Wednesday, November 23, 2011

October: The Seeds of Sanctuary

October: The Seeds of Sanctuary
Days 61 – 91


Day 61

Our fence is 90% complete. But that remaining 10% is critical. We are still having problems trying to close the fence on the other side of the lowland terrain. That’s a real concern. During the first few zombie hordes that area funneled some walking corpses right into the orange grove and passed our house. We’ve decided not to move anyone into the other houses until we can get that taken care of because it is such a security risk. Despite the rise in the water over in the swampy area, and despite the gators taking their share for dinner, if enough zombies (or humans) wanted through that way, it would still be the easiest way into our compound.

We did manage to fence in everything else except for the part of the orange grove we had to give up. As soon as we get that last 10% of enclosure completed we will have seven hours to spread out into, eight if you count the little one bedroom shack in the orange grove. However we probably won’t use it for living space because its just a 1929 wooden bungalow and would be to hard to permanently secure.

As things are planned:
Our house: Our original family of eight plus Kitty, Sis, and Bubby for a total of 11
Victorian: Dixon, Patricia, Samuel, Dora, Josephine, Hall, Rachel, Waleski
House #3: Dante, Tina, Bo, and Laura plus the clerical office of all the stuff that Dante is responsible for such as our inventories, duplicate maps, etc.
House #4: Jose’, Cease, McElroy, and Ricky. This place will basically become the unattached males’ barrack.
House #5: Junie and Becky so far. This house will be the unattached females’ barrack.
House #6: Matlock, Tom, and Jenny
House #7: Vacant
Orange Grove Bungalow: potential radio shack and/or guard station

This plan has been agreed on by the whole group and still allows some flexibility. I expect Becky to eventually move in with Matlock and his kids. If/when Patricia stabilizes and no longer needs constant supervision and/or medical care then Dora and Josephine can move into the women’s barrack. Rachel and Waleski said where they move may depend on what kind of medical care our group needs, otherwise they’ll probably go to the “barracks” eventually as well assuming we don’t turn house #7 into a med center. We’ve got room for more people … heck we have thirty-two people in our house alone – but realistically for long-term habitability I wouldn’t want to see more than 40 or 50 people in a compound the size we currently are.

Personally I’m beginning to feel that we have one too many people as it is. That Ricky. Honest to goodness. I have to say he is one of the most irritating kids I ever remember encountering, including when I was a kid his age myself. I remember a few over the years that were pretty bad, but no one so intentionally disobedient and ungovernable that way he is. He knows what is right and wrong, he simply chooses not to do it. He smiles and nods his head all the while planning to spit in your face again. Our situation exaggerates everything he does too. One top of everything else he is very mean to the younger kids; purposefully saying things, telling stories, and even lying to play on their fears. He finally did that and made Bekah cry the other day and James whooped his butt. Unfortunately the rules that have been established include no fighting – yeah, they made that rule in response to the troubles that Patricia and I were having and some of the other tiffs that had started – so James was given extra grunt work and lost the chance to go on an away Run. Publicly he acted upset over the punishment. Privately he told Scott and I that he’d do it again only he would have fought dirtier and really hurt Ricky to him out of commission for a while. What are Scott and I supposed to say to something like that? “Good job, just next time beat the total crap out of the bully”? I agree with his defending his little sister but I also understand the need for absolute rules. Life isn’t fair and this is just one of those lessons I guess.

I’m not sure what we are going to do about Ricky in the long term. It might take some pretty strong peer pressure to control him but I’m not sure that even that will work. He’s only 16. We haven’t even thought about what to do with people who are multiple offenders of the enclave rules. Exile? House arrest? Those are pretty stiff penalties for being annoying and disrespectful, though Ricky is gradually pushing the boundaries even further. There’s just something sly about Ricky that I can’t trust. I mean as annoying as I find Josephine’s sex-kitten act, its more than apparent that’s all it is, an act. Ricky’s behavior is deliberate and specifically designed for maximum effect. I’m trying to leave Ricky to Dixon and Matlock but I don’t think they’re taking the problems he is causing seriously enough. I really just don’t trust that kid.

Speaking of finding solutions for problems, I finally tried using the millet. The texture is … different. It reminds me of eating birdseed. Some people really liked it at dinner last night and some only ate it so they wouldn’t go hungry. Its one of the few items that I’ve ever had leftovers of since I started cooking for the group. I was a little embarrassed. But waste not, want not. I found a different way to feed it to the group that people liked much better. I poured the leftovers into a bread loaf pan lined with plastic wrap and allowed it to congeal over night. This morning I popped it out of the pan, sliced it, dredged the slices in flour, and then fried them crispy. It was about like fried grits or fried mush; not bad, not something I would want to eat every day, but not bad. I wish I had thought to print more recipes like this before the power failed. For all I know the whole Internet has failed and all of that info is lost to me forever.

Hall got the radio up and running. He didn’t pick up much at first and he was only receiving. Dix doesn’t want us transmitting until we have a better handle on what is transpiring. He finally picked up chatter from some of those walkie talkie things, the ones I used to see people running around the theme parks with. Given the limited range of those things we now know we’ve got other people operating in this area. Its not like we’ve got sole custody of it like a territory, but its hard not to feel that way somewhat. The people on the hand-helds didn’t seem concerned with people hearing their conversations so either they are unaware that their signal is unsecured or they don’t think they have anyone to worry about or consider a threat. If the latter is the case then they either have significant fire power at their disposal or don’t think there are any people in the area stronger than they are. They might not even be from this area originally at all. We’ve been making enough noise to draw an uncomfortable number of zombies that we have been forced to sanitize and I’m sure we would have been heard by people in this area as well.

We’ve actually found a different way to sanitize than using our ammo. Dixon decided to keep the tow truck because he figured its towing and wrench package would come in handy. Well what Cease and Jose’ have done is to reinforce the cab. Once or twice a day a team will run the tow truck around the perimeter of our “fence” and roll right over the top of any zombie in their path. It creates a significant amount of gore – and smell – but it saves on ammo which is an ever present concern. Not to be gross, but one of these days that dirt is going to be incredibly fertile from all of organic matter being mixed up in it.

Because of the radio chatter tonight’s meeting was mainly given over to discussion of prioritizing our Gathering Runs over the fence issue for the next couple of days. First thing in the morning they are going to finish cleaning out the Feed Depot. They’ve been topping off the vehicles from the diesel storage tank but McElory and David also found a way to bring some back to our enclave. All of the gas containers we’ve been able to find get filled up at every fuel run. When we were laying the shipping containers through the orange grove we found a 1,000 gallon manually pumped fuel tank. I never knew it was there but it must have belonged to the orange grove operator before they sold the land to the housing developer. They actually moved the fence another twenty-feet to have the well inside the compound. Its slow going, but the tank is getting filled slowly but surely and will be a huge boon to our group. But moving the fence is what left us short to fully enclose the lowland terrain. We had held back a few storage containers so that they could be used for storage or converted to additional housing at some point but we may have to use them to complete the fence. Choices. Choices.

And as for choices, Scott finally backed off his insistence that I not go on any of the away Gathering Runs. I was given the choice of going on a run to get my long list of things and wanted for the kids or waiting – perhaps indefinitely – until another run could be put together for that purpose. Scott would remain behind working on the next house so its not like the kids would be without a parent. I’m not insensitive to the way Scott feels, after all I’ve been there numerous times myself, but its important that I do this.

There are things we really need that the guys just don’t think about until they need it. My straight pins, sewing needles, and safety pins are disappearing as fast as I can find replacements. Scissors get dull and used for things they shouldn’t like cutting wire or hard plastic. I need more cloth diapers, or something I can make diapers with, for Kitty. Bottles, bottle liners, nipples, pacifiers, etc. are also needed. If she was being breastfed we could avoid all of that but …

Super glue, liquid nails, wood glue, elmer’s glue, pvc glue, duct tape, electrical tape, etc. Dante’ is also needing toner for the printer he uses, paper, folders, push pins, paper clips, pens, pencils, etc.

Its not just the big things, the obvious things, that we need. Its all of the little stuff you don’t think about much until you can’t find one.

As I suspected feminine hygiene items are near the top of the list of scarce items. So is soap, toothpaste and deodorant … definitely deodorant. So is foot powder, q-tips, and condoms. None of the guys put those on their list but a couple of the women did. At least some of us are thinking proactively, or at least protectively. Even as an experience mother I would go nuts at the idea of being pregnant in the times we find ourselves in now.

I have one more day to work on my lists. Tomorrow is primarily going to be dedicated to bringing in everything from the Feed Depot and going back over some of the houses immediately outside our compound with a finer comb now that we have more storage.

Those not involved with the two main projects will be helping me. Rose, with Sarah and Laura to help, will be watching the youngest children and watching the stew I’ll start simmering right after breakfast. James will be both muscle and look out for us. Samuel, Bo, and I will lay the ground work for a “humanure” composting station out in the orange grove. Eventually I hope we won’t need it, but the dry season will be here before we know it and wasting water by dumping it down a toilet isn’t going to be feasible. The resulting humanure compost will be great as a soil amendment as well; if not in the vegetable garden, certainly around some of the larger fruit trees.

At least I don’t have to worry about what Ricky will be into tomorrow. Dixon has him on the Depot detail. The threat of the infected corpses seems to be the only thing that keeps him in line.

Lunch today was a very simple affair but frankly it was just too hot to do much cooking. My cut-and-come-again greens have just about given all they have so I cut them all one last time and used them to make several large bowls of tossed salad to which I mixed in some quartered grape tomatoes that have begun to come in, some croutons I found, some real bacon bits, thin sliced radishes, and some edible flower petals (mostly calendula petals and bee balm). Then I made what feels like a ton of flour tortillas and a couple of different hummus recipes. I made five gallons of sweet solar tea – three regular, two herbal. I thought the guys would pitch a fit but they just seemed happy to have the fresh food.

For dinner I fixed cornbread, white beans, stewed potatoes, and fruit cocktail cobbler. Can I say I love my Dutch ovens? Over a fire or buried under coals they’ve really saved my tail feathers when trying to cook for this crowd. I don’t think my modern pots and pans would have survived. Becky and Tina have thoughtfully brought me every piece of cast iron cookware they’ve run across. Tomorrow Becky, who is going on the Depot Run, has promised to bring me back some really big pieces. The owners of the Depot were members of a re-enactors’ club that went camping as settlers at the Mountain Men Rendezvous, Civil War Re-enactments, and Seminole War re-enactments. She said the back room is stuffed with a bunch of stuff they used to use for those trips. She also knows of a place not too far away where a man she used to date stored a bit kettle and supplies he used to make and sell kettle korn at the Big Top Flea Market every weekend.

I never would have thought about something like that coming in handy. Its this kind of group think that we were missing when it was just Scott, I, and the kids. Adding David to our household helped but now we have collaboration on a much larger scale. There is a price to be paid – primarily in the loss of independence – but the benefits, so far, outweigh the costs.

Since tomorrow is going to be such a busy day I went ahead and made breakfast tonight as well. I found my recipe that uses dried banana chips to make banana bread. I don’t have any nuts but that’s not really a problem. After the loaves cooled I wrapped them in plastic wrap and aluminum foil so they wouldn’t dry out and then I set them in my handy-dandy homemade cooler.

My evaporation cooler is pretty nifty. I took two very large clay pots that fit inside one another from Mabel’s a lifetime ago. The space between the two pots I filled with clean, damp sand. The evaporation of the water out of the sand and through the pots’ clay walls keeps anything put into the inner chamber (empty smaller pot) to remain cool; not cold. I covered the top with a scrap piece of plywood to keep the bugs out.

I need to feed Kitty one more time and then we’re all off to bed. The homemade formula is working find but is why more diapers are critical. She isn’t as colicky with the homemade stuff but her diapers are a much bigger mess. What I wouldn’t give to find a stash of disposable diapers, even it was only a package or two. At least I would get a break from washing nasty diapers.

No, I refuse to end this journal entry on a complaint. Despite everything life is throwing at us we are also getting our share of blessings. We are all healthy again. Patricia is acting better and better, she’s actually glowing a little bit if you want to know the truth. Kitty is eating like a little pig and growing like a weed. We’ve nearly finished the fence and the zombies aren’t gone but are at least manageable in numbers.

Day 65 (Part 1)

Where do I start? At the beginning I suppose makes the most sense although saying anything makes sense right now is crazy.

The day of the Feed Depot Run was nearly perfect; it went off without a single hitch. From the early breakfast of banana bread right on through the remainder of the day. How were any of us to know that a disaster had been set in motion just because a watchful eye had given too much credit and looked away for too long? That the excitement of great finds would ultimately leave us so vulnerable?

When I say the day had been nearly perfect I mean it. The bounty that was brought back from there alone was astonishing. Becky was so right about the suttler merchandise and equipment. There was tubs of cloth and patterns, and other stuff that you might find in an old timey mercantile store. There was also all the personal camp equipment – cast iron cauldrons and three-legged spiders that could be used like griddles; cots and bedrolls; a couple of large canvas tents; flints and knives; the list goes on and on.

The run also brought in pool chemicals; more animal feed; a big dog run we were going to turn into a chicken coop; more fertilizer and soil amendments; fencing, posts, wires; and lots of shovels, rackes, and hoes and things I don’t even know the names for.
The closer inspection of houses in the neighborhood was also proving fertile. Items that the men had passed over the women knew to bring in. Absolutely mothering that had the least food value went uncollected: spices, herbs and other seasonings; boxes of jell-o; rounds of salt; boxes of bread crumbs. That’s to name on a few such items the men had missed. Then shoes and clothes for the kids. Sheets and blankets that would come in handy when people finally separated into the planned living quarters. Every house seemed to have a supply of matches and candles; some even had lamp oil and at least one lamp. All the long-life, low-watt bulbs were snatched as were flashlights and batteries out of children’s toys. So much was brought in that Dante’ gave up on his inventory and simply started having people separate what they could into appropriate locations and containers.

The weather was near perfect as well. The humidity was really low, even for October and the highest the thermometer made it was 85. It felt so nice.

The kids behaved themselves. The food was great. And the only serious zombie threat was one that was accidentally encountered in the attic of one of the houses that was being searched. Junie took care of it quickly and sealed the now permanently dead corpse away and marked the house off as a biohazard.

The kids had even thought to air out the house for us. Its amazing how much better you can sleep in a fresher smelling house.

The next day we got up and it was business as usual. Becky and Tina said they would cook breakfast, a large pot of porridge that people could add dried fruit to, while we made final preparations for the run to Sunset Plaza. The run included Rachel Rigosa, Cease, and myself. We took an F350 long-bed truck that had been abandoned on US41. We put plywood in the back to use as walls in case we needed to pile bags above the sides of the bed. There was an enclosed trailer behind the post office we hoped to fill and bring back with us as well.

The day before had gone so well we were all in high spirits. In hindsight its clear that there was one person acting out of character and shrill alarms should have been sounding in all of our heads.

Day 65 (part 2)

Scott and the kids (all of them whether they were mine or not) gave me a hug and kiss goodbye and I received a few last minute requests – balloons, a yo-yo, a jump rope, a magnifying glass, and sunglasses. I dutifully wrote each item down in my notepad, stuck that back in my pocket, and left the relative safety of our compound for the first time in over two months. Yes, I was nervous but exhilarated at the same time.

I would have been quite a sight to the friends I had a year ago. I was dressed to make as little noise as possible with soft-soled shoes and nothing that would jangle or catch on my clothes. My .22 rifle was cradled in my arm, barrel pointed down. They had also issued me a hand gun. They told me it was a .357 magnum with a six-inch barrel … but basically it was big, shiny, and I swear nearly broke my hand the first couple of times I used it. But that was later. At that time we went unmolested down the road to where the truck awaited. There were a few wandering zombies but we had knocked the population back a bit so they were farther between and easier to avoid

The F350 started up a little rough but it finally kicked over and smoothed out as we went north to the intersection of US41 and Sunset Blvd even before the sun fully cleared the horizon. The first place we hit was the Post Office where we hooked up the trailer and then went inside. I grabbed a mail bin and started emptying desks and counters of all the office supplies I could find. I also found some lunch food stashed in a couple of employee lockers. The post office didn’t hold much appeal overall, and seeing all of the mail that would never get where it was going was depressing.

The next store down the line was a beauty supply store. Rachel and I grabbed garbage bags and loaded up on bobby pins, combs, brushes, barber items, rubber bands, hair barrettes, and anything else we thought might be useful. My hair falls passed my waist to end in a blunt cut. My girls are the same except Rose who recently cut hers to shoulder length to help with headaches caused by the heavy weight of the thick mass she used to sport. I hadn’t thought about it much myself but as Rachel eyed the hair dye she winked at me and said, “A girl needs her color.” That’s when I realized most of the women were showing their roots and had hair cuts that looked pretty ragged. All I could do was grin and feel glad that was at least one problem I had avoided. My legs were getting a little furry but Scott and I had an agreement; he didn’t say anything about my legs and I ignored the beard he was growing and the whit that was beginning to show in it.

The Subway Sandwich Shop was completely empty except for a couple packages of napkins and a box of straws. Rachel threw both in the shopping cart she had begun pushing.

The Chinese restaurant was even more bare. We did grab two huge containers of peanut oil forgotten in a back room (and thankfully unopened and not out of date) but everything else, even the cooking equipment was totally gone.

Walgreens was next. Waleski had told us what a mess everything was but I guess I had still managed to underestimate how bad it would be. It was like someone had purposefully knocked everything off of every shelf and end cap in the store. We gathered what we could in garbage bags and loaded it into the trailer.

The Dollar General Store was in a little better shape but not by much and there wasn’t any food to be found. Not even any spices which I thought strange at the time.

We were supposed to go to Winn Dixie and bring back some vodka to be used for tinctures and sterilizing medical stuff but Cease called us to hurry back to the truck. He’d spotted a plume of smoke ominously close to our compound.

Right before we climbed in the cab we heard what was obviously gun fire. Cease whose ears were as sensitive as an elephant’s said, “That noise ain’t all from our guns. There’s a couple of fully autos in there that I know don’t belong to us.”

Rachel and Cease instantly became what I had begun to forget they were; trained soldiers. They looked at each other and then at me and I knew they were wondering how much of a liability I was going to be.

They were going to ditch the truck – and me – at a distance from the action and then send someone back for me when it was safe. There wasn’t time to argue about fairness so I told them to turn into the subdivision before our street and I would show them a back way into our neighborhood.

Day 65 (Part 3)

They did just as I suggested and pulled between two houses and then took off in the direction of our people. I sat there arguing with myself; trying to decide to do what I was told or do my best to get to my family. The argument continued to be punctuated by further gunfire only confusing me more.

Neither side in my head had won when out of a hedge that surrounds that side of the canal came three men pulling four young females. It took less than a picosecond for me to realize it was Rose, Sarah, Laura, and Josephine and that they were hysterical and being knocked about every time they tried to break free.

I was out of the truck and flanking their position before I consciously had time to think about it. Those monsters had my girls. The thought just kept repeating itself in my head over and over.

