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Sunday, January 31, 2010 5 comments

Score One for DoubleRed

Late last winter, Mrs. Fetched started noticing mold spots in the ceiling above our shower, shortly followed by water coming through there. The assumption at the time was that the upstairs shower drain was leaking, so we simply told The Boy and Daughter Dearest to take their showers down here until we could get it fixed. The problem went away with the cold weather, and we didn’t give it much thought for a while.

Jerry-rigBut then it started up again, and Mrs. Fetched called the plumbers. They went up, had a look, and said, "It’s coming out of the furnace, not the shower drain. You need to call an HVAC person.” To be helpful, they cut through the damaged sheetrock to reveal what was underneath. After Mrs. Fetched got tired of the water dripping not always into the shower, and I got tired of hearing her complain about it, I tacked a nail into the joist and hung a bucket up. The bucket would fill up twice a day, and I usually ended up emptying it morning and night.

So… one day last week I was working at home, and DoubleRed came rolling in. “Hey,” she said, “I just remembered something. We had the same problem at a place I worked at up in Blairsville, the furnace condenser was leaking. They told us that it was algae building up and blocking the drain, and to pour a cup of bleach in it. We never had a problem after that.”

I’d never heard of such a thing, and said so, but wasn’t completely incredulous. I tried to get DoubleRed to describe the inlet where the bleach was to go, but couldn’t get much beyond “it’s just an opening.” It took another week and a half, but after Mrs. Fetched got wind of it, she was on me to climb into the attic and have a look. Fortunately, going through Daughter Dearest’s closet, there’s a light switch with a light right above the furnace. I thought it was burned out, but when I flipped the switch there was light, so I pocketed the flashlight and worked my way down there. You can see what I saw: an open water pipe right at the corner of the furnace, brimming over with water (and the blue bucket underneath).

Knowing what I needed to do, I came back down to gather materials. “You find it?” Mrs. Fetched asked.

“Yup. Just need something to siphon the water out and a cup of bleach to pour in.”

“Great! I’ll see if we have any bleach.” Great time to be checking, I thought, but figured we had some and went out to get some line. I knew we had some air lines from back when Mrs. Fetched had a couple aquaria; they were covered themselves with dried algae but I got some soap on the end and scrubbed off enough to get my mouth on it. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fetched located the bleach and put it in a cup for me.

Once more into the breach. I sucked water out of the opening, let it siphon down into the bucket, then poured the bleach in. I got most of it in… then it bobbed up and down a couple times before it went glurk-glurk-glurk and drained away. I poured in the remaining bleach and called it good enough.

So DoubleRed gets the gold star for this one. The proof will be when the bucket is empty tonight… then we’ll have to figure out how to patch up the ceiling. Always something.

Saturday, January 30, 2010 No comments

Winter #2 and Other Stuff

Iced over azaleaWinter #2 arrived last night, after a very nice send-off from Spring #1 on Wednesday. We’ll be back in the cold soup for a while, judging from the 5-day forecast. Actually, there’s plenty of ice around FAR Manor, but a half-mile down it was pretty much clear, with spots of ice on and off all the way to town. I had to go pick up my meds, and Daughter Dearest wanted a locking doorknob for her room, so we headed out. No problem. The roads are wet, but they’ll get pretty slick tonight as the temperatures drop.

Our first official error code of the 2.0 era is TS01 — last night, they thought “it would be safer if we spent the night at [a friend of Snippet’s], then I’ll be able to get to work tomorrow.” I knew they would do what they wanted, regardless of road conditions (the roads have been fine all along) and told them so — they wanted to come back to the manor to get some stuff, but I told them if the roads were bad they should either stay put or come back and stay put. They elected to not come back, naturally.

Mason on the bedI have to wonder about them sometimes… with such a good-natured, adorable baby in their lives, why would they want to go anywhere but where he is?

Mason continues to develop. He’s stopped doing his squats, I guess because he figures his legs are strong enough now. His attention span continues to get longer, he’ll sit quietly on my lap while I’m checking out my blog-buddies, sometimes looking out the window, sometimes getting interested in the clutter on or around the desk. He pushes himself up like in this picture, or gets his knees under him — but he hasn’t quite realized he can do both. Once he figures that out, he’ll be crawling all over the place.

I finally got unblocked somewhat on White Pickups — but at a high price I can’t discuss without giving away too much. Olga, my BDSM muse, mounted up on Thursday while I was walking to lunch and impatiently waited for me to get some freedom at 10:30pm — then rode me for 2400 words until midnight. When I got to thinking about it afterwards, I remembered a (still unwritten) scene that just didn’t make sense without this stuff for context. But things are moving again. I’m still not sure how all this comes together, but the characters have assured me I’m on the right track (they’re telling the story, I’m just writing it down)… I have to trust them to tell me more at the right time.

Tomorrow is White Knuckle Sunday, but with the ice I’m not sure if there will be anyone there for me to preach at — or even if I’ll get there myself.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4 comments

White Pickups, Conversations: Charles Ball and Max Wright


Charles: This isn’t what I’d expect as a venue. Blank white room?

Why is it a white room? I’m in my bedroom. Wall panels some weird grey/green color, dirty white carpet…

Max: Well, if you don’t mind having two gay men with you in your bedroom… I’m sure you wouldn’t have any trouble explaining that to Mrs. Fetched —

Then again, the bedroom is a major mess. Blank white room it is. ;-)

Max: Haha, gotcha!

Charles: The banter is amusing, but maybe we should get started?

Sure. Is it Dr. Ball, or what?

Charles: Professor Ball. I had my Ph.D., but it wasn’t a formal environment. “Charles” is fine now. Standing on ceremony is last week’s news.

Max: Literally!

Right. So what is you guys’ relationship?

Max: Best friends, mostly. When Charles came out, all hell broke loose in his home life. Someone else at the campus sort of referred him to me.

Charles: Yeah. He counseled me, in a way.

Max: Nothing formal, I don’t have any kind of certificate or anything. But short answer: no, we never slept together. Suits us both just fine.

Charles: Max introduced me to some other people going through a lot of the same thing — it’s rough, just coming out to yourself when you’re nearly 40. Maybe you can imagine what it’s like dealing honestly with other people for the first time. We called it the “Coming Out Party.” Gallows humor, but it fit.

What was the catalyst for you?

Charles: To come out? I don’t think it was any one thing. Tina had her career, and I had mine, and we both stayed involved in Kelly’s life as much as we could — but we let our own relationship dry up. Over time, I started looking for more than what I had — but the strange thing to me at the time was, the people I was attracted to weren’t women. That’s when I started really thinking about all the things I’d taken for granted about myself.

Self-examination can be tough.

Charles: Tell me about it. Tina noticed something, put two and two together, and confronted me — she asked me if I was seeing another woman. I could honestly tell her “no,” and that bought me a little time. In fact, I went on for six more months, trying to decide first whether I really was gay or just having a midlife crisis; second what I should do about it. Kelly was twelve when I finally couldn’t hide from myself anymore. I went to her first, told her I loved her and would always be there for her, but I was gay and I had no idea what her mom would do when I told her. She cried a little, but then said she been wondering about that for a while and I was still her dad. That meant a lot to me.

