Monday, December 12, 2011

January: Deceit, Destruction, Evolution, Expansion

January: Deceit, Destruction, Evolution, Expansion
Days 154 – 185


Day 154 – Monday (Jan 1)

Right or wrong I haven’t been able to get what Rachel has said off of my mind. It hasn’t helped that our whole family was at odds with one another most of today. I suppose I could blame it all on Rachel but I imagine all families go through periods like this. Something will happen or something will be said and it’s just like static electricity, eventually someone is gonna get a shock. I am just not going to put up with this situation continuing tomorrow. If I have to suck it up and go to Rachel and do a little schmoozing to put things back on an even keel I will. It’s untenable for this to continue as it is given how much we now have to depend on one another.

First thing this morning Rose and James started sniping at each other. From what I gather James said something about Rachel and Rose came to her defense. Then off they went. When Rose got around to telling James he was just too young to understand the situation Scott told her that she was the one being immature about defending a woman that had threatened her mother and that if she kept it up that he’d rethink allowing her to apprentice over at the clinic.

Oh Lord, that set off the fireworks, David got dragged into it and then Rose started to threaten to sleep in the women’s dorm from now on. Rose said some really not nice things but I’m not even sure that at the time she even had a full accounting of what went on yesterday.

Of course Scott decided that he’d had enough. I’d had enough for that matter but I’ve been trying to be better about being confrontational. I certainly didn’t think Scott was going to make the stink he did at breakfast. I can guarantee you that Rachel didn’t expect it.

Scott walked me over and sat me down at our usual table in the mess hall. I was feeling kind of low and I guess it showed. I hate it when there is fighting even though sometimes I’m the one that causes it. Scott is more of a get-it-out-in-the-open-and-deal-with-it type. He’d been trying it my way for the sake of peace; now it was going to be his way.

He walked right over to where Rachel was sitting and conversing with Dixon. She was smiling but it faltered slightly when she saw Scott approaching. I wanted to melt into the ground because I could already sense where it would go. Scott knows I hate that kind of stuff but be was bound to make his point. I really hate to have public confrontations; too much like airing dirty laundry for my comfort.

He looked at her and then pointed at me. “You see that woman over there? That’s my wife. You say jack crap to her that isn’t polite and there will be a problem.”

“Excuse me? You can’t talk to me like that.”

“I just did and I’m not through either. You ever tell her that she is a waste of energy and/or resources again and you can damn sure start doing your own repairs and gathering from here on out. What you have been living off of the last couple of months has at least in part been provided by my family. Sissy has cooked your food, washed your clothes, helped you find medicines that you wanted, and a hundred other things.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said beginning to be shaken that the confrontation was so public. Scott can be vicious mean when someone he cares about is threatened. Part of me wanted him to stop, but I’ll be totally honest and say that there was another part that was going, “Oh please, oh please, oh please let Scott make all this stuff stop.” I don’t care how cowardly that makes me seem, I was nearly to a breaking point and I couldn’t do it all by myself any more.

Scott wasn’t finished. “Girl, don’t lie on top of everything else. James wasn’t the only one that heard all that you said to Sissy yesterday.”

“Your son obviously is too immature to grasp all of the implications. He didn’t understand what I was saying and took it out of context. “

“Rachel I just don’t care about ‘understanding’ your ‘context’ any more. You’ve heard what I said. You stepped way over the line when you started talking about triage and about it being a waste of resources to treat Sissy. Do not threaten my wife or anyone in my family again. You have a job in this community just like everyone else. We may need you for your medical expertise but damn if I’m going to put up with just anything to have it. And here’s another thing, if you start telling lies to my daughter ever, ever again I will make it my business to make your life as much of a misery as I can. And you better believe me when I say this.”

Rachel was starting to really angry. “Sgt. Dixon that man is …”

In a tired voice Dix said, “Rachel, there’s been complaints. He wasn’t bluffing about other people hearing what you said to Sissy. Three other men also over heard what you said and corroborated Scott’s complaint against you. I warned you about this feud you’ve been imagining. I let it go because Sissy was always able to stand up for herself. But right now she isn’t. Not only that, you made it my business, mine and Matlock’s, when you started talking about the fact that we should deny some people medical care and some people not. Hell, we treated those refugees from Hale Hollow. Why shouldn’t we treat one of our own with whatever resources we have?”

“You are seriously taking her side?” Rachel asked in a deadly calm voice.

“I am dealing with a number of complaints that have been brought against you. I’m dealing with them as one of the leaders of Sanctuary because you wouldn’t listen to me when I warned you about it as a friend. You are the one that has left me with no choice.”

“I have a right to know who my accusers are.”

“This isn’t a court Rachel. Just deal with it already and stop making things so hard on yourself and everyone else too.”

“Dammit, who thinks that they have the right to judge … “

Waleksi stood up and said, “It was me Rachel. Dante’, Hank, and I had gone over to the other side of the orange grove to smoke a cigar. I saw Sissy and went over to make sure she wasn’t going to try and sneak in any work. She was just standing and looking at the fruit and at the ground. James must have been watching her from the other side because we didn’t see him until you took a step towards Sissy. Damn Rachel, what did you think you were doing? For that matter, she’s my patient and I don’t consider the time I spent tending to her a waste.”

Rachel looked really shook up. “What is this?! Some kind of protection committee for the beloved Mother Hen? She can take care of herself. Hell, she and Patricia had a few fights and no one intervened.”

Patricia verbally stepped in and said, “Don’t bring me into this. Any problems that Sissy and I had have been worked out. And if you’ll recall I wasn’t exactly stable and in my right mind at the time.”

It took a moment for Patricia’s comments to sink in. “What are you implying?! How dare you accuse me … “

I’d had enough of sitting on the sidelines and feeling pathetic. I sure wasn't going to let Patricia have problems with Rachel, not when she was pregnant and needed her. “Rachel we’ve all had some serious adjustment reactions to go through. I’m definitely including myself in on this. Right now, maybe you're dealing with some stuff …”

“You just don’t like that your daughter likes me better than you. You’re trying to marry her off young and turn her into some little wifey just like you. Well I put a stop to that didn’t I? Not every woman has to do things the way you’re doing them.”

Rose gasped as she started to realize she had been a pawn. Scott and James were getting real bent out of shape and some of the other people were starting to get angry as well. No more, I thought. I held up my hand hoping that people would let me finish. “Leave Rose out of this; Melody too for that matter. I never wanted my girls to limit themselves only to what they saw in my life. I’ve made my own decisions … and my own mistakes … and I expect the girls to do nothing more than learn from them, not replicate them. And Rose’s friendship with David is their personal business. Scott and I hope they wait some but if it doesn’t work out between them we want it to be because they realized it naturally and not because there was undue influence; especially not undue influence out of spite and manipulation.”

“Shut up.”

“That’s enough,” Scott broke in. “Forget the drama and let's get back to my point. You keep a civil tongue in your head when you talk to my family. How other people deal with you is their business, this is how I’m choosing to deal with you from here on out. You and Waleski are the only medical support we have in Sanctuary and I don’t have any choice but to grant you a certain amount of respect for that. But I will not tolerate you messing with my family. I’d rather do without than deal with you any more than necessary.”

Rachel stormed off after that. Scott snorted and rolled his eyes at her and then got me a plate and stared me down until I picked up my fork and started eating. Oh brother I hate appearing weak. I hate hiding behind Scott. But you know? If I’m honest part of me was glad it was out in the open and relieved that Scott had so blatantly taken my side.

The kids were pretty subdued all through breakfast but everyone managed to eat, even me. Scott on the other hand acted like he’d had a weight lifted off and had seconds. I suppose it was rough on him to let things go as long as he had. He’s at least as protective of me as I am of him. Everyone else’s reactions ran the gamut from extreme embarrassment to they could have cared less.

The awful thing is I can’t help but wonder if maybe Rachel doesn’t have a point. I mean I know she has some stuff going on in her own head and that not everything she said is true, but some of the things she said makes me wonder about my own motivations and maybe whether I’m not unduly influencing people. ‘Course that sounds kinda arrogant to think that I could, but still. And the thing about maybe not being properly appreciative of the danger that others have put themselves in on my behalf … yeah, that makes me squirm pretty good. And if I have put myself in a position where I’ve unnecessarily used up resources that could have been put to better use later on? I don’t know, it’s like bugs crawling around in my psyche. I can’t seem to just ignore it.

Rose came home and had a good cry in the late afternoon. Scott brought her home and after she went to lie down he said Rose and Melody had had a real row with Rachel. Looks like Rachel is screwing up left and right. Those two girls all but worshipped the ground she walked on. Yeah, I was jealous up to a point, but I also always knew that Rose’s life was going to be considerably different from my own. Even before NRS I knew that the likelihood of her life and mine bearing anything more than a passing resemblance wasn’t in the cards. I hate like sin that she’s going through this but at least our family is piecing itself back together. Life is just way too short these days for this type of stuff to go on and on.

Rose is still asleep so I never got to ask her specifically what went on but I did talk to Melody. She was pretty upset herself but bearing up better than Rose. She said that Rose confronted Rachel about what she had said to me and asked for … no demanded … an explanation. They got one but it was long, rambling, and so convoluted that Melody didn’t know what to make of it. She said Rachel is really great on one level but on another there is something badly wrong. Waleski must have called for Scott to come over and then Dix showed up too. She didn’t know what went on after Scott brought them home but I imagine we’ll all find out tomorrow.

Like I said, if it takes me making nice to Rachel I will. I just don’t want this stuff to go on anymore. We need all the energy we have to fight for our survival. This is doing none of us any good.

Tomorrow we are going to try and get back on schedule. I’m still on restricted duty but tomorrow is just mending day. I think I can manage to sit on the front porch and do some stitching. Angus said he’d come by and bring the dogs for the kids to play with; try and get their minds off of what has been going on. I know if he could he’d be going with Cease and Jerry to do some hunting. We need fresh meat pretty badly. Between the gardening not getting done and all the lost fruit outside the Wall we are literally eating up our stored foods too quickly. I don’t know how much luck the hunting party will have but even if they only bring back some rabbits that will be better than nothing. We need another safari trip over towards Busch Gardens, if nothing else to see if the zombies came through there.

Well, I’m yawning like crazy. I feel a little less like Old Mother Hubbard tonight but I’m still looking forward to my pillow earlier than everyone else. Scott told me he’d put the kids to bed and make sure that James’ bag was ready for him to take early shift and for me to go on. God I love that man. I think I’d die if anything happened to him.

Day 156 – (Wednesday)

Not much time for writing. There’s no one to complain about me being back on the work rosters now, there’s no choice. Too many can’t work. Those of us that can do something must no matter how difficult. Not one of us remaining in Sanctuary has escaped injury or nearly incapacitating grief. What's left but to put one foot in front of the other? The children, those that are still with us, need us. And we need them to give us purpose.

Yesterday … there are no words for what happened yesterday. We’ve counted our dead, buried them, and now are praying that none of our injured add to the total. We have one missing but I suspect where he has gone and more power to him. May God speed his mission. Damn all pirates and raiders to hell. May they rot in the lake of fire forever and ever amen.

Day 157 – Thursday

This is the hard part. The waiting. The waiting and praying in the darkest part of the night.

There’s hardly any sound in Sanctuary. We weren’t noisy before, we limited our decibels to avoid attracting more infected, but there were normal every day sounds. We were alive. This is almost like the nothingness of the dead, their gapping maws open in roars and screams that will never be heard. Like Sanctuary has become a walking corpse itself.

They must have been casing us. That’s the only explanation. The methodology was too planned out, too specific to our compound. We still can’t tell if the two groups were working in concert or if one decided to steal from the other and feed off of us like a hyena pack on a lion pride’s kill. One from the front, one from the back.

Tuesday started out ordinarily enough. Cease and Jerry left before first light on bicycles; the older man on a three-wheel with a basket and the young man joyously free on a 10-speed Schwin. I didn’t think it the smartest thing to do at the time but both men wanted to see if they could depend on non-motorized transportation for hunting. The fact that they left so quietly is what probably hid them from notice; at least then.

I was buttoning Kitty’s sweater in preparation of taking the kids over to breakfast. Scott and James were both on the Wall and David was stacking wood over at the kitchen and then planned to help Scott secure another two or three sections of poles before lunchtime. Angus had come over with the dogs and Johnnie and Bubby were trying to play with them but the dogs were spooked for some reason. Angus was looking at them perplexed because the dogs always want to play.

Then the world shifted on its axis and nothing will ever be the same again.

Several of us smelled it at the same time, I noted several adults in the pale light of dawn stick their noses in the air and sniff just as the dogs started howling. Then there was a whoosh followed closely by heavy black smoke pouring into Sanctuary on the breeze from the south Wall area. Dix and Matlock were shouting the first order when WHAM! I haven’t heard that much continuously loud noise since before they tore Mabel’s house down. Radios, I still don’t know how many, blaring enough bass to rattle windows. You couldn’t even think for all the noise and smoke much less hear the directions that Matlock and Dixon were trying to shout. Heck, within minutes it was hard to breathe and see; hearing was pretty far down on the list of concerns at that point.

No one is prepared for this sort of ruckus as 5:30 in the morning. There had just been a shift change and people were in the midst of thinking about breakfast and from there onto whatever they had planned for the day. The thick, dark smoke and the music caused everyone to focus their attention; just as it was designed to do. A diversion. One thrown at us so quickly that most of us never even thought about it being a diversion.

Everything was so infernally loud. I’ll never be able to hear Paranoid by Ozzy Osbourne again without thinking of that day and how darkness, death, and destruction closed in on us; on some of us for the last time.

We thought there was a fire. Nearly every man on the Wall and in Sanctuary ran to put it out. But the Wall wasn’t on fire. It was four delivery vans, their tops taken off and filled with tires, doused with fuel (what we had smelled), and then set aflame. The Wall itself was in no danger of catching. That odd fact only added to the confusion.

While we were all focused on the billowing black smoke a car hauler backed up to the front gate area. James, who had stayed put at the farthest NW guard tower, fired off a few warning shots, hitting one of the intruders who subsequently tumbled to the ground, but it was too late. Armed pirates began to pour over the top of the gate using the car hauler’s ramp like stairs. The sides had metal plates welded to it and provided too much protection for those few still on the Wall to make any good shots.

When I heard the shots and saw the raiders I started screaming at the kids to get in the house and go to the center, to our storm room. I thrust Kitty into Rose’s hands while Melody hauled Sis and Belle in by their little arms. Everyone knew the drill. Women and children were to converge on our house since it was still the most defendable in Sanctuary. And praise be, Scott hadn’t opened the shutters back up yet because he’d been too busy. That saved me some time that I used to make sure my pistol and rifle were fully loaded and within easy reach.

Then an explosion ripped the morning wide open, the percussion nearly bowling me over, slamming me hard into the front door's frame. It was one of our buildings near the front. I couldn’t tell which. It wasn’t but a second before debris began raining down all over the compound.

There was lots of gunfire by this time from all over the compound. The bastards had really done it; they were inside. I wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t going to bolt the door until I was sure that no one else was coming but I knew I didn’t have much time left to make the choice. I had the rifle out and safety off but couldn’t tell whether the shapes moving in the grayness were friend or foe. Finally, out of the smoke came Waleski carrying Patricia.

“Get her inside and if Rose and Melody are here just tell them to do their best. I’ve got to help … ,” he gulped but didn’t finish what he was going to say which did not bode well and scared the heck out of me. “Just tell Rose and Melody to be prepared, I’ll bring those that I can back here.” Then he disappeared back into the smoke.

I had finished handing a nearly insensible Patricia off to the girls when Angus burst through smoke half carrying, half covering Rhonda. “Here’s another one. The bastards are all over the place and our people are scattered. Get inside, I’ll cover the front. The dogs are guarding the rear. Mayhem and Butch have a guy down back there tearing him apart. Keep Pup out from under foot or the mood they're in they might forget she's a friend. Keep the kids away from being able to see anything, Uncle Angus is right pissed off.”

I got out of Angus’ way after setting a full canteen of water just inside the door. He knew what he was doing and sure as heck didn’t need my help. I knew for a cold hard fact that he’d die before he let anyone cross that threshold that would harm the children. Even Rose and Melody calmed down when they realized who was covering the door.

It was at that point that I began wondering where was Scott, where was James, where was David. Round and around and around in my head those questions danced. I tried to place them when the gunfire started but they could have moved anywhere. I knew James had still been in the NW tower because I heard him yell the warning followed by shots from that position. I had no idea if he was still there or not. Scott was supposed to be on the Wall too. But David was over by the kitchen. I hadn't seen him.

I made my way out to the carport hoping to catch a glimpse of a familiar face. After a few moments Brandon tumbled out of the smoke with Josephine in his arms. I ran out to grab them and bring them to safety and nearly ran into Jack.

“Sissy have you seen Patricia?!”

“She’s inside with Rose and Melody.”

He all but sagged in relief. “Tell her … tell her … “

“Come in and tell her yourself,” I said as I tried to tow him along the same way I was doing Brandon.

“Can’t. I’m hooking with up Dante’ and we’re going to do our best to keep any more from coming in the rear. That should give the others more time to take care of the ones inside the Wall,” and he was off, disappearing into the smoke.

I had no choice but to let him go and deal with Brandon. Tears streamed down his eyes, blood from several small facial cuts flowing with them.

“Sissy, a piece of debris came down and landed on the cook stove. There was this huge flash. Josie was looking straight at it. She says she can’t see.”

All I could think of was to get them both inside and give Josephine to Rose and Melody and hope that Rachel and Waleski would show up soon.

I glanced at Angus’ back but he was too busy to ask anything of. I could hear bullets pinging off the metal shutters and concrete block. I refused to think about that and then did something that I knew I had to. I went over to Rose, took her in my arms and gave her a hug.

Rose knew immediately what I was planning, “No mom … no … no you can’t!”

“Listen to me. There are people out there that need help. Some of them might not be able to get here on their own. You two are all the medical help we have right now. I’m going to get the injured and bring them back here.”

“But … but what about us?!”

“This is for you sugar. I want you to know I trust you. I trust you to do this. And you have to trust me to do what I have to do. Angus is protecting the front. The dogs are covering the rear although it’s unlikely anyone could get in that way anyway. Brandon?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’m counting on your too. I need you to hang out in the carport area and take in anyone that needs help. Angus is too busy and too focused. This is important. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I gave Rose and the other kids a hug and then told Brandon, “Ok, follow me out.”

When we got out of earshot I added, “Brandon, don’t you dare let anyone get to the girls. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes, ma’am. There were men like that in the refugee camps when we were still in south Florida. I saw what happened to some … I won’t let anyone hurt them. I won’t. I promise.”

“I know you won’t son. Make sure you keep Scott's shotgun handy and here is an ammo can. They're reloads from Mr. Morris. Scott says it’s a mule kicker so be ready for it. Just make sure you know what you're shooting at.”

As I turned to leave he grabbed my arm. “If you see my dad … I think it was our house. The explosion. I think it was our house. I recognized pieces of wallpaper that came out of the sky. If you see my dad, tell him, tell him I’m OK.”

I tucked the possibility down in my mind. I think Brandon must have already suspected – felt – that his family was in trouble. The look in his eyes was bleak.

First on my mind though was James. I had a horrible feeling. It was squeezing my heart in a vice.

There was no way I could go around front of the house. I wasn’t about to get between Angus and whatever he was aiming at. I was feeling bullet-proof but only up to a point. I hope to heavens that I’ve left stupid behind a long time ago.

So, using the carport and the east fence as cover, I made my way behind and around our property, aiming for my path through the orange grove. It is quite hidden because we’ve left the rest of the orange grove pretty overgrown, saving the grass for animal fodder.

I could hear the dogs in the backyard … and screaming. They were obviously still doing their doggie duty. I hope that whoever they took out that they’d complete disable the corpse. I didn’t want to come home to find zombies on the lanai.

I made it to the middle of the north fence before I had to deal with any problems on my own. Two raiders came out of the smoke. One asked in a nakedly nasty sing song voice, “Well, what do we have here Leo?”

The other leered and responded, “Looks like a little fun Tad. Right when we decided to go on break too. Must be a sign.”

Dumbasses the both of them. They talked like a couple of white collar schmucks that had gone to the darkside. Too bad for them. I didn’t have a light saber but my machete proved to be just a deadly. Swipe one took ol’ Leo’s head off. Swipe two did the same for pretty boy Tad. Their heads might reanimate but they weren’t going anywhere if they did.

I know I should have been horrified at how easily I killed. Looking back at it now I kinda am, but only kinda. At the time, not at all. They were in my way. Not only were they in my way but they were threatening rape or worse. If I’d had time to waste I would have handed them their little boy parts on a platter before taking care of their other pea-sized heads.

I plowed on through the heavy smoke wondering when the stuff was going to start dissipating. It was noxious and coated the inside of my throat as badly as the inside of my nose. Through the orange grove, through the native fruit grove. On the other side of the last tree the smoke thinned out and then a breeze carried it up and out of my way.

I fell to my knees in shock. The NW corner of the Wall was gone. It wasn’t a huge gap, about two people wide, but it was still there. Anyone and anything could walk right in. Then I realized, if I could see the NW corner of the Wall was missing I should have been seeing the NW guard tower.

No, no, no, no, no. I ran over. It was like someone had kicked over a bunch of tinker toys. It was just in pieces. In the center, sticking out from under the tarp that used to keep the wind and sun off of him, my son’s leg protruded. Slowly I moved over and lifted back the tarp; it crackle as I pushed it to the side. His foot, then his leg, the waist band of his jeans were soaked in blood. I vaguely remember crying out, but I couldn’t stop. I had to know. The back of his t-shirt was filthy with sand and debris. Then he shuddered … and groaned. Zombies don’t groan. I yanked the tarp the rest of the way off. His face was battered but his eyes were open.

I must have started laughing like a loon. My boy was alive! He was trying to say something but his lip was split pretty good. I leaned down.

“Mom … Mom …”

“Momma’s here baby. Give me a sec to think and I’ll get you out.”

“No … Mom … “

“Honey, save your strength.”

“Mom! … look …”

“What baby? Do you need something? Are you in pain?”

“Mom …. look … out.”

It took me a crucial second to register what he was saying. Somewhere along the way I must have learned my lesson because by the time I had rolled around and faced the threat I had my Mark III out and the safety off.

Coming our way at a trot were two raiders. One had once been fairly obese but now had lots of sagging flesh flapping over his belt and below the hem of his shorts. The other was never overweight and in fact was all but emaciated. This raider group was either really bad at what they did or these two were on the bottom of the pecking order. They obviously weren’t getting their three squares a day.

“You think that little shits dead this time?”

“He better hope for his sake that he is. Samson is pissed off in the extreme. That kid has taken out over a dozen of our top guys. “

The once fat man shuddered and said, “Yeah. Look, if he ain’t dead let’s put him out of his misery.”

“Are you out of your mind?! If Samson found out we’d be the one in the iron maiden.”

They both shuddered. And I must have lost it. They were NOT touching my son. Blam. One down. Blam. Dang, I missed that time. Blam, blam, blam. That skinny guy sure could weave and dodge but I’d had enough. Apparently so had James. Even injured he was a better shot than I’d ever be. Bloody, laying on his gun, he still managed a head shot on a moving target.

But the jarring of the gun was too much for him. He cried out in pain and all but tried to curl into a fetal position.

A snapping in the bushes had me spinning around again, gun ready.

“Whoa! Sissy, don’t shoot!!!”

It was Waleski. As soon as he saw that I had the gun under control he rushed over to James. “Damn Sissy, what do you put in your family’s Wheaties?! Matlock saw the tower go and he said there was no way that James could have survived it.”

“Then why are you over here?” I asked shocked and immediately angry that they had just labeled James as a casualty without making sure.

“Scott.” But when he said it something in me starting shaking.

“You mean Scott sent you over here to make sure.”

His hesitation, though brief, had me ready to scream. “No.”

“Where is he? Where is he?!”

“Sissy calm down, there’s nothing you can do … “

“Don’t you say that. Don’t you dare say that. Where is he?!!!”

He looked up to the palisade between what used to be the NW guard tower and the right front gate tower.

An arm hung off the palisade. I knew that arm. I knew the shirt. I knew the wedding ring on the hand. “No. No. No.” That’s all I could say.

“Sissy we need to get James out of here. I need to get him someplace so I can patch him up. Dix is trying to re-take the gate towers. As soon as he does we’ll get up there and get to him. There’s just no way to do it right now. We CAN get James to safety.”

No one will ever know how hard it was for me to just leave him there. Not having seen his face. Not knowing for sure.

The only thing that got me moving was the sure knowledge that had our positions been reversed I would have expected Scott to do what had to be done.

“Sissy, this is going to hurt him but I don’t have any choice. You’re too short to carry him. We could put him on a travois but if we had to move fast we might have to abandon him. And someone has to act as security. Sissy, are you listening to me?”

I nodded, still looking at Scott’s out stretched hand. Then I shook myself. “What do you need from me?”

“I’m going to put him across my shoulders and carry him back to your place. I’ll be as gentle as possible but it’s going to hurt him. I’ll be honest, I could be doing as much harm as good but I don’t see any other choice at this point. I’m not going to move any faster than I have to but we’ve gotta move. They’ll be sending someone after those two. You’re going to need to keep an eye out for the enemy and help me get through the bushes. Can you do that?”

I’ve never been in such a cold place in my life. All of my warmer emotions seemed to have frozen up. I told him, “There’s nothing I won’t do to save my son. And anyone that tries to get in the way of that better pray they’ve taken care of everything they need to do in this life because they’ll shortly be leaving it.”

Waleski’s eyebrows disappeared into his hair line. “All righty then. James, listen up kid, this is going to hurt like a sumbitch. But we gotta move as quiet as possible so try and keep it down as hard as that might be. If you pass out, don’t worry about it. Just try not and puke. That won’t be fun for either one of us. OK, here we go.”

Waleski wasn’t a big man, but he was deceptively strong. He had James up and across both of his shoulders in a fireman’s carry in just a few seconds. Amazingly enough, except for a few problems walking through the loose sand in the orange grove, we didn’t have any problems getting back to the house. All the action seemed to have settled in at the front gate area with another small pocket of fighting at the rear gate.

Brandon covered us so we could come me in safely. There were more permanently dead in front of our house than any other location I had seen thus far. Angus had done what he set out to do … and so had Brandon.

Seeing us Brandon said in relief, “Please check on Uncle Angus. I think he’s hit. They tried to rush the house about 15 minutes ago. A couple of them got close enough that Angus took ‘em on hand-to-hand with that big club of his. Then some guy let off some buckshot and I heard Angus start swearing really loud. Some guy went flying backwards into the yard with his head bashed in but I haven’t heard anything else in five minutes or so. I was just about to go check on him except there are some raiders over behind those bushes and I was afraid if I left my post … “

“Hold steady kid,” Waleski told him. “You did good. Give me time to put James down and I’ll check on Angus too.”

I called for Rose and Melody and they rushed in to help with James. The girls were both already exhausted. Sarah calling from another room yelled, “Rose! Mrs. Murial is making that funny sound again!”

Waleski looked a question at Rose and she said, “I think she is stroking out.”

“Shit! Do what you can for James. Where is she?”

“On the floor in the girls’ bedroom,” she answered as she started to cut away James’ clothes.

I knew what that meant and confirmed it when I saw Rose had put some kind of bit in Murial’s mouth and strapped her arms and legs down to a makeshift stretcher.

“Sissy, help me get her to the carport. She’s about to expire and the undertaker’s tool isn’t something even I can stomach to use in a damn frilly pink canopied bed.”

Moving as quickly as we could we hauled the stretcher out of the house and away from the children. Passing through the house I saw Angus wave to me as Melody was bandaging his left bicep. Josephine and Maddie were both lying on the floor in the living room. Josephine had her eyes covered. The right side of Maddie’s face from below her eye to her jaw line was an angry, seeping burn. Callie Morris sat there holding a thick, blood-soaked towel to her big brother Clay’s head. Reba was tending to her father who was deathly pale and whose left hand was oddly bandaged and held tight to his body. Rilla sat rocking her two year old son Ty who was pale and limp.

“My God! Where’s Rachel? She should be here. Is she getting supplies from the hospital?”

“No.”

“No? Is there another group of injured people she’s bringing in?”

“Rachel’s not coming.”

“What do you mean she’s not … Oh no. Oh no. What happened?”

“It was the explosion. Everything was already crazy and when the explosion went off … You know how it works. Rachel and I are supposed to grab our gear and be ready. Rachel and I were both running for the hospital when we realized it was raiders. The explosion knocked me on my ass. I turned around to make sure she could get to her feet." He gulped for air, sounding suspiciously close to tears. "It was a piece of something metal. It … it caught her in the back of the head Sissy. She wouldn’t have felt a thing and it was instantaneous. Now I’m it. Dammit Sissy, I’m all there is. She was the better medic, had more training, lived and breathed this stuff. She wanted to be a doctor, would have been a great one. Now y’all are stuck with just me. Hell of a thing that is.”

I lost what little breath I had left. There were so many things wrong with that scenario I didn’t know where to start. But I didn’t have time to deal with it right then. Waleski was on the raw edge of something … panic maybe … but still trying to hold himself together.

“I have confidence in you. You are the one we’ve always chosen to treat people in our family. We’ll figure it out.”

“Sissy, I don’t know if I can do this. But damn if I’ll just give up without a fight. Just don’t expect miracles.”

“Of course not. Miracles aren’t man made,” I told him.

He just looked at me and shook his head. “Geez. Half the time I don’t know what to say to you. “

“It’s a talent,” I said trying to egg him on a little bit.

“Humph. Are you up for this? It’s not pretty.”

“Is she really going to turn?”

“Probably. Sissy you know that over 95% of first-deaths result in NRS reanimation. It would be nice to say it wasn’t going to happen to those we know and care about but you know damn good and well we can’t take that chance,” Waleski started out angrily.

“Easy. I was just checking what I thought I knew, not questioning your diagnosis. I know the facts even if I don’t like them. Is this a stroke or what?”

“Probably 'or what.' I think it’s a seizure and not a stroke. She had a history of them but according to Jerry hadn’t had one in over ten years. They never found out what caused them and when the seizures stopped they stopped looking for a medical reason for them. Damn, there she goes.”

The last seizure had been too much for Murial’s body and she died. Almost instantly however you could see her reanimating. It’s hard to describe but you can tell that somehow for a moment no one is home anymore and then suddenly someone is, but it’s the wrong someone.

Waleski touched the tool to the top of the head and turned it on. I’d seen how the tool worked before and saying it wasn’t pretty was an understatement. A piston like rod punctures the skull and enters the brain. A small fan of wire blades drops out of the rod and begins to spin. Fifteen seconds is all it takes if the puncture is made at the top of the skull. The wires basically shred the brain center and cause enough damage that NRS does not have enough connections to manipulate the host body. The body is still infectious for some time but cannot reanimate.

We placed Murial’s body and the sheets we had carried her in inside an NRS body bag. That’s the one thing that doesn’t seem to be in short supply these days. Those cheap bags designed specifically to keep fluids in until an infected body can be appropriately disposed of. I’d cry for Murial later. Right now there was simply too much other pain that came first. Like my fear that I'd have to stand by while someone did this to Scott.

By that time we had two confirmed dead – Rachel and Murial – several injuries and a lot of missing and unaccounted for. I stood up and started to leave the carport.

“Where the hell do you think you are going?” Waleski demanded.

“I’m going back to Scott.”

“Are you out of … you see what’s going on. Matlock and Dix, probably all the men, are taking the fight to the enemy. You hear that gunfire?! You have no idea what you’d be walking into. I can’t go with you!”

“I didn’t ask you to come. I know you have bigger responsibilities than to babysit me.”

“What the hell am I suppose to tell your kids?! And Angus will chew my ass if I let you go out there alone.”

“Tell my kids that I’m going after their Dad. Tell Angus I said for him to think about what he’d do if he was in my shoes. Move Brandon, and no, you’re not coming with me. You’re needed for security here. You promised me you’d keep the girls safe.”

Without looking back I made my escape and hauled butt to the orange grove and then stopped in the tall grass and tried to pull a plan together in my head. As I was thinking a decomposing hand grabbed my arm in a painfully tight grip. A shambler. It probably came through the gap in the Wall, attracted by all the noise. That’s all we needed on top of everything else.

The Mark III was in my hand and I pulled the trigger at point blank range of the corpses forehead. One down and I thought please God don’t let there be any more to go.

If I was going to get to Scott I didn’t see that I had any choice but to get closer to the fighting. I took a second to reload the Mark III, re-check the rifle, and make sure that my machete was ready too. I then stopped to listen, really listen, to what was going on around me. Waleski was right, walking blindly into battle would not be a good way of surviving it. The fighting was still mainly focused at the two gates but now that I was really listening I could hear confrontations occurring in other parts of the compound.

There was more gunfire close to our house that must have started right after I ran off. I put them all in God’s hands and had to trust that Angus and Brandon could hold on.

Then I could tell another small battle seemed to be going on in the NE corner of the compound. That would be the Morris households. That’s one family that would not go down without a fight.

I had determined to get closer to Scott by going straight across the grove and then behind the houses between me and the Wall. No one must have thought a lone female would be crazy enough to do what I was doing. Scratch crazy … determined enough to do what I was doing. I passed a group of raiders and they never even noticed me squatting down behind a bunch of azalea bushes. They were too busy looking around in jerky, frantic movements. Something sure had spooked them.

I was about to move on when shots rang out dropping three of the four intruders. I froze and watched Matlock step out of the smoke and drop the fourth with the butt of his rifle. He then took an ax and with several solid whacks made sure they would never rise again.

I thought to reveal myself before I got a look at Matlock’s face. He was in a different place. Over the last couple of months I’d begun to suspect that no one in their right mind would really want to make Matlock lose his temper. He could be fiercely protective. He tried to hide it most of the time with humor but no one was laughing now. Before I could make up my mind Matlock put the ax back on a belt loop and hefted his rifle and disappeared into the smoke once again.

As scared as that episode should have made me it was actually comforting in a bizarre way. If we were going down we were by glory not going down without a fight. Every possible attempt was going to be made to hurt the enemy ten times as badly as they hurt us. The only retreat was one to regroup and come back even more vicious and determined than before.

With a renewed sense of confidence I turned to get closer to Scott … and nearly ran into a raider that was tracking Matlock. Here was my chance to save the man that had many times over protected my family.

I thought no sense in drawing any notice to myself. The name of this game was to do as much damage before anyone realized you were there and then move on like a ghost. I pulled the machete and suffered a huge disappointment for my over confidence. The guy was wearing some kind of metal neck guard. Now that I’ve had time to ruminate on the mistakes I made that day I realize he probably wore it as zombie protection. But at the time I took it as some strange effort to humiliate me personally. I did hit him hard enough to make him gag which is probably the only thing that saved me. He bent over, forcing me to step back. This guy's buddy stepped forward at that exact moment and pulled the trigger of a very big, very loud shotgun.

If I hadn’t backed up I would have caught the full brunt of both barrels of the shotgun blast. Instead the blast messily took most of the head off of raider #1. Major ewwww factor. Luckily for me raider #2 was standing in shock looking at the mess he had made and was not wearing a fancy neck brace. Whack! And that was all she wrote. Better luck next time sucker. I think I was getting a bit adrenaline drunk by that time. My reaction certainly wasn’t a normal one.

I crept around two more houses and didn’t have any further encounters. The closer I got to Hank and Trish’s house the more damage I saw and the more debris that littered the ground. And then I saw it; or rather I saw the remnants of it. The house had been blown off of its foundation. The concrete slab was cracked and broken apart. There was … stuff … everywhere. I stopped under a large oak to figure out a way to cross the now open expanse of ground when something fell from above to land across my arm that I had leaned on the tree with.

One look and reality slammed back into place. Gone was the high from the adrenaline rush I had been feeling. Gone was the protective cocoon my mind had woven. I’m a country girl. I know what chitterlings looked like before they are cooked. I was heaving and gagging before I even thought about it. I jumped back and slung the length of intestines off of me as quickly as I could. That made it at least three dead. Whose guts those actually were I didn’t know.

Now I could see bloody bits and pieces mixed with the flotsam of household goods that was spread all over.

I hate being snuck up on. The hand on my shoulder nearly gave me a heart attack and I raised my machete in self defense.

“Ya miss me?”

I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I looked over my beloved’s shoulder to see McElroy and Dix grinning like fools.

I wrapped Scott in my arms and said, “Don’t you EVER do that again. Scott Michael Chapman you had me more scared than … more scared than … “

“More scared than I was when I realized you and the boys were stuck out in the horde?”

I just broke down crying at that point and hugged him all the harder.

“Easy Babe. I’m a little busted up.”

As fast as I could ask the questions he answered. He’d been on the Wall trying to get to James when the Pirate called Samson had tossed a couple of charges into Hank and Trish’s house. Their house is the closest to the Wall on that end. The explosion knocked Scott into the Wall itself, slamming him hard enough to knock him unconscious. The explosion also weakened the supports on the guard tower. Rather than get to a safer position, James had remained and continued to fire, covering his father’s helpless body and taking out as many of the enemy as he could. He certainly irritated the pirate, especially when at least two of his shots would have taken him out if other men hadn't stepped into the line of fire. Finally a smaller charge was lobbed at the tower’s base collapsing it completely.

Scott came to while Waleski and I gathered James to take him away to safety. He said he could hear us but he was still too stunned to move. After we left, he slowly inched over to the broken place in the Wall, drawing as little notice to himself as possible.

As he was attempting to climb down, David and Cease showed up and helped him down the rest of the way. They also helped him get to our house. They met up with Dix and McElroy right before they reached the carport. Of course this was only to discover I had just taken off again.

After Waleski gave Scott a quick exam and found nothing more than some pretty severe contusions the five men headed back to look for me, knowing I would totally freak out when I didn’t see Scott on the palisade. On their way they ran into Matlock. Now six, the men formulated a quick plan that echoed the Pirate’s own original diversion. When I heard this I could hear Rachel again saying that I didn’t show enough appreciation for the people who put their lives at risk for me. I shut that voice down as quickly as I could. I had enough on my mental plate as it was.

Scott, Dix, and McElroy came to find me and to keep me out of the trouble that was brewing. David and Cease took some of the homemade bombs that Matlock had been experimenting with and escaped out the broken place in the Wall. This time the diversion was going to be a distraction for the pirates. Matlock … well Matlock continued to take the battle to the intruders. Those that got in his way were shown no mercy. Now that Scott and I had been hooked back up, Dix and McElroy ghosted into the smoke to do their own bit of damage to our enemies.

Scott pulled me into his arms one more time now that the other men were gone and gave me a kiss that made the stars fall out of the sky. Wowee; I can still remember the taste of the acrid smoke on both of us but I was passed caring. Everyone in our immediate family had been accounted for. James and Scott were the only injuries thus far and Scott was up and walking. When I mentioned this to Scott he told me that David was bruised up pretty good too.

“He’s a scraper that kid. Took on a guy twice his size when his gun jammed. Waleski showed up and shot the guy but not before David had put up a good fight and given some of us a chance to get into a better position.”

“Hmmm. That must have been part of what set Waleski off. He wanted to know what we fed our kids.”

Scott gave a dark chuckle and we did our own fade into the smoke and were heading for the native grove when three large explosions, one right after the other, went off outside the front gate. Scott and I hesitated and looked at each other. We both sent up silent prayers for David and Cease's safety.

I don’t know why I had to start shaking at that moment. I’m one of those people that are fine during an emergency or a crisis but after everything should be fine I come apart. While everyone else was crying and rushing around like crazy on our wedding day, I was calm and as cool as a cucumber; totally serene. We say our vows and walk back to the vestibule of the church to the applause and well-wishes of everyone in the church and as soon as we got to the changing room I fell apart for no reason and couldn’t stop crying for nearly five minutes. There are some days when I don’t even make sense to myself.

After over 20 years though Scott was used to it and just hid us in some overgrown shrubbery and let me have my momentary breakdown.

“Oh Scott, I’m sorry. It’s just everything hit me now that I know you aren’t …. “ I couldn’t even finish saying it. “We have three dead and … “

“More,” Scott sighed.

“More what. More? You mean more than three dead on our side?”

“Yeah. Who are you counting?”

“Murial, Rachel, and whoever was in Hank’s house.”

“I didn’t know about Murial. They got Jerry outside the Wall when Cease and he came back on the run after hearing the explosion. No one has seen Hank or Trish. Maddie said they were still in the house when it exploded. She had been taking out their chamber pot which was why she wasn’t in the house. The kid has a burn on her face from a piece burning curtains that landed on her.“

He paused but he didn’t sound finished. “They got Marty too. The kid might have been alright if he could have kept his smart mouth closed. We were almost to him when with one smart comeback and he was shot with no warning. Tom, Bo, and Laura are missing. We can’t find them anywhere. That’s one of the reasons that Matlock is so crazy. Becky has Jenny and we can’t find them either. You can add Dante’, Jim, and Jack to the list of the missing as well.”

“Oh God," I moaned. "But you might be able to take Dante’ and Jack off the list of missing, I saw Jack right after Waleski brought in Patricia. He said he and Dante’ were going to cover the rear gate area.”

“OK. Jim may be with the Morris families or hooked up with someone else. Or even off fighting on his own. I won’t count him down just yet. He’s tough as old shoe leather.”

“That’s … that’s six confirmed dead from our group,” I said beginning to shake all over again.

“Yeah, and if you’ve been in the house you see that’s only part of our problem. Waleski can’t believe it but he doesn’t think James has actually broken anything. He may have a cracked rib or two but mostly he is just had the wind knocked out of him and is badly bruised. Probably a concussion as well which is the worst of it next to a long gash on his scalp.”

“You’d be so proud of your son. Even as hurt as he was he still managed to save me.”

“I AM proud of him. Damn but we must’ve done something right. He stayed at his post when the rest of us got caught by the diversion. Then he gave us a warning and managed to inflict a pretty heavy toll on the group that was coming over the Wall in front.”

“What can we do from here on? I want to check on the kids but at the same time I just don’t feel right about not trying to locate the missing. They could be hurt.”

“One thing at a time Babe. Matlock and Dix are professionals and they’ve been trained in street fighting. Dix has all that experience from the Middle East. Matlock and McElroy are the same. The best we can do for them is to stay out of their way.”

“But … “

“But me no buts, Babe. However, if you promise not to run off and leave me wondering where you are we’ll head back towards the Morris house and see if they need any help. But I want to do it by way of our house to see if any more made the rendezvous.”

Once I understood the plan and had something I could focus on I did better. A quick detour to the house revealed that Jim had had Becky and the kids under his wing since the first explosion. They had been pinned down on the other side of the street by gunfire coming from what had started to appear a totally separate group.

Jim explained, “You shoulda seen the mess we just saw mate. Another tic of the clock and I figure things are going to get more interesting than we can stand. That group at the front and the group at the back ain’t friends from what I can see. They shoot at each other as much as they shoot at us. We got caught between a group from each side. It took a while but they finally lost interest in us and got cheesed off with each other. Now they’ve got a real argy bargy going.”

Scott look like he had lost what Jim was saying. Doing my wifely duty I translated. Scott gave me the exasperated husband look and said, “I know what he said Sissy, geez. I’m just having a hard time believing it.”

Jim laughed, “Believe it mate. We could put the billy on and sit back and let ‘em tear each other’s arses up. Would make for quite a show. Aw hell though, where’s the fun in that? I’d best go see how the Viking is doing. Take ‘em a beer and calm him down some. He looks like he’s about to blow.”

Jim wasn’t kidding either. Angus did look like he was about to go off like Mt. Vesuvius. Scott went with Jim and I went to check on Waleski. He’d looked like he was just about ready to blow too.

I found him with Patricia and Rhonda. The room was dark so it was hard to make out their expressions. I cleared my throat and Patricia answered with a weak smile. “I’m OK. No labor so far but this man is turning out to be a bigger mother hen than you are Sissy. Tell him to go fuss over someone else for awhile.”

I walked in and asked both women, “You two OK?”

This time it was Rhonda who answered me but most of her old spark was gone. “I am. Patricia says she is. Have you seen … “

“Dammit. Sissy I don’t want them upset. They need to stay quiet and still for a while.”

“Easy Waleski. They’ll be better off for a little news. I’ve had five of my own and it’s the stuff you don’t know that causes more anxiety than the stuff you do.” Turning and facing them both I told them, “As far as I know both men are OK. Jack is at the rear gate and McElroy is up near the front gate. Both men are doing their job and wouldn’t want you two to worry. I know that sounds stupid. I’ve felt the same thing when Scott has said it to me. But just take it easy and trust they know what they’re doing.”

After a little more chitter chatter I walked out of the room with Waleski. “How are you holding up? Are there any supplies or anything else you need?”

Waleski at his most charming answered, “I need about 10 years of medical school and six more personnel to help me. You got that handy?”

A quiet voice from behind me said, “’Ski, why don’t you take a break. The girls and I can handle it for a second. Go wash your face if nothing else.”

And Waleski actually went. I couldn’t believe it. Rilla gave me a tired smile. “He doesn’t mean it half the time you know. He’s just under a lot of stress.”

I smiled thinking that love blossoms at the darkest of times. “I know he doesn’t mean it and it doesn’t bother me. How’s Ty, he wasn’t looking good last time I was in here.”

“He’s fine thank God. That big man, the one they call Samson, jerked him out of my arms and threw him against the house. My two year old baby. What kind of rabid animal does that? You can guess what the bastard wanted from me. Grandad got hurt trying to save us. Aunt Reba unloaded a shotgun into the two guys that were with Samson and the cowardly pile of dung run off. Aunt Reba and I got Grandad and Ty over here as quick as we could. ‘Ski had to … he had to cut off Grandad’s thumb and pointer on his left hand. He lost a lot of blood but there wasn’t any help for it. Those evil monsters shot the ends of them off.”

“Oh no. Oh Rilla … “

“No don’t. We’re all alive and that’s more than some can say. We finally got Clay’s head to stop bleeding and Callie is holding up better than I ever thought. Everyone else is hold up back at the house and picking off any raiders that come in the back area. You wanna see James?”

“Yes, please! Which room is he in.”

“He’s in his own bed and Bekah and the little boys are lying down in there too to keep an eye on him. He kept trying to get up and get back in the fight.”

“That sounds like his Daddy.”

“That sounds like his Daddy and his Momma,” Rilla said with a tired smile.

Oh James looked rough, but he’d finally decided to do as he was told and stay put. Probably because he was stiffening up and couldn’t move as quickly as he would have needed to. I left him resting though awake so that Bekah could check on him to make sure the concussion wasn’t more serious than expected. I gave him just enough information to satisfy him but not enough to get him wound back up. He could hear the constant sound of gunfire and explosions from outside. Scott came in right as I was thinking of a good exit strategy. Another minute and we both left him as Waleski came in to check him over once again.

We had just stepped back out onto the carport and Scott was opening his mouth to say something when Angus, Jim, and Brandon began firing. They were giving cover to the Morris family who were coming in. Kevin and Betty were helping Clark along and J. Paul was carrying his cousin Claire who bounced limply in his arms.

Kevin gasped, “They’re going crazy out there. Shooting at each other, fighting amongst themselves, it's every man for himself, and we’ve got a small horde – maybe three dozen zombies – at the back gate that are going to be inside in short order.

Scott and I just looked at each other. What was there to say? All of the racket was bound to draw out the remaining stragglers left over from the Big Horde. It wouldn’t be luck to not have zombies, it would be a blazing miracle. The luck was that there were no Ragers or any other of the bizarre types of zombies in with the ones that had shown up.

Angus and Jim joined us for a quick conference. With the majority of our people now in our house we thought it a good time to pull in the welcome mat and lock it down. If the enemy had discovered that most of our people were in a single building things could have gotten nasty fast. Fortuitously they didn't appear that smart ... although later we found out that they wanted the women and children alive for slave labor and, well, other things.

Brandon, Kevin, and J. Paul became lead defenders for the location. Everyone else in the house that was mobile made weapons and ammo handy just in case more help was needed. James talked someone into moving him to the front room where we had cut a gun slot in one of the shutters. Patricia and Rhonda, as well as the youngest kids, were moved back into our storm room. We dropped the roll-down door on the front and then exited through the pantry and into the carport. The security door into to the house from that entrance was dropped and locked.

None of the men were exactly excited about me coming with them but each one had run into my stubborn streak enough to know that it would have been a waste of time and energy to try and talk me out of it. Jim and Angus wished Scott luck and gave him the male version of “better you than me fella” while I handed them some carb bars, jerky, and a couple of water cubes. After they stowed the energy food they went out separately on their own search and destroy mission.

I hefted the backpack I had stuffed with similar energy foods like I had given to Angus and Jim and waited for Scott’s next move.

“You ready?” he asked.

“I’m following your lead,” I answered.

We decided against going to the front gate area, at least for now, as it sounded like things were heating up with more automatic gun fire. That was our military guys. And it didn’t sound like it too Angus or Jim long to find some trouble of their own to get into. We took the zombies as our priority. We knew how to eradicate zombies and if we did that then it would leave the others free to do what they were best at.

Scott had his AK47 and I had my little .22 and the safeties were off. Naturally Scott would be able to do much more damage with his rifle than I would with mine, but I simply hadn’t gotten the hang of staying on my feet when shooting the weapons with heavier recoils. Everyone had tried to teach me but more often than not I still wound up on my backside. No one could figure out what I was doing wrong because if I had someone bracing me from behind I was just fine, even if all they did was to put their hand on my shoulder. It was James who said I was shifting my center of gravity too much at the last second. I still haven’t figured out how to lean into the shot rather than away from it without wrecking my shoulder or overcompensating. On my face or on my butt, neither one was the position you were supposed to find yourself in after shooting a gun. So until I do figure it out its safer for me, and anyone in the general vicinity, if I just stick to the .22 and/or the Mark III.

We avoided the main road and just went behind the hospital and then through the line of trees we had left to stand as a wind break and shade lot. Just on the other side of the trees was the line of houses that faced the east fence and the rear gate. Scott moaned in pain and I completely understood. All the work we’ve been doing over the last couple of months to preserve living quarters and storage houses has been undone. Windows are shattered, doors have been kicked in, the block walls of the homes have multiple chips and chunks taken out of them all over. At the time we didn’t know what the inside damage was but it has turned out to be extensive. And after all the damage the Big Horde had done to the immediate area surrounding Sanctuary we’d have to go much further afield to find replacement parts for everything. Scott sighed deeply and I could tell he was furious but putting it aside for something to deal with later.

Kevin had been right. It didn’t take the zombies long to start breaching the rear gate. The gate itself didn’t look damaged but the bar had been removed and the locking chains lay on the ground.

“Someone opened the gate and then didn’t close it behind them. Idiots,” Scott growled.

I wasn’t too happy myself. A terrified shriek rent the air and we turned just in time to see a raider being used as a teething toy by a small zombified woman. Since we were so close and it was a shot I could definitely make I used the .22 to put the man and the zombie down permanently. We had been spotted by several zombies and we needed to get to high ground and we need to get there right away.

A piercing whistle drew our attention up to the top of the rear gate tower. Dante’ was making come on motions with his hand. Someone, turned out to be Jack, lowered the tower ladder just long enough for us to run over and climb up rung-by-rung until we reached the top. Four adults in the space was a tight fit but Scott and I didn’t intend on staying any longer than we had to.

The men were low on ammo so Scott shared what he brought while I handed out some food and drink. I don’t know which they were happier to see.

Both men had suffered from a few close calls judging by their disheveled appearance and a little blood seeping through makeshift bandages here and there. After a quick sip of water Dante’ wanted to know if we had seen his family. I told him Laura and Bo were at the house but none of us could remember seeing Tina. Dante’ looked bleak and shaken at hearing that but he kept holding on to hope. I told Jack that Patricia was still OK. I did what I could to make sure that no one was going to bleed to death or suffering from an infection and made a mental note that we had been remiss not to require every adult and child in Sanctuary to have gotten more first aid education. We were going to have to do more cross-training and it couldnt' wait.

Another scream alerted us to the fact that the raiders didn’t have any more luck dealing with zombies than we did.

Dante’ said, “We’ve been pinned down up here for a while now. We’ve done what we could but mostly we just harried the raiders and gave them a hard time. As long as the zombies weren’t bothering any of our people we’ve left them alone. The infected created a bunch of panic in this group at the rear gate when they showed up. Sissy, you got any painkillers on you … aspirin, Tylenol, something like that? I don’t want to lose my edge but my leg is really thumping.”

While I dug around in my emergency pack for the bottle of Tylenol 3 Jack added, “Yeah, and I’m almost positive they aren’t part of the enemy group at the front gate. See, look at those two over there going at it. The guy wearing colors is from the group that came in through the rear gate and reminds me of the gangs in Miami. The guy without colors is from the group at the front gate. They go at each other every chance they get, like rival dog packs. If they started out with a truce, it’s long over with.”

I halved one of the Tylenol 3 tablets and gave it to Dante’ and then wrapped the other half in a bit of plastic wrap. “This stuff has codeine in it. See if half a tablet cuts the pain before taking the other half. The last thing you need to be is up here shooting a gun and woozy. But you’re so tall it may take the whole tablet to do you any good.”

Scott and I figured that this was as good a time as any to try and work our way around to the other side of the compound now that we new Jack and Dante’ had enough ammo to keep most of the zombies from getting into the compound. I thought using them as a limited assault weapon was pretty ingenious. Scott was more conservative and said it was more like the love/hate relationship that most countries had with weapons of mass destruction. The fact that we were willing to use the zombies like that and even let a few into the compound only highlighted how badly off we were.

I couldn’t argue with him and didn’t even try. Soon after that we took a chance and came down the ladder even faster than we went up. My 40-something body, despite being in better shape than I’ve been in since I was a teenager, was starting to complain … loudly. The last two weeks of stress and illness was also telling on me.

Scott must have noticed because we didn’t get very far onto the south side of the compound before he pulled us into the shrubbery and trees that made up the SE corner. He put me against the Wall and him between me and the rest of the compound. “Sissy, are you sure you are up for this? You’re getting a little gray around the edges.”

Thinking to brush his concern aside I said, “Hey, I come by these gray hairs honestly.”

“Sissy, I’m not joking,” he said looking me straight in the face.

I sighed. “Scott, I’m 42. I’m not some young chippie that has spent all of her time at the fitness center counting carbs and doing pilates. Yeah, I’m ‘feeling the burn.’ But I’m OK. Just don’t take off like a jack rabbit and I’ll be able to keep up.”

Scott didn’t look entirely convinced but conceded that it was a little late for second thoughts. Scott and I both nearly had a stroke when a caramel colored fuzz ball stood up and put its paws on our shoulders.

“Dammit Sundance,” Scott fussed while trying to avoid having his face licked off. All I could think was that I hope he’d brushed his teeth since the last time he had eaten somebody. His coat was heavily flecked with dried blood but he had suffered no injuries himself.

Scott tried to brush the dog out of the way but he was so insistent that we finally noticed he was trying to herd us in a specific direction. Scott and I looked at each other and finally allowed the dog to lead us where he wanted us to go.

We wound up behind Dix’s house. The white Victorian had taken at least as much damage as all the other houses, maybe more. In the backyard were two men that had had their faces mauled pretty badly. They still twitched but death would visit them shortly and they would need to be sanitized. Scott wasn’t in the mood to wait. Death for them would have been inevitable anyway even with access to modern medicine. Their faces were ripped off and their abdomens punctured. Euthanasia was the best choice. Scott took a mallet and a heavy, metal awl off of his ever present tool belt. He placed the awl against each man’s forehead and hit it with the mallet, puncturing skull and destroying the brain beneath. The mallet and awl approach made it a little more personal but it did cut down on the noise that could attract the wrong people.

While Scott took care of the men, Sundance continued to be insistent that there was something under the porch that we needed to see. I absolutely hate going into crawl spaces. You never know what you are going to find but the dog wouldn’t stop. I crawled over to the lattice work that was supposed to keep most of the bigger varmints out from under the house. And then I saw her.

She was only half clothed and the physical trauma that I could see made it obvious she had been assaulted.

“Scott, I need a blanket or something out of the house. Curtains, anything like that.”

“What? Oh my God. Who is it?”

“Tina. Just go please. I think she’s in shock and we’ve got to get her over to Waleski.”

Tina’s eyes were open but she was pretty unresponsive to all my overtures. Scott and I wrapped her up in a tablecloth the best we could and then tried to figure out how we were going to cross the road.

“Aw shit!”

Scott and I both turned while Tina whimpered. “Dammit Dix don’t do that! I could have shot you man!”

“How bad is she?”

Why everyone was looking at me I didn’t know. “Well for pete’s sake how do you think she is you blonde ape?! God, Dix that’s a stupid question,” I snarled.

“Sorry," he said slightly abashed. "Matlock should be here any … “

Matlock came out of the bushes at that moment looking like he’d been play Rambo complete with a soaked bandana wrapped around his hair and bulging biceps. I glared at him, daring him to ask the same stupid question Dix had just asked.

“You seen my kids and Becky?” he asked a bit desperately.

“Yeah, they’re in the house with everyone else. Tina was the last person unaccounted for.”

Matlock nearly fell down in relief. “OK. Cease and David are just about to set off the last of the charges. It’s going to be a huge explosion. We’ve interrogated a few of the enemy and have found out all we can.” His use of the word interrogation was accompanied by dead eyes and clinched fists. I didn’t say anything at the time I knew Scott and I would talk about it later. Matlock did what he thought needed doing at the time. For my part it’s not something I’d want to be a part of over the long haul. I know Scott’s view was more practical and prosaic and consequently made me even happier to let the subject drop.

