Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November: Where the Wild Things Are

November: Where the Wild Things Are
Days 94 – 120


Day 94

Man, productivity can be rewarding and tiring at the same time. Its November 2 and I’m sure this month will fly by given everything we have to do.

I’ve slowly bene using the golf cart to expand the garden. The kids groan every time they see me hook up the disk. Today I planted large areas of green stuff: broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, celery, collard green, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, parsley, Swiss Chard, and turnip greens. Throughout the rest of the week I hope to plant a bit of everything else.

I’m planting everything that I can in successive patches so not everything ripens at once. That’s the problem I’m having now in the container plants and in the stuff I planted in our yard; everything of a type is ripening at the same time. For instance, all of the carrots are ripe. I like carrots. Actually I love carrots; but not three times a day for days on end. The only way to deal with the abundance is to eat them fresh as quick as we can to prevent spoilage or find some way to preserve them.

For carrots there are four basic methods of preservation: over wintering in a root cellar or underground pit, drying, freezing, canning. Florida’s weather and water table make over-wintering impractical and impossible as far as I understand it. Freezing isn’t an option either because of insufficient power to keep a freezer running 24/7/365. That leaves drying and canning. Jerry is a dab hand at jury-rigging stuff up. He says it came from learning to make do while living full time in an RV. He’s fixed me a solar dehydrator to use. Except for one problem with a raccoon it’s worked wonderfully. The other preservation technique is canning and I’ve been doing some of that as well. I am grateful though to have the dehydrator; eventually we’ll run out of seals for the jars. For me that will be a sad day; truly an end to the idea of convenience food.

Speaking of harvesting and preserving food, I’ve got a lot of different things I’m hoping to harvest in November. All of my trash cans and tire-beds of potatoes should be ready soon. The tops of the plants are beginning to die back. I’ve got a whole trellis of Armenian cucumbers that I haven’t a clue what to do with yet. Armenian cucumbers aren’t really cucumbers at all but are members of the melon family, but you don’t use them like melons. Oh where is the Internet when I really need it?! I’ve already picked the first basket of pole beans and that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight – green beans with new potatoes boiled in the bean juice, corn muffins, dressed eggs courtesy of Mrs. Broody (that’s deviled eggs for you Yankees), and sliced canned ham.

I’m going to hold onto the different varieties of winter squash that is coming in as long as I can but I’ll likely have to cook and can them before December is over. Same with the pumpkins though I might let the kids carve on jack o’ lantern for old time sake.

November will see the last of the fresh tomatoes. I’m not going to try and preserve any of them though I might make a couple pints of yellow tomato preserves or maybe a gallon of yellow tomato sauce. My bushes have given me more fruit than I could have hoped for. We have so many commercially canned tomato products that I bet we can go a whole year without any problems; still, I’ll miss the fresh when they’re gone.

The thought of one food issue leads to others. You know how there always seems to be foods that are abundant simply because no one wants to eat them? We have a huge pile of canned foods that I’m having to figure out what to do with them. I mean, what can I do with 50 cans of Hearts of Palms? What about case upon case of canned beets? We also have found a bunch of jars of those little, embryonic corn on the cobs and more cans of asparagus than I could ever imagine using even if I did like asparagus. Then there is the really strange stuff.

A couple of streets south west of us is this really ritzy gated community called Lake Magdalene. Those houses over there used to cost into the multi-millions … unfurnished and without upgrades. After gathering throughout that neighborhood you could come to the conclusion that either there were people around with more money than sense or that rich people were just plain strange. For instance, I could swear that a Teddy Roosevelt wannabe lived in this one house I went in. There were big game animal heads hung on walls … and I know some of them had to be illegal. There were weird furs and animals skins on the floor like rugs, and the furniture was covered in all these weird looking leathers. Upstairs was this safe room that held all sorts of memorabilia from hunting trips around the world. We didn’t find a single gun in the place but we did find a lot of ammo that Dixon was happy to have. But that wasn’t what was strange. What was … well … bizarre was the pantry in this house. It was huge and held some of the oddest food I’ve seen outside of some online places I used to look at just for kicks. How about canned meats like buffalo, elk, alligator, and rattlesnake? There were these cans of patties of buffalo, elk, venison, and ostrich. Then there were a couple of cases of exotic smoke sausages: antelope, duck, pheasant, kangaroo, rabbit, wild board, and others. Don’t even get me started on the crate of different flavored jerkies that sat on the counter. The freezer would have been pretty impressive too had the power not been off long enough to turn it into a toxic mess. We did come away with some liqueurs and cooking wines that I thought would help make some good fruit cakes.

Another home housed what appeared to be an Asian family. There were lots of jars of pickled things: burdock, seaweed, scallions, cabbage, and radishes. There were fishcake sausage sticks and cellophane noodles. Lots of soy products and seasonings that I’d never heard of.

Yet another house held either a British family or someone who lived there was a real Anglophile. There were Heinz products that I had never seen before like spotted dick, treacle pudding, curry beans, and sticky pudding, jars of clotted cream and Devon cream. There was eleventy-dozen tins of shortbread and just as many tins of “biscuits.” And there was enough tea to supply China for a couple of weeks, at least.

But even all of that pales in comparison to some of the other stuff we’ve found over the last couple of weeks. Some of the strangest include canned foie gras, burgundy escargot in these little jars, seafood pate in toothpaste tubes, canned baba ghanoush, canned stuffed grape leaves, and quail eggs. I have to say though that the two most bizarre food items we’ve found were a case of canned haggis and several bags of chocolate dipped pork rinds.

This whole going through people’s houses has made me think. We all have to die at some point, but what do we leave behind us? I’m not talking about the philosophical or spiritual; that’s more complicated than I want to think about right now. I’m talking about the literal, physical stuff we leave behind. The flotsam of the lives we lead day-to-day.

In houses all over this city private lives are being exposed; hobbies, interests, professions, and obsessions. In one house we found an amazing assortment of tools for making watches and jewelry. In another we found over a hundred pieces of fishing equipment hung neatly on the wall in one of the bedrooms. In one small house there wasn’t a place you could look without seeing some type of Disney memorabilia. In yet another we found there must have been a person living there who had some form of OCD or mental illness because even the socks in the drawers were organized and sealed in plastic wrap and stored in Tupperware containers. Then there are the private lives and secrets. In the closet, out of the closet, and everything in between; porn, S&M, fetishes of every flavor, and some “marital aids” that were so complicated they required an owner’s manual to operate.

It’s so hard not to be embarrassed when going through people’s drawers, files, and lives. It’s made me even more careful about what I might be leaving behind for my kids to clean up. With the way things are going I might not have time to clean it up myself before I got.

Day 95

I fixed a really good breakfast this morning if I do say so myself. I’ve gotten several comments on it throughout the day. I made a Sweet Potato and Apple Bake using canned sweet potatoes and canned apples. Then I made cornmeal pancakes. It sure was good on a cool morning though things look to be warming back up … figuratively and literally.

It started out a really nice day and stayed that way weather-wise. But about mid-morning all the pleasure in the day pretty much evaporated.

Teri is up but looking really bad. For most of the day she sat in a chair out front of the hospital and soaking up some Vitamin D from the glorious sunlight we had. Today being Cleaning Day the children, or at least those not on guard duty, were helping clean their respective homes. Patricia, much improved and back living with Dixon, actually made a joke about how it wasn’t fair since I had so many kids to help me. I had joked right back about lending her a couple with the kids mock groaning (I had promised them a little free time if they finished their chores for the day early) when McElroy signaled that we had people approaching.

Bo was the runner and came back with the info that it as a contingent from Ehren Cutoff. Contingent … no, it actually turned out to be a pilgrimage of sorts I guess. Jeremiah Lawrence arrived in full regalia – swiped from the church his group was currently living in I suppose – with several of his “disciples.” Where before I had doubted the conversion he claimed, now I had no doubt he has been converted … to insanity. He was “preaching” in front of our front gates, the basic message being that they had rights to Sanctuary as it was the location of the beginning of his conversion. He stood outside of the front gates the remainder of the day preaching and prophesying that those of us in Sanctuary would fall if we didn’t accept Brother Jeremiah as our one true and rightful leader.

Lawrence’s voice was loud and carried quite far, drawing an inordinate number of zombies. We saw no choice. Were we supposed to let the poor lunatic and his followers get torn apart because they didn’t have the sense to be quiet? While it would have solved a problem for us and been convenient to let the zombies take care of him, what kind of people would that have made us? But we weren’t going to be stupid about it either. We didn’t open the gates, but we sanitized the zombies as they came too close. Luckily no hordes were in the area.

Brother Jeremiah Lawrence, in his fevered outlook, turned our actions around as well to say, “Look, they know Me and who I am; some protect He who they know to be the rightful Inheritor of Sanctuary. They are the ones who came before to prepare a place for Me and I shall be merciful to those who become true believers. The others who oppose Me will reap the reward for blasphemy.”

Since I had a pretty good idea what the "reward for blasphemy" likely was, I was tempted at that point to leave the wall and just go ahead and let the zombies have him after all. Unfortunately he had his twelve “disciples” with him and a couple of them were little more than children. I couldn't watch them get torn apart for the sins of Brother Jeremiah's lunacy. The good Brother’s demands seemed endless; food, water, entrance, weapons, ammo, clothing, women for his unattached male followers, etc. We only kept the zombies at bay; we were afraid if we gave Lawrence's group anymore than that, if we gave them an inch, they would take a mile. Finally Brother Jeremiah and his disciples left a couple of hours before dark set in. Something tells me they aren’t gone for good though. But the fact that they had the sense to leave before dark means that at least some small part of them still understands that they aren’t invulnerable to the zombies, maybe there is hope for some of them if they can be deprogrammed.

Over a dinner of deep fried carrot fritters, new peas, and chicken casserole we discussed the progress of current projects, supplies we are in need of, and the potential threat posed by the Ehren Cutoff crazies.

I had known that many of our people here in Sanctuary didn’t practice any organized religion but I hadn’t realized just how anti-religion some of them are. Our family attended church regularly before the NRS plague made that impossible. We also do things like include religious and moral training with our kids’ school lessons and at meal times we say Grace together before we eat. However we try and be careful not to impose our beliefs on the other group members or make any kind of spectacle of ourselves. We try to be sensitive to other people without compromising our own core beliefs and we really try hard not to appear like hypocrites. We are fully aware we aren’t perfect. We don't make ourselves out to be somehow better than the others.

I guess our attempt at sensitivity led me to expect other members were behaving in the same way. Matlock surprised me by being rapidly opposed to organized religion. That set off a tiff between him and Becky who, while not “religious” strongly respected the rights of others to be so. Dante’ and Tina were both from very pious families but had not attended church for years. The same was true for Cease. McElroy was a non-practicing Catholic from a strict upbringing and didn’t understand our “casual” practice of our beliefs and therefore they hadn't even really registered apparently. Everyone else had their own take as well except for Teri who was a hard-care atheist and who proceeded to explain why we were all just as delusional as Brother Jeremiah.

The whole discussion about religion was deteriorating into a squabble when Patricia of all people stepped into the breach.

“Let’s drop the ‘how-we-choose-to-practice-what-we-believe’ problem about whose right and who’s wrong. That’s what religion is, how we practice what we believe, and it seems every one of us chooses to practice our beliefs a little different. I think what we are seeing is more a matter of faith than religion anyway. We all have faith in different things and people, need to have faith of some type to keep going. Sometimes that meshes with our religion and obviously sometimes it does not which is why some of us don't practice an organized religion. Those people, the ones following Lawrence, have chosen to revere ‘Brother Jeremiah’ because they lost something important in this plague - what made them feel safe, secure, connected. They are trying to replace what was lost with faith in ‘Brother Jeremiah.’ The question should be do we think their faith in Lawrence is misplaced, if so then why, and how does this impact Sanctuary?”

A few folks kept trying to say that it was a matter of religion but most of us admitted that Patricia had a good point. It was more an issue of faith. Even those of us who chose not to practice an organized religion still had some core beliefs that we felt were non-negotiable. It was these core beliefs that prevented us from falling under whatever spell that Lawrence was able to weave. Jerry and Muriel restated that most of the people who chose to stay with the Ehren Cutoff enclave did so either out of fear of trying to find a new place to belong or because Lawrence’s charisma and conversion struck a chord with them. Many were young, traumatized, and alone until Lawrence drew them into his fold.

Not much was accomplished beyond that we all agreed that we were going to have to be very careful when away from Sanctuary, more careful than we already were. If push came to shove we would have to use force, perhaps deadly force, to prevent any attempted take over or other hostile action. We did agree that Lawrence’s conversion was real to him and that he was likely to put this belief in himself above everything else including the safety of his followers and normal commonsense. For now all we can do is take a wait-and-see attitude about that group. We have too many vulnerabilities to start a feud and we don’t want to turn the Hale Hollow group – who still number some family in with the Ehren Cutoff group – against us since they are at least four times our size and a potential trading partner.

Teri, still not fully recovered from her withdrawal period and seizure, had to be given a sedative to calm her down. Something about the whole discussion of religion really disturbed her.

By the time the meal ran down our willingness to discuss Brother Jeremiah had also run down. So had daylight and the mosquitoes were coming out with a vengeance. We are rationing the mosquito repellent – one of our high demand items when we are out gathering – so that our night guards can continue to have enough. We need to be careful of any mosquito-born illnesses so I hustled the kids back onto the screened lanai and had them wash up for the night. The rest of us quickly packed up the remains of dinner, plated the leftovers for the nighttime guards, and turned the rest over to those on clean up detail

We’ve opted to skip daylight savings time this year so dark is setting in around 6:30 pm. All of the kids usually sit on our lanai and watch one movie or have a quiet game time or listen to a couple of chapters of whatever book we are studying. Usually those not on guard duty try and button up for the night between 9 and 9:30 pm. Comparatively that is “old folks’ hours” by previous standards but given the fact that we are usually up before dawn every day, no one seems to mind t. The youngest of the kids are usually nodding off by 8 pm if not sooner, depending on how hard they’ve worked and played during the day.

Tonight I made popcorn for those that wanted it and had just sat down to work on menus when Patricia asked if I would take a walk with her. Not sure what it was about I said yes because I figured if nothing else I owed her for the way we had started off in the beginning.

First, she wanted to talk about Teri of all things. I think seeing how Teri is acting is make her very self-conscious. I reassured her and said that Teri’s choice and the consequences for them is nothing like what she went through. Teri made a choice to continue exploiting her addiction, she had no choice about the trauma she had experienced at the hands of the gang. And while I admit she has had a few setbacks she is at least trying in a way that Teri doesn’t appear to be. I think that set her mind at rest some, but if I had to find something good about Teri’s behavior, at least it is making Patricia think and way alternative options.

Next she blew me away by saying that she knew about Rachel and Dixon and knew that I knew. She said she had seen how I was avoiding them lately and how uncomfortable a couple of things said at table tonight about faithfulness, etc. had made me.

She laughed, “You’re a terrible liar. You would have been eaten alive in the world I used to live in.”

I asked, “Good thing or bad thing?”

“Good thing these days I guess but you might want to leave the trade agreements to me.”

We both shared a sad chuckle and then she sighed and said, “I don’t know if I can raise this baby. I do know that I can’t raise it with Dix.”

She let my confounded silence stretch and the added, “It’s OK you know. He and I had a good run but the only way we’ve lasted as long as we have is because we had enough room to go our separate ways most of the time. Samuel has been the glue that kept us coming back together the last couple of years. But because of Samuel I don’t think either one of us really knows how to break things off completely. We don’t want to hurt him. He’s the best of both of us.”

“Geez Patricia. I don’t know what to say. Have you told Dixon how you feel?”

“No and I’d appreciate it if you kept it to yourself for a while yet. Maybe I’m being a bitch but I want Dix and Rachel to sweat it out a little until I can figure out what I really want. This world we are living in is no place for a woman with children to be on her own.”

“I agree with you but here are probably some women who wouldn’t.”

“Don’t care whether they agree with me or not to be honest. I’m know I’m no Rambo and I won’t put Samuel at risk just for my own vanity. I’m pregnant on top of that. I need to know I have someone who’s got my back when the chips are down. And I’ve got needs too. Dix and I have always had communication problems but the sex was great. I’m not sure I want to give that up.”

Blushing a little at her frankness I responded, “I wouldn’t know how I would make it if something happened to Scott; but for the sake of the kids I would try.”

“I can see that which brings me to this other thing I wanted to talk to you about. If I can’t raise this baby, for whatever reason, do you think you and Scott would take it?”

I was purely blown away, “Patricia, that’s a ways off and …”

“I KNOW it’s a lot to ask. I saw what you went through with Kitty before Hall died, It’s just that even if I can’t be a mother to this baby, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want what’s best for it. You and Scott always put the kids first but you seem to be able to do it without spoiling them rotten. What’s more there’s no difference between your biological children and your adopted ones. Not one of them gets treated like the red-headed step child.”

“I appreciate your vote of confidence, it means a lot. But why don’t you cut yourself some slack for now. You just found out you are pregnant and you are trying to decide what you do and do not want with Dixon. I can say that Scott and I have talked privately and we agreed that we’ll take in any child that is homeless unless someone else volunteers first.”

We left it at that and when we had finished our circuit of the inner compound area she gathered Samuel and went across the street to the house she shared with Dixon. I’m just not sure whether to call it her home or not.

I turned to go inside when Scott came out of the darkness and nearly gave me a heart attack. I felt so guilty about keeping things from him that I just blurted it all out then and there. Scott shook his head and laughed at my gullibility. He then proceeded to explain to me that Rachel and Dixon were the worst-kept secret in Sanctuary; it’s just that no one is saying anything, trying to give them some privacy to give the three of them room to work things out.

I felt stupid. I had had no idea. It still doesn’t change the fact that it could get messy but at least now I’m glad to know that Patricia isn’t totally in the dark. Wonder how many “secrets” people are keeping. We all live so close, like some oversized family in a small house. The only time we get to get away from each other is when we go on gathering runs. It has its good points and its bad. Hopefully we’ll keep the family squabbles to a minimum. We’ve got enough troubles outside our gates without developing ones amongst ourselves.

Day 100

Today is a landmark day on our plague calendar. One hundred days; it was hard for me to fathom it going this far when everything started and now I have a difficult time remembering how things used to be. The last five days’ weather has only reinforced how different our lives have become.

Rain, rain, rain … five days of the stuff. Our water barrels have to be emptied several times each day. My garden would be a soggy mess if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s little more than sand and the water is just sinking right through it. We’ve filled up the garden’s water “tower” and also all the kiddie pools and garbage cans that we can find. We are trying to fill up the in-ground pools as well but that means going out in the rain more than I would like. Every single person in Sanctuary has the sniffles and I’ve been hard pressed to keep up with the demand for cocoa, hot tea, broth, and what have you to combat it. Luckily it isn't a cold rain, that would be misery inducing.

I guess we’ve had a late-season tropical squall line settle over the top of us, the rain feels like tepid soup. The canals are filling up as are the retention ponds lining US41. I really miss the weather reports. I think there is way for us to build our own weather station but it would have to be very basic and on a day-to-day basis and not any kind forecast like we used to get when VIPER radar was operating. I wonder if MacDill still has that kind of capacity or not. A rain gauge would be easy. So would a thermometer. We could also do a wind sock and maybe even a rudimentary wind speedometer. What would probably be the most useful to gauge bad weather would be a barometer. I know I have directions for this in one of the science experiment books I bought for the kids a few years ago.

Add to this as Scott and I had worried, putting in the sand bags caused some standing water problems in the lowland terrain that was beginning to swamp part of the main road through Sanctuary. The men had to go out and remove a section of bags which created a mini waterfall where the water finally poured off into the canals; like it was originally designed to do. We’re going to need a Plan B for security in that area, I’m just not sure what it will be.

The rain has made it difficult to feed everyone. No solar cooking; no sun. No pit cooking; the ground is soaked. My brick oven has been pretty useless too as we built it in a poor location … we need to reroute the water runoff from a valley in our roof, or move the brick oven. We finally had to string a tarp out in the yard so I could keep a fire going up off of the ground. I built it in a metal wheelbarrow base and put a heavy duty grill over the top that let me set large pots on it for boiling water and stuff. Breakfast has been grits or oatmeal except for one morning that I fixed breakfast rice. Lunch has been some type of soup. Dinner has been monotonous in my opinion; fried rice, rice fritters, instant brown rice casserole, Rice-a-Roni that I’ve doctored up, and tonight was broccoli and rice mixed with canned cheese soup. As long as we can make do without using our propane for cooking we will. Tomorrow though I plan on grilling fresh veggies and making bean patties. I don’t think anyone can stomach one more meal of rice.

Our garden has already been a lifesaver for us. The fresh produce has helped to stretch the canned goods. The canned goods’ sodium helps to flavor the fresh produce. It’s rare that anyone seriously complains about meal time. Even with all of the rain the garden is still going right along though I haven’t been able to plant anything new in about a week; that'll eventually catch up with my harvest schedule. My roses though are all diseased with black spot because of too much dampness. I expect I’ll see some mildew or wilt in the garden soon as well if the rain doesn’t let up. My container trees are loving the weather. Thank goodness I made sure that the pots drained well and the wind hasn't been too bad. I’ve pulled canistels, Meyer lemons, pomegranates, persimmons, and today I pulled the first of the prickly pears off of the big cactus that is the cornerstone of my edible hedge. I rarely have enough of any one kind of fruit to be worth a dish on its own so one or twice week we usually have a fruit salad of whatever is ripe all mixed together.

The one thing I'm most discouraged about is that I am being forced to use our precious propane for canning. No sun = no solar dehydrator. I have everyone on the gathering runs on the look out for a wood cook stove, even if it is only a small one. I know a couple of places I could find one (Cracker Country out at the State Fair Grounds for one) but it’s too far away and out of our territory for now. My dream/fantasy is to find some of the stuff in all of these storage containers that we haven’t had time to go through yet. What I’d love to do is to build a summer kitchen near the garden so that I could work and cook at the same time without having to worry about a house fire. This would also free up the older girls – Rose, Melody, Maddie, and Josephine – from having to babysit the cook fire all day long.

If I take away that chore I’ll have to find them something else to do. Examining the contents of the aforementioned storage containers springs to mind. I’ve been trying to keep the older girls busy while the young men have downtime and I know that Scott and Matlock have tried to keep the young men busy when the older girls have down time. Meals and on Rest Days are about the only time their paths cross for more than a few minutes at a time. This keeps temptation to a minimum. It keeps from someone constantly having to play duenna too.

Rose and David continue to enjoy each other’s company. Whether anything comes of it in the long run I don’t know. Scott and I wouldn't mind it even though we think it’s too soon for that kind of commitment. For now they seem to be content with the status quo. Sometimes their breaks will overlap and they’ll go for a walk inside the inner compound, but they stay in view at all times and ready in case David has to man a zombie defense position or Rose is needed in the hospital.

Cease and Melody seem to have paired off as well; they make a nice couple. Cease tries to include Belle and Trent whenever he and Melody go for a walk which I would think effectively prevents any hanky panky from occurring. Melody isn’t mine to advise but I told her Cease has always been a nice young man around me even during particularly troublesome times. Gee, I feel like someone should be singing that song Matchmaker, Matchmaker from Fiddler On The Roof.

Josephine is still grieving for her family but appears to have it better in hand than she did. She doesn’t appear to be jealous of Rose or Melody, thank goodness. She is actually a very beautiful girl, if with a somewhat melancholy edge to it, and her initial immaturity seems to have passed. I think her grandmother would be proud of her and I've made a point of telling her so. Marty continues to try and get her attention but she is unimpressed. It is kinda funny. I don’t think he is used to having to work to get the girl. Trish keeps Maddie so busy lately I don’t think she’s even had time to realize she’s no longer bell of the ball.

I love how we are blending the old and the new to create a good thing for us here in Sanctuary. The way we are all trying to work together to make sure the kids don’t get into trouble is pretty amazing and we did it without really any planning. We are looking at new ways of doing things as well however. Traditions are good, but we also need flexibility.

As a group we’ve voted to celebrate Sanctuary’s first thanksgiving on the last day of November rather than on the fourth Thursday of the month; but we’re leaving Christmas on December 25th as is traditional. This gives me just enough time to gather up everything we’ll need. As a surprise I’m going to make homemade rootbeer using a few bottles of McCormick’s brand rootbeer extract and some bottles and corks that I’ve been setting aside as I find them.

It’s unlikely that we’ll be having turkey this year; not impossible just not likely. The wild turkeys around here have always been few and far between and I don’t know what affect the zombies have had on the wild animal population. I have seen a few deer wandering around though they are still real skittish. They aren’t White Tails but some small, scrawny Florida deer. There are some turtles out in the orange grove but I’m not real fond of turtle to be honest and you have to work like crazy to get to just a little bit of meat. Dixon says he has some ideas but he never seems to get around to talking about them which drives me a little crazy. I mentioned it to Scott yesterday and he just gave me his mysterious grin. (Groan) When men, particularly my man, gets all mysterious it usually means they are up to something .... which invariably leads to a mess for us women to clean up.

I know as a group we’ve discussed the possibility of a wildlife population explosion; it was in conjunction with providing some pest protection for the garden. But it may be a season or two before we see any of this. It depends on how the predator situation is and whether they can find enough to feed on. I'm going to keep thinking on it, but without any new options I'm not sure which way to jump yet.

If we can't find a turkey or deer big enough for a feast then I’ll either use some of the canned wild meat that we found at that house over in Lake Magdalene or I'll make a big, traditional Cuban dinner of garbanzo bean soup and arroz con pollo. I’ll fill the rest of the meal out with cakes and pies (to avoid that age old debate of cake vs. pie). I'll also add salads, side dishes, and maybe a few other surprises besides the rootbeer. I've been craving apples like crazy and I have this recipe for an Apple Pie Cake; it’s the one that Nana used to make for Easter every year. But, what I wouldn't give to be able to bite into a fresh, crisp apple. Unless trade starts back up I won't be seeing that any time soon. Apples can't grow in this neck of Florida.

The weather has the zombies acting weird again. This confirms our suspicion that the sound of the rain and/or thunder overwhelms the disease’s control of the corpses’ neural system. Perhaps too much data or something for the decaying brain to process. Electricity may play a role as well but it’s not as easily observable without some scientific instruments and those we don't have.

We used to try and keep track of the number of zombies we sanitized but we lost count when during the last horde came through. At that point our group had easily sanitized over three thousand zombies, not including the earliest days when we were unorganized and still fighting for our lives on an hour by hour basis. Out of a county of over a million people that isn’t really that many. About the same number that died in the World Trade Center bombings. Hale Hollow claims they’ve sanitized over 7,000 zombies. Their people get extra food credits for every provable zombie sanitation so the number is likely close to correct. The MacDill enclave I’m sure has sanitized easily two or three times that many. Even if you say that all the enclaves in Hillsborough county have sanitized between 50,000 and 100,000 that still leaves a lot of people or a lot of zombies unaccounted for. There aren’t enough bullets that could take care of them all.

Certainly our septic tank strategy of dealing with corpses hasn’t worked. We’ve started piling the bodies in a dump truck and taking them to a dump that is about five miles away once a week or so. McElroy, obviously a Stephen King fan, says it’s OK as long as you think of the bodies as cord wood. Didn’t help me any when I took my turn on corpse brigade. I don’t know what nightmare muse visited Mr. King but he got one thing right; the sound of change falling from a dead man’s pockets is psychosis inducing.

Cease and David started goofing around with the idea of using garbage trucks to dispose of the zombies, similar to what the NRSC did back in the early days of the plague. Then McElroy and Waleski added in that it would be nice if we didn’t have to use so much ammo sanitizing the creatures. Jerry, a former waste management employee, suggested jury-rigging an open-ended dumpster to the front of a dumpster-loader type garbage truck and use it like a scoop to shovel up the dead and dump them into the rear of the truck. At that point they would be … trash compacted is as close a description as I can understand. Either way it seemed terribly gross, but definitely effective as well. The fluids wouldn’t even leak out until we were ready to dump it. And, as Jerry explained, all the new waste management trucks were automatic transmission to save on driver training costs so even somebody like me could drive one of those things if need be. And filled with fuel those trucks are supposed to operate for like fourteen hours even in stop-and-go traffic. This will definitely be something we will be considering closely.

Something really eerie happened after the sun first went down tonight. At first I thought the dogs were just sensing the zombies acting weird but man, they wouldn’t let the kids out of the house. I thought Dixon was going to kick them cause they were growling really ferocious. Then Cease comes in white as a sheet and says he swears he saw some animals tearing into the zombies and making some god-awful racket. None of us heard it ‘cause it had started raining pretty good at that point. Matlock and Dixon took the night vision goggles and went out to climb the reinforced guard tower. Cease isn’t prone to seeing things so they took him serious.

When they came back they said something had definiely gotten into the zombies because some of our more persistent ones were laying in pieces on the ground. I pray that zombie-ism hasn’t suddenly become able to infect animals. That’s all we need. How can things get any scarier?

Day 101

I’m still shaking and can’t seem to warm up. I think I’m just about cried out but anything could set me off again. I doubt I’ll write as much as I normally do. The only reason I’m doing this now is because Scott finally sent me in here with a solar lantern so that the men could get some planning done without being distracted by my white and tear streaked face.

God what a day this has been. The rain stopped last night so I started out hoping to get dried out and back on schedule. But, a couple of hours after daybreak Lawrence and some of his followers showed up again. Only this time they are trying to do some sort of exorcism because they say we tried to send devils after them during the night.

From the front guard tower Dixon hollered down to them we hadn’t sent anything their way, much less devils or demons. They wouldn’t listen of course and proceeded to do some kind of “Wall of Jericho” re-enactment. They marched around our wall singing, banging pots and pans, and generally behaving like they were in the throws of some kind of Charismatic Pentecostal fit.

Their noise drew zombies of course. After a couple of hours of the nerve-wracking noise, several of us were ready to let the zombies have them. But after they had made seven complete turns around our wall they left, leaving us with more zombies and less ammo.

