Wednesday, November 23, 2011

December: Heartbreak and Heroism

December: Heartbreak and Heroism
Days 121 – 153


Day 121 (Wednesday)

I’m no more comfortable with Scott going away than I was yesterday but I am a bit more resigned to it. Frankly I’ve been so busy today that there just hasn’t been time to brood about it. Of course, here at the end of the day with nothing but this journal and the sounds of the occasional zombie banging into something on the other side of the wall to keep me company it’s another story.

I was awake and in the garden before breakfast had even been started. I left Scott to feed Kitty, which he is a dab hand at, and bent my back to getting everything in that we would need for tomorrow.

I needed to dig the last of the potatoes and have the kids help wash and scrub them. I pulled two pumpkins for baking. One would become pumpkin chips and the other I would turn into pies. I pulled a few hard shelled winter squash for the same reason. After I cleaned the pumpkin and squash seeds out I toasted them so the men could have them as a light weight snack on their trip.

With the tail end of the pole beans and Yardlong beans I made a huge mess of green beans that I seasoned with onions and bacon drippings. I pulled beets and cooked them to make pickled beets and for a small pot of apple-beet sauce.

Tomorrow, along with the last of the red tomatoes, I’ll bring in the Bibb lettuce, last of the carrots, and a small tray of radishes that I’ve been nursing along out of season. With those I’ll make an enormous fresh salad. I’m not touching any of the plants though that I’m letting go to seed. I’m not sure how long my packages of seeds are going to remain viable so I need to learn how to make my own. Its not like the seed catalogs are going to come in the mail this year.

We’ve been baking loaf bread, rolls, and cornbread most of the day. Tomorrow all we’ll need to do is make the cakes and pies, heat stuff up, and get the meat ready.

Angus and Jim provided our main dish. They came back almost as quickly as they had left this morning. So quick, Dix and Matlock rang the alarm bell. We all stopped what we were doing and ran to help. Angus’ pant leg was ripped and bloody and Jim looked like he’d been on the losing end of a good sized bar brawl. But the way they looked was all out of whack with the fact the two of them were laughing like loons.

From the trailer that Angus pulled was coming this god-awful banging. We thought he had a zombie stuck in there until Matlock bellowed, “You’re kidding me.”

Of course he didn’t say “kidding” but referred to manure. I wish the guys would be more careful. I had the worst time explaining to Johnnie why we should not use those words; especially why five-year-olds should not use those words. I don’t think I convinced him, only convinced him he better never use those words where I found out about it.

Anyway, the banging wasn’t getting any better and the sides of the trailer shook with every crash. I heard Scott yell above the noise, “Geez man, you found some mean ones.”

Turns out that Angus and Jim decided to go over to the Geraci Brothers’ place to see if there was anything worth salvaging. They hadn’t been there but a second when they heard a banging in what was left of the main house. They looked in the windows expecting to see raiders or zombies. Instead they caught sight of really pissed off pigs. Hey, if you’ve ever been around pigs and hogs you know that can be scary all on its own.

They backed the trailer up to the front door, climbed in a back window, and proceeded to try and chase the pigs into the waiting trailer. Easier said than done. From the sound of it I wish I would have had a movie camera. The mean old boar brought what was left of the ceiling in one of the rooms down onto Jim. Angus nearly had his leg gored before he jumped up on the island in the kitchen.

I’m amazed no one got hurt. That old boar was mean and wild. There was a younger and more laid back boar and a fat sow with five piglets as well. Rather than put the boar in with the other animals they backed the trailer up to the gate of the large enclosure where we planned to put the cows, and put him to pasture out there so he could run himself down without hurting anything. The young board, sow, and piglets were put into a pen next to the other pigs. We’ll put them in the same pen once they all settle down and get to know each other a little better.

Tomorrow at dawn that old boar is going to meet his maker and we’ll cook him whole (after he is gutted, drained, and cleaned) in a pit the guys dug today. I’ve never cooked a whole pig like that but Cease and Jim have. I have eaten it like that and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I can still remember how tender it was. One of Scott’s tenants invited us to his son’s confirmation party. It was a big honor apparently for “Don Scott” and his family to come to Miguelito’s son’s fiesta. Miguelito was killed in a construction accident less than a month later. Scott gave his widow some money and she took their children and went to live with her parents in Mexico; but before she left she told Scott that her husband had been so proud that El Don had come to his child’s feast. Strange how the little things can mean so much. It really puts things in context.

While the men take care of the pork I’ll be teaching Rose, Melody, Josephine, Sarah, Laura, and Bekah how to make some old fashioned cakes and pies. Maddie may join us as well if her mother can convince her to. Let’s see, I have the following on the dessert menu: molasses pie, vinegar pie, buttermilk pie, sauerkraut cake, molasses cake, applesauce cake, apple butter pie, pumpkin custard, Irish potato pie, elderberry pie, pineapple custard pie, squash pie, and green tomato mincemeat pie. This didn’t include the fruit cakes that I made yesterday or the pies I made today from sweet potatoes. We’ll also have plenty of side dishes but I’m leaving some of that up to the other women.

The other thing I did today was make some granola bars, pony express bread, GORP, and some other instant trail food for the men to take one their trek north. The men will also take a couple of cases of MREs we’ve been holding back and each vehicle will also carry ten gallons of water, a water filter, and purification tablets. Each man will carry his own bug out bag in case they have to abandon the vehicles for some reason, a rifle, and plenty of ammo. Each vehicle will also carry reserve fuel and have a shotgun and case of shells. I know there is plenty I’m not listing out but they are traveling heavier than they are comfortable. It’s just they don’t know what they’ll be facing.

I’m going to bed tonight tired in body and spirit. I just wish I could get my mind to stop running like a hamster wheel.

Day 123 (Friday)

I just didn’t have the time or energy to write yesterday. This morning Scott and the other men left and will be back basically when we see them pulling up to the gates. They originally said up to five days at most but from the sound of their travels thus far that might be overly optimistic.

Yesterday was a good day. Everyone was up early and about mid-morning we held Matlock and Becky’s commitment ceremony. Becky was very beautiful in a found wedding gown that we had altered but it was really strange seeing Matlock dressed up in a suit and tie. I don’t think I’d seen a tie on anyone but a zombie for months.

Scott officiated the ceremony, saying phrases similar to what a pastor would have said at a wedding ceremony prior to NRS. Then Matlock and Becky read vows to each other they had written themselves. The ceremony was closed by Dixon who said, “Let all here witness that, knowing to the best of their ability that all bonds with their previous partners were completely and irrevocably severed, Sgt. Murphy Matlock and Ms. Rebecca Trublood have made a public and lifetime commitment to each other. A copy of their vows, certified by their own signatures and that of witnesses, will be placed with the other official documents of Sanctuary. Would all here affirm their decision by saying Aye!”

You wouldn’t think so few people could make so much noise. We weren’t just affirming Matlock’s and Becky’s commitment to each other, we were all affirming a commitment to our future – as individuals and as a group. For richer for poorer; in sickness and in health; ‘til death do us part.

During the ceremony I watched all the couples in Sanctuary look at each other; from Jerry and Muriel to David and Rose. All but one couple glowed with their feelings. Dixon was standing by Samuel but wasn’t looking at Rachel and Rachel was studiously ignoring Dixon as well. It was especially strange because standing on the other side of Samuel was Patricia with Jack protectively at her side. Despite there being no reason for Dix and Rachel to hide their relationship any more they seem to be hiding it more than ever. But it’s not my problem and I refused to let the conundrum ruin my day.

After the ceremony the ladies and I put out some odds and ends that people could graze on while the pig finished cooking. We took turns on short shifts on guard duty so that everyone could enjoy the day as much as possible.

Finally the pig was ready. I didn’t know until yesterday morning that the men had actually decided to slaughter the pig during the night. I guess they did this because they were worried that a predator would get it ‘cause the stupid thing kept making so much racket that it even drew zombies. They burned a fire in the pit using some granite rocks we had gathered over the last couple of weeks for about three hours which was just about as long as it took to catch, slaughter, and prepare the mean old boar.

They rubbed the pig with citrus juice and put some onion and seasonings in the body cavity. Three good sized hot rocks were also stuffed inside the pig’s body cavity and James said it made a wild hissing sound as hot rock met cold flesh. The pig was then wrapped in several layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. We could have used banana leaves, may have to if we ever get a chance to do this again, but the foil was better at keeping dirt out. The pig was then put in the pit with the rest of the hot rocks and we used wild grape vines and a thick layer of pine needles to insulate everything. The hole was refilled with dirt and a long meat thermometer was stuck into the center of the whole mess to track the internal temperature of the meat. The pig was put into the ground at around 3 AM and it came off just after one o’clock.

We set up several tables to accommodate the meat and all the other food we had prepared. It was quite a buffet. We all ate way passed being full. That was an experience after so many weeks spent conserving food and eating jsut enough rather than until we were full. Even all the animals received extra rations yesterday and were glad for it.

The celebration lasted the whole day. Games of sport including an impromptu football game were played beside games of skill like archery, slingshot, and how fast could someone breakdown their rifle and put it back together. The kids played games like sack races, pin the tail on the donkey, and lawn bowling which they renamed “knock the zombies down.”

Everyone contributed something hand made to Matlock and Becky’s new home. The men pulled together and made them a wood stove and a pie keep to go in their kitchen space. Sarah, Bekah, and Laura had sewn them a sampler with their names and the date of the ceremony embroidered on it. Rose and Melody made them an herbal wreath. The older boys, with David’s help, had found an old chest and lined it with cedar for them to keep their treasures in. The younger children made them cards. The women and I made over some curtains and a table cloth, turning what used to belong to someone else into a useful gift that would forever be uniquely theirs. Brandon and Melody’s gift stunned everyone.

Brandon had claimed to be taking pictures for the History of Sanctuary that he is writing but after disappearing for a bit he and Melody presented Matlock and Becky with a wedding day portrait in a hand-painted frame. What was adorable was that the picture he took was one where Tom and Jenny were standing with them. They looked like a family.

We were all surprised. We knew he had been scavenging computers and printers but we had no idea he had really been able to pull anything together. Given the quality of the work everyone has vowed to keep on the lookout for all the toner and photography paper they can find and paints and art supplies as well. When we notice particular skills in someone we try to encourage and nurture it. We all benefit from it in the long run.

Scott spent as much time with the kids and I as he could but late in the afternoon I noticed he would slip away and meet with the three other men to go over Juicer and the Avalanche yet again. They were leaving the F350 here, but were taking one of the smaller enclosed trailers that they reinforced the day before. They had also cut small, cross-shaped openings on all four sides to act as gun ports.

I knew it was time for things to wind down. Everyone had thankfully done their own dishes and stacked them in the drainers to dry. There really wasn’t that much food left over compared to what we started with but there was enough to pack two meals for the men with enough left over that I made a big pot of stew that fed everyone twice today.

After all the food was put away we carried Matlock and Becky to their new home for their honeymoon night. It was hilarious and raucous at the same time. The youngest kids didn’t get it but there was plenty of ribald chuckling going on between most of the adults. The teens just stood around embarrassed at the antics and thinking adults were a few bricks shy of a load. Several of us offered to take Tom and Jenny for the night but Matlock and Becky both said they wanted to start as they meant to go on; as a family. I don’t think there is any need to worry about the two of them. They seem to have a solid idea of where they want their future to go.

After that everyone but the guards headed to their own home. Scott took some time with each child individually; youngest to oldest. He took David and Rose aside last and I can only guess what he said to them. I didn’t ask. I’m not sure I want to know. Rose cried whatever it was … in a good way, but there were still tears.

After everyone went to bed Scott and I lay for a long time saying nothing, just holding each other. Sometimes you need to talk, sometimes you just need the quiet of each other’s company and comfort.

Morning came too quickly as did their leave taking. They called in every hour at first and the news was not good. The interstate borders on impassable for miles and miles and miles; as far as the eye can see there are vehicles of all shapes and sizes. There are a few locations where it looks like someone has tried to push the worst of the mess off to the side but mainly Juicer just took the lead and smashed anything that they couldn’t go around. Some of the cars still have zombies pinned inside and in other cars it looks like something has burst out of them. Every business and building close to the entrance and exit ramps has been looted as far as they can tell. There have also been lots of fires and other types of damage.

It took them three hours just to get to the Webster exit in Sumter county. That was a drive that normally would have taken only 45 minutes. Once there they were met by armed men protecting the exit ramp into that small city. It was only due to Angus’ charm, and the fact that they were conserving ammo, that they didn’t start firing at the men as soon as they had slowed down. When they were finally allowed to pass unmolested, they were told to be careful as there were raiders through the area just two weeks previously. They got some other information from that group but not much. They had suffered quite a bit of depredation by raiders and road pirates so didn't trust anyone else.

It took them another hour and a half to reach Wildwood. What should have taken them one hour had taken them four and a half hours. They were extremely stressed and tense and needed to pull over for a short break and to grab a bite to eat.

In Wildwood itself they found the end result of anarchy and chaos. From the few straggling survivors that eventually crawled out of the rubble they got the story.

The men used pre-designated codes so that their actual position was not compromised but we understood their explanation just fine. Anyone monitoring the channel we were using though would have not only had to know the geography well, they would have had to know some of the individual quirks of Sanctuary. Juicer kept its name but the Avalanche became the Penny (as in a copper colored one). Their code names were also changed from what they normally used around town. Dixon remained the generic Sergeant. Angus became Viking. McElroy was called Rat for some reason. And Scott became Rooster. The cities and landmarks that were passed had numerical designations and I had a hard time keeping up with them when they spoke too quickly.

In addition to code words, we've developed a flyer. Every so often the men stop and hang one up that has a message and a radio frequency listed on it. We'll monitor that frequency for messages from people who want to make contact.

Bekah, still fascinated by the radio shack, actually can translate the radio jargon faster than some of the adults. Luckily she is still young enough that she misses most of the nuances of what is being transmitted to us. Some of it is really grim.

A band of survivors of the mayhem on the Interstate system had come together around the big truck stops at the Wildwood exit. They figured to hold onto the food and fuel as long as they could, and to the security it represented, until they were rescued. They had started out well enough all things considered despite refusing to believe that they could possibly be left on their own forever by the powers that be. Someone some where had to be responsible for helping them right?!

The first problems began when their group’s population began to exceed their resources. Wildwood is one of the major stops for food and fuel along the I75 corridor and every survivor for miles in either direction headed there thinking the authorities would be there and tell them what they needed to do or provide them with transportation to where they wanted to go. They eventually thought enough to forage through all of the vehicles along the roadways but it still was not enough. As the zombies continued to be a problem and decimate the survivor's numbers, the group began to run out of ammo. But as a whole the group lacked the creativity, and were too handicapped by their fear, to mount less traditional defenses.

Then the raiders started appearing. Just a few at first so they could hold them off, but then a large and ruthless gang came that easily over-powered the entire Wildwood enclave. The raiders took care of the problem of overcrowding by executing the elderly, sick, injured, or anyone that complained. Their brutality also included using the youngest children and the least productive adults to bait zombie traps.

The truck stop survivors thought of their lives as a living hell and lost all hope, merely existing from one moment to the next. In truth it actually became a living hell about a week and a half ago when a large zombie horde ripped through the raiders’ over confident, and in reality haphazard, fortifications.

By the time the zombies moved on barely a half dozen people remained of the nearly four hundred they had started with back at the very beginning. The last of their captors had been torn apart as he tried to escape just hours before the zombies, heeding some unheard call, headed west toward the coast. The few people remaining were dazed and listless. They didn’t seem to have enough motivation to even dig into the remaining food supplies or rebuild the meanest of shelters. They certainly didn’t bother stopping our men when they broke into the fuel supplies and topped off the tanks of Juicer and the Avalanche. Neither did they say anything when the men grabbed several empty fuel canisters laying in the debris, filled them up, and split them between the two vehicles. They didn't try to protect the one commodity that they could have used to build themselves back up into a viable community.

The people just sat there confused and zoned out while all of this was going on, at least that’s how Scott described them. When Matlock asked Dixon if he intended to offer aid to those survivors. Dixon answered, “No help for those who aren’t ready to help themselves. We don’t have the time or the resources and it wouldn’t do any good anyway; they aren’t ready to listen. Like Mother Hen says even a turtle knows he must stick out his neck if he is to get anywhere. These turtles are stuck in their shells.”

They left Wildwood with a bad taste in their mouths. After another four hours on the road with one major backtrack and detour where an overpass had collapsed they finally made it to Gainesville. They drove around town for a bit but never saw a single living soul. They thought they had seen movement in one of the buildings on the University of Florida campus but it was hard to tell whether it was people or zombies.

The men reported that Gainesville really did feel like a ghost town; or maybe closer to a freaky carnival funhouse. At least two major fires appear to have destroyed large sections of town. Hardly any intact windows remain though it does appear that for a while some people tried to board up the damage. They have holed up for the night in a D.O.T. maintenance garage that wasn’t too far off one of the interstate overpasses. It was the most secure location they could find after returning from the Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park. The park is basically just a huge sink hole with some seepage type watefalls along its sides but the park is inundated with zombies with many having fallen into the sinkhole itself. They got close enough to see the bodies squirming around at the bottom. Scott said between the slithering sound of all the mangled corpses stuck down there and the smell he came really close to puking. The rats in the park were also really bad and no longer afraid of humans which was even worse.

They reported that the zombie infestation in the whole area is pretty intense though not unmanageable so long as you are careful. On the other hand, it’s bad enough that if it hadn’t been so late and the road so bad they would have left and headed on to the Newberry exit to get out of town. Scott said Payne’s Prairie right there at Micanopy was just freaking weird.

The “prairie” is a huge grassland like a Savannah and is totally unique to the Florida landscape. It just kind of squats where it is with no encroachment by other types of habitats. It had - or maybe has but the men didn’t see any from the interstate – bison, wild horses, and a large population of alligators living in it. What they did hear was the roar of a couple of what they think were lions. And the tall grass swayed and bent in unnatural rhythms. Scott said it took just about everything he had not to jump back in the cab of the truck and push through the stalled traffic at dangerous speeds. Dixon agreed and added that it was almost too tempting just to set it all on fire to destroy whatever the freaks were wandering aimlessly in the bush and overgrowth. If Dixon was admitting to being spooked I know it had to be bad.

Tomorrow the calling schedule will change. They plan on making contact every two hours assuming they can get through. We are dealing with more interference or static or whatever you call it on the radio but we don’t know if it is on our end or theirs. For all we know it could be sun flairs or spots or some such. If they miss a call-in appointment they’ll wait and try again at the next appointed time. If they miss a second appointment time they will call in as soon as they are able to get through.

Today was Cleaning Day around Sanctuary and the kids and I spent most of the day working on our home. We rearranged several rooms to take into account that Matlock, Becky, and the kids moved out. Two adults and two kids and all of their stuff leaving gave us back quite a bit of space; it’s not that it hasn’t brought relief but it is taking some getting used to, especially at night. All the work has been a two-fold mission. First it was to help us get through this first day of Scott being gone. Second, I told the kids if we can get everything finished between today and tomorrow we would decorate for Christmas on the next Rest Day.

I know that today is December first but it’s just hard for me to get in the mood for anything with Scott gone. No, not gone just away. Gone makes it feel like he isn’t coming back and thinking in that direction will drive me mad. I’ve been jumpy and jittery all day. Jim and Waleski (believe it or not) have stopped by several times today to see if I need anything. I think they both understand what I’m going through perhaps better than everyone else. Jack knows for sure Teri is dead and Matlock knows the same for his ex-wife. But with Jim and Waleski … its one of those gone but not gone kind of things. And seeing what they are dealing with helps me in a bizarre way because I see at least there is a likelihood that Scott is coming back; they don't have that. I’d talk to Rachel but I think she is hacked off at me because Patricia and I are now friends of a sort. Maybe I hurt her feelings but I didn’t like the position she put me in over her relationship with Dix. Patricia seems to be holding less of a grudge against Rachel than Rachel is against me which makes no sense in my book.

And I’m not the only one feeling the men’s absence. All of our able-bodied people have to take up the slack created by their absence. Today the last of the comatose or vegetative patients, whatever their condition was, from the Hale Hollow refugees were finally put to rest so at least the hospital doesn’t have to have an on-site person 24/7. But still guard duty has become a chore in creative flexibility. David and James will likely be on night duty until the other men come back and Bo and Tom will have to be on the Wall during most of the day. All of the women have had at least an hour added to our normal shifts on the Wall as well. This has a trickle down effect to the other chores like cooking. To make matters worse all of this is happening right when we apparently have a new security issue to deal with.

Samuel and Marty were walking perimeter outside the Wall when they found several places where it looked like something or someone had been digging under it. No one has seen or heard anything unusual and we don't know what was the objective of the holes either. The holes are located right at a juncture where Scott has been unhappy about the lack of visibility because of an odd crook we had to put in to accommodate a couple of canals. Scott had plans to build an extra tower there for that very reason but hadn’t had the time yet.

Human or animal we can’t let it continue. The hole has been backfilled with a mixture of dirt, broken chunks of concrete and pieces of scrap metal with a layer of chain link fence laying on top of the ground. An animal won’t get through that but might try digging in a similar location. A human might try moving the fence before going around it. It was just odd how that particular location seems to have been singled out. We didn't find any other holes along the Wall at all. Let’s just hope the flaming zombies haven’t started to tunnel or we are in more trouble that I want to imagine.

And on that cheerful note I’ll toddle off to bed. I nearly asked the kids if they wanted to sleep in the bedroom with me but I figure that will only cause more harm than good in the long run; best to maintain normalcy as much as possible when we can. I’m a big girl. I just wish I didn’t feel like crying myself to sleep.

Day 124 (Saturday)

Don’t feel like writing much today. We’ve lost radio communication with the guys. Matlock doesn’t believe it is on our end because we’ve checked it using the remaining radios we have around Sanctuary, even going so far as to take the F350 and drive up to the county line to check for distance. All we know for certain is that they made it off of the Interstate, through Newberry, and as far as the outskirts of Trenton and made much better time than they had the previous day.

If they made it to Trenton they were only about 30 minutes from my parents’ place. I’m scared. Did Scott go out of his way only to meet with catastrophe when he tried to check on my family? Did something else happen? My stomach was so full of acid that I couldn’t even eat dinner. I think I avoided anyone noticing though as I stayed by the cooking pots then sat down and fed Kitty and then helped to clean up. No one said anything thank goodness. That would have made things worse. As it was all anyone seemed to be able to talk about was a conjecture on what had happened.

I spent most of the day baking and working in the garden. I pulled the last few vines that were give out and tossed them on the compost piles and then raked away the leaves where I want to plant another garden patch. I also helped Becky clear out some dead and dying bushes from around her house so that she can plant some flower seeds and herbs plants.

The kids finished up a few of the household chores that hadn't been finished last night and then started pulling Christmas decorations out of the attic. I told them they couldn’t start decorating until tomorrow and I had to deal with some pouting all evening. I almost lost my cool until David and James came in and told them to knock it off and give me a break or they’d have to wait another week to decorate. I know they meant well, but honestly that made me feel worse. If something has happened to Scott how am I supposed to make the kids mind me? Scratch that thought. Totally unthink that thought. Nothing has happened to Scott. He’ll be home soon and life will go on the way it always has. That's just got to be the way it turns out.

Ugh. I know I sound like a wuss in this journal but truthfully this is the only place I can let those feelings all hang out. I have to keep a stiff upper lip out and public and here in the house I can't break down where the kids will see me. Not even my bedroom is a safe zone right now because the kids keep barging in and out asking questions. Its only now, after everyone has gone to bed or gone on guard duty that I can let my own guard down.

We found a couple of more places around the Wall where some digging has taken place. One was over near the little bit of chain link fence that we have left. Luckily we had buried cast iron fence rails in the ground. There isn’t any digging through that and since they go roughly five feet into the ground and are seated in concreted your average person isn’t going to be able to tunnel under them either and an animal wouldn’t bother. And with the bars and barbed wire we have woven in the fence itself, simply cutting the fence with bolt cutters isn't possible either.

We noticed that there were a few places that looked like whoever had tried to dig a hole and then filled it back in for some reason. We almost missed the hole that told us we had humans on our hands. Humans, not zombies and not animals. Whoever dug that hole covered up the opening with a piece of plywood and then covered the plywood with sand and oak leaves. It was so cleverly camouflaged that if David hadn’t stepped right on top of it we would never have known.

I never realized it but Matlock can be vicious. We caught a couple of rattlesnakes out in the retention area up near the road when the rain drove them out a couple of weeks ago. They are pretty big suckers too so Matlock wanted to keep them and eventually kill them and have rattlesnake something or other and he wanted to stretch the skin for a belt. He’d been feeding then mice waiting for them to get a little bigger in hopes of getting a belt for both him and Tom but he's found a better use for them. He irritated the snakes and then dumped them down into the hole and recovered it with the plywood, sand, and leaves.

Next the guys took some old wooden pallets we hadn’t broken down yet and stacked about five of them at the top of the Wall right over that hole. Cease and David were going to put the dogs on leashes and spend most of the night walking Butch and Sundance back and forth in that area. When and if the dogs sense that someone was on the other side of the Wall again James, who was going to be up in the nearest guard tower, was going to run and tip the pallets over onto whoever was below.

That means we had two chances to catch the perpetrator(s). Either they could get snake bit or they could get hit by the pallets. If that doesn’t work tonight then we’ll have to think of something else.

Maybe I’ll just sit here tonight and wait to see if we are needed on the Wall. Maybe sitting on the porch and focusing on something else I’ll be able to let go of the gnawing worry that is eating at my gut.

Day 125 (Rest Day … supposedly)

I’m so wound up I don’t know where to start. What’s that old saying? Something like I’m so fired up I could chew horseshoes and spit nails.

First off there’s been no news from the men. I’m trying really hard to have faith; have faith in my Faith and have faith in Scott. I’m the one that is weak. Didn’t Scott have to have a certain amount of faith in me so that he could leave? I keep telling myself that when I start getting wound up. Over and over I keep telling myself that.

I didn’t come unglued when Scott and James were out of contact for two weeks at a time, first at the Northern Tier where they canoed nearly 100 miles up in the border country between Minnesota and the Canadian border and then later when they went to Philmont Boy Scout Reservation in New Mexico and hiked nearly 75 miles. I admit to worrying a little bit when the two of them when to Costa Rica to go fishing and hiking but it was more about the planes they would be on than anything else.

But there is one major difference between then and now. Zombies. God-cursed, rank, decomposing, NRS-infected, walking corpses. Argh!

I know I’m being somewhat unreasonable. The world has changed and I need to change with it. Intellectually I know that. However emotionally I haven’t even started to throw the tantrum I’m capable of. And all the while I’m having to smile, be polite, nod my head and listen to people’s praises about how strong I must be, what a good example I’m setting … blah, blah, freaking blah.

I know I shouldn’t be so nasty. They mean well and I’m well aware of that fact. I would never tell them that their platitudes are getting on my last nerve, that the pats on my back weigh me down rather than bolster me up ... and make me feel guilty for my true feelings. I actually read somewhere that many people that give comfort are actually most often in need of it themselves. It’s one of those philosophical contradictions you learn as you grow older and wiser. Right now I feel about a hundred years old so I should be plenty wise. Not!

The other thing I’m completely PO’d about is that you can’t really help anyone these days. OK, so maybe there’s some but the number is limited to a small and select group. We took those people in and this is how they repay us. Again, I have to admit not all of them, but apparently quite a few of them.

Last night about one o’clock AM the dogs set up a fearful racket right over where we found and booby trapped that hole. James tripped the rope that allowed the pallets to fall. The snakes got one man, the pallets took out two and the resulting racket drew a crowd of zombies who took out several more.

At first light Matlock, Cease, and David, with help from guards on that side of the Wall, rescued two fools who had gotten treed by around three dozen of the NRS infected corpses. It took Matlock a while to calm them down and then interrogate the SOBs to get the whole story out of them.

Supposedly the same day the Hale Hollow refugees returned home the in-fighting and grasping for power started right back up again. Apparently they hadn’t learned anything from their previous tribulations. A few days later several families had simply had enough; Colonel Byrd’s family and Greg from the former New Geraci group were among them. They loaded a few vehicles and headed north on US41 to start over some place else.

Those who remained developed a deep-seated envy of us here in Sanctuary. They ranted about how unfairly and uncharitably we had treated them. Then the ingrates decided that if we wouldn’t give them what they “deserved” they would teach us a lesson and take what they wanted by force. The plan was to tunnel in and bring enough firepower to surprise and overwhelm our guards.

The scary thing is that though they failed miserably they could just as easily have succeeded. Had they thought to try and bury explosives at the edge of the Wall they could have succeeded horrifically. We’re going to have to design and implement additional fortifications; possibly a skin of telephone poles on the outside of the Wall. The other thing I heard someone mention was a moat but being from this area all a moat brings to mind are mosquitoes, gators, and moccasins … all of which we would get stuck dealing with 24/7 just on the off-chance they prevent raids. A moat could also soften the ground under the Wall and eventually cause a collapse.

We don’t have a jail, haven’t needed one. Plus keeping those two would have been more trouble than it was worth, not to mention a drain on our resources. Matlock, however, was no longer in the mood to be lenient. Truth is he was terribly furious in a way I’ve never seen before, not even in the early days of the zombie hordes. He normally uses humor to relieve everyone's stress, not this time. I swear you could see steam rising off of him he was so hot.

First the two men were forced to do all the body clean up; from digging the grave pit to scraping up all the bodies and spare parts the zombies hadn’t eaten to refilling the pit with dirt and replacing the sod over it. Then they had to throw down winter rye seed on top of that which would eventually provide fodder for our animals allowing us to get something good from the bad.

Then the two men were bound and gagged, tied on the end of the tow truck’s rear clamp and unceremoniously hauled back to Hale Hollow like worms on the end of a hook. I was shocked to learn from David that Matlock broke each man’s arm before dumping them at the gates. He then went even further. Using some of his homemade “grenades” – really, just oversized and juiced up fireworks – he busted several large gaps into the wall surround that community.

At dinner that night Matlock stood up and explained what he had done and why he had done it. The people left up there in Hale Hollow would either have to spend their time more constructively repairing and refortifying their community or they would have to move on if they wanted to survive.

There was stunned silence for a moment until Jack said, “Well, if we’re taking a vote, I vote they move on. Those kinds of neighbors we don’t need. You think we can give it a week and then go check?”

And just like that the discussion moved on to the fact that Jim thought one of the heifers might be pregnant and the kids asking if anyone wanted to make homemade Christmas ornaments during lessons tomorrow.

Matlock took a second to come to grips with the fact no one blamed him for his actions and I watched him play with his dessert rather than eat it before splitting it between Tom and Jenny. I guess he expected some kind of ruckus and was confused when he didn’t get one.

I had guard duty right after I put the kids to bed, leaving them in the care of Rose and Melody. I watched Matlock walk the Wall a few times, backlit by one of those smelly little cigars he smokes once in a while. He finally climbed up to my perch and said, “This is how tyrants are made.”

I replied, “No. This is how a good leader takes on the personal responsibility for the security of those he leads. You didn’t ask anyone else to do it. You did it. And you were willing to take the consequences for actions you chose and the punishment you met out.”

“Maybe. But did I do it to be a leader or did I do it because those turds pissed me off?”

I shrugged, “The question you need to ask yourself then is whether you got mad because it was a personal affront or whether you were angry because those men put all of Sanctuary at risk, including our children.”

However he answered himself, he seemed to at least come to some kind of acceptance and it seemed to ease his mind.

The rest of my watch was uneventful and I looked up at the stars praying that Scott and the other men were some place safe watching the same stars.

And now here I sit, finally calming down after having yet again written things out of my system. I may not sleep well but at least now I can sleep. I’ll sleep and dream Scott’s home and maybe tomorrow that dream will come true.


Day 126

No news. Haven’t the heart to write more.

Day 127

Thank God! Oh, thank God!! We’ve heard from them. They are all OK. The signal was very weak but there was no mistaking it was them.

The details are sketchy. They are working on radio repairs. They are in Chiefland just about to come south on US19.

They have picked up a few people and are travelling as a convoy. Scott asked me to please not cry but none of the new people are my family. He would tell me more, privately, when he got home. Of course I cried anyway. Several times. But it’s a confirmation of what I’ve known in my heart all along.

No more tonight. My heart is too full. Both of happiness and of sorrow.

Day 128 (Water Day)

We know a little more today though we won’t get a full report until they’ve made it home.

In Trenton they ran into a road block run by people professing to be acting under Devine direction. Basically zealots had developed within the ranks of the town’s survivors and they eventually gained majority control and took over the running of things. They were operating a toll booth at the intersection of CR26, CR47, and US129 and became angry when rather than paying the toll our men tried to turn around and take the back roads. Some shots were fired but after both groups turned their energies to eradicating a small horde of zombies that had arrived on the scene, a truce was called. After an exchange of information our group got the dubious distinction of being called “Sovereign Agents Protected by Grace.” After promising to keep the little SAPG signs on the dashboards of the vehicles our men were allowed to pass.

From there they made it to my parents’ place where they stayed the night. They stayed the next day and night there as well though they didn’t share why, at least not in my hearing. The next day they picked up the family group. They had to pass back through Trenton only to find that something had happened at the roadblock. The few survivors of the original roadblock gave the now larger convoy no trouble and they passed through without stopping except to pick up a young woman who’s about five months pregnant. The old community leaders had turned her out ‘cause she was unmarried and the members of her family that had supported her had all been killed by zombies or raiders.

They overnighted at an abandoned dairy farm just outside town where one the new families, farmers in their previous life, suggested they load some of the dairy cattle and hay into a trailer and bring it back to Sanctuary.

The next day they didn’t get very far either after meeting up with a small band of survivors in Chiefland. Our group was hosted for the evening in exchange for news and for having Juicer eradicate a persistent horde of zombies that seemed to wander back and forth between Fanning Springs and Chiefland every few days.

This morning they picked up US19 and finally started heading south towards home!! The problem is that US19 is a mess, but thankfully even in the worst locations they were able to detour through parking lots and medians to escape complete road blockages without having to do any major backtracking.

They made it across CR24 at Otter Creek and passed Yankeetown and Inglis before having to stop for the night in Crystal River at CR44.

Tomorrow their route takes them closer to the coastline and in that area the roads are more narrow with fewer right of ways they can utilize to bypass backups. They hope to get as far as New Port Richey which would mean that they could be home the day after that! Two days. Surely I can stand it for two more days.

I tried to keep myself busy and pass the time between call-ins and additional information but it wasn’t easy. Today was Water Day but with no rain for over a week there wasn’t that much to do. Our potable water storage is still in fine fiddle from all that rain we had a couple of weeks ago. No problems with our non-potable water either, especially now that we’ve completely changed over to the port-o-potty system.

Instead of wasting my time on the water teams I spent extra time in the garden. I planted beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage (regular and Chinese), carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsley, English peas, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. Basically the main crops are cool season greens. I planted just about all the seeds I have for those things. I’m afraid to let the seeds get too old or they might not germinate. Also, where possible, I’m planting heirloom varieties. Becky is pretty good with helping in the garden. I was wondering if as the wife of one of our community leaders she would look to having other responsibilities but so far she’s being really cool and not acting any different than she did before. That's a relief to be honest.

December I won’t harvest too many fresh veggies which means we are going to have to dig further into our stockpile of canned goods and dried foods. What I won’t harvest in vegetables I should be able to more than make up for it in fruits. I pulled the first bushel of navel oranges and boy were they delicious. I’m saving citrus seeds as well as everything else I can lay hands on. I hope the seeds germinate and then grow true but I’m not real sure. It’d be nice to enlarge the grove or at the very least replace any trees that die over time. There are lots of individual citrus trees around the community but most of the groves were bulldozed during the building craze of the ’06 and ’07.

I’ve already candied a big batch of orange peel and lemon peel. I’ll give the kids a piece after it’s had to time age and set up a bit.

I’ve also continued to pull fruit from the native grove: velvet apples, black sapote, avocados, canistels, and ambarellas. I got another small bag of macadamias and the first of the Tropical Apricots are ripe as well. The tropical apricots I made into a batch of jam.

And being the busy little bee that I’ve tried to be today I also did something that drew a crowd off and on. Jim and Jerry especially kept dropping by because they, along with Angus, want to build a still so they can make corn liquor or maybe a version of moonshine rum from sugar cane. I know we’ve all talked about going up to that small vineyard and winery off of SR52, I think it was called Florida Estates, and then there was a winery off of Little Road called Empire. Florida Estates would be closer because it is in Land O’ Lakes. Empire is all the way out in New Port Richey. The guys want to pick up barrels and casks, bottling equipment, and vines to plant their own vineyard. I wish them better luck than what I’ve had over the years. Angus specifically mentioned the microbreweries over in Ybor City too for some of the same reasons. And now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind having a few of those bottles and corks myself and you’ll see why in a second.

What I did isn’t quite so involved as a still. I start with an end-product. Today I made liqueurs. Another day when I have time I’ll make cordials and shrubs. The cordials are alcoholic like the liqueurs but the shrubs are not. The good thing about the liqueurs and cordials is that I start with cheap vodka, cognac, rum, or gin. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the really, really cheap stuff either because the sugar and other ingredients mellow and smooth it out.

For instance the first one I made was an orange-flavored liqueur. First I took the juice and peel from four oranges. I cut the peel into strips and added just enough water to the juice to make a whole two cups of liquid. I put the juice, peel, and two cups of sugar into a saucepan and brought it to a boil and then turned the heat down and simmered it for five minutes. After that I took it off the burner and let it cool. While that mixture was cooling I cleaned and scalded a half-gallon jar with a screw top lid. When everything was cool, I poured the juice into the jar and then added two cups of vodka (could have used rum for this one as well for a tropical flavor). Then I screwed on the lid, sloshed it around to mix it well, then set the jar aside to be left alone for three or four weeks at room temperature. When that time is up I’ll strain it and bottle it.

Before … before NRS I mean … I made this stuff as gifts; either in bottle form or I’d make liqueur flavored cakes or chocolates. I’m not sure what I’m doing this time. It just felt right to be doing it for some weird reason. No one seemed to object to me using our liquor supplies. I’m actually growing the supplies if you think about it. I turned two cups of rot-gut vodka into five cups of smooth liqueur. Now if I was using the expensive stuff someone might have squeaked but I don't know. I'm about as close to a teetotler as we have here in Sanctuary but even I'm not averse to having a sip every now again under certain circumstances. On the other hand none of us appear to be overly enamored of liquor and we really don't have the luxury of taking the chance on being rolled up in case there is an emergency. We all celebrated Matlock and Becky's wedding with a toast but we wound up pouring the last of the second bottle into a sauce for some poached pears and cooking it down.

I made several other batches of liqueurs. Let’s see … orange and coffee bean liqueur, plain coffee liqueur, chocolate and chocolate mint liqueurs, ginger liqueur, cinnamon liqueur, and then some like peppermint, spicy herbal, allspice, and vanilla-pecan. Last thing I made required both vodka and brandy. I made a couple bottles of homemade amaretto. I mostly did it so I could have it for baking but Muriel said that she and Jerry normally have a cup of amaretto-laced coffee on Christmas Eve for dessert and was grateful that I cared enough to do this for them. Traditions can be good. We’ll try and keep some of the old ones and make a few new ones too.

I guess you can tell I’m more hopeful, believing that there is a future. Just hearing Scott’s voice yesterday lifted my spirits beyond measure. I know when he gets home I’m not going to like the entire story but I’ll have him home. I dreamed last night that my parents drove in the gates with him and I really cried hard when I woke up and realized that a dream was all it was. All of that emotion I’ve been putting off is going to have to be dealt with but not until I’m ready to. At least I hope I get to pick the date and time I take it out and shake it up to see what falls out. I’ve had enough surprises for a while.

I’m so anxious for Scott to get home I’m having a hard time falling asleep but the bed is where I need to go. Oh wait, looks like I get a reprieve. Kitty is awake and letting me know she is wet and hungry. Who would have thought I would have ever been grateful for that kind of distraction in the wee hours of the night.

Day 129 (Thursday)

They aren’t going to make it home tomorrow after all. I’m upset but at least they are closer. OK. So I came home, closed the bedroom door and cried so no one would see just how upset I was, but at least they are closer.

Because they are traveling convoy style it is taking them longer to get on the road in the morning and longer to travel any distance. It’s one family in particular that is problematic, not out of intent to be a problem but because they have a special needs adult child that is having a lot of trouble adjusting to the world we now live in. This morning they also had to deal with zombies, cows, and bears … oh my!

They woke up to the sound of the cows being hysterical. There was a large bear trying to get into the cattle trailer. It looked like a Kodiak according to McElroy and Scott said it probably came from the Silver Springs bear exhibit. Luckily the stupid thing was just curious and not hungry. The zombies that came due to all the racket the cows and people made were another matter. They were very hungry and freaked the cows out even more. After dealing with the zombies it was decided they needed tarps to keep the cows from seeing out of the trailer which of course took time to find and attach.

After they finally got on the road from Crystal River they started having more and more traffic problems to deal with. Homosassa wasn’t too bad but trying to get through the US19/US98 intersection was a nightmare. They stopped for a late lunch/early dinner and raided some of the businesses on either side of the road, not that there was much untouched after so long. The area looked like it had seen a great deal of looting, but looting with a purpose. You could see where some businesses had been selectively picked over vs. those that had been ransacked indiscriminately. They still haven’t seen any more survivors but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. They are also continuing to post the flyers with the radio frequency on it though we haven’t heard any calls.

From that point they did OK but because of road conditions and the need to make camp before dark they didn’t get any further than Weeki Watchee that is at the intersection of US19 and SR50. I can’t say I’m not disappointed because I am … badly. But they are still progressing and that’s more than I knew not that many days ago.

Today hasn’t been as hectic as yesterday though I’ve worked my buns off. Today is the day of the week we normally focus on food. It was a little on the cool side this morning but I still worked in the garden, picked enough oranges to provide everyone with all the orange juice they could drink and managed to have enough leftover to can 14 quarts of juice for later use. I also canned some orange segments in light syrup. The acid was really starting to eat my fingers up from trying to juice everything by hand when Jim noticed. He got David to help him move one of those bicycle generators over to the kitchen area. If everyone just takes a little ride we are able to keep enough batteries charged that I can use an electric juicer instead of an old manual one. It’s better at getting the juice out AND it saves on the wear and tear of my cuticles.

We pulled the first couple of heads of cabbage today and made slaw to go with dinner tonight. I made salmon croquettes and hush puppies and the slaw went with it perfectly. I’ll cut some collards tomorrow and we’ll have a mess of greens with cornbread for lunch. For tomorrow I think I’ll be able to fix huckleberries with dumplings for dessert, we’ll have to see. If not tomorrow night the night after that.

I added another layer of pine straw on a couple of pathways in the garden because the ground looks like it is trying to compact too much. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to make sand better on its own, that’s why I’m desperate for my compost piles to work. I think James knew more about my state of mind than he has been letting on. He’s the most like Scott of all the kids and yet there is a whole dipper full of me in there too. He surprised me this morning with a new composting gadget modeled after one I had been drooling over for a couple of years. It’s a barrel composter. You put the stuff you want to compost in the barrel and then you rotate the barrel five turns a day and at the end of two weeks you are supposed to have compost ready to use. I had a friend who had one and she said that you could over stuff the barrel and you had to make sure you had a good mix of stuff in there but it did work. Sometimes it took closer to three weeks than two but what the heck, that’s still better than taking months. I’ve already started a load of compost and I can’t wait to see if it will work. If it does I’ll see if he can help me make several of these things so that I can get them all going on a cycle and maybe have fresh compost on a weekly basis for side dressing the gardens. I have really got to add organic material to these sandy garden beds if I want them to produce more than a season or two.

Strange to think that compost made me happy. It’s one of those bizarre kinds of things that has changed. It used to be candy and flowers a girl wanted (diamonds for those that were a little more sophisticated) but not these days. I saw Tina go all misty-eyed over wool socks and I thought Becky was going to squeeze the breath out of Matlock when he brought her a can of WD40.

It was really more that James took the time to do something that he knew specifically would make me feel better that means so much to me. I tried not to be too mushy about it but I couldn't help but tear up a bit. Nearly grown man that he is he teared up as well and said he was sorry about Memaw and Pawpaw (his grandparents). I can’t think or say more until I hear what Scott has to say but if the worst is truly realized I think it might be a good thing to have a little memorial service just amongst our family; something that will close that chapter of our grief and give us a chance to continue on less painfully. Sometimes I miss my mom and dad so much that I can’t breathe and then sometimes it’s like they’re just on a trip and I’ll see them again real soon.

I know I’m not the only one that has to feel some grief at the losses we’ve all experienced. I can’t be the only one; but the few times I’ve tried to bring the subject up I’ve been met with blank stares or an abrupt change of subject. Maybe the losses are just too big to take in yet. Maybe most of us are still just in survival mode and there isn’t room for anything else.

It’s not that I want to intrude on other people’s grief or slam through the grieving process myself, but it’s important. And I want the kids to know it’s OK to feel loss but I also want them to know how to deal with those feelings constructively. I don’t want to see the next generation grow up with the inability to build deep relationships because they are too afraid to feel deep loss.

Speaking of loss, Patricia is on complete bed rest until further notice; a week at a bare minimum. She was sitting, talking just fine one moment and the next she was out cold on the ground. We put her on a stretcher and rushed her over to Waleski and Rachel. She was gray-faced and her blood pressure was way down. Apparently she was spotting a little bit too but that has stopped. She’s nearly 15 weeks pregnant so if she miscarries it will be a big deal physically for her. That doesn't even begin to cover the emotional ramifications.

Rachel said she may be anemic so they’ve upped her iron intake and I’m going to look in some of my herbals and see if I can’t find a tea or broth to help. For now she will remain at the hospital and Melody and Rose are splitting shifts over there since Rachel and Waleski are needed as guards. Samuel is sleeping at our place for a while. Jack’s very concerned and spent quite a bit of time with Samuel tonight actually asking him if he minded him visiting his mother. I think Jack is trying to handle things the right way which is encouraging.

I talked with Patricia myself and she said despite what happened today she is feeling better and more hopeful about the future and the baby. That’s a good sign I think. And she looks … happy. Yeah, I think that’s what it is. She and Jack both look happy and like they’ve had some burdens lifted from them. I know they are both fresh out of other relationships and that this is awful quick to be plowing into something serious, but I hope it works out. It seems to be good for both of them.

I miss Scott. He thought I could be a busy body and a little nosy … both true though I try to keep it reigned in … but he would humor me and talk to me and understand that I didn’t mean any harm by it. I don’t have anyone else I can talk to like that; no one to share with. Talking to any of the women is out because it could be misconstrued as gossiping or favoritism and create hard feelings. Talking to any of the other men wouldn’t be appropriate in my opinion … even if any of them were inclined to listen to my jibber jabber. Oh I just miss my man and I want him back home so badly; back home where he belongs. Let the others go gallivanting where they will, when they will. I hope Scott keeps his travelling to a minimum. Fair or not, that’s how I feel.

Oh geez. I’m falling asleep as I try and write. I’ll finish this tomorrow or I’m likely to wake up in the morning face down in a pool of my own drool.

Day 130 (Friday)

Argh!! Dammit, dammit, dammit! They won’t be home tomorrow. This is torture!!! It’s for a good reason but I am getting really down right perturbed, and that’s being polite about it.

They had another slow start from Weeki Wachee. One of their vehicles died which meant finding another that ran, unloading, reloading, and then transferring the fuel. It wasn’t Juicer or the Avalanche is all I know for sure. They almost decided to take SR50 to Brooksville and come home that way but in the end the continued south.

First they hit Hudson and then Bayonet Point right on the coast at the tip end of SR52. Travelling had become a little easier since US19 had finally widened up but it also meant that there were more cars to swerve around. They passed Port Richey and had just pulled into New Port Richey when they spotted a group of men and women fending off a small horde of zombies. Juicer went to work and got the mess of infecteds down to a manageable size so that the other group could extricate their vehicles and do their own share of the clean up.

The new group is based out of Tarpon Springs and holds the whole wharf area there, defending it against zombies, pirates, and land raiders alike. They are interested in building a trade relationship with Sanctuary and our convoy has been invited to stay the night. Under the circumstances it would have been rude to not accept.

They’ll be there most of tomorrow if not a second night and then backtrack to Elfers to catch SR54 all the way to US41 and then it’ll be a straight shot home. That means that they should be home on Sunday. I swear I’ll be lucky to have any color left in my hair by the time they get home.