Then I went to Tina… that didn’t go so well. Tina told you about her parents, they raised her with certain assumptions about the world and a person’s role in it. She rejected a lot of their teachings, but sometimes even the rejection is only skin-deep. I said I was willing to stay married to her, and not have a relationship outside the marriage, but she wasn’t listening at that point. I ended up grabbing some essentials and bailing to a hotel for the night. After she went to work, I rented a pickup truck — it wasn’t white, though — then came back and got the rest of my things. After she cooled off, we got a no-fault divorce and agreed to joint custody of Kelly, but Tina really didn’t want to have much to do with me.

Max: She thinks she made you gay, on some level, you know.

Charles: That’s… well, it’s silly. And Tina doesn’t do silly well.

Max, what’s your story?

Max: In some ways, I had it easier than Charles. I always knew I was different, even when I was in kindergarten. I was always a pretty big kid though, so even if the other kids didn’t like me being different they didn’t bother me too much. I realized what kind of different I was in middle school… when most boys start thinking about girls, I thought about boys. I had some relationships through high school, but Georgia being Georgia we had to keep them under the table. I hated that. I wanted to be able to show off my boyfriend like they showed off their girlfriends.

College was a lot more tolerant, and that’s when I joined the fight for equal rights. You know how some people are: they have to have someone they can feel superior to. Fifty years ago, that was blacks. Now — or until last week, anyway — it was the GLBT folks. So I was working to make the hate go away. The haters drove off instead… well, most of them did.

So Sondra was dating your nephew… sounds like you guys had some friction there.

Max: I won’t try to say everything was wonderful between Philip and me, but he respected me personally even if he didn’t like “the gay” in general. He was like any high schooler — really sensitive about his identity — so I tried to cut him a little slack in return. He lived up in Marietta, she was in Druid Hills, and I’m really not sure how he met Sondra. Maybe it was online. He brought her over, and they ended up spending a lot of time with me, so I got to know her pretty well. She also got along well with the neighbors, so she was still coming around to visit even after she stopped seeing Philip. She’s not a bad person at all, even if she did break up with Philip over nothing… then again, Philip was known to shade the truth a bit if it would make him look better. Maybe I ought to get Sondra’s side of the story.

So do you think it’s her fault he drove off?

Max: No. My sister called me Wednesday night, asking if he was here, and he wasn’t. By late Friday, it was a reasonable assumption that he’d driven off — his parents stopped answering the phone early Friday evening too. But grief is a funny thing sometimes — Sondra was around, and Philip wasn’t, and I put two and two together…

And got 22?

Max: Something like that. Her aunt and uncle drove off some time Friday afternoon, we think, and she came over here because we were easier to reach. Her grandmother probably drove off too, but Sondra wasn’t too sure about that.

Charles: I think we’re digressing a bit here.

Yeah. So what do you think happened?

Max: Maybe the Rapture didn’t turn out quite the way they expected.

Charles: I’m not sure. I’ve never been much of a spiritual person, but this suggests the supernatural. If Scotty beamed them up, what’s with the pickups?

Max: Good point. All the cars turning into pickups and people disappearing… yeah, supernatural.

Now what?

Max: What do you mean?

What do you think you’ll do now?

Charles: Live. Try to build something better than we used to have.

Max: I guess we’ll end up taking one for the team.


Max: We’ll need to contribute to the gene pool, there’s not enough people left for us to stay with our preferences. One-nighters, whatever.

You say that like it’s a bad thing. ;-) Do you think it’ll be socially unacceptable to be gay in the future, just because of the population issue?

Charles: I for one can’t have a long-term sexual relationship with a woman. Believe me, I tried already. But things being how they are, I suspect that reproductive arrangements might be a bit loose for a few generations. We’ll cope. It’s our grandchildren I’m worried about, assuming we have any.

Back to Episode 19…

Monday, January 25, 2010 9 comments

White Pickups, Episode 19

Our heroes — some of them, anyway — have another long day ahead of them…


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cody unscrewed the milk cap and sniffed. “Smells okay,” he said. “You wanna eat here, or go down to Tina’s? Either way’s fine with me.”

“They’ll have coffee at Tina’s, won’t they?” Sondra grinned. “I get grumpy if I don’t have my coffee. We don’t wanna go there.” She patted her holster. “Especially when I’m armed.”

“Fine with me,” Cody said. “I’ll grab eggs and bacon, just in case they’re missing that stuff. We can take the cereal too.”

“Hey, look who decided to join us!” Tim said as Cody and Sondra walked in.

“Beware, geek bearing gifts!” Cody said, hoisting his bags. Sondra made a beeline to the coffee pot.

“Did you bring eggs?” Tina asked. “Oh, thank God! I don’t know how I ran out of eggs and didn’t notice.” She took the bags. “Bacon and milk too? I think I have those, but thanks for thinking about it.” She lowered her voice. “So… what happened last night?” She glanced at Sondra, stirring her coffee.

“Nothing,” Cody said, shaking his hair back. “Nothing like that anyway. We’re wearing the same clothes we had on all night.”

“Talking about us?” Sondra said, slurping her coffee and crossing the kitchen. She hugged Cody with her free hand, making him grin. “Not like there’s much to talk about, so far.”

“I got that,” Tina said. “You guys want to give Kelly and Sara a break and help me cook this up?”

“Sure.” Sondra took another swig of coffee.

“Great. Can either of you cook? Both of you?”

“Yeah, I can fix breakfast,” Cody said.

“My grandmother was Italian,” Sondra said. “She wouldn’t let me see my tenth birthday before I learned to cook.”

“Oh… pancakes, eggs, and bacon for eight, then. I’ll leave you to it.”

“Hmph,” Cody snorted as Tina left. “What happened to helping her?”

“No problem,” Sondra said, kissing Cody’s cheek before letting him go. “We have more room to maneuver, and I’ve got a direct line to the coffee!” She finished her first cup and poured another. “Do I need to save any of this for you?”

“Nah,” Cody said. “I never got into drinking the stuff.”

“Give it a couple years — you’ll want it, and there won’t be any. You want to do the pancakes, and I’ll take the bacon and eggs?”


Charles, Max, and Tim mounted up after breakfast; the others gathered to see them off. Charles hugged Sondra and whispered, “Try to forgive Max. He knows he was out of line, and he did apologize. And thanks for not poisoning his eggs.”

“I’ll try. You guys be careful. Don’t let Tim get too far ahead of you.”

“Hurry back, you guys!” Sara called at Tim.

“Weather permitting,” Tim said. “You know what we need? Someone to get a knee injury, so they can tell when the bad weather’s coming.” Everyone laughed. “Now watch, it’ll be me.”

“Remember to bring everyone to the clubhouse when you come back,” Tina said. “We’ll make sure everyone’s fed and gets a place of their own.”

“Morning’s getting away from us, folks,” Charles said. “Welcome to the first day of fall. Let’s get rolling.” Cody pushed the exit gate open; the three men rode through and Cody pulled it shut behind them.

