Wednesday, November 23, 2011

August: It Begins

August: It Begins
Days 1-30

Sissy's Journal

I feel a little guilty for taking the time to do this when there are so many more urgent things I could be doing but I really need a place to vent. Scott is all wound up with trying to keep our income coming in and the security stuff. The kids are alternately glued to the TV when we let them have it on or grudgingly trying to keep up with school work and their chores. Me … it seems I’m stuck trying to keep everything else together and trying to inject some normalcy here and there in our suddenly far from normal lives. I’m not even sure where to start but I suppose in case anyone besides me reads this I better start somewhere near the beginning.

Scott and I have always been into survivalism. At first it was just a hobby brought on by watching too many really bad disaster movies. You know the genre with one word titles like Inferno, Earthquake, Volcano, Pandemic, or Tsunami. In those days, most of our plans were as unrealistic as the cinema features were. How about bugging out to Walmart or a local Mall and living the good life while the world crumbled? Or, how about planning to pile into the family car and camp out in the woods until things returned to normal? Never mind that we didn’t have a place in the woods that was secure, the equipment to camp out with, or the skills that kind of life required. We were so naive. Life isn’t a thing like the movies.

It was once the kids started coming that we had to really grow up. First Rose, then James and after a little while Sarah and Bekah. Johnnie is our youngest, and though a surprise, not an unwelcome one. As our family grew, our plans for survival matured. Surviving was no longer just a good conversation starter or a hobby. Surviving was now something we had to do because there were little, defenseless people counting on us.

Over the years we’ve actually had a chance to put some of our equipment and skills to use and to test them for flaws. One autumn vacation we were caught in an unexpectedly bad storm that kept our family out on a backcountry trail off of the Blue Ridge Parkway two days longer than we had planned. Then there was that time the car broke down on Interstate 15 between Las Vegas, NV and San Diego, CA on the hottest day of a record breaking heat wave. The hurricanes and other weather events we’ve faced here at home are certainly worth a mention or two as well.

The last few years we had also started prepping for things like war, economic collapse, or general civil unrest. Of course with the way things were going any one of those three could have caused the other two at the same time. Then there were those pesky germs that seem to be getting more and more virulent – extra drug resistant tuberculosis, avian influenza, hemorrhagic fevers, and lots of other little nasty viruses and bacteria. But of all the things we were prepared to face, I can tell you we never even had a clue that we’d be facing what we are facing these days.

No matter how much Scott and I have talked about it we still can’t figure out how this nightmare started. There are so many conflicting reports. Stories run the gamut from the disease being a bizarre mutation of a naturally occurring necrotizing bacterium to a biological terrorism event that got out of hand. Then there are the fringe groups that believe that it is a disease from a meteor that made it through the atmosphere and some that don’t believe it is a disease at all but a Judgment by the Creator for the sins of this world.


There. I typed it. I still can hardly believe it but there you have it. Zombies.

The thing is it isn’t like any of the movies portrayed it. At least not where we are at. At least not yet.

The few facts that have been confirmed that are being given to the public is that whatever is causing this disease – and I still insist on thinking of it as a disease despite the crazies and their wailing and gnashing of teeth – is that it started over in Indonesia. It quickly spread through most of the islands of that nation and then into places like Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and other areas of Micronesia. It was once it reached Malaysia and Cambodia that it was finally noticed by the Media and we began to hear about some strange new illness of unknown origin. The problem is that many countries in Micronesia and Southeast Asia tend to be very secretive. Once the disease made inroads into countries like China and Australia though, all bets were off. I have to admit, at that point Scott and I thought it was going to be some kind of Flu Pandemic though with unusual symptoms.

Here it is months later and there isn’t a nation in the world that has escaped having to deal with this disease. Luckily, whether viral or bacterial, it only seems to be transmitted by body fluids. The transmission has to be done in very close proximity to the infected individual because whatever the disease is it doesn’t “survive” outside of a host body. They’ve tried getting samples to study but the rate of decay of the fluids makes it impossible, it even decays in subzero temps. They’ve also been unsuccessful at duplicating whatever it is in the lab, which might be a good thing. That leaves observing and experimenting on victims that have been captured just after infection.

Unlike in the movies this stuff is spreading slowly. The only reason it made it into the US was because some whacked out Mexican gangs were using zombies as weapons against each other. Stupid idiots. The Border Patrol do all they can, but it’s nearly impossible to completely control border crime and find all of the underground tunnels that have been built over the years.

The disease is now endemic in most of the western US and in places that have a high immigrant population. Even though it is now a federal offense to not report Necrotizing and Reanimation Syndrome (NRS) the people in those populations are too scared. They are afraid of being forcibly deported back to countries that have fewer resources. In some countries, it’s an automatic death sentence to even be within a mile of an infected victim. A shot to the head that destroys the brain or complete decapitation and the government can say they’ve done all they can to prevent the disease from spreading any further. All that fear hasn't helped obtain public cooperation, it’s just driven people underground. That’s why I’ve started restricting even the Rose and James' access to the television. There are too many stories like that these days. So far only condoned in other countries by foreign governments, but the vigilante movement here in the US may not be far behind.

Well, no more time for journaling. Scott just drove up and I need to get dinner on the table. Tonight is the night we have to decide what we are going to do next. Do we try and keep operating like normal or do we pull the kids out of all their activities and sequester them here at the house? Now that we have our first case of NRS here in Tampa, we can’t put this decision off any longer.

Day One

Sounds kind of melodramatic but that is what this is. Day one of a new way of doing things.

This is the first time all day that I’ve had the time to sit down and add to this journal. I may have to stick to doing this at the end of the day unless I can write things down in bits and pieces as the day goes on. Today hasn’t been pleasant at all. After what Scott saw last night and what came out over the radio after he got home the “discussion” we were going to have about sequestering the kids was kind of moot.

The first case of NRS turned out to merely be the first case of several. They caught the first one early yesterday morning before Scott had gone to work at the rental properties. I hadn’t wanted Scott to even go to work after we heard the news, but what choice was there? We still have a mortgage and sundry other bills that have to be paid. They’ve caught NRS zombies in other cities and it didn’t stop the world from turning or the bills from coming due.

Last night, martial law was declared in our little corner of the world. Apparently the first NRS victim was one of a nest of NRS-positive homeless people that were found hiding in and under an old crack house in central Tampa just outside the area of town that caters to the Ybor City nightclub scene. Mixed in with the group was a prostitute that had been reported to her parole officer for skipping on her landlady, a teenage girl who had been listed as a runaway in another state, and a young man who had been listed as AWOL from MacDill AFB. The kid was fresh out of basic training and his parents had said he was freaking out after his first Zombie Detail Training Session (ZDTS).

The nest was 12 people in size, possibly more that were yet unaccounted for. The NRS Response Committee is basically shutting Tampa down for at least a week to assure that no more NRS-positives remain in the area. All schools are closed for the week. No group gatherings are being allowed for at least as long. The interstate system and the bay area bridges are all closed down. There is a dusk to dawn curfew for adults and no one under the age of 18 is allowed to be out unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. No one is being allowed to pass without at least two pieces of up-to-date identification, one of which has to be a picture ID. Scott said he was stopped three times as he tried to make his way home from downtown. They were screening everyone at the off ramps of the Interstate.

The kids freaked out a little last night during our family conference, at least Rose did. Nothing like trying to explain to a highschool kid why you are turning her life upside down and depriving her of all of her hard earned pleasures of senior year. James wasn’t very happy either but, being two years younger and not as social as his sister, he isn’t coming unglued quite as badly. Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie refused to sleep in their own rooms last night; absolutely refused. They’ve moved into the master bedroom for the time being and I have to admit I’m not totally against it. It was just as comforting for me as it was for them to have them so close.

After listening to the radio all day long, as well as the all-news channels, all I can think of at this time is I’m glad that Scott and I have our crap together already. I’ve heard that the gas stations and grocery stores are a nightmare despite the fact that no one is supposed to be doing any unnecessary traveling. There have been several near riots. Shelves and bins have been emptied as if a swarm of locusts took over the stores devouring anything and everything that could be considered edible. All of the convenience foods and freezer foods of every grocery store and mini-mart in the city have simply vanished. There was even a rash of fast food restaurant robberies; not for the money in the registers but for the foods in their stock rooms and freezers.

Before everyone went to bed last night Scott and James closed and locked all of our storm shutters and we’ve closed and locked the roll down doors that can only be activated from the outside of the house. It makes the house incredibly dark and cave-like but I do feel safer having our entry ways secured. We’ve made sure our fire exit plan works, but otherwise our house is now like a vault.

Scott and James were doing other things as well like bringing in the lawn furniture, securing our vehicles, and a few other things before it got dark. Today they will finish all of that stuff off and will further secure our fuel storage, both for the vehicles and for our propane grill.

For my part I went through and re-inventoried all of our food. Between all of our preps and the stuff I’ve been home canning and preserving over the last couple of seasons, we have nearly a year’s worth of food for seven people at 2000 calories/day/person. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s only going to last if I’m as careful as I can be with what we have.

The other thing I did was inventory what I had in the refrigerator and freezer to see what I needed to use up first.

My inventory of the refrigerator reveals the following:
• An almost full gallon of milk (15 of the 16 cups that make up a gallon)
• One quart of orange juice
• A variety pack of sandwich meats
• Half of a 2-liter bottle of 7Up soda pop
• A half bottle of Bloody Mary Mix left over from a party at your neighbor’s house
• Some flank steak that you hadn’t put into the freezer yet
• Two loaves of sandwich bread
• 1 package of hamburger buns
• The tail end of a small can of pineapple juice
• Large tub of margarine or butter-flavored spread
• Lots of miscellaneous opened condiments.
• Several blocks of cheese as well as a couple bags of shredded cheddar cheese
• Most of a pie brought home from work that is leftover from an office luncheon.
• Two and a half packages of sliced bacon
• Half a container of sour cream
• Some fresh salad fixings
• Two green bell peppers
• Small bag of onions
• A small bunch of celery

The inventory of the freezer reveals the following:
• frozen bread dough
• several pounds of butter
• a quart of vanilla ice cream
• a 4 lb pork roast
• a 2 lbs. Boneless chuck roast
• Several pounds of chicken pieces
• Two frozen pizzas
• About two pounds of shrimp already peeled and de-veined, but not cooked.
• A medium sized beef brisket (fresh, not corned)
• Bag of corn on the cob
• A couple of pounds of ground beef
• A pound of ground pork sausage
• Large bag of frozen hashbrowns
• A bag of frozen chicken nuggets

I also have:
• A small bunch of bananas on the counter top
• A bag of mixed apples (golden delicious and red primarily, but there area also a couple of green Granny Smith apples)
• A large box of Twinkies that was a panic buy at SAMs because I thought they would last forever and are individually packaged as well
• A partial back of snack food such as Cheez-its
• An unopened can of Coca-cola that I found where it had rolled under the passenger car seat of my van.
• Several bags of potatoes that are kept properly stored

If I work this out right I should be able to make all of that last a week with some odds and ends left over. I’m so glad that I got that order of stuff in from Honeyville last week. Fifteen hundred dollars knicked our savings pretty good, but in exchange we now have 130 #10 cans of basic long term food storage items including a couple cases of powdered whole eggs.

I know food and cooking isn’t nearly as glamorous as guns and shiny gold and silver coins, but it’ll bring a whole lot more comfort in the long run. You can’t eat bullets and who knows when or if we’ll be able to spend those rolls of coins. Besides food and cooking is what I know. And it’s the only way I have right now to comfort my family as we face this huge challenge together.

For breakfast this morning I mashed enough of the bananas to make breakfast. I hid the rest of them so that they aren’t a temptation for snacking. Johnnie is especially bad at grazing through the day on anything that he can find in the kitchen or pantry. I don’t care what they say, a four year old can eat just as much as a teenager when he puts his mind to it. I’ll use the rest of the bananas up to full advantage over the next couple of days. I also had to tape the 7 Up closed and let everyone know it is for cooking and not drinking. I took the flank steak out of the refrigerator and set it to marinating for dinner in a gallon ziploc bag. I also took the pork roast out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator so it will thaw and be ready to set to marinating in the morning.

Breakfast: 7 Up Banana Bread; everyone prepared their own beverage of choice - such as coffee or tea. I wouldn’t let anyone drink the gallon of fresh milk; it will be needed for other things. I gave everyone a small glass of OJ for breakfast and that finished off the quart of orange juice. I rinsed out the plastic jug and left it to dry in the drainer. There are a number of things you can do with a plastic jug and who knows when I’ll be able to get any more.

Lunch: I made sandwiches from one loaf of bread and the variety pack of sandwich meat. I also used up most of the chips that were leftover. I gave the kids a small glass of milk with breakfast (that used up 3 of my 15 cups).

Dinner: Fresh salad topped with whatever dressing(s) was opened in the refrigerator. I made Lemon-Lime Flank Steak, white rice, and black eyed peas. For dessert we had the remainder of the leftover pie. As for beverages, I have started to keep a pitcher of Kool Aide or some other drink mix made and handy. Scott, Rose, and James prefer water.

After dinner I sanitized the gallon ziploc bag I used for marinating the meat. I want to re-use it tomorrow to marinate the pork roast in. The little bit of empty room I made in the freezer was easily filled with a 2-liter bottle of water so that they can freeze. I’m worried that officials won’t be able to contain all this civil unrest and we’ll see some power outages as rioters damage infrastructure.

After another family conference, we now have a more formal chore chart hanging on the refrigerator so that no one can make excuses about not knowing what their responsibilities are. So far the civil unrest hasn’t reached our end of town but if it does Scott and I are going to have to take turns taking a night watch. Rose and James can help during the day, but I’m just not comfortable using them as guards at night while their dad or I sleep. I don’t know if I could sleep under those circumstances anyway.

Speaking of sleep, that is what I am off to do now. Scott and I could stay up all night talking about “what if” but that won’t help us in the morning. And tomorrow is going to be a full day. We are building a disinfection station at the side of the house. With no new NRS-positive victims it looks more and more like they are going to try and get things back to normal by the end of the week which means Scott will have to go back to work. I can’t even think that far ahead I’m so tired.

Day Two

Another day of no new information. Well, no news is good news I guess. We kept the radio on all day no matter where we were or what we were doing. We managed to get the disinfection station up before lunch time and then Scott sent the kids into the house so he and I could hash some things out.

I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. I don’t take being dictated to very well at all and it looked like I was about to hear my husband lay down the law. He had the “man of the house” look on and that usually doesn’t bode too well. And after we finished our “discussion” it took everything I had not to throw something at him.

It’s not that I don’t understand where he is coming from. I’m trying to be realistic. What I didn’t like was the dictatorial way that he laid it all out. I know he only did it because he thought he was doing what was best for all of us. It still made me want to chew horseshoes and spit nails. The worst of it was that I couldn’t even really disagree with him. Oh, I guess I could have, but it would have just been for the sake of disagreeing and not because I really felt he was wrong.

It’s not just the kids who will be sequestered, it’s going to be me as well. That means no leaving the house for any reason. Scott doesn’t even want any of us to leave the yard as that might put us too far from our security measures or put us too close to potential harm. I figured that was what was going to happen but I hated that he made the decision for me. It would have been nice to have at least had some semblance of say in what happened, even if it was an illusion.

What really burnt my biscuits though is that with his next breath he said he was going to start going back to work tomorrow. Argh!!!! Yeah, yeah … I know it’s necessary but that is another one of those command decision maneuvers that made me really unhappy. He is not expendable. It’s no less risky for him to be out and about than it is for me. We need him here as much as the blasted tenants do. I resent that someone else is taking his time and protection away from us.

Bottom line is that I’m going to be at home with five very cranky and scared kids while he is going to be out and about trying to operate as normal. This is so going to be a challenge of gigantic proportions. And I’ll never be able to be easy in my head or head until Scott comes home each night.

As far as the rest of the day went, it was par for the course. I started marinating the pork roast first thing in the morning. Tonight I used up all but the last quarter cup of the 7 Up, as well as the tail end of the can of pineapple juice and the ice cream. While everyone else was at breakfast I took a pound to a pound and a half of chicken pieces out of the freezer and put them in the refrigerator to thaw for tomorrow.

Breakfast: Use one of the Golden Delicious apples and some of the shredded cheddar cheese to make Apple Cheddar Scones; the kids have a small glass of milk each with their breakfast (15 cups minus the three cups used at lunch yesterday minus the three cups used at breakfast today leaves 9 cups of fresh milk.)

Right after breakfast, I set a jug of solar tea outside to brew. So long as the weather cooperates, this will be is likely to be the main beverage of choice for our meals in the afternoons and evenings from here on out. Only when solar tea is not an option will I use the cold brew tea bags from Lipton.

Lunch: I used the two frozen pizzas. Everyone is getting pretty stressed out as reality begins to set in. Pizza is definitely at the top of the list of comfort and fun foods when you have kids of any age.

The local media is playing the zombie angle for all its worth and everyone is getting glued to the television. If the stories aren’t about NRS they are about the grocery stores and how nearly all the shelves around town have been completely cleaned out. There are also two stories, one local and one from Atlanta, where food bank warehouses have been broken into by angry mobs.

After lunch I started thinking about dinner. I had stored nearly 50 pounds of lentils so I thought that it was time for us to try them out. My family likes baked beans so I figured to try a baked version of lentils to get Scott and the kids used to a bean they aren’t accustomed to eating. I had to start this dish right after lunch because it takes some time to cook.

Another thing to be glad of: the utilities are still on and long cooking times aren’t a worry yet. In some of the foreign countries where NRS has become endemic, quarantines are making it difficult for the authorities to keep the public utilities up and running. It’s not like economic problems and commodity shortages weren’t already causing problems, but trade embargoes of countries where NRS is out of control has exaggerated everything.

Dinner: Pork Roast with 7 Up Gravy; Baked Lentils with Bacon; canned veggies; Too Cool Twinkie dessert; beverage is tea

I guess I’m going to have to start collecting my recipes and sticking them in this book too. It doesn’t do me a whole lot of good to mention something if I don’t have a reference for it.

After dinner, I made sure to rinse out the 2-liter bottle left over from the 7 Up and then re-fill it with water and stick it in the freezer. A full freezer is more economical to run than a half-empty one. And I have a feeling the ice will come in handy sooner or later. The little bit of 7 Up that remained was put it into a small container and saved for tomorrow morning. I also took some of the ground beef out of the freezer to make hamburger patties for lunch tomorrow.
Sounds almost normal but I guess that is the point. I’m trying to give my family “normal” for as long as I can. I have a nasty feeling we are going to be living abnormal in the not too distant future and for who knows how long after that.

Day Three:

Today Scott went back to his regular work schedule. I was on pins and needles all day. I fixed him a basket of lunch and snacks and added another case of water bottles to his van. When he asked me why all I could say was “just in case.” At least it made me feel better to know that he’d have something besides those nasty tasting energy bars to fall back on if he got stuck somewhere.

I had an awful scare today. The phones all went dead; the landlines and the cell phones. I couldn’t get Skype to work on the laptop either which led me to find out that the FiOS connection was down. There is no reason that all of those should have gone down simultaneously. Everything was down two hours and I felt completely cut off. Scott wasn’t too happy either. Aside from interfering with his ability to complete work orders, he said he nearly came home because he worried if there was an emergency we wouldn’t be able to reach each other. So far, there has been no explanation from Verizon or the media as to what caused the outage. Now is not the time for authorities to go all mysterious. There had to be a purpose or reason to it but I can’t fathom it at the moment.

The menu today was pretty good. Its gonna be awful when all the fresh and frozen meats are gone. First thing this morning I took the thawed chicken pieces out of the refrigerator and put the ingredients for “Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken” to cook in the crockpot. This recipe used the remainder of the 7 Up from the 2-liter bottle. I’ve got several cases of soda hidden around the house but I’ll save them for a surprise on down the road if things get bad. I’m definitely feeling the caffeine withdrawal though from not having my daily can of cola. The tea I’ve been drinking instead only helps with this a little. I'm trying to not let the withdrawal make me cranky, but it isn't easy.

Breakfast: I used another one of the apples and some commercially packaged pancake mix and made Apple Cinnamon Pancakes. The milk needed for the pancakes left me with roughly 8 cups of fresh milk and it is getting close to its expiration date.

Lunch: I Pan-fried some hamburger patties. That used up the package of hamburger buns that was in the refrigerator as well as a few of the potatoes when I made home fries.

The store-bought bread is going quick. I started a batch of Amish Friendship bread starter. It’s not fancy but at least this way I won’t have to break into my yeast bottles until I absolutely need to in case things go back to normal sooner rather than later. I needed three cups of milk to get the batch of starter going so that left me with about five cups of fresh milk. I hate to see the end of the fresh milk, but I don’t see any choice at this point. It will be ten days until the first batch of starter is ready, so that means I’ll need to plan on cornbread and homemade tortillas to slack our family’s craving for bread. If the Amish starter works I might try my hand at a traditional sourdough starter. Right now I already have too many other projects going.

Dinner: I made Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken and served it over rice since I have so much of it. I must have 600 pounds of rice in various containers. I had considered noodles but given I’m not that great at making homemade pastas, I’ll save my store bought noodles as long as I can. I also made baby carrots the way we like them using the recipe I got from the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. Since the fresh milk is already on the cusp of expiring I went ahead and let the kids share three cups of milk between them. James and Sarah were so sweet and let their three younger siblings have their portions. That leaves me with 2 cups of fresh milk out of the gallon I started with.

While we were eating dinner, I baked Pumpkin Apple Bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. It takes an hour to bake and I didn’t want to have to get up too early in the morning after all the work that I did today. Besides the dirty dishes I make and clean tonight will be dirty dishes that I don’t have to clean tomorrow. Saving time and water is a good habit to get into.

The kids finished up their chores and went to bed nearly two hours ago. Scott is asleep as well as he put in a full day at the apartments. We had another AV unit vandalized to get at the copper. They cut the chain link fence with bolt cutters to get at it. The renters say they didn’t see or hear a thing despite being home all day and night. Scott isn’t buying it and is really frustrated at yet one more major expense being unnecessarily dumped on us.

I haven’t been able to wind down just yet. I don’t know why as I spent most of the day outside working on our edible landscaping and getting my container garden going. James helped me reinforce some of the fence sections and we also put a lock on all three gates into the backyard. I should be very tired but I can’t seem to stop going over my plans again and again looking for ways to make them better. It doesn’t help me go off to sleep that they’ve found another NRS-positive in the same area of town where they found the original nest. Nor does it help that the evening news reported that NRS has been found in nearly a dozen new locations across the country. How on earth is this stuff spreading like it is?

Day Four:

I’ve been paying for my nearly sleepless night all day. I’ve been dragging around and practically falling asleep at every opportunity. It was a stupid choice to just sit up no matter how nervous I was. In the future I’m going to have to force myself into getting more rest even if that means a toddie or a little pill. One of these days I may not have any choice but to be up for days on end, but when I don’t I need to, I need to use some commonsense and keep myself healthy and alert.

This morning I took the beef brisket out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator so that it could thaw and be put in the crockpot first thing in the morning tomorrow. In place of the brisket, I added a water bottle to fill up the extra freezer space. I also boiled a couple of eggs to go into the tuna salad I fixed for lunch so that they would have time to cool.

I keep wondering if we are going to have any utility interruptions that will cause me to have to break into our alternative cooking equipment. Other cities are dealing with them sporadically. Interruptions are being caused either as a direct result of damage to infrastructure – usually ‘cause an NRS-positive blunders into some main power lines or equipment – or because contamination, quarantine or city embargoes create fuel shortages. I can easily see that happening around here. Scott has already mentioned that he is going to have to start carrying one of our spare cans of fuel with him. He nearly ran out of gas before he found a gas station open that actually had fuel to pump.

Today is day two of the Amish Friendship Bread Starter. All I needed to do was stir the mixture. The starter already smells like a science experiment run amok. I’ve put it in a gallon ziploc bag to try and keep the yeasty odor from permeating the whole house. The central air conditioning helps keep the house from getting too rank but if we lose power I may need to prop open some of the shutters, at least during the day.

Breakfast: The Pumpkin Apple Bread I made last night was perfect for breakfast. Some of us ate the slices plain and some used preserves or butter. Johnnie enjoyed having a little drizzle of honey on his slice. It was nice not having a major clean up right after eating.

Lunch: For lunch I fixed tuna salad sandwiches and let the kids eat the crumbs out of the bottom of the bag of chips. That finished off the jar of opened sweet pickle relish in the refrigerator. It also put a dent in the opened container of Miracle Whip that is in the frig, but I have several more unopened bottles where that came from in our prep stockpile.

Everyone has their own handy-dandy version of tuna salad but I make it the same way my mom did when I was growing up. But something really struck me after Bekah asked me how to make tuna fish sandwiches; I better start gathering all of our traditional, but rarely written down, recipes someplace the kids can find them. If something happens to Scott or I the kids aren’t just going to lose a parent, they could lose their heritage and that would be very sad. I also need to have the kids take turns helping to make meals from here on out to make sure they have all the skills they need. Its depressing to think about not being there for my kids; but I guess as a good parent that is the kind of training that I need to give them to make sure they can be self-sufficient

I tried to divide the remainder of the fresh milk between the kids at lunch but it had soured. At first I was angry about wasting what could have been used earlier, but then I decided to make a double batch of sour milk biscuits to go with dinner which made better use of the milk anyway. It was awful to see the last of the fresh milk gone, but it was inevitable. I have a lot of cans of evaporated milk and what seems like more powdered milk than we could ever use. I put several cans of evaporated milk into the refrigerator to keep it chilled. From here on out I need to make sure that there is always a pitcher of cold water handy to make up some powdered milk for drinking. I want to wait a few days before I actually start using the evap milk or powdered milk which will give everyone a chance to have cravings. They will likely be more accepting of the difference between fresh milk and powdered by that point. Or at least I hope.

Dinner: For dinner I fixed Cajun Shrimp Stir fry. We also had the Sour Milk Biscuits and a Bacon and Rice Creole casserole. For dessert everyone had a biscuit with butter, jam, molasses or honey.

The kids had kitchen duty tonight so I was at loose ends for a minute until I remembered that I wanted to do something special with that frozen bread dough. I took it out of the freezer and set up a pan for Cinnamon Buns which is now sitting in the refrigerator and ready to go into the oven first thing in the morning. After I finished that I shut down the kitchen and locked the pantry. Like I told Scott before I did it, I hate having to lock up the food. It makes things seem worse somehow. It may be worry or my imagination, but I swear it looks like someone has been doing some midnight snacking. The last two bananas have disappeared and no one is admitting to doing the eating. I can't even find the peals. This kind of action definitely has to be nipped in the bud.

The one humorous thing that did happen was when Rose asked me why I was calling my journal something as over the top as “Mom’s Journal of the Zombie Years.” I explained that it was a play on the text written by Daniel Defoe in 1665 called “Journal of the Plague Years” that dealt with events surrounding an outbreak of plague in London, England. Afterwards, she just rolled her eyes as only a 17 year old can and all I could do was remember myself at her age. I must have driven my parents nuts. She’s a good kid and is even quite mature compared to a lot of kids her age, but this situation would make anyone cop an attitude. She is being forced to give up quite a lot right when her world should be expanding. All of the kids are giving up their freedom. Scott and I hope we can make it up to them some day but right now we are more concerned for their safety than their freedom. They’ll have to learn to be content with whatever good times we can find each day. We all will.

Speaking of my parents, I finally reached them. My brother and his family have decided to move onto their acreage with them a month earlier than planned. They live in the sticks on five acres of woods, and are at least 45 miles from the next city of any size with a hospital. Their health has been declining and I have to say it was a relief to know that my brother was going to be moving closer to them even if it was because my brother has lost his third job in two years. They’ll be together and dad will have some help with the heavy labor of keeping up with their big garden and keep the road back to their acreage clear. My nephews are apparently loving it up there, but my sister in law who has never lived in the country is having a hard time adjusting. She is already talking about taking a vacation to see her parents "to get away from all the quiet."

I wish we had some land. We don’t live in a subdivision so our neighbors don’t live right next to us, but we only have a half-acre lot – and most of that taken up by the house, pool, and shed. That doesn’t leave me a lot of options for growing food. And the stupid Code Enforcement Nazis make sure that we don’t have any kind of livestock, including chickens. Basically if the economy keeps deteriorating and/or the NRS situation gets worse we are going to be stuck with whatever I can make of what we already have. Lucky for us I’ve been going that direction for a few years now and I have very few strictly ornamental items in the yard any more. Now if we can just have the weather we need to keep everything growing. We need some rain.

Day Five

After reading last night’s entry I could just kick myself for saying we needed rain. Its done nothing but rain all flaming day today. The kids have all been cooped up inside which was not fun. I’ve been cooped up inside which was even less fun. And Scott came home from work soaking wet and now has the chills which was the least fun of all.

He barely picked at his dinner and went straight to bed right afterwards. If he gets really sick I don’t know what we’ll do. I’ve got ye ol’ standard OTC meds here at the house. I even have a few fish antibiotics hidden in my medical supply tub way back in my closet, but I sure don’t want for him to get that sick. I was just barely comfortable with the whole fish antibiotic thing to begin with. Bought a Physician’s Desk Reference and printed off all the information and dosing charts I could for the different meds I bought, but still, I’m not a doctor and hadn’t ever really planned on having to use them except in the most extreme cases. We DO NOT need an “extreme case." Hopefully he'll just cough and hack a couple of days and then be back to normal. Nothing worse, please God, things are funky enough as they are.

They closed the bridges and tunnels in and out of NYC. I mean, you can line up and get screened before leaving the city but its taking a really long time. Even with sporatic rioting, lines literally snake for miles from the heavily guarded exit points. You have to prove you don’t have any open or recent flesh wounds before you are allowed out of the quarantine zone. People are crossing the river to get out illegally but you have to be careful. They are patrolling with armed Coast Guard boats now and they ain't messing around. During one of the news segments, the interviewed a guy who was having a screaming hissy fit because they wouldn’t let him through even though he just had a cut on his chin from where he had shaved that morning. Another women, the mother of a couple of toddlers who were crying in the background, her whole family is is stuck because one of her kids had a scraped knee. More than a time or two I’ve heard NYC described as the “City of the Doomed” on various survival sites but it was more of a joke than anything else. The jokes not so funny these days.

The story goes that Instead of properly disposing of the NRS victims were they were found, NYPD had been ordered by city officials to remove them to the local morgue for disposal so as to avoid any kind of public incidences. Yeah, that worked. Not. According to reports coming over CNN two morgue locations and their staffs have been “sanitized.” Yeah, they actually used the word sanitized. I wonder if that is anything like culling livestock within a certain proximity of an outbreak whether they register infected or not. A small apartment complex was also declared contaminated with 28 NRS-positives and they’ve quarantined several blocks in all directions and are making a building-by-building inspection.

I’m spending yet another sleepless night trying to figure out what to do next. I'm doing OK though because I’m flying on caffeine that Scott brought home in the form of a couple of cases of cola that had been left behind by a tenant who skipped on us. Yeah, more good news like that I can do without. The tenant skipping, I mean. The finding of desparately needed caffeine was bodaciously good.

I think I was able to convince Scott to stay home from work tomorrow and I also confiscated his cell phone. He needs uninterrupted sleep and I have a feeling that the news out of NYC is going to make some of our tenants a little crazy (or crazier I should say) for a while. Scott and Carlo cleaned all of the junk out of the apartment already. Most of the stuff they put down at the road but he brought some home in the van. I hate when he does that, it always causes us grief. Technically if we don’t put it down at the road we are supposed to put it in storage until they show up to claim it, but in this case I think we can claim it as abandoned property because we asked the tenant’s family to come claim it for over a week and they never did. From the look of things, it appears the chick’s live-in sugar daddy was a dealer or a wannabe. And since the craphead is now in jail – and the chick has moved on to the next gent who was willing to pay to keep her – if he finds out that his stuff went missing hopefully he’ll connect it to her and not to us.

The drugs Scott tossed. He would have turned them over to the cops like he normally does but he didn’t want them to confiscate some of the other items left in the unit. I’m no expert and neither is Scott but we aren’t complete idiots either. The short, small ones are handguns and the ones with the long barrels are rifles. The bores on the rifles are smallish so I feel pretty safe saying they aren’t shotguns. There was what looked like plenty of bullets for them as well. The question is what ammo goes with which gun? OK, so maybe I’m dumber about guns that I’d like to admit, but Carlo – who has done a little time for things best left unmentioned – helped Scott label the ammo containers for which went with which.

Scott has a license to carry a concealed weapon here in FL. It was a relatively blow off easy thing to get out at the Fairgrounds last year. I was gonna go to the next gun show and get one for myself, but we never actually got around to getting a gun. We aren’t scared of guns or anything but the expense and lack of experience didn’t do much for our confidence in actually picking the right gun to own. Scott's parents were barely literate and the children of Depression era immigrants. They've been gone 15 years now and as much as I loved them I'm not sure that they could have handled what is going on these days. I grew up around guns, just never really absorbed the culture although I can shoot a rifle without being knocked on my fanny. Daddy is retired USAF and my grandfather and uncles won all sorts of hunting trophies. That was a million years ago though and none of them are around to help us with this now. So we’ve locked the guns and ammo in a footlocker in Scott’s closet. I know they aren’t doing much good sitting there but at least I don’t have to worry about Johnnie getting into them. We haven’t told the kids about them yet. I guess we’ll talk about that tomorrow at some point.

In addition to the guns there was a vest that Scott said was bullet proof. Humph! The thing looks like it would fit Santa Claus and his brother at the same time so I’m not sure how much good its going to do us. I’m not real fond of the idea of ever being in a situation where we’re being shot at anyway. That’s not the kind of fashion statement I want to make. Then there were two billy-club looking sticks – the ones like the old Keystone Cops used to carry around on their belts – and what Carlo told Scott were basic home invasion and car theft tools. OK, after nearly 13 years of being a landlord we’ve seen some wild stuff left behind and this really isn't too bad compared to some stuff we've run across. I think the real human skull and femur bone in the cauldron still outranks Sugar Daddy's stash, but Geez, you know? It would be nice to run across normal stuff every once in a while.

The rest of what Scott brought home was really tame in comparison to the armament. Looks like the sugar daddy may have also been dealing in stolen goods. There was a crap load of jewelry, most of it pretty cheap but some of it definitely not. There was enough electronic equipment to choke a horse. James will probably get most of that. He’s not a geek, but he has developed a talent for building new electronic pieces from old. He’s already built three computers and repaired a couple of Xbox 360s from scrap pieces Scott has brought home. There was a lot of DVDs and CDs too … Carlo requested and got all the smutty ones. He’s between girlfriends again. He's always between girlfriends.

There was a nice selection of silver serving pieces and some pretty bodacious hunting knives, but I’ll guarantee those are going to be cleaned with bleach, a toothbrush, and elbow grease first thing in the morning. A couple of those knives looked like they had been used for something other than kitchen duty. When Scott went to change the air condition filter he also found a big bag of old coins and a wad of cash that he still hasn’t taken the time to count. The money looks skuzzy to me so I’ll be laundering it – literally – and after it dries I’ll run the counterfeit felt marker over the bills just to make sure its not funny money. The only other thing he brought home was a lot of copper tubing and wiring. Looks like we can add metal thief to the sugar daddy’s resume as well. Enterprising dude. Not.

We’ll deal with all of that stuff tomorrow, I need to finish recording what I did today and toddle off to the sofa to try and grab a couple hours of sleep. I'll leave the bed to Scott and his germs, although with the kids in there I’ll probably be looking at taking care of at least three more sickies before a week is gone by.

This morning I took the bread dough from the refrigerator to use to make Cinnamon Buns. While that was baking I put the brisket and other ingredients into the crockpot. I then took the boneless beef chuck roast out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator to thaw. This left enough space in the freezer to put another 2 liter of water in there. The freezer is starting to look very bare of food.

Today was day three of the Amish Friendship Bread Starter which just meant another stir to the mixture by squishing it around in the ziploc bag.

Breakfast: The Cinnamon Buns recipe made quite a bit and totally filled my biggest bundt pan. I saved the leftovers – which I subsequently had to hide from James, he's turning into a bottomless pit – and used them for dessert after supper.

Lunch: I unintentionally thawed more shrimp than expected yesterday and since you can’t re-freeze them, I used them to make Bloody Mary Shrimp and Pasta. There was enough that I didn’t have to make any side dishes to go with the meal which I hope saves us food.

Dinner: For dinner we had BBQ Beef Brisket straight out of the crockpot (saved me from washing a serving dish) with egg noodles and corn on the cob. The cinnamon buns were just as good for dessert as they were for breakfast.

After dinner I took the ground pork sausage out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator to thaw. I’ll need it in the morning.

Oh glory, I can hear Scott snoring from here. I’m definitely sleeping on the sofa tonight. I hope he is feeling better tomorrow. We’ve got a lot to discuss. Being stuck here at home for nearly a week is driving me nuts. It should be safe for me to try and hit the grocery store tomorrow. I may not be able to pick up any extra food, but I’d like to try and get some laundry detergent and see if there is anything else worth grabbing. Surely I can get out for just a little while and honestly I can't see it hurting anything.

Day Six

I wasn’t up as early as I had hoped to be this morning. Blasted snooze button, I guess I need to move the alarm further away from the bed. Having the shutters up keeps the light and noise out that would normally wake me but after the last couple of nights I was probably needing the rest anyway.

