Wednesday, January 4, 2012

February: Life, Death, and Dystopia

February: Life, Death, and Dystopia
Days 186 - 212 

Day 186 (Friday)

Today has been one of those days that are almost too full to describe.

Dix was taking no chances and at first light took McElroy, J. Paul, Clay Jr., and Brian and went to go investigate the smoke we had seen late yesterday. When there is a danger of raiders or zombies Dix and Matlock have designed a series of clicks to use with the radios rather than words to avoid attracting any more attention than necessary.

About forty-five minutes after they headed out we got some clicks that translated “friends – emergency – watch for – incoming”. Not knowing exactly what to make of that Matlock set a watch for any “incoming” and got Waleski and some of the guards prepared to head out if necessary. The radio clicks are useful but lack a lot of nuance.

About 15 minutes after the clicked message J. Paul came speeding up to the gate on a 10-speed Schwin that looks like it has seen better days.

“Y’all, we got one very pregnant lady out there that we need transport for. She’s with a small group of folks that are a bit battered up … and the sister of that crazy dude is with them. King Al? But we gotta put some steam in it. Looks like troubles been trying to find ‘em for about a week now and ain’t that far off.” He continued talking directly to Matlock, “Sir, Sgt. Dix asks if you would please send the bus and the Hummer with a driver and a guard or two for each. He’s hardened their line in case the raiders that have been chasing them get there before we get back to ‘em but we got to evac the pregnant lady and some kids asap.”

That was quite a bit of excitement before breakfast was even off the table but we did what we had to do. The bus went out with Cease driving and James and David for guards. The Hummer went out with Austin driving and Chris riding shotgun. The rest of us hit our marks and did what we had trained to do, defend Sanctuary and help others when possible.

The vehicles, drivers, and guards took off and since we had yet to hear any clicks of warn or any telltale “pops” of gunfire we figured the vehicles made. After a few more moments Dix clicked “loading” which told us the transports had arrived and they were putting the people on board. Next we got “returning” in click code.

They were within 200 yards of the front gate when out of a side street came four Kawaski crotch rockets gunning for our vehicles and the people in them. James took out two of the raiders before you could say “Bob’s your uncle.” The remaining two were returning fire and were joined by a pickup truck with a reinforced camper on the back and a machine gun mounted on top of the camper.

Matlock lets off a string of expletives and then smiles crazily as he watches someone, Dix or McElroy most likely, toss a small can of something out the window. Right as the pickup starts to drive over the can, it happened so quickly they couldn’t avoid it, the canister revealed itself to be an explosive device. The detonation lifts the pickup off of its front wheels and it careens into one of the motorcycles. The other two are taken out in the by gunfire from our side.

Since our vehicles didn’t slow down I assumed that meant there were more where that came from. I was right. We’ve gotten pretty good about timing the gate opening and closing so that incoming vehicles don’t have to come to a complete stop and a good thing in this instance. The bus was in and the Hummer was halfway in when gunfire erupted from a large caliber something of other. The Hummer lost a tire and spare but the remainder of the … shells, ammo, whatever you call it … hit the gate itself and the Wall. Either the person firing was a terrible shot or it was coming from far enough away that their trajectory was off … possibly a little of both. The movies may make it look simple, but those heavy caliber machine guns take training to use accurately.

The bus didn’t even have time to roll to a stop before James and David were out and off to the top of the Wall. Both had that “my biscuits are burning” look that sad they were highly irritated with whoever was shooting at them. My son hit the guard tower and immediately set up sniper fire against anyone foolish enough to allow themselves to be seen.

We were blessed that the ammo wasn’t armor piercing or not even our heavy gauge steel box cars would have withstood the raiders’ fire power.

Dix, Matt, and the guards had our defense well in hand so the rest of us turned to help the new survivors.

I didn’t get to meet everyone right away but basically the new survivors are as big a mixed bag as those of us already living in Sanctuary but with the same perseverance crossed with stubbornness.

Ronan Cross is a 29 year old man originally from Washington State. He was visiting a friend in Orlando and playing tourist when things totally fell apart. The kids were a little scared of him at first because he shaves his head and at 6 foot it gives him a bit of a bad guy look; but as soon as they figured out he smiles much more than he glowers the kids were fine. Ronan had lots of patience for them until Johnnie, Bubby, and Ray showed him their “science experiment.” Hmmmm … seems there is another person here in Sanctuary that has as little tolerance for spiders as I do.

Curtis Stone is younger than Damion but not by much, he just looks like it. He’s 27 and has a small, wiry build. I’ll be honest, he reminds me a bit of Davy Jones from the Monkees. I’m not sure he would appreciate the comparison but he has that professional jockey build although at 5’6” he’s a little too tall for that profession. And he’s from the neck of the woods where my family came from; Tennessee. He was in north Florida hunting when the state line was closed off. Unable to get back home, he attached himself to different survivor groups as a protector – I watched him absolutely tear up one of the raiders later in the day. I heard Curtis mutter, “Size does not compensate for stupidity” when a couple of the girls oooohed and aaaaahed at the display. Poor guy, I have a feeling he’s going to have to hide a bit until the girls figure out he is older than he looks.

Then there is Charlene … King Al’s little sister … and her niece (Kelly) and nephew (Al the Third). Charlene spilled their story to me and I’ll recount it in a bit.

Nick and Terra are one of the couples and Terra is the “very pregnant lady” everyone was so anxious for. They are both in their early 20s but apparently have been together since highschool so they seem older … or at least better established than most people their age would be. Boy is Terra pregnant. She’s gotta be 37 or 38 weeks along and looks like the baby may have already started dropping. If any gent ever reads this journal it means that the baby is turning and lowering down and getting in position to be born. That’s a miserable time because the baby is pushing against your bladder and basically anything that gets in its way. You feel like you are walking around with a bowling ball between your legs.

But the good news is that both Nick and Terra have some training in the medical field. Nick was a lab tech. He downplayed this by saying he was more of a glorified dishwasher and gopher but Waleski said not to play that down because at least he could be counted on to understand how critically important directions can be for a good outcome. I think Ski also mentioned something about pharmacy work to him. Terra on the other hand already has several years of training under her belt and has worked as a CNA and was on her way to finishing up her nursing degree. You could see the wheels going in Waleski’s head when he found that out. Double bonus points is that Terra’s specialty was going to be labor and delivery.

Terra’s training is no guarantee for problem free pregnancies and births for our ladies here in Sanctuary but if I had to guess it was going to save Waleski from a cardiac arrest. She’ll also be able to help train Rose and Melody in areas that Ski is having trouble with, not to mention he is happy to have another adult female that can help with any female patients.

From what I understand Nick and Terra were in a bad way when they were found. They were part of a group that Curtis was with before it fell apart … or should I say before it was picked apart due to zombies and poor choices by some of its members. Of the original dozen people Curtis, Nick, and Terra are the only ones left. Neither Nick or Terra were into “survivalism” but Nick has done everything he could to ensure his wife and unborn child’s survival and that’s good enough for me. We’re all learning as we go to some extent.

The other couple is a little older than Scott and I are and they want to continue down to the Miami area to look for their two college aged children who were living with friends when things went crazy down there. Then there is another older gentleman and his adult son that have the Keys as their destination of choice. They figure to find an island, barricade it somehow, and live in a Caribbean paradise. I told Scott that would be fine … until the next hurricane came along and wiped them out. He told me that people are entitled to their own dreams and he wouldn’t stand in their way when they left.

Scott doesn’t want anyone around Sanctuary that doesn’t want to be here. He said that is counterproductive and not worth the hassle. Can’t say I totally disagree with him either.

I didn’t really find all of this out until this evening. We were too busy to do the normal meet and greet round of social calls. We had two priorities to take care of simultaneously … the raiders and Terra’s condition.

Waleski, now that the time had come, was cool as a cucumber. Terra was installed in the hospital. It was a couple of hours before we got the news that Terra’s labor hadn’t been true labor but stress induced Braxton-Hicks. To be safe however, Terra remains in the hospital under observation with Nick by her side. Her blood pressure is still a little higher than Waleski is comfortable with.

The rest of the morning was spent in a siege-like atmosphere. The raiders made a few attempts to get closer but our sharp shooters picked them off. The women not assisting on guard duty helped get the refugees checked over and prepared lunch for everyone since breakfast had pretty much been a wipe out. Sarah, Bekah, and some of the other girls did their share to help by making a couple hundred tortillas that could be stuffed with the various easy fillings that were served up buffet style.

I was on the part of the Wall that runs along the outside of the large animal enclosure. As focused as I was on the task at hand I still managed to notice that it wouldn’t hurt to clean up all the manure the animals had made and to decry the fact that there was always more work than we had time to address.

Before I had time to think much more Charlene asked if she could be with me, her niece and nephew were sleeping on the benches of the mess hall being watched by Sarah and Josephine. Poor kid, both of her eyes are black and her lip is split. You could see her hands and arms were scratched and bruised up as well. I asked if she had been checked out.

“That girl named Rose did. She’s your sister or daughter right?”

I smiled, sensing a bit of over the top schmoozing, “Daughter. What did she say?”

Charlene opened her mouth, then her face crumpled and she said, “Al’s dead. Mona and her baby … something went wrong. Mona turned. She got Krystal before Al could put her down, it was one of his normal days. If he’d been crazy he’d dealt with her a lot quicker. But it … there was something wrong with the baby. It died, sort of. It was … it didn’t have any teeth of anything but somehow Al still got infected by handling it and putting the poor thing out of its misery. Or maybe it was from all the blood when Mona pushed the baby out. I don’t know. Al … he just … “

She gulped and lung full of air like she was trying not to cry. “We had sent those people your way a couple of days before. Al told me I had to take Kelly and little Al and catch up with them or to get to you guys on our own if I couldn’t find them. We been hiding from that raider group … Al called them the Geriatric Jackasses because we never saw no young people riding with them … even before we met you guys. They shoot anyone between 40 and 20 and anyone younger than that they can’t turn into a sex slave. “

It was hard for me to focus on defense of the Wall and Charlene’s story at the same time but I had to. I stuck my hand out while I still watched the trees and she took it. Still without looking directly at her I pulled her closer. She sat down next to where I stood and leaned against my leg the way kids will when they just need some physical contact.

Charlene continued, “Al was gonna off himself when those jerks came around again. He had me take the kids and scram while he drew them off. He was too sick and weak though. He didn’t last long and I didn’t move fast enough. The caught him and tied him up. They caught us too. You know what they wanted from me but by that time of the day they were too drunk to … you know … they couldn’t … um …”

She sighed deeply and I wanted to wring some raider necks. “Did they hurt you in … other ways?”

“No ma’am. They kicked me around some and blamed me cause they couldn’t … you know … but mostly they were having too much fun torturing Al. That hurt me worse than what they wanted to do would have. I’d a let ‘em if it would have helped Al. Al’s PTSD had kicked in and then being sick … it was bad.”

She was silent for a second and then kept on. “I was able to get me and the kids untied after dark fell and the rest of the raiders passed out drunk. I … I put Al’s body to sleep permanently and took the kids and escaped. We ran like hell. We caught up to this other group the next day. The raiders had already been after them too. We’d get so far and have to stop cause that lady named Terra kept hurting so bad. Then the pains would stop and we’d move in a little further, jogging here and there and losing the raiders for a little bit. Yesterday the van we were riding in broke down and I guess during the night the raiders caught up and finally gotten bored of their game and meant to kill us.”

As I opened my mouth to say something she rushed on, “Can we stay here? The kids and I? We’ll work our share. I can do a lot more than people think I can. I took care of Al and Mona and Krystal as much as they took care of me. I just can’t run no more, I’m too tired.”

Not able to give her a 100 percent answer I put my hand on her shoulder to comfort and encourage her. A moment later I looked down and she was asleep.

I let Charlene sleep. I wasn’t sure how I would convince Scott but this needed us. While I kept watch over my portion of our perimeter I made up and discarded dozens of petitions that would allow Charlene, Kelly, and little Al stay with us. About an hour later I found Scott had been wondering how he was going to convince me of the exact same thing. Curtis had told Scott, Matlock, and Dix their group’s pieced together story.

Most of Sanctuary had already taken part in an emergency council and everyone had agreed that whoever wanted to could remain. About half the survivors will stay; the other couple and the father/son duo opted to leave at first light tomorrow if possible.

I didn’t complain about not being included in the meeting; it came out the way I wanted it to and I had nothing to complain about. Scott, Rose, David, and James represented our family. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?

Matlock took my position so that I could participate in the lunch rotation that was going on. I woke Charlene and Scott and I took her down and made sure that she, Kelly, and little Al ate, got cleaned up from the skin out, and had clean clothes to wear. Then I took Rose, Melody, Sarah, and Bekah aside and asked them if they had any reservations. Luckily they didn’t. My biological children seem to have accepted this phase in our family’s development and my adopted or foster kids already thought of the whole process as “normal.”

It’s a squeeze but nowhere near as bad as we’ve experienced at various points in the past. And besides, Melody, Trent, and Belle will be moving out in the not too distant future. Charlene, Kelly, and little Al will fill the gap they leave behind.

I was half to my third bite of lunch when the raiders made their move. They had split their forces and tried to surround us with a line too thin to hold. This proved Dix’s theory that these raiders were nothing more than harriers. They had survived by pestering smaller and less well-defended groups or by taking on mobile convoys. They didn’t have the strategy or manpower necessary to take on a full defended compound like Sanctuary. Still, had we not planned ahead they could have done some damage.

They had sent another truck with a machine gun at our front gate and a non-military jeep 4x4 dressed up with another machine gun at our rear gate. Had they been able to get up any speed they could have rammed the gates but after the last raider battle we had reconfigured our approaches so that this couldn’t happen.

The buses were the biggest vehicle that could enter the main compound these days, and that only by the practiced drivers. There was no straight, direct way to approach the gates. Concrete barricades guided all traffic into a zig zag approach from a nearly right angle to the gates. You couldn’t avoid using this approach because there were pits, concertina wire, large pieces of broken blocks, and tire destroyers where there weren’t even more concrete barriers. And all of this starts about 100 yards away from the gate.

Both vehicles were stopped cold before they could get that close. James at the front gate and Matlock at the rear took out the drivers and the gunners and disabled the vehicles themselves with well-placed shots.

The raiders had gotten grappling hooks from some place and were trying to use them to climb the Wall in several different locations. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

A third vehicle, a limousine believe it or not, made another play for the rear gate. This one was trickier. This thing must have been in diplomatic service or belonged to a gangster or something. It had bullet proof glass and armored exterior. However, someone forgot about its undercarriage. Samuel, who would have easily made his highschool varsity football team had things not devolved into Night of the Living Dead, lobbed the perfect pass putting on of Matlock’s homemade explosive cans right in the path of the limo’s wheels. Whooomp!!!! It’s left us with a heck of a mess to clean up but I’ll suffer a little sweat for safety.

Ronan said there was another vehicle, this one a panel truck, but at the time we weren’t seeing it. The raiders, the few left, were trying to rendezvous and retreat. Matlock and Dix were having none of that. Some of the men were standing around bouncing like an over anxious pups. All it took was a particularly nasty grin from Matlock and a nod from Dix and Angus, Austin, Brian, Chris, David, and Jim headed out to do a little “clean up.” They were at it a couple of hours. The remaining raiders were more cautious. The found the panel truck within fifteen minutes of being out, took out the raider that had been left to guard it, and temporarily disabled it so the other raiders couldn’t use it as a getaway tool.

I’m not sure I’m totally comfortable with our rules for raiders but that doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with them. One day I may look back and wonder what we were thinking, but that will be a far piece off from today. One of the few laws in Sanctuary that we’ve actually bothered to write down is the automatic death sentence for raiders that attack Sanctuary or its citizens. There is no trial, no jury, no appeal, no exception. Every man knew this when they headed out … and the sentences were carried out with all due haste.

It was another hour before all the corpses were disposed of in Juicer’s compactor for removal to the body dump tomorrow. Before that job was finished however, life had already started to return to normal within Sanctuary’s Wall and I was taking may turn at being in charge of dinner.

Regardless of how crazy the world gets, people still need to eat. I just kept that at the forefront of my mind as I tried to balance my ideals of pre-NRS and the reality I live today.

I made one of my favorite “easy” dishes for dinner; Skillet Spanish Rice. To stretch our meat supply out I replaced most of the ground beef called for with TVP that I had rehydrated with beef bouillon instead of just plain water. For the rest of the meat, I put in two quarts of ground beef that I had canned during the crazy days that Scott and I were trying to save everything we had in our big stand up freezer. I threw in some rehydrated chopped onion and diced green peppers.

After everything had “plumped” I fried the TVP, chopped onions, and green peppers in just enough butter to make the onions nearly transparent. Then I added uncooked rice (about 1 cup per pound of meat), chili powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and some tomato paste (about 8 oz per pound of meat). The I added water (about 1 ½ cups per cup of rice) and brought everything to a boil. Next I reduced the heat, put the lid on, and let it simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.

For dessert I used up some of the stale miniature marshmallows that we seemed to find in every other house that we’ve gathered from the last couple of months. I made Pinto Bean Fudge. My family knew what was in it but they had a hard time convincing some of the other folks that they were on the level. What I like is that the fudge is actually a good protein source.

The recipe calls for evaporated milk, sugar, marshmallows, chocolate chips, nuts (optional), vanilla, and cooked pinto beans that have been drained. The hardest part is the first step where you combine the milk and sugar and boil them together for eight minutes. You have to stir constantly or the milk will burn and give it a nasty taste, not to mention ruin your pan. After that all you do is take it off the heat, stir in the rest of the ingredients until the marshmallows and chocolate chips melt and then dump the whole mess into a buttered pan to cool.

Rule in our house has always been he who does the dishes gets to life the bowl. That means I usually had a couple of kids fighting for the chance to wash a few dishes so they could like the spoon. This time by unanimous vote, it was Kelly and little Al who were given the bowl and spoon to lick and they didn’t have to wash a dish either. When I tried to give Charlene a lick she said, “No, let them have it all.” As she watched them carefully devour every smear living the bowl and utensil nearly spotless, a single tear traveled down her cheek.

“My mom, she ran off when I was real little. Al used to tell me it was because she couldn’t handle what had happened to him. But Dad let slip one time when he was drunk that that was just an excuse, she really ran off with a man and just never came home. My dad was a terrible cook. Al was the only one that even tried but half the time … you know what he was like. Then he married Mona and as crazy as she was she was a great cook, but she wasn’t really into kids. We kind of didn’t exist in her world. We weren’t real. Al loved Mona and I know she was good to him and for him, but I always wished there was a grown up woman that could teach me to be a real girl and do all of that girl stuff with.”

I asked her if there hadn’t been other women in her family she could have turned to.

“No ma’am. Well, there might have been but I didn’t know ‘em. My mother didn’t have any family that I know of and Daddy ran off most of what little bit of family he had. Those that he didn’t run off couldn’t deal with Al being like he was.”

“What about teachers?”

“Not really. The school I went to wasn’t a school where a teacher was your friend. They spent too much time being afraid of the students or gossiping about how bad their love life was. I went to the Alternative Day School,” she muttered under her breath. Then almost in anger she said, “People used to look at Daddy and Al and Mona and think I just had to be the same as them. I was just some poor little white trash girl that wasn’t even good enough to be let go to a real school so that I could go to college and be something other than what they had decided I could be.”

“Well, you showed them,” I told her. “Probably most, if not all, of them are gone now; most likely because they weren’t survivors and had been living in a rose-colored glasses kind of world where the bad stuff happened to everyone but them. But here you are. And now you have the chance that no one would give you before. What are you going to do with it?”

First she looked at me like I was crazier than her brother and then … then she looked like someone who had suddenly and totally accepted that the rules really had changed. She didn’t have to be the poor little girl from the wrong side of the tracks any more. She could be the best person she was capable of being, the person that everyone had kept telling her she could never be.

She was quiet all through dinner and wouldn’t get too far from my side. She wasn’t used to being so readily accepted. It was a heartbreakingly new experience for her and left her rather subdued. I have a feeling that most of the super chipper I’m-just-fine-no-matter-what-you-think personality that we saw at the fairgrounds was really part of her emotional armor. Scott and I are hoping that she will relax as the days go along but it’ll probably get worse before it gets better. It’s hard to let go of years’ worth of hurt; it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. She, Kelly, and little Al also need to deal with the death of King Al and everything else they’ve experienced over the last six months.

We had thought to put Charlene in with Rose and Melody, Kelly in with the girls and little Al in with the boys but Kelly and Al refused to sleep apart from Charlene. We wound up fixing them up some sleeping pads in the living room so they could all stay together. Everything will work out eventually. It took time for Melody, Belle, and Trent to assimilate into things as well.

Now that I’ve stopped to look back on today’s events, I’m amazed at how normal I feel. Not too long ago raiders would have had my knees knocking and in a near panic, worrying about my kids and everyone else in Sanctuary. But that didn’t happen. Come to think of it I didn’t even pull a mother hen with James. Maybe there are some things that I’m starting to accept.

Life’s not going back. Too many have died. We’ve been dealt too many blows. But they weren’t death blows. Not for those of us here in Sanctuary. I would say not for Steve’s group either. Probably not for a lot of the little bands of survivors all over Florida … heck all over the world.

I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, my intuition tells me there is some stuff coming we aren’t going to like. But, whatever does come, I know we have the capacity to get through it. If we don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.

Day 188 (Sunday) – February 4th

I was too busy to do any writing yesterday. I wasn’t the only one either. The early part of today wasn’t much better but I finally told Scott we needed to stop and breathe or we were going to pass out so about mid-afternoon he and I found an out of the way spot and just sat and talked for a while.

At first light yesterday morning the four adults who had decided not to remain in Sanctuary departed. They took the panel truck (that we had emptied out in the woods before bringing it in) as their transportation and they hoped to get at least as far as Port Charlotte, maybe even Cape Coral. Brandon practically pleaded with them to give up going that far south. He’d come from there and knew for a fact how bad things had gotten. But I don’t think anyone could have stopped Scott and I if we were looking for our children either.

Water was easy enough to share with them now that we had the well up and running and we gave them the food that had been in one of the raiders’ pickup trucks. It was no skin off our nose as we kept back what was in the panel truck and most of the ammo and weapons we had taken off of the raiders’ corpses and they didn’t seem to mind the blood that was splattered all over the cans and labels. The panel truck had nearly a full tank of gas and it was up to them to find fuel to keep them going. Maybe one of these days our generosity could extend to fuel but that was probably years down the road when we were manufacturing enough for our own use and had a good supply strategically stockpiled as well.

We even sent them out with a full belly of grits doctored up with sausage and cheese and a nice basket of fresh baked biscuits in case they got hungry before they could stop and cook a real meal.

Patricia told me later in the day that Brandon really had had problems with the idea of people going south. He said he’s family nearly lost their lives coming north to escape all of that and it still wasn’t enough. Apparently, by way of Josephine to Patricia, Brandon now wonders if maybe they shouldn’t have done more to find out whether his older brother had survived. I hope he doesn’t get it into his head that he needs to go find out for himself one way or the other. If what remains of the centralized government really wanted to do something they could create a database of people looking for their families; that way if people want to be found there is a mechanism for that. If someone doesn’t want to be found … well, they should be left alone and families will have to find some way to accept that.

I know some days I want to know for sure about my brother and nephews one way or another; no matter what the answer is at least I would finally know. Other days I’m content to leave it in the arms of Morpheus and not think about it at all.

After the four adults heading south left we also had to say good bye to a hunting party. Lucky for me I don’t have to write out what happened on that little adventure. Poor Austin was lamed up and not going anywhere so he wrote it up for me.


As written by Austin:
I sat in the driver’s seat of the F-350 and listened to the engine’s tick tick tick as it cooled itself. Around me were the few healthy male residents of Sanctuary that volunteered to join me on this little insane trip.

A day or two before the great dysentery outbreak, Scott, Dix, Matlock, Brian, Angus, and I all hatched this plan to go to the Lowry Park Zoo and restock our meat supplies with anything we possibly could. Of course I just about wet myself when they asked me to lead the expedition since. I had a feeling they were testing my college education out to see if it was worth the paper it would have been written on and wanted to make sure I really did know what I was talking about. Scott produced a color map, which he stole out of Sissy’s supplies, from his back pocket and we set about making a plan of action. After we had the basics worked out, I voiced a very serious question about what to do if some of the large African species had escaped and were likely roaming the park at will. Everyone looked slightly dejected and let down when the thought of lions, tigers, and bears chasing us came up.

I could say that I blame them. BUT, my stupid self decided it was time to unveil my well-hidden birthday present from the prior year. Running back to the barracks, I came back with a form-fitted rifle case and sat it down on the table over the map. I could see the questioning look from those around me, so I popped the latches and swung it open to reveal quite possibly, my last birthday present ever; a Winchester Model 70 Safari grade rifle, chambered in .458 Winchester Magnum. I had taken the time to have it bore sighted and even though my shoulder was useless for the next 3 days, I was able to sight it in on paper as well.

A few whistles and approving looks from the men seated around the table told me I had not only been given the task of leading the “Safari”, but I was gonna be on point. After the drooling session was done with the rifle and the plan was streamlined, we broke the news to everyone else in Sanctuary. Initially the plan was met with a chorus of loud “NO!”, especially from the women. But in the end we were able to talk them into seeing the necessity of the plan. After everyone was feeling better, we piled into the F-350 and took off for the zoo.

Sissy was the least vocal of the opposition to the run since she knew just how low we were on meat and other supplies that could possibly be obtained from the park. Her only concern was that we wouldn’t overdo it and have a relapse or something like that. Once the all clear was given for the area, the supply group in the bus would move in to clean out what they could of the shops and stores while we continued to hunt for food.

So there we all sat, staring at the now overgrown gates of the zoo and listening to the complete silence of what used to be a major hub for families seeking to distract their children for a few precious hours. About 30 yards to the rear was the supply group consisting of Sissy, Saen, my Sarah, Tina, Melody, Anne, and Rose with Glenn driving. Since they were still raring to go even after the Woman’s run, they perfectly fit the bill to scavenge what they could in our wake.

Myself, Dix, Brian, Angus, and Jim were the five idiots that volunteered to go deep into the park and hunt. Everyone was carrying some type of heavy caliber rifle or shotgun with slugs; I had my Model 70 and a 1911A1 on my hip, Dix was using his M4 and had a Remington 870 shotgun slung on his back, Brian was using my M-14, Angus had his Mauser and a S&W M29 revolver he picked up along the way during his raider hunt, and Jim had scrounged up an old M1 Garand. I wanted everyone to make it back at the end of the day, so rather than go with a light load of equipment, we took as much as we could since running from these beasts was usually a really bad idea.

Dix and I both had handheld radio’s and we could communicate with each other if we got separated and we could let the scavenge team know when it was all clear. Their primary targets were the Zoo School that they could hit while they were waiting for us, the main event center, the several restaurants scattered through the park, and the Starbucks coffee place.

I made sure that they kept out of the west area of the park where the more dangerous species were located, the far east area of the park where the cheetahs and hyenas were at, and the far north were the alligators were kept. Our plan was that If we had time left over we were going to hunt for the main feed storage and hopefully stock-up on the dry feed for the animals back at Sanctuary.

The women were armed with the SKS’s and AK-47’s that they had retrieved from the raiders and surrounding houses since the 7.62x39 hit much harder than the 5.56x45 and of course Sissy had that damned machete she always insists she carry instead of her .22 pistol. Hell, it was a big enough fight just to get her to take the AK-47 she had slung over her back; only Scott had been able to convince her to take it in place of her .22. Everyone had drilled with the weapon they were using and reloading. While shaky at first, eventually performance leveled out and everyone became semi-proficient at swapping mags and loading stripper clips.

I opened the door to the one-ton pickup and stepped out into the warm, humid air that these people called winter. Yeah, everyone else is wearing coats and complaining about being cold and here I am sweating through my poor choice of clothing except for Angus who had had the good sense to wear his kilt.

I was granted permission to root through the storage containers and managed to find some khaki hunting pants, a long sleeved khaki shirt, a leather vest with cartridge holders sewn into the material, some knee high leather boots, a safari hat, and a fake monocle came out of the house that contained the odd canned food and the mounted animals.

What the hell was I THINKING?! The outfit went well with the bad rendition of a British lord on the Hunt and I about killed Jim with laughter when I popped off with my posh, fake accent saying “Well dear ol’ chaps, I do believe we might have outdone ourselves here. Shall we go to the pub instead?” Laughter rippled all around me and we piled out of the truck and grouped together on the sidewalk right in front of the main gate.

I took a few seconds to fish a cigarette out of my vest pocket and lit it with a wooden match since my Zippo ran out of fluid long ago. Drawing the smoke into my lungs, I watched Dix pull out, of all things, a machete of his own and go about clearing the vines that had ensnared the gate. Sissy later identified them as saw briers and wild potato vines. They looked like something out of an old Tarzan movie.

While the guys had a pretty even load-out with load-bearing gear and light packs with food, water, and extra ammo, they were dressed in jeans and shirts while I looked like a reject from a 1950’s British movie and was loaded down with the heavy ammunition for the Model 70 which weighed almost 15 pounds for only 100 rounds, plus my extra ammo, food, and water.

After a few minutes of hacking and pulling, the gates finally swung open and allowed us access to the main compound. We moved through the gate and into the eerily silent zoo. First impression was shock at the extent of the damage we found; almost everything mobile had been knocked over or otherwise destroyed. Most of the windows and doors were broken or knocked off their hinges, and there was animal feces everywhere. That told me that some of the larger predators had escaped and were running loose through the zoo.

The animals on our shopping list were few, but had the potential to really hurt us if they were spooked or really pissed off; Black Bear, Bearded Pig, Key Deer, Warthog, and as many Fox squirrels and kangaroos as we could drop.

After a shaky start into the zoo itself we all became a little more relaxed and began to walk slowly and quietly while signs of life began to manifest around the entire park. Rustling branches and grass parting were good signs of occupation and we all became a little more alert since none of us could know what waited. After almost twenty minutes of walking we came across the first pen of the Bearded Pig and saw several of the animals were dead and decaying quite nicely, so with the pig population eating their dead pen mates, we moved on since none of us could stomach the thought of actually eating them.

Next up were the Key Deer, which I found out were on the endangered species list, and all seemed healthy and well- muscled considering how reliant they had become on daily feedings and constant care. Several were downed with single shots from Angus’s Mauser and Brian’s M-14, while I stood back and watched the surrounding area. With a pen of approximately 15 deer, we only harvested 4 as to not unbalance the population and allow us an infinitely renewable source of venison and nice heavy skin to make clothing out of once the supply of material becomes used up.

We were congratulating each other on a good start when a damn tiger showed up and began to drag off one of the still twitching deer into the line of palms a few yards away. Shouting at the thing did nothing, but since the deer was still very much alive the tiger was having some trouble dragging the kicking animal off into the woods, this gave me the much needed time to holster my 1911 and unlimber the Model 70 from my back and brace it on the railing.

With the heavy rifle now balanced on the rail, I flipped off the safety and lifted the massive bolt, pulled it back, and shoved it forward to chamber the first of 3 cartridges and eased into position behind the scope, after a second of searching, I found the tiger and placed the crosshair on the ribcage just behind the right front shoulder. Knowing this was my only chance to take the shot cleanly, I took a deep breath and slowly let a portion of it out and squeezed the trigger.

The sound was deafening and the recoil was almost enough to knock me on my can from my kneeling position, but the result was exactly as expected. The tiger had dropped to the sand as if someone had cut its legs out from under it and had been knocked on its side with a couple of paws flying out from underneath it. Unfortunately the deer was still alive which prompted Dix to put a single shot into its head and cease its suffering. We drug the carcass up on the walkway and decided to discard the meat since we didn’t know what diseases the tiger could be carrying; but we did skin out the deer and will be using the skin.

Since I was already out there with Brian and Dix, hauling up the other deer we took, I went over and checked on my tiger. The pool of blood was the dark crimson of arterial blood and it appeared to be dead where it lay and after several prods with a rifle, I assumed it to be dead and set about skinning it; there was no way in hell that I was going to pass up the opportunity to have a white tiger coat.

With the task of moving the freshly killed deer out of the way, we set about gutting them and thankfully it only took a few minutes on each deer. The viscera were left in the grass for the carrion animals and birds in the area, while we moved on toward the Florida section of the park. In this section we were interested in the Black Bear and Squirrels and while no bear showed itself, we were able to drop about 20 fox squirrels with a .22 rifle Dix had brought along. Unlike the ones near Sanctuary, these were worm free and were kept in the skin until we could get back for them later in the day.

We continued to follow the path through the park and finally came across the Warthogs and the Gazelle pens. After almost 20 minutes of aimed rifle fire, we had a impressive kill count of 10 gazelle and 4 warthogs, everything was going great until we all heard the barking laugh of hyenas.

Only a few manifested themselves at first and it didn’t take a trained eye to tell that they were starving; ribs showed as their chests heaved in and out with anticipation. Several more appeared at the scent of blood and then more joined the pack to give a total of 13 very hungry and bloodthirsty animals. I shouldered my heavy rifle and caught the shotgun Dix tossed to me, flicked the safety off, and brought it to my shoulder and waited for the damn things to make a run at us. I was scared, here we all were on a simulated African grassland with absolutely no cover and outnumbered almost 3 to 1.

After what seemed like hours of playing stare down, the Alpha male came running at us with a loping gate that almost was playful until the remainder took off toward us at a sprint, all wanting the same thing, fresh meat and the joy of the kill.

I’m not sure who fired first, it was either Dix or Brian, but the lead hyena slowed to a trot and began to limp on its front left leg and was consequently attacked by its remaining pack mates who had now caught up. The sound was god awful, a cross between screaming and yelping as the former leader was torn apart and devoured. For some reason I could only think of the new cannibal zombies that are now mixed in with the standard shuffling ones.

Unfortunately, the hyenas that weren’t distracted by the kill, were still interested in us so we opened up on them once they got within a hundred yards or so. Several of them dropped, but we were making hurried and panicked shots as the remaining 8 closed in. Dix’s M4 was cracking out rounds, but the small cartridge only seemed to slow them down, while Brian and Jim were only connecting about every third shot. Angus was picking them off one by one, but the bolt action could only fire so fast. The slug gun I was using seemed to be the ideal weapon, but again I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing and ran out of slugs after a few seconds.

Dropping the empty pump gun to the dirt, I drew the .45 and began to look for the closest of the hell hounds. Dix dropped his magazine free and pulled another as the closest hyena clamped down on his leg and ripped through his pants, sinking its teeth into the flesh below. Dix cried out and brought the butt of his rifle down on the beasts head several times until it finally released his leg and I was able to put it down with my pistol. Angus pulled his club and began to swing at the animals, knocking them head over heels while the rest of us put them down one by one.

I though the fight was over when the last one fell onto the dirt, so I almost wet myself when one came up behind me and clamped down on my left calf, I let out a half yell half sound of rage and slammed the pistol into the side of the damn things head and broke the lower jaw. I lined up the sights and squeezed the trigger twice and dropped it for good.

Almost everyone was suffering from some injury or another, but Dix and I seemed to be the worst off. Since walking was a pain in the ass now, Angus, Jim, and Brian found a couple of flatbed carts and loaded us onto them and hauled our butts back to the F-350 where Sissy and my Sarah cleaned us up under my direction. We are damn lucky the hyenas were as weak as they were. A full grown and healthy hyena has a bite pressure of about 800 pounds per square in … in other words the damn things can crush bone in a single snap.

After the run in with the hyenas the rest of the park was a cake walk; the Zoo School yielded several cases of paper, pens, coloring books, crayons, some food stuffs like juice boxes and crackers, while the rest of the park gave us coffee from the Starbucks. Sadly the food places had been broke into by the animals and most of it was damaged or scrapped anyway when a call came over the radio for me to come up to the main gate if I could.

I took a final drag off my smoke that had been lit earlier and I pitched it to the sidewalk as I hobbled up to the gate and took a seat on the park bench. Watching everyone else run by with animals or food made me feel useless, but soon I could see why they needed me up there. Sissy, Saen, and Tina were walking towards me with two flatbed carts loaded down with boxes and each had huge grins on their faces. The boxes contained vet supplies from a hidden office they stumbled across. After shooting the lock off the door, they proceeded to take everything but the refrigerated vaccines and open vials.

We now have thousands of syringes and needles, at least 100 different vaccines including ones I could give to the cattle back home, and most importantly was the pain killers and penicillin. I could hardly keep myself from dancing around with glee until my leg protested and I had to sit back down. Hobbling back over to the F-350, I sat on the tailgate and dug through the boxes and withdrew two syringes and six replacement needle tips plus two vials.

Dix had come over by this time and sat next to me with a questioning look on his face, so while I drew 30cc’s of the slightly yellow solution into a syringe, I made small talk and eventually asked him if he was allergic to penicillin to which he said no and I quickly jabbed the needle into his arm and injected the antibiotic. It really was my only chance to do so since it usually takes about 3 of us to hold him down for a shot of anything except liquor.

With that task done, he gave me a disgruntled look, gave me a barely grumbled “thanks” and got back into the truck while everyone else had a chuckle on his behalf. Angus, Jim, Brian, and I also got the injection just to make sure we wouldn’t end up one day with blood poisoning or worse from the hyena attack.

The last syringe I used again for myself, it contained 5cc’s of M.S. Sulphate, which everyone else knows as Morphine, it dulled the pain from the ragged bite in my leg, but left me level headed and my mind clear. I was going to offer a similar shot to Dix, but by the time I got up to the cab of the truck, he was asleep in the passenger seat. He was really pissed about going to sleep “on duty.”

Overall we got enough meat to feed Sanctuary for the next month or so and enough medical supplies to keep us in good health for much longer. Included in the small haul was a nifty little break barreled .22 pellet gun that could also fire tranquilizer darts for small animal. While we didn’t find the darts, I did round up a few thousand rounds of .22 pellets and gave it to Sissy to thin the squirrel population that keep threatening the gardens.

My leg is propped up and is throbbing, but the wound is clear of any infection. Ski gave me his opinion and says since I can’t really see it too well, it is healing nicely. Ski reamed me a good bit for giving penicillin injections out there at the park and not waiting until I got back here for a sterile area, which I now admit to having been a bad idea, but he was impressed that I was able to get a needle into Dix by myself and not have him hit me.

Well hopefully Sissy won’t cut too much of this out of the Sanctuary Journal, but since I had nothing else to do except sit on my ass, it seemed like a good time to write the “Safari” down so she can get it transcribed into our own piece of history in the making. Looking down at my bandaged leg, I think next time I’m gonna wear something a little bit heavier; something that withstands teeth…


I don’t know why but I was plenty sore that night after getting in from the Lowry Park Zoo gathering run. Might have been because I was so tense the whole time we were there. I still remember the Busch Gardens run and my rather unique experience with the wildlife. Scott tried to massage the stiffness out of my neck muscles but it didn’t help as much as it normally does.

I’m very thankful for the meat the men brought in as well as the medical supplies, but the rest of the park – especially the food outlets – were a disappointment. I don’t know what I had expected, but I didn’t find it. The kids seemed to enjoy what we brought back, they are all wearing their “new” t-shirts today like real tourists, but by and large the runs are only beginning to reinforce how very necessary it is going to be to be fully self-sufficient within the year.

We’ll probably go back for more meat in a few weeks but Austin cautioned us against over hunting the game there or we would lose the source altogether. Might be back to Busch instead, and might be with some of Steve’s crew … or at least that is what Scott gave me to understand today.

Anyway, after we all pulled back into Sanctuary we still had lots of work to do. Some took the medical supplies over to Waleski. Another group moved the food supplies to the food storehouse to be inventoried and put away. Dix and Austin got to listen to Waleski give them a lecture and had to suffer through a thorough exam and redressing of their wounds.

Dix was still smarting from having gone to sleep. He would have done the manly “gotta prove myself now” thing if Ski hadn’t told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t get off the leg he’d shoot him in the butt with a tranquilizer. You do not want to see a man that size limp off in a pout; it is an ugly sight. Dix retreated to the radio shack and stayed there the rest of the day.

Mr. Morris still isn’t his normal, good humored self but he wanted to help. And Angus, himself looking like he was dragging more than a little bit, asked if he wanted to help him skin the squirrels so they could be fried up for dinner that night.

It may sound bizarre but I enjoy watching Mr. Morris and Angus while they are prepping the animals that have been caught. It’s a real pleasure to watch it being done properly.

First the men would take the squirrel carcass in the palm of their hand, belly up with the head facing the skinner. Then they would use a small knife with a two-inch blade and insert the blade under the skin at the neck and run it down the belly not cutting anything but the skin. At the unmentionables they continue the cut around all but cut the meat so the yuckies are loose but still attached to innards. Next they pull the skin working their fingers under and around the neck all the way. From there they cut the skin away from the head.

The next part is like one of those magic tricks where magicians pull the tablecloth off without knocking any dishes to the ground. They grip the head in one hand and skin in other and pull off in one quick pull. Lastly, with two fingers, they push in under ribs and scoop out innards. When the skin is off you can cut off the paws and head.

For dinner we used the squirrels to make squirrel pie. Think chicken pie or beef or kidney pie. It’s kind of like a stew under a blank of flaky crust. We made a bunch of it and it was gone in no time flat. With seven more mouths to feed we are going to have to adjust some of our recipes.

We had a whole table of pregnant women at dinner tonight. Scott started to say something about nesting and clucking hens but strangely he lost the breath to finish what he was saying. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow Rose and my elbows slid off the table and caught him at the same time. Surely some cosmic coincidence.

Terra was up and around enough to eat dinner that night but you could tell her heart wasn’t really in it. She’s definitely feeling the effects of all the stress she has been under. Nick tries not to hover, but you can see he is worried. The story of Charlene’s sister in law hasn’t helped either. Subconsciously we all knew the possibilities that existed, but realistically facing those possibilities is another thing all together.

I don’t think Charlene appreciated my absence but she accepted it. James was looking at me in a bit of a panic when we got in and told me later that she followed him around the entire time with her niece and nephew in tow. When he was on duty, when he was doing his regular chores, when he was trying to hang out with the guys, even when he went to the outhouse. I tried hard not to laugh and instead explained that she was used to following her brother around and she had picked him as a temporary substitute. I told him that rather than be upset he should feel complimented as it probably took a lot of trust in him for her to do that. That gave my hard headed son something to think on and later in the day I watched him specifically include Kelly and little Al in a game he had devised to teach the younger children how to use a slingshot.

Our family headed off to bed early not even staying around for the get together with the new folks. James, Scott, and David all had guard duty tonight, in that order. James was on the 8 to 11 pm shift, Scott was on the 11 pm to 2 am shift, and David was on the 2 to 5 am shift. I know most places probably run their shifts at the 3’s (3, 6, 9, and 12) but that’s just not how we do it. This way any raiders expecting us to run the guard shifts the same as everyone else will get a surprise.

I had thought of a way to get Kelly and Al to try sleeping in the rooms and wanted to give it a try. I was going to let the kids have a slumber party … within reason of course. I brought out our portable DVD player that I keep charged and put a movie on that the kids picked. Of all things they picked “Ol’ Yeller.” I popped them some popcorn and then I presented Kelly and Al with their own, personal “shaker” flashlight. All the kids showed them how they had their names on theirs and I ceremoniously did the same for Kelly and Al. You would have thought that Scott and I had given them the greatest thing since sliced bread.

After the movie was over the kids were all ready to go to bed; the girls with the girls and the boys with the boys. I even let them build “tents” in their rooms and they could stay awake and talk but it was lights out time. Within 30 minutes they were all asleep. Charlene couldn’t believe it. Just to be on the safe side she opted to put her pallet down in the hallway so the kids could find her if they woke in the night, and so they wouldn’t wake anyone else.

I dozed a little, barely waking up when James and Scott switched watches. Unfortunately when Scott came in at about 3:15 am and crawled in bed I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. Rather than toss and turn I got up and went onto the lanai, heated up some water on my little candle stove and had a mug of peppermint tea.

After I settled onto a patio chair with my mug I decided to top the comfy “me time” off by checking to see if Steve had anything going on the radio. Hoo-boy, he had a toot on.

And now I understand why Steve sticks mostly to the late night broadcasts. It’s probably the only time Shorty can’t ride heard on his tongue and he gets to be a completely free-form thinker and conversationalist that don’t have to follow the rules.


And late night listener, that was one of my blasts from the past, “Soft Cell” with “Tainted Love”. Yeah, I know that many of you out there are looking at each other and thinking; “How old is this fuck?” Well, not as old as you think, and older than I care to admit.

You are of course, listening to Steve’s Midnight Music and Talk Show. The time according to the only working watch on the damn radio is four nineteen. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the sounds of the second hand as it makes its way around the face of the timepiece meant for railroad men in an age when iron horses were king and the men who ran them were gods.

Yes, listener, I am a bit intoxicated tonight. There was an awesome fucking good run for items a few days ago, and they yielded some very nice things. That sound you heard was my bourbon glass hitting the mic. Thanks go out to the folks at Sanctuary for their suggestion that we join them; The Kid says he wants to have Mass, and speaking as the proud father of someone who knows his way around a Mass, come one come all. I don’t know how the Pope would feel about a layman giving communion, but to hell with the old bastard anyway, there’s a reason why we Catholics drink.

Where was I?

Music. Here’s a tune that since I’m in an old fucker mood, is one I’ve liked ever since I saw a stripper dance to it.

“Depeche Mod” and “Personal Jesus”.

And that was “Queen, Find Me Somebody to Love”

I warned you I was in that kind of mood.

Let me enlighten all of you listeners out there. I was digging through the stacks here at the library and I happened upon this old article about viruses in “The Sciences” from 1998. Yes, folks, that’s the last century. I know some of you little shits weren’t even a stain on momma panties yet, but it holds relevance even today. So sit back, grab a beverage, and listen to a few of the things that ol’ George Armelagos has to say.

First off a little history. Not because I think you are stupid, far from it, folks, if you’re hearing my voice, you are among the smartest people alive. Influenza, the last big outbreak was in 1918, killed 21 millions people in a few months. Smallpox, a disease that’s been around since fucking forever, killed nearly 300 million people in the twenty century alone. I toss those piddling numbers out there so we have a baseline so to speak. According to Ol’ George, says that “Deaths from infectious disease in the United States rose 58 percent between 1980 and 1992. Twenty-nine new diseases have been reported in the past twenty-five years…” that’s a new disease a year, listener, “…Ebloa virus, for instance, can in just a few days reduce a healthy person to a bag of teeming flesh spilling blood and organ parts from every orifice.”

Scared yet? Oh yeah, we have zombies now. Let me read on. “Creutfeld-Jakob disease…” a mouthful when your sober, let alone drunk…”…eats at its victims brains until they resemble wet sponges.” Don’t we wish that on more than a few undead fucks right now? Moving on, it says that we are one species and even though we are “10 to the 17th times larger than the average bacterium…” we are in essence fucked. The bacterium that we fight against outnumbers us and evolves faster than we can kill it. It says that we “…must compete with 5000 kinds of viruses and more than 300,000 species of bacteria. Moreover, in the twenty years it takes humans to produce a new generation, bacteria can reproduce a half-million times.”

Now you might be saying, “Steve, you shit-faced bastard, we tune in for news and music and shit, not to hear you lecture us.” But you must know that I have spent my time behind the pulpit as it were, molding young minds and teaching those little frail thinkers the way on more than one occasion, so I am predisposed to lecturing. So fuck off, shut up and listen. I say this to tell you this other thing.

But first a story. The other day we went on a trading expedition for some things that we just can’t get around here and met up with a group, I’ll call them the Filthies. Now we’ve got protocol for all kinds of things around here and while I might give out names of groups and people, I never tell you where they are for security reasons. But the Filthies, you need to stay away from them. They reside in the Old Carrolwood area and I say this only because they are the most disgusting fucking excuse for humans I’ve seen since NRS reared its ugly head. These bitches were living in squalor, they all had lice, fleas and ringworm and those were only the things we could identify at a glance. No telling what kind of crabs were dropping from their underwear or what puss oozed from the regions covered by the rags they called clothing. The Filthies all had matted hair, rotten teeth and if one wished to delve further, you might have found open bed sores and scabies. It was absolutely revolting to have to be even a few feet up wind of them. I wouldn’t fuck one of them with a raiders dick.

I digress. It’s the bourbon.

People, no matter what, there’s a reason to stay clean. We’re entering the summer months here in Florida, and it’s only going to get worse. The heat, the bugs, the weather, it really won’t work in our favor if we don’t do those things to keep cleanliness a priority. I know water can be at a premium during some of those times, but for Christ’s Sake, leave enough for a whores bath at the very least. We’ve made it this far humanity; let’s not drop the ball now.

Ol’ George reminds us in his article, “The Viral Superhighway”, “We are living in the twilight of the antibiotic era: within our lifetime, scraped knees and cut fingers may return to the realm of fatal conditions.”

There ain’t many of us left folks, as mom always said, wash your hands.

Oh, Mass starts at noon. You ain’t got nothin’ else to do, so tune in, we'll be broadcasting live.

So on to more music and if you have a request, it’s 5330.5 on the ham and channel 30 on the CB. Operators are standing by and we’ll take the calls in the order we receive them. Here’s “Men at Work” with “Overkill” to continue our romp through the some-say, best-be forgotten 1980’s.


Hearing about “the Filthies” made me very concerned. We could run straight into that group if we continued much further down our course along Dale Mabry Hwy. Old Carrolwood was also the area where Matlock’s ex-wife had lived and died. I wonder if he knew any of the “Filthies” or if they had moved in at some point.

Over breakfast I spoke to Dix and Matlock about Steve’s broadcast. Both were understandably interested in pursuing this further so they called Steve’s group who we now know by the acronym OSAG. Steve was asleep but Shorty produced a guy who gave his name as Dave who had also eyewitnessed the “Filthies.” His words were that Steve was actually being kind and that in his opinion they were all crazier than dung beetles and twice as dirty … or that’s how close a translation I’m willing to write down after I removed all the cussing that Dix had put in there.

Even though it was a Sunday and supposedly a Rest Day I felt I had so much to do that I just couldn’t afford it. I was already a couple of days behind on planting the corn even though the kids had tried to do some yesterday. And at the time it looked like it might ran so I hurried to put 8 more rows in.

Scott woke up with the fidgets too and spent his morning setting stakes so that the gatehouses’ foundations could be laid this coming week and chalking in the placement for the mounts of the three .50 caliber machine guns. They’ll only be used as a last resort because barring what ammo was found with the raiders, we haven’t seen any more of it. There were also a couple of what McElroy told me were M240 machine guns and apparently there were several cases of ammo for those things in one of the big up trucks. Makes me wonder if those raiders had been more organized just how much damage they could have done.

Dix wasn’t in the greatest of moods due to the pain in his leg but he was hobbling about setting up a run out to Dale Mabry that took off about 9 or so. Matlock decided to take this one and they were going to go down as far as the Hudson Lane intersection to see if they spotted any signs of these “Filthies.” Waleski said that if they did see these people not to have anything to do with them. With pregnant women and children in Sanctuary, we couldn’t afford some communicable disease coming back from a handshake or careless contact. I tossed Matt a big bottle of hand sanitizer and he installed it in the front of the bus by the driver’s seat.