Patricia is doing better. Her blood pressure has stabilized and she’s managed to keep more food down. I hadn’t realized she still had morning sickness so bad. Not putting on enough weight probably hasn’t helped her health. She’s staying better hydrated and that is helping as well.

Regardless, even if she gets off of bed rest, she is out of the major chore cycles. No guard duty certainly because no stairs. No laundry duty because no heavy lifting. No garden duty for similar reasons. She might be able to help Dante’ and Hank some with clerical work but again maybe not because no heavy lifting or bending up and down. But I did think of something and that’s helping Brandon catalog the books in the library. I don’t know, we’ll have to see how things progress.

Today was cleaning day yet again. Didn’t really get too much of that done beyond the basics because when the kids decorated for the holidays they went whole hog. It looks like the Spirit of Christmas spewed all over the house. I don’t begrudge them but it’s surreal to be outside living our current day-to-day lives of self-reliance and zombies and then to come inside to something that mimics our previous life so closely that it is almost painful. It makes me miss my family all the more.

But there is no going back. Some of the things we do mimic our previous lives, but imitation is all it is. We have to find a way to go forward dragging some of our traditions with us, but we also need to forge new ways of doing things and create new traditions that better serve and suit our new lives.

I felt at such loose ends by lunch time that I went on one of the Gathering Runs, something I hadn’t done all week. As a community we haven’t really been focused on the runs as much as we once were. Whereas before we took anything and everything, now the runs are more focused. Sanctuary’s storehouses are full to overflowing and we are still playing catch to get everything inventoried and put away.

Now there is talk that each individual household should stock up on food and supplies just in case of emergency. All agreed that those “personal” supplies would be voluntarily donated back to the community should the need arise, but I’m thinking that this might be a way to eventually cut back on one of the meals served in the dining hall or at least cut out one or two meals a week. Again, it’s not a matter of begrudging working for a group purpose or benefit but every once in a while I miss the feeling of a quiet family meal. The meals we eat now remind me of a college cafeteria or a noisy buffet restaurant; fun and entertaining most of the time but irritating if that’s the only option and you aren't in the mood.

Privacy is a rare commodity these days. We’re slowly getting a few opportunities to experience it which I feel is healthier than the way we have been living. On a personal level I really dislike living in a fishbowl. I know that’s a contradiction since I seem to get so much out of people watching but I try and give people their privacy if I’m aware that I’m invading their space too much. The problem is that humans are gregarious and social by nature. There are only a limited number of people here in Sanctuary. By necessity we have to work closely together and by necessity we all need to get along together almost constantly. There are just some moments when I don’t feel like getting along, I don’t feel like totting the party line, when I just want everyone to leave me alone. This must be how Angus feels. I know Scott gets like this and he and I have both used his shed for a little bit of “me and me alone” time.

Maybe the addition of the new people will help with this and maybe it won’t. I don’t think Matlock would have invited them into our community if there wasn’t a significant chance that it could work out. Even if he had made some boneheaded choice, the other three men would have called him on it. Kind of a leadership with checks and balances. All I know is that we are being asked to prepare for four families; we don’t even know their size or make up yet because they don’t want to put too much information out over the airwaves. What we do know is that two of the four family groups are actually close extensions of the same family. That could mean same family different generations or maybe sibling groups, but again we won’t really know until they roll up and everyone gets introduced.

I hope they have a decent number of adults or older teens that can help with the additional work load. Losing … temporarily … four adult males from the work roster is taking its toll. Cease came down with a bad cold today due to having to work nightshift on the Wall for longer hours on the cool nights we are having. James also sounds like he is getting congested. If he gets it you can bet its likely to run like wildfire through our home which could mean that David and Rose, and maybe Samuel too, catch it taking two or three more people out of the work rosters.

I’m going to take James’ evening shift on the Wall tomorrow and James is going to fill in for Cease’s daytime shift assuming he isn’t hacking up a lung by then. My shift will run from four to ten o’clock PM. I’ll be up in my favorite NW tower and Matlock has said that as long as I’m OK up there by myself, during the daylight hours it would be alright to bring up some of my other work with me. Using the dogs was so successful the other night that he has some of the younger boys scheduled to walk the dogs from 6 pm to 8 pm and then the remaining nightshift will be split between him and whoever else is still available.

And since I’m going to be up so late tomorrow … this time on duty rather than due to insomnia … I’m going to head off to bed right now.

The men will be home day after tomorrow … I just keep telling myself that.

Day 131 (Saturday)

Ugh, this is brutal. We lost contact with the men mid-morning. It was in the middle of a nice, calm transmission so there’s no reason to think there’s any problem. They were down to one patched up radio so maybe the patch failed. The altercation in Trenton damaged both radios or the antennas or something so maybe it’s just a result of that. We don’t know for sure.

Now we don’t know when they are coming in tomorrow. We didn’t even get a confirmation that they definitely would be coming in tomorrow.

The day didn’t get any better after that either. I nearly got in a brawl with Rachel. I don’t know what her problem is all of a sudden, but let me tell you I nearly blew a gasket. I wound up losing all patience with her. I’m not the only one she managed antagonize either.

I admit I was upset and let my frustration show on my face and by groaning. It wasn’t directed at anyone. I wasn’t even talking to anyone when I did it. It was mostly just me being a little dramatic to vent some steam and wasn’t really anything more than a groan and me slamming my fist down on the table when I realized what had happened. Well Rachel, who had been standing there during the transmission, turned to me after my little outburst and said thoughtlessly, “You need to get ahold of yourself. This is just the way things are.”

OK, so maybe she didn’t mean it to be hurtful or sound like an unfeeling wench … but that’s exactly how she made me feel; like my emotional response to the situation was uncalled for and invalid.

At the best of times my temper can catch me off guard so I have to really pay attention and consciously work at controlling it. I’m not explosive most of the time but I can burn low and cold and keep it to myself until I snap and flair up at whoever happens to have set me off. But this wasn’t the best of times and I wasn’t at my personal best either. It took everything I had not to blow my stack. I’ve been keeping my fears to myself and no one really knows how upset I’ve been. I’ve played the good girl … the good little soldier. I was and am prepared to continue playing that role by my own choice; but no one is going to dictate to me how I feel on the inside.

She wouldn’t stop though. “Did you hear what I told you?”

In a controlled voiced I told her, “Rachel, I suggest you leave me alone.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said leave … me … alone. Your advice isn’t helping.”

After telling Matlock, and Waleski who was also there, where I was going to be and to please let me know if radio contact was re-established I went to leave. “It wasn’t advice. I was telling you what you were going to do.”

That was it. After days of making myself sick with worry I just didn’t have the where with all to stop my own mouth. I turned around and looked her straight in the face and said, “You must have me confused with some other woman that thinks someone died and left you in control.”

Waleski just stood there with a “What the crap?” look on his face. Matlock stood up and started ushering me out of the radio shack and frankly I was letting him. I hadn’t completely lost it yet and was still capable of realizing a fight would not help the situation.

Then Rachel looked at Matlock and said, “Sir, are you going allow her to talk to a superior like that?”

Oh yeah, the estrogen started zinging in my veins. Now don’t get me wrong, I grew up in a military family and I have the utmost respect for those who serve or who have served at some point in their lives. Even more I have a great deal of respect for those of us in Sanctuary who were active duty military or National Guards called to active duty. But ... BUT … Sanctuary is not a military base. Nor was I drafted. And our central government has abandoned us to fend for ourselves until further notice. Where Rachel suddenly pulled the fact that she was in any way my superior I have no idea.

Waleski said, “Damn Ragosa.”

She responded, “And you’re another who is letting way too many things slide.”

Well, my politeness took flight at that point and I put her on notice real quick. “Rachel if you somehow imagine that you sleeping with Dixon in anyway makes you superior to me I suggest you take another look at that.”

Now Matlock and Waleski both had the “Oh crap” look on their faces.

She looked like I had just slapped her. “What the hell are you implying?”

“I’m not implying anything. You and Dixon had and have a private relationship going on. It was one that you both choose despite the fact that it began when he was supposed to already be in a committed relationship to someone else and there was and is a kid involved. If you think however … “

“You are way out of line lady.”

“My name is Sissy or Mrs. Chapman, take your pick. I’m proud of both. But if you think I’m currently in the mood to act like a lady where you are concerned you have oh so sadly misjudged this situation.”

This time it was Waleski that tried to usher me out and again I was willing to go simply because I really didn’t want to fight on top of being worried about Scott.

“I’m not done with her.”

Uh oh. Now she’d stepped in it with both Matlock and Waleski but if everyone was calling dibs on their place in line I was still first. I looked at Matlock and said, “I’d prefer to handle this myself please.”

Then I turned to Rachel. “I really don’t know what your problem is but if you need to have it out fine. You want to know why I’ll listen to Matlock, Waleski, and maybe just about everyone else right now, before I’d listen to you? It’s because Matt and Waleski proved themselves to me long before you came on the scene. Because they have my respect and continue to behave in ways that prove they’re due my respect. It has nothing to do with uniforms or rank. I grew up military and uniforms and ranks don’t impress me, it’s the people in the uniforms that do. Yes, I had a problem with the affair you had with Dix; but Patricia solved that by making a hard choice and by how she’s chosen to behave since then. I promised myself that I would never hold a grudge she wasn’t willing to hold. You … you and Dix … are the ones that seem to continue to have the problem.”

She opened her mouth on an angry retort but I continued and cut her off.

“If you miss Dix and are worried about him and disturbed and maybe a little angry that this run hasn’t gone as planned you have my understanding and empathy because that's how I feel with regard to Scott and this run. Frankly it’s been eating me alive and that small display of frustration you witnessed is nothing compared to how I really feel. On the other hand if you’re just PMSing and dealing with some other kind of issue then you need to understand one thing. The people … the government … that gave you that rank you seem to be so ever-loving fond of at the moment … well they are gone and may never be back. They left us here. They left you here. There is no structure that any longer gives you any right to command in this geographical area. All you have now is your own personal merits. It’s no longer what do we owe you because of some stripes on your arm. It’s what can you do for Sanctuary? What can you give? And how do you measure up on a day in and day out basis?”

Oh, she was furious all right. Maybe Dixon wasn’t the only one having trouble dealing with the MacDill evacuation and what it represented. “You little … “

Matlock stepped in and said, “Ragosa, you better rethink whatever is about to come out of your mouth. We are a small group. Even if you don’t agree with anything else Sissy says she is right about the fact that things are different. We don’t lead based on the authority we used to have. The only authority we now have is that given to us by the people living here in Sanctuary. Your attitude about that is going to have to adjust. Even Dixon has been coming to realize that and I know that his new understanding of the situation is one of the problems you two are having.”

I think Matlock saying that out loud was his way of giving me a clue to tread lightly, that there were other things going on that I wasn’t aware of.

With absolute conviction Rachel stated, “They’ll be back and the USA still stands.”

I said, “I want to believe that and I know that part of it still does but you don’t really think that the government still exists in the format it did six months ago do you? The population of this country is less than half what it was and probably a good deal less than that. Maybe less than a quarter that it was, maybe a tenth or less. All of the large population centers have been decimated by NRS. That would shrink the size of the government, not leave it the same size it was. And what are they going to use to pay their bills which include your military salary with? Their looks? The industrial centers are gone. Tax income will be nonexistent for years. Paper money means nothing anymore. Neither do precious metals or gems. You can’t eat them or plant them and they are of no practical use for protection against the zombies. However things used to be … they’ve changed. Things have changed permanently. They are not going to go back to the way they were before. I may not like it but there it is in a nutshell. And, we are just going to have to be flexible enough to live with that; on a social level and on a personal level.”

It was like trying to reason with a brick wall. She crossed her arms and attempted to stare me down which was stupid. I dealt with teens and tweens on a daily basis. I have a black belt in the stare down technique.

“Look, as a medic I have the utmost faith in your abilities. Even when you’ve lost patients you’ve still gone above and beyond to do more for them than anyone could have expected based on your level of training. I give you a lot of respect for that and I would bring my kids to you any day of the week without hesitation. Scott and I even have placed Rose’s apprenticeship and education in your hands because we think it is the right thing to do. But don’t talk to me about how I should or should not comport myself when it comes to my husband. On that particular subject you don’t have good standing with me. If it was just my general behavior you had a problem with fine but let me tell you about this from my stand point. I was in a room with three other people that I thought would understand and forgive the fact that my feelings and concern for Scott would make me emotional. I was not out in the middle of the three dozen other residents of Sanctuary doing this. If that had been the case I would have chosen to go off by myself to express my emotions. You don’t need to tell me how to act or how to feel. And quite frankly, it’s a waste of your time and mine to try because I will never give up that autonomy that I have an inalienable right to. I'll take suggestions. I won't be dictated to.”

I walked out on my own that time, afraid if I didn’t I would eventually say something way on the other side of stupid.

It took me until lunch time to get rid of the adrenaline shakes. Strange thing was I was hungry when by rights I probably should have been sick to my stomach over everything. I’m just glad I didn’t have lunch or dinner detail today. I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then hoofed it away from everyone. I haven’t seen Rachel since this morning but did have Matlock and Waleski look me up out in the orange grove where I was pulling oranges; first Waleski who said everything and nothing and left and then Matlock.

They were both trying to see whether I was still angry I think. Thankfully they didn’t try to defend Rachel. On the other hand they didn’t say anything against her either. I told them that I was fine, that I was not going to go around picking any fights, nor was I going to go around gossiping about what transpired. I told them, “My fights are my fights. I don’t expect other people to fight them for me. I understand your concerns and part of me shares those same concerns. I just hope you are making sure that she isn’t stooping to those lows either. “

Matlock sighed and said, “Sissy don’t take this so hard. I have a responsibility to everyone here in Sanctuary. If you and Rachel can’t get along there could be serious consequences.”

“And that’s why you are in the position you’re in and why Scott and I respect you; you don’t just take things for granted. Really Matt, I’m not spoiling for a fight though Rachel hasn’t made this any easier for either of us. I’m not the one that had the affair and while it may not have been my business in a technical sense in another way it sure as heck was. I’m raising kids under difficult enough circumstances. Dixon is considered one of the leaders of this very small community. Rachel has a lot of standing as well because she is one of our medics. My kids see that and they are all young enough, even Rose and James, to be influenced by the behaviors they exhibit. They are accountable.”

“Come on Sissy, I’m not sure that had anything to do with what was going on. You're the one that brought it up.”

“Matt, I haven’t said anything, not even to Scott. because I thought it was just between Rachel and I but you have got to understand something. Before I found out about her and Dix Rachel and I were turning into really good friends. Their affair put me in a very difficult position when I stumbled upon them and they asked me not to say anything ‘til they worked things out. Patricia wasn’t very well at that point if you will recall and Samuel spent as much time at our house as any place else. I was afraid to even talk about it to Scott ‘cause he can be really funny about that stuff that could affect the kids. Then Patricia said she knew and Scott basically told me that everyone knew … call me a prude but yeah, I was confused and upset. In my opinion Rachel and Dix weren’t setting good examples. They weren’t living up to their positions of accountability. But I was willing to let it go after Patricia decided how she wanted to handle it. And now, in a really weird turn of events, Patricia and I are becoming friends. But because of that, and maybe because she and Dix aren't living happily-ever-after, Rachel has been acting really strange towards me. Not really hostile exactly … ok, yeah, hostile just the passive aggressive kind. I’ve not said anything and I’ve basically been letting everything slide because one, I don’t want things to be any harder here in Sanctuary than they already are; two, Patricia doesn’t need the stress because she could lose the baby and Samuel is like one of my own kids; three, Dixon, while maybe not someone I easily understand is still one of the accepted leaders here in Sanctuary and democracy is what it is; and last, because Rose is Rachel’s apprentice and I don’t want to mess that up. But I’m getting tired of pussy-footing around. I can’t continue to just let things slide. They aren’t getting better. In fact it’s just getting harder and more complicated from my standpoint.”

Sighing, “I didn’t know about the other stuff. Can you hold on a little longer? She and Dix aren’t working things out as easily as I guess they expected to. The military was just about their whole lives. Of everyone I’ve talked to about the pull-out they are taking the MacDill evacuation the hardest. The bit you pointed out about the central government is just that much more for them to take in. Their whole way of looking at life is being tested.”

“Matt I’m not going to go out and cause an intentional fight. You saw I was willing to walk away several times. She’s just intentionally pushing my buttons every time I turn around and right now that’s awful hard to take.”

Matlock raised one eyebrow and said, “Mother hen?”

“Smart aleck. Look, I know I should have experience with that kind of behavior. I expect that out of the kids, I didn’t expect it from a grown woman that I once could say without a doubt was a good friend. But … to the best of my ability … I will try to avoid any confrontations with Rachel. Is that good enough?”

He nodded and chuckled. He wasn’t making fun of me or belittling me. He’s just one of those people that try to use humor to defuse stressful situations. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time it kinda did.

I don’t know, maybe it’s time some of this whole mess gets aired out. I get tired of stepping around these new and different relationships that are forming in the wake of all the changes NRS has wrought. It started when I had to learn to be a different kind of mother to James. I was certainly better prepared to let Rose grow up than him. We’re square now but I still feel like I always have to be careful and I’m afraid that I’m somehow going to upset the apple cart. Scott and I have to change the way we do things as well. I know we’ll eventually work it out, we’ve always eventually worked things out, there’s just so much these days that gets in the way.

And all of this micro-sizing of things doesn’t help with privacy to do the working out in. Out of well over a million people in our county the only people we can say for sure are still alive is our small band of less than 50 people; less than one percent of the previous population. The odds are so stacked against us it’s not even funny.

But, “peoples are peoples.” We bring all of our human foibles with us no matter where we go or how many of us there are. I’ll try and work things out with Rachel but I can’t do it all myself. If she isn’t willing to do her share I’m not sure how much will get accomplished.

After I left the orange grove I took care of the kids, made James some tea and honey for his cough, and then got dressed to go on guard duty. And now here I sit up in this blasted cold guard tower watching the sun set; yet again wondering where Scott is and whether he is OK and when will he be home. And …

Gotta go ring the alarm bell, I heard some rumbling being carried this way on the wind and the spyglass shows something big coming down US41 but it’s too dark for me to see it clearly.

Day 132 (Sunday)

This has been a fantabulous day. It’s also been one that I wouldn’t relive for all the tea in China.

I got Scott back last night. I mean Scott got back last night. It turned out the “big thing” that was coming down US41 was our convoy. The fact that it was 8 vehicles all driving slowly and close together is what made it confusing from far off. We need a better set of binoculars in each guard tower.

It was nearly full dark by the time they got to the gates and then we had to figure out where everyone was going to park. The kids were absolutely crazy by that time. Scott couldn’t even get out of the cab of the semi he was driving before Johnnie, Bubby, and Sis were swarming all over him. Our other kids, regardless of their age, were just as bad but at least they let him get both feet on the ground. Even Sarah refused to be left behind. Scott picked her up and carried her back to our driveway which turned out to be the centralized meeting point. As they kept walking away all I could do was stare. The semi he was driving, at least the cab of it, was my brother's. I could tell because his name and independent trucking license # was stenciled on the side. James put his arm around me when he saw what I was looking at and pulled me over to join the crowd. Scott knew I had seen it but he shook his head. I had to wait to find out what it was all about.

It really was getting late for all of this and with no outdoor electric lights to speak of beyond those solar gardening lights we have strung up in various locations, we had to pull out all our batteries and plug in some of the halogen spots lights that we keep for emergencies or in case of night time raider problems. We all traipsed over to the dining hall because milling around was making it too difficult to get organized. Several of us heated water for coffee, tea, or cocoa while everyone else found a seat so that we could get the introductions out of the way.

You could tell the new people were nervous about sitting out in the open like we do but we assured them that the Wall had stood for months now and that it was impervious to zombie attacks. When one of the new kids asked whether “ragers” could get through the new adults became even more nervous. We did what we could to set them at ease but it’s just going to take some time. They’ve obviously all been through difficult experiences. After that we got down to business. First our four men were officially congratulated and welcomed back home. Next the twelve new residents of Sanctuary were introduced.

The patriarch of the clan is 70 year old Mr. Paul Morris, a widower of many years. With him will live his daughter in law Reba, herself a widow of nearly ten years. Reba’s children made up the rest of that household: Clay Jr. aged 19, Claire aged 18, Clark aged 15, and Callie aged 13.

The next household is headed by the 50 year old son of Mr. Morris. Kevin and his wife Betty have two children and one grandson with them. Rilla is 25 and worked as a substitute teacher when she wasn’t pursuing her degree in education. Her son Ty is two years old; the father of the boy – they never married – refused to leave Trenton and basically abandoned them “to the fate they had chosen.” Their son J. Paul is 20 and was home on leave from the Army for a couple of weeks before being deployed overseas. He was cut off from his unit that was still stationed along the Texas border when Florida was quarantined.

The last is a household of one. Rhonda is a spitfire pure and simple. I think I’m going to like her. She is twenty-two, single, and five months pregnant. She lost everything and then some and still refused to give up. She stood in the middle of the road to make Dixon stop and then managed to talk her way into a place in the convoy. She even drove a loaded down pick up truck herself the whole way here and asked for no special treatment. The baby’s father, away pursuing his doctorate degree when the New York City riots started, was a second cousin or something like that to Reba which is how our men met the other four families.

The Nicholson’s and Brady’s decided to remain in Tarpon Springs. Scott thinks they’ll come to regret it. In his words the Tarpon Springs enclave may be a nice place to visit but he wouldn’t want to live there. Rather than live in a subdivision or similar type community where each family can have their own home, that enclave has chosen to turn the businesses along the Wharf into a multifamily type setting. It’s not quite apartment living but it’s not quite group living like you would have in a commune either. Angus complained of there being too many people in too small of a space and no one disagreed with him.

The Nicholson’s were the parents of the adult-aged special-needs child. They simply refused to go any further than the first large compound they came to. The Brady’s – the other family in the convoy – chose Tarpon Springs because of the fishing fleet. What were our men supposed to say? Those two families had agreed to come to Sanctuary in exchange for safe passage south but they changed their mind. It was a loss because both men were metalworkers by trade.

After the mutual introductions were over the cattle needed to be dealt with. There were two bulls, one full sized adult and an adolescent that was definitely happy to be out of the trailer, then there were a half-dozen Jersey heifers. In addition to the cows there were two nanny goats, fourteen laying hens and a rooster, two sows and one boar hog, six of the nosiest geese you have ever run across, three bird dogs (one female and two males), and an old male house cat Rhonda rescued while they were stopped in Weeki Wachee who subsequently decided to adopt her.

By that time it was very late. After learning from Jack that Patricia was in the hospital, Dixon offered his house to the senior Mr. Morris until they could set up a house of their own. Kevin and Betty opted to stay there as well. Rhonda said she would stay in the women’s barrack until she figured out a few things which worked out quite well.

We all separated to our homes or assigned duties. After Scott and I finally got the last kidlet to lay down and go to sleep we settled in for a quiet and private welcome home celebration of our own. Afterwards as we lay wrapped in each others’ arms I finally had to ask.

“Scott, what about my parents, brother, and his boys?”

He sighed deeply, “Sissy, it’s not something easy to talk about. Are you sure you want to get into this now?”

“I have to know. Please Scott. I’ve waited as long as I could stand.”

“Babe … you’re parents … ,” he cleared his throat and then tried again. “Your brother left a letter for you in case you ever showed up at the home place. I’ll give it to you tomorrow and you can read it when you are ready. Basically your mom ran out of some of her medications. Their last refills never came in. She started having some of her spells and she … you know how depressed she could get. She couldn’t stop crying. They had all gone to a community meeting to try and figure out who needed what. Your dad had been under a lot of stress and hadn’t had his pills either and in the middle of the meeting he collapsed. Your mother lost it and when someone tried to giver her a tranquilizer she had some kind of seizure and then passed out. They both wound up at that clinic outside of town, unresponsive. The local NRSC rep found out about it and … it wasn’t just them Sissy; other patients were euthanized too.”

By that time I was crying so hard I could barely listen.

“Your brother and some other people stormed the clinic but it was too late. He took their bodies and buried them himself on their property. It looks real nice if that means anything. He packed up nearly everything in the house and locked it in his semi-trailer that he had hidden behind their home. Then he loaded some food and a few other things in your dad’s old Ford pickup and he and the boys took off for your relatives in Kentucky. There’s no way to tell if he made it there or not.”

Scott was exhausted. I didn’t blame him for falling asleep after holding me for a while. Eventually I couldn’t lay there any more even if it meant I had to give up the only comfort I had which was holding onto him. I went out and sat in the backyard and listened to the birds wake up. As the first rays tried to peak out of the east, I went inside and got Kitty before she could wake Scott up and I watched the sky lighten as I fed her.

Sanctuary was more quiet than usual. By first light most people normally are up and working, laughing, or at least moving with a purpose. I thought of breakfast but then remembered I wasn’t on that crew today. Then I thought about the animals, wondering whether they were being cared for and by whom. That’s where I decided to go after leaving a note for Scott in case he woke up before I got back.

Walking towards the large enclosure with Kitty in a sling on my back, I could hear cows complaining even before I got there. As I went to open the gate I heard a woman laugh and say, “Lordy Dad, but I do love me a nice strong wall. I feel safer than I have in a long time. I don't mind the fenced in feeling as much as I thought I would. You can’t even hardly hear those monsters moving around out there. I am so glad you agreed to this move.”

Then as I came through the gate I saw the elder Mr. Morris nodding as he milked one cow and Reba as she milked another. I startled them both when I asked if there was anything I could do to help. We all chuckled a little self-consciously when I tried to apologize for scaring them.

While we got to know one another I milked the three nannies who were bleating their own opinion of humans who could not keep up with their schedule. It turned out that Reba knew my mother from the Quilting Guild though they attended different chapters and Mr. Morris had met Mom and Dad a few times at Williams Auction House in High Springs. They both expressed their sympathy and Mr. Morris in his gruff but kind voice said, “They were real fine people. I was proud to know ‘em.”

Their sympathy was almost my first undoing of the day. I told myself that I had to get used to the reality, much like everyone else had, and accept my parents being gone from this side of forever in my life. I did my best to acknowledge their sympathy appropriately but it wasn’t easy. They understood anyway and Reba patted my shoulder as we finished up and took the milk over to the dining hall.

During breakfast, which Scott had been awakened for by our kids, Mr. Morris asked if we had a creamery or well house. Getting a negative response he made a few suggestions that we all were interested in. I think that was gratifying for him and seeing the old man grow more and more comfortable in his surroundings helped the rest of his family do so as well.

Butter, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, and everything else made from fresh cow’s milk plus whatever we can make from the goats’ milk will be a very welcome addition to Sanctuary’s pantries. There’s a trick though to making and keeping these types of items from spoiling in Florida’s near constant warm weather and high humidity. You need to create a reasonably cool environment where the temperature can be somewhat controlled and you need to keep a good rotation of the dairy items in mind when planning menus.

Scott and I volunteered to show the Morris family around Sanctuary. This served two purposes. We stayed together most of the day but continued to provide a service for Sanctuary and it gave Scott a chance to see what had occurred during his absence.

After we showed them all the nooks and crannies of Sanctuary it was time for me to help prepare lunch while Scott took some time to be with the kids. I had gathered quite a bit of fresh fruit when I was showing off the native fruit trees and orange grove. I used it to make a large bowl of fruit salad. We pulled out all of the loaves of bread we baked yesterday and cut them into sandwich slices. Then I made a large bowl of tuna salad, a large bowl of chicken salad, and a jar of peanut butter.

After lunch we cleaned up while Matlock and Dixon helped both Morris families to pick their new houses. Rhonda intends to remain in the women’s barrack for a while. Scott asked everyone to make a list of any repairs that needed to be made and he would get to them as soon as possible. Mr. Morris just laughed and said, “Son, I been doin’ my own fixing for over 50 years now. You wanna come hep me dat’s fine but you ain’t gotta do ‘em for me.”

Scott was surprised but in a good way. I think it’s going to be nice for him to not be the only one that knows how to do the repair and maintenance on the houses. That also means there’ll be another person that can help teach others to be more self-sufficient in that respect. Excessive specialization of abilities is out these days. We all cross-train to do different tasks and trades. We are too few to lose even one person who may be the only person that knows how to do some vital task. Personally I think Mr. Morris will be a gold mine of information as he has been farming here in Florida most of his life as were his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents before him.

After that Scott and I had a little time to ourselves. We took a walk through the gardens and I showed him what I had done. He talked to me about what they had seen and done while away from Sanctuary. They kept a Road Log of the run and it’s been put in the Sanctuary files in the library which Brandon takes care of as our archivist and historian. I asked him if he would write his side of the story out and allow me to stick it in this journal and he said he would start tomorrow.

Slowly we worked our way around to my brother’s truck. Scott opened the trailer and said, “I didn’t have time to make sure everything was packed so that it wouldn’t break but it looks like your brother did the job right. Honey, I know it’s awful soon to start going through this stuff but we can’t leave the semi here in the middle of the field and the trailer could be used to enlarge the animal enclosure. And there’s canned goods and food in there that needs to be put away too. Dix said he would make sure everyone knew that this stuff is off limits but we still need to get it moved within the next couple of days.”

Maybe Dixon was more sensitive than I have him credit for being. It was thoughtful of him to be the one to bring up that my parents’ stuff was mine to do with what Scott and I would. Of course the whole idea of going through my parents’ remaining worldly goods was overwhelming and I started crying again. It wasn’t for long. I had begun the process of accepting their deaths back when I lost contact with them. This was just the next phase of the grieving process. I watched Scott go through this when he lost his parents. I thought I understood the enormity of it then. I hadn’t. Unfortunately, now I do.

Scott was right. I couldn’t just leave all of that stuff in the semi until I felt “ready.” I don’t think you are ever truly ready for something like this; but, whether I was ready or not it had to be done. He and I grabbed some of the closest boxes from the back of the trailer and took them over to the house to begin sorting through them. Scott got called away to some kind of debriefing so I was left to do this on my own.

I didn’t start right away because I needed to deal with Kitty, or maybe I was just delaying things as much as I could. Most of the time the baby is such a good little peanut that I can work with her in a sling on my back all day. Today though wasn’t one of those days. She’s getting bigger and heavier and now she is getting old enough that she wants to get down and explore her world. That’s fine when there is someone to watch her but a lot of the time there isn’t. And she will let you know when she wants something other than what you are offering her. She is turning into quite the little character. I have a sneaking suspicion that she will give Johnnie and Bubby a run for their money before too much longer. The idea of a little female Johnnie gives me the shivers.

Lucky for me Rose and Melody were having a getting-to-know-you chat fest with Claire. Josephine and Maddie were over also. Sarah asked Laura to invite Callie as well so basically I had all the under-20 females in Sanctuary out on our lanai having what amounted to a tea party, although there were no frilly hats or stuffed animals to be seen. As soon as they saw me struggling with Kitty they volunteered to watch her for a while so that I could open the boxes and tubs one at a time in my bedroom, privately.

After the first few boxes I knew I was in trouble. I hadn’t thought what I was going to do with my mother’s various collections. She has … had … all this stuff; milk glass, carnival glass, antique jewelry, antique linens and laces, etc. Then there were all the knick knacks and stuff that she had inherited from her family over the years. If the kids ever wound up moving out and having homes of their own this might work but I had a feeling that for now a lot of this was going to have to be repacked and put in our attic.

I don’t know what all that my brother stuck in the trailer. Scott said that he appears to have packed in everything he could move by himself. That would have meant all but the largest furniture since he had all his moving dollies and pads packed into the back of the trailer as well. I hadn’t read his letter yet at the time and felt a building frustration that came from trying to imagine how I was going to condense what amounted to two full houses of stuff (their primary home and all of the stuff out of their storage buildings) into one house that was already stuffed with kids and our own flotsam of life.

I took Scott’s dollie with me to the semi-trailer next time I went and nearly blew my back out when I didn’t think to test the weight of a plastic storage tub before I tried to move it. Adding insult to injury I nearly fell out of the back of the trailer too. But I stopped cussing and fussing when I found out what was actually in the tub. It was the majority of my mother’s cast iron cookware. Looking at each piece I ticked it off in my memory. There were the two skillets that she reserved almost exclusively for baking cornbread in. There was the giant skillet that we fried sweet potatoes in every Thanksgiving. There was the tiny, square one that she told me she would scramble my eggs in when I was a baby. There was the spider that belonged to my great grandmother and there was the dutch oven my grandmother used to make blackberry cobbler in for the men who came to chop tobacco on their farm. Some of the pieces I didn’t recognize so they likely came from the auctions and yard sales that my parents enjoyed going to.

After that tub I became cautious. I looked for containers that would be easier for me to lift. I peeked into garbage bags and totes full of linens and my mom’s sewing and craft stuff. I could just see my mom's big sewing basket basket next to my great great grandmother's treadle sewing machine cabinet. Up in the very front of the trailer I thought I caught a glimpse of my dad's gun cabinet but at the time I couldn't tell if there was anything in. Then I opened a bag and just had to sit down and smell. The bag held some of my dad’s shirts, his jacket, and his two Sunday sports coats. I must have looked deranged hugging an overstuffed garbage bag to myself like it was a real person.

Finding that bag set me off again. I put my dad’s jacket on despite it being miles too big. I knew most of the clothes would have to go into Sanctuary’s storage in case someone could use them. That’s even what my parents would have wanted me to do but for now I wanted to be surrounded by the comforting smells of my childhood one last time. My mother made her own laundry detergent and despite many, many attempts I've never been quite able to duplicate it.

Scott, James, and David came by not too long afterwards and ignoring my tear stained face and lack of response, began to help me unload everything and put it into our carport. There’s just no way I’m going to go through everything and find it a new home in just a day or two. We’re talking about the accumulation of stuff from over 45 years of marriage. We’re also talking about my own emotional attachment that I will have to break one item at a time.

After that I was pretty much rolled up physically and mentally but life must go on and we have twelve more people in Sanctuary. That will increase the workload of individual tasks even while it will lighten the overall workload after they all get worked into the chore schedules.

I walked over to do my share of the dinner preparation even though the thought of food was the last thing on my mind. I had almost completed putting my public face on when Bekah ran up to me. After she told me what was going on I nearly lost it yet again. Rose and Melody had organized all the girls, including Sarah and the new young women, to take my place so that I could have a night off to deal with things. I almost couldn’t express my gratitude. As I teared up so did the girls so I just gave them a group hug. When I found out that it was actually Patricia who had put the thought in Rose and Melody’s head I had to drop by the hospital and thank her too.

I was sorry I hadn’t visited earlier in the day and told her so after I got there.

“Honestly Sissy. I can see I’m really going to have to work on your tendency towards martyrdom and excessive self-effacement,” she laughed. “Look, being friends doesn’t mean we have to live in each other’s pocket. Besides I know Scott just got in and you’re dealing with all the fal out from finding out about your parents. You should have seen me when my dad died a couple of years ago. My mom left when I was a baby so it was just dad and my grandparents who raised me and he was the only one left by then. If anything, I wish I could help you organize stuff. Dixon was over here and said it was a mess.”

Having a friend who understood and was willing to share the burden did help and I was able to half heartedly joke back that at the rate I was going, there would still be plenty for her to help with when her baby was a teenager.

From there I went straight back home. I didn’t feel like dinner and I really meant to get to some more of those boxes. But when I got to our room to get a different jacket I saw my brother’s letter sitting on my dresser. I must have looked at it for ten minutes before I actually picked it up. And it was nearly as long before I sat down in my rocking chair and un-taped it where Scott had sealed it back up.

DEAR SIS (& SCOTT),

SOMEHOW I HAVE A FEELING THAT YOU WILL EVENTUALLY READ THIS. I DON’T KNOW HOW I KNOW BUT I JUST DO, IT’S ONE OF THE FEW THINGS THAT BRINGS ME ANY COMFORT IN ALL THIS.

I HATE TO BE THE ONE TO TELL YOU THIS BUT AT THE SAME TIME I WOULDN’T WANT IT TO BE ANYONE ELSE. MOMMA AND DADDY ARE GONE. THEY WENT TOGETHER AND FROM WHAT I’VE BEEN TOLD THEY DIDN’T SUFFER. THEY CERTAINLY DIDN’T SUFFER THE WAY MANY HAVE.

THE STORY ISN’T A NICE ONE BUT I FEEL YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW. THINGS WENT FROM BAD TO WORSE AFTER THE BOYS’ MOTHER ABANDONED US. I CAN’T EVEN CALL HER MY WIFE ANYMORE ‘CAUSE I BELIEVE SHE IS PARTLY TO BLAME FOR WHAT HAS HAPPENED. IF SHE HAD JUST TRIED A LITTLE MORE … BUT I DON’T HAVE TIME OR ENERGY TO GO THERE. I’M NOT SURE I CAN EVER FORGIVE HER THOUGH FOR THAT AND FOR JUST LEAVING OUR BOYS WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT. MOM AND DAD GOT REALLY STRESSED OUT AND I HAVE TO TAKE MY SHARE OF THE BLAME FOR THAT. I SHOULD HAVE SEEN HOW ILL THEY WERE BECOMING.

MOM WAS DETERIORATING AND DAD WAS HAVING CHEST PAINS. THE REFILLS FOR THEIR MEDS NEVER CAME IN. I LOOKED ALL OVER THREE COUNTIES AND COULDN’T GET THEIR PRESCRIPTIONS FILLED AND THEN THE QUARANTINES STARTED. BY THAT TIME THERE WERE LOTS OF PEOPLE IN THIS AREA THAT WERE SHORT OF THINGS THEY NEEDED.

A COUPLE OF LOCAL CHURCHES GOT TOGETHER AND PLANNED A COMMUNITY MEETING HOPING THAT BY SHARING MAYBE MOST OF EVERYONE COULD GET A LITTLE BIT OF WHAT THEY NEEDED. DADDY WAS HOPING THAT MAYBE GETTING MOM OUT OF THE HOUSE FOR A BIT WOULD HELP HER EVEN THOUGH HE WASN’T FEELING A HUNDRED PERCENT HIMSELF.

AT THE MEETING EVERYTHING WAS GOING JUST FINE AND THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN SOME OF THOSE NRS FREAKS WERE SPOTTED IN THE PARKING LOT. PEOPLE STARTED TO PANIC AND THERE WAS A LOT OF PUSHING AND SHOVING. A COUPLE OF GOOD OL’ BOYS PUT THE FREAKS DOWN AND FOLKS WERE JUST STARTING TO CALM DOWN WHEN DADDY GRABBED HIS CHEST AND COLLAPSED. WHEN THE DOC THAT WAS THERE SAID THAT HE’D LIKELY HAD A MASSIVE HEART ATTACK MOMMA LOST IT. IT’S BEEN YEARS SINCE I’VE SEEN HER HAVE A SPELL THIS BAD, EVEN WORSE THAN THAT FINAL ATTACK SHE HAD THAT FINALLY GOT THE DOCTORS TO START LISTENING TO DADDY THAT SOMETHING BESIDES FEMALE PROBLEMS WAS HAPPENING.

WELL SOMEONE TRIED TO GIVE HER A SEDATIVE AND SHE HAD A BAD REACTION TO IT OR THE DOC SAID SHE MIGHT HAVE HAD A STROKE FROM HAVING TO GO OFF HER MEDS COLD TURKEY. WE’LL NEVER KNOW FOR SURE. EITHER WAY, WE GOT THEM OVER TO THECLINIC AS FAST AS WE COULD. NO ONE SAID ANYTHING BECAUSE THE NRSC GUY AROUND HERE IS A REAL BASTARD. HE HAD ALREADY BEEN OVER ALL OF THE NURSING HOMES AND ALF’S WITH HIS LITTLE GIZMO FROM HELL.

SOMEONE MUST HAVE SNITCHED THOUGH. I HOPE WHO EVER DID GETS EATEN BY THE ZOMBIES A SMALL BITE AT A TIME. THAT SUMBITCH EUTHANIZED SIX DEFENSELESS PEOPLE THAT MIGHT HAVE HAD SOME LIFE LEFT IN THEM IF WE COULD HAVE GOTTEN THEM GOOD MEDICAL CARE. NONE OF US COULD STOP IT EVEN THOUGH WE RUSHED THE CLINIC DOORS AND BEAT DOWN THE NRSC REP AND HIS LITTLE BITCHES THAT GUARDED HIS SORRY ASS.

THERE WASN’T ANYBODY TO HELP WITH A FUNERAL OR ANYTHING. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO BUT BRING THEM BACK AND BURY THEM HERE. I HOPE TO NEVER HAVE TO LIVE TO DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN. ALL I COULD DO FOR THEM WAS TO PUT THEM SIDE BY SIDE OUT BY MOMMA’S ROSE BUSHES. I MADE SURE TO PUT THEM DEEP SO NO ANIMALS COULD GET TO ‘EM. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO MAKE A MARKER FOR THEM BUT I GUESS MOMMA’S PLANTS IS ABOUT AS GOOD A MEMORIAL AS ANYTHING ELSE. AT LEAST THEY ARE IN THE GROUND, TOO MANY OTHER FOLKS AREN’T AND THE SMELL ON THE AIR HAS MADE ME SICK MORE THAN A TIME OR TWO.

AFTER THE SHIT DOWN AT THE CLINICE MOST FOLKS ABOUND HERE LOST ALL HEART. SOME HAVE JUST HUNKERED DOWN TO WAIT THINGS OUT BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE LEAVING TO TRY AND CROSS THE STATE LINE, HOPING RELATIVES IN GEORGIA AND ALABAMA WILL TAKE THEM IN.

I’M SORRY BUT I JUST CAN’T TAKE CARE OF THE BOYS BY MYSELF. I’M JUST NOT CUT OUT TO BE LIKE YOU OR SCOTT. HELL, THE BOYS MIND SCOTT BETTER THAN THEY EVER MINDED ME. I SHOULD HAVE MADE MOM AND DAD JUST COME WITH US BACK TO TAMPA WHILE THERE WAS STILL TIME.

I WAS GOING TO TRY AND MAKE IT TO TAMPA BUT HEARD ON THE RADIO THAT NOW THE ROADS ARE IMPASSABLE IN PLACES AND THAT THEY’VE GOT ARMED CHECKPOINTS TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT OF THE BIG CITIES. EVEN GAINESVILLE IS A NIGHTMARE FROM THE STORIES.

I’VE THROWN WHAT EASY TO FIX STUFF MOM AND DAD HAD LEFT INTO DADDY’S PICKUP. I ALSO TOOK GRANDADDY’S SHOTGUN, DADDY’S LITTLE GERMAN LUGER, AND THAT .22 THAT WE BOTH LEARNED TO SHOOT ON. I GRABBED WHAT LITTLE MONEY WAS LEFT TOO, I HOPE YOU DON’T MIND. THERE WASN’T MUCH OF IT TO BE TRUTHFUL. KNOWING SCOTT YOU ALL ARE PROBABLY REAL SET IN THAT DEPARTMENT NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. I’M GOING TO TRY AND GET TO HOPKINSVILLE, MAYBE PADUCAH IF FT. CAMPBELL WON’T LET ME THROUGH. AT WORST I’LL HEAD TO ELKTON AND SEE IF THE MENNONITES THAT BOUGHT THE OLD FARM WILL LET ME CAMP OUT ON THE BACK FIVE AND HELP AROUND THE PLACE IN EXCHANGE FOR OUR KEEP. EVEN IF SOMETHING EVENTUALLY GETS ME I’M SURE SOMEONE WOULD TAKE THE BOYS IN UP THERE.

PRAY FOR US SISSY ALTHOUGH I KNOW YOU PROBABLY ARE EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN’T KNOW WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING. I TRIED TO CALL BUT I CAN’T GET THROUGH. I’M NOT SURE I REALLY KNOW WHAT I’M DOING BUT I CAN’T JUST SIT HERE WAITING FOR THE ZOMBIES TO EAT MY KIDS. IF WE ARE MOVING THEN AT LEAST WE’VE GOT US A FIGHTING CHANCE. I’VE HEARD YOU CAN OUTRUN THESE MONSTERS REAL EASY.

IF I CAN, I’LL SEND WORD WHEN WE GET SOME PLACE SAFE. TAKE CARE AND PLEASE DON’T BE MAD AT ME, I JUST COULDN’T STAND IT HERE ANY MORE.

LOVE FOREVER AND ALWAYS,

YOUR LITTLE BROTHER

P.S. I COULDN’T ABIDE THE IDEA OF LETTING MOMMA AND DADDY’S STUFF JUST GET LOOTED. I SPENT A COUPLE OF DAYS LOADING EVERYTHING THAT I COULD INTO MY TRAILER. YOU’LL SPOT IT IF YOU LOOK FOR IT, BUT YOU’LL HAVE TO LOOK GOOD. I ALSO UNHOOKED ALL THE UTILITIES SO NOTHING EXPLODES. YOU KNOW HOW MOM USED TO WORRY ABOUT THAT WHEN THEY WERE GOING TO BE GONE FOR MORE THAN A FEW DAYS.

Day 133 (Monday)

Well, nothing quite like feeling hung over to get a Monday off to a great start. OK, I wasn’t really hung over but I sure did feel like it. I don’t even remember falling asleep. Scott said he brought all the kids back from eating supper to find me crashed out on our bed with my brother’s letter in my hand. He said the only thing that kept him from freaking out was the fact that he knew that I would be the last person to choose suicide. That shocked me. I guess I was acting a lot more out of it than I was aware of. Bad. Here I have been talking about setting a good example for the kids and first time I really had a chance, I don’t think I did it very well. I know my parents wouldn’t have been happy knowing that they had caused me so much pain. My parents always considered death a natural part of the life cycle and called funerals “life celebrations” or “home goings” more than anything thing else. That’s also how I was raised and is part of my faith but … no excuses. I’m going to consciously try and do better from here on out.

Of course today would be laundry day and boy howdy did the men need their laundry washed. They were filthy. Their clothes were filthy. And all of their equipment, except for their guns, was filthy too. And everything stank really, really badly. I wound up having to boil all of their jeans and socks three times before they were clean enough to be rinsed out and hung to dry. One of Scott’s shirts I didn’t even bother trying to clean as it had already started to mildew and smelled so bad that I used it as a fire starter instead of putting it in the rag pile.

Speaking of laundry, the men brought back some bigger troughs for us to use as wash tubs. The small troughs are convenient but we have to do so many loads that it takes forever to get things clean, especially when we have to do any kind of bedding. With the bigger troughs we’ll be able to do bigger loads or several loads at once. We’ll just need to remember to put names on clothing tags like on shirts and jeans. We’ll probably continue to do underclothing separately from each other. It will just be easier that way. Sometimes things just get so dirty you can't use them over. Scott has taken to wearing coveralls when he is doing something really filthy to try and save on laundry.

The troughs aren’t the only things the men brought back but I haven’t had time to hear everything. Scott brought me one particular present that he gave me today. He said he picked it up in the back of a pawnshop they stopped at along the way looking for guns and ammo. Most of the pawnshops were pretty well ransacked but there were a couple where back rooms and locked cabinets were overlooked. He brought me a Luger Mark III .22 long barrel pistol. I haven’t had a chance to fire it yet but I hope to later this week just so I can get used to the kick. It’s pretty in a gun-ish sort of way. What I like is that it will use the same ammo as the .22 rifle I keep around for using on the Wall-duty and that it is stainless steel. I couldn’t do much more than tell the difference between a pistol and a rifle a few months ago and here I am slowly learning all the makers and models of guns and which ammo goes with which and what it will do best. Life has changed so much.

I told Scott to take the rest of Daddy’s gun and knife collections and do with them what he thought best. The only thing I asked was that the knives Daddy made himself weren't just thrown in the storage bins. I wanted them to have good homes. I really don’t have a clue about what would be best to go where and to whom, but I would like them treated with respect. There were some guns that Daddy used to keep for show pieces like his 1800s Colt revolver so I’m not even sure if that is usable. And he also kept a few of his extra fancy buck knives in sealed cases, but for the most part Daddy was one of those men that saw beauty in how useful something was and not necessarily how much he paid for it. I still have to decide what to do with all of Momma’s “pretties” as she called them. There is still a ton of stuff to go through, some useful and some not. The cookbooks were pretty easy to decide what to do with. If it was a duplicate of something I had I put it in the library with a hand written note in front explaining where it came from. If it had any of my mother’s hand written notes inside I kept it and put it on my own shelves even if it was a duplicate; the girls will eventually inherit them. My grandmother’s recipe box is sitting on my nightstand waiting for me to see if I can find all of her canning recipes and my grandfather’s fruit wine instructions. Granny’s dandelion wine recipe should be in there too as should Mammy's recipe for Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel Icing. Some of the large plastic containers that my mom saved I’m taking over to the food storehouse as I get them emptied. I figure they will eventually be needed over there as we get rid of more and more of the commercially processed foods. I still have a lot of stuff to do but like I wrote yesterday, it’s going to take me days to go through it all. And frankly I’m not at all certain what to do with some of the furniture. I’ll just have to think on that another day.

