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.

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