Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter 4



(About a week has gone by I think.  I may have lost a day here or there.  I don’t really bother keeping track anymore.) 

Mace will make it if no infection sets in.  The bullet cracked one of his ribs but the rib deflected the bullet so that it didn’t scramble his insides. 

Dylan’s group has an EMT, a nurse, and even a Vet … animal doc not the vet that is a soldier.  Gotta be careful because Dylan’s group has some of those too.  Lucky for them all of their regular medical people are immunes and not carriers.  They have a guy that is a retired doctor but he is a carrier and he’s self-medicating with things like Klonopin, Rivotril, Valium, Serax, Xanax, Zoloft, and Paxil.  The kind of stuff that would have brought better-than-good money on the street not too long ago.  Pretty much whatever he has been able to scrounge up.  But that’s another story which means that it is a good thing Dylan’s group also has two pharmacists.  As a matter of fact they’ve got a lot of smart people that survived the initial out break but for whatever reason didn’t escape getting quarantined. 

I guess if I’m going to use this notebook as a therapist I need to go back and explain things a little better. 

First off, the person that shot Carol was a cop – or used to be a cop, or maybe still is just one that is quarantined with the rest of us.  He heads up the security for Dylan’s group, not Mack like I thought.  Though I wasn’t completely wrong; Mack used to be Dylan’s lieutenant but as the group has grown and started including regular people and not just street people the group’s hierarchy has changed. 

Hierarchy.  Another ten dollar word.  That’s what Mack called it when he explained the situation.  The goober.  I don’t need protecting.  I sure don’t want someone to boss me around.  But he would have stayed outside in the rain if I hadn’t shown him how to climb up and in.  Goober.  Who does he think he is?  I’m not a kid.  God he is such a goober.  More on why he is a total goober when I get the other stuff explained.  



I am coming to terms with Carol’s death.  I hate that phrase.  I hate having to “come to terms” with all the crap around me.  But I guess you gotta just embrace the suck to make it out alive.  I may have come to terms for whatever that is worth but it doesn’t make me happy or relieved or anything like that.  I don’t see it the way Dylan sees it; that she’s been released from her misery.  I don’t see it the way Detective Rodeny does either … Rodney Cash the cop.  He says that Carol was a danger to herself and others and her actions left him no choice.  He doesn’t think that she was a rabid animal or anything like that, just that she was such a danger that she wasn’t going to stop killing on her own, that she had to be stopped.  I’d say he regretted shooting her except I’m not really sure that is true.  But he isn’t bragging about it either which I suppose is something.

I don’t think like Mace does either.  He thinks if he had just tried to hook up with Dylan’s group instead of running them of when they started to scare Carol that she could have been helped.  He tried to live with and ignore her increasing anxiety and paranoia instead of addressing it and dealing with it.  He also kinda blames me for setting Carol off that day.  Actually there’s no “kinda” about it … he does blame me, absolutely and totally blames me.  He got his dig in for sure when he spread my story to all of Dylan’s group.  It was like I was suddenly this dirty thing that no one wanted to be near and they were all giving me the eye like I was contagious. 

I was standing right there when Mace did it.  He wanted to make good and sure that I knew he had done it.  The look on his face was too satisfied for me not to get why.  As a form of revenge it hurt worse than Carol shooting me had.  I was ready to run all over again only a surprising thing happened.  Mack and Chief Rodney all of a sudden started asking questions about Tad and it came out that he was almost forty years old … he’s thirteen years older than Paula.   

Det. Rodney asks, “What the hell is a forty year old man doing fooling around with a teenager, even if it was supposed to be a joke?” 

Well then most of the guys – especially the ones with daughters – changed their tune.  Some of the women too; but enough were on the fence that I doubled down on my refusal to stay with Dylan’s group.  I don’t need or want that kind of grief.  I’ve accepted the consequences of what a fool I was and am learning to live with it.  I don’t need or want the kinda grief I would get by trying to prove myself over and over and over every day just so a few people can feel righteous.  When the hullabaloo settled down and everyone went off to their “apartments” – what they’ve turned the hotel rooms into – I snuck away from their “clinic” and came home after snagging a couple of Percocet for my arm. 

I would have had to walk back to the 4x4 but Mack drove me back after he caught me a block from the hotel.  He says that the group is so big now that it gives him heartburn and that he’s glad Det. Rodney took over security.  That being responsible for that many people wasn’t what he had signed up for. 

With a regretful kind of tone Mack explained, “Dylan tried to make me into something I’m not.  It was driving me crazy.  I’m tired of being told I’m not living up to my full potential.”  But I didn’t’ find that part out until later.  At first he just asked a bunch of questions about being alone and on the street.   He finally left off and left me alone though after I proved that I could drive and I was able to finish escaping.


