Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Up Where We Belong

It's gonna be ok, the kids are on their way, buddy,” Gary said to Benjamin the Asshole Cat. Benjamin was flattened against the back of his cat carrier on the floor beside Gary's slumping body. Benjamin did not answer; he seemed to understand his silence was important. The radio slid out of Gary's hand and bumped down on the floor. Probably best to have it off anyway right now. Travis knew where he was.

He'd found his way into an unlocked apartment, but it was locked now. He could hear scrabbling on the other side of the door and the kids weren't going to be able to come until morning. For now he had Benjamin and himself covered against the cold with many blankets from inside the apartment; inside the nest of blankets that covered him and insulated Benjamin he was snapping packets of hand warmers now and then to lend more heat.

There was some blood, but he'd managed to bandage himself mostly with towels and other things. His leg was almost certainly broken, but that wasn't the worst injury. At this moment, though, he felt no real pain; he felt even a little euphoric and distant from himself.

They don't even have a snowmobile,” he whispered regretfully to Benjamin. Benjamin hissed a little and Gary leaned over more to look at his cat, still bunched up at the back of his carrier, occasionally hissing toward the apartment door.

They can't get in. Can't do anything about the deadbolt,” he said, trying to reassure Benjamin, but Benjamin wasn't very savvy about deadbolts either. “And we're up high enough they can't climb in windows. And this place is locked up tight now. Even the windows.”

Without the snowstorm obscuring the sky, the moon was bright enough to light this apartment's living room. The previous occupants had probably not been here for long; there was still a box labeled “Shit For Kitch” on the counter just visible inside the kitchen door. The art that appeared to be earmarked for the walls was standing, framed, against the walls instead. Their taste ran to 80s style drawings of women eating popsicles, not Gary's personal choice.

I do like popsicles, though,” he told Benjamin. Benjamin growled at the apartment door. On the other side of the door, the scratching continued, and their opponents hissed back. “I'm just glad it's not a dropped ceiling. That's a design mistake.”

Benjamin growled again.

Just my opinion, you fart. I'm not an expert or anything. That was Jan's job.”

Gary didn't know if he was cold, or if what he was feeling was the wetness of more blood. He didn't want to check yet. Instead he popped another hand warmer and stuffed it down by his feet, bumping his broken leg and sending shrapneled blasts of pain along his nerves.

Fuck this,” he gasped. “And fuck hanging ceilings, you know what, Benjamin, just fuck, fuck, fuck them.”

In the back of his mind he could hear his mother's voice from decades ago, long before he'd ever met the kids since his mother died when was barely a man himself. “Gary Stuart, do you think you've sworn enough?”

I meant fudge, Ma.”

He couldn't tell at first if the enraged howl was from Benjamin or the opponents on the other side of the door.

And fudge them too. Ridiculous. Swear to god, ridiculous. Think I'm pretty hurt, Ma. And one of those fuck- I mean – fudging bas... bakers bit me. Fucking fudgers.”

He could feel his mother's affection and disapproval across time and for a moment, in his mind's eye, he could see her as clearly as if she was across the breakfast table again. It had been years since he'd clearly seen her face, and longer still since her cheeks had been full and pink like now. Or then. Whatever time he was seeing her now.

You'd have liked Jan,” he told her. “Right, Benjamin? Jan? You'd have liked him too. But he passed so fast, not even a decade after Ma. I mean she'd have liked Jan if he was a girl. Or something.”

Benjamin settled down, coming to the front of the cat carrier to be nearer Gary, and Gary realized the hissing and scrabbling and howling on the other side of the door had stopped.

Gave up or went to bed, you think?”

He dug in his backpack to count how many hand warmers he had left. He lost count, started over, dropped them, picked them up, lost count; so many times he couldn't even keep count of how many counts he'd done.

Enough,” he said, and knew his voice was slurred a bit. “Enough for the night. We'll be warm,” he assured Benjamin. “One more right now.”

He woke up with a start. The scrabbling at the door was back; he had no idea how long he'd dozed for. His head felt muzzy and strange and weirdly clear of distractions or the world itself.

Benjamin. Benji, you here?”

He heard Benjamin meow at him, felt the rough tongue brushing his fingers and realized he'd stuck his fingers in through the grate of the cat carrier.

