Monday, November 10, 2014

Chapter 10


“Wake up Sunshine!  C’mon!  Breathe … there you go.  Let me see those amber colored marbles you have rolling around in your head.” 

I came all the way awake when I took a flying leap at the window and nearly knocked myself out.  “Argh!” 

“That’s twice you did that.  Damn … let me see if you broke something.” 

“Get off me!” 

“I’ll sit on you if you don’t settle down and let me look at that arm,” he replied calmly while he grabbed for the lantern and turned it up.  He didn’t stop until he pulled a splinter out of my wrist and used an alcohol wipe to clean the scratches I had given myself.  “Damn, that’s gonna bruise for sure.” 

“Shut up,” I growled. 

“Well you’re in a mood.”  And instead of backing off like ninety-nine point nine percent of the human race would he got closer and basically pinned me into the corner of the room completely disrupting my personal space.  But I was too busy shaking and trying not to hurl to notice. 

 
“Wanna talk about it?” he asked me after I finally wound down. 

“Not particularly.” 

“OK.  On one condition.” 

“And that is?” I asked almost afraid to know.

“When I get the sweats and wake up trying to do something along the lines of what you just did you won’t make me drag it out and look at it either.” 

I looked at him and he was serious so I told him, “Looks like I’m not the only one that has a few screws loose.” 

“Nope,” he told me like I had no business being surprised by that fact.  He did want to know, “Does it happen often?” 

“No,” I told him honestly.  “This is the first time in like weeks and weeks.  I thought I was all done with it.” 

“Hits me that way too sometimes.  It’s been almost two years since I lost the eye but sometimes it feels like yesterday.  Especially if I’m feeling particularly pissy about something coming at me on my blind side.  It was probably my story that set you off.  Shoulda kept my mouth shut.” 

“No.  It actually made me feel like less of a freak.  What time is it anyway?  The air feels …funny.  And … and what’s that noise?” 

 
“It’s 0-300.  Funny is the last thing it is.  And that noise is helicopters … CH-54’s to be precise.  And I’m pretty sure what they’re unloading is going to be a royal bitch to deal with.” 

“What’s a CH45 and what does it carry?” 

“Ch-54 and it carries anything it wants to Sunshine.  Their nickname is the Sky Crane.  Usually they carry things like tanks and other large equipment, sometimes even mobile hospitals.  These are carrying shipping containers.  The doors are closed when they set the boxes down but when they lift off they’re open and empty.” 

“So there’s something in the boxes.”

“Yep.” 

“Do we want to know what is in the boxes?” 

“Need to know?  Yes.  Likely to be happy with what we find out?  I doubt it.  You ok now?” 

“Yeah.  Heebies over and under control.  Does this mean we aren’t going to do any salvaging today like you wanted to?” 

“I have a feeling …”  He petered off and started off at like he was seeing something I couldn’t.  

He was silent so long I had to prompt him.  “What do you feel?” 

He shook his head.  “Might not be doing anymore salvaging Sunshine.  At least not too far afield.” 

“Why?  You think there are supplies in those containers?” 

“No … no I don’t.  I …”  He got a little out of my space, turned the lantern down, and leaned against the wall of the room I was using as my bedroom.  “What if they missed inspecting all the people that came out of the quarantine zone … and what if in the process they missed some evacuees that were already infected?” 

“But I heard everyone was going to have to go into a temporary camp … to prevent something like that from happening.” 

“Well, I heard the same thing but verification would be nice.  For the sake of argument let’s just run with mistakes happening accidentally or – with the right color money – accidentally on purpose.  What if they found some infecteds on the wrong side of the concertina wire and suddenly people are scared?  What if they’ve started finding free-roaming cases of infection outside of the quarantine zone?”

“But that would be in the news.  There hasn’t been anything about that at all on the radio.” 

“Sunshine, it wouldn’t be that difficult to build a cover up.  The news is all bought and paid for anyway.  And all you would need to do is disappear people and then when or if someone notices say they’ve been taken in for questioning regarding possible contact with people in the quarantine zone.  The way it sounds they’ve got people believing that there aren’t any sane people over here left.” 

“Yeah, come to think of it they don’t even talk about immunes or carriers anymore … only about people far gone into the infection.” 

“I’d noticed that too.  It’s recent but noticeable.  Which makes me think that things are getting serious on the outside.” 

