Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cain's Blood

This is the main bathroom we use,” Ben told Tammy, giving her the tour. She'd arrived just before dawn and had been waiting patiently just outside the front gate, knocking every now and then. Ben had found her, since Travis was nowhere to be found, not even already at Eve's mooching breakfast in that chaotic, welcoming kitchen. He'd figured out who she was pretty quickly; when she went by another name, she'd been mentioned enough by Gary, though Ben had never met her.

So now Ben was showing her around. She'd stowed her things in one of the barrack rooms, the one closest to the little Fort store.

This is the grey water barrel. We flush the toilet from it and we fill it from the shower water or wash water, et cetera. There's the shower, it's usable, we fill the camp shower with the hand pump. You can heat the camp shower up near your fire or in the window so it gets sun. Just... watch it if you put it near the fire. Eve's melted two now.”

Got it,” Tammy said. “Don't melt the camp showers. Don't bathe in the grey water. Don't flush the clean water.”

Well, that was simpler. I should make a sign,” Ben said, and grinned at Tammy. “Ok, come back to the commissary and I'll get you a camp shower and some food. Eve generally feeds people, too, but then you have to give her some of your food to refill her pantry.”

Eve was here first?”

No, a man named Joe Raymond was here first. He was killed. Not by Eve,” Ben added hastily. “Eve is our Glorious Leader.”

She's... kind of quiet for that, isn't she?”

She didn't assign herself that name. Gary appointed her. Travis, Amanda and I are her right hands. So she's like an octopus of some sort.”

I'm not trying to take her job,” Tammy said, her smoker's voice wry. “Just usually the Mad Max leaders tend to be way louder and way crazier.”

It's ok. Gary trusted her, we trusted Gary, so she's the boss until she says she's not.”

Trusted?” Tammy said, sharply.

Ben's usually grinning face fell. “Yeah. Gary's here, but he's passed.”

What do you mean, here?”

Gary lay in a large wooden box, far bigger than a regular coffin, on the bottom floor of the Hexagonal Tower, several floors below ground level for the Fort. There were arrow-slit windows here, as the Fort was built along a cliff, and this tower clung to the side of that cliff. Gary was tucked between two of the slits.

He's in here,” Ben said, unnecessarily. Tammy took a lighter out of her narrow-strapped purse and lit the candles set over the top of the box, solemnly.

Why...” she gestured at the whole setup when she finished.

Ground's frozen. Can't put him in the river – we don't know where the body will end up and we need the water. Didn't want to take him out of the Fort and risk him being eaten or us being attacked. So Travis and Eve – who has a creepy knowledge of body handling, by the way – figured this out. Gary's wrapped in a white sheet, then we put him in a barrel in the fetal position. The smell was not so nice by then. We filled the barrel with lime – Eve says it may preserve the body more than dissolving it. As I said, creepy. But he's in the lime, then we wrapped the barrel in plastic bags and duct tape, several times over, then surrounded the barrel in this box with more lime. Come spring we'll bury the barrel out by the chapel.”

Across that little bridge outside the Fort?”


Tammy lit a cigarette. Ben instinctively waved his hand at the smoke and she smirked a little. “These things will kill ya,” she said. “Don't pick the habit up.” She took a long drag.

No worries,” Ben said. Tammy looked around, noted the materials for more grave boxes stacked along a back wall. In carefully organized piles were wood, barrels, and bags of lime. Small coffins were stacked beside the barrels, Tammy could see at a glance they were too small to have fit tall, stocky Gary. There was a wood box filled with other materials as well, Tammy could see some plastic sheeting sticking up a little, and a long table in front of all of it. She glanced back at Ben.

You're prepared,” she said.

We're working on it. We weren't set up to handle dead,” he said, and she could see the pull of grief for Gary in his eyes. “All right, let's go to the commissary and see if Travis is around so we can get you some supplies.”

Travis ran to the front gate, yanking his jacket on as he went. Some idiot on the other side was blaring an air horn. He whipped the door open, Amanda on his heels, and glared out at the noise-making duo on the other side. Amanda had her pistol leveled at them even as Travis had the door opening.

The man on the other side of the door raised his hands, taking his finger off the air horn's trigger. The petite woman behind him followed his example. Both were completely obscured by their snowmobile gear, the visors of their helmets down and covering their faces.