You are a good boy and I love you,” Gary said. He wasn't sure if his eyes were open or not. “Don't let anyone tell you different, you little asshole. You are perfect.”

He felt around, his vision clearing or his eyes opening – he wasn't certain, and popped on another hand warmer for his feet and one for beneath Benjamin's cage, tucking another up against his own chest.

Shouldn't sleep. Bleeding, still, I think.”

He dreamed of Jan. Jan died nearly twenty years ago now, and while Gary had found occasional companionship, he'd never wanted to replace Jan.

Shoulda done more right by you,” he told Jan over breakfast in their sunlit breakfast nook. Their apartment was so tiny at that time there was no dining room. Jan answered, his face kind, but Gary could not catch what he was saying. He remembered this day. This was the first day after they learned Jan was sick. This was the first day they'd woken up knowing Jan would die.

They were in the living room now. This room ran the width of the entire apartment and had windows on two sides. Jan had painted a Japanese-influenced version of a Fellowship of the Ring book cover on the wall without windows, they had a chrome and plush sofa beneath the mural.

Ben thinks this couch is hilarious. He grins every time he sees this picture of us.” And the living room shifted just a little, so that it was that picture, Gary and Jan in shorts and tube socks, running shoes and ringer shirts, mustaches and long hair, arms along the back of the couch, beers in hand. Jan had just begun to become so terribly thin and tired in that picture, but they were happy that day. Jan wore neon green sunglasses that reminded Gary of miniblinds. “I told the kids you were my room mate. I did, at first.”

He could feel himself cry even in the dream.

You deserved better from me.”

He could feel Jan squeezing his hand, and was struck by the realness of that presence; Jan's warmth, Jan's scent, his closeness, his touch.

That little apartment was tucked, in this dream, into his mother's house. The breakfast nook jutted out over the back yard. His mother was here somewhere, sorting through her fabric scraps to make the patterned little bears she made from her leftover quilting fabrics.

It was a sweet, sweet memory of a thing that never was, his happiest grown up home and his childhood haven all together.

He heard Ben calling his name.

Just bring it in and put it on the table,” he said about the grocery shopping Ben was holding in his mind.

He's hurt really bad,” Amanda said. “Gary, wake up.”

There's a lot of blood,” Ben said.

Let's get him bandaged.”

Look in the bag,” Gary said drowsily.

Ben and Amanda looked at each other.

For the bandages.”

Gary, you don't have any bandages in your bag,” Ben said.

With the groceries. You brought them in.” Gary woke up as he finished the sentence. “Ben! Amanda! Where's Travis?”

He's throwing those raccoons outside the building in case any of their buddies come looking for you,” Amanda said, briskly. She was wrapping more towels around the tear in his side, strapping them down with ace bandages from this apartment's bathroom.


He's right here, Gary, we've got him.” Ben held up the carrier with his namesake cat inside.

Broke my leg in the crash. Hit something under the snow, a wire or something. It dragged my skis. Threw me. Got cut up.”

Yeah, I can see that,” Amanda said. She was bracing his leg with pieces of broken chair and wrapping it, too. He could tell it probably hurt.

The raccoons – they bite you?” Ben asked.

Couple times. Think I killed one slamming the door on it.”

Yeah, there's a half eaten one out there. Freakin' Red Flu raccoons, I never thought...” Ben said, trailing off.

Travis came in then, and he and Amanda bundled Gary up in the blankets tightly and lifted him between them. Ben walked in front of them carrying Benjamin's carrier in one hand and an axe in the other.

Ben,” Gary said as they lifted him in to a minivan sitting in the snowless wake of a snowplow. Ben set Benjamin beside him and leaned in.

I'm here, Gary.”

Amanda nodded to Ben, indicating he could ride in the back with Gary. They'd removed the seats and placed a mattress back here for him; Ruth had instructed them to make sure his head was higher than his feet, so part of the mattress was propped up on another rolled up mattress. Amanda took the driver's seat in the van while Travis headed back to the plow to make sure their path back was clear.

Ben,” Gary said. “I loved Jan.”

I know you did. I know you do,” Ben said. He squeezed Gary's hand and for a moment, Gary was reminded of Jan, in the dream, doing the same.

Jan would have loved you kids.”

