As we are striking camp, I find Iain unbraiding the draft horse’s tails.
“Not good for the horses,” he says to me. “It’s been driving me fucking crazy ever since we got the damn wagon.”
I shrug – whatever, Iain knows far more about the horses than I do. As we prepare to move, Mary-Margaret, Joker and Lucious, with the rest of our menagerie, are enough worry for now. Once again, red-head is absofuckinglutely useless.
As Iain and I collect the mines and early warning devices, several of Flower’s tribe ride into the small wooded and grassy area. Most of the children ride old, battered BMX bicycles, while some ride bikes obviously salvaged and assembled from pieces.
The feral children are dressed in a combination of rawhide, and quickly crumbling destroyed clothing. Most of the children have strategically placed pieces of tire either fastened to their clothing as armor.
Knives, spiked clubs, and other various improvised weapons are prevalent. Flower’s tribe has very few, if any, firearms. Iain has debated slipping Flower and her tribe some of our excess firearms. While the guns themselves are plentiful, it is the ammo that is in exceedingly short supply.
A ragged looking bunch, our escort smells as bad as they look. Between the lack of personal hygiene, and the lack of a bath, we follow our motley escort.
The only thing that is uniform about them (other than the smell) is that somewhere on their person, visible at all times, is a flower of some fashion. Rather it be a facial tattoo or a scar (some of them very well done) on visible places like the side of the neck, all of Flowers tribe are marked with her symbol.
Some of the other feral tribes use brands, but Flower allows her tribe members to choose how they will announce, forever their allegiance to her tribe. Most of the males choose the typical location of a shoulder or forearm.
The females mostly choose forearms, but a few have chosen the back of their non-dominant hand to receive the flower mark. One of the few things that I like about Flower is that she does not employ press gangs to add recruits to her tribe.
If you do not wish to join, you do not have to but Flower will execute the person on the spot. Usually after the first disinclined person is shot, suddenly everyone else is much more eager to join Flower’s tribe.
One child, a girl a think judging by her slimness, has a functioning LED tee-shirt with schools of neon-colored jellyfish swimming across the shirt in random directions. The black tee shirt is far too big on her, but it appears to be in decent shape and actually functions.
When standing outside in sunlight or in other bright light, the passive sections of the LED tee-shirt actually act as a solar cell and help recharge the small Lithium-Ion batteries. LED tee shirts were all the rage more than a few years ago, but the fad passed quickly.
Leading Mary-Zombie we join our motley escort in the street. Not sure if the tribal members know who we are, but no one even attempts any kind of introduction. Iain tosses red-head into the wagon with casual ease.
The way that Iain grabs red-heads hips and lifts her with ease is beginning to piss me off. I never would have thought as myself as the jealous type, but I am beginning to feel the first twinges that red-head may supplant me in Iain’s life.
Riding Mary-Margaret we pass old cars, most of them long weathered down to bare rims and rusty car parts. Anything of worth was stripped out of the cars a long time ago. We pass an old rusty Saab station wagon with a male skeleton sitting behind the wheel.
Staked in the car with a large bar of iron, the poor bastard is still wearing once fashionable Ed Hardy clothing. One of our escorts attempts wrenching the iron bar from its rusty grave imbedded in the poor skeleton.
He gives up after a few minutes, revealing why the large iron bar has remained where it is for so long. The young male studies the Ed Hardy watch on the skeleton’s arm for a minute. Shrugging, he leaves the watch hanging from the skeleton’s wrist.
The kid may not know what a wrist watch is, or may not know how to read it even if the damaged thing worked. Lord knows when the batteries died in that watch. I am thankful that the Casio wrist watch I wear has a small solar panel built-in constantly recharging the battery.
I am also thankful that in the bunker, we have solar, wind and hydro power. I wonder how Bobby’s old cement plant is doing. Last time we were through the area, Iain and I helped them source several small solar panels from some abandoned RVs.
The few solar panels and salvaged wiring was enough to at least get some weak lights working. They actually had enough power that Nadezhda broke out her secret record player. I thought she would play some awful Russian pop music.
I was fucking flabbergasted that she played opera. What even surprised the fuck out of me more was that butt-ugly Nadezhda, who looks like a hung-over, grizzly bear with a horrible case of bad hair day, has a voice like an angel.
Nadezhda can belt out Italian opera loud enough that the dust lifts off the rafters. She would have scared the damn pigeons off, but Bobby’s group ate them all long ago. Not only does Nadezhda sing Italian opera like a goddess, she can also sing some of the most difficult opera.
One day while Iain was visiting me, Nadezhda was screeching something incomprehensible in Italian when, of all fucking people, Iain starts whistling along with the Russian beast.
“What the fuck, Iain?”
“Oh, sorry Ruth, I recognize the opera. It’s from one of my favorite movies.”
I did not realize that Iain is quite the movie buff. In the bunker, Iain has a considerable movie collection. I did not realize, until I moved into the bunker, that Iain is quite the SciFi fan.
If Iain had not told me, I never would have realized that Nadezhda, the stinking horrid Russian bear, can sing Il dolce suono, an aria from the opera Lucia de Lammermoor. Supposedly one of the hardest arias to sing, Nadezhda belts it out with little effort.
