Saturday, July 26, 2014

We're In The Pipe, Five By Five

Travis Green had made a meticulous plan, but as usual, Ben Graham changed it on the fly, and Travis had followed his lead. Ben had enthusiasm and a certainty of soul that made nay-saying difficult, and Travis, mild and usually quiet, tended to save his conflict energy for serious concerns. Travis lacked the formal education his friends had; he was a skilled handyman and autodidact, but sometimes lacked confidence in his own skills.
Amanda Johnson, the third member of the trio which had been formed originally in kindergarten, paid careful attention to what Travis had to say, but she too tended to follow Ben. Ben had no interest in leading and rarely seemed to realize that was what he was doing, and the other two hardly considered themselves to be following, but Travis knew in practice, that's what the situation was.

They'd planned to be out of town and find some cabin to stay in, according to Travis's roadmap of the apocalypse, as Ben called it, but he'd decided to swing by Gary's apartment first and now they were staying in the Cities and working to help other survivors instead of focusing singly on their own survival. Which was just like Ben – goodhearted, optimistic, and not always completely rational.

Ok,” Gary said. “You're heading over the Ford Parkway bridge and then going south to the Aubrey Encampment. You'll let me know when you arrive, I'll follow within the week once I have Benjamin the Asshole.” Gary called the Fort the Aubrey Encampment because aside from these three kids, as he saw them, there were few people left he knew he could trust. He'd known them since they were small.  When he'd had a house down along Fairview, Ben had frequently mowed the lawn for him. Benjamin the Asshole Cat was named after Ben, on a suggestion from Amanda a good eight years ago.

We've packed archery supplies and everything we'd planned to take with us on the bike trip to Utah next year, since we won't be needing it for that anymore,” Amanda said. “And we'll stop at Lunds and get whatever human and cat food we can find, barring any trouble from biters.”

The biters eat anything that smells like food that they can get their claws on,” Gary said. “There may not be anything but canned goods and dried food. And because it did have food, I am a little worried Lunds is being used as a den.”

We'll assess when we get there,” Ben said with absolute confidence. “We'll grab a bag of dog food if we can too. We have room on the bike trailers and we may run into a pet dog or something.” His yearning was apparent.

Amanda play-slugged his shoulder. “Poor Ben needs a puppy.”

He play-slugged her back. “Mandy needs some feminine hygiene products.”

That doesn't even make sense, you dick.”

It was a pretty bad comeback,” Travis agreed. “But he's not a dick. Dicks are good.”

Ben play-slugged him then, and Gary put on a show of separating them all before dropping the fire ladder off the roof of the apartment building into the parking lot between the apartments and the garage where the bikes were set up and ready to go. They'd barricaded the entire bottom two floors of the building aside from a cat-sized opening in a ground floor apartment Gary was hoping to lure Benjamin in through. This way Gary could leave cat food out and leave a door open for his cat and not risk a much more dangerous visitor. Now the ladder from the roof was the only way in and out.

They had packed a two way radio set that would work better than the walkie talkies, though they had one of those too, from the same set Gary had shared with the Aubrey family. Along with the two way radio set with ten radios that Gary had found in one of the neighboring apartments, they had a solar charger to keep it powered and recharge the handsets. The three friends intended to set up a base camp at Fort Snelling and make it a safe place for other survivors to gather.

Eve Aubrey's the mother there,” Gary told Travis as first Amanda, then Ben, swung over the edge of the roof and down the ladder at just before eleven AM, as the sun shown brightly in a sky with no trace of the snowstorm Gary's old bones said was coming. “Follow her lead, she kept three children alive in all this. Make sure Ben listens to her, ok?”

She shall be our glorious leader,” Travis said solemnly, and Gary pretended to shove him off the roof.

Just do what you can and if there needs to be a boss, let the one with years of experience bossing be that boss, ok?” he said as Travis started down the ladder.

All hail Eve the Glorious,” Travis said. “I getcha. We'll help her and get Camp Aubrey ready for any survivors.”

“Ok. There's a midwife out there who's been in contact with Rob, I'm going to send them over as soon as you make sure the encampment is safe from any potential biters coming over the walls. She's got a couple pregnant sorts with her.”

All right, ladies!” Travis said, and Gary wagged a warning finger at him.

Get off my plane.”

The temp seemed to be hovering at just above freezing. The trio checked their gear one last time and headed up Ford Parkway, biking right down the middle of the street. There was a city bus on its side, but it was only blocking a single lane, and there were only a few cars here and there on the road.

Ben stopped himself from whistling, a long standing, cheerful habit. Now it would just attract undue attention, though he personally felt it wouldn't be long until he could whistle again – he was just waiting until the biters all froze to death, and here in late Minnesota fall, it wouldn't be long. He suspected the storm Gary insisted was coming would be the end of the remaining rioters who hadn't succumbed to starvation or other rioters. As far as he was concerned there was no real need to move to Camp Aubrey, but since there weren't any rotting bodies there and he'd always wanted to camp out at Fort Snelling anyway, he supported the plan. His original objective for wanting to camp out at Fort Snelling was to do some ghost hunting; he'd never seen a ghost and he figured if someone was going to see one, an old fort would be a great place to look. Maybe to spook his friends a few times real good, and he could probably still do that. Plus, he loved helping people, and surely this mother and her three kids could use help and protection.

