Monday, August 18, 2014

April: Raiders and Retribution (part 2)


Day 251 (Sunday) – April 8 – A Not-Restful Day 

Ugh.  I never really went to bed last night and this day has been as full as yesterday.  So yeah, I’m tired.  I’m afraid this is all going to sound fractured but everything has been all over the place. 

About 4 am Dix radioed OSAG and Aldea to let them know as they come in to ignore the mess as best they can and to be on the lookout for predators of both the human and non-human varieties. 

Breakfast wasn’t fancy; just grits, fried spam, and biscuits.  None of us were up to doing much more than that.  I hadn’t done much more than roll the biscuit dough out when Brandon comes walking in with Theo. 

“Sissy, tell Theo how upset everyone would be if he just took off on his own.” 

Oh, I did more than that.  I asked him how upset Dora would be right when she needs to keep calm so she can recuperate.  That did it, kept him from leaving unannounced, but he was about as fun to be around as a caged lion. 

The men started coming in for their first cup of the morning and Dix, looking a little ragged around the edges, sat down with Theo and explained what the plan was and also mentioned that he had already cleared his part in it with Dora. 

Dora was just as anxious to get home as Theo and the boys were.  She refused to be put off another day or two but did understand that they weren’t in any condition to travel by themselves.  Scott, David, and Iggy were going to act as escort to get them home as they knew the area where Dora was living better than anyone else.  Except for me.   

When I casually mentioned that at the council during the night I got a couple of wide eyed blinks.  What?!  They think I did nothing but set at home for the thirteen plus years we owned our business?  I showed units, collected rent, helped with repairs and problem tenants too and the area that Dora lived in was very near where we had managed a few houses.   But I wasn’t going on any of the runs and it wound up being for the best.   

Knowing that all the medical staff would need their strength today (and boy did they), I took over breakfast rather than have them come to the Dining Hall in shifts.  Tom was groggy and couldn’t eat anyway in case he needed to be operated on but I set some water near the bed where he was dozing.  I made sure Waleski ate and then gave a plate to the girls.  After the late night, Ty was still sleeping so Rilla stayed at home and was getting a little more sleep as well.  The plan was for her to sleep in and then give Rose and/or Melody a break later in the day so that they could take a nap. 

Then I took Dora her breakfast.  Sore and trying to get out of bed by herself (and not having much success), I sat her tray on the bedside table and then helped her to get up and get dressed.  Ski had already pronounced her fit enough to travel, even if he was against his preference.  First thing she asked was were the boys being fed and were they behaving.  After giving her a yes to both questions she relaxed and began to eat as well. 

Apropos of nothing she asked, “Did the boys tell you that Jorey was mine?” 

It only took me a second to realize she meant that Jorey was her biological child.  Quickly followed by Jorey’s history.  Quickly followed by the fact that I obviously didn’t know much about Dora at all. 

“Yeah.  I haven’t even been able to bring myself to grieve for my own boy yet.  It’s my fault he is like … he was like he was.  I did that to him.”  After a bit of silence she continued, “I got cleaned up three years ago.  My little girl died ‘cause her daddy shook her one night when I was off dancing to pay our rent.   They took Jorey away then.  At first it was a relief, he was such a problem child and I was too high most of the time to deal with it.  Then they made me attend that stupid rehab class while I was in jail for neglect.  My God.  It nearly killed me.  I started feeling all the things I’d been puttin’ off feeling so I could score my next hit without any guilt.  I know how that sounds.  I know who I was then; what I was.  You don’t need to feel sorry for me.” 

“I wasn’t,” I told her dryly.  “I saw too many of our tenants living like that.” 

“Damn girl, you’re honest.  I always have liked that about you,” she said after a tired chuckle.  “But I cleaned up.  And I worked my butt off to get Jorey back even though I didn’t really know what that meant.  But after being clean for over two years I started backsliding.  I had to keep a roof over our head so I could keep Jorey.  I finally had to go back to dancing.  I got lonely looking at all the other girls with their men.  I started drinking again and it wouldn’t have been long before I was doing other things again.  Then the zombies showed up and rescued me.” 

That last has to be one of the oddest things I’ve heard to date.  Everyone looks at zombies like the worst thing that could have happened and Dora thinks of them as a blessing.   

“The booze and drugs disappeared real quick.  I watched a lot of my friends and former friends die of withdrawals and then come back as a freak.  I thought, there but for the Grace of God, and decided I was going to do more with my life; make it mean something.  Adults … most of ‘em … are idiots and worse.  You got mostly good ones here but out there …  And they’re starting to congregate together again.  Look at those ZKK dudes.  You know what I mean?”

Yeah, unfortunately I did.  We talked a bit more and then Scott came by and said that he had Theo and the boys loaded up and that Chad was on the way in with his sister, the nurse.  We got Dora up and out the door of the Clinic and just managed to keep the boys from mobbing her as she was put in the back seat of the F350 with the younger two boys.  Theo was in the front seat with Scott and David.  David road in the truck bed where they had loaded and tied down Dora’s rickshaw.   

They were just on the other side of the Front Gate and heading south on US41 when a detail from Aldea showed up at the Rear Gate with a van of OSAG folks right behind them.  Aldea’s detail included Glenn and Matlock as well as Brian, Austin, and Chris.  We welcomed the OSAG folks in with Waleski already talking business with Chad and his sister as they headed over to the Clinic.  I knew before he even turned around that Steve was here though I nearly didn’t recognize him with the beard.  Dave (the one with the tattoos), Tyler, and Rusty had ridden over as a security detail.  Chad’s their friend but at the same time, he’s their head medic and you don’t just let someone essential like that out and about without protection. 

Dix took them over to the radio shack where they had some big meeting while Chad examined Tom.  It wasn’t too long before Chad and Ski stepped outside.  I decided to check and see if the men wanted something to drink.  And no, it wasn’t because I was insatiably curious despite the look Ski gave me.  Neither man wanted anything but asked if I would relay to the men at the radio shack that Tom definitely needed to have the eye removed and that they would be starting on it as soon as the girls finished preparing the surgery and Chad’s sister had completed administering anesthesia to Tom. 

It was what we expected but it was still sad.  I jogged over to the Radio Shack and knocked, waiting for them to answer.  Bekah, who had been manning the radio, peeked out the window and said that Dix didn’t want to be disturbed.  I told her to give me a note pad and after writing the message that Chad had wanted sent I told her to quietly place it at Dix’s elbow and then to get out from underfoot. 

I wasn’t more than a dozen feet away from the building, heading for my next chore, when Dix called, “Sissy!?” 

With neither Scott nor David there they needed a local to give a little more info on the areas that Steve has heard are controlled by ZKK.  They have expanded into four primary locations which I thinks means that their group is huge or their “gang” is just a rough umbrella for affiliated smaller groups.  There was the Citrus Park Mall area, Cheval, Grant Park which is way out near MLK Jr. Blvd and the fairgrounds, and then up in New Tampa which is in the ritzy subdivisions on the north end of Bruce B. Downs Bvld.  There had been a contingent out in Clair-mel but no news on them for weeks now and there was some sounds of them being over in the Westshore Mall area but no confirmation. 

I did the best I could, in Scott’s absence, to give them a clearer picture of the businesses and buildings in those areas as well as what might have attracted them in the first place.   The Citrus Park Mall was easy; kids and malls and all the stuff that they could loot in there.  They didn’t start over there however because I mentioned the time that Scott and I had gone over and gathered out of some of the stores right across from the mall and we didn’t see sign of anyone. 

The other three areas – Cheval, New Tampa, and possibly Westshore – was kinda self-evident if we could assume that the ZKKers really were started by the seeds of a real gang.  Those three areas were where people with expensive tastes and the luxury to indulge them lived.  They’d probably think as survivors and conquerors it was their right to take over those areas.  Grant Park on the other hand I couldn’t say for sure.  It was home to some gang problems pre-NRS though it would get cleaned up off and on.   We managed a duplex in Grant Park and no sooner would the cops get one gang cleaned out another would move in to take its place.  Maybe Grant Park was the seed that started the gang to begin with.  The problem with that theory however is that when we made that big gathering run to the fairgrounds we didn’t see any sign of organized gangs.  Charlene, after being asked, said the only they saw were the raiders from further east, the ones that kids anyone younger than 20 or so on sight.   

They thanked me politely enough but I could tell I was dismissed as loud as if they had actually said it.   

The procedure that Chad did on Tom was called enucleation.  It’s where the entire eyeball is removed.  If all goes well then Tom can go home in a week’s time.  But he’ll have to put topical antibiotics on the eye for another three weeks after that.  The surgery took an hour and a half (twice as long as it should have) because Chad needed to clean out as much infection as possible.  Rose told me, still slightly green from assisting with her first surgery, that even after the eyeball was removed they still had brick dust that had to be cleaned out. 

During surgery Scott radioed that they needed back up.  There was a situation at Dora’s place. 

Here’s what happened but of course I didn’t get all the details until late today.  The trip over to Dora’s place was relatively uneventful.  Taking main roads where possible, they headed over to the Rowlette Park area.  As her family grew Dora had taken over a multifamily complex that had in recent years been converted to an assisted living facility.  It had 8 bedrooms, six of them dormitory style and two private bedrooms, a commercial kitchen and cafeteria style dining tables, lots of expensive security features, a high fenced backyard, and a nurses station set up behind the welcome desk and congregate living room.  The fact that it was across from Rowlette Park suited her purpose as well.  Rowlette Park is also home to the only working dam in Tampa that I’m aware of.  It is … was … own by Tampa Electric Company for over 100 years.  So she has that in front of her.  To her rear she can follow Waters Avenue out to Nebraska Avenue and get water from Sulfur Springs.  The Springs feed into the Hillsborough River and used to be a big tourist attraction up until the 1950s and 60s.  Then the spring went into disrepair until it was bought by the city in the 1990s and refurbished before being re-opened as a public pool location. 

Scott drove south on US41 and continued to follow it where it turned into Nebraska Avenue.  Upon approaching the Springs they knew something wasn’t quite right.  The fence surrounding the property that locals had erected had been knocked down since the preceding morning.  There were a few mangled and bloating bodies lying around but it was hard to tell what had killed them.  The faces were obliterated by gunshot blasts but no other damage was evident … and they looked fresh dead, not like they had been sanitized corpses of any duration. 

David banged on the cab roof and Scott slowed down.  That’s when they heard what David had been hearing, the constant buzz of small motors.  Scott looked at Iggy who had his weapon out and ready.  Slowly Scott turned east on Waters Avenue; heading towards the sound.  They found a convenient place to pull off the road and hide the truck. 

The two younger boys remained with Dora in the truck.  Scott gave her a gun, one of our throwaways, and then he turned to Theo.  “Son, you shoot me in the butt and we are going to have words,” he said as he handed Theo a .38 that was kept in the glove compartment.  Theo grinned and then showed he knew exactly how to handle what he’d been given.  “Smart aleck,” Scott said after the demonstration.  “Just keep in mind what I said and we’ll be fine.” 

Scott and Iggy took turns on point as they made their way slowly towards their goal.  Scott would move forward, check the area, then wave Iggy ahead.  Iggy would do the same, then Theo would come forward as the two adult men covered his advance.  David brought up the rear making sure that no one was following them. 

It didn’t take them that long to reach a point where they could tell what was going on.  David, upon viewing the situation said, “This boys seem to have only one play in their handbook.” 

“If the girls did what they were supposed to, and it looks like they did, those guys aren’t going to be able to break in.  Those doors are too heavy.  Rich folks used to send Alzheimer’s patients to live in the place.  The doors can only be opened from the inside and Momma had us fix the place up even better with cross bars and grilling on the windows and stuff like that,” Theo whispered. 

“What about fire?” Iggy asked. 

“Nah, Momma said the place was built special and we ripped all the stuff on the outside that was still burnable off after we moved in and replaced it with metal if we had to.  You can really see it good but we built the back wall even higher and put all sorts of sharp things at the top.  Nobody’s going over that wall unless they want to get hurt bad.  And there ain’t no door back there either.  We got a crawl space but that’s secret.” 

There were too many of the ZKKers.  Making sure that the kids inside the house were in no immediate damage from the idiots trying to intimidate them by driving around and around their home, they retreated to the truck and made the call. 

Back here in Sanctuary the reaction was immediate.  Matlock took Brian and Austin with him and headed back to Aldea to get ready for the afternoon’s activities.  Brian and Austin both liked to play with homemade explosives and that was perfect for Aldea’s part in the plan to winnow down the ZKK.

Glenn and Chris would drive one of the ZKK vehicles that was least damaged.  Its tanks were topped off by siphoning out the fuel from some of the motorcycles.  We still don’t know where they are getting their fuel from, they seem to have plenty, but we sure did make a dent in their supplies. 

OSAG was trying to decide how to split their forces when Jack goes running passed heading straight for the clinic. 

Patricia was in labor and her water had broken.   There wasn’t any stopping the baby this time. 

Jack was supposed to make one of Sanctuary’s team but it was obvious he wasn’t fit for duty now.  Bob was already going.  McElroy was staying to take charge of Sanctuary’s defenses while Dix was out.  Clay Jr. was going while J. Paul was staying behind to help his dad and grandfather pull together some stuff for Sanctuary’s assault against the ZKK territory. 

As soon as Dix opened his mouth I knew what was coming.  “Tris, your leg well enough to climb the stairs to the guard station?” 

“Yes sir!” 

“Can you fire a gun at something besides your leg?” 

“No sir.  I mean yes sir!!  My dad was a gun nut … well, that’s what the neighbors called him.  My step mom made him get rid of them when she got pregnant but I do know how to shoot.  I just didn’t know how to use the one that the men that broke into our house had.” 

“McElroy!” 

“Sir!” 

“Give Tris here something to shoot with and make sure he knows how to use it.” 

“Yes sir!” 

Then he briefly caught my eyes in apology before say, “James!  Get geared up, you have five minutes!” 

That was it.  No “Bye Mom” or anything.  He slung his gear bag, ammo bag, and the sniper’s rife across his shoulders and climbed into the back of the hummer. 

I could have said a lot, but there wasn’t anything that I could have said that would have changed things.  All I did was walk over to the back of the hummer and looked in and catching James’ gaze I told him, “This isn’t Sparta.  Just come back.”  History nut that he is, he knew what I meant and why I said it the way I did. 

I turned away and refused to watch James leave.  Instead I headed towards Patricia and Jack’s place.  Before I could get there I saw Jack, Ski, J. Paul, and Brandon carrying Patricia out of the house in one of those litters like the Coast Guard use when they are taking injured people off of boats.  They made a beeline to the Clinic. 

I met up with them and asked, “Anything I can do?” 

Waleski, looking rather harassed, said “Yeah, radio Aldea and see if Terra and Nick can be ferried over here.” 

I headed over to the radio shack but as I put my foot on the bottom step the door is jerked open.  Bekah’s eyes were wide, both from being startled and from excitement.  “Momma!  That John guy says that Uncle Angus and Uncle Jim need you to call them quick.  There’s a baby eating its mother and it’s stuck!!!” 

What was I supposed to think?  I had visions of a demon zombie baby doing what it is that demon zombie babies were likely to do.  I ran over to the radio and then realized I hadn’t a clue how to operate it.  Bekah then set the call up. 

“Angus!  Jim!  Come in.  This is Sissy!!” 

“Moooommmmm, that’s not how you say it.” 

I gave Bekah a look that would a fried potatoes and she lost the little Miss know-it-all attitude.  As luck would have it the guys must have been sitting right on top of the radio. 

“Sissy!  Jim here.  [garbled sounds].  Uh, we got us a situation here.” 

“So Bekah said.  Were you able to sanitize the baby?” 

“Uh.  Hmmmm.  Hold on.  Here’s Angus.” 

What the heck?! 

“Hey Sissy.  Got us a female type situation.” 

“Again, have that info already.  Repeat, were you able to sanitize the baby?” 

“Uh, it ain’t quite that kinda situation.” 

“Please clarify.  A baby wasn’t eating its mother?” 

“Weeeellllll.  Yeah, but not the way you mean.  I think Bekah misheard.” 

“Please clarify again.  A baby wasn’t stuck?” 

“Weeeellllll.  Yeah, but not the way she took it to mean.” 

“Dang it Angus, just spit it out already.  What’s the emergency?!” 

“Weelllllll.  See, this girl just had this baby see and she’s got to feed the baby, only it got stuck on her … well, on her tit.  We finally got it off but the girl is shook up and doesn’t want to nurse the baby any more.  Aw hell.  You’ve done the baby thing enough times to have your own basketball team.  You explain it to her.” 

Oh … my … gracious!!  I made a quick call to Aldea informing them that Terra and Nick were needed while Angus was trying to get the girl to come to the radio.  When I finished that I called Angus and found the girl finally ready to talk. 

Seems that the baby has a strong suckle.  Real strong.  The girl is only 19 and hasn’t a clue what to do.  Where is La Leche League when you need them?  I told her to not let the baby suckle so long on either breast, how to hold the baby like a football so she would get so sore, and the trick of how to disengage a baby that didn’t want to give the nipple up.  I told her how important it was to keep her breasts clean and dry to avoid cracking and how to teach the baby that it is a bad idea to chew or bite while they were nursing.  I nearly fell out of my chair when the poor girl cried, “My God!  They chew on ‘em too?!” 

Poor kid, family missing and no women to help with the birth or what comes after; not even a book to look at.  All she had was Angus and Jim.  I think at that point I would have put a cork in it and waited. 

I had just finished my part when a woman broke in over the top of our transmission and gave her some other good baby advice.  The woman was a midwife and wanted to make sure that the young woman had cleaned herself up good after the birth and a few other things.  I thanked the new woman, broke off communication with a promise that we’d continue to have someone monitoring the radio 24/7 in case we were needed, and then headed outside. 

Terra and Nick had just arrived.   

It was only mid-morning and I was already ready for the day to be over with.  Little did I know that more – much more – was going to continue happening. 

I was so flummoxed by the “emergency” that by the time I got over to Terra it was either tell someone else about it or keel over.  But before I could I started laughing.  Poor Angus and poor Jim … that must have been some situation; horrifying for them but hilarious to look back on.  I finally stopped short of hysterics and was able to tell Terra.  We got a laugh until we saw Jack pelting over to us. 

You know, I’ve heard the word used in context with babies and adults but rarely do adults truly babble.  Talk a lot, too fast, etc. … but a true adult babble is rare.  It’s also disturbing in some indefinable way.  Jack was babbling.  I caught the words “Patricia,” “baby,” and “help” but that’s about it.  Nick, with a baby pack on his front that was filled with their son, took charge of Jack and tried to get him to calm down as the three of them walked to the Clinic.  I was again left standing around trying to figure out what to do next. 

It was likely about the time that Nick and Terra arrived that the contingents from OSAG, Aldea, and Sanctuary arrived to back up our people so that Dora’s place could be retaken. 

Scott and Iggy had had to do a little zombie sanitation because the noise of the motorcycles was attracting some shamblers into the area.  In order to conserve ammo, Scott played Thor to Iggy’s Paul Bunyan.  Scott used a sledge hammer and Iggy used a long-handled ax.   

While waiting for back up David and Theo had looked around and found a couple of clusters of ZKKers hanging out near a U-Haul truck that had been painted with the gang’s insignia.  When David asked Theo if he knew what they carried in the truck he just shrugged his shoulders, “Whatever they want man.  Little of this, little of that.  They charge high prices but folks that are isolated or can be intimidated buy something just to get ‘em to leave.” 

Once David and Theo got back to Scott and Iggy and reported in detail what they had seen, a real plan was put together.  Our people were going to station themselves around the ZKKers’ whole merry-go-round.  Rather than risking shooting across at one another they took the high ground climbing into trees or onto roofs.  They’d be shooting down rather than straight across and this would lessen the risk of friendly fire injuries. 

James, after doing the male shoulder-bump greeting thing with his dad (I have no idea when this male ritual took the place of a decent hug or handshake), was sent up to the tallest structure within the perimeter.  It was an old stucco, Spanish Mission style house built about 1900 that had two real stories and then a tower attached to the exterior of the home that had a faux third story.  From that height and cover Dix wanted him to specifically snipe for any gangbangers who were wearing insignia that seemed fancier or more ornate than the others or who appeared to be giving orders that the group was following.  It was a lot to ask of a 16 year old and I flipped when I found out later.  Scott has talked to James and he’s dealing with what he had to do, but we’ll keep an eye on him just the same. 

The first order of business was to take out the radio operator at the gang’s storage vehicle.  Iggy and Bob took care of that group cleanly and quietly, then separated and took their roof top positions.  A couple of the guys from OSAG took out the other cluster of ZKKers on foot, then they too hit the high positions.  Glenn was going to play crazy supply truck driver.  As soon as the firing started he was going to get the van out of the line of fire.  This accomplished two things.  It confused any bikers who went to look for back up from the people that had been around the vehicle and it got the contents of the vehicle out of harm’s way.  We didn’t know what was in the van at the time, but these days you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. 

The ZKKers never knew what hit them.  I’m pretty sure our triune is now complete.  We are separate yet bound to each other in a way we were before our groups had participated in this type of organized offensive task force.  Sure, there are improvements that can be made, but our groups will probably work similarly to the old Forts of the pioneer era.  Small forts would operate independently, seeking their own success, but when danger threatened their sister forts/settlements, they came out to band together and the enemy became a common one. 

By lunchtime most of the cyclists were dead or in the process of being sanitized.  After the area was secured, Dora was fetched and upon seeing her the girls unlocked the doors and poured out; the younger girls crying, the older ones looking on the verge of it.  Jorey’s loss was accepted stoically. 

Glenn had opened the back of the van.  It was full of a wide variety of stuff; some of it junk, some of it not.  When our men offered to split the contents of the van four ways, cutting Dora’s group in, she said, “No.  Consider it payment in full.  The less I owe the better.”   

Dora is just like that, she’s got something against owing anyone anything … to the point of pure cusedness sometimes.  But there was something that Scott did.  He told Theo to keep the .38 and gave him a box of ammo to go with it.  It’s not much but so long as Dora doesn’t try and get rid of it, it will add to their safety when they are out on the road trading. 