I got up, washed up, got the kids up and while they were taking care of their morning routine I took the last of the ground beef out of the freezer and stuck it in the frig to thaw from tomorrow. I’ve got plenty of home canned ground beef, but it is really scary to be using the last of so many fresh and frozen foods. I had planned on trying to get away to the stores today but that sure didn’t happen.

I also squished up the Amish Friendship bread starter. That’s all I needed to do since this was only day four of the directions. It takes ten days to make the starter and I hope its worth it. I’ve done it off and on for years, but never because I really needed to. Everything seems to take on new meanings and urgencies lately.

Breakfast: For breakfast I made a Southern Grits Casserole, which used up quite a bit of the grated cheddar cheese and the package of ground pork sausage that I had thawed. It was a very hearty dish so I didn’t fix lunch and just fixed dinner an hour earlier than normal. I’m going to start gradually seeing if I can take out a meal (or two or three) each week to save on our food stores. Of course the kids got hungry anyway so I wound up giving them a cup of broth that I made from bouillon cubes. I’ll admit that I’m also getting a little sick of cooking without a break. All of the convenience foods are disappearing fast so I’m left having to cook everything from scratch which is more time consuming.

Scott has been fairly rancid company all day today; at least when he isn’t sleeping off the medication I keep giving him for his congestion. He woke up about 10:00 AM and starting acting like a bear with a sore head because I hadn’t woken him up sooner. “I’ve got a ton of work to do.” Or at least that’s what he tried to say between snotty sneezes and wet coughs. Yeah right. As soon as he ran out of steam and stopped storming about I dosed him with the OTC meds. He was out like a light in pretty short order.

The Cinnamon Buns from yesterday were such a morale booster that I decided to finish off the last few pieces of frozen bread dough by making Elephant Ears for dessert tonight. Even Scott stopped grumping long enough to eat a few pieces so I take that as a good sign.

Dinner: I made Coca-cola BBQ Beef Roast cooked in the crockpot. I love my crockpot. It doesn’t use as much electric as the oven and stove, it doesn’t heat the house up near as bad, and most of all it leaves me more time to do other stuff. To go with the roast I made rice pilaf from a box of Rice-a-Roni mix, English peas made from canned peas, and of course, the Elephant Ears made with the last of the frozen bread dough

I really wanted to get out today but between one thing and another it’s a good thing I didn’t. A real good thing. Scott was sick and irritable for one thing. But for another, about an hour before I had planned to slip out of the house they closed US41. The NRS Response Committee had sent teams in to investigate a report of at least one infected in a field behind the Sunset Plaza which is where I would have been shopping.

It was a false alarm; just a local drunk who had gotten ahold of some bad homemade hooch. But the consequences if it had been true …. Scott would have been sick with no adult to care for him and worrying about where I was. The kids would have been alone and who knows if I would have been quarantined. Or maybe I would have been “sanitized” like those people in NYC. They might never have even known what had happened to me. They might have thought I just ran off and left them. I worried about something like this happening to Scott but I never saw myself walking in those shoes. This has brought it all home to me. This is for real. This isn’t a movie or a practice drill. Make the wrong choice and you die. You die because you made the wrong choice and you could take your family with you.

Of course that put me in a blue funk for the rest of the day; a cross between feeling sorry for myself and being angry at myself. The situation didn’t do much for anyone else either. Rose retreated to her room and her books. James started obsessing about whether or not there were any other security measure he could take care of and refused to let the younger three out of his sight. The younger three of course refused to let me out of their sight so it was like being trailed by ducklings all afternoon.

Scott started feeling moderately better late in the day, just in time to eat some dinner, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t grumpy. We tried to talk about the guns and other stuff but stopped when Scott admitted that he just wasn’t up to it. He was also upset with me about the grocery store thing. I hope he gets over it. At the same time though a part of me is glad he got a taste of what I felt watching him go off to work. I know its kinda petty, maybe I shouldn’t feel that way but I do.

After our early dinner I pulled Rose and James aside. I had Rose mind the younger three while they watched a movie and has some microwave popcorn to keep them occupied. I took James with me and went to the canal edge just on the other side of the empty lot behind us. Scott wasn’t happy when I told him after we got back and he woke up again but he said he understood me wanting to take advantage of any resources close to home. What we did was harvest the elderberries that had finally ripened. No one else in the neighborhood has paid the least attention to these bushes in all the years we’ve lived here except to say, “look at the pretty flowers.” I’ve considered them part of “my” resources for several years now. No one has said anything and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

I got a whole bushel of berries before I called it quits for the evening. The gnats and mosquitoes were just about as bad as I had ever seen them this time of year. There looks to be enough yet ripening so that I can get another two or three bushels before we’re through … assuming no one else picks up on what I’m doing. I’ll turn most of whatever I can get into elderberry extract and the rest into syrup since I still have elderberry jelly and cordial leftover from last season.

I wonder how much longer it will be before people get obviously hungry. We keep pretty much to ourselves so I’m not likely to know for sure until I see people doing something overt like coming by to ask if they can “borrow” something. I’m hoping having the house all closed down will discourage that as much as possible.

Well, I’ve had enough for today and tomorrow I’ll use the last of about 90% of what I had in the frig and freezer. It’ll mean more work to cook, but at least I don’t have to worry about just eating MREs and other freeze dried food by the #10 can. I stocked what I knew my family would eat. Here’s hoping the power stays on long enough to let me get the rest of my preps situated.

Day Seven

Gack, what a day. I’m exhausted. Scott insisted on going into work this morning and of course he is sick again tonight. Not as sick as he was yesterday, but sick enough. And foul, definitely foul. Seems people all over are going a little nuts. In particular, several of our tenants are going a little nuts. They were already edgy because of the economic tensions as so many have already had their hours cut at work and no longer have the discretionary funds to spend like they used to – no more parties to blow off steam. They are angry that the city is under lock down – in particular the curfew seems to be crimping their style. Too many new rules imposed on people who preferred to live a rule-less lifestyle. Scott says even Carlo was not acting like himself. I think maybe Carlo is acting like himself; the self that he doesn’t normally show around Scott. I think it might be time for Scott to get more back up, someone we can trust; who that would be I don’t know though. That’s a nice sunny thought. Not.

I did have something good happen today. My brother drove by with his last trucking load before he permanently moves up to Mom and Dad’s place. While he was here he dropped off a bunch of canned goods from a run he made south of here. He also brought some stuff from Mom and Dad, like those home canned pears mom had made a couple of cases of for my birthday and some material and patterns from where she had been cleaning out her sewing room. She also sent me an old ceramic crock and some gallon-sized Ball jars. She also sent me some other stuff but I’m not going to list it out here. Too many odds and ends. Her letter said that she was “down sizing” since my brother and his family were moving up there. I think she was just doing some Autumn cleaning sending her stuff down to me. Not that I’m not grateful and all, but now I have a ton of Autumn cleaning and reorganizing to do. There is stuff spread everywhere in the house.

I will mention some of the stuff my brother dropped off. He told me not to ask where it came from so I’m not. But I can wonder and I figure he gave a haircut to the company that broke his trucking contract. Less said about that the better I suppose. It may come back to haunt him later but I guess he’ll have to deal with that down the road. He’s gonna be working at the local feed store for the time being. Speaking of which one of the things Daddy sent was a barrel of dried corn, a barrel of wheat, and a barrel of soy beans. When I asked where on Earth they got the money to do this I found out that a lot of the farmers up that way can’t get their crops to market and are letting it go for a song. They just don’t have any place to store it and they worry about rodent infestation if they just leave it sit in the dump silos or in the fields. I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, but that tells me that things are a lot worse off than what we see on television. Anyway, the stuff brother brought was apparently meant for one of those "fresh market" type places that cater to the pseudo-healthy and gourmet-wannabes and included canned conch (I'll use that at some point to make some seafood sausage), canned lychees, a boat load of different flavored Clif bars (Scott's favorite breakfast food - yuck), dried fruit and fruit leathers, canned gooseberries, some crazy bottled fruit juices like dragonfruit and acai, and a few other things like organic this and that and funky flavored waters. I haven't even opened all of the boxes. I am grateful but where on earth am I going to put everything?

Speaking of food I better just go ahead and put in today’s menu before I forget. Today was day five of the Amish Friendship Bread Starter. Today I added 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour and 1 cup milk made from powdered milk and squished it up really well. That stuff doesn’t smell any better, but that is a good thing. If making this starter works out I’ll likely start using one of those gallon jars that Mom sent. No sense in wasting ziploc bags after all.

Breakfast: I only had a little bit of this and that left of the fresh and frozen foods so for breakfast I made a Breakfast Lasagna. Scott and James enjoyed it and I was able to get people to lunch time without hearing the moaning refrain of “I’m hungry” about eleventy dozen times.

Lunch: For lunch I made Chicken Nugget Casserole. Chicken nuggets aren’t my favorite but the kids love them and they are about the only thing besides ice left in the freezer. They have to be used up sooner or later and anyway, it made the younger kids happy.

Dinner: I made Bloody Mary Meatloaf which finished off the Bloody Mary mix from the frig; mashed potatoes made from some of the potatoes in the bags and with evaporated milk instead of fresh milk; peas and carrots which takes two cans. I splurged and opened a jar of gravy for the mashed potatoes. I guess I could have made homemade but I’m beat.

I spent quite a bit of the day processing the elderberries and going through my gardening journals to remind myself when I should expect to harvest stuff out of my edible landscaping. When I wasn’t doing that or trying to deal with the stuff my brother had dropped off, I was harassing the kids to keep up with the school work and their chores. I have good kids … but kids is the operative description. And they are pretty strung out by everything that is going on too.

After dinner I double checked everything to make sure that all the fresh and frozen stuff was used up. At this point the utilities are still on but we did have a brown out earlier in the day when an ambulance took out a power pole near here. Apparently, or at least according to the news, a supposed suicide turned out to be an NRS victim. The driver managed to jump out and locked down the vehicle by sliding a piece of street sign post through the rear door handles. His partner wasn't as lucky and the film of the accident scene showed where an awful lot of blood had run out of the back and under the doors. I don’t think the younger kids caught what this was. I’m not even sure it dawned on Rose, but James was as white as a sheet and I’m really worried about him. He's someone that as long as he is taking action he is OK, but don't ask him to sit around and do nothing. He's like Scott in that respect. Sometimes the male species is just totally beyond my understanding but right now I can understand how James must be feeling. I hate feeling like I've lost control of a situation myself.

At the time of the accident, local circuits automatically rolled to new ones but I hear that it will take a while to complete repairs and if the partial repairs don’t hold and the pole pulls falls down all the way, our street could lose power for who knows how long. Now I don’t know whether to wish I had risked the extra run to the grocery store or not. But hindsight is 20/20 and I can’t change the past so its better to count a bird in the hand than two that might be in the bush. Either way, starting tomorrow everything we eat around here is going to be made from canned and dried ingredients until my gardening starts coming in. Oh boy, time to get creative.

Its weird how your mind works when stressed out. I was considering unplugging the refrigerator since we didn’t have anything to put in it just to save on the electric bill. Then I realized I can at least still make ice and keep water cold for beverages. I don’t know where my head was. Just to make some room in my pantry I did move some of the packages of flour and cornmeal into the refrigerator for storing and fill up the remaining space in the freezer with more bottles of water.

Now on to more bad news, someone must have been watching James and I pick the elderberries last night. I went to sneak out and get the rest of them last this afternoon and they were all gone. I don't like the idea that we were being spied on. What really upset me though was that someone had strung barbed wire off of the canal edge I’ve been using freely for over twelve years and put up several “No Trespassing” signs. I hope I don’t have to fight with the neighbors, but if I need water out of the canal no measly string of barbed wire is going to stop me. I’ll let it go for now, but whoever took the berries better know not to try and eat them raw or unripe or they are going to find themselves incredibly ill in short order.

Speaking of water, I decided to play it safe rather than sorry and have filled up all of my water storage containers. The two fifty-gallon water barrels took a while to fill and so did the three Water Bobs that I set up in my big storage tubs. That’s 400 gallons right there. But I’ve got another 200 gallons in collapsible containers, canteens, empty soda pop bottles, pitchers and every other container I could come up with. That’s 600+ gallons of potable water and about 20,000 gallons of non-potable water in our swimming pool. I may be over reacting but I don’t think so. No power = no water in our home.

I thought about hooking up our water catchment system but that is too much for me to handle right now. The other outdoor work was enough on top of everything else. I’m getting my garden beds all prepped for planting and I’ve been looking over everything that I have already planted that is coming in. I should have a couple of avocados to pull in the next week or so. Three of my papayas are also just about ripe. My little dwarf passion fruit bush has nearly a dozen little fruit on it but it will be a while before they are ripe and I’m sure at least a couple of those will fall off. I’ve got seedlings to get into the ground but it is still a little warm. I hate to do it, but I think I’m going to make a final list and have Scott stop at Home Depot or Lowe’s and get the rest of the mulch, fertilizer, bug spray, and dirt that I wanted to get. He’s not going to be happy about it, but if the grocery store is out then our preps and whatever I can grow are the only two things that we are going to be able to count on.

Scott and I finally talked it over and pulled James and Rose aside to show them the guns. Rose was very tentative about handling them but James took to them readily. I think it even comforted him to know they were there. He has taken some training classes, mostly to earn his Boy Scout Rifle merit badge. He also practiced some with my dad, and of course he has his BB and pellet gun that he is a really good shot with, though what good they'll do in the even of civil unrest is debatable. The one that that James mentioned how dirty the guns were; I hadn’t really taken the time to notice. Scott called Dad and we have an appointment to get together tomorrow on our teleconference system. We gave it to them as a present this last Christmas 'cause the internet is cheaper than long distance phone bills. Who knew we would be using it like this? Dad’s going to walk us through cleaning the guns and making sure they are in good working order. Like I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know much about guns but even I know that a dirty gun can be bad for your own healht. Hopefully we’ll be able to cobble together everything that dad said we would need to do the cleaning.

I better head off to bed. I’m so physically and mentally drained I might actually be able to fall right to sleep tonight. But, after the ambulance crash we have two more occupants added to our bedroom. Yep, James and Rose decided to camp out as well. I finally just had the kids pull all of their twin mattresses into the room. If they are going to sleep in there, and I’m not complaining about that, at least they should be comfortable so I don’t have to listen to them moaning and groaning in the mornings. But I guess it would be asking too much for Scott and Sarah not to snore.

Day Eight

A solid week of this self-imposed quarantine has passed and I’m going slightly bonkers. It seemed so easy to say that sequestering our family was the right thing to do and frankly I still believe it is the right thing to do for the kids. But right now I’m wondering if it is the right thing to do for me. Who knew it would be this hard for me to be compliant in this way? I’m so used to going my own way – well, within reason of course – and doing things my way as I take the kids here and there and do my chores, yada, yada, yada. I even miss helping Scott clean the apartments for pity sake.

Its not like I don’t have enough to do around the house. Seven people in a house, even one that is the size of ours, twenty-four hours a day seven days a week makes for a lot of cleaning. A chore chart is becoming really necessary. I just can’t do everything myself. After discussing several options with Scott, we had a family conference and outlined everyone’s new responsibilities. We also had a serious discussion about why it is necessary that everyone share the labor. Some of these chores include: filling water containers, doing the dishes, helping cook the meals, making the solar tea, making the pitcher of powdered milk up every morning, and several other cleaning tasks. Laundry is also a big problem in this house. Laundry is always a problem and since I didn’t get a chance to stock up on as much laundry detergent as I wanted we need to do the best we can to make it go further.

The kids were pretty good about the whole thing, they’ve been doing chores for years anyway. But all of these new daily tasks had to be spread out and around as well. James, bless him, wanted to know if there was anything and I quote, “in the area of home security” that he could help with. Scott has given him the chore of checking all of the window and shutter locks as well as check the fence and gates a couple of times per day. He spent a couple of hours going over all of the privacy fencing and adding nails here and there. I’m not sure how much good it does, but it makes James feel better.

James also helped Scott to clean the guns with my Dad’s online instruction. The paper towels and the old table they were doing this on beside the computer was filthy by the time they were through. Ewwww. I have no idea what they did, but I wish they could have done it with a little less mess. Dad said the guns are now OK. They’ll never be show room pieces but they are serviceable. Dad was pretty emphatic that from here on out that we wipe the guns down and run one of those cleaning rods down them frequently because of Florida’s high humidity. OK, whatever you say Dad. The actual full, take it down to the basic parts types of gun cleaning depends on how often it gets used. I’ll leave that stuff up to Scott and James. When I have more time I’ll stop being so “girly-girly” and learn how to do it. I probably need to make Rose and at least Sarah learn to shoot as well. Just not right now. I’ve got enough on my plate. I’ll get to that in a bit, right now I want to do something normal like log in our daily menu.

Today was day six of the Amish Friendship Bread Starter and all I had to do was squish it around.

My family really is used to having bread around. I mean we don’t go crazy but you know, we never exactly denied ourselves either with a no-carb diet. With the store-bought light bread gone and the starter for making Amish Bread still days away, I needed to come up with some other options. Biscuits are always good and while the big oven is still working, large enough batches can be made so that there are some left over for other meals. But I’ve been thinking that traditional bread ingredients like flour are going to get hard to come by at some point. We don’t exactly grow a lot of wheat here in Florida. Cornmeal is more common in the south, but even that may be hard to come by after a while. And if they aren’t scarce, they might become expensive. I figure its better to use recipes that I can extend the flour or cornmeal out by using other items.

Breakfast: Tex-Mex Biscuits. These are traditional style biscuits that extend the flour used by adding a half cup of grits. Grits I have in plenty. Try sack upon sack of grits. I don’t know why I bought that many grits, it just sort of snuck up on me. The recipe also calls for a small amount of shredded cheese, sour cream, and milk. There is still a little shredded cheese in the frig but it won’t last forever. In fact I found a small spot of mold in the bag already. The rest of the family doesn’t know, I just kind of picked it out and they never knew the difference. “Waste not want not” as the old saying goes. The sour milk was an easy fix since it can be made from evaporated milk and a little vinegar or lemon juice which is what I did. The straight milk I made by diluting the remaining evaporated milk from the can that I opened to make the sour milk. I dumped what little bit was still in the can into the pitcher of powdered milk that I made this morning for drinking or cooking. The recipe makes 12 good-sized biscuits but that wouldn’t take everyone very far so I also opened and fried up a canned ham. As a treat I scrambled up five of the remaining fresh eggs. That wasn’t a lot of eggs to split between the all the people sitting down to breakfast, but combined with the fried ham and biscuits it was a good start to the day. I gave my share to Scott and Bekah, who looks like she has caught Scott’s cold, gave her share to James. Its amazing how things just sort of work out like that.

Lunch: After all the work at breakfast, I decided lunch was going to be lighter in the labor department. Scout Tetrazzini is an easy recipe that uses simple ingredients and ramen noodles. I’ve been making this stuff since I was a girl scout a million years ago. The recipe is easy to double in case of bigger appetites, but given everything that was on the breakfast table, and the fact that Scott was off working during lunch time, a single recipe was all I needed.

Scott came home early so he could work on the guns. It was nice to have him home well before dark. I cannot repeat often enough how unsettling it is to have him barely making it home before curfew. The closer it gets to curfew, the more I wonder if he is going to be stuck away from home.

Dinner: For dinner I made Salmon Burgers from canned salmon, Rice with garbanzo Beans, and canned green beans that I cooked ‘til they didn’t squeak any more. I hate squeaky beans, they just freeze my insides when I try to eat them. Since I’ve been trying to keep the sugary and artificially colored drinks at a minimum close to bedtime to keep from having to peel Johnnie off the ceiling, we stuck with drinking solar tea or plain water for our beverage. I thought about pulling out one of those weird bottles of juice that Brother brought by but decided to leave it for another time. No sense in having to crack any of those until we have to.

So far no one has said anything about missing fast food or soda though I know James must have been dreaming about pizza. He was talking in his sleep like he was calling Pizza Hut and asking if there were any specials for home delivery. Having the kids sleeping in our room certainly is proving interesting.

It might be that the seriousness of everything is really starting to sink in for all of us. I’m not sure. There has been plenty on the television and radio to reinforce how bad things are getting in some places. But its nice that no one is out and out complaining. We’ve all had a few caffeine headaches now and again, especially Scott who misses his high-octane energy drinks. I actually have several cases of those drinks hidden away, but its better to get weaned off of them now when there is something like sweet tea to take its place than trying to do it later when there might be a lot of things missing from the diet. The high-octane drinks might be needed later if a lot of physical labor has to start being done. Either way, they aren’t needed now so they stay out of sight and out of mind.

Tonight’s treat was a couple of bags of microwave popcorn to split between everyone. It didn’t go far, but it went far enough. We all kinda lost our appetite after watching the news.

NYC has basically exploded. There is rioting everywhere. I suppose it wasn’t unexpected but it sure did happen faster than I thought it would. At any given time there is only about three days worth of food in the city and under the circumstances they couldn’t restock fast enough. The scariest part was the government’s reaction. They blew up all of the bridges and tunnels. That, more than anything, tells us just how serious this contagion is. That’s billions of dollars in repairs … or maybe they aren’t looking at repairs. Maybe they don’t think NYC is worth salvaging. I don’t know, but it was heartbreaking. I had some internet buddies in NYC that got caught flat-footed by the closing of all of their planned exits. The government has also threatened to turn off all power to the city if the remaining residents don’t stop rioting. Yeah, like people are going to hear that kind of threat and think good thoughts.

There were some people that managed to escape before they brought down the bridges and tunnels. The outbound NYC refugees poured into places like Ft. Lee, Jersey City, Trenton, Stamford, Bridgeport, Weehawken, Teaneck, Hackensack, Maywood, and Paramus. Many, who had expected to be taken in by family and friends, found themselves forcibly turned away – sometimes at gunpoint. Finding no refuge there, they continued north, south, and west like locusts, staying only long enough to run through an area’s resources or to succumb to NRS infection or violence.

It seems a few of the refugees were infected, or at least reports are suggesting as much. Or maybe that’s just propaganda to justify the actions that were taken. I don’t know. But there is a whole mess of trouble up that way, that’s for sure. The chatter on the survival forums is pretty wild. Some of the more radical forums have fallen silence and are offline. I don’t know if this is because the forum owners have closed up shop and bugged out or if they have been taken offline by “someone else,” or if violence of some kind has silenced the participants. Either way Scott wants us to be very careful about any posting online from here on out. I thought that might be a bit paranoid at first but better safe than sorry. Besides, Scott isn’t asking much. He’s only asking me to use some commonsense and be circumspect. That’s no different than survival forum moderators have been asking of participants for as long as I’ve been online. Letting people know all of your business or too much of your personal information can prove dangerous in several different ways. Yeah, maybe Scott doesn’t have it so wrong after all.

All I do know is that its getting harder and harder to watch Scott drive off in the mornings. We are trying to keep up the appearance of normalcy for the kids, but even they know that every time Scott leaves the house he might not be coming home.

Day Nine

I almost didn’t journal tonight. Everything has been a struggle and no one has had much fun except for maybe Johnnie who seems to thrive on chaos. Somewhere around mid-afternoon I heard Scott mumble, “PMS or Zombies; not a hell of a lot of difference if you ask me.” I almost laughed. Almost. Poor guy.

I was seriously dragging when I got up this morning but I still remembered to give the bread starter a good squish. Not too many more days and I’ll be able to bake us a nice, sweet loaf of bread.

Breakfast: These high labor breakfasts are really time-consuming. I voted that on some days mom just needs a break. I figure that high labor meals can be alternated with easier meals even if I’m cooking from scratch. This is one of those mornings that it was just too hard for me to face a skillet or baking dish. Instead I broke out the instant oatmeal. I was able to have just about every flavor known to man fully-stocked because Winn Dixie used to have these really great BOGO sales and I would load up every chance I got. I also have several tubs of plain oatmeal as well as dried fruit and the direction to make my own “instant” oatmeal when the store bought stuff runs low. Let’s hear it for ingenuity. The problem with letting everyone pick their favorite flavor though was that I had several different boxes open at once. I emptied those packages into a storage box with see-through sides.

I wound up breaking down the packaging and sticking it in the garbage can of things that will burn. Last week the municipal garbage was still running and the first pick up for this week has already run, but it ran a lot later than it normally does and there has been some noise on the radio about how some pick up routes were missed. By separating the garbage into burnable, compostable, and non-compostable but potentially useful, and non-compostable and non-reusable its made for less to be picked up and better organization in case garbage collection becomes haphazard or non-existent. With the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised to see municipal services begin to break down within the next couple of weeks.

Lunch: After the oatmeal for breakfast everyone was ready for a “real” lunch. I wasn’t ready for any real cooking though. I made Caesar Chicken Tetrazzini. This used up the last little bit of Caesar salad dressing from the frig. I tossed that together with a can of chicken, a small can of mushrooms, and a couple other odds and ends and then mixed it with cooked spaghetti noodles. The only critique was that there wasn’t any garlic breadsticks to go with the meal. With a little more forethought I could have pulled that off, but the forethought was still in bed where the cook wished to be.

Bread, bread, bread. Man oh man, getting all the bread that my family is used to having is getting pretty labor – not to mention ingredient – intensive. Good thing I took the time to gather recipes for bread items that aren’t completely dependent on straight flour before the situation got critical. A recipe for this stuff called Silly Dilly Bread that is made from cake mix but that is still savory, rather than sweet was just the ticket to go with tonight’s dinner. It called for Swiss cheese, but the closest thing I had was a bunch of those little, shelf-stable Swiss cheese-like triangles left over from a holiday gift package. All of the triangles together only made about a cup of shredded cheese, but that was all I needed.

The bread batter didn’t take long to make and then I put it into the pans and left it to rise. Since the recipe made enough for two pans of bread, there was bread with dinner and another loaf for tomorrow.

Dinner: I made an old family favorite called Five Can Tuna Casserole to go with the Silly Dilly Bread. Not very exciting, but another pan of popcorn sprinkled with some Parmesan served while we family played a round of board games made everyone feel more satisfied.

As for how other things are going, I suppose it goes without saying that all of New England is now in an uproar. Its not so much NRS from what we can tell from all the news reports, although there is some of that too, its generalized civil unrest. A lot of people are in a panic. Food is running low and its taking military personnel and national guard troops to safeguard deliveries of groceries and other essential goods. There’s only so many delivery caravans that can be guarded at any given time. And since it is August a lot of gardens up north are starting to wind down and people are going to have to make do with whatever they already have put away. There are still some apple and pear harvests to come but nothing in the urban centers. The cost of winter heating had already taken a lot of people’s savings so there’s not much left to pay the inflated prices of items that do make it into the stores. People are already complaining of price gouging.

Here in Tampa I’m just now starting to get my main garden planted. I mostly plant things in containers but I do have a few beds that I need to finish prepping.

There weren't any new cases of NRS reported in Tampa today. That is a relief as a lot of people had expected the numbers to increase exponentially. They did mention that they had to commit the wife of the dead EMT. Apparently they didn’t have a chance to notify her before she saw it all on television in bright freaking Technicolor. She is supposedly six months into a high-risk pregnancy on top of everything else. I just can’t imagine. Don’t want to imagine.

Which brings me to the only real bright spot of the day. Scott didn’t go into work today. It wasn’t just the hormones that had me weeping when I heard his decision.

The reason why he chose to stay home was that he had found another stash of stuff at the old “sugar daddy” place. Scott tried to haul away an old, enclosed trailer that was behind the duplex. The code enforcement Nazis strike again. But he couldn’t budge it even with his big V8. He busted the padlock the padlock on the trailer and found who knows how many thousands of dollars in hurricane panels. And not those flimsy aluminum ones either, these suckers are steel. Mercy me, I can just imagine that a couple of homeowners somewhere are regretting the lose of those right about now. Probably popped into a bunch of garages or storage rooms and found these. They must have been recent and hot for them not to have made it to the scrap yard yet.

For most of the day Scott and James have been digging post holes to sink some thick metal posts in the ground. Tomorrow they are going to attach cross beams to the posts and then attach the panels to the cross beams. The pre-drilled holes in the hurricane panels will make this fairly easy. Not all of the panels are the same length and width but Scott’s going to try and keep it decent looking. They will also leave the wooden privacy fence around the perimeter to camouflage it somewhat.

It’s going to be great to have Scott home for another day. I know I sound wimpy, always moaning about Scott leaving us. I do understand … really. We have bills to pay. I do have a backbone and saints preserve the fool that messes with my family. Its just when Scott is away I feel like a chunk of myself is missing. I’m concerned about the potential situations and dangers he could find himself in. And though he has never directly given me reason, I no longer trust Carlo. I just can’t get beyond some of his past and I’m worried that if things become critical he’ll turn on Scott.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be at peace with Scott leaving the house while this whole NRS situation is ongoing.

Day Ten

I’m grateful beyond measure that Scott was not out working today. College Hill came unglued. Once that area began to riot, its like everyone else had permission to start to unravel. The gangs out in Town n’ Country, the University Area, and Ybor City started several fires. Clairmel was pretty bad too. The area around the Port of Tampa was like a war zone. Ruskin, Riverview, and Plant City had some serious problems as well. I even heard gunfire from our own lanai.

Scott wore one of the guns in a makeshift holster the entire time he and James were working on the fence. The fence actually looks pretty good but its kinda bright, especially when the sun hits it. And they got hot in the middle of the day. I'm not sure what that means for the garden containers I normally line up agains the fence.

Because of the different sizes of the panels, they were able to leave key holes about every six or seven feet at different heights. Scott drilled matching holes in the wooden fence so that we could see out without having to look over the fence. I was worried about how obvious they would look to the neighbors but the confederate jasmine vines growing on the outside of the fence pretty well hide them unless you are intentionally looking for them. On the inside of the metal fence we covered the holes with a little flap of wood so that even if someone does find the holes in the exterior wooden fence they can’t see through into our yard. And James came up with the idea of using Liquid Nails to glue old carpet strips that we were going to take to the scrap yard around the inside of the wooden fence. If someone tries to hold onto the top of the wooden fence to try and jump up and see into our yard they are going to get a nasty surprise.

Scott didn’t allow the younger three outside at all today. This caused Rose and I quite a bit of work to keep them occupied. Sarah was also a help but she is used to going outside for her “nature projects” and also felt confined and cranky. Part of how we kept them occupied was to let them help with the day’s food preparation.

I let each of them take a turn squishing the starter, reminding them it would only be a couple of more days before we could bake the bread. Everyone is looking forward to that.

Breakfast: We made Apricot Scones for breakfast. The original recipe called for heavy cream but since that was out the question we substituted with milk & butter mixed together (3/4 cup of milk – in this case made from powdered – and 1/3 cup of melted, cooled butter). The scones came out just as rich as if real heavy cream had been used.

Lunch: The last of the shredded cheese really went fast. There was a lot of mold in a corner of the bag so I had to finish it off. Bacon-Tomato Bake is another easy Bisquick recipe that the family enjoys. Its kind of like an open-faced sandwich. The original recipe called for sliced tomatoes and bacon to be cooked and crumbled up. Problem is there are no fresh tomatoes and the last of the fresh bacon was cooked several days ago. Substitutes were easy though. For the fresh sliced tomato we substituted a well-drained can of petite diced tomatoes. For the bacon, real bacon bits were substituted. Rehydrated diced dried onions substitute for the fresh sliced onion rings. The rest was easy and the result were good and filling and relatively easy to clean up since I used non-stick spray to coat the baking pan.

Dinner: After all the bread-like things that we baked today it seemed a shame to use up the second loaf of Silly Dilly Bread but I thought it better to just use it up rather than taking the chance that it will go to waste. To go with the Silly Dilly Bread we made Creamy Rice and Ham. A small can of English peas, instant rice, and a small canned ham that is diced plus a few other ingredients is all it took.

I guess by the end of the day a lot of the rioters had run out of steam. There were still spots of violence here and there but the worst of it seems to have died down. What was scary was how the areas of violence seemed to get cut off from the outside. Police and National Guard troops would just put up blockades and let them go at each other, kind of like cauterizing the rioters' ability to spread into any more areas. The military also got pulled into things when there was a situation over near MacDill USAF Base. The fires were allowed to burn, but they weren't allowed to spread out of the rioting areas. What people are going to make of this in the coming days is anyone's guess. It made a wasteland of the areas of violence but minimized it for everyone else.

Another odd thing that I've been hearing is that people that were shot and/or injured were tossed into trucks and hauled away but where they were taken is not being released. It certainly wasn’t to local hospitals or trauma units. The local media are reporting that hospitals were preparing to be inundated but no wounded ever arrived except for a few first responders and National Guard troops.

There was some chatter on the forums and blogs that large quarantine areas have been created where anyone “behaving abnormally” can be held until they have been determined to be infection free. If true, that means the rule of habeas corpus has been suspended and that’s more frightening than blowing the NYC exists was.

What on earth is going on?

Day Eleven

I’ve found one of the best ways to combat fear and depression is to count my blessings and what I have to be thankful for. I am thankful to have had Scott home for as long as we did. I’m thankful that he decided to take one of the guns with him when he left to check on the properties this morning. I’m thankful that he took the time to call this afternoon to check on us and let me know that he was OK up to that point.

I’m praying that he is OK. I’m sure he just wasn’t able to make it home before curfew. I’m sure that has to be it. Please God let that be all it is.

The phones are out and the cable is out. I’ve go the rabbit ears and converter hooked up to the portable TV but the only thing I’m getting is the emergency broadcast transmission and if I hear “beep … beep … beep” one more time I’m going to scream!

I wish I had sent Scott off with a better breakfast. At least he has the Clif Bars and water I stashed in his van. The lunch I sent kinda sucked as well but he was supposed to be home early. I’ll never make that mistake again. Never. The man will never leave this house without a fully packed bug out bag of food again. He better come home so that I can make sure he knows that.

Breakfast: I fixed Cherry Chocolate Chip Scones. Scones and biscuits are turning into the easiest breakfast meals. They go just far enough to get the day started and everyone is good and hungry by lunch so there are no picky eaters or leftovers to worry about. I just wish Scott had had more to eat. The fresh eggs will be all used up soon, but I stocked up on dried eggs, dried egg whites, and some other egg substitution ingredients to piece out the dried eggs. For instance, I learned you can grind flaxseed, or buy commercially ground flaxseed, and make an egg substitute for baking purposes.

Lunch: For lunch I fixed BBQ Pork Sandwiches. The original recipe called for a tub of commercially prepared BBQ pork, but I substituted a couple of cans of BBQ pork instead and it worked just fine. The other ingredients were pretty standard and I just made Bisquick biscuits to use for the bread portion. Giving everyone a serving of fruit cocktail and a pudding cup to eat rounded out the meal. This kept everyone filled until dinnertime arrived. There are stories on the television and radio that some communities are already suffering from utility shortages and that there are a lot of bare pantries. The emergency powers have already instituted rationing programs pretty much everywhere, including here in Tampa. That is what caused some of the rioting yesterday.

I made another cake mix bread recipe is Cake Mix Yeast Rolls. This made more than the Silly Dilly Bread recipe plus these are rolls rather than loaf bread. But the recipe used more flour in addition to a cake mix, but no specialty ingredients except yeast. The trade off was good and by saving the rolls after dinner there will be enough rolls for tomorrow. Plus, starting tomorrow, there will be the Amish Bread starter to use. I nearly forgot to squish it up because I was so out of sorts.

Dinner: I waited dinner as long as I could after it got dark but gave up and fed the kids who were starving. The main dish was Black Beans and Ham served over yellow rice. It goes just as well over white rice, but yellow rice has more seasoning and is what the family enjoys. The only other addition to the meal is the Cake Mix Yeast Rolls. For dessert I made a simple no-bake cheesecake mix topped with blueberry filling. We saved some of everything for Scott.

Tomorrow is the last day for the Amish Bread starter to make. There are going to be roughly four cups of the starter. They’ll last a couple of days and I figure I’ll give it a couple of days before I start another round of starter. Technically, I should be able to start a new batch from scratch each time but I hope to have a couple of tablespoons of starter left over from the first batch and I’ll just add it to the first ingredients of the next batch. This way if the powdered milk isn’t quite rich enough to get the starter going on its own, there will be some starter in there already to get the action going.

I sent the kids to bed early. Even Rose, as old as she is, went meekly with no questions. I think the kids are just too scared to ask where Scott is, but I can tell they were uneasy. I tried to act normally but I spied the kids whispering to one another. Rose and Sarah have baseball bats hidden beside by their mattresses. I didn’t stop them, I just didn’t have the heart. James was only faking going to bed. I went in an hour later to find everyone asleep but him. He was sitting up with the rifle. I just told him to go ahead and come in here with me. My brave boy lasted as long as he could and is now dozing on the sofa after asking me to wake him to take “his turn on watch.” I think of all the kids, James has felt the changes these time have brought the most.

I can’t sleep. The phones still don’t work even though the electricity is still on. Its three o’clock in the morning. I don’t know where Scott is. I don’t know how my parents are doing. I don’t know if my brother made it home before all hell broke loose.

Maybe Scott will be back after first light.

Day Twelve

That scummy, no account bastard. That worthless walking sack of skin. Where ever Carlo is now, I hope he is rotting from his little boy parts outward in a very slow and painful way!