Right after lunch, after Lawrence and his followers had left, is when it happened. James was working with Samuel, Bo, Tom, and Brandon on some type of formation sling shot thing. They always practice right on the other side of the animal pens, using targets on the trees and steel walls on the container to keep from hitting people, animals, or windows.

Since Samuel was busy, Sarah was carrying some corn to Henrietta Hog by herself. All adult attention was focused outward, dealing with the zombie threat. Suddenly the air was rent by the screams of both Sarah and the hogs.

No mother should ever have to suffer what I felt at that moment.

I’m still shaking though I think I’m just about cried out. Patricia just brought me some tea to drink so I’ll try and sip that while I finish this entry.

The adults didn’t reach the animal pens until it was all but over with. All I remember are the screams and everyone running toward them, but this is how the boys told the story to us.

Sarah carried the pail of feed and slop into the hog pen so that Samuel could finish up with sling shot practice. She had just turned from latching the gate behind her when something large and white fell out of the tree onto a couple of the piglets right at Sarah’s feet which set both the hogs and Sarah screaming. Sarah instinctively swung the pail at what had hit the ground.

James swung around with his .22 at the same time the animal swiped at Sarah sending her to the ground. The dogs bolted into the enclosure and got between Sarah and the animal. The animal swiped at Sundance sending him nose over tail but this gave the boys the opportunity to let fly with their already loaded slingshots all at the same time; four rocks hitting the animal at high velocity, three of the four hitting the animal in the head. James then vaulted over the fence and pumped three rounds dead center of its forehead.

About that time most of the wall guards arrived with Matlock bellowing for our medics. James positioned himself between Sarah and the terrified mother hog to keep her from being trampled. The other boys were trying to catch the piglets that had escaped.

Scott and I were a split second before Rachel and Waleski. Sarah was bleeding badly from puncture wounds on her left upper thigh. She was also unconscious which is what scared everyone so badly. Cease and McElroy finally had to wrestle Henrietta Hog into the goat pen to give our medics room to work. We eventually found out Sarah was unconscious because she had been thrown into one of the fence posts. She hit the post hard enough that Rachel spent a good 45 minutes picking splinters out of her cheek and from around her eye; her eye is blood shot and she already has a horrible black and blue shiner. Waleski doesn't think her cheek bone is broken but it’s hard to tell. Her nose isn’t broken but it is bruised and she is having problems breathing through it because it is so swollen. She also has a concussion that we are watching. She was out a couple of minutes and groggy for quite a while after that.

The worst injury however is the four puncture wounds. There was so much blood. When we first got there I couldn’t figure out where all of it was coming from; her nose, a split lip for sure. The scalp wound bled something awful as well and required stitches. But her pants leg was the worst and soaked with blood, just dripping with it.

The animal? It was a white tiger, probably an escapee from Busch Gardens which is just about ten miles from us as the crow flies. It was a young female and her tits were full so she had to have a cub or two.

We lost one of the piglets. When the tiger pounced, she snapped the piglet’s neck. All of the animals continue to be nervous which could mean that other big predators are in the area. Maybe it’s left over blood smell, but we aren’t taking any chances. Dixon is going to take a crew and scout around for sign of spore and tracks first thing in the morning. Cease also has some idea of going to Busch Gardens itself but I’ve been too upset to really listen.

If we had finished that wall – raised it to 16 or more feet like we had planned to do more quickly – maybe the cat couldn’t have gotten in. I’m really upset about that and I’m going to push to get it done as quickly as possible even if I have to go on strike to get it done. I don’t know, I can’t think straight at the moment. The room is swimming so my nerves must really be shot.

Sundance had to be taped up and its not going to be fun trying to keep him from scratching the scabs when they begin to heal. Both of the dogs have been quite pleased with themselves but are showing signs of being even more protective than before. That could be good and not good depending on their aggression. Our little female pup refuses to leave the house. It must be the smell of the tiger blood or maybe the vibes from the other animals.

I’m a nervous wreck. I didn’t fall apart until after Rachel and Waleski said Sarah was going to be fine assuming no infection at the puncture wound sites. Cat's claws are nortoriously dirty. Patricia took over looking after the kids so that I could have a nice quiet breakdown. Speaking of Patricia she must’ve slipped something into the tea she brought me ‘cause ………….

Day 102

I have felt strung out all day today. And angry as well though I’ve behaved myself.

Last night Scott asked that something be put in my tea and Patricia got the short straw and had to bring it to me. He wanted me to sleep because with what they had planned when I was out of the room they knew I was strong-willed enough that I could make enough noise to stop them, or at least delay them until they thought it through a little more. I swear the testosterone must have been at poisonous levels last night.

They went out last night. After dark. And what happened?! They proceeded to get treed … by hyenas … and zombies!!

Of course I didn’t know any of this until midmorning after a rescue had been made and they were back inside Sanctuary relatively unscathed save for their pride. I woke on a cot in the room they had put Sarah in yesterday. I felt similar to being hung over but without the pukes. Rachel was there quickly and helped me to sit up. She checked my blood pressure and pulse before letting me get up and move around; I guess they hadn’t expected the meds to hit me as hard as they did.

Scott showed up within minutes so one of the kids must have been acting as a runner. My other kids all piled in as well and woke Sarah whom I had to then ascertain was doing as well as could be expected. She was in a good deal of pain but it was manageable. We are running out of pain meds too quickly thanks to Teri’s little episode and now my daughter is an indirect victim of Teri’s selfishness.

I noticed that Scott had that “rode hard and hung up wet” look. I wouldn’t have made too much of it if the kids’ guilty and furtive looks at their father hadn’t put me on notice that something was up. Yeah. I finally got it all out of him while some of the other guys stood around looking sheepish waiting for the big I-told-you-so blow up.

Oh I was angry. Boy was I angry. No, I was furious. (1) He sedated me without my permission. (2) We didn’t discuss the lunacy of him going out at night. (3) He didn’t say good bye. (4) If they were gonna act like lunatics it was my right to stay awake and worry myself sick if I was so inclined. However, I’ve learned a few lessons over the last couple of months and managed not to embarrass myself or my family by losing my temper in public. I know he did what he thought was best for me but the only thing I really told him was that if he ever drugged me again he’d better plan on eating out of someone else’s kitchen. I think he got what I meant without having to get too specific with the kids around.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still angry, but what am I supposed to do about something that is a fait accompli? Sit down and throw a tantrum? What good could that possibly do? Patricia was rather sheepish as well but I’d done the same thing to her … both of us acting in the other’s best interest. Tit for tat and all that.

Their recce was successful in one respect I guess; they found predators, just not the ones they had expected. They didn’t even make it a half mile from Sanctuary before they ran into trouble. When they first heard the noise they thought maybe it was a dog pack.

The four who went hunting were Dixon as the commander, Cease and Jerry because they have the most hunting experience, and Scott because he knows the area better than anyone else. Scott’s first possible location turned out to be the “right” one … for the hyenas anyway.

A section of the fence around the retention pond area just to the northwest of Sanctuary was knocked down way back during the first round of rioting and had never been restored before things fell apart completely. The grass in those retention areas – all over the place for that matter – has gotten pretty tall (we are cutting it for animal bedding and feed). In that particular location it is higher than Dixon is tall and that’s saying something considering Dix is well over six feet.

That “pond” is dry 90% of the year, only keeping standing water during the rainiest rainy season. I guess the rain of the last week, mimicked that time of year and all the water had driven the big predators out into the open. As the men walked … yes, I said walked, apparently so they wouldn’t make noise and scare away what they were hunting (insert long suffering female sigh right here). As they walked down to the retention pond they didn’t really hear much. Jerry admitted that the quiet should have given them some warning but we’ve just become accustomed to the zombies causing the animals to keep a low profile. They decided to climb a tree to see whether they could see over into the long grass. Thank goodness they hadn’t actually walked into it. About that time they heard some rustling and some yipping.

Scott said he’d never climbed a tree so fast in his life, not even when he was a boy. And he did it with a fifty pound pack on his back since he was carrying some of their emergency supplies. Once all the men had secured their seats, Dixon started trying to signal Sanctuary using a lantern. Luckily we have just finished raising and reinforcing a new guard tower on the NW corner of the compound. James had volunteered to man that one and to keep an eye out for possible trouble and Samuel had agreed to act as his runner. They were both still anxious about Sarah and refused to sleep is my understanding. Not long after the first flash was noticed, the boys had Matlock and McElroy up in the tower to read the message and they set to planning a rescue mission.

All during the night the men watched the hyenas bowl through the zombies tearing them apart. They weren’t really eating them except for bits and pieces of the least decayed ones. It was more like the hyenas were playing … or maybe teaching each other to hunt. It seems that after so many years in captivity they had to learn how to do things for themselves. The zombies were either the slowest prey for them to learn the skills on or their smell was making the hyenas a little crazy. Hyenas have an incredibly developed sense of smell.

Right after daybreak the hyenas left heading further north as a clan (or so Samuel tells us that is what a pack of hyenas is called). Sweet boy. He spent his free time today sitting with Sarah and reading to her out of book on the animals of Africa.

Unfortunately the racket during the night had drawn quite a crowd of zombies. Wonder what you call a bunch of zombies that don’t quite make enough to be considered a horde; “too many” whatever the correct term might be. According to Dixon it was interesting to note how the zombies didn’t make any direct aggressive attacks on the hyenas. They hardly even reacted when they were taken down and torn apart. Some of that would have been their lack of pain reception. But the lack of aggression was really different from what we are used to. Maybe the zombies only register humans or domesticated animals for some reason. Or maybe it is something specific about the hyenas. Add another couple of questions to the long list we already don’t have the answers for.

For the rescue McElroy drove the tow truck and Junie, now fully recovered and working on getting all the way back in shape, drove the F350. McElroy drove around clearing out the zombies under the tree then Junie pulled up and the men climbed into the bed of the truck and from there into the cab.

Once back in Sanctuary they sent a warning out over the radio letting whoever was listening know that there were big predators on the loose and specifically the general direction the hyenas were heading. We also supposed that the hyenas could have been the “devils” that we were supposed to have sent down to the Ehren Cutoff group … or maybe some other wild animals. The yipping and cackling that a hyena makes though would certainly seem like a devil in the dark of the night to highly susceptible and terrified people.

A small group we’d never heard of radioed back and said that would explain the elephants on the green at USF. Another small group warned they’d lost two dogs to what they think were komodo dragons or Nile crocodiles escaped from Lowry Park Zoo. The second group has a former zookeeper from Lowry as a member and this man warned that if those animals were loose most would be hungry and probably desperate after being cared for by humans for so many years. He also warned that many primates (like chimpanzees and baboons) will become aggressive and carnivorous if stressed and their normal food supply is unavailable.

Lovely news that. Not only do we have to watch out for zombies, raiders, and lunatic cult leaders, now we need to be watchful for dragons, man-eating monkeys, and being trampled to death by elephants. Can life possibly get more bizarre?!

It’s possible something good will come of this strange situation. Cease and Jerry want to go hunting … on the Serengeti Plains; well, on the plains of Busch Gardens anyway. All those two have been able to talk about is whether any of the big game is still around like the African antelopes or buffaloes. I confess even my mouth has been watering thinking of the potential for fresh meat.

And it sounds like those two small groups want to have more contact with us. Maybe not become members in Sanctuary but as trading partners or as a satellite community. We’ll see. Hale Hollow has already called extolling the benefits of their community. More fool them for giving so much information out over the radio. I guess they haven’t learned their lesson about raiders yet.

As for what the rest of the day held, I didn’t have to go on strike to get the wall up faster. As a matter of fact they had already started on that before I even woke up. Guess I’m not the only one wishing we had gotten it taken care of sooner.

Almost every other improvement project in Sanctuary has been abandoned so that everyone can help to finish the wall. The Pods are being emptied willy-nilly. As quickly as they are emptied they are being stacked on top of the heavier steel storage containers that we found in that commercial lot. We won’t have enough but McElroy and Matlock are hauling in eighteen wheeler trailers and are putting them on top of the storage containers as well on their sides with the wheels facing into Sanctuary. They are nearly the same width as the storage containers are high so there isn’t all that much different. And with a length of about 50 feet, it takes a lot fewer of them to create the top of the wall than it would take of the Pods. We’ll remove the wheels on the trailers eventually and use them as raised gardening beds or as forms for pouring concrete columns or something like that.

The compound is a mess and I’ve been trying to go through the mess and pull anything that just jumps to mind eventually. We’ve got a storage container already over flowing with Christmas lights but we figured we might be able to use them as interior lighting once we get a good power system figured out.

Blessing of blessings, I’ve found two treadle sewing machines. If neither of them works I might be able to cannibalize them to build one whole, working sewing machine. Also plenty of antique linens that I’ll set aside to see what is too fragile to use and what can be made into something practical. Also some antique clothes along the same lines.

Bikes, bikes, and more bikes that can be stored in yet another location. And more than a few old pieces of exercise equipment including several stationary bikes that we hope to turn into bike powered generators.

I’m a little disappointed in the contents of the units we’ve emptied thus far today. Mostly it looks like a bunch of junk that people just haven’t been able to bring themselves to get rid of yet. We’ve actually started re-stuffing some of the Pods full of stuff that we’d never have need of before they are put onto the Wall. Paintings, personal photographs, furniture, etc. all gets stuff in there as neatly as possible. I mean it hasn’t all been useless just a lot of it is junk that is too much of a waste for us to get rid of right now. Maybe at some later point.

The 18-wheeler trailers have actually been more interesting; building supplies, stuff to stock discount stores, auto parts, etc. We’ve actually found some foods as well; human and animal. I’m amazed at how much stuff we are still finding, even after a couple of months. It seems that there are a lot of places that we still haven’t exploited. The problem is we have limited space. It would be nice to just haul in everything that is potentially useful at some point in the future but there simply isn’t room to store it.

We are cutting back limbs that used to hang over the wall as well. We think that might have been how the white tiger got in. She climbed one tree, jumped onto the top of the wall, crept around to a convenient tree and then from there pounced into the hog pen.

We have another two or three days to finish the wall and then the men are going hunting. But until we have secured Sanctuary there isn’t anything more important. I want those sixteen foot walls and I want them right now.

Day 103

Sarah has run a low grade temperature most of the day. Rachel and Waleski both have been monitoring her to see if it is just a reaction to the trauma or infection at the wound site. The puncture wounds are enflamed but not more than expected. We have to continue to watch her closely; it could have been so much worse than it was. Cats often snap the neck of their prey before you can say bob’s your uncle.

Rachel assured me that the antibiotics should be all that is needed to keep her on the road to recovery. I asked her why they hadn’t stitched her leg because it still bleeds quite a bit in my opinion. She responded by explaining so that the wounds can drain. If they were to stitch them up too soon they could actually seal the infection In.

It’s strange but somehow the tiger attacking Sarah has released all of us from an almost complacent stupor. We were just making do; reacting rather than being more forward thinking. Suddenly creative juices are really flowing like they were in the beginning of this plague.

Partly I think it’s the zombies. As an enemy they are almost mythic. They engender a kind of morbid fascination and are definitely real but at the same time something more than that. Our mind treats them either like an avoidable disease or an unimaginable horror that takes all of our time and mental energy to deal with. We forget there are other horrors out there other things we have to be prepared for. We haven’t had to deal directly with raiders in a while though we’ve heard they are still around. But it’s almost a case of being out of sight, out of mind. Unless something is an immediate threat it doesn’t register.

But this tiger attack, it is outrageous but real in a way the zombies mentally aren’t. It struck at the heart of Sanctuary, at the heart of what Sanctuary stands for. It struck our children, our future, what we are working for. And it was the children who defended themselves – and us – from our new enemy. We should have been there for them.

It has changed our way of thinking. The first thing I noticed was that we stopped being stuck on using those storage containers to complete the Wall. Suddenly we branched out and found such an easy fix. There are plenty of semi trailers around. I don’t know why we didn’t see them as a solution before.

And what about using those stationary exercise bicycles to make generators? David has promised Rose a better way to grind corn and wheat with one of those bikes as well. It was a charming offer in a dorky sort of way but maybe that’s what courting is going to look like from here on out.

Those of us who were soldiers are talking about making supplies of black powder rather than suffering through greater and greater shortages of ammo. This made the kids think of fireworks as potential weapons. The grown ups thought of homemade bombs and homemade rockets.

Scott said he wants to bring in a school bus, strip out most of the seats, reinforce the windows and doors and use it for longer-haul gathering runs. Cease said to add front and rear gun turrets and it would be even better. David said to add an extendable ramp at the rear emergency door and pack three or four motorcycles in the rear for short runs. The bikes would use less fuel and they would also make for a quick exit in case a bugout from the bus was necessary.

As far as for my own ideas I have two main ones. First is a large pole barn built next to the library. We could take more picnic tables from Nye and Lake parks and use the covered area both as a “mess hall” and as a school once it gets too warm for the kids to study inside. And of course I want a summer kitchen too.

My other idea is to build several greenhouses. I don’t want to use up good gardening areas so I would likely stick them out in the orange grove. Why I hadn’t thought of doing this since Mabel’s house was demolished I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been thinking too small, or too traditionally; still in lockstep with the way things used to be. Sanctuary has been growing but somewhere along the way I stopped.

A concern that has amazingly enough been raised by Samuel and Sarah is that we need to hurry up and gather up as many domesticated animals as we can. They have no defense against the African predators. It will mean another expansion of our fenced in territory but I think we’ve come up with a way around that. We’ll make at least one layer of the semi-trailers parked end-to-end. We’ll use a mini dozer to push earthen berms under the trailers. On top of those trailers we’ll stack cars that we’ve crushed and cables and bolts to tie them in place. Using broken down cars will also do something with the cars and trucks that we’ve just pushed off to the side of the road to get the out of our way.

This innovative thinking has even stretched into my menus. I pulled out some of my old-fashioned, Depression-era cookbooks and recipe files and found a few new ones I want to try on everyone. A “pretend” apple pie that doesn’t have apples in it, but saltine crackers. “Crab” cakes that don’t use crab but zucchini. A spice cake that doesn’t use milk, eggs, or white sugar. Ways to extend flour by adding various other ingredients. I knew about all these recipes but I had just forgotten them because my focus has become so splintered.

With everyone pulling together we’ve almost finished raising the second layer of the Wall. All that needs to be done is in the fenced sections we need to attach another layer of aluminum fencing.

Tomorrow we’ll finish that work and prepare the crew that is going to Busch Gardens on Monday. We’ve also started the new animal enclosure. We are building a small gate from Sanctuary into the new animal enclosure but otherwise the new “pasture” area will be inaccessible from the outside.

With no more truly wide open spaces left inside Sanctuary we’ve annexed the closest thing to it by choosing to fence in some houses sitting on acreage at our NE corner. We didn’t include them originally because we thought we were limited on fencing material, now we have more than enough to build another wall. After we close the area in we’ll cut more of the grass, right now it is really high. We are going to draw the zombies out of those areas by setting off an air horn a good distance from Sanctuary. We’ll sanitize the few stragglers and then we’ll close the new enclosure in completely.

Not even “Brother Jeremiah‘s Dog and Pony Show” has interrupted our work; although our work has interrupted their plans to continue their seven circuit march. Of course Lawrence’s delusions led him to believe we were making the improvements for his grand entrance that is supposed to take place in the very near future. They left around lunch time taking some of the debris we had tossed out onto US41 … calling it a tithe.

I know we are going to have to do something about the Ehren Cutoff group sooner rather than later … Jerry and Muriel in particular are extremely distrustful of them … but so long as they have the semi protection of the Hale Hollow group we need to tread carefully; no matter how annoying they are, at least for now.

Speaking of Hale Hollow, we had bandied about the idea of asking them if they wanted to go hunting with us – safety in numbers – but they are in the midst of another “reorganization.” A contingent of five families has definitely broken away from that enclave and plan on setting up their own enclave back on the old Geraci Brothers property at the corner of Dale Mabry and Van Dyke Road. Their problem is a lack of food. They had to leave everything behind to escape from Hale Hollow. They stopped by and traded some work for enough food to get their group through two days so that they can get going on their own gathering runs.

The extra hands were much welcomed and that is why we are as far along as we are. They are building a little close for my comfort – we’ll easily have problems with overlapping territories unless they stick to the west side of Dale Mabry – but hopefully we’ll be able to stay at peace and maybe even build a good trade relation. Their group is made up of adults and a couple of teens; no children. People with children are too scared of leaving Hale Hollow, worried that they wouldn't be able to protect the youngest members of their group without support.

They did tell us that they know of a couple of families with kids desperate to move from Hale Hollow. Apparently the Hale Hollow group isn’t for everyone. They have an elitist outlook and what you were before the NRS plague still matters quite a bit. Also, though they say they welcome new comers, new group members start so low on the pecking order that it is almost impossible for them to get ahead enough to influence their situation. Newbies are little better than indentured servants; working to “pay back” what the community storehouse “gave” them to get them started when they came in with nothing. And until you pay back what you owe you don’t leave the compound. Sounds more like a form of slavery to me; like what the railroad and mines used to do to their employees.

Hale Hollow has gone even further and set up a police force that sounds more like a communist committee than public servants. They have a ton of rules (soon to be called “laws”) and infractions against these rules at a minimum result in a “fine” usually in the form of desirable goods or in community service hours. They have exiled a few people but usually they send habitual offenders to Brother Jeremiah for what is termed re-education.

That whole situation up there sounds like it is turning scary. At least it sounds like their numbers are coming back down. They were up to nearly 300 people. Two dozen people left last week to continue north (why do this in the middle of winter I don't know). The New Geraci group numbers 26, leaving Hale Hollow with roughly 250 members. There is a huge schism that could break off another 75-100 people that Greg, the spokesperson for the New Geraci group, said could happen any day the way hostilities are escalating. Their group got out while the getting was good, trying to avoid the potential bloodshed of civil war.

We’ll tread lightly with Brother Jeremiah so we don’t become an outlet, or focus, for all of the antagonism and anger in Hale Hollow.

Well I'm tired. Tomorrow is supposed to be a day of rest but I think we'll have to work through the whole day. It happens like that some times. But if we won't to go hunting on Monday we want to make sure we leave Sanctuary in the best position possible.

Day 104

No physical rest for us today. In fact we worked really, really hard. But we’ve achieved a great peace of mind which is just as important as physical rest is; it lets your mind rest.

Phase Two of the Wall is now complete. We have a good sixteen foot tall wall around 95% of Sanctuary. The remaining 5% is double stacked aluminum fencing that has been reinforced with steel rods, with razor wire and barbed wire woven through it. None of it will ever make the cover of House Beautiful but then again I’d rather be safe than pretty. We can make it pretty when the world returns to a halfway normal place to live. If it ever does. The definition of “beautiful” has changed so many times over the millennia that maybe it’s time for it to change again.

We’ve cut back, and cut down, any trees that could possibly be used by predators – animals and human – to get over the wall. We’ve stacked the resulting green wood to season in case we ever find that wood cook stove I keep dreaming about.

Phase 3 of the Wall project is to complete the animal enclosure wall, already 70% done. While the hunters are gone tomorrow those still in the compound will finish the remaining 25%, barring unforeseen problems.

Phase 4 of the Wall is more like phases 4, 5, & 6. First we are going to add a wall-walk or parapet to the top of the main Wall. This will be made primarily of wood faced with metal sheeting on the outside. Even if the metal sheeting rips away in a high wind, the way Scott is bolting and chaining everything together the framing should remain intact. Once the parapet height is added to the Wall it will be around twenty-four feet tall. Hurray! This parapet area will also have arrow loops cut into it as well as embrasures that will allow for larger weapons to be used. Scott's imagination has also run to defenses like machicolations where missiles or other objects could be dropped down on attackers, murder holes if we ever build a second surrounding wall that hot oil or other deadly devices could be thrown down on attackers, and a trebuchet or catapult; all very medieval, but all very effective under certain situations.

We do worry about wind storms taking our main defensive tool down. It’s been decades since Tampa has sustained a direct hit by a hurricane but we get high wind advisories fairly regularly during hurricane season. This past season has been a dud but I’m not complaining. The season officially ends November 30th and then won’t pick up again until June 1 and I won’t be sorry for the break. We've got enough to worry about right now.

As a consequence of the higher walls we need to increase the number and height of our guard towers; the towers are more difficult to build. So far Scott has been able to get all of the building materials he has needed locally by taking things from construction sites, by dismantling existing structures, and from stuff we’ve gathered from various businesses on US41. He is worried though about making the taller towers stable and structurally sound enough to withstand constant use. He’d like them to be a little like drum towers on castles but affixed to the inside of the wall rather than the outside corners, and square instead of round.

The last major part of the wall construction as far as I know is to increase the height and strength of the front and rear gates. A wall is only as strong as its weakest point. Scott is seriously thinking of a multi-gate system of entry and has nearly convinced Matlock and Dixon that the extra work will be worth it in the long run. The outer most component would be a draw bridge. This would require us tearing up the train tracks and tarmac at the end of the road where it feeds out onto the highway; no small feat and one requiring a bulldozer. We haven’t seen or heard a train since the derailment that started the Big Fire but we'd probably put warning signs a couple of miles along the tracks in either direction just to get rid of any guilt. Scott also wants the railroad ties for some projects he has planned so the destruction would serve more than one purpose. The drawbridge could be raised and lowered with the same type of mechanism used to raise and lower ship anchors and if the appropriate number of pulleys and such were used, even a child could do it in an emergency.

Next component, after the drawbridge, would be a strong portcullis of some type. This would stay closed at all times even if the drawbridge was down and the inner gates open. It would operate kind of like a screen door; air flow but no bugs, the bugs in this case being zombies or other unfriendlies like wild animals and raiders.

Last would be the heavy inner gate that could be locked with a cross beam or something similar. Eventually he said he would like to enclose the entire entrance in a gate house. This would give him a chance to build even more murder holes and defensive mechanisms; but that is some time off. We certainly won’t complete all of that before the hunt tomorrow.

Dixon will lead the first Busch Gardens Gathering Run. I’d rather it was Matlock but that might be a personal and unreasonable prejudice on my part. There isn’t anything wrong with Dix, I just like Matlock more. I'm still reeling a bit from the Patricia/Rachel/Dixon thing I guess. Cease and Jerry are going because they are the two most experienced hunters in Sanctuary. Waleski is going as the medic. It gives me butterflies thinking he might be needed. The last two members going on this run will be Scott and I. I’m not real happy about leaving the kids but we’ve been away together on shorter runs and the world hasn’t ended. The thing is that Scott and I both worked at Busch Gardens when we were in college and we also had yearly passes for the last few years and were there about once a month as a family. We know both the public areas as well as the backstage areas. With two of us we can break down into two groups of three rather than one large group. Considering no one else in Sanctuary has ever been to Busch Gardens this should really expedite our hunting and gathering.

With the six of us gone it will leave Sanctuary short-handed. Now that we have more room maybe we should consider recruiting some of the smaller, nomadic groups out there. A bigger wall means a bigger area to guard. I’ll be honest (this is my journal after all) and admit that I’m not too keen about taking in folks from Hale Hollow or Ehren Cutoff. We have enough problems of our own we are working through, we don’t need to inherit any other problems. I may have to eat those words in the future especially if children are involved, but since this is a private diary no one will know but me, at least not for years and years to come.

I talked to Patricia and asked her to keep an eye on Sarah for me. She said of course and I’m that relieved. Patricia has had her problems, and still does, but she knows what Sarah means to Samuel and has actually fostered their friendship to a certain degree. That’s fine with me. Samuel is a good kid. Patricia’s right; he is plainly the best of both Dixon and herself.

James (when not on guard duty) and Rose, with a little help from Becky and Tina, should be able to handle the rest of the kids including Kitty who is over the colicky stage she was in. David will be around as well when not working on the enclosure. The kids view him as a big brother and he’ll help James with the discipline if it’s needed, though he is a bit of a sucker and the kids all know it.

Becky and Matlock are over their disagreement of the other night and it doesn’t seem to have hurt their relationship any. To be honest it may have helped them to open up and talk about some deeper stuff than what is going on day-to-day. According to Becky, Matlock has some reason to be distrustful of organized religion, but she also said he’s now open to being proven wrong. Apparently parochial school was a nightmare for him and he lumped all organized religion under the same heading rather than weighing churches individually on their own merits. We all have our reasons for why we feel the way we do about things. The trick is to be careful that our feelings – due to mistrust or fear – don’t turn us into the thing we despise most.

I expect it to be nippy in the morning so I plan to be up early to get water boiling so I can fix several thermoses of coffee and tea to take with us on the run. We’ll make a quick breakfast of grits with bacon and cheese added in and I’ll pack a basket of cathead sized biscuits that have butter and molasses in their centers for a midmorning snack for those that get hungry. Lunch will be protein bars this time and we’ll be home before dinner. Just in case though we are throwing a case of MREs in the bus and plenty of treated water.

Aside from the normal expectation of a major run, something tells me that tomorrow is going to be special. I don’t know what it is but my anticipation is pretty high. We’ll head out as soon as the first rays light the sky and roll over any zombies that are in our way.

Day 105

Wow, this day has been something else. I mean really.

We left before dawn by about 30 minutes. Not my choice, but the guys wanted to get to the park at first light. We gave it the old college try but it didn’t happen, too much junk in the road that a bus simply can’t go around too quickly. Scott said if he can figure out a way he might try and put a dozer bucket or something similar on the front of the bus, maybe even with hydraulics, to facilitate moving road blockages. That's way outside his current skill set though and will require a good study before he can do it. The way things looked a battering ram would have been just as handy though a lot more noisier.

Zombies, unaffected by lack of light, roam all night and we usually have a small group wandering outside the gates of Sanctuary every morning. This morning was no different, but rather than having the guards clear the corpse brigade we used the bus to simply roll over them the same way we would have used the tow truck. I had forgotten that nasty, squishy noise and the weird feeling of the bumps when you run over a zombie. Totally ick. I hadn’t run the tow truck since the time of the raiders. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget something you’d rather not remember.