Gary's eyes drifted shut, his face exhausted.

Ruth, Eve, and Will were waiting for them when they returned to the Fort. Travis parked their new snowplow, gathered from the transit center near the Fort, in the parking lot with the minivan, the truck, and Ruth's car. Eve stayed to cover the vehicles with the tarps and to grab Benjamin's carrier to bring him into the Fort.

The rest of them somberly carried Gary's body down to rest, for the moment, in the bottom of the South Battery.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

All Along The Watchtower

Amanda and the young men shoveled quickly, despite the ongoing storm. They had plenty of cold weather gear and bundled up well, working in the early morning dark to get to Eve's house before breakfast. Ben took a detour past the hospital to dig Ruth and her charges out.

I hate shoveling in a storm,” Amanda shouted at Travis.

It'll be worse later if we don't.”

She muttered something he couldn't hear and kicked the snowbank they were building.

They reached Eve's door just as Katrin and Will came bumbling sleepily out, shovels in hand. The kids were in mismatched winter things – layers of wool socks and large boots from the mercantile within the fort, wool coats and cloaks, layers of modern clothes and re-enactor clothes, military looking hats tugged down on their heads and itchy looking mittens on their hands. They and Amanda quickly cleared a path to the bathroom, and then up through the porches toward the hospital again, making a connected route with Ben's trail, so the women could reach the bathrooms too. They all trundled back to Eve's, except Ben, who stopped and checked in with Ruth, since her quarters were now lit with lanterns.

“We're fine,” Ruth said, pulling Ben in and shutting the door behind him to keep the cold air from whipping in through the partially open door. “Girls aren't even awake yet, and we have food you gave us. But swing by after breakfast when you need more help shoveling, Haley and I can both help.”

Want me to check the fireplaces?” Ben asked. “And do you have wood?”

I can light a fire,” Ruth said, staring up at Ben, her dark face bland. She wore her hair short and it was spiked on one side from sleep; she was wearing Grumpy Bear pajamas. “And we have enough wood for today.” Ben felt a bit intimidated and wasn't sure why.

“It's no trouble, ma'am,” he said.

Have at it, then. I'll take care of this one, but the girls' fire, the main room, and the end room could be done. If you don't need me today, Daria and I will probably see if we can't make the first room at the far end into a birthing room.”

“If you need anything, we'll do what we can. We can haul furniture, scrub, anything you need.”

“I get it, kid,” she said, with a wry smile. “I'll keep you posted. You're like an eager puppy, you know that?”

It's not news,” he agreed with affability that only underscored her own statement.

At Eve's house, crowded into the kitchen with a horde of children and a toddler, the adults and semi-adults worked out a plan for the day. Eve passed around pancakes, syrup, and apple cinnamon tea; she was nearly out of herbal tea.

Food's a problem,” she said. “Or will be, soon. And the storm's not over. We'll need the entrances kept clear and the top of the Round Tower, at least. And furniture will need shifting around here, and sounds like at the hospital too.”

Food, furniture, weather,” Travis agreed. “And safety. I'm afraid all the work we did with the razor wire is useless unless we bare the wire again. I suspect there's a plow in one of the outbuildings, though, which will help with that.”

And wood. We'll need wood soon,” Ben said.

I brought my snowshoes,” Amanda said. “I'll search the outbuildings. Maybe we'll get lucky and there's a chainsaw or something so we can cut some trees down if we have to.”

There's plows up near the train station,” Ben said. “Remember? We saw them coming in past the Mall last year.”

I remember,” Amanda said, pulling a face. “You nerded out like a toddler. No offense,” she added to Baby.

Ben thought of slugging her arm, but decided not to, since so many children were watching.

Owen and Aiden are old enough to help with the shoveling here in the fort,” Eve said. “And they have winter clothes.”

“I shoveled my parents' walk all the time,” Aiden said solemnly. The boy, thin, freckled, his dark hair permanently mussed, seemed terribly serious most of the time. Eve had yet to hear him laugh, though to be fair it had only been a few hours since they'd arrived. She wiped Baby's mouth off with a hanky and let the wriggling toddler down, Baby's white blonde fuzzy hair swaying enthusiastically with her every movement. Baby bolted off for the parlor and Samson followed her directly. Val looked up from his second plate of pancakes, looked after the toddler and the dog, then pulled himself upright with his walker and followed them out of the kitchen.