The phones came back on around 6 AM. We know why everything was turned off but I’ll have to explain it later when I understand it better; basically Homeland Security kicked in because some predetermined breaker points were reached. The TV signal came back at nearly the same moment as the phones. Less than 30 seconds later the phone was ringing and it was Scott!!!!!!

He’s OK. Beat up, but OK. It took him until the afternoon to get home and he was in pretty rough shape by that time. Carlo better never show his traitorous face around here or God help him when I’m done with him. James feels the same way and to blow off steam we’ve devised a few nasty bits of revenge should the scum have the temerity to come near us.

After hearing Scott’s voice all of my fear and fatigue vanished. I woke the kids up thinking that he was on his way home at that moment. I flew into action and added the last day’s ingredients to the Amish bread starter and used one of the resulting four cups of starter to make muffins.

Breakfast: For the muffins I used powdered eggs instead of fresh and raisins instead of nuts. I also added a little vanilla powder to the pitcher of milk to make it richer tasting and put it in the freezer to get ice cold.

After I put the muffins in the oven I finally got an open line and reached my parents. They’re OK and didn’t experience the communication blackout like we did. They were the ones that told me about the terrorist attack at the Atlanta airport and about the mobs that tried to overrun DC. They told me about the cruise ship that had been spotted adrift off of Miami that had been discovered to have hundreds of NRS-infected people aboard. They also told me of the institution of the Emergency Powers Act and of the Health Care Worker Draft; also, how cities housing sensitive military and civilian strategic points were being occupied by the military and how Tampa was on this list because of MacDill AFB and the Port of Tampa. Things got complicated quickly yesterday. The Feds apparently didn’t feel like that had any other choice. But whatever problems these new protocols solve, they are sure to create others to have to deal with.

Just as I got off of the phone with my Dad and the muffins came out of the oven, Scott called again. He had been asked to stay and help fortify what they are calling the Keel Outpost. Its actually the Jimmie B. Keel Library on Bearss Avenue. I guess I better back up and explain or nothing is going to make sense.

Scott said Carlo had arranged an ambush for him. It looked like they planned on taking the van and everything in it and probably holding Scott for ransom. Carlo knew I’d pay whatever they asked to get Scott back safely. Need I say that Carlo learned that trick in his childhood home of Colombia?

Things obviously didn’t work out as planned however. First it took longer than expected for Scott and Carlo to reach the ambush point. Scott kept changing the day's work schedule without consulting Carlo which turned out to be a good thing. This may have caused some of Carlo’s buddies to not show up or to get cold feet. Either way, there were only two or three people in addition to Carlo trying to pull this off. Second, Scott didn’t tell Carlo he had brought a gun with him. My distrust of Carlo had begun to rub off on him. Third, and worst for Carlo’s plan, was that they underestimated Scott.

As they neared the intersection where they started to jump Scott, Carlo suddenly attacked using a mallet he had used to lay some pavers at the previous stop. Because of how tight everything is in the cab of the van Carlo only hit a few glancing blows with the mallet before switching to his fists. He did manage to knock Scott’s glasses off and break them. Not knowing what was going down, but knowing Carlo was aiming at his head, and in fear for his life, Scott grabbed the gun from the door pocket and aimed and fired in Carlo’s general direction. Scott is very near-sighted and losing his glasses was very bad.

All this time Carlo’s buddies had been beating on the van trying to get in. Thankfully Carlo was apparently too occupied to remember to open the door locks. They did spider a rear door window but the grill kept them from coming in through the back.

As soon as Scott pulled the trigger he floored the gas and started heading away from the intersection. He thinks he may have run over one of the guys but couldn’t see for sure.

Scott still had Carlo covered with the gun and was driving erratically with one hand. About two blocks later, after Scott took out a couple of mailboxes along the way, Carlo opened the passenger door and fell out. Scott swung so suddenly that the door slammed back shut on its own. At that point Scott put both hands back on the stirring wheel and got out of there as quickly as he could.

The problem was it was already late in the day and a lack of glasses result in Scott missing some turns and he wound up farther away from home rather than closer. By the time he got turned back in the right direction it was dark. His erratic driving caught the attention of some National Guard troops and he was pulled over by a police car travelling with them. Luckily one of the cops recognized Scott from the Neighborhood Watch program and that, combined with Scott’s ID and story, got him out of trouble.

But being it was full dark they “invited” Scott to come with them to a command outpost which turned out to be in the library. It is a good location because it is a newer building and already has a room set up from computers and wi-fi, not to mention it has a satellite feed.

The medic stationed at the outpost patched Scott up and gave him a tetanus shot just to be one the safe side. He has a black eye, a busted lip, and some pretty bad bruising on his right thigh, chest, and stomach. I didn’t know how bad though until he got home and I checked him over myself. After he was patched up he was able to find his spare glasses that he keeps in one of his tool boxes.

Scott is a rather private person but he can make friends quickly in the right circumstances. I guess he scored some points by not complaining and remaining calm despite the situation. He scored more when he volunteered to help set the outpost up, even providing some basic supplies without asking for compensation.

As soon as the outpost got word that communication was going to be restored, they cleared a line for Scott to call home. They also asked him if he would stay and help finish harden the outpost position. They couldn’t pay him, but they did trade him several cases of MREs for the work and some additional supplies he carried around as general inventory. Technically they probably could have just commandeered it. This way the mutual aid benefitted everyone and there were no hard feelings.

They also let Scott “check out” a bunch of books and movies for us and the kids. About ten banana crates full to be more precise. The troops were going to just shove everything outside that got in their way. He brought home cookbooks, gardening books, all sorts of DVDs like from the History Channel and kids shows. He dumped all of the "new releases" into the crates as well when he recognized a couple of books that I had been wanting when we had the extra money. He even managed to find a couple of manuals on gun care and hunting in Florida; and pulled every "survival" book they had on the shelves. The crates are sitting in the dining room where the kids have started to go through them.

Back when I knew that Scott wasn’t likely to be home for lunch, but might make it home right afterwards, I decided to make something a little different to celebrate. I was also anxiously waiting to hear the whole story of what had gone down and needed something to occupy myself with.

Lunch: Many of my fresh potatoes are starting to sprout some eyes. I bought several bags of potatoes when they were on sale last month but now I know why they were on sale. They weren’t the freshest. I cleaned enough to feed the family and baked them. I could have just made more sour cream from evaporated milk, used some of the butter or margarine that still remained in the freezer, but I wanted something a little more substantial and special so I made Crab-Stuffed Bake Potatoes. The recipe called for whipping cream but I just substituted milk and some extra butter added in. For the fresh green onions I substituted a few dried chopped chives. And instead of grated cheddar cheese I substituted some of the grated processed cheese I opened yesterday. OK, so maybe it wasn’t exactly like in the restaurants, but no one complained about the difference in canned crab and fresh crabmeat. I also saved one for Scott and a good thing too.

When my man finally drove up and came inside I didn’t know whether to jump for joy or cry. I’ve neve seen him injured like this, it just hurts my heart to see it. The girls and Johnnie were crying really hard. James was shaking like a leaf in what I thought was shock. I quickly realized however that it was rage. Scott and James butt heads often … testosterone and teenage hormones mostly … but right then I knew that no matter what, they were still very close. God help Carlo or any one else that tries to hurt his dad. I have one very angry teenage boy to deal with now.

We all spent the rest of the day fawning over Scott. He was starving and ate what we had saved him from lunch and the leftovers from dinner last night too. After that he explained what had happened in more detail though he glossed over shooting Carlo until the younger kids had left the room. Rose was horrified but James seemed more secure knowing his dad would do what he had to do to survive and return to us.

In many ways Rose is an idealist. She wants to believe the best of people and I’m very afraid that while she is of practical help around the house and with her younger siblings she has a ways to go yet before I can trust her to be strong enough in any physical altercations we may experience. That worries me but there isn’t anything I can do about it right now. Unfortunately, time is likely to take care of her idealism before I can bring her around more gently.

Dinner: Scott wasn’t very hungry after eating all of the leftovers so I just made a Bisquick Chicken Pot Pie casserole for dinner. Canned chicken and canned mixed veggies were easy substitutes for the fresher ingredients called for in the original recipe. And it only called for one egg so I tried out the flaxseed egg substitute and it worked like a charm. Since there were still some Cake Mix Yeast Rolls for anyone who wanted rolls, there was no need to use any more of the three remaining cups of Amish Bread starter. The starter did get covered up and placed in the refrigerator so that the fermentation process slowed down. To use up the remaining powdered milk in the refrigerator I made Anise Milk as a before bedtime treat to go along with the remainder of the cheesecake that had been leftover from last night. The warm milk helped to calm everyone down for the evening.

I’m all used up and need to get some rest. Scott is already asleep due to the Vicodin I gave him. I had a couple left over from my last bit of dental work. The kids, except for James, are also asleep. He and I stayed up talking about some additional security ideas he has. He wants to camouflage the vehicles when they aren’t being used and he also wants to try and hide our two barrels of auto fuel. The biggest project though is he want to enclose the carport somehow. I’m not sure how we are going to do all of this but I told him to wait a day or two and then talk to Scott about it. James doesn’t like how the neighbors seem to be watching us and I can’t say I blame him, but I don’t want to over react either and cost us time and money we are already short on.

For certain it’s going to be a couple of days before Scott can do any kind or work or go out again. He is pretty banged up. We have a long list of chores to do already and we need to see what the military occupation of Tampa is going to mean to us personally. Without a doubt there are strange and strained days ahead and we are going to need all of our wits about us to make it through them.

Day Thirteen

What a day. Scott was so sore he could barely get around, but he wouldn’t take a Vicodin until he was ready for bed because they make him loopy. Stubborn as a mule and twice as irritating! Lordy I love that man.

The kids have been anxious and edgy one moment and ecstatic the next because Scott is home. I know this is a natural reaction to the high emotions of the last few days but it hasn’t made it any easier to take. It was nearly impossible to keep any of them on task for more than a few minutes at a time. I was ready to turn time outs into knock outs. But at least I was able to constructively use that nervous energy most of the time.

Breakfast: I started the day very early by having the girls help me bake two loaves of bread from the Amish bread starter. One loaf was for today’s breakfast and to that one I added drained, crushed pineapple. The bread tasted divine when it was toasted. The other loaf is for tomorrow’s breakfast and I added raisins to that one. While the bread was baking I made a small pitcher of Tang. To the Tang I added the juice from the crushed pineapple. I then added lots of crushed ice to make it into a kind of breakfast slushie. I swear, the kids dug into it so fast you’d think I never fed them.

After breakfast we started moving around everything outside that wasn’t nailed down. We pulled up the decorative fencing I had bordering my flower beds. We stored most of the outdoor furniture in the shed except for a few lawn chairs we left on the lanai. We moved our gas grill onto the lanai and removed the propane tank and chained it in with our other tanks that I have in my “fuel bunker” out beside the shed. The bird feeder and bird bath that had been out front were moved to the backyard. All of my flower pots and the mulch that Scott brought home what feels like a year ago was moved into the shed as well until I can use it. James made me edgy last night when he mentioned that it felt like the neighbors are always watching us. Paranoia maybe, but there are stories on the news how people are starting to have things stolen out of their yards.

After we finished that I had the kids get started on the laundry that has piled up the last couple of days while I got started on lunch.

Lunch: I made Easy Chili Skillet Bake. This was a very simple meal that only used a couple of cans of the family’s favorite chili and a crust made from Bisquick. The single egg needed for the recipe was replaced by the flaxseed substitute and instead of cheddar cheese; I used more of the processed cheese that I opened previously.

After lunch, and since it was the hottest part of the day, I had the kids stay inside in the air conditioning and do their school work while I finished off my plant beds. After laying out the mulch paper I planted sweet corn (yellow, white, and bi-color), cucumbers, okra, peanuts, black eyed peas, peppers (green and hot), pumpkins, summer and winter squash, and watermelon. I hope the power stays on or its going to be hard to water my plants and I have a feeling we are going to need everything we can grow.

I have always fantasized about having a hand pump put on our well but it never worked out. Its too deep for a hand pump, nor would a well bucket work from what we’ve been told. Scott was going to drill me a shallow well but we could never get the permit and the one time we tried to do it ourselves without a permit we had a neighbor rat us out to Code Enforcement. Grrr. Wonder how those people are enjoying the loss of their rights these days? Wonder if they are recognizing any irony in the situation?

It didn’t take long for the afternoon to be all used up and then it was time for me to fix dinner.

Dinner: I fixed Ziti Chicken Casserole. Ziti pasta, canned chicken, condensed cream of chicken soup, Parmesan cheese, and some processed cheese and you are good to go. Its kind of a one-dish meal so clean up was easy since I didn’t let the cheeses congeal on the plates or baking pan. A package of commercially baked bread sticks completed the meal and everyone was able to eat their fill, even Scott and James who have both turned into garbage disposals.

You’d think from what I’ve journaled thus far for today that our lives have returned to the mundane. Not so. Totally not so.

Scott, unable to do much more than hobble around and give orders, stood watch with a gun clearly visible to our neighbors. While some may have been curious about what we were doing, seeing him armed they kept their distance. That suited me fine as I didn’t feel inclined to play twenty questions.

Our neighbors may have kept their distance but that didn’t mean we didn’t have visitors. We had two cop cars show up. The first was in response to a complaint of a man with a gun in the neighborhood. Oy! Scott just showed him his license and the cop shook his hand and left. I pretty much know who made the call as they were looking awful hard through a pair of binoculars before the cops arrived and flagged them down as they were leaving. They looked none too happy with whatever the cops told them. Serves that interfering meddler right. Stay out of our business and we’ll stay out of yours. That situation is going to have to come to a head if this keeps up.

The second cop car came to follow up on the report the guys at the Keel Outpost filed concerning Carlo’s attack on Scott. They wanted to know if the guy Scott thinks he ran over got up and walked away or how badly Scott thought he had injured Carlo. Scott explained about his eyesight and how it made it impossible for him to know for sure what he had seen, plus how quickly it happened.

The investigators admitted that blood and window glass at the scene, as well as the line of destroyed mailboxes heading away from the area, supported Scott’s story but that they had been unable to find any witnesses. Naturally. There was a significant amount of blood found in Carlo’s apartment, but no Carlo and the place had been torn apart. We were warned to immediately report if we saw anyone suspicious in the neighborhood on the off chance Carlo sought revenge.

We also received a visit by a hazmat team that took samples and then cleaned the little bit of blood I had missed in Scott’s van. I had cleaned that up yesterday but I used rubber gloves and plenty of bleach because Carlo has Hep C. There wasn’t much blood to begin with, but better safe than sorry. Looking back I now wonder if the “investigation” was actually about NRS and not the injuries Scott sustained. Maybe I’m being too suspicious.

The last visitors we had were when one of the green military-style hummers that had been patrolling periodically through out the day pulled into our drive way. I was able to personally thank the medic that had taken care of Scott’s injuries. While Scott stood talking, I had the girls help me fix some glasses of sweet tea. I had Rose stay inside. No need to have those poor boys distracted by our pretty daughter. I remember young men like that from when my dad was a First Sergeant. No sense tempting fate. I had James help me take everything out and he slowly edged his way over to stand by his dad and listen to the news the men were exchanging. One of those boys from the hummer didn’t look much older than James to be honest. That gave me a moment’s pause and I wondered if his mother was wondering how he was doing.

After the hummer left – with its occupants I hope comforted with a little old-fashioned Southern hospitality – Scott seemed to run out of energy. James took over guard duty while Scott went to sit down, do bills, and listen to the news. I knew, judging by the look on his face when I finished and came in, that things were pretty grim.

We are still OK financially, or at least we are getting by. Even though it seems like this whole fiasco has been going on for a long time, in reality it hasn’t even been two weeks yet. The fact that we already have plenty of food stored will offset what we normally spend at the grocery each month. We haven’t had to stop for gas yet either because we’ve been pulling from our reserves. That won’t last forever and we’ll need to get a ration book so that Scott can try and keep his work van topped off. Because it is a commercial vehicle he might get a business ration book in addition to our private ration. At least we hope so. That wad of cash that Scott found was mostly hundreds and fifties unfortunately. Scott plans on depositing a couple of thousand in the bank every so often to avoid notice. We’ll use that to pay down bills. He’ll also try and break the larger bills while paying for things like fuel and apartment supplies. If he only uses one or two at a time we may be able to finally have a turn of our luck. Any twenties and smaller bills are getting tucked away in our floor safe for a rainy day or retirement, whichever comes first.

There are some new rules around town that are going to make things a little more challenging for folks. One, all banks are going to drive-up tellers only. If you can, you are encouraged to do all of your banking online to avoid wasting gas waiting in line. Two, mail delivery and pick up is being reduced from six days a week to three. Tell me that isn’t going to upset folks. Refueling at gas stations will no longer be self-service. Apparently people won’t be allowed out of their vehicles at the gas pumps and some "official" will be there to inspect and stamp each customers' ration card. That’s not going over too well with the Stop-and-Shop type places that make their profit on whatever they can co-sale with their fuel sales. Also, there will be ration cards for nearly all commodities starting next week - sugar, salt, flour, meats, dairy, etc. That’ll certainly make going to the grocery store interesting; glad I can avoid it for a while. There are also checkpoints all over town at many major intersections and at Interstate on and off ramps, at least on those that aren’t being closed all together to redirect traffic. That’s definitely going to create problems.

In other news we’ve learned that an area equal to a 100 mile circle around NYC has officially been quarantined. No one will be allowed to leave. Period. Whether they are NRS-positive is immaterial at this time. Boats entering waters within this circle will be consider hostile and treated accordingly. I'm not sure how they have this cordoned off but it doesn't seem possible to completely stop movement in or out of such a large area.

Los Angeles is under the same type of sentence but is no easier to triage. Fires, some deliberately set, are burning out of control and have escaped into the surrounding hills. Communication nodes for both cities have been taken off line and blogs and emails from those incarcerated there have fallen silent except for the odd satellite hook up here and there. Being a rich or a celebrity now nets nothing and many of the homes of the rich and famous have been the first to be looted.

The number of confirmed NRS infections continues to rise though authorities say the current levels are still manageable as long as the public continues to cooperate and report sightings of any infected individuals rather than resort to vigilantism. In other words “rat out they neighbor and let the authorities do their job” is a new commandment. Not that I don’t agree to a certain extent. If NRS cases are allowed to increase unchecked the pandemic could overwhelm any possibility of controlling it. And seeing as there is no cure for NRS – no one is even really sure if NRS victims in the final stage are technically even alive anymore – it would be better for the health and safety of the public to see that the infected are contained humanely. If they are alive give them palliative care until death occurs. If the NRS infected aren’t really alive then destruction of the brain stem seems to be the only way to end the resultant … “creature.” There have been arguments on both sides of the case for months now and no one is any closer to a definitive answer.

Families of NRS victims have been filing docket-clogging numbers of court cases. That is they were until federal, state, and local authorities began to bill them for capturing and “sanitizing” their NRS-infected family members. The families have tried to have their insurance companies pay for the costs, but the insurance companies are falling on the side of the argument that says the NRS victims “no longer constitute human life so are therefore no longer covered by a policy.” And it looks like the Supreme Court has decided to quickly hear a suit from one of the higher appellate courts. The current thinking is that the SC will designate NRS an “act of God” similar to a tsunami or earthquake and that those infected with NRS are no longer human after the infection reaches its final stage. That will answer the question that has arisen regarding the euthanization question. You can’t euthanize a dead body, nor do you give a dead body palliative care. This will supposedly make “disposal” of the infected legally easier to handle. It should also remove some of the moral hazard from those agencies and individuals trying to protect themselves or the public.

I’m glad the SC is hearing this quickly. I’ve had nightmares of seeing Zombies v. The State of Florida where John Smith, Esq. brings a class action suit on behalf of zombies everywhere because they are having their civil liberties violated. Some people are just too stupid to be allowed to procreate.

Locally we are being warned that we may experience some utility interruptions. Oh goody. Thinking it is one thing, hearing it confirmed just sucks. People on municipal water have also been warned to boil their water until further notice due to some water mains running through areas that saw rioting being damaged. Just to be on the safe side I’m keeping all of our water containers topped off. I am also pulling all of our solar powered gear out tomorrow and getting everything checked over and charged up.

My “to do” list keeps getting longer and longer no matter how many things I scratch off. And my patience is becoming shorter and shorter. I’ll have James walk with me around the house one more time and then we’ll call it a night. Tomorrow will get here bright and early. Ugh.

Day Fourteen

A good night’s rest did wonders for my disposition. Scott on the other hand was suffering even worse. The bruises look just awful and he says he feels as stiff as a board. The medic said he didn’t think he had any cracked ribs but I’m gonna keep an eye on him just the same. We’ve got insurance but things are so crazy right now that I’m not sure that I trust that route. I heard on the news this morning how they are “pre-screening” people and taking blood samples for some government studies. You don’t get to opt out apparently. You see a doc or go to the emergency room and you get “sampled.” Ugh! Scott says he’s not so bad that he needs a doc, just some rest and to be left alone for a bit. Hopefully form this point forward he’ll start feeling better although he did run a fever off and on today. I think it was mainly caused by him pushing himself too hard too soon.

Breakfast: I was in such a improved mood that I made Cinnamon Batter Dipped French Toast. I didn’t even have to wake the kids. The smell drew them out of bed. I used the loaf of raisin bread I had made yesterday by slicing it into uniform pieces. I made the batter out of Bisquick, milk (from powdered), cinnamon, vanilla, and eggs (from powdered). It was good and filling but very rich.

As two of the kids cleaned up from breakfast, I had two other chopping ingredients for lunch and let Johnnie play with legos in the middle of the floor rather than in his bedroom. After that James took his turn entertaining Johnnie and keeping him out of trouble while the girls aired out all of the linens in the master bedroom.

I decided it was time that I got brave and asked Scott how he was really feeling. Not physically, but about having to use the gun. After we had a good talk I’m fairly certain that he’s OK with having to use the gun to defend himself. He’s not happy about it actually coming down to that but he knew that by carrying the gun he was admitting that he had to be willing to use it. What’s bothering him is Carlo’s betrayal.

Scott and I employed Carlo off and on for nearly ten years. We gave him steady work for decent pay even when he wasn’t at his best. Even after spending six months in jail for contempt and violation of probation (DUI and failure to pay child support) we looked after his stuff while he was serving his time and took him back when he got out. We even advanced him the money (some of which we still haven’t been repaid) when his mother died so he could pay for a plot and a funeral service. We did other stuff that went beyond your typical employer/employee relationship. Heck, I even had him over to the house for dinner a few times.

I guess I began to lose my trust in Carlo when I realized what a womanizer he was. It didn’t help his case with me that he wouldn’t pay his court-ordered child support except to stay out of jail. That really bothered me. I don’t know, maybe it’s a female thing, but a guy who won’t take care of his own kids is untrustworthy on such a primal level that I couldn’t bring myself to fully trust him in any other way either.

I know this will cause us some unexpected problems but I’m glad Carlo is gone. After having time to cool off, my need for instantaneous revenge is over. I don’t necessarily wish him dead, but I won’t mourn him if he is. It could have been Scott; and if that makes me appear cold-hearted I can live that.

Scott is going to stay home another day or two so that he can heal and make some calls to see if he can find someone to ride with him. This isn't a good time to try and go out in certain areas of town with no back up. I told him to make sure it isn’t anyone that Carlo hung around with 'cause he didn’t get a good look at whoever it was that was helping with the ambush. I guess I’ll worry more about it when the times come but at that point in our conversation I had to get up and start lunch.

Lunch: The Ham and Corn Casserole I fixed calls for Bisquick, canned ham, a can of creamed corn, and a can of Mexicorn that has the red and green peppers in it. I opted to use shredded processed cheese instead of cheddar, powdered eggs instead of fresh, and dried chopped onions. My family never knew the difference. It filled their bellies and that’s about all anyone cared about after such a rich breakfast.

After lunch I dragged some of my garden containers onto the lanai and started to refresh the dirt in them. I need to get my tomato seedlings planted. After I plant all of my heirloom seedlings it’ll be another two or three weeks before I can plant anything else. In September I have a lot of to get in the ground and then in October I have another round of planting to do as well. The more I think about it, the more I know my garden is going to be important. Momma feels the same way. I talked to her again this morning and she told me she had Daddy and Brother till their whole garden area rather than just the kitchen garden like she has the last couple of years. August and September is going to be even busier for her ‘cause they need to feed two families – assuming my sister in law doesn’t pack up and leave for her parents’ place. She really isn’t adjusting well to rural life. At least her parents are telling her she needs to stay where she is at because they don’t have enough food to feed themselves, let alone adding her and the kids into it. I have a feeling that the stress of moving and now the NRS situation added on top of the financial stress they’ve been under is going to really try their relationship.

Everything going on makes me want to be careful of taking my own marriage for granted. Gender role is one of those questions that arises from time-to-time in history. Scott and I worked most of that out between us when we were dating and in the first year or two of our marriage. But we are both hard headed and not above having to learn a lesson more than once. I have a feeling that if things get worse and/or persist for a protracted amount of time, we’re going to see a shake up in many so-called “modern” relationships. You've gotta be flexible if you expect your relationship to work, but at the same time you have to share a list of absolutes so that you can build trust in the other person. If you become to flexible or too fixated on too many absolutes then there is going to be trouble.

Speaking of trouble, thus far we are still being left along by the neighbors but we’ve started doing our own spying since they seem so intent about being into our business. People are getting cranky and there looks to have been a few fights. None appeared bad enough to call the cops over – or maybe they called the cops and it was way down the priority list so no one ever came out. Either way, illusion or not, while there is some outright antagonism apparent here and there, a certain amount of normalcy is being maintained.

Some parents aren’t using good sense and are going off to work, leaving their kid(s) unsupervised. With the school still closed I guess some don't feel like that they any other option. The strict curfew controls most of the problems that could result, at least in our neighborhood. Of course the threat of being hauled off to a quarantine center for “anti-social behavior” has caused both kids and adults to think twice about how they act in public. Come to think of it, maybe that is why we didn't see any cops at the neighborhood fights. It won’t last, of course. Civil unrest is bound to return. The next time may get very bloody as modern social order breaks down.

Dinner: After breakfast and lunch, no one was really in the mood for a big dinner. I thought it was just about time to use up one of the Chorizo sausages I had stored away. Chorizo is a shelf-stable Hispanic sausage that comes in an airtight plastic package in our area. If you watch the “best used by” dates on the packaging you can find them so that they will have nearly a year of storage possibility. Chorizo is what is popular in our family’s area because of all of the Hispanic heritage; however, other areas have their own varieties. Summer sausage, jerkies, Trail sausage, pepperonis, and salamis are just a couple of other examples of shelf-stable sausages. There is also canned sausages and sausage-flavored TVP to pick from, but I decided to use Chorizo to make a Sausage Pie. After baking it was quickly sliced and consumed. Anyone who wanted some had plain popcorn during our board game time. After that the kids were off to bed, except for Johnnie who was already there. James had had to carry to bed when he fell asleep in his dinner plate. Scott was too tender to lift Johnnie’s weight and I had strained my back lifting a bag of dirt.

After everyone was out, I gathered the ingredients to make Horchata which is a kind of Mexican rice milk. I also baked the last of the bread from the Amish Bread starter. After it cooled I wrapped it and stored it in the freezer just in case one of this coming week’s meals are a flop.

Another thought I’m having is that I’m thankful we can continue to homeschool the kids. It makes it so much easier on us these days. Our kids are already used to the idea of doing school at home. It means that Scott and I already have time in our schedules set aside for facilitating the kids’ education. The loss of freedom to go to all of their other curricular and extracurricular activities still impact us, but at least we have an established pattern of behavior rather than having to create something totally new during an already stressful time. However because the majority of families are struggling with this issue the government is mandating that the public schools reopen within the week. They are also calling it an economic move so that parents can stay in the workplace. Schools that were damaged during the rioting will have classes in alternative locations. Lots of other details will be announced in the next couple of days by the NRS Committee, or so claims the mainstream media who I fear is becoming nothing more than a mouthpiece for the NRSC. At least that is one thing we don’t have to worry about, thank goodness.

I can understand how the kids are feeling to some extent. I’m too busy to be bored but I am to a certain extent. I’m still running on the high of Scott coming home safely but at the same time the anxiety isn’t totally gone. I’m too focused on survival to have lost hope, yet there is a certain amount of depression to deal with. I guess I’m feeling a little edgy and kinda claustrophobic from being stuck at home on top of everything else. I’ve got to find a way to spice things up a little. I mean we can’t go crazy but to fight the food fatigue gremlins that have been coming on and to keep everyone’s morale up I need to come up with something. I think I have an idea but I need to think about it some and confirm a few things with Scott before I’m sure.

As far as everything else goes I guess it is going OK, or at least there hasn’t been much change. They haven’t had to widen the New England quarantine zone though they have created a secondary quarantine boundary approximately 50 miles outside of the original. They’ve turned Alcatraz Island into a Safe Zone and they are moving infection-free children out of San Francisco as quickly as possible as SF will likely be quarantined like Los Angeles if they can’t bring the NRS under control. Its spreading quickly through transient populations like tourists, the homeless, and students.

All communications have been lost in Haiti and stories are coming out of the Dominican Republic that their military is holding off hordes of infected people trying to cross the mountains. Guantanamo had to be evacuated, at least temporarily, after the Cuban government failed to contain an outbreak of NRS as well as issues with resupply ships being hijacked by hungry and desperate Cuban nationals looking for a way off the island.

To address an unusually large outbreak, authorities in Quebec set fire to a large apartment complex and continued to pour flammable liquids onto the conflagration until there wasn’t anything left to burn. Millions of dollars in personal property was destroyed in the blaze and the number of dead is not being publicly released at this time; supposedly until all next of kin can be notified.

Here in Tampa they picked up five NRS-positives but there is no word what they did with them. All of them were members of the same gang from Clairmel so there are APBs for all members of that gang, who are of course now hiding from authorities. Members of this gang were arrested last month for the beating death of a homeless man. Tampa’s original outbreak was in the homeless population. I wonder if that’s just a coincidence. It would seem, just like in San Francisco that transient populations of any type would be the most vulnerable because they lack the ability to completely secure their surroundings for any length of time.

They have opened Raymond James Stadium as a homeless “shelter.” Part of me is suspicious about this move. If nothing else it has the makings of another “Superdome” incidence or the same type of problem that Houston had with the Katrina evacuees. A stadium is a poor shelter for long term purposes. Maybe it’ll hold up just long enough for the authorities to do whatever it is they are doing with their “sampling” routine. If I had to guess, the authorities may be underestimating the homeless population and many may refuse their questionable hospitality.

Whatever is going on, it looks like we better prepare for worse to come.

Day Fifteen

While we’ve had some tribulations the last two weeks, we’ve handled the things that were actually within our control fairly well. Granted I’ve come close to panic a couple of times but I never actually crossed the line. I feel like I did when I passed a particularly grueling exam in college. I studied hard and even though the questions were more difficult than I had anticipated, my preparation still went a long way.

I’ve watched the kids trying to … well … not be too much like kids. On the one hand it has helped get us through some difficult spots, on the other hand I’m not sure that it is very good for their overall health and psyche. They are turning too far inward and not reaching out to each other or us enough. Seeing all of this crap going on around the world was already bad enough, but now to have it in their own state and even city. Combine that with what happened to their dad and I’m awful worried that they may forget how to actually be kids after a while.

Time for me to put on my Mom Helmet and do some family reconstruction. I need to pull them out of their rooms and pull them out of themselves. After talking to Scott he agrees we need to give them some one-on-one but I’ve also decided to do some creative stuff with the menu and add some fun to the day when possible. Heck, no one is going to provide that for us, we need to do it for ourselves.

This week we are going to have a different geographic theme each day. Kind of like an international food faire. I’ve thrown in a couple of games and crafts in there as well. I’m willing to try anything to get the kids to focus on something other than what they are seeing and hearing on the news even if it does make me look corny or "mom-ish." The older two gave me a little bit of eye rolling at first but at least acted like good sports and participated. It gives me hope that I haven’t let this go on too long. Today’s theme was Mexico.

Breakfast: For starters – Mmmmm – homemade tortillas are so easy to make once you remember to cover the tortilla press with some plastic wrap to keep the dough from sticking every time you make one. I couldn’t hold onto the remainder of the fresh eggs forever. They are nearly a month old now and who knows how much longer there will be before our area begins to be affected by utility interruptions. If they have to be used, I decided to use the last of them in a true celebration by making Huevos Rancheros. I also used the Horchata I started last night. After breakfast I also started another round of Amish Bread starter.

Lunch: I made more tortillas for lunch (and a few extra for dinner) and used them for Chicken Quesadillas. This was so simple it would’ve been silly if the having and cooking of food wasn’t becoming such serious business. First layer was a tortilla, then canned refried beans was slathered on top of it. Some canned chicken that I had shredded went on top of the refried beans. Then some canned nacho cheese went on top of the chicken. The final layer was another tortilla, then the whole thing was heated through using my iron skillet, sliced into wedges and there you have it. Yummy!

When I say food is getting to be a serious business I’m not kidding. We finally had a couple of neighbors drop by trying to drum up support for a group that is advocating that food and supplies get confiscated from “hoarders” and redistributed more appropriately. I think they were also trying to trick me into sharing how much food we have in our house. I didn’t fall for it and turned all of their questions back around to them. I also tried to get them to define “hoarder” and “appropriate redistribution.” Seems like this group doesn’t have any absolutes and that they will adjust their parameters as needed. Definitely not the type we want to get hooked into. They may start out with the best of intentions but its very doubtful that is where it will end.

When they finally tired of being polite and came right out and asked how much food we had I used subterfuge and acted embarrassed and excused myself after saying I needed to go inside and “scrape something together” for the kids for supper. The inference being that Scott and I were foregoing food so our kids could eat what little their was. They left disappointed and certainly no wiser.

I coulda thumped Scott for not helping me out if he hadn’t already been so bruised. When I asked him why on Earth he hadn’t sent the idiots packing he said that one, it would have just made them more determined and two, he was having too much fun watching me talk them in circles. Honestly that man has the oddest sense of humor sometimes.

Dinner: I took the leftover tortillas from lunch and made two things with them. The first was homemade chips to go with a jar of store-bought salsa. The second was dessert – fruit fajitas. I paired these two items with canned tamales and Chorizo Pumpkin Soup. The dinner was a little on the thrown together side but it was a good use of prep items and suited our personal tastes. And since I had made Horchata for breakfast, I decided to make Atole for a warm, before-bed beverage. It worked as well as warm milk to help put everyone in a relaxed mood.

While we ate dinner Scott and I explained to the kids why it is becoming even more important that we keep our preps under wraps. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the efforts to “redistribute” material resources from the prepared to the unprepared. I think I’m beginning to see Rose slowly start to gain a more healthy suspicion of people, even if they are acting with the best of intentions. Now she is beginning to see that not all ideals are well meanting for everyone. People could literally enter our home without our permission and take our food and supplies on the slim excuse that other people who didn’t prepare needed them.

On the off chance that such a group does manage to make it passed our security some how, we’ve decided to try and hide our preps around the house. Scott is going to reinforce the beds and box springs and they will hold a lot of canned goods. We are also going to build a chase in my closet beside the air handler. It will be at the top and at an awkward angle and will look like insulated duct work. The last big place we have is we are going to open up the wall behind our bookcases. It is an interior wall with no insulation or plumbing so we’ll have quite a bit of space between the studs. We may also build a false wall in the pantry to hide all of our home canned goods but we don’t have the supplies for that yet.

I wonder if all of this means that we need to start thinking about more security for my garden? I would be highly hacked off to get up one morning to find we’ve been raided by garden pirates. That thought though is going to have to wait. Scott and I made a date for a little privacy and seeing how the kids are now in bed and asleep we’ll slip off to Scott’s office for a little one-on-one time of our own.

Day Sixteen

How ironic that I had chosen today’s menu theme to be Middle Eastern. That area of the world has been in the news quite a bit today.

Fear, superstition, and extreme fundamentalism has caused NRS infected individuals to be labeled demons in several countries. I never thought though about how it would be viewed in the Middle East, but at first glance it is the same. Apparently even in Islam there is a method for exorcism. There is an additional problem though associated with extreme fundamentalism. There are these religious laws called sharia and because there are different “schools” of sharia there is some conflict concerning how an NRS infected body is to be treated and how the families of an infected person can be treated. There is a lot of conflicting information coming out and I don’t have enough knowledge to interpret it. All I know is that things are getting truly messed up over there. You’ve got one group saying that NRS can be exorcised out of a person and we all know by now how dangerous this type of thinking can be and the messes it can lead to. Then we have the groups that say that its OK to use infecteds as a bio-weapon and how their descendants will be rewarded for the sacrifice. Another group reads the sharia as an excuse to go in and exterminate entire families based on the infection of one member; it has to do with shame or heresy or cleanliness or something like that. Then you have the group, though admittedly small, that consider an NRS infected person as a “jinn” which heads off into the totally bizarre direction of mythology, family law, and a bunch of other stuff that I just don’t get. Like I said, it’s a mess.

And of course, now countries – particularly China and Russia – are offering their “help” to secure the oil fields and refineries in that part of the world. The US is already giving aid to some countries in the area via the UN. Tell me that isn’t a wreck in the making. It wasn’t too unexpected when Russia lost Venezuela to NRS-related infrastructure failure but still, a little less potential for disaster would be appreciated.