“Hey, watch those trucks!” Cody yelled after them. They waved, coasted around the corner, and disappeared.

“Okay, we’re back to five, for now,” Tina said. “We’ve got a bunch of townhouses to air out and lots of food to gather in the next few days. Let’s get at it. I figure we can work in teams again to clear the units, each one will go quicker that way. We’ll need to feed pets as we find them, and go around to the houses we checked yesterday morning. Sondra, would you be able to put down unfriendly dogs?”

“If I have to.”

“Tim had to put one down yesterday morning. Do what you have to to be mentally prepared.”


“Good. We went over this with Charles and Tim last night — we’ve decided to concentrate on the townhouses near the clubhouse for settling the newcomers. That means we’ll be focusing on Clubhouse Drive today. Tomorrow, we’ll go hunt some more groceries. We’ll have to start focusing on what they used to call ‘staples’ — flour, sugar, and the like — because baked goods will be going stale soon. Rice, beans, potatoes, onions, anything that will keep.”

“Maybe we should get the groceries today and tackle the houses tomorrow,” Cody suggested. “We’ll need carpet cleaners if a dog peed on it. Or the furniture.”

“I was counting on some groceries being in the houses,” Tina said. “If we don’t know what’s already in the pantry, we won’t know how much we’ll need.”

“But we’ll need it all, eventually,” Sondra said.

“But we can’t carry it all home right now anyway, even with the trailers,” Sara pointed out.

“Good point.”

“I’m all for putting off the cleaning,” said Sara, “but there’s probably cleaning stuff in the clubhouse, if the houses don’t have any. Besides, if we put it off another day, it might be worse tomorrow. If we can get the dogs outside now, they won’t cause any more damage.”

“Okay, we’ll do it your way,” Cody said. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Good,” Sara said. “Kelly and I can do one unit, you three can take the unit next door. That way, we’ll be close together in case we need… expertise.” She waved a hand at Sondra’s holster.

Kelly shrugged. “Works for me,” said Tina.

The townhouses (actually condominiums by another name) were built with their entries facing each other across a hallway. The units on each end had three bedrooms, and all five of them attacked those units and split up to work on units across the hallway from each other. The townhouses were stacked two high: a total of four three-bedroom units, twenty two-bedroom units, and eight one-bedroom units. They held few surprises — just smelly refrigerators and the occasional pet cleanup. All the dogs were small and either friendly to — or at least intimidated by — the intruders. The worst incidents were when two cats bolted out one door and kept running. Several doors were locked, but not deadbolted; Cody used a portable drill to neutralize the locks. “We’ll get some new doorknobs from the Home Center, if we have to,” he said, looking pleased. They rolled a generator to the townhouses and ran extension cords through windows for lights and vacuum cleaners.

Kelly was burrowing under a bed, sliding boxes of random personal belongings into the walkway, when Sara asked her, “Are you doing alright?”

Another box skidded out from under the bed. “Sure,” Kelly said, her voice muffled. “Why?”

“Oh… I just thought you seemed a bit down since yesterday afternoon.”

Silence for a moment. “What do you mean?”

“Well… you didn’t seem that interested in getting to know Cody, but you didn’t like it when Sondra swooped in and carried him off. What’s that about?”

A box careened out from under the bed, traveling nearly halfway across the room, followed (more slowly) by Kelly. “I don’t know,” she said, standing and straightening her hair. “Why should I care who he runs around with?” She shook her head and looked at her shoes. “But I do.”


Conversations: Charles Ball and Max Wright

Friday, January 22, 2010 3 comments

The Boy, by the Numbers (v2.0)

With this week’s TB02, I figured it was time to update the error codes. Here’s a link to the old error codes.

TB01: Left home (again)
TB02: Came home (again)
TB03: Said he’d be home, stayed out, hasn’t returned
TB04: Had a tantrum, broke something
TB05: Caught in a lie, insisting on his version of things
TB06: Talks about getting a job, no follow-through
TB09: Blames everyone else for his problems
TB21: Spent all morning in bed
TB22: Got drunk
TB23: Talks about quitting smoking/drinking, no follow-through
TB24: Talks about getting his own place, no follow-through
TB25: Band is about to be signed (again)
TB26: Not checking glucose/taking insulin
TB27: Said he'd help, disappeared/kept sleeping
TB28: Calls us at 3 a.m., emotional meltdown

Code TB07 (GED talk) was retired as he actually did get his GED. TB08 (band signed) has been replaced by the more accurate TB25 (about to be signed).

And in interest of fairness, Snippet deserves her own collection of error codes:

SN01: FATAL ERROR: Lobbed F-bomb at Mrs. Fetched or Daughter Dearest
SN02: Asked to sleep for “10 more minutes,” still in bed an hour later
SN03: Caught in a lie
SN04: Drinking (claims to be allergic to alcohol)
SN05: Blames other people for the friction in her life
SN06: Spent all morning in bedNote 1
SN07: Says she'll help, no follow-through
SN08: Says something monumentally weird
SN09: Says she wants to get her GED, no follow-through

And finally, some error codes take two to tango:

TS01: Abandoned Mason to us with little or no warning
TS02: Had a fight
TS03: Brought some weird friend to the manorNote 2

Note 1: Implies SN02. Often occurs in conjunction with TB21.
Note 2: Some of Snippet’s weird friends are pleasant to look at, but I wouldn’t want to keep them…

I expect that TB21, SN02, and SN06 will happen so often that it won’t be worth mentioning most of the time beyond just flagging the codes. On the other hand, they’ll be the ones getting up with Mason through the night, so I’m just a little inclined to cut ’em some slack there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 5 comments

Mason and a TB02

Well, it’s official: The Boy has moved back in. They cleaned out the apartment yesterday and finished cleaning it up today. To “honor” the occasion, I’ve decided to update the TB error codes and add some SN codes for Snippet. I’m sure they would say I also need FF, MF, and DD codes to round out the list, but tough rocks. We’re not as consistently flaky. I’ll post the new codes Friday.

Mason eating rice mushMason reached several milestones this week. Mrs. Fetched made him up some rice mush Monday evening and fed it to him, and he did pretty well with it. Sure, it was a sloppy mess, but he got more in him than on him (even if the picture doesn’t suggest that). He’s been getting a little bowl of it late in the evening, in hopes it will stay with him longer than the bottle does. He often refuses getting the bottle late in the evening, because he knows it puts him to sleep… but only if we’re sitting with him. If we’re standing up and give it to him, he’ll take it.

I also noticed earlier this week that he’s starting to anticipate — if I’m tickling him, for example, he’ll start laughing before I actually get his ribs/neck/leg. And the big one: he’s starting to figure out self-propulsion. Last night, I laid him face-down on the carpet and watched… after a minute of struggle, he got up on his knees, pushed himself forward a foot, then did it again. He may or may not figure out crawling; neither The Boy nor Daughter Dearest did much of it. They were both walker babies (no stairs going down to contend with) and started walking around age 10 months. Mason’s legs are strong enough to walk now, but his balance isn’t there yet. The other thing he’s figured out is how to grab stuff. I may put off getting new glasses for six months or so.

