I worry that the clan members assigned to reload the shotgun primers using old phosphorus matches might get phossy jaw. Iain told me that would be nearly impossible, because the exposure limits are still fairly low.
The royal guard’s shields are as improvised as the rest of their weapons. Since ammo and working firearms are so scarce melee weapons have returned to prominence; perhaps Iain had the right idea so many years ago carrying a ginormous sword.
Each guard’s small, round wooden shield, is maybe two-feet in diameter. The front of the shields are reinforced with pieces of rubber tires, and studded with sharp pieces of glass and rusty nails. One industrious guard even studded his shield with several short sections of razor concertina wire.
Each shield has a sharp, central iron spike 10” long well slathered in shit. Iain calls the guard’s shields “spiked targes,” and has worked training the boys in close-quarters melee. Iain also calls Flower’s guards “beef eaters” I suppose in reference to the old British guards.
From what I understand Flower’s guards get the best food and the best of everything. I know that Iain suspects that Flower sleeps with her guards, and that they have fathered all of her children. I do not really give a shit who Flower sleeps with, as long as it does not bother Iain, red-head or myself.
Flower and her guards always remind me of one of my father’s favorite quotes from the Christian bible. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20
Of course thinking of the bible, reminds me of Shack. It is really unfair to Iain that even after all these years together, I still mourn for Shack. I really loved that boy, in a way that I did not realize until he was gone.
Iain and Flower talk a few minutes longer eventually moving away from me. I tuned out what Iain and Flower were talking about anyway. Finding myself alone in the quart yard, I ponder what to do with my time.
Looking around the court-yard it seems that everyone else has a task except me. Obaba is now reading from an old Star gossip magazine covering the early days of the brief Trump presidency.
After securing my weapons, I do a little stretching since that bitch got me all worked up again. By the time I am done and feeling properly limber, Obaba is reading the late Christian Bale’s famously explosive temper tantrum rant in another Star gossip magazine.
I decide I might as well eat my lunch. Leaving the area, I can hear the droning cadence of Obaba’s voice but not what she is saying. At the wagon, I pull the drab green MRE pouch out of my left hip pocket of my field coat. Sitting beside the wagon on the ground, I lean against a wheel.
I quickly read the label. Oh boy, I am in for a treat today. I get to eat a 1982 MRE containing the famously horrid frankfurters meal … AKA the “four fingers of death.”
After gagging down the four chunks of something slightly resembling meat; praying that they will not make a sudden and explosive reappearance from either end of my body, I actually get to enjoy the beans with tomato sauce entrée.
There was enough heat left in the flameless MRE heater after heating the four fingers of death, that the beans are pleasantly warm. The beans, for their age, are not too bad and once enough Tabasco has been added, quite flavorful.
For desert, I attempt gnawing on a John Wayne chocolate fudge bar. I eventually resort to using my knife, chopping the John Wayne bar into manageable chunks so that I can chew them without risk of shattering a tooth.
I brush my teeth using charcoal for toothpaste; what I would give for a tube of any decent toothpaste.
I refill my canteen with grape flavored bug juice using water from the wagon. Iain has left me a note on the wagon water barrel to only drink water from the barrel on the wagon and not to drink any water from the clan’s sources.
I hear Iain’s distinct walking pattern. I still have fairly good hearing despite shooting guns all the time without hearing protection most of the time. Iain rounds the corner of the court-yard entering the stables; his body language tells me that he is troubled by something.
Iain still has one of our solar-powered water quality testers underneath his arm but now it is accompanied by its huge instruction book full of tables, graphs and charts.
Seeing that I have used the water barrel, Iain looks at me and says, “Good, you got my note. Don’t drink any water from any other source, and I fear we may not want to eat their food anymore either.”
Seeing my actions, causes Flower to pause a moment and then continue her angry walk, but at a less-threatening pace. She spreads her hands, showing that Flower is not carrying any weapons in her hands. I lower the muzzle of my Galil towards the ground, taking my finger off of the trigger, but leaving the safety in the off position.
The look on her face would cause thunderclouds to form over her head in the old cartoons. In our previous visits, Flower and I have been cordially civil, but I always got the impression that if it were not for Iain, Flower would have me killed.