It took me almost four days to deal with the meat and stuff from that haul and some of the meat nearly spoiled – should have done it first but I was trying to make soups and stews and a mix of things all together.  I had to start by cleaning the ancient kitchen so I could set up the propane cooker in there.  God, the stove looks like it belonged to the witch out of that Hansel and Gretel story.  If I hadn’t packed all the food in those funky Styrofoam containers with the dry ice in them that had been in the walk in freezer where I found the meat half the stuff would have gone over and I would have wasted all that effort.  Had to use the regular coolers for the non-meat stuff or it would have wound up useless too.  I used the dry ice to try and save the bananas I found and they wound up such a mushy mess when they thawed that I was lucky to make banana preserves with them and a couple of banana fruit cakes that I put in cookie tins wrapped in booze soaked cheese cloth.

Yeah, I took the fancy booze that I found there too; and, regular booze that I’ve found other places.  What of it?  Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t have but on the other hand I figure it might come in handy for something.  It is hidden though, big time because I don’t want to make myself a target for anyone else that might try and flop here.  I’ve been lucky so far but better safe than sorry.


But all the moving the canners and coolers around … geez. When the Percocet ran out I lived on Tylenol and Advil and Rolaids to deal with the acid upset and then as soon as the last canner was done I pretty much slept the clock around once and a piece.  I woke up and had to run to the port-o-potty ‘cause the inside bathrooms don’t work.  After some much needed relief I stepped out and nearly passed out when I opened the door and there stood Mack with an extremely annoyed look on his face.  He had to stop in mid-lecture while I puked from hunger and then insisted that either I came with him to have my arm looked at or he’d knock me out and take me there anyway. 

“Willing or unwilling.  Don’t matter to me,” Mr. Crankypants snarled. 

Geez.  I was too weak to fight but was feeling just ornery enough that I gave it some thought before giving in.  I let him drive me to the hotel after I decided I wasn’t averse to knowing whether my arm was going to fall off and take the rest of me with it. 

Doctor Shepherd – the doc that is a carrier – was the guy on duty when I showed up and he told me, “You don’t deserve to be as healthy as you are.”  Translation:  I was ok and too lucky to be polite to.  Fine.  Whatever.  Found something else out though and it explained the way Carol was acting a little bit.   

I grumped to Mack, “I could have stayed home for what he dished out.  What’s his damage?  It’s not like I was asking for him to kiss it and make it all better.” 

“Doc needs to adjust his meds again.  Rodney is going to have to set someone to watch him I guess.” 

“What?  He’s got mental issues or something?  PTSD?” 

He was briefly surprised and said, “Well it seems I know something about the plague you don’t.” 

Still smarting from the doc’s exam and words I snapped, “Well don’t just stand there looking all superior and junk.  Fill me in already.” 

Mack snorted then leaned against the wall of their clinic’s waiting room.  “Carriers … they aren’t like immunes.” 

“No kidding.” 

“I’m not talking about them being able to infect other people although there is that.  But as I understand it part of the reason why they can do that is because … carriers … they don’t really get well exactly.  If they are medicated they can keep the symptoms to a minimum but every time the … the psych drugs stop working or they can’t take them on schedule … they deteriorate a little more … sometimes a lot more.  The Doc … he self-medicates and is able to keep it mostly under control.  And he’s sworn all the staff to keep an eye on him to make sure he takes his meds on time.  But … he also made Rodney swear that if he gets to a certain point that he won’t stand in the way when or if the Doc wants to end it.  And he’s made Rodney and a couple of other people promise that if he gets to be a danger to others and doesn’t end it himself that they’ll do it for him.” 

Carefully I said, “I heard stuff at the hospital.  People were … were signing orders to … to euthanize family members.  Some of the staff offed themselves when they found out they were sick.  It’s one of the reasons I was able to get away.  Some orderly slit his own throat and the staff …  Geez.  That’s … that’s too bad about the carriers.  I … I guess that’s what happened to Carol isn’t it.” 

“Probably.”  He hesitated before saying, “You couldn’t have helped Winx.  She was getting too far gone.  She could have been drugged to oblivion … I’ve seen it done but … I don’t know …” 

“Mace wouldn’t have done that.” 

“He’ll come around.” 

I shook my head.  I knew Carol and Max.  I was just fooling myself that they would have ever just up and let bygones be bygones.  I wasted my time going over there with that food and got Carol killed in the process.  I knew it.  Mace knew it.  Time to face the facts.  “No, Mace will never come around or forgive me even.  Carol was his life and while he might get over it enough to not need to blame me out loud, there’s going to be a part of him that will on the inside … a part of him that always will.” 