The only reason that I know what the fuck Nadezhda was singing, is because part of that aria appears in one of Iain’s favorite movies, The Fifth Element. Iain loves popping an obscene amount of popcorn, curling up on our over-stuffed couch and watching a movie or two.
As we ride through the remains of Baker City, I sip cold hawthorne tea. The tea is good for blood pressure and heart health. I do not think that I have problems with either my blood pressure or my heart, but something that is good for you, cannot be all bad.
We eat in silence. Red-head does not want her beer, so Iain drinks it. I decline a second beer. I vividly remember the first evening after Iain finally took me away from Bobby’s place. Since I was still so very weak, Iain brought his old Ford truck.
I blush thinking of what happened in the back of that old Ford pickup. God, I was such a slut. Well, that and a little drunk. I had not had beer in almost a year, and Iain gave me a couple of cans of beer with our supper. What happened later is another topic for another day.
A touching show of his concern for me; Iain was willing to burn so much precious diesel just to ensure that I made it safely to my new home. Risking the attention that a loud, rattling diesel engine suffers, Iain was quite charming in his dented, rusty, smoking blue chariot.
Even after all of these years, my heart still aches for Shack. I grieve that I have not been able to see Shack’s grave. For a long time, I worried that Shack might have succumbed to KCAP.
Through the long months of healing, when Iain brought supplies to Bobby’s, Iain would always visit me. Iain told me of how he struggled, pulling Shack’s shattered body from the wreck. Crawling back into the wrecked Dodge truck, Iain was very surprised to find me alive, when he had been expecting another corpse.
Iain has ensured, as best as he is able, that I am at peace with how Shack passed. Although, I still want to go and see his grave. Shack was buried by Iain, but it was a few days later, after he returned from dropping me, in a coma, at Bobby’s.
I was mad at Iain for leaving Shack, but he has explained his reasons. Shack was already beyond Iain’s help, whereas there was something that could be done for me. I am forever grateful to Iain for risking his life saving mine.
Iain came to my aid when he could have left me to die. Sometimes, in my darker moments I almost wish that Iain had left me to die beside Shack.
If Iain had not climbed down into the ravine, investigating the wreck, I wonder if infected would have found me before I succumbed to my wounds. Iain has said that the wreck is in a difficult spot, and only someone with rock climbing and rappelling skills can get to the wreck.
The remote location and difficult terrain is one of the reasons that Shack and I were not disturbed in the wreck. Although he will deny it, Iain’s initial foray down the chasm to the wreck was not for altruistic motives.
Iain was searching for salvage, and the wrecked Dodge revealed many useful items that Iain used. Iain was after ammo, fuel, and food primarily, but also anything else he could use or trade. He was not expecting a survivor in the wreckage, as he believed that no one could have survived.
Iain has promised some day we will get over to what used to be Washington State. I will lay some flowers on Shack’s grave when I can. Maybe I will say some words over Shack’s body; perhaps read some of his favorite story. He would like that I think. Every day, I still miss that boy.
At Bobby’s, Miranda and Muriel (commonly referred to as M&M), Bobby’s wife and sister/second wife respectfully, took very good care of me. Best friends since childhood, M&M are nearly inseparable.
I still shudder at the thought of incest between Muriel and Bobby. Their children, despite being the product of incest, are quite healthy and beautiful. I am sure that it is neither the first time nor the last that a brother and sister have hooked up and had kids together.
Besides, as Muriel explained it to me one evening as she fed me – she and Bobby are only half-siblings sharing a mother, but have different fathers. As if that makes all the difference in the world!
Muriel does have one good point though – after KCAP, it is not like there are a lot of nice guys running around to settle down and have a family with. In her later teens when KCAP broke, Muriel never really had a chance to meet a nice boy, settle down and have a family.
Nadezhda, the Russian battle axe bear mother, was mostly responsible for my medical care. Once a highly paid doctor in Mother Russia, in the States she could work only nursing homes and elderly care facilities.
It was Nadezhda who performed surgery on me, and set my bones. For despite two masters and a pair of doctorates in medicine (none recogonized in the US) she could not get certified above certified nursing assistant (CNA).
A bitter, frightening woman with the bedside manner of a hung-over alligator, Nadezhda has the hands of a goddess. Her skills, once sober enough for surgery, amazed even poor, jaded Iain.
One day, as Nadezhda examined my wounds, clutching her ever-present bottle of bathtub vodka, I asked her why she tried so hard to ensure I healed. Tossing her greasy, shoulder-length, mousy-brown hair, back from her face, Nadezhda peered down her small, pudgy nose at me.
Once a very obese woman, Nadezhda great folds of loose skin flop around as she moves with as much agility as a great, drunk, pigeon-toed ostrich. Possessing a small head perched, grape-like on her wide shoulders, Nadezhda pale-blue piggy eyes glare at all she surveys.
Taking a swig of her rot gut hooch, Nadezhda belches. Tucking her bottle underneath her left arm, I was blessed with the twin competing aromas of Nadezhda’s body odor and her rotting teeth.
She shrugs, and patting me on the face says, “You die; I get earful from wolf. I no like wolf.” She left in a cloud of body odor, flapping her arms about muttering in Ukrainian. To this day, I have no fucking idea what she meant.
On the way home from Baker City, I want to stop at Bobby’s place and visit. It has been too long since the last time we dropped in. I want to ask M&M about some of the things I think I remember while I was healing. I want to make sure that I get my memories written down correctly.