With Spring #1 giving us cool and rainy weather, I throttled back the firebox quite a bit this morning. After choir practice, I brought in an armload. “It’s probably out,” Mrs Fetched said, “I didn’t get to it all day.” Au contraire, it was still good and hot when I approached, and there were plenty of coals and even a couple sticks left inside. I tossed in what I brought, left the door propped open for the bellows effect, and got some more. Now it’s throttled back again and should keep the living room warm all night.

I’m seriously considering dropping out of the church choir after Easter. I don’t enjoy the draggy-twangy music that the rest of them adore, and they’re not much interested in doing anything new (or, except for the choir director, a little difficult). Mrs. Fetched has already pretty much detached herself from church, mostly due to the chicken houses but she has a few issues of her own with how things are going. Then again, once Mason is consistently sleeping all night (and so am I), I might pull out of it and change my mind.

Monday, January 18, 2010 3 comments

White Pickups, Episode 18

Thus concludes the long Tuesday…


Max walked in and picked up his cards.

“Was she there?” Charles asked.

“Yup,” Max said, straightening his hand.

“Well, what happened then?”

“Could’ve been worse. Sondra could’ve shot me.” He stared at his hand.


“I didn’t handle things well at all. I went all moralizer on Cody, and he called me on it. Then I brought up Philip.”

“Oh God.”


“Could someone fill the rest of us in, please?” Tina asked.

Max sighed. “Sondra was seeing my nephew, Philip, until about a month ago. He said she left him, and didn’t give a reason. We think he was one of the earliest drive-offs, and it’s been a touchy subject between us ever since. Then to see her hanging all over this boy she just met today… well, let’s just say I didn’t handle it well.” Kelly glanced up at him, then took a deep interest in her own cards as he continued:

“I guess Sondra told him she wanted to eat junk food and play video games, and he told her he could do that for her, so they took off to his place. When he tried to explain that, I told him to stay out of it, and he teed off on me.”

“Do you think they’re… together?” Sara asked, waving her hands.

“I don’t know,” Max said. “If they are, I suppose it will be obvious soon enough. But when I said she should tell him about Philip, she went for her gun. Fortunately, she’d taken it off.”

“Now… I’m worried for Cody,” Tina said. “Is she usually that violent?”

“If you’d asked me that before Friday, I’d have laughed,” Max said. “Now? I don’t know for sure. She had no problem with the looters Friday night, and things might have gone really badly if she’d been on the other side on Saturday. Or not there at all, even. Maybe she treated it like a video game… but I’ve known her for a while and I don’t think she was into the shooter games. I don’t think Cody is in any danger from her, unless he does something monumentally stupid.”

“He’s in great peril!” Charles quoted in a fake British accent.

“Can’t he have just a little peril?” Max replied with the same accent, then looked around the table. “Sorry.”

Tim snorted. “It took me a minute,” he said. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Tina laughed; Sara and Kelly shrugged.

“What do you mean, ‘went all moralizer’ on Cody?” Sara asked.

“He explained what was going on with the video games, and offered to take the blame. I told him to stay out of it, and that it was irresponsible of him to be wasting gas on that. He told me… well, he told me that I had no right to tell him what he could and couldn’t do in his own house.”

“Ouch, big ouch!” Charles said.

“What?” Tim asked.

“I’m sure you know, we’d always dealt with a certain mindset among some straights who wanted to tell us how we could live our lives, what we could do in the privacy of our homes, the whole nine yards,” Charles explained. “Max has been an activist in that regard, trying to get us the rights that everyone else has… and tonight, he got caught doing it himself. Naughty Max.”

“You become what you hate,” Sara said. “It’s God’s cosmic justice, I think.”

“I don’t know if that’s the whole truth,” Max said, “but it explains some things. Well, these cards aren’t going to play themselves. Who’s turn is it?”

For a while, the only sounds were cards sliding across the table and occasional purring from Shady. Finally, Tina spoke up: “Cody has been nothing but a responsible, helpful young man since we met him. He has his quirks, to be sure, but he doesn’t let them get in the way. In a lot of ways, this has been easier on him than anyone else, but he’s made things easier on the rest of us. He’s pretty young to be having a girlfriend sleeping over, but I’m not his mother. And—” she looked at Kelly — “neither are any of us. All we can do is hope they’re responsible, and make sure they know what everyone expects from each other.” Kelly said nothing, lips pressed together so tight her mouth nearly disappeared.

“Hm. What do we expect from each other?” Charles asked.

“Ha! I’m out!” Sara chortled and laid her cards down.

“I’ve got… forty-two points,” Tina said. As the others were counting up their cards, she continued, “I think we should expect everyone to not hoard, whether it’s food, information, or anything else. We should expect no pretense. We should all arrive at a decision, with everyone’s honest opinion considered.”

“Is that how you ran things at Maxcom?”

“Not completely, Charles — but in case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t Maxcom. It’s soon to be thirty people trying to survive in a world that has mostly driven off.”

Everyone called out their scores; Sara wrote them down. Tim gathered up the cards and began shuffling. “So what’s the agenda for tomorrow?”

“We head back,” Charles said. “Then we convince everyone to come up here. Like I said, I don’t think it’ll be a hard sell. Sondra already said she wanted to stay here, this afternoon. I don’t think we told you, her right arm has looked like that since she stuck it in a pickup, trying to take it out of gear. She told me this afternoon it doesn’t feel quite so numb away from the trucks, so I’m not surprised.”

Tina and Kelly stared at each other. Sara sighed.

“That’s rough. I’ll take her place, if you’re willing,” Tim said as he dealt. “Thirty people is a pretty big group ride, and I’ve organized rides that big before. Do you have a bike shop close by your place? Is the owner still there?”

“There’s one a few blocks away,” Max said. “Nobody ’s there, though. The owner either drove off or abandoned it. Yeah, we could use someone who knows what they’re doing, getting everyone packed up and moving. Things might be a bit dangerous down there, though… that’s one reason I’d like to have Sondra with us. She hit what she shot at.”

“I shot a drunk who smashed out my shop window with a crowbar,” Tim said. “That’s more than anyone else here has done. I’m not a killing machine, but I think I’d be okay in a fight.”

“Okay, that works,” Charles said. “I’ll run by Cody’s in the morning after breakfast, just to make sure Sondra hasn’t changed her mind about staying. Assuming they don’t show up here first.”


Saturday, January 16, 2010 4 comments

Spring #1, 2010

The snow is gone, the temps aren’t going below freezing past the end of the 7-day forecast, and the rain will arrive in the next couple of hours. That’s Spring #1 on Planet Georgia.