Flower stomps right up to me and gets in my face. “You turned one of my guards in to a sprinkler, you bitch! Now when he pisses, it comes out the side. I don’t appreciate you hurting my guard.”
Stepping closer, I bend forward slightly so that our noses nearly touch. “Keep the nasty little fucker from peeping into my people’s rooms, and I will not have cause to harm them.”
“He was just looking; you can’t blame him for that.”
At least with my back to the wall, no one can circle around behind me. Glancing across the courtyard I see Iain watching closely.
“Flower, I don’t give a shit that he looked, what I took an exception to was his comments and what he would like to do to her. I disabused him of the idea.”
She crosses her arms and looks perplexed. “You what?”
Fuck! Inbred, illiterate and stupid little cunt. “I made him realize that his plans for my friend were not a good idea.”
Flower is missing most of her front teeth, and has thin, badly scarred lips. Her left marled eye is completely blind. Like most clan members, Flower shaves her head, not for fashion but for lice control.
She is not the first Flower, but only the most recent in a matriarchal society. I know that she hopes that her oldest daughter takes her place someday, but depends on if she is tough enough to take leadership of the clan. The current Flower killed her mother, the previous Flower, taking the throne.
Looking at her guards, Flower shrugs her shoulders. Realizing that I will not yield, she takes a step backwards. In a mollified tone she asks, “Please don’t hurt any more of my guards. If you have a problem, come to me.”
She looks around the courtyard, the clan queen surveying her realm. Seeing red-head playing with the children she turns back towards me. “Are you leaving, the red-headed woman with us? If she is for sale or trade, we would be most interested in purchasing her.”
I wonder if Flower means the royal we, and if she has carnal plans for red-head. I also wonder what the fuck this little sewer rat has of worth to trade for a healthy, beautiful woman.
I have watched Flower slitting the throats of captured enemy clan members, dancing in the arterial spray of blood, her body adorned with the fresh, bloody scalps of her victims.
I used to think of Flower and her clan as feral children until I watched her butcher her helpless, captured enemies.
I do not trust this little savage. I believe if it were not for the fact that Iain and I posses quite a few guns, and grenades, Flower would have attacked us. First time we encountered Flower’s clan is because they were attracted to our animals.
The survivors of the old world hunt and eat wild horses and mules, as well as any other formerly domesticated animal that has the misfortune to cross their path.
I inhale preparing to give Flower a good ass chewing. Clan queen or not, I am not a fucking flesh peddler.
“Flower, we have told you before that we don’t sell people. We intend taking red-head with us when we leave, but if she wants to stay, that is up to her.”
I did not realize that Iain crossed the courtyard. With his long legs, he crossed the courtyard quickly. I see that Iain has one of our water spectral analyzers tucked underneath one arm. What the fuck is he doing now?
In Hebrew, Iain says to me, “Easy Ruth, honey. Don’t go meshugga on me. We could probably shoot our way out, but the cost would be too dear.” It amazes me how quickly Iain picked up Hebrew as well as Yiddish.
Flower puts on her most beautiful smile. Turning towards Iain, she gives him what I am sure she thinks is a seductive pose.
“Iain, dear, I could use a healthy adult woman in my clan. I have plenty of studs, but few mares able to give healthy children.”
Standing between us, I take a moment studying Flower. She is short, standing perhaps just a hair less than five feet tall.
Flower wears a long-sleeved, faded Levi jacket with fleece lining, and tattered, Levi jeans. Ripped, black Converse sneakers cover her feet, patched with duct tape. O.D. green parachute cord laces hold the old sneakers on her feet, a gift from Iain our last trip.
Flower carries a pair of mother of pearl handled polished nickel 1911s chambered in 38 Super. Flower’s pistols ride in a custom, black leather, double shoulder holster rig with polished sterling silver conchos. The black leather has faded to gray in several places, and is cracked. The silver conchos are green with corrosion. I know that Iain offered rendered bear lard, which we use on our leather, but Flower apparently cannot be bothered to maintain her gear.
A matching black leather belt also in poor condition circles her narrow hips. Securing the belt is a dented and corroded, Texas-dinner platter sterling silver belt buckle. Her belt buckle holds a pair of North American Arms, micro revolvers chambered in 22 WMR. She only possesses five rounds of 22 WMR for her mini revolvers. I am not sure how she has divvied those rounds between the two pistols.
