Hanging around in the cloud…

Afterlife sketches 1.3

A fierce wind tore at the house, banging a flashing against the soffit, and roaring around and through the top of the metal chimneys.  Jeanne and Sue kept stoking both stoves with seasoned Ponderosa, that burned fast and hot keeping the house warm and cozy as the blizzard raged.   To conserve kerosene, they burned just one lamp and sat around the kitchen table.  Outside, the temperature slowly rose as the wet system from the Pacific hurled itself into the frigid arctic air that had held sway for nearly two weeks.  Winter had come early, and evidently, planned on staying late, as it was almost March.

“How about a little Global Warming,” muttered Cameron, Shylock’s grumpy dad, sick to death of the indoors.  He’d coped with all the changes, the hard physical labor, the demise of texting, gaming, and loss of job, friends, and worst of all, his car.  But sitting in the dark while others tried to read or crocheted drove him nuts.  Cameron had never been much for school, reading, or such things.  He liked music, partying, cars, getting tattoos, and hot chicks, especially Arly.  He’d really had to beg Marshall to let him bring Arly out to the farm after it happened.  It really would have sucked to be the only 20 something in this group of old farts.

Shylock had been a total surprise for him as well, and being a dad had helped him miss his old life less.  His little son cocked back and punched him in the stomach with all of his toddler might.  Cameron pretended it hurt, making a pained face, and then tickled Shylock until he punched him again.  Cameron tickled him with both hands and the baby shrieked with laughter.

“If he pukes, you’re cleaning it up, AND hauling the water you use to replace it.”  Arly snorted, wishing with every bone in her body for a cigarette, although she hadn’t smoked one in over a year.

A particularly strong gust slammed against the house and rattled the back door.

Jeanne brought out a plate of steaming hot muffins, followed by Sue, carrying a tray full of cups of hot cider.   Arly broke one open, releasing sweet steamy aromas that ended the tickle torture game.

“Too hot!”  She cried, and set it down.  Brian grabbed one and plunged it into his mouth, showering his beard with moist crumbs.

“Oh my GAWD these are good!” he said with his mouth full.  The cider, pressed from last fall’s apples had fermented in the root cellar.  The beverage perfectly complimented the whole grain muffins.  Sugar in or on anything was a special treat, and Jeanne had added some to the applesauce she used along with goatsmilk yogurt to shorten the batter.

Both dogs suddenly growled and ran to the front door, barking.  A well rehearsed scramble ensued.  Jeanne grabbed a shotgun from behind coats hanging by the wood stove.  Marshall pulled a 1911 .45 from a shelf.  Brian whipped out a similar pistol, a 9mm, and Sue clutched a 30.06 with a scope and laser.  Cameron dashed into the front room and returned with a Kalishnakov, but the rest of them had poured out of the house ahead of him, not letting the dogs out.  Zombies saw dogs as dogmeat for supper and they were never left outside at night without somebody watching over them.  He stepped out onto the porch and swept the area with his eyes, the rifle following his gaze.

He saw nothing but snow, driven horizontally by the blasting wind.  Instantly, his hands started to freeze.   A muffled report from…it sounded like the 30.06, then another, louder, one of the 1911s.  Shapes emerged from the whiteout, materializing into his parents, Jeanne, and Marshall, all looking very cold and making for the porch.

They all hustled back inside, snow plastered on their clothes and began dripping pools of snowmelt on the floor.  Sue set the rifle down, put on a coat, gloves, boots, and scarf.  Then she went right back out the door.  The rest did likewise except for Cameron, whose job was to defend the front door and protect Shylock and the dogs.

All the while, the two dogs barked.  They were chows, one big black one and one smaller red bitch.  They only barked if something or someone was there.

Cameron heard Sue hollering and stepped back out onto the porch.

“I got it.  Come help me drag it in.”  She yelled over the wind.  “Get a tarp or something.  It’s bleeding all over the place.”

