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Thursday, October 28, 2010 3 comments

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 2 comments

Fall Colors of FAR Manor

Aha — Picasaweb does have a way to embed a slideshow!

This is what things look like around FAR Manor right now. If it wasn’t for all the crazy stuff going on, it would be my favorite time of year…



Sorry about the Flash trash, but you can click on the pic to see the full-size shots. Oh, and Tumblr has a nice slideshow, but no way to embed it.

Monday, October 25, 2010 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 58

Contents

From the diary of Ben Cho, winter 2011–2012, condensed:

The first post-Truckalypse winter was rough on all of us, and it was fairly mild weather-wise. There was plenty of food — Johnny was right, we had to eat a lot of venison just to keep our gardens from getting overrun by the deer — and that was one complaint, those who were predisposed to be vegetarians were SOL. There were dry spells and wet spells, but mostly we had enough water to go around.

The big problem was heat: even with a mild winter we couldn’t cut enough firewood to keep up. We found a few kerosene heaters and passed them around, but the kerosene was getting stale just like whatever gasoline we hadn’t treated. Rita had to treat several cases of carbon monoxide poisoning because people didn’t know (or think) to leave a window open, and after that, a lot of people decided they would rather be cold. Jason got the sewage digester working, but we use the gas for cooking rather than heating. We moved the cooking facilities into the clubhouse and let the waste heat warm up the Laurel Room, which helps some. Our outdoor kitchen won’t go to waste though, we covered it for the winter and we’ll use it when things warm up again.

Rita was busy through the winter, and not just with bad kerosene. The flu went around, and everyone got some kind of bug at least once. People scoured the houses, in and out of Laurel, for liquor…

Worst of all, some unfinished business came back to haunt us.


Part IV
Winterkill


January 1, 2012

“Happy New Year, Sondra… hey, you okay?”

“Yeah. Drank a little too much, maybe. I feel a bit queasy.”

“Tell me about it. I should’ve stuck with beer, that whiskey knocked me on my ass and smacked me over the head just to make sure.”

Sondra rolled out of bed and ducked into the bathroom — nearly everyone had converted their bathrooms to composting toilets, both for emergencies and to avoid that trip outdoors on especially cold nights — and stood eyeing the toilet, hugging her robe tight to her. “Hey… if I puke, is it gonna mess up the fertilizer?”

“Um… I don’t think so. But if you gotta do it, you gotta do it.”

A pause. “I think it passed… thank God. Maybe some water will make me feel better… can you get me a glass?”

“Sure.”


The Bobs insisted on calling their group “The Magnificent Seven,” which annoyed Frank for no reason he could understand; their whistling the theme song all the way down I-75 was an annoyance he understood well enough. The survivors of that ill-fated gay-bashing weekend after the Devil’s Rapture — Frank, Jared, the Bobs, Ray-Ban, Steven, and Will — spent their New Year’s Eve in the smelly remains of a luxury hotel near one of the US41 exits, drinking the liquor they had looted and hoarded for this night and playing poker for huge amounts of worthless dollars. Frank paced his drinking, and was able to snuff the lanterns and find a soft bed after the others passed out at the poker table or in moldering lounge chairs.

Bleary, stiff, and hungover, Frank got them moving around mid-morning — “Happy New Year, assholes” — and marching down the I-75 breakdown lane once again. The pickups seemed to slow as they passed the men — one began to pull over ahead of them before seeming to think better of it and moving on — and all of them whispered their siren song as they went by: No more pain. No more weariness. Come to us. All were grateful for the clouds, keeping the sun from pounding their heads even more.

They spotted Worleigh, standing on the overpass, long before they reached him. He stood motionless, watching them approach, the gigantic Bible tucked under his left arm as before. He wore what appeared to be a genuine trenchcoat, buttoned against the biting New Year’s breeze.

“Well met,” he greeted them as they mounted the overpass. “Faithful to Gowd-a, faithful to the task He has set before you.”

“What task?” Frank said.

“The eradication of those who have spit in the face of Gowd-a by their abominations, and of those whom He hath marked of old as unworthy of His grace,” Worleigh replied. “If you would take up His sword and smite the evildoer this day, kneel now in prayer.”

They knelt — Frank and one of the Bobs a little more slowly than the others — and Worleigh began: “Our Father in Heaven, we present ourselves to you this day, a living sacrifice, pure and holy —”

Ray-Ban stifled a snicker, thinking Alcohol kills germs… I guess that makes us pure.