Flower’s belt has pistol ammo loops, but only three loops on her left hip are occupied. Several of the loops are split from dry rot and will not hold shells anymore.
I know that Flower has very few rounds for her guns, with the last full 1911 magazine presently in each gun. I know that Flower wants rounds for her guns above all else, which is how I know exactly what she is armed with.
Flower also wants guns and enough ammo to wage war on the neighboring tribes (or clans, they cannot seem to decide whether they are tribes or clans). Iain and I, although we have enough ammo that we could spare some, we are reluctant to arm Flower’s fighters.
Dumping a lot of arms on one bunch would seriously unbalance the area. Very few weapons carried today actually have ammo in them. It is rare, such as when we took the wagon, that the man actually possessed ammo for his guns. Most guns today, empty of ammo, are carried for scare tactics, rather than as a weapon.
A few times in the past, ambushers and highway robbers received a very nasty surprise when they assumed that the guns Iain and I carry were empty. It is quite unlike the early days when there seemed to be an unlimited amount of ammo and weapons.
Flower’s four male guards are the largest men in the tribe. Rumored to be her lovers as well as her guards, the four guards are well fed and receive the best of everything. I wonder if Flower occasionally replaces a guard or if there is a guard retirement plan.
Each of Flower’s hand-picked guards carry a leather embossed, wooden circular shield and a shotgun fed reloaded black powder shells. There is no standard uniform, with the exception of the shield; the weapons choice is up to the guard.
The guard with the over-under shotgun carries a large, rusty knife strapped to his leg. The knife is in bad shape, but I can still make out Wüsthof on the blade.
One of Flower’s guards carries a disreputable, Chinese-made Remington 870 clone. Two of her guards carry double barrel, side-by-side shotguns. The fourth guard carries a rusty, over under with a silvery receiver. All shotgun barrels are cut as short as possible, the stocks crudely chopped into some vague shape that slightly resembles a pistol grip.
Cheap nylon and homemade bandoliers carry the black powder reloads which have proven to be anything less than completely reliable. I know Iain taught them a few of the ways to reload shotgun primers using the white phosphorus part of the heads from old strike anywhere matches.
Iain provided a few strike anywhere white tip matches from his stash in the bunker for shotgun primer making, but it takes 3-4 matches per primer. It would not take long to exhaust Iain’s carefully vacuum sealed stash of old white phosphorus strike anywhere matches.
Strike anywhere matches and even matches of any kind are nearly as dear as TP, 22 long rifle ammo, and Twinkies.
Reaching the kitchen safely, I pause a moment, guaranteeing that the pin is fully seated in the fuse of the ancient Russian RGD-5 (Ruchnaya Granata Distantsionnaya) frag grenade. Satisfied, the old, olive-drab grenade safely joins its comrades hanging on my Vietnam-era LBV.
This grenade is one of the last of our Russian army surplus grenades collected from the wreckage of the old Dodge truck. Iain and I replaced all of the old electronic proximity fuses with good old-fashioned Russian-made, Soviet era mechanical timers.
The mechanical fuses are significantly older, in some cases more than 50 years old. Mechanical fuses are better than trusting 30+-year-old Russian electronics powered by a non-replaceable lithium-ion battery.
Setting a grenade electronic proximity fuse for the minimum of three inches, sounds good in theory; in reality the usual three-to-five foot error radius renders electronic proximity fuses worthless indoors.
Some of the old Russian electronic grenade fuses have gone peculiar as well. It is better not to trust the old wonky Russian electronics as I have watched some of them detonate unexpectantly.
I grab some breakfast, in this case some hot Labrador tea, and some kind of hot biscuit like thing. I avoid eating any kind of meat while I am with Flower’s clan. The reason I avoid meat here, becomes obvious as some hunters return from the field carrying several large dead rats, as well as a couple of sorry-looking rabbits.
Meat is far too precious here, one of the reasons that Iain has threatened dire consequences should anything befall our animals. They did not even have a stable here until Iain insisted that they build one if they wanted to trade with us. Not eating an animal was something foreign to Flower and her people.
I take my food and join several people sitting in the communal eating area, which might have once been the cafeteria for this old school. Obaba, the clan lector is reading to those who care to listen. I do not know the full story of how the tiny, ancient Japanese woman came to join Flower’s clan, but she is the only clan member that can read.
