Saturday, October 22, 2016

Over The River And Through The Woods

Travis woke Amanda slowly, bringing her awake with his hands, his mouth, until she woke fully, gasping his name.

Afterwards, he lay catching his breath, his face buried in her neck, her arms and legs still twined around him.

“Good morning,” she said throatily, pleased.

Beautiful girl,” he murmured against her earlobe. “I love you.” He stiffened, his eyes opening, and he hastily scrambled to a sitting position. “I... I mean-”

She sat up too, quieting him by placing her fingertips on his lips. They sat face to face without speaking on her mattress for long moments.

That the sex talking?” she asked, and moved her fingers so he could answer.

Ah,” he said, swallowing. He stared at her helplessly, unable to lie to her. “No. But I don't – I wasn't saying it to get you to say it. I'm ok just-”

She touched his lips again, looking down thoughtfully for long moments again. “I want to talk about it tonight, ok? Before we go to bed?”

Here?” he asked.

She smiled, leaned over and kissed him. “Here. Before we go to bed here. Together.”

“Ok. Sure. Cold fry bread and jam for breakfast?” he asked, relieved. He'd been terrified for a moment that she would break things off because he'd said that so soon. Way too soon, probably, since they'd only been a couple for a couple weeks.

Since Amanda had declared the day a no school day, the children were building snowmen on the parade ground. Val sat in a disc sled scooting himself around and occasionally lobbing snowballs at the other children. Baby vacillated between eating snow, charging snowmen to enthusiastically hug them, and climbing onto Val's lap for a snuggle, which pinned him in place as he couldn't scoot the sled with both of them on it.

Will ran into the quartermaster's storage and came back out with some rope, tying it through one of the handles of Val's sled. He made a loop handle at the other end of the rope and began hauling Val and Baby through the snowmen and across the parade ground. Drawn by Val's laughter and Baby's shrieks of joy, the other children soon joined in, holding the rope, helping them gain speed.

They reached the end of the parade ground near the hospital, made a careful turn, and ran back toward the commander's house, dragging Val and Baby. This time they went too fast as they made their turn toward the hospital, and the two passengers were flung free, Val holding Baby tightly in his arms as they slid sideways toward the porch of the empty barracks.

Baby shrieked in joy.

Dis bad idea,” Val grumbled as they came to a stop just short of the path around the parade ground. His little passenger giggled and drummed her feet on his legs.

Kids!” Eve yelled from the door of the commander's house, leaning out and wiping her hands on her apron. “Tell everyone it's time and come down to the basement!”

Katrin, Owen and Aiden ran to gather the others at the Fort, aside from Ben and Lila who were already down in the basement of the commander's house. Will helped Val and Baby back onto the sled and began to pull them around the back of the barracks and down to the basement door; going straight around the commander's house would require using stairs.

You bad driver,” Val said darkly. “Manda is better driver than you. I like Manda do it.”

Maybe later Amanda can pull you,” Will said. “Suck it up, buttercup.”

No, your face is a butt cup.”

By the time Will and his passengers got down to the basement door, everyone else was there already and being shown into the brick floored basement by Ben. To their right was the kitchen, they were being led into the room to their left. Here was a bright, merry fire and two long tables pushed together with many chairs around them. Near the fireplace a sideboard had been placed and was now laden with pies, cakes, and bread – raised bread, biscuits and fried bread.

Down the middle of the tables were candles, colorful fall leaves, and so much food. At the center of it all were what appeared to be four small turkeys, but there were also sweet potatoes, corn, wild rice, cranberries, fried fish, green beans, baked beans, jam, stuffing and gravy.

Holy shit,” Ed said, and Lila beamed.

Surprise!” Eve said, her hands clasped together against her chest. “It's Thanksgiving today. Come in, sit down!”

They discarded their coats and wet outer things in the entry hall and the group hurried to take seats at the table. Ed took one end, and Lila sat beside him. Eve and Ben took the other end. The children, rosy from playing outdoors, sat nearest the fireplace, with Baby close to Eve and sitting on several thick books.

