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.

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