The commercially canned food I donated to the Sanctuary storehouse without qualms. The home canned foods and Momma’s jars, rings, and lids I’m keeping until I go through everything and make sure nothing has spoiled. Also I want to make sure I have the recipes for everything. Daddy had canned a lot of the last batch of venison he had gotten from my uncle and I’m putting that up in our hidden pantries as well. I’m not being selfish but I just want to think about things before I give them all away. I might wind up making some burgoo with some of it so it’s not like other people won’t be eating it. I guess I just want to dole it out and not see it wasted in any way or rushed through and not appreciated.

I saw the funniest thing at lunchtime. Butch and Sundance can be hysterically comical, so can Angus’ two dogs. I don’t know if they were always naturally thus or if hanging around my kids have driven them a little nuts. They are good working dogs but they also love to play. Of course Mischief is very maternal and adores the littles. Well, Kitty was wanting down again today and it was just warm enough to put a blanket on the ground and let her roll around so that the rest of us could eat in peace. The four dogs had her corralled in. She’d try and crawl off the blanket and the dogs would box her in. Well, Sarah had finally coaxed the little pup … we think she is some type of spaniel … out and she too was laying on the blanket but she was playing and not being helpful in the least. If anything she was winding Kitty up even more than she had been before. The big dogs started boxing the pup in with the baby to keep her from rolling off the blanket too. Well, Mischief finally looked at me and gave me this doggie look that said, “I don’t know who is worse, the baby or the puppy. They have both pulled my tail and bitten my ears several times already.”

Before I could say something to Scott, Mr. Morris comes over and the three bird dogs are following him. We all made a grab for our four dogs, the pup, and Kitty since we weren’t sure what would happen. I swear if those dogs didn’t look at us like we had lost our minds. All any of us could do was laugh. After a few minutes of smelling each other and establishing their “packness” I guess you would call it, they all lay down together as easy as you please. Mischief still isn’t partial to the two male bird dogs getting near Kitty but she doesn’t mind Lady, the female bird dog, coming near her. Lady is a little skittish around Mayhem but I think in the end they’ll all learn to get along. All the male dogs eventually decided it was too tame to sit around watching a baby so they went for a run while Mischief and Lady watched the pup and Kitty.

Sarah said she is going to write a storybook for Kitty that tells her what being a baby was like in Sanctuary during our "pioneer days." That should prove interesting. Josephine said she will teach Sarah how to draw animals and Brandon said that he’ll put the book in the library when she is through. You should have seen that child’s face light up when she heard that.

Angus left after dinner to go work on his outpost. Scott said he picked up odds and ends, including a wood burning stove, while they were on the run. I can understand it. He’s put it off for quite some time to lend a hand around Sanctuary. He will be missed though. I packed him up a bunch of home canned stew, soups, and chilis to get him started and also gave him a jar of sourdough so that he could make bread if he is so inclined. Scott and Jim plan on going over tomorrow to give him a hand with the heavy lifting. He was explaining at lunch that he just felt the need to hurry up and get his place secured. Makes my nerves itch to think of why he would need to “hurry up.”

We haven’t had a large horde of zombies in a while though we’ve had several smaller groups to deal with. They never go away and as bizarre as it sounds we've begun to treat them like we would any other dangerous, wild animal. We’ve been lucky. Scott said that on the run they kept seeing fresh, and relatively fresh, corpses where you wouldn’t expect there would be any. There may be more people left alive than we think but most people are cut off and just keeping to themselves for whatever reason. Not in the big cities though. Those places look like they were emptied with scavengers and refugees piling into the suburbs and rural areas and moving through like locusts; especially along any major road ways.

The other thing I worry about are raiders. When Matlock told them about what had happened while they were gone I don’t know which of the four men were angrier. Dixon had already had a bad taste in his mouth from when the refugees were in Sanctuary. I think there is serious talk about not taking in any more refugees but I don’t know. We may have to wait and see how what individual circumstances turn out to be.

Rachel let Patricia up as long as she didn’t lift anything or move around. Scott and Dixon brought over a folding chaise lounge for her to lie on. Jack sat nearby during lunch but didn’t try to push things while Dix talked to Patricia to catch up on how she and Samuel had been during his absence. I saw Dix and Jack talking later on and they shook hands. At dinner it was Jack sitting beside Patricia. I guess all that will work out eventually. And Samuel seems to slowly be coming to accept it.

I wish I could say the same with Dix and Rachel. I had sliced my hand on a sour orange tree thorn and went over to the hospital to get some help cleaning it out. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I caught the tail end of a conversation as I walked in.

I could hear Dixon say, “I’m not going over it again Rachel. I don’t agree with you and no amount of your pushing is going to change that. Let it alone or you’re just going to cause problems that I’m going to have to deal with and you may not like my methods very much.”

Whoa. I tried to turn around and leave before they saw me but Dix said, “Its OK Sissy, we’re through talking.”

I didn’t know quite what to say as Dix walked out the door so I told Rachel what had happened and asked her opinion on whether I should cover the scratch up or let it breathe.

“Here, let me see. Did you clean this yet?”

We both tried to act like I hadn’t heard Dix’s last statement and I think we were both trying to get beyond whatever the problem is that is causing us to brangle.

“How do you and Scott do it?”

Not sure what she meant I asked, “How do we do what?”

“You know. How do you two go through all this crap and still get along, work as a team, whatever.”

“Rachel, you must have Scott and I confused with some perfect people you read about in some marriage counseling seminar or something. Scott and I are far from perfect and we have our problems just like everyone else.”

“But you don’t seem like it. You sure don't boss each other around. Do you just know what the other person is thinking or wants? How do you pull it off?”

“Look, Scott and I have had our fair share of problems, especially the first year or two we were married. We are both strong-willed with have strong personalities. You've undoubtedly noticed I can be a firecracker that goes off with bad timing. But Scott and I are both committed to making our marriage work. We don’t just love each other, we like each other too; we’re best friends. And when they say marriage is work that’s an understatement. Ask our kids, we’ve done our fair share of bickering and we haven't always handled things as well as we could. We’ve gone through some very dark times and we’ve had some really great times. When the dark times roll around, and they always will, we try hold on to the memories from the good times.”

“What about now though? Who’s the boss? Who has the last word and why?”

“You want the truth? I’m perfectly happy leaving being ‘the boss’ to Scott. We’ve always had a traditional kind of relationship and that’s what works for us. But Scott takes being the ultimately responsible individual very seriously. He’s always put the rest of us first even when it was hard or unfair. For over ten years he worked two jobs so that we could get someplace where we didn’t have to worry so much how we were going to put food on the table, keep a roof over our heads, and take care of our kids. I never forget all his sacrifices. Not a day goes by that I don't give him credit for all he's done and all he is doing right now. And he's been good about remembering that I make similar sacrifices and appreciate them.”

“That … sounds … I don’t think I could live like that. I was always told that marriage is supposed to be a partnership. No one partner is the boss of the other. What you are talking about is just too old fashioned. I've worked hard to get where I am at.”

I laughed. “Did I say we weren’t partners? We discuss everything and there are very few big decisions we make without consulting each other. But even in a business partnership there are rules and usually one partner has seniority over the other, at least in some areas. And as for work, just because it’s been a number of years since I officially worked outside of our home doesn't mean that I haven't worked. I helped with our business. I've spent years raising and educating our children. Girl, there is no job on the planet that pays enough for someone to do the job of wife and mother for financial consideration alone.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“You don’t really think Scott and I got it the first year either do you? It’s the rare couple that doesn’t have all sorts of growing pains they have to go through. You are either growing or you're dying. You just have to decide which it is you want to do.”

She got real serious. “I want this to work with Dix but I don’t know. I thought if he wasn’t with Patricia any more everything could be exactly like we wanted it to be. It’s not like that at all. If anything it’s harder.”

“I’m going to give you a bit of advice and I hope you don’t take it the wrong way. Sex is … hmmm … sex is a big responsibility. When you have sex with someone you aren’t just having sex with that person, you are having sex with every person that that person ever had sex with. Common sense when it comes to being safe. But love is the same way. And Dix is a package deal with responsibilities to people that come before whatever relationship you two have. Even though he and Patricia aren’t together any more there will always be their history together. And Samuel is his son and at a very impressionable age and Dix has to consider that as well. When you two were … well, before Dix and Patricia were over with you two put aside all of those responsibilities. It’s like they didn’t really exist in the fullest extent of the word. Now they do. The more serious you take the relationship the more serious everything about the relationship becomes.”

Rachel shook her head and said, “I’m not sure I totally agree with that. Dix and I always were serious. We didn’t set out to hurt anyone.”

“Of course not. Think of it like this. Relationships have levels and plateaus. Well, you all have reached the next level, the next challenge. But it’s one of the harder ones. Now the rules have changed. His rank isn’t what is going to keep him a leader here in Sanctuary. And that rank isn’t what is going to keep him a leader in your relationship. You are going to have to see each other for who you really are without the sauce of forbidden fruit to put the spice in your relationship and without the stress of a failing relationship – Dix and Patricia – keeping you together. Those things don’t exist anymore, now you have to find out what does exist.”

In a frustrated voice Rachel asked, “And if we find that that’s all there was? Where does that leave me?”

“I don’t have those answers for you Rachel. That’s something that is between you and Dix.” But I couldn’t just leave it at that. “But if it means anything, I do think you and Dix stand a fighting chance. And I do think that Patricia doesn’t hold any of this against you which should go a long way towards smoothing y'alls future here in Sanctuary. But, if worse does comes to worse … I’ll be there if you want to talk. OK?”

“Yeah,” she answered, but grudgingly.

I’m not sure if Rachel gets it or not. She seems to have spent her whole life achieving one huge goal after another; overcoming a rough childhood, getting through college without any financial aid, being a woman in the military, getting medical training despite her normal workload. But relationships don’t always work by a predetermined set of rules. And she asked “where does that leave me?” and not where does that leave us. That doesn’t bode well for a soft landing.

Aside from a few incidences here and there, the day was pretty mundane. That was welcome relief from all of the stress I had been feeling. I think everyone was happy and I know more than a few have stopped by the Morris families’ new homes to see if there was anything they could do. So far so good.

After dinner I came home to find that Scott had left a sheaf of papers on top of my journal with a note that it was a start on the promise he had made. When I picked it up I realized it was the beginning of the North Florida Run from his perspective. I’ve read what he has written thus far and am sticking it between my own journal entries as he gets each section finished. Anyone reading this in the future might wonder at the change in handwriting … assuming you can even read Scott’s hen scratch. His brain moves faster than his hands can keep up.

SCOTT’S VERSION OF THE NORTH FLORIDA RUN
(Part One)

I’M WRITING THIS BECAUSE MY WIFE ASKED ME TO. IT’S A RECORD OF THE NORTH FLORIDA RUN WE STARTED ON DECEMBER FIRST.

THE DECISION TO GO ON THE RUN WAS MADE QUICKLY; ALMOST TOO QUICKLY. YEAH, I LIKE TO GET OUT AND GET MOVING WITHOUT A LOT OF FUSS BUT AT THE SAME TIME I HAVE A FAMILY TO THINK OF AND PREPARE FOR IN CASE SOMETHING HAPPENED. ONE OF THOSE EVENTUALITIES COULD HAVE BEEN THAT I WASN’T COMING HOME. THESE DAYS YOU NEVER KNOW FOR SURE.

WE BARELY HAD TWO FULL DAYS TO PREPARE AND PACK. THAT WASN’T A PROBLEM UNTIL LATER IN THE TRIP WHEN WE WENT OVER THE LONGEST EXPECTED DURATION OF TIME WE WOULD BE AWAY. SUPPLIES WOULD HAVE BEEN A PROBLEM IF WE HADN’T STOPPED AT MY IN-LAWS’. FUEL WAS A BIGGER ISSUE, ESPECIALLY WHILE WE WERE DEEP INTO RURAL AREAS.

THE MEN WHO WENT ON THE RUN WERE MYSELF, ANGUS CUDDY, SGT. SAM DIXON (US ARMY), AND PVT. HENRY MCELROY (TENNESSEE NATIONAL GUARD). THE TWO VEHICLES WE TOOK WERE ANGUS’ SOOPED UP GARBAGE TRUCK KNICKNAMED JUICER FOR ITS UNIQUE WAY OF DEALING WITH ZOMBIES, AND THE CHEVY AVALANCHE I “CONFISCATED” FROM OLD MABLE’S HOUSE BEFORE IT WAS DEMOLISHED. BOTH OF THE VEHICLES HAD THE NEW COMPLETELY WORE OFF OF THEM BEFORE THE TRIP WAS HALF WAY OVER. SO DID WE FOR THAT MATTER.

I DON’T KNOW HOW SMART IT WAS FOR US TO HIT THE ROAD AFTER A BIG PARTY. WE WEREN’T AS RESTED AS WE COULD HAVE BEEN. THE WHOLE TRIP I FELT LIKE I WAS TRYING TO CATCH UP ON SLEEP AND RUNNING THREE DAYS BEHIND. THE ONLY GOOD THING WAS THAT THERE WAS ENOUGH FOOD LEFTOVER THAT SISSY PACKED US SOME GOOD EATS FOR THE FIRST COUPLE OF THE DAYS WHICH MEANT WE DIDN’T HAVE TO COOK.

WE HIT THE ROAD AT 5 AM SHARP ON FRIDAY MORNING. WE KNEW THAT THE INTERSTATES WITHIN TAMPA WERE A MESS AND THAT WE NEEDED TO AVOID I275 TOTALLY. WE TOOK LIVINGSTON AVENUE OUT TO SR56 AND GOT ON AFTER THE I275 AND I75 MERGE.

I KNEW JUST AS SOON AS WE GOT ON WE WERE IN FOR HELL ALL THE WAY. IT TOOK US 15 MINUTES JUST TO NAVIGATE THE ON RAMP. ANGUS, ON POINT DRIVING JUICER, PUSHED WHAT HE COULD OUT OF THE WAY. THERE JUST WASN’T THAT MUCH SPACE LEFT TO PUSH VEHICLES INTO. THE ON RAMP AT SR56 AND I75 IS A BIG ONE; ITS TWO LANES WIDE WITH A DECENT CURB FOR BREAKDOWNS AND EMERGENCY VEHICLES TO PASS. INSTEAD OF TWO OR THREE CARS ABREAST, THERE WERE FOUR, FIVE, AND SIX CARS ABREAST AT DIFFERENT PLACES. IT LOOKED LIKE SOME OF JAMES’ OLD GAMES HE PLAYED WITH HIS “BEEP-BEEPS.” WHEN WE FINALLY GOT ONTO THE INTERSTATE PROPER IT WASN EVEN WORSE.

TO BE HONEST THE SLOW PROGRESS DROVE ME NUTS. ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT, BESIDES ALREADY BEING LONELY FOR SISSY AND THE KIDS, WAS ABOUT HAVING TO DRIVE LIKE THAT THE WHOLE WAY TO THE HIGH SPRINGS EXIT. THE ONLY THING THAT MADE THAT TRIP BEARABLE WERE THE GAMES THAT ANGUS AND I CREATED. WE DEVELOPED A POINT SYSTEM FOR HOW FAR WE COULD PUSH CARS, POINTS FOR DIFFERENT KINDS OF CARS, POINTS FOR CARS WITH ZOMBIES IN THEM. THE INSANITY WAS THE ONLY THING KEEPING THE BOREDOM UNDER CONTROL.

SOMEONE HAD BEEN THROUGH LOOTING MOST OF THE VEHICLES. IN ADDITION TO ALL THE DAMAGE FROM WRECKS, STALLS, ROAD RAGE, AND ZOMBIE ATTACKS, LUGGAGE AND LOTS OF OTHER STUFF WAS FLUNG EVERY WHERE; SOME OF IT WAS IN NEAT PILES BUT MOST WAS NOT. THERE WAS EVEN STUFF UP IN THE TREES ON EITHER SIDE OF THE INTERSTATE. SOME LOON TP’D A COUPLE OF TREES WITH EVERY PAIR OF UNDERWEAR HE COULD FIND. THERE WERE YOUR TIDY WHITIES, TRADITIONAL BOXERS, GRANNY PANTIES, AND THEN A BUNCH OF THEM DAMN TRASHY THONGS LIKE THE HOOKERS DOWN ON NEBRASKA AVE USED TO LET HANG OUT THERE PANTS LIKE ADVERTISEMENT. I TOLD MY GIRLS IF I EVER CAUGHT THEM WEARING THOSE THINGS THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO SIT DOWN FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS.

DON’T KNOW WHY BUT I GOT SO MAD SEEING THOSE THINGS HANGING IN THE TREE THAT I DEVELOPED A LITTLE ROAD RAGE MYSELF AND JUST ABOUT HAD A DEATH GRIP ON MY REMINGTON SPR94. I FOUND THE GUN IN A HOUSE OVER IN LADARA AND THE FACT THAT IT IS BOTH A SHOTGUN AND A RIFLE IS A PLUS. MAYBE IT’S A LITTLE WEIRD. I KNOW SOME OF THE GUYS KINDA GAVE ME A LOOK FOR BRINGING IT, BUT I JUST HAVE A FEELING THAT BEING ABLE TO USE IT FOR BOTH SHORT RANGE AND LONG RANGE HUNTING OR PROTECTION WILL BE THE PLUS I NEED TO MAKE IT WORK.

WE CONTINUED INCHING ALONG THIS WAY FOR THREE HOURS. IN SOME PLACES IT LOOKED LIKE SOMEONE HAD ALREADY TRIED TO CLEAR LANES BUT THERE WAS NO CONSISTENCY TO IT. IF YOU COULD GO OFF ON THE GRASS THEY DIDN’T CLEAR LANES. WE ALL GOT TIRED OF WEAVING IN AND OUT AND EVENTUALLY WE JUST PLOWED THROUGH AS MUCH AS WE DARED. SOME OF THE CARS YOU COULD TELL HAD BEEN STRIPPED FOR PARTS. THERE WERE A LOT OF CARS WITHOUT TIRES ESPECIALLY. WHEN WE FIRST NOTICED, WE PUT IT DOWN TO LOCAL SCAVENGERS AND SMALL COMMUNITY SURVIVOR GROUPS. THAT MAY HAVE BEEN SOME OF IT, BUT IT WASN’T UNTIL WE RAN INTO THOSE PEOPLE AT THE WEBSTER OFF RAMP THAT WE FOUND OUT WHERE THE MAJORITY OF THE DAMAGE HAD COME FROM.

NORMALLY IT TAKES 45 MINUTES FROM OUR FRONT DOOR TO REACH THE WEBSTER EXIT. I KNOW THIS BECAUSE SISSY ENJOYED GOING TO THE BIG WEBSTER FLEA MARKET A COUPLE OF TIMES A YEAR. THOSE TIMES I DIDN’T GO WITH HER SHE WOULD CALL ME AS SHE WAS GETTING OFF THE INTERSTATE AND THEN AGAIN WHEN SHE GOT TO THE FLEA MARKET ITSELF; I KNEW TO THE MINUTE HOW LONG IT SHOULD TAKE. EVEN IF YOU ADD IN THE FIFTEEN MINUTES IT TOOK AT THE ON RAMP BACK IN TAMPA IT STILL TOOK US THREE TIMES LONGER TO GET TO THAT POINT THAN IT SHOULD HAVE. OUR TOP RATE OF SPEED NEVER GOT OVER 30 MPH AND USUALLY IT RAN BETWEEN 15 AND 25 MPH.

THOSE PEOPLE BLOCKING THE INTERESTATE WERE VERY NERVOUS. THEY WERE ALSO ANGRY. EVERY ONE OF THEM LOOKED LIKE THEY HAD SOME SORT OF INJURY THEY WERE FAVORING WHICH DIDN’T MAKE US FEEL REAL COMFORTABLE.

THE ONLY THING THAT SAVED US FROM HAVING A SHOOT OUT WAS ANGUS AND THOSE CRAZY DOGS OF HIS. HE TALKS TO THEM AND DAMN IF IT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE THEY TALK BACK.

YOU DON’T MESS WITH PEOPLE THAT HAVE A ROCKET LAUNCHER AIMED AT YOU. THEY TOLD US TO EXIT OUR VEHICLES AND THAT’S WHAT WE DID. I DIDN’T LIKE THE CHIP ON THEIR SHOULDER AS SOON AS THE GUY IN CHARGE STARTED RUNNING HIS MOUTH ABOUT US BEING RAIDERS OR ROAD PIRATES; AND THAT’S THE MOST POLITE THING THEY CALLED US. DIX TRIED TO EXPLAIN THAT WE WEREN’T RAIDERS OR ANYTHING AND JUST WANTED TO PASS AND KEEP HEADING NORTH. NO MATTER WHAT WE SAID THINGS KEPT DETERIORATING.

OUT OF THE BLUE ANGUS STARTS TALKING TO THE DOGS.

HE LOOKED AT THEM AND SAID, “DO YOU MIND? YOU ARE NOT PART OF THIS DISCUSSION.” LIKE THE DOGS HAD BEEN TRYING TO BUTT IN OR SOMETHING.

THE FUNNY THING WAS THAT MISCHIEF “REPLIED” WITH SOME DOGGIE WHINES AND GRUNTS.

“NO, I’M SORRY. WHEN YOUR OPINION IS WANTED WE’LL ASK FOR IT.”

THEN BOTH DOGS STARTED “TALKING” BACK.

BY THAT TIME ALL THE FOLKS ON THE WEBSTER SIDE HAD GOTTEN REAL QUIET AND ALL OF US WERE LOOKING AT ANGUS LIKE HE’D FINALLY LOST HIS MIND.

“EXCUSE ME. I’M NOT GONNA PUT UP WITH SASS FROM YOU TWO. BEHAVE OR GET BACK IN THE CAB.”

AS ANGUS REFOCUSED ON US HUMANS, MAYHEM PASSED DOGGIE GAS. I MEAN HE PASSED IT LIKE HE HAD EATEN A #10 CAN OF HOT CHILI WITH BEANS KIND OF GAS.

THE LOOK ON ANGUS’ FACE CANNOT BE DESCRIBED. “MY GAWD. IF YOU’RE GONNA BE THAT KIND OF SMART ASS YOU CAN JUST RIDE IN THE DAMN TRAILER!”

I STILL DON’T KNOW HOW HE DID IT BUT BY THAT TIME WE WERE ALL PRACTICALLY ON THE GROUND AND HOWLING. THE SITUATION HAD BEEN COMPLETELY DEFUSED. I’VE SEEN HIM PULL THE SAME KIND THING IN SANCTUARY BUT SISSY YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN IT. IT’S SOMETHING WE CAN TELL OUR GRANDKIDS ABOUT; A CRAZY MAN SAVING THE DAY. THAT WASN’T THE FIRST TIME WE WOUND UP OWING OUR LIVES TO ANGUS ON THIS TRIP EITHER.

AS FOR THE WEBSTER FOLKS, SEEMS THEY HAD REASON TO BE SUSPICIOUS. EVER SINCE LAW AND ORDER BROKE DOWN THEY’VE HAD TROUBLE WITH A LOT OF CRIME THAT EVENTUALLY COALESCED IN THE FORM OF GANGS. THE GANGS OFF THE ROAD THEY CALL RAIDERS. THE RAIDERS THAT USE THE INTERSTATE AND HIGHWAY SYSTEM THEY CALL ROAD PIRATES. BETWEEN THE ZOMBIES AND THE RAIDER GROUPS THE LOSS OF LIFE IN THEIR COMMUNITY HAS BEEN PRETTY SUBSTANTIAL. WE TOLD THEM ABOUT THE RADIO CHANNEL THAT WE WERE TRYING TO GET GOING SO THAT SURVIVOR GROUPS COULD KEEP IN CONTACT WITH ONE ANOTHER BUT I DON’T KNOW IF THEYARE GOING TO BE RECEPTIVE TO IT IN THE LONG RUN OR NOT. WE LEFT THEM A FLYER ANYWAY JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER FLYERS WE’D BEEN HANGING EVERY COUPLE OF MILES.

THEY SAID IT HAD BEEN UNUSUALLY QUIET LATELY AND THAT IT HAD BEEN TWO WEEKS SINCE THE LAST INCURSION BY THE RAIDERS. THEY THOUGHT IT WAS MAYBE THAT THE RAIDERS HAD HEARD ABOUT THEIR ROCKET LAUNCHER. DIX THOUGHT IT WAS MORE LIKELY THAT THE RAIDERS WERE SIMPLY OCCUPIED ELSEWHERE.

DIX TURNED OUT TO BE RIGHT THAT TIME. ANOTHER HOUR AND A HALF DOWN THE ROAD WE FINALLY MADE IT TO THE BIG WILDWOOD TRUCK STOP AREA. COMING FROM THE SOUTH YOU CAN’T SEE WILDWOOD UNTIL YOU ARE RIGHT UP ON IT. ABOUT A MILE BACK THE FLIES STARTED GETTING REALLY BAD. WE’VE ALREADY ENCOUNTERED THAT PROBLEM IN TAMPA SO WE KNEW WE WOULD BE DEALING WITH A LOT OF CORPES. THE QUESTION WAS WHETHER THE CORPSES WERE GOING TO BE NRS INFECTED OR PERMANENTLY DEAD. YOU HAVEN’T SEEN GROSS UNTIL YOU’VE SEEN A ZOMBIE THAT IS WALKING AROUND WHILE INFESTED WITH FLESH EATING MAGGOTS.

WE CAME AROUND THE BEND AND THE SMELL WAS GOD AWFUL; WE COULD SEE BODIES AND PARTS OF BODIES LYING BLOATED AND DECAYING EVERYWHERE. THE SOUND OF THE FLIES WAS CONSTANT AND REMINDED ME OF THE AIRPORT ON A BUSY DAY. WE STILL DIDN’T KNOW WHETHER THEY WERE DEAD OR MADE DEAD, BUT THE LURE OF THE FUEL SUPPLIES WAS TOO MUCH FOR US TO IGNORE. WE SLOWLY AND GINGERLY PULLED OFF THE INTERSTATE THAT WAS AMAZINGLY FREE OF ANY KIND OF ROADBLOCKS AT THAT POINT.

WE PULLED INTO THE LEAST CONGESTED REFUELING STATION. ANGUS KEPT JUICER RUNNING AND I WRAPPED A BANDANA AROUND MY NOSE AND MOUTH THEN ROLLED OUT AND OVER TO THE AVALANCHE TO SEE WHAT DIXON WANTED TO DO. SOME IDIOT CRAWLING OUT OF THE RUBBLE NEARLY DIED WHEN HE DIDN’T GIVE US ANY WARNING. I STOPPED THE SHOT JUST IN TIME AND DIXON, THE FASTER MARKSMAN, WAS ABLE TO PULL HIS SHOT WIDE OF THE MARK OTHERWISE WE WOULD HAVE BOTH PUT A BULLET IN HIM.

IN TOTAL THERE ARE SIX SURVIVORS, OR WERE SIX AS I DON’T KNOW HOW MANY ARE LEFT NOW, LIVING IN THE DEBRIS LEFT BEHIND BY RAIDERS AND A LARGE ZOMBIE HORDE. SISSY SAYS THAT SHE'S ALREADY WRITTEN DOWN WHAT I TOLD HER ABOUT THIS AREA SO I WON’T REPEAT IT EXCEPT TO SAY THOSE FOOLS WERE PATHETIC. THEY WERE DOING NOTHING TO HELP THEMSELVES. THEY HAD UNIMAGINABLE RICHES JUST LAYING AROUND; THE FUEL, THE FOOD, THE GUNS AND AMMO LEFT BEHIND BY THE RAIDERS. WE TRIED TO PICK SOME OF THE WEAPONS UP AND PUT THEM IN THEIR HANDS BUT THEY WANTED NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM. THEY WERE TOO SCARED TO EVEN DEFEND THEMSELVES. IDIOTS; PACIFISTS AND THE INTENTIONALLY HELPLESS WON’T SURVIVE THESE DAYS. YOU DON’T NEED TO BE A BULLY, BUT YOU CAN’T EXPECT PEOPLE TO TREAT YOU WITH RESPECT IF YOU WON’T DO ANYTHING TO EARN IT EITHER.

WE GRABBED SOME GAS AND SOME GUNS THAT WERE LYING ABOUT. I’LL ADMIT MOST EVERYTHING WAS MUCKED UP IN SOME WAY BUT SOME STUFF WAS SALVAGEABLE. MY GUESS IS IF THOSE PEOPLE HAVEN’T GOTTEN OVER THEIR POST TRAUMATIC SHOCK OR WHATEVER IT IS GOING ON WITH THEM THEN THEY ARE TOAST. NO OTHER WAY TO PRETTY IT UP. MORE THAN LIKELY THEY HAVE ALL BECOME ZOMBIE CHOW. I WAS ANGRY THEN AND I STILL GET ANGRY THINKING ABOUT IT NOW. NO ONE CAN AFFORD TO HELP A PERSON THT WON’T PARTICIPATE IN THEIR OWN RESCUE. FAILING TO AT LEAST TRY AND HELP YOURSELF IS CRIMINAL.

WHAT IS REALLY BAD IS THAT THOSE SIX, AS BAD A SHAPE AS THEY WERE IN, WERE THE LAST LIVE PEOPLE WE SAW THAT DAY. WE CONTINUED HEADING NORTH, STILL WEAVING IN AND OUT OF TRAFFIC OR JUST SHOVING THROUGH BUT NEVER HAVING AN EASY TIME OF IT. ABOUT THE TIME WE PASSED THE MICANOPY EXIT THINGS STARTED GETTING EERIE. I MEAN ALL ANIMAL SOUNDS WERE GONE. ANGUS’ TRUCK IS NOISY, BUT WHEN IDLING YOU CAN STILL HEAR STUFF. THERE JUST WASN'T ANYTHING OUT THERE; LIKE THE HAND OF GOD HAD COME DOWN AND SNUFFED ALL LIFE RIGHT OUT.

WE HAD MAINTAINED RADIO SILENCE AS MUCH AS WE COULD JUST TO BE ON THE SAFE SIDE. IN THAT LOCATION THOUGH IT WAS JUST TOO FREAKY TO GET OUT OF OUR VEHICLES. WE SLOWED DOWN TO A CRAWL, SOME DUE TO TRAFFIC AND SOME DUE TO THE FACT THAT IT FELT LIKE SOMETHING WAS ABOUT TO JUMP UP OUT OF THE BUSHES AT US AT ANY SECOND.

WE GOT TO A REASONABLY CLEAR SECTION AND PULLED OVER. WE LEFT THE VEHICLES RUNNING; WE WEREN’T STUPID. THE BRUSH OUT ON PAYNE’S PRAIRIE MOVED LIKE IT HAD NO WIND I HAD EVER SEEN RIPPLING THROUGH IT. UNNATURAL ANIMAL SOUNDS ALSO COULD NOW BE HEARD FROM JUST ABOUT EVERY DIRECTION. WHEN WE HEARD THE DAMN LION ROARING THOUGH, THAT IS WHEN WE DECIDED IT WAS TIME TO GET OUR BUTTS BACK IN THE CABS AND GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. I WON’T GO THAT WAY AGAIN IF THERE IS ANY WAY AROUND IT. WHATEVER HAS INHERITED THE PRAIRIE AND MADE IT HOME ISN’T ANYTHING I WANT TO MEET UP WITH.

WE GOT OFF THE INTERSTATE AT THE FIRST GAINESVILLE EXIT WHICH IS 331. IT LOOKED LIKE A WAR ZONE. EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK THERE ARE BURNED OUT BUILDINGS, BURNED OUT CARS, BROKEN WINDOWS THOUGH SOMEONE DID TRY AND BOARD SOME OF THEM UP AT SOME POINT; EVEN THE ROADS LOOK LIKE THEY HAD BEEN BLOWN UP IN PLACES. WE CIRCUMNAVIGATED THE WHOLE CITY AND IT WAS ALL LIKE THAT, INCLUDING THE CAMPUS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA. THAT PLACE WAS NEARLYAS BAD AS PAYNE’S PRAIRIE. WE NEVER SAW A SINGLE LIVING SOUL THOUGH THERE MIGHT HAVE BEEN SOME PEOPLE IN ONE OF THE CAMPUS BUILDINGS. IT COULD JUST AS EASILY HAVE BEEN ZOMBIES THAT WERE STUCK INSIDE. NONE OF US WANTED TO FIND OUT THOUGH WE HUNG UP THE REQUISITE FLYERS IN VAIN HOPE.

WE DECIDED TO GET OUT OF DODGE AND HEAD BACK TO THE INTERSTATE ON 222. AS WE PASSED DEVIL’S MILLHOPPER GEOLOGIC PARK SOME SOUND COMING OUT OF THERE CAUGHT OUR EARS. AFTER A BRIEF CONSULTATION WE PULLED INTO THE PARKING LOT AND SLOWLY WALKED THE BOARDWALK LOOKING FOR THE CAUSE OF THE HUMAN VOICES WE KEPT HEARING AT ODD INTERVALS. IT WAS COMING FROM THE SINKHOLE AREA AND WE EASED OUR WAY OVER TO CHECK IT OUT.

THE SIGHT THAT MET MY EYES WHEN I FINALLY FIGURED OUT WHAT I WAS LOOKING AT WAS ALMOST TOO MUCH. TOUGH OL’ MCELROY HAD FINALLY FOUND SOMETHING THAT MADE HIM TOSS HIS COOKIES. THE REST OF US WEREN’T TOO MUCH FROM FOLLOWING HIM.

IT WAS A YOUNG GIRL, OR WHAT USED TO BE A GIRL. SHE … IT … WAS IMPALED ON A PIECE OF BROKEN BOARDWALK ABOUT HALF WAY DOWN INTO THE SINKHOLE NATURE TRAIL. SHE HAD ONE OF THOSE SOLIO SOLAR CHARGERS HOOKED UP TO HER IPOD. THE SOUND SHOULD HAVE BEEN BARELY AUDIBLE BUT WAS SOMEHOW AMPLIFIED BY THE ACOUSTICS OF THE SINKHOLE. IT WAS LIKE WATCHING A BUG STUCK ON A PIN. HER LEGS AND ARMS, CLAD IN WHAT MUST HAVE BEEN A BRIGHT YELLOW T-SHIRT AND SHORTS AT ONE TIME, MOVED IN AN ODD SEMBLANCE OF TAPING TO THE BEAT OF THE MUSIC. I FINALLY PULLED MYSELF AWAY AND SAID A QUICK PRAYER THAT I’LL NEVER HAVE TO SEE MY KIDS LIKE THAT. I'LL RIP MY OWN EYES OUT FIRST.

WE ALL QUICKLY RETURNED TO THE VEHICLES THOROUGHLY DEPRESSED. WHY IS IT YOU CAN LOOK AT ZOMBIE AFTER ZOMBIE, SOME OF THEM HORRORIFICALLY DISFIGURED WITH NO REACTION; BUT THEN SOME ZOMBIES WILL JUST KICK YOU IN THE GUT EMOTIONALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY?

IT WAS GETTING LATE BY THAT TIME, TOO LATE TO GET AWAY FROM THE HELL ON EARTH THAT GAINESVILLE HAD BECOME. LATE ENOUGH THAT WE STARTED TO WORRY THAT WE WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO FIND A DEFENSIBLE POSITION TO HOLE UP FOR THE NIGHT. WE STOPPED AT THREE PLACES BEFORE RUNNING ACROSS A D.O.T. SHED THAT WAS JUST EAST OF THE INTERSTATE ITSELF. IT WAS MADE OF CONCRETE BLOCK AND HAD HEAVY ROLL DOWNS ON BAYS RATHER THAN REGULAR WINDOWS AND DOORS. WE EVEN FOUND A FUEL PUMP BEHIND THE SHED THAT HAD BEEN OVERLOOKED BY LOOTERS.

THAT’S WHERE WE STAYED THE NIGHT. BUT FRANKLY I DON’T THINK ANY OF US WOULD HAVE SLEPT AT ALL IF WE HADN’T BEEN SO TIRED.

Day 134 (Tuesday)

After reading Scott’s first submission for my journal I have a feeling I’m going to find out things that happened on the North Florida Run that maybe I would prefer not to know. Oh well, I asked for it. And besides Scott is home and that is all that counts at the moment.

Actually Scott and Jim were gone off and on most of the day. They were helping Angus get set up. When they weren’t over there, they were working with the crews that have begun to bring down all of the wooden telephone poles that can be found within a decent radius of Sanctuary. Everyone still has the hole-digging saboteurs on their mind. Every morning and night we walk the entire perimeter to make sure that no one else has been interfering with the Wall. I spent a lot of time today raking debris away from the bottom edge so that we can tell if anyone has disturbed things. Eventually we’ll hook a drag or something similar behind the tow truck and keep a firebreak that is all dirt.

Besides that, I mended a couple of shirts, went over the garden and groves for anything ready to harvest, and I went through a couple of more boxes and bags from my parents’ stuff. I found all my mom’s dried beans that she packed into her old half gallon and gallon-sized canning jars. At least I think I found them all. The way my brother packed things into the trailer didn't have any kind of organization to it at all. I remember seeing those jars full of tomato juice in my grandmother’s fruit house. Amazing the memories of childhood that stick with you. I also remember that blasted rooster that used to guard the fruit house like he was a battalion commander or something. I still have a scar in the top of my head where he attacked me one time.

I’ll keep some of the beans but most of them will go into Sanctuary’s supplies. I’m also keeping some to see if I can get them to germinate. The end of this month most of the bush beans should be dried on their vines and I’ll pull them and winnow the beans, adding another supply of long term storage food that we badly need. I’m anxious for the garbanzo beans to make especially since we don’t have that many left. For those that don’t know what a garbanzo bean is, it’s just a chick pea.

A thought ran across my head last night and it’s been eating at me. What happens if we can't keep all of the different species of food plants going? I mean, what if we have a failure one year of say our dent corn variety? It’s not like we can just go out and find a new supplier. We are it. Same with the different squashes, beans, and all the other vegetables and fruits. Will we lose varieties as times go by so that in a couple of years or so we are down to one type of each ... or maybe none at all because they all got some kind of plant disease? That really worries me. It’s just one more reason why getting a trade route opened up is going to be important. Information is the big thing, but there are a lot of other practical reasons behind it as well.

This Saturday I intend on trying something new with beans. I found a recipe while looking through one of my mother’s cookbooks. The book must have been a gift from a friend because it isn’t one I recognize. The recipe is called Spicy Bean Bread. We’ve already had to start finding ways to extend our wheat flour. In addition to the pallet of 50 lbs. bags of flour we still have I have a couple of barrels of whole wheat but that won’t last but a couple of more months at the rate it takes to feed nearly 50 people. After that we’ll be down to growing dent corn for cornmeal, assuming we can pull that off. The more options we have the better. I know a little north of here by a county they can grow winter rye but I’m not sure if it will make seed around here. We mostly use it for making grass during the winter months. I supposed I can plant a patch now and see how well it does. I’ve got a boatload of soybeans that I can grind for soy flour but that needs other flours to make bread, same with rice flour and potato flour. Bean flour and acorn flour I already know how to make. I think, but I’m not sure, that we may be able to grow millet around here. Again, that’s an experiment that needs to be done. We are already doing lots of experimenting, trying to find replacements for things we used to take for granted.

Patricia and Rhonda, our two pregnant ladies, are getting along really well. I’m glad. There is almost 15 years of age difference between them but their common experience bridges that. Rachel, whatever her personal feelings, continues to be the supreme professional when it comes to their medical care. If I never say another word about her I’ll always respect her for that. I haven't talked to Rachel today. I haven't had time. She worries me a bit, maybe because she, Patricia, and I share both the best and worst personality characteristics I see her having a really hard time adjusting to whatever is going on between her and Dix. I haven't a clue how Patricia dealt with Dix's idiocyncrasies over the years; I would have beaned him with a skillet a long time ago. Scott can be mule-headed and testosterone driven but he's also got some depth to him. Dix strikes me as the kind of man who doesn't realize he has depths until middle age ... maybe that's the problem. He's going through his own adjustment reaction.

Tonight over dinner everyone was discussing all of the projects, building and otherwise, that need to be worked on here in Sanctuary. The list is depressingly long though not all of the projects are necessities. Scott said he needs to get things prioritized so that we can get them on the chore calendars. After a relatively short debate it was agreed unanimously that we need to get the “skin” of telephone poles on the outside of the Wall. It’s going to be a huge undertaking and will likely take weeks to complete. Not only that, but we will probably have to pull those poles down from all over town to get enough for our purposes.

That job begins tomorrow with the poles that were pulled down today. While Scott guides the team installing the poles, McElroy will take charge of the team who will gather the next day’s supply of poles. If that team can stay a day or two ahead of the installers there should be less down time to slow the project up.

The bad thing about this will be that most of the adult men will be needed to work both crews. It will be up to the women and children to keep our regular chore schedule going. Matlock and Dixon both agree that James will temporarily be put in charge of guard duty rotations for the boys. To rotate shifts he has himself, Samuel, Bo and Tom who are still too young for single watches so they team up, Marty, and Clark Morris. Marty has begun to settle down and is reliable as long as he has specific and firm instructions. James says Clark is nearly 16 and is also good as a bow hunter. He’s promised to show James how to hunt big game with a compound bow. Maybe sooner rather than later. We heard some elk bugaling in the area this morning.

We women will fill in the rest of the slots and some of the adult men will take supper watch and pre-breakfast watch that way, barring any emergencies, they should be able to have at least six hours uninterrupted sleep so that they can work hard all day.

I hope simultaneously that they are able to finish some of the roofs on the guard towers as well as build the new one at the obtuse bend in the Wall. The tarps won’t last forever and we’ve had some wind the last couple of days too that caused some flapping and ripping.

I worry when it gets windy like this. In the summer I’d say tropical weather was on its way. In the winter it could presage a cold front. But I like the winter winds least. It’s not the possible cold so much as it is the drying effect the wind has on everything. The lower humidity is nice as is speed up on the clothes line but when we haven’t had any rain this is also known as wildfire weather. Every once in a while I am startled to catch a whiff of smoke on the wind. I haven’t seen any smoke but I just know I’ve smelled it. Scott mentioned today that Angus had said the same thing. Green grass has sprung up all through the Big Fire’s path but that doesn’t mean fire won’t go through there again. There is still plenty of trash to re-ignite if the fire is hot enough.

You know, for the most part we do pretty well as a group here in Sanctuary but there are some things that other residents do that make me scratch my head. When the wood stove was put together I know that I specifically said that no one could burn green wood or wood with a high sap content like cedar or pine in it. I know I said it. I told them about the danger of creosote build up that could result in reduced efficiency, smoke, and bad fires. I explained it was the same thing as with indoor fireplaces. You just can’t do some things no matter how much work you think you are saving. We’re just plain lucky that Betty caught the problem before it turned into something worse.

Someone has been burning pine to get the fire started in the combustion champer. I know only a little has been burned but that little bit had already coated the inside of the fire box and grate as well as the stove pipes. We had to take the whole thing apart and clean the creosote and ash out of it. I was saving the ash too to make lye and now I’ll have to start all over again. I tried hard not to be irritated ‘cause nobody is perfect but just to make sure everyone remembers I made sure that it was all of us cooks that did that bit of heavy labor. We are also out the use of the stove until tomorrow because a couple of the pieces had to be boiled in a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar and they have to set overnight before we can use them again. I also made a sign that said “no pine or cedar in the wood box” which should help folks remember as well. We’ve had fun cooking over an open fire again and this wind made it tricky at best. Some of the food had a fine layer of ash for seasoning. We caught some comments from the men on that.

That whole mess brought up that the only thing against putting that skin of wooden poles on the outside of the Wall is fire danger. Luckily Scott thinks he knows where we can get some fire retardant chemicals that we can paint or spray on the logs. It’s the same type of chemical that is used on wood siding and wood shingles here in Florida. Bonus points if we can find the high-end version because that is also mold and termite resistant and lasts up to 10 years. Scott says it only takes one coat and that a gallon covers 125 square feet. At that rate we better find a lot of it; but at least we don’t have to worry about the price; chuckle, chuckle.

The citrus harvest is getting ahead of me. I’ve still got some tangerines on the trees and J. Paul said he found several loaded tangerine trees three blocks to our east in someone’s back yard. Being from north Florida he isn’t used to being able to pull citrus straight from the tree. I told him to go ahead and take the napsack full that he had brought back so his family could eat their fill. Tomorrow I’ll take the cart over there with the wagon attached and bring back several bushels, juice them, and then can the juice. I might dry some of the peel but most of it will go into compost. I'm loving that little barrel composter that James made for me. I wish he had time to make several. He said he will but I haven't got a clue when he will find the time to do it.

The oranges and tangelos are starting to come in like gangbusters as well. As I have the opportunity I’ll pull oranges from trees outside the Wall and preserve them in some way. I’ll leave what I can on the trees inside the Wall and we’ll probably be drinking orange juice at every meal until June or July. The end of this month we also have the white, pink, and ruby red grapefruits coming in. The temples and valencias won’t be ready until March, which is fine by me.

I’d like to try and take advantage of such abundance while we have it. After the grapefruit come in I plan on having grilled grapefruit for breakfast at least once a week. Of course the citrus will be added to our regular fruit salad bowl at lunch. I’m also using the citrus juice to make different flavors of salad dressings like Orange-Honey French and Cooked Citrus Dressing. But there is the Sun Belt Lasagna recipe that Mr. Morris gave me that he said his wife one first place at the county fair with. I’m also thinking of making Citrus Ham Balls by grinding up some of the canned hams we have. And you can really jazz up veggies using citrus like the Squash in Orange Cream Sauce we had tonight at dinner. I had to make the sour cream from canned milk but you couldn’t tell the difference. In the morning I am fixing Orange Cinnamon Toast for breakfast. If I don’t watch it folks might get tired of the citrus before it is gone. Its going to be feast or famine from here on out I'm afraid.

We’ve heard from the Tarpon Springs group. They need a part for a boat but can’t find it in their area. It is for one of the larger shrimp or crab boats. They think that it is available over in the Port of Tampa. If we can get the part and meet them half way then they’ll trade us some fresh sea food. It means a dangerous trip back over the Port area and it will also mean delays on completing the Wall, but the amount of seafood they are talking about as trade would make a huge meal and leave us some to can for later. That’s assuming we can find the part. Jim, who is familiar with boat engines and also intimately familiar with the lay out of the Port says that he is willing to go to the Port and then transport the part to Tarpon Springs. I think he has been looking for a way to contribute besides teaching the kids how to take care of the Ostrich. He’s a nice man, but I can tell he’s been itching for some action. I don’t think he is all that used to a tame life.

And with that I’m done for the night. I’ll stick Scott’s next installment here. I was right, there are a few things about the North Florida Run that I was more comfortable not knowing.

SCOTT’S NARRATION OF THE NORTH FLORIDA RUN
Part Two

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2ND, WAS OUR FIRST FULL DAY ON THE ROAD. BASICALLY THE DAY SUCKED FROM BEGINNING TO END WITH ONLY A MINOR BREAK FROM THE SUCKFEST AROUND LUNCHTIME.

FIRST THING IN THE MORNING WE HAD TO SHOOT OUR WAY OUT OF GAINESVILLE. I DON’T KNOW WHAT DRIVES THE ZOMBIES TO BE LIKE THEY ARE. ALL I KNOW IS THAT THEY CAN BE A PAIN IN THE BUTT. THEY ARE ALWAYS MUCKING UP THE BEST LAID PLANS.

ABOUT 3AM THE DOGS WOKE US UP WITH THEIR DAMN COLD NOSES. A COLD NOSE ON THE BACK OF THE NECK WILL WAKE THE DEAD OUT OF A DEEP SLEEP. IT WAS TOO DARK TO SEE FOR SURE BUT FROM THE SOUND OF ALL THE SHUFFLING AND SCRAPING WE NEEDED AN NRS EXTERMINATION TEAM BADLY. THERE WAS NO WAY TO RELAX ENOUGH TO GO BACK TO SLEEP SO WE SAT AROUND IN THE DARK TRYING TO BE AS QUIET AS POSSIBLE. SUNRISE REVEALED THE TAILEND OF WHAT MUST HAVE BEEN A VERY LARGE ZOMBIE HORDE HEADING EAST. GOD HELP ANYONE IN THEIR WAY.