While Matlock grabbed something to drink Dix explained, “They placed the charges in the pirate’s remaining operational vehicles and around that Dumas building. That’s where their leaders are holed up. The only one we can’t locate is that big shit they call Samson. Sissy can you take care of Tina over here? We’ve got to get into position and there isn’t time to get her over to your house.”

I looked at Scott and he looked at me. We silently agreed at the same time, reaching out to grab the other in a tight embrace and kiss. He touched my face and then they were gone and I was left alone with Tina trying to figure out our best course of action. I looked for Sundance but he’d left to keep hunting after delivering his ward into our care.

Just then the largest explosion I hope to ever be near ripped through the late afternoon sky.

I was thinking, ”Thanks for the freaking understatement, Dix” as I laid over Tina’s upper body trying to protect her. To me it sounded like a dozen transformers blowing all at the same time but I could also hear smaller explosions within the main explosion. I was afraid to even think what things must look like out along the front of the Wall on US41. The road had to be shot. I didn’t even know how much of the Wall still stood.

It was like the explosion had sucked all of the sound out of the world. I stayed down because I was afraid that debris would start hitting the ground but if it did it didn't come down where we were at. I said to myself, “It’s now or never girl. Get your butt up and get going.”

Temporarily leaving Tina, I ran around to the front of the house and peaked out. Looking towards the NW, the remnants of what had to have been a large fireball was still visible though it was nothing more than a rolling mushroom shape by the time I laid eyes on it. I realized that since I could see that smoke cloud that the smoke from the burning tires had gradually faded away. That had to be a good thing.

The road was free and clear of any enemy which I considered another good thing. I ran back around and had just bent down to try and get Tina somewhat upright so I could drag her to the house when a powerful slap up side my head sent me reeling.

I have to say I haven’t been clocked like that since I was in highschool. We were stuck in the gym one rainy PE class and I had walked too close to some kids who were showing off their prowess on the uneven bars and got clipped by a tennis shoe clad foot. I didn’t pass out then and I didn’t pass out this time either but my bell sure was rung pretty hard.

The earring had been ripped from my ear and my balance was gone. As I staggered trying to keep to my feet I caught a glimpse of another slap coming my way and was just able to dodge so that I only got a piece of it. The force still put me on the ground looking up into a face that could have been a model for a Renaissance painting of a demon from hell. I could see where the man had been handsome early in life but dissipation and inner character had written their tale across his features leaving a devilish countenance behind. No woman in her right mind would have done anything other than run in the opposite direction after one glimpse.

He reached down and pulled me up by the front of my shirt. “A little old for my taste but you’ll do in a pinch.”

Bastard. Like I told Scott I earned my fine lines and gray hairs. I started fighting back and he shook me like a rag doll. “Like it rough do you bitch. This oughta be fun.”

OK, I knew that my life was on the line and while in most circumstances rape wouldn’t kill me, rape by this monster just might. My feet were clear off the ground and I was punching and kicking him with all I had. I got lucky and the punch I had meant for his nose actually landed my thumb in his eye. Boy did he squall at that. He tossed me against the house and I landed hard on my side, knocking the wind from me.

After calling me more than a few unflattering female epitaphs he said, “Oh how you’re gonna pay for that.”

Oh no I wasn’t. The fall had ripped open the strap that held the machete in its sheath and the thing practically popped into the hand I was laying on. I took the blessing as it was offered and raised it to defend myself. I had only meant to scramble to the side as he came at me but and I tripped over an exposed tree root. Down I went and the machete with me. It left a neat and deep slice right along his groin area.

I had the presence of mind to scramble away as he grabbed his crotch. “You bitch! You bitch! You cut me!”

Blood was pouring through his hands and was running down legs. I had hit the femoral artery without even trying. I must have sliced it clean in two because he bled to death in a matter of seconds.

I was shaking and wanted Scott so bad I nearly screamed his name and damned the consequences. But at the same time I knew I needed to pull myself together before he saw me or his pain would wind up being worse than mine.

Tina had started sobbing; great, huge, gasping convulsions. That gave me something to focus on. I ran over to her and she grabbed me tight enough to squeeze the air from my already sore chest. I got one arm out of her grip and put it around her shoulders. By the time I got her up and moving she had calmed down enough to help me get her first to the side of the house and then after a pause to the front of the house. They must have seen us through the shutters because Kevin and Waleski were standing ready to help me with Tina while Brandon kept us covered.

All five of us hustled into the house with Brandon stopping only long enough to put the security door back down.

I was going to help Waleski with Tina until he pushed me in a chair and told me to stay put. He, Rose, and Melody took her into the girls’ bedroom. A moment later Waleski came out looking stricken and angry at the same time. He looked like he was going to explode. Betty, a bandage on her ankle and around her head, came to him and put her arm around him. “It’s OK honey. Let us women take this one. Reba and I used to volunteer at the women’s center. We know what to do.”

She pushed him in my direction where Rilla was already putting disinfectant on my ear.

“What the hell happened?!” he asked in a barely controlled, volcanic voice.

“I don’t know Tina’s details but I just had a blonde mountain fall on me.”

“Sissy you look like …. Geez … you look like Scott is going to go into cardiac arrest as soon as he sees you.”

“That good huh?”

“Sissy, I’m not kidding,” his voice had moderated down into one of professional concern.

“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll be fine. The guy’s dead, I’m not, God’s good, end of story and I’d rather not talk about it anymore if you don’t mind.”

I could tell he didn’t want to let it go but he did, though I knew I could probably expect to have to tell the full story at some point. All I was hoping at the time was that I had time to come up with something close enough to the truth that Scott would believe me without feeling the need to go kill the guy all over again.

At that second I registered my mistake. Oh crap. He was dead but he wasn’t sanitized.

“Oh God. Let me out. I’ve got to go!” I grabbed my gear and ran to the pantry.

“Sissy, stop! I need to check out your face!!”

I rolled up the side door just enough to crawl underneath it and yelled at Brandon to shut it behind me. I could not believe how impossibly stupid I had just been.

I figured I had minutes at most before Blondie reanimated. If he had reanimated already I didn’t have that long to kill him permanently dead.

As luck would have it I was too late. The sand was saturated with blood that hadn’t even had time to congeal but he was already gone.

I looked in all directions and then thought to stop and really listen. To my left, I heard something going east crashing and thrashing through the bushes. It sure was making a lot of noise for something that had just comeback. That was sooo not good.

Rifle in hand and ready, I set off to track him as quietly as I could. I gave up quiet in favor of quick when I heard shouts of “Rager!” and screams of “Holy Mother of God! Help me!!” I came into a clear space that measured about twenty by twenty. On the far side was Blondie ripping not one or two, but three full grown men to shreds.

I wanted to kick myself for being so stupid. Why did it have to turn out to be a Rager?! It gave credence to the unproven argument that only certain types of people or people with certain personality types could turn into ragers. I didn’t have time to play amateur biologist however. Leaning against a tree to brace myself I was about to take my shot when four of the color-clad raiders ran into the clearing with guns blazing.

Where did these guys learn to fight?! Not a one of them made a headshot. All they did was manage to wind the Rager up even more. At least they had the sense to run. What’s the old joke about the two guys running from the bear? One didn’t have to run faster than the bear, he just had to fun faster than the other guy. The same thing is true of Ragers. You don’t really have to be faster than the Rager, you just have to be faster than the slowest person running from the Rager.

Three of the four gang-colored raiders escaped. The fourth was the slowest and distracted the Rager just enough. I’d seen what a Rager was capable of. Unfortunately for me I got to see it up close and personal this time. It was ripping the still living man's chest cavity open to get to the soft tissue inside.

I must have been out of my mind because I took that moment and stepped behind the Rager, put the Mark III to the back of his head that was buried deep in the guys stomach slurping intestines like spaghetti, and started pulling the trigger. I didn’t stop pulling the trigger until all ten bullets in the magazine were rattling around in its skull and it's body had stopped twitching. For good measure I took my machete and decapitated it.

All I could do was stand there breathing heavy. Then it hit me. I ran back to the tree and started puking. Actually it was more like uncontrollable heaving. I hadn’t had much to eat at all the whole day and there wasn't anything to bring up. I hate puking. I always feel like someone is trying to strangle me. There's not much scarier than trying and not being able to draw breath because your throat is locked in battle with your stomach.

I heard the dry oak leaves crackling and I turned swiftly to put my back to the tree. ‘Course I hadn’t gotten around to reloading the Mark III which left me gripping the machete for dear life.

“Damn Sissy. “ It was Angus. He was banged up, bruised and blood splattered but smiling like a lunatic.

“What the heck are you smiling at?!” I asked incredulously.

“Just wondering how Scott’s kept his head all these years.”

“By being smart enough not to irritate me past my endurance you …,” and that’s when I caught a glimpse of the strangers behind him; two women and six kids.

“Angus?” I aked a lot less beligerantly.

He got very serious and introduced me to the two young women. “Sissy, this is Cindy this other girl is Tasha. That’s all the information they were willing to share. The kids won’t tell me their names at all. They were being held in a house over behind the Dumas building. They won’t say much but I’m guessing they weren’t there because they wanted to be.”

“You killed Samson,” the one called Cindy said in wonder, staring at the now permanently dead corpse.

“I killed who?”

The one called Tasha said, “Samson, the Captain of the pirates. He was the leader and the biggest … I can’t believe he’s dead. I can’t believe … “

I looked at Angus suddenly nervous. “Please tell me that’s a good thing.”

Cindy, who’d pulled herself together and put an arm around Tasha said, “Yes. That’s a very, very good thing. That man was a … There’s not really words for what that … that … “ She cleared her throat and continued. “He was criminally insane by any definition you want to pick. Even his top lieutenants were deathly afraid of him. The things he did … they aren’t fit to repeat. You put his head on a pike for the pirates to see and they’ll run like rabbits thinking you’ve got someone even worse than him on your side.”

“Hmmm. Think I’ll just go ahead and try that,” and Angus grabbed the disembodied head and carted it off at a run towards the front gate.

We all stared after him as he jogged away. I don’t think I’ll ever get the picture he made out of my mind.

Tasha asked, “Is he crazy too?”

At a loss how best to answer I replied, “It’s been suggested.”

Then I said, “Look we need to get out of here. If things weren’t settling down Angus wouldn’t have left us. But things aren’t completely … Oof!”

Mischief and Mayhem had come in behind me and nearly knocked me down. “Oh, he left you two as babysitters did he?” Both dogs grinned in doggie fashion and tried to herd us into a group but the kids were terrified of them.

“Easy. These dogs are fierce but they’re French Mastiffs. They’re just trying to get us into a better group so they can guard us against the bad guys. They really don’t like people that hurt little kids. It’s OK, let them sniff you. They may rub up against you and lick you, just try and ignore the doggie breath. It’s how they say hello.”

The kids all bundled together between Cindy and Tasha still shy of the big dogs. For that matter Cindy and Tasha were nervous but too weak to put up much of a fight. The dogs and I led the group up the south fence and across the street to our house. Waleski stepped out into the carport and said, “Wait." when I would have taken them inside. "Sissy, don’t look at me like that. We don’t know where these people have been or what they’ve been exposed to.”

I put my hands on my hips and was about to let fly when Cindy said, “He’s right you know. We all have fleas and at least two of the children have ring worms. There’s no telling what Tasha and I have from being exposed to … being with …”

Waleski finally said, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t treat you but under the circumstances I am going to quarantine you until I can clear you of anything infectious.”

Another burst of gunfire from near the front gate had the children whimpering and most of us adults ducking. I left Waleski to do what he thought best.

I stopped for a moment to reload the magazine for the Mark III and to make sure the rifle was still OK. I was debating whether to go to the front or to the back when Jack jogged up.

“Those gang bangers are all dead. Even if a few of them survived the zombies they’ve taken off by now. Dante’ and I have put bullets in all the heads of the ones we’ve seen and taken down most of the zombies that were still outside the gate. It’s closed, barred, and locked. I need some help. Dante’ is going crazy. Have you found Tina yet?”

I looked at him and wasn’t sure what to say, “We found her. The women are taking care of her now.”

“The women … holy … you don’t mean … Dante’ ain’t gonna take this well. How am I supposed to tell him?”

“I’ll tell him. Is he still up in the tower?”

“No, I hauled him down so we could shut the gate. It’s a little bent and off track so it took both of us to slide it. We did what we could and needed to get more ammo. He’s coming this way. Is Patricia ... ?”

“She’s inside but ask Waleski before you go in. I’m not sure if he has her on bedrest or not.” With that I went to intercept Dante’ and try and tell him as gently as possible about Tina.

He didn’t take it well. He blamed the pirates, blamed God, blamed himself, blamed just about everyone and everything. He even cussed me a little for being the one who told him. Then he went and leaned against the house they shared and bawled his eyes out. “You think she will let me see her?”

“Dante’ I don’t know. All you can do is go try. If she wants to see you and you don’t come, even if it’s because you are afraid of upsetting her, she won’t understand.“

He headed for our house and I’ve yet to hear how it went exactly. All I do know is that when I did get around to stopping for the night she was curled up in his arms and he was rocking her as he crooned some Cajun lullaby.

There isn’t much more to tell after that. Cindy hadn’t been exaggerating when she said the sight of Samson’s head on a pike would cause the remaining pirates to run like rabbits. Not that there were all that many left to run.

After leaving Dante’ at our front door I edged my way up to the front gate. I was half way there when Scott found me … and proceeded to have a major conniption fit. It’s not often that Scott shifts into Spanish but Lord have mercy, he wrung some creative cussing out of the language for the next little bit. From what little I could understand he was threatening to lock me in a tower someplace and throw away the key all the while questioning the antecedents of a good many of the enemy. He eventually had to stop and draw breath and that’s when I stepped into his arms. He was resistant for a couple of moments - the man does like to hold onto his mad when he gets going - but in the end he relented and we held onto each other for dear life.

He tilted my head back and looked at my face, then gently ran his finger along my eyebrows and kissed my forehead. I hadn’t looked at it yet at the time but I could feel how tight the right side of my face felt. I had a spreading bruise from just behind my jaw up to my cheek. My ear was also bruised and swollen. I think that hurt worse than anything else. The earrings I had been wearing were a pair that Scott had given me and after I had time to think about it I was upset at losing one of the mates. Johnnie and Bubby have promised to look for it but we’ll be keeping the kids no further away than our backyard until we can repair the Wall. The next day the bruise on the side of my face had spread to around my eye despite the fact I hadn’t been hit there.

By mutual, if unspoken, agreement we turned and made our way through all of the debris lying all around and towards the front gate. I asked him what to expect. He said, “Think along the lines of the Battle of Berlin at the end of WW2.” Oh.

The reality was even more stark than I had expected. The road was cratered and littered with rubble from all the explosions set off by David and Cease. Burned out shells of vehicles were tossed around like matchbox cars that had been forgotten to be put away. Trees were down in both directions on US41 and broken glass lay everywhere twinkling in the rays of the setting sun. I'm surprised we didn't have to deal with fires until Scott told me that Cease and David both had some experience with explosives. I'm not sure I really want to know where two such young men got that kind of experience.

Amazingly the Wall was more or less intact. The wooden telephone poles along the west and north facing fence sections had taken the brunt of the damage, preventing the metal storage containers behind from being destroyed. There were only two places of immediate concern. The NW corner where the explosion of Hank and Trish’s house had pushed the containers out and out of line leaving a small gap; and the front gate itself which was bent and mangled beyond repair.

Scott looked over to the south seeing Samson’s head on a pike for the first time. “What the hell?”

A sober Matlock had come up beside us and said, “Thank your wife. From what I understand that was the leader of the pirates who they all believed was magically protected by Satan.”

All I could do was cringe as I tried to explain what had happened. When I was finished I was sure that Scott was going to have a nuclear meltdown. But instead what I got was … “If you ever … “ Cough. “if you ever … “ Wheeze. “I swear to God woman … “ Another, deeper wheeze.

“Yes dear,” was my only reply and I snuggled up under his arm and tried to look like a contrite and obedient wife.

Matlock was looking everywhere but at me and I could see he was struggling not to laugh. I quickly changed the subject, both to avoid any more lectures and to prevent Matlock’s bizarre sense of humor setting Scott off again. “Where’s Dix?”

That sobered Matlock up real fast. “He’s off in the orange grove.”

“Why?”

“He’s burying Rachel. “

I didn’t know what to say to make it better but did ask, “Is there anyone with him?”

“David and Cease helped him dig the grave. They’re over there digging all four graves while there is still light.”

“Four graves?! You found Hank and Trish?” I asked excited about the thought of two less dead.

“No. There wasn’t enough of either one of them to … We can’t tell who all the parts belong to, the few that we've been able to find. We figure they wouldn’t mind being buried together. We’ll put Marty in with them. If we find anything else over the next few days we’ll dig another grave for it.”

The practicality of it made me shudder. There just wasn’t time for the niceties anymore. There was no funeral staff to take care of the less pleasant aspects of death. Usually bodies of the dead had to be sanitized in some way and without embalming services they had to be buried before they began to rot. The people you cared about went into the ground or were cremated as quickly as possible. It was bad enough you had lost them; you didn’t want to watch their body decay before your eyes as well.

We could hardly muster a proper guard and we’ve had the occasional shambler try and walk through the barbed wire we’ve woven across where the front gate used to be. We discovered our numbers shorted by one more when we woke up this morning. Angus has gone leaving Juicer and the dogs for us to care for until his return. He didn’t say where he was going but I have a feeling the pirates had better never stop looking over their shoulders. David told me the look on Angus’ face when he shoved Samson’s head on a pike and carried it to the top of the pole was straight out of his Ancient European History textbook. It was even worse when he was telling Matlock how the pirates had verbally taunted him with what they were going to do with the women and children he had been protecting. He’s not a man to forget a threat like that.

Others wanted to go as well after they found out Angus had left on his own but it wasn’t practical. A man on his own can move fast and sneak up on his enemy before they even know he’s there. A group on the other hand would raise more suspicion and lose the element of surprise. Besides, all able bodied hands are needed to try and repair or protect what we could before the next rain or cold snap hits.

As much work as there is to do, we’ve also had to take turns helping Waleski. Rose and Melody are both on the ragged edge of exhaustion. Waleski looks like he’ll fall apart if someone looks at him the wrong way. Rilla is helping him but he and he alone is still the one that has to make all the major medical decision. We're going to be feeling Rachel's loss for some time to come, in many ways.

Patricia is spotting every time she tries to get up and move. Not bad but any spotting at her stage in pregnancy isn’t good. Rhonda has been violently ill for the last 24 hours. She said it was the same during her first trimester when she was stressed out but Waleski has quarantined her just in case its viral, or God-forbid, bacterial.

James is a mess. He’s weak and has slept nearly the last 24 hours around the clock, waking only long enough to eat some of the soup I’ve kept simmering in my largest soup cauldron over an open fire so that anyone that is hungry can just dip their own out. Waleski thinks it’s just his body’s way of trying to heal after he refused to give into it the day before. Scott and I sit with him every break we have.

They cleaned Josephine’s eyes out but they’ll stay bandaged for at least a week before Waleski dare tries to detect any damage. She’s terrified she’s been blinded for life and for an artist the very idea is particularly traumatizing. She’s becoming silent and withdrawn, sleeping most of the time. The only person she consistently reponds to is Brandon when he is around.

Maddie hasn’t spoken any more than necessary since she’s been brought in. Waleski has kept her sedated as much as possible due to the pain she is experiencing from the burn on her face. They’ve even had to restrain her hands because she kept pulling at the bandages even in her sleep. Waleski says he thinks the itching is a good thing, a sign of healing, but the burns are worse than anything he has any direct experience with.

Tina started running a fever during the first night. Waleski is pulling his hair out trying to develop some type of effective treatment plan but he just doesn’t know what the problem is. He is treating her with antibiotics in the hopes of heading off any systemic infection or STD. The rest of it, the trauma, is being taken care of by Betty who spent a number of years as a counselor at a county-run women’s shelter.

Cindy, Tasha, and the kids are content to stay quarantined in the hospital building. They’ve taken on the job of cleaning it up and Waleski has done everything he can to make them comfortable until he can clear them. The fleas have been treated with daily baths and hydrocortisone on the rash. The ringworm is being treated with an antifungal and topical applications of tea tree oil. All eight in quarantine are taking iron supplements and drinking a strong beef tea with every meal. They are pathetically thin and malnourished.

The rest of us are walking wounded whether are wounds are physical or mental. We do as much as we can and then sit down and rest. When we’ve caught our breath we get up and start working again. We don’t have any choice.

I surveyed the damage to our gardens and could do nothing but weep off and on for nearly an hour. I won’t have to start from absolute scratch but I’m not sure how many of the items that had already been planted will survive. I finally convinced Scott to take me to a few of the fruit trees outside of the Wall. I almost wished I hadn’t. What the zombies didn’t destroy the raiders and pirates ate or destroyed. Our food storehouse wasn't raided but some of the items were destroyed when bullets when through windows. We'll need everything we can salvage.

We have to strain all of our potable water that wasn’t completely sealed. I was drawing a pitcher of water from the bottom tap of the barrel nearest the kitchen when I noticed small glass particles sinking to the bottom like ice. That's just one of a million small things we've got to be careful and not allow to slip passed us.

I haven’t even begun to touch on the psychological effects of the Raid on Sanctuary. I’ve noticed some very peculiar behaviors by some of our people already. Everyone jumps way too easily. Tempers are uncertain though when there is an outburst it doesn’t appear to be directed at anyone in particular. Dix is ... it’s hard to describe what Dix is. He reminds me of a snow topped mountain. The wrong sound and an avalanche could occur obliterating anything in its path.

The older kids get really mad if the younger kids forget and leave their sight. Samuel and Sarah in particular seem to be suffering from this. I finally had to step in and calm them down. They are constantly counting all the children like shepherds with their sheep.

Speaking of animals J. Paul reports that all the animals are accounted for and ironically they were left unmolested though the cows and nannies aren't giving near as much milk as they should. They were stressed by all the fighting. And we have had to walk the pasture to make sure no debris is in there that can hurt them.

I’m exhausted and my shift of watching over the injured is drawing to a close. It will be a relief to lay my body down beside Scott's and try to get some rest. Tomorrow, if I’m able, I’ll recount what we learned from Matlock’s “interrogations” and from the two women we’ve taken in.

Day 158 (Jan 5th)

How fitting that today would normally have been Cleaning Day had we been on our regular schedule. I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing all day one way or another.

Because everything is so crazy and stressed out we’ve had to go back to everyone living with us or camping in the backyard of our house. The only exception is the eight that are quarantined at the hospital. It makes for an air of managed chaos that is more uncomfortable than I remember it being.

Not a single moment can afford to be wasted right now. During breakfast everyone who was mobile and aged 12 or older – save the two on guard duty who had already been privy to the information we were about to hear, and the two adult women in the hospital – was seated in our backyard. Those who were not mobile or who were 11 or younger remained in the house.

It wasn’t pleasant, especially while we were eating, but Matlock gave a rough synopsis of what they had learned from the interrogations that took place during the Raid on Sanctuary. First off, the pirates had recently had a bloody civil war amongst their own very large group. The greater majority remained under the leadership of Samson who was now and forever dead. The smaller band, supposedly no less vicious, has reportedly migrated further south along the Gulf Coast.

The general reasons why the pirates had struck so far inland include that first, they’ve pretty much denuded the immediate coastal communities within their grasp of all supplies of food and fuel. There are probably a few hidden caches that would be interesting to small groups but it wasn’t worth the effort to search and seize them for a group the size that the pirates had grown into. Instead of more work and less waste the pirates chose to set their sights on easier pickings … inland areas and survivor groups. They were supposed to spring board that operation from their base in Tarpon Springs. However it was destroyed by the same Big Horde that struck Sanctuary just prior to Christmas. This leads to the second reason.

Samson’s pirate crew had totally shifted their main base of operations into Tarpon Springs. They put all of their eggs in one basket. When the Big Horde slammed into the community all they could do was escape with what little remained on the boats in the harbor. Cindy and Tasha confirmed this. Their families had been some of the first to voice their opposition to the pirate takeover of their community; they were also some of the first to be executed and enslaved when Samson publicly took charge. They were being held on a slave galley – a former charter boat – when the pirates evacuated just ahead of the horde. The need for immediate resupply and a new base speeded up their plans. Instead of infiltration and then treachery, they chose to attack head on and intended to crack us open like a nut.

Fortunately they had been overconfident and their plan failed. Their picture of Sanctuary from what they had overheard led them to a much different picture than the reality. They had expected to find a moderately armed commune-style farm made up mostly of civilians, a high percentage of whom were women and children, with little to no experience in fighting. What they got instead was a community of survivors with a high degree of persistence, a moderate percentage of professionally trained fighters, with the remaining community members being trained-by-experience including the children. Their diversion plus “shock and awe” tactics didn’t completely overwhelm us as expected though it did come close.

Their intent had not been to destroy the physical structure of Sanctuary at all. In fact they wanted it intact for their own use. Nor had they wanted to kill the animals or women; again, they wanted them for their own use. However, most of the adult and teenage males as well as the youngest children were to be considered expendable or used for sport. Basically they wanted to scoop out all possible resistance like segments out of grapefruit half and replace the sweet pulp with their own rancid fruit.

Complicating the entire situation was the fact that we became caught in what was essentially a tug of war between two rival gangs; two dog packs fighting over the same bone. There was the pirate crew who attacked from the front and then there was the raggle-taggle bunch of raiders who attacked from the rear. The raiders were much less organized and less experienced with taking armed communities on head first. Their normal modus operendi was to follow the zombie hordes and pick up the scraps that were left after they moved through an area. They rarely engaged the hordes at all, choosing instead to remain at a safe distance. This was why the raiders seemed so inept when they came into direct conflict with the NRS infected corpses. The raiders had been observing us for some time and had thought to move on until they saw their own opportunity in the form of the pirates. They knew our skill level but thought they'd be able to sneak some of our supplies out from under the pirates' noses.

The tally had been completed and for the loss of our six community members we had exacted a toll of at least five dozen from the other two groups combined. Admittedly a large percentage of this number was a result of the explosives that had been set off outside of Sanctuary’s Wall by David and Cease. However, this number did not include the depredations caused by the zombies. If you included those numbers you could safely add at least another three or four dozen casualties, but most of these were on the side of the raiders.

Sixty for six; for every one of ours dead we killed ten of theirs. A Spartan might have found joy in that number, I couldn’t. It still meant that for no other reason than people being unable to get along and work together for the well being of all that over seventy people had died that didn’t need to. That didn’t include the needless deaths caused by the zombies.

We had tossed the remains of pirates, raiders, and zombies all into Juicer and had hauled them up to the body dump to be left for the scavengers. Our six were buried with more respect in our small but growing cemetery.

We didn’t have a stone mason so head stones haven’t been possible. We hadn’t really planned for the cemetery to grow like it has. We have simply been marking off where we bury people and mark the head location with decorative stepping stones. A couple of weeks ago Scott had taken a piece of scrap aluminum and inscribed the names of all who had been interred in the cemetery up to that point: Dora, Jose’, Hall, Teri, the three unknown refugees from Hale Hollow. Ricky doesn't count; we left him to the carrion eaters. Last night Scott added the names Murial, Jerry, Hank, Trish, Marty, and Rachel. After I saw it I had to find a quiet place and cry thankfully that none of my own have yet made it to that plaque of remembrance.

We haven’t had time for a memorial of any kind much less a full blown funeral. We’ve all been saying our goodbyes privately. We voted to table having a community-wide memorial service for the immediate future. If people feel led to have private services they are free to do so but the thinking is that those that are gone are not in a place to be concerned over any type of pomp and circumstance and that we are better off waiting until we can celebrate their lives and not just mourn their deaths.

Either way people are hurting. I held Brandon while he cried yesterday. Not only is he mourning the death of his father and step-family, he is at a loss what to do about and for Maddie and Josephine. We’ll help him but in no way do I expect this to be easy on anyone. It was almost easier to accept Murial and Jerry’s death because they went together. I only knew them for a short time but I have a hard time imagining one living without the other; but still, that wasn’t a choice the pirates had the right to make.

The one that I’m very concerned about is Dixon although I think he isn’t quite as bad off as I had originally feared. He’s a soldier and in reality so was Rachel. It added a certain understanding of the potential volatility of this life and how temporary some things can be. It doesn’t necessarily lessen the grieving process but it does give continuity and connectedness, both strengths that too many people seemed to lack pre-NRS.

I was taking another load of debris that I had swept up to dump into the trailer we were using as a collection point when I accidentally stumbled on Dix in a weak moment. He was sitting on a stump with his head in his hands. He wasn’t weeping and that somehow made it even worse; like his pain went beyond the ability to cry.

I don’t always understand Dix and why he does things the way he does them. He can be oblivious and dense in my opinion. He really is a good man and means well but with faults that sometimes make it hard for me to see that fact. His pain pulled at me and I couldn’t just pass by. The blonde giant looked like he was about to collapse in on himself. I parked the garbage can I had been rolling and went over and put my hand on his shoulder. I didn’t say anything. I was afraid of making it worse. He stiffened momentarily and then realizing who was standing there said, “How the hell do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Just … show up. Do that thing, whatever it is, with the … dammit. No matter who it is you just show up and try and make it better.”

“Humph. I only wish I had that gift. Look Dix, I’ll admit to not really understanding everything with Rachel, but I’d be inhuman not to empathize with the fact that you miss her. And I can’t just see someone in pain and not … not … acknowledge it.”

“Yeah. She and I, we made mistakes. We shouldn’t have … but that’s water under the bridge and we did and … I’m not really sorry for it the way I guess I should be. Rachel made me feel damn good in a way being with Patricia never did. Sex was great with Patricia but it was more than sex with Rachel. But in the end … even with the other stuff … I didn’t know how to help her. I couldn't save her.”

“In the end sometimes the only people that can help us is ourselves Dix. We would have done what we could for Rachel the same as we did for Patricia. Circumstances didn’t leave her the time to want to choose a different path than the one she was going down.”

Dixon sighed and continued, “She was living in a fantasy. She was very good at keeping her fantasy, her version of reality, hidden from everyone else. I noticed that tendency when we were having the affair. She could turn it on and off, like she was living in two separate worlds. I just thought of it as a talent. She could be so focused and I admired that. It might have bothered some men, but not me. To me it made her strong and strong meant that … that … Strong meant that she wouldn’t have to depend on me so much.”

I really didn’t know what to say to that. I understood what he was saying but the wrong word could have appeared judgmental, could have killed the moment and he needed to talk.

“But her greatest strength eventually became her greatest weakness. She wanted me to live in that fantasy world with her. When we were alone, sometimes it was like NRS, the zombies, Sanctuary, this whole situation was a military training exercise. She had to act like she believed it one hundred percent but deep down she actually believed that they’d eventually call an end to the exercise and we’d all return to the way things used to be. Then she started having trouble keeping her two worlds separate.”

“Was she a danger?” I asked concerned that we had missed something like this for so long.

“Only to herself. She was 200% committed to those she cared for. Things started getting shaky when she was nearly bitten that day. Patricia surprised the hell out of us. First she’d known about us all along and then she just … let go. See, I know Rachel loved me. She did want to be with me publicly, out in the open. She wasn’t ashamed of what we had. But to finally have that as a possibility meant that she also had to accept that all of this other stuff was real. She couldn’t do that. She wasn’t ready or willing to let the fantasy go. The two worlds she lived in started to collide more and more … I didn’t know what to do for her. She was headed for a meltdown. As her lover I wanted to protect her. But as a leader here in Sanctuary I had to … “

That part I did understand. “Dix, you did the best to protect her that you could. It would have destroyed Rachel not to be able to do what she did. Maybe it would eventually have come to that but we needed her as much as she needed us. We just don’t know for sure what would have happened.”

Then he pulled a bit of a non sequitur on me. “You really believe in a God don’t you?”

A little suspicious of the sudden shift in conversation I admitted, “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

“You think God is just sitting up there playing games with our lives? Making stuff like this crap happen?”

I took a breath and tried to answer him as honestly as possible. “I think that people blame God for a lot of things that are man’s fault. I believe that he created us with free will. I think we abuse that gift a lot and don’t want to take on the responsibility or results of that abuse.”

I don’t think that is exactly the answer he’d expected. “So your God isn’t omnipotent.”

“No, I’m saying I’m not omnipotent. I’m saying I don’t have all the answers but that I do think that if people took their responsibilities in this life more seriously there’d be a whole lot fewer problems. The pirates chose their path. They are directly responsible for Rachel’s death. I believe real miracles are few and far between in this life because we don’t really believe in them anymore. Most of us have to live with the fact that we are finite beings and that we have to conform to the physics of this existence.”

“Who knew? A philosopher and a house wife,” he said a little snarkily.

“Hey, five kids will do that to you.”

That got a small, sickly grin but it was quickly gone. “I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.”

“Do what?”

“Be responsible for so damn many things, so many people. One mistake and … “

“Dix, we all go through times when we feel that way. But I promise you, you wouldn’t be where you are at unless we supported you and believed in you. We have too many strong people in Sanctuary. Not just anyone could be a leader of a group like ours.”

That made him look at me.

“You think I’m kidding? Just because I don’t always agree with you doesn’t mean I think I could do a better job than you. It’s the same for Scott, and I’m sure it’s true for everyone else as well. You have a lot to offer. Rachel knew it too. I don’t know why things had to happen like they did, but I do know that she would not have wanted to see you give up and turn your back on something you’re good at, something that is as much a part of you as breathing. That’s not going to bring her any kind of justice at all.”

I left him to his thoughts and continued on with my own. I really did believe that Dix was a good leader. I didn’t think I could do a better job of it than him. The question I asked myself was whether he would continue to believe in himself.

The rest of the day continued in the same vein off and on. Those of us that could, started the process of cleaning up. Two people would pass each other and sometimes they would stop, share their strength with one another, then move on to continue each going their own way to complete their assigned task. We were doing what communities down through the ages have done. We were picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and trying to get on with the business of living.

The question we’ll be discussing tomorrow though is whether we are going to continue doing the business of living in this particular location. Dante’ is the one who brought it up. I think part of him thinks that getting Tina away from here, away from where she was raped, will help her heal. I’m not so sure of that. Running away never solved anything. On the other hand he did bring up some other points that have merit and we’ve all agreed to look at them and discuss the possibility. Even Scott and I.

But that’s tomorrow. Tonight I’ve put all the children to bed and made sure everyone had a place to sleep and could find what they needed during the night. I set the bread dough to rise so that it can be put to bake first thing in the morning. Scott put bruise balm on my face and disinfectant on my ear, wincing nearly as much as I did. And now my work is finished and it’s time to blow out the lamp and crawl into the bed that Scott has already warmed up for me. Tomorrow is just going to have to wait until tomorrow.

Day 159

It was really hard to make myself get out of bed this morning. The only thought that I could find that motivated me was that the children would be hungry if I didn’t. Betty met me coming down the hall and we gave each other exhausted grins. We agreed that if anybody wanted something fancy they better be prepared to cook it themselves. All we could manage was grits, biscuits, and slices of canned ham. No complaints but it wasn't exactly a meal to write home about either.

I guess I owe Waleski an apology of sorts. It appears that All six of the kids in quarantine have some kind of rash with fever. The two women do not so we aren’t exactly sure what it is. Waleski is treating it like it was plague or something. He suspects that it is scarlet fever but has no way to know for sure other than to say it meets all the symptoms of it. I don’t know enough about scarlet fever to say how long it will last and whether the two adult women and Waleski should be worried. He hadn’t been allowing Rose and Melody to help with those in quarantine which is a good thing.

We had another meeting during breakfast as we had yesterday. This time the discussion was on whether to stay or move our community to a new location. It is an important decision and one that needs to be made quickly so that we can decide where to put our effort; into repairing and further fortify our current location or whether the time, energy, and resources needed to be put into mobilization.

First we discussed the potential benefits of moving:
*A new area where we could start fresh.
*Hopefully finding a more defensible position.
*A more rural location.
*Perhaps move into an area already prepositioned for a community like our own.
*Different climate.

Then we discussed the potential benefits of staying:
*We know this location, both its strengths and its weaknesses.
*We’ve already put a lot of effort into the Wall and all of the structures inside of it.
*There are orange groves and individual fruit trees all over the place in addition to what we are planting as we go.
*The climate is more hospitable for long term self-sufficiency than many others.

Lots of good reasons to go and stay. Then we started listing the reasons that it would be a bad idea to move:
*A new area would have its own set of problems; moving does not guarantee our problems would be fewer in numbers.
*Most defensible locations would probably already be taken by other survivor groups.
*Every place is rural these days excepting perhaps the mid-west where the government has supposedly become centralized.
*We’d already heard how the coastal areas have been stripped of most of their resources by the pirates and other survivor groups.
*We’d have to start from scratch.

We also discussed the problems with staying:
*We had a major amount of clean up to do. We hadn’t finished cleaning up from the Big Horde and now we had internal damage to repair.
*The memories of our vulnerability.
*We had the potential to outgrow Sanctuary over the next couple of years.
*Without new ways to grow crops and increase our herds we could deplete the ground in this area.
*There are security risks about being located on the edge of a former US highway.

One interesting plan was brought forward about the possibility of moving to an island. At that point Matlock asked us to just think about it for the rest of the day and we would come together again tomorrow morning.

Scott and I paired off to do some work today. We needed to secure the food storage building. Even if we voted to leave we couldn’t leave right away. While we cleaned up over there we took the time to discuss our options. All of the pros and cons made a certain amount of sense but to be honest, neither one of us could get real worked up to start over someplace new. It’s not that we were particularly enamored of our current location; it was more that the alternatives under discussion held no appeal. Nothing jumped out at us as good enough reason to scrap everything we had built here and move on to someplace that we would have to start from scratch.

The rural vs. urban argument had held some appeal until we thought about the fact that every place was rural now. The population had been decimated. No single place had better services than the other. Well, maybe they did around places that got their electricity from dams but the majority of places we would consider moving couldn’t say that. And for land to grow things, all we had to do is look at all of the yards, empty lots, parks and green spaces around us. It wasn’t any less work to garden and till a plot of land in the country that to do the same thing in all the empty front yards in our suburb.

The issue of security and fortification was a consideration but it would be the same in the countryside and privately Scott told me that Matlock, Dix, and a few other men including himself had already penciled out potentially vast improvements for Security. It would just be a matter of getting the work done.

I told Scott that I wouldn’t want to live on an island at all. The risk of rising water and storm damage could not be ignored. Nor could the issue of accessibility to the mainland, access to fresh water, and the challenges of not outgrowing our natural resources. An island large enough to provide us with enough natural resources would have already been commercially developed around here. If it wasn’t commercially developed it is because it had other problems that we certainly wouldn’t have the ability to ignore. Not to mention that we would probably have to deal with constant incursions by pirates or other types of raiders.

There are some benefits to living on an island for sure; just not anything I’d be willing to give up my landlocked mentality for. Scott was a little more flexible but neither one of us could get away from the danger imposed by hurricanes and tropical storms. We’d both been through too many hurricanes and/or helped with storm clean up to take that kind of threat lightly. The storm surge alone could wipe an entire island clean and turn it virginal in a matter of hours.

What really worried us was whether we could agree to go with the group should the majority choose something we didn’t agree with. We had children to think about and we were getting to the point in life where we just didn’t have the flexibility to simply “go try something and see if it works, if it doesn’t we’ll move someplace else.” We have little people counting on us for safety, food, and shelter. Personally I need more security than that.

I know we aren’t the only ones weighing our options. From the second story window of the food storage house I would watch people working, stop with a thoughtful look on their face, and then either go on with what they were doing or quietly looking around before going to Matlock or Dix to talk in a more casual setting than the open meetings we’ve been having. I don’t know what it means; but people certainly are taking the question of move-or-stay seriously.

Scott said he asked David, Rose, and James how they felt. The boys wanted to stay, Rose was more interested in the group consensus. No telling what we are going to hear from others in the morning.

Day 160

Well, for a Rest Day this sure as heck has been a productive day. I would say a good day, and we sure have needed one of those.

Betty and I were up early, Reba had planned to help but she had been up most of the night. Mr. Morris is suffering a lot of pain from the amputation of his thumb and finger but Waleski says there is no infection which is a blessing. He’s just trying to go back to “normal” without taking into account his age and the trauma he suffered. He’s a wonderful, but stubborn, man. We need to find something that he can be occupied with and feel (and be) useful doing without putting his recuperation at risk. We can't afford to lose him. Reba also was up with Callie who started having nightmares. Ironically she was fine until she heard everyone talking about moving. She’s already made one major move recently, I think the thought of another one was more stress than she could handle and has brought out all of her insecurities and anxieties in general.

This morning’s breakfast was another easy one though I kind of cheated by making the cinnamon-raisin biscuits last night. We fixed a huge pot of porridge and people ate that and the biscuits together. The kids also helped by squeezing enough orange juice last night for everyone to drink at breakfast and the rest of the day. If we didn’t give them chores to do while they are cooped up in the small space they’d likely bring the house down.

Everyone had been instructed to put their vote on a piece of paper and drop it in a basket before we ate. Everyone twelve and over was given a chance to vote and we used a hidden ballot system to see whether there was a definite majority one way or the other before we opened up a group discussion. During breakfast the tally was made.

There was only one vote for moving. Dante’ stood up and I thought at first we were going to wind up in a painful debate but he said, “That one would be my vote. If everyone is really set on staying here, I change my vote to staying as well; might as well make it unanimous. And Tina and the kids don’t want to go another place either. But if we do stay here, what are we going to do to make sure this never happens again?”

I cannot put into words the relief I felt. I had tossed and turned a bit during the night, despite being so tired, because this could have been an issue that brought about the beginning of the end for us. Even if there had been a clear majority but there were people unable or unwilling to go along there could have been problems. Scott and I were concerned that we could have been one of the problems. But with a unanimous vote everything was OK.

But Dante’ was right; a vote for staying didn’t necessarily mean that we were voting for things to stay the way they were. After we cleared the air we got down to some real work.

All along we’ve thought we’ve been building our community in a way that was adequate to our needs. We met needs as they came along. We thought we’d been proactive. But the Big Horde and then the Raid on Sanctuary highlighted areas where we are weak.

One of the first assumptions we made was about human nature. We assumed that the larger groups of people congregating together would be for self-protection and not for aggression; or at least not so quickly.

The next assumption we made was about time. We had time to build Sanctuary’s defenses as we needed them. We had time to train all members of our community. We had time to build relationships with other communities before trouble brewed. We had time to finish gathering all of the supplies that were just lying around. There may be time to do all of that, but not nearly as much as we believed.

Matlock was blunt. He laid on the line what he saw as our strengths and what he saw as our weaknesses. One item that I was particularly struck by fell into both categories. It was our own population.

Added all up with have fifty-four people living in Sanctuary, including those in quarantine; we tallied things up by age and sex. In the area of adults 20 years of age and older we have fourteen males and ten females. Teenagers (aged 13 to 19 years) we have five males and seven females. Children aged 2 years to 12 years we have ten males and seven females. We have one infant under a year of age and two more on the way. That looks like a well balanced population and under normal circumstances it would be. But these aren’t normal circumstances.

All of our teenagers, most of who fall into the older teen range, are treated like adults and are expected to function as adults. That was a little rough for me to get used to but I’ve come to understand the necessity of it.

Our tweens, those between the ages of 9 and 12, also have a lot of responsibility but act under the guidance of an adult when at all possible. The children under 9, of whom there are several, also have chores but realistically do not and cannot contribute as much as the tweens and teens do.

Right now two of the adult females and six of the children are in quarantine. Once they are out quarantine, at least another week, we’ll begin to integrate them into the community. We’ll deal with potential problems with them then.

We got real specific and were talking about how our community represented the various talents needed to thrive but that got kind of dry. The bottom line with that discussion however was that we needed to ensure a lot more cross-training occurred than what was actually happening. Waleksi, looking tired and harried, brought up the fact that he was it for advanced medical training. He also brought up the fact that his training was not exactly all that advanced and anyone with any type of first aid training should write their name down on the clipboard that he was passing around and when and where that training came from. He needed to know who we could count on in a pinch as well as what type of community-wide training was needed at the very beginning. For instance, after dinner tonight we all had a lesson in CPR as well as lessons on the triage of potential NRS dangers (people who had been bitten or those in end-of-life circumstances).

I raised the issue that everyone needed to help in the gardens at some point. I simply cannot do it all on my own. I haven’t been doing all the physical labor on my own, but I’ve primarily been using child labor as helpers. That would be fine in the short term, but long term other adults besides myself needed to get involved. Luckily Betty and Reba are both very experienced in that area. So is Mr. Morris and Kevin for that matter. But even they admitted that they hadn’t handed down as much knowledge as they could have to their own kids simply because things were different and it was always assumed there would be time for all of that after the kids finished with their schooling, assuming they were interested at that point.

Once you start adding in areas of expertise like animal husbandry, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, etc. we all realized what an overwhelming task it is going to be to continue to prosper with the relatively small number of people we have. We hadn’t even touched on the area of security yet. Matlock had been saving that for last.

What we needed to do was to increase our physical fortifications to the point that we could operate securely with the fewest number of people at any given time. That balance is going to be absolutely essential to continue as a community and to prevent anything like the Raid from happening again. And we need to branch out and start running patrols to watch for any groups that may be coming into the area. We also need to more firmly define what we consider our territory to be and establish what we are going to do if our territory is infringed on.

Starting tomorrow, the Wall will take precedence over all other building projects, even over repair of the houses inside the Wall. The only exception to this is any repair that restores structural integrity. Each individual family will be responsible for interior clean up. I was surprised at the breadth of the changes and additions they are talking about making to the Wall. Matlock brought out some drawings that he Scott and Angus had made back when the first Wall was being built.

First we are going to enlarge the Wall and add some space and houses. Will need that if we are to continue to grow. As a consequence we will need to go to the Uceta Railroad Yard and take box cars. While at the Yard, which had become primarily a repair and storage Yard back in the 80s, we will collect welding equipment which we will use to tie all of the Wall in together so that we can avoid the shifting and movement of the containers like we had with the Horde and with the explosions. What we are hoping is that the railroad tracks are navigable from the yard to within a closer distance of Sanctuary. It would definitely make it easier to transport a large number of boxes to our location and it would also mean that we could actually use the rail lines to transport any goods from that area of town as well. We run the risk of attracting attention but it may be a risk worth taking. After we take what we want, the plan is to dismantle the rail line in several locations to prevent anyone else from using it the same way.

After James’ injury everyone knows that we need to make sure that our guards are more secure as well. At the ninety-degree outer corners we are going to add a guard “room” by placing a third level. This will be a steel storage container that sits on the corner. The guard room will hang out over the edge of the Wall. If you look at it from above, the guard room will be the straight back of a capital “K” and the Wall will be the bent “v” part of the capital “K” facing into Sanctuary. Doors will be cut in appropriate locations as will ventilation windows that can be screened to keep the bugs out once it warms up.

There were other items mentioned but the three that really made a splash with everyone is the two gate houses we will be building, one at the front gate and one at the rear, that are almost like buildings themselves. Both will have built in security measures like murder holes and a few other nasty surprises for anyone that gets that far. Though Matock and Dix are working on plans to see that that doesn't happen. Then there is the new guard tower that we will build where the old cell tower is right now. As a matter of fact Dix said he is going to try and use the cell tower itself, or at least the equipment, to boost our radio capability so the tower will be built around the cell tower. The only problem is that Tampa is the lightning capital of the world and we are going to have to make sure that all of the taller structures have lightning rods and other safety measures included in their final designs.

The next item that was brought up was the sustainability of our community. Even with security in place and functioning properly it won’t do any good if we can’t provide the basic necessities for our people. I was put on the spot a little when they asked me how the food situation was. I admitted we had lost a lot but not as much as we could have because the pirates had wanted Sanctuary and its supplies intact. I told them I had been ill and then the Raid threw me off as well. It wasn’t making excuses but I was certainly flustered and feeling like I had fallen down on the job.

Dix asked if I thought I would be able to start planting tomorrow. Well that did throw me off. I admitted I might be able to get a few things in the ground tomorrow but that gardening wasn’t as simple as just broadcasting seeds in the ground. You have to prepare the soil and whatever that takes, then you have to lay out the beds, and then you plant either from seed or with seedlings. I said if I could get the golf cart brought back in and charged – it still sat in the garage of the house where the boys and I were stuck during the Big Horde – then I would try and get most of what I could planted tomorrow and over the coming days. The problem, again, would be help. I said that without the younger children to help me I would only be going that much slower. None of us were comfortable with having the younger children run loose but I said that even just helping with the garden that was between our house and the hospital, our main garden area, I would be able to accomplish so much more than I would be alone. Everyone agreed to that so that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

The last thing we talked about, or should I say that Matlock and Dix asked us to think about, was what areas of town or types of materials we should prioritize for the gathering runs we will be doing in the immediate future. I had three ideas pop into my head almost immediately and I can’t believe that I hadn’t really thought of them before. First was I knew where we could get not one, but several wood burning stoves as well as at least two wood burning cook stoves. Secondly I knew where we could get several steam engines as well as several old work horse gas engines. Lastly was I knew where we could get an old fashioned stone driven grain mill that would allow us to grind quantities of corn (or wheat if we could get it). What made this so great was that all of these items were in the same location.

Scott knew I had gotten excited about something because I was bouncing up and down in my seat like a little kid and had a silly grin on my face. Dix nudged Matlock and Matlock laughed and said, “Obviously you have an idea.”

They weren’t laughing for long. Soon everyone was nearly as excited as I was. Out the state fairgrounds, not all that far east of the rail yards, there had been a working exhibit of early Florida pioneers. It was called Cracker Country and was manned by volunteers year round, not just during the fair though that is when it got its most exposure. As soon as I had thought of the other three items I thought about all of the books and other things that would probably just be lying around in the displays areas that we could use. There was even an old printing press that was still in operation, black smith tools, large kettles, and I couldn’t even begin to guess what else we might find there.

Matlock got serious and tried to calm everyone’s enthusiasm reminding them that there were other survivor groups out there. We might not find anything there. Then he gave a little grin and said, “On the other hand …. “

Our meeting had started at breakfast and lasted through lunch and then some. As a parting shot Dix said, “Sissy can’t be the only one with ideas. Everyone needs to look around and come up with some suggestions.” I think that is one of the few times he tried to be playful when there was more than just one or two people around. It made me wonder if maybe Rachel’s problems hadn’t been more of a burden for him than we had credited.

Jim took James and they went and collected the golf cart. It wasn’t as pretty as it used to be but it was still serviceable. They plugged the batteries up to the solar chargers. We were lucky; we only lost two solar panels during the Raid. That reminded me that there were several “green” exhibits at the fairgrounds as well. And I think some of the train switches now use solar power with electric back up. If we were going to start planning big, why not go all the way? It is way passed time to start thinking of using solar power to operate at least one or two wells in sanctuary.

I hope I can sleep tonight. I’ve got so many ideas rolling around in my head right now I’ve had to start a separate notebook just so that I can put them down and not be afraid of forgetting them. Maybe it is none too sensitive, but I’m really glad we’ve been able to find some things to be optimistic about. I’m still grieving for those we lost but I don’t know what good it would do us to just lay down, give up, and die. Maybe I would feel different had it been Scott or one of the children that died. But I think I would still have made the effort for the ones that remained. I think.

I’m scared, but kinda in a good way. We are risking a lot. But what is the alternative? Time and again it’s been proven that no one is coming to the rescue. This is the only life we have. The only ones that can make it better is us. I intend to be on the helping end of that. I feel like I’ve been paralyzed by fear for too long. It started in the attic. Somewhere during the Raid I overcame it. I don’t ever want to go back down that road again.

Day 161

I’m so tired I don’t know if I can write much. It's tired in a good way if that makes sense, but still dead dog tired. My hands are sore too. Two things I’m thankful for tonight are gardening gloves and Bag Balm otherwise I would be in a world of hurt.

The weather has been cool-ish so it wasn’t all that hard to prepare the main garden for planting. The weeds haven’t really had a chance to take hold from when I plowed it last time. Some of the other garden areas are going to need more preparation in the coming days if for no other reason than they were trampled, and to pick debris out of the dirt. That's going to be fun. Not.

Mostly what I’ve been able to plant has been “green stuff” as the kids call it. I’ve planted the first patches of eggplants, peppers (both green and hot), tomatoes, watermelons, broccoli, potatoes, turnips, beets, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, endive, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, English peas, radishes, and Swiss chard. Except for the watermelon and potatoes its mostly “rabbit food.” Although if I don't get some fences up the whole garden could turn into rabbit food in a literal sense. We really need the leafy greens though if we plan to stay healthy while doing all of the work we need to do. But, if a little hopper comes along and finds its way into the stew pot that might just be fine too.

The other gardening task that I did today which was very satisfying is that I planted our first field of sugar cane. I’m catching the last planting opportunity until August so I hope everything takes. There was a small stand of cane that someone had planted out in the piney woods along the utility lines. I marked it on my list of things to do months ago but just never got around to it. Jim agreed to take me out there and to help cut some stalks and bring them back inside Sanctuary.

I used the golf cart to drag a homemade cultivator attachment I made that I set to dig five inch deep furrows that were about four feet apart. Then I dropped pieces of the stalks down into the furrow and covered them back up. Sugar cane isn’t supposed to need very rich soil so I hope I did the right thing by not worrying about putting compost on them; all I did was sprinkle the rows with a watering can. With luck I’ll see shoots in a couple of weeks and after about 10 months I’ll be able to harvest them. No way am I going to miss the next planting opportunity that starts in September; I want to get a solid rotation going.

Jim and Mr. Morris already have designs on any sugar cane that grows. I’m thinking that they can have the cane that is left over after I have been able to get some juice off of it and boil it down to syrup. I swear, those men – Angus and Scott too for that matter – just can’t wait to get that still of theirs going year round. After what happened last time they got a draw off of it I would think that would be enough. Men. Honestly. I thought Mr. Morris was gonna cry when he found a bullet had puncture the copper tubing in several places.

Thinking of Angus up on the Wall seeing dragons makes me wonder what he is getting into. I think all of us have to believe that he will be back but I just wish I knew when. Those pirates were nothing to fool with and I have no idea how far he was going to chase them before he decides he’s kicked them enough and come home.

Tomorrow I’ll work on some of the other garden patches but will likely have to work on them alone because we still can’t let the kids roam around until we deal with the Wall. And speaking of plans for that, tomorrow some of the men will be driving over to the Rail Yard to try and bring in the first load of box cars. Scott is going with them again because he knows the area. His grandfather lived nearly his whole life over in Ybor City which is just a skip away from the rail yards. I know while they are over there they are also going to case that area and see if maybe with two or three days work they can kill two birds with one stone; gathering and grabbing the box cars.

I’ve looked at the pencil drawings of how much they want to enlarge Sanctuary. It’s very daunting. I mean I like it to a certain extent but on the other hand the bigger the compound the greater area we are going to have to guard. Brandon came up with a nifty idea that really blew us adults away. It shouldn’t have but I guess we have all started thinking that technology is over with. Brandon, who still uses a laptop, photo equipment, sound equipment and printers continues to think along those lines a lot more readily than the rest of us do. He said it should be possible to set up those closed circuit television monitors so that a central location … such as the new radio/guard tower … could monitor different areas using a lot less manpower. If we can’t find the wireless systems then we’ll be stuck running wires all over creation but it might be worth it. If we can set up banks of constantly recharging batteries using solar power that will save us having to set up generators.

Brandon got a lot of pats on the back for the idea. He wasn’t being falsely modest though when he said he wished he had thought of it sooner. It might have saved us all the lost lives that occurred during the Raid. That sobered us up but Scott made sure to tell Brandon that some things in life happen so that they CAN generate better ideas. That offered him little comfort however, having just lost his father and most of his step-family. I know he is trying to come to terms with things, but it is visibly a struggle.

The same can’t be said of Maddie. She's not trying at all. She is horrified by her face. She keeps making awful jokes about being kin to Two-Face, the villain in the Batman comics. She is nowhere near as bad as that. And the burn may fade in time but right now about a quarter of her face looks very bad. She's simply not in the mood to accept the possibility of things not being as bad as she imagines them to be. I truly do feel for her, but I just about yanked her ponytail tonight when she shouted at Sarah for not understanding. Sarah understands more than Maddie wants to admit. The scars from the tiger will be with her for the rest of her life. The limp is almost gone, but not quite and we aren't sure if that is as good as it’s going to get or not.

Josephine has come out her funk a little but is still pretty unsure of her future if her eyesight is gone. Both girls are pretty young to be dealing with the blows they have been dealt. I know they can come to terms with the changes, the question is will they choose to.

Rhonda is back up and around. If it was a 24-hour bug that had her puking so constantly no one else caught it. She's a little pale but none the worse for wear. Patricia is sitting up now and the spotting has stopped, but Waleski is taking no changes. She is still on modified bed rest for the foreseeable future. She can't even help Dante' with the inventory work anymore.

This morning I understand Becky set up a “suggestion box” that people could drop ideas into. Sort of one of those put it in writing deals so that no one forgets. I think it was getting hard for Matlock and Dix to keep track of everything people are suggesting.

