“Yes, that is Ladino, also known as Judaeo-Spanish. I am not fluent, but I can get by. Although, I am quite a bit rusty.”
Sam, Nikola’s partner in the com shack while Carol is still nursing, pipes up. “If only we had the equipment to interplex the comm systems, we might be able to create a phased receiver wave.”
“English, damn it, English. I speak nine languages more or less fluently, but techno-babble is not one of them.”
“It’s not a very good signal,” Sam explains.
“Here, try,” Nikola hands me the handset.
I try as much as possible to remember what few words that I can in Ladino. Despite my best efforts the transmission does not change.
“It is a broadcast, not a live operator,” I tell Nikola.
“What’s it say?” he asks in a grunt.
“From what I can understand they are survivors living on the old Poveglia Plague Island, Italy. There are a lot of words that I do not recognize. They are living in the old lazaretto from the turn of the 18th century.”
“Hey, you asked me to translate, not read their fucking minds, and determine the secret of life.”
Shack, puts his hand on my arm, “Easy baby.”
Arching my furry eyebrows at him, I give him the glare. He knows that I hate to be called baby. If he starts making Patrick Swayze puns again; I will hit him – hard.
Just then, with a blast of cold air Wilson crashes inside the tent waving his Smith & Wesson 76 submachine gun around.
“Ruth this fucking thing is jammed again …” is about all he gets out before I stride punch him on to his ass, knocking the wind out of him.
As Wilson lies gasping for breath on the floor of the tent, I rip the S&W 76 out of his hands. As I do so, I notice out of the corner of my eye Nikola holstering his Stechkin. Ripping the magazine (which I notice is fully loaded) from the gun, I throw it on the table.
A live round is jammed between the feed lips of the magazine and the chamber. Working the bolt, I drop the jammed round on the floor. I toss the empty machine gun on the table.
“Wilson, the next time you do something so fucking stupid with a weapon, I am going to let this big fucking Russian shoot you.”
If it was possible, Wilson would have blanched whiter than he already is. Nikola crosses his arms, defining his impressive chest and biceps, highlighted by the blue and white striped, short-sleeved telnyashka tee-shirt he wears.
“Wilson, I told you that if this thing jams, use your pistol.” Wilson carries an old Beretta M95, precursor of the famous Beretta Model 92 series of handguns. Wilson was assigned to the Scouts, but failed because he just cannot follow basic instructions.
Shack refers to Wilson as “too stupid to die.”
Demoted to guard rotation, I believe Wilson is lucky to be still alive. His little sister Anne has hyperacusis and must wear ear phone-style hearing protection at all times.
Waving my hand at him, I shoo Wilson back to his post. “Go back to your guard post. I will have someone take your gun apart again and see if we can figure what is causing it to jam all the time. I will have someone return it to you tomorrow after woman’s bath day.”
With a huff, Wilson limps from the tent back into the pouring rain. Popping his jacket collar up, he dives into the wet night. Poor kid, I would not want to walk laps in the pouring rain around the camp’s perimeter either.
“Ruth, have Mossad stamped all over you. The ‘straddle fat horse’ stance is telling. When I GRU, you had impressive dossier. Intelligence was specialty not wet work, but never shied from killing. I know you Duvdevan, IDF counter-terrorist special operations unit.”
I shrug at Nikola, “Does not mean shit now.”
Shack, Honey, Monster and I all settle into our four-hour radio watch positions. Honey and Monster man the generator, steadily turning the handles while I listen on the headset.
Ripping apart the S&W 76 is not hard, and in a few minutes I have it broken down to its main pieces.
“What’s the story of this gun?” Shack asks.
“During the Vietnam War, the SEALs adopted the Swedish K SMG, finding it a good, simple gun for the harsh conditions in South East Asia. For some damn reason, Sweden imposed an arms embargo thereby depriving the SEALs of the Carl Gustaf M/45 (Swedish K) SMG.”
“Is ‘cause Sweden dislike American forces Vietnam,” Nikola explains.
Ignoring Nikola, I pause as I field strip the crudely made weapon. “There are no serial numbers on it, and someone did not take time to fit it together very well.”
“Smith & Wesson started making a nearly identical clone called the Model 76. The Model 76 saw limited combat service in Vietnam with a few Special Forces outfits. Eventually S&W ceased production of the original weapon in 1974. For a while, you could buy demilled part kits, which is most likely what this illegal, full-auto only piece of shit was made from.”
Nikola picks up the S&W 76 magazine noting the white-painted tips of the 9mm bullets. “Explosive tips, go in small, come out large. Take much with them along way.”
I recognize the bullets as explosive, but wonder where that little shit got such rare 9mm ammo. We only have the one magazine, I wonder if we should also check his other magazines. As far as I know, the convoy does not issue explosive tipped ammo.
Nikola shrugs, dropping the magazine back on the rickety folding card table, he gathers his things.
Nikola kicks the green canvas tool bag we keep in the radio tent. “I fix tomorrow. Leave on table for me.” I am more than happy to leave jury-rigging the S&W 76 to Nikola.
Fitting, filing and sanding the various parts of the shitty S&W 76 is not something that I really have the skill for or something that I want to do. I have never really liked working with metal, so I will leave that to the boys.
Nikola turns to leave; he still has the sallow pale complexion all too common to most Russians. I wonder if his son inherited his father’s complexion. With parents so pale, little Stiva will most likely be very pale as well.
“Spokoynoy nochi,” (good night) Nikola says as he leaves the radio tent.
“Priyatnykh snov,” (sweet dreams) I reply.
While Monster and Honey keep the hand-cranked generator running slowly but steadily Shack and I take turns listening on the radio head set. Sometimes transmissions are so faint that you can barely hear them even with headphones on.
Before going to the communications tent, I swing by our sleeping tent. Grabbing my field coat, I turn to leave. Sipping on a cool can of beer, Carol is sitting on her bed, little Stiva sleeping beside her swaddled in his snuggly.
Hand over her mouth, suddenly Carol leaps up, running to the chamber pot. I hear her retching violently. I manage a careful grab holding Carol’s coppery red hair out of her way, while she continues projectile vomiting.