“— ready to stand as your army in these days of Tribulation. Strengthen our hand as we do Your will. Amen.”

Several others repeated the Amen, and Worleigh continued: “Now lift your faces to Heaven, and be anointed with oil. This day, you are to be marked and sealed to Gowd-a’s holy purpose.” They looked up, and Worleigh removed a small bottle from a pocket of his trenchcoat. He dipped a finger in the oil and flicked three hurried crosses onto each of their foreheads, repeating, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost-a,” for each of them.

“Arise, soldiers of Gowd-a,” Worleigh said, and they stood. “I charge you this day: do not waver in your purpose, do not turn back from the task set before you. For it is written: He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of Gowd-a. Seven years shall we labor, and do the work of Gowd-a, then shall we be taken up to sit at His mighty right hand in the Eternal Sabbath.”

“Sure,” Jared said. “But how do we find out who we’re going after? And how do we tell the good guys from the bad guys?”

“All of Gomorrah is dedicated to destruction,” Worleigh said. “As it was with Noah in the days of the Flood, and Lot in Sodom, Gowd-a has surely brought out His faithful few.”

“Yeah,” Ray-Ban said, “but how do we find ’em? This Gomorrah is an awful big place, and there ain’t that many people left in it.”

“Look,” Worleigh said, pointing south. “What do you see?”

“Lots of buildings,” Jared said.

“And… smoke,” said Frank. He grinned.

“Verily,” Worleigh smiled. “The smoke of the evildoers precedes their journey to Hell.”

continued…

Friday, October 22, 2010 2 comments

A Snippet-y Kind of Week

Current music: Anberlin — Dark is the Way, Light is a Place (album)

Burning hatSnippet hasn’t exactly had the best kind of week ever. When her manager got onto her about someone else doing something she was supposed to do (he volunteered), she went into one of her rages and slapped the manager. Needless to say, she wasn’t working for Wendy’s after that. So she came home, and you can see here how she decided to return the favor.

Later on, I had Mason outside. Turns out he’s a dog person — he has little or no interest in Sprite (the alien kitty from planet Lardassia), but oohs and aahs over the puppy (whose name is Mongo, thanks to The Boy) — and he was chattering at a hesitant Mongo in his pen. The Boy, Snippet, M.A.E., and Mrs. Fetched were all outside too. Snippet and Mrs. Fetched started arguing, because Snippet wanted to take Mason when her dad came to pick her up, and Mrs. Fetched didn’t want her to because she doesn’t know her dad (who was an absentee father pretty much all her life). After several “yes I am”/“no you’re not” exchanges, Snippet came very close to throwing the fatal SN01 error:

“Bitch.”

“Call me that again,” said Mrs. Fetched, “and your dad can just take you and keep you.”

“Bitch.”

Mrs. Fetched immediately turned and went into the house, grabbed some garbage bags, then went upstairs and cleaned out the dresser. Meanwhile, Snippet (and The Boy) followed her up, and they continued the quarrel as Mrs. Fetched loaded the bags. From what I gather, Snippet took a swing at Mrs. Fetched and fortunately (for Snippet) missed. As it was, had Daughter Dearest been there, there wouldn’t have been a second utterance and we would still be shoveling up what was left of the little idiot. Somewhere in there, she called her dad and told him not to come, which gave her a convenient excuse to not leave. I guess Mrs. Fetched didn’t try to order The Boy to take her to some designated dropzone, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit. As for The Boy, I think he agreed with Mrs. Fetched that Snippet was out of order at first, but decided to take Snippet’s side because he has to sleep with her. Difficult decision.

Losing her job had a second drawback that I doubt she even thought of: now that she’s not working until oh-dark-thirty, she has no excuse (note that I didn’t say “reason”) for not getting up in the mornings and taking care of Mason. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from trying.

To make matters even more fun, The Boy is no longer working the warehouse job. According to him, his boss kept forgetting to write down when he had to be at the courthouse for his probation stuff, and they expected him to be at work on Thursday when he had planned to not be. So they simply decided to end his probationary (no relation) period and axe him. Snippet referred to him as a “dumbass” over this. It makes me wonder: does she somehow think that calling people “bitch” or “dumbass” is going to magically turn them to her way of thinking? She tells me it’s none of my business — as if what goes on in the house I’m paying for, whether I want to or not, isn’t my business — but however you look at it, it doesn’t help.