Travis reached through the door and jerked them both inside, closing and locking the front gate as quickly as he could. “Who are you?” he asked, his voice so calm that Amanda felt a little shiver at the back of her neck. He was furious, she could tell.

Who the FUCK are you and your fucking air horns in the middle of the fucking zombie apocalypse, is what he means,” Amanda said, sharply. She lowered her pistol, but didn't tuck it away.

The man slowly lowered his hands, putting his air horn into the front pocket of his snowmobile suit, half sticking out. He slid up his visor, and the woman did the same. With a big pleasant smile that nonetheless caused a gut feeling of revulsion for Amanda, the man stuck his left hand out to Travis.

Edmund Bender. But you can call me Ed. And this here is Lila, my wife.” Lila raised a hand in greeting. She looked more than a little terrified.

Travis Green, and this is Amanda Johnson.” He shook Ed's hand briskly. Amanda settled her pistol into the holster and held her hand out to shake. Ed only seemed to notice her outstretched hand when Travis pointedly looked at it. Amanda made certain to shake Lila's hand as well.

First rule if you want to stay here,” Amanda said firmly to the couple, “no air horns anywhere inside or near the entrance of the Fort. The biters are drawn to noise.”

Oh, come on, they're all frozen by now,” Ed said, with a big blustery smile, and Amanda fiercely resisted the urge to punch him in his red, jerk face. She glanced at Travis and saw that he did not appear to be reacting at all.

They are not, for some reason,” Travis said. “But we can talk about that more at the evening meeting. Come on, I'll take you to meet Eve.”

You got this?” Amanda said, quietly, to Travis.

His face softened as he looked at her. “I got this.”

Ok,” she said. “I'm gonna go work on the school some more, then.” She leaned up the barest amount and kissed him on the mouth. He was still grinning from ear to ear when he turned back to Benders.

This way.”

The Benders settled in to the officer's quarters nearest Eve's house, the same quarters the trio had used when they'd first arrived. Travis found Ben waiting for him in the quartermaster's quarters when he led the Benders down that way for supplies.

One of those, eh,” Ed said derisively half beneath his breath when he saw Tammy, before Tammy and Ben stood and introductions could be made.

Lila hoped miserably that no one had heard Ed. She hoped they could stay here at least a little while without trouble, but considering the looks Ed had given Eve and his comment - “Nice place you took for yourself here” - to the younger woman as he'd looked around Eve's house, she had a sick feeling things were going to get uncomfortable and it wasn't going to take as long as it usually did.

Oh, Ed,” she whispered, and he gave her a sharp warning glare.

Travis went to the quartermaster's desk and pulled out his notebooks. “I'll get some supplies together for you guys and bring them over. Ben, wanna do the tour?”

I can do that,” Ben said. “Again. Ben, the tour MASTER. Ben was a ranger, manly and alone in the wild, rugged and unshaven, but now Ben is a tour guide.”

Dammit, Ben,” Travis began.

This way, fair maiden and Ed,” Ben said, dramatically. He led them out of the quartermaster's quarters, closing the door behind them with a flourish.

He was never rugged and manly,” Travis said, pained. “Or alone.”

I wasn't thinking he was,” Tammy said, with a half smile. “So Ben tells me you are the Master of Stuff.”

I'm sort of the de facto quartermaster, yes,” Travis said.

I have some ideas about how to help,” Tammy said. “And we can put the store to use.”

Travis perked up visibly, and Tammy grinned.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Muskrat Love

Travis never slept well, so he usually got up, walked around the walls of the Fort looking for problems, checked the front gate by going up into the walkway over it, then went to to the Round Tower and used his binoculars to survey as far as he could see. Some nights he would stay up on the tower for a few hours star-gazing, until he was so cold he had to go in and get warm near the remnants of the evening fire in his and Ben's quarters.

Tonight, for the first time, Amanda was up on the Round Tower. He hadn't seen her from the ground because she'd made herself a bed from her camping mats and was laying there, fully bundled up and covered with more blankets, watching the sky in peace.

Oh, I'm sorry,” he said reflexively. “I didn't mean to interrupt.”

She sat up and scooted over some, patting the mat next to her. “Come on. I brought cocoa.” She picked up a thermos in her mittened hand to show him.

I have binoculars,” he said. “If you didn't bring yours.” He sat carefully next to her, close enough to be on the mat with her, far enough so he would only be in contact if she chose it. She gave him a look through her lashes, decidedly un-Amanda-like, then reached around him to tuck the blankets up around his waist and hers, and tucked her body closer to his, snugging up against his side with her head against his shoulder.