Since the run was happening on a Rest Day, participation wasn’t mandatory. So long as you didn’t have guard duty that day you could go. Young Eric begged to be allowed to go so he played cabin boy to Matlock’s captain. Lee volunteered to go as well. After that there was quite a shuffle and in the end Matlock had to turn some volunteers aside. All the guys from yesterday’s hunt were still sore and thus remained to do work around Sanctuary. Kevin decided he wanted to get out for a change and Clay Jr. and J.Paul followed him onto the bus. Cease was staying behind to help Dix with any running he needed to do so McElroy – our titular third in command – opted to go with Matlock for a change. The last two slots were filled by Ronan and Curtis who, while still nursing some bumps and bruises from their encounters with the raiders, were eager to be included in an official Sanctuary outing so that they could make their own place in the hierarchy of things.

Charlene affixed herself to my side and was watching me so hard I was having a hard time ignoring it. Sarah, my sweet but cluelessly blunt child, she came right out and asked her why she was watching me all the time. Charlene, herself an outspokenly blunt person, said because she wanted to know what I did that made everybody treat me like I knew stuff. Sarah, bless her replied, “Well, because she does.”

I called out, “Girls? Would you like to help me get the next phase of the garden in? I’ll even give you your own patch to grow and tend for your own.”

Both girls were all over that. And when some of the other children heard about it they wanted their patch of garden as well. The only one I seemed to be missing were Bekah and Ella. When I asked where they were I was told they were working on a school project. Hmm. On a rest day? I was especially curious when I found out this “school project” involved Angus. At the time I just hoped that Anne wouldn’t kill Angus when she found out. I don’t know what it is with those two but they take great delight and egging each other on to more and more outrageous heights. I found out later that it was actually a legitimate lesson even if Angus did make it more fun than your average school project had any business being. The girls even wrote up a scientific report which I’m including below.

With all the helping hands, including some adults who decided to join along, I managed to not only plant 8 more rows of corn but get in quite a bit of all of the other stuff that I wanted to plant as well: bush beans, pole beans, lima beans, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, blackeyed peas, more peppers both sweet and hot, , pumpkins, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, collard greens, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, peanuts, radishes, and even some Swiss chard. Tomorrow I’m going to put the sweet potatoes in the raised beds that I had built and then lined with chicken wire before filling with a mix of good compost and sand. I’ll also plant the watermelons and cantaloupes where they can really spread out. Another thing to do tomorrow will be to run the strings for the pole beans and cucumbers to climb on.

My helpers would come and go as it suited them. That was OK with me, they were just volunteers. I asked Charlene to make sure that all of the little kids got from the field to the mess hall and ate lunch. She was eager to show she was responsible.

It wasn’t long before she came back and brought me a pocket sandwich for my own lunch. I realized then long ago breakfast seemed and how hungry I was. I also noticed the dark circles under Charlene’s eyes that weren’t just from the abuse she suffered. When I tried to get her to go rest she said, “But you don’t.”

Oh boy. How easy it is to forget that kids watch everything you do as well as the things you don’t do. I decided right then to set a better example of staying healthy and told her thank you. I think she believes that I am as crazy in my own way as her brother had been. In all honesty she may very well be correct. But it gets me through the day.

I walked her back and told her to find a hammock and if she wasn’t comfortable with Kelly and Al running loose with the other kids, maybe she could persuade them to hop up in the hammock with her and take a nap. I’m fairly certain that’s exactly what she did and all three of them were looking better rested at dinner.

As I passed a small garden behind one of the houses I saw Chris with a radio. That’s when I remembered that Steve had mentioned The Kid … I’m pretty sure he meant his son … was going to put on a layman’s Mass for those that cared to listen. I should have figured that Chris would want to at least hear what was being said. He’s private that way but now thinking back I think a couple of other people may have been checking that broadcast out. I wonder if Steve will broadcast a nondenominational service at any point. Scott and I and the kids do our own thing but it might be nice to listen to something a little more organized for a change. Which got me to wondering about Charlene, Kelly, and Al; Scott and I wouldn’t force anything on them but we would expect a certain level of behavior and obedience. I didn’t think it would be a problem but better to be aware of the potential and it not happen than to never think about it and get gobsmacked when something hits you out of left field.

After that thought is when I went in search of Scott and asked him to go on a “date” with me. Gotta love a man that is so eager and ready to please. Wink. Wink. We just had fun spending some quality time together enjoy each other’s company, with only the occasional interruption by a child looking for attention. And we did that all afternoon right up until Matlock and his crew returned.

They brought back lots of odds and ends but no big surprises. Every business, including the big post office building, over by Lowes was looted of just about anything useful. However, all the stepping stones and blocks were still where they were stacked out in Lowes garden center since last time we had been there. We had a use for them now and a means to collect and haul them back which we didn’t have before. Tomorrow Matlock will lead another run over there and Lee wants to check over the leftovers of the small engines and other bits and pieces that are in the back maintenance area to see what we could possibly use.

Target was trashed but still held some odds and ends that might be useful though most of the linens and clothing had been exposed to the elements and were molded and mildewed beyond repair. Matt brought back some sports equipment for the kids to use after chores are completed and Curtis brought back some small exercise equipment for anyone that didn’t feel like lifting the free weights that were set up in one of the empty houses.

Due to the economic downturn that the world had been suffering when NRS showed up, most of the stores had started limiting their stock to what would fit on their shelves so the back rooms of most places were pretty bare however there was the occasional case of TP or paper towels that were found. I tell you what was a big hit however, was the cases of feminine hygiene products that was found believe it or not in the back room of Staples Office Supplies. I guess it had been ordered by a company to stock their employee bathrooms.

A few edibles had been found here and there, but not in any great quantity. As badly damaged and looted as many of the businesses were it was still relatively easy to tell that some of the buildings had been pawed through in the not that distant past.

Matlock and the gathering crew did get a glimpse of the “Filthies” and a more pathetic and nauseating group Matt says he never hopes to meet. They ran off at the first sight of the hummer and the bus even though they had obviously gotten to Orange Grove elementary school first. The body odor they left behind wasn’t even hidden by the stench of recent zombie activity.

The “filthies” had been trying, without apparent success, to break into the walk in coolers in the back of the school cafeteria. A couple of snips with the heavy duty bolt cutters that our crews always take with them and it was easy enough for people who still had the use of their opposable thumbs to get in. There were a couple of #10 cans of that school house pudding that everyone loves to hate but everything else had spoiled months ago.

About the only place that hadn’t been ransacked by the “filthies” was the library. How do we figure that it was the filthies who did this? Because of what we’ve come to think of as their signature – dirty handprints on every surface.

Matlock had thought about bring back some books for the kids but he said he felt like he had fleas crawling all over him the whole time he was at the school. He just couldn’t get those people’s appearance out of his mind nor get rid of the feeling they were being watched and as soon as they left the “filthies” would go right back to picking over and through everything.

The whole strip center over by Publix was also riddled with evidence of the “filthies.” For some reason the “filties” don’t appear to have crossed to the west side of the highway. No idea why since there isn’t any traffic to stop them. Maybe they’re too scared of getting too far from their home base which does appear to be the houses surrounding Carrolwood Park.

But Matt was so disgusted that he decided to go all the way down to Busch Blvd and see what he could see. That yielded better results. Val’s Basket Shop has been put on tomorrow’s run list. Lots of potentially useful items in there like floral tape and wire, baskets, concrete planters, and a few pieces of lightweight furniture perfect for the guard shacks. Matt also took a drive a little west on Linebaugh Avenue and was delighted to see that many of the businesses there still looked relatively intact. None of them were food vendors but most offices had some edibles tucked into desks and break rooms.

Tomorrow is Wash Day so I won’t be going on the run. I need to get some more bed linens fixed up for our new house members. They also need some new clothes from the skin out, especially Charlene who looks like she’s been forced to wear a bra that is two sizes too small for too long. Poor girl really does need a woman’s touch to help her along. I also want Ski to look at Al’s ears. The kid doesn’t talk much and when he does it’s like he has a mouth full of marbles. If he has a hearing deficit I’m going to see if Rhonda might know of anything that might help. Her specialty in school was working with kids that needed ASL assistance.

After dinner, another gastronomic feast for both eyes and stomach executed by Saen, we all pretty much lazed about until the sun went down. It was a red sunset so hopefully tomorrow’s weather will be nice. We never got the promised rain so I’ll be running irrigation lines into the newly planted beds on top of everything else.

We came home quickly after that … the mosquitoes are starting to be a problem again and I need to rig up some smudge pots and transplant some more citronella bushes … and the kids toddled off to bed. Charlene is still sleeping on the floor in the hallway but I think it is more for her own comfort than for Kelly’s and Al’s who have done amazingly well. I think that is bothering Charlene a little bit and I’ll try and get her to talk it out tomorrow if she’s in the mood.

Scott hit the sack at the same time the kids did, he was tuckered. As for me, I was still wound. I drank too much real tea at dinner and it’s taken some time for it to wear off. Think I have just enough oomph left to transcribe Bekah and Ella’s “school project paper” and then I’m off to bed myself.


Uncle Angus Smites Evil
By Bekah, aged 9 and Ella, aged 8

Uncle Angus is a mighty, mighty northmen! He hunts really good and always catches what he goes after whether it is rabbits or raiders. Today we observed Uncle Angus go on another very important mission. We got to ride with him in the golf cart which he drives better than Rose does. Rose hits all the bumps but Uncle Angus never hit a tree, not once. Uncle Angus called the mission preemptive strike. Ella and I didn’t know what that meant but here is how Uncle Angus explained it to us.

“The intended prey had been testing Sanctuary’s borders for many months now, and the evidence of their invasion can be found all around the perimeter of the walls defenses. Many of the warriors of Sanctuary hold no fear of this evil; as they have hardened there war skills with glorious battles over the many months of defending their homes and loved ones from the many horrors that now roam the land."

"Yes many hold no fear, but alas there are those within the walls that tremble at the invading evil, with horror and dread. But fear not, as we mighty warriors quest forth on the glorious mission to rid our lands of the fearsome pestilence that has encroached upon us!"

Be careful when you ask Uncle Angus to explain things. Sometimes he can exaggerate. A lot. Like that time he was trying to explain why he was on the Wall talking about dragons. Momma and Mrs. Anne, Ella’s momma, had their eyebrows up in their hairline when they were listening to it. Ella and I couldn’t hold in our laughs in any more. Uncle Angus gave us a look he calls “fearsome” but we know he doesn’t really mean anything by it. It always makes all of us girls laugh even harder.

Uncle Angus sighed and said, “What are you girls laughing at? This is no tea-party where heading for you know. We’re bound to see vicious battle before too long."

We tried to explain to Uncle Angus that they were just squirrels but Uncle Angus got a really silly look on his face and said, “Just squirrels ? Just squirrels?! You were there, you heard your mother. She said they were demons that were spawned from the darkest pits of - EVIL !"

That made us laugh even more. My mama doesn't like squirrels. She says they have been put here to test her faith. But that’s when daddy says it's a test she's never passed. Then he runs out of the room pretending he's afraid of mama.

When we told this to Uncle Angus he said, “Ha, I'll bet you a hand full of tootsie rolls he's not pretending. But still, back to my point, your mama said that these evil demons taunt and mock her and daily and try to steal her prized possessions. They also make tremendous messes just to infuriate her. This insult just can no longer be tolerated. So without fear for my own life I insisted on leading this mission of the greatest importance! "

That made us laugh some more because we know that the only reason Uncle Angus said he would take care of the problem was because James told him mama was thinking about taking his hooch and soaking a batch of nuts in it so the squirrels would get drunk and fall out of the trees and kill themselves. Uncle Angus doesn’t like it when people talk about using his moonshine for something other than what he calls medicinal purposes.

We went nearly the whole perimeter of Sanctuary and with the new Wall that is a long way. Every squirrel we saw ended up in bags on the little trailer behind the cart. After the first couple of squirrels, some of the teenagers decided to come along as well, even James. They are all good shots with the .22's and only a couple of them needed to take more than one shot.

There had been only one casualty during the battle. When Uncle Angus was moving the bags around on the trailer one of the not so dead squirrels decided to bite him on the meaty side of his hand. He started hollering really loud. He ran the rest of the squirrels off. It took James and Samuel to get the squirrel to let go of Uncle Angus’ hand; it had died mid bite.

Uncle Angus looked kind of funning jumping up and down with a squirrel stuck to his hand and James and Samuel trying to get him to hold still long enough for them to finish pulling it off. You could tell that James and Samuel were trying really hard not to laugh but then Samuel says, “Zombie squirrel” and all the teenagers started being stupid.

Uncle Angus gave one of his growls and they all ran off still laughing. That left Ella and I to give Uncle Angus first aid. He did want us to at first but we threatened to tell our moms if he didn’t. He handed us a little first aid kit out of one of his kilt pockets and sat down and let us take care of him. Momma and Mrs. Anne have that kind of effect on people.

Uncle Angus said thank you real nice when we finished but I think he must have gone over and had Mr. Waleski look at the squirrel bite too. At lunch he didn’t have all of the pretty bows on the bandages that we had tied. He had also lost the pink ribbon someplace too.

Uncle Angus said that we smited nearly 30 squirrels and that was a glorious battle by anyone’s standards. Momma gave in and told him his hooch was safe for another day.

The End

Day 189 (Monday)

Had things and people going every which a way today. We had another run out to the Dale Mabry Hwy area. Scott and a crew finally got started on the front and rear gatehouses. Angus and Mr. Morris are finally feeling more the thing though Angus’ hand that the squirrel bit and the area around Mr. Morris’ amputation were both irritated. Despite that they took off to add some additional security to Angus’ second base and got a real shock. We had … well I guess you’d call it a “family” of peddlers visit. And I spent most of the day working on the garden and future food self-sufficiency plans; in particular I planted 4 more rows of corn and planted about 10 more 100 foot rows of potatoes. Our new folks got settled in to their respective living quarters. And various and other sundry things going on, so many that half the time I don’t hear about everything any more.

Dix’s and Austin’s legs are still pretty messed up. No significant infection, thank goodness, but hyena’s mouths are very dirty because they are carrion eaters. They aren’t going anywhere for at least a week or more. Matlock was torn between leading another run, this one further along Dale Mabry to Busch Blvd and Gunn Hwy, but opted to remain and work on Sanctuary’s defenses. Instead McElroy led this run with some interesting results as well as some information. They left at first light so as to be back well before dark. There were starting to be signs of a weather change and in Florida that can mean thunderstorms. Thunderstorms can get interesting in lightening alley which is what the corridor between Tampa and Titusville is known. I forget how many people each year used to be struck by lightning but I remember reading that lightning was the number one weather killer in Florida, ahead of all other weather related deaths in the state. In other words, don’t act stupid in Florida weather or you could wind up dead … or undead … as the case may be.

At the same time that one crew went out on the Dale Mabry gathering run, another crew took off for a short run to Lowes and Home Depot to bring back all of the cinderblocks, stepping stones, etc. that could be brought back. We’d already gotten all the topsoil and fencing materials months ago as well as pretty much all the other usable stuff that hadn’t been trashed when the buildings were looted and fire bombed or whatever the heck happened to them. It was going to take two or three trips but the more they could bring back the less Scott and I would have to fight over what to use them for. I want to build more raised garden beds and he needs some of the materials for the building projects that he and Matlock have on the books. I suppose if worse comes to worse I could ask the men to fell some of the tall palm trees in the area and use them as berms for the raised beds.

Speaking of gardening, I did a whole lot of that today. Like I mentioned I got in another four hundred feet of corn and another 1000 feet of potatoes. I don’t know what I would have done had we had to eat all the seed potatoes from the last plantings I did and the ones that I was able to save from the Feed Depot so long ago. We’ve also found a few potatoes in the abandoned houses to piece everything out. I’ve got to find a better way to save my seed potatoes. I probably lost every bit of 50 pounds of them to rats and they attract all sorts of other bugs, thugs and nasties.

The potatoes are going to be really important to our diet once they start coming in. A hundred feet of potatoes can produce between 150 and 300 pounds of tubers, depending on weather conditions and variety. The average American had been eating about 125 pounds of potatoes each year. In Ireland during the 1800s, lack of potatoes, had driven thousands out of their homeland to be immigrants in the US or they would have died of starvation.

Betty and I have been talking over some things with Waleski. We noticed that since we’ve started to rely more on wild game than on domesticated meat that folks are losing weight again. Not too bad but on a couple of the kids it’s really noticeable. I think we’ve been a little remiss in not realizing that not only are we having to change the items that we cook, the way we cook, but we also need to change the way we eat. What I mean is that in the last two decades or so we become conditioned to the idea that fat is bad, carbs are bad, sugar is bad, etc. But in reality our bodies need that stuff to function the way it should.

The problem was that most people’s working life became more sedentary than our ancestors had been. We weren’t necessarily working in the fields growing our own food, etc. Instead we were sitting at desks earning our food. We also ate a lot more domesticated meats that were higher in fat than the hunted game that our ancestors put on the table regularly.

We’ve been straining a lot of the cream out of the milk the kids ate, essentially giving them skim milk as opposed to whole. We were stingy with the butter in accordance with what we still thought of as “healthy” cooking. We are rationing bread until our corn crop comes in and we can meal it for corn flour. We are trying to live like our ancestors did without recognizing that there was a reason why they ate all of that fatty stuff.

It’s called Protein Poisoning. Wild game is much leaner than domesticated livestock. A diet heavy on wild game means that we need to add more fat and carbs back into our diet. It starts tomorrow. We’ll take the night milk that has been allowed to have the cream rise, strain off the cream and set it aside, then add that “skimmed” milk into the morning milk that we will leave whole. Hopefully this will help with the kids. For adults we will be adding more fats into our cooking; frying things in bacon grease instead of canola oil, a bread spread made of olive oil as long as we have it, and other things like that.

Mr. Morris and Angus were back and forth, in and out, of Sanctuary today. They’ve got another still and smokehouse all set up down at Angus’ fire station. On one of the trips the other women and I let James, Eric, and Samuel shepherd the kids over to Angus’ place to help him paint it. They came back a couple of hours later and I was very, very, very glad that I had my kids wear really old clothes. Angus and Mr. Morris was as messy as the kids. Scott had gone up there to collect them for lunch and came back laughing. He said it looked like monkeys had tried their hand at painting.

Monkeys and other exotic wildlife reminds me of why Angus wouldn’t let the kids go back up to the fire station after lunch. Seems he spotted some really big paw prints and needed the kids to stay out of the area until he could confirm what they were from. Mr. Morris said they looked like bear tracks to him but he wasn’t for sure as they were bigger than any he had seen before. Angus confirmed later, during an open council meeting, that they were bear tracks … grizzly bear tracks.

Grizzlies are not native to Florida; heck, they aren’t native to the south at all; looks like we have a zoo or circus escapee running loose. We radioed OSAG and Steve said he’d get a warning on the air for any who would take it seriously. I hope Angus is wrong, but about these sorts of things I haven’t seen him wrong yet. He mentioned that he was going to try and track the bear to see if it is still in the area. Not sure how I feel about that. Part of me says leave it alone, part of … well, if it’s a threat then just kill it. I know that is blood thirsty but it’s a non-native species and I have no idea how that will effect our ability to hunt. We already have to deal with hyenas, large predator felines, kamodo dragons … now grizzly bears?!

We had a large boa take one of our kids today … the goat variety, not human. Samuel heard it bleating in terror but by the time he got to it all he could do was put it out of its misery. The snake had already crushed it, snapping the kid’s spine, and was trying to unhinge its jaws to begin swallowing its prey. Boas and gators are already competing predators down in the ‘Glades, I hope that doesn’t happen around here though Fish & Wildlife officials had estimated that released and escaped boas were becoming an endemic problem throughout the southern USA. With nothing to keep them in check they’ll multiply out of control and then we really will have a problem.

About an hour after both run teams were back inside, and an hour before dinner was to be set out, we had our first traders visit. They were more like peddlers living out of a couple of old RVs that they had converted to run on some kind of homemade bio-fuel. There was a complicated looking digester on top of both vehicles that stank to high heavens so more than likely it was some type of methane based fuel. That stuff is over my head but I’m learning. Nice set up but nothing else they had really interested us.

Matlock and Dix traded some canned goods for maps and information just to open up future trades. One of these days we may very well need something from farther off and the more options we have to acquire it the more likely we are to acquire it.

We have a couple of smokers in our group and they traded the peddlers for some tobacco and papers. I won’t hold it against them, my own great grandmother dipped snuff since before my mother was born … I just don’t care to have smoke blown in my face when I’m trying to talk to someone. If I’m not having to breathe it what do I care? I’ll kill Scott and any of my kids if they try and take it up but that’s a different issue all together. Both sides of our family has a history of heart problems and my grandfather had lung cancer. I’ll also skin anyone I catch tempting or offering my kids a smoke. Scott will smoke a stogie every once in a great while but not around me and not around the kids.

They asked if they could set up their camp with their back to Sanctuary’s Wall. Dix and Matlock agreed but have set an extra guard dedicated to keeping an eye on them alone. They said they would be off at first light as they have a trade planned over near the USF area. Bet its Steve, I saw a case of sardines in the back under wraps with things they said weren’t for trade.

My last piece of journaling for tonight is going to stick in here the piece that Brian slipped me today. I think he was a little embarrassed, but didn’t want Austin to show him up. It’s nice to find out where all of us have come from.


I'm not much of a writer, I tend to keep things short and unimaginative in most areas. Guess I'll start from the beginning. I'm a twenty two year old college student from Chicago, came down here for a week to visit the family I have down here, as well as scout out new colleges to attend, as the one I was in wasn't really doing it for me.

Before the end of the world, I was a sales associate at Advance Auto Parts, for....almost a year. I do a lot of electronics stuff, and can fix a lot of things without help or with minimal guidance. I'm also an avid gardener (I think Sissy was grateful to hear that) and I've tried to learn more from Austin about farming.

Ah crap, there I go again, this is why I hate journals. Anyway, when I was visiting with my family, the NRS plague hit New Port Richey where my grandmother lived, and hit it hard. I was with my uncle at the time, but we both tried getting in there to save her. That was almost a mistake, we both ended up trapped in my grandma's condo before we managed to get out with my grandma in tow. After that we hit up my aunt's place, but it was already abandoned with a note saying they were heading up to my mother's house in Chicago.

We were almost to the border when the border was shut down. And when we tried turning around to head back to my uncle's, we got ambushed by a group of local thugs. My grandma was shot and killed, while me and my uncle got away with bruises and scrapes. My grandma reanimated shortly after we finished, and bit my uncle, who was trying to get the little blue Ford Taurus my grandma got from my parents a few years ago. It had my uncle's 12 gauge trap shotgun, and about seventy shotshells, all hand loaded from his reloading equipment.

I.....shot my own grandma. That was probably the single hardest thing I could ever do, beside shoot my uncle when it was clear that he was turning. He even begged me, which really upset me.

After that I headed south, towards....I never really knew. All I knew was that my uncle's place was somewhere north of Orlando, but I didn't drive down here, I flew, so all I know is that the car ride was a long one. I ended up stopping in various towns, more often then not chased out of said towns by more local thugs, and then I reached the end of the line.

I was holed up in Ybor City trying to avoid that crazy couple and their zombie "pet" when I almost shot Jim. Didn't really see him coming in, and was busy trying to get a clear view of the gunfight going on outside of the place I was holed up in. I heard him crunch on some broken glass, and I swear I don't know who jumped more, me or him when I spun that old 12 gauge my uncle loved right at him.

After hearing him explain why I should think he's one of the good guys, I went with him, and joined up with the sanctuary crowd. And, well, ya'll know the rest.


Day 190 (Tuesday) – February 6th

It’s been raining like a sonofagun all day today. Tonight I found out that our clinic (Waleski finally put his foot down and told people to stop calling it a hospital as it made him feel all panicky) personnel have received almost a half dozen complaints about feeling kind of flu-ish. Three of the six are from my house alone, and now I’m starting to feel all sore and icky.

As promised the peddlers left at first light and we let Steve know they were heading his way. They weren’t as dirty as the “filthies” but they weren’t as clean as I would have liked. Whatever happened to leaving a place cleaner than you found it? We run a pretty tight ship and keep our perimeter neat and orderly. After the peddlers took off we hand to dispose of some trash and rake over some areas where they had tossed their chamber pots. I also noticed that the men didn’t act with much modesty and had to keep the younger girls back to keep them from getting an eye full when the men urinated out in the open. Have we really, as a society, devolved to the point where a man doesn’t even feel the need to take care of his business out of sight? I counted several young girls in that group and no allowances were made for them either. Makes me concerned for the future if that’s the way things are going to be. I mean I know as human beings need to relieve themselves but come on … a little privacy goes a long way to keeping things civilized.

Breakfast was Huevos Rancheros. I had mine mild; my stomach was bothering me just a bit. About mid-way through breakfast it started to drizzle. Rain or shine though there are some chores that still have to be done. Animals need to be fed and watered. Wood needs to be cut and stacked. Cows and goats need to be milked. And the Wall still needs to be guarded. The good thing about the rain was that it was great for all the seeds that I had been planting the last few days and it made the zombies more bizarre but less dangerous. I’ll put up with bizarre to get less dangerous, we’ve had a definite uptick in the number of zombies though they tend to come in clumps.

I made sure everyone in my family had their rain slickers on. I saw some people walking about bare-headed in the rain and all I could do was roll my eyes. I swear some of the boys seem to think they are going to live forever. Even Angus had enough sense to throw a rain poncho on. He was a bit disappointed that his bear tracks were washed away but I suppose if it is around he’ll find some fresh ones.

I tried to do some hoeing out in the garden. What a mess that was. I didn’t really have too much to do because I’ve been mulching really well and that’s kept the worst of that type of work to a minimum. The very last of the citrus is beginning to fall from the trees so tomorrow I’m going to work on canning the little bit that’s left. The quarts of orange, grapefruit, and tangerine juice as well as the pints of lemon and lime juice, are a real comfort to me when I go into the food storehouse. I hope to add grape juice and some of the berry juices to that later on.

We had to hook some fans up to solar panels – the ones we swiped off of the street lamps – and keep them running as much as we can. The humidity was beginning to talk its toll on our supplies. I vacuumed sealed as much of our dried stuff as I could but we’ll run out of those bags sooner or later and we need to find another way of taking care of the problem. We also have several of those chemical dehumidifiers going, but again that solution won’t last forever. We also need to develop a better system of refrigeration before the weather turns warm. I wish we could keep at least one refrigerator up and running at all times. Of course if wishes were pennies I’d be rich.

By mid-morning the rain was coming down in earnest. We had to start emptying our water catchment barrels again and we haven’t had to do that in a long time. Everything went straight into the water cisterns we have built. We keep the lids on the cisterns, we have to, or we’d wind up with a horrible mosquito problem. Samuel and my Sarah, as part of one of their school projects, are building a bunch of bat houses and swallow bird houses. The sooner we have those little darlings move into our neighborhood the better. I can’t tell you how infernally annoying it is to be kept awake when a mosquito, or three, get into the house. They always seem to enjoy dive bombing my ears right as I’m trying to drift off.

When my feet got so cold and wet that I couldn’t feel them any more I finally gave up and headed back to the house to be met by the joyful news that someone had forgotten to cover up the wood pile and there wasn’t any dry would to run the wood cookstove with. MREs had been passed around and as far as the meals went I think Johnnie summed it up pretty well when he told Bubby, “You git what you git and you don’t throw a fit.” Maybe the boy has learned a few things I’ve been trying to teach him.

I didn’t get the chance to do our family’s share of the laundry but it wasn’t too bad. The worst things I just hung out in the rain. Of course I hadn’t expected the rain to continue as long as it has so now I’ve got a lanai decorated with numerous unmentionables of all colors and sizes hanging from line strung from one in to the other several times.

Samuel showed up a little after lunchtime and asked if he could stay over at our place. I thought something was wrong at first but he said, “No ma’am. Its just that all the pregnant ladies are over at Jack and Mother’s place and … I really don’t want to hear all about that stuff. And … um … Ms. Cindy and Dad are … well …”

My eyebrows went up because this was the first I had heard of Dix and Cindy being on anything other than a nodding acquaintance. Samuel’s face got really red, “They aren’t doing that! I mean they’re you know … um … sort of talking some … about stuff … sort of.”

I laughed and finally cut him some slack and let it go. Poor kid. He’s had his life turned upside down, even more than some of the rest of us have. He’s pretty level headed, but he is still just 14. My Sarah was happy to see him. Now that Tina has Laura firmly under her thumb Samuel has been able to relax and he and Sarah are best friends again.

I left all the kids sitting around the kitchen table occupied with some lesson or project. I didn’t have to be much more than a facilitator these days, the kids were so hungry to learn. Sure, the little ones still needed some help the first couple of times they are introduced to a new concept and the older ones needed help with some of the more advanced match assignments, but overall they were turning into well-developed independent learners. My kids, because they have always been homeschooled, accept it as the way things are supposed to be. The other kids are amazed at what I can create for school … I call them learning opportunities. We do a lot of thematic and literature units. We finished up The Swiss Family Robinson a long time ago and followed it up with Robinson Crusoe. After Crusoe we did A Christmas Carol for the holidays. The younger kids are now studying Sign of the Beaver and the older kids are studying Alas, Babylon. I’ve got a whole list of books I’d like the kids to read, not all of them survivalist fiction but most of them are classics of one type or another with morality and preparedness lessons in them.

The one big writing project that I’ve assigned all the kids is to start their own journals. I told them they didn’t have to write in them every day but it would be nice if they wrote in them at least once a week. I explained that I used my journal as a way to vent my feelings, record history, and get my own thoughts and plans in order. I told them sometimes I go back and read something that happened a while back and maybe I will understand what was happening at the time better with a little distance or it might remind me about something I didn’t want to forget. And sometimes I cringe at what I’ve written but at other times I read about happy stuff that makes me feel better. A couple of the kids rolled their eyes the first time I gave them the assignment but I’ve now also told them they could do sketches to fill their journal so long as they have a paragraph to explain what they were drawing and why. I also told them they were allowed to use their journal for technical drawings if they want to use it as a planning tool. That last one made the older boys happier. The teen boys, except for perhaps Brandon who doesn’t really join in any of our lessons, aren’t really a touchy-feely crowd. I told them to think of it along the lines of what Lewis and Clark did or maybe Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, or even General George Patton who also kept a personal journal.

Charlene is eating up this whole alternative way of learning. Brandon says that she took nearly an hour to pick her first book and now every time I turn around I catch her reading. She’ll read while she stirs the mixing bowl. She’ll read aloud to the little kids if she is watching them. She gets on the bike generator and reads while she is pumping the pedals to charge a battery. I’m really glad to see it if you want to know the truth. James told me that she carries a notepad in her pocket now the same way I do. I expected him to have something a little mean to say about it but he actually seemed rather impressed. Scott and James are both men with “self made” mentalities, David too for that matter. I think they approve of Charlene even if she is a little different from everyone else. I think the difference lies in what she has gone through and not her core capacity. Anyone that made the mistake of thinking that Charlene is not quite as smart as everyone else is in for a rude awakening. She can figure geometry problems quicker than I can. Methinks maybe she has been forced to hide her light under a bushel and now she is starting to let it see light of day. I’m interested in seeing where this is gonna go.

After I had finished the last sock and did all the little odds and ends I could inside I sat down and took a rest. That’s when I noticed I wasn’t feeling so hot. A little shivery, a little ache-y … uh oh. I got up and made a batch of my anti-flu remedy. You take two teaspoons of cayenne pepper and 1 ½ teaspoons of sea salt and grind them together until you get a paste. Then you add a cup of boiling water to the paste and let it steep until it is cool. Then you add a cup of cider vinegar. And adult can take about a teaspoon of this every half hour and bye-bye flu. Kids need to have this diluted a bit with more water and given a teaspoon every hour.

I also fixed up a kettle of ginger tea, and gave the kids all a cuppa with some honey in there for good measure. I’m glad I did now. None of the kids that were at my house have thus far shown any symptoms of getting sick; only Rose, David, and myself have, and while I’m not 100% yet I’m definitely no worse.

And for the scratchy throats I made ginger candy drops. Thank goodness that Scott, James, and David had installed that homemade cookstove into the kitchen for me. It doesn’t get a lot of use but I’ve been glad to have it the few times I’ve needed it. For the ginger candy you take a pound of dark honey (the darker the better) and add ½ teaspoon of ginger. Simmer the two together over very low heat for 45 minutes, stirring often to keep the honey from scorching and sticking. When finished you pour it onto a buttered platter and let it cool. It’s not a hard candy, you cut it into shapes after its cold using a wet knife, but my kids have always loved it better than any cough drop I’ve been able to find.

And since I was stuck inside and having to make constructive work for myself I made something for Mr. Morris that I hope will help him feel better. I steeped rosemary in a bottle Madeira wine that I had found. It’s supposed to be a heart tonic and is also taken after an illness or a nervous upset. I’m hoping maybe this will be the pick me up he needs. He just hasn’t come back from the amputation the same energetic man he was before. I know that Kevin is worried about him.

I also made a clove gargle but that won’t be ready or a week. I took a pint of sherry and put in 2 tablespoons of whole cloves and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon bark, both of which I gave a little pounding to with a mortar and pestle just to bruise them up a bit and release their oils. I threw a pinch of caraway seeds in there too. I put this all in a bottle, sealed it, and put it in my closet where it stays dark. I’ll shake it a couple of times of day for a week and then strain the spices out and rebottle it. All it takes is a teaspoon or so of this in a glass of water and you’ve got a great sore throat gargle.

When Scott came in and said that Dix was looking for Samuel the school party broke up. That was when we found out that dinner was cancelled as well. There are pros and cons to having an outdoor dining hall and kitchen and today was one of the days we were experiencing the cons. To be honest, I didn’t mind. Group cooking can be fun and also relieves me of having to cook all the time for my brood, but the lack of privacy kind of wears on me sometimes.

Cease, who was supposed to eat at our table tonight, dropped by and said that it was all right and that he would grab a Clif bar or something. I told him he better have his feet under our home table come 6 o’clock or I’d come looking for him. He just grinned and said yes ma’am. I had several quarts of Spanish bean soup that needed to be used up so that’s what I heated up for dinner. I also fixed some homemade crackers.

Rose and David only ate a small cup of soup each and then they apologized for being bad company and went to bed. I have a feeling that David is going to have a hard time on guard duty in the morning, especially if it is still raining. Cease stayed for a little while before he and James headed off to take their turn on the Wall. All the couples have decided to have their commitment ceremony on Valentine’s Day which is just a little over a week away. The speed caught me off guard. I thought they had wanted to wait until March but I guess I can’t really blame them. When Scott and I were ready to get married every day seemed to stretch away forever.

Let’s see there is Cease and Melody, McElroy and Rhonda, Jack and Patricia, and now I’m hearing that Waleski and Rilla will be committing as well. And while I don’t expect Dix and Cindy right away, I’m wondering if they won’t be at it shortly. What is it about the end of the world that makes people want to pair off and make babies? Or at least give it the old college try? Wonder if we’ll be hearing Austin and his Sarah making that kind of commitment any time soon? I like Sarah, but she’s nearly as busy as I am with things and I haven’t gotten to know her the way I would like to. She’s gotta be a pistol to put up with some of Austin’s shenanigans that’s for sure.

And I think I’ve got it figured out who the little love nest belongs to. Seems Brandon and Josephine have been sneaking off to have a little privacy. Nothing has come of it … yet … but I overheard Patricia giving them “the talk” about how things aren’t like they used to be. There are no more condoms and no more birth control pills, not even any more morning-after pills. If you are going to have sex you have to accept the responsibility that you might be creating a baby and all the life changing things that leads to. I wonder how the paired off adults are handling this?

Anne let slip that she and Lee took care of that issue pre-NRS. I’m not sure about Glenn and Saen or Austin and Sarah. Melody told me that while she and Cease want to wait until at least after the summer, they are prepared and have plans in case she gets pregnant. I think a lot of the women are waiting to see how Terra and then Rhonda and Patricia do with their pregnancies and births.

Speaking of Terra, she is really waddling. I saw her at breakfast and she looked just about as uncomfortable as you can get without actually being in labor. I’ll be amazed it she makes it to a full 40 weeks although I know for a fact that first babies are generally late. If she does make it to 40 weeks I hope the poor girl doesn’t have to go much further than that. I know it became a habit to induce pregnancies that went 10 days late but we don’t have the capacity to do that anymore. I wonder what the prescribed procedure is if you have no medical intervention? Strip the membrane maybe? Ew! As much as I love my kids, I’m very happy no to have to worry about getting pregnant any more. I had to have medical intervention each time because of emergencies. Scott used to joke and say he thought you were supposed to get better at something the more often you did it. I couldn’t stand it when he would make me laugh when I was in labor, Lordy that hurt.

The one thing I have missed is being able to breastfeed Kitty. I’ve heard that you can get your body to cooperate if you are determined to breastfeed a child when you haven’t been pregnant but it takes a strong desire and practice (and sometimes drugs) for that to happen. I’m 42 and I doubt even under optimal circumstances I could have pulled that off. There are some things that suck about getting older, but I wouldn’t give Kitty up for the world. I can’t tell the difference between her and our biological children at all. Biological or adopted our kids are ours and we’d die for them and all the trouble we’ve had has been and will always be worth it.

I’ll tell you someone though who is rethinking the trouble they are having with their kids. Tina is fit to be tied with Laura. Every time they give that child and inch she tries to take a mile. Yesterday she even went outside the Wall without permission to talk to a young man in the peddler group. After Tina got finished reaming her out a good one, Laura says, “But he was just so cute.” Even Maddie’s mouth fell open at that one. I hate to say it, but in a way I’m glad that Laura doesn’t want to hang out with my Sarah and Bekah any longer. That girls is just plain too much. I can foresee some real problems down the road as she gets older, and maybe not that far down the road at the rate she is going.

Maddie on the other hand appears to be trying really hard; not always succeeding, but she is trying so I’ll give her brownie point for that. Tina and Dante’ have taken over raising her. Brandon simply is not old enough, or strong willed enough, to be an authority figure for her. Tina says she still cries for her mother every once in a while, but apparently Trish was a distant kind of mother that was trying to relive her own childhood through Maddie’s popularity; kind of like a beauty pageant mother only not quite as extreme as the stereotype. Tina’s very hands-on approach to parenting is much closer to what Maddie apparently needs and she’s thriving. Too bad Tina and Dante’ can’t find the magic bullet to help Laura.

Well here it is, late again. I had meant to go to bed early and get some extra sleep but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Maybe I’ll catnap tomorrow while Kitty takes a nap as well. Can’t hurt to dream anyway.

Day 191 (Wednesday) – February 7th

The rain let up some time during the night but it left a mess behind. I had to clean up the cooking area before I could even think about starting breakfast. And with several people down sick with whatever is going around I wanted something quick and easy to clean up. Bonus is that Italian Breakfast Cobbler is portable so people could take their food and go someplace else to eat it rather than sitting cheek by jowl sharing their germs.

The cobbler was really easy and filling. Basically you take bulk sausage and add some Italian seasonings to it. Brown it up with onion and green peppers then add some mushrooms. Add some spinach – in this case I was using canned spinach that I had drained really well – and mix everything until you have an evenly distributed filling. Dump this into your casserole dish or pan and top with some cheese. In another bowl you want to make a “crust” out of flour, parmesan cheese, milk, butter, and eggs. Once your crust mixture has been whisked smooth, pour it over the meat and cheese mixture. Then you just bake it until your crust is golden brown. Filling and warming. For those that enjoy it I made one pan extra spicy and for the younger kids I made a pan that was pretty mild.

While I was getting breakfast, the girls were hanging out the still damp laundry and marking the items that needed mending. Thank goodness for my Sarah. She can really darn socks quickly. I still have to do all of the button holes that have come loose, those whip stitches can be a little tricky, but even Bekah can sew buttons back on. Rose helps when she can but she doesn’t have a lot of patience for sewing any more. She did when she was younger and it was all new and fun being able to do things her friends couldn’t … now she’d rather stitch up a person than stitch up a shirt.

After breakfast I hurried off to check on the gardens leaving the kids to do their morning chores. Rose is doing fine after a good night’s sleep but James came and got me when he came in from guard duty and told me that David was burning up and shivering at the same time. Sure enough he is sick all right. I dosed him during the night and Waleski checked on him. It’s a virus of some type that may or may not be a flu virus and that being the case the only thing to do is allow it to run its course. He has slept the day away and says he is feeling a little better now that the fever is under control. James is sleeping on the floor with the boys until David is better to avoid germ transmission and I misted the room with my hoarded Lysol several times during the day.

As far as the gardens are, the heavy rain did beat down some of the seedlings but I propped them back up so hopefully no harm done. The plants loved the rain as far as I can tell. They like the warmer weather we’ve been having as well. The rain made it kind of cool-ish yesterday, but by this afternoon we were into the mid 70s which has been really nice. We’ll see a few more cool snaps but the danger of frost should be totally gone by now.

After I made sure that all of the gardens didn’t wash away – and chased off some ravens that were in the cornfield until Johnnie and Bubby could come by and shoo ‘em off further with their sling shots – I had some of the kids helping me to gather the tail end of the citrus trees that were about to give out. The youngest, those unable to climb up the trees to pick, were given the job of picking up the fallen fruit and tossing it into a basket. I scrape out the pulp of this fruit for the pigs and throw the peels into the compost pile. It’s a little labor intensive but “waste not want not” as the old saying goes.

Glenn came up with a grand idea and I told Saen to give him a big fat kiss for me. After I brought it up at council the other night I guess some of the guys had been putting their heads together on the refrigeration issue. They sketched out a plan that should work and it will be finished well before truly warm weather sets in which I consider to be a blessing. I don’t know if we’ll actually be able to make ice but they assured me that it will definitely keep things cool enough to keep them from spoiling until we can preserve them in some other way. That’ll definitely be important if we want to continue hunting through the warm months.

Glenn volunteered to head up the project and though it takes warm bodies away from the gate house framing its important enough that we voted to do it. But all of these projects really points out our limitations. We have a crew gathering on Dale Mabry, we have a crew working on the gate houses, and now we have a crew working on building a large walk in refrigerator. That doesn’t even include our normal chores like cooking, cleaning, and gardening … nor does it include guard duty. Well, we are OK for now and the sooner we get the other projects out of the way the better off we will be.

For the “cooler” as we are calling it Glenn brought in a nice sized refrigerated trailer, the kind that usually haul produce or frozen stuff to market. He backed it up and parked it under a large shade tree next to the food store house. Then he scraped several other refrigerated trailers and attached their insulation in additional layers on the outside of the main trailer body. On the outside of that they took insulated siding they had scavenged off of some of the buildings that are being dismantled to weather proof the whole thing. Scott also suggested that they strap the whole thing down like you would a mobile home just in case of high winds.

The “cooling” part of the whole contraption came from the guts of several RVs that had refrigerators that ran off of propane. OK, for the nontechnical wannabe but never will be geeks out there, here’s the explanation I was given.

Seems that most RV refrigerators use anhydrous ammonia. They use heat to compress to the coolant rather than a mechanical compressor. Some of the newer RVs converted over to electrical compressors but enough of those other types are still out there that is wasn’t all that difficult to find enough coolant parts for what we wanted to do. This is Florida after all. And in some places on the interstate and in some of the retirement communities, RVs are as common as four door sedans. Some of them are pretty wrecked up but the guts are still salvageable.

What Glenn had proposed was that instead of trying to find a constant supply of propane was that we convert the heater part to use a Fresnel lens. A Fresnel lens is what was used in lighthouses to make the light brighter so that it could be seen further. The surface of the Fresnel isn’t smooth, but has this jiggy-jaggy cuts in the surface instead. Yeah, I know, real technical that but I’m not sure what else you would call it. They used to make these plastic sheets to go in front of your computer screen like a magnifier that was a version of the Fresnel lens and that’s a close as a description as I can come.

The men even went so far as to have a backup plan in case of overcast or rainy days when there was no sunlight for the Fresnel to collect. The Fresnel can be removed and a small fire can be used as an alternative heat source. Now I think that is cool … let’s hope it actually works. Not that I doubt the guys or anything but I’d hate to get my hopes all up and then have the thing not work for some reason. They said it should be finished late tomorrow and I guess we will give it a couple of days to cool down and then we’ll see what we’ll see.

Since the cookstove was pretty much totally taken over by the canning some of us were doing, we used Dutch ovens and made Apple, Bean and Ham casserole using Spam, canned beans, and some dried apples. It was really good. For dessert everyone had Black Forest Cobbler made from chocolate cake mix, canned cherry pie filling, and some chocolate bars that we need to start using because they are getting “old.”

The folks that went on the run didn’t come back with anything spectacular. I figure now that six months have come and gone the likelihood of finding a real jackpot have slimmed down significantly. McElroy reported that many of the places they went into looked like they’d already been ransacked at least once. McElroy did bring back some ceramic tiles and supplies for the house he and Rhonda are finishing up renovating. They, like the rest of us, have ripped out most of the carpeting and are down to bare concrete because it is easier to care for. Rhonda was just going to leave it bare but Scott asked everyone why they would do that when its simple work to lay tile. Eventually that’s likely what everyone will do. Heck of a lot easier to push a broom than it is to beat out wall to wall carpeting.

The front gatehouse is now framed in. Lordy it’s a monster. Scott wasn’t sure exactly what to use on the exterior of the gatehouse. He didn’t want to use wood because of the fire hazard. We are beginning to run out of the wooden telephone poles anyway and will only be using them from framing from here on out. The concrete telephone poles are nearly as numerous as the wooden one were so he figured out a way to use them. He lays them on the wooden framing just like the wooden poles were laid against the steel storage containers that make up the Wall. Instead of nails however they are using metal hurricane straps they’ve been taking from some of the big metal warehouses up and down US41.

It looks more industrial than the rustic wooden poles but the concrete ones are more uniform which helps with leveling and such. There are two large gates on either end of the gate house. The exterior gate leads from US41 into the gatehouse and then there is an interior gate that leads into Sanctuary. The gate house is long enough to fit a bus and the F350 end to end so only one of the gates has to be opened at a time. Along the top of the gate house Scott and Matlock worked in murder holes and a few other surprises should we need to. And guards can walk along the top of the gate house with impunity because they have plenty of cover.

After the gate houses are complete I think Scott and Matlock have talked about building a trebuchet as well as some possibly tearing up US41 even more to install two collapsible “bridges” across “moats” that can be blown to prevent direct access to our main gate. Who knows what kind of nasty stuff they plan to eventually install at the rear gate. I swear my husband gets more blood thirsty with every project.

Since I had the stove blazing away I decided to go ahead and make some more preserves; the loquats and tropical apricots were perfect for this. It always makes me a little nervous when I start using great quantities of sugar but it is what it is. The sugar cane is doing really well without much assistance from me. Harvesting is still a long way off but I just have to have faith that I’ll be able to figure out how to make do with whatever we have when we run out of the processed sugar.

I let the kids plant a bunch of sunflowers today. I hope they take. My luck with sunflowers has been hit or miss over the years, same with the nasturtium that I had them plant as well. Both could be a really great addition to our diets. That’s if we can save them from the squirrels and other varmints.

Speaking of varmints, Austin sat and pegged squirrels for two hours without having to move with that pellet gun he brought back from Lowry. I guess it makes him feel useful considering he’s lamed up and can’t do much else.

And Angus also did some hunting today. Jim gave us a scare a bit ago. I thought his shoulder or collar bone was broken for sure but it was only a dislocation. He’d decided to take one of the horses out riding on the outside of the Wall. He just needs to get off to himself sometimes. I think he is thinking of home and needs privacy to do it in.

On that particular ride he had a snake cross his path. He tried to shoot the snake with the side arm he was carrying but he said as soon as he pulled the trigger the horse had a fit. It threw him and he landed hard and on a bit of gravel. We had all assumed we’d be able to use the horses to hunt with and various other types of travel but if they were going to bolt at every loud noise that wasn’t going to work. Thankfully the horse returned to Sanctuary but that didn’t help Jim’s sore shoulder.

Angus decided that until Jim was recovered he’d try and help out getting the horses exercised and used to gun fire. That’s something that only looks easy in the movies. I’m not … fond … of horses. Nothing against them personally but I feel about them the way some people used to feel about computers; if I can avoid using them I do. I don’t know who all is a decent rider all I know is I’m … not. Every time I have to get on a horse my butt, back, and thighs are so sore for then next two or three days I can hardly stand it. I had someone tell me I ride like a sack of potatoes. I don’t have any reason to contradict that if you want the truth.

My Sarah on the other hand acts like she’s been around and on horses her whole life and that’s about as far from the truth as you can get and still be in the same hemisphere. I could count on one hand the number of times Sarah had been up on a horse before we built Sanctuary. Samuel on the other hand used to take riding lessons and can do all the fancy bouncing around things and can even run barrels … race barrels … barrel racing … whatever the heck you call it he’s good. And the datgum things listen to them.

We have this horse out in the pasture called Lady. Well, Lady is no lady let me tell you. That horse has it in for me. She’s kicked the fence I was leaning against, gone out of her way to come across the field and lean over the fence to try and bite me, and she pulls my braid every chance she gets … don’t even think she minds me when I tell her to leave me alone. But for Sarah and Samuel … she’s a princess. Between me and you future reader, I think she took affront the time I threatened to send her to the glue factory but you’ll never hear me admit to having said it.

Scott surprised everyone by giving Sarah permission to help Angus with the horses outside of the Wall. Samuel turned pleading eyes on his mom and dad and after Angus assured them that they weren’t going too far he was allowed to go as well. Laura has to be a snothead about it but nothing worse than we’ve all come to expect. I think Scott must have had an understanding with Angus ‘cause it was real clear that there would be no heroics or antics while they were out and Scott read both kids the riot act before they left.

They took six of the horses, three to ride and one tied to each saddle. Angus said the kids just about talked his ears off until he stopped sudden when he spotted some deer at the edge of the field where he had intended to set up.

There were 8 deer in total, whitetails but no antlers. According to Angus he figured they were all does since there were so many clumped together and none had antlers. They watched from their position and the deer didn't come out the other side of the tree line after they had started moving along.

Angus made a decision to change plans and brought the kids back to Sanctuary straight away after promising he would take them out another time. Scott met them at the gate thinking there might have been an emergency. Angus asked the kids to take the spare horse back to the horse paddock and tend to them and then explained to Scott about the whitetails.

Scott whistled for James and they volunteered to go on the short hunt with Angus. When Angus asked whether Scott had let me know where they were going he said, “Nope.” After a second Angus sighed and said, “You’re going to blame me aren’t you.” According to James Scott smiled real big and said, “Yep.” Honestly. Men. Every one of them suffers from some level of testosterone poisoning. Right when I think I’ve got them figured out I get shown Just how much I don’t. If I was to have done that to Scott he would have been birthing kitties … but me, uh uh, I’m supposed to be the good little wife and understand how the men just have to be manly men and go off without a goodbye sometimes. Grr.