Watching her carefully, I ease a shaking Carol back on to her bed.
“Are you alright?” My question sounds damned stupid the minute it leaves my mouth. Of course she is not alright; she is puking her guts up.
Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Ruth shakes her head at me. I notice how pale and haggard she looks.
“Thanks Ruth, but there is not really a cure for what ails me. Not unless you shoot that horny Russian bastard that got me pregnant again.” She smiles wanly at me, taking the sting out of her words.
“I’m gonna have Irish twins,” Carol says, patting her stomach. “I haven’t lost my postpartum fat yet, and already that asshole has knocked me up again. I’m going to be breastfeeding for years. Afterwards my tits are going to flop around like a bird’s wings. I’ll have to tuck my tits into the top of my pants and secure them with my belt. Forget about a damned bra.”
“You know how this happens, don’t you?” Again, damn I have hit the fucking stupid switch and it is stuck in the on position.
“Yes, Ruth I am fairly certain that I know how this happened. I let that jerk husband of mine stick his dick in me again. Only I hoped that since I had given birth only about four months or so ago that I couldn’t possibly get pregnant. Just you wait until Shack knocks you up.”
I shrug. “Sorry Carol, will not happen. I had cervical cancer at 25, and had to have a complete hysterectomy. Still have the romper room, but the kid factory is gone.”
Carol looks absolutely horrified. “Oh God, Ruth I am so sorry. Here I am feeling sorry for myself, blabbering about being pregnant again. I am such an ass.” She lightly touches my arm.
I hug her tightly. “You can touch me you know. I am not going to jump your bones, just because you touch me. It does not rub off.”
Carol’s face turns a brilliant shade of red, highlighting her freckles. “Oh, uh Ruth it’s not that. I just have not had a close girlfriend in a long time, and don’t want you to mistake anything.”
“You can be friends with a gay girl, and not expect her to mistake anything for more than friendship. Unless you put me in a lip lock, and start ripping my clothes off, I am unlikely to think that you want to get into bed with me.”
“Damn, woman when she does that please, oh please let me watch.” Fuck, I had not heard Shack come into the tent. Carol whips her half-empty can of beer at him splattering beer all over the entrance of the tent and the vestibule floor.
“Easy girl, no need to waste good beer,” Shack teases easily ducking the hurled can.
Shack walks over, and places his hand on my shoulder. I lean into his hand, enjoying its warmth. Shack has a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon 12 ounce cans underneath his arm.
“Ready to go relieve the comm shack crew?” Shack asks me.
I need to go see Nikola anyway, and Shack and I are supposed to take three hours of watch in the radio tent while the crews change out and eat. Our turn in the radio tent is not until early in the morning, during breakfast.
Slipping into my field jacket, Shack and I walk the short distance to the radio tent in silence. Nearing the tent, we can hear the drone of the hand-cranked generator and something else that I cannot place.
Entering the tent I see that Nikola is working on one of the Degtyarev DPM light machine guns. Several of the distinct 46-round, pan-shaped magazines are spread around him on the table. Nikola is carefully inspecting the feed lips of the notoriously problematic magazines.
The magazines that he is not happy with and ones that continue jamming the DPM with red, aluminum dummy ammo are being honed by Nikola with a fine Arkansas stone lubricated with 3-in-1 oil.
“Machine gun is fine, but magazines piece of Soviet shit,” Nikola mutters. Sometimes Nikola tries to act like he is so ghetto, but he is about as ghetto as the Prince of Wales.
Shack looks to see what Nikola is doing. “How’d you get to keep the 3-in-1 oil? I thought all of this stuff was supposed to get dumped into the fuel tanks of the deuces?”
Nikola shrugs. I see Walter is cranking steadily on the generator handles. Shack lost at the rock-paper-scissors, so he gets the first round cranking on the gen set while I man the radio. Honey enters the tent, while Shack takes over the gen set, keeping the handles moving steadily.
Monster toddles in on his chubby little legs and our radio tent crew is complete. Although Monster really cannot do anything, he never goes anywhere without Honey. For the four of us in our truck, we are practically mishpocha.
Monster plops on the tent’s canvas floor at Honey’s feet. Reaching into her duffel, Honey pulls out an OD-green, Korean War vintage, B-3 candy and crackers unit from a Meal Combat, Individual.
Monster fishes out his paracord neck lanyard from which hang a P-38 can open and a small neck knife. I am not sure giving the toddler a knife was such a good idea, but the can opener made sense.
While Monster attacks the B-3 can with his P-38 can opener, Honey drops a dark brown plastic package in his lap. Giving up on the recalcitrant can, Monster attacks the easier snack first.
Monster rips open the vintage, brown US MRE bag like a kid on Christmas morning. Shit you would not believe the kid just ate about an hour ago. Pulling out a chunk of aluminum-foil wrapped, enriched chocolate and toffee candy, Monster breaks off pieces offering some to everyone in the tent. At least Honey has taught the kid to be polite, which is good since Monster only listens to Honey.
Nikola and Walter decline, but I nibble on a small piece. For something dated October, 1980 the candy is slightly oxidized, but still good and tastes somewhat like a Heath bar. After consuming the chocolate candy, Monster again attacks the B-3 can.
“You asked me to come here to check something out?” I ask Nikola.
“Da, listen to this, do you understand or recognize this language?”
Oh, God, yes I recognize the language, but I thought that I would never hear it again in this lifetime.
After the lunch break, we continue our travel north taking the back roads. Our faithful dump truck snow plow, leads the way crushing aside any cars left in the road. The back roads for the most part are clear, but occasionally a small knot of cars in encountered.
We travel in silence for a while. We eat lunch as we travel eating mostly cold MRE entrees. Honey attempts to eat a minestrone stew MRE, even after dousing it liberally with Tabasco and then something called Shut Up Sauce, it still smelled, looked and had the consistency of vomit.
Even Monster would not eat it. Rescuing the precious brown MRE spoon from the packet, Honey tosses the inedible stew out the window across Shack’s face. The speed and ferocity that Honey tosses the MRE packet out the window startles Shack.
“Fuck! Watch it!”
