Wednesday, November 23, 2011

September: It Continues

September: It Continues
Days 32 – 59


Day 32

We had quite a wake up call this morning!

It was still dark out and I was beat. I stayed up late journaling and then was awake part of the night while Scott and James took their turns on watch. Seems that was one thing they forgot to tell me about. They guys decided that we needed to continue the “watch” system. It wasn’t too bad actually because the soldiers participated in the shifts as well.

It felt like I had just gotten back to sleep when I heard, “Psst, Scott … hey Scott.”

Scott just mumbled and rolled over so I asked, “David? What do you need son? Is there a problem”

“Sgt. Matt said to get ready ‘cause they’re about to …”

BOOM!!!!

Windows rattled. The accordion shutters on the windows rattled. I swear, even my teeth rattled. “Son of a … what was that?!” Scott roared, grabbing his pants and throwing them on while I tried to calm the kids down, especially Johnnie who was screaming.

“The Demolition Team sir,” David answered apologetically.

“Lord its not even five yet. Are they out of their minds?! People are jumpy enough as it is, this will make them think the world is coming to an end.”

It seems that because so many buildings were now scheduled for demolition that the D Teams, as they were called, were working around the clock just to try and keep up.

An enormous amount of banging and grinding continued through much of the remainder of the day. The soldiers went around first thing in the morning calming people's fears but also asking them to remain indoors as much as possible because they expected the noise to draw the few zombies that had escaped the searches of the last two days.

The noise drew more than a few. What they got was many times the number that was expected.

One of the eeriest sights I’ve seen today was when I was out back hanging out some clothes and tending to my plants, which thankfully hadn’t been hurt by my temporary neglect. I noticed there was a noise like something running into the west side of the fence. Not hard. In fact I really didn’t pay that much attention to it at first. Then there was the swooshing sound like something brushing against the fence and then leaving. I thought maybe a bird had been after a bug on the metal fence or had been attracted to the reflection of the fence. Then it happened again. The bump, bump, bump, swoosh, then a sound like someone was slowly running a stick down the fence to the north west corner of the property line. The noise would stop once the end of the fence was reached. When it happened a third time I really took notice.

I wasn’t a fool. I’d seen all the spook shows where the girl goes to investigate a noise only to wind up dead. The last thing I wanted to do was find out what this noise was ‘cause I knew whatever it was, it wasn’t something I wanted to tangle with. But, I’m also a mother with children to be responsible for protecting. All the men but Cease were off working, trying to put things back together from the riot and keeping the D Team from making even more of a mess than they already seemed to be making.

James had been up on the roof earlier removing some rocks and sticks and cans that had been thrown up there. He hadn't ptu the ladder away yet and it was still propped against the side of the house.

There was another bump and then that swooshing sliding noise and then another. I couldn’t stand it any more.

Even when all we had was the six food wooden fence I was too short to see over. Scott had designed the new metal fence to be even taller. Standing on my tiptoes I couldn’t quite rich the top of it. That was one of the reasons why he put those keyholes into the fence … so I could have a way of looking out without having to go all the way around. But I’ll be honest; I was too chicken to get close to the fence, much less look out one of those holes.

So I went to the ladder instead. I climbed the ladder slowly, one rung at a time. My heart was in my throat. I was finally high enough to see over the fence after I was about half way up the ladder. I froze. My brain didn’t want to process what I was seeing very quickly.

The wire fence surrounding the grove had come down in a couple of places during the riot. They must have found the break in the fence as they were now coming through the grove making a bee line to the sounds generated by the demolition. Only one or two at a time but it was like watching ants. They followed one after the other moving in a single line.

A woman … or what used to be a woman … lurched out of the lowlands. She was dressed in a bra and what was probably at one time an expensive biege-colored skirt. The one high heeled shoe she was wearing looked like a Prada. It wasn’t just the missing shoe that caused her to limp and sway. Even if she had had a second shoe, she had no foot to put it on. Everything passed her ankle was gone leaving a messy stump. There was something wrong with her face as well but before I could figure out what it was she ran into the fence. Bump. Bump. Bump. Then there was more noise from the demolition area and she began to slide down the fence towards the sound.

As she/it got to the end of our fence she tried to continue over to get to the sound but the little gully back there channeled her down into the canal instead. She fell in and disappeared into the cattails and other tall vegetation.

I heard another bang and this time the zombie appeared to be an older male, but it was hard to tell for sure. Most of his scalp was missing giving his facial features a kind of sagging droop. The zombie followed the path of the previous one, eventually falling into the tall vegetation of the canal right about where I pick elderberries. That would probably wind up in my nightmares at some point.

Finally I unfroze when Rose opened the back door and accidentally dropped a sack of a few empty cans and the next zombie reacted by continuing to bump up against the fence until a louder noise from the demolition site finally drew its attention again.

As quietly as I could I climbed down the ladder. Right as Rose was going to call my name I was able to wave her to silence as I rushed in.

“Get inside and drop the door.”

“What …”

“Drop the door now Rose and get the kids and go to the family room with Pvt. Davenport."

I hurried through the house, stopping briefly when I saw Cease was awake. “Cease, I’m sending my kids in here to you. There’s zombies in the orange grove and I don’t want them on that side of the house.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He was starting to say something to me when I continued out through the pantry, utility room and practically running headlong into Waleski who was answering the call that Cease had just placed to him, which was what he had been trying to tell me when I cut him off.

“Ma’am? Are you OK?”

“No. Zombies. In the orange grove. Now!!”

He keyed his radio three times but never spoke into it. I found out later that was their “silent” emergency signal. When I went to continue outside to reach Scott and the boys, Waleski stopped me.

“Matt and McElroy will bring them all in ma’am.”

“But I closed the roll down door on the back. Do they know to come in through here?”

“They will ma’am, in fact I see them now.”

As soon as they came in I started explaining what I had heard and seen.

“They are coming across the road behind that overturned transport. From the lowlands right-of-way, across the street, through the orange grove where they run up against our fence. Then they follow the property line that goes down into the gully which funnels them into the canal. There has to be nearly 10 of the things in there by now, if not more. Most of them appear pretty messed up, but they can still move along at a decent clip,” I shuddered.

I kept seeing that female zombie lurching disjointedly along on one high heel and a stump.
Matlock took his radio, “D Team 3, D Team 3. Come in D Team 3 this is Patrol L. Do you read me?”

“D Team 3 here. What’s up Sgt. Matt?”

“Stop screwing around Latimer. We’ve got a situation. Stick to protocol. D Team 3 this is Patrol L, do you copy?”

“Patrol L this is D Team 3. We copy. What is the situation?”

“Multiple NRS targets arriving via the lowland terrain and orange grove to your south west. D Team 3 do you have visual?”

“Patrol L this is D Team 3. Negative sir. We do not have visual.”

I broke in, “Matt, the gully gets pretty deep before it dumps into the canal. Unless he gets up on top of a vehicle he may not even know a gully is there. Its easy to miss unless you know where to look.”

“D Team 3 this is Patrol L. Get a look-out on top of one of your dozers. There is a gully that runs down the fence towards that canal back there.”

“Patrol L this is D Team 3. Gimme a sec.”

“Holy Mother of … Sorry … Patrol L this is D Team 3. We … we … have visual. Repeat we have visual. Minimum number of NRS targets is … is … crap they’re moving around in the bushes too much … looks like a minimum of 14 in the canal area and possibly more. There are also more targets heading this way via the gully. Hold on a sec.”

“Crap Matt, the spotter on the other side of the site said we’ve got another 7 or 8 NRS targets coming from that side as well. We’re sandwiched and in need of assistance. I repeat our shooters are going to need assistance.”

“D Team 3 this is Patrol L. Understood. We’ll send assistance ASAP. Out.”

Of course Scott wanted to know if there was anything he could do. Of course. I wanted to scream how dare he do that without talking to me first. But I didn’t. I was learning and Scott wouldn’t be Scott if he hadn’t wanted to help. I could see David and even James were determined to help as well though James avoided any eye contact with me.

Thinking fast I said, “The roof.”

“Excuse me ma’am?”

“I was on the ladder when I saw them. If you are up on the roof you can probably get a bead on them with your rifles any where from the lowlands all the way to the canal. You’ll also have a better idea of the lay out and their travel pattern from up there.”

Matlock looked at me like I had done some that was both expected and unexpected at the same time. “All right. Waleski you’re on the roof with Scott. McElroy you’re with me. We’ll work our way over to the demolition site. Call signs remain the same. This house is Home Base. Ma’am please close and lock this gate when we exit.”

“How will I know if you need back in?”

“Have Cease monitor the situation on his radio. If we need you specifically we’ll call for … Mother Hen, OK?” The last he said with a wicked twinkle in his eye just to see if he could rile me up. He seemed to take a perverse enjoyment in that particular past time.

“Matlock I swear. How many times did your mother drop you on your head when you were a baby?”

“Oh, more than a few if you listen to my ex-wife.” And with that bit of humor to relieve some of the tension everyone dispersed to take up their positions.

I did what I was told even though a huge part of me wanted to be up on the roof. Not because I really wanted to be in on the action – though I’ll admit to maybe feeling that way a little bit – but because part of my family was up there. Matlock wasn’t too far wrong when he made my radio handle “Mother Hen.” At least I could be thankful he didn’t call me “Chicken Little” or “Little Red Hen.” Matlock seriously enjoys teasing people and seems to find particular hilarity in my lack of height. Problem for me is sometimes I can’t tell when he is teasing or when he is serious and that seems to make teasing me even more tempting for him.

I debated whether to stand by the gate but figured I’d do more good and get more accomplished by working around the house. I came inside and relayed the plans to Cease. Poor kid didn’t seem to know where to look. His pride was obviously smarting so I tried to make him feel better. “I’m glad you could still stay with us. With you monitoring the radio and acting as back up we’ll have a heads up in case things get … complicated.” I don’t know if that worked or if he simply appreciated me trying; either way he seemed to relax some and started entertaining Bekah by showing her how the radio worked. She’s fascinated by gadgets of all types and his instruction kept her occupied for quite some time.

I put some water on to boil for macaroni. We had a nice breakfast of grits, biscuits, and canned ham but those boys, civilian and soldier, act like they’re hollow from the feet up. I figured I better be prepared for them to need to eat sometime before dinner and made Salsa Mac ‘n Cheese. For dinner I decided to make a Rice Roast with canned vegetables and instant mashed potatoes. It wouldn’t be like Momma makes it but it would feel the empty spots.

I heard the guys scramble onto the roof. Why is it always in hindsight that you think of possible problems? What if, God forbid, they got stuck up there if the backyard was compromised? The roof is a fairly vulnerable spot if someone in the neighborhood wants to take revenge for a member of their family getting sanitized. And it may be the beginning of September but it was guaranteed to get over 100 degrees F up there during the day. Scott with his Hispanic heritage never burned no matter how long he was in the sun but James could burn pretty good on his face and ears, and I couldn't remember if he wore a hat or not. David has a farmer’s tan that is so dark that I thought he was Spanish too for a while until I found out one of his great grandfathers was Chickasaw. Waleski however was blonde headed, blue eyed, and very fair skinned. He was gonna be toast without some sun protection.

Obviously I had no choice. OK, so I did have a choice but like I said, I’m every bit the mother hen Matlock named me. He may have been teasing but that sort of stuff is almost impossible for me to ignore. Even though Welaski wasn’t a member of my family I couldn’t just let the poor guy fry when he was putting his life on the line trying to protect my family.

Just as I had finished convincing myself that taking supplies to the men wasn’t just an elaborate excuse to check on them I heard the first shot ring out. Why I jumped when I knew it had to be coming I still haven’t figured out. It was certainly louder than I had anticipated. The sound likely travelled through the ridge vents and into the attic, from the attic into the house. I guess our insulation up there isn’t as good as we had thought. Add another notation for my list of things to be concerned about. Subsequent shots didn’t bother me as much but Rose put headphones on Johnnie because the noise, so close, had begun to scare him.

I grabbed a laundry basket and filled it with water jugs, some old rags to wipe their faces with, and some sunscreen. I figured if they were up there for a prolonged period either they would come down in shifts to eat or they would be so grossed out they wouldn’t want to eat at all, but they would still need drinking water. Just thinking of the two zombies I got a good look at kinda made my own appetite disappear. But guys seem to be a different species with different gross-out factors. They can clean a fish and butcher a hog or deal with a broken sewer line like it is no big deal. But, ask them to change a baby’s diaper and most guys are heaving their toes up before they undo the first tape.

The basket was heavy and there was no way I could climb the ladder with it. I decided to tie a rope to the four corners of the basket and haul it up hand over hand. I snuck out the back door with my load. Standing in the back yard I could also hear the shots from the demolition site. It sounded like there was gunfire from other parts of the neighborhood as well.

I sat the basket on the ground and made my way slowly up the ladder. There were men up there with guns and I didn’t want to startle them. That could prove unhealthy. Calling to them was also out of the question. The gunshots were already drawing unwanted attention from some of the zombies. Instead of one or two standing at the fence, there would be five or six lined up there at a time.

James must have noticed the ladder moving. He popped his head over the side and he wasn’t happy to see me. “Mom! I knew it had to be you!” he said through gritted teeth. “What are you doing here?! Do you need to make sure we’re doing our job the right way?”

I chose not to let him know how much that hurt. Instead I told him to take the rope and pull the basket up, and then I went back down without another word. I was fighting tears and there was no way I was letting anyone see that, especially not Scott. I would not make a scene, not when they needed all of their attention for more important things.

It might have been stupid, probably was, but I went over and started taking the clothes off of my clothes line. There were zombies on the other side of the fence. I could hear them. Smell them too this time. And there was gunfire. But I needed to prove to myself that I was willing to … I don’t know … grab for normalcy I guess. I was hurt, but I wasn’t beat. The zombies were screwing up so much of my life, so much of my family’s life. The whole situation was affecting our relationships and I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

I had the clothes down and in a basket and had turned back to the house when I looked up to the roof. Waleski was looking at me like I was demented. I couldn’t really blame him, though I think if he ever wants a long term relationship he needs to get over this constant surprise at finding out females don’t always fit the historical stereotypes. Who does he think manned the castles and keeps and ran the farms while men went off to war? Personally I think that pouring boiling oil or tar onto people scaling castle walls had to be a woman’s invention.

Scott was just shaking his head. He knew me well enough that he realized even in the midst of chaos I needed to maintain some control. The stunt with the laundry was just my way of thumbing my nose at what was going on. Kind of a stupid way, looking back on it, but it was still my way of saying damn the zombies, damn the rotten things coming with them, this was still my life and my castle and screw anyone or anything that tried to take them from me. When he caught my eye he just shook his head and hitched his thumb telling me to head back inside, enough was enough. I had made my point.

The gunfire – more like target practice than a battle – continued through the remainder of the morning and through out the entire afternoon. Its not that they were unable to sanitize the first crowd of zombies, it’s just that they kept coming … and coming … and coming.

Not in hordes. Not even in crowds. They zombies didn’t seem to have anything approaching a social order. I don’t even think they are self-aware in a traditional sense much less able to work together. They just operate on instinct – on the need to attack or feed (or the semblance of it) – and seem to be attracted to noise. So they came one, maybe two at a time, in a steady stream attracted to the noise of the demolition. Shooters could pick them off fairly easily from a safe distance as long as they didn’t panic.

Listening to the radio transmissions through out the day Cease said it sounded like all five of the D Teams were experiencing the same problem either to a greater or lesser degree. Everyone including the scientists were surprised at how many zombies there were. Apparently the recent riots had caused much more widespread loss of life than had originally been thought. Or the zombies themselves had done more damage. The effect was the same either way.

To me it appeared that zombies were like cockroaches. If you saw one, you could guarantee that there were more. If you saw a few you probably had an infestation. If you saw more than a few the infestation was already close to being out of control. That was a worrisome analogy however because we were seeing more than a few zombies. Way more than just a few.

By the end of the afternoon the flow of zombies had slowed to a trickle and from a trickle to none at all. Either all of the zombies had been sanitized or all of the zombies had been sanitized that were within range of the sound of the demolition. Whichever it was, over 100 of them had been put down for a final time just in our area alone. Authorities began to rethink the demolition ordinance but it could be days before any actions were taken to rescind the mandate. Either way, they would need to come and quickly haul the bodies of the newly sanitized away. They didn’t smell very good to start with, but after they were sanitized the decomposition process sped way up and the odor was going to be unimaginable within 24 to 48 hours. Turkey vultures were already having a grand old feast and the smell was starting to seep through into the air conditioning system.

The phone lines appear to still be up in most of the state and I finally reached Mom on the third time that I tried. They haven’t seen a single zombie up their way but they’ve heard Gainesville has had a large number of them; primarily they appear to be made up of college kids which is sad. I imagine some parents are trying to reach their kids only to eventually find out they've turned. That's more than sad, that would be horrifying for me.

Everyone was relieved to hear from us. Daddy wanted to know if they could download their computer files, pictures & movies to our MediaSmart Server, just in case. I said sure and gave them the access code. The thing has 4.5 TB of storage and I love it. It’s the one thing in the house, besides the kids, that we will grab if we have to bug out or we have a house fire. Its been one of the best techie kind of investments that we’ve made because we’ve scanned all of our important documents, our pictures and movies, and it automatically backs up all of our important computer files – for all of our computers. And since you can access it remotely we’ve even been able to access those files off site. If my parents wanted to have an extra secure place to store their documents then I didn’t have a problem with it.

But frankly, I left the “just in case” phrase alone because that conjured up too many bad things and I was topped off with bad things right now. When Daddy got on the phone I could hear how stressed he was just in his voice; not a good thing for his heart. He asked me if I had heard from my sister-in-law’s family, their phone was out of order or disconnected. I told him no and said I didn’t even think they would know how to contact me. My sister-in-law isn’t handling things well at all. She can’t reach her parents and she is threatening to leave and come back to Tampa to check on her family here. There was an awful fight where some nasty things were said including that she would take the boys and just leave. My brother told her to be his guest but it would be without his sons and she could hitch her way there because he wasn't driving her. The whole situation sounded grim. She’s not talking to anyone at the moment and the boys are mad at her for threatening to move them from someplace they’ve come to love. As much trouble as I feel I’m having with James right now, at least our general home environment isn’t an open war zone. I hope my sister-in-law can come to terms with things sooner rather than later, and not just for her sake.

Not knowing what to say that would be constructive I instead asked if they were taking any security precautions. They had boarded up the sliding glass doors – thank goodness – and were turning my brother’s semi trailer into a bunker of some type. I’m not sure what all they are doing to it but my Dad is no fool. My brother isn’t either though he sometimes acts like one. I am still scared for them, but not as much as before. They are using commonsense and trying to think ahead.

All the kids got to talk to my folks, even James who had come in for a break. I shared what was going on here. I had debated how much to tell them but my Dad had listened to the news. He knew how bad things are even if my Mom doesn't. I explained about our houseguests and let him know we were OK. I didn’t ask him not to worry but I did remind him – out of Cease’s hearing – how well set up we are and that we had taken quite a few additional precautions since they had been down. It was love you’s and stay safe’s all the way around and then I sat listening to the dial tone for some time before I set the telephone back on its cradle. I just didn't have a good feeling. Still don't though I'm trying not to let my imagination take control.

The D Team finished the demolition and most of the debris removal before dark. The last of their transports pulled out in plenty of time to meet curfew. The remaining debris removal, as well as the corpse removal – would be finished tomorrow.

Everyone returned inside fairly exhausted by the heat. While the men cleaned up in shifts I had Rose and the girls plate up dinner for those that wanted it. They sat around talked desultorily while I moved my plants back inside.

James came to help but the moment was ruined for me when he admitted, “Dad told me to give you a hand.” I told him to never mind, to go back with the men where he preferred to be. He said, “Make up your mind” and then he simply turned away and walked back inside. That really, really hurt. I don’t want to chain the boy to me but being cut off and somehow cut out of his life, a life I was instrumental in giving to him, is painful in a way I’d never experienced before.

Five minutes went by and Scott came outside wanting to know what was going on. It told him to let it go but he wouldn’t. I explained things from my side and reminded him that he had been fussing at me about babying James.

“I’ll talk to him.”

“No. Don’t. I know I brought some of this on myself. He’s growing up and growing away. I just have to learn to live with it.”

“I didn’t mean for him to act like this.”

“Scott. He’s 15. You want him to be hard and in control. And that isn't a bad thing these days. But at that age everyone is all or nothing. There is no middle ground.”

“Babe, I’ll talk to him.”

“Scott, please don’t. He’ll just either get confused or resentful, neither of which would be helpful. If things don’t resolve themselves in a while then maybe. But, just let it go for now. I guess he just needs to make his stand.”

“Don’t shut me out on this Sissy. I never wanted you to get hurt. Don’t blame me.”

“Scott, I’m not blaming you. I never said I was. You aren’t making the choices for him. You aren’t telling him what to say. I may resent the way things are, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t accepted the reality of why things are the way they are.”

We talked a little more while Scott helped me bring the last of my plants in and the first stars came out. Talking it out didn't make things better, but it at least made it a little easier to take for a while. I really don't blame Scott though I did at first. Boys can't hold onto their mother's apron strings forever and I never wanted that. The sudden changes being brought about by this whole mad situation are just hard for me to take. James growing up and away so fast. Rose suddenly and belatedly interested in boys, and not just any boy but a young man that we now have living in our home - and him apparently "interested" right back. Sarah and Bekah brangling all the time. Johnnie needing me and me not having the time to deal with his fear and insecurities like I need to. Little to no privacy for Scott and I. It had been a long day punctuated by moments of near normalcy; but there was still an element of illusion to it.