“All right,” Ben said, cheerfully. “The boys, Kat, and Will are in charge of shoveling. Travis and I will hump furniture around -” he stopped, interrupted by Kat's burst of laughter. He groaned. “Ok, Travis and I will schlepp furniture around as needed by Mother Eve and Medic Ruth. And Amanda will check out the outbuildings. After that, Will, Amanda, Travis and I will clear space around the Fort and clear the razor wire.”

Samson will go with you,” Owen told Amanda, with a big gab-toothed smile. “He stays close by. He can help you stay safe. He can smell the zombies.”

Thank you, Owen,” Amanda said. “And I just realized, we're gonna need a school. After we are done clearing snow, we'll have to have a look at the schoolhouse.”

If there's a plow, we should see if we can make a path to the spring. We'll need water,” Will said. “Joe has a hand pump we can use.”

We'll need to do that soon, yes. And if we can get to the big plows by the train station, we can plow a path to Home Depot again,” Travis said.

I'll look after Val and Baby, move furniture around, and start dinner so we can all have hot food. And I'll go check in with Ruth and see what she needs that I can do,” Eve said.

There's canned dog food down in the commissary. Not much, but enough to get Samson through a few days,” Travis said, nodding toward the plate near the hearth where Samson had wolfed down his pancakes. “If you want, we can head down there now and you can see what you need in the supplies I have organized down there.”

You'll need to go with him so he can update his lists,” Ben said. “Travis will become physically ill if he doesn't have an updated list of what we have and what we need.”

Or if you move his arranged supplies around,” Amanda said, affectionately.

Or if question his system and then don't pay attention to his reasons,” Ben said.

Or if you do pay attention but try to talk him out of some of them,” Amanda said.

He's a control freak, we're saying,” Ben said.

Come on, guys,” Travis said, sighing at last. “You guys want to organize this stuff?”

Ignore them,” Eve said, laughing. “Bundle up, kids. Kat, Will, help Aiden and Owen get ready, then go shovel – all the paths, and routes around the Fort, to the Round Tower, down to storage, to the woodpiles, you get it. I'll check on Baby and Val, and we'll go do supplies, ok, Travis?”

Amanda stood up too, and whistled for Samson, who came running back to the kitchen. “Oh, you're a good boy, you are!” she said, ruffling his fur along his head and ruff. “Wanna come look for a plow with Aunty Amanda?” Samson wagged his tail at her tone.

Kat cleared her throat and stood. “Come on, guys, the thing.” The group gathered in a circle, Owen and Aiden joining curiously. “Go team Aubrey!” she said happily, and they all pushed their fists together.

Go team Aubrey!”

After an early dinner, the Fort plowed and shoveled out, the snow dwindling to single flakes occasionally sputtering down, furniture moved and other chores tended to, the Aubreys and the new children and Ben gathered in the Aubrey's parlor. Travis had gone off to patrol the Fort and gather any further supplies he could find to drag down to the commissary. Amanda, exhausted, had checked in with The Preggers and their minder, as she called them, her little school set up as best she could, and then gone off to her quarters to sleep.

The battery-powered lanterns were in full force; Ben had given the Aubreys a solar battery charger that Eve kept in the parlor window, facing south as best she could arrange it, since the windows there faced west. Owen was building with Lincoln Logs with Val and Baby, who was chewing a Lincoln Log happily and knocking down as many as she managed to stack. Will, Aiden and Kat were playing go fish at the little table tucked under the window on the northern side of the room. Robbie Rocket was on the radio on the mantle, playing 60s music interspersed with updates about the Cities and the storm and the survivors. Eve and Ben were playing cribbage on a little parlor table between their two chairs and singing along with the radio.

It's so peaceful tonight I almost can't believe it's the end of the world,” Eve said to Ben, raising an eyebrow.

Never fear,” Ben said, making a show of adjusting his belted jeans. “I'll protect you, pretty lady.” His spaghetti Western accent was exaggerated and bad.

Ben,” she said softly, smiling up at him through her lashes.

Yes, ma'am,” he said, feeling like he should blush without being sure if he was or not.

