Eshgreenspun.com : LUSENET : FRL friends : One Thread
No resemblance to any persons living or dead is intended. If you think you see yourself or someone you know in this story, then you are one sick puppy.
* Esh *
She would not be able to order events in her mind until much later, but she believed World War III was fought, won, and lost between her shampoo and her second rinse.
She hung up with an enormous sense of relief. Breaking her weekend plans with Jared had been surprisingly easy. He never questioned the "sudden emergency" excuse she had given him. His pushiness over the past few weeks had made her nervous. While she had accepted his ring with enthusiasm, she had grown increasingly reluctant to set the date. She had given Jared a reason to be pushy, she thought, but she was still delighted to avoid spending the weekend at his cabin. She had only a slight twinge of guilt when she taped a "be back Monday" note on her door for the landlady. A long, hot shower was definitely in order, she decided.
The running water must have masked the noise of a dying way of life. She could not remember how long she had stayed there in civilized hot water and soap, but she always remembered stepping out into hell.
"Kewpie," the doctor called softly. "Wake up, Kewpie, time for meds." He looked into the tiny isolation cell through the observation port. The patient sat cross-legged on the floor and did not respond.
The doctor smiled and reached for the monkey wrench at his feet. "KEWPIE!" he said loudly, "I said TIME FOR YOUR MEDS!" He suddenly hammered on the metal door with the wrench. Kewpie didn't seem to hear the racket, but the other two inmates in identical isolation cells began to howl.
"Now look at what you did!" exclaimed the doctor. "You've disturbed the unit. No meds for you, my boy, no meds today." He chuckled a bit and rapped the door once more before strutting out of the unit. The meds were secure in his inner jacket pocket. He thanked Kewpie's unknown insurance company for providing the means to pay off his school loans more quickly. His connection had a particular market for thorazine, and the doctor had a particular patient who wouldn't get better whether he got his thorazine or not. Life was good, the doctor thought.
That life was busily ending before he reached the outer door of the isolation unit.
-- helen (email@example.com), October 31, 2002
Here ya go, darlings!
-- helen (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 31, 2002.
Was it a metric monkey wrench? (Maybe that why she didn't hear it banging on the door.)
See, if it were a real monkey wrench, everybody could hear it!
-- Robert A. Cook, PE (email@example.com), October 31, 2002.
I hope that Doctor meets a nasty end very shortly, metric or otherwise.
-- Carol (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 01, 2002.
This is as good a time as any to mention this isn't a read-aloud story for the kids. But, Carol, I took note of your preferences regarding gory stuff and will edit accordingly. :)
-- helen (email@example.com), November 01, 2002.
Helen, thanks for starting your story. I see we're going for the mini-series with cliff hangers format :-) The story's good, but the disclaimer intro had me rofltip! (Yeah, I know I'm one sick puppy :-D)
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 01, 2002.
The next two chapters have disappeared out of my machine! Reconstruction time: another day???
-- helen (email@example.com), November 01, 2002.
Say it ain't so Helen, ya lost EM??? Ohmy, oh MY! I was getting into the reality of the hot shower and stepping out in to hell part that is so close to my own reality! Dang! I know, I know, the disclaimer part...
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 01, 2002.
Stepping from a hot shower into hell?
Does Aunt Bee need a real plumber ... or would a metric one from CAnadianainainaaninan do?
(Ya know ya can't use a Ozlandish plumber up north of the equator 'cause all their water runs backwards out of the drain......)
But their water does fit those weird metric pipes that Tricia has....
-- Robert A. Cook, PE (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 01, 2002.
Robert, did YOU metric my machine? Do YOU have my chapters? Huh?
-- helen (they@WERE.good), November 01, 2002.
Hoping those lost chapters are just in a different file somewhere on the computer...
-- Gayla (email@example.com), November 02, 2002.
Thank you for thinking of me Helen, but please don't change anything on my account. I shall just glitz over anything that's too much for me. I'm afraid the older I get the less violence I can tolerate. Having to rewrite two chapters must be incredibly frustrating, I admire your patience (I have very little). Goodluck.
Robert. I don't want to freak you out, but if you think our water is different you should see our night-sky. We can't even see the North Star but we do have an absolutely brilliant Milky Way (no, not the kind you eat). Of course, they're all upside down.
-- Carol (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 02, 2002.
Here's keeping my fingers and toes crossed that those files surface, if not on your screen, then in your head dear helen! :D
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 02, 2002.
-- more more!! (email@example.com), November 03, 2002.
And I second her opinion - More!More! :-)
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 05, 2002.
"She would not be able to order events in her mind until much later, but she believed World War III was fought, won, and lost between her shampoo and her second rinse."
Btw..this is like the best opening line to a story I've ever heard!
-- plz.. (email@example.com), November 05, 2002.
So very sorry about the delay, more will be posted tonight.
-- helen (rewrites@R.us), November 05, 2002.
Hooray!!! I'll go make some marshmallow pecan fudge while I'm waiting!! Any takers??? (And Robert, I haven't forgotten I owe you Christmas cookies!!)
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 05, 2002.
Mike had taken over driving the rig from his best friend, Cullen. It was fitting, Mike would later brag, that they had been saved because Cullen had to pee. Cullen would neither confirm nor deny the allegation.