So many concerns to try and deal with. Besides all of the emotional stuff going on there were the physical issues. My plants had to produce, they had to. Feeding the soldiers is going to use up nearly all of the staple food items we got from Mabel’s so we are back to square one. Sure, there is the soda and the junk food but those don’t count ‘cause they have so little nutritional value. That cushion I thought we were going to add to our supplies is gone. And though I felt I had stocked an amazing amount of food and supplies, I add almost as many items on to my “would like to have” or “need to have” list as I scratch off, every day.

Speaking of the soldiers, it appears they will be leaving tomorrow after the last dump truck hauls its debris away. I’ll be glad to have our privacy back but at the same time I’ve become fond of them and they were an extra layer of experience and information. We’ll be more vulnerable and out of touch with them gone. And I'll wonder what is happening with them. They are just returning to the Keel Outpost but from my perspective that might as well be as far away as my parents are.

I do have something good to report. Scott’s van still runs. He changed the tire and put duct tape over the bullet holes (he needs some bondo to make the repairs permanent). The windshield is badly damaged but he can drive with it for a while. He’s going to go out with David tomorrow. He figures to do it while the soldiers are still here “just in case.” There is that phrase again – just in case. We need to know what kind of shape things are in at our properties. Scott will probably just be going through the motions of handing out 3-Day Notices to the folks who don’t pay their rent. But, it’s a blessing that the government checks were direct deposited into our bank account. At least we’ll still be able to pay the most important bills. Thank goodness we set up the online banking. So long as we can still get online we’ll be fine. If the internet goes down then it has really hit the fan and all bets are off.

Scott told me he still has some of the sugar daddy cash. He’s gonna take that tomorrow and see if he can find any supplies. Mostly he wants to see if he can get the windshield fixed. He knows a couple of guys we used to rent to. He called them up and they are willing to fix the windows – they have the glass in stock – but only if he pays cash up front. We’ll see if that actually works out. He and David plan on leaving at first light. They are taking the trailer which will give me some room to finally unload some of the supplies that are stuffed in the Avalanche. I plan to do that after Matlock and his boys leave.

James is already pouting like it is my fault that he is having to stay home. I guess he thought he would be helping Scott and David. Tomorrow is going to be interesting. But interesting I suppose I can handle … I just don’t need dangerous or chaotic for at least a few days. And boredom would be extremely welcome if it wanted to hang out for a while as well.
Day 33

This day has sucked. I’m sitting here pigging out on peanuts because I just can’t seem to do anything else.

It finally just hit me. Even if the clock was stopped today on this whole, lousy zombie thing nothing would go back to the way it was before; at least not for a good long while. But I don’t think ever. If I had to pick a point of no return it would either be when they blew up the exits from NYC or when Los Angeles went up in flames. LA and Chicago are both still smoldering. There just doesn’t seem to be the will to stop the destruction. They are even using the fires to toss NRS infected corpses into for disposal. I mean, how much more frugal can the government get? Rather than waste the juice on an incinerator they use the fires of the cities as crematoriums.

Yeah, that’s the way I’ve felt today. Depressed and pessimistic, even about the people who are supposedly trying to make things better for us. I know the NRSC is necessary, I just ... the trust is gone.

Don’t really feel like writing much but I have to bleed off some of this poison some how. Scott’s in no shape for me to lean on. He and David both are suffering from melancholy after what they’ve seen today.

After what I've heard from them I realize things aren’t normal no matter how badly I want them to be. It cannot be normal to have a garbage truck squishing over a hundred dead bodies into its cavity. It cannot be normal to watch blood and other bodily fluids running out of the garbage truck, pooling at the sides of the road. I have heard the term “the streets ran red” many times, but this is the first (and I pray the only) time that I’ve actually seen the reality. So much blood and gore that it took hours for the sand to absorb it all.

The smell was horrendous. There is simply nothing I have to compare it to. It was even worse tthan the time we came back from vacation to find out our freezer had died and taken all of the meat in there with it. And the flies. It was disgusting, they buzzed everywhere. A couple got into the house and it nearly drove me nuts. It’s not that it took very long to kill and dispose of them; they were full and slow because of their gargantuan meal. It’s that they made me feel like I needed to scrub the whole house top to bottom with disinfectant because I didn’t know where all that had landed. My skin crawled for hours afteward. I still imagine I hear the buzzing at all of the windows.

I just have nothing good to say for this day.

Scott and David left at first light and barely made it back before curfew, driving me nearly to the brink of nervous collapse. Every what-if that came into my head was a worse scenario than the one before. When they did come home they brought bad news all the details of which I just can’t get into right now. Suffice it to say we have two units set for demolition, several more that appear abandoned and Scott didn’t collect a penny of rent. We also have damage of some type or other on most of the units … more than we can afford to fix without insurance settlements.

Mabel’s house is completely gone barely leaving a memory of itself behind. I never liked having someone looking down into our backyard like that but having the house gone creates this huge gap that is eerie and hard to get used to.

Matlock and his boys are gone. They left before lunch and though they were only here a few days, they’ve left a gap of their own behind. Matlock, Waleski, McElroy, and Cease … will I ever see them again and if I do, in what kind of shape will they be in? Four fewer adults means four fewer adults to share the security load with.

I was out front trying to accomplish something constructive by sketching out new plant beds – James normally enjoys helping me with this but things still aren’t going well in that direction. As I was out there a couple of folks from the neighborhood showed up. I thought they had come down for some conversation or information but apparently all they wanted was an argument. I just didn’t have the energy and told them so. When I wouldn't play, they took their ball and went home but left bad vibes behind to infect me even more.

I’ve never had such a bad day with the kids. James was making things more difficult for me by instigating arguments and bad behaviors with the younger three kids. He's never ever acted like this, not even on his worst hormonal days. Rose got fed up with him and told him off and then he said some hurtful things about her crush on David. I finally laid into him and told him if he wanted to be treated like an adult he could damn well start acting like one and to drop the Machiavellian manipulation, he wasn't getting his way. Adulthood came with more responsibilities than rights and that included putting the needs and desires of others above your own. I don’t doubt I’ve made things worse between us but at least he stopped causing problems with the other kids.

The power flickered on and off several times today and with my nerves shot I burnt dinner. You know it is bad when you burn an easy meal like rice and beans. Not that anyone was hungry. The smell of decomposing bodily fluids permeated everything. Scott said he could smell it blocks away.

The evening news reports sucked too despite the segments being varnished with a type of optimism. You could tell the newscasters didn’t really believe what they were saying. Some of them were blatantly reading prepared statements off of the teleprompter. Wonder how long they’ll last in front of the camera? Civil disobedience is one thing, but what they are doing could get them into some serious trouble.

Well, writing it all down didn’t help after all. I have a feeling nothing is going to help; not for a long time. I’m off to bed where Scott and four of the kids are already asleep. James chose to return to his bedroom but I can tell he isn't asleep, merely tossing and turning. I don't know why I should bother trying. After a day like today why would I want to go to sleep when I’m only going to have to wake up again tomorrow?

Day 37

It’s been a few days since I’ve written in this journal. I guess I was very depressed and out of sorts for a bit; we all have been to one degree or another. For the guys I can see it as a reaction to Demolition Day and all of the NRS zombies they had to sanitize. I don’t know what my excuse is. I think I’m beginning to shake it off but it hasn’t been easy stopping the downward spiral. The depression was so different from my normal state of being that it caught me and chained me before I even recognized what was happening.

Things are still bad. There is no way around that. Things aren’t going to change though unless we are in some kind of shape to try and change them. I finally pulled out of the nose dive when I realized the kids didn’t want to do anything but lay around. No music. No TV. No bickering or talking. No toys. No appetite. No nothing, they just laid there. It snapped my head back like a good slap. The kids follow our lead. We are the ones that set the tone. I can’t believe I let them down like that. Scott and I have talked some during the day when we could get off to ourselves. We have to be more careful, its too easy in such an awful situation to become your own worst enemy.

First thing I made everyone bathe whether they thought they needed it or not. The continued stink of the decomposing muck out near the road was depressing enough, having our own bodies stink because we weren’t taking care of ourselves was unacceptable. I also gave the guys over due hair cuts. Even James was complacent for this which went to show how bad things had gotten. He is very particular about his hair. I had never cut the guys’ hair before and the results were … interesting.

Today, though we had slept passed breakfast, I fixed a good lunch. We had been living off of the junk food from Mabel’s because I just hadn’t felt like cooking. My mesclun greens were finally ready for harvest and I made a big tossed salad. We all desperately needed some fresh food in our diet. To go with the salad I made Asian Beef and Noodles with some oriental flavored Ramen noodles. The Chinese vegetables had to come out of a can and the ground beef as well, but it wasn’t bad. At first everyone just kind of pushed their food around on their plates but as soon as they got a few good bites down, they fairly inhaled the rest. I think I’m going to have to continue to explore other creative options with regard to food. Even if all we have to look forward to on any given day are interesting meals, then at least that will be something.

Just for fun, though it could easily be considered a waste of resources these days, the kids and I made Vinegar Candy. It used a full two cups of my good granulated white sugar but sometimes you have to sacrifice. The kids had a blast pulling the candy once it had cooled enough to handle. Even James and David deigned to get their fingers sticky. After the candy had been pulled until it was glossy, I cut it using kitchen shears and set it aside for later. It wasn’t really about the candy per se. Lord knows we’d had enough of that the last few days. It was more about the intentional act of having fun, something that we hadn’t been doing enough of.

The laundry had backed up again and I noticed that the water in the pool was low. A few other things were standing out that needed doing as well. I gave each of the kids a short list of chores to accomplish just to give them some exercise. I didn’t want to overload them, just get them up and moving and focused on some goal-oriented activities.

My next order of business was to get another batch of bread starter going. This time I didn’t make Amish starter however. This time I made Herman Bread Starter. It doesn’t take nearly as long as the Amish Bread Starter and isn’t quite as sweet and uses a packet of yeast to get it going. I will be able to use it in 24 hours or less. Today was candy and tomorrow I’m going to make a cake … an Orange Raisin Cake to be exact. I know I have a couple of tubs of cream cheese frosting somewhere in the supplies that will be perfect for this recipe. Its more important than I realized to have something to look forward to.

James kept giving me funny looks like he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react to this sudden shift in the way everyone was acting. I just ignored him in favor of talking to Scott and David about some of the bigger things that I needed help with. I never had gotten around to emptying the Avalanche. And it had been a couple of weeks since my van had been started up; it was pretty useless right now but I didn’t want it to die completely from lack of upkeep. Scott had to take another tire off to use for his van, now I’m missing two shoes for my poor taxi. It was amazing to think that it had been over a month since I had driven, since I had stepped more than a few feet from our yard. I know its true but it just seems so surreal.

One of the chores I set myself was to get outside and work in the yard a bit to get some sunshine. With the shutters closed its just plain dark in the house all the time but I can’t imagine opening the shutters either. One thing holding me back from opening the shutters is that we’ve had a couple of people throw stuff at our house. And yesterday we noticed that it looked like someone had tried to cut the hasp and chain that secures the enclosed carport. I don’t know if it is people from the neighborhood or not, but it looks like we need to add some security in that area if possible. If we can find a roll down door some place David said he learned how to install them last summer when he was working for an aluminum company. They built and installed pool & patio enclosures, storm shutters, and garage doors. Tomorrow he and Scott are going to go by his old boss’ place and see if they can work something out.

While I was outside I noticed where it looked like someone had started digging under our fence. Again, I can’t say for sure if it is someone from the neighborhood but I don’t have any reason to believe that it isn’t either. I’m nearly positive it wasn’t there on Demolition Day, then again nearly isn’t 100%. After I showed Scott he said it could have been done by an animal. None of us is certain what caused the gap; however, that didn’t mean we were just going to let it go. The guys spent most of the afternoon cutting rebar and old fencing material into two-foot lengths and sinking them eighteen inches into the ground about every six inches or so. Eventually Scott wants to further secure the base of the fence by pouring a concrete footer but that’s nothing that we are going to be able to do right now. No supplies and no expectation of being able to get them.

While hunting for more problems with the fencing I discovered I had several bunches of grapes growing on my arbor. It would have been easy to miss them as they were tucked up into the leaves on the underside of the arbor. I had absolutely no grapes the last few years so figured I had planted the wrong kinds of vines or something. The surprise gave me a really good feeling; like there were still some good surprises coming down the road, not just bad ones. The grapes weren’t as sweet as those I used to buy at the farmer’s market but they were ours and somehow tasted all the better for it. Of course I would run into a snake while clipping the bunches off. Scared the dickens out of me but also explained why the raccoons hadn’t gotten the berries either. Lucky for me it was just a big black racer and not a moccasin, we've had a few of those in the yard over the years because of our proximity to the canal. It didn’t strike me but it wasn’t happy to be disturbed either. Reminder to self – look where you are putting your hands before you actually put your hands any place, and wear gloves.

None of this is to say that there aren’t still zombies around. What happened tonight highlighted that pretty well, and also gave a possible reason for them.

The NRSC learned a lesson with the D Teams. They are using the demolition areas to draw NRS infected corpses out and pick them off a few at a time. Makes sense in a macabre sort of way. I think this may be what is keeping the zombie population under control here in the Tampa area. But the fact that they are still drawing that many zombies out … usually a hundred or more per site … says that we have a serious, serious problem and as soon as they run out of things to tear down we could quickly be hip dip in zombies.

None of us has seen Matlock or his patrol team since they left. I’m trying not to feel pushed aside. They have a job to do and it’s not like we live in each other’s pockets. They aren’t beholden to us either. I just thought there might be a real friendship there; a camaraderie. Maybe I’m expecting too much. I would have at least liked to have gotten word on how Cease is doing. But that’s me; over involved again. Maybe Scott can stop by Keel Outpost and find out something. They’ll think I’m nuts no doubt, but it will relieve my mind.

Everyone was pretty worn out by the time dinner rolled around. I made French White Bean Soup and some corn pones. Clean up was just about all the girls and I could accomplish. James loaded the dishwasher without being asked. That move would have been weird even when we weren’t at logger heads. I don’t know what it signals, if anything, but I decided to take it at face value and told him thank you. I’m not going to make more of it as I could just be wishing for something that isn’t there.

Suddenly life became interesting again ... unfortunately. I pray that nights like tonight aren't going to become our new normal.

I was just about to tell the kids that it was bed time when I heard something in the backyard. David and Scott had taken out the garbage just a few minutes earlier so I thought it could have been them but something – woman’s intuition maybe – told me that whatever it was, something wasn’t right. I grabbed the baseball bat that was by the door, signaled to James that we had a situation, and quietly went outside by crawling under the rolling door. I was momentarily blinded by the dark but could hear some goings on over near the shed. That wasn’t Scott or David. As my eyes adjusted I could see someone on the ground and another someone being punched while held by two others. So that gave me a three to two ratio.

I don’t know what came over me but by God I was tired of being scared all the time. Those weren’t zombies. Zombies don’t work together like that. I thought about getting one of the guns but there wasn’t time … ‘nother lesson learned, never leave home without more protection than a baseball bat. Besides with it being as dark as it was I could’ve missed my target and hit Scott or David. I’m not sure enough of my accuracy and can’t waste ammo on target practice. Eventually I’ll need to get some experience but it was too late at that point. I got up on my haunches and stayed low and silent while I crept over to the side of the shed. Now that I was closer I could see it was Scott on the ground and David taking the beating.

A cold disconnected feeling came over me. I remember thinking that I was going to kill them, literally. That’s all there was to it. They had hurt my family and I was going to make sure that they’d never get the chance to do it again. The only other time I had felt this strongly was when that guy had scared Rose on the playground when she was little bitty. I had made up my mind and I don’t think General Patton himself could have stopped me at that point. There was nothing to stop me at that point, except my own lack of skill.

I stood up and right as I was about to bean the guy that was pummeling David, the guy turned around. I caught him right in the jaw and I heard a crack and he dropped. The other two guys let go of David but didn’t run like I had expected. David grabbed one and held on while the other pulled a knife on me. From out of no where James showed up. The guy that David was holding onto slipped out of his grasp and met James head on, but James’ tackle took them both down to the ground. Scott was just beginning to come around and saw the guy with the knife coming at me and even though he tried to get between me and the knife-wielder he too got tangled up with the guy that James and David were wrestling with on the ground.

I took a swing at the intruder with the knife but missed. Something my male cousins had taught me when we were all growing up played over in my head. Once you start a fight you have to be the one to finish it. If you are using a weapon don’t ever just swing, slice or jab in one direction. Keep in perpetual motion and keep your opponent on the defensive. I had swung from right to left and missed. After the first swing, I counter swung bringing the bat from left to right – and caught the guy just as he again had stepped in to slice at me with his knife. But left to right isn’t my strongest direction ‘cause I’m right handed. It was only a glancing blow and didn’t disable him; startled him but didn't slow him down. So as soon as I had gotten the bat back on the right side I swung right to left again with everything I could put into it. Pop! I mean I heard his head literally pop. It was a nasty sound and I knew even then that I was going to be sick when I had time to think about what that sound meant.

Then there was a muffled “wump” from the pile of wrestlers on the ground. Everyone lay still and I was getting worried because no one was moving. Scott untangled himself first, then David. James and the other guy weren’t moving. Before I could get to him Scott gently moved James into a stream of moonlight. His face was as pale as the moonlight and there was blood on his shirt and near his neck. I started to hear a buzzing sound in my ears and then James groaned. Scott and David were lifting his blood soaked shirt but we didn't find a wound. The blood had to have come from one of the intruders.

A noise behind me had me turning. The first guy I had clipped was up. He shouldn’t have been up. He was a mess and his temple and jaw area were badly misshapen. Intruder #2 on the ground started moving and making this keening kind of noise when he finally registered his own wound; the kind of noise animals make when they are too hurt to growl. Intruder #1 fell on him and started gnawing on his throat which caused an arterial spurt that nearly hit David in the face. Scott pulled James into his arms and backwards, but they were still all but on the ground next to the new zombie and his first meal. David found his pistol where the intruders dropped it when they had surprised him. He stepped up to the back of the zombie’s head; it never even looked up as he pulled the trigger. He then put the pistol to the forehead on the one that had his throat torn out and pulled the trigger again. We all turned expecting to see Intruder #3 rising; but, either my initial attack had damaged the brain sufficiently to prevent reanimation or he was one of the immunes. Either way he appeared to be good and permanently dead. David didn’t take any chances though and placed the pistol against the corpse’s ear and pulled the trigger for the third and final time of the night.

When my hearing returned to normal I could hear Rose crying from the door way. She wasn’t wailing, but she wasn’t being quiet either. I ran over to hush her and the other kids. It was important that we not draw any more attention to this than we could help.

Scott and David helped James into the house. The worst injury appeared to be where the guy busted the base of his head with the butt of the gun. Somehow after that point the gun got trapped against the intruder’s body and went off. He wounded himself and his partner turned zombie made the wound fatal.

Scott and I just looked at each other. We were law abiding citizens. We were just protecting our home and our family. But in my heart I knew that I at least had meant for those three cretins to die. We talked it over away from the children’s hearing. I told Scott that I would say that I was the one that did it thinking perhaps they would go easier on a female. None of the guys would hear of it. James said he would take the blame because he was a minor and the most they could do was throw him in juvenile detention; no one was having any of that either.

Scott then said something to the effect that, “Setting aside the fact that Florida’s state laws are pretty lenient when it comes to self defense, we are citizen deputies. That means that we not only have the right, but the responsibilities of that position. We can use that to our advantage. I know for a fact one of those responsibilities is to help with corpse disposal. Normally I wouldn’t try something like this but those guys did turn zombie. What I propose is that we turn them in as zombies and not as the intruders they were to start with. We’ll haul the bodies to a checkpoint tomorrow, show them our papers, and let it go at that.”

I wasn’t … still am not … convinced that will work but the other alternatives that we discussed weren’t any more viable. The next best thing would have been to bury them in the orange grove but if they have relatives in the area and they trace them back to us we could be in for more trouble. I didn’t recognize their faces, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t from around here or from on the other side of the canal.

The plan has been made. The bodies have been rolled up in a tarp and are in Scott’s trailer. Scott and David leave at first light and then I guess we’ll find out.

Day 39

Another day of journaling missed yesterday. Looks like I’m falling into a bad habit. My excuse for this miss was because all of my energy was used up fighting my nerves. As luck would have it, the phone service went down right after Scott and David left the house yesterday fouling up our communications plans. We really need to find a back up for our cell phones. I didn’t find out what had happened until they got home right before curfew that night.

Apparently my nerves were for nothing which makes me nervous in another way. Scott and David said that it was almost too easy to get rid of the intruders’ bodies by turning them in at the check point. As smoothly as I wanted it to go, now I’m worried it was too easy and that speaks of other problems in the system. Definitely need to work on that “taking on more than is my lot to carry” personality quirk. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t borrow trouble. Living in worry invites death in a hurry. Etc. Etc. Etc. In other words I need to stop worrying so much and looking for problems that don’t exist. Its just that nothing about this situation sits well with me.

Scott and David left at first light and headed straight for the University Area check point. When they arrived and explained things they were merely asked to show their CD papers. After the authenticity was verified they were told to proceed to the dump point. There were a few other people ahead of them, some of whom looked like they were really getting into the CD thing … “uniforms,” badges, guns in holsters, etc. When it came their turn they opened the trailer that already smelled pretty rank, and opened the tarp. An NRSC inspector took some blood from each corpse and placed it on a test strip. This was the “official test” for NRS. All three corpses tested positive.

I guess it was good thing that David put a bullet into the brain of the third intruder even though I had thought it a little bit overkill. He may have been a delayed re-animator; he sure as heck wasn’t immune like I thought. Unless the test was messed up … but why would they do that?