WHAT DRIVES THEM TO MOVE IN CONCERT LIKE SCHOOLS OF FISH? WE STILL DON’T KNOW FOR SURE BUT TOWARDS THE END OF THE TRIP WE MAY HAVE FOUND PART OF THE PUZZLE.

THE HORDE FINALLY PASSED BUT IT LEFT A LARGE NUMBER OF STRAGGLERS BEHIND. YOU NEVER TURN YOU BACK ON A ZOMBIE. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER IT IS PART OF A HUGE HORDE, IN A GROUP OF STRAGGLERS, OR JUST OFF ON ITS OWN. WHETHER A ZOMBIE IS ONE OF MANY OR ONE ALONE IT CAN STILL MAKE YOU JUST AS DEAD. SOMETIMES THE STRAGGLRERS AND SINGLES CAN BE THE WORST. AFTER DEALING WITH A HORDE YOU CAN UNDERESTIMATE THEIR DANGER.

WE’VE LEARNED THE HARD WAY THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HARMLESS ZOMBIE OR AN EASY KILL. WE TREATED THESE STRAGGLERS LIKE WE WOULD NUCLEAR WASTE; KEEP AS MUCH DISTANCE BETWEEN US AND THEM AND THEN FOCUS ON CONTAINMENT AND NUETRALIZATION.

NORMALLY WE MIGHT HAVE KEPT TRACK OF WHO SHOT HOW MANY AND WITH WHAT WEAPON. WE COMPARE STATS TO SEE WHICH WEAPON IS WORKING BEST IN WHAT SITUATION. I CAN TELL RIGHT NOW THAT MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT A DIFFERENT WEAPON WITH ME. I’M NOT ALL THAT FAMILIAR WITH THE SPR94 AND RELOADING IS A PAIN WHEN YOU ARE DEALING WITH MULTIPLE TARGETS. I’M JUST NOT AS FAST AS THE REST OF THE GUYS ARE, THOUGH I’M A HELL OF A LOT FASTER THAN I USED TO BE. ACCURACY IS GREAT; JUST NEED TO WORK ON THE RELOADING ISSUE, TWO SHOTS – ONE RIFLE, ONE SHOTGUN – AND THEN I HAVE TO STOP AND TAKE TIME I MIGHT NOT HAVE. I THINK THE GUN WILL BE A LOT HANDIER FOR HUNTING THAN FOR ZED DEFENSE. I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, "I’LL GIVE IT MORE TIME TO SEE BUT IF WE PASS ANY MORE PAWNSHOPS ALONG THE WAY I MIGHT WANT TO TRY AND PICK UP ANOTHER WEAPON."

WE FINALLY GOT CLEAR AND EASED BACK UP ONTO THE INTERSTATE. NONE OF US WERE IN THE MOOD TO DEAL WITH THE GRIDLOCK. JAMES IS … WAS … A GATOR FAN AND THOUGHT ABOUT GOING TO UF FOR COLLEGE. IT WAS DEPRESSING TO THINK ON ALL THAT HE WOULD NOW MISS BECAUSE OF NRS. I GRABBED A COUPLE OF PENNANTS THAT HAD BEEN LYING AROUND IN THE D.O.T. SHED BUT SEEING ALL OF THE DEAD KIDS IN THE CARS ON THE INTERESTATE AND ALL THE ZOMBIES AROUND HERE WITH GATOR COLORS ON MADE ME RETHINK WHETHER I WOULD GIVE THEM TO HIM OR NOT. THEY ARE STILL IN JUICER UNDER THE SEAT.

THE INTERSTATE WAS SO BAD HEADING NORTH OUT OF GAINESVILLE THAT WE NEARLY GOT BLOCKED IN AND COULDN’T MOVE. WE HAD TO BACK TRACK, DRIVING BACKWARDS, TO A PLACE WE COULD CROSS THE INTERSTATE TO THE OTHER SIDE. AFTER STOPPING FOR A CONSULTATION WE DECIDED THAT WE NEEDED OFF THE INTERSTATE AND WE NEEDED OFF RIGHT THEN, IF FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN OUR NERVES.

WE HEADED BACK SOUTH A BIT AND PICKED UP SR26 THINKING WE WOULD TAKE IT WEST TO US27 AND THEN GO NORTH INTO ALACHUA FROM THERE. ONCE WE WERE OFF THE INTERSTATE WE MADE BETTER TIME; NOT GREAT TIME, BUT BETTER. EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER MUST HAVE TRIED TO ESCAPE FROM ONE PLACE TO ANOTHER ONCE THE STATE-WIDE QUARANTINE WENT INTO EFFECT. NO PLACE WITHIN MILES OF THE INTERSTATE WAS SAFE. IN ADDITION TO THEIR OWN POPULATION DENSITY, TOWNS ALONG THE ROADWAYS HAD TO DEAL WITH THE MOBS LEAVING THE BIG CITIES. SOMETIMES I WONDER IF THAT IS WHY WE DON’T HAVE AS MANY ZOMBIES AS EXPECTED DOWN IN TAMPA. YOU GET ENOUGH LEAVING TOWN, THE CITIES WIND UP BEING EMPTIER THAN THE RURAL AREAS. IT MUST HAVE BEEN A FREAKING NIGHTMARE AT ANY BORDER TOWN ALONG THE STATE LINE.

WHEN WE GOT TO THE INTERSECTION OF SR26 AND US27 WE CHANGED PLANS AGAIN. IF ALACHUA WASN'T ANY BETTER THAN GAINESVILLE IT WAS JUST A WASTE OF FUEL AND TIME TO HEAD ANY FURTHER NORTH. IT WAS SHORTER TO GET TO TRENTON AT THAT POINT, AND THAT WAS ONLY ABOUT 10 MILES FROM SISSY’S PARENTS’ PLACE. I WAS TRYING NOT TO THINK TOO MUCH ABOUT WHAT WE WOULD FIND WHEN WE FINALLY GOT THERE BUT SISSY NEEDED TO KNOW. HELL, I NEEDED TO KNOW. I KNOW I WAS PISSED AT SISSY FOR TRYING OVER AND OVER WITH THE DAMN CELL PHONE. I FEEL BAD FOR IT AND I HOPE READING THIS SHE UNDERSTANDS THAT I WAS NEVER ANGRY AT HER BUT AT THE HOPELESS FEELINGS I HAD AND AT HOW MUCH I KNEW SHE WAS HURTING.

WE WOUND UP PULLING OVER AND EATING LUNCH AND DOING A LITTLE DE FACTO BURGLARY AT A PAWNSHOP THAT SET BACK FROM THE ROAD A BIT. IT WAS ALL BOARDED UP WITH HURRICANE SHUTTERS AND IT TOOK US NEARLY A HALF HOUR TO BREAK IN. IN FACT, WE ONLY MADE IT IN BECAUSE ANGUS BUMPED THE SIDE OF THE BUILDING AND PUNCHED A HOLE IN THE EXTERIOR BLOCK WALL.

WAS LIKE A DAMN CANDY STORE IN THERE. IT HADN’T BEEN TOUCHED WHICH SAID TO ME MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE COULD THAT NEWBERRY HAD BEEN EMPTY A LONG, LONG TIME … MAYBE SINCE SEPTEMBER.

MCELROY WAS THE FIRST TO FIND HIM A NEW WEAPON. IT WAS A 9MM BERETTA. I GUESS HE WAS HAPPY WITH IT. HE WAS CUDDLING THE DAMN THING LIKE IT WAS A NEW GIRLFRIEND. DIXON FOUND ANOTHER COLT 1911 SO NOW HE HAS A SPARE. HE AND ANGUS WERE TALKING OVER THE PROS AND CONS OF THE GUN WHEN DIX SPOTTED SOMETHING AND CALLED ME OVER. HE WAS SMART AND DIDN’T TRY AND TALK ME OUT OF THE SPR94 BUT HE DID ASK ME TO GIVE THE AK47 HE FOUND A TRY. HE SAID IT ISN’T THE MOST ACCURATE GUN ON THE MARKET BUT SINCE YOU CAN SHOOT IT FAST THAT ISN’T MUCH OF A FACTOR AS LONG AS YOUR TARGET IS WITHIN 100 YARDS. SEVERAL TIMES I’VE FOUND THAT TO BE TRUE NOW. I STILL LIKE MY SPR94 BUT THE AK47 HAS A PLACE IN MY GEAR AS WELL. IT’S CERTAINLY EASY ENOUGH TO USE. ALONG WITH THE ASSAULT RIFLE WE DUG OUT SEVERAL MAGAZINES FOR IT; A COUPLE OF 30 ROUND MAGAZINES, A COUPLE OF 40 ROUND MAGAZINES, AND THEN A DRUM MAGAZINE THAT WILL HOLD 75 ROUNDS. SAVES ME TIME ON RELOADING THAT’S FOR CERTAIN. GUESS IT MEANS THAT THEY DIDN'T HAVE TO COVER FOR ME AS MUCH EITHER, I DIDN'T THINK OF THAT UNTIL LATER THOUGH.

WE LOADED UP ALL THE AMMO WE FOUND IN THE STORE, AND THERE WAS CONSIDERABLE. WHOEVER THE OWNER WAS, LIKELY HE WASN’T DEALING WITH JUST YOUR LEGAL STUFF. YOU TELL ME WHAT LEGAL PAWNSHOP OWNER KEEPS HONEST TO GOD HAND GRENADES AND BLOCKS OF C4 IN A CONCRETE BUNKER IN A BACK ROOM. HAD ANGUS TAPPED THE BUILDING ANY HARDER, WE MIGHT HAVE FLOWN BACK TO TAMPA WITH HEAVENLY WINGS. THERE WAS ALSO A BOX OF WHAT LOOKED LIKE LAND MINES. DIX WAS BREATHING HARD AFTER WE HAD PILED A BUNCH OF THE STUFF UP TO TAKE. DON’T KNOW IF HE WAS GETTING OFF ON IT OR NOT BUT I SURE AS HELL WASN’T TOO HAPPY KNOWING WHAT SOME OF THE STUFF I WAS SITTING ON WAS.

GRABBED SISSY A GUN FROM THERE TOO. NICE LITTLE RUGER LONG BARREL. MAYBE IF IT IS PRETTY SHE WON’T FORGET SHE HAS IT ON HER AND WILL ACTUALLY USE IT AND STOP RELYING ON THAT BLASTED MACHETE SHE LIKES TOO MUCH. I’D RATHER SHE STAY FURTHER AWAY FROM ANY ASSAILANT THAN AN ARM PLUS MACHETE LENGTH.

THERE WAS A LOT OF OTHER STUFF IN THE PAWNSHOP TOO BUT IT WASN’T WORTH THE HASSLE OF TAKING IT. WE’VE ALREADY GOT A NICE LITTLE STASH OF STUFF AT DRISCOLL’S SO THERE WASN’T ANY REASON FOR US TO GRAB THE JEWELRY AND COINS THAT WERE IN THE GLASS CASES, THEY’D ONLY WEIGH US DOWN. I DID POCKET A HANDFUL OF CAMEO PINS THAT WERE THERE FOR SISSY AND THE GIRLS. I WANTED SOME OF THE TOOLS I SAW, BUT AGAIN, WE’VE GOT THAT STUFF BACK IN SANCTUARY. THREW ALL THE KNIVES IN A COUPLE OF STORAGE TUBS THOUGH AND GOT THIS NIFTY LITTLE THING CALLED A SHOCK KNIFE. MCELROY SAID IT WAS A TRAINING TOOL CREATED IN CANADA. IT DELIVERS AN ELECTRIC SHOCK THAT SIMULATES THE PAIN OF AN ACTUAL KNIFE WOUND AND IS SUPPOSED TO CREATE THE SAME FIGHT OR FLIGHT RESPONSE WITHOUT CREATING AN ACTUAL WOUND. TO BE HONEST I HAVEN’T GOT A CLUE WHEN IT MIGHT GET SOME USE, BUT YOU NEVER KNOW. DOUBLE BONUS POINTS WHEN ANGUS FOUND A BIG SUPPLY OF BLACK POWDER AND RELOAD EQUIPMENT IN A LEAN-TO ATTACHED TO THE BACK OF THE BUILDING.

AFTER WE LOADED EVERYTHING WE REALLY DID NEED TO HEAD ON DOWN THE ROAD SO WE CONTINUED WEST ON SR26 TRYING TO GET TO HWY129. WE WERE ABOUT A MILE OUTSIDE OF TRENTON WHEN WE RAN ACROSS A BOOBY TRAP. SOME SHIT HAD LACED THE ROAD WITH NAILS. LUCKILY ANGUS WASN’T ON POINT. I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE WOULD HAVE DONE IF JUICER HAD GOTTEN FOUR FLATS. TOOK US AN HOUR TO SCAVENGE THE RIGHT TIRES AND GET THEM CHANGED ON THE AVALANCHE. OF COURSE TO GET IT DONE WE HAD TO UNLOAD IT. THE CHEVY ALREADY WEIGHS OVER 2.5 TONS AND IT WAS A BITCH TO GET THE TIRES CHANGED. I WASN'T THE ONLY ONE WITH BUSTED KNUCKLES.

WE SLOWED DOWN AFTER THAT AND IT WAS A GOOD THING TOO. RIGHT AT THE MAIN INTERSECTION IN TRENTION … THE TOWN ONLY HAS ONE TRAFFIC LIGHT … THERE WAS A ROADBLOCK MANNED BY HEAVILY ARMED HUMANS. THERE WERE ALL SORTS OF RELIGIOUS INSIGNIA ON FLAGS AND TIED TO POLES ALL AROUND THE ROADBLOCK. WE DIDN’T FIGURE IT WAS WORTH THE TROUBLE SO WE WERE BACKING UP TO DETOUR AROUND VIA A DIFFERENT ROUTE I KNEW WHEN THE CRAPHEADS OPENED FIRE ON US.

THE AVALANCHE BACKED UP ENOUGH SO THAT ANGUS COULD USE JUICER, WITH ITS HEAVIER METAL PLATING, TO GIVE COVER. THE BED OF THE TRUCK STILL GOT SHOT TO HELL AND WE ARE LUCKY THAT WE PUT ALL THE STUFF THAT GOES BOOM IN THE TRAILER BEHIND JUICER OTHERWISE EVERYONE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN A BIG SURPRISE. NEXT TIME WE GO ON A RUN I'M TAKING A ARMORED VEHICLE, MAYBE A SOOPED UP WELLS FARGO TRUCK OR SOMETHING.

AND AS IF THINGS COULDN'T GET MORE COMPLICATED, ABOUT THAT TIME A SMALL HORDE OF ZOMBIES WALKED INTO THE INTERSECTION FROM THE TREE LINE TO THE SW. THE PEOPLE AT THE INTERSECTION WERE GOING TO BE ZOMBIE CHOW. THERE WERE TOO MANY OF THEM AND MOST OF THE PEOPLE IN TOWN WERE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW IT AND FLEE FOR BETTER PROTECTION. ANGUS AND I LOOKED AT EACH OTHER AND SAID, “AW HELL, WHY NOT?”

I ROLLED OUT AND DETACHED THE TRAILER REAL QUICK AND GAVE DIXON A QUICK UPDATE ON WHAT WE WERE GOING TO DO. MCELROY WAS TRYING AND NOT HAVING MUCH LUCK TO PATCH UP A GRAZE ON DIX’S FOREHEAD. I ALMOST CALLED IT OFF WHEN I SAW HOW BADLY DAMAGED THE TRUCK WAS ON TOP OF DIX’S HEAD WOUND BUT ONE WAY OR ANOTHER WE WOULD HAVE TO FACE THE ZOMBIES AND A LITTLE GOODWILL NEVER HURT ANYTHING.

JUICER WENT TO WORK AND IN UNDER AN HOUR ANGUS HAD CLEANED UP ALL BUT A FEW STRAGGLERS; THE RESIDENTS OF TRENTON PICKED THOSE OFF. IN TYPICAL FASHION THERE WERE SOME PEOPLE THAT PURPOSEFULLY ACTED LIKE JACKASSES AND SAID THEY COULD HAVE TAKEN CARE OF THE HORDE WITHOUT OUR HELP BUT ENOUGH PEOPLE WERE APPRECIATIVE THAT WE DIDN’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE SAD-SACKS TOO MUCH.

THE “WELL MET GOOD FELLOWS” ACT WAS A BIT SUSPICIOUS AFTER THEIR PREVIOUS BEHAVIOR BUT IT SEEMS THAT SOME RELIGIOUS NUTS HAD TAKEN OVER THE RUNNING OF THE TOWN. I SUPPOSE THEY MEANT WELL IN THEIR OWN WAY, BUT DAMN THEY HAD A FUNNY WAY OF SHOWING IT. WE GOT SOME KIND OF STUPID RELIGIOUS DESIGNATION AND A SIGN TO PUT IN THE WINDOW. I WOULD HAVE TOSSED IT THE FIRST CHANCE I GOT EXCEPT WE NEEDED TO GO THAT WAY AGAIN ON THE WAY TO CHIEFLAND. IF IT KEPT US FROM GETTING SHOT AT I COULD PUT UP WITH A LITTLE PETTY RELIGIOUS LEGALISM.

THE CLOSER WE GOT TO MY INLAWS’ THE MORE KNOTS I GOT IN MY STOMACH. THEIR LITTLE TOWN DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A TRAFFIC LIGHT. IT HAS … HAD … ONE GAS STATION, A SMALL GROCERY STORE, A COMBINED SCHOOL FOR KINDERGARTEN THROUGH HIGHSCHOOL, AND A HARDWARE AND LUMBER STORE. THAT’S JUST ABOUT IT. NOTHING HAD BEEN TENDED TO IN A LONG TIME. THERE WASN’T MUCH DAMAGE, JUST A LOT OF SILENCE AND AN ATMOSPHERE OF EXTREME NEGLECT.

I SHOWED ANGUS WHERE TO TURN AND THEN TURN AGAIN TO GET BACK TO MY INLAWS’ HEAVILY WOODED FIVE ACRES. THE ACREAGE SITS BACK OFF THE MAIN ROAD AND IS SURROUNDED BY OTHER PLOTS OF DIFFERENT SIZES BUT SIMILAR MAKE UP. NOT A DAMN ANIMAL TO BE SEEN IN THIS AREA WHERE PEOPLE HAD MORE DOGS THAN KIDS AS WE PULLED BACK INTO THE TREES THAT HID SISSY’S PARENTS’ HOME. I KNEW. AS SOON AS I SAW THE PLACE I JUST KNEW FOR CERTAIN.

THERE WASN’T MUCH DAMAGE. IN FACT, ALL THE WINDOWS AND DOORS HAD BEEN BOARDED OVER. MY MOTHER IN LAW’S GREEN HOUSE HAD BEEN TORN DOWN AND WAS IN PIECES ALL OVER THE SIDE YARD AND ONE OF THE BANISTERS ON THE DECK PORCH HAD FALLEN OFF BUT THAT WAS IT. I WAS TRYING REAL HARD NOT TO FEEL ANYTHING AT THAT MOMENT. I COULD HEAR THE DRUMMING IN MY EARS AND THE TICKING OF THE VEHICLES AS THEY COOLED DOWN BUT THAT WAS IT BUT I KEPT EVERYTHING ELSE OUT.

I WALKED AROUND THE PLACE AND SAW MY BROTHER IN LAW’S SEMI OUT BEHIND THE BIG STORAGE SHEDS COVERED IN TARPS AND TREE DEBRIS. I WOULDN’T HAVE GIVEN IT MUCH THOUGHT EXCEPT I KNEW IT DIDN’T BELONG THERE. THE ALUMINUM PANELS THAT COVER THE AREA UNDER THE PORCH HAD TAKEN SOME DAMAGE BUT HAD BEEN REINFORCED WITH WIRE FENCING. I FINALLY WALKED BACK TO THE DECK, CLIMBED THE STAIRS, AND RIPPED OFF THE PLYWOOD THAT COVERED THE FRONT DOOR.

TAPED TO THE DOOR WAS A ZIPLOC BAG THAT HELD A LETTER WITH SISSY’S NAME WRITTEN ON THE ENVELOPE IN BIG BLOCK LETTERS. AFTER READING IT I SAT DOWN AND NOTICED THAT MCELROY WAS UNDER THE AVALANCHE. AN OIL LINE HAD GOTTEN KNICKED AND THERE WAS A COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS THAN WOULD HAVE TO BE REPAIRED BEFORE WE COULD GET BACK ON THE ROAD. THAT SUITED ME BECAUSE I NOW HAD TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH THE STUFF IN THE SEMI AND THINK ON HOW I WAS GOING TO TELL SISSY.

WE UNPACKED SOME OF OUR GEAR AND TOOK IT INSIDE THE TRAILER FOR THE NIGHT. THE INTERIOR WAS DARK, MUSTY, AND MY MOTHER IN LAW WOULD HAVE BEEN HORRIFIED. THERE WAS MOLD GROWING IN TWO CORNERS OF THEIR BEDROOM AND THERE HAD BEEN A LEAK IN THE KITCHEN CEILING. THAT MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE TOLD ME MY INLAWS DIDN’T LIVE THERE ANY MORE.

THE PROBLEM OF WHAT TO DO WITH SISSY’S PARENTS STUFF WASN’T THE ONLY PROBLEM. IN ADDITION TO THE DAMAGE TO THE AVALANCHE, WHICH WAS MINOR, WE DISCOVERED THAT BOTH RADIOS HAD SOME KIND OF DAMAGE TO THEM. BOTH ANTENNAS WERE TOAST AND ONE OF THE RADIOS WERE. WE HAD ONE GOOD RADIO BUT NO WAY TO GET THE SIGNAL OUT OF THE TREES WE WERE SURROUNDED BY.

THE ANTENNA WAS PRETTY EASY TO REPLACE; LOTS OF GOOD OL’ BOYS AND GIRLS IN THE AREA WITH ALL OF THEIR TOYS JUST LYING AROUND. IN FACT, WE FOUND IT JUST A HOUSE OVER FROM MY INLAWS WERE A COUPLE FROM ALASKA RENTED OUT THEIR HOUSE PART OF THE YEAR TO A YOUNG COUPLE MY BROTHER IN LAW INTRODUCED THEM TO. EVERYTHING ELSE TOOK MORE TIME TO FIND AND IN FACT IT WAS GETTING TOO CLOSE TO DARK TO EVEN THINK OF LEAVING.

WE ATE THE LAST OF THE MEALS THAT SISSY HAD MADE FOR US AND DRANK SOME GRAPE JUICE MY FATHER-IN-LAW HAD CANNED OVER THE SUMMER BEFORE EVERYTHING WHEN TO HELL. I DIDN’T KNOW HOW I WAS GOING TO EXPLAIN THINGS TO SISSY OVER THE RADIO WHEN WE FINALLY DID GET IT UP AND RUNNING.

AS WE SAT AROUND THAT NIGHT PLANNING OUT THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS, DIX ASKED ME IF I WAS COMFORTABLE DRIVING THE SEMI ALL THE WAY BACK TO SANCTUARY ASSUMING WE COULD GET IT THROUGH TRAFFIC. I SAID THAT DIDN’T BOTHER ME SO MUCH AS IT WOULD LEAVE ANGUS WITHOUGH A DRIVING PARTNER AND POSSIBLY MAKE US A BIGGER TARGET. STRANGELY HE WAS ALL FOR TRYING TO BRING IT BACK. IF IT GOT STUCK SOMEPLACE BEFORE WE GOT BACK TO SANCTUARY WE COULD AT LEAST SAY WE TRIED AND IF WE DID MAKE IT BACK IT WOULD BE ANOTHER TRAILER FOR US TO USE IN THE WALL. AND IT WOULD CERTAINLY GIVE SISSY SOMETHING ELSE BESIDES HER GRIEF TO FOCUS ON, A STRATEGY I AGREED WITH THEN AND NOW. MCELROY JUST SHRUGGED. ANGUS SAID, “NOTHING VENTURED, NOTHING GAINED.” SO IT WAS DECIDED AND WE ADDED THE SEMI TO OUR CONVOY.

WE TURNED IN FOR THE NIGHT BUT I LAY THERE A LONG TIME LISTENING TO THE DOGS SNORE BEFORE I ACTUALLY FELL ASLEEP.

Day 135 (Wednesday – Water Day)

It’s been wet and drizzly all day. Night watch said it started about 3 AM and here it is about 10 PM and the rain has progressed to a full downpour. James is on guard duty right now and will be until 2 AM. He’s just 16 years old, out on the Wall, in the pouring rain, defending us against zombies and raiders and God alone knows what else. Tell me the world hasn’t changed. I dare you.

If the rain doesn’t let up soon work on the pole walls will have to be put off until the ground dries up. That will be disappointing after today’s progress. They had a couple of false starts as they tried a couple of different techniques but Angus, Mr. Morris, and Scott believe they have a good idea how to proceed from this point forward.

First they dig a trench two feet wide by three feet deep. Then they fill the trench about half full of gravel they are hauling in from concrete and landscaping companies around town. So far they are getting it from a place right down the road on Florida Avenue which is only a couple of miles down the road.

Next they cut down a couple of pines from a stand that was planted by the utility company about 15 years ago. The trees are pretty tall but still thin. They split the pines length ways and set them aside. Next they lay 5 of the telephone poles side-by-side. They take a pine split and lay it across the bottom of the five telephone poles, nail it in place with twelve inch landscape nails, and then trim the pine split. The do the same at the top of the poles. They wind up with something that looks like a long, narrow raft.

With one end of the “raft” in the trench, they slowly lift the raft upright using block and tackle. The bottom of the “raft” stays in the trench and the top of the “raft” is secured to the top of the Wall using a couple of large eye-rings, a couple of s-hooks, and a length of sturdy chain.

The bonus of this method is that if the Wall catches on first somehow, we can unhook the chain and drop a section of poles before it ignites the rest of the Wall. It will also make repairs easier. Even better is the top of the “raft’ is higher than the top of the steel storage containers and that section can now function as a palisade of sorts. That will be added protection for Wall guards and defenders. They were able to raise three sections today even with the late start.

If or when they run out of the landscape nails they are looking at two alternatives. First is that Scott thinks he can fabricate more nails using rebar. The second is a non-mechanical solution where the men use thick wild potato vines like rope and tie the telephone poles together using knots most of them probably learned in Boy Scouts or the military.

All in all it looks like the Wall will continue to be our main barrier and defense tool; well that and our own commonsense. I can see how it will remain an important and vital part of Sanctuary for years to come.

Today was Water Day and I have to say that I’m very glad of the rain. I’ve been watering the sub-gardens by hand and running the drip irrigation on the main garden. We’ve already refilled the garden water tower and all of the in-ground pools inside Sanctuary’s Wall. From the look of things all of the retention pools outside of the Wall are refilling as well.

I was on one of the water teams with Betty and Reba. I took them to show them the locations of the water barrels outside of Sanctuary and not expecting trouble, we only went lightly armed. The women both carried rifles; I had my .22 rifle, the new Mark III long barrel pistol Scott gave me, and my trusty machete. If we had gone any heavier getting our chore completed would have been too hard.

Even so we got a pretty bad scare. Not one of the worst ones I’ve ever had but the freaky factor was right up near the top. I have a feeling that it will be a while before Betty and Reba feel comfortable going outside the Wall again though given the day and times that we live in I don’t see how they are going to be able to avoid it for long.

We are lucky to have had several pool supply companies within easy gathering distance from us we gathered and stored everything they had left in one of the houses right outside of the rear gate. The chlorine has a very strong smell, in fact you really aren’t supposed to inhale it but you still manage to get a whiff when you are adding it to the pools. We had grabbed a supply of this chlorine before heading out into the outlying neighborhood. We were in the backyard by one of the pools testing the water before adding some of the granulated chlorine. I was adding the chlorine per usual when I noticed something.

It was an odd odor. It didn’t smell like decay so I didn’t think zombie. It was that burnt, smoky smell again. I asked the other two women if they smelled it and they confirmed they did. I looked to the sky but didn’t see any sign of smoke. It kind of smelled like a cooking fire but at the same time kind of nasty. Then the smell got even stronger. Following the smell I walked around to the front of the house.

You know, I don’t like to curse but I am human and make some real chowder headed mistakes sometimes. Man, when I came around that house I lost my religion for a minute. What I saw was just plain ol’ awful in a way that is really hard to describe.

At first it was hard to put two and two together. But the human brain is an amazing organ and not just because it can become a harbinger of the NRS bacteria.

Neuron One says, “What’s that?”

Neuron Two says, “What’s what?”

Neuron One says, “That. What’s that?”

Neuron Two says, “I don’t know, ask the ears.”

The ears say, “We aren’t sure but whatever it is keeps running into the side of the building over and over. And if we listen close we can also hear crumbling and flaking. If that doesn’t help, why don’t you ask the eyes.”

The eyes say, “Ew. Why do we want to look at something like that. Really weird. Its short, kinda blackened. Kinda looks … well, its looks like something is missing. We don’t now … roadkill?’

Neuron One says, “No, roadkill doesn’t walk.”

The eyes say, “Well then don’t look at us. Have you asked the nose?”

The nose says, “I was the one that notified you guys. That’s why you had the legs walk around the building in the first place. It smells like smoke and burnt things. If you haven’t figured it out yet go see if the heart knows.”

The neurons finally ask the heart. The heart knows but is too shocked and horrified to answer and can only pump faster and faster.

Finally the neurons give up and just decide to fire all the data off to the cerebrum. The cerebrum takes all the data, puts it together and nearly panics. It activates the fight or flight emergency response system. The medulla produces adrenaline. The legs become poised to run. The hair stands on end. The lungs pump the body full of oxygen. The eyes zero in on the threat. The mouth battles the vocal chords to hold back a scream. And the hand and arm try to work together to grab the best weapon to defend the whole body.

And all of that happens in under a second. The human brain is an amazing organ; I simply didn’t want to accept what mine was trying to tell me.

A child; or the shell of what had once been a child. If I had to guess it had been somewhere between Johnnie and Bekah’s age. Another guess might have made it a girl child but in today’s unisex hairstyles and clothing styles I wasn’t certain; not that there was much left of either one. The clothes it wore were barely charred remnants affixed to the body here and there. The odd tuft of blondish stubble was all that was left of the hair.

Its facial features were melted into an unrecognizable sludge stuck to the front of the skull. All the soft tissues was gone; eyelids, eyeballs, nose, lips, ears. It had also lost a few teeth along the way to allow me to see the tongue was also gone. It was a shambler in the truest sense; the NRS infection unable to access the once human senses because they no longer existed so it wandered aimlessly until a catastrophic bit of decay prevented further movement.

It didn’t register pain or light. It made no sound though that wasn’t unusual, none of the zombies made sounds with their vocal chords. Unlike other zombies it didn’t appear to be able to hear either. It had no reaction to my string of curses nor the gasps of the other two women.

Reba cried out in disgust while Betty begged, “Please put the poor thing out of its misery.”

I raised the Mark III to do just that. It’s a good thing I had because around the corner of the house came several similarly burned up creatures; these however apparently still had their hearing and had zeroed in on us.

They shambled only slightly faster than their deaf compatriot but they were focused. I fired at the lead zombie and got it with a lucky head shot. Behind me I felt more than saw Reba and Betty bring their own weapons to bear. We used way too much ammo to take down eight zombies in such close proximity, but our reaction made us less accurate than normal. We’ll need to work on that.

The volume of shots brought several teams running to provide back up. And still the zombie child continued to run into the side of the house. None of the ruckus had stopped its relentless attempt to go forward. It was J. Paul who stepped forward and blew its head off, finally ending its tortured existence.

He said, “We spotted another bunch o’ these burned up zombies about 45 minutes ago heading west. The big guy, Dixon, he said to let 'em go since they were headed away from us.”

That night after dinner we discussed the burned zombies. Marty, in his typical fashion, said we should start a zombie lexicon. We have shamblers, ragers, and now we have flambés. A little tacky but about as honest as anything else. It’s easier to think of them by nicknames than to think about what they really are, and who they might have once been.

We’ve all given up on the “why are there zombies” question; it’s frustrating scientifically and psychologically and the philosophical debate used to go on for hours ad nauseum. We’ve accepted that they simply are what they are. But we do still ask questions and wonder about specific zombie origins and behaviors. This time the question was why so many badly burned zombies and why were they coming out of the east? To sum up all the possibilities we think there was another Big Fire; not unlike the one we experienced in this area, but far enough away that we haven’t seen smoke or ash on the horizon. The fire must have caught a horde in mid migration. The questions none of us could answer was did the fire take out the whole horde or not? Were today’s zombies the remnants or the forerunners? Do we need to worry about another large horde heading our way out of the east? If so how soon?

By that time the rain was coming down in buckets and a bone-deep chill was in the air. The rain would make the zombies behave abnormally, and less directly threatening, so we decided to table it as a security issue for now.

Scott and I had to ferry the younger kids and Sarah back to the house in our arms because of the standing water. Scott was exhausted and needed sleep because he will take the 2 am to 5 am watch. He went off to bed while I got the kids washed up, warmed up, and off to bed as quietly as possible. Everyone was more than ready to go, even my rowdiest kidlets.

I wanted to crawl in bed myself but I had a ton of planning to do. The rain made me want to just snuggle under the covers and sleep in late. No time for that kind of stuff these days. I’m running out of prepared menus and need to work up a couple of extra weeks worth. Jim leaves at first light with Angus to go to the Port, find the part needed for trade, and then make arrangements with the Tarpon Springs group. That means that I also need to work on replacing the instant mixes that they will take as part of their BOBs and daily meals.

The one thing we did make a decision about tonight is that no one is outside the Wall without what we are calling an emergency pack. It’s not a BOB per se but more a fanny pack that has some energy bars, a couple of instant soup packets, a couple of pieces of hard candy, a mylar blanket, and a multi-tool in it. Even if we are just outside the Wall like the men working on the pole wall or within sight of the Wall like I was today. It’s one of those “better safe than sorry” things my Dad was fond of talking about.

I found my dad’s deer-handled tableware he was working on. He would go to flea markets and yard sales looking for old eating utensils that were sturdy but had a broken or crappy handle. Then he would polish them up and use the deer antlers my mom’s brother and cousins would send him to make new handles. He had completed 15 place settings of knives, forks, and spoons and he had made some nice serving pieces too. My favorite pieces are the forks that have three tines and look a bit like pitchforks.

I also found the old glass butter churn that belonged to my great grandmother and the stoneware crocks my grandmother used to make pickles and sauerkraut. They should come in handy real soon. In the same box I found the stoneware jugs my great grandfather used to use for his homebrew. Scott laughed at those when he saw them on our counter. He wanted to know if I was going to revert to the ways of my ancestors and I told him maybe so.

What I really wish is that we could take the good from the “good ol’ days” and the good from the modern era and blend them so that we somehow avoid the bad from both. I had mentioned something similar when I picked up Kitty’s goat milk this morning and Mr. Morris just laughed and said, “Honey that’s only goin’ ta happen if you figure out how to get rid of most of the people.”

His granddaughter Claire, a rather morose young woman still struggling to deal with the changes in her life and the loss of a long time boyfriend said, “Haven’t the zombies and raiders already done that?”


SCOTT’S VERSION OF THE NORTH FLORIDA RUN (PART 3)

DECEMBER 3RD NOTHING WENT QUITE AS EXPECTED. WE HAD PLANNED TO COMPLETE THE TRUCK AND RADIO REPAIRS AND BE GONE BY LUNCH TIME. ZOMBIES ON THE OTHER HAND DIDN’T APPEAR TO HAVE CHECKED THE SCHEDULE AND KEPT US BUSY UNTIL MIDMORNING. THEN THE REPAIRS TO THE TRUCK TOOK LONGER THAN EXPECTED. MCELROY AND ANGUS PRETTY MUCH HAD THE REPAIRS UNDER CONTROL AND THAT LEFT ME AT LOOSE ENDS. I CAN’T STAND HAVING NOTHING TO DO. IT JUST BUGS THE HECK OUT OF ME. NOT ONLY THAT BUT IT LEFT ME TIME TO GRIEVE AND I DIDN'T WANT TO GO THERE YET, NOT WITHOUT SISSY.

I BEGAN DIGGING THROUGH WHAT I COULD IN THE BACK OF THE SEMI. DIXON WANDERED OVER TO SEE WHAT I WAS DOING. I TOLD HIM I WANTED TO FIND A COUPLE OF THINGS TO TAKE BACK TO SISSY IN CASE WE HAD TO DITCH THE TRUCK SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY. THERE WAS TOO MUCH FOR ME TO REALLY PICK JUST A FEW ITEMS BUT I DID MANAGE TO FIND WHAT I THOUGHT WOULD MEAN THE MOST TO SISSY. I PULLED OUT HER DAD’S BIBLE THAT HAD ALL HIS HANDWRITTEN NOTES IN IT. I ALSO PULLED HOW HIS MOTHER’S BIBLE THAT MY INLAWS STUCK ALL OF THEIR IMPORTANT PAPERS IN. I NEVER UNDERSTOOD WHY THEY DID IT LIKE THAT … BIRTH CERTIFICATES, THEIR MARRIAGE LICENSE, COPIES OF DEATH CERTIFICATES, OBITUARIES, AND EVEN THE BILL OF SALE OF THEIR PROPERTY. THERE WAS SOMETHING BETWEEN ALMOST EVERY PAGE, INCLUDING SOME PRESSED FLOWERS THAT HAD BEEN IN THERE NEARLY 75 YEARS. I WRAPPED BOTH BOOKS IN PLASTIC WRAP AND THEN STUCK THEM INSIDE A GARBAGE BAG AND STUCK THEM IN MY BACKPACK. IF IT CAME DOWN TO BEING ON FOOT THAT WAS THE ONLY THING I COULD FIND I’D BE SURE TO BE ABLE TO CARRY HOME.

DIXON HELPED ME TO REPACK EVERYTHING BUT ASKED IF I MINDED THAT WE REDISTRIBUTE SOME OF THE FOOD WE HAD FOUND. WE WERE ALREADY OVE R A DAY BEHIND SCHEDULE. AT THIS RATE WE KNEW WE COULD BE SEVERAL DAYS BEHIND BY THE TIME WE GOT BACK TO SANCTUARY. WE HAD THE AMMO UNDER CONTROL THANKS TO OUR STOP AT THAT PAWN SHOP. FUEL COULD BE A PROBLEM, ESPECIALLY SINCE WE HOPED TO STAY ON THE MOST DIRECT PATH HOME. WATER MIGHT BE A PROBLEM BUT WE WERE DOING OK SO FAR PLUS WE HAD GOOD FILTERS WE COULD USE. BY USING THE STUFF MY INLAWS CANNED WE COULD TAKE CARE OF ONE POTENTIAL PROBLEM. MY FATHER IN LAW WOULD HAVE BEEN UPSET IF I HADN’T USED IT. I ALSO KNEW SISSY WOULD HAVE THOUGHT I WAS NUTS HAD I HESITATED. SO I GRABBED JARS OF VENISON CHILI, PEARS, AND VEGETABLE SOUP AS WELL AS MORE OF THE CANNED FRUIT JUICE THAT I FOUND AND SPLIT THEM BETWEEN THE CABS OF THE THREE VEHICLES.

THE FUEL FOR THE AVALANCHE WE PARTIALLY TOOK CARE OF BY DRAINING VEHICLES WITHIN A SHORT WALKING DISTANCE FROM WHERE WE WERE. MOST PLACES STILL HAD AT LEAST ONE VEHICLE AROUND THEIR PLACE AND THAT MADE US WONDER WHERE ALL THE PEOPLE WENT AND HOW DID THEY GET THERE.

THE SEMI WAS TOPPED OFF BUT IT WASN’T EASY TO GET IT STARTED. MCELROY HAD TO FIDDLE WITH IT AND DRAIN THE FUEL LINE TWICE BEFORE IT WOULD CATCH. IT RAN ROUGH FOR THE NEXT TWO DAYS BUT GRADUALLY RAN BETTER AFTER WE RAN SOME FRESHER FUEL THROUGH IT. WE LUCKED OUT WITH THE DIESEL FUEL. THAT AREA IS FULL OF SMALL FARMS AND FORESTRY FOLK MANY OF WHOM KEEP THEIR OWN DIESEL TANKS TO FILL THEIR TRUCKS AND TRACTORS WITH. SEVERAL OF THEM EVEN HAD MANUAL PUMPS WHICH WAS A PLUS. WE TOPPED OFF JUICER AND THEN FILLED A BUNCH OF GAS CANS IN CASE WE RAN INTO TROUBLE DOWN THE ROAD.

NORMALLY IT TAKES LESS THAN HALF A TANK IN THE ASTRO VAN WE USED AS OUR MAIN VEHICLE TO GET FROM OUR HOUSE TO MY INLAWS’. HOWEVER ALL THE STOP-AND-GO, WEAVING IN-AND-OUT, AND THEN OUR DETOUR THROUGH GAINESVILLE ATE UP OUR FUEL SUPPLIES FASTER THAN EXPECTED. WE STILL HAD A LITTLE BIT LEFT OVER THAT WE HAD SNAGGED IN WILDWOOD BUT IT WASN'T MUCH OF A CUSHION. WE DECIDED THAT FROM THERE ON OUT WHEN WE STOPPED FOR THE EVENING THE LOCATION WOULD BE A POTENTIAL PLACE TO RE-FUEL.

THE RADIO REPAIRS DIDN’T WORK. WE WERE ALL ANXIOUS BY THAT TIME AS WE HAD BEEN OUT OF CONTACT FOR OVER 24 HOURS. DIXON PULLED THE RADIO APART AND SAID THAT IT LOOKED LIKE A CAPASITOR HAD FAILED. THAT MEANT WE’D BE OUT OF CONTACT UNTIL WE COULD FIND A REPLACEMENT RADIO. WE DECIDED WE’D JUST SUCK IT UP AND ASK IN TRENTON IF THERE WAS SOMETHING WE COULD TRADE FOR A RADIO. IF THAT DIDN’T WORK WE’D HEAD ON TO CHIEFLAND AND SEE WHAT WE COULD FIND THERE.

EITHER WAY WE WERE LOOKING AT ANOTHER NIGHT WHERE WE WERE AND IN HINDSIGHT IT WAS A BETTER DECISION THAN RUSHING OUT.

ABOUT ONE A.M. A SMALLISH HORDE PASSED THROUGH. THEY DIDN’T BOTHER US, WE STAYED QUIET. THE ODD MOVEMENTS OF THE SMALL HORDES OF ZOMBIES ARE EASIER TO NOTICE OUT WHERE YOU CAN OBSERVE THEM ‘IN THE WILD’ SO TO SPEAK. THERE ARE FEWER THINGS TO GET IN THEIR WAY AND FEWER PEOPLE TO DISTRACT THEM. AS I WATCHED THEM SHUFFLE ALONG IN STEP WITH ONE ANOTHER THEY REMINDED ME OF SARDINES SWIMMING. THE LARGER “SCHOOLS” OF ZOMBIES EVEN HAVE MOVEMENTS WITHIN THE OVERALL MOVEMENT, JUST LIKE A REAL SCHOOL OF FISH. IT CAN BE FREAKY AND HYPNOTIC TO WATCH.

THE HORDE FINISHED PASSING THROUGH ABOUT AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER. WE GRABBED A LITTLE MORE SLEEP AND THEN WERE UP AND ON THE ROAD AT FIRST LIGHT WITH JUST A CLIF BAR FOR BREAKFAST. WE WERE THAT ANXIOUS TO GET BACK ON THE ROAD.

AS WE GOT CLOSER TO TRENTON WE NOTICED BOTH FRESH AND ZOMBIE CORPSES LITTERING THE ROAD. CONSIDERING HOW CLEAN THE ROAD HAD BEEN WHEN WE PASSED THAT WAY THE FIRST TIME WE KNEW THAT WASN’T A GOOD SIGN. THE ONLY THING THEY HAD IN COMMON WAS THAT THEY WERE ALL SANITIZED AND WOULDN’T BE WALKING AGAIN. AS WE PASSED THROUGH TOWN WE SAW SOME SMOULDERING BUILDING FIRES. THE AREA WHERE THE ROADBLOCK HAD BEEN WAS LITTERED WITH DEBRIS. THE ONLY THING THAT STILL STOOD WAS THE LARGEST OF THE THREE CROSSES THAT HAD BEEN INSTALLED AT THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. WE DIDN’T SEE ANY LIVE PEOPLE BUT WE HAD A FEELING THEY WERE THERE AND HIDING. SO MUCH FOR STOPPING AND ASKING ABOUT RADIOS.

WE WERE JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD BLOCK HEADING EAST ON SR26 TOWARD CHIEFLAND WHEN THIS WOMAN COMES OUT OF NOWHERE TO JUMP IN FRONT OF JUICER. NONE OF US WERE DRIVING FAST, 15 MPH AT MOST SINCE WE WERE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT HAD OCCURRED AND WHEN. WE STILL HAD TO SLAM ON OUR BREAKS AND I NEARLY REAR-ENDED THE AVALANCHE WITH THE SEMI.

YOU’VE MET RHONDA BY NOW SO YOU KNOW SHE IS A PISTOL. IN MY EXPERIENCE IT JUST ISN’T A GOOD IDEA TO TRY AND ARGUE WITH A PREGNANT WOMAN BUT THAT IS WHAT DIXON TRIED TO DO; TRY BEING THE OPERATIVE WORD. SHE SAID SHE HAD SEEN US WHEN WE PASSED THROUGH THE FIRST TIME. THE PERSON WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE GIVEN HER A RIDE BACK TO THE PLACE SHE WAS STAYING ABANDONED HER DURING THE PANIC WHEN THE ZOMBIE HORDE CAME THROUGH. IT WAS TOO FAR FOR HER TO WALK IN HER CONDITION – ABOUT FIVE MILES AND FIVE MONTHS PREGNANT – AND AT THE TIME ALL SHE WANTED WAS A LIFT. WE WERE GOING THAT WAY ANYWAY SO DIXON FINALLY CAVED. RHONDA SAID SHE’D RIDE WITH ANGUS SO THAT SHE COULD SHOW HIM TO THE WAY. SHE SAID, “WE’LL BE FINE BIG BOY, JUST SO’S LONG AS YOU KEEP THEM DOGS AND YOUR HANDS UNDER CONTROL.”

ANGUS JUST LAUGHED, OPENED THE DOOR AND HELPED HER CLIMB UP, AND WE ALL TOOK OFF. FIVE MILES DOWN THE FIRST CLEAR ROAD WE HAD TRAVELLED SINCE LEAVING TAMPA WE PULLED ONTO A DIRT ROAD. WE NEARLY GOT SHOT UNTIL RHONDA STUCK HER HEAD OUT THE WINDOW AND SCREAMED, “DON’T Y’ALL SHOOT MY RIDE NOW. THEY GAVE ME A LIFT FROM TOWN.”

THERE WERE A BUNCH OF LOADED VEHICLES AND NERVOUS PEOPLE MILLING ABOUT UNTIL RHONDA INTRODUCED DIXON WHO INTRODUCED ANGUS, MCELROY, AND ME. THEY HAD JUST ABOUT GIVEN UP ON RHONDA COMING HOME AND WERE GIVING HER JUST A COUPLE OF MORE HOURS BEFORE THEY HEADED OUT. THEY WERE LEAVING THE AREA, LOOKING TO HOOK UP WITH SOME FAMILY THAT ONE OF THE GROUP HAD IN PLANT CITY WHICH IS JUST EAST OF TAMPA. THE FOUR FAMILIES WERE STILL NOT CONVINCED THEY WERE DOING THE RIGHT THING. WE TOLD THEM WHAT IT WAS LIKE AND THAT MADE THEM HESITATE EVEN MORE.

THEN RHONDA TOLD THEM WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN TRENTON. MOST EVERYONE HAD ABANDONED THEIR POSTS AND THE RAIDERS WERE LIKELY ON THEIR WAY TO FINISH OFF THE REST OF THE TOWN. THE RAIDERS HAD GOTTEN SMART AND STARTED FOLLOWING THE HORDES LIKE NOMADS. THEY PICKED OVER WHAT WAS LEFT IN AN AREA AFTER THE ZOMBIES HAD BEATEN THE PEOPLE DOWN OR KILLED THEM. THE RAIDERS WERE BECOMING MORE NUMEROUS AND MORE BRUTAL NOW THAT THEY HAD BEGUN TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO CO-EXIST WITH THE ZOMBIES.