Fireplace screenOn to a less unpleasant topic… Mason is proving himself to be a pretty clever baby. Jam found us this fireplace screen at a yard sale, and Mrs. Fetched thought it would be the perfect thing to keep Mason away from the firebox once we start using it. WRONG — he’s already figured out how to undo the latch and open the doors. Well, it might prevent burns from an accidental contact, anyway.

He’s also figured out that I often keep interesting (i.e. shiny) things in my shirt pocket, such as a pen or cellphone. When he goes for my pocket, I’ll clap a hand over it. He pulls it out of the way and lets go, and my hand claps right back over. So he holds my hand away and reaches in with his other hand. Another thing he does sometimes is try to climb the changing table when his diaper is in need of attention, or climb the playpen when he wants to get away from Moptop for a while. He can make himself understood, anyway.

Give it a few more weeks, and Mason will be more mature than either of his parents.

Monday, October 18, 2010 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 57

Contents

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cody stopped waking up early on Christmas morning when he was twelve, but he was awake now. He never thought about it, but if pressed he might have said that he’d stopped believing in Santa even before then, and even if he did get up early the presents would have to wait for the parents to get up, eat breakfast, et cetera et cetera, and they loved to drag it out. The dark had an early-morning feel to it, though. As always, Sondra lay next to him, breathing softly. Contrary to what Jennifer (and those on either side) thought, they didn’t make love every night — but it did help to warm things up in the small bedroom, and they’d gotten used to sleeping naked under all the covers.

Sondra was a heavy sleeper, but he was careful reaching for the digital watch on the nightstand anyway. 6:12 a.m.? He grinned. He was excited about this Christmas alright, but this morning he was giving the present. But not just yet… let Sondra sleep a little more. He waited, even dozed a little. When he next checked the watch, it was 6:58. Good enough.

Good thing she usually sleeps on her back, Cody thought. He hadn’t given much thought to what he would have done if she wasn’t. Slowly, carefully, he eased himself under the covers until his head was at her waist. He bent over and began kissing her thighs and in between. Sondra’s breathing grew a little heavier, a little faster as he continued, and her legs eased apart a little. Cody climbed over her leg, now kneeling in between as he delivered his present.

“Codyyyyyyyy,” Sondra moaned, pushing herself into his face. He continued to work, one finger joining his tongue. “Mmmm,” she said. “Don’t stop… mmmm.” Her breathing quickly grew ragged, then she gasped, cried out, and grabbed Cody by the arms, dragging him on top of her and inside of her, yelping with pleasure until one of the neighbors started pounding on the wall as Cody came with her.

“What brought that on?” she said after a while, still under Cody.

He grinned. “I wanted to give you something special for Christmas.”

“You beat me then… I got you a wind-up watch for when the batteries die in your digital.”

“That’s okay.” The grin disappeared. “Oh… shit!”

“What?”

“I wasn’t wearing a condom!”

Sondra thought a moment. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the right time. Chances are, nothing will happen.” And even if it does, she thought, it’s just an early start.


One winter tradition that had already established itself was a community breakfast, especially on cold mornings like this one. Instead of firing thirty fireplaces, they used methane-fueled cooktops to make breakfast for everyone — usually pancakes and oatmeal, with “bacison” (smoked portions of venison cut into thin strips like bacon) when they had it. It helped to warm up the Laurel Room, along with a large kerosene heater they’d looted from the Lube Job garage across the road.

The kids bolted their breakfast, then Ashley hopped onto the dais next to the big TV. “Excuse me, everyone,” she said. “We’ve been working on a Christmas play, and we’d like to, um, perform it for you now.” There were many approving mutters and even a little applause at this. “Um, thank you. Go ahead and finish eating, and we’ll get ready.”

After a few minutes of hurrying props into place, Ben and Lily came out, dressed in robes. Lily had stuffed her robe to make herself look pregnant, and even waddled a little.

“Are you alright, Mary?” said Ben. “We’ve been walking a long way.”

“I’ll be fine, Joseph. We’re almost there, right?”

A large cardboard cutout of a pickup truck, painted white of course, approached. “You can ride to Bethlehem!” Caitlin’s voice came from behind the cutout. “And everywhere else, too!” Some of the adults laughed. Others scowled.

“We’re fine walking!” Lily said. “Now go away!” The “pickup” backed out, and Sheldon stepped on stage.

“I’m sorry,” said Sheldon. “We have no room in the inn.” His delivery was a little wooden.