I came up quick on the one on the far let, put the .357 as close to his ear as I could manage and pulled the trigger. Gore splattered every where. The other two men were just registering their surprise when I delivered the same treatment to the man that had been in the middle, only this time I got to watch this one’s face disintegrate. The element of surprise was over. The third guy had his gun firmly pointed in my direction and I just had enough time to register the thought that at least I had managed to better the odds for the girls when a zombie, attracted to the girls’ cries, lunged out of the tall grass and latched onto the third man’s shoulder and proceeded to gnaw it to the bone. The girls and I left him screaming and at the zombie’s nonexistent mercy. I pushed and pulled them to the cab of our tow truck that I had just spotted, left in the same place where it had run out of gas two days previously.

The girls were hysterical. Rose looked like she was going into shock. Sarah and Laura were crying and clinging to each other. My opinion of Josephine abruptly jumped several notches when, with visible effort, she pulled herself together enough to answer my questions with as much detail as she could.

About an hour after we had left the compound several men with automatic weapons stepped out of the lowland terrain. They must have shot Hall and Junie because they were the two on guard duty but Josephine didn’t know for sure. In the ensuing melee most all of the adults had been injured to some extent. Amazingly Patricia had managed to grab the youngest kids and barricade herself with them in the house when two men had jumped the fence. As far as Josephine knew they were still in there.

The four older girls, who had been standing around tending the stew, were grabbed and dragged away but not before Rose kicked the big soup pot over, scalding one of their attackers.

By the time the girls’ captors got them to the street most of the other adults had been captured. Josephine didn’t register everyone’s specific injuries because at that moment one of the other attackers said, “This old hag’s worth nothing to us” right before he executed Dora with a single head shot.

Josephine started crying again at that point and Rose, still gray in the face, took up the narrative as she held Josephine’s quivering shoulders. Apparently David, James, Samuel, tom, and Bo had been helping Dante’ and slipped out before they could be taken prisoners.

It was Ricky, the little pus bag; the traitorous slime ball. Apparently a couple of guys from the attacking gang had the Feed Depot staked out. They somehow lured Ricky to help them. Who know what the enticement was. The what and how are no longer important, but it probably didn’t take much.

The attackers started shouting that if the boys didn’t give themselves up immediately the adults would become zombie bait. Their answer was the sudden twin explosions of two of their vehicles that were parked just outside the compound fence and then a deadly crossfire from either side of the road.

After that things got crazy. Three of the attackers grabbed the four girls and headed in one direction. Ricky and two other attackers grabbed Tina and Becky and took off in another direction. That still left several attackers to deal with.

The continued gun fire even after the girls had told their story meant one of two things to me; either our guys were still battling the remaining gang members or zombies had come, attracted to all the noise. With our luck I figured it was probably both.

I was telling the girls to hunker down and lock the doors after I got out when movement off in the orange grove caught my attention.

Day 65 (part 4)

I eased out of the cab and as quietly as I could closed the door until it latched. My hands were really starting to thump and I wasn’t certain if I would even be able to hold the .357 much less aim and fire it. I hadn’t held the gun properly but I wasn’t thinking clearly while I was doing it. I put the gun in its holster and picked my .22 back up and then spotted a wicked looking machete laying by the first guy I had killed. It was one of those really serious jobs that could have been a close cousin to a scimitar. It looked awkward but once I had it in my hand, found it was weighted beautifully. At that moment I finally understood my dad’s love of a good blade. It felt like an extension of my own arm.

The tall grass was now moving in several different places. I kept hearing that line from one of the Jurassic Park movies, “Don’t run into the tall grass!” I was wondering what to do next when I heard Ricky’s distinctive whine followed by a man saying, “Shut up you little shit. The damn things are all over the place.” I ducked behind a stand of palmettos just in time. Two rough looking men, one holding onto Tina and the other holding onto Becky, came into the small clearing. Ricky stumbled after them muttering darkly something like, “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”

Everyone stopped to draw a breath and I watched as the men looked around and took stock. One looked at the other and nodded. Suddenly the larger of the two pulled what looked like the kind of knife my dad used to clean fish with and ran it behind Ricky’s knees causing him to fall and cry out in pain. Before he could roll away, the man had also cut Ricky's arms at the juncture of his elbows.

“Sorry kid but you’re more trouble than you’re worth. Besides, once a traitor always a traitor and I ain’t gonna watch my back so’s you cain’t do to me what you done to them other folks,” said the cutter. The other guy laughed cruelly and said, “Make yourself useful will ya? Make lots o’ noise and draw them zombies off our tails.”

I nearly felt sorry for Ricky as he lay there screaming and crying for them to come back, floundering around on the ground like a fish tossed onto shore. Nearly. The guy must have cut his tendons and left him there as “zombie bait.” I could have put him out of his misery but this was as close to true justice as we were likely to see. The girls couldn’t see his fate and I needed to help Tina and Becky. I simply turned my back and left him to play the hand he had dealt himself.

My guardian angel must have been working overtime that day because I don’t know how or why I managed to do what I did. I made so many mistakes that day that I should have been dead several times over. Somehow those two men never noticed I was following them. Ricky’s cries turned hysterical and then to screams of extreme pain as I followed the women and their captors onto the same street where the F350 was parked.

Zombies had begun to roam through the area in large numbers. The men were angling towards a loaded Honda pick up partially hidden under a tarp that had been knocked askew by a breeze that had begun to blow. Becky turned her head and caught a glimpse of me not five feet behind them with my machete in hand. She lost her footing in surprise, slipped and tripped Tina, taking them both down to the black top.

I knew I wouldn’t get a better chance and quickly made like the Queen of Hearts. The machete was so sharp that it not only took the shorter guy’s head clean off, it bit deeply into the upper arm of the other guy causing him to cry out in shock. I pulled the blade free and watched blood begun to gush down his arm. The three of us women backpedalled into the trees and shrubbery before the guy could think to pull his gun. It only took a second for him to be otherwise occupied when a half-dozen zombies set after him.

We turned away and went further into the bush. I led them back to the tow truck. Tina was shaking uncontrollably until she pulled Laura into her arms, at which time she found the strength to pull herself together.

Becky nursed her ankle and asked, “What next?”

It took me a moment to realize she was talking to me. Who did she think I was?! General freakin’ Patton?!!

It was obvious our people still needed assistance. The sound of gunfire continued to sound. The tow truck was the safest tool for the job, but in order to use it we needed fuel. Then I remembered the two cans of fuel Cease had put into the cab of the F350 this morning. But to get to it meant going back through the zombies; twice.

Tina was all used up. Becky had twisted her ankle badly and would be unable to run if she needed to. It was out of the question to ask the girls. That left me. Besides, the tow truck’s cab was getting crowded.

I left them the .357 and .22 since both would just weigh me down and make noise. I took the machete and it dulled and ran red as I made my way to the F350. I had one of the cans in hand and the other in a sling across my back when I spotted a familiar face. Surprised relief turned to horror as I watched Hall stagger in my direction with a ragged hole in his stomach that his intestines were slowly slipping out of; a length of which already drug the ground occasionally tripping him up.

I couldn’t afford the tears of regret that had begun to leak from my eyes. Hall wasn’t Hall any more but I thought I owed it to his daughter to lay his body to rest.

For a zombie he was still pretty quick which told me his actual reanimation must have taken place within the last hour. The intestines however made him somewhat clumsy. I easily avoided an outstretched arm and decapitated the corpse after it had tripped once again. This time it didn't get back up. There wasn’t time for the niceties of burial or solemn words but I made a mental note to write something in Kitty's baby book letting her know the sacrifice her biological father had made.

I didn’t encounter quite as many zombies on my return trip but I still had to put the can in my hands down three times to sanitize a few that I couldn’t go around.

Becky and Tina covered me while I dumped the fuel into the gas tank and then tossed the cans behind the cab. I climbed into the driver’s seat and was about to turn the key when I noticed the look on Tina’s face.

“What? Are the girls all right?” I asked looking them over to see if I had missed something.

Tina asked, “Did I ever tell you that Dante’s daddy was part owner of a towing company and that I worked there to help put myself through college? Its how he and I met.”

“Tina, um … “

“I learned a lot about tow trucks during those years and some of these things have duel fuel tanks.”

I blinked a couple of times as I realized her non sequitur actually meant something important. “You’ve got to be kidding! Are you telling me that I didn’t have to wade back through that horde of the dead?!”

“Um. Crank the engine and flip that switch. The second tank is completely full.”

I decided I simply didn’t have time to have the incipient heart attack that I felt coming on and got on with the job of grinding zombies into fertilizer.

Day 65 (part 5)

The cab of the tow truck was crowded and rank where at least one of us had pee’d our pants in fear.

It took me a few turns in the grove to figure out the best way to plow zombies. Too fast and you just knock them aside like bowling pins, leaving them to get back up. Too slow and you run the risk of getting surrounded and stalling out.

I worked my way up and down tree rows getting closer and closer to the compound’s fence. Then I drove through the now open gates running over anything in my path. A bullet suddenly pinged off of the rear wench.

Becky screamed, “There! Up in the hunter’s stand!!”

O Buddy. I revved the engine and took the whole look out post down and dragged it several yards on the tow truck’s under carriage. As soon as I got loose I turned around and ran over the two attackers again and then a third time before continuing to smush as many zombies as I could.

David has since told me from their vantage on the roof of our house that Dixon and Matlock’s jaws came unhinged and swung free in the breeze when they finally realized who was driving the tow truck. They looked at Scott and he just shrugged and said, “Eh … when Sissy gets fired up, she generally let’s everyone know it one way or another.”

Dang straight. There are consequences for threatening my family.

For three more hours I went around squishing zombies. The girls and Tina fell asleep despite all the bumping and bouncing. Becky probably would have too except the pain in her ankle was growing worse every time it was jostled.

After three hours the waves of zombies deteriorated to barely a trickle. David and James ran over and jumped on the tow truck’s bed and I ferried them to the gates so they could close them. The back gates had never been breached which is probably one of the things that saved us. Luckily the gates sustained very little damage and were easily re-secured.

Becky had come up with the brilliant idea of letting those on the roof know who all we had with us so when we finally stopped in front of our house, a reception had been prepared. The girls were carried off to see Rachel with Becky and Tina following more slowly while we were all filled in on everyone else’s condition. Tina sped up at the news of Dante's injuries.

By that time everyone but Hall and Ricky had been accounted for, and I explained their ends.

Here is how things stand healthwise for everyone:

Scott: boot print on his cheek and another on his neck where one of those crackers held him down to the ground. Old wound in his calf has been reinjured and is feverish. Two broken toes on that same leg and a badly wrenched thumb on his right hand.

Me: I pulled my back carrying those full gas cans and swinging the machete. My sciatic nerve is singing arias when I try and get out of bed in the morning but hasn't stopped me from being ambulatory.

Rose: Bad dreams, primarily due to the sexual threats made by the men who took her and the other girls; otherwise unhurt.

James: Unhurt except for a few bumps and bruises. He’s one of the few truly ambulatory men at the moment.

Sarah and Laura: They are both having night terrors. Both were wearing shorts the day of the attack and were cut up pretty badly when they were drug through the saw briars.

Bekah, Johnnie, Kitty, Sis, Bubby, and Jenny: Quiet with a lowered appetite. They cling to everyone and become whiney and sullen if you try and put them down. Even Bekah who is way too big to be carried.

David: Huge goose egg and cut on the back of his head where he got pistol whipped from behind. A very badly bruised ankle where a zombie tried to bite through his boot.

Matlock: Took a bullet in the arm and a graze across this thigh. His throat is very sore where one of our attackers kicked him.

Tom, Bo, and Samuel: Despite their age, the boys performed well during the battle. Tom and Bo got singed when they threw the Molotov cocktails into two of the gang’s vehicles. They, along with James and David, have been forced to carry most of the burden of the day time guard schedule.

Dante’: Broken leg and a bullet graze on his upper arm. His primary concern is figuring out a way to complete our perimeter fence to secure our supplies which were apparently the target of the gang in the first place. Our supplies and our women.

Tina and Becky: Recovering but both are showing some heavy bruising in tender spots from the sadistic fondling they took from their captors. Becky’s ankle is still swollen though it’s probably not broken.

Dora: Dead. We buried her out in a section of the orange grove.

Josephine: Grieving deeply for her grandmother. Has become deeply attached to Patricia and rarely let’s her out of her sight.

Junie: Serious condition. Severe blood loss from a bullet to her shoulder and the subsequent field operation to remove it. Unconscious most of the time but has managed to keep down some broth and baby food as well as liquid iron supplements. No sign of infection so far.

Waleski: Broken nose, broken finger, pulled shoulder, and mild concussion that has left him with a little vertigo.

Cease: Beat up badly but ambulatory, sort of. Both of his eyes were blackened and are nearly swollen shut.

Rachel: Cracked ribs, twisted ankle but still full of "piss and vinegar" as my grandfather would have said.

Jose’: Critical condition. While avoiding a zombie he fell over a pile of debris behind one of the houses. A stick from a broken branch punctured his eye and another gouged a deep hole in his leg. He made it to the safety of the house before collapsing but shock and a case of peritonitis from the leg wound quickly zapped his strength. He runs a constant fever which hovers around 104 F despite antibiotics.

Ricky: Dead and eaten to the point that reanimation is impossible. Thank you very much.

Dixon: Several cracked ribs where he was kicked. Concussion from similar abuse. Coughing up blood, now under control, but he can’t do much.

Patricia: Surprisingly stable and seems to be intent on proving her worth. Dumbfounded when I hugged and thanked her for her quick thinking in saving the little ones. She is helping Dante’ work out what to do with our supplies and also takes her turn nursing our casualties.

McElroy: The least injured of all the adult males and temporarily in charge of security.

I barely slept the night after the battle. I spent most of my time helping take care of the wounded and the kids when they woke during the night. I have to wear Kitty in the sling constantly or she wails and no one can rest. She wouldn't go to anyone else although all the other women, including Rose and Josephine, offered to take her.

Yesterday was primarily mop up. Almost literally. Wearing Kitty on my back like a papoose, I’d scrape zombie off the road or ground until the wheel barrow was full. Then I would push the wheel barrow up to one of the last houses on the block before reaching US41. James had managed to pry the cap off of the septic tank. I then would shovel the zombie gore into the septic tank, listening to the noxious plop it made as each shovel full fell on the preceding one.

I did this all day long, sometimes with other people but primarily by myself. Most everyone who tried to help wound up gagging and heaving so much they got little accomplished. I guess I ran ‘em over so I got to clean ‘em up. Not even Scott could stand it. I stopped thinking about what I was doing after a while and it became easier. I hardly smelled the dead after a while. James and David provided some security but Cease and McElroy also did their share. Tom, Bo, and Samuel kept a look out from our remaining hunting stand.

Today has primarily been an extension of yesterday; zombie gore clean up. We have to get this stuff up before it putrifies too badly and causes health problems for us all. McElroy and David have been learning to drive the forklift and then using some of the “extra” storage containers to close the fence gap.

I need to go to bed now. Tomorrow is another full day. I have to begin preparing the land so that I can lay out the garden and start figuring out how all of the work is going to get done now that everyone is injured. We need to bring in the loaded down F350 and I also told them about the loaded Honda a few doors down. The boys have already stripped the attacker’s vehicles that were parked near our front gate and the burned out hulks of the two torched cars picked up by the forklift and moved down the road to be used as additional barriers as needed.

The last thing we plan to do tomorrow is to hang a flag that the kids made for us. The flag has a bright blue and green border and tells the name of our compound.

You would figure, under the circumstances, they would have chosen to call it Fort Something-or-Other or Outpost X, Y, or Z. Something that had some adrenaline and testosterone to it. No. Its just one word. The kids chose it and the name passed unanimously on the first vote.

I’m not sure how well it reflects the last couple of days, but overall it is what we have all been trying to achieve.

The new name of our compound is SANCTUARY.

Day 68 (part 1)

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary that I’ve put in our new “classroom” space, the definition of sanctuary is a place of refuge and protection. Slowly but surely we hope to live up to the new name of our compound. So far we are getting closer to the “protection” part of the definition and we’ve also managed to make a start on the “refuge” part as well.

The fence is complete; however, McElroy is really pushing for us to add a second layer of storage containers to the first to make the “wall” part of our fence higher. He wants to take it from eight feet high to sixteen feet high. We completely emptied the first business' inventory to make our current wall. We could probably get all the storage containers we wanted from over near the Port of Tampa but our team is in no shape to attempt a run like that any time soon. Frankly we aren’t going any where any time soon that is more than a few streets away.

The members of our enclave aren’t much better than they were a few days ago. The emotional stuff is being balanced out by work for those that can but the recent stressful events have caused everyone’s physical recovery to be slow. Those of us with relatively minor injuries must work twice as hard as we did before just to try and take up the slack; that is causing its own set of problems. Not to mention that while we have access to two highly trained medics who are very good at what they do, the care they can offer is no where near what their patients would have received in a proper hospital setting. We are making do but for one of our members it may not be enough.

Having all of the injured in my house just wasn’t working. People who are injured need peace and quiet and the people tending to them need to be able to get around without tripping all over everything. There is also the issue of needing as sterile an environment as possible. To address this we turned the house on the other side of Mabel’s land into a temporary “hospital.” It wasn’t too badly messed up though a couple of windows were cracked and needed replacing. Scott has been using other houses outside the compound for spare parts and was able to fix the problem windows with very little effort.

The girls, with Becky and Tina supervising, spent most of day before yesterday cleaning out all of the rooms and putting clean sheets and linens where they were needed. The carpet was also pulled up and removed. Given time Scott and David will lay a tile floor in there, but for now concrete is what they have. The house itself is five bedroom, single-story, and ranch style. It has two full bathrooms and a screened in pool whose water is being used to flush the toilets with. There is a small efficiency apartment in the back corner of the lot. The screened pool means that the house can be opened up and no one has to worry about bugs. We dumped a load of chlorine into the pool and it’s knocked the algae level way back and taken care of any incipient mosquito population. As time permits the younger boys have been given the task of cutting the over grown lawn with the old rotary-mower that I found in one of Mabel's outbuildings before they were all torn down.

Rachel and Waleski moved all of their gear over to our "hospital" permanently, for now alternately sharing one of the rooms. The kitchen has been turned into a pharmacy; drugs in the upper cabinets, bandages and other stuff in the lower cabinets. Scott also rigged a propane burner up so that they can boil water to sterilize bandages and other equipment.

Either Rachel or Waleski is on duty at all times. The other people in residence over there include Junie and Jose’, both of whom remain in serious and critical condition respectively. Jose’ is in a room by himself as is Junie. Jose’ isn’t doing well at all. His prognosis is grim but no one is giving up yet. Both of his eyes are bandaged but that’s about the extent of what they can do for that injury. As strange as it may seem to the layman, the leg puncture is much more serious. The wound developed sepsis. The bacteria that caused the sepsis did a lot of damage to his bowels and turned into peritonitis. Its also attacking his kidneys and liver as seen by the yellow cast that his skin is beginning to have. Rachel was able to rig an IV drip and they are giving him all the Levaquin they have left in their field kits. As I understand it, Levaquin is a pretty nasty broad spectrum antibiotic specific for use against bacteria. They are doing everything in their power, but as quickly as he deteriorated, even a well-equipped modern hospital would have had difficulty treating him.

Junie has her wound packed and changed at least twice a day. Between her wound and Matlock’s we’ve been going through a lot of clean bed sheets. We cut them into narrow strips and then boil them for 10 minutes before they can be used. So far we are simply burning them as they get used rather than trying to use them again. One day it might come to that but for now we just continue to scavenge all of the sheets we can find in the surrounding neighborhoods. For Junie right now, its mostly an issue of keeping infection away and keeping her comfortable. She is in a lot of pain.

