Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sorry about this!

Unexpected health issues mean there will be a two week hiatus.  Meanwhile, here's a picture of Eve Aubrey as a clothespin doll.
With stun gun!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Gone Away Is The Bluebird

The young man went to work with a desperate sense of urgency, flinging snow to the side as fast as he could to make a path between Joe's door and the commander's door. The parade ground between the two buildings was far longer than he'd realized before, and he was wet with sweat and worry by the time he reached his own door, with Joe finally behind him. Joe carried his suitcase-sized first aid kit in one hand and a duffel bag in the other. He wore boots on his feet and wore a real winter coat, thick mittens, a hat and a scarf.

I was ready for the weather,” Joe said at Will's envious look. “It's Minnesota, for goodness sake.”

While Joe went into his mother's room to talk to Eve, Will sorted through some of the stuff they'd managed to haul back to the house yesterday, looking for dry clothes. Among the stuff his mother had dragged back from the store, he found some boots, too small for his own size 15 feet, but he set them out for Val and Katrin. He changed his pants and socks for the time being, hanging his wet things over the back of a chair near the parlor fire, setting his shoes near the hearth to dry as well as they could.

Joe changed Eve's bandages, paying particular attention to the wound he'd stitched up on her left forearm. Her ankle was no longer swollen, and he was pleased with how well it had healed in a couple days of rest, but the stitched bite wound looked angry and oozed pus.

No doubt, Eve. You need real antibiotics.”

I'm not sure my insurance is current,” she joked. He cleaned out the wound, releasing the stitches he'd placed over a flappy part of the wound, slathered it with antibiotic ointment, and rebandaged it.

I'll take a check,” he said, so gravely at first she was worried he really wanted payment and began to catalog in her head what she could offer as a useful barter. His wink was all that gave him away. “Look, I'm going to have to steal your son for a bit. The VA hospital is not far. I have some antibiotics here, but you'll need more, and there's a pharmacy there.”

How far?”

Couple miles, but I have a truck parked out by the cannon shed. We'll drive. I just need his help carrying stuff, I may as well grab all I can while I'm there. God knows I don't want to leave the walls here again anytime soon.”

It snowed,” she said, her voice wavering.

It'll melt by midday, we'll leave before noon and be back before dusk. It's best to go in the brightest part of the day.”

She nodded, her face still pinched with worry.

He gave her a couple of pills and her tin mug of water. “This is amoxicillin. It's not my first choice here, but it's what I have. I'll get you something better. Are you allergic to penicillin?”

She shook her head and lay back down.

Rest then. I'll go talk to Will. We'll be back before too long.”

You need to look out for Val for a bit,” Will told Katrin. “We're gonna go get some medicine for Mom. We won't be gone long. I need you to come close the vehicle doors behind us, ok?”

The sun was high enough and warm enough that the snow had begun to melt. Mr Joe climbed to the top of the Round Tower to watch for movement while Will and Katrin moved the barrels he'd set up against the vehicle gate in the northwestern wall.

Seeing no movement, he went down to his truck and started it up. It was an older Toyota, brown, with a truck topper covering the truck bed. He'd always maintained it properly, and it started now without any complaint.

The ground was slippery and slushy, but he had four wheel drive and the snow itself was only half a foot deep here. He pulled outside of the vehicle gates and watched while Will pulled and Katrin pushed them closed behind him.

Will listened for the sound of the gates being locked. “Ok, go get warm and take care of Val. I'll be back soon. I'll grab you some chocolate if I see some over there.”

Ok,” she said softly.

He climbed into the passenger seat of the truck and pulled the door closed. “All right,” he said to Mr Joe. “Ready.”

Joe Raymond drove around the visitors center and through the parking lot to the Fort. Where the road was blocked, he simply drove up on the curb and around the blockage.

Will we just run the zombies down?” Will asked, curiously. He leaned forward, searching the way ahead with interest.

Lord, no. Just imagine. You ever see a car hit a deer?”

Oh, yeah,” Will said. The family had lived in the Northwoods for his early life, until Eve had gathered her children and fled their father. Deer were all over the roads at times, and Will had been a small boy riding in the front seat of his father's small sedan when they'd hit a deer, barely more than a fawn, one year.

What happened to the car?”

Oh. Cracked the radiator and smashed up the hood, and broke the windshield.”

Bad thing to happen with an angry infected Rioter running around, or a few of 'em, right?”

Will shuddered. “Right.”

We're heading to Coldwater Spring to get some water, first,” Joe said. “When they built the Fort, the soldiers camped down at the spring until the Fort was ready to live in. After that, they got most of their water from the spring. I got some hose and a hand pump and such in my toolbox back there.”

Will had seen the huge metal box, as wide and deep as the truck bed itself, when they were loading the barrels in.

Ok,” he said, though waiting even a little to get his mother medicine worried him. They needed water.

You kids packed what, five barrels back there? With that plus what we have still at the Fort, we should be good for water for a couple weeks. As long as we don't get any more people in without getting more water in.”

Gary says he's sending three people over when the snow melts, but they'll be bringing supplies.”

Joe harrumphed. “Three? They could take a couple rooms in the barracks. Or an officers apartment. If you've got someone out there sending more people this way, we're gonna have to start portioning space out to make sure there's enough room.”

We can sort out a plan when we get back,” Will said. “When we can walk around and look at stuff directly.”

Yup,” Joe said shortly. They turned down a dirt path, almost heading back to the Fort, as far as Will could tell. “It'll get noisy, and then interesting to the infected, if we get more folks. We'll have to do something about the northwest wall, or we'll get infected coming over it.”

Maybe we should set a watch up.”

Yup. Tonight we can take 4 hour shifts. Sleep in the gatehouse and we'll trade off walking around – the Round Tower and the walkway over the gate should do it. Snow will melt soon enough and we can trade off with the new folks.”

Will you be in charge then?”

Joe sighed. “I don't think we need to worry about that yet. We can discuss it when your mom is well.” There was not a single part of Joe that was interested in being the boss of anything more than the hospital ward and the doctor's quarters, as long as the Fort stayed safe and free of the rioters. He'd turn over the hospital ward except for his own quarters if a real doctor showed up, but as far as he was concerned, his quarters were his now, and the hospital his in the meanwhile.

They pulled up in front of a swampy area, unencumbered with ice on the surface of the water. A building, little more than four connecting arches made from the same stone as Fort Snelling, stood at the edge of the water on the upper side of the mild slope, and fresh water spilled from a spout at the water's side of the building.

