

Each of us newbies had to serve between ten and twelve people.  I was the youngest and one of the few females - figures wouldn't it - and none of us cooks were given too much guidance.  We were simply pointed to what looked like a bicycle hot dog cart, told our supplies for the day were in there, and instructed when the meals were to be served.  Otherwise we were told to just shut up and get to work.

As a matter of fact everyone else had known about the test before I did because I was the last one in off the train and no one realized I was actually a contractor and not some kid bound for the orphange or a militia training camp.  So it's like 4:30 in the morning when I get kicked awake - I think they meant it as a nudge but crankiness made it a little "nudgier" than necessary - and as I'm throwing on my boots trying to figure out what the issue is I get the situation explained to me.  Let me repeat ... carp.

I walk cold - both figuritively and literally - to my station and then stare down into the box on the front of the bike.  Well I'm already fuzzy brained from lack of sleep and worry that I'm doing the right thing and then there is next to no light to see by and add to that how blasted disorganized the supplies were ... I quickly went from fuzzy to furious.  Must have done the trick though because I was determined that no one was going to get my goat over this.  It seemed like a real hazing job and I just wasn't going to put up with getting picked on.

The supplies were a mish mash of fresh, canned, and dried stuff.  I mean it looked nothing like I would have expected military supplies to look like.  I figured there'd be some MREs and things like that but seriously, it looked like what Mom and I would bring home from the scratch-and-dent on the days they marked everything down to clear their inventory.  The fresh stuff didn't look too pretty either.

I decided since the women had gone gaga over French toast the first time around that I'd just repeat it only there wasn't any dried banana slices.  Instead I located three cans of sliced peaches.  I would also need more than a skillet to cook in and I was pointed to a pile of beat up cookware.  Carp.  Instead of the stuff salvaged out of someone else's kitchen I grabbed a dutch oven I found buried in the pile.

The only concession made was our cooking sources.  There were stoves, fire pits, and a few other things already up and going.  I walked over to a fire made from what looked like brickettes and grabbed thirty-two of them ... twenty-one for the top of the dutchie and eleven for under it.  I set my already dug hole up so that the dutchie could start warming up.

While that was going I took a dozen eggs - after cracking them I found they weren't what you would call the freshest dozen from the store so I was glad I hadn't decided on a quiche or anything - made two cups of milk from some powdered stuff, adding a little of my vanilla extract, and a little bit of powdered cinnamon as well.  I noted that there weren't any seasonings in the supplies - not even salt and pepper - so I'm going to have to be on the lookout for stuff or substitutions.

I took a loaf of day old bread and sliced it and dunked them in the egg/milk mixture.  I checked and the dutchie was ready so I removed the lid and threw in some butter - surprised me to have the real thing though it wasn't the pretty color of the storebought stuff Mom used to buy - and once it was melted I added about two and a half cups of brown sugar from a tub of it in my supplies.  Then once the sugar was all melted I dumped in the drained peaches from the three cans, got them all spread out neat, and then placed the wet bread in a single layer over the top of that.

I put the lid back on the dutchie and left the coals in place.  I knew I had about thirty minutes before it was ready so I took the peach nectar and watered it down just a little for "juice" and also put on a pot of what said it was coffee but looked more like some kind of chopped root.  Good thing I wasn't a fan of coffee but knew how to fix it because Dad had drunk gallons of the black goop.

The other thing I started doing was organizing so I could see the sum total of what I had to work with.  Being short I practically had to climb down into the metal box and was hanging in there upside down when someone slapped my rear bumper.  I jumped up and out and had my bat in hand and was swinging it when Lucy grabbed it one-handed.  She looked at the guy who had fallen back on the ground in surprise and said, "I oughta let her break your head open you idiot.  She's a kid.  You wanna wind up in front of Sgt. Shadwell?"

"She don't scare me."

"Then you're stupid."  She looked at me and said, "Don't hit him, at least not while we are at base.  No fighting permitted for any reason.  If he touches you again, report it, just make sure it is to Sgt. Shadwell or one of the women officers."

The guy sneared and walked away like he ruled the world.  Lucy asked, "Can I let go now or are you gonna go after him."

"Not worth it," I grumbled.  She turned loose and I put the bat down but within easy reach.  "What's the deal?  I thought there were gonna be rules and stuff here."

She shrugged.  "There are ... they just aren't always as enforced as they are supposed to be and some people get away with more than they should."

"So he's got friends?"

She looked at me and then smiled.  "Yeah, but so do you.  The others and I have already decided.  You take care of us, we take care of you.  We'll get that douche when we are out in the field.  He'll figure out pretty quick he made a mistake.  Shelly already don't like him so this will make her happy to have an excuse to pay him back for a few things."  She handed me a pack that looked about half full.  "This is some of your gear.  After third meal one of us will make sure you get to Supply so you can finish getting outfitted."

"Am I supposed to cook for you all today?"

"Naw.  When we are at base we eat in the chow line.  Make sure you get a bite of what you're cooking because by the time you are finished the chowline will probably be closed.  See ya."

Carp.  Carp, carp, carp.  I'm beginning to think this whole signing up to be a cook is going to be harder and involve a whole lot more than cooking and dealing with a few puss brains here and there.  I've got a hand shaped bruis on my backside tonight that is making it difficult to get comfortable if you know what I mean.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Part 116

"Am I in trouble?" I asked carefully.

"No.  Should you be?"

I shook my head.  "No.  It's just when someone says they have something you need to think about it usually means that whatever you are doing isn't giving them warm and toasty feelings."

She chuckled softly.  "OK, I suppose at your age I would have thought the same thing.  And to a certain extent you are right ... what you are doing now doesn't give me warm and toasty feelings but you are old enough to screw up your own life and I shouldn't have to go around with a burp rag and clean your chin."

I shrugged.  "OK then what do you need?"

"I don't need ... well, yes in a way I do.  First I want to know if you have any serious plans or ways to support yourself."

Trying to keep an open mind and not be totally bug-eyed suspicious I asked, "Why do you want to know?"

"It isn't simple curiosity if that's what you are wondering and trust me, I have no desire to be your social worker.  However, I'm in a catch-22 here.  Where you've been the infrastructure has broken down so badly that a kid your age running loose isn't unusual and for the most part no one cares.  Am I wrong?"

"Not exactly.  There are people that care just ... I don't know ... it kinda depends on where you are.  Some places would probably try and do something to help and some places will just let you be but keep an eye on you and some might run you out with extreme prejudice."

She nodded.  "OK and that's fine as far as it goes because usually the population density is low.  You must have been lucky to avoid a lot of predators because I have seen the reports; abuse is pretty rampant in the east."