THAT DECIDED IT. THE NICHOLSON AND BRADY FAMILIES WERE CLOSE FRIENDS OF THE MORRIS FAMILIES. RHONDA WAS SOME HOW RELATED TO ALL FOUR, SISSY WOULD CALL HER A “SHIRT TAIL COUSIN” OF SOME TYPE, AND WAS THE ONE PERSON WHO TIED THEM ALL TOGETHER.

BOTTOM LINE AFTER DECIDING THAT ALL OF US WOULD TRAVEL TOGETHER, FIGURING OUT WHAT ORDER WE WOULD DRIVE IN AND GETTING EVERYTHING SQUARED AWAY WE DIDN’T GET MUCH FARTHER DOWN THE ROAD THAN WE HAD STARTED. HOWEVER, WE DID GET TO KNOW THE FAMILIES BETTER AND THEY DID OFFER TO LOAD UP SOME COWS FOR US AT THE ABANDONED DAIRY FARM WHERE WE SPENT THE NIGHT. WE HADN’T ACTUALLY INVITED THEM TO COME TO SANCTUARY AT THAT POINT BUT DIXON MUST HAVE ALREADY BEEN THINKING ABOUT IT. HE CAME TO EACH OF US INDIVIDUALLY AND ASKED US TO CONSIDER IT AND IF THEY WOULD BE A GOOD ADDITION TO OUR POPULATION OR NOT. I ALREADY LIKE THE MORRIS FAMILIES AND THE BRADY FAMILY WASN’T BAD EITHER. RHONDA WAS A CHARACTER, FULL OF SPUNK, AND BRAVER THAN SHE HAD ANY RIGHT TO BE. WE ALREADY HAD ONE PREGNANT WOMAN IN SANCTUARY, ONE MORE WOULDN'T BE A PROBLEM. THE NICHOLSONS THOUGH WERE A LITTLE ON THE NEEDY SIDE, ESPECIALLY WHEN COMPARED TO THE OTHER PEOPLE IN THEIR GROUP, AND I DECIDED TO RESERVE JUDGEMENT FOR A BIT LONGER.

WE DRAINED THE LAST OF THE DIESEL OUT OF THE FARM'S TANKS TO TOP OFF ALL OF THE VEHICLES NOW IN THE CONVOY AND TO FUEL A CATTLE TRAILER. WE ALSO SCAVENGED WHAT FOOD WAS LEFT IN THE FARM HOUSE, WHICH WASN'T MUCH BUT BETTER THAN NOTHING, AND GRABBED ALL OF THE ANIMAL FEED THAT WE COULD. WE HAD TO FIGHT WITH SOME RATS OVER IT WHICH WAS FREAKY BUT THE MORRIS KIDS HAD FIGHTING RATS DOWN TO A SCIENCE.

AFTER A DINNER PREPARED BY THE WOMEN IN THE OTHER GROUP WE ALL SETTLED IN FOR A RELATIVELY PEACEFUL NIGHT. NO ZOMBIES, NO RAIDERS, BUT I DON'T THINK ANYONE SLEPT VERY WELL. I CAN ONLY GUESS HOW THE OTHERS WERE FEELING BUT I WAS MISSING MY FAMILY AND WAS GETTING IRRITATED AT OUR SLOW PROGRESS. I WAS ACTUALLY GRATEFUL FOR MY TURN AT WATCH AS IT GAVE ME SOMETHING BESIDES MY WORRIES TO THINK ABOUT.

Day 136

Jim and Angus left first thing this morning; both of them really cheery despite the cold drizzle still coming down out of the sky. I sent them out with some breakfast burritos in their bellies and a hot cooler full of beef stew and fresh baked corn muffins. At least I know they’ll have something warm to eat tonight. They expect to be back tomorrow or the next day depending on how long it takes them to find the part they are looking for. Jim knows where he can find the part, its finding the couplers and hoses for it that may take longer. I know they are grown men but I just don’t like any of our people getting too far away from home for very long. That must be how some people felt as they watched ancient sailors leaving a safe harbor; no one knew if they would come home or if they were going to fall off the edge of the world never to be heard from again.

We haven’t seen any more of the burned zombies though we’ve seen some zombies exhibiting the normal crazy behavior they have when it rains. Not as crazy as break dancing or standing on their heads like you get in a heavy downpour, but they ran into trees and each other as often as they didn’t.

After yesterday anything would be an improvement; but today has actually been a really good day. Sarah was up and around nearly the whole work day. She went to bed early but I think that is just because of all the exercise and not because she is having a setback. It will take her a while to build up her stamina to where it was before.

I let Sarah go outside the gates with Scott when he was on break to look at the progress of the pole wall. She was wearing a long raincoat, goulashes, and a floppy rain hat but I told her it was either that or be confined to the house again. In fact, I’ve managed to find almost everyone some type or raingear. There was some grumbling until Waleski and Rachel reminded everyone we don’t have access to modern medicine so getting pneumonia or even a cold could lead to dire, if not deadly, circumstances. It gave everyone something to think about and I’ve noticed people trying to be less casual about health issues. Certainly the men working on the Wall are wearing their raingear more than I actually expected them to.

While Scott and Sarah were out, Sarah kept getting distracted because she said she saw things over in the bushes. Do you know that child spotted a bunch of chickens that had come to take advantage of all the disturbed ground the guys were churning up? Scott had James sent for some feed and a large painter’s tarp. They scattered the feed on the ground and then used the tarp to capture all but one skinny hen that then wound up following the rest of her family into Sanctuary’s gates anyway.

As much as Reba would have loved to keep them all she said we simply didn’t have enough feed yet and so we culled a few and used them to make curried chicken sausage. There was no way it was going to be ready for dinner tonight so we’ve changed tomorrow’s menu and we’ll be having Curried Chicken Sausage Tandoori. It was Betty’s recipe. Kevin had travelled quite a bit as a civilian contractor when he was younger before settling down to help his father run the family farm and Betty’s father was a missionary; they’d been stationed overseas quite a bit. I never would have known. They didn’t strike as world travelers; the things you learn about people can be amazing. I really underestimated them and now my kids are clamoring for stories about what it was like in other countries before the world caved in.

The hardest part of the whole sausage operation was grinding the chicken and chicken skin up fine enough. I added a better meat grinder to my list of “wants.” We took two pounds of ground chicken meat and skin; two teaspoons of coarse salt; one teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, ground coriander, ground ginger, ground turmeric; and half-teaspoon each of ground cardamom, dry mustard, and ground black pepper. Then we added two tablespoons of sour cream. We had to mix that all together really well and because it was so cold, had to do it with our hands. Betty had some synthetic sausage casings with her kitchen supplies and showed us all how to use them. The synthetic casings don’t need to be refrigerated until use like collagen and natural casings. The hitch is that though you can use them to smoke and cook meat, the casings themselves are not edible and need to be removed before you serve the sausage. You also have to soak the casings 20 to 30 minutes before you stuff them. Add another thing to the “want” list although where we might find synthetic casings in Tampa is beyond me. You can’t exactly look up “sausage casings” in the yellow pages and call around anymore.

Mr. Morris says that next time we kill a hog we should be prepared to make use of those casings as fast as we can. I can remember reading about hog killing time in Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I also remember being around when my grandparents were kill some hogs on their farm. I remember it was cold and that it seemed like the work went on around the clock for days. I never would have thought that I was recreating the lives of my grandparents. The list of things I’ve found that I took for granted over the years is staggering.

After we stuffed the sausage into the casings and turned it into links we put the links in one of our evaporation coolers to allow the flavors to meld for two hours. Then we cooked the sausages until they had an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. After the sausage links finished cooking we put them in a casserole dish and marinated them with a mixture made from cumin seed, cayenne, coriander, paprika, salt, pepper, gingerroot, garlic, and a little bit of the yogurt that I’ve been experimenting with. Tomorrow will be easy. All we have to do is discard the marinade (we’ll give it to the hogs in their slop) and broil the sausages for about twenty minutes. We’ll serve it with basmati rice and a nice salad. I can’t wait.

In the evenings Mr. Morris and Scott have started talking about building some steel drum smokers. It would be nice to have a real smokehouse right away but a couple of drum will do us just as well until we finish the Wall renovations. We have too much to do, not enough time to do it in, and not enough people that know how to do it by themselves.

I tried something today that worked out well. I had to go around and check all the gardens, pull fruit, etc. Between one thing and another everyone else was busy. I still needed help so I enlisted Johnnie and Bubby. Normally I don’t let any of my kids outside the Wall except right outside the gate and only then if Scott is around. Well, with the exception of David, Rose, and James I mean but I can hardly call them “kids” anymore. After Sarah got settled down at home and was helping me by ironing some of the clothes that still hadn’t dried on our indoor clothes line I took the boys and went garden gathering. I also needed to check some of our water catchment systems to make sure that the lines were still clear.

The boys road with me in the cart and helped me load several bushels of oranges into the wagon. We checked the water barrels and emptied a couple into the nearest pool, and picked up some fallen branches to put on the wood pile back in Sanctuary to dry out. They were a big help and I let them know it. I also took the time to feel them out about Christmas that was only ten days away. I needed to make certain they understood that this year was going to be different than the way they remembered it.

They wanted to know if we were going to make candy like I had promised and I told them yes. Then they wanted to know if we were going to have a big Christmas Eve dinner like I had promised and I told them yes again. Then they wanted to know would everyone get a present? I said yes to that as well. Lastly they wanted to know if Scott was going to play with them on Christmas Day and I said of course. That’s all they wanted to know. Their needs are very basic these days … food, fun, and attention. Anything we manage above and beyond that will be icing on the cake. I might try and rig up a piñata of some kind. The women and I have definitely been working hard in our spare time to come up with stockings that all the kids can hang on Christmas Eve. I know presents aren’t what Christmas is really about, but we still want to give the kids something. Each will get one useful thing and one frivolous thing. Hopefully we’ll have it all figured out before too much longer.

Speaking of frivolous things, my Amazon Lilies are in bloom. I haven’t had much time to tend to my lily garden and frankly I’m amazed anything has survived. I almost ripped them all out to plant something more useful but Scott said to leave them alone. He knows how much I need pretty things like flowers to make me feel optimistic. Not the cut variety that wither and turn brown but the live plants that continue to grow and that simply hope and rebirth over and over. Those silly flowers made me leak a few tears every time I see them. They were one of the live plants that were given to us at my mother in law’s funeral. But the tears were good things. I may not have had a funeral for my parents, but I had all the memories we had made over the years and I had snippets of the plants my mom had given to me as well. Some of those plants had origins in my great great grandmothers’ gardens. They weren’t the same plants exactly, but ancestors … from rootings, clippings, seeds, grafts, etc.

I hope we here in Sanctuary can grow something that we can give to our children. I want what we build to mean something to them. I want it to be useful to them. And I want most of the memories to be good ones. Most of all I want to give them some hope in the future. Life may never be what it once was, but it doesn’t have to be a hellhole returning to the darkest times of the Middle Ages. I’d rather us see this as a New Renaissance.


SCOTT’S VERSION OF THE NORTH FLORIDA RUN (PART 4)

DECEMBER 5TH WAS NEARLY AS AGGRAVATING AS THE PREVIOUS FOUR DAYS. TRAVELLING IS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN IT USED TO BE. EVERYTHING IS A CHORE. YOU’D THINK WITH FEWER PEOPLE ON THE ROAD THAT THERE WOULD BE FEWER PROBLEMS AND NOT MORE. NOT TRUE. NOW IT’S LIKE TRAVELLING IN A WAGON TRAIN IF YOU HAVE MORE THAN ONE OR TWO VEHICLES. THE LOGISTICS OF FOOD, FUEL, AND LODGINGS ARE MUCH MORE COMPLICATED. AND THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES YOU TO GET FROM POINT A TO POINT B HAS GROWN EXPONENTIALLY.

WE WERE UP EARLY ENOUGH BUT IT TOOK THREE HOURS TO GET ON THE ROAD. EVERYONE HAD TO GET UP, GET FED, AND GET MOVING. THE ANIMALS HAD TO BE FED AND THE TRAILER MUCKED OUT. BELONGINGS HAD TO BE RETIED OR MOVED INTO A BETTER POSITION IN THE VEHICLES. BATHROOM BREAKS TOOK A WHILE. WE HAD TO GO BACK OVER EVERYONE’S PLACE IN LINE AND WHY. WE HAD TO GO OVER THE ROUTE AGAIN EVEN THOUGH WE HAD COVERED THE WHERE’S AND WHY’S AD NAUSEUM THE PREVIOUS NIGHT. THE NICHOLSON FAMILY REALLY TOOK A LONG TIME HEM-HAWING AROUND. DID THEY REALLY WANT TO LEAVE THEIR HOME? IF THEY DID, DID THEY WANT TO TRAVEL WITH US? SHOULD ANY OF THEM BE TRAVELING WITH US? COULD THEY REALLY TRUST US?

DIXON FINALLY HAD ENOUGH OF IT AND SAID WE WERE PULLING OUT IN FIVE MINUTES. WHOEVER WANTED TO GO NEEDED TO BE IN LINE OR MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS. THE NICHOLSONS TRIED TO CALL OUR BLUFF AND WOUND UP GETTING LEFT BEHIND. THEY FINALLY CAUGHT UP WITH US IN CHIEFLAND AND WERE BADLY RATTLED AND UPSET. THEY TRIED SOME MINOR PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE STUFF THE NEXT DAY AS WELL WITH SIMILAR RESULTS. THE BRADY FAMILY HAS A SPECIAL NEED ADULT CHILD THAT CAUSED US FEWER HOLD UPS THAN THAT FAMILY DID. THE BRADY AND NICHOLSON FAMILIES ARE CLOSE WITH THE TWO WIVES BEING SISTERS. I THINK THE FACT THEY FOUND THEY WERE NOT “IN CHARGE,” OR WERE NOT BEING GIVEN THE CONSIDERATION THEY FELT THEY WERE DUE, IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY THOSE TWO FAMILIES ULTIMATELY CHOSE TO STOP IN TARPON SPRINGS. THAT’S FINE WITH ME. I DON’T HAVE PATIENCE WITH THAT SORT OF THING. NO ONE IS ENTITLED TO ANYTHING THESE DAYS, YOU EARN IT OR YOU LIVE WITHOUT IT.

ONCE WE WERE FINALLY ON THE ROAD AND MOVING WE MADE DECENT TIME – NOT GREAT TIME, BUT DECENT – TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF FANNING SPRINGS WHICH IS RIGHT OUTSIDE CHIEFLAND. THEY ARE CLOSE ENOUGH THAT YOU REALLY DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO WHEN ONE LITTLE TOWN TURNS INTO ANOTHER. THE ONLY THING SEPARATING THEM IS A BRIDGE. AND SEPARATING US FROM OUR INTENDED GOAL WAS ANOTHER BUNCH OF ZOMBIES.

IF IT HAD JUST BEEN THE AVALANCHE AND JUICER WE WOULD HAVE JUST PLOWED RIGHT THROUGH THEM AND KEPT GOING, IGNORING THE ZOMBIES AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. THE PROBLEM WAS THAT THE OTHER DRIVERS IN OUR CONVOY REALLY DIDN’T HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE WITH THAT TYPE OF SANITATION PROCEDURE. KEVIN, HIS SON J. PAUL, AND REBA’S SON CLAY WERE READY TO ROCK AND ROLL BUT DIXON WORRIED THAT THE VEHICLES WOULD GET SEPARATED AND THAT THE CATTLE TRAILER WAS MOST AT RISK. ZOMBIES DON’T NORMALLY GO AFTER ANIMALS BUT IN THE MIDDLE OF A FEEDING FRENZY THEY’LL ATTACK ANYTHING WARM BLOODED, HUMAN OR NOT. WE’VE SEEN THEM CANNIBALIZE THEIR OWN KIND SO RIPPING A CATTLE TRAILER OF ANIMALS APART WASN’T BEYOND THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY.

WE PULLED BACK AND CIRCLED THE WAGONS WHILE ANGUS AND JUICER WENT TO WORK. ABOUT MIDWAY THROUGH JUICER’S NORMAL ROUTINE, FOUR BIG-WHEELED, SOOPED UP 4X4s SHOW UP AND JOIN THE PARTY. I THINK ANGUS STARTED HAVING A LITTLE TOO MUCH FUN. I KNOW THE GUY IS FROM WAY UP NORTH IN THE LAND OF ICE AND SNOW, BUT HE CAN HOOT AND HOLLER LIKE HE’S FROM DOWN HERE IN THE LAND OF COTTON.

AFTERWARD THE ZOMBIES WERE COMPLETELY DECIMATED ANGUS INTRODUCED US TO HIS NEW FRIENDS. ONE OF THEM WAS A CITY COP – FORMER CITY COP, NOW JUST A SURVIVOR LIKE THE REST OF US. HE INVITED US BACK TO THE REMNANTS OF MOST OF THE SURVIVORS IN THE AREA. THEY WANTED TO THANK US FOR OUR PART IN GETTING RID OF THE ZOMBIES AS WELL AS HEAR NEWS FROM THE “OUTSIDE WORLD.” THEY’D BEEN CUT OFF FROM ANY NEWS FOR OVER TWO MONTHS.

BY THE TIME WE SHARED INFO WITH THEM, WORKED OUT A POTENTIAL TRADE AGREEMENT FOR THE FUTURE, AND CLEANED UP THE MESS OUR VEHICLES HAD BECOME, IT WAS TOO LATE TO HEAD DOWN THE ROAD TOO MUCH FURTHER. THE CHIEFLAND ENCLAVE WARNED US THAT RAIDERS ARE MOST FREQUENT IN THE EARLY MORNING HOURS AND RIGHT FULL DARK AND OFTEN COME IN ACTING LIKE REFUGEES. THEIR GROUP FELL FOR THAT TWICE AND PAID DEARLY, NOW THEY WERE VERY CAREFUL AND EVEN CLEANED OUT A RAIDER PARTY A FEWS WEEKS PRIOR THAT HAD BEEN PREYING ON SMALL HOMESTEADS STILL SURVIVING OUT IN THE COUNTRYSIDE. IN ADDITION THEY HELPED US TO SCAVENGE A NEW RADIO. IT WAS A HUGE RELIEF TO BE ABLE TO CHECK IN WITH SANCTUARY. NOT AS BIG A RELIEF AS IT WAS TO ACTUALLY MAKE IT HOME, BUT HEARING THE VOICES FROM HOME DEFINITELY HELPED US TREMENDOUSLY. WE WERE AS WORRIED ABOUT SANCTUARY AS SANCTUARY WAS WORRIED ABOUT US.

VENISON STEW AND WINTER GREENS WAS OUR DINNER … AND THE LEFTOVERS WERE OUR BREAKFAST THE NEXT DAY. CAN’T SAY I’VE EVER HAD GREENS FOR BREAKFAST BUT IT DEFINITELY PUT US ON THE ROAD WITH A FULL STOMACH.

FROM CHIEFLAND WE TOOK US19 SOUTH. TALK ABOUT A MESS AND A HALF. ABOUT A MILE OUTSIDE OF CHIEFLAND THE ROAD STARTED TO GET AS CLOGGED AS IT HAD BEEN ON THE INTERSTATE. DAMN, IT WAS IRRITATING; WE WERE DRIVING SLOWER IN SOME RESPECTS THAN WE HAD BEFORE. IF WE WENT TOO FAST THE CONVOY GOT STRUNG OUT TRYING TO NAVIGATE ALL OF THE STALLS AND CRASHES. TOO SLOW AND THE LAST PERSON IN LINE WOULD BARELY CRAWL ALONG.

OUR FIRST REAL TEST WAS THE INTERSECTION OF US19 AND CR24 AT OTTER CREEK. THERE WAS A SOLID LINE OF TRAFFIC ALL FOUR WAYS. ANGUS HAD TO USE THE LIFT ON THE FRONT OF JUICER TO “TOSS” CARS OVER AND OUT OF OUR WAY. NEXT WAS THE INTERSECTIONS AT YANKEETOWN AND INGLIS. BY THE TIME WE GOT TO CR44 WE WERE ALL EXHAUSTED AND STRESSED OUT. IT WAS THE TOWN OF CRYSTAL RIVER AND IT WAS AS GOOD A PLACE TO STOP AS ANY.

WE STOPPED EARLIER THAN WE REALLY HAD WANTED TO BUT WITH GOOD REASON. ONE, THE NEW FAMILIES NEEDED TIME TO ACCLIMATE TO THIS MODE OF TRAVEL. TWO, SOME OF THE CONVOY MEMBERS WERE REALLY HAVING AN EMOTIONALLY DIFFICULT TIME LEAVING EVERYTHING BEHIND THAT THEY HAD KNOWN. THREE, THE ANIMALS PRACTICALLY DEMANDED THAT WE ADJUST OUR TRAVELLING EXPECTATIONS.

AT DINNER THAT NIGHT I DIDN’T KNOW WHETHER I WAS HUNGRY OR NOT. FOOD WAS GETTING MEAGER ALREADY. I PULLED KEVIN ASIDE AND ASKED HIM IF HE MINDED SHARING THEIR POT IF WE ADDED SOME RATIONS. HE LOOKED SURPRISED THAT WE WOULD EVEN HAVE TO ASK. WHEN I SHOWED UP WITH A COUPLE OF JARS OF STUFF FROM MY INLAWS WE GOT ONTO A DISCUSSION THAT LED THEM TO REALIZE THEY HAD KNOWN MY FATHER IN LAW. REBA PUT IN SHE KNEW MY MOTHER IN LAW FROM SOME SEWING CLUB THEY WERE BOTH IN. IN A WAY I WAS GLAD FOR SISSY THAT SHE’D HAVE SOMEONE TO SHARE MEMORIES WITH. IN ANOTHER WAY IT MADE ME WANT TO AVOID THEM BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT ANY OF THAT BEHIND SISSY’S BACK. THEY SEEMED TO UNDERSTAND AND DIDN’T SAY MUCH.

NO ONE SAID MUCH REALLY. WE WERE ALL TIRED AND THE LITTLE BIT OF ENERGY WE HAD LEFT HAD TO BE DEVOTED TO PUTTING THE ANIMALS TO BED FOR THE NIGHT, FEEDING OURSELVES, CLEANING UP, AND MAKING PLANS FOR THE NEXT DAY.

DIXON AND MCELROY WERE GOING TO SPLIT SHIFTS WITH SOME OF THE OTHER MEN OF THE CONVOY. WE DIDN’T FEEL COMPLETELY CONFIDENT AND WANTED ONE OF US AWAKE AT ALL TIMES. IN THE END ANGUS AND I ALSO PULLED A COUPLE HOURS OF WATCH AS WELL DESPITE THAT FACT THAT WE WOULD BE DRIVING SINGLE AGAIN. THE NIGHT WAS UNEVENTFUL THOUGH WE DID HEAR A BUNCH OF ANIMALS OFF IN THE DISTANCE.

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING ONE OF THE ANIMALS GOT A LOT CLOSER. SOMEHOW A BEAR HAD SLIPPED BETWEEN THE VEHICLES AND COME TO INVESTIGAE THE ANIMAL TRAILER. I THOUGHT THE COWS WERE GOING TO HAVE CORONARIES. THE BEAR WAS HUGE, NOT A BLACK BEAR FOR SURE. MCELROY SAID IT LOOKED LIKE A KODIAK.

I KNEW THERE WAS A ZOO CLOSE BY AND I GUESS IT MUST HAVE ESCAPED FROM THERE. NOT A NICE WAY TO WAKE UP. AND THE REACTION OF THE BRADY AND NICHOLSON FAMILIES WORRIED ME EVEN MORE. THESE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE SOLID RURAL FOLK USED TO ANIMALS AND SELF-SUFFICIENCY. APPARENTLY LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE IN LIFE, STEREOTYPES DON’T ALWAYS HOLD UP IN THE LIGHT OF REALITY. THE MORRIS FAMILIES DID FINE AND RILLA ASKED IF WE HAD TROUBLE WITH THE ANIMALS FROM BUSCH GARDENS OR LOWRY PARK. THAT SENT US OFF INTO A MORE DETAILED DISCUSSION OF CONDITIONS IN AND AROUND SANCTUARY. EVERYONE WAS INTERESTED BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW THE NICHOLSONS JUST WEREN’T LISTENING.

WE KEPT EXPLAINING THERE ARE NO SERVICES AT SANCTUARY THAT WE WEREN’T PROVIDING FOR OURSELVES. WE HAVE TO RATION, THERE ARE NO STORES. NO, LIVING AT A GROCERY STORE OR ANY OF THE BIG BOX STORES WASN’T AN OPTION AND MOST PLACES LIKE THAT HAD BEEN CLEANED OUT EVEN BEFORE THE QUARANTINE HAD GONE INTO EFFECT. OUR TWO DOCTORS ARE ACTUALLY MEDICS WHO WERE STUDYING ON THE RUN TO PROVIDE WHAT BASIC MEDICAL CARE THEY COULD. THEY KEPT GLOSSING OVER EVERYTHING, REMEMBERING WHAT THEY WANTED TO HEAR AND IGNORING WHAT THEY DIDN’T WANT TO HEAR.

ONCE WE FINALLY GOT ON THE ROAD WE INCHED ALONG US19, PASSING FIRST THROUGH HOMOSASSA AND THEN TO THE INTERSECTION OF US19 AND US98. THAT WAS THE WORST SNARL YET. IT BEAT EVEN THE AREA IN AND AROUND GAINESVILLE FOR MESS. YOU COULD TELL WE WERE CONSIDERABLY NEARER THE COAST AT THIS POINT AND THAT PEOPLE MUST HAVE USED ALL OF THE EVACUATION ROUTES IN AN ATTEMPT TO GET OUT BEFORE THE MILITARY COMPLETELY LOCKED THE AREA DOWN.

THE BUGS CRAWLING IN AND OUT OF THE CARS WAS BAD BUT PROBABLY NOT AS BAD AS IT HAD BEEN A MONTH OR TWO AGO. YOU COULD TELL WHERE THE OMNIVOROUS ROACHES AND RATS DIDN’T CARE WHETHER IT WAS THE CAR THEY NIBBLED ON OR THE BODIES INSIDE THE CARS. A COUPLE OF THE KIDS LOST IT BUT INTERESTINGLY RILLA SAID IT REMINDED HER A BIT WHEN SHE WAS VERY LITTLE AND HER PARENTS WERE STILL TRAVELING WITH HER FATHER’S EMPLOYER OVER IN ASIA AND THE MICRONESIA AREA OF THE WORLD. SHE SAID THE BUGS WERE REALLY BAD THERE AS WELL AND WESTERN STANDARDS OF SANITARY CONDITIONS WERE PRACTICALLY NON-EXISTENT EXCEPT IN PLACES LIKE HONG KONG AND TAIWAN.

THE YOUNGEST DRIVERS IN THE CONVOY WERE JUST BEAT. WE DECIDED TO PULL OVER AND EAT, ASSUMING WE COULD KEEP THE BUGS OUT OF THINGS, AND DO A LITTLE EXPLORING TO STRETCH OUR LEGS.

THE ROADSIDE BUSINESSES WERE INTERESTNG IN A MACABRE KIND OF WAY. SOME WERE LOOTED AND PRACTICALLY DESTROYED. SOME HAD BEEN PICKED OVER LIKE SOMEONE HAD A SPECIFIC PURPOSE OR ITEM IN MIND THAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR. HARDLY ANYTHING HELD ANY INTEREST FOR THOSE OF US FROM SANCTUARY BUT EVERYONE ELSE WAS FASCINATED. THIS WAS THE FIRST “BIG CITY” THEY HAD SEEN LIKE THIS OUTSIDE OF NEWS BROADCASTS WHEN THE TV WAS STILL WORKING.

WE DIDN’T STAY THERE LONG. I FOUND IT DEPRESSING. SO DID MR. MORRIS AND HIS ADULT SON KEVIN. I LIKED THE MORRIS FAMILIES MORE AND MORE AS I GOT TO KNOW THEM. IN THE BUSINESS I WAS IN YOU HAD TO LEARN TO MAKE QUICK JUDGEMENTS OF PEOPLE’S CHARACTER. SOMETIMES I WAS WRONG BUT MOST OF THE TIME I WAS RIGHT AND MY SPIDEY SENSES WERE TELLING ME THAT THE MORRIS FAMILIES WERE GOOD PEOPLE. THEY WERE LEVEL-HEADED, DIDN’T PANIC, TOOK THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES SERIOUSLY, AND WERE VERY READY TO DO THEIR SHARE AND THEN SOME. WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK OF A NEIGHBOR?

I TOLD DIXON THAT NIGHT THAT I WAS POSITIVE ABOUT THE MORRIS FAMILIES, WOULD ACCEPT THE BRADY FAMILY, BUT THAT I STILL HAD A PROBLEM WITH SOME OF THE WAYS THE NICHOLSONS OPERATED. ALL FOUR OF US MEN HAD THE SAME OPINION. THE SNAG WAS THAT IF WE DIDN’T TAKE THE NICHOLSONS WE COULD LOSE ALL FOUR FAMILIES. THE MORRIS FAMILY HAD THE FARMING AND ANIMAL CARE EXPERIENCE AS WELL AS SOME STONE MASONRY SKILLS. THE NICHOLSON AND BRADY FAMILIES HAD SOME ELECTRONICS AND METALWORKING SKILLS.

THE QUANDRY WAS DID WE TAKE IN A FAMILY THAT WE HAD A FEW PROBLEMS WITH, HOPING THAT IN TIME THEY WOULD ACCLIMATE TO OUR WAY OF DOING THINGS? DID IT MAKE IT EASIER TO MAKE THAT DECISION SINCE THEY HAD SKILLS WE NEEDED AT SANCTUARY? OF COURSE IN THE END ALL OF OUR CONCERN WAS MOOT SINCE THEY DIDN’T COME HOME WITH US BUT WE COULD VERY WELL RUN INTO THAT VERY SAME SCENARIO. IT WOULD BE BETTER TO IRON OUT OUR DECISION MAKING PROCESS AHEAD OF TIME.

ONCE WE MADE IT THROUGH THAT INTERSECTION WE ALMOST GOT LOCKED UP AT THE INTERSECTION OF US19 AND SR50. IT WAS SO BAD AROUND THERE WE DECIDED TO SIMPLY PARK FOR THE NIGHT. WE PULLED INTO WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS PARK AND THAT’S WHERE WE STAYED FOR THE NIGHT. THE BIG DEBATE WAS WHETHER WE WOULD KEEP GOING ON US19 AS PLANNED, REGARDLESS OF THE TRAFFIC, OR WOULD WE TURN EAST ON SR50 AND GO TO BROOKSVILLE AND PICK UP US41 AND TAKE IT HOME. I WAS SO TEMPTED TO JUST SAY SCREW IT AND HEAD STRAIGHT FOR HOME. WE DECIDED TO SLEEP ON IT AND SEE HOW WE FELT IN THE MORNING AFTER HOPEFULLY A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP.

Day 137 (Friday, December 15th)

Today has been one of those perfect Florida winter days; low humidity, in the low 70s with not a cloud in the cerulean blue sky. I opened every window in our house and aired it out. I also thought it was as good a time as any to air all the bedding including the mattresses. Scott wanted to know where I had gotten all the energy from and I put it down to him being home and things going well for a change. I wasn’t the only one feeling good and frisky either.

You will never guess what I saw. I was beginning to wonder if he was even into girls though I should probably slap my mouth for even thinking it was any of my business. I was minding my own business, blundering along through the orange grove easy as you please and then BAM! I hear, “Oh Henry, oh Henry!” and bizarrely all I can think about is the candy bar. But when I turned the corner that thought was knocked right out of my head. McElroy and Rhonda were all over each other like a fly and sticky paper.

Poor McElroy. He had been caught with his pants down … literally. Well, have you ever been so embarrassed all you could do was laugh? I think all three of us laughed more than we had in weeks. Those two are obviously happy with what they’ve found; and I mean the relationship though the other stuff seems to be working for them too. The only thing they asked was that I not make a big deal out of it. They were taking it “slow” and didn’t want to make things harder on Dixon and Rachel by being all happy and obvious.

I told them if that was their idea of slow that I’d hate to see their definition of fast. We all had another laugh at that but I really did understand. I told Scott and after he was done laughing he said that the two of them had hit it off right from the start. McElroy’s own mom was a single mother and he knew not all single moms deserved the rep that society sometimes gave them. Rhonda had been engaged before she got pregnant but they had put their wedding on hold until after he finished his education. She told me, “I’ll be honest. I was beginning to wonder if he went to New York to get away. He wasn’t real happy that I wouldn’t get an abortion and said some pretty nasty things before he left. He wanted a paternity test and all this other stuff. Well, he’s gone now and I want to be happy. I want this baby to have a male role model he or she can look up to. Who’d a thought the zombies would take away everything I had and give me the one thing I didn’t.”

There isn’t much you can say to something like that. They were right however, they needed time to work it out between them. I had a feeling Rachel might get a little testy once she found out. That can’t take long, after all she is our OB/gyn. Common courtesy and a real desire not to see Rachel and Dixon hurt is a noble thought. However, I am beginning to get faintly annoyed that we put reasonable expression of joy in life on hold just to avoid hurting them. How long are we going to pussy foot around? People covered for them rather than see a resolution of their love triangle with Patricia. Now that it is resolved – and only because Patricia herself decided to take the initiative – who are we supposed to be protecting them from? Each other? That’s warped.

Dixon seems more at ease than he did before the north Florida run. I’m wondering if seeing the scope of the NRS disaster has helped him come to terms with the changes in his life. Maybe Rachel should go on more runs. She’s been insulated inside Sanctuary for a while. I would hate for anything to happen to her, we need her, but at the same time she isn’t going to do anyone any good – especially not herself – if she can’t get a grip on the personal and societal changes we all are having to learn to live with.

In addition to all my cleaning I canned 21 quarts of orange juice and 14 quarts of tangerine juice. I’m hoping that the ponderosa lemon tree I found in the backyard of a house about two blocks on the other side of the canal will yield enough lemon juice for at least 30 pints of juice. As big as those lemons are I should get nearly a pint from one lemon alone. The juice will be really great for lemonade this summer, assuming we can find a way to pump cool well water to the surface.

In addition to more canning tomorrow … the oven is going to be hot anyway from it being Baking Day … I want to pull all the dried bean bushes and string them up so that they can finish curing. I want to get them harvested and packaged before the animals find them. We’ve had an increased problem with animals in the area. They seem to be coming out of the east just like the zombies did. Mr. Morris thinks it may be a result of displacement. The animals from where ever the burned area was pushed into a new habitat. The animals from that habitat were forced out and into a new area. And so on and so forth heading west until they reached us. What I don’t like is that they all look scrawny and stressed out like their previous habitat was failing and they’ve been on the run looking for a new one. If they did indeed come out of the east, what about all the strawberry fields and orange groves in east Hillsborough County, Polk County, etc.? Have they been wiped out? Surely there was something they could have stopped to eat.

James mentioned that a lot of the animals must not be making it because he sees a pretty constant flight of vultures off to the east. Matlock wants to keep an eye on that. Vultures can also be a sign of zombies. We don’t think so in this case however because the birds are staying way off to the east and then heading a little south. Zombies normally travel a straight line so long as there isn’t anything distracting them.

Jim and Angus made it back to Sanctuary just in time to share our dinner of Chicken Sausage Tandoori; it turned out great by the way. They have not one, but three, of the parts Tarpon Springs wanted. Tomorrow Jim will arrange a meeting with the Tarpon Springs enclave leaders after trade terms have been agreed upon. Angus says he’s interested in seeing the deal through to the end so will be Jim’s transportation and back up.

Johnnie and Bubby were my partners again when I went outside the Wall today. Maybe Scott was right and that giving them as much work as they can handle for a while is what they needed to re-instill discipline for them. Their mischievousness isn’t gone – that’s not what we wanted – but they are learning when it is appropriate behavior and when it is not. We don’t want to crush their spirit, we just need to channel it into more constructive outlets. The threat of extra chores is enough to bring them back in line these days. Their “play time” is a valuable commodity that they don’t want to lose as they have to work so hard to earn it.

Boy will I be glad when the days get longer. Not because I’ll be able to do more work although that is a consideration. No, I’ll just be thankful for more actual light. The artificial light from solar or candles is OK but is still limiting. I can’t get much reading done any more. I need to re-read books like An Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emry, the Foxfire book series, the Reader’s Digest book Back to Basics. I also have a huge stack of books to read the first time around like Urban Homesteading, several recipe books and a couple of Florida pioneer journals Brandon brought back from the downtown library.

The pole wall added a bunch more sections today. Now that they have their assembly process down, so long as they have a supply of telephone poles cut and ready Scott thinks they’ll be able to manufacture and install up to ten sections a day; maybe more. That’s assuming they don’t hit any glitches. They had to cut through some roots today and that slowed them down a bit until they found a sharp limb trimmer.

I’d like to finish her and crawl in bed but I need to get ready to take a watch on the Wall. Tonight I’ll be at the guard tower near the rear gate. As tired as I am I’ll need to drink a gallon of tea to keep me wide awake.


SCOTT’S VERSION OF THE NORTH FLORIDA RUN (PART 5 - FINAL)

THE NEXT MORNING AFTER WE GOT UP I BASICALLY RECUSED MYSELF FROM THE DECISION OF WHETHER TO CONTINUE ON US19 OR TO MOVE ONTO CR50. I COULDN’T MAKE AN OBJECTIVE DECISION FOR THE GROUP; I WANTED MY WIFE AND KIDS SO BAD I HARD A HARD TIME STANDING IT.

DURING NORMAL TIMES I HAD NO PROBLEM BEING AWAY FORM HOME A WEEK OR THREE AT A TIME. SURE I MISSED THEM BUT IT WAS A NORMAL THING YOU FEEL WHEN YOU LIKE SOMEONE AND AREN’T WITH THEM FOR A WHILE. JAMES AND I WENT ON SEVERAL HIGH ADVENTURE VACATIONS AS HE WAS GROWING UP AND I HAD PLANNED ON DOING THE SAME THINGS WITH JOHNNIE. I’VE EVEN TAKEN THE GIRLS ON ADVENTURESOME OUTINGS WITH NO HYSTERICS FROM ANYONE. NOW EVERY DAY EXISTENCE CAN BE HIGH ADVENTURE. YOU DON’T HAVE TO LEAVE TO GET YOUR ADRENALINE RUSH, IT COMES TO YOU WHETHER YOU WANT IT OR NOT. AND YOU NEVER KNOW IF THE LAST TIME YOU SEE SOMEONE WILL BE THE LAST TIME YOU EVER GET TO SEE THEM.

I WENT OVER TO THE WEEKI WACHEE GIFT SHOP AND SNACK BAR AREA WHILE THEY DISCUSSED THINGS SO I COULDN'T BE ACCUSED OF UNDULY INFLUENCING ANYONE. BOTH SHOPS WERE PRETTY WELL WORKED OVER BUT I DID PICK UP SOME BOOKS FOR THE KIDS. THE LOOTERS ALSO MISSED A STORAGE CLOSET THAT HELD SEVERAL CASES OF INDIVIDUALLY PACKAGED BAGS OF POTATO CHIPS AND THREE CASES OF COFFEE, CREAMER AND THE LIKE. I WAS PUSHING EVERYTHING BACK TO THE SEMI IN A WHEEL BARROW WHEN I FOUND OUT WHAT OUR ROUTE WOULD BE. THE DECISION WAS MADE TO CONTINUE ON US19.

WE GOT ON THE ROAD QUICKLY AFTER THAT. DIXON CAME OVER BEFORE WE PULLED OUT TO MAKE SURE I REALLY WAS OK WITH THE DECISION. I SAID SURE BUT ADMITTED I REALLY DIDN’T WANT ANY MORE DELAYS IF WE COULD HELP IT.

MY REASONS WEREN’T JUST BECAUSE I MISSED MY FAMILY. FUEL WAS GOING TO BE A PROBLEM SHORTLY. WE TRIED SIPHONING FUEL FROM SEVERAL OF THE STALLED CARS BUT THE TANKS WERE BONE DRY. EITHER THEY HAD RUN OUT OF GAS AND HAD BEEN ABANDONED WHERE WE FOUND THEM OR SOMEONE ELSE HAD GOTTEN TO THEM FIRST; PROBABLY A MIXTURE OF BOTH.

THE NEXT PROBLEM WAS REALLY TWO-FOLD; FOOD AND WATER. NEAR THE COAST THERE IS PLENTY OF WATER BUT ITS SALTY. OUR WATER FILTERS AREN’T DESIGNED FOR DESALINATION. THERE WERE SOME FRESH WATER SOURCES BUT THEY WERE FULL OF ALGAE AND CLOGGED THE INTAKES OF THE FILTERS. I WAS GLAD WE HAD FILLED ALL THE CONTAINERS WE COULD BACK IN CRYSTAL RIVER BECAUSE WE HADN’T FOUND A GOOD SOURCE OF WATER SINCE THAT STOP. WE HAD BEGUN TO RATION WATER FOR BOTH HUMANS AND ANIMALS. THE COWS WERE STILL MAKING MILK SO THAT HELPED SOME.

WHILE EVERYONE ELSE LOADED UP ON COFFEE, I DRANK MILK TO KEEP THE HUNGER UNDER CONTROL. WE WEREN’T STARVING BUT WE WERE RATIONING FOOD AS WELL AND BEING CAREFUL TO MAXIMIZE EVERYTHING THAT WE DID USE. THERE WAS MORE FOOD PACKED SOMEPLACE IN THE SEMI BUT I HATED THE IDEA OF STOPPING TO DIG FOR IT. THAT COULD HAVE ADDED A HALF-DAY OR MORE TO OUR TRAVEL TIME. NOMRALLY WE COULD HAVE FOUND SOMETHING IN THE HOMES AND BUSINESSES OFF THE ROADS WE TRAVELLED, BUT NOT THIS TIME. I CONTINUED TO BE ASTONISHED AT HOW PICKED OVER EVERYTHING WAS ALONG THE COAST, YET WE HADN’T SEEN A SINGLE LIVE PERSON SINCE CHIEFLAND. THE VEHICLES ALONG THE ROAD WERE EMPTY OF USABLE ITEMS AS WELL.

WE DROVE THROUGH HUDSON AND THEN INTO BAYONET POINT WHICH WAS RIGHT ON THE COAST AT US19 AND SR52. THAT WAS ANOTHER INTERSECTION FROM HELL. NOT ONLY THAT BUT WE COULD HAVE TAKEN SR52 TO GET TO US41. I TRIED TO STAY FOCUSED ON OUR PLAN. TONY DUNGY ALWAYS SAID, “DEVIATING FROM YOUR GAME PLAN IS A SIGN OF PANIC.” PANIC IS NEVER GOOD SO I AVOID EVEN THE APPEARANCE OF IT WHEN I CAN. I MAY HAVE GRITTED MY TEETH WHILE I PASSED THE TURN OFF BUT I DID ACCEPT IT.

IN BAYONET POINT IT LOOKED LIKE SOMETHING BESIDES ZOMBIES AND LOOTING HAD OCCURRED. THERE WAS A LOT OF DESTRUCTION, BUT NOT THE KIND YOU WOULD SEE FROM A RAGING WILDFIRE. THIS DAMAGE REMINDED ME OF OLD WW2 PHOTOS. SEVERAL HOMES WOULD BE NEARLY DESTROYED WITH COLLAPSED WALLS AND ROOF AND THEN THERE WOULD BE A COUPLE OF HOUSES WITH HARDLY ANY DAMAGE AT ALL.

WE HAD STOPPED FOR A MOMENT TO GIVE ANGUS A CHANCE TO BREAK THROUGH A TRAFFIC SNARL. DIXON RAN BACK TO ME AND THAT’S WHEN I FOUND OUT THE LIKELY REASON THINGS LOOKED THE WAY THEY DID; HEAVY WEAPONS FIRE OF SOME TYPE. WE WERE SO CLOSE TO THE WATER, NOT EVEN 100 YARDS AWAY, THAT THE ORIGIN OF THE VOLLEYS HAD TO HAVE BEEN SOME TYPE OF WATER CRAFT. WHEN I ASKED HIM COULD IT HAVE BEEN PIRATES HE JUST SHRUGGED; TOO LITTLE DATA FOR HIM TO BE SURE.

FROM THERE WE HEADED INTO PORT RICHEY AND THEN INTO NEW PORT RICHEY. THERE WE RAN INTO A GROUP OF SURVIVORS THAT HAD GOTTEN SURROUNDED BY ZOMBIES. WE DID WHAT WE ALWAYS DO AND USED JUICER TO GET THE PACK OF ZOMBIES DOWN TO A MANAGEABLE NUMBER THAT COULD BE HANDLED BY THE SHOOTERS. ONE OF THESE DAYS WE MAY WIND UP HELPING THE WRONG PEOPLE BUT WITHOUT SOME WAY TO KNOW FOR SURE WE’LL CONTINUE TO TRY AND TAKE THE HIGH ROAD AND MANAGE THE RISK AS BEST WE CAN.

TURNED OUT THE PEOPLE WERE FROM TARPON SPRINGS, A MEDIUM SIZED MUNICIPALITY A LITTLE FURTHER SOUTH. DIXON’S MAIN GOAL FOR THE NORTH FLORIDA RUN HAD BEEN TO DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER COMMUNITIES; PRIMARILY TRADE AND COMMUNICATION LINES. AFTER THE DEMISE OF HALE HOLLOW ITS BRANCHES AND THE DRISCOLL’S THIS WAS ONLY THE THIRD COMMUNITY GROUP OF SURVIVORS WE HAD DIRECT CONTACT WITH AND SO FAR IT REMAINS THE GEOGRAPHICALLY CLOSEST. AT LEAST THAT WE ARE AWARE OF. WE DIDN'T COUNT MACDILL AS WE ONLY HAD INDIRECT CONTACT WITH THEM.

WITH COMMONSENSE PRECAUTIONS WE ALLOWED THEM TO LEAD US TO THEIR COMPOUND. I CAN’T SAY I’M REAL IMPRESSED. I MEAN THE PLACE LOOKS NICE ON THE SURFACE; QUAINT LITTLE FISHING TOWN SORT OF LOOK. ITS NOT EVEN THAT THERE IS ANYTHING PARTICULARLY WRONG WITH THEIR SET UP, ITS JUST NOT HOW I WOULD DO IT AND ON MINIMAL ACQUAINTANCE I FOUND SEVERAL SHORTCOMINGS THAT COULD BECOME MAJOR ISSUES. RATHER THAN CHOOSING A RESIDENTIAL SETTING FOR THEIR COMPOUND THAT WOULD ALLOW FOR INDIVIDUAL FAMILY UNITS, THEY HAD MOVED INTO THE TOURIST AND COMMERICAL DISTRICT RIGHT ON THE EDGE OF THE SPONGE DOCKS AND LIVED IN CONVERTED OFFICE SPACE FOR THE MOST PART. I SUPPOSE THAT IS JUST HOW THINGS DEVELOPED BUT IT WOULD SEEM TO ME THAT IT LEAVES THEM VULNERABLE TO STORMS AND PIRATES IN ADDITION TO ZOMBIES. NOT TO MENTION THE POTENTIAL FOR SOCIAL UNREST FROM HAVING TOO MANY PEOPLE LIVING TO CRAMMED TOGETHER.

I’M ALSO NOT REAL IMPRESSED WITH THEIR HYGIENE. AT FIRST IT LOOKS LIKE THEY HAVE A GOOD SEPTIC SYSTEM UNTIL YOU REALIZE THAT IT’S FEEDING INTO AN OPEN CESSPOOL NOT TOO FAR FROM THEIR DEFENSIVE PERIMETER. THAT CESSPOOL HAS STARTED RUNNING OFF INTO A STORM DRAIN SYSTEM THAT IN THE OLD DAYS WOULD HAVE OPERATED USING ELECTRIC LIFT STATIONS TO KEEP THINGS FROM BACKING UP. IF THEY EVER DO EXPERIENCE A BACK UP ALONG THIS SYSTEM, THEY COULD HAVE SEWAGE IN THEIR COMPOUND AND THEY WILL ALSO LIKELY RELEASE A BUNCH OF SEWAGE INTO THE GULF ITSELF POISONING A MAJOR SOURCE OF FOOD AND WATER FOR THEIR PEOPLE. INSIDE THEIR COMPOUND THEY HAVE A LARGE COMMUNAL BATHROOM THAT USED TO BE PUBLIC ACCESS BATHROOMS FOR THE TOURISTS. THEY ARE NONE TOO CLEAN EITHER. THEY USE WATER THEY FILL FROM THE DOCK TO FLUSH THE TOILETS AND FOR GENERAL WASHING. AS SOON AS I SAW THIS I COULD HEAR SISSY’S PREDICTIONS OF DOOM. I REMINDED EVERYONE IN OUR GROUP TO USE THE HAND SANITIZER JUGS THAT WALESKI INSISTED ON INSTALLING IN JUICER AND THE AVALANCHE. I DIDN’T WANT TO BRING ANY GERMS BACK TO SANCTUARY THAT COULD MAKE MY KIDS SICK. I GUESS SISSY'S CONSTANT RANTS ON THINGS LIKE CHOLERA, GIARDIA, E. COLI AND HEPATITIS HAD SUNK IN MORE THAN SHE THOUGHT.