I am not vain enough to think someone will actually read this trifle, but you never know. I also find writing my ideas and thoughts down therapeutic.
No one was sure if I would survive the coma. Iain, having seen many injuries on the battlefield, was doubtful I would survive. Iain said once, that he considered snapping my neck, euthanizing me, rather than subject me to the months of pain that healing required.
While I was in a coma, my broken arm, leg and ribs were set as best as they could be, given the situation. I am still amazed that they were able to trepan my skull and relieve the pressure against my brain. I can feel the circular lump in my skull underneath my hair.
Sometimes my hair brush will catch on the bumps underneath my skin, reminding me how lucky I am to be alive. I still do not know if the Convoy left Shack and I for dead, or if Monster and Honey survived the wreck.
Perhaps Monster and Honey survived the ambush and were able to rejoin the Convoy. The infected are hard fuckers to kill, and can survive much worse than us mere “normals” can.
I fervently hope that Monster and Honey survived the ambush. If Honey and Monster did not make it back to the Convoy, I hope that they at least survived and were able to find some place to live.
Shack was obviously dead. I probably appeared to be in no better shape. Iain came upon the wreckage of our truck, he thinks a few days later.
Iain saw the smoke and heard the gun fire but he did not see anyone else other than Shack and I in the vehicle. Because of the narrow ledge the truck fell on, looters had been unable to get at the truck. Thankfully Iain is a skilled rock climber and could repel down to the wreck.
How the hell Iain managed to get me in a coma, and most of my things out of the truck up a sheer cliff I will never know. When I ask Iain he just shrugs and kisses me.
Once I came out of the coma, and understood what had happened, I was very depressed. I badly wanted to die as I floated in and out of consciousness. If it was not for Iain visits which I came to eagerly anticipate, much to my chagrin, and the comfort of Bobby’s group I might have considered suicide.
Another person that drove me from my bed and to heal was Tito, but in a more perverse way. I hate that little Latin fucker with every fiber of my being. There are not many men that I am taller, and unfortunately, Tito happens to be one of the few.
One of the worst cases of Napoleon Complex, I have ever seen, Tito is one of the most disgusting little fuckers I have ever met. After nearly a year of healing, both mind and body, I was more than ready to leave Bobby and his group.
How I fixed Tito, is best left for another day. Let us just say that little asshole gave me plenty of incentive to heal, probably more than any other person.
Bobby and his group actually discussed infecting me with KCAP, so that my chances of healing would improve. Thankfully, I was aware enough at the time to vehemently deny any desire of ever becoming infected.
Iain was against the idea from the onset, and was even threatening to carry me out of the old cement plant if they even considered infecting me on purpose. I woke to a four-way screaming match between M&M, Iain, and Bobby.
Enough ruminating on the past, for now.
I rest my rifle on its bipod, prepared to defend our little corner. My position is not optimal; I have the wagon to my right and the animals to my left. I draw my pistol and attempt to hand it to a dozy red-head who has not come awake enough.
I hear rustling in the grass. Closing one eye, so that the claymores or other mines detonation will not blind me completely, I snug my rifle to my shoulder. I have loaded a full, 35-round magazine of alternating hollow point, soft point and FMJ ammo.
I drag a full mag of SS109, 62-grain, green-tipped, NATO penetrators from my pack, laying it beside my legs within easy reach. I see a tall shadow moving silently through the grass. No mistaking that fucking huge outline, but it looks odd, with a huge lump on his shoulders.
Softly, I hear “here, kitty-kitty” in Iain’s, deep, throaty voice.
I give the proper counter sign, “puki.” Had I responded with “suso,” Iain would have known that camp was not safe and to come in ready for battle.
Mary-Margarot raises her head high and neighs very loudly. Red-head erupts from the blankets, knocking my pistol to the ground and nearly knocking my Galil over onto its side. Thankfully, both weapons are in the safe position, so I do not have to worry about the startled girl shooting Iain.
Cursing the startled red-head in Yiddish “kacken zee ahf deh levanah!” (Go take a shit on the moon), I right my Galil and holster my old Browning pistol. Red-head is staring at a dripping, blood-splattered Iain carrying Mary-Margarot’s little foal.
Setting the little foal down, Iain watches as it wobbly runs over to her mother who neighs loudly again. Mary-Margarot sniffs her foal, snorts loudly and shakes her head tossing her mane.
The little foal scoots underneath her mother, her thin little tail shaking. Nursing loudly, the little foal’s eagerness at teat shakes her mother’s body. I marvel at the simple beauty of the Akhal-Teke horses.
“Used to have to worry about fuckers attempting to steal my horses. Now, I have to worry about assholes trying to eat them as well,” Iain mutters. “I saw the tracks of the little foal. Two assholes were trying to catch it in the yard of an old apartment building.”
I can guess what happened to the two assholes. A pissed off Iain, with over three feet of excellent, sharp Solingen steel is not something I wish to suffer.
Walking over to the water barrel on the wagon, Iain strips off his blood-splattered shirt and white tee shirt underneath. Careless of the cold water, Iain scoops out several handfuls and scrubs most of the blood out of his beard and hair.