All of this is hitting the US economy pretty hard as well. The economic slowdown of the last couple of years has helped lower demand for oil thereby keeping prices somewhat under control but when Venezuelan oil exports began to slow, prices started spiking again. Now fuel is being rationed. Electric bills are pretty high and Scott and I have compensated the best we can by keeping the lights off and by turning the thermostat up, but the last couple of months have been extremely humid. If it was just hot that’d be OK … it’s the humidity that is a killer. We keep it at 80 to 82 during the day and the AC still kicks on. At bedtime we drop it down to 78 so we can at least get some sleep without souring the sheets every night.

This morning was another warm one. I’m really thankful I didn’t pull a doofus and unplug the frig just because there wasn’t food to put it in. Having cold water is a blessing when I come in from working on the garden. It was also really good because the food we had today was really different from what we are used to eating and some of us needed more to drink that we normally do. Scott and I have been to a few of the Middle Eastern restaurants around town so the cuisine isn’t totally unfamiliar to us, but it was to the kids.

Breakfast: After squishing the bread starter (day 2) I got down to business. “Fooll Mudammes” or Egyptian Fava Bean Breakfast is a popular Middle Eastern breakfast dish served around here. It is certainly different from your traditional North American breakfast dishes but that’s part of the beauty to this whole exercise – experimentation and getting out of the rut of repetition. Normally the dish would be eaten with pita bread, but I just used up the last few of the tortillas from yesterday. For a breakfast drink I made Apple Sharbat. While the sharbat would normally be made from a fresh apple, I substituted unsweetened applesauce since all the ingredients got whirled together in a blender anyway. The meal wasn't bad, but Johnnie balked a little bit at eating it until I told him it was this or nothing. I could tell he was considering choosing “nothing” but I think hunger won out due to his missing most of dinner last night. Note to self: hunger is not necessarily a bad thing under some conditions.

After breakfast, I taught the girls how to make pita bread. It’s pretty simple but can take some patience. Personally I like pita bread, but any flatbread would have worked for the remainder of the day's meals.

After that was done I went outside to check on my plants and water them as necessary. My shriek brought Scott running. 'Course I got chewed out for scaring him but I was furious at the time and still am. Squirrels gnawed through a place in the lanai screen and they had made a mess with my planting stuff. I swear I am so tired of those tree rats. Scott is going out tomorrow and I’ve asked him to see it he can come up with some animal traps. I’ve had it. I’ll poison the stupid things if I have to. First they get through our soffit and into our insulation in the spring and now they are chewing through our screens. I’m just not putting up with it anymore. If we had an outside dog or cat we probably wouldn’t have near this problem but we just didn't have the heart to get another animal after our old cat died last year at 19 years young. I had her longer than the kids and I thought it would be too hard to replace her. And now with feed and upkeep of an animal getting so expensive it just isn’t a good time. James offered to try and pick some squirrels off with his pellet gun but I don’t want to do that until Scott can pick him up some more pellets. We put off getting them thinking they would make a good birthday present and now I don’t know how easy they will be to find. Hindsight is 20/20. We'd probably also have to deal with a couple of tree-hugger neighbors we have for "killing innocent and defenseless animals." Blech! I like animals as much as anyone else, and Sarah cries over Bambi and shows like Animal Cops, but I still consider human beings at the top of the food chain and get irritated at people who can't see that.

By the time I cleaned up the mess, salvaged a tray of tomato seedlings, and patched the hole in the screen it was time to fix lunch. I didn’t get to half the stuff I wanted to this morning and that is really irritating. Time is something I can't afford to waste anymore.

Lunch: Middle Eastern Macaroni and Garbanzos. I haven’t found too many recipes that are easier and it used all shelf stable ingredients and seasonings as well. For the onion, I just rehydrated some chopped onion and then sautéed that. Pita bread on the side. It filled everyone’s belly and gave me time to get back outside and finish what I had tried to start this morning before the storm clouds started rolling through.

I got the sunflowers in the ground and got a box of arugula and mesclun greens going as well. It’s still a little warm for the greens but I figure I can filter the sun using the pool cage screen and hopefully that’ll keep things from wilting or frying. I’m definitely going to have problems with that metal fence. The heat radiating off of it at mid-day was pretty intense. I accidentally touched it with the back of my arm and yowzer! My arm still has a red patch on the skin. I’ve got a little bit of that stuff you wrap the root balls of trees with but not enough to cover the entire fence. I wonder if it will radiate the cold in the winter as much as it radiates the heat right now. I’ve also got several rolls of landscape sheeting – that stuff you put down before you put mulch down – but I had wanted to save it for my plant beds. Add another thing to put on my “to research” list.

My guava and fig trees in the big pots are almost ready to pick. Not many, but Scott will get the guava in his lunch box and I’ll preserve the figs by drying them. The jujube tree is also approaching harvest time. I’m still worried about having to find a way to protect our edible landscaping. I can move the trees that are in pots a little bit, but where to put them and how often to move them is going to be the question.

My daylilies are still blooming and I’m glad I planted those in both the front and back yard. Not that I really want to experiment right now, but you can actually eat daylily pods. I took that foraging class a few years ago and its amazing what you can eat. The thing is we are so used to the hybridized varieties of foods that eating a more “natural” food is foreign to our pallet because they are often more bland, less sweat, or more bitter than we are used to. I really hope it doesn’t come down to eating things like cattails and daylilies but it’ll be nice to know its there if we need it. I sure don’t want to have to fight the neighbors over stuff like edible weeds and seed pods. That would have to be a worst case scenario if ever there was one.

Dinner: Moroccan Chili with 10,000 Grains of Sand was a recipe that I gleaned from a show by TV cook Rachel Ray what seems like a million years ago. The “grains of sand” are couscous. Couscous requires a willingness to try out a different texture and Bekah has problems with that, she can’t eat Jell-O without gagging either. I got lucky and she’s the only kid I have with texture issues. Having picky eaters would suck in a PAW situation. One of the good things about couscous is that it requires very little cooking time and is great to use if you are conserving cooking fuel or cooking time and in this heat, the less time I have to stand over a stove the better. The original chili recipe called for fresh ground lamb, but I substituted canned ground beef that I had put up several months ago. Hurray for home canning! I substituted the correct proportion of dried herbs that the fresh the recipe called for. We used Pita bread to scoop up the chili and couscous. It was fun having everyone sitting around a big pan and scooping out their dinner a bite at a time. No double dipping though. Not even with family. Ick. For dessert I made Middle Eastern Carrot Cake which is kind of like a cross between gingerbread and a more traditional carrot cake. I used powdered eggs and the cooked carrots came out of a can although baby food carrots could also be used in a pinch I suppose. Either way it turned out delicious.

Clean up was actually pretty easy which left us more time to catch up with the news. There’s a double edged sword for you. Like I mentioned, the Middle East isn’t doing so well at the moment. It’s got some of the military higher ups a little jumpy I think. Certainly has the NRSC wearing long faces for the cameras. Wonder if they are doing a happy dance when the cameras are off and the doors are closed. I know some probably think it is payback time since several of the governments over in that area refused to cooperate with containment efforts by the West and the UN when the NRS pandemic first began.

The Middle East isn’t the only place having problems by any stretch. They are still talking about what is going on down in the Caribbean island nations. And Mexico is in shambles. About the only country between the US and Brazil that is stable is Costa Rica. I don’t know what the effect from that has been on boarder crossings, legal or illegal. Apparently the NRSC has suggested to the Feds that there needs to be more US military on the ground along all of our borders. That doesn’t bode well for Florida. We have the longest coastline of the US, second only to Alaska that has over 5000 coastal miles.

Speaking of Alaska, so far they are NRS free in the interior of the state and only in Anchorage have they had one outbreak of NRS that they were able to contain on the ship that it came in on. If only all of the other states had been so lucky. Poor old San Francisco looks like it is getting even closer to being the next total city quarantine zone. Alcatraz Island isn’t even full yet and they say they can’t find any more kids. My head doesn’t even want to go there. What’s freaky is that Miami might not be far behind SF. Strangely enough the gangs are actually helping down there … or maybe its not gang related so much as vigilante action. Either way the media reports make it sound like a war zone with regular gun fire and “hunting parties” roaming at will to protect their neighborhoods. Talk about surreal. Little Havana is looking more like its name sake every day.

For our relaxing bed time drink tonight I fixed milk with saffron. The saffron threads gave the milk a distinctive flavor and a golden color that the kids really liked. I had the saffron from some that I had bought for making yellow rice, but they are too expensive to get silly with.

And since I brought up of expenses, Scott is heading out tomorrow to try and bring in some money to pay bills with and to change out some of the cash we found. I'm not feeling exactly comfortable with this but he found a kid to help with the runs. OK, not a kid but a young man that we've rented to for a couple of years. I guess he is all of 22 or 23 now, not much older. He works a semester and then goes to school a semester. He’s done some work with Scott before and seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders. Won’t have anything to do with drugs or druggies, pays his own way, and in general keeps his place up and stays out of other people’s business. Scott told me David’s dad died when he was 10 and his mom fell apart which left him to raise himself. Got into a little trouble early on but managed to straighten up quickly enough that he didn’t completely ruin his life. I’ve met him and I know he didn’t get along with Carlo. That’s a point in his favor.

My main beef is that David doesn’t have his own car; he bikes everywhere. This means that Scott is going to have to pick him up and drop him off every work day. That’s extra gas and extra time that it will take Scott to get home to us. I guess we’ll just have to see how things work out.

I’m hoping that while he is out Scott can find the time to find some stuff on our “need” list and maybe even a couple on our “want list.” We’ve got food covered but I never imagined needing so much of some of the stuff I keep coming up with ideas for. That false wall in the pantry and finding some way to cover the metal fence are just two of the projects I would like to get to as soon as possible. And now that I'm thinking about it I wish we had a couple more solar battery chargers and the batteries as well. I'd love to be able to do a little early birthday and Christmas shopping as well. Who knows what things are going to be like in a couple of weeks, much less a couple of months from now.

Oh well, the warm milk is doing its job and I’m beat. I’d like to say tomorrow will be a better day, but I’m not sure I really hold out much hope for that. Isn't that a nice, cheery thought to take to bed?

Day Seventeen

I don’t know where to start. So much has happened today; some good, some bad, some horrific.

The day started off ordinarily enough. We got up. Scott did a little paperwork in preparation of going out while I got the kids up, squished the bread starter (day 3), and started breakfast.

Breakfast: I had chosen China as our geographic theme of the day and the only Chinese breakfast recipe I could find was for “Twisted Devils.” Traditional Chinese breakfasts are quite different from what the Western World views as breakfast. The dishes are usually savory rather than sweet and are often eaten quickly rather than enjoyed with a morning paper and coffee. The twists are like crullers in that the sweetness doesn’t come from the dough but from whatever the cruller is dipped in or whatever is sprinkled on top of it. It’s deep fried dough that is easy to mix up quickly but they don’t come out pretty and uniform without a great deal of practice. Mine looked pretty disgusting to be honest and I had a mess of splattered oil to clean up afterwards.

Scott said I earned a “A” for effort but asked that I not make them again. It was pretty embarrassing but hey, you live you learn. That was pretty much the last chuckle I had for a while. My stomach was already in a knot about Scott going out. He’s bruises are still pretty spectacular to look at; real sunrise on a stormy day kind of colors. At least he was moving around a lot easier and it only took Tylenol to knock down the twinges.

Scott hadn’t been gone five minutes when there was a loud knocking on the front door. I looked outside to see who it was and it was the neighbors from yesterday plus a man and woman I didn’t recognize. What troubled me – besides the fact we were being watched since it was too coincidental that they waited for Scott to leave before showing up – was that the man and woman had made the effort to dress up in uniform-ish looking suits. First thing that popped into my head was “uh oh.”

When I tried to fob them off with the “little woman not allowing strangers in the house without her husband home” routine they said that was OK to call him to come home, that they would wait. I was tempted to ignore them and let them roast in the day’s heat until they figured out I wasn’t biting whatever they were selling but I knew I needed more info about what was going on. I bundled the kids back into my bedroom and told them they had to be very, very quiet. I told James and Rose that they were not to let anyone but their dad or I into the house under any circumstances. No matter what and handed James one of the rifles. It got real quiet after I did that. I grabbed my little voice activated recorder and clipped it into my shirt pocket and attached my earplugs to it to make it look like an mp3 player. I think Rose thought I was over reacting at first but she didn’t say anything or try to stop me. I positioned James at the front door and Rose at the back. As soon as I had left by the back door I had them roll down the security doors as quickly as possible and not to stop no matter what they heard.

As soon as I was out the back door and the roll-downs started coming down I could hear all four of my “visitors” start to make a huge fuss. So much for the professional act they were putting on. If I had any doubts they vanished as soon as I turned the corner and saw them trying to prevent the doors from coming down.

I startled the heck out of them when I shouted for them to get their hands off of my personal property and demanded to know why I shouldn’t call the cops right then and there. They quickly “apologized” and tried to regain control of the situation but I already had their number. They may have tried to pull this crap with other people who rolled for them, but they hadn’t run up against any real resistance. I was about to give them a little training on who NOT to try and push around. I can’t stand bullies and I intended to rattle their cage a bit if I could.

After giving the two neighborhood guys a contemptuous look I focused all of my attention on the goon and goonette. Their feeble attempt to look “official” in their dark suits, white shirts, and red ties was even more irritating in person. The chick even wore a masculine red tie and that really spiked my irritation. Women are already powerful; there is no reason to go around pretending like we have to dress like a man to show it. My respect for goonette fell a couple of more notches.

Wondering just how much respect I was going to lose, I asked them for some identification. They gave me a couple of business cards and some blah-blah-blah letter in legalease on some of the worst looking letterhead I’ve ever seen. I could have made up better looking letterhead with an MSWord template and my laser printer. Theirs was probably done on an inkjet ‘cause it was in color and looked like it would run if it got wet. The business cards had those stupid fold-and-tear edges you get on cheap stationary. Dumb and dumber. They were a little shocked when I folded the letter and shoved it and the business cards in my back pocket. When I asked them for a copy of their business license and their federal tax ID number they started struggling to breathe. Honestly, I began to wonder what kind of amateurs I was dealing with?

That’s when the goon started gobbling at me to the effect that I obviously had no idea who they were and that they had approached me in the spirit of cooperation but since I didn’t seem inclined to “cooperate” they would have to report me to their superiors. OK, I’ll admit that I went from irritated to PO’d at that point. Giving the goon the smile that usually has most people who know me taking two giant steps backwards to avoid the blast zone, I proceeded to “explain” to him that I was trying to check the veracity of his claims, that thus far I had not seen any legal documentary proof that they were who they said they were, that I would immediately be reporting this incident with their names (along with the names of my darling neighbors who brought them to my property) to the State of Florida’s board of professional regulations, the local police, the Keel National Guard Outpost, and anyone else who sprang to mind. I would also be reporting them to the NRSC hotline just in case they happened to be falsifying claims of affiliation with the Feds. That last one turned the goon’s face pale, but I had made an error in judgment in ignoring the two neighborhood men.

One of ‘em grabbed me by my upper arm and started with this idiotically menacing voice of, “You are making a mistake …” right before I turned around and kneed him in the groin. Goonette musta been saving it up because she came at me with nails bared and got an elbow somewhere between her nose and mouth for her troubles. I don’t like to fight, certainly not physically. And I avoid confrontations probably way more than I should by making excuses to myself that its better to avoid trouble. But after everything that had been happening recently, including Scott getting injured, I was just in a foul mood and was ready to let my inner country girl come out and play a while. No one threatens my family and I had just plain had all I was taking.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending how you look at it, just like with most bullies they quickly lost their group cohesiveness when they found out they might actually have to pay some consequences for poking at the wrong person. I told goon and goonette that I would definitely be remembering them and that they’d best not come around this street any more at all. Goon helped the bloody goonette who still had her hands clapped to her face back to their car. I suggested that she should go see a doctor for that and that I'm sure they would be happy to take her samples at the same time. Of course they would have to make an explanation of what had happened but that I just knew that they could prove their official capacity to the local NRSC representative. They just ignored me but I hope they felt the digs I was trying to get in. They weren't big digs, but they were all I could come up with at the time.

The two neighbor guys tried to bluff their way out by way of saying that this had gotten out of hand and that I had over reacted to their overtures of friendliness. I told them once upon a time I might have believed that but given that I knew that at least one of them had been in on the trouble that code enforcement had tried to give us on some of the work we had done to our home I now take everything they say with a grain of salt. Not only that, I suggested that they had better look to their own families' business before they started messing in other people’s. If they didn’t get their kids under control they were going to have to start visiting them in a quarantine facility as I know for a fact that one of them had a juvie criminal record and that all of them had participated in some of the nastier pranks that been going on in the neighborhood over the last couple of years.

I certainly didn’t make things better when I told them that I had recorded the incident that just took place and that I would be turning a copy of it over to several local authorities; and that if anything started happening at our place like theft or vandalism or anything else we would know exactly who to send them to. If these guys weren’t enemies before, they certainly felt like enemies now.

It only took a matter of minutes for this all to go down. It certainly didn't happen like I had expected. Certainly not the physical confrontation. That I hadn't really expected. I'm more mouth than fists.

In hindsight I know I could have handled it different. I could have waited for Scott to come home. I could have ignored them. I could have handled it in any number of different ways. But I didn’t. After what has happened tonight I’m glad I didn’t … but sad at the same time. I hate feeling that I’ve somehow let myself down and sunk below a certain expectation of how I should act. And to have the kids witness it made it worse.

After I got back in, calmed the kids down – especially James who borders on hating the son of one of the neighborhood guys and who I probably shouldn't have handed a gun – and got myself calmed down I only had the energy to think about what I was going to say to Scott and what, if anything, I could do to make things better. I knew Scott was going to roast my tail feathers for putting myself in such a potentially bad situation. And he did, nice and crispy too. But I also now needed to think about revenge. Not me, they aren't worth it and I wasn't really hurt, just shook up. But what could they do to us? First thing I thought about was my garden. I had James help me to move all of my outdoor containers into the pool cage. That wouldn’t be any protection so I’ve been thinking of how we can bring the plants in at night and take them out during the day.

I began adding to my “to do” list while making lunch.

Lunch: I made Basic Fried Rice to which I added canned bean sprouts and a can of mixed Chinese vegetables. Nothing fancy but not bad. I wasn’t particularly hungry but the kids all ate with gusto. Seems that seeing their mom willing to kick some backside and come out the winner somehow made them feel safer. I want them to feel safe but I’m sure there is supposed to be a lesson on the consequences of un-necessary violence in there someplace. I just didn’t know how to verbalize it without sticking my foot in my mouth. Scott yelling at me tonight might have made them think twice, but with James and even Rose coming to my defense several times I’m not totally sure.

After lunch I had Sarah start on a Coconut pudding for tonight’s dessert that was made from canned evaporated milk, coconut extract, and powdered egg whites.

I was still on tenterhooks about what Scott was going to say. I decided to turn on the news to calm my nerves. I’m glad I did, but it did everything but calm my nerves. Los Angeles blew up. I mean it literally blew up. As in bang, bang, kablam, kablooey. No one is sure what happened but between the fires and who knows what all, some serious explosions rocked the entire LA basin from one side to the other. Some people said it was an earthquake, some are saying that with the fires out of control they reached main power stations that caused a backfeed felt across the city and thus had a domino effect of some type. That sounded like spin to me. There were a few whispers that it may have been government intervention to try and take care of an escalating out of control NRS-infected population. All I know is that the military isn’t letting anyone in or out of the area and that they’ve widened the quarantine zone around the city.

Alcatraz Island has become … I don’t even know how to write this. Apparently either an infected worker or child slipped through the checkpoints. All the children … They are saying that it was a blood bath. I’m not thinking about that any more. James is the one who heard it first on his laptop. He has some kind of news agrigator scrolling on his screen at all times these days. I sent the younger three to play at the other end of the house so I could turn the TV on and try and catch what happened. Rose saw the pictures and had to run to the bathroom to puke. I heard James telling her later that “that’s not going to happen to us, Mom and Dad won’t let it, I won’t let it, but you have to pitch in and help … “ I know they send young men off to war, but I never thought about my son that way. I always thought he was too young. But I guess maybe he isn’t. But that still doesn’t change the fact that I’m determined to give them as much of a childhood as I can. And I'm just not thinking any more about that right now.

They added San Francisco and Oakland to the full quarantine zones as well. There has been a huge migration of people trying to head out of the state of California in general but they are running into roadblocks all along the state border. Unless you have relatives in another state that have signed an affidavit that they are willing to take you in and be legally responsible for you forget it. College students are caught on both sides trying to get home to their parents. Air traffic into and out of California is now confined to military only. All other aircraft will be considered dangerous and they will either force them to set down inside the California borders or they will be shot down inside the California borders. The New England quarantine zone also now has this rule.

I expected to see Miami on the list of quarantine zones but apparently not yet. I guess that is a blessing. It also means that maybe vigilante groups are going to be the way to go. James said, “don’t call them vigilantes mom, call them militia men.” I told him until they could prove themselves to not be self-serving thugs I’d call them whatever came to mind. But I did it with a wink so I didn’t hurt his feelings. I don’t want him to start thinking that being a vigilante is anything to be proud of. My little example this morning didn’t help and I’ll probably be paying the price for that little show for some time to come.

Dinner: I was totally out of it mentally when it came time to start dinner and all I could think to make was Chinese Jambalaya. While not truly traditional Chinese cuisine, it certainly mimiced some of the spicier rice dishes in Chinese cooking. I used canned Asian vegetables to replace the fresh ones called for in the original recipe and for the tomatoes I used well-drained canned petite diced tomatoes. This got mixed in with a commercially packaged box of Jambalaya mix, cooked per directions, and “bam” it was finished. And just in time for Scott to get home.

Oh yeah. Did I ever get nailed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Scott this mad. Not only that but both James and I jumped on him and he still managed to drag us down to the neighbor’s house intent on beating the living crap out of the guy for touching me. What we found though was totally unexpected. The guy was in tears. I mean big tears, heaving cries, and a snotty nose ... the whole nine yards. Seems I’d been a little prophetic when I said that his kid was going to find himself locked up if he didn’t change his ways fast. The guy kept shouting until I could finally get him to understand that I hadn’t actually called anyone, that I had just said that to make them leave us alone. Or, at least I hadn’t actually gotten around to calling anyone yet because I wanted to talk it over with Scott first, but I kept that bit to myself. Of course by that time we had a neighborhood full of witnesses. I didn’t know whether to be scared or mortified.

About that time a woman I vaguely recognized from living around the corner stepped out of the crowd and said that a couple of them had called the cops because they saw four “guys” try and attack me. The cops never showed up because the fight broke up and we all walked away, but they did make a report by phone. I didn’t know if that made me feel any better or not. People watching what was happening but not willing to take a stand; but I guess they had called the cops so that was something. I said that couldn’t have resulted in the kid being picked up because he had nothing to do with it. The guy asked me if I was willing to make a statement to that effect. I don’t like the kid, but I didn’t want him to be falsely imprisoned. My son could be next. What a mess. Scott was still blistering, told the guy that if he ever came near us again there would be hell to pay … and when Scott said hell they guy must have been impressed because he stumbled backwards after getting a good look at Scott’s face.

Dinner was very tense but gradually Scott calmed down. I had to promise not to do something like that ever again and yada, yada, yada expose myself to unnecessary danger and blah, blah, blah because he would be very angry and hurt etc., etc., etc. I know I shouldn’t be so flippant about this. If I want Scott to take my feelings seriously I have to take his feelings seriously. But I … argh! … He loves me sooo much, easily as much as I love him. I just can’t stand being wrapped in cotton while he takes all the chances. So, OK, maybe this isn’t a “chance” that I should have taken and I’m beating myself up a little bit over it already. But having Scott upset about it makes it worse. The house already feels like a gilded cage, I don’t need any more imagery in that direction.

I was digging around for a way to broach the subject of garden security when Scott himself brought up. We’re going to clear out his office and start bringing in all my containers every night. It will be a tight squeeze and a load of work twice a day but Scott says some of the tenants have already complained about having stuff stolen. It looks like this will have been something coming with or without the ruckus this morning. That only makes me feel slightly less stupid.

He also brought home a bunch of stuff that we need to unload from the van first thing in the morning. Some of it was from my list and some of it was just stuff he picked up because he could. Guess Sugar Daddy's cash is coming in handy. We had another tenant skip on us but the neighbors had family from Miami show up unexpectedly that are eager to rent the place. The place was empty, if not clean, and the new renters said they would take care of the cleaning for a discount on their security deposit. One less problem.

When I asked him how David worked out today he said that while he doesn’t have as much experience as Carlo did, and doesn’t know how to do as much, he gets what he can do done faster and without a bad attitude. He’ll keep employing him as long as things continue to work as well as they did today. What worried me though was that Scott said David looked like he wasn’t eating regular. Scott split his lunch with him. That isn’t going to cut it. I guess I’ll need to pack more tomorrow, I’m not having Scott go hungry and I know he won't like the kid go hungry no matter if it means sacrificing his own lunch. When I stocked up on food I hadn't expected to have to feed another full-grown male.

I really didn’t want to talk about what had been on the news but for once Scott was in a mood to talk. My mind keeps shying away from thinking about Alcatraz. I just … I’m not going there even in this journal. There are some things that are just too dark.

I made some Chinese Milk Tea to settle my nerves and everyone wanted a bit. Scott’s was more tea than milk and Johnnie’s was all milk with just a splash of tea. Everyone else had theirs somewhere in between. The kids piled around the sofa and read or did something else while Scott and I talked. After Scott was talked out we got down to some snuggling and making up. The kids gave us the “ewwww” look and said they were going to bed.

Scott just finished the last of his account entries and his notes so I’ll stop here so we can double check the locks one more time. I hope tomorrow is a little less “adventuresome.” I’m still a bit jittery.

Day Eighteen

While I’ve been tense all day there was no retribution for yesterday. You wouldn’t think I would have had time to really worry as much as I’ve done today, but its always at the back of my mind, even now that we have everything locked up safe and sound for the night.

Scott was up earlier than usual. We needed to get the van unloaded so he could get going. I got the kids up and they started to help unload while I started breakfast.

Breakfast: Today’s theme was Italian. OK, so I picked one that was going to be easy on me. I needed “easy” and tomorrow’s theme promised to be more challenging anyway. The most traditional breakfast in Italy is apparently a cup of coffee and a pastry. Yesterday proved that just wouldn’t fill our family up and hold them until lunch. Especially if we were going to be doing a lot of manual labor. I opted to make what my Aunt Nina always called an Italian Breakfast Casserole. I’m not sure how authentic the recipe should be considered, but it worked for us. While everyone ate breakfast I squished the bread starter (Day 4) and went outside to water my garden.

Scott headed out right after breakfast leaving me to eat my own breakfast and to get started on the list I had started yesterday. Today would mostly be an indoor day which didn't hurt my feelings any at all. I didn't want to have to worry about being watched on top of everything else. First I had to deal with all of the stuff Scott had brought home last night. He brought me cases of the cleaning supplies I had asked for, taking the last two cases of bleach off of the shelves at SAMs. He also picked up a bunch of batteries – regular and rechargeable, as well as three marine batteries that we could use to hook up to our solar panels. I got a case of light bulbs instead of the package that I asked for which I thought much have been Scott in a hurry and not thinking. But what the heck, we’ll eventually use them and better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. There were a bunch of other odds and ends as well. He even remembered to pick up some socks and underwear for Johnnie and James which were badly needed.

When I asked Scott why hadn’t he gotten the more important lumber for the false wall in the pantry he said he’d ordered it but he couldn’t pick it up until tomorrow when he picks up the rest of his order at Home Depot. They are rationing everything these days and only the fact that he paid cash up front kept it from taking over a week to take possession of the order.

After I figured out where I was going to store everything temporarily, I had Sarah and Bekah start bringing me all of the #10 cans from our food storage. I quickly filled our queen-size box spring with roughly 125 #10-sized cans of dehydrated and freeze dried foods. Rose’s twin mattress was filled with about half that many

James’ bed is a captain’s bed so there isn’t a box spring. Instead there is a platform that holds three drawers side-by-side. I had James take the drawers out and stuff as many rolls of toilet paper in there as he could while still being able to fit the drawers back in. He got over 36 rolls in there which I thought was pretty good.

The girls normally sleep in a bunk bed as does Johnnie; no box springs there either. However the girls, Rose, and Johnnie have walk-in closets that have 10 foot ceiling in them. On one shelf in the top of the closets I put as many additional paper products as I could. At least if the paper stuff falls no one is going to get a concussion. Been there done that when that can of freeze dried strawberries came down on my head in the utility room. I’m lucky it was just a mild concussion and a couple of stitches. If it had been dried eggs or dried milk, I coulda lost my head all together.

I spent the rest of the morning stuffing toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, feminine hygiene production, and all sorts of other paper products in all of the out-of-the-way places around the house as I could find.

Lunch: Lunch was pizza. Ok, ok the pizza that most North Americans eat isn’t necessarily the same type of pizzas that you would find in Italy or Europe but the kids had been begging to make pizza for lunch for over a week. If they were willing to do the prep and clean up then I was willing to say “go for it.” The pizza crusts came from packages of mix. The pizza sauce was out of a jar but got doctored with more garlic and some Italian seasoning. The cheese was a combination of processed cheese, grated Parmesan, and grated Romano. The kids also got their pick of pepperoni and a little sausage-flavored TVP for the meat, or canned mushrooms and onions for the veggies. Just for the heck of it and to give the kids something different to do, they cooked their pizzas in a box oven they made from a heavy duty cardboard box that was covered in aluminum foil. The fuel was coals leftover from a fire from some oak branches that Scott had cut down when they were building the fence the other day. Rose made a very strong, sweet lemonade that she stuck in the freezer until it was ice cold. It didn’t quite turn into Italian Lemon Ice, but it was close. The whole thing I put down in their school portfolio as science, home ec, and shop projects. I have no idea whether the school district is even pulling portfolios this year but better safe than sorry.

I left the kids to clean up while I continued trying to figure out where I was going to put everything that was still all over the house in miscellaneous little piles. Those little piles have been mocking me for months and I was just flat out tired of constantly having to walk around them. By hiding stuff I made quite a bit of floor space; we needed it. After Scott got home it took over an hour just to move everything out of his office and another hour to cover the floor – thankfully ceramic tile – with a tarp and to move the most vulnerable plant containers in. Glory this is going to be some work. I figure that we just added two hours of work to our schedule every day for the foreseeable future. Fun, fun, fun. But better than the alternative which is losing my garden.

Scott reported that people are getting really worried about where their next paycheck is going to come from. The decreased work hours available due to the dusk to dawn curfew has caused a lot of lay offs and salary decrases. Scott has already been getting signals from a couple of our tenants that they won’t have heir rent come the first of the month, or they'll maybe only have part of it. All the mortgages, utilities, and insurance are covered by the rent income from our subsidized units. So long as government agencies continue to mail out checks we should be OK for that part of it, but we still have to pay property taxes come November. That doesn’t count repairs and maintenance on the rental units, legal expenses, our own personal expenses or any kind of savings like for the kids’ college funds. Things just keep getting tighter and tighter. And most folks tend to put the landlord at the bottom of the bill pile.

The thoughts of one discomfort lead to another. I’m not really all that sure about Scott’s plan for tomorrow. He’s going right after daybreak to pick David up, stop by Home Depot for his supply order, and then he’s bringing him back here to work. In addition to the false wall lumber and drywall, Scott bought all of the supplies to enclose our freestanding carport and to build an enclosed walk way from the carport into the utility room. We’d talked about doing this for security purposes but I didn’t think we had actually made the decision to do it yet. Scott felt we had. Not a hug miscommunication but I’m not asking how much the materials cost; I figure that the Sugar Daddy money has to be going really fast. I suppose the work will go faster if all three of them - Scott, James, and David - are working on things but it just feels hinky having a stranger in the house after the recent turmoil we’ve been through.

Dinner: For dinner I fixed spaghetti. I could have used some of my home canned sauce that I made a few months ago but I had one commercial sized can of Ragu brand that I hadn’t found a place for yet. I doctored it up with lots of garlic and onion, some canned mushrooms, and some dried veggies that I had like bell peppers, carrots, and zucchini. I would normally add ground beef and sausage to my sauce but it was already meat-flavored so I gave it a pass and tried to play it economical. Instead of bread sticks I made Grits Cakes which is kind of like a southern-style polenta. Everything was very good and all of my little piggies got to eat until they were thoroughly stuffed which they hadn’t done in quite some time. I baked some Rusks while we ate dinner because I will need them for tomorrow's breakfast.

We all had mugs of Amaretto Cocoa while listening to the nightly news as it fed out more of the same old same old. The quarantine zones are holding so don’t worry. Food deliveries are due soon so don’t hoard. Fuel prices will stabilize soon so please be patient and conserve. Infection rates are reportedly the same except for spikes in quarantine zones so follow the NRSC mandates without question. Its almost become normal.

Except we have active duty military troops and National Guards patrolling the streets of our city. Except we are hiding most of our food stockpile on the off chance some government agency wants to “equitably redistribute” supplies around. Except the terms “NRS,” “infected,” and “zombie” all get used in the same sentence several times a day by the news media. Except I have to worry about Scott maybe not coming home at the end of the day because a zombie got him. Except I am stuck in this gilded cage we built and slowly going nuts.

OK, so I’m being more than a little melodramatic about the gilded cage part, but it has been over two weeks since I left our little point four acre yard. And everything else is true.

I better sign off here. Scott’s going to open the wall behind the bookcases and I’m going to try and hide as many cans in those areas as will fit before bed. I want as little as possible visible to David while he is here tomorrow.

Day Nineteen

Another long day today, and we have an overnight guest which feels kind of bizarre.

Up before daybreak so that we could eat and get Scott out the door right at sunrise.

Breakfast: Today’s theme was Africa. OK, so we are talking a whole continent as opposed to a single country but it was what worked. The South African Rusks I fixed last night were dunked into strong, hot cocoa. Not bad but I planned on a mid morning snack of Melktert which is kind of like a Chess Pie for those familiar with southern cooking. I also added the Day 5 ingredients to the bread starter and let Johnnie squish all of that together to give him something to do and to keep him out from under foot while James, Sarah, and I moved the plants back outside.

Scott left in the work van pulling the enclosed trailer. First he swung by and picked up David then they both went and loaded the stuff from Home Depot. It was nearly 10 AM before they showed up here and I’ve never seen such a mess in my life. Scott is usually much more organized with his loading but apparently they were pushed out of HD as fast as they could toss supplies in the van and trailer. Scott said by the time he got through the loading line was wrapping around the building as people waited to get their order verified and their ration books stamped. Luckily Scott has a commercial account whch expedited things for us. No one has to know that most of the load was for our personal use. When they got in they backed into the carport. Scott’s plan was to close off the sides of the carport before emptying all of the supplies so that the neighbors couldn’t see what we were doing.

They got one insulated wall completely installed right as lunch was ready. Good thing I made a lot because I swear Scott, James, and David were hollow from the feet up. David looks quite a bit thinner than I remember him and he wasn't a big guy before. The weight loss doesn't look good on him. It makes me wonder just how bad things are getting for some people.

Lunch: I fixed West African Beans over rice. This recipes used canned white beans and plenty of onion and garlic and was served over white rice. I could have cooked the beans from scratch but didn’t feel up to that much work on top of everything else I was doing. The dish is also a bit spicier than the kids are used to so to cut some of the heat I made Liberian Rice Bread that used a box of Cream of Rice cereal as its base. Instead of the plantains the bread recipe called for I used a jar of banana baby food. Scott is still puzzled why I insisted on buying those cases of babyfood; buy, between one thing and another I know they'll get used. Another splurge I made since we had company was Ethiopian Punch. One of the last items that I stocked up on was individual serving sized cans of fruit juice. The reason I did this, despite the extra cost, was so that I wouldn’t have to open a large can to just have a cup or two of juice for a recipe. You can get an amazing variety of juices in these sized containers now – grape, orange, grapefruit, pear, pineapplie, prune, coconut, apricot, etc. – or at least you could before everything hit the fan. I also poured off the remaining juice from a jar of maraschino cherries and used some raspberry syrup we had used for snowcones over the summer. The recipe made a whole gallon and I even had to cut it a little bit with water because it was really strong.

After lunch the fellas were back hard at it. For the first time in a long time Rose actually volunteered to help me outside in the garden. It took me all of two seconds to realize that her sudden interest in botany was actually generated by curiosity about David. Suppose it had to happen sooner or later and we’ve been lucky that she has been more academically focused up to this point. Hopefully Scott won’t notice and blow a gasket (or hurt her feelings by laughing). As far as I could tell David was completely oblivious so I’m not going to worry about it. He’s actually a good kid from what I can tell from closer dealings and it turns out, at 21, he’s younger than I thought.

The guys had finished up the other side of the carport plus put the gate across the front when James came inside to ask me to come take a look. When I went outside I could hear several sirens off in the distance. Given our proximity to two fire stations, an ambulance service, the interstate, and a road that leads to a major hospital I didn’t think too much of it at first, but when a pretty significant plume of smoke developed off to the southeast I got a little worried. When a military convoy truck came through the neighborhood telling everyone to get indoors and stay there I naturally gave the situation my full attention.