Upon reaching the spot that the kids and Angus had turned around the men stopped. Angus decided to test James and after pointing to the little wooded area where the deer had gone into everyone dismounted.

Angus waved James over and pointed to the target and asked, "What direction is the wind blowing?"

He took a second and answered, “Straight to us.”

Then Angus asked, "Where are the deer?" Scott came a little closer and faced the woods. James was looking at the spot also and thinking. He reminded them to think about the wind direction. The patch of woods was close to 40 yards square and James replied, “About the middle would give them line of sight to all four sides."

Angus said, “Yes it would. But let me give you a little hunting lesson." He pointed at the patch of trees and continued, “The wind is coming straight to the woods and then going over it, at the end of the tree line it drops down quickly in a swirling motion and most of the wind keeps coming straight on its way. But that swirling wind coming over the top also sends a strong breeze back into the tree line from behind."

Looking at James Angus continued his lesson. "A deer use its nose as its first defense, so the wind is on its side. If the deer are a few yards into the tree line on the front side, then their nose can cover their front and rear, leaving their eyes and ears to cover their sides."

James staring into the trees slowly started to nod his head up and down. After a second Angus asked again, “So what’s the best way to go from here?” It took him a bit to work it out but Angus was pleased when he answer, “From behind and the sides?"

Scott told me James just about blushed as red as the apples I’ve been craving when Angus said, “You know Scott, I bet he's leading hunts on his own in no time." Scott was certainly proud of him and he’s been kidding him about it off and on since then.

That’s when they got down to business. Angus had Scott go around the east side while he went around the west side. He had James walk straight ahead and when he got to 30 yards he was to knee and get ready. Scott and Angus crept along the outside and then started into the trees from the back.

Angus told James, “When they spook they’re going to come in your direction because going north will put them out in the open. They’re bound to stop close to the tree line and be looking back at me and your dad, that's when you take your shot. But just take the one because your dad and I will be coming in from an angle and should each get a good target after you shoot because at that point they’re going to scatter and run every place to get out of there."

After going in for a good 10 yards Angus and Scott heard them go. They couldn’t see anything through the underbrush but they could hear them going towards James. From that point on it was exactly like Angus had planned it out. James took his shot, Scott took his shot and then Angus brought down his own target.

When James was telling the story over dinner you could see how satisfied he was. Scott’s grin was pretty high wattage as well. Angus just looked like he’d done what he set out to do and was glad of a job well done.

James brought the horses to the front of the trees while Scott and Angus dragging the deer to the edge of the tree line. After watching Angus gut the first deer, Scott and James started working on the others. The problem started when Angus when to put one of the deer carcasses on the back on one of the horses. The horses weren’t having any of it. Angus said, “I think we might have a small problem.”

Even with Scott's help it became apparent that it wasn't going to work. They wound up having to haul the deer on their shoulders to a shaded area out of the brush and over to an overgrown parking lot where they used the walkie talkie to come transport the meat. I’ve probably mentioned it a time or two but Angus isn’t adjusting very quickly to the heat and humidity we call winter. He was sweating pretty good by the time someone from Sanctuary was able to come pick them up.

They got the deer back in time that we did a pretty quick menu change and had fresh venison stew for dinner. Betty and Reba also took the time to show us how to make venison sausage and that’s what we’ll have with breakfast. I also pressured canned some venison meat and Mr. Morris organized a good measure of venison jerky that was put on the dehydrator trays we reserve for meat. It meant running a battery all night but it’s what we have to do to preserve things around here.

And speaking of preserving, think I’ll head off to bed and try to preserve me some beauty sleep. My anti-flu remedy is working but I can still tell I’m not at 100%. And frankly, the work isn’t going to get any lighter. By the end of this month we’ll begin harvesting things from the garden and then most of my time will be taken up with that.

Day 192 (Thursday) – February 8th

The cooler was finished late today. It’s a monster. Of course it’s still as warm as a freshly delivered pizza box in there; it will take at least 24 hours to cool off. Maybe longer because that is how long they used to recommend that you let small upright freezers cool down before you started putting stuff in them. This behemoth is a lot bigger than the old freezer your granny kept on the back porch. Assuming it all comes out as planned there is also a better than even chance we’ll even be able to make ice.

The way it was explained to me is that it uses the ammonia absorption method similar to what the Cooler has. It makes ice in batches rather than continuously which means we’ll have to be responsible and ration it, but if we can maybe frame off part of the cooler to build an “ice cave” sort of deal then we could maybe build up a reserve of ice that would then make it cold enough in the “cave” to make more ice with. Eh, what do I know? Anyway, the ice maker would be solar power using big parabolic mirrors or trough mirrors. The parabolic mirror would shine on the ammonia resovoir, heating the ammonia so that it separates from the water in the system. When the ammonia cools it is absorbed back into the water in the system by bubbling creating a kind of reverse evaporation. It causes a super cooling effect which is what freezes water. Sounds easy and complicated at the same time, like a giant middle school science project, which is kind of what I hope to turn it into.

I talked it over with the other adults and we all agree that while we really need the kids to be part of the work crews, we also need to be a more effective and consistent about making sure they have school time and play time as well. Rilla, Terra, and Rhonda have all agreed that about three times a week they will take the five and under set and do “preschool” for basic reading and math skills. I’m not one to push kids too early, too hard with arbitrary benchmarks that look good on paper but have nothing whatsoever to do with individualized child development. On the other hand, basic skills will let them get their feet wet and will be something they can build on once their lessons become more structured. The teens, those still disposed to “getting an education” will lean heavily into the arena of apprenticeship with a dusting of leadership skills, history lessons, and any of the advanced or applied sciences that work with what the field they are studying. Language arts and literature can be individualized to fall under the heading of leadership and/or history. The tweens will have a combination of structured lesson plans and individualized field training. Its not a perfect system, but it beats the heck out of letting them run young and dumb. Thus far there are only two kids resistant to any idea of “school.”

One would of course be Laura who is just going through a contrary stage no matter what it is about. The other is young Liz. Mostly I think Liz is just afraid of failure. If we can find something that Liz is interested in and structure her lessons so that it incorporates stuff from that interest then allow her to build up some confidence I believe it will turn out alright in the end. On the other hand, I never believed in beating a dead horse. If she doesn’t want to participate I’m not sure what we can really do about it at this stage. Right now I’m just not ready to fight that particular fight. We have too much stuff going on as it is.

In other construction news, the roof and walls are up on the front gatehouse. I think it looks good, a little odd in relation to the Wall, but it definitely adds a measure of protection and defense that we didn’t have before. One of the few things they have left to do is hang the new outer gates and put in a floor of limestone that they’ve hauled in from a local landscaping company.

The tarmac, concrete, and road bed have been badly torn up in the various raids we’ve endured. Once the road surface has been compromised it didn’t take much more than a rain storm and a little traffic to make the small holes into big craters. Scott finally decided that as long as we were going to tear up the railroad tracks at that point then there wasn’t any reason not to go ahead and tear up the road within the gatehouse. It was a lot of work but using sledge hammers and large pry bars they levered the large chunks of concrete up and out of the way and piled them off to the side to be used in building field walls next fall after we’ve cleared more of the semi-standing structures to the north and south of Sanctuary. I want to try planting rye and we need at least one good sized hay field to feed the animals off of this winter. A short wall won’t stop animal incursions but it will let other people know that what’s inside the wall already belongs to someone and stealing will likely draw a reaction.

The limestone they replace the concrete with will be much easier to maintain than anything else we could come up with, similar to a gravel road. All we’ll have to do is grade it out every once in a while. We could have gone the corduroy road route but wood to ground contact around here pretty much guarantees problems with termites.

And horrors … one of the houses that need to be torn down is infested with termites! Scott thinks they’re just subterranean termites and not the dry-wood type but that’s still bad enough. He had McElroy’s crew make a side trip to a couple of different “Do It Yourself Pest Control” businesses that he knew of and had them bring back all the chemicals that they found. Tomorrow, instead of starting on the rear gatehouse like he wanted to, the construction crew will start treating all the houses in Sanctuary as a preventive measure against termites and finish dismantling the houses that are coming down of all the stuff that is worth keeping. As soon as that is finished they’ll begin tearing down the condemned buildings and hauling the debris over into the burned out zone left behind by the Big Fire that is now mostly tall grass and bushes with dangerous sharp pointy objects mixed in. At some point we’ll need to burn the junk off, or dig a hole and bury it, but despite the rain things are way too dry for to burn right now.

There is already a really big fire burning in the south Tampa area. Reports were radioed in to OSAG and Steve said a family group actually witnessed the lightning strike that set the fire off yesterday. The rain held the blaze in check until about 2 am. After the rain stopped, the fire started eating up anything flammable within its reach. The damp from the rain didn’t stop it; it’s just slowing it down and making it incredibly smoky. With no fire departments its already eaten up a 10 block radius but looks to be going west as opposed to north; a real relief for us. But when the breeze is blowing right we can sure smell it.

Got some more corn planted today and also started a couple of new raised garden beds. I haven’t got anything to plant in them yet but it’s nice to have them already built. About half dozen of the concrete light poles have been lost because they’ve snapped or had big chunks break out of them exposing their interior rebar. Scott was just going to discard these until I asked if I could have them hauled over to one of the empty lots I had set aside to break ground in. I have three 45 x 30-foot raised beds now that are three feet high. I laid old fencing and the bottom and then broken dishes and gravel on top of that for drainage. Now all I have to do is figure out how I’m going to fill them up. A couple of the guys have volunteered to haul the dirt in but its going to require some work. There are some empty fields north of the Dale Mabry/Van Dyke intersection but they’ll still have to scrape the top off before they can get to just dirt. And most of that “dirt” is really just sand. If they can bring it in I’ll probably have to plant it with something like legumes or sugar beets the first season unless I run across a great source of organic material to mix in. I’m making compost faster and in greater quantities than I ever have, but its still not enough for the size gardens we are caring for.

Also, I had Saen ask me if there were any water buffalo around here. I figured Busch probably has … or at least had … some, though I’m not absolutely positive whether they survived. Get this … when Saen was young her family had a rice farm. She used water buffalos to work the paddies and still remembers how to train the water buffalos; I guess kind of like oxen. There is a large body of water less than a half mile from the northeastern section of the Wall called Lake Sempter that could be used as an irrigation source. There is also a little lake on the other side of US41 called Richard Lake that could be used assuming there is enough empty space to put the paddies in. Not knowing anything about rice paddies I’m leaving the selection up to Saen and Glenn.

A bonus to the rice we could grow would be the fact that after a bit, fish can be introduced into the paddies and that would be another source of food for us AND the fish would control the problems with mosquitoes caused by standing water.

My only concern is finding the rice seed to start the whole process. Saen says that she has a little bit but that won’t be enough for several seasons by doing it like Robinson Crusoe grew his wheat to bake his bread. However, I know that there are … or were … Asian import stores and markets over near MacDill. There were some others near downtown and Channelside. That will mean another run over there into uncertain territory but I don’t see how we can turn down the chance to do this.

Tomorrow Matlock and Glenn are going to escort Saen to the two locations I mentioned and see if either one is suitable for rice growing. If they are then day after tomorrow we are going to send a crew over to the Asian market warehouses and see if we can find seed.

And if that proves fruitful then we’ll need to start preparing the rice paddies immediately. According to a book I have on Florida flora and fauna, rice is planted in March and a harvest is made in July with a second harvest at some point between August and November depending on variety. Rice seed takes about 6 weeks to germinate and grow big enough for the seedlings to be transplanted. We are really going to have to haul but to have everything set up before March is gone. I have to say, while we still have plenty of rice knowing that they’ll be more where that came from will be a big weight off me.

According to that same book, the average harvest per acre is about 130 bushels per acre or about 6100 pounds. Of course that is commercial production and harvesting. And that is with American varieties of rice. I’m not sure what the yield per acre would be for the Thai rice that Saen is looking for. Another resource I found is that rice in the Everglades yields about 4500 pounds per acre. That’s still a lot of rice in my opinion and that one of the companions of growing rice are crawfish or crayfish … some southerners just call the little aquatic varmint a crawdaddy. They are good eating. But, one thing at a time; first we need to see if the land is actually suitable for rice cultivation.

Next month, if it continues to warm up like it has been doing, I’m going to plant all of the marigold and calendula seeds I can lay my hands on. I’m almost out of my calendula ointment and that stuff is as good as commercially prepared antiseptic. I started making it a few years ago when I found out it was used extensively during the US Civil War and during the world wars (particular WWI) for treating suppurating wounds and such like.

Rose and James managed to miss the worst of the acne problems that most teenagers have, but that doesn’t mean they’ve missed out on them altogether. Right now James is breaking out all across his back; probably from the chocolate bar Angus snuck him. A couple of the pimples are really painful and one or two of them look like they are trying to get infected. I put a little of the calendula ointment that I have left on the worst of the bumps and he said they are already much less sore and I noticed they weren’t as read and irritated looking either. Now all the girls (and a few of the women) want some calendula cream for their monthly break outs. And as I found out with Kitty, calendula ointment is also good for diaper rash. I hope I don’t run out before I can make some more up.

Waleski still gets a little crossed eyed when I pull out my “home remedies” but he is more open to trying them on minor cases just to see if they work. Another example of this is little Ty was finally up and running around a bit and fell and sprain his little knee. The boy was crying so pitiful and of course Ski a much bigger sucker for kids than he likes to let on … especially now that he’s going to be Ty’s step father. I grabbed some milk and stepped calendula flower heads for a bit and then used it as a soak for the knee. The swelling went right down and by dinner they practically had to tie Ty down to keep him from hopping around. The resiliency of most of the kids has been amazing to witness.

Had another sighting of a large group of zombies; these were heading north. What’s with the change? First it was like all of the zombies were moving east to west, or vice versa, and now they are heading from south to north. Maybe there isn’t any logic to their movements. Makes me crazy when I think about it too hard.

We’ve attracted some zombies today with all the construction noise and unfortunately there were several runners in the group. They got most of them before they got too close but Brian and Chris got a bad scare when they had one come up out of a bushy area while they were patrolling the perimeter on foot; no bites but it was close. We need to get out and start clearing the grass and bushes that have grown up in the yards and in the burned zone over the last few months. It’s letting things get too close before we spot them. And then you get paranoid and start imagining you are seeing things.

For instance, and I didn’t even say anything to Scott because I know he’d ask me if it had been pink, I could have sworn I saw an elephant out in the brush outside the north perimeter of Sanctuary today. I know, I know. It does make me sounds a little nutty or like I’ve been sampling the still’s production but I really haven’t. And besides elephants can’t possibly be any worse than what Angus has taken off tracking. It was a big bear, probably a grizzly by the sound of the sightings. Might not be a grizzly but until we know for sure Angus said he’s going to track it like it is one and give it the respect it’s due. All we heard from him on the radio is that he had to bed down for the night early and all is going well.

I think Dix and Angus got into it a little bit again … both of them are capable of rubbing each other the wrong way so I think they tend to avoid each other when they can. Dix high handedness tends to irritate Angus, and Dix has a bad habit of underestimating some of the non-military survivors. I don’t think Dix means anything bad by it. Scott says it’s a bit of a guy thing too. We’ve got a lot of alpha males in Sanctuary. Most of the time they all have their own projects and stuff to call their own so territorialness isn’t that much of a problem. Every once in a while though its like having too many male lions in a single cage … there’s just gonna bit a cat fight. And there isn’t a dang thing we women can do about it. Just sit back and watch and hope to avoid any spilt blood. As soon as they’re done growling the show is over and its like nothing ever happened. I swear somebody needs to write a how to manual. They do it for livestock, don’t quite understand why it can’t be done for men.

We did finally get to meet a couple of the guys from Steve’s group. They were out cruising getting a feel for the area since they aren’t locals and stopped by as a courtesy to let us know they were in the area. They missed lunch but were in time for tea so I offered them some of the cookies that I had baked earlier. There were four of them and they were a pretty mixed lot, same as us here in Sanctuary. About the only thing I got out of them were their names though I had the feeling that at least one of them had kids as they didn’t mind when they got run over by an impromptu game of dodgeball. And they didn’t remark on how strange it was to see a bunch of kids so that tells me they must have at least a few tucked away with OSAG. Let’s see there was Dave and Rusty, both of whom we’ve talked to via the radio. The other two were named Jon and Len. I overhead them talking to some guy named Scott on the radio confirming signal strength or some such. All four of them seemed nice enough as strangers go but they were a lip-locked as Steve was in the beginning.

I had to laugh at them when I gave them a bag of black sapotes to take back to Shorty and Steve. Black sapote aren’t the prettiest fruit … they are also called black persimmons … but they have a unique flavor and texture that has also gotten them the nickname chocolate pudding fruit. I told them to take the pulp and mash it up with some honey and/or orange juice and they’ll have a treat. My guess is they are going to let someone else be the guinea pig on that one. I’ll have to ask Shorty if they even bring them back or just chunk them cause they thought it was a joke.

Day 193 (Friday) – February 9th – Cleaning Day

I’m trying really hard to get back on my schedule, the one we developed so long ago to help us accomplish everything that needed doing during the week: Monday = wash, Tuesday = mending, Wednesday = water harvesting and treatment, Thursday = food prep, Friday = cleaning, Saturday = baking, Sunday = rest. The cooler months has meant that folks don’t make quite so many sweaty and smelly clothes so the laundry load is a little light. As a result we can normally get the mending done on laundry day as well. That left Tuesdays for major gathering runs.

We haven’t stuck to that though which has been a little annoying for me. I’m very flexible so its not changing the schedule exactly. Its more not adhering to a decision that we all voted on that is annoying. I know it is for a good reason but it makes future schedule crazy. Like trying to schedule in time for the kids school work. How are we supposed to get definite times set aside for when concepts will be covered and assignments completed and turned in if we are constantly being told that the tweens and teens are needed to fill in gaps left by people that had to go on the gathering runs. I am getting more than a little irritated. Again, I know it’s a necessary “evil” but this is really getting out of hand. I’ve got to find some way to impress on Dix and Matlock that they can’t keep doing this with the kids. And, this also takes them away from chores they are responsible for in their own homes. Whether they are littles, tweens, or teens … they are still kids. Treating them like they are adults up to a certain point is one thing, but to deny them the ability to enjoy what remains of their childhood is something different all together. I don’t know why, but this is really eating at me lately.

The gathering runs are taking longer, both in time and distance, to bring in the same amount of useful to semi-useful stuff. No large food supplies have been found in the last couple of days. No large supply of ammo has been found. The tiles and other building supplies are being tucked away in the storage containers so I guess that is a good thing but we could get most of that by transferring more effort into dismantling houses in the area which would use much less fuel. A full propane truck was found in a warehouse today as was 200 gallons of unleaded fuel, but no diesel which is what we’ve been using the most.

I don’t know if it is the female in me, but with only men going on the gathering runs for the last little bit, I’m wondering if they are missing things that the women would catch. I’m wondering if they are overlooking some shops just because they think they wouldn’t be worth anything.

Tomorrow Scott has promised to take me and a few of the other women that want to go on a drive through of the area that McElroy’s crew has been gathering from. It may or may not be an all day event; a lot depends on whether we see anything we want to investigate more closely. For example, the guys acted like they had hit the jackpot when they brought back a bunch of socks and underwear … but they were all men’s sizes. When they were asked if there had been any women’s sizes in the store they said they didn’t notice any. Uh huh. What about children’s sizes? Nope, didn’t notice any of those either. Yeah, sure. I’m inclined to believe that they didn’t notice any, I’m not necessarily inclined to believe that that was because there weren’t any there.

But that’s tomorrow; today was cleaning day. Since we don’t eat at home very often what remains of the kitchen and dining room tend to stay much neater and take less time to maintain. Since we do all of our laundry out of doors it’s the same thing for the utility area. Indoor bathrooms are another thing of the past. Because of no electric lights most shaving gets done outside as does most of the bathing; all that means that the bathrooms don’t get near as dirty as they did before. But the floors take more cleaning because we track more in and don’t have electric vacuums. The rugs have to be taken outside to be beaten. The windows stay open much more which means more dusting. Bugs are turning out to be a bigger problem that I like but there isn’t much more we can do about it. There is just so much mess out in the urban areas right now and not much to cut back on the bugs’ breeding. Every couple of weeks I have the kids rake up the leaves from around the house and that keeps the German and Asian roaches out of the house somewhat. The stuff that Scott and the gathering crew bring back from those pest control places has already begun to help; I find dead bugs all over the place which is pretty gross yet strangely satisfying. But the long term prognosis isn’t good when the chemicals run out. Natural repellents are just that, repellents; they don’t really kill to any great degree.

Today was another hunt. Matlock was very interested in Saen’s idea of using water buffalo like teams of oxen. He took a small group and went to Busch Gardens and brought back three and a half likely looking specimens. The reason I say three and a half is because Matlock decided to bring back a female buffalo cow that looks to be well into pregnancy. None of the animals were skittish and were obviously still used to humans though it has to have been some time since they’ve had much interaction. This should make Saen’s job of training them quite a bit easier.

Jim and a couple of the other young men brought down a couple of those big gazelle looking animals and Matlock brought down a gator, although I guess the term bringing “down” doesn’t really apply. He brought back a gator that scared the crap out of him when he lunged up from under some greenery near one of the standing water pools. They wanted to bring back some pig but didn’t find any though the evidence of wild pigs in the park was all over the place. A lot of the greenery and green spaces were rooted up. The baboon troop, the one that terrorized us so badly on that first trip, was nowhere to be seen. My guess is they may have used up the food sources within the park and they branched out. Or, they were driven out by predators.

The elephants were also gone from the park. I finally got up the courage to mention something to Scott about my possible sighting and he laughed but not too badly at me. Actually what he said was that seeing elephants couldn’t be as bad as seeing Angus’ reaction to finding a snow leopard on top of the fire station. He was stepping out right at dawn and watched the thing climb down and then head northwest through some dense foliage. It hasn’t been back which probably means that it is either dead or heading toward new territory.

It’s very freaky how many animals we see heading north. It might be that they are migrating and getting away from the heat and humidity but still. Of course, a lot of birds begin their annual migration back north starting about now. Sometimes I wish I could fly with those birds and see what is going on in the rest of the country, around the world. The small glimpses we get through Steve’s broadcasts only whet my appetite and make me think of more questions.

Frankly I’m somewhat surprised that we haven’t heard more from what supposedly remains of the central government. Scott, who was a real current events and history buff before NRS shrank our world, says that no news is not good news in these circumstances. It’s not that he is expecting … or even wanting … the central government types to come back and “save the world” but they did perform a job. If we have an invasion by a foreign country, so we have any defenses manned and ready to go? Are they cleaning up and repairing the interstate traffic routes and assisting in interstate commerce? Too many questions and too few answers.

Speaking of questions the kids keep asking me when Uncle Angus is going to be home. All that I can tell him is that he is tracking the bear. He’s been gone two days now. Hopefully he’ll be back in the next day or two with good news; either the bear is gone from the area or he has dealt with it post haste.

Four days left to prepare for Commitment Day for our couples. On the 13th I’m going to back a huge sheet cake and do my best to decorate it nicely. We are going to roast a pig and fix an assortment of side dishes. The still will provide some adult beverages but for the children and those of us not imbibing for whatever reason I’m going to fix a really nice non-alcoholic punch. And get this, we’ll have ice.

The cooler has definitely gotten cooler. It’s not cold yet but it was cool enough that we could put the meat that Matlock and team brought back into the cooler while processed it a bit at a time. By tomorrow at this time we should definitely have a nice walk-in sized refrigerator to use. I don’t want to get dependent on it but it will be nice being able to save milk from one day to the next, storing homemade cheeses, and having a safe place to store meat until we can get it cooked, canned, or smoked.

Tomorrow the first batch of ice should be ready. We’ll save it and by the 14th we should have quite a bit, certainly enough for a party and maybe even enough for the kids to make “kick the can” ice cream. If it works for Commitment Day then we’ll be able to make cake and ice cream for Bekah’s birthday which is the 16th.

I got into a bit of a contretemps with Waleski; partly my fault and partly over reaction on his. I’ve been a parent longer than he has been a medic. He’s a good medic but is a little on the controlling side due to his desire to do a good job.

Sis woke up crabby and cranky this morning. I wasn’t too worried about it, everyone has an off day. By midmorning she had developed a pretty high temperature however. Sis is just three or there abouts so she can’t really take adult meds and anyway, I’ve never been one to just run to the medicine cabinet or the doctor over every little ailment. She didn’t have a rash and wasn’t showing any other signs of illness except for the fever. It is was a virus nothing much could be done about it except to let it run its course.

I washed her down and gave her natural defenses time to kick in. The fever didn’t break or come down. That’s where I probably should have said something to Waleski, even if it was out of common courtesy, but I didn’t. I had given him my last fresh thyme and the new stuff wasn’t ready for harvest. My dried thyme was over at the mess hall and frankly I was too lazy to go get it as I was in the middle of mopping floors. Looking through the house I found my poultry seasoning and made up a cold tea for Sis to drink.

Why poultry seasoning of all things? Well, poultry seasoning has thyme, marjoram, and sage in it. All thread are good herbal remedies for fever. Why cold? It’s better to give young children cold tea when they already have a fever; at least that’s always what I’ve been told. I sweetened the tea with just a touch of pasteurized honey. She wasn’t thrilled with the taste but was thirsty enough that she didn’t fight it too much. Then I laid her in on a pallet in my bedroom and let her sweat it out. By the evening she was much improved and the fever was completely gone.

Waleski’s nose was out of joint however. The only thing that Rose and Rachel ever openly disagreed on was my use of home remedies. Rose believes in them whole heartedly having been raised on them and knowing firsthand how well they can work. I have been happy to see that Ski is at least willing to consider alternative methods, or perhaps I should call them more traditional methods, rather than just the modern medications everyone seemed to have become so dependent on. But fresh after a round of flu going through Sanctuary and on top of having four pregnant women to look after, he was a little sensitive to what I think he took as criticism. When he overheard Rose and Melody talking about Sis’ fever he came tearing over here and nearly got in my face.

Luckily we both backed down and then I apologized – no skin off of my nose to do so – and explained that it wasn’t a criticism of him or his talents. He explained his side which is that he is trying to nip any kind of illness in the bud in case it is something catching. I admitted to seeing his point but privately I told Scott that it felt too much like someone questioning my skills as a parent and trying to tell me how to do my job.

Scott understood. I hadn’t realized that he’s had his own share of having to deal with things in ways other than what he would have normally. Scott and I have always been very independent. Neither one of us wants Matlock’s or Dixon’s job but we also don’t necessarily want them telling us how to do everything either. We feel the lack of privacy we have to run our family the way we choose to do so, and not just which way works best for the majority. That brings me back around to the kids working. I’m the parent, I should be saying how much my child will and will not work. I know them best and I’m the one that is trying to provide a future for them, and have their personal best interests at heart … well, Scott and I are. Some days I feel a little bit too much like a cog in a wheel. On the one hand I know that I serve a purpose and without me the machinery of Sanctuary wouldn’t run as smoothly. On the other hand, a cog doesn’t have any self-will or self-determination. A cog is all that a cog will ever be. Scott and I have always wanted more than that; or at least more than that on our own terms. We certainly have always wanted more than that for our kids.

That’s another adjustment reaction I guess. We need other more now than we did pre-NRS. Pre-NRS we were about as independent as we could get. Now however, now we do need other people and that comes with some compromises that are turning out to be more difficult to swallow than I expected. Pride goeth before a fall … I don’t think Scott and I could have done as well as a single family group as we have done as member of survivors’ community. But, on some days I’d like to just go back to doing things the way we want to and being the bosses and setting our own schedule. Selfish or short-sighted, I’m not sure, but I feel like our independences is being taken away a little at a time and that bothers me a great deal.

Day 194 (Saturday) – February 10th - Baking Day

What is up? It’s like everyone has PMS or something, myself included. Stress. Fatigue. Pre-wedding jitters. I think it is all of that and more. This day has sucked!

Scott and I were kind of growly at each other this morning which didn’t start the day off very well. Either the kids woke up in the same mood or we infected them with our crankiness. But by breakfast I could tell it wasn’t just our family. A general air of something … maybe of slight depression … seemed to hang over everyone.

Breakfast was only slightly mollifying. I think it was more the coffee and strong tea than the stacks of fresh pancakes and canned bacon that helped. Everyone sat around glumly, waiting until the very last second before they had to head off to their scheduled chores or duties.

I had a raging headache most of the day which did not improve when I had a run in with Dix and Matlock over their constantly pulling the kids from home chores and school work to run errands for them, be put on work teams, etc. It devolved into a shouting match and me telling them if they didn’t back off my kids wouldn’t be participating in any of their little chore charts.

Things got real quiet after that. I told them that they were making a lot of assumptions and disrupting my ability to parent. It is one thing to take a willing and able older teenager and put them on guard duty or on some other compound duty roster, but the tweens and younger crowd were being leaned on too heavily. They were just kids and further more I resented the fact that they assumed that it was OK with me for them to just haul them out to do whatever, whenever without my permission.

I reminded the crowd of people that had gathered that we had built Sanctuary as a place of safety and at least in part to give our children a level of normalcy that had been missing in the beginning. Now that we are at a place that we can do that, despite it being an adjusted normality, we were doing just the opposite than what we had all envisioned. If they wanted to continue going on runs with fewer and fewer returns for the trouble then that was up to the adults. But if they did want to do that they didn’t have any right to expect that they could just assume that the kids would fill in the blanks they leave in their wake here in Sanctuary. Someone wants to go on a run then find an adult to fill their spot on guard duty. Someone wants to go hunting, do it on their free time and find an adult to take over any chores like with the animals or construction crews.

Tasha, who I really hadn’t had that much to do with as she hung out mostly with Cindy, Tina, and Becky, came out of left field and made the comment that maybe I had too much parental responsibility and maybe the Council should rethink my adoption of Bubby, Sis, Kitty, and Charlene and her two littles and spread that responsibility around a little more. Well that’s when Scott really roared.

I hadn’t noticed him walk up. He flat out was ready to walk away from Sanctuary and our home over this. You just do not push that man passed a certain point. David, James, Rose, and the rest of our kids … including all our foster kids … prepared to walk away with us. What really choked me up, and drew me up short, was that Melody looked at Cease and they grabbed Belle and Trent and were walking with us.

I was shaking with fear but with fury as well. Now I understood how some of the other early survivor communities had split. And I hadn’t realized how easy it would be for it to happen to us.

Strangely Dix was the only one to step into the breach. He gave out that loud whistle he has and practically bellowed, “Damnit Scott, Tasha isn’t speaking for me. Slow down man, let’s talk this out.”

When Scott gets angry it’s one thing; but when Scott gets furious … it’s bad. Not even I care to be around him when things have gone that far. “Fuck this shit. I was there and helped to pull your asses out in the very beginning as much as you pulled mine out. I’ve been here for this place and each and every person here since the beginning. We’ve opened our home, our resources, our hearts time and time again. Sissy has worked herself sick and my kids have done as much as most of the adults around here. This has been our home … not Sanctuary - but this street, this city - longer than anyone else here. But shit on this … no one, abso fucking lutely no one threatens my family in any way, shape, or form. No one tells me how to run my family. And I’ll be damned if anyone is going to tell me who I can be a parent to and how I’m allowed to do it. You got that!!!!”

Matlock stepped in at that point and said, “This has gotten blown way out of proportion.” But Dix, maybe understood better as evidenced by him saying, “No it wasn’t being blown out of proportion. Something has caused this and it needs to be dealt with.” I think maybe he understood how important an issue this is with us. I like Matlock but on this issue I just don’t think he got it how serious we were.

We called a Council meeting but asked that only the adults attend and that meant anyone 18 and older. Rose and James, and Charlene as well, were angry about not being allowed to go but I asked them to please be patient and let us try and work something out.

It was a long, drawn out meeting and a lot of things were aired out that I don’t care to go into at the moment. Let’s just say that my feelings are a little hurt that some would think that I was being arrogant and pushy, that I somehow thought of my family as better than anyone else’s. Patricia came to me afterwards and tried to make excuses for Tina and Dante’. I told her I understood that they were still going through the healing process from where Tina was assaulted but that apparently the feelings they had pre-dated that event. As for that little Tasha chick, the way I feel right now I wouldn’t turn my back on her. I’m not sure about Cindy, but I’ll admit that it doesn’t make me very comfortable to know that she and Dix are having some kind of relationship and its possible that she holds some kind of bad opinion of me and mine. It makes me wonder what kind of influence she is trying to peddle in the bedroom.

It’s going to be a while before I get over this one. Scott and the other men seem to have worked it out during the meeting. There were handshakes and even a few smiles but I didn’t really feel a part of it.

Scott knows I still don’t feel very comfortable. He said that he thinks it will be some time before anyone tries to push us on that issue again. I said that made me wonder whether he had been serious about us packing up and leaving and he said, “As a heart attack babe. I don’t want to, but I was dead serious about not taking any more shit. No one threatens our family or those we consider family. We’re just stuck for now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.”

That’s the thing for me I guess. I had started thinking of everyone in Sanctuary like my family. Now, now I don’t know what to think. I know families have squabbles although my own immediate family have only had fairly mild ones compared to what some people had going on in their families during the same time frame. This just bothers me.

I hate feeling like I have to watch my back. And I hate being fake. I’ve always pretty much been a loner except for a few friends and lots of acquaintances. Scott and the kids have always been enough for me. Now when I have to work with these other people I feel I have to have barriers up. Oh well, you live you learn I guess. It’s just one more depressing thing to have to deal with. At least now I know that all is not hunky dory and rosy. I just have a hard time finding out that a couple of them have been talking about me behind my back. I’ll give myself a couple of days to get over it but I’ll be honest here in this journal. It hurts.

Oh, and I guess I have to say that it wasn’t everyone. Matter of fact I guess I have to admit that there were more people that said they understood than didn’t. All the newest folks pretty much stood back, most of them not even having kids. Anne and Lee said that they didn’t want their kids working quite so much on the adult rosters either. Chores were one thing but constant work was another. The Morris family didn’t have much to say either but I think that is mainly because their kids are already older.

Becky was … detached I guess you could say. She tried to not take sides at all. I guess she feels that because of her position as Matlock’s wife she has to stay neutral, but I know she is close friends with Tina. And Tina made it sound like there were more than a few that agreed with her assessment of the situation.

Speaking of Tina and Dante’ I guess I also need to mention that Laura is a lying sack of shit. Not the nicest thing to say about a 13 year old but there you go. There is just something wrong with that child. She’s wild to a fault and manipulative on top of it. Apparently she’s been carrying tales to her parents about “things that are being said about her and to her.”

While denying most of the stories, I reminded them that Laura’s behavior wasn’t exactly exemplary and that my family wasn’t the only one that had dealt with repercussions from that. And that next time, instead of letting the problem of he said/she said fester, to deal with it right away so that the facts can be determined. Scott and I don’t have a problem disciplining our kids. There has been more than one occasion when we’ve assigned them extra chores and made them apologize for being out of line. If they were wrong then we wouldn’t have a problem dealing with it. But I’m not going to go back months of time and try and determine who said what and when and whether there was an out and out lie or a misunderstanding. Laura is another one I won’t trust as far as I can throw her and I’ve already told my kids they aren’t allowed to play with her or hang out with her and that if there is a problem they are to report to Scott or I immediately.

It was interesting to note that Tina stopped short of calling my Sarah wild and having an inappropriate friendship with Samuel. Scott and I are very careful that Sarah knows the kind of behavior we expect from her and while Sarah and Samuel do spend a lot of time together, they often have one or more littles tagging along or another adult around. As much as I would like to say things couldn’t happen with my kids the truth is that nature has a strong pull and there’s a reason why there are rules. Laura has already tried to mess with their friendship once that I’m aware of and nearly succeeded. I’m sure she will go back around to doing that, she just hasn’t found out how to make it Sarah’s fault without drawing Samuel into it and therefore Patricia and Dix as well.

I’ll mention one other thing and then I really will try and let this go like I said. Something Tasha said is really sticking it to me. She said because our family was so large we used a disproportionate amount of resources compared to everyone else. And for us to begrudge the kids having to work was just wrong. Dix again pointed out to Tasha that she was relatively new and hadn’t been around in the beginning when the only thing the group had to survive on is what we had in our own supplies. Tasha’s response? “That was then, this is now.”

Scott was almost breathless with fury at this and the breath he did draw was whistling in and out. I wasn’t much better, but before either one of us could say anything it was Patricia, Rhonda, Reba, and Betty who stood up and said, “Who is helping to build Sanctuary? Who is helping to design and build the gates? Who is out in the garden every day making sure we have food to put on the table?” And they added a few other things besides.

I have to use that support to offset some of the hurtful stuff. I have to remember I still have friends; good friends. But it still bothers me that Tasha and Tina could be … I don’t know … mean spirited I guess. Tina, maybe I can put it down to problems with her kid and trauma from Samson’s attack. Tasha though, she’s young enough to be my daughter, isn’t a parent, doesn’t have the greatest background pre-NRS herself. Yeah, maybe her time as a captive of the pirates has soured or warped her a little but I still don’t understand it all. Maybe we’ll just have to agree not to like each other. And I honestly still down understand how this all devolved as badly as it did. Dix and Matlock pushed me once too often and I lost my temper – not necessarily their fault as my temper is a well known problem I try to control – but still something is just hinky that my issue with over scheduling the kids into adult tasks could get so out of control and someone could mention taking some of our kids away.

About the only constructive thing to come out of the whole mess is that at the beginning of March Dix has personally promised we will begin making concessions for the kids and their need for more educational and free time. Part of me wants to know why we can’t do it sooner but I guess there are some major projects that need to be finished. Matlock also agreed to this but Dix gave his personal promise which may mean he’s had some concerns for Samuel or maybe that Patricia had said something. Or maybe … oh heck, I don’t know.

Scott and I are still going to go out tomorrow and do a quick run through some of the areas McElroy’s crew have already gone through. I’m a little uncomfortable doing so but Scott said I could allow the situation to stop me from doing what I knew needed doing. I was going to ask some of the other women to come along but plans have changed. Melody and Rose will be coming; Waleski had already scheduled them both a free day from the clinic since we didn’t have anyone sick. David is going to ride shotgun with Scott while James stays home and keeps an eye on all the younger kids with Charlene’s help. Cease, who I hope doesn’t suffer any backlash from siding with our family, is already scheduled for McElroy’s crew who we are supposed to hook up with for lunch. I asked Charlene if she wanted to come with us but she said she’d had her fill of the outside world for a while and would rather stay home if it was all right.

It was strange to hear Charlene call our house “home.” Johnnie asked if Charlene was ours now too and James said, “Yes she is twerp so knock it off.” Nice big brother thing to say, but Johnnie just laughed and asked Al if he wanted to play cars with him and Bubby. Charlene sighed. I thought at first she was upset about what James had said but instead you could see she was … satisfied? Yeah, I guess satisfied is the best word. Like things were the way they were supposed to be. I wish I could have more of that feeling.

Scott and Jim were talking just a little while ago on the screened lanai to avoid the unseasonably early mosquito problem. He was asking if anything else had been decided about the rice paddies and then went on about something called “yabbing” which is I think kind of like catching crawdaddies. He said he did that plenty back home and that it would be great if we do indeed put some in the hypothetical rice fields. He also relayed that Angus was back but had opted to stay the night at his fire station. Scott said we’ll stop by there on the way out and see how he’s doing.

I hope I can sleep tonight. At dinner everyone acted like things were back to normal … well, as normal as they ever get any more. But I just couldn’t do it. I wound up grabbing my plate and taking Kitty and the littles as soon as they had finished eating and going back to the house. I just wasn’t up to socializing and couldn’t eat while it felt like all eyes staring me in the back.

Before the sun went down I tended the bits and pieces of edible landscaping that I’ve been maintaining in our yard. I also took a quick inventory of the food I still have hidden. As soon as I had finished I admitted to myself that was like grabbing a security blanket but bah! Who cares! If others haven’t squirreled away a few things “just in case” then that is up to them.

Forget it. I’m going to bed. Writing this out hasn’t helped as much as I thought … had hoped … it would.

Day 195 (Sunday) – February 11th

I worked today but it was still more of a “rest day” than yesterday was when I didn’t do nearly as much as I had scheduled. And I guess I’m more at peace than I was despite still not completely being reconciled to yesterday’s events.

We got up early this morning, well before first light, and finished getting ready to go on the run. I gave the kids their assigned tasks for the day and bid them to stay in the house or in the fenced in area in the back. Charlene said she’d take care of it and James, bleary eyed from a short night of sleep after guard duty, said they would all probably stay there since he wasn’t scheduled for any Sanctuary duties.

I still felt like the run wasn’t the best idea but then again I felt Scott was right, I couldn’t let any conflicts I was having with others stop me from living the way I wanted to. Well, within reason of course. James was going to be the oldest left at home and while I have a lot of confidence in him I was feeling … something. Under normal circumstances I would have asked Matlock and Becky to keep a look out or even Patricia, but this time I asked Waleski and Dixon to do it and I’m glad I did. It saved some grief after we got home.

At five, when David got off of guard duty, we headed out the gate with McElroy’s crew. We were in the Avalanche with the big trailer attached. They were in the tow truck, bus, and the F350. McElroy’s crew was already headed quickly away while we stopped off at Angus’ place to find him already up and raring to go.

A sixth passenger would have crowded things too much so the girls and I hopped into the back of the truck and huddled under the makeshift gun port that Scott had built back there while the guys stayed in the cab and talked. I wasn’t in much mood for company anyway though I did try and keep up a stream of conversation so I didn’t make Rose and Melody upset. It was pretty obvious that I hadn’t completely let go of my upset. But by this time I wasn’t angry, just hurt.

We were about twenty minutes behind McElroy’s crew but we didn’t mean to catch up anyway until lunch so we headed south on Dale Mabry Hwy. Scott told me to bang on the back window if I saw any place I wanted to stop but in all honesty I didn’t see anything until we got down to the strip center where The Last Pitcher Show movie house was. It wasn’t your modern theater but was a place you could go in, sit at a table, eat or drink beer and watch a movie on a full sized screen. They had really cheap dollar movies a couple of times a month and Scott and I had taken the kids there several times. It was sad to think we wouldn’t ever do that again, at least not what the kids were still young.

Our group had already cleaned out the theater but missed a couple of other shops in the same complex. The Bead Shop was a place I had always enjoyed browsing but had rarely been able to afford to buy anything in. This time I looked at the girls and we simply threw everything we wanted into a large tub that wound up being too heavy for us to carry by ourselves.

David stood watch over our antics while Scott and Angus were in deep conversation. I guessed rightly that Scott was telling him about what had gone on yesterday. It was all the gold wired and chain that created most of the weight. You should have seen the faces that Scott and Angus made when they tried to lift it the first time. I figured that eventually we might be able to use the gold wire and beads to make things to trade. At the very least they’d make good presents for each other.

From the bead shop we roamed into the florist shop, the locksmith’s, and the mortgage company. There wasn’t much to find but there were a few things that had been looked over. We hopped back in the Avalanche and went further south and the next stop we made was at the Beall’s Outlet and Marshall’s clothing stores. Sure enough the guys had completely overlooked all the kids and women’s “unmentionables.” I even had the girls bag up the out of season swimsuits in case we were eventually reduced to running around in bikini tops and sports bras. Scott was trying to make me laugh … I think. He waggled his eye brows and said, “Woo! Woo!” in that silly way he has when he is trying to be complimentary about something I’ve picked out to wear. I’ll admit it made me grin a little. The man can be really silly when he wants to be and always seems to be able to make me feel better to some extent.

It was hard to be lighthearted though. We were running into more shamblers than I had expected. Nothing we couldn’t handle but it still cast a certain amount of reserve over our group. Angus said he’d seen a few as well but had been able to avoid most of them and stayed focused on the bear hunt. He gave me the little notebook he’d been keeping for Bekah and I’ll transcribe his story at the end of this journal entry.

After the two clothing stores I didn’t see anything of real interest until we passed the Borders and the Barnes and Noble bookstores. We’d actually lucked out and Brandon had been on the run when our crews stopped at these two places and he picked a bunch of great books, CDs, and DVDs to bring back. That meant that the girls and I could go through the stores and pick things out without having to be too particular.

The books were showing some signs of weathering and the back of the stores were dark where the light from the front windows barely penetrated but the stores were zombie free so we were able to get by with our wind up flashlights. It was eeriest in the children’s section where I grabbed hardback covers of all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as well as biographies, classics, and technical manuals written on a kids’ level. I left Melody and Rose to do their own picking after that while I hurriedly went through all of the cookbooks and gardening manuals. From there I went to the travel section and pulled all of the Florida books and several other interesting looking ones that I thought might come in handy for school lessons.

The coffee shop in each bookstore had already been thoroughly gone through but I found the bathrooms were still fully stocked and even had some cleaning supplies under the counters. David grabbed the rolls of register tapes saying that they would make great note paper up in the guard stations. Angus and Scott grabbed all of the maps and street atlases even though we were sure that previous teams had brought copies back with them. Both men said it couldn’t hurt to have duplicates of stuff. They looked at each other when they said it so I figure that Angus had agreed to help us find and stock a bug out location in case worse comes to worse. My mind keeps shying away from that but I know that even if things get smoothed over, it simply makes too much sense to have a fallback position just in case.

After the bookstores we turned off of Dale Mabry and onto Busch Blvd and made a quick stop at Val’s Basket Shop. It’s more warehouse than store and it had indeed been gone over thoroughly. I should hope so considering how explicit I had been about wanting particular things from this place. I still managed to ask for, and be given permission by Scott who was trying to monitory our weight and space limitations, to bring back some of the concrete planters and some of the silk flowers and less practical decorative items. A zombie that had been an older woman in life was still banging around in the office area and I briefly wondered why the other team hadn’t put it down. Then it turned around and I saw all the maggots crawling all over it what was left of its face.

I guess the other team thought that it wouldn’t be up and walking much longer given its condition but for some reason it was still pretty feisty. Scott and Angus both said to just leave it, it couldn’t get out so that’s what we did. With ammo getting harder to find we are being more discerning about whether to put a zombie down or let it go. I used my machete a few times today and Scott used the long-handled sledge hammer he has started carrying. It made him feel lopsided until he got used to it but he says now he barely notices the weight of it.

We must look like quite a pair – crazy machete woman and Thor wannabe – but it works for us and its more quiet that a gun would be. David has been thinking about carrying a scythe or a long handled sickle and James favors the compound bow he found months back. And of course the kids all can use a slingshot quite effectively these days. If you had told me eight or nine months ago we would become dependent on medieval weapons and battle defenses I would have called you crazier than a hog drunk on corn mash.

Busch Blvd ended and Gunn Highway began and the businesses became smaller and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect or where to stop. The jewelry stores and pawn shops were already looted long ago. The gun shops the same. McElroy and his crew had already gone through all of the automotive and tire shops along the way so we didn’t bother stopping there either. The furniture stores and flooring stores were also picked over as were the paint and other construction materials locations.

I did stop in the Big Lots center and took a look around in there to prove to myself that it was a waste of time. I also stopped at one of the Walmarts. It looked like a war had gone on inside the building. Long decayed corpses lay everywhere, the shelving was tore up something bad, and I think that is the emptiest I have ever seen one of those types of stores.

We all agreed that we weren’t going to risk going into the Mall after McElroy reported hearing growling from inside. In fact, Scott made the girls and I pile into the cab of the truck until we were out of that immediate area all together.

It was about that time that we caught up with McElroy’s crew over off of Sheldon Road where they were going through a huge storage facility, one of those that used to be temperature controlled on one side and just regular on the other. It was still a bit before lunch so Scott, David, and Angus went to help pop open the doors that hadn’t already been broken into by looters. McElroy saw Scott and asked if they could put a bass boat on top of the trailer and fit a couple of “granny bikes” in the back of the truck. It made for a tight fit for the girls and I in the back but I figured on the way back I’d ride in the back and put the girls in the cab with the guys.

As I was going through one of the temperature controlled units that looked like it was full of nothing more than some vintage clothing and other collectibles McElroy made a point of stopping by. I didn’t know how to respond when he said he was sorry he hadn’t spoken up more yesterday and that he’d already said the same to Scott a few minutes earlier. Seems he’d heard from Rhonda that Tasha had been talking out of turn almost from the time she had gotten to Sanctuary but that the women had not been paying it too much attention, just assuming she was still reacting to the brutality she had suffered at the hands of the pirates. They thought with time she would acclimatize better to our group. They hadn’t realized she had found a willing audience in Tina, nor had they realized the extent of how Tina felt. But either way, Rhonda now felt bad and McElroy said he felt bad for not realizing how things stood sooner and saying something.

The other thing he spoke to me about was now that he was going to be a father, he was beginning to see the sense in how Scott and I had been trying to run our family and the restrictions we had been trying to place on what the kids could and could not do. He said frankly he was scared to death of having to be responsible for one kid, much less the number we had in our family. I told him being a parent was something you grew into, that’s why God gave them to you as babies to start with. Babies are a whole lot more forgiving of mistakes than teenagers are. We both gave a chuckle at that and then parted ways and continued doing what we had been doing.

I guess it makes me feel better to know that perhaps some of the people that didn’t say anything yesterday, didn’t do it out of malice. On the other hand … well, I’m not going to get caught up in that cycle again. I’m trying to write out my journal entry for today, not rehash yesterday over and over again.

At lunch, the girls and I served the food up despite the fact that no one asked us to. It gave me something to do and the girls just wanted to help and be supportive I guess. Both of them are growing into fine women and I’m proud to know them and call them mine for as long as they’ll allow me to.

Lunch was a simple affair of rice and beans that had been transported in an insulated cooler used like a haybox. No plates, just paper cups and everyone now carries their own utensils since we raided the camping gear at a couple of different stores; good old metal spork on a key ring or one of those pocket knife looking set ups with a knife, fork, and spoon that all fold away. Everyone also has their own canteen or nalgene bottle they keep on their person at all times.

After lunch we left McElroy’s crew behind as there were still several locked areas that they hadn’t been gone through yet. Carrying the boat and bikes was a bit awkward but not to the point that we dumped them off. We continued on Sheldon Road until we picked Gunn Hwy back up. Rather than turn down Erlich Rd and come home that route, Scott and Angus decided to take Gunn all the way to Van Dyke and see if there was anything interesting out that way.

There re lots of residential areas to explore but we didn’t have the time or the manpower to really do much of that. We did however stop at a place right off the highway that had an old sign fallen over in the yard that said “honey for sale.” The occupants had made the effort to board over their windows so we had some hope that something worth something was inside. Sure enough, after a quick and quiet entry through the back of the house we found what looked like a whole season’s worth of honey on one of the bedrooms. We boxed that right up and put it into the trailer and some jars went under the feet of the occupants in the truck in case we had to dump the trailer somewhere along the way in a quick getaway. A shed in the rear of the house revealed a bunch of stainless steel equipment that turned out to be a honey extractor and bottling equipment.