“You … you don’t think there’s like elite commandos in those shipping containers and they’re going to go all Rambo on us do you?” 



“Man, what have you been reading in those books?!” he laughed glancing over at the stack of secondhand books I’ve been collecting.  “First off, there aren’t really all that many ‘elite commandos’ these days.  Thank your government for starting to get scared of the people they train.  Second, there’s been way too many drops for that and … there goes another one,” he said as we heard an audible bang as a shipping container was set down less than gently.  “No one is going to set troops down like that.  Too much chance of injury.  But they wouldn’t be so careful if the container was full of Infecteds.”

I forgot to breathe long enough that when I started back up I could feel it in my head.  “That’s …”
 
“You gonna panic on me?” 

“No,” I told him with attitude.  Then I calmed back down and said, “But … that’s … that’s bad.  There’s already enough Infecteds around here.  If … if they get desperate and hungry what will they turn into?  And what about the rest of us?” 

“No clue Winx but plan for the worst and hope for the best and you can’t go wrong.  Which is why we are going to stick here for at least today and try and get some facts to measure my hypothesis by.  So, you up for getting some coffee going while I get some gear together and get set to start watching from the tower room?” 

“You gonna express yourself up there?” 

“Huh?” 

“When people used to try and tell Aunt Trudy that she shouldn’t allow me to express myself the way I was she’d tell them that she’d rather me express myself by dressing in black and wearing garish makeup than with a rifle up in a church tower.” 

Mack snorted but only said, “Cute.  But the last thing I want to have to do is ‘express myself’ and give our position away so make sure you don’t do anything to draw attention either.  And speaking of, we need to start securing our water sources and camouflaging a few things against aerial observation.  It’s not enough just to put the four-by and trailer in that shed.  Should have thought of this stuff first thing but … I was …” 

“Mack, I’m a lot better off than before you came along but you can’t think of everything … and shouldn’t have had to.  You just do your soldier – planning – logistic stuff or whatever you want to call it.  You’re good at that.  I’ll handle kitchen junk and check to make sure all the downstairs exits are still secure.  I can take that as my job to be good at.  I know it was a pain to run that ramp to the second floor and then haul the supplies down two flights of stairs but it’s better than taking all of that wood off the exterior doors.  Lucky for me we got everything in and put in storage containers last night so while the coffee is brewing I’ll bring in all the water and then use the dolly to move the emptied water barrels upstairs and then … do something with the ramp, I’m not sure what.” 

“Ok,” Mack said with a nod after thinking it over.  “But if you hear anything unusual or out of place you get under cover a-sap.  We may have some aerial reconnaissance by drone during the day.  As quiet as the new urban battlefield drones are, as maneuverable as they’ve become … Just be careful.  And I think before I go up to the tower I’ll walk the fence line and make sure all those places we reinforced it don’t need something more.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chapter 9


 
“Black glutinous rice … Mmmm, mmm, mmm … just like momma used to make.  And what the hell is ghee?” Mack said with a nauseated look on his face. 

“It’s not that bad,” I told him with a laugh.  “Better than dumpster dining.” 

“Uh …” 

I turned to look at him.  He looked like he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure what.  I told him, “Yeah.  I’ve done it.  Not fun.  Don’t want to do it again but … better than starving to death.  You think that rice is something get a load of this bag of dried sea cucumber.” 

“Yum, yum,” he said nearly gagging.  “You … uh … don’t plan …” 

I grinned wickedly trying to yank his chain.  Then I shook my head and said, “Nope.  Not my thing.  But it would be kinda funny to load this up and leave it for some people we both know.  I mean if they are going to be pigs and brag all over about what they are hauling then they probably deserve a nice little treat like this.” 

Mack shook his head in severe irritation.  “Idiots.  Rodney will have their heads when he finds out how badly they’ve compromised security.  They are supposed to use rotating codes to communicate on the radios.  If this isn’t some stupid plan to lure a gang over to give them some pay back … I cannot believe they’d really be that stupid.” 

“I can.  I hate to say it Mack but your old group’s so-called security sucked.  I got away really easy both times and it was just out an open door.  Now stop having heartburn over it, they aren’t your responsibility anymore.” 

 
He sighed and then gave me a small grin.  “You’re right Sunshine.  Let’s just be thankful they are making our jobs easier.  At least we know if they are scrounging around in the commercial district we will pretty much have free rein around here … barring complications.” 