Dante’ shares the same problem. He is in a room with Tina, Laura, and Bo on cots near his bed to make sure that his is kept completely immobile. His leg has been splinted and wrapped with Ace bandages but if he moves it even a little bit the bones could shift. At best that would mean that his leg bone wouldn’t knit together correctly; at worst he could slice a vein or artery and bleed to death internally. We're lucky that it is his lower leg that was broken and not his thigh. The lower leg is much easier to treat. Dante’s pain level is pretty high and because he doesn't or can't sleep as much as Junie, its difficult to manage. Waleski found a whole rucksack full of narcotics in the Honda truck so that helps; but too much of a good thing isn't good either. Waleski and Rachel have all of the narcotics under double lock and key. Waleski has one and Rachel the other and they keep a running inventory of all of their meds. It may seem a little over the top, but its better to be safe than sorry. We don't need to start creating problems now - like addiction - that we would have to deal with in the future.

Dixon, Patricia, and Samuel share the last bedroom. Rib fractures can take anywhere from three to six weeks to heal completely and that is if someone is resting and being careful. Dixon wasn’t complying and as a consequence was in a lot of pain and in danger of puncturing a lung. He, and everyone else with rib injuries, was been taped up but Dixon has a big problem staying still. Having Dixon at the “hospital” also meant that each house had a “commander” in residence and gave the two big guys some breathing room from each other.

Everyone else is still living with us. As soon as Dixon has healed sufficiently, he and his family will move over to the Victorian. We aren’t sure who will be moving in there with them since both Dora and Hall are dead. I suspect Josephine will, though she is currently rooming with Rose, as she has come to view Dixon and Patricia as substitute parents now that her grandmother is gone; I think that has actually given Patricia even more reason to pull herself together. The changes in her have been extraordinary. Hopefully she reached bottom and will only go up from here.

Our house is strangely quiet as a result of moving so many people out. James, David, Cease, and McElroy continue to share a room. Matlock and Tom now have a room to themselves and I know that Matlock appreciates the "full report" that Tom gives him at the end of the day. I know it makes Tom feel like a big deal in his father's eyes. Matlock’s bullet wound was relatively minor as such things go, but it gets as much attention as Junie’s does though he is not nearly so incapacitated. His graze, as well as the other “bullet burns” that group members have are being treated with either Silver Sulfadiazine or Septra, depending on how bad it is.

I finally got the girls to move to a room together which puts Sarah, Bekah, and Sis in a room. Johnnie, Bubby, and Kitty are still in our room for now but at least Scott and I can have a bit of privacy here and there. Jenny is sharing a room with Becky. It’s still tight but not nearly as bad as it was before. With the fence up I’ve even allowed some of the shutters to be opened during the day to air the place out and let some much needed light in, especially since we have some people that are temporarily “house bound.”

I still do most of the cooking, or at least all of the menu planning. Becky, with my sincere gratitude, has created a new chore chart that Dixon and Matlock approved. Eventually everyone in the compound will help with food preparation and cooking at some point in their duty rotation. There was just no way for me to continue doing everything. Even Matlock and Dixon have helped a little.

One of the other things we found in the attacker’s possession was fifty pounds of potatoes. I have no idea where they came from. One of the dead guys had a map on him that had places X’d out in red that Dixon thinks may have been places they hit. It looks like they came north out of the Naples, FL and simply followed US 41 all the way up. The fact that there were so many X’s on the map and the amount of stuff the gang was carrying around in their vehicles didn’t bode well. We are just that much further along in confirming that the whole state of Florida has been quarantined.

Something funny did happen yesterday. I watched Tina and Patricia stomp over to where we are keeping the large food storage items. They came out with some potatoes and then stomped back to the “hospital.” Both were obviously in a less that happy mood. I didn’t have the least idea what was going on until I saw Scott leaving from over there, after having his leg checked and cleaned again. He stumbled over to me trying really hard not to laugh. Apparently the ladies had finally had enough of their men’s shenanigans and whining about being “bored.” Guess who had the pleasure of peeling the potatoes for dinner that night?

Day 68 (part 2)

With Hall dead it has fallen to Dixon, a former Communication Specialist, to set up and use the radio from Keel Outpost. He has turned the efficiency apartment into a radio station and has had Samuel helping him to put maps on the wall and set up a couple of desks in there when the boy isn’t helping me with the garden or on guard duty. Listening to the radio chatter, what little can be heard, gives Dixon a reason to sit still but still keeps him busy. Cease also helps but his eyesight is still limited. Strangely, Bekah is fascinated by the “radio shack” and Scott practically had to drag her away when she went over there with him. Perhaps we have our own budding radio operator. Certainly it would be a useful skill for her to develop. I think I’d like to see all the kids get a chance to learn to operate the radio as one of the “subjects” in the curriculum that I’m trying to develop.

Its not realistic right now for use to believe things are going to go back to “normal” any time soon; but several of us have been talking about how important it is to provide at least a sense of normalcy for our group. I strongly believe that our children need this especially. One way I want to try and give them this is by setting up a school schedule. It wouldn’t be a traditional classroom style education but they need to at least develop some rudimentary academic skills. I have almost completed writing the unit study on Swiss Family Robinson. We could have a read-aloud at night so that the youngest, non-readers could follow the story – not to mention that it might prove just as entertaining for the adults since there are no radios or TVs at the moment. During the day I plan to take one or two hours to do activities that tie into the previous night’s chapter. Through out the remainder of the day we could work academics into our chores and maybe have some of the kids apprentice to learn some skills as a specialty. If Bekah continues to lean towards communications then I would schedule her chores so that she spent time every day gaining more than just a basic understanding of how the radio worked, etc. Rose has wanted to help at our hospital. As soon as things settle down a bit, Scott and I will talk to Rachel and see what she thinks.

Scott has tried to help with the kids by getting one or two of the little ones to go with him when he can. It gets them out of the house or away from the garden and they get a little exercise. It also gives them a sense of what their new boundaries are going to be. When I first started work on the garden yesterday morning it was like having too many chicks under my wings. I couldn’t walk. Every time I tried to get the kids to spread out a little bit they would quickly revert to walking practically on top of each other, and me, as soon as my back was turned. Scott didn’t dare laugh when he saw my problem but I could tell he wanted to. He took Johnnie first and after that Sis and Bubby. Jenny wouldn’t leave Becky’s side which was more or less expected, but Becky took her for a short walk past our hospital and back. Bekah and Sarah came last. I don’t think it will be a problem for Sarah much longer because she now knows that if she is willing to at least walk across the field she’ll get to see Laura. The bigger boys – Tom, Bo, and Samuel – are already all over Sanctuary on guard duty, running errands, etc. They don't even jump any more when they see a zombie.

There are lots of opportunities for the adult group members to help with the kids, regardless of whether they are a parent or not. Dixon can train on radio, hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, etc. Scott can provide training for several different trades like carpentry and plumbing, as well as organizational and memory skills such as those he developed working in the bank when we were first married. McElroy is a jack-of-all-trades but one of the main things I would like to see him do is to create some redundancy in areas where he is our only specialist – mechanics, large machinery operator, etc. Rachel and Waleski can teach basic first aid to all of the kids and more in-depth skills to the older ones. Patricia mentioned that she would be willing to help with basic and advanced math. Then there are the hobby/skills. Dante’ is an extremely talented pianist. Matlock and James play guitar. Becky is an artist. I can teach horticulture. The list could be endless.

Our limitations are breeding some creative solutions and Scott’s outings with the kids is just one example of this. I was really, really concerned about how I was going to prepare a garden space large enough to feed all of our people. The “little” project is turning into a huge endeavor; I’m very glad I had most of the planning done before things went to hell the way it did. I’ve got 18 different vegetables that I need to get in the ground before the week is out. Too much longer and I’ll have lost my window of opportunity for any October planting.

When James was helping me while I did gore-disposal he spotted old man Clements’ golf cart and it gave him an idea. Actually the thing is one of those fancy ones that can be taken through the woods and on hunting expeditions though he primarily just used it to run his garbage cans down to the end of the road (his house does sit way back). The man weighed 350 lbs. last time I heard and it wasn’t because he was “big boned” if you catch my meaning. The cart even sports a swamp camo paint job that always gave Scott a good laugh when he saw it. James took his first driving lessons in a golf cart so he knows what they can do and what they can’t. He and Samuel pushed the cart back down the road to our house and David helped them figure out a way to make the plan work that James was developing.

The golf cart is one of those “Bad Boy Buggies” with up to 30 horsepower, a torque rating of up to 170, and can haul up to 800 pounds according to the manual that was under the seat. I didn’t know what they were doing – it was a surprise – but Cease and David got the OK to make a short run down to the Kabota tractor dealership to see if they carried any ATV accessories. Sure enough they had some in the warehouse that hadn’t gotten damaged in the rioting. The only two they could bring back were a disc and a tiller. The disc/planter combination was too heavy for just the two of them and the cultivator was buried under a couple of loaded heavy-duty shelves that had fallen over. I was blown away that night when they told me what they had done.

Now there are limitations to this, just like with anything else. It’s not going to be like having a tractor. We had to take the remaining sod out first. We also had to make sure all the rocks and roots were out. I mean 170 is a lot of torque for a golf cart, but in the end it is still just a golf cart. We’ll also have to keep about six batteries charged and ready to use at all times; and that’s on top of the batteries we need for the radio shack and the other stuff. There is a small Harbor Freight store just off of Fletcher Avenue that we hope carries more solar panels but we don’t know for sure. David said that if we could ever get out to one of the expensive golf clubs, some of them used solar powered golf carts that were self-charging. That might be worth a long away Run but not for a while yet. I’m more than happy with what the boys rigged up even if I have to wait my turn for batteries.

After I had the kids rake out the last of the weeds I broadcast some soil amendments all over the sand. Next I ran the disc and tiller attachment on the cart. Wowee. That saved hours, maybe days, of some pretty intense labor.

My garden was as simple as I could design it but I still needed to lay out the rows for the kids and check in behind them until I knew they were following directions. So far between yesterday and today we have planted beets, onions, shallots, parsnips, turnips, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and collards. Tomorrow I want to plant carrots, leeks, mustard greens, spinach, and English peas. If there’s time, or enough helping hands, I want to plant patches of burdock, salsify, and celtuce. I also want to start at least two dozen hanging baskets of strawberries. I know that sounds like a lot of food but with 30 people to feed it will all go fast. Actually the plan is to be able to feed 50 but for now any extra produce will be preserved and put into our food storage.

As far as my existing edible landscaping, some things I’ve been able to harvest so far this month include Jicama, okra, crookneck squash, scallop squash, and cucumbers. Some greens I’ve harvested are mesclun, mustard greens, and arugula. There hasn’t been a lot coming in at any given time; at least not enough to fix enough to feed 30 people from one dish, so I’ve turned each day's harvest into a vitamin packed green broth for the invalids. If there is any broth left then it goes to the kids as an appetizer for dinner.

Tomorrow I’m going to cut my first head of broccoli and broccoli raab from my edible landscaping. I’ve got powdered cheese tucked away that I can turn into a sauce and we’ll have broccoli and cheese casserole for dinner. It should make a nice change of pace from all the canned and dried stuff we normally eat.

Dinners are more work than they were before but at least we no longer have to eat in shifts because there isn’t enough room or dishes to go around. Everything is still cooked in one location, but it gets plated up and split between the two houses. Everyone was washing their own dishes and those that can continue to do so. For those that can’t usually someone offers to do it for them, leaving me only the cooking pots to clean up. When everyone is ambulatory again I may try to see if we can set picnic tables up outside, but a lot will depend on the ever present zombie situation and if, God forbid, we have any more trouble with raider-type gangs.

I miss my little chickens. It was a couple of days before I realized they weren’t in the compound after the battle. I never saw a chicken carcass when I was cleaning up so I know they weren’t killed while on Sanctuary grounds. I don't think a hawk got them, but that could have happened as well. The dog run sits beside our carport all forlorn and empty. I hope they come back but I don’t have a lot of hope.

Scott has begun our next major construction project. He has set the posts for an above ground water cistern of sorts. It will be set up so that the run off from our hospital building will fill it using a water catchment system. The roof on that building has an even steeper pitch to it that ours because they raised it when the previous owners remodeled to get vaulted ceilings in the main living areas.

The cistern will only set about four feet off of the ground but will hold 2000 gallons when full. It started life as a cattle trough from the Feed Depot. Scott is building the support frame very sturdy and reinforced using 4 x 4 posts and railroad/landscaping ties that he has been scavenging from around the area. All of that stuff is pressure treated so we won’t have to worry about termites as much. We are also using the last of our bags of quick set concrete … we’ve added it to the list of items that we hope to find when we are able to go on longer runs. I’m hoping that the weight of the water will help create enough water pressure that we can attach a drip irrigation system to it. The pressure doesn’t have to be astronomical, just fairly constant. After he finishes that he’ll alternate his time between making the remaining Sanctuary homes habitable and building additional catchment systems for each house.

I noticed something funny today that I’m writing down so I’ll remember when it occurred. Not funny ha ha, but funny strange. I think I mentioned before how useful the map that James started has continued to be. One of the things we have been adding to the map is the locations of trees, bushes, and plants that are edible. Not just within Sanctuary itself but in the surrounding neighborhood area. I went to check up on some papayas that were all but ready to be picked and they were gone. Not just the fruit, the whole tree was gone. You could see where it had been broken off at the ground. The strange part was that the tree stalk was no where to be see. I don’t know of any local animal that would behave that way bother dragging the tree away, we don't have beavers in this area and beavers gnaw wood, they don't break it off. The stalk was every bit of ten feet tall. I don’t know, maybe a zombie did it? I mentioned it at dinner and we had quite a lively discussion going. Some people thought it was no big deal and some wondered if the zombies were beginning to behave oddly. That last one caused James and David to hum the theme from Twilight Zone. Me? I think maybe we have small raiding parties coming through the area. But why wouldn’t we notice them and why would missing stuff be so haphazard? I hope nothing else suddenly goes missing like that. And even if some of them were goofing with me and thinking I was making a mountain out of a mole hill I will admit it is nice to have other adults to share my concerns with. It makes the burdens lighter.

When Tina, Becky and I were talking today about all of the kids activities we‘d like to try and arrange, we both realized that the traditional holiday season is fast approaching. The end of this month would be Halloween, November is Thanksgiving here in the US, and December is Christmas. We can’t just go out and buy stuff like we have in years passed; we need to start planning well in advance and gathering items now.

We’re going to talk it over with the other adults but both Tina and I feel Halloween isn’t appropriate under the circumstances. The kids don’t need scary on top of the Halloween-Horror their lives have already become since the arrival of the zombies. Becky was thinking maybe an Autumn or Harvest type of thing instead. We could have games for the kids, pull taffy, maybe build a scarecrow for our garden. We aren’t going to mention it to the kids though until we firm up the details. No use getting their hopes up in case we have to scrap the whole idea.

Speaking of the holidays, there is one area I’ve tried very hard not to dwell on. Its been weeks now since I’ve talked to my parents. I've continued to wind my phone charger up every couple of days and try to reach them. I've tried to check my voice mails on a regular basis. Nothing. And today I couldn't even get a single bar of reception. I don’t know exactly what that means, but it can’t be good. None of it. I’d like to believe that the zombie problem is confined to the major metropolitan areas of Tampa Bay, but I know that isn’t true. There are lots of things that I’d like to believe but I never was one to wear rose-colored glasses all the time. I have to accept reality. I’m just not ready to accept what is likely to be the inevitable truth.

Day 71

Jose' died this morning. We laid his body to rest beside Dora and Hall. Dixon waited until he was sure that he was going to reanimate before sanitizing him. It was almost too late and God forbid, but if faced with that situation again we won’t make the same mistake twice. It was a mess. I’m beginning to wonder if the whole freaking world is a mess. And if that’s true, where does that leave us?

Day 72

I was just too depressed to write anything else yesterday. I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents and the rest of my family. I finally had to go out to our shed and just grieve privately for a little while. The movies always make this part so easy. It happens off screen or the characters are so stoic. This isn’t easy. This is … this is impossible to adequately describe. The not knowing for sure; yet understanding that in all likelihood your worst fears have already been realized. I had to grieve for all the things I’ve been forced to do lately; grieve for the people I’ll likely never see again.

Its been very hard, but I’m not the only one going through this. There isn’t a person in Sanctuary that hasn’t lost someone. We’re all dealing with it the best way we can; some through faith, some through work, some through sheer determination. I wish Dora was still with us. Sometimes I feel like I’m cracking around the edges. I look in the mirror and barely recognize myself any more. I’m still me, or at least the shadow of who I was. At the same time I’m this new version of me, shaped by the extraordinary circumstances I’ve been forced to live through.

I think the younger kids are having an easier time of it than the rest of us. You’d think the opposite would be true, that their psyches simply weren't mature enough to handle it. And some of them have had problems but it's like life before a certain point doesn’t really exist for them any longer. For my kids that point seems to be the first day we made the conscious decision to sequester. They don’t talk about old friends or activities they were involved in. They don’t ask about their grandparents or other relatives; not even Rose and James, and that is very hard for me to take. Tom won’t talk about any event that came before the day that Matlock rescued him and Jenny. He point blank refuses to talk about the day his mother died. For Samuel, Bo, and Laura time began when they were forced to move into Argos Hall and even the early days of that appear somewhat hazy to them.

It really hurts not to have someone to share my memories with. Scott is very busy, and the kids just give me a blank or shut off look when I mention something from "before." That's what every calls it ... "before" ... like its an entirely different and ancient era or something that has no applicability to today. That’s what it must be like when older adults outlive all of their family and friends; the vacuum of connections. To address this need in myself I’ve decided that in addition to this journal I’ll keep another book; a book of memories. It will be about my family and Scott’s parents; about our traditions and where they come from. About favorite songs and movies; the vacations we took when the kids were little. I understand the need for mental self-preservattion, but I don’t want to lose these memories forever; they are a big part of who we are. The zombies have enough influence in our lives, I don’t want them to become the sum total of it.

In other news Dixon is picking up a little bit more chatter on the radio after he finally got the antenna fixed. The number of people communicating via radio isn’t large but there are more than you would expect. One group appears to be at least as big as ours but further along as far as their preparedness and organization. They seem to have been around a while. They try and sound military but Dixon suspects they are not. Another group’s size is indeterminate, they give out a lot less information over the radio and he believes this one is military, or former or para military. You can hear the training in their voices. Both of those groups use call signs and codes that Dixon hasn’t completely decoded so he hasn't confirmed their base locations. Then there are the very small groups of maybe two or three, half dozen at the most. Those might belong to bigger groups but they only give an indication of passing through rather than having a stationary base of operations.

One day soon Matlock and Dixon will transmit to see if they can start a dialogue, but not until our defensive force has healed and ready for any potential repercussions.