With no reports, reporters, or authorities to question our action, the men were able to make a quick exit from the scene.  The three groups split off at appropriate locations along the path and our people arrived back in Sanctuary by 1 o’clock.  Just in time to grab a bite to eat and get ready for the next phase in this day’s offensive operations. 

With no other emergency in the offing I decided to get lunch going a little early.  I had all the kids come with me to the kitchen and it wasn’t long before we had arranged one of the “cold tables” that we swiped from a buffet restaurant set up with another “A-grazing Buffet” as folks had started calling meals of fresh fruits and veggies.  I also cooked up a bunch of TVP taco meat and fried up a bunch of corn tortillas so that anyone inclined could make tostadas. 

I heard from Melody who came over when they began rotating break-time for the clinic caregivers that Patricia was in a bit of a panic and that her blood pressure kept going up and down.  Her contractions weren’t regular yet – running anywhere between 6 and 20 minutes apart – but they felt worse without the cushion of the amniotic fluid.  The baby is also in a partial breech position.   

Patricia had been doing an exercise called postural management for weeks now.  Samuel had been a breech baby and she was determined not to have another.  The baby appeared to be turning on its own but if her labor grew more intense with the baby still in the breech position they would try what is called external cephalic version … in other words they would turn the baby manually. 

Also heard that Tom was still in recovery but was doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances.  They didn’t expect any complications at this point but they were prepared for them just in case. 

In due course the Sanctuary men returned and reported all that had happened while they stuffed their faces with a quick meal.  The next phase in the strategic offense was more complicated than what they’d done this morning.  Using the intel gathered by OSAG, the Triune was going to use their combined forces to hit all four known ZKK locations simultaneously.  It would mean leaving us very short handed but in order to pull this off with adequate force, it would have to be. 

OSAG was taking the New Tampa compound.  A combination of Aldea and Sanctuary folks would take the Cheval and Citrus Park compounds.  And Scott leading another contingent from Sanctuary would take the Grant Park compound.  The Grant Park area being the furthest away meant that Scott and his crew had to head out first so that they could set up and be ready at the same time of the other three locations. 

With Scott went David, J. Paul, Clay Jr., Brandon, Iggy and Cease. 

Glenn was leading the group against the Citrus Park compound.  In his group was Austin and Brian as the demolition experts.  Also along for the ride were Curtis, Ronan, and Bob. 

Dix was leading the group against the Cheval compound.  In his group went James, Kevin Morris, Dante’, Lee and Chris.  This would be Dante’s first real return to active duty since his drunken blow up.  He was put with Dix to avoid any potential dust ups with Aldea.  Lee and Chris, being two that had voted for punishment rather than immediate exile, were also assigned to Dix so that in addition to their duties during the battle they could observe Dante’s behavior and report it back to Matlock.  The better Dante’ performed under pressure the better his chances were of returning to what passed for normal life within our community.  

Matlock’s job was to run patrols between the Triune compounds to prevent any potential sneak attack.  He was primarily covering the north and west quadrants of the area we’ve chosen to call The Triune Territory.  Unfortunately for my peace of mind, his patrol was made up of kids.  Clark Morris (15), Samuel (14), and Eric Timmons (14) were all young but they had already proven their worth in other battle situations and all participated regularly in area patrols and knew what belonged and what was out of place in their territories.  I questioned the wisdom of Samuel leaving with his mother in pre-term labor but Dix said that he’d be better out of Sanctuary in case something happened.  It would also give him real work to focus on and not just busy work that gave him time to think anyway. 

The other Dave over at OSAG was running a separate patrol group that covered the eastern and southern quadrants of TTT.  Despite the mutual aide we give each other I’ve yet to meet everyone over at OSAG.  I know a lot of their kids – except Shorty’s two older daughters – are quite young.  I’m not sure if they have any male teens so I must assume that their patrol was made up of the adults males, or some of the adult women, that didn’t join Steve in the assault of the ZKK compound in New Tampa. 

Since OSAG also has the better radio set up with eleventy-dozen redundancies, Scott – the other one that is their Communication Specialist – was the primary contact for the campaign.  He would in turn disseminate information as appropriate to each compound and also track the patrol positions and any movements by our targets. 

Scott and Dix’s teams headed out.  Team G – those men headed to Grant Part – immediately headed to their destination.  Team C – Dix’s team – headed to rendezvous with Glenn (Team M) and Matlock so that they could shift personnel around before headed to their own destinations.  Steve’s group – Team T – would contact after they were close to their chosen position.  Matlock’s patrol group was called the River Rats.  OSAG’s patrol group for this event was called the Metal Heads. 

If you weren’t on an assault team or on area patrol your duty was to prepare for possible retaliation.  It didn’t matter – man, woman, or child – you were assigned some type of task.  Littles filled water canteens and made up baggies of snacks.  We all cleaned and loaded weapons as well as loaded extra magazines and got our more archaic defensive tools prepared and loaded.  Then it became a game of hurry up and wait for those of us left behind. 

This is where events start getting hard for me to record in a straight timeline of events.  We had six separate groups working this offensive maneuver in addition to the three compounds.   

I suppose I’ll start with Scott’s group.  What would have taken them forty minutes to drive in moderate traffic pre-NRS took them nearly an hour and a half.  For one thing, after crossing over Hillsborough Avenue they needed to stay to the east of 56th Street so that they could avoid having to cross in the open.  For another, the compound’s location wound up being in Grant Park just not in the residential area.  Little remained of the residential area; what looked like out of control house fires had taken out entire blocks.  Instead, the gang was holed up in the Pepin Bottling and Distribution facility.  

Years ago Scott’s dad had worked for Mr. Pepin and he often went with his dad on the Saturday delivery route.   He was familiar with the old distributing plant when they were further north on 56th Street but not with the new plant.  However, there are only so many ways that such a place can be put together so he was able to share the likeliest way things were on the inside of the structure. 

The inside wasn’t really where they were aiming to physically capture however; not given the number of ZKKers that were roaming around.  As soon as Scott saw the type of security the ZKKers had built he wished that he had had Brian and Austin with him.  When he mentioned what he wanted to do J. Paul and Clay Jr. looked at each other and grinned and said, “Guess what we know how to do?” 

So they started the set up so they’d be ready at 5 o’clock which was when the other teams were supposed to be in place and ready. 

It wasn’t rocket science, but it wasn’t easy either.  There were lots of heavily armed young people of both sexes inside the compound.  But you could tell they’d grown careless.  And they were only inside their compound.  David and Brandon had reconnoitered the entire area and seen no signs of outside patrols.   You could tell they felt safe … perhaps invincible … inside the compound.  They hadn’t even bothered to station guards … or the guards had bothered to stay on duty.  Worse, they had allowed plenty of cover to grow up or build up around the compound fencing.   

To highlight exactly how nonchalant these ZKKers were the drinking and carrying on was widespread.  Lots of talking and noise; a big no-no unless you wanted to attract trouble these days.  There was a car stereo playing but every time someone turned up the base someone else would turn it back down.   

While the Morris cousins mixed their brew, a fight broke out over the music and the winner turned the music up really loud.  Everyone started dancing and laughing and generally making bigger asses of themselves than before.  Out of the warehouse came a couple of older 20-somethings, bald and heavily inked up.  The two men each grabbed one of the fighters and then Scott said they beat the crap out of them before they headed back inside.  The radio stayed down after that and it was some time before the subdued atmosphere lightened and the kids went back to horsing around. 

“The kids are cannon fodder.  Those guys are higher up the chain, either lieutenants or enforcers,” Iggy said.  “Before we’re finished we need to take them out; start cutting the head off the snake.” 

The brew that the Morris cousins were creating is something that Austin had come up with.  Kiddies, don’t try this at home or you could be in some major trouble.  You take Styrofoam (a lot of it in the debris around the outside where the trash from looted electronics had been dumped) and then pour gasoline over it.  The gasoline melts the Styrofoam and you stir it together turning it into a gelatinous mess.  The resulting gunk is basically homemade napalm and difficult as heck to put out. 

 Scott’s plan was to turn the ZKKer’s own defenses against them.  I know you need to use the materials at hand but it is still hard to believe that anyone would resort to tires when there is an incredible amount of other, nonflammable material out there to build walls with, especially given the kind of fires that the area has already experienced.   

Columns of tires encircled the distribution facility.  The center of each column was filled with sand and rocks and other debris.  A lot of the columns already had a tendency to lean so it wouldn’t take much to topple entire sections.  Being very careful, each man was given a section of tire fencing to smear the homemade napalm on, then they were to step back out of sight.  If Scott had estimated correctly, by the time they were finished smearing the snotty stuff on the tires, they would only have a few minutes to wait until 5 o’clock arrived. 

Scott said he started seeing zombie signs and hurriedly smeared the last couple of columns and then headed back to the tree he had marked to hide in.  Sure enough, the earlier ruckus with the radio must have attracted some zombies.  Then he heard the now recognizable sound of motorcycles coming to their gate. 

A small limo was flanked by several rows of expensive motorcycles.  The gate was immediately opened and the bikes and limo drove in and the gate was closed and bolted behind the vehicles.  Guards got out of the limo ahead of a very well-dressed man in his late 30s or possibly even 40s; he had some age on him and where the clothing didn’t cover his skin, his ink was extensive. 

The cannon fodder as Scott thought of the younger gang members now that Iggy had christened them so were standing around gazing at the bejeweled and nattily dressed man like he was held in great awe and even more fear.    

The man, two expensive looking crack whores all but clinging to him, disappeared into the warehouse.  Scott looking at his watch saw it was five o’clock. 

Glenn and his crew parked their vehicles about half a mile from the remains of the Citrus Park Mall.  Something had happened to the mall but no one was sure what; looked like a combination of looting, a fire, and a few small explosions.  The ZKKers weren’t in the mall, or at least they weren’t living there.  This group had taken over the Sheriff’s substation that was next to the mall facing Gunn Hwy and unlike the group that Scott had found, though this group was smaller, they had more discipline. 

A twelve foot aluminum fence had been erected around the substation.  The number of cooked zombies stuck to this fence was evidence that it was electrified, or at least that it could be electrified.  Since an annoying hum at the low end of the hearing range could be heard, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the fence was currently operating in the “on” position.  In addition to the electrical hum, a shed behind the substation had vent stacks coming out of it and a chugging noise and heavy electrical cables coming out of a small window on the side of the aluminum shed.   

No fuel depot was visible but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a supply some place.  Keeping a generator that made enough juice to power that much fence surface meant they had a big supply of gas some place. 

They’d already been discussing what all kinds of toys that Brian and Austin had brought leaving Glenn reminiscing about his suicide jockey days.  So everyone knew what they had that could go boom.  They also knew that with inadequate cover to approach the substation they were going to have to force the Citrus Park ZKKers to crack their own shell open. 

Austin and Brian quickly took off and wired some boom booms at the weakest corner of the mall, formerly the entrance of a Burlington Coat Factory.  These they hooked up to timers.  Then they ran over to the townhouses directly to the north of the substation’s position and hooked up more boom-booms, these they put on wires so that they could only be activated when the pair wanted them to blow. 

Glenn, Curtis, and Ronan found positions to snipe from.  Bob got closer and prepared to wait until someone turned off the juice to the fence.  He had his own surprise for those inside. 

At five o’clock exactly the bombs went off at the mall. 

Dix and his crew got to their location even earlier than Scott and his crew had, despite being one of the last to leave Sanctuary.  Cheval is just a hop, skip, and a jump from us.  The group that had captured Dora and her boys at the Old Geraci place most likely belonged to that group.  Cheval’s main entrance was on the west side of Dale Mabry Hwy just north of the Van Dyke Rd/Dale Mabry Hwy intersection.  This was likely the ZKKers’ newest outpost of expansion.  If they had been around any longer we would have run into them on our patrols; certainly the drug kitchen had been a new venture because David had just gotten fish out of ponds behind the old farmhouse to stock our own ponds with. 

The outpost’s newness could be both an advantage and a disadvantage.  They were new enough to the area that they could have been on higher alert but at the same time their defenses weren’t going to be as well developed. 

The first problem they encountered was how to actually get into Cheval without alerting the ZKKers who were stationed at the main gate’s entrance.  Cheval was one of those very expensive, very exclusive gated golf communities.  There was only one way in and out … unless you knew about the trade entrance that was hidden on the Lutz Lakefern Road side of the community.  The housekeepers, plumbers, lawn maintenance companies, etc. were only allowed to enter through that gate.  There was however, one of way in that David and James had happened upon while out exploring on one of their rare free days.  

Next door to Cheval is a less exclusive, un-gated but still expensive residential area called Calusa Trace.  Some silly and overpriced beautification projects were nothing more than a underhanded way for the folks in Calusa Trace to cut off the view of two of the pretty lakes in the community from the folks in Cheval.  Both communities were old enough now that the oaks planted along the tall brick fence were beginning to overtake the pine trees that had been planted as a quick screen.  James showed Dix how the trees were now just convenient bridges over Cheval’s main security feature. 

After they were in Cheval, the next problem was to find where the ZKKers were actually bedding down.  They found them in the first place they looked; the golf and country club building and boy had it been a while since the cleaning service had visited.  There were boxes and household goods in piles all over the place. 

Something was going on here that was unusual.  A line of ZKKers stretched at least two dozen people long.  As a gang member would step up to a large table they would show the man behind the table some piece of art or household item.  The man would look at the item and either indicate one of three piles or he would shake his head and hitch his thumb in the direction of what was obviously a debris pile.  Those whose items was chosen for one of the “to keep” piles were elated to one degree or another.  The people whose item was consigned to the junk pile were often angry or resentful; but they didn’t respond overtly because stationed on either side of the decision maker were four very large, very intimidating looking guards.  Only once did they see someone try and fight about the decision given.  A guard stepped forward and point blank shot the disgruntled woman in the head, spraying blood and various other biological matter on many of those standing in line behind her.  Everyone else got the message. 

Dix knew they would need to take out those four guards and the ones at the main gate if they hoped to succeed in their goal.  He also knew that they needed something big to impress on the gang that they had started a turf war with the wrong people. 

As Dix was trying to formulate a plan, they ran into their third problem.  Kevin came up and quietly informed everyone that there were some young kids in one of the houses that backed up to the golf course.  They were in no immediate danger but during any battle they could be used as shields or get caught in the crossfire. 

Dante’ volunteered to get the kids.  It would mean getting extremely close to the ZKKers’ position and Dix was worried that he had volunteered as some sort of redemptive act, but there wasn’t time for a psychological evaluation and Dix nodded leaving Dante’ to begin creeping his way over to the house where the kids were being held. 

Taking a deep breath, Dix turned to James.  I’m sure James must have been worried that Dix was going to try and protect him for my sake by tying James to him or some such.  Even I was surprised at what Dix asked James to do.   

“You’ve got five targets; the four guards and the moneychanger.  I do not want you any closer than 500 yards to your targets.  I do not want to see you return to any hand to hand battle until those five targets have been neutralized.  Do you understand?” 

“Yes sir.  Do you have a location in mind?” 

“Look around boy.  Find someplace.  Let me know where you’re going and then get there and get ready.  We are running out of time.” 

Looking around Dix realized how potentially messy this could turn.  They had a central compound, a secondary location with young children, back up support that could come from the heavily armed gangsters at the front gate, and they had a wide dispersion of lesser gang members going from house to house in search of lootable items. 

Dix turned to look at Kevin, Lee, and Chris, none of whom had any military experience though all had proved themselves time and again in combat situations.  But this was different.  This was going to be house-to-house search and destroy with plenty of hand-to-hand thrown in.  Hoping they didn’t realize he had doubts about their performance he told each of the men what they were likely to run into.  He told them not to be heroes.  The greater distance you can put between yourself and your enemy while still inflicting damage, the less likely they’d suffer any wounds. 

Kevin and Lee were a team.  Dix and Chris were the other team.  At exactly 5 o’clock Dix watched the first guard fall when a third eye appeared in his forehead. 

From all accounts when Steve’s group snuck into the New Tampa area to observe the ZKK compound there, the sight that met them was not some half-manned, undisciplined outpost but the real deal.  Contained within a small but tightly packed area, this place … this palace … was well-armed, well-maintained, and most unfortunately well-managed.  The house, a massive Mediterranean style mansion that couldn’t have had less than 6000 square feet under roof, backed up to the Pebble Creek Golf Club.  Someone with some smarts had built a wall around the house with interlocking concrete barriers like you find separating lanes during interstate road work.  The gate on the compound looked like something out of King Kong.  There weren’t a lot of people around, but there didn’t need to be. 

This was going to be a problem.  Knowing the goals was maximum damage to the enemy while minimizes damage to his people, Steve decided to concentrate on tearing large gaps in their defenses, leaving them weakened, and then sitting back and letting the zombies do the rest of the work. 

There were dogs roaming the interior of the New Tampa compound so sneaking up was not an option.  Simple sniping at the ZKK soldier wasn’t going to be effective enough.  A siege would take too long.  That left projectiles to take out the wall and damage the house. 

The compound had only one way in and it was also the only way out.  Steve concentrated three of his shooters so that they could take out any escapees and/or disable any vehicles trying to exit.  Next at five different locations around the compound’s wall he had people prepare to throw explosives at the four corners of the wall and at the gate.  This was going to require speed and accuracy because it would mean exposing themselves to the compound guards who carried automatic weapons.  It was a good thing then that his group had opted to wear their body armor left over from the LEO training exercises several of them used to operate. 

After the compound fence was cracked open, the grenade throwers would return to cover and then sight in and keep anyone from escaping from the resulting holes.   

The object would be to keep those inside pinned in until the noise attracted enough zombies to further destabilize their defenses.  Once the fence was cracked however, if there was an opportunity to damage the house without excessive personal risk, they were to take it.  The more torn up their defenses, the fewer places they had to hide, the more likely the compound would collapse into chaos giving Steve’s group even more opportunity to pick individual gang members off. 

With synchronized watches, at the first touch of the second hand on five o’clock, five explosive canisters where thrown at the fence.  A sixth canister followed a heartbeat later.  Steve’s son threw a Hail Mary pass that penetrated right through an upstairs window of the mansion itself. 

At five o’clock on the dot, those charged with lighting up the homemade napalm now smeared on every column of tires broke open and lit a road flare from their vehicles’ emergency road kits.  Running, they touched the tip of the flare close enough to the flammable glop to ignite it.  In only seconds smoke began to rise. 

No one inside the compound noticed until the smoke began to billow over the top of the tire wall.  By that time it was too late; the napalm had already caused the tires themselves to combust and the smoked had turned a choking, gagging and impenetrable black.   

And then a metal pail went whizzing over the gate to land on the limo splattering it, several nearby motorcycles, and at least half a dozen gang members that had been milling about with more of the noxious homemade napalm.  As soon as the pail landed a lit flare followed.  The result was about what you would expect. 

Those that had been splattered had only begun wiping at the gloppy mess on their skin and clothing in confusion when the flare landed and skidded across the hood of the limo and to the feet of two of the gang members lighting everything in its path.  Those two immediately caught fire and they panicked and ran, first to the some of the other splatterees catching igniting them and then into the warehouse where they died and then started a panic of a different kind. 

Just as the Important Dude ran out with a mini Uzi in his hands, looking for someone or something to shoot at, the first burning motorcycle exploded causing him and the guards flanking him to duck.  He was shouting some instructions but Scott couldn’t hear what he said over all of the crying and screaming. 

He had become so fascinated by the what was unfolding in front of him that he was a few seconds late noticing Iggy coming up behind him.  “Was that you that?” Scott asked. 

“David threw the pail.  I threw the flare,” Iggy answered, exhibiting his own fascination at how quickly the ZKKers situation had deteriorated. 

Iggy caught Scott grinning and thought uh-oh, here comes another one.  Scott is has become known for the occasional very bad pun.  “I guess that means that you have a flare for justice.” 

Iggy just shook his head.  Some of those puns were just really, really bad. 

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A huge “WHUMP!!” was heard and then a grinding crash as the corner of the mall imploded.  A fog of dust poured out from the destruction zone, rolling over the substation as ZKKers ran out to see what the commotion was, causing them to cough and blink tearily.  Everyone on Glenn’s team was tempted to start shooting at that point but they knew they needed to get the fence turned off and disabled or they would wind up in a siege or caught between those in the substation and whatever back up eventually came to the gang members’ aid. 

Suddenly there was an explosion that was so strong it knocked anyone standing off of their feet hard.  A fireball appeared over the mall and debris began to rain down causing everyone to hunt for heavy cover.   

Glenn, his ears stilling ringing, wondered “What the hell did those boys put in that one?” 

The ZKKers were trying to recover when a breathless and disheveled Brian showed up and blurted, “That one wasn’t ours!  I gotta go check … “ 

“Hell no you don’t!  That noise will draw every freak for miles … “ 

Glenn was abruptly cut off when a piece of mangled debris landed on the electric fence hard enough to take down an entire section disrupting the circuit. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Glenn caught Bob run the short distance from where he had been hiding, passed the fallen fence section and to an open window and the substation where he lobbed a couple of somethings in before quickly retreating the same way he had come.  A less than manly scream was following by flames as two Molotov cocktails began a fire inside the building, spreading unchecked because apparently no one had the presence of mind to use the fire extinguishers plainly visible on the wall. 

Glenn grinned a shark’s grin and sent Brian to tell Austin that their second diversion apparently wasn’t going to be needed and to start picking targets at will but to watch out for the influx of zombies that would undoubtedly be coming their way.  Then he turned to Ronan and Curtis and said, “Gentlemen, start your engines.  The funs about to begin.” 

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The second guard quickly followed the first.  The third guard had his gun half out of his holster when he was taken down.  The fourth guard grabbed the little moneychanger man and was hauling him towards the safety of the club house but before they could reach their destination, and a after a brief inhale for re-sighting, the fourth guard went down leaving the moneychanger cowering in a ball on the ground.  By that time a sea of bodies were running which way and James was unable to get a lock on his target though he could see him crawling towards the nearest door. 

Dix and the rest of the men were picking off anyone that was armed but they still couldn’t give James a clear shot.  Suddenly there was a quick succession of pings and then BLAM!!! a hundred pound fuel tank that had been attached to a large BBQ grill exploded taking roughly 20% of that side of the club house with it.  The fire ball also ignited a lot of interior furnishings and some of the people as well.  James had become frustrated with his inability to hit his target and was trying to flush him into the open so he could rejoin Dix and the other men. 