“Sorry Shack, but there was no way that I could have hit you,” Honey is confident in her skills. I forget sometimes how strong she is and how fast her reflexes are.
Looking at the little slip of a girl, you would not think her strong enough to rip a man’s arm from his body, or lift a man from the ground and then break his spine over her knee.
Honey is already scary in hand to hand combat, as I teach her Krav Maga; she is getting only more deadly.
Shack hands out 24 ounce cans of tepid Coors Light beer. “Who do you think you are? Shack do you think you are Dionysus?”
Shack snorts, “Which one? Shack rattles off: Dionysius Geevarghese, Mar Dionysius I, Dionysius the Philosopher, Patriarch Dionysius II of Constantinople, Patriarch Dionysius I of Constantinople, Dionysius the Wise, Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos, Dionysius I Metropolitan of Moscow, Dionysius Bar-Salibi, Dionysius Exiguus, Dionysius of Milan, or Pope Dionysius?”
“Fucking PK,” I mutter. He grins at me, that lop sided smirk I love so much.
Honey declines as she hates beer, while Monster sucks his down with gusto, burping merrily as he hands the empty can to Honey.
Oy vey! Handing out booze to kids. Although Monster is only about six months old, physically he looks like a two or three-year old kid.
Sipping my luke warm beer, I drive for a while when Honey suddenly breaks the comfortable silence.
“After using the bushes, I overheard the boys saying something that I do not understand.” Honey begins without preamble. “One of the boys asked, ‘What’s the difference between parsley and pussy?’ I don’t understand the answer – one of the boys said ‘No one eats parsley!’”
Shack caught off guard and with a full mouth of beer chokes. Coughing, he spatters beer all over the passenger side dash and window.
Wiping his mouth, Shack choking on beer mutters, “oh, fuck me.” Shack is blushing all the way to his ears. I remember last night Shack buried in my wet flesh, sucking gently on my little man in boat.
What Shack lacks in skill he more than makes up in enthusiasm. Shack is also an excellent listener and is getting much better. I usually have to pry his head from between my legs; otherwise Shack would remain there far past the pleasurable point.
“Ruth you are blushing too,” Honey exclaims. “What did I say? How do you eat pussy? I don’t get it?”
“Uh, Ruth this one is for you, babe.”
“Thank you, Shack but I am not about to explain oral sex to Honey, with Monster’s little ears so near.”
“Oh!” Honey exclaims, her face flaming hot with embarrassment. “That’s what it means!” She drops her head, rummaging in an old air crew flight bag giving Monster some more snacks.
At the end of the day, the convoy stays for the night in an old Christian sea side retreat, called Warm Beach. This large piece of property must have been a very nice place before KCAP and the damn FEMA.
Like it did across the US, FEMA took over large pieces of property establishing camps. This ruined FEMA camp is somewhat less dreary than some of the others we have been in. Our Scouts tear through the place looking for anything of value.
Regrettably, scavengers took anything of value long before we got here. Weapons, food, and any useful medication has long ago disappeared. After the place is searched, camp is organized and tents set up.
Only a few of the buildings survive, most were burnt or destroyed by weather and time. We spread out through the compound, establishing perimeters and guard rotation. Shack and I are lucky as we pull an early guard shift before dark.
We return from our guard rotation finding our tent set up beside our truck. Entering our tent, Carol sits on their side of the tent, feeding little Stiva. As Shack and I drop our gear on our bedroll, I watch Stiva’s chubby little hands wave in the air.
While eating our evening meal of stew with mystery meat in it with gray chunks of what once might have been vegetables, a runner enters the mess tent. The young man runs up to me, “Ruth you are wanted in the comm shack. Nikola says there is something strange on the radio. He hopes you might be able to figure it out.”
Oh, fuck … now what?
Leaving Kayak Point driving north, everyone in my truck is in a somber mood. We pass a lake, ringed once with nice houses; all of them are ruined, many gutted by fire. Bloated bodies litter the water, most floating face down.
The ruin of what might have been a very nice neighborhood is shocking. We pass on the outskirts of the ruins. Several bodies are staked to trees, some of them reach out to the convoy as we pass.
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”
“Very funny Shack, really not the time to be quoting the Bible.”
Shack smirks at me. “As an apostate Jew, at least you knew where the quote came from.”
On queue, Honey asks, “Where is that passage found.”
Honey swallows the last of an MRE breakfast muesli. Cramming her brown, American MRE spoon into her mouth, she licks it clean before putting it in her field jacket pocket. The two infected kids are almost continuously eating.
Shack gave Honey one of the numerous, pocket-sized King James Bibles that we find often enough in the rubble. Shack at least saved several Bibles from being used either as fire starter or the pages inside as rolling paper.
“The Book of Revelations 6:8.” Shack says, while helping Honey find the passage in her Bible. All I need right now is a pair of Bible thumping twits in my truck.
Monster, suddenly awake, yanks on Honey’s pant leg. Not taking her eyes from the open Bible in front of her, she reaches into her coat pocket, and hands Monster several MRE snacks. As Monster tears into his snack, I eye-ball Shack over Honey’s head.
Shack shrugs at me. “It helps her read, and gives her something to do.” Shack helps Honey pronounce the difficult words.
Monster finishes the first snack, tossing the wrapper in Honey’s lap while he tears into the next. Before Honey shoves the empty wrapper into the grocery store garbage bag tied to the dash, I read the label.
Monster ate a pear and blueberry fruit bar, taken from one of the older, vintage, dark brown American MREs. After finishing the next snack, a pair of unappetizing-looking bars labeled “chocolate ration” in English, Monster lies down again. Monster is soon asleep on the floor boards at Shack’s and Honey’s feet, tucked against the fire wall above the gear shift.
I would not think that it would be difficult to follow the convoy; after all we leave a lingering cloud of blue-gray smoke belched from all the M35’s and HEMTT’s engines. All of the diesels are burning a witch’s brew of used motor oil, used cooking oil and any other kind of flammable oil we can get our hands on.