“But my wife is about to have a baby!” Ben said. “What can we do?”

“I guess you can sleep in the stable,” said Sheldon. “At least it will be warm and you can sleep in the hay.” He turned and walked off. “Mary and Joseph” crossed to a cradle stuffed with straw; Lily reached under her robe and withdrew a baby doll, which made some of the audience chuckle, and laid it in the cradle. Ashley, dressed as an angel, swooped onto the stage and sang “Gloria” off-key, arms extended as if flying. Off to the side, Delphinia smiled and hummed softly, somehow pulling Ashley into tune.

The three of them exited; Sheldon entered wearing a toy crown. “Who are these people who ask where the king is?” he asked the audience — in contrast to his innkeeper, he nearly chewed the scenery as Herod. “I’m the king! I’ll go to Bethlehem and take care of this!” He turned and exited, as Ben and Lily entered from the other side, Lily carrying the doll.

“Well, now that the baby’s born, I guess I’ll find a job here in Bethlehem,” Ben said.

Ashley, still in the angel costume, swooped in. “Arise, Joseph, take your family and flee to Egypt! Herod wants to kill the baby!”

“Oh no!” Mary said. “Let’s go!” They turned and exited, as Herod stormed on stage again.

“Fled to Egypt, did they? I’ll catch them!” he yelled.

The cardboard pickup entered behind him. “You’ll catch ’em faster if you ride,” it said.

“Good idea!” Herod ran behind the pickup and it crossed the stage, passing Mary and Joseph who watched as it went by. After a moment, the audience began laughing and applauding.

“There goes Herod,” Lily said. “I guess the angel will tell us when it’s safe to go back home.”

The other three walked back out. “The end!” Ashley said, and everyone applauded. “Lily wrote most of the play, but we all helped. Miss Elly and Miss Delphinia helped us with the costumes.” Elinaeya nudged Cleve and pointed as the audience applauded; Cleve smiled as the actors bowed and shucked the robes right there on stage. Of course, “Herod Drives Off” became an instant Christmas tradition.

continued…

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 3 comments

Call the Volunteers! Autumn Edition

Tomato plantSame thing happens every year, at least since we routed the kitchen/laundry drains to the back yard: tomato seeds get washed down the drain, they find their way into the yard, they sprout. This year’s a little different: they got started early enough that we might actually get some tomatoes off them this year. I don’t see any frost in the extended forecast — these days, first frost ends up being in November often as not — so that helps too.

As you can see, I’ve put some cages up for support. What you don’t see is the few shovels of compost I’ve thrown around the roots. Funny how the directions with potted tomatoes say “bury ’em deep!” when they have no trouble at all putting down roots from the surface.

I guess I really need to put a bed out here for next year, and see what happens when drain water gets to work with a planned garden bed for a change.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 No comments

Grrrrrrr!

With M.A.E. and Moptop being at the manor for a while, and Daughter Dearest at college, Mrs. Fetched thought it would be OK to let them stay in DD's room. Now DD is home on break and livid about the state of her room. She's growling about the disarray, including "trying on my clothes and shoes without being asked." Maybe it's better that M.A.E. is elsewhere this evening.

Me? I got sent up on the roof to nail down a few shingles, which turned out to be loose flashing under said shingles. There's a couple shingles that have come off, but not leaking. Yet. I knew the roof was going to be a trouble spot the first time I looked at the place. Naturally, Mrs. Fetched ignored me.

Monday, October 11, 2010 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 56

Contents

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rita grinned at Sara, holding up a blue-tipped stick. “These test kits don’t do too many false positives.”

Sara swung herself off the exam table and danced a little jig around it, not caring that her pants were still on the floor. “We did it! We did it! I can’t wait to tell Tim!” She suddenly stopped and hopped back onto the table, looking a little embarrassed. “How long, do you think?”

“Since you conceived? Three weeks? It’s kind of hard to tell, and it’s not really all that important. But I’d guess you conceived on — or pretty close to — your wedding night. So call it… oh, September first of next year for a due date. And congratulations, Sara. I know you wanted this. How will Tim take it?”

“He knows I wanted this, and I think he did too. At worst, it might take him a little while to get used to the idea, but he’ll be happy. I guess we won’t know if it’s a boy or a girl for a while.”

“Maybe not until it’s born. Even if we had an ultrasound here, and power to run it, I never operated one myself. Only assisted.”

“Oh. What kind of nursing work did you do before?”