I didn't realize it was Thanksgiving!” Daria said. She burst into tears.

Oh dear!” Lila said standing up, grabbing some napkins to bring to her.

No, no, I'm happy, I just...”

Hormonal,” Haley said. Several of the group chuckled indulgently.

How did you do this?” Dana asked.

Well, Travis and Amanda got the turkeys. They were running wild near Coldwater Spring. Most of the rest is just canned goods from the quartermaster's stores,” Eve said. “Though, the bread, that's sourdough from scratch. I have more starter too. And more loaves. I made a lot.”

We roasted the turkeys in the big fireplace here in the basement,” Ben said. “Lila fried the fish and organized the order of all the rest of the food being cooked. Eve did the baking, and I made the stuffing and gravy.”

It smells amazing!” Amanda said. “I'm starving now.”

Should we say Grace?” Lila asked. “Ed?”

Good food, good meat, good God, let's eat!” Ed said with enthusiasm.

They ate and ate and ate and laughed all through the meal. Eve beamed with happiness and the pleasure of feeding a group and feeding them well. Val ate nearly an entire loaf of bread by himself, he was so happy to have something other than fry bread and biscuits.

Eve jumped up to clear the table and Haley, Dana and Tammy joined her. Ben and Lila moved the desserts to the table as they did so, setting out clean plates.

My stomach is going to burst,” Amanda said.

Do you not want any pie or cake?” Lila asked hesitantly.

Oh, no, I'm eating more, I'm just warning everyone.”

I am so thankful to be here, safe, having this meal,” Daria said, and burst into tears again. Haley wrapped her arms around her friend.

I'm thankful to have you as a friend,” she said.

I'm thankful these turkeys and the fish showed themselves to us so we could eat them,” Dana said.

By now all were seated again, passing around the desserts and helping themselves.

I'm thankful for Gary, without whom I'd never have found this haven,” Tammy said.

Hear, hear,” said Gary's young friends in unison, raising their steaming cups of tea. “To Gary!”

I'm thankful for the snowplow,” Amanda said. “It's what helps us get to the stores to gather supplies.”

I'm thankful that Amanda lets Ben drive the snowplow so we don't all die,” Travis said solemnly, and Amanda gave him a half-hearted glare, before snuggling up against him, scooting her chair closer.

I'm thankful for all the laughter,” Lila said softly. “It was so fun cooking with Ben and Eve.”

I am damn thankful for leftovers, and I know I'll be thankful for them again and again!” Ed said, and they laughed again.

I'm thankful for Samson,” Owen said. “Did he get a treat?”

We'll bring the pets some leftovers when we go up,” Eve said, smiling.

I'm thankful there was no school today,” Aiden said.

I'm thankful we have so many books,” Will said.

I'm thankful for my cats and my paper dolls,” Katrin said. “And my fluffy boots.”

I thank Sharknado,” Val said. He gave a flourishing bow at the table. “Thank you.”

Valiant James,” Eve said sternly.

Yes, thank you,” Val said with another grand flourish.

You little ham.”

Yes, thank you.”

Are you happy, Baby?” Eve asked the toddler.

Cake!” Baby said with longing, opening and closing her fists at the nearest cake.

I'm thankful for all of you,” Eve said. “I'm thankful we have a little community. I'm thankful we could have this day to celebrate that.”

I'm thankful I don't have to wash these dishes,” Ben said complacently, and Owen, Aiden, Will and Katrin groaned, knowing who would be stuck with that.

I'll help,” Tammy whispered across the table.

Me too,” Haley said quickly.

I want to help but I am falling asleep from being full and happy,” Daria said.

And enormously pregnant,” Dana said.

To us!” Eve said, raising her mug. “Who's like us?”

Damn few,” said Will. “And they're all dead.”

They all raised their mugs, even Baby though she wasn't sure what they were doing, and laughed.