I fought to keep all of the CLP, my favorite oil for cleaning and lubricating my weapons, from being dumped into the M35’s fuel tanks. Several little bottles of Rem Oil, got dumped into the M35 tanks. Several aerosol cans of WD-40 and Rem Oil were also used for starting the old M35s.
I always thought that using ether was the way to start reluctant cold diesels. The mechanics tell me that we should never use ether on the diesels as it is not good for the engines.
During the lunch time break, I use the bushes along with Honey. After we get back, the boys go to the bathroom.
“I envy the boys,” Honey says as we are leaning against the idling Dodge truck.
“What do you mean?” I ask wondering what has gotten into her mind now.
“The boys don’t have to drop their pants to pee, or squat.”
“Yes, but can you imagine having something swinging between your legs all the time? I always liked being a woman.”
“Ruth, is that because you are bisexual, so you like both girls and boys?” This is the first time Honey has directly mentioned my sexuality.
“No, not really. I like girl things, and cannot imagine not being a woman. I am bisexual, but it is the whole package that attracts me, not just a nice set of tits or how delicious Shack’s ass looks in those jeans.”
Honey blushes red to the tips of her ears. I open my mouth to speak but get interrupted by one of the Scouts roaring up on his motorcycle. Slamming on the brakes, the Scout slides to a stop beside my truck.
I wish the Scouts would wear helmets, but they tell me that they cannot hear with a helmet on and they restrict their view too much. I guess the lads have worse things to consider, like getting eaten by infected zombies, rather than crashing.
I have seen this boy around camp a few times, but his name escapes me at the moment. He has an old Hi Point 9mm carbine slung on his back. The Hi Point guns are some of the most common that we find. Problem is Hi Points have a proprietary magazine, and those are not as common. Finding a weapon with no magazine is useless.
The Scout’s Hi Point 9mm Luger carbine has been rattle can painted green and brown by someone with more enthusiasm than skill. A red dot optic of some form is clamped to the rail on top of the clunky, heavy carbine. The optic has been spray painted as well, but it looks like it might be one of the old Bushnell, or TruGlow red dots.
The Scout checks ammo, fuel, food and water status in each vehicle noting them down in a battered wire-bound journal. We are ok for now, but with Monster and Honey’s appetite, I am going to need more food in the truck soon.
Word is quietly passed that lunch is ready. No clanging triangles here because it attracts too much attention of the wrong sort. We all filter in through the old cement plant’s service doors. It is much cooler inside the old plant, one of the many things that I hated when I lived here during my convalescence. I am a child of the desert, I hate the cold.
Once inside, the children came running down to greet us. After numerous hugs, I get a good look at some of the children. I am amazed at how much some of the children have grown since we were here last.
Lunch is served (as all meals are in the old cement plant) cafeteria style. A line forms with the children and nursing mothers first, followed by the younger men, and then everyone else. Portions are generous, and I had forgotten how noisy it can be here during meals.
My tin tray is piled with some kind of meaty stew, a few pieces of fresh bread topped with butter, and fruit compote of some kind. Pulling one of my US Army OD green canteens off of my belt, I add a cherry flavored electrolyte drink mix from an old Soviet-era IRP (Individualnovo Ratsiona Pitanee).
I have to shake the hell out of my canteen to get all of the sugar to mix with the cold water. While vigorously shaking my canteen, I think about all of the shipping containers filled with MREs from all over the world that Iain has stashed all over his property.
I am not sure where the man got all of those MREs but he probably spent a fortune buying all of them. When it comes down to it though, MREs as survival food are not your best “bang for the buck” as it were when you look at calories per dollar cost.
However, for sheer convenience, and variety of food, plus their often high calorie content military MREs are hard to beat. Iain collected MREs from all over the world for several years. Burying the cargo containers on his land, he constructed carefully planned tunnels accessing each cargo container from the bunker.
Iain keeps an extremely detailed inventory of what is in each cargo container. By burying the containers underground, Iain protected them from the elements, and ensured that the steady temperature underground ensured most of the MREs survived well past their expected life span.
Iain and I have eaten MREs that were over 75 years old and were as fresh as the day they were packed. We have also attempted to eat MREs that were less than five years old and had already gone bad.
Hoping that my drink mix is sufficiently mixed, I dig into my stew while it is still warm. Not sure what meat is in the stew (I have learned not to ask) but it is tasty. Lots of potatoes and carrots, with some barley mixed in makes a hearty stew.
The fruit compote is slightly tart, but not overly sweet. I cannot place the berries I find in the compote, but recognize strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Separating some of the small round berries I study them closely.
“They’re silver buffaloberry and Canada buffaloberries, honey,” Iain says. “They’ve planted a bunch of them around that little spring up on the hill behind the plant. We have some on our property too, but the damn birds get most of ours before I can get to them. I much prefer goose berries, as I find buffaloberries just a little too tart for my tastes.”
Iain does have a hell of a sweet tooth, so I am not surprised that he prefers the sweeter goose berries to these tarter berries. My favorite has always been strawberries, which Iain loves as well which are why we keep a large patch of strawberries in our hydroponic system.
After spreading the butter on my bread, I sprinkle a little salt on it from my twin salt and pepper shaker that I keep in my coat pocket. Iain does the same with his bread and butter. Both of us use the bread to sop up every last drop of the stew and the fruit compote from our tin trays
Iain breaks out a sleeve of Pilot brand commercial survival crackers from his LBV sharing them with me. We both pull out a desert. Iain chooses an apricot and apple fruit gelee from a French RCIR (Ration de Combat Individuelle Rechauffable). I eat a cinnamon and apple Zapplesauce from an American army MORE (Modular Operational Ration Enhancement).
I think this particular Zapplesauce came from a US Army Hot Weather Pack #3, but I am not sure. Iain and I both like the snacks found in MREs from all the major countries. Finding the MRE snacks convenient and full of calories, Iain and I try to keep our pockets filled with at least a couple of snacks. After the crackers, Iain and I share one of the chocolate bars from another Russian IRP.
For some reason the Russian chocolate is particularly good, although I have never really gone crazy for chocolate. Amy loved chocolate, while I much prefer caramel. Unfortunately, caramel is fairly rare in MREs.