Admiring the smooth, muscled lines of Iain’s chest and shoulders, I feel a tingle down below. Even if his shoulders and chest are covered in dense hair, not much thinner than the horses, he is still a fine specimen of a male.
Unlike Shack whose muscles were a product of Army training and exercise, Iain comes by his muscles naturally. I have never seen Iain run, or lift weights for fun. Anytime Iain must excerpt himself, it is for a damn good reason.
“Girl, either shoot me with that pistol, or put it away,” Iain suddenly growls. Startled, I touch the holster on my right hip, ensuring my pistol is properly holstered. Looking around Iain’s naked shoulder I see red-head standing, mouth agape holding a battered Whitney Wolverine pistol.
Using one of the rags from the wagon, Iain dries himself off. Walking towards red-head who appears unsure what to do with the pistol in her hands, Iain gently presses the gun down so that it is pointing at the ground.
Red-head soundlessly drops the small pistol in the pocket of her coat and flops down on the blankets beside the fire. Iain tosses several pieces of wood on the fire, stoking it higher. Pulling fresh clothes from his pack, Iain dresses quietly.
Iain has never been shy about his body. He slips a fresh pair of Levi pants on and a fresh tee-shirt and flannel shirt. Iain does not wear skivvies, preferring to go commando.
I have lots of questions, but I know that Iain will answer them in his own time. “You did a good job setting the perimeter defenses,” Iain mentions. “Next time, might want to set the claymores a little farther apart, otherwise well done.”
Iain kisses me lightly on the lips and whispers, “Don’t worry, her little pistol is full of blanks. I have her ammo wrapped in a blue handkerchief in my coat pocket.” He winks at me and pats me on the ass.
Iain rummages in our cooking and food supplies. “Sun’l be up in an hour or so. If you two ladies want to nap until I get breakfast cooked, go ahead or you can heat water for a quick wash or tea. Me, I want some coffee. Ruth, where is that ground dandelion root coffee I had?”
I hand Iain the dandelion root coffee packet, while I grab our little tea-pot. Filling the tea pot from the wagon’s water barrel, I see that red-head has crawled back in the blankets. With the increased heat from the fire, light steam wisps from the blankets, as the first of the morning’s dew dries.
“Found some young and tender field pennycress. Mixed with some Palmer’s pigweed, it should make a good batch of pot herbs for breakfast. Pulling out our worn and battered, mini bamboo cutting board, Iain slices pieces of salt pork.
Tossing the pieces of salty, dried pork into our well, soot-covered cooking pot, Iain adds the pennycress and pigweed. Adding spinach, arugula, and mustard greens we brought from the bunker, Iain starts making a vegetable broth soup.
While Iain chops carrots from the bunker’s gardens, I use some hot water and a rag for a quick wash. Red-head lies on her stomach in the blankets the whole time watching us. The smug expression on her face reminds me of a pampered house cat.
I resist the strong urge to go over there and smack that smug look off of her face. For some reason, looking at red-head pisses me off. Perhaps, I am becoming jealous in my old age. I change my clothes as well, putting on a fresh white wife beater, a flannel shirt and a pair of tan 5.11 operator pants.
I go commando these days as well, as most underwear by now has long fallen apart. My boots are still in good shape. I take stock of my wardrobe as I strap on my weapon’s belt, connecting it to the OD green, Vietnam-era LBV I wear. It feels good to have fresh clothes on and my pistol back in its holster on my hip.
Finished with my bath, I put my dirty things in the wagon. Joining Iain by the fire, I sit cross-legged beside him. Iain sips dandelion root coffee while I make some peppermint tea for myself.
“I traded with a few of Flower’s scouts for some bread,” Iain remarks as he starts slicing chunks of bread from a dinner-plate sized round loaf. It has been a while since we have eaten bread. The rich, dark brown bread has a nutty flavor and compliments our broth soup.
Without comment Iain hands red-head a bowl of soup and a thick slice of bread. I wish we had some butter, and salt to sprinkle on the bread, but the bread is a welcome change in our diet.
Iain hands me a can of Bud Light. I blush, remembering what happened the first time Iain gave me beer.
I am not sure quite what set Iain off, but if he needs help he will yell. I notice that he left his rifle in the wagon next to red-head.
Since it is late afternoon, there is no sense in pushing on; we will reach Flower’s tribe tomorrow morning. With much urging, I get red-head out of the wagon and have her help me walk the team into the overgrown grass in front of what once might have been an office building.
The bare cement face of the old building will provide cover for our backs and give us shelter. Unfortunately, the building also limits our escape options, so we will have to be careful.
Sheltered by the wagon and the large building, I set up camp with some minimal help from red-head. I get the team hobbled, and munching on the grass, but Mary-Margaret and Lucius appear preoccupied with where Iain went.
I get a small fire going sheltered by the building. From the black char marks on the building it is not the first time a fire has been made here. I keep the fire small, worried that either the smoke or the light might attract attention.
As darkness falls, I heat water for MREs and make some shepherd’s purse tea for menstruation. My time of the month is soon and I have found that the shepherd’s purse helps with my cramps. I set aside Iain’s dandelion root coffee.
I have never liked coffee, and like dandelion root coffee even less. Red-head and I eat in silence. After supper I dispose of our MRE wrappers in the fire, and police our campsite as best as I can.