They were parked on an access road of the interstate near a rest area, pointed east, and slightly lost. Cullen jabbed the map on the seat between them and insisted they had already passed their intended exit. He blamed Mike for poor navigation. Mike blamed him for paying more attention to his bladder than the road.
Mike looked in his sideview mirror to see if the last road sign was still visible. Something was wrong with the reflection. He turned his head and looked back. "Holy shit!" he screamed, as he instinctively ducked.
A military jet flew east only a few feet above the interstate traffic. Three more passed in quick succession while Mike and Cullen gaped in disbelief. "They oughta get reported for that," Mike grumbled. A moment later they heard a metallic thud, and then another. A pileup was forming on the interstate. "Damn cowboy airfarce sure gonna get some shit over that," Mike announced with satisfaction. "Wanna just stay outa the way and eat lunch? We can't get through all that for another hour at least."
The older man didn't answer. He reached for the radio. There was only static. He tried other channels with the same result. He tried the CB. Nothing. "Mike," he said worriedly, "we need to get off the interstate right now."
Mike was becoming alarmed. "Where do we go? Which way?" he asked.
Cullen grabbed the map and peered at it closely. To north was a small city, to the south there were only small community names for at least fifty miles. The jets had come from the west and headed east. "South," he said. "Mike, pull us off to the right on the next road south and keep going."
The first road south was pavement, then gravel, then dirt. They made fifteen miles from the interstate before the dirt track ended in a farmhouse yard. In short order they faced a determined old lady with a shotgun. After much pleading on Cullen's part and a glimpse of what they were hauling, she allowed them to stash the rig in her rickety old milking barn.
Sammy was running away. His few worldly goods were loaded neatly in his backpack, minus his school books. He had left his books in his desk at school with a note thanking his teacher for not being a bitch. He was leaving, he wrote, because he was tired of getting moved around. He wrote that he was going to find his mother, sheer brilliance on his part, he thought. In reality, he was going the opposite way, to Hollywood. Getting on TV was the only way a kid could make big money and stay out of foster care, he had decided. He would buy a good set of parents if he could just get rich.
After school, he had ridden the city bus to the last stop on the west side of town and then started walking. He considered stealing a bike to make things easier but decided against it, for now at least. He was almost beyond the suburbs when a faint banging noise behind him turned into a louder booming roar. Glass in the windows on either side of the street rattled.
He looked behind him and froze. A huge gray column of smoke was rising from what looked to be the middle of town. Another series of explosions sent four more columns of smoke skyward. The school must be fried, he thought in a daze. He had wasted all that time trying to get his note right for nothing. Everybody would think he was dead anyway.
He turned back to the west and ran.
He would find another kind of education outside of the classroom.
Lucas looked at the stack of ill-written essays on his coffee table. He decided to watch TV for an hour instead. Life had to be more intelligent in the wasteland than it was in his classroom. He changed his mind about TV and stretched out on the couch for a nap. He only had a year to go before he could retire from his university post. As he drifted off to sleep, he vowed he would never read an essay again after his job was over.
"Be careful what you wish for," the old saying goes. "You just might get it."
-- helen (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 05, 2002.
Whoa-the plot thickens! All these fellas and no women yet! Oh helen, you have so much betwixt yer ears! Warm fudge anyone? (passing the plate....)
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 05, 2002.
Wow, Helen! I can hardly wait to read the next installment!
However, a big batch of Aunt Bee's fudge might maybe get me through until it's available :-) (Thanks, Aunt Bee!)
-- Tricia the Canuck (email@example.com), November 05, 2002.
Also looking forward to the next bit. Onya Helen.
-- Carol (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 06, 2002.
Wow is right! Lots of twists and sub-plots. You go, girl! :-)
Aunt Bee, you KNOW I won't turn down fudge! YUMMY!
-- Gayla (email@example.com), November 06, 2002.
She remembered later that she had gone to hell "squeaky clean." It was no small blessing.
She wrapped a towel around her wet hair and enjoyed letting the rest of her body air-dry. Pausing to turn on the TV, she saw snow on her favorite channel. She flipped through channels and found snow there too. She had a radio in the kitchen. She would listen to that while she made a sandwich.
The radio rewarded her with static. Every channel was out. She grabbed the phone. Relieved to find a dial tone, she tried to call Jared. The line had an empty hollow sound and nothing more. The phone did not ring, and the "all circuits are busy" announcement was absent. The phone was out.
Sandwich and nudity forgotten, she headed into her garage downstairs. She tried her car radio in vain. She didn't know what was going on, and she apparently had no way to find out. The only other option, she decided, was to get dressed and find someone in the neighborhood with a working antenna.
She made it to the top of the stairs when an explosion to the east rattled every window in her apartment. A second explosion a bit farther away northeast followed. Two more explosions sounded almost in unison closer to her, and still to the east. Panic kept her on the stairs until the last reverberation died away. Only then did she dare creep to a window and peer out.
The city to her east was invisible behind a thick black cloud of smoke. To the north she saw more smoke and what looked like fire in the sky. In horror, she realized the fire in the sky was a burning jet. Two more jets raced to the southwest.