I was hoping the spring would face this way,” Joe said. “So we could more easily get it into the barrels. But I can work with this.”

They parked with the back of the truck as close to the spring as possible. Joe rummaged around in his tool box, then directed Will in hanging a bucket, suspended from two ropes looped around the arches closes to the spring spout, so that the water from the spout spilled into the bucket and was caught there before falling out into the swamp. They lowered a hose into the bucket, and Joe assembled an apparatus of hoses and his hand pump that allowed Will to sit at the edge of the building and work the hand pump while Joe directed the pumped water into the barrels in the back of his truck.

Pump faster, kid,” Joe said, looking at the sky. “We're getting close to noon here, and we want to be moving back home before it starts to get even a little dark. Nice bright day today.”

Will agreed. The sun was high and the light bounced blindingly off the melting snow. He couldn't imagine the zombies would like to be out in this light with their bulging red eyes.

My name's Will, Mr Joe,” he said, leaning forward to pump harder.

Doesn't matter, kid. I won't remember. I'll just call you kid.”

At last the fifth barrel was filled and covered again, and they packed the hoses and the pump carefully away. Joe decided to leave the bucket where it was for ease of future use.

All right. Time to hit the VA hospital. There might be people there,” he said abruptly, and gestured Will to the passenger door of the truck.

People, or...”

People, or something.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Robbie Rocket

Sorry about that, folks,” Robbie Rocket said. “Just let me say this much – don't get the regular flu in the middle of the zombie epidemic, or things will really get rough and gross. All better now, generator's up and running again, I've got some music queued up for you this evening while I sleep – again – but first, the news.

I don't know how many of us are left. I don't know how many of us there are here in the Twin Cities. I don't know how many of the rioters remain, either.

I do know there's a storm hitting the Cities as I speak; I hope you are bundled up and prepared and I wish I had been well in time to warn you.

What I am hearing from Las Vegas – the only city I have contact with this evening – is that there are about 900 survivors down there, mostly holed up at the Hoover Dam, of all places. That's 900 of about half a million, not including visitors.” Robbie Rocket was silent for a moment. Inside the commander's house, more than a thousand miles away from the destruction of Las Vegas, Eve, Will, and Katrin lowered their heads.

Val rocked slowly back and forth in place in his wheelchair, his helicopter on his lap, grizzled Cassiopeia asleep wedged against his thigh. He had no strong understanding of what Robbie Rocket was talking about.

I'm told they have a military presence at the Dam. I have not spoken to anyone in the military there, but I am told there's about twenty soldiers lead by a previously retired lieutenant. I hope to speak to one of the members of the military there and find out if they have continuing contact with other groups.

But tonight, I have not heard from my previous contacts. I have not heard from Duluth. I have not heard from Chicago. I have not heard from North Dakota. And I have not heard from our nation's capital.”

There was another moment of silence.

But I am still here, and you are still here. My friend Gary is still here, and still annoying. He says he has a few survivors in his building, and a few more he's heard from; we are not divulging locations today but I wanted you to know we are still here, that there are more of us, and that we're making plans to help survivors find each other.

And now, I'm recovering from the flu, the plain old regular flu that doesn't make you a crazy cannibal, and I am exhausted. So here's some music for a stormy evening, starting with Katrina and the Waves, because I damn well need to hear something cheerful, and I'm betting you do too. Good night, Twin Cities, my home, my neighbors, my brothers and sisters.”

I love this song!” Val squealed, rocking faster.

Katrin wanted to sleep with her mother, but decided against doing so even though she was still afraid of the storm.  Eve looked worn out, blue circles beneath her eyes, and her pain was apparent. Katrin worried about bumping her mother's bitten arm, or her broken arm, or the sore ankle.

Will gave his mother more ibuprofen and helped her get settled on the newly thickly padded master bed; then he helped Val into bed in the nursery.

Look,” he told Katrin, showing her the deep window wells. “Very thick walls, and heavy wooden shutters. It's safer here even in a storm than our basement out there was. You'll be ok.”

I need Bertram,” Katrin said.

Will tucked his siblings into the double bed in the nursery, Katrin near the wall and Val closer to the commode, and tucked the stuffed tiger in between them. The cats arranged themselves near the siblings' heads.

I wish Todd was here,” Katrin said forlornly.

Todd comin',” Val said.

I do too,” Will said. In an unexpected moment of paternal-like feeling, he kissed his siblings on the head. “Goodnight, brats.”

Goodnight, jerk,” Katrin said affectionately, her eyes already drifting closed.

Goodnight... ASSteroid,” Val said, and giggled out loud, tilting his head back.

Doggone it, Val...”

Upstairs, in one of the attic rooms, Will had found a four poster bed with ropes where there'd be a box spring in a regular modern bed. This room was nearly empty (and the one like it at the other end of the attic was empty), with just one dormer window. There were a few small decorations – hatboxes, a suitcase, a navy and white bedspread – and a single dormer window. Will padded the double bed with his extra mattress from the previous night in the hospital ward; the mattresses here at the Fort were all relatively hard and uncomfortable to his modern tastes. He'd covered the mattress with a wool blanket and then a softer quilt for insulation, then piled more blankets on top to lay beneath for warmth. There was no fireplace up here, but heat rises, so he suspected he'd be warm enough.

If he wasn't, he'd drag the mattresses back down to the parlor and sleep there tonight.

In the pale light of his battery-powered LED camping lantern, he checked his watch and found it was time to talk to Gary. Only 9 o'clock; usually his mother would be up late into the night and he and Val would only now be getting sleepy.

He turned on the walkie talkie.

Gary?” he asked.

Young William!” Gary's voice boomed. He sounded perhaps a little tipsy. “I was hoping to hear from you tonight. How's your mother and family?”

Mom's doing all right. The kids are asleep. How are you?”

Staying warm enough. I've got a few other survivors here, and my living room has a gas fireplace. We've got food, and candles, all that. It's not really cold enough yet for the snow to stick around, but it's makin' it plenty clear we need to get moving over there for the winter.”

There's plenty of room here,” Will said. “And we have a medic. We're low on food, though, for a crowd.”

Check, check. I'm sending three young people over as soon as the snow melts after the storm. We have food and supplies – they brought some, and they'll stop at Lunds on the way over. And they have some archery supplies as well. Guns too, but we learned today that gunshots bring the infected running.”

Ok. We'll be ready. When should I check in again?”

Let's ping each other every odd hour of daylight once the snow starts melting, ok? Then I can let you know when they're heading over. They have bikes, and I'm sending them over the Ford Parkway bridge, then south to the Fort.”

When will you come?”