We all went inside and turned on the TV to see what was up. I had to ask David twice to come inside; he seemed a bit embarrassed and at a loss as to how to react and barely stood inside the doorway. He didn’t really move until Scott told him to come look what was on the news. First thing on every local channel was footage of University Community Hospital in flames. Luckily we apparently just missed the live coverage of the nurse whose face was eaten off being sanitized by the hospital's NRSC representative, then this same man looking down at his arm and noticing he was bitten and subsequently putting the pistol in his mouth and "sanitizing" himself. Needless to say that bit of footage will not be re-aired and there is a Federal Order for a 10-second delay on all “live” reporting from this point forward; all under the guise of FCC rules of course, so as not to unduly alarm the public. Hmmm, wonder if my typing is embuing that last sentence with the amount of sarcasm that it deserves.

Official reports are that there were originally five NRS escapees from the mobile morgue that was parked at UCH. The mobile morgue was ostensibly to be used to separate out infected corpses and sanitize them. Apparently the new supposedly more “humane” sanitizing by lethal injection to the brain stem or by lobotomy doesn’t work. Over the objections of the ACLU officials are returning to the previous sanitizing method of brain destruction by blunt force trauma, bullet, or fire – whichever is more expedient. The asinine “catch ‘em with a net” mandate is out as well to the total relief of the front line hunters. Three of the infected were apprehended almost immediately, but not before entering the hospital via a loading bay and wreaking havoc. One was captured while we were watching the news. That leaves one still on the loose. One is enough.

The one escapee is also why our area is on lock down.

Dinner: Life must go on so while the guys watched the news I fixed African Curry for dinner. I did have to substitute canned chicken for the chicken pieces but that wasn’t a problem and all the other ingredients I already had on hand. Again I served it over rice. With the extra mouth to feed I’m glad I have plenty of rice and beans. There was a little Ethiopian Punch left and we served it over cracked ice for those that wanted it otherwise I had made a gallon of solar tea. For dessert I made an eggless African Ginger Cake. The spice came from cayenne pepper as much as anything else and was kind of interesting.

Before full dark we brought all of our plant containers back in even though we weren't supposed to be outside at all. Now that we know what we are doing moving the plants is taking less time, but it is still a pain. Tomorrow I’m getting the dolly out of the shed to help with the bigger pots.

When it became apparent that David was pretty much stuck here, Scott stepped in and convinced him to stay. But none of us could convince him to sleep on any of the spare beds. He opted for the air mattress on the living room floor.

When I asked Scott why he was being so stand off-ish he explained that David was just very self contained and didn’t know what to make of our big-family-togetherness or what to make of him being so readily included. I guess it can get a little overwhelming for an outsider but David, for all his aloofness, is turning out to be surprisingly likeable. Poor kid; he is bringing out my mother hen side. Hope he can stand it for a while longer. He’s stuck with us for another day anyway as Scott wants to complete the carport tomorrow and try and at least get started on the false wall. Not to mention no one is going anywhere until the NRSC ends the lockdown.

I’ll also admit that there are benefits to have an extra adult in the house on a night like this. James and I are taking the first watch. Scott will take the second watch. And David will spell Scott for the last watch as he is naturally a very early riser anyway.

For those that wanted to relax I fixed West African Hot Chocolate. It used dark chocolate rather than cocoa powder or milk chocolate for its base. The sweetener was a mix of honey and brown sugar. It also had vanilla and cinnamon to it. I drank more tea to keep me awake but the warm milk after a day of hard work and nerves pretty much put everyone else to straight to sleep.

James is sitting here beside me nodding off and it is time for me to go wake Scott. I’ve been listening to large vehicles rumble up and down our road off and on for the last couple of hours. I guess they are still looking for the last NRS victim. Except for those trucks, everything has been unusually quiet. Not even the token dog or cat fight has disturbed the night. I hope they find the infected person soon if they haven’t already. I don’t want to be cooped up in the house all day tomorrow.

Day Twenty

Woke up to the news that the NRS Containment Team caught the last of the escaped infected victims around 4 AM this morning. Somehow the diseased person made it all the way up to the county line unnoticed. The only reason he was eventually caught was because he stumbled into the Pasco County Animal Shelter. The screams of the animals and the screams of the night staff were heard by a patrol. Luckily only the infected person had to be sanitized though many of the animals had to be euthanized due to their injuries and other trauma. The two staff members had saved themselves by locking themselves in the rabies quarantine room.

Today’s menu theme was the UK. I’ve never been but have always wanted to go there for a visit and play tourist. Given the economy and how crazy life has turned I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to visit the land many of my immigrant ancestors came from. It certainly kept the kids occupied studying England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. It helped keep them out of trouble since we were still pretty much stuck in place while the authorities back tracked the NRS victim’s path.

Breakfast: Oatmeal is supposed to be a very traditional Scottish breakfast and our family frequently enjoys it for breakfast too. To make it even more authentic, I used steel-cut oats. Yummy and very filling.

I felt pretty good about the fact that David didn’t have to be asked twice if he wanted seconds. I think all the guys were in an eating contest this morning. David and James got along really well. I worried a little that James would be jealous of the time that David gets to spend with Scott. James wants to go out and help his dad so much but then feels bad about the idea of leaving “the girls and the baby” home alone with no manly protection. I’ll give both of the boys double bonus points for being so mature about the situation and I could tell David also went out of his way to commend James for having the patience to stay home. I think that made James feel grown up.

Right after breakfast the guys moved the plants out for me and then started moving all of the stuff from the van and trailer in. Then they finished enclosing the walkway to the utility room door. What I really like is that they included our well house in the enclosed area. That’ll secure it against potential vandalism which is something I had been worrying over a bit.

They finished measuring and cutting the lumber to frame in the false wall in the pantry right as I finished preparing lunch.

Lunch: I fixed a super easy version of Potato Soup. The recipe used instant potato flakes instead of raw or canned potatoes. Then I made a fresh batch of Irish Soda Bread to go with the soup. The meal was rounded out with tea to drink; iced and sweet as opposed to hot.

After lunch the guys finished framing the false wall, put up the drywall, then mudded and taped the joints. The resulting hidden space is 5 feet by 8 feet. Scott had already built me shelves along the 8 foot section of the wall for our last wedding anniversary. The one disadvantage is that there is no electricity in the space. James said he will put a ceiling hook in there so that I can hang a lantern and I’ve also got some of the LED tap lights that I can stick on the wall. I’ve got the barrels of grains in there that Daddy sent. They barely fit at either end of the space. Then I’ve got the few super pails that I have lined up on the floor at the bottom of the shelves. I spent the rest of the afternoon putting all of the jars and cans back onto the shelves as will fit. That still leaves quite a lot that I haven’t got a space for and Scott said depending on what goes down over the next few weeks he might close in the other side of the pantry. I’d wind up with a hallway from the house into the utility room as opposed to going from the house into a room that I use as a pantry and then into the utility room.

For the door Scott framed out a small panel that opens out. He used really heavy duty hinges and then bolted an old wooden bookcase to the panel. David actually came up with the idea of using a speaker mounting magnet to keep the door closed rather than trying to figure out how to hide a handle or knob. I’d still like to figure out a way to latch and lock the area but the magnet gets the job done so well that I really have to pull to open the panel.

You can’t see the door because the book case hides it and you’d think the door was sitting on the floor but it is actually about a quarter inch off and easily swings without dragging the ground at all. I’m pretty impressed if I do say so myself.

They got as far as they could by 3:30 which is when the lock down was lifted. Before Scott and David took off we had “tea time” to mimic the English tradition. Our “biscuits” were lemon cookies and we had iced tea which seemed kinda sacrilegious but it was just too hot for anything else. Not to mention I could just imagine the looks from the guys had I pulled out my china tea service. Of course the cookies were inhaled.

Scott fairly flew to get a few stops made and David back to his place so that he could return home before curfew kicked in. I packed David a thermos of soup to take home and he was touchingly grateful and promised to return the thermos tomorrow.

When Scott got home he told of being forced to go through several check points. The path the NRS Infected was well to the north of our location, thank goodness. Scott seemed to get the feeling that the NRS … oh for Pete’s Sake, why is it so hard for me to even type it?! Zombie. The freaking zombie’s path passed to the north of us. And no, typing the word doesn’t make me feel any less weird but I guess that is the term we are all going to eventually get stuck saying. It is just too outlandish to hear ourselves talking about real zombies as opposed to the ones in the gory movies I used to enjoy watching.

As I was saying, Scott seemed to get the feeling that the zombie must have hit at least one other location between the hospital and the animal shelter. Nothing has been on the news, but if not, then how did they figure out the path? Makes you go, "Hmmmmm. What are they NOT telling us?"

Dinner: Dinner was one of the more complicated dishes that I have made since we started our voluntary sequestering. First I fixed Chicken Cider Pie that required me to substitute canned chicken, canned mushrooms and canned carrots for the fresh ingredients; the pie crusts I had to make by hand which was a trip after getting spoiled (or lazy) buying crusts frozen for the last couple of years. I then made Creamed Peas, substituting canned peas for the frozen. For dessert I made bread pudding using the loaf of Amish bread that I had put in the freezer. Everyone but Johnnie had tea again to drink for dinner.

After dinner Scott added a little more mud to the drywall joints. Tomorrow he’s going to have James sand the wall and then texture coat everything. The day after that we’ll paint the room and ceiling, throw down a rug, hang some pictures and hopefully a casual inspection will leave no one the wiser.

The kids and I brought my plants in right before it got dark and then rolled down the security doors. Since they caught the zombie – glory, there is that blasted term again – we won’t set any night time watches.

When I asked Scott what David did at night, he told me he has a closet that he barricades himself into. That just breaks my heart, but I’m not sure what we are supposed to do about it. What we do for him we would have to do for all of the units. But at the same time he works for Scott now and maybe there should be perks for that. Carlos (the scum bucket) certainly got his share of perks. On thing that Scott and I discussed is providing him with at least one meal on the days David works. He’s a good kid, but I worry that we are getting too attached to him too quickly.

After yesterday’s ruckus, today’s news seemed tame. They added the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to the list of cities that are in danger of quarantine. New Orleans also made the short list as did Little Rock, Arkansas of all places. Chicago is holding their own as is St. Louis after a brief flare up in infection rates. I've got several internet buddies in both of those places so I'm glad that they are at least keeping their heads above water. Who knows how things will go this winter though with heating oil being in short supply.

Something that was on TV that I consider rather silly was an infomercial on how to spot an NRS-infected person complete with charts and graphics and “key questions” to ask before assuming anyone is infected. Excuse me, but if I have what I think may be a zombie baring down on me or a family member I’m not going to stop and note skin tone, whether they have blood on them, and ask them if they know their own name, the year, and who the current president is. Geez. I guess they started having trouble with vigilante justice using the excuse, “But I thought they were a zombie” a few too many times. I think the politically correct “solution” though is just as bad as the problem and will probably cause twice as many deaths. We’ve now lost an entire hospital to that type of nonsensical thinking.

I’m too exhausted to hop on top of that particular soap box tonight. Late nights and early mornings are beginning to remind me too much of my college days when I was young, dumb, and way too full of energy for my own good. I’m just not cut out for that nonsense any more and having five kids, a husband, and a household to run is more important than reliving my youthful idiocy. Obviously I’m cranky so I’m going to head off to bed. Maybe a good night’s rest is what I need.

Day Twenty-One

It was a quiet night but somehow that hasn’t been comforting. Too many things have been happening too quickly. The quiet feels too much like the calm before the storm. I realized this morning that its been a full three weeks since we started sequestering. I continue to believe we are doing the right thing but it isn’t an easy thing. I still feel hemmed in, like my world has shrunk to the borders of our yard; but, at least the feeling is distant and not beating at me all day long any more. It’s a strange sensation. But lately my whole life seems to be a series of strange sensations.

Scott was up and out as quickly as I could get breakfast out of the oven.

Breakfast: We may be stuck at home but our menu has taken us all over the world this week. Last stop is in the South Pacific with a Polynesian theme. This morning we had Pineapple Muffins, big ones, with a glass of milk. I had to scavenge the macadamia nuts for the recipe from a bag of trail mix, which was kind of silly if I think about it, but otherwise everything was fairly normal. I did send one with Scott for David and I packed some crackers, cheese, Vienna sausages, and canned fruit cocktail for their lunch. I’ll try and have leftovers for their lunches from now on when possible. I also did the bread starter thing (day 7).

After breakfast the kids helped me take the plants out and while they did their schoolwork, I did some cleaning and maintenance on my plant beds. James brought his laptop outside so he could “keep an eye on me.” I wanted to pinch him he sounds so much like Scott but the honest truth is that there were a few places in the yard that I felt like I was being watched. I think someone in the two-story house that sets off form our rear was spying on me again. I know they had to be the ones that blocked my access to the canal. I don’t know all of the people living in the house these days. There is an older lady named Mabel that owns the place but just recently one of her daughters moved home bringing an adult male and several teenagers with her. I’m assuming that’s her husband and kids but we’ve never been introduced. I’ve seen Mabel out and about less and less and she doesn’t wave and say hello like before. Sad as she was a nice lady if a little nosey. I can’t say I’m thrilled with her family; one of the teenage boys in particular gives me the creeps. The kid is an exhibitionist and I have to be careful of the girls when I know he is around; he’s a little too ‘clothing optional’ for my taste. Icky kid in my book.

Lunch: More beans for lunch. We better get used to that because beans and legumes were among the cheaper prep foods and I took advantage of every sale I could. They’ll also provide a significant portion of our protein. I fixed Calypso Pineapple Bean Pot and served it over rice. It was really simple. The leftovers will be lunch for Scott and David tomorrow.

After lunch I called Mom and Dad for an update. Most everyone up that way is doing OK. My sister in law is still a little depressed and didn’t even want to talk on the phone. Mom says she is keeping busy arranging and decorating the trailer they are living in. They did have to lay down the law to my nephews. They roamed a little too far afield yesterday and got lost. A neighbor spotted them and everything turned out all right, but they are city boys and need to learn the rules before they get their complete freedom back. Personally I’ll believe that when I see it. My sister in law isn’t big on discipline. Hopefully with my brother home more they’ll straighten up and at least pretend to follow the rules for a while. Daddy said he has a couple of gallons of sorghum and cane syrup for us. I'm not sure how we are going to get it but it sure would be nice to have. I have several large bags of Splenda that I'd like to send to Daddy, again though I'm not sure how to get it to him. So far, so good with Daddy's diabetes and blood pressure. I convinced Mom and Dad to get a 90 day supply of their meds and their doctor just got them another 30 day supply from samples. If things get crazy though I worry that they won't be able to get what they need. One more reason I'm relieved to have Brother living next to them.

I had planned to work in the front yard until Scott came home but James came unglued at the very idea. I just decided to fight that battle another day as I was sick of yard work anyway. Instead I took some of my bulk ingredients and made up some convenience mixes so that I wouldn’t have to start from scratch at every single meal. I made soup mixes, flavored oatmeals and pancakes mixes, muffin and bread mixes, cocoa & other drink mixes, and even a few cookie mixes. Most of the mixes I put in empty canning jars but a few, like the nearly empty soups, I put into ziploc bags and then sealed them air tight with my Seal-a-Meal.

By the time I finished doing that and some much needed laundry I just barely had time to get dinner started before Scott came home.

Dinner: I used a canned ham topped with Polynesian Sauce for the main dish. The combination of canned peaches and pineapple in the sauce was really interesting. I also fixed Polynesian Carrots for a side dish. A fresh salad wasn’t happening at the moment but more and more I am waiting for the Mesclun greens to be ready. Those greens only take 35 to 45 days to mature and will be a really welcome addition at the dinner table; I miss fresh fruits and veggies. For dessert I fixed Polynesian Bars and the kids chowed them down. Rose suggested saving one for David. Hmmm. Seems like the interest/infatuation may still be lingering.

During dinner Scott told me about all of the craziness at the rental units. Most of it was run of the mill and relatively normal but David had rocks thrown through a couple of his windows overnight giving him a pretty good scare. Scott took some scrap lumber and screwed it into the window frames. Luckily that unit only has three windows – living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The door is metal in a metal frame so we shouldn't have to worry too much about door damage. We got so tired of having to rebuild door frames and replace kicked in door panels that most of our units now have metal doors. The cops haven't liked it a couple of times when they were raiding but they ain't paying the repair bills.

David's neighbors claimed they hadn’t seen or heard anything of course but another landlord with property in the area warned Scott that he thought he had seen Carlo yesterday down by the Quick Stop. He couldn’t be sure but if it wasn’t him it was somebody who looked a whole lot like him hanging out with the same old crew of no-accounts that have caused problems in the area for years.

Hearing Carlo could still be around both relieved and distressed me at the same time. I’m relieved that Scott won’t have to face possible criminal charges. Despite the blood in the van, it appears that Carlo's wound couldn't have been that serious if he is already up and around. I’m scared though that Carlo could be out for revenge. It isn’t inconceivable that he was the one that threw the rocks or instigated throwing the rocks into David’s apartment. It sounds like something he would do. Mean and petty.

The nightly news bulletins didn’t help settle my nerves either. Tampa International Airport was briefly shut down when a flight in-bound from Memphis (Tennessee, not Egypt) had a mid-air heart attack victim go zombie on them. Thankfully the airlines learned their lessons from all of the early European incidences. Every flight now has an onboard security team that has federally-granted immunity to forcefully subdue any passenger behaving disruptively. They’ve also been mandated to sanitize any in-flight deaths using this tool that looks like a cattle prod with a compressed air bullet thingy on the end of it. Its apparently safer than using a gun while the plane is pressurized. It doesn’t make much of a mess either so the next of kin can still have an open casket memorial service should they so desire.

Speaking of funerals and burials, I guess its worth a mention that funerary staff have been deputized to legally sanitize all corpses or apparent corpses. They use this tool that’s like a sonic egg scrambler. It drills through the cadaver’s skull and then basically liquefies the brain using sonic waves; so much for zombies crawling out of graves.

Besides, the onset for NRS appears to be almost instantaneous for most cases. There have been a few delayed cases reported, but they are usually the result of an obvious bite or scratch and the disease spreads to the whole body within hours. The problem remains that transmission, though 100% deadly, doesn’t have a 100% attack rate; and no one is sure who or why they are susceptible to infection.

NRS is still popping up all around the world, sometimes in clusters and sometimes in isolated cases. No country is immune. And without the ability to really study the disease because of its quick rate of deterioration, no one is really sure how to come up with a vaccine yet.

Here in the USA we are taking collateral damage from all of the NRS-related complications. The worst outside of the quarantined cities thus far is the fire in Chicago that started yesterday. A relatively minor fire that started along the waterfront has spread for miles. A power outage in the city caused alarms to fire stations to be delayed. Even when the firemen arrived and started to battle the blaze, low water pressure has pretty much precluded the use of hoses. They’ve created several fire breaks by knocking down buildings in the fire’s path but that hasn’t been completely positive. Heavy winds are also making things hard to manage. There is no telling how far the fire will spread at this point but people are running in all directions trying to evacuate from it's path.

Civil unrest is again on the rise. The rioting around the CDC in Atlanta has reached epic proportions. I’m worried about rioting starting up again here in Tampa. I hate Scott being out when folks are unhinged. People are really nuts and the mainstream media isn’t helping. Reporters are wringing all of the emotional distress and financial turmoil out of any given story as they can. And people play right into their hands. If some of those media folks aren’t careful the crowds will turn on them and tear them apart.

Lots of scary international unrest as well. In particular Beijing and Hong Kong have been in the news for their government’s use of extreme force to retake those cities from rioters’ control.

There were also pictures of the starving children of Sydney, Australia plastered on every network, cable and local. We haven’t had any of that here in the USA, at least not on such a large scale; however, if the convoys don’t start moving a little faster a lot of unprepared people are going to hit the streets looking for food for themselves and their children. Look at what happened in NYC.

My brother is thinking about applying for a convoy job. The Feed Depot where he just started working is trying to get something set up to haul raw grain to some of the larger cities for distribution, either as animal feed or for commodity distribution. Even if it only brings pennies for the bushel it is still better than what the farmers will get letting stuff rot in the silos. Brother did promise that he will bring us a couple of more barrels if he can pick up a delivery job out this way. I'll have to grind the grain myself but I have both an electric and manual grinder to do this with. I just hope the gears are up to grinding corn.

I didn’t feel like cocoa for our bedtime drink so I fixed everyone licuados. A banana licuado is more of a Mexican beverage than a Polynesian one but it was the easiest for me to make. You mix milk and a fruit – in this case mashed bananas from my baby food supplies – with a little vanilla and honey to taste. You can also add ice and blend to make it slushy, but we just had ours at room temperature.

Today was the last day of the international food faire. Some of the dishes were a little bit more work than I had anticipated. Some dishes went over very well and some only had a lukewarm reception, namely those Twisted Devils, but at least the menu wasn’t boring and no one suffered from food fatigue. All-in-all it was an experiment that worked. It didn’t adversely impact the food storage supplies and was a morale booster. I’ll be back to the normal grind for at least the next week or so. I’ll be really happy when my garden starts coming in. I’m already getting tired of nothing but canned and dried foods.

Day Twenty-Two

We were woken at 3:30 am by a tenant calling because she was scared. Apparently there was some fighting in the street in that area. She wanted Scott to come right then and add another lock to her doors and demanded that he board up her windows for her. Besides the fact that the curfew prevented us from doing anything for her at that time of night, there was no way I was going to have my husband flitting around at her beck and call. I felt badly for her but she was beyond reason and her expectations are all out of whack. But even after we tried to explain to her three times the reality of what was going on, she kept calling back over and over hysterical. We finally stopped answering the phone but that didn’t stop her. She put her phone on automatic re-dial and I’ve been dealing with it off and on all day long. The thing is, this is the same chick that thinks Carlo is the best thing since sliced bread and who cussed Scott after she had heard through the grapevine that Scott had shot him.

There wasn’t any sleeping after the phone calls woke Johnnie at 4:15 or so. Scott was royally PO'd at that point and just hit the shower. I hit the kitchen to try and throw some food at the problem and make him feel better. Granny used to tell me that there wasn't anything wrong with a man that a cast iron skillet couldn't fix, she wasn't far from the truth. Actually what she said was, "Honey, there ain't a thang wrong with a man that a cast iron skillet cain't fix ... a cast iron skillet and good aim that is." I've never had to use the "good aim" part but the skillet has gotten me out of more than a few fixes over the years.

Breakfast: Fruit-filled Muffins are a old tried-and-true and really easy breakfast that I fix quite often. The ingredients are very basic and you can vary the flavor as infinitely as the flavors of jams or preserves varieties in the cupboard. I made them in these little gem pans that I have so it seems like I had made more muffins than I actually did. Made them easier to divide up too. I also made Scott and James a small omelet out of some powdered eggs and some real bacon bits. Man cannot live by muffins alone, at least working men can't.

I packed lunch for Scott and David and did some extra laundry, including all the bedding and towels, while I waited for Scott to get ready and leave. He had a list as long as my arm of work orders he needed to get to. Personally I’m thinking that it is going to soon get to the point where he isn’t going to be able to do business as usual. Even though the kids around town are supposed to be back in school, we’ve had a lot of repairs related to kids. Broken refrigerator bars, broken towel bars, broken fans and light covers, broken fencing; heck, Scott and David even had to replace some shingles yesterday because kids had climbed up on a roof and were playing around up there. We are lucky we inventory stuff for minor repairs, but with rationing getting tighter I’m not sure how long our supplies will last at the rate we are using them.

The dryer couldn’t keep up with the amount of washing I was doing so I started hanging out the sheets and spreads on my clothes line at first light. I just feel pressure to try and get ahead of some of my cleaning chores. I just have the heebies and have had them all day today for some reason. I did see my neighbor out near the canal. It looked like he might have been jigging for frogs but I couldn’t tell from the angle I was at. I hope Mabel is OK.

Scott caved and said he would use some of the supplies he is picking up today to close in the other side of the pantry for me so James and I haven’t done any more work to finish it off in there. I know that is more work for Scott (and maybe David too if he helps) but I just don’t feel like I have any choice. I can’t find any more good hiding places around the house. I wish we had a basement but being in Florida that is definitely out. So is using the attic for anything as it gets too hot up there not to mention possible infestation by bugs or rodents.

I guess the bottom line is that I just have this feeling of impending doom for some reason. Nothing in particular but I feel like the dumb blonde in the scary movie that goes waltzing up to the decrepit mansion. You scream at her to not go knocking on that door, but she is oblivious. Makes you want to dope slap the actress. But I’m not oblivious and all of my instincts are telling me that “something wicked this way comes.” Gack. I sound like an old hen … “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” I don’t know what it is but it is creeping me the heck out. Luckily Scott is pretty patient and understanding. I’m driving him nuts, but at least he knows I’m not doing it on purpose.

I have to be careful though ‘cause I think I’m infecting James and to some extent Rose as well. I’ve watched them watching me and I’ve caught them scanning some of the other houses in the neighborhood like they are trying to figure out why I’m feeling like I feel. James has even made this map of the neighborhood and is making notes of the cars that are supposed to be at each house and what he knows of the people each household. I don’t know, maybe we are simply feeding off of each other. After all we have been cooped up together for over three weeks now. Maybe we are suffering the proverbial bought of cabin fever.

For most of the morning I cleaned and reorganized but towards lunchtime I told James I really did need to do some work in the front yard. This time he didn’t give me any grief. Apparently he had talked to Scott and was told that if I worked in the front yard to go ahead and mow it. The rain and heat has the grass growing like crazy and we weren’t the only home with a yard that needed to be mowed. Yesterday I heard the tractor and bush hog in the orange grove and no one said anything. We were able to get the front yard mowed with no confrontations but it was an eerie feeling. I know there were other people in their homes around us, although most of the people on our block still appear to have their day jobs, but it was still awful quiet. The lawnmower seemed too loud.

Lunch: The girls fixed Open-faced hot roast beef sandwiches for everyone. There is no way that this meal would ever make it into a book on losing weight. First Rose made a plate full of cat-head biscuits – so named in the Deep South because they are unusually large sized biscuits. While she did that Sarah and Bekah made a batch of mashed potatoes from instant potato flakes using powdered milk and powdered margarine. Then they opened and heated up a couple cans of sliced beef in gravy. The biscuits were split and opened on each person’s plate and a good-sized portion of mashed potatoes was heaped on each of the biscuit halves. Lastly, the hot beef and gravy was spooned over the mashed potatoes. It looked like a heaping pile of mess on the plate, but it is a frequent comfort food around our house and only takes minimal work to prepare. Being up so early, by the time noon rolled around we were all just about starving.

After lunch I gathered up all of the clippings and stuff from the front yard and tossed them into the compost bins I have going. Another project I’d liked to have completed sooner is building one or two more compost piles. With lumber and fencing being so dear now though, unless Scott runs across any wooden pallets at Home Depot I’m not sure what we would use. Scott managed to bring me a couple of pallets of dirt and mulch but they won’t last forever and we may not have any extra money for that sort of thing in the future. The compost will help revitalize the garden beds and containers of dirt. Assuming I can find anything to actually compost. I used to get extra greenery from the canal edge but that’s out … for now. I’ll do what I have to if I get desperate, but I’m not there yet.

For the rest of the afternoon I did some “school” with Johnnie. I love him like the dickens but boy howdy does it take all of my energy and concentration to keep him from outwitting me. He’s a boundary-tester and requires a lot of consistency to keep him from bending the rules as often as possible. Another wish I wish for is a swing set. I know it would take up space we don’t have but it would give him a way to work off his energy. Being inside a closed up house all day long isn’t healthy for any of us, particularly an active preschooler. As it is I’ve caught him doing back flips off of his bunk bed more than once this passed week. We just can’t afford a doctor at this point – financially or for all sorts of other reasons.

Dinner: I made Black Beans and Yellow rice. I stockpiled cases of pre-seasoned black beans and packages of Vigo yellow rice when I could. Scott grew up here in Tampa and all of his grandparents were immigrants. Hispanic cuisine is something that I had to learn to cook very quickly. To keep things from being so expensive and time consuming I finally smartened up and canned up my own ethnic foods like Picodillo, Ropa Vieja, and Garbanzo Bean Soup. I also canned pork loin with sour orange marinade and learned to make a lot of other traditional dishes using prep foods. Maybe not like his Momma fixed it, but I haven’t heard any complaints in over 20 years so I’m not gonna sweat the small stuff. For dessert I made Impossibly Easy Cherry Pie, another Bisquick recipe. I set all the leftovers aside for Scott to take for his and David’s lunch tomorrow.

Everyone was in the mood for chocolate so I made a pot of Fruity Hot Cocoa (Cherry-flavored). The cherry flavor came from unsweetened drink mix and didn’t clash with the pie everyone had for dessert. We sat around only half way listening to the news as we were all pretty well exhausted. Scott told me about his day and I told him about mine. We worked on our list of things we need and the list of things we wanted as well as some of our project ideas but we didn’t last long.

The news was full of the same old stuff. Nothing new on any front except that they think they may have some of the Chicago fire contained. Lights have been seen at night in NYC so there are obviously people still there trying to survive in some way. There is still no new information on what caused the explosions in Los Angeles. San Francisco and Oakland continue to be hot spots but Dallas/Ft. Worth may get to come off of the quarantine list if they continue wracking up the number of “sanitized” zombies. I think everyone has just about given up on calling them NRS victims now.

I couldn’t even stand to listen to any international news and practically had to carry Scott to bed, no easy feet considering I’m 5’ 2” on a good day. He leaned on me so heavily that I know he was unaware of how much his fatigue was showing. I’m worried for him. He doesn’t talk much about what he sees beyond the daily grind of the apartment management but I know he is worried and trying to hide it from me … but sometimes his eyes give him away.

Day Twenty-Three

Good thing that Scott and I invested in that solar charger for our laptop batteries or I wouldn’t be typing this; I’d be stuck writing everything down by hand. We woke this morning to find that the power had gone off at some point during the night. Luckily our cell phones are still working – sort of as there are a lot of black out areas in town – so we were able to keep touch off and on during the day. This day went from bad to worse in short order.

To keep from going into a panic I tried to act like the power outage wasn’t anything unexpected. I put the kids to getting dressed and doing their early chores like putting the plants outside. I added filling up five gallon buckets from the pool to put into the bathroom for the toilets and filling up the camping shower bags from the rain barrel so that those that needed showers could have them. This gave Scott time to get the solar radio out and turn it on to see if we could pick up any local news. While he fiddled with that I got breakfast going.

Breakfast: It was Day 9 for the bread starter and I let Johnnie squish up the mix while I pulled out the Coleman oven and mixed up some biscuits. Biscuits with sausage gravy were about all I could come up with on such short notice but the smell alone made everyone feel better. I only ran the oven long enough to cook the biscuits and heat water; I need to save all the propane I can. While the biscuits were baking I duct taped the refrigerator and freezer shut so no one accidentally forgets and keeps opening it to see if the ice has melted yet. The sausage gravy came from a can, but hey, it wasn’t bad at all even if Momma woulda had a fit had she seen me do it. Cans of slightly watered down juice were the morning’s beverage. Some might think that watering down juice is a bad idea, but full strength juice can play havoc with a digestive track unused to it. Better to be safe than sorry, especially if we are going to have to lug water for the toilets for any length of time.

Thank goodness I have been going through all of our equipment and had it ready and easy to find. News broadcasters on the radio were giving preliminary reports issued by the power company that a major piece of equipment at the local plant had malfunctioned. Repair parts were available, but due to shortages in plant staff, the repairs will take longer than normal. All citizens within the station’s broadcast area were warned they would need to endure a power outage lasting approximately a week. Future news reports would keep everyone apprised of the progress. Frankly I just hope that equipment failure is all that it is. I can too easily imagine what caused the staff shortage.

I wasn’t thrilled with Scott leaving to go to work but didn’t have much choice as he and David had been in the middle of replacing a main waste line when they had to close up shop to meet curfew. As he headed off to pick up David and his supplies at Home Depot I got in motion to see what all I could do to make our lives easier for however long the power remains out.

The kids had already hung out our black shower bags. Hanging in the August sun all day will give us plenty of hot water for washing and such. I also started a gallon of solar tea. When I went out to set the jug on our back stoop I heard a lot of yelling – loud and angry – coming from a few different houses. There was also some crying. Looks like bad just got worse for some of our neighbors.

It was already warm and muggy despite the early hour. I knew it would get worse before it got better. We have portable fans that are solar powered but I didn’t want to waste them since we would need them for tonight if the power didn’t come back on. I just had the kids keep a wet washrag handy so that they could use evaporation to keep themselves cool. I also had those little battery operated fan/spritz bottles. The kids learned real fast not to waste the batteries (rechargeable) or they wouldn’t have any “fan.”

I was making some notes on some preliminary ideas for meals over the next couple of days when Scott called me the first time. David got jumped after Scott dropped him off yesterday and took a pretty good beating. Nothing that warrants a trip to the emergency room but he’s gonna be sore and multicolored for a couple of days. His apartment is trashed. David is mobile so they packed up his stuff and stuck it in Scott’s van – there wasn’t all that much apparently that didn’t get trashed – and went ahead and tried to get some work done. At that time no one was sure where David was going to spend the night.

Johnnie and Sarah both were starting to get irritable from the heat so I had the older three help me to set up a little wading pool on the lanai and fill it with water from the pool. I told them no splashing or there would be consequences and surprisingly they both obeyed me with only one or two minor exceptions. Guess they were too hot to risk being banished back into the house.

Lunch: The noon hour crept up on me quicker than I had expected. I fixed Zesty Bean Salad over instant rice. You can eat the salad by itself as a side dish but it is also good with rice to make it a main dish. I dished out everything onto paper plates and pulled a package of Melba toast out to use for a bread. The toast also helped to rake up even the last grain of rice. I had about a gallon of bleach water to use for washing the silverware and cups. I set it outside in the direct sun to keep it warm so that it could also be used to clean the silverware at dinner.

After lunch, I took a moment to have a private adjustment reaction. In layman’s terms that means I went out to the she and cried a few tears where the kids couldn't see me. Afterwards I took stock of our situation and while it is difficult, its far from being catastrophic. There isn’t anything left to spoil in the refrigerator or freezer but I will keep them sealed to try and save the ice for as long as possible. Adding up all of our potable water sources yields several weeks worth of drinking and cooking water so long as we don’t get sloppy. The pool water will work for the toilets for a good long while and even for showers. We’ve been getting a regular afternoon shower every day for a while and I watched James set up the water catchment barrels to our downspouts from the roof gutters. I also figured that I could re-use liquids from canned goods. Veggie water I’d use for regular cooking and fruit syrups or juices I would save for drinking or baking.

Most importantly though I set up the water filter system that I made using filters I bought on the internet and a couple of food grade buckets. It’s a drip system similar to the big expensive Berkey system that I could never afford. It sure would have been nice to have gotten one of those big stainless steel versions, but hey, what we built may not be pretty but it works just as well and meets our needs.

I am so glad that I was able to get all of our laundry done, including the bedding and all of the towels. It might be a while until I get another big load of laundry done automatically. I have a set up planned for having to do my laundry by hand but that’s not going to be any fun at all. I have a metal horse trough that I can set up over a fire and I’ll boil the clothes clean. I even have a couple of big wooden paddles my dad made to dip the stuff in and out of the hot water. I’ll avoid going “old school” as long as I can though. I’ll just rinse out socks and underwear for as long as I can stand it. We’ll hang out everything else to air it out and reuse it as long as it isn’t gross. Good thing I stocked lots (and lots and lots) of deodorant.

Food isn’t going to be a problem for a while yet either. How to cook that food is an issue. Our propane supplies will last a good while yet but only if we are careful. I also have charcoal and a wood pile (that just this afternoon got moved to a more secure location near the house) and several other solid fuel options. Nothing extravagant, but with careful rationing, we are set for a while anyway.

The only free energy source available to us is solar power. We’ve got two solar panels and several deep cell batteries. I also have a simple solar oven we bought off the internet and some solar lanterns. The other thing we have are plans we printed off of and the materials for some of these contraptions; materials like a reflective car sunshade, panes of glass, two tires not on rims, dark cooking pans. Even if things get so bad that we go through all of our propane I can probably do some cooking using solar power, just not on cloudy days. I hope what we have is enough to get us through. I know hope isn’t a plan, but it makes me feel better.

Speaking of hopes and plans, Scott called me several times through out the day to keep me up to date about what was going on. We both agreed that we couldn’t allow David to go homeless, especially since it looks like he was attacked just because he is working for Scott. David said that he recognized two of the three guys who attacked him as being friends of Carlo’s. That cinched it for me. I told Scott to bring David to our house even if he if was kicking and screaming. I’d gotten my anger pretty much under control and put it away but the attack on David just brought it all back out. I’m just plain spitting mad. I sat down and explained things to the kids and every one of them wanted Scott to bring him home to us. Seems David made a place for himself without any of us realizing it, including David. Scott says David is very embarrassed but kind of without any other option at this point.

When Scott finally pulled in I couldn’t believe my eyes. David has a badly split lip, a loose tooth, and two black eyes and that’s just from the neck up. His nose is swollen too but not bad so I don’t think his nose is actually broken. But apparently David is street tough and got in quite a few licks of his own. The knuckles on both of his hands are abraded and swollen. He says he fought dirtier fighters growing up on the mean streets of West Tampa and keeps a knife in his boot top in case he starts to feel like he is going down. The guys were mostly drunk so they weren’t overly coordinated; if they had been, David said he would have been in worse trouble. But they ran when David pulled the knife. I’m just glad, drunk or not, that those guys didn’t have guns. That would have put a totally different face on things.

