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.


  1. Now I have something to like about Mondays! Wonderful story from a great storyteller.