"I didn't avoid it per se, I just learned to deal with it and not get ... uh ... handled.  My time in the city taught me that."

She gave me a penetrating look.  "Well that explains a few things.  But now on to the rest of why I asked.  The further west you go - at least compared to the east - the better the infrastructure; at least until you get towards the Pacific Coast and then things get screwed up bad again with lots of incursion from the Mexicanos and from what pirates groups that get passed the Navy and militias.  In the center of the country we still have some large urban centers that are relatively unscathed by the infection.  They've had to learn to make do without a lot of things like interstate imports, which has whittled down the population quite a bit as medications and medical treatments became unavailable, but they are still more densely populated than other areas in the country currently are.  As such you have to understand that rules have been instituted, and at least in part I'm responsible for enforcing them."

I gave up not being suspicious and I asked, "What kind of rules?"

"You can't just run wild.  You'll inevitably run into trouble of some type.  And while you might not mean to cause any of it, you'll get rounded up just like those who did start it."

"So you're saying I should go back where I came from."

She shook her head.  "Not precisely.  You've definitely got some options.  You're sixteen, that means you can join the militias or the military as a contractor of some type.  You can't be active duty until you turn eighteen - we still try and pretend to be civilized in this country and don't and won't draft below that age - but it doesn't mean that you won't see action."

I sighed.  "I've fought puss brains for two years.  I was hoping to find some place I could just hole up until they all died."

She shook her head.  "Not gonna happen Short Stuff.  The infection is too pervasive and in fact we may never totally be rid of it.  And we've still got too many people that are idiots and spreading the problem rather than containing it."

"What about those puss brain dude ranch things that the scientists were building?"

She got a very negative look on her face.  "They are already failing.  Hordes do not behave the way single and small groups of infecteds do.  The resources required to manage such groups are cost prohibitive as well as unrealistic to expect other people to simply give up.  The designers of what you are calling the 'puss brain dude ranches' did not take that into account, or chose to ignore it.  The security for those facilities are failing and we are being called in to deal with the resulting increase in wild infecteds."

Her words painted a really weird picture in my head.  "What the heck is a wild infected?"

"It is an infected that is non-contained; one that is running loose, causing problems, and/or scaring people."

"Any puss brain, especially one that isn't contained, should scare people.  They'll eat all your stuff 'cause they don't have any self control."

"What you have to understand is that the population in this area don't understand the full scope of the issue.  They were also much less prepared than they thought they were to deal with a large influx of infecteds.  They blinded themselves by believing in the idea that the ... er ... puss brains were being dealt with by the authorities.  They thought they could turn the problem over to someone else and they wouldn't have to concern themselves with it."

I told her, "That's dumb."

She nodded.  "So it turns out to be.  But that's where you come in."


"Look Short Stuff ... um DeeDee.  I got a good report about you from your officer friend ... that Major Watson.  Seems not much scares you."

I shook my head.  "Plenty scares me, I just don't let it freeze me up and make me useless.  Last thing I want to be is puss brain chow."

"Realistic and honest.  Even better," she said with a small grin for my benefit.  It isn't that she was trying to be my friend, it was more like she didn't want to be my enemy.  Then she had to spoil it by saying, "But we are back to the issue of your future plans."

I looked her square in the eye and asked, "What do you want from me?"

She nodded.  "Straight to the point, even better.  The plain fact is that our unit has lost several people.  AWOL is not uncommon these days as we are reduced to using people unsuited to military life and discipline, people get overloaded and short circuit, they get tired of all the work involved, or they simply want to go find their families.  We don't have the security to bring them back in or frankly to punish them when they are caught or found.  At best, unless there is a serious civilian grievance against them, we pack 'em up and send them to a labor camp but that doesn't solve the issue of being short staffed."

"I thought you said I was too young for active duty."

"You are, but I can sign you on as a contractor.  My women's patrol group is pretty tight.  They were all regular army and served several tours together overseas before Z-Day and as a result newcomers to the patrol have a hard time fitting in."

"Even Lucy?"

"Even Lucy," Sgt. Shadwell said.  "And for the record she wasn't always like this.  She suffered a head injury during the early days and her unit covers for her.  No one says anything."

The message was implicit.  Keep my mouth shut about Lucy being "different."  That was fine by me.  As long as her being different didn't put my life at risk it was no biggie.

After thinking a moment I asked, "You think me being younger will make it easier?"

She shook her head in the negative.  "No, that is actually a mark against you.  But ... ok, was that cooking this morning a one off or are you that creative on a regular basis?"

I looked at her and then answered, "I'm used to making my own way and using whatever is around.  Plus my mom was pretty good at making a small paycheck and a small house go further than it should have.  My brother was in scouts and I learned some stuff from him and Dad taught me about wild foods and things that Mom didn't teach me.  So ... yeah ... I guess I can do stuff like that on a regular basis if I need to."

I got a sly grin for that response.  "Good, good.  Ok, here it is ... the women's patrol needs a cook.  They'll have reason not to run over you too much because you feed them and if you take off or get reassigned they'll be back to doing it for themselves again and you saw how enthusiastic they were about that.  You're used to being mobile in rough territory which will be another plus given our upcoming assignment, and alone on a regular basis too which is even better.  You've made it this far so you're obviously a survivor and should be able to take whatever they try and dish out until they get smart and accept you which will be a major headache I won't have to deal with anymore.  We've got supply issues which you will get explained to you."

"What's the catch?" I asked thinking it sounded too easy. In my experience things that were too easy always have a catch.

"Pay comes in credits once a month and coincides with a patrol's RNR which means it usually gets spent and then they are broke until the next RNR.  The credits aren't accepted everywhere so you'll have to convert the credits to whatever passes for local currency but whatever is considered currency in one area may not be considered currency in another.  You have to send money to any family members - though in your case that won't be a problem - rather than a direct deposit as was usual in the past because the banking system is no longer functioning on a national level due to the currency issues.  You wear a uniform at all times to set you apart from the mercenaries, freelancers, and the militia who may or may not have their own uniforms.  Not everyone is happy with the military operating on national soil so you'll have some of that to deal with.  Obviously there is going to be danger involved and some deprevation ... you might be able to control one or the other but not necessarily both at the same time."

"That's just life happening," I told her after hearing the last bit.

She nodded.  "Agreed.  And there are other things that make life difficult but they are relatively minor all things considered.  If you sign up I'll make sure you get outfitted though sizing may be an issue for some items.  Now, you wanna hear the perks?"