Iain and I are assigned a room on the third level of the plant. During the night, the lowest level which is mostly open to the elements is abandoned. The first floor is indefensible so it is abandoned. The ladders are pulled up into the second level, where most of the personnel live.
Iain and I carry our bedrolls and other supplies into our room. You have to admit the rooms are nice in the old cement plant compared to what most people live in. Robert and his crew have managed to partition off sections offering a little privacy.
Most of the walls are constructed of pallets and other handy building material such as car doors and body panels. After securing our room, Iain and I spend the afternoon handing out the trade items to the kitchen.
Robert’s bunch has had a good crop of Austrian winter peas grown on the hills behind the plant. The pea fields attract lots of wildlife mostly grouse, rabbits and the occasional deer which are carefully shot and butchered.
Dinner tonight will be another meaty porridge with some vegetables accompanied by some fresh-baked bread. As the evening progresses, the ground floor is secured and all personnel are accounted for on the second floor before the ladders are pulled up and secured for the night.
Supper is eaten in the large common room. I am glad to see Robert still has some working electrical lights. Iain found several thermoelectric generators which were bolted to every stove in the old plant.
Discovered in 1821, thermoelectric generators create electricity from direct heat. There are enough generators here to illuminate most of the second and third levels with faint light. The use of LEDs helps prolong the battery life.
Iain and I go to bed early. We are tired from travelling and fear we will fall asleep at the table. We excuse ourselves and retreat to our room. We strip and lay out tomorrow’s clothing. While Iain takes a quick sponge bath, I wipe my weapons with CLP. I notice that my Glock fighting knife’s edge needs a touch up – I will do that tomorrow after breakfast.
After my cold sponge bath, I crawl shivering into bed with Iain. Sleeping with Iain is like having a large furry furnace in bed with me. Curled up against Iain’s side I drift off to sleep wondering what tomorrow will bring.
“And to what do I owe the pleasure of your company Iain,” Robert asks. Before Iain can respond, Robert continues. “And how long do you intend to stay? Always nice to see you Ruth,” he says leaning around Iain’s bulky frame. Cheeky bastard.
Iain starts to respond, when Robert cuts him off yet again. “Who’s the new chick? She looks like an ecdysiast.”
Robert has the annoying tendency to flaunt his excellent vocabulary, attempting to make others feel stupid. Usually he does it when Robert feels threatened or unsure of a situation. Other than myself, and a few of the other older adults, I doubt anyone else here knows what an ecdysiast is, so Robert is just showing off.
The two men have always had a very cool relationship, regarding each other very warily. I would love to know what is the cause of the tension between the two men, but neither will speak about it except in general terms.
BUF runs into my arms, crushing me in a bear hug. He is actually crying he is so happy to see me. After a sound kissing on his furry cheeks, I give BUF some of the MRE hard candy I had stashed in my jacket. He grins like a silly little boy shoving the candy in the pocket of his camouflage overalls.
“BUF, you need to go back to your post. It is not time for you to come down yet. You can talk to Ruth later, at supper when your guard duty is done.”
Robert is not mean to BUF, and treats him more like a little brother. But sometimes you do have to remind BUF or he will get sidetracked and forget what he is supposed to be doing. I kiss BUF’s cheek again, and help him tuck his Fitter Family medals underneath his old faded field coat.
BUF heads back up the side of the hill, already sucking at one piece of hard candy. As BUF leaves, Father Naaman rolls up in his wheelchair. Father Naaman is a veteran of the Second Afghan War in which he lost both of his legs to a Soviet-era Dushka fired by Mujahedeen.
Still dressed in his customary black, Father Naaman was one badass Jesuit in his time. Former Green Beret, and a member of the secretive 5th Special Forces Group, the Father saw some serious combat.
Fluent in both Pashtu and Dari, Father Naaman served all over the Middle East. Despite losing his legs, the Father has remained in excellent shape, his priestly robes taught with the whip cord muscles underneath.
Father Naaman’s wheelchair has larger tires, designed more for off-road use rather than for hospital use. It has an extra rugged frame, and the wheelchair is fitted with extra straps securing Father Naaman in the chair. Father Naaman’s wheelchair has a wider and longer wheelbase, reducing the likelihood of tipping over.
A sawed-off, 12 gauge shotgun, a pistol gripped Ithaca 37 rides in a black leather holster on the right side of Father Naaman’s wheelchair. The shotgun’s pistol grip lies just underneath his right wrist.
A desert tan, CZ 75B pistol rides in a brown leather tanker holster across his torso. Lying in his lap is Father Naaman’s favorite, suppressed, CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 pistol with the shoulder stock folded.
One the left side of his wheelchair, Father Naaman’s Leica Geovid HHD-4C solar-powered laser range finding binoculars rest in their special holster. I have heard the father assign himself penance because of his doggedly determination to keep those binoculars.
Despite not being of his faith, indeed as a member of the faith (sort of) and ethnicity not really friendly to the Catholic Church, Father Naaman and I have always gotten along very well. The rugged, smooth-cheeked priest was one of the first to visit me when I woke from my coma.
While I floated in and out of consciousness, Father Naaman would read the bible to me. He also read other books, regardless if I wanted him to or not. Despite my screaming at him a few times, and several rather unkind things said by yours truly, Father Naaman always came back, calmly reading to me.
A pair of books that he read several times to me is The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adams, and Christianity for Modern Pagans by Peter Kreeft. While the good father probably does not have as many books as Obaba, the little Japanese troll, he does have an impressive collection.
As the rest of the members of this extended family come out to greet Iain and me, I notice someone seems to be missing. Wading through the children, the adults arrive. As I hug and kiss Emily, admiring her six-week old son, I ask her a question that has bugged me since we arrived.
“Hey, Em where’s JT?”
Everyone looks suddenly sad and a pall of silence slams over the crowd. Damn, did I just fuck up royally? Finally Father Naaman speaks.
“James-Thomas died day before yesterday. He was checking our larger cistern for leaks. With our SCUBA gear he jumped in and fell to bottom of the cistern because he forgot to inflate his BC (buoyancy compensator) and turn on his air. He fell all 142’ feet to the bottom and drowned. We used a grapple and fished him from the cistern yesterday and buried him this morning. Emily’s six week old baby is James-Thomas’s son. Stupid mistake killed a fine young man.”