“I was working at a clinic in Chamblee when the trucks came. But before that, I did some ER work at Grady. That’s the experience I keep thinking we’ll need most — but I hope I never do. Oh, you can get dressed. I think we’re done with the exam for now.”

“You’ve done a little emergency work already, I guess.”

“I had to put seven stitches in Graham’s forehead when his axe handle broke that time, and there’s been a few flu cases. Setting Stefan’s broken leg was the closest thing to a real trauma we’ve had so far. But all in all, I much prefer giving good news to expectant mothers.” Rita smiled. “This is the best part of my work. That, and teaching the children. One or more of them will have to take over from me some day.”

“I never thought of that.”

“I think about it all the time. It can be a burden, being the only one with such a necessary skill.”

“At least you can do something about it.” Sara pulled her pants on. “Maybe that’s what it was like for Cody at first. That boy was about the only one of us here who could deal with all this when it happened. Johnny and some of the others have stepped up, so he’s not having to carry it all anymore. But he was our anchor when it was just five of us.” She smiled. “Speaking of Johnny, how are you two doing?”

Rita returned the smile. “Well enough. Perhaps we’ll have our own news sooner or later.” They laughed together. “That day — when we met — I woke up thinking it would be the day I went to find my own place. Then came the dogs, and Johnny and you and the others rescued me — and so I did find my own place. Here, with all of you.” Her eyes grew bright for a moment. “Every day I pray to God, thanking Him for putting me in your path.”

“You know everyone here is grateful for you being here too,” Sara said, hugging the nurse. “I remember one day, we were all talking about things we needed, and one thing was medical expertise. And here you are!”

“I’m here, Rita — oh. Sorry, I didn’t know you were busy. Hi, Sara.” Ashley stood in the doorway, looking only a little uncertain.

“It’s okay, Ashley,” said Sara. “We’re pretty much done. Are you helping Rita today?”

“Yeah.” Ashley smiled. “It’s my turn today. The other kids got school. But I’ll have school Monday, and Sheldon will be here. It all works out, I guess.”

The women laughed. “Ashley, why don’t you double-check the schedule and see if we have any appointments? I think Stef is coming in to have his leg checked out after lunch. If anyone walks in, just tell them to have a seat and I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

“Okay.” Ashley ducked back into the front office.

“Looks like you have your successor lined up already,” Sara grinned.

“Perhaps. Ashley is…”

“Not much bothers my foster girl, does it? She took to Tim right away, thank God. She’ll make a wonderful big sister.”

“And she could grow up to become a wonderful medic, if she wants. She isn’t squeamish about blood at all, and she was a big help when I had to stitch up Graham. You don’t find too many children like that. Or adults, for that matter.” Rita smiled. “But still, I try to teach the other children as much as they’re ready for — after all, it might be Ashley who needs help one day. Or me.”


Later that afternoon, Stefan boosted himself onto the exam table, propping his crutches on one side. “Six weeks…” he pointed at the crutches. “I hope it’s ready to walk on.”

“Maybe,” Rita said, poking at the cast. “Have you been staying off it?”

“Hardest damn’ thing I ever had to do… but yup. Okay, I forgot once or twice, but it reminded me quick!”

Rita nodded. “How’s it feeling? You taking pain pills for it?”

“Not even one a day.” Stefan looked proud of himself.

“Yeah,” Palmer said. “But what did you put Tim on? He’s walking around with such a goofy grin! You got any more of that stuff?”

“Sorry,” Rita laughed. “Can’t help you with that — Tim got a big dose of Impending Fatherhood this morning!”

“Oh, how wonderful!” Stefan said, and Palmer nodded. “A baby will be nice! Now if that Sondra upstairs would follow suit…” They laughed; Cody and Sondra could be noisy. Palmer and Stefan cheered them on some nights.

“Looks good, Stef,” Rita said. “You can start putting weight on it ‘as tolerated.’ That means if it hurts too much, stop. I don’t want you upping your pain meds, because I don’t want to have to deal with an addiction, okay? You also need to start doing some exercises to rebuild your leg muscles — you’re gonna hate it, but you’ll suck less when you get back on a bike.” Stefan gave her a sour look. “I’m sure you won’t like the next thing I have to say either: you’ll have a cast for six to eight more weeks.”

“That long?” Both Stefan and Palmer looked horrified.