Sitting in her usual place at the end of the hall, Obaba is reading an old National Geographic magazine. I understand from previous visits that Obaba’s room is stuffed to near bursting with every kind of magazine, book and newspaper.
She supposedly has almost the whole collection of National Geographic magazine. I wonder if Obaba was in the old world a hoarder, someone who collects so much shit that their house is stuffed to nearly bursting with it.
How the hell Obaba kept nearly everyone from using her precious books, magazines, and other printed paper goods for a fire is beyond me. Why Flower and her clan tolerate the bespectacled, stooped little Japanese troll is also beyond me.
While sipping tea and nibbling on my cold, tough bannock biscuit. Iain marches in, dressed in his snug-fitting Levi jeans, and long-sleeved plaid shirt. His shirt is tucked into his pants which are held up by a very thick black leather weapons belt. Black leather Vietnam-era jump boots clomp on the cement floor as he ducks into the kitchen.
Iain reappears moments later with a mug of steaming tea, a bowl of some kind of gruel, and a bannock biscuit. As he sits across from me, Iain’s sword bumps into the bench with a loud, resonating whack.
A tuft of chest hair juts out at Iain’s throat over the hem of his US Army issue ECWS thermal underwear. A brown leather shoulder holster straining to stretch around his torso, holds the old Ruger Super Redhawk .44 magnum underneath his left arm. Iain is minus his usual P90 and US Army Vietnam-era OD green LBV.
As if reading my mind, Iain answers my question. “I left them with red-head whom I had to wake up. Stupid kid that was supposed to be watching the hallway disappeared. His relief was trying to find him when I came out of our room.” I shrug at Iain and continue eating.
Iain digs into the bowl of meat-laced porridge with gusto. “After eating that shit, you are not kissing me until you brush your teeth,” I tell him pointedly. He just grins lopsidedly at me, and continues shoveling food in his mouth.
For a man that eschews silverware, Iain is remarkably tidy eating with just his fingers. I asked Iain once why he hates silverware. He replied that only barbarians used tools to shovel food in to their mouth.
We eat in silence for few a minutes, with Obaba droning on in the back ground. She is reading a multi-page story about a Finnish exploration team on a Greenland glacier finding a whole, frozen Megladon.
I think we have that particular National Geographic at home. Iain loves sharks in particular the Megladon. Despite being somewhat damaged and only 42-feet long, the 24-ton male Megladon was both quite a find and a source of great pride for the Greenland scientists.
The ancient shark resided in a specially built freezer in Greenland. Once one of the most popular tourist destinations, I wonder what happend to that old shark after the world ended. I bet that the emergency generators eventually failed, and the priceless ancient shark eventually rotted away until only its teeth were left.
I finish my tea and biscuit. Pulling out a piece of dried ginger, I stick it in my mouth like a tooth pick. The dried ginger is good for my stomach which has been troubling me. “What is the plan for today Iain,” I ask as we leave the table together.
“Well, I want to check on the bee hives that I gave them last time, and see how the knotweed, buckwheat and red clover planting went. Then I want to look at their black powder production, and see if they followed my directions. After that, we start unloading the wagon and horses and then start trading. Why?”
“Oh, just wondering what is going on today and how long we are staying.”
Iain takes me gently by the shoulder, leading me outside into the courtyard where he gently sits me against the wall in the sunshine. The sun feels good, and although it is still cold, the sun warms my face.
Iain kneels beside me. “Ruth, I know you do not like it here, but we could use some kind of trade. As time goes by, we are starting to run out of items. My bunker was well stocked, but some things we need. We are going to have to either figure a way to make it ourselves or trade for it.”
I sigh, damn the man for being so reasonable! “I know, but I always feel like I am being sized up for my trade worth when we come here; like what is my value to them, rather than as your partner.”
Iain gently cups my face in his ginormous, callused hands. “Ruth, I would never trade you for anything, not even my life.”
He kisses me lightly on the tip of my nose, I make a face at him. “Bastard, go brush your teeth.” Iain walks over to where some clan members are digging in the courtyard. I wander around the area.
The enclosed area might have one time held playgrounds, but sometime in the past the entire area was paved over with asphalt. Cement walkways and sidewalks line the courtyard. Since our last visit Iain has had the clan start breaking up the asphalt, tearing it out revealing the dirt underneath.
