Monday, May 11, 2015

Part 134


When Gayle raised her hand to stop my talking I put my nose in the air and sniffed.

"Why do you do that?  I've seen you ... you just ... it ..."

I shrugged because I could tell she was upset at being curious and having said something and trying not to laugh all at the same time.  "I suppose I do look a little funny.  Sher used to say the same thing."  I shrugged again.  "Look, you've never had to deal with being short in a tall person's world. That's my day-to-day.  You can see over things.  I have had to learn to 'see' things differently so I don't get caught by surprise.  My nose just happens to be really, really good.  And right now it is telling me that whoever that is, it isn't puss brains ... but ... I'm not sure it's the patrol either.  Too many feet."

Gayle was immediately alert.  She gave me a dirty look but more for pointing out what she had missed I think.  Then there was a whistle and Lucy came out but she wasn't alone; there was another soldier with her, a male soldier.

"We got wounded.  One critical ... a slow train ... and then three banged to hell and back.  Possible targets heading our way."

Lucy took up a protective stance, as did the male soldier, and covered the two women and three men coming our way.  There was a fourth - presumably the slow train - on a makeshift gurney being hauled by the two least wounded men.

"What's a slow train?" I asked.

"Code for someone that is infected but still functioning."

I reached for my bat and asked, "How long ago was he bitten?"  No one answered until the man was set down in front of Gayle who took one look at him and triaged him.  One of the men said, "We were attacked about a week and a half ago."

I looked at the guy and something didn't add up.  The guy had been bitten on his neck but it hadn't been torn out like most puss brain bites in that location would have done to most people.  He should have bled out immediately.  I went to touch the bloody bandage and the guy knocked my hand away.  I looked at him and he had resignation in his eyes but purpose too.  Something was definitely amiss.

"Gayle?"

"I'm busy here."

"Gayle."

"Dammit ..."  she turned to snarl but I didn't let her get any further.

"He's still lucid.  After more than a week.  From a bite near an artery."

She opened her mouth again and then slowly closed it.  Looked at the other three men to make sure they weren't gonna die in the next few minutes and then came over by me.  When she went to touch the bandage with her latex covered hands the guy tried to stop her.  "You knock my hand one more time and I'll knock you upside your head."

A gutteral whisper was all the guy could make.  "Refuse to infect anyone else.  Tell them to give me my gun.  I'll ... I'll ..."

"You'll shut up and let me think and that is all you will do."  She looked at the other four men and asked, "You sure it was over a week ago?"

The only uninjured guy was shaking with fatigue but answered for them all.  "Yes ma'am.  We were two days into a week-long patrol.  We tried to get to the first recovery point but missed it.  We've been trying to get to a secondary recovery point ever since but it has been slow going."

"And you're sure it was an infected that bit him?"

The guy looked at her like she was crazy and I could tell everyone was getting tense so being me I decided to put my foot in it too.  "How bad did they smell?"

"Whu ... huh?"

"The smell."

"They had the worst BO I've ever smelled."

I asked, "BO?  That's all you smelled?"

"Yeah.  They obviously hadn't bathed in forever."  I looked at the women but didn't feel like I could ask the question.

Sgt. Shelly had picked up on it though and asked casually, "How many tours you men seen?  Been in deep have you?"

The man shook his head.  "This is our first rotation out in the boonies.  We were patrolling Salt Lake City up until a month ago and then they called us up for a remote tour to allow some other patrols to come in for urban duty for a while and heal up."

"Where's your sergeant?" she asked.

"He got taken out by the pack that did this ... the ones that've been following us."

I looked at the other women and I saw I wasn't the only one thinking something wasn't adding up.  Sgt. Shelly looked at Lucy and Josie and they got up and took up position a little down the path from our camp.

Gayle looked at Sgt. Shelly then at me and said, "I need to hear what you're thinking.  What is bothering you?"

I shrugged.  "I've seen a lot of people get infected.  I've seen some people that have fought the infection hard for as long as they could but usually after a couple of days they start showing signs.  In all that time and all those people, I've never seen anyone last more than a week."

Gayle looked thoughtful.  "No one?"

I shook my head.  "No.  Have you?"

She shook her head.  "I usually don't have to deal with that kind of situation.  Real medicos take it because out in the field ..."  she shrugged.  "It's usually a case of triage and do your best to forget."

I looked at the guy and sat down beside him.  "Hey.  What's your name?"

"Bedford," he whispered painfully.

I looked at the other men.  "Is that his name?"