There were at least 12 boxed hives full of busy, buzzing bees at the rear fence and I could just make out several more in the wooded area between the house and the lake that was back there. I remembered that Kevin had mentioned having kept bees at one point so rather than take the chance of disturbing the hives we’d leave the moving of the bees to others.

It was right as we were leaving by the backdoor of the house to continue on our way that we heard the deep bass growl coming from the planted pines between the house and the lake.

Jumping Jehoshaphat! Unless you’ve ever been the hunted (vs. the hunter) you won’t be able to understand that awful shivery feeling that runs up your back when you hear certain sounds. As the breeze changed direction, it brought with it the distinctive coppery smell of lots of fresh blood.

Looks like maybe we were trespassing on someone’s private hunting preserve. We froze and then slowly backed away from the tree line and toward our vehicle. No other sound was heard. All the other living things in the area had the sense to hunker down and see who won.

Angus had changed from “uncle” into that distinctive hunting mode he has. Scott and David were following his lead. They handed the truck keys to me while they covered our retreat. Before I could get the keys in the door I noticed a feline shape stalking around the opposite corner of the house from which we had come.

The men just had time to turn and shoot as a white tiger charged out of the tall grass. When I say it sprang at us I’m not kidding. It was airborne when all three shots caught it at various locations in its underside. When it hit the ground it rolled but was dead on impact; dead enough that its eyes hadn’t even shut and its tongue hung out of its wide open mouth. I’m glad that I had “adult” men with me. Some of the younger types might have been tempted to play Tarzan and fool around too much. With something like this just kill the dang thing and forget the rest. The object is to live. If you’ve got a story to tell afterwards fine … but you have to be alive to do it, so just shoot it already.

While Scott and Angus called it in, David comforted the girls. It had to have been one of the Bengals from Busch Gardens. Well, maybe not absolutely had to be. There were about 500 registered facilities in Florida that had big cats at them. How many big cats at each of those facilities I don’t know. I do remember learning … while Sarah was doing one of her infamous animal research projects … that there were over 10,000 tigers alone in the USA. That’s registered animals and didn’t necessarily include all of the illegally owned tigers, nor did that include the number of legally and illegally owned other exotic and indigenous big cats like Florida panthers and Florida bobcats, jaguars, leopards, etc.

In the end it didn’t matter where the big cat came from originally. It was dead, we weren’t. While the men skinned the beast … waste not, want not and it’ll probably be one heck of a conversation piece over in the fire house … I looked around to see if there was any place else close enough that I could to do something constructive besides standing around heaving at the smell of the big cat’s guts that were splattered all over the ground under the tree where it had been hung up for processing.

There wasn’t much except some of the houses up and down the highway had some citrus trees in the front yard that still had fruit on them. I took a tub and started at the next house over. No sooner had I finished the first tree however than Scott came and got me and said we needed to roll. There were several shamblers that had been attracted by the large noise created by all three guns going off at once.

We hefted the now full tub into the back of the truck, I climbed in after it, and everyone else was still getting seated in the cab as Scott pulled away. I flicked some fingers out of the truck bed where I had relieved a zombie of some digits as we were pulling away. Why zombie guts and decaying human body parts didn’t bother me and the sight and smell of the tigers innards did is just one of the mysteries of life. Maybe it’s because I’ve become inured to the sight and smell of shamblers in general. Some of the other types of zombies still gave me the willies but we didn’t see any of those today.

I’d give a whole lot to say that we found a lot more good stuff but the truth is we didn’t. I’m sure there are going to be lots of odds and ends found in the residential areas that we by-passed today but I don’t hold out much hope of too many stockpiles of any size. It’s now nearly seven months since I started my journal and those homes have all be vandalized and abandoned for some time. If there was food in there it’s not going to be a stash of any size.

We did make note of some landscaping materials, stopped at a gardening center where I marked some items for McElroy’s crew to bring back today or tomorrow, and did swing into a small plaza and checked out a dental office and a chiropractor’s office for some medical supplies and equipment.

After that we turned down Van Dyke Rd and headed towards home. I nearly fell asleep in the back of the truck while we tooled along on a road we had cleared two full lanes on. As soon as we were finished gathering through the area the plan was to create roadblocks from the vehicles we had pushed out of the way. The roadblocks would be about every quarter mile and would be as high as they were wide. The effort of getting around or moving the blockages would hopefully deter some folks or at least slow them down quite a bit and perhaps unnerve them.

If I had known what was going on at home I wouldn’t have dozed; I would have been urging Scott to go faster. Dix and Matlock had their hands full. I still don’t understand why no one radioed to call us all in. I guess they figured they would find the girl and the situation would be taken care of before we would have arrived.

I’m sitting here - I guess it’s around midnight or one a.m. now - and they still haven’t found her. Part of me wants to say it’s her own fault but I can’t really go that far. Tina and Dante’ are beside themselves.

It all started within an hour of breakfast being over with. Dix took our request to keep an eye on the kids seriously especially after he saw how tired James was. And Samuel was pestering his Dad to allow him to hang out at our house but Patricia wouldn’t let him because she knew I wouldn’t have cared to have him over with Sarah without some supervision. It’s not that I don’t trust Samuel and both Patricia and Dix know that. I just don’t believe in allowing unnecessary temptation and I’ve always taught the kids that their reputations are easy to ruin and hard to fix.

Dix agreed so long as Samuel and my kids agreed to study on their radio and communications work for an hour while he quizzed them on it. Apparently no one saw Dix go over to our house but a few pairs of eyes saw Samuel run over them after telling his mother where he was going. Patricia, of course, knew that Dix was there but she wasn’t feeling well and decided to lay down rather than get together with some of the other women as is their normal habit.

Those same eyes had also missed Waleski come over to check on Dix’s leg and change the bandages while he knew he had him cornered. Dix wouldn’t make a fuss with the kids around and Waleski was smart enough to take advantage of that fact.

I guess as some point in the middle of the bandaging our rear French doors were thrown open and Tasha and Laura came in and basically went, “A ha!” when they saw Samuel and Sarah apparently alone in the kitchen. They weren’t doing anything except putting a tea kettle on at the request Waleski but both Tasha and Laura apparently threatened to tell on them. When Samuel and Sarah tried to defend themselves they were basically told who people going to believe, them (meaning Tasha and Laura) or the daughter of mine. It didn’t matter if nothing was happening this time, people would think that something had been going on at some point. The only way they wouldn’t tell is if they dished the dirt on our family and did what Tasha and Laura told them to. Basically blackmail.

That’s when Dix and Waleski came around the corner and let Tasha and Laura know they’d been caught. Waleski had to grab James around the waist from where he’d just gotten up from sleeping in another room and walked in on the girls’ last statement.

Dix grabbed the two girls by their wrists before they could run for it and while I probably would have handled it the same way, a grown man grabbing a couple of girls and dragging them outside still sets up all sorts of bad connotations in people’s minds.

Of course the girls were starting to try and bluster their way out of things. Dix whistled and Matlock and several other people came running to see what the ruckus was. Well, the details are a little hazy and depend on who you get them from but bottom line is the girls were caught and were trying to talk their way out of a bad way. Then Laura did something really ignorant and I have to think that it had something to do with whatever is going wrong in her head, her inability to control her spontaneous behaviors. She basically accused Dix and Waleski both of inappropriate touching.

Well, that floored everyone. Sarah and Bekah were crying and saying that neither man had ever done anything like that. James was furious as was Samuel. By the time Laura was through weaving her half-baked story it made it sound like we had orgies at our house on a regular basis. And one of the “proofs” she gave was that Scott and I had so many kids. And one of the “proofs” she gave against Dix was his failed relationship with Patricia, his affair with Rachel, and his new relationship with Cindy.

Now, once Cindy started to get drawn into it, Tasha started trying to distance herself from Laura and admitted that she had never witnessed the stories that Laura was telling. But she didn’t deny their possibility either.

You can’t blame Tina and Dante’ from initially siding with their daughter. What’s the first reaction that any parent has? It’s to protect their child from both real and imagined dangers.

The wilder Laura’s stories became the more distance that Tasha tried to insert between herself and Laura. Patricia and Cindy both told me that no one knew what to make of Laura’s stories. No one believed them but no one seemed to know quite what to do to stop them either. She was barely 13 years old. No one wanted to make a move on her. Even Dante’ and Tina began to have the blinders removed from their eyes. The more she sensed people’s disbelief the more hysterical Laura became. No one could go near her and she clung to Tina desperately, perhaps finally beginning to see just how deep a hole she was digging for herself. At some point Laura wouldn’t even allow Dante’ to come near her.

Leaving the girl to cry in her mother’s arms everyone turned to Tasha who is certainly old enough to deal with the consequences of her actions. At that point Sarah said Cindy pointedly walked over and stood beside Dix and put her hand on his arm in a plain and loud statement of support. Guess that kind of tells me where she has been standing … certainly it’s better than what I had been imagining.

Tasha tried to blame most of what had been happening on Laura. She said that she had believed Laura’s stories and that they were just trying to get “proof” so that they could bring the evilness of our family out into the light of day. Yeah, apparently she said it just like that. When Matlock asked why she hadn’t brought it to the attention of someone rather than trying to handle the situation herself she claimed to not know who she could trust. No one would have believed her if she had said something without proof.

What finally broke Dante’ was the fact that when Tasha was asked why the girls hadn’t gone to Laura’s parents Tasha revealed that Laura had told her that her dad was part of it. Cindy said you could just see Dante’s heart break. Poor Tina was totally broken up. She tried to deal gently with Laura, believing that she needed to salvage something. But at that point Laura’s hysteria went up the scale tenfold and she started screaming how no one understood, that the only one that had understood was Marty but he was dead and now no one loved her but when her baby came, then someone would love her and basically everyone else could go to hell. She ripped away from Tina’s grip and ran off.

Well, pandemonium ensued. Tina collapsed and Dante’ wasn’t much better off. Poor Terra was pretty shook up by everything going on and Waleski had Nick take her home and have her lay down for a while. Likewise Patricia, already not feeling well, was sent home and Betty went to keep an eye on her. Rhonda told me that about the only humorous thing that had happened up to that point was when a wild-eyed Waleski shouted, “I forbid anyone from going into labor or having a baby today!”

I was amazed but Charlene took charge of all my kids, including James, made them come in the house and have a cup of tea or cocoa and basically somehow soothed all of them into calming down. I expect she had plenty of practice given what she had to deal with in her own home life. Bless her for not running away from it. Not even James had a clue what to do.

Dix and Waleski refused to take part in the search party until after Laura recanted her accusations or until after everyone acknowledged that the stories were pure fiction. After we and McElroy’s crew returned home Dante’ came by and personally exonerated any of us of wrong doing. He apologized and explained a little bit about how his sister had similar problems when she was a teenager but nothing of this magnitude those she had been very wild and willful.

Tina had to be given a sedative though I’m told she is still awake and waiting to hear whether they’ve found Laura. They tried to use the dogs to find her but they’ve found here scent all over inside the compound but can’t pick it up outside of either gate. That means the likelihood of her still being inside the compound is high; it’s not impossible she snuck out without being seen by the gate guards but it is certainly unlikely.

If she were mine my first inclination would be to toast her tail and she wouldn’t be able to sit down for a month of Sundays. But on the other hand, if Laura really does have mental issues … whatever they may be … as a group we are all going to need to help Tina and Dante’ come up with some kind of plan and hope we can figure out some kind of treatment whether that is behavioral or psychotropic.

I’m thinking that Laura has a little stash of food some place or has crawled off into one of the storage containers and has fallen asleep; possibly one of the ones on the second level. The barns have been searched as have all the houses, but here in the dark it wouldn’t be that impossible for her to move from place to place unnoticed.

As badly as I feel for Tina and Dante’, and as angry as I am at Laura and Tasha, I’m done writing about them tonight. The more I dwell on it the angrier I’m going to become and that’s not healthy for me and not a constructive frame of mind to be in when the little … when Laura is found.

While we were out tooling around in the Avalanche Angus asked Scott and I what he could give Bekah for her birthday (it’s the 16th) and I told him in all honesty that she’d really like him to finish up with his story of the bear hunt. Well he hummed and hawed and said that he’d give it to me to work on but that I’d need to go over it before it was given to Bekah.

I’ll say it did need a little bit of “mom’s touch.” Angus writes sort of like I do; whatever is in his head is what makes it to paper. The thing is he is a man … a grown man. The story will definitely need a tad bit of “adjusting” before I want my little girl’s eyes running over it. I think that is why Angus gave it to me first. But Angus is a hoot and the story as it is makes a great campfire story for adults. I’ll just stick it in here in its original format just for my own pleasure.

His story certainly explains some of the points I missed. Dix wound up not going on any hunt. One, because his leg was still busted up and two, because after Angus took off by himself and the men had time to calm down, their “hurry up” kinda went away. I’m not surprised. An excess of testosterone has led to more than one fatality … at least this time the boys calmed down before doing something noble, but regrettable in the long run. All they did was search Sanctuary’s immediate surroundings and didn’t find anything but some scat and took a couple of vehicles and checked the attack site, but that’s about as far as their search went.


Well I set up camp a little earlier than I would have liked, but it's a bit overcast today so dark came a little earlier than normal. I'm writing this all down because Bekah made me promise to. That girl has a way of persuasion about her, I don't know if there's anything she can’t get if she wants it. She is definitely getting smarter too; I didn't even know I was going to go on this hunt. I was sitting at the kitchen eating with everyone else and listening to James talk about the third sighting of the big bear. We knew it was a grizzly bear, the descriptions left no doubt.

That and the fact that it had been seen three times close to sanctuary in the last little bit had me a little more concerned than the others. Having been a professional hunter (I hate that term, but I was paid to hunt so) I had knew some others that did it as well. One of them from Colorado had once told me about a problem grizzly and how it had gone from a few sightings to a man eater that had me wanting to keep an eye on this one.

Anyhow I had mumbled that the bear might have to be put down at some point and Bekah heard me. After lunch she had asked that if I had to go after the bear would I write down all about the hunt? She said that the last hunt I didn't give her a very good accounting. You see, Bekah is writing her own journal of things around here and though most of it was concerning the smaller things in sanctuary, it wouldn't hurt to have a few big things as well.

I don't know if she was just covering her bases or if she knew before I did that I was going to hunt that bear, but it's a little worry some. She can get whatever she wants from almost anyone, if she can read people like her mother can. That's a bad combination for any man she ever goes after when she grows up. He won’t know what hit him. My reason for concern was that around the area of Sanctuary there's not a lot of wild food for an animal that size, normally meat is a small part of any bears diet. But around here there's not much wild food left out there, so meat would play a bigger role in its daily food.

Well my fear cane to pass. Jim was out making a deal with someone from a small group south of us, he had gone out on one of the dirt bikes we have here (motorcycles) and met the man he was dealing with at some intersection. The other guy had come on horseback and they were discussing their deal when that grizzly came charging from behind some cars and slammed into the men. Jim said he only saw it for a second and then he bounced off of the truck he was standing next to.

When he opened his eyes he was laying face down in the street and didn't know how long he had been out. The other guy was gone, the horse was gone and it was very quiet. Jim said that there was a huge spray of blood all over the place and a wide bloody drag trail leading between two cars and across a small field. He said there was so much blood, that he could even see it going across the grass of the field.

Well Jim got on the bike and got back as fast as his blurry vision let him. That's when I knew I had to go out. There of course was a meeting, there's always a meeting around here. Normally I keep out of it unless I'm asked to be there. This time nobody had to ask. Everyone knew something had to be done.

That's where the bullshit started. Dix wanted to take most of the men and just cover the whole area, half the men wanted to go. The other half wanted to let them. Someone suggested letting the hunting dogs get the trail and hunt that way. (They’re not bear dogs I tried to explain)

I told them that if they go out with a lot of people that bear was going to run and disappear only to show up again latter. They wanted a hunt. Privately Dix and I got in an argument. He wanted me to go and couldn't understand why I wasn't. I told him I was going, just not with them, I told him again his hunt wouldn't work and he said it would.

No need to go into all that, he thought he was right, and I know I was. Ah but that man likes to argue, I thought he was going to take a swing at me. Because he was rising my blood pressure I almost hoped he would. Well I put together my stuff, and headed over to the library and got a Florida state map.

That boy Brandon looks ready to panic every time I walk in there. He didn't want me to take the big map out of there and tried to make a bunch of copy's that put together make a big map. That confused the hell out of me so I rolled up the map. He was a little less upset when I told him there was a pile of books at the fire station and he could have them.

I had less trouble at the horses because Samuel wasn't there. Sarah helped me saddle one of the horses and put the one pack saddle she had on another horse, and she stuffed two bags of grain for the horses into the pack horse’s bag and I headed to the man cave to get my stuff. I could hear the men leaving from the front gate as I headed over. I loaded a breach loading .22 rifle in a rifle case and attached it to the pack horse and dropped in a box of 50 shells I had squirreled away for personal use. I took a backpack off the wall and stuffed two boxes of my 7.62 shells in, 40 rounds was all I was taking. I also dropped in a hand full of my cigars from my hidden stash and two canteens. It goes with saying that a couple of mre's went in to.

I took off the kilt and hug it on the wall and put on my carharts. I put on my work boots and was ready to start out. I stopped at the smokehouse and grabbed a hand full of smoked trout and put them in the backpack that was on my saddle horn. Carrying my Mauser I headed to the back gate. There was Bekah waiting for me and she had one of those mead composition books for me. She smiled up at me, and handed the book to me and said “you promised“ with those fluttering eyes of hers. Yup, she’s going to be trouble some day. So here I am at camp, not tired and having to just sit around.

Well, as I sit hear writing this I can't help but wonder if Bekah understands how hard it is to write by fire light? To be able to see what I'm putting on paper I have to sit dang close to the fire, and in this blasted hot state I don't need any more heat. I tell you I'm sweating more than a virgin on prom night. [Sissy’s note: And exactly how would Angus know about being a virgin on prom night?!]

As I write tonight I hope I'm wrong about this bear, I'll know tomorrow if I overreacted or not. Sissy had said that there are carnival people around, or used to be around the area, and that the bear might have come from there. If that’s the case it would explain the size of the bear. (I haven't seen it yet)

Jim had described a bear that could be 1,000 pounds, that’s not your average zoo bear. Their diets don't allow that kind of growth. A carnival would feed the bear to get its best size to make better money. In the wild the average sized grizzly is said to be about 750 pounds. They do get bigger; it all depends on its food source. In the morning I'll head over to Jim's attack sight. The others would have got there before dark with plenty of time to start their hunt.

According to Jim, the bear dragged his friend in a westerly direction. I know when Dix gets there, he's going to follow the blood trail. If we’re really lucky, they'll find the bear guarding it's kill at get it. If it was a black bear I would say that’s a good bet.

If the grizzly hasn't tapped into its ancestral instincts, it's got a good chance. If it's started following its instincts or if it was a wild bear that was caught and brought here it's going to be a different story for them. Dix wants to chase the bear down with the dogs, again if it was a black bear this would work.

Even considering the dogs are not trained bear dogs, they'll follow the scent and sound the bear when they find it. The black bear will run only so far before it will tree. Even if it drops out of the tree when the men show up, they would be able to tree it again. The grizzly won’t tree, they never tree. They weren't meant to climb, it will run at first. Then it will try to circle back around the hunters and dogs.

If there were less men in the group it would likely come up behind them and attack. Or just lay off the trail and wait for them to come back the way they came and then attack. You don't really hunt a grizzly, you chase it and then it hunts you.

I'm not worried about that with this one, there are too many in the group. The bear won’t like that kind of situation. It's more likely to circle around and make a bee line in the opposite direction. If the bear does that I'll find the tracks and know what I'm dealing with. I hope I don't find anything and Dix and the boys get it there way.

Next day girly: In the morning I rode up out of the low spot I had made camp in. It's kinda hard to find low laying places in Florida that are dry enough for a camp, the one I found last night was at an intersection and was lower than the roads themselves by about 10 feet. If I have to spend the night outside I don't want my fire attracting zombies or anyone else. With the fire lower than the rest of the area, there's less chance of its glow being seen.

I don't know the roads I'm at because there are no signs here. All the cars in this intersection are burned out husks and there's no sign at the intersection. According to Jim the cross road I was at was the one that I needed to head up. I didn't see any zombies yesterday when I was coming out, and I didn't see any in the morning either. Odd considering that there local numbers have been growing lately.

It took me close to an hour to get to the attack sight because I wasn't pushing the horses. I had no trouble knowing that I had found it. The area between a blue caddy and a small panel truck was just brownish red from the blood.

I could see that the back of the truck at jimmy's head height had a dent in it the size of Jim's head. It's surprising the blow didn't kill him. Aussies must have thick skulls.

I tied the horses to the road side guard rail and checked the scene a little closer. According to Jim, the bear came from his right. I found where the bear came up on the road, and you could even see claw marks in the assault where it was running at the men. Just a few feet away from where it came up on the road is the blood trail of it dragging it's victim back down to the field from which it came. South.

I climbed on top of the truck’s roof, and using my rifle scope I have for this sort of thing I checked all around the area. Nothing. No bear and no hunting party. I could see from up here where the trucks Dix took had headed into the tree line on the other side of the clearing from me, but no tracks coming back out. They’re either still out there or they left a different way.

I climbed down and started walking up the road checking for tracks coming back up onto the road. Off the south of the road it drops down about 3 feet lower than the road, to the north of the road it's pretty much level. That kinda sums up Florida, level or lower than level. I miss the mountains.

I was walking up the road trying to see if I could locate if the bear came back to the road, if it did I was hoping to see some disturbance in the little incline leading onto the road. I did find where the bear came back onto the road, but not because of any faint track or mysterious hunting skill. I stepped in bear shit.

I'm staring at the ground but not where I was stepping. There was no doubt it was bear shit, anyone who ever seen bear shit knows bear shit when they step in it. So the bear doubled back, and no sign of the hunting party following it. That's what I feared, a smart bear.

The sign I was able to find on the north area around the road showed the bear going at a nice clip strait north. Dix and the boys must have really spooked it. I got the horses and headed north; going through the grassy areas was easy going. Going through developed areas was a little harder. It wasn't till lunch that the bear showed signs that it had slowed down. Then the trail started to be a little more haphazard.

It would go this way and that, following its nose I'm sure. I had to tie up the horses at one house because it looked like the bear went inside. It wasn't there when I went in but I could see where it made its rounds in the kitchen. It took another ten minutes for me to find its trail again, but it was still heading north.

So far I have been riding at a pretty slow walk for the horses, I was in no real hurry, I was hoping to keep the bear from knowing that I was following it. As it was getting on to late afternoon I thought I would take advantage of the area I was in. There where houses up the length I was headed and there where trees on both sides of the road so I tied up the horses where they could graze on the grass of one of the front yards of a house, and I got the .22 out and headed a little farther up the road.

I missed the first squirrel that showed its self, I wasn't expecting it yet. I followed its general direction and saw one in a tree across the street. That one was an easy head shot. After picking that one up I headed back across the street to the rows of homes and around the back of the first house I came to. In the back yard there where two squirrels digging around an old garden. I shot the one closest to me but the other ran for it. I followed the running squirrel’s path and found it clinging upside down on a small little tree on the side of the house. Before it could decide what to do I got him too.

Walking back to where I shot the first squirrel I just stood there listening and watching, and there I saw another one on a roof across the street. It was on the edge of the house or I wouldn't have shot at it. Didn't want to have to climb up and get it.

Now I had four squirrels, enough for dinner so I walked over to the horses and put the squirrels in the backpack on the saddle horn and mounted up. As I was turning the horses north I froze, and brought the .22 to the ready. (I didn't put the .22 away and get the Mauser out of the rifle case.)

Across the street on the side with no houses I saw a zombie walking the other direction. I could have sworn when I first caught a glimpse of it, it was looking in my direction. Was I wrong? Didn't it see me at all? I don't know how it didn't see me, but it was shambling in the other direction so I left. Switching rifles as I went.

Two hours later I was still on, or I should say behind old bowing green road. (I saw a sign) The houses had stopped a while back but I was at a building that used to be a roofing company. Across the way I could see some railroad tracks and that’s the way the bear had gone. I was going to stop here at the roofing company building for the night.

I was able to get the horses inside after letting them graze for a while. I used some furnished and old skids to make a fire to cook my squirrels in front of the old loading bay. After I had started the fire, and was skinning the squirrels I got company.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Without making any fast movements I slowly turned my head and saw a little dog sitting 10 yards out watching me. I looked around to see if there was a pack of them, but it was just him.

Remembering Sissy's instructions on manners I introduced myself to my visitor. He didn't respond in turn. After skinning my supper, I removed the little hearts, lungs and kidneys and set them close to the fire to brown. The rest of them, including the skins I wrapped in a rag that was there and tossed on top of a shelf. Let the rats have that shit.

As I was starting my first squirrel I started to toss the hearts over to the little dog. It looked to be a cross of some type of terrier and some kind of Border collie. It was about the size Kitty weighs. And it had a curly brown coat. It looked like it was missing some of that coat around the left side of its head. Could be something like mange or just had it chewed off from a fight. He was too far away to be sure.

Next day girly: In the morning I had a late start. After getting up and going over the horses and getting them packed up, I looked out the little window in the door to make sure all was clear. It wasn't. There was a group of close to 40 shamblers going by. The horses acted like they didn't know they were out there, and that was fine with me. I guess with the doors closed the horses couldn't get there scent.

I remembered the dog, but didn't see him out there any place. Smart dog. At the speed the dead were walking I figured that waiting a good 45 minutes should have them far enough away for me to leave unnoticed. I did take note that the dead were traveling south east, that’s close to sanctuary.

After taking a man sized dump in the non-working toilet (my bad) I spent my time looking around the building. I had checked it for safety yesterday but not for goodies. With just the two horses there wasn't really anything I could take with me even if I did find something, but I'm nosey so I looked anyway. I had the time to waste.

There was nothing at all in the building that was even interesting. I did find a little wind up music box in a secretary's drawer, I didn't recognize the tune, but I thought it might be something to help Kitty go to sleep if she was having any trouble. I put it in my backpack.

When I left I headed across the way to the railroad tracks. The bear had started to follow the tracks, so did I. After a half hour I noticed a road to my right, the tracks where going in the same direction. I veered over to the road because I saw a sign. It said Charleston Ave. It ran north and south, I also saw a sign on the north side that said RT. 17 and one farther south that said RT. 35. How the hell anybody ever found their way around this state I'll never know.

I only took note of it for Bekah and her journal. Once I was back following the tracks I came to a spot where the bear had walked off about 20 yards and dug up an area close to 10 feet in diameter. I couldn't tell what the bear had been after but it headed right back on its bruit after.

I decided to stop for lunch right there. Mostly because I wanted to look at my map and see where I was. Those road signs had me all confused and I couldn't stop thinking about it. Looking at the map I could see that up ahead I would hit and pass Fort Meade if the bear keep going. I also noticed that the tracks go right with my strange road all the way. There was something about all this information I wasn't putting together.

Before I could ponder it any more that dog walked out of the tall grass to my left and sat down looking at me. That's when the point hit me. The wind was blowing almost strait south, if I got in front of the bear now, before it got to Fort Meade but stayed well off to its flank I could get a chance at a shot. “Good doggie "

I shared my smoked fish lunch with the dog. He didn't seem to have a problem with getting close this time. He came right up to me begging for a share. He took it nice from my hand and let me pet him on the head. Maybe I can re-domesticate him before I get back and give him to one of the kids?

After eating it was time for the horses to make some speed. I crossed over the road and staying a good 50 yards out I headed north at a good gallop. Well I think it was a gallop, we were going fast just not running. 30 minutes later I stopped the horses and tied them to some kind of pipe sticking out of the ground and headed towards the road. I told the dog to stay, that didn't work.

I set myself up close to the tracks and behind some kind of shack. I was watching the tracks waiting for the bear to come waddling towards me when that dog started barking. I couldn't see him, but it sounded like it was in the direction of the horses. I leaned out farther but still couldn't see the bear. That's when I heard the horses start screaming.

I ran back to the road, and when I could see past the cars that’s where on the road I saw the horses trying to pull free and the bear 20 yards away from them trying to swat at the barking dog that was trying to get behind it and bite his ass. I couldn't believe it. That dog from my distance (50 yards) looked like he was the size of this thing’s foot.

It was a big bear, this was the first I had seen it. It looked less than 1,000 pounds but more than 600. It wasn't happy about that dog. It kept trying to charge but the dog was always almost behind it. The dog running almost in circles and the bear spinning and lunging. I couldn't get a shot.

The horses had finally pulled free and took off east at a good run. I thought I was going to be walking home.

The bear had stopped for a moment when the horses had taken off, and that gave me a broad side shot and I took it. I tried to place it just behind the shoulders, but with bears it's hard to tell where the shoulders stop. If I hit the shoulder bone the bear might get away. NOT good.

At the shot the bear took off at a run. Here is where I had forgotten something important about bear hunting. It doesn't matter where the sound of the shot comes from, a bear will always run in the opposite direction of the pain it feels. A 7.62 round makes a nice hole going in; coming out the other side it makes a slightly larger and more painful hole.

That bear was running very fast in my direction, and right behind it was running a barking dog trying to bite it in the ass. I was standing there with my mouth wide open and I'm sure eyes bugging out, and all I could do was think you asshole, you should have remembered that." That's when the bear ate me.

HA Ha Bekah, I got you for a second didn't I? The bear just dropped short of my dinner bell. The dog pounced on it and went to town. I didn't have the heart to tell him it was dead, so I let him at it for a second or two, and then called him off. The dog just sat there staring at me with a look that said “look what I did. I saved you.”

I named him Scrappy. Any dog that attacks a grizzly bear of that size and has fun doing it has got to be named scrappy. I stripped off a section of back strap and me and the dog headed down the road to where the horses where grazing like 200 yards down. The end.


The end … yeah, right. When I read the part about how close the bear had come to getting Angus I nearly took off after Angus like Scrappy had taken off after that bear. I chewed his rear bumper pretty good. It’s one of the reasons why I stayed in the truck bed, to work off my mully grumps. All I could think of was that blasted docu-movie about that guy that had … what was his name … Treadwell? … that had this thing for bears and it wound up getting him and his female friend eaten. Nasty.

Wait, I just heard the dogs start barking and Dix’s whistle. I hope they found Laura.

Day 196 (Monday) – February 12th

Lord have mercy! I think everyone in Sanctuary has been walking around like shamblers today. They found Laura hiding and three-quarters asleep in one of the last storage containers they had inspected. It was full of things we had so many duplicates of we hadn’t gotten around to inventorying or finding a place to put them. In the back corner she had made like a playhouse I guess you could call it. Dix said it flat out looked like a bug out location to him. There was food and bottled water in there and evidence that she had already used the place a few times.

Taking her back to her house and trying to leave her with Tina and Dante’ for the night turned out to be not so great an idea. She was complacent and apparently fine until the men left and then she turned on her parents and little brother and started throwing things around, breaking windows and mirrors. It brought everyone back on the run and in the end Waleski had to create a makeshift straight jacket out of an oversized coat and then used duct tape to secure it on her and to tape her legs together to keep her from kicking everyone that came near her.

They are trying not to give her any drugs until it can be determined whether she is really pregnant but I don’t know if they are really going to be able to given how destructive she was until she was physically restrained.

Scott and I spent several hours today over there helping to pick up and repair the damage. I wasn’t sure whether that was a good idea or not but Scott insisted saying that we have to prove that we weren’t going to hold this against them. Turns out he was half right. Dante’ just couldn’t stand to have us around and still holds us some at fault for what happened. I had refused to let the kids play or be around Laura because of how she acted but I still feel that I was … and am … within my rights as a mother to have made that choice. I don’t think having my kids as “playmates” would have alleviated Laura’s problems. Tina on the other hand just fell into my arms and started crying and crying saying she doesn’t know what she’s going to do. The very thought of being in their shoes makes me nauseous.

Rose and Melody have been working with Waleski all day trying to figure out what they can possibly do with and for Laura. They’ve had the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) out trying to find any kind of sedatives and psychotropics that don’t cross the placental barrier or have risks of birth defects. They haven’t found anything so far that sounds like something that will work or that they could find.

Dix, Matlock, and a few others like Kevin and Betty, have been trying to determine some plan of action to present to the Council. We’ve got issues of “crime and punishment” but we also look like we have to take into some understanding the ability to recognize accountability. For instance, Tasha is certainly accountable for her actions and words and knows and understands that. She’s still blaming Laura for most of it but there is an understanding there that she is still accountable for some of it.

Laura on the other hand … whoo boy. I worked in a support position at a mental health facility for nearly ten years, back when Scott and I were first married and before my Sarah came along. I wasn’t clinical staff – I worked in the education and training division – but you can’t help but hear and absorb things in that length of time. In my admittedly untrained opinion, Laura has at a bare minimum some type of personality disorder. She certainly has problems with impulse control. If she is really pregnant then she may also be experiencing some hormonal imbalance which is not unheard of in girls that get pregnant at a very young age. Tina said she hadn’t even had her monthly cycle a full year yet.

Laura is also manipulative and a liar. She knows the difference between right and wrong, it’s just that her definition of right and wrong are skewed in her favor. What I mean is that when she was caught out last night, some of the upset she exhibited was more anger because she got caught that any real fear of consequences of doing something wrong in the first place. I’m also concerned that she may be intentionally making herself appear worse, or more pitiable, to make people feel sorry for her and therefore make the consequences nil or small compared to what they would be if she was fully cognizant.

The question is with all of that is Laura really accountable for understanding what she has done. She’s barely 13 years old. She has some kind of mental or possibly hormonal issue going on. It’s likely that some of it may even be hereditary.

Complicating things further is the apocalyptic environment we are living on a day-to-day basis, the size of our community, and our lack of being able to help Laura (and Tina and Dante’) like would have happened before NRS brought the world to its knees.

It brings to mind the stories of the mental illness that appeared around New Orleans in the wake of the hurricane Katrina disaster. Did you blame the person or the disaster? Were the problems pre-existing and just got exacerbated by the disaster? Most importantly though was how were the sufferers and their families needs being met and how responsible was society to do it?

I mean, look at the people we are calling the “filthies.” Those people have to be suffering from some clinically debilitating mental illness to live like that when there are other options. I don’t know of any other survivor group that has descended to that level. But, do I want them for neighbors? Would I forcefully defend myself against them? You betcha. And without remorse too.

But Laura is one of ours. So are her parents. And, technically anyway, she is a child. I fear we may have to return to the old days of chaining clinically insane people up to prevent them from being a danger to themselves or others. That’s frightening. I think of my own mother who needed anti-depression meds to function. What would have happened to her and my dad had they survived?

But then that heads right back into the question is Laura insane? Really insane where she isn’t accountable for her actions? It’s not so much that Tasha and Laura committed any huge crime. No physical harm was done to anyone, though who knows how far it would have gone had it not been caught. But in this day and age that we now find ourselves living, your reputation may be one of your main survival tools. A good reputation and you have good neighbors willing to lend a hand if you need it. A good reputation and you have no problems with trade agreements. A good reputation and people will feel freer to share information with you. A bad reputation, deserved or not, can take all of that away … and maybe get you turned out of a community or group that you’d come to depend on. It might also get a bullet put in your head or vigilante “justice” visited upon you in various ways.

Scott and our family (and from the sound of it other members of Sanctuary) were ready to split over this issue. Our community has got to come up with some safety measures that we can all count on; a system of justice as it were. We might even need to have a Constitution of sorts or at least a written affirmation of what we all generally believe that our community’s principles are based upon. I don’t think any of us want to go around telling other people in Sanctuary how to run their lives and what they can and cannot believe in. That’s not what I mean by principles. Scott and I are firm believers in live and let live. But when there is a situation like we are encountering today, we need some absolutes as a framework. These absolutes need to be simple and straight forward. No legalese. No highbrow jargon that someone can change the interpretation of down the road.

Knowing all of that though still doesn’t change today. What are we going to do with Tasha and Laura? Tasha’s “crime” if you want to call it that was mostly one of stupidity in my opinion. Rather than taking Laura’s stories to another adult for verification she got led around by a messed up 13 year old. She’s old enough to know better.

Tasha apparently has not been happy living in Sanctuary. She doesn’t like being expected to go on gathering runs or being assigned chores and duties. She feels if she volunteers that is one thing but to have them forced on her is wrong. I guess she is still carrying a grudge against the pirates and transferred her feelings from that situation to this one.

When she made that particular comparison Matlock finally let some of his anger show and said fine, we’d supply her with some food and a little bit of gear and she could leave if that’s really what she wanted. No one had been holding her captive. Then she started whining that she had no place to go. So he told her to shut up and just deal with it until she did have someplace else to go. And until she does go, if she goes, she is going to be on double duty for the next two weeks. That means twice the KP duty, twice the kitchen duty, twice the mucking duty, etc. And she’ll be strictly supervised as well. Its not the perfect solution but it was the best that could be agreed upon. There were a few that said exile her. Don’t know that even I would have gone that far but then Scott and I didn’t take part in the final disposition of punishment. We just need some distance to regain our objectivity when it comes to what she did.

Laura has remained under strict confinement all day today. Although towards the end of the day her “act” started becoming a little thin. She’d contradict herself and then deny it. She’s also just plain tired out from all the fighting, physical and mental. Waleski still hasn’t examined her to check for a pregnancy; he’s just not comfortable doing so after her accusations. I can’t blame him. Betty said that she and a couple of the other women would handle it, but not until after Laura stopped behaving so violently.

Dealing with Laura and Tasha isn’t all that any of us did today. I was really concerned about our kids, especially Sarah who was mortified and confused about what she was supposedly doing with Samuel. Sarah isn’t stupid, and we’ve had the birds and bees talk, but how it applies directly to her I think still eludes her a bit. She’s physically mature for her age, but mentally she is still a little girl for the most part. Samuel is a “friend” not a “boyfriend.”

Charlene, bless her, helped me keep the younger set occupied with washing clothes and I gave her some craft supplies and the kids decorated t-shirts for themselves. While that was going on, Scott and I took Sarah aside and let her talk it out – and cry which made Scott angry all over again.

I was having a bit of a girl question session with Sarah when Scott comes back with Dix and Samuel in tow. Scott and asked and gotten permission to take Samuel and Sarah with him to go see Angus at the fire station. They were going to take the plants I had potted up over there for Angus to put together a roof top garden. I guess Samuel was as bad off as Sarah was because he’s eyes were a little red too. Scott and Dix shook hands so I guess they had come up with the solution to the kids together.

I still don’t get what is up with Matlock and Becky. Why are they so distant? Nearly everyone else has come around to say something about what has been going on. Not Becky or Matlock which is bothering me even if it doesn’t bother Scott. Maybe it’s a guy thing and I’m taking it too personally.

The only other thing of any substance that I’ve accomplished today was to get the preparations for Commitment Day under way. It may Melody cry. I asked her for goodness sake why was she crying and she said because she thought C-Day was going to have to be postponed and she and Cease really want to be together.

Ah youth. Man, there are days when I just feel old. I mentioned it to Scott after we got home for a desultory dinner where everyone was practically falling asleep in their plates and he just winked and pinched my behind. OK, so maybe I don’t feel quite so old as I did. He has that effect on me.

Today was mostly just gathering and planning all the dishes we’ve agreed to fix. We picked the hog out that we are going to cull and roast and fenced it off from the others. We also started some soft cheeses and I’ve put some #10 cans of fruit in the cooler … what a Godsend that thing is. The ice maker is working and we’ll definitely have enough for making ice cream. Wish we could find an old crank machine for the ice cream but it’ll give the kids something to do to make the kick-the-can ice cream.

Tomorrow I’ll bake the sheet cakes and make the icing and if there is time I’ll even decorate the cake and we’ll put it on the table we have put into the cooler. I knew that experience working in a grocery store bakery when I was in college would come in handy some day, even though it is one of the few jobs I can say I honestly disliked.

Some bottles of wine also went into the cooler today as did the metal bowls that I’m going to need to make the meringues with on Wednesday.

Got word from OSAG that they had sighted a group of shamblers coming down from our way. We didn’t catch a glimpse of them because everyone pretty much stayed within the Walls. They must have come straight down Bruce B. Downs Blvd or one of the other north-south roadways. They also warned us that the peddlers had mentioned coming back our way. Hopefully Laura won’t get wind of that and cause more trouble.

The plan tomorrow is to try and get back on schedule. McElroy is taking a small crew and they are going to go grab that landscaping stuff and the stuff from the garden center and check just a couple of places on Van Dyke Rd and then come back in. After that is accomplished, barring any exceptional finds, the gathering runs will likely go back down to one or two days a week.

Scott said he’s found us a bug out location. I hadn’t thought he would do it so quickly but once Scott gets something in his head he likes to get it done.

Over near the church where the fishing ponds are, not too far from where the New Geraci folks tried to set up, there are some really expensive homes. Each one has a minimum of acre lot and many of them back up to a lake or pond. Most of them are trashed. They were expensive homes but not really built to be fortresses, too much glass, too many doors and window, etc. But, there is this one house that sets off from the rest. It only got about three-quarter finished before the buyer or builder ran out of money. The house is completely dried in and is in this Mediterranean style with lots of block and stucco. On the outside the house looks fine if you overlook the metal shutters and wood that has been screwed over most of the windows and doors. Inside though, and I know which house he is talking about because I was part of a gathering run that had cleared that area, is another story. No carpet or flooring, the bathrooms were never finished, the kitchen had plumbing but it had never been hooked up and most of the cabinets were missing their fronts. The stairs were finished but there was no handrail. No AC or electrical hook ups either. And there was some drywall damage from vandalism that was likely from before the NRS quarantine.

None of the unfinished interior really meant anything to us anymore. What the place did have was three fireplaces, a huge walk-in pantry with a wine closet, lots of space (it had to have been about 5,000 square feet), and a Spanish tiled roof that would be great for water catching. It also had one of those fancy wrought iron fences around three sides of the property and a sturdy gate that slid open rather than used hinges.

The blackberries were already taking over the fence line and Scott and I plan to transplant some old fashioned climbing roses that will yield me rose hips during the right season. We plan on telling Angus where the place is but we haven’t figured out yet if we’re going to tell anyone else. Maybe Jim and Cease (because of Melody) and possibly Glenn and Saen. Right now we are keeping it to ourselves. David and James know but Rose and the younger girls don’t. Charlene knows something is up and only asked that we not leave her and her littles behind if we leave.

We don’t plan on leaving. But, we didn’t plan on NRS happening or plan on having to deal with a situation like Laura has us in. Better to be safe than sorry. And who knows, maybe one day Scott and I will simply retire there when and if Sanctuary is no longer needed. You never know.

Day 197 (Tuesday) – February 13th

You know, it would be nice to be able to make it through one day without some drama, but at least half of our recent problem seems to have resolved itself to the relief, if not satisfaction, of everyone concerned. Sort of anyway.

I hadn’t been feeling too well. Stress always settles right into my stomach. I also never seemed to be able to catch up on my rest for any length of time. If I start feeling achy I’ll have to fess up to Ski that I’ve been over doing it again and then listen to one of his lectures while he gives me a shot of whatever it was he gave me last time that put me back to rights.

I know I’m not looking my best after what has happened but I didn’t know it was so obvious. When I went over to the chicken coop before breakfast Mr. Morris, after taking a look at my face, asked me if I was feeling broody. Lord help, that’s the last thing Scott and I need right now. I’d go purely nuts.

When I told Scott he got a rather comically panicked look on his face and said, “But you can’t. You wouldn’t. You’re not are you? The doctors … “ I told him no and besides the obvious fact that I told the docs to cut ‘em, burn ‘em and shut the factory down I’m not late or anything else. Scott and I love kids but the idea of me being the one pregnant again … nope, not good, not going to happen.

I think Mr. Morris was just joking but I wouldn’t be surprised at my age if maybe all the stress was sending me a little early into a premenopausal state. I’m 42. My cousin was pretty young when it happened to her. I might as well just accept the possibility and move on. I just hope those “hot flashes” I’ve heard about don’t hit me during the summer. I’ll probably wind up skinning someone alive if they do. I’ve heard it can be like PMS on steroids for some women. I told Scott that and he looked ready to bug out.

Just to be on the safe side I asked Melody and Rose to look through the supplies and see if there was any morning primrose capsules or tea and I’m going to check my herbals and see if I can find some other teas and such that would help alleviate any of that. And if I can find a private moment I need to talk to Betty too. She’s a little older than I am so maybe she’s got some idea of how this all will go down.

We had a huge stew planned for lunch so breakfast was more along the lines of a Spanish El Desayuno than a traditional American breakfast. We had large pots of strong coffee and cream if anyone want café con leche, pots of rich hot chocolate for the kids, and platters of churros, doughnuts, and sweet rolls.

After breakfast I quickly went back home and started on the large basket of mending that had to be done. All the kids needed their pants let down or re-hemmed. There were lots of socks that needed to be darned. I also mended rips in underclothes and tried to fashion a training bra for Bekah that she would actually wear. She appears to be developing early just like her two older sisters. Poor kid. She’s still just enough of a tomboy that she is going to hate this whole process. That’s what she gets for being born a girl though. Now if I can just keep Johnnie and Bubby from asking embarrassing questions or making pointed comments.

And all of this hormonal stuff leads me back around to all the drama of today.

About mid-morning the peddlers showed up as was anticipated. Again we met them outside the Wall and didn’t offer them any hospitality. That might have been rude in some cultures but until we get to know the individuals in that group a little more there is no way they are coming in. Of course, that won’t make a hill of beans of difference now. They’ll still know what we’ve got up to a certain point.

This time the peddlers did have something we needed. Something I wanted badly. I don’t know where they had gotten them, possibly the old Ball manufacturing plant over near Busch Gardens. The place has been abandoned for years but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t something tucked away that was forgotten about. It was three full cases of canning jar lids; not the screw bands but the lids that I was quickly running out of. Pre-NRS I paid about a buck a dozen for those lids. Now I probably couldn’t buy them for any cash price. But, we could trade for them.

Each case had 720 lids in them, or 60 of those little boxes that had 12 lids each. At three cases that was over 2000 lids. None of them were for wide mouth jars but I wasn’t going to throw a fit over that. The question was what they were going to ask for trade.

I think most of the men were afraid they were going to ask for ammo or weapons. Nope, apparently they wanted a couple of pigs and a couple of hens. It was Mr. Morris that convinced Matlock and Dix to agree to the trade. We’ve been doing OK hunting and we would eventually need to cull some of the livestock anyway ‘cause the feed wouldn’t last forever.

So the trade was made and the other women and I were nearly dancing. Between my jars and the jars we have found, and now these lids, we have the ability to can a lot of our harvest for a year or two anyway. After that we’ll have to see how many lids we can scrounge up or go totally into alternative preservation methods. Or hope maybe someone someplace starts one of those manufacturing plant back up.

The deal was sealed with some of Angus’ best hooch. The reason Angus offered his hooch was apparently as incentive for the peddlers/traders to find a knife sharpening wheel and/or a grinding wheel for a bench grinder. A whet stone is all well and good for putting an edge on knives but some of the bigger blades and farm implements would have a better edge if we could get one of those wheels set up. I remember my grandfather having a pedal powered one and a whole slew of files that he would use on his farm equipment. Now I wished I had paid more attention and not taken so much for granted growing up. It’s just so easy to fall into that trap of “they’re always going to be there.” Well they’re not and we have to learn things the hard way these days.

Right as the peddlers were pulling up stakes to move out, Tasha runs up and asks if she can join them. For the life of me I don’t know what I would have said if I’d needed to say anything. There was some argument from our side trying to get Tasha to rethink what she was doing. Strangely it was Cindy that said let her go, that she was going to do what she wanted to do in the end anyway.

At the time I thought it was because she was making a comment on Tasha’s personality from where they had known each other the longest. Apparently that wasn’t it at all. After Tasha had packed her gear and gone Cindy explained it was actually her years of volunteering with the homeless coalition that gave her the insight. She said you can only do so much for people. At some point you have got to let them make their own choices. If you make all the decisions for them and try to force them to choose your way, in the end you’ll always fail and only force the other person to fight things harder. Their way might not be your way, but people have to be given the right to choose.

I suppose that’s true. Scott and I have learned to pick our battles with the kids and that sometimes pushing too hard can have the opposite effect that we want. The peddler group said they’d take good care of her as long as she wanted to stay with them and that they’d be back around in a few weeks and we’d be able to see for ourselves. I guess. I’m still not totally comfortable with what happened but on the other hand she is free and over 18. We can’t force her to stay if she is totally set on going.

Laura had another ginormous fit when Dante’ mentioned that the peddlers had come and gone and Tasha with them. Less said about that the better for now. He had given into her and taken the restraints off of her and she ran as soon as she heard the peddlers leaving. I think Dante’ is trying to deal with some guilt ‘cause he feels like it’s his fault that his daughter is like his sister was. I’m not sure that’s any healthier than denying any responsibility at all would be. Better to accept the reality and move on to constructively dealing with the way things are than regretting how they’ll never be.

It was a mess trying to catch her and put the restraints back on her. And Tina and Dante’ had a very public blow up with Tina wanting to know why on earth he had taken the restraints off in the first place and him screaming back because she was his daughter even if Tina had forgotten that point. If I didn’t feel so bad for them I would hate this feeling like I’m living in the middle of a soap opera. I feel like a voyeur.

After that brouhaha was over we all had lunch and then most of the women went on finishing the preparations for tomorrow. Rose, Sarah, and Bekah put a last few finishing touches on the dress I reworked for Melody. Charlene helped me bake the sheet cakes and get them decorated. That took a couple of hours. While they baked I boiled eggs so that I could fix up a platter of dressed eggs for tomorrow.

Charlene looked at me funny when I called them “dressed eggs.” I laughed and told her most people probably called them “deviled eggs” but that most of the folks where I grew up called them “dressed” to avoid using the term devil. You boil the eggs then cut them in half lengthwise. You dump the yolks in one bowl and put the whites on a platter. You mash the yolks up really well and then add mayonnaise or miracle whip, a little vinegar, and a little sugar and then whip it all together into something that looks like a yellow frosting. You fill the egg whites with this filling and ta da … dressed (or deviled) eggs. Some people add olives or pickles to the filling. My family only sprinkled a little paprika for coloring to the top of the eggs. In the morning all the goodies should be nice and cool so I’ll make up several relish trays for people to munch on too.

After the sheet cakes were out of the oven and cooling on racks I made what felt like leventy-dozen cheese crackers using a standard cracker recipe and some of the powdered cheese that we had in our long term storage supplies. Not bad if I do say so myself. The crackers will go well with the various soft cheeses and dips that we made up. There is also a huge bowl of tropical fruit salad in a punch bowl.

Tomorrow early I’ll also make some fruit pillows, a type of finger food, using some dried fruit and a few other odds and ends. And I’ll pickle some beets and green beans for a vegetable tray.

While many of us were working on preparing for C-Day, most everyone else was working on the rear gate house. I think that was Matlock’s way to see if Scott was truly serious about staying in Sanctuary; to see whether he would do the work or if he would pass it off on someone else.