We loaded the bus late yesterday and double checked everything this morning before heading out. Our food and water was secured under the remaining benches at the front of the bus. The rear of the bus has a heavy-duty, folding trailer ramp hung across the rear emergency door and windows, providing additional protection in that area. The ramp can be used for the four motorcycles that have been secured back there. The remaining windows are covered with grill work. We haven’t had a chance to perfect the two gun turrets on top of the bus, but they are secure and serviceable, if not esthetically pleasing to look at. The windshield is already tempered but Scott added hurricane film to protect the windshield even more. The bus was also given a sort of urban camouflage paint job using supplies from a local car dealership. It isn’t pretty but it is better than driving a big yellow banana.

So we set out as secure as possible but not without some trepidation, at least on my part. I don’t know about the men, they all seemed kind of watchfully excited to be on such an adventure. Especially Dixon who, if he doesn’t get out and about very much, gets to be like a caged lion pacing around Sanctuary’s walls. I hadn’t been any further away from home than Vandervort Road in over three months so my anxiety level took a decided jump as we went beyond that point and turned onto Livingston Avenue and headed south to Bearss Avenue and then over to Bruce B. Downs Blvd. Passing all of the USF housing and what was left of the community hospital was disturbing. I had only heard about the destruction, seeing it with my own eyes … let’s just say I’m ever more thankful that my kids were home and not away at school some place. I shudder at the terror and anxiety that some parents had to go through. Hank hardly talks about his oldest son, but when he does you can see that there is still some small spark of hope left that he got out somehow; that he’ll never see the boy as an NRS plague victim. It’s really only wishful thinking but we all leave him alone about it.

We took Bruce B. Downs Blvd south to Fowler Avenue. As we crossed Fowler I could see that small fires apparently continue to break out here and there on campus. I don’t know if they are man-made or not and we didn’t have time to investigate. The sky was already beginning to brighten and traveling was slow going.

We had decided to enter the park at the employee entrance off of Bougainvillea Avenue. As we continued down Bruce B Downs to reach that road I hoped our memory was correct and that that entrance would give us the turning around circumference that we needed for the bus. Plus, because of the way that entrance was set up, we likely would not be as observable by others who may only know about the main park entrance at Busch Blvd and McKinley Street or the main employee entrance off of 30th Street. There was a small sheriff substation on the 30th Street side of the park but we wound up not having time to investigate it.

The employee entrance we went in was in the rear of the park and abutted right onto Tampa Industrial Park. The corporate offices for the park are at the entrance and housed mainly Accounting and Employee Services. The Tampa Industrial Park was another place we have added to our Run List now that we have a successful mode of transportation. The Yuengling Brewery is in the industrial park and all of the guys wanted to stop there. There are some other warehouses in there as well but some have been empty for a number of years. We simply can’t do everything we want in one day; today’s priority was Busch Gardens and that’s what we stuck with.

We pulled through the gates and idled the engine after we positioned the bus for a quick get away, if needed. Dixon got out and after a couple of moments signaled for the bus ignition to be turned off.

Looking around the parking lot where Scott and I shared many a kiss the first thing that struck me was the lack of zombies. In fact there weren’t even any corpses. It’s rare to be in an area with neither, especially given the cacophony of noise coming from inside the park in the form of bird calls and other miscellaneous animal sounds that should have drawn the zombies like magpies. Wondering didn't get the work done though so everyone grabbed an arm load of canvas bags. Garbage bags don’t hold up for very long and the canvas bags were the same kind that people used to go grocery shopping once so many stores stopped using plastic bags.

First we hit the back offices where I interviewed for my first job what seems like a million years ago. After breaking in we found the offices have been devoid of people for quite a while. They’d never even been looted. It’s possible that because of their location they were overlooked. Truthfully they aren’t all that interesting looking even when you know they are there.

The whole building was musty and the roof had leaked through the acoustic ceiling tiles in several places. There was mold and mildew all over so we popped on our N95 masks and goggles to try and avoid the worst of it. I’ve gotten used to working with gloves on and had already put them on before exiting the bus. I have a favorite pair of leather gloves that fit like a second skin; over the top of the surgical gloves that I do wear like a second skin if I’m outside of Sanctuary.

Cease and Dixon acted as lookouts as the rest of us went from office to office gathering anything that could be useful. Mostly all we found were office supplies, but the ladies restroom and the janitorial closets yielded quite a few things like feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, paper towels, and other cleaning supplies and chemicals. In the break room though we hit our first piece of pay dirt; coffee, tea, creamers, sugars, cocoa, and a nearly full vending machine. We were lucky none of it had been compromised by rodents. The roaches weren’t too bad either which led me to think the building had been treated regularly up until NRS closed the public areas of Busch Gardens. Most of the office plants had died but there were a few I was thinking about trying to save when Scott caught my eye, grinning, and shook his head “no.” Can’t blame a girl for thinking now can you? I love plants and I carried a few outside so that at the very least if they were going to die they could die in the sunlight.

We hauled our finds back to the bus and dumped them into a couple of the large storage tubs we brought along for this purpose. We finally set off into the heart of the park from there.

A short road led us first past the back of the Congo Train Station then behind the empty cages for the white tiger than aren’t within the public viewing area. Dixon was point with Scott right behind him. Cease was the rear guard with Jerry just in front of him. Waleski and I were in the middle. Everyone but me had a gun. I carried my handy-dandy machete that had yet to let me down in addition to a side arm that was less likely to put me on my rear if I actually had to fire it. We were going to check out a couple of restaurants together then break up into two groups and cover the rest of what employees call Area 2 (the rear of the park) with a rendezvous planned at the First Aid Station in Timbuktu. From there we planned to go through the Desert Grill (one of the park’s main restaurants) together and then break up again and cover Area 1 (the front of the park) with a rendezvous point at the front gate. Then as a group we’d go back by way of the main warehouse and then back to the bus and home, picking up any supplies we had piled along the way.

First we hit what used to be called Vivi Storehouse, a restaurant that I worked in for a couple of years that served things like fried chicken, triple-decker sandwiches, salads, and desserts. It was only a seasonal restaurant and wasn’t open when NRS came to town so I didn’t hold out much hope that we would find food there. But I did want to see if I could bring back any of the metal cooking utensils and rolling bins that were kept there.

The rear door of the restaurant was chained shut which they never did when Scott and I work in the park. This was either an additional security measure to prevent vandalism between seasons or they had done it when they closed the park to the public back in August. Either way it didn’t stop us. Scott made short work of the chain and lock with his bolt cutters.

With the roll down doors shut across the front, the interior of the place was pitch-black. However, nearly in the same places they were 25 years ago were the rolling flour bins (empty), the Lucite storage bins lined up on the metal shelving (also empty), and just inside the cook area was the rack where the utensils and knives were. I quietly and quickly loaded stuff into the rolling flour bins while everyone looked over the rest of the restaurant using LED head lamps that left their hands free. There was no talking, no real need for more than the occasional hand gesture; we had all been on so many gathering runs by this time that we worked together as a well-practiced team. I did get a pretty good spook when I turned to set my next load outside when I noticed the open door was allowing several possum-sized rats to exit the building.

With a shudder I remember those rats from when I worked in the park. They have no fear of humans. The Swiss House had been closed for several years when they decided to re-open it and renovate it for corporate events and casual dining. It was horribly infested with these large rats and the construction chased them out into the rest of the park. Because of the water and grassy areas and all of the hidden places in the animal enclosures they became an endemic nuisance that the zookeepers were constantly at battle with, much like the wild ducks that would migrate to the park every year and overpopulation by feeding on all the popcorn that was dropped by tourists.

Rather than going back to the bus every time we got a load of supplies we decided to make centralized piles that we would pick up along the way back to the buss. Luckily those rolling flat beds, like you used to see at Warehouse Clubs, are located at a lot of different places throughout the park. It’s how most supplies are moved around the interior where you can’t use mechanized vehicles. We decided to use those to push the various piles back to the bus and hopefully only have to make two or three trips back and forth to get it all.

Next a little shop that sold soft serve ice cream in waffle cones. We didn’t even bother going into it after we noticed one of the wooden panels over the door had been chewed through and the strong smell of rat feces that bellowed out at the smallest puff of wind. That didn’t bode well for the remainder of our run.

From there we stayed together as a group and passed the kids’ attraction called Jungala. I heard some scurrying and turned to see a gibbon swinging from the fake vines on some of the fake trees. Scott and I looked at each other with our eyes big and round. Gibbons are the fastest and most agile of the tree-dwelling monkeys. They are also very territorial and vocal about it. From the sound of things there was definitely more than one gibbon in there. Scott looked at Dixon and shook his head. We’d be by-passing the gibbon’s domain, at least for now. Better safe than sorry until we knew what we were dealing with.

Before I could turn Jerry taped my shoulder, nearly giving me a heart attack to tell the truth, and pointed to the path behind us. Cease was standing at ready as a large orangutan lumbered across the path we had just crossed. Oh boy. I mean oh boy. I don’t care how cute and funny they look, how remarkably intelligent they are supposed to be. Luckily I’m fairly certain that though they are opportunistic foragers the closest they come to being carnivorous is the fact that they will eat insects and eggs if they are handy. Still, I’ve been a city girl for too many years now and like my big hairy zoo creatures behind walls, or in the care of a trainer and leash, rather than using the same sidewalk as I am like. I felt like an interloper rather than someone who was supposed to be at the top of the food chain.

We avoided sudden movement and continued walking across the bridge into the Stanleyville area; passing the white tigers’ island. There were the remains of two mauled humans on the island. One was wearing the remains of a zookeeper’s uniform and the other body had street clothes on. Both kills looked like they had been bitten more than once. It was hard to tell from this distance how hold the corpses were but obviously no older than about three months. The zookeepers probably ran out of food and in misguided desperation, after the world had ended for most folks, decided to free the captive animals that had a chance of being self sufficient. Or, alternately, the body in street clothes could have been a zombie or looter that caught the zookeeper unaware. Just one misstep by the zookeeper or the other human could have easily let the tigers escape captivity. That would explain the tigers, but too many of the animals were free for it not to be intentional on someone’s part.

At that point we decided to split up into two groups. The group I was in would head deeper into Stanleyville and the group Scott was in would return the way we had come and head through Congo and into Timbuktu. I’d lead my group through Stanleyville and then through the backstage employee area and into Timbuktu from there.

The other members of our group gave Scott and I a moment of privacy to say goodbye, good luck, and stay safe … then we parted.

Cease led our small group. Cease, Waleski, and I passed the Skyride, the Tidal Wave, and Stanleyville Falls as we headed towards the shop and restaurant area around Sheikra roller coaster. The water in both Tidal Wave and Stanleyville Falls was stagnant, green, and stank. Waleski pointed out drag marks in the mulch heading from one side of the wide walkway to the other. My best guess was that the crocs had gotten out or new crocs had moved into the park. The water was too green to see through and frankly I wasn’t going to go wadding and find out though I did look over the edge to take a look. Seeing nothing we continued on.

The first building we entered was the shop called Sheikra Sweets. The doors were standing wide open and the interior of the shop looked like a small bomb had gone off in it. There was stuff strewn everywhere. My guess is that it was monkeys at work. Looters would have taken stuff with them, not played in it. Neither would zombies have done this. The deciding factor was when Cease pointed out several scat signs in and around the building.

The noise coming from the Bird Gardens was almost overwhelming. It was making us all nervous. If the sounds were this loud when we were still another bridge and many yards away, the sound would be deafening in the bird area itself. We wouldn’t be going there however until after we hooked back up with everyone else.

Next spot we hit was the Zambia Smokehouse. The chains were still across the doors so I hoped that the interior wouldn’t be quite so much of a mess. It wasn’t … it was worse. The monkeys had found a way in through the ceiling. The smell was overpowering so we quickly retreated to open air and after a brief consultation decided to work our way around behind the train station in that area and over to the shopping places so I could see if anything remained there that was useful. I picked up a rolling trash can from one of the hidden work stations and pulled it behind me as we walked; Cease on point, Waleski in back, and me and my silly looking trashcan in the middle.

Our luck finally came in a little bit. The stores there hadn’t been bothered. There was a lot of suntan lotion and bug spray as well as rain gear, all things that would come in handy and had a good shelf life. I also dumped in clothes, jewelry, and trinkets that I thought interesting. When Cease and Waleski gave me a funny look I sotto voiced “Christmas for the kids” and they just sort of rolled their eyes but nodded their heads. Humph … let’s see if those two grinches get anything in their stocking this year.

The rolling garbage can was one of those that was nearly as big as I am so even dumping what I could in there it wasn’t full before it was time to go backstage and cut across the Timbuktu. Still I left it chained to a post and tied it shut so that I wouldn't have to pull it uphill and across railroad tracks in the backstage area.

I opened an innocuous looking wooden gate and was fondly remembering some of the events of my employment at this place - like meeting the lead singer of the band The Cars - when what had been an easy run up to this point abruptly turned into a nightmare.

There were bodies visible on the ground as soon as we passed through the gate. And it looked like they hadn’t been there for much more than a couple of weeks. Maybe some of them were zombies at one time … a couple had obvious head shots … but some of them were not. Well, you had to kind of put the bodies back together like a jigsaw puzzle in your head but you could tell that some of the hands, arms, and torsos that remained held guns or guns lay near them.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Cease whispered, “Possible rager? Maybe more than one?” Waleski and I just shrugged our shoulders. We hadn’t really seen enough of the rager type zombies to say that they could or would tear a live human to bits. And if they could why would they throw the body parts all around like this? The ragers we had seen just kind of barreled through barricades and ripped and tore with their teeth, eating until they were gorged and moving on. This was new behavior. Or, maybe it wasn’t zombies.

We must have all thought the same thing at the same time. We wound up with our backs to each other, searching our surroundings even more cautiously than we had already been doing; Cease and Waleski with their guns at the ready and me with my machete in hand.

Without warning something barreled into me, sending me tumbling into the two men. I fell; they didn’t thank goodness or it would have all been over with. As unbeliveable as it seemed, we had apparently violated the territory of a very aggressive troop of baboons and it was likely they rather than zombies had been what ripped the other unfortunate people to shreds.

Male baboons can make sounds that will carry for miles. The loud, angry shrieks and grunts echoed along the concrete block walls of the backstage area, reverberating and coming back to us and giving us very few clues about the direction the group was attacking from. We looked up to the roof tops and down the alley ways and saw the buggers bouncing on everything.

I was scrabbling for my machete that had flown out of my hands when another baboon jumped in front of me and flew at my face. I got my shoulder up and in the way before it could slash me with its teeth. The heavier than usual coat I had chosen to wear saved me from a penetrating bite but I couldn’t help but nearly scream as loud as the baboons when the wicked little beast’s hands, claws, paws … whatever you want to call them … got caught in my hair and it yanked viciously.

I got to my feet and it jumped off my back and I turned for a look at Cease and Waleski seeking their help. Both men were fighting off their own attackers. Cease was shooting at one that was attached to his boot and was nearly knocked sideways by another that attempted to barrel into him. Waleski was battling off a persistent baboon that kept trying to snap at his face. He saw me and yelled, “Run to Scott!” I turned to grab for my machete but was blocked when three more big baboons, one of them a male blue face, blocked my way. I backed up only to find that I was being surrounded on that side as well.

Waleski again yelled run before trying to shoot me a path while Cease tried to cover our rear. I gave him one last look and turned and took off across the railroad tracks screaming behind me, “Head for the tallest building on the other side of this fence!!!!”

I was terrified I had seen the last of those men. If that’s what happened, they gave their lives making sure that I could get away. I could hear the baboons behind me scrabbling along the concrete, banging into things as they went. I ran through the gate into Timbuktu and slammed it behind me just in time to hear them run smack dab into it, hard to make the gate rattle in its hinges. I headed for the first aid station but when I got there the door was chained and locked shut. I remembered at that moment that Waleski had the bolt cutters.

I didn’t want to get pinned into a corner and came back out to see a lone, male baboon still in pursuit of me. Making a quick decision and praying it wasn’t a bad one I headed for the Oasis Snack Bar that was near the merry-go-round. Wonder of wonders the door was open and I ran inside only to hit what felt like a brick wall. Down I went again, seeing stars.

But … walls do not have beards, nor do they resemble a fabled Norseman come to life. I was stunned, thinking perhaps I had finally cracked and was hallucinating. I had just started to say something, although for the life of me I can’t remember what it was now, when the big man stepped around me and brought an honest to God shillelagh down on the head of the male baboon that had been chasing me. The crunch of wood against bone was nauseatingly clear in the quiet that had descended once I had gotten away from the main baboon troop.

In fact, it was too quiet. No gunfire. No more loud baboon screams and grunts. And here I was at the feet of this huge bear of a man. I managed to close my mouth and turn my brain back on before I made another mistake. Thankfully no monkey blood had splattered my face although the rest of me got misted pretty good.

Before I could decide what to do the bearded man put a finger to his lips to give a silent, “ssshhhhh” and then offered to help me up. What was I supposed to do, wallow on the ground in monkey brains? So yeah, I accepted the hand of this stranger to help me stand up. But I wasn’t crazy, I took a few steps back to keep a little distance, doing so I bumped into something warm and fuzzy; two warm and fuzzy somethings. I nearly wet my pants until the big guy grinned. Turns out he has two companions, both red French Mastiffs. They are extremely heavily muscled.

It scared me at first how close they were crowding until I realized they were acting the way that Butch and Sundance act when they are in protector-mode. They were snuffling my hands and it would have been gross if they weren’t so cute … boy, talk about droolers. They made that movie dog called “Hooch” spring to mind. I think Tom Hanks played the lead role in the movie but all I could really remember was the dog got drool everywhere and looked a lot like these dogs did.

After I had a second to register all of that, and for the big guy to give me a sec to catch my breath, I admired how well trained the dogs were not to immediately tear into the monkey’s carcass. They must be well-fed and well-trained which gave me some added confidence.

But I kept coming back to, despite the fact that this man had oh so obviously saved my life, that I was alone with a strange man … something that hadn’t happened to me in a long, long time. The first words out of my mouth were, “My husband should be along shortly. And he has a gun.”

“Hmmmm,” the big man replied. “Was he the one shooting?”

Stupid me just spilled it all. “No. That was two of my other companions. Uhhh, I really need to check on them. They were shooting at the baboons so that I could get away. We were all supposed to hook up at the first aid station over beside that big restaurant.”

“Mmmm. The name’s Angus. Angus Cuddy. What’s yours?”

“Oh. Its … um …” Then after a deep breath and making another split second decision I said, “How do you do Mr. Cuddy, my name is Sissy … Sissy Chapman. You from around these parts?”

I guess Mr. Cuddy thought I was a little strange for being so formal, especially under the circumstances. He laughed quietly and raised an eyebrow causing me to blush a little. But, I’m southern and southern ladies try and use good manners even under the most difficult and embarrassing of situations. It’s supposed to be a sign of good breeding, or so I've been told nearly my entire life. Really, my great grandmothers used to lecture us girls on it.

About that point we both turned as we heard the telltale slap of boots against sidewalk coming at a steady run. The dogs wouldn’t let me move but Mr. Cuddy took a peak around the door and said, “Big blonde male 40-ish or so, older man in a flannel jacket and track shoes, and a dark-headed guy with glasses who looks like he’s about to chew horseshoes and spit nails.”

“That’s my husband and his group. My husband is the dark one,” I whispered frantically as the dogs still wouldn’t let me pass.

Mr. Cuddy gave a short whistle and the men came to an abrupt halt with their guns at ready.

“Steady boys. I got a lady in here that says that dark haired gent is her husband. She’s had a bit of a … “

Mr. Cuddy didn’t get any further. Scott dived passed him and came up short as the dogs growled.

“Mischief. Mayhem. Be polite and introduce yourselves.”

The dogs turned all friendly and head butted Scott as he was wrapping me in his arms. All I could do was blubber that we had to go help Waleski and Cease; that the baboons must have got them. Dixon heard what I had said and became even more obviously concerned; well, as concerned as he ever looks. It’s not always easy to tell with him.

About that time there was a huge slam and crack. Mr. Cuddy and all the men turned with their guns ready as Cease and Waleski fell through the now broken gate. Both men saw us and were gesturing with their hands to “go, go, go!”

The ran-limped in our direction; and then we saw them. The baboons hadn’t given up. Cease and Waleski, after getting turned around a few times, had finally figured out how to get into Timbuktu. They were exhausted from fighting the animals off. There must have been at least thirty of the beasties in pursuit. I was pushed back into Oasis as the men lined up and began shooting gallery style at any baboon that came over the fence.

Cease and Waleski finally made it. Dixon told them to get in with me. The two large dogs stood guard and tore one baboon that came up behind the building to pieces before anyone even realized it was back there.

I grabbed Waleski’s pack and was digging for bandages and antiseptic. They were a mess. I couldn’t tell where monkey blood left off and their blood started. Waleski had a wound on his face that just missed the corn of his eye. I had to be careful cleaning that one. Their hands were cut up pretty good too. It looked like their packs though had taken all of the actual bites except for Cease whose pant leg was shredded near to the top of his boots. But overall he was in better shape than Waleski and even had my machete. He said, “I have got to get me one of these things!”

I figured if he could drool over my machete, the kid wasn’t in that bad of condition. Waleski was shaking pretty good but said he would be OK in a minute. He picked up his rifle where he had set it down and went outside and proceeded to shoot every baboon he saw. When the last baboon went down and no more tried to make it over the fence or beyond the Scorpion roller coaster he said, “Now I’m OK. But if any of those stinking [expletive deleted by Sissy] come near me I swear I’ll feed ‘em to the damn zombies if I have to cram ‘em down their throats!!”

After a deep breath he turned to Dixon and reported what had happened. Scott in the meantime was making Mr. Cuddy’s acquaintance. Mr. Cuddy insisted we drop the “Mr.” And just call him Angus. There was a lot of handshaking and backslapping for a bit, nor would Scott let me out of his sight. He also praised Mischief and Mayhem which seemed to thrill them to no end.

We needed a break and to regroup so we headed over to the first aid station, cut the bolt and went inside. Waleski was thrilled to find a reasonably well stocked med station. No drugs, but that was to be expected. But they did have just about everything else including small tanks of oxygen and some other items you normally would find in a small clinic.

While Waleski wandered and muttered to himself, Angus told us his story. He’s single and originally from Pennsylvania but is the type that will occasionally get itchy feet and just need to take off and explore. He was in one such phase and was exploring Florida when the NRS quarantine closed the state line and there was no way for him to get home. He was quiet about it which led me to think that there might have been some family back home that he tried as hard as the rest of us not to think about too hard. With no family or friends down here he’d pretty much been surviving on his own since the first riots. He’d mentioned running into a few small groups but nothing ever clicked for him. When we told him about the families back at our place he perked right up. He said he hadn’t seen any little kids for a long time. Doubt he had even been near any or the dogs would have taken off to find them.

Scott invited him right then and there to come back to Sanctuary with us. My husband is a quick and good judge of character and I guess despite their obvious physical differences … Scott is 5’8” on a good day, dark and of Hispanic descent; Angus Cuddy is a barrel-chested big man at 6’, has a beard and looks for all the world like a Norseman … something struck a cord between them.

Dixon looked like he wanted to say something but the look on Scott’s face made him re-think whatever it was. I could understand Dix’s position; he had the safety of Sanctuary to think of first. But Mr. Cuddy saved my life. I would have been monkey chow if it hadn’t been for him. And I’ll admit that I liked him a great deal on short notice too. I wouldn’t have even thought about letting him near the kids if something hadn’t really spoken to me about his trustworthiness. He reminded me a bit of the mountain men I used to read stories about in the journals I used to check out at the library.

After some hesitation, Angus assented to at least coming for a visit. You could tell he liked his independence and wasn’t one who liked to be hemmed in just from some of the circumstances of his personal history. But a visit he could handle. I think he may have been a little lonely and ready for some real company, though his dogs were nice. He said he was looking for a base of operations and maybe something in the area of Sanctuary would suit him better than what he had found thus far.

After a group think, we decided not to waste the chance and to continue covering Busch Gardens to see if there was anything else worth gathering. Angus said to forget the Desert Grill itself as the monkeys had done a number on it. I was worried. We only had two supply piles to pick up so far, the one behind Vivi and the one in the trash can over in Stanleyville. Scott’s group hadn’t found anything although Scott had made a list of possible building supplies for another run back to this location. I didn’t want to have come all this way, wasted all this gas, to come back with next to nothing. Although thinking about it, a new friend is certainly not “nothing.”

Scott did ask me one thing before we left the first aid station, “Sissy, why didn’t you have your pistol out?”

Oh brother, all the men looked at me and all I could do was stand there embarrassed. “Um, I didn’t think about it. I had my machete most of the time.”

“Oh Sissy! What am I going to do with you girl?! Pull the damn thing out of its holster and keep it in your hand from here on out. That machete is all well and good but you need to remember that gun … damn it woman. I swear, have a consideration for my heart if you can’t think about your safety.”

I accepted the lecture as gracefully as I could. No one likes to look like an idiot and I admit that not thinking of the pistol when it was sitting right there on my hip was pretty stupid. But if I had had it out I might have shot Mr. Cuddy. This time it turned out for the best, but next time it might not. Lesson learned. I really do need to get used to using the pistol when I’m carrying it; I just like the machete better and have had more luck with it. I guess I’m just not a “gun girl.” But that’s no excuse. These days you can’t get stuck in a rut, you have to be flexible enough to learn new skills and think outside your comfort zone.

Scott really wasn't (and isn't) mad at me. It’s just he is concerned for my safety and doesn't seem to understand that I simply don't think in terms of guns. Knives yes, guns no. If I had had the .22 in my hands I would have remembered it and used it. The pistol just kind of sits there and I wind up forgetting about it in favor of my big, nifty machete. Machetes don't make noise. A gun does. I can lop off the head of a zombie neat as you please and not have to worry about attracting more of the things. A gun will kill a zombie from further away ... assuming I'm actually able to get a head shot ... but makes enough noise to attract more of the boogers and lead them to my location. From my perspective it’s a Catch-22.

From Timbuktu we walked into the Nairobi area. This was the big animal area. As reported, the elephants were loose and had left the park; at least we think they've all left the park. They were probably having the time of their lives on the green spaces at USF. The rhinos were also missing. I noticed all the trees in the park were missing leaves in rather funny patterns; then it hit me. The giraffes must be out, but whether they are still in the park I don’t know. We never saw any. The other major predators were gone from their enclosures as well; the lions, the hyenas, and a few others like that. The grazers though seemed to still be in the area and Cease was practically aching to go on a hunt. Dix said we would try and do a little hunting before we left and that seemed to appease everyone.

It also seemed to mark the turning point in our Run. Or maybe Angus is a good luck charm. The Kenya Kanteen hadn’t been vandalized by animals. There were cases of condiments, salt & pepper, and even some #10 sized cans of things. All were piled into the ever present trashcans and then stood together for us to come back and pick them up on our way out. Waleski must have said something to Dix because he asked if I wanted to stop at the gift shops for stuff for the kids. I was glad to take the opportunity and all but stuck my tongue out at Waleski who had rolled his eyes again. I stuffed two more trashcans full of stuff to take back.

From Nairobi we went into the area called Egypt where we spent over an hour running from place to place stuffing trashcans and other containers full of stuff from the Colony House (formerly the Swiss House) restaurant to the upscale gift shops. From Egypt we went through the Moroccan area. This area was a bit more of a mess but was still jam-packed with useful items. We must have filled ten trashcans in this area alone.

As we passed the Moroccan café where the belly dancers often did shows, I saw several of the guys stick things in their pockets. I kept the observation to myself but something told me that the kids wouldn’t be the only people in Sanctuary getting gifts for the holidays. Knowing David would be upset at missing the opportunity to pick up something, I grabbed a scarf that I thought Rose would like. He wouldn’t want Rose to not get something when the other women were getting things. If he winds up not giving it to her because he wants to do his own “shopping” that’s fine too. Whatever works, but at least he won't feel left out. I'll tell the other guys they can pick something out of the tubs as well once I get things organized if they want to.

I thought Scott would drool as much as the dogs as we passed the wooden roller coast called Gwazi. I know he was imagining all that he could build with a supply of wood and bolts that big. He looked at me and made a mock dramatic sigh that nearly had me giggling out loud. He and Angus have already been discussing projects and alternative building materials including an obvious one we had overlooked – using wooden telephone poles as beams or using them like Lincoln Logs by notching the ends so that they lock together. Scott had a few rude words for himself for not thinking of the poles. I don't know how he believes he is supposed to think of everything. Besides, in the beginning we all kind of had an expectation that things would eventually go back to normal. Phone lines and electrical lines are part of "normal" infrastructure so why would we intentionally compromise them as building supplies. But nobody thinks normal is going to come back any time soon any more. And even if it does, it’s going to be years before we get there.

Scott tried to help Angus by giving him a few suggested locations to look at that might fit the description of what he wants for a place to call home; multi-storied, concrete block, with enough flat roof for a garden. In fact, there are a couple of places like that between Sanctuary and the Feed Depot which would mean he would be close to us but still able to maintain his independence and come and go as he pleased. The question will be how much interior work needs to be done on those buildings to support a roof top garden.

The volume of animal noise picked back up as we passed into the bird gardens. It was a defeaning as I had thought it would be. Suddenly a bass roar could be heard and the birds quieted down for a short period before picking right back up. Scott and I stopped short for a moment, our good humor evaporated. It was time to remember where we were and why we’re here.

“What the hell was that?!” Waleski asked quietly, obviously close to being totally fed up with all the wild animals.

“Sounded like a male gator,” Scott responded.

“I thought the gator pond was back the other direction,” Cease said.

“It was.”

“Then why is the sound coming from … oh. Right.”

A flock of flamingoes, losing their pinkness now that they were no longer being fed the shrimp that turn them that color, hustled across the cobblestoned walkway.

Jerry piped up and said, “if I were us, I’d probably follow those birdies and avoid whatever it is they seem to be trying to get away from.”