The garden is doing well so far. I haven’t noticed any animal depredation in there yet. The few birds around are scavengers like vultures and they don't target vegetation. I’ve seen a few hawks but not many, and only very high riding the air currents. I’ve seen a few song birds but again, not many. That’s very unusual for this time of year. Maybe they are there and just choosing to be quiet, like they are aware of a major predator in the area. Whenever zombies are around and threatening I’m usually too busy to notice whether they take after any animals they hear. Cease says back when they were still patrolling with Keel Outpost he saw a zombie go after a dog once but never noticed anything else. I’m wondering if the smell of zombies, even as mild as the smell is right now with the local horde population in check, keeps the animals that use smell as their primary hunting tool off balance. That would explain the cats, dogs, and similar but it still doesn’t explain the birds. Now bats I’ve seen, but they are silent. I’ve seen bats swoop down and all but land on a zombie and the zombie didn’t react at all, not even to jump like they were startled at something coming so close to their face. Apparently zombies are still limited to their “human” senses and can’t hear the eco-location emitted by the bats. I wonder if that could ever be used as a tracking tool. But back to the birds, insects are gonna get out of control if we have no birds around and that’s a fact and worrisome with regard to my garden. That's just one more reason to miss the little chickens.

Hmmm, thinking of beneficial animals and insects naturally leads me to thoughts of the non-beneficial ones. There was one house on the far edge of our local “gathering” territory – that area that we can reach on foot in an hour or less – that was infested with mice. The smell when that door was opened was so heavy with mouse feces even my eyes started to water. I threw a handful of poison into several rooms after I put a face mask on. After I was out I asked James to glue the door closed with liquid nails and mark the house as a biohazard (our standard treatment for unhealthy houses). Dante’ pitched a fit after he heard the day's gathering report. He wrote up a reminder for everyone to check all boxes and bags that they are bringing back to Sanctuary and asked me to double check the traps and bait that we have in our storage areas.

Someone reading this might wonder what I was doing walking around with rat poison in my pockets. Well, I’m not as crazy as that makes me sound. I’ve been concerned with infestations since early on. This is Florida; we are going to have some problems with pests. That’s life. The trick is to prevent a minor annoyance from turning into a swarm of major proportions; we don’t need to replay the Egyptian plagues in the Old Testament. I’ve baited all of the food and other supply storage areas and I try to check and rotate things frequently; borax for roaches and ants, poison and traps for mice and rats. I keep our water supplies covered to lower the mosquito population and don’t allow standing water any more than necessary. Scott even built a cover for the new garden cistern. Zombies are nasty enough to deal with. I don’t want malaria, the hunta virus, West Nile, or encephalitis to become a problem, and that’s barely scratching the surface of what nasties could be transmitted by pest species.

On that same trek I had another one of those weird experiences that are becoming more common than is comfortable. I could have sworn I saw a child’s face in the bushes; and no, I was not seeing things. I found nothing when I rushed to investigate but I can't shake the feeling that I saw something. Maybe it wasn't a child, but it wasn't a zombie that's for sure. I had James and Cease helping me look for over fifteen minutes and would have probably kept looking if I hadn’t been rather rudely interrupted. I was bent over trying to look behind some overgrown shrubs when I suddenly found myself face down mowing grass with my chin. For one brief, terrified moment I thought, “Zombie!”

I shot to my feet to find myself being stared at. A largish billy goat with two does and a kid contemplated me with innocent expressions. But I knew, oh yes, I knew better. Ol’ Billy’s nature had gotten the better of him when he had spotted my wide load bouncing around in the bushes. James was choking from trying to hold back his laughter and has gotten more than his fair share of mileage retelling the story several times after we got back to the compound. Cease wasn’t much better but at least he was kind enough to offer me some sympathy.

Despite everything that those animals have probably been through, they are still pretty tame. ‘Ol Billy even came up and brushed up against me a couple of times to say “no hard feelings.” Cute … I personally think he is just trying to get out of being eaten. I had my suspicions about where they could have come from. There was a goat farm on US41 just north of Newberger Road. There was also a petty zoo in Odessa off of SR54 called “Old McDonald’s Farm” of all things. Or they could have been someone’s pets that escaped their enclosures. They weren’t wearing tags, nor were they branded, so who knows for sure.

Either way we now have goats to replace our missing chickens. We built a pen for them back behind the garden area. I’m not sure that’s the best place for them long term but its all we could do in a hurry. I know almost nothing about goat care. Sarah and Samuel immediately volunteered to be their caretakers and to look through all of the animal books we have and see what they can find out. With those two animal lovers in charge I’ll probably wind up hearing way more about goats than I want to. All I know with that with goats there is the possibility of milk, cheese, and meat. And that’s a win all the way around.

Day 74

I found a really easy breakfast that everyone is enjoying; scones. I used to fix them a lot when Rose and James were little but I had gotten out of the habit until I started looking at ways to make breakfast for this crowd a little easier on me. In my opinion scones are even easier than biscuits to fix. You can make them sweet like the Chocolate Chip Toffee Scones we had for breakfast today. Or, you can make them savory like the Bacon Cornmeal Scones that I have planned for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Scones for breakfast usually mean that we need a hardier lunch however. Still, I’d rather try and fix a hardier lunch than throw together a big meal first thing in the morning, for now anyway. I might not feel that way once the heat of summer returns. Today I fixed two huge Dutchies of Chili Bean Bake. Tina and Laura fixed a large pot of rice to go with it.

Work, work, work. That’s all we have day in and day out any more. Even the kids help with the garden and all of the household stuff … assuming they don’t have other specific assigned chores within the compound. I had just put my hoe down to take a short break from gardening when Tina, Becky, and Patricia showed up and asked me to come sit down with them a second. Even Rachel took a short moment to sit down and have a cup of tea with us. The only one missing was Junie, but Tina said she would talk to her later to see if she had any input to add. The gist of the situation is that we women need to work smarter, not harder, ‘cause we are all getting worn down. We can’t do every kind of chore every day; it just isn’t practical. Patricia admitted that Becky’s chore charts really help, but she said we need to take our organizing even further and come up with a long term plan that’s not too complicated or hard to implement. I mentioned how my mom used to have certain chores that she would do on certain days of the week and everyone suddenly started remember how their mothers or grandmothers did it similarly.

While we sat, and in my head I couldn’t help but think that the gardening wasn’t going to get done so long as I sitting around talking, we mapped out an interim chore schedule until we can come up with something more permanent and penciled in some tentative dates for other activities.

On Monday we’ll do all the washing. That’s a heck of a chore ‘cause right now, not only do we have the compound members’ clothes to wash, but we are washing all of the clothes and linens that come in from our Gathering Runs. We’ve had to add a couple of hundred feet of clothes line just to get it all dried before the day runs out. I aked Tina to add clothes ringers and scrub boards to Dante's lists of things we'd like to have. I can't imagine where we'll find the clothes ringers but we should be able to find some scrub boards in the places that do dry cleaning and that sort of thing. We also need to have Dix or Matt pull a crew together so that we can have a permanent wash stand that we can set the big vat up on for boiling. We had to move it so I could lay out the garden and we haven't set a new one up yet.

On Tuesday we’ll do all the folding, hanging, and mending of clothing that needs to be done. If the amount of laundry ever gets to where we can get the washing and mending done all in one day then we’ll change things around. For now though you wouldn’t believe how much of all this there is to do. 'Nother thing to add to Dante's list ... cedar. If we are going to have a lot of linens in storage then we should do it properly to avoid moths and other creepy crawlies. If I can get the lavendar to bloom this year we'll have that to use as well.

Becky said she'll start going through my books on homemade cleaners and such. Frankly I just don't have the time right now. I asked that while she did that she keep a running list of items that we would need to make them, including herbs to grow. I've got a ton of seed packets but I need to prioritize which ones are needed first.

On Wednesday we’ll process water to make it potable, clean gutters as needed, etc. This is a huge task and water conservation is very important. In addition to the 29 people in our group we have the animals to take care of now.

On Thursday we’ll prepare the condiments and food we’ll need for the next week. I try and not make up any more margarine or milk than we would need at any given time because we don’t want it to spoil; but trying to do that on a daily basis is a waste of my time. Its not nearly as hot as it was, though it still gets in the 80s during the day, but the evaporator cooler keeps stuff from going bad a little longer. The cooler it gets the longer stuff will keep.

On Friday we’ll give all of our living areas a good cleaning. I’m not talking about spring cleaning, though my house could use a really good scrub. With one day a week devoted to cleaning the worst of the mess should at least keep the worst of the chaos at a manageable level. It will work even better if everyone does their share between weekly cleanings.

On Saturday we’ll bake. It takes a lot of fuel to bake bread. Scott feels that he can build an outdoor bread oven from directions he found in one of our medieval history books. If he can do this then that means that we’ll be able to save our propane for regular cooking and potentially for heating this winter if we need it. The problem is we have so many priority projects and not enough people to do them and still keep up with daily chores. Having a bread oven will be really wonderful, but the cisterns are important too. Right now water is more important than sliced bread.

Sunday will be up to the individual and/or family. I’ve missed having a day we can rest. We won’t always be able to do it, but if we can follow the practice of “a day of rest” more often than not we’ll probably be a lot healthier for it. Sure, we’ll still have to do things like guard duty and feed the animals, but maybe shorter or shared shifts on those days or something.

We’re half way through October. Its still warm but not near as bad as it was in August and September. It actually gets down into the 70s at night. We usually have our first read cold snap the end of this month. I sure do miss weather reports. They weren’t always completely accurate, but at least you’d get a heads up if something really bad was gonna roll through. We had a gully washer last night and if I had known of the possibility I would have set out a few more rain catchers.

The next wash day we are going to ask everyone to go through their clothes. We have nearly finished going through all the houses we can easily reach on foot within an hour’s walk. If we can’t find enough of the right sizes of shoes, jackets, etc. we need to start a list and make a Run before the weather catches us off guard … or something else does.

One of those “something elses” could be other people. I know that some of the houses we have gone through in the past and sealed up have been broken into and gone through again, and not by our people. Its not a serious problem yet; but it could be, especially if we start having issues with territory. We don’t own the area outside of Sanctuary … we don’t really own Sanctuary if you want to get technical … but we consider it ours, certainly it is now “home” for each of us. Having unknown people so close to our home, but refusing to indentify themselves is unnerving. The question is, are they hiding from us out of fear or are they hiding for nefarious reasons?

Day 76

The rhythm of our lives seems to be settling more or less into a routine. More or less. Or at least it more or less was until today. A year ago – heck even three months ago – I would never have been able to say that zombies were routine. I would never had even contemplated things being the way they are and calling it routine. But that’s life as we live it now. Living without electricity; counting even the number of toothpicks I fill the holder with at night; and sanitizing the occasional zombie that wanders too close while we are out gathering. On one level this is more surreal than I ever counted on life being. On another level I don’t care how surreal everything is just so long as we are surviving.

All our people’s injuries are healing. I think stress and a lack of modern medical intervention is making the healing take much longer than it would otherwise have been, but they are healing. I do try and make sure that nutrition is a top priority. We dole out daily vitamin supplements to everyone but you can only go so far trying to mitigate physical damage and the amount of time it takes to heal. The mental damage is even harder to heal.

I’m happy to say that even Junie is doing better. She is still very weak and Waleski is concerned that she is anemic but the man actually went out of his way to give me kudos on the green broth and suggesting the liquid iron supplements. Waleski is normally such a curmudgeon that having him say anything at all surprised the heck out of me. I think he is kind of sweet on Junie but time plays odd tricks with my perceptions, and I have to keep reminding myself it really isn’t all that long ago that Junie lost her husband in the Argos Hall battle.

Call me an incurable romantic at heart, but I do like to see people paired off into happy and healthy relationships. I had thought that Rachel and Waleski had something going for a while but when I mentioned something to Rachel she nearly snorted coffee out of her nose and told me in no uncertain terms that working with him was OK but a relationship was out of the question. She laughed so hard I was almost offended and said two cranky people in a relationship just wouldn’t work. I suppose I had to agree with her there. It’s taken Scott and I years to work on and live with some of our mutual quirks. And two strong personalities will only work when there is a goodly amount of compromise and appreciation on both sides. Still, I look around and don’t really see anyone in our group as a good fit for her. There is Scott and I, Matlock and Becky, Dixon and Patricia, and even Rose and David. Now add to that Waleski and Junie (possibly). Cease is too young and McElroy is just too detached and unemotional … I think he is quietly grieving for someone but Matlock who apparently knows won’t say.

Dixon and Patricia are still an odd pair. It’s like they're resigned to each other rather than willingly joined together. Weird. They have never married and didn’t really live together either yet … oh, I don’t know. Its just strange and totally different from what Scott and I have. What I need to do is keep my nose out of other people’s business before I get into trouble. You’d think that with all the busy-body stuff I write about I have way too much time on my hands. But the opposite is the truth. There is just so few of us and we are closely confined with each other. Makes some boundaries easy to forget. Unfortunately best of intentions isn't always a good excuse and I keep reminding myself of this as frequently as I can.

I guess I should say that the rhythm of the way we are living now, while not necessarily natural, does feel better than the chaos we’ve experienced too much of. Boring can be just as needed in life as excitement can be … even if it creates an opportunity for me to get a little overly nosy.

Despite everyone being healthier than they were, it is still too soon for us to send groups out on extended runs. However Scott, David, and I did make another run as far north as Sunset Plaza. We also stopped by several of the businesses on the west side of US41 on the way back to Sanctuary.

It bothered me a little bit for both Scott and I to be gone from Sanctuary at the same time but there wasn’t a good way around it. We were anxious to finish gathering everything we could from all of the local businesses, and we also needed to see how badly things had been depleted by the groups passing through. Rachel was actually supposed to be the one to go instead of me, but she came down with a fever and chills over night. Waleski said it was just a cold combined with fatigue but he didn’t want her out and over exerting herself further. Cease could have gone, he’s nearly back to 100%, but he was mainly a look out last time we were there and wouldn’t really notice if anything has been disturbed. That left me.

Matlock, worried that we had local raiders, wanted us to bring the remaining liquor supplies that we had left locked up in Winn Dixie. I wanted to make another run to Walgreens and Dollar General for some nonessentials that may have been overlooked previously. Scott wanted to see if there was anything in the supply rooms at Badcock Furniture; something I hadn’t thought about at all.

We also had a couple of other places Scott wanted to stop. The propane store up near the railroad tracks, Pope’s Well Drilling which was just a couple of buildings down from that, and Dumas Tire and Auto Repair. None of us were sure at the time what to expect. I was thinking all of those places would have been cleaned out before the first riot, and if not then surely since. Scott was optimistic that there would be something useful even if it was a big ticket item. David was just itching to stop talking and get moving; so we did.

We left just as the first rays lightened the sky. Matt and Dixon both saw us off. In fact most everyone came to see us off. It had become something of a ritual; you never knew if the last time you saw someone would be the last time you saw them, ever. You could tell Dix was chomping at the bit to come with us but he still wasn’t completely healed. If he remained true to form he probably wore a track around the perimeter of the fence before we returned. I haven't checked. We've been too busy.

Our first stop was to go back to Sunset Plaza. There was no doubt that others had been in the Walgreens and Dollar General. I was able to grab a few things like pantyhose (for storing onions in), children’s toys (for the coming holiday season), air fresheners and deodorizing chemicals, and some plastic containers and tubs that I had missed last time; but for the most part things were pretty thoroughly picked over.

Badcock Furniture yielded some stuff that put David and Scott in hog heaven. What is it about guys, tools, and wood that seems to send them into raptures? Actually I grabbed some office supplies from the back area; and candelabras and some candles that were sprinkled through out the store as accessories. I also had David grab some of the folding tables as I thought at some point they would come in useful. And I took some good linens and pillows off the display beds. There were actually quite a few things lying around that would have come in handy but I didn’t have all day to “shop” so only managed to throw a few things in here and there.

When we finally made it down to Winn Dixie we didn’t hold out much hope that the liquor was still upstairs. What we hadn’t counted on were the zombies acting more or less like guard dogs. There were a few more sanitized zombies and a couple more "live ones" I didn’t recognize from last time. I’m sure I would have remembered the one-armed Goth Girl or the man with no pants whose genital area had been chewed off. Scott and David said that guy was gonna show up in their nightmares. Can’t say as I blame them; he was nasty in a way your ordinary, run of the mill zombie wasn’t. I don't know what he was when he was alive, but he gave me the creeps the way a child pornographer would. Something told me that this guy had at least partly deserved what he got.

Someone had tried to break into the security door at the foot of the stairs. That was obvious. There were marks all over the metal door. More than that though were all of the sanitized zombies – now permanently dead and decaying – surrounding the customer service register area that was immediately in front of that door. The raiders must have made too much noise and drawn too many zombies for them to handle. There were a couple of other “Gothik” looking boy zombies to go along with Goth Girl so either that group was completely overwhelmed or a few of them escaped and decided to take their losses and run.

But see, we had the key so only had to deal with the fact that the door almost wouldn’t opened because the push bar had been bent. There was just enough noise when we finally got it opened to draw a zombie that for some odd reason reminded me of Rodney Dangerfield. When he died he was just passed middle age but was wearing a leisure suit of all things. He was balding in an unfortunate way and had those strange buggy eyes that Dangerfield had. I quietly took care of him with the machete and thought to myself, “Here’s a little respect for ya mister.” I’m just glad I managed to stop myself from saying it aloud.

The machete, ever since the battle with the raiders, has become one of those must-have, never-leave-home-without-it fashion accessories for me. Its quiet and good for close in work. With guns you can sanitize from much further away but the noise will always draw more. The machete means I can drop a zombie and pretty much not have to worry about causing other zombies to zero in on me. With few exceptions they never pay any attention to one another which just reinforces, at least in my mind, how purely instinctual their responses are and how unlikely it is for them to ever work together in any way.

We carried the last of the liquor down and put it into the trailer in fairly short order. I couldn’t help but worry that we were being watched. I didn’t have that creepy feeling of being watched or anything like that. It was more just a logical concern. To be on the safe side however we chose not to go far from the truck for the remainder of the Run. We closed and put the garbage can in front of the doors before starting up the F350’s big engine and pulling away with the 8 x 20 foot enclosed cargo trailer that we had swiped from the post office last time we were out. Even if a few zombies were attracted to the sound of the truck's engine we would get away before they came out and they'd lose interest quickly after that.

It was getting close to lunch so I passed out the Logan Bread spread with apple butter that I had packed last night. When we were planning the Run it was decided not to take the time to eat a full lunch which would take up time that could otherwise be used for returning to Sanctuary quicker. Besides, the smell of the zombies, and the smell from decomposition on some places could get more than a little overpowering; the miasma couldn’t be healthy. That’s one of the reasons why we wear latex gloves under our work gloves and some type of mask when we are out gathering. NRS bacteria wasn’t much of a concern because of the minimal time it survived outside of a host. But decomposing bodies could have all sorts of other things associated with them. Who wants to avoid NRS only to contract Hepatitis C? Or get tetanus? Both are bad ways to go.

From the east side of US41 we switched over the west while we made our way back home. We hit the McDonald’s first. You would have thought that was a stupid waste of time but I actually hit a little pay dirt and snagged several cases of condiments, some paper goods, but best of all some cleaning products and five gallon buckets that still had their lids. Those suckers would come in handy for getting all of the feed and whole grains out of those feed bags. In fact, my plan tomorrow is to have the kids start doing that very thing. It will keep them occupied. Those bags have been worrying me to pieces. They don’t provide any protection from rodents and bugs … at least plastic buckets slow them down a little.