I nodded cautiously.

"Well, pay may be once a month but you'll get paid one way or the other.  The last thing the government wants to do is have a large, unhappy military force to deal with.  Two, you'll get fed.  It won't be steak and potatoes but again, no one wants a large, armed group of trained people hacked off and cranky.  As part of this you'll also get your personal hygiene needs met.  Don't blow that perk off because I hear from women in other patrols that in some areas feminine hygiene products will literally bring their weight in silver."  That gave me something to think about as my monthlies have been hit or miss for a long time but when they hit I was happy Mom had always been old school and sewn our pads.  I blanked at the thought of sharing that bit of news as she continued.

"Three, you're government issued weapon will also be fed which means you aren't having to wait in line for days for reloads that may or may not fire.  There are rules governing firearms in most locations but that's to keep the mercs from running amok rather than being aimed at regular civilians or active duty personnel."

She went over more pros and cons, all of which I refuse to write down because my fingers are getting cramped and I need to try and sleep before our next stop which is the resupply point.  So yeah, as you can guess I signed on.  I don't have anything else to do.  When you don't have anything to go back to all you have left is to move forward.  I just hope that I am moving forward in a direction that doesn't get me killed.

Part 115

The night hadn't been too bad.  Right in the middle it got really cold but by first light it was a little better.  I crawled out of the doghouse cautiously but after sensing no trouble I stretched and then dug a hole to start a smokeless fire so I could fix my breakfast.  My options were limited but I figured I could fry up a little leftover wild rice and toss in some dried cranberries and it wouldn't taste too bad.

Then I saw Lucy come out of the house and boy did she look in a lousy mood.  I waved and asked, "What's up?"

She growled, "My turn at breakfast.  I hate cooking. Hate it, hate it, hate it.  Nobody is ever happy.  I say if they don't like my cooking then they can take my turn but they won't.  None of us like cooking.  And we wouldn't have to only our last cook went AWOL when she hooked up with some fisherman and ran away to have sex all the time like she wanted to.  Now we're stuck.  And the guys all make fun of us too 'cause none of us can really cook.  Even that stupid McClintick."

"Well the guys take turns cooking too don't they?"

"Huh?" she asked confused and then her face cleared.  "Oh, you think we are all together.  Nope.  Women and men aren't allowed to serve in the same patrol.  Sgt. Shadwell runs our unit but we have to have separate patrols within the unit.  Our unit has five patrols ... four male patrol groups and one female patrol group.  You only see two of our patrols here, two more are back at base and one is on RNR ... that free time to do what you want so long as you report back when you are supposed to."

"How many people does each patrol have in it?" I asked curiously.

"Five ... five person patrols in five patrols plus Sgt. Shadwell and there are usually five units in a given patrol area but we try not and overlap too much but it means that someone should always be close if things get bad."

"Do things get bad very often?"

"Used to.  Not so much over the winter except when we get called in to clean up a town squabble or something."

I was thinking about what she said when a man walked by and practically threw a basket at Lucy before walking on without another word.  Under her breath I heard Lucy say, "Jerk."

"Are they always like that?  The men I mean."

"No.  They're all just bent because McClintick went AWOL during the night and now they are going to be a man short.  They used to make McClintick do all the grunt work now they don't have anyone to do the fetching and carrying for them."

"Yeah, they seemed like they really ragged on him alot."

"Well he was stupid with a capital stoop.  My ma would have named him Useless if she'd lived to meet him.  Always bragging about stuff that doesn't matter anymore.  He was asking for trouble."

She was staring hard at what was in the basket and then sighed.  "Powdered eggs, bread, powdered milk, brown sugar, butter, and dried fruit ... this time bananas.  Same old same old.  I guess it is scrambled eggs and toast again.  They can sprinkle the bananas with the sugar for snack or something."  Then she sighed again.  To me it sounded like a banquet but I guess a steady diet of anything will get old.

Then I thought of something Toddie and his scout friends used to do and smiled.  "Hey, if I teach you something can I share?  I mean is it against the rules if I contribute something?"

Slowly she said, "Noooo.  Sgt. Shadwell even said she figured you might be eating with us if you didn't haul butt before first light."

That was all I needed to know.  "Hang on."  I dug out the bag I kept all my seasonings in - I still had a lot left over from the trailer salvage and had decided I was not leaving any of it behind.  I pulled out a couple of items and then came back.  I also brought back a small jug of maple syrup that I had salvaged from the Singing Waters camp.  I asked her, "What do you think about French toast?"

"I think you're dreaming."

I smiled.  "C'mon.  Let's hurry before they get wind of it or it won't be a surprise."

First thing I did was throw the dried bananas in a pot with some water so they could soften up.  I nearly ate one but I'm not a little kid and it isn't my stuff.  If Lucy could be trusted I'd be getting a taste soon enough anyway.

We used the fire I had already started but her patrol's grate and big skillet since all I had was my mess kit.  I put two tablespoons of the butter in the skillet and added a quarter cup of the brown sugar and stirred it until the butter was melted.  Then I added the bananas that had plumped up about as much as they were going to ... I drained them first to keep them from popping and splattering and generally making more of a mess to clean up.

When the bananas were heated through from my supplies I added just a bit of rum extract diluted with just a little water and then brought the mess to a boil for a minute to kinda make it like a candy syrup.  While I stirred the mess to keep the sugar from burning Lucy whisked together four eggs and a cup of milk made from the powdered milk supply.  I had her add a little vanillar extract to it as well.  We cut the loaf of bread into eight thick slices and then laid them in the egg mixture to soak it up which only takes a minute or two.

I scrapped the hot banana mixture into a bowl and then added more butter to the skillet.  A couple pieces at a time I fried the bread on both sides until it was golden brown and looked around for something to plop them onto when I noticed the three other women plus Sgt. Shadwell staring down at what we were doing.

One of the women said, "Please God let that taste as good as it looks and smells."

She said it so funny that I nearly laughed.  Lucy with her eyes scrunched in concentration said, "It better 'cause if it doesn't it isn't going to be my fault."

I told her, "Stop worrying it to death.  Where are the plates so I can start ..."  I never got to finish because I had four mess kits shoved in my face.

Everyone got about a piece and a half of the bread and a glob of the banana mixture on top of that.  There was enough powdered milk left for them to have a small glass of milk each - and me too - and then those that wanted a little extra sweet put a little maple syrup on the side.

Clean up wasn't too bad because they all try to rake what little bit of leavings there were and then everyone washed their own mess kits with some hot water that I had put on the last of the fire while we ate.