We worked quickly and silently after that, both of us having gotten talked out.  We were also in a hurry to get as much as we could and get back to the House before the sun started setting.  We didn’t even stop for lunch but just sort of grazed on stuff as we got hungry or got curious about what some things were.   

I was starting to feel about noodles about the same way that Mack was feeling about rice when all of a sudden he grabbed me and fell to the ground.  I would have had a thing or three to say to him if he hadn’t had his hand over my mouth and looking out through the front glass of the store.  I nodded my head so that he’d understand I got the message.   



Men were coming down the street in loose formation.  I don’t know why the term popped into my head except that I used to read all of these end of the world type books and the authors used to write about things happening like I was seeing.  It was like falling into a book I had like to read but had never meant to live out.  Talk about your freak-out-o-rama. 

Mack was still covering me and getting heavy … and so was his breathing on the back of my neck.  I shivered but I think he must have thought I was scared or something because he patted my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “It’s ok Sunshine.  Those aren’t regular military but I’d like to know where they got the stuff to play dress up with.  They’re spread too thin in some places and packed together in others … both mistakes making them perfect targets.  I just hope they don’t have anyone on the back side of this building.  As soon as they pass by we are going to grab our bags and boogie.  I think we’ve used up our luck around here.” 

I nodded but it was a tense-filled minute before they got far enough away that Mack would let me up.  We duck-walked to the back of the store and I grabbed as much as I could as I went … teas, candies, ramen, and shelf stable tofu is what I got in my bag.  Mack hefted the big canvas tote that had the last of the millet, barley, and tapioca and still holding the gun opened the back door carefully before we both ran out and climbed in. 

Mack said, “You’ll have to drive Sunshine.  So I can cover our exit; they’re on my blind side.  Can you do that?”  

My snark comes out at the worst times.  I played drama queen and sighed, “My hero!  Save me from those nasty, horrible EBRs!” 



We climbed into the 4x4 and I was able to use the back alleys we’d already mapped to get us out of the area and heading to the House without the men even figuring out where the vehicle noise was coming from.  It was close however as we heard them shouting for the first few minutes, their voices echoing the same as the sound from the motor on the 4x4. 

We didn’t exactly relax but it wasn’t like a Mad Max parade either.  Mack finally asked, “OK, so what the hell does EBR stand for?” 

“Huh?  Oh … it is something Aunt Trudy used to … well … she was kinda making fun of some of the people in the crowd she hung around with.  Some of them … just wow.  Anyway it stands for ‘evil black rifle.’  My dad used to say people killed people, guns didn’t kill people.  He loved Mom and liked Aunt Trudy but some of their friends … not so much.  He said they were bad hypocrites because at least half of them owned guns themselves … they just didn’t want anyone they didn’t personally approve of to own guns.” 

“You’re family … they sound … uh …” 

“Yeah.  Pretty much.  But it wasn’t a bad way to grow up.” 

“Oh.  And you’re just so ancient now right?” he said with the first smile he’d given since he’d thrown me to the floor. 

“I’m older than I was then.  Some days I feel a lot older.  I’d give a lot for a few do-overs but that ain’t happening.  I’d ask about your family but … I kinda get the feeling that it’s a sore subject.” 

He was silent for a moment then said, “Not sore.  Just … I sound like an idiot.” 

“Oh yeah?  So I have to share how big of an idiot I was but you don’t?  That’s fair right there.” 

He shook his head.  “You had a reason.  Lotsa psychological trauma at just the wrong point in life.  I … I grew up with every advantage.  My ol’ man … my bio dad … I told you he was a short order cook but the truth is that while he started that way he ended by owning the restaurant though he still did he share of the cooking just because he liked to.  He was a real workaholic but still a good dad even though he used to forget every special occasion … because he was always too busy making sure everyone else could celebrate their special occasion.” 

“And your mom?” 