He stiffened in surprise, holding his breath, then very carefully managed his breathing to make sure he sounded normal, and forced himself to relax.

It's cold,” she offered in explanation, and he nodded. That made sense to him. He didn't want her to get cold, so he slipped his arm around her to share his heat. She smiled up at him and he felt all of his insides clench and turn slippery. In the moonlight her eyes were pale as the moon itself; he knew they were blue as a cold spring morning in the daylight but in all their years of friendship he had never actually seen her this close in the darkness.

He blushed, and held his tongue, knowing no matter what he tried to say right now he'd sound like an idiot. He yanked his hat off with his free hand to try to cool his head off.

Cocoa?” she asked sweetly, and he realized she was needling him, and wasn't sure about what.

He gave the most nonchalant nod he could manage and saw her suppress a grin. She poured their drinks in silence, handing him his tin cup filled with steaming hot cocoa without a word.

He took a quick drink and swallowed too hastily, making a strange, strangled noise. “Oh,” he gasped when he finished getting the sip down. “That's a lot of vodka in there.”

She grinned sideways up at him. “Maybe I'm trying to get you drunk.”

He stared at her, stuck, trying to figure out if she was teasing, in which case he should laugh in some easy fashion, or if she was serious, in which case laughing in her face would probably be insulting.

Travis settled for a short nod, his red, unruly curls sharply waving.

How long have you been up here?” he asked, after a couple more sips, after his body relaxed a little more, allowing her to melt a little closer against him. She wasn't a small woman; she was tall and strong and was more likely to be able to drop Travis than he could probably drop her, but she fit very sweetly against him.  While she was apparently paying no attention to him, staring up at the sky and sipping her cocoa despite how close she was, he allowed himself to simply breathe in and enjoy her closeness.

Maybe an hour.”

You probably shouldn't be up here drinking in the cold alone,” he said, worried.

She put her mittened hand on his knee and he fell silent again.

I'm not alone,” she said, reasonably. “I was waiting for you.”

Ben-” he began, meaning to explain if she'd expected both of them, Ben rarely woke up with him.

I know,” she said, patting his knee, and let her hand lay there.

Amanda,” he said, his voice sounding both stern and nervous to his own ear. He took a moment to make sure he had the next words right.

Yes?” she asked, sipping, staring up at him through her lashes again, her face suspiciously innocent, her eyes bright and amused. He wasn't usually good at discerning intent in these moments but he felt sure she wasn't laughing at him, regardless of what was amusing her about him.

Do you want... are you... do you... want a cuddle?” he finally said, veering off from what he'd actually intended to ask. “Human beings require touch,” he added hastily in case she thought he didn't understand why she'd want a cuddle.

She set her cup very carefully down next to her thermos then turned her attention back to him. “A cuddle?” she asked, and this time he could tell she was laughing.

I mean...” he began, but couldn't get his words together.

Travis, are you attracted to me?” she asked. He felt his whole body move in an instinctive motion that felt like a bowstring being released.

No,” he said before he could consider.

She leaned back to look up at him better, pulling her hand off of his knee as if she hadn't expected that answer. He quickly grabbed her hand, released it in case she didn't want him to hold her hand, then took it again. This time she gripped his hand, perhaps to keep him from releasing it again.

He met her eyes, deciding to toss himself right over some sort of cliff that he could feel as clearly as if it were a physical reality. “I am not just attracted to you,” he said, quickly, before he could frighten himself off with fears of losing her friendship. This was Amanda, after all, fiercely loyal to her friends – she might not feel the same way, but she wouldn't tear her friendship away from him.

Ok,” she said, clearly a little confused. “Wait, are you attracted to me AND someone else, or are you MORE than attracted to me?”

I love you, he thought. I love you more than language works to discuss. I love you like there are atoms of loving you that I need to breathe in to live. “I am not attracted to someone else,” he said.

Ok,” she said again. She relaxed against him again. “So you like-like me,” she said, grinning. “You big dork.”

He grinned back in relief. He thanked the universe he hadn't somehow catastrophically screwed this all up. She wriggled around a little until she was straddling him, facing him. Her mittened hands, cold and wet in spots from the snow, framed his face and she smiled at him from her new vantage point. He blushed again, harder, knowing she could feel his body's response to her. “You wanna go out some time?” she whispered.