Mack said, “Getting a little deep in here.  Gonna need waders pretty soon.  You’re obviously feeling sorry for yourself.” 

I shook it off and said, “I don’t.  I just have to be realistic.  It is the only way to live without making a fool of yourself.” 

I was about to tell him I wanted to leave when Det. Rodney found us and “asked” me to come with him.  Det. Rodney is like all the cops I’ve met; they may “ask” but the truth is they are telling you what you will do.  It turns out that he and several other people from Dylan’s group wanted to pick my brain about where I had been finding all the food, the canning equipment, and stuff like that. 

Trying to stay out of trouble I told Det. Rodney that, “I’ve only taken stuff that would have spoiled or will spoil before people come back.”

Det. Rodney sneered and said, “Well we haven’t so stop acting holier than thou.  This is a refugee situation and since we’ve been abandoned to our own resources but have a duty to protect and provide for the weaker among us.  People can just lump it if they don’t like it.  We take what we need.” 

 
Wow.  Interesting viewpoint for an authority figure.  After I finally trusted that he wasn’t trying to entrap me or something like that I told them, “Houses give me the heebies.  There are still enough people that I’m afraid I’m gonna get shot or something.”  Someone snorted and said something rude about me having already been shot but I ignored it.  “Grocery stores have pretty much been gutted.  If they weren’t before the mandatory evacuation they sure as heck are now.  Same for the big box stores although some of them have things like salt, seasonings, and cooking oil left.  I’ve got all that stuff that I need so y’all can have at it.” 

Det. Rodney sighed and said, “Stop and focus kid.  You don’t need to justify it or explain how.  What we want to know is where did you get the produce and meats in that truck you were driving?” 

I shrugged trying to not irritate him any more than it looked like I was already doing.  “Warehouses down in the commercial district.  Some of it came from down at the docks.     I figured stores and restaurants have to get their stuff from some place and it wasn’t going to be the grocery store like the rest of us.”  I didn’t tell him that I’d already heard stuff through the homeless grapevine when I’d been on the street.  When there are only so many dumpsters to dive through and you are trying to feed a bunch of friends you use all the creativity you can get ahold of.  “I started hitting restaurants early on trying to figure it out though most of those places have already been cleaned out of the obvious stuff.  Then I saw this bulletin board over the desk of some mom and pop kinda place and there was a sales flyer for something called a restaurant and supply depot.  I went to that address, hit pay dirt, and have been hunting and pecking ever since.  Sometimes I get lucky, twice as often I don’t.  It’s, you know, like whatever it takes.” 

The lone woman in the group said, “What about what Mack said … you put stuff in jars.” 

I gave Mack a dirty look and then stuck my tongue out at him just because I wanted to.  Det. Rodney cleared his throat like I was getting on his last couple of nerves so I turned and told him, “My family kept a storage unit.  They kept all of their jars and stuff in there.  Well, I took my mom’s share of it.  My mom and Aunt Trudy were raised old-fashioned and when they grew up lived all-natural and organic and stuff.  I wasn’t given a choice except to learn how to do that junk.  It was like family tradition or responsibility or whatever you want to call it.  Doesn’t anyone know how to do it in your group?” 

“We’ve got books.  And one of my helpers helped her mother when she was growing up.  All we need is equipment.” 

“Don’t look at me.  I’m no crystal ball.  Have you checked hardware stores, Walmart, or the Dollar Mart?” 

Like there was no question she had the authority she told me, “You have to show us.” 

I wasn’t feeling any love and started having visions of chains and cages.  “No way.  Forget it.  I’m no trained monkey.  You have more than I had when I started, at least you’ve got people to buddy up with and share the load.”  I got gone as quick as I could after that though that took a few slick moves as it seems like no one wanted to let me get gone except for Mack who was going to give me a ride.  At least he was before he found out all the vehicles were spoken for.  He was going to get a crotch rocket next but they were all being serviced.  His face said what I was thinking.  Then he got called away because some kid got lost in the hotel someplace. 

Not taking any chances I snuck out a service entrance and started putting one foot in front of the other.  I wasn’t looking forward to the long walk home but then laughed in relief as I remembered where I’d seen a couple of bikes in a pawn shop about two miles from the hotel.  A half hour later I climbed up the exterior service ladder and then dragged my tired butt up and over the second story window sill I had broken into last time I was there.  

My arm was thumping again so I sat down and tried to wait it out.  If I hadn’t I might not have heard them. 

“I said we lost her.” 

[radio noise] 

“No.  Didn’t hear an engine.” 

[radio noise] 

“Look, don’t blame us Mack.  If you had done what Dylan and Rodney had told you to do we’d already know where the girl was staying and with who.” 