Actually, both Matlock and Dix were away from Sanctuary most of the day. They took Scott, McElroy, Clay Jr., and J. Paul with them. It was unusual to have both Matt and Dix gone but they needed to get a good look at what we have available and what kind of logistical problems we could run up against. They followed the tracks as best they could and barring cars on the lines in places, most of the rails are clear. There is one place that might be a little iffy; it’s an old over pass near Rowlette Park. There’s a semi stuck under it … the overpass is on a street not meant for trucks. So long as that part of the track holds up we should be home free. The only other questionable part of this plan is that the rail line we need runs through some of what used to be the rougher areas of town. Its starts out near Palm River and Orient Rd which is where one of the main jail houses was, then goes through Ybor City and Central Avenue and up through Sulfur Springs before running parallel to Nebraska Avenue which brings it right to our Front Gate.

The results of their excursion today were promising. McElroy thinks he can get some of the Diesel-Electric Engines running and use them to pull the box cars. How the diesel-electric engines run is a diesel engine operates large generators. The electricity from the generators powers large electric motors attached to the axels of the wheels. The benefit is that there are no clutches or gears so that they are lighter, simpler, and more efficient. None of us knows for sure how many cars can be pulled by a single engine, but he plans on pulling the first load with twenty-five fifty-foot cars. That will allow us to test the track without putting our men at too much risk. That number of cars will give us 1250 linear feet of one-level of Wall. We will need a lot more than that but it will certainly get us started. The problem is not going to be transporting them but having a crew standing by that can de-couple them and move them out of the way fast enough to allow McElroy to do two or three trips in a single day. He also plans for every successful trip to add five to ten box cars on for the next trip until he has reached the maximum load. Talk about moving faster than we have in the past. It kind of makes me nervous which I know is silly.

If all goes well tomorrow then the next day will be a really, really big deal. We will leave two guards, Waleski, the 8 in quarantine, Rose, Melody, Patricia, Rhonda, and all the children under 9 in Sanctuary. Everyone else is going for a ride. I am terribly uncomfortable taking the tweens with us but there simply isn’t any way around it. We’ll drive out to Ybor City with one or two buses and we’ll do a major gathering run while they couple the box cars. We’ll load the box cars with everything that we’ve gathered and then we’ll pile back in the buses and hopefully arrive back at Sanctuary before the box cars do.

If these two plans work it looks like we’ll have a new schedule for doing things. One or two days each week we’ll go as a large group and begin scavenging around in larger areas and/or in areas further from home. The next two areas on our list are the USF/Community Hospital area and the Fairgrounds. We’ll probably do the fairgrounds first since I know for a fact that there are things there that I want … assuming no one else has taken them ahead of us.

I’m climbing into bed early. Scott is still up planning with the other men but I just can’t seem to keep my eyes open. Waleski kept giving me “the look” all evening. I think he thinks I’m over doing it. I think I’m over doing it, but I also think there isn't much choice at this point. If we don’t start replacing some of the food we are using up from our food storage we are going to be in deep trouble before you know it. All of the fruit in the immediate area outside of Sanctuary is, if not totally gone, certainly significantly depleted.

And that is it. I’m putting this pen down before I think of something else to write. I wonder if I can sneak a couple of Tylenol out of our hidden first aid supplies without anyone noticing? If I don’t take something Scott is going to have to lever me up out of the bed in the morning with a crowbar I’m gonna be so stiff and sore.

Day 162 (Tuesday, Jan 9)

Oh brother was I sore this morning. Taking a couple of weeks off from “hard labor” made it that much more of a struggle to deal with all the kinks and strains that garden work can give you. And being totally honest I’m not back up to 100% yet. I’ve thought about trying to learn to drink coffee to perk me up but I just can’t seem to do it. Besides I don’t want to waste any if I can’t finish a cup; those that already do drink coffee need it. Maybe when we are out on our scavenging run tomorrow I’ll find a couple of cans of soda … a case of soda … a whole drink machine full of sodas. I don’t think I would even mind if it was diet soda at this point. Hey, I can wish can’t I? Of course, not drinking soda certainly has contributed to my weight loss I’m sure. Working sixteen hours a day will do that as well. Pitiful thing is that I still don’t have that buff bod you used to see on all the survival chicks in the movies. But at least all the wiggles and jiggles have been cut down except in areas that Scott enjoys wiggling and jiggling.

That man is a hoot. With all the crazy and scary things that have gone on in our lives over the last couple of months he still can make my toes tingle. When he came back yesterday he brought me a huge box of pens and tablets from the Rail Yard office. I’ve been wondering what I was going to do when all of my pens ran out, I was down to only six left. He just handed the box to me matter-of-factly, kissed me on the head, and then went with the rest of the men to discuss what they would need to do tomorrow. I didn’t even realize he was listening to me when I was complaining the other day. He had that glazed "she's talking to me but it's not registering" look on his face at the time. I know most folks wouldn’t consider that very romantic but it is the kind of thing that just does it for me. I never was a cut flowers and chocolate girl. Cut flowers wilt and chocolate gave me zits. I was much happier with an oil change for my car and cook outs at the beach.

Hmmm. Wiggles, jiggles, and tingles. If my kids ever read this journal they are like to die of embarrassment before they can finish. Let’s get back on topic here.

It wasn’t just muscle soreness this morning. My hands are just nasty. Even with gloves on yesterday I developed blisters. Great big honking nasty blisters too. And some paper cut type slicing from the sugar cane leaves. I’m patched up but I look ridiculous with all of these iodine lines all over my arms and neck. It looks like I was attacked by someone with an orange highlighter.

Poor Walekski. He really is having a hard time of it. His relationship with Rachel was odd; it was a little adversarial but they were also buddies, comrades in arm. She had more medical training than he did and he wasn’t too proud to learn as much from her as he could as quickly as he could. Rachel didn’t put him down but she didn’t exactly praise him very much either so I guess it left him a little insecure when he stepped outside of his official training. Rachel also handled most of the females in camp. I’m probably the exception to the rule. Suddenly being faced with not one but two pregnant women has made him extremely nervous though if you didn’t know him that well you wouldn’t be able to tell. He's still as curmudeonly as ever. And Tina’s rape has him on tenterhooks as he wants to treat her exactly perfectly so she isn’t left with any lasting, physical consequences of the attack. He’s up all day tending to everyone’s wounds and to the people over in quarantine, and then spends several hours at night reading all of the medical books we’ve been able to collect, planning community training events, and trying to continue with Rose and Melody’s training where Rachel left off. I’m real happy to see that Rilla and “Ski” as she calls him are working together so well. They are moving carefully, both are still nursing broken hearts, but I think there is a great deal of potential there. But who knows for sure? Nothing is ever as easy as you want it to be, and I mean nothing.

Just once I’d like to see a plan go the way we expect it to go. Oh, they got the train of box cars in like they were supposed to. They brought in twenty-five and it was beautiful. But for every box car that came in they also had to deal with that many zombies. Most of the areas the train tracks run through have never been cleaned out. Lots of rioting and who knows what all have left untold numbers of zombies that haven’t seemed to have teamed up with any horde. I don’t know why the zombies in those areas of town are different. Maybe they aren’t hearing the “call” to congregate. Maybe it’s that they are basically trapped in areas severely damaged by rioting and can’t get out. Maybe it has to do with the damage that those bodies took during the riots or the people they were before they turned, though what rationale we could use for that explanation I don’t know. My understanding is that those zombies were pretty far along in the decomposition process so maybe that has something to do with it. All I know is it is providential and weird at the same time. “Organized” zombie hordes are very, very scary and could have completely derailed our plans. Pun intended.

According to Scott, the men reached the rail yard with only minor amounts of trouble. Mostly it was stalled traffic and other debris blocking the road. They had to make a few detours but nothing major. They got there, located the likely engine they had intended to use and finally found how to get it to the track that it needed to be on. Then they figured out how to push and pull the box cars into place. They even figure out how to bring along the Crane Train that they’ll need to move the box cars off of the tracks and into place along the outline of the expanded Wall. So far so good right? It went so relatively smooth that McElroy had thought they might even get in two trains of box cars the first day which would put them a trip ahead.

Nope. While the plan had taken into account that the box cars were considerably heavier and longer than the steel storage containers and acquired the crane train to move them around, not one of us had thought about what that additional weight would mean when we were trying to actually place the box cars. Very little prep was needed for the steel storage containers. That is not going to be true of the box cars.

One, they have wheels. OK, that’s pretty obvious and it turned out that taking the wheels off wasn’t going to be the easy operation anticipated so they have to be left on. Axels can come off but not the whole wheel apparatus if I understand the grumbling of the men correctly. Two, the weight of the box car itself means that we will need to create some kind of foundation for it to sit on. That was the big grumble and what will really slow us down.

Today they simply removed all of the box cars from the tracks and kind of lined them up off to the side the best they could. Tomorrow on the first load of cars that they bring back, they’ll replace two of the boxes with flat cars and bring back a bull dozer and one of those big heavy things that packs down road beds when they are being laid. I can’t remember what McElroy called it exactly; a vibrator roller or something like that. Obviously the name got some snickers out of the more playful of the group. Of course the tweens didn’t know what they were snickering about and Sarah in her infinite wisdom asked McElroy how hair curlers were going to help keep the box cars from falling over. That set the rest of us off. James was so embarrassed all he could do is go, “Oh my gosh Sarah!” and walk away. Kids … life sure would be boring without them.

Speaking of kids, we are still on for the group gathering run tomorrow. Betty is staying here to supervise the nine and under crowd which makes me much more comfortable about going. If not her, I would have voted for Reba. Both have a heap load of commonsense which makes it easier for me to do what I have to do. Scott has admitted to feeling the same way.

We were going to take Rose and Melody but Waleski is just not in any shape to take care of those injured and staying behind without some help. He’d be able to do it assuming no emergency came up, but if it did then the whole house of cards could come down. And I know that Johnnie and Bubby won’t come unglued about me leaving if Rose is there. They are still experiencing some separation anxiety though it’s better than it was.

They were good boys today and that helped me a lot. While the rest of the children stayed at our house the two boys came with me and helped me with some of the other gardening plots. I planted another patch that was all watermelons, both hybrid seeds and heirlooms. The heirlooms I’ll be able to collect the seeds from and replant next season. The hybrid seeds will at least give us one season of variety although even in the heirlooms I have red, yellow, and orange-fleshed watermelons. If they all make we might actually get sick of seeing the fruit. I'm hoping to have enough to make watermelon preserves, watermelon rind pickles, and maybe even some watermelon wine. We'll have to see.

Another patch I planted is all in tomatoes. Most of these were the heirloom varieties. I already used up most of the hybrid seeds I had last time I planted tomatoes. Of course I have all the Brandywine varieties like red, pink, yellow, and black; but I also have some that are supposed to be odd. Like there are these in a packet I found called “Banana Legs” and the description of them makes them sound like they look like small bananas only they really are tomatoes. That I’ll have to see to believe. Then I’ve got the more traditional ones like the Arkansas Traveler, Cherokee Purple, and Giant Beefsteak. I had the boys help me plant a bunch of hanging baskets of plum, cherry, and grape tomatoes. That will save me the garden space which I am going to need next month for sure.

In addition to a few other duplicate patches of what I had planted yesterday I planted a field of sugar beets. I have no idea if this will work on not but I intend on trying. If the beets do make there are three things we can do with them. First is that our moonshiners can make a kind of liquor from a mash made out of the sugar beets. Apparently they do this in Eastern Europe … or did. We can also make a sweet syrup out of the beets; cook a mash, drain the resulting liquid, then boil it down until it has a thick consistency. The best thing is that we can take the mash left over from the other two uses and then feed that to our animals. We can pickle the pigs with the moonshine mash and feed that other to the cows. I’d say the extra work is worth the potential pay out.

Tonight I helped get food ready for tomorrow. We also needed to fix emergency bags for everyone. The tweens got fanny packs for the most part but we threw some extra back packs in the bus just in case. The rest of us adults got our own BOBs. I finally found exactly the backpack that was perfect for me for gathering runs. It’s one of those single-strap sling back packs. I can wear it and still easily move and do what I have to do. Now it’s not something I would want for a heavy duty BOB but being able to wear it and work at the same time is a load off of my mind (and my back).

We have to move quickly in the morning so it will be another day of cheese grits, biscuits, and this time we’ll be cutting up thin rounds of summer sausage. Lunch for those on the gathering run will be crackers, sausage sticks, GORP or Kiddie Kibble, oatmeal and raisin cookies, and canned fruit cocktail. Not exactly the most nutritious meal on the planet but not too shabby either for a meal that requires no cooking and very little clean up. I’ll pack a basket of oranges for those that are just starving to death before we can get home. I’ve also got some drink mixes that people can put in their nalgene bottles.

Everyone also gets their very own gloves and some other gear and will be armed, even the tweens. There are some of the tweens, like Sarah, that can shoot with great accuracy. Then there are some like Laura that are totally clueless. We thought about leaving Laura behind but Tina actually said she needed to go. She said that she needs to learn how to protect herself and these gathering runs, under supervision of adults, will give her what she needs and can’t get if she lives out the rest of her days inside the Wall of Sanctuary. Laura looked ready to mutiny so we’ll have to see how things work out in the morning. The last thing we need is a child with an attitude.

We are taking two busses. One will be a people bus and the other will be an equipment bus. The people bus is an obvious one to describe. The equipment bus will be loaded down with bags, baskets, and boxes to put loose stuff in before it is placed in a box car for transport to Sanctuary. There will also be a variety of things like shovels, wire cutters, screwdrivers, hammers, chains, pulleys, ropes, straps, etc. We’ve tried to imagine what all we could possibly need to make this gathering run as quick and as efficient as possible.

Either way it’s off to bed I go. Scott’s waiting patiently and it’s going to be a long and interesting day tomorrow.

Day 163

Long and interesting … those were my words last night to describe this day. Could I have been more unintentionally prophetic?

We were up early; nothing unusual there. The kids were pretty ramped up but not acting out, just tense and excited to be going outside of the Wall. Nothing too unusual there either. I hated leaving everyone with all the dishes but we really did need to get on the road.

McElroy and the train crew headed out on the train engine and we took our route in the buses. We kept the tweens on the floor board where we had installed reinforced panels; no since in taking chances with a stray (or intentional) bullet coming in. Most of the teens were on the inside with the exception of those acting as guards. We adults did our best to cover every place else.

First thing that turned unusual is that many people experienced a bit of motion sickness. It had been so long since many of them had ridden in a vehicle that the motion and speed – no matter how slow it was – required them getting used to it all over again. Samuel and Sarah were the two tweens least effected and we think it’s because they get out and ride the horses almost daily. It made me think and I’m going to add more horses to the list (or maybe bicycles) of things we gather together.

It took almost an hour and a half to get to the rail yard because of all the detours we had to make. We tried to stay out of the worst areas but how do you quantify that when everywhere you look is “worse?” Of the people that hadn’t been too far outside of Sanctuary’s territory it was a depressing ride. You can know on a certain academic level how bad things are. You can even know based on firsthand accounts how bad things are. But, to actually see them with your own eyes is something particularly different; everything becomes more real in some ways.

To distract the growing moroseness that was being exhibited by everyone Jim, who was in charge of the Ybor City Gathering Run, asked everyone to go over their assigned tasks one more time. Every group had at least one adult. We all called off our group numbers. I’m leading group #5 and we are one of the smaller groups; it’s me, Samuel, and Sarah. But each group would also be acting in tandem so we would be with group #6 that was made up by Jim, Reba, Clark, and Callie. I wound up with Laura before the day was over but that’s another story.

Basically we rendezvoused at the rail yard and dropped off the passenger bus. Our plan had been to take the bus that had the seats removed and ride that over to 7th Avenue in Ybor City. And that’s where things begin to get interesting.

Rather than take the bus, Scott figured out how to work the trolley that ran on the tracks from the rail yard straight into Ybor City. We all thought that was totally cool. What he did was attach one of those little diesel powered people movers to the front of the trolley. We didn’t go real fast but we did move and we were able to avoid the worst of the road mess to do it. As a bonus, we pulled a little flat bed car with its own diesel people mover. Straight shot all the way. There was only one place where we had to get out and move a car out of the way.

First place we stopped was the venerable Columbia Restaurant. All the groups got out and helped to empty this place out. The inside was pretty trashed and it was so sad to see it that way. For people that hadn’t been born and raised around Tampa the Columbia might not mean anything to them but for Scott and I this was literally a part of our history. The manager’s office was trashed; it looked like someone was searching for money as the change bag and tills were thrown all over the place and the substantial safe stood broken open and empty. Only the casual scavenger had been through the restaurant. There were still a lot of paper goods and condiments though I told Jim before we brought any of it into Sanctuary I wanted to store it in an outside building and go through it for any roaches and silverfish. I was happy to see a lot of salt and seasonings; we would need them in the coming months as our hunting would need to pick up. I was one of the last people out and I grabbed a handful of the brochures and stuffed them in my pack just to remember the way the Spanish palace used to look.

The Naveira Coffee Mill was the next place we stopped as well as a couple of sports bars. We had to start breaking up into smaller groups. That wasn’t too bad as the shops were considerably smaller than the Columbia. The coffee mill still smelled of coffee beans. We wound up taking so much coffee out of that place and some of it was green coffee beans. Scott, upon hearing my idea, thinks I’m nuts but I figure it is worth a try; I’m going to take some of the green coffee beans and see if I can’t get some coffee bushes growing. I don’t know if they’d ever produce but it’s worth a shot.

Then there were a couple of more bars and little restaurants and then the family-style Spaghetti Warehouse. That was another mainstay of Tampa. It didn’t take Sarah and Samuel long to get the rhythm going. Check the closets and for boxes and bags and things already in cases. Put everything outside the door for the crew that was loading things from the door onto the flat bed to take it back to the rail yard. Continue on starting at the main waitress/waiter area; from there, head into the kitchen and cooking areas. After that check the food storage shelves and lockers for anything worth gathering. I tried my best to take care of the area behind the bars and the liquor cabinets myself but I noticed a definite pattern almost immediately. What had been scavenged by our predecessors was the liquor and the convenience foods. Staple items really hadn’t been touched which told me that it either happened early on or the scavengers were likely younger and/or single males. Most women over thirty, or those with small children, would never have just walked away from some of the food supplies that remained. I also noticed that someone was thinking because the feminine hygiene and condom dispensers were broken into and emptied.

The next couple of places were, hmmm, let’s just say I didn’t consider them child appropriate even if they were vacant and trashed. There weren’t anything really wrong but I just had a funny vibe about taking kids into bars to gather up any leftover liquor there might be. Not that there was much. The bars had been particularly worked over.

As worked over as all of the places were, we scavenged a bunch of items from there and filled up the flatbed car pretty quickly. It pulled out after it had been piled high and took two of the teams with it to unload as quickly as possible at the rail yard and return.

It’s about that time that I started feeling watched. I thought maybe there was a shambler in the area but shamblers don’t hide. They eventually knock something over or reveal themselves when they go after the nearest warm blooded human. I decided to keep Samuel and Sarah close as we entered the next couple of buildings. Again, the selective scavenging for cash, liquor, and convenience foods was pretty obvious; but also in the last building I noticed that a lot of tables were knocked over or in disarray except for a grouping in the back that could still catch the daytime light.

I was trying to not overreact but I must have communicated some of my new nervousness to the kids. Samuel stuck really close to Sarah and they both stuck close to me. It would have been easier if we had split up but I just couldn’t do it any longer.

We walked into this little place called the Green Iguana; think Bennigan’s meets Key West for its décor and menu. The front of the place was well lit through large glass windows but it had a musty, “off” smell to it. Not bad, more like an old corpse that had finally decomposed well passed the gross stage. We had run into a couple of those, but not enough to warrant the amount of scavenging that had been done in this area already.

Then I heard it, the jingle-tinkle noise of chains.

I was thinking as spooky as the place was it could have been Jacob Marley; but on the other hand just because we were dealing with zombies didn’t mean that ghosts were real.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here Max?”

The squeaky male voice nearly gave me a heart attack. Another voice, this one female, said, “I’m sorry. We’re full up and are no longer accepting reservations. You’ll have to come back another day.”

Out of the gloom of the rear of the restaurant came two of the strangest looking folks I have seen in quite some time; possibly forever. The girl, and that’s all she was really, had a green buzz cut and purple eyebrows wearing a flaming orange flamenco costume with black combat boots. If there was an opportunity to pierce something, she had taken it … eyebrows, nose, lips, cheeks, ears, etc. As she stepped into better light I saw that she had a few piercings on her chest – areas that most women keep covered to conform to decency laws if for no other reason – as well as rings in the webbing between her fingers. Poor Samuel didn't know quite what to make of that display and I felt Sarah punch him rudely in the ribs.

The kid with her – he was lucky if he had been old enough to drink before NRS brought the world to a screeching halt – was just as bad, only his thing was studs, camo, and Maori tattoos. The kid had no hair really, just a fine stubble that left his scalp tattoos out for shock value. He also kept his eyebrows shaved and the placement of the tattoos on his face gave him this weird, perpetually surprised look. From his droopy drawers up he was as naked as his head to show off yet more Maori tattoos. From the waistband of his dirty under drawers down he was dressed in what might have been considered tattered urban warfare gear, but none of it fit very well. Around his neck, around his wrists, in his ears, and on his belt were huge silver studs.

My mind struggled to assimilate the picture they made; caught somewhere between their comic portrayal of urban youths and the reality of the fact that we were in some seriously deep doo doo.

They were nothing more than kids as far as their years went, but their eyes said quite a different story of what was going on inside their heads. The girl alternated between nobody being home at all and just plain ol’ crazy. And she sucked her thumb which lent a pathetic aspect to the overall effect of her get up. The kid, now he was the dangerous one. He was armed and whipcord lean and mean. He may have looked like a fool, and was probably three-quarters crazy if not a little more, but he definitely knew what he was doing. No excuses here, he liked being psychotic.

I didn’t know what to say but the silence was stretching out pretty thin. “I beg your pardon. We didn’t know we were intruding. We’ll be getting out of your way and again, our apologies.”

I tried to back the kids to the door, we weren’t all that far, but the kid shucked the pump on the shotgun he carried and pointed in our direction. “I didn’t give you permission to leave. Besides, Max needs some company.”

I thought at first he was talking about himself in the third person but then the girl started clapping and acting like a child who has been given a treat. You know, I really don’t cuss all that much but I was singing some pretty foul phrases in my head. I had a seriously bad feeling about what was about to go down.

But the kids didn’t freeze which probably saved all of our lives. Samuel, oversized kid that he is, was behind me on the right and Sarah was behind me on the left. Samuel is left handed and I felt him flex his arm and grip his pistol. Sarah is right handed and doing the same only she also acted like she was holding onto my waist in fear; in reality she was unsnapping my machete sheath. Good kids the both of them.

“I’m sorry Max but we really should be leaving.”

A grin not even a mother could love appeared on the kid’s face. “Oh, I’m not Max. This is Max.”

The girl walked back and dragged forward something that nearly drove my gag reflex into overtime. It was a zombie; and glory what a zombie it was. It wore a collar and straight jacket looking kind of black leather thing, only the arms hadn’t been secured so the sleeves drug the ground. Its pants were nearly nonexistent; basically they were just shredded remains of jeans that had been faded to almost white. The crown of its head sported a long, fluorescent pink Mohawk. There were silver ring piercings covering almost the entire edge of one ear. The other ear was nothing more than a ragged cup where something had been eating at it.

The worst thing about “Max” however was that he was one of the mutants. I didn’t know how long it had been reanimated but there were already tumorous growths over several parts of the visible portions of the corpse.

“Max is our leader. Was our leader. Isn’t he just great?” squealed the girl.

There was absolutely no sane reply I could make to that so I kept silent. The Kid wasn't so reserved, “Shut up bitch. Max was weak. I should have been leader all along and we wouldn’t have lost all of our people. Stupid asshole even got himself bit trying to save your sorry … “

“Hey … “

“If it’d been me you would have joined the rest of that two-faced … “

“Hey … “ the girl said getting more agitated, stopping her feet and crying huge crocodile tears which caused her clown like eye makeup to smear and run down her face.

“You can’t even cook worth a damn. And you are lazy in bed on top of it all. What Max sees in you I don’t know.”

Ugh ... "sees?" As in not past tense? I hope that had just been a mistake and not a Freudian slip. This whole situation was degenerating into the absurd. What happened next changed absurd into deranged and from deranged into psychotic.

Looking back on this situation here at end of day I can honestly say that while I enjoyed watching movies like Mad Max, Escape from New York, and all those other apocalyptic movies with the strange wardrobe choices I never really thought of them as likely scenarios. I mean, if you are fighting for your life taking the time to do an extreme makeover doesn’t exactly strike me as a constructive use of time.

Thinking about those two kids just makes me scratch my head. We still don’t know what they had been doing for the last several months. Did they start off looking like that or was their sanity a casualty of the struggle for survival and their hairstyle and clothing the cost of belonging to a survivor group? And we’ll never know though I’m not the only one that has been doing a lot of conjecture on that point.

About the time The Kid wound down his rant about the shortcomings of his female companion “Max” started becoming agitated. The Kid and the girl immediately stopped their foolishness and went on alert. The girl in an inappropriately excited, sing-song voice said, “We have company!”

Then shots rang out from the street and I began to worry for our companions. Apparently the two punker wannabes hadn’t realized we weren’t alone. The gunfire startled them both. “Max” had become increasingly agitated with every passing second and used their surprise to escape.

“You dumb bitch! Why weren’t you holding on to him?!”

“Me?! Why weren’t you holding on? You’re supposed to be all big and strong … “ Wham!!!! The Kid back handed her in the mouth.

“Get your sorry ass up. Shut your sorry pie hole and help me catch him. I want our watch dog back.”

And just like that they ran out and into the street. They had completely forgotten about us. If this was the efficiency their group had been exhibiting all along no wonder there was only the two of them left.

The kids and I, using the main register desk at the front as cover went to investigate what was going on. I haven’t exactly had any training beyond what life has handed to me recently but even I know you don’t run out into the street when you’ve heard gunfire. Nor do you stand at big plate glass windows and stare at what might be going on outside; and a good thing too because right after we took up our position a bullet hit one of those windows and shattered it sending large shards of glass every which way.

I asked the kids to keep their head down and took the chance to peek up and see if I could ascertain what was going on. A shriek pulled my eyes over to the girl who was down with two zombies chewing on her starting right above her combat boots. She was going into shock when “Max” catapulted on top of the zombies tearing them off of the girl. There was no hope for her. Even if there had been a way to combat the transferred infection, her femoral artery had already been compromised and she bled out very quickly.

It took no time for “Max” to crack each zombies’ skulls open to get to the brain matter inside; like ganache inside a chocolate egg. Samuel, turning into the same kind of hard head his dad is said, “That’s disgusting. That’s one of those mutant zombies like in the Big Horde isn’t it?”

“I thought I told you and Sarah to keep your heads down,” I answered him.

“Yes ma’am, but I’m a guy and guys … “

“Are stooopid,” finished Sarah as she kicked him in the ankle. “Mom said get down and if you don’t I’m gonna tell your Mom.”

That’s all I needed. “Knock it off you two. Yes, ‘Max’ appears to be one of those mutant zombies. Unfortunately we’ve got bigger problems. Samuel, how many zombies besides ‘Max’ do you see?”

“I think maybe eight or nine in the street if you take off the two that just had their heads cracked open. But there might be more wherever they came from or some I can't see.”

“OK, no arguments. I want you two to stay here. The sooner we get these picked off the sooner we’ll be able to figure out if any of our people have been hurt.”

Sarah said, “Make that seven” after a rifle shot from up the street brought down another zombie.

That was likely one of our people because the only weapon I had seen The Kid with was a shotgun. As soon I as I thought that however there was a shotgun blast but I couldn’t tell if it hit anything or not. That was either The Kid or it could have been Dante’ or Jim who both were carrying 12 gauges.

It became a scene from an old Western movie with the town people ganging up on the bandits that have come to cause problems. Shots rang out constantly for the next ten minutes extinguishing all of the zombies except “Max,” punk girl who was quickly reanimating, and one other zombie wearing the remnants of a soldier’s uniform.

“Max” had finally finished with the two zombies he had been noshing on and was beginning to sniff around punk girl. That I thought was too much for me and I placed a .22 bullet in her forehead. I heard Sarah and Samuel gasp but I was passed caring; I was done with the Fractured Fairytale that the picture of those two together created.

“Max” quickly lost interest in his former lover and turned to the soldier zombie who had just chased The Kid into the next building over from us which was the Bernini with its serpentine shaped copper bar. A high pitched scream let all of us know who had been trying to get to the scene that it was too late. I skidded to a halt and belched at the sight before me. Soldier zombie had ripped a whole bunch of The Kid’s tattoos off leaving behind gleaming skull. “Max” deftly twisted the soldier zombie’s head off before he’d even finished getting stuffing the tattooed skin into its mouth and then ran to the back of the building and disappeared from view.

Horror was clearly visible in The Kid’s eyes as he reached a hand out to us for help. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he succumbed to shock and massive blood loss. Jim, on the scene as well, looked around at each of us like he was seeing if anyone else had called dibs already then blew The Kid’s brain apart before he had a chance to reanimate.

We kept an eye out for “Max” the rest of the work day but never caught a glimpse of his pink Mohawk again. The door at the rear of Bernini’s had stood wide open and no dought Max was on the scent of his next meal.

I suppose you could say that is the most bizarre thing we dealt with today but it wasn’t the end of the interesting stuff.

By the time that the loading crew was back from the rail yard we already had enough stuff for them to take another full load again. We spent the next couple of hours combing the rest of 7th Avenue. We grabbed uniform pieces, paper goods, all of the non-perishable foods left in the bars and restaurants, liquors from the bars, box and boxes of cutlery and dishware, lots of pots and pans, propane canisters, sterno cans, candles, office supplies, and a multitude of other items too lengthy to list. Suffice it to say that we have our work cut out for us in terms of getting everything stored away. It’s the same kind of trouble we had when we first started the gathering runs directly around Sanctuary. Stuff came in a lot faster than we had teams to organize it and put it away.

We cleaned out Carmine’s, Castillo’s, Harpo’s, La Tropicana, and many other places along “The Avenue.” Then some of us began to hop over to 8th Avenue. Jim and his crew immediately headed for the New World Brewery and I don’t even know what all they drug out of that place. I do know that between there and the Tampa Brewing Company they got cases and cases of empty bottles and other bottling equipment to go with their plans for the still. I joshed him a little and told him he better be saving some of those for the kids or they were going to fuss when I told them I couldn’t make any more root beer ‘cause the grownups hogged all the bottles. He rolled his eyes but gave me a wink right afterwards. Jim's almost as big a sucker for the kids as Angus is.

I can only imagine what Angus would be up to if he was around. Sarah and Samuel told “Uncle Angus” stories all through lunch with the other kids. All of us wonder if he is OK and when he might be coming home. Tomorrow it will be a week since he’s been gone. It bothers me that he didn’t have anyone to watch his back. I know the men have tried to guess more than once his return date but with absolutely no idea what route he took or how far away he went it’s almost impossible to be accurate to any degree at all.

Speaking of Angus, when we hit the small Centro Ybor Mall the kids were devastated to find out that all the candy in the place was gone. I suspect the group that our punkers had belonged to cleaned any candy and canned soda out long ago. We found a lot of containers of soda syrup at the movie theater but without the fizzy water to add them to they are pretty useless. I’ve been reminding everyone to grab all of the club soda they find but there hasn’t even been much of that either. I may be reduced to drinking old fashioned effervescent sodas if I get desperate. They are made using baking soda and they don’t stay fizzy long at all, but some treat would be better than nothing at all.

The other places in Centro Ybor that yielded some goodies included Starbucks, Stogie’s, and several of the clothing stores. There was a silver jewelry store in there that I smashed and grabbed a lot of the good silver pieces out of. I figured Scott may be able to melt them down and make something from them that we actually need though I can’t imagine what at the moment. The Muvico Theater was a treasure trove of popcorn, salt, paper goods, cleaning supplies, office supplies, and lots of condiments. It will be a long time before we run out of nacho cheese as we loaded at least three cases of #10 cans of the stuff, and not that many fewer jars of jalapeno pepper slices. We even got some decent supplies from the big GameWorks entertainment venue.

The way I make it sound all of this stuff was just easy to grab and walk away with. Well it wasn’t. Even though the non-perishable stuff in cans and glass containers was OK, a lot of the perishable stuff had rotted where it sat. Lucky for us most of the rotting was long over with and the smell wasn’t all that dissimilar from what we had to put up with from the zombies. And rats and roaches left pretty disgusting evidence of their existence as well.

Then there was the fact that the lighting in back and/or windowless areas was almost nonexistent. Every team had two wind up flashlights but it didn’t help that much. We pulled curtains down and opened back doors to get what natural light that we could but some of us still got a little nervy.

For instance, a little after lunch time Dante’ hunted me down and asked me to take Laura for the rest of the afternoon if I could stand it. “Either someone takes her or she isn’t going to make it home to her mother.” Alrighty then. Daddy had obviously had just about as much of daughter as he could handle. By the end of the day I’d had just about as much of the girl as I could stand as well. She was milking the situation for all it was worth. The only things she wanted to gather was jewelry, make up, clothes and shoes for herself or stuff that might “go nice in her room.” When she caught on that she wasn’t going to work me like she could work her dad she got nasty and tried to get Sarah upset by flirting with Samuel. Samuel eventually came to me and asked if I would ask her to stop it because it was embarrassing him. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings but she was pushing him into a corner and he didn’t like that she kept touching him.

I have no idea where she was getting this stuff but I suspect that there was a little more than “friendship” between her and Marty. That did not bode well for Tina and Dante’ if they couldn’t get her to settle down until she was old enough to be responsible for her actions. I finally had Samuel and Sarah hook up with Jim’s group for a few minutes and took Laura aside for a little reality check. She was furious with me and didn’t like being confronted at all. Tina isn’t in any shape to deal with this crap and I hated like sin to have to say anything to Dante’ but I’m no fool. I wasn’t about to have Laura twist my words and go running to her parents and start something to draw the fire off of herself.

To say that Dante’ was upset was an understatement but it wasn’t directed at me. He was hurt but not surprised. Apparently he’d had a sister with the same issue of hitting puberty and being boy crazy really early. His parents laid down the law and gave her a bunch of rule/consequence boundaries and he said she eventually grew into her earthy personality with more commonsense than she started out with. I think Miss Laura is about to find out that her immediate future is so full of work that she doesn’t have time to worry or wonder about boys, sex, or anything else for a while. The girl isn’t my direct responsibility or problem but she could easily become everyone’s indirect problem if she doesn’t learn to cooperate and live by the rules. If she was older it might be easier to take, but eleven and twelve years old and already going through this stuff? Whew, knock on wood and pray like crazy that I never have to deal with it with my kids.

We were nearing the end of our work day when Jim came walking up with this young man out of the middle of nowhere. He’d been holed up in one of the little casitas over in the Ybor City Museum healing from a tumble he'd taken during a running flight from some zombies.

Brian Phillips is 22 years old and a little on the stocky side. At 5’ 11” he isn’t the tallest man in camp but he isn’t the shortest either. He had been visiting family right outside Tampa when everything went crazy, losing them one by one; to the riots, then medical issues, and finally to the zombies themselves. He’d just been wandering since then trying to find a group that he was compatible with. Reba and I patched him up best we could but he could have used stitches earlier on. He was going to have a star shaped scar near his temple where a chick he’d picked up and tried to offer some safety subsequently nearly killed him in the middle of the night so that she could steal his food and gear for herself. He’d had several encounters like that since August and the only thing that brought him out of the woodwork is Jim’s accent and natural charm and the invitation to have someone take a look at his cuts and bruises.

He agreed, after some hesitation, to come back with us to Sanctuary at least for a couple of days. Poor guy really is wary after all he’s been through. I can’t imagine trying to make it alone this whole time and every time he did try and get with some folks he was rebuffed rather harshly. He’s a big guy and I hope it works out. We could use a few more men in camp. He’s a little young but time will take care of that fast enough. And frankly, if we can stand to have the tweens walk around armed and carrying their load, I’m certainly not going to object to a twenty-something doing the same thing.

Jim took Brian on the next to last flat bed run back to the rail yard to me Matlock and Dix and the rest of the men who themselves were preparing the second load of box cars to take back to Sanctuary for the day.

One of the last places we all went to gather from was the Don Vincente de Ybor Hotel over off the Republica de Cuba at the corner of 9th Avenue. That was a little outside the area that we had outlined to gather in but we were so close that it was a shame to not take advantage of it. The Grand Salon area, despite being exposed to the weather through broken windows and some obvious looting was still beautiful. The main dining room had seen some rough times as well but the brick walls weren’t going anywhere though the wooden paneling was damaged. I would have loved to try to save the old wooden bar in the café that adjoined the dining room but where we would put it is another matter; the thing is huge. We did salvage a lot of glasses and liquor from the hidden cabinets; same thing for the Lounge that used to be a hidden Speakeasy.

From the rooms and housekeeping areas we gathered a lot of high quality linens, pillows, and curtains that can be sewn into coats and other types of clothing. We also rolled up some really nice area rugs. Most people had started pulling up the carpeting off of the floors in their houses within the compound. Scott and I had done that years ago and replaced it with ceramic tile or karndean flooring. The floors are just easier to maintain now that we don’t have electric vacuums to use. Brooms and dust mops do the trick. Where we do have rugs we just roll them up and take them outside and beat them. The rugs we bring back will help with the process of converting some of the houses to something that is easier to clean and maintain in today’s world.

We would have hit the Hilton that was also on 9th Avenue but it had seen some serious fire damage and we didn’t know how structurally sound it was.

The absolutely last place we went, and we were still trying to carry everything to the trolley stop by the time Jim came back and said we needed to hurry up, that they were ready to head out with the last load of box cars, was La Segunda Bakery. All of the perishable stuff had gone off a long time ago but I was amazed that in the back where the walk in cooler was they still had hundreds of pounds of flour that had been untouched by rodents or insects. My mouth fell open and I had everyone within close earshot find lidded containers to pack it in for transporting back to Sanctuary. They also had many, many gallons of soybean oil, a ton of bags of platinos chips and yucca roots that looked like they might still be viable if I get them in the ground sooner rather than later. There were even some smoked hams and sausages hanging in another smaller cooler. Because they’d been sealed, they were untouched and I was doing the happy dance thinking about what I could cook for dinner over the next few days.

There were lots and lots of spices, bread crumbs in sealed containers (although some of these had been munched by rats judging by the holes in the sides), cans of Cuban coffee, bottles of lime and lemon juice, and back in the manager’s office all the fixings for Cuba Libre … white rum, lime juice, AND coca cola. I had to stop a yippee in mid yip or I was likely to draw half the zombie population in the area. There was no way I could claim a whole case of soda for myself but I admit I did stick one can down in my pack when no one was looking. I decided that I’d feel guilty about it later, especially when Sarah and Samuel were laughing at my antics.

We were in a rush to get back to the rail yard by that point. It was going to be a push to get back to Sanctuary before dark set in.

No matter how fast you want to go, there is only so much speed in a school bus to begin with. You add bumpy roads, streets cluttered with decaying debris from riots and broken down cars, and the occasional zombie that lacks the sense to get out of the way and you wind up even more nerve-wrenchingly slow. Eventually however we did pull into Sanctuary only to find that the train had already arrived long enough ago to have them preparing to come look for us.

After relieved greetings were exchanged and an explanation given for our delay we settled in to wolf down the meal that had been kept warm for us. We were starving and I made sure that I mentioned how appreciative I was of the hearty stew that had been fixed. I'm hoping that by modeling appreciation for other people's efforts I'm teaching the kids not to take the good things in life for granted.

It was during the meal that we found out that the flyers the men had posted all over the place on the North Florida Run had yielded the first results. A tall, burly young man was introduced to us as we introduced Brian to those that had stayed at Sanctuary.

Chris is about 6’2” with blue eyes and brown hair in a buzz cut barely grown out. The small glasses he was wearing looked like they’d seen better days and Scott offered to see if he could solder them or fix them in some way until he could find a replacement pair that worked. Chris is the epitome of the clean cut college kid and I was dying to know how he had managed to keep his hair cut all by himself.

Well, he hadn’t started out all by himself. Originally from Maryland he had been at college in Virginia when he decided to take a semester and spend it on independent study. He had been travelling with friends from UCF to a history conference at UF when things really unraveled. I75 splits Gainesville wide open and the town was inundated with refugees from larger cities and those from the rural areas who had come to town to try and get supplies. The infrastructure and services were unable to handle the influx and quickly deteriorated to the point of non-existance. People were camped in the Mall parking lot, along the side of the road; basically anywhere they could find space. The fuel quickly disappeared from all of the gas stations as well trapping people away from home. Then violent demonstrations started on the UF campus, turned into riots, and spread throughout the entire region.

After the riots came the zombies. It only took a few and the tightly compacted new populations quickly succumbed to NRS. A bunch of kids and professors tried to hole up in the brick buildings on campus and were OK for a few days. Then the power went out, they ran out of food, and then they ran out of water. Some kids left trying to get home but most were cut down in the parking lots before they could even start their journey. Slowly, one by one, they all died or ran away on their own leaving Chris the sole uninfected human at UF as far as he is aware.

He'd been alone so long he thought he was imagining things when he saw Juicer and the men searching the campus for signs of life. Before he could convince himself they weren’t an hallucination they were gone. One of the flyers eventually blew close enough so that he could grab it. Using a battery powered radio from one of the security offices on campus he was finally able to listen to the Sanctuary broadcast enough to have a general direction to head in. He could receive until the batteries ran out, but not transmit. It took him weeks to plan his escape, save a few supplies, and then walk all the way from Gainesville to Tampa.

He figured if Sanctuary hadn’t worked out at least he was doing something proactive which was what he had been missing for a while. Staying “safe” in the Social Sciences building only worked to occupy him for so long. He was used to a much more physical lifestyle and being cooped up was making him sick; for instance he had been to the national Frisbee Intramurals several times.

The Wall guards had spotted him before he was a mile out and watched him walk all the way straight up to the gate. The men had just brought in the first load of box cars and were unloading them. It was actually Dix that made the offer to join us.

So now we have two more men to add to Sanctuary’s population. We are up to 56 people. We estimate that 75 or 80 residents is going to be our limit for now and that we’ll only be able to pull that off if we get our farming ramped up.

Tomorrow McElroy is going to take the dozer and finish knocking down the small grouping of buildings that are at the SW corner of the outside of the Wall. They are no longer structurally sound after the effects of the pirates' fires and the explosions during the Raid. All of the debris will be pushed to the side like an earthen berm and I am designating that area a cornfield. It’s not going to be easy. Corn requires a lot of nitrogen and that is poor soil to begin with but I have until next month to plow in as much compost as I can. We’re going to need the corn for ourselves and for the animals almost as soon as we can get it to come in.

Speaking of animals there is a short run planned up to the Pasco County Animal Shelter and the SPCA shelter in the next few days. We hope to find more cows, horses, and any other farm animals. I wouldn’t even mind another couple of cats since the ones that sometimes hang out here in Sanctuary are so standoffish these days. They come and go at will and get more feral every day. We have to be very careful of the chickens. We haven’t seen them since the raid but we’ve seen evidence of them. The Calico’s kittens, now mature cats too, drop off the occasional rat that they’ve caught. I suppose in some kind of weird gratitude for our care early on. Or maybe they are trying to teach us poor, stupid humans to hunt. Either way I suppose I should be thankful that they at least try and make a dent in the local rodent population.

Our future schedule is primarily dependent on how quickly we can get the Wall completely secured. Our plan is, much like we did when we enlarged the Wall the first time, to get the first level up all the way around the new area to be enclosed leaving the inner, old Wall in place. Then we’ll dismantle the old Wall and use it as the second (and potentially third) level on top of the new first level. Nifty.

Eventually we’d like to have two, fully complete Walls but that is some time off. To have both an Inner Wall and an outer Curtain Wall, complete with inner and outer gates, etc. will require a lot of man hours, materials, and effort. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will be Sanctuary’s defenses. One of the main planting seasons is approaching and we also need to gather and store as much of what remains as quickly as possible before it all goes to ruin. The gathering will give us an edge and a cushion to offset any coming troubles. And there are always troubles coming.

Tomorrow I’ll be working on the gardens during the morning and in the afternoon, assuming I can get everything finished that I want to do for the day, I’ll be helping put all the food we found into the food storehouse. We brought back a lot of metal shelving and racks so I’m hoping that our organizing is a little easier than trying to stuff things in tubs and stack them wherever we can fit them.

I think we’ve all had about enough for the day. I left the men sitting out back around a fire talking to Brian and Chris. Likely they are trying to gather more information on survivor groups and see how people are addressing issues that are common to us all; water, food, shelter, security, etc.

As for me, I’m taking the little boys who have been attached to Scott and I like barnacles since we pulled in and going to bed. Kitty, Sissy, and Bekah have been pretty close to me as well. The rest of my brood is settling down as well the best they can. I’ll be happy to finally get the house back to ourselves again. We’re so overflowing right now we almost have to sleep in shifts for lack of space.

Day 164 (Jan 11)

Well. How is it possible to get so hacked off at a kid that isn’t your own that you are in danger of snatching the kid ballheaded without hardly thinking about it? Laura figured out I wouldn’t rise to anything she said and couldn’t get away with pulling any crap with the other adults so she decided to go after my kids. I came so close to slapping that child I was shaking and had to walk away from her.

Mostly it is Sarah she is getting to because she knows she can. Sarah just doesn’t know how to defend herself against that kind of meanness. She’s a lot like my mom. I don’t want her to suffer the way my mom did in later life so I’m going to have to teach her how to be tougher … and I’m sorry I have to. I pray I have the wisdom to walk the fine line between helping her be stronger and changing her personality in some fundamental way that changes who she is. I love who she is, she just needs to be able to defend herself from all the crap that goes on in life better.

Patricia has also been upset by all of this. Laura is using Samuel as a way to get to Sarah. That's a really bad situation that has both Jack and Dix upset. Patricia still can't get too stressed or she has to go lie down because she starts cramping.

Sarah was too young … OK maybe not too young, but too inexperienced … to understand what was going on until I sat down and explained everything to her. This just makes me so irritable. I hate getting dragged into this juvenile stuff when there are so many more important things going on in our lives. On the other hand my daughter needs me to intervene in a situation that is not of her making and that she is confused about and I'm more than willing to drop what I'm doing to help. I just really have a problem with what is causing the problem.

Part of it is that both girls are maturing physically early, but not necessarily becoming self aware at the same rate. For Sarah the changes aren't really an issue at the moment and doesn’t really make her self-conscious, at least I don’t think it does. I’m not omniscient. And if Sarah was able to upset her about it perhaps there is something to that after all. I just don’t know. We homeschooled so Sarah didn’t ever have to deal with the boat load of nasty crap girls can get up to when they're jealous, although she did experience some of it in scouts and her other extracurricular activities; kids are kids no matter what you try and do or how you try and protect them. Laura has started dressing provocatively whenever she can get away with it so she's much more into the attention. Sarah is like Rose, she has just always been more comfortable dressing modestly because it fit the activities she was involved in better. And getting busty early meant she needed good bras early too; something we’ve struggled to continue to provide her with these days when there are no stores that we can go to. Most of us women are having the same problems. Some have adjusted and can get away with sports bras or going braless altogether. My girls and I can’t. It’s a pain to be honest but part of our reality.

Bekah was the one that came and got me and told me that Sarah was in their bedroom crying. She was embarrassed and didn’t want to talk to me at first. Part of her didn’t want to get Laura in trouble either which didn’t make my job as her mother any easier. Bottom line is that Laura has pushed a wedge between Samuel and Sarah’s friendship because she keeps making insinuations about the kind of relationship that they have. Samuel is fourteen and a physically mature boy for his age. His face looks 14 but the rest of him doesn’t. He reminds me of my cousins after a summer of hard labor on my grandfather’s farm. But being that he is older, and that he has had to deal with a lot of adult issues recently because of his dad’s affair and his mom’s rape and subsequent pregnancy, he didn’t have any problem understanding what Laura was getting at. That made him uncomfortable and I don’t blame him.

The two kids are just friends; there isn’t anything more to it. One day? Who knows, but at least for Sarah that’s a ways down the road. I think she has a crush on Samuel but more because he seems to know so much about animals than anything else. He’s just a nice kid. Patricia has said more than once that Samuel is the best part of her and Dix. I agree.

Now? Now my eleven year old daughter is heartbroken because Samuel has said he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for them to work together so much anymore. He's worried that “people” might say stupid things about it. I can’t blame him for trying to avoid trouble but I sure don’t like that he has hurt Sarah in the process. Kids caught between a rock and a hard place just trying to figure out what is right. And trying to explain all of this to Scott was just so much fun. Neither one of us wants to cause Tina and Dante’ any more pain but this will not continue.

Scott said to let Samuel be; it wouldn’t hurt for Sarah to spend more time with other people. I’m not sure who he expects her to be able to spend time with but I don’t necessarily disagree with him either. Maybe amongst the kids in quarantine there will be a special friend for Sarah. And, Bekah has missed the attention she used to get from Sarah as well.

I told Sarah sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to and when they don’t we have to find something else to make us happy, maybe stuff we used to do. Well that brought on another round of tears. I never knew my girls to be such watering pots so I think the strain of everything that has gone on the last couple of weeks and then the Raid and the consequences we are living with since then is getting to them. I asked them, “What are you two crying about now?”

Well, it seems they were going through some of their old papers and things to clear out some space – Rose’s idea, not mine – and they ran across their Girl Scout Cookie Order Form from last year. January was when they would have started pre-sales and now they'd never do that again. Then they started talking about all the things they used to do in scouts, and their friends from scouts, and how they’d never taste a Girl Scout cookie again and oh … my … word. Their poor little broken hearts nearly made me cry. The only thing I could think of to tell them was that they could make cookies if that was what they wanted. Oh no. They wanted Girl Scout cookies.

Well, wouldn’t you know that just for the heck of it last year I had copied off some copy cat recipes from the Internet and stuck them in my recipe folder? I had gotten into a discussion on a preparedness forum about things that we were likely to miss in the event that the doo actually did hit the fan blades some day. I mean of course everyone mentioned running water and electricity but some of us took it further and talked about things like sodas and our favorite candies. I can remember that conversation like it was yesterday now, but until the girls reminded me I had plum forgotten all about it.

I was feeling generous and apparently based on the reaction after dinner no one else had any objection to a little squandering of resources either. I let the girls bake cookies. They made copycats of Samoas, Thin Mints, Dosidos, and Tagalongs. They were at it most of the day because they had to bake them in reflector ovens set to catch the heat from the hot water fire and the fire we simmered the cauldron of vegetable soup over, but you've never seen such a happy kids. It made me realize that it had been a while since they had simply been allowed to have fun ... nothing else, just fun. For posterity I’ve copied out the recipes and attached them to this journal. Maybe someone else will find them useful some day.

It wasn’t even lunch time yet and I had a massive headache from dealing with all of the angst. I was sorely tempted to knock back a couple of aspirin and chase it with my illicit soda. But if I drank it up too fast I wouldn’t have any later. The can is still sitting on a shelf in my closet. It gives me a strange satisfaction when I unlock the door and know it is nestled between all of our photo albums, the kids’ baby books, and the extra toilet paper I have hidden in there. Instead I sucked back an Aleve and a short glass of milk and got back to work.

Oh boy had I underestimated the mess we would have to deal with. Everything that we had gathered from Ybor City amounted to about two large boxcars full of stuff. On top of that towards the end of the day it started clouding up. I don’t know for sure that we’ll see rain, but it sure smelled like it was on the air and coming down some place.

Possible rain meant that we had to really hop to it and try and find everything a home. Most of the men were involved in bringing in more box cars and setting up the Wall. McElroy stayed with a crew that was working on creating solid foundations for the boxcars to sit in. This crew was also removing the Janney coupler mechanisms from the box cars so that they could be positioned as close together as possible. This involved some muscle power, and a couple of oversized wrenches, to removed some strategically placed bolts and pins. If only removed the undercarriage wheels had been so easy.

To stabilize the ground, first it is scraped flat and any debris removed. Then dry cement and limestone gravel is tilled into the soil. After that the vibrating roller compacts and flattens the area and levels it out. After the leveling a couple of box cars are set in place. The boxcar is so heavy that it usually sinks into the dirt which is fine, but that also means that the boxcar has to be leveled as well. Once that is accomplished a Bobcat is used to put more dirt that has had dry concrete and gravel mixed with it around the cars.

When everything has gone according to plan … and so far they’ve only had to dig out one when it sank too far … each box car’s side door sits only about six inches above the ground. The kids then come in and place a single layer of sand bags to finish what amounts to a footer section for the Wall.

They laid out the Wall’s new perimeter this morning; at least the first section of it. McElroy finished clearing the whole section by lunch time. After that the men responsible for tilling in the cement and gravel got four box car lengths out in front. The man operating the vibrating roller followed them getting two box car lengths done at a time. Then the crew that moved and positioned boxcars tried to stay two box car lengths behind them. After that the man operating the Bobcat and the cement truck that was tumbling sand, dry cement and gravel into a mix, as well as the kids carrying sand bags, followed behind and did their best to keep up. While they did all of that there was another crew that was bringing boxcars from the rail yard; by the end of today they had brought 158 box cars to Sanctuary. They were lined up in rows along our southern border as that is the Wall portion we started to extend first. At an average of fifty feet in length that meant we had exactly a mile and a half of box cars. As crazy as it sounds that is nowhere near enough.

If I understand Matlock and Scott’s drawings each side of the Wall, if you were to stretch it out straight, is going to be about a half-mile in length. That means that we need another half mile worth of box cars. We can easily bring that over tomorrow but they are going to continue bringing boxcars over for another two days. Whatever we don’t need to finish the current Wall will be used to begin forming a second outer Wall at some point. Scott’s working the numbers to see if we’ll have enough steel storage containers to place on top as a second layer but I’m not sure.

Looking at the numbers a different way, there are just under 7,000,000 square feet in a square half-mile. That is roughly 160 acres. That’s not really much to support between 60 and 80 people, only about 2 acres per person to live on, raise animals on, and grow food on. The orange grove and native fruit grove already take up about five of those acres. We will have no choice but to eventually expand if we want to remain viable but for now 160 acres is about all we can take care of.

Just listening to all the work was exhausting. It all went like clockwork so long as the zombies didn’t get too ambitious or too high in numbers. The noise did draw quite a few, but no hordes thank goodness. Mostly just shamblers far along in their decomp phase. There weren't any less dangerous or infectious but they were slower and easier to pick off.

While the new Wall went up bit by bit, I tried to break down the fruits of our gathering run into manageable chunks. It became apparent really fast that the paper system that Dante’ and Hank have been using simply is no longer tenable. I couldn’t locate anything in their filing system and frankly the way things were tossed willy nilly into the storage containers is driving me nuts. I made a command decision and some of what was gathered never got counted. I divided it up between the various households and just told them to take it and store and secure it in their homes the best they could. I went through the white linen sheets and table cloths and then folded them and had Rose and Melody set them aside to go into the hospital for bandages. Everyone got three aprons before I packed the rest away, and any of the clothing that was brought back as well.

Then it was on to the food and cooking equipment. Some of the flour has weevils in it but it is still usable. I just advanced those supplies in the rotation and made sure everyone knows they need to sift the flour before use. The smoked meats I found went right into our smoke house for storage. So far the design Mr. Morris created is rodent proof and insect proof, but we are rotating stuff out of there pretty quickly. The boxes and tubs of cutlery and dishes I stacked in the cabinets Scott had built in the open-air Dining Hall. Most of the dishes that we had been storing there were smashed to bits during the Raid and we were all happy to have replacements. Same for the drinking glasses and big serving pieces. The cooking utensils and similar gizmos were stored in the cabinets in the outdoor kitchen. The huge aluminum and stainless steel pots were hung from the rafters above the cook area in anticipation of finding another wood burning cook stove (or two).

I did have to throw away some things that were gathered. I didn’t keep opened condiments or opened bottles of liquor that were suspect for some reason. There were a few canned items that I tossed as well because the cans were bulging or too rusted. I took food grade five gallon buckets and filled them with salt and sugar – being very sure to label them clearly – and then stacked them in the food store house on the bottom floor. Other items that couldn’t be combined in some way to save space I just did the best I could with. I tried to find most every type of thing a logical place to call home.

On and on we went through the rest of the afternoon but I still have quite a bit left to do tomorrow. Despite bringing back so much stuff I still keep finding things that I wish we had or at least had more of. I’d like to have more molasses and similar type sweeteners. We need more matches and other fire starters. We brought back all the soap and cleaners that we could but nearly 60 people can go through a high volume of soap and shampoo with daily washing. Scott is out of razors and now just trims his heavy beard the best he can. I don’t even want to talk about how my legs look. I do the best to keep my hair rinsed out but mostly I try and save the shampoo for the rest of the family. Despite its length I usually just keep my hair twisted up and out of the way. Add a bandana and I can get away with a solid hair wash once a week.

Borax, glycerin, bees wax, fels naptha, witch hazel, and several other items are on my big wish list as well so that I can make homemade cleaning products. Despite dealing with this day in and day out I’m still amazed at the amount of stuff we took for granted. I can’t imagine what would be happening if we were any more densely populated than what this area appears to be. Betcha deodorant would bring a pretty high price at a barter market.

Hopefully next week when we go out to the fairgrounds we’ll be able to get at least a few things we need. It really bothers me to see our need list getting longer faster than we can mark things off.