Just call me Ben the Constable of Camp Aubrey, he though to himself, even though in all honesty that job would suit Amanda way more than himself. She had the training in martial arts, she was stern, and she was quicker to respond to wrongdoing than Ben was.

Ok, he thought. Constable Amanda, Quartermaster Travis because God knows how much Travis likes to organize and make sure everything is fairly distributed. And Ben shall have the job of... Ben can be... Ben can be a ranger! Like Aragorn. Except I'm clearly more likely to refer to myself in third person.

The parking lot to Lunds was empty, the doors broken open. Either the biters had been through here for food and fun bitey times, or other survivors had looted supplies. Ben hoped it was the survivors and that they'd left stuff behind for the trio to find.

They pulled into the parking lot in silence and parked the bikes inside the doors, out of sight. Amanda pointed to herself and to the right, then pointed Ben to the middle and Travis to the left side of the store. She held her machete in her dominant left hand; Travis had bear mace and Ben had a baseball bat at hand.

I really need a sword,” he whispered.

Amanda held her finger up to her lips to tell him to hush until they'd swept the store and made sure there were no threats.

Remnants of blood spatter and body parts were in evidence in only one aisle, the rest of the store was simply trashed and mostly empty. Even the pet foods aisle was torn up, only toiletries and paper goods avoided most damage. The dry pet foods had been torn open and eaten by either rioters or hungry former pets.

Reeks in here,” Ben whispered with his hand over his mouth and nose.

Oh yeah. Like rotten cabbage, death, and unbathed animals,” Amanda agreed.

You're turned on now, aren't you.” 

She slugged his arm.

Travis rolled his eyes and started gathering up canned pet food. “I can fit a few cases of this in my trailer,” he said quietly. “Why don't you get some canned goods for people, Amanda, and Ben can go get dried food, rice and pasta if any remains.”

He said remains,” Ben said, and Amanda slugged his arm again. The two went out of the pet food aisle slugging each other in the arm, back and forth.

They all met at the front of the store as they finished up.

I got matches and lighters, some toilet paper, over the counter meds, and a bunch of canned stuff from Amanda's aisle,” Ben said. “All the dried stuff was torn into.”

I can't carry any more food,” Amanda said. “I'll be too heavy and won't be able to go very fast – but I did get a pretty decent amount of canned goods packed in, including some raviolis that I am calling dibs on.”

Once we're set up we can forage more,” Travis said. “We just need to get settled at the encampment and make it safe for others. Then we'll have to bring in as much food and supplies as we can before winter really sets in.”

We'll need wood,” Amanda said.

You heard it, Mandy needs wood,” Ben said, and was slugged.

We will, and we'll have to figure out how to get it without making tons of noise, we should gather deadfall. And maybe we can get some space heaters that run off propane or something.”

Then we can die a peaceful death in our sleep,” Ben said.

No, you idiot, there are some made to be used in tents. I think,” she said.

We're past noon,” Travis reminded them. “We need to go. It gets dark early.”

And they mostly come out at night. Mostly,” Ben said.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wibbling Away

Katrin stomped around in her favorite black boots. They were off-brand leather moccasin boots with long fur all over the leg part that came halfway up to her knees; they weren't as warm as good winter boots, but she loved them fiercely. There was at least a faux-shearling liner to keep her feet warm today, when the sun was out and quickly melting the snow into slush; and they were pretty waterproof, though she'd managed to get them soggy anyway.

She was making a drawing of Sonic the Hedgehog in the snow with her footprints, across the parade grounds in the center of the Fort. Her brother and her mom were napping, Val curled up with his mother, his belly full of buttered bread and candy. Eve had taken some water, but couldn't get interested in food. Katrin felt as long as they were resting, she was better off stomping around out here in the outside, where she could listen for Mr Joe's truck and run over to let the guys in.

Several time she heard something that might have been movement, and just in case ran to the top of the Round Tower, but nothing was coming up the road toward the Fort. Just to be sure, she also climbed up on to the Half Moon Battery at the easternmost part of the Fort and looked all around. From here she could see a vast spread of the entire Twin Cities area, with black smoke still rising from parts. With her feet here, on the very old stones of a Fort built in a different era, she felt almost like she was looking through time itself.

This fort is all wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey,” she announced to the woods below. “And I, Katrin Aubrey, am a Time Lord.”

Far below the Fort, along the trails, she saw what looked like a pack of dogs running toward the south. At first she mistook them for wolves and shivered, feeling even more like the Fort was a-sail in Time, but when she looked more carefully she could see they were pet dogs, or had been. Before.