[radio noise] 

“Right back at you asshole.  I don’t care what you think.  If someone is in our territory we need to know.  And they’re either for us or against us.” 

[radio noise] 

“Yeah well Dylan doesn’t make all the rules anymore does he?  This is a democracy and he got out voted.  He can take care of the spiritual stuff, the rest of us will take care of everything else.” 

There was more radio noise but the two men had moved so that I could no longer hear them clearly.  I forgot about my arm as I realized I was in serious trouble.  I thought about what I’d heard and realized I knew three things. 

1 – Mack meeting me wasn’t an accident. I was pretty sure about that already but now I knew for sure. 

2 – Dylan wasn’t in complete control of the group anymore if he ever had been. 

3 – Mack had lied.  Not to me, but about me.
 
Points one and two bothered me but didn’t surprise me too much.  Point three made me curious and that did freak me out.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 3




I cannot believe Carol shot me!!!  It’s horrible!!!  Sorry for the excess exclamation points but it really does suck so totally much I’m not sure how to write it all out. 

Being shot was bad enough but the horrible part is why she shot me.  All I was doing was leaving them a couple of boxes of food and a cooler of meat because I had a really, really good day.  I found one of those warehouses in the commercial park that was some kind of fancy international food distributor. 

Their walk in coolers were still on but the radio had said – not the radio but you know what I mean, one of the news programs on the radio – that they were starting to turn off parts of the area’s electricity so I decided to salvage while I could that was left in those coolers.  Most of the fresh produce like greens were already on their last leg if not already completely gone over, but most of the fruits and meats were still ok.  There were also vegetables like some fresh squash and junk like though it was approaching maximum storage life and I had to take care of it asap.  Aunt Trudy used to call it that – maximum storage life – so did Mom.  They were super into the idea of maximizes nutritional value and crud like that.  I miss them but can’t think about that right no matter how much everything hurts or it will only make it harder.  I got what I got and I can’t throw a fit about it since most of it is my own fault. 

Anyway, back on track.  There was a lot of junky-crappy type stuff in there too but some real treasure.  Like these wheels of cheese; some were so big and heavy they were hard to move.  The biggest were the hard kinds that keep even without refrigeration so long as you can keep them cool enough.  The House gets really hot during the day still.  I think it needs ventilation but I ain’t taking the boards off the windows that’s for dingety-dang sure.  Crap on that.  So I got the idea to store the stuff I brought back down in the basement. 

That was fun … totally, totally not.  First off it is freaking scary down there.  Second, it was full of the devil meece until I put out like a gazillion snap traps and sticky boards.  Which by the way have been totally disgusting to get rid of or clean out depending on what type they were.  Rats and mice … oh my gosh.  I think when there were other people here we used to make enough noise that the rodents stayed hidden but now that it’s just me they’ve decided I’m no threat.  Hope they learn otherwise and go terrorize someone or someplace else.  Or maybe not.  I need to kill every one of the disgusting demons from Beelzebub’s arm pits.  None must live to reproduce.  I mean … totally gross to think of devil meece and rats doing the nasty and making babies in the walls.  The smell ain’t all that great either. 

 

On one of my early salvage expeditions I found a whole bunch of these expensive metal igloo coolers.  I don’t want to meet the mouse or rat that could chew through one of those things.  So that’s what I’m storing the perishables and soft sided containers in.  I lined them up so I could start off organized and put labels on them so I would know what was in them without having to constantly open up each one until I find what I’m looking for.  Pretty easy too.  I just stuck a small write on/wipe off board on each one.  Found these coolio ones that were magnetized at some dollar store and gotta be one of the easiest fixes I’ve ever designed. 

I also store all of the canned and hard-sided packaged stuff down in the basement … or maybe it is more proper to call it a cellar or whatever.  Just like Mom and Aunt Trudy pounded into my head, I use a permanent marker and write what is on the can on the lid and what the expiration date is.  It has been a lot of work but it will be worth it in the long run.  I already have had some can labels fall off and one got eaten off before I could get everything stored.  I’m not doing all of this work to give the rodents and creepy crawlies a place to buffet at but it isn’t easy keeping them out of stuff.  

OK, this is a lot harder to write down than I thought it would be.  I sound like I’ve got ADD like that dog in that Disney movie that would be talking and suddenly something would catch its attention and it would say, “Squirrel!”  I used to love that moving just to watch that dog get its stupid on.  That is how I feel too in a way.  I keep trying to go forward, pick a direction, and suddenly … Squirrel! 