Dix grinned and thought, “That kid takes after his parents all right.”  Then he sighed and hoped that Matlock could keep Samuel safe.  He’s life wouldn’t be worth living if anything happened to his son. 

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KAWHAP!!! The tactic of explosive breaching had begun.  Five canisters of the high melting explosive called Cyclonite went off near simultaneously.  The gate area completely disintegrated.  Three corners on the wall crumbled allowing for a full breach.  The fourth corner was badly damaged but was only partially breachable.   

The explosive canister that was thrown into the second story of the mansion went off with such force that a good section of roof went, raining terracotta tiles down upon everyone and the floor gave way allowing the massive front doors to be blown off their hinges and clouds of drywall dust to come billowing out into the yard.  All of the upstairs windows blew out and several of the downstairs windows blew as well. 

“Nice arm son,” Steve told his boy with a wink. 

Now came the hard part.  No one could be allowed to escape.  Using economical shots, as well as frequently moving their position, Steve and his crew kept all but one group of gangbangers inside.  As those trapped in the compound found cover Steve’s people held their fire to conserve ammo unless they had a sure shot.   

A stalemate was eventually reached where both sides had stopped firing waiting for the other to make a fatal move.  Suddenly screaming could be heard and the sound of running.  Several people were running towards the extremely damaged mansion.  It wasn’t back up, it was the escapees returning to what passed for safety with a small horde on their tail. 

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The smoke was making it hard to breathe even with their faces covered.   Every once in a while there would be a pop and a high speed whine but he could never figure out what it was.  It didn’t take long for the men to realize that there was no way they could stay where they were at.  The flames weren’t bad but the heat coming off of the fire was incredible.  The smoke was nearly unbearable as well. 

Scott and Iggy met up with J. Paul and Clay Jr. and the four men backed further and further away, finally winding up very near where their vehicles had been hidden.  Ten minutes passed while they listened to screams, cries, and gunfire coming from within the black smoke.  The worst was when someone started screaming for their mother or to Jesus to save them.  It would have gotten to the men more if they hadn’t been worried.  David and Brandon were missing. 

Another ten minutes and Scott was ready to take off looking for them.  In fact he started to say so when Brandon came stumbling out of the smoke half dragging David who was bleeding from his arm and a large gash on his head. 

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Brian felt what he thought was a gentle tug on his sleeve but when he turned to look he saw a spreading red stain on the arm of his shirt.  “Damn, Austin is going to kill me,” he thought right before the symptoms of mild shock had him falling to his knees. 

The gang bangers at this location had regrouped quickly and had disbursed into the overgrowth as soon as they had sensed that the outpost was toast.  They were all running in generally the same direction – towards Austin and Brian’s position – which Bob mentioned could mean they had a fall back location or bug out vehicles stored nearby. 

As soon as the statement was out of his mouth their team was after them, flushing the gang members in the general direction of the second diversion explosives.  Glenn hoped that the boys still had it hooked up; it looked like they might need it after all. 

But the ZKKers weren’t running haphazardly or in a panic.  A few times they stopped to fire at their pursuers whom they have finally spotted.  When that happened Glenn’s team would have to stop, find cover, and return fire until the gangbangers decided to push on.  It was on one of these exchanges that Brian had been caught in the crossfire while trying to locate Austin’s new position.  One of the more intelligent bangers had flanked their team and come up on their side.  Ronan, big guy that he is, slung Brian up on his shoulder and carted him over to a building that looked like a personal home but that was a dentist’s office at one time if the sign on the door could be believed. 

Glenn ran over, Curtis following with the first aid supplies, while Bob stood guard.  It was a straight in and out.  They patched him up, offered him something for the pain (which he refused on the grounds he would make him groggy) and then went back to following the escaping gang members albeit more slowly.  Glenn asked Curtis to stick with Brian to make sure he wasn’t accidentally left behind in the heat of the moment.  Now if they could only find out what happened to Austin. 

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There were simply too many of them; they were like damn roaches.  For every one they shot, they either got a solid kill or a zombie … and there still were two or three more ZKKers pulling their weapons to replace the one that fell.  What a SNAFU. 

Dix’s side burned where he had been grazed by this crazy chick with more piercings than since.  The bullet was probably skank covered and he was going to have to put up with Waleski’s damn sarcastic bedside manner. 

Kevin’s hand was wrapped in a bloody rag where some other chick had slammed a window down on his hand.  He could still shoot but the hand was swelling. 

Lee’s primary weapon had malfunctioned and they didn’t have time to figure out why so he was now firing with the first weapon he had come across and it was a piece of crap dropped by a gang banger.  Lee growled to Dix, “Probably dropped it on purpose just to mess with me.” 

That made Dix smile; almost.  Three ZKKers sprang up in front of them and then dropped just as suddenly, each with a single bullet drilled into their forehead.  Damn that boy is good.  James may have thought he was sent to “safety” for Sissy’s sake but he was wrong.  Dix just had him doing the job that suited his skills best.  The question was going to be whether he had the mental fortitude to live with what his skills could do. 

Off in the distance the sound of screaming was getting louder.  That didn’t make sense.  The action was here, the screaming should be here.  Why were screaming people running in their direction? 

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Now he knew how it felt to be treed.  The small horde had attacked everything in its path.  They must have been attracted to the explosions.  It was both good luck and bad; good luck that the horde was finishing the job that they started, bad luck that they were getting caught up in the middle of their “work.” 

Every member of his team had found some high ground; trees and roofs mostly though his son was up on top of one of those really tall, old-fashioned street lamps.   

There couldn’t be too many left alive over in the compound and in a few more minutes they were going to start thinning the horde down so that they could get down and get to their vehicles and get the hell out of Dodge.  This battle was done and the ZKK wouldn’t be using this particular location again. 

Suddenly Steve saw his son jerk in surprise and looked down and around.  Then he grabbed the street lamp’s pole as it started leaning.  The noise of the popping rivets drew the attention of some wandering zombies that had begun to lose interest in what was going on inside the compound.  They were heading towards the boy’s position. 

Steve was trying to swing down from the tree when his rifle strap got caught on a broken branch effectively hanging him up.   

“Dad!”  Steve stopped trying to untangle himself long enough to look up.  Another zombie had arrived on the scene right as the lamp post gave up its integrity entirely tossing his son heavily onto the cracked and weed-infested sidewalk.  If the call for help hadn’t drawn the rager’s attention the lamppost giving way would have.  And it was hungry. 

“Nnnnooooooooo!!!!!” 

--------------------------------------------- 

Scott ran over and grabbed David while Iggy got Brandon over beside their vehicle and started checking him for smoke inhalation.  Both young men were pale beneath the black grime that covered their faces where their mask had not. 

As Brandon gulped for air ever other phrase he explained everything was going as planned when suddenly they started hearing these popping and whizzing noises.  They had just figured out that the noises were coming from the tires when a zombified gang member came out of the smoke half cooked from the heat of the tire fire but still mobile.   

It grabs David and they go down.  The two are rolling around so much that Brandon couldn’t take a shot, especially not a head shot.  Suddenly there were several of those pops and whizzes again.  Something hot runs across the back of Brandon’s calf causing his leg to buckle.  He goes down and at the same time the zombie and David stop moving with the zombie collapsed on top. 

Brandon scrambles over and puts his rifle directly against the zombies head only he realizes that it is already sanitized.  He pushes him off David who has finally started to try and extricate himself only to scream in silent agony and grab his bicep. 

But the bloody wound wasn’t anything like any they had ever seen.  You could swear it was a bullet wound … a small entry hole … except the zombie didn’t have a gun on it.  Then Brandon notices something sticking out of the base of the zombie’s skull.  Leaving David wrapping a relatively clean rag around the wound, Brandon eases over and discovers he can just grab whatever it is.  David stops him and makes him use a piece of trash to keep any of the body fluids from touching his fingers.  It takes a pretty good tug to free it but at least now they can get a good look at it. 

It was thin, black, and rubbery with a metal tip …. Holy crap!!  When the tires get too hot, their stems are shooting off as shrapnel.  That’s what all the popping and whizzing is.  They take another look at David’s arm but there doesn’t appear to be an exit wound … the stem is still in there; and it’s in there deep. 

They are making their way back to the vehicles for the first aid supplies and to wait for Iggy which they hear a revving from out in the black smoke.  Suddenly a black Cadillac Escalade comes barreling through the tires barely missing three oak trees, forcing David and Brandon to dive into a culvert, and then takes off on 56th Street heading north.  Because he couldn’t roll very well he cracked his head on the pavement which is what caused the head wound.   

While Brandon was giving Scott details Iggy had been getting both young men into the back of truck’s camper.  He thanked Glenn for figuring out how to refill oxygen tanks and then cursed because they only had one small bottle with one face mask with them.  Of the two, Brandon appeared to be the one in the most respiratory distress so he got the oxygen while Iggy went to work trying to stabilize David’s arm. 

 J. Paul and Clay Jr. drove on vehicle while Scott drove the other so that Iggy could monitor his patients.  “Scott, we’ve got to get back to Sanctuary … now.  Brandon isn’t breathing right and it’s going to take surgery to remove whatever is in David’s arm.” 

Both vehicles pulled out and Scott called OSAG’s Scott … codenamed Radar for this event … and told him to relay the information that a bogey had escaped and could be headed their way, giving details of the make, model, and color as well as the approximate speed it was travelling. 

He had just put the mic down we he hit the first of what looked like who knows how many zombies that were slowly shuffling their way towards the screams and cries still emanating from the warehouse compound.  Zombie gore splattered the windshield and it took forever to get his visibility back using the wipers … dammit, somebody had used the truck and forgotten to refill the wiper fluid reservoir.   

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Austin could see his team from the second floor window of the house he was in, but he didn’t dare make any noise trying to get their attention.  He’d barely made it up the stairs and barricaded the door.  They’d nearly gotten him.  What drugged out freaks used zombies as guard dogs?! 

Waiting for Brian to return he’d been peaking in the windows at the surrounding houses to see if there was anything worth gathering once the battle was over with.  Every house had been ransacked … except the last one.  There were boxes and supplies all over the place.  And he’d fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.    He should have known that something was wrong when it was so easy to get into the house.  He was headed to the back of the house when the first one surprised him.  Turning quickly to escape he ran into another.  Barreling down a hall way it was confronted with three more.  He was cornered until he saw the stair railing.  He stood on an entry table that cracked under his weight but he grabbed the spindles in time to keep from falling directly into the zombies.  He climbed the wall with his feet and jumped the rail and then rain upstairs only to find more of the freakazoids.  He’d wised up and didn’t go into any open rooms and instead opened the closed door.  He was out of time and out of options … and dang lucky that this room didn’t have any resident boogey men in it lying in wait. 

Now all he could do is pray the door held while he watched his friends tenaciously follow the ZKKers.  Then he realized where those gangbangers was headed.  He considered his options and then realized he didn’t have much of a choice. 

He gingerly opened the window and carefully removed the screen and then climbed out onto the roof.  He knew he didn’t have much time left.  Three of the gang had already reached the garage and started up one of the big trucks that were in there.  The other three gang members made a run for it, but only two made it.  His team suddenly jumped up and began running, determined that the ZKKers wouldn’t escape.  He was out of time. 

“DOWN!!!”  

Brian knew his friend’s voice like it was his own.  It was instinctual that he obeyed the screamed command.  He didn’t know why, but he knew it was important.  He took Curtis down with him who fell forward pushing Bob off of his feet.  Glenn had skidded to a halt and was kneeling as the truck was halfway out of the garage at high speed and then … BLAM!!!!  Glenn flew backwards as the house and garage blew up.   

Austin, despite being mentally prepared for the explosion, lost his balance and fell from his perch knocking the wind from himself.   

Curtis was the first to recover.  He saw the zombies exiting houses all around them.  In a near panic he began pushing and shoving the rest of the team into getting up and moving.  Everyone had some kind of wound, Glenn’s were the worst.  A big sliver of wood had caught him up near his collar bone on the right side.   

They were dragging each other and hobbling as fast as they could back to their vehicles.  Austin is stammering, “Damn, I’m sorry Glenn.  I …. “ 

Glenn, ever the pragmatist replied gruffly, “Don’t worry about it kid. What’s a sucking chest wound between friends?” 

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Where the heck do all these things keep coming from?!  It’s not like we don’t sanitize 90% of the ones we see.  Unless someone someplace is doing something to make more of the pestilence with no thought to the consequences for everyone else you’d think the supply would dry up eventually. 

All the screaming and carrying on that Dix heard coming their way?  Zombies.  These were patently part of the dead from the Big Fire.  They didn’t have any obvious wounds but many of them appeared charred in places, especially on their feet and legs.  Nasty.   

I guess it doesn’t really matter what made them, they just are.  Those ZKKers who thought to escape the explosion and the resulting chaos ran smack into a horde that had been approaching on their unprotected rear.  The first of that group didn’t stop in time and had been gobbled up by the horde; several zombies with ZKK insignia had joined their ranks. 

Lee had just thrown away another jammed weapon, swearing that he must have done something to be on someone’s crap list, when he spotted Chevy cargo van careening in their direction.  It didn’t matter, zombie or gang member, you got in the way then you became part of the black top.  Chris was preparing to fire when he recognize Dante’ at the wheel. 

The van skidded to a halt.  “Get in,“ he groaned.  “But someone else is gonna have to drive.” 

No kidding.  Dante’ was one solid bruise from head to toe.  

Kevin asked, “What happened?” 

“I done got run over,” sighed Dante’, his Cajun accent thick.  “Oh … kids … these are the friends I tol’ you about.  Don’ give ‘em as hard a time as you give me.  You hear?” 

Dix who had climbed into the driver’s seat looked back at a sea of childish faces looking at him like he was the blasted Calvary or something.  To give himself some time to think he put the van in drive, headed to James’ position, and asked, “What ran you over?” 

“Not a what, a who … a whole damn bunch of who’s.” 

Dante’ had made it over to the house the children were in but wasn’t able to approach it right away.  Things eventually got so dangerous he felt he didn’t have any choice but to try to rescue the kids.  Right as he was crossing the road, a huge crowd ran around the house and quite literally ran over him.  He’s leg gave out, he went down, and the people continued to trample him.  Luckily the feet were mostly bare or in tennis shoes.  If they’d all been in boots he would likely be dead or on his way. 

Once he got over there it took forever for him to calm the kids down.  “He looked scarey,” said one little girl.  He was trying to think of how to get the kids out when they told him about the van that was used to transport them to various job sites.  He checked the fuel level then loaded the kids in and waited for the right time to cut out of there. 

Kevin, better with kids than the others, had the kids all calmed down and quiet by the time Dix made it to the three-story townhouse that James had chosen as his perch.   The problem?  No James. 

---------------------------------------------- 

Steve’s heart literally skipped a beat.  He son was lying unconscious on the ground while a rager and several of zombies made a beeline for him.   

Forget the rifle, pulled his Glock 17 out of its holster and doing one of the moves out of the movies that rarely happen in real life he sanitized the rager as he used a box cutter blade to cut the rifle strap “BLAM”!  Drop to the ground, rolled upright taking a step

“BLAM!” “BLAM!” “BLAM!” sanitized three more zombies. 

Sensing an enemy behind him he turned and “BLAM!” caught the zombie at point blank range blowing the top of its head off.  

Turning back towards his son he ran the last two feet “BLAM!” “BLAM!” taking down two more zombies that were closing in. 

Crouching over his son’s still unresponsive body “BLAM!” he sanitized the zombie that had gotten in Rusty’s way as he was running over to cover Steve.   

He pick’s his son up in a fireman’s carry and he and the rest of his team hurried back to their vehicles.  “BLAM!” he sanitized the zombie that was keeping him from putting his son in the back of his vehicle.  “BLAM!” –and click – as the magazine was emptied into the skull of a zombie that had grabbed Steve’s arm and was attempting to pull it out of its socket. 

Kicking that zombie away, Steve hops in the back seat and gathers his son in his arms while his team mates tear out of there with both vehicles.  Destination:  Sanctuary where Chad and the rest of the clinicians would be waiting. 

----------------------------------------------------- 

While the four teams had been operating in battle mode, our intrepid patrol teams hadn’t exactly been sitting on their hands.  It became obvious within an hour of beginning their grid-by-grid patrol that the number of zombies for the day was at a level it had not been in weeks, since the Hive and concurrent big fire.  Single shamblers were ignored unless they were within certain grid locations.  A small group of zombies were sanitized down to the last member.  Large groups and hordes of any size were radioed into Radar where he relayed the information to whatever DJ was on at the time who in turn shared it everyone within their broadcast audience as a community service. 

Anyone wearing ZKK insignia had a price on their head.  Matlock’s team initially didn’t see any ZKKers but the OSAG patrol did engage two groups and halved their numbers before allowing them to escape out of the TTT.   

I’m not sure what the OSAG’s patrol team did, whether they included training exercises, but Matlock did.  He took the time to teach Clark, Samuel, and Eric a lot of things to look for in addition to what they were already used to looking for when they are on patrol.  He also took them to areas they don’t normally go on patrol and asked them to figure their direction, speed, and landmarks that would get them home the quickest whether in a vehicle or on foot. 

Things really heated up when they got the call that a Cadillac had escaped from the Grant Park offensive and was heading north.  Matlock then asked them if they knew what a Cadillac Escalade was and anything else they thought such as whether they knew the most direct path that would bring the vehicle into the TTT from its last known location. 

In the end however it was OSAG’s patrol that ran into the Cadillac.  Sanctuary’s patrol’s combat came later. 

------------------------------------- 

Dix and Chris got out of the van and began looking for any sign of James.  Dix then went up to James’ perch and looked to see if he had left a clue or a sign where he went.  As soon as he entered the building he started worrying, there was several blood smears on the walls and on the hand rails leading up to the second floor.  Above the second floor all was clear. 

Dix surmised that at some point for some reason James decided to come down from his sniping locations.  At or around the second floor landing he had run into trouble.  There weren’t a lot of excess holes in the wall so there couldn’t have been many shots fired.  Looking in one of the ground floor rooms Dix found two ZKKers sanitized and tumbled one on top of another. 

So the question was did the blood belong to the ZKKers or to James?  As Dix went to leave the townhouse he noticed a painting on the lobby wall that had a circle drawn on it in a brownish-red paint – not paint, blood.  There was also a brownish handprint on the corner of the wall. 

It only took a second for Dix to realize that here was the clue that James had left him.  The picture was a panorama of the townhouses around the lake.  The circle was which of those townhouses he was going to try to get to.  The brown handprint on the wall – more blood – led Dix to believe that James was hurt. 

Dix and Chris got back in the van and drove it around to the townhouse James had indicated.  All was quiet; neither the zombies nor the other chaos had reached this area yet … or so it appeared.  Dix had just opened his door to get out after looking around when a bullet sunk into the ground right beside the door.  He jumped back in the van and slammed the door and it was probably the only thing that saved his life. 

A rager slammed into the driver’s side window hard enough to crack it.  Lee popped the side window and aiming a pistol sanitized the zombie at nearly point blank range.   

The kids were shrieking in terror and Dix had to bellow, “Kevin, I need those kids down and silent!!” 

As Kevin, with Dante’s help, calmed and quieted the kids, Dix was looking to see where the bullet had come from.  A flash on the second floor balcony of a building directly across from them caught his attention.  Using his binoculars Dix could see it was James and he was hurt.  He could also see James pointing to several different locations over and over again.   

Dix couldn’t see anything but James obviously didn’t want them entering the area.  Dix did note that the three areas James pointed at all had a good view of the courtyard of this block of townhouses.  Dix instructed Chris and Lee to stay quiet and out of sight but to keep an eye on any movement in the directions James had pointed.  Dix crawled over the top of Chris and exited on the passenger side of the van. 

He then followed the back of the townhouses and came up to the lakeside entrance of the building James was in.  Slowly he made his way up checking at each level to make sure he wasn’t walking into a trap.  It was easy to figure out which apartment James was in by the blood trail (it had become heavier) and the bloody prints on the doorframe and knob. 

Not wanting to startle James and get shot, Dix remained low to the ground while he crept into the apartment.   

“I saw you leave the van.  If it isn’t you I’m toast so just tell me one way or the other and kill the suspense already,” James gasped out. 

Dix came up and around the entry way wall to find that James had crawled back inside and was trying without success to stand.  He looked at Dix and said, “Momma is so gonna kill me for this” right before keeling over completely. 

------------------------------------------------- 

As you might have guessed dear future reader, this is hard as heck for me to write.  I have to keep on point, try not to think about it too hard, stick to what I was told, forget that I was nearly out of mind my with worry as information slowly started dribbling in.  If the story seems cold and simply a recitation of facts, remember that I wasn’t there and didn’t witness these events and if I think on it too hard while I try and record the events in this journal, I turn into a mass of quivering gelatin and I start crying, something I’ve done enough of over the last few hours. 

At this point in the timeline the best I’ve been able to piece together three of the four teams were heading for Sanctuary, all with team members with life threatening illnesses.  OSAG’s patrol had engaged the enemy and triumphed in both lowering the number of ZKKers in the TTT and in sanitizing one of their upper leaders.  We didn’t learn how high up until much later. 

Tom had awoken in recovery and was doing as well as could be expected though he had a mild allergic reaction to one of his pain management medications that left Chad and Waleski scrambling to find a substitute.  Patricia on the other hand was not doing well at all.  Her blood pressure was erratic but thus far the baby did not seem in any distress.  It was Patricia’s mental outlook and fear that were her primary problem; she fought the labor every step of the way leaving her unable to employ any of the relaxation techniques that Terra and Chad’s sister were trying to help her with. 

I was working myself silly trying to prepare for the incoming wounded.  It was the only way for me to get any relief from my stress level.  Had I known about James while all of this was going on I would probably would have lost it right there. 

------------------------------------ 

Dix ran over to James finally allowing his worry to touch him for the first time.  Thankfully the boy had just fainted.  Dix assessed his injuries.  His left side had a bad gouge in it that angled up.  His left bicep had an in and out wound.  Blood from both wounds was seeping around the makeshift bandages that James had tried to tie on himself. 