Mason granted us a late start to the three-day weekend (shhhh, don’t tell Mrs. Fetched); after a 6 a.m. breakfast call, he slept almost until 9… and so did we. That doesn’t mean we don’t have stuff to do — far from it — but a little rest is always a good thing to have before a busy day. While Mrs. Fetched (and Kobold) went to the chicken houses, and Daughter Dearest watched the micro-dude, I went out and gathered up the last of the dry wood and about half of the green wood to load up the rack in the garage. Mrs. Fetched had me scoot the rack over, in hopes that she can get someone out here to install the Freecycle Special garage door opener this week.

I'm poopin'... false alarmMason was laying on the bed just now, doing a near-perfect imitation of this LOLcat. It kind of reminded me of The Boy, back when he was about four months old…

One Sunday morning, the three of us were in the kitchen, me holding The Boy. He was in a pretty good mood, and chattering away about the state of the universe and anything else that came to mind. Then he got quiet for a moment, looked at Mrs. Fetched, and went, “Nnnnnnnnn.”

Mrs. Fetched smiled at him. “Are you loading your diaper?”

Big grin. “NNNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnnn!

As new parents, we thought that gathering up all the atomic diapers and dropping them on Iraq would have ended the war rather quickly.

Speaking of The Boy, he and Snippet are actually pulling the “moving back into the manor” string. They moved a bunch of stuff into the detached garage last night, displacing the in-laws’ four-wheeler, then went back to the apartment for the night. It’ll be nice when they’re actually here and taking care of Mason.

Mason milestones: he got a little cereal (rice) in his bottle for the first time last night. It didn’t seem to bother him, and we’re hoping it will stick with him a little longer and help him sleep through the night. All of the squats he’s been doing (not the kind above) have started to pay off: if he’s laying on the bed, and someone takes his hands, he’ll pull himself up… then if you raise his hands over his head, he’ll get his feet under him and pull himself up. I don’t think even The Boy was doing that kind of thing when he was four months old, and he was a strong baby too. I’ll get video and post it soon… my DSLR doesn’t do video, and Daughter Dearest left her Coolpix at her campus apartment, so we’ll grab a camcorder.

Three more things I want to accomplish today: 1) Now that the Christmas tree is put away, bring the Evil Exerbike back inside and start using it; 2) Make sure the new generator has gas and oil in it, and start it; 3) Make a baton for Daughter Dearest’s conducting class (I ordered her one off Amazon, and they canceled the order because they were out of stock). The latter is a fairly easy job; the hardware store has file handles that are the perfect size for a baton; all I have to do is widen the hole and glue a foot of dowel into it, then paint or stain it.

Given that Monday is a holiday, and it looks to be sunny, I’ll be cutting some firewood. I had to take the in-laws’ four-wheeler back to its usual place (after charging the battery enough to get it started), and noticed another large dead tree on the other side of the back garden. Easy access for the tractor, and there’s easily enough wood for a week or two of fire when Winter #2 arrives.

Thursday, January 14, 2010 2 comments

Appliances and other minutiae

Yes, I did mention the incredible spark-shooting refrigerator incident from late last month/year/decade (pick one). We packed the other fridge as full as we could, and things that didn’t absolutely have to be kept cold (e.g. coffee can) went in the pantry. Over the last couple weeks, we slowly winnowed out leftovers and I was starting to think we really could live like normal people who only have one fridge in the kitchen… then Mrs. Fetched caught the neighbor (who does appliance repair, among other things) and asked him to come have a look. It took him about 20 minutes to see, find, and fix the problem: there’s a rather elaborate wiring harness going into the door, to support accessories we never had, and something in there shorted out. He took the direct approach, cutting it all away and capping the wires. The ice dispenser no longer runs, but it wasn’t that useful anyway. Rats… I was going to try locating one of those old bread-making stations with the pull-out kneading board and flour dispenser; it would have fit nicely into that space taken up by the (now working anew) fridge and given us a little more work space.

A while back, the garage door opener gave up the ghost — or the “up limit” switch did, anyway — and we’ve not had cars in the garage since then. Mrs. Fetched happened to run into a guy who works on garage doors and the like, and I got him the make and model of the unit to see if he had a working switch in his bonepile; he didn’t. But I learned a while ago… if you wait long enough, stuff you need to come to you. Some guy on Freecycle offered up a garage door opener, but someone else claimed it pretty quickly. But more often than you might think, whoever claims something doesn’t ever come to pick it up, so I emailed the guy anyway and asked him to let me know if that happened. Sure enough, a couple days later he emailed me and told me to just come pick it up out of his driveway. Then we got snowed on and I asked for a little extra time, no problem. This evening, I borrowed a pickup truck, grabbed The Boy since his apartment was on the way, and we went and got it. Now we just need to contact the garage guy and have him come put it up. And get a couple of remotes.

Mason had his checkup yesterday. He’s continuing to get ever bigger (we know) and he’s been cleared to eat more than formula (cereal and veggies, no fruit yet) — big milestone there! I don’t know when we’ll try giving him anything, but if I have the opportunity you know I will get a cereal-spackled face picture. He’s been pushing the limits of fighting sleep lately, but when he’s up past 11 we have a pretty good chance at a full night’s sleep, hooray! We’ve had two full-nighters this week, and the way things are going tonight we might get another one. The Boy and Snippet say they’re going to start moving into the manor this weekend, which for me is a big ol’ pile of mixed emotions. It’ll be nice to have them taking care of their own kid, but there’s going to be no small amount of friction. Maybe I’ll get to do some more writing again; I haven’t had much opportunity in the last couple of weeks, but I haven’t worried about it too much because White Pickups is really slow going. The good news is that I have 5 months’ worth of episodes in the can, and I’ve started going back to fill in some details of the Sondra-Cody-Kelly triangle. The big issue is that a major change happens, but I’m not sure why. I know how the story ends, pretty much, but there’s a long stretch of middle/late stuff to get through. It’ll happen.

Now Mason is kaput, I hope until at least 6:30, and I need to get in bed myself…

Monday, January 11, 2010 8 comments

White Pickups, Episode 17


Cody gave a surprised “Mmmf,” but made no attempt to break off the kiss. He let go of her arm and pulled her closer; she shifted his way. Cody had hoped this would happen, but he was used to suppressing that kind of hope. There were two girls left in the world more or less his age; the first showed no interest but the second seemed to understand him and showed plenty of interest. All the assholes are gone, he thought, and now I’ve got a girlfriend. It only took the end of the world to make it happen.

Still kissing, they leaned back onto the bed. A crackling noise stopped them. “The chips,” Cody whispered. “Let’s put everything on the floor.”

They got the bed cleaned off and were about to resume when a pounding at the front door interrupted them. “What the —”

“I hope everything’s okay,” Sondra said; they hurried to the front door.

Max stood there in the dusk. “What’s up?” Cody said. “How did you find the place?”

“Tina gave me directions,” Max said with a shrug. “Once I turned onto the street, the only house with a generator running and lights on had to be you.”

“What are you doing here?” Sondra let go of Cody’s shoulder. She crossed her arms and glared.

“I was going to ask you that,” Max said, stepping just inside. “You took off, and didn’t tell anyone where you were going. Just because we’re in suburbia doesn’t mean we can stop being careful.”