Lights flickered overhead. She knew she had to do something, but she was in panic and could not think. The burning jet fell out of sight. A lot of water would be needed to put out the fires, she thought. A lot of water. Water!
She raced back into the kitchen, plugged the sinks, and turned on the faucet. She still had water, though she had no way to know for how long. She grabbed every container she had out of the cabinets while the sinks filled. She remembered the washing machine downstairs in the garage. It could hold ten gallons or so. She raced downstairs to start filling it and back up again to fill her other containers. She had finished in the kitchen only a few moments when the water flow slowed. She hurried into the bathroom to refill the bathtub. The bathtub was over halfway filled when the water stopped altogether.
Forty gallons of precious water had been secured. Only then did she realize she was still naked.
Electronically-controlled door locks in state-maintained facilities are legally required to revert to a default setting in case of a prolonged power outage. The default is OPEN.
Kewpie maintained his seated position on the floor without moving for many hours after the normal noises of the facility had fallen strangely silent. He didn't twitch when the lights went out and the hissing of forced air ventilation ceased. He was serene as the temperature around him slowly fell. He waited.
He was rewarded at last with the soft sounds of electronic door release. The default program had kicked in when the battery backup neared its point of failure.
Kewpie was free.
The farmhouse was very old. The small, square rooms had low ceilings. It was a design that lent itself well to lantern light. Lanterns were high tech lighting devices compared to methods used elsewhere after the war.
Cullen balanced the platte on his knees and glanced again at the road map spread on the table in front of him.. Granny looked over his shoulder. "This is where you are," she said. "I don't care what your friend says, I've lived here all my life, and you're here." She put her left index finger on the platte and her right index finger on the road map.
Mike grunted from his place on the other side of the table. "Look, lady, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to get here, I was trying to get there." He pointed to a different spot on the road map. "We get paid by the job, lady, and if we ain't there on time, we get docked."
Cullen carefully place the platte on the table and stood up. Sighing, he rubbed his eyes and then looked down at Granny. "Ma'am, I apologize for my friend's tone of voice. He's house-broken, if that helps." He continued to look at her sadly.
"We've got a war, I think," she said softly. "Here, the war is here, isn't it?"
Cullen nodded. "It could be worse," he said. "Last week we were hauling toilet paper."
Without communication, even global war is experienced solely as a localized event. In other words, most people thought their area alone had been attacked. They waited for help from the outside. More people were killed by simple waiting than were killed in all the attacks combined.
She lived in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Most of her neighbors were still at work or trapped on the roads when the bombs went off. She appeared to be alone on her block, though she couldn't be sure. She was in hiding, so she supposed someone else might be too.
All of the water in the kitchen containers was used up quickly, even though she was careful to drink only when she was truly thirsty. The water in the kitchen sinks and bathtub was evaporating in spite of the plastic wrap she covered it with. She couldn't bring herself to drink that water yet. She decided the cleanest drinking water would be in the washing machine downstairs.
The only source of light she had after the power failure was a set of tea light candles. They were barely bright enough to lighten the gloom a few feet, and certainly not hot enough to boil water or cook food. She ate cold food out of the refrigerator at first, as quickly as possible. She lost quite a bit of it to spoilage and had to resort to eating food out of cans within the first four days.
Her normal shopping day was Saturday. The war had inconveniently started on Friday, when her pantry was at its barest point. Even though she limited herself to two cans of food per day, she ran low on food within the first two weeks after the bombs went off. She cut her ration to one can per day.
Hunger, fear, and isolation took their toll on her. The daily trip downstairs to get water from the washing machine was becoming difficult. She was afraid of the day when she didn't have the strength to climb back up the stairs. She was afraid of the dark, afraid to burn her candles, afraid someone would find her, and afraid no one would find her. She could not think or move or plan.
When only two cans of food were left, she realized she had to do something. As far as she knew, her landlady had never returned. She dressed carefully, hiding her greasy hair under a hat. If the landlady had somehow been home all this time, at least she could pretend to be borrowing and not stealing.
She slipped out of her apartment at dawn and crossed the small yard between her place and the small building that served as the landlady's office. No sign of human life was evident. The last newspaper was still lying where it had been thrown on the steps. She circled around to the landlady's apartment and tried to peer into a window. The blinds were drawn. She knocked softly and waited. No response. She tried windows until she found one unlocked.
Trying hard to be quiet, she climbed into the landlady's bedroom. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she thought she would faint. She couldn't breathe properly. No one challenged her. She crept down the hall to the kitchen. Everything there looked normal, though the smell coming from the dead refrigerator was suffocating. The landlady had never come back.
She took plastic shopping bags from her coat pocket and began filling them with cans of food. She hesitated when she came across cat food before bagging it. Just in case, she told herself. She took flour, sugar, cornmeal, and oatmeal. She left the salt. Her constant need for water had made her dread salty food. She came across the master key set and took it without thinking.
When she was done, she had six large shopping bags, all heavy and on the verge of bursting. She hated to think of making several trips. She wondered where the maintenance man kept his wheel barrow. Though she doubted her luck, she looked in the landlady's garage anyway. The wheelbarrow was there. Five minutes later she let herself out of the garage and quickly hauled the food back to her garage.
Once home, she shoved the wheelbarrow into her garage. Closing that door, she retraced her steps and removed all evidence of her crime. She was already planning to hit all the other apartments with the master keys.