“I don’t remember my mother.  She got sick a couple of weeks after I was born and had some kind of seizure or something.  She was in this nursing home for a long time and then she just … died.  My step mother – she is my mom and was a friend of my mother’s.  She has two kids older than me and had just gone through a bad divorce and needed a place to stay.  She and my mother had worked out the details but … anyway Dad told her she could go ahead and stay until she got back on her feet if she’d keep an eye on me.  She and Dad just sort of … they kinda just threw in together.  She once explained it to me by saying they weren’t in love but they were head over heels in like and respect and at that time of their lives that’s what they wanted … and apparently needed.  They only got married because one of my dad’s sisters started making noise when Bea – that’s my step mom’s name – got pregnant with Shani.  And then one day my dad didn’t come home from work.  He’d had a heart attack counting the night’s receipts.  I was still pretty young and then Bea met Ralph and … anyway he’s not the typical pain in the ass step dad.  He’s actually a good guy.  I feel like crap dumping on him like I did.  It was actually one of his kids that I couldn’t get along with and Ralph just got caught between us fighting.  I started feeling sorry for myself and … basically I got involved with some crap and to keep me from screwing up my life completely they sent me off to Ralph’s brother who was in charge of this boot camp type school.  It was only after I graduated and joined the army that they found out how tough the place really was as Bea had a kid with Ralph and they sent him to the school thinking it would shape him up.” 

“Ok, did I miss the part where you had a silver spoon shoved some place ‘cause I must have missed it.  Just sounds kinda … normal-ish to me.” 

“Normal-ish?” he chuckled.  “Maybe, but between my Dad’s estate, Bea’s real estate job, and Ralph’s accounting firm money was never a problem and I never really had to work for what I wanted growing up.  At least not until the economy really crashed for real and by then I was rucking around in the crap at Fort Leonard Wood getting my ass trained off so that it would hump me along on its own even if I was too done in to move.” 

“Now that’s what I call getting trained.” 

“You better believe it Sunshine.” 

“So were you one of those uber soldiers?  Is that how … you know … your eye?” 

“Uh … no.  I was just your regular kind of soldier though I’d … I’d been giving some consideration to … anyway I was over in Africa and some idiot was too stressed out to wait until his break to take a smoke.  He lights up right on the tarmac … within a few feet of where the plane I was in was getting refueled.  You can guess the rest of the story.” 

“There … there was fire?” 

Something must have showed on my face because Mack leaned over and put his hand on the steering wheel.  “Whoa Sunshine, if you’re gonna puke pull over first.”   

I just kept seeing the people that died in the house fire and when I realized I might really puke after all I did pull over and tell him, “Maybe you better drive.”

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Chapter 8


“What is this thing?” Mack asked catching something as it almost fell out of the boxes we were packing into the back of the 4x4 and trailer. 

I told him, “It’s a dough squasher thingamajig.  You make tortillas with it.  If I can’t figure out how to get that monster oven to stop smoking I won’t be able to make regular bread … or biscuits or cookies or cakes or anything else that has to rise.  I swear I nearly hacked up a lung last night.  My hair still stinks too.  I don’t even know if I’ll be able to make crackers for all that soup I canned if I can’t figure what I’m doing wrong.  That means that I’ll have to fry stuff on that propane griddle we grabbed in the camping section … or at least figure out how to make stuff in a skillet.  Tortillas are about the easiest thing I can think of to take the place of loaf bread.” 

“You weren’t fooling about being able to cook,” Mack said.  “Gotta say Sunshine, you’re full of surprises.  But I can do my share.  My ol’ man was a short order cook.  There’s a lot more things you can fix in a skillet or on a griddle than you’d think.  The problem is going to be,” he said hefting another bag of rice to take it deeper into the trailer.  "Having the right ingredients.  I like rice as much as the next guy but if I have to eat a steady diet of it I'd like to at least to get a break every now and then."

Feeling the same way but more willing to accept the possibility of a monotonous diet I told Mack, “We’re getting stuff to do that with and that cellar is cool enough that everything will last for a good while.”  I nearly shrieked when I racked my shin yet again.  “Ouch!  I swear I am going to wrap a pillow around that trailer hitch!” 

“Keep your voice down Sunshine,” Mack said like he’d had to warn me one too many times. 

“Oh.  Yeah.  Sorry.  Uh … anyway,” I said going back to whispering.  “Getting the stuff isn’t going to be the problem, at least not right now.  All that stuff in the Urban Market we got this morning is people grade.  The problem is storing it.” 

Mack nodded, understanding the problem after he’d helped me load the traps and reset them a couple of times.  “Those galvanized trash cans at the hardware store should help.  Gonna take more than I expected though.  We barely have enough room for what we took this morning.  Now you are wanting all this stuff packaged in plastic and cardboard.  I’ve found a couple of places where the rats were trying to gnaw through latches and the little bit of plastic that is down there.”