We also hit the Sunset Diner – again getting mainly cleaners and condiments; and Pinch-a-Penny Pool Supplies were we really racked up some supplies. The powdered and liquid chlorine will be very useful for both the non-potable water to keep algae at bay and to clean off zombie guts from the road. I grabbed a case of muriatic acid as well but that stuff is even more toxic that the chlorine and we’ll have to be careful how we store it.

From that small strip center we moved down passed the burned out skeleton of the First Baptist Church to Green Gardens and Gifts where I grabbed all of the seeds, fertilizers, organic bug stuff, top soil, etc. that they had. We would have kept going but we were running out of space and the day was getting late. That store definitely deserves another Run. People weren’t thinking about self-sufficiency when they were rioting and looting. They were only thinking about their most immediate needs and desires.

Next stop was the propane store. We grabbed what we could but we have no way of knowing which tanks are full and which are empty ... for all we know they are all empty so I'm not going to get over excited yet.

The last place we stopped was Dumas. The place was ominously clean in stark contrast to the total mess we found in other places. Here it was like everything had been removed in an orderly fashion in hopes of returning it back when things settled down. What was bizarre was there were two dogs inside. They had been left food that must have run out a couple of days ago, though they still had water, but they were very weak. Of course the smell of urine and feces was everywhere. We couldn’t leave them to die in such a horrible way. I crumbled up the last few slices of Logan Bread that I hadn’t eaten and gave it do the dogs hoping to settle them down. They were pathetically tucking their tales and begging for attention, like they had been scared to death and lonely.

It was strange how the dogs hadn’t barked. David suggested that maybe they had barked so much they had lost their voice. They were in the midst of gobbling the bread down when they suddenly got real skittish and tried to hide, even leaving the food behind. The three of us turned just in time to see a goodly sized zombie still dressed in tattered mechanic coveralls stumble over the threshold. I recognized him as one of the guys that had worked on my van at one point. It had a distinctive scar through its eyebrow and a piercing through the other brow that made him memorable. Scott used my machete and it was survivors one and zombies zero. Scott mumbled to himself, “I’ve got to get me one of these things.”

The mechanic must have been coming around to feed the dogs on occasion before being turned. That meant that he probably lived close by. David suggested we take a few minutes and look in the houses that were just on the other side of the shop. We got lucky. The second house we looked into must have belonged to the mechanic or at least being used by him to store stuff in. The first thing we spotted was several large bags of dog food on the kitchen table. We carefully investigated the rest of the house but whatever caused the mechanic’s NRS wasn’t in the house. What was in the house however was the missing stuff from the auto shop. Oil, tires, tools, and quite a bit of other stuff besides. This man may have been one of our "local" raiders.

The dogs followed us and were happy to have another bit of chow from the dog food supply. One of the back bedrooms held a small store’s worth of both people and dog food. We took all the food, oil, dogs, and dogfood with us and then secured the house. Yeah, we’ve added two dogs to the menagerie. But I still miss my little chickens. Powdered eggs are OK and do the job, but I sure would like to have started a little flock so that eggs and fresh meat could have been something to plan for and not just dream about.

Tomorrow Scott and David planned to return with Cease and maybe James to load up on all of the other stuff and then go back to the Garden Shop and pick up everything from there that we had been forced to leave behind. All three of us were exhausted by this time and it was only a couple of hours before dark so decided to head back to Sanctuary. It was only across the road anyway. We were nearly back to the van with the dogs when they stopped and cocked their heads and then raced into the open truck door and hunched down on the floor board.
Scott and David were looking around for the threat – especially after the way the dogs had acted at the appearance of the zombie earlier – however I had begun to hear something. Something I hadn’t heard and in a long, long time. The far off sound of chug, chug, chug … rushing along … but it was going so fast. They never came through our neighborhood that quickly. Scott and David heard it a split second after I did and we shot to the truck and got it going. We had to get across US41 before it made it here or we could be stuck on the other side for who knows how long.

OMG! It was a race. I swear I don’t know how we didn’t flip, especially with that long trailer attached, when we bounced across the concrete median and across the train tracks at the end of our road right before a loud, noisy train barreled through. Did I mention loud and noisy?! What crazy idiot was doing loud-and-noisy with zombies on the loose? We still don’t know, may never know. It was a long train and appeared to hold people. Yeah, people of all things.

Matlock and Dixon had been sent for by whoever the sentry was when they had spotted us pulling into Dumas. Come to think of it, to have seen us they had to have been up in the big live oak at the road near our fenced in section of the orange grove, so it was likely Cease or James who both climb like monkeys. They watched us as we loaded the trailer and then wondered why we freaked out and barreled for home until they too heard the train. If they hadn’t had the gates open we likely would have jack knifed the truck and trailer before we could have slowed down enough for them to get it open.

We knew it wouldn’t take long and sure enough the first zombies began to stumble out of the tree line and fall under the wheels of the train before it had even finished passing. When it rains it pours as they say. I heard screaming from our rear and turned to see a young woman with two children begging to be let in the back gates … and several zombies were heading that direction. The girl kept going, “Take the kids, take the kids, please God, save the kids! They can’t run any more!!” We had the gate chained six ways from Sunday since we rarely used it and I told her to start climbing. I started the same time she and the kids did.

They weren’t going to make it. She was trying to get the kids to climb and pushing them ahead of her, but they couldn’t have been but about five or six and they were exhausted and simply didn’t have any more to give. As tired as I was, my fat fanny still managed to make it up and over the top of the fifteen foot fence before she was even four feet off the ground. I was coming down right as someone started shooting. Scott, David, and James had spotted me right as I had reached the top.

I reached down and grabbed the closest kid and was hauling him up when I felt someone else on the fence with us. I swear it was too much. I was sure it was a zombie until I saw Waleski of all people taking the kid from me and pushing him up to Cease who was straddling the top of the fence. I reached down grabbed the other kid from the girl and hefted him up to Waleski. Two down one to go. Right when I bent to give the girl a hand I felt something grab my hair. God that hurt. I hate to have my hair pulled and I was nearly yanked off the fence. The girl was screaming and trying to climb faster and was nearly to the top without help now that the kids were safe.

There was a huge boom from the road beyond the zombies and it distracted the one hanging onto my hair enough that it turned and gave Scott a clear shot. My ears rang for nearly an hour afterwards. I also have a nice bullet burn on my neck; not a graze, but that was how close the bullet came to me. I shot to the top, flipped over and got to the ground on shaking legs as fast as I could before the zombies got interested in me again.

Scott was pissed. No, Scott was more than pissed. Scott was royally and painfully furious and about two seconds away from a stroke. If there’d been time and he’d been that kind of guy my backside would have been blistered before I could have drawn another breath. As it was its taken all evening to calm him down long enough to apologize for scaring him. But if it had been our kids on the other side of that fence ...

We spent the rest of the evening until it became too dark to see making sure that none of the zombies that had been fired up by the passing of the train took any more notice of us. The big boom I heard? James had found some fireworks in one of the homes we had been gathering from. It was just a couple of black cats tied together with a rubber band but it was enough of a distraction to set up my escape.

Right before evening fell a dark plume of smoke was spotted several miles to our north. Zombies kept heading that direction so whatever mess is up that way is sending out some serious distress signals that the zombies are focusing in on. Many have passed our gates with nary a bit of curiosity … or at least what we call curiosity, like they are scanning for sounds that will trigger their hunger or rage reaction.

The ragers, as we call them, are few and far between thank goodness. Those are the ones that seem to go berserk and tear up anything and everything in their path … like they are on a feeding frenzy with a good sized dollop of fury thrown in. I don’t know what makes them so different about them but you can tell a potential rager from a normal zombie. A potential rager moves slower most of the time; almost like a brand new zombie or one that is beginning to wind down. They could be taking more time to scan their surroundings, who knows? But, the difference begins to show when they get focused on their target. They suddenly speed up – at least in comparison to other zombies – and then they start exhibiting a foamy blood around their mouths; like manifesting bloody rabies. They are uber strong too. It doesn’t matter what their size is. The only rager child zombie I saw pulled a car door off its hinges just by yanking when it was going after whatever had made the noise inside the nearly burned out shell. A regular zombie won’t stay that interested long enough to bother. Regular zombies are after the easy meal and will lose interest quickly if there is no noise to draw their attention.

Temporarily we have moved everyone back into our house and done our best to secure the supplies in the “hospital” and other storage houses. We have look outs on the roof. No one is really sleeping tonight except Junie who was given a pain pill for her shoulder – something she hadn’t needed for the last three days. The move didn't do her any good at all.

If the zombies are not paying us any mind as they move steadily northward what on earth would cause us to worry so much? It’s that orange glow in the sky that has started off to our north. We’ve all been trying to guess what happened. The two main theories are either the train derailed – a possibility given its speed and the fact that it was going to have to make a good sized curve across from Padgett Lake up in Land O’ Lakes on the other side of the county line; right up near where we think that other big enclave is. Or, that the train threw a spark or threw something off the train that ignited some of the dry ground up that way. We had rain not that long ago but it wasn't enough to set off the precipitation-deficit we've been running for the last several years.

The dogs are ecstatic with their new living arrangements. Oh my glory, every person in this house has gotten a thorough tongue washing. Well, I finally had enough of ye ol’ stinky dog and asked Samuel to take charge and give the dogs as thorough a bath as he and the other kids could manage with as little water as possible. Their names, according to their tags, are Butch and Sundance. Let’s hope they don’t meet the same sad end as their name sakes.

I'll try and update tomorrow but it will depend on how "exciting" things get.

Day 77

The danger looks like it’s been diverted but the work of clean up will take days yet. No one slept much last night. The kids, happy to all be back together again were somewhat rowdy despite the danger outside. Well, all except for our two newest little ones who were exhausted and more than a tad overwhelmed.

Melody is nineteen years old and was a sophomore in the College of Nursing at USF when NRS came to town. She was immediately called to service when the Health Care Personnel Delivery System draft was activated. Luckily she was assigned to a local location and was able to fight her way back home after the Quarantine Order was issued. Her father, a Sergeant in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, never came home from work. Her mother died when she was 16 and her only sibling was a sister that had moved back home last year after her divorce became final. The little children, Belle and Trent, are Melody’s niece and nephew.

Melody hasn’t seen her sister since she simply got up a week after the worst of the rioting ended and walked out on them, leaving Melody the sole caretaker of the children. They quickly ran out of food and their neighborhood began to be overrun with zombies. Melody and the kids had been moving about trying to find a safe haven to hide in. Several times they thought they had found a place to stop only to be chased off by other people or forced to run when zombies became too numerous. It wasn’t until they had arrived in our neighborhood that they had felt relatively safe. Melody had just gotten up the courage to come up to the gates and risk rejection again when a large number of zombies caught them away from the house they had been sleeping in at night. They had barely made it to our gates and Melody was nearly hysterical by the time they were in, fearing she couldn’t convince us to at least take in the children.

She has been stalwart and calm most of today after we assured her that she and the children were welcome to stay in Sanctuary. Rachel, after giving them all a clean bill of health, urged Melody to allow Belle and Trent to play with the other kids while she took some time to be with the adults. We’ve been pulling bits and pieces of the story out of her all day long. She isn’t much of a talker but will talk as long as others are willing to lead the conversation. She’s fine, simply one of those people are naturally shy and reserved.

By moon glow during the night we noticed that ash occasionally floated down from the sky. The ash became heavier as night changed to morning. The smoke was so bad we moved the goats to the carport. Ol’ Billy, Butch, and Sundance came to some kind of animal understanding that now was not the time to express their differences.

We had to cook on the grill on the lanai to keep ash out of the food, but we couldn’t keep the smell of smoke out. I dampened sheets and hung them on the bamboo shades on the lanai and over the doors that were being used most often, but that only helped a little.
Breakfast as a huge casserole made from dehydrated has browns, powdered eggs, dried onions and green pepper, chopped spam, and powdered cheese. I cooked it in a large aluminum pan I found at the Sunset Diner yesterday. It needed to be browned on top and I would have loved to have some real cheddar, but no one complained. Belle nearly broke my heart when she asked if she was allowed to eat everything on her place or did she need to save some for later?

That simple question reinforced how fortunate we have been. Yes, we’ve had losses – three graves out in the orange grove prove it – but we are still incredibly well off compared to some of the survivors that are still roaming around out there.

All through breakfast I was in worry-mode and making a list of must-do’s. After breakfast I finally needed to work off my worry. I covered the water barrels and asked that they be brought into the lanai. I then told Dante’ I needed to requisition all of the sheets we had so I could cover the plants to keep th ash off of them.

James got Cease and David to help him set tarps over as much of the garden as they could. Scott set saw horses with 2 x 4’s laid across them and ground in our hanging strawberry baskets and then started moving the rest of the potted plants, trees, and vines that we had been leaving outside. I harvested everything that even approached being ready in the landscape. Lunch and dinner was a grazing buffet. Rose taught Josephine and Melody how to make tortillas and they made enough to last us all two meals before they were through. I had Sarah, Laura, and Bekah scrub and chop and slice jicama, broccoli, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. Becky and Tina helped by dicing a couple cans of Spam and making some easy dips like Spicy BBQ Bean Dip, Hot Crab Dip (used canned crab and processed cheese), and Ranch Dip Mix. To all of this I added some miscellaneous stuff like a jar of peanut butter, a couple of jars of home preserved fruit, end of garden pickles, watermelon pickles, a jar of relish and another of chow chow, and then a couple of cans of potted meat, deviled ham, and chicken salad. Wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever fixed but it got the job done and we didn’t have to do any more cooking.

After lunch I wanted to go gather what all I could from the trees and bushes in the neighborhood but Dixon nixed the idea. He was afraid the wind would change and send the fire in our direction. He did not want any of us to take a chance on getting caught away from our evacuation plans.

As it turned out I was glad I didn’t get very far from home. The smoke was terrible. It was hard on everyone’s lungs and eyes despite our masks and goggles. Plus it would have been too easy to get turned around and lose my way. Add to that the zombies were acting more strangely than normal and you had a potential recipe for disaster.

Taking my turn on watch I saw an amazing sight. I watched animals you didn’t normally see out and about brazenly scurrying away from the direction of the fire. A lot of the wild animals climbed the fence near the canal to find refuge in the orange grove. Not all of them did of course. Most of them continued south, trying to escape the heavy smoke. Members of the silent procession would sometimes get too close to the zombies travelling in the opposite direction and got snatched up and devoured by a walking corpse. It was an eerie sight. A horde of zombies constantly streaming by, drawn by the sounds within the fire. Animals running the opposite direction for the very same reason.

Turkeys, peacocks and peahens, song birds, and hawks hid in the branches of the orange trees side-by-side with raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. Cease who had been up in the oak tree brought in a singed mother calico cat and two equally bedraggled kittens. Waleski, on his turn at the fence, slipped out and grabbed a little female pup barely limping along that Butch and Sundance fawned over quite a bit. I left all the new residents to the care of others.

I like animals as well as the next person but I just didn’t have anything else to give right then and I’m worried about the additional mouths to feed. The goats can be fed on garden scraps and forage but dogs and cats are carnivores and the animal food found won’t last forever. Scott caught me gazing down on Sarah with the animals and climbed up to the roof with a fresh bandana to use to cover my face with. We sat talking about our myriad of concerns while searching the smoke laden horizon for signs of flames, eventually being interrupted when Melody came up the ladder to join us.

“Rose said I should talk to you two,” she started out but then seemed to get stuck.

Scott as direct as ever asked her, “About what?”

“We can really stay here? I know this is your real house. I mean your house from before. We can stay here indefinitely? I’ll do all the work we need to get us a spot. I’m stronger than I look. I just need to know for sure,” she replied hunched over like she expected us to have changed out minds.

Scott and I finally convinced her she and the children were indeed welcome and that nothing more would be asked of her than would be asked of the rest of us. Our enclave operates as a team and while we do have a hierarchy of authority of sorts, but each of us also has our individual talents and interests that we pursue as well.

She said, “in that case I should tell you that there is a big house over off of Vandervort Road that is full of that survival type food like you used at breakfast.”

“What kind of food?” I asked.

“That stuff in those big cans and buckets. Some of it is beans but there’s a lot of other stuff too. Powdered eggs, stuff called Alpine Aire, Provident Pantry, Mountain House and things like that.”

Scott was suspicious and wanted to know, “How did you find this out?”

“Belle, Trent and I were in a little block shed next to the house when these scary crazy looking people showed up with this big black semi truck. They were dressed in khaki but they weren’t real military guys.”

“How could you tell?”

“My sister’s ex was military. You can tell the difference between real military and people who are pretending. Besides none of them had the same type of khaki on. No one matched liked they would if they were a real unit.”

“OK, then what happened,” Scott prompted.

“The guys with the guns were pushing around some other people that didn’t have guns and made them take everything out of the truck and into the house. It took them hours to unload it all.”

When she seemed about to stop again I asked, “Are the men still there? Do you know?”

“Most of the people left with the truck and the other vehicles they were driving. Four guys with guns and two women stayed at the house. Something must have happened because several days later no one had returned and the six people they left behind started arguing and drinking. Then one night something must have really gone wrong because one morning when I woke up one of the women had turned zombie, the other woman was in pieces in the drive way, and two guys were shooting at other zombies in the yard. I watched for a while and the two men tried to make a run for their car but they never made it, one of those nasty ones came out of the bushes and fell on ‘em in the car. I don’t know where the other two guys went.”

“But how do you know what’s in the house?” I persisted.

In a quiet monotone Melody continued, “We were so hungry. Finally, after another day I didn’t feel like I had any choice. Trent was getting sick and Belle, she had this awful look in her eyes. As quiet as we could we went over to the house. The women zombie had wandered away. The zombie and the two men had torn each other apart. There was blood all over the inside of the windows of the car. The side door where the guys had come out of was still unlocked. There was a lot of blood on the floor and walls inside the house and it really stank, but not zombie stink. More like septic stink. All I cared about was finding food for us as soon as possible.”

She had stopped but this time began talking again without prompting and with a little sob said, “None of the fancy food does any good if you don’t know how to fix it. Even if I had known how to cook it there wasn’t a can opener to be found. I barely figured out how to work the MREs that were in the kitchen. There was about a dozen bottles of water and some granola bars too. It was like being handed the key to the city only to find they’ve changed the lock.”

After another pause she asked, “Have you guys seen any cops? Any cops at all?”

“No honey, we haven’t.”

“Yeah, me either. I miss my dad. He would have known what to do with that food. He switched to desk duty after mom died so that he could work more regular hours and be there when I needed him to be. But they put him back on patrol during the riots. He came by the clinic to tell me to be careful and to give me a kiss. If he was still alive he would have come home. I just can’t deal with the idea of him wandering around as a zombie.”

Poor kid; she wasn’t much older than Rose and sounded like she had led a pretty sheltered life until recently. She let Scott and I comfort her while she cried a bit and when she had cried all she could I took her back inside to Becky and Tina so they could put her to bed and keep an eye on her.

I asked Dixon and Matlock if they had a moment and asked them to come up to the roof. We got up there to find that McElroy and Cease had come to take over the watch. The six of us discussed Melody’s story. McElroy needed convincing that it wasn’t just that … a story.

I told them she didn’t strike me as the type plus she waited until we were sure she and the kids could stay before telling us about the food. She could have used the food location as a bargaining chip, but she didn’t.