At that point things got a little bizarre and I swear one of these days we need to sit down and completely read those stupid papers on our rights and responsibilities as Citizen Deputies. Apparently in an effort to encourage CDs to do their “civic duty” there is a bounty for each sanitized corpse that is NRS positive that gets turned in to an approved check point. The bounty at this checkpoint include topping the fuel off in Scott’s van without deleting any of our ration points and receiving three bags of groceries, one for each corpse. Other checkpoints offered different stuff and I guess no one really knew what would be available at any given time.

That was all there was to it. And now we know what the NRSC is doing with some of the confiscated items they collect from “zombie houses” scheduled for demolition. No wonder there is resistance to ending the demolition ordinance. The confiscated goods are what is being used as the “carrot” in their horse and pony show.

I guess what is bothering me about this is that I think this could cause some serious abuse of the system. Imagine if a CD develops enemies, or had pre-existing enemies. All a CD would have to do is create a situation where his enemy(ies) became infected. Poof. No more enemy. Now they are just an NRS creature. Put them down and you even get to collect a bounty. A reward for getting rid of people you don’t like. I can see certain types of people thinking that would be a sweet deal too good to resist.

After they left the checkpoint Scott drove David over to his old employer. Mr. Driscoll himself, of Driscoll Aluminum, struck a deal with Scott. For three days of labor helping the Driscoll’s to fortify their warehouse he would give them everything they needed to convert the carport opening to a roll down door and he’d also give them some scrap supplies that they didn’t want to just leave laying around to be turned into projectiles.

That’s where they were yesterday, today and where they will be tomorrow. Scott says it’s more than fair considering they don’t have to pay a penny of cash. It shows what a barter system has developed in the face of rampant shortage of goods and cash.

He told me Driscoll moved his family and the families of most of his long term employees into the warehouse. They are turning it into a castle. They’ve dug a well inside the main office and run extra sewer lines to the septic system to accommodate more bathrooms. They also subdivided areas off for family space, common areas, and storage. The whole idea of it makes me wish we could build an enclave of our own. Not particularly possible at the moment given the hostility that continues to exist in our neighborhood, but it sure would be nice.

While Scott and David have been working at Driscoll’s I’ve been trying to get some constructive work done around the house.

Yesterday I finally got around to emptying the Avalanche. I can’t believe that the stuff just sat there for as long as it did. There looked to be enough Mountain House meals to last a week for four or five people; makes sense since the Avalanche seats five. The selections were not all that great but I wasn’t going to complain. There was a first aid kit that wouldn’t have been out of place in a field hospital. I don’t even know what a lot of the stuff in there is for. Rose asked for the first aid manual that came with the kit … it was more like a textbook. I was more than happy to turn it over to her as I sure don’t have the time to read it right now. There were a couple of cases of bottled water which was great; but there were also a couple of those nalgene bottles with the built in water filters which will be nice for the bug out bags in Scott’s van.

There were these nasty looking ration bars too. I’ve seen them in a few survivalist supply catalogs. Each bar has something like 3600 kcal and is scored so you can break off one “meal” or portion at a time. Supposedly they taste like a lemony shortbread cookie but I’m not tempted to try them. We’ve already been through the “taste test nightmare” trying to find protein and meal replacement bars that our family would eat. Some of those things really taste nasty. Scott fell in love with Clif Bars – they aren’t all that great to me – and we’ve got a huge stash of them that we ordered off of amazon.com including several flavors that we couldn’t find locally. If I had to chose, I prefer the fruity ones to the chocolate ones. Yeah, I know, blasphemy. I’m just not that much of a chocoholic.

There were some nice additions to our non-food supplies as well though nothing out of the ordinary. There were a couple of different types of flashlights – shaker, wind up, solar, and the small little mag lights that take rechargeable batteries. Two radios – one solar and one wind up. A couple of tarps and a couple of those tools you use to break out glass in case during an accident (or under water) your vehicle door became jammed. You can also use those things to cut seatbelts that are stuck too. But looking over everything I’m still wondering how they thought they were going to cook their food or provide heat. They didn’t even have rain gear or a tent; not even a sleeping bag. I guess either they had other plans, hadn’t finished getting their bug out gear together, or hadn’t really thought things through all the way.

Another one of the things I spent the day doing was putting a lot of effort into my garden. Next month we should start seeing the first fruits of my labor. I’ve never tried to grow quite so much all at one time. Its really challenging and space is quickly disappearing. I may not have any choice but to grow things in the front yard.

I feel so exposed when I’m out in the front yard. There is no protection there; nothing between you and the world. I already have some of my edible landscaping in front. Mostly herbs and edible flowers but I also have my prickly pears and my yuccas. I used to keep several of my potted trees there but we’ve moved all of those into the back.

Any time I was outside, front or back, James followed me around with a rifle in his hands, a pistol on his belt and a knife in his boot. He and I area slowly getting back on good terms but I’m not pushing it. It will be different from the way it was before. I’m still his mother and he’s still my son, but the relationship has to change in recognition of the changing circumstances we find ourselves in. He’s one of the “men” now, not my little boy. Still chokes me up to think about it but I’ve had no choice but to learn to live with it. I think he and David have talked about bunking together. That’ll be interesting. James has never had to share a bedroom; David has spent most of his life with roommates of one type or another. But, if it works out it will take a weight off of my mind.

Rose has talked about moving back into her bedroom as well. While Scott and I will be happy to have some of our privacy back … oh heck … this is my journal and I might as well just get it off my chest. David and Rose are still just eyeing one another. Nothing overt or obvious, they don’t even sit by each other or talk much. I don’t think either one of them has even thought about actually making a move yet. It’s like they are still getting used to the idea themselves. But if they do decide to pursue some type of relationship, and Scott and I aren’t necessarily against it, I would prefer that there be some limits on temptation. With James bunking with David at least I can say that there is one check and balance in place.

We aren’t sure yet what to do about Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie. None of them appear the least inclined to move back to their bedrooms. Eventually we may move them into James’ room which is directly across from ours. As long as Scott and I can still find some time to spend with each other I’m not going to worry about it right now.

Yesterday’s meals were pretty mundane. Breakfast was oatmeal, lunch was canned ravioli (I can’t stand the stuff but the kids like it), and for dinner I fixed Buttered Pecan Rice, fried canned ham, and a spoon bread with a can of creamed corn. The dessert was the Orange Raisin Cake and it was delicious.

This morning I made something Bekah had been asking for – homemade pop tarts. Basically you make a simple pastry dough and fill it with a thin later of preserves or similar. You bake it and there you have it; homemade breakfast junk food.

For lunch I made a loaf of Caramel Apple Pecan Bread in my bread machine – stupid thing just sits on the counter and hardly ever gets used – and then spread the still warm slices with peanut butter. For dinner I planned pasta with spaghetti sauce and another large mesclun greens salad. I wish I had thought to stock croutons but I didn’t. Next time I bake regular bread, I’m going to try and save back the crusty ends and make my own croutons.

I know it doesn’t sound like much but I feel like I’ve gotten much accomplished but it feels like it. At the end of the day I’m definitely ready for bed. We are still on the watch schedule. Scott takes first watch which gives him quiet time to work on his notes and business plans, I take second watch usually with James because I’m the lightest sleeper and am used to broken sleep, and David takes third watch because he is naturally an early riser. Each shift suits our individual strengths.

James’ birthday will be here in a couple of days. And the holidays will be here before you know it. I haven’t been thinking of any of that much but I guess I better. Some idiot on the radio yesterday thought he was being cute and said there was so many shopping days left until Christmas. Yeah, people needed to be reminded of that while things are going so crazy. I haven’t heard him on the radio today, he wasn’t in his normal time slot. Someone must have fixed his little read wagon and sent him packing. Guy was an obnoxious flake anyway.

I’m off to bed. Lots to do tomorrow. I want to try and make some vegetarian sausages so that I can fix Italian “sausage” rolls for dinner tomorrow. That means that I’ll also need to make rolls with my starter at some point as well. I also want to try and rearrange some of the stuff in the pantry spaces. Getting to what I want can be a royal pain. And I may as well do another inventory at the same time. Fun … not.

Day 40

Oh my aching back. Between moving the plants in and out, gardening, rearranging the pantry storage areas and moving furniture around in the girls’ bedroom – soon to become where James and David bunk together – I am sore and tired. For all that though I wouldn’t change it. The ache is like applause for all the work I accomplished.

Scott and David took off at first light after a breakfast of powdered egg omelets and came home right as the sun was setting. Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Good news is they got all that they need and more to make some renovations to the carport enclosure. The entrance will be a solid steel roll down door like you see at the back of grocery stores and will be chain operated. They also now have enough materials to widen the carport by about ten feet and to tie it in more securely to the house. That will allow more room to maneuver in there for loading and unloading and will allow the Avalanche, Scott’s van, and the trailer to all be secured at the same time. That just leaves my van in the back and its up on blocks and useless anyway.

Now for the bad news … the big honking load of it. On the way home Scott drove by as many of our properties as he could. The ones set for demolition were completely gone despite our objections. Scott has to go to the court house to apply to void our mortgage. We’ve lost all of our equity except what remains in the lots themselves; the lender has lost the remaining principle they were owed. And we’ve lost all future income from the property, not that we’ve been getting very much. We still haven’t collected any rent this month except on the government subsidized units. The courts are not processing evictions – price prohibitive at $300 a pop anyway – so we are seriously considering putting a water utility shut off order in for those addresses where no money is coming in. At least this way the bill won’t keep piling up and it’ll be up to Tampa Utilities to turn the water off (which I’ve heard they’ve been prevented from doing due to their employees refusing to work under current conditions).

Scott arrived to check on the 6-unit (set of three duplexes) right as an NRSC Inspection Team was about to bust down the doors. Apparently the units were abandoned after a rumor swept through the neighborhood that the INS and NRSC had joined forces and were going to start deporting people. All of the tenants in those units were immigrants but with only work permits or school permits that could easily have been revoked under the circumstances.

Scott said it was like the tenants had all fled en masse. Roughly 85% of a five-block area was vacant. A couple of the units even had food on the table, now collecting flies and roaches, or TVs and radios that were still playing. Because Scott keeps his business licenses with him he was able to prove ownership of his units – oh goodie, no door breakage to repair – and he gets to keep the abandoned property from those six units if he wants.

The not-so-great news is that apparently the NRSC keeps this huge homeland security type database. He and David are on file as CDs so they got tapped to help comb through the whole area on the basis of familiarity. AND – there is no possible way for me to express how angry this next part makes me – James has to go with them tomorrow. I nearly had to as well but it looks like they still don’t know about Rose and with Bekah and Johnnie still so young (they would have expected Sarah to stay by herself even though she is only 11) I got an opt out – this time. Depending on how many CDs get called in and show up they might also get something out of the other units. We aren’t sure right now. Whatever works out, this means it’ll be another couple of days before the work on the carport can be started, mush less completed.

Scott and David did a quick run through the units and brought home some stuff. They would have brought more but they ran out of trailer space and time. Lots of masa and corn meal, some dried peppers, lots of dried beans, some canned milk and canned cream, two cases of tangerine and pineapple sodas, a couple cans of coconut, and lots of other odds and ends marked “packaged in Mexico.” The strangest were the dried shrimp. They kinda put my ick factor up a notch. Besides the masa I have to say that the best find was the case of Nido dried whole milk. Nido is one of the best tasting dried milks I’ve ever had and our Mexican tenants with kids usually kept several cans of it on hand.

David nearly went nuts over all the coffee he found. We aren’t coffee drinkers. My dad was pretty strict and wouldn’t let me even try it until I was in my teens so I’ve never really developed a taste for it. I’m more of a tea drinker. Scott’s parents drank Cuban coffee so black and strong that it could practically stir itself. Scott developed an aversion to it after watching his parents have to clean coffee stains off of their dentures. David hasn’t complained but I know he’s happy to have it again. The happy little tune he was whistling as he stuffed it in the pantry made it kind of obvious. He’ll have to fix the coffee himself though ‘cause I don’t know how to.

Most of my morning was taken up with gardening. The backyard is beginning to look like a jungle. I’ve got pots everywhere full of growing things. I’ve got potatoes growing in garbage cans. They’ve gotten so heavy they just have to stay outside. I hope that is a good sign. The vines I have planted are taking off. I had to plant them along the pool cage instead of the fence and they are getting out of control. I've got bucket after bucket of tomatoes and they are perking along very happily. Zombies don't appear to bother them at all. I can't wait; couple of more weeks and we should start to have fresh stuff much more regularly.

I did have a scare today that made me glad James was keeping a look out. I was out front weeding around my bee balm and chamomile when a dog came around. I mean a big dog. I think it was at least part English bull dog … the other part was probably wooly mammoth based on its size. Shinola on a shingle. I was on the ground up to my elbows in compost and mulch when I heard it charge me. James was just able to get in a shot at it to scare it and drive it off or it would have been on top of me. Since it ran off on its own and didn’t linger I don’t think it was rabid. James said it wasn’t foaming at the mouth though I know that isn’t necessarily a sure sign. But talk about nearly wetting my pants. You try being down on the ground when something like that rushes out of the bushes at you. The fact that it didn’t give me any warning before it charged seems to me to mean that it was hunting. Great, as if zombies weren’t enough. Now I have to worry about Joe Redneck’s monster-sized dog taking a bite out of me too. Oh how I wish we at least had a chain link fence out front. But we don’t so I might as well stop complaining.

The dog pretty much took the wind out of my sails so we went in to find that the girls had already made lunch. We had tuna fish wraps. I knew James was gonna be starving by dinner time so I asked the girls to help me get the Polish-Flavored Tempeh Sausages and the rolls to serve them on made a little early. The shelf-stable tempeh that I have doesn’t have much of a shelf-life left so I might as well go ahead and use it. When its gone its gonna be gone unless someone from the local Indonesian or Asian population can get it to market. Same with my tofu which I have more of than tempeh. I actually know how to make tofu but it’s a lot of work and can be a pain in the butt. I prefer to buy it. But since I do have them both, I might as well do something useful with them.

Rose supervised the preparation and cooking while I tried to decide which room would be best for the boys to move into. Sarah and Bekah’s room is the largest. It’s also at the front of the house. When we first moved into this house we closed in the original carport hence our need for eventually building a new one. One side of that room will be covered by the expanded carport so there will only be one window left to protect. Bad part is that it faces into the front yard. The accordion shutters cover the window but I think I’ll ask Scott if he can fabricate some internal shutters as well from some of the scrap aluminum that Driscoll gave him. I dismantled the bunk beds and put them on opposite walls. I emptied the girls’ bookcases and chest o’ drawers as well as their closet. This way I don’t have to move any of James’ stuff out of his room. I moved all of the stuff from the girls’ room into Johnnie’s old room and hopefully David will move his stuff out of there tomorrow and into his new area. James moved most of his own stuff today. He even willingly moved his laptop and stereo into a shared space between their areas which surprised me. I seem to keep underestimating him. I don’t know if that is because he is just really good or that I’ve been holding him back from being as mature as he could be.

I keep catching myself second guessing whether I’ve been raising the other kids right. I know that Johnnie is spoiled but I’m not the only one that has done it. He’s been suffering a little bit from lack of attention, but I don’t think its done any lasting harm. At least now he’s learning how to play on his own more and not need constant entertaining. Sarah and Bekah need some attention too, but it seems that if I keep them busy enough they don’t have the time to waste on bickering like they used to. Heck knows I need the help; especially because I’m beginning to wonder if we have another black out coming.

We’ve been experiencing a series of brown outs over the last two days. Its not that we lose power precisely, it’s like we aren’t getting enough juice. I’m not sure if we are seeing that in lieu of an outright black out or if this is like a foreshock or something. Either way while I was working on room rearranging I had James make sure that all of our water containers and the pool were topped off and that our solar gear was fully charged. I also gave Bekah the job of putting the NiMH batteries into the chargers and rotating them through until they were all fully charged. I have a solar recharger but it takes much longer than a plug-in electric recharger.

All of that took the rest of my afternoon. Scott and David came home and we had the Polish “sausage” rolls with baked beans (from a can ‘cause I was too busy to make them from scratch). I got the story of their day and they got the story of mine and the kids’. I had a tantrum about James’ having to go with them tomorrow and then had to spend time undoing by gaff by explaining that it wasn’t because I was treating him like a little boy but because I counted on him being around here so that I could work outside. Lucky for me James was willing to be appeased. Two steps forward … luckily no steps back this time.

The national news was full of glowing praise for the NRSC but nothing was substantive. It’s all about efforts and trying and plans and nothing about actual and current results. The local news was only slightly more balanced and mostly pertained to continuing clean up from the riots and the Governor’s efforts to keep people working at something constructive whether they are actually getting paid at this point or not. The economy is a mess but apparently it is even worse overseas. China and Russia are doing their normal saber rattling … but this time it is at each other. That’s worrisome. Not much of anything is coming out of the Middle East. I don’t know if that is good or not. Africa is a mess and there is no way around that. From Egypt to South Africa countries are begging for international aid.

South and Central America is pretty well shot as well. Mexico is just plain messed up. Their currency has totally collapsed. Not even the drug cartels and gangs have much money. Who would have thought that NRS would go such a long way to curing the problems of the Drug War. People don’t have money to buy drugs with and there isn’t much for the cartels to buy with the money they do have coming in. It doesn’t matter whether its luxury goods or food, everything is scarce. The black market for goods and services is actually doing much better these days than the cartels and in that they have to compete with a lot more people for business.

Canadian research has shown that little bothers the zombies; however, extremes in weather can affect their shelf-life. Extreme heat seems to accelerate tissue deterioration, not as quickly as expected but eventually connective tissue does break down enough to prevent movement. Extreme cold will freeze them which also prevents movement. However, because the brain is still viable since it is a non-moving part to begin with, the creatures are still infectious. The bacteria do not cease communicability until the host body’s brain dies. No one is for sure why that is, but some scientists are continuing to hypothesize that since the bacteria are “connected” via nerve cells. If the brain – nervous system central – is destroyed, it is at that point that the unusual cohesion of NRS breaks down and shortly thereafter dies off. I’ll take their word for it and do my best to use the answers they come up with to my family’s advantage. Bottom line, to kill a zombie requires the creature’s brain to be destroyed.

I’m an educated person but the science of NRS still makes my head hurt. I’ll drop thinking of that in favor of saying the house is cleaned and the last load of laundry is going. I’m off to bed as is everyone except Scott and James who are taking first watch together this time. I’ll take second by myself since James will be working with the men tomorrow. If I’m not too exhausted I may even let David sleep a little longer though I don’t usually have to wake him; he really is an early riser.

Barring trouble breakfast will be hearty Corn and Bacon Cornmeal Muffins. I’ve already packed the lunch for the guys to take with them. Three polish dog sandwiches, canned fruit, canned pudding, trail mix, and water. I’ve also got some latex gloves and N95 masks just in case. Under normal circumstances you never know what you’ll find when you are cleaning out a rental unit and these are far from normal times.

I hope I can get as much accomplished tomorrow as I did today. But most of the work is going to be inside because I just can’t see myself working out front without a look out. Not unless I get brave enough (or foolish enough depending on your view point) to give it a try. Tomorrow I’m also going to try and reach Mom and Dad again just can’t shake this feeling that something is going on I should know about.

Day 41

I’m by myself tonight. Well, Rose and the younger kids are here but we are cut off from the guys. I’m not ashamed to say I’m badly scared and even more worried.

The day started out ordinarily enough. We had the muffins like I had planned. I made sure all of the lunch got packed into the van and the guys were on the run right after dawn. The phones were still working at that point so we agreed they would call me around lunch time and update me on how things were going.

The girls and I did some odds and ends like transfer the stuff Scott brought home last night into our pantry and add it to my inventory. Sarah worked on the basket of mending. Bekah and Rose did morning lessons with Johnnie. Just normal stuff. OK, the new normal but you know what I mean.

About 9 o’clock I figured everyone would be awake at my parents’ place but it still took too many rings for them to answer. After he finally picked up the phone I could hear from my brother’s voice that some thing was wrong.

My sister-in-law’s family was sanitized. Their subdivision saw some heavy rioting leading to deaths … leading to zombies… they got caught in the middle of it. When officials finally notified her she became hysterical. She went on and on blaming my brother, my parents, the authories, God, and whoever else she could think of for about a day and a half and then yesterday she completely snapped. She’s taken her car and disappeared. They’ve looked every where for her but she likely tried to head back to Tampa. Brother doesn’t know what to do. He’s reported her missing but she’s an adult and its her car. There are a lot of people on the roster of missing people, she’s just one more.

I thought that was the sum of the story until I asked to speak to mom and dad. He told me that the stress of my sister-in-law’s behavior led Dad to have another attack. They don’t think it was a full blown heart attack this time but it was definitely something. This of course has set my mom off who isn’t always as strong as she used to be either. They ere both still resting quietly for a while and I didn’t get to talk to them. My two nephews are not making things any easier. They are both spoiled and high maintenance and my brother is not used to being their full time caretaker. Brother is at his wits end. I wish I could help but I have my own hands full, especially now. If there isn't any choice we could make room for them to come to stay with us, but I'd rater see my parents come here only I know that won't happen, especially not if my dad is reall bad off. I don't know what to do. I keep imagining I have seen my parents for the last time. And Scott’s not here and I have no idea where he is or how he is. Nor James or David. My world feels like it is blowing up in chunks.

The phone call to my parents rattled me badly. It didn’t help that Brother kept mentioning things like “end of life wishes," “living wills,” and the new NRSC euthanasia initiative. Like I wanted to think about those things in connection with my parents. Like anyone would want to no matter how necessary it could become at some point.

To try and steer back to a more positive line of thought I told the girls we could make cookies as a surprise dessert. That took until lunch time which was just a salad since none of the big boys were home.