She was high on stress hormones and giddy with relief. She celebrated with one can of tuna and a can of green beans. It had been three weeks since her last bath.
Lucas would tell the joke on himself: he had graded papers by candlelight without realizing he had been permanently retired from the university earlier in the evening.
Living in the woods had advantages, Lucas knew, but getting mail had never been one of them. Half the time he didn't get mail at all, the rest of the time he got mail that wasn't his. The power had gone out, leaving him unable to communicate with the rest of the world. It hadn't occurred to him to pick up the phone that weekend. When he didn't get mail either, he shrugged it off.
In fact, Lucas didn't begin to suspect the world had ended until the following Monday morning, when his way into town was blocked with abandoned cars all over the road as far as he could see. No police lights flashed. No one directed traffic. The road looked like a salvage yard, only less organized.
Lucas tried his radio and got nothing. His cell phone not only didn't work, it didn't even show a signal in his area. He had to back up a quarter of a mile to turn around in a driveway. He decided to get out and ask if anyone there knew what was going on. No one answered the door.
He drove home and got drunk. He repeated the routine on Tuesday and Wednesday. By Thursday, he knew the world had ended. He had no clue as to how it had happened. As far as he could tell, no one in his area was available to ask.
The first to die were those in the direct line of fire. The second wave of deaths occurred primarily among rescuers, often simultaneously with the first group. The third and largest group to die within a few hours were those killed fleeing the attacks or trying to get to their homes. As the attacks had begun on a Friday afternoon, members of the third group were caught banking, shopping, or traveling.
The highest identifiable percentage of the third group were parents trying to reach their children. The saddest stories generated that day were those of parents literally walking through fire only to find their children were already dead.
In spite of enemy hopes to the contrary, the panic was relatively civilized in nature. Everyone not injured was willing to help someone else who was. Helping was limited to the skills and resources available to the helper. On a Friday afternoon, help was woefully inadequate in almost every situation. By the following Thursday, there were no volunteers for any endeavor.
Of the hundreds of placed bombs that went off that day all over the world, only a small percentage were "dirty". Most people did not have the proper equipment to determine whether an area had been contaminated with radioactive materials. Rumors that all cities were hot drove people out of areas that were better suited for survival than the rural areas they fled into. Tons of food were readily available in abandoned cities, but the majority of initial survivors were camped in pastures with no supplies.
Death due to improperly prepared food and bad water became commonplace. Many people died of exposure in the cold night air of early winter. Medically fragile patients died quickly. The very young, very old, or chronically ill died within a few weeks.
By late winter, most of the diseases of modern industrialized man had been wiped out along with the patients.
-- helen (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 06, 2002.
Oh dear! TEOTWAWKI, but not because of Y2K!! You got me on the edge of my seat now helen! What WILL these people do now?? More story please helen! (Very well written BTW!).
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 06, 2002.
(Waiting for cookies ....)
What's in the truck?
(Hmmmmmn. Better than toilet paper?)
-- Robert A. Cook, PE (email@example.com), November 06, 2002.
(Be a good boy Robert, and wait to see what Santa brings you...)
I'm still fixated on the woman going nekkid down to the garage and making her sammich nekkid! "Wanted to air dry" indeed!
When CAN we expect the next installment dear helen?
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 06, 2002.
Tomorrow, if all goes well.
-- helen (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 06, 2002.
There were a few bright spots in an otherwise horrible time. The dreaded smallpox epidemic never materialized. The weather in most areas continued to be a bit warmer than normal for winter. Cannibalism did not become habitual among the millions of survivors.
She thought she was hearing her own heartbeat at first. Then she woke up and realized someone was walking up the steps to her front door. She slid under her bed without thinking, willing her visitor to go away.
Jared read the small scrap of paper still taped to her front door. Faded letters spelled out "be back Monday". He kicked the tire of a wheelbarrow as he walked away.
Lucas had never needed company. His students had invaded his office often. Before that his clients had called him incessantly. Throughout most of his adult life, his wives and ex-wives had harrassed him day and night. His fantasy had been to live a solitary life with no communication whatsoever. Surprisingly, living out his fantasy didn't change his mind. He did quite well on his own and never missed the rest of the world.
Three months into his new life, his alcohol supply ran out.
Isolation affects individuals in different ways.
The incident with the visitor had changed everything. She was loathe to leave her familiar apartment, but she was terrified of becoming trapped upstairs. After careful consideration, she went to work.
She cleared the floor in front of the washing machine in her garage. Being careful to make as little noise as possible, she hauled her dining table downstairs and placed it in the cleared area. Between this table and the wall, she stacked her cans of food and the stash of bottled water she had stolen from various apartments. She made a tent over the table with blankets and then a tarp. Over and in front of the whole structure she stacked garbage bags stuffed with stolen clothing. The final touches were garbage cans and old shelves placed strategically to give the impression of a disorderly clutter of junk.
A rug and three sleeping bags formed the floor of her new little home. She thought of her creation as her nest. She left it only to take care of bodily functions and to replenish her water. In spite of the season, she was warm enough. When snow finally fell, she was snug and safe in her silent world.
She began to forget speech.
The farm was crowded.
