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.”

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