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.”

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