Homemade Samoas (a.k.a. Caramel de-Lites)

Cookies
1 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
up to 2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk, adding in the milk as needed to make the dough come together without being sticky (it’s possible you might not need to add milk at all). The dough should come together into a soft, not-too-sticky ball. Add in a bit of extra flour if your dough is very sticky. Roll the dough (working in two or three batches) out between pieces of wax paper to about 1/4-inch thickness (or slightly less) and use a 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter to make rounds. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and use a knife, or the end of a wide straw, to cut a smaller center hole. Repeat with remaining dough. Alternatively, use scant tablespoons of dough and press into an even layer in a mini donut pan to form the rounds. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are set. If using a mini donut pan, bake for only about 10 minutes, until edges are light gold. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Topping
3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
8 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula. Using the spatula or a small offset spatula, spread topping on cooled cookies, using about 2-3 tsp per cookie. Reheat caramel for a few seconds in the microwave if it gets too firm to work with. While topping sets up, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each cookie into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle finished cookies with chocolate. Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container. Makes about 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies.

Homemade Thin Mints

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup milk (any kind)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp peppermint extract

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. With the mixer on low speed, add in the milk and the extracts. Mixture will look curdled. Gradually, add in the flour mixture until fully incorporated. Shape dough into two logs, about 1 1/2 inches (or about 4 cm) in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1-2 hours, until dough is very firm. Preheat oven to 375F. Slice dough into rounds not more than 1/4 inch thick - if they are too thick, they will not be as crisp - and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cookies will not spread very much, so you can put them quite close together. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until cookies are firm at the edges. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack before dipping in chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Coating
10-oz dark or semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter, room temperature

In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Melt on high power in the microwave, stirring every 45-60 seconds, until chocolate is smooth. Chocolate should have a consistency somewhere between chocolate syrup and fudge for a thin coating. Dip each cookie in melted chocolate, turn with a fork to coat, then transfer to a piece of parchment paper or wax paper to set up for at least 30 minutes, or until chocolate is cool and firm. Reheat chocolate as needed to keep it smooth and easy to dip into. Makes 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies.

Homemade Do-si-dos a.k.a. Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Cookies
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant or regular)

Filling
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Start with the cookies. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, cream together butter and peanut butter. Beat in the sugars until fluffy, then add in the eggs one at a time, waiting until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in vanilla extract. Working at a low speed, mix in the flour, followed by the oats (if you don’t have quick-cooking, pulse whole rolled oats in the food processor to chop them up a bit). On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drop teaspoonfuls of batter (roughly 3/4-in. sized balls), leaving about 2 inches between each to allow for spread. Bake for about 10 minutes, until cookies are a light golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, making small holes in 1/2 of the cookies (for the tops of the sandwiches) before they set up. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cookies have cooled, make the filling. In a large bowl, cream together smooth peanut butter, butter and confectioners’ sugar until very smooth. Spread 2-3 tsp onto half of the finished cookies and sandwich with the remaining halves. If you chose to make yours with GS-lookalike holes in some of the cookies, use these as the tops of the sandwiches. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 48 sandwich cookies.

Homemade Tagalongs (a.k.a. Peanut Butter Patties)

Cookies
1 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk. The dough should come together into a soft ball. Take a tablespoon full of dough and flatten it into a disc about 1/4-inch thick. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. Cookies will not spread too much, so you can squeeze them in more than you would for chocolate chip cookies. (Alternatively, you can use a cookie cutter, as described in the post above). Bake cookies for 11-13 minutes, until bottoms and the edges are lightly browned and cookies are set. Immediately after removing cookies from the oven, use your thumb or a small spoon to make a depression in the center of each cookie Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Filling
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (natural or regular)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar*
generous pinch salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
about 8-oz semisweet chocolate

In a small bowl, whisk together peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt and vanilla. When the mixture has come together, heat it in the microwave (again in short intervals, stirring frequently), until it is very, very soft. Working carefully with the hot filling, transfer it to a pastry bag (or plastic bag with the tip cut off) and pipe a generous dome of the filling into each cookie’s “thumbprint”. Chill cookies with filling for 20-30 minutes, or until the peanut butter is firm. Melt the chocolate in a small, heat-resistant bowl. This can be done in a microwave (with frequent stirring) or on a double boiler, but the bowl of melted chocolate should ultimately be placed above a pan of hot, but not boiling, water to keep it fluid while you work. Dip chilled cookies into chocolate, let excess drip off, and place on a sheet of parchment paper to let the cookies set up. The setting process can be accelerated by putting the cookies into the refrigerator once they have been coated. Makes about 3-dozen

Day 165

I feel like Jack Nicholson when he played the president in Mars Attacks. “Why can’t we all just get along?” …. And then the Martians disintegrated him.

OK, fine, it’s not quite as bad as that but given our small population every little brouhaha feels larger than it really is. It’s not just the Laura thing either, although Dante’ and Scott are on the outs a bit because Scott tried to talk to Dante’ about how Laura treated Sarah. They aren’t really angry at each other but it’s uncomfortable because of the subject matter and are avoiding each other as much as possible. Dante' knows that Laura is a problem, but she is still his daughter and he wants to defend her. Scott likes Dante' and really doesn't want to berate the man for something that is the daughter's issue. Its lose-lose all the way around. Tina is just now able to get up and around but no one wants to see her have to deal with this so quickly. She looks like a feather would knock her over and break her into a dozen pieces.

Rose and David still haven’t really made up either. David has put everything in Rose’s lap as far as whether to continue to be “more than friends” and frankly Rose just doesn’t know what to do with that. I’m not sure if David realizes that. But they are old enough that they need to work this out for themselves so Scott and I are staying out of it as much as possible.

The six kids over in quarantine were all squabbling so loudly I finally put my hoe down and had to go over to the window and I told them to knock it off. I think I scared them without meaning to. I just can’t stand to listen to that kind of senseless squawking. I reminded them that Ms. Cindy and Ms. Tasha were in the same boat and that they had been sick and didn’t need to be running around like crazy any way. If they were good and Waleski gave them a clean bill of health they would be out on the next Rest Day which was just day after tomorrow. That settled them down for a while but I still wondered if the hospital was going to survive the elephant stampede.

And integrating two new men into this whole mix just adds to the challenge. Not that anyone in particular – well, besides Laura – is really causing problems or has behavioral issues; it’s just challenging to keep the mix of personalities from getting too frothy.

I spent the first half of my day finishing up the stuff I hadn’t completed yesterday. Fun and games it was not. I picked over all the easy stuff to divvy out and put away yesterday. This morning that left me stuck with a bunch of stuff/junk that I was less than sure what to do with. Some of it was just a pile of different pieces of stainless steel shelving, sinks, and other junk that Scott had asked for. I know he wants to start a metal shop so that he can make some blades and I have no idea what all but I told him at lunch time if he wanted it he was going to have to get some guys to move it to a storage container. There was just too much of it and it was too heavy for me to deal with.

The books I just put on the floor in Sanctuary’s library for Brandon to put away when he had time. He’s been too busy helping with the Wall to do much of that recently and Josephine and Maddie can only do so much. Maddie’s face is beginning to heal and she’s not quite as depressed about it as she was. Waleski said it is still going to leave a scar but that after it fully heals she can try treating the scar with a topical cream to keep it moist and give it time to fade as much as possible. Josephine’s bandages came off for a moment today in a dark room and she could see but it was blurry. The fact that she could at least recognize shapes is promising. Waleski re-bandaged her eyes and he’ll check them again in another week. Bandaging will keep her from straining her eyes unnecessarily.

I’m glad I finished when I did because we got a short burst of rain and I was really getting tired of trying to put all of that stuff away. I know I shouldn’t feel like that; everything we gather is something we won’t have to manufacture ourselves later on. There is just so dat blamed much of it and it feels like no sooner than I get one pile finished that someone dumps something else in my lap. I have next week’s run to the fairgrounds to look forward to as well, although this time we’ll be bring back some really big items if all goes well.

And to help us out my wonderful and brilliant husband has came up with a wonderful and brilliant plan. The Florida State Fairgrounds are bordered by I4 and US301. A mile south on US301 from the fairgrounds – two miles at most – is a railroad crossing where US301 and Broadway Avenue intersect. If you were to walk that piece of track for about a mile guess where you end up? That’s right, in the rail yard we have been using.

Our plan is to haul anything we gather from the fairgrounds down to the tracks at the intersection where there will be a short train of boxcars waiting. We load the box cars full and then transport everything right to the front gate of Sanctuary. I think this is a totally cool deal. It will save us from having to clear obstacles so that a couple of tractor trailers can navigate the roads between Sanctuary and the fairgrounds. It will save on the number of trips we have to make. We won’t have to worry about having enough heavy trucks to haul away everything we gather, which would mean a lot more drivers. We can use existing roadways that we already know are clear (and clear of zombies) to get from Sanctuary to the fairgrounds. All of which should speed up the gathering process a great deal.

After the rain let up everything was just wet enough to be nasty to work in. Mr. Morris was grateful for help from Sarah and Bekah. His hand will likely bother him for some time to come. Not having a thumb or forefinger on his left hand will also be limiting even after it heals. I took Johnnie and Bubby to work with me but before I could get out of the gate I had to deal with Sis and Kitty crying because I was leaving again. Kitty is six months old now and definitely knows her own mind. I decided to put the baby back pack on and let her ride and put a kid-leash around Sis so that she couldn't wander off. I used to hate those kid-leashes; I misunderstood and thought people were treating their kids like a pet dog or something. But, I’ve learned over the years that just about everything has its place and I was certainly glad to have a little extra help keeping Johnnie from darting out and into places he wasn’t supposed to go when he was in that crazy stage kids go through when they’re two and three years old. We just arbitrarily picked an age for Sis, Rachel helped us average out her age on a pediatric growth chart and we call her three years of age. She’s a precocious three year old however and more than once Scott and I have said that she is going to give Johnnie and Bubby a run for their money one of these days.

So walking along like a mother goose with her goslings I went to work planting the herb garden that I’ve been putting off. The garden I started with was a fifteen foot square. In the very center I put a bird bath with basil and chamomile varieties surrounding it in the form of a circle. On each corner of the square I put “L” shaped beds that had a bunch of different varieties of herbs in them. At the center of three of the straight sides of the square is a three-foot wide walk way. I had found some arches that I put togetogether and then planted some climbing rose bushes to train on them. On the fourth straight side there was also a three-foot wide walk way but I left that one open. On the walkways I had the kids help me lay some of the limestone gravel to keep weeds and mud to a minimum. I supposed I could have put mulch, but the gravel was more practical for what I needed … it was also prettier though I don’t know for sure if it will stay that way.

Now, I’ve saved the best for last. It was getting towards five o’clock when I heard this huge cheer coming from the men working on the Wall extension. I just thought it was that they’d reached a goal faster than expected or something like that. A few minutes later James comes skidding in the Front Gate shouting that Angus was home.

I couldn’t just drop the kids and run so I had to wait for him to come though the Gate. Well, it wasn’t just Angus; he had company with him, the good kind.

Of course not much else constructive got accomplished the rest of the evening beyond getting everyone fed and the new couple a place to bunk down. I’ll really need to write down Angus’ story and stick it in this journal but Lordy, I don’t know if I could get that kind of excitement to stick to the paper even if I used a permanent marker and gorilla glue. I’ll do my best but it’ll probably take me a couple of days to get the facts all straight and the timeline in order ... and try and explain why Angus is now wearing kilts with combat boots.

The couple he brought back with him are the remnants of the survivor community that set up at Ft. DeSoto. There are some still there that voted to stay and rebuild but Glenn … Sean is his wife’s name … said that fresh water was a constant problem and that except for the old fort itself, the buildings were very insecure. What water was available on the island was all brackish and proved deadly to every garden they attempted to get started. And going back and forth to the mainland expended a lot of fuel whether it was done by boat or by road vehicle.

Glenn is about my age, hasn’t quite hit forty yet though. He’s a blue-eyed blonde Scandinavian looking man that was born in NYC but who was raised in Bradenton, FL making him very familiar with our area. His wife Sean is Thai and is a pocket Venus. She’s five foot zero and might weigh 90 pounds if you put plenty of rocks in her pocket; but man, is she a pistol. She had us all rolling when she told us how she had laid a fifth of the pirates low before the battle even started by spiking their stew with Thai hot peppers. They were seriously sweating and trotting and posed no danger to anyone except those that tried to use the outhouses too soon after they had been in there.

Glenn is a US Army Vet and served on a tank crew. Scott said Matlock and Dix are going to talk to him about making a run over to MacDill to see what all might have been left behind. He also has three years into a psychology degree so I’m hoping for a little insight into some behavioral therapy for those that might need it.

They were overseas when NRS started getting crazy. Glenn was a civilian contractor driving supply convoy trucks in Iraq. Luckily Sean was over there with him. When things first started getting out of control they snatched a sixty-foot motor yacht from a marina in Kuwait and loaded it up with fifty-five gallon drums of fuel and headed out to sea.

Sean, sorrowful but realistic, explained that there would have been no way they could have gotten to her family in Thailand despite it being closer. All of Asia became a madhouse even before it was publicized in the media. NRS was so bad that whole villages would cease to exist in just a matter of hours.

It took them weeks to reach the US and they had a couple of near run-ins with ghost ships – passenger liners, cruise ships, and personal crafts that groups of people had tried to escape on only to have the infection follow them on board – and pirates but the yacht they had taken was equipped with basic radar and they avoided trouble when they could. They only had to contend with two major storms, both of which just served to push them closer to their goal.

They first landed in Venice Beach, slowly worked their way north to Sarasota, and then into Bradenton. Glenn couldn’t find any of his family so they continued looking for survivor groups but hadn’t found anything viable or organized until they beached on Fort DeSoto. They tried to make a go of it there but the pirates just proved to be too much of a hassle and the remaining leadership didn't impress Glenn as it was more of a popularity contest than it was about who was really fit to lead.

So now our population has gone up to 58. We are reaching the lower limit of our total population goal. Technically we could probably take in another 20 people but I’d rather not. A few more yes, but if we go all the way to the 80 person mark right away there won’t be any room for natural population growth. As it is we have two babies on the way, Cease and Melody want Matlock to marry them as soon as the Wall is complete and they’ve got a house fixed up, McElroy and Rhonda want the same thing before Rhonda’s baby is born, and Waleski and Rilla look like they are heading that direction fast as well. Hmph! Let those military boys stop in one place too long and they wind up falling in love and getting hitched. Just kidding … sort of.

The welcome back party was getting kind of raucous and close ten PM – much later than we ever stay up any more – so I brought all of the littles inside and told them they’d be able to play with Uncle Angus tomorrow; it was bed time. Boy did that take some convincing and three stories before they'd fall asleep. Hopefully everyone finally coming in for the night won’t wake them up again. I've tried to wait up myself but it’s going on midnight and I’m drooping. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some work finished tomorrow without falling asleep on my hoe handle.

Day 166 (Saturday)

Well, I’d say “I told you so” if I didn’t feel so sorry for them. Un-aged Moonshine + Celebrating all night = BAAAAAAAD headaches the next day. Bwwaaahahahahahah!

Why am I being so mean? Well, I’m not, not really. I kept coffee going all day and I tried … mostly … to keep the kids quiet. But, there was only so much I could do after Angus gave the kids all the sugary treats he did. Thank goodness he handed over most of them to Betty and I. And too bad we didn’t have giant hamster wheels hooked up to a couple of generators so that we could have actually gotten something besides laughs out of the all the energy the kids had. It had been so long since most of them had that kind of junk that it made an even greater impact on their system; and behavior.

I swear I thought Cindy and Tasha were going to scalp Angus because he insisted that the littles that were in quarantine also got some of the candy after Waleski said it wouldn’t hurt them. Cindy, in the most exasperated voice I’ve ever heard her use said, “He couldn’t have waited just one more day until we were out of this building?!” I did feel for the two women. Being cooped up with six kids … who were rather ill part of the time … does not make for an easy time.

Mischief and Mayhem have absolutely refused to leave Angus’ side all day today. They’ve tripped him up more times than I can count. And every time he stumbles it rattles his head and that hasn’t exactly helped the hangover any.

Needless to say that no real work got done on the Wall today. Not that nothing got accomplished, its just the things that got accomplished didn’t require quite so much … noise. They helped Glenn and Saen (pronounced “Saan”) pick a house and move their gear into it and let them decide whether they wanted to bunk there or with us until the Wall was completed. Glenn said a tent in the backyard will be better than the accommodations they’ve had the last couple of weeks. I feel bad that we can’t offer them more, I just don’t know where we would put them that they’d have any kind of privacy.

Everyone also helped Angus unload the goodies that he brought back in his nifty camper that he made from a garbage truck. I think he must have an affinity for the things. He found a brand spanking new one at a Pinellas County public works garage and has all sorts of ideas for upgrading it. It’s not another Juicer, its serves a different purpose all together. It looks like a great people mover in heavy zombie territory.

We’ve weather tightened all of the houses that have currently been marked off for habitation. Some of the new houses that will be within the new compound boundaries won’t be salvageable and Scott has made a map and X’d through all the ones that are suspect that will likely have to be pulled down.

In fact that’s what today has been for most folks. It’s been a list-making, small-chore-doing, catch-up-on-stuff kind of day. You need that every once in a while.

We had a weird thing happen. Dix said he heard music on one of the regular radio station’s call numbers but when he tried to find it again the signal was gone. He said it was around 90 on the FM dial and he could swear it was Walls of the Cave by Phish. What bothers Scott and I is that the call signal for WUSF was 89.7 and that’s not far from us. But there was also Tampa radio stations at 88.5, 90.5, 93.3, and 94.9 all close to that signal; it could have been any of those as he was just spinning, looking for noise. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Today I finished up the gardening chores that I didn’t complete yesterday and I also put in another fifteen by fifteen garden, but this one for peppers. Scott said as many as I have planted we’ll wind up with more peppers than we could ever use. What I’m hoping is that by the time we get over stocked we’ll have found a good trade venue for them.

Lots of things that we’d like to do in the near and far term. I’ve already written about some additions and changes to the Wall that we’d like but that’s far from the only thing on our big “to do” list. I mentioned the trading venues, then there are all the different gathering runs we’d like to make. The fairgrounds which is coming on Tuesday. We’d like to go back out to USF and see what we could get there. Waleski says we need to look in all the medical and dental offices around town that we can. Citrus Park Mall area needs to be covered; Scott and I only touched the one store that time. It would be interesting to see what else is still salvageable if anything. The same would be true of the Brandon business area.

I think I’ve overdone it the last couple of days. I’m feeling pretty well rolled up. Making an early night of it sounds wonderful and that’s what I’m going to do. A lot of folks are going fishing tomorrow. It’s a Rest Day. I wonder how long people will forget about me and I can hide in bed … nah … ain’t gonna happen.

Day 166 (Rest Day)

Lots going on today, but I still haven’t managed to get Angus’ story all the way out of him. I don’t think that man knows what “sit still” means. The other ladies and I were only going to give him a trim and do something about that beard of his which is getting a bit on the wild and scraggly side. He lit out of here like a dog stung by a yellow jacket. Honestly. You’d a thought we were asking him to perform opera naked in public or something. Men. Sometimes I think every one of them has some measure of testosterone poisoning. Scott and James have gotten just as bad about me giving their hair a trim. It doesn’t look that bad. Not really. Well, mostly not bad. It would look better if they wouldn’t wiggle so much. I only cut Scott’s ear that once. It was just a knick; I don’t know what he was fussing about so much. And it didn’t bleed near as bad as he made out. He only needed the bandaid on it a couple of days.

Bright and early everyone but the people who had volunteered to stand watch went fishing. I stayed home and helped Cindy and Tasha acclimate and get the kids some clothes and other gear out of storage.

Cindy Neiman is a young thirty-something who was still living with her parents when things hit the fan last year. She admitted that she had been too involved with her charities and women’s groups and too spoiled by her parents to really had thought much about marriage. She had been working as a Salvation Army volunteer and had also been a Red Cross worker. She said everything fell apart so fast. She was finally able to get a break from the local shelter and went home to change clothes only to find a note from her parents stating they were waiting for her at the marina. She said she felt bad but knew there was nothing left that she could really accomplish by staying at her post so went to find her parents. She made a mistake and walked straight into a boat-jacking. Her elderly parents never stood a chance. The men that had stolen her parents’ boat and kidnapped her eventually fell to the pirate overlord Samson and she had been one of the few left of the early survivors. She has no idea why because she certainly wasn’t suited for survival in the beginning. After the kids started coming along though it gave her purpose.

Tasha Reingold is a 17-year old high school dropout and was a cashier at a grocery store in Pinellas County. She had survived with a small group of people that had lived in the upper office of the store where she worked until it had been raided by the pirates. That had been two months ago. She told me that if it hadn’t been for Cindy she would have committed suicide long ago just to not have to have those men touch her any more.

All of the other women the pirates had taken were either back in Tarpon Springs or had died from exposure or abuse during the Raid. I took them aside and asked them privately if they would like Waleski to help them or something and they said that he had already done all he could do. They were just happy to feel clean for the first time in forever and that for the rest of it they would figure out some way to live with it. The fact that Samson was dead took care of a lot of the fear they had lived with so long.

The kids run the gamut. First is 14 year old Eric Timmons. The only reason he wasn’t “culled” with the rest of the teenage boys and men was because he is small for his age and the pirates didn’t realize how old he was. He is very protective of Cindy and Tasha and it’s a wonder the pirates didn’t kill him, he can be just that ferocious. Cindy said that he is the one that stole food and water for them when they were on short rations or were forgotten about all together. He’s been fascinated with James and Samuel almost from the beginning and is very eager to prove that, despite his size, he is one of the “older boys.” I hope that doesn’t get him in trouble.

Elizabeth Charter asked quietly if we would please call her “Liz” and we’ve all agreed. Cindy said her mother’s name was Elizabeth and that it brings painful memories to be called that. Her mother died during a brutal gang rape and Liz was also brutalized by her step-father who “sold” her to the pirates for the safe passage of the group he was with that included his natural-born children. A few days later everyone in that group died when the pirates double crossed them and took their boat and all of their supplies. She was Cindy’s shadow and I only knew what I did because Cindy told me. She reminds me of an older version of Jenny in many respects.

Ledo Banks and Davey Davis are both eight years old and boy howdy have they got energy to spare. They’re so happy to be free of the pirates I don’t think their feet touched the ground until they were so sick from Scarlet Fever they had to lay down or fall down. Davey in particular hates the pirates. He’s missing three teeth in front from where Samson smashed him into a door for not bringing his coffee fast enough.

Max Robbins is a dour seven years old. I don’t think I’ve seen him smile once. Not even a tiny little bit. He does what he’s told but that’s about it. About all Cindy and Tasha know about him is his name as he has been unwilling to share anything with them. His older brother was one of the pirates but apparently there was no connection there, or an abandoned one, and it never served to save Max from any beatings.

Michelle’s last name is unknown. She’s six but doesn’t remember anything else from before the pirates, or the memories are locked away and she refuses to remember anything else. She’s a skittish child but not unexpectedly so under the circumstances. She’s had no trouble keeping up with Ledo and Davey that’s for sure.

It will take some time to integrate the kids in. Scott and I wondered whether we should volunteer to take the kids but Cindy was adamant that she was going to keep the kids. I’ll admit to be secretly relieved. I just … it may sound heartless but I have enough on my plate. I just can’t handle one more child, at least not right now. I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the emotional reserves. I don’t have the resources. I think Scott wouldn’t have minded but I’m just glad we don’t have to find out if we had what it took to not only add another six kids to the household, but if we could meet the unique challenges of dealing with kids that are that traumatized. I will give Cindy all the support I can but I’ll leave the day-to-day stuff of the new children to her.

Tasha isn’t sure what to make of things yet. She had gotten used to the idea of dying at the hands of the pirates eventually and now her future has changed yet again. She is far older than any of the 17 year olds I have ever met in my life.

It didn’t take long for everyone to return from the fishing trip. There is the remains of a large church campus near the Geraci place, just east of the corner of Van Dyke Rd and Dale Mabry Hwy. They had several “catch and release” ponds that they kept stocked. They used them with their children’s fishing program. You know teach the kids to fish … fishing and “fishers of men.” The kids loved it that’s for sure and it was a safe family venue, something that had been lacking after the big economic crash.

Mostly they brought back pretty fair sized trout and bass but there were also a couple of catfish in there. It was enough for us to make a nice dinner for everyone although there weren’t any leftovers, but leftovers are never our goal since we don’t have any refrigeration. Brandon plotted all of the ponds and their locations and they’ll keep track of which ponds they fish and when so that they don’t become over-fished.

The main dish at dinner was Orange Poached Trout. Then I used up some canned clams that were getting close to their expiration date and made Lemon Clam Fritters. I didn’t have anything fresh in the garden yet and no fresh wild green either except for some poke salad greens and you have to parboil those to make them edible. I used some of the other citrus fruit and made Grapefruit Harvard Beets. Then we made a lot of brown rice because we’ve noticed that some of it is starting to go rancid. That was a pretty depressing discovering I’ll admit. I wished for some corn on the cob but that’s months away assuming the corn crop makes. Instead I took some canned corn and fried it up over an open fire in a Dutch oven and used some fresh butter than Reba had churned that morning to flavor it up. For dessert we had to use the reflector ovens but we made pinto bean pies, some chili bean fudge, and a couple of pinto bean apple cakes.

The new kids had to be told several times to slow down or they were going to get a stomach ache. They ate like they were afraid someone was going to take it away from them. I’m hoping time will take care of that but it will certainly be a while until they learn to trust us. Our kids and the new kids are feeling each other out, seeing who is “friend material” and who might be someone to be wary of.

Something must have gone on with Tina today. She was up and seemed … in charge I guess you could say. Dante’ is still very protective but let me tell you, Laura is stepping pretty ginger. Gone is the make-up. She is wearing modest and age-appropriate clothing. Gone is the gaudy jewelry and ridiculous shoes that were too hard to get any work done in. We’ll see how long that lasts and whether Tina can stay in control.

Tomorrow is Wash Day. The mending will also need to be worked on tomorrow. The next day we will go on the Fairgrounds Run.

We’ve secured the new west Wall and the southwest extension to the existing Wall. The men finished that up today. Tomorrow they begin the big eastern extension. That is what will dramatically increase Sanctuary’s acreage; and dramatically increase our work. There are houses that will have to come down because the Big Horde made them no longer structurally sound. There are green spaces and wetlands that we’ll have to monitor as well. One of the great things is that the area has an existing horse boarding operation … or it was operating prior to the last riots. All the paddocks, barns, and everything else still seem relatively intact.

Well, I’m off. I’ve got first watch tonight because everyone is so tired. I don’t expect any trouble but I still like to prepare myself mentally for standing guard.

Day 168 (Monday, Wash Day)

Today is one of those days when I’ve felt behind and just unable to keep up, much less catch up.

It started this morning when I realized my calendar was off. I thought yesterday was day 166. I had the day of the week correct but not the calendar day as I had been counting them since August. I was only a day off but I panicked, wondering if I had made other mistakes in my journal. I wasted an hour double checking everything. I didn’t find any other mistakes thank goodness but it only highlighted how dependent we used to be on other people telling us what time it was and what date it was and what our schedule was going to be for each day. No wonder the ancients made such a big deal out of their daily and seasonal calendars. We don’t even have an Old Farmers’ Almanac any longer. Marking time is important.

To be honest I’m not even sure of the exact time any more. I can tell you when a minute or hour passes by, but not for sure what hour it is. We try and keep our clocks in sync but inevitably we are off several minutes on either side of each other. One of my projects is to make a operational sundial. I have the directions and the kids and I have made some simply ones for school projects, but I want to make a large one. Perhaps make in one of our community’s centerpieces … decorative but useful.

I skipped breakfast because I had been so worried about my calendar being wrong and that through me off even more. Because of food issues we’ve had to make a set of pretty stiff rules about when the “kitchen” is open and when it is not. Guards have their meals packed up and brought to them and everyone eats what is on the menu or they don’t eat. I decided being hungry was my own fault and that to set a good example for the kids I would need to wait until lunch was served to assuage it. But boy was I ever tempted to drink my can of soda. I’m saving it for a while yet and resisted. Part of me knows my attachment to that soda is silly but another part of me … oh I don’t know; it’s a symbol but of what I’m not sure.

Today is wash day; not my favorite day of the week. The only thing we really had to wash in our house was our underclothes, wash cloths, and a couple of the dirtiest t-shirts. I’ve tried to make sure we all get into the habit of hanging our clothes up and letting them air out overnight so that they can be used as long as possible before they have to be cleaned. Scott, David, and James wear Dickey coveralls when they are working and that has really helped save on the washing. This summer is going to be challenging however when we will all sweat so much. I may have to break out my homemade cloth freshener if I can keep the ingredients for it. Next week if there is time I want to strip all the beds and wash all the bed linens; that’s really a time consuming job.

I spent part of the day planning and marking off where I will add some gardens in the new compound areas. The men were able to complete the first level on one of the three sides of the eastern Wall extension. In addition they’ve been taking the second layer off of the original Wall and stacking it as a second layer onto the new Wall that they finished yesterday. Wow. Crazy wow. We are going to have a lot more space when this whole renovation project is complete. But with the renovation will come more work.

All of the new Sanctuarians – try saying that three times fast – are really nice folks. Every one of them has really pitched in with a will, even the kids. Saen is just … wow … her personality is bigger than she is. And she is not afraid to give Glenn what for when she thinks he deserves it. He accidentally let a curse word slip when he stubbed his toe. The man can pretty creative, I’ll give him that. Saen on the other hand gave him such a look that would have blistered paint. He must’ve gotten that “look” on more than one occasion because he immediately told the kids that they shouldn’t use those words. It’s cute to see such as small woman wield such power. But, for all of that you can tell that Glenn would die for her and is extremely protective of her. And can Saen cook. Oh … my … word. She made this incredible meal with coconut milk that …. There are just no words. I don’t think there were two words said for about fifteen or twenty minutes because we were too busy feeding our faces.

I noticed that Chris tended to go off by himself a few times and I asked David to see if things were OK. David’s a little older than Chris but not by much and he’s really good at putting people at their ease. Well, I needn’t have worried. Chris is just getting used to being around people again after being alone so long. And he also has his own faith practices that he is intent on keeping up with. That’s something that I can definitely understand. I mentioned it to Scott and he said that he’d noticed Chris fingering a Rosary a couple of times, they looked old so they likely belonged to someone in his family. Maybe one day he’ll feel comfortable enough to talk about it. I certainly won’t pressure him before he is ready.

And Brian. If that boy’s humor gets any drier I’ll have to keep a watering can handy. He fits in quite well. He can have a mouth but he’s pretty good about watching it around the kids which is a nice change from a lot of the young men his age I used to know. And the boy can put away some food too. These boys … it makes me glad that we’ve found the extra supplies that we’ve found. It also makes me worry a bit though about all our gardens. They’ve just got to come in and we need to harvest a good bounty. It’ll break my heart to see our people have to go without and go hungry.

And we have two new people that wandered in after hearing all the racket of the heavy equipment. Well, wandered isn’t exactly how it happened. They were actually chased in by a small group of very determined zombies.

Austin Shooter and his girlfriend Sarah were limping along as fast as they could in an old Ford pickup and were down to two wheels and two rims when Dix spotted them. They had one zombie in the bed of the truck but Austin couldn’t shake the truck enough to dump it out and it was beating on the back glass pretty hard. Dix had James hop in the bucket of the dozer and lifted him up so he could make better shots and he was able to get the one out of the bed but in the process made Austin double think whether we were friend or foe. Angus said Juicer needed some exercise and started it up and Matlock and McElroy took the Hummer that also needed to be run and they went out to lend a hand. There were over four dozen zombies and some of them were a little on the frisky side.

The friskier zombies are another new variation. We don’t know if they are Ragers that are winding down like worn out toys or if this is yet another mutation in the NRS virus. Either way it’s a very uncomfortable development.

Austin is definitely a big farm boy, and I mean big in the literal sense. He reminds me of my cousins on Momma’s side of the family. He’s every bit of 6’1” maybe a little taller, it’s hard to tell. All I know for sure is that he is a heck of a lot taller than me. Saen and I just kinda sighed and shrugged our shoulders. Sarah is one of those gorgeously tall Amazon women; she’s even taller than Patricia is if you can believe that. I’m guessing she is 5’10” or 5’11”. Don’t let her looks fool you though, she’s very capable; she and Austin both are. Nice thing about this whole situation is we seem to get just what we need when we need it. Austin has a degree in Animal Science, heavy on Beef Production. And all of his training makes him a pretty good vet tech which means he can also do IVs and such on humans. Waleski broke a pencil trying to write that down in his notes so fast. Later this week a group of us are supposed to hit some of the farms and animal facilities in the area to see if we can find any livestock to bring back. If we don’t find too many we might head over to Lowry Park Zoo; they had a pretty descent petting zoo with goats, llamas, geese, and some pot-bellied pigs.

Austin and Sarah aren’t from around here originally; they had come to Florida to visit Sarah’s family over in Titusville. One of the Big Horde came through there like a vengeance and when they were through there wasn’t much left. An old guy that had refused to come with them had told them he’d heard a lot of radio chatter from this area early on and still heard the occasional burst if the weather was right. Austin said they had actually heard us yesterday but had gotten blocked in by the zombies during the night. They had hoped the zombies would eventually lose interest during the night but they hadn’t and they’d finally be forced to flee from their hiding place when a couple of the zombies broke through the barriers they had tried to erect with what little they were able to find.

Well all’s well the end’s well and now our population is up to sixty. Assuming all these new folks wind up staying. They seem pretty set to stay but you never know.

A lot of stories were exchanged over the fire tonight. Some sad, some miraculous, some nearly unbelievable except we’ve all experienced unbelievable things recently. I finally heard more of Angus’ story and I hope to get it written out this week. Not tomorrow though. Tomorrow we go on the Fairgrounds Run. Austin and Sarah will be two extra hands for that and they’re welcome. Another goodie is that Austin has a lot of mechanical experience … there’s that farm boy talent shining through again … and McElroy is very glad to have someone to help him with the antique engines that I told him about. The other men are willing to learn, but it will save time for McElroy not have to teach them what needs to be done just to get things dismantled.

I noticed that David and Rose were sitting next to each other around the bonfire where we were burning off some green wood that wasn’t worth trying to save for the cook fires. The fire was smoky but it kept the mosquitoes at bay. Whether they wind up being “more than friends” or just friends, I’m happy to see that they are no longer at odds with one another.

It is such a relief to have the Wall up and intact again. Most everyone has moved back to their houses, if they were habitable. Waleski, Rose, and Melody spent the day cleaning and sanitizing the hospital and Waleski has taken one of the rooms for his temporary digs. Jack and Patricia have made it official and they moved in together though only with the understanding from Waleski that Patricia is to spend most of her time in bed or sitting down; and no sex. Samuel has three places he can stay; with us, with Patricia and Jack, or with Dix over at his place. Brandon wants Maddie and Josephine to live with him at the library until their condition improves and then after that some decisions will have to be made. A 17 year old boy cannot be made responsible for two 16 year old girls, both of whom are injured. Dix offered his place to Cindy, Tasha and the six children so they could all remain together; he is sleeping in the radio shack until the houses in the compound extension become available for use. The Morris families moved back to their place and Betty said, “Not that we haven’t been grateful for your hospitality but I sure will be glad to be able turn around without knocking in to someone.” I definitely agreed with the sentiment.

Our house is oddly quiet, but it’s a comforting kind of quiet. Scott is signaling me that he finally got Johnnie and Bubby to sleep so that’s where we are off to ourselves. It’s going to be a full day tomorrow.

Day 169 (Tuesday, Fairground Run)

Wow!! This day has been incredible in so many ways but it’s been a really long one and I am tired beyond words. We had a run in with a small horde; gotta love those steel box cars. Met two more families; one came home to Sanctuary with us while the other one was three shades of crazy. We found out where the music was coming from; totally cool story there. Got lots of goodies from the fairgrounds; boy do we have a mess to clean up and put away. Animals, animals, animals; Samuel and my Sarah are in hog heaven … just about literally … and Austin and Mr. Morris are hip deep in brahmas and llamas.

Angus, Jim, Chris, and Brian split off from the group about mid-afternoon and took down a couple of boars and a couple of turkeys to add to our pantry. And James nearly gave me a heart attack when he shot off the head of a moccasin that had been stalking Scott over by the fairgrounds lake. It was so cold today that we had no trouble field dressing the game and getting them home before they spoiled. We gave the offal to Mayhem, Sundance, and Butch. Mischief stayed home. We’re not for sure but she might be having pups just a little ways down the road. She was content to stay at the compound near the kitchen. She’s hungry all the time lately.

I could go on and on but I’ll have to write it all out tomorrow. I lost my footing when we rushed to climb the ladders on the box cars to get away from the horde. My parents should have named me Grace; I’m banged up, split my lip, split my eyebrow, bruised my elbow, and nearly broke my nose. It looks worse than it is but it still ouches so I’m going to try and get some extra rest tonight since I don’t have guard duty.

Tomorrow promises to be another full day. We’ll be putting away the bounty from the fairgrounds and then we're going … well, I’m tired so I'll just finish that thought tomorrow as well. Suffice it to say that all of the new friends we’ve made today are going to be a blessing in more ways that one.

I’ve had Enrique Morente’s nuevo flamenco running through my head all afternoon. What a thing to try and go to sleep by. That’s a story in and of itself.

Day 170 (Wednesday)

Well, I’ve got a great sunset in the making on my face. It feels like I might have chipped a molar too. Now that totally blows. Dental issues are one of the few things we haven’t had to deal with up to this point. It’s just a small chip, but still.

I guess the best place to start would be yesterday morning. We fixed breakfast burritos and everyone dressed them the way they wanted them. Everyone got an orange to eat, coffee or tea to get them revved and warmed up ‘cause it was doggone cold, and we divided portable lunch foods between everyone’s packs. There was a pile of us going this time around.

It’s probably easier to list the people who stayed behind rather than the ones that went. Dix stayed in camp because McElroy was needed to dismantle the stuff at the fairgrounds. All the children under nine stayed. Eric and Liz, both of whom are 14, could have gone but Waleski was worried about them trying to do too much after having Scarlet Fever and all the depredations they had suffered at the hands of the pirates. Waleski also stayed but insisted that both Rose and Melody go because they had not left Sanctuary in so long. He did give them a list of things to be on the lookout for however. Rhonda and Patricia stayed of course as did Josephine and Maddy. Jack stayed as did Dante’ and Tina. Laura was sent with an admonition that there had better not be any problems of any kind. Cindy stayed but Tasha went. Becky stayed because Jenny had come down with a bad cold that had a fever with it. Waleski thought at first that maybe the Scarlet Fever had escaped quarantine but so far no rash and she’s had a fever for two days now. The rest of us all piled into the boxcars that we had left on the track.

The Hummer, the F350, and two large trailers had also been loaded onto two of the flatbed rail cars the previous day. These would become our people and supply movers from the intersection of Broadway and US301 to and from the fairgrounds. We also had ramps and a couple of little Bobcats to help with loading as needed. And one of the boxcars was filled with sacks, boxes, tubs, wagons, and wheelbarrows.

We had the same problems going this time as we did last. Several people got motion sickness. Truthfully I didn’t enjoy the rocking motion of the box car either but I gradually got used to it. And it sure was quicker to get where we were going. I’m glad it was quicker because it was cold. I may have mentioned that a time or two but dang it, this is Florida. It wasn’t just a nice little cold snap, I don’t think it got out of the low 50s yesterday. Ick. And how on God’s green earth Angus put up with that kilt … brrrrrr … just the thought of having cold air blowing up my skirts makes me shudder. The man wasn’t even wearing a coat. I swear he deserves to get sick for being so crazy but with his luck he won’t even get a sniffle. The rest of us had the sense to wear coats and most of us even had hats and scarves on. No matter how I fussed and clucked James would only wear a baseball cap and fingerless gloves because anything else impaired his shooting. I was grateful for his stubbornness later on.

What could have easily taken two or more hours to navigate by road took us less than an hour by rail. We were careful to watch for signs of tampering with the tracks but everything was clear all the way to Broadway. That was a relief I can tell you. We had contingency plans but it would have put us behind at least a day or two.

It took a few minutes to unload the equipment. It took longer to navigate up US301 to the fairground gates. However, once we got to the gates the fairground itself was strangely devoid of any stalled vehicles. Oh, there was damage here and there but not near as much as we had expected. Silence ruled, but not ruin.

Cracker Country was our first goal. Its right on the eastern edge of the grounds so rather than going through the front gates and turn stiles to get to the regular entrance – what amounts to the long way around – we jumped the fence from the parking lot coming into the area between the Governor’s Inn and the replica Train Depot.

I was very surprised at how trimmed the ground looked in most places until I heard the distant “nay” of horses (and it turns out a couple of mules) as well as the “blat” and “baa” of goats. Later in the day we ran into other animals that had escaped their boarding and gone feral.

We broke down into smaller groups with a good handful of the men and boys heading off to the working antique engine display while the rest of us started cruising Cracker Country for salvageable items. Most of what was on display in the train depot and inn was just that, for display purposes only. But we found some candle making supplies in the candle shed. Super bonus is that the supplies contained numerous one pound blocks and sheets of natural bees wax. Some of it has obviously melted and then reformed but it was still good. There were lots of wicking and molds as well as a working set of “dipping racks.”

Carlton House was another “display” set up but we still grabbed some of the stuff in there. If it doesn’t hold up to use then we can use it for decoration or something. Unfortunately there was nothing left of the garden and nothing left in the corn crib. If there had been the animals probably got it long ago.

It was about that time that Samuel came running asking if my Sarah could give him a hand. I was rather taken aback. First, he’d been avoiding Sarah since last week. Secondly, I couldn’t imagine what he would need help with from Sarah until he pulled this little piglet out of his coat pocket. Boy when it was being handled it started squealing up a storm so Samuel stuck him back in the pocket which shut him straight up. He said that Scott had given permission for Sarah to come help catch the animals and get them ready for transport so long as I said it was OK. I agreed so long as she stuck with Samuel and neither one of them got out of sight. I tell you those two probably had more fun than anyone else yesterday. They chased chickens, geese, goats, llamas (and yes, Samuel got spat on), pigs, and even brought home a couple of gopher tortoises which they put out in the orange grove.

While they played Wild Kingdom it did come to mind that there used to be a bear and panther display nearby but I remembered just in time to avoid panic that they were only there during the State Fair. Thank goodness.

The blacksmith shop yielded a few things but not as many as I had hoped. I kind of remember some of the stations being manned by independent artisans and craftsmen. They probably brought their own equipment to work with when they were operating the displays.

The General Store had us going gangbusters. This was a fundraising enterprise for Cracker Country. Some of the stuff was touristy junk … like the pencil sharpener miniatures that were shaped like pioneer implements … but there was some cool stuff in there too. There were real quill pens, pioneer toys, products made of honey, sunbonnets and aprons, quilts, cast iron cookware, speckleware cookware, etc. But where I really went crazy was in the small bookstore. I grabbed all of the Bear Wallow books whether I had them or not. I figured I would divide them up with a full set going in the library and then a full set to every Sanctuary household that wanted one. There were lots of other pioneer “how too” books and biographies of early Florida that I'm sure will come to some good use. There were books on Florida flora and fauna; scads of other useful books and writing supplies too. In the back administrative area we grabbed our first, but not last, wood burning stove.

We grabbed another wood stove from the school house replica, and yet another two from the Terry Store replica and the church building. At the Smith House display we grabbed … trumpets please … a wood burning cook stove. Halleluiah!

It was after this that we had to get creative. I was desperate to have the syrup kettle set up and the cane mill. We got it before the day was out, but not without some elbow grease. I just hope we can reassemble it so that it works. The engine-powered grist mill was another challenge that we eventually solved. McElroy had to sketch it out before he and the men dismantled it and he put tags on each piece that he numbered to correspond with his sketch. He was just as careful with the old diesel and steam engines. I’m hoping that those things work but Holy Moly are they noisy.

The printing press from the Print Shop and Post Office was a little easier to move though it too was heavy as all get out. What we had to be careful of was to make sure none of the little letters and stuff that go with the press were dropped along the way out of the trays they fit in. Brandon took charge of this project and I could see the plans rolling around in his head. Now all he needs is to locate the right kind of ink. We already had huge reams of paper that had been left under the counter in the same office.

It really didn't take us long to go through Cracker Country and gather or mark off everything we wanted to take home with us. With that number of people we practically had a group for each building. In not much more than an hour we were ready to branch out into the rest of the fairgrounds.

Right before we did however I realized that though we’d been joking about the odor that was coming from the restrooms there shouldn’t have been any such odor this long past any kind of human activity in the area. You know how it goes, you don’t have to go to the bathroom until you find out there is no bathroom to go to … then you have to go worse than you ever have. Ironic.

Sure enough a couple of zombies were in there but … geez … I’d never seen any quite so decomposed before. Scott had come to see if we were ready to take off into the grounds while another group took our first round of supplies back to the boxcars and relieve the team that was left there to watch. He, Angus, and Jim dispatched the zombies using Scott’s awl and hammer technique. It was gross. Not the method but the zombies themselves. Most of the soft tissue had rotted leaving just barely enough muscle and connective tissue that the zombies could wallow around like some diseased ground worms. It was just … I don’t think I can even describe how horrifying and pathetic it was.

We talked about it some during the day and we figure that somehow the zombies got shut into the restroom. Even clean restrooms have bacteria in them. The heat and humidity that Florida experiences 95% of the year combined with their trapped state likely gave the bacteria a good hold on the corpses. The dead flies littering the bathroom floor that crunched under the men’s feet as they sanitized the zombies also was part of the reason the zombies were so decomposed. Maggots thrive on dead flesh. It’s also given us a little hope that eventually the greater majority of the zombies will eventually just disintegrate into non-threats that can be sanitized and disposed of with much less risk of contamination.

But hope is not a plan. Raising our guard up a notch now that we have proof that there are zombies likely on the fairgrounds we headed over to the Expo Hall. And that’s where we met the crazy family.

We had to cut off some seriously heavy duty chains to get in to see if there was anything worth salvaging. The Expo Hall is about 88,000 square feet in floor space. Or at least that is the figure on the fairground’s brochure that I picked up from where it lay on the floor. It was where a lot of the gun shows that came to Tampa were held. Unfortunately for us that wasn’t the event in progress back in August when things had broken down. It was an arts-and-crafts fair. The wares of the different booths didn’t look like they had been disturbed since they had been abandoned. A thin layer of dust lay on everything. It was really eerie. But we’ve dealt with eerie before; heck we’ve dealt with way worse than eerie.

We divided up into several major groups. One group scavenged through the food concession areas. One group went through the bathrooms and maintenance closets. The rest of us started hauling butt up and down the display aisles throwing odds and ends in the wagons that we pulled. As much as I would like to say that we got a lot of really useful stuff from the booths the truth is that it was a bunch of frou-frou. There was some handcrafted furniture, some dressed up clothes and hats, and some semi-useful odds and ends but what was of more use was the craft people’s supplies and tools that had been left behind.

Our people that took the food concessions and bathrooms had better luck. There were some snack foods, condiments, paper products, cleaning stuff, and more similar to what we pulled from Ybor City.

After I had gotten over the disappointment of no canned soda, only syrup in canisters, I turned to see Cease running up to me and asking if I would please come outside. All I could think was that Sarah and Samuel had run into some trouble. I followed Cease at a jog and out the door only to stop so quick I slid in the gravel and nearly lost my dignity.

Standing before me were some of the oddest people I’ve ever seen. There was a man who was probably in his early thirties at most, two women one of whom was pregnant, and a teenage girl and two young children. I was then formerly introduced to Alfred the Second of Seffner, his two consorts, the Princess, and their two young subjects.

It took everything I had to keep my jaw from hitting the ground. See it wasn’t just being introduced to “royalty” but that "King Al” as he preferred to be addressed, was wearing the most amazing conglomeration of clothing I think I have ever seen. The closest I think I can come to describing him is a Highland Drag Queen who laced his morning java with LSD. On his head was a plastic crown that must have come from some Mardis Gras costume box. All of his jewerly he wore however looked real and there was a lot of it. He wore a wig … I think it was a wig anyway … of Shirley Temple curls; only instead of blonde they were green. He wore his royal make-up like like a football player; black and under his eyes. Then he wore some black muumuu type dress cinched at the waist by a wide belt that had shotgun shells all the way around it. On top of the muumuu he wore a khaki hunters vest with a gazillion pockets. Each pocket was labeled with a number. Then came these skinny, hairy legs encased in women’s fur-lined, high-heeled boots. He topped the whole outfit off with enough weapons to give Pancho Villa indigestion.

Two of King Al’s consorts were dressed nearly as bizarrely only in the opposite direction. One was dressed as a male pirate and the other was dressed in a tux complete with cummerbund and ascot carrying a very ornate walking stick. The third one, the teenager, was dressed urban tough but fairly normal considering the day and times we are living in. The two little kids could have easily passed for any of our own.

In a bored drawl and with very affected hand motions King Al said, “Charlie dear, please deal with these ruffians. Our kingdom does not need any more of the rabble running about.”

As I waited to see who Charlie was King Al wandered over to a bench an lay down upon it. The two strange women began fawning on him. That left the teenager.

I looked at Matlock, silently asking why in the heck he asked me out here. When he glanced at the two young children I knew.

“Hi, I’m Charlene. Don’t worry about Al. We’ve run out of his meds again. He’s harmless when he’s crazy.”

That’s a heck of an introduction. There was no way I could top that so I asked, “Are you and the kids OK? “

“Oh sure. Seriously. Al is my brother. He may be crazy but he takes care of us. Where are y’all from?”

Trying really hard to not say something that could kill the calm tone of the conversation I replied, “Hmm? Oh, another part of town. Are you really sure you all are OK?”

Charlene smiled and laughed like she was very used to getting that reaction. “Oh, yeah. We really are. Al has PTSD and goes off his rocker every once in a while when we can’t find his meds. I don’t remember him any other way so I’m used to it. He can kind of turn other people off though. These are his kids and the lady in the tux is his wife. She’s crazier than Al is but is a real sweety. Hey, did y’all find any food in the Expo by any chance?”

I just looked at Matlock and he asked, “What are you looking for?”

“Vegan stuff. Al is on a vegan kick this time around. I’m getting totally tired of eating rabbit food though. I am needing some junk food for sure.”

From the bench King Al shouted, “Oh no you don’t young lady. Junk food is very, very bad for you. It gives you zits and just leaves you hungry for more. I told King Al the First that I’d look after you Little Princess and that’s exactly how it’s going to be.”

Who would have thought? There was a real man under all the crazy. You could see him peaking every once in a while if you watched closely.

“Aw Al. Geez.”

King Al arose is all his majesty and wandered back over. “Hmmm. I suppose I must be magnanimous though it is rather fatiguing. There is another group of you norms over by the stables. You might want to hook up and find a place to hold up because we are due the next flood of dead heads around 3 o’clock.”

“Dead heads?”

Charlene explained because King Al had lost his grip on reality again and had begun to wander away. “Dead heads are what we call the infected people. And you’d do good to listen to Al. I don’t know how he does it but he always knows when we’re due for another bunch of dead heads to come through. You’ve only got a couple of hours to gather up and head out. Nice meeting you folks but it looks like Al is ready to go. See you later maybe.”

With that she ran off, towing the kids behind her, to catch up with King Albert II and his consorts.

Matlock looked about ready to burst. He has a truly odd sense of the ridiculous at the best of times. “Well, on King Al’s recommendation I say that we plan on being out of here by 3 pm.”

“But that was the plan any way, right?” asked Cease confused.

We all just sort of shook our heads. Scott went over to lift the crates of chickens and young pigs that Sarah and Samuel had managed to capture. He was on his second load when James suddenly pulls his pistol and shoots right between Scott’s feet.

You talk about some fancy dancing and cussing, but Scott managed to hold on to the pigs. I was just about to lay into James and ask him if he had caught the crazies from King Al when Scott kicked the headless carcass of a water moccasin away from himself.

I’m not partial to snakes. I’ll admit it. But there are very few animals that I actually fear on this planet. Water moccasins are one of them though. When I was little and on a fishing trip with my parents one fell into our John boat when we got too near a little island. I never will forget my dad falling overboard was the snake came after him and my mom grabbing me by the collar and heading for the other end of the boat while she tried to whack it with a paddle. Daddy was able to climb back in and kill it but the situation definitely left an impression on my young psyche. Moccasins are one of the few snakes that will stalk a person just like prey.

With that little encounter we were all much careful where we put our feet and hands. It was then that some of the men decided to head back to the Lykes Arena and the equestrian center to see if King Al was telling the truth about there being some “norms” back there. They also intended to see if they could catch some of the horses they’d heard and maybe do some hunting. Brian swore he heard turkeys and I didn’t doubt him. It was the time of year for them.

You know it’s not often you meet people as … interesting … as King Al and his entourage. It’s been over a day since our brief encounter and I still find my thoughts going back to them at the oddest times. I keep wondering how they’re doing, whether they were able to avoid the horde, and whether they've found some meds for the king. Al’s psychosis is a harmless one, at least according to his little sister. It doesn’t impede his ability to function, at least not in today’s world. It probably impeded the heck out of his functioning last year. It makes me wonder how many other people like Al are wandering around. It makes me think of my mother. She couldn’t function without her meds. Her serotonin levels were just too wacked out; her brain was completely dependent on the medication to regulate its chemistry. On her meds you’d never know that she was fragile or that it had taken her months of behavioral therapy in order to maintain even most basic daily living skills. Now after years of living with it, she had her routine and knew her triggers and how to avoid them. Off her meds … she was a mess and she knew it, she just couldn't do anything about it. One of the worries my parents always had was losing the ability to get the medications they literally needed to survive.

How many people are there out there still living like that? Will we run into any more like Al and his “consorts”? If we do, will they be harmless, helpless, or will they be violent and vicious? What do we do if it does occur? Having dealt with the challenges with my mom I’m sympathetic to people who live with these types of conditions day in and day out; but it also makes me aware that you can only do so much and after that you either have to be able to live with the other person as they are or you have to let go and move along without them. No longer do we have the luxury of being able to find professional help. We’re it. Families and family-like groups will be it. Mental illness, brain injuries, mental challenges that involve a lack of social and interpersonal skills, brain illnesses like Alzheimer’s; how will we meet the challenges of caring for individuals like that in this world we now live in? The medications are gone or soon will be. The likelihood of poor choices leading to death is much higher these days than they used to be. It’s just one of the many things that prey on my mind.

King Al and his entourage aren’t the only new people we met yesterday. After the men had gone off to check over at the equestrian arena of the fairgrounds I heard a few gunshots. I put it down to the hunting they said they were going to do or maybe the stray zombie or two. Actually they walked into something a little more on the wild-side than that.

They had spotted some likely animals – horses, llamas, etc. – to try and gather up that had continued to hang out in the stable and arena area even after their people had never returned. The only problem was that they were being menaced by a pack of dogs. We had already experienced the problems associated with so many domesticate animals being abandoned. Dogs were a nuisance predator (as were cats) and we were always careful to be on the lookout for them when we were outside the Wall. This pack was made up mainly of scraggly, under nourished mutts and not the more dangerous guard dogs. You do not want to be unarmed around a bunch of guard dogs gone wild pack.

Eventually the men were able to kill the most aggressive of the pack and drove the rest off. Our dogs did their share as well though I worry about them getting in these kinds of fights with animals. Rabies and all sorts of other diseases could affect them this way. Both dogs and men returned revved up with their success. In the process they had also taken some animals for food that had been hurt in the attack. One boar and sow that had been trying to evade the pack had banged themselves up so bad that Angus and Jim put them out of their misery and took them as game and the other men took some turkeys that had been flushed from the overgrowth.

The turkeys weren’t the only thing to get flushed out however. We’ve got another family that has joined us. Lee and Anne, along with their children – are originally from Pennsylvania like Angus but their story is much more roundabout. Anne is in her late 20s and Lee the same or so close to it that it doesn't matter; their children are Ella who is eight years old and Ray who is three. Lee was an airplane mechanic and had to move his family out to Oregon for work a few years back. When things started getting crazy he tried to get his family back to Pennsylvania using his airline connections. Well, they got seats on one of the last flights to make it into the air. The only problem was the flight wasn’t a direct one. They were to land at the Atlanta hub, re-fuel, and then take off to Philadelphia. Didn’t happen the way they planned it. Atlanta was already crazy by the time they were to land and they were pushed off to the nearest airport that could take them in; that was Jacksonville, FL after Savannah, GA refused them.

They were on fumes and were forced to make a rough emergency landing. The tail section broke off and they skidded into the planes that were stacked up all along the runway. Their plane didn’t catch fire because it was devoid of fuel but the planes hit by the tail section did. As a matter of fact, a couple of them just exploded.

It was only Lee’s familiarity with planes that kept them safe and able to navigate through the resulting chaos. Of course with the crash came NRS infected corpses. Anne told me it wasn’t quite as bad as Flight of the Living Dead but it was close. They hid out in Jacksonville trying to find a way to get back to PA but the borders slammed shut before they were able to cross. Then the riots broke out and the food ran out in the city. Lee commandeered a car from one of the rental companies at the airport and they took off for Orlando to see if they could get a flight out of there. No one realized yet that there would not be any more commercial airline flights for the foreseeable future.

It didn’t take Orlando long to hit the meltdown stage. They practically drove into it and struggled with being in unfamiliar territory with no maps. After Orlando they simply moved along I4 and 574 when they could. Their family had been trying to avoid a large horde and some small raider groups when they finally made it through Brandong and into Tampa to see if there was anything operating out of the Tampa International Airport (TIA). They were shocked by what they found. Lee said TIA was a ruin; what isn’t burnt to the ground looks like it might as well be. There’s not enough left to even salvage. We dropped that site to the bottom of our gathering run list.