“That’s the minimum,” Rita said, “but I don’t expect it to be much longer since you were in such good shape when you broke it. We’ll figure out how to do an X-ray at the end of January to see what’s going on in there, but I think you’ll be okay for light riding just in time for things to start warming up. If everything’s good after a couple weeks, we’ll try a walking cast and you can start using the exercise cycles, with resistance as tolerated. You let me know if you have any trouble, right? Palmer, you’ve been a big help with his recovery, by the way.”

“Thanks.”

“No, thank you. If more people cared about their life partners as much as you two do, I wouldn’t have had so many health issues to deal with back before the trucks came. Which reminds me: why did you guys never ask the reverend to marry you?”

Palmer laughed. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Back before, we were advocating for equality and we’d have done it to make a statement. But now? Any couple — at least the ones here — are all equal. We don’t need a ceremony to prove it anymore.”

continued…

Thursday, October 07, 2010 4 comments

Knock Me Over…

I came home from choir practice yesterday evening to find the downstairs… rather quiet. The Boy and Snippet were nowhere to be found; my iPad and MacBook both lay idle. I took a peek in the crib, and Mason wasn’t snoozing.

No way, I thought, and slipped upstairs and tapped on The Boy’s door. “You guys have Mason up here?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said The Boy.

“No problem, just curious,” I said and headed back down. “They must WANT something,” I thought, more than a little surprised. I can’t remember a time they’ve tended to their own kid through the evening, at least while at the manor. Granted, Snippet didn’t have to work last night, but evenings off have never stopped them from ignoring their offspring before.

The weirdness wasn’t over yet. They came downstairs, and Mason suddenly got cranky like he was ready to go to sleep — he didn’t even want a bedtime bowl of oatmeal. I took him while Snippet got a bottle ready, then took him from me (!) and gave him the bottle… and he went to sleep. And then, as I was doing a little work on some upcoming White Pickups episodes, came the top of the whole-a topper. From my desk in the bedroom, I can look straight down the hall and see the kitchen door; it was closed but there was light coming underneath and I could hear a strange clinking noise. I had to go check this, again thinking no way… but there they were, cleaning the kitchen! At this point, I was ready to pack my bags and stand outside, because the apocalypse had to be imminent.

I suppose it goes to show: you might have known someone all his life, even watched him being born, raised him, watch him go his own way… and he still has the capacity to surprise you, even if he does exactly what you expect 99% of the time.

Oh, and this morning, he was streaming a classic blues station on his new phone. Yeah, my son the metalhead likes classic blues. Shock upon shock.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 55b

Contents

“I guess so,” said Caitlin, still a little wary.

“Are you okay?” Ashley looked at him.

He scratched his head a moment. “I ain’t been okay for a long time. But right now… I kinda feel okay. So what’cher names? I’m Stevie. Stevie Bolighter.” He let the girls introduce themselves, then said, “Pleased to meet’cha. I’m a little messed up in the head, so if I say stuff I shouldn’t, I’m sorry. But I think I’ll be good for a while.”

“What happened to you?” Lily asked.

“A lot of stuff. But you could boil it down to one thing: Vietnam.” He pronounced it to rhyme with ma’am. “You know what that is?”

“A war,” Caitlin said. “My great-uncle had to go there, but he didn’t talk about it much.”

“He probably didn’t want to scare you. It was a scary place. You never knew just who was your friend and who wasn’t. Then the things you see…” he closed his eyes for a moment. “Stuff little kids should never have to know about. But the kids there had to live in it. Or not…” He wiped away tears. “Sorry. It’s tough.”

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Lily said. “If it makes you sad.”

“I dunno. If I’d talked about it when I got home, maybe I wouldn’t be so messed up now. The preacher there says stuff like that, if you keep it bottled up… Anyway. It’s the old story. Couldn’t keep a job, couldn’t stay married, couldn’t run away from the memories. I started doin’ drugs in ’Nam, and kept doin’ ’em when I got home, until I couldn’t afford ’em. Then I took to drinkin’.”

“So how did you stay away from the trucks?”

“Yeah, the trucks. I started seein’ ’em before most people did, I think. I guess they talk to everyone — they talked to me for sure, but it was just one more voice in my head. They said I could forget all the things I’d seen, but the drugs were supposed to do that for me and they didn’t… so I guess I didn’t trust ’em.

“Somewhere in there, I met the preacher-man. He already had this crew with him, and he said he could help me get one more chance to get my life straight. I hope so — if the world’s already ended, I guess we’re… nah.”