I am old enough to be your mother,” she said sternly, her hazel eyes sharp. “And immune to the charms of wayward youths.”

Aw, I wasn't serious,” he muttered.

Just making sure,” she said sweetly, laying her cards down and moving her pegs. “Amanda is your own age,” she observed, rearranging the cards in her hand.

Yeah,” he said, smiling. “But I got a hunch -”

Just a hunch?” Eve asked, eyebrow quirking. “Travis?”


She doesn't have that hunch yet,” Eve said. “Travis is going to need to make his feelings clear, or she's never going to realize he's interested.”

I know!” Ben said. “I'm trying to figure out something.”

They were interrupted by an urgent knock on the door.

I hope that's not more children,” Ben said, standing with Eve as they heard the person come in and stomp the snow off just inside Eve's door.

Oh, lord,” Eve said.

They met Travis at the door to the parlor.

Gary's in trouble,” Travis said, deeply upset and in a hurry. “We need to go help him right now. He's hurt and halfway here, trapped inside an apartment building at 46th and Minnehaha. He just managed to get me on the radio. He's bleeding and he has Benjamin with him. We gotta go help him.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cat's In The Cradle

You tell me story,” Val said in the dark of the children's room as the wind rattled the windows beyond the shutters.

It's too dark to read,” Kat said from her bed on the other side of the room. The double bed that had been in this room had been moved up into the extra room upstairs. Now each of the room occupants had their own single bed on either side of the fireplace, and Val's commode stood at the end of his bed. Now that he had a walker, though, he preferred to use the bathroom with the real toilet. He couldn't flush it, but it still felt better to him than the commode. His bed was tucked beneath the window, Katrin's was along the inside wall. At the end of her bed was a trunk with some toys, then the little dresser they both shared with some of their books on top and a battery-powered lantern, which was currently off. There was a candlestick on the mantle with a careful line of Hot Wheels beside it, but it wasn't lit; the only light came from the slow-dancing fire in the fireplace between the children.

No, you tell me story. 'Bout Todd and a sharknado.”

I don't want to tell sharknado stories anymore, Val,” she said, aggravated. “I've told you like four already.”

Five times.”

Fine! Then I will never tell you any sharknado stories ever again, do you hear me?”


Just outside their door, Eve grinned to herself, smothering her chuckle with her hand. She headed to the kitchen where Will had been washing himself up with some warm water in one of the large plastic bins that was serving as a bath water container. Usually someone would sit on the chair and use a pitcher to wash their hair over the bin, then wash up with a wash cloth, then stand and rinse with a clean pitcher of water.

However, Will was asleep in the chair, in his boxers, with his hair still sudsy. Eve shook him gently awake.

Tired, kid?”

A little,” he admitted. She pushed his head toward the bin a bit and scooped water up in the pitcher and poured it over his head to rinse his hair. Sleepily, he gave himself a quick once over with the washcloth while she did so. He stood and she rinsed him off, then wrapped him in a soft sheet like a small child, though he stood taller than her.

Go to bed,” she said, standing on her tiptoes to kiss his forehead like the small boy he once was.

Thanks, Mom,” he mumbled, and headed to his room, tall as a man, his face in this moment still that of her little boy.

She pressed the lid onto the bin and dragged it out to the hallway with her good arm. Tomorrow Kat or Will would drag it over to the bathroom they used; washwater was dumped into a greywater barrel and used to flush the toilets.

Eve banked the fires in the parlor and the kitchen, then headed to the children's room to do the same there. Kat was asleep with Bertram beneath one arm and Leah snoozing cozily beneath the other; Val was sitting up, the window shutter open just enough to allow him to watch the storm. His mother sat on the edge of his bed.

What do you think, buddy? We gonna have to dig ourselves out tomorrow?”

Lot of snow,” Val said. “Winter monsters come now.”

She stroked his hair, pushing curls back from his face.

The zombies? Are they like... the winter monsters?”

He gave her a look of disgruntlement. She wouldn't say the word windigo after the first snowfall of the season, not until the first thunderstorm of spring.

No, not zombies. Worser.”

We are safe here, little man.”

He looked back out the window, watching the snow, perhaps considering.

Not let windigo in,” he said finally. “Not good for us.”