Once revealed from years of hiding underneath asphalt, the soil is worked, readying it for seeds. The top three feet of dirt is removed, sifted and then put back in the garden. Looking at the various things sifted from the soil, I wonder what the items would tell us if they could talk.
Other than small rocks, most of which are kept either for cooking or for sling ammo, several slightly interesting pieces of garbage lie in the bucket. Carefully, so that I do not cut myself, I stir the garbage pail with a rusty screwdriver.
My stirring reveals numerous alkaline batteries of almost every once common type. A few mangled toy jacks lie scattered among the refuse. I wonder if the jacks are old enough to be lead, but doubt it. I know Iain is a master at spotting lead, so I will tell him. We are always on the lookout for a source of lead.
Seemingly out-of-place in this drab world, half of a bright red and green translucent super bouncy ball still glitters despite its dirt encased granular face. Lying against the side of the bucket, the half of a ball makes an odd hollow sound when struck by the screwdriver handle. How the marble-sized ball was torn in two, and how it came to be buried in the courtyard we will never know.
Some of the work around Flower’s compound reminds me of the kibbutz my elder uncles ran. I watch as a few of the younger clan members empty chamber pots in the gardens, and I wonder if my upset stomach might be from more than nervousness.
Two clan women help move Obaba outside. Sitting outside in the sun in the courtyard Obaba now is reading from an old Dean Koontz paperback book that is nearly falling apart. Over her arthritic knuckles, I can read the author’s name, but I have no idea which book she is reading since the late Koontz was rather prolific.
I have a read a few Koontz books and they were OK. I am surprised that the few paperbacks the clan possesses survived, as this clan and nearly every other survivor has burnt anything they can get their hands on.
Iain is talking to some of the clan men, mere boys really, about getting charcoal for the black powder production. There is just not that much left here in the ruins of Baker City that will burn.
Iain and I discussed at length bringing coal from Centralia, Washington. Unfortunately, Centralia is too far, and shipping something as simple as a wagon load of coal presents more logistics that this small clan can handle.
As the morning progresses and warms a little more, I decide to strip down to my street clothes. Leaving my weapons and harness near at hand, I stretch and manage to get most of my yoga poses correct. I cannot really shut my eyes, because some little clan asshole will steal my weapons in a heartbeat if I give them the chance.
Red-head finally emerges near noon and joins us in the courtyard playing with some of the children. I see Iain holding a lengthy conversation with several, very pregnant women. I wonder what the discussion is about?
Most of the women, are girls really who are probably no more than 14 years old. I next see Iain taking a look at several children and for some unfathomable reason is particularly interested in twins. What the fuck is the man up to?
I decline a midday meal, deciding to nibble on disgusting reconstituted peanut butter and MRE cheese spread on stale, chewy MRE crackers, all washed down with some horrible grape flavored MRE bug juice. As I am rinsing my military issue canteen with water purified with two Portable Aqua Tablets, Flower emerges with her entourage in all her queenly grace.
With a furious look, Flower heads straight for me surprising the shit out of me. I quickly check my weapons. Pulling my Galil around to the front, I very obviously flip the safety off my rifle with a very audible clack. I suddenly notice that it is completely silent in the courtyard.
In the morning, I awake pinned between Iain and the fucking cold wall. Sleeping on a scratchy, lumpy and, I think, bug-infested mattress is difficult enough as it is without sharing it with a ginormous, hairy Neanderthal who takes up the vast majority of the little twin mattress.
I slept poorly. Between being pinned against the wall, and not able to move hardly at all it was difficult to stay asleep. My arms and legs are sore from days of riding. I also have a woman’s pleasant soreness, the result of some enthusiastic love-making with Iain.
I enjoy the cowgirl position for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it lets me set the pace. I can tease Iain, and myself, something that I cannot do most of the time. Because of space limitations, Iain was not able to move very much, putting me in the driver’s seat.
Usually, I am content letting the man lead, guiding our lovemaking. With a woman, I prefer to lead. Last night Iain let me lead a rare event. Iain is so much physically larger than I, so much so that a lot of the more common sexual positions just do not work for us. I love traditional missionary intercourse; there is something about a hot cock thrusting into my vagina that is satisfying in a very primal animalistic way.