Midway through lunch Scott called and told me to turn on the news and to keep it on; the natives were getting restless again. The promised food convoys have not arrived as planned; only the food for the active military, activated National Guard troops, and the NRSC troopers. There weren’t even any deliveries for the first responders like the cops or the fire stations.

Scott said they were going to leave just as soon as they could to make it home before things got bad, but the area had been cordoned off with armed troops. You could only get out of the area with a pass and the NRSC Lead Inspector hadn't started issuing them yet. The Inspector was pushing to get as much of the area inspected as possible. There were nearly 100 community deputies called in and in-fighting had started over who would get what. Some of them were hiding things so that the NRSC inspectors wouldn’t confiscate an item they wanted. This time however the NRSC was much more thorough, moving through each vacant unit like locusts. They weren’t being picky, they were picking everything unless the unit was tagged by the property owner. The other CDs looked at Scott as an interloper because he was a property owner in addition to being a CD.

I kept expecting them to come home even after it had passed curfew by several hours I finally had to give up and lock the house down because things were getting crazy on our end of town. Now I just pray that the guys are some place safe and secure.

Every time we manage to achieve a period of near normalcy it seems like something comes along to kick us in the shins. I’m trying not to get discouraged but its hard.

No one felt like eating much for dinner, not even Johnnie who I think may be coming down with something. I sent everyone to bed as early as possible except for rose who sat up with me until the power flickered off a couple of hours ago. We used the time to discuss some “womanly” stuff and at least it has given me some confidence that she isn’t as likely to let her feelings for David to get out of control as I had worried.

I tried texting Scott but I never heard back. He may just be saving his batteries or maybe the texts aren’t going through. I wish I knew for sure which it is.

The riot is spreading. As bad as it was last time it seems worse this time. As I was checking to make sure everything was locked down one final time I could hear sirens and gunfire to the south, east, ad west of us. Nothing to the north o far but there is an enclave up that way of well-armed families from what I’ve heard. I wish we had more people we could depend on and share the burden with.

I need to turn the lamp off in case I need it at some point. I hope the rain that has started to fall will calm things down but it could just as easily make things worse.

Day 42

No time to write except to note that they still aren't home. I hate the smell that lingers after a gun has been fired over and over. I hate the images that I've been left with even more. My hands, shoulders, and back are a mess. I know a lot less about guns than I thought I did. I've had to learn on the fly. At least I haven't shot anything off ... at least nothing that belonged to me or mine.

Day 43

Too tired and too scared. Where are they?! I need help! Johnnie is bad sick. I don't know if it is food poisoning or just some virus he picked up some how. I can't sit with him ... I have to keep look out. God bless my girls; all three of them are doing a woman's job when they shouldn't have to yet. Especially Rose ... oh Lord please don't let this break her.

I don't know which is worse ... the idiots who just won't seem to stop, the zombies, or us poor fools that are caught between the two. Please God, let Scott and the boys come home soon. Let them be OK. We need them desparately. I can't hold out much longer on my own.

Day 44

I just realized that tomorrow is James' birthday. Will I ever see my son again? What about Scott? And David?

Johnnie has finally turned the corner I think, or at least his fever has broken. His fever was really bad ... scary bad ... take a midnight trip to the ER bad. Only there aren't any ERs open in our area any more. I'm beginning to wonder if there is anythng open in our area any more. I'm wondering if anything is open any where any more. I can't pick up any broadcasts on the radio and the TV hasn't run for a couple of days now.

Things have finally quieted down. I complained before because things were too crazy and noisy. Now I'm complaining because things are too scary and quiet.

I can't reach my parents' place. I'm going to write this down once and then I'm never going to think about it again. I thought I saw my sister in law. It was hard to tell from the roof and it was a ways off into the orange grove ... but I could almost swear it was her. I'll never tell my brother. Never. What was left of her ... or the woman that looked just like her ... was a nightmare come to life. So, I'm not going to think about it any more.

I can't reach Scott. If it was only me I'd go looking for them. But it isn't only me. I have the kids to think about. I have to ... I have to ... I keep forgetting what I mean to write down. I know I need to do something only I can't think what it is right now. I think maybe I just need to sleep. Only I can't. I'm sitting here trying to stay awake. Something might start up again.

At least all the screaming has stopped. That was worse than all of the gunfire. I can't even hear any animals. Its like every living creature has found a hole and pulled it in after them.

I've got to ....

Day 45

James' birthday ... but I got the presents. Plural. My guys are home. Not necessarily in one piece, but they are safe and home. And we've got company.

Will try and write more later. Things are a mess.

Day 47

I meant to explain things earlier but I just haven’t had the energy. I’m sick with relief … literally … I’ve got whatever Johnnie had and I’m just now getting the fever under control. The girls are down with it as well. Scott, David, and James are doing the best they can but they are in sad shape, especially Scott who had to have a bullet removed from his calf. And then there are our guests.

Things have happened so quickly and been so complicated that the only way I’m going to make my explanation coherent is if I start at the beginning.

Back on day … 41 I think … Scott and the boys were fine until lunchtime. They were able to work on our units and avoid the hostility of their fellow Community Deputies. Mostly. From Scott’s description some of those people sounded pretty menacing and vindictive. For example, one of them dropped a tool and James picked it up and ran it over to the guy who had dropped it saying, “Excuse me sir, you dropped your …“ The guy turned around and slammed James to the ground and would have hurt him if Scott and David hadn’t run over and intervened as quickly as they had. As it was the body slam he took left him sore for days. There are still bruises on his back despite almost a week going by.

An NRSC agent saw the incident and reported it to a patrol Captain. The captain, apparently no fan of this man due to previous run-ins, had the other CD evicted from the area and red tagged him for a disciplinary hearing. The guy’s friends took exception to that, of course, and basically harassed my guys from then onward, even after the fighting really got started.

While Rose, the kids, and I were sitting down to lunch, Scott was receiving word that a small burglary attempt at the Ice Forum downtown (where some of the supplies for the NRSC were being stored) had escalated into a riot. And that the riot was expanding out of the downtown area and into the Bayshore and Westshore Districts. An hour later violence was popping up all over the place like it was being orchestrated.

The Lead Inspector for the area where Scott was appeared more savvy and realistic than former Inspector Lawrence had been but he was just as driven and intent on finishing the assignment. “Was” being the operative word. The first sign of violence in the cordoned off area was a shot that came out of no where and pierced the Lead Inspector’s chest. He died and reanimated very quickly which meant that he had probably been exposed to NRS in the course of his work. Things were already chaotic with CDs and NRSC troopers running all over trying to tie up loose ends so that the job site could be shut down. But when the Inspector’s reanimation occurred it injected pandemonium into the bedlam.

After that, mobocracy ruled. Scott said it was one of the most insane situations he has found himself in to date. It was every man (or woman) for himself or herself and damn the consequences. Commonsense seemed to have fallen by the wayside. It took a while but the NRSC troopers finally brought most of the CDs under control, those that hadn’t already fled the area anyway. Every trooper patrol then had at least two CDs attached to them and went around sanitizing all of the corpses that hadn’t already reanimated. If a body was on the ground and unmoving, or didn’t respond coherently it was assumed to be a potential zombie. A single head-shot was delivered point blank. A few of the bodies may not have been all the way dead, but it didn’t matter. No medical assistance was coming. One of the NRSC training statements is “better to be zealous than to be a zombie.” Even if their actions were not moral, they would be covered by the new NRSC euthanasia initiative. Anyone close to death with no reasonable expectation of immediate medical assistance could have a writ issued to be euthanized. In an emergency the legal writ could be waived so long as an agent of the NRSC delivered the sentence. NRSC agents included active duty military, those called to active duty (retired military or National Guard), first responders of any variety (cops, firemen, etc.), and CDs acting in their legally defined role.

James was left at the six-unit while Scott and David were assigned to different patrol units. He had wanted to go with them but was prevented by one of the NRSC officers. He was scared to death to be separated from them both. Scott sure as heck wasn't thrilled to be separated from James but one of the NRSC captains promised to look after him.

While Scott ad David went through the neighborhood they tried to think of a way to get out of the area but the van was blocked in by a couple of NRSC transports. It would have been too dangerous to try and leave the area on foot. It didn’t take long for the fighting to spill into the streets in the cordeoned off area where they were and it woudn't be long before it got dark. This sent all of he patrols scurrying in different directions. Scott headed straight back to where James was and since he knew what shape the doors and windows were in on his units he and the boys decided to stick close to the van and hole up in one of those apartments regardless of what the other CDs chose to do. Several NRSC troops and a couple of CDs who hadn’t made it out either also took refuge in the units with them once the fighting in the street became too heavy to move around the area. It simply made sense to pick a concrete block building over some of the other newer and more expensive buildings that were only constructed of stucco or wood.

The transports blocking the van turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They took the brunt of a lot of the gunfire, and rock and bottle throwing, leaving our van mostly unscathed. We did lose a rear window, a hubcap, and add a few more bullet holes but it could have been worse. Most of the other non-military vehicles were damaged much worse.

As far at the guys that had taken refuge with them, Scott said the NRSC troopers weren’t a bad lot. One or two of them were a little too impressed with the picture they made in their scary black uniforms but you get that kind of thing in most career fields. They were a mixed bag, some seemed to have real battlefield experience but there were a couple that were nothing more than former mall cops. It didn’t take long to separate the real deals from the wannabees.

The CDs exhibited even more variety. A couple of them were OK, but there were some real jackasses in there too. Some of them tried to push David and James around until one of the NRSC captains told them to knock it off or go find themselves another hidey-hole. One of them, apparently a friend of the evicted CD, continued to try and pick on James until an NRSC Sgt. put a boot to his rear. Apparently the man, named Sam Dixon, had a son about James’ age. He was unhappy with Scott for bringing James into things until James told the Sgt. how his dad hadn’t been given a choice in the matter. The Sgt. then had a few colorful words for the administrative arm of the NRSC.

All of them were stuck in the six-unit until the next morning. The rain had slowed the riot down but not by much. There was still too much gunfire to risk trying to make it out of the area. It looked like maybe one or more of the armories had been compromised and a lot of ammo stolen. During the night, since the curfew was in effect, authorities considered civilians – even CDs – to be unfriendlies. Not even Sgt. Dixon wanted to be out and he was as anxious as Scott to get back to his family which was being housed in one of the dormitories at USF.

When they got up the next morning things had deteriorated quite a bit. NRS was beginning to run rampant and unchecked. Scott and every one else holed up at our six-unit tried to keep things clear around the buildings. The problem with that was the more gunfire, the more zombies were attracted to the sound, which meant they had to make more noise with their guns which drew more zombies, and so on and so on; a real vicious cycle. Eventually, because of ammo concerns, they simply let the zombies roam where they would so long as they didn’t pose an immediate danger.

While the guys were stuck at the six-unit I was trying to figure out what to do. The University Area riot had spread so far north that it began to spread into our neighborhood. I had dozed for just a few minutes when I was awoken by rattling at the front windows about 3:45 in the morning. No one was getting through the shutters but it still scared the bejeebers out of me.

I ran to wake Rose and Sarah up and told them to take Bekah and Johnnie to the shower room at the center of the house and to lock the doors behind them. That room is the one that we fortified in case of hurricane. It had a double layer of roof over it because of a house addition that had been made years ago. We had changed all of the doors from hollow core to solid. There were no windows and the linen closet was kept stocked with food, water, and our general storm supplies. It’s the best I could do for them in terms of extra security.

Scott had taken most of the guns with him leaving me a single rifle. It was a .22 and about all I could handle anyway. Besides, I only had two hands … if I could only shoot one gun at a time I figured that was all that I needed. At least that is what I kept telling myself. So long as I could hit what I was aiming at – and I got lots of practice at that over the next few days – I didn’t need anything fancy. The .22 did what I needed it to do. Well, it did after I actually figured out what I was doing.

After getting the kids settled and gathering the gun – which is something that I should have done right away rather than putting it off like I did – I started going from room to room and trying to figure out what was going on. There didn’t appear to be any body in our backyard. Mostly they just seemed to be running from house to house to see if there was an easy entrance. If it wasn’t easy they moved on to the next place. At least they did for a while.

After explaining to Rose what I was going to do, I snuck out through the pantry, through the utility room, and into the carport. I felt so exposed. There were walls and a gate up but it wasn’t like having concrete walls. And everything echoed. Creepy.

From that vantage-point I could really hear the buzz of activity from a few streets over. I knew things were bad because in all the time that I was out there, and it must have been an hour, I never saw a single military patrol. I heard some breaking glass from up and down the street, some banging that I figured was doors being kicked in, plenty of raised voices, and a crap load of guns going off. I was feeling isolated. The canal behind us to the north, the orange grove to the west of us, and nothing to the east of us for over 50 yards now that Mabel’s place was gone. There is a white Victorian looking place that sits kinda kitty corner to us to the NE and then to the NW is the lowland terrain. Our road runs through the middle of it all.

Eventually sunrise arrived. Part of me appreciated it and part of me didn’t.

The people that owned the Victorian were foreclosed on last year. The bank took it over and the place is all boarded up with ventilated plywood sheets; the ones that let just enough air circulate to prevent mold and mildew. Even the doors were boarded up and had cross beams added for good measure. I hated that because it always made the neighborhood look so tacky and run down. But I had more of a appreciation of it now. I could tell that no one had gotten in there and was using it as a base to spy on our home. To the east of us where the two subdivisions are … well it sounded bad down that way. Because the road curved I couldn’t really see anything from the carport but there was a plume of smoke rising just over the trees in that direction.

Right about the time that I noticed the plume of smoke was when I saw the first of the zombies coming out of the lowland terran right of way. That’s where they had come from last time. I don’t know why they seemed to be getting channeled through there unless it had something to do with the geography and buildings in that direction. Maybe there was an artificial funnel behaving similar to the way the gully did behind us. Whatever, it meant that I had a much too good view of too many freaking zombies. There were new ones and old ones … both in their age at death and in their re-animated age. Some hardly looked like they had been hurt and some were in pieces. They all smelled bad enough to gag me. I eventually tied a bandana around my face to try and keep out some of the stink.

I didn’t know what to do. The zombies were just kind of wandering aimlessly unless their attention was caught by the ruckus down in the subdivisions. When that happened they started off in that general direction. I called those idiots down there every kind of fool I could think of, including some that I made up. Enough people had pointed out that noise draws zombies that you would think that most people would want to hunker down but no … oh no … no, there are some real dim bulbs in this world and a bunch of them seemed to be occupying the area immediately surrounding me.

While I sat in the carport trying to figure out what I was supposed to do, several miles away Scott and the guys were trying to do the same thing. David said that Scott was getting pretty frantic at that point. The NRSC’s radio had reported fighting in and around our area. It was a battle between keeping James and David and himself safe enough so that they could come back to us and dying tiny deaths every time he heard the reports getting worse, knowing I was home alone with the other kids.

Eventually the NRSC agreed to facilitate a convoy to the Keel Outpost. They would drop off the CDs that didn’t have any transportation and the rest of the CDs could disperse assuming no one was called up for further duty. All of the working vehicles were lined up and the group headed out. Scott and his trailer was one of only a half dozen civilian vehicles that were still working by that time so they had to take some extra passengers which made for a strained and uncomfortabe ride.

Sgt. Dixon had a really good idea that they’ve since used on several occasions. The convoy was all set up to move but they knew as soon as they did the zombies would just follow them around, preventing them from finding sanctuary. What they did was create a diversion that would draw the zombies’ attention far enough away – and keep it away – until they could move out. This time they took a couple of battery powered stereos and set it in a tree in the middle of a green space a block over from where our six-unit is. Then they turned the stereos up full blast.

Sure enough that caught enough attention that the convoy could head out unmolested. The few zombies that didn’t take the bait were run over by the lead trucks. Scott said that running over the zombies is much better than shooting them and drawing further attention. Its difficult to get used to but you have to look at it the same way you would if an animal was to run out into the road in front of you. Do you get in an accident and get injured to potentially save the life of the animal or do you run over the animal and save your own life. For the people in the convoy it was a no-brainer.

The city was a mess. There were fires all over the place, over turned vehicles blocking streets and lots of debris that caused them to have to take numerous detours. One such detour had them rolling past the Driscoll Aluminum Warehouse. A small fire had started and been put out in the showroom area but for the most part it looked like Driscoll and the families in his enclave were holding up. The convoy got some waves from an upper window. Sgt. Dixon ran over to the fence to ascertain if they needed any help and was told in no uncertain terms that they were holding their own and didn’t need, nor want, any help. He said that they actually told him that they didn’t want any “interference” from the government. Good for them if they can hold out. They won’t owe anyone a thing that way.

As the convoy began to roll up Bearss Avenue Scott said he had a feeling that things had gone wrong before they even rounded the last curve. There was too much junk in the road and too many bodies laying around ... not all of them sanitize. Keel Outpost, formerly Jimmie B Keel library, was located next to an assisted living facility, there were also a couple of similar facilities within a mile or so of their location. NRS had broken out in one of them and spread through the area rapidly. Keel Outpost had been overrun and retaken on three separate occasions. The first time by a mob, the second two times by zombies. The poor physical condition of the people prior to going NRS made them very slow if they were even mobile. Disused and atrophied muscles didn’t respond any better to NRS neural commands than they had when the brain was still uninfected. Had the zombies overrunning the outpost been made up of more physically capable zombies the story might have ended up differently.

Once the convoy pulled into the outpost’s parking area, many of the CDs started demanding assistance to get back to their own homes. Scott had tried to position the van so that they could pull out quickly and were considering their options when an old friend showed up.

“Damn Scott, can’t you stay at home and out of trouble?”

“Look who’s talking. What did you boys do? Invite every kook in town for a party? Looks like it hit the fan here a couple of times.”

“Hit the fan? Hell yeah. Hit it and ripped it right out of the damn ceiling. It’s good to see you, just wish it was under better circumstances. I tried to get back over your way but they reassigned our patrol area. What are you all doing out here? How is everyone else?”

Scott and Matt shook hands and did the guy thing a little while longer to see who could tell the biggest tale and the biggest exaggeration. Eventually Scott said he got around to what was concerning him most; getting home to us. Just as they had begun to talk about some options another contingent of rioters was spotted heading right for the Outpost. It wasn’t long before everyone was fighting for their lives … again.

Back at home I was still at a loss about what to do. Did I stay really quiet and hope to avoid all the conflict? Or, did I make some kind of overt move to try and clear out the area? I voted to play it quiet and that is what I did for a while. Eventually I was driven inside by the need to use the bathroom and get something to eat. After I took care of that and checked on the kids – Johnnie was obviously sick by that point – I went to return outside. Even though I had just gone, when I stepped out into the carport I nearly wet my pants. There were two young men trying to break into the carport. Scott had reinforced the single chain in the middle with three chains – one at the top, middle, and bottom. It was a pain to get into but it made it harder to break into as well.

They spotted me a few seconds after I had spotted them. That was a heck of a moment to learn another lesson … never walk into an area blind. They started demanding that I open the gate and let them in. Yeah, like that was going to happen. Do I look stupid? Suddenly a zombie breaks in on their left and takes a big bite out of the face of the one closest to him. I could see his cheek stretch outward before tearing away from his face. The other man ran away, abandoning his partner to his fate. The guy was screaming and begging for me to help him. I knew he was already beyond help but … I stepped up and put the barrel of the rifle through the gate and pulled the trigger. The first shot killed the zombie. I brought the rifle back in, threw the bolt and then with the second shot hit the guy through the eye. I had jumped on the trigger too fast and had to use a third bullet to finally put the poor guy out of his misery.

I pulled the barrel back in and then promptly threw up the granola bar I had just eaten a few minutes before. But you know what it is like when you start to puke, its nearly impossible to stop. I kept throwing up until nothing but bile was coming up. By the time I had gotten myself under control, thealtercation's noise had drawn several more zombies to the gate. I had no choice at that point but to do my best to clear the area. But once you start an operation like that you can’t just stop when you feel like it.

I went back into the house and let the kids know that things were OK but that they needed to stay where they were until further notice. Rose told me that they needed food and water. Quickly thinking, I used the dollie and moved one of the big water barrels into the bathroom right outside the shower room. I then had Rose help me throw together some foods that wouldn’t need to be cooked. It was getting warm in there with no AC and all of those bodies in such a small space. I was hoping that maybe they would just lie down and sleep if Rose made them some sleeping mats with their pillows and stuffed animals. So that had to be carried in there also.

Poor Johnnie. I would have given almost anything to be able to hold him and rock him at that point but there wasn’t time. I gave Rose the first aid pack that had come out of the Avalanche and my kiddie first aid kit with the Tylenol and Motrin in it along with specific instructions on how to administer the medicine to Johnnie. I asked her to make notations on what she gave him, when, and what his temperature was every 30 minutes or so. She really had to push the fluids even if that meant using an eyedropper and forcing it down his throat if need be. A zombie started slamming into the fence from the orange grove and I thought Rose was going to lose it for a second, but she didn’t. I cannot say how proud I am of her.

I dragged the twin mattresses into the bathroom as well. I told her if she had to she could bring a mattress in and use it to cover the door in the same way we planned to for a hurricane. That I had to go on the roof so I could figure out what was going on. She didn’t want me to go but finally I simply gave her no choice but to accept my plan. I told her that I might be up there for several hours but if I wasn’t back in 24 to assume the worst and continue on accordingly, that someone would eventually come and she would need to be ready. When I hugged my kids I swore to myself it wouldn’t be the last time.

I had done plenty of thinking since Demolition Day. I had worried about anyone on the roof becoming a target or getting stuck up there. I had cleaned up one of Scott’s old gray tarps that was similar in color to our shingles and put it in a bag along with sticks to hold it up. It wasn’t a great piece of camouflage but it was better than nothing. I grabbed that, the gun, the ammo that I dumped into another bag, some water, and lastly I grabbed the big ax that I had brought in from Scott’s shed. If worse came to worse and the house got surrounded I figured I could chop into the roof and get into the attic and from the attic into the house.