Dix thought, “First thing, we get these kids some damn first aid training for something besides sprains and splinters.  James did a half way decent job but would Samuel have known what to do under the same circumstances?  If we are gonna ask them to be little soldiers we gotta give them the damn tools to survive the job.” 

The big man fixed pressure pads out of strips he cut out of the remaining furniture and then held them in place using the cords and sash he ripped off the window blinds.  James was now awake but hurting bad.  He explained to Dix that he had seen the moneychanger get into Ford Explorer and was moving to a new location to get a better angle when he was surprised by three ZKKers.  He’d only been hit once but it was from the ground floor up to his position.  

His return fire hit two gang members and the third ran off but then circled back around and had been chasing him when the rager had intercepted him.  James was able to get to his current location while the rager was occupied eating ZKK tripe.  Weak though he was, James was able to explain to Dix that the commotion had drawn the attention of some others.  Those others were wearing a different insignia however so he had no way to know whether they were friendly or not. 

Looking over the banister Dix spotted the small group that James had indicated just as they decided to try and attack the van.  Lee and Chris were out of the van returning fire.  Guess that decided that.  Using James rifle Dix sighted in and took out all three targets after they came into the open.   

With that settled Dix decided it was time to get James down to the van, back to their vehicles (but not by climbing over any damn trees and walls), and then head for home.  Dix needed to see his son and make sure he was OK. 

The trip down the stairs wasn’t pleasant.  Dix wound up have to carry James over his shoulder and that caused James to faint again.  Chris met them half way back to the van.  There were zombies everywhere.  The only stop they made on their way to the main gate was when the kids started screaming for “Nana” and pointing to an older woman being pursued by several zombies.  Dix slewed the van up into the yard she was running across and Kevin and Lee only the sliding door and pulled her in while Chris and Dante’ sanitized the ones that were too close. 

The woman’s name is Winefred Miller but no one is around her long before they start calling her Nana, even Dix.  She’d been allowed to take care of the children when she wasn’t cooking and cleaning for the ZKK lieutenants that was in charge of the Cheval compound.   

There was no one left at the main gate to stop them from leaving though the security arm was still down.  Dix snorted at that and simply drove through it sending wood splinters in every which direction.  Then back into Calusa Trace and to their vehicles.   

They were a three vehicle convoy as they were headed back to Sanctuary.  They were nearly there when suddenly a Ford Explorer blew passed them, side swiping the van before heading east on Bearss Avenue.  Dix wasn’t even tempted at that point to follow and radioed the info to Radar. 

------------------------------ 

From Dix to Radar and then from Radar to Matlock.   Luckily Sanctuary’s patrol team wasn’t far from home having just finished refilling their gas tanks before heading back out.  They had stopped at the corner of US41 and Bearss Avenue to see if they could hear any vehicle when there was a rending crash to the east.  Matlock told the boys to stay sharp and then he turned the jeep in that direction. 

Not a half mile away, just east of where Bearss Avenue and Skipper Road create a strange intersection at the bend in the road, the speeding Explorer had splattered a zombie, jumped the curb and was wrapped up in an aluminum fence that surrounded a huge drainage pond.  Steam bubbled up from where the nose of the vehicle was half buried in the muck on the edge of the water.  The fence prevented the Explorer from doing a tip over tail roll landing upside down in the water, but not by much.  The Ford wasn’t in the water but it was still upside down and it didn’t look like the fence was going to hold much longer.   

 Matlock would have sat tight and let circumstances finish things off but the rear window of the cargo area exploded outward.  Two sets of feet followed the window.  The feet were attached to a young male and female, both of whom had their hands tied behind them.  The young man was doing his best to help the female up the incline but it was a struggle for them to keep their balance and not tumble backwards. 

The driver’s door opened and a fat little man fell in a suit fell out.  As he tried to climb up the embankment he pushed the young man and woman out of his way and they tumbled backwards. 

“Bastard,” ground out Matlock.  “Samuel, go help those two.  Clark cover him to make sure no more clowns come out of the car.  Eric, you’re with me.” 

There was a reason why Matlock picked Eric.  Eric had it rough at the hands at the pirates and he had absolutely no sympathy for “bad guys.”  If he had to shoot the man, Eric would do it without hesitation … and no regrets afterwards. 

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

As the man try to bluff his way to superiority.  “Do you know who I am?  Take me where I want to go and you’ll be paid handsomely.” 

“Yeah … about that.  Where were you going in such a hurry?” 

The ratty little tub sneered and said, “You don’t need to know that until we are on the road.  Come on man, I don’t have all day for this foolishness.  If you don’t want the pay, someone else with greater intelligence will.” 

Eric snickered and asked, “Can I tell him?” 

Matlock shrugged and looked on benevolently given the impression he was thinking, “Kids, always so impatient.” 

“Well mister, we know you just came from Cheval so you’re a member of the ZKK idiots.  You aren’t pointed in the direction of Citrus Park but it doesn’t matter, there wouldn’t be anything there for you anyway.  If you were headed toward Grant Park … don’t bother, it’s gone too.  If you were headed to New Tampa … that place is really gone.” 

The ratty little man with the shifty eyes got paler as each place was crossed off the list.  Then he straightened his spine.  “It doesn’t matter, Zassat will pay for my return.” 

Putting two and two to hopefully make four Matlock asked, “This Zassat gent would happen to be fond of Italian suits and tattoos would he?” 

“That’s Mr. Zassat you peasant.  He’ll flay anyone that harms me.” 

“Hmmmm.  I take it Zassat likes knives too.” 

“I’ve watched him skin men for merely walking in his shadow.  He will … “ 

Matlock’s voice and grin turned gleefully wicked and he got in the little ratty man’s face and spit out, “Your Zassat and his blade met a man with a gun.  Guess who one?” 

“No!  Impossible!!  Zassat is … “ the little man said hyperventilating. 

“The numb nuts is dead already.  Let it go and stop boring us with stories of dead boogey men,” Eric pointed out. 

The man began to panic, finally beginning to believe the demigod was dead he spoke in a rush, his words spilling over the top of one another.  “I know things.  I know lots of things.  Where things are stored.  Who to contact for more when that runs out.  I can get you fuel … food … women.  I can … ” 

The girl lets out a petrified scream. 

Matlock turned, “Damn!  Boys get them people up here and let’s go!!”  Zombies had begun to pour out of the south side of the road way. 

---------------------------------------------- 

It was already a tight squeeze in the jeep with Matlock and four large, teenage boys.  Adding more passengers just made it worse.  When Matlock looked around to shove the last passenger … the ratty little fat man … he wasn’t to be found. 

Matlock asked Eric, “Where did the bastard go?  You were watching him.” 

“About to be zombie chow,” and pointed where the man was running … sort of jogging actually … up the road with several zombies on his tail. 

Matlock looked at Eric in consternation and opened his mouth to speak but Eric cut him off the only a teenager can.   “Look, you’re always on us about saving ammo.  So … I thought, why not save a little ammo,” and then he grinned a piranha’s grin. 

Matlock shook his head, grinned and told Eric to get in the jeep.  “Boy, you just won’t do.  But, we could have waited to see what his ‘information’ was worth.” 

“Autumn and I pretty much know all the places he did,” came the voice of the young man from the Explorer.  “We’ve fetched and carried for that demented accounted for nearly two months.” 

Eric, still in a good mood from dealing with the unlikeable man said, “I can’t say for sure, but know certain folks like I do, I’d say you two just bought yourselves tickets to Disney World.” 

The young man and woman didn’t know whether to be comforted by Eric’s tomfoolery or even more scared that they’d gone from a devil they knew to one they didn’t. 

------------------------------------- 

It didn’t take long for those of us in the area to realize that the number of zombies was growing alarmingly fast.  We also realized it could just be due to our battles with the ZKK.  The only explanation we’ve been able to come up with thus far is that this horde are smoke inhalation victims of the big fire.  No one noticed them because they traveled north through the now deserted burn zone.   They started hitting our area this morning.  The population of zombies isn’t anywhere near the number there where in the Hive but there are enough of them that we have multiple hordes (some big, some small) all over the place. 

I couldn’t land on any task long enough with enough concentration that would keep me from worrying.  Rose was wound up, waiting for David to return and to see how badly he was injured.  Saen and Shorty had been ferried over to await the return of Glenn and Steve and his son.  Waleski finally just sedated Josephine as her hysterics were getting to be more than any of us could take; the worst part it wasn’t about Brandon, but about Patricia and how she was scared the same thing was going to happen to her. 

The first team to return was Glenn’s.  All of the guys had minor injuries but Brian and Glenn were the worst.  Brian’s wound was cleaned and he was loaded up on antibiotics and painkillers and then put to bed so his body could finally relax enough to deal with the lingering effects of blood loss. 

Glenn … he’s resting quietly.  It required surgery to remove the piece of wood and clean out the wound.  As Chad said, once he and Ski finally had a chance to stop and breathe, “Lucky bastard … damn lucky bastard.  Missed everything vital but did break the collar bone.  He’s going to be sore as hell and next to useless for a while for anything physical.  He’ll recover but it’s going to take a while.  Assuming that that little spit fire he’s married to doesn’t kill him first.” 

Chad and Ski were in surgery still working on Glenn when the group from OSAG showed up.  Steve was fine until the girls tried to get him to let them load The Kid onto a stretcher.  Shorty stepped in and handled Steve which allowed the girls to handle Hunter … that’s The Kid’s real name … Hunter.  I never knew until then.   

Hunter regain consciousness while the girls were trying to clean him up.  He has a nasty concussion and Chad is all over that.  He also broke a couple of ribs and probably broke a toe and chipped his ankle on the same side.  He’ll recover but he’s another one that’s going to be moving slow for a while.  There isn’t much you can do for broken toes, chipped ankles, and cracked ribs … but they sure are painful. 

Next in was Scott’s team.  David was awake but groggy … and nauseous from pain.  He hadn’t lost a lot of blood but every time he coughed he nearly passed out from how it caused the shrapnel in his arm to move around.  It actually wasn’t David that was the worst off. 

We lost Brandon.  I still have a hard time believing it.  David is completely tore up over it saying it was his fault.  Scott blames himself for lighting the tires.  Clay Jr. and J. Paul said they should have gone to look for them sooner.  Iggy said he should have realized the risks and done more to prevent what happened.  The truth is Brandon manned up and did the right thing helping David get back to Scott.  Sometimes doing the right thing means you lose a battle; sometimes it can even cost you your life. 

Smoke inhalation is a strange thing.  It strikes different people in different ways.  I don’t know all the medical science behind it and to be honest I just can’t … can’t ask right now.  Brandon’s lungs began to shut down.  It didn’t matter that Iggy was giving him oxygen, he’s blood cells wound up starving to death.  He lost consciousness about a mile from Sanctuary and never woke up.  Chad officially called his time of death at 9:07 pm and they sanitized the corpse immediately.  The funeral will be tomorrow, right after we bury Josephine’s baby, and maybe Josephine too if … but that part comes later. 

It was right after Scott arrived that we were told about James.  Scott and I … there aren’t words to describe the feelings we had, not adequate words anyway.  Poor Bekah had to be the one to carry the message to us.  What kind of world is it that a 9 year old is having to relay that kind of message about her own brother.  Thank the Lord we didn’t have long to wait before we saw Dix’s convoy pulling onto the road making for Sanctuary as fast as he dared. 

------------------------------------------ 

Scott and I would have run out to meet them on foot but the zombies had become a problem.  We nearly did anyway except that McElroy had the turn key for opening the gate.   

All three vehicles drove up and Nick had come out with a stretcher for James.  Looking at me he said, “Patricia has finally gone into active labor.  Terra doesn’t think at this rate it will be much longer.  I know you want … need … to be with James, but with everyone else occupied Terra might need help.” 

I didn’t even want to think about it and was about to cry in frustration when a hand fell on my shoulder, “We’ll go in there with Terra.  Our boys are home, you go be with yours.” 

It was Reba and Betty.  I’d never really been as alone in my fear as I had thought.  Every mother and wife (whether papered or common law) had been feeling the same things I had; especially Betty who had both husband and son out there the same as I. 

I went in to help but Rose came out and said, give them a minute.  James started fighting tooth and nail when his sister and Melody started to undress him so Ski could check him over.  “Dad and Dix are doing it,” she said in exasperation.   As worried as we both were it was impossible not to want to chunk James in the head for being so stubborn. 

Chad’s expertise had to be spent on the worst injured … Glenn, Brandon, Hunter.  Ski could handle James’ injuries but I can’t say that James enjoyed the lecture that accompanied his care.  As soon as Ski finished his exam and patched James up he told him, “Don’t be a problem kid.  Let your sister give you the antibiotics and painkillers I’m prescribing and finishing cleaning you up.  You give her a hard time and I’ll shoot you in the ass with a tranquilizer then you won’t know who is gonna see you naked.” 

That’s our Waleski … stellar bedside manner learned at Miss Manner’s School for Medics located in sunny, downtown Bagdad.  I really DO thank God every day for that man.  Many of us, including myself, wouldn’t be here today without him. 

Right after James fell asleep and we got word that Glenn was going to make it as well, Matlock pulled into Sanctuary to drop off the young man and woman their team had rescued. 

The young man is Cooper and the girl, his fiancé, is Autumn.  Cooper is as confident as Autumn is reticent.  Scott was sitting with James for the first shift and I had been on my way to the kitchen to try and pull a late dinner together for everyone.  I took them with me, offering them a place where they could sit down and talk that wasn’t in the middle of the chaos we had going.  I was on the point of asking them their story when Johnnie runs to meet me and demands to know where Daddy is and how “Brudder” is doing.   

I’m trying to figure out why Johnnie is running around by himself when Sarah finally catches up.  “Sorry Mom.  He wouldn’t listen.”  She gulped a breath and then asked, “Where do you want the food we fixed?” 

I nearly broke down in tears.  Charlene, Claire, Maddie, and Sarah had organized all the other kids that weren’t on duty and they had prepared tortillas, salad stuff, and some kind of thick vegetable stew that had a polenta crust on top.  That last had to have been Charlene’s idea as the other girls haven’t quite grasped the use of the wooden ovens yet.  I told them to bring everything to the Dining Hall and people could eat in shifts.   

I was told that the kids had all been fed already and that they were taking them back to our house if it was OK.  I told them there were a few more kids somewhere … I didn’t know at the time but Rilla and Rhonda were taking care of them … and that they would probably need to be fed too.  In due course, everyone began to cycle through the Dining Hall eating if they felt like it.  Most folks weren’t hungry but ate a bit anyway to keep their strength up.   

Then Matlock came back in right as the sun was going down and we needed to deal with that. 

I was just getting back to Cooper and Autumn when we all heard this shriek, “No!” coming from right outside the Clinic.   I ran over not for sure what I’d find.  Josephine had overheard that Chad reporting Brandon’s death.   She was having hysterics.  The shock was too much for her.  I don’t know if she really felt the way she felt or the drama and resulting emotions got away from her or just what.  Reba and I tried to take her back to her place but every time she acted like she would cooperate she would fall to her knees and then run back to the clinic. 

Within an hour she was spotting.  Another 15 minutes and she was bleeding pretty heavily.  Another hour after that and it was over.  She miscarried the baby.  She hadn’t quite made it out of her first trimester and we don’t have the facilities to determine exactly what caused it; could have been the hormones getting dumped into her blood from the emotional shock, could have been the fetus wasn’t genetically viable, we’ll just never know.  

Losing a baby is horrible.  I’ve lost two like that but … you learn to live with what happens and go on.  Not that you grow callous, you just … I’m too tired, I can’t put it into words right.  Maybe this is another time there just aren’t words to describe it adequately.   

The problem was Josephine was bleeding heavily.  Chad said that in a perfect world she would likely have a hysterectomy at this stage in the bleeding.  Unfortunately this isn’t a perfect world.  As I write this, we still don’t know if Josephine is going to make it.  There is some hope, but realistically its getting to the point that a miracle needs to occur. 

Patricia is doing better as well.  Something seems to have changed.  The contractions are more productive but it is taking longer for her to give birth than Terra anticipated.  All we can do is wait. 

---------------------------------------------- 

Everything is so topsy turvy.  I’m exhausted.  I had the jitters so bad I just had to go out to the shed to find some privacy and get away from it all.  As soon as I closed the door though it just all hit me and I fell to the floor and started crying.  I was doing my best not to let anyone hear me but Scott must have gotten worried when he couldn’t find me. 

He finally noticed I had the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the shed, but when has that ever stopped him from checking on me?  Before I realized it we were wrapped in each other’s arms holding on for dear life.  So many things could have gone wrong today, so many did.  So far the lives of most of our friends have been spared but the night is long and so are the coming days. 

Scott didn’t have the strength to lift me though I could barely move.  We all but carried each other back to the house, got cleaned up and then, stepping back over all the kids that seemed to be asleep and draped over every surface, headed back over to the Dining Hall where the “de-briefing had started.”  That meeting was where I learned most of the details. 

I also learned – though something told me – that Jim and Angus had been in constant contact with Sanctuary and were very cut up over our losses and injuries.  Ski, who had walked over to the Radio Shack to let Tom’s brother in law know his status and ask about the girl who’d just had the baby was doing, managed to convince the two men that trying to return in their current condition was just begging for more holes to be dug out in the cemetery.  I’ll talk to them myself tomorrow if I can and try and reinforce that idea.   

Dix asked me to take notes during the meeting and I’ve done my best to put things in some facsimile of a correct timeline.  Hopefully it’s a job that won’t have to be redone because I got something completely out of whack. 

Most of the OSAG people returned to home, only Steve and Shorty are remain as does Chad.  Chad’s sister went back with the others so that there would be some medical coverage over there if needed.  Depending on Hunter’s condition Steve and Shorty may be able to take him home later tomorrow.   When Chad leaves depends on our other critical patients. 

Most of the Aldea folks have gone home as well except for Glenn and Saen, Nick and Terra (and their baby, currently asleep in the extra bassinette we keep at the Clinic).   

Any way you look at it we’ll have extra folks to feed tomorrow and everyone will be pretty tired.  I’m running a menu through my head but I’m so tired I’m not sure I’m thinking straight.  After the debriefing Scott walked me home.  He didn’t have the energy to get into clean clothes and go back to the Clinic like he intended.  They said we don’t need to sit with James but that’s not going to stop us.  I took Scott’s boots and belt off and rolled in a little further onto the bed. 

Then I wrote a note and propped it where he could find it and another for the kids.  I grabbed my lap desk that Scott made me so I could write in this journal where ever the feeling might hit me and then I headed over to the Clinic. 

Betty and Reba were up as was Rose so that all of the other Clinicians could grab a few winks of sleep.  I stuck my head in Hunter’s room and saw Steve asleep in a chair and Shorty stretched out on a cot.  I went to leave as quietly as I came when I realized that there really is such a thing as sleeping with one eye open.  Steve’s right eye was just a quarter open but when I stepped on some sand that was on the tile floor and it crunched the eye flew wide open.  There wasn’t any other reaction from Steve but I have a feeling that had he perceived a threat he would have been wide awake and across the room before I could have moved. 

Rose will sleep in a moment when Melody wakes up and I’ll go in to relieve Reba.  We’ll just keep rotating like that until everyone’s medical condition is completely stabilized or the Clinic is empty.  For now my boy is sleeping peacefully but I can see pain lines bracketing his mouth.  More than likely he will need another pill when he wakes up. I’ll tell Rose and she’ll tell Melody. 

Sometimes I wish there was a pill for the kind of pain I’m feeling right now.  But, nothing really exists for that.  Even if you think you find one it costs too much in other areas of your life.  Maybe … maybe I can count on “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”   

Daddy used to say it was the fire that strengthened the blade.  If that’s true I ought to come out of this with the strength of a Excalibur.  I hope so, we’ve got some enemies that need smiting mightily. 

 
Day 252 (Monday) – April 9
 
(Written before breakfast)

I once heard a preacher talk about personal responsibility and stewardship.  He said that even when ownership is debatable stewardship is not.  The more mature you spirit becomes the deeper this concept is becomes and you realize how many different aspects are life are covered by stewardship; even emotions.

As much as we are to be stewards of the physical things in this life, we are to be stewards of the spiritual things in this life, of our emotions … including our pain, both physical and spiritual.  We are supposed to learn to live with our pain when we experience it.  Not fight it but use it and mold it into a constructive force rather than a destructive one.

I know I don’t do that all the time.  I rail against the perceived unfairness of events; I fight with things I cannot change.  I hope that this time I am a better steward of my pain and grief than I have been in the past.  Something good has to come out of all of this.  And I need to set a good example for the kids, especially the girls.  They are going to need role models how to survive as the “weaker sex” in the world’s current incarnation. 

Pain is the inevitable intruder in life.  It is up to us whether we are good stewards and triumphant over that which seeks to destroy us; or whether we are good slaves, conquered and degraded by our circumstances. 

Today, just as the first rays lightened the sky, we buried three of our number.  I’m weeping so much I can barely see to write.  I’ll finish up tomorrow.  Right now it just hurts too much. 

--------------------------------------------- 

(written that night) 

I can’t believe it.  I just can’t b…. but it did happen.  I just still have trouble believing it.   

I've already written of everyone's injuries, Brandon's unexpected death and the loss of Josephine's baby.  Now I must also add to this chronicle that we lost Josephine as well. 

Chad said that her complications would have been difficult to manage even pre-NRS.  Her age, general rundown condition (that most of us suffer from to one extent or the other), and Josephine's stress level only added to the problem.  The length of time that she was experiencing low blood volume alone could have meant that even had she lived she may never have fully recovered. 

Dix and Scott buried her and her baby, the tiny thing that it was, together in the same grave next to her grandmother.  Brandon was buried next to his father.  Poor Maddie was so shook up she went away mentally for a while.  The only thing that seemed to reach her was when Tris put Cinda in her arms to hold and cuddle.

It was right after the last shovel full of dirt was put back in place that Samuel came pelting over for his father.  A bus was coming and a couple of other vehicles after that.

Everyone's heart fell to their feet.  I had to stop my crying and pull myself together so I tossed my journal aside and ran with the rest of them for my normally assigned position on the Wall.  With so many of our men hurt our security, both mental and physical, was compromised.  We were all exhausted but we still had to function whether we thought we could or not.  This was a perfect time for our enemies to attack or lay siege to us.  We ran towards the Wall but before we could get there McElroy was opening the gate.  Opening the gate?! 