That’s just what we did. We passed by the Hospitality House, now shuttered and closed. But it wasn’t NRS that closed it. It was the Belgian takeover of Anheuser-Busch. They closed it supposedly in favor of a more family friendly atmosphere. All they did was make some of their adult patrons unhappy and less inclined to bring their children to an expensive park that had nothing to offer them. I found another one of the rolling trashcans and loaded it with stuff from the pizza parlor in that corner of the park; several #10 cans of pizza sauce, a few nice pans and utensils, and several containers of powdered garlic and grated parmesan cheese. Another rolling trashcan I filled with stuff from the gift shops.

On the other side of the bird gardens we could have taken the bridge and gone back into Stanleyville but we decided to bypass it and go into the backstage area on this side of the park. This was the location of the physical plant and the main warehouse.

Rats had gotten into both places. I had to put my mask and goggles on because I was determined to leave no stone unturned. The only thing in the physical plant that hadn’t been looted or destroyed was a large supply of canvas aprons and head scarves. These were pieces of the uniform used by food service personnel in the park. I filled a whole trashcan full of them and left the building. We had better luck in the warehouse though you could see the rats had been to work in there as well.

No fresh food remained in the warehouse. If there had been any it was eaten by the rats so long ago that not even evidence of scraps remained. However, there were plenty of metal cans. There were #10 sized cans of pizza sauce, puddings, fruit fillings, vegetables, and ice cream toppings like butterscotch and caramel sauces. There were metal containers filled with baking supplies. There were large, heavy metal sheet pans that could be used like shields. There were lots of empty five gallon buckets, although the rats had chewed a few. There were glass, gallon-sized jars of pickled fruits and veggies, some of peppers, and some of relishes. There were also some metal drums of cooking oil and several black plastic barrels containing things like Greek Peppers, olives, soda syrups, and even several small barrels of chocolate sauce.

We loaded all we had gathered onto several large flatbed carts and headed back into the park proper by coming out behind the roller coaster Sheikra. Doing so we had to pass by one of the main security booths.

The booth contained two corpses. One an obvious suicide as the nearly skeletal hand still propped a gun barrel in the corpse's mouth. The other it was difficult to say what had killed him or her; the rats had mangled it pretty badly. The suicide was in a Busch Gardens Security uniform. The other corpse had a uniform of some type but it was difficult to tell what it had originally been, the rats making little difference between material and flesh. It was also difficult to tell whether the two corpses had even died during the same time period. There were no handy pathologists around and we were just about guessed out at that point.

Dixon emptied the booth of all remaining ammo, even offering some to Angus, but left the gun after seeing that it as rusted and caked from the suicides bodily fluids. We grabbed a couple of hand radios that were in the booth as well, hoping that even if they didn't work they would make for good spare parts. Mischief and Mayhem made their own opinion of the location clear by leaving a couple of doggie calling cards.

Once back in Stanleyville we were all cautious but the baboon troop seemed to have lost its lust for fighting. We gathered the trashcan of supplies from there and then headed back to Vivi and picked up the supply pile there before all trooping back to the bus to stow our bounty. I caught one rat on the Vivi stuff but it hadn't figured a way into the sealed can yet. I didn't bother shooting it or even slicing it with the machete. I punted the football-sized body several yards to the sound of a satisfying squeak and thump when it landed. Mischief wanted to chase pretty bad but Mayhem kept her heeled even though he wanted to play chase with it as well.

Getting all of the flatbeds over the railroad tracks was a little challenging but we did. And when we got back to the bus, the ramp really came in handy. We just pushed and pulled the flatbeds up the ramp and tied them in place inside the bus and blocked the wheels to keep them from rolling while we were in motion.

At this point we had thought to walk back into the park until Dixon asked Angus what his mode of transportation was. We all were kinda blown away when he said, “Garbage truck. It’s parked over at the main gate.”

After a quick consultation we decided that it made more sense for us to drive over to the main gate and pick up the rest of the supplies from that location. This would also set us up to leave as a convoy more quickly, saving us some time. Scott drove the bus and explained to Angus the different modifications that had been made. And also some of the modifications that he wanted to make like mounting swivel chairs for the gun turrets rather than a bolted-in-place stool.

Despite a few road blocks, it didn’t take us that long to get over to the main gate. We just barely squeaked under the overpass though. The gun turrets took a lot of our clearance space. And then there was Angus’ truck in all its glory. It was a standard city garbage truck with a front loader for dumpsters. He explained that he could scoop up any number of zombies with open sided dumpster that he had welded in place and them dump them into the part in the back that squished them up. Angus figured he could fit just in excess of 100 zombies in the compactor before it needed to be emptied. The bonus was that the compactor didn’t dribble body fluids; everything remained contained until he found a safe place to make the dump that wouldn’t compromise any water sources.

I was gagging at the graphic description but Cease, Scott, and Jerry were fascinated by the contraption. Even Dixon looked impressed. Waleski liked that Angus was health conscious enough to avoid contaminating resources and I think that went a long way to sealing his good opinion of the man. We disembarked from the bus and secured it, but allowed both bus and garbage truck enough room to turn around on their own if need be.

Jumping the turn-styles of the main entrance we headed back through Morocco to pick up the supply piles we had left there, in Egypt, and then the stuff from Nairobi. Once all was loaded on the bus, and with no incidences to speak of beyond being dive bombed by some young chimpanzees when we passed the Myombe Reserve area, it was time for the other reason why we were there. The hunt.

It’s been years since I’ve been hunting. Scott would go with my dad and brother on occasion, but the time it took to run our business pretty much precluded hunting as a serious sport for us. Dad would bag us a buck every year he went to visit my uncle so I know how to cook and preserve venison. My understanding is that venison and antelope are not that different.

That’s what we were apparently going for today. African antelope. Although a water buffalo wouldn't be turned away either. We had a couple of different antelopes that we might've been able to bag. There was the impala that was about 36” at the shoulder, very agile, but not long runners. There was the kudu which was a larger animal, standing 57” at the shoulder and it avoided using concealment rather than agility. The waterbuck is nearly as big as the kudu. The Oryx is smaller than the waterbuck but a male can weigh up to 500 pounds. Then there was the other potential game like the ostriches that were running rampant in the pretend savannah area of the park. Or maybe even a zebra, though the sound of that doesn't tickle my tastebuds at all.

As you can guess I got most of that information off the little plaques they had stationed throughout the nature trail around Rhino Rally and Edge of Africa displays. I had thrown in some postcards and animals books just for Sarah and Samuel. I’m not sure what those two are going to say about what we brought home but they have gotten more prosaic about the animals being part of the food chain … our food chain.

Why is it me that always falls into the muck first? The men hadn't really wanted me along on the hunt. But none of the guys wanted to be left out either which meant I couldn't be left alone. Scott and I finally compromised and they had left me with the dogs near an empty pen while the big “he-men” went to play heap big Tarzan hunters.

Honestly? I really wasn’t as upset as that makes me sound. I was more amused than anything. Not to mention I was more than a little tired and ready for a break. And to be truthful I'm not the best shot and have a tendency to "squeak" and make noises when I get scared or nervous. Nope, it didn't bother me at all not to have to deal with the guys rolling their eyes and holding onto their tempers when I accidentally scared off a potential target.

I was sitting on a picnic table watching a family of marmosets trying to play inconspicuous up in one of the trees, and trying to remember if I’d ever seen a marmoset at Busch Gardens before, when the dogs started making these woofling sounds and digging around this big rock. The last thing I needed was for Angus to think I let his dogs get into trouble so I went over to see what they found so interesting. Holy crap! The “rock” moved and turned out to be one of the huge tortoises that used to live in the pens on this side of the park. I finally convinced the dogs to leave the poor thing alone – it was huge and must have been one of the really old ones – and come sit back down with me. I turned to go back to the table and splat, down I went again.

Geezley crow! I was eye to eye with either a boa or a python. I didn’t know then and still don’t care to be honest. I’m not scared of snakes or anything but I do have a healthy respect for them. And this one … it was longer than I was tall. Luckily the large bump in its middle let me know it had eaten recently and likely wouldn’t be interested in me or the dogs.

The dogs, not liking the snake much more than I did, each grabbed the end of my pants and pulled me backwards and then got between me and it. I swear those are some smart dogs. They were also smart enough to not do much more than growl low in their throats. Eventually the big snake decided to find another place to take a nap and sleep off its dinner. Just hope it wasn't anyone that I knew.

I decided that the top of the picnic table was a much better place to be and had the dogs get up there with me. With an arm around each one I felt much safer being up off of the ground. No sooner had my heart returned to beating its normal rhythm than I spotted not one, not two, but three good sized komodo dragons slouching along. Could I have my heart attack now and get it over with?!

I kept a firm grip on the dogs’ collars. They were inclined to stay with me which was a good thing. If they had really wanted to take off they probably could have dragged me for hours before getting tired. Eeeewwwww. I have had enough of nature to last me a good while. I nearly stopped breathing while the smallest dragon went right under the table I was setting on, thumping its tail on the leg brace.

By that time I was almost to the point of having hysterics. I’m no chicken. I really am not and the dogs were there, but come on, tell me what person in their right mind can just sit with equanimity while those kind of critters stroll by like they own the place? I finally climbed up on a real fake bolder and dragged the dogs up there with me.

What scared me about the dragons was that they headed off in the same direction that the men had gone. Not ten minutes later I heard the first shot, then another, then a third all in quick succession. I kept waiting for the men to come back; the area wasn’t all that big after all. This wasn't really the plains of Africa. About twenty minutes after the first series of shots I heard two more and then a single shot about 30 minutes after that.

I was starting to get really cold and only the body heat from the dogs kept me from shivering uncontrollably. We were having our first major cold-snap of the season and on top of worrying about the guys, now I was starting to worry about my plants back in Sanctuary.

The men had been gone over an hour and it had been at least twenty minutes since the last shot sounded when I heard them coming back. Lordy they looked pleased with themselves. They were pulling the carcasses of three impala, an oryx, and a kudu.

The dogs jumped off the bolder nearly taking me with them and headed straight for Angus to sniff him and give him a good doggie scolding for being gone so long. Scott the happy hunter said, “Hope you weren’t too bored.”

“What, me, bored? Oh no, not at all. I got to play African safari and count the animals … and Cease what the heck do you think you are doing with that ostrich?!”

Cease had just come around the corner with a big, goofy grin on his face leading an ostrich by a lasso around its neck and belly. “Son, when we read that part in The Swiss Family Robinson you do realize that was just a story right? You can’t really saddle an ostrich and ride it.”

“Oh come on Sissy, don’t you think the kids would get a kick out of … “

“You guys are not seriously expecting us to get an ostrich in the bus are you?!” I asked looking around at the men who all refused to meet my eye.

“Well, we could put it in my trailer,” Angus pointed out. “The dogs ride up front with me anyway.”

Good gravy. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. Six grown men wanting to bring home an ostrich as a pet. What was I supposed to say, even Dixon looked like a kicked pup when it didn’t appear that I shared their enthusiasm.

“If you want it, you take care of it. And I don’t want to hear a single other word about it. And if that thing so much as looks at me funny I’m going to be designing some ostrich recipes.”

We hauled the spoils of the hunt out to the bus, loaded as best we could into the coolers and chest freezer we had stuffed into the bus and then proceeded to try and coax a suddenly unwilling ostrich into Angus’ trailer. I finally managed to wrap a bandana around its head in the hope that ostrich and chickens at least had one thing in common … what they couldn’t see didn’t scare them. After that Orville the Ostrich was a breeze to load.

It was really getting chilly at this point, probably low 50s and the sun hadn’t even gotten near setting yet. We might even have a freeze tonight which is why I’m still awake writing this account … well, that and other things.

We explained our route to Angus and we set off making our slow way back to sanctuary. We ignored the few zombies we saw though they didn’t want to ignore us. Angus would make the occasional jag to the right or left to scoop up a zombie or two and dump them into his compactor.

The whole way back home I had to listen to the great white hunters tell me about their feat of prowess. Actually it did sound pretty cool after I had warmed up and gotten over being miffed. I'll have to write it out later after everyone has had their chance to explain their part to me. As it is we have more important things to deal with at the moment.

As we came within site of Sanctuary we noticed that they had the tow truck out near the front gate and a whole lot more smushed up zombies than there had been when we left. James was signaling from the main guard tower telling us to enter by the rear gates. It wasn’t easy for us to make the turn but we did and headed back to the rear gate via a couple of back roads. Once there we pulled into the compound enough so that Mr. Cuddy could also pull in and park his garbage truck and trailer beside the bus.

There were a lot more people in Sanctuary than there should have been; at least four or five dozen more, a handful of them kids. I still haven't got the number sorted out. Most everyone was milling around the hospital. As soon as they knew we had returned Rachel and Rose were frantically waving for Waleski to come lend them a hand.

We stepped off the bus into a madhouse; women wailing, kids crying, animals making a ruckus, and generally a lot of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off. McElroy jogged up to Dixon and reported.

“Sometime last night all hell broke loose in Hale Hollow. Survivors says it’s been like WW3. It started with an assassination and armed combat between the two remaining factions. Death and zombies followed. Some folks tried to get over to Ehren Cutoff for helped but found a mess there too. Hyenas and zombies. About midday we started having groups straggle in here but we’ve also been dealing with zombie hordes coming down out of the north and not all of them from those two compounds. Matlock needs some help dealing with an old Colonel that seems determined he has ”seniority of command” or something like that despite the fact he’s been retired a good twenty years.”

That’s basically it. We’ve been trying to help the injured and dealing with the dying. Mr. Cuddy was kind enough to work with Cease and Jerry to process the meat into the cold room we set up and I’ve been making sausage and canning by firelight and getting stuff ready to go into the smokehouse. I ran the last batch a couple of hours ago and it must be about two AM now. We finally sorted family groups into some of the empty houses but we wouldn’t let any of the injured, severely or otherwise, go anywhere except in the hospital or in tents right outside the hospital where they could be watched for signs of turning. We’ve already had to put three people down. Call us brutal but what else are we supposed to do? We'll try and bury them out in the orange grove tomorrow if their family consents, if they have families.

The zombies are getting worse and we probably got in during one of the last pauses between waves before the main horde showed up. Sanctuary is surrounded. We’ve sent out a warning to anyone listening on the radio and several folks called back their thanks. The New Geraci group said they have holed up in a concrete out building and will keep in touch as they are able. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from them so who knows what their status is.

Tina has lost it completely. Rachel, taking a break to drink the next gallon of coffee to stay awake, said that her breakdown was even worse than Patricia’s was. So bad in fact that she has become completely incontinent and may very well have suffered a stroke or something. That’s another situation that we’ll have to deal with. Her husband is distraught but doing his part to help defend Sanctuary and its denizens.

We have men all over the Wall. No one is shooting though, it would be a waste of ammunition. The horde may move on, it may not. Lot’s of things that we’ll have to see about in the morning when there is light enough to see. We are catching sleep when we can but at first light I plan on having as many pots of high-octane coffee and tea ready as I’m able to fix. Breakfast will be biscuits and scrapple. What a mess this is. We don’t even have enough dishes to serve everyone at the same time even if we wanted to. Our group has more than doubled in size in less than 24 hours and there is no way we can support that, especially not if this weather kills back my garden. How do we explain to these people they aren't going to be able to just stay here?

I’m going to doze for an hour or two and hopefully we’ll be able to find some constructive solutions to our problems in the morning.

Day 109

What frustrating days this has been; scary too, but definitely frustrating. I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been a heck of lot better though; this certainly hasn’t been my favorite days in recent history.

First off I guess I better get down what happened in Hale Hollow and Ehren Cutoff or nothing else will make sense. We got most of the details from Col. Byrd and his son and daughter-in-law. Turns out that the Colonel really is a cool dude with an exemplary service record but he’s in the early stages of dementia and stress can make his confusion worse.

Hale Hollow used to be a great community to live in prior to NRS. The homeowner’s association (HOA) wasn’t a burden, the neighbors were great, and the community provided a happy place for retirees and other families. It had a mixed population with a broad range of ages, income levels, and interests.

Then the economic crisis that began in late ’08 began breaking down their safe haven. The unprecedented combination of deflation in some markets and hyperinflation in others caused job losses, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and any number of hardships. Their haven gradually turned into a hell of vacant and uncared for homes and yards. The now unmanned security gates did nothing to keep out the vandalism of empty homes nor break ins of occupied ones.

The once laid back and amendable HOA that had stayed out of everyone’s business so long as they weren’t a nuisance became rigid and militant. Everyone let it happen just so they could have the illusion of safety. Then the NRS plague struck.

The Hale Hollow HOA leadership became the leaders of a survivor’s community; and for a while it worked. But ultimate power corrupts ultimately. Those that didn’t fall in line fell by the wayside or were forced out. People died. Schisms occurred. New people came in but were forever outsiders.

A ragged stranger named Jeremiah Lawrence staggered into the community one day bringing with him a vast knowledge of NRS. He gave them new ways to deal with the zombies and new ways to organize their community; and for a while it worked.

Then a major power struggle within the original HOA leadership led to a schism that nearly rent the community in two. One group left Hale Hollow forever and the other stayed continuing the status quo. The group who left included Jeremiah Lawrence but they had the bad luck of having too many chiefs and not enough braves. Everyone wanted to be boss and too few were willing to do the work.

This imbalance finally caught up with them in the form of a zombie attack. Overnight they lost 75% of their group and Lawrence became “Brother Jeremiah,” falling deeper and deeper into his delusions. But the man was also charismatic enough to now begin drawing his own followers independent of Hale Hollow. And so Ehren Cutoff became a distinct community of its own, all be it still closely tied out of kinship and necessity to Hale Hollow.

And the Hale Hollow leadership watched Ehren Cutoff’s transformation and learned from their mistakes. The remaining Hale Hollow HOA leaders decided to develop in the opposite direction; and for a while it worked. The community grew by leaps and bounds. There was the appearance of success for all. People living in Hale Hollow followed their leaders blindly, offering obedience in exchange for safety, shelter, and food. They trusted them to do the right thing.

But power without balance is a poison. Trust turned to tyranny. Safety to censorship. A police state was born where rights were abused. And for a while it worked … until it became your rights that were being abused.

Cracks is the façade of affability began to appear. The leaders of Hale Hollow saw this as a form of ingratitude for all that they had done; of treason against the deserving powerful. They tried everything tyrants have tried since the beginning of time; and this time it didn’t work.

Someone smuggled in a gun … they had to smuggle it because the community had allowed their guns to be taken away from them. The leadership would protect them after all. Hadn’t they appointed that special unit to watch over them?! Sure that group had extra privileges and didn’t always apply the rules consistently. Sure their friends seemed to do better than their enemies. But it was all for the best. Right?

Then one night someone couldn’t take the injustice any longer and killed one of the heads of the hydra that had sprung up in their midst. And two more grew in its place. Another head fell and another two grew. Soon however there were too many heads and not enough brains … and no one was watching the gates.

The dead and dying inside Hale Hollow called to the dead outside. It’s possible that Hale Hollow would have fallen even had they been at full strength but we’ll never know. They never tried and it was a massacre. Over two hundred people dead in a matter of hours.

The few who did escape headed to Ehren Cutoff thinking they were brothers-in-arms. Members of the same family. That they could join together to build a new and better community. It was not to be.

Brother Jeremiah finally believed too much in his how hype, his own invincibility, his own nascent godhood. The “devils” had come back every night despite the prayers of the faithful. They scratched at the doors seeking entry to the sacred domain; but the doors had kept them out. Until the night someone was careless. Or perhaps God had simply become weary of the blasphemy He witnessed and meted out his own judgment on the man who would be god.

This time the doors flew open. The “devils” paced down the aisle, hackles raised, “laughing” at the puny humans before them.

His true followers crying out for his protection, Brother Jeremiah turned on the intruders shouting exhortations and exorcisms that made no sense but gave the musky animals pause.

Then the leader, a large female who could just remember the thrill of a hunt on a real savannah in Africa when she was a cub and who had recently begun to train her clan on zombies, sniffed the air and smiled as only a dominant female hyena can.

With a lunge she pulled the man-thing who would be a god down and closed her massively powerful jaws on his face. Before he could finish his first (and last) scream her jaws bit down and his skull was crushed; arterial blood arcing onto the alter. The sacrificial blood only enflamed the beasts more.

That was the signal the remaining clan members needed to annihilate the good brother’s faithful followers. Those that hadn’t been that faithful, and there were a few that had begun to have second thoughts about their leader’s mental state, lived by escaping to a concrete outbuilding with a metal door. That’s where the survivors from Hale Hollow found them; in shock and without leadership, unable to make the simplest plans for their own continued existence.

The first wave of zombies hit pushing as many as could fit into the outbuilding. The press of bodies alone kept the door shut. Those that hadn’t fit had died a gruesome and tortuous death. It was hours before anyone dared to see if the zombies had gone.

One of the remaining Ehren Cutoff members was a young man who had been with Brother Jeremiah on one of his excursions to Sanctuary. It became a place to go. A place to aim for. A dream of safety behind the big walls the young man described to the others.

Off they started. On foot it took hours for the first of them to make it to Sanctuary. Before Matlock had a chance to decide whether they were lying about their circumstances or not James, using a telescope, spotted the next wave of zombies overtaking the stragglers that were furthest away.

Matlock brought the whimpering vestiges of Hale Hollow and Ehren Cutoff in and sent the F350 to bring in as many as they could pick up. The panicked people were like drowning swimmers. They nearly overwhelmed McElroy, coming close to destroying their own rescue. David and Hank got into the tow truck and did their best to give the last of the stragglers a running chance. There were several ragers in that wave of zombies and despite the best efforts of the rescuers, there were some that never made it.

The young man who had told the others about Sanctuary was one of the ones worst injured. He had fought off a zombie who had been trying to rip out the throat of a child abandoned in the middle of the road. At the end, before the infection overwhelmed his humanity and forced Rachel to use the undertaker’s tool smuggled out by Jerry, he kept apologizing for believing in Brother Jeremiah. “I just wanted this mess to actually mean something. For there to be a higher purpose. I just wanted to forget about the hell of this life and believe in a heaven in the next. There has to be some reward for surviving doesn’t there? Doesn’t there?!”

He was the first of three in the small pool of survivors that had to be sanitized. Another was a woman who had a heart attack and the third was a man that seemed simply to give up and sit down and die.

We still have two in the hospital that aren’t responding to treatment. We’ve stopped using our medical resources on them and have simply made them as comfortable as possible and await their final disposition.

There was a fourth death but that one will be told when it is time.

The day after the hunt was as chaotic as any I have experienced in a long time. Too many people in what felt like too little space. It reminded me of the days in the beginning, before we even had created the concept of Sanctuary; when we had over 30 people in our home.

We actually have enough physical space in Sanctuary to accommodate the extra people; but it was a case of too many, too soon. I’m sure I was not alone in the feeling of near claustrophobia. Everywhere I turned there was someone needing or wanting something; strangers grabbing at me for attention and getting inside my personal space. We were even forced to lock the doors of all the buildings within the walls, including our home because people started staking out “their space” and "their stuff."

I quickly learned that politeness and manners did not work. Many of the Hale Hollow survivors lacked boundaries. They seemed insatiably curious about everything and many had expectations that we would simply give them supplies to replace what they had lost. I despised the entitlement mentality that had run rampant before the NRS plague. I had even less tolerance for it now.

Matlock and Dixon were quick to realize the potential for disaster. By midmorning the survivors of Hale Hollow and Ehren Cutoff were given work assignments; man, woman, and child. No one was excused without the word of Rachel or Waleski. When several of the men said they hadn’t traded one set of dictators for another Dixon finally snapped. It was not a pretty sight.

He must have expected something like this would occur and had made plans accordingly. All it took was a hand gesture and Cease, McElroy, June, and Scott rounded up the malcontents and marched them to the front gate.

In the best First Sergeant’s bellow I had heard in many years Dixon’s voice rang out, “Your choice. Obey, or leave.”

One of the women in the crowd cried out, “You can’t do that!”

“Madam, we can and we will. This is not a debate. This is not your home. Sanctuary is ours. We’ve opened up our home for your safety. We have willingly provided you food and medical attention out of human charity. However, we will not be taken advantage of.”

At this point Matlock stepped forward while Dixon worked hard to control his temper. “Look around you. We worked to get where we are. Nothing has been handed to us. We started with less than you lot. We’re not simply going to give it away or watch you trash it with you lack of consideration. You are guests, very temporary ones. You had best remember that.”

Dixon closed the discussion by saying, “We can do this easy or hard. Easy means you follow our rules, do your part, behave civilly and keep your hands to yourself, and take part in protecting Sanctuary while you are within these walls. Hard means you take a trip over the Wall and get to see if the zombies are better hosts.”

There was a lot of mumbling and grumbling but the point had been made. And it was emphasized when they realized that even our children could shoot a slingshot well enough to kill a zombie … or any other opportunistic nuisance.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it but one reason why Scott and I owned our own business is because you could say he doesn’t always “play well with others.” He’s not unsociable or a curmudgeon; he simply has a low tolerance for certain types of people and situations. Over the years he’s been forced to learn a certain amount of tolerance, but some instances still make his psyche feel like someone is running fingernails across a chalkboard and he has to get away.

The warning signs were out and flashing frantically before I could even get lunch off the fire. David, not as disturbed by the Hale Hollow bunch now that Dixon and Matlock had laid the ground rules, came to tell me that Scott and Angus were up in the far NW guard tower with James.

I set Sarah (out of the hospital for the first time since the tiger attack) to reading the next chapter of Robinson Caruso to the children that had gathered on our lanai. I asked Bekah not to let her get over tired and to take over if she needed a rest. Patricia, herself too overwhelmed by the crowd to be out amongst them, said that she would be around if the girls needed her.

After that was taken care of I poured a thermos of fresh coffee and filled my speckleware pail with the chili I had made using chunks of impala. I stuck some mugs, bowls, utensils, and a loaf of fresh baked bread in a tote. Lastly I grabbed a large canteen of water and trudged with the whole load through the orange grove and around one of the ponds to the base of the guard tower. It was time to calm the savage beasts by offering them something to fill their bellies. I knocked letting them know I was on my way up and then climbed the stairs.

James met me half way and took the pail and thermos to lighten my load. Three growls met me when I finally put my foot on the landing; stomach growls. I chuckled quietly and passed around bowls of chili, sliced bread, and their choice of beverage.

The chilly breeze reminded me to be thankful that there hadn’t been much more than a dusting of patchy frost the preceding night. The weather had done less harm to the garden than the irresponsible feet of some of our “guests.” The smell that came on the breeze reminded me to be thankful we had finished our Wall. Easing over to the side I looked over to see hundreds, maybe a thousand or more, zombies.

“Where did they all come from after all this time?” I whispered.

“Notice how many of them are wearing jailhouse orange?” Scott asked. “A prison may have fallen recently or it simply took this long for them to migrate this direction.”

Indeed, the orange jumpsuits of the Florida prison system made up roughly a third of what the zombies were wearing.

“I haven’t ever seeing so many ragers in one place. And every rager we’ve seen has had one of them orange jumpsuits on,” Angus added.

And James said, “The orange makes ‘em easier to snipe in the crowd. Matlock has ordered us Sharp Shooters to give the ragers sanitation priority whether we have a silencer or not. It’s just they are pretty packed together right now.”

“As soon as we clear out as many ragers as we can, Angus has invited me to take a ride in Juicer,” Scott grinned.

Oh boy, I knew that grin. Turning to Angus I said, “I assume … uh … Juicer … is your truck.”

“Kinda fitting. Wait ‘til you see her in action. She’s a real thing of beauty.”

I obviously wasn’t going to be changing their minds, you could tell by the wicked delight and expectation on their faces. I sighed, gathered up the dishes once they had finished eating and simply asked, “Come tell me bye before you take off.”

“Will do Babe,” he said, kissing me soundly, likely as a reward for not squeaking about his plans.

Angus wolf whistled and Scott laughed, “Go get your own.”

James just rolled his eyes at the incomprehensibility of adults.

Not too long after the last person in Sanctuary had eaten their portion of lunch, Scott came to tell me he and Angus were heading out. Dixon himself made sure the garbage truck’s fuel tank was topped off. You could tell he longed to take a ride as well but knew his place was temporarily at least still within the Wall.

They were leaving by the rear gates. The problem was those gates were nearly as clogged with zombies as the front gate was. McElroy and David have been setting up some contraption of their own over the last few weeks and they helped to distract enough of the zombies so that Juicer could get out without letting more than a couple of zombies in. Those were quickly sanitized.

I don’t understand all the engineering and electrical work involved but basically they took smoke alarms, removed the “smoke” part, and made them louder. They hooked them up so that they could be set off remotely with coded signals using a radio. I thought they were wasting time when they first started building their “toys” but I’ve become a firm believer. When those noise makers started going off it was only a few minutes before Angus and Scott could leave in Juicer.

My gut was in a knot watching them leave. Mischief and Mayhem sat close beside Butch and Sundance, all four dogs extremely unhappy to be left behind. At first the truck rolled over more zombies than it scooped up. After they had completely cleared the gates however it became obvious Angus had considerable practice at utilizing Juicer and that he was raring for the challenge this horde presented.

He started on the outside edge of the horde, scooping up anywhere from five to two dozen at a time in the front loader. When the front loader was full he would dump its load in the compactor. The compactor appeared to hold a hundred to a hundred and fifty squished zombies in a load. Maybe a few more if the load held very decayed zombies.

When the compactor was full they had to run it down to our dumping ground about five miles off to the northeast. The dumping ground was little more than a long trench we had dug using a back hoe that was lined with visqueen, a heavy-duty pliable plastic sheeting. It’s far from a perfect solution but there isn’t an incinerator handy and we can’t just leave corpses lying around or NRS won’t be the only plague we have to deal with.

Scott said that was the worst part. It was like dumping rotted orange pulp. It didn't all want to slide out, and when it did there was this disgusting plop, splash, plop that could be heard even over the big truck's engine, not to mention the smell would gag a maggot.