That day I filled all the coolers I had brought with me and grabbed all of the other kinds of food that would fit in two loads.  It was back breaking work; harder than the few times, when I was first on the street, I could find a little back alley work so that I could eat something fresh instead of dumpster diving for dinner.  I was ready to pack it in and come back the next day but there was still light left and despite being tired and sore I was feeling so good that I just thought I wanted to share it … and maybe that it would be my lucky day and Carol and Mace would be in the mood to forgive me.  Of course bearing gifts might give me an edge too so I took the 4x4 – sans trailer – refilled it with some stuff, and then drove to the B-n-B. 

 
I had two boxes of food and a cooler of meat on the big porch and was about to knock when Mace came around the house. 

“Winx?!” 

“Uh … hi Mace.  I was just in the neighborhood and …” 

Urgently he said, “You need to leave …” 

“But …” 

This time he snapped, “Now.  Go.”

OK, I admit my feelings were hurt.  I mean I knew I had really screwed up and everything but I didn’t think they’d just totally blow me off without letting me apologize. 

“Mace, I just wanted to …” 

“Are you deaf?!  Get outta here.  Right now!”  He wasn’t yelling exactly but he was getting his point across. 

Then I heard Carol scream.  I tried to turn hero.   Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I yelled, “Mace … something has Carol!  We have to …” 

That’s when things entered the Twilight Zone.  Mace shouted, “Run Winx!  Go!” 

A window that faced the porch exploded and so did the hanging basket that I had been standing next to.  I think I screamed, I can’t remember for sure.  I do remember Mace shouting at me to run but then I felt like someone slugged me so hard that I spun around so hard that I rolled down and off the porch steps.  Then my left arm started to feel like it was on fire. 

Mace ran passed me and into the house shouting, “Carol!  Baby!  You don’t want to do this!!  No one is going to hurt you!  I won’t let them!” 

KABLAM!! 

Carol screamed again and then after a brief, shock-filled silence started crying, “No. No, no, no.”  Then she snarled and shouted, “I’m going to kill you for this!” 

She ran out onto the porch and she was going to shoot me again.  I accepted it and just lay there even though I couldn’t really figure out what was going on.  But then a little red hole appeared in Carol’s chest above the edge of the tank top she had been wearing.  She crumpled bonelessly. 

How’s that for an adverb?  Bonelessly.  I’ve seen it in several of those Victorian novels that I’ve been reading.  As in “she crumpled bonelessly into the arms of the ruthless rake.”  I always imagined it was some beautiful and graceful faint.  Wrong.  It isn’t graceful.  It isn’t beautiful.  It looks like an old puppet that just had its strings cut.   

One second Carol was standing there.  Alive.  The next second she dropped like a rock all in an ugly heap. 

Forget it.  I’m done in.  I thought writing would help get my mind off of the pain but it isn’t.  It’s only making everything hurt worse.  I guess I’ll take one of those pills I snagged and just sleep.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Chapter 2



July 5th  

I saw the Preacher Guy again last night.  He’s got a family of street people he looks after.  I was still in the city the first time I ran into him.  He scared me back then.  He’s not harmless, that’s for sure, but I know now he isn’t so bad once you get pass the whole Freddy Kruger thing he has going on.  Saw a bunch of sparklers on a roof yesterday.  Didn’t get what they were doing until I finally put two and two together.  Little kids, sparklers, date … he must have been trying to give them some normal good times.  Good for him.  I can’t imagine what it would be like for a little kid to be bit and quarantined.  Or maybe their parents got bit and didn’t have anyone to send them to outside of the quarantine areas.  Or worst … maybe they are just forgotten by their families and Preacher Guy has been collecting them to take care of them or something.  Whatever it is that’s got to be tons of suckage. 

Noticed that Preacher Guy has some man that acts like his LT now.  I think he was in the military or something but he’s like young.  Well sorta young, he’s 20 something I think.  It’s hard to tell ‘cause he wears a patch over one eye.  Today I got close enough to see that he has a scar that splits his eyebrow and disappears under the patch.  He tried to use it to scare me but I just stuck my tongue out at him and kept on stuffing my cart with coffee and stuff from the office supply place he caught me salving in. 

 

After a minute of not being able to put me in my place he sighed, “Geez you’re a real brat Kid.  How old are you anyway?  You shouldn’t be out here alone.  No one should.”

“Old enough to know Preacher Guy wouldn’t put up with any pervs in his family.  And smart enough to figure he probably even sent you after me to try and get me to join up with your group.  He’s all save the little children and junk.”

That shut him up.  Then he leaned back against the end cap and really looked at me.  I could tell he was still alert for any sick people but he was determined.  “His name is Dylan.” 

I shrugged.  He was gonna try and sell it to me since he couldn’t scare me into joining.  Those people that ran the run-away shelters were the same way.  Only then he surprised me by being different after all. 