The pleading look from McElroy prompted Matlock to have a private talk with Lee. The other new men offered McElroy more help with mechanical issues, but here was a man who literally was trained to be a mechanic. The result was that they were invited to Sanctuary and now we number 64. Ella and Ray fit in with the rest of our monkeys quite well. In fact they were so thrilled to finally find some kids to play with that Anne had a difficult time getting them to go to bed in the house they had chosen to call their new home. I know Anne is desperate for news of her family up north but I think both she and Lee are pretty realistic about their chances and are just seeking a little closure.

For the next couple of hours we quickly went through the rest of the fairgrounds grabbing anything that looked likely to be useful. All of the bathrooms had cabinets with supplies in them; cleaning and paper products. The “green” exhibit had some solar panels that we gathered. The administrative offices had what you would expect to find in that type of setting … paper, pens, pencils, batteries, and lots of other odds and ends. We grabbed the various animal supplies and what little feed and hay remained as well. Luckily we didn’t bring back any rats with us; there were plenty of them on the grounds though. A lot of stuff was getting ruined by their gnawing. Rat feces was everywhere too which was very gross and I finally asked everyone to wear face masks in addition to their gloves. Rat feces … that’s just plain nasty.

We all ate on the move, even the tweens. I made pretzels and everyone really enjoyed that surprise of the soft treats. We also had the standard trail mix, cheese and sausage sticks and a few other odds and ends. I’m glad I had extra that we could share with Anne and Lee. And they shared what they had with us, mostly beef jerky, canned fruit, and crackers that we just this side of stale.

As the last few groups of us started out on one last round of the fairgrounds Matlock began organizing taking everything we had gathered, including the animals, to the intersection where the train and boxcars were waiting. I suppose I forgot to mention that we had picked up another engine so that we had an engine on both ends instead of an engine and caboose. This was so that we didn’t have to turn the boxcars around. We did this when it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to find a turn around point at Sanctuary because the tracks being destroyed by fire not too far north of our location and driving backwards was just to problematic for our inexperienced engineers.

It was about 2:30-ish when the hummer and F350 come tearing back to pick the last of the gathered items as well as the rest of us that were in the last load. A small horde of zombies had been spotted and we needed to get to the train ASAP.

Oh glory, you talk about picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down. We moved just about as fast as we’ve ever done. The memories of the Big Horde still run fresh in all of our minds. I’ll admit to the taste of panic creeping up my throat like acid reflux. I was honestly scared; not the most constructive emotion under the circumstances but looking back it has made me realize that I’m stuffing the pain and memories of being stuck in the attic too far down. If I don’t deal with them they may come back around and do their best to destroy me one of these days. But that moment wasn’t the time to do any personal psychoanalyzing.

There wasn’t that many boxes and bags left to haul and everyone already had something in their hands. The stuff went flying into the trailers as quickly as people threw themselves in there. The drivers of the F350 and the Hummer - I think it was Jim and Brian but I can’t honestly say for sure - flew through the gates and out onto US301 at the highest speed they could safely maintain. But once out onto US301 it was slow, slow, slow; too slow. We wove in and out of traffic getting closer to the train but not fast enough.

I looked back and the horde numbered between a hundred and a hundred and fifty strong. That was nowhere near the number of the Big Horde, but we weren’t behind the safety of the Wall either. Thank goodness we had sent the tweens and most everyone else on ahead with the next to last load. Not that I’d wished the circumstances on anyone in my place, but I kept wondering why did I insist on checking through the administrative offices one more time? So what if I grabbed a couple of boxes of stuff that was missed. Office supplies were not worth my life.

Just then the trailer that was being pulled by the F350 in front of us lost both tires on the right side of the trailer. I don’t know what they ran over but it was pretty bad. Luckily the F350 has a lot of pull and just kept going. By the time it slammed up the ramp and onto the flat rail car the rims were bent beyond repair.

Everyone had been moved to the top of the box cars. Everyone that had a gun – which meant everyone in the group – was firing back over our heads at the approaching horde. There wasn’t time for the hummer to get up the ramp and it jerked to a halt and everyone swarmed out and to the ladders to follow the rest of our crew to the only safety we had.

These zombies weren’t shamblers. They weren’t Ragers either which (what a blessing that was) but they moved too quick for my comfort. They were another example of how the NRS virus seemed to be mutating or reacting differently in different groups for some reason. I just hoped there were none of those freaky climbers. Our luck held until nearly everyone was up the ladders.

Our shooters were doing their best to cut the number of zombies down but after the infected got so close I started to worry about being a casualty of friendly fire as much as I worried about being bitten.

The men kept trying to put all the women up first. I wasn’t complaining. There is a place for feminism but in the middle of a zombie horde isn’t one of them. I wanted to get up that dat gum ladder as bad as anyone. Every time I tried to get to the ladder a zombie would come too close and I would use the machete and lop off a body part … head preferably, but I wasn’t picky so long as it kept said body part from touching me. As I was lopping, someone else would be pushed up the ladder. I didn’t blame them one bit. It would have been stupid just to stand there and no one going up the ladder.

There was a lot of screaming and shouting. Not all of it made sense but I do remember distinctly hearing the voices of my kids calling, “Mom!!!” on more than one occasion. Worse I could hear Scott calling my name. I had to block them out as I was afraid of getting distracted.

I finally managed to get back to one of the ladders. Angus had gotten down and was doing his Odin routine with his shelaleigh and I ducked under his arm just in time to get back splashed by the goo flying off a solid hit on a zombie dressed in a business suit . The song I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair from the movie "South Pacific" started making an inappropriate run through my mind.

I made it up about six rungs before my foot slipped. I was going up so fast that my feet were taking the next step before my hands had a good hold. That was a mistake. Despite the ladder being really closely attached to the boxcar I still managed to partially wedge my boot in sideways which threw my whole body weight off kilter. I tried to put my other boot back on a rung but I had no traction. Down I went, hitting my face on the ladder pretty hard. I’m doggone lucky I didn’t do more damage than I did. The thing that probably saved me was that Scott and David had been leaning over the side to grab me and pull me up and they grabbed my coat and Angus had been right behind me. I was basically suspended for a couple of seconds until I could plant my feet more firmly.

Nearly didn’t have time for that. Angus was the last one up on our box car and pushed me just about as fast as Scott and David pulled. Good thing too as the pain of my nose was bad and it was gooshing blood pretty solid. After I came up and over the edge I just laid there for a few seconds. I don’t know if I could have shot straight had I wanted to.

Then on top of everything else I nearly swallowed my heart when I saw James take a running leap from the box car we were on to the next one down. Our luck had run out; there were at least a dozen climbers in what was left of the horde. At that point the only ones that had made it off the ground were on the east-facing engine. James and Matlock were picking them off as best they could without damaging anything vital to the workings.

Then I heard my Sarah shriek in terror. Oh buddy, nothing like hearing your child scream like that to bring you to full attention whether you are ready to be or not. Samuel grabbed her and pulled her backwards just as David grabbed them both and pulled. A climber was coming up over the edge and the hag wasn’t using the ladder.

Whack! Down went my machete and the dead climber lost her hands. It took Scott a couple of kicks to dislodge them and send them over the side with the zombie. I really pray that the NRS hasn't started turning the zombies into flies that can cling to vertical sides. That would seriously undermine the protection the Wall gives us. I'm hoping that since the zombie has no pain receptors that it just found hand holds that a functioning human wouldn't have been able to take advantage of.

We used up a lot of ammo but we eventually managed to kill or completely incapacitate every zombie in the horde. When the last one went down all we could do was sit there and shiver; both from the cold and from reaction. Matlock later said that the battle, such as it was, didn’t last but about 30 minutes. It seemed longer at the time but I guess he is correct. Adrenaline stretches things like that out in your mind. That can be both blessing and curse.

My face is still sore, but I'm more embarrassed now that the danger has passed. It figures that I would be the only one to get hurt. But I guess, if I really think about it, it isn’t too awful a price to pay. If I was the only one hurt, and just some minor dings at that, then I’ll take it.

The one grief I do have is that my glasses got scratched. Not on the bifocal part thank goodness; but on the outside edge of my periphery vision and it is annoyingly distracting. I have two other pairs with my current prescription but I think I’ll start looking through all of the magnifying reading glasses that we have to see if I can get a back up pair for my back up pairs. I shudder to think what my life, and value of what I could contribute to our community, will be if I ever get to where I can’t see at all. Unless we get visited by the optometrist fairy I’m stuck dealing with things the best way I can. We all are. Scott and I aren’t the only ones that wear glasses.

I came out of my reverie when Matlock started hustling us to move it and get the last of our goods and equipment loaded. The F350 and its trailer hadn’t taken any damage beyond what the trailer had already suffered. The hummer lost a window and had a dented panel but nothing major and it was quickly loaded onto its flat rail car. You could hardly tell the damage was new when compared to all of the other dents, dings, and scratches the vehicle had suffered over the last several months.

The kids gathered up the boxes and bags that had amazingly remained intact and loaded them into one of the box cars. Everyone was gingerly stepping around the sanitized corpses and every once in a while I would hear someone fighting the heaves. The smell of a horde is worse than a slaughter yard. The smell of a sanitized horde is even worse; delayed decomposition gets revved up almost immediately and rancid fluids and gasses really give off some serious stink. We double checked to make sure we didn’t have any hitch hikers the McElroy started up the home-bound engine and got it warmed up as we all settled in for the return trip.

The ride back to Sanctuary wasn’t exactly restful but at least we didn’t have to deal with any more zombies. I’m relieved that kind of excitement isn’t always a daily happening any more. Oh sure, we sanitize at least a few zombies every day - they are almost commonplace to the point of not mentioning them - but we hadn’t had to deal with a good sized horde since the Big Horde. We know that can’t last. We are still preparing for the potential return of the Big Horde, or some incarnation of it. This time however we will be better prepared and some surprises will await the undead; at least we hope we have time for to set things up.

We pulled into Sanctuary and every one of us was bone weary, but we had stuff to unpack and secure and a new family to introduce and find sleeping accommodations for. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Dix talking animatedly to Matlock. Matlock in turn got excited as well. I heard, “Hot damn!” but was then distracted by the littles all crowding around welcoming us home.

I looked at Scott who had also noticed the interplay between Dix and Matlock. We looked at each other over the top of the kids’ heads. There was just something about a smiling and openly jovial Dixon that gave us a very uncomfortable feeling that things hadn’t been any more boring here than they had been for those of us who went out gathering.

While the kids and most of the adults helped unload the box cars and stack stuff in semi logical piles to be put away the next day, word began to circulate that Dix had managed to make contact with the mysterious radio operator with the eclectic taste in music. He had taken over WUSF and was interested in meeting. Dix had arranged a meeting on neutral ground the next day. I hadn’t expected to be part of that contingent but life is full of interesting twists and turns. Take the family that has just joined our merry band for instance.

Let me tell you, that little Ray is going to fit in just fine with Johnnie and Bubby. What a pistol. Both of Anne’s kids acted like they had been released from prison. I can imagine running around with Sanctuary’s troop of human monkeys was probably as good as Christmas after all they’ve been through. Anne and Lee both looked like it was a relief just to be able to sit and drink a sip of something warm while the kids horse-played. I love my kids but I know for a fact being cooped up with them for days and days on end with no relief, not to mention the stress and worry of everything going on, has driven me to the brink. That night was likely the first time in months Anne and Lee had been able to allow their kids more than a few feet away from them.

Anne and Lee were both hesitant but in the end agreed to let some of the older girls watch their kids while they were shown around to the available houses. When they would have settled on a three bedroom Scott encouraged them to consider one of the four bedrooms with a double garage a little further off the main road. He said, “Not that I’m trying to push y’all away but … well … you aren’t that old. You’ve got two now but considering things being what they are, it’s not impossible you might wind up with more. “ I laughed at the look on Lee’s face and laughed harder still when Anne elbowed him in the side for standing there with his mouth open.

Later that night after dinner, after every one settled down, and after a little private time of our own, Scott laughed like he’d thought of funny joke. When I asked him what the punch line was he gave me another good hard kiss and said, “If the women of Sanctuary get any spicier us men are going to have to watch out for sure.”

That resulted in a tickle battle and some pillow throwing that nearly woke up the kids. It came to an abrupt halt however when I accidentally banged my nose again. Scott helped me stop the bleeding and then we started giggling again at what a sight we would have made had anyone been peeking. I’m still a mess; I look like I’ve been in a brawl. Scott is bumped and banged up pretty good too just from working. I try and imagine what I would have thought if my younger self had been able to see where I was going to wind up. Doubt I would have believed even if it was St. Paul himself trying to tell me. Some days I think about what I would have done different had I known what was coming. All sorts of things that are too late to do anything about now but the one solid, for sure thing I wouldn’t change is that I married Scott. For richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, nothing and no one will ever change the ties that bind us … not even zombies or death will change that.

The next morning, or I guess I should say today, I was awoken by Scott’s cold hands as he crawled in bed. He had just come off watch at 5 AM and I was at first miffed that I had overslept. He said that Matlock and Dix had said to let everyone sleep, especially the kids, if they didn’t need to be up and about. Today was even colder than yesterday with frost on the ground.

January is always the coldest month for Florida and we had been extremely lucky in avoiding any frosts up to this point. I was pretty upset, thinking of the fruit and stuff that I was likely to have lost. Then I remembered that Bekah, right before we all went to bed, told me that she and the other kids had, at the insistence of Patricia and with Betty’s guidance, picked a lot of fruit and it was all sitting in baskets in the carport waiting to be divided and processed. They had also finished putting the last of the row covers so I’m hoping that we didn’t lose too much to the downturn in the weather. Well, I figured that’s what I would be doing most of the day, preserving food, so I left Scott gently snoring in the still warm bed and got up and got dressed.

I stepped outside and heard the clink and clank coming from the kitchen area as a late breakfast was fixed. The morning meal was omelets, biscuits, and milk, OJ, tea, and coffee. The coffee we brought in yesterday was welcome as we have been getting low. We’ve still got a lot of tea bags … both the real stuff and herbal … but that won’t last forever either. I need to talk to some of the others, especially Mr. Morris and Betty, and see if they know of any decent coffee substitutes that we can grow. I’ve already got herbs going that can be used for tea. The planning never seems to end.

I saw James on the Wall and when I waved he made some kind of motion that I didn’t understand until I got closer. He said, “Mom, is there any way I can get something warm to drink up here? It’s so cold my chest hurts when I breathe.”

Well, it’s not often that he asks me for anything these days and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me up to play mother hen. I quick walked back to the house - it hurts my face to move much faster than that – grabbed a thermos and the scarf that he had just yesterday rolled his eyes at and headed over to the kitchen to grab some hot water. My Sarah and I are the only ones that will drink tea and no one in the house drinks coffee so over the years we’ve found other things we like. I know that James wouldn’t want cocoa or anything milk-based as it makes him drowsy, not a good thing for guard duty. I had some cider powder tucked away but I was trying to save that as long as I could, we are running out of all of our apple-flavored stuff, even our dried apples; and the applesauce we need to save for baking. I decided to make him some Russian Tea instead. It’s kind of a fruity-spicy tea mix that has a Tang base. The Tang won’t last forever either but we can substitute orange juice for it eventually. When the apple products are gone they are going to be gone for good; or at least until we can get some kind of trade going with folks up north.

Matlock saw me and followed me over to the Wall and up the temporary ladder that we are using to get up and down. “Scott mentioned that he wanted to get started building the stairwells up to the new guard rooms on the corners. Have you seen what he’s done so far?”

I told him I had. The steel storage containers that had been bolted and welded onto the corners with more ease that Scott had at first thought. A blowtorch had been used to cut door ways and observation windows. Scott and his crew had already built frames to go into the rough openings that will hold doors and screens to keep the bugs out. He still wants brackets to be bolted on to add yet more stability to the structure. He was also considering adding furring strips inside to take compressed insulation and drywall to so that it wouldn’t be quite so much like an oven come summer. Sliding shutters that can be closed from the inside will complete the security features.

After I dropped the warm drink and scarf off to James with only a minor admonishment to use both since Matlock was there, and after Matlock had said his goodbyes to the guards currently on duty, he followed me down to the ground. It wasn’t like Matlock to just wander around with no purpose so I just looked at him.

“I don’t know how it happened but Becky’s pregnant,” he forced out in a rush.

I laughed and he grinned and said, “OK, so I know how it happened but … we were being really careful and counting days. We had planned to wait a bit longer before seeing if anything happened.”

Trying not to laugh at him again I said, “Matt, you’re a grown man but just in case you’ve not … well … look, stress can throw a woman’s cycle off and counting is all well and good but you have to know when to start the counting and you have to make some other assumptions that aren’t 100% effective.”

With a sheepish grin that still managed to make him look like he was feeling like cock of the walk he replied, “Yeah, knowing that and applying that is two different things apparently. Don’t get me wrong, Becky and I are thrilled, but we don’t have a doctor or even a midwife. I’d never say anything to Waleski but I can’t help but wish we at least had one of those.”

“Don’t look at me. All five of my pregnancies had a lot of medical intervention. Two of them – Rose and Johnnie – were even C-sections. I can help but it looks like nature and the good Lord are going to have to lead the way on this one.”

“Yeah, about that. You know I don’t go in for religion but … you really believe all that.”

Uh oh. It always worried me when confronted by conversations like this. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to walk that particular mine field. I’m always afraid of hurting or offending someone. “Yeah, I really believe all that stuff.”

“Well … so does Becky and she seems … She’s really … Look, she’s scared. But maybe if you were to say something to her, maybe say you’re … um … you know … um … praying for her or whatever it is you do that it will make her feel better.”

Poor guy. Like they say, there are no atheists in foxholes. I guess there are a lot of private struggles going on, Matlock isn’t the first to bring it up and likely he won’t be the last. Everyone has an opinion and convictions and eventually we all will have to choose the absolutes we live by. At least he was trying really hard not to be judgmental.

“I’ll stop in and talk to her. Have you told anyone else or should I keep my mouth closed?”

“Under normal circumstances we’d keep it quiet until she was three months along but we don’t have that kind of luxury of privacy. Waleski doesn’t want her on any of the heavy work crews and if there is an emergency the more people that know which of our women are pregnant the better.”

“You make it sound like we’ve got a lot of them. There’s only two … now three … pregnant ladies.“

“Boys and girls will be boys and girls and without getting too graphic the reason why Becky and I had to use natural birth control is because there aren’t that many condoms left in the supplies. Birth control pills are gone totally.”

“Well … yeah … that’d do it all right. I’ll talk to Betty and she and I might come up with something for Waleksi who is probably about ready to dig a hole and pull it in after him.”

“For a fact,” Matlock laughed. “And now he and Rilla look like they are going to be pairing off too. Are you and Scott figuring on having any more?”

“Nope. Baby making factory is closed down. We had our five and were lucky to have those. You know, we lost two when we were younger. We never found out why I miscarried, guess it was just one of those things, but with both I was hospitalized and had to have D-and-C’s. It makes me a little sensitive to the issues facing the women in Sanctuary even if I can no longer experience myself.”

At the confused look on Matlock’s face I explained, “Well, there are all sorts of miscarriages but unlike with most full-term pregnancies in some miscarriages not all of the placenta gets expelled.” Despite the fact that Matlock was getting a little green I continued, “If that happens the tissue that is left can cause infection or can continue to send signals to the woman’s body that cause her to continue bleeding. That means that a women can die either from a child-birth related infection or she can bleed to death. That’s what happened to me. I was a heavy bleeder and I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy. D-and-C’s used to be pretty routine with miscarriages because of the potential danger of bleeding and infection but I’m not sure what we’ll be able to do any more. Betty and I have done some talking and I know there are certain teas that are used in less developed countries. I also know that Waleski is studying everything he can get his hands one but …. “

We were both silent for a moment thinking of all of the possibilities that the future held. “Actually, what I came to ask was would you switch with Becky on the run today.”

“Oh Matt, I …”

“I know its short notice but I already said something to Scott. He said that he was OK with it so long as James and David were going.” At my outraged look he continued, “Look, I know you’re an adult but with the way things are going I thought I’d run it by Scott first. You had a close call yesterday and you’re still banged up.”

Grabbing a hold of my attitude I took and deep, calming breath and said, “It’s OK. We all have to adjust to the new reality we’re living in. I don’t have a problem with it particularly; I just would like to do the ‘asking of Scott’ myself in the future if you don’t mind. I realize as a physically weaker member of any team that I’m going to have to follow someone else’s playbook, but you might not find some of the other women quite as …. understanding … as I’m trying to be. Let me make sure that all my duties are covered. What time do they plan on moving out?”

They wanted to be out by 10 am so they could reach the meeting place and be set up by eleven o’clock. When Scott was fully awake after I nudged him to make sure that Matlock had indeed talked to him, I asked him as lightly as I could why he had handled things the way he had. He was a bit chagrined that he hadn’t broken it to me first but insisted he was only trying to do what was best for me and my safety. I let it slide this time figuring it to be a left over gut reaction from my time in the attic. At least he hadn’t insisted on coming with me, or worse forbidden me from going. The whole “Lord and Master” thing just bothers me a bit even though I know Scott probably doesn’t fully realize how he is making me feel; his motivations are pure, just a little kiltered into the overdone in my opinion. After the attic incident I knew I’d likely have to deal with stuff like this from Scott … I’ve got to give him his due, he hasn’t been as bad as he could be, but at some point I’m going to have to decide what I can tolerate and what I can’t and therein may lay a battle, one no one is going to enjoy. Scott and I have had a few epic battles over the years. There is no winning in such a situation; you just hope that you both survive and something is left when the fight is over.

And I also have to take into consideration the example this sets for the girls. Scott and I worked out our relationship a long time ago; we’ve had our share of bumps in the road but we’ve always managed to smooth things out eventually. This is simply what has worked for us; two strong personalities from very different backgrounds meshing our needs and our wants into something constructive and rewarding for both of us. That doesn’t mean that I want to see my daughters replaying what they see just because they don’t think there is any alternative. They aren’t me, their needs will be different. Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t why Rose has always seemed so shy of the idea of having boys as anything other than friends. I never really thought about it before and just figured she was a “late bloomer” in that respect. She and David seem to be working things out, but to what purpose I don’t know. I’d like to talk to her about it, but she’s got a prickly hedge around some subjects that she and I have never really been able to work through. I don’t know if it’s my place though to try and give her advice. Heck, I’m not even sure she needs my advice; she may know exactly what she is doing. I could really mess up by saying the wrong thing.

I know I’ve gotten some rude comments over the years from so-called friends about my lack of “emancipation” or something equally stupid. I made the mistake of listening to a couple of these “friends” too much years ago and nearly ruined things to the point they weren’t fixable. The truth is that Scott has had to make a significant number of compromises over the years himself. From the outside our marriage looks very static and traditional but the reality is that both of us have to work hard and be flexible while dealing with the other partner’s “absolutes”; it’s far from one-sided on compromises. I worry that between the stress of our new lives and the remaining emotional pain from the attic fiasco our delicate détente is going to breakdown and we’ll go through some troubles like we went through early in our marriage. Neither Scott nor I want that to happen. I just don’t know how much to worry about it. Worrying too much or bottling up my fears could actually bring on what I fear the most.

I worried on the subject like a dog with an old bone until it was nearly time to leave. I guess Scott had been watching me. A lot of people say I’ve got a stone face and that I’m hard to read; or that I hide my true feelings well. But Scott’s always been able to see passed my shields. With only thirty minutes to go he insisted we take a walk in the orange grove. I was prepared for a long list of things I wasn’t allowed to do or things that I absolutely had to do but what I got instead was a kiss and a present.

Scott really dislikes the fact that I prefer my machete to my guns. But he also knows what the machete symbolizes for me, not the least of which is confidence and independence. He said, “You can’t use that big pig sticker for everything so I want you to carry this.”

I really expected it to be another gun but I opened the newspaper he had wrapped it in and … It was a black ka-bar utility knife in a black synthetic sheath. My dad had picked up a half dozen of these at an auction one time for next to nothing and you would have thought he’d somehow skinned a Rockefeller out of a deal. I reminded Scott about the incident and he said, “I know. This is out of your Dad’s collection. Since you seem to have the same affinity for knives as he had it seems appropriate. I’d like to give one of these to James at some point and maybe Johnnie too when he is old enough. I made sure it is sharp and the carbon steel blade should hold up to just about anything you could need it for. Just … be careful will you. I know I’m getting close to suffocating you but … I don’t know what I would do if anything … “

I didn’t protest when he nearly squeezed me to pieces in a bear hug. I guess for now I have to be satisfied with Scott understanding that I’m having a hard time dealing with his control needs.

We walked back to the rear gate and all of us heading out made sure to tell everyone good bye. You just can’t take for granted anything these days; especially not the idea that the last time you said goodbye to someone might be the last chance you’ll ever get to say goodbye to them.

Matlock stayed in-compound this time while Dix led the run since he had already made contact with the mysterious radio operator named Steve.

Despite Dix’s obvious excitement he made sure we took it slow and steady on our way over to the corner of Bruce B. Downs Blvd and Fletcher Avenue. I couldn’t help but think about how far we had come. Once upon a time an excursion to Vandervort Rd would have been a herculean undertaking. Now we passed the old Vandervort house where we had gotten all of the long term storage foods (now in rotation while we try and reach self-sufficiency) and from there we slide down Livingston Avenue by-passing many of the houses that we had already combed through.

I hadn’t been this way since the Big Horde came through though our patrols had reported on the rampant damage that had occurred. There were broken windows, downed fences, and debris strewn all over the place. We had tried to leave things clean when we went through, including dealing with any corpses we found, but the zombies destroyed any measure of organization that had been left. The odor in the air was pretty powerful as well; we hadn’t even bothered with trying to dispose of any biological remains since the Big Horde. The smell made it so difficult on our motorcycle patrols that they had to change the kind of helmets they wore to accommodate better masks. The world is sick, and I may not just be speaking hyperbole about that in the near future.

Meeting Steve was … educational. I guess that’s what you would call it though that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. He reminds me strongly of the character J.B. Dix from the original Deathlands series. Not so much in looks, Steve is a bigger man and doesn’t wear glasses. Its more the attitude and, oh I don’t know, just everything else I always imagined the character to be. The character “J.B.” was also known as The Armorer and was a walking encyclopedia about all things weapon related. Steve talks a little more than J.B is supposed to in the books but at the same time his words are to the point … and pointed if he feels it necessary if you catch my drift.

We weren’t the only ones who got to the rendezvous point early. I was the only female on our side. I was the only replacement that Dix would consider after Becky because of my quote/unquote “combat experience.” I snickered at that a bit but if Dix meant that I’d gotten used to doing whatever was necessary, including following orders but still being able to think for myself, then I guess I qualify. The other people in our small party were Dix, Cease, Waleski, and Samuel. Yep, Dix had brought his son. I guess Samuel and I were supposed to be some kind of show of goodwill and appear less threatening. Considering though that at fourteen Samuel is only a handswidth shorter than his dad and is already filling out ... he's the least unthreatening looking kid his age I've ever known.

Poor Samuel, he was having to grow up so fast but he was still just a kid and when he got his first glimpse of Steve his mouth fell open. After getting a little background on the man his appearance wasn’t all that unexpected but at first meeting he was more than a tad intimidating. The man was dressed in urban fatigues, a dark baseball cap, and standing beside a black Toyota FJ cruiser. I could hear Samuel whisper to Cease and ask him what all those weapons were. I’m glad he asked Cease because all I knew was that he was a scary looking man with his aviator glasses that hid his eyes on a solemn face. Even I could tell he was former something, though at the time I didn't know what.

Cease said the shotgun was a M4 with Eotech; call it what you will it looks like it would get the job done and then some. All the extra mags he carried said he was prepared to use it without ever having to utter a word. On his hip was a Glock 17. Not too far away was a Remington 870 with a 14-inch barrel and what appeared to be a .38 special even closer to hand.

The lady that stepped from the other side of the cruiser as we pulled up looked just as capable if perhaps a little softer. But being a lady myself I knew that appearances could fool the heck out of most men so I put her in the “highly dangerous” category until I found out otherwise. Oh, and I found out and she is highly dangerous, but only to the enemies of her family.

Dix stepped out of the hummer along with Waleski and Cease, Samuel, and I stepped out of the F350. It was a tense moment but introductions were soon made and after Dix and Steve had finished sizing each other up the testosterone dropped a few notches. I had an itch like we were being watched and indeed Steve admitted that they had a few keeping an eye on the meeting “just in case.”

Waleski was getting irritated with things and said, “Look, you mentioned that you had someone that needed medical attention. I’ve got things to do so if you do, bring ‘em out and if not say so already.”

Of course that made Steve bristle and I couldn’t blame him. Waleksi takes some getting used to. I can read beneath the curmudgeonly act but not even most people in Sanctuary can. It’s worse since Rachel was killed due to his lack of sleep and concern that he isn’t doing enough for the patients he inherited from her.

I couldn’t help it, the tension was thick enough to cut with a butter knife. “Nice bedside ‘Ski.” When everyone turned to give me a sharp look I added, “Oh, don’t mind him. He’s a grumpy do-gooder. But seriously, if you have a problem we’ll do our best to help. Oh by the way, I’m Sissy and usually have something to say about almost everything whether you want to hear it or not, so if we’re all done testing our boundaries could we maybe cut through the hormones and get to the constructive stuff that is supposed to be happening?”

The woman snorted a little like she was holding back a laugh but said, “Steve?”

Steve, himself looking like he was trying really hard not to break a smile nodded to Waleski and they walked over to the Toyota where a door was opened to reveal a girl wrapped in several blankets. At a look from Waleski I walked over and saw that the woman, who is called “Shorty” by Steve, had crawled in through the other side to sit beside the distrustful 12 year old. This girl had definitely been taught about “stranger danger” and didn’t look at all thrilled to have Waleski anywhere near her.

“I’ve got one just about your age. She’s learned to put up with Waleski, I bet you will to. He’s just naturally sour so you’ll have to try and look passed that.”

The girl looked like she wasn’t exactly impressed with me either but having kids I was used to their low tolerance level for human beings in general at this age and didn’t take it personally. I introduced myself to Shorty and asked her what was up. Apparently the young girl, we still don’t know her name or who else might have been keeping an eye on us, had tripped and fallen into one of the fountains on campus. The water was shallow but stagnant and no one thought anything of it at first as she had dried off right away but two days later she started on what has become a long drawn out illness.

Waleski finally coaxed the girl into letting him listen to her breathing and taking some of her other vital signs. “I don’t think its pneumonia but it’s gonna get there if we don’t get this bronchitis cleared up.”

He gave Shorty a list of instructions on what needed to be done and then pulled out one of our last Z-pacs and wrote out when and with what he wanted them taken. Steve was listening intently and took the meds from Waleski before he could give them to Shorty and looked them all over.

Dix was getting as bristly as Steve at that point but Waleski, who was calmer now that he was in his element said, “Those haven’t been tampered with. The seals are good. I had some loose meds that I could have given her but these will be easier to manage and hopefully will take less time to show us if they are going to be effective. If you have some Robitussen DM that should help alleviate the coughing while making them more productive. You’ll have to watch her at first as she’ll probably cough up enough phlegm to strangle on and you’ll want to make sure she drinks plenty of fluids. If you can swing it, warm broth should help with some of that and here is a recipe for homemade ORS. You know what that is? Good. You have the ingredients? Even better. She’s going to be feeling better before she really is better so you’re probably going to have to sit on her but she needs to stay out of drafts and inside as much as you can keep her there for a while; but make sure she gets plenty of sunlight too. The vitamin D will help with any depression she might feel from being cooped up so much.”

The girl was exhausted and fighting sleep but Waleski told her that sleep was a good thing and not to give her folks a hard time about taking her meds or staying in bed. She wasn’t so tired that she couldn't look at Shorty and roll her eyes which I consider a really good thing under the circumstances. If she still has the gumption to mime a little sass then she can't be too far gone.

That’s when Dix and Steve started talking in earnest about the radio station and the more they talked the more things calmed down.

Steve is … was … an LEO training officer though he never really said from where. He’s one of the most careful survivors I’ve met yet. Most of us seem to need to share our stories right away; it’s a kind of bonding experience. Steve on the other hand is used to a lifetime of being careful and he’d “bond” when he was dang well good and ready. I didn’t get much more from Shorty except that they had other kids and that she was a Philosophy/English/Linguistics major that was working on her Master’s degree when things went crazy. Where ever they are from, it was bad and they didn’t think trying to sit out their first winter “up there” made a lot of sense. So they packed up and in the process of moving place to place eventually wound up here.

She asked me if I knew what the history of the damage was on campus and I told her what I knew and how the hospital across the street (UCH) was all toppled over like it was. An hour had passed before I had even realized it and I saw the girl was fast asleep. Poor thing had dark circles under her eyes and had obviously lost some weight recently. Of course we all had but with kids it’s not always a good thing. Shorty forestalled the need to ask whether they had enough to eat by saying that if they could get her coughing under control she’d be able to eat more.

When Shorty asked me if either Dix or Waleski were “my man” I nearly strangled myself trying to hold back the laughter. Guessing it was no secret that we came from a survivor’s settlement I explained that my husband wasn’t one of the party and then gave a little background info on the five of us that were standing around. I didn’t reveal much about Sanctuary but I did say that if she was ever hankering for some female companionship to give a holler. She admitted she might just do that but that for now she and Steve were keeping things close. I admitted to understanding and then asked if they had any plans that she could share.

For now they were looking for a place to settle and they were pretty sure they had found it. The nomadic life was OK for a bit but it had some serious drawbacks. In return I shared that we were working on building some trade relations and that Dix was likely talking to Steve about it while they huddled up between the Hummer and the F350. I also felt the need to warn her about the odd behavior we’d begun noticing in the zombies and how it might be possible that the Big Horde could be swinging back this way at some point in the future. She looked concerned at that and said they’d seen some of the larger hordes themselves a little too up close and personal and that there wasn’t any place that was escaping them, not even the settled and protected areas of the Midwest or the other smaller territories that the Federal government still firmly held. She said that Steve was probably sharing that bit with Dix and we are having a community meeting in the morning to hash out some plans that we need to be getting to sooner rather than later.

Steve said they needed to get going so that he could make his three o’clock broadcast and that was our signal to break up and go our separate ways. I still don’t know how many of their people had us in their sights but I’m beginning to think that maybe their group isn’t very big from the kind of travelling Shorty said they were doing. I guess we’ll find out as time goes by. They aren’t claiming much of a territory either. The only stipulation that Steve made after Dix sounded him out about us gathering in the local medical facilities was that if we actually came on campus to give him a heads up so he could warn the guards no to shoot.

After we left the meet up we headed out to see if we could scavenge anything useful out of the wreckage that spread out from UCH. The hospital itself was a complete loss. Between fire, zombies, and looting you couldn’t have paid me in gold bullion to dig around in there. And the rats were fierce. We had better luck in some of the associated medical offices that stretched north along Bruce B. Downs Blvd and east along Fletcher Ave. The pharmacy in the Tampa Medical Plaza was a washout but Waleski found the door to their extra inventory and we hit the jackpot. Some of the stuff had gone over but most of the meds in pill form were still good. There were some dead rats in the corner of the small room that had OD’d by nibbling into some of the easier to access containers but it must have sent signals to other rats in the building because aside from that one area no other varmint depredation was visible.

We combed that building from top to bottom, meeting a few zombies along the way that we dropped down the elevator shafts to get them out of the way, using rifles and shotguns that we had taped LED flashlights to. I hated wasting the batteries but we wouldn’t be able to save them forever and the medications were much needed. We brought back everything that was on Waleski’s list and then some. I guess when the power went off the dark upper floors of a zombie habitat wasn’t quite as appealing to looters as it might have been even if they had been looking for narcotics.

You would have thought Waleski had found a candy store when he found the cache of inactivated vaccines in a small, nondescript office used by Homeland Security. There were several in a locked cabinet for typhoid, polio (Salk), Hepititis A, and Rabies. Thinking about these vaccines I figure we have a couple of years at most before the major childhood illnesses begin making their deadly rounds again, ten years at the absolute most. A lot of the attenuated vaccines require boosters so by ten years out everyone will start to be vulnerable to those nasty things again. Measles, chicken pox, and God knows what else is in our future whether we want them to be or not.

There was only one thing that Waleski and Dix got into it over. Waleski wanted to bring back almost the entire office of an OB/gyn that had been located on the third floor. We hadn’t brought the trailer thinking we were only after drugs and would be bringing back any large equipment. In the end Waleski won that round after explaining that he’d be able to adjust the settings and it would replace a lot of equipment he wouldn’t be able to convert for Sanctuary like x-ray machines.

As I was helping Waleski to load the last thing in – stuff it in was more like it – I asked him if he thought a medical mission facility would have things that he could use. He gave me the strangest look and said possibly. I hate to admit it but I can’t believe it has taken me so long to think of checking to see if there was a International Mission Board facility that we could get to. They have portable equipment that gets taken on remote mission excursions all the time. I saw a presentation about them once and some of the equipment is only briefcase sized and can operate on rechargeable batteries, by being hooked up to a generator, and some of them are even solar powered. The no-power equipment would be even more useful and they might have fully stocked, ready to go medevac kits. I also told him about the major immigration health care center down off of Hooker's Point where Scott and James got vaccinations and the malaria medication that time they went to Guatemala. Waleski wrote furiously in his steno pad which had become his best friend next to Rilla.

Tomorrow after the meeting another group is going to go back out and do some more gathering in the medical facilities. In addition to the meds and medical supplies I located a bunch of bottled juices, hard candies, and similar type food stuff that I guess some of the doctor’s offices and labs kept on hand in case their patients felt faint or something.

It appears that I don’t have as much to do after the meeting tomorrow as I thought. The frost didn’t get as much as I had feared and most of my chores and the food preservation has been caught up. Scott doesn’t have as much work either so we are hoping to do some catching up of our own. Scott has to wait for McElroy to lay out and prepare the ground for the last leg of the new Wall extension and that requires bulldozing some trees and a couple of dilapidated structures so he is going to give Angus a hand moving his stuff.

Angus has moved his digs from the one building that he had originally thought about renovating over to the Fire Station house. Two reasons; first and foremost the Big Horde really damaged his first choice. It’s not that it wasn’t salvageable but with the other building available the work wasn’t worth the time and trouble. Second is that the fire station is a little closer to Sanctuary and is newer, making it a fully concrete building all to the new hurricane codes. The roof’s tie downs and gutter system is much better than the old building as well and was much easier to convert to a water catchment system. Come storm season those two factors could really be important. And the bays in the fire station are perfect to park Juicer and Angus’ new camper in so that they don’t have to be left outside to be vandalized.

And speaking of Angus I am going to try to write out Angus’ story once and for all. Seems like every time I try to sit down and get it finished something comes us. Saen said she would tell me some of the story from her side and I plan on getting a few clarifications from Glenn as well. I’m dying to get that marked off of my “to do” list. I hate promising myself that I'll do something and then having to stick it on the back burner forever. Pretty soon the planting season is going to really get going and I’m not going to have much time for anything but digging in the dirt and food preservation.

It was funny. Usually everyone is pretty tired at the end of the day so we just sit around and relax after dinner. Those new boys though are full of wim, wigger, and witality … or at least that’s what my grandmother would have called it. Chris, Brian, and Austin started it with Chris’ Frisbees. By the time all was said and done whoever wasn’t on guard duty was out there playing a game of tag football. Even James and Samuel got into the act. Brandon was happy to just occasionally glance back from his post on the Wall. I guess sports still aren’t his thing though he’s not quite the Momma’s boy that he had appeared so many weeks ago. Most of us women just looked on and laughed and tried hard not to get trampled. They were all over the place in their exuberance.

At seven o’clock everyone finally had to break off and get their evening chores completed. The cows were certainly bawling to let everyone know it was time for them to be milked. They needed their milking at seven and seven or they really set up a clatter. Each cow is giving between two and three gallons of raw milk each day now that they get fed regularly. Reba said her next project is going to be cheese-making and I can hardly wait. It’s been so long since any of us has had cheese that isn’t powdered or processed I think anything that even approaches success will be welcome with great fanfare. I’ve made Queso Blanco a couple of times but we’re trying to save the unopened powdered milk for when the cows start giving less.

Argh, my hand has such a cramp in it. It’s been a while since I’ve written this much by hand. I went through nearly a whole pen to do it too. Before all the pens and pencils run out I need to start figuring out what I’m going to write with when that happens. I’ve squirreled away enough paper for several lifetimes’ worth of journals but ink is another thing. If I can swing it – and it will take some sweet words for sure – I’m going to try and talk Scott in to another run to a craft supply or art supply store. I have a couple in mind and they’d be on the way, or at least not too far out of the way, to other major runs that I know are on our list. I want to get all the bottled ink and pen nibs I can find. I also need to see if they have powdered ink in stock. If that doesn’t work out I know you can use poke berries for ink as well as a few other similar things but the availability would be seasonal. I need some source that I can depend on year 'round.

Here I was complaining about my hand being in a cramp and I haven’t put the writing utensil down yet. Well, now I am. I hate going to bed alone but I don’t have a choice, Scott is on duty and I’ll probably be writing quite a bit tomorrow anyway. Best to get some rest while I can. There is a small, niggling voice in the back of my head saying that something this way comes; not tomorrow or the next day … but soon. Gives me a spooky, shivery feeling. I hope it’s just my imagination.

Day 171

Do not ask me how Bekah managed to sweet talk Angus into writing his story down, but she did. I suspect all she had to do was turn her big brown eyes on him and flutter them a little and go, “Oh Uncle Angus … pleeeaase.” And he likely melted like soft serve ice cream in July. She does the same thing to Scott and sometimes I just have to duck my head to avoid them seeing me laugh.

You’d never know it just by looks but Angus is a sucker when it comes to kids. I’ve probably mentioned it more than a time or two but it gets truer every day. By the time they are teenagers he is pretty much over them being able to push his buttons but tweens on down can wrap him around their little finger. That’s not to say that the teenagers don’t adore “Uncle Angus” too … it’s just a different type of relationship; more of a mentor/adult kind of thing.

Before Bekah or any of the other kids get a peek at this I’ll clean it up a bit. I love Angus to bits, but he can be a little bit of a diamond in the rough. He’s not the only one that can spin a raw tale but he is one of the ones that they try and mimic the most. I’m thinking the kids are planning on turning this into a story book for the library and being as how I don’t want Johnnie and Bubby to let fly with some of the words I hear around the compound I’ll just make sure that a super Uncle Angus story doesn’t give them any more ideas than they already have. So, without further ado, here is what Angus has given me thus far:

After standing there and watching the low lifes running away I thought it was over. Then I realized I was still pissed; that told me it wasn't over at all. They could come back and try again. True there weren't too many left but I wasn’t convinced that all of them were dead that needed to be dead. How many more could there be? Enough to succeed next time? No, I made my mind up that wasn't going to happen, not if I could convince them that entering this part of Florida is akin to entering through the gates of hell itself.

If they had just kept their mouths shut then maybe I would have calmed down but they were very insistent on describing what they wanted the women and kids for. For that alone I decided I would go after them. Nobody is going to hurt them kids, nobody. I'll skin 'em and hang their hides to cure on Sanctuary's Wall before I let that happen.

I knew I couldn't tell anybody I was going. It's not that they would try to stop me, it's the ones that would try to go with me or follow after that I wanted to avoid. Jim for sure. No, I couldn't take him with me. He's dependable and more useful than a multi-tool, but for what I had in mind he couldn't be along. No, I couldn't have him seeing me doing what had to be done. He's not squeamish but he still has a conscience that might ache. Me ... hell ... I've seen too much that this life can dish out. They tried to mess with the kids that I protect. That's all it took. They signed their own death warrants.

It's a good thing I've been getting my exercise lately, I feel like I did back when I used to hunt for a living. I managed to keep a fast paced walk going for half a day without stopping. Course it was still night when I started out, but not for long.

I was a little worried that slipping away would be more difficult. First I had to ditch the dogs. I heard about that long and loud when I got back. There was only one way I could think of that would keep the dogs quiet, I gave them a job. Ya heard about that alright. I sent the dogs to go and guard Bekah. She’s the only one the dogs know by a word and they have to have a command word and that's the one I know they get. Whenever they play with Bekah I call her Big Girl and they know her by that so. I heard James went to wake her up that morning and he got the fright of his life. I know I shouldn't have laughed, the boy probably got a bad scare, but the way he told the story I couldn't help it. He's a good sport for not holding it against me. Sissy now, I thought she was going to throw something at me but she made me dessert instead. I swear I'll never understand women. I think they all must be a little crazy.

As for slipping out that was a little easier than I thought. I just walked into the dark while everyone was going through all the crap out front.

[Sissy’s note: It was hours before we figured out Angus had taken off. Poor Bekah, she even had company in the outhouse. It wasn’t until we tried to find Angus to have him call the dogs off that we realized that he wasn’t just out scouting around. And he's right, I did nearly throw a skillet at him for going off without food or anything. I know he's used to surviving on his own, but he's one of us now. And if women are crazy, it’s because the men have made us that way. 'Course my granny always said trying to figure out who drove who crazy first was like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg.]

It was getting on to noon before I got my first sighting on them. I came around a bend in the road and there they were about a half mile further on. It looked like close to three dozen of them and they looked like they were setting to stay for a while. They got farther than I thought they would without stopping.

About half way on down further I slipped to the side of the road into a wooded area to my left and just kept getting closer. I had to remind myself to stop at about 250 yards out. I so wanted to just walk out of the tree line and start bashing heads in but I needed to thin their ranks a bit first. I could have done it too, catching them by surprise and bashing their heads; the idiots were just lying around and the only place they were watching was behind them.

Well as I was walking after them I came up with an idea on how to keep them from coming back and trying their shit again. I set myself up about 60 yards in the tree line which put me almost exactly 250 yards from their resting place. I had a clear view of maybe half of them and then set my sight to 250 yards.

As I was getting ready to shoot the first one I saw two of the guys having a heated discussion a little to the side of the others. That gave me another idea. I moved over till I was next to a rather small sapling and took aim at the one standing with his back to me. I shot him right through the back of his neck, and that 7.62 bullet passed right through and into the other’s throat. Two for one, cool. I did enough damage that it must have severed the spinal column cause even if they reanimated, they never moved.

After the first shot everyone jumped up and started looking and hollering at the same time. God they made an awful lot of noise. I hadn’t seen too many zombies around but all that noise the fools were making was bound to draw them sooner or later. I took a second to take very careful aim and then I shot a skinny little guy right in the ankle. I disabled him without having to worry about him becoming a zombie right away.

After that I shot three more in center mass and headed at a trot deeper into the wooded area and kept going till I couldn't hear them anymore. I guess their fellow raiders had to waste ammo to put them down permanently. The greenery around this part of the city sucked for coverage but it got the job done. Mostly it was just scrubby bushes and crap like that, but it was enough to keep me hid since it was so overgrown.

Step one - contact - done. I knew they wouldn't follow too far in so I sat down against a tree and started to clean my Mauser. I do love this rifle but the barrel needs to be cleaned a lot more than many. Still it is a nice weapon. After cleaning the Mauser I decided it was time to head back and start after them again.

I went farther up the tree line before going to the road so I would come out about 500 yards past where they had stopped to rest. As I got to the edge of the scrub line I pulled out the little rifle scope I had. I don't use it on the rifle instead I use it instead of binoculars. All the good binoculars we’ve found so far are needed by the guards so I carry a .22 scope and it works fine.

As I was glassing the area I saw about what I expected. They had left (or forced) someone behind to see if I came back to check on the ones I shot. Only one; I was insulted. He was lying on the ground under a pickup truck with a clear view of my killing area. I walked over till I was in-line with him and got down on the ground myself. Prone I took aim and made a Texas heart shot. I saw the spray blow out in-front of him. I walked over and all five of my first kills where were they dropped. The guy under the truck hadn't moved, had a nice fist sized hole through his neck and a v of gore spayed out in front of him. Looks like with the right caliber a throat shot will immobilize a corpse near as well as a head shot will.

One of the dead guys had a handful of rounds I could use and there was a half full canteen. Other than that they didn't have anything worth taking so I started walking again.

After an hour of casual walking I saw a car with a bike rack on the back that had two bikes on it still in working condition. Hadn't ridden a bike in more years than I can remember but I did manage to keep from falling. But not from sweating.

How do these people do it? They say it's cold, but dammit, I think it's dang blasted warm out here. Coming up to a major intersection I could see that the raiders had split into two groups; the bigger one heading north and the smaller one west. They’re at the edge of me being able to see them but I could still see them.

The smaller group was only about 6 in number and that was the direction I headed in. It's a slight downhill grade so I just coast along. Well hell, downhill for flat freaking Florida anyway. The cars were still just where they stopped and had not moved so I knew that nobody had driven through there since the shit hit so I didn't know where these guys were going. Not that I would know anyway as I didn't think to grab a map before I left.

The raiders started down an off ramp road so I stopped and watched. Thinking this was as good a place to be as any, I got off the bike and walked over to the roadside rail and got down on one knee. They were at a right hand angle to me and 500 yards out and about 40 feet lower than I was. I set the sights to 600 yards and waited till they were in the midst of a bunch of jap looking cars before I shot the last guy in line.

Damn but that shot was a little low, but he still went down. They all stopped and looked right at me. Bam! The one in the front of the line went down. At the sound of that shot they all dropped down behind cars and started trying to get a shot off at me. Their shots were wild and nothing hit anywhere near me. Next I took aim at a guy behind a red car, aiming through the hood and front quarter panel right about in his chest. Bam! He dropped too. I love knowing what a 7.62 will do. I duck walked (that's what the kids call it anyway) back from the edge of the incline because some of their shots were getting a lot too close to make me happy.

I swung forward a couple of cars and came back up front and using a truck hood as a rest I took aim at one of the smarter ones that had been trying to run farther up the road and leave his buddies to deal with me.

Not being too sure of the yardage I aimed for his head and made my shot. I saw it hit him in the lower back and he went down hard. He was a loud one; I could hear his screaming clear up to my location. The other three started running from car to car a little too quick to get a good shot at so I aimed ahead of them and waited for them to run out.

Bam! I got another one in mid chest. That left two and they were out of range now so I got back on the bike and started coasting on down to the turn off. When I was going by I saw that the first one I shot had crawled into a field and was dragging himself away. He was making a nice blood trail and as I went by I said, "You keep running and I'll be back for you real soon."

The other three where dead, and I made sure they stayed dead. I intended to search them for stuff on the way back and didn’t want to have catch them and kill them again to do it.

I finally had to leave the bike because the two I was after left the road and headed into a motel parking lot and then behind the building itself. I went around the building on the other side and saw them climbing a security fence to the buildings farther on. I shot one of them right there, but it was through the head and I was aiming for center mass. It was a lucky shot. Damn, I had forgotten to adjust the sights.

I moved the sight to battle sights and got off a shot just as the other one was rounding a corner of a building and saw the shot hit brick. I reluctantly let that one go. I figure if he makes it he can spread the word how far they can get chased if they come back.

As it was getting late I headed up to the second floor of the motel and started to check for an empty room. Room 26 was empty so I went in to grab a bite to eat and get some sleep.
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As you can see, he tells it just like he saw it. I know he has more for me but he keeps fiddling with it. It was kind of funny. When he saw me and handed me this first batch he said, “Damn Sissy, I don’t know how you do this every day. I swear my eyeballs are bleeding just trying to put a little bit of this stuff down on paper.”

Angus is definitely more action than words. It must have just about killed him to sit still long enough to get on paper what he has so far. We’ll all appreciate it that much more for the effort that it’s taken. Makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn't ask the other members of Sanctuary to write their impressions or how they're feeling or something similar. It would make for one heck of a history book some day.

I’ve spent most of this day working in the gardens and helping all the new folks find house goods that they need. Of course, in order to do that I’ve had to locate where all of the storage containers have been moved to. At least we had the sense to spray paint numbers on the side and inventory what was supposed to be in those containers. We realized too late that some of the storage containers that had our supplies in them were being put on the second layer of the Wall with no good way to access the stuff inside of them. We’ll move stuff as we can but it’s going to take some time and effort to put things the way they need to be.

I’ll be honest and say that I hope this is the last major expansion of the Wall. It’s not that the time and effort put into the first and second perimeter Walls was wasted, they served their purpose and then some, but I just hope this is it. It takes so much time and we already have so much we need to do, not the least of which is more gathering.

I’ve started a huge list of things that we simply must have for all the children in Sanctuary. Clothes, socks, underclothes, shoes are needed for all of the kids. We don’t need the fussy stuff, more like we need to go to Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority and a few places like that and try and clean them out of all of the kid sizes. Boiling the clothes the way we have to now is just frankly too hard for the “modern” seams and fabrics. I’d also like to go to another fabric and craft store and try and kick out a lot of the stuff on my lists. I figure if we can't find something ready made it might be time to think about sewing what we need.

I brought up to Scott how if the men were too busy to take us, there were enough women that we could go on our own and since we knew exactly what we needed we could gather it more quickly than sending men with a list. Well, you would have thought I’d talked about taking a run to California or something. I let it go rather than upset him anymore, but I haven’t forgotten about it. I’ll give it a few more days and then bring it up again. I know several of the other women are gung ho to do this.

And then there are the maternity needs and how a couple of them want wedding dresses or something approximating them. Rilla and Melody would like a wedding dress even if it is just a tea-length evening gown. Rhonda says she will be too pregnant for anything like that but I have an idea on how to manage it if I could just get the right supplies. The last stretch of the last Wall extension is nearly complete and after that all of our paired off couples want to have a commitment ceremony. We’ll have to move quick, say within the next week or so. I figure we have about that much time because they need to pick a house out of the new ones that are now within our compound and get it stocked.

You would think that with all the gathering we’ve been doing over the months we’d have more stuff than we could ever need, but it’s amazing how much junk people have as opposed to really and truly useful stuff. We get along OK but it’s taken time for us to refine our gathering techniques so that we get what we need without leaving off stuff we want too.

What was nice was that now that we know that Steve and his group over at WUSF are making regular broadcasts we can listen in. Dix says that Steve has all sorts of radio equipment set up and gets word from all over the world. Sometimes it’s only a word or a single phrase, but it at least means that there are still people out there.

What’s troubling is that more comes out of the “contaminated zones” than comes out of the “protectorate zones.” The Protectorate Zones – or PZs – are the areas that are supposedly firmly held by the Federal authorities. They never say government, they say “authorities.” Gives me the green willies to think what that could mean. And I’m none too thrilled about being considered contaminated either. I’m a little worried about what that could mean for us this coming summer and fall but I guess we’ll just have to keep our ear to the ground.

Dix is working with Steve to arrange a “secure channel” that we can talk back and forth on. I don’t know for sure what that means but Bekah said she heard Dix saying that it would mean that we could have private conversations without anyone listening in that wasn’t supposed to be listening in.

Matlock took his turn meeting with Steve. Steve is still playing it close to the vest but he said there was a 20-ish young man with him this time. Steve told Waleski that the girl was already showing signs of improvement and I’m sure that is a relief for Shorty.

Zombie activity is picking up a little bit again. Nothing like a horde but it bears watching. The traffic doesn’t appear to be coming out of the west so I don’t think it is the return of the Big Horde, but that doesn’t relieve me like it should. I’ll be happy to get a lot of stuff knocked off of our gathering lists and then pull back for a while and focus inside the Wall of Sanctuary for a bit.

Steve added a late night broadcast so tonight I wrote in my journal to the sounds of The Black Crowes and a little Aerosmith . I’m thinking about bribing him with pizza if he’ll play a little Joe Bonamassa. It’s worth a try. Scott just kind of rolled his eyes and laughed at me bouncing around in my seat while I tried to write. Not exactly what you would call music that relaxes you; more music that makes you want to do a little extracurricular activity.

I’m so glad we found those little Solios. They aren’t really powerful solar re-chargers but they work just fine on the little radios we’ve found to go with them. I’m also glad I had a lot of my favorite music on memory sticks. Its kept me from going totally nuts in the silence the world now seems to offer up as a kind of music all its own.

We are looking to trade goods for information. One of these days we'll have our own radio station set up, but for now security and gathering take precedence. Waleski left some of the medical supplies with Steve and his group today. Later this week I may trade some citrus and greens ... or maybe some plant starts ... for another update on what is going on around the world. And maybe Steve will want to go on the next hunt that the men are putting together as well. The smokehouse is nearly empty and we don't want to cull any of our chickens until our flock is larger. Maybe get a couple this summer, but not before unless we run across a large number of free range biddies.

Well, I’d best be finishing this up and getting to bed. Scott is waiting, if he isn’t already asleep. He’s been working so hard lately and he’s losing weight again. He’s not too far from being the same weight as when we got married and it doesn’t really look good on him. I have got to find some way to get more carbs into his system. Protein from game, beans, and canned meat we’ve got … at least for now … but the flour, rice, and pasta aren’t going to last forever so we’ve been rationing it out. Maybe that isn’t such a good idea after all.

Day 172 – Cleaning Day

Lordy I’m tired. I don’t know what it is - time of day, time of year, time of the month, time of life … whatever it is, I’m wore out. I want a vacation. Not just a day off to go squirrely, I mean a real vacation. I guess I never really thought how good Scott and I had it. I mean I knew it, but it’s really being reinforced now that we don’t have the advantage. Even though we economized quite a bit we had always been able to go when it was convenient. We homeschooled the kids so scheduling was pretty easy. And sure, I had to go primitive and do a lot of our cooking in camps and such but it was fun because it was different from our day to day grind. Now I do that stuff all day, every day and I am just over it … I’m not bored exactly, not overwhelmed exactly, not in a rut exactly, not … oh, I don’t know exactly what it is. I just know it is something and I wish I knew what to do about it. Scott asked me if I was “hormonal” and I could have beat him. Maybe I am but that’s not the point. I give up, I don’t know what the point is and I’m too lazy to erase what I’ve written and don’t want to waste the paper by starting over.