“What is the boy’s name?”
“We haven’t named him yet, Ruth, because we are not sure if he is going to live. Right now we call him Sausage, because he is a chunky little bundle of joy. Father Naaman wants to christen my son, but I want to wait until I name him.”
I know that no one else in the old cement plant is Catholic, as the old priest and I talked about it many times. But that did not seem to bother Father Naaman; he said it just means that he has his work cut out for him.
Emily looks at me with her tear streaked face, her despair plain on her face. “If I didn’t have Sausage, I might have jumped in after JT and joined him.”
Sausage starts to fuss, so Emily takes him into the shade underneath one of the old cement mix silos, and lets him nurse. The men take the wagon and animals to the stables, while the women retreat into the shelter underneath the old cement plant.
I observe Sausage nurse for a while watching as his little fingers flex against his mother’s breast. Amy used to talk about having children together some day; I always avoided the child topic or tried to dodge it as best as I could.
While it was not necessary to have a walking sperm donor in your life, most of the men I slept with (at least for fun) I preferred big, stupid and silent. I was not there for a witty tête-à-tête, I wanted to get fucked which I always enjoyed. When the fucking was over, I bailed.
When I wanted intelligent discussion, or looking for someone who was intriguing and could stimulate my mind – I generally sought women. For me, as a bi-sexual, it was a whole package deal, the sex of my lover was almost unimportant. I do not get wet just because of a great set of tits or because of how scrumptious Iain’s ass looks in those tight Wrangler jeans he wears.
Even as much as I loved Shack and as much as I love Iain, I could not imagine having children with either of them. Shack never broached the subject of children. Iain and I have discussed children once or twice. I just never wanted children of my own.
The last time that Iain and I discussed children, he mentioned adopting or adding someone to the bunker who has children. We could use more help in the bunker and we have plenty of room. But children? In the bunker?
Emily moves Sausage over to the other breast and his little fingers and toes flail as she moves him. He settles down as he gets suction on the new full breast, but his little toes and fingers still flex against mom.
I have never been a motherly type – I think the mothering gene or instinct skipped me. I always wondered what the kid did with those fingers inside of the mother. I cannot imagine something with fingers lying just underneath my heart for nine months.
Iain shows me some of the data that he has collected. He did not really have to as I believe him and his reasoning for wanting to move Flower’s clan. As far as I can tell, Iain has never lied to me. He knows that I believe that if you lie to others or lie to God you are only human; but lie to yourself and you never will remove the stain from your soul.
He is particularly interested in the twins. I ask Iain why the twins are so important. Are they some kind of canary?
“If a kid is a little shorter than others or missing some IQ points, it’s tough to see. But with identical twins you can compare them to each other,” Iain explained. “The growth of one of the twin sons seems stunted, while the other was about average height. One has also suffered an unusual number of rashes and staph infections, as have most of the people living here.”
“Iain, how are you going to convince these people to move?”
“I’m not sure, Ruth but I hope to have that answer by the time we are back here from Robert’s place.”
The next few days are spent packing gear and traveling to Robert’s place, an old abandoned cement plant on a hill overlooking the Powder River. During the four-day trip to the cement plant, Redhead was surprisingly quiet.
Riding up the dirt trail leading towards the front gate of Robert’s compound, we are greeted by BUF (Big Ugly Fucker). Nearly as tall as Iain, but much wider, BUF was burnt badly as a child. BUF suffers pupula duplex in his left eye, and constantly wears sun glasses. BUF suffers badly from migraine headaches.
Iain says that BUF reminds him of Sloth from the old Goonies movie, but I do not see the resemblance. For one thing, I am not sure if Sloth smells as bad as BUF does, but they are both lacking in the teeth department.
BUF is a large, loveable giant of a man who has the intellect of a 12-year-old boy despite being some 20 years old or so. As we pass underneath the rock pile that serves as BUF’s vantage and lookout point, I see that BUF still wears the Fitter Family medals from an ancient eugenics judging contest.
I do not know where Iain got those old medals and one medal even has some holes as if someone once used it for target practice. BUF loves the medals, and will not part with them, but I do not know if he realizes what they represent.
BUF stands guard over the old cement plant. He carries a M79 grenade launcher, which looks small in his giant hands. I know that his favorite close quarters load is a 40mm Hornet’s Nest load that fires ten, 22 Winchester Magnum rim fire rounds at once through ten, individually rifled cylinders.
The bottom of the Hornet’s Nest shell unscrews revealing a firing plate set off by large pistol or rifle primer. BUF likes the other, usual 40mm shells but for some reason loves that bright red Hornet’s Nest shell.
We pass through the main gate into the old dusty court-yard passing the Villar Perosa twin submachine gun on its pintal mount. I am not sure where Robert got the rather rare and unique Spanish machine gun.
I climb off of Mary Margaret with a groan watching her foal scamper around the place smelling. Once the gate is closed behind us, the children explode from hiding startling the little foal, which darts back to the safety of her mother’s leg where she stands shaking.
Surrounded by the children I am struck by how much several of them have grown. After the children, came their pets are we are surrounded by dogs while the compound’s cats, who would not deign to greet visitors look down upon us from their lofty perches.
You would think that with this many damn cats that they would wipe out the fucking pigeons that infest this old cement plant. However, the pigeons are a major food source so Robert does not want too many cats around. I was never quite clear how exactly the cat population is controlled – perhaps I do not want to know.
Seeing pets at all after KCAP is rare. Most pets were either killed, ate or lost. The FEMA camps with military-like discipline, immediately confiscated pets which were then taken away to be euthanized as soon as possible. Those entering the FEMA camps were summarily disarmed, so they could not offer any resistance when their pets were killed.
Once, both Safeco Field and the Seahawks Stadium FEMA camps each held more than 20,000 plus people. The last time that Iain and I checked both were still heavily infested with zombies.
We discussed at length attempting to get into either of the largest FEMA camps ever in the area. We are fairly certain that a significant amount of weapons, food, medicine, and other supplies are probably still in the two infested stadium which are directly across from each other.