THEIR COMMUNITY HAS HAD A FEW BATTLES WITH PIRATES. SO FAR THEY HAVE WON EVERY BATTLE EXCEPT FOR THE VERY FIRST ONE WHICH NEARLY HALVED THE NUMBER OF SURVIVORS IN THEIR GROUP. THEY DO CONTINUE TO DIRECTLY COMPETE WITH THE PIRATES FOR RESOURCES IN THE AREA BUT AGAIN, SO FAR SO GOOD AND THEY'VE WON MORE SKIRMISHES THAN THEY'VE LOST. THEY PROTECT THEIR HARBOR WITH WEAPONS THEY SCAVENGED FROM A COUPLE OF COAST GUARD VESSELS.

I DON’T KNOW IF I WAS ANXIOUS TO GET HOME OR WHAT BUT I JUST COULDN’T RELAX THE WHOLE TIME WE WERE THERE. NO ONE ELSE SEEMED TO SHARE MY FEELINGS. IN FACT WE THOUGHT WE HAD LOST ALL FOUR OF THE NEW FAMILIES TO THE SMOOTH TALKING CHARM OF THE “GOVERNOR” OF THE TARPON SPRINGS ENCLAVE. IN THE END HOWEVER MR. MORRIS SR. WANTED TO CONTINUE ON TO SANCTUARY. I THINK THE BRADY FAMILY MIGHT HAVE CONTINUED ON IF NOT FOR THEIR SON AND THE PRESSURE EXERTED BY THE NICHOLSON FAMILY. THAT’S FINE, SANCTUARY NEEDS PEOPLE WHO ARE COMPLETELY COMMITTED TO ITS SUCCESS, NOT JUST PEOPLE THAT PICK US AS THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS.

KEVIN MORRIS TOLD ME LATER HE DECIDED AGAINST STAYING PRIMARILY BECAUSE HE NOTICED THE YOUNG PEOPLE WERE BEING ALLOWED TO BEHAVE ANY WAY THEY LIKED, NO MATTER HOW DESTRUCTIVE SO LONG AS THEY DID IT OUTSIDE THE COMPOUND. SOME WERE VANDALIZING EVERY BUILDING AROUND, DRINKING, AND WASTING AMMO RATHER THAN DOING ANYTHING CONSTRUCTIVE. A COUPLE OF THE ADULTS WERE PRETTY IRRESPONSIBLE AS WELL AND WERE HANGING OUT WITH AND ENCOURAGING THE KIDS IN THEIR BEHAVIOR. ON THE SURFACE TARPON SPRINGS SEEMS LIKE A NICE PLACE, BUT THEY’VE GOT SOME PROBLEMS THAT COULD ESCALATE AND GET OUT OF HAND QUICKLY, LIKE AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN.

DINNER AND BREAKFAST THE NEXT MORNING WAS HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY THEIR LIFE ON THE COAST. IT WAS GOOD, BUT RICHER THAN I HAD BEEN USED TO. IT UPSET MY STOMACH ALMOST TO THE POINT THAT I GAVE FOOD POISONING A THOUGHT. I HAD THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO BE STUCK THERE ANOTHER DAY BUT DIXON SURPRISED ME BY ADMITTING HE TOO WAS BEGINNING TO FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE. THEY ASKED TOO MANY POINTED QUESTIONS ABOUT SANCTUARY’S DEFENSES AND ABOUT THE PEOPLE LIVING THERE AND WHAT SKILLS THEY HAD.

AFTER A QUICK CONSULTAITON THAT INCLUDED THE MORRIS FAMILIES WE DECIDED TO HIT THE ROAD AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. QUICK WAS RELATIVE, BUT WITHOUT THE NICHOLSONS HOLDING US UP IT WAS QUICKER THAN WE HAD MANAGED SINCE THE CONVOY EXPANDED BACK IN TRENTON.

WHEN DIXON BROUGHT UP THE FACT THAT WE WERE LEAVING WE GOT MIXED REACTIONS FROM THE TARPON SPRINGS GROUP. SOME PEOPLE SEEMED GLAD WE WERE GOING, SOME SEEMED LIKE THEY WERE TRYING TO COME UP WITH A WAY TO FORCE US TO STAY, BUT MOST WERE TOO SELF-ABSORBED TO CARE ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. WE TURNED DOWN THEIR OFFER OF AN ESCORT. I CONTINUED TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE UNTIL WE WERE WELL AWAY FROM THE AREA. I FELT AN ITCH ON THE BACK OF MY NECK LIKE SOMEONE WAS WATCHING ME.

NONE OF US WERE ANXIOUS TO BACKTRACK TO SR54 SO I SUGGESTED WE TAKE TARPON SPRINGS ROAD BACK HOME. WE STOPPED FOR A BRIEF REST AT BROOKER CREEK PRESERVE WHERE I RAIDED THE SMALL GIFT SHOP THERE FOR MORE BOOKS AND A FEW SMALL TRINKETS THAT I THOUGHT SISSY MIGHT LIKE FOR THE KIDS.

AFTER BROOKER CREEK THE NARROW TWO-LANE ROAD BECAME VERY CONGESTED. I WAS REALLY GETTING FRUSTRATED. AT THE RATE WE WERE TRAVELLING THERE WAS A REAL POSSIBILITY THAT WE WOULDN’T MAKE IT HOME THAT NIGHT.

FINALLY WE REACHED GUNN HWY AND THEN FROM GUNN WE WENT TO VAN DYKE ROAD. WE WERE PRACTICALLY HOME FREE AT THAT POINT. THEN JUST WHEN I THOUGHT OUR LUCK HAD CHANGED WE RAN INTO A PROBLEM. THERE HAD BEEN SOME KIND OF ALTERCATION AT THE INTERSECTION OF VAN DYKE AND DALE MABRY HWY THAT HADN’T BEEN THERE LAST TIME WE WERE THROUGH. TWO BIG RIGS WERE NOW BLOCKING THE ROADS. ONE WAS JACK KNIFED AND THE OTHER WAS ON ITS SIDE. OUR FUEL WAS GETTING VERY LOW AND IT WASN'T WORTH THE HASSLE OF TRYING TO MOVE THINGS OUT OF OUR WAY.

I COULD HAVE PULLED MY HAIR OUT AND DID CURSE A BLUE STREAK UNTIL I REIGNED IT IN. WE WERE FORCED TO DETOUR A LITTLE NORTH TO PICK UP LAKE FERN ROAD WHICH CUT ACROSS TO US41. WE WERE WITHIN SIGHT OF SANCTUARY WHEN WE FINALLY PULLED ONTO US41 BUT IT WAS GETTING DARK ENOUGH THAT WE HIT OUR HEADLIGHTS.

WE HAD LOST RADIO CONTACT SOME TIME WHEN WE WERE IN TARPON SPRINGS. WE’VE WONDERED SINCE IF IT WASN’T SABOTAGE. DIXON SAID SOMEHOW THE CONNECTION HAD COME LOOSE INSIDE THE RADIO ITSELF. WE HAD POWER BUT NO SIGNAL IN OR OUT. WE DIDN’T NEED THE RADIO THOUGH TO SEE ALL THE EXCITED FACES ON THE WALL AND AT OUR GATE AFTER THEY RECOGNIZED US.

WHAT A WELCOME HOME! I COULD HAVE HELD ONTO MY FAMILY FOR DAYS. WHEN WE EVENTUALLY MADE IT TO BED I HAD THE FIRST GOOD NIGHT SLEEP SINCE WE LEFT.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YEAH, I WOULD. I JUST DON’T WANT TO DO IT AGAIN TOO SOON. I ENJOY THE ADVENTURE OF GETTING OUT AND AWAY AND SEEING SOMETHING BESIDES THE INSIDE OF THE WALLS OF SANCTUARY; BUT TOO MANY THINGS CAN GO WRONG THESE DAYS AND MY RESPONSIBILITIES ARE TOO GREAT. THE RUN WAS IMPORTANT BUT I HAVE TO WEIGH THAT AGAINST THE IMPORTANT JOBS AT HOME.

I KNOW THAT JAMES AND DAVID WOULD STEP INTO MY SHOES BUT IF I CAN GIVE THEM TIME TO GROW MORE AND DO MY BEST NOT TO LEAVE SISSY TO RAISE THE LITTLE ONES BY HERSELF, I OWE IT TO THEM AND TO MYSELF TO DO WHATEVER THAT TAKES. EVEN IF THAT MEANS STICKING CLOSER TO HOME THAN MAYBE I WOULD IF I WAS SINGLE AND FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY FREE. I’M NOT A KID ANYMORE AND SOMETIMES BEING A GROWN UP SUCKS. BUT I WOULDN’T TRADE WHAT I DO HAVE FOR ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD.

Day 138 (Baking Day)

Today wasn’t quite as nice as yesterday. It was a little cool but that wasn’t a bad thing while I was taking my turn cooking, canning, and baking. Got a lot of that accomplished so I’m feeling pretty good. I love it when I tick off more things on my “to do” list than I expect. Makes me feel all efficient and stuff.

Rachel, who has never been on any of the foodie rotations as far as I can remember, stopped by to lend a hand after she finished morning watch. It was kind of weird to see her there. She is one of “the women” here in Sanctuary but at the same time she isn’t. She doesn’t do stereotypical “women’s work” unless it applies directly to the hospital and Waleski does a bunch of that as well. That sort of sets her apart from the rest of us. If she isn’t needed medically she works guard duty or with Dante’ on the inventory stuff. She used to go on some of the gathering trips but she hasn’t done that in a while.

I didn’t know what to make of her being there but I tried to act normally. Patricia certainly seemed to welcome her into things with no problem. She set the tone and the rest of us tried to follow. Mostly Rachel just kind of wandered around, squeezing a few oranges here, stirring a pot there. I’m not sure she knew what she was doing there either. Part of me has lost patience with the drama of it all and part of me is sympathetic. I’m not sure which part of me will win out in the end.

Reading over some of my notes for a research project I did pre-NRS I remembered another way we could extend our flour. Now granted it’s not real different from the bean bread I made but it’s even higher in nutritional value. It’s kind of a take-off on the traditional Ezekiel bread that was very popular in the early conservative survivalist movements and in some early churches. My problem is that I only have a limited amount of the most traditional ingredients. Long term I’ll have to substitute here and there and hope for the best.

What I did was combine the following whole grains and ground them in my pedal-power flour mill that David built: 2-1/2 cups hard red wheat, 1-1/2 cups spelt or rye, 1/2 cup barley, 1/4 cup millet, 1/4 cup lentils (green preferred), 2 Tbs. great northern beans, 2 Tbs. red kidney beans, and 2 Tbs. pinto beans. I stirred the resulting flour well to distribute all the ingredients evenly. Then I measured 4 cups lukewarm water, 1 cup honey, and 1/2 cup oil into a large bowl and mixed it together well. To the freshly milled flour I added 2 tsp. salt and 2 Tbs. yeast and then added all of that into the liquids. That whole mess gets stirred for about 10 minutes. This is a batter-type bread and will not form a smooth ball. You may have to knead it just a little to get the last of the dry ingredients into the wet, but it will be messy.

I poured each batch of the dough into greased pans; 2 large loaf pans (10x5x3) or 3 med. loaf pans or 2-9x13 brownie pans. Then I let it rise in a warm place for one hour or until the dough was almost to the top of the pan. You can’t let this stuff rise too much or it will over flow the pan while baking. Then we baked the various batches 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes for loaf pans and 35-40 minutes for brownie pans.

This recipe makes a very sweet, moist, cake-like bread. You can also add fruits and nuts for even more oomph. Combining grains and beans makes a complete protein which is what makes it so nutritious and that is something we are going to really have to keep in mind as time passes and we get away from foods that have been artificially enhanced during their commercial processing. The bread is also very filling and travels pretty well which is a plus.

Jim made contact with the Tarpon Springs group. He and Angus leave tomorrow to meet them at this little town called Elfers on SR54. This will keep them far enough away from Sanctuary’s territory that it won’t be easy to find us by chance alone.

My garden is hitting a lull. We are beginning to finish up all the salad greens. The dried bush beans have been hung to finish drying on the vines. The only thing that is really still making are collards and some of the winter squash.

Oooooo, I was so mad. I got up this morning and caught bunnies eating one of my patches of squash. Six of those cotton tailed nemesis made it to Betty who dressed them and showed us how to make rabbit sausage. It’s another fresh type sausage that will have to be used in the next day or so. And you won’t hear me crying over those little fluffy butts either. Argh! I know they serve a purpose in the food chain so I don’t want to completely eradicate them but by Jehosephat they better stay out of my gardens or else. Clark, one of Reba’s sons said, “Y’all done ever really want to make that woman mad. I know she says she ain’t much with a gun but you shoulda seen her pull that pistol Mr. Scott gave her. She looked like one of them girls in the comic books. One shot, one rabbit. ‘Course I think two of ‘em just gave up and died of heart attacks, but still. I ain’t even seen Momma do something like that.”

Scott told him, “Hang around son, I’ve seen her do quite a few amazing things over the years.”

Golly, I didn’t know whether to kiss the man or hit him. He can be such a tease. Don’t ever let anyone say that a man is in his prime in his 20s and 30s. The 40s aren’t too bad either dontcha know. And I plan on keeping him fed and happy so his 50s and 60s and beyond should be pretty good too. Wink, wink.

Yeah, I’m feeling fine and frisky myself. The holidays are here. We are all back together. Barring the occasional hiccup things are going pretty smooth. I know things will never be perfect – heck, they weren’t perfect before NRS – but compared to how we all started out we’ve pulled a really nice community practically out of thin air.

I told Scott how much I enjoyed reading the stuff he wrote on the North Florida Run. He admitted that writing was kind of cathartic and gave him a chance to review things and think about what he would change if or when he goes on another run. He knew that my journaling was a major source of “therapy” for me but I don’t think he really understood it before. But, I’m not sure this would be something he would use as regularly as I do. He’s a list-maker more so than a story-teller.

Tomorrow most of the men are planning on working a half day on the Wall. After that they’ll work on pet projects or take the rest of the day off barring any watcher on the Wall assignments. Scott said he’ll play with the kids tomorrow afternoon and basically give me a break to do what I want, sans kidlets in tow. Hurray! I love being a mom but every so often I just need some time to myself to recharge. In the morning I plan on taking Johnnie and Bubby and picking some fruit for a big fruit salad to go with dinner. I’m still undecided about whether to go after more lemons tomorrow or wait until next week. I’m not always comfortable going across the canals without back up but I guess we won’t be that far away from Sanctuary and I’m taking the cart.

I’ll probably take my journal and do a little sketch of the location of the new fruit trees that I found. They are kinda hidden and you have to take a convoluted path around all the overgrowth to hunt them out.

When I told the boys they needed to get to bed a little early I didn’t have a speck of trouble with them. What a change from just a month ago. They aren’t totally different kids, they can still be stinkers of the highest order, but they are more disciplined which takes away a lot of the worry that I was experiencing over them. And with those two behaving I have less trouble with the little girls who have been watching them closely and imitating all that they do.

Speaking of getting to bed early, that’s what I intend on doing for once. My late nights of planning and watch duty has taken the entire toll that I intend to let it for a while. Even with Jim and Angus off the roster we have several extra warm bodies to fill the lists out with. That Clark is a trip but is pretty stable for a young teen. The other Morris kids and their parents also help lighten the load. I like them. They are good solid people. I know they miss their home but I think Kevin said it best when he said, “home isn’t always a place; its family and good friends too.” That’s what Sanctuary is to Scott and I. We’ve lived in this same house for 13 years but its never felt as much like home as it does now.

Day 139 (The Day from Hell and then some)

God I am so scared. This day …

Sorry for all the bloody smudges on these pages. I banged my head really badly trying to get us set up in this attic. Stupid nail. It bled like a sonofagun and scared the boys. My poor little boys. They have either passed out from fear or exhaustion. We are surrounded for as far as my eyes can see. I think we are OK for now but I don’t know for how long. I’ve never seen a horde this big or one that has this many ragers in it … and … and other kinds that I’ve never seen. I don’t know what to call them. I can’t stop shaking.

To get my head together and to try and come up with a plan I’m going to write down how this horror show started. It will also keep me from wondering if everyone else made it back inside the Wall. I just can’t go there right now. Please God, oh please God, I’m begging you let everyone else be OK.

The day started out so promising. It was sunny but a little cool. I’m glad I made the boys wear both their jackets and hoodies now. They didn’t want to on top of having to wear their emergency packs but I pulled the Mom rule of either do what I say or stay behind. I kissed Scott goodbye as I had Johnnie and Bubby pile into the cart. We didn’t attach the trailer as we didn’t plan on doing all that much gathering. I told him we’d only be gone two hours at most, that we were going over to the lemon trees to get some fruit to juice and can.

It was just the boys and I so he made me take the .22 rifle in addition to the Mark III and my ammo bag. I don’t know if having all the extra ammo will do any good at this point, but at least we have it if we need it. I also strapped on the machete so we could hack through any overgrowth if we needed to. The winter has killed a lot of it back but it’s still there lying like hay in the way of walking. We weren’t the only group out. There was the group out bringing down telephone poles, the men putting up the poles, and another group out dismantling a couple of the closest houses so that we can build a gate house onto the rear gate area once the wooden skin reaches around to that point. Those are the only groups I know of for sure. I’m not counting Angus and Jim; I hope they are well out of this and safe where they are at.

We went out of the back gate and made our way over around the canal and to the house where the ponderosa lemon trees are. We stopped here and there to pick a few tangerines and oranges first before pulling down behind the house I had aimed for. As many fruit as I have taken those two trees are still loaded; at least they were, a lot of the fruit has probably been knocked down now.

My two little monkeys were up in the tree pulling fruit for me when the emergency signal started blaring over my little handheld radio. Before I could even pick it up, Dixon is practically screaming for everyone to get inside the gates NOW!!! Drop what we were doing, don’t worry about tools, just move it now!!!! I’ve never heard that tone in his voice. Never.

I never got a chance to answer, I think we dropped the radio at some point because it is no longer on my belt.

The boys jumped from the tree and we jumped back in the cart and hauled butt. I wasn’t panicking yet. I thought there had been an accident and they needed immediate help. It’s been one of my worries that a chain or pulley would snap and the telephone poles would come down and hurt someone.

I was up the driveway and out the gate of the house when I saw the first one lurching through bushes. I didn’t give it too much thought; there are always zombies wandering around. Any kind of sound attracts them so you have to be on guard all the time. But then there was another, and another, and some of them were doing things they shouldn’t have been able to do … like run. Oh crap. My eyes didn’t want to believe what they were seeing. I wanted to say that they were survivors running from zombies but survivors aren’t disfigured, snarling monsters.

I pulled around the main road leading to the back gate and we would have made it except we were suddenly cut off by three Ragers got between us and the gate. I swerved thinking I would take the long way around to the front gate but I found we were boxed in. I headed for the nearest house when a runner … a freaking RUNNER … came off to my left and tried to grab Bubby. I’m not the worst shot in Sanctuary but I’m far from being one of the best. At that proximity though I couldn’t have missed. Driving with one hand, I pulled the Mark III and put a bullet in the Runner’s head. Unfortunately the sound drew unwanted attention from several shamblers that were too close for comfort.

Now the panic started to set in. There was no place to go and every turn I made, whether on a street or through a yard, just led to another wall of zombies. When I saw the Ragers is when I started having trouble breathing. I got far enough away from the largest group I could and pulled into the driveway of a house we had cleaned out except for a bit of furniture. The house had an old manual garage door and I lifted it. The blasted thing made so much noise, screeching like a banshee as it went up. Johnnie floored the accelerator and nearly took me out as he ran the cart into the garage and into the hot water tank at the back of the space. I slammed the door down just as a smaller group of zombies figured out our location.

I heard a crash within the house itself and knew that there was nowhere to go but up. I grabbed our packs and thought I’d use the ladder hanging on the garage to climb up onto the roof but at that moment a big bastard zombie broke the glass on the garage’s back door. I looked up to pray for help and was blessed to see this place had an attic access out in the garage; that was unusual as they are usually only inside the house proper for security reasons.

Instead of the roof I propped the ladder so that we could get into the attic. I sent the boys up the ladder with all three packs and then I grabbed the rifle, the ammo bag, and a bag of some of the fruit we had picked and went up the ladder as well. I had my head in the opening when the zombies got the backdoor open and tried to catch me. I had my butt securely in the attic when the first one grabbed the ladder itself and started to CLIMB for ever loving sakes!!!! Zombies don’t run. Zombies don’t climb. It’s against the laws of nature or something.

I had planned to pull the ladder up with us but I had to kick it loose and to the floor of the garage to keep the zombies from following us. Staying back from the opening I grabbed the rifle thinking if they were coordinated enough to climb maybe they would be smart enough to pick it back up and use it.

But no, from what I’ve seen for the last couple of hours the “smart” ones aren't really smart … their brains may remember how to step and climb but they aren’t tool builders. I think it’s just an illusion that's encouraged by our fear.

Just to be on the safe side I put the cover back over the opening and pushed a couple of plastic storage tubs on top of it. The only sound in the attic was my wheezing. That startled me as I had expected to hear the boys. I jerked my head around looking for them in the gloom. They were on the very edge of a wooden storage floor that had been nailed down to the beams. Their eyes were huge and I’m afraid they may have been just on the ragged edge of going into shock.

I slowly crawled over to them and wrapped them in my arms. They were both soaking wet; they had urinated on themselves they were so scared. That gave me something I could focus on besides the zombies for a second.

I made them look at me and I told them by whispering close to their ears that they couldn’t go off of the wood or they might fall through the ceiling and down into the zombies. Then I had them get out of their wet things. Looking through the plastic storage tubs in the attic I found some old sheets and curtains. I tore the sheets into loin cloths and then had them wrap up in the curtains as best they could so that they could stay warm. Crawling across the beams I hung their wet pants and underwear as far from us as I could. They already smelled really strong and I didn’t have enough water to clean them up with.

Water. And thoughts of water led to food. And thoughts of food made me wonder about how long we might be stuck up in this attic. A big thump down below made me jump and I rammed my head into the plywood. A roofing nail caught me and it wasn’t a second before I felt blood running down my face. I thought the boys were going to scream but I managed to stop them just in time.

I could have probably used stitches but Rachel and Waleski weren’t exactly accessible so I made a pad out of the left over sheet and tied it to the spot on my head that was bleeding. It’s OK now but my hair is disgusting.

The lack of light was disturbing. I could barely see what I was doing. There was a fake dormer window on the far side of the attic but it was boarded over. It took me an hour to pry the panel off enough to see out. Then I wished I hadn’t.

There were zombies of every imaginable shape, size, and amount of decomposition everywhere. It was a virtual sea from the house’s front which faced Sanctuary’s direction onward. I could just see the rear gate and could see people on the Wall but I couldn’t tell who they were.

The attic was getting stuffy despite it being cool. It didn’t help to have the zombies in the house. The smell of rotting corpses overpowered even the smell of mold and mildew, the rotting furniture and carpet that wafted up from below. We were lucky that the insulation wasn’t too thick and that it wasn’t blown insulation as well. All I needed was for the boys to be breathing that crap in on top of all the potential germs from the zombies.

I used the machete to pry off the part of the ridge vent so that the stuffiness could escape a little faster. Then I had an idea. If I could find a pole, something to stick on the end of the pole, and some way to get that something to stay stuck on the end of the pole I might at least be able to let those on the Wall know where we were at.

I looked around. No poles but I did see some copper tubing that probably ran water to the kitchen once upon a time. It took me a bit of strength, but less than I had supposed, to rip up a good length of this. The “flag” was easy. I used one of the pillow cases that went with the sheets in the storage tubs I had already raided. The boys came out of their catatonic state a little bit as a result of the curiosity about what I was doing. Johnnie asked if I could put something on the sign to let them know we were here. I told him it was a good idea but I didn’t have anything that would write big enough for them to read it. Bubby pulled a big marker out of his pocket and gave it to me.

At the time I didn’t think to ask what he had planned using it for; I was just happy he had it. The “flag” wasn’t that big and I needed to write big enough they could read it. I put “Alive in Attic” and then the numeral three below that. Hopefully they could figure the rest out. I tried to shove the flag and pole out of the ridge vent opening but it wasn’t big enough, the copper kept bending and I was afraid it would break. I didn’t want to break the glass of the dormer window because I knew it was going to get cold and that window was one of our few protections from the elements. That left me to try and take off the round roof louver vent. I got lucky and there was a little bit of wood rot around the flashing that held down the vent in place. It only took me 45 minutes to get it disconnected enough that I could put our flag up through the resulting hole. I stuffed some insulation up into the vent to hold the pole in place and then went over to the dormer window to see when, or if, they noticed.

Fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes later there was a commotion on the Wall that faces our position. I’m nearly certain that they’ve seen it, but it is getting dark and there is nothing they can do for now. The boys finally crashed and burned after I had them eat an orange and a Clif bar from our emergency supplies. They are side-by-side as close as they can get to each other. Shortly I'll go over and add my body warmth to theirs but I want to keep watch a little longer.

Water won’t be a problem so long as our fruit holds out. We also have three canteens mostly full of water. I have a few ideas if we get desperate but it’s getting too dark to write them down. I wish they would have hung a sign over the Wall to let me know something. I just want to know that everyone else is OK. I can only imagine the state Scott must be in. I’m borderline crazy myself. Every bump against the house, inside or out, stretches my nerves just a little more. It’s not just the cold that is making my handwriting so shaky.

I made a little chamber pot that we can use. I dump it out through a bit of broken soffit on the opposite end of the house from where we are. The smell is overwhelming enough without adding our own to it.

It’s gotten so cold. All three of us are shivering. I’ve made a little tent out of what little bit I could find and the boys also have their reflector blankets from their emergency packs. We aren’t used to this exposure and with no way of knowing how cold it might get I can’t do much more than I have except continue to pray.

The last of the light is fading so I’m going to have to stop writing. Besides my head is killing me. It still feels like there is a nail in my scalp even though I can’t feel anything.

God, please don’t let anything happen to my little boys.

Day 140 - Trapped Day 2 (Dec 18)

Today is Monday. Excuse the sour tone of this entry, I’m not feeling all that great. We are still stuck in this attic. My boys have tried really, really hard to be good but they are barely five years old. It’s hard for little fellas to stay quiet all the time, not squirm, not be kids.

It doesn’t help that I didn’t really sleep all that much last night. I catnapped but I kept waking up cold or because some zombie would start banging into stuff down below. I finally fell asleep good and hard when something … I guess a Rager … got in the house. It must have turned over the refrigerator and it sounded like it tore off the stove door as well. I know it must have torn up a few walls and thrown furniture around before slamming out a window. After we heard the breaking glass things went back to “normal.” Or at least as normal as it gets when you have several dozen zombies wandering aimlessly in a house.

Of course that woke up the boys and I had to figure out what to do for them. Breakfast consisted of a piece of fruit and a granola bar. That didn't hold them for long. I just had a piece of fruit. For lunch/dinner I found a hot place where the dormer window sent down a stream of intense sunlight. It only made the water lukewarm but it’s all I figure out to do. I dumped a packet of instant broth in there and mixed it up as best I could. It took a long time to dissolve but I got most of the gritty flavor out of it. The boys drank it without complaint so I know they were hungry. To keep their hunger and thirst at bay I let the boys eat fruit whenever they wanted. They took a long nap in the middle of the day in a pool of sunshine and looked like two angels, one blonde and one dark-headed.

Early this morning Sanctuary figured out a way to give us information. They had a big piece of painted siding and they must have been using chalk to write on it. We would respond by wiggling the flag back and forth. First off, no deaths and everyone is accounted for; however, we aren’t the only ones that are stuck. J. Paul and McElroy are stuck on a roof just outside of the Wall. As soon as they rescue them they will come for us. Whatever they are planning it didn’t happen today. The last note of the day was obviously from Scott.

STAY SAFE
KEEP HOPE
BE THERE QUICKEST
WE LUV U!

Only a couple of times I had to remind the boys to stay quiet as mice. I watched over the boys and tried to play a few quiet games with them but mostly I stood watch. I feel like there is a jackhammer going off in my skull. The wound around the nail puncture is all swollen; I really did it this time. I can’t even stand to have my hair up. The boys thought it was weird to see me with my hair down in braids. I never wear it down outside of our bedroom. I have a hard enough time washing it without dragging it through who knows what. When the boys started wanting to count the number of gray hairs I have I gave them the boot and told them to go play quietly in their “tent” with the little plastic cowboys and soldiers they seem to carry perpetually around in their pockets.

Thinking of pockets reminds me that it is Wash Day. I’d give a whole lot for some of that wash water right now. I stink. The boys stink. There is no way I can put them back in those dirty jeans and underwear. They seem to be doing OK in the togas and loincloths that I made for them so I’m not going to say anything. The stink of the zombies crawls over everything. If this goes on much longer I’m going to make masks for the boys and myself. All this eau de decomp that we are breathing can’t be healthy.

These zombies are bizarre and I’ve had little to do but think about them all day. The majority of them are your garden variety zombies. They just wander aimlessly in a pack with no apparent leadership yet they still seem to move in roughly the same direction; kind of like a school of fish. Scott said when they were in Tarpon Springs there was some guy rambling on about how zombies were at least in part responding to lunar cycles. The closer you get to a large body of water that has tides you notice this even more. Scott said he saw this one group of zombies that with every change in the tides the zombies would move in and out almost like waves on the shoreline. Freaky.

Then there are the Ragers. We’ve seen some of these but never this many at once. Of course this horde is the largest one we’ve seen. If I had to guess they were proportionally the same as with other hordes but since they do a disproportional amount of damage there just seems to be more of them than there should be.

Next come the Flambé zombies. These injuries these zombies suffer come primarily from some type of fire or burning. There are a lot of them wandering about but not in any particular order. Some of them are so badly burnt they barely qualify as walking skeletons and I haven’t a clue how they are still supporting themselves. May aren’t, they – or what remains of their body – gets dragged along on skeletal arms. I try and not look too close at these types but for scientific sake I can tell you many have bits of skull showing, compound fractures, missing soft tissue, etc. I try and keep the boys away from the dormer as much as possible because I don’t want their little psyches mucked up any more than they already are.

The Shamblers are the extreme end of zombie life, or maybe that should be death. I don’t know. Many are in extreme stages of decomposition and/or have extreme physical damage to the body. Many begin to fall out of the “school” of zombies. I mean that they don’t follow the group as well. Partly because they’ve slowed down but I also think because the NRS infected brain itself has reached advanced stages of decomposition and can no longer get signals through its messenger pathways to the rest of the body. These are the zombies you most often see in singles and pairs wandering aimlessly from some unknown point A to some equally unknown point B.

A new variety of zombie is the Runner. Talk about having to rethink all of our protocols for zombie defense. The zombies that we’ve had experience with up to this point are only quick when they are older than an hour but less than two hours reanimated. Or, the other “quick” zombie would be a Rager. The Runner isn’t a Rager. They don’t exhibit the same severe, animalistic response that the Ragers do. They are simply able to run … and quickly, at least for a zombie. Most of the Runners that I’ve seen have few injuries and little decomposition. Once a Runner begins to have the more noticeable signs of decomp they appear to start slowing down. An injury quickly reduces a Runner to a Shambler. They don’t seem to have much of an existence, if you want to call it that, except to run. When something trips a Runner up they wallow in seeming confusion until they get back to their feet and get coordinated enough to speed up.

I’m not sure what to call this next zombie. I started to call it a Climber, but that isn’t strictly accurate. These zombies, unlike all but the Runners and the Ragers, seem to still have more than a modest amount of coordination. I’m not sure if all zombies are capable of being this way or if something makes these zombies different. Advanced decomposition or injury, especially from the shoulders up, causes this ability to disappear. I have a theory but no real way to see if it is true or not. Whatever the zombies were in life, it involved a repeated physical behavior that became so ingrained in the brain function that death couldn’t erase it from the neural pathways. Maybe someone worked out aerobically several times a week or someone took the stairs to their office rather than the elevator. Or I saw a young male zombie throwing rocks … maybe they played baseball when they were alive. I saw another elderly male zombie swinging whatever he had in his hands … maybe he golfed on a more than regular basis. I don’t know but it mimics real life enough to freak me the heck out.

There are only a very, very few of the last distinct type of zombie and for that I am eternally grateful. You’d think Ragers would be the worst. Not to me. I’m calling these zombies “Mutants.” The NRS appears to have gone cancerous from what little I’ve been able to observe. The Mutant zombies have growths over part or all of their body. They are also extremely cannibalistic. They seem to thrive on ripping their own kind to shreds and then eating them. I’ve watched them. They actually hunt their own kind. I’ve also seen two Mutants “work” together. Now that’s scary as all get out. On the other hand, if they are ONLY cannibalistic maybe we don’t have anything to worry about. I don’t want to take that chance but it is something to think about over time. I have a couple of theories about the Mutants. First, a regular zombie may accidentally bite or eat another zombie. We’ve witnessed that behavior ourselves. Over a given period of time, the infected flesh of a zombie diet causes the NRS to mutate or be poisoned in some way and the cannibalism and growths are the result of that continued behavior. Theory two is that the NRS virus that the corpse had been infected with was already mutated and the cannibalism is a direct result rather than a byproduct.

Oh for pity sake, what do I know? I’m a freaking house frau whose last day in a college classroom was over 20 years ago.

Why didn’t they come today?! Did they just not tell us that the rescue of J. Paul and McElroy was unsuccessful? Was disastrous?

Its cold and I’m freezing. But I’m sweating at the same time. I should be hungry but I’m not. I’ve eaten a little fruit but my stomach wants to reject everything. I’d rather save the stuff for the boys than have to worry about wasting food and cleaning up my own puke on top of that.

I’m done for the night. Please God, get me through this and keep my little boys safe.

Day 141 – Tuesday (Dec 19) – Trapped Day 3 – All Fall Down

I’d like to bless this day out with every curse known by the foulest sailor that ever sailed!

[Picture me taking a deep breath and dropping the hysterical drama queen act.] The truth is that no matter how I feel I can’t just let it all hang out. I have two impressionable little boys looking to me to be their sole example of how to behave in this dangerous situation. I need to be calm. I need to be cool. I need to be collected. I need to maintain a balance between what is going on and how I’m reacting to it.

Balance, and the lack of it, has been a running theme today. I woke up feeling all grungy and crappy. The boys were out of sorts as well. We were cold, filthy … attics are not exactly the cleanest places on the planet … and hungry. The boys were ravenous and would have eaten the last bit of everything we had if I hadn’t been there to stop them. I ate because I needed to keep my energy up, not because I really had any appetite. I have been saving a packet of broth and two granola bars back for the boys and may have to just go ahead and use them up tomorrow. The fruit will last one or two more days at most. Not only that, I caught a rat sniffing around the bag. I’m going to have to catnap during the day so that I can stand guard over the bag tonight. We can’t afford to lose any food. I also can’t afford for the boys to become rat-bitten. They are going to have to sleep with their shoes and gloves on tonight. I just can’t get the picture of some rat nibbling on their little fingers and toes while I'm sleeping out of my head. I’m going to make them sleep with the hoodies up for the same reason.

Without the fruit we were going to be in a major amount of trouble concerning water. Then a little after lunch time it started raining; not heavily but enough that I shoved a quickly-emptied tub under where I had torn off the ridge vent so that I could catch some water. I’m not sure how safe it is to drink without processing it, but finding a balance between dying of thirst or drinking the rainwater and I err on the side of life. We’ll just use that water as a last resort.

I can tell the boys’ sugar levels are going up and down based on when they eat. They get really wired up and then they tank for a while. It was making me crazy but no worse than usual. Boys will be boys after all. I’ve played every quiet game I can think of. My brain is completely mush. They’ve decorated the “floor” that we’ve been sitting and sleeping on with the marker that Bubby had in his pocket and a couple of crayons that Johnnie had shoved in his pockets. It has roads, mountains, fences for the cowboys to put their “cattle and horses” in, seas with fish and whales, and some really fantastic creatures as well. The one thing neither of them was interested in drawing or including in their art are zombies. I think this was their way of escaping to a place safe from the undead.

The thing that worries me though is that they’ve taken to sleeping for long periods today. The first day was just a long, exhausted nap in the middle of the day; understandable and expected. Yesterday they catnapped off and on but I didn't think much of that either. Today it’s been much more exaggerated. I don’t know if it’s the lack of real food, effects from constant fear, boredom … I’m not sure, but it scares me. Especially considering how high-energy these two are normally.

I kept wondering when Scott was going to come. They had put the piece of siding up with a message on it but the rain made reading it impossible. It’s not that it was raining all that hard, it pretty much stopped after that one big downpour. The stupid dormer fogged up on the outside and had all these water droplets all over it too. It’s a false window so I can't exactly open it up and wipe it off.

I was getting so frustrated. I should have known that trying to do anything while I was feeling this way required greater care but I don’t guess I’m thinking as clearly as I thought I was. During one of the boys’ naps I decided to empty the chamber pot. The temperature started dropping after the rain finally passed through which is making my glasses fog up. And I was just in a pissy mood to be honest. Maybe I should have taken a nap. I was crawling through the rafters with the chamber pot in one hand and using the other hand to help me balance on the ceiling joists. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what happened.

I was half way to the other end of the house when my foot slipped off of a joist. I tried to grab a rafter to keep my balance but couldn’t hold on and keep my full weight from going through the ceiling. I fell forward trying to grab the next set of rafters but couldn’t keep myself from cracking the drywall under me. I went through with both feet. Luckily I caught myself one-armed around the ceiling joist but Lord it hurt. My armpit feels like someone shoved a hot poker up in it. My side is also scratched up though I don’t think I have any more splinters than the few I picked out.

You have no idea how vulnerable a person feels dangling into a room full of NRS infected zombies only to realize that the only thing on their decomposing brains is having you as their next meal. The boys woke up as I crashed through the ceiling so their screaming was added to the cacophony of noise. I was screaming at them to be quiet and stay where they were which only drew more attention to me. One of the slimy bastards grabbed one of my feet and started pulling. Have mercy, but that hurt. I don’t know if one tried to bite me or not; it just burned like a sonofagun. I was doggone lucky there were no Ragers in the house or I would have been toast in seconds.

I kicked the zombie’s wrist with my steel-toed work boots that I always wear when I’m outside of the Wall and could hear bones crunch and … things … tear. As soon as it loosened its grip I pulled myself up and out of their reach and lay across the rafters breathing fast and hard. As soon as my heart stopped thumping so hard that it hurt, I crawled back over to the boys as quickly as my bruised and body would let me. I gathered their sobbing little souls into my arms and we all held on to each other for dear life for quite a while. They won’t let me more than a few feet from them now without watching me like a hawk. Any sudden movement and they jump and make a grab for me which then makes me jump and feel like I'm falling again.

I took my boot off and didn’t see any kind of visible damage to the skin. I didn’t think I had been bitten but the visual evidence certainly gave me comfort. But I’m sore. I am really very sore. I’ve definitely pulled a few things that should not have been pulled. All the unnecessary acrobatics made my headache come back and I must have banged the nail wound at some point because the scab got knocked off and I started bleeding again. Everything is complaining … my body, my mind, and my spirit.

As the sun began to set I noticed an odd thing. It looked like the sunlight was flickering on and off, then on and off, then on and off again. I was pretty groggy but finally woke with a start. I crawled over to the dormer despite the boys’ complaints. Someone in Sanctuary was aiming a spotlight right at the dormer. The light nearly blinded me but I finally noticed the board and it said “wave the flag to let us know you are OK.” I had the boys wiggle the flag back and forth. I swear I could hear cheering. I know it must have been my imagination but the people on the Wall were jumping up and down.

A moment later they put another sign up that read:

JP HOME MCE STUCK
TRY AGAIN TOMORROW
BE SAFE MISS U
WE LUV U!!

Maybe we’ll be rescued tomorrow. I don’t see how. There are too many zombies. The Ragers are congregating around the Wall and gate areas. I hear someone shooting at them when they get too close but there isn’t enough ammo to control this entire horde. I know it might be wishing troubles on other folks, but I wish the horde would just move on and leave us alone. I want to go home. I’m reaching my limit, physically and mentally.

I’m going to try and get one last little nap in before night sets all the way. I’ve got rat watch for the rest of the night.

Day 142 – Wednesday (Dec 20) – Trapped Day 4

Just another rotten day in paradise. On top of everything else I think I’ve got a lousy cold coming on. Couldn’t ask for better timing.

It’s freezing. This is Florida for pity sake. I held the boys in my arms most of the night to keep them up off of the floor … ceiling … whatever. I wrapped us all up together as much as possible. I really did feel like a mother hen trying to keep her chicks warm under her fluffy feathers. But every time they moved I felt like something was raking my body over the coals. Note to self: if we get back to Sanctuary we must include pain relievers in our emergency packs, at least the adult ones.

The boys slept most of the morning away; not a good sign, but at least they weren’t awake and crying for something to eat. When they finally did wake up they were pretty groggy and cold. I had thought of something about the middle of the night and pulled one of the canteens under the covers with us. The water wasn’t that warm but it was warm enough to dissolve the instant broth and that’s what the boys had for breakfast. Within an hour they were slowly coming back to themselves and started eating fruit again. I welcomed the slow transformation as much as I’ve despised my slow deterioration through the day.

Every time I cough it hurts. I’m having a hard time focusing as well. I keep losing time. I leaned on the dormer most of the day trying to catch a glimpse of what might be happening in Sanctuary. By late afternoon the boys were ready to sleep for the night. I think something went wrong. No new signs on the Wall. Nothing that I can see. I’m going to bed with the boys. Maybe tomorrow. Please … please tomorrow.

Day 143

Im sick. bad sick. Gav mi boys the gronola bars for fod. Showd them watr. Frut all gown. zumbis evrywere. no plase to run. no plase to hyde.

Im scerd that Ill hurt thim whn I die. I tyed me to raftr wit mi belt. Best I can du. Kep boys safe frum me. Showd gun in case bad mom cum bak. Cry an cry. Cant stop but haf to do gud four them. Them cum first.

Scott, wen u reed this I lov u and boys and kiddos. Just two sik and tyrd. Don be mad. Don be sad. Its jus life sometimes. will cee u abuv sum day.

Tak care of all. Luv you
sisy

Day 144 – Friday – (Dec 22)

SISSY FINDS SO MUCH COMFORT WRITING IN THIS BOOK OF HERS. MAYBE I WILL TOO. NOT THAT I DESERVE ANY. I SIT HERE IN THIS CHAIR STARING AT HER FACE. SHE’S PALE AS WAX. IF IT WASN’T FOR THE SLIGHT RISE AND FALL OF HER CHEST I WOULDN’T KNOW FOR SURE THAT SHE WAS ALIVE. AND THAT’S MY FAULT. I DIDN’T GET THERE FAST ENOUGH. I WANT SISSY TO READ THIS, TO KNOW WHAT I FELT, TO KNOW THAT I'LL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAKE THIS UP TO HER AND THE BOYS.

I’VE READ WHAT THEY WENT THROUGH UP IN THAT ATTIC AND I FEEL LIKE SUCH A USELESS ASSHOLE. HER LAST CONSCIOUS ACTION WAS TO TRY AND PROTECT US ALL BY TYING HERSELF TO A RAFTER BY RUNNING HER BELT AROUND IT BEFORE REBUCKLING IT. SHE HAD DONE IT SO TIGHT I WOUND UP HAVING TO CUT IT TO GET HER LOOSE. IN HER NOTE SHE TOLD ME NOT TO BE MAD OR SAD. SHE TOLD ME TO GO ON, BUT I CAN’T. I CAN’T STOP FEELING LIKE I LET HER DOWN, HER AND THE BOYS. GOD THIS HURTS SO BAD.

DAMN, DAMN, AND DAMN ALL THESE ROTTEN MOTHER FUCKERS TO HELL AND BACK TEN TIMES OVER!!!!!!!!! IF I LOSE HER I DON’T KNOW HOW I’LL STAND IT. I KNOW I’M ALREADY HALF CRAZY. WALESKI, DAVID, AND JAMES ARE THE ONLY ONES WITH THE BALLS TO GET NEAR ME FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME RIGHT NOW. ANGUS AND JIM WERE IN HERE EARLIER BUT THEY ARE BUSTED UP PRETTY BADLY THEMSELVES AND HAVE HAD TO GO LAY DOWN. THE GIRLS ARE TOO SCARED TO DO MUCH MORE THAN EDGE INTO THE ROOM AND SIT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BEDS WHERE SISSY AND THE BOYS LIE SLEEPING. MATLOCK AND DIXON TRIED TO TALK TO ME BUT I JUST CAN’T RIGHT NOW. I’M TOO PISSED OFF. DOESN’T MATTER IF I UNDERSTAND THAT THEY’VE JUST BEEN DOING THE BEST THEY CAN FOR THE GROUP. THAT’S MY WIFE LYING IN THAT BED, NOT THEIRS. EVERYONE ELSE SKITTERS IN AND OUT LIKE THEY ARE AFRAID OF ME NOTICING THEM.

IT WAS A NIGHTMARE ON SUNDAY. IT STARTED OUT SAME AS ALWAYS. WE WERE GETTING THE PALLISADE WALL UP AND MAKING GOOD PROGRESS. THE GUYS BRINGING IN THE TELEPHONE POLES HAD JUST SHOWN UP AND WERE OFF-LOADING THE NEW POLES. MCELROY AND J. PAUL HAD GONE TO GET THE TOW TRUCK TO HELP MOVE A COUPLE OF REALLY LONG POLES AROUND. ALL OF A SUDDEN SAMUEL COMES SCREAMING ACROSS THE COMPOUND HOLLERING FOR HIS DAD. JAMES, STATIONED AT THE REAR GATE, BEGINS SHOOTING FAIRLY QUICKLY USING THE REMINGTON 700P THAT MATLOCK HAD FOUND FOR HIM.

DIXON HAD RUN UP THE TOWER AND THEN STARTED YELLING FOR ALL OF US TO GET IN, TO GET IN RIGHT NOW. HE WAS CALLING EVERYONE ON THE RADIO. IT WAS ALMOST TOO LATE FOR US. WE CLIMBED UP THE WALL BECAUSE ZOMBIES HAD ALREADY REACHED AROUND ON BOTH SIDES OF SANCTUARY AND WERE BEGINNING TO COME OUT OF THE BUSHES AND TREES TO CUT OFF OUR ABILITY TO GET INTO THE FRONT GATE. IT WAS LIKE A TSUNAMI. DAMN BUT I’VE NEVER SEEN A HORDE MOVE SO FAST AND I HOPE NEVER TO SEE IT AGAIN. THEY WERE FAST AS A GROUP AND SOME OF THEM WERE FAST AS INDIVIDUALS TOO. THE FIRST TIME I SAW ONE OF THOSE FREAKY RUNNING ZOMBIES I COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES.

WE CLIMBED WITH WHAT TOOLS WE HAD ON US. I USED A COUPLE OF SCREWDRIVERS AND WOULD STAB THEM INTO THE WOOD TO GAIN SOME PURHASE. MATLOCK AND I WERE PUSHING MR. MORRIS AHEAD OF US WHILE HIS SON KEVIN PULLED HIM FROM ABOVE. HANDS REACHED DOWN TO PULL US IN AS SOON AS WE WERE WITHIN ARMS LENGTH OF THEM. WE WERE ALL ON TOP OF THE WALL LOOKING AT ZOMBIES FOR AS FAR AS THE EYE COULD SEE WHEN KEVIN GOES, “MY GOD, BETTY!!!” HE TEARS OFF DOWN THE TOWER STEPS AND HALF WAY ACROSS THE COMPOUND BEFORE BEING MET BY REBA TELLING HIM THEY WERE OK, BUT THAT BETTY HAD SPRAINED HER ANKLE IN A FALL.