A few minutes passed, and Sue and Marshall dragged a blue tarp folded in half through the deepening snow while Brian walked the fence, or more like waded the fence line as he pushed through the drifts.  Any time they had a disturbance, they walked the fence and checked all the outbuildings just to make sure.   The first year after it happened, Zombies tried every trick and con to get into the root cellar, house, and barn.  Luckily, they hadn’t shot any of them because they were with it enough to run when warned.  After two winters, the steady stream of Zombies slowed, and this winter, the coldest so far, with deep snow, had apparently ended their junkets to the country.

Sue had bagged a deer, a doe looking for shelter in the “moat” on the east side of the house.  They had no choice but to bring it into the house.  Otherwise it would freeze solid before they could dress it out.

They sat down and finished their cider and muffins quickly before tackling their prize, glad it wasn’t a Zombie.  The dogs couldn’t have been happier with this turn of events.  They lapped up the blood pooling on the tarp.  Everyone tried not to look while they ate and drank, except Shylock, who stared wide eyed at the dimly observable spectacle in the front room.

After the dishes were cleared away, they lit two lamps and Arly held one, while Marshall held the other over the dead animal.  Jeanne slit the doe’s belly from pelvis to throat, and raked the hot guts onto the bloody tarp.  She had a fetus in utero, which Sue wrapped in a towel, after pulling it loose from the placenta.   It moved, and she nearly dropped it.  Rubbing it with the towel, the little fawn began to breathe.

“Oh for Christsakes!”  Brian exclaimed as he came in the back door and beheld the scene.

Arly found the canning kettle and put the innards in it, and then brought a basket and blanket for the fawn.

“It probably won’t live.”  Sue declared as Arly wrapped the little thing, all ears and legs, in the blanket.   She laid the little creature in the basket and set it close to the stove, and wiped tears away before anyone noticed.

Jeanne did her level best to skin the deer with Brian and Cameron holding it up this way and that as she hacked away with a sharp butcher knife, or snipped with poultry scissors.  The cats joined the dogs lapping up blood and bits of flesh.  It had been hard finding food for the cats, and they craved protein.  The blood and entrails would do them good.

None of them had enjoyed deer meat since October, when Jeanne had shot a forker buck from the back deck with the 30.06.  This time, however, they could freeze it for later in the garage and canning kitchen, while before they’d  feasted on the fresh meat, and made jerky from the rest in the smoker/BBQ.  Jeanne did a better job skinning this time, but she had a hell of a time getting the head off.  Marshall ended up dragging the carcass outside and using the axe on the chopping block to chop the skinned deer into sections, and then into smaller sections that looked about right for pot roast.

Brian already had the “Joy of Cooking” out and was at the table looking for recipes for brains, tongue, and organ meat.    Tomorrow, someone would have to take a mule and cart down and fill all the water jugs at the pump house, as they would likely use all they had on hand to deal with the slaughter, but for that night, they just wrapped the tarp back over the cut up meat and bones, sliding it over to the canning kitchen where it could freeze and not be carried off by coyotes.

Jeanne, her back and knees aching, thought wistfully of aluminum foil, freezer paper, paper towels, and plastic bags.   Arly sadly watched as four more bath towels, and about five kitchen towels were thoroughly soiled and perhaps permanently stained mopping up the mess that had spilled beyond the tarp onto the laminate floor.  She checked the fawn before going to bed, and it was still breathing.

Barking dogs woke them during the night.  Lighting a lamp and srambling for the guns they met in the front room, only to see why the dogs barked.  The little fawn stood on a throw rug, wobbly, but trying to walk towards the red chow, thinking she was mommy.

“Oh for Christssake.”  Brian said, putting the pistol away and padding back to bed.  Arly got some of her milk from the windowsill lined with items that needed to stay cool, poured it into a bottle, and set it in a cup of water to warm on the stove.

“You are not going to feed that thing Shylock’s milk!” cried Cameron, aghast.

“I am, and it’s MY milk.  I have plenty, and he likes real food better now anyway.”

When the bottle was warm, she cajoled the little fawn into taking the nipple.  It didn’t take five minutes before the fawn heartily drained the bottle, his little tail twitching back and forth with pleasure.


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