I saw Benjamin today. I'll come as soon as that asshole cat comes in so I can bring him with. I have a snowmobile in my garage so I'm not too worried about the snow if it comes back before Benjamin stops being stupid.”

Do you know Robbie Rocket?” Will asked.

We talk now and then. He's not as stupid as Benjamin.”

Will laughed. “Goodnight, Gary!”

Goodnight, Wilfred, Champion of Snelling!”

Just Will,” he said, but there was no answer; Gary had turned off his set.

Val felt the storm subside and woke in the quiet pre-dawn. The fire was low, coals only, but the room was still warm enough. He swung his feet carefully over the edge of the bed, holding onto the tall post near his pillow to help himself up. He used the mantle of the fireplace to help him get over to the commode. While on the commode – never all that concerned about privacy – he pulled open the shutters.

The sky was just turning pink to the east, and the ground outside was white and smooth.

Snow!” he said, cheerfully. “Snow came.”

He couldn't retie his pants after he was finished, so he kicked them off and used his wheelchair as a walker, holding on to the handles and pushing it, thin legs bare beneath the bottom of the long shirt.

Val sat on the edge of his mother's bed.

Hungry, Mama,” he said, patting her. “Your boy hungry.”

Heat radiated off of her.

You like oven,” he told her, smiling. “Silly Mama.” He sat next to her for a while, rocking in place, then wobbled over to open her shutters. She woke when he sat down next to her again.

Not feeling so hot, little man,” she told him, shivering. “Let me sleep a little longer.”

Hungry, Mama.”

Ok. Get your sister. Tell her to get Will up and have him come here.”

You get Will?”

Have Katrin get Will, please, Val.”

Katrin was not happy to be woken up, Will even less so, but he blearily came to see his mother, rubbing his eyes, his hair sticking up in the back.

Do the fires,” she said weakly. “Give them some bread and butter for breakfast, please. Not feeling well right now. My arm hurts. Not the broken one, the bitten one.”

Concerned, Will felt his mother's head and found her feverish. “Mom, you are really warm. I'm going to go get Mr Joe.”

She managed to level a glare at him, one eyed, her face half-buried in her pillow yet. “You make sure they're fed and warm first, Will. I mean it.”

He dithered for a moment, then gave Eve some ibuprofen and a glass of water. As quickly as he could, he got the fires set up in the downstairs rooms to warm the house and fed his siblings and the cats in the dining room. He helped Val back into his pants and tied them in place.

I wear no pants!” Val said, laughing at his brother.

Too cold for that, Val, doggone it,” Will said sternly.

By the time Will got over to Mr Joe's room, the sun was making a clear appearance over the horizon. The air itself was crisp and felt thin, and the snow just deep enough that Will's shoes were filled with it and his feet icy.

Joe answered his polite but urgent knock.

My mom has a fever,” Will said.

Damn it,” Joe said. “I'll be there soon. Let me get dressed and get my supplies. Meanwhile, here.” He handed Will a shovel.

Will held the shovel in both hands, confused. He wasn't a medic, but he couldn't figure out how to use the shovel to help his mother.

Shovel a path, boy,” Joe said, exasperated. “I'll meet you there.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Go In

Will pulled the canvas sled as he and his mother headed for the door of the Fort. He assumed it was a sled, it looked like a canvas sleigh, and it slid well across the ground.

As they passed the powder magazine, where in the past explosive material was housed, Eve pointed out the wooden carts sheltered by the deep eaves.

I think tomorrow we should see about moving furniture around to make a comfortable house for us. You and Kat can help, and we can use those.”

We should probably use those to bring more wood and water up for us and Mr Joe before it storms. Val says a storm is coming. And if there's one thing he seems to know, it's storms,” Will said.

And trains. And when visitors are coming.”

Ok, three things.”

And he keeps complete maps in his head,” Eve added.

In video games!”

It might translate into real life,” Eve said. “I guess we'll see.” She opened the inset door at the front gate. “Hurry. I'll go up to the top of the Round Tower and I'll warn you if I see anything.”

How will you do that? You can't whistle, and shouting seems like it'll cause trouble.”

She held up a plastic whistle he knew to have a piercing sound. “My rape whistle.”

Ok, just remember to be clear about which way you're blowing it – yes-rape or no-rape.”

Get out,” she said, deadpan, and he laughed. She shut and bolted the door behind him.

He waited near the Fort until he saw her reach the top of the Round Tower, then waved and was on his way, dragging the sled with one hand, his hoe ready in the other.

I really should name you,” he said to his weapon. “A man should know what to call his hoe.” He glanced guiltily back up at the tower where his mother was watching. She gave a thumbs up, not having heard him, and tucked her hand back inside the blanket she'd wrapped around herself.

He hummed to himself the rest of the way to the visitor's center.

The doors were locked. “Of course,” he said. He walked around the front of the building, alert for movement, saw nothing, returned to the back doors. With no one around – no infected – and no power, he felt justified in knocking the glass out of the back doors with his hoe, since the back doors were closer to the Fort itself.

It was dark enough inside he lit his camp lantern, frowning at having to use up batteries. He used his hoe to break into the gift shop.

Inside, he loaded the sled up with whatever he saw that looked useful, remembering to grab some extras for Mr Joe. There was very little food; he did find pancake mix and syrup, jams, wild rice, almonds, and lots of candy.  A room temperature cooler held sodas and bottled water, and on the counter near the cash register he found energy bars. There were various tshirts and themed socks, he grabbed those too; then pens and some empty journals for his mother to write in and for his sister to draw in.

A recipe book of Fort Snelling-related recipes, scented candles and candle holders.  Some Red Wing crockery and a bunch of the blue and white dishes his mother loved.  A magnifier, a cribbage board, sunbonnets, scented soaps and lotions. He didn't grab any of the throws or pillows because there were plenty of those at the Fort.

He found playing cards and dice, various historical paper dolls and coloring books, colored pencils, and crayons. Val would like the toy soldiers, he knew, and a couple sets of Lincoln Logs, and a toy flute. There were books with histories of Fort Snelling, of the Dakota, of Minnesota, Will grabbed them for Eve. 

Then he started to worry about time, and began to drag his sled toward the back doors.

Someone stood just outside of the bathrooms, watching silently, their chest heaving.

Uh, hello?” Will said, dropping the rope for the sled and gripping his hoe in both hands.

Go in,” the person said, a male voice, though the person was either a small man or an older child.

Go where?”

Go. IN!” the man snarled and lurched toward Will, slipping and falling to one knee, scrabbling forward. “Go in!”