After a dinner of the leftover stew served with over egg noodles with some of the cheese crackers that I had made, Scott and I got a visit from Matlock and Becky.

I had just finished getting most of the kids settled down for the night. Everyone was still dragging after the nearly sleepless night from the day before. And, today had been rather full and hectic as well. James said goodbye on his way to guard duty on the Wall and Cease, David, Melody, and Rose were going for a walk around the compound. Charlene was tactful enough to excuse herself and went to go read in another part of the house while the adults sat on the lanai.

Before anyone said anything Matlock looked at Becky and she started out with an apology. Apparently Becky had been listening to some of the things that Tina said and thought we were being too hard on Laura. I wanted to say but we never did the things that Laura said we did but I didn’t need to. Matlock said he had blown it off because he thought it was just a squabble between kids. He hadn’t realized how deep the problems would turn out running.

Well, that explains more than it doesn’t. I guess things are back to OK between us and them. To be honest I thought Matlock would have known us better than that. But, he did say he thought it was just a squabble amongst the kids. I don’t think any of us could have predicted where this was heading when it started. If I can’t stay mad at Tina and Dante’ I guess I can’t stay upset with Matt and Becky. Time will heal the wounds I hope.

I asked how Becky was feeling and we commiserated on the awfulness of morning sickness. Scott and Matt shook hands, we talked a little more, and then they said they needed to get back to the kids. Jenny is much better than she was when Matlock first brought her to us, but she is still a skittish and quiet little girl. This thing with Laura probably didn’t do her any good. I wonder how much Bo’s family upset is affecting Tommy. The two boys are very tight and do almost everything together.

Scott is sending me to bed early if you can believe it. I guess Mr. Morris isn’t the only one that has noted that I’m not at my best. Last thing I need right now is to get sick. There is too much to do. It feels like things are moving towards some awful climax that is getting closer faster than I want it to.

Day 198 (Wednesday) – February 14th - COMMITMENT CEREMONY DAY

What a full day we’ve had. Despite some early morning haziness the day turned out to be gorgeous. One of the patently perfect Florida spring days. Low humidity. Low bug count. Not too cold, not too hot. Lapis lazuli colored sky.

There was a scramble to get up and moving. All the gals that were getting hitched … or committed … met at Patricia and Jack’s place. Let’s see … there was Patricia of course, Melody, Rhonda, and Rilla. The Morris family was beside itself with having a double. Rhonda wasn’t technically related but they looked at her like their child the same way I saw Melody.

The kids were squirrely at breakfast, probably partially my own fault because I made trail mix breakfast bars to tide everyone over until the big feast. After a while though I’d finally had enough of it and told them to go find something constructive to do or I’d find something for them to do. Of course they lit out of there like their tails were on fire. Mother Hen is rather notorious for finding work for empty little hands when things get too loud.

While some people tended the pork that had been cooking before daybreak others ran around doing morning chores. The cows still need milking, the livestock still needs feeding, and the batteries still need charging whether there is a party going on or not. The Walls also need guarding though I admit we didn’t have as many people on that duty as we normally do.

While everyone was hustling around Saen and I finished up our last few surprises. She and I had been doing our best with the greenhouses. We managed to get her seeds started and luckily most of them seem to be doing well. There was just enough room in one of the greenhouses that we decided to plant a few trays of mesclun greens and some “baby” varieties of carrots and radishes.

There was just enough that was ready for picking that we managed to put together a nice fresh salad and then Saen made this bodacious coconut rice dish. The smell alone was almost more temptation than I could stand not to sneak an early taste.

We weren’t the only ones that had a surprise for everyone. Betty and Reba fixed nearly a dozen lattice-topped pies for those that weren’t cake eaters. And I don’t know where he found them but Angus came up with some of those chocolate covered candy sticks for the kids if they were good.

After morning chores were over with everyone went to the trouble of dressing up to one degree or another. It was a little strange to see some of the guys dressed in tuxedos. Scott was in one of his suits and ties from when he worked at the bank. I had to tailor the pants but the jacket wasn’t too bad. With all the heavy lifting he has done over the last few months his shoulders have broadened up and made up for the weight he’s lost.

Angus wore his dress kilt with a tuxedo jacket. Everyone was a little uncomfortable in their dressier state after wearing coveralls, grungy jeans, and work clothes for weeks on end. But personally I think it was worth it. You gotta do something to mark a day like this special. All four of the women were beautiful.

Melody was so young and had fallen in love with a white dress that had lace butterflies on sheer netting as an overdress. I added some pearl beading and sequins to dress it up a little more and then made a simple veil with more netting and silk flowers to match.

Rilla chose an ivory dress and the women in her family had embroidered lace and flowers on it as well. Her veil had matching lace to edge it. Rhonda’s and Patricia’s dresses were champagne colored and empire-waisted to accommodate their obviously pregnant figures; Rhonda’s floor length like Rilla and Melody while Patricia’s was a tea length gown reminiscent of something you would have seen from the 20s or 30s. Neither Rhonda nor Patricia had wanted a veil. Instead they wore simple hats with some pear tipped hat pins to hold some netting in place.

The women were ready to walk down the aisle when the Wall guards sounded the alarm.

There was an extended cab truck trying to evade a horde that numbered about seventy-five. If they had all been shamblers they would have easily avoided them but there were a bunch of runners and ragers mixed in slowing the truck’s progress. In this instance our road blocks were creating a problem, not preventing them. What worked with raiders obviously wasn’t necessarily a good strategy for escaping zombies.

James, already on the Wall, called down to Dix that it was one of the OSAG vehicles. With men on the gate to let them in, the rest of our people gave them cover fire and tried to take out the more persistent Runners and Ragers that seemed to be instigating the feeding frenzy in the horde. The shamblers would lose interest after a while with no sensory input to draw their attention.

The vehicle did indeed belong to OSAG. Unlike his parents, my kid has great eyes in both daylight and dark. Steve with Shorty driving shotgun had been out with Jon and Len on some recon … no guesses on my part. I try and not pry anymore than I would people to pry into my business. And as far as any of their actions, they’ve proven legit and have a good reputation. Why mess that up by messing with people?

Since the OSAG people weren’t going any place until the zombies cleared out we invited them to stay for the festivities which we started back up after I finished getting the gun oil off of Cease’s sleeve and grass stain off of the knee of Waleski’s gray tux slacks. Jack and McElroy had the sense to wear black so if they had gotten anything on them from their positions on the Wall I couldn’t tell and they kept backing away from me like I was their mother and had just spit on a Kleenex to wipe their face with.

The four women walked down the aisle to meet the men of their heart’s choice. Kevin Morris, hastily re-garbed in his layman’s clergy suit, officiated using vows agreed upon by all four couples.

I, (name), take you, (name), to be my constant friend and faithful partner from this day forward. Before God and these witnesses I vow to love you and care for you. I take you with all your faults and your strengths as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and I will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life. I offer you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health. I accept the responsibility that should you fall victim to NRS I will not leave you to walk the earth but will set you free; so too do I ask the same acceptance of responsibility from you should I fall victim to NRS that you will release me I vow to share with you both the good times and the bad, and in joy as well as in sorrow. I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.

At the end Kevin said, “A record of these proceedings will be placed in Sanctuary’s record vault after everyone present has signed the registry. As no one has raised any objections to these unions, I will now present to you … “ and he introduced each couple under the names they were choosing to use from that point forward.

A huge round of clapping and hurray-ing set the zombies to kicking up a fuss again but they were ignored by all and sundry because the next part was the fun part; kisses and handshakes for everyone. After that the festivities really took off with music, food, and games for all ages until well after dark had set although Steve and his folks had to leave before the sun had set. Not before they were filled to the gills with food and a good sampling of booze. Shorty gave me a call on the radio to let us know they had gotten in safe. I still can’t remember who the designated driver was supposed to be. I hope no one’s head is pounding too bad in the morning.

Eventually the new couples were allowed to sneak off to their new homes together and I threatened great bodily harm to anyone that thought about any kind of shiveree. I wouldn’t have put it past some of the rogues we have around here. Steve’s group sound like they could get up to shenanigans like that too. It was fun to have a few of the OSAG around to witness and partake in the celebration. I think they had a good time as well.

Sanctuary appears to be a reasonably sized survivor community, at least by local standards. But most people were, not all that long ago, used to dealing or interacting with in some way hundreds of people. Even if the interaction was passing someone in a stairwell or sharing space with them on the road. To suddenly have those interactions reduced to such a small number can be challenging to our state of mind, to our health. It’s much more natural for people to try and build relationships with others than it is for them to seal themselves off behind whatever barricades they can build.

Rhonda and McElroy. Why those two together? She carries the babe of another man and was emotionally wounded when he drew away and left her to shoulder the pregnancy and responsibility of their child alone. McElroy was raised by a single mother under adverse conditions and suffered the resulting slings and arrows life could throw. Both could have been bitter and hardened against relationships but instead the things they experienced pre-NRS left them better equipped to survive the way things are now. That includes building relationships and knowing that one alone suffers in ways that two together do not.

Melody and Cease. Two young people with responsibilities beyond their years and that could have easily overwhelmed them. Yet they managed to find each other and figure out a way to lighten the burdens by sharing them.

Rilla and Waleski. Talk about a Mutt and Jeff. First impressions say that he’s too hard and she’s too soft. Waleski looks like he’s been rode hard and hung up wet. Rilla is peaches and cream and a Mona Lisa smile. But I know for a fact that first impressions can be deceptive. Ski adores Rilla. He appreciates her acceptance and giving nature. Rilla thrives in Ski’s stability and desire for constant self improvement to meet his ever increasing responsibilities. Rilla wants that for role model for Ty. Ski needs Rilla to help him take the hard edge off so he can be the best he can be.

Patricia and Jack. I’m not sure what brought them together. At first I thought it was all about Patricia’s need to manage things and be the master of her own ship. But now, it’s like two terribly lonely people have found each other. Both have already experienced high pressure and high maintenance relationships. Now they both appear to be relaxed and secure in each other’s regard.

Strange. Zombies outside. Raiders outside. And the other threats hanging over our heads like hunger, disease, the filthies, and all the other unknowns that the future holds. Yet in the end it’s the stuff inside that has the most influence on us and our ability to build us up or destroy us.

Dante’ volunteered for a couple of extra turns at guard duty rather than attend the facilities. He and Tina were taking turns watching Laura. She’s been considerably calmer today but appears to be slipping further into her fantasy world; or further into her sublime manipulation, it’s hard to tell which. She reportedly was angry that her parents were keeping her from seeing Marty. It’s been almost six weeks to the day since the Big Raid and all of those deaths. Dante’ had gone home to give Tina a break but she was only allowed a few minutes before she had to go back home; Dante’ was unable to cope with Laura’s fantasies.

I guess what all them means to me is that along with what I’m helping to build physically – gardens, food storage, Wall, etc. – I need to put as much effort into building alliances. I need to build relationships – bonds – that strengthen us as individuals and as a community.

Two things I’m going to do to this end. First, tomorrow, I’m going to make sure that Tina gets a break from her caregiver duty. I’m going to sit with Laura for a couple of hours whether either one of us likes it or not. I’m not doing this because I really want to; the whole situation really challenges my ability to remain compassionate. No, I’m doing this simply because it is the right thing to do.

Right now, Laura is our weakest link. Tina and Dante’ are her caregivers; they are the glue that is holding her in place for now. If Tina and/or Dante’ weaken any more themselves, something could give that could bring us all down. Would it be simpler to enact euthanasia and “take care of the problem” as humanely as possible? I’m sure there are some people that are thinking this, whether they come out and say it or not. But what would that type of choice do to our community in the long run? People would start looking over their shoulders and wondering if they were next is what I think.

So, give Tina and Dante’ a break. Help them to stay healthy. Try and determine whether Laura is really pregnant or if this is another piece of manipulation or fantasy on her part. If she is truly mentally ill, determine what is the best course of treatment that we can offer that both helps Laura and her family but that also minimizes the risk to our community. There has to be a balance.

The other thing that Scott and I are going to do is take a little visit. Steve invited us to come over on Saturday and spend the night at their place. Its just going to be Scott and I to start with but if it works out for both groups then we may make a wider habit of it. Alliances. Bonds. Friends.

For now I think I’ve finally wound down enough to go to sleep. Scott is snoring away having imbibed a bit more of Angus’ special recipe than he is used to. Neither James nor David had any … James because I said so and David because he worries about being as susceptible to alcoholism as his parents were. I’m no teetotaler though I rarely have much more than a few sips but tonight when I tried to drink to the many toasts I had to go grab a glass of milk. Between the little bit of liquor and some of the spicy dishes my stomach felt like it had a gallon of acid in it. My stash of Rolaids is almost gone and how I’m going to talk the girls into getting me another bottle without Ski finding out about it I don’t know.

Hopefully Scott hasn’t taken over the whole bed. It took Charlene and I forever to get his boots off and I’m too tired to wrestle any more tonight.

Day 199 (Thursday) – February 15th

I just realized that tomorrow will be a big day for more than one reason. Tomorrow will be Bekah’s tenth birthday. Double digits. Wow. It only seems like yesterday that I was induced because already at 37.5 weeks she was measuring in at over eight pounds. And that’s what she wound up being that day. My eight-pound little pumpkin. Scott dotes on her as does Angus. She’s a sweety. I hope that she never gets as spoiled as we are in danger of making her.

The other thing that happens tomorrow is that it will be 200 days since I started this journal. So many changes. On the one hand it seems like only yesterday that my family numbered only seven and we went about our daily lives in a fairly normal fashion. Now … now I don’t even know what normal is any more and we’ve had a heck of a lot more than seven people sleeping under our roof on a daily basis.

Changes everywhere I look.

All the newly “married” folks have been absent today. I kept Belle and Trent with me all day but Melody and Cease came to pick them up and take them “home” right as the sun set. Despite occasionally wishing for more space the house seems strangely empty with them gone. Charlene, Kelly, and Al have taken their spaces, but not their places.

Our fields are coming up well and our animals are multiplying … or soon will be. I try and plant something every day regardless of how tired I am. The chickens are outdoing themselves; we’ve only lost a couple to hawks and that was before Scrappy took over chicken guarding duty. And Mischief surely cannot go much longer before she has her litter, she can only waddle so far before she lays down with a grunt and a groan.

But it goes further than these internal changes; we are branching out. Seeking things that stretch us in ways maybe that we didn’t expect. Glenn, Lee and some of the other guys went out scouting today. They found a good place to build a … maybe … well heck, I’m not sure what to call it. Calling the place Sanctuary 2 seems ridiculous. Calling it a bug out location doesn’t seem to explain its potential. It’s actually the peninsula of Lettuce Lake Park. It’s just east of the backside of USF off of Fletcher Ave. Glenn said with just a little work they could set it up for habitation and even utilize the river as a mode of transportation and a way to create power … the electrical kind.

There was a big powwow about it but I don’t want to leave our home. Scott said that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing to build a secondary location. Something could happen to Sanctuary or we could be out and need some place to hole up. All of the water surrounding the peninsula would certainly make it easier to defend against zombies. I guess. From the sound of things they are going to proceed. I thought we were done with all the big projects. I guess not. I’m so tired though. I’m ready to just get back to tending to what we have and stop the expanding. I feel full up, like I don’t have any more stretch left in me right now.

In the park itself are some buildings but they aren’t really on that peninsula. What they are talking about is using the peninsula as the … fallback position I guess you would call it … but turning the entire park, particularly the main area with the nature center and a few other buildings, into a new compound. Given enough time it would be even bigger than Sanctuary is with lots of green spaces and pasture areas that we lack right now. We are hemmed in by the destruction left by the Big Fire, the highway, and the remaining subdivisions in the area. It would also be more hidden than we are here at Sanctuary being right off of and quite visible from a main highway.

Scott told me to relax and not worry about it so much. Something would either come of it or not. I can try and put it out of my head for now but something tells me there are even more changes coming, bigger changes, and I’m not sure if I’m going to like them or not.

Speaking of things that I don’t like, I spent four hours with Laura today. It was only supposed to be three but Dante’ kept going in and out and I hated to leave Laura alone with no immediate supervision. Dante’ is coming to terms with Laura’s condition but it will never be easy for a father to realize his little girl hasn’t been behaving like a little girl … and of her own free will. Tina was pathetically grateful for the break. She left looking haggard and forlorn; she came back with a much healthier coloring to her face and looking more rested, at least mentally.

If Laura is to be believed her physical relationship with Marty began within a week or two of his family arriving in Sanctuary as refugees. Betty and Waleski both, by physical examination, confirm that Laura is pregnant and right around the beginning of her second trimester … somewhere around 14 weeks along by measuring how high her uterus is above her pubic bone. They found the baby’s heart beat and since she is slim she is starting show a little already. It’s barely a bump but if you are looking for it, you can tell. She wouldn’t have been able to hide it for much longer which apparently what she had been doing up to this point.

Explaining all of this to my Sarah and Bekah has been very difficult for me. I wanted them to stay innocent for a while longer but this new life we lead leaves so little chance of it. Patricia’s rape and pregnancy. Tina’s rape. Now Laura’s pregnancy and the fact that she is so young. There seems to be no way for me or Scott to protect them from the actions of others. In some ways this is worse than the zombies. It was easier when there was hundreds of people around, we could hide this sort of thing in plain sight; they weren’t part of our daily lives. Maybe that makes me a coward or unrealistic; I just wanted different for my children. I wanted more innocence, not less.

Strangely, or maybe not so strangely all things considered, it is Charlene that is providing quite a bit of insight into what is going on with Laura. And yes, I’m now firmly convinced this child’s mind is off in the land of Nod. She’s not faking it though she is still capable of being manipulative on a Machiavellian order. Charlene said so long as nothing threatens the fantasy world Laura is weaving she will be somewhat manageable; however, if something begins to be a threat she will lash out in potentially unpredictable ways.

The question remains whether this is a situation that can be dealt with using behavioral training techniques or is it going to require chemical intervention. If it does require chemical intervention we certainly don’t have the expertise to test her to reveal what kind of issue she has. We certainly don’t have a psychiatrist on board to prescribe a script even if we could find the drugs. Our first order of business is going to be keeping Laura and her baby physically healthy. We’ve decided that we’ll have to deal with her mental issues later; or when there is a crisis. We just don’t have any other options open to us at this time. Certainly Laura will not be able to raise the baby by herself and both Tina and Dante’ seem keen in trying to return to “normal” after the baby’s birth. So … adoption? Please, oh please, oh please, don’t look at Scott and I for this one.

Dante’ and Tina aren’t so angry as they were before but I don’t think I could handle raising their grandchild. That would be too many … too … I don’t know, just much more complicated than I can think about right now. Dante’ and Tina are no less lost but they seem to have most of their emotions under control for now, but giving how these things work that could change in a blink of an eye and I don’t want that hanging over my head. What if Scott and I did take the baby in the Dante’ and Tina … or even Laura … got to a point that they wanted the baby back? How would we handle that situation in our little community? This is so traumatic for them. It is for us as a community as well but I’m so glad that it’s not my family suffering through this particular scenario. And I don’t think I want to get any more tangled up in it than we already are.

Something has got to give. My stomach has been acting up again. I know it’s all this stress. I love the people here in Sanctuary but I’m simply not used to all the drama. Well, not that we didn’t have a lot of drama with our tenants and the business but there were boundaries. It’s not like the drama was in our living room every day. It’s hard enough for me not to “mother” people near to death under normal circumstances. This … this … whatever you call it … this life … I just can’t seem to help myself. I know it’s a bit annoying for some of the guys to have me constantly, and unnecessarily, reminding them of things like a wet hen. They are all adults and most have been on there own for some time. I just can’t seem to help myself. Some of them tolerate it pretty well, but sometimes I wonder for how long they’ll put up with it until I become the annoying aunt everyone avoids at all cost.

Maybe I’m the one with a case of the nerves. I pray that I never do to my family what Laura is doing to hers.

Well, I’m off to bed a bit earlier than normal. One, Scott noticed that I’d been losing weight again. I have a feeling if Waleski hadn’t been honeymooning I would have been unceremoniously packed over to the clinic for a lecture and an examination. And two, tomorrow is Bekah’s birthday and Scott and I intend to try and make her day special despite everything that is going on.

Day 200 (Friday) – February 16th – Bekah’s birthday

Angus found the perfect gift for Bekah. She will be allowed to pick one of Mischief’s puppies once they are ready to leave their mother. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning Mischief had a litter of six roly poly little balls of red fur. She’s thrilled of course.

Her gift from the kids in Sanctuary was a day off of all chores. I thought that was sweet. The kids got together and divided up the chores she would normally have had to do today and she was free to lollygag to her heart’s content. Surprisingly she still insisted on doing some chores; I guess she couldn’t stand being left out.

We had the all the kids over to the house for a couple of hours for some old fashioned games … pin the tail on the donkey, clothes pin drop, hot potato, and a few others that escape me at the moment. We had cupcakes rather than a whole cake and I had found those number candles and so Bekah got two cupcakes; one had a “1” on the top and the other had a “0.” The kids also got to make kick-the-can ice cream.

I forgot to explain this the other day when we made it on C-Day. First you take an empty and clean one pound coffee can with plastic lid and an empty and clean three pound coffee can with plastic lid. You’ll also need duct tape, ice, rock salt, 2 quarts whole milk, 2 cans sweetened condensed milk, 1 package (4 oz.) instant vanilla pudding, and 1 cup sugar

Those ingredients all together will make three one pound cans of ice cream. First you mix pudding with the milk. Then add the sugar and condensed milk and mix it well. After that pour one third of the liquid mixture into a clean, one pound coffee can. There should be at least one inch space left between top of mixture and top of can. Next, place the lid tightly on the one pound can and seal around the edges of the can and lid with duct tape. (I used duct tape because it is less affected by condensation. This will also keep any salt water from getting into your ice cream.) Put the sealed one pound can inside the clean three pound coffee can. Put ice and one cup rock salt around the smaller can. Next, place the lid tightly on the three pound can and seal around the edge of that can and lid with duct tape as well.

Then came the fun part. The kids took turns kicking the can around the yard. You don't play kickball with it ... you just kick it around. I had to remind them not to kick the lid anymore than necessary. Kicking time always varies with the weather and the amount of ice used. We had three different flavors of ice cream by using three different pudding flavors. During the summer, if things continue to go as planned, I might add some fruit to the ice cream. James loves homemade blackberry ice cream. And not too long from now we might get some strawberries off of my hanging baskets if the blasted things would ever make.

There weren’t a lot of fancy gifts but Rose and David gave her another journal that they had put a leather cover on. She had already used up the book she was using. James had made her a new sling shot and found her a whole bag of good stones to use. The littles decorated a backpack that she could put her journal and slingshot in. Sarah and Samuel made her a book on Morse Code from some books that Dix kept around. Scott and I built her a chest to put at the foot of her bed that she could keep her treasures in and that would double as a “hope chest” as she got older. Eventually we’ll make all of the girls a chest; it’s something useful and lasting that they can remember us by when we are gone.

As much as we like to spoil our kids we couldn’t take the whole day up with her birthday. We had our normal chores which included me trying to get more seeds in the ground and taking care of what was popping up.

The men finished the rear gate house; that alone was worth celebrating. I’m happy to have the project over with. It always made me nervous watching them lift those wooden and concrete poles and posts into place. The potential for injury was always high if one of those things had given out. Not to mention the threat of zombies catching them unawares coming out of the underbrush. If it was just a matter of running a bush hog through that over growth I would have done it long ago. The problem is that there is so much debris all through there that if I tried, I’d kick up so many missiles that someone would undoubtedly get hurt. Or even worse, the bush hog or tractor would get broken.

The other thing we are preparing for is to go over to OSAG tomorrow. I’m nervous about leaving the kids overnight but Scott is insistent. He thinks I need to get away and we intend on enjoying ourselves.

There’s been more talk of building a secondary compound at Lettuce Lake Park. Some of the guys are really gung ho for it. I suppose it is a bit of an adventure. And I suppose I also have to admit that there is a certain amount of sense to the whole scheme. Like Scott says, give it a chance and maybe the idea will grow on me. It’s just we’ve done so much to Sanctuary, I don’t want to leave.

He’s response, “Who’s talking about leaving? It’s just another location like our secret bug out location.”

Whatever the ultimate design of the place I can tell some of the younger men are really getting into the idea. Glenn too though Saen has told him that he needs to pick a place and land on it as she wants to put her seedlings in the ground.

Mr. Morris isn’t keen on the idea at all. I accidentally overheard him complaining to Kevin about just really starting to feel settled and then all this fuss about moving to another location. I think he was referring to J. Paul and Clay Jr. They seem really eager to go adventuring.

It’s probably like the pioneering days. Sometimes folks would just get an itch to find some place new, some place better, where they could explore the scope of all they were capable of being. Maybe as was sometimes the case, some place safer away from the criminal element or away from other dangers.

But I like it where we are, warts and all. I know that I can keep my kids safe here. I know that I can grow food to feed them here. Going to a new compound could mean starting from scratch. But some of the young men said that’s the whole point. Start with something fresh, with no constraints, and make the way you want to not the way someone else envisioned it to be.

They’ve also talked of the disadvantages of Sanctuary’s location. We have no running water source only retention ponds and small lakes. Saen said that it would be much easier to put in rice paddies in the other location. Glenn spoke of water driven generators. They mentioned all of the destruction we have surrounded Sanctuary on all sides. Cindy even mentioned how much healthier the environment could be for the kids as there would be no moldering houses nearby to potentially cause illness. Some of the men raised the issue of how much more defensible it would be using the river to guard most of the perimeter.

I hear them. I even agree that it sounds nice. It’s just that it isn’t home. I don’t know if I could ever reconcile myself to a permanent move to a new location. It bothers me to even think about it too much. I’ve invested so much into our home, into Sanctuary; I don’t know if I could leave it.

Maybe I’m being silly, making a mountain out of a molehill. All I can handle right now is one day at a time. And that means that tomorrow we get to go on a mini-vacation to visit OSAG. That’s just about as away from home as I feel like getting right now.

(Later, sometime early AM)

Couldn’t sleep. Just can’t seem to get things to leave me alone enough so I can truly unwind and find REM … no not the music group, deep sleep, assuming when anyone reads this they still remember that there was a band called REM. The desire for music sent me to the radio and I wound up listening to Steve’s broadcast again.


Welcome back to Steve’s Midnight Music and talk show folks. That last tune was the Black Crowes “Sting Me”. Now in the background while I talk, is going to be a little Allman Brothers Band tune called “Mountain Jam”. Those of you in the know, it’s anything but little. From their album “Eat a Peach” it is 30 plus minutes of rambling rock and roll.

Oh, a time check for all you listeners out there. The only working clock on the air says that it is exactly one o’clock in the A of M.

So on with the talk part of the show. Here over the last couple of weeks we’ve been seeing a little bit of rain, sunshine and the coming of the hot weather. Now since I’ve been out of the old blue uniform I can say that I’ve ceased to notice as much the mind numbing craziness that seems to affect some of our more challenged citizens when the fucking weather changes or the God damn moon is full, but then, my circle of humanity has lessened considerably over the last few months, as a matter of fact, I’m down to about 30 people that I like to fucking call friends. I’m down to even less that fucking remember me much before all this. I have noticed that the affect that it has on the God damn zombies around us. Anyone else notice that they seem to be much more aggressive as of late?

I bring that little point up so I can tell you a story about our little adventures here on the great campus grounds that we are calling home at the moment. Now we’ve been slowly clearing out the buildings around us, checking out those places that will interest us for present and future needs as it were. We like to travel in groups around here and on this day the group consisted of Myself, Dave, Rusty and Shorty’s oldest daughter—Bee. That’s what I call her is Bee…. She’s just about my favorite daughter in her own way, she reminds me of her mother in more ways than even they’ll admit.

Now Bee is one that had life gone differently, would have ended up partying away much of her youth and shit. Not that I find that to be disagreeable, I did much of the same damn thing myself. I must say that I probably contributed to her unruliness more than a couple of times. She, like her mother, is a killer shot as long as she likes the firearm and can be a bit of a handful if crossed.

So on this particular day, we were spending our waking moments clearing out one of the dorms, using a method that we like to refer to around here as Blitzkrieg. And like the lightening strike that the method is named after, we strike from above and work our way down. You see, folks, there at the end, people barricaded themselves in buildings and when they did so, they locked the doors from the inside. No shit you say--I can hear you say it--well, the obvious problem with all of that barricading is this: you have to beat down god damn doors to get into places when you attack from the front. When you beat down doors, you make a lot of fucking noise, and when you make noise, who comes for dinner?

That’s right listeners, the fucking undead.

So, here’s what we do—feel free to take notes listeners—we get a big ass ladder that reaches the first landing of the fire escape or the rung of the access ladder and we climb to the top. From there we establish a base of operations and we pull up the shit ton of ammo that we haul around on these occasions along with our lunch, because if you’re going to clear a building, you’re gonna need lunch. We have developed a nice little way to get rid of the undead, by the way, that involves the use of no firearm ammo at all, as long as the distance is not further than a room’s length. It’s a pretty neat device that was invented by the other Dave and our resident chef, Phil. A little air rifle of sorts that fires a .50 caliber ball. It does a nice job of making a hole in the head. We’ve styled it after the AR15 and if anyone wants one, contact us in the usual ways. Making them is simple, as long as you have the pressure chamber for the compressed air or even better—since we’re in Florida where you can get these things—a SCUBA tank. Ours use the tank and you get about a hundred rounds out of a tank before it goes to shit.

We also have to haul up a little genny and compressor but like everything we do, there’s a system.

So on this day we were tackling a dorm. In this case Beta Hall. For those of you who don’t know about this building, it was designed to hold 290 students, two at a time crammed into a 16’x11’ space with all their junk, beer, food, computers, clothing and books. Now Beta Hall is basically four stories of rooms. The nice thing about Florida is everything has to be able to with stand a hurricane. The bad thing, you guessed it listener, the whole damn hurricane thing. The roof of the building will support a battalion of mercenaries, but they’ll pay hell to break through the door on the roof getting in. And again, we’ve got ways around that too….

But I see that the song is over, so I’ll break for a couple of songs, and pick up here in just a few minutes. Once again, for those of you listening and have ham, its 5330.5 on the dial and you CB folks, you know who you are, its channel 30. All others keep trying on the phone lines, you never know, you might get through. Here’s Stringcheese Incident with “Shenandoah Breakdown”.

And that was a bit of a change up for our listening audience, Metallica with “Eye of the Beholder”. Thanks for the call in Mikey, glad to know that you’re still out there banging heads. Now for our little background music, I’m going to put in a little Dead for us all. This one is “Blues for Allah” from the album “One from the Vault”. The time is two ten by the only clock on the radio.

Where was I? Oh yeah, breaking down the door at Beta Hall.

Well, the three of us and the girl, we breached the door as pretty as you please and entered the stairway that lead to the upper floor. I don’t think I need to tell you about the smell, in the past few months we’ve all encountered that mummified smell of decay, the stagnate odor of old blood and meat that has rotted beyond its expiration date. On went our head lamps and the weapon lights strapped to our super-charged air rifles. Now those things weren’t the only weapons we had by any means, but they lead the way, listeners, lead the way into the dark stair well.

Let me be the first to admit that I am overly protective of the women in my life and because I am, they get to walk in the middle. Dave was in the lead, I was next, Bee and then Rusty. I trust Rusty with my God damn life as well as Bees and he’s never let me down. The speed that we move through these things, the rear guard is an important post. If something bitey tries to sneak up one us, it’s the job of the guy at the back to make sure it is fucking stopped now. Thankfully there did not seem to be anything in the stairwell so we hit the first door, so to speak, and Dave and I peeled into the room to either side while Bee and Rusty took up forward positions to clear the middle of the room while Dave and I worked the room from out side.

Like most dorms this one had a community room and this one was at our end where we were and from it ran the hallway the length of the building. Into the hall emptied the dorms for the top floor.

Listeners, I’m here to tell you, we had stepped into a fucking hornets nest.

It seemed that every student that was housed in that building was on that floor. They had been simply standing in place when we broke through, I’ve seen this weird-ass behavior from them in other buildings, but let me tell you, it still makes me shiver like a motherfucker when I see it. These monsters, as if they had one mind, all swing their decaying faces toward us in one rippling, chilling moment. Dave and I began to fire our air rifles--when your faced with that many zombies, dear listener, that’s all these supped-up things feel like—pumping them like mad as we began to take aim and drop the beasts closest to us. I could hear Bee and Rusty start in as well, the hollow pop of the air as it escaped the barrel to push that .50 caliber projectile down range is somewhat like hearing a HK MP5SD as it fires it’s suppressed rounds.

The things then began to moan as their number started decreasing. They jerks and shuffled and growled at us. We kept up our fire, blowing holes in skulls and tearing through rotting flesh with the round balls. Then the rager hit us. There might have been more than one, but I saw one, and it was fast.

It tore through it’s fellows with a growl and a howl that I’ll hear in my sleep for days to come. It seemed that we all fired at it, but it was so fast it caught us off guard. I saw Rusty go down as it hit him with what looked to be a full body tackle. All Dave and I could do was keep shooting at the horde in front of us, killing as many as we could be fore we were overwhelmed.

Now, listener, you might be asking yourself, why the fuck didn’t you get out of there Steve? Well, listener, we’ve all talked about it now that we’re alive to do so, and you know what? It never occurred to us to even try. We were all of the mind set that we had a job to do, and we were by God going to get it done. Training took over, is all I can tell you.

So, Rusty is down, Bee is shooting at everything that is around her and Dave and I can only provide as much supporting fire as we can pump out of those air rifles. These things are closing in on us like a fetid wave, the air is thick with their stink and filled with the sound of them hissing and moaning at us.

Let me take a moment to tell you about another little thing we’ve been playing with: armor. Not just any armor, oh no, this is poor man’s armor. What we’ve done here is taken the two liter plastic coke bottle and cut each end off, then split it down the middle. We then tape, that’s right listener, duct tape them to our outer clothing, covering the forearms and upper arms as well as the exposed parts of our legs. That with the gear we already wear makes us just about bite proof on everything but our faces and necks. Remember that, folks, coke bottles and duct tape.

This thing is trying to rip apart Rusty, and I can see from the way Rusty is struggling, he’s having a hard time with it, and Rusty is not a small boy, he’s a farm boy and a wielder by trade, so strength is not an issue for him. But there’s not measure of the crazy in these fucking ragers. As we’re shooting I can tell that the air rifle is about out of juice, the rounds are starting to have the pop sound to them they get when the pressure drops in the tank. Another rager breaks through the ranks and nearly takes Dave’s arm off. He manages to draw his pistol and shoots the thing dead as it is dragging at his arm, mauling the plastic armor with broken teeth.

Oh, I see that we’ve got another break coming up, so here’s a little Gov’t Mule with “Mr. High and Mighty”.

It’s two thirty and now it’s time for the rest of the story. Aren’t you glad that Uncle Paul is to far dead for all of this?

We left with Dave shooting yet another rager, Rusty on his back fighting one, and we’re about out of steam from the air rifles. Well, Bee, God Bless her, she gets it in her head, she’s going to end this shit, and now.

She drops her rifle and pulls out her pistol, my Browning High Power, actually, and with a yelled curse of her own, grabs the rager by what little hair it has on the back of the head and proceeds to ventilate this bastards skull. She then turns as if she’s been doing this all her life and takes out three of those fuckers with as many shots. Dave, the gamer that he is, is not going to be out done by a girl and he proceeds to start dropping the monsters right and left. I’m out of air and my air gun goes to the way side, my own G L O C K is in hand and to make a very long story short, we finish off the fuckers with well placed 9mm’s.

So after it was all said and done, we found that all of students had for some unknown reason had gone to the top floor for an End of the World party. Now we know this because there were still hand made posters and such hanging all over the place that announced that it was that type of party. My guess is that one of the guests was bitten and never told anyone, then things went down hill from there. We found all kinds of things there, from cans of food to bottles of booze and kegs, boy and girls, whole entire untapped kegs of the worst kind of beer a college student can buy. But these days, that makes it pretty damn good beer.

Also, Rusty is fine, he's taking a large amount of shit for getting knocked down and then having to be saved by a girl; but since the girl is mine in a round about way, I wouldn't have expected anything less from her.

So with that little tale being told, I will turn this back into the Music portion of the show and toward that end, here’s some Frank Zappa—“My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Momma”.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who put in the request, my Kid will be holding both a Mass and a semi-Protestant service tomorrow. The Mass will be at ten, the Protestant service at noon. You know Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash used to hold services long distance, so we’re not in bad company with this. Now here’s Frank.


Might as well stay up now. David is off to guard duty and Scott has started to snore again. Its not worth the hassle of trying to get an hour of two of sleep that will just leave me more tired than I was before when I have to wake up. OK … maybe a couple of hours of sleep but then we need to get up and moving.

Day 201/202 (Saturday/Sunday)

It’s the middle of the night, or early morning depending on how you want to look at it. We were having a great time here at OSAG until some very disturbing news was passed along. I’ve transcribed Steve’s broadcast. He was pretty bent out of shape tonight but not much more than Scott was. Seems we have more than just basic survival and zombies to be concerned about.


The time is two twenty according to my handy pocket watch, which is the watch that all clocks are set by if you listen to Steve’s Midnight Music and Talk, the Voice of Free Florida. I often wonder just how accurate that little wind up piece of railroad history might be according to the Atomic Clock in Colorado, But then, since the world went to shit, is there still an Atomic Clock? Or is there even a threat of the atom as we once knew it? Stay tuned and find out. New horrors are on our door step, boys and girls, and as Oppenheimer said about his little 10,000 pound package of terror when he first saw one detonated, “I am become death”. That little quote from the Bhagavad Gita just kinda sums up about all of our man made foibles in the last year.

“I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

Now gentle listener, did you know that the man who gave us the weapon to rule the world, to set the future of generations in stone, was being investigated by his own fucking government at the time he was in effect, working to save it? Ain’t that fucking ironic?

I was once at Los Alamos, that little town that started life as a pueblo on the mesa, then became a boys school before morphing into the town that did not exist from about 1940 until the 1950’s. I ate at the Sonic Drive through there and visited the very informative and fantastic museum which chronicled our decent into a nuclear arms race. It was an awesome place. I gazed upon the wonders that the quest for power gave us, and then stared at the replica of the package that was delivered to Japan that fateful day. I read the words of the scientists who worked on the project and knew that I was staring at history.

I was sobered by the thought of the authority we wield. It made me think about the things we do in the name of justice and peace.

“I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

I start this show with that little thought today while the sounds of “Burning Sky” play in the background for a reason. Why do I bring up John Oppenheimer and his little ball of death for you to ponder? Well, my friends, they’ve gone and done it. Our fantastic new government, remember the one that you and I did not get to vote for?, that fucking group of low life wannabe rulers have gone and stated that, and I quote here, “…in order to regain a foothold on the sacred soil of these United States, the President of the United States has asked the pro-tem congress to release a series of small warheads for experimental use against strategic targets to be named by the presidential panel and the Chiefs of Staff…”

Now I ask you my friends, at what fucking point do we consider nuking ourselves to create an experimental explosion to see if it will kill zombies? The question we have to ask ourselves is this one; have they already done it?

Yeah, I know, I sound a lot like the conspiracy talk show host of old, but I can only report as I hear it. And that, guys, is the way I heard it. We are about two hundred or so days into what I like to think of as our self imposed siege. We’ve given the land over to the barbarians and, folks, they now pound at our Goddamn gates.

Let me give you this last quote from the Bahgavad Gita;

“If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…”

Comments? That’s 5330.5 on the ham and channel 30 for you in CB land. All other’s please call the operator and she’ll patch you through.


Even at this late hour Steve is getting some comments about what is going on. He had just as many people saying they believed it as saying that there was no way the government would ever do it, that if it were true they were just asking for the power to do it.

We’ve learned we have other reasons to be very concerned as well and OSAG has made the decision to broadcast this tomorrow. Seems they are losing contact with people to the south of us. It started about a week ago. Fuel is getting very scarce in some of these areas so they put it down to the generators failing but when they started mapping where and when they noticed a definite pattern. Homestead, a couple of outposts in the Everglades, Lehigh Acres, Cape Coral, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Bradenton … in that order. Simply fuel shortages would be more random.

And today they got a frantic call from a very small group in Ruskin. These people were probably the equivalent of the filthies of our area. Steve said all contact with them has been decidedly bizarre and most of the time they ignore them. However, this time they were going on about a large horde, larger than they’d ever seen passing just to the east of them. The path of the horde was roughly north, flowing between US41 and Interstate 75.

Who knows what to think of it. A man in Gibsonton that OSAG has set up some trades for denied the rumor say that sure, he’d seen more zombies than usual but no giant horde. But a couple of hours later when he was called for an update he wasn’t on the air; he hasn’t been on the air since. That could be for a million different reasons but ….

Using our the radio equipment we brought with us we notified Dix and Matt and we’re … well we’re going to prepare and pull back a bit until we see what’s what. Steve said their group is going to do the same. With the speed that this is apparently happening another day or two should tell the tale of whether this is true or a false rumor.

Dear reader of the future, you might wonder why I am up so late. Well, I made a pig of myself today. OSAG eats good … real good. We had a wonderful lunch prepared by a classically trained chef and his assistants. For dinner, there were more wonderful dishes and for those of us with more plebian tastes enough pizza that I gave myself an incredible case of heartburn. Also, I’m not used to being away from the kids overnight. Even pre-NRS I can count on one hand the number of times that Scott and I have been away from all the kids overnight since Rose was an infant. Either he or I were with them unless they were on away trips like with scouts, sleepovers at friends, or mission trips. And all of these rumors, they are just making me more anxious to return to them.

Not that I didn’t have a great time here at OSAG. To the contrary, despite this latest information I had a wonderful time. I spent quite a bit of time helping them get a better of idea about what they could plant around here and when. Florida definitely runs on a different planting/harvesting schedule than where they are from. I also helped them to locate and identify some of the tropical fruit trees from the botanical garden on campus as well as some of the other native plants they weren’t familiar with that were planted in the atriums of some of the university buildings.

Scott shot the breeze and smoked a couple of cigars with some of the men when they weren’t on guard duty. I don’t know which has left more aromatic evidence behind, the cigars or the results of overindulging in pizza.

They’ve got a real nice set up. I won’t go into fine detail here in case this journal should ever fall into the wrong hands at the wrong time but they’ve built greenhouses and have taken advantage of a lot of the equipment and materials that was abandoned on campus and in the surrounding area. They run about 30 people strong with a nice mix of males and females. There are a few kids but not as many as Sanctuary has; they even have a little one about Kitty’s age. Their food supply is growing from their trading but I was happy to see that they were realistically trying to become self-sufficient. Maybe one of these days we all can go back to specialization but to survive these days you need to be able to do just about a little of everything. Or at least do enough well enough to get by.

I made the mistake of only bringing the solar lamp and not the wind up one. My light is dimming so I need to put down my pen and paper. Maybe I can get a few hours of sleep so that I don’t crash during the services that Steve’s son is facilitating. Its been so long. I even brought a dress to wear … even shaved my legs for the occasion though I don’t think I’ll ever have the complete knack of shaving the back of my knees with a straight razor, I’m terrified I’m going to slip and cut into those veins and arteries back there.

We hope to get back to Sanctuary early afternoon.

Day 203 (Monday) – Washing Day (February 19)

Well, I finally got a decent night’s sleep last night. Almost didn’t have any choice, I was just all give out. When we got back on Sunday the kids were ecstatic to see us. Even James who is going through that stage when its ad for a boy to show too much emotion one way or the other clapped his father on the back and gave me a hug in broad daylight. Nearly made me swoon.

We told our tale, got caught up on what had been happening in Sanctuary, put away our stuff, sat down to dinner and then as soon as I got back to the house after clean up I went to bed.

This morning I got up and really focused back on getting into our normal chore schedule. First I went and checked the garden and made my list of things that would need to be done there. Next came breakfast. I wasn’t on the morning caper chart for that task but I was on it for dinner so I needed to leave myself time this afternoon to do prep. But after breakfast and before everything else it was laundry time.

Laundry is never fun but the shorter we get of cleaning products the nastier a job the laundry gets. I have this big animal trough set up over a fire where I boil the clothes. It’s a dirty, sweaty job. The fire can’t get too smoky otherwise the clothes all smell like smoke so it takes a good hardwood fire with dry wood; around here that means oak. We’ve taken all the downed trees and we try and keep up with getting wood cut but I noticed today that the once huge pile is about half of what it once was. I reminded everyone at dinner if they take wood they need to replace it. Little bit of grumbling but I can’t help it. We use wood for everything … the cook stove, laundry, wash water, boiling drinking water.

I know some of the guys keep talking about solar power and how it will be the salvation of us all. Frankly though Florida has so much humidity and cloud cover (and tree cover) that we only get a percentage of what the same solar set up would get in a place like Arizona. Just because we are called the Sunshine State doesn’t mean that sunshine doesn’t come with clouds and rainfall for significant parts of the year. In fact, I’ve noticed in our solar powered lamps, as the humidity level has gone up its begun to take longer to recharge. The same is true of our solar battery chargers. Our solar hot water heater is doing OK, even a bit better but that’s because it is a passive system. It’s not charging anything, merely running the water through a series of black pipes into a black, plastic holding tank. The warmer and more humid it gets the faster the water will heat and stay heated.

Melody was so funny. She came over in a bit of a panic and said, “I’ve watched you do this so many times and even helped. But … doing this all by myself – and Cease’s and the kids’ clothes as well – is totally awful!” I laughed a little and told her to dump their stuff in with ours and we’d to it all together. It was nice to have her back over and I know Rose was happy to see her again. Charlene is a great girl but I suspect that Rose sees her too much as she would James, which means younger.

I also told the girls we needed to conserve laundry detergent. The commercial stuff was all used up a couple of months ago and I’ve been making our own but now even that is beginning to run out. We are running out of washing soda and I haven’t a clue where to get more. It’s one of those things that is a basic chemical ingredient and I don’t know how to make it myself. We are also down to about half the borax we had. That’s another basic chemical ingredient I can’t make more of. And what we have left I want to reserve for pest control which could be a serious issue come this summer.

One particular project that Scott thinks I’ve lost my mind over is that I’ve planted a hedge row of yucca plants; also known as Spanish bayonets and for good reason. The roots of these plants are a good food. Yucca – pronounced You-Ka in Spanish – has always been popular around her. Scott didn’t eat a lot of it growing up because his mom had a grudge against it, that and grits because that was all she had to eat when she was growing up during the Depression. However, his dad would buy it every once in a while and taught me to cook it. But the other good thing about yucca, or so I was told, was that you can take the yucca root and pound it up and use it as a kind of soap. We haven’t gotta get that self-sufficient yet, but I suppose I should start experimenting with it sooner rather than later. Better to know about how well it will work ahead of time than to be counting on it and find out it’s nothing but a dud.

The other thing we can do now that we are raising our own meat is when the time comes to butcher the hogs, we can render lard. We can also save the grease after we’ve cooked all we can with it and use it – and fresh lard – to make our own soap. Of course that means I have to use lye. I had a friend when I was younger and just getting into the urban homesteading that had tried to make her own lye soap. She received a very bad burn. I’ve got some powdered lye that I’ve put away in the shed out in the orange grove. That stuff is nothing to fool with.

Here are my written directions for making homemade lye which is what we’ll have to do because the store bought lye – also known as caustic soda – will eventually run out just like all the other commercial products.

First I’ll need about two to three gallons of rainwater. This is very important because the water has to be “soft” water rather than well water that could possibly have minerals in it. Then I’ll need to get my wooden barrel that I drilled a small drainage hole in approximately two inches above the bottom. And I’ll need a plug or cork to close the hole with. The barrel I have is waist-tall but you can use a cask-sized barrel as well; you just make less lye in a batch.

I’m going to set the barrel out in the back corner of our yard on bricks so that it is very stable. You don’t want this stuff turning over accidentally. Plus it needs to set undisturbed for a while. The bricks also help me to raise the barrel up high enough so that I can get my big glass jar under it to catch the run off when it is time.

Once I have the barrel stabilized I’ll cover the bottom of the barrel with some palm-sized clean rocks (e.g. river rock) and then cover the rocks with approximately 6" of straw (this can be hay or grass). This will filter the ashes and help the lye drain cleanly.

Then I’ll put in clean ashes from the cook stove. You want to use hardwood ashes, such as oak, for the best lye but you can also use fruitwood ashes. But avoid pine, fir, and other evergreens. They have oils in them that prevent the making of good lye. And you want only ashes, not chunks of charcoaled wood. Make sure the ashes are cold as well otherwise you’ll do something dorky like a friend of mine and start a fire in your barrel. Hot ashes and wooden barrels do not mix well at all.

I’ll completely fill the barrel with ash, but it is not necessary; you can make smaller amounts with less ash. You need to put a pan under the hole and remove the plug or cork. Then you pour the soft water in until you see it start to drain into the pan; plug the hole back up really quick. The water level should be about 6" from the top of the barrel. After a day, the first ash should settle and you can add more ash.

You have to let this ashy mess sit for at least 3 days. You can add ash all week and drain it regularly on a specific day of the week.

To see if the lye is ready you can either give it to a chemist which we are kinda shy of here in Sanctuary, or you can use the old-fashioned method. Drop a fist-sized potato or a raw egg into the barrel. If it floats enough for a quarter-size piece to rise above the water, it is ready. If it doesn't, you need to add more ashes or drain all the water and re-leach it (pour it back into the cask and let it set one more cycle).

Make sure that you have a wooden crock or glass container to catch your lye when it's ready. I put a big gallon glass jar under the tap, gently pull the cork, and let the liquid lye run into it. You don’t want to overfill the container so be ready with the plug in case you need it. You need to leave enough head room so that the container is safe and easy to pour.

A good, tight-fitting lid is a necessity and you store the lye in a cool dark place until use; but its best if used soon after making it. The old leached ashes can also be a pain to dispose of. You have to dig a hole far away from everything and then pour the muck into it. You can’t fill the hole back in until the ashes are completely dry or they’ll just make more lye and you’ll get a pocket of it that could bleed off into things you don’t want it bleeding off into.

I know there is a certain amount of satisfaction in doing stuff yourself, the old-fashioned way but I tell you that there was a reason all of those door-to-door salesmen used to make a good living selling vacuum cleaners, commercially made brushes, and cleaning products you didn’t have to make yourself. The value of a person’s time is priceless.

After our family laundry was finished I moved on to the gardening. I really should try to clear Wash Day of other major chores but I find myself playing catch up more often than not which is really irritating. Today I planted more corn and weeded the gardens that have already been planted. A couple of the smaller plots are drying out faster than I want; it doesn’t take long before the plants are wilting. I think I may need to build some kind of shading devices to avoid some of the worst direct sun for those plots.

We need rain again. This time of year is always on the dry side but coming off of what was basically a drought there just isn’t any cushion. I’ve noticed that a couple of the bigger trees outside of Sanctuary are stressed to the point that they aren’t putting off new leaves like they should and what leaves are still there are just dry and brown. I mentioned them to Scott and he said he has them marked for cutting. The drier they are to start with the less time it will take them to cure. My man has got some smarts, gotta love that. At least now I don’t have to worry about those trees coming down in a storm.