Eve shivered. Though she was mostly without superstition, that word, spoken after the snow came, had always come along with trouble. In another life, she'd have smudged the house down to try and keep bad luck away. They didn't have anything to do that with here, and no tobacco to offer in prayer.

We're safe here,” she whispered. “I will keep us safe, Val. I have for a long time now, right?”

He glanced away from the window, searching his mother's face, then tucked himself into her arms for a snuggle. “I love my mommy!” he chirped.

Well, I love you too, you little booger. Now try to sleep!”

Eve had just changed into a pair of long john pants and a loose cotton tshirt from the gift shop when someone started pounding on the front door. She hurried to the door and pulled it open, not quite understanding what she was seeing until Ben and Travis had come all the way into the hallway that ran through the middle of the house and shoved the door shut against the swirling snow and battering wind.

She blinked a couple of times, nonplussed. Behind the young men, clinging to their legs, were three small children, the youngest no more than a toddler. A mostly white mutt with grey ears shook itself off and sat down on her floor, between the door and the children.

The children were dressed in winter clothing and boots. The smallest one had a mitten trailing from a string through her snowsuit, her hand bare so she could shove it into her mouth while she stared up at Eve.

We heard the dog,” Ben said. “He was barking at the front door. I went up on the guard walk and saw he had kids with him.”

His name is Samson,” the tallest child said. He pushed his hood back. “He brought us here. We've been trying to get here for a couple days.” Eve crouched to meet him eye to eye.

Hi,” she said, holding out her hand to shake. “I'm Eve.”

My name is Aiden,” he said solemnly, shaking her hand. “This is my friend Owen. Samson found us. He had Baby with him.”

The toddler patted the dog and reached for Eve. Eve stood and swung the little one up into her arms.

Oh my,” she said. “Oh! Are you hungry? You must be hungry. Come into the kitchen.”

Ben and Travis helped the kids out of their winter things while Eve heated some soup up for them. She dished out three bowls of soup and a piece of frybread each, then dished a little more up for the young men at Ben's hopeful look. The water in the cast iron teapot was still warm enough to make some not-quite-hot cocoa for the children, too.

Ben gave her the big eyes again and she hid her grin and made him some cocoa as well. Travis held his hand up to turn down the offer of cocoa for himself in the middle of unzipping the toddler's little snowsuit.

Owen sat on the bench, stuffing his mouth and swinging his feet. He chattered on about the journey, how Samson had found them in a treehouse where they'd hidden, sneaking out to get food from the houses nearby.

Did you name Samson?” Eve asked.

He has a collar,” Owen said around the frybread he'd dunked into the bean soup. “He was walking around and Baby was holding the collar. We put her into my wagon to follow Samson here.”

We didn't know where he was going,” Aiden said. “But he kept pushing us with his face until we figured out we were supposed to go with him.”

How old are you?” Eve asked, lifting the toddler onto her lap so she could reach her food better. The little one was spilling as much soup as was making it into her mouth.

I'm nine,” Aiden said. “Owen is six. He was my neighbor.”

Now we're brothers,” Owen said staunchly, reaching for his cocoa.

I heard voices,” Katrin said sleepily from the door to the kitchen, Bertram dangling from the crook of her arm. She rubbed her eyes, then rubbed them again to see the dog laying on the hearth, eating the last of the Spam. Her eyes swung around to take the children and Travis and Ben.

Eve introduced her daughter to the newcomers. Katrin came to stand leaning against her mother while the new children ate. Samson stood and sniffed her, then licked her face when she bent down to pat him.

He looks like a sled dog,” Katrin said, stroking his head while his tail wagged happily.

Maybe a little,” Travis said. “Maybe a little collie, with that ruff.”

He's like a superhero dog,” Owen said. Eve noticed his feet were swinging more slowly, and the little girl was drifting off to sleep against Eve's chest, the soup spoon still clenched in the tiny hand.

You don't know this one's name?” she asked the boys.

No, she doesn't talk. We call her Baby,” Aiden said.

Ok, I'm gonna go take Baby into the other room and see if she needs a diaper or to use a potty, ok? I'll be right back.” Eve stood, startling the toddler enough to wake her. “Travis, would you like to help?”

I... guess,” he said in a defeated tone.