Will hesitated for only a second before energy surged through his hands and he brought the hoe down on the Red Flu zombie before it could gain its feet. His swing took it hard in the shoulder and the metal head of the hoe bounced off the floor of the visitor center with an audible crack.

He tried to yank his hoe back but it was lodged pretty firmly inside his enemy. “Shitshitshit,” he shouted.

GOWIN!” the creature gurgled, grabbing his leg. The hoe jerked free, but the creature was too close now for a good swing. Instead Will bopped it hard on the head with the hoe, straight up and down.

The creature was not stunned, but hissed in rage.

Will kicked it hard with his other foot, falling backwards. He continued kicking, cold fear lending strength and swiftness he did not usually exhibit. The zombie's head rocked back and forth from the force of the kicks, and confused, it released his leg. Will was on his feet and back far enough for a good swing of his hoe in a blur of motion, and this time he hit the creature square in the top of its head.

Dark blood poured onto the ground, the creature shuddered and lay still. He left the bloodied hoe, its handle now broken, where it was.

Gross,” Will said, then hurried to get the sled out of the path of the blood. He realized he was shaking, and took a deep breath.

Hasta la... ah, sayonara,” he said to the dead thing, and headed home with his sled full of pancake mix.

Though he felt strangely exhausted, he and Katrin loaded one of the wooden carts with firewood and delivered it to Mr Joe and to the commander's house. Eve stood at Mr Joe's door and they sorted through the sled. Mr Joe took some of the food and two tshirts, one of the six journals and a handful of pens. He dragged the sled to the commander's house for Eve while Katrin and Will finished unloading the firewood, storing it in a woodbox in the hospital and in the entry hall of the house. The kids then parked the cart inside the powder magazine. Katrin stayed and dragged the other cart in as well, and shut the door firmly before running off to help Will drag water containers to both homes.

Joe went down to the workshops and brought up four shovels, leaving three with Eve at the commander's house and taking one back to his own quarters. He made sure he had extra blankets, his bones felt the storm coming.

While Will had been off at the visitor center gathering gift baskets and killing a zombie, Katrin had covered the bottom of a bin that had been emptied of water with dirt for the cats. She had set it on the stair landing leading up to the attic, and she'd set out in the parlor a wooden plate of cat food and a couple fresh tin cups of water, so each cat could have her own cup. Will felt this was a pretty good set up, all things considered.

One more thing,” Will said, when they finished up with the water. Taking Kat by the hand, he hurried them down to the employee area again, this time making a small train of bins that had not been used for water, tying a long rope around all four bins with knots between them. He and Katrin filled the bins with clean clothes – reenactor costumes, including woolen socks and mittens and military style woolen coats; there were also calico dresses, shawls, canvas pants and cotton shirts.

Now we can have a bath,” he said, and they dragged the train of clothing all the way back to the house.

Katrin let go of the rope and ran off toward the store; Will started to yell at her but stopped when he saw his mother struggling in the doorway of the store, dragging the sled out with the same hand she had to try to control her crutch. Katrin glared at her mother and reached for the rope pull for the sled.

They all made it back into the house just as the wind began to howl and the first flakes began to fall.

Inside the windows rattled and worried Katrin; as they were inside a home that had basement access only by going out the back door, and she no longer had her tornado box handy. She sat near the fire in the parlor, hugging Bertram and Leah tightly. Eve and Will closed the shutters and made sure the doors were tightly bolted. Candles were lit in each room and provided a warm, soft light over the main floor of the house.

Looks like pancakes for dinner!” Eve said brightly. “Baths first – sponge baths, but better than we've had for more than a week!”

Will dragged one water bin into the dining room and set a fire in the fireplace, then dragged another bin of water into the parlor. Eve scooped water out of the bins into two big three-legged pots in each room, placing both pots into the fireplace to heat in each room.

When the water was boiling, she had Will pour the pots of water back into the bins, warming the water enough to bathe. They all picked out scented soap from the loot stacked in the hallway, where they'd stored for now all the stuff from the gift shop and the clothing from the reenactors area. Eve handed them all small towels from the gift shop and clothes from the bins. “Tomorrow we'll get this all put away,” she said. “And we'll get set up to live here for a while.”

How long?” Katrin asked. “Is this our house now?”

Our house now,” Val said, making his stubborn face. “This my house now.”

Let's guess the winter, eh?” Eve said. “It seems safe enough here.”

The boys went into the dining room, Eve and Katrin went into the parlor, and they closed those doors and bathed in privacy. Will bathed his grumpy, protesting brother first, carefully pouring water from a crockery pitcher over his brother's head as Val leaned over the bin to wash his hair. He helped his brother dress in a soft tshirt, a loose cotton shirt with long sleeves and a tied neck, and draw string pants. He went to pull socks with small loons patterned all over them onto his brother's feet, but Val, seated back in his wheelchair, snatched the socks away.

I do it myself!”
When everyone was clean and dressed, Eve and Katrin in warm shirts and long johns beneath bright calico dresses, Eve had Will store the bins of bathwater in the front of the hallway away from the clean water. “We can use it to flush the toilets in the public bathrooms,” Eve said. “No point dumping it out.” She showed him how to bank the fire in the dining room, and they laid a fire in the children's room and built up the fire in the master bedroom.

While Eve made pancakes over the fire in the parlor, Will and Katrin worked together, adding extra mattresses to the beds in the children's room of the commander's house and in the master bedroom, setting out extra blankets and pillows. Their mother was amazed; in the past, the two could not be trusted to manage chores together without furious squabbling.

As Will began to drag an extra mattress up the stairs, claiming the guest room in the attic for himself, the family heard a voice in the parlor.

Robbie Rocket!” Val squealed. Will dropped his bedroll rushed into the parlor to be near his family and listen to the radio by the soft light of the candles.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cheese Mammich

Val dug in his backpack and pulled out all of his Hot Wheels, lining them up carefully. The winter sunlight poured in through the large windows and the room was pleasantly warm. He dug around in his backpack some more and pulled out the small radio and his secret bag of chips.

Scooching closer to the fire, rocking and watching the dancing flames, he chirped and munched on his chips, carefully eating only half the bag, then folding it closed to keep the rest safe for his baby sister.

My baby sister!” he told Bertram the tiger importantly. Bertram sat on the padded bench, slumped against an arm, his keen plastic eyes dancing in the firelight.

Fire too hot, no touch it,” Val told Bertram. “Burn you. Not safe.”

He rocked a little more, chirped a little more.