Mike burst into the parlor. "Where in hell is Eddie?" he demanded.
"Where is Eddie please?" Granny shot back. "Go brush the snow off your boots on the porch before you come in the house. You know the rules."
Cullen looked up from his book. "I think you'll find him with Miss Emily. If it isn't an emergency, let him alone. She's having a bad day."
Mike counted to ten in three languages before answering. "I think I'm the only one around here who gives a shit about this place. It's a falling down wreck. At least Eddie don't give me no lip when I can find the guy. You're not doing anything," he said pointedly to Cullen, "so why don't you go rub the old girl's feet and let me and Eddie get the real work done."
Cullen snapped his book shut and left without a word. Granny gave Mike a withering look but said nothing.
A moment later a heavy-jawed giant shuffled into the parlor. His skull was a shade too small, his eyes a bit too far apart. His hair was shaggy, but clean. His eyes lit up when he saw Mike.
"Eddie, come on. I need you," said Mike.
The young man nodded and hurried for his coat. Mike was the first person to treat Eddie like a regular guy. Mike swore at Eddie the same way he swore at Cullen, which was proof in Eddie's eyes that they were on equal footing. Eddie would do anything for Mike.
Mike's project was a Christmas tree. Unfortunately Mike had lost track of time, a common trait among survivors. Christmas was over, but Cullen, Granny, and Miss Emily were too polite to mention it. And Eddie didn't care.
-- helen (email@example.com), November 07, 2002.
I hope Sammy is going to be okay.
-- Carol (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 07, 2002.
Good luck on your test, Helen. If it's a class on story-writing, I know you'll get an A+!!! :-)
Is Kewpie's real name Eddie or is that another character? Was there food and/or water in the truck? This story makes me want to be a 'prepper' again. ;-)
-- Gayla (email@example.com), November 07, 2002.
You're gonna ace your test helen!~ We can wait for ya, (thought we really don't WANT to!). Any one for some homemade caramel corn while we wait????
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 07, 2002.
That sounds yummy, AuntBee!
Great story, Helen!
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 07, 2002.
The population stabilized at slightly less than seven million souls. Pockets of humanity were cut off from one another by zones emptied for unknown reasons. Hot areas were not marked; they were experienced in most unpleasant ways. Very few survivors were willing to walk more than a mile or two from wherever they had gone to ground. The new leading causes of death were accident, suicide, and murder.
She started the fire by being careless with a candle. In her previous life someone would have called for help, firemen would have arrived to save her life, a doctor would have treated her injuries, and an insurance company would have covered her material losses.
In this life however, she was left naked, homeless, and seriously burned on the left side of her face. Her careful looting on her block ensured that the majority of her survival stuff was burning too. The intense cold of winter kept her from feeling much pain in her face, but she was in danger of going into shock and freezing to death. She looked down the street for the best place to shelter and stopped in horror.
She had been discovered by pirates.
Social behavior changed in most communities.
Sammy worked for dog food. Or rather, Sammy worked to keep his little dog fed. He hurried through nearly empty streets with messages for his master, never daring to slow down no matter how tired he got. Squeaky trotted at his heels oblivious to the danger to herself, happy to be with her boy.
The two met three days after Sammy ran away and Squeaky's former people failed to come home. The boy was terrified and the dog was hungry. It was a quick match. Squeaky made it possible for the boy to sleep safely in abandoned houses. The boy opened cans of dogfood along with whatever he found for himself. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Adults suddenly stopped being resources after the bombs. Sammy got a little help the first few days when people still thought outside aid was on the way. After that he was ignored or shooed away. No one wanted an extra mouth to feed, and Sammy was too little to do much heavy work.
He and Squeaky wandered and looted randomly. Sammy gloried in the windfall of toys he found in empty playrooms, but play was no longer fun and he soon left them behind. He was cold, frightened, and miserably tired of eating out of cans when the doctor found him two towns to the west of his starting point.
The doctor had a use for Sammy, and he used Squeaky's dependence to make sure Sammy performed well.
In good times a frightening proportion of people look to others to tell them what to do. In a crisis people will thrust leadership on anyone willing to take action. Scoundrels know this instinctively.
The doctor had a great gig.
When a commercial airliner smacked the middle of a podunk town, most of the trashy part burned to the ground. The locals tried to put the fires out until the power failed permanently and the water stopped flowing. After that they moved back helplessly. The only buildings left were three churches, a library, the school and gymnasium, and roughly four blocks of assorted small offices, stores, and decent- sized houses. Many burned-out residents left to seek out relatives or friends to stay with. None came back.
Those still in possession of houses banded together in a sort of neighborhood watch from hell. They armed themselves. They made watch schedules, ration schedules, meeting schedules, and scheduling schedules. Rigid implementation of draconian rules kept most of them alive with several families intact. This fact in itself was a measure of success almost unheard of in surrounding communities.
Strangers who stumbled upon them were dispatched. They were not buried.
No one knew where the doctor was when the planes crashed that day. He just showed up and somehow talked them out of killing him. In a matter of days nearly everyone had consulted with him privately for this or that, and in a matter of weeks he was boss. No one could pin down the date the doctor openly began giving orders. They went along with him because he seemed to have the right answers. All in all, he led them well enough.
