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.