Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Part 135


Do I look like a messenger boy?  Well do I?  Don't answer that.  If it wasn't for this stupid out of control mop that I call hair people would probably be just as likely to think I was a boy as a girl.  Lucy laughed once and said I looked like Little Orphan Annie when it was out of my braids.  I nearly shaved my head that night after I figured out who that Annie character was.  Better to be bald and nobbly headed than to be thought cute.  Yuck!  I've never wanted to be cute in my entire life.  I definitely don't want to be cute now!

If I could wish for one thing and have it come true - besides having my family back - I'd wish to have my boobs come back.  I mean I've got them ... sort of ... but I guess the weight loss and all the lifting and tugging have given me more muscle than fat in my girly places.  I swear Toddie used to tease me crazy about being flat chested ... until I wasn't and then he got all stupid and would growl at all my friends and his too if I wasn't right where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there.

Dad said once that it was about time that Toddie started acting like a proper big brother.  It took Mom explaining to me that Toddie had finally had his protective gene activated when he grew up enough to realize I was growing up.  Why on earth the male of the species has to go and make life so ever loving complicated is beyond me.  Take these soldier boys for instance.  No, I mean really take them ... as in away ... as in far, far away.

"Hi."

I really don't like being interrupted when I'm cooking but as a general rule I try and not bite people's head off about it so I said, "Hi.  Watcha need?"

"Uh ... my name is Derek ... Derek Harris ... uh ... Pvt. Derek Harris."

I nodded and kept fixing the soup.

"Er ... whatcha fixing?"

I glanced his direction.  "You hungry?"

He gave me a pathetic look.  "Starving to death."

I snorted.  "Boys are always starving to death."

I guess I got lucky and he didn't get upset by being called a boy when by rights I suppose he was a man albeit one not too much older than me.  Curiously he asked, "Know a lot of boys?"

I shrugged.  "Yes and no.  Had a big brother who had a ton of friends that were over at our house all the time.  Had a couple of good friends that were guys too."  I shrugged again.

He sighed.  "I don't have nothing but sisters.  I'm stuck in the middle with three on each side.  All of them still living at home last time I was there."  After a bit he asked, "What about them others?  Are they ... you know ... man haters?"

I nearly laughed but kept it to myself.  "They're impartial; they growl at everyone."

"Oh."

I thought he'd move on but instead he asked again, "So watcha fixin'?"

"Soup."

"I can see that.  I mean what kind.  It smells good."

About that time his stomach growled almost as loud as Gayle had when one of the guys had reopened a cut she'd just finished cleaning out.  This time I did snicker out loud.  "I swear, it has gotta be attached to the soldier gene or something.  All I have to do is throw a pot of something together and all I hear are stomach grumbles."

"You aren't a soldier?"

"Not strictly speaking," I answered honestly.  "I'm a civilian contractor."

"Then you ain't 18 yet."

That surprised me.  "Did you think I was?"

He scratched his head and said, "I've got six sisters, remember?  I've learned the hard way to tread carefully when it comes to things like age, weight, and clothing size."

Feeling a little sorry for him I explained that I was making corn chowder.  Although I was polite about it to him all I was thinking about was how thankful I was that I had something constructive to use one of these honking, nasty big cans of creamed corn that I am stuck with.  I opened it up and dumped it in a big pot, threw in some of those fake potato flakes, and then thinned it out with some water.  I added a little more seasoning to give it the taste I was looking for and then stirred it until it was heated through so it wouldn't get lumpy.

I got another surprise when Harris pulled a bag of cornmeal out of his pack and made up some corn cakes (they look like cornmeal pancakes) and also brought out a squeeze bottle of something he called birch syrup.

"Where did you get that stuff?" I asked, noticing it wasn't in standard military packaging.

"Traded for it at a little outpost on our first day.  Nice little place though a couple of characters there were a little on the sketchy side.  And the women were really something ... er ..."

Rolling my eyes and shaking my head at the thoughts that suddenly jumped up I asked totally out of patience, "Outpost or whorehouse?"

When he got that deer in the headlight look I knew.  "Oh for pete sake.  You stop at a whorehouse, cat around and do some trading, and then the next day you get hit.  Didn't none of you put two and two together?"

Lucy, who had just come from the "ladies side of the trail" asked, "What's the ruckus Pip?  Junior here giving you a problem?"

"No," I snapped.  "But I'm beginning to wonder about a few things."

"Such as?" she asked with polite interest.

"Did you know there were whorehouses out here that also act like trading posts?"

"I'd heard it.  As you can guess our patrol generally steers clear of those types of places when we can help it."

"Well Pvt. Harris and his band of jolly fellows didn't.  First day in the outback they run across one and have a good time and then the next day they get hit.  Out here.  In an area we've been told really doesn't have all that many places where people get together in.  In a place that is supposedly ultra full of puss brains so most people would tend to stay out.  People with sense anyway.  I can't believe their Sergeant would just be ok with them catting around like that."

Pvt. Harris sighed.  "Well strictly speaking ... he wasn't.  He tore a strip off of the Corporal for it.  He'd left him in charge while he went to talk to some old guy about getting a local map of the area that might have stuff marked on it that our intel hadn't been able to provide.  Sarge said it was behavior unbecoming a soldier or something like that.  He was pretty much yelling too loud to really understand what he was saying exactly."