His new plan to enlarge their hold on the surrounding area was controversial, but he talked them into it. They dragged out their New Year's firework display pack from the mayor's garage and set it up. Every ten days or so they would shoot off one big exploding star.
The doctor was convinced survivors would follow the stars to their town. Survivors with skills would be absorbed by the community. Survivors without skills would be ... unburied.
No man is an island. Particularly when he runs out of beer.
World destruction was bad. No alcohol was worse. Lucas managed two dry days before he walked away from home. He hiked from one empty house to the next. He tried to keep walking at night on a full moon, but a pack of feral dogs trapped him in a tree for seven miserable hours. He considered shooting at least one of them, but he hated to waste a bullet when he wasn't hungry.
He ate whatever he found in pantries along the way. He tried to haul alcohol, but it was easier to just stay in one place until the alcohol ran out. He lost track of time and didn't care.
One night he heard a muffled pop and looked outside for the source. Silver fire traced a star in the sky. He thought about finding the people on the other end of the star while he tramped to the next house. He saw the star three more times before he finally set out toward it.
He spent another week working his way to town. He was picked up by a patrol when he was still five miles out, disarmed, and dragged to his interview with the doctor.
The doctor was disgusted with Lucas. The man stank. He was sullen. He was altogether unfit for human company. When Lucas uttered his full name, however, the doctor took an interest in him. He gave orders for Lucas to be dried out. As the Ford substance abuse counseling approach no longer existed, drying out in the new world meant being locked in a bare room until Lucas stopped gnawing the woodwork.
Sammy had to take food to Lucas and remove the bucket Lucas used. After Lucas was released and given a job, he tried to make it up to the boy by reading to him. Sammy had even less free time than Lucas had, but he and Squeaky spent that time with Lucas whenever possible.
Lucas began to plan how he would grab the boy and the dog and run. He was acutely aware of being watched at all times. In turn he began to watch the doctor and those closest to him.
Anything can be weaponized.
The Prince looked upon his captive with curiosity. He and his seven pirates had not found a woman anywhere in all the months they wandered after everything failed. This one was skeletal, stinky, mute, and burned. He suspected she was also crazy. But she was woman, and that gave him hope for the future of mankind.
She fainted when they grabbed her. The Prince had her wrapped tightly in blankets before cleaning her burn. When she woke up, they fed her well and she slept again. They took care of her for several days in this manner. The pain of her burn began to keep her awake longer, and she thrashed when the Prince washed her face. The odor of her thrashing was unbearable.
A week after they found her, the Prince led her to a bathroom in an abandoned house. Warm water filled the tub, and fresh soap and shampoo were laid out. The Prince had to drag her back out an hour later. He let her get into the habit of bathing before he required her to heat water and fill the tub herself.
She was out of shape. Hauling water wore her out at first. The Prince demanded that she join them in exercises, and she balked again. The Prince refused her food until she cooperated. When they moved the first time, she refused to go. The Prince left her behind, but he walked slowly. She soon caught up.
He noticed that even though she could hear, she responded more quickly to gestures and rudimentary signing. He used this talent, refining the signs until an outsider might not realize they were communicating. He allowed no other to feed her, speak to her, or touch her.
She grew stronger physically and filled out. Her mind did not appear to recover. She remained mute and somewhat feral. She rarely initiated communication, and food seemed to be her primary motivation. She was more like a trained animal than a human being. But she was female, and he had hope.
Her burn healed with considerable scarring on the left side of her face. Her distress was acute when the Prince made her handle fire. He started by forcing her to watch him light a match without moving. Then he made her light matches. Eventually she built fires and handled burning torches.
He made her learn hand-to-hand combat techniques. She was quite fearful of even light contact sparring, and he had to let her starve a full day before she would even try. Her introduction to weapons went a little easier, and she was particularly adept with a knife.
In early spring her mind was jarred awake.
-- helen (email@example.com), November 09, 2002.
Helen, you're getting tired of this story?!!? Well, I guess you already know how you're going to tie it all together and make it end, then. I sure don't!
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 09, 2002.
Ah, I know the story, the tying loose ends is difficult. They won't shut up. They hound me day and night for more press time.
-- helen (email@example.com), November 09, 2002.
Hehehe helen, they do have a life of their own don't they? You need a rest friend! Pull up a chair, here's a hot cuppa cinnamon hazelnut coffee and a slice of warm banana struesel cake. Relax hon, and listen to their voices; their words will stream from your mind down to your typing fingers! See how easy it is??
-- Aunt Bee (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 10, 2002.
Well, Helen, now you've done it! Now you are officially my favorite writer.
Get back to work.
-- Lon (email@example.com), November 10, 2002.
Yes, my lord.
-- helen (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 12, 2002.
Heroism can be an accidental byproduct of self-interest.
"If you didn't want outsiders showing up, why all the fireworks?" Mike was indignant. "We only came to see if people were trying to get it back together. We don't want nothing from you." Cullen nodded his head in agreement.
Lucas tried not to sigh. The fireworks had brought in a stream of refugees again. The doctor had grown bored with interrogating starving, incoherent stragglers, and now Lucas was saddled with the job. Most of them begged for food and promised to work at anything available. These two were entirely different. While not well-fed by any means, they lacked the desperate look. The big mouth kept the focus on himself, but Lucas could tell the quiet man sized up everything. He made his decision.