I put everything in a backpack and climbed up to the roof using the ladder that we still hadn’t put back on top of the work van. I was as quiet as I could be as I got set up on the back side of the house but I swear they could still hear me and got excited.

Up on the roof how bad things were quickly came into focus. I wanted Scott so bad at that point I nearly just lay there and cried. I didn’t but it was a near thing. I set up a couple of places that I could cradle the rifle for more accuracy. I reviewed the few lessons on using a rifle that I could remember from over the years. I remembered that breathing was important, as was trigger control. I tried to calm down; I was shaking pretty badly.

My first couple of shots missed the zombies completely. I felt like an idiot. The next few shots, as I got familiar with the scope and figured out to hold my breath before I pulled the trigger, were body shots. After that my accuracy got a lot better. I’ll never be a competitive marksman but I could pretty much hit anything that came within 50 yards of the house, maybe not a head shot but I could hit the target; 60 yards was my outside limit. Beyond that I doubt I could hit anything even though I think you are supposed to be able to hit something up to and beyond 75 yards away with a .22 rifle. Not me; I’m not that accurate. At least not yet. Or maybe it was the scope. Heck, I don’t know. Its not like I'd spent a lot of time shooting at things up to this point. I'm lucky I didn't shoot my own foot off considering I'd never really had a lesson on firearms safety beyond my Dad and Grandad reading me the riot act of how I would behave with their guns.

As the number of bullets in my bag started to go down significantly I started to pick my shots. I would only shoot the strongest looking zombies. If they were falling apart, barely shambling along, or were in some way incapacitated I let them go. There were other folks taking shots at the incoming zombies and I figured they could help with the load. My little bag of ammo wouldn’t last forever.

I scrabbled across that roof most of the rest of the day. My arms were scraped all to heck as were my ankles where I was just wearing tennis shoes. I’m still recovering from the sunburn I got up there too. It was cloudy but the UVs were still coming down and I sweated the sunscreen off faster than I could put it on. I pinched the heck out of my hand a couple of times before I learned not to fight with the bolt so much. After the sun set I didn’t have any choice but to return inside. I nearly broke my fool neck coming down when I missed a ladder rung. I was tired and shaky.

I went inside to find Rose just coming out. She said they knew that I was OK because they could hear me up there crawling around. When it got quiet they would get scared. When she heard me crawling to the edge she had come out to meet me.

I was sick with worry. The guys still weren’t home and the zombies just kept coming and coming. There were also some real nut jobs out and about. A couple of times this pick up truck had come through the neighborhood. Apparently some Joe Bob, Billy Bob, Charlie Joe and Bobby Ray type idiots thought it would be the height of fun to go hunting. They came revving their engine and hooting and hollering and drawing all sorts of unwanted attention to my section of the street. I would have shouted at them to behave like they had a brain in their head but I wasn’t sure if they had housewives down on their hunting list as well as zombies; they were shooting at nearly everything else. I’m as big a Good Ol’ Girl as the next, but even I realize that there are some folks that simply shouldn’t be allowed to procreate.

I finally convinced Rose to get some rest. I rocked Johnnie for a bit until he went all the way to sleep and then locked the bathroom door. I moved back to the dining room at the front of the house and prayed that Scott and the guys really were OK and that it wasn’t just a fantasy I had been entertaining myself with all afternoon so I could stay positive. And that’s where I stayed for the remainder of the night, occasionally roaming the house to make sure everything was still secure.

While I did that Scott lay in a makeshift surgery having a bullet dug out of his calf.

When the fourth wave had broken over the Outpost everyone had quickly gotten into position. There was still plenty of ammo at that point but already the word had gone out to conserve and make every shot count.

While Scott rested from telling me the first part of the story James and David filled me in on the next part. James wasn’t allowed on the front line. He was sent to work with Waleski who had, along with a couple of other medics, set up a field hospital inside the former library. Most of the injuries were relatively minor. Waleski was wildly agitated and James didn’t understand why until he realized that one of the NRSC commanders had made the rounds of the injured and had tagged some of them to be euthanized. Waleski was all but spitting nails but it was out of his hands at that point. He in no way approved or supported some of the decisions that were being made but he didn’t have the authority to override them either. There was also nothing else he could do for those particular patients.

All afternoon James tended wounded men while Scott and David took turns on the front line keeping rioters and zombies as bay.

Scott was injured right before the sun finally set by a ricochet. The bullet had lost a lot of its speed and power which was likely why it failed to exit after it went in. David got Scott to Waleski as fast as he could but it was still some time before he could be seen. There were too few medics for too many injuries and the NRSC commander was underfoot making things slower than they should have been. There was also little pain medication left by that point and it was being rationed. The bullet came out readily enough, but Scott finally passed out while Waleski was cleaning the wound to prevent infection.

Since things had begun to quiet down with the dark, David volunteered to take James’ place helping tend the injured so that James could sit with his dad.

All the next day we both took part in beating back further attacks. From the vantage of the roof I watched as the world seemed to fall apart. I watched people throw all their worldly goods in their cars and pull out and head for someplace else … any place else but here. Some of them actually made it further than the end of the street.

David said he and James took turns with Scott who had begun to run a low-grade fever. They also had to keep an eye on the van and on their gear because some of the other CDs kept snooping around it. Sgt. Matt, McElroy, and Cease (just back from leave and still emotionally shook up after seeing his grandparents buried next to each other after they chose their own way out of this mess) discouraged this as much as possible, but they couldn’t play favorites.

Another night rolled around and I spent it on watch or trying to get Johnnie’s fever to come down. I even filled the tub with water and soaked him in it hoping that would help. I was so exhausted.

I was also scared. Rose was doing what she could but she had her hands full helping with her siblings. She was making sure they ate and drank, cleaning up after them, tryng to calm their fears when I wasn’t around, dealing with Johnnie as well. And all in the dark of a small, windowless room.

The ammo that I knew I could use with the .22 was going down too quickly. I hadn’t realized how quickly until I had gone to fill up my bullet bag one more time and realized how light the ammo can was becoming. I spent the remainder of the night trying to figure out some other way to push away the zombies that had begun getting so close to the front of the house.

Fire was out though I was tempted to throw one of those fiery cocktail things over into the lowland right of way. Besides it was too wet in there and there was also the problem that the fire could get out of control and do us more harm than help.

I don’t know what made me think of that old movie “What Waits Below.” Its one of those old “B” movies that is supposed to scare your socks off but instead usually ranges into the bizarre and funny. The little people in this movie killed by driving spikes through the heads of their enemies. I then remembered that Scott had to get all over Johnnie when they were cutting that rebar they buried around the fence edge. One of the long pieces had a really sharp angle and he was swinging it around and nearly bonked Bekah with it. I remember that it was too long to go into his shed so he had just laid it to the side. And I remembered exactly where too.

I tried out my “pike” on some of the zombies that had gathered at the carport gate. The meal they had made of the bodies that I had left there was long gone. The four of the remaining zombies that hadn’t wandered off were just standing there. When I entered the carport they got a little agitated but not much. They didn’t even seem to register me at all unless I made any noise. As quietly as I could I came up to the gate, sighted my pike through a hole in the fence and then punched through the first zombie’s skull with as much force as I could muster.

It didn’t work exactly as I had planned. The front of the skull is really thick, like a helmet. That’s what our skulls are really … helmets for our brains. The punch skittered across the zombie’s forehead, slashing skin away and slid into the eye socket. And when I say it slid in I mean it really went it. In fact it punched out the other side. Unfortunately my forward thrust sent the zombie backwards pulling me almost into the gate itself.

I was gagging really bad but managed to back up and pull my pike back through the bars. It was enough noise to confuse the three remaining zombies but not enough for them to figure out where I was. Instead they fell on the fallen zombie and ripped it apart. While that was happening I chanced another attack and caught a second zombie in the temple area and it dropped immediately. That left two zombies who were confused enough that they were turning on each other. That was a little too much noise and it had drawn the attention of some other wandering zombies.

I gave up attacking from that direction and quickly retreated to the backyard and up onto the roof. Using the pike wasn’t a tactic that I would choose as a first option, but at least I had a back up plan. It would probably work better for someone stronger.

I was getting discombobulated by that time. Too little sleep and too much sun will do that even under the best circumstances. Add worry and fear and I was a prime candidate for the loony bin.

Scott wasn’t much better off but for different reasons. He was fighting off an incipient infection from the bullet wound and his judgement was getting cloudy. It took James and David both, as well as Waleski and Matlock, to keep him from just hairing off in the van and coming home.

From my vantage point on the roof I could hear the sounds of the world change from mostly gunfire punctuated by a few screams here and there to less and less gunfire and more and more screams. People were running out of ammo, running out of patience, running out of options, and beginning to make really stupid mistakes. At one point when I was laying on the roof I imagined that the screaming had turned into a chorus from hell. I know I must have been hallucinating but it was so real that it is still hard to shake the auditory imagery.

I think everyone was glad to see the end of that day. The pure mayhem and the destructive emotions of the last couple of days was simply more than most had bargained for. Some of the CDs had left against recommendations. Some made it, some didn’t. But for those behind closed doors and fences, the quiet of the night was as unhealthy as the devastating noise of the day. Waleski finally doped Scott up so he would sleep laying on the floor of the outpost. I just sat in a chair in our dining room and rocked, sipping one of Scott’s high octane energy drinks, praying that I wouldn’t fall asleep and leave the kids vulnerable.

I got up the next morning and knew that I had to cook something for the kids. They couldn’t live on cold beef stew and granola bars any longer. As quietly as I could I set up my Coleman oven and baked a double load of garlic and cheese biscuits and another double batch of cornmeal muffins that had bacon in them. I also pulled out some boxed rice milk. I gave this all to Rose and told the kids if they were quiet they could stretch their legs a little bit and grab some toys to take into the shower room with them. Johnnie’s fever had finally broken and he was sleeping peacefully for the first time in a while so we didn’t wake him. I did heat up some chicken broth and pour it into a thermos for him to have later.

I was desperate for news, any news. I couldn’t get through to Scott. The radio and TV weren’t receiving anything either except for a test screen. I tried to reach my parents but couldn’t get through. My phone call to Scott just went to his voice mail over and over again. But when I tried to call my parents it kept saying all circuits were busy. That just didn’t make sense. At the time it didn’t anyway. Knowing what we do now it does.

I climbed back up onto my roof and just lay there. I was beginning to lose hope that Scott was coming home. I was still playing it up for the girls but I’m not sure I believed it any more. I sat there and baked in the sun for a long time. Gradually a thumping sound penetrated my stupor. It felt like someone was hammering inside the attic. That scared me spitless. I shimmied down the ladder and into the house expecting the worst. Rose, bless her, had gotten scared when I stopped moving around. She had climbed up into the attic and started banging on the roof to try and find out what was going on. I knew I was too far gone and stayed inside the rest of the day. I couldn't give up, if only for their sake.

As I sat staring at the front door, mentally daring anyone - or any thing - to knock, I realized that the next day would be James’ 16th birthday. I think Rose remembered as well ‘cause she and I just held each other while silent tears ran down our faces. Sarah and Bekah must have crept out at some point because they were leaning on me as well. Bekah said, “Don’t worry Momma, Daddy’ll be home soon and we won’t have to miss him any more.” God, it was all I could do not to run screaming straight into the arms of lunacy at that point. I straightened myself up and gave them all a kiss. Went in to check on Johnnie and then came back out to stare at the door some more.

At some point on this day, James says mid morning but David said it was after lunch, Scott had finally had all he could stand. He and the boys were making plans to pull out when Sgt. Matt and Sgt. Dixon came over with the latest bad news.

“It’s not common knowledge yet but they’ve put the entire Tampa Bay area under quarantine. Even MacDill is being abandoned. Even us troops are being abandoned to fate,” Sgt. Matt explained.

There was shock all the way around. To simply abandon active duty military, to not make an effort to evacuate them, was a prescription for disaster. It sets a terrible precedent and really lowers the morale of the rest of the armed forces. It is simply not done.

“What this means gentlemen is that effective immediately Matlock and I appear to be at loose ends. That also means we are now free to get to our families. My kids and fiancé are being housed over at USF. Matlock has got some step-kids with his ex-wife that are supposed to be at their grandparents over in Carrollwood. We want to go get them and try and create an area that we can defend for an extended time, at least until those idiots running the show in DC find some brains and help us out,” Sgt. Dixon explained.

“Yeah, look Scott, your place is set up pretty good and easily defensible. I know it’ll be crowded but it could be doable until we can figure out the next part of the game plan. Dixon has talked to his patrol group and they’ll take their transport and supplies. I’ve talked to my guys and we’re going to grab a Hummer and load it with what we can. We’ll take point in the Hummer, Dixon said he and his boys will cover our rear. You want in?”

It didn’t take Scott but a second to say “Hell yeah.” They quietly moved some of the NRSC supplies into the transport and some of the Outpost supplies into the Hummer. Scott, being unable to drive, helped David position the van and trailer … ostensibly to get it out of the way … between the two.

Mid-afternoon the Outpost Commander released the details of the quarantine to the remaining personnel. As expected there was a lot of outrage. During all of the ensuing ruckus a lot of the vehicles began to move out. Our guys weren’t the only ones to make plans in advance. There were still a significant number that decided to hold onto the Outpost but most of the active duty military types, including NRSC troopers and National Guardsmen, decided to head over to MacDill.

The parade of vehicles began to peal off and go their separate ways. With Matlock leading the way our convoy headed west of Bearss until they hit Dale Mabry Hwy where they turned south. They followed the highway south until they could find a cross road where they could turn into Old Carrollwood. The few people still around cowered in their houses but a few hurled curses as the men (and the two women in Dixon’s group) rolled slowly along. They stopped in front of a house that was nothing more than a burned out hulk. Scott said he had never seen Matlock so devastated. Cease later told me that Matlock had been hoping for a reconciliation with his ex-wife.

He got out and he was given cover while he looked around trying to find a sign of what had happened. He looked around and was finally convinced to leave when two little kids came running out of the bushes from across the street.

“Uncle Matt! Uncle Matt!!! Help!!” A little girl and boy, aged four and 10 respectively, were being chased by a new-ish zombie who was in the “fast” stage. Matt ran across the street and grabbed the kids while Dixon’s crew sanitized the zombie.

“We need to get out of here Matt … that gunfire will draw a crowd!” Dixon radioed.

“Kids, where’s you Mom?” Matt asked them.

“Grammy ate her. Grandpa too. We ran over to the Childerson’s for a while but Grammy followed us over there. We’ve been hiding up in the clubhouse for days and days,” the boy explained.

Matlock looked heart broken for a few seconds but stiffened his spine and then radioed back to Dixon that they were moving out. They rolled out onto Dale Mabry again and stopped only long enough to transfer the kids to Scott’s van for safe keeping. James watched over them and told them about his own siblings that were their age. He also explained what they were trying to do. He gave the boy, named Tom, a Clif Bar but the girl just sat there staring, holding onto a pink stuffed bunny backpack as if was her only lifeline.

From Dale Mabry Hwy they headed north until they reached Fletcher Avenue where they turned east. The closer they got to the University Area the more blatant destruction there was. This was an area that had seen some of the heaviest rioting. University Community Hospital, the scene of one of the first NRS outbreaks in the area, was a smoldering ruin in danger of toppling at any moment. The Hummer would have had no problems getting through the debris. Neither would the transport because it sat so high. But Scott’s van and trailer were not going to make it. They backtracked on Fletcher until they got to Bruce B. Downs Blvd and then used side streets to get onto the USF campus and over to the area of on-campus housing.

Argos Hall looked devastated but Dixon pointed out a sheet hanging from an upper floor that read, “On top floors. Zombies on all floors four and below.”

There was nothing left to do but take the building floor-by-floor. Dixon and three of his people all had family that were supposed to be in the building. Scott was too injured to go so he, David, and James stayed on the ground to protect their back and watch after Matlock’s step-kids while most of the active-duty men and women took the building.

A couple of hours later they started bringing down the survivors. There weren’t that many of them. Dixon’s fiance and their 14-year-old son were among the survivors but the woman had been brutalized pretty badly by some rioters that had attacked the building before the zombies arrived. The husband of one of the females in his group had not made it. The NRSC group’s radio specialist also lost his wife, but their baby daughter was found safe and sound inside a locked janitor’s closet and with a couple of other very young children. No one knew who the other two little ones belonged to, they were just survivors like everyone else.

It was getting towards night and too late to go any further. They needed to find a safe place to stay for the night. Scott said he was angry but knew they couldn’t move any further. Matt and Dixon both came by to say they were sorry but it didn’t change the facts. Scott had helped them get to their families, but he was still not home with his.

The only safe place they could find quickly that could accommodate all three of the vehicles was the Physical Plant building. They spent the remainder of the evening tending to the injured, making plans for a quick exit at first light, and rummaging through the boxes in the step vans that were parked in the plant’s garage.

They siphoned all of the diesel to refill the tranport’s and Hummer’s tanks. David filled our van's tank from cars out in the parking lot. They also topped off two of the step vans that would be used for transporting the survivors and the supplies they were gathering. In fact there was so much stuff that they decided to also take a small trailer truck as well and to hit the road mid morning after they had combed through some of the adjacent buildings. Scott wasn’t happy about the additional delay but knew that there was no way that we could feed and house all of these people. The food that woud be needed alone would completely wipe us out in no time.

The next morning I stood up out of the chair I had been resting in and nearly fell over, all in one smooth motion. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten anything substantial and I knew that I could not continue to act this way. I was already feeling pretty lousy and about the only thing that sounded even half way appetizing was grits. I fixed them while the girls simply watched me; none of us making any more sound than we had to. We also ate in silence which is so different from the way our home used to be as to be unimaginable.

I was moving very slowly and my brain was sluggish. I knew I still needed to go on the roof to try and figure out how bad things were. I stumbled out the door after putting the kids into the shower room again. Up the ladder nearly missing two rungs on the way up. It was like the world had died. Sanitized corpses and bodies too eaten up to reanimate littered the roads and yards for as far as I could see. I knew those would have to be taken care of but refused to take the thought any further. Turkey vultures, black birds, and some feral cats were already at the corpses. I figured the dogs would be at them at some point soon if there were any still around.

My mind fluttered in and out of reality for a while. Looking back it isn’t surprising that the first glimpse I got of the convoy would appear to be a waking dream or hallucination. But I knew the zombies coming out of the bushes at the sounds of the vehicles were no illusion. Automatically I took aim and started taking the zombies down without really thinking about it.

Scott said Matt had to radio Dixon and his crew to make sure they wouldn’t return fire. They weren’t sure if I as shooting at the zombies or just shooting scared.

I saw Scott’s van but only part of me registered the fact. I was really detached. And then I saw James waving like a madman from the side door window. David was driving and waving as well. Scott was just staring at me from the passenger’s seat with his face plastered to the glass.

Everything suddenly clicked. I rolled off of the roof nearly missing the ladder. As it was I fell the last four feet when I lost my balance and missed the bottom rungs. I flew into the house and called to Rose to come quick. I had to know if I had lost my mind or not. Rose looked out the carport and started crying tears of joys before I shoved her back inside to keep the other kids out of the way while I tried to figure out a way to get them safely into the house. More and more zombies were beginning to show up.

Suddenly the Hummer started plowing through the zombies. Just flat out running them over. It was creating enough of a diversion to allow me to unlock the carport and let Scott’s van and trailer to pull in. They ran over the rotting corpses that had been in front of the gate but I barely registered it. The Hummer and the military transport vehicle continued to roll up and down the road taking out any zombie that ventured towards our position. During that time the step van with the other survivors backed up to the carport and disgorged its passengers. The driver pulled to the front corner of the yard. Then the next step van backed in and its supplies were quickly unloaded. Its driver pulled in behind the second step van. The trailer truck backed in to the drive way and up to the carport. The Hummer then pulled directly into the yard and the transport closed the remaining gap between the trailer truck’s cab and the back of the second step van. They had created a barrier of sorts around our front yard to match the fence we had around our backyard.

There were so many people in the house. I couldn’t count them all, they kept moving around too much. But everyone was still being as quiet as possible and it was like watching a silent movie. I couldn’t get enough of touching Scott and James. David, normally shy, was also in the middle of it all with the girls climbing all over him to welcome him home. Rose just looked at him and then they took each other's hand. I looked at Scott but he had no objections so I just nodded at them letting them know it was OK.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that day. I tried to explain to Scott what had been happening and I know he tried to talk to me but little of either makes much sense in my memories. Waleski looked at Johnnie and said he was just a little dehydrated but should be OK. When he looked at me however he shook his head. That’s about all I really remember. I had come down with the same bug that Johnnie had; probably caught it as I was rocking him that one night. Rose and the girls must have helped put me to bed but it’s a blur.

I woke up several times in the night reaching out, searching for Scott. He would pat me and tell me he was there and to go back to sleep. I didn’t wake up until around lunchtime the next day. I tried to get up. There were people in the house for Pete’s sake but I never made it passed the bathroom. The NRSC medic, her name is Rachel Rigosa, finally convinced me to give it up after explaining that no one was doing much of anything except sleeping. Everyone was exhausted and in need of healing … physically and mentally. Watches had been set, chores had been designated, and I just needed to go back to bed.

And now, after another night’s sleep it is Day 47 of this journey. I still need to write down what we decided today but that will have to wait until tomorrow’s journal entry. Writing this all out has rung more of an emotional toll than I had anticipated. I’m still not feeling totally myself. It took the last of my energy a few minutes ago to convince Scott to let Waleski and Rigosa to take another look at his leg. I’m ready to happily lay down my pen, county chicks, and to leave the watches up to someone else for a change.