I find Robbie Rocket,” he said confidentially to the stuffed tiger. He flipped on the radio, breathing a sigh of relief when it came on, even if it was only static. Val was not able to replace batteries; he understood the concept, but had trouble getting the battery hatches open and lining the batteries up correctly. “Robbie Rocket, I talking you.”

Val went back to his Hot Wheels. His favorite, the helicopter, had important jobs to do flying over all the other cars. Leah tried to catch the helicopter as he flew it around, and he laughed.

Like Godzilla,” he told her, petting her head affectionately.

He poured some of his cup of water into the cats cup on the floor and drank the rest. He scooted over to the wall and laboriously levered himself up to a standing position. “Need help walking!” he yelled, but no one answered, so he walked very carefully leaning against the wall, then clinging to furniture, until he was sitting on the edge of the bed his mother slept on. He patted her.

Needa pee.”

She didn't respond.

Mama, needa potty now.” He shook her. “Mama!”

This time she snapped awake, startled. When woken suddenly, she tended to jerk sideways with a look of terror on her face, this was no different.

Mama, you so silly,” Val chuckled.

What's up, little man?” she asked groggily, working herself into a sitting position beside him.

Needa potty now. Please.”

Number one or number two?”

Mumber pee.”

She dragged the chamberpot out from beneath the commander's bed and helped him stabilize in a crouching position to use it.

Where is your brother? Where's your sister?” she asked, and he shrugged.

Go to Target, I think,” Val said.

Dammit! They went out, did they?”

Yes. Out the door. Not snowing yet. Snow coming.”

Eve pulled one of the wool blankets around her and slipped her shoes back on, leaving her left shoe untied. “Gonna kill that boy,” she muttered. She pulled herself up on her crutch; her ankle throbbed. “Val, I'm going to make sure your brother and sister are still inside the Fort. I want you to stay away from the fires, and find some place to play safely. You can play in here, or you can play in the parlor, just be warm and don't touch the fires, ok?”

Eye-formsitive!”  Val saluted.

Will had finally managed to extract the wheelchair from where it had fallen and become stuck to the ground, covered in a dusting of snow. He dragged it backwards up the stairs with one hand, holding the iron-topped hoe with his other hand. It was a much slower process than he'd have liked, and his back felt like it was crawling with stares.

He kept reminding himself it was full daylight, but the light seemed dimmer today with the white, sheeted sky. He heard nothing, and the silence was crushing. No cars, no people; the highways and sidewalks were silent.

Hoping Kat had seen him approaching the front gate, he knocked very quietly on the smaller inset door. The door swung open toward him to reveal a very angry Eve on the other side.

Mom!” he said, startled, and she held her finger to her lips. He quickly lifted the wheelchair over the high threshold and followed it in, latching the door behind himself.

I am going to murder you,” she said quietly. She turned and started limping back to the house, leaning on her crutch.

Mom, um, you were asleep and Val needs his chair.”

She whipped around to stare him down, fierce and terrible.

William Edward Aubrey... if you EVER step foot out of this fort again without letting me know where you're going, what you're doing, and when you'll be back, I will find you, and I will murder you, and then I will drag your dead ass back here and I will GROUND it FOREVER.”


Not ONE word. You have no idea how upset I am. I understand things have changed, and I get you'll have to go do things I hate, things that are dangerous. And I can't always go with you because there must always be one adult here for Katrin and Val.” She turned started limping toward the house again, ire apparent in even every strand of her currently unbrushed hair.

Mom,” Will said, catching up, pushing Val's chair. “I'm sorry.” She turned again and pulled him into a tight hug.

I love you, you nerd. Don't make a mother worry.”

He hugged her back, heard her fight off her sniffles, and she let him go. They walked together more slowly this time.

Val has a chamberpot for you. It's in my room.”

Aw!” Will groaned. “Wait, here, push his chair for balance.” She sat in it instead, moving it with her right foot and rolling the wheel with her left hand, her crutch on her lap. He ran back to the hospital ward and picked up one of the chair-like commodes, carrying back to the house behind Eve.

Val chirped to have his chair back. Will put the commode in the children's room for Val to use as needed. “There's bathrooms, modern toilets, in the barracks,” he remembered. “We can flush them with buckets of water. But if you can't get out in your chair, Val, here's a potty for you.”

Val gave him a thumbs up, then a pinky. He settled himself happily in his chair and rolled around the house.

Hungry, mama,” he yelled as he sailed around.

Go down into the kitchen and see what pots you can find. I can make grilled cheese if there's a frying pan,” Eve said to Val's siblings.

I love cheese mammich!” Val yelled.

Will and Katrin went out the back door of the house, down the stairs, and into the basement. Katrin flipped her lantern on so Will could raid the pantry. He loaded his huge basket up with a couple of pans, some bowls, and more blankets that were stored in a closed shelf.

While Eve cooked a late lunch over the fire, using a three legged cast iron pot as a stable raised surface, Will crouched beside her chair and said “I need to go out and get us more food. I can go back to the marina and get our supplies, even see if any of the houseboats left behind have anything.”

Nope. Not today, you can't. It'll be dark or storming by the time you get back.”

We will be out of food,” Will said.

Go to the Visitor's Center then. See what's up at the gift shop. It's closer. And I can watch from the top of the Round Tower. Lunch first. Don't you piss me off twice in one day.”

Ok, ok,” Will said, his hands up in capitulation.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nobody Knows My Sorrow

Joe Raymond, veteran of the second World War, husband to a dead wife and father to a murdered daughter, woke before dawn, as he usually did. The stiffness was always worse in the morning, but he knew well enough to keep moving, even slowly. Coddling the pain only worsened the stiffness in his joints.

He checked the fire in the woodstove in the hospital ward, it was still going enough to warm the place. Most of the family was asleep, but he saw the gleam of the strange young man's eyes in the light of the lone lantern the family had left burning. In this light curly-haired Val seemed man and child and something fey and unfathomable. Joe swallowed, shivering, and turned his back to the young man.

Setting his own lantern on the small table near Eve Aubrey, he checked on his patient. The mother wasn't snoring any more, and had curled up on her side with her broken arm settled carefully alongside her. No new bleeding showed through the bandages. He was rather proud of how well he set and splinted the arm and stitched her up, though without an xray, in light of his dimming eyesight, he didn't have perfect confidence in the setting of the arm.

Of course, now he was short a SAM splint, but he'd get it back in time. Just hoped he didn't break something of his own before then.

Her obviously dyed deep red hair had mostly escaped the remnants of her braid and formed a thicket of brambles around her head, but the lump on the back of her skull had already started getting smaller. She would be in pain, but she would probably turn out fine.