She carried Baby back to the children's room, pulling down soft cotton pants to find a thick pair of training pants, slightly damp, beneath. Eve helped the little girl onto the commode, then Travis hurried to empty the basin in the public bathroom, shoving his way through the wind and snow outside. He rinsed the basin in the grey water barrel and brought it back; Ben was rinsing out the little underpants in the grey water bin in the Aubrey's hallway. Ben hung the training pants over a bench in the kitchen, near the fire, which he banked again since it had been restarted to warm up the food.

Eve took the little girl into her own room and dressed her in a clean grown-up tee shirt, using another as a makeshift diaper. Baby was carefully tucked in on the far side of the bed, against the wall, and Samson climbed up to sleep at her feet.

You'll have to sleep with me tonight,” Eve told Katrin back in the kitchen. “The boys can sleep with Val, in your bed. Let's get everyone tucked in, ok?”

Ben cleared up the dishes while Travis helped get the children settled. Katrin climbed into the middle of Eve's bed, putting Bertram between her and the baby. Owen and Aiden climbed into Katrin's bed in the children's room, curling up together like sleepy cubs as Eve tucked the blankets around them. After all the children were tucked in and dozing, Eve walked the young men to the door.

How... weird,” she said.

That's what we thought,” Ben said. “That and – 'gee I hope Eve can do something with these things'. Which is why we brought them here.”

Oh, I can figure this out. We may have to juggle rooms around but we can figure it out. Help me trade out one of the single beds for a bunk tomorrow, ok?”

If we can see our way here, done,” Travis agreed.

I have pancakes for breakfast,” Eve said.

We'll be here,” Ben promised.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Before The Storm

Eve watched the work as Travis and his friends and her children placed tall wrought iron fence sections tipped with fierce points along the shorter Fort walls. Travis had built a quick framework and was securing the fence sections with quick-setting concrete while Kat and Ben held them in place. Amanda and Will were fastening the razor wire fencing on steel fence posts scattered around to make something of a maze near the entrances of the fort.

That won't slow them down much if they're not feeling pain,” Travis had said while they were plotting it all out. “But if we hang the wire in loose coils, it should sort of snag them long enough we can take them out.”

They surrounded the small parking lot closest to the actual Fort with the wire maze and placed a couple moveable barriers also draped with razor wire across the entrance to that lot. Eve carefully parked both vehicles there and covered them each with a tarp as protection against the storm she could see rolling in from the west. While the sky was bright, chilly blue here, it was dark and ominous that way.

While the other worked, she checked the food she had going in the commander's quarters. Bean soup made from several of the mixes brought from the gift shop simmered near the fire in the kitchen. It would be done around the time everyone came in from their work today. She checked on Val, who was listening to Robbie Rocket singing along with his favorite 80s songs and playing with his Hot Wheels.

Gonna go up to the hospital and make sure it's ready for the new people,” she told Val. “You wanna come with me or wait here?”

I not going. I busy,” Val said, giving his mother a preemptive mutinous look just in case she intended to insist. “I talking Robbie Rocket.”

I'll be back to check on you,” she said, half reassurance and half warning.

She had some food and supplies set up in the doctor's quarters, and she'd placed all the medical things aside from the shiny purple walker that now belonged to Val in the doctor's storage rooms. She'd had Will pull the bunks out of one of the patient rooms in the hospital and replace them with a couple non-bunk beds. When he'd gone off to help Travis and the others reinforce the Fort, she'd put a couple of the foam pads on the beds and placed a quilt, a sleeping bag, pillows, and wool blankets on each bed and dragged a couple trunks in to place at the end of the beds. After all, two pregnant girls were coming today, along with the midwife who would take over the hospital, and these beds were hard enough to get sleep on for non-pregnant folks.

Eve laid a fire in the doc's room and the girls' room and kept it burning low for the time being, then climbed back up to the top of the Round Tower to look around. The midwife would be coming by car; she had a Smart Car she felt she could take around any obstructions, and they would leave their current hiding place at noon. It was now only about eleven AM, so there could be another couple hours before they arrived.

I need something useful to do,” Eve told Cassie as the little cat came to sit beside her on the top of the tower. Cassie made her nearly soundless mew in response. “Travis doesn't want me on the wall, Amanda doesn't want me outside of it, and I'm not to mess with the supplies until they're tallied and organized according to Travis's standards down in the commissary.”

