Monday, August 18, 2014

Chapter 7


Bottom line is Mack is going to flop here at the Loudon House too and we're going to set this place up good before we have to worry about winter.  Scratch that and inhale the realism along with the rainbows and skittles.  We are going to set it up as good as we can for as long as we can.  Starting with working fast and getting creative.  

Mack was finally up to looking around and getting a feel for the inside of the House.  We’d already had a discussion about what he called the “exterior defenses” and now we were onto the “interior defenses”; only he got a little side tracked with what he called supplies and logistics.  When we came up from the cellar Mack stood there for a moment catching his breath and looking gobsmacked then finally asked, “Where the hell did you get all the propane?!” 

“Commercial district,” I told him smugly.  “But I think I got most of it.  There was this truck behind one of the warehouses but it had all flat tires sooooo I figured it I couldn’t get the truck to me I’d get containers to go to it.  My aunt’s stove was propane and … well I went through a gory-death-phase thing and liked to imagine all the ways we could die.  Aunt Trudy had a way of busting my bubble though and instead of imagining how we were all going to blow up or suffocate or something she made me stand there and catch a lecture from the propane guy who not only told me I was being a knot-head but showed me how all the valves and hoses and gizmos on his truck worked.  And how to fill up smaller propane tanks from big ones.  So … ta da!  Aren’t I brilliant?” 

Mack shook his head.  “For a goth chick you’re awful damn cheerful.” 

“Former goth chick.  The clothes are now just camouflage.  Besides I doubt anyone would recognize me if I dressed any other way.” 

Mack snorted but gave a grin.  “Shani would have been all over the stores picking out new clothes if she were here.”  Then he lost the grin and said, “But I’m glad she isn’t.  One less thing for me to worry about.  But we are going to have to do something about your … er … uniform there.  Too much black for the color scheme around here.  And in the winter you’ll stand out like pepper on snow.” 

“Maybe.  I’ll think about it,” I told him having already thought about it … I just hadn’t gotten around to actually doing anything about it.  Instead I said, “I knew I would go through a lot of propane canning so I got what I could while I could.  I was also thinking of trying to heat with it but that’s out.  I found some kerosene but I’d rather not use it in this place.” 

“Yeah, I saw you’ve got fire extinguishers all over the place like crazy Christmas decorations,” he said. 

Knowing that I’d likely catch it if I didn’t explain I asked him, “You remember those homeless kids who died last year when the house they were flopping in burned down?” 

“Yeah, someone was cooking some dope.” 

“No they weren’t.  They were trying to cook up some heat.  The dope thing was just a rumor that the papers took off with because it made better headlines that a kerosene heater turned over.” 

“And how do you know this?” 

“I was in that house.” 

“What?!” 

“We had temporarily been kicked out of here and … it got cold.  One of the old dudes … anyway it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if there hadn’t been a panic and if there had been fire extinguishers.  The ones that died had gotten stuck upstairs in the boarded up rooms.  I was sleeping in the old kitchen and went out through the window over the sink when there was a pile up at the door.  I ain’t ever going through that again.” 

Surprised he asked, “Were you hurt?” 

“A few cuts and stuff but nothing like the others.  I was barely sixteen and if the cops had got ahold of me they would have made me go back.  I wasn’t ready to then and by the time I was it was too late.  But I’m alive and I mean to stay that way.  So I don’t care if the fire extinguishers clash with the Victorian d├ęcor … they’re staying.  And so are the smoke alarms in the kitchen and the ones up here.  Non-negotiable.” 

“Uh huh,” he said scratching his chine.  Then completely ignoring the stink I was ready to make he asked, “Anything else down in this commercial district worth the effort?” 

Nothing like preparing for an argument and not getting one.  I got comfortable for the long conversation he was apparently ready for by grabbing a tin that I had stored an open box of cookies in and bringing them over to the ginormous butcher block and jumping up on it to sit.  I held the cookies out to him and while he ate a couple I told him, “Probably but let’s leave it to Dylan and the other folks to fight over.  I have some other places in mind to hunt and peck through.  Closer and less dangerous.  There are a lot of Infecteds between here and there.  Unless you want to go down to there for some reason.” 