Day 48

The last week has been exhausting. I have so many people in my house that it is crazy but over the next couple of days the over-crowding should start to ease somewhat.

Just for the sake of clarification I guess a roster of membership in our new “enclave” is in order. Honestly I haven’t learned everyone’s name yet … and putting the names with the right faces is turning out to be an extreme challenge; for me it is anyway.

First there is our family: Scott, Sissy (me), Rose, James, Sarah, Bekah, Johnnie, and of course David is included.

Next there is Sgt. Matt and his crew: Murphy Matlock and his two step-kids – Tom who is 10 and the little girl is named Jenny I think. She is 4 and profoundly disturbed. She and Johnnie stay with either me or Rose almost 24/7 unless Matt is sitting down to eat then she is in his arms or wrapped around his leg. She hasn’t talked much at all since she arrived and that is very concerning. Neither Waleski nor Rigosa have much experience with children so they aren’t sure how to categorize how traumatized she is. Only time will tell us that. In addition to Matt and his kids, there are the three unattached males from his patrol. Gabriel Waleski is a medic. Poor guy. With all that blonde wavy hair and blue eyes he must have been teased unmercifully; no wonder he prefers to be known by his surname alone. Cecil “Cease” Davenport; young and still getting over the shock of his grandparents’ choice of euthanasia so that they could go together. Henry McElroy; personable but distant so I don’t know that much about him other than he is a hard worker.

Then we have Sgt. Dixon, his crew, and their surviving families: Sam Dixon, his fiancé’ Patricia whom his is basically treated as a common law wife for about 15 years, and their 14 year old son Samuel. Samuel is a good kid and is fitting in well between James and Sarah. Patricia I’m reserving judgment on. I just can’t seem to warm up to her for some reason. She has a very strong personality and despite some serious injuries at the hands of the mob that stormed Argos Hall she is pretty much taking over my house which is unnerving to me.

The rest of Dixon’s crew includes the woman whose husband didn’t make it out of Argos. I think her name is June or her last name is Juno or something like that. She can’t seem to stay still long enough for me to start a conversation up with her. I think it is her way of dealing with her grief. Or maybe its part of her natural personality … no one seems to think anything unusual about how she is acting. I guess I’ll figure it out eventually.

The man they call Hall is the radio specialist – I think his full surname is Mendenhall – and he lost his wife in Argos. His baby daughter is named Kitty and she isn’t even two months old yet. It’s been a trip having to take care of newborn all over again. Luckily there was about a case of powdered baby formula in Argos but when that is gone I have no idea what we are going to do. My milk making days are truly over. Yeah, we are taking care of Matt’s daughter and baby Kitty. Hall just looks at the baby but is having a hard time developing a connection with her. I think the loss of his wife has disconnected him from his daughter. We’ll have to work on that. For now I’ve also taken in the little boy and girl that were found in the closet with Kitty. The little boy and girl appear to be siblings and the little boy, about three years of age, has stated that the little girl is called “Sis” and his name is “Bubby.” The boy did have the name Charles written on thes tag of his t-shirt but he won’t answer to that name; he only answers to Bubby.

Dante Laramour found his wife and two children alive and in fighting form on the very top floor of Argos after having given them up for dead. Tina is about ten years younger than I am and I really like her. She means well, but she spent most of her adult life working as an advertising agent and is pretty clueless when it comes to homemaking. Her mother was also a career woman and had weekly maid service. Tina simply has no training in that direction. But she is able to laugh at herself which takes a lot of the sting out of the lessons she is being forced to learn more quickly than is comfortable. Her two kids fit with mine pretty well. They have their mother’s personality, though more subdued. Laura is eleven and she, Sarah, and Samuel can be found together more often than not. Robert – better known as Bo – is 10 and he, Tom, and Bekah are forming another close knit group.

The last two in Dixon’s group are unattached. Rachel Rigosa is a medic in her mid twenties. The best word for her is efficient. She is a tightly compacted woman that rarely makes any more movement than necessary, but when she does move get out of her way because she is a dynamo. She also isn’t much of a talker. She and Waleski make a surprisingly good team though how on earth they do it when neither one does much talking is beyond me. Jose Navarre is nineteen and the son of immigrants. He seems to really be getting attached to Scott. I think it is because Scott is fluent in Spanish and it is a way for Jose to stay connected to his roots. He hangs out a lot with David and James. He’s from Miami and wishes with all his might that he could find out what happened to his family down there.

That’s our full house. In addition to our family there are twelve adults and eight children. That’s a total of twenty-eight people living in a house that was built to house only a quarter that number. As full as our house is, the sound volume is much lower than you would expect. Even with all the children underfoot it has been quiet; unnaturally so.

I couldn’t believe it when Scott and the boys first showed up. I wanted to cling to them in thanksgiving but there wasn’t time; not then, and hardly any privacy to do it since. We put families together where possible and the unattached men in with David and James. We put the unattached women in Rose’s room with her. Our house simply isn’t designed for this. Bedding has been challenging but we are making do and things are getting better. Thus far there are no night patrols so Matt’s kids bunk down where ever he decides to crash for the night. Hall freaked out over taking care of Kitty so I’ve been carrying her in Johnnie’s old sling and she sleeps next to my side of the bed at night. Scott has been making noise that if Hall refuses to start trying to take care of his daughter more that we’ll petition the group to adopt her outright. Lord only knows what kind of legal mess that could become in the future, but for now Scott and I are all growing too attached to her to simply give her back with no questions asked. Sis and Bubby sleep in our room with us as well. Its like puppies all over our floor but not as much trouble as it sounds.

Cooking has been a challenge. For the last two days its been grains for breakfast (oatmeal or grits), rice and beans for lunch, and soup for dinner. Not very creative but about all I’ve been able to manage for a crowd this size. I’ll admit to getting a bit irritated at the lack of help from the adult females. Most of them are either military and therefore included in security and gathering crews or are the white collar career types with maybe the desire but no immediate skills. In all honesty it’s the same for the males so maybe I’m just being sexist. But honestly, how did all the housework and cooking fall to me?! My girls help where they can but Rose seems to have taken a shine to Patricia and mostly seems to be helping her make lists and tally supplies, etc. That’s needed work, but if I don’t get some help people aren’t going to get fed and that’s a fact.

Speaking of the gathering crews, they’ve answered some questions and raised a few more. In the chaos of the rioting and zombie attacks a lot of people tried to hit the road to escape. Where they thought they were going I have no idea. How many got there is impossible to say. All I can say with certainty is that a lot of them did not make it. A bottle neck formed at the end of the road right as it turned onto US41. From my vantage I saw it start with a stalled car. Then fear, road rage, gunfire, and zombies got thrown into it, resulting in a lot of unnecessary misery and death. I was too far away to do anything but watch it unfold.

The first crews to go out went over to those cars to see if there was anything that could be appropriated for our group’s use. That’s how some of the bedding issues were minimized. Some food also came into our supplies that way, but not nearly enough. As they were siphoning fuel from the tanks of these cars and pushing them to the side until they decided if they could be used, they tried to match vehicles to houses within the neighborhood. Scott and James helped with that if there was no ID available in the vehicle. From the ID’d vehicles they backtracked to the house where it came from.

At this point the map that James had been working on really came in handy. Sgt. Dixon was actually quite impressed and gave the job of updating known data on each household to James and his son Samuel. We’ve noted when we know for certain a household member was a corpse or re-animated and/or sanitized. Also noted has been things taken from those houses. So far roughly 85% of the neighborhood has been accounted for, the greater majority of those being vacant of human life. There is a street on the far NE side that has not been gone over but primarily because it is suspected to be heavily infested, requiring more fire power than the sergeants are willing to expend until they can find some way to resupply.

There are some hold outs sprinkled through the neighborhood. Sgt. Dixon wants to try and bring them into the enclave but Sgt. Matt doesn’t seem to have much use for them. His past experience in the neighborhood is coloring his perspective I suspect. To be honest I fall somewhere in the middle, at least until I know exactly who the hold outs are.
For now things brought in from the cars and vacant houses that doesn’t immediately get used is being stored in the large trailer with the rest of the supplies taken from over at USF. There’s enough that soon the vans will also be needed for storage. Again though, not enough of that is food.

I think the biggest physical challenge we’ve faced as far as the expanded household goes has been sanitation. Nearly thirty people create a lot of waste. We wound up having to build two waste stations over near my compost piles. I would not go so far as to call them out-houses but they serve the same function. The children (and Patricia due to her injuries) use the bathrooms inside and the adults use the waste stations except at night after the house gets locked up. Even this system won’t last forever as our septic tank was never designed to serve that many people at once.

I have lots of other concerns as well. My water reserves are deteriorating rapidly. The new people don’t seem to have any concept about real water conservation. And Patricia keeps trying to organize cleaning details without thought to the fact that we have no way to refill the water barrels until it rains – showers, laundry, etc. are eating away at what I thought was a massive surplus.

Thus far I’m fairly certain that no one knows about our hidden food storage and I don't intend on them ever being for the group's general consumption. After a whispered family conference back in our bedroom I’ve determined that no one has given it way but I’ve heard Patricia make some derogatory comments about the design of my pantry and utility room that made Sgt. Matt look at it thoughtfully.

I feel like I’m losing control. I know there is a price to pay for being able to share security issues but I’m wondering if the price isn’t turning out to be too high. My home is not a motel and I and my family are not maids. And Patricia is slowly but inevitably plinking away at my patience. I realize that she is trying to find her place in things but she is actually sowing some discord. I have a sneaking suspicion that Matlock doesn’t care for her. He avoids her and tends to hang out with his kids who hang out with mine. This afternoon he was joking with me about being a mother hen with too many chicks and the kids actually had real smiles on their faces in response to his joking while they were "helping" me to put together the dinner preparations. Jose, Cease, David and a couple of the other guys started clucking and generally being silly as well. Ms. “CPA” Patricia Stiff-Britches had to come along and spoil everything by commenting rather acidly that I appeared to be a hen with too many roosters -- right as Scott walked back into the kitchen. The guys didn’t mean anything by it and Scott knows I’m as constant as Old Faithful but her comment had “ugly” and "jealous" written all over it. The uncomfortable silence following her exit was way too long. Scott, bless him, saved things by giving me a good kiss in front of everyone and saying, “Say a prayer for poor ol’ Dixon. He’s got his hands full that’s for sure. When’s dinner sugar? I’m starving.” I think, but can’t be certain, that Matlock and Scott are trying to decide how to approach Dixon about her. We can’t waste a lot of energy on this kind of nonsense. We need everything we’ve got and then some trying to keep us all alive.

As I was cleaning up from dinner tonight and trying to keep the kids occupied and out of the grown ups’ way a meeting was called to discuss some of the issues I’ve been concerned about. I wish I could have been there but James – who is back talking to be without reservations, at least for now – told me what was discussed.

It appears I may be seeing some relief to the over crowding issue sooner rather than later. Waleski and Rigosa also expressed concerns about so many people under one roof simply for health reasons. One cold or other infection could run through our whole group like wildfire and that would leave us vulnerable. Tomorrow a cleaning crew is going to break into the Victorian across the street and see if it can be secured and made habitable for some of our enclave. There is the risk of splitting the group but that is the house closest to us and we’ve simply got to do something. Patricia tried to say that she and Dixon would take our house and we could stay and help out but before Scott could lose his temper Dixon told Patricia to knock it off ‘cause not everyone enjoyed her sense of humor. James said she wasn’t joking. I’m wondering if Dixon realizes that. Surely he can’t be that blind to what is going on.

Matlock raised the possibility of going up and down US41 and gathering enough fencing material to enclose a fairly large area. The area he wants to secure includes the orange grove to the west of our house (5 acres), Mabel’s old home site to our east (3 acres), our home and yard (.5 acre), the Victorian and its lot to our south (1 acre), and at least the two other homes and sites to the east of Mabel’s and the Victorian (another 5 or 6 acres not including parts of two canals). This would give our enclave a good bit of green space, even if you don’t include the orange grove itself and we could use that for staging and for growing the food we will need to see us through the coming months and perhaps longer. That would also give us a minimum of three additional houses for people to live in.

I’m not sure if Matlock realizes how much work and the amount of materials we are talking about. Maybe he does. All I know is Scott just about swallowed his teeth just thinking about the logistics of it. Just imagine if all of those post holes have to be dug manually with ye old post hold digger?! Simply moving galvanized fence posts that will support an eight or twelve foot fence is going to be freaking unreal. Grandiose plans are one thing … actually being able to put them into effect is something else all together.

These plans also appear to include closing off a section of our road to thru traffic. I assume they’ll gate it somehow, but still. All of this is kinda hard for me to take in. Things have changed so quickly, so painfully. Now they are making plans to change the very landscape I’ve become accustomed to. It’s a lot for me to take in.

The fact that I feel like a chess piece on the men’s game board doesn’t help. I’m no longer the “queen” of my home. That title is being held by Patricia. Despite the beating and rape – for which I do feel a lot of sympathy – she is acting “large and in charge.” She ran her own CPA office and has become habituated to being in control. After being the dominate female of my family, suddenly finding myself so far down the food chain is irksome to say the least. She reigns, almost literally, from my reading chair in the living room. Like a queen from her throne. She’d probably pull Rose away from me if it wasn’t for the fact that David can’t stand the woman and won’t have anything to do with her; almost to the point of rudeness. Rose learned that fact the hard way when David made a pointed comment this morning that it is sure a good thing that “Momma Sissy” was good at doing and not just talking or no one would get anything to eat. Patricia didn’t appreciate it and tried to point out how I could do it a lot better than I was. He came back at her with the way I was doing it was a heck of a lot better than anything anyone else had tried but that he figured I would like a break if someone else wanted to get up off their butts and give it a try. James and Scott got him out of the room before a fight could brew but I noticed that after that is when Tina came out and at least tried to help with the big cauldron of soup that I was cooking out back. I bless the day that David came into our lives. He has proved he loyalty to our family many times over. He's as much as son to me as James is at this point.

Anyone reading this some time in the future will probably wonder how we went from a relatively stable area to one so devoid of law and order so quickly. One word – quarantine. It wasn’t the NRS or the zombies that brought us to our knees, it was the rioting and the resulting consequences which included the zombies. People lost control due to their fear. When they lost control and couldn’t be stopped our area became quarantined which created even more instability. The same thing that happened in NYC and LA. As I understand it, the whole of the Tampa Bay region has been quarantined. Information is not coming in, though it is surely must be getting out somehow; maybe via MacDill. It may be possible that by this time the entire state is under quarantine. We simply don’t know. We’ve been cut off like a gangrenous limb.

I’ve tried for days now to reach my parents without success. Hall is talking about trying to get some kind of solar power array set up to power a small radio station. Even if its only city-wide to start with it will be more info than we currently have. Our little solar set up won’t be sufficient. They’ve already pulled the batteries from all of the cars and boats in the neighborhood for storage. We have some solar powered pool pumps in this area as well as some solar powered street signs/lights. If they can pull enough of those together and secure them, then find some way to build up enough power storage, we might be able to actually get some information from the outside world. Scott, David, and McElroy think we might also be able to hook up some solar power to run a couple of water wells which would solve at least some of our water issues.

But all of that is for another day. The sky, after starting out with a really red sunrise, has promised rain off and on all day today without fulfilling it. I left the barrels set up anyway in case it rained over night. The only problem is that if it does rain overnight its going to make it hard to cook in the morning. I hate to break into my propane supplies like I’ve been having to but there may not be a choice.

I’m off to bed but on my way I’ll make a note on the Gathering Crew’s list to be on the look out for propane tanks attached to gas grills or tucked away in garages or on the back of any RVs they see. Even if they find them they might be empty, but we gotta try. I also want them to look for mirrors and vehicle sun shields so that I can make some solar cookers to lighten my cooking duties.

Day 49

I swear to goodness, its either blow off steam here in my journal or blow a gasket and we’ve had enough of that today.

I nearly had it out with Patricia … twice ... though I'm a little sorry for it after what happened. I’m really trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s been traumatized and brutalized. She really is hurting. Late this afternoon Rachel pulled me aside and actually asked me if I can hold off having it out with her because she is hoping that most of the way she is acting is just due to emotional reaction and lingering pain. She shared with me that the rape was really brutal and that she is showing some signs of infection. She also asked if I had any yeast medication or anything related to feminine needs. That is apparently one area that your average field aid kit fails miserably. I’m trying really, really hard to keep all she said in mind but Patricia isn’t making having sympathy for her very easy, even if she is apparently around the bend.

Sometime during the night the promised rain finally arrived; and arrived with a vengeance. The storm came through in closely spaced squall lines and was occasionally so bad and noisy that it confused the heck out of the few wandering zombies that were spotted. They couldn’t seem to pick a direction and land on it. The lightening also seemed to mess with them quite a bit; the thunder did too, but the actual lightening would sometimes make them do crazy stuff like turn in circles for minutes at a time or try and stand on their heads. It was really weird. The electricity in the air may interfere with how the NRS hijacks the victim’s neural system. David and McElroy have been trying to get a discussion going about whether we could use that to our advantage. I’m not sure, I heard the words taser and cattle prod mentioned. I didn’t have time to clarify what I had overheard so I mean to try and talk to David about it before breakfast in the morning.

This morning’s breakfast was grits with cubed canned ham mixed in with it, drop biscuits, and a wedge of powdered egg omelet that had dehydrated green peppers and onions mixed in. I also put a jar of salsa on the table for anyone that wanted it, and several jars of homemade preserves that I made last year. Everything, including the salsa and preserves, was completely eaten up. I caught David, James, Cease, and Jose sticking their fingers in the jars of preserves to clean them out! I didn’t know whether to be grossed out or laugh my head off. Boys will always be boys … even with zombies on the loose.

I have to admit, teaching Tina and her daughter to make biscuits was a nice change in my routine and my girls began to see the importance of those tedious home ec lessons I have forced on them since they were little. I thought Dante was going to fall out of his chair when Tina showed him a platter of biscuits she had made herself. Apparently the only biscuits she’d ever made him came from a can. I was glad to provide a moment of fun for their family; we all need moments like that these days to offset the horror of what goes on at other times.

Unfortunately Dixon chose that moment to make a comment to the effect that he’d give just about anything if Patricia would have “cooked a breakfast like this on even just a few occasions over the years.” Honestly, that’s just what he said word for word. I’m beginning to suspect that man is incredibly thick skinned or incredibly thick headed. As much as Patricia irritates me I could have reached over and bonked him on the head with my marble rolling pin on her behalf. After most everyone had finished eating and filed out to the carport to try and figure out what they were going to be able to accomplish in the rain, Patricia came into the kitchen and boy did she have blood in her eye. Zombies had nothing on her at that moment.

“You think you are some kind of domestic goddess don’t you. You just love being able to lead all of these men around by their … stomachs,” she snarled. The insinuation was apparently supposed to be that I was leading them around by another part of their anatomy.

“Whoa lady. You deal with your man if what he said upset you. Don’t take it out on me.”

“Its not just that, it’s all of it. You think you are just too good. The lady of the house that’s so damn proud of being barefoot and in the kitchen with too many kids to look after. I see right through you. You’re nothing but a piece of white trash that has managed to float to the surface.”

Geez, when she decided to attack, she let it all hang out, but I’m no shrinking violet myself. “Now listen here. You don’t know me any better than I know you so watch it. I’m not ashamed of the choices that Scott and I have made. They were what has proven best for our family and allowed us to build our own business and quite a few other things besides. Just because the way we’ve done things is different from the way you did it doesn’t automatically make our way wrong. You have no right to judge us.”

It would have gone further if we hadn’t heard some other people coming in but I left her with another parting thought. “Now you listen to me. This is my house, not yours. I consider you a guest and I’ll treat you as such. However, you are overstaying your welcome and I’m just about to get as tired of you as I am willing to get. You better hope they get that house over there fixed up real soon or you are going to find yourself sleeping out on the carport.” I walked away before I could get myself in any deeper.

Ooooh boy I was seething. Patricia looked like she had a few more things she would have liked to have said in return.

After I had time to cool off, and it took me nearly to lunch to do it, I felt kinda bad for what I had said. The overall situation she has found herself in isn’t her fault. Neither is the fact that she was hurt by those men. She could, I thought, help how she’s acting as a result of what she has gone through. I don’t blame her for being angry and upset. I hold her accountable for blaming the wrong people for her situation.

After a lunch of more rice and beans, this time in the form of pinto beans served with rice and tomato gravy, I put on my rain gear and tried to tackle my plants. Because of all of the space limitations we’ve had to move everything outside and leave it there. I’m hoping that everything is safe because of the number of people swarming around our house. Anyone crazy enough to attack us at this point is either (1) a zombie, or (2) as empty-headed as a zombie, or (3) insane with desperation.

The plants loved the weather; they were practically singing in the rain. I was happy to get out of the stuffy house even if I had to do it in a raincoat and garden togs. Its still incredibly warm all day and night. When the house is full it feels even hotter and stuffier. Add in the smells that waft through when a zombie(s) is near and you can easily go stir crazy.

Its taken a couple of false starts but I think I’ve gotten all of the kids to spend most of the day on the lanai when they aren’t helping with chores inside. The shutters on the house really give a sense of security that the kids are thriving in. But, they need sunshine too. They are still inclined to be unnaturally quiet but for now it has to be to avoid attracting unwanted attention from the zombies. My next trick is to see if I can write up some kind of lesson plan that will cover multiple ages. These kids need something constructive to do and they might as well be learning something while they do it. The Swiss Family Robinson might be a good framework to use in that direction; something high interest but with lots of learning opportunities.