Angus and Scott used and emptied Juicer multiple times until dark was less than an hour away. Again the sound traps were used to allow them through the gates. They had easily halved the number of zombies in the horde and planned to finish up the rest the next day.

But we awoke the next day to find another horde had joined the first during the night. Now we had even more zombies than before to deal with. Matlock told me he estimated there was around three thousand in the morning and despite Angus’ best efforts by late afternoon there was closer to four thousand as straggler groups continued to join the main horde.

We had begun to worry that the press of zombies against the Wall was going to compromise it so when we weren’t on work details we all spent time combing the Wall for potential gaps. The only one found was near the front gate. The sheer number of zombies had pushed a steel container a few inches out of line with the next one to it.

Those of us inside Sanctuary slept fitfully that night wondering how many zombies there would be when we woke up.

No new zombies had been added overnight. In fact the horde had thinned with those on the extreme outer edges losing focus and moving on sometime during the pre-dawn hours. The guards said it was like listening to the rustle of unnatural leaves blowing away on the wind.

Angus, this time with McElroy who adored Juicer and was determined to build its twin, set out after a breakfast of toasted Spam, egg, and cheese sandwiches.

Because the horde was so tightly packed, more zombies could be scooped up at a time. By lunch the horde’s number had been cut in half. By dark barely 50 remained and those seemed confused and directionless. Because of this they didn’t clump together and were more time consuming to scoop up.

Rather than waste fuel, the marksmen on the Wall took over at that point and Juicer and its driver came in to resounding cheers of enthusiasm. I think no matter where Angus ultimately chooses to live, he’ll be a welcome addition to the community. Certainly Mischief and Mayhem were happy to have him back under their watchful eyes. A yard full of children were all well and good to play with for a while but it was The Man who had found them, washed and doctored their wounds, and kept them fed since the bad-stinky-things had killed their other masters.

We all slept better last night. It’s not that things are suddenly right in the world, it’s just that things have been broken down into more manageable pieces. Sanctuary may have received most of the focus of the main horde but there were and are still plenty of zombies wandering around. At that point we hadn’t even heard from New Geraci and still haven't the Driscoll Compound. MacDill had begun reporting a higher than normal zombie count the day before but there has been only silence from them since.

Today has brought us a different set of problems.

Once the zombies had been cleared it was time for the Hale Hollow refugees to leave. That was much easier said than done for a variety of reasons. There were six children in the group, five of them claimed by families and one a little orphan girl no one seemed to want. We would have offered the families with children a place here in Sanctuary if their parents hadn’t been amongst the biggest trouble makers. Everyone kept asking us what they were supposed to do, how were they supposed to survive once we “kicked them out.”

Then mid-morning the remnants of the New Geraci group showed up expecting help and to take shelter with us as well. Their compound was a complete loss after it became the focus of several ragers.

On top of that the two groups acted like male dogs after the same bitch; snapping and snarling at each other until I was ready to tear my hair out.

After listening to too much shouting and lamentations from the two groups we finally managed to convince them none of them were staying. We would feed them one more meal and then they were going to be on their way … willingly or not. In the end we had to put them out the gate one at a time with a frisking because they tried to take so much with them that wasn’t theirs. We allowed them to leave with what they had arrived with and nothing more. One woman had even tried to hide stuff in her baby’s diaper which really was the last straw for me. How low can you go?

We had thought to ferry them back to Hale Hollow in the bus but after a threat by one of their newly elected leaders to take what they wanted, by force if necessary, the offer was summarily withdrawn. Not even a quick new election and a new, more diplomatic leader caused us to relent.

There were only two families we did quietly offer a home to but they both turned us down. Col Byrd and his family and then the man named Greg from the New Geraci group because he and his wife had quickly adopted the little orphan girl as quickly as they heard she had no one to protect her. Both families had high quality members with sound leadership skills. It was Col. Byrd’s unique take that summed up their refusal.

“Your group already has enough roosters for this hen house. We’ll travel back to Hale Hollow with this flock of chickens and see if we can’t help ‘em find their heads before everyone pecks each other to death.”

It was mid-afternoon before we lost sight of the last stragglers walking up US41. James used his spyglass to tell us that they at least crossed SR54 all in one piece. Despite everything I hope they make it. But, it could be weeks or longer before we know.

It felt as good as the first stretch of the morning to have Sanctuary back to ourselves. We were in a jolly mood even faced with the mess that the refugees left us to clean up. No sooner had I begun to check over the garden for unsalvageable damage than Rose, now assigned to help Rachel and Waleski almost full time, came running at full speed. I thought she had come to get me but she didn’t even stop but ran passed and up to her Dad and some of the other men who made a quick grab for Jack whose knees had started to buckle. This wasn’t good.

It had to have something to do with Teri. Again turning and running back the way she had come Rose stopped only long enough to tell me that Rachel needed some help.

I made the door just as Dixon and Matlock’s long strides got them there as well. The smell in the hospital was awful. Even with the windows raised I could smell vomit and loose bowls. Standing in the kitchen I saw the cabinet that held the narcotics had been torn off its hinges and several bottles were open and on the countertop.

Rose called, “Mom, in here. Hurry.”

I ran to one of the back bedrooms to find Rose trying to help Rachel who was holding her forearm close to her chest. There was blood everywhere.

The one time I finally thought to grab for my pistol I didn’t need it. “Mom, the blood isn’t hers, its Teri’s. Help me get her on the table and get these clothes off of her so I can see how bad things are.”

Having my daughter order me around like this was surreal. She was my daughter and yet she was something more. My chest expanded with pride and I was so glad that Scott and I had taken the time to get her apprenticed to Rachel and Waleski. And even with the last vestiges of childhood now forever erased from her face, it was nice to note that it was still to me she turned when she needed help.

Dixon was trying to come in the door when Rose practically slammed it in his face. “We’ll call you when and if we need you. Just help Waleski take care of the other problem please. He banged his head on the edge of the sink pretty hard.”

Oh. Oh my. I would have given a whole lot to have seen Dixon’s face at that moment but I had more important things to deal with.

We got Rachel up on the table and I could tell she was in a lot of pain. But there was terror in her eyes too. She looked at me pleadingly and said, “Don’t let me turn into one of those things. God don’t let me … Argh!!!!”

Rose had moved her arm and was trying to slowly slide a thick BBQ glove off of it. The glove was one of a pair I remember finding and they were like thick firemen gloves.

“She was feeding the fire barrel out back so that we could burn some of these dirty bandages that had piled up. I was taking the vital signs of that lady restrained in room three when I heard a crash. Waleski, Rachel and I all came running from different directions. It sounded like something had fallen in the bathroom. Waleski entered first and slipped in puke. His head went down onto the rim of the sink. Rachel just had a glimpse of Teri before she tried to rip into Waleski’s arm that he was using to try and stand back up with. Rachel bear-hugged Teri from behind and gave Waleski a chance to catch his balance. Just as he did, Teri bent over and bit down on Rachel’s arm. They duck walked her into exam room one but Waleski round up having to … having to … “

I put a hand on her should. “Its OK honey.”

“Waleski wound up having to pin Teri to the wall with that big auger bit that heart attack lady had been using as a cane. We hadn’t had time to get rid of it. Teri wouldn’t let go of Rachel’s arm. He didn’t have a choice. It was the only thing … “

She was pretty green but I got the picture. Rose had finally managed to remove the glove and we both sighed in relief to see that there was no broken skin. Rachel wouldn’t believe us until we helped her to sit up and showed her. She broke down crying in relief. It was deja vu ... I remember Cease being the exact same way so long ago when he thought the zombie had bitten through his boot.

The door was practically being pounded off its hinges. “Better let them in or that doorframe is going to buckle.”

I had just turned the knob when Dixon practically tore it from my hands. “Hey, take it easy. We said we’d call … “ And then I got a good look at Dixon’s face. He has that pale Nordic complexion going on even in the middle of summer but I swear it looked like all the blood had drained from his face. He was as white as fresh copier paper. He was also shaking so bad I thought it might be a good idea if someone took the gun from his hand which is what I tried to do. He looked at me and let it go and I quickly turned the thing over to Scott and Matlock who had also entered to the room.

Into this circus entered Patricia with impeccable timing. She looked at Dixon and then at Rachel and asked quietly, “Is she OK?”

I was the only one that managed to answer her. “Yeah, she’s messed up but she’s not going to turn if that’s what you were asking.”

Then she sighed, “God Dix, then stop standing there like a damn statue and go over to her will you. Rachel, you are really going to have your hands full.”

You could have heard a pin drop. We all watched as Dixon and Rachel both gave Patricia the strangest look. She said, “What?! You expected me to say something else? I’m not blind you know. Deal with it.” And then, “Dix, we’ll figure out what to tell Samuel when we need to. Just … just go to her already, the tension is making me sick.”

As Patricia left the room she gave me a look of mute appeal. I glanced at Scott and left the room and followed her out and into the orange grove where she finally broke down crying.

“God I hate this. I cry at the drop of a hat these days. Stupid hormones.”

I just held her and let her cry. She said, “I told you I’d let you know when I had made up my mind.”

“Yeah, but it still sucks doesn’t it.”

“God yes. And I still don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.”

“None of us do. For right now why don’t you let tomorrow take care of itself. I think you’ve taken enough of a huge step for a while. And you let Dixon do the talking to Samuel first. He’s going to have some things to answer for and he’s going to need to be the one to deal with the consequences.”

“Oh, I’m not going to let him off the hook that easy. I’m no martyr,” Patricia said in a watery chuckle. “But I don’t want things to go bad between them either. He’s a good Dad even if things didn’t work out between us.”

I led Patricia back to my house. Becky and Tina were standing there and it was apparent that the news had already travelled. The two women brought her into the house to lie down for a while and I returned to the hospital.

I’m still not sure what to make of Dixon and Rachel but I’ll take my cues from Patricia since she was the one most injured in the triangle. I couldn’t quite meet their eyes as I passed by them. They were billing and cooing and it was too hard for me to watch that bit of happily ever after. I went back to Rose who was in the exam room with Teri’s now sanitized body. There was a bloody patch on the wall and it looked like Scott was measuring for a new section of drywall.

He said, “It’s not worth the chance of painting over. I’ll just cut it out and replace it. Angus said he and David would split my watch so I could go ahead and get it done.”

I turned to Rose and asked, “What happened after Waleski pinned her and we took care of Rachel?”

“She was a fresh turn. It looks like she OD’d on some narcotics she stole from the medicine cabinet. Mom, she took two whole bottles, she meant to commit suicide.”

Waleski walked in and said, “Yeah, and she did it on the last of our pain meds. If we don’t find another source we’re sunk.”

“Wait. I thought Teri was in little more than a vegetative state.”

“That’s what we thought but it looks like she snapped out of it enough to decide she didn’t want to be a part of this world any more. As long as she has apparently been an addict she had to have known that that number of pills was gonna kill her. I offered a sedative to Jack but he won’t touch it. You got any of that special tea handy? He might be willing to do that. I think Teri’s habit has given him a prejudice against all drugs.”

"Ok, so Teri OD'd and then turned. What ... "

"She was a fresh turn Mom. She might have even been a potential rager. She had more strength than the really fresh ones normally do. And she was violent. Normally we have a better chance of sterilizing them."

Waleski added, "She was thrashing around so much I couldn’t get a good bead on her skull to use the UT."

"The what?"

"It's shorthand for undertaker's tool. It’s better than calling it a brain scrambler."

Obviously Waleski was returning to normal if he could be this ascerbic. God help Junie if they stick it out. “I’ll see what I can do about Jack. And I’ll also ask Dante’ and Hank if they can come over and help you inventory the medicine cabinets to see if anything else is missing.”

“Yeah. Yeah. That’ll be good,” he replied in a very tired and worn voice.

I left to go find Dante’ who had one of the kids relay the message to Hank to come after his watch was over. From there I put a kettle of water on to boil and asked Becky, “Is anyone with Jack?”

“Believe it or not, Patricia is.”

“What?!”

“Yeah. She says she doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her and that the quickest way to make sure that everyone understands that her and Dixon’s break up was mutual is to keep active and act as normal as possible.”

“I never thought I would say this but Patricia is one gutsy lady.”

Tina said, “I don't know. She still makes me uncomfortable. I can’t help but remember how she used to be; before all of this NRS stuff I mean. She was definitely the privileged corporate queen.”

I sighed, “We’ve probably all changed some. She’s had a lot happen and not much of it good. Now she’s pregnant and has no man around to help her through it. I certainly wouldn’t trade places with her for love or money.”

I took the tea kettle and tea over to the house that Jack and Teri had shared … when Teri had actually been well enough to live there that is. She spent more time in our hospital than in the house. It took a while for me to convince Jack that the tea wasn’t drugged, even having to go so far as to drink a cup myself. He finally consented to have some. I reminded Patricia not to drink the herbal tea and handed her a couple of regular tea bags.

“Thanks,” she said and then went back to patting Jack’s hand as they sat at the little breakfast table by the window. As I was leaving she gave me a calculating look and said, “Sometimes you just have to let life happen.”

I wasn’t taking that particular thought any further. I had had more than enough drama to last me a good long while. Patricia was a grown woman. I just hoped she knew what she was doing.

At dinner than night we took stock, literally. Dante’ and Hank reported on how much having the refugees here had depleted our supplies. The news wasn’t good. It wasn’t terrible either but it was going to take some work to bring things up to where they had been before. The hunt had definitely helped out so another one was scheduled for the not too distant future.

Angus was getting itchy feet to check out the places that Scott had told him of. He said, “It’s been great to be with you folks but a little togetherness goes a long way for me. If I can, I’ll use one of those locations and stay nearby but I do need some space.”

We all understood, I think Scott in particular did. The kids on the other hand all said, “Aw, do you have to Uncle Angus?” Obviously he’d made some fans.

Angus looked at a loss so I told them, “It’s not like he’s not going to be coming for a visit now and again, but you have to remember, not everyone is made to live inside walls.”

That appeased them, at least for the time being. I expect to have to have the discussion a few more times until the kids get used to Angus leaving and coming back on a regular basis.

We also discussed the need to find a new supply of narcotics. Jack looked guilty until Dixon reminded him that no one held him accountable for Teri’s addiction. The loss of the drugs had hurt us though. We were less prepared to address a medical emergency.

The other reality we were facing was perhaps the worst of all. Our ammo had taken a severe depleting. We absolutely had no choice but to find some replacement rounds. The issue was so important we discussed going all the way across the county and trying our luck at MacDill.

Dixon didn’t think that was too good an idea. One, if the base had been evacuated they would have taken all of the weapons and ammo. Two, if the base was still occupied it would let a potential enemy know how bad off we were. Three, that was miles and miles further away than we had ever been and would likely take more than a day or two to accomplish and until we knew if there would be any more problems with the remnants of the zombie horde it wasn't a good risk.

Then James mentioned what turned out to be the best idea of the night. “What about the Homeland Security offices and the Port Authority offices. Dad, remember when we went there with the troop? There were places we weren’t allowed to go because they were too close to their guns and ammo.”

Scott slapped his forehead and explained that while the Port of Tampa wasn’t used by the military because of the number of cruise ships and international barges and ships constantly going and coming both Homeland Security and the Tampa Port Authority kept large numbers of personnel stationed and supplied in the area. They had some inconspicuous offices on Channelside Drive and some other ones right in the dock area itself.

So we now have plans to do two things. Tomorrow a group will go on another hunt and then the day after a contingent will head to the Port to see if we can find more ammo.

If it’s not one thing it’s another. My schedule is all shot to smithereens, but at least I’m alive to complain about it. It feels like it’s trying to warm up again and I need to make sure that the garden is ready. I won’t be going on the hunt tomorrow, I have too much else to do. Besides if … no, not if but when … when they bring home whatever they bag on the hunt I’m going to be working my tail feathers off.

I’m not sure who will be going down to the Port and we are all too tired to plan it right now. A lot may depend on what happens on the hunt. And speaking of, I’ll try to write down a narrative of the first hunt tomorrow. I think I’ve just about heard everyone’s side by now and have it straight.

Please, oh please, oh please let’s just have a few quiet days. That’s not too much to ask is it?

Day 110 (Saturday)

Oh, it is so good to be off my feet. I have been up since four this morning and going the whole time.

Breakfast was home fries with canned bacon and cheese mixed in and skillet toast that was browned in the bacon grease and a little butter for flavor. Before NRS that would have been a heart attack waiting to happen. These days with all the work we do, we can’t seem to keep enough fat in our diets. Everyone has lost weight. I do my best to make sure the kids get a little extra but it isn’t easy.

Our hunters left with the changing of the guards at 5:00 AM. Dixon offered to stand aside and let Matlock lead this one but Matt was more interested in drawing up plans to implement some of the additional elements for the Wall that Scott had talked about. He was also going to measure out a bombing range out in the orange grove and see if he could get a few homemade pipe bombs and hand grenades to work. When Dixon heard that he wanted to stay home and play too. Honestly, grown men and their strange toys.

Jerry had the beginnings of a miserable cold so Cease was going to need another marksman as a partner. Shock of shocks for me is that James was the one they picked. Apparently James isn’t just blowing smoke when he talks about being a “sharp shooter.” Dixon told me tonight that had he still been recruiting he would have recommended that he consider enlisting and eventually trying out for something called “Scout Snipers.” I’m not sure what to make of that. On the one hand I’m proud and on the other hand it turns my mother’s heart a little cold. I’ve had to fight really hard to let James be the man he is growing into … but I can still see my little boy if I look closely. Maybe I always will.

Scott and Angus also went of course. Angus ‘cause you probably couldn’t have kept him out of the jolliness and Scott because they needed someone that had the park’s layout memorized in case they needed to use some of the backstage areas.

Junie was supposed to go but requested to stay in camp when a damp wind kicked up late last night and started her shoulder to throbbing hard enough that three extra-strength Tylenol didn’t cut it by much. The only other four that could have gone at that point were Dante’, Hank, Jack, and David. Dante’ has a permanent limp from his broken leg and wouldn’t do well if they needed to run. Hank knows even less about guns than I do. Jack wasn’t really in any condition to go. He buried Teri last night in a private ceremony in a grave he dug himself in our little cemetery. We had all offered to help but he said that Teri didn’t believe in anything and wouldn’t have appreciated it. He appreciated the offer of our help and support but it was the last thing he could do for her so he wanted to do it alone. He’s in a real fog and Patricia is the only one that seems to able to penetrate it.

That left David and even though he was just coming off guard duty when the hunting party left, he was wide awake and raring to go.

I guess someone might ask what about McElroy and Waleski. Because of Rachel’s arm – not broken but badly bruised – Waleski needed to stay in case the two remaining patients in the hospital required sanitizing. Rose simply isn't up to the task yet.

McElroy’s reason for not going is a little more embarrassing. Seems he had been using the old crow’s nest lookout as a private getaway spot. But the floor of the former guard station up there wasn’t very comfortable. He had made himself a good sized cushion out of Spanish Moss and had been sitting on it for a few days. Obviously McElroy isn’t from the South. Spanish moss can be full of chiggers. The poor guy. And Waleski didn’t help when he announced his ailment at the dinner table as a warning to others.

I had chiggers on my rear bumper area once when I was a kid. Trust me, once is all it takes. McElroy spent most of the day in and out of an oatmeal bath, calamine lotion, and Benadryl lotion. I can pretty much guarantee he’ll think twice about what he sits on for the rest of his life.

So the hunting party was made up of Dixon, Scott, Angus, Cease, David, and James. If I knew them at all they were determined to not come back until they had caught their limit, or in this case caught all that would fit in the coolers and chest freezer.

I knew they would also come back hungry. That meant I needed to make sure there was plenty to eat. For lunch I made pimento cheese from blocks of Velveeta and served it on thick slices of fresh baked whole wheat bread. And while good, this made sure that everyone would be hungry come dinner.

Between raking and hoeing and weeding I supervised the kids cleaning and chopping enough root vegetables for a huge vat of stew that would be served after the hunters came home and had a chance to wash up. I figured to grab a bite to eat early and while everyone else was eating, get started on processing the meat.

Today was also Baking Day so the other women and I baked bread, crackers, cookies, pretzels, and made all the other items we normally made on this particular chore day. I know it sounds like a lot of work, and make no mistake it is, but it was also nice for us to be able to get back to our normal schedule. Well, normal for these times anyway.

The hunting party came back earlier than I had expected them to. I had forgotten they wouldn’t be spending any time exploring Busch Gardens except to track animals. It was only about 3:00 PM.

They made better time on this trip and went straight to the front gates, parked, and secured the bus. The only thing different was a handful of zombies in the remote parking area. Thankfully none had made it into the park itself yet.

OK, tell me what I am supposed to do with warthog? Two warthogs?! They aren’t listed in any of the wild game cookbooks I have. But since they look like a pig … sort of … I’m treating them like pork; kinda along the lines of wild boar which is in my cookbooks. Oh what I’d give to have the internet back for a couple of days, heck even a couple of hours. It’s been a very difficult transition away from having near instantaneous information and answers at my fingertips. Thank the Lord I never got away from books completely.

Books lead me to mention Brandon’s latest project. Not only is he Sanctuary’s librarian, apparently he’ll be our historian as well. Oh I know I have my journal and memory books but that’s private stuff. Brandon is making a real production of it. And he’s taking pictures. They’re digital and then he prints them off on those camera gizmos. He’ll eventually run out of ink and the right kind of paper of course but Josephine is a very good artist and has volunteered to help if he needs it. Budding romance? Not at all. I think those two were lost before NRS struck and they’ve simply begun to find themselves. It’s certainly an interesting process to observe.

I’m listening to Sarah cough and it reminds me that she has taken a temporary turn for the worse. We had no choice but to move her out of the hospital. The refugees, some of them nasty, were just all over the place and needing immediate medical attention. We also didn’t want her over there when the ones who died turned and had to be sanitized. But her resistance was down because her body was spending all its energy and then some healing her wounds. Add in the cool, damp weather and too much excitement and Jerry isn’t the only one who got sick. I probably shouldn’t have let her on the lanai but she is one of those people who gets depressed without enough sunlight. Scott and I thought bundling her up would be enough. We were wrong.

I expected a lecture from Waleski but he actually blamed himself saying they need to come up with a step-down plan to move critical patients out of the hospital and back into their homes. They were able to give Dante’ and Junie their full attention for an extended period of time. Even Patricia’s earlier issues got a lot of extended, hands on attention. But between Teri and then the advent of the refugees, and the fact that she didn't complain much at all, Sarah fell through the cracks. And now with the two possible sanitations still in the hospital to deal with it’s not a good idea to move her back there again. They’ve had to add a decongestant to her treatment plan and I’ve already seen an improvement thank goodness. We’ll just have to watch her more closely for a couple of weeks until her immune system has strengthened back up. I’m going to start her on the “Three Broths” plan tomorrow; a cup of chicken soup, a cup of broth made from greens, and a cup of broth made from garlic. She will also get a cup of apple juice and an extra vitamin tablet for at least two weeks just to be on the safe side.

Wow, I must be more tired than I thought. I realized I got completely off track from what I meant to write. The great hunters came home. I wrote about the two warthogs, but they also brought home another impala and they also got an eland (the largest of the African antelopes as I was informed by Samuel) that weighed in at 1300 pounds. Yep, one thousand and three hundred pounds. This thing was huge and was a real problem for them to get back to the bus and loaded. They wound up having to remove some of the offal and leave it behind just so they could fit the pieces into the buss. Even then we still wound up having to slaughter it like a cow; it was just that heavy. All of that meat should hold us for a while and it’s a good thing too. The animals are getting harder to hunt. Scott thinks they are either being hunted by others or are getting smarter about surviving in the “wild.” They are also spreading out.

When I asked him what he meant he said they spotted a rhino over in the grass that had grown up in the Tampa Industrial Park. Uh huh. And when I asked what they were doing over in the industrial park when they said they were just going to Busch Gardens I noticed a couple of attempted quick exits.

“James? David? Did you two have a good time today while you were … hunting?”

“Awwww. Come on Mom. Pick on somebody else. If I rat ‘em out I’ll never get to go on another … oh, man.”

All I could do was laugh and turn back to Scott with my eyebrow raised. But even Dixon had one of those goofy grins guys get on their face when they’ve gotten away with behaving naughty.

I sighed, “You might as well spill it. You know I’ll find out eventually.”

A few other of the women had come over while we were talking. Becky said, “If she doesn’t, one of us will. And I see you Matt. The look on your face is as bad as theirs so you must already know.”

James and David were laughing at the older men getting caught. At least David was until he spotted Rose standing there with her arms crossed. He choked back his laugh real quick after that and tried to look contrite.

They were all trying … and failing miserably. It was apparent they’d had fun doing something.

Turns out “something” was raiding the Yuengling Brewery. I hadn’t looked in the back of the bus because the men were bringing the meat to me. Honestly, you’d think I was an ogre wanting to spoil all their fun. Or I don’t know, maybe half the fun was seeing if they could pull the wool over my eyes.

How is it that I turned into everyone’s idea of a grumpy Mother Hubbard? I like to have fun too. Truth is I miss being carefree. I miss not really having to think about what I am going to fix for dinner or worry about running out of stuff permanently. I know for a fact that all of us women would love to have a girls’ night out on the town. But where could we go and what could we do? We have too many responsibilities. No, I don’t blame them for having fun. I just wish I could find a little of that for myself.

Maybe I’ll shock everyone and dye my hair and get rid of this gray that has begun creeping in ever more quickly. Heck knows I need to do something about my clothes again too. I’ve cut them down and made them over just about as much as I can. I joke and laugh about the fact that I’m half the woman I used to be but in reality, it’s scary not recognizing the woman in the mirror any more. It’s scary starting to feel old right when I need all the energy I can find.

Whew! Enough of that maudlin crap. Scott still wants me … maybe more than before if that’s possible … and the kids still call me mom. What more could I possibly ask for?

I’m done for tonight. I’m just going to staple in the story of the first hunt. I’d write it over and make it neater but I'm just too tired for “neat” tonight.

The following is a report on Sanctuary’s first big game hunt as pieced together by Sissy Chapman after listening to the men talk about it … ad nauseum … for hours … and hours. Actually it was kinda neat to listen to what transpired and watch the guys get some real satisfaction out of what they had accomplished. I just had to forget about all the critters that I had been avoiding while they were off playing great white hunter.

Apparently no one was quite sure what they were getting into. The grass, while clipped in some areas where the animals had munched it down to the roots, was for the most part taller than even Dixon could easily look over. There just was not enough density of animals to compete with Florida’s warm rainy season. The grass grew faster than the animals could eat it.

That made going forward that much more dangerous. Once they left the concrete sidewalks and got out of site of the gift shops and snack carts it seemed like they really were out in the African bush.

The impalas were first. The animals were so used to being fed by humans that even after nearly three months any human smell they might have caught a whiff of didn’t disturb them too much. The guys had been watching them frisk about a bit and bounce around. Scott said it was almost a shame to kill them but then he thought of the kids and how thin they stayed even with us women doing all the cooking we could.

Scott’s glasses were fogging up so he shook his head that he couldn't take the shot. Cease, Jerry, and Dixon all took an impala each in close succession but that really set the small heard to bouncing. Their .30-06 rifles didn’t do too much damage and was relatively easy to clean out when we were processing the meat.

The impala all leapt away with a show of amazing agility. Some of their bounds easily reached 8 to 10 feet in height and probably twice that in length. It didn’t take the little antelopes long to disappear from sight.

The shots had also started the other animals in the area. The men fanned out but stayed in sight of the man on either side of them. They slowly made their way through the tall grass but found nothing until they reached a miniature clearing around a tree. Standing right there scratching its horns against the trunk of the tree was a gorgeous scimitar oryx. It was a male and his horns were (are, they are mounted on the wall in the library as of today) beautiful. He stood about 36 inches at his shoulder and wound up weighing in at about 400 lbs. The white coat and russet face and chest caused him to blend in very well with the tall, dry grass.

Cease tried to take the shot but had a bee fly at his face right as he was pulling the trigger. Luckily Angus and his “Mauser” was able to bring the animal down. I think that’s what he calls his gun anyway. Something about .308 but all I know is I could hear it when it went off so it must have been pretty loud. If I had been one of those animals they were hunting I would have gotten gone as fast as I could and stayed hid.

They decided to hang all four animals in the tree to keep the bugs off of them and hopefully keep any other predators away. They hadn’t seen any sign of the lions or other predators that used to inhabit this part of the park but that didn’t mean that weren’t still around. They hadn’t seen any fresh sign of scat either. Jerry later said he thought the big animals took off after easier food like domestic dogs and cats. They would also be more curious about exploring their environment and expanding their territory than the grass eaters would have been.

Scott said he was getting frustrated at that point ‘cause he hadn’t even taken a single shot. The 300 Winchester Magnum that he was carrying that day even had a special scope on it but it didn’t do him any good if he couldn’t see through it. His glasses are really turning out to be a problem and he wants to see if on my gathering runs I can find him some of that stuff that will keep his glasses from fogging up. What happens when those of us that wear glasses need new ones I’m really not sure. Scott and I both wear bifocals. It’s a real concern and scary too. Neither Scott nor I can see at all until we put our glasses on in the morning. We have our spare sets but what if our eyes get worse? Its not something I have fun thinking about.

After they had hung the carcasses, not too difficult because of the low branches and the fact that Cease can climb like a monkey, the men continued through the bush. They were out of the grass now and into an area where small bushes and trees made up the landscape. You could see large hoof prints all over the place so they knew that the zebras must come that way frequently, probably to get to the water in the fresh ponds that have been dug in the landscape.

Cease hopped up on one of the man-made boulders to try and look around. He said he nearly had a heart attack. Right on the other side of the boulder was a kudu that had been hiding. Cease startled the kudu and it came from around the boulder so quickly that it startled the other men. Waleski never even made a pretense of firing. He said he just wanted to get out of the thing’s way. Dixon and Angus were too close. Jerry’s gun misfired. Scott said it was just dumb luck more than skill that he managed to get a solid hit into the top of the creature’s back.