Whatever it is I hope I can get a handle on it. I guess I’m just a little depressed. I was never much into gratuitous shopping or club hopping but I almost feel like that is what I need. Just a ladies day out … or something. Maybe I just have Spring Fever.

It didn’t help that today was cleaning day. I’m used to the reality that “a woman’s work is never done” and the house work is never finished but I’m thinking of downsizing and getting rid of stuff just so I don’t have to clean it any more. Of course there would be an uproar if I did and I’m sure I’d regret something of it later. It’s not like there is a store to replace things I accidentally throw away. My irritation with everything is probably just a symptom of whatever the other is that I’m feeling.

Scott is adding to my problems even though he doesn’t mean to. He’s forever checking up on me and offering advice on how I can organize something a little better, get something done a little faster so I can go onto the next thing on my list. Ostensibly this is supposed to make it easier on me, but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he’s feeling a little out of sorts as well. In the past he was always on the go. And by go I mean literally; he was always going places, doing things. He’s still going and doing but much closer to home except on our away runs. He’s no less busy than he was before, maybe even busier if that's possible; it’s just a different type of busy. Maybe we’re both having an adjustment reaction … another one. As long as we don’t start arguing. That I could not handle right now.

I remember when my dad first retired. My mom, who was very sweet and even tempered, threatened to send him to him to the moon with the broom one night after dinner when he tried to improve on her dishwashing technique. Scott’s kinda acting like that … like he’s retired and just doesn’t know what to do with himself even though he has all this other work to do.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe we are still retiring from our old life. Maybe we need to go see our old rental properties and the places we used to get supplies from. Maybe if we see how done that old life is, we can get on with this one a little better. Maybe we need closure. I’ll think on it some.

There have been some nice things happen today. I need to keep reminding myself that it’s not all gloom and doom. A lot of my seeds are popping up out of the ground and if I don’t miss my guess I have some thinning to do over the next few days. If I do this right I might be able to replant the thinnings and add another garden area; maybe one just for the kids to learn on. Or maybe I’ll pot some of them and tell people to take them home and start their own little gardens to have extra with for snacking or something.

The other wonderful thing that happened today is that Josephine’s bandages came off. She can see. Waleski said he doesn’t know squat about optometry but since she says that she can see as well as she could before – at least in the dark – we figure things are good. Her eyes are still very light sensitive and she is wearing dark glasses nearly at all times, but she can definitely see. She cried for quite some time while Brandon held her. There is something brewing there and I’m not too sure that Maddie is happy about it. That’s one of our little dramas that will play out as time passes.

Another bonus is that Angus gave me the next installment of his narrative. Reading it gives me a bit of the shivers. I’m so glad Scott isn’t one to just take off by himself.

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The morning the sun woke me up so I headed down to the motel office and as the glass on the door was broken out I just walked in. On the wall behind the counter I saw some road maps so I grabbed one and opened it on the counter. The road the other group was heading down was a nice long one and had some housing developments about 5 miles down from the intersection that I left them. I also saw that there was a set of railroad tracks that passed next to one of those developments. I had another idea.

After leaving the motel I headed into an apartment complex that was just down the road and started looking for some transportation. In the back of the complex I found the maintenance building and a blue Chevy pickup, looking inside it was a stick shift and that's what I wanted. It was locked so I broke the back window out and cleaned it enough so I wouldn’t gut myself when I leaned it.

With most of my front end inside the truck I strained to unlock the door. After getting in the truck I used the butt of the rifle to smash the steering column and then opened my pliers on my multi-tool. Grabbing the ignition rod with one hand I put the pliers over the key slot griping the finger holds and pulled the rod and turned the key slot till it broke free. Once the key slot could be turned to the on position with the ignition rod free to be moved as well I put the truck in neutral and backed it out of its parking slot.

[Note from Sissy: I’d be miffed at him telling the kids how to hotwire a car if it wasn’t such a necessary skill to have these days. Sometimes it’s the only way to move the larger vehicles out of a traffic jam so that we can clear an intersection. Definitely wouldn’t have been kosher before NRS however. But when I asked him where he had learned it in the first place all Angus would do is smile that guy smile men get sometimes that says a lot and nothing at the same time. Honestly. And guys say females like to go all mysterious.]

It took a lot of pushing but it did get moving and I was finally able to get to jump start it. And then it died. I jumped it again and again it died. I walked over to the maintenance building and kicked the door open and with a little looking found some gas that was for a lawn mower. Opening the hood and removing the air filter I poured some gas into my hand and then poured that in the carb. I went straight to putting the truck again and this time when I jumped it it spurted a lot but I was able to keep it running.

After I put the air filter back on and shut the hood I was off down around a side road and right to the tracks that the map had shown me. There was a nice path for me right along side of the tracks and it looked like I was going to make some nice time. I had one bridge I had to cross and I learned you have to go real slow as the bumping sucks in a truck. It took me about an hour to get to the housing development and the tracks where farther away than I thought as I didn't even see the houses at first but from what I could see on the map this was it.

My guess was this was about as far as the raiders could have gotten before dark and so it was a good bet this is where they would most likely spend the night. On glassing the area I could see some movement inside some of the homes but they were just zombies that got stuck inside.

After checking the map again it looked like I could stay with the tracks for almost another mile before the road they were following and the tracks I was using split so off I went. I knew it was a bit risky to be doing it this way but they seemed very intent on following this road back at the intersection. It was a good bet they wanted to go north so I'm took the chance.

After abandoning the truck and walking towards the road I was half way across a field of some waist high grass when something big flushed out about 20 yards from me and tore a straight line back the way I had come from. I have no idea what the fuck it was because I never saw it but I did know it would probably be a few days before my asshole un puckered.

After getting out of that field I swore no more fields and thanked the gods that Jim hadn’t been there to see that. I never would have heard the end of it.

At least I didn't make some kind of lame girl noise. Sissy makes the oddest squeak when she gets startled. Thinking of Sissy I hoped by the time I get back she was done being pissed about the dogs. Because I told them to guard Big Girl I know that's what they did. I heard plenty when I did get back but at least nothing was thrown at me … nothing heavy anyway. Anybody trying to get to close to Bekah got growled a. No one got bit because they know them all so growling is all they did but no one tested that with those two dogs. Well I thought it was funny at the time but now I wonder if it was worth it. I did worry that I might not make it back and they’d be stuck with the dogs acting that way. But I figured Hell Scott could manage to retrain the dogs; he's seen some of the stuff I do with them.

[Sissy’s note: He better be glad he came back. I swear … and I do not make a funny noise … well, OK, I do but it’s impolite to mention it. It’s also impolite to be the cause of it, smarty pants. I was not amused this morning to find he had found an iguana in a tree outside of Sanctuary and left it in my gardening basket. I don’t care if he was just looking for someplace warm to stash it until he could give it to the kids. I’m sure it was someone’s pet but that’s all I need, a mini dinosaur roaming the house. But of course the kids love it so now I’m stuck with it with the cold blooded thing. I warned every one of them, Angus included, that they were going to be responsible for keeping it fed and whatever else. I will not be cleaning up mini dinosaur poop. I already have enough of that keeping Kitty in diapers.]

After walking what seemed like forever in this dang blasted heat they call winter I saw evidence that I had been right about the direction they were going. A little bit of junk food trash that hadn't blown away behind a panel truck and some bloody bandages that look like they used to be a t-shirt. By now somebody's ankle must really be hurting.

Just as my ample belly started to tell me it was getting on to dinner time I saw a business area up ahead and as I got closer there was a bar across the road up there and the door was propped open. Staying on my side of the road I went behind the buildings and worked my up till I was across from the bar. The building I was behind was a gas station with an auto repair shop on one end. Looking through the window in the back door I saw that the front bay door was open and so I crept around till I was up front and since I didn't see any one I quick ran inside and into the shadows in the back.

I still didn't know if they were inside or if they had just stopped in to check for some booze. I couldn't see inside the bar with my rifle scope because it was too dark but just as I saw a light inside I heard someone laugh and knew I had caught up to at least some of them. It was time to sit back and eat my last MRE I had with me and wait to see if they try to leave or if there's booze in there and they stay the night.

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I’m sure if I asked anyone if they ever just had a time when they didn’t want to be around anyone, not a single person would fail to understand how I felt late this afternoon. As a matter of fact I think a lot of us in Sanctuary are starting to have at least brief moments of this. The opportunity for privacy has seriously disintegrated over the way things used to be. Our family went from just us, to a small mob, to just us plus the kiddos that we adopted, and then back to a large mob of people; we are finally back to being just us. But “just us” is still a lot of people. I don’t get time to escape very much. I don’t want to get away from people all the time, just every once in a while I would like to have an uninterrupted quiet time with no one calling my name, getting in my space.

I love being a wife and mother but my word, since Christmas it’s like always having someone glued to me like a barnacle. They mean well. They need me. I love them. But I’m jittery with needs of my own and no time to really figure out what those needs are or how to fulfill them.

I finally just told Scott that I needed some space and he agreed to take the kids to dinner so that I could stay in the house by myself. The only one left was Spot the Iguana who was hiding in the artificial flowers that were on a shelf near the woodstove Scott had installed in the living room.

I expected them to stay over at the mess hall for a while but they weren’t gone very long. It was too chilly for the kids to be out Scott said so he brought them back. I hadn’t even had time to figure out what I was going to do to enjoy my space. I had to work really hard not to pout. On top of that he said he was going back out because some of the adults were going to sit around talking.

He just left me with all of the kids from Sarah on down. Everyone else was out at the bonfire. And of course Kitty was fussy and Johnnie and Bubby would pick that time to be in a grump with each other. Sis just made it worse egging the boys on. Sarah and Bekah tried to help but the younger ones just weren’t in the mood to be good. I finally roared and made them all go to bed early. I feel kind of bad looking back at it but I just couldn’t take it.

Later when Scott came in he was angry because he had come back specifically to give the kids a kiss and tell them goodnight. We came real close to an argument. Then when the blow up was passed he wanted to stay home and cuddle up to stay warm; right when all I wanted was some space.

I feel like there is no place to hide. Tomorrow I’m going to bring up the idea of the women going on a run by ourselves again. Perhaps just getting out and away and doing something a little less … little less … oh I don’t know. Something that it just for us women. I know that will mean leaving some of the women behind. There is no way around it. Patricia and Rhonda both are getting a little stir crazy but on the other hand they’re doing a bit of “nesting” too and are more content to stay inside the Wall. I feel a little claustrophobic. It used to be that I could go places and do things by myself. Even when I’m in the garden these days there is always someone there. The kids are helping or I’m teaching others how to garden; both are good things and necessary but that is one less place I can go to get away. I don’t even have the native fruit grove to myself anymore. Betty and her crew started doing that and I just sort of lost control of it.

Barring an all-women run maybe I can get someone … Angus possibly … to watch the kids for an hour so I can have some peace and quiet. I really am at my wits end and need to find a little control somehow.

Is that it? Is it a matter of control? Is it because I’m being pulled in eleventy dozen different directions all at the same time? Am I bent out of shape because I’m feeling like I’m no longer the master of my own ship? I suppose it’s a possibility. Or maybe it’s just hormones after all. Oh Lord, if this is just hormones I don’t know what I’m going to do if I actually live long enough to go through menopause. I’ll probably wind up doing something reprehensible and wind up on some “most wanted” list some place.

I finally broke down and did what I had hoped to put off a little longer. I gave into the guilty pleasure of my canned soda that I had been hiding and saving. With every sip I kept thinking that this could be the very last one ever. I even shed a few tears when the last drops were gone from around the tab. Scott caught me in the middle of drinking it and I thought for sure that he’d have something to say about me holding back supplies. I offered him the rest of the can but he wouldn’t let me give up possibly my last one ever.

He helped me to laugh at myself a little which strangely enough helped. He also promised me something though I don’t want him to get into trouble doing it. He said he would find me some more sodas if they were out there to be found. I know there are some in the Sanctuary food storehouse but they have been put away for in case the guards need a caffeine jag during a situation.

Between the two of us Scott was definitely not the people person. I did as much of the public relations stuff for him as I could because I knew he really disliked it. I wonder why he is doing better with that now than I am? I actually got up the courage to ask him and he said that it helped him to view the togetherness as necessary for the protection of our family; sort of like a tool. That helps him get through the day when someone does something that irritates him.

He said there wasn’t a single person in camp that he didn’t think he could get along with the majority of the time, but on occasion some of the men do rub him the wrong way. That’s the way it is for me when it comes to Dix. Scott says that Marty used to make his teeth hurt but we didn’t want to speak ill of the dead so we just kind of stopped talking about him. We both get irritated by Maddie. Jack strikes me as a little too easily bossed around but maybe that’s a good offset for Patricia’s need to manage. The problem I had with Rachel was no secret but I don’t think there is any more of that going on between the adults. I hope it stays that way for a while.

I guess Scott felt like doing something “against the rules” too. He asked if I could make something he could eat on the woodstove. He was starving. I made sure the doors were locked and the shutters were closed and I broke into our secret pantries. I hadn’t been in there in so long there was actually a thin layer of dust on everything. I’ve got several more months before anything gets out of date so I didn’t worry about that too much. I grabbed some flour and corn oil and then locked everything back up and took it to the kitchen where I had the rest of the ingredients within easy reach.

I made Scott and I cinnamon tortillas. You take three cups of flour, ½ teaspoon of baking powder, ½ t. salt, 2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1 t. ground nutmeg, 4 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract, and ¼ cup of corn oil.

I started by mixing the dry ingredients together. Then I added the vanilla to the oil and blended in the dry ingredients. Then I slowly added a cup of water that I had warmed up on the stove. I mixed all together until I had a smooth and pliable dough. I made egg sized balls and covered each ball with a little more oil and then set them aside to rest for about 15 minutes. That gave me time to heat up a flat skillet on the wood stove. I rolled each ball to a flat seven or eight inch circle. I then lightly browned each tortilla on both sides.

It was a simple thing to eat the tortillas with a little honey spread on them. That was our mutual guilty pleasure for the night. It wasn’t long afterwards that the older kids had started coming in. Melody being walked home by Cease; Rose and David walking home together though not quite hand in hand; James behind both couples rolling his eyes over the “mushy stuff” before grabbing a little extra gear since he had first evening shift on the Wall.

David went straight to bed as he usually has the 2 to 5 am shift. Rose and Melody will likely stay up talking some but Scott and I are off to bed as well. Maybe taking the time for a little “guilty pleasure” every so often will be the prescription I need. I have finally managed to calm down enough to sleep. Tomorrow though, if I start to feel this way again I’m going to borrow back my herbal books from Waleski and look for the tea recipes that help to calm a person. I don’t like feeling this way; it’s like being on stand-by to fly apart.

Day 173

Just once I would like to be able to wash my hair or go to the outhouse without hearing someone shout “Momma?!” or “Hey, Sissy, you out here?!” By mid-morning I was about to blow. Well, to be quite truthful about it all of us women were about to blow. I don’t know what was up with the kids. I mean all of them from Kitty on up to the tweens. If they weren’t arguing and bickering they were snickering and giggling and getting into other kinds of trouble. It was like the sandman had dropped by and sprinkled them all with bad fairy dust during the night.

Possibly we are all suffering from claustrophobia or Spring Fever. This cold weather snap we’ve had … OK, cold for Florida which means it isn’t getting out of the low sixties during the day … must be frying everyone’s brains.

After some of the boys started wrestling around in fun and then it turned nasty and they rolled all over the row of seedlings I had just thinned I had finally had all I could take. Bellowing at the top of my lungs – and my normal speaking voice already carries quite a ways so when I say bellow I mean bellow – I called for Scott and told him to either take the boys away and put them to work or I was going to staple them to the Wall with railroad spikes. I got righteously PO’d when Dix tried to calm me down with a “there just being boys.” I could have stripped him, dipped him in sugar water, and tossed him in the nearest red ant pile and it must have showed on my face ‘cause he said, “On second thought, I think we’ll find something constructive for you boys to do with all that energy to keep you out of trouble.”

Uh huh, he better be glad he made off when he did. I told Scott I just couldn’t take it another minute. I needed help with these kids. Scott said he could take Bubby, Johnnie, and some of the other boys to help him organize some of the stuff in the work shed but that still left me with the little girls. I was near tears when Angus strolled by and offered to take them. I’m still a little upset about him just taking off for so long without telling us first but I was desperate and I knew he’d give his life before he’d let anything happen to the little ones. Honestly, at the time, I was more worried about him than them. The kids were in just that kind of mood.

It was such a relief just to get some work done. I know Melody was relieved that Trent and Belle were out from under foot. She and Cease had been trying all morning to make plans for their Commitment Ceremony and to figure out which house would work for them that needed the least work done to it over in the new section. That isn’t that easy to do with kids tugging and pulling at you wanting your attention. Anne was glad that her two were occupied as well because Lee had finally succumbed to the cold that had been threatening off and on since before we met up with them. She had her hands full trying to get him to stay in bed and rest. In fact, everyone was glad to have the kids doing something constructive so that they could use up whatever the strange energy was going on this morning.

I was really trucking along getting things accomplished and not having to worry about little hands or little feet getting in the way. But then lunch time starts getting closer and I start looking around for Angus and the girls. And I can’t find them and don’t hear them. Well, let’s just say that Angus got more than he bargained for. Did I happen to mention that he had been on guard duty for about half the night?

Angus is good with the kids but they take terrible advantage of him sometimes so I went looking to see if he needed rescuing. It was time for them to come clean up for lunch anyway. I knew he had mentioned that he was going to go do some touch up painting of the Wall containers where the paint had been scraped off by the crane.

They were supposed to be working over near the west guard tower so that's where I headed. Angus had been laying a little low for the past few days as he still wasn't in most people’s good graces. A lot of people were still miffed at him for worrying us so much. He's been doing most of the little jobs around the compound that normally turn out to take more time to set up to do than really get done; real day wasters that no one else wants to do. They take him longer to do than the other men because he normally has a hand full of little helpers. Any of the kids that aren't busy helping their parents or don't have chores to do can usually be found “helping” Angus work on something. He has a way of convincing the kids that it’s something fun to do rather than work.

Today he was playing Tom Sawyer and had the kids painting. By the time I found them … oh my. Well first there were the girls sitting next to the wall. They weren’t exactly painting, more like making pictures on the Wall. About 15 yards away from where the girls were I saw Angus's feet sticking out past a ladder that was on it's side and I could just make out the back of kitty's head sitting there with him. No big deal; I thought they were just taking a break.

Just then the girls came skipping up to me asking if it was lunch time yet. I asked them, “Why are you girls not working?”

They stopped skipping and answered, “Well the baby fell asleep so Uncle Angus laid down with her and then he fell asleep too. We didn't want to wake them up.”

I told them to hustle over to the mess hall double time and get washed up and then went over to check on Kitty. Lord have mercy, I never realized how bad Angus snored. I thought Scott was exaggerating when he told of laying awake half the night laughing from Angus making the windows rattle when they had gone on the North Florida Run.

I walked around the ladder and nearly had a fit! There's Angus laying on his back, out cold, snoring enough to makes the limbs overhead shake in the breeze he was creating. And then there’s Kitty. Oh … my … word. I didn’t know whether to laugh or collapse in a faint. She sitting there happily painting the poor man’s head.

He had his arm around her waist effectively trapping her in case she woke up before he did. He hadn’t counted on her not trying to get away and therefore not waking him up. Most of his face and a good portion of his beard where blue. Not baby blue, not navy blue, not some nice quiet shade of cerulean; oh no … bright freaking day glow blue.

Kitty was holding a small paintbrush and had a knocked over can of paint next to her. She was covered in paint as well and was obviously having the time of her life. Then Mayhem walks over and that dog has blue paint on his face too, and really gross blue-ish drool dripping out of his mouth.

Oh dear, I finally gave up and just started laughing. Matter of fact I wound up laughing so hard I was nearly howling. Scott, Jim, and a couple of the other men that had been working on the other side of the Wall come running thinking that something is going on. All I can do is lay on the ground crying with laughter and pointing towards the mess. And Angus just keeps snoring, which of course sets Scott to laughing which finally causes Jim and the rest to start laughing as well.

All the noise finally wakes Angus up but none of us can stop laughing ‘cause he hasn’t figured out what Kitty has done yet. He gives us such a look and asks, “What the hell’s so funny? Someone want to share the joke?”

Good thing that Angus is so good natured with the kids. He wound up laughing nearly as much at himself as we did. It took forever for me to get all of them, including the dog, cleaned up. I finally wound up just chucking Kitty’s little overalls since they were getting too small for her anyway and one of the shoulder buckles were breaking.

I do believe that I will avail myself of Uncle Angus’ Babysitting Service again … assuming he survives the next encounter.

And he also gave me the next installment on his trek after the pirate raiders. Between what Scott wrote for me and what Angus has given me I’ve got an idea. I’m going to see if everyone in Sanctuary will write me something to go in the journal. Whoever you future readers turn out to be I’m sure you’ll get a better feel for our community if you hear from more than one person. Besides, I get a kick out of reading other people’s stuff as well. Helps me to see a different part of our journey and appreciate things in a different light. I’m also going to include clips from Steve’s radio broadcasts that are getting to be nearly round the clock the last couple of days. He’s not always on but he’s on quite a bit. Shorty read some poetry and stuff today that I really liked; not quite mainstream but somehow more apropos than I would have expected that kind of stuff to be.

Anne has promised to write something for me as have several other people. I don’t know if Dix or Matt will. They got that “hunted” look like they’d just been ordered to recite something in front of a big audience. We’ll see. Maybe after some of the other people write something to tuck into my journal everyone will get more comfortable with the idea and take the time to at least give me a little something. Maybe even the kids will at some point.

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Well after sitting there for two hours with nothing to do after cleaning the mauser ( I forgot to clean it last night ) I was just sitting and looking around the garage when I noticed that I was sitting in a nice puddle of transmission fluid. It became apparent when I moved and I wound up nice and wet from my ass right on down my leg. All I could thin was that man the women were going to be pissed at that on wash day unless I remembered to find another pair before I headed back.

Twice while I had been watching them some had stuck their head outside and looked around then walked out to take a piss. Since I did see at least one of them twice I gathered they did find some booze in there and were having a few drinks.

About an hour after dark set in (couldn’t see my pocket watch in the dark ) I walked out of the bay, cut across the street at an angle that I was sure no one inside could see, and worked my way over to the side of the bar. There were no windows on that side of the building so I couldn't see inside. I worked my way up to the front of the building to get a better look. The door was on the left hand side so that's where I went and when I got there I just leaned on the wall and waited.

It wasn't too long when someone came out to take another pee as I knew would happen and thank Odin it was only one. Well he walked right past me up to the dumpster that was at the edge of the parking lot and started to relieve himself. I leaned the mauser against the wall and walked right up behind him. I waited for him to zip himself up and at that exact moment I kicked him with a full power kick right between the legs.

Now the military guys back at Sanctuary might know how to take someone out quietly for interrogation but I don't know those tricks. What I do know is if a guy gets kicked that hard in junk he's going down and won’t have any breath to scream with.

I was prepared to cover his mouth with my hands and wait till he passed out from a lack of air, but as luck would have it the second my boot connected to his stick and berries he instantly folded forward and knocked himself out by head butting the dumpster.

I picked him up and grabbed my rifle and with him over one shoulder I headed back across the street and down the road. I went back the opposite way they were traveling. About six buildings down there was a Burger King and I know they all have a ladder access to the roof so that's where I headed.

I fireman carried the asshole up to the roof and then went back down to get the rifle because I couldn't carry it up the first time. I took the dudes pants off and cut them into strips and made a length that I used to tie his hands around what I think was an exhaust from the cookers inside. After that it was time to wake up sleeping beauty and start part two of my idea on making sure the raiders don't want to come back for round two.

I took out my hunting knife and grabbing him by the ear I put the knife behind said ear and cut it off. He woke up, screaming. He must have been having some major crotch problems still because he was coughing and screaming. I took my shelaleigh and smashed his knee because the screaming was starting to quiet down. Then I walked over to the edge of the building and looking over towards the bar I could see from the light inside the building that most of them where outside and looking around trying to see where the screaming was coming from.

By the way they were looking around I could guess that the sound from a height and bouncing off the surrounding buildings had them confused. Knowing now that they wouldn't be able to find me without coming into the dark, and with the dead attracted to that kind of noise I knew they wouldn't, I went back to ask some questions of my new friend.

I won’t talk about the rest of the night as it's not something that needs to be talked about other than to say his screaming kept the raiders from getting any sleep and that's what his job was and it's also why I didn't want anybody else to come with me on this job. The dead did come out but they had the same trouble finding the noise as the raiders did. When I left my friend he couldn't scream anymore and the night was over so as the sun was coming up I left and headed up behind the buildings north before the raiders left the bar.

I did stop inside the garage on my way out and grabbed a hacksaw, the raider I took the night before had a double barrel 12 gage shotgun that was sawed off to a 12 inch barrel tucked into his belt. It still had the full butt stock on it so I wanted to cut that down to a pistol grip.

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I think I’ll leave the rest to add to my journal tomorrow. It’s getting pretty late and my imagination is already going overtime. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of what Angus did. I don’t blame him but I’m really glad that Scott hadn’t gone with him. Scott can be pretty ruthless when it comes to the protection of his family, but regardless of his claim to be calloused and without compassion most of the time the truth is that he’s not. Our business gave me lots of opportunity to see that while he could be, he could also be uncommonly compassionate. Most of the time he could hide it by saying it just made good business sense but there were also times where he had to hide how hurt he was when people stabbed him in the back despite all he did for them. I’m glad this is one less thing he had to live with.

I guess what spooks me the most is that is that I can see myself doing something like what Angus did if it meant keeping my kids safe. I worry what I’ve learned to do to survive may stick with me for the rest of my days, even if there comes a day I don’t need it any longer. How do I justify it? How do I live with it? You know, I haven’t grieved a single minute over killing and then having to re-kill Samson. I’ve rationalized it by saying he was barely human the first time I killed him and the second time not at all; but is that healthy? I don’t know. And a part of me doesn’t care. Which is somehow scarier than what I actually did.

I think there are parts of Angus’ story that will have to just stay in the adults’ history book. The kids can idolize Angus without learning about the rest of it until they are older. I think James already knows and I can see that he approves how Angus handled it. Scott does too. David ... I think David would have done what Angus did if he had thought of it first and if he hadn’t had Rose to consider. David has been through some awful things in life but it’s easy to forget it because he seems so well adjusted. He’s got a ruthless streak in him though. I found that out once and for all when he and Cease were blowing up the pirate raiders during Raid on Sanctuary.

No matter what others end up thinking I know Angus is a good friend and what he did, he did to protect us all. I hope if called on I could find the same courage to do what needed doing.

Day 174

Today has been a better day than the last couple of days have been. The incident yesterday where Angus got painted as blue as a Celt added some much needed humor. I think I’m also slowly getting over my funk though some of it still lingers.

Part of it is that Scott has agreed to an “all women’s” run so long as we take a couple of guards and Matlock and Dix give it a final OK. You know that sounds so archaic … that the men have to approve something we women want to do. I’m not female serf to a lord and master set up but if I’m honest about the situation, most women are at a physical disadvantage these days. Oh, we can carry our load and then some, but there are a lot of factors that are coming back out of the Dark Ages that we are just going to have to accept … and pray that the men who ultimately survive the changes that NRS causes aren’t only of the hormonally challenged, knuckle-dragger variety.

The gardens are doing wonderfully well though I’m a little worried. We haven’t been getting very much rain; haven’t seen any for two weeks. So far our water catchment systems still have water in them as do many of the pools and it doesn’t have to be clean water to irrigate with. David and Scott almost had our well running off of solar power today but the pump motor blew and the well lost its prime. Tomorrow they will try and locate a motor that will work from one of the unoccupied dwellings in the neighborhood and try it again.

If we can get ours up and running then it should be fairly routine to get the other wells up and running … assuming we can get enough juice out of the PV cells. If we can pull that off then we’ll try digging our own wells for the mess hall and then shallow agricultural wells for each of the garden areas. We’ll always have to maintain a certain amount of alternative capability because solar power can be interrupted. Plus, what if equipment breaks and we can't replace it? So if we can get the wells up and running we’ll still keep more primitive options open for our use just in case.

If that accomplishment wasn’t enough to celebrate, the new extensions to the Wall are officially complete and ready for the other improvements. The first and second layer of all of the Wall are fully installed, all of the bolting and welding has been completed and the new guard stations are now in place as a partial third layer. They look sort of like crenellations that castles can have along the top of a wall. And the telephone pole skin is being reinstalled a section at a time, starting at the front gate area.

Speaking of castles, the final designs for the new front and rear gate houses have been completed and Scott has made a list of all of the materials we will need. The entrance roads to both are going to be winding rather than straight with a sharp 45 degree angle right before the entrance itself. It will be a little inconvenient for us bringing any large trucks in and out which is one reason that we are going to build a smaller gated warehouse outside of Sanctuary’s gates to house our larger equipment like the dozer and the tractors. We are going to tear up the road some to do all of this and then Kevin Morris has said that we might be able to use the resulting concrete rubble to build even more walls.

We moved the larger animals out into their expanded pasture area and just in time too. Jim led a group out to hunt, but in addition to some game for the smokehouse they also brought back quite a few live animals. Chris, Brian, and Austin all went with him and it was nearly hilarious to see them trooping back with the animals in tow. We now have enough cattle that come next winter we should have no problem having enough to slaughter or trade. We have enough llamas to start carding their fur and if I can figure it out we may be able to start eventually weaving our own cloth. Add sheep and goats to that as well. The pigs were cantankerous so they were crated up and were pulled back on a makeshift wagon. The funniest thing they brought back was another ostrich and a couple of yaks. Jim didn’t want our ostrich to get too lonely for its own kind. The yaks were just too placid to leave behind. They actually came of their own accord, hurrying to keep up with the cow herd they had joined. How those shaggy things are going to stand the Florida summer I don't know but I guess we are going to see. It'll start warming up next month.

Jim had taken the boys and gone up to a place in Odessa called “Old McMickey’s Farm.” It was a petting zoo run by people that had both regular and exotic animals on display. The animals really hadn’t had any reason to roam too far from the abundant hay and grass that had been stored in the large barns and silos on the acreage. They were a little skittish of people but all Austin had to do was open a few of the less accessible feed bags and they became much easier to handle.

Austin gave all the animals a clean bill of health – his animal sciences degree is a God send – but he and Mr. Morris penned them up separately from the rest of our animals just to be on the safe side for a few days more. No sense in taking chances.

It was Chris however that won the prize from the kids' point of view. He had a sack he was carrying on his back and my Sarah spotted it immediately because it was wriggling pretty good. Wriggly sacks make me leery so I stayed well back, remembering the iguana incident of not that long ago. I knew he wouldn’t give the kids anything really dangerous but when he gave the sack to Sarah and she looked inside and started squealing I nearly re-thought what I thought I knew.

My Sarah squealed, “Cages. We need cages! Cages, cages, cages!!! Samuel! Ella! Bekah! Come quick!!!!”

Obedient to the call, Samuel ran over and looked in the sack and smiled really big before taking off to the shed we’ve been using as a storage barn. He came back with a large dog crate and then helped her set the sack’s contents inside. The girls were all standing around ooohhhing and aaahhhing.

Rabbits. Rabbits like I’ve never seen before. Their fur was nearly as long as Angus’ ponytail had gotten. (It was longer but I had to trim the end to get the last of the paint out of it yesterday.) Chris said they were Angora rabbits; as in angora yarn and angora sweaters and stuff.

Austin said he wanted to go back tomorrow with a truck and trailer and try and bring back a few more animals. There were some mules, burrows, and a couple of horses that would come in handy as well as a couple of Brahma bulls that would make good breeding stock for the beef cattle. There was some geese and chickens wandering around yet, though how they had survived all of the feral cats and dogs I don't know. There were even two buffaloes that might be persuaded to come. I worried about them bringing the buffaloes though as I know for a fact they can be very dangerous with odd fits and starts. Scott and I had one walk through our camp once in Yellowstone and when I was little and visiting family we went to Kentucky's Land Between the Lakes where they had a display of buffaloes and one charged my dad through the fence for no apparent reason.

Austin said it was cool; if they didn’t work out as domestic cattle then we could turn them loose nearby and see if they were a breeding pair and try and get our own wild buffalo herd started for hunting in the coming years. We might add them to the buffaloes that I know were at Lowry Park Zoo and at some of the outlying cattle ranches around here.

That’s when I had another one of those shifts in perception. It was reinforced yet again that the way we were living was the way we would be living for quite some time, maybe the rest of our lives. Maybe the rest of our children’s lives. Things are so broken right now and the population so apparently low that it will take at least a generation before we can begin to rebuild the infrastructure of the major urban centers back up to support the same kind of population density we had before. Who would have ever given thought to building up a buffalo herd so that we would have something to hunt and eat for years coming?

Of course it could be a totally different story in the mid-west or wherever the central government is these days. I worry about this coming spring and summer when they might try to fulfill their promise of returning to MacDill in some fashion. Steve has said that he’s heard some chatter about the government but nothing actually from the government. No official announcements, no mandates, nothing … not for quite some time. That should worry me but right now it doesn’t. We’ll just have to keep our ear to the ground. The last thing I want to have to deal with is the idea of “resettlement quotas” or government groups coming in to scavenge food and supplies for some other artificial urban area that they’ve built. Don’t want to hear about taxes or the draft either. Enough said about that for now the better though I know that Matlock and Scott have talked about it at length. The next major run we are scheduled to make is to MacDill. I'll guess we might find something more out then.

I’ve managed to get the next installment out of Angus and I’ll put that next. After that I’m going to drop in what Anne gave me. It certainly helps me to see some things more clearly.

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After a good 15 minute jog (fast walk) up the road there was an intersection. I made a decision and turned left. A couple of buildings down there was a little diner on the left side of the street that had its windows knocked out. I went in and after sitting in a booth next to the glassless windows I could see the intersection very well. I decided that after a sleepless night it might be good to thin their numbers down a little as they were likely to be a little slow to react and having a nice adrenalin rush would cause them a little more fatigue later in the day.

I heard them coming down the road before they got to the intersection. Funny how now that there's no other noises you can hear things a lot better than you could before all this happened. I waited till the last of them where crossing the intersection before I shot the first one. Head shot. They just stopped and looked around really fast. Bam - another head shot. This time they knew what direction the shots had come from and one of them was pointing in my direction and he was next bam - this time I didn't have a great angle so I shot him center mass. Three down in 10 seconds. They were gone.

I headed out the back. I opened the door to go out and there where at least 4 walking dead out there; wasn’t gonna be going that way. I headed back to the front of the dinner and saw a side door for customers so I went there and looked first this time; no dead so out I went. I went around the back of the next building and then the next and then I headed to the front to have a look.

Sure enough they where spread out and looking around the diner for me. I heard a scream and two shots fired. They must have found the dead guys behind the diner. I could have shot one or two more but that would have had them chasing me farther down this side road and that's not the direction I wanted to go.

I just watched and after a little while they started to head back to the intersection. I saw mister ankle standing (or leaning) down at the intersection waiting for them and as they were leaving one of his buddies gave him an arm and around the corner they went.

I saw that a little farther down the street there was a little music store. I wanted to give them a little time to get up the road, and I wanted to look at my street map so I decided to go in the music store. Man to say the place was trashed is an understatement, everything was knocked over and Cd's were all over the floor. The front windows were smashed out and the back door was open so there was plenty of light inside. I walked over to the counter as it was the only thing still in place and opened my little road map.

It took me a little while to figure out exactly where I was, I really don't know Florida at all but I found it. I had noticed that since I started down the north road after this group that the cars had been moved out from the center of the road and I guessed it was the way they got their trucks down to our area. Looking at the map I saw that 2 miles up there was a major intersection that would have a straight way west and if I had to bet I would bet that the roads are cleared on the west road. That was where I had to head.

Even though I had decided to go and meet them farther down there way I sat down on the counter and pulled out the hacksaw and the shottie and started to shape the pistol grip. The blade was like new so the cutting went fast, then it was time for the knife to round over the edges and make the final shaping. Once that was done it was time to go.

I headed out and went down my side road about 6 blocks till I came to a creek or canal or whatever they call these damn water ways down here. It was only about 20 feet across even though the banks where steep (they dropped down about 8 to 10 feet.) But the second I looked at it I remembered where I was and there was no way I was going to cross that dang water. Here there be dragons! Or gators which were just a toothy.

I headed north and followed the water way till I came to a little road that crossed the water. After crossing I had to look at the map again to reorient myself and headed off and turned right at the next cross road. I was going through a residential area, all little houses in a row, and then I saw another bike on the side of a house. This one was some kind of dirt bike and a little small for me but I could ride it.

I felt a little silly with my knee's pedaling so close to my chest by it was faster than walking. The breeze that was blowing was at my back and about as fast as I was moving, what this did was let me know exactly how bad I smelled and that was pretty bad right now. Another thing - this dam little itty bitty bike seat wasn't doing me any favors. Another couple of turns this way and that and I was close to where I guessed I would see my prey again.

As I turned on the last road I saw a damn big black snake crossing the road and on an impulse I headed to intercept. I got to the snake just as it got to the side on the street and ran over its head or neck - bump.

I got off the bike (and it took me a second to stand straight again) and I bashed its head in with the butt of the rifle. The freaking thing was near 6 foot long. I have no idea what kind it was, but I cut off it's head and carried it with me by the tail to drain it. I decided to walk the rest of the way; dang little assed seat.

At the last house on the block I could see the road across a field. I went over to that last house and grabbed two wooden pallets that where next to the little garage and dragged them over to the spot that I could see the road and started a fire so I could cook my snake lunch.

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If I had to guess the snake that Angus ate was a black racer or maybe a black tobacco snake. I’ve never seen a racer over five feet long but tobacco snakes can get even longer than that. I hope it wasn’t a cottonmouth. Crazy man; going after a potentially poisonous snake like that with a bike and the butt of a gun. I swear sometimes he thinks he is bulletproof.

Here is Anne’s entry. I really like her. She’s classy and spunky at the same time. She’s certainly no shrinking violet. Between her, Saen, and Patricia I thought I was going to wet myself laughing today. Anne is naughty. There is just no other word for it, but in a funny and harmless way. OK, semi-harmless and really funny. All the kids thought we’d lost a few bricks from our load but it has just been such a relief. This just reinforces to me that a girls’ day out is much needed around here.

I'm not the only one that needs it either. Tina could use a confidence booster. Becky is itching to prove she is up for it as well. Betty and Reba don't appear interested though they said they would send us with a list of things that they would like to have. Rilla and Reba's oldest daughter on the other hand are nearly as raring to go as I am. We'll have quite a crowd going I think which should mean that we can do quite a bit of gathering.

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Well, Sissy went around and asked everyone to write down their story so here it goes. I’m actually glad that she asked us to do this. At the same time it forces me to sit down and actually think about what happened. This whole time I've just been going and going and trying to keep the kids safe that I haven't really had the time to let things hit me.

I'm originally from PA, but my husband’s job brought us to OR a few years ago. When things went crazy on the west coast, they went crazy FAST! My husband’s family is from OR and CA and we lost contact with them quickly. Portland was fucked. (Sorry for my language, I've recently learned that Sissy hates it, but I have the mouth of a sailor. I try to curb it around the kids anyway...) There was no reaching his family. I don’t think Lee has had a chance to think much about what that means either. I know it killed him to leave, but we needed to think about our kids.

We made it to the airport and Lee’s connections got us on a flight out of there. I had talked to my dad before we left and we were trying to get back to PA. That obviously never happened. We ended up stuck in fucking Florida of all places! Previous to this I had been to FL once, when I was 17 or so with my boyfriend at the time and I had hated it. I always said it was where old people go to die...who would have guessed I would be so damned thankful to be here now!

I haven’t heard from my family since we left. I have it in my head that they are Ok, I have to keep thinking that. But from what I've seen...I can't imagine how any of us are still alive. My poor kids. Ella is so sensitive. When this virus or whatever the hell it is first hit, Jesus I was so afraid for them both, but especially Ella. She keeps asking about grandma and grandpa. I just keep telling her we will see them soon, I really hope I don’t turn out to be a liar.

We have been wandering around for what seems like forever. I really can't even put down in words how grateful I am for this place, Sanctuary they call it, and it is. I mean, I'm sitting here writing! Writing for fucks sake! Just a few days ago, there was no time to sit and write or sit and do anything except keep a look out for more zombies or crazies (and there seems to be plenty out there...we saw one guy at the fairgrounds who thought he was some kind of freaking King) and now here I sit, and the kids are playing! I thought I would never see Ella smile again. She is so excited to have so many kids around her, and animals! She used to watch animal planet all the time before bed and would tell me that she wanted to be a zookeeper or a vet. Damn, that seems like forever ago.

Ray couldn’t be happier either. He's become good buddies with little Johnnie and Bubby. They are like the mini 3 stooges. Ray has a speech delay; he had been in speech therapy at preschool and was doing really well. When this zombie bullshit came to be, he went through a period where he stopped talking all together. It was only for a few days, a week tops, but it broke my heart. He's a tough little guy though and Ella is an awesome big sister. I really thought that being as sensitive as she is that she would lose it during all of this, but she instead became Ray’s little protector. I have no doubt that she is the reason he started talking again. And now that we are here, and he’s around other little ones...well, he won't be quiet! I love it!

We started out with a small group, but people can be so stupid!! It was down to just my family in only a few days, and don't get me wrong I feel bad for what happened to them but it made it a lot easier on us. So many people have this false sense of entitlement these days, and it didn’t end when the shit hit the fan. Let’s just say that when food is low, don’t EVER think of taking my child’s food out of their hand. I'm not going to put down what I did to the guy, I'm new here and I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea about me. Just understand that this particular guy had almost gotten us killed the day before and that wasn’t the first time. And as much as I try, I don’t feel bad for what I did. No one even asked where he was afterwards.

But that was then and this is now and now is fucking glorious!! I mean, aside from the zombies outside the wall. But compared to where we were just a few days ago...Can I tell you how awesome showers and clean clothing are?? And the food! I honestly don’t think I ate this well when things were normal! I really want to pull my weight around here. I know they were hesitant about bringing us here and I have a feeling the only reason they did was because of my husband’s mechanical skills. Something about the way the one guy’s eyes lit up when Lee mentioned it. But I want to make sure they feel good about me too. I don’t have any real skills, but I am willing to do whatever the hell they ask me! And I know Lee is anxious to show his worth too.

Well, I hope this is what Sissy had in mind. If not, she seems like the type of lady who will have no problem telling me. haha!

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Wow, the insights when we get a chance to see things through other peoples’ eyes. I had no idea that Anne worried about pulling her weight. She’s doing fine. Anyone willing to work is welcome but it sure doesn't hurt that she is such a spitfire. We’ve run into too many that weren’t willing to work. It still makes me grind the enamel off my teeth to think about those refugees from Hale Hollow. And I don’t blame her at all for whatever it is she did to the guy that tried to take food out of her kids’ mouths. Who am I to judge after the things that I’ve done for the same reasons?

You’ll never guess what Scott gave me tonight. A box of 12 sodas. He had found them squirreled away in the back corner of the grocery store that he went to today to measure some of the rolling doors in the back. We might be using them as part of the gate houses. He was looking for some that were a little bigger but the chains and gears could be useful. He had tripped over some debris that was in the corner of the bay and when he went to catch himself he leaned over and saw them just sitting there.

I was so happy and Scott was happy that he made me happy so we split a soda between the two of us. Caffeine has no effect on Scott, he fell asleep in the middle of telling me about the rest of his day. I’m sitting here jagging out. But, I’m gonna put away this journal and turn off the lamp even if I’m not sleepy. Scott is snoring up a storm so I need to roll him over, but I’m going to sit up for a while and listen to Steve’s broadcast on the wind up radio.

I sent Steve word today that we planned to make pizza in a few days if he and his group wanted to stop by for a picnic. Dix said that he sounded tempted but not to count on him just yet. Maybe we can get to know his group better if I get to know Shorty. I’ve got several recipes she might be interested in and now that I have all these extra little plants … well, it’s something to think about. Perseverance is the best game plan I can come up with.

Day 175 January 22 (Monday – Wash Day)

I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever drink caffeine right before my bed time again. I probably need to write this about a hundred times over. I was up after three in the morning. I simply could not get to sleep. I was so awake, and with nothing constructive to do, that I transcribed a bit of Steve’s radio broadcast. When does that man sleep anyway?

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This is Steve’s Midnight Music and talk Show. I am broadcasting from the beautiful campus radio station high atop which ever damn building this is called. The last tune you heard was Phish—“Back on the Train”—from my favorite studio album of theirs called “Farmhouse”. It’s about 3AM and since there’s no one up but me and the undead—it’s story time boys and girls of this brave new fucked up world.

In the background we have a little mellow tune going called “Fragile”, by the renowned Nuevo Flamenco guitarist, Jesse Cook. Jesse, if you’re alive out there—I still want to see you in concert.

The great thing about having your own radio station is you get to play all the damn songs that you never heard on the air on commercial radio. There used to be a radio show called “Audiosyncrasies” on PRN that I loved to listen to when I was cruising around in my patrol car. I hated when I’d get fucking calls during that program. There was another show with this old jazz horn player, I forget the name of the show but his name was Jim Davis. He had the greatest stories to tell about life on the road—reminded me of the two years I spent in drunk and stoned in Nashville pretending to write music and playing open mic and writers nights.

I digress. Sorry folks, but that’s what you get at god damn three AM.

Word going out to Sanctuary, Junior is fine and back up and running. She wants to come over for a play date, but not until she gets her chores done. Also, does anyone there play music? She wants to play with a band. She’s tired of my three chords. Thanks for all your help, guys.

Okay, requests for music comes in on channel 30 on the CB and for you ham operators its 5330.5. All others please call the operator for your connection to Steve’s Midnight Music and Talk Show. Here at the MMT Show, we like to hear from the living.

Next up in the music category is one of my favorite little known artists, Buckshot LeFonque with “The Blackwidow Blues”. Stay tuned through the music for more musings of a mad man….

…Okay we’re back. I got a message from Jacques Mertens who says he’s adrift in a 34 foot Olsen sailboat. He got stuck in the doldrums somewhere between Jamaica and St. Kitts. He’s low on water and his diesel is just about gone, but he hopes tomorrow will bring rain since the barometer is falling steadily and he’s getting just a hint of wind. Jacques says that if Margo is listening, he loves you.

*clears throat*

Okay, for Jacques I have a song—here’s Ottmar Leibert, “Adrift in Tangier”.

Back again. That last tune was actually Adam Ant, “1969 Again”, from his solo album “Wonderful”. I think we’ll just let that album play while I talk.

Speaking of wonderful, we found a crate of fucking sardines. Not a case, but a crate of cases. Now some of you might be saying, Steve, what the hell are you going to do with a crate of sardines? I say to you out there, have you ever heard of Bagna Calda? A dream dip made from sardines with butter, lots of butter. Here’s how you do it.

*paper rattles*

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. olive oil
10 anchovy fillets
1 can boneless sardines
6 garlic cloves, mashed
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a small saute pan, add the butter, anchovies, garlic and sardines. Simmer together 10 minutes, mashing ingredients into oil - butter with a fork. Serve with cut vegetables as a dip, such as artichokes, tomatoes with basil, or spread on Italian bread and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese just before grilling.

Yeah, butter might be hard to find these days, but you make do, you know? If anyone out there wants to trade for sardines, give us a call, once again CB channel 30 and 5330.5 for the hams. We can set up a meet.

By the way, I like pizza. If you have the making for a pizza, I’m willing to travel.

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I’m thinking that his last statement might have been an acceptance of our invitation but I leave that to Dix to tell me for sure.

I was so desperate by midmorning for something to help me stay awake that I actually drank a cup of coffee. I laced it pretty heavy with powdered creamer and sugar but it still gagged me. I will admit that it helped get me through the day but I am dead dog tired and so ready to crawl into my bed that I might actually fall asleep finishing up my nightly “to do” tasks.

Today was laundry day. That’s never fun but at least the breeze that blew all day dried everything more quickly than usual. I couldn’t stand it anymore and washed everyone’s coat. That was a heavy, wet mess but it really needed doing. They were starting to stink up the coat rack out in the carport. Scott’s, David’s, and James’ in particular were very malodorous. The men do their best to bathe everyday but with all the work they do ... especially the work out in the animal pen ... their clothes and they both stink to high heavens. Thank goodness for their coveralls. They save me a lot of work.

Jim led another hunt today and this time Angus went along. Austin stopped them from killing the turkeys they saw so that they could be brought them back and added to our poultry flock.

Forget the buffaloes. Those things are mean and probably too big for us to manage. Angus said the !@#@#$!#$! things charged the truck they were in twice, once he had to climb up on the cab to avoid being run down. The look on his face when he said this was so full of outrage that I had a hard time not laughing even though I know he – all of them – had been in quite a bit of danger. In the morning Mr. Morris and some helpers will be butchering most of the castrated hogs that we now have. It’s probably not going to get much colder so this is as good a time as any to do it, plus those hogs are big enough and all they’d do if we let them live would be eat ‘cause they can’t exactly add to the population any. We need another big hunt over to Busch Gardens and Lowry Park Zoo but I have no idea when we'll find the time.

Angus was a little grumpy about not being able to bring down a buffalo and bring it back but they did bag a bunch of quail and we made Fried Quail in Onions for dinner. Here is the basic recipe. We had to really piece it out to get everyone fed and had several side dishes as well. I made up a large batch of pilaf and Betty made a batch of greens.

FRIED QUAIL WiTH ONION GRAVY

30 quail, cleaned
Salt
Pepper
All-purpose flour
8 slices bacon
2 cups peanut oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water
2/3 cup minced onion
Dash of garlic salt

Sprinkle quail with salt and pepper to taste; dredge in flour, and set aside. Fry bacon in a large skillet. Remove bacon, reserve for other uses. Add peanut oil to drippings in skilled; heat over medium heat. Add quail; cook 10-12 minutes on each side or until done. Remove quail from pan; drain on paper towels. Reserve 1/4 cup drippings in pan. Add flour to drippings, stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add water, stirring well. Add onion and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Stir in 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/8 tsp pepper, and garlic salt.

Well, I know that I haven’t personally made much of a contribution to my journal tonight but I’m pretty rolled up. Can’t close yet though before I include the next installment from Angus. The more I read of his adventure the more I realize how much he has been editing it for the kids’ sakes.

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It had been two hours and they hadn’t gotten there yet. They should’ve been. Unless they were moving a lot slower than I had thought. It could’ve been that they were more tired than I was. I tried resting with my eyes closed and then started myself awake, that was too relaxed.

When I was glassing around the area I saw that the westerly road was cleared of cars like the north road, I was right. I took note that there was a restaurant farther west of me, not an upscale one in this area but a nice sized one still. Next to it and closer to me there was what looked from my postion to be a store that sold washers and dryers as I could just make out some in the window. Of course that got me to thinking about the jeans I had on and how far gone they were.

That stain from the garage was still wet, tranny fluid never seems to dry. And I had blood all over the front of them that had dried and added to the what I started to think of as the stink that is me. I actually smelled so bad that I wanted to walk away from myself. There was a clothes store a little east of where I was, it looked like one of those that sold to the hipsters of the area. I thought maybe I could find a new shirt in there later. Across from me was the field and the 100 yards of tall grass had me thinking of that unpleasant butt tightening I had from the last field. Across the road directly in front of my position was a construction site, some shopping center that will never get build.

There wasn’t even any building material on site; they were still doing the excavating when they walked away from the job. A couple of backhoes, some stacks of corrugated piping stacked by the road, and a office trailer; not much to look at but interesting enough that I had decided to wait a bit longer here instead of heading east to see what might be holding up my pray.

Many of the younger guys back at the compound would be running all over the place scouting this area and that. My running days are over, I'll leave that to the youngins. Ya the little ones, I reminded myself to see if I could find some massive amounts of candy before I headed back. I thought the supply would make a great distraction to move the women's attention away from me and after the wired kids. Candy had saved my hide more than once.

[Sissy’s Note: The candy was a distraction, at least for a little bit. The rascal. Made me wonder how many times he had used that ploy before and gotten away with it.]

Finally I saw them coming. They were moving slower than before, and being very quiet. There were watching their back as well as every place else. I could have that. They might ruin everything.

I picked up my little piece of wood I’d been carving on, just a length of skid about one inch thick and a good 3 feet long. I made a notch near the one end and then I put a pebble in the notch and I used it to throw that pebble down the road in their direction to land in a little parking lot on my side of the road. There are no cars in the lot from my vantage point so the sound just sounded like a rock bouncing off the asphalt.

They heard it. After stopping and looking all around a bit they started moving again. Another pebble. This time they stopped for longer, one even edged closer to the lot but didn't see anything. I let them get about 40 yards past the lot and sent another pebble. Now they were moving along and they were all looking over their shoulders at the lot. That's a good bunch of ass holes, there could be a demon some where over there, keep alert.

I had a great vantage point from the moment I saw them but I wanted them right in front of me. There was one truck and four cars pushed to the side right in front of me and I wanted them behind them when they found out I was over here.

Aat the compound there are many that might not like what I did, not that they would like any of what I have done. Maybe someday they will see that it was necessary. When they got ( most of them ) to where I wanted them I shot the lead guy right in the side of the head - spray - then I shot two more before they dropped behind the cars.

They started to shoot back even though they hadn't found me yet. They were 400 yards out and most of them were shooting shotguns and hand guns. Did they really think they were doing any good like that ? Idiots.

Well I looked over to the construction site and my thinking was right. On the far end of the site there was a group of 11 walkers just milling around because they had wandered onto the site through a section of downed fence and didn't know how to get out. The fence was the temporary type that stands on plates with the sections clamped together, any group of kids could knock it down and now there were a group of dead coming straight towards the sounds of gun fire and that fence wasn't going to stop them.

I shot two more in the head when they popped up to shoot in my direction; they did see me at last. I shot at the hoods of some of the cars just to keep them focused on me and then the fence came down.

The raiders still hadn’t seen them as they were still behind the stacked piping but that was going to change fast. Around the pipes and then the first dead reached the raiders. Eleven dead against almost two dozen raiders, and then there was me. My money was on me.

The raiders forgot about me once they noticed the zombies, so I shot 3 more and then started trotting across the field. On my way I swung the mauser over my shoulder and drew my .45 and took it in my left hand, sliding my bashing tool out of my belt and into my right hand. It was a nice plane from where it started, but 400 yards is a lot farther to run than to think about.

I was huffing when I got there and there were plenty of bodies down, both raiders and walkers. I ran down the line and bashed both dead and soon to be dead. The zombies weren’t affected by the bash too much as I can't put too much behind the hits as I run but it does stun the raiders which gives the dead a second to bite or grab.

I shot three raiders on my run down the line but that was the last ones. I had forgotten I was holding it. (pulled a sissy)

[Sissy’s Note: Uh huh. “Pulled a Sissy.” Do you know that Matlock and Dix have started using that phrase when training people on how to (and how not to) use their firearms?! I’ve also heard the phrase used to mean looking for something that is in plain sight … like looking for your glasses only they’re on top of your head, or a tool that is already on your tool belt. It’s so nice to be a part of the new slang of Sanctuary. One of these days … one of these days …. ]

I dropped the club and the .45 and swung the Mauser up and with everyone within 20 yards there was going to be no missing. I shot the raiders first (in the head) except for one dead that came at me while I was doing the clean up.

I was shooting the dead that were eating the raiders when I got hit in the back of the head. It made me stumble forward and hurt like hell. I spun around swinging the rifle with one arm like a bat and - crunch- got mister ankle in the side of the head. He went down. Quickly I turned to the dead, there were three left but they wanted to finish eating and didn't get the chance.

I would have let out a call to ODIN (for fun) but my freakin head had a stinking knot growing on it and it was bleeding. Mister dumb ass started to make some sounds. Wasn't dead, I was seriously thinking of using him to send a message. He had really pissed me off so ya he got to send a warning.

I walked over to one of the raiders and slid out his machete (not as nice as sissy's) and walked over to dumb ass and with him laying there starting to come around I moved his hand flat on the road and in one chop cut all his fingers off of his right hand. He woke up.

Grown men crying, I slapped him in his bloody ear ( the mauser ) with the flat of the machete and told him to shut up. I told him he was free to go home and to tell the others that I was going to rest up, find some new clothes and then come and kill them all. He never said a word, just cried softly and stared at me. Then he left, clutching his hand to his chest and hobbling mostly on one foot.

Shit,I must be getting soft because when I saw that he wasn’t going to make it I shot him in the back of the head with the .45 and put him out of his misery. I searched the bodies and found two canteens mostly full and half dozen shells for the shotty, other than that nothing I wanted.

I swung the machete around and looked at it thinking Sissy likes these things? Then I dropped it and said out loud na, I like me shalaylee. Then I started heading to the t-shirt shop. I saw an advertisement in the window for unitarian kilts ? I'll have to check that out.

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Angus has just about reached his tolerance for writing things down. He’s getting itchy to get busy. Luckily day after tomorrow a bunch of them are going to go check out MacDill to see if there is anything worth the trouble to bring back. If he can slow down long enough for me to catch up with him before then I’ll see if he’ll just dictate the rest of his story to me.