“What?” Lily prompted, but Patterson stepped over. “Hey Stevie,” he said. “Can I borrow the kids for a minute?”

“Sure,” Stevie said, waving a hand. “C’mon back in a few, girlies… there were some good times too. I’ll tell ya about them, okay?”

“Sure,” Ashley replied; Patterson ushered them into the kitchen where Delphinia and a black woman stood at the counters.

“Hey kids!” the black woman greeted them a little louder than was strictly necessary, especially in the kitchen. “I’m Elinaeya Gowans, y’all can call me Elly if you want. So y’all ready to help us make some Christmas cookies?”

“Yeah!” Caitlin grinned, stepping up to the counter. “What do we gotta do?”

“Well —” Delphinia suddenly departed with a smile for the girls. “One or two of ya can take over for Butterfly Lady there. She just keeps flitterin’ in and out, in and out, like she can’t stand still for a minute, it’s about drivin’ me crazy! And that’s a short trip!”

“We can do her stuff,” Ashley said, “I guess. What was she doing?”

Elinaeya laughed. “Confident, ain’cha? But you’re right. She was rollin’ the cookies in the powdered sugar. You two can manage that, right?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Me and this little redhead are gonna make you some more while while you’re working on those.”

“Where do they go in the oven?” Caitlin asked.

“They don’t. It’s some kind of no-bake recipe that Butterfly Lady found in a cookbook. She got me to help, and now she left us to do the work. Yeah, it’s a little strange, but when the oven ain’t working you gotta do what’cha gotta do, right?”

“What are they for?”

“Supper tonight, of course! Some of these guys —” she jerked a head toward the two men playing checkers — “have a sweet tooth like you wouldn’t believe. They sure won’t last until Christmas!” She laughed her loud laugh and opened a drawer, handing Caitlin a spoon. “We just scoop out a spoonful and roll ’em, then put ’em on this here plate. When your friends are ready you can carry the plate over to them and bring back the empty one.”

Caitlin nodded and they got to work. It was easy, and her mind started wandering. Had the strange lady touched the side of Stevie’s grey head as she floated by? It happened so quick, Caitlin wasn’t sure if she’d seen that or not. I think she’s a witch… she looked over her shoulder at the others, as Lily giggled at something Ashley said. Was Ashley right?

“Hey,” Elinaeya gave Caitlin a gentle poke. “You awake?”

“Sorry. Just thinking.”

“’Bout what? You gotta boyfriend?”

Caitlin blushed as Lily giggled across the kitchen, “She wishes she did!”

“Hey, redhead. Nothin’ wrong with that,” Elinaeya patted her shoulder and lowered her voice. “I can relate. You just lookin’, or you got your eye on one on particular?”

“Yeah. But he’s married.” Caitlin rolled another cookie, smashing it a little.

“Oooo. Yeah, that’s somethin’ you don’t want to get in the middle of. At least the man I’m lookin’ at ain’t attached.”

“Who is it?” She looked at her flat cookie, rounded it up and scooped another.

“That fine cop who busted me back before all this truck voodoo came down.” She laughed. “Hey, at least he treated me well enough after he busted me. Didn’t rough me up or talk nasty or nothin’. Y’know, I wouldn’t mind just movin’ right out of this house and right in with him!”

For the first time, Caitlin smiled. “Well, why don’t you ask him?”

“Ha! It ain’t that easy. If it was, you and me, we’d already have our catches. I’m sure when he looks at me, he sees a dirty smelly homeless woman. I ain’t exactly a prize.”

“So? Everybody’s dirty now. There’s no water for the showers, and it would be freezing cold even if there was, so everybody’s a little smelly. You’re not that different from anyone else, anymore. You talk a little loud, but my mom said I talk too much too.”

Elinaeya laughed loud and long. “You know what? You’re right! Maybe I could do somethin’ with this hair, put a leash on my loud mouth, and catch me a man!”

Caitlin giggled. “Your hair isn’t so bad. It sticks up some, but you should see Miss Jennifer’s hair in the morning sometimes!” She turned. “Hey, you guys want to help me fix Miss Elly’s hair when we’re done with the cookies?”

continued…

Monday, October 04, 2010 1 comment

White Pickups, Episode 55a

Yup, another double-issue episode!

Contents

Thursday, December 8, 2011

“Did you guys know the ramp fell down last night?” Lily asked wide-eyed, standing with the other girls at the big window in the Laurel Room. The rest of the breakfast crowd was either filing out or still eating. “I was going to the bathroom when it happened. I heard it!”