THAT’S WHEN I LOOKED AROUND AND STARTED CALLING FOR SISSY. I NEARLY LOST IT RIGHT THERE; SHE AND THE BOYS WERE NOT IN. I DIDN’T WANT TO BELIEVE IT BUT SHE WOULD HAVE ANSWERED ME IF SHE HAD BEEN WITHIN HEARING. DIXON REALIZED THE PROBLEM AND STARTED CALLING ON THE RADIO. MATLOCK MADE A HEAD COUNT TO ACCOUNT FOR EVERYONE.

THE ZOMBIES WERE STRAINING AT THE GATES AND JERRY AND JACK DROVE TRUCKS IN FRONT OF THE GATES TO ADD SOME WEIGHT TO KEEP THE GATES FROM BEING PUSHED OFF OF THEIR TRACKS. I SCREAMED “NO! THEY’RE STILL OUT THERE!! STOP!!!” BUT NO ONE WAS LISTENING TO ME. DAVID WAS READY TO GO OUTSIDE WITH ME BUT JAMES SCREAMED DOWN FROM THE GATE TOWER, “DAD! DAVID! STOP! YOU’VE GOTTA STOP!!! MOM WOULD DIE BEFORE SHE’D WANT YOU TO JUST RUN OUT THERE! PLEASE DAD, LOOK WHAT’S OUT THERE FIRST!!!”

I RAN UP TO THE GATE TOWER AND NEARLY STOPPED BREATHING. THERE WERE ZOMBIES EVERYWHERE. EVERYWHERE! THEY WERE IN, ON, AROUND, UNDER … THINK OF A PREPOSITION AND THAT’S WHERE THE ZOMBIES WERE. WE CALLED AND CALLED ON THE RADIO. I WAS SO PISSED AT THE WORLD BY THEN I COULDN’T STAND TO EVEN LOOK AT ANYONE. I KNOW I WAS SHIT TO PEOPLE BUT I STILL CAN’T CARE VERY MUCH ABOUT IT. I’LL DEAL WITH IT LATER. AFTER SISSY WAKES UP AND TELLS ME SHE FORGIVES ME AND STILL LOVES ME.

DAVID, ROSE AND JAMES MUST HAVE TAKEN CARE OF THE YOUNGER GIRLS. I KNOW PATRICIA WAS THERE TOO. I’M SURE THE OTHER WOMEN WERE LOOKING AFTER THINGS AS WELL; I JUST DON’T REALLY REMEMBER MUCH TO BE HONEST. ALL I SEEMED TO BE ABLE TO FOCUS ON WAS THE FACT THAT THEY WERE OUT THERE AND I WASN’T WITH THEM TO PROTECT THEM.

BEKAH WAS THE ONE WHO CALLED ANGUS AND JIM ON THE BIG RADIO TO LET THEM KNOW ABOUT THE ZOMBIES. I HEARD DANTE’ TALKING TO PATRICIA AND HE SAID SHE HAD BEEN CRYING PRETTY HARD AND ANGUS RESPONDED FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD TO HEAR, “DON’T YOU WORRY LITTLE GIRL, UNCLE ANGUS AND UNCLE JIM WILL BE BACK JUST AS QUICK AS WE CAN.” GOD BLESS AND KEEP THOSE TOO LUNATICS FOR THE REST OF THEIR DAYS.

SISSY AND THE BOYS WEREN’T THE ONLY ONES STUCK OUT IN HELL AND OUR FAMILY WASN’T THE ONLY ONE SUFFERING. MCELROY AND J. PAUL WERE ALSO MISSING. THINGS FINALLY CALMED DOWN ENOUGH THAT WE COULD GET A RADIO SIGNAL FROM THE MEN. THEY WERE HIDDEN IN A VALLEY OF A ROOF AND AFTER THEY DESCRIBED THE HOUSE WE COULD JUST SEE THEM; THEY WERE MAYBE 75 YARDS FROM THE WALL ON THE OTHER SIDE OF ONE OF THE HOUSES WE WERE DISMANTLING. MCELROY’S KNEE WAS BUSTED UP PRETTY GOOD BUT THEY HAD IT WRAPPED AND HAD STOPPED THE BLEEDING. MR. MORRIS HAD CHEST PAINS BUT MOSTLY HAD JUST BEEN SCARED BAD. NO ONE WAS BITTEN, BUT WE HAD SOME PRETTY GOOD SCARES AND CLOSE CALLS. I KNOW THAT SHOULD HAVE MEANT SOMETHING TO ME AT THE TIME BUT I WAS NUMB.

NO SISSY. NO JOHNNIE OR BUBBY. ALL I COULD HEAR WAS THE ROARING IN MY EARS MOST OF THE TIME. ABOUT MID-AFTERNOON I THINK, I’M SCANNING BACK AND FORTH LOOKING FOR SOME SIGN OF THEM OVER NEAR THE HOUSE WHERE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE PICKING FRUIT. I KNOW SHE TOLD ME THAT IS WHERE THEY WERE GOING TO BE SO THAT IS WHERE I LOOKED. THEN DAVID AND JAMES WERE SHAKING ME AND POINTING IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION.

I DIDN’T WANT TO BE BOTHERED UNTIL DAVID FINALLY GOT THROUGH TO ME BY SAYING “LOOK DAMMIT! IT’S A FLAG!!” AND PHYSICALLY FORCED ME TO TURN IN THAT DIRECTION. WHILE EVERYONE ELSE IS JUMPING UP AND DOWN AND CHEERING I THINK I MIGHT HAVE NEARLY PASSED OUT. DAVID AND JAMES BOTH SAT ME DOWN IN THE TOWER AND I WOUND UP WITH MY HEAD BETWEEN MY KNEES. I WILL ADMIT I HAD BEGUN TO LOSE HOPE AND TO HAVE IT SLAMMED BACK INTO MY CHEST WAS ALMOST MORE THAN I COULD BEAR. I CAN GIVE A SHIT IF THE OTHER MEN THINK I’M WEAK OR NOT. SISSY IS MY LIFE. SHE WAS THERE FOR ME WHEN EVERYONE ELSE LEFT … MY BEST FRIEND AFTER ONE TOO MANY BEERS DRIVING DRUNK AND HITTING THAT POLE; MY DAD WITH THE HEART ATTACK; MY MOM FROM CANCER; MY ELDERLY AUNT AND UNCLE WHO WERE LIKE SECOND PARENTS; MY OWN SISTER WHO JUST LEFT WITHOUT REASON OR NOTICE FOR PARTS UNKNOWN AFTER OUR PARENTS DIED. AND I COULDN’T SAVE MY WIFE AFTER ALL THE CRAP WE’VE BEEN THROUGH TOGETHER. WHAT A SHITTY WAY TO REPAY HER.

I WAS FEELING RELIEF THAT THEY WERE ALIVE BUT I WAS ALSO EXPERIENCING SHEER TERROR. THERE ARE HUNDREDS, MAYBE THOUSANDS OF ZOMBIES BETWEEN ME AND THEM. WE HAD NO WAY TO GET TO THEM. NONE THAT WEREN'T GUARANTEED SUICIDE. THE ONLY HOPE WE HAD AT THAT POINT WAS THAT AT THE RATE THE ZOMBIES WERE MOVING THROUGH WE THOUGHT THEY WOULD HAVE ALL MOVED ON BY MORNING AND WE’D BE ABLE TO GET THEM OUT OF THE ATTIC THE NEXT DAY. WE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TIME TO MAKE A SIGN TO LET THEM KNOW THAT WE HAD SEEN THEM, DARK HAD SET IN.

SISSY’S JOURNAL SAYS THAT SHE WAS PRETTY SURE WE HAD SEEN THEIR FLAG BUT I WISH WE HAD PUT A SIGN UP, SOMETHING, TO GIVE HER COMFORT. WE HAD ONE UP BY THE NEXT DAY THOUGH. IT WAS AN OLD PIECE OF SIDING AND ROSE BROUGHT ME THIS BIG CHUNK OF CHALK TO USE TO WRITE ON IT. WE LET THEM KNOW THAT THINGS WERE GOING OK. I COULDN’T TELL THEM I WAS SCARED SPITLESS OR JUST HOW HOPELESS I HAD FELT UPON WAKING TO REALIZE JUST HOW BIG THE HORDE WAS. NO MATTER WHERE WE LOOKED WITH OUR BINOCULARS THERE WAS ZOMBIES FOR AS FAR AS WE COULD SEE. THEY WERE MOVING THROUGH BUT THERE SEEMED TO BE NO END TO THEM, LIKE SOME MASSIVE FLOOD THAT JUST WASN’T RECEEDING. WE’VE SINCE LEARNED THAT THE ZOMBIES WERE MOVING FORWARD BUT ALSO IN A CIRCULAR FASHION, JUST LIKE A HURRICANE, AND WE MUST HAVE BEEN CLOSE TO THE CENTER OF THE HORDE WHICH DISGUISED THE MOTION.

SISSY AND THE BOYS WERE FURTHER AWAY THAN MCELROY AND J. PAUL. THEY ALSO SEEMED, AT THE TIME, TO BE IN A MORE SECURE POSITION THAN THE MEN WERE; J. PAUL AND MCELORY WERE EXPOSED TO THE ELEMENTS AND ONLY HAD THOSE LITTLE SILVER EMERGENCY BLANKETS TO COVER UP WITH. THEY COULDN'T GO IN THE HOUSE BECAUSE IT WAS INFESTED WITH THE ZOMBIES THAT HAD CHASED THEM ONTO THE ROOF ORIGINALLY. THE DECISION WAS MADE TO TRY AND PUT ALL OUR EFFORTS INTO RESCUING THE MEN FIRST. EVEN I THOUGHT SISSY AND THE BOYS WOULD BE OK.

WE RAN THROUGH SEVERAL OPTIONS THAT DAY BUT FINALLY SETTLED ON SECURING A LINE BETWEEN THE TOP OF THE WALL TO THE TOP OF THE HOUSE IN FRONT OF THE GUYS. THEN ONCE WE GOT OVER THERE WE WOULD SECURE A LINE FROM THAT HOUSE, A SINGLE STORY, TO THE HOUSE THAT MCELROY AND J. PAUL WERE ON WHICH WAS A TWO STORY. THEY’D BE ABLE TO USE THE ROPE “DOWNHILL” FROM THE TWO-STORY THEY WERE ON BUT WOULD HAVE TO CLIMB THE ROPE “UPHILL” FROM THE SINGLE STORY TO THE WALL.

IT TOOK US A WHOLE DAY TO SECURE THE ROPE TO THE FIRST HOUSE AND THEN THE DAMN RAIN RUINED OUR TIMELINE. I THINK EVERYONE IN SANCTUARY WAS ON THE RAGGED EDGE BY THEN. ALL WE COULD FOCUS ON WAS GETTING OUR PEOPLE BACK. I WAS SO INVESTED IN BELIEVING THAT IF WE COULD GET MCELROY AND J. PAUL IN THEN WE’D BE ABLE TO GET TO SISSY AND THE BOYS THAT EVERY TIME WE HAD A SETBACK IN THE PLANS TO GET TO THE GUYS IN IT WAS A SETBACK IN MY MIND OF GETTING TO SISSY AND THE BOYS.

CEASE WAS THE ONE THAT VOLUNTEERED TO GO ACROSS THE ROPE FIRST AND MAKE IT SECURE. I THOUGHT MELODY WAS GOING TO PASS OUT SHE WAS SO PALE. ROSE WAS RIGHT THERE With HER. MATLOCK AND DIX HAD WANTED TO GO BUT THEY ARE BOTH BIG MEN. DAVID HAD ALSO VOLUNTEERED BUT MATLOCK AND DIX SAID NO TO THAT. I OVERHEARD JAMES AND DAVID SAYING AFTERWARDS THAT DIX HAD TOLD THEM THAT I WAS IN NO STATE TO LOSE ANYONE ELSE. CEASE WAS NEARLY AS LIGHTWEIGHT AS DAVID PLUS HE HAD SOME EXPERIENCE; HIS LAST TRAINING ASSIGNMENT BEFORE NRS HAD BEEN ON A ROPES COURSE FOR SEARCH AND RESCUE MISSIONS.

CEASE GOT OVER TO THE SINGLE STORY’S ROOF BUT NOT WITHOUT NEARLY GIVING US ALL A HEART ATTACK WHEN HIS SAFETY LINE GOT TANGLED UP AND HE RELEASED IT. HE SECURED THE ROPE FROM THE WALL TO THAT HOUSE WITH SPIKES AND USED EYE-RINGS SCREWED INTO THE DECKING TO SET UP FOR THE NEXT ROPE. WITH THE MEN ON THE ROOF SETTING UP THE ROPE FROM THE SINGLE STORY TO THE TWO STORY HOUSE WAS EASIER; NOT EASY, BUT EASIER. CEASE HAS A HELL OF A THROWING ARM AND IT ONLY TOOK TWO TRYS TO GET THE ROPE FIRMLY INTO J. PAUL’S HANDS. THEY TIED THE ROPE OFF TO THE LARGE CHIMNEY AND J. PAUL AND MCELROY BASICALLY JUST SLID DOWN IT.

J. PAUL’S SLIDE WAS SMOOTH AND HE LANDED GOOD. MCELROY ON THE OTHER HAND COULDN’T CATCH HIMSELF IN TIME AND HIT THE ROOF HARD WITH HIS BAD KNEE. WE COULD HEAR HIM YELL EVEN OVER THE MILLING ABOUT OF THE ZOMBIES. MCELROY SENT CEASE AND J. PAUL BACK TO SANCTUARY. HE WAS IN TOO MUCH PAIN TO TRY FOR THE WALL THAT NIGHT AND DIDN’TWANT THE YOUNGER MEN STAYING JUST TO BABYSIT HIM. I WAS IN TOO MUCH PAIN TO DO ANYTHING EXCEPT DO MY JOB LIKE AN AUTOMATON AND TO THINK ABOUT SISSY AND THE BOYS.

ROSE GOT IN MY FACE A LITTLE BIT AND MADE ME EAT AND SIT AND CUDDLE WITH THE LITTLE GIRLS. THAT’S WHEN I FOUND OUT THAT PATRICIA HAD BEEN STAYING AT OUR HOUSE AND LOOKING AFTER THE KIDS. WHEN I TRIED TO SAY SOMETHING - GOD KNOWS WHAT - SHE SAID TO LET IT GO. SHE SAID THAT SISSY AND I HAD LOOKED AFTER SAMUEL MORE THAN SHE HAD THERE FOR A WHILE AND SHE WAS GRATEFUL FOR THE CHANCE TO DO SOMETHING USEFUL TO KEEP HER MIND OFF OF THINGS. I KNOW I SHOULD HAVE SAID MORE TO HER BUT I COULDN’T. I KNOW I NEED TO. MAYBE TOMORROW.

THE NEXT DAY WAS DAMN COLD; THE COLDEST DAY WE’VE EXPERIENCED THUS FAR. IN THE BACK OF MY MIND THE WHOLE TIME WAS THAT THIS WAS THE FOURTH DAY THEY HAD BEEN TRAPPED IN THE ATTIC. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEIR WATER SITUATION WAS BUT I PRAYED THEY WERE ABLE TO GET SOME OF THE RAINWATER. I KNEW FOOD HAD TO BE A PROBLEM BY THAT POINT TOO. I JUST WANTED THEM TO STAY ALIVE. I WAS SURE WE WERE GOING TO GO AFTER THEM THAT DAY JUST AS SOON AS WE GOT WALESKI IN.

THAT WAS A FEAT; NO IT WAS A FREAKING MIRACLE. THERE WAS NO WAY THAT MCELROY WAS GOING TO BE ABLE TO CROSS THE ROPE BY HIMSELF. IT WASN’T JUST HIS KNEE THAT WAS MESSED UP, HIS HAND WAS CUT UP AND HIS SHOULDER WAS BRUISED TOO. WE RIGGED UP A CHAIR ON A PULLEY SYSTEM AND WERE ABLE TO GET HIM IN ABOUT TWO IN THE AFTERNOON. RIGHT WHEN WE HAD HIM, THE ROPE PULLED LOOSE FROM THE ROOF AND THE CHAIR PLUMMETED INTO THE ZOMBIE HORDE BELOW NEARLY TAKING HIM WITH IT. HE WAS SUFFERING FROM EXPOSURE EVEN MORE THAN THE KNEE INJURY AND RHONDA IS LOOKING AFTER HIM IN ONE OF THE OTHER ROOMS.

I KEPT TRYING TO SEE HOW WE COULD GET TO SISSY. I WANTED A MIRACLE FOR SISSY AND THE BOYS. NOTHING HAD REALLY CHANGED THOUGH. WE HAD TAKEN OUT A LOT OF THE RAGERS AND JAMES GOT DAMN GOOD AT CRIPPLING THE RUNNERS WHEN HE COULD GET A CLEAR SHOT AT THEM. THAT STILL LEFT THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF THE FREAKS BETWEEN ME AND MY WIFE AND BOYS.

WHEN IT STARTED GETTING LATE IN THE AFTERNOON AND WE STILL HADN’T MADE A MOVE TO REACH THEM I GUESS I STARTED LOSING IT. I DON’T REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT I WAS SAYING. IT’S PRETTY HAZY. I WASN’T IN A PANIC; ALL I CAN REMEMBER IS BEING RAGING PISSED OFF FURIOUS. DIX GOT IN MY FACE AND I DECKED HIM. I DON’T THINK HE THOUGHT I HAD IT IN ME BUT NO ONE AND I MEAN NO ONE GETS BETWEEN ME AND MINE, I DON’T GIVE A DAMN WHO OR WHAT THEY ARE. I THINK PEOPLE FORGET THAT JUST BECAUSE I WORKED IN AN OFFICE FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS DIDN’T MEAN THAT I SAT ON MY ASS THE WHOLE TIME. AND THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS DOING ALL THE LABOR MYSELF AT THE RENTAL PROPERTIES MADE ME STRONGER THAN I LOOK TOO. NONE OF THEM HAD EVER SEEN ME REALLY LOSE MY TEMPER EITHER. IT’S A PROBLEM I’VE WORKED YEARS ON CONTROLLING BUT RIGHT THEN GOD HELP ME I COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEONE AND NOT GIVEN A DAMN.

JUST THAT SECOND, BEFORE I HAD A REAL CHANCE TO BLOW UP WE ALL HEARD THAT DAMN CONFEDERATE BUGLE HORN THAT ANGUS INSTALLED ON JUICER. THINK OF A VIKING SIZED YANKEE CRAZY MAN DRIVING AROUND IN A GARBAGE TRUCK THAT SOUNDS LIKE THE DUKES OF HAZARD WITH AN EQUALLY CRAZY AUSSIE RIDING SHOTGUN. IT HAS TO BE UNPRECEDENTED IN THE ANNALS OF HISTORY. WE’D LOST RADIO CONTACT WITH THEM SHORTLY AFTER WARNING THEM ABOUT THE ZOMBIES. HE AND JIM HAVE A HELL OF A STORY ALL THEIR OWN TO TELL.

NOW THAT I’VE SEEN THE SHAPE THEY ARE IN I DON’T KNOW HOW THEY DID IT. THEY HAD BEEN DRIVING IN AND OUT OF ZOMBIES FOR OVER 24 HOURS BY THE TIME THEY MADE IT TO THE GATES OF SANCTUARY. THEIR RADIO WAS STILL DOWN - GUNFIGHTS AND ZOMBIES ARE DAMN HARD ON RADIOS - BUT WE DIDN’T NEED TO HEAR THEM. WE COULD SEE THE DEADLY LIGHT OF PURPOSE IN THEIR EYES FROM THE WALL. THEY DROVE ALL THROUGH THAT NIGHT AND INTO THE NEXT DAY USING JUICER TO SQUEEZE EVERY LAST DROP. IT DIDN’T TAKE ANY TIME FOR THEM TO FILL UP THE GARBAGE BIN. THEY’D DRIVE OFF A WAYS DOWN US41 AND DUMP THE LOAD OF BODY PARTS AND THEN THEY’D GET BACK TO IT. WHEN THEY RAN LOW ON FUEL THEY PULLED AS CLOSE TO THE FRONT GATE AS THEY DARED AND WE LOWERED FUEL CANS DOWN TO THEM. APPARENTLY THE HORDE’S MAXIMUM WIDTH WAS ABOUT FIVE MILES; IT ONLY LOOKED LIKE THEY WENT ON FOREVER. THEY DROVE OUT OF THE HORDE, RE-FUELED, AND THEN CONTINUED THROUGH THE NIGHT.

AT FIRST LIGHT THE NEXT MORNING IT DID LOOK LIKE THE POPULATION IMMEDIATELY SURROUNDING SANCTUARY HAD THINNED OUT. JUICER NEEDED ANOTHER REFILL AND THIS TIME FUEL CANS WASN’T THE ONLY THING THAT WENT OVER THE WALL.

I COULDN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE. I WENT OVER WITH THE CANS AND RODE ON TOP OF THE TRUCK CAB UNTIL WE REACHED A REFUELING POINT. MAN THEY WERE MESSED UP. THE DOGS WEREN’T IN THE BEST OF CONDITION EITHER. SEEMS TARPON SPRINGS … WELL … I’LL TELL THAT LATER. DIX HAD STUCK A RADIO IN MY HAND RIGHT BEFORE I WAS GOING OVER AND THAT’S HOW WE KEPT IN CONTACT WITH SANCTUARY FROM THERE ON OUT.

I EXPLAINED WHAT HAD HAPPENED AND ANGUS AND JIM WERE BOTH ON BOARD AND THINKING FAST ON HOW WE COULD GET TO SISSY AND THE BOYS. ANGUS DROVE AROUND TO THE HOUSE WHERE THEY WERE AT. WE CIRCLED THE BLOCK UNTIL WE CAME UP WITH A PLAN AND CLEARED OUT SOME MORE ZOMBIES. IT WAS OBVIOUS WE COULDN’T JUST HOP OUT AND RUN INTO THE HOUSE. THERE WERE ZOMBIES COMING IN AND OUT OF IT ALMOST CONSTANTLY. THERE WAS NO ONE AT THE DORMER WINDOW AND WE WERE WORRIED THAT USING THE HORN WOULD DRAW MORE UNWANTED ATTENTION FROM THE ZOMBIES.

I COULDN’T UNDERSTAND AT THE TIME HOW THEY COULDN’T HEAR THE SOUND OF JUICER AS IT PASSED. I WAS FEELING THE PANIC I HAD FELT WHEN IT TOOK A SPOTLIGHT TO GET THEIR ATTENTION TO GET THEM TO WIGGLE THE FLAG.

FINALLY WE DECIDED TO BACK UP TO THE HOUSE AND I WOULD CLIMB UP TO THE DORMER. ANGUS WAS DRIVING AND TOO BUSTED UP TO CLIMB BUT JIM DIDN’T WANT ME TO GO FIRST … IN CASE SOMETHING HAD HAPPENED … BUT I WAS ADAMANT.

ONCE I GOT UP THERE I COULDN’T SEE MUCH INTO THE GLOOM. I MUST HAVE BEEN BANGING THIRTY SECONDS BEFORE THE BOYS REALIZED I WASN’T A ZOMBIE OR “GHOSTIE” AND STARTED SCREAMING FOR ME. WHEN I ASKED THEM WHERE MOMMY WAS ALL THEY COULD DO WAS CRY AND POINT. I GOT THEM BACK FROM THE WINDOW AND TRIED TO BREAK IT ONLY TO DISCOVER THE FUCKING THING WAS COVERED IN THAT HURRICANE FILM. IT TOOK ME THIRTY MINUTES TO RIP THE FRAME AND SILL OFF ENOUGH TO JUST PULL THE WHOLE DAMN WINDOW OUT AND THROW IT TO THE GROUND. THE SMELL THAT CAME OUT OF THE ATTIC WAS ENOUGH TO MAKE MY EYES WATER. I COULDN’T BELIEVE THEY HAD BEEN SURVIVING IN THESE CONDITIONS.

THE BOYS WERE ALL OVER ME AND TALKING AT ONCE BEFORE THE WINDOW EVEN LANDED ON THE GROUND; JABBERING MORE THAN TALKING. WHEN I SAW SISSY I JUST ABOUT DIED. I MADE THE BOYS STAY PUT AND MOVED VERY SLOWLY OVER TO HER SOFTLY CALLING HER NAME. WHEN SHE DIDN’T RESPOND, TIME NEARLY STOPPED FOR ME UNTIL I NOTICED SHE WAS STILL BREATHING. IT WASN’T GOOD. SHE WAS ALREADY PALE BUT THE COLD WIND THAT WAS NOW WHIPPING THROUGH THE OPEN WINDOW FRAME WAS TURNING HER BLUE. I WRAPPED HER IN MY JACKET AND THEN WENT BACK AND CALLED DOWN TO JIM THAT I WAS GOING TO NEED SOME HELP. MOVING SLOWER THAN HE WANTED TO, JIM CLIMBED UP AND INTO THE WINDOW, GIVING ME A CHANCE TO READ SISSY’S LAST ENTRY. I’LL NEVER GET OVER THAT MOMENT NO MATTER HOW MANY MORE YEARS SISSY AND I HAVE TOGETHER.

WE GOT THE BOYS DOWN INTO THE CAB AND THEN IT TOOK BOTH JIM AND I TO GET SISSY DOWN WITHOUT DROPPING HER. ANGUS CALLED AHEAD TO SANCTUARY THAT WE WOULD BE COMING IN AND TO GET THE GATES CLEARED.

EVERYTHING WAS A BLUR. THE CAB WAS CROWDED WITH FOUR ADULTS, TWO KIDS AND TWO DOGS BUT IT WAS WARM BUT THAT’S WHAT THEY NEEDED. WE HAD TO CLEAR A FEW MORE PASSES OF ZOMBIES AND THEN WE WAITED FOR JAMES AND THE OTHER MEN TO PREPARE TO TAKE OUT ANY ZOMBIES THAT TRIED TO FOLLOW US IN. NO ZOMBIES BREACHED THE WALL BUT DAVID, CLARK, AND J.PAUL SHOT A FEW THAT TRIED TO TAG ALONG ON JUICER AFTER WE MADE IT IN AND THE GATES WERE CLOSED. WE ALSO CAUGHT A SHAMBLER ON THE UNDERCARRIAGE THAT HAD TO BE SANITIZED.

RACHEL AND WALESKI WERE RIGHT THERE AS SOON AS I OPENED THE CAB DOOR. RACHEL TOOK THE BOYS AND WALESKI, WHO HAS TREATED SISSY BEFORE FOR EXHAUSTION DIRECTED ME TO TAKE HER INTO ONE OF THE EXAM ROOMS IN THE HOSPITAL WHEN I REFUSED TO LET HER GO. THE BOYS NEARLY HAD HYSTERICS WHEN THEY WERE BEING SEPARATED FROM SISSY BUT ROSE TOOK THEM IN HAND AND SAID, “MOMMY NEEDS SOME PRIVACY. LET’S GET YOU CLEANED UP SO THAT YOU CAN LOOK AND SMELL ALL NICE FOR HER WHEN SHE WAKES UP.” I DON’T KNOW IF THAT WORKED OR IF THEY WERE JUST TOO EXHAUSTED TO DO ANY MORE FIGHTING; I WAS TOO FOCUSED ON SISSY.

THE EXAM SEEMED TO TAKE HOURS. SHE’S DEHYDRATED, SUFFERING FROM EXPOSURE, HAS AN INFECTED HEAD WOUND, IS BADLY BRUISED IN SEVERAL PLACES, MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE A CRACKED RIB OR TWO, PROBABLY HAS SOME SOFT TISSUE INJURIES, AND HER LUNGS ARE CONJESTED. HER FEVER FINALLY SUBSIDED AFTER WE GOT HER REHYDRATED. AFTER WE GOT THE TIMELINE OF EVENTS OUT OF HER JOURNAL WALESKI SAID IT WAS PROBABLY THE FALL THROUGH THE CEILING THAT TIPPED THE BALANCE OUT OF HER FAVOR. SHE MAY HAVE A MINOR CONCUSSION AS WELL THAT MADE HER FEEL NAUSEOUS AND SHE DIDN’T EAT ENOUGH. GIVING HER PORTION OF THE FOOD TO THE BOYS WAS NOBLE, BUT DIDN’T HELP HER CONDITION.

ROSE AND MELODY SPENT OVER AN HOUR WASHING SISSY’S HAIR AND CLEANING OUT THE PUNCTURE WOUND. IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE IT DID ANYTHING TO THE SKULL BUT IT HAD SOME PUSS AND DEBRIS IN IT. THEY’VE CLEANED IT OUT, CUT AWAY SOME OF THE DEAD SKIN, AND STITCHED HER UP. SHE HAS A SMALL BALD SPOT WHERE THEY HAD TO SHAVE HER HEAD. ITS NOT BIG, MAYB 50 CENT PIECE SIZE BUT SHE’S GOING TO HATE IT. I KNOW SISSY, SHE’LL MAKE MORE FUSS OVER THE BALD SPOT THAN SHE WILL ABOUT BEING STUCK IN THE ATTIC ONCE SHE HAS TIME TO THINK ABOUT IT.

THE BOYS ARE ALREADY ON THE MEND AND CALMING DOWN; THOUGH SUDDEN MOVEMENTS, LOUD NOISES, AND TRYING TO SEPARATE THEM FROM SISSY SEND THEM INTO A TEMPORARY PANIC. THOSE EPISODES ARE FEWER AND FARTHER APART AS THE DAY HAS PROGRESSED.

THE ZOMBIES STILL SURROUND SANCTUARY BUT THEY ALSO CONTINUE TO MOVE EAST. JIM EXPLAINED, WHILE ANGUS WAS PITCHING A FIT OVER HAVING RACHEL TRY AND EXAM AND PATCH HIM UP, THAT THE ZOMBIES WERE THE DIVERSION THEY NEEDED TO ESCAPE FROM THEIR OWN ENCOUNTER WITH TROUBLE. THAT MEANS THAT THIS HORDE STRETCHES AT LEAST 20 MILES EAST OF US.

THE HORDE HAS DEFINITELY THINNED OUT BUT WE’LL BE DAYS, POSSIBLY WEEKS, CLEARING OUT THE REMNANTS. WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO GO HOUSE-BY-HOUSE AGAIN AND CHECK ALL THE SHEDS AND GULLYS FOR ANY THAT ARE STUCK. WE HAVE A WHILE BEFORE WE CAN DO THAT. THERE ARE STILL TOO MANY OUT THERE FOR US TO WASTE AMMO TRYING TO SANITIZE THEM ALL.

GOD PLEASE HELP. THANK YOU FOR GIVING MY FAMILY BACK BUT NOW HELP ME TO HELP SISSY GET BETTER. SHE JUST HAS TO WAKE UP SOON. WALESKI IS GIVING HER WHAT ANTIBIOTICS WE HAVE BUT SHE NEEDS TO BE ABLE TO SIT UP AND MOVE A LITTLE TO LOOSEN THE CRAP IN HER CHEST TO KEEP IT FROM TURNING INTO PNEUMONIA. TAKE FROM ME WHATEVER IT COSTS, JUST PLEASE DON’T TAKE MY WIFE OR CHILDREN FROM ME.

Day 146 – Sunday (Dec 24)

Merry Christmas Eve from the land of the living. 'Scuse the handwriting, I've been informed that if I'm outside I'm in gloves. Grrr. I hate being told what to do. I would have worn them anyway but telling me I have to makes me want to take them off. I feel contrary and hard headed today.

For you future readers, whoever you might be, you’ve likely read what has happened the last week. We are OK. It was scary, hard, traumatizing, and just about every other adjective that you can come up with but I refuse to let it control me. We all lived. That was the plan and we succeeded. Johnnie and Bubby won’t go near the gates. They’ll walk around in our yard, or walk around in Sanctuary as long as they have Scott’s or Rose’s hands to hold but mostly all they really want to do is play at the foot of where ever I am at. It’s definitely going to take some time for the boys to find their feet and their independence again. Maybe a long time, but I hope not.

Right now Scott has me tucked up in a lounge chair just outside our carport. The sun feels so good. I feel like I’ve been locked up inside a prison for too long. I’ve got strict orders that I’m not to put a toe on the ground and the boys get to tell on me if I “misbehave.” Its driving me slightly nuts to look at all the work that needs to be done and not be able to do anything about it but only in a distant, I’ll-think-about-it-more-after-a-nap kind of way.

I’m embarrassed by my last entry but I won’t tear it out. That’s how it really was. I don’t want to forget or gloss over it. Scott was pretty emotional too and it will be a long time, if ever, that he feels comfortable thinking about anyone but me reading his entry. But my journal helps me to remember. One of these days, with God’s grace many years from now, one or the other of us really will be alone. That will be when we can go back and read this journal and remember the good times and bad and how full a life we had together. Memories are important. Often it’s all we have left.

As for how Scott is dealing with his feelings, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be under his thumb for a while. I can live with it if that is what makes him feel comfortable enough to get over his own trauma. Being the “man of the house” has a lot of perks, but it also takes a heavy toll on a man that takes the position seriously. The way he is right now reminds me of when I had that miscarriage right before I got pregnant with Sarah. I was so sick and we didn’t know if we would be able to have any more kids. Then I got pregnant again and right afterwards his mom was diagnosed with cancer. For a protective male I can’t imagine anything worse than feeling powerless and no way to stop the bad stuff from happening. If he needs to exert a little more control than normal that’s OK. I know he’s only doing it because he got such a bad scare and I hope eventually he’ll ease up on his own. If he doesn’t … well, I’m strong-willed enough to tell him when enough is enough and we’ll work it out from there. We always have.

He’ll be OK, but it’s going to take some time. Matlock and Dixon look like they’ve been through the ringer too. The three men are dancing around each other a little bit. Patricia told me what happened. I can’t believe that Scott actually decked Dix. Well, I mean I can believe he could do it, I just have a hard time visualizing it actually coming to that. Only Dix would be so dense as to get in Scott’s face when he was in the middle of a meltdown. Most people would have given him some space.

On the other hand I guess none of them has really seen Scott when he is really, truly in high dudgeon. It normally happens a couple of times a year when he gets really stressed out from work or if there was problems with the business. I guess I hadn’t thought much about it until now. I guess he was kinda due. I’ve had a few meltdowns of my own over the last couple of months. I guess the real surprise is that he didn’t blow up before. Sounds like I'm guessing more than knowing way too much these days.

Waleski gave me a bit of a lecture and a good sized warning. He’s an OK guy if you can get past the grumpy exterior but I hate lectures, they always make me feel about two years old. I’m off the heavy-duty chore roster for a month! I asked him who he thought was going to do all our laundry and he just shrugged. I swear, typical male of the species. I’m off the roster for going outside of the Wall for at least two weeks and counting as well depending on when the zombies depart. No lifting anything heavier than Kitty for two weeks due to a possible cracked rib or two. If it’s below 70 degrees and he catches me without at least a windbreaker on he threatened he'd have Scott put me on house arrest. I have to drink a serving of some form of juice – orange, apple, whatever – at every meal. He ranted on and on but bottom line is that I’m sure I'm going to be chewing horseshoes and spitting nails before I’m “allowed” to do the work I know I’m going to need to do.

Waleski says that with all the physical stress my body has been under lately (and yes that turkey did mention my age which just made me want to kick him that much more) I'm a sitting duck if any kind of virus goes around. I'd like to know who I'm supposed to catch it from? It’s not like I'm meeting anyone from other survivor groups. And I sure as heck don't plan on getting within sneezing or kissing distance of any of our zombified visitors; always assuming they are carrying anything other than NRS. OK, so my chest is a little congested. I'll admit that I need to watch that, but at a certain point there is a law of diminishing returns; the more I'm protected, the less good it does me.

I appreciate their concern but I’m not going to sit around on my butt any more than necessary. I’ve got way too much to do. The gardens are just sitting there. People are harvesting stuff, thank goodness, but no new beds are being prepared for planting. I’ve got all the drawings done and all I need to do is lay them out and then plant. I want the golf cart back but its stuck in the garage of the house we holed up in.

I need to get some manure tea made and fertilize what is still in the ground. The fallen fruit in the orchard needs to be picked up and tossed into the compost. The compost piles themselves need to be turned and aerated. I need to get some more fruit picked and canned before it too falls off the trees; who knows what the fruit trees outside of Sanctuary are going to look like after this horde finally finishes passing through. No wonder all those animals looked like they were starving to death. The zombies walk on and beat up everything with no regard to the damage they are causing. All the yards right outside our Wall are churned up, sandy messes. They tear bushes and small trees walking through them rather than around them. We've got glass and wood shards all over that are going to have to be dealt with as well where doors and windows, siding and other house materials have been destroyed.

On a good note I used my time this morning to draw plans for a couple of herb gardens. I know it might save some work to just have one huge herb garden but I’m trying not to put all our eggs in one basket. What happens if a garden area fails for some reason? If one fails and there is no back-up we could be in serious trouble. With multiple gardens we have a bit of insurance that if one fails there will still be others. The multiple garden approach also makes it easier to rotate crops to keep from using up all of the nutrients in the sandy soil we have.

There is one thing I just can’t seem to get over though. I’m not allowed to help do any of the cooking tonight or tomorrow. I’ve been cooking Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals for my family for nearly a quarter of a century. Twenty-five years! Dix and Matlock were even thinking about cancelling Christmas all together. I could have hit both of them myself. I wound up crying and I hate doing that, especially in public. No one died. We are all together. Even Angus and Jim are back and recovering though I’m not sure that we shouldn’t sedate them or something. They are as wound up as Johnnie and Bubby ever were. Rachel is going to have a fit if they pull out any more of their stitches doing crazy stuff like working on their still. You should have heard her laying into them this morning, “If I have to sew you two up one more time I swear I will shoot you both in the ass with a butt load of elephant tranquilizer!!”

Thankfully, probably because most of us women threatened a revolt if we weren’t allowed to go through with our holiday plans, the men backed off and changed their minds. By God there should be some things that are sacred from the effects of the zombies. The kids need some hope for the future. We need some hope. I've spent most of the afternoon watching everyone decorate a Sanctuary Tree ... at least that's what the kids are calling it.

I'm sure some of us are thinking about family and friends that are no longer with us but if those people truly loved us they would want us to survive and get on with the act of living. Traditions, old and new, are part of that. Besides, the zombies are still too numerous outside so it’s not like we are going anywhere. I refuse to let NRS win. I've may have to be reconciled to losing some battles here and there, but I refuse to give up the war.

Speaking of not going anywhere, I guess I’m more tired than I thought. I’m ready to go back inside and lay down for a bit. I don’t want Scott re-thinking me going to our Sanctuary shindig tonight. I just about ran out of breath trying to talk him into it in the first place.

Day 147 – Monday (Dec 25)- Merry Christmas!!

And I do mean Merry!!!! Oh, I’m exhausted but this has been one of the best days since this whole NRS pandemic started.

I might as well say up front that a lot of us would have to go off for a moment or two and deal with grief issues … missing people we loved, wondering where people were, wondering how people were if they were still alive … but we were also celebrating life.

The kids were at first disappointed that there wasn’t anything under the Christmas tree in the house when they woke up. But after they found out that everyone’s presents were under the community Christmas tree over at the Dining Hall they were even more excited. Everyone in Sanctuary also had their own stocking with a few trinkets and small gifts in them. The children's stockings ran towards toys, the adults got things that had something to do with a hobby or interest. Most of the grown men got a flask full of something a little stronger than the drinks we kept the punchbowl filled with.

The women and I have been working since our Thanksgiving Celebration to provide fun treats for everyone. We made cookies and fruit cakes and stored them in decorative tins we have been collecting. At first everyone looked cross-eyed and made jokes about the fruit cakes … but then they tasted them. I’m glad we’ve held a few back. Homemade fruitcake is a totally different animal from the junk you used to buy in the store. Same with the cookies. The peanut butter cookies and the chocolate chip cookies nearly didn’t last the day out.

Breakfast was sweet buns and fruit. That held everyone until lunchtime when we had BBQ mutton. One of the goats was just too ornery and was getting dangerous so Mr. Morris decided to cull it from the herd. That is not a trait we want to encourage in future generations, not even the adults could handle it anymore and letting the kids tend the vicious beast was out of the question. It had been years since I’d had BBQ Mutton fresh from the farm. Oh man, it was just like Granddaddy used to fix. After lunch everyone pretty much just grazed the rest of the day.

I had wanted to make the kids some candy last week but obviously life intervened. Since I didn’t get to cook I spent a couple of hours today showing the kids how to pull taffy and make their own peppermint candy. I had plenty of adults come by to do it as well. Those recipes really use up our granulated sugar supply. I’ll have to figure out substitutes before we do that sort of thing again. I’d love to have our own honey supply and I’m pretty sure I have recipes that use molasses and/or cane syrup for making candy as well. Now all we need to do is find a patch of sugarcane and some beehives.

Christmas presents were utilitarian for the most part. Scott and I gave each one of the girls from Rose down to Kitty (and Melody and Josephine as well) a “hope chest.” Scott built them using scrap furniture that we’ve gathered from around the neighborhood. Each chest is lined with cedar veneer and has a pretty hinged top that we carved and stained. With these chests the girls will be able to begin saving linens and other little things for when they have a home of their own. I started each girl off with a set of pillows that I had embroidered a lace edging onto and a lavender sachet made from dried lavender that I had grown myself last year. I know its old fashioned but Scott and I pretty much lived out of my hope chest the first year we were married.

For David and James I made vests, and I surprised Scott by making one for him as well, I sewed a modified hunting vest. It has lots of pockets for ammo and other gizmos that they might need. It also has a big pocket that they can put snacks or bait in. The little boys got their own vests but I expect them to be filled with rocks, small toys, and who knows what else until they get a little older.

Everyone in Sanctuary had a gift under the tree; no one was left out. There were also private gifts given between friends and lovers in privacy. Scott gave me a picture frame with a picture of all the kids together. I mean all the kids, not just ours but all the kids in Sanctuary. It was a copy of one that Brandon had made during the Thanksgiving Celebration. Each kid had signed their name or drawn a picture on a piece of paper and he put that behind the picture. It took me a bit to control the waterworks. I set it on our dresser.

There were games and activities for all age groups throughout the day. Angus and Jim have settled down a bit and everyone that hadn’t heard their whole story yet finally got to hear it while we were sitting around during a lull in the day. I’ve written it out the best I can. I didn’t always get the jokes and laughter, I suspect it’s because I’m missing a Y chromosome, but I think I’ve done a passable job of putting their story down on paper.

Angus' and Jim’s Story (part one)

Angus and Jim are both gruff and gregarious at the same time. They can also be very dangerous men. I guess these days all survivors can be dangerous but those two have an additional edge about them that sets them apart. A lot depends who they are dealing with.

Neither man has had a problem finding their place amongst the men of Sanctuary; they are liked and well regarded. They are unique position compared to the other men in Sanctuary. They came in singly as opposed to being either part of a biological family group or as part of a combat team. I use to wonder if they might feel like odd-man-out or lonely. They don’t appear to feel that way so I try not to worry. Surely both men understand that we’ve adopted them into our family.

Jim’s kinda funny. He has an almost painfully dry sense of humor and his Australian accent melts everyone's hearts. He’s certainly a soft touch for the women but in a way that doesn’t make any of the other men jealous. It may be a bit romantic of me but I think that’s mostly because he still holds out hope for his fiancé wherever she might be; that she is in with a group that will take care of her and keep her safe.

Angus is a pushover with the kids. The teens all look to him to get them into shenanigans that they won’t get in trouble too badly for. The little kids though, they really turn Angus to mush. Have you ever seen a Viking at a tea party? That’s Angus; huge wooden shelaleigh in one hand, tiny china tea cup in the other. The little kids can talk him into just about anything. I suspect there is a story there as well; but, we all have places that are private when it comes to our past. One of these days Angus may feel comfortable enough sharing that part but until that time I’m more than happy to just let Angus be Angus with all his funny quirks.

I’d heard bits and pieces of “the great battle” every since I woke up in the hospital. Who couldn’t help but hear of it with all the kids talking about how Uncle Angus and Uncle Jim fought off a crew of bloodthirsty pirates? Aaaaarrrrrrgggg! I wasn’t sure how exaggerated the tale was until Scott told me that the two men had actually been censoring quite a bit of it for the kids' sakes.

They left Sunday morning, the same day that the horde came through but they were hours away by the time the first zombie stumbled out of the bushes. Hindsight is 20/20 and we’ve begun to wonder about all the lane clearing we’ve done to make it easier on ourselves; its like a huge sign that says “settlement this way.” The clearing did allow the men to reach the little town of Elfers much earlier than planned. In fact they arrived early enough that they got there before the contingent from Tarpon Springs did.

Once the Tarpon Springs group did show up Angus and Jim became uneasy almost immediately. There were several too many vehicles on the Tarpon Springs side. And that group seemed angrily surprised that Angus and Jim had arrived at the rendezvous point ahead of them. There were also a couple of rough types riding in a couple of trucks that seemed out of place. None of the promised trade goods were in evident either.

In retrospect their early arrival probably saved their lives or they could very well have driven into an ambush. The other thing that probably saved their lives was that the Tarpon Springs crowd were more familiar with coastal areas where they could use the Gulf as one of their tools to contain the people they were trying to attack and steal from. The landlocked position they held, and the loss of the element of surprise, considerably deflated their original attack plan.

Another immediate point of irritation was that the man Jim had been negotiating with wasn’t there. The excuse was that he had injured himself the previous day and couldn’t make the trip. Then the scalawags proceeded to try and renegotiate the trade which truly irritated Jim. The talks were breaking down when the radio squawked to life in Juicer causing everyone to jump. Angus said he knew that there was trouble right off because Bekah would never have been allowed to make such a call if there had been an adult able to. He grabbed the mike and was just able to get Bekah to calm down enough to tell him what was going on.

A young girl’s voice called out plaintively over the radio waves, “Uncle Angus, Uncle Jim … I mean Juicer One … come in pllleeeeasee!”

“We’re right here little girl. Calm down and tell Uncle Angus what’s wrong.”

“Uncle Angus there are zombies everywhere and Momma and the boys didn’t make it in and Daddy is crazy and things are really really really really bad. Dix said they are headed your way and fast. He said to tell you that it’s the biggest horde we’ve ever seen and to not be heroes and get some place safe!”

Angus used the calmest voice he could and asked, “OK, little bit. Did you say your Mom didn’t make it in? Was it the little boys she had with her?”

“Yes sir. And a couple of the grown up men aren’t inside either but I didn’t hear which ones. Uncle Angus, things are really bad.” You could hear the insipient tears in the catch of her voice.

“You sit tight little girl, Uncle Angus and Uncle Jim will be there as quick as we can.”

"But Uncle Angus, Dix said ... "

"Don't you worry. You let Uncle Angus worry about ol' Dix. You just know that we'll be there."

When Angus turned to Jim to relay the situation he saw one of the rough types pulling out a Mossberg 500. He made sure his Mauser was in plain sight and he made a point of looking at the one that had pulled the shotgun and could clearly see him take the safety off the Mauser.

Disgusted with the unnecessary show of force Angus said, “Jim, whatever they’re trading ain’t worth it. Let’s roll.”

Jim, who had gotten the feeling by that time he was being jerked around said, “Right mate.” To the men immediately in front of him he said, “Sorry gentlemen, we don’t have time for this. We’ll have to get together another day for Anzacs and tea. Right now we have some ankle biters that need us.”

As Jim backed away the people from Tarpon Springs made the first move. Thankfully Angus saw the guy in motion and shot him right as he was aiming at Jim. Jim still caught the burn off of the bullet as it went by but the pain only motivated him to move faster and to get into a position where he could retaliate in kind.

After that all hell broke loose. Using Juicer’s heavy metal frame as cover they tried to take as many of them out as they could as quickly as they could. I won’t include the cussing that Angus and Jim did at this point in their narrative. Suffice it to say that it was colorful, long and included several creative guesses as to the pirates’ ancestry and species.

Two men against fourteen; very bad odds. Strike that, the one Angus had got with a solid head shot left them with thirteen. Then they noticed that five of the thirteen pulled away from the other eight and hunkered down, weaponless, behind one of the buildings on eithe side of the highway. They decided not to waste ammo on weaponless men so long as those men left them alone.

That left them with eight heavily armed and ruthless men to combat. There was a temporary stand-off while the battle lines were being re-drawn and the pirate/raiders realized their numbers were slimmer and their opponents more able than they had anticipated. This was street fighting at its most dangerous.