I really needed to have more time in the gardens but I needed to gather what fruit that hadn’t fallen … and we are getting more fallen fruit than I like because of this dry spell … and then get over to the kitchen and get going.

Fixed some poke salad tonight to go with dinner. Not everyone likes it so I didn’t make a big batch. And it’s a water intensive dish as well because you have to parboil and rinse the greens a couple of times to leech all the bitterness out. But, when you talk about complete self-sufficiency you take your sustenance where you can find it. Just wait until I start putting wild salads on the table with flowers in it … I can’t wait for the nasturtiums to bloom and I’m watching for the early dandelions.

I may not get many of those this season. People kept their yards with that “weed and feed” fertilizer so that the only thing I’m seeing right now is dollar weed and those southern thistles that look like purple dandelions.

I’m only collecting a small batch of macadamias at a time, and they aren’t very big ones either so I made macadamia cookies for dessert. They were more cookie than nut but that’s the way it goes some times.

For dinner I made Alligator Chili out of some alligator tail that Dix brought in. With water levels shrinking we’ve got some grandpappy gators trying to find new homes in the local canals. How this one made it into Sanctuary we still aren’t sure. This thing had to be every bit or eleven or twelve feet long which is a fairly good size for today’s standards. Samuel and my Sarah quoted the factoid that the record for gator length is 19 feet and that was taken back in the 1800s. I swear if it involves animals, one of those two kids will have something to say about it.

There must be a shallow, underwater access between the water that is inside Sanctuary and some of the ponds and canals outside the Wall. If there is it would like be on the southeast corner which is where Dix shot this one. The gator may have been a blessing in disguise. I’m fairly certain that zombies can’t swim but humans can. The last thing we need is an unknown backdoor into Sanctuary. At least this way we’ll be on the lookout for it. It could be an old drainage pipe, there are some around here.

Gator Chili is pretty easy to fix and I had some kidney beans that needed to be used up any way. Some weevils got into this batch in question and Betty and I just looked at each other and strained out the beans and put them to soak without telling anyone. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it to my dying day … “Waste not, want not.” Weevils are nothing but protein anyway.

You take the gator tail and dice it up. You could grind it but I really didn’t have the time to do it right today. Ground meat needs to have the right amount of fat in it and gator tail is pretty lean as far as it goes, about the texture of filet mignon. Once you have your meat diced up you just fix it like you would beef chili … kidney beans, spices, tomato sauce, etc. The chili was so thick it was more like a stew and more people than I expected ate it over the rice I had also fixed.

Normally when I’m the one cooking I try and have a bowl of fruit salad to offset anything spicy that I’m fixing or to help fill the empty spaces people might have left if they worked especially hard that day. There just isn’t a whole lot of variety of fruit right now since most of the citrus trees have been picked over. Instead I put out a bowl of tropical apricots. The fruits are only about two inches in diameter but the 15 foot bushes are producing so heavy - despite the lack of rain - that I bet I’ll get nearly a hundred pounds per bush. That won’t go too far with the crowd we have but at least its fresh fruit.

Tonight since I cooked I didn’t have to clean. What’s more, on Wash Day, the guys usually take care of the dinner dishes since the women did most of the laundry.

I was still pretty worn out despite the good sleep I got last night so Scott and I didn’t hang around the dining hall very long. We took the kids, went home, and we all sort of lay around the house doing whatever we felt like for a change.

David, Rose, and James normally hang out with the others but they made it an early night as well. They said they were talking more and more about founding that new colony over in Lettuce Lake Park. They are going to call it “Aldea” which is Spanish for village.

Scott and I have talked more about it. We’ve decided if at all possible we will remain in Sanctuary. But we can also see the sense of having Aldea. There is a lot of scope for growth over there from what Scott saw today. Glenn and some of the others have a lot of great ideas and they’ve even got some of it on paper. My one big concern is flooding. Sure, the river is very low right now, but if we have a really rainy season or a tropical storm or worse comes through and the low areas will be underwater in no time.

It isn’t surprising that there is some resistance to the new location. Heck, Scott and I feel that way. And McElroy and Rhonda as well as Jack and Patricia were quite outspoken about not wanting to move to a new location that was being built from scratch. I can understand that. I wouldn’t want to have made a regular house-to-house move if I was that pregnant; this situation is so much worse.

The big surprise for me is that Matlock wants to go over with some of our people and get started on it tomorrow. Becky apparently wants to go as well. They will of course be taking Jenny and Tommy with them. The other big shock was Cindy. She wants to go which means she will be taking “her” kids with her. She said she wants to be in on founding a potentially important post-NRS settlement. Most of the unattached young men are gung-ho to go but its hard to tell who will go and who won’t at this stage.

They still need Sanctuary as we have the open ground to plant crops and the protected pasture for the animals. Until Aldea is self-supporting we’ll continue to grow crops for them and take care of the domestic animals for them which will keep us in very close contact. They’ll trade us what they hunt and who knows what all.

If I don’t worry about it too much I can see where it is a good move. It will be an alliance and it will also give us some badly needed growing room … breathing room. Too many “alphas” in a group can be as destructive as not enough.

The biggest thing that surprised me however is that Dix wasn’t interested in moving to Aldea. I mean I was really floored when he told Scott and I that. It seems he has done nothing but move around his whole life, even when he was a kid. Sanctuary is really the first place he has truly invested himself into and he isn’t really interested in starting over someplace else. Then there is the issue of Samuel. Dix said that with Patricia needing more and more care as her pregnancy advances there is no way she could pull up stakes and move to Aldea. He doesn’t want to leave Samuel who isn’t ready to leave his mother; therefore, Dix said he will remain at Sanctuary while Matlock moves over to Aldea for “a while.”

I wonder what that means for Dix and Cindy. Are they going to be a long-distance couple or were they never really serious in the first place? Yeah, I’m nosy, but it could be meaningful in the long run.

Angus said he will lend them a hand getting Aldea up and running but that he was happy with his “man cave” and with his fire house. I suspect he’ll probably bounce around between Aldea and Sanctuary depending on how he feels. He still gets the itchy foot every once in a while and gets that “I’m about to take off” look on his face. He’s like the mountain men … always moving, looking for the next something, etc. I don’t know if he’ll ever settle in one place permanently.

Given the chance there are probably several people that would like to see how their families made out, if their families made out. I know some of them are convinced they have and I won’t contradict them. One of these days I’d like to know how my brother and nephews have done. But that is likely a far piece down the road. For now we have Aldea to think about; and more info being relayed to us through OSAG’s radio contacts.

One of the reasons that contact may have been lost along the south-west coast of Florida is that there is a huge fire that seems to be running up the spine of the state. Finally got word out of Ft. Lauderdale that something exploded in Miami and the fire took off like a bat out of hell and is eating its way northwards. The ‘Glades look like they took a miss but a big chunk of Big Cypress National Preserve looks like it got eaten by the flames.

The fire is enormous and its been tracked to the west of Lake Okeechobee and as far north as Sebring, Avon Park, Wachula and most recently flames have been sighted in Bartow and even into Plant City. Lord help us all.

Day 204 (Tuesday) February 20th

Woke up this morning to the animals acting a little skittish; can’t say as I blame them. The smell of smoke was heavy on the air. The threat of fire didn’t stop us from having work to do, just slowed us down a bit. No one is really coughing and hacking though I’ve sneezed more than my fair share. Kevin and Mr. Morris said that this is the way it was when all of those fires in north Florida were making life rough a few years back. They suggested everyone wear a dampened bandana or some other cloth over their face and that we keep the kids inside.

Before I forget I’m sticking Chris‘contribution for my journal right here. His words ring oddly apropos for the remainder of today’s entry.


I guess I should start out where it began. Well, where this whole mess began for me, at least. It was my history minor that got me down here. I was doing a road trip from Richmond to Savannah and back for my thesis on the importance of naval warfare during the Civil War. It’s a time period that’s always fascinated me, and I figured that first-hand research was the best way to go. While I was in the neighborhood, I figured I’d meet up two old friends, Scott D. and Brian, at UCF for a day or two of hanging out and catching up since they were about to head off to Basic for the National Guard, and then we’d head to UF for a conference being held on the effectiveness of the Anaconda Plan. We heard about NRS on the radio on the way there, and figured it was just some new craze, the way the bird flu had been a few years back, and didn’t think anything of it. When we got to the campus, everything changed.

It was madness. The roads were clogged with cars bumper to bumper as far as I could see, and people were running everywhere. Tents filled every open space available, and the stench of overcrowded people filled the air. I leaned my head out the window of my car and yelled something to the effect of, “What’s going on?” A girl in a Pi Phi tank top yelled back that the infections had caused people to evacuate the cities, and some of them came to the campus, thinking no one else would. That would explain all the new-looking SUVs and unloved camping gear: everything was fresh out of the package. However, I also saw quite a few people with older-looking gear, tarps, and kits that seemed well-loved. It looked like people from the less-populated areas needed to stock up on food and ammo, what little there was left, and had got stuck when the fuel ran out. The buildings that were out in the open, so to speak, were pretty badly damaged. Looting had taken its toll on the storefronts, and some of the smaller buildings looked like they had caught fire. The larger ones were fairly intact, especially the dorms, since people seemed more intent on using them for lodging and supplies, what little they could find.

We looked around and decided the best thing to do would be to find a parking spot somewhere, anywhere, and set up camp. We decided to sleep in my car in a spot next to the theater. Calling it a spot is an exaggeration; we were boxed in so tight we had to climb in and out through the windows. It managed to fit all three of us, however, and we could sleep in semi-security thanks to locked doors.

There was almost no form of order in the area after about a week. The National Guard just up and left us. Said something about orders that they couldn’t disobey. Can’t say I blame them. If I’d had the chance, I would have bounced too. Their leaving only made things worse, though. Instead of some meager semblance of order, there simply was none. More looting, more destruction, and more violence. Heard a few gunshots in the night. It wasn’t something I wanted to investigate. We just locked the doors and hoped for the best.

I guess in retrospect it’s no surprise that things went the way they did. The crowded conditions only exacerbated the rate that sicknesses spread. Add in the looting, rioting, and general disarray that had slowly enveloped the camp, and there were bound to be a few casualties. With no one policing the bodies and sterilizing them as needed, it was only a matter of time.

We woke up one morning to the sounds of panic and mayhem. Not the usual sounds of plundering and vandalism that we had grown so used to, but screams, yells and gunfire. And running. Lots of running. I looked out the window and there were people all running past my car. Around it, over it, they needed to get past. I pulled back the sunroof and poked my head out. There was a crowd (Swarm? Horde?) of NRS infected picking off the people at the rear of the mob. I looked at my friends and they had already started crawling into the trunk through the back seat. I reached down and popped the lip open and dove through the opening.

We looked around and decided that, even though the crowd was running in one direction, we should probably head in a new direction to avoid being trampled or bitten. I grabbed the breaker bar in my tool kit, and Scott grabbed the tire iron. Brian took the claw hammer from my other kit; we grabbed our bags, and clambered out the trunk into the crowd.

For those of you who have been to a good rock concert, imagine the worst mosh pit possible. Now multiply it by 1,000. It was a mess. We could only move in the direction of the crowd. It was only a few seconds before we got separated. Crowds will do that. This one was awful. People running, people screaming, panicking, and everyone out only for themselves. I knew that if I didn’t get into some sort of building, I was gonna get killed fast. I looked around and noticed that there was a large building that looked like a theater of some sort. I pushed my way perpendicular to the crowd and managed to get on the front steps. I ran up and smashed the floor-to-ceiling windows. I had no idea where to go, but I knew where I needed to go.

If you’re wondering why I went into the theater, let me explain a few things. First off, I was a theater geek in high school and college. This means I know a few things that most people would ignore in terms of these types of buildings. Such as the fact that there is a workshop located very near the primary theater. This workshop would have an armada of tools I could use to better defend myself, or maybe even build some sort of barrier. This is because most scene shops also have a very large amount of raw materials on hand. Tube steel, TIG welders and two-by-sixes are great for barriers. Failing that, I knew that there had to be a fly system in place on at least one stage. A fly system is one of the most secure places in the world, if not one of the most easily supplied. Most can only be accessed by a single ladder, which leads to a platform anywhere from 40 to 80 feet off the ground. Where the ladder passes through the floor is a grate, for safety purposes. It also makes a handy door to prevent someone/something from coming up after you. At the top of the ladder, there are also roughly anywhere from 1 to 2 tons of plates. These plates are 20 lb and 40 lb chunks of pig iron and are used to counterbalance anything put on a bar that holds the lights. This makes them easier to hoist. However, they are also handy to place on the door-grate as a means of blocking anyone from coming up or dropping on anyone below. A 40 lb piece of iron falling 65 feet will go through anything short of concrete. So in short, the perfect place for riding out a storm like this.

I ran around the empty halls, looking for something to point me in the right direction. After about 20 minutes, I saw just what I was looking for: a sign reading, “Authorized Personnel Only.” This was just what I needed. I opened the door and found myself in a narrow hallway which led, among other places, to the shop. After smashing the window in the door and letting myself in, I gaped around in astonishment. My first thought was, “If only I’d been here under better circumstances…” The place was loaded. A dedicated welding workshop, multiple miter boxes, table- and band-saws, and stacks and stacks of lumber and steel. Had I been back home, I would have been in heaven. After shaking off my astonishment, I quickly glanced around for the office and tool room.

Getting in was easier than expected. The tool room was right next to the office, and the keys were in the office itself. I keyed the lock and ran inside. Everything was immaculate and organized. I grabbed a 3-foot crowbar and a ball-peen hammer and ran out of the shop, making sure to remember how to get back just in case.

Even though the theater itself was pretty close to the shop, I got lost and somehow wound up in the costume department. I need to get Sissy back there if it hasn’t been raided or touched between then and now. She’d go nuts. Bolts of fabric going on and on, thread everywhere, and I think I saw a foot-powered sewing machine in the back somewhere. A lot more specific in nature, but I’d bet they have a sufficient amount that would make the run worthwhile. And the guys could probably use the TIG welder if we got enough power…

But I digress. I managed to find the stage and get up the ladder as fast as I could. As soon as I got to the top, I put around 400 lbs of weights on the gate and sat down on another pile. I quickly took stock of what I had with me, which was as follows:
1 Jansport backpack
3 frisbees (one light-up and two regular)
1 bottle of water (EDC)
1 granola bar (EDC)
1 breaker bar
1 ball-peen hammer
1 crowbar
1 folding knife (EDC)
1 flashlight (EDC)
Great-Grandmother’s Rosary
The Art of War by Sun Tzu (EDC)
And the obvious (shirt, shoes, glasses, etc)

In short, I had enough to ride out the stampede, but not much beyond that. Thankfully, we still had power and light, but I didn’t think those would last too long. As I sat up there, the heat must have got me because I was feeling pretty sluggish. After a few minutes, I fell asleep.

I woke up a few hours later, and my first thought was that it was pretty hot up here. Then I remembered exactly where “up here” was and what had happened. I didn’t want to go down just yet, though. I ate my granola bar and drank some water, and sat down to do some reading.

I lived like that for a few days. I only came down to find the bathroom or raid a vending machine for supplies. It seemed like no one else thought to make it inside this far, if anyone had made it inside at all. After about 3 days, the power went out. I stayed up there as long as I could, but my flashlight batteries were starting to die and I needed to leave. I packed my stuff, fumbled around with my flashlight and found my way outside.

Refuse was everywhere. There was trash, bits and pieces of the jetsam from normal life all around. It looked like a few people had been trampled beyond recognition in the panic. The crowd was gone, and at that moment I didn’t think about where they were or why. All I knew was that the area was empty and I needed to capitalize.

I looked around for any sign of humanity. Some of the buildings were burned down and smoldering while others were untouched. I went over to the first stable-looking building I saw. It was a tobacconist’s shop. I thought to myself, “Self, if there was ever a time for a cigar, this is it.” What can I say? I needed to relax and hitting the sauce at a time like this was not a good idea. The place was trashed. Cigars were broken and flattened on the floor, and the smell was overpowering. Shelves were knocked over, the register was in pieces, and there were a few bullet holes in the wall behind the counter. I looked over, but there was no body. What I did find under the counter, however, was more surprising and useful. A travel-sized humidor filled with Maduro No. 20s and a cigar box with a Colt King Cobra inside, along with a full speedloader. I knew how to reload revolvers from what my uncle taught me, so I figured it would give me an edge to be armed. I stuffed the Maduros in my bag, tucked the revolver into my belt, and put all the money I had in my wallet in the cigar box the revolver had been in.

I left the store and kept going. After a while I found my way into the dorm block of the university. Being a college student, I knew that dorms can be a wealth of supplies, if they are a little hard to find. Running around in FL in this weather reminded me why I lived farther north. I had about 7 inches of hair at the time, and it was getting matted due to the humidity, and was in the way a lot. I looked through the dorms for a pair of scissors or something similar I could use to remedy the problem. Most of the doors were locked, but the crowbar made short work of any security system in the way.

Thank God for co-ed housing. After a door-to-door search for about 20 minutes, I finally found a guy’s room with a set of battery-powered hair cutters. A quick trim in front of the mirror and I was able to see much better. It was cooler too. As in, I could actually feel my scalp in the wind.

As I finished up, I noticed some movement in the mirror out of the corner of my eye. Spinning around, I pulled the Colt from my waist and pointed it at the door. Standing there was a girl who looked a couple years older than me. The shotgun she had, however, looked a little older. We didn’t say anything at first and kind of stared each other down. Finally, she lowered her gun and sighed, asking me what I was doing there. I just looked at her and stated the obvious, “I’m cutting my hair, what are you doing here?” She told me she was scrounging for supplies for her group. I asked what she meant by her “group,” and she told me that there was a group of people living in a building a few blocks over. They didn’t have many supplies, but figured they could take another person in. I replaced my revolver and told her I’d take her up on her offer.

As we left the building, she introduced herself as Ashley, and I asked her what had happened. From what she told me, it seemed that the crowd had been surrounded by the infected. The ones that chased the crowd were separate from a larger group that had met up with the crowd a few miles down the road. Casualties had been heavy, with no survivors from the main group. All the people that had lived had hidden in buildings, similar to what I had done. Now they were grouping together and trying to find supplies. There weren’t many left, so those who had lived were coming together in one (relatively) large group. Safety in numbers and all that. Obviously, the area wasn’t cleared, and there were still infected roaming around, so we had to be careful. We got within sight of the building that she had described as the area we were going to when we heard some shuffling.

We looked around and there were a few of them coming out of the alley to our right, with a few more to our left across a lawn, making about a dozen total. I pulled my pistol as Ashley unshouldered her shotgun. I sighted the lead one coming from the field and pulled the trigger. I wasn’t used to the recoil, and my shot went wild. I readjusted and shot again. A torso shot. I took a deep breath, exhaled, held, aimed and squeezed, and the zombie crumpled. Headshot. I relaxed a little and managed to score two more headshots and empty my pistol with the missed rounds.

As I was loading my gun, I heard a series of shots ring out from all directions. Apparently the group had positioned security around the perimeter; those who could be spared or move were on guard detail or gathering supplies. After introductions were made, I proceeded to live with the group for a while. We had a small stockpile in addition to what we could find in the buildings, and we managed to make a decent camp, even though the zombies in the area were getting thicker and thicker. In just a few short weeks, they had gone from a minor inconvenience to a major threat. Soon, the crowd was surrounding our building and wouldn’t leave. Teams on scavenging runs would come back with less people than when they left, or not at all. Then people started talking about how we should evac out. They didn’t have a plan, but they didn’t want to stay. I tried to tell them to wait it out, that help would come eventually, that all we had to do was stay inside. They wouldn’t listen, and anyone who would have wanted to stay was either already dead or too nervous to speak up.

At the time, we thought that maybe the zombies were like us, and had poor eyesight at night or dusk. I decided that if I couldn’t convince them, I would help them however I could. I grabbed the biggest nighttime distraction I could, my light-up disc, and winged it out the window as they left, and started firing with one of the rifles they had left me with. I managed to distract some of them with the Frisbee, and take out a few more from the window. It was no use. They barely made it outside the parking lot before the horde got them.

I managed to keep myself fed and barricaded in the building while the horde stayed outside. I pretty much ate, smoked the Maduros and waited. While I was in the building I used all my ammo to take out the ones I could. When I first saw the convoy from Sanctuary cruising through, I thought I was hallucinating. Then I saw the flyer, and I knew that if I was gonna live, I had to go there. The rest, as they say, is history.


You’ll see why I included his entry where I did later. It’s a hard story for me to read. Chris isn’t much older than Rose and just a little younger than David. I keep imagining Rose off at college when something like this went down. I keep wondering what Scott and I would have done, how we would have felt, would we have tried to get to her or been forced to remain where we were for the sake of the other children. I keep wondering how many other parents had to go through that, not just wonder about going through that. Turn of the screw. Ratchet up the nightmares just a little. Push just that much closer to PTSD.

But the day didn’t start out too badly … except for the fact that keeping the kids inside didn’t work and wound up being more of a nerve-grinding hassle than anything. When we decided to just go ahead and let them out I threatened them with no dinner if I caught any of them without their mask over their mouth and nose. After a couple of them tried to see if I was serious I got tougher. I told them if one of them in a group didn’t keep their mask on then the whole group would suffer. I know that was kind of mean but hurray for peer pressure. Every time one of them forgot, one of the others would poke them or in some way make them put it back on.

The smoke we are suffering with isn’t visible except as a haze on the horizon; but it’s there. On everyone’s face covering you can see where their mouth was. It looks like we’ve been smoking through the cloth. The Big Fire was worse but if this stuff gets any thicker than it already is we are going to be in trouble. We’ve already had to change to flame-power for the Cooler lens. The hazy sky just doesn’t have enough oomph. We’ve also had to institute water restrictions.

Scott went out to check the water barrels only to find that half of them were empty and the ones that weren’t empty were only half full. Same for the “water towers” that we had built by the larger gardens. I should have known that once we hooked up the well to a power source we’d all forget to be as careful as we needed to be. It’s like the wood pile; there always seems to be enough … until it all runs out. And we had switched much of our efforts into expansion rather than securing what we already had. I guess we thought there would always be time to catch up.

Scott organized the tweens into harvesting water from the pools, which were also over half empty, and making sure that the covers on the containers that did hold water were firmly in place. We’ve probably lost more than we should have from evaporation alone. He and David turned the pump on and started filling all the barrels and water containers we have. The problem arose when the batteries ran out before the solar array could recharge them. Strike two for the haze; first the cooler and now the well.

The third strike was when we couldn’t get all the various rechargeable solar items to recharge all the way … flashlights, batteries, lamps, car battery charger, etc. Even if we don’t see any flames from this fire we’re going to have a heck of a problem from the smoke and haze.

Thank goodness for backups, and for backups for our backups. The pedal powered battery rechargers that David built way back when area Godsend as is the fact that in addition to the solar charged items, each household has at least two wind up lights and a wind up radio or some combination thereof.

The only good thing I can say is that we had finished up the shallow, water-drilled well in our backyard a couple of weeks ago. It operates on a simple hand pump but I don’t consider the water potable. It has to be thoroughly treated before its even used for washing hands. The little lean-to they build for the pump will come in handy as well if we start having ash fall.

The well wasn’t all that hard to do because the water table in this area is so high. It’s very hard water and smells strongly of sulfur but when you’ve got to have water and have no other potable source to pull from iron and sulfur are negligible issues. A little chlorine and aeration help some with the sulfur and running it through a water filter takes the worst edge off the iron.

It had to be dug close to our existing well because the further away you go from the well the lower the water pressure and given how a jetted well is dug you need all of the pressure you can get. Scott magnified the water pressure a bit with a high pressure water nozzle set on the tightest jet he could adjust to.

We started off thinking that we’d just create a driven well but that was a lot of work and the sand, while easy to drive through, also made it more difficult in some respects. Once Scott, David, and James had pounded the first pipe into the ground – Scott called the pipe a casing I think – they decided to switch to the water jetted method of drilling the well. They attached a type of drill bit looking tip on the end of a piece of pipe. They attached the hose to this pipe. When the water was turned on it looked a little bit like a fireman’s highspeed stream. They put the pipe with the water bit attached to it down into the casing and basically it washed the sand out of the way.

It made a horrible mess. Scott was irritated because he was having to do this by the seat of his pants and from instructions we’d handwritten off a forum board years ago. Finally through trial and error we were able to get a stable, clear stream of water at about 40 feet I think he said. Like I said, its not sweet water … but its water that will come up through the hand pump which requires no electricity to operate, just sweat of the brow. And if for the hand pump ever blows out and Scott can’t figure out how to fix it, the well is shallow enough that we could use a narrow well-bucket to pull water up.

We added a tarp to the other side of the lean-to to make sure that the ash doesn’t blow in and contaminate the hand pump. Glory only knows what is in that ash; I try not and think about that too much.

I think … think … most of the plants I have in the ground right now won’t be hurt by a small ash fall. If it is hot ash or it’s a heavy ash then we could be in trouble. I couldn’t do a whole lot about the corn, it covers to much area, but I ask for and got helpers to cover what we could with the floating fabric.

Angus came back to Sanctuary just in time for lunch, with two deer and three wild pigs for our larder. He also came with news that everything was going great at Aldea. There were some steel storage containers at Telecom Park … right across from the Lettuce Lake Park entrance … and they had decided to go ahead and start bringing them over to the new compound. They also lucked out and there was plenty of furniture that was in reasonable condition in those offices and they took what they wanted and stored it in a couple of the containers. A couple of OSAG members had apparently spotted them and come to investigate what was up. Well, OSAG helped move some of the containers in the morning and Angus said that our group was going to help OSAG move a couple of containers over to their compound in the afternoon.

At lunch I could tell Angus was a bit preoccupied. I knew for sure that something was up when Angus told the kids he couldn’t play but asked them to do him a favor and go on to do their chores so he could talk to the adults.

After the kids had reluctantly left the only ones left were adults and older teens. After he was sure the kids had left he looked at Dix and said, “I know you’re gonna think I’ve been at the hooch, but I ain’t.”

After shaking his head a bit to clear it he continued. “Something is up. The animals are acting off.”

Mr. Morris nodded and said, “It’s the fire. We saw it before.”

“Yeah, that’s part of it. But we got animals coming from two different directions and the only thing they want to do is get away. Some are coming basically out of the east, same direction as the fire. But some are coming out of the south, too far west of where we know the fire to be.”

Dix gave it some thought and then said, “OK. If that’s true we might have two fires or a two pronged fire. But neither one of those would make you say we’d think you’d been drinking.”

I really thought for a second that Angus wasn’t going to say anything. He looked like he was fighting a losing battle with himself. “Off in the direction of where we’ve had positive ID for the fire I heard … I heard a … “

When Angus abruptly stop talking James asked, “You heard a what Uncle Angus?”

“I heard a damn roar!”

None of us knew what to make of Angus. He can be a practical joker but this time he wasn’t fooling, we all could tell it. And you could tell he hadn’t been drinking either.

It was Jack that asked, “Could you describe what it sounded like?”

“I told you it was a damn roar.”

“OK, it was a roar but give me something more to work with. Was it a low roar, a high roar, what was the duration, was it the same sound the whole time or was there variations to it?”

Angus looked at him, suspicious that he was being made fun of. “It was low, a … a rumble. It was the same sound but it just sort of started and then faded off.”

Jack looked very thoughtful and looked over at Dix who I think was beginning to have his own ideas. “Like something … whatever it was … was moving across the sky? Could you tell its general direction?”

“Aw hell, maybe … maybe … kinda north to south or maybe more northwest to southeast.”

That’s when Dix went, “Shit! Damnit!!!”

I wanted to go “excuse the heck out of me but there are ladies present” but a quick look at Scott’s serious face said he’d caught it too … whatever “it” was.

Jack is the one that continued on, “When … when I was married … you know, the first time … we didn’t have a pot to pee in. Between one thing and another we never were able to afford to buy our own house. We rented, and in some pretty awful neighborhoods. And when our son came along … “ Then he sighed and said, “Some of the cheapest places to rent are in the noisiest neighborhoods where no one else wants to live. Anyway, one of the few things that helped when our son was having a bad day was to take him outside. He loved to watch the birds. More than birds though he loved to watch the planes. Sometimes we would even pick houses that were right under flight paths for this very reason. Before he lost the ability to speak altogether he used to play like the planes were dragons and he was a knight. He’d say … listen to ‘em roar Daddy … listen to ‘em roar!”

Jack was too choked up to continue so while Patricia put her arm around him Scott asked, “Angus, you think that roaring … could it have been a plane? Been so long since I heard one … “

Angus said, “Yeah, yeah it could have been. I’m not sure though. I didn’t see anything. Didn’t sound like a regular plane … it was a roar, not a buzz.”

Dix said, “I would have been surprised if you had seen anything. Especially if it was flying high and fast … above the haze and maybe carrying something to offload. I don’t suppose you could tell whether it was a jet or something bigger like a bomber?”

“Hell Dix, don’t ask me. It could have been either or neither. I know I heard something and that’s all I can say for sure.”

One more thing to think about. One more uncomfortable thing to think about.

It was late when the folks that had gone to lay the ground work for Aldea returned. They were in a good mood though tired. From the sound of it they got a lot accomplished since they didn’t have to worry about very many pre-existing structures or impeding traffic patterns.

I was on dinner duty again – luck of the draw – and opted to have one of those “a can of everything” stews with some of the fresh venison that Angus had brought in. Mr. Morris and Kevin … with plenty of help from Samuel and a few other folks … butchered the other carcasses and put them in the Cooler. I’ll need to process the venison tomorrow. Reba said she is going to make sausage out of the piggies, or at least out of the parts leftover after the hams and shoulders are brined before they get smoked.

I had just started to relax when Dix let out his steam whistle blast. That sent a lot of us running for the Wall with our rifles. By the time I huffed and puffed my way to the top of the closest stairs everyone else was silent and in shock. I pushed passed the folks that have never known what it was like to be short and then just stood there like the rest of them.

You should have seen it. It looked like Noah had let the doors open and all the animals were heading out and away at the fastest clip they could go. The only fights that broke out was when an animal slowed down or got in the way of the one behind it, then the only energy they had to spare was for a snarl or a snap to get ‘em moving again. It was eerie; just like what happened before the Big Fire … and before the Big Horde. Thoughts of the Big Horde had me running down the stairs and to the nearest bush. I threw up everything I’d eaten at dinner.

It still sometimes catches me like that. I’ll be walking along and then I’m back up in the attic with Johnnie and Bubby. The smell, the claustrophobia … the terror. Scott came down and wiped my face with a damp handkerchief. He knows. He’s held me often enough when the terrors come in the middle of the night.

There wasn’t a whole lot of need to talk. Whether it’s a fire or a horde, whatever is coming is big enough and bad enough to spook all the animals in its wake. We’ve got extra guards on the Wall. Everyone is staying close to home tomorrow and we are going to prepare for what we can.

The men brought a lot of animals down, but there was no joy in it. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The worst was that it never stopped the parade. None of the animals stopped to feed on their fallen comrades. They all just kept moving, predator and prey alike … moving north at a steady and unceasing pace … moving away … as far away as they could get.

Day 205 or 206 (Wednesday/Thursday) – hard to tell which in the dark

Things are starting to run together. It’s deep into the night, so it’s either the night of day 205 or the early morning of day 206.

Yesterday … or Tuesday … was just the start of it. While the men were hunting and putting extra food in the pantry Dix and Matlock when to the radio shack to talk to OSAG and hear if anyone else was experiencing what was going on. No sooner had Dix powered up the radio than everyone could hear Steve’s group broadcasting incoming reports from survivor groups all over the eastern part of Tampa Bay about peculiar acting animals.

At first it appeared that the fire was ringing the whole Bay area. Animals from all over were heading north any way they could get there. Some small groups were heading to the shore with anything that would float in case they needed to escape with flames or NRS infected corpses. The animals were funneling up out of the south along US41 and US301 as well as out of the east along SR60. The animals out of the east could be explained by the fires that appeared to be heading north, roughly tracking between US98 and SR37 between Plant City and Lakeland. A wind change has the fire widening its corridor and heading NNW into Brandon which is terrible news.

There are lots of little survivor groups throughout that region according to Charlene. Few are as big as Sanctuary or OSAG unless they were raiders or wagon trains heading north trying to get out of the state; but had you pooled them all together she said you could have easily have three or four hundred people. I never would have guessed. These days people hide and keep to themselves as much as possible. I suppose it makes them feel safer but now, who knows what will happen to those people. Where will they go? There is no way of telling right now if they’ve even escaped the fire.

About three o’clock in the morning most of the animal traffic petered out. It became eerily quiet. Even the crickets and frogs seemed to have gone to ground, or tree, or where ever it is those critters go for safety. No one was really sleeping very hard. The night was cool without being cold and the bugs weren’t too bad. People pretty much sprawled where they could find a flat piece up off the ground.

Cease brought Melody and the kids over and asked if it was alright if they stayed with us until they figured out what was going on. He had to be on guard duty until further notice and he didn’t to leave Melody and the kids alone. I said sure, the more the merrier. Then McElroy shows up with Rhonda and Jack shows up with Patricia and Samuel. I was waiting for Nick to bring Terra over when Rilla ran over and asked if Rose and Melody would please get to the clinic because Terra’s water had broken and she was beginning to get uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable … I asked Rilla if she had thrown anything at Ski yet and got one of the few smiles I’ve seen since. She said, “Not yet but it was a near thing when she heard him grumbling about handing out corks to Rhonda and Patricia.” I have hopes that Ski will actually live to a ripe old age … not high hopes if he doesn’t learn to curb his tongue … but hopefully Rilla will teach him that if he is going to talk like that that it isn’t advisable to do it when there are potential missiles lying around for his patients to use.

I dozed a bit off and on but woke up for good when Bekah came and got me because Sarah and Sis were coughing in their sleep. Once I was awake I noticed the smell. I went around closing windows that we could stand to have closed and for those that we needed for ventilation I hung damp clothes over the openings. It wasn’t a perfect solution but it helped some.

It was close enough to 5 AM that it was time for me to be up anyway. I stepped outside to the obvious smell of heavy smoke. James was coming my way and when I asked him how close the fire was he said that it was still several miles to the east of I75, it’s just that it is, by all reports, a huge fire. The wind had died down so the smoke was settling everywhere. I then asked him if anyone had started breakfast. Never ask a teenage boy about food … they always seem to be hungry.

I popped my head in at the clinic and Rose told me that Terra was doing fine. Her contractions were still very irregular, they’d get to be every five or six minutes apart and then she’d go ten to twelve minutes between contractions. This is Terra’s first baby so her body will take longer to find the rhythm of labor. I don’t know for sure why the more children you have the shorter your labor seems to get but I guess its something along the lines of “practice makes perfect.” Unless you are like me and need medical intervention for pregnancies. Terra had a unique confidence about her though. After assuring myself that Terra was fine Rose grabbed my arm and said, “Mom, Terra’s fine, but do you have anything that isn’t a narcotic for Ski and Nick? Um … they aren’t doing too well.”

I tried not to grin. I could understand Nick’s nerves; he was about to become a father. Waleski on the other hand was a pure hoot. I caught a glimpse of him in the former kitchen turned pharmacy. He was white as a ghost. Rilla was grinning at him and he was rolling his eyes and trying hard not to show his bride just how shaky he was. When I overheard her say, “Ski, if you are this bad now, what are you going to be like when I get pregnant?” and then watched the green slowly climb up poor Ski’s face all I could do was sputter “Chamomile” and exit the scene before I started laughing outright.

Looking back it brings a smile to my face … unlike the rest of the day.

I never found out who was supposed to have been on meal duty today. I’m not even sure that a new caper chart had been made. But I had enough people from my family that needed to be fed that I just decided to make a great big batch of whatever came to hand. Samuel, who was already scrounging for a morning meal, I sent over to the smoke house to bring one of the hams we had hanging in there. My kids had all tumbled out of the bed at James’ insistence and were standing around looking at me so I set them to work. After I had opened a couple of #10 cans of potatoes and drained them, I had Bekah use the liquid to stir up several batches of biscuits. I checked to make sure the coffee drinkers hadn’t used up all the wood in the woodbox overnight. There was just enough to get the oven warm again. While Bekah and the littles rolled biscuit dough out and cut it into shapes I had my Sarah and Samuel slice up the ham.

Reba, who had obviously spent a sleepless night, brought me the morning’s egg collection and Claire wasn’t far behind with two huge pitchers of ice cold milk. After Johnnie’s pleading I even whipped up a bit of cheese sauce (using powdered cheese). And I used the drippings from the fried ham to make red eye gravy. I also made a pretty good sized batch of grits using some of the butter that had set up overnight in the Cooler.

Biscuits, scrambled eggs, fried ham, grits and home fries. I was glad I had made something that would really stick to everyone’s ribs. I just wish everyone had been able to enjoy it more. Nerves were taught as drum skins and hardly anyone talked as they shoveled mouthful after mouthful so that they could get back to whatever they were doing.

I had the kids do all the breakfast clean up and I headed over to the garden. So far so good, and despite what went on later in the day I still think the garden will be OK. Even the larger fields of corn I’ve planted.

It was mid-morning when Steve put out the first broadcast that said he was losing contact with a lot of his callers and asking if anyone knew what was going on. Everyone to the south was dropping from the airwaves. Then just as I was about to serve up a lunch of rice and beans OSAG received their first panicked call about a horde. The call didn’t even last 15 seconds.

Then there was another, this one longer, saying that smoke was heavy, that they were coming out of the smoke … then a few shots could be heard in the background and the sound of something breaking and then that call too was lost.

Years ago Scott and I had made the mistake of watching the movie “The Fog” after a late dinner of deep dish pizza. The movie wasn’t all that great; it was a remake and while the special effects were definitely an improvement over the original the story had lost some of its zing. Yeah … indigestion induced nightmares but the zing right back into the story. For obvious reasons the broadcast brought up the nearly week-long series of nightmares I suffered. I quickly looked to the sky and while everything was definitely gray and hazy … no smog was rolling across the land.

We all went into action. The large vehicles that we normally leave parked outside of the Wall were laboriously brought inside; a true challenge because it meant moving some of our road security around. Every large container that wasn’t in use was filed to the top with water and transferred to locations around the inside of the compound in case we had to put out spot fires. We made doubly sure that we had enough potable drinking water for the whole compound that would last for at least a week. Angus borrowed James and Samuel and ran up to the firehouse quickly and brought back all of his goodies from there. He also brought Juicer through the front gate. I’m glad we left enough clearance to allow the higher profile vehicles to come in.

The women and I baked bread, crackers, and nutritionally dense snack bars all afternoon and divided them up between our various fall back locations inside of easy to carry tubs. Most of what was baked was put into our house which remains the fall back position of last resort. I had the girls fix hundreds of flour tortillas and I stacked them in meal sized amounts and put them in the cooler. We fixed Trapper’s bread that is heavy and full of dried fruit. We fixed Pony Express Bread that is dense and will last a long time, not to mention that it travels well. I also fixed Logan bread; another dense bread that is heavily spiced and sweetened with applesauce, honey, and molasses.

While the oven was in use we made fried pies using cast iron skillets and canned pie fillings. Over a fire I hung a cauldron of stew that wound up being dinner served over one of the largest batches of ramen noodles I think I’ve ever made. I took the leftover beans from lunch and made bean bread that is cooked by dropping dumplings sized balls of the dough into boiling water. Saen showed the younger girls how to make this coconut candy that was outrageously good. She also had them made some tamarind candy. Scott almost ate too much of that last one; he loves tamarindo drink and the tamarind candy was very similar in taste.

I bagged up all of the jerky that had finished drying and sealed it in airtight bags and put it with the breads in each location. Then I started on dried drink mixes and instant teas making sure that each location also had water, fuel, and mugs that could be used to make coffee, tea, or whatever form you wanted to take your caffeine in.

I set up three propane burners and, against common sense perhaps, got all three of my larger pressure canners going so that we weren’t totally dependent on the cooler remaining viable to preserve all the meat the men had brought down during Noah’s Parade.

Amazingly enough I didn’t have a bit of trouble with the kids. They saw what was going on and helped. The only one that wasn’t around was Laura. She had become so agitated upon hearing that a large horde might be on its way that Dante’ and Tina had pleaded with Waleski to give her a sedative, which he did, though reluctantly.

Right as Laura was falling asleep in the back room of the clinic, a cry was heard in the room that had been set up as the birthing center. Terra and Nick are now the proud parents of a little boy they’ve named Kai. He’s good sized all things considered, right around 7 lbs. 14 oz. and 21” long. Mother and babe are doing fine though both have slept off and on for the remainder of the day. Nick, as exhausted as he was, helped Waleski and the girls secure the clinic as much as possible. The clinic is the second most defensible building in Sanctuary as Scott long ago made sure that it had its own set of security shutters and reinforced, metal doors and door frames. For his part, Ski directed the girls to make up first aid kits that were put with the tubs of food at each location and added a surgical kit to the one at our house.

I think Waleski would have preferred if Rilla and Ty were also at our house but she was insistent on staying with her family who had all piled into Kevin and Betty’s place for the duration. The Morris family are no slackers and they had already installed their own fortifications and had them up and in place. That left Scott and David more time to help everyone else. That is, after they had put the heavy duty metal sheeting over all the entrances of our food storehouse.

There are two places that our community could be seriously hurt if they get hit; the food storehouse and the smokehouse. The Cooler is lovely but if we made one, we can make another and I’ve processed nearly everything that can be processed out of there. The only thing that remain in there are jugs of drinks I have cooling, the fresh sausage that we don’t have room to smoke just yet, and some of the breads. What I didn’t can was put into the smokehouse by Mr. Morris.

I was leaning against a tree, catching my breath before heading on to the next task when a call went up from a guard in the southwest tower. I was convinced that the horde or the fire, but that wasn't it at all. Frankly though, I'm not sure it’s any better.

They make me feel defensive, like we need to somehow justify all that we’ve had to do to survive. I don’t know if they are just programmed to be that self-righteous or if they are just that naive. We are survivors and we’ve done our best to better the world we live in not make it worse. Where do they get off looking down their nose at us? Especially her.

When the signal came down from the tower the adrenaline rush was incredible. I looked around and started gathering my chicks and everyone else’s as well and starting sending to their nests. Then I saw some of the men run to the front gate house. I took a deep breath and thought “refugees.”

This would be the first test of our new gatehouse system. The first real test I mean. There couldn’t have been many of them. I heard the sound of a small engine, I thought truck engine at the time. Then the men at the top of the gatehouse opened the exterior gates with the pulley and slide mechanism that Scott had managed to come up with. Then the exterior gate was shut.

All here in the compound were silent, straining to hear what was going on. Even with everything so quiet it was still hard to catch what Matlock and Dix were saying to the people below the murder holes in the gate house. I caught a few swear words from Dix and Matlock, from my oddly angled observation point, looked right hacked off. Their reaction confused me a bit. It must have been a big enough deal for them to allow them through the exterior gates … traders or peddlers wouldn’t have made it that far. But something was up if they didn’t allow them in any further. Then the sound of a shot ringing out, echoing in the confining space between the inner and outer gate, jacked up everyone’s pucker factor. Another 15 minutes passed before Dix and Matlock came down and stood at the ready while the main interior gates were unlocked and slid open.

Out walked six black-clad figures with their hands clasped above their head. From the sidelines I could just see a seventh figure, also in black, on the ground beside a … well, at the time it looked to me like a black humvee with a camper type of thing on the back. I’ve since found out it is the NRSC version of a humvee communication vehicle.

I hoped they were roasting in those black uniforms. I know it was rather ungallant of me but I couldn’t help but snicker a bit at the large sweat stains they all had under their arms and across their backs. It’s not that I hold a personal grudge against individual members of the NRSC but it’s awful hard to forget how they treated us back in August and how they basically cut Florida off from the rest of the country. My rational side says that had I been in their shoes I may very well have done the same thing but I keep imagining I would have found some way to lighten the burden of the people who were left behind. Supply drops, civilian evacuation points, something.

After the four men and two women were searched, their vehicle was searched and then driven into the compound so that the gate could be re-secured. Samuel ran by and straight to the clinic; within moments Waleski had come out with his kit. He looked pale which I at first attributed to helping Terra and dealing with Laura. He shut the clinic door but instead of heading straight for the NRSC folks he looked around and then came over to me. His mouth was set in a tight line and it took clearing his throat twice before he could get anything out.

He asked if I would lend him a hand with the NRSC. He’d set the girls and Rilla some tasks in the clinic so they could be close at hand for Terra and Tina who was watching a very groggy Laura. I said I’d do what I could, of course. What he said next puzzled me, “It’s like some damn sappy movie.”

Well, it puzzled me until I got close enough to really make out the faces of our new “guests.” Holy crap!

Talk about a blast from the past. Junie. Now I understand Waleski’s reference to sappy movies. Lover leaves, probably never to be heard from again under less than desirable conditions. Lover left behind eventually gets their life back together, gets over their heartbreak, falls in love again, and starts new life. Right after some commitment or other big deal, old lover returns. Talk about cliché.

But the look on Junie’s face didn’t leave me the feeling that she was happy to see us. As a matter of fact as I helped Waleski treat the relatively minor injuries that every member of that patrol had suffered, I listened to Matlock and Dix question her and the rest of that group. Junie’s answers left me in no doubt that returning to Sanctuary was the last thing she wanted to do and in fact only did so due to the extreme threat to her own life. You know, I’m not fond of swearing but particular word springs to mind … Bitch!

And you, dear reader, can have no way of understanding … not in your future and hopefully secure lives … understand how we felt upon hearing what was going on. We were on the inside, doing our best to survive day to day. They were observing from the outside, like scientists studying a particularly virulent bug.

First, the NRSC basically runs everything these days. Well, I suspect not everything or they wouldn’t have to bring to brook so much rough stuff. Free people, free to choose, will generally prove to abide by law and order that is just and reasonably fair. People who feel unjustly constrained will act out with greater and greater force. That’s the state that our country currently exists in; strict martial law enacted by an appointed rather than elected body, supported by a quasi-governmental agency from whom the supposedly “fairly appointed” new leaders came from. A snake eating its tail.

The NRSC controls the government now rather than the other way around. The NRSC troops provide protection for government officials and lead the “national planning” exercises. The regular US military and the remaining National Guard troops are the cannon fodder.

There are breakaway factions of the government as well as the US Military but our NRSC group didn’t seem to take them very seriously. As a matter of fact they were quite scornful of them, calling them no better than some of the “survivor groups” mucking around in the quarantine zones.

While talking to these blowhards I frequently got the sensation of biting on tinfoil or fingernails across a blackboard. Their indoctrination to their employer was complete. I hated how easy it was to compare them in my mind to the SS of World War II. Another cliché perhaps, but this one all too real for us. And the black uniforms certainly didn’t help.

I asked Junie how her shoulder was and she got a closed look on her face. She finally responded that she had been cut from the military personnel rosters. Then added, out of self-defense or perhaps spite, that she went into communications with the NRSC because she’d had no choice but that their doctor’s told her despite the “poor care” she received after the initial injury they would be able to fix most of the damage after she had earned enough credits to qualify for the procedure.

Apparently “earning credits” is what had her back in Florida. You got extra points for serving in the quarantine zones; sort of a hazardous duty bonus. Her prior experience in Florida earned her a higher rank in the communication patrol she was in.

But enough of this personal touchy-feely stuff, what I want to write about is how the fire, the horde, and these nuckleheads are all connected.

See it all started out innocently enough. The NRSC … or at least its personnel … isn’t all bad. I may not like their tactics but I’m sure most of them, at least at the lower rungs of their organization, really believe they are working towards the greater good against a monstrous enemy of the human species. Supposedly they were trying to find ways to knock the number of infected corpses down to a more manageable level until a “cure” or preventative could be found.

The only known, 100% positive “cure” is destruction of the infected brain. Enter middle-management thinking. Individual destruction of each corpse would be a very labor and resource intensive program. It would not be “cost effective.” Insurance costs would be hell as well so go back to the drawing board and find us a better plan.

Next came the realization by the NRSC’s research branch that individual infected corpses were easy to dispose of. While they were dangerous in a confrontation they were still easy to sanitize for a prepared opponent. Problems begin to arise when you get a higher infected population. It’s like fighting a battle on too many fronts. It’s not that the individual infecteds are any more dangerous, it’s that they can quickly overrun existing defenses.

But then to their horror … and this has apparently been kept from the general public … at some point when enough infected get together you get a “school of fish” effect. There doesn’t appear to be any true intelligence to it nor does the behavior appear to be linked to any mutation of the original NRS virus. The point … as yet unquantifiable using current research data … has more to do with group make up than number of zombies. It takes quite a few plain ‘ol zombies to create a “school” of zombies; what we would call shambler groups. However, if you add in a runner, climber, or other “non-standard” zombie you lower the number of infecteds needed to get the “school” effect.

Even worse was the discovery that if you get a large enough “school” of zombies they appear to develop a “hive mentality.” Again, there is no true intelligence, no change in the NRS virus itself but somehow the way the zombies interact within the group and with the environment they are in changes. What the NRSC calls a “hive” we call a large horde. The smaller hordes correspond to what they call “schools of infected.”

Having that information is good but some Einstein thought they could use it to bring the zombies together to make it more “cost effective” and give them a more constructive opportunity to destroy large numbers of infected corpses with a single mission or program. Their test case was the island that Newport, RI sits on. Using simple techniques they “herded” the zombies to one end of the island where they were sanitized en mass.

Their next two experiments involved the island of the Dominican Republic/Haiti and on Cuba. In the DR/Haiti case they ran into problems with the mountains that separate the two countries that share the same small island. In Cuba they gained more experience in turning large groups of zombies, guiding them in the direction they wanted them to go. That mission involved herding a hive of infecteds from one end of the island to the other and then back again; doing this several times to gain more data on hive movement. They were marginally successful on both of these missions and learned that rather than wasting bombs and ammunition that they could just use … you guessed it, fire.

Florida is their first attempt at herding truly large numbers of zombies to a central sanitization area. It sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic water ways setting it apart from the rest of the USA. The NRSC found that submersion in water increases the rate of decay to near normal of NRS infected corpses. This is significant because once the soft tissues decay water will quickly enter the skull and destroy the NRS receptors, incapacitating the infected long enough for decay to destroy the brain. Florida is surrounded by water on three sides so there is no worry that a zombie will swim (or walk) across the sediment floor to come out on another shore and start attacking there. The state line where Florida is attached received a huge build up of troops to keep any infecteds from escaping that way.

They started by herding small numbers of zombies out of the Miami area. The one factor that the planners of this fiasco failed to take into account was the drought this state has been suffering through off and on for several years now and that they decided to start this mission during one of the driest times of year. And, unlike in their other three test programs, Florida has a large area given over to development. The small fires in Miami quickly got out of control; from reports it did not even take a single day before they had raging, wind-driven infernos using all of the decaying flotsam of the cities in its path to fuel itself into a monster every bit as deadly as the hive the NRSC had created by artificially pushing large numbers of zombies together.