Glancing over the rest of the room as Val silently surveyed him in turn, he saw the youngest, the young girl with straight, dark coffee hair curled up facing her mother, the larger calico cat snugly sleeping inside the curve of the child's body. Beyond her the teenage boy sprawled half off his own bed, his short straw hair standing up, his dark eyes with their deep-set bruised appearance moving beneath their lids as he dreamed. And past him, Val, and standing on Val's hip, the older, fiercer looking calico, staring back at Joe like Val himself was.

Without greeting them, he turned away and headed back to his room.

He made himself some coffee with a blue speckled enamelware percolator in the hearth of the fireplace in his own quarters, which is how he'd come to think of the doctor's room. It was set up comfortably enough with a bed, a desk, some small tables and chairs, and its own hearth.He'd been a medic in the War, so he felt fairly justified in using quarters in the hospital. When he'd arrived at Snelling, he'd used supplies from the quartermaster's shed to clear out the hospital chimneys to make sure they could be used, and then made himself at home here.

This was after he'd parked his truck in front of the gun shed and blocked the vehicle gate with barrels, just in case. He still felt that wall, the northwestern wall, was too short to be truly safe. Because of his fear a Red Flu rioter would jump up and climb the wall, Joe made certain to be very, very quiet. Those first days it had been clear that noise attracted their attention and their fury.

Over the next week as he'd stayed here alone at the Fort, he'd methodically cleaned all of the chimneys and explored the employee spaces to create a mental catalog of what supplies were there. It had a been a long week full of far too much thinking space.

He sat at the doctor's desk and sipped his coffee, eating some bread and margarine for breakfast. It was important to him not to think too much, not to think about his wife, dead of the original outbreak, or his daughter, murdered by a rioter back when the Red Flu returned.

Not to think about his son-in-law, crouching over the ruin he'd made of Joe's daughter, eating her, shaking and keening. Not to think of the fear that had nearly paralyzed Joe, not grief for his daughter, but fear that Jeff would see Joe standing there, that he would turn that strange rage on Joe.

Trembling, Joe set his coffee down for a moment. He put his head in his hands and sang softly to himself.

Out on a hike all day, dear
Part of the army grind
Weary and long the way, dear
But really I don't mind

I'm getting tired so I can sleep
I want to sleep so I can dream
I want to dream so I can be with you...”

As the trembling eased, he picked up his coffee, his mind cleared, his hands as sure as they ever were lately.

A quick, silent patrol showed no breaches of the Fort walls. Just as silently, he crept up the stairs to the walkway over the front gate and saw nothing moving there. From the top of the Round Tower, though, at the far west point of the Fort, he could see at least one person moving along Highway 5. From the aimless movements and the faintly audible sound of a human hooting, Joe deduced it was another of them. The rioters, the zombies, the infected.

He hurried down the circling stairs of the tower before the creature could see him. Dawn was bleaching the sky; a white sky meant more snow at some point today in addition to the thin layer of last night's fall remained on the ground.

Back in the hospital ward, he shook the teenager awake. “Got some work for you,” he whispered.

Okay,” the boy said sleepily, and fell back asleep.

Kid,” Joe said, shaking the boy more roughly. This time Will sat up.

I'm coming,” he said. “I'm awake.”

We need to bring more firewood up,” Joe told him. “There's some stacks down behind the commander's house. And we need to get some water going up here. There's a well, but it's unreliable, and I'm not betting on the safety of the water. Who knows how many bodies there are floating in the rivers down there like a stew.”

The kid stumbled after Joe, pulling on his far too lightweight jacket, and helped haul enough wood for the day up to the hospital. They stored it in the morgue.

I don't want to know these people, Joe thought, standing there in the morgue with a kid whose name he could not remember. I don't want to know anybody now.

There was still running water when I got here. I filled up a few barrels of it, and any container I could find, but they're all down in the reenactors area. I'll show you where and you can bring some containers up. Ground's slippery enough we can just slide them for now.”

Down in the employee area, Joe had emptied out many of the plastic bins each individual reenactor stored their costuming in and filled them with water before replacing their covers. As a result there were piles of clothing set on benches in the locker area. Will helped him push four of the water bins out of the building, then Will pushed them all up the hill toward the hospital while Joe pulled them with a rope, one at a time.

This water they stored in the doctor's supply room.

I'll give you some of my food, but I can't spare much. You could check the storage areas below the officer's barracks, there might be stuff from the store down there. Pretzels and candy. Later you and your mom will have to figure out how to bring more food in for you all, and replace some of mine.”

We'll do that, Mr Raymond – I mean, Joe,” Will said, though he was momentarily confused by this idea of not sharing what one had to share, as he knew his family would. His own instinct was to share what little they had if it would help.

Checked on your mom already. Grab her a crutch over there.” Joe pointed to some wooden, old fashioned crutches near the doctor's storage cabinet. “She'll be fine. She'll need more antibiotics on her injuries, the human mouth is filthy. I've left some on the counter there. Help her out. There's also my bottle of Advil for pain, but you'll have to replace that too.”

Will nodded.

After that you all will need to figure out where you'll stay. I don't care if you stay here in the Fort, it's safe enough, but you have to be quiet. Those things come running if there's too much noise. And you can't stay here in the hospital, we need to keep it open in case more injured show up.” Joe felt that last part was inspired. He didn't want the family close, and that was a decent excuse.

Where should we go?”

Don't care. Doesn't matter. Check it all out, and you know where the water and firewood are so you can get some for yourselves too. Of course -”

Yeah, we'll replace it,” Will said, a little sharply. The man may have been grumpy and stingy, but he'd treated Eve's wounds, so Will tried to keep his irritation private. He also knew, though, that the old man had not chopped any of this firewood, that it had all been here when he'd gotten here.

Joe gave Will a large basket with two loaves of bread, a chunk of hard cheese, margarine, four packets of powdered chicken noodle soup, and some rice.

There's dishes and pans over in the store,” Joe said, then ushered Will out and closed the door to his quarters.

Will stood there for a moment, his head cocked to the side like a confused puppy, then he shrugged and returned to his family.

Eve was slowly, achingly maneuvering herself into a sitting position when he came into the hospital ward room.

Morning,” she muttered as a greeting.

He gave her four of the Advil and the rest of Kat's flat soda from the night before.

Thanks, kid,” she said.

While she sat, getting her bearings, bleary eyed and low on caffeine, Will put more wood into the woodstove. “I'm gonna run to the store,” he said as he closed the stove door and stood back up.