“I heard some of them talking about it when I was eating breakfast,” said Caitlin. “I guess some of the grownups are gonna pull it off the street —”

“There they go,” said Ashley, watching the boys cross the parking lot and walk toward the house where the preacher and his formerly homeless friends had set up.

“What is wrong with them?” Lily said, shaking her head. “When we don’t have school or gardening or stuff, they’re following that crazy lady everywhere!”

“Yeah,” Caitlin said. “I mean, I don’t go following Cody everywhere —”

“Only with your eyes,” Lily giggled.

“Do not! And you better not tell anyone I said that!”

“Good thing,” Ashley said. “His wife’s got a gun!” She and Lily laughed.

“At least they’re nicer now,” said Caitlin, trying to find a less embarrassing subject. “Sheldon especially. He used to be a real creep-o, and Ben would go along with it.”

“It’s still stupid,” said Lily. “Do they think she’s gonna marry both of them or something? She’ll be real old when they grow up.”

Ashley shook her head. “I think she’s a witch.”

Caitlin gave her a curious look. “She doesn’t look like a witch.”

“What, you think she’s gonna wear a pointy black hat and carry a broom?”

“I can see it,” Lily said. “It’s like she put a spell on them. But it’s probably just the boy-girl thing.”

“She is pretty,” Ashley said. “When she doesn’t try to look like a bag lady, anyway. But you’re pretty too, Lily, and they never acted that weird around you.”

“I’m not that — hey, look. They’re coming back.” Lily pointed. Sheldon and Little Ben slipped back inside, saw the girls, came their way.

“What do they want?” Caitlin looked disgusted. She crossed her arms and glared at the boys.

Ben and Sheldon stopped about eight feet away, looking uncertain. Sheldon had his hands jammed in the pockets of his jeans; like all the kids’ clothes, they were a little baggy and he might have been holding them up (Lily stifled a giggle at the thought). Ben looked at his own hands, clasped together in front of him. “Hi,” he said at last.

“Hi guys,” said Ashley. “What’s up?”

“Um… can you come with us?”

“Why?” Caitlin gave them both a suspicious glare. Neither of the boys looked at her.

“To help out,” Sheldon said, staring at a spot near Ashley’s shoes. “Ah — the preacher said it will do them some good to meet some more people.”'

“But why us?” Lily said. “Why not some of the grownups?”

“She— they said they’re used to having us around, but not the grownups yet. So they want to see if more kids won’t upset them. If it works out, I guess she’ll ask Kelly and Cody next, and then the adults.” Sheldon glanced at Caitlin.

“Just Kelly and Cody? That’s weird,” said Ashley.

Ben shrugged. “She never talks about Sondra. She talks a lot about Cody, like he’s gonna be king or something. And she talks about Kelly some, and some of the grownups. I think she doesn’t like Sondra or something.”

Maybe the crazy lady isn’t so bad then, thought Caitlin. That’s not very nice… but I can’t help it. “Okay, I’ll come,” she said, stepping forward. “But if this is some kind of trick…”

Ashley and Lily looked at each other, then joined Caitlin. “We’ll come too,” said Ashley. “But Caitlin’s right. This better not be a trick.”

“It’s not,” said Ben. “Come on.” They turned and headed back to the “shelter,” the girls following and glancing at each other on the way.


They had no idea what to expect, once they arrived, and were a little surprised at how normal it seemed. Two men sat at the dining room table playing checkers, another read a book in a recliner in the living room near the window. The last man sat in an overstuffed chair, watching the room and rocking back and forth a little. A Christmas tree stood proud in the bay window; of course it had no lights but ornaments glittered in the morning sunlight. Patterson greeted the girls: “Welcome to this house.”

“Thanks,” said Ashley. “Um… what are we supposed to do here?”

“We’ll let you tell us,” the preacher laughed. “Maybe you should start by having a look around? Something might come to you.”

The girls shrugged and filed into the living room to check out the tree. There were no presents, but all the kids wondered how the presents part of Christmas was going to work this year, when anything anyone wanted was lying around for the taking.

“Hey, girlies,” one of the men said, leaning forward in the overstuffed chair. His eyes glittered in a way that worried Caitlin. “You —” Suddenly, Delphinia floated between them and was gone… but the man stopped and shook himself. When he turned to the girls again, the disturbing light in his eyes was gone. “You… come to help out too?” he finished.

continued…

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