The pirates split their forces and tried to catch Angus and Jim in a crossfire situation. Angus and Jim, realizing what was going on quickly moved away from Juicer and used a variety of other cover. From that point on they kept repositioning themselves so that the pirates could never catch them both with the same maneuver. They weren’t going to give them a “two birds with one stone” option.

The pirates were good, but not real flexible. They were sloppy and untrained and used to their opponents choking on fear. Their plan had always worked for them in the past and they had not seen the necessity for designing contingencies. This time the plan didn’t work and they couldn’t adjust quickly enough to regain the upper hand against Angus and Jim. The tide slowly shifted away from the men being on the defensive to being on the offensive. Being on the defensive was a completely alien situation for the pirates and that made them even less effective and they began to make stupid errors. They stopped operating as a group and it was every man for himself.

Mischief and Mayhem had not been silent partners in this battle. They had taken down two of the unarmed Tarpon Springs men that had tried to throw their lot in with the pirates. Those men paid for that choice with their lives. No man in his right mind would want to go up against a mastiff that is 100 pounds of pure muscle much less two of them. The dogs, young as they were, were well trained and nearly decapitated one of the men with a snap of their powerful jaws.

Angus took out two more, disabling one and killing the other, dropping the enemies’ numbers from eight to six. Then Jim took out another two in quick succession dropping their opponents’ numbers to four. Those four were smarter than their other brother pirates and quickly regrouped into a team. Jim and Angus had a tough time staying out of their kill zone when they broke into a box they had in one of the trucks and pulled out a container of an odd assortment of grenades.

Angus and Jim had just about everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them. Each type of grenade presented them with new problems. There were a couple of the riot dispersing grenades called “flash bangs” that were more annoying than anything else, but the flash still momentarily blinded the men if they were looking anywhere near where they went off. The incendiary grenades were filled with about 700 grams of thermate and burned so hot that it melted the road where it was set off. One rolled into a dilapidated quickie-mart and started a fairly large blaze that began to spread to the other storefronts in the strip center on that side of the road. Small fires quickly spread in several different directions, sometimes cutting off their best escape routes. The smoke grenades added to the smoke that the fires were generating, only this smoke was thicker and often colored with some type of dye. The worst grenadse they had to deal with were the concussion grenades. A lucky blind lob by one of the pirates landed one of the concussion grenades a little too close to Angus and he was blown through a wooden fence, embedding a large splinter of wood in his calf and momentarily knocking him out.

A grizzled pirate, trying to take advantage of Angus’ temporary paralysis and stunned hearing, ran over and took careful aim. But in his glee over seeing Angus down he had forgotten the dogs. He had also forgotten to keep track of Jim. Mayhem came out of the smoke and took the man’s throat out with a single jumping lunge. Jim stepped in and put a bullet in the head of the corpse to prevent it from rising. Four had become three.

Angus came to himself much quicker than he had any right to and a good thing too. Jim was searching the smoke for his next target, giving Angus time to gather himself, when he was attacked from behind by a man wielding a baseball bat that had sharp pieces of metal studded all over it. A glancing blow ripped through Jim’s jacket, hunting vest, and shirt shredding the skin underneath. Luckily however skin was all he had gotten. A solid blow could have easily torn muscle, broken his collar bone or severed an artery.

Mischief and Mayhem attempted to get close enough to help Jim but the pirate caught both dogs with blows from his club, injuring them. By this time Angus was back on his feet and in full pissed-off Viking mode. It only took the roar of one word, “Move!” and the dogs backed off. The loud exclamation caused the pirate to turn towards Angus just in time to have his face disintegrate in a spray of blood, bone, and tissue by a point blank shot from the Mauser.

Now three had become two; the odds were now even. Angus worried that the dogs would become crippled if they continued to fight so ordered them to stay put. Jim said it was obvious they were still ready and willing to kill for their master and after a brief whine begging not to be taken out of the fight they obeyed and sat close together against the building licking their wounds. But they continued to watch everything within their range.

Jim and Angus went back on the offensive and fanned out using the smoke as cover, hunting the two remaining pirates. Every few minutes a shot would ring out but none of them found their target. Suddenly Angus and Jim heard a commotion to the west of their location. The primary component of the sound was fists hitting flesh. They homeed in the on the sound and came upon the three previously unarmed men taking on one of the remaining pirates. One of the men grab a large piece of broken pavement and put an end to the pirate’s existence and used the large rock two more times to make sure that the pirate couldn’t rise again.

Everyone was breathing heavy, both from the fighting and from the smoke that still hung thick in the air. Into this came the unexpected sound of a truck squealing out and escaping west along SR54. A quick reconnoiter, and a mercy kill shot to prevent the one remaining mortally wounded pirate from rising, revealed no other immediate threats.

Immediate threats. They still had the fires that were spreading, the zombie horde coming in from the east, and they needed to deal with the three remaining Tarpon Springs men.

Angus and Jim’s story (part 2)

There wasn’t anything they could do about the fires for the moment. The blazes, large and small, seemed to be dying back due to lack of fuel. If the fire broke past the barrier of the concrete jungle however the wind would likely drive the flames in a southwesterly direction.

No zombies could be seen even when standing on top of Juicer’s cab using good field binoculars. That left dealing with the three Tarpon Springs men who stood hunched over like they were waiting for their turn at the guillotine. While Jim and Angus gathered up all the weapons and such that had been left behind they listend to the men from Tarpon Springs tell their side of the story.

Actually make that two men from Tarpon Springs and one man captured who belonged to a community that had been scavenging along the west coast of Pinellas County but that was based at the Ft. DeSoto State Park. Their group had blocked off the bridges into the park as a way to keep the zombies at bay. But, in order to maintain a viable community they needed to resupply from the mainland. South Pinellas was pretty much destroyed by rioting so they took their boats further north. During one of these runs they encountered the pirates, lost two boats and nearly everyone aboard each, but the bulk of their group managed to escape back to their fortified position. The pirates had yet to be able to take them which was a sore point for the pirates and the man, who said his name was Jude, was frequently beaten in retaliation.

The story of Tarpon Springs however was a little different. The two men explained that some refugees that had been taken in about a month and a half earlier turned out to be spies for the pirate crew. They insinuated themselves into the security and leadership positions within the community, slowly influencing key members of the population and in at least two cases getting them hooked on drugs. Then, only two days after our convoy left Tarpon Springs, a relatively bloodless coup took place. Since the immediate leadership within the community didn’t appear to change - and the fuel, food and booze kept flowing - there hadn’t been much outrage. However when some residents found that the “privateers” were nothing more than bandits that would be using their contacts with other survivor groups to further their goals of domination by intimidation and exacting services and resources in exchange for “protection” from other pirate groups, small acts of disobedience began to occur. Soon the previously bloodless conflict became very bloody when all those that disagreed with the pirates were rounded up, shot in the leg, and tossed into the Gulf for the sharks and other predators to clean up.

Certainly this horrifically brutal act served to subdue an already traumatized community. The three men wanted to take the word back to their groups before the pirates had a chance to regroup. They wanted to empower their fellow citizens to further action.

Angus and Jim rolled their eyes when they heard this. Jim said, “I don’t hold out much hope for them. Their description of how Tarpon Springs is being run means alone and weaponless they have little chance of doing what they want to do. But, we let them go and wished them luck. Hell of it was, under other circumstances I might have joined the fight but Sanctuary’s situation was our primary concern.”

Angus added, “I couldn’t get little Bekah’s voice out of my head. Hell of it was we hopped in Juicer and was down the road about a half mile before we I realized the radio was capput, the antenna musta got fried during the street battle. And one of the damn tires was warped, probably from a concussion grenade. Got lucky and was able to stop at a county maintenance yard right off of SR54 to fix the tire. But by the time we fixed it dark had nearly set in and a few zombies were already shambling through. We didn’t know how bad it was or we probably would have taken our chances and just kept going. As it was we decided to stop for the night and wait until first light to head out. We stayed the night in a mechanic’s garage.”

The first order of business when they got there, after securing the building itself, was to clean and bandage their various wounds. Even though it’s been over a week since their big battle Angus and Jim both still look pretty rough. It hasn’t helped that they’ve been less that accommodating of Rachel’s demands that they take it easy. In that respect they behave about as well as any two year old might.

They conceded that they wouldn’t be able to get any further that night and decided to rest and prepare for the next day's battle. The problem was that next morning at first light the men awoke to find their position surrounded by more zombies than they had ever thought possible. All Monday they waited, and not patiently from the sound of it, for some break in the horde. Their only outlet was being as creative as they could using the leftovers in the shed to create “weapons of mass destruction.”

The zombies never let up. Evening fell again and the two men began to realize that they were either going to have to wait it out where they were for however long it took or risk certain death to reach Sanctuary. Most sane, unattached men probably would have opted to wait at least one more day. That’s not saying that Angus and Jim aren’t sane, but their view of life after the apocalypse had changed. They were “other driven” and marched to the beat of a different drummer. They simply no longer thought as the average person would have, if they ever had in the first place.

They created pipe bombs, some incendiary and some fragmentary, using all the leftover flotsam the last service team left lying around. Another thing Angus did was sharpen the edge of the front end loader; this way if he couldn’t scoop the zombie up at least he could cut them down and partially immobilize them. In addition to the homemade weaponry they reinforced the cab of Juicer so that even if the windshield or side windows caved in, there would still be metal between the occupants and the zombies.

They ate the meal I had packed for them that night and said it was just the picker upper they needed. After that they and the dogs got a good night’s sleep; they knew they were going to need it. And they tried not to worry too much about what was happening in Sanctuary.

The dogs had them up before first light. Everyone took care of their business and grabbed a quick bite for breakfast, but nothing too heavy. They weren’t exactly going to be able to stop on the side of the road to deal with issues that come from too much bran and too much coffee. Both men also tended to their wounds one more time using nearly a half a tube of triple antibiotic cream each and all of the gauze that was in the first aid kit they found in the supervisor’s office.

Both men and both dogs piled into Juicer’s cab. Rather than opening the garage door Angus chose to drive straight through it and men and dogs were finally off and running towards Sanctuary.

Angus and Jim’s story (part 3)

Getting through the garage door actually proved to be much easier than navigating through the zombie horde. As soon as they cleared the building they were surrounded by a very thick crowd of zombies; so thick in fact the mass of bodies was so thick that Juicer nearly stalled out several times until the men figured out the best way to create their own path of destruction through the walking corpses.

While sharpening the front loader was an integral part of their ability to move through the throng of zombies it also created a rather disgusting problem. Usually Juicer catches the zombies and then dumps them into the compactor portion of the garbage truck; no fuss, no muss. Instead, the sharpened edge now literally cut a swath through the horde. They had to drive in low gear to avoid any more slipping and sliding than necessary, and this allowed them to slowly making their way east on SR54.

Angus and Jim are hardened but not heartless. You can sense that all of the carnage, despite the necessity of it, weighs on them and probably will for some time yet. They said they had to remind themselves that the bodies surrounding them were nothing more than biological shells; that the consciousnesses of the people that had once inhabited those bodies were long gone and never coming back. The fresher the corpse, the more it seemed to imitate life. The child zombies were especially difficult to ignore. They were pathetic looking but were even more dangerous because of the reaction they drew from the living.

Angus fought for every foot of progress they made. Every time the horde shifted he could feel Juicer shift and slide on the road. The trick was to keep their forward momentum, despite their reduced speed, constant and steady. This allowed the front loader to do its job most effectively and meant that they didn’t have to worry about losing traction against the blacktop. The gore mounted quickly and it was a challenge to keep the frontloader from becoming clogged. It was a waste of time to try and gather the gore into the compactor section. They just tilted the loader and allowed all of the … body parts and fluids … to slide to the ground and drove Juicer through it.

Even under the best conditions driving would have been tortuous for the two men. But with all the bumping and banging around they felt in the cab, their wounds began to bleed or seep all over again draining them even further. Even the dogs would let out the occasional pitiful whine.

Angus growled, “After a couple of hours of that I had had enough. I told Jim to crack the window enough to use some of the goodies we had gathered.”

“Yeah. I had a bit of trouble at first though. I was throwing with my weak arm. The one that I normally throw with was just too damn sore to use,” Jim added.

Their new strategy worked, for a while. They added another 10 mph to their speed as zombies in the immediate area would lose the focus on Juicer and go after the louder explosion. Then the first Rager refused to be diverted. The Rager launched itself out of the horde and straight at Jim’s side of the cab with a solid thwack.

It hit the door so hard that the inside panel bowed inward. While Angus drove and tried to hold the dogs back – they kept banging into Jim’s bad arm – Jim lit up their makeshift blow torch they made cobbled together from a small can of butane. When the zombie’s head came up to the window area, Jim directed the flame into the holes of the fencing they had tacked to the frame of the truck and set the inside of the corpse’s skull on fire.

“As if the smell of decomp and dog crap wasn’t strong enough, now we had to deal with over cooked brains. Talk about bad!” Jim complained after hawking up phlegm at the mere memory of the odor.

That Rager wasn't the last. They also had to deal with the occasional Runner and some of the freakier zombies like the climbers and the mutants.

It’s about 20 miles between Elfers and the intersection of SR54 and US41. After making it to the intersection both men were forced to concede that for the moment they had taken all they could. It was late in the afternoon and they needed to bed down for the night and recoop for the big push to Sanctuary. They found the outside edge of the horde by travelling less than a mile north on US41 and were pulling behind the Pasco County Traffic Building when they were unceremoniously hailed from a man on the ceiling warning them of a small band of shamblers on the bottom floor. The man said the next building over had been cleared and to come on for a pot of coffee if they were interested.

It was a strange invitation except the man wasn’t a total stranger. Greg had recognized them as belonging to Sanctuary and reintroduced himself in case they didn’t know him. He was the leader of the now defunct New Geraci group and was now the current leader of what they called the Brooksville enclave, a small town further north on US 41. Some of them had come south to check on the remnants of the Hale Hollow group that they originated from.

“Wasn’t nobody home. They’re either all dead or moved on. We scavenged some goods from our old houses and then we was going to go straight back home but ran into that horde y’all come out of. By the way y’all are crazy as hell, you know that? Anywho, the bulk of ‘em moved south a bit earlier today and we was making plans to get back home first thing in the morning. Y’all are welcome to come along if you want.”

“Nope. We’re heading to Sanctuary to see if we can help out,” Angus answered.

“Damn. Y’all really are crazy! How you gonna get through?”

“Same way we did it today mate,” added Jim.

“Well, ain’t gonna try and stop ya that’s for sure. Ain’t nothing but wasted energy trying to stand in the way of crazy. But if you change your mind just head north on US41 ‘till you run into Brooksville. We keep us a little lookout crew at the main intersection. You tell ‘em Greg sent you and they’ll send for me. We'll work it out from there.”

These days the issue of safety in numbers was commonsense but the men weren’t foolish and kept the dogs, light sleepers both of them, close in case someone got up to tomfoolery.

Next morning after a surprisingly restful sleep each group made a quick goodbye as they rushed to take advantage in the lull of zombie activity. Once they headed back south, Wednesday was a repeat of the day before. Except they now had a better system of distraction allowing them to traverse the distance from the SR54/US41 intersection to Sanctuary’s front gates much more quickly.

Angus and Jime arrived mid-morning only to realize that there was no way that they were going to be able to pull into the compound until some of the zombies were cleared away. For the rest of the day communication between Sanctuary and Juicer was sporadic using signs and hand signals.

People on the Wall helped the men's flagging spirits. Juicer gave the people on the Wall hope. Round and round the big truck went scooping up load after load of the dead, compacting them, and then hauling them down the road to dump the biological mess in the pits they had dug so many weeks ago. Angus wondered if the predators and scavengers would be back to feast on this pile like they had the last or if they had all moved on to habitats more closely resembling to their natural one.

The operation continued for hours. Angus and Jim began taking turns; one would drive while the other slept. When evening set it only slowed them down a little but it was a heck of a lot creepier. Still they worked on.

At first light they noticed two things. First was that the number of zombies was noticeably thinner. Second was that they were dangerously low on fuel. They signaled to Sanctuary what their needs were and it was at that point that Scott joined Angus and Jim.

I knew the rest of the story and have already written it in my journal. All I can add is that I will be forever grateful to those two men. Not just for my life or the boys’ lives but because they came back for all of us. They could have easily, and with a clear conscience, abandoned Sanctuary and started over someplace else but they didn’t.

To me that is a big part of what makes Sanctuary different from any other enclave or compound that we’ve encountered thus far. Our people don’t give up. Our people don’t abandon. We don’t sit around waiting for someone else to give us something. Everyone gets a chance to prove their worth and busts their butt for the benefit of all their fellow compound mates. We use our own creativity to improve our position. And then … when the inevitable problem comes along … we kick its ass.

Day 150 – Thursday (Dec 28)

Christmas was wonderful and the zombies are slowly passing through. I cannot believe how many of them there have been. A few more days and Matlock and Dix think we can start house-to-house searches for any stragglers. I suppose they are right, Lord knows there is no sense in wasting ammo at this stage of the game.

I have no idea what makes the zombies congregate together like this. Eventually all the little hordes are going to combine together to create some huge, writhing mass of zombies. It gives me a chill to even try and imagine such a monstrosity. What we experienced was bad enough. If I wasn’t scared to death that it would cause some huge ecological catastrophe, I’d wish the zombies would just keep heading east and then walk into the Gulf to be eaten by the predators of the deep. As it is we are wondering if we are going to have to deal with this horde again. Will they reach the coast only to swing around and come back the way they were going? That would just suck beyond words. And if they do indeed behave that way, how long do we have to prepare?

Preparing isn't something I've been doing a lot of lately. I am so tired of coughing and wheezing. It seems I just can’t get rid of this stuff whatever it is. I’m not running any fever so I don’t think it’s an infection. Waleski checks my lungs twice a day and he says they rattle but my lungs and throat don’t feel wet. I’m not coughing anything up, I just have this dry irritating and constant hack. The constant coughing is keeping me from sleeping and I have a raging headache from my brain banging around in my head every time I have a coughing fit.

It’s just really wearing me down. Every time I try and do anything I only get so far before I have to sit back down. I finally admitted defeat about an hour ago and it’s not even lunch time yet. If I had the energy I'd be really angry right now. I am so far behind on everything I need to get done. First there was that week in the attic, then Christmas, and now trying to ….


Momma's going to be sad that she made a mess in her journal. Rose and I tried to clean it up for her but there is still ink all over the page where she started coughing and broke the tip off of her pen. Rose said that I had to find another pen to write with but the only one I could find was a green gel pen. I think it’s pretty and Momma likes green so that's what I'll write with when I write in Momma's journal.

The following is being written by me, Sarah Delaine Chapman. That’s my whole proper name but people only call me Sarah Delaine if I get in trouble. They only call me Sarah Delaine Chapman all in one breath like that if I get in a lot of trouble.

Daddy says that I’m to keep Momma company while she is napping. And when she wakes up I’m supposed to send someone to get him. Momma didn’t want to take a nap but Daddy said she had to. They were gonna do the grumpy fighting thing ‘cause Momma wanted to get up and finish writing in this journal and Daddy said she wasn’t supposed to stay awake scribbling, she was supposed to sleep like he said. Then I said I would take detection for her and then she could take a nap. That made them both better. I don’t like it when Momma and Daddy get cranky with each other. It makes me sad.

Oh, Rose just read this and said it isn’t detection, its dictation. Oops. I wish Momma didn’t write in pen. If she wrote in pencil then I could erase things when I make a mistake. Rose also said it wasn’t any of my business to say things like that about Momma and Daddy and that I was just a kid and didn’t understand. I didn’t mean to be bad and if Momma wants me to mark through it when she wakes up I will.

I was going to take dictation but Momma fell asleep anyway which made Daddy get the I-told-you-so look on his face and it’s going to make Momma cranky when she wakes up. It’s also going to make her cranky when Daddy comes because I know he is going to have Waleski listen to her chest and take her temperature again. Normally a kid wouldn’t be allowed to call a grown up by his proper name but Waleski says it makes him irritable for us kids to call him Mr. all the time. Waleski is cranky enough so us kids don’t call him Mr. except for Marty who only does it to be sassy even though his Mom only thinks he is being mannerly. Us kids know the truth. Marty is sassy a lot when his Momma isn't around.

Waleski says that the rattle is moving deeper into Momma’s chest and that he’s going to give her a different medicine called something that I can’t spell. I’ll ask Rose what it is later and she can spell it for me. Rose knows a lot about medicine and stuff now. She’s going to be a doctor someday if the college teachers ever come back. Rose says that Waleski thinks Momma has walking pneumonia. I spelled that right because I just looked it up in the dictionary. It means her lungs are sick and have junk in them.

Waleski and Rose take care of Momma instead of Ms. Rachel. Daddy said Ms. Rachel would let Momma do whatever she wants to do and Daddy says that isn’t good. Ms. Rachel isn’t like that with anyone else. She can holler just like a grown up man. Not as loud as Daddy, but still really loud. She only shrugs at Momma when Momma doesn't want to do something that is good for her.

I think Momma and Ms. Rachel had an argument and that’s the real reason Daddy doesn’t want Ms. Rachel doctoring Momma. Besides, Waleski has been here a long time and he knows Momma better than Ms. Rachel does. Momma treats Waleski like she used to treat Uncle. I think that’s another reason why Daddy wants Waleski to be the one to look after Momma. She’ll get cranky with him a little bit and then she’ll do whatever he wants her to. That’s the way she was with Uncle.

My hand is getting tired so I’ll stop writing until Momma wakes up.



Day 151 – Friday (Dec 29)

Momma is still sick so I’m taking dictation for her. Rose told me how to spell the medicine Momma is taking. Azithromycin. I can almost say it. Rose says that it sounds close enough and that spelling it right is more important for now. Waleski called it a Zpak. Momma calls them nasty tasting horse pills, but she is taking them anyway without being too fussy because it makes Daddy happy. I heard her talking to Waleski and asking whether there would be enough left in case someone else needed them and he made a grumpy face at her. He said she wasn’t supposed to worry about stuff like that when she was the one that needed it.

Momma crossed her arms and gave Waleski the Mom-Eye. Waleski rolled his eyes; he knows when Momma looks like that she isn’t going to let it go until she gets some answers from someone. Waleski says that there is still different kinds of medicine left and it’s not going to do anyone any good letting them sit there in the cabinets and go past their shelf life. I think that means that it’s not going to do any good to let them spoil. He said most everything has at least a year of shelf life left because they’ve been using up the stuff that has a short shelf life first. I’m glad there is still good medicine or I could have got sick and died from the tiger and Momma might not be getting well either. I’m glad we have Waleski, and Ms. Rachel too, that know how to use the medicines to help us get well. I don't know what we would do without them.

Momma is trying really hard not to be cranky. I can tell she is trying hard because her teeth squeak like she’s trying not to let words out. She knows people are just worried about her.

James said that Momma’s problem is that she worries too much about other people and not enough about herself. James is worried too though. Even though he works a lot of hours on guard duty every day he is working in the gardens and he picks oranges for Momma. He and Bekah make Momma a special grapefruit-tangerine-orange juice just for Momma to drink up a lot of Vitamin C.

Daddy says Momma has a bad habit of confusing her worth with her works. Rose and James rolled their eyes when I asked them what that meant but David told me it means Momma gets her feelings mixed up. She thinks she’s only part of Sanctuary because of all the stuff she can do. And now that she’s been sick and not able to work it makes her worry she might not be part of us or she might be letting people down.

I love Momma because she’s Momma, not because of all the stuff she can do. The stuff she can do is cool, but I love her cause she loved me first when I was a baby and didn't know what real love was. I think I understand though how she feels. It made me really sad when I couldn’t work with the animals. I felt lonely and worried that my friends would forget me or get mad at me because I wasn’t helping with chores. I got really, really sad one day and then I cried. Samuel wanted to know why. I told him and he said that was stupid and not to think like that. He said real friends are friends no matter what and then he figured out a way that I could help even though I couldn’t work like I use to for a while. Samuel doesn’t like writing very much but we are supposed to keep track of all the feedings and how big the animals get and stuff like that. Well, he would scribble everything down and I would re-write it so everyone else could read it in the animal book we keep. That made me feel like I was helping and it made me happy. I think Momma needs something like that.

Except she’s been napping off and on today again. Daddy said to let her sleep because it’s what Momma needs to get better. When Momma is awake she is mostly asking what everyone is doing. Daddy closed the shutters on the house because Momma kept waking up when she heard the noises outside.

There is a lot of noise out there because we are cleaning up from the zombies. Most of them have finally gone away. Matlock is helping to finish put up the wooden telephone poles with Daddy, Mr. Morris, Mr. Kevin and some of the other handy men. Uncle Angus and Uncle Jim and Sgt. Dix and some of the other men are doing a house-to-house search and cleaning up the zombies that are too stupid to find their way out. But all the booming and banging and kablamming kept waking Momma up and she wanted to know what was going on. James asked Daddy if he closed the big shutters would it keep the noise out so that’s what he did.

Now I have to write by lantern light but I don’t mind; it makes the room warmer which is good. It got cold again last night. I also have to watch Johnnie and Bubby because they are still scared from when they were stuck in the attic. It’s so weird to see them acting like babies again. Daddy says they’ll get better soon. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I miss how Johnnie and Bubby used to be. They were a pain but they were like my little brothers were supposed to be. Now they are just quiet and don’t do much but play with the stuff they carry around in their pockets. It’s sad and no one seems to know what to say about it.

The only person besides Momma and Daddy and Rose that they’ll go with is Uncle Angus. They’ll go into the front yard with Uncle Angus and play with the dogs. I heard Uncle Angus talking to Daddy about maybe letting Mischief have babies so that us kids could have dogs of our own to take care of and train. Daddy likes the idea but he’ll have to talk Momma around. She says pets are a lot of work and are like having kids that never grow up. They are always going to count on their humans to take care of them and no one should take a pet on that isn’t willing to make a lifetime promise to take care of their pet. That’s what I think too. It’s a lot of work to take care of Pup. That’s what I call the little Spaniel dog that Waleski saved.

Samuel and I think Pup got taken away from her Momma too young and got traumatized or something. She doesn’t seem to know all the doggie do’s and don’ts. It’s really hard to train her. Marty says she’s just a dumb dog; but she isn’t dumb she just takes longer to learn stuff. And Pup just doesn’t like him and that makes him angry. I wouldn’t like anybody that pulled my ears and tail either. I wish I could bite Marty too when he pulls my pony tail, it hurts. Maddie is Marty’s twin sister and she is OK. Maddie used to be mean like Marty but she isn’t any more. She does a lot of work just like the rest of the big girls do. Rose says it’s because Maddie is getting mature and Marty isn’t yet. Rose says that girls mature before boys do and that I should give Marty a chance to grow up. I think it’s just because Marty is a brat and Maddie decided she didn’t want to be a brat any more so now she is one of the big girls.

Out of all the kids here in Sanctuary I like Samuel best. He is my best friend. Laura used to be my best friend but she is always hanging out with Marty and is getting a smart mouth. Mr. Dante’ and Mrs. Tina have restricted her and she hardly has any free time anymore because she got in trouble so much. And she was mean and said that Samuel was my boyfriend. Samuel stopped coming to see me when he found out and it made me really, really mad and I went and told Ms. Patricia so she could tell Samuel that he was just my friend and that Laura was being stupid and for him not to let it hurt his feelings. Mrs. Patricia laughed and said she'd do her best.

I like Ms. Patricia. She and Momma used to not get along because Ms. Patricia had a lot of troubles and was sick. But now they like each other. Ms. Patricia must have explained things to Samuel because he started coming back around and it was like Laura hadn’t said those stupid things. Samuel likes animals just like I do and it’s fun to have someone to talk to. All Laura ever wanted to talk about was boys. Maybe she was the one that liked Samuel and was mad because he was my friend first. Talk about stupid.

Momma is awake again and she wants me to write some stuff down so she can remember to put it on her chore chart later.

There will be lots of gardening stuff to do in January. One day we’ll have to go around to all the lemon and lime trees and mound soil around the base of the trees that have started to walk up by their roots. I didn’t know what that meant until Momma explained that sometimes when trees grow they can lift themselves out of the ground a little bit and people need to make sure the roots stay covered up or the tree can die or get diseases.

We need to pick up all the fruit that has fallen on the group and put it in the compost pile. James took Johnnie and Bubby and did some of that yesterday to get them out of the house. They pitched a fit and would only go if Rose went too so she and David went and helped pick up fruit too. Rose and David will probably get married one of these days but David says they are too young and things are too crazy right now. David is kind of a grown up so I think he means that Rose is too young to get married and just says it is both of them so she won’t get upset. David does things like that, he likes Rose to be happy. It’s weird to think about Rose getting married but she is the oldest and Momma said we'll all probably get married some day. That's stupid. All I want to do is take care of animals.

We have a lot of tree pruning to do. That means we’ve got to whack off a lot of the limbs on the trees so that they can grow right this year and make as much fruit as they can. We used to do that every year for the trees in our yard. We would take the Christmas lights down and then prune all of the trees and bushes. We didn’t have any Christmas lights this year but we’ve got a bunch more trees to take care of. That’s going to be a lot of work.

Momma says that I can help her plant the roses in the middle of the herb garden if I want to. She never let me help do that before but she says that I’m being very responsible and that proves that I’m mature enough to help plant the new bushes and trees Momma has been growing in pots all year. Momma says that is a really big deal and that I’m growing into a fine young lady.

Momma was supposed to list out all the vegetables that we need to plant in January but she fell back to sleep again. Mrs. Patricia has come by and she told me to go eat dinner and that she’d sit with Momma until I came back. So that’s what I’m going to do. I hope Samuel saved me a spot.



Day 152 – Saturday (Dec 30)

I feel like I’ve been sleeping for a flaming year. But I also feel better so what does that say about how bad I must have felt before?

Wow, the things kids say … or in this case write. Sarah was assigned the task of being my official babysitter over the last couple of days. She is sitting here now watching me like a hawk. She's got this miniature hourglass that she dug out of a game and it measures about five minutes of time. Every five minutes she wants me to take a drink of juice. It’s both cute and exasperating at the same time. This is definitely a child I need to spend more time with. There are things going on in her life I have no clue about.

I had no idea that Laura was getting into so much trouble. I knew that something has been eating at Tina but frankly I thought it was just the same concerns the rest of us have. Laura is a little young to be messing around with boys, she’s only a couple of months older than Sarah for heaven’s sake, but I suppose if she was being encouraged by Marty … gack … what an awful situation. And Dante’ and Hank work together and are good friends. But that would explain why Tina and Trish have been avoiding one another; Tina trying to avoid trouble and Trish trying to avoid the truth.

Is it my place to say something about this? Maybe Matlock and Dix already know what’s going on. I was the last person to figure out the whole Dix – Rachel – Patricia thing. I don’t know whether I should even attempt to say anything about this. Argh! I'm not going to put up with Marty's little pecker routine if he is going to start encouraging girls that are too young to see through his crap. I might just wind up jacking his jaw myself and worry about Trish's sensibilities later. That’s just one mess we have. There are others.

The zombies have left a God-forsaken wreck all around us. Greenery has been trampled, trees have been stripped of any fruit and leaves that were lower than a tall man can reach, the houses are an awful mess. All the months of cleaning and careful planning for demolition are all gone. There is glass and debris everywhere. Some of the houses are structurally unsound; those Ragers can really tear things up when they get going. Gore and fluids are on nearly everything contaminating what is left that might have been usable. Thank God they didn’t get inside the Wall or we may very well have had to move to a new location. I wonder if this is why the animals that fled before the horde were like they were. It doesn't give me much hope for those enclaves that were out in the east of the county. We haven't heard from them in a long time.

Angus and Jim are not back to one hundred percent yet either. They do what they can but most of the men realize that it is still just mostly to try and be supportive. Men that don’t have anything to do will get into trouble real quick, even injured men. Jim, Angus, and Mr. Morris have been playing around with that still of theirs for a while now. Apparently last night they got the first draw or two off of it and all three of them were higher than a Georgia pine. Scott couldn’t stop laughing when he told me about it. He said they had to pull Angus off the Wall three times before he finally passed out. He was three quarters naked, holding a garbage can lid like a shield and a bamboo pole like a lance and swearing that there were dragons flying around that he had to slay. Jim and Mr. Morris weren’t quite as much trouble but they weren’t much better than Angus. Every time they tried to walk they would complain that the Captain was terrible and there was no need for the deck to pitch like it did if he would hold the rudder steady. I’m thinking I’m glad that I missed the show.

James came in snickering this morning and said that all three men looked like they could crawl in a hole and pull it in after them. Looks like maybe they should have let the ‘shine age a little before taking a toot full. From what I heard growing up the fresh stuff is pretty rough and will make you crazier than Cooter Brown. I never knew exactly what that meant … but the general idea was that crazy only began to describe the person you were talking about. I hope the paybacks don’t last all day but from the sound of things we’ll have three less for meal time until their stomachs stop trying to travel without them.

I told James to lay off because sure as you laugh at someone else’s misery you’ll soon be experiencing some of your own. I also told him if I ever caught him getting drunk I’d skin him like an old cat. He knows I’m serious too. Angus, Jim, and Mr. Morris are grown men and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they didn’t exactly mean to get as bad off as they did. But I won’t have the kids thinking that it’s going to be OK to do that sort of thing on a regular basis. Although if they can get that ‘shine pure enough then I’ll be able to make some tinctures and tisanes with the herbs. I'm using the commercial stuff for the liqueurs and stuff like that. If I can use 'shine for the herbals and save the fancy stuff that will be even better.

Waleski is finally getting interested in my herbal remedy books. I’m wondering if the medicine supply is as strong as he claimed it to be or if he is trying to get a jump on Rachel. She is adamantly against herbals and home remedies. She still sees all of this NRS stuff as a relative blip on the radar and that we’ll go back to modern medicine and techniques in the near future, even if that is a year or two down the road. Personally I think she is in denial and I’m wondering if that is the real problem between her and Dix. Rachel’s outlook may not be uncommon among survivor groups but it’s not logical given our current situation. Even if every zombie in the world was to cease to exist tomorrow there is no way we could return to the way things once were. The production capacity is gone and so is most of our ability to trade internationally for basic materials to manufacture stuff with. Most of the infrastructure has been badly damaged too, not to mention that untold numbers of scientists and specialists joined the ranks of the zombies. I don’t know how she can mentally maintain her fantasy much longer. I really don't.

I am determined to get out of this bed tomorrow. I need to look in on the gardens and see what is going on. I’ll be mindful of not causing a relapse but being afraid of being sick isn’t going to do me any good either. Besides, if I know Scott he’ll probably have someone following me around if he can’t do it himself.

I’m not going to do anything to upset him if I can help it. I woke up in the middle of last night to find him sitting by the bed watching me while he drank a glass of the apple wine I made two summers ago. If I had to guess, I don’t think it was his first glass either. I finally convinced him to crawl in bed and he held me so tight I could hardly get back to sleep. This attic thing rattled him worse than I understood. I knew he was upset but not the full extent of it. I was scared spitless but maybe women deal with that emotional baggage different from men. I know he probably needs to talk it out but I don’t know if he’s ready to or if maybe he needs to talk to a guy instead of me. I wish I knew what to do. I’ll give it a little bit of time before I push the issue.

Speaking of the man, I hear him and James coming in so everyone must be shutting down for the night. He was going to bring Sarah and I our dinner over here since it was so cloudy it got dark an hour early. I guess I hadn't realized how long it has taken me to write all of this out.

I’ll send Sarah off to bed after she eats and hopefully Scott and I can at least cuddle a bit and relax before we go to sleep. Cuddling is about all I’m up for but sometimes that’s the best medicine there is.


Day 153 – Sunday (Dec 31) – New Year’s Eve

There have been times over the last couple of months when I secretly wondered if we would ever see this day. New Year’s Eve. Last year at this time we had no idea of the chaos our lives would descend into in the new year.

Tomorrow will start another new year. I don’t think it’s going to bring fresh hopes that things will go back to “normal.” Frankly I don’t think our lives will ever be what they were pre-NRS. I don’t even think our children’s lives will get back to that point. Our children’s children? Who knows? Maybe, but a lot will depend on how long the zombies remain animate and how damaged the remaining infrastructure becomes. Population size will also play a key point. It’s a certain fact that economically things will be different for many years to come. Deflation will rule the day … assuming we aren’t living some barter economy from now on. It will be a long time before precious metals and gems even have any value beyond the intrinsic beauty that polishing gives them. Simply trying to determine how to equitably deal with ownership and estate issues will be years in the structuring and even more years implementing. It may be years before they can start to consider how to structure and implement; unless of course they just do a mass nationalization of everything. That won’t fly too well with the people I know. We work hard for our survival. What we’ve built is ours in the truest sense of the word. We've poured our sweat and life's blood into it; literally.

I wish we had some way to find out what was going on with the rest of the country, find out what directions things are going in. If our area is any indicator, there are still lots of depravations occurring by zombies or by raiders of some flavor. It must be the same in many other areas. How bad it is in other areas though is the question in my mind. I wonder sometimes how the evacuees from MacDill made out. Did they get where they were going? And how many met them when they got there? If they did are their plans working? Sometimes I even think about Junie and whether she has regretted her decision to leave, whether she is even still alive.

The other thing that being sick has really made me think about is how other areas are handling health issues. All of these decomposing bodies cannot be a good thing. I was a fool for dumping the NRS infected bodies in those septic tanks the way I did. I’m not sure what else I could have done at the time, but I wish I had done something different. Those trenches that our group dug north of here so that Juicer could dump its load work well enough for now I suppose, but Scott says that the area is very noxious, even more so since they’ve been freshened with the bio-debris from this latest round of zombie clean up. I don’t even want to think about the funky hepatitis types that could be brewing in that mess.

Then I start thinking about “normal” illnesses like the waterborne bacteria of cholera, salmonella, e. coli, and shigella. Or how about mosquito-borne illnesses like Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus. Let’s not forget to add in there all the childhood diseases that we can no longer vaccinate against (or get boosters for) like chicken pox, measles, whooping cough, etc. One of these days everyone’s tetanus shot is going to lose its effectiveness and then we’ll see a return of preventable deaths from scratches and simple injuries. Don’t even get me started on how worried I am about rabies and things like that. It makes my teeth hurt (and I don’t even want to think about the dental implications until I have to) trying to think of ways to protect and avoid exposure to the worst of this stuff and I wonder what life is going to be like for the next couple of generations.

I have little enough time for that speculation however. There are too many other things that need my time and mental energy. The kids for one.

The kids were all playing around by making a resolution list. Of course the big one was more hope than resolution; everyone wants to see the last zombie infestation. I told them resolutions are things that they physically strive to do themselves, not simply something they hope will happen. Then the lists got really creative. I’ll try and facilitate what I can but there are some things that I don’t know if we can provide. A lot of the kids said they want to improve their aim or loading time – now tell me that isn’t strange for a kid to have as a resolution. Sarah and Samuel’s resolutions had to do with animal husbandry – I think I’ll turn that over to Mr. Morris and Reba. Bekah says she wants to qualify for a Ham radio license – I’ll let Scott see if he can get with Dix on that. Marty and Maddie say they want to start their own radio program – that’s a little over the top but it does have possibilities assuming we monitor what they are saying. Josephine wants to go to the Ringling Museum and try and salvage some of the great works of art there – that’s in Sarasota and I have no clue how we’d accomplish that. Rose wants to go to college – that just about broke my heart. I think she knows that it isn’t realistic but I’m beginning to worry about what kind of nonsense that Rachel might be filling her head with.

Speaking of Rachel she said something nasty to me today that if I had had the energy probably would have resulted in a real-knock-down-drag-out between the two of us. As it is James overheard and the only thing that held him back is that we raised him never to hit a female. I’m sure he is going to say something to Scott, Dix, and Matlock about it and that’s just going to cause more trouble. The longer this clearing of the air takes, the more I’m afraid the resulting fracas will cause irreparable damage.

I just needed some fresh air; I’ve been cooped up more in the last two weeks than I have been in years. It was relatively warm and in the 70s so I didn’t need a heavy winter coat on, and Waleski said it was all right for me to take a short walk so long as I didn’t over do it. I decided to go see how the native fruit trees were doing. James said he’d only been over there once and it made me wonder how much of the fruit was going to waste, if any. I didn’t plan on working, just observing. Honestly, I really didn’t.

So I made my way over to the trees and I noticed a few carambolas on the ground but not a lot of other fruit. I reached up and was touching a couple of the fruit to see how ripe they were and thinking that maybe we have varmints taking away the dropped fruit when along came Rachel. Without even stopping to consider I might have just been looking she starts in on me.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Are you trying to waste all of our time and medicine? How selfish can you possibly be?!!!”

All I could do was stand there stunned. I couldn’t even come up with a smart aleck comeback. I thought things had been getting better between us; not great, but certainly better than this overblown reaction from her.

“No remorse? No rationalization from the omnipotent mother hen?” she kept pushing.

“Look Rachel, I don’t know what you think you’re talking about but Waleski said I could walk out here and that’s all I was doing,” I said trying to defend myself.

“Oh for God’s sake look at you. If we had a proper triage procedure in place you wouldn’t have even gotten any medicine. You would have been given comfort measures and that is all. And good men put themselves at terrible risk to rescue you and those monsters of yours. Don’t you think you owe them a bit more respect than to be out here showing off … yet again.”

I was totally flabbergasted. All I could do was stand there and flap my mouth open and shut like some stupid fish. No sound would come out. I just didn’t have a clue how to respond to this. I had also started shaking pretty bad too, either from cold or reaction to her attack I still don’t know.

“Look at you. That’s a pathetic act but you don’t fool me, not any more. I know just how sneaky and manipulative you can be. You like the way things are. It gives you control and power to be able to tell other people what they should and shouldn’t be doing. You sit in judgment like some goddess.”

I finally found my voice, “Hey, that’s not fair. And what do you mean that I’m sneaky and manipulative? What have I ever done to you to deserve to have you this angry at me and say such stuff?”

“What have you done?! You know how much Dix means to me and you undermine me at every turn. You listen in on conversations that are none of your business. You’ve convinced him that things aren’t going back to normal, that the way we are living now is how it’s going to be from now on. No wonder Junie left, she must have seen what you were doing to Waleski. You've got all the women trying to be like you. Hell, hardly anyone would talk to me when I tried to be part of the group. I am so sick and tired of you being held up as the example of femininity.”

I couldn’t help it. I know it only made things worse but I really couldn’t’ help myself. I laughed as much as wheezing and coughing allowed me to laugh. “Are you crazy?! I’m just me. If no one knew what to say to you it might be because you were doing something you never do, hang out with the girls. And for your information the only man I want to be feminine for is Scott. So if you and Dix are having problems that is between you and Dix. Don’t blame me or bring me into it as an excuse. For goodness sakes you’re 15 years younger than I am. You are a freaking blonde haired, blue eyed Amazon. You’re gorgeous, you’re smart, you’re fit … where is this weird crap coming from? He left Patricia for you and put his relationship with his son in jeopardy ... for you.”

“Listen bitch. You don’t fool me for one second, not any more. I know you. When things get back to normal, when the military comes back in here and takes care of things properly, you will get what you have coming to you.”

She took a threatening step towards me and that’s when James stepped through the bushes, “Get … away … from … my … mother … bitch.”

One, I’ve never heard James swear like that though I suppose most teenage boys make curse words part of their vocabulary at some point, even the ones raised like we tried to raise James. But the thing that really worried me was how much he looked like Scott in that moment. His rifle was slung across his back in its soft case but he still managed to exude menace in a way a sixteen-year-old shouldn’t have. He is definitely his father’s son and when Scott looks like that anyone with any sense plays duck and cover.

Luckily for all of us Rachel still had at least a grain of sense despite a parting shot to say, “Take your mother home where she belongs before she wastes any more of our time and resources.”

I looked at James and managed to grab his arm before he took off after her and said, “Let it go son.”

“No way!” he refused.

“Yes way," I responded. "I appreciate you coming to my defense like that but …"

Outraged he argued, “Mom, she looked like she was going to hit you or knock you down or something!”

I tried to deny the obvious by saying, “Neither one of us can know that for sure. We’ve all had to go through adjustment reactions to deal with what has been happening.”

“That’s no reason … “

Trying to come with a convincing rebuttal I said, "Wait, let me finish. Remember I had to change and let you grow up faster than I was comfortable with. It turned out to be the right thing to do but I have to say it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You know how hard that was on our relationship and on the family there for a while. I didn't exactly take it well, Other people are having to and will continue to have to make adjustments too. In this case Rachel … I don’t know all of what is going on but it’s not good. I’m beginning to think that maybe she thinks things will just go back to the way things used to be.”

“No way," James denied.

“Yeah. Your dad and I have talked about it. It’s really possible that Rachel is in a functioning state of denial. I don’t know why she is fixated on me, but better me than Patricia who is almost six months pregnant or one of the other women who might not be able to handle it.”

James was pretty confused at that point. “And you are letting her teach Rose to be a doctor?! Are you and dad crazy too? She’s already filling Rose’s head with going to college and stuff like that. You know that’s the reason that David has backed off right? He thinks Rose deserves someone better than him, should have the chance to do all she wants to do.“

No, I hadn’t known that. I wondered to myself if people just assumed that I could learn stuff through osmosis. Would it really be that difficult to explain things to me?

Sighing I said, “David has a point about letting Rose grow up but you also have a right to be concerned about what direction that growing up takes and whether she is getting good counsel so that she can make good choices. I’ll talk to your dad about it.”

“Dad’s already talked to David. I mean David actually was the one that brought it up to Dad ‘cause he didn’t want Dad to think he was some kind of scuzz or that he didn’t still love Rose. I overheard Dad talking to Matlock and Dix asking them what the situation was.”

“Great. Am I always going to be the last to know?” I replied in a huff.

“No. I think it’s just that you give people too much credit and expect them to be the best versions of themselves. Dad never expects people to be the best versions of themselves, they have to prove it to him first. Hey, you’re shaking! I’ll walk you back to the house,” he said as he put his arm around my shoulders. Whether to comfort me or shield me from the cool breeze that had begun I didn't want to consider.

James had grown so much in the last couple of months. I felt like a dwarf. James is going to be several inches taller than Scott before too much longer. It was comforting and consternating at the same time to realize that my little boy really was grown. I know it was going to happen eventually, but it wasn’t that many months ago that I used to shout at him to get off of the blasted Xbox 360 and get his homework finished. Now I have to shout at him to get off the blasted Wall, put the gun down, and take a break.

I don’t know what to do about Rose. I’d noticed there was some distance between us over the last week but I just put it down to her being in “medic mode” and needing to maintain some separation so that she could do her job. Now I’m wondering if that’s really all there is to it. I will skin Rachel alive if she is intentionally - or even unintentionally - interfering with my relationship with my kids. That steps way over the line and there will be consequences, mark my words. On the other hand Rose is getting older and does have the right, up to a point, to make her own decisions even if her father and I don’t agree with them. How can we balance her rights as an adult against our wisdom and experience; and then how do we weigh that against the greater good for Sanctuary as a whole?

Problems, problems. But, there are other things that are looking up. In one particular case quite literally. Angus swears that he was drunk, not delusional. He did see something flying in the sky overhead. He was positively adamant about it. When push came to shove – figuratively in this instance – James admitted to hearing something a couple of times at night, but he put it down to zombies doing something screwy and the sound echoing oddly. Then last night Matlock spotted something in the sky but it was too high and it was too dark to tell for sure what it was. He said that it is either a satellite slowly falling out of orbit, or a plan on high altitude reconnaissance. One I could care less about, the other however could mean any number of things for us and thinking about traps me right back into the fruitless speculation that I don’t really have time for.

Add to this the fact that we’ve started to hear a little bit of chatter on the radio and our imaginations could really go into overdrive. The transmissions aren’t clear. In fact they aren’t decipherable at all. But, we are 99% sure that we’re hearing human voices and not some strange feedback effect or some pre-recorded message loop.

From loop to loopy … and that’s how I’m feeling. Loopy. I’m going to bed. Most everyone else is staying awake to greet the new year in some style. Not me. I just want my warm bed and my man to share it with. Maybe I’m getting old, but given how I’ve felt, that’s plenty enough to celebrate.

1 comment:

  1. Kathy in FL thank you for your stories. I seem to pick the ones that are not finished yet (Carry On), so I think I'll try one finished now (hahahhha). I love the narrative style that you use. I can see the people and almost smell the settings that you describe. Thank you and please keep writing.

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