Wait, what?” Eve asked.

The Fort store, remember, the mercantile? With the blue and white dishes you said would break if you looked at them funny?”

Oh, right, yes. The transferware. I love transferware.”

Whatever,” Will said, and grinned when she glared at him. “Be right back.”

Be quiet, and be careful.”

He nodded, and turned to the door.

Will – wait!” she called out, stopping him. “I, ah, I need to pee.”

Will went back to the doctor's supply area and grabbed one of the crutches to give to Eve. Handing it to her, he said “Just use one of the potty chairs here. I'll empty it when I get back.”

The commode?”

Whatever,” Will said, and smirked. He shut the door behind him as he stepped outside.

There were a lot of things on the shelf at the little one room store, many of which Will could not readily identify. Eve, he know, would know most of these things. Remembering her fear of breaking the pretty blue and white dishes, he gathered instead tin cups and glass and wooden dishes. He put them into a basket sitting on the floor big enough to hold two babies and possibly a small lamb. He took a knife for himself, then thought of Eve's broken kitchen knife and took one for her too. Will eyed the heavy cast iron pots, but figured that could wait until they were settled into different quarters.

Back at the hospital ward, he found Joe handing Eve a tin cup of coffee. The old man nodded at Will, then returned to his own quarters.

He was back again moments later with Leah, who had followed him home.

And again moments after that, with Cassie, who had also gone to his quarters to investigate.

This time he made sure both cats were accounted for in the hospital ward, then firmly shut the door between him and them.

Will fed the cats and took them outside to go to the bathroom. He emptied his mother's chamberpot, then Val's when Val woke up. Katrin grumpily took care of her own. Will fed them bread and butter, slices of cheese, and gave them tin cups of water, placing an extra cup on the floor for the cats.

We need to choose other quarters,” Will told his mother in a low voice. “Mr – ah, Joe – he said we need to keep the hospital ward clear in case more injured come in.”

Makes sense,” Eve said, clearly tired. “Did he say where he wanted us to go?”

He didn't care,” Will said.

Do... do you think it would be presumptuous to take the commander's house? If there's no one else in it right now?”

There's no one else here,” Will said. “If Mr Joe wanted the commander's quarters, he'd have taken them.”

Good point!”

Will knocked on Joe's door while Eve supervised the packing up of the dishes, the food, and the cats. “Mr Joe? We're going to move to the commander's house, ok?”

Fine, fine,” the old man said.

Joe watched them make their way across to the other side of the Fort. He was glad they chose the commander's house; even if the kids and that strange young man were loud at play, it would probably not be heard much beyond the fort.

Eve hobbled, using the crutch to avoid putting too much pressure on her sprained ankle. Will and Katrin each supported Val on one side as their brother wobbled after his mom. Val could still walk, though it tired him and he couldn't do so without sturdy support. Usually that would be his walker, but that was left behind at the rickety Victorian house. Once inside the commander's house, their breath visible in the air even inside, Eve and Val sat on a cushioned bench in the main hallway while Katrin and Will went back to gather more of their things.

Joe watched the two kids running back across the parade grounds, watched them hauling cats and supplies back to the commander's office. He saw Kat unfold and put out the folding wheelchair ramp, stored in the off season inside the commander's house.

Will and Kat ran back to the hospital ward, this time with a canvas sled Joe remembered being in the commander's basement. He watched them use the sled haul their blankets and the extra mattresses to their new quarters. He saw them use the sled to drag wood and two of the bins of water to the commander's house, using the wheelchair ramp to get it all inside.

Joe sighed, then made his way over to the commander's house. He knocked and entered without waiting for an invitation in. Eve was sitting on the bench directing traffic, Val was on the floor playing with the cats.

Didn't know if you had matches,” Joe said.

Joe showed Will how to properly light a fire in the parlor, and Kat, Val, and Eve moved into that room to warm up; Kat dragged the padded bench in for her mother as only small wooden chairs were in there. Val still had his backpack, with his Hot Wheels and other small toys, and Kat pulled her art supplies out of her own back pack.

Eve's head nodded in exhaustion. Joe frowned, and went off to light a fire in the master bedroom. “You rest yourself, Eve,” he said as he and Will helped her to the master bedroom and onto the small double bed. “Rest so you can heal and don't make my job difficult.”

She chuckled a little, and was asleep almost as soon as her son had drawn the blankets over her. With that, Joe nodded at Will, then returned to his own quarters without a word to Val or Katrin.

Ok, Katrin, I need you to come watch the front gate,” Will said.

Why? It's cold out there.”

Wear your jacket and wrap up in one of the wool blankets. I'm going to go get Val's chair and see if I can get some more of our supplies from the marina. I'll be quick, but I need you to open the gates for me when I get back. It's bright enough out now there shouldn't be many infected out and about, and I'll grab one of those iron-topped hoes from the store to use as a weapon.”

Will! You're not supposed to talk like that!”

Hoe, not ho. A hoe is a garden tool!”

Katrin eyed him suspiciously, but eventually nodded her agreement. While she wrapped herself up firmly in a brightly striped wool blanket, Will told Val to stay here and watch the cats and take care of Eve.

Mom sleepin'.”

I know,” Will said. “Just listen for her, and stay in here where it's warm.”

Val saluted him.

We need more walkie talkies,” Katrin whispered, her face pale, as she let her brother out of the Fort.

We'll get some,” Will said. “Now lock up behind me and go up to the walkway. I'll be right back with Val's chair, then I'll see about going down to get our food and supplies.”

Katrin saluted just as Val had, and the heavy red door swung shut between them. The sound of the locking sliding home was far louder and more ominous than Will liked.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ain't Nothing Gonna Break My Stride

Will did not even realize how quickly he was running as he hurried to his mother. She was unconscious and bleeding, the two Red Flu infected laying near her looked in worse shape. A broken knife Will recognized as her favorite kitchen knife lay near her leg.  The infected were twitching, but her stun gun was missing, probably fallen into the river.

She was breathing and had a pulse, so he quickly smashed the skulls of the infected with his baseball bat and tossed them into the river. By the time he got back from running up the trail to get Val's wheelchair to haul her up to the Fort, she was waking up, pushing herself to a sitting position with one hand, the other arm held close to her body.

Bastards,” she muttered. “Thank you, Will,” she added as he helped her up into the wheelchair. “I think my arm's broken. And my ankle is injured. And I might have gotten another brain injury.”

It means you still have a brain!” he said. “Right?”

When I feel better, I am going to kick your ass,” she grumbled.