They thought it had been a solid hit when the kudu dropped after kicking both back legs. But before they could make sure, it got up and ran off. It was losing a lot of blood so they tracked it for about ten minutes before finding it under a tree breathing its last. Dixon put it out of its misery with a herculean neck snap. After Scott told me that I decided I never really want to see that man out of control. Something tells me it would be a nasty incident.

They were wondering how they were going to get all the meat back to the bus when Angus spotted one of those large wagons that can be pulled by hand. They put the 500 pound kudu on the wagon and pulled it back to the tree.

There, asleep under the tree was a huge ostrich not bothered at all by the fact that there were four dead animals up in the tree above it. Cease said it was easy as pie to lasso it and walk it along. How none of them got their guts kicked out I don’t know. The ostrich must have been tired or something. It may have just been running from a predator. Either way they have got to be the luckiest sons a guns ever. Ostriches are nothing to fool with. Their legs are powerful enough to shatter your insides or break a human leg bone. Their beak can be pretty nasty too if they are in the mood.

With Cease leading the loopy ostrich the other men put the meat on the wagon and pulled it back to the concrete area. There they were able to pick up a flatbed and move the oryx and impalas off of the one that kudu was on.

And that’s how they showed up looking pleased as punch with themselves. The meat was worth it; though with the refugees to feed it went too fast. We still have some tucked away in the smoke house and I’ll have to write out how I made sausage another day … after I find out if it is going to be edible.

Day 111 (Day of Rest)

We opted to put the Port Run off one more day. It’s such a potentially important trek, and so potentially dangerous, that we wanted to make sure those that were going were completely rested and fully outfitted. I have to admit that I am glad.

Matlock is going to lead this run. Dixon came down with whatever is going around and his eyes are swollen, runny, and itchy. I don’t think he’s gone 15 minutes today without a sneeze or two. First thing this morning I handed him a pile of handkerchiefs and told him to use ‘em or I would drown him in Lysol. I assume he got the message, although he does need to talk to Samuel. Poor kid is confused and sad and spending a lot of time at our house sitting with Sarah. On the one hand he’s glad his parents aren’t arguing anymore and are happier. On the other hand he would prefer if his parents could have found some way to be happy with each other. I’m so glad Scott and I were able to work it out the times we’ve gone through some rough spots. I’m sure Shakespeare probably said something witty and appropriate that I could quote but in my own words relationships are a lot of dat burn work and the moment you forget that, or give up trying to fix things, is when the problems can become insurmountable.

It can’t be one-sided either. At least not for long. Look at the mess Jack has been left with. I know he loved Teri and is grieving for her like crazy, but I’m not sure at the end that he liked her very much. You gotta have a little of both for balance. Just like with Patricia and Dixon, Jack and Teri used their son to bridge their differences. But when he died there wasn’t enough left to see them through the hard times. I hope Scott and I don’t forget and let the kids become the only glue that binds us. God willing, even Kitty will grow up one day and have a life of her own. What will we do then? Who will we be then?

Argh! I don’t know what I’m feeling so insecure about. Maybe Scott leaving to go on the Port Run has me spooked. With all the preparation and work over the last several weeks we haven’t had much alone time; not even for a walk in the orange grove. The few times we have managed to be alone and not too tired, just when things start to look interesting someone interrupts; the baby cries, someone’s boo-boo needs to be tended, something breaks and only Scott can fix it, we’re missing something vital to finish a recipe, etc., etc., etc. I don’t know how the other couples are managing things.

The other people going on the run are McElroy, Junie, Jack, and Angus. The only one I’m a little iffy on is Junie. It’s not that she will be the lone female. She’s nearly as taciturn as Waleski; it’s her shoulder. I guess Dixon and Matlock need to see if she is still up for her job.

They leave tomorrow morning at the changing of the guards. At least this time we’ll be able to stay in contact. Those that didn’t have specific duties throughout the day helped raise a new, larger antenna for our radio shack, hopefully that will take care of any reception problems on our end. They also installed new radios in the bus, the F350, the tow truck, and Angus’ Juicer. The only two vehicles going however are the F350 and Juicer.

Scott will ride with Angus and they’ll drive point and hopefully push any blockages out of the way if possible. The other four will ride in the F350. That won’t leave a lot of room for supplies but the bus is simply too unwieldy to take into unknown territory. The F350 is an extended cab long bed work truck; it will haul, just not as much as the bus could. I’d rather that they come back with less and uninjured, than try to bring back too much and have an accident.

We still haven’t heard from MacDill or the Driscoll Compound. There’s not much we can do about MacDill right now. If they don’t want to talk to us there’s nothing we can do about it. But, the decision has been made to drive by Driscoll’s to see what their status is.

The crew will take Nebraska or Florida Avenue all the way into Downtown, depending on which one turns out to be freer of blockages. They’ll check out Downtown for ideas for a future run then head straight over to Channelside Drive and from there into the heart of the port itself. Even without complications it will be late before they get in; possibly after dark which could slow them down immensely. All I can do is pray at this point that no “complications” occur.

Just because I could, I decided to go overboard and do dinner up big. Last night after I found out the run was going to be pushed off another day I had the men give me all the warthog ribs. I seasoned them with kosher salt, black pepper then added garam marsala just to give it an African kick. I left them in a small battery powdered cooler to marinate overnight.

Right after lunch I put the ribs in some of the big pans I brought back from Busch Gardens, covered them with several bottles of beer I snagged out of the Yuengling supplies and then set it all to bake in my big trench for a couple of hours until they were tender.

While the ribs were roasting I made a glaze out of canned pineapple chunks, fresh ginger, basil, allspice, ketchup, red wine vinegar, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, and just enough water to thin it out enough that after simmering it for a bit I could puree it all.

When the ribs were tender I basted them with the glaze and then heated them back up just enough to make the glaze bubble.

Oh … my … word. You would have thought some of the guys had died and gone to culinary heaven. And weren’t they happy the battery the cooler was plugged into had lasted long enough to put frost on some bottles of adult beverages. I even managed to fit in some bottles of my homemade rootbeer for the kids.

The dogs were happy as clams to get the scraps. If I’m honest, I’ll be happy as a clam to get this run done and over with.

Day 112 (Monday – Wash Day)

It’s a good thing I’ve been so busy today or I probably would have gone nuts.

Scott’s not home, well I mean none of them are. They got caught in some firefight between a group based out of MacDill and pirates. Yep, pirates. They were at the port so why not?! I swear, just once it would be nice to have a normal sort of problem. But since NRS came into our lives the surreal is real and “normal” is surreal. Lord I need to sleep. I'm starting to sound as bonkers as I feel. I tried to sleep but after tossing and turning for a couple of hours I decided to just get up, come in here and spill my guts in this journal. The damn bed is too big and lonely anyway.

They had already missed three pre-arranged call times and I was flat ready to have a break down. I had to keep a cool head though. Becky was already a nervous wreck and Waleski wasn’t much better than the kids who were about to drive me to drink with their incessant questions about whether Daddy had called yet. It was like being in a car full of kids going, “Are we there yet? When are we going to get there? Are we there yet? How much further?” Anyone that has kids will know exactly what I mean even if they’ve only experienced it once. It makes for a great piece of comic relief … until you are the one actually experiencing it.

I kept saying to myself and praying, “Let it only be a radio malfunction. “ Dixon, not at his best himself, looked like he was ready to strangle the next person who asked if our crew had called in.

I had gone over to the shack to annoy Dixon one more time when the radio finally crackled to life.

Jack, sounding extremely harried and unlike himself radioed, “This is Juicer 1 callin’ the Dog House. Repeat this is Juicer 1 calling the Dog House. Do you copy Dog House?”

“This is the Dog House calling Juicer 1. We read you loud and clear. Are you coming for dinner?”

“That’s negative Dog House. Aw crap … just a sec. Hey you, lend a hand will ya?”

We all just looked at each other. The break was long enough that Dixon almost keyed the mike when another voice came on.

“Eh. This is … uh … Juicer 1 calling the … uh … Dog House. You still there Dog House?”

“That’s affirmative caller. Please identify yourself. Voice recognition is off.”

The reason why Dixon asked for the caller to identify themselves was because none of our people had a distinctly Australian accent and that person certainly did. None of us knew quite what to make of it.

“Juicer 1 kindly gave me an assist with a mutual enemy. My new friends are a bit tied up at the moment in some kind of discussion with some gentlemen wearing USAF uniforms. They asked me to let you know that they’d be forced to put your invitation of a visit off for a day. Do you copy that Dog House?”

“Roger that Juicer 1. We copy and say affirmative. Any other info that you can relay?”

After a short pause the man came back on and said, “Yeah mate, one of the gentlemen said to tell Mother Hen that everyone still has all their fingers and toes but that they had run into a problem with … uh … huh? … oh … a problem with Johnnie’s favorite Veggie Tale song. But not to worry, they were working on a happily ever after. Did you copy that Dog House?”

“Roger that Juicer 1. We ... uh ... copy.”

Dixon looked at me standing there with my mouth hanging open and asked, “You do know what he’s talking about right?”

All I could do was nod my head.

“Sissy? Yo, Sissy!”

I came out of the fog I had slipped into. I just couldn’t believe it. I had to clear my throat twice before I could answer. “Johnnie’s favorite VeggieTale song is The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.”

Dixon yelped, “The what?!”

“Pirates. He must mean pirates.”

“You still there Dog House?”

“Affirmative Juicer 1. You caught us by surprise.”

“Know what you mean, mate. They didn’t do me any good either. Got another message for you if you’re ready to receive.”

“This is the Dog House. Go ahead Juicer 1.”

“SM says he’ll call Kitty’s bed time plus two, repeat Kitty’s bed time plus two on prearranged alternative channel number three. Bit a news, but it requires some thinking how to tell it. But repeat, everyone has all their fingers and toes so no Rolaids necessary. Do you copy all that Dog House?”

“Roger that Juicer 1. Bedtime plus two and no Rolaids.”

“That’s affirmative Dog House. Over and out.”

Kitty’s regular bedtime, which Matlock would know because he, Becky, Jenny, and Tom haven’t moved yet, is 8 pm and I’m religious about the ruckus being brought down several notches at that point. Add two hours to that and it meant Matlock would call at 10 PM. I didn’t understand why so late, it was only 4:30 pm at that time. I also didn’t understand at the time why they couldn’t talk then and why he’d have to think on how to say it; especially if everyone was OK.

At 10 o’clock on the dot Matlock called in. Rose said she would stay with the kids so Becky and I could go hear what was said but Matlock asked everyone but Waleski to remain outside. I didn’t know whether to pout or get angry. So we stood outside on pins and needles until he came outside and told us what was going on.

We don’t have all the details yet – Matlock was apparently worried about their location being compromised – but in a nutshell MacDill is being evacuated. And Junie opted to accept the call to return to active duty because the medic in the MacDill group said she could qualify to have surgery to correct her shoulder. But, because Junie knew about one of the stockpiles they had gathered, our group had to move its location after she left in case she turned the information over. We were all pretty blown away at the double blow - Junie and MacDill.

Waleski is some tore up. Junie didn’t even bother to send him a good-bye message. Waleski may get on my nerves on occasion but even at his worst I’m sure he never would have done that to Junie had their positions been reversed. I don’t like to call names but what a total skank of a thing to do. Waleski had been nursing her for weeks and if nothing else deserved some consideration for that alone.

James will be home from guard duty any minute and I don’t want him thinking I was waiting up for him. I’ll sign off here and try and get some rest even if I can’t actually sleep.

I have a strange feeling that Dixon didn’t tell us everything. He was angry about Junie I think but he was also excited about something … unless the decongestion was making him hyper which is also a possibility. And who the heck was the Australian guy and how does he fit into the story?

I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. The guys apparently plan on being home about mid-day. Why is it time never flies when you want it to?

Day 113 (Tuesday)

I spent the day letting down the hems of the kids shorts and pants and quietly going crazy while waiting for Scott to come home.

The sewing isn’t busy work either. The kids are growing so fast I can hardly keep up. I know most people would probably think I should just chuck the worn clothes into the rag bag and gather something from out in the community but it’s not quite as easy as it sounds. One, you have to find a house that held kids. Two, the kids have to have worn the same size you are looking for. And three, if you do find a house with children’s clothing in the right size and sex it might not be appropriate or hard-wearing enough. It’s the same for shoes though we aren't having as much trouble with those yet.

We’ve found to our detriment that a lot of modern clothes just wear out quickly between the work we do and the way we have to wash them. I know it’s not been quite four months but stuff is already starting to fall apart. The stitching is usually the first thing that gives way. Buttons and zippers are next. Then the fabric itself wears thin or just rips.

Even James is running into a problem. He’s wearing 28 x 31 jeans right now and the pants legs are sitting above his ankles. I just can’t find anything in the storage sheds that fit in the waist and the length at the same time. Rose and David aren’t having the same problems though David could use another couple of work pants and at least one more flannel shirt. They are in adult sizes and there plenty of that available. All of those that work nightshift guard duty could use some long underwear. And don’t even get me started on the other kids. The other women are complaining of the same thing.

I’m doing the best I can with what I have. I cut up worn or broken items and use them to lengthen or patch other items. Things were getting so bad with Sarah that I finally just took a bunch of old worn jeans – broken zippers, rips for fashion rather than practicality, etc. – and made a couple of long jean skirts with a drawstring waist. She calls them her prairie skirts and they hold up even under the rough conditions of taking care of the animals. And she says they are warm on her legs but don’t make her feel all bound up. Now all the girls want “prairie skirts.” I wouldn’t mind wearing them myself but they aren’t practical for working around the cook fire. For the youngest girls I’ve simply begun sewing very long ruffles on the hem of oversized t-shirts. If the skirt/dress gets too short before they outgrow the t-shirt I’ll just sew another ruffle on the end to lengthen it and I can patch any holes by adding appliques.

We really do need to make a run to a fabric store. I’ve talked to Dante’ about moving it up the priority list but I can’t seem to get him or the other men to understand how important it’s going to be. There’s also an antique “mall” down by where the Big Top Flea Market was I want to go to. When everything went crazy I know they were in the middle of a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy but I’m almost positive they still had their warehouse full of inventory because they were going to start doing auctions 'cause Scott and I were gonna go.

While I was working and thinking all of this, lunch came and went and there was still no sign of our crew. I was trying hard not to be upset. We’d gotten a confirmation this morning that everything was going according to plan and that they would be back around mid-day. I was just starting to darn another pair of socks when Bo ran up to tell us that a convoy had been sighted.

He said “a” convoy had been sighted; not “the” or “our” convoy. I grabbed my .22 and bag of bullets and headed to the wall after asking Josephine and Maddie to watch the kids and to also watch for the lock down signal. I would have preferred Rose and Melody but they were both working at the hospital.

Even as I was running over to my assigned position on the Wall, Dixon was waving me down. I bee-lined for him and he asked me, “Could you please make sure the kids stay well back form the road. It’s our people and they’re coming in with extra vehicles. Those sons of a guns hit pay dirt Sissy!! They’re bringing in a tanker and a crap load of other stuff. Until we get it in and locked down I don’t want the kids anywhere near things.”

OK, besides the fact he didn’t actually say “crap” but something a little more earthy, he looked really strange. You don’t often see Dixon in such a jovial mood. He also doesn't curse all that much, at least not in mixed company. Whatever the guys were bringing in, I knew at that moment it had to be pretty darn special.

I turned right around and wondered how long they expected me to be able to keep a bunch of overexcited kids corralled. I couldn’t chain them up like dogs although I’ll admit I’ve thought it a time or two when they’ve just about run me ragged, but I did think of the macramé cord that I had found for Sarah to give her something constructive to occupy her time while she was unable to walk around. I took one end of one of the spools and tied it to a fence post on one side of the yard, then I ran it over to the carport and tied the other end off there.

Next I showed the kids what I had done and set the ground rules. “If I catch any of you on the other side of that line you are going to be in bad trouble. If any of you older ones let any of the younger ones passed that line you are going to be in worse trouble. Anyone passed that line without express permission will lose all of their free time for a minimum of two weeks and will receive extra chores until I feel like you’ve had enough. Does anyone have any questions?”

Of course Johnnie and Bubby wanted to know why, like they were weighing whether it was worth getting into trouble over. At least half my gray hair comes from the creativity of those two. By the time I finished explaining why it was important for them to be obedient, the trucks had begun to pull in. There were six, each with a single driver, and what a sight they made.

First came Juicer with Angus driving, pulling a long and fully loaded flat bed trailer. Next, Scott drove in with a dump truck full to capacity and covered by a tarp; attached to the dump truck was a large enclosed commercial trailer which I was to learn later was full to capacity as well. Then came McElroy driving a fuel tanker; everyone cheered when they saw that one. After him came a small propane tanker driven by a man I did not recognize. Next to last came Jack driving a flatbed rig that had two steel storage containers on it and also pulling a second trailer piggy back style; I used to hate driving near those things on the Interstate. Bringing up the rear was Matlock driving another flatbed that had the F350 chained down on it and also several wooden crates with D.O.T. stenciled on the outside.

As the gates closed everyone in Sanctuary was out and celebrating; even the guards on the Wall were hooting and hollering. We made enough noise to draw a small crowd of zombies. It wasn't until we noticed that that we all began to quiet back down. I decided it was best if I stayed with the kids to help them avoid the temptation of stepping past the line I had set up.

Standing back as I was it was interesting to observe the interactions between everyone. After Matlock and Dixon greeted each other with a lot of male back-slapping and guy theatrics, Matlock gathered Becky - who had run up to him as soon as he was out of the truck - in one arm and then hurried over to pick up Tom and Jenny and swing them around a bit. They made a cute family group and I knew they'd be soon moving into a house of their own now that their commitment was fully cemented.

After leaving Matlock, Dixon shook Jack’s hand. Patricia stepped up to Jack and gave him a hug though there was nothing sexual to it at all. She's smart enough to know that he's not done grieving for Teri yet, but she was marking her territory so to speak. Dixon did a double take but didn’t say anything. Jack looked at Patricia then at Dix waiting for his reaction. Dix gave a barely visible nod and half smile and then stepped up to the next man, leaving his former lover with apparently whom she has chosen to be the new man in her life, whenever he is ready.

McElroy walked back to introduce the stranger to Dixon and the three of them walked up to where Scott and Angus were standing in the midst of James, David, Cease, Rose and several other people. Eventually I saw Scott looking around for me. I waved with one hand while holding on to Johnnie and Bubby with the other. He understood, smiled and made hand motions that he’d be over as soon as he could. The kids were all jumping up and down, as excited as the adults were, except for Sarah who sat in a chair and waved tiredly, but happily, at her dad.

Glancing to my left I saw Rachel and Waleski standing in front of the hospital, near but somehow outside of the celebration.

Waleski had a blank look on his face. Not angry or lost, nor even unhappy; but you could tell he was stretching himself to not be one of those things. He may be a curmudgeon but he’s our curmudgeon and I hate to see him suffering. We all need to walk with consideration for his feelings for a while until he can get through this. The loss of Junie, the fact that she left him with no notice or good bye, has to be gut wrenching for him.

Rachel had her own carefully blank expression on. She was staring at Patricia standing there with Jack and then she looked over at Dixon who was talking unconcernedly nearby. I haven’t a clue what she was thinking but she didn’t look happy with her thoughts.

Muriel showed up about then and told me she’d watch the littles so I could go over to Scott. I like Muriel. She reminds me of some of the women in my family; a lady but still no one to trifle with. She’s fun but she doesn’t take any guff off of anyone and the kids all know it; and probably respect her all the more for it.

Thanking Muriel for her thoughtfulness, I walked over to Scott as he started heading my way with the stranger.

“Honey, I’d like you to meet Jim. He’s from out of town and doesn’t have any family on this side of the world. Jim this is the ‘Mother Hen’ we all told you about. She also happens to be my wife.”

“How do you do ma’am,” said Jim with the same distinct Australian accent I had heard over the radio.

“Please to make your acquaintance Jim. Please call me Sissy, everyone does.”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then all the men were called to bend their backs to start unloading the big stuff from the vehicles. Josephine and Maddie, assisted by Bo and Tom, laid out tarps so the women and older girls could lay out some of the smaller items before they were inventoried and put away into storage.

While we all worked together, the story of the Port Run was told. There was more than a few details come out that were both shocking and upsetting.

After our crew left at 5 AM they travelled south on Florida Avenue as far as they could before having to switch over to Nebraska Avenue so that they could swing by and check on the Driscoll Compound.

It was obvious immediately that something horrific had occurred there. Corpses, permanently dead ones, littered the ground within 200 yards of the Driscoll warehouse. The warehouse itself had sustained significant structural damage.

Against their better judgment the men decided to stop and see whether there were any survivors. The inside of the building was a carnal house. With the younglings about the men didn’t go into detail but Scott later told me it’s one of the worst things he’s ever seen. Bodies and parts of bodies, old blood, brain matter, and internal organs were everywhere you looked. Jack puked first and then Junie started. That set everyone heaving, even Angus and Matlock. There’s just something about the sound of heaving and then vomit hitting the ground that makes extreme nausea contagious.

When everyone had their stomachs back under control they continued looking around trying to figure out what had happened. Oh, it was obvious that zombies had gotten in but how? And what had caused the roof to collapse?

Then Matlock spotted the man behind the glass walls of the main office space. He was a suicide – the rifle still lay in his lap with the barrel tucked under what remained of his chin – and well into the advanced stages of decay. His height and hair color led Scott to the conclusion that it was Mr. Driscoll Sr. himself. The note he left behind confirmed it.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,

ALL I TRIED TO DO HERE HAS BEEN FOR NOTHING. IN OUR ARROGANCE WE BROUGHT IT ON OURSELVES. WE HAD HELD OFF RAIDERS AND ZOMBIE HORDES SO MANY TIMES WE GOT COCKY AND THEN SLOPPY ABOUT CHECKING THE BUILDING FOR DAMAGE. WE GOT OVER CONFIDENT AND PUT TOO MUCH IN OUR ROOFTOP GARDEN. THE RAINS CAME AND WE PUT ALL THOSE BARRELS UP THERE TO CATCH WATER TOO.

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAST STANDOFF WITH THOSE NRS FREAKS THE CORNER OF THE ROOF GAVE WAY. ON ITS WAY DOWN IT BUCKLED THE BACK WALL AND THE DOOR POPPED OPEN. THAT’S ALL IT TOOK. I WATCHED THEM POUR IN. I WATCHED AS MY FAMILY WAS TORN APART. MY OWN DEAR WIFE WAS BITTEN AND BEGGED ME TO STOP AS I RAISED MY GUN TO PUT A BULLET IN HER BRAIN.

COWARD THAT I AM I RAN AND HID IN THE VAULT WHILE EVERYONE ELSE STOOD AND FOUGHT. I FINALLY FOUND THE COURAGE TO COME OUT AND FIGHT ONLY TO FIND THAT IT WAS ALL OVER WITH. I’M OVER WITH. I CAN’T GO ON ANY LONGER. I CAN’T LIVE WITH WHAT I DID. AND EVEN LESS WITH WHAT I DIDN’T DO.

WHO EVER FINDS MY BODY I’D JUST MAKE ONE REQUEST. TAKE THE KEY IN THE TOP LEFTHAND DRAWER, OPEN THE VAULT, AND USE WHAT YOU FIND THERE TO PUT AS MANY OF THOSE SONS A BITCHES AS YOU CAN IN A PERMANENT GRAVE.

T. DRISCOLL

Matlock found the key where promised and opened the vault. It was a goldmine, at least by today’s definition. On shelves lining three walls were thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition. No wonder they never seemed worried about running out. Mr. Driscoll must have also gathered all the weapons in the compound and locked them in there as well, though some of the guns were damaged beyond repair.

It was almost decided then and there to call off the Port Run and simply take what they had found and call it good. Instead everyone grabbed a double supply of ammo for their weapon. Matlock relocked the vault room and moved a book case in front of the door as camouflage and removed the suicide note so that no one else would look for the now hidden room.

Back in the vehicles and now behind schedule, they began heading Downtown. What during normal times would have been at most a 30 minute drive on the I275 took them two hours on side roads.

Downtown was a mess; shattered windows, gridlocked cars that Angus pushed to the side as best he could, and zombies in various stages of decay here and there on street corners, weirdly mimicking the homeless that once stood there instead. The sound of the vehicles echoed through the skyscraper canyons and confused the heck out of the walking corpses. Occasionally one would come tumbling out of a high rise building to land in a quagmire of rust colored stains and body parts where previous zombies had tried the same exit strategy.

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center where Scott and I had gone less than a year ago to see The Jersey Boys to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary was basically rubble. It looked like a couple of small bombs had gone off inside the bottom floors of the building, right at the entrances. Several of the Downtown buildings looked like that. The library didn’t look too bad but the lexan walkway between the main building and the annex had several major cracks in it.

Matlock decided that was as good a place as any to stop and call in since it was about that time. The group needed to get their bearings anyway and to wash the taste of puke out of their mouths. They stopped an hour and while there they made a pile of books, DVDs, etc. that they wanted to bring back. Scott picked a bunch of books on carpentry and home repair for him and threw nearly the entire collection of cookbooks, craft books, and gardening books on the pile for me even though he knew there was no way they'd be able to bring them all back. McElroy grabbed some books on building small electrical and solar devices. Matlock grabbed some books on metal work and gunsmithing. Junie didn’t seem much interested in anything the library had to offer but half-heatedly threw some books in the pile on home and natural remedies apparently for Waleski. Jack and Angus had a good sized crate of books and movies each as well. Scott said at the time they wished they had had more opportunity to be picky but they moved everything into a pile for later pick up and headed back outside.

From the library, unmolested by the zombies who had strangely begun migrating to the west like they heard some call no one else could, our crew headed in the opposite direction to Channelside Drive to stop at the Port Authority building. That’s where things started going wrong.

Not far from the building they had been aiming for, the F350 blew a tire. Luckily they had come prepared with two spares but it was still a time consuming mess to unload the truck, jack it up, and then change the tire on the big truck. Jack had taken a short break and was leaning against a doorway when it gave way.

He fell inside what turned out to be a small office and warehouse space. Unfortunately he knocked his head pretty hard on the way down and was discombobulated and had a gash on his forehead that had to be cleaned up and pulled closed with butterfly bandages. While our crew gave Jack a few minutes recovery time, Angus and Scott decided to see if the warehouse held anything interesting.

Amazingly no zombies, nor rotting corpses, were anywhere in the area. It was like they had all been cleaned out. Under tarps inside the warehouse space were cases of canned goods and liquor. Other tarps hid crates of jewelry, coins, gold, art, and other museum quality knick knacks. There was also what looked like a pretty big supply of both legal and illegal drugs. The men quickly brought Matlock and the rest over to see what they had found. It looked like someone’s private stash of black market goods that was waiting for a new economy to develop. While some of it made our crews search for things to bring back to Sanctuary easier, it also made everyone leery of who was already working this area of town.

Matlock said the sooner they could finish going through the specified locations the better. Such a big stash of wealth was unlikely to be left unguarded for long. Nor would they be very happy that someone had been nosing around their stuff. The crew was on their way again immediately and was soon parked in front of a nondescript building with a small plaque announcing it belonged to Homeland Security. The vehicles were secured and they had just begun to enter the main offices beyond the entrance foyer when gunfire sounded from the side of the building that faced the water. A quick exit became impossible when men in uniforms rushed into the room in retreat.

The uniforms – a mix of several different branches of the US military, but all wearing the black armband of the NRSC – nearly opened fire on our crew, but were prevented from doing so when the people already firing at them ran in as well.

Scott quickly rolled over to Matlock and translated that it was pretty safe to assume that the men shooting at the uniforms were the bad guys. It was unlikely that the good guys wanted to catch people to have a zombie feeding party. “¡Divirtámosnos cierto y alimentémoslos a los zombis!” cried several of the ferocious looking brigands in Spanish.

With little hesitation our people added their fire power to the uniforms’ and the bad guys – who it turned out were pirates who had been harassing MacDill and the surrounding area for several weeks – were caught betwixt and between.

It didn’t take long. Then there was the trouble of convincing a very young, very new, and very nervous lieutenant that our crew wasn’t just another bunch of bad guys. Once the introductions were over with, our group found out the main group of pirates was moored in the port and had some captives from the Base.

Our group had been indecisive about joining the rescue mission until they found out the pirates were beginning to make incursions further inland and were even beginning to use the Hillsborough River as a liquid highway. That could put them way too close to our home base.

That cinched it for our group. We already have enough problems without allowing another one to take root in the area when we could nip it in the bud early. Between our crew, the military patrol, and a second patrol that had come to relieve the first, it was a near route.

As violent and as ruthless as the pirates were they were still no match for the number of trained military personnel combined with and our hardened survivors. Some of the pirates were even “on duty” drunk or high. Their lack of discipline was their ultimate undoing.

In the middle of the battle Scott spotted a tall, thin man who he thought was one of the captives trying to escape. He gave the man covering fire to allow him to get into a more secure position. This man later said to Scott, “Thanks mate, appreciate that. I was beginning to think I was going to have to take them bastards on all on my lonesome.”

Our Australian’s name is Jim; or “Jimmy to the ladies if they’re so inclined.” The perpetual twinkle in his eye proclaims him to be somewhat of a rascal but he’s serious enough when the situation warrants. He is a displaced businessman stuck here in the States when the international flight quarantine was put into effect. He’d been wandering his way to Tampa Bay from Orlando for weeks thinking to find himself a sailboat and figure out a way to get home. The pirates put a period to that idea and the loss of this fantasy that had kept him going made him extremely angry; he just hadn’t found anything more worthwhile to occupy his time until we showed up.

After the pirate battle, the two military units reported in and included the information about our crew’s assistance. After identification was confirmed and permission granted we were given some pretty disheartening news.