I nodded.  “I know.  I hope all that poison and stuff you found at that do-it-yourself pest control store really works.” 

“Oh it’ll work.  But we have to be careful that they don’t just crawl off in some place too hard to dig them out of and stink up the place worse than they already try and do.” 

“You ain’t kidding.  As for storage, I think I’ve got enough jars to take care of some bulk junk like spices and seasoning.  Those will also help with making the rice taste different instead of it being the same bland thing every time.  And as we empty those tins of soda crackers we can store stuff in them.  Shame about some of this stuff in here though.  A couple of weeks back I would have killed for these nachos.  I had the munchies so bad.  Oh my gosh … chips and queso dip … mmmmmmmm.” 

“You … uh … toke up?” 

“Huh?  Me?   No.  I don’t do medicinals unless I need ‘em.  No I just … er …”  I stopped suddenly embarrassed with what I had been blathering about.  Mack can be too easy to talk to. 

“Oh.  Shani’s thing is chocolate.  My step dad swears he’s going to kiss Mr. Hershey if they ever meet in Heaven because he’s saved his life more than a few times.” 

I had to bite my lips to keep from laughing.  Paula is the same way and it was the one exception that Aunt Trudy made on the junk food rules.  Usually all we were allowed was just carob powder or homemade, all natural stuff.  Processed sugar items were labeled with a skull and cross bones normally.  But when you are PMSing and jonesing for some chocolate … well there are just some things that there is no substitute for. 


Looking around I said, “I still don’t get what the deal is.  I thought they were going to start turning off the power.  It seems like about half the quarantine zone still has ‘lectric and water.  I was hoping that cutting off the utilities might make it easier to avoid infected people.  As it is I’m wondering if it is infected people that trashed that store we were going to pick over instead of rioters.  It’s gotta mean something.”
 
Mack looked troubled at that.  “I’m sure it means something, the question is what.  As it is it might mean nothing, or might mean plenty.  One of Rodney’s hand-picked guys worked for the utility company.  He said it wasn’t going to be as easy as they made it out to be to cut power to the quarantine zone because some of the lines running through it are attached to hospitals and schools and things like that.  Then there is the big electrical hub over in the commercial warehouse district.  I was listening to the radio last night after you crashed and there was some chatter that there are helicopters coming in at night and hovering over the power station down at the docks.  We see anyone like that … we do not engage them in any way.  Got it?” 

“You mean like uber military types?  Do I look crazy?  Don’t get smart I can see it behind your eyes.  Seriously though.  Do I look like a member of a Seal Team or any other kind of mercenary?” 

He gave me a look over.  “You actually aren’t too bad.  Flexible, creative, fast on your feet … you’d do all right assuming you learned to control your mouth and attitude.” 

I rolled my eyes.  “Yeah right … bet that whole questioning authority thing would pretty much keep me in hot water wouldn’t it.” 

He snorted, “Oh, you could say that.”  He heaved a sigh as he fit the last bag of rice in and I slid in the last case of sodas.  “Like your pop do you?” 

“If you can have a blissful reaction to all of the coffee we find then I can snag the sodas.” 

“They’ll give you zits.” 

“You must be a fun big brother.” 

“Not so much, at least not according to Shani.” 

“Maybe she just doesn’t appreciate what she has.  I’m walking proof that humans make that error way too often.  You only really get it when it’s too late.” 

I tried to walk away but he stopped me by gently grabbing my arm.  “We all have regrets.  Don’t let it stop you from … from …” 

I sighed.  “I get it Mack.  Move forward.  Make the best of things.  Survive.  Don’t make the same mistakes again.  Still sucks though.  Especially when I know I can’t take back all the stupid stuff and the nasty things that I said.” 

He nodded.  “Yeah it does.  Just remember you aren’t the only one that has done it and don’t let people like Mace think that it is ok if they rub your face in it.” 

After a minute I patted his hand so he’d let go.  I told him, “Shani needs her head examined.  I never had a brother and even I can see you don’t do too bad at this.” 

Mack shook his head.  “You’re not the only one with regrets Sunshine.  I’ve made mistakes I don’t want to make any more of too.  So what say we head over to the Chinese market before all of this special sharing gives us both indigestion and throws us off schedule?”
 
“Race you,” I told him by way of agreement with both what he said and the sentiment.