As I snipped off bits and pieces, pulled weeds, and cultivated around the vines to prevent the grass from encroaching I started thinking about what else our jolly band of survivors was going to need in short order.

First thing that came to mind was secure shelter. For now I obviously had no choice but to have quadruple the number of people in the house that we should. But that simply wasn’t sustainable. It isn’t just the physical logistics either. Tripping all over each other all the time is only a small part of the problem. Even the best tempered people under the best circumstances will eventually get foul in the living arrangements we currently have. Already tension are increasing between certain group members; Patricia and I are just the most obvious example of this. We don’t get enough of a break from one another to cool down when someone rubs us the wrong way. There's no place to get away to.

Next, and just as important, is food and water. Patricia planned to use up all of our supplies – at least the ones she knew of – before breaking in to what they’ve managed to scavenge between the university and our neighborhood. I flat out told everyone that wasn’t going to happen and Scott, David, and James stood up in anger as well. Thankfully Patricia’s attempt at dictatorship, and for whatever reason sticking us on the bottom of the dung pile, was summarily ended when it was pointed out by Matlock that it wasn’t her job but Dante’s to take care of supply and requisitions. Dante is proving both fair and understanding. His parents owned and operated their own small restaurant so he is familiar with the work of feeding a crowd and knows it takes a lot of supplies.

Slowly Patricia’s ability to sway the group in one direction or another is being whittled away as the group tries to build a good and fair organizational system. I think in general most of us are trying to avoid open hostility by cutting her some slack over her trauma. But work has to get done and she is getting handled less and less gently. We can't afford the time to negotiate.

Ostensibly Matlock and Dixon are sharing command of our group but its not as simple as it sounds. Dix, for all the fact that I don’t see how he deals with Patricia, is a good leader but not a good delegator. He leads primarily by doing. Matlock on the other hand is the better manager. He leads by understanding those under his command empathetically and assigning them jobs that fit their personalities and proclivities. He is also more flexible than Dixon which is an absolute must these days. Dixon is thick skinned and appears to not need the good opinions of others. He sometimes unintentionally rubs people the wrong way because of this. Matlock cares about what people think of him. It doesn’t stop him from making the hard decisions but he can get broody and thoughtful if given no postive feedback. Dixon isn’t stiff or hard, but he is a very serious man that exhibits little humor. Matlock is a joker and knows how to use his sly humor to defuse a stressful situation. His teasing is as natural a part of him as breathing is. Both men are capable and their strengths compliment each other.

I don’t know how long the co-command situation will last. Patricia keeps bucking for Dixon to make more of a stand about being with the NRSC with more service years than Matlock. I heard him tell her to knock if off a couple of times but without any heat to it. Its like he’s going to do what he is going to do regardless of what she says. In this case this could be a good thing, but from my perspective it makes for a very weird relationship between the two of them. Lord knows what would happen if Matlock had a significant other, it could into the fight of the valkyries.

Speaking of men and women, the next needs that popped into my head were feminine hygiene products and birth control. My baby making days are over. After all the trouble I had when I was pregnant with Johnnie, Scott and I decided to close the factory. My tubes didn’t just get snipped; I had them burned shut to take no chances. I do still have my monthlies as do my two oldest girls. I hope to have a couple more years until Bekah reaches that point but with the way kids are maturing early the last decade or so, who knows. Now to that add four more adult females and my personal stockpile will disappear pretty quick. Tina has already asked me about this. Stress may cause some of us to miss or delay a cycle or two but life can’t be put on hold forever.

With that fact also goes birth control. Boys and girls will be boys and girls and will give in to temptation. It doesn’t make it right or convenient, but it will happen. There are natural methods of birth control but they are only as reliable as the commitment made to them. I’ve already cautioned Rose again about putting herself in a situation where temptation wars with commonsense after I found her and David out back of the shed … ahem … getting to know one another. They are lucky Scott didn’t catch them. She was rather embarrassed and resentful of my concern, but I don’t hold it against her. I was 17 and Scott 19 when we started dating. I know all about temptation but I would be shirking my responsibilities as her mother if I didn’t caution her. I worry about pushing her too hard and going through with her what I went through with James, but I’m not sure I have any choice. I’ve been hoping that my making her help with the children so much she’ll think twice (or more times) about potential consequences of physical intimacy.

Not leaving anything to chance I also had a little talk with David. I reminded him that Rose is four years younger than he is and quite a bit less worldly and experienced. I didn’t have to say much. David’s a smart and thoughtful young man despite his rough and haphazard upbringing. I think it was a bit surprised and embarrassed how quickly things got out of his control. I’m not against a relationship between the two of them, I just think they need to move slower and think more carefully, they are both very young to be making a lifetime commitment which is what children are. I’m also not ready to be a grandmother. I’m even less ready to watch my precious child face the dangers of pregnancy without an Ob/Gyn to guide her prenatal care and childbirth. Two highly trained and field experienced medics are still no substitute for a licensed midwife and/or obstetrician. I might mention something to Rachel and let her handle approaching the other women. I don’t think its my place to step into those shoes.

All my thinking abruptly came to a halt when the sky opened up and dropped its heaviest squall yet. I ran back into the house, shooing the kids before me. It was time to think about dinner anyway.

After I had gotten into the house I heard raised voices coming from my bedroom and immediately went to investigate. The room was a wreck; drawers and covers askew. My jewelry armoire had been rifled through and it looked like a good attempt had been made to get into our locked closets.

I demanded, “What on God’s green earth is going on?!”

Dixon and Patricia both turned to me with Patricia pointing an angry finger at me and yelling, “I know you have stuff you are holding back from the group and I intend on finding it and proving to everyone what a selfish bitch you really are!”

Dixon grabbed Patricia by the shoulders and shook her, “Patty, that’s enough. Listen to what you’re saying and think about how you’re acting.”

“Oh yeah, of course! Take her side!! I’m only trying to look after our best interests and those of the group … something you should be doing instead of making nice with all those interlopers. Do you have any understanding of what I’m doing for everyone?! Do you have any idea of what I’m having to go through?! And she’s just … “

I’d had enough. “Dixon, Patricia is way out of line and I want her out of here now. Right. Now.”

Patricia pulled away from Dixon and came at me, “You piece of trash, you don’t tell anyone what to …”

I backhanded across her already busted up mouth. Not one of my proudest moments. Before Dixon got over his surprise I snatched Patricia by her hair and dragged her through the house and threw her out onto the carport.

“Now you listen to me. I don’t even pretend to know the depths of the trauma you have suffered but I have had enough. You are not helping yourself or our group by acting this way.” She came at me again and I pushed her away and up against the wall and continued, “I don’t know what you have against me and my family but have you stopped to really listen to yourself lately? You are hysterical. The way you are acting makes no sense.”

“You’re the one that isn’t acting right or fair. Not me! You portion out your goods like they are gold and we are the beggars. You are trying to control everything by having all the guys chasing after you, listening to you …”

“Oh for Pete’s sake. Why on earth would you think an asinine thing like that?! I’ve been with the same man for 25 years! After nearly five years, it has taken zombies to help me lose the last of my baby weight and I’m still a short dumpling. I haven’t a clue what you are going on about with that. I’m more ‘momma’ to these guys than ‘hot momma.’ “

“Oh, how deprecating. How modest. Look Sam, isn’t she just the most …”

She never got to finish her sarcastic bombardment because Dixon stepped up and said, “Knock it off Patty.”

“Don’t call me that. I hate it. My name is Patricia damnit, and you know it!”

I was flabbergasted and angry and embarrassed and a lot of other things besides, all at the same time. Unfortunately I also had started to feel a certain amount of pity for this woman who was beginning to appear disturbed. “Dixon, I really don’t know what to say but maybe you should go find Rachel and Waleski.”

Obviously I said the wrong thing because Patricia growled, “Don’t you dare make this out like I’m some kind of mental case, you bitch!!”

“Patricia, you better hope there is something wrong with that can be fixed because normal people don’t act like this. Otherwise I am going to wind up having it out with you and you will not be the winner. Its an understatement to say we are all going through some bad times. On top of that you have been a victim of a terrible attack … “

“Shut up!”

“You need to calm down; you are scaring the kids and you are freaking Dixon out.”

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!!!!”

The woman was really coming unglued, putting her hands over her ears so she couldn’t hear what was being said to her. I grabbed her from behind in a bear hug and took us both to the ground. She didn’t have a lot of physical strength to fight me off. “Dixon, go get Rachel and Waleski now, please! “

Dixon finally took off like a shot to bring the medics in. Patricia just screamed obscenities at me and struggled despite the fact that it must have hurt her existing injuries. It took maybe 5 to 10 minutes for Rachel and Waleski to show up, by that time and despite the sound of the pounding rain creating confusion we had an audience of the undead which did nothing for Patricia’s nerves nor mine. It took another five minutes for Dixon to sanitize the last zombie so that the patrol could gain access to the carport. Rachel was even less gentle with Patricia than I had been. She said, “Sorry Dix” and then clipped Patricia firmly on the chin with the neatest right hook I’ve ever seen.

The now unconscious woman was taken to the room where she and Dixon had been staying and put to bed. Rachel administered one of the drugs from the inventory she and Waleski were developing by scavenging through all the medicine chests they ran across. It was after that incident that Rachel spoke to me about trying to hold off on any more encounters with Patricia. Well, duh! I didn’t want to have any encounters with the woman in the first place but she just kept getting in my face. If I had suspected that she was mentally disturbed maybe I could have handled the confrontations differently, but that's now water under the bridge. I don't think anyone suspected how bad off she got. I’m not sure what we are going to do with her if she continues to behave irrationally. Its not like we can just Baker Act her and get her professional care at this juncture.

Dinner was a rather somber affair. Matlock was unexpectedly in Patricia’s corner concerning her care. Privately I wondered why until I thought about Jenny. We don’t know how profoundly she is disturbed yet either and I’m sure Matlock is concerned that how we handle Patricia’s case will eventually influence what we may have to do with Jenny.

Somber or not, a lot of work had been accomplished during the day and everyone was hungry. I made a huge Spaghetti-Corn Casserole to which I added equal portions of canned ground beef and beef flavored TVP. We also had tinned Danish butter cookies that James had found in the top of a closet in one of the houses he had helped to rummage through. Samuel asked if he could take a couple of the cookies to his mom. Dixon and Rachel walked back there with him but Patricia wouldn’t talk to him or even acknowledge that he was in the room. When she started to get agitated Rachel ushered everyone out of the room and stayed until Patricia was calm again and sleeping.

After dinner I had a surprise for the kids. I’m not one to use the TV as a babysitter but the adults needed to talk about the day’s events. Under the circumstances you wouldn’t have thought we’d be able to do it anyway but where there is a will there is a way. I took my Duracell power inverter that I had charged up with a car battery and then plugged the small TV/DVD player combo from our classroom up so that the kids could watch one movie … I figured it would last at least an hour or two before using all its charge. I left them trying to decide which one they would watch while I attended the meeting.

The Victorian is habitable but it is going to take a lot of cleaning and supplying before it is move-in ready. That task starts tomorrow and Scott is in charge of getting it there since it isn’t going to be much different than our normal turn-key operations.

Matlock and McElroy are going to take the hummer and see if they can locate some likely businesses right off of US41 that would have fencing materials. Scott gave them some places to start but likely we are going to have to scavenge most everything rather than starting with new materials unless a team goes all the way out to the Home Depot and Lowe’s on Dale Mabry. Cox lumber at US41 and SR54 might be another place to look but it too is further away from home and likely has already been scavenged by the enclave up at the Pasco county line.

Dante gave a report on our current supply inventory. As always food and drinkables are way too low. He asked that everyone contribute to a list of needed items that he would then copy and give out to the gathering crews as they went out. He then asked me what I thought I would need to keep the group fed. Guess I’m chief cook and bottle washer whether I want to be or not. I outlined my plans for gardening and what I expected to harvest next month; however, I also emphasized that when I had first started this I had only thought I would be feeding my own family. Feeding a group the size we were currently was going to require a lot more growing room … and a lot more help. Matlock asked me to find the time to write up a plan that was both realistic and sustainable for a group of around 50 people. That means pulling out my gardening books and trying to estimate the square feet/rows I would need for various types of produce. I would also need to plan on some type of preservation plan so that when our commercially prepared food ran out we could survive on what we can grow. That’s no small task and I will be more than a few days trying to figure it out.

As the meeting was drawing to a close Dixon raised the issue of Patricia’s behavior, going so far as to apologize to me. That in turn had me having to explain to Scott what he was apologizing for. Nothing like airing dirty linen in public. After I was sure that Scott wasn't going to go ballistic I cleared the air by telling everyone I wasn’t taking what she said personally but it was more than a little hard to handle, especially when she was accusing me of inappropriate behavior with other men. I swear I’ve never seen such bright red faces. I didn’t know who was more uncomfortable, the young men of the group or the older men. I explained that I never imagined that any of their tomfoolery was anything more than what it was … just kidding around. There was almost comical relief at that. Like I said before, I’m more mother figure than anything else to most of these guys and that’s fine by me. I have enough trouble handling Scott; I can’t imagine desiring to have multiple males on a string. That'd be more trouble than it was worth, but I did make it very clear that I had no clue why Patricia was fixating on me and that I needed help managing that. I couldn’t run scared in my own home if I was going to get any constructive work accomplished, and that included getting and keeping people fed.

At that point Rachel brought up the need to find a local pharmacy or doctor’s office. General medical supplies like bandaids and gauze and such were adequate but she and Waleski needed other supplies for treating major injuries, illnesses or infections, and now apparently we needed to be prepared for mental health issues. We know what we have in our group currently, but if we take in any other survivors we could be faced with who knows what kind of injuries or illnesses.

The meeting broke up when the solar lamp finally dimmed all of the way out. I hope the sun is back out tomorrow so that we can get these things charged back up. The wind ups are great, but I still prefer the solar ones.

Everyone headed off to bed with a ton of things bouncing around in their heads. In fact I couldn't fall to sleep so I've sat up writing in this journal probably much later than I should have. There is a lot of work to get done and something tells me we aren’t going to have as much time to do it in as we could wish.

Day 55

Why is it that life lessons so often come when you are least in the mood learn them?

I haven’t had a chance to sit down and journal for several days now. Those of us who have thus far been able to avoid this upper respiratory thing that is going around have been kept busy taking up the slack of those who have caught it.

The rain hasn’t stopped. Well, it’s let up here and there so it isn’t as constant as it was at first but it’s still at least drizzling, if not outright raining, more often than not. The dampness has only exacerbated everyone’s discomfort. I swear I’ve begun to wonder if I’ll ever sleep on dry sheets again.

Scott hasn’t gotten sick thank goodness but keeping the bandage on his leg dry was a challenge until they decided to stick with only interior repairs and maintenance for the Victorian. Rachel and Waleski have been kept busy taking care of 20-some people. Scott and I, Rachel and Waleski, and Matlock are the only ones that haven’t had any symptoms … yet. Every single one of the kids has it to one degree or other. Jenny is the worst off of the kids. Matt is heartbreakingly concerned. If he isn’t on guard duty or on Gathering Runs, he is sitting by her side or has her in his lap. Tom and Jenny might not be his biologically but they are in every other meaningful way that counts. It’s quite a contrast to what one would expect from a man his size and stereotyped appearance.

The two sickest adults are Patricia and Jose’. Both are still bed ridden but Jose’ should be up and around day after tomorrow at the latest. Patricia on the other hand seems to be getting worse. The worst of that though is that she is so combative and resistant to any kind of care. There is no doubt that she is deteriorating. The upper respiratory infection is turning into bronchitis or maybe even pneumonia. So far Rachel says her lungs, though raspy and damp, don’t sound excessively comprised.

Never again will I pray for patience ‘cause as surely as I do, someone like Patricia will come along. I know that I’m not always the easiest person in the world to get along with and its been a real trial to see how my own traits, if allowed to get out of hand, could easily make me just like Patricia, only without the excuse of her attack. Its not just been a trial, its been eye-opening and has given me a lot to think about right when the last thing I have is time for self-examination and introspection.

Matlock and Waleski were forced to make a run to four local stores looking for meds both for Patricia and to treat the respiratory infections being experienced by our group. First they went two miles north to Sunset Blvd and US41 and hit the Walgreens and the pharmacy at Winn Dixie. Both had already been ransacked but mainly for narcotics. The OTC meds were knocked all over the floor but were still salvageable, as were most of the other non-narcotics. The meds that required refrigeration however were history which left out some of the antibiotic options for the kids.

They didn’t run into any real trouble despite Winn Dixie having several zombies wandering the empty food aisles. They checked the loading docks and found nothing of food value but did locate a bunch of wooden pallets that might come in handy for something. They moved them into a corner for later collection. They had better luck in the upstairs security office. It looked like a manager or employee had tried to save back some stock from the mob of rioters. There was a large stash of canned meats, soups, vegetables, gravies, sauces, and fruits; hundreds of pounds of sugar, flour, and pastas; and a lot of candy and junk food. There was also a lot of booze but that was left behind and locked up since they only had so much room in the hummer and so much time to grab necessities.

After dropping everything off to Dante for inventorying, they added David and Cease to their team and headed south on US41 for two miles and hit Publix and CVS. The CVS was a total wash. Being on the busy corner of Florida and Bearss Avenues it had seen multiple break-ins and even a minor fire. Publix was in much the same condition as Winn Dixie only with more zombies. The back loading dock was heavily infested but contained a surprising bonus. Apparently some group had thought to make the store their base of operations. They failed, overrun by rioters, other looters, or zombies. But they left a small cache of weapons and ammo. Not exactly what you would expect to pick up on a grocery run but appreciated nonetheless.

David asked if they could check out one more place before heading home and Matlock, after hearing where, agreed so long as it was a quick stop. The day was getting late. The Feed Depot lies on the corner of Nebraska and Bearrs Avenues. Nebraska and Florida merge at what is locally known as the Apex to form US41. Publix lies within the point of the Apex. This creates a normally easily travelled triangle-shaped area of mixed residential and commercial buildings. Unfortunately while it was just a mile and a half from Publix to the Feed Depot, it was a rough ride. Cars had been literally forced off of the I275 overpass onto Nebraska Avenue below. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes lined every lane including the center median; in some places the curbs as well. The hummer traversed the mess only to be met with a large number of zombies surrounding the building. Matlock was ready to give the location a pass when Cease spotted someone on the roof of the tightly shuttered building waving a white towel to get their attention.

Long story short, after sanitizing a significant number of zombies and blocking the remainder in a fenced-in enclosure where large equipment was kept, we have four more enclave members; three females and one male. Isadora Hernandez is in her late 50s and her granddaughter Josephine who is Rose’s age. They are the only survivors of an RV full of family who were caught on the Interstate when all hell seemed to break loose. Two out of two dozen; totally horrifying. Rebecca Dalton is a thirty-something divorce’ who had already seen hard times before NRS was even thought about; she lost her two children when a drunk driver crossed the median killing them and her ex-husband during a weekend visitation. She was a clerk at the Feed Depot and thought about the storm-proof doors when trying to find a place to hide from the mob that had taken over her neighborhood. Ricky Jones was the 16 year old nephew of the Depot’s owner. Ricky headed for the Depot simply because he hadn’t known what else to do.

In addition to the survivors the Feed Depot has yielded up two pallets of dent corn, five pallets of oats, a pallet of wheat, and a freaking boatload of millet. All of that is animal grade rather than packaged for human consumption, but luckily none of it is treated. Sieving, cleaning, and a little extra processing should render the grains useable for our purposes … at least I hope so. I’m going to give it the old college try after everyone has gotten over what’s going around. No sense in wasting food right now.

Waleski overcame his previous sensibilities and grabbed all the fish antibiotics off the shelves. And David grabbed some of the smaller farm implements so that I wouldn't have to do so much with my hands alone. Apparently James, who was also an avid gardener before all of this occurred, mentioned something to him which is one of the reasons why he asked to visit the Feed Depot in the first place. Matlock managed to rig a trailer to the hummer – they came back by way of Bearss to Florida and then north to the Apex – which meant that they were also able to bring back some large horse troughs and a dozen rain barrels which will let us take better advantage of the rain catchment system. Lord knows we may need it later if we can’t dig a shallow well to use a hand pump on or set up solar power to operate a deeper well.

The largesse didn’t end there. I don’t have to worry where I am going to get seeds and fertilizer for the garden plan Matlock asked for. And Becky is a font of knowledge about what works best with what, analyzing soil, and sundry other stuff like that. And we also now have a good supply of propane. It won’t last forever but if used judiciously as a supplement to solar cooking and open pit cooking it should last into the new year barring unforeseen circumstances. There is also a large underground tank of diesel fuel but we don’t have any place to store it if we could pump it out right now. To try and save it the guys set tractor tires over the small farm pump and rolled a tractor over the top of the plate where the fuel was dumped in, hopefully to disguise the supply. A local with any commonsense will remember it eventually but barring the other three enclaves we know about – Keel Outpost, the one off of SR54 in Pasco County, and Driscoll’s several miles south off of Hillsborough Avenue and 50th Street – there doesn't appear to be any other organized groups out and about. That could change rapidly however and Dixon and Matlock both are concerned about further civil unrest once everyone realizes that law and order has truly broken down.

The bad news that sets off against all the good is that my house now holds 32 people and we aren’t much closer to getting any of the other houses move-in ready. We are also running out of storage space though both those things sound petty to even mention under the circumstances.