And I’m so loopy right now I’m just going to go to bed. Scott can catch up with me this time.

Day 176 (Tuesday)

Mom is sleeping. She has tried to keep up with her chores today but it has really tired her out and she was in enough pain that she let Dad give her a Darvocet even though she'd been saying no to one all day long.

We had a minor accident this morning during the pig butchering. A frame they were using to hold the pigs up to drain the blood out collapsed and fell on her foot. Luckily there was no pig hanging on it at the time or Waleski said it would have broken her foot. I suppose before I go too much further I should tell you that I’m Rose Kathryn Chapman. I'm the oldest daughter of Scott and Sissy Chapman and I guess it is my turn to write in Mother’s journal. She asked me to anyway.

Waleski had Melody and I over at the pig butchering as an exercise to see if we could identify all the major organs and other internal parts. I got most of them and Melody got all of them correct. Even though I was disappointed to have missed two of them, Waleski said he was still happy with my progress considering I’ve only been able to used drawings and books to learn from since most human corpses are too dangerous to use because they could be infectious. I’ve had other practical training on advanced first aid practices, but nothing as advanced as what we were doing this morning on internal organs.

Mom will be all right. It’s just that her foot was mashed between the metal fence post and a concrete slab everything was set up on. It is a bruise as opposed to a sprain or break.

She wasn’t saying anything at first so none of us realize she was hurt. Everyone was just trying to pick up the pieces of the frame and see if Mr. Morris was hurt as he caught a glancing blow from one of the other poles.

It was Daddy that noticed how quiet Mom was being. She was just leaning her head on a tree with her eyes closed. When she didn’t answer him the first time he called her name that's when the rest of us figured out something was wrong.

She actually slapped Waleski’s hand when he went to touch her. Mom has issues with personal space. She’s touchy-feely just like the rest of us in our family, but it’s more like she gets to choose who she gets touchy-feely with. Boundaries are something Mom takes seriously. She only lets some people outside the immediate family inside her personal space and Ski didn’t give her any warning that he was going to grab her. Dad usually holds her hand or something when Ski is examining her. Dad said he's lucky that a slap on the hand was all he got from Mom. I've seen her actually kick out at people that startled her by touching her when she wasn't prepared for it.

I asked Dad once why Mom was like that and I think it’s important to put down why Mom sometimes acts the way she does. If she reads this and objects to it being in her journal then she can white it out or something.

Mom was sick a lot as a kid. In fact, it wasn’t until she was out of adolescence that she stopped being sick so much. Because she was sick so much she had to go to the doctor a lot. My grandfather was in the military so that meant that when Mom had to go to the doctor, she had to go to whatever base hospital that Pawpaw was stationed at. That also meant that she rarely saw the same doctor twice because they came and went so frequently; and back then Mom said a lot of the base hospitals weren’t really set up to deal with kids too much, at least not the way doctor’s offices and hospitals are set up to be kid-friendly these days … were set up to be kid-friendly. The hospital was a scary place and she was always getting touched by people she didn't know when she didn't feel good.

Anyway, Dad said she developed a complex about people that didn’t have her permission touching her all the time. When you are a kid you don’t have a whole lot of say-so over who can touch you and who can’t, especially if you are sick. Sometimes all of that stuff can carry over to when people grow up. That’s one of the reasons I was interested in being a pediatrician. I didn’t want other kids to go through some of the stuff that my Mom had to go through.

I don’t guess I’ll ever be a real pediatrician now. I’ll probably never be a real doctor of any kind now. But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my opportunity to help people. I plan on learning as much as I can, for as long as I can, however I can … and from whomever I can. I miss Rachel but I don’t miss the problems she was having with Mom. It really hurt my feelings when I found out she really didn't care for Melody and I as much as she acted like. She was just using us and that's all I'm prepared to say about it. It's done and over with and I just want to forget about that part.

Plus Waleski is a better teacher than I expected. Rachel used to laugh at him a lot but he really knows what he is doing. Mom says that Waleski sometimes has "a crisis of self-confidence" and that we should take it easy on him because he is under a lot of stress. He used to scare me until I realized he’s a lot more like Dad than you might think. He is sarcastic, short-tempered, and can sound really mean but once you get to know him you realize it’s mostly because he takes everything so seriously. Mom keeps telling him that he is going to go ball headed from stress and from pulling at his hair in frustration all the time. Rilla is helping him with that. It’s really strange to see Ski leaning on Rilla’s shoulders or carrying Ty around on his own shoulders.

Mom says that Rilla is good for Waleski. I think she is right. He certainly isn't as grumpy all the time as he used to be. Even when he is stressed he doesn't go all super sarcastic the way he used to.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for that kind of commitment yet. I’ll be 18 years old in June but I feel older; except when it comes to David. I’m glad Mom or Daddy isn’t trying to pressure me one way or the other. I like David a lot. I’ll even admit that I love him. I’m just not sure what kind of love it is yet. And I don’t want to stop learning how to be a doctor yet, even if I never get to actually be one.

Mom wanted me to transcribe Uncle Angus’ story, but in all honesty his handwriting is worse than Daddy’s. Mom doesn’t seem to have any problem reading it, but then again she can read Daddy’s handwriting better than Daddy can a lot of the times.

I feel bad that I can’t do what she asked me to but there just isn’t any way. I asked everyone else in the house and no one could read his handwriting. It looks like a cross between chicken scratch and hieroglyphics. To make up for that I’ll tell a story about Uncle Angus instead.

After Waleski said Mom’s foot probably wasn’t broken he made her soak it in this big bucket of warn water with Epsom salts in it. By the way, Waleski made us look up the correct scientific name for Epsom salt and it is magnesium sulfate heptahydrate. It’s made up of 10% magnesium and 13% sulfur. It works because the body readily absorbs the magnesium. When your body is under stress, you deplete your magnesium. Absorbing magnesium slowly through a soak of some type is better than ingesting it or by taking supplements because too much magnesium depletes your potassium levels.

Mom was supposed to be in charge of all the kids today. It was her turn so that the other women could get a break. We all try and take turns watching the kids because there are so many of them. She had these lesson plans written up and she and the kids were going to play Huckleberry Finn. Melody and I said we would take them instead but Waleski wanted us to finish inventorying and stocking all of the equipment and meds that were brought back from the medical run.

Uncle Angus wound up saying he would take the kids for us. Uncle Angus is a little crazy but like Daddy says, he is as loyal as the day is long and treats all the munchkins like they are his real nieces and nephews.

After lunch Melody and I had finally had about all we could take of looking at meds and answering Waleski’s quizzes about what each medication was used for, possible adverse reactions, and what family of medications it belonged in. Easy enough for him; he had the answers in his lap from the PDR. If he doesn’t have this stuff memorized I wonder why we have to? I’d never be so disrespectful as to ask him, but I still wonder why.

Melody was lonesome because Cease was on duty. I really like Melody, she's practically a sister and the closest to my age in the whole compound, but I’m getting a little tired of talking about her upcoming marriage and how they are going to do everything once they have their own house. I hope even if David and I do wind up getting married that I never get like that. I mean it’s nice, but I’d like to talk about something else besides the guys, you know? David did say Cease is almost as bad as Melody about doing that so I guess they really are in love. I asked Melody why she just didn’t find Trent and Belle and go do something at the house she had picked out to get her mind off of Cease.

Only see, we couldn’t find Trent and Belle. We couldn’t find any of the kids that Uncle Angus was supposed to be watching. We figured the most likely place they would be playing would be over in the orange grove. Melody was afraid Uncle Angus would get the kids in trouble. How she could live in the same house as long as she has with Johnnie and Bubby and not realize that it was probably Uncle Angus we should be worried for I don’t know.

When we found them we just sort of stood back to watch and see what they were doing. They were sitting in a circle and there was an old Easter basket full of candy behind him. Poor Uncle Angus, I could see where Mom had to trim the blue paint out of his hair that wouldn’t wash out.

In the center of the circle were two of the kids. I couldn’t tell who at first because they were wearing all sorts of different sports padding and hockey goalie masks. Not to mention they were holding trash can lids as shields. They had what looked like tennis balls stuck on top of sticks. I honestly didn’t know what to think of what was going on. The first thing that did pop into my head though was that Mom would have a fit.

Melody said, “This won't end well for anyone involved.”

I saw we weren’t the only ones watching this bizarre situation. James had come up on it from the other direction and since he had his rifle over his shoulder I guess he had just come off of guard duty. Well just then the two crazy kids dressed up like weird gladiators charged each other. One yelled out, “BATTLE!”. The other just ROARED and they came together with tremendous clash of ball-sticks smashing each other’s shields.

Oh brother. Uncle Angus was teaching them to fight Viking style. Now I knew that Mom was going to have a kitten. Uncle Angus kept saying things like "shields up," "not so close," and "watch your feet."

Then one of the kids yelled, "ODIN!" and landed a loud hit on the shield of his opponent. Then the other kid yelled, "FOR THE GLORY OF THOR!" and counter attacked.

James was shaking his head and I was thinking Uncle Angus might not live till night fall if Mom or any of the other mothers showed up. Melody looked like she was going to have a conniption right there. Trent looked like he wanted his turn really soon and Belle was acting like a little princess about to offer her knight a favor.

Then Angus called a break and told them to get a drink of water. They pulled of the face masks and I saw for sure, just like I had known it would be, that it was Johnnie and Bubby all dressed up and going at it.

Now I knew Angus was dead meat. James had that wicked look on his face like he couldn’t wait to fluster Mom and get her all hot and bothered. I don’t know why he likes doing that so much. He laughs at the noise she makes but Daddy said one of these days she’s going to shoot the messenger and he won’t find it so funny anymore.

Then Bubby asked Uncle Angus, "What's the best god to ask for help in a fight." I thought Melody was going to faint right there. She said, “Your mother is going to kill Angus. She’s going to kill him very, very dead.”

But I think Uncle Angus may have realized at that point that he had started something those little mimics were going to get him finished over. I could hear him say, "Oh boy, now I've done it." and he told them to sit down.

James was still leaning on a tree with an amused look on his face. See, we know Mom. She doesn’t begrudge other people their religion or how they want to practice it. She figures that is between them and God. She may not agree with them but she isn’t going to sit in harsh judgment of them. She’d rather discern than judge even though I have a hard time understanding what the difference is. But at the same time she is cutting other people slack, she expects the same consideration from them about how she and Daddy do things.

Angus lifted Kitty off of his lap and I realized Mom must have really been hurting to let him just walk off with her after the blue paint incident. He sat her down between himself and one of his big dogs. I think it was Mischief because she was looking kind of fat. Austin said she is definitely going to have puppies, but she still has a few weeks to go.

Then Uncle Angus said, "Look guys, religion is a very important thing, but it's something that's between you and your parents ok? It's one thing to yell out to ODIN when you’re playing, but you can't start praying to old Uncle Angus's gods, ok?"

There were a couple of “why nots?” but I don't know from who; I was trying to keep Melody from hyperventilating and giving us away.

Just then I saw Kitty had that club Uncle Angus always has in his belt and she was holding it up over her head. Of course it really is too big for her to hold up long. It came down right on the dog’s paw.

That’s when things got really, really funny. It was like one of those old black and white movies that didn't have any sound except for the pit orchestra that played sound effects.

The dog let out a loud yelp, then jumped up and away smashing its head into Uncle Angus's face. Uncle Angus clamped both of his hands over his face while throwing himself backwards which threw his legs out kicking the other dog in the head. That dog jumped away landing on top of Bubby and Johnnie knocking them both over backwards. Kitty was just sitting there laughing and very pleased with herself.

The little girls who were there started to laugh and giggle at Bubby and Johnnie who were trying to get out from under Mayhem and not having much success and Uncle Angus was just getting to his knees holding one of his eyes with the other eye watering like crazy.

Bubby didn't like being laughed at and yelled at the girls to "shut up" and waved his ball-stick club at them. Uncle Angus must not have liked the tone that was being used and started to crawl over into the kids putting himself between them to keep them from fighting for real.

He was saying something but I couldn't hear what. All of the kids were making an awful racket by that point. The girls certainly weren’t going to take that from Bubby. En mass they charged Bubby and Johnnie got caught in the crossfire.

The girls outnumbered the boys by a significant number. They swarmed over and around Uncle Angus and one of them stepped on his hand on the way to get their pound of Bubby's flesh. Now Uncle Angus was holding one hand over the eye that the dog had smashed and the other hand he was using to hold himself up got squashed.

It must have really hurt because he pulled the hand up to his chest with a loud "awk!" which left him with no hands holding him up. As the girls buried Bubby and Johnnie and the other boys, Uncle Angus went down face first into the ground. His mouth was open where he was trying to calm the kids down and he got a mouth full of grass and dirt.

Uncle Angus came up off the ground with such a roar that the clump of grass in his mouth shot out a good 6 feet. That roar stopped everything. When Uncle Angus roars it is more than a little scary.

James had been moving forward, I guess to stop the fight, but he stopped dead in his tracks too. The kids were all just staring at Uncle Angus, waiting to see what he would do. He was breathing really hard like Daddy does when he’s on a temper plus his eyes were bugging out; one was bloodshot and showing a bruise and both of them watering like crazy. His mouth was hanging open with grass sticking out of his teeth and mud drooling from the corners of his mouth. His face was coated with sand that was sticky to his sweat.

Bekah, one of the few who had had the good sense to stay out of most of it, was standing there with her hands on her hips with her head cocked to the side giving Uncle Angus a look just like Mom would have if she had come up on them acting this crazy.

Uncle Angus blinks a couple of times when he sees her doing this and then points right at James and yells, “Intruder!"

James spun around looking behind him but didn't see anybody. That's when Uncle Angus said, "Get him by the knees!"

Bubby and Johnnie hit James at the same time behind his knees and he started going down. But James played football and it was going to take more than a couple of five years old to take him down. Then the rest of the kids hit James and he didn’t have any choice but to go all the way down. James is really strong, but there were over a dozen kids swarming him.

Uncle Angus pulled James' gun out of his hands as he went down. James’ eyes were really big and he looked like he was still trying to figure out what was going on right as he was completely buried under a horde of giggling kids. As Uncle Angus was walking away I heard him say, “James, it's about time you acted like a kid again.”

Part of me felt sorry for James but another part of me was going, “Yeah! Payback time!!” I love my brother but he can be a real pain. He acts like he is older than I am sometimes. I know Mom misses how things used to be and I know she gets sad when she thinks about it too much. I wish James was more sensitive about that. When he gets older he’ll understand. And he’ll miss what he lost only by then it will be too late to get it back.

Sometimes I wish we were back to the way things were before. I sure wouldn’t complain about Mom telling me that I should take the time to be a child while I had the time. Because once you aren’t a child any more, you miss the lack of responsibility and innocence you used to have. I wouldn't want to grow up as fast as I remember wanting to grow up so I could have my own life. It’s a lot easier when all you have to do is what other people tell you to do. When you become an adult you have to start making the hard decisions all on your own.

Hopefully Mom will be able to write in her journal tomorrow. Journals are OK, but all this soul-baring is kind of embarrassing. I’d just die if anyone read my own journal. It’s not that there is anything in there to be ashamed of, but it’s like it’s no one’s business but mine. I like to keep my private thoughts private.

Day 177 (Wednesday) – MacDill Run

I’m all better now. Well, mostly better. My foot is still plenty sore but I’ve been worse. I guess I’m lucky the pole didn’t hit me in the head. That’s the one of the medical situations we haven’t had to deal with yet; serious head trauma. At least not with our own people. We’ve put some serious head trauma on plenty of zombies and got a couple of pirate raiders like that as well.

Rose is so funny. I guess she kept expecting me to say something about what she put in the journal last night. I think I surprised her by not being condemnatory. She’s close enough to eighteen and I think she deserves the right to have her own opinions. We expect her to take on the responsibilities of being an adult, or close enough to as makes no difference, so we should at least be willing to give her some respect when she acts that way.

I wasn’t as angry about Angus and the Viking School as they probably expected me to be. Oh, I didn’t like the religious issues but I can’t wrap the kids in cotton wool and expect nothing to ever touch them except what I deem appropriate. That’s a pipe dream. I mentioned it to Angus and he said he’d watch it with the kids. He understands … and a lot more than I think some give him credit for understanding. Just because he is big and brash doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a sensitive side as well. He’d probably have a fit though if I was to come right out and say that however. We women know how to leave the men their illusions.

Today was the big run to MacDill AFB. Dix had been wishy-washy about me going in the first place, as had Scott, but my foot injury knocked me off the list going completely. Since they didn’t know what they would be facing, most of the women stayed at the compound.

The ones going were Dix as team leader, McElroy, Scott, David, Samuel, James, Cease, Clay Jr., J. Paul, Glenn, Angus, Lee, Chris, Brian, and Austin. They took the tractor trailer, the F350, Juicer, and one of the buses. That was one more vehicle than they had wanted to take but with 15 going they would need room to ride, but they would also need room to bring back anything they found. Matlock is getting anxious about fuel but the tank in the orange grove is full, all the vehicles are kept topped off, and we have the better part of two full tankers that were found at the train yard.

We built a methane digester to harvest methane gas to run the farm equipment but that’s still a couple of weeks away from the testing stage. If it works though, Scott and McElroy think that they might be able to build an energy plant to create electricity for at least a few of the buildings here in Sanctuary. That’s going to take a much larger number of farm animals than we have right now. The horses and cows … and pigs too … are basically poop factories. But even that’s not enough to create that much electricity if we are trying to make fuel too. I read the book that Brandon found on the subject and it took about 1800 cows from a dairy farm in Wisconsin to create enough electricity for 150 homes. That means for each home we would need about twelve cows; more if we used smaller animals like pigs. That’s a lot of livestock to feed and keep up with. We had to prioritize our time and resources so fuel comes first, after that we’ll work in efforts to create a biomass capable of producing electricity.

The men off on the run have kept in radio contact all day today. Dix finally rigged up a big enough antenna that we don’t have any more problems regardless of the weather or the distance or just about anything else for that matter, at least so far. Powering the transmitter & receiver eats up the juice so we don’t run it all the time. The radios in the vehicles have been upgraded and have better antennas as well.

The road conditions weren’t too bad for them this morning until they got over to the Bayshore area. They traveled over to Fletcher Avenue with a brief stop at Steve’s compound before heading over to 56th Street. They went south on 56th Street until it turned into 50th Street. They cut around the railroad yard and it still looked undisturbed which was a bit odd considering how many survivors that Steve is beginning to hear from. The mess started in the Channelside area. It looked like someone had tried to take over that part of the Port as part of a territory and someone objected, or wanted it for themselves. Lots of rotting corpses … the kind that aren’t up and walking around … lay all over the ground according to their report. All parties in what looked like a very pitched battle had vacated the area so it was clean to move through but they had to move the concrete barricades that were blocking the road to do so.

The next obstacle was the downtown area. Incredibly the fire that had plagued our first run downtown looked like it was still burning, or re-burning the area. Or perhaps this was another fire started by whoever had battled for Channelside. It’s not unusual to see dark plumes of smoke on the horizon any more. We keep a watch on them to see if they start spreading but we don’t panic like we used to. The lack of a fire department means that stuff is just gonna burn. And when it burns its going to burn things to the ground. So far though there haven’t been any more large conflagrations like the Big Fire now several months in the past.

The debris on the road was very bad. In places it looked like someone had just started pitching office furniture from as high up as they could get. Scott said it looked like destruction for the sake of anarchy. It worries me when Scott starts waxing philosophical because that generally means that things are worse than he is able to just come right out and say.

Dix reported a suspicion that there is a survivor group over on Harbor Island but that they had blown the bridges. Whether they are the types of folks we want to get to know is debatable. Davis Island appears to be a total loss. The bridges were blown to it as well but Dix said that destruction looked to have more precision to it, perhaps done by the military or military contractors in the early days of the NRS overrun. Using binoculars they could still see a significant number of zombies roaming freely, especially around the Tampa General Hospital parking garage and all around inside the hospital itself.

Bayshore Blvd was just awful. Cars had taken out the seawall sidewalk. All of the houses that faced the bay, every single one of them multi-million dollar homes and condos, were trashed beyond trashed. Most had fire damage, some were practically razed to the ground. Debris littered the roadway where cars didn’t block it.

They slowly traversed Bayshore and then picked up Interbay Blvd to get to the main gate at MacDill AFB. What a mess. Bodies of the dead littered the area. All buildings in any proximity to the base’s fence had been bulldozed or fire bombed. Burned out hulks of cars prevented the use of the actual gate completely. The vehicles turned back towards the bay, followed the fence, and came up to the old Bayshore gate area. That corner of the base, where it abutted water, had been compromised at least once. Foundered and capsized boats were visible all up and down the watery boundary of the base for as far as the eye could see.

MacDill AFB is on a peninsula. The boundary is more shoreline than dry land. This was good for base operations, bad for defending against attacks by water. And not all of the attacks came from pirates. It looked like some of the boats were pleasure crafts being used by people just trying to find a safe place to hide from the zombies.

So far our group has been very disappointed in the base itself. Nothing substantive appears to remain. Calling the pull back from the base an evacuation oversimplifies it. It looks like any usable or salvageable equipment has been removed. All the vehicles, those that hadn’t suffered catastrophic damage, are gone. All ammo, all weapons, all food, all computers, all everything it appears. It took them most of the remainder of the day to canvas the entire base. They didn’t find squat.

How they got everything moved out the way they did is a wonder. Dix said it was probably a combination of using helicopters to move stuff to ships sitting off shore as well as loading it up on air transports and flying it directly to wherever they were pulling back to.

They’ll bunker down on the base tonight and come back by way of some parts of town we haven’t visited yet. South Dale Mabry Hwy, the airport, Town n’ Country … much will depend on what they find in the area immediately surrounding the base early tomorrow.

Today was fairly uneventful except for a small group of zombies, around a dozen in number, that tried to gain entrance through the back gate area. Three of them were wearing the remnants of Tampa Police uniforms. Melody was extremely upset for a while but Waleski got her busy and it took her mind off of her father. I don’t know what I would have done if Scott simply never came home one day. As awful as it would be, I’d rather know for sure than spend the rest of my life wondering.

I’ve been meaning to tuck this story by James in for some time now. This happened even before the Raid on Sanctuary so it might be old news but I want to keep it for posterity … or for hysterity even though I know that isn’t a word. Let me preface this by saying that Scott really does like Angus but the man does have a way of getting people riled up. Scott and Angus are OK now, but for a day or so Scott had a very difficult time not letting his Spanish temper blow. I remember James giving this to me but I misplaced it in all my papers somehow until I opened one of my herbal books this afternoon.

I’ll keep in mind that this is my sixteen year old son, and try really hard not to censor it as much as I want to. It also highlights how badly we need to keep up on the dental hygiene to prevent more problems like this from occurring.

------------------

Mom said to write down something for her journal. What I’m supposed to write down I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of time. I hate writing anyway. Why can’t we find a manual typewriter for this stuff? I guess I’ll write about what happened the earlier today.

I was running beside Jim and we were headed to the last pool in the group of pools that are being kept as clean as possible so we can harvest water from them that only has to be processed a little bit to make it potable. We were running as fast as possible and hoping we weren't too late. I just couldn’t believe that crazy guy. How can I like somebody so much one minute and then feel like I wished he’d go on a trip far, far away the next?

Angus. Man, he can drive Mom crazy too. Dad usually says that there’s no harm in him, but that wasn’t what he was saying today.

Jim didn’t say a word, didn't even say anything when I ran over to the guard station to tell him, he just waved to someone and took off at a run with me along side. I can’t blame him for getting tired of his tooth ache, my braces used to drive me batcrap and I thought about ripping them out of my mouth but I never actually did it. For one thing, Dad paid an arm and a leg to get my teeth straightened and he’d have taken it out of my hide if I had messed the braces up on purpose. All I can say I’m glad I don’t have braces now. I feel bad for all the kids my age that still have them on and there aren’t any orthodontists any more.

I had heard that Jim had a tooth that was going bad. Then in the middle of dinner last night he bit into something hard and cracked it. There was some very fast cussing after that, at least that's what Dad said. Hardly anyone else was able to understand what he was saying; it came out of his mouth so fast. I knew some of the adults understood because some where trying not to laugh. Mom covered Kitty's ears and then bopped Johnnie and Bubby on the back of their heads when they started to repeat what Jim was saying. Man, when are those two ever going to learn? Mom has eyes in the back of her head and ears like a rabbit.

Jim absolutely refused to let anybody have a look at the tooth and even refused to let Ski try to remove it. Mom said some people are like that and to leave him alone about it. She’s the same way about people touching her. And she has hated going to the doctor or dentist my whole life.

You might wonder what Jim’s tooth and a gator have to do with one another, but I’m getting to that. I still don't believe what Jim and I had both been thinking, but Bekah said Angus had been drinking so anything was possible.

Apparently Brandon had been doing the rounds with the pools, doing some checking and adding chemicals and when he got to the last one he walked over to check the water and got his fright of the day.

We live in Florida. You hear these kinds of stories every day; or we use to. And there are gators in the canals around here ‘cause sometimes they’ll eat someone’s dog or cat and then animal control gets called out while some old lady cries hysterically that a gator ate her Fluffy or Fufu or whatever.

Well, a very large alligator was sitting at the bottom of the in ground pool that Brandon had gone to put chemicals in. The men decided to try to remove it because they didn't want to let the pools go back to the wild just yet. The problem was everyone was busy so they were going to go the next morning and if it was still there get it out and fix the fence that it had knocked down to get into the pool.

One of the men asked Dad to send Bekah to ask Angus if he would go with them tomorrow and help. Mom started it, using Bekah to ask Angus to help with this or that. Anything he might not jump at to do right away. She said it was payback for some of the things he's done. Now everyone is doing it. See, Angus can’t tell Bekah no. She could probably ask him to wear a flowery hat and apron at a tea party and he would do it. OK, so she got me to do it once or twice too, but that was a looooong time ago. Unfortunately Mom has pictures and she uses them for blackmail. Someday Dad is going to have to beat the boys off with a stick or tie a big dog to her wrist to keep ‘em away. I’ll probably have to put some of them on the right road too. Bekah looks a lot like Mom – not as much as Sarah does – but she has Dad’s eyes. And she knows how to flutter those eyes too and she’ll sucker you in before you realize it.

Well Bekah went and found Angus and told him that Dad wanted his help to get the alligator that was in the pool. She said that's when she saw the hooch jug (that’s what we call the stone wear jug he hides the shine in).

She told me she was sorry for being there; Mom says none of the kids are supposed to hang out with Angus when he's drinking. She forgot that it was a no-Angus day because she got asked to find him. She said that's when Angus grabbed the spear he made and headed off at a run bellowing DRAGON! We had found the spear head in that house that had all the animal trophies in it.

So there I was running after that crazy drunk with Jim trying to get to Angus before he did something really, really stupid. Cause if it didn’t kill him, Mom probably would. We wouldn't be doing this if he hadn't been drinking. I found out something that is supposed to be a secret; I heard Mom and Dad talking about it. Angus is terrified of the water.

Or I should say what lives in the water (sea monsters) he calls them. He says if you can plant your feet firmly on the ground you can fight anything. But how can you fight something you can't see? He doesn't go near the water; won’t even go fishing with the kids except from the shore. Guess he wouldn’t have made it with Leif Erikson with that kind of attitude. Don’t they have big bodies of water up there in Pennsylvania where he is from?

Mom and Dad say he's a happy drunk (when he does drink, which actually isn’t all that much cause he isn’t allowed to play with the kids if he is drinking) unless something sets him off, or he gets excited about something. Then the crazy takes over. Daddy nearly laughed himself sick the last time Angus climbed up on the Wall and kept a watch for dragons. Well Angus had been drinking, and Bekah did set him off. I just knew the situation wasn’t going to be good.

As we got to the last house where the pool was we didn't see him, not a good sign as we didn't pass him on the way. We didn't hear anything ether. Also not a good sign, if he had passed out we would hear that Gawd Awful snoring of his.

I’ll admit I was a little scared. No one wants to look at someone that has been chewed on. I get enough of that with the zombies for Pete’s Sake. I didn't want to go any farther; I didn't want to see what I was afraid I would see. I wasn't mad at him anymore; I just didn't want him to be here.

Jim waved me to stay where I was and he walked into the backyard through the fence.

"NO!" I heard Jim yell and I ran after him not caring about anything anymore. Jim was using a pool skimmer to drag Angus to the edge of the pool. The water was red , pure red with bubbles and foam around the edges. He said, "Give me a hand mate."

I helped to pull Angus out of the pool; he was face down. At first I didn't think we could do it, he's as heavy as Jim and me combined, but we dragged him out of the water and into the yard. Jim and I both never took our eyes from the water, expecting a gator to come flying out at any minute.

With Angus still face down Jim started pushing and pumping his back to get water out and then rolled him over and checked for a pulse. Just as Jim was going in to give him mouth to mouth Angus coughed and his second one sprayed water out. I rolled him on his side so he wouldn't choke and started to pound his back. Angus turned his head to me and grumbled, "What you trying to do, break my ribs?! Back off kid."

Angus was still spitting out water and Jim rolled him over again and then started running his hands all over his body trying to see about any injuries he had. Angus swatted his hands away, "Dude I know you miss your lass but you can't be acting like this in front of the boy."

Man. Angus can be so crude. I think he does it just to give me a hard time. I know my face had to be hot enough to fry an egg. Jim just shook his head. Angus was still drunk as all get out. Then one time when Angus swatted Jim’s hand away one or the other hand hit Jim in the mouth and he was holding it in pain, I could see it in his eyes.

Angus asked, "What’s wrong with him?"

I told Angus that Jim’s tooth still hurt and he still won’t let anyone look at it. Without saying anything Angus hit Jim in the mouth with a right cross so hard it sounded like he broke Jim’s jaw.

Jim fell back and was laid out flat. Less than a second later Jim was up and from the look on his face I thought he was going to kill Angus. I was just about ready to holler for Dad cause I sure wouldn’t have been able to pull the two of them apart if they went at it.

Angus was trying to get up but was so drunk he was having trouble. All of a sudden Jim straitened up and got an odd look on his face, he looked like he was swooshing something around in his mouth and then he bent over and spit a bloody tooth onto the ground. He straightened up and with a smile on his face he said, "Thanks mate" and helped Angus to his feet.

Right as I was wondering if they were both way passed crazy Dad and some others showed up. Everybody was looking in the pool and nobody said anything. On the bottom of the pool was a big gator, at least 11 feet long. That would mean it was about 1,000 pounds and it wasn't moving. Then I saw what my dad was pointing at.

Sticking in the gators head was that spear Angus had made. Jim said he must have just jumped in with the spear leading and put him on the spit. Then held on till it died, or till Angus passed out from holding his breath too long.

Jim was the only one smiling, everyone else looked kinda hacked. Angus was laying flat on his back snoring, passed out cold. Dad told me to help them get the gator out of the pool and he told Jim that getting that idiot back home was his responsibility or he could just roll him under a bush; he didn't care which. Dad was pissed.

Dad usually thinks Angus is funny, whether he is sober or drunk. But not this time. Angus better be glad he was too drunk to hear Mom. I think she made the paint peel. She threatened to scalp Angus. When she started talking about testosterone poisoning and turning some roosters into hens all of us men decided it was better if we went somewhere else until Mom cooled off.

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OK, so I get a little hot and bothered every once in a while. I have my my mild days and I have my extra spicey days. Scott says he wouldn’t trade me because I’ve kept his life interesting. He’s no angel either for that matter. We both have our spicey days.

I got Angus back a few days later. I found a baby alligator and put it in his bed. You could hear the ruckus he made all over the compound. He was snorting and gibbering but in the end he was a really good sport about it. I’ll give him that, he can take it just as well as he dishes out.

I guess I’ll hit the sack. I’ve got early watch and while it’s not as cold as it has been, it’s still brisk before the sun comes up. Hopefully our crew will have more luck finding something tomorrow; something that’s worth all the fuel they are using.

Day 178 (Thursday)

Ce – le – brate Good times ... tonight!!

That one is probably showing my age. OK, so the song is a little corny but it’s been a real good day all around. The guys hit the jackpot and could have used several more people and the other bus and trailer. They managed to pack everything in but Cease, David, Samuel, James, Clay, and J.Paul wound up having to ride on top of the vehicles. They had stuffed everything everywhere including in crates strapped to the top of the bus.

First thing this morning they got up and after a last disgusted review of the base they left. The men were pretty depressed and had some seriously low expectations about the trip being worth the fuel they had spent. They headed out into the residential areas immediately surrounding the base hoping to maybe pick up a few odds and ends, but very close to the base was trashed. Their goal was to pick up S. Dale Mabry Hwy and ride it all the way back to our side of town, stopping intermittently along the way if something looked interesting.

Dix took a sharp turn into another residential area startling the other drivers after spotting something he deemed potentially interesting. He pulled up to a house that had a large American flag on a conspicuous flag pole. Immediately below that flag hung the black POW-MIA flag;, both flags were tattered and weather worn. McElroy and Cease gingerly lowered the two flags and folded them to bring them back to Sanctuary to give them an honorable retirement, something we had all taken to doing with flags that had been damaged or dirtied in some way. All around the house were remnants of rotted corpses.

The lawn had been a well-manicured masterpiece but times had returned it to the wild. The dead and dying St. Augustine grass crunched under the feet of those who followed Dix up to and through the picket gate that only stood upright because it clung tenaciously to one hinge.

Up on the porch they found storm shutters across all of the windows. The front door had been ripped off of its hinges but rehung at some point, and was barred from within. There were no signs of life so Dix had David and Clay Jr. break down the door while everyone else prepared for a response that never came.

The inside of the house was immaculate, or would have been except for a layer of dust that covered everything and the mold and mildew beginning to creep around the window sills and up from the base boards. On a desk in a small library loaded with books on military history sat a picture, a brass plaque, and a ship’s log. The picture was of a distinguished looking elderly couple, the plaque read Col. Adolphus Pettry, and the last entry in the log was as follows:

0500 HOURS

IT'S BEEN A WEEK SINCE THEY EVAC’D MACDILL. WITH NOTHING AT THE BASE TO KEEP THE ATTENION OF THE INFECTED FIXED, THEY MOVED THROUGH THE SURROUNDING CIVILIAN NEIGHBORHOODS LIKE A HOT KNIFE THROUGH BUTTER, NOT THAT THERE WERE TOO MANY STRONGHOLDS LEFT BY THEN.

DESPITE IT ALL MARY AND I WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE AS I’VE SPENT THE LAST 30 YEARS PREPARING FOR TEOTWAWKI. MARY CALLED IT MY LITTLE HOBBY, TELLING THE LADIES IN HER BRIDGE CLUB THAT IT KEPT ME BUSY AND OUT FROM UNDER HER FEET. NOW ALL THOSE CACKLING OLD BIDDIES ARE DEAD. MY MARY IS GONE NOW AS WELL. WHAT’S LEFT IS A MONSTER THAT WEARS HER FACE.

MY PERIMETER DIDN’T HOLD. WE LOST A SHUTTER OFF OF THE BACK DOOR AND ONE REACHED IN AND BIT HER. SHE TURNED QUICKLY DESPITE US IMMEDIATELY DUMPING DISINFECTANT AND EVEN BLEACH ON THE WOUND. I HAD HER LOCKED IN THE BROOM CLOSET UNTIL I WORKED UP THE COURAGE TO DO WHAT HAD TO BE DONE.

IT WAS THE CUT ON MY HAND THAT’S DONE ME IN. WHEN WE WERE TRYING TO CLEAN MARY’S WOUND, SOME INFECTION MUST HAVE ENTERED. I WOKE UP FROM A FEVERED NIGHTMARE TO A HAND THAT WAS LIFELESS. ALL NIGHT I’VE FELT THE SICKNESS CREEPING UP MY ARM AND NOW I’M SEEING SPOTS AND HAVING TROUBLE BREATHING. I TRIED TO TELL MYSELF IT WAS JUST BLOOD POISONING AND TOOK SOME ANTIBIOTICS I HAD SET ASIDE FOR EMERGENCIES BUT MARY – OR THE THING THAT MARY BECAME – TELLS ME DIFFERENT. IT NO LONGER TRIES TO BITE ME. IT IGNORES ME COMPLETELY.

I CAN’T PUT IT OFF ANY LONGER. I KNOW WHAT MY DUTY IS. FIRST MARY, THEN MYSELF.

WHOEVER FINDS THIS, TAKE WHAT YOU WANT WITH MY BLESSING. MARY AND I WILL BE FINE WHERE WE’RE GOING. AL JR. DIED BACK IN ’90. LORELEI STORMED OFF WITH THE SONSABITCH SHE MARRIED BACK FIVE YEARS AGO AND WE HAVEN’T HEARD FROM HER OR THE GRANDKIDS SINCE. BAD SEEDS.

ONLY REGRET I HAVE IS I NEVER QUITE GOT AROUND TO TAKING MARY ON THAT SECOND HONEYMOON I ALWAYS PROMISED HER. NOW IT’S A DAMN SIGHT TOO LATE AND THEN SOME.

TIMES A WASTING. GOOD LUCK AND GOD SPEED.

Dix brought the Colonel’s log books back and we’ve started a Remembrance Room in one of the rooms at the library. We aren’t being morbid but it’s a true fact that you’ll never figure out where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

The kitchen and one of the three bedrooms of the house were filled with canned goods, bottled water, and survival equipment including a stash of antibiotics and a surgical kit. One of the bedrooms was filled with enough guns and ammo to make even Dix grin.

Our group emptied the house of anything useful, including the full propane tank attached to the back of the house, and then did a quick canvas of the neighborhood but they didn’t find much else of immediate use.

From there they headed along a side road on the way to the intersection of the Crosstown Expressway and S. Dale Mabry. It was a warehouse surrounded by NRSC as well as civilian vehicles. Non-animate corpses littered the area. Some of the vehicles and corpses were also burned.

It was apparent that the place had acted as a fallback position which had subsequently been overrun, possibly in the same time frame as Col. Pettry’s home. The warehouse was vacant except for a few shamblers who hadn’t managed to escape via the two doors that were open and swinging lazily in the breeze.

Empty of life and pseudo-life that is. The small warehouse was also littered with tubs, and crates of non-perishable food, medical equipment, and all sorts of other stuff including several generators that look like they’d never even had time to set up.

I overheard David telling Rose and Melody … and Waleski once he heard what was being said and got nosy … that one corner of the warehouse had been set up like a hospital ward. There were cots and equipment and even what appeared to be a surgery. There was some old, dried blood on the surgery curtains and some of the beds had obviously been in use at one point, though the occupants were long gone save for one whose remains were so far gone it would have taken a ME to determine whether it was male or female. But seeing as how it still moved a bit, Dix ended its existence once and for all with a hammer blow.

The guys brought all of that stuff back whether it was sterile or not (except for the bloody stuff which thankfully didn’t find its way home) and it is sitting in boxes over near the hospital. The girls and Waleski will be busy tomorrow trying to sort it all out. After reading Col. Pettry’s log I hope Ski has enough sense for all of them to be wearing gloves, but supposedly NRS doesn’t last long outside of a host body. I hope that remains true, but I still like the idea of them taking biohazard precautions. I didn’t think to ask at the time if our men did, but I know we all normally wear gloves when we are out gathering. Hopefully they used the same commonsense practices we’ve always tried to use.

Everyone was at first surprised at the lack of ammo and weapons within the warehouse but on closer inspection there were a few weapons lying around under debris both inside and outside the building. The weapons found outside the warehouse are useless and weren’t even worth bringing in for parts. The state the weapons were in confirmed that the battle, whatever its nature, had happened months ago. The weather and other elements had thoroughly ruined them. The weapons inside the warehouse were a mixture of salvageable-as-a-whole and salvageable-for-parts, but there still weren’t as many as the number of vehicles and stuff inside would suggest there should have been.

Dix hypothesized that they shot their load and then were overrun. The lower number of weapons than expected was probably because those left standing retreated to another location. The fact that the warehouse remained relatively intact likely meant the retreat had been no more successful than the perimeter at the warehouse had been.

The men spent the rest of the morning trying to load everything into the vehicles they arrived in. None of the vehicles surrounding the warehouse were recoverable for immediate use. They had to make do with what they had brought with them.

After leaving the warehouse they headed further north on Dale Mabry Hwy. A lot of the buildings and businesses immediately adjacent to either side of the road received some damage but not all of them. Some had obviously been looted at some point. Between Euclid Ave and Bay to Bay Blvd every building had a large, spray-painted X on the door. The X was over damage so likely was done after the major rioting that occurred. The large number of zombies along this area prevented a good survey but it appeared that every business or building with an X had most of its inventory removed.

They continued traveling on Dale Mabry, using parking lots and grassy right of ways when the highway was too congested for the larger vehicles to pass. After Kennedy Blvd Scott said things started getting interesting again. The X’s had disappeared and the number of zombies fell. They stopped a few times but only picked up some non essential items; enough to be worth the stop but not enough for them to stop any more often than they already were. After passing under the I275 overpass things got messy again. Home Depot, Target, Kmart, all of the strip centers on both sides of the highway appeared thoroughly devastated. The destruction, we assume, is a result of the widespread rioting that occurred after quarantine was announced but we don't know for sure.

One building did stand out. Home Depot looked like people had tried to use it as a defensive position or tried to hold it for their own use or something like that. Now abandoned cars ringed the front of the building including a burned out hummer that had a machine gun mounted. J. Paul said that it looked to him like it was an M2 mounted and since Dix and McElroy didn’t seem to say it wasn’t I’ll assume he is correct.

All that weapon talk still sounds like Greek to me. I know I should take more of an interest but in all honesty … great, big yawn. I’ll leave it to the guys. I don’t need a number or nickname on a weapon to know that guns can make deadly holes, big and small. If a gun is so powerful it will put me on my butt when I try to shoot it, it is too much for me to handle. I’ve been working my way up and even managed to practice shoot a shotgun with 00 Buck without killing myself or anyone else in the process, but it’s not a weapon that I would want to handle on a regular basis. Although, I will admit, it does make a pretty mess out of zombies.

Bypassing that major shopping district they next came to the Raymond James stadium area as well as HCC. You can tell both of these places were used as staging areas for the NRSC. What an ungodly mess. According to Scott every building on the HCC campus looks like it has sustained extensive fire damage. Fallen tents and destroyed vehicles and trucks in both military green and NRSC black were everywhere. As far as the stadium itself, it had been attacked with some major artillery or at least several major explosions of some type with what remained looking eerily similar to the ancient Coliseum in Rome.

Our men had to completely detour around the area using Columbus Ave and Martin Luther King Ave and then Himes Ave bringing them uncomfortably close to the large campus of St. Joseph’s Hospital and its associated women’s hospital, children’s hospital and sundry other medical offices. The whole area looked like it had suffered a blitzkrieg and Dix was in no mood to stop and take unnecessary chances to paw through the debris. We aren’t that desperate.

Al Lopez Park also received extensive damage with large oaks uprooted and great chunks missing from the parking lots. But James swears that as they passed Jesuit Highschool he saw some survivors peeking out of windows. Why survivors would choose to live in such squalor in the middle of that much devastation is beyond me. He won’t give it up though, he thinks that maybe it was kids his age taking refuge in a place they thought would be safe and now they are stuck there. I’m not sure what to think but that’s as good an explanation as any if they were indeed people living there.

Between Hillsborough Ave and Idlewild Ave road conditions improved and destruction minimized. But the X’s returned. Then it was back to destruction when they passed the UCH annex between Sligh and Hamilton avenues. Not coincidentally the number of zombies also rose requiring Juicer to get a little messy. The X’s on the buildings continued all the way up to Busch Blvd and then they just stopped. Not another X was spotted between Busch Blvd and Van Dyke Rd. We can take that to mean one of two things. Either whomever is scavenging through the buildings hasn’t claimed any territory beyond the intersection of Dale Mabry Hwy and Busch Blvd or they just haven’t gone any further north yet and will eventually make it over to our area of town.

Dix has proposed that we immediately begin daily Runs along Dale Mabry Hwy starting on “our” end and see whether we eventually meet up with the other group. That will take a lot of people out of our normal chore schedule and will delay some of the major building projects that we had wanted to accomplish like the front and rear gate houses. I’m not thrilled with the prospect, but what the heck am I supposed to say? It’s true; we need to get this done as soon as possible.

We’ve already made a start by going through all the businesses along Dale Mabry between Van Dyke and Bearss Ave. We can also cross off that list a lot of the big stores like SAMs, Super Walmart, Super Target, and Home Depot. Of those places only Home Depot had anything worth salvaging and not much at that which we did way back when. Although, now that I think about it, having some of that empty commercial shelving might make inventorying and storage of all the stuff we currently store in the steel containers more efficient. We could number the shelving and then notate on our inventory sheets where it is supposed to be making supplies much easier to find than the system we currently have.

Scott told me weeks ago that Michaels Craft Store didn’t look too bad. It’s one of the places that I’ve been trying desperately to get on our Run list. Men just don’t see the value of a craft store I guess. Scott is sympathetic but not enough to push the issue on my behalf. There is also a children’s consignment shop in that strip center and also a shoe store. It’s not too far from Sanctuary really and would make a perfect location for a women’s outing. The Alehouse is next door to Michael’s and there is a Pizza Hut and a couple of sandwich shops and a health food and vitamin store there as well. There is even a pool supply store on the Bearss Ave side of the strip. It would be very convenient and we could hit all the places in a single run and hopefully come back with enough stuff to keep all the kids in clothes and shoes for a while.

I’m not going to let them put us off much longer. There’s really no excuse. Hopefully I can even convince Betty and Reba to come, maybe Cindy and Tasha as well although all four of those ladies hate leaving the safety of Sanctuary's compound. We’ll leave the kids with Angus and hopefully they won’t kill him before we get back. If Angus gets up to tricks the men should be able to sort things out. He can’t get into that much trouble … at least I hope not. On the other hand maybe I'll just tie Johnnie, Bubby, and Angus to a tree ... it might be safer. I'll let Anne decide about little Ray. He's another one that can get up to tricks. He was very interested in how Kitty got away with painting Angus blue and when he turned his innocent eyes on his dad and smile I thought Lee looked like he was ready to run and hide behind Anne.

Back to business; overall this haul is really good though we are a bit redundant on some things like cots and linens and cookware. Now that Steve’s radio broadcasts are letting more survivor groups interact peaceably with him as a mediator anything we have too many multiples of will go good as a trade item; if not now, eventually.

Matlock and Scott and Dante’ were talking about how we should make a list of trade items to give to Steve, as well as a list of wanted items we’re looking for. If he can hook us up with a deal he can have a cut of the profits. Assuming he is up for a business like that. It would mean putting himself on the line and if he has other people to care for that might not appeal to him … unless the “profit” was high enough. I know he likes pizza and sardines. Pizza I know we can do; sardines we have some of and I wouldn’t mind trading them away. I never acquired the taste for sardines though Scott would eat them on occasion. And maybe Shorty would be interested in some fresh pasta or fresh Cuban bread. I’ll have to ask.

The question is going to be how we will work out the situations where items produced or gathered by group effort get used to trade for items of strictly personal use, such as cigarettes. I guess the same way we would for something like feminine hygiene products, baby bottles, or similar – on a case by case basis. We could definitely use more feminine hygiene products. Now that all the women … those not pregnant anyway … have adjusted to a lower calorie diet and the stress we are always under estrogen cycles have definitely returned to normal. Betty was telling us some ways that women in third world countries dealt with their cycles and I’m going to write up some of that in my journal one of these days. My girls aren’t thrilled about the changes that will be coming in the future, but I don’t see as any of us have much choice. It’s not like you can go to the drugstore and pick up a monthly supply any longer.

After the men came back in and our gates were shut, and the normal chaos of hugs and kisses for the returnees had settled down, Matlock and Dix called a short meeting. Basically the bottom line is that we really can’t expect to keep running across large stocks of supplies. We need to get out there and do this as often possible and get some of our list of wants knocked down before we come in conflict with any other survivor groups doing the same, such as the “X Group” as we’ve started to call them. And possibly before what remains of the central government starts exploiting all possible resources in the quarantine zones. It was strange that that was brought up during the meeting because some news that Steve reported on his broadcast gave us some difficult things to think on. I’ll post the transcript later but it does bother me that we could be doing all of this work and then be swamped by forces coming in and taking our supplies because they have decided to “redistribute” them to make things more equitable. That’d set my biscuits to burning.

But, bottom line, this is even more reason why we women should make a run to do what we want to do. The kids need lots of items, even the big kids. And we have babies coming which means cribs and baby stuff if we can find it in a sanitary condition. Kitty isn’t going to be out of cloth diapers before April when Rhonda’s baby is due so we either need to find a substitute or we need to find more cloth diapers. The supply I have now barely covers her needs, much less trying to cover two (or more) babies’ bottoms with what I have.

And it’s going to be breast milk for the new babies as much as possible. I seriously doubt we’re going to just run across a supply of baby formula out of the blue; I feel the same way about disposable diapers, they aren’t just going to appear out of thin air. I have the recipe for homemade formula that I currently use but we are just about out of liquid vitamin drops. Goats’ milk might be OK like it was for Kitty, but it would still be better if the mother’s could nurse the babies rather than being dependent on anything else that we could run short of.

Argh! There is so much to think about. Don’t even get me started on the state of the maternity clothes we have. Poor Rhonda has taken to wearing men’s shirts but that won’t work much longer; it only works now because she isn’t all that big even though she is pretty far long. Her baby might be small or she may just carry that way … or it might just be a girl baby if you believe in old wives’ tales. Babies in front and low are boys; babies up high and all around are girls. Since I carried all of mine all out front because I was so short and they were so big, I’m not inclined to put all my faith in that sort of stuff.

Speaking of all things baby, Waleski has given Rhonda, Patricia, and Becky a clean bill of health. All three are still on light duty, with Patricia further restricted to being off her feet as much as possible, but as far as he can tell all of the pregnancies are proceeding as they should. Using some of the equipment we found over near UCH he found a strong heart beat for each baby.

Rose said Patricia actually sobbed in relief after hearing her baby for the very first time. That news made the hassle of carrying that equipment down three flights of stairs more than worth the aggravation and sweat.

Rhonda will have the first baby; she is close to seven months along which makes her due sometime in April. Then comes Patricia at around 21 weeks; if she goes full term her baby will be born the beginning of June which is a nice hot month to be pregnant in. That’s when Rose was born and I was miserable even with the AC at full blast. Then will come Becky but she is only about 7 weeks along which likely gives her a September delivery date.

At least we have time to prepare for the new babies. Poor Waleski would go into cardiac arrest if we had any due sooner than that. I think if he can get through Rhonda, and Patricia doesn’t have any more complications, then his confidence level will go up. But maybe it’s good that he is so intent on being at the top of his game. I pray every night for all of the women; no matter what, pregnancy and childbirth can be a dangerous proposition and complications happen. Sometimes things just go wrong and you can’t stop it. He sure does have pregnancy on the brain recently. He is even talking about going to try and find "King Al's" brides that were pregnant and make sure they and the kids are OK.

I don't know if that is an excuse to get out of Sanctuary for a while or not. He's been cooped up inside for a bit and the pressure might be getting to him. Or maybe he really is concerned that pregnant women have some prenatal care. Ski can be a total donkey's behind sometimes but he has a heart of gold ... assuming you can find it.

I expect Rilla and Melody to be next to fall pregnant and maybe sooner rather than later with no real protection except for natural methods and their commitment ceremonies fast approaching. I would have thought Tina and Anne but Anne took me aside and told me that Lee was “snipped” so she wouldn’t be having any more. There was an unspoken “thank goodness” attached to that bit of information that made me laugh. Tina I don’t know about. She’s different since the attack. Before she seemed a little disorganized about her parenting and the discipline, not any more. She’s coming down like a load of bricks on Laura and has taken to doing the same to Maddie. Brandon appears thankful to have someone taking his step-sister in hand but sometimes too much rein is just as bad as not enough. All I know is Dante’ is a happy camper so whatever is going on in their personal life appears to agree with him.

And I’m kinda worried about all the other little birds and bees we have zooming around now that spring is approaching. For sure Brandon and Josephine are a little “close” for my comfort level. James was a little disgusted the other night because while he was making his rounds he caught them making out. He said it’s getting to where he needs to wear a bell or something so that he won’t keep running into people in embarrassing situations.

When I asked him how often he had this happen he adamantly said, “Too often.” When I asked who all it was he said he was no gossip and wouldn’t tell me, while his face got as hot as a fire cracker. This leads me to believe that a little more must be going on than I’m aware of. I’m thinking that David and Rose may be one couple which doesn’t thrill me but so long as they follow the rules I can live with it; not that I have a lot of choice of course but a mother does like to pretend. The way James makes it sound however there are couples under every bush doing the wild thang. Even if you take away the fact that some of it is probably exaggeration born of embarrassment that still leaves a lot of room for imagination.

Brrr. Off that subject, it gives me the willies, especially now, raising so many daughters.

So speaking of productivity, which will be the literal result if people aren’t careful, my day was pretty fruitful as well. I finally finished up the last of the thinning that I had to do and repotted what I could and passed them off to all the families so they could have their share of "extras." I also got a sixth barrel composter going so that eventually I should have access to a completed barrel of compost almost every day. The field where we will plant our corn has been cleared and in a couple of days I’ll prep the field so that I can plant come the beginning of February which is only a week away believe it or not.

I love, love, love the little Kabota tractor that Lee managed to rehab. It does three times the work the cart was able to do with less than half the effort. Sure it takes fuel, but the methane fuel, once it finishes perking or doing whatever it is supposed to do, will be all I should need to run it.

It was fairly quiet with most of the men away for two days. I expect it to remain quiet for a few days more. Now that the MacDill Run is out of the way Angus has decided to spend a few days up at the fire house making it “livable.” That means that he’s putting in a still no doubt to go along with the smokehouse he has already started. He has his “man cave” that he created out of one of the Wall’s steel storage containers but when things get too hot … both literally and figuratively … he’ll probably retreat more often to the firehouse. Scott told Angus that he’d take the kids up there to help him paint once he got all of the supplies in and was ready.

I’m reviewing the installments that Angus gave me to finish up his story of the Pirate Raider chase. You can tell he was rushing through this last bit and had lost interest in writing it down. No wonder Rose couldn’t read it. I’ve had to piece things together and then ask Saen and Glenn to help straighten out some of the other stuff that I didn’t understand. I think I have enough pieced out for a short installment so I’ll put that next and then close with the bit I transcribed of Steve’s show.

It’s getting late but I’m up waiting for Scott to come off of guard duty and don’t have much better to do. Besides, Saen made a to die for Thai Red Curry and boy howdy is my stomach telling me that it’s been a while since I've eaten something that spicey. Lordy it was delicious but those little peppers had my eyes watering after the first bite.

When last we left off Angus had just finished up putting one of the Raider Pirates out of his misery. I know he said it like it was a stupid thing to do but it was actually a very Angus thing to do. Kick-Ass with a side order of compassion.

As for the “Unitarian kilts” he mentioned I think he must have been talking about utilitarian kilts or utility kilts. They are ... um, were ... a big thing at the Renaissance Faires that I’ve been to and some of the Scotch-Irish/Back Country festivals as well. There is even a name brand in the US called “Utilikilts.” Think of them as a kiltish version of khaki cargo work pants. I’ve even seen them done up in various camo material; desert camo seems to be the most popular. Angus came back with several of them and wants me to see if I can replicate the design. He wants to add a few more pockets to hold all his gadgets and gizmos.

Angus being Angus he gets away with wearing the kilts with no comments though I told him he better be wearing something underneath while the kids are around. He gave me a bit of pout and said what did I think he was, some kind of “ijit?” I think I may have inadvertently hurt his feelings but the nice thing about Angus is he doesn’t carry a grudge. Well, he does actually, but not a nasty kind of grudge except against the bad guys. I’m sure I’ll have some kind of prank pulled on me at some point down the road in retaliation, but it’ll be harmless enough payback.

I think I’ve finally got it figured out where he was at that point in his narrative. I’m pretty sure he was in Oldsmar. He hadn’t talked about going over any big bodies of water or long bridges so that is about what fits with the rest of his story.

To say that he was disgusted with travelling by bike would have been an understatement. He was also badly in need of a bath and clean clothes. When you can smell yourself and become ill you know it’s bad. Lucky for him the place with the Utilikits for sale had a cistern that fed a xerascape garden. I don’t think Angus knew what he was looking at but apparently they stopped back that way when Angus was bringing back Saen and Glenn to Sanctuary and Saen said there was a big plaque there describing the garden.

Angus was still on the hunt for the home nest of the Pirate Raiders and had gotten quite a bit of information from the ones he … um … interrogated. He picked up a mo-ped from a local dealership and then proceeded on 580 which I know as W Hillsborough Avenue. The road 580 crosses the most northern part of Tampa Bay where the canal from Tarpon Lake dumps into the Bay.

He stayed on 580 and it’s a good thing he was on a mo-ped. Traffic over in Pinellas is/was rotten even at the best of times, now all the main North-South and East-West arteries are lined with stalled vehicles of every shape and size. Certainly all of the evacuation routes became death traps. He was going just fast enough to avoid most of the curious zombies that lined the roadways and the few that got too curious he used his shelaleigh on to avoid drawing any more unwanted attention … it saved him from have to slow down and waste ammo as well. He’d just drive by and “Whack!” with a good head shot. The back splatter was more than a little messy to get out of his clothes but by now it wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before. Scott, David and James have had their fair share of the gooey stuff too.