I lay out four claymore mines in a semicircular pattern facing away from our campsite. About 50 meters before the claymores, I set shotgun shell antipersonnel mines with the shells aimed horizontally.
Laying out our bedroll, I climb in fully clothed. Red-head joins me underneath the covers. I lay against the cold wall of the concrete building the fire to my left within easy reach. I have enough fire wood and other trash collected while setting up the mines to keep the fire burning all night.
I do not want too much of a fire, but enough to keep red-head and I warm, without giving away our position. A large dead birch tree in the center of the small grassy area provided a lot of the sticks I am burning.
It is a shame that the birch tree is dead as Iain likes tapping birch trees for water and sap. Oh well the wood burns well, and as the night settles in with red-head snoring beside me I prepare for a long boring night.
My Galil I lay on top of my blankets between my legs, while my pistol lies beside me on my belt. I cannot sleep with my belt on, so I took it off. I have a 60-round Pmag inserted in my rifle, and four 30-round magazines lie beside me.
My Galil mags are loaded with alternating FMJ, hollow point and soft-point 69-grain ammo. Every fourth round is a steel-cored, green-tipped penetrator. I have two mags of nothing but 77-grain, tungsten-cored penetrators in my pack.
I hate the term “armor-piercing” as these small rounds are not really armor-piercing, but were made to penetrate old Kevlar body armor. Short of a bunch of zombies, raiders, or worse, I feel that we are sufficiently armed.
Boredom quickly sets in. With red-head snoring softly beside me, I wish for something to keep my mind active. There is no caffeine, and any kind of delicious green tea is but a memory. I start playing mind games to keep me awake while I watch and wait for Iain to return.
With nothing else to do around the bunker, Iain has gotten me reading just about every book he has in his extensive library. Thankfully, his library is real paper and not electronic, as most of it would have been worthless.
In my pack, I have a well-read, paperback omnibus of Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos. I wish I had a “Tarnkappen” from Anderson’s books – it would have come in handy so many times when I wanted to disappear.
I hear something rustling in the grass. I watch the animals ears turn towards the sound but they do not make any noise. I realize that the wind is blowing in the wrong direction (from our backs) and that the animals cannot smell what is coming towards us through the weeds.
Flipping the safety off on my Galil, I reach out to shake red-head awake.
We take a circuitous route towards Flower’s territory. Last time we visited Flower, she was at war with the neighboring tribe of feral children. We hope not to get caught between the two conflicting sides again.
Riding beside the wagon, I notice that Iain is wearing his thick, red leather arm guards, the ones with the black and white Knights Hospitaller symbols on the outside. From the rough, scratches and the heavily worn condition of the guards, I believe the arm guards to be very old.
I have never asked Iain if he is either a Knight Hospitaller or a Knight of Malta, but I wonder. The arm guards, due to Iain’s size, must have been custom-made and had to have cost a fortune. While leather is really not my thing, I can spot quality work.
The brass-studded leather arm guards cover Iain’s forearms from wrists to elbows. I watched Iain crush a mans throat with his forearm sheathed in the thick leather guards, without even breaking a sweat.
The only time Iain wears his arm guards is when he is expecting a lot of sword use. The thick, leather arm guards pins Iain’s usual, heavy plaid shirt to his arms, reducing the chance of snagging his shirt.
Iain is always cautious. He has an almost preternatural sense of danger. Through the years, I have learned to trust Iain’s intuition as it has saved my life more than once.
Stopping to water the horses at an old fountain filled with rainwater, Iain watches while red-head and I tend to business in the bushes. Red-head takes longer than I do, so I have a chance to talk to Iain regarding our new companion.
Iain thinks that perhaps, red-head is either mentally retarded, or has a slight mental illness. Perhaps in the previous world, red-head would have been monitored and proscribed drugs. Neither Iain nor I are any kind of mental health specialist, but we both know a nurse that used to work in a mental care facility.
Perhaps on the way back from meeting Flower’s tribe, we can drop red-head off with Bobby’s group living in the old cement plant above the Powder River. Iain regularly trades with Bobby’s group.
I know Bobby’s group well, having spent the first several months living with them while I healed. I do not know exactly how long I was with Bobby’s group because I was in a coma for part of the time.
Iain is very cautious, he does not give out the location of our bunker to anyone – ever. Iain thinks Bobby is crazy letting strangers come to the cement plant. Iain never lets strangers know where the bunker is and takes great pains to ensure its secrecy.
Iain worries that some stronger group will take over the cement plant, but that has not happened yet. Bobby and his group have managed to keep the cement plant safe. While I lived with Bobby and his group, Iain would come by and check on me every few days. Iain and Bobby knew each other before KCAP, and while not exactly friendly, I would say that the two men are not enemies.
If we drop red-head with Bobby’s group, there are several other women there, as well as Bobby’s wife who was a nurse in a state mental care facility. As red-head joins us again, I wonder if she would benefit from living with Bobby’s group.
Iain tosses red-head back in the wagon with careless hands on her ass, which causes me to raise my eyes and my face to glow. The sudden flush of jealously is not something that I have felt in several years.
Iain and I have never formally spoken of commitment, but now I wonder if I should speak with him. I never got a chance with Shack. I do not want to miss out making my feelings clear to another person before it is too late again.
We pass multiple burnt out cars, and lots of abandoned electronic garbage from the last world. Tablets, IPads, cell phones, lap tops, electronic watches and other devices such as Fit Bits litter the streets and sidewalks.