"Look," said Lucas, "just tell me what you do well. We assign jobs based on that."
Mike gave a lurid description of what, in his opinion, he did best. Cullen closed his eyes.
"Latrine duty." Lucas jotted in his notebook. "Good day, gentlemen. You'll find something to eat at the school cafeteria after you finish a full day's work. He looked Cullen in the eye. "Pay attention, and you'll be ok." He turned away and prepared for the next group.
Mike sputtered as he was shoved out of the room by a grinning guard. Cullen left under his own steam. They were directed to a line of pit latrines dug into burned ground fifty yards away from the nearest building. Cullen had to teach Mike how to burn them off.
While Mike swore, Cullen noted they were free to move in relative privacy and in possession of fire. He wondered about the man who had sent them there.
The assembly was a nightly exercise in futility. Accomplishments were applauded, new goals were announced, and punishments were imposed. Enthusiasm had given way to exhausted resentment after the first few weeks of them. The doctor did not seem to notice or care. He took the pulpit of the former Methodist church with zeal, often keeping them until after midnight. Attendance was required.
Mike and Cullen stood in shadows in the back of the nave. Cullen felt a slight tug on his sleeve and looked down at a small boy. Sammy put a grubby finger to his lips and motioned for Cullen to follow him.
They were joined outside by a wiggling little dog and the guard who had treated them so roughly when they arrived. Mike started to say something, but Cullen shook his head. The guard led them toward the latrine area. Sammy and the dog stopped at the latrines and loitered to play, all the while keeping an eye on the the church. Fifty yards beyond the latrines, a small copse of half-burned trees provided dark cover. The guard hurried them along.
Lucas materialized out of shadow as they arrived and greeted them in a whisper. "Gentlemen, meet Dave, former deputy from the next county east and the highest level of pre-war authority remaining. As far as we know," he amended. The guard nodded his head to the confused men. Lucas continued. "He and I are tired of living in a prison camp. You will be too, if you aren't already. Would you like to help?"
The Prince blamed himself. He had taken his men to hunt horses, leaving the woman behind in camp.
The sun was almost gone three days later when Dave burst through the door. Lucas was still clearing the last group from the intake interview. "Got something for you to see," Dave whispered in his ear. "Better hurry." He looked both amused and horrified. Lucas finished his instructions to the new people, closed his books for the evening, and slowly sauntered off to meet Dave.
Two of the doctor's best man-hunters waited in an old detached garage behind the last unburned house on the fourth block out. Dave had been buying people from these men for several weeks. Lucas had been cooking the books on the doctor's forced immigration plan. Walk-ins were processed normally. Drag-ins, as they thought of the captives, were hidden and fed until escape could be arranged. The pair had become known as "Dragonmen", and the doctor so far hadn't found out why.
A scrawny kid lay trussed and blindfolded on the cold concrete floor. Lucas could see part of what looked like freshly-healed burns on one side of the kid's face. "What the hell is this?" Lucas blurted out. The others hushed him. He bent to untie the kid. One of the hunters grabbed his arm.
"Lucas," said Dave softly, "the guys say she's got knives everywhere she doesn't have teeth. She can't be turned loose. She might kill you."
"She? Did you say she?" Lucas was amazed. Very few women or girls had been found in the outlying areas, and the doctor had made them his top priority. "Who knows about her? Anyone?"
The hunters swore only the four of them knew. Lucas gave them whiskey for their service and even more whiskey for their silence. Just handing the bottles over made Lucas thirsty in a special way, but he was too interested in the girl to pay much attention to it. With wide grins the hunters slapped his shoulder and left.
Lucas and Dave conferred for a few moments before rolling the girl into a piece of old rug they found in the back of the garage. She weighed very little, and they were able to haul her to Dave's tiny hiding place in a service hole under the old municipal building. The service hole served as an entry to the city utility tunnels that ran underground well beyond the remaining buildings.
They had to crouch in the cold concrete vault. Lucas risked a small candle for light and removed the girl's blindfold. She squinted and dropped her head. The men waited patiently for her to look up. When she adjusted to the light, she turned back to them slowly.
Thick scar tissue on her face stopped just below her left eye. Her dark hair was cut raggedly away from her face, but it was clean. She smelled of wood-smoke and earth. He could smell the river she washed in and the soap she used. Her eyes were calm, but they promised death.
Lucas looked over at Dave and gently closed the other man's mouth. "It has been a long time," he said smiling. Dave blushed, but he kept looking at the girl.
They tried three languages between them, but the girl didn't respond to anything they asked her. Finally Lucas unstrapped his hunting knife and put it on the floor in front of the girl. He gestured to the girl, then to the knife, then back to the girl. He took the knife out its sheath and put it back on the floor between them, with the handle toward her and the point toward himself.
Dave was unhappy about the manuver, but he went along with it. Lucas slowly and gently untied the rope that bound the girl's feet. He gestured for her to turn her back to him. She hesitated and then obeyed. Lucas untied her hands and moved as far away from her as possible in the cramped space.
The knife was pressed to Dave's throat before he realized she had crossed the space between them. Dave closed his eyes and willed himself to be still. Lucas kept his hands open and relaxed. The men made no sound.