And that's where things started going downhill.  Lucy carried the story to Sgt. Shelly who then went to Corporal Lewiston and grilled him good to get the full story out of him.  Then she gave them all a lecture like they probably never got from their fathers about the danger of consorting with the wrong kind of women and exactly what can result from sexually transmitted diseases right own down the line to getting taken for a bunch of chumps with expensive gear just waiting to be plucked like a bunch of babes in the woods.

Dinner was so not fun.  And it hasn't been much fun since.  The women have lost all confidence in the men and the men are pretty much dying of shame at getting called on the carpet by a woman ... women.  So that leaves me stuck in the middle carrying questions and orders back and forth.  A helicopter is coming some time tomorrow to extract the men and I don't think anyone thinks it will be soon enough.

But lost confidence or not they are pulling their weight when it comes to guard duty.  One woman from our patrol will team up with a man.  Josie got Pvt. Harris and I saw her give him an evil grin.  He just looked sort of resigned.  Guess he wasn't lying about having a bunch of sisters.  Sgt. Shelly took the Corporal and I have a feeling she is going to give him a long talk.

For my part I'm wondering how I wound up seeming so much more experienced than men that have been soldiering for a while.  None of them are very old, not even the Corporal, but I would have thought being a soldier would have gotten them some training or something that would make them ... I don't know ... better than they are.

Gayle, the only one of the women not able to completely keep her distance because she was tending the wounded, pulled me to the side and asked me if I had learned anything else.

Shaking my head I said, "No.  After the grilling Sgt. Shelly gave them they've pretty much shut up.  Plus they are all beat and sick at heart.  Bedford is taking a turn for the worse isn't he?"

Gayle nodded.  "He needs antibiotics and an IV drip, neither of which I have to give him.  I'm more convinced than ever that he isn't infected but whatever he has got is driving him into pneumonia.  He was refusing care until you convinced him to stop being such a pain in the a$$ but I don't know how much good that I'm doing wasting time and supplies on him."

That was callous but since it was also the truth I didn't saying anything.  "If I hear anything I'll tell you."

She was silent for a moment then said, "I've seen you looking at them.  What's bothering you?"

I didn't like having my thoughts that obvious but still I wanted answers so I told her.  "How come Gayle?  Why do I know more than they do?  It doesn't make sense?"

"You've done nothing but live in the thick of this for two years, same as we have.  In some ways your early training in the city gave you a leg up people like those men will never have."

"Never?"

"Never.  They've had time to get used to the idea that the problem of the Infecteds can be managed.  They've been spoon fed nothing but that the whole time.  Some of them haven't even lost family, or so it appears.  They haven't been touched the way you have ... the way our whole patrol has.  We all - even you - have a kind of battlefield experience those men lack.  Pip, soldiers are rarely born, mostly they are made but not by boot camp and training experiences ... they are made on real battlefields.  Not one of us are born soldiers, we've been made into what we are by what we've experienced and lived through.  MSgt. Shadwell might be a born soldier but she's the exception, not the rule.  There are some others in our unit that are like that, but only a few.  Most of us only get this way because we are determine to survive long enough to see the other side of this god-awful mess.  It is what comes after that is going to scare the hell out of the great majority."

"What do you mean what comes after?"

She gave me a look then sighed.  "You're exactly what worries me most Pip.  You and all those younger than you ... the ones that it is getting too hard for you to remember what it was like before, the ones that have had to live so hard and on their own they may never be able to live any other way.  That's what gets me up in the morning and what I go to sleep with each night.  Dealing with this ... this fiasco ... so that kids like you have a chance.  Josie, Shelly, and Lucy feel the same way.  We could have been furloughed several times but we stay.  None of us have family except each other - at least not that we know of - and ..."  She stopped, looked around, and then finished, "And we need some reason to keep going.  When the future eventually gets here we want it to be one that is free of the Infected and the crazies that caused them."

She wandered back to the women's side of camp and I've been sitting here ever since trying to decide what made me more uncomfortable ... finding out the women weren't just cardboard characters with guns, that there was more to them than I had thought, or this whole idea about there being something that is supposed to come after this.

But now it is my turn on a shift.  I've already got my spot picked out and with Sgt. Shelly's help I've already got it stocked with some big rocks.  She only questioned me about it once and was satisfied with my answer.  "Just so that you can get down without breaking your neck."

"Would you like to hear how often I had to hit the trees in the North Woods to get away from things that might eat me?"

She snorted and said, "Not tonight I don't.  And I don't want your thoughts wandering either so stay sharp.  You get too tired, you start to nod off, you come get Josie who is on after you.  And keep an eye on Pvt. Winton.  He's pi$$ed at the world now that he has the energy for it.  He don't want to be here and blames the others for what happened because apparently he's the only one beside their sergeant that didn't ... er ... partake of the goodies offered."

I already knew exactly what she meant.  But I don't think it was the whorehouse or what came after it that set him against the world ... as a matter of fact I don't think it is the world he is hacked off at.  He strikes me as the type that had a problem with women in general before, and women in authority in particular.  I didn't tell Gayle, and maybe I should have, but he was calling our patrol all sorts of nasty names that all had to do with being female.  I figure though after everything I have a higher tolerance for that sort of nonsense than the others would.  If he starts something I know I can ignore it.  I just hope he is smart enough that he doesn't try anything but words with me.  I'd really hate to have to hurt his pride and cause an incident.  We don't need any more trouble than what we already have.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the chapters Kathy, great story. I pray that all go's well with your father and your parents move to be close to you and yours.
    Wayne

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the chapters Kathy, great story. I pray that all go's well with your father and your parents move to be close to you and yours.
    Wayne

    ReplyDelete