Of course the new group members come with their own unique talents and personalities. Isadora was a counselor at a mental health clinic at USF that took a holistic approach to treatment. She can’t prescribe psychotropics, though she isn’t against their use, but with over 30 years experience she is well-versed in creating and administering therapeutic treatment plans that use other methods such as behavioral modification therapy and some natural supplements. She has already made strides with Hall who, unbeknownst to me, was beginning to suffer severe anxiety attacks. He still can’t handle the idea of being Kitty’s father and Isadora confided in me, as Kitty’s primary caregiver, he many never be able to develop a parental bond with her. That means that Scott and I are another step closer to fully adopting her. Patricia wants nothing to do with Isadora and Jenny is too sick for any kind of consultation, but we all hope that she can help them to improve as well. Dora, as he prefers to be called, has stepped up and made some tentative suggestions regarding schedules and mandatory down time as preventive measures against potential stress-related issues. I’m also working with her on some dietary issues I’m concerned about.

Josephine is much worldlier than Rose is, but less mature at the same time. It’ll be interesting to see how she eventually fits in with our younger crowd. She’s a little … ok, more than a little … boy crazy and is flirting with most of the males that haven't chosen to avoid her. Jose’ eats up the attention, David gets irritated if he has to spend more than a few minutes in her company, James gets uncomfortable and shuts down, Cease just kind of stands there with his mouth hanging open, and Ricky acts like her attention is his due. The older guys pretty much consider her jail-bate and hide when she starts up. Oh yeah its gonna get interesting around here real quick. At least Rose doesn’t seem to mind her though you wouldn’t say they were exactly likely to get close any time soon either.

Becky Dalton is already turning into a good friend. She, Tina, and I share the chore of providing the group with three meals a day. Tom, Matlock’s son, is fascinated by her. She apparently bears a striking resemblance to his mother; enough that she even startled Matlock the first time he saw her. If I was a betting woman I would give it a better than even chance that Becky and Matlock eventually try for a less than casual connection. Tom and Jenny could stand a mother figure in their lives and Matt’s too good a man to remain alone for the rest of his life. She’s a good organizer as well which has taken some of the burden of creating chore charts off my shoulders and allowed me to focus on the things I need to work on.

Our last new person is a spoiled brat. Ricky even gets on Dixon’s nerves and that takes some doing. He has to be watched 24/7 or he gets into the food and other supplies without permission. He burned through several packages of batteries on his handheld electronic game before Dante caught him. Someone has to waste time standing practically on top of him to make sure he does his share of the work he is assigned. When he does have down time he spends it complaining or starting fights. Its like having another Patricia on our hands only he has no excuse for his behavior … or at least none better than what other members of our group have.

The last couple of days have seen more than just the addition of new people and supplies. While the Victorian won’t be ready as soon as hoped Scott says another week should do it now that we’ve scavenged enough sealer and paint out of all the sheds and garages in the neighborhood to cover the mildew and minor vandalism damage. The fence is going to have to be reinforced and raised as well where it abuts the lowland territory. Fewer zombies come from that direction but some still make it through. Now the problem is gators believe it or not. With the rains the water table rose and the canal that dumps into the marshy area has turned it into a swamp. And the gators are feeding well on zombie corpses. Scott went over there day before yesterday only to find a big fat sassy bull gator sitting on the back porch where it had crawled up under the fence on the canal side. We aren’t sure how eating zombie is going to affect their flesh so we opted not to “harvest” the tail for dinner, but it was a near thing. Everyone is missing fresh food and my little patch of greens never seem to go far enough.

Scott says before the Victorian is finished they really need to decide which house they want him to work on next that way he can make a list and start lining up supplies which will mean less down time. The people who will move into the Victorian was decided at last night’s meeting. Dixon, Patricia, Samuel, Dora, Josephine, Hall, Rachel, and Waleski will move into the four bedroom house. The downstairs office will double as Dixon’s bunk space until Patricia’s condition stabilizes. Patricia is being put in one of the upstairs bedrooms that Scott added features to like reinforced screening on the windows, removing the shelving in the closet, and adding a better lock to the door. Those measures might not be needed, but better safe than sorry until she is more cooperative with Dora’s attempts at treatment.

McElroy and Junie – Junie Tinsdale, the only female of our group I’ve been unable to get to know – came up with a potential answer to both our fencing and our storage problems. There are some serious drawbacks but also some real potential benefits. Those metal storage and shipping containers could be used like building blocks to create a sturdy “fence” around a significant space of our choice. The pros to this would be: the ability to have a significant amount of storage space without using up our internal green space that we want to use for gardening and staging; we can cover an 8 by 12 foot or 8 by 16 foot section with the placement of just one steel container drastically reduce the labor of building a fence; there is a “Pod” storage facility approximately 5 miles south of our street on Nebraska Avenue near the Salvation Army headquarters. The cons to this plan would be: that the resulting fence might attract unwanted attention, the storage containers wouldn’t work on curvy sections like the edge of the canals where weight might also be an issue; and, most of all, the logistics of getting the storage containers to our location. Using James’ map we’ve pretty much decided on two different compound sizes; one is our ideal and includes the entire orange grove, all the property to our east up to the next street, and all the property between that’s bounded by the two canals. That would give us six, maybe eight, houses to spread out into and plenty of green space between. But that is also a lot of space to patrol. Our next area size down would eliminate the orange grove, the lowland territory to the west of the Victorian, and all but two other houses leaving us with four houses to spread out into. The final result will probably be a compromise between the two plans. Either way Scott and I stated that we would not take down our fence but that we would be willing to be the fall-back location should our resulting compound ever become compromised in some way.

There is also a way to refurbish those storage containers so that they can be used for housing. Waleski was interested in the idea of turning one or two into a medical station or at the very least a medicinal storage location that could be double secured. The younger guys, including David, thought the idea of turning the containers into barrack style housing was “cool” where each single guy could have his own apartment. Hmmm. That sounds like a lot more work but we may come to that if we outgrow our safe area too quickly. I think the feasibility would lie in whether those containers can be kept weather proof and what their wind tolerance is. I sure wouldn’t want to see our fence – or barracks – rolling across the neighborhood in hurricane strength winds.

Something Cease thought about adding to our fence line was a few of those free standing hunting stands. I’d want to see them reinforced in some way, but it would certainly add to our line of sight.

I’ve gotten about half of the draft garden plan finished. We are now up to thirty-two people so I’m going to have to revise some of my “minimum” figures and probably revise upward the contingency figures of fifty people to sixty or seventy-five as well. My gardening books like Square Foot Gardening, and Gardening in Florida are spread all over my dresser top. I keep thinking of potential problems like irrigating that much garden and other things like that. But, I can only do so much and will tell the group as much when I'm finally ready to make the presentation.

Right now the rain is keeping the zombie population disorganized … oh, you know what I mean. I know they don’t work together but they do have the appearance of sometimes acting like a mob. The rain can’t last forever and then we will be back to dealing with the zombies head on. I’d like to have some of our plans firmed up and actually being physically worked on. The idea of trying to get things done without a fence to keep the zombies, or other undesirables, away isn’t appealing at all.

Day 59

I’ve given up trying to write in this journal every day. If it happens, it happens but if it doesn’t I’m not going to get all upset about it. Life takes priority over my personal desires.

Its finally stopped raining but it is incredibly soggy. As warm as it still is there hasn’t been a lot of direct sunlight to dry things up. High humidity is also impeding the drying up process. And, no direct sunlight has made drying the laundry and cooking by solar next to impossible. I’ve been using my box ovens frequently over the last few days to save on propane and they work well for bread. We’ve found lots of pieces of bags of charcoal while going through the garages and sheds of the abandoned houses in our neighborhood. One of the big hits of the last couple of days has been the night that I made pizza. OK, it was kinda weak pizza but under the circumstances everyone enjoyed it. I used Parmesan and Romano cheese to replace the mozzarella I would have normally had. I also made some pan cheese with powdered milk but it was only so-so as a pizza topping. Next time I’ll try flavoring it with Italian seasoning first to see if that makes it any better. We found a #10 can of Ragu Pizza Sauce in the Winn Dixie stockpile and I used that to top the nearly twenty-five individual sized pizzas that I cooked. I had four box ovens going and I rotated out the pizzas as fast as I could cook them up so that the coals would last as long as I needed them too. For toppings I took a large stick of pepperoni I had, chopped it rather than sliced it, and mixed it with some sausage flavored TVP. The grease from the pepperoni hid the soy flavor of the TVP. I also had a few cans of mushroom pieces and black olives as well as some rehydrated green peppers and chopped onions. The pizzas weren’t perfect by any stretch but the only complaint I heard came from Ricky (of course). Even Patricia seems to be doing a little better and was even polite when I asked her what she wanted on her pizza.

I don’t know if it is all due to Dora’s therapy and treatment plan or not but Patricia seems to be more balanced lately. She took away all processed sugar and flours from Patricia’s meals. Its been a little difficult making a totally separate meal for Patricia all the time but the results have been worth it if it is truly part of her rehabilitation. The pizza crust was the first processed wheat item she has had in a while and so far no adverse reaction. The other things that Dora is trying includes chamomile tea, cold showers, fish oil tablets, and aromatherapy; that is in addition to getting Patricia to be receptive to counseling and seeing her injuries from the rape finally beginning to heal. I’m reserving judgment but am willing to give the benefit of the doubt so long as someone keeps an eye on her at all times until we can tell whether the changes are real and permanent or faked.

Jenny is also getting better, physically as well as mentally. She is still a very weak little girl but there is definite improvement. Becky has been working with her more and more. Matlock is simply too exhausted after a full day of working to do much more than sit with her and fall asleep. I think it is helping all of them – Jenny, Matlock, Tom, and Becky. Not to go into all the personal details but I think Matlock talked to Becky, explaining about his ex-wife, and finally took the time to grieve for her. And I think, though I’m not absolutely certain since I haven’t known her all that long, that Becky is one of those people that need to be needed. If that is the case then she’s fitting right in with the Matlock’s family.

Thinking along the lines of natural remedies I’ve wondered what we are going to do when all of the antibiotics run out or are no longer useable. The Z-packs that Waleski found in Walgreens is basically what saved the day for several of our group members. The topical treatments that he brought back for Patricia’s injuries made a big difference as well. I’ve got some books on herbal remedies and preventatives, some that I have from my own great grandmothers’ recipe files, and books by people like Dr. Andrew Weil. I need to re-read them and get myself prepared. I hate to think that one day I may not have Rachel or Waleski to fall back on, but that may very well be what happens. Scott and I are still the ones ultimately responsible for our kids, including David, and no one is going to care as much as we are when things go wrong ... and things will go wrong, they always do. My own tub of first aid supplies remains hidden along with the fish antibiotics that I didn’t give to Waleski way back when. My personal comfort level is screaming at me that I should expand these supplies and I’ll do my best as I can. Right now anything new that comes in goes towards taking care of the group as a whole. It will be a while yet before we can safely begin keeping things for individual benefit beyond things like clothes.

My greatest concern right now is for baby Kitty. There is only one can of powdered formula remaining. I knew this was coming but the day is arriving way too soon. I’ve got a recipe for homemade “formula” but I have no idea if it is really efficacious or not. I hate having to turn this sweet baby girl into a guinea pig but what choice is there? Its either try this or watch her starve. If she was old enough for baby food I would try her on canned milk but she is only two months old. It will be another two at least before I can introduce her to anything more than rice cereal. I stocked baby food thinking it would come in handy but didn’t give a thought to the more expensive formula and now it’s too late. Waleski and Matlock … all the people on Gathering Runs … have kept an eye out for baby formula but no one has seen any at all.

One of the recipes I have calls for 2 (12 oz.) cans of evaporated milk, 32 ounces of water, 2 tablespoons of Karo syrup, and 3 ml of liquid infant vitamins. Waleski did grab all of the vitamins he could find and that included the liquid vitamins. I’ll put up with all of his curmudgeonly ways so long as he continues to be as thoughtful as that was. I have a couple of other, more complicated, recipes for homemade baby formula that I may also try. The problem is that they call for liquid supplements that I don’t have a great deal of. I’ve asked Waleski to make a run to the local GNC and health food store but there hasn’t been time. One recipe even calls for goat milk which I only have a case of in cans (and that is in hidden pantries). I just don’t know what I’m going to do if this doesn’t work.

I asked Hall to keep a look out for a short list of things whenever he was out. He blushed and stammered but took the list and promised to do what he could. I know he means well but he has a real mental block when it comes to Kitty. I know he and his wife “had” to get married because of her pregnancy with Kitty and that Hall had gotten deployed right after the baby was born. I also know from what Rachel explained to me that the marriage was already all but over by the time Kitty was born. Hall wasn’t ready for kids but he isn’t a bad guy. I’ll be honest and say that I hope he doesn’t make a fuss about Scott and I keeping Kitty … but it wouldn’t be completely right of us to deny him the opportunity to have something to do with her life and future either. Scott just doesn’t understand Hall. He adores his own kids and can’t understand how Hall can’t feel the same way about Kitty. Maybe if I have a talk with Hall and try and explain that … or heck, I don’t know. But the situation can’t continue as is. Eventually someone is going to have to deal with it.

On to other things more cheerful … sorta kinda anyway.

Painting the Victorian has been completed ahead of schedule despite the dry-time taking longer because of the weather. Now all that is left to do is to bring in furnishings. By necessity everything needs to be efficient and ulitarian in design; at least for now. The house can’t be overcrowded with geegaws as they need to keep room open in case we have to move more people over there than planned. The only exception to this is a leather sofa that Dixon has formed an unaccountable attachment to. He’s in love with the blasted thing. Men can be weird about stuff like that apparently and I can’t be the only woman that has noticed it.

The other advances that have been made have been on our fence and in my garden; the current one and the planned one. Next month, maybe even next week at the rate some things are beginning to ripen, I’ll start to harvest a broader selection of fresh items. They won’t go far but it’ll be something. And as soon as our fence is completed I’ll mark off and plant a very large garden with everything that is fit for planting in October on the grounds of Mabel’s old home site. Mabel loved to garden and I think it is somehow appropriate that despite her place in NRS history, her land will continue to be used for this purpose.

And as for funny, guess what showed up yesterday? Chickens. Well a banty rooster and four hens anyway. I haven’t a clue where they came from originally or how they escaped the zombies but the kids have had fun taking care of them after I lured them in with some of the corn and millet from the Feed Depot. Becky said she knew there were a couple of pallets of chicken feed in one of the storage rooms back at the Depot and I’ve asked that it be added to the list of items – like rabbit fencing, stakes, twine, and fertilizer – that is supposed to be brought back from the next run up that way. Sarah and Samuel are already talking about hoping some pigs and goats show up as well so that they can have a farm. Oh brother. I have enough trouble feeding all the kids around here. How are we going to be able to feed a whole barnyard of animals too?! But, manure from the animals could go into the compost, the chickens would make fresh eggs, the goats would provide milk and meat, and the pigs could help take care of table scraps (assuming there are any) and provide meat as well. Wow, this whole enclave thing is getting a little more medieval-serf every time I turn around.

Now as for our main fence we’ve done two thing. McElroy has experience driving a commercial tractor trailer. Its what he did before entering the military. He was able to get one hooked up to a flatbed and has used it to transport six steel storage containers at a time from the storage facility near Fletcher Ave up to our road. Jose’ knows how to run a forklift due to being taught by a foreman at the sugar plantation where his father and older brothers worked down near Loxahatchee, FL.

Dixon went on the run along with McElory, Jose’, Hall, and Cease. Matlock organized the remaining group members to install 12-foot aluminum chain link fencing in areas that weren’t appropriate for the storage containers such as along the canal edges.

One of the compromises we would have to make became obvious almost before the first storage container was placed. We were going to have to enclose most of the lowland territory but in order to do that and still have enough materials to complete a full enclosure as planned we had to give up roughly half of the orange grove. No one is happy about that but nothing else has proven logistically feasible.

We swiped two sets of gates from a local car dealership near Florida and Fletcher Avenues. They are incredibly sturdy things and then even have razor wire at the top already. They’ll be our front and back main entrances.

How it worked was Dixon and his crew went to the warehouse. Jose’ would use a forklift to load the containers onto the wide-load flatbed that McElroy drove. The forklift was then attached to the back of the flatbed. Coming back the first time was painfully slow but a tow truck borrowed from a local mechanic’s shop moved the road blockages off to the side enough to allow the big truck through. Once the flatbed arrived back here, Jose’ would use the forklift to take the containers off of the flatbed and position them.

None of the containers have been emptied and eventually I’d love to go through them all; but as it is, because they are positioned end-to-end we can only go through every sixth container and only then until they come with the next load. The ones we have managed to break into are mostly full of the junk people can’t fit into their houses – holiday decorations and the like – but we have found some things of potential use.

We’ve pulled all of the clothes and linens; most of our people are still woefully low on clothing options despite picking up some stuff form the neighborhood. Guys like Matlock and Dixon aren’t exactly an easy fit and I swear Dante has to have some of the longest legs I’ve ever seen on a guy. Bicycles will come in handy as well; David told me he could build a pedal-powered grain mill using some bicycle parts and one of my hand crank mills. I hope he isn’t just blowing smoke because the last thing I want to do is try and use the ancient method of mortar and pestle to turn grain into flour to make bread for 30+ people. We’ve also found a few toys and books that will help keep the kids occupied though I still hope to see them back to having at least a couple of hours of learning time each day as well as helping with all of the gardening tasks to come.

In that same vain I’m making a list of supplies for the kids. The problem, for now, is that none of them are necessities and they are at the bottom of the lists for the Gathering Runs. Crayons, markers, construction paper, chalk, clay, etc. as well as pens, pencils, and notebook paper. When we’ve yet to fully secure the big three – food, clothing, and shelter – nothing else can be made a priority unless an emergency arises (such as the medicines). And we also have the issue of ammo. The more we go out, the more ammo that gets used. Its been a rare day that more ammo is brought in than was expended. We did find a house in the neighborhood with some expensive bow hunting equipment, but even that is limited to the number of arrows we can find and/or retrieve. That’s just one reason why our wall is going to be so important.

Another reason is that we’ve started to hear more sporadic gunfire. Its hard to tell how far away it is. We still aren’t used to the unnatural quiet of an unplugged city. The only vehicles we’ve heard are our own and what Jose’ described as sounding like a couple of “crotch rockets” heading south and away from our position. You still hear the occasional scream but none close enough to investigate. No way of knowing if the screams are of fear or pain or whether they are due to zombies or human predators. All of this leaves us knowing there are other people in the city, but what shape they are in and how they would view us remains to be seen.

Matlock did make a disheartening discovery yesterday. He took a patrol over to Keel Outpost to see what shape they were in and to try and create some type of communication system, at least between groups within our immediate area. At some point, likely at least a week ago due to the condition of some of the bodies too badly damaged to reanimate, the Outpost had been overrun. The patrol members hypothesized it was by zombies rather than by a mob, the reason being that things you would think of value for survival were still just laying around. Guns, equipment, and a modest amount of food and ammo. Hall was happy to have the radio set up, now we just need power to operate it consistently. We are charging car batteries as fast as we can but fuel is getting harder to find. Without sunshine solar is out. There is the diesel at the Feed Depot so we aren’t totally without but that’s being used to operate the tractor trailer so we can build our wall. Things are going to get hairy when we use up all of our closest supply options.

Its not easy for me to believe that tomorrow is going to mark the two-month anniversary of our family’s choice to sequester in the face of NRS. We aren’t really sequestering any more, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. Scott, James, and David have gone on some of the Gathering Runs farther away than our street but the girls and I have hardly left our yard during that whole time. We are still clearing out the odd zombie that manages to get through where the fence isn’t complete. One even got into the orange grove and started banging on our fence. I sanitized the putrid thing but it was too late. It scared the kids badly and we are back to square one trying to get them to at least sit on the lanai during the day rather than hide inside. The fence is incredibly important. Its almost symbolic. I hope it help me to get the kids outside long enough each day to avoid them developing agoraphobia. Dora agrees with me but only in an academic way. She seems to reserve most of her emotional attachment and energy for her granddaughter and Rachel Rigosa. I guess as a counselor she has had to learn to develop boundaries but to me hers are a little rigid.

Last thing and then I’m carrying my tired and sore hind end off to bed and hopefully to sleep. I’ve got some math that should drive the average person crazy. The average 100 foot row of carrots will yield 100 pounds. It takes about 5 to 10 feet of row per person to provide enough fresh carrots for the average growing season. That does not include preserving any carrots for future use. We currently have thirty-two people in our group and should probably plan on sixty or more to allow for a reasonable cushion; or, for an excess that we could preserve for trade with other enclaves. At a minimum, if my figures are correct, I need to plant 160 feet of carrots (5 x 32) and probably double that so that we have enough to preserve which would give 320 feet of carrots, minimum. If I bump up the number that I’m planting for to sixty then that would mean that I would need to plant 300 feet of carrots for fresh use and 600 to include enough to preserve! That’s only carrots. Six hundred freaking feet of carrots which means I have roughly 600 pounds of carrots that I will eventually have to harvest and process.

Let’s take another veggie just to be fair; something simple like onions. You need about 25 onion plants per person. For our group that means for 32 people I need 800 onions … 800!!! Take that up to 60 people and that means 1500 onions. I am having the heebies even trying to envision all of the work involved.

When I present this at the weekly planning meeting coming up in a couple of days no one is going to believe me. Everyone is going to have to take part in gardening chores, there is simply no way that a single person – or even half dozen people - can do this manually all by themselves. Remember no tractors, no automatic sprinkler system, and very few other labor saving devices either. I think I may have the start of a decent design for a drip irrigation system but its going to require constructing a sort of water tower that can be kept filled. I’ll use gravity to run the water through a main distribution pipe that will branch off into different sections of the garden using all of the garden hoses we can find. It won’t have to run all of the time, just when rain gets scarce. We are also going to need a lot of mulch and compost to build up the soil so that we optimize the amount of harvest we get from each food of row.

I’m nervous as heck about this. This garden is turning into a lot more of a responsibility than I had expected.

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