Kat slushed back through the melting snow to the front door of the house, and walked in as quietly as she could to check on her family and her cats. Eve and Val were both still asleep, Val's curly hair barely showing from behind Eve as he cuddled beneath the blankets on the side of the bed closest to the wall. Eve's cheeks were red.

The preteen found her cat, Leah, sleeping in front of the fire in Eve's room, and Cassie up in the window in the parlor. She set out a little food for them, just out of gratitude that they were safe, and hurried back outside, leaving a small trail of puddled footprints that would surely have aggravated Eve if she was feeling better.

This time, up on top of the Round Tower so she could both check her progress on Sonic and look for her brother and Mr Joe and the truck, she actually saw the truck coming up from the visitor's center parking lot area. It was moving very slowly and almost unsteadily, and she knew instinctively that her brother was driving.

Probably a mistake,” she said under her breath, and ran down to open the vehicle gate after making sure nothing resembling a rioter was anywhere she could see.

She had several funny things to say planned out to make fun of her brother's driving, but fell silent when she saw Will pull in with no sign of Mr Joe, Will's face stricken and grey.  She closed the vehicle door in silence.

Will pulled up beside the gun shed and parked the truck. He got out very slowly, closed the door and leaned against it, his forehead on the cold metal of the truck door.

Mr Joe?” Katrin asked softly.
There were zombies at the pharmacy. They... they got him,” Will said, his voice thick with tears. Kat ran over and wrapped her arms around him and let him cry for a moment, just a moment, before he manfully stood fully upright and patted her on the back.

Let's get Mom her meds,” he said. “Let's unpack.”

Night fell, and Will taught himself how to make toast in a fireplace for Val and Kat. He placed the bread slices directly on the surface of a hot, dry pan, flipping them carefully with his fingers and only singing himself once. When the toast was done, he fried up a can of Spam and made cheese cubes of the last of the cheese. The last loaf of bread was nearly gone, and Eve was too ill to eat, and more worrisome for Val, too ill to cook.

For dessert Katrin passed around hard candy and bottles of fancy soda from the gift shop she'd kept cool on the little landing outside the back door of the house.

There's a big kitchen in the basement,” she said as Will poked at the fire. She wasn't sure what to do with the used dishes, so she gathered them all up into one of the plastic bins. “It's got a real oven in the fireplace where people used to bake things like bread.”

I don't think we can bake bread – we don't have any yeast.”

Also, remember? You can bake bread in the dutch ovens in the fire – Mom did that at a pow-wow before.”

No yeast,” Will repeated.

We could make fry bread.”

Fry bread!” Val chirped. “I love it fry bread! Make mine cheese on top!”

We're out of cheese,” Kat reminded him.

Oh, no, my cheeses,” Val said mournfully.

Joe might still have some in his quarters,” Will said after a moment, and his siblings fell silent too.

Val finally cleared his throat. “Joe like me have cheeses,” he said firmly.

He wouldn't want us to waste it,” Will agreed. “I'll go see what we can use in the morning.”

Kat tucked Val in while Will emptied the commode out into one of the modern visitor's bathrooms; the one in the building used by the former employees had a shower in it and Will wondered if he could rig something up so they could shower there instead of having to sponge bathe.

You read me story,” Val demanded. “I want Where Wild Things Are.”

I don't have that book,” Kat said. “We left it at the apartment.”

You get me new one?”

I'll try,” she said, and kissed his forehead.

You tell me story. About Sharknado.”

Will checked his mother and gave her another dose of the antibiotics and pain meds, then went up to his room. He pulled the walkie talkie out and pinged Gary.

Young Will!” Gary said through the static just as Will was dozing off, exhausted.

Gary. Hi. We're here. Joe has been killed – the medic. He died today.”

I'm sorry to hear that, man. I'll have three young folks coming your way the day after tomorrow, though, you won't be out there alone long. How's Mother Eve?”

Her fever's going down, I think, but she's still pretty ill. We have the medicine for her though.”

Still not Red Flu?”

Definitely not. She was bitten, human bites are filthy.”

At least it's not like the movies – we don't turn from being bitten. And I do have some good news, for me at least. I saw Benjamin the jerk cat today! I'm tempting him into the apartment with food. I have to be careful because the biters eat the cat food if they smell it, and then they're crawling all over here again. But as soon as I have Benjamin, I'll be over too. I've got some solar power rechargers and stuff like that. Not a lot, but enough to recharge some batteries. And power the radios.” A long moment of silence followed. “Will? Will Aubrey?”

Will snored softly, the sound not picked up by the walkie talkie.

Will?” Gary tried one more time. Katrin heard him as she came in to check on her brother and tell him she intended to curl up with Eve for the night. She covered her sleeping brother up and picked up the walkie talkie.

He fell asleep,” she said loudly into the hand-held device, holding it in front of her. Will snored through the disturbance.

Well, goodnight, fair maiden, and keep safe.”

You too,” she said, giggling a little.