“You must have a good place if …” 

He’d already aggravated me, his digging for information just aggravated me more.  I told him, “Stop treating me like I’m stupid or something.  Preacher Guy – or maybe you – already tracked me at least once.  I can tell the diff between a well person and someone infected you know.  The infected sound clumsy or run into things like they have a stigmatism.” 

Trying to bluff and ignore that I’d caught him out he said, “Not all of them.” 

“Yeah.  All of them.  Except for the Inbetweeners and there aren’t too many of those because usually when people get infected they go over real hard and fast, like in a couple of hours, max.” 

He surprised me again by really listening to me instead of blowing me off.  He asked, “How do you know this?” 

Shrugging I explained, “The group I used to hang with got infected.  I saw it all.  Including an Inbetweener.  His name was Tommy but even he eventually went all the way over to the dark side.” 

Cautiously he asked, “You immune or a carrier?” 

“Immune as far as I know.  You’re the first person I’ve talked to since Tommy and by then he wasn’t really talking.  I thought … anyway … I lied when I left a message for … just … just go away already.  Tell Preacher Guy … Dylan or whatever he wants to be called … thanks for the invite but I don’t play well with others.  Not to mention trouble follows me around whether I want it to or not.”  It had been so long since I talked to someone that was half way making sense that it took a while to stop the words from falling out of my mouth. 

Finally when he realized I was wound down he asked, “That why people call you Jinks?” 

Rolling my eyes I told him, “Not Jinks … Winx … W – I – N – X.  I’m not explaining it except to say my family started it because I was crazy about this cartoon about fairies when I was a little kid.  Now leave me alone already.  I’ve got work to do.” 

He sighed.  “Trust me, I would if I could … er … Winx.  But Dylan …”  He shook his head like he was as irritated as I was at the situation.  “Why did he pick me to be your babysitter?!”  He stopped, muttered something else I couldn’t hear and then said, “Look, you were spotted taking freezer food.  Dylan doesn’t want you to get sick.” 
 
 
“Oh geez,” I griped.  “I’m not going to get sick.”

“Are you stupid?  Because they’re going to turn the power off any day now.  All of the meat is going to rot.” 

I couldn’t decide whether he was yanking my chain or not.  When he got a case of stuff off of a top shelf and started splitting it with me rather than just taking it like he could have I decided maybe it was no skin off my nose so I spilled the beans.  “My mom and her sister grew up on their grandparents’ farm.  They taught … look, you know what canning is?” 

It was his turn to be surprised and I laughed when he accidentally pulled a case of candy over and he wound up wearing Swedish Fish.  He looked disgusted for a second before shrugging and popping one into his mouth.  “Yeah, I know what canning is.  You know how to do that?” 

“Yeah.  Besides you know there’s no electric where I am.” 

“There’s no …”  He gave me a suspicious look.  “You aren’t living at that bed and breakfast?” 

Now I was confused.  “Are you being silly to try and get information out of me?” 

His face kind of closed off.  “So you aren’t living there.  Do you know who does live there?” 

“Why?” 

“Because they claim you are living there that’s why.” 

“Well I know them but I don’t live with them.  Why would they say I do … unless they were trying to protect me.”  With that I pivoted and ran.  I might have made it too if a stray infected hadn’t picked that moment to stumble through the automatic doors.


I pulled out my bang stick from animal control but it saw me and charged.  He had me by the throat before I could get set.  I didn’t even have time to be scared before Mr. Eye Patch pulled the guy off of me and scrambled the Infected’s brains with a letter opener through the base of the skull. 

I was getting up and backing away but he said, “Help me disable the blasted doors.  There’s more coming down the street.” 

Sometimes you have to pick the lesser potential enemy.  I asked, “How many?” 

“Dozen at a quick count but there could be stragglers.” 

“Well isn’t that just hunky dorey,” I said as I helped him use some broom sticks as braces to keep the doors from sliding open. 

We moved deeper into the store because if they saw you a glass door wouldn’t stop them.  He was quietly speaking on some walkie talkie thing while I pushed the nearly full cart to another section of the store. 

Eye Patch hissed, “What are you doing?!” 

“Trying not to waste time,” I told him calmly.  “I’m not going to get as much done as I had wanted to obviously so I might as well get done what I can.” 

“Get back here before they see you!” 

“They can’t see me.” 

“You can’t know that.  That’s not one way glass.”

 
Giving him the look I thought the comment deserved I told him, “Sure I can.  I told you when people get sick … You know you act like you don’t know anything about Infecteds.  How long have you been on the street?  I mean you act like I’m the know nothing but you don’t exactly seem …"

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

I gave him a thorough look over like I should have before.  “Vet?” 

He nodded. 

“You were in a rehab center.” 

Cautiously he nodded. 

“For your eye?” 

He was irritated at my questioning but nodded once again.   