Dixon said the black semi could have been a NRSC supply truck. They were all black and unmarked just like she described. One could have been found or hijacked. We wouldn’t know for sure until we checked Melody’s story out.

As the day worn on the smoke cut off visibility from 50 yards down to 50 feet. Sunshine was completely muted and being outside was like walking in a stinking fog. Small explosions could be heard every so often.

I didn’t want to admit it but I was scared. Matlock had ordered enough vehicles prepared to carry us all in case the flames got too close. Throught out the day we monitoried which way the flames traveled. They zigged and zagged coming ever nearer. But, in the end the fire was driven west of us by a light breeze. We will stay on high alert for a few more days in case any flair ups occur.

Zombies wander out of the smoke with little warning. It's one of the reasons we have remained behind the fence. And now it is too dark to patrol. Tomorrow promises to be a full day. Two patrols are going out; one to assess fire damage and to see how close it really came to us. The other patrol would check out Melody’s story. The rest of us will remain at Sanctuary and try and clean up the mess the smoke and ash has left behind.

Day 78

Long day. I guess that is one way to describe today … long. Wouldn’t cover everything that has happened but I guess there isn’t just one word for that.

The smell of smoke continues to permeate everything. I’d love to be able to get away from it, even for a few minutes, but it’s everywhere; inside and out. It gets on your skin and in your hair and when you lay down at night it gets on the sheets and bedding … we just don’t have enough water or time to wash as often and the way we would like. I know that sounds nasty, but it’s true.

The smoke itself has dissipated in our immediate area but there are wisps of it here and there where there are still hot spots in the debris or things that are still smoldering. The flames stopped about three-quarters of a mile from us, just north of a road called Debuel on our side of the highway. On the other side, the west side, the fire line is about another half-mile north; starting right where the tree line is – or should I say used to be. The fire ran at an angle going NNW after the wind turned. The amount of black smoke on the horizon in that direction makes it seem like the fire is still burning. With no fire trucks or major geographic fire breaks to stop it, it might burn all the way to US19 and the Gulf of Mexico; coming somewhere between Safety Harbor and Spring Hill if it continues on its present course. The only thing that might stop it would be a major rain storm or some of the lakes in Pasco County. If it makes it passed these two obstacles then anything and everything in the fire’s path is toast for who knows how many miles.

After a breakfast of Welsh Rarebit made with tomatoes from my patio containers, toast from bread made fresh yesterday, and a sauce primarily made up of powdered cheese, our two patrols went out. Dixon led the patrol that went to investigate the extent of the fire damage. He took McElroy and Rachel with him. Rachel is till coughing but she works well with Dix and they wanted a medic along in case they found any injured people. Matlock led a team over to Vandervort Road to check out Melody’s story. Scott, David, and Cease went with him. Waleski remained at Sanctuary. Dante’ was more mobile, but not enough to go on a Run, same for Junie. Dante’ and Junie are both good eggs they just don’t have the training (or maybe inclination) to command. They were both clerks in Federal offices before they were drafted by the NRSC. Dante’ has found his niche in supplies and requisitions. Junie is a lot like McElroy; she’s a Jill-of-all-trades but I’m still not sure what her specialty was before she was in the NRSC.

I thought James would be upset about not going with Scott but much to my surprise he was not. He takes guard duty extremely serious; he’s turning into quite a marksman with both gun and compound bow. And he likes working with Waleski. I never would have thought it, Waleski doesn’t honestly strike me as the type, but James said he likes serving under Waleski more than Dixon because Waleski explains things. Dixon just orders people about and expects them to do it. That might be OK with adults but it doesn’t work as well with kids … especially teenagers. They need to know why, it’s how they learn at that stage of their development.

Waleski assigned the gate to Dante’ so he didn’t have to be on his crutches all day. Samuel, Bo, and Tom were a team that walked the canal-facing fence sections. James alternated between what we have begun to call “The Wall” – made by the steel storage containers – and climbing into the branches of the Big Oak where he and Cease had built a type of “crow’s nest” that acted as a look out post.

Rose, Josephine, Melody and I got a break from watching the kids. Becky, Tina, and Patricia took the younger kids except for Kitty whom I had in a sling on my back for most of the day. Sarah, Bekah, and Laura were assigned to help me in the garden when they weren’t on kitchen duty. This gave them a break from babysitting their younger siblings as well.

You know, children are a blessing. They are literally our future. There is nothing more precious. You receive tenfold the amount of love and affection that you give them. But they are a huge responsibility. They can be a lot of work. Sometimes they can even be a lot of stress. It can also be scary as all get out having someone else's life in your hands like that. Whether well or sick, kids are almost totally dependent upon the adults in their lives. Sharing the responsibility of caring for the children only makes sense in our group. None of us has to become overwhelmed and the actual mothers can pass along skills to the women (and men) without.

Patricia had something snide to say about how “we women” were losing all of our hard won rights and liberation. I hope she doesn’t infect Rose, Josephine or Melody with her skewed view of feminism. More than that, I hope she doesn’t cause problems for the group. Not again; we’ve already got a pretty hefty load to bear.

As I worked with all of the girls in the garden I quietly reminded them that we still have equal say here in Sanctuary. But in some circumstances there can only be one “chief.” I reminded them - and also introduced Melody to some of this info for the first time - that we all had areas where we were “chief” either by training and/or by talent. Coincidentally, most of these areas fell into traditional male/female rolls, but that was all it was; coincidence. I then explained to Melody about the trauma Patricia had endured.

“I saw a lot of that during the second round of riots,” Melody said. “I was going to go into psychiatric nursing so they had me in the Lock-Down ward at the St. Joe Women’s Hospital satellite facility. The treatment team said a lot of our patients were probably going to develop PTSD or some symptoms of it. Patricia’s … um … behaviors may give her a sense of being in control that she needs to feel safe.”

Samuel caught us talking when he rounded the corner to get to the out house. I felt embarrassed and guilty about being caught by the fourteen year old son of the subject we were gossiping about.

He must have understood the look on my face and before I could respond to his appearance he said, “No. That’s OK. Mom’s always been a little … Dad calls her ‘strongly opinionated.’ It’s been worse since we had to move to Argos Hall and then to here. She used to be able to get all of that out of her system at work. She owned her own CPA firm you know. But she can’t boss people around like she used to; I don’t think she has figured that out all the way yet. And she keeps getting sick too.”

“What do you mean sick, honey?” I asked.

“You know,” he whispered to avoid having Patricia hear him sharing private details. “She pukes and stuff sometimes. And she’s always tired. Dad says she’s just stressed out and will get better again. All I know is she’s really grumpy one second and crying the next. She was getting better but now she’s acting kinda weird all over again. Please don’t be mad at her. Dad’s trying to get her to ease up. She’s lots better when Dad can spend more time with her. She never liked it when he went on patrol. She really doesn’t like it these days. I think it makes her feel scared, like the stuff at Argos is going to happen to her again.”

“Sugar, were’ not mad at her,” I assured him. “We’re just trying to understand.”

That seemed to make him happy and relieved his mind but as he left all I could think was, “Oh … crap. Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap!” I don’t think the girls picked up on it. Melody might with a little more prompting, but then again she’s still settling in and her mind isn’t in professional mode right now.

If you’re not a woman those symptoms might not mean anything to you, but to me they spelled a potentially significant new situation for us to face. I didn’t know whether to talk to Rachel or whether I should try and casually get Dixon thinking though I’m not sure the big lunkhead would get it unless I spelled it out to him. Stress … I swear that man must have some wires crossed somewhere. For now I’m keeping my suspicions to myself … but, oh crap.

Today was Tuesday so after the garden everyone sat down and started mending some of the clothes and socks in our respective family’s laundry baskets. We’ve had to use markers to put names on the tags of everyone’s clothing. The kids stuff gets mixed up if we don’t. James and David both are terribly hard on their clothes. David has been pretty good about fixing his own clothing but lately he simply hasn’t had the time. And Scott has holes in the toes in nearly all his socks. I’ve got to tell him he needs to trim his toenails and keep them trimmed. There aren’t any new socks coming down the pike … only what we can gather while on our runs and not all of them are thick enough for wearing with boots. Tina and Becky have promised to teach anyone that wants to learn how to knit. Sarah and Bekah are both eager. I may have to take the time to learn as well; who knows, I may be knitting Scott’s socks before all of this is over and done with; if it ever is all over and done with.

Speaking of knitting, crocheting, and sewing … we’ve got a nice little stash of yarns, embroidery floss, thread, material, etc. growing but I would like to see that become a priority at some point. Maybe not for a special trip but I’d love to get over to Dale Mabry and see if Michael’s Craft Store still has anything in it. I wish … Oh well, wish in one had. You know the old saying. We’ve got a lot to do before we can make a Run out to Dale Mabry and by then it might be too late. As long as we’re wishing I would like to add a treadle sewing machine to my wish list. I wish I had my great grandmother’s that is sitting in my mom’s sewing room … and that’s about all I can think in that direction. It hurts too much.

Lunch for those of us still inside Sanctuary was Tang Tang Noodles made with crunchy peanut butter and Ramen noodles. OK, so I didn’t feel like cooking … shoot me. I made enough for everyone; I just didn’t feel like eating. I had too much on my mind. Instead of eating I sat and wrote in my memory book.

Dixon and his crew startled us by returning before everyone had finished eating lunch. We found out just how bad things looked. The destruction the fire has left in its wake is total. My guess is that any hope we had of gathering in that direction has been obliterated. There are still a few places this side of the fire, but not of the same interest as what we wanted to look for on the other side of Sunset Blvd. That whole Winn Dixie strip center is nothing but a shell. The whole intersection is simply gone. Even the road is melted in a couple of places; certainly all that new black top the county put down in the Spring is. The old concrete sections held up better but not by much. The patrol got as far as 1st Avenue, and still didn’t find any survivors or anything worth the effort of salvaging it. The branch of the library up there was nothing but a foundation; the elementary school where I had hoped to get resources to teach the kids is gone as well.

As soon as they made the decision to turn back they heard it; the hum of another engine. They had already been sighted so there was no use running. They prepared to make a stand when someone stood up from the back of the truck and waived a white flag. Still cautious, Dixon said he decided to see what they wanted because they really did need more info about other groups in the area. Trading info cost us nothing but could gain us a whole lot.

It was a patrol from the big Pasco County enclave … only they don’t call themselves the Pasco County Enclave. They call themselves Hale Hollow. “Hale” is from Hale Road which is apparently where their compound is. I wound up having to show the area to everyone on one of our local maps. Their perimeter suffered some scorching from the fire, they lost one storage building, and they had to evacuate their people. They evacuated not because of the fire but because of the zombies.

The train did derail right about where Scott and I thought it had. The train was too long and they were going too fast for the tracks and the area. Some of the rear cars derailed and then took most of the rest of the train with it. They had people packed in there like sardines. When the cars left the tracks most of the people inside them never stood a chance. The fire took more. The corpses that immediately reanimated took still more. Actually there were some survivors … too many for the Hale Hollow group alone to take in for any length of time. They were shy of places for about two dozen people. Another enclave, a splinter group from Hale Hollow, which was way out Ehren Cutoff near the cemetery, was willing to take most of them but if we could take at least one family that would help out everyone a lot. We had the room but Dix told them there had to be at least one or two able-bodied males that could be counted on take orders and help out with the extra work they would cause our group.

They said they’d talk it over and figure out who was willing to come. If we were still willing to take them we are to meet at noon tomorrow in the same location, barring zombies or natural disasters. Scott wasn’t too happy with Dix for simply inviting strangers into our home. Yes, we have room for people in Sanctuary but our house is full up.

Speaking of Scott and the patrol group he was on ….

They returned a half hour after Dixon and his group came in. I thought that the house Melody had mentioned was a bust until Scott backed the trailer right up to one of the houses we had not begun rehabbing yet. David ran over and asked everyone that could to come help unload because they wanted to make at least one more Run before it got too dark.

Scott came around corner of the truck when he saw me walk up and handed me a big box. I should have known something was up. He had too much of a straight face on for the situation. As soon as he handed me the box something moved in it and started scuttling around. Well, of course I shrieked like a snake had bit me.

Those asses. They were just about rolling around on the ground howling in laughter. I could have strangled every one of them. James must have been in on it too ‘cause he was laughing as hard as the rest of them. Before I could really lay into them I heard “peep, peep, scratch, peep.” You would not believe it. They found an old broody hen and the chicks she had just hatched.

Scott laughed and said, “You better be happy with those things. That damn chicken just about pecked the hell out of every one of us before we could get her and her chicks in that box.”

Humph. Everyone of them needed a good kick in the pants. But I suppose I’ll let ‘em off this once. I guess it was kind of funny … except my shriek drew a couple of zombies that then had to be sanitized. Not even that would stop those buffoons from snickering though. I swear … men!

I took my chicks and their momma over to the dog run. The holes in the fencing were too big and the chicks could pop through so I lined the sides of the cage and its gate with rabbit fencing and used wire to hold it in place. I took an igloo type dog house and put it in the dog run and some nesting material so Mrs. Broody could set her new home up to her convenience. Then I put in the stuff that Becky told me to use for chickens … little bit of the cracked corn, some grit, a little bit of fish meal. When the feed runs out from the Feed Depot we are going to have to free range the chickens. We’ll have to see how this turns out. For now all I care about is making sure that I don’t starve them to death. I’d love to let them roam around in the orange grove but that pretty much will guarantee some hawk depredation. I won’t risk that until I absolutely have to.

By the time I had finished making sure the birds were tricked out in their new digs, the big trailer had been unloaded, the truck’s fuel tanks refilled and they were ready to go again. Dixon’s patrol grabbed the transport that hadn’t seen much use lately and followed the F350 and trailer out the rear gate of Sanctuary. The only change that was made was that Waleski took McElroy’s place because he had been up nearly 28 hours without a rest. While McElroy was winding down and making sure the perimeter guards were still good to go, he told me what he had heard from Scott.

When they had first gotten to the house that Melody had described they didn’t think their chances were very good. The doors of the house were standing open and there were a couple of cars parked at the street. But then Scott noticed that there was moss and twigs on the top of the cars like they had been parked there for a while. They checked the cars and leaves had blown inside. Keeping an eye out they made their way to the house.

It didn’t take long for them to figure out what had happened. A small group must have found the stash and gotten so excited that they forgot to post a look out. It only takes one zombie to create a panic in an unprepared group. Matlock and Scott sanitized two zombies almost as soon as they entered the house using the axes they had decided to start carrying around. Cease put another one down in a back bedroom using his own version of a machete. David took down a fourth one in the backyard using a homemade mace. All of the other corpses were non-reanimated ones that were already in the late stages of decay or they were too destroyed (you can read that as eaten if you have the stomach) to have re-animated in the first place.

McElroy confirmed that the supplies were from the NRSC and may even have been from the original robbery of the Forum in downtown Tampa that triggered the final series of riots that resulted in the Quarantine Order. I haven’t had a chance to look at everything but McElroy said there is a lot more than MREs. There are a lot of super pails with whole grains and legumes and cases of #10 cans of freeze dried stuff. Matlock wants it all inventoried before we use anything however. I’m hoping this will allow me to keep some of our supplies in the hidden pantries for a just-in-case emergency.

Vandervort is about three miles from our house to the east. Scott said that very few of the houses over there look like they have been broken into which confirms what Melody said. It took two more runs with both the big trailer and the transport to get everything back to Sanctuary and they made it right before evening fell.

I had thought we would make plans to start gathering over in that area but that’s when I found out about the new people. Before I could get flustered and stick my foot in my mouth, Dixon and Matlock stated that tonight will be the last night that we all stay together in the same house. Tomorrow the group is going to divide up and start moving into the other houses whether they are fully ready or not. I’m thankful but it will take some getting used to, having our house back to ourselves. I think Melody will probably stay with us a while longer though. Rose whispered that she is still shy of most everyone and doesn’t want to go off and live with any of them or by herself. Scott says that’s fine, Belle can room with the girls and we are putting Johnnie and Bubby into a room of their own and they can just share with Trent. Rose agreed to share her room with Melody.

And get this, day after tomorrow the plans are to start enlarging Sanctuary and making The Wall higher. Some zombies had begun to trail our trucks after they left Vandervort the second time. To try and lose them they came back home the long way … Vandervort to Hanna Rd to US 41 and back up to the end of our street, coming in the front gate instead of the back. I had forgotten about that warehouse that was back in there at the corner of Hanna Rd and some little gated community. Well it turns out it has a lot of those steel storage containers lined up in the field behind it. Matlock said he counted fifteen in each row and there were ten or twelve rows. That will be more than sufficient for what we need, especially considering those things are the longer sixteen foot containers rather than the shorter eight foot ones which what makes up most of The Wall now. They are also the harder steel shelled commercial containers rather than steel frame with aluminum shells that are what most of the Pods in The Wall are.

We’ll still have to use cyclone fencing in some locations but hopefully not as many feet. We’ll also need to take down some fencing and maybe even some sheds so that we can run The Wall where we want it to go. I hate having to re do so much work but if we can enclose the entire orange grove and add some addition houses that would be really great. We’re definitely going to need more diesel to do it however. Matlock even had the answer for that. There was a tanker sitting at this warehouse as well. Apparently it was a shipping hub that we had known nothing about, I didn’t have much cause to drive that direction. I mean the old trucking station had sat vacant and derelict at the corner of US41 and Sinclair Hills for years. I hadn’t realized they were still in business but had simply moved the operation off of US41.

I hope that tanker is true-to-life and not an illusion. The tank behind the Feed Depot was nearly dry last time a Run was made that direction and the tank in the orange grove is less than three quarter full. We can’t continue moving around like this without fuel. Eventually we’ll have to really prioritize what the fuel is going to be used for.

Day 82

I’ve been too busy to write during the day and too tired at night. The last four days has certainly been … interesting.

We’ve run into two old acquaintances. One a potential friend and one a potential not-friend; I’m not sure if I’m prepared to call him an enemy or not, we’ll see. Actually I’m hesitant to confirm either one’s role without more information. Who knows, both of them could blow up in our faces or turn out to be the best thing since sliced bread.

We have not one new family, but three; two from the train and one couple from the Ehren Cutoff enclave. It’s been a lot to assimilate in a short amount of time. So much has happened that I’m not going to be able to get it all down tonight. About all I’m good for is a quick introduction of our new members.

First there is Jerry and Muriel. They are a long married couple in their 60s but they are still active and hearty. Three months ago they were “snowbirds” who lived in their RV year around and who were visiting one of their adult daughters in Zephyrhills. Since then they’ve lost most everything they had except for a few personal items and the clothes on their backs. In fact they've lost it three times. First time was when they had to run for their lives and were picked up by some folks that eventually formed Hale Hollow. The second time was when they chose to leave there and follow the Ehren Cutoff enclave after the Hale Hollow group encountered some personality conflicts in their leadership. This time they lost it when they left the Ehren Cutoff group, completely disillusioned by the new leader’s agenda. In Jerry’s words, “That group is getting downright weird, maybe worse. The new leader insists on being called ‘Brother Jeremiah’ and is forcing out anyone that doesn’t completely agree with the way he is running things.” Muriel has been a homemaker for years but Jerry used to work in the funeral business. The only thing of any significant value he was able to bring out with them from the Ehren Cutoff group was a sanitizing device developed to use prior to the embalming process.