Dinner: Dinner wasn’t anything special and David needed something soft to eat. Ramen noodles topped with canned beef stew I doctored with some raisins and capers was what I put on the picnic table outside. It was too dark to eat inside unless we opened the shutters and that was too much like work after a long day. Especially after moving the plants yet again.

While we sat discussing the new living arrangements – David was still hesitant about accepting our invitation for more than a night or two – we had the news going in the background. Mostly it was about the power outage and what people could do to help themselves because there were no plans for the local, state, or federal government to step in at this point. The phrase “you’re on your own” has never been more true.

I hope we can get David to agree to stay. It would give us another adult we could count on and at the rate things are deteriorating that isn’t a bad thing. Yes, I’ll need to rework some of food my storage plans but that’s doable. At this stage adding one more mouth to feed isn’t going to break the bank. I’m going to give him some time to heal before I start really trying to persuade him though. I want him to stay because he feels that it is a good arrangement, not because he feels beholden or trapped. That wouldn’t be a good place to start any kind of relationship.

The other thing we discussed over dinner was how to use our resources as wisely as possible. Overall, every meal must be more fuel-efficient. Starting tomorrow the Coleman stove will be used for breakfast. For lunch I’ll use a small stick or charcoal fire for heating soups and/or fry breads. If an outdoor fire isn’t an option because of the weather or some other reason, I’ll use Sterno, Eco-Fuel, or solid fuel tabs on the lanai. And when possible I’ll use solar cooking for dinner.

My goal will still be to provide 2000 kcal/day. Before the power went out I used bread as a filler at meal times. With limited options now that the power is off I’ll need to use ingredients that are more fuel-economical to fix; rice and pastas will be my first choice for a while. Both of these work well in a solar cooker as well.

We were pretty well talked out by the time all of that was discussed and I could tell that David was hurting even if he wasn’t complaining. He finally let me doctor him up and he even slept on the bunk in Johnnie’s bedroom after the girls cleaned it up. Johnnie didn’t know quite what to make of the guy sleeping in his room, but let it pass without creating a fuss after we moved his box of toys near his “new” bed. Scott and I are going to have to escape to the shed to have any alone time but what the heck, we’ll just play newlyweds and take our pleasures where we can.

In addition to three extra strength Tylenol (which is all he would take), I fixed David a mug of Warm Maple Milk. In fact I fixed it for everyone as we all definitely need a little bit of a sleep aid tonight. The sweet warm milk is relaxing.

Scott wants to stay home tomorrow. He knows David needs recovery and healing time and this way he and James can get started on the other false wall in the pantry. No telling what is going to go down in town with the power off. Gas will certainly be hard to get until there is electricity at the gas stations although by law gas stations are supposed to have generators here in Florida because of the hurricanes. But “supposed to” and reality aren’t always the same thing.

Here’s hoping tomorrow’s calamities don’t overwhelm us.

Day Twenty-Four

Sure enough the utilities are still down. Sleeping without the AC last night was miserable even with those little fans going. They gave out just as soon as I got good and asleep so of course I woke back up. The kids were restless all last night as well. I’m a very light sleeper and every time the kids rustled their bedding my eyes would pop open. My eyelids felt like sandpaper all day.

And our bedroom … my gracious … it smelled like a locker room for a couple of hours until I thought to have everyone take their sheets outside and air them out. At least I don’t have to worry about everyone’s mattresses getting sour. I use those plastic mattress protectors. And Febreeze fabric freshener is my new bestest friend. I can’t imagine what things are going to smell like in this house if we can’t air it out soon. The closer to lunch it got the worse the heat became. In the rooms where we were working we wound up having to open the windows; but, we left the shutters closed. I’ve gotten too secure having the shutters closed and locked. I do miss daylight coming into the rooms, but I like my safety better. If I want daylight I can step onto the lanai or into the backyard.

Since Scott had already planned on staying home today I had planned to go at a slower pace than usual. Or at least that is what I had hoped. Didn’t actually turn out that way, but it was a nice thought just the same. No electricity = more work, not less.

Everyone was happy to use the shower bags this morning, even though there was little in the way of privacy. We are going to have to build an outdoor shower facility and James plans on doing that tomorrow. I left Scott discussing today’s itinerary with James and David. While the girls took their turns taking shows, washing up, and doing morning chores I finished adding the final ingredients to the Amish Bread starter (Day 10).

Breakfast: For breakfast I made Amish Muffins (this used one cup of the starter leaving me three cups to use at some later point). I made the muffins in the Coleman Oven. It was already too hot to cook indoors so I set it up on the propane grill on the lanai. The oven isn’t very big so it can be a challenge to get enough of anything baked in one shot, but it can be done with a little ingenuity. I used paper liners in the muffin tins and was very careful as I filled them so that clean up was minimal. And since everyone ate outside I didn’t bother with plates, whether paper or otherwise. The few crumbs we made were simply swept outside.

Trash is going to be a problem sooner rather than later. I guess I forgot to mention it, but the garbage didn’t run last week. I’ve got a whole garbage bin set aside just for cans and it is filling fast. Last week I was able to wash them off and toss them and not have to worry too much about animals getting into them. But this week I’ll have to be more careful with our water storage. I also have a whole bag of paper trash to deal with. I have started separating paper trash into two piles – paper with food particles and paper without food particles. The paper with food particles I’ll need to bury or burn. The paper without food particles I will shred and toss in the compost pile. Its not a perfect solution but it’s the best we can come up with for now.

After breakfast, I pulled out the solar oven and threw a quick casserole together and put it into my black speckle ware roaster pan with the lid. I placed the roaster inside a cooking bag (similar to those used for cooking turkeys, etc.) and sealed it. The bag with the roaster pan inside was placed into the solar panel cooker. The panel cooker was then adjusted and watched though out the day to make sure it continued to face the sun directly and didn’t get covered in shade. I also set up a homemade water pasteurizer to heating up water for dishes.

Scott’s first task of the day was to show David and James how to set up our solar panels. First they mounted them on a tilted, rolling frame we had built from an old bed frame. The panels were then wired to a controller. The controller can then be wired to the deep cell batteries. Once the batteries are charged you can either directly feed into a DC system or you can hook them to an inverter so that you can use AC system gizmos.

We’ve never successfully run our well pump this way but we are able to run small items like a battery charger, smaller wattage lamps, and a few other useful gadgets. Scott is anxious to keep his cordless tools charged. The four deep cell batteries we now have will give us some storage capacity; we just need to be reasonable with our expectations.

No sooner had I finished setting the solar cooker going than I had to refill the solar shower bags, put a laptop battery into its charging system, take care of watering my plants by hand (what a pain), and do some general cleaning and prepping. I constantly had to avoid the guys who seemed to be all over the place. They were trying to measure lumber, running wires, and trying to figure out how to secure the solar panels to keep people from throwing rocks at them and breaking them. David suggested reworking a section of the enclosed walkway. If they can figure out a way to convert one section into a kind of garage door then the panels could be wheeled in and out of there each night. Some conduit could be run underground that would house the wires which would mean the controller, inventer, and batteries could be housed securely out of the elements all of the time. At that point it didn't surprise me to learn that David has been attempting to earn his degree in engineering.

Lunch: I was very tired and sweaty by the time I needed to prepare lunch. I knew it was hot but all I was up to making was some kind of soup. I made Creamy Tomato Bacon Soup with cheese crackers. I also pulled out a can of spray cheese for those that wanted it. Scott likes cheese with his tomato soup. I heated the soup in a pot placed over a small stick fire that I built in a depression in the ground. After I got the fire going, I set a grate was over it. The soup pot was set on the grate. The hole was small so it funneled all of the heat from the small fire up to the soup pot. The hole was almost too small and there nearly wasn’t enough oxygen to keep the fire going. Lesson learned which led me to think of another project for the kids to do. I’d like to build a cooking pit and line it with some old Georgia bricks that we have. I’ve started to carry a memo pad around in my pocket just so I can write everything down as it comes to me. Otherwise I get irritated when I know I thought of something good but can’t remember what the heck it was I thought of. It didn’t take long for the soup to heat through and after it was removed; my camp coffeepot filled with water was placed on the grate to catch the last bit of heat.

The fire actually gave off enough heat to make the water quite hot, though it never really boiled. Some of the very hot water was poured into a dish pan so that the soup mugs from lunch could be washed. The rest was poured into coffee carafe so it could maintain its heat. It came in real handy tonight.

After lunch we were all so hot that we just lay around on the pool deck with our feet in the water. I guess we must have done this for an hour just trying to cool off. We didn’t even move when a rain shower moved through soaking us to the skin. Johnnie and Bekah actually sat in the wading pool on the lanai up to their waist. After we finally got up and started moving we all dried quickly as we were all wearing lightweight clothing to beat the heat.

There are some palmettos on the far side of the orange grove and Scott let James go with David to cut some for me. I wasn’t thrilled with James getting out from under my eye but the boy is nearly 16 and I have to let him grow up or I’ll alienate him. And I guess going with David made him feel some better. What James didn’t know was that Scott had palmed off one of the pistols to David before they jumped the fence. That little maneuver made me feel better.

The reason for the boys going to get me the palmettos was that I was going to make fans. Out of all the stuff that I’ve bought over the years it is simply beyond me how I could have skipped buying hand fans. I mean, how silly could I have been?! Once the boys brought them back I skinned the saws off of the sticks and trimmed the fronds until a nice, stiff “fan” was all that remained. I made enough for everyone to have their own and a couple of extra besides. Johnnie made a game of going around to each of us and fanning us a couple of times and then expecting us to fan him for twice as long.

It continues to stay light until nearly 8:30 pm these days but I didn’t want to have to waste the lanterns unless we had to. I fixed us an early – for us anyway – dinner and we again ate outside on the lanai. This kept the mosquitoes off of us and out of the house.

Dinner: The Quick Casserole Supper came out of the solar cooker without too much trouble. I was a little worried about dinner so I had pulled out a jar of peanut butter and some pretzels just in case the casserole flopped. It didn’t, thank goodness. The casserole consisted of canned chili (minus beans), canned pinto beans, canned tamales, and shredded Mexican processed cheese. Not the greatest, but certainly beat a cold supper hands down.

The bowls from dinner were cleaned using the water that had been heating most of the day in the water pasteurizer. It was warm enough to wash dishes with, but to be on the safe side I added a capful of bleach to the rinse water. Since everyone scraped the last bit they could out of their bowls, nothing required a hard scrub except the roasting pan and only where the cheese had gotten sticky.

While James took his turn on dish duty, I helped Scott and David bring in all the equipment that they had out during the day as well as move the plant containers back inside. I’m going to have to be careful because I think some of my plants might be getting confused because they aren’t getting as much daylight as they normally would this time of year. That probably means that they need to go out earlier and come in later. Hopefully I can make the change without too much trouble.

Finally we could all just sit and relax. Yeah, it was still hot … still is hot as I sit here writing this entry … but not as bad as it was around lunch time. The news from around town was disturbing. They are finally releasing a few more of the details from the UCH fire and zombie escape. Scott surmised correctly. They were able to follow the zombie’s path because apparently there had been at least two other attacks. They think that they sanitized all of the attack victims that were infected but they have issued public warnings because two household members from one of the homes are still unaccounted for. Now that just gives me the creeps, not to mention I would have liked to have known this before David and James took off into the bushes in the orange grove. I’m appreciating our metal fence and steel shutters more and more.

I used the hot water I had put into the carafe to make Orange Hot Chocolate. The hot water in the thermos carafe remained plenty warm and I’ll continue keeping water warm this way from now on.

The rest of the evening’s news was no better. There was a sad murder/suicide story where a man, obsessed with worry that his family was going to turn into zombies, killed his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself. The problem was he was too inept and didn’t destroy the brain. All five of them were reanimated by NRS and killed the man’s parents when they dropped by to bring a bag of groceries. The zombies then terrorized the neighborhood for nearly an hour until they could be sanitized by a NRSC Deputy. As self-fulfilling prophecies go, that was a doozy. I just pray there aren’t any copycat killings like this.

Local charities have now distributed over 90% of their stock with no expectations of resupply any time soon. Food warehouses and major distribution points have hired professional mercenaries to guard their locations. Even local grocery stores now have armed security details.

No riots have broken out in our area but hostilities are close to the surface. Looting has been officially marked as a Federal offense, a matter of Homeland Security, and is punishable by instant execution if the looter is caught in the act by any deputized authority (from Federal troops to local law enforcement to deputized private citizens). I understand the why of this but it is still a frightening development that could easily be abused.

The only announcement concerning the power outage is that repairs are proceeding. Wow. Nice to know. A few more details would have been welcome.

The rioters in Atlanta broke through the military barricade around the CDC. The breach was quickly sealed, but not without some serious bloodshed.

The media is reporting a quiet exit from DC by most members of Congress and their staffs. Some are returning to their home states and some, along with their families, have simply disappeared from the radar all together. The President, in conjunction with Homeland Security and the NRSC, now operates from an undisclosed location. This cannot be a healthy development either.

The New England Quarantine Zone was expanded again. There is also now a Northwest Quarantine Zone covering much of Oregon and parts of Washington State and overlapping some of the Greater California Quarantine Zone.

An extreme tactical response by members of the Texas National Guard has tipped the balance in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area showing that swift and decisive action can reduce NRS infections enough that whole cities can be retaken. The model is being studied for implementation in the quarantine zones.

They are trying the strong tractical response in Miami as well. Unfortunately the large number of Caribbeans in the area who practice a religion that both fears and respects black magic is making it difficult to completely retake some portions of the city. Some of the black magic priests of this religion are using the zombies, or threat of zombiehood, to accumulate political power and spiritual control. I understand people have a right to practice their personal belief system, but that is steering off too much into craziness for me. Especially as several times a so-called “controlled” zombies break free and basically infect every one at a given religious ceremony. This has meant that sometimes entire blocks of neighborhoods have to be quarantined and sanitized within hours. Not easy as quarantines require a special judicial writ. Sad, and all because of a few megalomaniacs.

International news was just as lousy but I don’t feel like citing it chapter and verse. Suffice it to say that people no long say Paris “is.” They now say Paris “was.”

I’m losing my light so I’ll save my battery and end things here, attempting to close on a more positive note. For all the bad news, personally we are doing OK. David’s wounds are healing and Scott’s are no longer visible at all. The kids are healthy and at least appear to be adjusting to the new norm that they find themselves living. And David hasn't said word one about leaving. We have plenty of food, water, and a modest amount of power. We’ve still got nearly two full drums of fuel as well as another 25 gallons in gas cans. Our house is secure. There is money in the bank. And, we haven’t had a fight with a neighbor for a few days. The way things are headed, that makes us rich as Midas.

Day Twenty-Five

Day three of the power outage. This sucks. It wouldn’t be so bad if this had happened in October or November but in August it is like a freaking sauna. Even the pool water feels like warm soup. No matter where you go you can’t escape. Its all too easy to lose your temper in this heat and humidity.

Everyone scrambled to be first in the shower this morning. Chores were done in record time so they could get in line. Even the plants went out faster than ever before. I could have used a shower first thing this morning myself but I needed to get breakfast going first.

I knew even before the radio was turned on that things must have deteriorated overnight. Three humvees per hour was as often as they had patrolled during the last round of rioting in this area; this morning I counted four. There had been another NRS zombie incident near Ybor City. This one was pretty bad from the sound of things. It had sparked some additional violence between several families which then sparked some racial incidences as people started taking sides in the original argument. It didn’t take long before a full blown riot developed. The violence is now spreading through out the county as people give vent to their pent up fear and anger.

Scott had been on the fence about going out, waiting to see how David felt. But, with things the way they are everyone unanimously voted for them to stay home. It’s not like they don’t have work they can do around here and several things that happened today made me even more glad to have them close.

Breakfast: I made Bacon and cheese breakfast bread by mixing together Garlic and Cheese Bisquick mix and some real bacon bits. It’s a family favorite. Because the pan was sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, clean up is easy with some sudsy water and a dip in rinse water that has been doctored with bleach. We continued to eat outside as it is marginally cooler and adds to the easy clean up aspect that I am trying to maintain.

After breakfast, I set dinner to cook in the solar oven since it worked so well yesterday. I was anxious to see if it worked as well with pasta. I set some water to heat in the water pasteurizer as well.

While I was cleaning up I had a “being watched” feeling right before Bekah asked why the boy was on that roof looking at us. It was a bit of a non sequitur and I had to look where she was pointing before I understood what she was asking. Sure enough on the roof of the two-story house to the rear of us, there was a teenage boy laying down watching what I was doing. When he noticed I had seen him all he did was shoot me a bird and raise a pair of binoculars to his eyes. I sent Bekah in to tell Scott to come here and bring David and James with him. Scott must have been concerned because all three of the guys were carrying a rifle. When they stepped outside the boy got the point and shrugged then started nonchalantly watching another house. Yeah, that freaked me a bit. It also hacked me off. You can’t even feel safe in your own yard these days because someone is always in your business.

That boy stayed on that roof for another hour or so before being replaced by a teenage girl. I noticed that during the hottest part of the day no one was on the roof but towards the end of the day a man climbed on to the roof and was the one that stayed up there the longest.

I debated what I could do to get us more privacy and for now all I’ve been able to come up with was to hang sheets across one end of the lanai to at least block the view of our meals.

No sooner had I finished hanging the sheets and the rest of my morning chores that it became time to fix lunch.

I had James dig me a cooking trench. While he did that I made a large stack of tortillas with a piece of waxed paper between them to keep the dough from sticking together. I also have the girls made up a large batch of doughnut batter using nearly all the remaining bread starter.

Lunch: I made Fiesta Soup with tortilla chips. I set a skillet on the fire grate to heat. I then threw all of the soup ingredients together into a soup pot and set it on the grate to heat through. After the skillet was hot enough and I fried the tortillas until they were crisp, rather than pliable, but not burned.

While everyone ate their soup and chips, I placed a Dutch oven into the coals of the fire. Into the Dutch oven I poured cooking oil. After I finished my lunch the oil had gotten hot and I made drop doughnuts while the others took their turns doing the dishes.

After the doughnuts come out of the hot grease, they are drained and rolled in sugar and then put into paper bags. These, except for three the guys snitched, were tonight’s dessert. There wasn’t a whole lot of oil left over, but I still saved for tomorrow’s use.

After going nonstop since first light, I stopped and had myself the cup of tea I promised myself yesterday. It was nice to be off my feet for a few minutes.

James managed to cobble together a pretty decent shower area inside the pool cage using his younger sisters’ hula-hoops, some scrap PVC, and a couple of plastic shower curtains. Nothing fancy, but at least we have some privacy now. I know we could hang the shower bags inside, but its too dark and stuff for that right now. I feel better that the girls can clean up without having to deal with the friendly neighborhood voyeur.

The guys have also managed to finish the second false wall. I’ll be more than a little relieved to be able to tuck the rest of the food away that is sitting around the house.

After I brought everyone’s sheets in from airing out and remade the beds it was time to get dinner on the table. The guys put away the solar panels and generally cleaned up their work areas and checked to make sure all the locks were still fastened. I had the girls set the table while I got the food.

Dinner: Last meal of the day was Fettuccine of the Sea. The solar oven worked well but it doesn’t do pasta as well as it does rice. The pasta was a little chewy but no one complained. We were too hungry after dealing with all of the extra work caused by the power being off and all of our minor construction projects. The doughnuts were a huge success and it took a great deal of will power to save half of them for tomorrow’s dessert.

After dinner we hit on a great new dishwashing technique. The black shower bags that we keep filled with water get really hot during the day; almost too hot for a comfortable shower. Scott hung one above the kitchen sink and we now have “hot water on demand” again. Those on dish duty were suitably grateful.

The radio is going and every one is enjoying a cup of French Vanilla Hot Cocoa before making an early night of it. I know just passed dark is a little early………………..

OMG!!!!! We heard a sharp crack and some breaking glass coming from right outside. Scott and David slowly rolled up the rear door to check to see what it was and someone shot at us!! The bullet came through one of the sheets I had up on the lanai and shattered the glass top of my patio table. There’s only one place the shot could have come from. Scott and David have decided to slip out the carport and try and see if they plan anything else. I’ve got to go keep watch.

Day Twenty-Six

I’m exhausted. I was up all night and still haven’t been able to rest despite the fact that it is now after 9 pm. Up for over 24 hours and I’m jagging like I’ve had a six-pack of Jolt Cola. Maybe if I just write everything out as normal I can get rid of some of this terrible tension.

The crack we heard last night was a bullet entering the lanai and shattering the glass top of my patio table. We knew that bullet had to come from some place high because the hole in the screen and sheet was several feet higher than the table top. The only way the same bullet could have done both things was if it was angled down.

I thought Scott was gonna explode but David managed to convince him to remain silent. That surprised the heck out of me. Scott’s temper is the really noisy variety. And he was already cocked and primed due to the punk on the roof’s arrogance. David redirected Scott’s outrage into action instead. I wasn’t real comfortable with that direction but the testosterone in the air precluded any of the males from listening to the the little wifey at that point.

Scott and David, taking the handguns rather than the rifles, snuck out of the house via the carport and slowly slunk over to the two-story house behind us. The same house we’d felt watching us for several days. James was very unhappy about being left behind until Scott persuaded him that he was needed to hold the fort at the house and "protect the women." Grrrrr. Rose and I would have had something to say about that if we hadn’t already been holding our breath waiting for our world to blow up. Having my 15 year old son act as my protector just didn’t fit my picture of how things are supposed to work.

The guys were gone long enough for me to start consider going after them, regardless of James’ objections, to see if they were in trouble or needed help of some kind. I think that has had to be one of the worst 45 minutes of my entire life up to this point. Remember I said "up to that point" because this day continued to go downhill.

I just managed to keep myself from bursting into tears when I saw them creeping back. I nearly lost my temper too. I hate being scared. I mean I hate it with a passion. Scary movies don’t scare me, I enjoy the adrenaline rush and in the end you know the credits are going to eventually scroll across the screen. But I hate real fear, the kind you feel when your family is in danger and you know there is very little you can do about it; the kind that comes with a phone call in the night or watching a parent battle cancer. That’s the kind of fear I was facing and it made me mad as hell and I nearly took it out on the guys even though it wasn’t really their fault all together. Instead I grabbed them both in a bear hug and kept my mouth shut. Scott gave me a one-armed hug back and kissed the top of my head. David looked stunned; like he was surprised anyone gave a damn about him. Despite everything that was going on, I reminded myself that he wasn’t much more than a kid and was long passed due for some motherly attention and vowed that he would get it from here on out. He's certainly earned it ... and then some. That part I'll explain later.

After we got back inside and got the younger three kids settled into our room with a portable DVD player going – yeehaw that the battery stayed charged long enough for them to fall asleep – Scott told us what they’d heard while they were listening at one of the downstairs windows. I’ve deleted most of the profanity as it was repetitious and unimaginative and only highlighted the ignorance of the people we were dealing with. Besides, the kids might read this someday.

Initially there were five people in what appeared to be the den or family room – two older boys, an older girl, a younger girl, and an adult male. There was an adult female in the kitchen. Scott didn't ever get a glimpse of Mabel. One of the teenage boys was laughing and saying, “You didn’t think I could make the shot, but I did. Showed all of you. I did good Dad, didn’t I? Just like you said. Showed them whose gonna be boss around here.”

The man, apparently the boy’s father, said, “Yeah, yeah. You made the shot, now shut the hell up already. I’m trying to hear the news.”

A girl who appeared to be a couple of years younger than the other three teenagers, but still just as twisted, asked a little too eagerly, “You think you shot somebody Josiah?”

The Dad snarled, “You’re an idiot just like your ma. Did you hear any screaming or crying girl?!”

About that time there was some moaning and banging on a door from upstairs. “Laurel! If you don’t shut that ol’ bitch up I’m going to beat the crap out of your again. Do what I told you woman. I’m running outta patience here!”

Mabel’s daughter Laurel hurried to the foot of the stairs and screamed, “Shut up! Are you stupid?! This is your own fault and you’re just making it worse. You shoulda signed those papers like Jack told you. Keep this up and he won’t let me feed you anything at all!”

The noise gradually died down upstairs and the kids went back to discussing Junior Asshole’s great shot with “Jack” occasionally telling everyone to shut up or he was going to “bust ‘em up.” They also mentioned a couple of times how they were going to be the “boss of everyone around here” before too much longer.

I was heartsick when they were through telling all they’d seen and heard. Mabel’s formerly immaculate house was nasty and smelled. There was trash everywhere. Things obviously hadn't been cleaned in some time. Laurel was apparently married to an abusive ape and poor Mabel … she was obviously the victim of elder abuse and I felt her life was in danger. But, they didn’t lack for guns. All the kids were wearing one as well as a knife, even the little girl. Even Laurel and it went really well with her bruises. There were also boxes of ammo, rags covered in gun oil, and some milk crates that we later found out held parts for making pipe bombs.

We decided a direct confrontation was a bad idea. Everyone in that house was a accident waiting to happen. Well, except Mabel but she wouldn’t be any help and anything we did might actually put her in more danger than she was already in. Their lack of morals complicated everything. Normal rules of engagement wouldn’t apply.

We spent a couple of hours trying to formulate some kind of plan. It was patently obvious that we simply did not have what we needed to handle them on our own. The problem was we weren’t likely to get help from any of our other neighbors. Over the years that we’ve lived around here we’ve seen the folks change from southern-country-right-to-bear-arms types to OMG-those-nasty-dirty-murdering-guns type of folks. There are still a few of the old neighbors left, but they keep to themselves even more than we do.

Out of sheer meanness David suggested taking some wedges and splints of wood from the leftover lumber pile and make it so no one could exit through the exterior doors. OK, that wouldn’t really stop someone from getting out of the house, but it would have caused them some grief until they figured out what was going on. We decided against it only because we didn’t think the benefit would be worth the risk.

After too much talking and a little bit of brangling Scott went out about 4 o’clock AM and flagged down one of the military patrols going by. Even after he explained the situation to them they wouldn’t do anything because “they had a rendezvous point to make” but they did call it in and promised they’d try to send someone out during the day.

What choice did we have? Dawn wasn’t that far off. We decided to keep the kids inside and avoid going outside ourselves as much as possible until we could determine what Jack had planned next.

Scott and David stood watch while James, Rose, and I filled water buckets and brought in the potable water barrels from outside. I put out some of the plants but not all of them. And then we waited. I noticed that the day’s weather appeared to be as gloomy as my mood.

Breakfast: Waiting is terrible on an empty stomach. I decided to try and do my part to keep morale up so I made Gingerbread Pancakes. I used a skillet on my Coleman stove and worried about ventilation the entire time but we hadn’t had pancakes in a while. As I flipped the first pancake onto a plate, the rain that had been threatening started to fall. James and David jumped up to make sure the water catchment and overflow system was still in place. We are going to need every drop we can get the longer the power is off. Despite everying, I could barely keep up with the demand for more pancakes. It caused me one of the few smiles I've had today, especially when David and James kept giving me the "Oliver" look - "Please ma'am, may I have some more?"

After breakfast, while everyone cleaned their own dishes, I tried calling my parents but couldn’t get a voice line out. The internet was down as well. I did manage to text my brother and they are all OK, just shut off and blocked in. Rioting has spread into Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, and even into some of the smaller towns that serve as bedroom communities to these cities. I told Brother to stay safe and to be careful who they trust and then lost connection. I couldn’t get it back the rest of the day.

Even though the rain hadn’t lasted long, the weather nixed the use of the solar cooker for dinner. I was in the midst of coming up with a Plan B when a military green jeep pulled up in our driveway. James had been watching the front yard and quickly called Scott and David to come see. The three of them went out through the carport to see what was up.

Rose took James’ place on guard. I tried to hear what was being said while hiding behind the carport door. Scott took everyone to the backyard – by way of the side gate rather than through the house – to show the damage and explain the path of the bullet. I ran back inside to catch the last of this conversation only to have them turn around and go back to the jeep. While I ran back to the carport again, I thought I was pretty sure that I recognized two of the military men from the Keel Outpost. Scott later confirmed this. I’m terrible with names but I rarely forget a face.

I spied them filling out a paper report. They climbed into their jeep and I thought, “Great, a report that’ll be buried and forgotten as soon as they leave.” Instead they surprised me by pulling down the long driveway of the two-story house. I’ll admit my mouth hung open a bit at that. I hadn’t thought they would say or do anything even though technically we were the victims of a crime and they were the new law in town.

It was apparently at this point that James mentioned no one was up on the roof like they had been yesterday. I saw him gesture but they were too far away for me to hear anything clearly. A small crowd from the neighborhood had drifted over like sightseers at a car wreck.

The military types asked Scott and everyone else to hang back and allow them to handle things. Made sense at the time. They knocked on the door once … then twice. They called out something but I couldn’t hear it. Then just as one of the guys was about to bang on the door one more time, he stopped with his fist half raised. The three guys in camo took several giant steps backwards and went from relaxed and wary to alert and ready with one of them also turning and pointing to the fourth who had stayed with the jeep. Scott later explained the guy at the jeep calmly called “HQ” and reported a “possible situation.” There was immediate and nearly panicked dispersal of the crowd. Scott, David, and James remained near the jeep. I could have kicked all three of them, especially Scott for not sending James straight home.

I had had enough and told Rose to lock the doors after me and to not let anyone but the four of us back in before she even had a chance to finish saying, "But, Mom."

I marched right up to where Scott and the boys were … just in time to get deputized. Yes, you read that right. We are now a family that includes four officially deputized citizens. My temper had finally gotten the better of me. Boy did I step in it this time. The boys in green wanted me to call Rose out and have her deputized as well but I balked and asked them why didn’t they just go door to door and actually get some adult men to help. Apparently there wasn’t time for that. Oh no. They had received their orders and had to execute them immediately. We became one of the few, the chosen, the Citizen Deputy Corp ... and we were going to be members whether we liked it or not. CDs are normally only supposed to provide back-up. We were to remain with the jeep until the NRSC contingent arrived.

So, there I was, holding some kind of automatic weapon that had been shoved into my hands, baby sitting a jeep and trying to keep my fifteen year old son from signing up to join the "zombie patrol." Watching my husband of twenty years and a young man I was beginning to love like a son get positioned on either side of the door that was going to be kicked in. ARGH!!! I’d rather have been going through the pain of childbirth.

I don’t know what it was like for the others. For me, as I drew a breath when the brawniest of the four in camo drew back his foot and aimed it at the door as his comrades on his flanks covered him and the entrance, time briefly stood still. I could hear a raven’s claws clicking as it walked across the roof of Mabel’s metal shed and the slap-snap of wet Spanish Moss as it swung in the damp, rain-laden breeze.

Then everything seemed to break loose all at once and things moved so quickly that it only came to me in technicolored snapshots from hell.

Combat boot met door. Door frame split with a resounding crack. Door swung inward so fast it bounced off the facing wall. A wild-eyed boy covered in wounds of various severities barreling out of the door being head shot by one of the soldiers; blood, bone, and bits of flesh exploding backwards from the bullet’s exit.

Two soldiers quickly entering the house, automatic rifles ready for use. The two other soldiers quickly following when another overly loud shot reverberated from inside the building. Scott and David taking up their posts flanking the front door, both of them tight-eyed and white-faced.

Another shot, then another, then another from deeper within the house. Then silence, only broken by James’ heavy breathing to my left as he tried to act like the man that he is still too young to be.

Suddenly a window crashing outward from the second story, shards of glass falling to the ground, nearly spearing Scott where he stood. A body following the glass, its sex indeterminate because it is missing too many parts. Hands reaching and grabbing Scott’s leg sending him to the gound. A yawning mouth in motion. And time stood still for me again.

I pictured the day we met at Busch Gardens, introduced by well-meaning friends. Our first date to that stupid Rick Springfield movie whose title forever escapes me. Our wedding day, the tears on my Dad’s face and the look on Scott’s as I walked down the aisle. Holding him when both of his parents died so suddenly and painfully. Watching him cut the cord at the birth of all our children. All the good times and the bad.

And suddenly the butt of a rifle used like a baseball bat knocking that horror from my husband’s leg followed by two guns going off in quick succession, obliterating the fiend’s head; one from David who had saved Scott’s life and the other from our son who had run into the face of certain and deadly danger to defend his father.

Somehow I managed to find the sanity to count. Mabel, Laurel, Jack, Josiah and the three nameless kids. That made seven. We couldn’t assume any survivors – all would certainly have been infected. Dead boy at the entrance. Four more shots from inside the house each one called out as a kill, though I hadn’t heard that at the time. The “it” from the second story window. Six down, one to go.

Then from the rear of the house I saw her. The soldiers were still inside. Scott, David, and James all had their attention focused in that direction as well. I couldn’t leave this to my men. I couldn’t. They could do it but there is no way I could ask them to live with this memory. She was dressed in a ridiculous Hannah Montana nightgown, too short for her coltish legs, carrying a tattered stuffed animal. Both the gown and the toy was caked with God only knew what. Her once strawberry blonde hair so matted with blood that it was nearly black. I had seen that fair hair flying in the wind as she ran to keep up with her older siblings on the days they actually deigned to attend school. I had seen those eyes, already full of innocence lost, as she once chased a Frisbee into our yard. I knew that I could live with what had to be done. It wouldn’t be easy living with it, but I knew that I could. I will live with it, probably the rest of my days.

I walked up to her, strangely calme, the borrowed rifle raised and ready, as she slowly shambled in my general direction. For a split second I thought maybe, just maybe I wouldn’t have to do this. Then she noticed me and barred her fetid mouth revealing teeth covered in blood and I realized that the stuffed toy wasn’t a toy at all but Mabel’s pet poodle. I had detested that yapping little beast, but never in all my days would I have wanted its life to end at the hands of this monstrous child.

There was no time left as she practically walked into the rifle’s barrel with her mouth wide open. I pulled the trigger. Then again and again and again as I let the gun follow the girl’s body to the ground. I was finally able to change the angle and shot once or twice more – I can’t remember any longer – and watched as the top of her cranium disintegrated allowing what was left inside her skull to spray out.

I couldn’t have been standing there for long. The soldiers had spied the girl from an upper window and had run full tilt to intercept her. Scott, David, and James had turned at the first shot sounding from behind them. The next thing I really remember was Scott holding me as a soldier gently pried my hands from the rifle. I felt tears streaming down my face but nothing else. Nothing at all. I still feel slightly disembodied but the shocky tunnel vision is gone.

I was trying to reassure everyone that I was OK but it was a while before I could push anything that made sense passed my chattering teeth. The NRSC contingent pulled up not long afterwards and questioned us anew while men in black with pristine white armbands, the new uniform of the NRSC, ran biohazard tape around the area and put up road blocks. More soldiers arrived to relieve the original four and then it was their turn for questioning. We all signed affidavits and had our pictures taken to go in the file. We were separately and privately examined to make sure we hadn’t been bitten.

The clap on my back and the hearty congratulation on my first “sanitation” left me somewhat bemused. We were also informed that all four of us would get a commendation for a job well-done. We would receive our CD identification badges, along with a paper explaining all of the rights and responsibilities there of within a few days. Gee. Thanks. Right back at ya. I didn’t know what to say then and I still don’t for the most part. Had I been able to say something it probably wouldn’t have been very polite.

At that point I was allowed to briefly run to our house and reassure the kids that all was well. Rose looked ready to pass out. At the same time she appeared to have grown in stature and maturity. The little girl was nearly gone and a strong young woman was beginning to emerge, like a butterfly from a chrysalis. I was proud and sad at the same time. I imagine this is how parents in war torn parts of the world must feel as they watch their babies being pushed into adulthood by circumstances beyond their control

It took most of the rest of the day to deal with the aftermath. I was starting to get the bad shakes by the time everyone left. At some point James and David had both thrown up in the bushes but I wasn’t really supposed to know that. Scott let me in on the “secret” when I started wondering if I should fix the boys some lunch. After he clued me in I did notice they were a little green around the gills. Scott had dealt with too many backed up sewers and me with too many sick babies spewing at both ends to let a little thing like blood and exploding brain matter cause us to toss our cookies … but I will admit it was close for a second or two when they dragged the body of the little girl to the garbage truck. Everyone, even the soldiers turned away and tried to ignore the sounds when they activated the loader, crushing the bodies as they were swept into the refuse bin. The heavens chose that moment to open up and begin raining again.

There’s not much left to tell. The two-story house has been sealed by order of the NRSC. Nothing was removed, not even the weaponry or explosives. One of the “Clean Teams” will be by tomorrow to deal with the contents of the house.

Scott, David, James, and I stripped down to skin and scrubbed with the strongest soap I could find. Our clothes are soaking in the horse trough and I’ll boil them first thing in the morning if I can get a fire going. A light rain continues to fall and we didn’t think to cover the wood pile.

The last thing I felt like doing was cooking or eating. Rose and Sarah heated a pot of soup while Bekah refused to leave Scott’s side and Johnnie refused to leave his lap.

Those that felt like eating ate, those that didn’t were excused. All I wanted was a mug of strong, sweet tea despite the still lingering heat of the day. Actually I think I’m up to my fourth or fifth mug. I can’t remember. There’s a place deep inside me that refuses to thaw.