“So you probably weren’t in-patient.  Didn’t have any place to go so wound up at one of the temporary Vet shelters.  Where you met Prea … uh Dylan.” 

He nodded even more cautiously. 

“So you really were homeless, just not on the street.”  It took a moment but he nodded one final time. 

I shrugged and decided he might be OK after all.  “That’s cool.  At least you have a good reason.  I did the stupid and ran away.  Aunt Trudy was nice and everything but some crap happened and I was an idiot.  Tried to go home once but couldn’t handle it.  But it was too late by then anyway, one of the other kids from the pack I hung with had gotten the plague.  I think he was sharing needles.  It grew like Topsy from there.” 

“It did what?” 

“Grew like Topsy.  My dad used to say that.  It means it went fast and kinda crazy.  At least I think that’s what it means.  That’s what I mean anyway.” 

He eyebrows lowered and he his lip before saying, “You don’t sound like a street kid.” 

I shrugged.  “Yeah, I got that a lot.  Probably because I wasn’t one.  I just thought I could be one and got smart before I got into drugs or turned into a whore.  But I’d burnt all the bridges I had and was stuck.” 

He nodded.  “That’s what Dylan thought.  But back to your living arrangements.” 

I huffed an irritated, “Not that again.” 

“Yeah.  ‘Fraid so.  But knowing about the Infecteds I suppose take precedent.”

 


 
Anything to keep him out of my business I thought.  “You know that the virus or plague or whatever they’re calling it now affects the emotion part of the brain and makes someone crazy like they are manic depressive on steroids until everything burns out but anger?”  He nodded.  “Well to keep up with that amount of emotion without stroking out – though some of them do that too – Infecteds get hyper-focused … literally.  It’s like they develop tunnel vision.  That’s why they are clumsy; they are so wound up over what is right in front of them that they literally can’t see anything else.  The docs where I was at said that it might be that the plague swells things up around the optic nerves too making figurative tunnel vision into literal tunnel vision.  I didn’t hang around long enough to hear whether they proved that or not.  I ran off when they started quarantining the immunes … by force if they had to.”

He thought about it then shrugged.  “As good a theory as any I’ve heard.” 

We both jumped when there was a howl and scream from outside.  I knew what that meant and from the look on his face so did the guy in front of me.  I rolled my eyes and went back to cherry picking supplies from around the store.  Mr. Eye Patch sighed and spoke into his walkie talkie thingie again.  “Forget coming to pick me up.  We’ve got a couple of brawlers and they’ll draw stragglers from all over the area.” 

 

A woman answered him and said, “I was just about to call you.  We spotted three other groups between us and you.” 

The guy got real quiet and then nodded to himself before replying, “Three?” 

“Roger that.” 

“Confirm.  Three.” 

I looked over and told him, “Ask her what direction they are coming from.” 

After giving me a Spock eyebrow he spoke into his mic.  “Got a direction coming or going?” 

“Roger that.  All moving towards the ‘burbs.” 

At my less than patient eye roll he asked for clarification, “North, South, East, or West?” 

I pulled a city map out of the pocket of the safari pants I was wearing and while listening to the woman’s irritated reply I help up the map with my squiggly drawings.  He made a face and then told the radio, “Have D plot known points on the map.” 

“What for?” 

The guy sighed and replied, “Just have him do it.  He’ll get the picture.” 

He signed off while the Infecteds outside continued to brawl and draw in other Infecteds.  I kept grabbing stuff off of the shelves and thought about how the Infecteds were gathering in larger and larger groups and how they were starting to explore outside of the areas they first showed up in. 

Looking over at my temporary cell mate I asked him, “What’s your name?  Since you saved my life it seems kinda snarky to keep thinking of you as Mr. Eye Patch.” 

The guy snorted, shrugged and then chuffed a laugh.  “You have a couple of screws loose.” 

Shrugging I told him, “Maybe.” 

He shook his head then sighed.  “Westin.” 

“First or last?” 

“Mack Westin.” 

“Lucky you.  That’s a pretty decent name.  Sure beats Mr. Eye Patch.” 

He squinted his remaining eye at me in irritation but then said, “Fairs fair.  You got my name, now I want yours.  And don’t tell me it’s Winx … you already admitted that’s just a nickname.” 

I shrugged.  “Predatorri.  My first name I’ve done my best to wipe from the annals of history so I ain’t telling you what it is.  Call me Winx or Predatorri, preferably Winx” 

“That bad?” he asked trying not to grin. 

“You have no idea.” 

I ignored his curious stare until he asked, “Is that your truck out back?” 

“Yep.  You looking for a ride home?”  I shrugged when he got suspicious.  “Relax.  I saw the kids playing on the roof with sparklers the other night.  It’s not like you guys have exactly been trying to hide where you are holed up.” 