Our next family includes Hank and Trish and their kids. Hank and Trish were engaged to be married before NRS. The economic troubles of the time caused him to be laid off when the grocery store he managed was closed. They put their wedding plans on hold hopping Hank would find a job in short order. Instead, NRS only made finding a new job more difficult. They had combined their two households trying to save money when there was a large outbreak of NRS in Fort Lauderdale where they lived. They worked together and were able to secure a place on one of the refugee trains that head for the FL/GA border but they had to sign a Writ of Commitment before they were allowed to board with the children. Even though the writ really doesn’t have much legal standing they now consider themselves married. Both Hank and Trish have children from their first marriages. Hank is still grieving for his estranged, college aged son who never escaped the third UCF massacre. His other son Brandon is introverted, immature, and bookish. He’s struggling to find his footing with the men. Brandon isn’t a bad kid, he’s just not very self-motivated which means he requires pretty constant supervision to get him to move from one constructive task to the next. Trish’s kids are 16 year old fraternal twins named Martin and Madison. The twins prefer to be called Marty and Maddie. Cute, right? Not.

I'm glad I don't have to deal with them on a too regular basis. Again, they are having a little trouble fitting in. They are both very extroverted and were very popular at their school. They’re used to being pretty high up the teen social ladder and are having an adjustment reaction to suddenly being expected to shoulder so much responsibility without any corresponding accolades. I give all the kids pats on the back on a regular basis but apparently that's not enough for the twins. They get really huffy when they think they are being under appreciated. Honestly, I had enough of the brat mentality with Ricky and I'm just about to tell them what happened to him. Maybe a little reminder of the realities of our situation will help ... though their parents might not appreciate it too much.

The last couple is Jack and Teri. They are in their early 30s and their special needs son died when several of his medications became unavailable during the supply line break downs. Terry is unable to have any more children and was thrilled with the number of children in our group. There are very few unclaimed children in the Hale Hollow enclave and no young children at all in the Ehren Cutoff group. (I think they might be good parents for Sis and Bubby and I’m talking it over with Scott before mentioning it to anyone else. Both of those kids need a lot more one-on-one attention than we can give them right now.) Teri worked at her son’s day care facility before he died and their world fell apart. Jack worked in construction during the housing boom; since then he’s worked a variety of jobs but had yet to find anything permanent.

Scott and David welcomed the addition of Jerry and Jack and think that with additional hands and experience they can halve the time they are spending on repair and maintenance and get everything hardened down for the cooler weather that should be heading out way soon. We don’t get as cold as north Florida and beyond does but even getting down into the 50s at night and still being damp is a good recipe for colds and worse.

We now have forty-one people in Sanctuary. We are very close to reaching our pre-chosen 50-person limit. As it is I'm going to have to drastically enlarge the garden for next month's plantings. Even with all of the stuff that was found in the Vandervort house and all the stuff we've been gathering over the past month or so, we are going to be hard pressed to keep up if our group grows any more.

I’m going to try and catch up more tomorrow as it is supposed to be a "day of rest"; hopefully my arm won’t be so sore either. Today is Saturday which means it is baking day. I really caught myself a good one when I banged into a hot Dutch Oven I had sat on the counter. It blistered up almost immediately and Rachel says that I’m going to have to watch for infection for the next few days. Thank goodness for burn cream, gauze, and ibuprofen. I just hope I can ignore the thumping enough so I can get some sleep.

Day 83

The cost of a non-electric grain mill pre-NRS - $60.00. The cost of a one-year supply of shelf stable survival food for one person pre-NRS - $2500.00. The cost of a “day of rest” post-NRS – priceless; whether that is a good thing or not I haven’t decided.

I only did basic chores today. Cooked, checked over my plants, took a very short turn on guard duty, that sort of thing; nothing major. I pretty much enjoyed it; or did until I found I had time to think. Scott … I think it gave us both too much time to think. He mentioned the rental properties for the first time in a long time. He worried over our finances, despite the bad news we've heard there is still a possibility that we'll still be held accountable for our lives as they once were. We worried about the possible legal ramifications of everything that we are doing and that has happened in the recent past. We’ve been in survival mode for so long that when we did have the opportunity to stop or slow down, all the thoughts we’ve held at bay up to that point came crashing in. What happens in the long run? Do we start from where we left off or are we back to square one or even less? What kind of future can we give our kids? The far future scares me as much as the short term future does … maybe even more than the zombies do.

I’ve tried really hard to manage my thoughts. Not to get too angry. Not to get too sad. Not to get over excited. Not to get too disappointed. It doesn’t always work. I’m not even sure at this point if it’s healthy. David, Rose, James, Sarah, Bekah, Bubby, Johnnie, Sis, Kitty … so many to be responsible for. Yeah, I know nearly half of the kids aren’t ours biologically. And yeah, I know David is an adult and Rose and James might as well be, but it doesn’t change the fact that in my mind and heart they are all now my children.

Scott and I talked. We don’t know what to do about Sis and Bubby. On the surface it would be selfish to deny them the opportunity of finding a home with Jack and Trish. But I’ve been watching over them since we first came together as a group. They call me Momma Sissy like nearly all the kids in Sanctuary do. Heck, even Cease calls me that. Sometimes they forget and just call me Momma like my biological children. Scott is Poppa Scott. Oh Lord, how could I ever just give them to someone else?! I know I have to do what is best for them; I just don’t know if I want to know what that is because once I do, I have to make decisions.

There have been so many thoughts chasing me around today. Scott too I think. He’s been angry and distant, like the weight of the world is on his shoulders and he’s plenty upset about it. It’s made me feel even more cut off and alone not being able to get close to him. I want so badly to get some comfort from him but that isn’t happening right now. I don’t know if he has any to offer anyway. I'd like to comfort him, but I don't know how to do that either.

I know I need to be stronger but what happens when you realize strength may not be enough? I’m not even getting a dial tone on my cell any longer. It made Scott angry today – angrier – when he saw me cranking it again. He wanted to know if I didn’t feel enough grief without continuing to expect a miracle. Just admitting that it would be a miracle for my parents to still be OK is almost more than I can bear.

I feel so stuck in this twilight zone of grief and misery. I know there are things to be grateful for and appreciate; certainly the children fall in that category. But thoughts of the children lead me back to thoughts of the future; our future. Do we even have a future? If so, how do we measure it? In hours, days, years? What is the likelihood that we’ll see our children grow up? Not just grow up, but grow up and into a better life than we have right now?

Thank God for this journal and my memory book because I can’t talk to anyone else about my feelings. No one else seems to be suffering the same way or at least they aren't showing it. And if they are their wounds make mine seem petty. Josephine has lost every member of her family before her very eyes … and in ways more gruesome than I can write. Jack and Teri lost their precious boy through no fault of their own to something that never should have happened after doing everything and more that they could. Everyone has lost someone. Why do they seem to be handling things better? To be honest, today the only one in Sanctuary that I seem to be able to identify with is Patricia. Is that dysfunctional or what?!

I guess I need to write down some of the details from the last few days as I promised but I just feel so scattered. It’s been a while since I really had time to sit down and think as opposed to always planning and reacting when those plans blow up in my face in some way. I thought the extra time would be wonderful but it hasn’t felt good at all. But … I guess it has to be done. I can’t keep putting off dealing with stuff or one of these days those feelings are gonna blow up in my face. Or I’ll have a heart attack or stroke which would leave my family with the task of sanitizing me. I’d rather go out in the grove and take care of myself if it ever came to that, coward's way out or not. I dread asking my family to take on that responsibility on top of everything else.

I guess to try and get myself back on track I’ll share a few concrete details we’ve learned. We now know for sure that there are six survivors’ enclaves of some size in our general area. Luckily we are far enough apart that we haven't overlapped our territories yet. When that happens, and it inevitably will, I'm not sure what the result will be.

First is Hale Hollow. Their compound is off of Hale Road and named for the subdivision that it started in. They number close to 200 people, mostly adults. They started as a loose affiliation of families in an upscale, gated community and have an elected leader named is Nick Garcia. Each family group and individual in Hale Hollow is expected to donate time in the community’s gardens, go on gathering runs, and help with security. That’s the basics. Individual families though are also expected to provide themselves with extras and strive for a better position within the community. That last part has already caused problems and a schism … with another on the way from the sound of things. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s caused some contretemps when it became too competitive.

The Ehren Cutoff Enclave doesn’t have a name really … can’t decide on one. It’s primarily made up of the group that broke away from Hale Hollow. Their group’s number fluctuates between 30 and 70 people. They have suffered two serious zombie attacks and lost their original leader before finally taking up residence in a church. They operate commune style but with a strict, authoritarian leadership which sounds like a really odd combination to me. The new leader … Brother Jeremiah? That’s none other than former Inspector Jeremiah Lawrence. Matlock got a good look at him and he is physically much changed. He is gaunt and pale and all of his hair has turned gray; he is also growing a beard which is a sharp contrast to his previous neat-as-a-pin persona. His eyes are piercing and he has an odd charisma that his group members seem to dote on. Cease, who stayed out of “Bro. Jeremiah’s” direct line of sight, said the man still gave him the willies. Jerry was not as circumspect and said he was flat out crazy and claimed to have had some kind of religious conversion in an internment camp; problem was it didn’t sound like any religion Jerry had ever heard of. “Muriel and I just aren’t cult material, not even for safety’s sake. ‘Sides,” he continued. “He seems to like his followers young and dumb or traumatized and grateful and as bad as things are we don’t fit the profile.”

The third group we know of, but haven’t had too many direct dealings with yet is the Driscolls. McElroy and David had taken a jeep and headed south on Florida Avenue to scout out some likely targets for the next Gathering Run when they spotted a van with a flat tire and three men trying to change it. The other guys seemed to be a lot quicker about pulling the trigger until David recognized Mr. Driscoll Sr.’s grandson and called him by name. Amazingly enough their group hasn’t lost anyone but that’s because they stay locked up tight 99% of the time. Rioting was bad and they took some damage from that early on but nothing debilitating. They’ve also made it through two significant sieges, both of which were broken when zombie hordes decimated the attempting invaders. When asked why there were so far away from their compound David was told, after a brief hesitation, that the group’s food wasn’t lasting as long as they had expected. They are going to try and create a roof top garden system but that takes supplies they didn’t stock.

The fourth group is the MacDill enclave. They gave very little information out about their strength and numbers when Dixon finally decided to make contact. They refused to say much at all until a “Colonel Martin” came on the radio. Cease immediately recognized one of his former commander’s voice and the codes that he was using as the Major Martin who had saved him from being taken away after the zombie attack. MacDill is a very tight lipped group but they were willing to share some important and shocking news.

China, as well as the rest of Asia, has fallen completely. The sheer numbers of zombies in that area overwhelmed all of the infrastructure and everyone’s armies. The last satellite images from that part of the world showed no electric lights – none – though it did show several huge fires burning in Beijing, New Dehli, Kabul, Islamabad, Bangkok, and Moscow. Very few radio broadcasts are heard from there either. One from Hong Kong claims to be a group of college students. Another one claiming to be headquartered in Taiwan claims to be the Chinese Communist Party. There is another in St. Petersburg that was broadcasting fairly regularly until recently. Japan is completely silent since a large earthquake rocked Tokyo.

The UK, nearly overrun, now appears to be holding their own; but the whereabouts of the royal family and many major players in their government is unknown. The UK’s problem will be rebuilding infrastructure not dependent upon imports. They are also running into problems of providing their people with enough food until their next major growing season. This won’t be easy because of their need to severely ration their diesel supply.

Here in the USA quarantining by state line failed. Zombies do not recognize arbitrary political lines. However, physical boundaries do slow them down. After Florida fell shortages, rioting, and assorted other forms of civil unrest disrupted government efforts to control NRS. Sectors have now been set up that allow military and civilian forces to mitigate zombie incursions by using natural barriers such as rivers, mountain ranges, etc. It’s not a fool-proof system but it is working slightly better than what they had before.

The US government still governs but from an undisclosed location where they try and coordinate major movements of military personnel and equipment. They also track survivor groups. The key is they track; they cannot offer any tangible aid. There have also been some large corporate locations that have been claimed and militarized in the name of various groups. One big example of this is Greenpeace has taken over several large buildings in Vancouver, Canada but that regularly makes incursions into Washing State. Another example is the Googleplex in Mountain View, California that has been taken over by former employees and their families. Communications with such groups is not always easy as their leadership changes frequently. MacDill has also heard rumors that the UN complex has been taken over but there has been no official confirmation of this.

Locally, enclaves five and six are small; one operating in Plant City and the other in Lakeland. There are other groups out there but these are the six that appear to be the most organized at this time and use broadcast radio with enough oomph that we can hear them.

I’m shaky and I need to get to bed. Suffice it to say that I may have gotten some physical rest today but I’m suffering my fair share of mental exhaustion now that I’ve taken the time to slow down enough to think. Don’t know if I want to do that again real soon. Tomorrow its back to the mind numbing bliss of physical labor. Thank goodness.

Day 86

Today was Water Day. You wouldn’t think that would be a lot of work but for a group our size it is.

We’ve been going around to the various houses in the neighborhood with pools or spas and gathering water from them. We’ve also gotten all of the trash cans that are water-tight and put them under gutter spouts in and outside Sanctuary; after cleaning and sterilizing them of course.

Every Wednesday, or after a rain, we go around with a wagon attached to our golf cart. In the wagon is a 50-gallon barrel that is securely tied down in case we have to make a fast getaway or sharp turn. Don’t laugh future reader, a cart still manages to out run most zombies assuming the cart isn’t overloaded.

The barrels and containers that we’ve set out have their openings covered with screen. We get the screen from window screens or we’ve cut porch or lanai screens to use. Pool screens we’ve left alone to help keep debris and bugs out of the pools we are drawing from. We screen the water a second time when we collect it into the barrel on the wagon.

We screen the water a third time when it is emptied from the collecting barrel into the settling barrels. Then we add a little bit powdered alum – yep, the same stuff you use for pickling and we’ve grabbed all we could find in the area – to the cloudy water. That settles all of the smallest particles to the bottom of the container into a kind of sludge. We siphon from the top and then I use the bottom that is all sludge-y on the garden or something.

After the water has clarified we siphon it off from the top and then add bleach to it to make it “potable.” Once the water sits for a bit to allow the bleach to do its job the water can go one of two places. We either put the water into the barrel reserved for showers, washing dishes, etc. or we run it through yet another filter to make it fit for drinking water. I have to tell you, by the time we get finished processing the water, it is probably safer to drink than what used to come out the municipal system. When we run out of powdered alum, and we inevitably will, we’ll try and build a sand filter from some designs I printed off the computer what feels like a million years ago. That’s some work though and will have to wait for another day.

We got extremely, extremely lucky and found a bunch of camping and back country filters at the Boy Scout Store that is off of Fletcher Avenue. The front area had been trashed by looters but none of the back areas where the Council officers and storage rooms were got touched as they were behind heavy duty security doors. That’s not the only things we picked up form there but it’s about the only thing pertinent to this discussion. Dante’ hasn’t gotten around to logging in all of the equipment and merit badge books we brought back, though I’ve already put one copy of each book in the Sanctuary library (one of the “old” houses in our compound area).

Another place we got lucky was the Harbor Freight Store. They had almost a dozen solar panels and a lot of inverters and stuff. That’s definitely helped to keep batteries charged for the golf cart, radio shack, tools, etc.

Something I’m NOT happy about is that they keep delaying figuring out how to get our well hooked up to solar. Patricia informed me it was because it would be “unfair” to do it for our family until they could figure out a way to do it for everyone. It’s not like I don’t get the concept but if that is really the reasoning I think someone is being an ass. Scott and I have willingly shared our home and everything else. Why would they think a well would be any different? If I think on it too much its sorta hurts my feelings. Besides, our house is still the most fortified and is the ultimate fallback position for everyone in Sanctuary. I’m just missing the logic in that "unfair" argument.

All the other work in Sanctuary is going apace as well. The new wall is nearly finished. There weren’t quite enough steel storage containers at that warehouse as we needed. We found a few more behind Big Lots and a couple behind the burned out Walmart on Dale Mabry. Scott estimates we need about five more to make a complete circuit of the new area. After that they’ll tear apart the old Wall and stack the Pod storage container on top of the new Wall to make it sixteen feet high in the most vulnerable areas and hook everything in to the few section where we still have no choice but to use fencing. We’ve been able to really cut our need for fencing.

The one vulnerable spot that remains is the Lowland Terrain. We replaced some of the fencing with steel storage boxes, but there is still one section of ground that isn’t stable enough. There we left the fence but added sand bags to create a different kind of wall. There isn’t much choice but Scott and I have warned of potential drainage problems as a result. The Lowland Terrain catches the rain runoff from the neighborhood and funnels a lot of it into the canal system. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it; right now zombies are a bigger, more immediate concern. Violent gangs aren't too far behind that.

The talk of zombies and water reminds me of how we lost one of the pools we were drawing from. Even though the pools are screened in … at least the best ones are … without circulation they are still growing algae. We’ve mitigated some of that by using algaecides and by keeping floating chlorinators full of tabs in each location. What would help is if we could actually circulate the water as well to evenly distribute the chemicals.

The run to Harbor Freight provided a potential solution to this. There were these solar-powered, floating water fountains; the kind you normally see in lakes and ponds. They are 24 inch disks and pretty low maintenance so long as the water doesn’t have too much debris in it. We experimented with this by putting them in the three pools inside our compound and in a pool outside the compound that we were having a hard time keeping clear.

What we seemed to have totally missed was the SOUND issue. The sound of the fountain in an otherwise quiet area drew zombies. Boy did it draw zombies. They walked right through the patio screens and into the pool. Oh my good brown gravy. Think of decaying and bloated bodies in a pool after a few days. A lot of bloated and decaying bodies. Still makes me gag thinking about it.

I don’t know how many zombies eventually fell in before the fountain finally capsized and shut off. The smell and appearance was so bad none of us could go near it without puking. We finally dug out Scott’s two heavy-duty painters’ masks. They always put me in mind of the gas masks of WWI or those asbestos masks you see on rehabbers some times. They really filter odors though and he even used them once when he had to deal with a badly mouse infested attic space.

After trying to do our best it was decided that there wasn’t anything that could be salvaged. They poured some of our precious fuel on top of everything and then tossed in a match. It was a dangerous solution but we had no other way of dealing with such a toxic mess. Luckily it was a smallish pool and the house didn’t catch fire. We had to chase down some melting screen that floated away but it was quickly done and fire extinguishers took care of everything else. The fire drew a few NRS zombies but far fewer than we had been prepared to deal with. The train wreck and subsequent wildfire has decimated the zombie population, at least temporarily.

We’re only a week away from the end of October but we’ve decided to put off any Autumn festivities until closer to the end of November. We just have too much to do for now.

Scott and I still aren’t talking much. I mean we talk, just not about personal stuff. We don't fell "close." I don’t know what it is. We didn’t have an argument or anything per se. Maybe it’s just my imagination. Maybe he’s still upset that I checked the phone one last time. Maybe it’s something else. I guess I’ll give it a little more time before poking it and seeing what’s up. I just can’t build up any enthusiasm for an argument even if there is some good making up afterwards.