Once started, no one wanted to stop. It was all or nothing. They won big or they failed miserably; there was no “start over and come back another day” because some much was riding on the results of this mission. The NRSC needed this win to prove to the people of the Central Zone that they knew what they were doing and were capable of returning them to their former lives.

The idea was to bring the zombies to the Tampa Bay area and destroy them all here, by bombing and by driving them into the Bay. Foot soldiers would pick off the stragglers that got away.

The problem is that the fire became so smoky that it prevented the NRSC reconnaissance from being able to fully monitor the hive’s progress. The hive overshot the planned turning point designated by the NRSC and the fire prevented the NRSC from adjusting their plans quickly enough. Junie’s patrol group was cut off from their pick up point by the fire. Then they ran into the forerunners of the hive and then into survivors who were less than happy to see the NRSC; feeling abandoned those that were supposed to have protected them.

They got separated from the other vehicle in their patrol. They were down one man and another began showing signs of infection … whether by NRS or something else they didn’t determine for sure until they reached Sanctuary.

Dix wanted to know if she had revealed Sanctuary’s location and when. Junie rolled her eyes in complete disrespect to her former commanding officer and told him that Sanctuary’s location had been known all along. Drone planes have been used to map survivor compounds and encampments. The NRSC has also been monitoring all radio frequencies. That was a bit of a blow to some people but really, what did we expect?

We’ve corralled the NRSC people into one of the vacant houses, not that there are all that many that are habitable. It’s not real comfy but it should keep them safe for the time being … the question is safe from whom? The zombies or survivors that are feeling a tad on the vindictive side?

I don’t know how to feel about them. They are little more than hamsters in a wheel, firmly caged, looking busy for their organization … but they aren’t really going anywhere. They are just keeping busy; not producing anything. They are survivors in a way as well. Luck of the draw that they weren’t in a quarantine zone when things went crazy. Why should I hold it against them just because they landed in a free zone and I landed in a quarantined zone? How would I feel if our positions were reversed?

On the other hand they are supporting what appears to be a corrupt and dictatorial regime operating under the guise of martial law for the safety of all. They are just following orders, but they know the potential consequences of those orders. Who knows how many the fire has already killed? Who knows how many have been killed by this artificially created super hive that would have otherwise survived under “normal” zombie conditions?

I haven’t really had too much time to ruminate on those points. About thirty minutes have we had locked them in the building and made sure they didn’t have anything capable of removing the cast iron security bars from the windows and doors, the smoke began to get significantly heavier.

Reports being forwarded to OSAG and broadcast for general consumption of the public said the fire was still several miles east of I75. A survivor caravan passing the intersection of Knights Griffin Rd and SR39 reported being able to see a glow to the north east but hoped that they’d be able to outrun it going straight north.

Scott’s concern was that the “glow” was NE and not just east; that could mean that the fire was turning westward. That’s not to be unexpected because there is a windy corridor that runs along SR54; the same east – west travel way that can be followed all the way out to the west coast of Florida. That’s where our crew first encountered some of the pirates that later made the Raid on Sanctuary. That seems so long ago but it was only about seven weeks. So much has happened since then that it is hard to believe.

One of the equipment pieces that we’d been collecting as we found them was N100 respirators and other things that help take the edge off of dealing with sanitized corpses. We handed them out to all of the Wall guards as well as to any other adults that had to be outside. Those that didn’t have to be outside were instructed to remain indoors and to prepare as best they could for several different scenarios.

Of most immediate concern is a large “hive” or super horde. That requires a bug-in and basically we will be under siege for the duration of such an event. The next major event would be a fire. If its like the Big Fire we will get through it with just a little crispiness around the edges. We’ll have to have crews at stand by to avoid spot fires from drifting hot ash or exploding debris being dropped inside the compound. If the fire overtakes our compound we may be looking at an emergency bug out but I’m not sure, given the size of our group, how we would accomplish that without running into further problems. Or worse, we could wind up having to deal with a combination of disasters … hive and fire … at the same time. All we can do right now is remain flexible and at maximum readiness.

Charlene, bless her, has given me the freedom to do what I can to help. She has taken on the responsibility of watching the younger children, the same position that Rose once held. But Rose and Melody are at the clinic preparing as much of our medical gear to go as we can afford to take in a bug out.

The smoke became so noxious by what would have been dinner time that cooking simply wasn’t an option. When I came home to try and figure out what to feed my family, I found Charlene already had things well in hand.

James, David, and Scott lay on the floor completely soot streaked from head to toe except for a clean spot that encompassed their nose and mouth. They were only slightly less dirty around there eyes where they had been wearing goggles. The younger kids were fanning them, trying to give them fresh air … relatively fresh air. Charlene had laid dampened cloths everywhere she could think of and even hung a dampened curtain across the carport door to try and minimize the amount of smoke that came in when someone entered the house.

I was filthy myself but I still gave her a hug and gratefully accepted the mug of tea she handed me. My eyes flew open in pleasure when I realized she had gone to the trouble of brewing tea rather than using instant. The strong, sweet, lemony liquid was perfect in my parched mouth. A few swallows and I was able to clear the gunk from my throat as well.

Not only was there tea to drink she’d made tuna fish sandwiches and hardboiled eggs using some of the things I had shown her I kept the kitchen stocked with. She said that she would have cooked a full meal but that she was trying to go easy on the wood box that sat out on the lanai which was only half full.

I could have kicked myself. Johnnie and Bubby were normally in charge of filling the wood box. If they hadn’t been allowed outside how were they supposed to have done the job? After asking Charlene when the men were due back on duty and finding they had about two more hours I told her to let them sleep and that I would fetch the wood. I wanted it brought in but asked that she find an out of the way place for it so no one would trip over it in the dark. The house might get full again.

I told Bekah and my Sarah to keep all of the rechargeables wound up and to take turns riding the pedal powered recharger until all of our car batteries out in the lean to were fully charged. I was gratified to find out that they had already done this. One less thing for me to keep track of.

As I walked out to the wood pile I tried really hard not to notice how fetid the smoke smelled. That wasn’t just wood and greenery burning. The few individual smells I could pick out included tar, rubber and vinyl, the dark oily smell you get when you burn cars, and some kind of poisonous smell like burning oleander bushes or lead-based paint. What worried me was that if I could smell it that my mask might not be doing the job I hoped it was doing.

After the wood box was filled and moved inside I went back to the food storehouse and checked to make sure that the dampened cloths that I had put in the window cracks and at the base of the doorways were working. We definitely do not need noxious and potentially poisonous smoke getting into our food stores.

When I got there I was disturbed to find the door had been left ajar. I walked in and got clunked on the back by someone who had been aiming at my head, but missed.

My opponent was not the first person to have underestimated me in the last six or seven months. Rather than doing the smart thing and immediately correcting their aim and following through with another attack they assumed that my going down meant that I was disabled and disarmed.

Nope. I’ve played this game before.

Once Scott had started to carry a mallet and spike around with him for sanitizing disabled infecteds many of us began to follow suit, including me. It’s a rather messy but effective tool. Scott had even adjusted a leather tool belt to hold my gadgets and gizmos that I used most frequently. It had stopped me from laying them down and then forgetting where I put them. Especially my pistol … but it wasn’t my pistol that I grabbed for. It was dark in the storehouse with all the windows covered and not being able to aim appropriately I didn’t want to take out any of our food stuffs.

As I went down the metal-headed mallet easily lifted from its cradle hook and fitted into my hand. Once I was into a crouch I kicked off and added my strength to increase the velocity of the heavy weight that was acting as an extension of my arm. It didn’t matter what I hit, it was going to do some damage.

But as luck would have it – mine and not my assailant’s – the head of the mallet struck the outside of her left knee. The sound of mallet hitting flesh and the resulting crack and pop has proven to be nauseatingly memorable. For both of us.

Junie went down in so much pain she wasn’t even able to scream. Before I had time to regret it, I kicked her in the head and knocked her out. I was then grabbed from behind across my upper arms. Moving my face out of the potential splatter I got a good grip on the end of the mallet handle and bending my elbows swung it up with all the power I could. I was unceremoniously released.

I turned, ready for the next opponent and came face to face with a soot-streaked angle of death, “Dammit darlin’ ... how the hell do you keep finding this kind of trouble!”

As I tried to explain to Scott while my nose was firmly smashed up against his chest, it wasn’t my fault. I just had this karmic bulls-eye painted on me and there simply wasn’t anything to do about it. I tried to tell him I had come back over to check behind myself and thought someone else had left the door open. And besides, I thought the NRSC crowd had been firmly locked up. He wasn’t in the mood to be placated and would probably kicked Junie himself if he had been any less of what I had always defined as “a real man.”

It turns out that NRSC personnel that operate within the quarantine zones are actually trained on escaping from locked buildings … or gaining entrance to locked buildings. I guess your perspective depends on which side of the door you are on.

The six were now down to three. Once they had escaped they had broken down into three teams. Junie and her partner had been sent to gather food supplies. Two of them had headed up to the guard tower to acquire weapons and the last two were searching for a vehicle to steal. They were desperate to escape and it wasn’t because they feared us.

Well, Junie is incapacitated but not dead. The same couldn’t be said of her partner. My mallet gave the man a lethal lobotomy. I’ll live with it. The two that had been searching the vehicles had met three of our resident weapons … Angus, Glenn, and Mayhem. Matlock was barely in time to stop Jim and some of the other men from tossing the two that had tried to get weapons out of the guard station and over the Wall. It’s not that he was giving them clemency; he wanted them for further interrogation.

One of the remaining NRSC was a real hard case; totally devoted to his cause, willing to die for it, and absolutely refused to talk. Junie was useless as she was in too much pain to be coherent and Dix and Matlock were refusing to allow Waleski to give her anything for the pain. The last man … kid … was barely eighteen. If I had to guess he wasn’t even that but had lied to join up for the three square meals a day and other perks that the recruiters had promised.

All three were separated from one another. I don’t know why the men were so fixated on the grumpy sergeant. They obviously had some sort of grudge and were determined to break him. I thought, “Good luck with that.” Junie would have been nearly as bad. So … what’s a harmless, motherly type to do? I focused on breaking the kid, that’s what.

I know I should be at least a little bit ashamed at manipulating the kid like I did … but I’m not. I didn’t hit him. I didn’t strike or touch him in any way. In fact, all it took was understanding and a little emotional nudging by asking him about home and family and asking how he got mixed up with these “ruffians” when he seemed so nice and reasonable. In the end he broke like a Faberge egg dropped on concrete and thanked me the entire time.

After getting his story and rewarding him with food and some clean cloths to wash his face with, I went over to building where the men were “talking” to the NRSC sergeant. I was irritated enough with what I saw that I was a little more self-righteous than I meant to be. “If y’all are done playing Rambo, maybe you’d like to see the map I drew and find out what we’ve got coming at us.” Then I stalked off to the radio shack, not really certain that anyone was going to follow me.

Scott was … well, not happy kind of describes his particular response to me talking to the little NRSC boy. As soon as he wound down a bit I apologized … easier to do than listening to another lecture … and asked if they wanted to hear the information I got out of the kid or not.

Basically the way it goes is this: Once the original planned turning point was missed the NRSC strategists turned to their meteorological staff to try and estimate what path the fire was most likely to take based on wind speed and direction. The answer was that the fire would curve to the west at some point around Zephyrhills and follow the land corridor between SR54 and SR52 and head west with a dead on course for New Port Richey.

The size of the fire was larger than they had predicted and the smoke extended to both coasts of the state making tracking the fire by air very difficult. That’s what Junie’s patrol was really doing. They were tracking the hive and the fire and relaying the information to ships accord off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

The next part is what is badly worrisome for us. The NRSC plans to use the fire to cut off the exit for the hive. As soon as the NRSC command is sure that the hive is contained with legs of the “L” made by the fire they are going to choose tactics that will heard the hive towards the coast and into the Gulf. They’ve have set up buoys and underwater nets that will prevent the corpses from going too far beyond a certain depth and location. After a week they will begin dragging those nets and gathering up the now decayed and naturally sanitized corpses.

I can actually see some logic to driving the infecteds to a watery sanitation. Less danger to uninfected humans using far fewer resources that are apparently in very short supply in the free zones. Even the NRSC has to buy much of their ammo and supplies on the black market. But, we don’t know for sure how they are going to drive the zombies to the coast. We’ve already seen how poorly their fire method works. The boy … “just call me Jamie” … said they had jets on carriers loaded with bombs that could be dropped to “guide” the hive. They could use sound machines to “lure” the hive to the coast. There is even the possibility of heavily armored land craft being used to literally push the back of the hive to the water’s edge. We just don’t know. Junie’s patrol lost communication before the final plans were announced.

So now we wait. The Wall guards are reporting ever increasing numbers of shamblers moving through the area, not stopping but making a beeline to the northwest. No ragers or other non-standard zombies among them yet but we expect by the time daylight arrives to have seen at least a few. OSAG is still receiving and transmitting reports but for how long I don’t know. They’ve barricaded themselves as best they can and moved most of their gear and personnel to the upper floors of their location; I just hope it is enough.

This reminds me that I need to write down what Jamie told me about what the research has revealed about how the different types of zombies are formed but I’ll do it on my next break. Right now I need to catch a little shut eye before I go on duty.

Day 206 (Thursday) – February 22

I’m really, really tired. The smoke is horrible. But in a way it … it makes it easier too. The haze hides the worst of the nightmares. This day has been pretty bad.

The sun never really came up. We knew it was up there but it only lessened the gloom; didn’t or couldn’t really penetrate the dense smoke that now constantly wafts across the landscape. Everything just became a lighter shade of gray in an already washed out color scheme. We haven’t had much ash, the actual flames are still far off, at least I hope so.

Just because our house is centrally located Dix begged a favor. He asked if we could set up our carport as a station that people could come and go from for food and drink. We had closed it in so long ago that it was more like a box than a carport, now used more as an extension of our living space than as a house for a vehicle . To deal with the open end I attached old shower curtains that had been taped together with that silver tape Scott used to use on AC duct work onto the outside of the carport opening. On the inside side of the opening I hung several layers of sheets that I tried to keep somewhat damp. I couldn’t make them too wet or they would get so heavy they would pull the wire down that I had strung to hold them. Damp though they seemed to catch most of the smoke that was let in by people going in and out.

Scott was busy so that David had to lend me a hand by cutting a hole in a piece of scrap plywood that would then inside the single outside. I used it to feed out the exhaust pipe of the wood stove that I moved into the space. For light I installed some of those little LED tap lights in a pattern across the ceiling. I kept the kids busy making sure all of our rechargeable batteries were ready if and when necessary. It wasn’t a perfect solution, even with the tap lights and smoke barriers it was dim and a big rank, but it was a thousand percent better than trying to keep something going at the communal kitchen or at the dining hall.

With the first pot of coffee and tea that I served came the report of the first Rager sighting. And then another. And then yet another. The guards also started seeing the other non-standard zombie types in with the groups of Shamblers. So far there wasn’t any significant interest in Sanctuary. One Rager turned abruptly and attacked one of the wooden telephone poles that is the skin of the Wall, but after a moment lost interest. Using a pair of binoculars, the guard reported that he left some teeth behind in the wood. We’ll have to be careful of contamination for a while.

And to go along with the bad news outside came bad news from inside. Our animals started having trouble breathing. Everyone that could be spared helped to round them up out of the large pasture and put them in the two large equipment sheds that we use as barns. The larger animals went into one shed in the make shift stalls and the smaller animals went into the smaller building. Both buildings have concrete slabs for floors but no drains so clean up is going to be a bi … uh … problem.

Samuel and my Sarah – without getting permission might I say – have put several cages of very stinky rabbits and chickens on our lanai. They did get points for lining the screens with more plastic sheeting preventing the smoke from getting in back there; but it’s also preventing the smell of the mini livestock from getting out. I told them in no uncertain terms that they better keep those cages clean or they were going to be carting those things over to Jack’s house real quick. They got the message … Patricia is not fond of chickens. I think they are one of the few things on this planet that she is really scared of. To be honest I think she’d rather face a zombie than a rooster.

Austin and Mr. Morris think they have the animal situation under control for now but don’t know for how long. That’s a lot of animals for that size of space. And some of them are cranky. The larger goats are just not happy; they had gotten used to their free range freedom. And if one gets sick with something that is catching? It will run like wildfire through the entire population. I guess we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. For now, because the barns are all dark the animals are pretty much treating it like it is night time and extending their rest cycles.

The domesticated animals aren’t the only ones in trouble. We’ve found several bird carcasses on the ground. We’ve also seen some squirrels falling out of the trees. Samuel and Sarah found a couple of marsh rabbits that had built a new burrow in our hay bales. We left them alone. It may come down that we need them for meat if this “siege” lasts a long time. Thanks to the hunt after Noah’s parade we are doing pretty well meat wise but never look a gift horse in the mouth. A little providential provision may be what helps us get through in the end.

About midmorning Rose came over and told me that Waleski asked if he could move Terra and baby Kai over here. Laura woke up and in apparent panic and proceeded to try and escape her room, breaking a window in the process. The baby was in distress from all the smoke despite the fact that the window had been covered. I said of course. I didn’t even have to bother asking Scott, I know he would want to do what we could.

I went inside and when I told Charlene she said she’d give up her bed. Instead I asked her to clean out the little girls’ room and move their bedding into the boys’ room temporarily until we could figure something else out. I had just finished pushing two of the twin beds together and getting sheets on them when Nick and Waleski carried Terra and Kai in through the carport. Terra had tried to walk part of the way here but the stress of everything was just a bit much so she finally accepted the wheelchair Ski had all but been begging her to sit in.

I had to get back to preparing lunch so Charlene and Rose helped to settle Terra and Kai in. Nick and Waleski, both grim faced, were on their way back to deal with the mess Laura had made. Ski asked me if I would send Scott over when he had time. Ski was afraid that Laura had bent the window frame and the whole thing would have to be replaced and not just the glass. Ski had dosed Laura with more sedatives, just enough to let her go back into her fantasy world.

Saen dropped by and we made a really nice curry, this one milder than she would normally have made. We didn’t have enough room to make multiple dishes up so we compromised on the mild side rather than fixing a pot of mild and hot and letting people take their choice. She also made a batch of something that looked like coconut rice pudding. People filed in and out eating as they could and the younger kids all helped with the dishes in the clean up station I had put together in our kitchen. It was crowded but better than the alternative. And there was surprisingly few complaints. Everyone was too tired more likely.

It was right after lunch that the chaos set in. Melody ran over to get Rose who had just finished eating. Laura had started to bleed quite heavily. She was miscarrying, probably brought on by her own explosively violent panic. I went to go help when Melody told me that Ski didn’t want any more people than he could help over at the clinic in case he was forced to sanitize Laura or the baby. Waleski didn’t think the fetus was developed enough to have to fear but he was acting on the safe side. He had already restrained Laura whom he had sedated even further.

Junie, on a cot in one of the other rooms at the clinic was screaming to be let out. She wasn’t going to stay where some freaky kid could go reanimated, yada, yada, yada. The way I heard it later it was her own fault what eventually happened.

The miscarriage took a couple of hours. Tina and Dante’ were in shock. They knew the dangers of such a young girl being pregnant, miscarriage is one of them. Add in her mental instability and the fact that we simply didn’t have access to a lot of modern health care resources and you have a lot of potential for disaster. Still, no matter people’s personal feelings on the matter, the miscarriage was an emotional blow to our already depressed population.

In the end Laura started to hemorrhage. It would have been a very difficult situation in a modern hospital setting with a lower percentage of survival. She probably would have had to have a hysterectomy and at 13 that would have been devastating. It didn’t take her long to bleed out. Dante’ and Tina, already prepared by Waleski for the possibility, started to argue about how they wanted her sanitized. Waleski, ignoring them, went to get the undertaker’s tool but was stopped by Junie who had managed to get up from her cot and crawl over the doorway and grabbed hold of him.

Sometimes corpses take a while to reanimate … and sometimes they don’t.

While Junie was fussing at Waleski and threatening to sanitize “the girl” herself, the change had already begun within Laura’s corpse. Dante’ was the one to notice it first. It finally snapped him out of the stupor he had been in the last few days. He pushed Tina, Rose and Melody out of the room right as Laura’s corpse snapped the restraints holding her. Rilla standing in the waiting room area … the old living room of the converted house … screamed.

The fact that she … no … the fact that it hadn’t gone through the initial weak phase and went straight into the strong stage was not a good thing. Dante’ yelled for Waleski right as what used to be Laura exited the room where she had just died. This happened so quickly that Junie was startled, pivoted on her injured knee, and lost her balance slamming both herself and Waleski into the hallway wall. Laura … I’m still having trouble not designating the infected corpse by the name it had in life … sprang at the two of them. Waleski jumped out of the way just in time. Junie didn’t make it.

It was seconds. Junie didn’t even have time to scream. Not that she could have, it tore her throat out and arterial blood sprayed everywhere for a moment. The floor was so slick that Waleski and Dante’ were sliding as they dogpiled the corpse and sanitized it. Junie wasn’t even cold before she started to turn and threw Laura’s corpse off as well as Dante’ and Ski.

Rose had taken her Daddy’s admonishments seriously. Lord knows he’s made the kids practice enough so he was confident they wouldn’t freeze or panic. She picked up the long-handled sledge hammer that was kept in the pharmacy area and Rilla said she used it like a croquet mallet; a loud pop and then Junie’s corpse lay still beside the already sanitized corpse of Laura.

Rilla’s scream was pretty audible in the unnatural quiet that had overtaken Sanctuary. Too off-duty guards walking in front of the clinic sent up the alarm. It was a moment before Waleski could convince Matlock and Dix that things were already under control. Dante’ was holding onto Tina repeating, “She was already gone baby. She was already gone.”

Meanwhile Rose was sandwiched between Scott and David and Melody was being squeezed to pieces by Cease. I couldn’t leave the carport and was very agitated about it if you want to know the truth. Matlock had just brought Jamie over so he could get something to eat before he was locked back up in one of the vacant houses. As much as I suspected Jamie was harmless there was no way I was going to test that theory by leaving him alone with my kids so close at hand.

This day … Lord have mercy … this day ….

No sooner had Dix left than Jamie started pouring his guts out to me again. He kept telling me that we had to be careful of McGruder … that was the tough guy sergeant’s name. Apparently McGruder was the real deal. Rumor had it that he was a former corporate spy and new sixty-eleven dozen different ways to get what he wanted. Jamie claimed to have seen McGruder do some pretty disgusting things both to the living and the dead. I won’t repeat them in this journal, likely Dix has put them in his event reports that he keeps. Suffice it to say if even half of what Jamie said about the man was true we had a sociopath on our hands. Jamie said every patrol group had someone like McGruder with them although McGruder was one of the worst. They were like informers or enforcers for the NRSC Executive Board.

It was McGruder that was the mastermind behind the attempted escape even though he wasn’t the officer in charge. He was the one that had apparently been working on Junie for weeks, turning her into his “eyes and ears.” I can see how it happened. Junie had left looking for something; not even she probably knew what in the beginning. That’s how cults get people. The depressed, the vulnerable, the lonely, the outcast … they are all fodder for a good recruiter.

I had been listening to Jamie with half an ear while trying to listen for Scott’s return with our daughter. And then the boogey man showed up at the door.

God, that poor kid. He never stood a chance. His is a death I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for. I was the one that opened him up like a emotional can opener, used his needs against him, caused him to spill his guts. He was just a weak kid, not especially likeable but desperately needing to be liked, or at least think someone cared about him. If I hadn’t let him use me as an outlet for his neediness McGruder would never have thought him a traitor. What I did was necessary … I know that, or I’m pretty sure I know that most of the time … but necessary doesn’t mean crap when you’ve got blood on your hands.

McGruder just reached in and grabbed him and then poof, the kid was gone. McGruder shoved some kind of pointy thing into his temple. I saw it afterwards; it looks like some kind of four-sided ice pick kind of blade.

Then he came at me. A big boom rang out, then another though I didn’t hear that one quite as well.
Charlene. She stood there looking at where McGruders face used to be and said, “Poppa Scott says you forget your gun more often than he likes to know about. You really shouldn’t do that. I better go get him, he’s bound to have heard the noise.”

I was still standing there with my mouth hanging open trying to figure out a comeback when Scott nearly yanked all the curtains down running in.
Jack has a pretty mean knife wound but it is more painful than near fatal. Matlock and Dix are kicking themselves for not putting two guards on McGruder but he had been firmly tied up and in full view of everyone. When the commotion at the clinic started, McGruder made his move. We still haven’t figured out where the knife or spike or whatever that thing was called got secreted. All he had on was pants … not even his shoes. I’m not really sure I want to know at this point.

Junie and McGruder’s corpses were tossed over the Wall. Dante’ and Tina buried Laura out in the little graveyard in the orange grove before it got dark. They were going to throw Jamie’s body over the Wall as well but I got a little hysterical and David said he’d bury him on the other side of our little cemetery. If and when things ever return to normal I want to tell Jamie’s family … his sisters and parents that he told me about … that he at least died with a clean conscience. That he tried to be helpful and that he loved them very much. That’s the least I can do.

I suppose that I should write down the other information that Jamie gave me. I’m not certain what good this does for us out here in the quarantine zones but its information worth having nonetheless. It’s about how the various zombies come to be.

Basically two factors come into play. The first one is what variety of zombie passes the infection along. The second factor is blood type.

The most common zombie is the common shambler. Its not surprising then all shamblers started out with O+ blood type. Here in the USA – I checked with Waleski to make sure – blood types from most common to most rare is O+, A+, B+, O-, A-, AB+, B-, and then most rare is the AB-.

As I said, shamblers are the most common and all shamblers started out with O+ blood type. In contrast the first Ragers started out as O- blood type. Most of the Climbers start out as A- blood type.

Now here’s the thing that makes it so complicated. Shamblers can only beget shamblers. That’s all that their particular variant of the NRS virus can transmit. Climbers are rare relatively speaking. And, their variant of NRS generally only awakens other A- blood types. If a climber transmits the NRS virus to an O+ blood type the virus reverts to the Shambler variant.

On the other hand the Rager variant of the virus tends to override all other variants. That means that if a shambler passes their virus along to an individual that is O- they will become a Rager automatically. However, if a Rager passes their variant along to O+, A+, B+ or A- blood type those individuals will without exception become Ragers.

Blood types A+ and B+ also tend to be shamblers unless there receive a viral load from some other type of zombie. Because of the number of O, A, and B positive individuals being the most prevalent in the USA … and in the world for the most part … that is the explanation for why Shamblers are generally the most common kind of zombie.

Jamie told me of a type of zombie that we have not knowingly encountered yet that the NRSC calls a “Hunter.” It’s a loner, will not follow a hive or horde of any size. This zombie appears to exhibit some intelligence. That zombie starts out with a B- blood type. It is very rare. In the USA 0.6% of the population has B- blood. Another reason why the Hunters are so rare is because they cannot transmit their variant at all except to another B- person. If a B- person is bitten by a Rager they will become a Rager. A person that is B- that is bitten by a shambler becomes a Hunter most of the time. Again though I’ve learned of one exception to the rule about corpses that reanimate. For some reason, people with B- blood do not always reanimate. James said the NRSC scientists have found that at least 50% of the time a B- person simply doesn’t reanimate at all. They haven’t figured out why yet.

The mutant zombies – the ones that prey on other zombies – only started showing up about two or three months ago. Apparently it took time for all the possible variants of the NRS virus to mix into a weird enough cocktail the first time. Mutants result from already reanimated zombies cross infecting each other. No one is quite sure of the combination but apparently a certain cross contamination has to occur and then the contaminated zombie has to deteriorate passed a certain point before the mutant abnormality is triggered. Mutants follow and are created by the bigger hordes and the hives. That’s why we haven’t seen them since the Big Horde. If a mutant is not able to feed on other zombies it quickly is taken over by the tumors and decays at a near normal rate.

There are other zombies that are nearly as rare as the Hunters are but it’s getting late and I still don’t understand everything that Jamie was trying to explain. Those zombies are a result of various blood or lymphatic disorders as well as blood types and what kinds of zombies transmit the virus. I wouldn’t say there are an infinite number of variations on the types of zombies that we could see, but it is certainly possible to see types beyond what we already have experience with.

I’m tired but I don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight. The later in the day it became the more desperate some of the calls into OSAG’s radio station became. The later in the day it became the more we became desperate. The zombie hive arrived.

Zombies don’t make independent vocal sounds. Most of that soft tissue is too destroyed to even work. However, there is a sound that thousands upon thousands of zombies make when they are together in one place. It the sound of cockroaches rustling in the leaves on the ground. It’s the sound of rats chewing in an attic. It’s the sound of a snake makes as its passing through the grass. The sound of leathery bat wings as they fly through the air.

I don’t know exactly what the sound is from. Maybe old air being forced out of useless lungs over ruined windpipes. Maybe blood stiffened clothes and skin constantly rubbing against each other. It’s a sound difficult to describe and impossible to ever forget.

And that sound was all around us, for as far as the eye could see, even amplified by binoculars.

For a while there the smell of the hive was so overpowering it was like the very oxygen we breathed was being stolen from us. More than one person unashamedly found a discreet place to puke. Eventually we were forced to learn to ignore it. I hung up bundles of dried herbs and flowers and dabbed essential oils every where I could but it hasn’t really helped.

This whole maggoty situation weighs on us like a headstone across our chests. We are all dragging. Its like a miasma stealing all hope. And we aren’t the only ones being affected by this. OSAG has had to go off the air. The thickness of the smoke was beginning to affect their generators. They also needed to pull back as far as they could for safety’s sake.

I hope that when this is over … not if but when, I have to keep believing that. When this is over, Steve and his crew will be back on the air. Unfortunately it looks like it is not just the zombies that they – and we – need to be concerned about. Steve, bless him, sounds a little on the ragged edge. I doubt he has had much sleep in the last few days. I hope now that he has shut the broadcast down Shorty will be able to get some food in him and get him to catch a few desperately needed hours of rest. That’s where I’m going just as soon as I get his last broadcast transcribed.


Well, listeners, this is Steve’s Midnight Music and Talk Radio Show brought to you by the Association for A Free Florida. Now while the AAFF doesn’t really exist as of yet as a cohesive organization, I believe that it might exist in the hearts and minds of people within the sound of my voice.

If you are getting a slight warble in my transmission, you can thank the people we did not elect for that little transmission difficulty. I’m not going to claim the knowledge of how it fucking works, but apparently when you want to defeat someone from what we used to call “jamming” your transmission, you simple start to transmit on various frequencies all at once, at different power bands. That’s what Scott tells me. I am simply the humble DJ.

The music you just heard was Bob Dylan “Chimes of Freedom”. Yes, friends, you are going to get a shitload of protest songs tonight.

Tonight, I want to update everyone on the situation we have before us—that is the motherfucking situation that our government that we did not elect have put us in. The fires, it turns out, was set by those bastards in an effort to control the NRS infected. We have it on good authority that members of the forward group of the NRSC have taken the opportunity to strike first at our outposts here in Florida and have failed. They have been beaten back by the good people and are now incarcerated—our present government might call them hostages, but I like to think of them as being prisoners of war.

Yeah, I might be talking shit here, but what else am I going to call them? They attacked members of the community and expect to nor be dealt with harshly?

Now, we here at Steve’s Free Florida Show have gotten a broadcast from people who represent the officials of the government that we did not elect. Guess what they wanted from your humble DJ--? That’s it, it was a cease and desist from taking an active interest in the happenings around me and simply be more “Broadcast friendly” or the FCC was going to come in and shut me down. They even gave me what fucking news that they wanted me to broadcast.

Guess what I told them? You got it, friends, I told them to fuck themselves. I told their sycophant to get off his fat ass and come down here to Florida and make me stop broadcasting.

Now here at Steve’s Midnight Music and Talk Show we have a caveat for our community in general: always go armed. So once again to that fuckheaded governmental lackey; fuck you and your fucking orders. Come down here and make me, bitch.

Here’s the Indigo Girls with “Rise Up” from the album “All That We Let In”.

And that was Shooter Jennings with “Manifesto No. 1” from “Put the O back into Country”… the operative line in that song if you couldn’t figure it out was “If that’s the way you say hello, you can kiss my ass goodbye.”

Now let’s talk a little about freedom, shall we? What few people know about me is that I used to teach and one of the things I taught was something called Search and Seizure. Now you might ask yourself, “Steve, what the fuck does Search and Seizure have to do with our situation?” Well, folks, let me tell you how all that shit works.

There’s this document called the Bill of Rights, and in the Bill of Rights, we have the Amendments to that document. In order for our system of government to work, you have to look at the document in its entirety. I know, I know, that was not the most popular way to look at those pieces of paper in recent years, many of us liked to pick and choose those things we thought only applied to us and our situation, and let the others fall by the way side.

But I’m here to tell you that they don’t fucking work that way. The Amendments that you see there on that piece of paper are written the way they are because without the first three, the fourth one is worthless. With out Free Speech, we can not fight for our Right to Keep and Bear Arms. With out the Second Amendment we can not protect that right of Free Speech, nor can we be safe in our homes from Unlawful Search and Seizure. While we might not think that it applies to use today, with out the Third Amendment, we would not be free from the pressure of the government to house soldiers.
Let me read that one to you folks, I think that here in the near future it might apply to all of us here in Free Florida. I happen to have a copy of the Bill of Rights right here; as a matter of fact I keep a copy of it in several places, with all my firearms, in my BOB and in my safe at home. Amendment Three reads as follows;

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Now we’re all law abiding citizens, and I’ve had this conversation with some folks in one of the enclaves known as Sanctuary. They’ve been more than helpful to people in the past, they’ve been more than willing to allow for our government to house people in their compound in the past, but with consent and with the understanding that it was THEIR HOUSE. I chided them at doing this out of kindness and now, it has come full circle. NRSC goons paid a visit to some folks and tried to take advantage of their compassion. Thankfully, our good people overcame those worthless bastards and we now have at least a little information as to the plan they were endeavoring to undertake. OF course it backfired on them. More on that later.

Let’s talk about our elected officials who have unleashed NRSC on is, shall we? I know that one might argue that the NRSC workers are just doing their jobs, and studies have shown that there is such a thing as group-think, that is, people acting as a group will do what they are told even if the order goes against their held morals. We saw this in Germany, we saw this in Russia, we saw this in so many fascist and socialist governments that it is hard to discard the evidence. The problem with NRSC lies with the people at the top and because of this, we are going to pay the price unless we stand up to it now. This government was not elected by us, Florida, and is illegal.

There are four different Amendments pertaining to voting. How many of them have been denied to us here in Free Florida? All of them, people. As soon as the ballot box was closed to us due to the NRS outbreak and they HELD ELECTIONS WITHOUT US, they violated that sacred trust we supposedly have in our government. So to you idiots who belong to the illegal government of Colorado who are listening to me, here’s a song for you.

Bob Dylan again, “The Time’s They are a Changin’.”

I know I’ve been rambling here, I really just don’t know where to start. I’ve kept you up to date about who to trade with, what can be done about chiggers, keeping clean in an unclean environment and their desire to nuke parts of this great nation, I’ve kept you up to date about their attempts to control this outbreak and how they’ve been using us here in Florida to experiment with the eradication of the NRS plague.

I really don’t know where to go from here, Scott tells me that due to the smoke, we need to shut down for a while since the generators are over heating. So I’ll leave you with this one thought from Samuel Adams:

“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.”

I’m going to leave with a song that is not a protest song. It’s a song by a Adam Hood, called “Play Something We Know”. It’s from a really cool album called “6th Street”. I guess that I just need to stop my tirade here and get to something a little less, inflammatory.

Day 207 (Friday) – February 23

Today should have been cleaning day. What a laugh. The smoke is everywhere. It’s not the smoke you get from a campfire either. It’s like the smell of a burning landfill; sweet and rotten.

The only relief we got today was a brief rain shower. The zombies started moving haphazardly again but it didn’t last long. So far they are just standing like silent sentries around Sanctuary. We can make out, when the haze lifts slightly, that the outer bands of the hive continue to move to the west.

We make as little noise as we can but it’s inevitable that some noise gets made. The kids are nervous wrecks. I’ve tried to instill the need for absolute quiet but they are just little kids. I had to get onto them so many times late yesterday and early today that now they watch me with silent eyes, too worried that they’ll misstep and maybe it won’t just be my words punishing them. But their safety and ours depends on their obedience. I feel like a heel … worse than that. Finally I had Scott help me to take their beds apart and we’ve done our best to line the room where they are staying with the mattresses and then added several layers of blankets on top of that. It helps keep the smoke out too. Too late I think. The kids are somber and scared. I’ve tried to make things better but …

Charlene says they aren’t really upset at me … they are just upset period. Nice girl, trying to make me feel better. I hope I can fix this … this … whatever I’ve done sooner rather than later. Tomorrow, if its feasible, we are going to bring all of the kids over here so they can play together. We’ll hang heavy quilts over all the openings and hopefully that will help dampen the sound some.

Rose was over at the clinic most of the day cleaning and disinfecting everything. But Terra and Kai won’t be moving back over there. Scott said the window frame would have to be replaced and it would make too much noise to do that right now.

Tina and Dante’ are understandably grief stricken right now. I’ve seen them both. I’ve tried to say the right things. But if I were in their shoes I know it wouldn’t be enough. It’s something you have to live through and it will stay with you the rest of your life. Maybe it is wrong of me but I’m relieved that it wasn’t me. I had feared that somehow some way I would be part of Laura’s fate, whatever it was. I’m glad I don’t have to live with that. The rest of the things that I’ve had to do are going to be hard enough.

James is getting sick. He spends most of his time on guard duty and this smoke is just not good for him. Dix finally noticed and has ordered him to get a full night’s sleep. He’ll ruin his lungs and his eyes trying to peer through this haze to keep an eye out for threats.

Scott and David are hacking a lot as well. Pulling out my herbals all I could find for smoke inhalation was ginseng tea, eating oatmeal, and loquat syrup. Also you were supposed to stay away from spicy foods. The goal was to get your body to retain moisture to help lungs and eyes. I’ve given the loquat syrup a try with the kids and they loved it. We’ll be having oatmeal for breakfast everyday for a while because it is what is easiest to fix under the circumstances. I’ve enjoyed the ginseng tea but not everyone has.

There hasn’t been much in the way of radio communication since we found out that OSAG was threatened. Thanks to the radio equipment in the vehicle that the NRSC were in we are able to listen in to what they are saying amongst themselves but its taking Dix a while to decipher their codes. Bekah actually figured out a sequence all by herself much to all the adults’ amazement. That helped Dix figure out some other phrases but he is missing some vital info to make it all fall into place.

The animals are in greater distress today. I think they sense the infected corpses. Some of them do nothing but stand with stiffened legs and shake and shiver. We lost two rabbits during the night, no apparent reason. Austin says it may have been fear. Chickens are off laying their eggs but that was to be expected with us keeping them in the dark as much as possible.

I’m not going to have any choice, tomorrow I’m going to have to do some more baking. We’ve run through almost all of what we fixed a couple of days ago.

I’m going to close with both the worst and the best thing I saw today. I’ll start with the best. Lucky is back. That’s right, that crazy cat has been around just not to be seen. Sarah and Samuel found her. She must have come in at some point over the last day or two. Dix had stacked some boxes on his front porch and they’ve been there for a couple of weeks now. Samuel had asked if Sarah could help him move them to the burn pile, but when he looked over in them he got a surprise. There was lucky in the middle of giving birth. She has four teeny tiny kittens. She would have had five but one didn’t make it. The four that did are all black as night; three of them are slick and one of them is long haired and about as fluffy as you could ever imagine. Three have green eyes but the fluffy one has ice blue eyes. Lucky is rather puffed up with her consequence and is enjoying being fed and watered … just don’t get too near the kittens or she’ll take a whack at you.

I wish I could stop there. Maybe I should but I think I need to write it down to get it out of my head. When I was on guard duty Angus told me not to look down too much and not to think too hard about it when I did. Of course, that is a bit like telling Pandora not to peek inside the box.

I looked down and oh how I wished I hadn’t. It was the zombies, but yet not. It wasn’t what they smelled like or looked like exactly. It wasn’t how many of them there were although yeah that was part of it too. It was that … they were pushing. You know, we’ve set the rail cars and trailers so that they aren’t going anywhere. We’ve strapped them together and bolted them in place. It would take a tsunami … or a head on collision from something huge … to move the Wall.

When the first zombies piled up against the Wall it was just … I keep imagining a crowded rock concert. The people on the front row of a standing room only show … I do I put this into words so that someone can understand it. They were crushing each other against the Wall. The first row of zombies were long gone. Probably the third, forth, and fifth row of zombies as well. They just kept pushing.

And then the hive would move as a whole and they would smear … From the height of a man down to the ground the Wall and Gatehouses were smeared with … It wasn’t just red. There was stuff sticking to … I give up. Whoever you are reading this sometime long from now maybe someone else was able to describe that horrific sight but its beyond my powers. The zombies crushed their own kind and the resulting biological debris layered the Wall like jelly on toasted bread. It caught in all the nooks and crannies, all the crevices, every surface space. If we could see the ground I’m sure it would be like a pool of jello.

I just won’t think about it. There is nothing I can do. It’s just there. Maybe pray for rain to wash it away … but it’ll just be back as soon as the zombies start moving again.

If I’m going to pray, I better pray that doesn’t happen to any of us. We’re safe inside our Wall. For now. I hope I can still say that tomorrow.
Day 209 (Sunday) – February 25

Some day of rest this has been. Yesterday I was too tired and too depressed to write. Today … I’m not sure there are words to describe this day.

Yesterday was a whole lot of the same as the day before. I cooked. I cleaned the best I could. I took care of the kids and Scott. I did my time on the Wall. It was just … it was awful. I was dragging and I was depressed and I just couldn’t climb out of the funk I was in. The only bright spot was the kids. It was like old times. Every kid in Sanctuary was over here and they played. I mean they really played. Toys, cars, board games, card games, I fixed them snacks … popcorn, juice, they pulled taffy … for them I could be better. But whenever I went back outside, back to the haze, the smoke, the dank smell, the weird and unnatural sounds … then the façade would tumble down, I would be how I really was and not how I wanted to be.

The radio was silent except for the occasional crackle of life when the NRSC were relaying their coded messages to one another. Dix was so frustrated.

We used up most of the lamps so that the kids could have light to play by during the day. We left the mattresses and blankets against the windows to deaden the sound so the zombies couldn’t hear the kids. The whole house was a dark as a cave. I found every solar lamp and light and rechargeable that we had so that the kids could play. But that didn’t leave me any to waste to write by. It didn’t matter, I just didn’t really feel like it anyway.

But something happened overnight. Dix, unable to sleep, worked in the Radio Shack. And then, it must have been about 3 AM, he finally figured out their location codes. With that he was able to make more sense of some of the other transmissions. As he went back he finally broke their whole code.

And damn good thing he did it when he did. At five in the morning they gave a signal that they would be “planting the flowers in the field at the north end of aviator’s highway.” Scott had told Dix that Dale Mabry Hwy was actually named after a WWI aviator. “Planting the flowers” Dix was able to discern from other transmissions was dropping some type of package that was used to lure the infected corpses. They were going to do that at 6 AM.

We were all up and moving when we got the news. I’m not fond of the NRSC. I don’t like their tactics. I recognize the need to have a central government for some things but I don’t like how they seem to be operating outside of the US Constitution and US Bill of Rights. I know in an emergency some of those “rights” may get suspended but there had to be a line of demarcation that should never be crossed. I also didn’t like that they were doing this operation with no warning to the survivors in the area. Like we were expendable … or bait … and were being use to further their goals.

We gathered that the fire had made the full turn and was now running from east to west along the corridor we expected it to take. We were blessed that the wind had died down and now the fire only traveled because it was taking the path with the most fuel to consume. The Big Fire of so many months ago now turned out to be a good thing. Most of what could fuel a fire was gone. I hope all of the small peddler groups and survivor compounds could avoid this disaster.

The smoke was very bad for us. We were inside the “L” and catching the smoke from both pathways. But that would mean that it should leave us sooner rather than later. But we wouldn’t know for sure until the zombies were gone and we could reconnoiter the area.

Six AM came and went and then we started to hear it. My Lord. Imagine all of the happy sounds of normal everyday life you can think of; children laughing and talking, a baby’s cry, the clink of dishes, dinner table conversation, the sound of a city bus, music from a carousel, the clack of a rollercoaster, a hot dog vendor selling his wares, birds in a park, a football game, a stadium full of fans. The sounds played over and over and over. The sounds that real live humans make going about their normal lives. Only these were amplified so they must have carried for miles.

They had to have dropped some kind of transmitter right into the leading edge of the hive. And it did … nothing. Not a single thing. Eventually they batteries wore out.

They called for a second drop about 9 AM. The same result. Again at noon. The same result. The zombies didn’t move, didn’t leave. They just shuffled in place, uninterested in the sounds of humanity. Why should they be interested in sounds … they were fixated on the real thing. Us … and OSAG … and a couple of other small groups that had gotten caught in the area trying to escape the fire.

Then another version of our nightmare started. The order went out for the “eagles to soar.” Turned out more like vultures dropping a stinking load. We heard the jets but never saw them. We didn’t know what they were doing until it was too late.

We just barely had time to identify the sounds of the planes when there was a whistling noise. You know, anyone that has ever watched a war movie or documentary knows that sound. It didn’t take any special wisdom. But before we could do much more than hitch our breath there were loud thumping explosions in the smoke to our east.

Well, crap. What are you going to do when you are close to being bombed? Its not like we’ve got any basements or subways that we can crawl into. Scott and I looked at each other and we ran for our kids. Scott split off from me and headed to the clinic to get Rose and Melody. Waleski was already hustling them out laden with a lot of medical supplies.

Cease also came running and the men hustled them into the house. Dix came running up at the same time and looked at Scott. Scott asked, “What are you waiting for?! Bring ‘em on!”

Our home has been designated as the fall back position almost since the very beginning of Sanctuary but not since the Raid have we utilized this system. They came in dribs and drabs carry mattresses, blankets, food, and other stuff we would need. It felt like everyone was in slow motion but actually we were all moving very quickly. Shutters were closed, mattresses were leaned against windows and walls. Food stored in the kitchen.

I kept looking around for James and David. They weren’t anywhere. I finally grabbed Scott but before I could ask he shook his head and said, “They’re on the Wall.” Then he hugged me and I realized he hated just as much as I did but knew that it was necessary while I still battled with believing that.

“Down!” bellowed Dix.

This time the explosions were closer. Reports came from our guards that the zombies were more agitated but weren’t really moving, at least not those within visual distance.

Everyone was in. We put the children in the den where there would be enough room for them all and Terra with Kai, Patricia, and Rhonda in one of the bedrooms. Rose and Melody floated between the two helping with whatever needed doing. Waleski stowed his stuff in the dining room and we covered the table with a tarp. You don’t want to think of that sort of thing but what choice did we have.

Again, another bombing run, this one close enough to make a deep base rumble in our ear drums. And then the next one was close enough that we could feel it through the ground.

They were getting closer. And the zombies were getting more agitated. We beginning to move. But, not appreciably in any particular direction. In point of fact they were losing the cohesion that they had as a hive. We couldn’t decide if this was a good thing or not.

Then Dix popped out of the radio shack and sent the word out. The NRSC may be in charge overall but it was the US military that was running the bombing runs. I appeared they were using “smart bombs” and doing their best to avoid known civilian locations.

The bombing was more like the “shock and awe” tactics of recent history or the blitzkrieg maneuvers of WW2. It picked up in consistency and went on until five o’clock at which time they just seemed to either give up … or someone with a calculator finally called a halt after tallying up the cost.

About an hour into the bombing, Waleski gave Rhonda and Patricia a very low dose of phenothiazine. It was the only sedative we had that was occasionally used with pregnant women. He had scoured all the medical books he had but that’s the only one he could come up with that we had in stock. I know he didn’t feel like he had much choice, especially with Patricia that was beginning to show extreme signs of distress. They were never sedated enough to go to sleep but they were lethargic and relaxed … honestly pretty zoned, but not so bad that we couldn’t have stuffed them into an escape vehicle had we needed to.

And speaking of, my nerves were pretty frayed as well. Scott, James, and David spent much of the time getting the bus, Juicer, and a few other vehicles ready in case we had a Wall breach and needed to bug out. The plan was to throw ourselves on the mercy of OSAG if we could go that way or even get to Aldea and make do with what had been stored with the storage containers.

We did have one emergency from the bombing. The percussion from the bombs finally knocked down a huge live oak and wouldn’t you know it, it fell on the Wall. While it crushed some zombies it also created a bridge up the Wall.

Imagine reader, if you can, being out in the middle of a battle. Bombs falling all around. The sound deafening. The stress and fear pushing your heart up your throat. That’s where we were. Why you ask? Well, because we were cutting the tree back as quickly as we could. I took James’ place as look out and he helped his father and the other men with saws and axes trying to cut it away so we could lever the massive trunk down off the Wall.

We were fine until a couple of climbers showed up. And when they got agitated the other zombies finally started to notice us as well. The climbers would start up and then we would shoot them down or throw a limb down and in their way. Other zombies kept trying to get to us but they were an uncoordinated lot. And then the three ragers showed up. What was scary was those three seemed to be working in concert. They were ripping and tearing at the lower limbs and trunk. What was left of the shredded bark shown red with blood where the ragers didn’t care whether they ripped off skin or whole fingers as they tried to utilize the tree to get to us.

It took five or six shots, but I finally calmed myself down enough that I could make reasonably descent headshots. I missed a couple of times and simply blew off jaws or other body parts, but for the most part I began to find the rhythm I needed to do my part. One thing on our side was that the zombies, as clumsy as the majority of them were, could never get a purchase to climb the Wall itself … not even the Climbers. And the zombie … umm … debris I guess you’d call it … would have been comedic if we weren’t so scared. Some of the shamblers could do nothing but slip and slide, only remaining upright because there were so many of them packed into the area.

It took an hour with all hands available hacking and sawing to clear enough of the tree off so that we could do what needed to be done. I went through way too much ammo to be comfortable.

After things were silent again we walked the perimeter. We couldn’t see that they had appreciably moved the zombies at all. In fact, many of the more noticeable ones were still around. There was the zombie in a bride’s dress now more gore splattered than white who was missing the lower half of her right arm. There was a zombie still wearing a fireman’s jacket and breathing apparatus, though the face mask had fallen away long ago. There were the child zombies, some of the hardest for me to take. There was a zombie dressed in a clown outfit guaranteed to give me more than a few dreams at some point in the future. The ones that Angus said gave him the willies were the three zombies in bikinis or what was left of the bikinis … and what was left of what was supposed to have been covered up by the bikinis. All three of them had horrific wounds on their chests.

Matlock and some of the other guys got busy manufacturing their homemade bombs. The stuff they were using was basically the same materials that were used to bring the OKC building down. I’m glad they were doing it on the other side of the compound in a storage container they had sandbagged all around to make a sort of bunker for their bombs to live in.