Far, far away, Todd and his group gathered in a historical mansion, fireplaces blazing, and ate just as well. They didn't have fish, but there had been plenty of supplies in the pantry and real vegetables in the root cellar of this place, somehow forgotten and spared when the Red Flu Riots came. Lewis and Todd had managed to bring in venison and a couple of turkeys as well.

Ms Marvie, this is the best I have ever eaten,” Todd said with great solemnity. “I could not have done better. Thank you.”

I know,” she said, and grinned mischievously at him. “And you're welcome.”

Lewis snuck some more turkey and stuffing down to Scout, laying beneath the table.

Can I have some more pie?” Ryan said eagerly.

Can you?” Marvie asked, raising her eyebrow.

May I please have some more pie?” he said, unsubdued.

Baby, we have plenty today, and you are welcome to it,” she said.

Amen!” said Lewis.

Amen,” the others agreed.

We're here,” Donna said. “There's the dam. We made it.”

Let's go get my baby back,” Rebecca said. “I know she's there, I just know it.”

And introduce me to this Marine you mention,” Sherie said, grinning.

Amanda curled up in the darkness of the old Dredd Scott quarters, her mattress tucked against the wall kitty-corner from the fireplace, listening to Travis breathe. Listening to the calming beat of his heart, feeling his strength and his courage and all the things that meant so much to her about him.
Travis,” she whispered.
Mmm. Yes?” he mumbled, half asleep.
I love you too, you know.” She felt him wake entirely up.
I mean... I meant that I am in love with you,” he said at last.
Duh,” she said, snickering, and he pretended to bite her nose. “I'm trying to tell you, that's what I feel too. I love you. You're a big dork, and I love you.”
You're sure?”
Oh, god, shut up and lets just do this, ok? This big in love thing.”
Absolutely,” he said fervently, and rolled onto his side facing her so he could kiss her properly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Can Feel It Coming In The Air Tonight

Ed Bender was in a bad mood until he saw the deer. A group of four meandered through a snowy yard, nibbling at branches, and he watched them through the binoculars from the top of the Half Moon Battery, drooling just a little. He watched them prick up their ears, then bolt as a biter came running after them. This one was alone, either not part of the group they'd been tracking or for some reason off on its own.

He took a moment to describe the sighting in his notebook and went back to watching. At this moment, Tammy The It, as he considered her, was keeping an eye on the house they believed the alpha and its group were sheltering in. Radio silence from Tammy though – they all kept radios off when keeping an eye on the zombies in case the sounds of the radio tipped off some hungry rioter as to where they were hiding, up in a metal deer stand. They'd liberated the deer stand from Home Depot and placed up a tree where an easy and hidden eye could be kept on the alpha's lair. It had a ladder that could be disconnected if the rioters started sniffing around it, keeping whoever was there relatively safe and out of reach until back up could arrive. At that point, the radio would be turned on and used.

Ben and Eve were doing something around the Fort, Amanda and Travis were out foraging, or so they said. Ed suspected they were getting up to more than that, and he wouldn't mind catching sight of that in his binoculars. More Amanda than Travis, obviously. Everyone else was taking care of whatever their jobs were for the day. Ed's idiot wife was sitting in the school house right now overseeing the underage brats while they worked on whatever schoolwork Amanda had set up for the week. Usually it was Amanda who managed the schoolhouse, but today it was Idiot Lila and one of the Teenage Whores.

Ed swung his binoculars around the the west for a bit, just in case he could catch sight of Amanda and Travis. Just in case he was having a lucky day.

Ed woke up earlier than usual the next morning. Today was sort of his lucky day, it was his turn to go out hunting with Amanda. Alone. Ben had the deer stand, Travis was moving supplies up to the shop for people to access. He and Amanda were going to try to find some trace of the deer he'd seen.

He elbowed Lila awake. She held her tongue and stumbled to the the front room, to the area she'd turned into a kitchen with a little kerosene stove, to make him something to eat. They never ate breakfast at Eve's like the younger folks or Tammy did. Too much going on, too noisy, and Ed tended to feel out of sorts if someone else was in charge. Much better to start the day this way, as the man in his own castle and being treated right.