During one Seattle scouting mission, we ate lunch sitting on the street corner between the burnt out remains of the Pyramid beer garden and Safeco Field. While eating, we watched zombies crushed against the industrial grade fencing by the press of bodies behind them.
Sometimes the press of bodies against the fence got so great that a zombie or two was actually squeezed through the fencing like meat through a cheese grater. Once a zombie is killed, it becomes instant meat for the surviving zombies around it.
I nearly lost my lunch as I watched a zombie munch with relish on a large, yellow lipoma on the shoulder of a dead, Asian woman zombie crushed against the fence.
A grossly fat, female zombie with long heavy dreads, dressed in skin-tight black capris, and a pink tube top about three sizes too small grabbed the large chunk of meat with the lipoma trying to take it from the other zombie.
A brief struggle between the two zombies resulted in ghettopotamus zombie getting some small pieces of the lipoma while the original zombie got to keep most of its prize. I shudder at the memories.
As Robert and his ladies descend to greet us, Iain and I pull out the turmeric root we brought along for trade. We also brought lots of dried yucca root for soap making. I have not been here in several months. Coming here brings back some painful memories.
I smile and try to make the best of the situation as Iain and Robert coolly stare at each other.
Iain and I walk across the courtyard, serenaded by Obaba reading some Indian drama, with lots of marriages, scandals, gratuitous high fashion and excuses for ridiculous costumes. I never really cared for Indian drama, but found some of the comedies funny.
Iain is determined to move Flower’s group. Arguing with the man when he is in this mood is like arguing with a forest fire.
“Have you considered calling Robert on the Ham radio?”
In the field Iain carries a Yaesu 857D portable Ham radio with LDG Z-100 antenna tuner. I watched him carefully hook the small solar charging panel to the batteries just after we arrived in the old school.
I have learned that Iain in the old world was an “Elmer” Ham operator, someone who mentors others in amateur radio. He has tried establishing a small Ham radio network here in the area with limited success.
“I don’t want to broadcast over an unsecure network that I plan on moving some 30-odd people plus some of their belongings. Too many assholes out there still that might hear and plan an ambush. No, it is safer to make this request in person even if it takes much more time.”
“But Iain, you did not plan on being gone from the bunker this long.”
“No I didn’t, but I think a couple more weeks shouldn’t hurt. Although, I am worried about the hops going bad. We need to pick the hops and get them packaged soon.”
Iain loves beer, and grows several varieties of hops in the bunker. We are running out of frozen hops, but the lack of malted grain is critical. The bunker was not built with malting floor. Robert and Iain cooked up this wild idea of creating a malting floor at Robert’s place trading malted grain for hops.
We sit at one of the benches in the courtyard. “So, why are you suddenly so gung-ho to move this group?”
“You know that I have been testing the water and soil here in the old school. Some of the soil samples I took measured 1,250 parts per billion of lead. Some samples tripped the 5,000 ppb warning which is the technical definition of hazardous waste. Even the Romans noticed, as early as 312 BC, that lead exposure seemed to cause strange behaviors in people.”
“So Iain you are saying these people are lead poisoned?”
“Ruth, in a way that I did not think possible. But not just lead. Chlorinated hydrocarbons as well; in massive numbers. Flower’s clan has had high red blood cell counts and indications of leukemia in several members. The problems are bad enough that I was considering if infecting them with KCAP would be a kindness or just shooting them would be kinder.”
“They are that bad off?”
“Ruth, she probably won’t tell you this because for some reason she seems to hate you with a passion I have rarely seen in one so young. In December Flower suffered a bout of epilepsy, she suffers from asthma and a nearly constant urinary tract infection, and has a low white blood cell count.”
Iain pulls out his little notebook, looking at his notes his lips form a tight line. I know that look; it usually means more bad news. Some people had the notion that all information is good, that information is like water in desert, and that you can never have enough.
Some of the “all information is good” people are also the ones whose mind-numbing embrace of passivity, helplessness, infantilizing and condescending outlook on the rest of mankind doomed them in the KCAP apocalypse.
Most of these intellectuals lacked any real skills useful in an apocalypse and became either one of the infected or lunch for the infected. Part of what chaps my ass about Flower is that she constantly has the smug look on her face that only the truly self-righteous can carry off. That look on her face makes me want to smash her face in until it is a bloody pulp.
It would be nice to get out of the city though. The stink in most cities from untreated sewage, rotting garbage, and unburied rotting corpses has faded over the years, but is still prevalent when the wind shifts. That smell invades the nostrils, lodges in the back of your throat and triggers my gag reflex. Iain seems immune to the smell – asshole.
We face the problem of paralysis through analysis. Obviously we need to do something, but neither option looks very appealing.
“We leave redhead here, or take her with us,” I ask Iain.
“We take suchka with us. I don’t trust Flower and her crew to keep their hands off of her.”
“Now what has she done?”
“You mean other than the constant complaining, and bitching about the crummy food, and lack of entertainment?”
“What the fuck does she expect – dancing monkeys? Do you think that she will fare any better at Robert’s place and if she is such a pain in the ass, how long until Robert tosses her pretty ass out?”
“I don’t know Ruth, but she is getting on my nerves.”
For redhead to get on Iain’s nerves is really saying something because he is the most patient man that I have ever met.
Obaba continues to read the Indian drama in the background. Iain, seeing that I am listening to Obaba for a bit, looks pointedly at me.
“ ‘Books give delight to the very marrow of one’s bones. They speak to us, consult with us and join with us in a living and intense intimacy.’ ”
“Who the fuck said that?”
“Petrarch, dear,” Iain says with a smug look on his face.
“Asshole. OK, but Petrarch did not have to put up with Indian high drama read by a little Japanese troll in a reedy voice. Speaking of which, how are we going to move said little Japanese troll and all of her shit? Have you ever looked in her room, it is packed to the damned rafters with all kinds of books, papers, magazines and God knows what else. Hell, she could have a copy of the Lemegeton of Solomon in there for all we know.”
“You’re showing you Jewish roots dear, although if she did, I’d love to read it.”