“Well, if you’d have thought about it you could have figured it out,” Sondra snapped. “Everyone else was at Tina’s, and I don’t have my own house here yet, so logic should have told you we’d be here.”

“You didn’t answer me.”

“Answer what?”

“If you want to blame someone, blame me,” Cody cut in. “Sondra said this would be a perfect day if she could pig out on junk food and play video games. I have both of them here, so I invited her over.”

“You can stay out of this,” Max snapped. “I wasn’t talking to — shit, don’t tell me you’re wasting gas just to play video games — of all the irresponsible —”

Cody swelled up and stormed right up to Max. “The hell you say! I don’t know how you roll downtown, but out here my place means my place. The HOA all drove off, so there’s nobody left to tell me what I can or can’t fucking do in my own damn house! I ain’t letting anyone I just met today tell me my business!”

Max opened his mouth, shut it, stopped, stepped back. “Are you using gas just for a damn video game?”

Duh. I’ve got a refrigerator and a freezer full of meat and fish and stuff. I guess we’ll have to start hunting when that’s gone, so I run it a few hours a day to keep it all cold.”

“Yeah… so what were you playing?”

“Grand Prix Racing,” Sondra said. “I suppose you’ll want to see the paused game on the screen to prove it.”

“I don’t guess that’s necessary,” Max said. “When are you coming back down?”

“I might just stay here,” she said. “There’s — how many bedrooms?”

“Three,” said Cody, stepping back next to Sondra.

“Three bedrooms. I’m sure I can find a place to sleep.”

“Yeah. Just make sure you tell him about Philip before you ‘bed down’.”

Sondra’s eyes grew wide and she swelled up. “That’s low!” she barked, slapping her right side; Max’s eyes grew wide at the gesture. “Get out, you queer son of a bitch!” She kicked the door; it hit Max and bounced back, staggering him onto the porch. She slammed it shut and started crying.

Max raised his hand to open the door, then lowered it. He shook his head and turned away.

Cody stood stunned for a moment, then thought: She’s my girlfriend now. I’ve got to do something. “Hey. It’s all right,” he said. She let him lead her around the coffee table to the couch in the living room. He held her while she cried, stroking her hair and whispering “it’s all right,” over and over. He thought it sounded dumb, but couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Sondra grew quiet, and finally wiped her eyes with the bottom of her t-shirt, giving Cody a brief glimpse of the bottom of her bra. “Asshole. Max, I mean,” she said. “Comes to check up on us, and brings up Philip —”

“Who’s Philip?”

“My ex-boyfriend. He broke up with me about a month ago, then he disappeared Wednesday evening. We think he drove off. I’ve really felt bad about that. I wouldn’t sleep with him, that’s why he broke up with me.”

“What does Max care?”

“Philip was his nephew. I think he blames me for him driving off. He doesn’t know. Sometimes I blame myself for him driving off anyway.”

“You shouldn’t. You know what I think?”

“About what?”

“The drive-offs. They were the ones who wanted everyone to be like them, or who wanted to be like someone else. That’s why all the preps and jocks drove off first thing. This Philip asshole wanted you to be his idea of a girlfriend. Not too many people want to just be themselves, or let other people be themselves. That’s us. We live, we let live, we ignore the call of the pickup.”

Sondra thought about it for a few seconds. “That sounds… logical, I guess. But what does it mean?”

He took her shoulders and gave her a ferocious grin. “It means we’re free! We can be ourselves, and nobody’s around to try to make us be different! Makes me wonder how Max didn’t drive off.”

“He was probably upset. Tonight, I mean. He’s right about not letting our guard down… I know you heard Charles talk about what happened over the weekend, but maybe you had to be there to really understand.”

“Yeah. The only people we met before you guys was Tim and Sara, and Tim had a run-in with a looter. But other than that, we haven’t seen anyone else.”

“Hm. If your theory is true, maybe all the other suburbanites drove off. They mostly seemed like the cookie-cutter type.”

“Some are. The HOA people, definitely. There’s probably more real people, people like us, holed up here and there. We just need to find them.”


They held each other on the couch, in the darkened living room, for a long while as dusk became night. The generator hummed in the background, chugging occasionally as the refrigerator or freezer kicked on. Cody finally spoke up: “Sondra? Have you ever… you know…”

“Had sex? No.”

“Neither have I.”

“So neither one of us knows what to do, right?”

Cody chuckled. “I don’t care. Tonight, just having a girlfriend is enough. If you want to sleep with me — I mean sleep — I wouldn’t mind, though.”

“I’d like that, Cody.”

“I was okay being by myself before, but now I’d rather have you with me than be alone. I guess things are different.”

“Yeah. So which bed do we get? Yours?”

“The master bedroom is more comfortable. Besides, if we change our minds about the sex, there’s condoms in the nightstand.”

Sondra laughed. “Always planning ahead. How long do you let the generator run?”

“Another hour or two. Do you want to go back to the race?”

“I’ve got a better idea,” she said, and kissed him again.


Sunday, January 10, 2010 No comments

Manor Fever

Snow on fenceBetween working at home as usual on Wednesday and Thursday, and icy roads on Friday keeping me here, I’ve mostly been cooped up in the Manor with Mason. Mrs. Fetched’s mom came up to watch him when I was working, but I had him all to myself most of yesterday and Mrs. Fetched has once again bolted for the chicken houses this morning and I’m skipping church (if it hasn’t been cancelled).

Friday evening, Mr. Sunshine and his entire family (including J’s oldest from her first marriage, Kobold) came up to the manor to visit and eat — the good thing there is J makes quesadillas so we don’t have to cook. Kobold has, just in the last week, moved back from Indiana with his fiance and their 2-year old daughter (more about her later) — he left a few years ago, fed up with Mr. Sunshine and the control-freakery streak that seems to run pretty deep in that side of the family, to live with his bio-father and that side of the family. While he was up there, he picked up an affinity for farming and stepped right in to help Mrs. Fetched after Panda found more lucrative work. Mrs. Fetched and Kobold had run into a major electrical problem with the feed lines — as in, fire and flames. She described the problem to me, and I figured (from listening to her) that I had a pretty good idea what was causing the problem. Mistake #2: I said I thought I knew what it was. Since the repair dude was stuck with impassible roads between here and there, I got volunteered to see if I could fix it.

Saying “Mistake #2” above is not a misprint… Mistake #1 is one I should have learned not to make last time: assuming Mrs. Fetched has correctly diagnosed the problem. I’ve noticed in the last few months that her vision has been a bit off — I have to read fine print for her, for example — and she won’t admit there’s a problem. But I digress. When she said she “saw fire shooting out the downspout,” I wrongly assumed that she really saw it. Therefore, I was expecting a short in the motor housing, where she was expecting something actually in the feed line. Thus, up the ladder I go to inspect the wiring (she’d removed the cover earlier) and to pull the downspout bracket off the line. Seeing nothing obvious — no burned spots, no loose wires — I came down and had her hit the breaker while I looked up. There was a bright orange flash, all right, but it was down in the feed hopper… and then I saw smoke coming off the plug where the switch connects to the system. She should have seen the smoke, but more importantly, she should have taken the methodical approach and checked the easy stuff first. There is no time more wasted then time wasted in unnecessary diversions at the chicken houses.