He gave a short bark of laughter. “No.” She gave a gasp of faux-outrage and he grabbed her hands to hold her in place. “It's cold out,” he said in explanation.

Are you saying you want to go in?” she said, primly, her eyes wicked. His mouth opened but he couldn't make words work, again. She leaned forward and kissed him very gently, her lips soft and cold against his, her mouth warm and tasting of cocoa and vodka. He wrapped his arms around her, half in fear he was dreaming.

She broke their kiss to take a shaking breath. “Oh, Travis, you are in such trouble,” she whispered.

Sure,” he said, agreeing to whatever trouble she had for him.

With that she dumped a handful of icy snow down his back and stood when he froze in shock. She ran over to the stairs of the tower and turned back, her face alive with the trouble-making she loved so much, waiting.

Well, ya big lug, your move,” she said, her smile flashing in the darkness. He was on his feet and after her in the space of a heartbeat, her squeal of joy streaming behind them as he chased her down the stairs.

He caught her at the base of the tower and swung her into his arms, silencing her whoop of laughter with another kiss. This time she wrapped her arms around him as tightly as he'd held her. He didn't dare speak, in case one of them woke up and left the other bereft in this space.

So take me to bed, and we'll talk over breakfast,” she said.

I don't want to talk,” he said, before he could censor himself. “I mean, I suck at talking.”

Shhh, that's talking,” she said.

He took her hand and hurried to do as she'd asked.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Eye Of The Tiger

Ruth bandaged Travis again. Haley, who was interested in becoming a nurse, watched closely and assisted by handing Ruth supplies as she asked for them. “Try not to tick off more zombie raccoons,” Ruth said, dryly. “And then try not to keep reopening your wounds because you have to stack everything.”

My other arrangement wasn't really efficient for supplies, and we're going out again today to Target to bring more in.” Travis held his arm up to look at his new bandage, covering several previously ragged but now partly healed tears where the rioter raccoons had bitten him when the trio had been busily killing off the little monsters trying to get to Gary.

Bring feminine hygiene products. And anything you can get from the pharmacy. And diapers and baby supplies – but especially cloth diapers if they have them. Just because disposables are going to be a disposal issue.”

Anything else you might need for the... ah, new arrivals we'll be expecting? And when, is the thing, I guess.”

Bassinets and baby clothes would be nice,” Haley said softly. “Maybe a baby bathtub and lotion and baby soap.”

Actually, I have a list, if you think it will help,” Ruth said.

I like lists,” Travis said solemnly. “Amanda has one too, since she's setting up the schoolhouse.”

All right. Go get 'em, kid. And remember, no new wounds, no opening these, no zombie raccoons.”

Val was in the kitchen, listening to Robbie Rocket, while helping Eve hang washed socks on a wooden rack in front of the fireplace.  She hadn't had much opportunity to do much washing of laundry, but kept socks, underthings, and long johns as clean as possible by washing them in the same tubs she used to bath the children. Now with more children, there were socks and underpants to wash every day, especially for Baby.

Baby kept trying to climb onto Eve's lap, then growing bored with the laundry and trying to climb into the plastic tub to have a play. Eve would set her down and shoo her away from the laundry, and five minutes later she'd be back, climbing up Eve's legs onto her lap.

Finally, clear as a bell, she said “I need dat!” while reaching for the water. Eve stopped what she was doing, startled. These were the first words Baby had spoken in the nearly a week the children had been here. She set Baby down next to the tub and let the child slosh her arms up past the elbows into the laundry.

That was very good, using your words,” she told the toddler.

Baby is smart,” Val said, approvingly.

You are smart, Baby,” Eve agreed.

Baby have a name?” Val asked.

Eve watched the toddler for a moment. “What's your name, Baby?” she asked, hopefully, but the toddler just shrieked with laughter and slammed her small hands down into the laundry.

She does have a name,” Eve told Val. “But it might be a while before she tells us, and she might not remember it. She's very little still.”

Not memba name?” Val said, incredulous. “She have a new name.”

Let's give her a couple more weeks,” Eve said. “Then we can talk about giving her a new name.”

The front door cracked open and Kat trundled into the kitchen, snow slumping off of her wet winter things as she walked. On the trip to Target after they'd plowed their way over there a couple days ago, the scavengers had brought home winter clothes for the Aubreys and other survivors and a stockpile set aside for anyone who might yet come. “Katrin Aubrey!” Eve scolded. “You clean that up. And hang your stuff up to dry.”