My head was spinning in confusion.  Once the opening was large enough Theo stuck his head through and said with a real serious look on his face, "Momma said not to get upset.  We're gonna be setting up outside."

We?  This is the part that chokes me up and I still find hard to believe.  Dora and her family, some other men from her end of town, and the Korean archers came to our place.  We found out not too long afterwards that at roughly the same moment people began showing up at OSAG, people that they had traded with or helped.  Some that showed up had simply benefited from the destruction of the ZKK strongholds in their area.  It was amazing to see the sense of community and to have proof positive that the concept of what goes around comes around applies to good things as well as bad.  I know it could have just been that some of the people wanted to make “friends” with whoever the biggest and strongest in the area was.  I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt … Scott and Dix have already said “watch everyone.”

The issue of these people setting up outside the Wall however was unacceptable.  Zombies roamed freely and in great number.  We call ourselves Sanctuary for a reason.  Were we that or not?

As we welcomed our visitors I did note that Dix did have a team surreptitiously go around locking down certain things like the Storehouse, the Cooler, the ammo bunker, etc.  We would be good hosts, properly grateful for their offering of friendship and support, but we would not be foolish ones.  We felt blessed at the unexpected turnout, but there was still a need to be a good steward of our home and goods.  And there is that idea of stewardship again.
 

We were also careful to make sure that people realized a certain distance needed to be kept from the Clinic.  We had several very ill comrades that could not risk infection.  We also had a new mother and baby.  Patricia has had a baby girl.  Early appearances, if you can go on that with newborns, are that the baby is favoring Patricia rather than her attacker.  Fair skinned and blue-eyed (most infants are I supposed) she has one golden curl on the top of her head like a cupie doll.  I found out later that she and Jack both agreed to name her Josephine though they will use “Josie” instead of the more formal version.  That actually surprised me a bit. 

I suppose if anyone reads this I need to explain about Aldea?  Well, Aldea is like Neverland.  No one really knows where it is at except for the people who live there.  It’s our ace in the hole.  I’m sure Steve and his crew suspect where Aldea is but even they’d have a hard time finding it without a little help.  Matlock and Glenn have been extremely anal with regard to camouflaging their location and using alternative roads in and out, most of which they’ve built themselves; they even made it hard to see from the air using nets and such they found in a National Guard post. 

Immediately after seeing how many people were around I became concerned about food and water sources.  We made sure that everyone knew where the bathrooms were and they were checked frequently during the day to make sure everything remained sanitary.    Only our people needed breakfast and for that I fixed a hearty grits type porridge with cheese and bacon in it.   

Choi Soon Jin is the name of the Korean archery master.  We were actually able to communicate with him today.  He is learning English thanks to the pastor of a Korean church where he and his troop of archers have taken refuge.  The girls took turns on the Wall.  There are walled cities in Korean ancient history and I know that he spoke with Scott (through the translator) on this subject at quite some length.  They also asked if we objected to them occupying the Old Geraci farm as their present location was insufficient for their needs.  Considering how we are forming a mutual aid friendship certainly we had no objections. 

Dora and her family are also in some trouble at their location.  The ZKK, when they did the killing that had alerted Theo to the fact that something wasn’t right, dumped something into the Springs that has made it undrinkable and it was the only fit source of fresh water in that area.  The river is still too sick from all the bodies and debris floating in it.  They are going to give it a little while – they have supplies to last them for about a week or so – to see if the water clears up but after that they may need to move to a new location as well. 

I’m trying not to let my anger eat me up but those ZKKers have caused so much misery it’s very hard not to relish their fall from power. 

We have determined that there is one more ZKK stronghold located over in the Westshore area but it sounds like in addition to revenge against us they are mostly occupied with infighting and power plays.  They threw a few small skirmishes at us but none of them had enough power to do much more than stir up a hornets’ nest against themselves. 

It’s the zombies that proved the most problematic today.  They roam in roughly the same numbers as they did back in September and October.  Not quite so tightly packed but certainly enough so that even the most decrepit shambler could be a problem. 

I scraped my menu plans.  There were simply too many people to feed.  I was wondering what to feed everyone and how to do it with the least disruption to our own food supply when two of the men that came with Dora brought in a large gator that they had planned to use for their own meal.  It was skinned and then the tail was cubed and I made gator stew.  I made plenty of greens to go with it and the older lady … she is quite funny once you get to know her a bit, even with the language barrier … showed me how to make Ginger Jalapeno Rice Cakes. 

Betty and Reba were mostly busy with the milking and giving breaks to Terra who not only had to help Patricia but had her own baby to feed and take care of.  Maddie stayed up in under me all day.  She didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything … I just let her breathe for a bit so she could start taking it in.   She’s going to spoil that baby something awful though if she isn’t careful.  Cinda isn’t going to know how to entertain herself if she is carried and carted at all times.  I finally dug out a piece of fabric and made a carrier so that at least Maddie could snap beans. 

Saen is beside herself with worry.  Glenn has a fever.  That could mean that they didn’t get all the little pieces of wood out and right now it is risky opening him back up.  They’ll watch the fever, continue antibiotics and wait and see if his body’s defenses step up to the challenge. 

Steve took his son, Shorty, and Chad home about the same time that everyone else left to go back to their respective homes.  Nick and Terra went back to Aldea but Dante’ was ferried over here.  He was hurt worse than they thought.  He’s definitely got a cracked rib and his bad leg is swollen.  His chest is badly bruised and he was having some chest pains so he’s under observation tonight. 

Brian is doing OK at home in Aldea.  Austin’s Sarah is helping to look after him though I’ve heard tell that she is real close to tying him to a chair to keep him still as ordered for a while.  

 

David and James slept most of the day today for which I’m grateful.  Neither one is the kind that will take well to enforced inactivity and I just wouldn’t have had the energy to deal with that today.  David will likely come home tomorrow but Ski wants to keep James at least one more night as he lost a lot of blood and was reading a low blood pressure earlier today though it is much closer to normal now.  James also doesn’t like to take pills or be dependent on help … he was a nightmare to potty train though he’ll ring my tail if he ever reads this.  He has to do everything by himself.  I swear one of the first things that boy ever said was, “I do it!”  He hasn’t been fun to deal with today, tomorrow is going to be worse. 

 

 Our friends won’t be back tomorrow unless they hear there is trouble.  A show of solidarity by the community at large will hopefully cause the ZKK remnants to think twice before tangling with any of us … at least until their stupid grows back.  None of us believe we’ve gotten a total reprieve from them.

 

Tomorrow will be devoted to going to the various compounds we destroyed and seeing what can be found.  Also Autumn and Cooper – those are two interesting young people I’ll give you that – have marked some locations out on a map and we are going to see what we see as far as whether there really is anything of value to us in those “hidden caches.”  Curtis, Chris, and Ronan may join us tomorrow … depends on what the situation looks like at daybreak.

 

Talked to Angus and Jim today a couple of times.  They are anxious to get home but I’m truly convinced they understand that we need them home in one piece.  Sounds like they might try to bring some stuff home with them from their travels as well.  And they’ll need to be well enough to travel with the horses which will mean moving even slower than what they’d like.  I’m anxious to read that journal that Bekah convinced him to keep.

 

And for me, it is time for bed and time for me to try and continue to come to terms with our grief.  Poor Maddie cried herself to sleep tonight.  Tris and Tyce are lying on our floor asleep with all the other children from Cheval.  I haven’t even had time to contemplate how on earth we are going to handle that.   Scott insisted on staying with James tonight at the Clinic.  I have early guard duty in place of David.  It will be another three or four days before Ski releases him for night guard duty and at least another two before he is even allowed to do guard duty during the day.

 

Tomorrow may be another nerve wracking day, but if I can just get a little rest I’m beginning to believe that I can handle it.
 

Day 253 (Tuesday) – April 10 

Guests are lovely.  Guests are wonderful.  But as much as I appreciated our guests yesterday, especially under the circumstances, I was content – grateful if I’m honest – to see them go home last night.  Don’t get me wrong, they were a comfort, but sometimes you just have to regroup and we have enough new people to absorb without the added burden of being hospitable in trying times.  I’m sure they would have understood but I have my own standards I live by.  That may sound a little contradictory if not crazy … but it’s my crazy and it’s what keeps me sane.

 

Before I go any further I need to introduce our three newest adult members here at Sanctuary.  Winifred “Nana” Miller is a “59 and holding thank you very much” petite woman of medium build, with a tart personality, and some of the kindest brown eyes I’ve ever looked into.  A spinster by choice, she raised other people’s children rather than have her own.  She was working at Schwartzkoff Elementary, setting up for the next school year, when she was drafted to help in a children’s rescue program back in August.

 

“I have no idea what happened to those children.  The NRSC were evacuating them out in groups but I haven’t the foggiest where they were sending them.  One of these days I hope to find out they are all safe and went to good homes.”

 

After the final evacuation of the last group of children the NRSC Chaplain at the base tried to get her a place on an outbound plane but he was killed before he completed the paperwork.  No one knew what to do with her after that and she was forced to make her way back to her home in Calusa Trace.  She had seen our people a few times, other groups as well, over the months but had been too afraid to approach anyone.  She was living by her wits alone but it wasn’t enough.  When she finally did brave drawing the attention of a group, she quickly found it was the wrong type of people.

 

“The only thing that has given me a will to live the last few months has been the children.  Some of them are terrible hellions but maybe now they won’t need to be to survive and they will calm down.”

 

Nana, as she prefers to be called by one and all, was a godsend with the kids yesterday.  With Dora’s family here it was like Sanctuary had been invaded by three troops of Monkeys.  Today, with Dora’s family back at their place and Nana large and in charge, we were down to one troop of monkeys that were under control most of time.  She is amazing and could likely charm the spots off of a leopard; she certainly charmed the grumpy out of Mr. Morris.

 

Cooper and Autumn have also been a godsend in their own way.  Cooper was on leave from school doing a semester of independent study here in Florida.  Autumn had taken a sabbatical from her job as first responder.  They had wanted just a little more free and breezy time before getting engaged and finishing up the last leg of their schooling.  After that their responsibilities would have increased to a point that they may not have gotten the same opportunity again.  They’re both just 20 and I’ve had to bit my tongue more than once not to make the mistake of calling them “kids.”  David is 21 and I still do it to him every once in a while but he just laughs at me.  Rose and James don’t find it quite so humorous.

 

Cooper and his lady had just been at the wrong place at the wrong time.  They were caught up in a group of people hiding in the Florida International Museum over in St. Petersburg when it was attacked; not by zombies by organized looters.  They were forced to haul paintings and other art work to waiting semi-trailers.  Autumn had actually bandage The Bookkeepers hand after an injury which probably one of the initial factors that saved their lives.  They were also young and strong thus “making the cut.”  Those that didn’t “make the cut” were ruthlessly sanitized by men carrying automatic weapons.

 

Now after months of slavery and mistreatment Cooper and Autumn were the only ones left from the original group.  If he had been alone Cooper would have tried to escape long ago; however, The Bookkeeper kept Autumn on a short leash – sometimes literally – and he knew she’d pay for anything he did. 

 

They were his “pets” and he treated them accordingly … sometimes well, sometimes horrifically, mostly thoughtlessly.  In other words much as the man called Zassat treated The Bookkeeper.  Had Zassat even half suspected that Autumn had as much of his organization memorized as she did it would have been an automatic death sentence.

 

They likely weren’t far from that moment anyway.  Zassat, if not actually mad in a clinical sense, had slowly developed all the classic signs of megalomania and narcissism.  He wasn’t clinically insane yet, but in a very practical and moral sense he was, especially as paranoia began to take hold.  Even The Bookkeeper’s days were numbered and he had been squirreling away his own cache of treasures in case he needed to make a quick escape.

 

“We never did find out what either of them were called pre-NRS though they acted like they were famous for something in particular.  Zassat was some kind of Russian slang for something that is so scary it’ll make grown men wet themselves.  The Bookkeeper however was just that … an accountant by trade.  Apparently they knew each other from some organized crime ring but people that asked too many questions usually wound up dead in gruesome ways.”

 

In other words this world is much better off without the great Zassat and his sidekick The Bookkeeper.  Them and their silly games of who can be king of the world.  Hopefully this is the way that all those kind of landsharks will end their days … always falling short of their goals.

 

Today Cooper and Autumn went with Dix, Scott, and a few of the others to scout out the locations of those caches and see if we could secure them for our own use.  More on what was found later, first I need to get back on track.

 

First thing this AM Mr. Choi and his interpreter showed up.  I thought they were coming again but it was just a courtesy to let us know they had indeed voted to move to the Old Geraci place and would be working over there building a homestead for their people.  They informed us what channel they monitored and that they would come if we called and asking if they could count on the same courtesy.

 

Dix talked tonight about how this is more and more like the settlements of the wilderness.  There were people that lived full-time inside the walled cities and forts and then you had homesteaders that lived in communities of their own.  In times of trouble, the outlying homesteaders would come to the walled city or fort for protection and/or soldiers from the walled city/fort would go out into the countryside in aide of the homesteaders.  In return for this protection, the homesteaders provided resources to the walled forts or offered warm bodies that took turns on guard duty or in building projects that benefitted everyone.  Kind of like a big, complex mutual aid society.

 

We’ll have to see how that works.  It certainly has historical precedence but at the same time I’m not sure if I want to find myself living in a city-state as in the Greek or Roman historical eras.  It would mean giving up life as we once knew it when the US was whole.  Of course, that decision may have already been taken from us by people and circumstances.  Who knows?

 

After breakfast Dix and Scott headed out with Cooper and Autumn and met up with a three man team from Aldea and a three man team from OSAG.  They started on the north end of the circle they made and what they found … and occasionally ran into … was interesting.  They debated about splitting up and saving some time but after Sunday’s action it was just safer to remain in numbers for back up.

 

Basically as it stands, New Tampa is a total loss structurally but enough zombies had cleared out that our folks were able to see that there was still quite a bit of artwork worth trying to salvage.  Scott saw a couple of things that we might like for Sanctuary … maps and books and such … but I think OSAG will take most of it over to the university and house it so that Jo can take care of it for posterity, or something noble like that.  That included a buttload of jewelry (new and antique), single precious stones, and gold and silver coins.  We’ll like split that stuff three ways and hide it for future insurance in case the war moves our way and we needs bribes or ways to buy ammo.  Right now that stuff is little more than dead weight … we can’t eat it, can’t plant it to make it grow, it’s little more than a liability. 

 

From there they stopped at a food cache out on Morris Bridge Rd.  It had been broken into; by whom we don’t know.  After that the teams stopped at a fuel cache on Mango Rd off of US301; that’s another place that got raided.  Autumn was getting frustrated but Dix told her not to get upset.  It probably happened Sunday.  The minions heard their leader was dead and they took what they could and hightailed it before the same boot came down on their heads.

 

Next stop was Grant Park.  If there was anything worth having in that place it’ll be a while before anyone can get to it.  The tires are still on fire and there are a lot of zombies banging around inside the compound.  They decided it was the better part of valor to leave that place for another day.

 

A small outpost on Orient Rd actually yielded a small cache of food and ammo but nothing very great once it was split three ways.  At least they found a couple of guns for Cooper and Autumn, neither one of whom was shy about taking them up and putting them on. 

 

They had to skirt downtown which was full of crazies and zombies … then again, some people says its always been that way even pre-NRS … to make their way to the other side of the airport to come up Eisenhower Blvd.  There were a couple of warehouses out that way with more artwork and antique furniture in them.  The rugs would be useful this winter so the gang grabbed an enclosed trailer that was parked in the same warehouses and loaded the already rolled rugs up.

 

That’s when they ran into the same problem that Austin had run into.  “Guard zombies” if you can believe it.  Scott said after they sanitized the creepy exhibition of stupidity, he was able to examine things and it looks like there was a waited timer that started after you opened the doors to the warehouse.  If you didn’t know what you were looking for you wouldn’t really see it.  After the doors had been open a certain amount of time the sand bags would release a gate that held the zombies in and they would then come and get whatever was making the noise.  Ick. Sick minds; brilliant but sick.

 

Eventually all of the artsy stuff will be moved to the university but right now it’s not a high enough priority to waste the fuel and manpower on.  It will either be here when they come back for it or it won’t.  That’s the way we have to look at it.

 

Living the warehouse of the dead behind they pulled out and followed the Veterans’ Expressway north to Hanley Rd.  Scott said it was awful to see what has become of Tampa International Airport.  Two planes had run into the main terminal and something had destroyed the air traffic control tower.  Broken planes lay scattered like toys everywhere.

 

The cache at Hanley Rd was where The Bookkeeper had kept some of his hoarded goodies.  No one had found it and though it was mostly useless gold, jewelry, and other small items of the like, there was also a pretty good stash of food.  Dumped that into the trailer with the rugs.    The little man had also squirreled away some food and fuel at a place on Sheldon Road that he sometimes stayed at.  It looked like someone had broken into that stuff but hadn’t taken more than one man could carry.  This cache had a lot of wine and liquor in it, not exactly stuff we could really use but something was better than nothing.  I supposed the wines used to be expensive but none of that means anything to us these days.

 

When the teams got to Citrus Park Mall Cooper and Autumn could only look at the destruction in awe.  The mall itself had been the main fuel depot.  It had also house a lot of food and other kinds of things of an everyday use nature.  The fuel blew with such force that it basically imploded that end of the building which in turn fell so heavily that it suffocated the fire before it had the chance to spread.  

 

Entering through another store it looks like we can still get to some of the stuff, but the integrity of the rest of the mall is in such question that we won’t be able to go in very far.  We’ll take what we can without endangering ourselves too much and leave the rest for others brave enough – or crazy enough – to risk having the remainder of the building collapse upon them.

 

From there they worked their way to Cheval and ran into a lot of zombies.  The house where the food was kept was only partially ransacked so they finished filling the trailer and their vehicles with what they could while Dix and the guys from OSAG grabbed any weapons lying around on the corpses that were still serviceable.  There wasn’t a whole lot of excess ammo and Cooper said that Zassat had been expecting another load in next week.  Dix has a few ideas about that but needs to talk to Steve and Matlock to see if they agree that we have the manpower for the action.

 

It was getting close to dinner by that time which meant a hurry up and head from home kind of drive.  The guys from OSAG stopped at Sanctuary only long enough to unload 2/3 of the trailer and then they hightailed it.  Aldea grabbed their third and then they too headed for home at top speed.  I don’t care who you are and how much juice you think you have, it’s not a good thing to be away from home once dark falls these days.

 

I was happy to have Scott home and safe and we shared our days … mine mostly contained laundry and gardening (got the first row of our self-blanching celery in and had pimento cheese stuff celery at lunch for the kids).  He asked about how our wounded were and I filled him in and told him he was going to have to have  a talk with James who was all but pouting because Ski wasn’t letting him out of bed except to go to use a chamber pot.  He’s running a fever and had broken the scab over the wound on his side three times today because he keeps forgetting to be careful.

 

Scott took James some dinner and then wound up walking him back to our house.  Apparently he had gotten his promise to mind Ski’s orders if he came home.  James, for all the fact that he likes quiet and alone time, misses the action of all the kids underfoot.  I think the kids running this way and that will keep his mind off of what he can’t do and will make him feel better in the long run … I hope.

 

Glenn is no better but thankfully no worse.  At least the fever remain low-grade.  Dante’ is the one I’m worried about a little; he just isn’t coming back the way he should.  I think the man is depressed.  None of the men quite know what to say to him, maybe I’ll get nosey and try and see what I can do.  Scott may not be happy about it but what he doesn’t know about he can’t fuss about until after it is all over with.

 

Talked to Angus and Jim again.  Angus is pretty stiff and agitated about getting back on the road.  His knee sounds awful however.  I know they are wanting to come home, frankly I want them home so that I can see for myself what shape they are in, but it’s going to be a couple of more days before they can even consider climbing back on those horses.

 

There is also the matter of getting Tom home to consider.  We had thought that Glenn would take him home but Glenn isn’t going anywhere for a bit if Saen has anything at all to say about it. 

 

Things to be thankful for:  Found three dead mice over in the Storehouse, it appears that Angus was right about the hot peppers killing them.  They were far from the pile I had left for the little icky things to nibble on.  I threw the dead mice over the Wall and freshened the hot peppers.

 

Things to worry about:  While I was dumping the mice over the Wall, heard one of the Big Cats out hunting.  Also heard a bunch of bull gators singing.  Even heard a human scream and some gunfire that was probably zombie related.  Why are there so many things out there that want to eat us?
 

Day 254 (Wednesday) – April 11 – Water Day 

The days are turning even more hectic than they were before.  The garden continues to produce though some of the plants are beginning to give out which is only as it should be considering they are all annuals.  But for all of those that are done for the year, even more are producing.  The tomatoes are doing really well though I think I’m going to have to let the geese and ducks wander freely out there most of the day instead of just the mornings.  It’s getting to be a waste of my time to hand-pick hornworms and other kinds of bugs off of the plants every day.  As long as I have water for them to drink the birds seem to be content to eat their weight in snails, slugs, and other pests.  We have a couple that would rather paddle around in the ponds and canals but I don’t have to worry too much about that since we’ve kept all the gators out.

 

And speaking of gators we must be in the middle of some kind of population explosion.  Or maybe all the city noise is gone so that I can actually hear them but honestly, as much as I like nature and I’ve been learning to coexist with it more and more, I’m getting a little tired of listening to the mating growls of gator boys looking for gator girls to make gator babies with.  I suspect we are going to need to be very careful once all of those nests start hatching.  In a season or two there’ll be more gators that people around here if we don’t watch it.

 

And one bite-y thing leads to another; OSAG lost one of their calves and one of their dogs overnight.   It was a big cat by the tracks that it left.  Phillip is fit to be tied. The calf was the one that he was growing special for beef later in the year.  The loss of the dog wasn’t pleasant for anyone either.  At night they keep their animals in the track stadium but they may have to turn one of the buildings into a barn and bring them in as the sun goes down.  Their loss is a lesson to us all.

 

Aldea has also reported signs of big cats nearer their living quarters than they are happy with.  They have vertical walls made of metal so the cats won’t climb that way, but they have even more trees than we do.  That means that they are going to have to cut trees back even further and that’s going to take away some of their camouflage; but there really is no choice.