Mack said he’d rather avoid coming into conflict with any other groups – especially the one he just escaped – if it was avoidable so instead of giving me grief Mack actually listened to my ideas.  He thought about it for a moment then nodded, “All those ethnic stores.  Yeah, you could be right that there would be things in there worth taking.” 

“I know there are.  It won’t be big hauls like I got from those warehouses but there is enough stuff in there worth the effort to get.  And it will be stuff that we don’t have to refrigerate.  And then there are the schools.” 

“Schools?” 

“Yeah.  They evac’d lots of kids early on but didn’t clean out the schools.  The rumor was that kids were germ machines so no one else went raiding the school cafeterias and store rooms either.  There and the stores along that strip of stores near the uptown area were next on my hit list.  Even if they don’t have any cans of stuff I bet they have things like salt and pepper and paper trays and junk like that.  And the daycare centers probably have diaper wipes and all sorts of things I haven’t thought of.” 

Mack nodded and started making notes.  “Daycare centers might even have baby food and diapers that could make good barter merchandise down the road.  Have a feeling it is going to come to that if we stay cut off.  Have you been to the Vet center or any places like that?” 

“No.” 

“Why not?” 

I gave him the look such as stupid question deserved.  “Because I don’t feel like getting gang raped.  Not all the street people are as harmless as the ones that Dylan picked up.  There are some sick people out there.  I may be crazy and occasionally reckless but I hope I’ve started to dump the stupid I was carrying around with me.” 

He stopped scribbling and just stared at me then nodded.  “Right.  Look, I need to know.  Do you know how to use a gun?” 

“Yeah.  But I’ve never pulled the trigger on a large caliber, only 22 hand guns or 22 rifles.  I … I used to go hunting with my dad.  Hey … guess what I can do.” 

Unsure of my mood he carefully said, “No telling so why don’t you just say it and save us some time.” 

“Bow hunt.” 

“Bow hunt … like bow and arrows.” 

“Yep.  I can use a long bow but I’m better with a crossbow or compound bow.  I was in a sporting goods store …” 

“Why were you in a sporting goods store?” 

Sigh.  “Where do you think all the Gatorade came from that you’ve been drinking?  All the mini marts are trashed.  For a while there I was living on energy bars but the carbs were killer on my butt.  I’d eat the protein bars but they kill your kidneys if you can’t drink enough water and that is the one thing I’ve been having trouble with.” 

“Hold that thought because I can do something about that.  Just get back to the playing Indian thing.” 

“I wasn’t playing Indian … that’s rude.” 

“Who are you?  The PC police?” 

“Hardly.  I’m just a quarter Cherokee and grew up around the PC police,” I told him with a grin.  My grin faded when he said I didn’t look it.  “Yeah, I know.  My dad did though and … and I had a little sister … she looked a lot like Dad.” 

“She’s … not around … either?” 

I shook my head.  “No.” 

“You can borrow Shani though the two of you would probably drive each other crazy.  Or maybe wind up ruling the world.  Both ideas give me an ulcer.” 

“Uh …”  I wasn’t sure how to take him sacrificing his sister like that. 

“Don’t sweat it Sunshine.  Get back to your story.” 

“Ok … sure … anyway I was there looking for camping stuff and things like that …” 

“Dammit!”  He yelled it so loud I jumped and nearly fell backwards off the butcher block.  He shook his head after grabbing my hand to catch me.  “One of these days I’m going to find my brain.  Damn.  Camping equipment.  Why didn’t I think of that?  As far as I know none of Dylan’s group even brought that up.” 