Kat groaned but moved to obey.

Kat need new name too,” Val said, a devil's sparkle in his eye. “Kat is now Puppy.”

I don't know why you can't just behave, Val,” Eve said, hiding an amused look.

Robbie Rocket say I not have to.”

Travis, Will, Amanda and Ben swept the Target and Home Depot, looking for rioters, every time they came back in case the strange group of creatures had returned.

They must have found new digs,” Ben said, meeting the others at the front of Target. “So what's our plan today?”

Travis handed Will Ruth's list. “This is stuff Ruth needs for the new mothers,” he said. “Get it all, if you can.”

Olive oil?” Will said, snickering. “We gonna have fresh cooked baby for dinner next week?”

Amanda gave him a flick on the back of his head. “Laugh it up, Bones. Now hop to.” She turned to Travis. “Commander Amanda reporting for duty, SIR.”

Commander?” Ben snorted behind her. “Bit of a reach, isn't it?”

Come help me wrestle some wood stoves up into the back of the truck. Safer heat, more convenient and more efficient for heating and cooking.  Home Depot has several. And we'll grab any wood we find-” Travis paused to give Ben a stern look, barely quelling the other's laughter. “Will, meet us there to gather up burning fuel when you're done with the list. Put your things into the minivan.”

Private Parts reporting for duty, SIR,” Ben said, mimicking Amanda's salute.

You are a pain in my ass,” Travis told him.

I know.”

You're in the back, digging for any more food back there. In the storage area. And foam pads, and bedding.”

Affirmative, General Nonsense,” Ben said, and dodged Amanda's kick.

Tammy waited until the sun was near its zenith and flipped on the radio. Robbie Rocket was playing what he considered ass-kickers, starting with Eye Of the Tiger. Good enough boogie music, and it was time to boogie. She hadn't heard from Gary in at least 4 days, though sometimes time was a little weirder now.

She pulled on tall boots, flat-soled but up over the knee, and adjusted her warm clothing. Before she went out, she checked herself out in the mirror. Even these days, it was good to make sure a body was ready to be seen.

There was nothing she could do about her Adam's apple, nor the lines on her neck and face. In truth, she was not pretty; her face showed decades of hard living. She hadn't been much of a drinker or user, but she'd been known to throw the first punch when a situation called for it. Despite the rugged face and the previously broken nose, her cat's eye eyeliner was perfect, her lip beyond reproach.

I am a bad ass bitch,” she told the mirror, sliding her sunglasses on. In the time before, she'd been too worried of nothing she could name anymore to live in the clothes, the makeup, the life she had wanted to choose; but she'd taken the opportunity of a new world being born through smoke and blood to choose the life without fear she wished she had chosen long ago.

Last thing she heard from Gary was that Fort Snelling had survivors. He'd intended to tell her to come once he'd gotten there. She could only assume something had happened to him and she was on her own.

This is going to suck some balls,” she told the mirror-woman whose eyes were hidden behind the slick black lenses. No more time to waste, though.

Ed and Lila Bender finished packing their snowmobiles. Lila had a sledge attached to her snowmobile stacked with their own supplies; a change of clothes and boot liners, food, warm bedding, standard camping things. Ed had released Champ the terrier a week ago to go find his own fortune; Lila believed he had done exactly as he had said because believing Ed had probably broken Champ's neck was too painful.

He's just trying to look out for us, she told herself. He's trying to take care of me.

Keep up with me, Lila,” he warned, standing astride his machine, holding his helmet in his hands. “I can't be coming back for you all the time. I won't be able to do much if you get too far behind and get swamped with zombies.”

Are we going to check on George?” she asked, worried about her grown son from a marriage before her marriage to Ed.

I told you, no. I'll go back out and check after we get you to the Fort safely. There's people there – there's smoke from the chimneys.”

All right, Ed,” she said, keeping her voice reasonable and demure.

He rolled his eyes. She was so dumb, she read in his face. “I'm not gonna keep explaining this, honey, daylight's a-wasting.” He put his helmet on and strapped it in place. Lila did the same, starting up her machine just after he started his.

I will follow him, she heard in her head, as she had the first night she'd met him, when she knew she would do exactly that. I will follow him wherever he may go.

Into hell itself, she thought, and ignored the idea that hell was where she'd lived since not too long after that first night. To the Fort, and to safety, today.