 

Scott has been worrying about that here in Sanctuary.  They found some sign on the outside of the pasture enclosure that something has been digging.  That’s probably the hyenas or maybe other feral dogs.  The way the footings and foundations were done out there nothing may ever come of such activity but we can’t afford to bet on that.  Scott had the kids … all of them taking turns except for the very youngest … helping to pound in some scrap metal and posts into the ground to dissuade diggers.  We used an auger attachment on the three point hitch of the tractor so while the work is hard it’s not completely brutal.

 

He did get some lip from a couple of the older kids that came from Cheval; seems that they objected to “going from one slave owner to another.”  Scott, who cannot abide disrespectful and mouthy kids, told them if they wanted to eat then they would work just like everyone else including him.  Scott wasn’t exactly standing around doing nothing when the two boys started mouthing off.  When those two boys pushed as far as they could they lost their lunch privilege.  Nana wasn’t too thrilled but it’s either set the rules now or have problems later.  Kids are beginning to outnumber adults around here and that’s getting to be more of a problem than not.  Of course there may be a solution to that and I’ll come to it in a bit.

 

Dix, Bob, Samuel, J. Paul, Clay Jr., some of the young bucks from Aldea, and a few folks from OSAG took trailers and went back over to Citrus Park mall right after day break to gather up what they could.  Another wall had collapsed on the building overnight and while it did prevent them from going after some of the stuff that had been stored there, Cooper assured them that they probably got most of the food except what was stored in the house that Austin had gotten hung up in with the zombies, that stuff was poisoned anyway.

 

They also dismantled and took the big diesel generator from the outpost and rolled up what fencing and concertina wire that they could and hauled that back.  Most of that stuff was split between OSAG and Aldea as Sanctuary has enough fencing stored in the storage containers to last for a while.  The diesel generator went to Aldea for their big rice field irrigation set up.  Every member of the Triune will eventually benefit from that so there wasn’t much debate on the subject.  OSAG has all the generators they scavenged from around campus and we have the steam engines from the fairgrounds that Bob is trying to get up and running, not to mention here in Sanctuary we are really trying to get away from being liquid fuel dependent … or maybe that should be petroleum fuel dependent.  There is nothing else that will give you the same bang for your buck as petroleum products but they aren’t a homegrown product in this neck of the woods so we have to make do.

 

While Scott was working on the Wall reinforcing our security measures yet again I spent more time in the garden; it’s getting to be a huge chore every day.  Today was beans … pole beans to be exact and as much as I love my Kentucky Wonders if they don’t stop producing I may just have to sit down and have a nervous breakdown.   Actually that is an exaggeration in the extreme, I’m just getting tired is all and certain times of the month I’m given to a little melodrama.  Like Scott says, if I bleed off my boiler a little at a time I’m less prone to exploding. 

Yesterday it was Roma tomatoes and I made a bunch of sauces and stuff again.  I also have a lovely bunch of sundried tomatoes going.  Today it was dirt under my fingernails from pulling beans.  And we are seeing our first potatoes as well.  These are Yukon Gold potatoes to be exact and to celebrate we had baked potatoes with dinner instead of bread.  I’ve already harvested more than 200 lbs. from the field and I haven’t even finished the row I was working on.  I left the peel on the ones we didn’t use today and sliced them and put them in the Drying Oven.  Given our weather I’m not sure how we are going to store fresh potatoes and the vermin will get to them if we aren’t careful. 

I have to tell you that digging potatoes by hand is doggone hard work.  I’d forgotten as the last few years I’d been growing them in containers that I could just tip over when I was ready to get at the potatoes.  I was taking a break, trying to cool off, when the Wall guard notified us of approaching vehicles.  They weren’t ours, we knew that right off – no trailers. 

They were a military patrol in the area.  Real military, not people playing at it and not NRSC troopers.  Seems that the raids we made on the ZKK gang was actually big enough news to draw their attention.  They first investigated the tire fire in Grant Park and some people in the neighborhood gave them our address.  Wonderful.  We don’t have an insignia so I have no idea how they knew who pulled it off.  Dix said it probably that they weren’t told it was us exactly but that their intelligence unit put two and two together and we were the most likely candidate in the area that fit the general description of the tactics and equipment used. 

The ZKK are known to the military patrols as naughty boys and girls but since they’d never acted overtly against the military and because the military, much like us, have to pick and choose their battles.  They’d not done anything about them beyond warnings.  Of course, the officer in charge of the patrol blah, blah, blah’d a bit as well as yada, yada, yada’d but then he said, of course IF this just happens to make the area a safer place he was sure that everyone would welcome it.  Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.  In other words they couldn’t put their seal of approval on it but they weren’t exactly sad about what happened to the ZKK folks either. 

They wanted to know what we’d found when we’d made the raids and McElroy told the truth without incriminating us saying that the outposts were pretty well destroyed in the raids and didn’t hold anything that we’d find valuable and that their own people had probably taken whatever was left over.  They asked about weaponry and we volunteered that they had guns but apparently ammo was doled out only a little at a time and once the zombies started coming a lot of people ran out of ammo including us. 

They sucked on that a little but it’s one of the things that you just don’t come out and tell someone they are lying about.  It was the truth … just not necessarily the whole truth.  They new it, we knew it, but it was basically a stalemate that the military guys weren’t all that interested in breaking.  All they asked was that if we heard anything else about where the ZKK was getting their ammo and fuel supplies they would take it as a favor if we would pass the info along. 

After seeing all of the kids, the officer in charge also mentioned that there was an effort underway to  set up “orphan trains.”  They were being modeled on the social experiment that ran from the later half of the 1800s to the early 1900s.  We’ll give it a day or two and see how hard it is going to be absorb all the kids and also give the kids a chance to integrate.  If it doesn’t seem to be working we’ll see about placing them at Aldea or OSAG and if not those two places then we’ll give them a chance to decide for themselves … the older ones anyway.  I still have had a chance to get to know them much.  Scott, normally really good with kids, is being rubbed the wrong way by a couple of them, especially the two boys that mouthed off at him this morning.  I suspect those are two of the group that she considered the “hellions.” 

I’m beginning to realize that Brandon did quite a bit of work that we took for granted.  Iggy was over looking for a book in the library and hadn’t a clue where to begin.  I showed him the system Brandon set up … a modified version of the Dewey Decimal System … and when we couldn’t find it there we looked in the stacks of books that still needed reshelving.  Sure enough there it was.  We looked though stuff and it was amazing how much he had accomplished under the circumstances.   And now he’s gone. 

I heard from Scott that Dante’ doesn’t want to go back to Aldea.  Not because he holds anything against Matlock or anyone else there, but because he doesn’t feel that he and Tina can get along well enough right now not to cause everyone else stress.  He’s going to go back in a couple of days, as soon as Ski and Iggy clear him for traveling, explain to his son about what things are going to be like for a bit then he and someone else will take Tom back to his place and when he gets back, if he still is of the same mind he’s going to move into the library and resume his former job of keeping records and inventory for Sanctuary. 

How permanent this arrangement is going to be is unknown at this time.  It’s kind of sad, but some time away from each other might be what Dante’ and Tina need.  Dante’ said he didn’t like the man he had become, but he hasn’t particularly like Tina either.  He resents how she took Laura’s illness and death even though logically he knows part of that was the result of her attack and injuries.  He’s trying really hard not to be selfish but at the same time resents being the one to have to make all of the concessions.  My problem is that I can see both sides.  Scott and I are both pigheaded but I hope that when the chips are down that we would be able to overcome that for the kids if not initially for each other.  I guess only time will tell where this goes. 

Before I close out today’s journal entry I have to brag on myself just a bit.  Dinner was fantabulous.  OK, maybe not as good as some of the stuff that Phillip puts on the table over at OSAG, him being a classically trained chef and all, but then again I’ve never aspired to that kind of cooking.  I stick with the basics … southern style, Spanish, and Saen has even taught me some Thai and Asian dishes that I’m using pretty regularly now.  

Tonight I tried to accomplish two things and I think I did both rather well.  During the inventory I did of  the Storehouse I found stuff that needs to be put into our food rotation like yesterday.  A good bit of that is a bunch of canned seafood items.  So, I took out my handy-dandy recipe book and made up stuff using canned seafood instead of fresh.  Our dinner menu was: 

First Course – Spicy Oyster Chowder; garden salad
Entrées – Fried Calamari; Claims Casino; Golden Fried Oysters; Deviled Crab; Baked Scallops
Side Dishes – Asian Slaw; baked potatoes, steamed green beans
Dessert – Fried Pineapple Rings; homemade ice cream

What was so cool is that all hardly anyone could tell the stuff came out of cans.  I’ve got the recipes written out and I’ll have to remember to drop them in my journal another day.  I’m just too tired now and Scott keeps asking when I’m going to finally turn the lamp out and come to bed. 

 
Day 255 (Thursday) – April 12 

The days are definitely growing warmer and longer.  Of course you could then say that only gives us more time to work up a sweat.  In truth, the longer days are welcome but the extra work that goes along with them is just par for the course I suppose. 

We’ve got another market day tentatively set for about ten days from now.  That ought to be about right.  It will be a Monday and it will give those two crazies time to get home and healed up.  The rest of our people should at least be recovering if not completely recovered. 

You know, I have come to the conclusion that I’m out of the wherewithal to deal with people’s drama and personal issues.  For instance, the latest craze on the radio is where some social workers have gotten together and started doing “call ins” trying to help people.  Not that I don’t think that is a very good idea because it is.  I imagine it is unusual for people not to have something that would be worth talking to a counselor about these days.  But I just don’t have the stomach for a constant diet of that stuff.  I need to be able to get away from it; too much of it and I can’t keep my own self on target and balanced. 

I didn’t like “reality” shows when there was still television to watch.  I never could get into soap operas.  People who were drama king and queens wore my patience thin real fast.  Passive aggressive stuff drives me nuts as do out and out manipulators.  People who resort to drugs and alcohol instead of just dealing with their feelings make me want to shake them.  People who can’t keep their personal crap from bleeding all over the top of my personal crap make me want to dope slap them.  I know all of this sounds incredibly selfish on a certain level – even violent – but I’m trying to be honest in this journal.  I’m not perfect and I sure as heck am not even close to being saintly though I’ve got goals beliefs that I strive to meet and attain.  Any day of the week I’d rather deal with someone who just blows up and has done with it rather than with someone who buries it deep but keeps digging it up forever.  And what even makes it look worse is I worked in a mental health facility for a decade.  I don’t lack compassion, it’s just my compassion seems to be all allocated already these days. 

Scott is one of those guys who will get angry and then get over it.  When we were younger the explosions could be nuclear in proportion but age and wisdom has taught him to redirect his energy.  Me, I make the mistake of keeping it inside too much and then it gets to me … I either have a melt down or it affects my health.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Nothing constructive gets done that way.  I’m not saying you have to talk every little thing to death but there isn’t anything wrong with being proactive about a problem either. 

But when it comes down to it, right now I’m just all used up dealing with what I’ve already got on my plate.  I have Scott, our five biological kids, and David; we’ve adopted Bubby, Sis, and Kitty; then we took on Charlene, Kelly, and little Al; and now Maddie needs me too.  I just don’t have enough of me to add any more kids.  That’s why I’m secretly grateful (bad Momma Hen, bad, bad, bad) that Tristan is so intent on raising his little brother and sister himself in his own little house.  I don’t mind helping, I just don’t want to be the primary caregiver of another infant and preschooler. 

And now everyone is looking at me like I’ve grown three heads and feel caught between my feelings feeling legitimate and feeling like a monster.   

I had a Sissy-sized meltdown today over one of the kids from Cheval.  Well, it was actually three of them but it was that boy Baron – or Prince or whatever his name is ‘cause I can’t remember ‘cause I’m still so mad – that I have just had it with. 

My kids are not angels or saints.  Not a single one of them and Scott and I have gotten sympathetic glances a couple of times over Johnnie and Bubby and the trouble they can get into.  But, by and large they don’t do it to be bad or mean … they are just good natured but mischievous and that gets them in trouble on occasion.  Lately Bubby has been getting into some trouble because he is fighting too much with the other littles but he’s generally sorry for it afterwards and accepts his punishment, while not with good grace at least with obedience. 

That said, I can sympathize with the trauma the kids from Cheval have gone through.  They were treated horribly.  The younger ones seem to be transitioning well enough but three of them are really the hellions that Nana called them.  The kids all got rewarded for behaviors I would say are bad.  Positive reinforcement for bad behavior leads to trouble every time.  And the three oldest had gotten to liking being the tough ones, the ones on top, the bullies.  And yes, I do know that bullies by and large have self-esteem issues but you can’t make excuses for everyone or no one learns the difference between what is acceptable and what is not.  There has to be consequences. 

I had finished up some of my work more quickly than I expected and was in a good mood.  A couple of days ago I had caged off two of the prettiest watermelons in the whole patch so that varmints wouldn’t get to them and they could get bigger and sweeter.  I was thinking that they must have been ready and we could all have watermelon for dessert tonight. 

What do I find when I go out to the watermelon patch?  Nothing.  The cages had been removed (and I had those puppies staked down really good because of the smart raccoons around here) and the melons were gone and the vines ripped right up out of the ground meaning that the rest of the melons that were still green were likely going to die.  Other vines had been trampled on and just generally there was a mess that if I’m honest hurt my feelings because of all the work I had put into things. 

Oh I was hacked and I had in mind to find me some ‘coons and scare the masks off of them with the dogs.  But then from a stand of trees about 50 yards from the garden I heard giggling, chomping, and slurping.  I’m thinking, “Oh no they did not.”  Honestly I thought maybe the younger kids had snuck a melon ‘cause they had been begging for one.  I really expected to find Johnnie and Bubby in the middle of whoever it was. 

Well, it wasn’t; it was those three hellions.  Baron is the leader and he claims he’s 12 but Nana said she is pretty sure he is 10 or 11.  The girl’s name is Tippy or Muffy or something puking cute like that who’s about the same age and then there is a skinny younger boy of 8 or 9 who is Baron’s sidekick and “yes man.” 

Well, they jump a mile off of the ground when they see me standing there.  I’m not even going to record the whole conversation.  Hearing those kinds of words coming out of the mouths of kids that young turns my stomach.  Bottom line is “it was just laying there and didn’t belong to nobody ‘cause it didn’t have a sign on it” snort, snort, giggle, giggle.   

I was already seething and then I just about popped a cork because what do I see that they are cutting the watermelon with?  My machete!!!  When I asked them where they got it they said, “oh it was just laying on the ground so they picked it up.”   

I told them Bull.  For a fact I know that machete was hanging on my own bedpost about two hours before because I had taken it inside and put it away so I move some stuff around in the Cooler with it constantly getting hung up on the shelving in there.  So I call ‘em on it and they say I’m the one that is lying.  Grrrrrr.  I felt myself starting to lose it at that point but thought I still had control enough that I didn’t need to go get another adult.  I told them unlike the watermelon my name was on the machete.  And it is too because Scott engraved it on there as a funny kind of joke with lots of curlicues, flowers, and stuff. 

I go to take it and the kid actually has the nerve to say “finder’s keepers.”  OK, now here is where I lost my temper.  I told him to give me the machete that moment.  I didn’t threaten him in any way except by my voice and the unspoken part of if he didn’t give me the machete things were going to be a whole lot worse than they already were. 

The little snot had the gall to raise my own weapon and threaten me with it!  So I lost it.  I grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the machete and turned the blade away from both of us.  The eight year old then tries to tackle me but come on, I’ve had five kids; I learned to stay on my feet under the bombardment of rough-housing kids years ago.  Then little Miss My-Parents-Didn’t-Have-The-Sense-To-Give-Me-A-Real-Name  kicked me right in the ankle. 

I pushed the 8-year-old down, I slapped the girl hard enough to rock her head back but not enough to do any real harm, and I gave the boy with my machete the wedgy of his life and then rammed my thumbnail under his fingernail because he still wouldn’t let go of the machete.  That worked and he howled while he finally let go.  I then duck walk the kid (using the wedgy as leverage) as he was still fighting me over to the machine shop where the men were congregated shooting the breeze while the other two go screaming and crying to Nana that I was beating on them and was gonna kill Baron.  Oh, I felt like tearing a swatch out of his pants with a hickory switch all right but I didn’t really feel like killing him.  Not really.   

I’ll just say it out loud, I was pissed.  I can guarantee if those kids had been much bigger or older there would have been a real tussle.  Basically I was a lying old b**** and that it didn’t happen at all like I said it did.  Problem is that when the three of them were separated they hadn’t had time to come up with a story so none of their answers matched up.   When they were shaken down stuff from other people’s houses were also found on them and they still denied stealing. 

OK, I’ll eventually get over them calling me a b****.  I’ll even over look how they hurt my feelings by calling me “old”; for goodness sake am I an adult or not?  But calling me a liar to my face and in front of everyone like that was just awful and embarrassing.  I know these kids have been through hell and back but at some point you’d figure they’d learn that it was a bad idea to bite the hands of the ones that are trying to make it better. 

But I’m not going to be the one that is feeding them for a bit.  I need some distance.  As much as I tried to step back when the kids started on about how they were better off with their “friends” in the gang and how the gang would whip our a**, etc. I opened my mouth and said something I shouldn’t have.  Scott later told me that just about every one there was thinking it, but I still feel bad for being the one to actually say it.  I told them if they liked it so much maybe we just ought to go drop them off at Westshore so they could go back to the way they were living just a couple of days ago.  Bloody brilliant on my part because that has the little kids from Cheval all scared now … in general and in specific of me.  Didn’t make a real good impression on Nana either. 

Bottom line is the kids have been put over at Dante’ and Tina’s old house because it still has the bars on the windows and had been escape-proofed because of Laura.  Kind of like a major time out for all of us to figure things out.  They are each in separate rooms and they’ve got a sleeping pad and a bucket toilet and nothing else; but there they will stay until it is decided what to do with them.  They have to have consequences but as much as it is hard for us to do we also have to take into account their living conditions and treatment for the last several months. 

I just couldn’t eat lunch; I was too upset.  I was over hiding in the herb garden when I was startled out of my wits by Dora.  She had come to see what Dix had to say about them moving to this end of town ‘cause the water isn’t clearing up in the springs.  There is a small barrel of something down in there and it was spilling over into the river until the neighborhood folks sandbagged it and now the water it running into the old drainage system until they can get the barrel out.  How long that will take is unknown and it’s still too long for Dora who has all those kids of hers to feed and water. 

Scott told her where I was and it was nice to sit down and talk to someone that didn’t look at me like I was crazy for dealing with the kids the way I did.  She said, “Sister, let them walk a mile in your shoes and see what it’s like and then they have the right to be judgmental.  You think I ain’t run into a few kids I couldn’t help?  Yeah, yeah I have.  I don’t believe in that ‘bad seed’ stuff but some kids just natural wanna choose the hard road in life.  I was like that.  Couldn’t no one tell me nothing.  I was always right and had all the answers.  And when my choices turned out wrong it was never my fault but someone else’s.” 

We talked a little more and then I said I wished I had handled it different and hoped that we can help the kids.  She gave me such a look and then said, “Girl ain’t you ever heard ‘wish or hope in one hand and s*** in the other and see which one weighs the most.’?  You can wish and hope all you want but those kids aren’t going to change until they decide to and for that they are going to need reasons to change.  If you don’t dole out some consequences then they are just going to keep on being how they are now because they don’t have any reason to change.” 

I had to laugh a little ‘cause I had heard that particular phrase a few times growing up.  Then she continued, “As for the rest, you did do something; you got them away from that gang.  Those so called friends of theirs would have eventually killed ‘em over something.  I lost a couple of the kids I was watching to the ZKK and they were dead in days … not weeks honey, days.  And look at it like this, maybe you ain’t meant to be the one to help ‘em.  I heard about them orphan trains.  I gotta girl with me now that can’t keep her pants up and I don’t have the hours in the day to watch her over it.  As soon as I make sure they are on the up and up and where the kids are supposed to wind up, I’ll likely be sending her off.  And I’ll be praying that whoever takes her next can do what I can’t seem to.” 

Dora is an earthy soul and she makes a lot of home grown sense.  I just hope that I can deal with the consequences of my own actions.  To start on that, after Dora had left, I went over to Nana’s place and had a talk with her and with her permission I sat on the floor with the little ones that were all subdued in my presence.  I tried to explain to them what had happened in case they hadn’t heard and then apologized for giving any one the idea that I thought it was acceptable to give them back to the gang.  Being angry and hurt didn’t mean that I should have been nasty about it.  One of the little boys let me pick him up and put him in my lap.  I explained that I hoped that we could all get along but that there were rules.  And that the rules were there for a reason.  In simple language I tried to explain to them that because their friends had been selfish no one was going to get watermelon for dessert tonight and if I could fix the plants we might never have watermelon because not only did I need to grow the watermelons to feed everyone with I had to save the seeds to grow more watermelons next time. 

I also explained that it was wrong for anyone to go into someone else’s house without permission whether the doors were unlocked or not.  They wouldn’t want anyone taking their new clothes and shoes and stuff that we had given them and I’m sure they understood that everyone else didn’t want to have their stuff taken from them either. 

Later I told Scott that I think Nana is still pretty stiff with me.  He said, “I can live with that.  If she’s going to make too many excuses for bad behavior rather than instill good behavior maybe we ought to rethink her being in charge of the preschoolers.  We only have her word on what she did pre-NRS.   Bubby is already close enough – and Johnnie right behind him – to being in constant trouble, we don’t need to open the door wide open and stand back and let it get worse. “  That’s Scott, my loveable but suspicious teddy bear; always on my side but full of commonsense too.    

When I asked who had gotten the kids dinner he said, “You mean did the kids get dinner tonight?  Yes, so stop worrying about it.  They didn’t do themselves any favors by throwing a fit and pitching it at their doors.  After they saw they weren’t getting any more where that came from they picked it up and ate it.  Dante’ volunteered to watch them tonight and give us all some space.  You’ve likely heard their cussing and swearing and then crying so pitiful and then going back to cussing and swearing when the pitiful act didn’t get them their way.  I swear, not all of that could have been picked up from their time with the  ZKKers.” 