“Relax already.  Geez give me a heart attack why don’t you.”  I shook my head.  “From what I saw you had a bunch that thought roughing it was staying at the local Holiday Inn.  I could have thought of better places to stay than that hotel, man it was starting to reek in the stairwells.  Not nearly enough ventilation, especially on the upper floors where you couldn’t open the windows.  Can’t imagine what it is going to be like in the winter.  If you can figure out the water sitch then that’s worth a sporting goods store, a Chinese restaurant, AND I’ll even throw in a couple of pawn shops.  And if you’re extra special good I’ll even tell you that if you scrounge around in the pawn shops long enough and find the address of the owner and then if that address is in the quarantine zone … you can usually find really interesting things in basements and closets of those places.” 

“Why you little …” he said shaking his head.  “I thought you said houses gave you the Heebies.  And do I want to know where you learned all this stuff?” 

“They do give me the Heebies; but, I didn’t say that the Heebies stopped me though.  And I learned it on the street.  There are a lot of crazy people that live on the street but some of them are crazy for a good reason.  If you’re careful and just sit still and keep your mouth shut you even hear them talking to each other and can get ideas.  I would have thought Dylan would have had the inside track on that sort of thing.” 

“Dylan could be strange.  He was … detached … yet hyper focused.  After he started taking in the kids nothing else seemed to register.  And he was strict about guns.  He didn’t want his family turning into a gang so everyone played pacifist except for a couple of us who were in charge of …” 

He slowed down trying to figure out how to explain it to me so since I already had a good idea I finished for him.  “Making sure that all of the bad stuff was kept out so they could stay pacifists?” 

He nodded and said cynically, “Yeah, pretty much.” 

“It’s not just homeless people that are like that.  A lot of my aunt’s friends were like that.  They screamed and yelled about the eeeeevvviilllllll guns in the world but they were some of the first that always called the cops and expected them to kill whatever was scaring them.  Lucky for me Aunt Trudy was more practical.” 

“Lucky for me too,” he said on a sigh.  “So about the bow and arrows.” 

I grinned.  “You’re all right.  Most people hate the way I talk.” 

“You’re squirrely … but it’s tolerable.” 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chapter 6


(Another week … not doing too good writing in this thing but I’ve been busy.  Trying to be company to Mr. Crankypants uses up all my energy too.  I don’t know for sure what day it is but I think it is early August … I think it is anyway.  I’ll go with that until I find out otherwise.) 

Last couple of days have been clear and Mack’s chest cold has gotten a ton better.  Aunt Trudy always said she’d rather deal with a man almost dead than she would one that is just a little sick.  I’m beginning to see just how brilliant my aunt is.  Geez talk about cranky. 

On the other hand Mack’s cranky is different than what I’m used to … instead of wanting lots of attention he wants to be left alone.  I don’t think it is just the cold that has made him foul, it’s why he got a cold.  He’s sleeping again but at least this time he said thank you for the chicken ramen soup I made. 

I guess I should be cranky too but I’m not.  It’s kinda … well, cool sounds stupid and calling it anything else sounds almost worse but basically Mack doing what he did .. Oh heck … why not … it’s supremely cool in my book. 

What happened was Mack got real bent out of shape when he found out they – Dylan’s group – planned to “detain” me.  Nice way of saying they planned on holding me prisoner and making me give them what they wanted. 

I didn’t think much of their plan and said so.  “Dumb move on their part.  I can think of a half dozen ways in less seconds than that to cause them grief for trying to force me to do anything.” 

Mack’s voice was tired and gravely as he wheezed out, “Yeah, me too.  I have a kid sister … I know … (cough, hack, sneeze, honk into the handkerchief) … what teenage girls can do if they get T’d off.” 

“You got a sister?  Where’s she at?” 

“Living with my step mom and her new husband.  Well outside the quarantine zone.  Shani is my half-sister.” 

“Wow … real blended family stuff.” 

“Yeah,” he said in a way that told me the subject was closed.  “What about you?” 

“My folks … aren’t around anymore.  I went to live with my aunt.” 

“OK … just one more question.” 

“No.  ‘Cause it’s gonna be about what Mace said and I don’t wanna talk about it.” 