He pushed the chair up the steep hill. By the time they reached the stairs, he was winded and his muscles were shaking. “I'm gonna have to drag you up the rest of the way,” he said.

No. Go see if there's a wool blanket in the Fort. That'll help. Go on, hurry, it's dark!”

He hurried up the stairs as best he could, and the old man let him back into the Fort.

Eve was already half way between the stairs and the Fort when he got back; she'd done a stubborn three-legged crawl to get there. She collapsed on to the blanket and Will dragged it toward the Fort. The old man called from the upper level of the front gate.

Hurry it! Movement southwest!”

Eve pushed with her good foot and Will pulled hard. He dragged her up over the threshold into the Fort and the old man slammed the door behind them, shooting the bolt home.

Hi. Eve Aubrey,” she said, sticking up her good hand.

Joe Raymond,” the old man said, and shook her hand.

Mom!” Kat shouted, running out of the gatehouse. She kneeled by her mother.

I'm just tired out,” Eve said. “It's not that bad, I'm just laying here because I'm tired.” She winced as she pulled herself to a sitting position.

Hospital ward,” the old man said, and he pointed toward a long building to the left of the front gate. Will and Kat dragged their mother over to that building and inside. Joe Raymond, taciturn old man, showed them the way into the main hospital room, then went to grab some lanterns.

It wasn't long before Eve was up on a hard, uncomfortable, short bed on the far side of the main hospital room, lanterns blazing all around the room, and a fire in the woodstove near the door. Will and Kat went back to the gatehouse to collect Val and the cats.

While the kids were gone, Joe spoke to Eve.

I can set that arm, but it's going to hurt like hell. I have rum or vodka.”

She studied his face, exhausted. He seemed bemused, a bit stern, but not unkind.

Think I need a second opinion?” she joked feebly.

I'd go with the rum,” he said. “Was a medic in the War. Started out here.”

Thank you,” she said.  He poured her a shot in a tin cup and she slugged it back.

The rum burned. She was vaguely aware of Will settling his brother on a tall backed wooden chair near the woodstove. Kat was bustling around, probably seeing to Cassie and Leah. Joe went off through the door farthest from Eve and came back shortly with a military looking first aid kit the size of a small suitcase.

Joe gave her another shot of rum in the tin cup. He motioned to Will to come hold his mother still.

She eyed the old man, eyed her son, then held the cup out for one more shot.

I will not scream, she thought to herself. If I scream, it will scare the kids.

She didn't scream.

After his mother fainted and Mr Raymond finished splinting and binding her arm, Will lay her carefully down on the bed. He watched as the old man cut her pants leg away and wrapped her swollen left ankle.

At least, Will thought, she'll be balanced. Sprained left leg, broken right arm.

Get me some water, and some rags. I've got bottled water down in the doctor's quarters at the end of this building. And there should be rags on a shelf between here and there, keep your eye out.”

Joe put a kettle on the stove. While he waited for Will to get back, he stared at Val.

Hungry,” Val said.

We left our granola bars behind,” Katrin said.

I see,” Joe said, still looking bemused. “I can feed you after I patch up your mom. Nothing terribly fancy.”

Mac cheese?” Val said hopefully.

I do have some hard cheddar, and some bread. Can't do macaroni and cheese, but I can do a grilled cheese sandwich and a soda. Soda's not cold though.”

Cheese mammich!” Val chirped, and rocked back and forth in place rather precipitously.

It's ok,” Katrin said when Joe Raymond's eyebrows shot up. “That's his happy dance.”

Will and Mr Raymond, as Will considered him in his head, got to work cleaning and patching Eve up. She had a nasty bump on her head and several bad scratches and bites. One bite on her unbroken arm required stitches, and Will was grateful his mother remained unconscious.

Probably wouldn't have given her rum if I'd seen the head lump,” Mr Raymond said. “She's breathing fine, though,” as she gave a loud snore.

After his mother was taken care of and sleeping cozily as could be on the short, hard bed, Will was sent over to the barracks to find and bring back extra mattresses and blankets to make the children more comfortable. He lay the extra mattresses on the three remaining beds on the same side of the room as Eve in the hospital ward.

They ate dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches with oat bread, with raisins on the side and room temperature soda to wash it all down. It was a testament to Katrin's hunger that she was willing to eat the food; her sensory issues played havoc with her willingness to eat most kinds of food. Will had been certain she'd only eat the raisins and drink the soda.  She loved grilled cheese, but it had to be white bread and american cheese, and had to be served with tomato soup.  At least, that's how it was before.

Potty now,” Val said urgently.

To hell with it. I'll show you the bathrooms tomorrow. Have him use the commode there and I'll show you where to empty it,” Mr Raymond said.

Me too,” Kat said. There were two commodes in the hospital ward, Katrin dragged one around so the high back was facing the room. Afterward she and Will carried the pots to a drain Mr Raymond showed them just outside of the hospital building.

I'm over in the doc's room at the end here,” Mr Raymond said abruptly, then turned to leave the Brood and their sleeping mother alone for the night.

Thank you, Mr Raymond,” Will said.

Just Joe,” he said, and walked off.

Even though they were safe behind thick walls, Will wedged chairs against the doors in their room. Katrin nodded approvingly, then checked the sturdiness.

Kat took the bed closest to her mother. Will put Val in the bed closest to the warm stove, and took the bed between his siblings.

Phone call,” Val said. From his jacket pocket he pulled out the bright yellow walkie talkie.

It took Will a moment to figure out how to use the thing. “Gary?” he asked into the microphone. He waited a couple minutes and tried again. “Gary?”

Gotcha!” came a fairly chipper voice. “Gary here. Is this Mother Eve and family?”

This is Will. Her son. She's injured, but we're at the Fort. It's safe and clear here, but the route here does have problems.”

Of course it does. What did you find?”

Well,” Will said. “We tried to come across the Highway 5 bridge, and something up there is burning, and the bridge is damaged. I don't think it's passable. We canoed over to Pike Island and walked up to the Fort. Pike Island had at least three infected.”

Had means you took care of them?”

Those three, yes. There may be more. There's a man here who is some kind of medic, he took care of Mom. He said the infected move around over here at night.”

Ok. Good to know. I'll check in with you again tomorrow evening. What time is it, 9 PM? Tomorrow at 9 PM. Right?”

Tomorrow at 9 PM,” Will agreed.

The Brood slept, if not like the dead, then at least very deeply. Cassie curled up against Eve's belly, and Leah sprawled across Katrin. Beyond the thick stone walls dancing with lantern light, the season's first snow began to fall.