I’m not sure Dante’ watching those kids is a good idea; for him or the kids.  Does he feel sorry for them?  Does the situation remind him of Laura?  Scott could see I was starting on a worrying project so he told me to let it go, the men were satisfied that he’d do the job as well as anyone else and he volunteered.  Scott thought it might even be good for him.  I sure hope “the men” are right.   

I feel like I haven’t been very productive today.  Everything I tried to do after this morning feel tainted.  I didn’t even feel like going to the dining hall to eat so Scott brought something back for me while I sat with James and kept him company.  Honestly, James and Scott are two peas in a pod because my son looked me in the eye and told me, “Mom, stop feeling sorry about it.  I would have probably hurt the kid if he had pulled that with me.  I’m actually a little angry they didn’t make more of the little snot turning a weapon on you.” 

I got some hugs and kisses from the rest of my kids too.  It’s comforting to know that in my own house at least people accept me even if they don’t necessarily totally agree with me.  Rose, bless her ‘cause she did give me a hug before saying this, wondered  as idealistically as always if we could do something to prove we weren’t out to hurt them so that they didn’t feel the need to steal from other people or misbehave.  Lord I love her, but sometimes I wonder whose genes she inherited.   

I think one of the most meaningful things came from Charlene however.  We were sitting on the lanai trying to catch what little bit of breeze there was while she helped me to braid some cayenne peppers into a wreath when she said, “Some people can’t always help the way they act.  Some people can.  It’s not always easy to tell the two apart.  But whether they can help it or not, the same rules have to apply all the time or you wind up with chaos. King Al was sick a lot and when he was sick we used to make all sorts of allowances and excuses for what he did when he was sick.  But doing that didn’t make him any less sick and sometimes it made the sickness last longer ‘cause he didn’t have any reason to try and not act sick anymore.  One time after he’d had a really bad turn and had broken a lot of stuff he asked why someone hadn’t stopped him or called the cops.  I said because he was sick when he did it and the cops would have put him in jail and that wouldn’t have been fair.  He told me, ‘Princess, life isn’t fair.  Rules are there for a reason.  Not because they are always fair to everyone but because they set what is right and what is wrong.  You start messing around with your definition of what right and wrong is and you’ll wind up as crazy as me.’” 

Pretty smart for a crazy man.  And even smarter for a 16 year old girl to know that she could share one of her precious memories and I would understand how she meant it. 

Life isn’t fair.  It wasn’t fair pre-NRS and it’s not going to be fair when all of this mess is behind us, assuming it ever is.  All we can do is what we can do.  And I’m just going to have to admit to myself – and everyone else too – that right now I’m doing all I can.  
 

Day 256 (Friday) – April 13 – Cleaning Day 

Things went a tad better today; not great, but better.   We’ve got our own version of juvie hall going right now.  I’m amazed …  I mean I’m really amazed.  Dante’ has been incredible with those kids.  He hasn’t lost his temper (and trust me they’ve given him plenty of reason to).  I don’t think he’s even raised his voice at them.  I could not have done it and Scott says he wouldn’t have done it. 

The boy, the one called Baron, has torn up the room he is in.  He tried to bust out the windows but after Laura got through with the place Scott had changed the windows in that room out with that thick, heavy duty plexiglass stuff set in heavy duty frames that we took off some office complex for that purpose.  He tried to put holes in the wall too but Scott never did replace those walls with drywall and instead he troweled this “spray-crete” kind of stuff onto the walls.  The two walls that he did have to rebuild he attached hardie board to the studs instead of regular drywall.  That stuff is better than concrete board and is so durable it can even be used as house siding.  Not to say the kid didn’t cause some damage ‘cause nothing is indestructible, but he ran out of steam before he could do any catastrophic damage and that was the point of why Scott had remodeled things the way he had in the first place. 

The girl … and her name really is Muffy if you can believe that … mostly just kicked the door and then pouted and cried when she didn’t get her way.  But again, Scott had remodeled Dante’ and Tina’s house with Laura in mind and the doors were all solid with keyed bolts on both sides rather than door knobs  and he used two by fours rather than trim to frame the door out.  And the frames were screwed into the studs rather than just nailed in. 

I still don’t know what the 8 year old kid’s name is.  I’m trying to stay out of it for now.  Not neutral but just away, out of it … I’ve got my opinions but I don’t want to be seen as trying to unduly influence things behind the scene.   That may seem like a lame excuse or cop out but it’s how I feel.  And so far it’s working, at least from my point of view.  The kids are all still in solitary but I think they are beginning to wind down.  With no reinforcement and attention they don’t have a lot of directions to go.  When Dante’ found that the kids were still socializing under the doors and through the open windows he moved them around leaving Baron in the room he’d already tried to wreck, and putting Muffy and the younger kid on the other end of the house on opposite sides from each other.   

While he is over there watching them Dante’ spends his going over all of Brandon’s records and files to see where he was at with keeping track of things, what he was tracking, how often he updated, and making a list of things that seem to be missing.  As sorry as I am for the reason Dante’ is back in Sanctuary, I’m not sorry that I’m not the one that is going to have to pick up where Brandon left off.   I told him that I had inventoried the Storehouse and how we were tracking additions and subtractions from there and he said then the next major task would be to finally finish trying to reorganize and inventory what is still in the storage containers that make up the Wall.  Truthfully I just can’t remember what is where in those things any more if its not in the clothing, shoes, or undergarments containers.  

Patricia has said she is anxious to help again now that the baby has been born, but Ski says that’s gonna have to wait until she and the baby are completely healed.  That’s the old Patricia peeking out … wanting to get back to work.  I know right now it is bravado, a side effect of having both she and the baby surviving after her chances had gotten considerably slimmer.  Given time however I’m sure she will want to get back into the swing of things; she’s just like that and her energy level is already going up despite having an infant that wakes her up every hour for feeding.   

It gives me hope that everything is going to be OK for her and her wee one.  Jack is a hoot, prancing this way and that and amazed at everything the baby does.  I think those two will make it and it gives me hope for other things too. 

There also appears to be hope for the 8 year old hellion as he is already starting to break off from Baron’s influence.  He’s just a go-along and Baron was his “protector” though he really just used the kid as a henchman if you can visualize younger kids doing that.  Dix has been over there at least once today to talk to each of the kids whatever his conclusion they are all three still there tonight. 

And speaking of delinquents …. 

I really didn’t go into details yesterday but Angus and Jim opted to try and come home early.  Unless things go even more calliwumpus than they have they should be home tomorrow in the late afternoon I think.  They found a truck/horse trailer set up and they are also bringing that girl with them; the one that just had the baby.  She doesn’t have any family and there are no women over that way that she can go to.  I guess the guys felt some responsibility to keep an eye on her until her family can be located.   

That will give us three infants and Iggy is already planning out their vaccines and stuff from the supplies we have left.  Rhonda’s baby boy, Patricia’s baby girl, and now this girl and her baby; it’s been just about 8 or 9 months which should make it about right for a new “baby boom.”  I figured the next three or four months will be interesting for a lot of people.  Certainly within the next 12 months we should see the same kind of phenomena as when soldier boys come home from war and without widespread birth control things are gonna get complicated for some folks that formerly could do what they wanted with no strings attached. 

You know, that gets me to thinking … I wonder when Glenn and Saen are gonna get caught.  I don’t think they are against it, but I do think Glenn might be afraid for Saen as there is such a size differential between the two of them.  Glenn is six feet something to Saen’s lucky to be five feet.  But women used to routinely be Saen’s size; I think it is more a matter of her hips than her height and as far as I can tell … not that I’ve exactly been worrying over this or anything … she should be OK.  There are ways to induce naturally if the baby is getting too big and she’s far enough along.  And what about Austin and his Sarah?  Wouldn’t that be a hoot?    We need to get Brian a girlfriend and then the four of them can be aunts and uncles to each other’s’ kids.  Oh boy, wouldn’t they have a fit if they knew I was planning their lives for them like I’m somebody’s grandma.   

But back to Angus and Jim; they are still hurting and moving slow and that is why it is taking two days for them to get back even with a vehicle.  I figure once they are home it will be a while before they are back to 100%.  I don’t think they were exactly being foolish to do what they did but I could wish our men would be a little more careful of their personal health and safety.  We don’t exactly have access to lot hospitalization and specialists these days.  One of these days all of this damage we are doing to ourselves is going to add up and come due in a big payment.  There was a reason that the life expectancy only rose significantly in the latter half of the 1900s and into the 2000s.   

I’ve been trying to keep everyone’s health in mind when we do menu planning and garden planning.  That’s not always easy because we are limited to what we have on hand and what we can produce ourselves.  It won’t be long before we are out of vitamins as well; with everyone taking one a day since nearly the beginning we’ve gone through an amazing number of bottles of vitamins for both adults and children.  From here on out it’s going to be all on us.  Note to self:  vitamin bottles are great to recycle for my dried herbs.  Those child proof lids mean I don’t have to worry about the kids getting into the really strong ones and making themselves sick. 

Hunting is still slim pickings.  All the big predators in the area are taking their share of the already thinned down populations of game.  Between other people hunting and the damage that the Hive did we are going to have to start resorting to our own domestic stock more to keep us in meat.  We’ve got a lot of chickens but we’ve lost some to predators … to hawks, raccoons, and the like.  The goats and cows we are trying to wait until we have a bigger herd so that we don’t wind up with the problem of inbreeding.   The goats are breeding faster than the cows are but I wouldn’t mind trading some billies around to increase the gene pool.   

Same with the pigs; the domesticated hogs and the wild boars we’ve brought in are making their own sounders (family groups) and are crossbreeding.   That’s a good thing because they are promiscuous and hopefully we will have quite a herd come this winter and can get a lot of hams, other cuts, and sausage for the smokehouse. 

It takes a lot to keep the animals fed however so we are never going to be able to get passed a certain population of domestic stock since we no longer have access to commercially grown animal feed.  We are cutting grass from all over and bringing it in for them to help.  It’s a toss-up where our garden scraps go.  We need it for the livestock but we also need it for the compost pile.  A couple of more months and the first humanure piles will be ready which will help with garden compost and we are composting the animal manure so I’ll likely continue to give the green garden scraps to the animals and use weeds and grass cuttings for the green in the compost piles.  I swear, less than a year ago I never would have thought about stuff like this and here it is that my life and the lives of my family and friends require that I think like this. 

I do feel good about all the cleaning I accomplished today.  All of our kids participate in cleaning and so too did the Cheval kids (except for the three in “solitary”).  Some of the men put bunk beds together in one of the empty houses and Nana will live there with them as their primary caregiver.  As they get older and bigger we’ll be faced with new challenges but so far we are getting by.   

Pulled the first fresh ears of corn today so that might be what has me in such a good mood.  We grilled up enough so that everyone could have corn on the cob for dinner.  Glory it was soooo good; you almost didn’t need salt and butter.  Now the ears weren’t as pretty as the ones you could get frozen at the store in times past but that’s to be expected.   The taste however was a hundred times better.  Nothing quite like the taste of fresh from the field corn on the cob.  Even Scott had some though he was careful to chew it up really, really well.  His guts still get into a not when he eats too much of the things he isn’t supposed to eat. 

Tomorrow we are going to pick several bushels worth and can some corn.  I noticed that some of the cobs on the corn are red.  I’m saving those and I’m going to try and make some corn cob syrup and corn cob jelly with those.  I got laughed at a little when I told everyone, but they won’t be laughing if I can pull it off.  That’s some good stuff though a pain in the tush to make.  You have to boil the cobs forever to get the juice out of them. 

I’m a little more concerned to see whether we can get some of the corn to dry correctly and then get it milled so that we can have corn meal and corn flour.  The wheat flour is really getting low now.  Scott keeps talking about trying to make a run north and I keep ignoring his hints and coming up with ways to make do so that he doesn’t have to go north.  I don’t even want to think about the risks he would be taking by going. 

Bob has not one but two of the steam engines going now.  My word those things are loud!  But they work and that’s what counts.  Scott said the smaller one can be easily hooked back up to the milling stones like it was at the fairgrounds.  That will be cool beans right there.  The bigger one can be used for lots of stuff.  There is another set up that Scott is anxious to put together now that he’s sure he knows what he is doing.  It’s like this big sawmill kind of thing.  He say’s depending on the setting and blades you hook up you can cut wood into board lengths and then plane them so that they have a decent finish and corners on them.  He wants to take down some of the trees in the surrounding area and get them cut and have them seasoning so that we don’t have to use green wood for building projects or for the fire. 

Bob is so funny.  After all the original hoopla it is now a joke when I make the coffee.  He wants to know whether I’ve doctored the coffee or not.  He is also the guinea pig for when I try and come up with coffee alternatives.  Let’s see, dandelion roots that were dried, roasted, and then sent through a coffee maker.  Mixing part real coffee and part chicory (which is what Dante’ likes ‘cause he’s Cajun I guess).  Roasting dried peas and corn together then grinding and putting through the coffee maker (something that was done during the first US Civil War).  I’m working on some others as well. 

The following is one that I came up with that kind of looks like coffee, even tastes a bit like coffee, but doesn’t have the same kick unfortunately and that’s what our caffeine-holics are looking for.

Coffee Substitute

2 cups water
1 tablespoon roasted chicory root
1 tablespoon dried dandelion root (not roasted)
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seed (should be out of the husk, but not ground)

Looking through my books I found three other natural sources of caffeine that I need to investigate.  First is guarana, then yerba, and lastly the kola nut.  I know for a fact that there is – or was – some yerba growing at the USF botanical garden and also at Lowry park zoo.  I also know that some Kola plants were growing in Busch Gardens to go with one of the African exhibits.  Guarana is a Brazilian plant and I have absolutely no clue right now where I might be able to find some to cultivate.  I’ll think on it but Scott (and Bob) has already promised to take me over to Lowry and Busch to try and dig some of the other two up to cultivate.  Hmmm, I wonder if that kola nut thing would make a Koka-Kola … I miss soda as bad as the guys miss their coffee.
 

Day 257 (Saturday) – April 14

Today should have been a baking day but with 15 new mouths to feed we are really cutting back on breads and baked goods.  I’ll confess I’m getting a little worried.  We’ve got some whole grains left.  We look like we’ll have a decent corn crop but out of that I’ve got to take seed for next season’s crop and feed for the animals.  I don’t know how much that will leave for milling or how much what is milled will make. 

Saen, who went back to Aldea for the day to check on things, said the rice is looking good.  Rice and corn though don’t have the gluten of wheat. 

I hope to have a rye crop but that’s still not wheat.  Oy!  It makes my head hurt but I’ll figure out how to make do somehow.  I don’t see that I’ve got much choice.  Even if … and I’m totally against this … we send a team north, we don’t know for sure whether they will have wheat up there either. 

I was making my daily circuit of the gardens, noting what needed harvesting or tending, when I overheard gruff Mr. Morris say, “Ya gots ta stop coddling them kids Winnie.  They’s gonna have to learn just like the rest of the schoolyard full we already go running around here.” 

“But they’ve been through so much …” 

“You don’t think our’uns have been through a lot?!  Times ‘r rough all around ol’ gal.  They either learn or they’s gonna hafta find a new home.” 

“Or surely not.  They wouldn’t kick them out?  They’re so young!” 

“And weren’t we young when we had ta learn?” 

“But that was different.  We’re modern … “ 

“Look around ya Winnie.  We ain’t modern no more.  Fer God’s sake woman, they’s using old Roman stuff to defend our place here.  We’s using steam engines and stuff that was old-fashioned even when I was knee high to a grasshopper.” 

“But things will get better … “ 

“Pity’s sake woman, the only way they’re gonna git better is if everyone works their butt off ta make it better.  That includes them kids.  We all gots ta work ta eat.  Every slap dab one of us.  And you better tell them hellions that this ain’t something they can get around.  I don’t think none of the folks around here will beat ‘em but they won’t put up with their crap for long either.  We gots too many kids here already that need us to be strong.  They’ll pitch the apple out before they’ll let it ruin the whole barrel.  And I know you know what I mean and why I’m saying it.” 

“Oh Paul, I just can’t bear the thought … “ 

“Well, you better learn to.  Stiffen yore spine Winnie.  It ain’t being done to be cruel.  It’s being done to save as many as can be.  The younger boy seems salvageable but them other two better start figuring things out real fast.  They’s endangering us all.  It cain’t be allowed ter continue.” 

“That Sissy is behind some of this.  She is just so rough with the children and makes them work so hard.” 

“Aw, don’t go blaming her.  You see that houseful she has?  Only about half of them are hers by birth.  And she don’t play fav’rites neither.  She’s treated my grandkids the same way she treats her own kids.  You ain’t been here long enough to judge.  Maybe she ain’t yer soft spoken type women but she ain’t bad.  You seen how them kids mind her?  They’s a reason for that.  And she’s freer with the hugs and kisses than she is with the smacks on the bottom.   I’m telling you the truth Winnie, had Baron raised that machete at most of the other folks around here, he might’ve found hisself a lot worse off.  Least thisaway he’s got a chance to mend his ways.  And in the old days them children woulda been beat for thieving.  It’s like they ain’t got no sense.  They’s gonna hafta fall in line or they’s gonna hafta go.“ 

Ugh.  I’d heard enough and left them to their discussion.  It was keeping Mr. Morris from finishing the next honey harvest but I hope he can reach her on this.  I don’t want to kick the kids to the curb and send them out into this world on their own – well, for a lot of reasons – but on the other hand Mr. Morris is right, the status quo can’t continue.  Either those kids are going to learn to get a long and share the labor or we’re going to have to figure something else out.  And it’s going to have to be sooner rather than later. 

I did lose seventy percent of the watermelon vines in the particular patch that was damaged but I have other places I’ve planted and today I got a bunch of melons from a patch I have at the opposite end of Sanctuary.  I got a couple of Georgia Rattlesnakes (those are the big ones with the distinct diamond shape that you’ll find in the deep south at the fruit stands), and then several of my Moon and Stars came in.  I didn’t realize it until after we had cut them open for dinner that I had some yellow-fleshed ones in there.  I hadn’t had yellow watermelon since I was a little girl.  Lordy it was soooo good.  The seeds are heirloom so I have high hopes that they’ll breed true later on down the road. 

James was up and around today and David went back on guard duty but only as a watchman and not a dog handler.  The dogs would still be too much for his arm to handle.  Both David and James were just about bored out of their skulls since there wasn’t much that Ski was letting them do.  Scott told Dix he was going to go say high to the Koreans and see how they were doing and see about getting some fishing in.  Bob and Iggy were over at Aldea for the day so Scott decided to use the day outside the machine shop. 

They made a group of it.  Scott, David, James, Johnny, Bubby, Al, Conrad and his son Roddy, Cooper, and then Scott surprise me by taking the eight year old hellion … only Scott says so long as he has someone shadowing him and redirecting him he really isn’t that much of a hellion.  Oh, and the kids name is Padric.  Baron (whose real name is apparently Bradley according to P), Muffy (yeah, that’s that poor child’s real name) and Padric all knew each other before.  Baron’s father was the president of the homeowner’s association in their subdivision.  The kids were all put together in the clubhouse when the zombies came.  Then the army came and took them to some kind of camp, Padric isn’t certain of the timeline.  After that the leadership changed a lot and their parents never came to get them like they promised and then the ZKK people showed up.  Apparently the ZKKers were nice in the beginning but then the leaders changed and people started treating them different after a while.   

I’d never thought about that possibility before.  Maybe the ZKKers were a good force in the beginning but then something changed … leadership, attitude, circumstances, etc.  That has given us something to think about.  But, it still wouldn’t change how we’ve interacted with them up to this point.   

The guys brought home enough fish that I made fish cakes to go with dinner tonight.  Blackened fish cakes and fresh from the garden veggies with watermelon for dessert; not bad, not bad at all.   

It was funny, Padric was allowed to come to the Dining Hall for dinner since he behaved so well during the fishing venture and he stayed right up under James the entire time.  James didn’t know what on earth to make of it but didn’t push the kid off either.  He spent about an hour playing checker with him and the other younger boys before he got tired and needed to go lay down.  That was about the time the Padric also needed to go back to Dante’s house (he isn’t being allowed to go back to the other kids until he can prove he can behave without having to be watched all the time and they still associate him with Baron and Muffy too much to want to have anything to do with him). 

Padric started crying when he had to go back to “solitary” and James looked at him and said, “Don’t be such a crybaby.  You do the crime you do the time.  Even Johnnie and Bubby know that.  If you prove you can be trusted then you get to do other stuff like all the kids do.”  Yeah, like James is such an old man.  But apparently Padric was listening because he stopped sniveling and went with Dix quietly.  I hope this means there is some hope for the boy; he’s a little young for me to feel comfortable with simply writing off as a lost cause. 

Dante’ says that Muffy – and I’m sorry, but any parent that would name their daughter such a name needs to have their head examined – seems to be taking stock of her options as well.  He says he talked to her about Laura and that really threw me for a loop.  I hope he doesn’t see her as a way to make up for Laura or recreate something.  I mentioned to Scott and he said Dix had already thought of that which is why Dante’ is going to get a caregiver break tomorrow and why Saen is bringing Bo with her when she returns in the morning.  Tina still doesn’t want to be where Dante’ is and I guess we’ll have to respect that but Bo needs to spend time with his father and Dante’ needs to spend some time with Bo.   

And speaking with all the kid-flavored problems I gave in to temptation and called into that mental health broadcast.  You can radio questions in privately to those on-air counselors and then they pick a few and answer them during their broadcast. 

Good evening everyone.  This is Don Louis and I’ll be moderating this session of Talk To Me.  Out first situation is one that I’m sure has touched several people in our broadcast area.  With services for dealing with displaced and troubled children nonexistent there are some good people out there trying to help.  However, resources are not abundant for any of us and anything that affects our ability to maintain stability and security in our homes much be taken seriously.  Listen as I read a question from a woman calling herself “Mother Hen.” 