Despite the best efforts of US military forces the zombie population in the USA has reached critical mass and is currently uncontainable. The bulk of the remaining government and military forces are pulling into the Midwest to wait out the winter and see if weather-related factors lowered the zombie numbers. In the meantime they would secure the nation’s bread basket and set up perimeters that offered some protection to a smaller geographic area, using the Rocky Mountain Range and the Mississippi River as natural barriers. Offenses will be planned again for the Spring after the regrouping is completed.

Colonel Martin is now General Martin and he is in charge of the evacuation and closure of all military bases along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. They had hoped, due to its strategic location, to maintain an outpost at MacDill AFB but the last horde overran the base leaving a lot of the infrastructure unsalvageable and most of the base indefensible.

The evacuation was nearly complete when a pirate attack captured several high ranking officials as well as munitions best not left in the hands of civilians. Now that they had been successfully rescued it was time to complete the necessary closing of the base. Since all of the civilians they had space for had already been evacuated, only Matlock, McElroy, and Junie received invitations to join the withdrawing forces. There was silence at this.

Scott said he told Matlock that he needed to do what he thought best but Matlock immediately responded with a negative about leaving, he had his family to consider; McElroy responded nearly as quickly with the same answer. Junie on the other hand, who had been talking with one of the rescued medics, took Matlock aside and informed him that she was accepting the invitation.

Everyone was shocked by her response. At this response she became rather defensive and stated that anyone that could get out was crazy if they didn’t take the opportunity that was practically being offered to them on a silver platter. Not only that but she wanted to have her shoulder fixed “right, by professionals, and not by someone just doing the best they can with what they had.” Under the circumstances it would have been difficult to impossible to stop her from going though McElroy tried to talk her out of it. When Matlock asked what he was supposed to say to Waleski she said that they didn’t need to say anything, he would either understand or he wouldn’t and nothing she or they said would change that.

The military forces gathered their people, the stuff that had been stolen from the base (rocket launchers anyone?), and everything else they could from the area and left; this included what they thought was the pirates’ "treasure trove." Junie didn’t even bother to wave goodbye.

The young lieutenant did pass along the information that there were plans in the works to make regular flyovers of the area and that come spring they’d be making call again on the channel they used previously to contact Sanctuary. I suppose that was supposed to make us feel like we were not being left in the back of beyond with hardly anything but zombies between us and the bulk of what remained of our country thousands of miles away.

Needless to say it didn’t work. But at the same time we weren’t overly concerned either. We’d pretty much been on our own from the beginning. More people should have listened when the government said we’d be YOYO for at least a short time in the event of a major catastrophic event. YOYO means “you’re on your own” and this has certainly been true for those of us experiencing the ZPAW.

No sooner had they driven completely out of sight than Matlock turned and said that they needed to go back to the warehouse and take what they could and find a place to stay for the night. Jim, in a strangely cheerful mood said, “That’s just them dole bludgers’ little stash, though it’s got some nice things in it. You want to see their big stash. Now that’s a beaut. I was gobsmacked the first time I saw it.”

Jim was not understating things at all. He had been observing the pirates for nearly two weeks and had found most of the stashes they had built. It’s actually how he was finding food and staying alive. He’d hole up in whatever stash location they had just left and it would be at least two or three days before they would come back; he was safe, dry, and out of the reach of zombies then he would move on to the next one. He also had his pick of whatever was stashed there because the pirates didn’t keep anything written down. If something was missing they assumed one of the other pirates had taken it for their own use, assuming they noticed at all. The pirates, in hindsight, seemed so disorganized and inept that if MacDill had had the personnel to dedicate to the problem they could have gotten rid of them before they had a chance to become entrenched.

In the large warehouse right down at the water’s edge where the pirates kept most of their contraband Jim warned, “You want to watch some of those guns they have. They are a bit bodgy; watched one blow the hand off the guy who was using it just the other day. Ammo is decent enough though. Hasn’t given me a bit a trouble and I’ve been using it for over ten days now.”

That example seemed to typify what the pirates had been collecting. There was no rhyme or reason to it. There was expensive, museum quality pieces of art next to Elvis painted on velvet paintings in cheap frames. Bottles of expensive scotch and vodka sat in laundry baskets with cans of cheap beer and boxes of even cheaper wine. Heavy gold chains and gem encrusted pieces of jewelry were thrown into the same containers as chunky plastic bangles and dime store earrings that would turn your skin green if you even thought about wearing them. High quality and expensive fire arms were thrown onto the same shelves as cheap flea market vendor paintball guns.

The quality of the equipment that the pirates had gathered was just as haphazard. Ropes removed from multimillion dollar yachts lay in piles next to ropes that might have barely qualified to act as clothesline. Rusted gas cans were lined up with shiny and well maintained industrial grade tanks. Craftsmen and even higher end tool brands were clumped together with bent screwdrivers and broken wrenches from the Dollar Tree. The inventorying system the pirates used barely qualified as a system at all and made deciding what to bring and what to leave behind even more time consuming.

They threw the gold, jewelry, coins, gems and other items of that sort into a single large wooden crate and set it aside. Jack asked, “Despite it being a shame to leave all of it behind for someone else to find, why bother boxing it up? Isn’t it a waste of time?” Matlock suggested that it be taken back as far as Driscoll’s warehouse and then stored, at least temporarily, in the vault there. No one was quite sure why but it seemed like the right thing to do. Kind of a like an insurance policy or savings account for the residents of Sanctuary.

The more they looked the more they realized that there was no way for them to bring back all that they wanted to. Even attaching trailers to Juicer and the F350 they couldn’t bring back a tenth of what Sanctuary could use. Just as they were all reaching the last stages of extreme frustration Jim mentioned that if we could find a way around the gridlock he knew where some more big vehicles were parked.

Over where the cruise ships loaded and unloaded supplies and luggage there was a supply dock with nearly all of the vehicles they eventually chose. The fuel tanker they found near the Port Authority’s building. There was another tanker they had to leave there that was about half as full as the one they brought home with them because there weren’t enough drivers. That’s on the list to go back and pick up soon. The propane truck was parked behind the Hilton where it must have been making a delivery when it was abandoned. The front windshield was cracked but it was still drivable at the speeds they would be going.

By the time they finally gathered the last of the convoy and had pulled them into the warehouse, it was getting dark. They closed the warehouse and secured all the entrances. The pirates had already blacked all of the windows so that when they started up the generator (sound proofed by the pirates and vented to the outside) hooked to a series of halogen lights no one could see from the outside in. This let the men continue working late into the night, even after they had called in and let us know their status at 10 PM.

Because they had been up so late after such an exciting day everyone slept in an extra hour except for Matlock who had taken the last watch. He called in to say they were on schedule and then woke everyone up. They were stopping by the library on their way home.

Here they ran into a few problems. Some of the zombies that had seemed to leave the preceding day had returned. Scott knew for sure at least two of the zombies were the same ones because he recognized them in their distinctive clothing. They were likely college kids from the University of Tampa just across the bridge from the library. You don’t forget a female zombie with fluorescent pink hair and one breast missing or a male zombie with the types of piercings this one had, revealed because he was wearing no pants.

Now we have to wonder if zombies are drawn to the same areas over and over for some reason. That would seem to mean they have rudimentary recognition skills. Now we have new questions to ponder. Do all zombies have the recognition skills or were some just fundamentally “smarter” than their fellow zombies? Was it a true form of intelligence or simply another bit of life being mimicked using the vestiges of information left in the infected human brain?

When they finally made it over to the library there were too many zombies to be worth the trouble and time it would take to clear them out. Hearing this I wasn’t the only one disappointed. Brandon became almost clinically depressed. OK, maybe that is being a bit facetious but he certainly was morose until Matlock said that they wanted to make another run downtown within the next couple of days with the library and that second tanker as their primary goals.

It was more challenging driving back to Sanctuary than they had anticipated. While most everyone had rudimentary experience using the large trucks, driving them for any distance was another story. Angus had cleared a good sized swath when they were on their way into Downtown but he had to make several places even wider on the way back home and when it wasn’t possible, as it turned out to be in three places, they had to find alternative routes that would accommodate the large trucks.

Eventually they reached the Driscoll warehouse. It had not been disturbed. While the men off loaded the gold and such and then replaced it with the ammo they had stopped to pick up, they discussed how many people likely remained in the area. There may be small family-sized groups sprinkled throughout but with Hale Hollow, Ehren Cutoff, and MacDill gone it looks like we are the only enclave of any size in at least a thirty mile diameter. There's been a little radio traffic from way out east of the county, but it’s been barely discernible from the static and comes very irregularly.

Matlock was going to call ahead, but just in case they were wrong and there were others out there listening, he maintained radio silence and waited until they were within sight of Sanctuary to make contact.

Now the trucks are all unloaded, the kids are tucked in, and most all of the adults in Sanctuary are likely asleep. Except for me; I sit here trying to get everything down in this journal. There are only a few pages left in this one and I’ll be forced to begin a new book before the week is over most like. Seems like I don’t get quite a month in any of these little books. I should probably switch to notebook paper and binders but I’m trying to save that stuff for the kids’ schooling. Like everything else, when it’s gone it will be gone and what we’ll do to replace it is anyone’s guess. Go back to writing in the sand or on clay tablets?

I should be happy. The Downtown Run 1 has brought in more than I ever imagined it would. More than any of us imagined it would. Tomorrow we’ll all take turns trying to help Dante’ and Hank organize the remaining stuff before storing it away. That’s been a heck of a job to do by hand, though a necessary one. Rachel and Waleski have locked up all of the drugs into one of the exam rooms until they can sort and count what they have and see if any of it is too out of date to be worth keeping.

Day after tomorrow there is going to be a Downtown Run 2. This one will focus on the smaller pirate stashes that Jim knows of, the second tanker, and the library. Scott, Angus, and Jim will certainly be going on this run. I’m not sure whether Matlock or Dixon will be leading it. My understanding is that Brandon might go with his long list of books and movies that everyone has requested and so that we can make the most out of a single library run.

Dixon is taking Junie’s defection and the evacuation of MacDill somewhat in stride but you can tell he is also kind of angry and shocked by both events. If it was Matlock I’d know how to talk to him about it, but Dixon’s an odd duck in some ways. Of course why I feel it is my responsibility to make everyone feel better is beyond me. I’m still stuck trying not to put my foot in it and say something I shouldn’t to Waleski who really has reason to be upset. I’ll leave Dixon to Rachel since she wanted him so much.

And now, it really is time for me to go to sleep. Scott was barely cognizant by the time he finally agreed to go to bed. I was just too wound up and still had too much stuff to put away. Thank goodness for solar lamps and wind up flashlights or I’d be sitting here getting an ulcer in the dark unable to get rid of my stress by writing or working. Scott gets angry when he sees how tired I am some mornings but I ask him would he rather see me walking around and a little tired or in a grave from a heart attack? He hates it when I ask him that. I get tired of hearing him get angry about the same old things. I think we both need a vacation.

Day 116 (Friday)

The Downtown Run 2 was another success; if you call bringing in a bunch of stolen goods and eradicating the remaining pirates/zombies in the area to do it. The group ran into a lot fewer problems than they had the first time and those they did run into – nothing is ever perfect in this world – were easily handled using established protocols . The only major problem ironically, was convincing Brandon that there was no way he could bring everything back from the library that he wanted to. We simply don’t have the room to store books that aren’t going to get read more than once or twice. Matlock finally had to put his foot down and say useful books or classic literature or books that completed a series that we already have part of. Scott said Brandon still managed to fit a few books in there that weren’t really on the list.

Our library has literally begun to overflow the space we have available. It was so bad today that Scott and Jerry agreed to put some of their other projects on hold to help Brandon build floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall shelves in most of the rooms. They even gutted the kitchen and put a small efficiency set up in the small room he converted to an apartment. With several of the men working it won’t take much longer for them to finish and then Brandon will be able to begin organizing all of the books that have come in. Some of the books however will be stored in other locations. I’ve agreed to keep most of the cooking and gardening books, at least until those subject rooms are organized enough to see how many will fit. Dixon has a lot of the area maps (topography, geology, etc.) in the office of the house he is in. The books on electronics and ham radio and similar such subjects are in the radio shack. I think some of the animal books are sitting in boxes in my kids’ bedrooms and I’ll be glad to get them out from underfoot. The really useful books are getting too spread out and we need a check out system as well so we can keep track of where they all are.

The six who went on the DR2 were Matlock, Scott, Angus, Jim, Brandon, and Cease. Scott said that Brandon did a whole lot better than he expected him to. With a goal the boy seems to be as driven as any of the grown men; maybe we’ve been undervaluing him all this time. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants. Here we’ve got another, nearly grown, male and we haven’t been letting him work to his full potential.

There’s a possibility of a third downtown run in December to hit a couple of security offices in some of the skyscrapers as well as the University of Tampa; but we’ve got too much on our plates here to even consider bringing in more stuff before we’ve found a place to put everything we already have. There hasn't been much rain so tarps have kept things dry that haven't been put away yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than thankful to have all the stuff we have and I’m certainly no neat freak; but having things shoved and piled all willy-nilly is making me nervous and cranky. I can’t find anything I need and when I can I have to move a bunch of stuff before I can get to it. For instance, Scott and I don’t smoke but I’ve been collecting all the cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco I run across. I know that sounds strange but there is a method to my madness. Waleski and Rachel had a hard time understanding why I wanted them to put some of the cigarettes and cigars over in the hospital. Well, it’s a natural remedy for stings but they just don’t believe me and call it an old wives’ tale. Hope they get stung on the butt.

So what happens? Sure enough a couple of kids were pulling weeds out of the hedges to throw on the compost today and wham, they got attacked by those tiny wasps that build their homes on the undersides of big leaves and mother-in-law type plants. I have to stop what I’m doing, remember where I stuck the carton of cigarettes since I didn’t have room in my medicine cabinet, and then dig them out without making too big of a mess.

Bekah and Laura got stung pretty good; Laura worse than Bekah. I showed Sarah what to do and she wet the tobacco from inside the cigarettes and put it on Bekah’s stings like a poultice; it acts as an analgesic sort of. I then went over to give Tina some of the tobacco to put on Laura’s bee stings. Waleski and Rachel were on death watch for the two poor souls that we still hanging on in the hospital and weren’t really available for house calls anyway. I’m wondering to myself if maybe all the houses shouldn’t have little “home remedy” kits available when Dante’ and Hank came in talking about the volume of inventory we have and how long they think it will last. That conversation catches my attention and I was glad that Josephine and Patricia were in charge of watching the food dinner so that I could listen in to what they had to say.

They don’t think adult-sized clothes and shoes are going to be a problem as long as we can keep them in good repair. In kids’ clothes we are missing a lot of sizes and the inventory is low so we’ll eventually need to find a way to bump that up but we are making do for now.

Ammo is in good supply though it certainly won’t last forever so Matlock’s experiment with making explosives are going to helpful … and not just fun for the big boys (aka the men of Sanctuary). They’ve been blowing up groups of zombies, some dilapidated structures along the fire break from the Big Fire, and basically having fun putting holes where there weren’t holes before. I’m worried someone is going to get hurt but try telling that to those men. Honestly. At least Scott promised to keep James and David out of it. Seriously, if they don’t get the measuring and packing down better someone really is going to get hurt and I’m not just being a mother hen. I’m always being treated like the wet blanket but sure enough every year on Independence Day we had some seriously injuries here in the Bay Area because of firecrackers. These things the men are concocting are a whole heck of a lot more powerful that firecrackers.

They kept talking but when they spotted me they wanted me to take a look at the ledger that they keep for the food supply. After a few calculations I figure we easily have a year’s worth of food for about 50 people so long as we use things wisely and don’t have any unexpected losses due to spoilage. We can make that last twice as long … most of it anyway … by growing as much fresh as we can. I then asked them whether they had factored in wild foods and they gave me this blank look. Look like one of my next projects will be to start putting some wild foods on the table to get people used to them so that they can supplement the commercially canned stuff that will eventually run out. There are a whole slew of trees behind the orange grove that I need to get to that have lots of native Florida fruits just about ready for picking. The former owner of the grove had, for a little while, given growing native fruits a try to see if he could develop a specialty market but the trees didn’t produce enough to be worth the trouble of developing the contacts.

Meat will also be a problem for a group this size, but we might be able to get around that by hunting and by raising our own if we can grow the field crops needed to keep our own domestic livestock fed. And that in turn means making sure those fields have the nutrients necessary to grow the crops and it also means finding a way of plowing and cultivating those fields … which means fuel. If we can just get the system started I can see where it would be self-sustaining; it’s just a matter of getting it going the first couple of seasons. But first we need the animals.

Sweeteners and salt are going to be a problem come about 18 months from now I think. The salt we can probably get around by harvesting sea salt. That is a long and tedious project. I know I read about this same problem in Alas Babylon but I don’t think it’s going to be realistic for us to just find a sand bar to harvest from. Nope, we are going to have to eventually trek to the Gulf which is a heck of a lot further than we’ve been so far. I’m not even able to think about that yet. And whether the salt that results will even be useable is another question that I don’t have a lot of experience with. I think Brandon brought back some books on the daily life of the Seminole Indians from the library; at least I hope he did. Then there is the Seminole Museum over by the Hard Rock Café. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply trade for the salt. In the meantime if we don’t need the salt for preservation then I can season food to taste salty using herb blends. That’ll help a little.

The sweet stuff we have won’t last forever either. We will eventually need be able to create our own. Honey would be one way to have our own sweetening but I know next to nothing about beekeeping. I hope someone else in our group does. The sooner we establish a bee colony the better. They’ll also help us in the garden and in the orchard by pollinating.

There are so many, many, many things that we have to find solutions for. The tankers have temporarily relieved the fuel shortage problem but that’s just one more thing that won’t last forever. We’ve exhausted siphoning all of the cars we can find. A lot of people, as well as gas stations, had simply run out of fuel by the time the power finally went out for good. Even if we do run across vehicles that still have fuel in them we have to be very careful and make sure it is still good and won’t gum up the engines. We’ve run through an amazing amount of Stabil (brand name fuel stabilizer for long term storage) and that’s just one more thing in short supply.

We are looking at creating bio-diesel but it won’t be easy. The one I’m most familiar with is where you take used cooking oil and send it through this kinda percolator system to create a kind of fuel that you can run in vehicles that had had their systems altered. We don’t have cooking oil in that amount though we are saving what we can’t reuse even one more time. Jerry, who was interested in that sort of thing pre-NRS, said you can also make bio-fuels from garden waste and other bio materials. Well, we use the garden waste in our compost piles so that we can grow more food in better soil and right now there is barely enough of that for what we need. I don’t see how we are also going to use it for bio-fuel. I mentioned reading about methane as a fuel as the animals make quite a bit of manure and the left over from the process could still be used to enrich the garden soil. Jerry said he would look in his books and see if it was feasible. Then the other fuel we might be able to develop is the “white lightening” type. It would mean growing more … a lot more … corn or potatoes or other starchy vegetable. But, if we could make a mash and then run it through a still we might be able to make something pure enough to run in an engine without too many problems. Angus perked right up and I think he and Scott are already just about ready to get into some trouble with their designs and plans; like two school boys who are up to mischief.

I’ve been giving this some serious thought but I don’t know how we are going to be able to do all of this work ourselves. I mean I know we have about forty people but a good number of those are just kids. And even with the kids doing an adult share of the work the diversity of projects is almost overwhelming. I was hoping that we could come up with some kind of trading partnership with Hale Hollow and New Geraci … even with MacDill … but all of that has been shot to flinders over the last couple of weeks. It’s nice not to have to worry about other people too much but at the same time a little bit of trading would have been nice. Now we have to figure out how to do everything ourselves and I just don’t know how we are going to make that happen.

I know I might be borrowing trouble but I just can’t stop worrying about stuff like that. Scott says that I’m my own worst enemy and maybe so. Doesn’t change the facts however. We are on our own. Totally and completely. If we can’t make it work no one is going to be there to catch us when we fail. And Scott and I have the kids to think about even if some of the others are unattached or unencumbered. I sometimes wonder if it means as much to them as it does to me. Maybe I just look at things differently ‘cause I’m female or married or a mother; who knows.

For instance, yesterday I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I’m probably nosey on top of everything else. I finally found Waleksi and alone and just bluntly asked him how he was doing. At first he looked like he was a cross between being angry that I would bring it up, embarrassed that I would bring it up, and affronted that it was a really stupid question. But then he settled back down, he probably figured I wasn’t going to leave it alone until he said something, and said that he was as well as could be expected. I mean what can you say to an answer like that. I tried to think of a comeback but couldn’t so I patted his shoulder and made to leave and give him some privacy.

As I was leaving he said quietly, “I don’t know what I did wrong. I know I’m not the most romantic guy but I gave her all I could … at least all she would accept. Was she just using me?”

Well, I was the one that started it so I turned around and leaned against the wall while he organized first aid supplies. “To be honest what she did blew me away. I didn’t know her that well but I never would have expected her to just go off like that. Y’all kept things pretty private so I can’t tell you whether you should have expected her to act like that or not.”

“I know she still thought about her husband but that was OK with me. I mean, it’s stupid to be jealous of a dead man. All we’ve got is today. We only have tomorrow maybe. Yesterday is already gone and it’s not coming back. It’s just crazy. Couldn’t she have at least said goodbye?”

“I’m not excusing her but was her shoulder bothering her that badly?” I asked.

“Her shoulder, even with operations by a highly qualified surgeon, is never going to be what it once was. There was too much damage. She might be able to get close with surgery and a lot of long term therapy, but that’s only might. And she knew this. Either she is living in a dream world or it was just an excuse. I haven’t figured out which,” he said with a shake of his head.

“I wish I could give you the answers you seek. I’ve been wondering how she could have just left. We have a good thing going here in Sanctuary. Not perfect, but good. And we have room to breathe. I imagine that whatever they are doing in the Midwest people are going to be crowded on top of one another and rationing is going to be more strict than what we have here.”

“The thing is … “ and he stopped, seemingly too embarrassed to go on.

“What?”

“Well, how would you like to be one of the few single people in a place like Sanctuary? All of the females are either attached or too young. It’s not like I was expecting to find happily ever after the first time around but now I don’t even have a place to look. There just isn’t anybody. Hale Hollow is shot to hell and if they’ve made it I’ll be surprised. MacDill is gone. Those other two groups we used to hear out on the other side of the county hardly make a sound anymore and they are too far away to pick up a date for Friday anyway.” He ended on a lopsided grin letting me know that though upset he wasn’t really heart broken. “What am I supposed to do, wait until some pretty little thing drops out of a tree and into my lap?”

I would have smiled if I hadn’t been so sad for him. This Friday was our schedule Thanksgiving Celebration and everyone was really excited about it. The women had been planning for a week what we would cook and eat and the men had even agreed to set up a dance floor and radio. Waleski’s words really made me think about the future of our little community. Who were our kids going to eventually pair up with when they became old enough?

Rachel called from the room where they had the two dying patients strapped down so our conversation was over but I had added another thing to my worry list that I couldn’t do anything about.

Day 117 (Saturday)

Normally today would have been Baking Day but we still have so much inventorying to do and dealing with the storage issues and other things that the ladies and I just said basically to heck with it. We can’t do everything at once. I wish I could have cloned myself about six or seven times just so I could get about half way caught up. And all of us would like to see the grounds picked back up, or at least organized, before our big Thanksgiving celebration this coming week. There are pallets and piles of stuff all over the flaming place and we don’t know what we have, what we are running out of, what’s critical, and what’s ridiculously oversupplied.

Dante’ and Hank don’t want to put anything into storage until it gets inventoried and cataloged. I can understand that but again, we are dealing with the fact that there are only so many people that have to do so many jobs. We can’t simply go out to a temp agency and hire someone to lend us a hand. They are going to have to compromise on some things.

Scott and Angus worked for a couple of the early hours but then took off to check out some of the properties down US41 to see if they could be turned into Angus’ Outpost. I heard them talking stills, pool tables, and dart boards. Men. At least Angus was also talking about turning a downstairs area into a smokehouse, or at the very least having an add-on or outbuilding for that. Scott said Angus is getting the urge to explore and he wants to have a base of operations before he takes off.

That new guy Jim is turning out to be a godsend. Apparently he knows quite a bit about farming as he had a finger in some of that back in Australia. The climate and critters are different but the actual mechanics are the same. I’ve talked with him a few times and he seems nice, but kinda sad too. Apparently his fiancé opted to not come on this trip like she normally did when he travelled to the States so she’s half a world away and he has no idea what her fate is. I hope he doesn’t start pining for her. The realistic chance of him getting back to his home for any number of years isn’t very high. If she is alive she has no idea about his fate either. It’s just sad and depressing to think about a situation that can’t be unique given the way things are. Do you start over or hold out hope and wait? If you wait, for how long? Gives me the emotional chills and I have to say yet again how grateful I am that our family was together when it happened. Although I think of my parents and brother and nephews and I just kind of go blank. Do you know I almost forgot what my nephews looked like? I could see everyone else’s faces in my mind’s eye but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what they looked like. I had to pull out my photo album. Will it get so bad one day that I even start to forget what my parents looked like? Brrr. Enough of that thinking, back to the day-to-day.

In addition to sundry and other things I realized that if we didn’t collect the pecans the squirrels were going to get them all. The huge old pecan tree in the neighborhood only produces every other year so we can expect to get zero of them next year squirrels or not.

I’m not much of a tree climber any more. In fact the older I get the less I like heights. I’m not scared, just not inclined as it were. I guess it’s because the older you get the more you realize you aren’t invincible; broken bones hurt and don’t mend as well. Unfortunately all the limber young things were occupied helping Dante’ and Hank; that left me and the littles.

I tied a heavy metal steering wheel on the end of a long rope. The steering wheel was off of a car that McElroy was disassembling in an effort to teach some of us in Sanctuary about car mechanics. On the other end of the rope I tied one of those roll-up emergency ladders that you can keep on the upper floor of a house or apartment. I used the steering wheel to throw the rope up and over a sturdy limb on the pecan tree. I kept pulling on the rope until the top of the ladder hooked over the limb. Once the ladder was secured at the top, I secured the bottom of the ladder to the ground with stakes so that I wouldn’t’ be swinging around anymore than necessary as I was climbing up and down.

I had the littles spread out tarps under the pecan tree then I did my imitation of a monkey. I climbed all over that dang tree shaking smaller branches and jumping up and down on bigger ones. Some of the tougher nuts I knocked off with a bamboo fishing pole. I nearly threw a bunch of nuts at my sons ... James and David saw what I was doing and starting making monkey noises. They thought they were so cute. I wish Scott had been around to see them; course he probably would have joined right in assuming seeing me up in the tree didn't give him a heart attack.

By the time I was finished I was shaky and the idea of coming back down that ladder was even more nauseating at that point than going up had been. But the reward was worth it. When the littles and I finished picking those nuts up off of the tarps we had nearly 60 lbs. of pecans. The nuts weren’t the really big ones you can get from the commercial farms so figure about 50 to 60 nuts per pound harvested. I know where there is another pecan tree but it is outside the Wall by nearly three quarters of a mile. That one will just have to wait, assuming there are still nuts left by the time we can get to it.

I left the littles putting the nuts into mesh bags so they could be hung to dry and finish curing. I hope there is room in the food house garage or we’ll have to figure out some other way to secure them against the squirrels. I can see it now, taking all that time just to provide an all-you-can-eat buffet for tree rats. That would really burn my biscuits.

The morning was already half over and I still hadn’t done the one thing that I started out to do. I let myself get distracted from going over to the native fruit grove and checking to see what, if anything, was ready to harvest. I had to use my machete to get over there ‘cause the grass had gotten so high. That’s another problem we’re having. Before, with all the mechanized assistance from yard equipment like lawn mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers, landscaping was a breeze; or you could hire a company to do it for you. Not any longer. Everything is returning to its natural state. If we are having trouble now, I can’t imagine what it is going to be like this summer. I might need to consider letting the goats wander where they will; or tying them up in different places to keep the green spaces at a manageable height. It will be overtaking the roads before you know it.

When I finally got there I wished I had made the time to get over there earlier in the month. Frankly I could have kicked myself … nope, put myself in a butt kicking contest where I was the target. We’ve already lost a lot of from we could have really used. I’m becoming too dependent on this stuff we are gathering. That can’t continue because sooner or later all that stuff is going to be used up or go bad. Then where will we be? We’ll be only as far as we can take ourselves.

The fruit that could be harvested were soursops, sweetsops, atemoyas, velvet apples, black sapotes, aceroles, and ambarellas; none of which were what you would normally find in your average produce section of the grocery store. There were also some macadamias (the few the squirrels hadn’t gotten), as well as some avocados, pomegranates, and canistels to go with the ones that I was already growing in tubs in my yard. I wonder how much I could have had if I hadn’t left it so late.

I made fresh guacamole for dinner with the avocados. The macadamias I have to Sarah to pick through and bag up. That’s something she could do from her sheltered place on the porch. She’s doing better and is up walking more but she still tires easily. Waleski has warned us to give her as much time to get over this persistent cold thing she has going on so that it doesn’t have a chance to turn into pneumonia, with her injuries still healing she could be a prime candidate for it.

Thinking of ways to work around Sarah and her needs I cleaned the fruit so that we could have a big tropical fruit salad to go with lunch. Poor kid, she misses the animals so much. Scott and I finally agreed to letting her keep the little pup in her room or on a leash with her all day it’s just that is the jumpiest dog, she’s whiney and irritable with most everyone. I think the trauma of losing her mother early and being out amongst the zombies has affected her. I told Sarah and Samuel that if that dog was going to stay around that they would need to train it. The last thing we need is to have a biter. She’s already nipped me a couple of times.

After lunch I gave Patricia, Tina, and Becky a break in the food house. They would watch the littles and make dinner while Muriel and I stocked shelves. It’s a lot easier to work when you aren’t running into people all the time and frankly it’s just getting complicated keep everything organized and know what we have and in which room and on which shelf it is located.

At first some people thought gutting the once really swank two story house was a terrible waste. Turns out even with about 3800 square feet plus a three car garage we are running out of room for food storage. The food comes and goes more quickly than you’d expect but I guess that is what it is. People will be forced to wise up once we’ve “harvested” everything we can from our surroundings and we are left with only what we can produce ourselves.