Mack shook his head.  “Actually Winx I was just gonna ask if you’re looking to start a group.” 

Cautiously I said, “Uh … no.  Why?  Are you?” 

And that’s when he finally spit it all out.   

“I’m tired of people.”  I started to tell him to shove it sideways but he held up his hand to stop me.  “I mean tired of the kind of people that always want something from me or expect me to change to suit them.  You don’t seem to fall into that category.  You just tell people to shove it if you don’t want what they are.  I’m actually fine with that.  It’s … honest I guess.  What I’m trying to say is that when Dylan’s group was small and mainly … you know …” 

“You aren’t going to offend me if you call a spade a spade.  Street people or homeless.  It is what it is.” 

“Yeah … ok … when the group was small and made up of only homeless people.  Most of them wanted to be left alone too so it was ok.  We worked together but gave each other’s issues a lot of space too.  It was even ok when he got on the save-the-kids thing.” 

“For your info Dylan was always on the save-the-kids thing.  I saw him in the city plenty of times preaching and trying to tell the kids to go to a couple of the local church shelters and get cleaned up.” 

“Hmmm.  I didn’t know that.  Before my time.  I first met him when they were still trying to figure out what was going on.  He’d stop by the Vet center downtown where I was staying.  He fit in.  I’m pretty sure he was a Vet too but he never said.  He was just accepted.  He made sense too.  Said it was probably something in the hooch or the drugs people were doing … and that’s even what the scientists started saying.  At least until the plague started jumping to people that didn’t drink or do drug.” 

 
“Yeah,” I said nodding.  “I heard all that stuff too.  In the group I was hanging with it probably started with someone sharing a needle.  But I don’t do that crap and I still got sick so it may have started in the drugs but it didn’t stop there.”
 
“Sex?”
 
“Excuse me?!”
 
“Don’t blow a gasket, I mean was the guy you were sleeping with pass it to you that way.”
 
“I don’t know what flavor of crazy you think I am but I ain’t crazy enough to get pregnant on top of all of the other crap life has handed me.”
 
“Er.  Uh … you saying … uh … no opportunity to get the plague as an STD?”
 
“Yeah so don’t get no funny ideas.”
 
“Don’t worry Sunshine.  It ain’t that kind of thing; you’re jail bate.  All I was doing was testing a theory.  I still don’t know how I picked up the plague.  That scratches that off the list.”
 
I shook my head.  “Stop looking for one way for it to get passed around.  For all we know it’s in the water and this is some giant experiment by people with more money than sense.  It’s here now so all we can do is deal.  And if you’re immune and I’m immune getting the plague is just one less thing we got to deal with.  Everyone else will have to take care of their own pile of crap while we shovel our own.”
 
Mack gave me a serious look and then sort of relaxed.  “Not bad Sunshine.  But I won’t let no little kids …”
 
“Aw I ain’t heartless.  I just mean …  Look, case by case.  I’m no bleeding heart do-gooder.  I’m no Preacher Guy.  I’m not drawn that way.  I’m more the type that causes trouble than gets people out of it.  I got too many issues.  I don’t mind giving a hand every once in a while but only if I’m pretty sure my arm isn’t going to be chewed off up to the elbow while I’m doing it.”
 
Mack gave a tired chuckle.  “Sounds about like I feel.”
 
“So we ain’t so different above the belt buckle after all.  Back to why you were taking a rain bath and busted all up that night.”

“Yeah,” he muttered.  “See, after a while kids weren’t enough for Dylan.  I think he might have … I don’t know … maybe gotten a Messiah complex or something.  He started taking in Normals to what he called his family.  Heck most would be dead if he hadn’t.  Eventually though the Normals started outnumbering the rest of us.  And you could tell it bothered them to be hanging out with street people.  They wanted things to look like they used to look and be run that way even though it didn’t work that way very well.  The ‘family’ atmosphere changed and we were just a big group of people trying to survive.  Which was still ok because we were all desperate and things were so insane.  The street people taught the Normals and the Normals kinda gave the Streets some dignity.  When the problems started was when the Normals wanted to run things as a democracy so they could feel like they had some say.  Then some of the Normals started changing that to rule by committee – though not everyone has caught onto that yet – and things really started to suck."