“Recently my large, extended family has taken in a dozen younger children that were basically being used as slave labor by the group that used to have them.  We are having some trouble integrating them into our existing group.  They were badly treated, physically and emotionally, so we expected there to be some adjustments for all of us.  However, three of the children are proving to be much more troublesome that we expected.  Bad behavior barely describes it.  They’ve stolen, lied, wasted resources, and have been physically threatening.  Frankly I personal don’t feel safe in turning my back on a couple of them and I worry about the disruption they are causing and their influence on the children already living with us.  What makes this especially difficult is that the worst troublemakers are only 11, 10, and 8 years of age; not exactly of an age to be kicked out on their own.” 

Well Momma Hen, looks like you and your family have bitten off quite a bit.  Kudos to you and yours for your good intentions. 

This is a tough situation.  From your description it seems that the children have developed a pack mentality, or family structure, based on the eldest being in charge.  This behavior probably echoes what they were exposed to in their other living arrangements.

First and foremost, separation and isolation.  If possible, I'd place them in separate houses and buildings. Keeping them separated in the same house may inspire some ideas of individualization, but to eliminate contact with co-conspirators would leave them to fend for themselves and their survival completely on their own, a rusty skill-set, depending on previous experience.

Secondly, put them to work crew both inside and outside, but again, individually. Take several of the trusted example children, and emphasize good behavior (praise for the good kids) with rewards (5 minutes of free time, an apple, something desirable) and punishment (loss of free time, more work in the kitchen) to discourage negative behavior.

Third, shadowing adults; a good male role model for boys and a good strong female role model for any girls.  The youngest may do well shadowing an older teen, if possible.  Someone that they can learn to look up to but who can also be a friend and not just a disciplinarian figure.

If for nothing else, these kids have to realize that their independent personalities do have to change, despite the group participatory environment. In the past environment it was take or be taken. In their new environment, they need to learn its keep what you earn on a collective level.

Finally, if the negative behavior continues, I would not hesitate to send one or more to other families in the area.  Another option is the orphan trains that are beginning to make the news.  Another option may be to provide them supplies and then send them on their way, explaining that since they chose to resist all efforts to integrate into your group then by their own actions they left you with no choice.

I think that each of these kids can benefit from working hard for what they need, under heavy supervision with understanding that those supervising authorities are not meant to threaten, but hold them accountable to their actions. If for nothing else, it should be understood to them that the Orphan Trains are their current destination, and if they would like to stay, they should do anything and everything to change their attitudes, or simply be a short term guest in your home.

I apologize for the apparent brutality of some of these options but that is the reality we face these days.  Discipline and accountability are an absolute necessity for a group to succeed.  These children appear to be unfamiliar these two concepts or are intentionally choosing to ignore them.  These children will either respond positively or negatively and you cannot force them to choose.  You can influence them, but not make the final decision for them.  
 

We are not setting precedent here; we are actually returning to a time when natural consequences, social stigma, and peer pressure were the means that controlled societies and had far better results.  Stay tuned.  After a break our panel will accept calls on tonight’s subject. 

I have to take Mr. Louis’ credentials on faith but it is interesting to see how his advice intersects with what we are already doing.  Now if we could just get Baron to the point he would settle down enough for us to have any meaningful interaction with him.  Tomorrow Muffy is going to go to Aldea, at least for the day.  She is going to be assigned to the women there and will be working in the rice field primarily from what I understand.  We’ll have to see how that works out. 

Angus and Jim showed up an hour after the sun went down.  They could have stopped for the night but they are both so sore that they really did need to find a real bed to sleep in where they didn’t have to set a guard all night long. 

Whooooo boy does that baby have a good set of lungs on it.  I think I knew the girls name but now I’ve forgotten it again.  I never heard what she named the baby or even what sex it was.  I’ll introduce myself tomorrow.    I really didn’t get to talk to any of them except Jim.  He’s fine just very, very sore.  Angus though is really hurt.  Not enough to deflate him any but he can’t really walk to amount to anything.  It didn’t help that the dogs took one look at him started doing the happy doggie dance and nearly knocked him to the ground.  Angus was even too tired to eat which tells me he is in more pain than he is letting on.   

Tomorrow Scott says we can see what he needs in particular and if there is anything he wants besides just some peace and quiet.  We’ll probably have to mine the yard around his living quarters to keep the kids out so he can have a few days to recuperate.  Bekah is already bugging me to death about going to see Angus in the morning.  I told her not until he gets a good night’s rest and feels up to company.  I just don’t think any of the kids understand how bad off he is. 

As for our other patients … Dante’ continues to improve which is probably a reflection on his mental state and not just his physical one.  Brian is fine.  He got a mosquito bite right near his injury which tried to get infected but compresses took the swelling and redness down.  David and James are on the mend but moving slow.  And thank goodness so is Glenn.  His fever is completely gone and the incision is beginning to heal cleanly though he is going to have an interesting scar.  He sat up for a while today but is still very pale.  I’m feeding him fish, egg yolks, and greens to put some extra iron into his diet to offset blood loss.  He has also been prescribed a cup of green soup (broth from a soup made of greens) to help with this as well. 

We hear from OSAG that Hunter is on the mend though the boy now has an incipient cold.  Bob said that he’d cart some rose hips and greens over there for me tomorrow.  I hope Chad doesn’t think I’m stepping on his medical toes.  Shorty will know how to handle it diplomatically. 

Well, I’m off to bed again.  Tomorrow is a rest day but I’m going to be using up all of that watermelon rind by canning some preserves and pickling it tomorrow.  I love the results but I always wind up with such a mess to clean up every time I start canning. 

Sissy’s Notes for Tweens’ Current Events Geography Quiz 

1.        How many “zones” is the USA currently broken into and what are they?

a.       The West Coast Quarantine Zone that currently includes the following states:  California, Oregon, and Washington

b.      The New England Quarantine Zone that currently includes the following states:  Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont

c.       The East Coast Quarantine Zone that currently includes the following states:  New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware

d.      The Western Quarantine Zone that currently includes the following states:  Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico

e.      The DC Beltway Quarantine Zone:  District of Columbia, Virgina, West Virginia, Maryland

f.        The Florida Quarantine Zone

g.       The Free Zone

h.      The Republic of Texas

i.         The Alaskan Protected Wilderness

j.        The Southern Protected Zone

k.       The Pacific Islands Protected Zone (includes the state of Hawaii)

 

2.        Parts of what states make up the Free Zone?  Which three of these states are currently the most at risk for being removed from Free Zone privileges and why haven’t they yet?

a.       Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin

b.      The three states that are currently most at risk for losing their privileges are Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio.  The NRSC continues to claim control of the areas so that they can control the grain and corn crops grown in the states as well as the grains that are sitting in the silos around those states.

 

3.       Parts of what states make up the Southern Protected Zone and why are they “protected” and primarily by whom?

a.       Alabama

b.      Arkansas

c.       Georgia

d.      Louisiana

e.      Mississippi

f.        North Carolina

g.       South Carolina

h.      Tennessee

i.         They are “protected” because they the biggest rice and tobacco producing states in the US and have the longest growing seasons outside of Florida, southern Texas, and southern California.

j.        The area is protected by the US Military and the militia from the Republic of Texas

 

4.        Name at least three geographic areas where there are disagreements on boundaries and/or governing.

a.       The boundaries of the Free Zone are fluid, meaning they can be different from one day to the next depending on zombie incursions

b.      The Gulf Coast is administered by the US Military and the Republic of Texas to insure that oil production capacity, though significantly lowered, is protected from further degradation of facilities.  The exception to this is the Gulf Coast of Florida because they are a quarantined area.  The US military patrols the coast but does not interfere with local communities except in defense of existing military bases.

c.       The Mississippi River Free Trade Route is administered by the US Military to ensure interstate travel and trade.  The one caveat to this is that river piracy and black marketeers have greatly increased in numbers and traders from outside the Free Zone must restrict their trade to a select number of licensed facilities along the river.

d.      The Alaskan Protected Wilderness has recently been under attack by foreign forces.

e.      The Appalachian Trade Route operates outside the laws imposed by the Free Zone NRSC

f.        The border between San Diego, CA and El Paso, TX is a no man’s land controlled primarily by roving gangs and zombies.  The military has made repeated attempts to burn both out by bombing only to have more move back in.  The Texas-Mexico border has been stabilized since the Governor of Texas and the militia built a wall and enforce zero tolerance laws.   Elements from New Mexico and Oklahoma sometimes try to enter Texas from the west and north but given the lenient immigration laws from US citizens, the incursions rarely end in violence if the people are willing to be processed through Texas’ quarantine camps and abide by the mandatory militia service requirement for all citizens aged 16 and older (male and female).

 

 Day 258 (Sunday) – April 15 – Rest Day

 Hmmmm.  I wouldn’t call this truly a restful day but it’s been the most “restful” day I’ve had in a while.   The day started out with a nice surprise from Scott.  He loaded the complete kit and caboodle of us (our family) and we went to OSAG for a brief service that Hunter put on.  He is still shore but his spirits are high.  I guess coming out of something like he faced is akin to passing a hard test.  He and Steve also seemed to have notched their father/son relationship up to another level.  It was really nice to see something so positive come out of something that had a lot of sadness in it for us. 

Speaking of changing and growing, James asked if Padric could come with us.  When Scott put the question to Dix you could tell he was on the fence about it.  Then James said he would take personal responsibility for the boy.  Wow.  It even made Padric’s mouth fall open.  Dix go down on Padric’s level and asked him if he understood what honor was.  When the boy got the concept Dix asked him if he promised on his honor to behave.  Between Dix, Scott, and James that boy might stand a chance.  David is still reserving judgment which has Rose over compensating and saying “of course we can help the little boy.”   

Muffy has let everyone know she prefers to be called Fy  - pronounced “Fie” – and she is all up under Saen.  Lordy, it’s Saen this and Saen that.  I can’t wait to see what Glenn makes of it.  Fy was helping in the kitchen when we returned to Sanctuary after the service.  It was kind of funny.  Everything was like a new experience for her and she ate it up; the attention too. 

I wish I could say something as good about Baron.  He continues to curse, be hateful, and destructive.   He’s doing everything he can to just make himself the opposite of what we ask of him.  The first big battle of the day with him when Iggy and Ski declared the boy needed to clean himself.  My Lord, what a fuss!!  The boy smelled.  He was just plain nasty.  He wouldn’t have gagged a maggot but he wasn’t too far off from that.  It took four grown men to make him bathe.  Even they wouldn’t have been able to pull it off if Saen and I hadn’t finally told the kid that either he bathed himself or we would take scrub brushes to him.  We he saw the two of us were dead serious he finally allowed himself to be drug off to the single men’s shower area. 

Then we tried to have him sit down to lunch with us but it was horrible.  At first he refused to eat what was put on his plate the he ate like a pig at a trough.  He was disruptive and called our kids all sorts of names.  Then to top it all off he physically threatened Fy and Padric when they wouldn’t join his “revolt.”   

You could tell Fy was scared, but angry at Baron at the same time; ready to fight him if she had to.  Sean pitched a fit when she found out; she had been with Glenn during the incident. 

Padric was terrified.  James would have jerked a knot in Baron’s tail if he had been in better shape.  He never got the chance.  Claire, Sarah, Bo (who was visiting from Aldea), Bekah, Johnnie, Bubbie, and Kelly pulled their sling shots and I have to tell you every adult in the place got real quiet.  All the Sanctuary kids from 13 to 5 had had enough of Baron and considered him a threat.  Then the other 9 Cheval kids through their lot in with our kids.  Oh my.  If Baron had any sense he would have dropped it, you could tell he was scared, but he made the ultimate mistake of telling the kids they better watch their backs. 

That snapped the rest of us out of our shock.  Dante’ and Dix moved first.  Dante’ grabbed the boy by the scruff of his and dragged him back to his house.  Dix just followed and watched as Dante’ shook him a few times to keep him going in the right direction. 

Iggy had a pensive look on his face, sighed, and then followed the two men.  See the thing is I can tell the difference between the way Laura acted and how Baron is acting.  Baron is absolutely in control and choosing what he is saying and doing.  Laura had a completely different type of damage.  Dante’ could tell too as I expect many of us can. 

The remainder of lunch the adults were subdued but the kids seemed to regain their composure very quickly.  I’m still not sure what to make of it.  I suppose we should have probably punished the kids for raising their weapons like.  However, Dix asked Scott and I in particular if we would let him handle it.  He took all the kids and gave them a quiet and serious lecture with a stern warning not got go vigilante.  He also told them that the adult had a plan.  The plan was news to me; apparently news to most everyone else as well but we found out what it was later.

After the lunch fracas was settled I decided to get started on preserving the watermelons that I had set aside for that purpose.  Saen hung out with me so that meant that Fy was there.  Fy will do just anything for Saen.  I found out that Fy’s grandfather’s wife (her dad’s step mother) was Thai and that she had been Fy’s babysitter until she turned six and had to start school. 

A bunch of the girls, including my own, came to play in the kitchen with us.  Apparently since it was watermelon it was more “fun” than “work.”   

First we started out by slicing a couple of watermelons.  We needed both the rinds and the pink flesh for different recipes.  The first thing we made was Watermelon Jelly.  That took four cups of watermelon (the pink part) and three and a half of sugar plus sure-jell and lemon juice.  That didn’t give us a whole heck of a lot of jelly but enough that in a few months when we don’t have watermelon we’ll be able to have a melon-y treat with biscuits … assuming we still have the flour to make biscuits in a few months. 

Then we took the rinds and make Watermelon Rind Pickles.  Some people like to pickle their rind in big chunks but I don’t.  I do it like my grandmother always taught me and do it in appetizer or single-bite sized pieces.   

Next we made some Pickled Watermelon … not the rind this time, but the pink flesh.  This was a real easy recipe.  For every pint jar of watermelon flesh you put in a teaspoon of salt, a clove of garlic, a little fresh dill, a chili pepper of whatever size you want (I prefer the small and mild ones), one stick of celery, and one chunk of green bell pepper.  In a kettle you take 8 cups of water and a cup of white vinegar and bring them to a boil.  Pour the boiling hot liquid over the watermelon in each jar.  My grandmother always said that you would then process the jars until the green pepper started to change color, I always stuck to what was safe and used the standard processing time for pint jars at my altitude.  And because this is a pickle, the processing is doing in a boiling water bath. 

Then of course if I made watermelon jelly I had to show the girls how to make watermelon jam.  Basically it’s the same sort of recipe as the jelly only you don’t puree the flesh for juice, you leave the flesh in pieces so you wind up with a chunkier texture.   

And one of the last things we did, just to prove that there is a way to use just about everything from most plants, I showed them how to make Watermelon Rind Preserves which is sweet rather than tart like pickled rind. 

By then it was time to prepare for dinner.  In fact we had overshot it by a bit and didn’t have time to do much cooking from scratch so I had the girls help me make a great big pot of Jambalaya using canned ham, canned bacon, canned tomatoes, chicken broth that I made up from some powder I had, rice (of course), some rabbit sausage that Betty had made up, and then all the seasonings including a good sized helping of my dried onions. 

Then the girls go, “Oh, Miss Sissy … “ in a sing-song choir of voices. 

I turn around and find that we still hadn’t used two big bowls of watermelon.  Those girls are stinkers.  They thought they’d get to eat all that watermelon by themselves but I got them right back and for laughs I treated everyone to Deep Fried Watermelon.  I thought Dix was going to rebel for sure this time but after Cease nearly tripped over himself to get the first piece Dix wasn’t quite so bashful. 

Here’s my mom’s version of my great grandmother’s recipe.  Of course I had to triple the recipe to feed us all but that wasn’t a big deal given that we needed to use up what we’d already cut up. 

Deep Fried Watermelon

1 (6 to 8 pounds) seedless watermelon
3 cups vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying
1/2 cup cornstarch (cornflour)
2 egg whites, beaten
2 teaspoons water
3/4 cup flour
Powdered confectioners' sugar for garnish 

Cut the watermelon in half lengthwise. Cut each half again lengthwise into 2. You should have 4 long triangular-shaped pieces. Remove the rinds, cut into 1-inch thick slices, then cut the flesh into about 1-inch triangles. (It is not a science, so do not worry if you have odd shapes.)   Heat oil in a deep-fryer or wok to 350 F.   Whisk cornstarch with egg whites and water until combined.   Dredge watermelon chunks in the flour, then coat with the cornstarch batter. Deep-fry in batches, leaving room in between pieces to properly brown, until watermelon chunks are golden.   Remove from oil and drain well. Sprinkle deep-fried watermelon with a dusting of powdered confectioners' sugar to serve.  

While we were cooking I couldn’t help but laugh to myself.  My girls must have been thinking some version of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  They just drew Fy into their shenanigans and poor Fy wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  I decided to freak her out a little ore and gave her a hug and a pat when she mastered a technique.  She jumped a mile the first couple of times I did it.  I just ignored her freaked out-ness and continued to do it.  By the time we finished all the canning batches she stopped looking at me like I had three heads. 

Saen caught onto what I was doing and helped me by doing the same thing.  Fy remains more attached to Saen and that’s fine by me, I just don’t want to have the same regrets with Fy that I have with Maddie.  Besides, I still get a kick out of wondering what Glenn is going to think.  I know Glenn would move heaven and earth both to make Saen happy but I’m wondering what he is going to think about adoption.  We’ll have to see I guess.  They may have talked about it, I’m not sure.  I’m nosey but I try and meddle as little as I can remind myself to. 

There is one person I have no doubt about however.  Nana gives me the eye everytime she gets near me.  And she acts like she has to protect the Cheval kids from me.  Those kids don’t know whether to be afraid of me or not.  I resent the implication but I really don’t know what to do about it right now.  Nana really got upset after dinner however.   

She’s not the kind of woman to really act and be confrontational and so what she said must have taken a lot of courage on her part so I give her points for that. 

“How could you?!” 

I looked around at first to see who she was talking to.  She then continued, “Are you proud of yourself?  He’s just a boy!” 

“Padric?  He’s with Scott.  Have they … “ 

“You know I’m talking about Baron.  How could you?” 

“Excuse me ma’am but if you would just tell me what you think I’ve done … “ 

Scott, who had walked up on my blind side said, “She doesn’t know, nor was she consulted.”  Then turning to me, “We’re having a quick meeting at the Dining Hall so come on.” 

Yikes.  Scott can occasionally be heavy handed with the machismo but rarely it is intentionally directed at me.  I could tell he was a wee bit irritated … heavy on the sarcasm … but I also noted with thankfulness that it wasn’t really directed at me. 

During the meeting it became clear that the men were having trouble dealing with Nana.  She was making things difficult for them and they hesitated to be rough with an older lady.  The Mr. Morris said, “Enough Winnie.  The boy is getting what he’s getting and he better be glad it ain’t worse.” 

Basically it’s like this.  Iggy is taking Baron on what Jim called a “walkabout.”  The boy is too disruptive for us to keep him.  Scott told me privately that Iggy has been given the authority to decide on behalf of the group whether Baron makes the grade out there or whether he just flat out needs to go on one of the Orphan Trains. 

It seems that Iggy … whose real name I just learned was Ignacio … grew up in NYC and got exposed to some pretty rough type kids.  Sometimes these kids were helped by being “scared straight.”  There used to be a program where kids heading for jail were taken to the jail and to the morgue so that they could see where they were going to wind up if they didn’t straighten up.  Iggy hopes that exposing Baron to a world that is less protected than even the one he experienced with the ZKK (no Nana to run interference) that he will at least begin to be grateful for the opportunity he can be given at Sanctuary.  However, that tactic doesn’t work with all kids and if he doesn’t screw up so bad he gets himself killed and if Iggy decides that he isn’t going to turn over a new leaf … or at least try to … then Iggy will place him on one of the military’s orphan trains. 

But Baron wasn’t to know this.  He was only told to get prepared to leave Sanctuary tomorrow morning early and that Iggy was going to be in charge.  I’m glad Iggy volunteered but I sure hope he knows what he is doing.  Iggy is no pushover … he served as an MP for a while for goodness sake … but I personally wouldn’t trust the kid as far as I could throw him nor turn my back on Baron at all and that’s going to make it doubly difficult for Iggy to keep them both safe for however long he is out and about on the “walkabout.” 

That’s two going and we already have the two to replace them at the table.  The girls name is Roberta though she adamantly begged everyone to call her Bobby instead.  She’s 19 and her baby is a boy named Hacket.  I guess the name is some family name from her dad’s side of the family.  The girl isn’t shy exactly but she comes off as a bit of an airhead.  Of course that could just be the result of the disorientation of getting separated from her family, having a baby, and then traveling with Angus and Jim to some unknown area for some unknown duration.  And Hacket isn’t an easy baby either from what I gather.  He eats … a lot … and that means that Bobby isn’t getting much sleep.   

I radioed Terra about making up some goats milk formula to help Bobby out but she said that it wasn’t a good idea until Bobby’s milk came in all the way and we made sure the baby was putting on weight just from breastfeeding.  I kind of figured that but I figured asking couldn’t hurt.  And if Bobby knew there was an alternative to breastfeeding she might not giving breastfeeding her 100%.   

Angus was able to hobble to the dinner table tonight but he was in some pretty good pain.  He and Waleski are on the outs which is really no surprise.  Angus is not what you would call a biddable patient.  Ski and Iggy both agree that Angus has torn something in the knee and he’s going to be laid up quite some time.  They’ve braced the knee and Scott cut a crutch to size.  Angus was a bit put out about having to use the crutch until Bekah, bless her timing, said “Look Uncle Angus, it’s kinda like a giant shelaleigh.”   

Angus and Jim both tired out really fast and made an earlier night of it than even I expected.  I don’t think either of them got a decent amount of sleep while they were away though Angus seems to think he has some funny stories to tell on Jim.  Before he headed off Angus gave me this huge purse and told me it was for the girls.  I took it home not sure what I would find but having a feeling that I needed to check it out before I just handed it over.  Make up.  That sweetie remembered that there is hardly any make up for the girls.  Some of the colors of the eye shadows were a little on the bright side so I’m not real sure I want to know where he found the stuff, but most of it still had the little stickers on it that told me it hadn’t even been opened much less used.  I’ll dole it out to the girls a little at a time to keep Scott from going into shock of seeing his “little baby girls” all dolled up in war paint. 

I’m just about tired out myself so I’m going to call it a night and go put some foot cream on.  Being on my feet all day is just really tiring but giving myself a bit of pamper time every once in a while helps.  Here’s hoping that Scott isn’t too tired to give me a back massage. 

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