Unfortunately, Iain is just too damn tall; our bodies do not align correctly in missionary. I stand barely five foot two in my bare feet. Iain towers over me, easily seven-foot six, perhaps taller.
I spent most of the night wedged between Iain and the cold brick wall, so one side was quite warm, while the other side was freezing. Iain’s wooly-sock clad feet stick out of the bottom of the little twin bed. If someone should burst in the door too fast they might run right into Iain’s feet.
While Iain is asleep, I know from experience just how lightly he sleeps. His right hand rests on the floor near the black leather and wire wrapped hilt of his sword. I have seen just how fast Iain can awaken, and employ that sword.
In these tight spaces, Iain probably would not even bother taking the sheath off the massive sword, using its weight and size as a battering bar. The heavy black leather sword sheath has a weighty metal tip, made of the same fine German Krupp steel as the blade.
Even with the sheath on, that sword is a fearsome thing. In Iain’s hands, I have watched the sheathed sword crush skulls, shatter arms and legs and pulverize collar bones, shoulders, and necks.
Prying myself off Iain’s left side, I crawl over him and stand, shivering on the cold cement floor. I am doing what the German’s used to call “Donald Ducking.” I am still dressed in my boy’s medium white wife beater tee-shirt, a same sized Merino wool long-sleeved thermal top and my usual, button up, gray 5.11 brand heavy cotton long-sleeved shirt.
It was far too cold last night to strip completely, so I just removed my bottoms. My feet are freezing. Standing in the center of the room I am glad that I left my socks on my feet.
Shivering, I reach underneath the bed. Fumbling around in the half-light, I finally find the chamber pot. Carefully pulling the disgusting old kitchen pan out from underneath the bed, I am careful less I slop the nasty contents on the floor.
Some asshole painted the chamber pot bright blue with a large yellow happy face in the center. “Hav a nic day” is scrawled in runny, green paint underneath the happy face. If I had some red paint, I would be tempted to paint a bleeding bullet hole in the center of the chamber pot’s happy face.
Taking the lid off the chamber pot, I nearly gag at its foul stench. I quickly use the chamber pot while holding my breath. After emptying my bladder, I shove the chamber pot back in its spot underneath the bed.
I pull my pack out from where it leans against the wall. A dented blue porcelain covered wash basin lies on the little battered cupboard in the corner of the room. There is a fine scum of ice on top of the wash water this morning. I contemplate a quick wash. I do not want to bother waiting while heating water.
Wiping myself with yesterday’s tee shirt, I grimace at the smell of my body. At one point I never would have dreamed going days without a bath, or at least washing my hair at least once a day. I still have to wash my hair at least once a day or I feel really nasty.
After placing yesterday’s dirty underwear in one of our precious black plastic garbage bags, I dress in my last clean pair of underwear. Redressed in my thermal underwear top, 5.11 shirt and pants and with my old boots on, I feel somewhat better.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, I try not to disturb Iain. I wrap my head in my last, clean, blue and white Star of David kaffia. I tuck my braid down my back underneath my old, O.D. green field coat. Tonight, I will have Iain help me wash and rebraid my hair.
Reaching over Iain, I lightly kiss him while grabbing my pistol belt. Grabbing my Galil, I leave Iain snoring while I head for the kitchen intending to grab something hot to drink. I rarely eat a lot in the morning, but some hot tea sounds divine.
In the hallway outside our room, I pass a different guard carrying the same battered, Winchester model 1893 sawed-off shotgun.
I peek into red-head’s room and see that she is passed out on her face, butt naked. Her blankets are crumpled around her, accentuating rather than concealing her beauty. I cannot see her face, as it is obscured by a cloud of red hair, but I can hear her light snoring.
“Man, I’d love to tap that ass,” slips from behind me on a cloud of foul breath.
Spinning around, I realize the hall guard has pressed himself nearly against my back. Lice crawl in the thick tangle of limp, greasy hair lying on top of his head. The infested hair is so dirty that I cannot determine the proper color. His nose, severally broken at least once in his short life, is squashed to the left.
Hot, fetid breath wafts over my face again. I nearly gag. Mouth breather is missing three of his front teeth. Dressed in ratty clothing, far too small for him, he barely reaches my shoulders. I wonder if mouth breather’s shortness is from malnutrition or young age.