I told him, "They didn't seem bad.  A little pushy but not really bad.  That one woman though … what was she?  Like a prison matron or something?"

He snorted.  “Mrs. Zigler used to be a PTA mom from what I heard.  She’s not bad but bossy as hell that’s for sure.  And stuck on having her own way or else.  Most of them aren't really what you would call bad, but there are some Grade A jackasses in there.  It is all ‘us’ and ‘them’ and if you aren't an 'us' you are the enemy and all enemies are the same level of threat, from the Infecteds to some curly headed kid that has a few screws loose."

Not minding the dig I nodded my understanding and asked, "So I was ... an enemy?"

"When you wouldn't play ball their way ... yeah.  They think they own everything and everyone in what they mark as their territory.  What they wouldn't listen to is that their so-called territory is just marks on a map, they don't control anything.  It is just a boundary they use for salvaging in."


 
 
"But they think they control things."
 
 
 
"Pretty much Sunshine.  By the way what is up with the tye dye hair anyway?"

I shrugged and then laughed.  "I've got 'authority figure issues' according to some people.  I didn't want to be in quarantine so I busted out but couldn't get through any of the road blocks.  They had my name and picture on every list.  I thought if I changed the way I looked ... but all I could find when I went back to my aunt's house the last time was my old permanent hair chalks.  I was trying to ditch the whole ‘goth girl of death’ look.  Let's just say I'm not sorry it is growing out ok?"

"Yeah.  You kinda stand out."

"I tried to cover the mess I made with black dye but all it did was make me look like a psychedelic zebra.  I thought about cutting it short but ..."

He shook his head.  "Don't.  Better a psychedelic zebra than a clown with mange."

I snorted.  "Pretty much what I was thinking.  So ... how'd you get separated from Dylan's group."

"Isn't really Dylan's anymore and I only hung around for his sake.  He still thinks of it as his but … he’s tripping.  I think he’s been self-medicating a little bit lately.  A bunch of them found a huge pot stash last month.  Rodney told the ones starting to make noise about it to shut up and so long as they do it on their time and it doesn’t cause any problems that he ain’t wasting his time busting people for toking when there are bigger problems that have priority. But what he would say for the self-medders was the opposite of what he said about anyone thinking of … being disloyal.”
 
“Meaning anyone getting tired of the way things are who wanted out.”
 
“Yeah.  I'd been looking for a way to make a graceful exit and a place to ... uh ..."  He stopped like he’d gotten ahead of himself and that let me know what was going through his head.

It took me all of two seconds to decide.  "Sure, why not?  This place is big enough."

I'd caught him off guard.  "Huh?"

"You were casing the places up here.  That's how you knew so much about Old Town.  That first day I mean.  It's how you figured out so fast where I was staying after you found out it wasn't the B-n-B."

I really had surprised him.  "Damn you're slick."

"I might not have been too smart to run away in the first place but I ain’t completely dumb and learned stuff on the street.  You have to put two and two together fast if you want to stay out of trouble and away from trouble makers.  You don't seem to like trouble any more than I do and you aren't a trouble maker.  Let me guess, Det. Rodney must have set someone to keep an eye on you and they caught you trying to exit while that gang or whatever created a distraction.  Am I right?"

Hesitantly he said, "Yeah."

"Good to finally be right about something.  And you don't seem like you are really a people person ... or at least you need your space if you are going to stay human enough to deal with people when you have to.  Am I right?"

Another hesitant, "Yeah."

"Are you here to boss me?"

"Don't want the hassle Sunshine."

"Good.  Though if we're both honest you'll probably try and boss me some.  You keep it to a minimum and I won't grow horns and a tail over it.  I'll make you another deal, you help me get rid of the meece in the walls and I’ll even volunteer to do most of the cooking."