Dix had headed over to the radio shack to see if he could figure out what was next. After checking to make sure that all the people in our house were fed and watered I headed over to see if he had heard anything new.

Oh brother, had he. I hope Steve and his group are able to pick the signals up but even if they could I don’t know if anyone has deciphered them yet. Dix is worried about breaking radio silence and alerting them to the fact that we can understand them. We’d send a runner out but that would be suicide.

Tomorrow the next wave starts … not … we aren’t for sure that we have decoded it properly. It sounds outrageous. Crazy. Suicidal. And dangerous as hell.

Day 210 (Monday) – February 26

Sometimes I wonder how far into the future this journal is going to be read. Will I just be a little old lady basking in the act of surviving when so many didn’t? Will my journals be taken out by my children after I’ve gone and they are searching for a connection? Will my grandchildren or great grandchildren be rummaging through a box or chest and wonder what all this scrabbling was about as they sit and read? Maybe it’s more generations from now than I can contemplate, when all that I hold dear now has left the earth.

The reason I sometimes wonder about that issue is that I have a tendency to associate two dissimilar objects or events, trying to come to some understanding about what I’ve seen, heard, or experienced.

Take today for instance. We all had a feeling today was going to be worse than yesterday. Yesterday was bad, but today was like we had stepped into a ripped off script from Starship Troopers. I know my kids know what Starship Troopers is but maybe my future readers do not. Fine. Let me explain as best I can.

Starship Troopers was a movie … actually it was a trilogy those the second two movies didn’t have the cult following of the first one. It started out being about a bunch of kids who “signed up” to become citizens by joining a military regime that fought bugs. I’m sure I’ve already lost some of you. But it wasn’t just about fighting bugs, it was how the kids were indoctrinated into this service and how they changed over time; some for the good, some for the worse. By the end of the trilogy the metaphors were getting a little heavy and obvious but in some ways apply more today than they did back when it was made. This was all very sci-fi and their uniforms and tools for fighting the bugs were quite interesting.

Well, today I watched people … many of them little more than kids … fighting “bugs” same as in the movie. Only the “bugs” were actually zombies; or more properly they were Necrotizing Reanimating Syndrome infected corpses. NRS. Our real life “bug.” Our real life plague.

I had spent much of the night, in between cat naps, doing more cooking. All the women were busy helping load magazines and clips, divide up ammo, cook and bake food and breads that would last a day or two without refrigeration, fill water containers, and prepare drinks like Koolaid for the kids and Gatorade for those that would need electrolyte replacement from sweating or from battle.

From the overheard transmissions we knew that the NRSC planned on starting their crazy battle plan at 6 AM. A Radio Free Florida broadcast – not from OSAG but someone claiming the same name – came out late last night telling how equipment had parachuted from the sky and helicopters had landed with lots of men dressed all in black and they were setting up on the far side of the new burn zone between US 98 and US 301 not too far from Zephyrhills. They had just started a more detailed description of the equipment when the broadcast was abruptly broken off. We all had an opinion on what that meant.

So we waited. And waited. And waited.

After the RFF broadcast someone had wised up and gone to radio silence. Obviously they didn’t want survivors to know what was coming. They certainly couldn’t have expected the zombies would give a rats behind what was on the radio. I don’t care about the old scare stories about zombies getting “smart” somehow. The whole point to a zombie is the fact that it is dead … dead things decay starting with the soft tissues. The brain is a soft tissue organ. It may be one of the last things to go, but go it will and that means that the more decay the dumber the zombie. We’ve seen that time and again with shamblers and the like.

My main concern at the time was just how dumb were the NRSC going to be. Their plan had so many holes in it that it let everything through but failure. The failure latched on to the lunatics that dreamed this nightmare up.

By about 8:30 AM their line was already faltering. What we’ve been able to paste together was that a massive line of tanks and personnel lined up along a two mile stretch just on the other side of US301. The tanks were painted black with the NRSC insignia on them like some kind of voodoo good luck charm. The men were armored in what looks like Kevlar and some hard polymer plating; from head to toe … or at least from head to the top of their boots which came just below their knees. Their helmet was some type of polymer as well with an attached face mask and neck guard. Sorry for the movie comparisons but Scott, being weird as he is on occasion, did his Darth Vader imitation saying, “James, I am your father.” I thought it was asinine, but James and David laughed which I think might have been Scott’s aim to begin with. We were all so tense; I just didn’t see how they could joke at a time like that.

As you can guess around about noon came the first reports of heat exhaustion. What worked in New England in the late autumn and winter was not going to work in Florida at any time of the year. The gear had a built in camel pack but the rehydration went quickly.

At 6 AM on the nose the line started forward. The burn zone was fairly free of zombies … except for a few that had gotten fried crispy but hadn’t completely destroyed the brain. These were easily put down. Then they began to run into the hive’s exterior coating. These were nothing but shamblers unfit to do anything but face forward and move. They never even turned and the NRSC troopers mowed them down quickly. I think this set up a problem with over confidence.

Despite their apparent early successes, it was slow going. There were just so many corpses to slice through. About 8 AM they met their first real resistance and their main armored vehicle went to work. It looked like a small tank … maybe holding two or three personnel … with what looked like a street sweeper attached to the front on arms. Only instead of heavy duty brush bristles this think had chains and blades that would sling around.

I saw on in action. Oh my Lord. This thing chopped up everything … ground, trees, fences … but most particularly it chopped up zombies. And I think, had we had a normal horde it could have worked. But the head honchos in the Midwest tried to do too much at one time. They bit off more than they could chew. This wasn’t a horde; it was a hive … and a huge one that was miles in diameter and full of more than just shamblers.

Their other armored vehicle looked like a modified personnel carrier that had a …. I can’t remember the name of these things but I’ve seen pictures of them on the front of steam engine trains that were cutting through avalanches laying over tracks and on those ships called “ice breakers.” It was kind of like a pointy steam shovel that was used to push the hive along. The vehicle itself was huge, like one of those really big dump trucks you used to see on Modern Marvels, a television series about all the good things that man had built. Only these things weren’t good. They were like … like … no, I’m not crazy, not really. But what those machines … the drivers of those machines … did was awful, mean, irresponsible, sociopathic, and sadistic. If you thought my description of what the little tanks could do was pretty bad these things were even worse. They rolled over everything. They just went through stuff like a hot knife through butter. They could even slice through buildings without stopping as long as they had enough speed going into the obstruction.

But the problem was, from what OSAG was finally able to relay to us from their hidden vantage point at the top of one of their secured buildings, they tried to move their line too quickly. They cut into the hive, and quite effectively, but their line wasn’t long enough or the hive was too thick or something. As the NRSC pushed into the hive, the center of the line starting forming a point. The line to either side of the point started falling back creating an inverted “V”. Like birds flying south for the winter. This formation is great for punching into something but sucks when you want to keep what you are punching into cohesive.

The hive started splitting and bleeding around either end of the NRSC line. Because of radio silence or battle fever or inexperience, the center didn’t get the message that they needed to slow down; or maybe they didn’t know, the smoke was still very heavy. The inverted “V” kept getting more and more narrow.

Suddenly the NRSC line was fighting a battle on two fronts; the main hive in front of them and now the pieces of the hive that were flowing around and coming up behind them.

I’ll give it to the NRSC boys and girls, they didn’t lack for heart. They continued to maintain their forward motion and chew through the hive. We noticed some minor disturbances in the hive surrounding Sanctuary around 9 AM; by 10 AM the hive was undulating and moving back and forth like waves, mostly westward but for three feet forward they would slide back two. By 11 AM it had changed to move westward three feet and only slide back one.

At 11:30 AM though we noticed the start of what we’ve called a feeding frenzy. There were a lot of tumored, mutant zombies around now. And a lot of Ragers … bad combination. We figured it was the noise that was agitating them. We had begun to hear the roar and crunch of the forward NRSC line.

Brian and a couple of the other guys that had been lying on top of the tallest parts of the Wall scrambled down quickly and put the word out that the NRSC line was within visual distance, though still nearly a mile off. Debris could be seen falling and being kicked up through gaps in the thinning smoke. But, the line was pretty ragged. The foot soldiers were taking the worst of it. I’m not sure how many they had started with but they had to have lost quite a few considering how many we watched go down.

I was getting really nervous. They weren’t turning or deviating from their path. I kept thinking of all those fruit trees that had just started coming back from the damage they had experienced during the Big Horde. Pictures of all of our storage pools came into my mind as well and all that we had hoped to salvage from the buildings. WE were going to be the ones to bring the buildings down in an efficient manner when we were ready. Now I could just make out all the damage and destruction that those vehicles had to be perpetrating. The Wall was strong but it wasn’t indestructible.

Suddenly out of the smog and sound came a huge explosion. I’ll be totally honest, I came close to wetting myself it startled me just that bad.

James, who was beside me at my position at the Wall went, “Whooooooaaaaaa! The must’ve found one.”

“Found … one … what … James,” I ground out after I put my heart back in my chest.

“Oh. Um. Well. Hey, here comes Dix and Matt. They can tell you,” and the boy scrambled away pretty quick.

He was on the ladder going down when there was another explosion that nearly knocked me off my feet. What the heck?! I screamed inside my head.

Matt and Dixon had their piranha smiles on. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “they did so not do what I think they did.”

But they had. It seems when they had heard that the hive was on its way they had taken all of the explosives that had been made up to that point and seeded various areas. They did it secretly just to be safe. However, the stuff was apparently a little bit stronger than they had expected.

Scott came up at that point and asked me to get off the Wall. I was more than willing to go at that point, chauvinism or no chauvinism. I hate loud noises. I mean they rattle me very badly. I like loud music, but sudden loud noises does something to me. It’s one of the reasons that I was so resistant to using guns in the beginning; not because I was scared of the guns but because I literally hate the noise they make. I’ve become desensitized to the noise somewhat now, but no one could possibly get use to the kind of deafening noise that those packages of explosives were making.

I guess some of the guys – the ones that were in on this – had rigged up some explosives in the houses that still stood. It was like a trip wire or something or some were like pressure switches. Anyone within our group would recognize the skull and crossbones insignia we put on the doors of a “bad” house … whether it was full of poison to kill an infestation, full of biological debris of some type, or maybe it was black mold … if it had that insignia no one was to go inside it. The houses were secure enough to keep the zombies out but when the armored vehicles tried to bust in or knocked one of them it was enough to set off the trigger.

I looked over to the “bunker” the men had set up and sure enough Austin, Brian, Chris and a few of the others were gathering up more of their “toys.”

Anne saw me and came running wanting to know what was going on. When I told her … and Saen, Becky, Sarah, and Tina who had also come out to the carport … what was going on their faces must have mirrored my own. But it was Anne that pretty much summed it up for the rest of us. Seems Anne can be very, very creative when it comes to potential revenge for not giving us any warning of what they were going to do. I hope Lee knows what he’s doing when he comes home tonight. Saen is not too happy with Glenn at the moment either. Several of the men might find out they are in for a skinning.

About that time three near simultaneous explosions went off. I later found out that was something that Scott and James … my pyromaniacs that tie unseemly numbers of fireworks together on the 4th of July to make the biggest explosion possible for the longest time possible … had rigged up. That one took out one of those big armored vehicles … basically disintegrated it, sending dirt, debris, and metal parts raining down all over the place, including inside Sanctuary.

The men became much more cautious because things had started to get very crazy. My descriptions aren’t doing the facts justice. It has just all been so unbelievable. So over the top that many of us have been near overload for days now.

The feeding frenzy that had been threatening became a reality. You don’t ever want to see thousands of zombies go crazy at the same time. Just like sharks they were biting and snapping at everything animate or otherwise. David said he watched them take huge chunks of flesh out of each other and then spit them out. I heard Lee telling Anne about watching some of the mutants eat other zombies by ripping a chunk out of one and stuffing it in its mouth and then ripping the arm off of another and eating it like a drumstick before reaching into the stomach cavity of yet another and pull intestines out to eat them like thick spaghetti.

And if the zombies were doing that to each other you can just imagine the havoc they wreaked on the hapless NRSC recruits? I myself witnessed them up end one of the small tanks trying to get to the warm bodies inside. There were so many zombies that they clogged up the shredder and it became useless as a weapon of destruction. The foot soldiers took the worst hits. I watched them get dogpiled by dozens of zombies at a time. The only thing their body armor gave them was a few more minutes of pain and terror.


Day 211 (Tuesday) – February 27

I can’t believe I dozed off in the middle of my journal entry last night. I’m not the only one who sat down for a second only to wake up an hour or two later, but I’m still a bit embarrassed.

By my best count the booby trap explosives took out no less than three of those big armored vehicles and two of those little tanks. That didn’t stop things though. It came down to the .50 caliber and our other homemade bombs.

We were surprised that none of the NRSC vehicles had mounted guns. We found out today … I’ll right now in a bit … that the lack of mounted guns was a “cost control decision” and a case of underestimation of the opposition they would run into. The NRSC does have mounted guns but for patrols of the central zone and around the new capital … not for zombie combat. That really blew us away, figuratively speaking, because even many raider groups and the pirates had mounted guns and were finding ammo from some place.

The foot soldiers were too busy to target Sanctuary; they were no longer soldiers strictly speaking, but were survivors fighting against overwhelming odds the same as us. The little tanks would never have made it through our gatehouse or Wall and were frankly too busy dealing with the number of zombies they were encountering. The big armored vehicles were a different story however. We later found out that those vehicles were assigned as “rewards” to hard core NRSC “patriots.” They were thought to be nearly indestructible. They were wrong.

We had several try a direct attack on us. Two of them fell to the mounted .50 caliber. Two others tired to attack the Wall from out of range of the gun. Brian got one and Austin the other using our homemade explosives. The explosives and guns didn’t really stop the vehicles themselves but the drivers inside them, giving the zombies time to completely overwhelm all of those inside.

The fifth, and last, to try and take out our Wall nearly made it. Thankfully they were unable to get up enough speed to do anymore than crack the wooden skin on the Wall. The driver was quickly ripped out of the broken window and torn apart. But four of the troopers in the back of the vehicle were able to climb on top of the cab.

It was automatic. We are human. There is an instinct to save our own kind in the face of so many infecteds. We threw down a rope ladder. Three of them made it up, the fourth who was covering for his buddies was pulled off and fell to into the grasping arms of two ragers. There was nothing left for his comrades-in-arm to sanitize.

They didn’t hesitate and threw their lot in with ours. They realized immediately that if they wanted to survive they needed to help defend Sanctuary. It wasn’t until sunset that things had died down enough for Dix and Matt – who had set Angus and Jim to watch the new arrivals during the battle – had the time to demand that helmets and masks be removed.

My Lord, they were just kids. Two boys and one girl. The girl was the oldest at 21, the boys were 16 and 17 respectively. The 16 year old didn’t even look like he had to shave yet, in fact looked younger than James did.

By the time the gloom of sunset had passed into full night the NRSC’s line had moved to the west beyond our sight. They took with them about three quarters of the zombies but that still left a significant number.

We fed and watered and rested as best we could. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the NRSC kids; apparently they were concerned after my interaction with Jamie. In the end it was James and young Eric who were the most rabid at distrusting the new people. I suppose Dix was right but I did demand that we at least treat them under the Geneva Convention and made sure they had food and water as well before they were locked up for the night. There was some grumbling at that but I reminded them that they had defended the Wall without needing to be coerced into it.

As soon as I could pull Dix aside surreptitiously, I reminded him that if they were kids it might be that they were malleable. Seeing as we don’t know how things are going to work out in the long run, a few less enemies in the world might come in handy at some point. Dix looked at me like maybe I wasn’t quite the fuzzy sheep he expected. I don’t know why folks keep underestimating me like that. I can’t help if I look like someone’s momma … that’s what I am … but I’m also a student of history, interested in current events, and rather more cynical that I guess folks understand.

After leaving Dix I sat down to write in my journal. I simply meant to lean by head back for a moment to rest my eyes from all the smoke and writing by dim light. I woke up at 4 AM the next morning with the buzzing of a mosquito in my ear and Scott’s head on my lap. I eased up and away, just managing not to wake him.

On the way to my morning ablutions, I overheard James, Samuel, and Eric discussing the NRSC kids. They were quite rabid and without mercy. I could understand Eric, he’d suffered terribly at the hands of the pirates but my own son’s vehemence worried me.

I couldn’t help it. Upon returning from a trip to the latrine, and finding they were still discussing the subject I joined in and reminded them of a few things.

It’s not the “government” that is bad. It is the PEOPLE who currently control the government that are bad. Government in and of itself is merely a means to an end, a system without emotion or life. At the individual level we govern ourselves, our actions, so as to make our lives as easy and pleasurable to us as possible. At the family level, parents govern their children in order to raise them in such a way as to become productive members of the society in which they participate. At the local level, such as here within Sanctuary, we have come together and created a society that puts a high value on being self-sufficient and self-governing. The reason we can do that is because the members of our society, barring a few examples here and there, are responsible and strive to be agreeable and interact in constructive ways so that not only do we thrive as individuals but as a whole community.

When the USA was original envisioned great men, though flawed and imperfect its true, came together to create a government that did not limit the individual but gave the individual scope to become better, where they could strive to improve their lot in life. That vision included certain guaranteed freedoms … what we came to call The Bill of Rights … as well as a reasonably sized federal government that was there to shepherd rather that usurp individual and state rights.

At some point down the road those that managed our system of government, those that we elected, began to reinterpret individual rights and freedoms and those that elected them forgot that freedom did not come free; they lost the understanding of the concept of personal responsibility and self-sufficiency, buried as it become under the concept of entitlement. They also lost the understanding of community responsibility. No longer were orphans and widows supported by individuals who knew them and cared for them, suddenly that responsibility was seeded to the state and federal governments who were ill equipped to do the job right. Generations suffered from this. And the injustices inherent in the reinterpreted vision were perpetuated again and again.

Then an apocalyptic even occurred. Civilization began to crumble and our government that had gone from lower case “g” to uppercase “G” was in danger; and so too was the livelihood of all those that had become dependent on the Government for their cradle to grave existence. Large numbers of both good and bad people who had been part of the perpetuation of “the system” died. And into this vacuum came the NRSC.

It’s not always a bad thing when change must occur. But in the case of the NRSC and their apparent takeover of the Federal system, it was. The people at the top were self-serving and megalomaniacal. To have called them sociopaths or psychopaths would not really be true. They were simply human, had found a system in which they thrived and were prosperous, and were going to defend and perpetuate that system so that they were even more powerful and prosperous. It’s their methods that suck.

I asked the boys to consider just a few things before I left them. I asked them where would they stand if they hadn’t experienced life here in the quarantine zone? I asked them to consider the possibility that if they really didn’t know what was going on out here, if they were being given false or distorted information, would they be any more or less likely to wear the black uniform? Lastly I asked them, and Eric particularly felt this, if they had lost all they held dear and someone offered them a chance at revenge against what or who was supposed to have taken their dear ones from them, would they jump at the chance to do so, even if that meant putting on a uniform of a group you weren’t in total agreement of?

As the boys left, irritated at my unwillingness to march in their parade of self-righteousness, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had helped or harmed things. I turned around and nearly jumped out of my skin.

Dammit, I hate it when I squeak like that. Scott and Dix were standing there listening to what I had said to the boys. I knew they both probably had some response to make. What they said was what really surprised me however.

Dix wanted me to talk to the NRSC kids and see if I could find out anything useful. I was one of the few in the compound willing to be open minded enough to not scare the heck out of them apparently. However, I had rules I had to follow. I wasn’t to promise them anything. I wasn’t to interact with them except superficially. I would be the one to take their breakfast to them but I would have two guards. I was to get no more than three feet away from Curtis or Chris at any given time. If I couldn’t agree to abide by those rules they would figure something else out.

Not wanting Angus or Glenn to be the “something else” I quickly said of course. Dix left to go make arrangements and Scott just sighed while looking at me.

I was right; he did have something specific to say. He was worried that I was being too kind hearted and empathetic; that I would be too soft in my handling of the new people. On the other hand he hadn’t been around when I dealt with Jamie. He doesn’t really know how far I’m willing to go if it is for the sake of my family … of those I now consider family. How much of a manipulator I am capable of being. How dangerous I am capable of being.

I think there are some illusions that need to be maintained in order for spouses to coexist for long periods of time. I know my dad protected mom from some of the things he had done in the military and I know that Scott has tried to protect me from some of the things that they’ve had to do around Sanctuary. For my part I believe it best that Scott doesn’t need to know that often I am only weak when I know that his strength is sufficient to carry me. He doesn’t need to know that I would be walking in there with two of my dad’s knives secreted up my shirt sleeves. He also doesn’t need to know that there are places that I know I can go within myself that would scare the bejeebers out of most of the people who know me … or think they do. I will always do what I need to do. It may be hard to live with, but living with my choices will always be easier for me than living without my family would be.

I wanted our prisoner to be willing to share information. I wanted a constructive interaction with them. I did plan on giving those kids a chance to show they weren’t a lost cause. In the end I thought to myself, “Well, two out of three isn’t bad.”

"Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility." I forget where I read that but it has stuck in my mind for years.

Breakfast for our prisoners was grits and scrambled eggs with a flour tortilla to scoop it up with served on paper plates and fresh water in paper cups. I didn’t want to give them anything that could be misused. I saw too many of those “inside prison walls” documentaries not to realize that even the most innocuous item can be turned into a weapon. And our experience with the last NRSC group we came into contact with reinforced that out with extreme prejudice.

The kids wolfed down the food, amazed that everything was fresh and reasonably plentiful. They also couldn’t believe we had good water. The girl, her name was Bobbi Berkshire, revealed that food and water was a problem back in the Central Zone, and an even worse problem along the NRSC supply lines. Bobbi fit her name to a tee. Tall and willowy with hair that curled in an unfortunate way that she had cut mercilessly short in an attempt to control it … and deal with the fleas and lice that had run rampant through the squads three months ago when she had been assigned to a Recovery Crew in Baja.

The 16 year old gave off the aura of someone who is surprised that not all of the survivors out in the quarantine zones weren’t sicko mutants that wallowed in our own filth. He wanted to know where we kept our “pet” zombies. I thought Chris was going to start laughing outright at the poor kid. I don’t know where Daniel (that was the kid’s name but he hadn’t grown into it yet) had been for the last seven months but he sure hadn’t had much credulity knocked into him … he was as green as a fresh cut willow branch.

Landes … yeah, that really was his name and he was excessively proud of it … was the 17 year old and a right good size pain in the butt in more ways than one. The boy was arrogant and snide; two characteristics that twist my guts. He kept talking about how we should seriously consider just surrendering as it would go easier for us that way. He felt “some responsibility” since we had “assisted” their escape … I wish there was some way for me to get across just how wonked this kid sounded. Here he was, a prisoner in a compound that had withstood zombies, raiders, pirates, and everything the NRSC had thrown at us up to that point and he still made it sound like he was the one doing us a favor.

Daniel looked a little bit too much like a hero-worshipping puppy when he looked at Landes. Bobbi on the other hand wouldn’t look at Landes at all; in point of fact she looked like she was having a hard time not delivery a hearty dope slap to the back of the kid’s head. That gave me an idea.

I asked Bobbi in a sotto voice if she needed a little … uh hmmm … privacy. Her response was immediate and in the affirmative. I sent for and got permission from Dix to escort Bobbi to one of the vacant houses so she could wash up without having to have adolescent males watching.

Anne came with us and Chris and Curtis stood outside the front door. Anne looked at me, wondering where I was going with this or if I was going anywhere at all. I looked at her with big, innocent eyes and she got the message. But, so had Bobbi. Smart girl. Nice to know that not every female left outside the quarantine zones were air heads or butch bitches.

“You want to know what’s up,” she said.

“Of course we do,” I admitted. “But feel free to clean up. That offer was genuine.”

“Thanks. Danny is OK but Landes is a nasty little jerk off.”

While Bobbi took advantage of some space and privacy … or at least as much as Anne and I were willing to give her … she explained a few things.

She was a junior at the University of Denver studying psychology and social work when the first NRS outbreak in the states had been reported. She admitted there was a lot of deterioration in the social fabric until the NRSC showed up and organized things. They stopped the panic, organized food and water distribution, helped to keep the utilities own by taking over the management of the natural gas and coal reserves, and started creating a defense force that were initially only assigned to protecting the remnants of the federal government that had relocated into the area and give support to local militias.

“Everyone should have realized something wasn’t right when they started convincing the local militia members to disarm and let the NRSC handle things. It was supposed to be so the average citizen could go back to work and to taking care of their family like normal … none of us understood at the time that normal was never coming back.”

It had gone downhill from that point onward in terms of personal freedoms. By the beginning of October a mandate for giving the NRSC so many hours of the week in service had been put into place ostensibly for gathering up supplies and preventing hording. By the end of the month there was an actual draft. A lot of the early draftees simply disappeared, likely victims of the early and poor planned attempts at zombie control. Things got so bad after Thanksgiving that they lowered the draft age to 16.

“That’s how they got Danny. He was living with his grandparents who had a real houseful from taking in so many relatives. He was actually grateful for the chance to leave. Families of draftees are supposed to get a one-time bonus payment in food and fuel but I’ve heard rumors it takes forever to collect on that.”

The NRSC no longer even bothers trying to make their actions seem benign. It’s total allegiance to the NRSC or you are considered an enemy combatant and have your home and supplies taken away as fines, the adults are sent to outposts and the kids are funneled into the NRSC’s education programs; sounds more like re-education and indoctrination.

The NRSC controls the media so the people in the Central Zones really aren’t aware of how things truly are out in the Quarantine Zones. Apparently its like reporting on natural disasters. The only people to make it to the television are the stereotypes. A large, muumuu covered woman with Dolly Parton-sized assets says of the tornado, “You shoulda just heard it. It sounded like a freight train. And there was ghost lights. My granny always told me if you saw ghost lights then someone was gonna die. I just knew right there someone I loved was gonna tie and shore ‘nuff my doll baby died!” At which point she breaks down in hysterical tears. Only, “doll baby” turns out to be her ancient and overfed Chihuahua that didn’t die until after the storm when he choked on the twelfth doggie treat of the day.

Bobbi said that the NRSC really made the survivors in the quarantine zones sound like fruitcakes one minute and thundering hordes the next intent on taking everything away from the people in the central zone out of jealousy. And they made themselves out to be defenders of all that was good and right in the central zone and messiahs who would rescue the “deserving” from out of the quarantine zones.

“I’ve seen the pictures though. They weren’t doctored. There are some whack jobs out here in the quarantine zones. And I’ve found in more than a few raider battles. What makes you people different?”

I tried to explain she was getting a skewed view. Life in the quarantine zones was hard, not mistake. Your average softy wasn’t going to make it. You needed to be self-sufficient and willing to be ruthless if necessary. We did have groups like the “filthies” and pirates and raiders but personally I believed they were fewer than the survivor groups who were just trying to make their own way and better their lives. And some of those groups … particularly the filthies … likely wouldn’t survive more than another year or two simply because how they lived was so dangerous.

“If you are talking about that group of low-hygiene targets south west of here the hive got them already. We dropped a beacon into their camp and they set it off early by trying to dismantle it. I guess they thought there was something valuable inside the box.”

I didn’t like how unconcerned she sounded but I suppose it was nothing but a fact or statistic to her. As much as the filthies had disgusted me, I still saw them as people.

“Look, you won’t have any trouble with me. I’d like to shed the NRSC. It wasn’t my idea to join up, I’m a draftee and we aren’t anything but cannon fodder. And if you can get Danny away from Landes he’ll clean up real quick. He’s nothing but a puppy and can be retrained. Landes though, he’s hardcore. That little bastard has dreams of becoming a member of the NRSC Council if not the damn Chairman of the Board. He’s real ambitious. He’s a good fighter, but it’s all about where his reputation can take him and not really the cause he is fighting for. You get it?”

Yeah, I got it all right. And it was just about like I suspected in the first place. We have a cynic, a puppy, and a wannabe … and it looks like they could all be a pain in the butt.

Then I asked her about the feds and the US military. Both still exist but the federal government officials are basically figureheads. They don’t have any real power. Pre-NRS the Congress had gotten so heavily infiltrated by NRSC supporters and those that owed them favors that they had were nearly a moot point as soon as New York occurred. And the Prez … well, rumor had it that he had thought he was the one controlling the NRSC when it turned out that the tail was wagging the dog. After the plane crash and the “appointment” of replacements, the NRSC came out of the closet.

As far as the military goes, that’s the wild card. See there are a lot of service men and women at all levels that take their oath to protect the US Constitution extremely seriously. When the NRSC made its grab for power and for all intents and purposes nulled the Constitution many upper level military officers broke away. The Navy and the Coast Guard continue to patrol the coasts and watch for foreign incursions on US soil. They also have taken it as their solemn duty to control, if not eradicate as many violent pirate groups as possible and will work in conjunction with any coastal community that will allow them to port and trade for food and water to support their troops.

The marines are all over the place in pockets, and rumor has it that some have even taken to making incursions into the central zones to liberate some of the “camps” the NRSC has set up. The same for the Army although they are primarily vested in a few of the western and eastern quarantine zones, trying to hold some of the last military bases. The USAF partners with the Army and the Navy providing air and radar support where possible.

On occasion the US military branches will cooperate with the NRSC when they feel they have no other option as was the case here in Florida. The NRSC said either cooperate or that they would use nukes to eradicate the zombie nests. The USAF and the US Navy agreed to run tactical and surgical air strikes to encourage the zombies to head toward the coast. As irritated as I am by the bombing runs, it explained the difference in the bombing runs and the land based maneuvers; the military had striven for little to no collateral damage while the NRSC just didn’t give a rat’s behind who got in their way.

We had stalled for as long as we could and it was time for Bobbi to rejoin the boys. To blow a little smoke screen Anne and I carried a couple of buckets of water for Danny and Landes to wash up with. Sure enough they were disgruntled that Bobbi had been gone so long. They were only slightly mollified when they saw the water and soap we had brought for them. Of course Landes had to be a jackass.

“You gonna watch?” he said in what he thought was some kind of manly leer I guess.

Anne, in quick retort, “Watch what little boy?”

Bobbi cracked up laughing and I couldn’t help but smile as well at the look on Landes’ face. But then he charged catching me off guard.

I’ve seen Curtis move quickly more than once but he always surprises me when he does it. Landes was on his butt and on the other side of the “prison container” before I had the chance to pull one of my knives. Both Bobbi and Danny were shocked at how fast the situation deteriorated. Landes is a big boy and apparently pretty handy with his fists. Curtis is short and slight; it’s easy to forget that he is a master at hand to hand defense and accidentally underestimate him.

But Curtis wasn’t the only one that went into motion. One of my knives was out of its sheath on my exhale. Chris had Landes covered with his weapon and Damion and young Eric that had been outside of the door on guard duty stepped in and had Bobbi and Danny covered. And Anne … she wasn’t that much of a hand with a gun but she had her own version of scary … had a taser out (probably something that Lee had built for her) and directed at a particularly tender portion of young Landes’ anatomy.

From the look on Landes’ face I don’t think he’ll do that a second time. I also have a feeling that Bobbi will enjoy putting the needle to Landes for a bit after she finished kicking the boy’s butt around the container a couple of times for causing the ruckus in the first place. I hope she can defend herself. She proved useful and while I’m not sure I like her I don’t exactly dislike her either. She’s a still beautiful young woman without a protector and I don’t think that works any better in the Central Zone than it does out here in the Quarantine Zones. Her eyes have dead spots in them where it looks like she’s seen her own share of problems.

We didn’t let Landes off with a scare because we were being nice. Had our weapons gone off inside that steel container we could have had some serious ricochet going on. And we weren’t sure that those three were at the end of their usefulness either. At least not at the time. Had Bobbi or Danny backed Landes up however it probably would have been a blood bath. The only other thing besides trying not to get into the line of fire, that stopped me from gutting Landes was the fact that he wet his pants … from the smell of things probably something else as well. Obviously Landy-boy isn’t the big bad he likes to think he is. The shame of having to clean himself up after he siting in it for a while cooled his ardor for being a bully, for a little while any way.

By that time it was lunch and the prisoners weren’t my priority any longer. I made sure my family got something to eat out of the huge cauldron of soup that Becky and Tina had been cooking and then I went to see what kind of damage had been done to my gardens.

There were lots of wilted plants but a short burst with the drip hose system perked most of them back up. The lack of real sunlight was causing problems too, but there was nothing I could do about that. I pulled about a bushel of turnips that were ready and cut the first tender leaves of turnip greens. I would roast the turnips in wine, honey, and butter for dinner after cubing them and would cook the greens with some bacon grease. Betty and Reba were making a roast from the haunch of one of the Kudu that had been picked off during Noah’s parade.

I hope those animals made it to someplace safe. We’ve had to take so many I don’t know if we cut their numbers down too far for successful breeding to occur. Not to mention the hunting around here will probably be very thin for a while; at least until the animals feel safe enough to return to their old territory, if they ever do. We are going to be very dependent on our domestic animals and what we’ve already hunted and smoked for maybe an entire season or more.

James and Scott found me out pulling weeds and wanted to hear my version of what had occurred. They were both extremely angry. Not really at me though with everyone being on short sleep it kind of came off that way. I was too tired to fight and told them so. Dix and Matt walked up and said they’d heard Anne’s side now wanted to hear mine. I said fine and went over everything we had learned from Bobbi, reminding them that it was what she said and not necessarily the whole truth, as well as what happened in the prison container.

After going over the story a couple of more times and clarifying some things I left discussing how to correct the problem of the ricochet danger. James followed me back to the house demanding to know what I hadn’t just used my machete on Landes.

I tried to explain myself but wasn’t doing much good. James was just too angry; not just at Landes but at anything from the Central Zone generally and anyone in a black uniform particularly. I know I need to handle this right. After World War II it was over a generation before Japanese Americans could live in relative peace without having to pay the price for what Japanese nationals had done at Pearl Harbor and in the Pacific. It’s taken nearly as long for Americans of German decent to shed the shadow of the Nazi regime. Pre-NRS many Middle Easterners were painted with the same broad brushstrokes that were used to characterize terrorists that claimed to be Muslim extremists … even the ones that were Christian for generations. All that mattered was skin color or ethnicity.

That way lays continued destruction. I don’t want that for my kids. For one thing it is too easy. You don’t really have to think about a person, or justify your actions, when all you see is a color or language or whatever it is that makes them different from you. I didn’t expect everyone to live in harmony and happiness with rainbows and candy canes. I did expect personal responsibility and accountability. I did expect people to prove their worth and value and to earn respect rather than feel like they were entitled to it. Not everyone is going to get along all the time. There may even be groups that don’t get along most of the time. So be it, but let it be for valid reasons and not just how someone was born or the family they were born into.

“James, honey, I wish I had the words to make everything that has happened right and back the way they used to be. Even if I could though I don’t know if I would want to erase all the growing and maturing you’ve done … that I’ve done. You have a right to be angry. But put your anger to constructive use. Don’t blast it widely and indiscriminately. Hold each individual responsible for their own actions. Yes, Landes has turned out to be a real punk. You were right that time. But Bobbi and Danny still have the potential to become informed and then to choose a different path. Landes too for that matter though I think he will probably get his fool self killed before he changes his ways.”

“God mom, we aren’t in church and I don’t need a sermon.”

“And I’m not giving you one so don’t be a smart aleck. I’m just telling you that you need to be thoughtful about things … not to think ‘em to death but so that when you do take action it has the greatest impact for good and the greatest level of constructiveness that you can attain at that point.”

“Is that why you went after Samson and all those other crazy things that you’ve done?”

“I thought I asked you nicely not to talk to me like that? Look, I’m not telling you that I’m the perfect example. What I’m trying to do is share with you the fact that I’m aware that I make mistakes and they are mistakes I don’t want you to make. You’ll make your own. I’m bad about acting hot-headed. I’ve got a temper. It’s put me in situations that could have had a serious impact on your dad, you and the other kids not to mention on Sanctuary in general. Things have generally turned out well but they could just as easily have gone the other direction. All I’m asking you is to put more thought into the prejudices you are choosing to have. Make them logical and directed towards the ones that are truly accountable.”

“You mean just left all those troopers off without any kind of penalty for following bad leaders.”

“No, but make the punishment fit the crime.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?!”

“Honey, if I had the answer to that … Look, for whatever reason it seems the NRSC has been able to horn swaggle a lot of people in the Central Zone. Not everyone, but quite a goodly number. But from what I heard it sounds like the tide is turning. People that make the choice to change direction on their own will likely stay the new course much better than those that are coerced or forced into making a change.”

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t sound like they are changing fast enough.”

“How do you know? For one, we don’t even know with 100% surety that what we learned from Bobbi is the whole truth or even a half truth.”

“Why do you do this?”

“Do what?” I asked confused at the sudden change in subject.

“This … this … I don’t know what to call it. You always make things hard.”

“What? Because I’m asking you to think?”

“Yeah,” he answered more quietly. “It’s easier just to be made. I don’t want to think about them being real people. They are just the enemy.”

“Well, to me that sounds too close to what the NRSC is doing. They are forgetting … or don’t care … that there are people left out here in the Quarantine Zones. I don’t intend or being just as bad as they are. Whatever we wind up building, I want it to be better than it was before.”

“Let me guess … umm … nirvana? Paradise?”

“There’s that smart mouth again. And no, that’s not what I mean. Frankly I think we humans will always need something to battle or we’ll grow soft and start battling each other over stupid stuff. The sharpest swords are created from the flames. I’d rather keep battling zombies the rest of my life than to go back to the mess our country had been heading towards before. But if we have a chance to change and be something better I don’t see what I shouldn’t keep pushing for that to happen.”

“Whatever. I’ve got to go on duty.”

Lord I felt old at that moment. I’m not really idealistic but I do believe in having ideals. I believe there are things worth striving for even if we know they are 99.9% unattainable in this life. This life we were leading has changed my children in ways I never expected it to. For good or bad I was going to have to learn to live with that.

I went back to my bedroom to wash my face and to try and freshen up a bit. Scott came in while I was changing shirts and grabbed me around the waist and in a cuddle hug and told me, “I’ve been informed by suddenly enlightened 16 year old son that God made women solely to give men a hard time.”

“Oh? And how did he come to this state of enlightenment?”

Scott just laughed and nuzzled my neck. “Don’t worry about it. One of these days he’ll learn to appreciate it.”

“You don’t think I’m making more of this than I should?”

“I’m thinking you just want your kids to have a good life and this is your way of trying to ensure it.”

“That’s not an answer of yes or no.”

“Well sugar, that’s the only answer you’re gonna get. Just ease off a bit. You’ve given him something to think about, now give him some space to do the thinking. Belaboring the point every time he turns around isn’t going to work.”

“And you know this because you’re a guy.”

“I know this because I love you and know you want to fix things right away when sometimes it would be better if you would just give things time to fix themselves … and because I’m a guy.”

I mumbled and groaned a little bit in complaint but admitted to myself, if not him, that I knew he was right. Beating a dead horse wasn’t going to make it get up and walk any sooner.

Scott and I were necking a little when Johnnie and Bubby come crashing in, stopped short and went, “Ewwwww!”

Scott said, “I forgot to lock the door.” I said, “You forgot to lock the door.” And then we both couldn’t do anything but laugh.

Rose called from the other room, “Um, Dad … Mom … you need to come out here right away! They need you outside!!”

Rose is normally so self-contained. Scott and I knew right away it had to be something extraordinary for her to get this obviously excited.

As soon as we stepped out the front door we heard it. That distinctive “chop-chop-chop” of large fan blades. It was a helicopter … a big one, not one of the news or traffic helicopters that I was used to seeing around town so many months ago. Not even an emergency medical helicopter. It was even bigger than that helicopter out of that move Black Hawk Down, at least I think so but what do I know. All I know is that it was big sucker with a huge down draft. No one has slowed down long enough since so I could ask.

Oh, and it wasn’t black … it was kind of a grayish color; definitely military, possibly Navy since it came from a carrier out in the Gulf but it could be one of the Marines’ aircraft since that was what was on board. Either or. I was excited and scared at the same time. There is just something about the sight of the US military that always makes me think of Daddy and growing up a military brat.

We have guests.

I haven’t been formally introduced yet. The troops they had on board are camped off to one side of the helicopter and the guys in charge are holed up with Dix, Matt, and several others. The troops are eating rations they brought with them but we managed to have enough veggies and roast to feed the officers on board.

Scott was able to relay me a little info so that I wouldn’t get too wound up and worried. They definitely were US Military. They were trying to transport out any recoverable equipment … not to the NRSC but for their own use. The NRSC line has been decimated with only about ten percent of their original force making it to the rendezvous point for extraction. The NRSC troops are not very happy with their commanders at the moment.

And nor is the citizenry in the Central Zone who got to see some of the fiasco beamed right into their homes; at least until the NRSC was able to retake the local broadcasting stations. An active civil war erupted in an attempt to oust the NRSC from the Central Zone. It’s turning into a blood bath for both sides. They expect that the civil war will last throughout the next several months, possibly only coming to a complete halt when winter sets in again.

The US Military has been as devastated by NRS as the rest of us civilians; in some ways even more so. Trained personnel for some of the equipment are few and far between because of all of the specialization required. And spare parts are also a problem. Much of the equipment that was scavenged from military bases was confiscated by the NRSC. The military is slowly retaking this equipment but there are still serious shortages.

For the moment there are as many anti-military people in the Central Zone as there are anti-NRSC. Because of this the military will remain observers of the main battles. Their main goal is to retake the strategic bases within the Central Zone and remove the nuclear threat.

That’s about all I know at the moment. Oh, and that they’ve agreed to take our three prisoners off our hands. Bobbi is more than willing to go. Danny is scared that he is in some kind of trouble but has also become enthralled by the medic that had been aboard the helicopter.

Well, I guess I do know something else. Sickness is becoming a huge problem and the mortality rates that existed prior to the wide-availability of antibiotics and life-extending health care are returning. The military are now very careful about taking prisoners or civilians in without first giving each one as thorough a field exam as possible.

The medic was pretty amazed that we’ve managed as well as we have without any major problems. He was purely blown away at how healthy the kids were, and was extremely interested in how well the kids that had been abused by the pirates had come back.

That’s when I got pulled into the conversation. Ski embarrassed the heck out of me. I tried to explain that I wasn’t doing anything other than what I had done before what they are calling “The Fall.” We try and plan three decent, nutritionally balanced meals per day. I’ll feed the kids vitamins every day until they finally run out. It’s just part of our routine, even for the teens and young adults. We are careful with our water and Ski doesn’t tolerate anyone not reporting injuries, even if they are “minor” ones.

But then he got into the herbals and natural remedies. I’m no homeopath, I just try and use some commonsense. I just try and use more traditional methods in cases where medications might not be available or where it might not be the best use of the medication. For instance, when I have a headache I’ll drink a cup of betony tea … not the tastiest tea available but better than using our Tylenol or Exedrin that could be better put to some other use. I use a cold thyme tea for a child’s fever. I have a cayenne pepper mix that is the bomb for warding off the flu or helping to keep it mild if you do catch it. And for a bit of energy I’ll mix a tablespoon of honey into a tablespoon of cider vinegar and then add that to a glass of cold water. It actually tastes pretty pleasant, like a cider lemonade.

I explained that my philosophy was moderation in all things. I’m not totally hung up on natural remedies nor am I totally against the benefits of modern medicine; I’m just trying to marry the two of them into a commonsense approach so that we get the biggest bang for our buck out of the supplies we have.

Rose and Melody said that they helped one of the young injured female soldiers. She got a little roughed up during a brawl with a couple of NRSC troopers a couple of days back and one of the scrapes on her back is trying to get infected. She is only one of two females on the helicopter … now that I’m thinking about it I think she called it a Stallion although that might just have been a joke … the other female is an officer and was talking with the men.

I’m very tired. It seems like forever since I got a decent night’s sleep. I don’t want to go to bed but I don’t think I have much choice at this point; it’s either go to bed or fall asleep on my feet and fall flat on my face. James, who is nearly as wary of the military as he is the NRSC, is still on guard duty. Angus said he slept for a few hours in one of the guard houses but I could tell at dinner that he is getting that drawn look he gets when he gets too tired and then tries to get sick. I’ll get Scott to talk to him tomorrow; I doubt he’d take anything I said with any pleasure right now. David isn’t much better but he tends to be wary of everyone even after he’s known them for a while. Scott is up and wired which worries me as much as James being overly tired.

I put the littles to bed when the medic from the helicopter was through giving them a looksee. The medic said very young children are rare outside of the Central Zone, the life it too hard and there are too many dangers. That makes me very sad. It sounds like we may have lost nearly an entire generation out in the Quarantine Zones. Pregnancies that make it to full term without complications are just as rare apparently … in all the zones.

I want Scott to come to bed soon. The helicopter brought some hope and excitement but that’s beginning to wear off as reality … the wider reality we are facing … sets in. There are still many thousands of zombies outside the Wall. And now we know for certain that no place has been spared. There isn’t a Calvary that is waiting in the wings for the right moment to ride in and help us. The troubles that we could have left behind by combining efforts of dissimilar philosophies continue to hamper recovery efforts in our country. And I’m not sure I even want to know what is going on in the rest of the world.

It’s as we always suspected but never wanted to really give up hope of something different … we’re on our own.

Day 212 (Wednesday) – February 28

Full day today. Not bad, not good, just … I don’t know … just kind of anticlimactic I guess. We are still stuck and I was hoping for some type of resolution. I guess in this life you don’t always get what you want when you want it.

We fed breakfast to the military as well as the three NRSC personnel this morning. Landes had a snotty attitude but was kept in check. Danny was very subdued though he continued to watch that medic like a hawk. I know that Landes was giving some heck over it; guess he didn’t like losing his sycophant. Found out after breakfast, from Bobbi, that Danny’s father was an EMT and his grandfather a volunteer firefighter which might explain the fascination.

So that made 15 extra for breakfast and I just decided to do up pancakes. I threw a big griddle on the outdoor grill that we had built to go with the wood cook stove, so with both work stations up and running we were just able to keep up with the crowd. Betty and Reba browned sound ground sausage and mixed in onions and peppers for those that wanted a little protein with their cakes. Regular pancake syrup is getting to be a luxury and will likely stay that way until the sugar cane makes. If it doesn’t I can only hope that the beehives that Mr. Morris is tending do well. The bees certainly haven’t like the smoke we are suffering with.

Not long after breakfast was completed the helicopter prepared to leave. Landes must have run his mouth. He left in those plastic ties (as opposed to handcuffs) but Bobbi and Danny did not. I don’t expect to see those three again but I hope wherever they do wind up they put their youth and enthusiasm to good use.

The helicopter’s departure left a hole. They weren’t even here for 24 hours yet the presence was pretty significant. Of course we still have the zombies for company. According to word received today, there has been a complete pull back of NRSC troops out of the Quarantine Zones. I guess they are trying to secure their position in the Central Zone. We’ll have to wait on info from that. But that means that we get to deal with and clean up the mess they left behind.

The only relief in regard to the zombies is they appear to be reforming a horde and moving ever so slightly moving in a westwardly directly. I’m not going to count on it, but it does at least seem that way. I just hope it’s not wishful thinking on our parts.

I spent the remainder of the day helping to go over the inside of the Wall. Things have held together incredibly well all things considered. The outside of the Wall needs some repair but the wooden skin served its purpose and we don’t have any breeches in the still containers that comprise most of the Wall’s structure. There hasn’t been any undermining of the foundation either which is good news as well.

While checking on various stretches of the Wall I also checked on the gardens. We desperately need rain. I gave everything another spurt with the soaker hoses and did some spot watering where it was particularly bad but that left our garden cisterns half empty. Tomorrow, if we are still corralled inside Sanctuary, Scott says he will see if he can start digging ag wells out by each garden and set up some solar power for them. The motor wouldn’t have to be a big one if the well isn’t deep and all I want to do is run soaker hoses so the pressure wouldn’t have to be that great either. We probably have all the parts he needs in the storage containers, it will just be a matter of actually hitting water and running the lines.

Lunch was an impossible chicken pot pie that I helped to make using canned chicken, canned veggies, some creamed soups, and some Bisquick that was nearing the end of its life. It didn’t appeal to everyone but at least every fourth meal or so I’m trying to use up ingredients from our storage that are just about to go off. I’d rather have a less than stellar meal right not than have no meal at all later because we used up all of our favorite food first and the less desirable stuff was left to spoil on the shelves.

Dinner was a bit better than lunch though I think no one was much in the mood to eat except that it filled up the time. We made a pork stew from one of the warthogs that we took a while back and added turnips that came from the garden to go with some of the dried veggies that we used. We made huge pans of cornbread rather than biscuits because we are starting to ration the flour we have.

From reports from the military the fire is still very bad but it has moved closer to the coast. I know there are – were – a lot of small survivor groups along the coast. I hope they are able to move out of the way. The map of the fire’s path of destruction is pretty bad. That’s one of the things that Matt and Dix were able to find out from the military officers. Every step forward seems to be four or five steps back for the Quarantine Zones. If I wasn’t so certain that there was no such thing as fairness in this life I’d complain about it.

I suppose the one positive thing that we can say about the fire is that it was so hot with no mitigation that where it burned it was alike cauterizing a wound, burning off the chaff, or any other simile that you might think of. With a little bit of rain, by this coming winter those areas will return to the wild so quickly they’ll be unrecognizable; by next year you won’t even be able to tell that people ever lived in some of those areas. Hopefully that will take care of some of the rodent and roach problems Florida was having and which likely would have gotten worse.

Thinking about pest animals reminds me of something strange I saw today. Lucky has gotten where she will leave her kittens for longer stretches. We try and save some scraps for her to eat so she can nurse but between her and the dogs and puppies there just isn’t all that much. I’ve been worried that our dogs and cats will go after our domestic livestock if they get too hungry but so far we are doing OK. But to be on the safe side I’ve started mixing grains into their food portions hoping to push that problem away.

Well, I went to take Lucky some food after lunch and she wasn’t there. Everyone knows not to mess with the kittens so I just was listen to them in the box but hadn’t gone over there yet. I could hear them mewing and scuttling about but then I heard one of them let out a little squeak with a lot more rustling. I wanted to make sure nothing had crawled over in there.

When I looked over in the box, there was a little raccoon kit in there grooming the kittens. Then here comes Lucky, she hops in the box and then starts momma grooming all of the kittens … including the raccoon kit. Looks like she adopted an orphan. I had this surreal moment of kinship watching Lucky. I don’t know what will come of the Cat/Raccoon adoption but it should be interesting.

Scott just came in from guard duty and he said that it looks like the zombies are really starting to move to the west. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to witness this migration. Hopefully we’ll begin hearing how other survivor groups tomorrow. Dix thinks everyone is being cautious because of the NRSC and because of the zombies. At least we hope that is the problem; we don’t want it to be because they’ve been wiped out by the fire, or worse by the infecteds.

That’s about as far into the future as we can plan at the moment. Until these zombies move on we are pretty much stuck bugging in here at Sanctuary and I can already tell that some folks are starting to get a little cranky at the restriction.