You're a pretty tough woman,” Ed told Amanda as they waited atop a small cliff face, watching for the deer. He gave her the look he considered charming and flirty. She raised an eyebrow, he couldn't discern if it was in interest or disdain.

Give me the binoculars,” she said. “I'm going to see if I can find more tracks.”

He handed her the binoculars and she began scanning the ground farther up ahead. “So you and Travis, huh?” Ed asked. “That's your boy?”

Me and Travis,” she said blandly.

You know you could probably beat him up,” Ed said, with a sneer.
No probably about it.”

I'm here for you if you find yourself in need of an actual man,” Ed began, placing his hand on her arm.

Suddenly he was on his knees with the hand he'd placed on her arm being held up just behind his neck so his arm was crooked like a crippled bird's wing and he couldn't effectively move to free himself. As smoothly, she had his other arm up behind his back by his thumb, one of her feet anchoring the back of his knee down in place. Ed could wriggle just the barest bit without pain, and could not use his strength in this position. She spoke very near his ear.

Hands off, Ed. Never touch me again. In fact, I know who you are.” She shook him a little. “You don't get to put your hands on anyone in the Fort without permission. And you don't get to hurt women while you're there, either.”

He began to protest and she pulled his thumb up farther, making him feel like she was going to break it. Ed swore in agony.

I mean it, Ed. You hurt your wife, you'll regret it. If you put your hands on me ever again, I'll kill you. And I won't feel a thing but satisfaction about it. Do you trust in that? I want you to trust in that.”

He gave a furious, desperate nod.

I don't WANT to hurt you, Ed. I don't want to hurt anyone. But I won't lose a second's sleep if you force this. People can make bad choices, like touching me without permission. But if we have this out of the way, we can be friends. Can we be friends, Ed?”

He wanted to shout at her and he wanted to hold her by the neck until she was sorry, but he couldn't move, just ineffectually waggle his bird-winged arm.

Because if we can't be friends, Ed...” She moved again, so quickly he couldn't track exactly what she'd done, and now the arm yanked up behind him was free, but there was a knee in his back and one of her arms was snug and tight up around his neck, her elbow right below his chin. Her arm tightened just a little and the world dimmed.

Friends,” he muttered, his voice strangled.

She released him as quickly as she'd incapacitated him in the first place, steadied him, even helped him up.

Fuck, bitch,” he began, and it sounded whiny even to him.

That's not how friends talk to each other,” she said. “I mean it. I will let this go if you understand you don't put your hands on me again. We'll be good.”

He stared at her, his heart malignant, considering. There was a pistol on his belt, and they both knew it. Her stare was steady and unafraid. He realized sickly he wasn't sure he could even get it out before she'd have him down again. He wasn't sure even if he got it out and aimed that she couldn't take him down before he could fire it.

Fuck, you're a fucking mean bitch. Fine. Friends.”

I am a mean bitch. Better to have me on your side.”

Oh, yeah,” he said, and groaned, stretching his sore muscles out.

She picked up the binoculars from where she'd dropped them to deal with him and tucked them into one of her jacket pockets. “It's going to be dark soon,” she said. “We have a decent idea where to try to pick up the trail tomorrow. Wanna go have a fucking drink back at the Fort?”

He looked her face, searched it, and saw only a friendly reserve there.

My treat, Ed. I have some vodka, we'll both have a couple slugs, as friends.”

You know what, it's a deal,” he said at last.

I'm glad.” Now she grinned at him. He shook his head, bemused.

Travis found her later, standing in the unused building behind the gatehouse, inspecting the old cells used to lock prisoners up.

Some new kinky game?” he asked.

She pretend-slugged his arm. “Nerd. Maybe. You think we have some locks that would work on these doors if we need to?”

“Probably. How sure do you want me to be?”

“I just want to be ready for anything. Check in the morning for me?”

Anything you ask, little lady,” he said in his best cowboy voice.

Well, in that case,” she said demurely, and took his hand to lead him back to her room.