Cassie gave Eve a stern look, as usual, then rolled onto her back, baring her fluffy white belly for rubbing.

Is this what passes for useful in your world?” Eve said, and indulged her cat in a thorough rub. Cassie purred happily. “The world burns down but Cassie gets her belly rubs and all is good.” She received no disagreement from the elderly calico.

She let Cassie nap in the sun while she kept watch again. Eve had brought a chair up to the tower top, and she sat there with Cassie sleeping peacefully on her lap, tucked just inside the woolen cloak she was wearing over the lightweight coat she'd worn from their old apartment.

The midwife arrived about an hour and a half later, careening through the upper parking lot in a car far too tiny to hold three people. Eve called down to Amanda and Will and they had the close lot open before the Smart Car reached them. It slid just a little sideways to a halt near the minivan and Joe's truck, and Amanda and Will dragged the two razor wire barricades back in place as quickly and carefully as they could. Eve hurried down to open the front gates for the newcomers, Cassie complaining as she was dislodged from Eve's lap.

The vehicle gate to the side was reinforced from the inside now and had fencing placed over the top inside the framework Travis had built; it was simply not easily accessible any longer in the interests of keeping the Fort itself safe. Travis considered the vehicle gate the weakest point, so for now the front gate was the only way in and out of the Fort.

Eve swung the smaller inside door open just as the midwife was hurrying the two pregnant girls toward it, and they all stopped short for a few seconds.

In, in!” the midwife, a small Native woman who did not appear much older than her charges, barked. The girls hurried to do as she asked and Eve closed the door behind them once they were all inside.

Eve Aubrey,” she said, reaching out to shake the midwife's hand.

Ruth White,” the midwife said, giving Eve's hand a quick, businesslike shake. “This is Daria Jayne and Haley Nielsen,” she added, introducing Eve to the teenagers with her.

Hi,” Eve said. “How on earth did you all fit in that tiny car?” She eyed the teens' bellies; tall, lush, cafe-au-lait Daria looked minutes away from going into labor. Haley, pale, freckled, bone thin with fluffy tan hair, was not as far along.

She sat on my lap,” Haley said, pointing at Daria with her thumb. Daria grinned, tossing perfectly braided hair, her hands cradling her heavy belly.

Oh, my goodness, you must be … hungry? Cold?” Eve said, and began to show them to her own home. “Do you want food or do you want to get set up in your quarters?”

Show us the quarters, then food,” Ruth said. “We weren't able to bring much and the girls haven't eaten yet today.”

Have you?”

Ruth didn't answer, just gave half a smile. “Quarters first. Let us put our packs down.” She indicated the duffel bag she carried and the backpacks the girls had.

Ruthie ain't eaten in days,” Haley said. “She told us her stomach was upset from that rat we ate a few days back.”

Oh, I am so sorry,” Eve said, aghast.

Wasn't your rat,” Ruth said, with the same half smile.

Eve showed them to the hospital. For the moment, they set their bags in the doctor's room, then followed Eve to her kitchen, Daria settling heavily into the sturdy, high backed chair near the fire. Eve pulled a stool up to the fireplace and began to form and fry up the fry bread from the dough she'd left resting, swallowing a strange sense of embarrassment to be making fry bread for the Native midwife. By the time she had a plate stacked with bread, the others filed in from outside.

Storm's close,” Ben said as they all took seats around the table. Val came in with the purple walker Will had found him at Target, turning it at the head of the table to make use of the built in seat. Cassie and Leah curled up near the hearth. "We covered your car with a tarp," Ben said to Ruth.

Will and Eve began handing out bowls of bean soup and Ben poured water into tin cups for everyone. Amanda took over the introductions and hands were clasped quickly all across the table.

Not like it beans,” Val said sternly.

You love beans, Val Aubrey,” Eve said as sternly.

Beans give you gas,” Kat whispered to her brother, and Val grinned, his dark glare clearing.

I toot all night for you,” he told his sister.


Just... eat your food,” Eve said, exasperated.

The sky was just beginning to darken as Ben and Will cleared up the dinner dishes.

Storm is here,” Val said. “Lock a doors and lock a windows. Big storm is here.”