There is so much electronic detritus that I wonder how people survived suddenly deprived of their electronic toys. Electronics so permeated our life before KCAP that I believe, some of the early deaths were related to sudden electronic deprivation.
Now granted, those deaths were not directly related to electronic deprivation; but were a result of people becoming completely lost and uncertain what to do minus their electronic leashes. Many people had forgotten how to function and even think without their electronic gadgets.
Suddenly deprived of electronics, many people were lost and did not know how to function without electronics. Electronics had so permeated every function and aspect of life that the sudden loss of electronics rendered most people incapable of independent thought.
Use to getting all their information and directions from various electronic devices, most notably the rapidly improving and expanding smart phones, the sudden loss of those electronics rendered many people unable to cope with a world without electronics.
Only those flexible enough to adapt rapidly to the loss of the electronics and others, such as the Luddites who eschewed the use of electronics, were able to overcome the loss of electronics.
Passing yet another burnt out cell phone store, brings to mind one of my favorite quotes by Nietzsche: “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything – Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844 – 1900).”
Why would you waste effort robbing a cell phone store when cell phones became useless almost immediately after KCAP? As I found out in SeaTac airport, electronics, especially cell phones became useless almost immediately.
We ride in silence for a while. We start seeing crude painted stylized flowers on the sides of buildings and abandoned cars – sure signs that we are within Flower’s territory. There is some similarity between the old gang tagging in the pre-KCAP world and how the tribes mark their territory now.
Passing a small, central park in the center of an open air shopping center, Iain suddenly brings the wagon to a hoof-clattering halt.
Leaping from the wagon seat, Iain effortlessly rips his sword from its sheath with that familiar evil hiss. What the fuck!
Entering the outer suburbs of Baker City, we see ruins of civilization all around us. For her part, red-head rides silently beside Iain in the wagon. I wonder what she is thinking riding beside Iain on his right side.
Red-head did not even mention Iain’s humongous sword, most people when first meeting Iain, usually mention his great height, the sword or both. It is unusual that red-head did not mention either how tall Iain is or the sword, both of which would have been unusual before KCAP, but now is certainly unique.
Passing once modest homes in quiet sleepy suburbs now gutted by time and neglect, I wonder if the former occupants of these homes realized that their world would end so suddenly. Some of the homes, gutted by fire, and reduced to a blackened, shattered skeleton offer few clues to its demise.
There are very few cars left on the streets. Most of the cars that are left were probably the second, third or other spare family car. Most of the former occupants of these homes were far enough away from a major population source that they might have escaped to the highway before it became a zombie-clogged killing zone.
For lunch we stop inside a little community park, generously planted with numerous, over-grown, small hardwood trees. Stomping down a space within the hip-high, over grown grass, Iain and I lay out a blanket and get comfortable.
I lay my Galil with it stock folded on the blanket beside me. Iain has left his rifle on the wagon, but still carries his suppressed P90. Iain has to lay on his right side, accommodating his sword while I kneel on the blanket. Red-head, mercifully silent, kneels between us to eat.
If we need to shoot, I will use my trusty, old suppressed Hi-Power. Iain will use his P90. Iain may use that ginormous sword of his depending on the situation. I could use my old Spetz shovel, but I would rather not get that close to something unless I have no choice.
We would rather not use an unsuppressed weapon as the gun shots would tell the whole god-forsaken county where we are. We do not need to attract attention to ourselves, although I am sure that Flower or one of the other feral tribes probably has us under observation already.
While we rarely run into zombies anymore, there are still a few out here. Iain and I worry more about other survivors rather than the occasional zombie. What few survivors remain are the hardiest of the lot. Most of the weaker survivors have died by now.
We nibble on reconstituted peanut butter (god, have I come to loath peanut butter!), spread on old C or K ration crackers, and old US, MRE cheese spread.
I despise the old cheese spread both for its taste and for what it does to my bum. However, it is loaded with calories and fortified with vitamins, both reasons the government included cheese spread in MREs.
I gag down the plain cheese spread, while Iain is partial to the jalapeno or bacon cheddar flavored. Using our little Esbit stove and far too many precious hexane tablets, I boil water for Labrador tea. I like the convenience of the little fuel tablets but I hate the chemical stench they give off when burning.
Red-head is silent throughout our meal, eating without comment or joining Iain’s and I brief conversations. I mention the lack of Tripod and Cyclops, to Iain who just shrugs.
“Might have had her puppies,” is his only comment about the missing dogs, as if I understand what the fuck he means.
Leaving the hobbled animals munching on the park’s over-grown grass; Iain starts digging around in the grass near the base of the trees. Using our empty MAXPEDITION ballistic nylon dump pouches, Iain collects quite a few of the small, hard red fruit. I am certain the little fruit is edible. I trust Iain’s gathering skills; he can find food where I would have starved a long time ago.
“What are you going to do with these,” I ask as Iain returns to the wagon with yet another overflowing dump pouch of red fruit.
Pointing to the neatly planted rows of trees, Iain shrugs. “Those trees are Hopa ornamental crab apples. Hopa trees were planted all over the place because of the pretty, little pink flowers shrouding them in spring. Few people realize that the little, red crab apple fruit, with a little work and time, can be quite tasty.”