"Of course it is.  Isn't that what he just said?"

I bit my lip then figured in for a penny, in for a pound.  I looked back down at the guy and asked, "How bad you wanna live?"

"Not bad enough that it gets someone else killed."

"Well I can understand the sentiment but," and Gayle gave me a look and turned to the other men.  "But I'm pretty sure that you're not infected."

He didn't want to believe me.  Some people are like that.  There was a lady that used to live down the street from us that had convinced herself that she had cancer.  When three doctors told her she didn't she couldn't bring herself to believe them.

"Look, all I'm saying is just keep fighting, keep holding on ... just in case mind you."  When he got a stubborn look on his face I added, "If you are infected I promise that I'll do for you fast and as painless as possible.  I've put more than a few people out of their misery.  I think it is just plain sick to let a buddy turn into a puss brain without easing their way to their Maker."

I could see in his eyes he was still fighting the notion of not being infected.  "Look, like I said, I've seen a lot of people get infected ... too many.  I've been around puss brains since Z Day with very little break in it.  I know what the symptoms are.  For one you'd be a whole lot closer to recovery at this point as the infection took over and knitted things back together.  You'd also be eating everything in sight too but from the green gills you have as your buddy there munches on an energy bar I don't think hunger is exactly a problem for you right now."  He started giving me a cautious hopeful look.  "I'm not promising anything but I am saying with all my experience you are way outside of the symptoms you should be having and the time you should have started to have them.  Now mind your manners and rest or Gayle will turn really unpleasant.  I haven't seen her at her worst and don't want to so don't cause problems.  She's scary enough without added incentive."

A voice from behind me growled, "I heard that."

"I hope so.  Just wanted to let you know how much I respect your ... er ... competence."

She growled again but I knew it was just for affect ... it certainly had one on the man she was patching up.  He stopped wiggling and sat real still.

I pulled an emergency blanket over the critically injured man and then moved over to Sgt. Shelly.  I knew what triage was.  I hadn't known what to call it in the early days but I learned fast how necessary it was.  Frankly the guy could still die even if he didn't turn into a puss brain.  There could be a different kind of infection in his blood after going so long without real medical attention.

As quietly as I could I asked Sgt. Shelly, "Do I feed these guys?"

She nodded without drawing attention to our conversation.  "You got the supplies?"

"I can stretch things if I can lay some snares and catch something.  I can still feed the extra for two or three days without too much trouble.  Might be best to start them on some soup though since I don't know what they've been eating."

One of the injured guys came over.  "Sergeant ma'am?  My name is Corporal Lewiston.  I can answer that question."

"Go ahead Soldier.  Report."

"Yes ma'am.  Private Harris - he's the red head over there - has been knocking together a meal or two a day for us.  He claims he was going to college at BYU before things fell apart but he's originally from some little backside of nowhere spot on the map.  He grew up hunting and fishing in an area like this - so he's said - and ..."

He turned and suddenly made a pretty bad face while he grabbed his side.  I looked closer and asked, "Ribs?"

He gasped and nodded.  "Fell down a river bank trying to get down and get us some water.  Caught up against a cedar stump.  It's just bruising at this point."

"Don't tell Gayle you've diagnosed yourself," I told him with a grin after peeking at Sgt. Shelly to see if she was irritated at the interruption.  "Just let her poke and prod you.  It seems to keep her in a good mood."

He relaxed and seemed to be able to communicate with Sgt. Shelly a little better so I moved off and then down to where Lucy and Josie were.  I asked, "Need your canteens refilled?"

"No, we're good.  So you don't think the guy is infected?"

"Not unless it's something I've never seen before.  He just doesn't have any symptoms."

"But they said he was bit by an infected."

"Well, since I haven't seen it I don't know if it is a bite.  And two, we don't know for sure that if it is a bite that the person was infected."

Lucy shrugged and kept her eyes on our surroundings but Josie looked at me and asked, "You willing to stake your life on it?"

I shrugged.  "I'll keep one eye open but it just doesn't fit.  One thing though, have you seen any sign that they were being followed?"

Josie nodded but this time Lucy did speak.  "I went back down their trail.  I could see a column of smoke about two, maybe three, miles back ... hard to tell 'cause of the angle."

Thoughtfully I replied, "Well, I've never known infecteds to light fires."  They both nodded and soon completely ignored me, concentrating instead on keeping watch.  I didn't begrudge them.  My nose may not have been tingling from the nasty odor of puss brains, but it smelled trouble nevertheless.

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