Lucy had taken off and I wasn't sure what to do with the skillet I had just finished washing when I looked up to find Sgt. Shadwell staring down at me.

"I have something you should really think about," she told me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Part 114

"I don't see why you want to stay in a stunk up dog house."  Lucy, the name of the "special" soldier, was nosey.  Oh she was nice about it but really, really nosey.  "Why don't you want to stay in the house with us?"

"The dog house doesn't stink.  And I don't want to stay in the house because it has too many openings for something to come in."

"And just as many to escape out of if something does come in," she replied.  She had me there.

"I don't suppose I can argue with that but look, for the last little bit I've been sleeping in small spaces.  I'll feel safer ... and warmer ... in the doghouse.  Besides, your people don't want me.  I'm not one of them."

She shrugged.  "We aren't allowed to kick civilians out of protected spaces.  We can make them share the space in an emergency but we can't force them out.  And we can't make them feed us either.  Or blackmail them that if they don't do something for us willingly that we won't do our jobs, whatever that is at the time.  We got lots of rules like that."

"Sounds like," I admitted.  "What do you all do exactly?  I know what Sarge's group does but I haven't seen any puss brains since I got near river."

She shrugged, "The Navy takes care of the river from infecteds to pirates.  They take care of all the inland waterways and the coast too, except where the militia has enough resources that they don't need the navy helping out.  They just got done with a big battle out in the Gulf where some bad boys thought they were gonna take over the oil refineries.  Guess they didn't expect our military to be as organized as it is.  Most countries are kinda running wild the way we hear it.  But we've got the militias and active duty personnel plus we got all them medical people that got drafted and then stayed to help even when they didn't have to no more."

This was stuff I hadn't heard.  I guess with no news, and no radio, things some people would consider common knowledge were like science fiction to someone else.  And I guess Cochran or Sarge just were too concerned with their piece of what was going on to sit down and give me a nightly news report.

We were still chatting when a long shadow fell over us.  We looked up and then Lucy hopped up down from the dog house roof where we had both been sitting and stood at attenion.  I moved more slowly but did the same; it seemed the polite thing to do even if it did make me feel like a midget next to Sgt. Shadwell.

"What are you two doing out here?  It is going to be dark soon."

I noticed Sgt. Shadwell didn't rag on Lucy as much as she did the others so I didn't fear her as much as I had or maybe as much as she wanted me to.  Lucy said, "She doesn't want to sleep in the house.  She says it has too many holes in it."

I opened my mouth and then shut it.  Sgt. Shadwell looked at me and asked, "You were going to say something?"

I shrugged.  "Not holes ... openings."

She looked at me and then said, "Your attitude isn't difficult to understand.  You've been on your own for a while.  Used to having to cover your own back.  A location with too many openings would present a lot of unnecessary challenges to a person on their own."

I almost shrugged then thought better of it and said, "Yes ma'am."

She just kept looking at me and then said, "I confirmed your story and just got off the radio with one very relieved officer who seems to think that you must have more lives than a cat for all the trouble you've gotten into and then out of."

Quietly I said, "I don't go looking for trouble."

She shook her head and said, "No, I don't suppose you do."

I asked, "Is ... is he ok?  He isn't mad at me or anything is he?"

With a twist of her lips she said, "No, he's not mad at you or anything.  But you do realize there is nothing he can do for you."

I was glad he wasn't mad and surprised that she'd thought that I expected someone to do something for me.  "Of course, it isn't his business to take care of me, it's mine."

"Is that why you were heading this way?"

I shook my head.  "I just kinda came this way trying to get around the floods and stuff from the spring thaw.  Plus I was trying to avoid where I knew hordes were going to be coming from.  East and South were out.  North was out because I don't want to go to Canada.  That left West."

"But what are you planning to do from this point forward?"

I finally didn't have anything left but a shrug.  "That's why I stopped here.  I need to figure some things out."

She looked like she was going to say something but then stopped.  She looked at Lucy and said, "Time to go in."

"But ma'am she ..."

"Is perfectly capable of deciding for herself."

I nearly fell down.  That is the first time anyone actually gave me that much credit.  I mean people "let" me run my life but it always seemed like they thought they could run it better.  Sgt. Shadwell wasn't letting me, she just thought it was none of her business.  That was very cool.

Part 113

"Do you mind not doing that?" I asked politely.  "It makes me feel kinda stupid for helping you out."

"Open the door slowly."

"No kidding," I muttered regretting trying to be nice.

When the door was opened I asked, "Can I come out now?"

"Carefully.  And I want to see those hands," the woman purred menacingly like something out of a movie.

When I had climbed out and stood up they just stared at me.  "What? Have I got boogers in my nose or something?"

The young woman who had looked up said, "Naw.  I think they just thought there would be more of you.  You're a runt."

I looked at her and realized she was a little different ... more different than Sunny had been but she also seemed to have a different personality too.  I smiled for the first time since I'd seen the last of Cochran - she was that kind of person - and said, "Yeah, I get that alot.  My name's DeeDee."

I could tell my feigned lack of concern was making the men uncomfortable and the women irritated.  Sgt. Shadwell shook her head and said, "Kid, do you have a death wish?"

"No ma'am only I'm not a kid, I'm sixteen ... nearly sixteen and a half."

"Oh yeah, you're ancient all right.  You got anyone else in there with you?"

"No ma'am."

"Are you AWOL?"

"You mean like in the military?  No ma'am."

"Have you got people?"

I felt talkative so I gave her the truth.  "Family?  No ma'am they all died on what most people call Z-Day.  I was a part of a group is St. Louis after that but then was able to escape the city.  I wandered for a while and wound up in the north of Wisconsin only some civilian contractors totally messed that one up.  My friend Sarge ... only he isn't a Sgt. any more but a Major ... was going to go south to try and talk some sense into them and make them wait their turn only some more civilian contractor bunch sent a bunch in from the east.  They evacuated everyone they could only I got left behind."

"Some friend," Sgt. Shadwell said snidely.

My temper snapped.  "Don't you talk about him that way!  It wasn't his fault.  He had orders to go south, he didn't know about the ones coming in from the east or he wouldn't have left me!  He wouldn't have!!"

I heard a lot of drawn breaths, and even I wondered if I was going to take a dirt nap but I didn't care.  Sarge is my friend.  Friends have each other's backs even when the other isn't around.

All Sgt. Shadwell did was hike up her eyebrow like Mom always had when my toes were as close to the line as she was gonna let them get with no consequences.  "And what is this Sarge's name?"