Iain shows me one of the full dump pouches and gestures towards the pile of filled dump pouches. “Far too bitter for eating raw, Hopa crab apples are red all the way through. Thankfully, Hopa crab apple trees dump lots of apples, most of which go to waste. Someone must have liked the look of these trees or got them really cheap to plant so damn many. There are enough crab apples that the birds and animals missed for us to eat quite a few. The little crab apples have been frost softened and sweetened; I can make delicious, jellied apple butter once I run the pulp through our ricer at home. Few insects infest these hard little apples. You can also be damned sure that they have not been sprayed with any poisons by an overzealous asshole who thinks anything with more than six legs is a pest and must be killed. We will need to remember this little park, so that we can come back later and collect more apples.”
A man of few words, Iain always gets excited about food, especially something different from what we eat all the time. I do not believe that we have ever had apple butter in the bunker since I have lived there.
After lunch, Iain and I restore our gear with red-head helping minimally. Iain takes the small hatchet and collects several pieces of dead crab apple wood. Tossing the wood in the wagon along with the hatchet, he answers my unspoken question.
“The apple wood is good for using on cooking fires. Since you’ve been with me I haven’t had any apple wood to use but you’ve seen me use cherry, alder, and oak. Apple wood provides a slightly different taste, good for cheeses and bacon if we had any. Good thing you aint kosher, as I‘d love some apple smoked bacon.”
Carelessly tossing red-head into the wagon, Iain climbs up after her. I ride Mary-Margaret up next to the wagon. Iain gives me a good snog before snapping the reins, getting the heavy wagon moving.
I awake with a large, warm tit in my left hand. Raising my head, I realize that I am spooning the red-head. My back is cold; Iain’s customary place is empty. Raising my head from the cloud of clingy red hair, I look around for Iain.
Iain is nowhere in sight, but the camp fire is banked and my little dented tea-pot sits in the sand nearby. From the condensate line on my tea-pot, I can see that Iain filled my tea-pot for when I woke up.
I gently disengage myself from the red-head, who mumbles in her sleep as I drop the blankets covering her. I do a few stretches in the cool air; goose bumps erupt on my skin. Dressing quickly, I hop over to the fire wearing one boot while attempting to get the other on my resistant foot.
My tea-pot is indeed full of fresh cold water. While waiting for the water to boil I look around for Iain. I finally spot Iain way up on the hill across the river, standing above the igneous rock dike. Grizzly Adams he may look, but Iain is anything but a simple man.
Watching Iain, I realize that he is looking over the valley from his vantage point, without silhouetting himself. Using his old pair of pale green Leica binoculars Iain scans the countryside. As Iain turns with the binoculars I see that he has his suppressed P90 hanging on a single point sling across his chest.
Across Iain’s back is his old battered 30-06 bolt-action rifle. Iain’s monstrosity of a sword, all four feet of fine German steel, hangs on his left hip in its black leather scabbard. Finished his surveying, Iain reaches down to the ground and picks something furry up.
He walks down the side of the hill and across the bridge. Pausing to look at the sleeping red-head, he gives me a good morning snog grabbing my ass with one hand while he does so. Iain holds two furry beasts up, stating plainly, “breakfast.”
“What the hell are those,” I stupidly ask. I have not had any tea yet and I am still sluggish. The damn sun is not even up high enough to clear the ravine walls.
“Rock chucks, as they are called around here, but properly yellow-bellied marmots,” he says with a shrug. Leaving the old, bolt-action rifle leaning against the bridge, Iain walks down to the river. Cleaning the two rodents quickly, Iain pulls out his frying pan and starts making breakfast.
“Might as well start the day on a full stomach,” he mumbles as pieces of marmot sizzle in the pan.
I sip my tea while Iain cooks breakfast. Just as Iain is scooping fried chunks of marmot on to pieces of steaming, fresh bannock bread red-headed sleeping beauty emerges from the blankets. Slowly strutting naked to the fire, she squats on her haunches, brazenly opening her legs so that both Iain and I can see between her legs. I notice that the woman is neatly trimmed but not shaved bare.
This red-head’s bush is a lot different than Carol’s, the last red head I knew. Despite the warmth of my tea, I am cold and slip on my jacket. I pointedly ignore the gross display in front of me. Iain has the good sense not to comment, handing the kneeling woman a tin plate of bannock and marmot in silence.
I am always cold and our bunker is not centrally heated. If I am freezing I cannot imagine how the naked woman is not shivering. I know she is cold because she could put someone’s eye out with her nipples; they stick so far out of her chest.
We eat in silence and I wonder what we are going to do with this woman, whom still has not told us her name. I take our plates and wash them in the river, while Iain stows our campsite. The fucking crazy woman takes a dip in the river – she as fucking crazy as Iain is, getting in water this cold.
We debate leaving the wagon but decide to take it as Flower and her tribe might be able to use it. Iain drives the wagon with the now dressed red-head beside him on the buck board; I ride in front of the wagon.
We pass the remains of an old zombie lying beside the road. This one has been dead a while. Exposed to the elements with no way of reaching shelter, the zombies break down fairly quickly, rotting away to nothing.
This zombie had a real bad case of “meth mouth,” something that Iain says was nearly a pandemic in this area before KCAP. The desiccated, shrunken remains of the zombie are little more than inky black bones, with thick black tendons running along the bones.