Placing my left hand on the sawed-off shotgun, I push down on it gently while backing him against the wall. Gently pinning mouth breather against the wall, I put on my best “come hither” smile while quietly sliding my Glock fighting knife from its sheath.
Slamming my body against mouth breather, pinning the shotgun between us, I lightly jab the tip of my knife into his balls. The boy’s deeply set, mud brown eyes shoot wide open, threatening to pop out of their sockets. Covering his mouth with my left hand, I try muffling mouth breather’s screams.
“You fucking touch her and I will cut your little dick and balls off. Then I will shove them so far up your fucking ass, you will be able to fucking taste them. Do you fucking understand me?”
I ask that last part while giving mouth breather a good shake while twisting my knife a little. The pinned boy vigorously shakes his head.
“Do you really,” I ask, twisting my knife a little more. “Are you absofuckinglutely sure?”
The boy shrieks again, spittle drips from my hand running down my arm. Mouth breather nods his head so violently, that I am having trouble hanging on to him. Some of his shrieks escape my hand. I worry that he might attract attention – the unwanted kind this early in the morning.
I also worry the boy might try to use the shotgun, if he remembers that he has it. A combined palm-heel strike immediately followed by a stiff arm bar strike separates mouth breather from the shotgun. The quick combination of strikes stuns his sternum, causing mouth breather to involuntarily gasp.
I knee kick the boy in the sternum, slamming him against the wall, and driving the air from his lungs in a foul explosion. I warily watch as mouth breather slides to the floor moaning and cupping his wounded genitals.
I realize that I am not his immediate concern. A tomato-sized pool of blood stains his pants, but the bleeding does not appear excessive. I keep an eye on him; wounded vermin are often the most dangerous.
With shotgun in my left hand and knife in my right hand, I step over the moaning boy. Bending down, I wipe what little blood there is on my knife off on his shirt. Sheathing my knife slowly, I look around checking if anyone witnessed this little altercation. Satisfied, we were alone this early in the morning; I wish to resume my interrupted quest for tea.
After ensuring that a round is not presently in the shotgun’s rusty, corroded chamber, I drop the shotgun muzzle first in to the sobbing boy’s lap. Turning my back on mouth breather, I walk away in search of the kitchen. I am keenly aware of how quiet it is in the hallway.
Straining my ears, I listen for the tell-tale clack-clack of a pump shotgun being loaded.
Riding through ghostly Baker City makes me wonder how the city was before KCAP. Iain lived nearby, running a small ranch where he raised beef, Akhal Teke horses, sheep and goats. Now the city is mostly ruins, the buildings succumbing to the effects of time slowly crumbling into dust.
Most of the zombies perished long ago, although we do occasionally run into a zombie that has managed to survive this many years. Most of the later-surviving zombies are people who were infected with KCAP, but did not reach the tipping point until much later.
Some of the infected lived many years, some as many as 20 years or more, before KCAP finally killed them. Joining the rest of the walking dead, these zombies are the ones that we sometimes encounter on our looting runs.
KCAP resides in the body similar to typhoid, until resistance falls enough at which time the virus kills the host. The KCAP virus then animates the host, using it to infect other carriers further spreading the virus.
We ride past someone’s hand-painted sign announcing the end of the world and to turn to God to save us.
“I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go.”
“Thanks, Iain, that is one of my favorite saying by Friedrich Nietzsche from Thus Spoke Zarathustra.”
I once quoted that particular Nietzsche quote to my father and got smacked across the face for my troubles. Of course, I was a difficult child and my father had excuse to be mad at me.
I never married and all my partners have been non-Jewish. I never wanted kids. I aborted two children accidentally conceived out-of-wedlock. After I turned 13, (when I declared myself an agnostic ethical humanist), I never went to synagogue again or practiced Judaism although I fiercely held onto being Jewish.
Although I am half Arab, I was raised Jewish, — very Jewish.
I despised the culture that judged me—a parent-fearing, good girl to the core as bad, or wrong, for the majority of my choices. The disdain of a majority of the community made it hard to remember that by my own definitions, I am good. I strived to be an upstanding citizen—as honest and kind as I could be; true to my word; hard-working; generous and loving toward the people who were generous and loving towards me. I did the best I could.