"I call him Sarge and he said that is all I better call him.  He isn't too happy about his field promotions.  His proper rank is Major ... Major Lock Watson.  And don't bother asking me what unit or whatever because I haven't got a clue.  He never told me and all I know is that he was babysitting those stupid scientists that have rocks for brains."

That got her interested.  "Well, well, well ... I might just be able to check your story after all Short Stuff."

"If you think picking on my size is going to irritate me try another one.  I've been short my whole life and have heard every joke in the book and probably a few more that aren't worth writing down.  By the way, your chickens are about to get away."

That moved them.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Part 112

Pulling the wagon was awful; it was like pulling my arm out of its socket a little bit at a time and as slowly as it could happen.  I knew eventually all the food would be gone and the load would be lighter, but it was still awful.  And the mud and soft ground didn't help at all; at least in the beginning I didn't have to deal with actual muddy and flooded roads.  I did later which made things even more fun.  Not.

I was also a lot jumpier than I was even in the city.  At least in the city I was with others and we could take turns on guard or on point but during that time there was only me.  It meant I didn't have anyone dependent on me, eating my supplies, but it also meant that there was no one I could depend on but me.  Kind of a catch-22.

I walked, I slept, I hid from the puss brains, I gave a few some mercy when they just wouldn't leave me alone.  That was the sum total of life except when I was avoiding uninfected people.  There were some decent people I suppose but most of them looked rougher than I did and they were all salvaging ... whether the places they were salvaging wanted them to or not.  I looked through a few places to keep my skills sharp but I never found anything better than what I already had and there were a few things I could have used.

It was monotonous and mind numbing.  My boots began to wear out - one of those things I never found replacements for - then I started to run out of duct tape to keep them from flapping and completely falling apart.

It was in April - fourth month of the year to equal the four large holes in both of my boots - when I reached the stateline and entered the St. Croix river area.  I used Hwy 77 which magically turned into Hwy 48 as soon as I entered Minnesota.  The area along the river was beautiful and I decided to stop and regroup and make some decisions.  It was tempting to just keep walking and being mind numb but I knew I couldn't.

I walked into this subdivision looking for some place I could put up for the night.  The houses looked long abandoned but I took no chances.  I skipped the storage sheds behind the houses for the same reason.  Then in one overgrown yard I found the perfect place that was the perfect size and pretty much fitted my mood.  It was a large doghouse ... almost a dog mansion.  I was sure that there was no way I wanted to meet the dog that once called it home, it must have been enormous.  There was an eyebolt on the outside which told me the dog had been chained at one point but the lack of dog odor let me know it was long gone one way or another.  The door was wide enough I could even pull the wagon in without unloading anything except a few things on top.  Even with the wagon inside the doghouse with me there was enough space for me to sleep comfortably.

I poked around before finalizing it as my choice of hotel to make sure there weren't any critters in there and after only finding a turtle shell - long empty of its wearer - I pulled out my bedroll and got comfortable.

Jace's words kept coming back to me.  I needed a plan.  I could not keep wandering aimlessly like those nomads I had read about in social studies.  Maybe if I had a tribe to wander with, but even then I didn't think that would be the life for me.  I also admitted that I was depressed.  I know that sounds really stupid.  I had just survived possibly the worst thing yet after losing my family, and I had enough food to go for quite a while before I got desperate, but I was greedy ... I wanted more.  Not more food or more stuff ... but more something.  At the same time I also knew that "the more" would cost me somehow.  I'm still not sure how much this is going to cost me but I suppose just like eventually everyone leaves, eventually everthing has a cost.

I was laying their quietly thinking when suddenly there was a bunch of racket and I heard someone say, "McClintick you are an idiot.  How in God's name could you have left the gate open on the pen?!"

"I didn't.  I swear I didn't!  I don't know how those damn birds got out.  Sgt. Shadwell is going to kill us!"

Someone else told him, "Ain't killin' us.  You're taking the fall for this one dip-for-brains.  If anyone is going to die it is going to be you fat boy."

"But I latched the cage!  I did!"

"Latch ... you only latched the cage?  You know the hook is bad!  Didn't you chain it shut?!"

"Uh ..."

I heard several men groan and one of them say, "If Shadwell doesn't kill you I just might.  This is the third time you've done this and if we lose any more hens it's gonna come out of our pay.  Why they stuck us with such a loser ..."

"I didn't ask to go with you.  They promised I was going to work in an office if I signed up.  I'm a college graduate for God's sake, with a BA in accounting.  Why should I be out here scrounging around with you?"

I heard a bunch of shuffling around then a solid thud.  One of the men said, "Take that sack of zombie waste to the honey truck and toss him in.  Maybe that will sweeten him up."

"More'n likely he'll just stink that thing up worse."

There were a few tired snickers but no real laughter or humor.  These men were tired and weren't having a real good day.  I was peeping out of a knot hole when I happened to glance up and nearly started laughing.  The whole time they were out there several plump chickens had been roosting in the trees above them and staring down.

Then into the clearing came several rough looking women, one of whom looked like she could have played the role of a valkyrie from some ol' Norse legend ... except she was wearing enough clothes to cover all the vital areas which valkyries apparently do not if you believe the paintings and statues of them.  In fact she looked like she'd eat anyone that tried to politely take her coat.

I could actually hear the guy closest to the doghouse swallow when she showed up.  "Well?"

"Uh ... Sgt. Shadwell ... ma'am ... uh ..."

"I'll take that to mean that you haven't found them yet."

One brave guy volunteered, "It was McClintick ma'am.  He only put the latch on, didn't use the chain."

There was a pregnant silence and I could see the muscles in her working then she sighed.  "The honey truck?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Very good.  I believe I'll go have a discussion with Pvt. McClintick and suggest he give up his pay so the rest of us aren't penalized for his stupidity ... or else."

I don't know what possessed me.  "Pssst.  Stop making so much noise and look up."

Everyone in the clearing froze except for one young woman who automatically did just that.  Then in the next breath I had a bunch of guns pointing at the dog house.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Part 111

My foot was way worse when I woke some hours later to the sound of a blizzard above my head.  It was swollen and stiff and asleep where it had swollen inside my boot.  Getting it off nearly had me puking but I managed it and then called myself three types of lunkhead for not doing it right the first time around.  As soon as I got it out of the boot it swelled even more but at least the feeling was starting to come back ... not that that felt too nice.

I stood up the best I could and crawled/hobbled over to the water jugs and I noticed that the closer I would put my hand to the ceiling of the bunker which was the floor of the cabin, the colder it would feel.  I realized that snow was probably blowing in and piling up inside the walls and across the floor.  I hoped that it would eventually add some insulation but I didn't want it to seal me in, cut down my oxygen, and just thinking about the mess that would be coming when it thawed made me even more nauseous than my ankle was already making me.