I rarely grace these pages, but occasionally Ruth values my input. (Actually, I always value his input; he just so rarely expresses his desire to appear in my journal – Ruth.)
I watch her facial expressions as she processes what I have just told her concerning the water and food. I have been far too busy exploring a hunch, and have not kept Ruth up to date – a failing, I am sure she will harshly take me to task for later.
There is so much shit from the old world left lying around that it should not be surprising that occasionally we run into trouble with some of it. When societies suddenly collapse, there are a great many things left behind that survivors have to deal with eventually.
Cultures and societies become more conservative and more sexist when they feel threatened or when conditions are worsening – not exactly a recipe for cohesive working conditions. St. Augustine, not that I am particularly religious, said that we should never use the truth to injure – but Goddamn it is hard sometimes!
The bees are almost all dead or gone, with very few survivors. The fucking stupid clan ate some of the brood and almost the entire honey comb. When I tried to explain that it does not help the bees, and injures them to eat all of their honey, the response I got was “but it was so good.”
“Ruth, we know that their water has fecal contamination. I suspect several of the clan members suffer pin worm infestations as well. But that is not the worst of their troubles.”
I walk over to the water bucket on our wagon, noticing that it is nearly half gone. Rinsing out the remains of the MRE orange bug juice from lunch, I refill my canteens replacing them on my belt.
Leaning against the wagon, I cross my legs. Ruth has her fixed expression, lips tightly together, her brow furrowed, arms folded across her chest underneath her breasts.
“There are also some areas contaminated with Legionnaires’ disease. Despite the generally cooler temps, somehow the water in this old school gets warm enough for the Legionella bacteria. Or the Legionella bacterium has mutated and now survives in cooler water.”
“Your elegance of expression never ceases to amaze me, dear.”
Ruth gives me the oh so American one finger salute.
“So, what else? I saw you got that big fucking instruction manual to the water tester. You only dig that damn thing out when the shit is really bad; you treat it as if it is the fucking Guttenberg bible.”
“You know that this clan has had a high rate of unexplained illnesses, miscarriages, and intellectual disability.”
“Intellectual disability? Is that your kind way of saying they are a bunch of fucking morons?”
“Ruth, honey, you were not with me yet, but Flower’s clan used to be much larger and did not always live here in this old school. The first Flower, the current Flower’s grandmother, was a very strong woman and really had her shit together. They had more men, and the general age of the clan was a bit older. Lived on an old hippie commune out in the foot hills, even had chained zombie guards on the fence line.”
“Not sure, honey. Something drove them off the old hippie compound. Another, stronger survivor group, zombie horde, not sure we’ll ever know. All the people from then, besides Obaba are dead, and Obaba cares for nothing except her reading.”
“Obaba was with them back then?”
“Yes, she was a petite, beautiful Japanese-American woman, taught Japanese studies at Washington State University for several years. Shame how she has become so hunched and wizened. But I believe Obaba, which was not always her name by the way, is a particularly good example of the poisoning of these people.”
“Do you think this poisoning was intentional or accidental?”
“I don’t know, but you know that illness kills more than injury in every conflict. What if they were poisoned to get them off the land?”
“So what does it mean for us?
“I want to move the clan, but I may have to remove Flower from her throne in order to do so.”
“You want to pull a fucking coup? Have you lost your fucking mind?”
Ruth throws her hands up in that so Jewish gesture of frustration. “Fucking meshuggah! Where the fuck are you going to move a bunch of inbred, retarded, stunted kids …” she stops mid-sentence.
A look of shock comes across her face as she realizes just what I have in mind. It is hard to slip something past Ruth; she has one of the best tactical minds I have ever met.
“Robert’s …you fucking want to move them to Robert’s place.”
“They have the room, but it’s not as easy as that. In the old days, moving this many people some 100 miles would be a snap. Today, it is going to be a real feat.”
“Not to mention you are going to have to convince both Robert and Flower, unless you kill her in your nice, little coup, to agree to this insane idea of yours.”
Thinking, Ruth digs the toe of her boot into the cement floor of the stable. She looks at me with that stillness that tells me the wheels are a’whirlin’ behind her dark brown eyes.
“How far of a ride it is to Robert’s from here … three; four days?”
“About, if you ride hard and do not stop much.”
“Someone is going to have to be the liaison between the two groups. Shall we divide our team?”
“I don’t think so, riding alone in this day and age is not exactly smart. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you, Ruth.”
She smiles at me for my endearment but the smile does not reach her eyes. She is still mad, and thinking too much for my silly placating words.
“You are talking about some serious time in the saddle. Riding to Robert’s, pitching this fucking insane idea of yours, and then riding back is going to take the better part of two maybe three weeks.”
“I know, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit.”
Ruth looks at me, arms still crossed across her chest, toe digging in the floor. After a few minutes of thought, she speaks again.
“And just who is going to pitch this great idea of yours?” Her face goes still. Her eyes widen.
“Me … you fucking want me to pitch this idea to Robert!”
“Babe, you were there the longest; you spent nearly five months healing among those people. Robert’s people know you well and you know them. I think it’d be better received from you, with me adding support.”
“What is it with you and Robert? You will have to tell me some time, so that I know why there is this coolness between you two. I know that he was once, pre-KCAP, the Baker City chief of police. What did Robert do, ticket you for excessive height? Was he dirty?”
“Well, not exactly dirty, but we had some unpleasant encounters. I was surprised to see him actually caring for someone other than himself. Not what I expected of him at all.”
“People can surprise you.”
Ruth has an emotional perceptiveness that I lack; perhaps her bisexuality gives her multileveled perceptions, maybe because I am straight.
“Why do you care so much, you are not exactly the white knight type?” Ruth asks, breaking my contemplations.
Oh boy, how to explain to Ruth that I feel partially responsible for Flower’s group. I was once privileged to be one of Flower’s grandmother’s lovers.
Zombies are everywhere, from movies and games to comics and graphic novels. We love nothing more than watching our world crumble and how people just like us deal with that. If you know me, you will know I am obsessed with the zombie genre. I was watching an episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ the other […]