I’m glad we decided against being so quick to offer Sis and Bubby up. Teri isn’t doing well. There was a huge blow up yesterday. She’s having withdrawals. She was on pain medication for a shoulder injury a couple of years pre-NRS and got addicted to the meds. She played Rachel and Waleski until they did an inventory and compared notes. Her husband was furious and embarrassed. He explained that she was heading for rehab before NRS got bad. We aren’t sure what to do now. Hopefully she can kick the habit for good this time.

And in other not good relationship news, it’s getting really obvious that Dixon and Patricia are having problems as well. I’ve seen Rachel and Dixon “talking” a few times but didn’t pay much attention to it. This time they were doing something a little more intimate than talking. They didn’t notice me until I cleared my throat. We all just kind of looked at each other. At least now I know why Rachel wasn’t interested in any of the single men.

I explained that I didn’t consider it any of my business so long as it doesn’t cause a problem for the rest of us but on the flip side I wasn’t going to aid and abet them either. They relaxed a little but then I knew it was then or never. I mentioned the “symptoms” that Samuel had enumerated to me. Dixon, maybe because he was a guy or because he just didn’t want to see it, totally missed the point. He again said she was under a lot of stress and that he and Rachel were hold off in his words “exploring their attraction further” until Patricia had stabilized more.

Rachel on the other hand, for whatever reason, got it the first time. She whispered, “Oh my God, she’s pregnant.”

Dixon said, “Can’t be. We haven’t slept together in months and she’d be showing by now.”

I just looked at Rachel. Despite being horrified by the situation she gave me a look back that said she wasn’t in love with him because he was a brain surgeon. Then she led Dixon away to explain that if Patricia was pregnant it was a result of the rape.

Talk about a love triangle that has disaster spray painted across it in neon orange. I can’t imagine something that could be much more like a soap opera. And what Patricia’s reaction is going to be if she really is pregnant remains to be seen.

Day 89

My how quickly things change. We’ve had a bit of problem with zombies the last couple of days. I don’t know where they are coming from. I had thought the Big Fire had really thinned out the herd so to speak. I’m beginning to wonder if they “hear” or sense the radio waves. Though I'm not sure that's the answer either because they don't sense the bats’ radar; it doesn’t seem to affect them. Or maybe we’re too complacent about the noise we make inside Sanctuary.

McElroy is trying to build a remote control device that could be used as a diversion, as a way of drawing zombies into a trap where they could be appropriately disposed of. It would have to be extremely simple, zombies to lose their muscle tone very quickly due to decay. They don’t seem to have a sense of smell or touch either and probably no taste. The surfaces like skin, tongue, and sinus cavity are the first to decay. Also, the lack of touch is connected to the lack of pain. Eyesight also begins to go. Hearing however gets refined for some reason unless there was a physical deficit to begin with. We’ve actually seen deaf zombies and they are some of the easiest to avoid, though there isn’t anything such as non-dangerous zombie.

We’ve designed several potential zombie traps but none of them have made it off paper yet. One is to take a steel storage container, put something inside that makes noise (the lure), and then when we have captured as many zombies as possible, close the box and drop in a concussion or incendiary device. Another is like a pit trap. They fall in but can’t get out … like what happened with the swimming pool. Any traps more complicated than that and we begin to run into zombies’ lack of dexterity, clumsiness, etc.

We aren’t the only ones wondering where all the new zombies are coming from. They are all over according to chatter on the radio. MacDill gave us a possible reason for some of them. Several “death barges” ran ashore along the east coast of Florida. Apparently in a practice that sought to make the zombies someone else’s problem, some countries loaded both sanitized and non-sanitized corpses onto barges, towed them out into the shipping lanes, and then cut them loose.

I remember the theory was that eventually the ships would sink or they would find a cure for NRS and then be able to “rescue” those on the barges. Idiots. These barges are beginning to wash ashore around the world. Super idiots. We have enough home grown NRS zombies, we don’t need to deal with imports! That can’t account for all of the zombies but that’s all we’ve got for now.

We’ve had to pull back into Sanctuary and our expansion plans are being hampered. We only need three more shipping containers to finish the first level of the wall but three might as well be three hundred at this point. Zombies are being caught between the outer and inner walls, making them easy to sanitize but leaving a mess that has to be cleaned up. That first septic tank is full and we are now working on the third.

Today has been Baking Day and boy have I been baking. I baked several loaves of bread in the solar ovens we’ve cobbled together. I baked cookies in a reflector oven set ner the fire I was using to heat wash water. I started a new batch of Herman Starter and Friendship Starter. I also fried some doughnuts, made some pretzels and crackers, and baked some pies. Believe it or not on top of all of that I usually make biscuits, hushpuppies, and cornbread at least once a week as well. Keep the troops fed is no small task. Storing that bread hasn’t been easy either. Scott, David, and James made me a really large pie keep and it now sits where my refrigerator used to sit in the kitchen.

Forty-One people. Forty-One. Nearly three and a half dozen. Muriel and Trish are real workers and I’m grateful for the additional help in the garden and with the other chores. I know the men are glad to have Jerry, Hank, and Jack. Hank and Dante’ have developed a good working relationship. Dante’ handles all of the non-food supplies and Hank, the former grocery store manager, now handles the food supplies. Our food stores are much better organized and it’s much easier to create menus and figure out how far the stores will last.

Brandon, Hank’s son, finally found his niche and without anyone’s help. He is as close to a librarian as we are likely to get any time soon. The kid actually has a fantastic memory. And when he isn’t arranging and cataloging the books and materials we already have he’s on gathering runs helping to locate usable bookcases, filing cabinets, and additional useful books and materials. One day Scott and I were worried about him modeling poor behavior for the other kids and the next day he turned into the energizer bunny and he has to be reminded to take breaks and to eat. You just never know.

This is in sharp contrast to his step-siblings Marty and Maddie. If I’ve ever met bigger whiners I don’t recall. Even Ricky’s voice wasn’t as bad. Trish has started losing patience with them, but it was at dinner last night they finally got on Scott’s last nerve. He asked them if they wanted to leave Sanctuary. At first there was this hugely quiet lull in conversation then the twins said they did in a real snotty voice. He then asked them where they wanted to go and how they expected to get there.

It started out with the twins thinking they knew everything and had all the answers. As Scott started shooting holes in all of their plans and point out the fallacies in their answers he kept asking them new questions. Other people joined in; Matlock, Junie, McElroy, and others. Hank and Trish wouldn’t let the kids draw them in and refused to let them run from their losing argument. The twins at first enjoyed finding themselves the center of attention. By end of the meal they couldn’t escape fast enough. They haven’t been quite so ready with their all-knowing answers today and Matlock has had them on guard-duty as well. Nothing like zombies to slap you in the face with reality.

Teri is in the midst of withdrawal. Between her and Patricia we are in need of some heavy duty mental health assistance. For twenty-four hours Patricia did nothing but scream and/or cry. Seriously. Dixon had to physically restrain her a number of times and she couldn’t be left alone for a second. Waleski and Rachel put her on suicide watch. Temporarily Samuel has moved in with use while Patricia is being held in the hospital. Poor kid is scared to death and Scott and I had the uncomfortable task of making sure he understood and uh … mechanics … of everything. He may be 14 years old but he was still not clear on some things. Of course the situation has meant giving all the kids old enough to ask questions a bit of a sex ed lesson. There goes a little more innocence from their lives … and ours.

I really hope that Dixon and Rachel exhibit a lot of self-restraint. I know that technically Dix and Patricia were not legally wed but they’ve been operating as a couple since we began Sanctuary. And in Patricia’s current state of mind I can see some horrible things happening. Even though I may not understand it at all, to me it falls under the thing of “dancing with the one who brung you.” I know people and relationships can change but ending a relationship, partnership, contract, marriage or however you want to categorize a commitment should be mutual and respectful. I guess I’m a prude but Rachel and Dixon’s actions have really upset me. I haven’t even told Scott.

Strangely the only one Patricia doesn’t behave savagely with is me. I haven’t the foggiest idea why. But at least she lets me feed her and bathe her. I even did her hair and she didn't give me a hard time. I can’t be with her 24/7 because of all my work and having Kitty around makes her upset. That leaves Rachel. I'm very grateful that at least Rachel behaves in a professional manner despite what must be her own inner turmoil. Patricia definitely needs more care than any one single person can give her.

So far I don’t think Patricia … anyone … suspects anything other than a professional relationship between Dixon and Rachel. I hope it stays that way. It makes me uncomfortable being a secret-keeper for something like this but for now I think it best to keep my mouth shut.

Day 91

Long day. Looooonnnnngggg day. Laundry days always are but this one has felt particularly long.

Teri has had some kind of seizure, possibly in response to her withdrawals. She remains in our hospital though at this point what anyone can do is unknown. She’s conscious but not responsive in a normal way. Jack is depressingly resigned. He suspected Teri’s addictions would eventually get the better of her. He may have suspected it but is anyone ever really prepared to face the reality of that kind of thing happening? I can't imagine being in that position with someone I love. I’ll admit to being relieved that their adoption of Sis and Bubby is now out of the question; but I’m not gloating. Teri and Jack are in a horrible place right now and I feel really sorry for both of them; doesn't mean I agree with the choices Teri has made, but I do sympathize.

Patricia is a little better thank goodness. I continue to be able to get her to eat and she at least seems ready to accept the pregnancy as fact if not the baby itself as “alive” and real. She is about nine weeks pregnant according to the calculations; that’s the very beginning of the third month or the last third of the first trimester depending on how you want to look at it. Rachel, who did a rotation in OB/gyn during her medical training, has definitely confirmed the diagnosis. We have a few months to come up with Rachel’s list of “must have” equipment for the birthing room. If the baby comes any earlier than that there is simply no chance for its survival. My understanding is Patricia had a rough pregnancy with Samuel and nearly lost him several times and that he as about six weeks premature; her failure to be at all attached to this pregnancy may be partially explained by fear that she will lose it. We’ll have to watch her closely for both physical and mental reasons. Talk about irony though; this situation will test the love triangle members. Rachel has to be a medical professional as well as “the other woman.” Dixon has to do what’s best for Sanctuary before personal desires and really grow as a leader. Patricia … she has a whole slew of issues she is going to have to deal with.

But all of that personal stuff aside, our day-to-day routine must still be maintained.

We added another couple hundred feet of clothes line today. We needed it. Adding three families who need to be outfitted with new wardrobes means extra laundry for a couple of Wash Days. And now we are gathering all of the baby clothes we can find. Kitty is growing out of all of the newborn stuff and is into the next size up. It’s supposed to be the 3 to 6 months sizes but little girl is finally beginning to fill out and there are several 6 to 9 months outfits that fit her. I’ve put aside the stuff she has outgrown just in case Patricia needs it for her baby. We also have gathered up a couple of high chairs, cradles, baby beds, play pens, etc. and put them in storage. Nine will get you ten that Patricia's pregnancy isn't the last ... maybe not in the short run, but surely long term there will be more babies come along.

As for storage, as we pull the original Wall apart and reconfigure Sanctuary, we are finally getting a chance to go through them. Dante’ and Hank are assigning the large steel storage containers specific contents. For instance, the majority of the “new” storage containers have openings on their side and not just at their rear. We position the container so that the door faces into Sanctuary. In one container we are putting men’s clothing size small, another is size medium, and another container holds large. We plan another container for XL and above sizes but we don’t have enough to justify a whole container yet. Women’s clothing is a little more complicated but we have a system worked out so that it’s easier to find something when needed. We have three containers for shoes; children’s, women’s, and men’s. Then we have an entire container for undergarments organized in plastic bins and another steel storage containers for accessories like belts, suspenders, hats, scarves, gloves, and so on and so forth.

Then we have the containers that divide up the non-food storage items: office supplies, small furniture, personal hygiene, cleaners and detergents, pool chemicals, gardening tools, assorted camping gear, soil amendments and fertilizers and bug sprays, dishes and other utensils, and just about everything else under the sun.

Our food supplies we are currently trying to keep in the two “storage houses” because there is better light to see and organize by, though Scott and David did finally manage to figure out a way to install steel shutters across the windows and a way to reinforce all of the doors, all of which are kept closed at night and when the storage houses aren't in use.

Yesterday was our family’s scheduled Day of Rest. We decided to spend it with the kids and it was good. Scott taught Johnnie and Bubby how to ride a two-wheeler. He found this really small bike that even their little four-year-old legs could operate. Sis was happy to have all of Bekah and Sarah’s attention to herself and they made clothes for her Barbie out of scraps of yarn, thread, and clothes that weren’t really salvageable for storage. James, David, and Rose did their things and just kind of hung out and talked when they weren't working on their own small personal projects.

Scott and I are doing a little better. I’m glad I didn’t make a huge issue of it. Life is just weighing us down. We may have been walking through one of the valleys that every marriage goes though on occasion. We’re still stressed out but at least the distance between us is decreasing. Who would have thought it would take zombies to help me get a better understanding of the wisdom of practicing patience?

The zombies have fallen again in numbers. I don't understand the reasons. I guess they just keep walking until they run into something that catches their attention. It’s strange and illogical. I just don't get it. I wonder if we'll ever understand what makes them tick.

The weather is about to give us our first cold snap I think. It’s too early for a frost of any kind but it’s definitely going to be cool in the morning; maybe even down into the low 50s or high 40s. I didn’t notice at first because the laundry fires kept me hot. Then I just thought I was chilled from getting damp from the hanging the wet clothes to dry. But, when Rose brought me a flannel shirt to wear and a blanket for Kitty in her backpack, I realized everyone was feeling the change in the weather.

The wind picked up as the day went along. That was great for the laundry, which dried quickly, but it meant the food I put into the solar cookers took longer to get done. Dinner was later than usual and I had to deal with a few people who didn’t understand why. That’s a polite way of saying that I had to deal with some unreasonable complaining which I did my best not to snap back that they were welcome to cook the next few meals if they thought they could do it better. Luckily dinner’s main ingredient was the beans I had going in my covered cooking pit. For lunch I fixed corn dodgers in the reflector oven next to the fire we used to boil water and we also had tuna salad stuffed tomatoes. It was a good lunch but I ate too fast and got indigestion that’s still hanging around keeping me awake. I need to requisition some Rolaids tomorrow from Waleski. I knew I should have kept that big bottle I found, but we are supposed to funnel everything through Dante’ so that it gets inventoried. Maybe the way they do it up at Hale Hollow isn’t all-bad after all.

We are going to move the goats as soon as their new pen is built. We are putting them in the empty lot next to the Victorian where Dixon now lives. Samuel and Sarah love taking care of the goats. Those two are also responsible for the chickens, the dogs, and the cats. And … the sow and her piglets.

Yep. We traded some tractor parts from our end of town with the Hale Hollow enclave. In return we got this big fat hog. We had no idea that she was pregnant … betcha they didn’t either or they wouldn’t have chosen to trade her. They even said that it was a boar rather than a sow. What the heck? I didn’t think to really look at its nether parts because it was so late in the day. When Matlock brought it into the compound everyone was in – excuse the pun – hog heaven. The next day Sarah comes crying to me that she thought “Henry Hog” was sick. I ran over there to find Cease trying really, really hard not to laugh. It seems that Henry was a Henrietta and she was in the process of having a litter. When she finished, we had a healthy and much more comfortable sow and ten little piglets. Cease said that the male piglets need to be castrated in about two or three weeks and he will teach the kids all his grandparents taught him about raising pigs. We are hoping to trade for a boar in a few weeks and the kids have volunteered to build the adjoining hog pens near the goats.

We need to make one last run to the Feed Depot but this time we are going to have to take trash cans as the only thing left is the bulk feed. I foresee a rodent problem. We already are seeing more and more varmints in the vacant houses around us. But our cat … we named her Lucky … has been sharing her hunts we us. I swear, who would have thought a cat’s generosity could be so embarrassing? She leaves me several little gifts a day. Ick. We haven’t had to feed her or the kittens since their arrival. She just comes around for the attention and a daily brushing. The kittens are even more tame, but I’m still careful of Cat Scratch Fever. Given how far Lucky roams we are going to have one of two problems shortly. Either she is going to get killed or she is going to wind up pregnant again. The felines may yet inherit the earth at the rate they procreate and they’ll have no shortage of food if the rodent population continues to boom like it has.

James has begun teaching the younger kids how to use slingshots to help with pest control. Unlike guns, ammunition for this weapon is as close as someone’s graveled walkway. Neither Samuel nor Sarah wanted to use the slingshots at first; they wanted to “catch and release” pesky animals. That was until James explained to them the diseases rats and mice could cause and that the food the rodents ate would be all that much less they would have for the farm animals. Now those two are nearly as good as James. Bo, Tom, Bekah, and Brandon aren’t far behind. Brandon saw a mouse in the library and went berserk. He went on a gathering run and has set traps and poison all over the place. He has also removed all the carpeting from that house and got it as “rodent proof” as he can for now; expanding foam insulation and steel wool in all of the potential nooks and crannies that the mice can enter though, caulking everywhere else to prevent ants and other bugs from entering.

That Brandon is a hoot. His Dad wasn’t sure how long his interest in the library would last but what he has accomplished thus far has blown me away. He’s talking about eventually replacing the bookcases with floor to ceiling shelving that he will build himself as soon as he can gather enough material. He’s got each room labeled for a different subject. The smallest bedroom he has turned into an apartment and I guess he figures to eventually receive permission to live there permanently. He has turned another room into an audio-visual room; he’s collecting CDs and DVDs and hopes to eventually figure out a solar hook up that will operate a TV and Stereo system. He has to sound-proof that room first though and all of the solar panels are currently in use.

Speaking of chores, our least liked chore here in Sanctuary – aside from zombie remains clean up – is the humanure system. Last time the guys went out looking for steel storage containers they brought back several port-o-potties instead. Each house now has its own. On Fridays during Cleaning Day they get emptied (or as necessary) and taken to the manure piles on the far side of the orange grove. The animal pens get taken care of on the same day and there is a separate pile for that.

We had one time that the dogs wanted to roll around in all the muck … you can imagine how badly they smelled afterwards … so we’ve had to fence that area off.

The humanure piles don’t smell any worse than any other compost piles I’ve been around but that isn't saying a whole lot. First you build a three sided bin. Then you scrap out a concave center so that any liquids are collected in the middle rather than run out. Then you put in an “organic sponge” layer of straw, hay, dried grass, or whatever you can collect. This first layer needs to be kinda thick. Next you put on a layer of green stuff. I use green weeds that I’ve pulled out of the garden for this. Then you can put about three five-gallon buckets worth of human manure that’s been mixed with sawdust to absorb the odor and liquids. Next you’ll add a cover of more dried straw, hay, or whatever. As you go up, you add slats on the fourth side of the pen. You keep building this up for about a year. Then you have to let it rest and work for another year and then the pile will be finished compost and ready for working into the garden.

I know that is a long time, about a year longer than non-human manure piles and other types of compost, but that’s just the way things work. We have a humanure pile started for each occupied dwelling and whoever is living in the dwelling is responsible for that particular pile. So far so good; everyone is doing their share though some will grumble and complain when it is their turn to do the tending.

Tomorrow is the last day of October and the beginning of the fourth month of my journal. I went back and read a couple of the early entries but then had to stop. One day I’ll be able to read this book with equanimity, but not right now when the beginning is still too fresh and painful.

1 comment:

  1. You're stories are wonderful and I hope I might be as good as you someday.

    ReplyDelete