We’ve had the radio on, vainly expecting to hear about our zombie encounter but it hasn’t made the news. That has led us to wonder if there hasn’t been more attacks than we have been told. And if that’s true, what else aren’t we being told?

And here I am, back to the beginning of this night’s narrative. No one made it to their beds. Everyone is asleep and tumbled together like puppies on and off the furniture here in the den. The solar lantern has faded to barely a glow and the laptop batter is nearly gone as well. When these two go out the darkness will be complete and I’ll need to follow my family into slumber. But for today the worst is over. We all survived. And tomorrow the sun will come back up.

Day Twenty-Seven

Never again will I drink that much tea – that much anything – right before going to bed. Between nerves, caffeine, and the call of nature I probably didn’t string more than 40 or 50 minutes of real sleep together at any point last night. Add a symphony of snores and the fact that my “bed” was a Queen Ann chair with a broken spring and my misery was complete.

I thought at least some of us would have had nightmares from our experiences yesterday but no one did. But really, there was hardly any debate anymore about whether to qualify NRS victims as people. I think the debate may have been forcefully stopped by the-powers-that-be but that’s only my tinfoil hat talking to me. I think they had to stop the debate so that they could get entities like the ACLU off of their back and out of their way.

Even when the point of death or mode of infection cannot be determined, most experts now agree that by the final stage of NRS the person would have died from catastrophic systems failure and then have been physically reanimated. The instinctual hunt-mode and unprovoked violence of the NRS victims still hasn’t been explained to anyone’s satisfaction. Neither has all of the transmissibility issues. What has been agreed upon is that the NRS victims – the zombies – are no longer “alive” in any traditional sense of the word. Also, the intellectual and spiritual parts – the corporate identity – of the person has been destroyed. From that point it isn’t that much greater a stretch to conclude that an infected person in the final stage of NRS has lost their humanity; they are no longer a real person. If that’s true then destroying or sanitizing an infected person is NOT the same as the trauma experienced on battlefields by soldiers for millennia. On the battlefield, people kill people. In the battle with NRS we aren’t killing people, we are destroying … organisms of some type. We are acting like antibiotics for the world. But the truth? I still haven’t figured out if that is rationalizing and justifying our actions or not. All I do know is that I’m able to live with what we did because the alternative was unacceptable.

The last time I woke up I decided it simply wasn’t worth trying to get back to sleep. Dawn’s light was beginning to creep above the horizon. I washed my face and tried to start the day. After getting dressed I walked out of the bathroom to find Scott up as well.

“Hey you,” he said.

“Hey you,” I said right back.

Strength in the familiar. We’d been saying the same thing to one another on nearly a daily basis from our first meeting. Gosh, hard to believe that’s nearly 25 years now, 20 of them as a married couple.

The memory of watching that thing try and rip my anchor from my life nearly overwhelmed me. Scott must have realized what I was thinking from the look on my face, or maybe he was feeling the same thing. We hugged each other close offering what comfort we could. We are long passed the point of constantly hanging all over one another to express our affection but at that moment, had I had the luxury, I would have clung to him for hours.

It wasn’t but a moment though before we looked down to see a hopeful little face looking up and asking, “Pantates for bwefast pweeze?”

You gotta laugh sometimes or your sanity will go on vacation. After a watery chuckle I left Scott to get Johnnie cleaned up and dressed while I headed to the kitchen.

Breakfast: The rest of the crew was crawling out of the den by the time I pulled the mixing bowl out of the cabinet. I fixed Honey Pancakes to the cheers of all. We ate in shifts; while some ate some did chores leaving others to take their turn in the bathroom and dress. There was no warm water for showers as we had used it up last night scrubbing so it has been spit baths and deodorant getting us through the day.

It wasn’t until James mentioned it that I realized we hadn’t brought my plants in last night. The overnighter didn’t appear to have hurt anything and the rain actually did them good. Now I wish I had been brave enough to put all of them out.

The rain may have benefitted my plants but it made it impossible for me to boil our disgusting clothing. The wood was simply too wet to start a fire with. All it did was smoke and I quickly put that out. The less attention we draw to ourselves the better. As far as I can tell fear is keeping the neighbors at bay, fear and the NRSC broadsides tacked up all over the place listing consequences for compliance failure, but I don’t know how long that will last.

The clothes looked nauseating floating in the now rusty-colored water. I dumped in some borax and detergent and swished them around with a fallen branch hoping the wood would be drier later in the day. I worried about possibly having to dispose of these clothes if I couldn’t clean them. David’s especially. He doesn’t have many clothes to begin with and neither James nor Scotts will fit him.

The weather was vastly improved over yesterday so I decided to use the solar cooker again. Same process as before and I had a casserole cooking for dinner in very short order.

As I moved on to my cooking pit and lined it with aluminum foil so I could burn a few chunks of charcoal, I noticed my marigolds were blooming again. This led me to thoughts of poor Mabel. She gave me my first marigold plant over a dozen years ago when we moved into the neighborhood. Seeds from the descendants of that plant have graced my garden every year since.

We were never what you would call close, but we weren’t strangers either. I wondered for a bit if I could have done anything to prevent what happened. But on second thought, probably not. Mabel was one of those women who would brook no criticism of her children. Making matters worse, by the time Laurel moved in, she was the only one of Mabel’s children still alive and the only one that had given her grandchildren. The heartache Mabel must have experienced when she finally realized how mercenary they all were boggles my mind. But I guess the real question is how did a frail elderly woman with health problems withstand a man like Jack for as long as she did.

From what Scott and David overheard Mabel’s demise, likely an unnatural one, was nearly ordained from the beginning. She was being physically abused and starved. Death was likely a blessing by the time it happened, the result of a heart attack or maybe a stroke. I hope it was quick whatever it was. The irony of her changing and being the one to put an end to her corrupt brood didn’t escape me.

Given the timeline she had probably died and reanimated before Josiah had even taken the shot that started that chapter of our nightmare. What Scott and David had heard banging around on the second floor wasn’t Mabel anymore but her NRS infected corpse.

Someone must have unlocked the door she was behind. I doubt it was out of kindness. That’s all it would have taken. Justice got served. The rest as they say is history. Had we not stood up and tried to do something about the attack on us however, the story could have played out differently with seven zombies escaping to cause even more heart ache. Hiding in our houses isn’t going to fix what is going on. I think many, many more people are going to have to take up arms and stand firm. We need a “strong tactical response” like they had out in Texas, but it needs to start at the grassroot level. There just aren’t enough guys and gals in camo to hold this particular line by themselves.

By the time I had reached that point in my philosophizing, the coals had burned down enough to put the pot of Corn-Ham Chowder on to cook for lunch. As I was double checking to make sure the grate was going to hold the pot two large panel trucks and a dump truck pulled down the long drive to Mabel’s house. Before I had time to wonder about it, Rose hurried over and told me I was needed out front real quick. I told Rose to watch the soup and the fire and then hurried through the side gate.

I've got to say, I’m already so not liking this Citizen Deputy thing. Seems now we have a legal “duty to perform” should any NRSC approved agency call on us. That includes James even though he isn’t even 18 yet. He was deputized as a member of the “Youth Brigade.” Only in extreme cases, such as what we were involved in yesterday, are members of the Youth Brigade expected to handle weapons. But they could be called upon for almost anything else, including participating in Clean Team assignments.

I’m glad this guy, the Lead Inspector, didn’t appear to know about Rose. I could see all five of us being “drafted” for something forcing the three youngest to fend for themselves. When the Inspector asked James how old his sister was he looked him square in the eye and said, “My little sisters are 11 and 8 sir, and I have a little brother that’s 4.” Smart kid.

The Inspector replied, “Too bad they’re too young. We need more brave Youth Brigade members like you.” Oh boy, talking about laying it on thick. After that exchange I had visions of Hitler’s Youth program flashing before my eyes. My Lord, tell me things haven’t deteriorated that much. Tell me I'm simply over reacting.

I ran inside to find that Rose had just brought in the soup. I told her to stay out of sight and that I would explain later, but under no circumstances were they to leave the house and they were to keep all the doors rolled down and locked. The skylight in the kitchen would be their only source of light for a while.

Scott, David, James, and I followed the Inspector to Mabel’s house where we were given gloves, goggles, and N95 face masks. We then went to work, or should I say we were put to work.

I stripped any fabric that appeared blood splattered and took it to the dump truck. Some of the bedding, cushions, a few curtains, and most of the rugs went out that way as did a few other odds and ends. I even slid two mattresses out of the broken upstairs window, watching them fall to the ground in a great “whump.” One of the truck drivers was kind enough to toss them into the back of the dump truck for me.

The guys cut drywall, removed doors and cabinets, and ripped up flooring. It all went into the dump truck as well. Their worst job was basically dismantling the downstairs bathroom back to the studs.

The official Clean Team members had it relatively easy in comparison. They took pictures of everything and then bagged up any remaining globs of flesh or bone into biohazard bags and deposited them into several buckets in the back of one of the panel trucks. They boxed up what food and booze remained in the kitchen. They also documented and removed the weapons and explosives. They took most of the newer electronics, and a jewelry box from one of the upstairs bedrooms.

Right as I was ready to mutiny the whole operation came to a close. The dump truck drove off and the panel trucks were closed and locked. The nice driver who had helped me with the mattresses told us, “Looks like there is still some decent stuff in there and since you guys are the only CDs called in on this one you won’t have to fight for it.”

We had no idea what he was talking about and it must have showed on our faces because he called to the Inspector, “Hey Lawrence, these people are newbs and don’t know the rules.”

Mr. Inspector pranced over in a huff and asked, “You were deputized without having things explained to you?”

Scott answered, “We weren’t exactly given any choice in the matter and time was of the essence.”

The supercilious bastard actually grabbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Amateurs,” he muttered. “Look, after Sanitation occurs on a location – also known as First Phase – a Clean Team is sent in. The initial Clean Team visit is the Second Phase. The Lead Inspector, in this case me, has the authority to call in all of the CDs within a certain radius to help with the assignment. The Clean Team removes any items deemed of use and then leaves. Assuming no next of kin or other legal entity steps in to make a claim, the location is opened up to the CDs for tax-free compensation for their labor. This goes on from the close of the Second Phase until the start of the Third Phase, which in this case will begin in the morning at 7 AM sharp. The Third Phase is a second Clean Team whose responsibility it is to disconnect and disable all of the utility lines, remove any remaining items for public redistribution, and then secure the location against future infestation. Do we understand now?”

Scott, heroically trying not to react to the guy's provacative tone of voice, replied, “If I understand you, we’re basically talking about sanctioned looting.”

“We don’t call it that. I strongly suggest you don’t either,” he said sourly before turning on his heel and leaving.

The “nice” driver gave a friendly salute on his way out, leaving us standing there in the yard looking at each other. How the heck did we land is this pile of kaka and what on earth are the neighbors gonna think?

While Scott and the boys went back inside to take stock of the situation I ran home. I found Rose having trouble with Johnnie and the girls. I wound up having to put Johnnie in time out. All of the tension and upheaval of the last couple of days – heck the last several months – was finally taking its toll on the younger three. They were beginning to act out whenever Scott or I weren’t around to nip it in the bud.

I told Rose how to bring in dinner and told Sarah and Bekah they needed to mind their sister. “There is a lot to do and not much time to do it in. I better not come back in and find that I need to discuss this subject again.”

I was torn. I knew it was unfair to expect so much of them when they were so young. And I knew I was going to have to address the situation sooner rather than later. Putting it off was only going to make things worse in the long run; but I would have to take the opportunity some other time. Right now I was needed back at Mabel’s house.

On my way out the backdoor I grabbed my notepad and pen and was running back to Mabel’s house via the side gate when I was hailed from the far side of the barricades. A couple of the nosier neighbors were demanding to know what was going on. I nearly didn’t respond but then something got the better of me and I decided to be as “helpful” to them as they had been to us.

In a harried voice and playing it up for all it was worth I told them, “NRSC business. Um, Greg, I wouldn’t get too close. They have to send another Clean Team out. Can’t talk long. If we don’t finish our job we’ll hear about it. That Inspector is a tough customer.”

For every step I made towards them, they took two away. I musta looked pretty grungy. My clothes were possibly ruined and covered in … stuff … and I know my hair was escaping its braid and going every which direction. Add the mask still hanging around my neck and the picture was complete.

“Job? What job?” the one named John asked.

Morosely I answered, “Just call us Citizen Deputy Dawgs. We are now at the beck and call of the NRSC. Be careful you guys don’t get caught up in this.”

The man named Greg, out of work since June, asked “How’s the pay?”

“Pay?! Are you kidding, what pay?! We’re volunteers with a legal duty to perform. No choice, no paycheck, thank you very much. And you better keep your kids close too or they’ll get drafted for that the Youth Brigade. You should have seen what they made James do the last two days, and we couldn't do a dang thing to stop it.”

Without quite meeting my eyes John replied, “Yeah, we saw. You say they’re sending more NRSC folks out here?”

“For a certainty. Look, I gotta go.” Then looking surreptitiously around I sotto voiced, “But I’d be careful if I was y’all, just don’t tell anyone who told you, OK? Not everyone might understand I was just being friendly and helpful.”

Greg, who thrived on conspiracy theories, gave me a wink and said, “Riiight. I didn’t hear anything. John, did you hear anything?”

John was Greg’s best friend and just as big a nut in that department as he was. “Hear what? There’s so much noise around here lately who knows who said what.”

Then both men too one long last lingering look at Mabel’s house before turning around; probably heading to spread their latest theories and juicy gossip to anyone who could tolerate listening to them.

Shaking my head and hoping my foolishness wasn’t going to come back and bite me on the butt, I rushed down the driveway trying to make up for wasted time. A noise to my left caused me to jump and stop short. Jerking my head in that direction I saw Scott and James nearly rolling on the ground trying to hold in their laughter. A wide-eyed David could only stand there with his mouth open.

It wasn’t that funny and I told them so.

Scott, getting himself under control, told David, “Don’t worry son, you’ll get used to it. Sissy just has her own way of venting her frustrations.”

James helpful as always, explained, “Yeah. Mom’s crazy and the rest of us have just learned to live with it.”

Rolling my eyes I stomped off in a mock huff. But, the closer we got to the front door the less humorous things became until we were all tense and quiet as we enter the building.

Scott asked me what I wanted to do. How did I suddenly become the one in charge? I looked around and then asked if he was serious about doing this. If felt like grave robbing.

That’s when David spoke up. “Scott, Sissy, don’t take this the wrong way but you all are being too nice about this. If we don’t take this stuff the NRSC people will. That lady didn’t have anyone else besides the jackasses that killed her and now they are dead too. This isn’t stealing. This is surviving.”

“I know David, but this gives me the creeps. It feels … “

“Like I said, too nice. Y’all have a great set up – and if the offer is still open I’d be proud to stay for as long as you’ll have me – but what happens tomorrow, or the day after, or ten weeks from now, or even longer? Scott, you’ve told me yourself if cash stops coming in choices are going to get tough real fast. You have food covered for a while, but now I’m another mouth to feed.”

“Honey, don’t you worry about that.”

“Its not a matter of worry Sissy, its being realistic. Y’all know a little bit about how I grew up and what I got into.”

“You pulled yourself out of it.”

“Yes sir I did, but it was close. There is stuff I learned the hard way about life and about how some people can be that I hope James here, and the other kids, never have to learn. But the most important lessons I learned were about survival. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had to live with one set of clothes day in and day out for weeks. I’ve dumpster dived and I’ve eaten out of other people’s trash. I’ve done things that I’ve regretted and done things to survive that I never want to have to do again.”

“Oh David,” I said, nearly crying.

“No, its OK. Really. Don’t feel badly for me. I learned a lot about life and one of them is that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and you keep you pride on a short leash.”

To try and help move the discussion along I said, “Scott, I think I understand what David is trying to say, but agree with what you are saying too. It does feel wiggy to be going through a dead woman’s things.”

“Alright, alright. Get off my back. I get it. I just don’t like it. I’m treating this the same way I would an abandoned rental unit. That's that. But how much of this do we really need? We have a houseful of our own stuff right there over that fence. They took all of the food and guns. What else could we possibly need?!”

“I can answer that question hon,” and I flipped open my handy dandy notepad. “Laundry detergent, cleaners, soap, bug spray, another mop because ours is falling apart. Paper products like Kleenex, toilet paper and paper towels, dish soap, salt and other seasonings, ziploc bags, cooking oil, bandaids, aluminum foil, wax paper, pencils, pens, shampoo, clothes pins, safety pins, extra sheets and blankets. David needs clothes. Another manual can opener to replace the one that broke would be nice too. Would you like me to continue? I can.”

All three guys gave me “the look.” The same look most men eventually get after they are drug from pillar to post on a shopping expedition. That cross between a deer caught in high beams and a dog that’s had its tail pulled one too many times by a toddler but knows it doesn’t have any choice but to take the abuse if it doesn’t want to sleep in the doghouse for a week or two.

None of us wanted to risk being seen taking anything from the house in broad daylight, the fewer questions we were asked, the fewer lies we would have to tell. We decided to wait for full dark, still several hours away. In the mean time we started on the upper floor and worked our way down. I was hesitant at first but soon we all picked up the rhythm. There were only two rooms none of us wanted to enter. One was the room with the broken window, probably the room that Mabel had been held captive in, the second bloodiest room in the house. The downstairs bathroom was actually the bloodiest and it too was given a pass, not that there was anything left in either room after they had been stripped and the debris taken to the dump truck.

On our first trip through the house we took any unopened container regardless of the contents. The upstairs also yielded linens galore including several new pillows still in plastic and towels that still had price tags on them. Mabel loved shopping and would buy things just because she might need them rather than because she actually did.

David found several sets of clothes that fit and even some decent shoes. An upstairs closet produced a non electric sweeper, several board games we didn’t have still in their original shrink wrap, and what looked like a hundred wire hangers I thought were bound to be useful for something.

Downstairs the coat closet yielded rain gear, several pairs of garden togs, and of course coats. All of the food from the kitchen proper had been taken but it turned out that the pantry off of the utility area had been missed completely. I nearly danced with glee to see a large stack of cola cans and all of the other food in there. I took every knife in the kitchen whether it was sharp or not as well as all of the old cast iron cookware, rusty and dusty from disuse. None of the electronics were worth beans but David and James took the time to go through the DVDs and music CDs, their camaraderie and commentary on the former residents’ tastes drawing a few quiet chuckles from Scott and I.

We bagged the linen up in garbage bags and tried to pack everything else up the best way we could in pillow cases, laundry baskets, and even in some suitcases we had found in the attic. It was getting late at that point but wasn’t yet dark. We were all getting thirsty but I didn’t want to use any of the stuff from the pantry until I had a chance to look it over completely. I needed to make sure Rose didn’t need anything so off I ran home while Scott and James went into the garage and David went to scope out what was in the two sheds.

All at home was fine and I explained the plan as I began gathering some snacks and water to take back. After full dark we were going to begin bringing stuff out of the Mabel’s and putting it over the back fence. Unfortunately we don’t have a back gate on the back fence so it was going to be awkward and the likelihood of any of us getting much sleep tonight was pretty slim. Most of the goods would literally be pitched up and over for the girls to catch and haul as fast as they could into the lanai. Anything breakable or too heavy to get over the fence would be snuck around to the front of the house and through the side gate. Not a perfect plan, but it was all we had. I left them with instructions to eat dinner, get Johnnie washed up and put to bed, and to have all of the laundry baskets and any empty Rubber Maid storage tubs ready to fill as soon as it got dark. Then I headed out, yet again, to return to Mabel’s house.

The guys were plenty excited when I showed up. I thought it was because I came bearing water and junk food. While they did appreciate that it was actually something quite different that had wound them up so high.

The NRSC people didn’t bother checking the covered bed of Jack’s Chevy Avalanche or the trunks of the two other cars. They were packed down as if for a major bug out and the inventory included some nifty survival tools and foods along with weapons and ammo. David had plans to siphon the gas from the cars and put it in Scott’s van. Tools of all descriptions stood in rolling metal cabinets. Gadgets, widgets, and gizmos lined the walls. Basically the garage was guy heaven. Scott even wanted to move the Avalanche into our enclosed carport. I wondered for a moment if he put the Avalanche in there, what he planned to do with his work van, but I didn’t ask. It wouldn’t have done any good. All three of them were salivating over the stupid thing. Copper-colored and chromed up with dark leather interior, illegally dark window tinting and a radio that looked like it could broadcast to Mars. I think the kids would have called it pumped up or pimped up or tricked out or something like that. Whatever. All I know is that the truck literally screamed testosterone and said, “Look at me! My owner paid an arm and two legs to have me!”

Scott knows me too well. Before I could say anything he said, “And honey, look what we found for you.” They led me out back of the house and to a good-sized shed. David and James opened the doors and Scott led me in. Oh my. I had always wondered what this was but it wasn’t visible from this side of the canal.

What looked like a shed from the front was actually a greenhouse. The whole rear of the structure was made of translucent lexan panels. Most of the seedlings had died from neglect but a couple of trays still looked viable. But it wasn’t so much the seedlings as it was everything else. There were pots and hanging baskets, dirt and soil amendments, grow lights, insecticides, garden tools and gloves. Stocked behind the shed was mulch, volcanic rock, bales of pine needles and bags of plain gravel. There was even a couple of pallets of these interlocking pavers. Last spring Mabel had planned to redesign her garden but never got around to it after Laurel and her family moved in. I supposed the piles were the remnants of the materials for that project. I’d probably never know for sure.

I took one look at the smart aleck grin on Scott’s face and all I could say was, “Fine, you can have the stupid truck. So did you find El Dorado in shed #2?”

I don’t know what I had expected but shed #2 turned out to be nothing more than a plain, ordinary, dirty, and stinky shed. No gold, no Gatling gun, no entrance to a hidden fortress. Just old rusting garden tools – the most interesting of which was an old push-reel lawn mower definitely in need of a new blade or two – and Jack’s stash of fuel for his bug out vehicles. We knew it was Jack’s stash because there was a sign:


The sign of a well-balanced and calm personality if ever there was one.

In case anyone reading this in the future hasn’t figured it out yet, I have a character flaw that involves factitiousness. I’ve tried to restrain myself over the years but that usually leads to unfortunate outbursts similar to the one today with Greg and John. It’s better to avoid situations that cause the reaction or to let it out gradually than to have what Scott calls Major Smart Ass Detonations, like they’re some sort of unfortunate digestive problem. Those have been known to cause among other things megrims, migraines, and marital discord; all things to be avoided if at all possible.

We made note of what we wanted out of the sheds and the position of each item. We would be working in the dark and didn’t want to stumble and break our necks; or make enough racket to draw attention.

After we finished eating we began a second sweet of the house to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. Scott decided to check behind the upstairs AC intake filter. There is rarely an apartment we haven’t turned that someone hasn’t tried to hide something in one of three places: behind the intake filter, just inside the attic access, or in the toilet tank. Why people don’t realize that anyone with any experience considers those the most obvious hiding places is beyond me? Sure enough someone, Jack or one of his kids, had a hidden stash. There was a fancy looking pistol with several full clips of bullets, one of those do everything except what you need it to multi-tools, a knife Rambo would have lusted after, and a redneck wallet – the type on a dog chain – full of silver coins and twenty dollar bills. The downstairs filter intake yielded a similar stash only the gun was a small little revolver looking thing that was more suited to a woman’s hand.

I shook my head over how much of a stereotype Jack was posthumously turning out to be. But were we really any different? Looting an old lady’s house and coming away with just the right kind of stuff to make our lives potentially easier in the future? It made my head hurt to start thinking in that direction so I put the issue aside. I’d wax philosophical at a more convenient point in time.

Instead, I added two antique Victorian lamps to the growing pile in the living room as well as some decorative wall sconces that would hold candles. I also decided to dig around in the china hutch and found several more candles, a large soup tureen and matching turkey platter, a pickle crock, and a butter bell. While at one time I might have been tempted by the rest of the stuff, now all I saw were things that, while beautiful, were too fragile and delicate to be of any real use to us.

At long last dusk gave way to full dark. We had pulled the drapes so no one could see inside while we worked. This let us use small LED headlamps for light. Outside there was just barely enough moonlight to keep us from tripping over our own feet and just enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes from draining us dry.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig so I could organize bringing the stuff into the house from our side of the yard. I was convinced the fence was going to be a major pain in the tush until I hit on the idea of erecting Scott’s paint scaffolding so that it straddled the fence. Luckily Scott and I had put this equipment together so many times we could do it quietly and without light. I guess the reason why the guys didn't think of it is because they've never had to deal with being short. I'm the type of person that has to have a stool hidden in every room of the house or I'd constantly be calling for assistance.

It was finally time to begin moving everything. We started with the house and then moved on to the sheds. The first loads to come over were the lightest; the bags of linens and clothes, boxes of CDs and DVDs, and I personally hand carried the knives, guns, ammo, and money straight to our bedroom closet and locked them away in the footlocker. After that the loads got heavier and heavier until it reached a point where we had to use wheel barrows and Johnnie’s wagon to haul them to the front and in through the side gate. I carried most of the breakable stuff and passed it off to Rose to put straight into the house while the guys attempted the herculean task of pushing the loaded Avalanche so it could take the place of the van in the enclosed carport.

That order was repeated for each shed; light to heavy to breakable. It was 2:10 in the morning before we had moved everything we had gathered. I don’t think professional movers could have done any better. Johnnie never woke up from his early bed time. Bekah had crashed and burned around midnight. Rose and Sarah were asleep on their feet. James wasn’t far from it but he was hanging in there. But Scott, David, and I had just caught our second wind. We decided to go over the house one last time just to make sure, but before I left I sent the girls to bed and made sure the house was completely locked except for the rolling door on the lanai and the side gate.

Once back in the house, I unzipped the cover off of a sofa cushion that had missed getting bloody to use as a bag and headed upstairs, hopefully for the last time. While there had been a few moments of lightness here and there, the emotional environment we were in wasn’t very healthy. We aren't normally a nerve-y bunch but the darkness and knowledge of what had gone on there was settling into our bones like arthritis.

With the mess now out of the way I saw a few things I had overlooked. A wind up alarm clock, a magnifying mirror, a stack of crossword puzzle books that would keep Bekah entertained for hours, and several books on gardening in Florida. After I came back downstairs to look around I found the guys taking the bamboo shades off of the rear porch. Scott whispered to explain he was going to hang these inside the lanai so that I could get rid of the sheets I was currently using like curtains.

While they did that I finished filling my bag with a few odds and ends, almost taking things just to fill up the space rather than for a specific purpose. The last thing I put in the bag was an old picture of Mabel and her children that must have been taken during happier times. It was in a prominent place on her mantle. I figured if a history of this era was ever written it would be nice if I could pay some kind of tribute to her, remembering her for something besides eating her young like some mother rat culling the deformed and wounded from her brood.

Day Twenty-Eight

James was stumbling with fatigue and barely able to stay on his feet by the time I finished my last scrutiny of the house’s contents. I asked David to walk him and my bag home while Scott and I tossed the shades over the fence and dismantled the scaffolding. Scott told David to stay home and to get some sleep as well.

As we worked Scott asked me if I was sure there wasn’t anything else out of the house that I wanted because daylight wasn’t that far away. I thought of the little secretary in the hallway and the feminine boudoir table upstairs and then realized I could waste my time picking through stuff for hours; but, the reality was I was going to have enough trouble finding places for what we did take and anymore items would just be superfluous and because we could.

The only real regret I had was not being able to take the lexan panels off of the first shed. I would have liked to have tried to build my own greenhouse. Scott suggested they would be more useful attached to the lanai as another layer of protection. Either way there wasn’t enough time to devise a way to take them without waking the neighbors.

Scott did help me bring home a couple of exotic hanging plants, the African Violets and succulents that Mable had favored that had been sitting on tables in the patio, and we used Scott’s dollie to relocate several large concrete planters.

No sooner had we put the dollie behind the fence in preparation to walking to and back from the house one last time to make sure we hadn’t dropped anything than the same four soldiers from yesterday – probably in the same jeep – pulled up beside us.

Scott really like these guys. Well, a couple of them were little more than kids but they were old enough to wear the uniform. They had certainly impressed me yesterday. “Hey, good to see you again! You all here as support for the Clean Team? I thought the Phase Three or whatever its called wasn’t supposed to start until 7 AM. It isn’t quite five yet.”

“Change in plans. We got the word while on patrol and swung by to let you know so you wouldn’t be caught by surprise.”

“Thanks for that but why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like this?”

“Actually its not too bad. At least it gets you off the work detail. Just we’ve had a couple of cases where residents of the neighborhood get in the mood to protest.”

“What could be so bad … ok, you might as well just tell us so we don't have to guess.”

“That house got marked for demolition.”


“Last week the NRSC issued some new guidelines and one of those guidelines is that there are only so many zombies allowed per square foot.”

Scott and I were stupid with fatigue. We looked at each other sure that there was no way we heard him correctly.

I said, “You’re yanking our chain. There is no way there is a rule for something that stupid.”

The big guy that had kicked in the door, also the Sgt. of the group, said, “Ma'am, this new administration has more rules than you can shake a stick at. A lot of them contradict one another. The only way around it is to contact a NRSC Manager and half the time you still get reamed out for doing something against regs.”

As the sky lightened and the sun rose, NRSC Inspector Lawrence and all the requisite construction equipment, arrived and officially relieved us of duty. We trudged back home and to the mess that waited for us there.

We walked through the gate and closed and locked it behind us. I was so tired all I wanted to do was crawl in bed but the kids would be awake soon and would want breakfast. No sooner had I gotten inside and put my hand on the Coleman stove than there was a terrific bang and crash of metal on metal from out front. I wasn’t sure what was going on, the sound seemed too close to be part of the demolition process. Scott flew out the utility room and then through to the carport to see what was going on. When I tried to follow Scott – suddenly still and peaking through the carport gate – he yelled at me to get inside and hurry and wake David and James.

I didn’t have to wake either one. The noise had been that loud. Rose and Bekah were also stumbling, bleary-eyed, out of the bedroom. Everyone had slept in their clothes as they had been too tired to change. They looked pretty rough and my mothering instincts wanted to kick in, there simply wasn’t time.

I once again tried to follow everyone out to join Scott but the girls and I were summarily ordered back inside the house. The only thing I got a glimpse of was a little rusty white Toyota pick up that tried to tangle with the military jeep. I doubted it was the jeep’s fault however because it was still parked in the exact same place it was a little over an hour ago.

Five minutes later, long enough for me to get good and hacked off, James finally rushed in and asked, “Who’s Celia?!”

The question was so unexpected that I forgot to be angry. It appeared a young man from our neighborhood named Bobby Porchelli aimed his truck at the guys from Keel Outpost and in the process ran down several of the NRSC contractors before crashing into the jeep. He was screaming and carrying on that they had “killed Celia.”

“Uh oh,” Rose said, her face white. “I think I know who that is. Celia was Mrs. Mabel’s granddaughter. Daniel was the oldest, Celia was next, and then Josiah. Their little sister was named Bunny.”

For a second my world tilted and all I could think was that I had shot and killed a little girl named Bunny! I could have done without adding a name to the visual.

Rose continued talking while I tried to regain focus. “Celia and her brothers hung around with Bobby and his friends but then sorta took over the whole gang. Bobby and Celia were going together until Bobby’s dad found out ... um, stuff … about Celia.” When she hesitated over the word “stuff” she had cut her eyes to Bekah who was standing there wide-eyed and soaking up every detail.

I cleared my throat drawing Bekah’s attention and jerked my head towards the bedroom. As only an eight year old is capable of expressing she said, “Awww, why do I always have to leave right when you guys get to the good parts?!”

“You better carry yourself outta here and do what you’re told or you’re gonna have a good part too sore to sit on. And watch that sassy mouth young lady.”

I could just imagine what the “stuff” was Rose was referring to. The girl had been quite pretty in a wild sort of way, but she acted and dressed like a cheap crack whore. The poor thing was dead now however and I thought it best to let the gossip die with her.

James took off with his answer when suddenly I heard staccato popping sounds and then a twang that echoed from the carport and into the house. This was followed by a series of imaginative expletives from Scott and David both.

“What on earth?!” I wondered.

I tried to go see what was going on but was nearly run over by David as he ran through and grabbed the rifles from above the refrigerator. “Scott says to bring out some more ammo as quick as possible. All hell is breaking loose out there. Buncha kids seemed to have started it but now adults are starting to get involved.”

As soon as David ran out, James ran in again. Was I ever going to get to see what was happening?! “Dad says he needs some of those towels and something to tie them with. One of the soldiers is really messed up and they are trying to get him into the carport!!”

I sent Rose for the ammo can while I ripped open a couple of the garbage bags looking for the clean towels. I had just laid my hands on a roll of duct tape for the “something to tie them with” when Scott screamed “Sissy!” nearly giving me a heart attack.

I turned to see Scott and James dragging both a soldier and David into the kitchen, the only room with decent light because of the skylight. I nearly stopped breathing. David was green around the gills and barely hanging onto the cabinets for support, the back of his shirt torn bloody. He gave me a sickly grin and thumbs-up before slowly pitching forward. Scott and David, who had just laid the soldier down in the middle of the floor, quickly turned and caught him. I heard him mumble, “ ‘S OK. Gemme a sec to catch my breath.”

Scott told me, “It’s a pretty deep graze across his back and it hurts like hell I’m sure. Just let him lay still. We’re trying to cover the medic so he can make it in. Just see what you can do for this boy here.”

I turned from David to look at the young soldier at my feet. It drives me nuts sometimes not being able to remember names, but I rarely forget a face. This young man was from Keel Outpost. He had been here yesterday. But the first time I had met him was right after Scott had gotten jumped by Carlo. This is the same kid who looked not much older than James. I remember thinking somebody raised him right because of how polite and gentlemanly he was; always saying “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and offering his help.

He had been so brave when entering a zombie-filled house and I think he might have been trying to be brave outside. But moving him inside must have just been too much. He wasn’t quite yelling but he was grunting and moaning loudly in pain. Even with James and Scott trying to hold him he was tossing and turning like from a bad nightmare.

His mouth was pretty busted up but I could make out him crying, “It bit me, it bit me!!!”

I gasped and looked at Scott with wide eyes. “We’ve got people down outside and some of them are turning. This kid was in the jeep when it was rammed. There were too many guns going off out there and we couldn’t get to him right way. One must have crawled up behind him. I haven’t found any bite marks or I wouldn’t have brought him in here but he keeps saying that over and over.”

It took both Rose and I talking to him to calm him down enough to find out he had been bitten on his ankle. The foot inside the boot was too swollen to get the bootlaces untied so James, who had stayed with us while Scott returned to the now heavily involved riot, used his pocket knife to cut the laces so I could remove the boot.

The ankle was badly bruised and was already coloring up. It may even have been fractured. But no matter from what angle I looked I couldn’t find any broken skin. The kid wouldn’t believe me until we gently sat him up so he could see for himself. He started crying with relief at that point. As I cleaned him up so I could see what else was going on he slowly quieted down. His mouth wasn’t the only thing that was banged up. The primary source of all the blood seemed to be a good sized scalp laceration on the side of his head and that is what I used most of the towels on. I rethought the duct tape and instead pulled the yellow plastic pull strings out of one of the garbage bags that I had ripped up to hold a thick towel in place. I had Rose apply gentle but firm pressure to the wound. The rest of the individual wounds I could see were minor, but combined they took their toll. I had no idea if there were internal injuries I couldn’t see. The kid’s skin was cold and clammy and a little grey-tinged. I elevated his feet and put a blanket over him. Rose kept talking to him in almost the same voice she had used with Johnnie that time he had taken a header off of the fence and knocked the wind out of himself. It had scared him badly and right now I think this boy reminded us more of Johnnie than of James.

I then turned to David who was breathing funny. It was shallow and quick like it hurt to take a deep breath. He lay face down on one of my kitchen rugs, arms pulled in tight with his clinched fists on either side of his face. I gently called his name but he only shivered, more from reaction than from cold I thought.

“I’m OK it just stings bad,” he forced out through gritted teeth.

“OK honey, I’m gonna lift your shirt back here. I need to see what is going on,” I told him gently.

“No! I’m fine.”

“David. You are more than twice my size and I know I don’t have the right to boss you around. But, I am going to lift this shirt and you are going to let me. I will be as gentle as I can but this needs to be cleaned and bandaged,” I told firmly.

“Please don’t,” he whispered. And then he looked at me and I realized something else was going on.

“Rose, do me a favor and check on Johnnie.” After Rose left I asked, “David what is it? If it’s modesty don’t worry about it, I’m a mom and I’ll just treat you like I would James. But if its something else, you are going to have to tell me. Do you think one of those things bit you?”

“Noooo. Its not that. You’ve never seen …. “ he hesitated.

“Oh.” Now I understood. “David, I saw your back when Scott was putting the antiseptic on your cuts when you first moved in.”

“No, you didn’t. You couldn’t have,” he denied, shocked.

“Yes son I did, I was bringing some gauze to Scott and you must not have noticed me. I promise, they didn’t make me faint. And they are nothing to be ashamed of. Scott told me about your mom. It wasn’t your fault. But unless or until you want to talk about it we don’t consider it anyone’s business to ask about. The scars aren’t pretty and I won’t pretend they are. But they’ll only ever be as deep as you let them. Now stop worrying about it and let me lift your shirt.”