He snorted a surprised laugh that turned into a cough that sounded like the last of the nasty crap was exiting his lungs.  When he finally could draw a breath I could see he needed to sack out some more and after promising to “work out the details” when he got up – yeah, like he was getting up anytime soon while he still sounded like a wheezy radiator – he crashed and burned and I went off to figure how much more stuff I would need since it was going to be two instead of one.


 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chapter 5




Gack!  I am so tired. 

Oh and by the way, “Gack!” is that involuntary sound you make when you are really tired and yawn so big something pops in the back of your throat.  I’ve been gacking a lot lately. 

Anyway … 

I had to stop writing last night when the goober started hacking up a lung.  Not so bad today but mostly because he finally gave in and slept.  Goober.  He better not die.  I don’t want to have to drag his sorry butt down the stairs and throw his carcass out the window so I can bury him in the old rose garden.  Especially if he might be a friend even if he is an ubergoober. 


Back to the story … I left off where I was wondering why Mack would lie about knowing where I had set up camp.  I knew there was a reason, I just didn’t know whether I was gonna think it was a good reason or not.  I wasn’t sure whether I should give him the benefit of the doubt or not except that the other two points and stuff I’d heard made me inclined to lean in that direction. 


I wanted to rush home and hide out but decided to wait and make sure they’d left the area.  I had to pick a bike out anyway.  I crept downstairs into the store part of them building and was passing the electronics section when one of those roll up solar chargers caught my eye.  Then I saw an awesome solar lamp.  It looked kinda like a light bulb.  I snagged those two items and then started looking around for something to bring them home in and that’s when I started finding other odds and ends that I wanted.

I just recently got on a kick of finding as many solar things as I can after reading something in some hiking magazine I found in a dentist’s office where I had been looking for toothpaste, floss, and junk like that.  I haven’t found many solar thingies so to find two in one location was pretty awesome.  I also got a couple of machetes, some cool looking knives, and this honking big screwdriver.  This thing is like a cross between a pry bar and a sword.  I also found a beat up canvas satchel to put all the found stuff in.  Wound up needing two satchels, a couple of bags, and a back pack to bring back everything I wanted. 

I was loading up and then nearly wet myself when the roll down doors on the front of the store rattled really hard.  “Dammit, don’t draw them this way!” 

“They aren’t Infected you idiot.  It’s that gang.” 

“Maybe, maybe no.  But they act as crazy as an un-medicated carrier.  Let’s save us some trouble and call for a ride.  The gang will probably get the girl.  Maybe that’ll soften her up and make her more amendable to Rodney’s plan.” 

I was thinking a rude gesture in their direction when I heard them call on their radio and start hoofing it to a pick up point.  I hadn’t seen a “gang” around and thought I knew most of the groups still in the area.  Gangs were bad news but what came through about five minutes later bee-lining for the hotel was more raggle-taggle than any gang I’d ever seen.  That didn’t make them the Easter Bunny because even idiots can be dangerous if there are too many in one spot so I got outta there fast.  It was not fun trying to load the bike, wear the backpack – that totally sucked needless to say – and then get on the bike and pedal without hitting a ditch and killing myself.   My arm cussed me out almost the whole way.  I finally made it back home and under cover and that is where I stayed even after seeing smoke rise from one wing of the hotel. 

I was a little sorry but I was more worried when I saw helicopters fly into the area.  You see them sometimes but I’d never seen them come in with a load of whatever that powder was they dropped.  Found out since that it was some kind of fire suppressant, like a giant glob of fire extinguisher but it was freaky to see it happen when it did.  I thought maybe they were snuffing out infecteds and taking everyone else out at the same time.  The fire didn’t really go anywhere, not because of the powder they dropped, but because it started to rain again a couple of hours later and hasn’t really stopped.  It was the night after the hotel caught fire that I looked outside to see Mack huddled near the shed looking as wet and miserable as a cat.