Sad MasonNow Mason’s a pretty good kid, at least most of the time. One attribute he’s picked up from The Boy, though, is that he fights going to sleep — and last night, he did a fine job of keeping it at bay for quite a while.

He’s old enough now that he can associate things: like eating (especially a warm bottle) makes him sleepy — and does very well at communicating concepts like “DO NOT WANT!!!” without words as we know them. So he started fighting before 10, and was up way past 11 last night; it was an ultimately losing battle, but I suppose every minute staying awake is a victory of sorts…

So he was sucking his fist, which is usually the “I’m hungry” sign, so we got the bottle warmed up and gave it to him. He sucked on it for a few seconds, his eyes started flagging, then he jerked away from the bottle and squalled. Rocking wasn’t doing it either — he knows what that’s for, and doesn’t want anything to do with it. Fortunately, I have an ace in the hole. His dad liked to swing, his Aunt Daughter Dearest loved to rock, and his happy thing is getting walked around. Mrs. Fetched says I spoiled him, but I discovered it by accident when he was a few weeks old — I had him, he was crying, and I remembered his plug (pacifier, it stops up the noise… sometimes) was in the bedroom. So I carried him with me, and he stopped crying before I’d gotten to the bedroom. So when he won’t rock, he’ll still let me walk him around, and he’s settling down before I reach the bedroom. A few laps through the house is usually enough to get him calmed down enough where we can finish rocking him to sleep.

I’ve learned a few things about Mason in the last few days. I knew he catnaps through the day — anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, and you never know how long until he wakes up — but I found that once he eats (it doesn’t make him sleepy when he just woke up) and I play with him for about an hour, he’s worn out and ready for another nap. That won’t last long… probably sooner than later, he’ll start consolidating the catnaps into a longer afternoon nap. But by then, he should be scooting around in a walker and wearing himself out.

Meanwhile, Daughter Dearest has had dorm fever — she wanted to come home this weekend, but the main highway has been closed. I think it finally got cleared out last night, so we’re going to meet for lunch.

Friday, January 08, 2010 5 comments

Anniversaries and Snow

Mason bathThere were a couple of milestones this week. The biggie was me & Mrs. Fetched being married 25 years as of Tuesday. Doesn’t seem that long, usually, but it’s like half my life so far. We were courier-ing some school books to Daughter Dearest, that’s how we spent the evening. Big splash, huh?

The other was Mason reached four months on Wednesday. Lordy, the kid is developing… in the last week or so, he’s really started vocalizing. If he’s happy, or annoyed, he’ll let you know. Constantly. The other thing he’s started doing is squats. Literally. He’ll stand in someone’s lap and up… down… up… down… without much support except for balance. Baby Buns of Steel! Seriously, he has really strong legs and his neck muscles have always been pretty good. P.O.D’s young bride, who works in a daycare, told us about a kid who’s bigger and older than Mason and still needs help supporting his head.

He’s almost sleeping through the night. He’ll give us a 5 a.m. wake-up call from time to time, but 7 a.m. is getting more common. It’s really too bad The Boy and Snippet are missing most of this… they’ll regret it later.

Snowy roadOTOH, today was not a day for anyone to get out if it could be avoided. Winter #1 has been pretty cold, as far as winter goes on Planet Georgia these days… lots of days that it didn’t get above freezing. We finally got a little snow out of the deal. Down in Atlanta and points south, it was one of those nights where it rained, switched over to snow, then froze; here it was just snow. About an inch, enough to throw the pod people into panic — if they’re not wetting their pants over a random brown guy in a turban, an inch of snow will do it. Seeing as I was working at home yesterday, and the office was within the melt-freeze zone, I elected to stay here and work. The snow will stay around a while, since it won’t get above freezing until Tuesday. Daughter Dearest had most of her classes shut down today, so she got some exercise.

An electrical problem has occurred at the chicken houses, so I must go to see what that’s about…

Wednesday, January 06, 2010 4 comments

White Pickups, Conversations: Sondra Lucado



Well what?

What am I supposed to be doing?

Talking about yourself.

Oh. Well, my name is Sondra, and no I’m not a goth. I’m 18, and I was just into my senior year of high school when the trucks came.

Right, like that. What was your family situation like?

My mom disappeared when I was like eight. She drank a lot. So did my dad, but he tried to raise me as best as he could. When that didn’t work out, my grandmother and uncle took over. I mostly lived with my aunt and uncle, but after school I stayed with my grandmother until they got home from work. I stayed with her a lot through the summers. My dad lived with them too, at least some of the time, so I got to see him even if he wasn’t all there for me.

It worked out pretty well. Kelly talked about her grandparents being cold… Granmama wasn’t exactly cold, but she was pretty much all business until supper was over and the kitchen was cleaned up. But in the evenings, she was like a Italian Zen Master — intense, but calm and patient as a stone, all at once. I learned all about the traditional woman things from her, even if I have no intention of being a traditional woman.

What did you intend to be?

I was working on that. One of the things I learned from Granmama was to think things over, to not do something important before you were certain it was the right thing. It wasn’t always easy — there was a lot of stress between me and my boyfriend before he dumped me, but it probably would have been a mistake… As far as a career, I hadn’t figured that out yet. I was good at math and science, but programming a computer just didn’t appeal to me. I played around with database stuff though, and enjoyed that. If not for the trucks, I probably would have had an exciting career in IT or maybe engineering of some sort. I was getting lots of junk mail from Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Georgia, and some of the other big colleges.

In light of the “thinking things over” part, it seems kind of surprising that you latched onto Cody right away.

Haha, I knew you were going to say that!

When I saw him for the first time — this skinny long-hair kid in a black t-shirt, grilling steaks — he looked really… I guess “happy” isn't the right word. Maybe content? I know a lot of people think the attraction was something stupid, like a common fashion sense. I’ve heard the crap about “matched bookends” when they thought we weren ’t listening. But it wasn’t like that. The world had ended, and everyone else was still in shock, including me. Cody somehow had already gone past that, he could be happy about something more than surviving another day. Kelly said he was 16, and I was never into younger boys, but I could see he still had a good answer to what had happened. I knew right away that getting to know him better would be the right thing… and from a mercenary outlook, he’s the kind of guy who will go places in the situation we’re in now. Yeah, I probably wouldn’t have given him a second glance before, but I’m surprised Kelly didn’t grab him when she had the chance. Her loss.

You’re pretty good with a gun… where did you learn to shoot?

My dad sobered up long enough to teach me. He was a marksman in the Army — I think something happened to him there to make him start drinking, even though he served in between wars — and he wanted to make sure I could defend myself. My uncle helped too. My aunt wasn’t thrilled, but Granmama said it wouldn’t hurt me to learn and I might need to “preserve my honor” someday. I must have got the knack from Dad. He ended up giving me his .38 revolver and his Army jacket with the marksman patch. I left the jacket downtown, but if I ever go back I’m gonna bring it home with me.