It was a three day blizzard.  By the end of the third day my ankle and foot were still bruised but back to normal size.  I needed to get out, get some fresh air, dispose of my personal waste, and take care of other necessities like getting more water from the well house and trying to figure out some kind of stove so that I could eat something that wasn't dry or ice cold.  I also needed to clear my head and start deciding what I was going to do.

While it was still cold enough to keep the puss brains down I needed to move.

For the next two days I salvaged what I could from Singing Waters before I was stopped by another three-day blizzard.  After that storm I got brave enough to go back to see if all of the camps had indeed evacuated.  I found a few people that had tried to hold out who had frozen to death - or starved to death, I'm not sure as it was hard to tell - but no live person, uninfected or not.

Then there was another real humdinger of a storm that lasted five days.  It wasn't really a blizzard because there wasn't any wind in it; but, it did snow quite a few more inches onto the already snow covered ground.  During that one I nearly went bonkers but it did give me time to think, or maybe forced me to think is a better way of saying it.  I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to stay in the national forest area.  If the weather didn't get me, starvation eventually would.  I'd seen the remains of a lot of animals.  The puss brains had torn into anything that moved while they were running loose.  That would mean that hunting was going to be pointless.  Even if I could overcome that I still had to deal with the fact that all of the water and land for who knows how many miles in every direction was contaminated.

And eventually all those puss brains that the weather was holding away were going to come out of hibernation.  The blizzard and storm season wouldn't last much longer and I needed to get gone before they woke up and started moving.  I also needed to get on the road before the thaw really set in or I would get bogged down in mud and floods.  The question that I couldn't answer was which direction would I go.  Every one had their own problems.

North was only more cold and I wasn't exactly likely to be met with opened arms at the Canadian border.  More than likely they were hacked off plenty at having so many puss brains coming their direction.  East would just be smack into the hordes from the large urban centers.  South would have to be through more hordes and it would be like backtracking due to failure.  West ... well I'd never been west but that would be chasing the puss brains being shipped out there.  I decided just to get away first and then see what I ran into before positively committing to anything.

Between storms I tried to figure out how much I could carry; what I would take and what I would leave behind.  It wasn't easy.  Not all of the equipment Jace had provided had held up.  Some that had had proven to be less than useful.  I carefully separated things until I had a pile that would fit in the best backpack.  I had to leave a few things I really wanted because they were too heavy or awkward ... like a small camp chair and the wind up lamp from the trailer.

That didn't leave me a lot of room for food and I couldn't really count on hunting because I didn't know where I was going, if the infecteds had stripped it, or if the uninfected had stripped it just trying to survive.  I suspected the winter was bad for people and that those left might be dangerous but I didn't know for sure.  But better to be safe than sorry ... plan for the worst and hope for the best.  Only I don't have a lot of hope left in me.  I know I should be grateful that I've survived.  I figure I must still have some purpose to fulfill.  I just don't seem to have a lot of energy to get excited about it.

I was running out of cans of food though I tried to piece it out what supplies that had been left behind by the mass evacuation of the area.  Singing Waters gave me a lot of wild rice, dried meat and fish, dried cranberries and other wild berries, a small supply of dried apples, some homemade sausages, a few dried vegetables that they must have been able to get from their gardens, maple syrup, honey, and a few other odds and ends.  It sounds like a lot of food but it wasn't; it went quickly as I was unable to add anything to it because everything else was contaminated.  I missed having cattails whenever I wanted them and fussed because I had let my personal supply get so low.

I decided that I was going to try and pull the wagon that I'd been using to haul things from the various camps.  It held some of the equipment I couldn't carry and would hold most of the food I had left.  I reminded myself not to put all of the food in the wagon but to shift some things around so that some was in my pack and some in the wagon in case I had to drop the handle and run.  That way I wouldn't lose everything.

By the middle of March I simply had no choice.  It was starting to rise above freezing during the day ... not a lot on some days but enough that the snow was turning to slush and mud.  It was get out or get bogged in.  Those first steps back the way I had come from were really difficult to make.  But I didn't have the option of doing anything else.  Part of my plan to survive had failed ... but part wasn't a failure because I had survived.  I try and take the good with the bad but like I said before, it's become hard to get too excited about things.  Getting excited means you feel something and feeling something just seems to line you up for another kick in the pants.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Part 110

It was like being frozen for a few seconds and then I quickly crawled backwards to get my foot loose from the hole.  Oh it hurt all right but I could still wiggle my toes and move my ankle.  Nothing crunched or anything like that.  So no bones were broken but man did it hurt.

It was about that time that I noticed how gray the sky had gotten.  And I also realized that I was just barely going to make it on time.  I got up and tried to walk and nearly fell down again.  The foot wasn't broken but I'd obviously sprained it badly.  I'd done the same thing in the city once and Doc had stayed with me for a couple of days, even carried me for a while piggy back, while it healed and then we hooked back up with the group.

Yeah, I know Doc was a scuzz there at the end but he also had a good side and I learned a lot from him and he did take care of me when Sherry got too involved in her own troubles.  I guess most people are like that; there are good things and bad things about them.  The question is whether or not the good things outweigh the bad things.  In the beginning Doc had more control over his bad side, you wouldn't even had known he had one.  In the end he had started to lose control of that part of himself.  Maybe it was a blessing that it ended the way it did for him.  I guess I'll never know how far he would have been willing to sink.

But at that point in non-memory land I was nearly sinking to my knees with every step.  I still wasn't ready to give up.  I found a stick and used it like a crutch.  I told myself my foot would feel better in a few steps, then a few steps more.  The terrain was hard to travel hobbling like I was so I switched to using the forestry roads instead of cutting across.  It made walking a little easier but it added distance that only made things worse.  Then I felt a wet, cold breeze across the back of my hands and I realized some kind of storm was on the way.

I tried, I really did but about a mile from my cabin I admitted defeat.  I also knew no one was coming to the rescue.  Small snowflakes had begun to fall from the sky and there was no way I was going to get where I needed to get in twenty minutes; I wouldn't even be close enough to scream for help.

There were only a few snowflakes but the air was getting a lot colder.  That was good to keep the puss brains out of commission ... those that would stay out of commission ... but at the same time it was a calamity of mammoth proportions.  Where could I stay?  I decided to head for the Singing Water camp.  It was snowing slightly worse by the time I made it there.  It wasn't that it was snowing harder but that the snow that there was seemed to dance around like a bunch of hyperactive three year olds.