Thoughtfully he said, “So you can’t live too far away from the hotel.” 

“Far enough.  I thought a building had caught fire so I used binoculars.” 

He looked at me like he was trying to envision something then he smiled.  “You’re living some place in the historic district and there are only a couple that have a clear line of sight … can’t be the B-n-B ‘cause you said you weren’t living there and for some reason I believe you.  The Loudon Place?” 

I shrugged. 

“Are you crazy?  That place is a fire hazard and all boarded up.  No telling …”  He slowly realized that his first impression was likely the wrong one.  He snorted and shook his head.  “And it’s all professionally and securely boarded up and the exterior is built like a tank.”  Thinking mostly to himself he added, “And was a flophouse until the historical society bought the building and cleaned it up.” 

I shrugged again.  “They ran the crack heads off but didn’t mess with the rest of us too much so long as we didn’t trash the place.  It’s still Spartan but not too bad.” 

“Spartan?!” he laughed, nearly choking on the bottle of water he’d just put to his lips.   

“Yeah Spartan.  If you’re gonna start making fun of me you can walk home.” 

I started pushing the cart to the loading area but he grabbed it.  I was prepared to walk away empty handed – you learn to do that on the streets – but he said, “Don’t get your feelings hurt.” 

“They’re not.” 

“Then why the snit?” 

“Because I don’t need whatever you’re selling.  I just thought we could be civilized about it.  But if you …” 

Laughing again he asked, “What do you do all day?  Sit around reading old romance novels?” 

Well even if I do I’m sure not going to admit it to him.  I started walking away again. 

“Ok, Alright.  Fine.  Let’s start over.  I’m Mack Westin.  You’re Winx Predatorri.  How do you do?  Fine thank you.  My boss has this thing about making sure kids get taken care of.  Oh, you’re not a kid?  I’ll let him know.  And you are doing fine?  Good, good.  He’ll be happy to hear that.  Would I like a ride home?  Well, now that you mention it, assuming you’re serious, I’d appreciate it.  I’ll even help load.” 

He was such a ham I realized that the eye patch, scar, and uber scruffy look was probably the only thing that kept him from looking like a baby faced goofball.  Sort of like Tommy used to look before he got hooked on the needles and then hooked by the plague. 

I sighed theatrically and said, “I guess I did make the offer.” 

We didn’t exactly sign a peace treaty but we did declare a temporary cease fire.  He even helped me load a bunch of stuff into the truck.  Things were tense and quiet as we locked up and left the store. 

 

“What are you doing?!” he yelped as I aimed at and then jumped a curb behind the strip center with the 4x4. 

“Sorry,” I muttered absentmindedly as I wrestled with the steering wheel.  “Just didn’t want to go around front and face that bunch.  It’s not quite a mob but there are more of them in one place than I’ve seen since I ran from the hospital.” 

Thoughtfully he nodded.  “Agreed.  Little warning though next time you plan on going off road.” 

“Back seat driver.” 

He turned to say something snappy then saw I was grinning.  He dropped the grump and merely warned, “Don’t poke the bear.” 

I kept grinning and replied, “Don’t be the bear.” 

We had to go the long … really long … way around because of the other groups of infecteds but I finally got him to the hotel and dropped him off. 

It was weird.  Mack Westin isn’t what I thought he was going to be.  If he was playing me he did a bang up job of it.  Whatever.  He was nicer than I thought he was going to be and I’ll just let that opinion stand until I have reason not to.  Not that I figure I’ll be seeing much of him if any at all.  He doesn’t seem any more sociable than I am. 

I got home – ha, might as well call it what it is after all – and by the time I finished unloading everything it was dark and I was starving.  I opened a package of peanut butter crackers and a bag of granola that I’d picked up at the office supply place.  Not the greatest but it beat eating burgers out of a dumpster.  I’ve done that too and don’t want to do it no more.  Although if I don’t start finding a decent amount of food to hold me over about the middle of winter those dumpster dives I used to take are going to be the stuff of my dreams.  I gotta make a plan and gotta do it fast.  But I gotta watch out for the Infecteds and now apparently all the do-gooders too.  What a pain.  Although the Infecteds are still worse.   

As soon as the sun goes down and there isn’t any light the infecteds pretty much flop wherever they are which reinforces the idea that they have bad eyesight, which gets worse in the dark.  The night time would be better for scavenging but no way am I going to trip over an infected to see if that sets them off.  I’ve heard they are pretty cranky if you mess with their nap time.  So that means all the stuff I didn’t get today I need to do tomorrow.  So I’m off to snooze.  After I clean up my food mess.  I so do not want to wake up to another meece brigade investigating my hair.