We’ve built all the shelving good and sturdy using materials from where we are gutting homes outside of the Wall. After we’ve recycled everything from those places we can we will raze them to the ground in a controlled burn or we’ll use the dozer and push them over.

There’s more than one reason for doing that. For security we need to move everything back from the Wall as far as we can. It will take away cover for any potential enemy; human, zombie, or anything else. For the number of animals we will need to be self-sufficient we will need more grazing space. Those empty buildings also pose a serious fire hazard. Lastly, and incidentally our most immediate problem, we need to get rid of population centers for rodents.

Rats and mice control is getting to be serious business. Mice and bugs may not be able to eat through metal cans and glass jars but they can destroy the paper label which makes it next to impossible to know what is inside. We’ve started dating and coding the cans with permanent markers like Sharpies.

Part of the problem is that those sticky traps and poisons that we used to just go to the store and buy will be gone before you know it. That leaves us with manual traps … and we have a whole trailer full of those suckers now … and natural remedies. I’m planting all sorts of herbs and such but we aren’t for sure which works best yet. When it is time to plant hot peppers I’ll be planting them in every corner I can find. Hot peppers will kill mice and they’ll be renewable resources.

Renewable resources; that’s what we really need to keep our eyes on. That’s the real prize. All of this gathering does serve a purpose but as a way of life it sucks. Between the fuel and the time that it takes, not to mention the danger we get into, we waste (or spend depending on your view) nearly as many resources as we bring in.

Scott and Angus were back about thirty minutes before the sun set and the cold really set in. Angus has found him a place but it is going to take some work to fix it up. Right now it’s not even safe for him to stay in overnight. There is a good fence around the back lot of the building and room to put one around the front if he winds up so inclined. It’s a tri-level. The bottom floor abuts to a second floor which is actually a former loading bay and then the top level Scott thinks may have been the executive offices. It’s not a huge place but it is decent sized. The one thing that it needs is a garage for juicer and I overheard some of the guys saying that they would help Angus go to Driscoll and grab aluminum and steel to put one together that would be attached at the loading bay.

Of course Angus wouldn't be Angus if he hadn't managed to bring back something for the kids. Scott said this one place they looked at (wound up being too hard to defend) was attached to a candy store. He brought back a whole case of those little Tootsie Rolls. I was peeling Johnnie and Bubby off of the ceiling and had the worst time getting them ready for bed. At least he waited to sugar them up until after dinner. The sugar high did wear off, it just was an hour and a half passed their bedtime when it finally happened.

Tomorrow I think some of the men said they are going to help Angus get started on his outpost. The rest of Sanctuary is opting to take a Day of Rest because we've been so busy. I have a little bit of gardening to do in the morning and I want to get another load of stuff onto the solar dehydrator. Also, I like to try and have a little bit of quiet time meditation on those days of rest but afterwards I'm going to take all the pomegranates I have right now and can some homemade grenadine. After that I really need to work on fine tuning the Thanksgiving menu, making sure we have the ingredients for everything, and setting up the schedule for what I need to start when this coming week. I also have some papers the kids wrote for school that I need to go over.

Geez. So much for a "Day of Rest." But you have to make hay while the sun shines. The sunshine might not last forever. It never does. Nothing ever lasts forever.

Day 119 (Monday – wash day)

Wash day … ugh! Wish we could have put it off as easily as we put off the baking on Saturday. I can’t tell you how fun it’s been doing the laundry outside in the cold. My hands, face, and lips are so chapped tonight I considered pulling out the Crisco and slavering it on thick. Wouldn't that have been attractive? I could just see Scott's face.

We had a pretty good cold snap yesterday and last night. It dipped into the 30s and snagged the tomato plants. I still had quite a few vines that were producing so I’m kinda bummed. I pulled some tomatoes that had a blush on them and put them on a table in the pool cage in full sunlight to let them finish ripening as much as they can. And then, between loads of laundry, I have been dealing with all the green tomatoes.

I made a batch of green tomato jam. Out of the green cherry tomatoes I made some green tomato dill pickles. I canned some other stuff too taking advantage of the supply of propane though it looks like I’ll be getting that wood cook stove sooner rather than later. I canned sweet green tomato pickles, green tomato chutney, green tomato mincemeat, and ginger tomatoes. I’ve got two vines that that didn’t get too badly damaged and I’m trying to save them until the oranges are ready to be picked, then I’ll make tomato marmalade. It’s been years since I’ve had any but I remember it as being really, really good.

My brain is so full of odd bits and pieces of trivia. Did you know that tomatoes were not cultivated in North America until the 1700s, and then only in home gardens like we are doing now? In colonial America (1620-1763) tomatoes were thought to be poisonous and were grown as an ornamental plant called the "love apple." The odor of the leaves (the smell is like uncured tobacco in my opinion) made people think the tomato was poisonous. President Thomas Jefferson was raising tomatoes by 1782. Most people of that century paid little attention to tomatoes. Only in the next century did they make their way into American cookbooks, always with instructions that they be cooked for at least three hours or else they "will not lose their raw taste." Talk about changing times. Argh, and talk about useless information. I don't know what good it actually does to know all of that stuff about tomatoes but it’s better than some of the useless trivia that will occasionally ooze out of my brain cells.

I still have nearly two five gallon buckets of green tomatoes left. Tomorrow I’m going to make candied green tomatoes that can be used in fruit cake recipes. I want to use them for a fruit cake for our Thanksgiving Celebration and maybe also try to brandy a fruit cake and hold it for Christmas. I’ll use the rest of the green tomatoes for a couple of pies for that day and maybe some fried green tomatoes which I really like as well. Tina, Trish and Patricia just kind of looked at me when I told them my plans but Muriel and Becky did a little happy dance. You can tell the folks that aren’t from the South. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing after I finally convince Patricia to give the chutney I made a try. She’s been munching on the last little bit of a jar that wasn’t full enough to process all day long. She really can be funny when you get to know her. Or maybe she is just more relaxed or something. She certainly is a different woman than the one I first met three months ago.

Lucky for us the tomatoes were the worst of the damage in the garden. Quite a few things are producing their last as it is and I’m glad none of it is going to go to waste. Hopefully I won’t have to pull all of it just yet. I wanted to wait and do as much of that as I could the day before Thanksgiving so that I could just put stuff right into a cook pot rather than having to preserve it or whatever. I did have Sarah, Bekah, and Laura snap and string a bunch of Yardlong beans for leather britches. I want to take advantage of the humidity being so low and get things dried as quick as possible. Normally our humidity runs between 90 and 100 percent even on “dry” days but with this cool weather I bet the humidity is below 80 percent. The wind should certainly help dry the beans more quickly.

Anyway, about the good news of my wood cook stove; well, not my wood cook stove exactly as it will be set up in the summer kitchen for all of Sanctuary’s use. Right now all of the pieces are sitting under a big tent that Scott got at one of those equipment rental places. He and Jim also brought back a bunch of folding tables and chairs. The mismatched picnic tables we were using to feed people on will be moved over by the building we eventually plan on using as a schoolhouse.

When Scott and Jim were at the rental place picking up spare parts and all sorts of other amazing stuff they found the wood stove back in the back corner of a shed that looked like it was used for broken or defunct items that were rarely rented. Scott said it was heavy as heck to move and get up into the trailer until Jim found one of those dollies that is also a rolling jack sort of contraption. They still struggled to pull it up the ramp but overall it could have been worse. After I helped move some of the smaller pieces like the smoke stack I’m surprised they didn’t strain something. It still needs to be cleaned and put back together but hopefully that process will be started tomorrow. I wouldn't cry if someone found another wood cook stove. It would be nice to have one inside our house just in case but Scott's got a plan for that.

Scott will fabricate some “pot bellied” type wood stoves using some metal drums that were stacked over by Angus’ Outpost. You can only cook on top of those but that'll be better than the nothing we have right now unless you count the propane camp stove that I've been using at night to make Kitty's bottles with. Scott's making a stove for Angus, one for our place, one or two extra to go in the summer kitchen, one for the hospital then everyone else’s will be first come first serve if they give him a hand getting them finished. He’s making them assembly line style so they should go a little faster but he is only one man with a lot of other projects in process.

The main problem with installation of the wood stoves will be making a chimney and venting. Angus is going to vent his into a second floor “smoke house.” The summer kitchen will be easy because it will already be open to the outside. Scott’s going to install ours in place of our current oven and then vent the exhaust through the roof where our microwave and oven exhaust fan used to vent through. It shouldn’t be a problem getting it to work that way. Its going to be getting the dry wood to keep the wood stoves going that is going to require a lot of manual labor. Cease, David, James, and Marty took the F350 and an open trailer and went over to a tree cutting service not too far from Vandervort Rd. and snagged all the wood they had laying around. That will get us started and we’ll just keep trimming back any trees that are near the Wall and set that for curing.

We’ve got other changes coming to our home as well. Matlock and Becky are making it official. They are going to have a ceremony at the opening of our Thanksgiving Celebration and then that night they’ll move into a house that they picked out and have been renovating. It will definitely be strange to have our house relatively back to ourselves. That only leaves Melody, Belle, and Trent and I’m not so sure that Melody and Cease won’t have made a commitment by Christmas. Seems like they are certainly on their way and pretty quickly too.

I thought Rachel and Dixon would have made some kind of open commitment and moved in together by now but either they’ve cooled off or something else is going on. I wonder if Dixon is waiting to see if things work out between Patricia and Jack? Or maybe he’s enjoying being single for a while. More than likely it has at least a little to do with Samuel. The boy isn’t openly hostile to Rachel and Dixon but there’s certainly some avoidance going on. He spends quite a bit of time at our house when he isn’t on duty or doing chores. Normally I’d ask what was going on but I don’t want to have to deal with the drama of potentially taking sides. I’ve got enough to deal with.

I nearly freaked thinking that Rose and David would want a commitment/marriage ceremony and a home of their own soon. I was getting so knotted up about it – and Rose doesn’t really talk to me as much as she used to – that Scott just sat the four of us down on Sunday and we discussed it. They say they know they believe they want to spend the rest of their lives together but that they also believe that neither of them is ready for that kind of step yet. Rose won’t turn 18 for a couple of months and she wants to complete more of her apprenticeship first before the responsibility of husband and home get laid on her. David, who can be really blunt, said that sex and marriage was more responsibility than they wanted right now. Scott and I appreciated his candor but we got a little green around the gills when he said it, especially when Rose added that she was nowhere ready for kids of her own. Woweee. I wish there was like an owner’s manual for children; this parenting thing does not get any easier as the kids get older. At least we know now and I can relax and not worry quite so much. But seriously, thinking about my kids having sex turns my stomach inside out.

More change is in the air. Patricia is thirteen weeks pregnant and starting to show just a little bit. Watching her I find myself missing being pregnant every once in a while but at the same time I’m relieved its nothing I have to be scared about happening to me. Pregnancy is a temporary state. Parenthood is forever and I’ve got almost more parenting to do than I can keep up with. I finally told Scott that Johnnie, Bubby, and Trent were getting into so much trouble that I needed some serious male help. He’s put those scamps to work and for the last couple of days they haven’t had the time or the energy to get up to mischief. They are picking up fallen branches from around Sanctuary and moving them to the new, centralized large wood pile. They are fetching and carrying anything and everything that the men need them to. And they are going to be helping with more of the big chores like emptying stuff into the compost piles. Come December they are going to help harvest the citrus trees and work on keeping the grove mowed down. Samuel also asked If he could have some help cleaning the animal pens and Scott was delighted to volunteer the boys for the job.

Scott has also taken over reviewing their school work each night. That means that not only do they have to do their chores to his satisfaction but their school work has to be done to his satisfaction each day as well. Talk about a learning experience. It’s been so quiet the last two days that I almost haven’t known what to do with the extra time I haven’t had to spend getting those three mischief makers out of trouble.

I simply cannot forget to write down the next couple of items. First, we have a little herd of cows. No bulls but four of the prettiest little heifers you could ask for. OK, cows aren’t exactly beauty pageant material but whoever eventually reads this must surely understand how great this is. Now if we can just find a bull … or maybe two. That means the lady cows and the bull can get friendly, have a calf or two, and then we’ll have fresh cow’s milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, etc., etc., etc.; at least for a little while. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. We already get a little milk from the goats but only enough for Kitty with a little left over for cooking. Cease and the boys spotted the cows when they went to get the wood. The poor things were skittish and hungry as they became stuck behind a concrete fence when a large limb fell and blocked the gate shut. They were crying so pitifully and the boys had to clear out a bunch of zombies that had gathered around the wall. After the zombies were gone, the heifers came as easy as you please when they were offered grass. Cease tied them in a string and they drove them slowly home.

We’ve also added some more hens. Samuel had gone outside the fence to help check the Wall for damage or maintenance issues after the usual morning gate clearing of zombies and he found three little hens sitting in a low slung tree branch. It was early so they were still pretty sleepy and he was able to gather them up in his coat and brought them to me. We’ve got them penned separately until we make sure they don’t have any disease but they look pretty healthy if a little thin.

The final thing I want to mention was the look on Jim’s face when he saw our Ostrich. His eyes bugged and his mouth fell open. It was so funny. I know I shouldn’t have laughed but the look on his face was priceless.

He asked, “Do I want to know the story?”

All I could say was, “Well, he just sort of followed us home from Busch Gardens.”

“[Highly colorful expletive phrase not repeated by me but it was really funny],” Jim sputtered.

After I told him the story he proceeded to tell me just how dangerous ostriches could be. I had known they were cranky birds and strong and could do some damage but I hadn’t really considered them any more dangerous than your average wild animal; the kind where with proper attention you’d be fine. Seems I was wrong. Ostriches are peculiar and cranky. They don’t like being watched while they eat which explains a few things. Seems we were also over-feeding the large bird and didn’t need to have a huge tub of water for it because ostriches don’t drink much, they make their own water internally from what they eat.

Other fun and strange facts I learned about the ostrich is that it can run up to 40 mph for sustained periods. A female ostrich usually lays about 60 eggs per year but can lay up to 100 if it has enough feed and feels like it; and an ostrich egg is equal to about two dozen chicken eggs. Ostrich leather is just about the toughest leather in the world. And that the kicking and toe claw of the ostrich can be very deadly; the front end of the bird is nothing to mess with either. Ostriches have one of the best feed to weight gain ratio of any land animal in the world and are also one of the only environmentally friendly animals in the world. Who knew?

Really, our ostrich is more of a pet than anything else. OK, sort of a pet. OK … a drain on our resources but the kids love her. And it’s a her and not a him … at least Jim says so. We’ve had to change its name to Olivia. If we could find a male and maybe another female then we could have a breeding group and we’d get a lot of meat and eggs that way. For now I’m just happy to have some of the mystery solved about the animal. Jim told me there's plans for another trip to Busch Gardens or over to Lowry Park Zoo. If he sees any of the beasties he said he’d try and bring back another pair.

The other thing he mentioned is that ostrich meat looks like beef and cooks like beef and is really healthy. Yeah, I can really see trying to explain to the kids that we were going to eat Olivia. But, if it comes to that we will. I don’t mind them getting attached to a few of the animals, that’s just kids for you, but farm animals exist for only one reason and that is to feed and clothe the farmer. I’d prefer not to eat the bird, just like I’d prefer not to eat Mrs. Broody, but I won’t let the kids go hungry. That could be years off however. Last fact Jim told me is that ostriches are really long lived … as long as thirty to seventy years. The blasted bird could outlive me for Pete Sake.

Tomorrow’s another full day so I’m going to put my pen down here. Scott asked me if I wanted to go on a gathering run and I agreed though it wasn’t my first choice; I’ve got so much to do. It’s only going to be for a couple of hours in the morning so it shouldn’t be too bad. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and besides I think he and Angus are up to something. They had the same “innocent” expression on their face that Johnnie gets when he has a secret. I guess I’ll find out when I find out. If I start worrying about what their shenanigan is going to be this time I’ll never get any sleep.

Day 120 (Tuesday)

I’m not exactly sure how I would categorize today. It certainly ran the gamut.

I’m not what you would call cranky in the morning. I kinda enjoy getting up early and having 30 minutes of quiet to myself before the normal chaos of the day starts. I need that quiet before the chaos; it gives me a chance to collect my thoughts. Today however Scott set the alarm to go off at 4 AM and was elbowing me in the side saying, “Wake up sleeping beauty. Time to get your rear in gear.”

Like I said, not normally cranky. Normally. But there are some things that just put pepper in my wheaties and that’s one of ‘em. Not only that but his excessive exuberance woke up Kitty who started howling to be fed which in turn woke up everyone else.

Scott is not normally like this in the morning. He’s normally one who likes to be left alone until he pulls himself together so this excessive show of jocularity immediately put me on guard. The man was up to something, the question in my mind was whether I was going to enjoy it as much as he seemed to think I would.

Breakfast was porridge with enough different flavorings set out that everyone could fix their favorite. It didn’t take long for everyone to pile into our outdoor dining hall and grab a bowl full, myself included.

I nearly choked though when I found out what we would be travelling in. I just knew something had to be up. Scott had gotten the Avalanche up and running. That copper-colored, chromed up dream machine had been sitting in our carport for months. I hadn’t had the heart to ask Scott to do something with it even though it really was in the way.

Dixon and Matlock were both there at the gate to let us out in the Avalanche followed by Angus and McElroy in Juicer. I thought they were coming with us but they only went as far as Angus’ Outpost. We continued on driving toward USF.

When I tried to get Scott to tell me where we were going he said it was a surprise. I was so tired that I would start to nod off only to be awoken each time Scott would drive over a zombie. “First time out and she’ll already need a wash,” Scott chuckled.

“Ha. Ha.” I thought. “He thinks he’s being funny.” We finally made it through the maze of derelict vehicles and were over by the Citrus Park Mall area. I hadn’t been in this part of town since before NRS hit the US. With the economy the way it was I tried to avoid the temptations of places like the Mall; I guess it was maybe May or June but it seemed like a lifetime. Then Scott pulls into a shopping center and I started to smile.

“You stinker!! Why wouldn’t you tell me? I could have brought containers to put stuff in,” I squealed.

“Because my love, it was a surprise and I already had the boys put things in the trailer to hold all your goodies,” he grinned.

We had pulled up in front of a huge craft and fabric store. It may not have been that exciting for other people but I was in hog heaven. We only had a couple of hours so I set to it with vigor. I pushed buggies to the fabric center and loaded every bolt of material, every spool of thread, every card of buttons there were. I grabbed notions like zippers, elastic, Velcro, hooks, pins and needles. I grabbed sewing kits, scissors, thimbles, quilting templates, measuring tapes, and transfer paper and every other thing from the racks. From there I headed into yarns, laces, and edgings. You could have put me on one of those stupid game shows that tested to see how much I could pack into a shopping cart.

I packed all of the patterns in large plastic bins. After I had emptied the fabric and sewing part of the store I went over to the craft part. Glues, beads, wire, sequins, paints, stains, varnishes, etc. all went into tubs. Books and supplies for candy making and candle making were thrown together with supplies for soap making and "Junk to Treasure" projects. Scrapbooking, leather working, wood burning, and rock polishing; you name it, I grabbed it off the shelves.

We had to stop briefly twice to deal with an accumulation of zombies. That should have bothered me but it didn’t and frankly we were less harassed than I thought we would be. Maybe it was just because it was the two of us and we weren’t making that much noise.

I couldn't take everything; that would have been impossible and made no sense. But I think I did a fair job of getting everything useful and then some. I even grabbed all the kids’ stuff like stickers, clay, markers, marbles, and I can’t even remember what all at the moment.

We finally got everything packed up and I was ready to get home and find a place for it all but Scott wasn’t pulling out.

“What’s wrong? I thought we needed to get home.”

“Look Sissy, we need to talk.”

Oh boy, no woman wants to hear those words out of her man’s mouth. They are always a prelude to something that they are not going to want to hear.

“I take it then my surprise was just to put me in a good mood,” I said instantly disappointed and somewhat hurt.

“Yes. I mean no. Dammit. Look Sissy, Angus and I found this place Sunday and I was going to bring you here as a surprise anyway but then something came up yesterday … and … I wanted to bring you now in case … “

I sighed, “In case what? What is it? What could possibly be so bad that you had to do it this way?”

After a moment’s silence he said something I hadn’t been expecting at all, “The day after the Thanksgiving celebration Dixon, McElroy, Angus, and I are heading up to your parents’ place.”

“What?!” I cried. I was shocked; torn between anger, disbelief, and a hidden hope.

In a nutshell, as Scott explained it, we need information. We need to know if there are other groups out there like ours. We need to develop some kind of lines of communication if possible. We knew from Jim that Orlando was history. We knew from Hank and Trish that most of south Florida was toast and the few enclaves there that remained were violent and/or very isolationistic. That left going due north.

The men were going to take Interstate 75 as far north as Gainesville and then cut west, cross through the little rural communities and stop at my parents’ place before pushing through to Chiefland, FL. In Chiefland they would pick up US19 and then return south along the coast to SR54 and from SR54 over to US41 which would bring them home.

“We don’t plan on being gone more than four or five days tops and we have the radios.”

“Four or five days?! Scott …” I was flabergasted.

“You can’t tell me you don’t want to know about your parents and brother … “

I huffed, “Of course I do, but …”

“No buts Sissy. It has to be done and as many times as we’ve travelled in that area I’m the one that needs to go. I know all the little back roads and the communities too, especially if we run short of supplies. And if … look, if I see your parents I’m sure I’ll be able to convince them to come back with me.”

“You’re going whether I’m OK with this or not aren't you.”

He got real serious and said “Yeah.”

I didn't know what to say but the words just fell out of my mouth anyway. “I hate this. I hate it with a passion and you have to promise me that no matter what you’ll fight your way back home. I won’t be like Jim, not knowing, perhaps never knowing for sure. I absolutely refuse. I won't sit around wondering and hoping. I’ll come looking for you, do you understand me?”

“I promise honey. Oh Sissy, don’t cry.”

But I did. I was having so much fun and then to just have to deal with the idea of Scott going so far away just got to me. Before it would have only taken three hours from our front door to my parents’ front door and been no big deal. Now, who knows how long it will take? It would be like they were going to the dark side of the moon. And what if they ran into another big zombie horde?

We returned to Sanctuary in near silence. What was there to say? As soon as we pulled in I headed inside to change. I fed Kitty who was getting fussy and then I went outside to start the fruitcakes I had wanted to bake. At some point during the morning someone had put the wood stove together. It was a beautiful classic and I wanted to be happy and admire it but I just couldn’t. Everyone was giving me a wide berth until Patricia walked over and sat down and started cleaning carrots.

I quietly asked, “So who knew and for how long have y’all known?”

Patricia answered, “Matlock and Dix called a meeting right after you and Scott pulled out. I guess some people knew before then but most of us didn’t. I’m guessing it would have been better handled in a different way.”

I humphed and said, “It certainly could not have hurt to try and let me know in a different way. I know I can be emotional. I’m probably every bit the mother hen that everyone is always joking about. But you know, I think overall I’ve held up pretty damn well. No major hysterics. As little drama as possible.”

“Better than me,” Patricia said.

“Patricia, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean … look, I just don’t get why everyone always treats me like I’m too fragile for reality or like a bomb about to go off. No, I don’t like the plan but I understand the reason for it. I really don't like it that Scott is one of the ones going. I didn’t like the delivery that’s for sure. But it’s like I’m being treated like a child who’ll throw a tantrum and ruin everything.”

“Hey, I’m on your side. But I can see Scott’s too. You can get touchy and it’s not like there are too many places you guys can go to have a private argument … um … conversation, whatever. And the thing about stopping at your parents’ … the way I understand it Scott had to fight tooth and nail for the concession and only the fact that Angus said he and Scott would just take off on a side trip of their own finally made Dix back down.”

“Is it that big a problem? Are they going to be going that far out of their way to check on my parents?”

“I don’t think it was that so much, more the appearance of favoritism. That and Dix still doesn’t know how to categorize Scott.”

“What? I don’t understand. What has that got to do with anything?”

“Look, don’t take this the wrong way but you and Scott don’t really fit in the puzzle the way that is very comfortable for Dix. Matlock and his people are easy, they are almost military. Dix and his crew, they are military .. or were. The other civilians also fit his preconceived idea of people being pegs and everything fitting together a certain way. But Scott … and now Angus … are both very alpha males. I suspect Jim too though I think he’s laying low on that until he finds his place. The good thing is they are all good guys. They aren’t the type to constantly need to jockey for position. They are what they are, take it or leave it. They basically say "Follow if you want but I don’t need to be followed to be a leader. As for following, I'll do it if it fits my needs and those I take care of." Ninety-nine percent of the time this works out but it’s that one percent when Dix isn’t sure how to handle it. The fact that he owes so much to Scott adds to the confusion. And now with Samuel preferring to be at your house rather than being in Dix’s shadow, well that makes it even harder on him.”

“Argh! This makes my head hurt. Is Dixon’s attitude something else I need to worry about?”

“No. Not really. Dix will get over it. He’s just having a hard time adjusting … in his own way. I think I was actually better prepared for the split than he was. I think that all of that combined with the MacDill pull-out and Junie’s defection has rattled him more than he’s willing to admit; tack all of that onto the already surreal NRS pandemic and he has to redefine himself and redefine his normal operating procedures in ways that he never anticipated. I also don’t think Rachel is making it any easier on him for some reason.”

That’s someplace I didn’t feel like going. “Look, I don’t think I want to know … “

Patricia quickly broke in and said, “Look, I’m not saying this to gossip or hurt them. That's not at all what this is about. I do want you to understand Dix a little better. He’s a simple man with simple tastes. He's used to getting his way so easily that he simply took it for granted and it didn’t mean much to him. Maybe it was too easy for him. Now things are different. Very different, and he’s struggling to change with the times. It’ll happen but it’ll be a challenge for him. His inflexibility is one of the things that caused us problems over the years.”

She took a breath and continued, “And look at Angus. He needs to take this trip. I don’t know what he was like before but he reminds me of a man I once knew. That man had to seek out challenges or he would have withered and died. I think Angus is the same. I don’t know what McElroy’s thing is; he’s a hard one to get to know. But Scott strikes me as another one who needs fresh challenges and new goals on a regular basis.”

After thinking about it I said, “In other words you think the men all need this trip on a personal level; it’s not just for us as a group.”

Without hesitation she answered, “Yes. And I think Scott needs your support or he’ll pull out even if it means a personal setback and disappointment. He’ll put your wants above his needs.”

While we worked I mulled it all over. I also mulled over the unexpected fact that Patricia might turn out to be the best friend I’ve ever had next to Scott and my parents. I damn the whole zombie situations from start to finish every day, but I’ve certainly been gifted with some good things as well. I need people in my life that don't just give me the answers I want to hear because they love me too much or are afraid of my reaction. I need people that care enough to tell me the truth and spell out the bottom line when I don't want to see it.

“Do me a favor? Could you watch these cakes? I won’t be long.”

She grinned and said, “Sure. And he’s over in the NW guard tower if you’re interested.”

“Thanks,” I said as I left to go apologize for being such a prig.

Amazingly there were no interruptions so Scott and I turned the apology into some much needed make-out-and-then-some time. I think everyone was purposefully giving us some privacy. But I was determined that not even the zombies were going to take this time away from us. I thought woe to the man, woman, or child that knocked before we were ready. It was a tad on the cool side but that just made us laugh even more. Nothing quite like resurrecting those teenage hormones ever so often. We had been so burdened with the lack of privacy and time that to suddenly have it to spend with one another, even if it was but for a very short time, was very rejuvenating.

It’s not like the dread and worry have gone away. To the contrary it’s with me with every breath I take and I keep thinking of things that could happen, that could go wrong. Overlaying this is also the dread of what Scott could find at my parents’ place. I know what he could find and yet I don’t want to know and finally put it to rest one way or the other. It hurts now but I know it could hurt infinitely worse.

After Scott and I came down from the guard tower we headed our separate ways once again. He to meet up with Angus and McElroy to discuss logistics and I had a meeting with a “new” cookstove that I needed to get to know.

When I got back the other women had returned from where ever they were hiding and had started to slice and dice for the evening’s menu. We were having one of my favorite meals; cornbread, stewed potatoes, and white beans with ham hocks. The hocks were from the warthog but to be honest I couldn’t tell the difference. Apparently on a certain level pork is pork.

Everyone enjoyed the foray into very traditional Southern cooking because there wasn’t a cornbread crumb left. And both the bean pot and potato pot had been scrapped clean making for uber-easy clean up. Heck, even all the plates looked like they had been licked nearly spotless.

There were four hocks so each of the big dogs got a leftover bone. The pup got the leftovers that Kitty had made a mess out of plus a little puppy kibble. I’ve been grinding table food up for Kitty for about a week now and she eats it more often than not though I wouldn't say that all of it actually makes it into her mouth. Sarah was up as well and we bundled her up and let her walk with her big brother and Samuel to see the cows as all the animals were put to bed for the night. The boys wound up carrying her back and she was crying and embarrassed. It took me a bit to calm her down and convince her that yes she would eventually finish getting better and be able to do all the things she did before with the animals. But she’s just an eleven year old girl; I’m sure to her she feels like she’s been hurt or sick forever.

After everyone headed for their own homes or to guard duty Scott and I sat the kids down and explained to them about Scott going. The older kids knew but were glad of the chance to ask some specific questions. The littles think Scott is indestructible and basically omnipotent and have complete faith that everything will be fine. I wish I could go back to such blind faith in everything being OK.

I have thought of one thing that will make me feel a smidgen better. I’m going to pull out Scott’s chainsaw chaps and sew them to a pair of jeans. If they’ll stop a chainsaw, surely they’ll stop a zombie. I’m also reinforcing his jacket at the collars and cuffs with chamois. Lumberjack boots and a good solid cap with ear flaps will complete the ensemble. I can hear Scott’s exasperated response now. He just better hope I don’t find armor and chain mail before they leave.

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