After a brief hesitation he relaxed very slightly; I took that as permission. As the shirt came up all of the welts across the small of his back and the small around burn scars came into view. I ignored them in favor of the furrow running across his kidney area on his left side.

“What happened?” I asked as I gently began to clean it the best I could.

“The gunfire had died down enough that Scott and I thought we could get to him,” he said indicating the young soldier beside him. “We knew we couldn’t leave him out any longer because one of those things had already tried to get him. Everything was fine until we tried to come back. James was covering us and yelled something. We just kept running, dragging him between us. Suddenly it felt like I got hit by lightening. I fell down and nearly took Scott down too but then that big guy, Sarge, showed up grabbed me by one arm and Cease by the other and all four of us tumbled into the carport. I guess Sarge is out there with Scott and James. They were trying to figure out how to cover the medic guy so he could get to a better location. I should be out there too. I gotta …”

“Young man, you are not going anywhere yet so don’t even try that again,” I exclaimed, just able to keep him from getting to his knees.

Suddenly Rose, who’d returned without us noticing, spoke up softly. “David, please don’t. Do what Momma says. Daddy will call you when he needs you and you need to rest so you can help.”

Oh my. Obviously David had not been quite as oblivious to Rose as I had originally thought. He was really giving her the puppy dog eyes despite being embarrassed at having his back and scars exposed for her to see. Quarantines, economic uncertainties, jackass bureaucrats, rioting, injured and bleeding soldiers, zombies, and now possibly young love. Could things possibly get any more complicated in my life right now?!

I left Rose sitting with both young men. Now that David had prompted me, I finally remembered the kid’s name was Cecil Davenport but everyone except the grandparents who raised him called him Cease. I then turned to Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie who had gradually come out of hiding. I knew we were going to wind up with people in the house; not just people but soldiers, and maybe NRSC Reps as well. I looked at all of the boxes and bags and everything else laying all over the place and had a terrible feeling.

“Girls, this is one of the most important chores I’ve ever given you to do and it has to be done quickly and correctly. I don’t have the time to stand over you and you are going to have to figure some things out for yourselves. I need you to start putting all of those bags in one of the bedrooms down the hall, not where David sleeps though. Sarah, you are in charge but no pushing Bekah and Johnnie around, there isn’t time for that nonsense. If you all get all of the stuff into the room I want you to open one container at a time – a bag, a suitcase, a laundry basket, whatever – and I want you to start putting things away where you think they might belong. It doesn’t have to be perfect but I don’t want things thrown together all willy-nilly either. It has to look like it’s always been in those places. OK?”

Sarah looked scared stiff to be in charge of something like this and asked, “But Momma, what if we don’t know where it should go? What if we put stuff in the wrong place? Why do we have to do this?”

“Sarah, I’m sorry, I just don’t have time to be nicer, have more patience, or make it easier. Just do the best you can, all right?! I’ll explain it later but basically we took this stuff from Mrs. Mabel’s house because we were supposed to be allowed to. Now I’m worried that people might look at our house and think they should be allowed to take stuff away from us. Now get to work. And hurry!”

I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself but I’d probably feel like a horrible mother when things slowed down. Putting an eleven year old in charge of something so important and then not giving her any more than a pittance of guidance was just wrong, wrong, wrong.

I looked for James but apparently he had picked the ammo can off the floor that I had meant to take out myself and headed back to his father. Things were eerily quiet when I stepped into the carport. Scott, James, and Sgt. Something-or-Other were looking out the gate that faced the street.

Scott turned when I came out and beckoned me closer but put his fingers to his lips. He wouldn’t let me get too close, I had to look at the outside world from behind the shelter of his arm. I could barely see through the arrow slits that Scott had built into the carport gate because I was so short. Of course the first things to draw my attention were the bodies. There were about a dozen, most with head shots. The ones without head shots either were not dead yet or were somehow immune to NRS. They looked plenty dead to me however so I went with immune or too brain damaged to reanimate. The most disturbing was the woman that had been run over. The bottom half of her was crushed and pinned by some debris, but the top part of her had reanimated. What a living nightmare.

I nearly cried out when I spotted our work van. The windshield had had a couple of rocks or bricks thrown through it and there were a few bullet holes in its side. One tire was flat. And it looked like there was a very injured person under there or it was a zombie. I was terribly unhappy about that being so close to the house.

A deep base voice rumbled near my ear, “That’s Henderson. He drives the dozer … drove the dozer … for the demolition team. I’d try to put him down but the angle sucks. This whole assignment has been one great big suckfest from the beginning.”

I glanced up to Scott and was about to ask a question when he whispered, “Keep your voice way down. When it’s between rounds like this, any small sound seems to draw the zombies’ attention.”

“Just like in the movies,” I shivered.

“Yeah. How are Scott and Cease?” I explained their injuries and what I’d tried to do and then asked where the Medic was. “He’s in my van.”

“In your …?! You mean he’s stuck in there? Or something worse?”

Sarge explained, “He was behind that tree over there. He took a couple of nicks but nothing serious but he was getting stuck in a crossfire as the situation around here escalated. We gave him cover but no one was giving him a break, they were using the damn red cross on his pack like a target. Your husband threw him the keys to the van and so far so good. We didn’t know Henderson had turned until it was too late. Scare the piss out of … um, ‘scuse me … scared Waleski pretty bad, but no bites.”

“But the windshield …”

“He’s in the cage area in the back and he has a radio,” Scott soothed.

“Yes, ma’am and as soon as they can spare ‘em HQ is sending back up from Carrollwood or Odessa, which ever patrol area cools off first. Right now we’ve got a stand off.”

“Where’s your fourth man?”

“With most of the NRSC people in the zombie house.” I winced hearing it called that. “He’s pretty well useless as back up. That pric … uh, jerk … Lawrence is giving him a lot of shi … uh, crap.”

Deciding to cut the poor guy some slack I told him, “You know Sgt., I appreciate your thoughtfulness but my ears won’t melt. Scott’s been known to cause sailors to blush on occasion. Don’t waste your focus trying to rethink every word that comes out of your mouth. What was you name again?”

After a quiet chuckle, “Matlock, ma’am. Murphy Matlock. But the boys usually just call me Sgt. Matt.”

“Well Sgt. Matt, if you don’t mind I’d like to ask you a question. Is there any reason, beside the obvious, that Cease would have been so frightened of being bitten? I know he’s just a kid but his reaction still seemed over the top and out of character.”

With a deep sigh the man replied, “When soldiers get bit or reanimated the NRSC takes custody of them.”

“Excuse me? Custody? I take it that’s not a good thing.”

“No ma’am, it isn’t. No one knows for sure what happens to ‘em but there’s all sorts of rumors. The only real fact is if the NRSC gets ‘em, they’re never seen again and their records disappear from the system.”

“Well, no one’s touching that boy. As far as I’m concerned his injuries were totally a result of the accident. The rest was just a reaction to the head injury. And that’s all I’ll commit to if asked, understand?”

“Yes ma’am. Loud and clear,” said the big man in appreciation.

There was some sporadic popping – gunfire – but it sounded like it was coming from a few streets over. Apparently the violence was now city-wide and devolving into chaos. I was taking in the shape of the rest of the neighborhood when, unable to reconcile what I was seeing, I asked, “Scott, there’s no breeze is there?”

“Nope and its already hot as Hades.”

“Then what’s making the bamboo over in the right of way move like that?”

“Where? Oh crap! Matt …”

“I see it.” St. Matt keyed his radio and said, “Patrol L to HQ. Patrol L to HQ.”

“This is HQ. Go ahead Patrol L.”

“HQ this is Patrol L. Situation expanding. At least three NRS targets escaping containment. Repeat, three targets escaping containment. Heading southwest through lowland terrain.”

“Patrol L this is HQ. Expanding situation noted. HQ out.”

After a brief silence I said, “OK, tell me that means they’re expediting some help this direction or sending someone to intercept those things.”

“No. It means they are backlogged and don’t have anyone available to respond. There is sporadic violence occurring all over the county. They’ll probably notify the local LEOs who are even more short-staffed than we are. Beyond that there are a couple of community groups that have organized neighborhood response teams, but they aren’t professionals.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. After another few moments Scott asked, “Babe, can you bring us some water and something to eat?”

“Sure. James …”

“I want to stay with Dad.”

“But." I looked to Scott who was no help. He felt I babied James too much most of the time. I sighed and said, "All right, just …”

“I know Mom. Dad's here, I'll be fine. Go do your thing.”

My little boy. I’d thought to have more time before he grew up. If I suspected life to be unfair before, I know it to be unfair now. This was not the world I had envisioned my children growing to adulthood in.

After taking some snacks (and earplugs) out to the carport, I spent the rest of the morning and part of the early afternoon taking care of Cease and David and trying not to worry any more than I could. I managed to throw together a quickly lunch of Skillet Chicken and Stuffing using some canned chicken and a couple of boxes of Stove-Top Stuffing out of the stuff we brought from Mabel's. Time seemed to stretch. Whenever someone would try and break the stand off it would set off a new round of gunfire and rock throwing that would slowly die back to another stalemate. My nerves were frayed and it took everything I had not to snap. I was all over the house trying to keep my hands busy and my mind occupied.

I only vaguely registered that Scott and Sgt. Matt were firing their guns again, the deep echo from the carport barely penetrating the two insulated metal doors that I had finally closed between the carport and the main house. I was dipping more water to refill my drip filter container when James suddenly brought another soldier into the house. Waleski the Medic had finally made it in and I was very relieved to turn my patients over to him. Maybe he could talk some sense into David who had finally reached the limit of his forebearance and was planning an exit to the carport no matter how much pain he was in.

After his examination of the men I was relieved to find out I hadn’t done them any harm. After some serious thought I turned over a full quarter of my total supply of fish antibiotics to Waleski. He looked at what I had given him and then dosed both Cease and David and put the rest of the supply in his pack. All the while he lectured me on the dangers of using drugs without a prescription.

I was tempted to snap, “You’re welcome. So glad you appreciate the supplies,” but didn’t as I knew he was just doing his job. I told him I was well aware of the risks and that I had ordered the meds solely for a truly worst case scenario and not for casual dosing. He unbent a little after that. He unbent all the way after I told David to stop fussing and mind the medic or I’d download the music of Doctor Demento, Tiny Tim, and a choir of yodeling cowboys onto his iPod and make him listen to it.

About two o’clock everyone started catnapping. James, Scott, Waleski, and Sgt. Matt dozed in shifts in the carport despite the heat. Young Cease was in and out most of the time already. David finally fell completely asleep and was out for several hours after the pain meds Waleski gave him took affect. Rose was only half awake as she sat watching in case the medic was needed again. Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie actually had managed to move everything into the bedroom at the end of the hall and had even emptied most of the garbage bags. I sent the three of them to lay down in my bedroom where I turned on my battery powered soundscape machine on “sea shore” setting to drown out the occasional burst of violence from outside. It wasn’t long before all three were deeply asleep.

I was so tired things were grey around the edges, I just couldn’t bring myself to rest. Too much to do. Too many strangers in the house in a situation too volatile. As a result I did something I hadn’t done since college and was sure to regret. I popped a couple of extra strength No Doze and downed them with one of Scott’s high octane energy drinks that I had dug out of its hiding spot. I hid the now empty can under our bathroom sink, as much to keep Scott from knowing what I’d done as anything else.

Sure enough a few minutes later I was wide awake and trying to keep my skin from crawling off my body. It was a terrible sensation but a dimly remembered one from when I took my youth and vitality for granted in favor of week long study-a-thons; from when grades and tuition money were more important than my health and sanity.

The rest of the afternoon sped by as I tried to hide our bounty while avoiding the soldiers’ notice as best I could. I didn’t think they would cause us any problems but you just never knew. Thank goodness the guys had finished building and concealing the storage areas on both sides of the pantry. The only food unhidden at this point were a few opened containers in the kitchen and the food from Mabel’s. Even if that food was confiscated we would not have lost anything but the time it took to pack it to the house. I didn’t even bother putting it away but lined it up neatly on the floor of the dining room.

The girls had done a good job and put away all of the fabrics, textiles, craft supplies, and clothes. I put the utensils and iron cookware away in the kitchen with the few other odds and ends like the pickle crock while trying to gingerly step around the wounded. Books went onto the bookcases. I took family pictures down and hung up the sconces and oil lamps. And on and on.

Scott came in a couple of times for drinks and to wash his face. He noticed what I was doing and nodded his approval, stopping short of saying something out loud that the soldiers might overhear.

My “pep up” remedy began to wear off while was trying to think what to make for dinner. My right hand was shaking and I was getting nauseous. I guess I thought I’d started to hallucinate when I first noticed the clock on the microwave was blinking. I thought no, it couldn’t be.

I stumbled my way out to Scott and shared the news that the power was back on.

“That would explain the cheering we keep hearing,” Scott replied.

“Hopefully that’ll help settle folks down some. Getting people off the street will make a mop up operation easier,” Sgt. Matt added.

Waleski who tended to be a pessimist by nature added, “Unfortunately that’s probably going to mean a county-wide house-by-house search for injured and bitten people. We’ve had a few more of the infected escape our range. People will go inside their air conditioned homes to tend to their wounded.”

Just as I was beginning to relax Sgt. Matt ground out, “Aw hell, why won’t those damn kids give it up already?!”

James, already pale from exhaustion, lost what little color was left in his face. “Dad, I … there’s something … Dad, I think they’re … Bobby’s clothes are all bloody. Cindy Knapper … she’s missing her … Ronnie G … Dad?”

Scott pushed James and I behind him and looked out the arrow slit. Sgt. Matt and Waleski were at the other one. Scott turned and began, “Sissy go back …”

This time I refused to be sent in the house like a wayward child. I stepped under Scott’s arm and took my turn at the opening. Only once I saw, I wish I hadn’t.

I knew, or at least recognized, most of the kids out there. Bobby Porchelli, the teenage stud of the neighborhood who had a different girlfriend every Friday night, at least until he fell in love with a girl named Celia. Cindy Mae Knapper who was always trying to fit in with the cool kids no matter the cost. Ronnie Grossman, slightly older than the rest, who was the “go to guy” for drugs and liquor. Marie Castellano who already had two children though she wasn’t yet sixteen. The other seven or eight kids I sorta recognized even in the condition they were in, but I couldn't remember their names to save me. No wait, that kids’ name was Danny Snowden. He gave James his first black eye in Cub Scouts. I knew that kid was going to have a bad end but not this bad. Huge chunks of skin and muscle were missing from both his arms.

I was finally able to look away from the shambling wrecks the teenagers had become when I heard James heaving in the corner.

I rushed over to him, “James …”

“I’m OK Mom,” and he shook me off.

“Scott …”

“Leave him be Sissy.”

“What?!” I said in shock.

“Stop it Mom. I’m not a baby!”

“I didn’t say you were. You’re just upset. But you have to remember these aren’t your friends any more. They …”

And like most wounded tend to do, he lashed out and I just happened to be closest. “Mom! Those kids were never my friends. They were losers and worse! I coulda cared less if some of them had been run over by a train. At least last year, when they would have stayed dead! Now though, now they get to cause all this crap, die, and then come back to do it all over again!! And it all started ‘cause of a stupid, slutty whore. Celia wasn’t worth the dog crap on the bottom of my shoe. She was such a skank no matter what everyone said. But somehow she and her jerk off brothers came to town and took over. Even some of my real friends fell for her act and the things she offered. Cliff and Rachel are out there Mom. So’s Eddie. They wouldn’t be out there if they hadn’t …”

He finally broke down and started sobbing. I gave Scott a look that warned him he better leave me alone and not say a damn thing. I held my son while Sgt. Matt, Waleski, and Scott “sanitized” kids that my kids used to play with when they were all too little to even know what a zombie was.

We jumped with every shot, the reverberation almost more than our ears could take. Finally it was finished; the gunfire and James’ tears. He pushed me away and stood up, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

“I’m fine now,” he said, pushing away from me yet again. He stood straight, walked over to Scott, and looked him in the eyes and said, “It won’t happen again Dad.”

Scott gave his shoulder a squeeze and a pat and walked towards me. I turned and went back in the house, shutting the door in his face.

He followed me anyway. I walked as far away from him as I could get, back down the long haul, but there was no escape. I tried to brush by him to get away but he caught me by the arm and wouldn’t let go no matter how I pulled.

“Sissy …”

Fine, if he wanted a fight I could give him one.

“Damn it. He’s just fifteen! Fifteen!!”

“I know, look …”

“Don’t! Don’t you dare justify and rationalize this like it is OK. Its not.”

“I never said it was OK. And yes, I know he’s just fifteen. I know damn well how old all of our kids are. I was there and held your hand during every one of their births. But I also want to see them live to get older.”

“Then stop pushing them …”

“What happens to them if something happens to us?” Scott demanded to know.

“Leave me alone. You don’t understand.”

“Answer me Sissy, what happens to them if something happens to us?”

“They’ve got this house and we’ve stocked …”

“For how long? What happens if someone bigger and stronger comes along and takes it from them?”

“My parents …”

“Are three hours north of here and in poor health. Your brother and his wife? Don’t think so, they can barely manage the two they have.”

“They’ll look after each other.”

“How?!” Scott took a deep breath and lowered his voice even further. “Rose is soft Sissy. You know it and I know it. She means well and she’s good with the kids and may make one hell of a pediatrician some day, but there’s no time for that right now. She’s too gentle and will break if I try to push her as hard as she needs to go.”

“She’s better than she was. Have you seen her lately?”

“Better isn’t good enough these days. And let’s talk about Sarah. She’s just eleven and even more tender-hearted than Rose is and falls apart if you look at her wrong. Bekah and Johnnie? They can’t even take care of themselves yet. That leaves James.”

“What about David?”

“What about David? Yeah, I know he’d never leave them alone and defenseless, but he can’t just suddenly take our place. Hell, his own childhood was a nightmare, he’s had no training in how a parent is supposed to act. With James strong and at his side however he might be able to pull it off. Rose could be a good mother figure, but only if she has a strong partner and plenty of support. And yeah, I’ve seen Rose and David looking at each other when they think the other isn’t looking. That could wind up working but I’d rather see them take that real slow. Life’s too hard to make a mistake of that size as young as they are.”

I didn’t want to hear what Scott said. I resented that it made sense; too much sense. I’m their mother damn it. I’m supposed to protect them from stuff like this, not steal their childhood away.

I was still furious, just no longer furious at Scott. I wanted things back the way they were. I wanted our crazy normal lives back. I wanted our worst problems back to being the rising cost of insurance and taxes and renters who skipped on us. I wanted NRS to be a figment of some horror writer’s imagination.

I was crying. Then suddenly I was falling. I was crying and falling and then drifting all at the same time. Colors seeped out of everything. Shapes elongated and distorted. The world started making even less sense than it had been making.

I know Scott was calling my name. I saw his mouth moving, but where the sound had gone I couldn’t imagine. I couldn’t even seem to form the words to ask him what was happening.

My eyes closed and wouldn’t reopen. The last thing I vaguely recall was Scott picking me up from the floor.

Day 30

I’ve lost over 24 hours somewhere along the way. I still feel like someone has hollowed me out and replaced all of the important stuff with sawdust.

The days without sleep combined with my stupid attempt to stay awake even longer finally caught up with me. Adding to the problem was the extreme emotional distress I had been in.

The first thing I remember was realizing I was cool for the first time in a long time. I heard the steady trill of some kind of bird right outside my window. I also realized I needed to go to the bathroom. Badly.

I was so sore. I ached down to my very bones. Every joint popped in protest as I opened my eyes and rolled out of bed. I could hear voices coming from somewhere in the house, but the bathroom came first.

When I was more comfortable I took stock of myself, trying to figure out what was going on. I washed my face, brushed the fuzz from my mouth, and dressed and followed the voices to the family room. First thing I saw was that Inspector Lawrence pointing his finger at my family who were lined up in front of a frankly petrified Pvt. Davenport.

All I could think was “what a way to start the day.”

I caused everyone in the room to jump when I said, “You point that finger at my family or anyone under our protection again and I’m gonna rip it off. And tell your goons to take their guns off of Matlock and Waleski. Last I heard this was the USA, not the Lawrence Dictatorship.”

“Madam, I will not tolerate such insolence. I’ll de-deputize you and everyone in your family.”

“Oh for Pete’s Sake, is de-deputize even a word?! You want a fight big boy I’ll give you one.”

Scott tried to cool me down and warn me off, “Sissy …” I wasn’t having any of it and got really warmed up and ready to go. I was in the mood to let off some truly ginormous Smart Ass Detonations. I was suffering serious caffeine withdrawal and the hammers in my head were going to get aimed at the head of that poisonously supercilious jackass.

“You come into our home. You threaten us. You act like you’re some sort of tin pot godlet. And you somehow having the arrogance to imagine taking something away we didn’t want in the first place is gonna make us bend over and kiss your butt?! No! You just shut up and hear what I’m telling you.”

After a deep breath I said, “You threaten us, any of us, and I’m gonna explain to anyone who will listen that this whole fiasco is your fault. You refused to allow that other soldier, what’s his name …”

“McElroy ma’am,” said Sgt. Matt.

“Yeah, him. You refused to allow McElroy to rendezvous with Sgt. Matlock here so they could mount a defense of their patrol area. That action directly resulted in an elevated casualty rate and property damage. Now you are threatening an injured man half your age who is obviously still unable to defend himself.”

“That ‘man’ you’re defending was bitten.”

“No he was not,” I lied, there was no reason to try and explain the bite didn’t make it through the kid’s boot and break any skin. “I was the first one to tend to him. I looked him all over and there’s not a bite on him.”

“As a duly appointed NRSC Lead Inspector I reserve the right to examine him myself.”

“Listen Chuckles, unless you can prove to me you are a medical doctor and that you aren’t carrying NRS bacteria, you are not gonna lay a hand on him.”

“Do you know who I am?!”

“Yeah. You’re the guy I saw running away from the action, screaming like a little girl. The whole flaming neighborhood could hear you.”

Then I spotted it. The bloody bandage under his sleeve.

“Get out of my house. Get out of my house right now!”

“Why you crazy bi …”

“Sgt. Matlock, Lead Inspector Lawrence has a bloody bandage that he is hiding under the cuff of his right sleeve.”

Everyone got real quiet; even the NRSC troopers began to eye Lawrence warily.

“Mr. Lawrence roll up your sleeve,” began the one on the right.

“Don’t be insulting. I will do no such thing.”

“Mr. Lawrence I will not ask you again sir, roll up your sleeve.”

“I … I was injured during the fighting. Its nothing,” the man bluffed.

“We’ll need to let the medic down at the Shop determine that.”

“Absolutely not! I have work to do and don’t have time for this foolishness.” He was quickly losing his cool and arrogance and had begun to edge towards the door.

The NRSC troops were on him in seconds. I’ll give one thing to those black shirted goons, they move fast. They quickly subdued him, cuffing his hands behind him and strapping a plastic face mask across his mouth. As they drug him out the door to a waiting ambulance the man could be heard screaming, “This is just a misunderstanding! Do you know who I am?! I am Lead Inspector Jeremiah Lawrence! You can’t do this to me! This is an outrage, release me this instant!!”

The ambulance doors closed, thankfully cutting off his cries and demands to be released. The troopers threw a salute Sgt. Matt’s way before pulling out and following the ambulance as it rolled slowly down the debris-cluttered road.

I was standing there glaring at the receding vehicles with my hands on my hips, feeling amazingly good for some reasons when Johnnie piped up, “Yay! Momma waked up! Pantates pwetty pweeze? Daddy burnted de uver ones.”

The adrenaline rush of giving Inspector Lawrence the heave-ho from our home quickly dissipated. I bent over to give Johnnie a hug and nearly wound up on my head. Scott and David, who was up and around, grabbed me before I actually fell over, but I was still seeing little black dots.

Waleski motioned for me to be brought back inside. “When’s the last time you had anything to eat, ma’am?”

Thinking, I replied, “I don’t know, yesterday at lunch I think.”

“Honey, you’ve been asleep over 24 hours,” Scott said as he sat beside me.

In disbelief I said, “No way.”

“Yes way. And if you do anything like this again I swear … “

“Oh geez. I’m fine. Stop fussing.” I was embarrassed at the attention and reminder that I wasn’t 100% yet. A small voice inside wondered if this was how James felt when I “fussed” over him.

Scott wouldn’t take my word for it, thus I had to put up with Waleski doing his medic-thing. His conclusion was that I had pushed myself too hard for too long and that the best thing for me at this point, besides a little more rest was a sweet, hot drink – unfortunately of the decaffeinated variety – followed by a light meal. I asked for a cup of my Ginger-Lemon Tea and then asked them to please fill me in on what had been going on. Hearing I’d slept over a day away made me feel out of touch. I felt like I must have missed something important. Things had been moving so quickly lately that it felt like I was reading a book with a chapter missing out of it, but that I just didn’t know if the vital clue to solving the mystery was revealed in that chapter or not. It was frustrating and worrying at the same time. But my, it was nice to be able to sit down in a lighted living room with air conditioning while I was brought up to date.

After a brief hesitation they explained; everyone added bits and pieces as the story went along including the soldiers we seemed to have somehow inherited. After I had collapsed, Waleski had been called in and subsequently determined I was suffering primarily from exhaustion. I was put to bed with the girls taking turns watching over me and things had gotten even more chaotic after that. There were still more than enough NRS victims roaming around to cause everyone to be wary of moving around out in the open. The zombies followed the same pattern they always had. Newly animated zombies were very slow but within an hour of reanimation they could move at almost normal speed for a very limited time. This was why some newly animated zombies are sometimes hard to spot from any distance. But after that point they began to slow back down, just not at any consistent rate. Some slowed down more quickly than others depending on damage to the body. Most of the zombies in the neighborhood were new, but had already reached the stage where they were slowing back down. Individually they were fairly easy to avoid, but in numbers they could quickly overwhelm. Since they seemed to be attracted to sound it was not that difficult to suddenly find yourself the center of attention of several zombies at once. For a lone person, that could be disastrous, particularly if all the escape routes were blocked. And fear often made people react poorly or slowly.

Another couple of hours went by before everyone could say with certainty that the riot was finished. The NRSC folks that had holed up in Mabel’s house came out, tried to act official and then skedaddled back to their headquarters before it got dark. All they did was hack people off again as they are the ones that are supposed to be spearheading all NRS response, which should mean they don't get to run away when things get tough.

Other areas of the county had also calmed down as people retreated back into their now air-conditioned homes to rest and lick their wounds – proverbial as well as actual.

It wasn’t until the next day – yesterday – that another military patrol, this one commanded by an officer, showed up to help clean things up. It was a good thing too because that was when Lead Inspector Lawrence showed returned doing nothing but sowing more seeds of discontent by his attitude of superiority and lack of insight into the situation in general. All of the dead, re-dead, and bitten found during the door-to-door searches were taken away to this place called “The Shop.” Ostensibly a medical facility, no one ever seems to get better and/or released from its custody. Confiscation of some items from people's homes was also done, primarily of homemade weapons, liquor, etc. They didn't toss the houses looking for contriband, but if it was in "plain sight" it became a temptation for the NRSC investigators to take.

Lawrence demanded that everyone prove that they hadn't been infected - a weird take on "guilty until proven innocent." Someone mentioned seeing the zombie attack Cease and that lead Lawrence to demand that Cease be placed in his custody. The only thing that prevented Lawrence from taking him was Maj. Martin’s intervention. Lawrence warned that he would be back so Maj. Martin asked Scott if we would house Cease in our home until things calmed down and he was able to get an military injunction against Inspector Lawrence. Matlock and Waleski bivouacked at our home as well while McElroy returned with Maj. Martin to make a full report, giving his personal testimony since he was the one with the NRSC people during the stand off.

The evening was quiet as everyone was exhausted. Zombies could occasionally be heard bumping into things but there were no new attacks, at least none that were reported.

This morning had started relatively quiet, the only ruckus being Scott’s attempt at making pancakes for breakfast … the mess of which was still waiting to be cleaned up in the kitchen. Not long after that however Inspector Lawrence returned, forced his way into the house using his NRSC troopers, and tried to bully Cease into custody again. That’s what I heard when I first woke up. What I saw was right after he had given the order that Cease was showing signs of combativeness and on that suspicion alone he was being taken in for observation.

“What?!” I asked after noticing that Matlock was looking at me strangely and shaking his head.

“I’m just wondering how such a short little thing like you gets away with having such big mouth. It’s a wonder Scott here has any hair left at all. If I had a wife like you I’d been bald long time ago.”

“Well excuse the heck out of me. How the heck did a big thing like you get pushed around by such a small-minded little man like Inspector Lawrence? As for the bald thing, real women aren’t interested in men who spend more time on their hair than they do. You’d think you’d appreciate that given that flat top you have going on.”

“Touché,” and everyone laughed.

I continued, “I know my mouth can run away from me. Seriously though, I’m not joking now … I appreciate everything everyone had done and hope I didn’t offend anyone. I wasn’t myself yesterday and I must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I don’t know what’s come over me.”

“Sissy,” David put in, “don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve got plenty of self-control and know when to stop. My mom didn’t. There’s no comparison between the two of you. You're just a momma bear and anyone who isn't smart enough to figure that out quick deserves to get chewed on.“ After an embarrassed pause he added, “Besides, it was kinda funny watching that Lawrence fella’s face when you lit into him.”

“Oh David.” Now it was my turn to be embarrassed while everyone laughed in agreement.

Rose continued the conversation by asking, “Sgt. Matt, do you think they’ll let Mr. Lawrence out?”

“It depends what that wound was. It’s against regs to fail to report any wound that breaks the skin. And Mr. Inspector Jeremiah Lawrence seemed awful shifty for it to be as simple as he was making it out to be. Something wasn’t right. At worst he was infected. At best he’ll probably be relieved of duty for screwing things up. Either way he is in custody now and we aren’t likely to see him again any time in the near future, at least not in his current job.”

Waleski, being Waleski added, “Let’s just hope the next Lead Inspector isn’t someone worse.”

I asked David and Cease how their injuries were doing. David is up and around but can’t do any heavy lifting or he tears open the scab that is trying to form on his back. He’s primarily acting as a look out. He says he isn’t in pain so long as he doesn’t hit the spot on something and keeps the bandage clean. If I can believe him, and I suppose I must, its probably because he had to build up a high pain tolerance from all the beatings he took as a child. What a thing to be thankful for. Cease is still very tired and while he isn’t sleeping all day long he is catnapping his way through it. The head laceration is a mess and Waleski is worried about infection and heavy scarring. He finally had to go in and put stitches in and couldn’t numb the area to do it. The kid is physically traumatized but mentally hanging in there. He may lose two teeth and one is definitely chipped, but not down to the nerve. He’s banged up and bruised up and still can’t put much weight on his injured ankle, but overall he is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

Just as the conversation was reaching a lull I heard, “Momma, I hungry.”

It was about lunch time and I needed to get busy. Scott was adamant though that I just sit and supervise and not do the work myself. I think I scared him pretty badly. I avoided a lecture however as he had to take the boys and work outside, helping with clean up around the house and trying to figure out what to do about his work van. It was nerve wracking for me knowing that they were out there while there were still zombies on the loose. However, Matlock and Waleski rarely ventured more than a couple of houses away through out the day and everyone worked as quickly and quietly as possible. The few gunshots that were fired were a few streets over when a search revealed another house with all residents dead or infected.

As I looked over what food items we had out I quickly chose to make Tuna Salad roll-ups. If people didn’t want to eat the tuna salad on flour tortillas they could eat them on crackers or melba rounds. I had quite a few mouths to feed as the soldiers would need to be fed also. Apparently resources are running short even for the military. Their ammo was resupplied, as was Waleski’s medical kit, but they didn’t receive any MREs and were just about starving to death by the time Matlock said something to Scott night before last. I believe that the military is expecting at least some of their troops to live off of the willing – or in some cases perhaps unwilling – support offered by the community they are patrolling.

The crowd at the dinner table included our five kids, then David, Scott, and myself. Add Matlock, Waleski, and Cease. I might even have McElroy for dinner tonight if he showed up. That was five, possibly six, grown men, James who ate like one, then the girls, Johnnie, and myself. Twelve people. I had second thoughts, realizing the tuna fish wasn’t going to cut it. I decided to make two large casserole dishes of Bombay Lentils and Rice since the my electric oven was usable again. I already had lentils and brown rice in the kitchen cabinets. I had raisins from the stuff from Melba’s place. The only thing I had to sneak out of my other supplies was some pine nuts and luckily those were one of the items stuffed in my box spring – filling up space between the large #10 cans - rather than hidden in the pantry.

Good glory, you would have thought no one had eaten in a week. I know that I hadn’t got as much cooking done over the past few days as I normally did, but my goodness. It was like watching a bunch of steam shovels eating. Waleski was even happy to see that Cease had an appetite again, and I didn’t think Waleski was ever happy about anything. There wasn’t a grain of rice left for the birds to fight over.

After lunch I finally took the time to delight in having the electric back on. You can get used to anything but I have to admit that it was a lot nicer, not to mention easier, with it on than with it off. I especially liked being able to get in the shower and have hot water on tap. Rose made sure the girls had washed their hair yesterday. I washed mine as soon as I finished making sure the kitchen got cleaned back up … no easy task as Scott had nearly wrecked one of my good skillets trying to make those pancakes and there was batter everywhere. The power being on also took some of the pressure off of Scott and David figuring out how to get our well pump to operate on solar power.

While I was in the shower, McElroy showed up with another jeep. However, the men’s orders hadn't changed much, they were to remain bivouacked with us until after the demolition of Mabel’s house was complete. A new demolition team was scheduled to come out the next day and the demolition should be complete the day after that. What that meant for us was that I had at least 7 to 9 more meals where I was going to have to feed a four additional adults. Worse, I had no idea whether any of the Demolition Team would wander over this way expecting to be fed. I needed a plan and I needed it fast.

After inventorying what remained of the stuff from Mabel’s and what I had in my kitchen cabinets I came up with the following:

*Grits, Canned Ham, Biscuits
*Bacon Hash (using canned potatoes, real bacon bits, and powdered eggs)
*Grog Cakes

*Salsa and Cheese Macaroni (using jars of salsa, a block of American cheese, & macaroni)
*Stir-Fried Noodles and Rice (using Ramen Noodles)
*Tomato –Bacon – Onion Fettuccini

*Turkey Tetrazzini (using canned turkey or chicken and Ramen Noodles)
*Creole Beans and Rice
*Rice Roast (I’d have to sneak some of my rice out of the pantry for this one)

While I sat at the dining room table working the menu out, I had the kids doing a lot of general chores that I had put off when the power was down. All of the rooms needed to be swept, mopped, and/or vacuumed. The bathrooms were definitely in need of cleaning; they were plenty disgusting. The potable water barrel needed to be refilled and the ice trays needed to be filled and put in the freezer. Most of all though we needed to do laundry. I swear some of it was so bad it could probably have reanimated and walked away on its own.

Most of the towels that I had used on Cease and David’s wounds were ruined. The clothes that I had set to soak so many days ago certainly were. And all of the clothes that we had brought back with us for David needed to be washed before I wanted them worn. The horse trough was dumped out, the sour smell of the water making me gag like nothing had in a long while. I dumped the towels in the trough and dumped in a couple of opened bottles of peroxide that came from Mabel’s as well. I was hoping that the peroxide might help me save some of the towels. We really did need them. I left that stuff soaking while I tossed the clothes over the clothesline and tried to spray off the worst of the stink with my garden hose.

Between regular loads I would throw in a load of towels or a load of nasty work clothes. This went on all afternoon and into the evening.

By the end of dinner – I chose to fix the Turkey Tetrazzini – I was ready to crawl back in bed. Waleski had nixed any caffeine for me for at least another day or two and I was trying to be good and not sneak one of my colas. I didn’t though it was tempting; they called to me like a sea siren. I determined to take my mind off of the craving by catching up on this journal and I listened to the news, such as it was.

The local news was not informative at all. I believe it is because the NRSC has people assigned at each station and they may have instituted censorship. There was some news from abroad, but it too seemed like it was being filtered. I wouldn’t have said that the things were upbeat, but the broadcasters certainly weren’t full of absolute doom and gloom like they had been.

I was actually surprised that Tampa hadn’t made the Quarantine Zone List. If we weren’t bad enough yet to make the list, I couldn’t imagine the nightmare the quarantined cities must be.

First thing tomorrow I want to try and reach my parents again. That meager text message days ago wasn’t enough. I want to actually hear my parents’ voices. And I want to try and find out if the news in their area is revealing more than the news from our area.

My final concern for the evening then I promise I’m going to close. James is avoiding me, or it seems that way. Have I alienated him completely? I’d talk to Scott about this but Scott would make him talk to me and I don’t want it if it is forced on him. He wouldn’t even look at me when I handed him a mug of cocoa, barely even mumbled thank you. I guess I just need to give it time, but it’s no longer a secret that I like to manage things. I want the situation resolved now, not later. I don’t think I’m gonna be able to do that this time.


  1. Reading this for the third time now. It's awesome AND it's great to have it all here in one place!
    Thank you Kathy!

  2. I don't know how, but you might want some of this info for the book. I just saw the link and all I could think was hmmmm Sissy's journal..... lol,6&cm_mmc=facebook-_-OrganicGardening-_-Content-Living-_-7gut

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  4. Thinking of starting to read this one again.....maybe