I’m left-handed, you know. That I got from Mom. My dad and uncle had a special holster made for me that I could wear above my right hip. It wasn’t a quick draw, but it was comfortable and even now this isn’t the Wild West. But I could wear a jacket over it and it wouldn’t make a bulge. I never got around to getting a concealed carry permit, but now it doesn’t matter much.

Now you’re gonna ask about the gunfight that first Saturday, right? Yeah. Charles and everyone makes out like I was some kind of Valkyrie or something, but Cleve did at least as much. The idiots came riding up the street like they just expected everyone to just line up to get shot. We had cover, and Trey Muldoon was the real brave one, coming out unarmed to talk to them and getting shot right away. We shot back, and they really didn’t have anywhere to go but to run away. I think we ended up shooting four of them, and two more jumped into pickups without thinking about it. The rest got away, and Cleve told us to not shoot them in the back. They said I shot three of them myself, but I don’t know. I do know I shot three times, because I had three bullets left.

So what do you think happened?

With the trucks? You know, I haven’t thought about it much. I like Cody’s explanation, but of course I’d say that. It doesn’t explain why they’re still driving around, though.

Back to Episode 16…

Monday, January 04, 2010 6 comments

White Pickups, Episode 16


Due to a request, I've backdated a “Table of Contents” page and added links to it at the beginning of each episode (and conversation). I’ve been looking forward to posting this episode (and the next two or three). We’ll have a little chat with Sondra — come back Wednesday…

Late afternoon brought a cool breeze that put an end to standing around wet. Cody opened the grill, and those not in the bathroom or dressed stood around it for warmth until the charcoal burned out. Everyone had a pleasant glow from the drink and the opportunity to forget about the “Truckalypse” for a while. “You know what would make this day totally perfect?” Sondra asked Cody as they mounted their bikes.


“Pigging out on junk food and playing video games!”

Cody grinned. “I can make your day, then! We got most of the snacks that were left at the QuickFill, and half the haul is at my place. I have my PlayStation hooked up to the generator, too. What do you like to play?”

“Racing games, mostly. I’ll bet you like shooters.”

“Yeah, but I have a Grand Prix Racing game too. We can play that, no problem.”

“Well, which way to paradise, then?”

“It’s more like Crepe Myrtle Lane, but it’s this way. Follow me.” They pedaled off; only Kelly noticed.

The other six gathered at Tina’s house for canasta. About the time they began their first hand under the trouble light, Sondra and Cody rolled into his garage. He grabbed the wind-up flashlight from a hook next to the door and led Sondra to the back porch, where he kept the generator. He gassed it up and started it, then ducked back into the garage to flip the transfer switch on. The dining room light, and a light down the hall, came on as the refrigerator chugged to life.

“Wow, you guys have all sorts of backup stuff here,” Sondra said.

“Dad was like that. I guess I got it from him,” Cody said. “He liked to say if you’re not self-sufficient, you’re at their mercy. Or were — there’s no they to worry about now. We got one of those rain barrel things outside too, I was using the water to flush the toilet but it’s starting to back up. Tina says the sewer system has to pump, so I guess I’ll be putting up an outhouse pretty soon.”

“It’s nice to have some lights. It’s been dark since the power went out. I’m not used to how dark it gets now.”

“I know what you mean — those streetlamps out there kept things pretty well lit at night. I’d sneak out and skate or ride some nights.” He grabbed bags of chips and cans of mixed nuts from a stack on the kitchen counter, and a two-liter Coke from the refrigerator. “Good, it’s still cold. Time to pig out.”

“Hey, do you have a left-handed controller?”

“Sorry… can you manage the regular ones?”

“Sure. I just score a little better with a lefty. That’s okay, you’ll need the handicap.” She grinned as Cody led her down the hall.

“Them’s fightin’ words!” Cody laughed at his fake Southern accent. “If we’re gonna do the Grand Prix thing, you want a wheel? I got one from work, but never got the hang of it.”

“Sure… hey, nice setup,” Sondra said, looking at Cody’s room and hanging her holster on the doorknob. “Chair pillows for the bed, big-screen… sound too?”

“Sure, now that I don’t have to use headphones. I dragged the big-screen in here after everyone drove off, though. I only had a 17-inch before.” He scanned a rack of jewel cases, and brought out two. “Here’s Grand Prix, and the case for Obelisk. I learned a long time ago, leaving disks out is a good way to get them scratched up.”

“Smart. Where’s that steering wheel?”

“Down here. Open up the cheddar chips while I’m hooking it up, okay?”

Back at Tina’s, Charles and Max looked at each other. “Hey,” Max said. “Where’s Cody and Sondra?”

“They went to his place to play video games,” Kelly snarled. Her first hand was doing nothing to improve her mood. The grey kitten, whom she named Shady, was curled up asleep in her lap; he stirred then was still.

“What?” Max said. “Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“I don’t guess it was any of my business.”

“Kelly,” Tina said, “what’s going on with you anyway?”

Kelly dropped her cards on the table; Max did the same and stood. “I’m going to check on them,” he said.

“I don’t know, Mom,” Kelly sighed. “I guess I don’t think it’s right that Cody’s running around with an older girl.”

“Sondra can take care of herself,” Charles said. “She draws faster and shoots straighter than either of us. That’s why I didn’t protest too much when she wanted to come.” Max was already gone.

“It’s not her I’m worried about,” Kelly said, but soft — she might have been thinking out loud.

Sondra shook her right hand and swore; Cody paused the game. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s tingling. It usually feels numb. Now that we’re away from the pickups, I guess it’s waking up a little.”

“I was going to ask you about your arm, if you didn’t mind. What happened to it?”

“A pickup happened to it. It was parked in someone’s driveway — goodbye Saab, hello pickup. It didn’t bother me too much to be around them, so I figured I could put it in neutral and we could push it into the street. As soon as I reached in, it went numb and the truck tried to pull me in. I got away, but it’s been like this ever since.”

“Jesus,” Cody breathed. “I was gonna do that at Tina’s, but she’d flushed the key down the toilet. So I pushed the damn thing and rolled it down the driveway. It was gone the next morning.”

“Lucky you. And lucky me I’m left-handed. That’s why I don’t want to go back to Atlanta, even to get the one thing I want. I can get more crap if I want it, but even if I can’t it’s worth being away from those trucks. It feels almost normal now, except that it’s gone to sleep.”

“Can I do anything?”

“Yeah. Rub it. It’s easier if someone else does it, ’cause you can use both hands.” They put their controllers aside, and turned to face each other, knees touching. He took her arm in both hands as she braced her hand against his leg.

“Like this?” Cody asked, rubbing both hands up and down her arm.

“Yeah. It feels better already,” Sondra said. Cody looked up at her; their eyes locked. She started stroking his leg with her fingers as he continued to work.

“That’s… uh… distracting,” he said and smiled. “But you don’t have to stop.”

“Good. I wasn’t going to.” She hooked her other arm around his neck and kissed him.


Conversations: Sondra Lucado


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