Even the scavengers will not eat a corpse infected with KCAP. KCAP was a mother fucker of a Malthusian catastrophe. Leaning over my horse’s side I look at the zombie’s corpse with no more than a little remorse.
Despite the fact that I have killed thousands, if not tens of thousands of zombies, I do not like to see one suffer. This zombie was stuck outside, both of its legs shattered and was abandoned by its nest mates.
I imagine this zombie died a slow, miserable death. Flicking my reins and tapping my heels to Mary-Margaret’s sides, I urge my mare to catch up to the wagon. I am worried that the foal has not returned to her mother.
Thinking of animals, I realize that Tripod and Cyclopes did not come into camp last night. I wonder if I should mention it to Iain?
Thank you to all of my faithful readers, who patiently waited while I dealt with a death in the family and work. I shall now return to my regular schedule of posting a new Ruth chapter each Sunday.
As the sun sets, the day’s warmth fades. Leaving the red-head and I, Iain scouts for a better campsite. Returning about an hour later, Iain and I quickly move our menagerie down to the new campsite.
While Iain secures the new campsite beside the Powder River, I scrounge for firewood. Iain and I both keep an eye out for unfriendly company that might have observed our movement. Iain found a suitable campsite underneath the rusty remains of a shattered old bridge.
The old bridge makes a decent defensible position and something that we can put our backs too if we get in a fight. It has been many years since we have encountered anyone else, but you never know who may still be out here.
Other than Flower’s group of feral children, the headless man and the voluptuous red-head are the first people Iain and I have seen in over a year. This many years after the KCAP pandemic wiped some 90% of humanity from the face of the earth, there are just not that many people.
Those that have survived though, tend to be the hardiest, and most ruthless people. Manners and nice behavior are conceits of an affluent society. Now it is all about survival. Iain thinks that people become cannibals because humans are easier to catch than anything else. And there used to be several billion humans on this mud ball at one time.
Iain lays our bedrolls underneath the cracked concrete and rusty spans of the bridge while I busily stack firewood. There is plenty of dead-fall in the area, and even some old tinder-dry bridge beams.
I have learned from Iain that most of the dead wood along the river is quaking aspen. A short-lived tree, quaking aspen makes good firewood and there is plenty of it. I also find several pieces of dead Indian hemp.
The dead Indian hemp (Apocynum Cannabinum) once dried will make excellent tinder. I will save some of the hemp stalks to pound into loose strands for tinder later. Since living with Iain, I have learned a lot about edible and useful plants. It is a shame that there are not any Indian hemp seeds, as the roasted seeds are quite tasty.
I may not be as good as Brenda was, but I am better than I was at the start of KCAP as a clueless urban-dwelling woman.
Using an old, over-sized “survival knife” I baton the larger pieces of wood, into manageable chucks. I worry about the noise of me beating on the back of the old knife, but hopefully the noise of the river drowns out my banging.
Our stunningly beautiful captive sits underneath the bridge, mutely watching as Iain and I prepare camp. There is nowhere for her to go, but even so, Iain still tied her to one of the old bridge beams. I do not turn my back on the woman, just in case. In time I forget about the woman.
While I get the fire going, Iain takes care of the livestock. There is no way to hide the wagon, so Iain moves it with the team around the side of the broken bridge where it will not be seen immediately from the roadway.
While I fiddle with the fire, Iain checks the tack, making sure nothing needs mending. Some pieces of leather tack get a slight coat of rendered bear lard for protection.
The dry wood burns hotly and produces little smoke. I am proud of the way that I can make a fire, having learned from Iain after all of these years. A beaver pond underneath the bridge impounds a nice smooth pond.
As I approach the pond with my battered, old tea-pot, a family of beavers slides into the water, slapping their tales as they disappear. Iain steps beside me his fishing pole in his hands.
“Is beaver tasty,” I ask.
“I’ve eaten beaver many times, and not just yours.” (Yes, he really went there – dirty minded old man.) “Beaver tail can be quite tasty, as it is very fatty and full of flavor. If we were here longer, I might try to capture a few beavers, the pelts could be handy for trade.”
Across the bridge on the side of the hill is a dike of igneous rock. I have learned a little geology from Iain. Geology is interesting, especially here in eastern Oregon where we live. Not too long ago I learned that our bunker lays in an excavated laccolith.
Iain fishes while I boil water for Labrador tea. What I would give for some fine Chinese green tea. While the water heats I dig out my little wooden kuksa, that I carved just before I left the convoy.
Sipping my tea sweetened with some of the precious fake honey, I notice a very naked and dripping wet captive sauntering into camp. I had forgotten about the woman, I am so used to Iain and I being alone.
Definitely not shy this one. “How the fuck did you get free?” I grumble to her.
Dropping her clothes in a pile beside the fire and placing her hands on her hips she turns to face me. “Your man did not tie the knots very tightly. I like being tied up but I also learned how to get out of ropes a long time ago.” She simpers at me.
Biting my tongue to keep from snapping at her and resisting the sudden, strong urge to bitch slap the shit out of her, I take a deep breath.
“Iain see you,” I stupidly ask.
“Honey, of course he did.”
I get an impulsive, mental visual of what her face would look like when I put a 124-grain hollow point between those perfect green eyes.