Puzzled, she moved away from Dave. She kept the knife ready, but the men did not respond.
"You can keep that," said Lucas mildly. "Are you hungry?"
"She must be found." The Prince looked around at the Seven. "The future of the world depends upon it." Seven rough hands raised seven sharp knives to the sky as the men swore obedience to their Prince.
-- helen (email@example.com!), November 12, 2002.
Go, Helen, Go!!!
Looks like it's coming together now :-)
-- Tricia the Canuck (jayles@*telusplanet.net*), November 13, 2002.
(Dang, I *know* I posted to this thread last night!)
I see they are talking to you again Helen! Now THAT was truly a sign of trust! And to think the survival of the world hinges on one WOMAN! More pleassse!
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 13, 2002.
Helen, have you ever seen the character "Animal" on the Muppets? My husband is reading the story along with me (and enjoying it as well!) and is chanting "Woman, Woman, Woman!" :-)
-- Gayla (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 13, 2002.
Animal is one of my favorites... along with Grover, who can't get anything quite right... and Gonzo, who doesn't know what he is.
Issues are hell.
Tomorrow I have to do something away from the house, will try to get more online tomorrow night. Sorry for delay.
-- helen (email@example.com), November 13, 2002.
I hope the sick are feeling better today Helen. (Passing you some homemade chicken soup and a loaf of freshly baked challah).
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 16, 2002.
(Hoping helen gets better ....)
(Watches lemon soup and chickenade go through the fax lines ....
(Sits vaguely puzzled while wondering if Aunt Bee's modem is hooked up backwards ...)
-- Robert A. Cook, PE (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 16, 2002.
Hehehe Robert~! You never fail to amuse me! What a visual you gave! Now if Helen could only get BACK TO WORK!
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 17, 2002.
Sorry, sorry. Duty calls in real life. Will try very hard to wrap it up by Monday night.
-- helen (email@example.com), November 17, 2002.
Deserst Helen, I do hope things are ok on your end. Ya got me worried hon...
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 20, 2002.
Elderly med emergency, then tests, then a paper! I haven't written a paper since before my classmates were born! ACK!
Painting, fixing windowsills, burning brush, fighting with kids' school, etc.
I think it'll have to be some time this weekend. Very sorry.
-- helen (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 21, 2002.
Well, now I can breathe a sigh of relief! Thanks for checking in Helen! Now're you're gonna have to tell us how the paper came out! And, we will patiently wait for the weekend!
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), November 21, 2002.
Relax Helen and take your time. The last thing you need is more stress. (I've had enough of that lately for BOTH of us!) ;-)
-- Gayla (email@example.com a chore), November 21, 2002.
(((Helen))) - hope your week goes great as well as hectic!
(((Gayla))) - hope your stress is soon resolved, too!
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 21, 2002.
Yeah, yeah. Huggie, huggie, smoochie, smoochie.
Now get back to the story.
(What do you think we're paying you for, anyway?)
-- Lon Frankenstien (email@example.com), November 22, 2002.
Thanks Tricia! :-) Unlike evil Mr. Frankenstein, I like hugs.
-- Gayla (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 22, 2002.
Well, Mr. Lon Monsterman, I'll just be up all night getting the #$%! thing finished. sniffle
-- helen (email@example.com), November 22, 2002.
Here's a hanky. Now, where's the rest of the story?!
(I must be getting soft. I'm not normally this nice.)
-- Lon Frankenstien (firstname.lastname@example.org.), November 23, 2002.
Now, now Sir Long of the Frankenfurters,
One rule of manangement is not to drive the slaves (er, highly paid and greatly valued employees) too hard.
(Hint: Use a soft felt whip when tongue-lashing fair young maidens and dasmelles in distress ....)
-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Mareitte, GA) (email@example.com), November 23, 2002.
Helen, I hope all is going as well as can be expected in your end of the world! Hugs to you, and we haven't forgotten you will soon be back with your imitation of Paul Harvey and "the rest of the story!". Hugs to you kind soul!
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), December 02, 2002.
I bet your crises continue. Take care and know prayers for you and yours continue.
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 05, 2002.
Ahem. Just a little reminder :)
-- Tricia the Cnauck (email@example.com), January 15, 2003.
How kind of you to give Helen such a gentle reminder, kind soul that you are!
-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), January 15, 2003.
Hmmph, AB, calling me Gayla is sort of ok, but LON!!?!?! Check those glasses, AB!
Um, the thread is partly fixed now... So it's okay to call it up again, right Helen?? Besides, I thought maybe the real reason you haven't given us an ending is because you couldn't find it again. (More gentle hints :-)
-- Tricia the Canuck (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 06, 2003.
(Sitting on pins and needles)
-- Robert & Jean Cook (Cooks@home.ga), November 06, 2003.
You know, one of these days I'm gonna be a lawyer. And when I'm a lawyer and I tell you not to do something such as ... oh, calling up an old thread ... I expect you won't do it then. In the meantime, I've told my guys to go north, which is just another right turn for them.
-- helen (email@example.com), November 06, 2003.
Was the right turn left over after they turned left twice?
-- Robert & Jean Cook (Cooks@home.ga), November 10, 2003.