I hadn't been on the grounds since I'd been there with my family and all the changes that had been made since then made it surreal, trying to see it the way it used to be.  It didn't help to see the remains of the slaughtered animals lying all over the place.  Some of the buildings I expected to see were gone and then there were some that stood out as being almost painfully new but overall there was the destruction left behind by the madness of the puss brains.  I was painfully thirsty by that time and headed straight for the wellhouse which, thank Providence, hadn't been too badly damaged and still had a prime.  I didn't see any obvious contamination - they had damaged the outside of the building but didn't look like they had come inside for some reason - but I still let fresh was flow for several pumps before I filled my canteen.

I was an hour looking around the camp.  I spotted a lot of things I could use (after some cleaning) to survive but no place I could stay during a storm that wasn't badly compromised.  The puss brains had damaged most everything but there were a couple of sheds that hadn't been broken into.  I knew that the same combination had always been used by the family - Dad had fussed at them for their lack of security - and it was 0911 or 0711 and sure enough that got me into where I wanted to go.  One shed was the food storehouse and there was less than I expected but still more than enough for one person for at least a few weeks.  Another was full of salvaged junk.  And the third held empty storage containers and things like that.  I would have stayed in the sheds if I'd had no other choice but they weren't weather proofed ... no windows, just shutters, and no chinking between the rough boards and logs used to build them.

One of the "things like that" from the salvage storage shed was a garden wagon and I pulled it out along with several large jugs.  I took these over to the well house and filled them.  The wellhouse would be my only source of clean drinking water as there was no way to say how badly contaminated the creek was (is).  I also took a few things out of the food shed before relocking it - and changing the combination.

I felt like a one legged mule pulling that wagon back to my cabin.  Yes, my cabin.  I wasn't really aiming for the cabin but to my bunker.  There was no way to secure some place cleaner in the short time I had. By the time I got there the water in the jugs was getting slushy so I knew it was probably in the teens or single digits.  The only reason I was warm at all was because of all of the effort I was exerting.

Finally I lifted down the last items from the wagon and did my best to crawl down one last time without falling down.  The wind was blowing even more fiercely and it tried to rip the trap door out of my hand but I finally managed to close and secure it properly.  It wasn't tropical warm down in the bunker but it wasn't nearly as close as it was outside either.  Getting out of the wind made me realize just how tired I was.  I laid down in my nest of bear skin rug and promptly went to sleep.  It was a long time before I woke up.

Part 109

I only stopped at the cabin long enough to grab my day pack and to make sure that the trap door was locked.  I laughed at myself - though it didn't sound funny - thinking I'd never be coming back but old habits die hard and when you have a hidey hole you keep it as safe and as hidden as you can even if you doubted you would ever use it again.  I learned in the city that it was always better to be safe than sorry.

I was wound up with adrenaline and was almost shot at the first camp because I hadn't thought about scaring anyone.

"Youch!  Hello the camp!  It's just me.  DeeDee Phillips!"

"Whatcha want girl?  We don't have nothing to spare," a hard man told me.  I recognize him but he wasn't one I knew though I think his name was Abe.

"Don't want anything.  The military said ..."  and I proceeded to tell them.  That generated some excitement because they all thought they had missed the evacuation.  Soon enough they were packing up.

They told me not to bother with the next camp as they had checked and no one had survived.  They were the ones I called "mean" because they were so crazy about no one coming that might carry the infection.  I still stopped anyway just on the off chance but there was no chance that anyone uninfected was around.  The odd fence of debris they'd erected around their camp was completely knocked down as was the rough camp buildings inside.

I only had two more camps to reach and was making good time.  One was a ghost town but the last demanded that I stay and help them pack.

"Are you people crazy?!  There isn't any time!  You need to get going now.  Run or with all them with you you'll never make it!"

They tried to stop me and it was a mess fighting them off and telling them to stop wasting time.  They were so crazy they shot at me as I ran back the way I had come.  No way was I going to risk going the way they were.

The first camp was already deserted and it made me happy that I'd saved some people.  Stupid.  Never should have taken my mind off of what I was doing.  I was running.  What smart person runs in the forest if there isn't something chasing them?  And what the heck person would think they were like the deer and could sail over thickets and just keep going without really watching where they were going?  A noodle brain, that's who.

I'd jumped several leafless thickets of some kind of brambleberries.  Sure they'd caught my pants a couple of times but that was no big deal, things were always catching on my pants when I was walking in the forest.  Only I wasn't walking this time.  I underestimated the distance to get over one thicket and was really grabbed by the brambles so when I come down I'm basically hopping trying to stay upright and keep going at the same time.  I no sooner really get my balance back when my foot goes down a rabbit hole but because I'm running the rest of me tries to keep going.

WHAM!  Straight down and hard enough to knock the wind out of me.  But my foot was still down the hole.  It felt like it was being torn off the end of my leg and I just about screamed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Part 108

Something had fallen across the trap door and I almost couldn't lift it off to get out.  For a moment I even considered tunneling out from under the cabin itself.  However, after a few good heaves I slid what turned out to be the remains of the bunk off of just enough of the trap door that I could wiggle out.

I had once again become accustomed to the smell of puss brain waste but when I was out of my bunker and took a really good look at the destruction and their waste that they had smeared all over everything I lost it and nearly puked on my boots.

I had to get out.  Even with the shutters and windows ripped out and a cold breeze blowing through it was too much.  There were more wood shingles missing as well, a sheet of plywood too, and terrified thoughts of where would I live tried to race around in my head.  It almost didn't matter if I stepped outside to face a horde with just my baseball bat.  But when I stumbled through the gap where the door used to be - it wasn't just barely hanging it was completely missing - it was to a lot of destruction, but no infecteds wandering around.

Sign of them were everywhere though.  They'd been like this in the city ... so hungry and angry about it that they tore into everything.  From the look of things they'd even started eating the shrubs and trees.  I suppose you get this many together in one place and they'll strip the area like locusts.  I was looking at the girdled and broken trees and knew things would only be worse in the near future.  There was so much destruction.

I was making a list of damage in my head and wondering how long the list was going to get - trying not to think about if I was the only uninfected person to survive - when I heard a motor vehicle.  It was one of those military canvas trucks and I was for sure that it was Cochran come to check on me.  I started running to meet it when the small sapling I had been next to practically blew apart.

I skidded to a stop and ducked and screamed at them, "Hey!  What's the big idea?!"

I heard from the truck, "Oh @#$%, it's a kid."

"I'm not a kid you jerk!  Do you idiots have puss in your brains or what?!"  Maybe not my finest moments but I'd just been through a lot.