The intersection of 580 and US19 was a bloody – well, insert your wildest expletive here. Angus had a few choice words for people who acted like sheep following each other to the wolf’s den. The big mall there – Countryside – was nothing short of a death trap. No wonder we haven’t heard too much from Pinellas County except for Tarpon Springs and Ft. DeSoto; the zombie population over there is very high in the interior. Glenn was saying that people had had no alternative but to escape to some of the outlying islands regardless of how hard the life there has turned out to be as far as water and provisions go. It was either that and put a significant stretch of water between the zombies and themselves or try and push through the zombies to reach Hillsborough or Pasco Counties further north. Even had you been able to use a boat to cross the Bay you had to deal with uncertain weather and the ever present pirate brigades.

The major bridges like the Courtney Campbell, Howard Franklin, and the Gandy Bridge were all blown. The Bayside Bridge was damaged by a barge run amok. It left the survivors in Pinellas with little choice on their escape routes.

Angus stayed on 580 until he met water at Dunedin. Angus isn’t fond of open water. He’s no chicken but he’s more comfortable with a landlocked position. It was getting late and his food was running low at that point. He set himself up in a fairly ritzy room in the Sheraton Sand Key Resort and raided the room service refrigerator and drink dispenser for his dinner. He shoved what he didn’t eat in his backpack in case he had to make a quick exit during the night.

The moon was full and the sand was white making things appear even brighter. The fact that he was on an upper floor helped as well. This gave him a bird’s eye view of one of the oddities that we’ve heard about but had never seen up to that point since we don’t live on the coast.

Angus said he thought Loki was playing a prank on him at first until he realized it was no joke. As he was sitting on the balcony eating his “dinner” and planning his next move he saw a small horde wander into his line of sight. There was nowhere near as many as with the Big Horde but there were enough to make him grab the Mauser and hold on tight. As the horde crossed the highway and wandered through the parking lot of the local hotels it seemed to pick up many of the zombies that had been wandering aimlessly along that stretch of the city.

He said the appearance of a school of fish description that I’ve used in the past was very appropriate. Or maybe the idea of lemmings following each other off of a cliff is even better. At least fish seem to do their best to avoid the predators of the deep.

The horde made their way onto the beach and the ones in the front never wavered from their westerly path; like they were after the setting sun or following the tide as it flowed out. One after the other the zombies all walked into the surf, disappearing under the waves. In the shallows just off shore the sharks were so numerous that even the most jaded horror movie viewer would have shivered. The brine was soon dark with the old blood and decaying flesh of the zombies as they were ripped apart in the sharks’ feeding frenzy.

What had to be even more frightening was that this display of the zombies walking into the surf had to have happened often enough for the sharks to learn to be at a certain point at a certain time of day. How’s that for truly freaky?

Angus is no light weight in the courage department but the sight he'd just witnessed kept him awake for much of the night and he slept later than he had intended.

It’s actually a good thing he did because otherwise he might have walked into a minor Pirate excursion at the Dunedin Yacht Club. He stayed back and watched them weigh anchor and then head south down the coast which matched what Angus had been told by his captives.

The zombie population was noticeably depleted after previous night’s spectacle and he was left unmolested by any walking dead. Angus re-fueled the mo-ped with some gas he found in the hotel’s maintenance shed, strapped the fuel can to the back of the bike and proceeded south on Alt US 19 through Clearwater, Largo, and then into Seminole. After Seminole his luck ran out. He got a little turned around and it was nearly night before he was able to figure out his location and find a safe haven to hole up in.

Despite everything he managed to wind up at Eckerd College which put him close to where he was heading.

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I think it will just take me another day or two to finish up with Angus’ narrative. Man, trying to keep up with the doings of all of our community members can be exhausting. Scott asks me why I do it. I guess I'm just a busy body and find it all fascinating and a distraction for daily trials and tribulations. And now to find out there are other people out there just like us – struggling to survive. And on top of that Steve is giving us ears to an even wider stage that NRS is playing out on.

When things went bad, they went very bad. Our focus narrowed tightly to the details of the day in and day out stuff that kept us alive. That hasn’t changed but now that Sanctuary is a true community and we have people other than ourselves that we can count on to do some of the work, we have the time to widen our view a bit. We want to do some trading with other groups, and we want it to be a better experience than what we had with Tarpon Springs. I still wonder what happened to them, how they’ve been fairing since the bulk of the pirates have been destroyed.

And now Steve opens the horizons up even broader by sharing what his ears to the world are hearing.

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Hello again America. I’ve some news for all of you—just heard on the shortwave that the current President of the United States is dead. There was a small plane accident and apparently the plane went down in the Rockies. Big-ass mountains boys and girls, I’ve hunted them many times. The body was recovered late yesterday. I don’t know how many of his cabinet died as well, but the new president is someone I’ve never fucking heard of—I guess that can happen when you have a government as large as ours was getting. The provisional government, I think that’s what they are calling it right now, is talking about holding elections. The problem; only those people in the reclamation zones or whatever get to vote. So for those of us stuck here on the shit side of the lines, that means we have no representation in the policies that our wonderful all-knowing government will enact.

Now I don’t want to get into a political discussion here since it would only be me talking, but to me that fucking smacks of tyranny. I think that a United State of Florida sounds good right now, but the question is simple; does that mean that we are talking seccession, or is it something totally different now that we are under what amounts to martial law? In the world we live, when do we simply say ‘I’ve had enough’, and give the rest of the territory the big finger and strike out on our own? We are essentially on our own at the moment, and by being so, what are we accomplishing other than existing? Should we be accomplishing more?

For all you in the sound of my sorry voice, which at one in the morning is pretty freaking far with skies this clear, I just wanted to put out those things to ponder. Shall I change the name of this show from Steve’s Midnight Music and Talk to the Voice of Free Florida? As usual, the call in lines are open on channel 30 on your CB dial and 5330.5 on the ham. All others can call the operator and put in their requests.

On to other stories now.

There’s a group who are calling themselves the Tampa Street Survivors who are looking for an injection system for their GMC Suburban. It’s a 1992 four wheel drive V-8. If there are any survivors out there who might have this system part, they’ve got trade in herbal medicines, ammo and some goats. They will be monitoring CB channel 12 at the top of every hour. They seemed like nice people when I met with them to exchange some sardines for the herbals a couple days ago, but if there’s a Spanish speaker in your group, it might go smoother for you.

Congratulations to Vickie and Deb, they finally made it back home from Georgia, where they say that the undead while not as numerous as they seem to be here, are just as crazy as the rednecks they are spawned from. They had gone up there for a load of--get this people--fucking tobacco. They have dried and cured tobacco ready for trade. They will trade by the pound or ounce and accept nearly anything in barter. They are looking for citrus contracts—contracts people, we have interstate trade open it seems and used veggie oil. As far as I know, they are the only ones who have ventured that far in the last several months. Once again, I have met with these ladies, and they drive hard bargains. More sardines were traded for the devil weed—if you had the habit before and are looking to take it up again, here’s your chance. They monitor CB channel 19, the trucker channel.

Speaking of truckers. The guy driving the dump truck needs to swing by the docks—that’s all I got, folks, a short message.

Be damn careful whenever you meet anyone of the people mentioned on this show, I try to screen out the shady sounding ones and give a thumbs up to those who I’ve personally met, but I can’t vouch for all of them nor can I even give you more than my nearly worthless impression of what I think from one meeting.

Remember folks: layers of security whenever you go out into the world today—there are no do overs.

That’s what I’ve got in the news for our little corner of Florida. You know its funny, I always told Shorty that I never wanted to live in Florida, and here I am, speaking to you from the damn top of the radio station in Florida.

So on that note, since this is a radio station, here’s a request from a late night listener—Play me Joe, she says. Joe Bonamassa. My inner child smiles at this one since Joe is one of my all time favorite guitarists. This is from his album “Blues Deluxe” the rockin’ tune “Burn in Hell”—I’ve seen Joe perform this live and it was just as good live, hell, better than, the studio version. I remember seeing him, one of the many times I saw him, in Dayton, Ohio, it rained hard enough to stop the show and there were about a hundred hard-core Joe fans who waited out the rain. He came out on stage and said ‘thank you for sticking it out, since we have only a half hour left until the stage closes, I’m going to give you a full half hour of music.” He started out by playing ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid Today” and played for the next half hour without stopping.

Those are the things that make you love a guy.

Oh, and I think someone owes me a pizza.

Here’s Joe Bonamassa.
------------------------

We’ll I hear Scott finally dragging in. Must have been a rough night on the Wall. I heard a few sporadic shots and the dogs barking which they normally don’t do at night. No alarm bells rang and no one ran by knocking on doors so it must have been a zombie incident that has since been taken care of.

The number of zombies on this end of town is increasing again. I hate when that happens. I’ll ask Scott what was up but I’m done writing for the night. If it was interesting I’ll include it in my next entry.

Day 182 (Monday) – January 28

These last few days have been so hectic. I mean surreally hectic. We had a major accident. Oh, not the kind with broken bones or those kinds of injuries, but it’s been an accident with unwelcome results nonetheless.

Friday was a big time work day for everyone. Despite Dix wanting to start on his idea of daily gathering runs down Dale Mabry Hwy we needed to clean up things and get organized first. Part of the reorganizing was from the mess caused by some monkeys the preceding evening. That’s what set the dogs barking and the shots being fired. Turns out those blasted monkeys were more of a disaster than we at first understood.

Dante’ had been on rounds with the dogs. He was checking the barn we built out in the big animal enclosure when he looked up with his flashlight and scared the monkeys as much as the monkeys had scared him. Apparently most primates have the same type of sleep cycle; awake during daylight and asleep when the sun goes down just like homo sapiens. They likely climbed in over the Wall to hide away from whatever predators they now have. “Free” food may have also been an incentive; they had gotten into a couple of the food bins.

They took off into the night and we have no sense that they’ve been back. Once was enough however.

What I wasn’t aware of, until I did some reading trying to figure out what the illness was that the men and boys all seemed to be suffering from, is that primates tend to carry the same types of disease. Waleski was one of the ones down for the count, and he’s still quite weak, so my “diagnosis” is only based on some very rudimentary assumptions.

I know I’m rambling but I’m so tired. And I’m on hospital watch so I have to do something to keep my brain in wake-mode. I guess maybe I should just explain things from the beginning.

It took more time to clean up the monkey mess than it did to make it. Austin said that it wasn’t likely that the monkeys could give anything to the cows so we didn’t do anything extraordinary except to make sure that the monkey feces was disposed of in the compost pile. Everyone used gloves naturally.

Then the main part of our workforce (contained most of the men and boys) began laying the foundations of the front and rear gates houses. A smaller portion of the work crew (containing mostly women and girls) began cleaning up and putting away all of the stuff that had been brought in by the gathering crew from Wednesday and Thursday. Waleski, Melody, and Rose worked on putting away the medical supplies. I had Kitty in a sling on my back because she had been too fussy to leave with anyone else and then went to work on the garden.

By midnight that night I had a nightmare on my hands. Scott and David had very bad diarrhea and were puking as well. James was on guard duty but by 2 AM he was added to the list of ill. And that list was growing. Rose ran back from the hospital to let me know that nearly every man and boy in Sanctuary was suffering from severe digestive tract disruption.

My first thought was food poisoning but at that point we didn’t have any women down with it and since we ate communally I changed my mind quickly. Then I suspected maybe something had gone wrong with the still, but when I went to ask Angus … who was just as ill as every other male in camp … he said he kept the still locked up to help the boys with temptation so to speak. And knowing some of the girls we’ve got if it had been the still it wouldn’t have just been the men and boys sick. Heck, even I’ve been using the makings from the still to make some stuff and herbals and so far no ill effects.

Waleski was like a one legged man in a butt kicking contest. Grump-aholic he may be, but he is a damn fine medic that is way beyond dedicated. By mid morning the next day – that would have been Saturday – Waleski, Rilla, and some of the youngest of our crew had started having symptoms. I thought maybe it was a stomach virus but we hadn’t come in contact with any live person save Steve.

I called Steve on the CB and asked him if any of his brood were down and he gave me a negative which crossed virus off my list.

When I reviewed what had happened the last couple of days outside of the gathering run the only thing that stood out was the brief monkey invasion. I started blocking out where people were that morning. I almost crossed the monkeys off as a reason for whatever was happening. Samuel, Sarah, Bekah, and the other tweens and some of the kids helped to clean up the monkey mess. They were all wearing gloves. But only Samuel and the other boys from that detail were sick.

Johnnie and Bubby weren’t sick. Neither was Ray. Neither was Kitty nor I. But all three boys had been helping me most of the day in the garden, despite their protests that it was “women’s work.” I had kept them close and busy to keep them out from underfoot and out of trouble.

I went out to the Wall where they had all been working trying to see if I could figure out what on earth they could have been contaminated by. I was almost ready to come in and had bent down to pick up some gloves when I stopped, realizing how nasty they were. And they were not that far from the drinking water barrel.

Then it hit me. And I’ll admit I’m making a lot of assumptions here but I haven’t found anything else that fits.

The kids clean up the monkey mess. They are wearing gloves. That group of kids then split; all of the girls heading back into the compound to help stock and organize, all of the boys heading out to help the men on the Wall. The girls leave their gloves in the barn because they are “gross” but the boys leave theirs on because they are going to be working digging and dredging anyway.

All it would take was a small cross contamination according to what I’ve read. We’ve got dysentery running amok; also known as shigella. Seems that monkeys can carry it the same as humans. Those that cleaned up in the barn and left their gloves on contaminated the drinking water barrel somehow. Yuck.

The cases of people who didn’t work on the Wall were from cross contamination in homes where caregivers were exposed. Shigella is extremely contagious. It only takes as small a dose as 10 cells to cause someone to get sick.

Those of us who weren’t showing symptoms spent the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday sanitizing everything we could. I’ve kept a metal barrel of water boiling so that as soon as sheets or clothing has to be changed, we can just dumped them in a trough and pour boiling water on them and allow them to soak with strong detergent.

The worst was cleaning the outhouses. They had to be emptied but I couldn’t just dump them into the humanure compost or even just dig a hole and dump it in. That could have contaminated our ground water sources. I used Juicer, after an anxious Angus gave me specific instructions on how to use the loader. Wearing the best protective bio-gear that I could rig up I emptied the outhouse reservoirs into a large plastic barrel.

The plastic barrel was put in Juicer’s loader and after I had filled it up – which took a disgustingly short time – I hauled it down to the body dump area.

Now I knew what Angus was trying to tell me and why he was so agitated. It’s been months since I’ve been down that way. The body dump, where we dispose of the sanitized zombies, is … it’s … it’s horrific. Even that doesn’t begin to truly describe its macabre landscape.

I was warned to never exit Juicer’s cab, carrion eaters frequent the area. Angus said they normally run from the big vehicle but they’ve been getting bold and last time he was up that way he had a hyena pack attacking the flotsam before it had totally exited the compactor in the back. I didn’t see any hyenas but the turkey vultures gave me the heebie-jeebies, reminding me way too much of Hitchcock’s classic The Birds.

Once I was back in the compound Rose and Melody had started another barrel that people could dump feces and vomit into. The other women were setting up a large canopy to move all of our sick people into. A single location would make it easier to clean up and keep things sanitary under the circumstances. It would also mean that the houses of the sick would only have to be cleaned and sanitized once.

It’s been work, work, work, work, work ever since. Doing roughly the same amount of work with less than half the people that have to work twice as hard to get the same amount of work done. We had a few others fall ill; Maddie and Laura both went down because they blew off Tina’s orders about how they needed to do the cleaning. They are paying for it now. Josephine also went down because I guess she and Brandon were swapping spit; gross but accurate. Waleski hit the deck Saturday night and Rill and Ty did as well.

I cannot tell you how much hand sanitizer we’ve gone through. We had a huge supply that we’ve been gathering from offices and similar places and at this rate we will have used up roughly 75% of our stockpile before this is all over.

We’ve been treating the children aggressively with ampicillin; the adults we are trying to let their bodies natural defenses kick in. The worst problem is keeping everyone hydrated. The children we wound up having to put IVs into. Luckily that was something that Melody knew how to do and Rose got plenty of practice at it.

Everyone is on the mend, but several are still very weak. I’ve hung those hand sanitizer gizmos all over Sanctuary, especially in the barn, storehouses, and guard stations. We are going to have to be more careful.

I radioed Steve and he put the word out about the monkeys and other wild primates. I suspect that cleaning supplies are going to be a premium trade item for quite some time. I really want to learn to make homemade soap soon. We can’t be without cleaning products; sanitation is just too important.

Now for even more news; for good or ill several of us women have agreed that we are going to make a run over to Michael’s and the children’s clothing and consignment shop day after tomorrow. Not all of us like I had hoped. For one thing not every woman in Sanctuary wants to go. Some profess to have absolutely no desire to go. I don’t understand it, but I feel it’s important to honor their preference and not badger them about it. For the other thing there is going to have to be some that stay to look after the guys. At that point we should start to see some real improvement and by this coming Friday everyone should be back on their feet, although some may still be a little weak due to fluid loss.

Well, my hospital gig is over and I now need to head to the Wall. It’s too dark to write so I’ll have to finish everything else up tomorrow.

Day 183 (Tuesday) – January 29

Today’s been a slow bit of recovery. It seems that everyone that was gonna get it, got it, and is now at least on the road to recovery if not actually recovered.

I’m even too tired to have heartburn. I asked Saen if she would mind making that curry again for those of us who could eat; everyone that had had the shigella/dysentery thing was still on liquid diets. I was thankful she said yes because I just couldn’t face the kitchen after all the dirty, grungy work I’ve done today. I managed to write the recipe down this time.

Thai Red Curry

15 oz. coconut milk
1/2 chicken,chopped into small pieces(you can also use other birds, pork, beef, ect.)
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup bamboo shoots, sliced into ribbons
5 leaves Thai sweet basil, chopped.
2 tablespoons "Nam Pla" aka fish sauce
1-5 tablespoons Thai Red Curry Paste (to taste)

Red Curry Paste-
1/2 cup fresh Thai Red Bird Peppers
1/8 cup garlic
1/8 cup small (indian) onions
1/8 cup lemongrass
1/8 cup galingal root
1/8 cup green Thai peppers
1 pinch cinnamon
1 tblspoon grated fresh ginger
2 kahfir lime leaves, minced
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp salt
3 tablespoons sugar

Pound in a mortar and pestle until you have a paste. Put coconut milk into saucepan. Stir while bringing to a boil. Add curry paste herbs and fish sauce. Stir and bring back to a boil, and add chicken, hold at a slow boil for 5 minutes, add 2 cups of water, salt, and sugar. Simmer and stir until chicken is cooked thoroughly. Garnish with sweet Thai basil.

We were all very lucky that Saen brought her Thai veggie seeds back with her. I’m amazed they survived everything she and Glenn have been through. She had them stored in little film canisters and we put up a green house for her and keep it heated on cold days/night for the stuff out of season.

Something else that Glenn and Saen have shared is how you can take a member of the ginger family called Galingale, chop it up and then crush it to release its resin and then you mix that with water, ferment overnight, and then strain the biomass to create an extract. Then you take that extract and mix it in a 1:10 ration to more water and spray it directly on your fruit trees and bushes to prevent fruit flies which can be a bad problem in the subtropics and tropics. I happen to know that a patch of this was planted over in the USF Botanical Garden and we'll definitely be getting starts so I can grow some plots of this around Sanctuary. Plus one for the good guys; now we have a completely herbal remedy for some varmints that could destroy our fruit supply.

I can’t wait until all my really hot peppers are ready for harvest. I’m going to use them to poison the rat and mice population around here. They are getting completely out of hand. Sanctuary’s feline population just can’t keep up with them. The two little boy kittens that we rescued way back when are now fully male … as in they are spraying everything that they can which is terminally gross. One of them has started to roam and I fear one day he’ll leave the compound and never return. The other little boy cat doesn’t seem quite as bent on roaming but he is twice as aggressive. That one I may have to send off somewhere myself; he’s nearly attacked Sarah and Bekah twice now and that isn’t going to continue. He doesn’t do it to me but then again I’m top cat around here, the girls however appear to be fair game. Maybe I’ll talk to Austin and see if he knows if there is another way to fix him. That might calm his ferociousness down some.

Pup is one strange dog. She is a mouse hunter. Whoever heard of a mouse hunting dog?! I really do think that dog must have been brain damaged or traumatized or something. She doesn’t want to have much to do with the big dogs except for Mischief and only when Mischief is in the mood to be very tolerant. At least Pup keeps the rats and mice out of the garden.

The gardens are doing fairly well. I’m losing a few things here and there to the squirrels which really lights my tail feathers on fire but I’m not sure what I can do about it at this stage. I have the kids building little cages for individual plants or long caged “tunnels” over some of the rows but we don’t have a lot of spare chicken wire just lying around; it’s not like we can just run to Home Depot, Lowes, or Ace Hardware to grab another roll any time we want it. I tried putting up chain link but the varmints just crawled through the holes. I tried using clear plastic and screening from the destroyed houses but the squirrels just chewed through that. Anything too solid keeps in too much heat and “cooks” my little plants.

The main problem with the squirrels is over population. We don’t really eat them because the ones around here have problems with worms and other parasites. There aren’t enough predators to take them out … sure as heck they aren’t playing chicken with cars and getting taken out that way. When Angus is feeling better I may ask if he can organize something that the younger kids can do.

Squirrels and rats aren’t the only rodent-caused headaches I’m having. Those rabbits that the guys brought back? What started out as just a couple has blossomed into a pretty good sized bunny hutch. Only the adults that were brought back are big enough to eat yet and I don’t want to do that because then we’d lose our breeding stock. But we are definitely going to have to do something. We’ve got almost too much livestock to take care of these days.

One of the angoras got out the other day and I was standing there like an idiot telling it to go back home and getting mad because it wasn’t doing anything but hiding in the grass. About that time Sarah comes around the corner with Pup on a leash and I finally realized my mistake. Sarah thought it was hilarious. Hmmmm. Well, at least she got a kick out of it.

Aside from the demon squirrels I’ve managed to hold onto most of the garden, all of them actually. The only place that I was hacked off was one that I should have known better than to tempt fate with. I planted a small patch of greens within sight of the goat pen, before they were moved permanently into the large animal enclosure. Goats will be goats and I don’t know if there is a fence on earth that will really keep a goat in if it wants something on the other side of it. Boy did those collards give Ol’ Billy a belly ache. Otherwise, no harm no foul as it was one of my redundant back up gardens.

Most of the Temple tangerines have been harvested. I’ve managed to juice quite a few as well as can whole segments. The remaining ones will go into fruit salads until they are all gone. That’s if the kids don’t eat them all first. Some of the kids just can’t seem to help themselves, they are always hungry. Mostly the crowd that was under the “care” of the pirates. They probably have food issues or whatever you want to diagnose it as and it’s hard to convince them that there will be enough tomorrow. They still wolf their dinner down but not as badly as they did in the beginning.

Poke salad greens are finally starting to come up. I would have expected to see them sooner but the weather must have held them back. I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of the really cool weather which is a relief to me. Of course come summer I’ll probably be singing a different tune.

The tropical apricots and the loquats are coming in nicely as well. The loquats took a little bit of a beating in that windstorm the other night but I think I got most of them up off the ground before any harm was done.

I can’t wait for all the other stuff to be ready for harvest. The radishes are almost there and they’ll be a really nice addition to the salad greens that are maturing.

I’ve spent most of the afternoon trying to get some organization going so that the group of us that is going can leave and make a gathering run tomorrow. I’m a little concerned about the whole situation. I don’t know how I got elected to this position. Sure I wanted to go on the run but I’m talking about all the other stuff. Setting the meal schedule, making sure the Wall watches and hospital watches are covered and coordinated, making sure the kids all have chore charts to keep them out of trouble. Part of me feels like I’m being really bossy but when I try and get some other people’s opinions they just look at me like “why are you asking me?!” I just don’t get it. Individually all of the women have a pretty good dose of independence but as a group it’s like everyone is looking for someone else to take the lead. I can understand Anne and Saen not being interested in the position, they are still feeling their way around here in Sanctuary. I can also see why maybe Rhonda or some of the other younger women don’t want the responsibility or feel like they may not have enough experience yet. But Betty and Reba? What about Patricia?

I try and not get too bent out of shape. Actually I think I’ve handled the last few days rather well. I didn’t panic, cry, pitch a fit, or any other less than constructive behavior. I got a few snide comments for an overheard comment to one of my own kids where I told them that it was going to be ok, to “have faith.” I guess when people don’t feel well that they don’t exhibit as much tolerance as they would otherwise. Gets to me sometimes how I’m supposed to have tolerance and understanding for other folks but they don’t offer any to me or mine on this subject. Oh nothing that I haven’t had to deal with over the years even when things were good but it does give me pause and it is a warning that people are always going to be people no matter what the environment they find themselves in is.

Speaking of people’s attitudes and perceptions I’ve asked everyone that feels like it to give me something for my journal. Some are playing around with the idea but not everyone has done it yet. Other priorities; but the short blurb that Chris gave me tells me that I’m not the only one that takes my personal beliefs seriously and tries not to freak other people out.

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Something I think bears a bit of explanation is my habit of going off on my own for a while, as well as that rosary I keep with me. Religion’s always been a big part of my life (thanks to my mother) and my meditations are a way of keeping that alive. Plus, seeing as there isn’t any sort of priest down here, I need to see to it myself. The rosary itself is a bit of an heirloom. It was given to me for my Confirmation by my mother, who got it from her mother, who in turn got it from her mother. After four generations in the same family, something like that gets pretty valuable to a person. I’m not gonna get all preachy or anything. It’s just an old habit that refuses to die and a way to remember my family. Sorry if I’ve been weirding anyone out with that, but maybe the explanation makes it seem less odd. Hopefully, this helps explain the "why" behind the "what."

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I thought it was sweet of him to explain things like that, especially given how important we all can see the occasional bit of alone time is to him. I’ll have to tell Scott, James, and David and hopefully they can head off anything that might turn snarky; though on second thought maybe I'll leave off the "sweet" comment as that might not go over well with the guys. I really don’t foresee anything uncomfortable happening, but like I said people are people and sometimes people just don’t seem to be able to control how they react to stuff.

For instance, I know it is just about killing Scott to let me lead this run. He said some really hurtful things without even realizing he was being hurtful. Maybe it was how I was taking it but then again, all he did was make me even more determined to go.

Matlock and Dix are still too weak to do much more than fuss but I know that if even the tiniest of things go wrong they’ll put us all in a gilded cage for quite some time. Cotton batting and gilded cages were never the fashion statement I wanted to make so I’m praying and planning that things go well and turn out constructive. I think the only reason that we are still getting to go is because James, who has made an amazingly quick recovery though he is still on soft foods, will be going as will Eric. Samuel would go if he could but that isn't happening. Despite his size he is still very sick which means to me he may have gotten a heavier contamination than some of the others.

Once the other guys all started acting like they were well enough to complain about being bored I asked them if they wanted to take the time to write something down for my journal. That shut quite a few of them up really fast, although I think of few of them were scribbling notes and saying they would get back to me later.

I also had to deal with Jim's bit of hard headedness today. He was walking – just barely – and insisted he could walk himself to the outhouse without our help. After a while you just have to give a guy some room to have some dignity so we let him go. When he didn’t come back though a couple of us got worried and went looking for him. When I found him he was over near the still. He was “just checking” on it, or at least that's what he said. Well, I’ll buy that as the last thing we want is an exploding still on top of everything else we have going.

However, he wanted to show me something. He took me over towards a lesser used area of the Wall and asked me to look in the container. Unsure of what I would find I slowly looked inside. A luuuuuuve nest; complete with mattress, candles, pillows, and a cooler of canned snacks. The number of people that would have to do this is rather small. On the other hand, maybe one of the married/committed couples was using it as a getaway. I don’t know, but this only reinforces the idea that some things are going on below the surface that I don’t know about. I wouldn’t care except that I suspect this might be some of the kids … or maybe it was leftover from Marty’s highjinks, I’m not sure. Makes me go all mother hen-ish however and that isn’t good.

By the time we actually did get back to the hospital Jim was exhausted and slept most of the afternoon away. I’ve put Tina, Rose, and Melody on notice that he’s probably going to try the same thing tomorrow and they may have to pole ax him to get him to stay put.

And with that bit of nonsense I am off to bed. I am taking early watch, the one that David normally takes. This will leave them plenty of day watch staff and I can go on the run with a clear conscience. I thought I would be more excited about going after having to fight so hard to set it up. Maybe I’m just tired. Hopefully I’ll lighten up tomorrow and can have some much needed fun with it.

Day 184 (Wednesday) – Women’s Run

The best description I can come up with for today is fantastical. OK, I went looking in the thesaurus for that one because you can only use the words interesting or extraordinary so many times before it becomes annoying in the extreme. Kind of like the abuse of the word “unprecedented” during the early months of the economic fiasco the world went through. A lot of us started calling it “the only four letter word with thirteen letters.” I started emailing a link to online thesaurus to all of the major media outlets asking them to please use it so that it wouldn’t sound like they got their statements all from the same talking head with orders to say it exactly the way it was scripted. (Although a part of me will always believe that is exactly what happened.)

The reason why I chose fantastical as my word of the day is because our run really was interesting, fun, quixotic, and yet it also had its fair share of fear, loathing, and emotive settings.

The day started out as ordinarily as any other day that we’ve gone on a run. I got off guard duty, made a quick change, grabbed a bite to eat, we all told everyone goodbye and all the other mushy stuff, accepted their admonishments to be careful and not to take chances, and then we headed out. We weren’t going all that far and there were fewer of us than I had expected going. Also we didn’t really mean to do much more than gather from one strip center so we only took the bus.

James and Eric were our main guards. They were there primarily to be “at the ready” at all times which freed the rest of us to search through all the stores to our hearts content. Eric was the only male older than nine years who didn’t get dysentery. It would have been a mystery to bug me to no end except Waleski told me that Eric had apparently had shigellosis during his captivity by the pirates and it gave him a measure of immunity for a few months. Lucky Eric.

The women who went were myself, Rose, my Sarah, Melody, Claire, Callie, Tina, Cindy, Liz, Saen, Anne and Austin’s Sarah. But what I failed to mention in last night's entry was that I had radioed over to Steve’s place yesterday and asked him if Shorty needed anything for their girl. Guess what? Shorty and three teen girls met us and that added to the fine time we had in the beginning. Of course, they had a rather taciturn young man watching over them who never really unbent. He looked just enough like Steve that I’d say they were related, but per usual they were all rather careful with their answers. Real names were never even exchanged so we had to kind of make things up as we went along. My Sarah and Shorty's 12 year old got along famously after they got to know one another and by the end of the day Shorty's 12 year old had received the nickname "Music." The lack of names didn’t spoil things, kind of made it fun as we tried to guess what their real names were and kept being met with "no"; but as it happened we were all appreciative of the extra guard.

Up Van Dyke Rd then south on Dale Mabry to the Bearss Ave intersection and then we turned into the strip center which held all the shops that were our goal for that day. Bekah wanted to go so badly but I told her that we needed her to monitor the radio in case Dix needed to run to the outhouse real quick right when there was an emergency. The little minx laughed at that a bit but I made it a priority to bring back something to reward her sacrifice.

After introductions between our group and Shorty’s, we settled on a plan of action and a way of splitting the bounty based on group size. Basically Shorty’s group would get 20% of whatever we brought in and we would get 80% unless the item was something one group or the other particularly needed, then we would work it out from there. For instance, Shorty and Steve’s group doesn’t include any young children; they have no immediate need for clothing or shoe sizes to fit that age group. On the other hand, we’ve got more plant containers than I could ever possibly use and Shorty needed a bunch of smaller ones so that she could start a roof-top garden. It was pretty easy to work things out on a case-by-case basis when we ran into stuff like that.

We started with the Tampa Alehouse. We were all armed but the young man with Shorty insisted on checking the place out before any of us females entered. James was in agreement with that but I could tell he was happy not to have to be the one who brought it up. Shorty doesn’t strike me as the docile type so the fact that she quickly acquiesced to the young man’s plan gave me a bit more confidence in him than I might have had otherwise on such short acquaintance.

Eric guarded the door as James and … I’ll call him Shorty’s guard for lack of any other name to give him … went through the building. The building was weather tight and hadn’t been bothered with for several months, probably not sense September or October. There were three zombies inside the building but they were all in a single storeroom and were all past the shambler stage of decomposition. This gave James a chance to show off. He gave an exhibition to the older young man of the method that Scott developed to deal with this particular stage of zombie-hood. Scott calls it the mallet-and-awl or hammer-and-spike method. I just call it gross; effective but gross. It’s simple; place sharp pointy thing against the cranium of zombie, then hit sharp pointy thing with a larger heavy thing doing your best not to get back-splashed by cranial fluids that exit the hold. Lastly you dispose of the sanitized corpse. Before the day was out the young man had made his own set using a hammer and chisel he found in a tool box in a maintenance closet in one of the stores.

The Alehouse pretty well started our day off on a good foot. I’ll admit I’m not a beer or liquor drinker but I don’t begrudge other people doing it. Scott will knock one back every once in a while and he’s tasted what’s come out of the still. And I plan on making small beer at some point to help secure potable drinkables on longer voyages but that’s about it. Well the Alehouse was amazingly enough still stocked with beer though it looked like most of their hard liquor had been consumed by the trio prior to their conversion to NRS as evidenced by all the empty broken liquor bottles in the room with them. What were were interested in however were the unopened kegs numbering about two dozen, and just about as many empty ones. There was nearly that much in cask ale as well. Boy did we have fun figuring out how to fit that into the bus. It wasn’t so bad for Shorty, at least at that point, because they had come in a dump truck.

There wasn’t really any food per se left in the restaurant but there were plenty of condiments and paper goods and we eagerly split all of that up as well. The next place down was just an insurance office and its break room and desks had already been ransacked, possibly by the ones that had taken refuge in the Alehouse, but we did come away with some more office supplies. Shorty told us to take them all as they were swimming in office supplies from all the stuff over at the university and probably would be for the next decade. I heard a grumbled, “Not at the rate you are making us do schoolwork” from Shorty’s middle girl. And that brought a chorus of agreement from our girls. Shorty and I just looked at each other, knowing that regardless of the grumpiness we got out of them these days, one day down the road they’d appreciate what we were trying to do.

I wasn’t too hopeful when we broke into the Pizza Hut – again preceded by our guards checking the interior out first – but apparently Steve was a big pizza lover (like we couldn't have figured that out from his broadcasts) and Shorty really wanted to surprise him. There was only a lone 20-pound bag of flour which I gladly gave to Shorty’s crew; but there was about four cases of pizza sauce. Most of the other toppings had gone over except for the pepperoni and a supply of parmesan cheese all of which our two groups split 50/50. I’m not far off from being able to make my own homemade pepperoni so it wasn’t any skin off my nose to let it go. Not to mention it might butter the bread a little bit and build more goodwill between our two groups.

After Pizza Hut we decided to forego some of the smaller shops and head straight to Michael’s Craft Store and see what we could find. One of the big glass plate windows was busted in front but that was the extent of the obvious exterior damage. I could tell James was a little nervous because Michael’s is much larger than the other three places had been and it was darker in the rear areas. Shorty’s guard recommended going straight from front to back and opening up the rear bay and door to let in what additional light they could. The recce, noting a bus a few employee vehicles in the rear of the building, was quickly accomplished and we really went to town in the store.

First we found all the plastic tubs and boxes that we could and lined them up in the front of the store, then everyone got a shopping cart and was assigned a section of the store.

We started with the yarn and needle crafts. That stuff was kind of bulky but it will be important as time goes along and we have to do more fabrication of clothing, linens, and such from scratch. The bakeware section was next though when I’ll ever have the time to do the cake decorating like I used to is beyond me. It’ll be good to have something for special occasions anyway. Next came art supplies then craft painting and then paper crafts and beads. Home décor and beads were another space hog and I started to wonder if we’d be able to bring everything back we found, especially as I piled bolt upon bolt of cloth into the bus on top of the kegs and casks already in there. I would have liked to have taken some of the silk and dried flowers but it just wasn’t practical. We did clean out the candy section which apparently had been overlooked by looters. Who would think that a craft store would have edibles in it after all? And after all these months?

By the time we had finished with Michael’s it was getting towards lunch. We stepped out into the full, and increasingly warm, sunlight and spread plastic tablecloths for our picnic. Shorty’s crew was going to eat MREs until I asked wouldn’t they rather have Red Beans and Rice with us. We had set rice to cooking in several large thermoses before we left Sanctuary and it was right at that perfect stage of fluffiness. I had also hayboxed a large Dutch oven of red beans and homemade sausage which we served on top of the rice. In exchange they shared their large igloo full of fresh lemonade. There isn’t anything quite as satisfying for a cook as listening to the sound of silence around a table because people are too busy eating to yak. I have to admit it was pretty good even though it was more or less just a jacklegged recipe I had concocted at the last minute.

After lunch and a quick clean up we headed into the children’s consignment shop and the shoe store. Neither place was large enough to hold all of us at once so we split up and went to town boxing up what we came for. Like I mentioned, Shorty had no interest in the children’s clothing so they went into the shoe store first and pulled what they wanted. When they were finished we took everything we needed from there.

I think at this point we might have been getting a little too sure of ourselves. Nothing bad had happened; but over confidence can be a killer. The next shop down was an organic market and health food store. We had all walked over in a bunch when suddenly three men and a woman came barreling out of the glass shrieking, “They’ll get you too, you better run!!!”

Needless to say no one’s heart had been done too much good. James nearly shot one of the men but stopped just in time since they were running for their lives away from us. James and Shorty’s guard looked all through the store but there wasn’t anything untoward to be seen or heard. Quickly and quietly we took what we thought would be of use to us, split it, and then stored it in our respective vehicles. The bus was getting very crowded. I wished we had thought to bring at least the trailer that attached to the hitch that Scott and McElroy had welded to the back of the bus.

James and Eric said that since we did bring the straps that they could put some stuff on top of the bus in the luggage racks that had been bolted up there. That eased my mind some and it was also the best place for the swimming pool supplies that we next took from the Pinch-a-Penny on the northern end of the strip center. It was also a good place for the clothing we took from one of the higher end retailers that had rented space there beside a embroidery and sewing machine store.

We had run through all of the shops in the center and we still had a couple of hours before we planned to return to Sanctuary so we started going through the cars in the parking lot of the center. There wasn’t a lot of them but there were enough. All the gas tanks were dry though we did find a few useful odds and ends sprinkled throughout which made the hassle of rummaging somewhat worth it.

The most interesting find however was actually in the back of the strip center where employees usually park. The bus was easily hidden from the road by the buildings surrounding it and the overgrowth of the vegetation back there. It was a blood mobile bus. Shorty said that they had found some pretty good supplies in the main off of Florida Blood Services which is on the USF campus. This bus was no exception. I have to admit a small thrill went through me when we found the coolers, though no longer cool, fully stocked with canned juices and sodas. There were several carts fully stocked with all sorts of wipes and other first aid items and even a crash cart with meds and such that had not one but two portable defibulators. All this we also split 50/50. I have no idea what the size of Steve’s group really is but the fact is that we have the trained medic and they don’t. That was another one of those “creating good will” gestures that I made on my own and so far no one has said anything about it in reproof.

James was still nervous because of the warning of the four crazies. Shorty’s guard was also on high alert though I don’t know if I would have called him nervous or not. The rest of us, though on higher alert than we had been, were still focused on getting the stuff packed away so we could head home. Maybe if we had all been more alert it wouldn’t have happened. On the other hand, who knows? Sometimes the unexpected happens and you just have to live with it.

On the SE corner of the Dale Mabry Hwy/Bearss Avenue intersection are buildings that housed a bank and a gas station. We didn’t even bother trying to scavenge through them for gatherings; both were pathetic wrecks that had been all but demolished except for some of their outer walls. But we should have been paying a little more attention to them. I’ll tell you why in a bit.

After we had snugged all of our gathered items down, we stepped away from our vehicles for one more turn around the strip center to see if there was any little item that we could tuck in the few pockets of space that remained. Suddenly James and Shorty’s guard went into that slient hyper-drive mode that people have cultivated in the last few months; it signaled to the rest of us ZOMBIES! We all immediately weaponed up and turned outwards looking for the threat.

From behind the Alehouse came a steady stream of zombies; there had to have been a good two dozen. Worse yet, these weren’t shamblers; these suckers could move and they didn’t look too overtly decayed either. Running through my subconscious was the thought that some survivor group had bitten the dust … or at least been bitten … not that long ago. But occupying my conscious was the immediate need to take up defensive positions.

As quickly and quietly as possible we formed a V putting the youngest and least experienced fighters inside the V; everyone else formed the legs of the V with James and Shorty’s guard at point and Eric to the side of James. Shorty was on the other side of her guard and we ranged down the line from there. James is a great sniper so he started taking zombies out quickly. Shorty’s guard and Eric did as well. I was too busy watching all sides for other potential attackers. But the zombies were closing in quick and we were backing up with the plan to use the standing walls of the demolished bank and gas station, as well as the trees in the parking lot green space, for cover.

The gunfire reverberated for what seemed like miles in all directions and was sure to draw more zombies to our position. We needed to get them all taken out and get in our vehicles and go ASAP.

We had backed ourselves up and were between the destroyed walls and the heavily treed green space that measures about 20 feet by 30 feet. In fact we were there when Eric took the last of the zombies out with a shotgun blast of 00 Buckshot. The last echo of that explosive sound hadn’t totally faded when I had to duck to avoid a bottle thrown at me.

Zombies don’t throw bottles but there was no one in sight. I was looking all over for my assailant when a piece of lumber clunked the back of the head of Shorty’s guard sending him temporarily to his knees. If the throw had been any harder there would have been some damage to the young man’s head.

Then it started raining debris. It was coming at us from both sides; rocks, empty bottles and cans, pieces of countertops, and pieces of desks. We were struggling to defend ourselves from the constant barrage and then it got … worse.

Finally over the noise of the debris hitting flesh and pavement we could hear the ah ah – ee ee – oo oo of monkeys. The shrill cries alerted us to one of the locations that our foes inhabited; the trees that stood between us and our vehicles. James started taking the vicious little beasts out one at a time, but there were so many of them. Shorty’s guard was in a nasty mood and started spraying the trees with his weapon. Monkeys scattered everywhere.

The monkeys behind us made an awful racket as well. We could not afford to stick around and turned and tried to back up in the direction we had just come from, back so that we could get in our vehicles.

And then the rhesus monkeys started doing what rhesus monkeys always seem to take so much delight in – they started throwing their own feces. Gack! What a stench!!

More than a few of us had to wash off outside in the cold of the evening air tonight and leave their clothes to air out. I’m eternally grateful that I have gotten into the habit of making sure that the girls and I wear bandanas to cover our hair.

Looking back I was worried that this situation would be too much for the youngest in our group. You could have knocked me over with a feather. My Sarah and Shorty’s Music were nearly in tears all right … tears of laughter. They were holding their noses and trying to avoid all the flying crap. In exasperation I told them both they better stop laughing or something nasty was going to fly in their mouths. Prophetic … but for the wrong person.

I had just turned my face back around when a nice sized glob of monkey do hit my cheek. Of course the girls started howling in laughter … but they did try to keep their mouths covered.

I wasn’t the only one that got it square. We had to cross under the trees to get back to the other side of the parking lot so we could take off out of there. Even moving as quickly as we did a couple of us … including Anne … got a golden shower courtesy of the beasts from hell.

As soon as we were on the other side of the trees we took off hell for leather to the bus and dump truck. The monkeys took that moment to come down out of the trees and chase us. Shorty’s guard and James, both of whom had switched to the heavy gauge shotguns that they had strapped across their backs, let fly with enough shots to dissuade the monkeys from fallowing too closely.

Each group made it to our respective vehicles and Shorty and her crew waved and said they’d call us later. We piled our people into the bus as quickly as possible and started the engine and revved it up. Just as we closed the bus folding door, the monkeys became bold again and some tried to scramble onto the bus for a ride.

As we left, Eric spotted the first group of zombies that had come because of the noise but there weren’t any ragers or runners in that group, thank goodness.

The odor on that bus was just hideous. We are rather used to putrid smells because of the zombies and how that smell seems to permeate everything these days but this was way off the chart. We dropped the windows as soon as we were sure that all the monkeys had jumped from the top carrier space. Trust me, that didn’t help much.

By the time we drove up to Sanctuary’s gates more than one of us had to hang our heads out a window and puke.

The men were waiting for us, having been alerted by radio to have wash basins and plenty of soap ready. As we climbed off the bus some of the guys held their noses and I saw a couple give honest to goodness heaves.

I reminded them that this too would pass and if they wanted to live in anything other than permanent misery they would keep their smart aleck comments to a very bare minimum. Angus and Jim opened their mouth to say something but Scott elbowed them both while I gave them the evil eye. They closed their mouths and left the vicinity real quick.

We’ve still gotten a couple of snickers but I can guarantee even that went away when Anne and I threatened to open every bottle and keg we had brought back and watch it run on the ground if they didn’t lay off. Angus muttered something like, “Just having a little fun, no need to be cruel about it.” See if I wash his dirty drawers any more without some sweetin’ up first.

But overall it was a good day. I could have done without the beasty little rhesus monkeys … those monsters from the underworld … but I guess if I had to pick I’d still chose monkeys over zombies. Well, most of the time.

Wonder if Steve is going to use any of this in one of his broadcasts? Maybe if I bribe him with a pizza or calzone he'll conveniently forget the whole incident.

But back to more serious thoughts. Poor little Ty isn't improving. He's our youngest next to Kitty unless you count the three unborns. I know Waleski is really worried. They are keeping him hydrated but everything he takes in seems to come right back out the other end. I've got some jars of babyfood left from my private stash, mostly bananas. If they can get him to hold down a little broth tomorrow then we'll see if he'll hold down some bananas. If he can hold that down we'll bump him up to some rice pudding, cornstarch pudding or something similar. Please God don't let any of the pregnant women get this. Shigella can kill babies in utero as can the likes of salmonella. Food and water safety needs to remain of the highest priority, these days this stuff can kill all too easily.

The increasing number of zombies is also worrisome. We had an upswing in the local zombie population right before the Big Horde arrived. Its natural that we would be nervous about this but combined with the fact that over half our fighting force is at far less than 100% its really scary.

I'm in agreement with Dix about the need to hit as many locations on Dale Mabry as we can, as quickly as we can. But how are we to accomplish that and do all the things around Sanctuary that need doing? I need to get the corn in the ground. I also need to start giving more attention to all the gardens now that everything has popped up. And add into that the potential return of another large horde? The only good thing that I can hope for is that with the wider communication network that Steve is providing, surely we would hear something before it was right no top of us?

So much to think about. So much to do. We've got a bigger population here in Sanctuary than we've ever had, but I'm not sure that maybe we couldn't use a few more people. But then again, more people means that we would need more space, food, and everything else. Argh, my head hurts. I'm going to bed.

Day 185 (Thursday)

My turn in the kitchen first thing this morning. Good thing I’m not too cranky first thing ‘cause all of the little monkey noises that were being made on the sly nearly drove me to throw something at a certain band of men that had a little bit too much time on their hands.

Thanks to our flock of chickens we’ve been able to cut back on using our powdered eggs. In fact, the hens are laying almost faster than we can eat them. We continue to use as many eggless recipes as possible so we don’t get too dependent in case something happens to the flock. We’re still working on a way to get an incubator going but in the mean time I’m letting the bantam hens – which are notoriously broody compared to regular hens – sit a nest of full-sized eggs. Mr. Morris figures that should work until we can find the parts to repair the incubator they brought with their things. And if we can find a natural way to raise the chickens with the least intervention on our part, we’ll score a huge bonus. We also need to deal with the raccoon population because Reba caught one stealing eggs the other morning.

This last week the eggs have really been piling up so I decided to splurge and make Fiesta Eggs for those of us able to eat. I took a couple of chorizos, sliced them and then fried it up with some rehydrated bell peppers and diced onions. After I had finished with that I dumped everything in a colander to drain the grease off. I put the grease in with the dogs’ rations.

Next, in the same skillet I had fried the chorizo mixture in, I dumped canned tomatoes and a few chopped canned chilies, some salsa, and some farmer’s cheese that Betty had made the day before. I stirred everything together over low heat until the cheese melted.

In a large mixing bowl I beat together some eggs and then added some fresh sour cream that Reba had made from cream skimmed off yesterday’s milk as well as a little milk to thin things out a bit. Then I added in the sausage mixture and the tomato mixture to the egg mixture.

After I had stirred things together, I dumped it into a couple of baking dishes and put it in our oven. While the eggs baked in a slow oven for about 25 minutes I made a huge batch of skillet toast.

I also made a batch of creamy grits. I figured that our recovering members would appreciate the toast and grits and it did seem to perk them right up.

Ty is finally able to keep down liquids. I made him a little bit of warm jello water and he really went to town on that but Rilla can’t get him on anything approaching solid yet. Maybe tomorrow.

James looks half-starved. He’s definitely up and about and in full recovery but you can tell he’s lost some weight. I think on top of everything else he must be going through a bit of a growth spurt. I noticed yesterday that his pants were about two or three inches too short again. I’m glad we went ahead and got him the 32 longs yesterday even though he complained he’d have to roll them up. He’s taller than Scott is and all we can do is pray we can keep him in clothes until he is finished growing. I told him if he didn’t stop growing I was going to put him in kilts like Uncle Angus. He told me I’d have to catch him first.

Speaking of growing I heard Rose and James laughing this morning. I got irritated at first thinking that James was recounting my face of monkey do. Then Scott said, “Sissy?”

I snapped back, “What?!” He laughed and told me to stand next to Sarah. Sure enough she is nearly two inches taller than I am already and the girl won’t be 13 until the end of March. I sighed while the rest of the family laughed. I told them to go ahead and have their fun and did a little laughing of my own after I got over my mully-grumps. I’m happy that they can laugh even if it is as my expense. It seems not that long ago we didn’t feel we had anything to laugh at.

We did have something on the bizarre side happen today. Matlock was taking a turn on the Wall when he spotted some zombies surrounding a house about three blocks to the south of Sanctuary. We were concerned that someone(s) had gotten trapped so a contingent of sharp shooters started picking off the zombies one at a time. It took a while but eventually all of the zombies were sanitized.

No movement from the house. A rescue group went over there but returned without anyone in tow. We were all fairly depressed but then Dix said that there hadn’t been anyone in the house to begin with. When we asked him what had attracted the zombies he said it was the smoke alarm! Apparently we had missed taking the batteries out of the smoke alarms in that house and they had started that infernal cheeping that would drive a saint to cussing.

While slightly humorous, the zombies really are mindless, it was also a little scary. There were either a bunch of zombies that were close enough to hear that cheeping or they can hear from much further away than we’ve estimated. Or worse, they have some means of communication that we can’t see or hear whereby one zombie will find a “sound maker” and communicate its find to other zombies in some way. I sincerely hope the last is not true.

The bulk of my day has been taken up by putting in the first rows of corn. My rows were one hundred feet long and I planted four rows today by myself. Tomorrow I’ll plant four more (with help from here on out) and the same for every succeeding day until I’ve used up all of my field space. Hopefully this way not all of the corn will come in at the same time, but there will be enough mature at any given point to cross-pollinate once they start tassling.

I drilled the seeds so that they went into the ground two inches deep and ten inches apart and the rows were three feet apart. With 100 foot rows that meant that I planted about 480 seeds today.

After all that work I did on the corn I decided to sit and sip a little bit of citrus juice that I mixed with soda water. It wasn’t quite as nice as sipping ice cold cola, but it was still very nice; and I was having a wonderful time patting myself on the back on the good job I had done when I saw them. The demon varmints. Tree rats. Those ding dang squirrels!!!! Those little barnacles on my butt were digging up my corn seeds and eating them. ARGH!!!

I called for the dogs and they chased them off for about an hour and then they got tired of running and they gave up. The little kids had an even shorter attention span for protecting the corn seeds. James came over and shot a … what do you call a bunch of squirrels? You call a bunch of birds that are shot a brace of birds. You call a bunch of fish that are caught a string of fish. Well, whatever you call them there was nearly two dozen of them. I hope that has put a dent in the population some. Angus and Mr. Morris, both recovering a little too slowly for my peace of mind, took them and skinned them. Four of the carcasses had to be thrown on the fire because they had worms really badly. We wouldn’t have even wanted the dogs to eat them. Squirrels don’t really have much of a pelt, but what pelt could be used was cleaned and put on stretcher boards to cure where the dogs can’t get to them and use them as chew toys.

Only one pelt wasn’t worth saving, James was able to able to get nearly all headshots with a .22 but one of the wormy ones was acting too spazzy for him to get cleanly.

The clean squirrels were quartered up and made a nice squirrel stew. Angus said he’ll try and take some more out tomorrow if I would let Bekah and a couple of the other little kids help him. He’d teach them some tracking and hunting tips at the same time. I told him I was fine with Bekah going with him assuming she got her chores finished but he’d need to clear it with the other parents as I wasn’t going to speak for them. I hope the kids behave themselves tomorrow, I don’t think Angus is quite up to all of their shenanigans yet.

Something has to be done. I can’t keep losing things in the gardens to squirrel damage. If I catch them digging in the garden or digging up the seeds I’ve planted one more time I’m going to go Hiroshima all over the place.

I tried to get the cats to go out there and hunt but Horatio … that’s what we call the mostly red calico tom … nearly clawed the heck out of me. I wish he’d take as much delight in stalking the squirrels as he does in lying in wait to pounce on us humans. Austin told me today that it would be a relatively simple procedure to fix Horatio: As for the evil kitty situation...yeah I can take care of that easily. "Fixing" a male cat is almost laughably easy; you trim/shave the hair over the testicles, sterilize the area with iodine, a nice little dose of Ketamine to make kitty sleepy and not rip my damn hand off, incise the area directly above the testicles, grasp the testicles with a gauze pad and pull firmly, but not too fast. After that a simple spray of iodine over the incisions, and wait for him to wake up. No stitches or butterfly bandages required! Incisions will close in about 2-3 days and be completely healed within 2 weeks of so.

As long as it works I’ll be happy. Horatio is beginning to think he is kin to cougars and panthers. The day he falls out of a tree on me is the day he’s going to have to find him a new roost to call home.

And hunting of one kind leads me to hunting of another. Our smokehouse will be bare in no time flat. Angus and Scott are supposed to go deer hunting but we really need to carry out another major hunt. I’m not sure when that is supposed to happen but hopefully sooner rather than later.

Something has me spooked. Scott told me it was just the monkeys or all the men getting sick. I’m not sure; maybe. I try not and heed the feelings too much; I don’t want anyone to think I’m being a hysterical female but … something just feels off, weird, crowding me metaphysically.

Tomorrow I’ll get another four rows of corn planted and work some in the other gardens. The radishes are just about ready to pull and I hope to slice them and serve them with a wild fresh green salad. And if Angus and the kids do bring in some squirrels I might have time to make some Squirrel sausage; put those bloody little beggars to some good use.

Oh, and I found out who Shorty’s guard was. It was Steve’s son. Apparently he and Shorty have a his and hers family. I think that’s cool. I never would have guessed it but Dix said he has estimated Steve’s group to be between 20 and 30 people in size based on the different voices that he’s heard on their call sign and the few facts that he’s gathered from listening to Steve’s broadcasts. Seems Steve’s family was the forward guard of a group called the Ohio Safe Action Group or OSAG for short. I’ll admit to being relieved that they have more than just a couple of people capable of defending their radio station. It would be a prime target for raiders and thieves.

I should ask Shorty if they are using the water tower as their water source. Back when I was going to USF, the tower provided over 95% of all of the potable water on the large campus. It wasn’t great water but it was still water. If I remember correctly water was pumped up into the tower and then the force of gravity from the tall tower sent it out to all of the main buildings helped along by water pumps ever so often along the system. If they could shut the water off to the rest of campus and if only allowed the building or buildings they are living in access to that water, they could very well still have running water. Color me envious if they do.

We managed to get the solar hooked up to our well but we are reserving it for the main garden where Mabel’s house used to be and for pulling water for treatment. Until we can figure out a way to test for e.coli we will continue to treat the water before letting anyone drink it. We’ve already gotten more lucky than we had any right to get that our pregnant ladies didn’t get dysentery. I don’t think we need to take any more chances down that road.

David and James saw smoke to the south of us, perhaps a smoky cooking fire from wet wood. It was a couple of more blocks beyond where the zombies surrounded that house. Tomorrow Dix is going to take a couple of guards and go recce in that direction to see what’s up. It’s a little too close for comfort and he wants to avoid any potentially unpleasant surprises.

I’m done in for the night. Kinda feel like I might be coming down with a head cold or something. Might have gotten a little dust in my sinuses. I’ll wash my sinuses out and then head off to bed but before I do I want to make sure and make a short list of all the things we talked about in Council tonight as far as what projects we need to make some head way on:
*Learning to turn the angora fur, llama fur, and whatever else we can come up with into thread that we can weave or knit with.
*Build several more greenhouses so that we can supply fresh foods for our group out of season.
*Propagating new fruit trees.
*Turning one room of the food storehouse into a “cooler” using evaporation, fans, and solar energy.
*Converting more wells so that they will run off of solar (and finding more solar panels).
*Drill some ag wells by the gardens so that we can use drip irrigation when the rains don’t come.
*Gathering runs along Dale Mabry Hwy
*Establishing some trade relationships

There were other things discussed but for now those are the ones that stand out in my mind. I know Dix and Matlock are heading some kind of task force for finding more ammo or converting to some other form of defense to conserve what ammo we have. What we have looks like a lot to me, but Matt says it won’t go far if we have to start defending the compound against raiders or another large horde.

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