Although my father is long dead, I still have guilt for committing the sin of lashon ha-ra by writing about my family. I am a walking list of transgressions. I also have Jewish guilt, one of the worst to possess.
I remember watching my father and the other elders of our community as they daven, chanting in Hebrew while rocking back and forth on their feet. “It is our duty to praise the Lord of all things, who separated us from the nations of the world and has given us responsibility unlike the other families of the earth.”
I stopped believing in those words as a teenager. I used to say those words but did not really think about what they meant.
I used to tell people that I have serious issues with organized religion; in particular Judaism. Some of those people would immediately defend Judaism, claiming beauty in its long-held traditions handed down for generations. But perpetuation of ancient traditions is not always beautiful or quaint, particularly when those traditions reinforce longstanding imbalances between the sexes.
Shack got my problem with religion. Shack understood what it meant to be from an extremely religious family, but not be religious yourself. Iain is the most thoroughly agnostic man I have ever met. Iain discusses religion with the same enthusiasm as deciding what socks to wear today.
When I was 15, and realized that I was sexually attracted to both men and women, my first woman lover was an agunah, or “chained woman.” Agunot (the plural form) are Jewish woman stuck in marriages from which the husband refuses to grant them a divorce.
Agunot often have children from later, unrecognized marriages. Those children are labeled momzers, or bastards. I did not want any of my children referred to as bastards, something likely to happen anyway because of my Arab heritage.
I never liked the kiddushin part of the Jewish wedding ceremony, during which, the wife is ‘acquired’ when the ring is placed on her finger. I have a personal contradiction which I have struggled with since my teens: for all my rejection of religion, I am still deeply moved by ritual, ceremony, and symbolism.
This is known as ritual alchemy. For those who believe, as I do, that rituals do and mean things, there is certainly some alchemy to the fact that a dunk in water transforms a non-Jew into a Jew, and that lighting two candles palpably and viscerally, starts the Sabbath (not that I observe it).
My musings are interrupted as we ride into Flower’s fortified compound. The old Baker Middle School, made of the local tuff stone, was unoccupied for many years before someone occupied it during or after KCAP.
The wagon and horses are taken into the stables, and we are assigned rooms. Red-head gets a room next door to us, while Iain and I (of course) share a room. Flower will not be able to see us tomorrow, so we have the evening to relax.
“We’ve missed the evening meal, so we’ll just eat in our room,” Iain announces. He hands red-head some reconstituted peanut butter and MRE crackers. An OD green, mil-surp, one liter canteen and some bug juice mix concentrate packages accompany the PB and crackers.
After shoving red-head out of our room and firmly locking the door behind her, Iain scoops me up and drops me bodily on the narrow twin bed. The course, straw-stuffed mattress pricks at my back as Iain’s hands run up underneath my shirt, tweaking my nipples which harden at his touch.
As Iain swiftly undresses me, I worry that Flower’s troops may not listen to Iain and attempt to get into the wagon without us. I do not wish to see any of Flower’s troops, who are all children, killed by the nasty booby traps on the wagon.
Iain slowly caresses me, telling me how beautiful I am. As a woman, I hate a particular part of my body (my nose). Shack was a boy, whereas Iain is a man, with a man’s patience. It is not fair to Iain that I am comparing him to Shack.
I lose myself in Iain’s lovemaking and forget about my worries for a while. Afterwards, lying beside (more like, on top of) Iain on the narrow, twin bed, our sweat cooling on our bodies, I listen to Iain’s breathing slow as he drifts towards sleep.
Iain’s right hand rests on the floor where his sheathed sword, and FN P90 lie within easy reach. My pistol hangs from my belt on the headboard, my Galil leans against the wall by Iain’s head.
Through the poorly patched hole in the door, I see a sentry walk past our door carrying a Winchester model 1893 sawed-off shotgun. A ratty black, nylon bandolier hangs from the boy’s narrow shoulders, filled with obviously homemade reloads.
As the guard passes our door, I see that he has a marled right eye. The right side of his face is horribly scarred. I wonder how the boy was injured resulting in such horrific wounds. The guard passes, the steady thump of his shoes fading in the distance.
As I drift off to sleep myself, I remember a quote but I cannot remember who said it. “Your most dangerous enemy, is the one you mistake for a friend.”
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.