That shut them up for about ten seconds.  "Are you infected?" they called.

"Any why would anyone with any commonsense expect to get an honest answer from someone who is?  No I'm not infected but you should be smart enough not to take my word!"

Then a man got out of the truck and said, "I know you.  Didn't think you'd still be here."

I squinted into the bright sun and realized I knew him too.  "You're Sgt. Bryer.  We worked together one day."

I saw him nod and he said, "Come ahead but do it slow and steady."

He finally let me get face to face and I took my jacket off momentarily to show to the best of my ability that I hadn't been bitten.  The men were looking at me like I shouldn't be here.  "Where's Cochran and Major Watson?" I asked as I zipped back up.

He spoke quickly, obviously in a hurry over something.  "They headed south to try and stop the private contractors from sending any more infecteds this way and enforce the new federal law that only authorized federal troops could handle the migrations.  Right after they left the main front of the horde that we'd expected arrived.  We had it handled but then we got slammed from out of the east the next day with a horde coming in from Michigan from a different private contracting firm.  Too many people tried to butt to the head of the line to have their infecteds carted off out west.  All of the other collections points are experiencing the same thing."  He swallowed.  "Look girl, the camps around the lake were mostly overrun.  We've been able to evacuate out most of those that are left but there were a few hold outs.  You've got one last chance to get out and then all of the troops in this area are bugging out."

I was trying to process everything he said and afraid to ask any questions except, "When and where?"

"Fifteen hundred hours at that place you signed up for the work detail."

"That's five hours away."

"And some will still get left behind.  We don't know where all of the camps are on this side of the lake to warn them."

"I know where they are.  I'll tell them.  I know all the short cuts across the forestry roads.  How bad are the puss brains?"

"We've got them temporarily boxed in but as soon as we bug out they are going to be released.  Are you sure about your offer?  We've still got to warn the other side of the lake?"

As crazy as it sounded I was positive.  Something told me if I didn't do it I'd regret it.  I'd always wonder if people had to die or become infected because I was a coward or didn't care enough.

"What about the Singing Water camp?"

"The ones down the road?  They've bugged out already.  They lost a few people but when they got overrun thems were smart.  They took some boats and got their people towards the center of the lake.  Even when the infecteds tried to follow them they fell through the ice."

Emotionlessly I said, "So the lake is contaminated."

"Yeah, and you be sure and tell them people.  Ain't gonna be no way to live around here for a while.  Now get and be sure and get yourself back in time."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Part 107

Down in that dank hole I'd dug to protect myself I didn't dare try and eat.  For one the smell that was finally making it through the wooden walls of the cabin and through the plank floors was too nauseating.  For another, I didn't want any food odors to encourage the puss brains to work any harder than they were already doing.

The bunker wasn't the same without company.  Instead of it feeling safe and inviting it felt like my grave.  I'm not going to record all my thoughts as I lay there.  I can't even record how long it was because I just don't know.  I'm pretty sure it was at least a week.  I was lucky to have dug out a place for the water barrel and actually gotten it down in there or I would have been in serious trouble.  I had to use a bucket for my bathroom though the smell of it was unnoticeable compared to what was directly above me.

Sometime during my first sleep cycle there was a huge crash.  It was the little frig and chest o' drawers going over.  The puss brains had made it into the cabin.  They ransacked the place.  Each sound belonged to the destruction of things I had tried so hard to mend into usefulness or had found and spent a lot of effort lugging back.  The dishes, even the plastic ones, were some of the first things destroyed.  The bunk bed came down with a crash and I heard the rip as the mattresses were shredded.  I was thankful I hadn't started a fire because I heard the stove pipe being ripped down and something crack as my pans and skillet was used to beat on it.  Shutters were torn down and I heard the crash as things were thrown through the plexiglass windows.  I heard tearing noises as they destroyed the books that I hadn't thought to bring down into the bunker.  All I could do was lay there, wrapped in the bear skin, and try not to think about it too hard.

They would come and go, but when they were gone they weren't gone long.  Wave after wave after wave of destruction.  I was finally forced to try and get some sustenance into my body to keep the dry heaves from hunger away.  When they were gone I tried to eat but it wasn't easy.  I finally just wound up chewing on what little bit of jerky I had left.  Even that was a struggle to keep down.  It was actually just easier to sleep and not worry about anything else.

One day or night it rained.  I heard the thunder crashing and I heard the rain land on the floor at it blew in the broken windows and doors.  Everything grew really damp and uncomfortable, especially when the temperature dropped briefly and the rain turned to sleet.

At some point I realized I would occasionally hear one of those noise boxes go off.  Sometimes it seemed like it must be right outside the cabin and sometimes it was far off.  Then after some unknown amount of time I realized it had been a lot of hours since I had heard either the noise box or a puss brain.  I was very low on water and didn't have a choice.  If I wanted to live I was going to have to risk getting out.

Part 106

It bothered me so much that I called it an early day, went in the cabin and locked down.  It was dark and dreary inside the cabin after being outside but that suited me better than the false jolliness of the sun as it shown in the sky.  I realized something as I walked around in the cabin putting things away ... I was too warm with my coat on.  It didn't matter that it was getting late in the day or that I had small holes in my roof.

Now I wasn't hot but it was definitely too warm for all the layers I had on.  I took my coat off slowly as I realized what this could mean.  Mr. Svenson had told me the Spring Thaw didn't normally occur until mid to late March, sometimes not until April, but it had come early a few times in the years he'd been on earth.  It wasn't quite March yet, and it didn't have to mean that the thaw was coming early, but we could be having an early warm spell - warm meaning above freezing temperatures -and that was going to throw a real monkey wrench into the docs' plans.  Idiots.  If they were going to experiment they should have started way earlier than waiting until late January to give it a good go.  Just because weather is normally something doesn't mean it is the same from year to year.

I was just about to take some things out of the bunker and make me a meal ... the cattail sprouts I ate as I carried water were nothing but a distant memory to my stomach ... when something crashed into the cabin door.  I could hear it bounce off and tumble down the stairs but just as quickly pick itself back up and make another run at it.  Then there were crashes and bangs all over the cabin.

A cold emptiness settled over me.  An acceptance I guess you'd say.  This may have been the wild woods of Wisconsin, but in my head it was also the urban jungle of the city.  The two overlapped.  Slowly and carefully I grabbed everything that could fit into my bunker space and threw it down.  Then as the noise continued to increased in volume I climbed down and carefully pulled the trap door closed and bolted it.

I was alone.  Truly alone.