Introductions & Short Stories
We found seats on folded camping chairs set up between a large coleman cooler which when she opened it revealed itself to be full of drinks, sitting in what I presumed to be cool water. Good luck on finding any ice, anywhere. She handed me a soda, though she caught my looking at the beer that sat in the mix. I caught her look as she got my eye and then with a quick nod to her son I realized that she had her reasons. I guessed she usually waited til he went to sleep before opening up a cool one.
“Well,” she began, “it seems that we went through all of that and didn't even bother to give each other our names.” As she spoke she also signed, this was of course for the benefit of her kid. “You first please since you're our guest.” My eyebrow went up at this reversal of etiquette, it didn't matter. Manners, like everything else, usually went right out the window in circumstances like these.
I've always been careful whenever I speak about myself. Not that I've anything to hide, but found over the years that the less I speak of myself the better. Makes for a lot less to prove my words and letting my actions show my worth. “My name is John Handle.” I paused as she spelled out my name. I heard her son moving about behind us. Wasn't sure if he was catching the conversation or she was just signing for the sake of signing, in case he turned in our direction. If she was waiting for me to continue then she'd have to take a nap.
“Ok,” she replied nodding, “so where you from John Handle?” Again I paused, mulling over my answer. I was going to be honest but I didn't want to rush into anything... whatever it may be. “I used to live around northern Georgia or what used to be Georgia. I began traveling around on foot since the first outbreak.” She nodded again and saw that I wasn't going to volunteer any more information. She watched me for a long moment then began.
“My name is Maggie Stone, the boy is my son James, we're originally from around here.” she caught my look at the boy's name, “Wally, or Walter is his middle name, I only use that whenever he's gotten himself into some trouble.” She looked up at her son who was watching and grinned, then in a quick succession of signs she communicated quietly and then turned her attention back to me. “I only asked him if he was almost finished with his chores, he is and he wants to ask you some questions when he's done.” My eyebrows raised up again at the prospect of being questioned by a 12 year old kid, and a deaf one at that. It made me wonder what kind of questions he would have for me. More-n-likely when am I planning on going away? I nodded that I understood. Apparently Maggie was eager to share her story, probably for the sake of talking verbally rather than manually for a change.
“In case you're wondering, I'm a widow. My husband was killed in Iraq by insurgents about 9 years ago in a gun battle just outside of Baghdad. He was part of a Ranger outfit assigned to hunt out those bastards and run-'em outta town. In answer to your questions about me, the ordinance and other little walker surprises, I served in Afghanistan for two tours as part of an EOR team.” Before I could ask, she filled me in.
“EOR's are short for Explosive Ordinance Removal, in other words I was part of a bomb-squad. At least until I got this as a going home present.” With that she raised up her left arm and pulled up her sleeve and turned her wrist until I could see the inside of her forearm. A long ugly scar twisted it's way up her arm starting at the wrist and ending what appeared to be above the elbow. “I was just moving my arm away when the IED went off, other wise I think I'd lost the whole thing.” She rolled down her sleeve again and went on. “It got me sent home, and forced an early retirement and a promotion to Master Sargent. For a long time I lost use of this arm and hand, but after some hard work,” she flexed her arm and rotated her wrist and wiggled her fingers, “plus learning signs to talk to James, I got it back and it works just as good as it ever did.”
She sighed and took a drink then, “unfortunately the Army didn't want me back in the zone.
“So, I did manage to convince my C.O. -- who was my husband's college buddy in ROTC-- to have the Army hire me on as a civilian contractor teaching bomb-disposal to new recruits.” She leaned forward. “I was on base when the contamination hit and was sequestered there. So it's how I was able to get my hands on the ordinance that now protects our perimeter. I guess it also explains how I'm able to work with the stuff without blowing myself to pieces.
“My husband taught me some of the guerrilla techniques of setting up a line of defense. He was doing it more out of fun than anything else. But he liked to hunt whenever he was home during deer season and built this” spreading her hands to indicate the tree-house we were all on. “I used to tease him that it was more of a place to sneak off and drink beer while listening to the ball games.” Her face fell for a moment. “Our home used to be about 10 miles from here, the base another 15. It was a small outpost base really, designed for specific Ranger training. I got assigned there to teach IED recognition and disarming techniques to the recruits and it's how we met.” She looked quietly at her son who continued to work around the platform. “It's how James got to be.” she almost whispered.
“Well, after the initial contamination and when the base got over-run, I managed to clear out of there, found James and got home long enough to get whatever supplies we needed and we ended up here, ever-since. And that, Mr. John Handle, is our story in a nutshell.”
I nodded, “some nutshell” I replied then fell silent again, thinking it over. She sat quietly waiting. I felt like I was in the presence of not an explosive expert but a master interrogator. Patient and cunningly waiting for the answers she wanted to come by themselves. She also seemed to know what questions I had, or at least some of them.
“So how did you two end up at the store today?” I asked. As if she anticipated the question her answer was immediate. “We were on recon,” she paused and blushed a little, “sorry, still in military mode of thinking after today's little debacle.
“We were on a search for supplies and planned on stopping at the store anyway. It's been our little supply depot for a little while now, we take only a little at a time. We saw the walkers milling about and that was weird because I thought that we had cleared the area. They must've been part of a herd that got separated or broken up. We came up from across the overpass and saw your ladder and knew that was out-of place. James, on my orde... err directions went over into the woods and set up shop in the trees, you had just went over the side of the roof when I reached the edge of the parking lot. The rest, you know already.”
I half turned in my chair to look at the boy who was setting up a camp stove on a small folding table off of one corner of the platform. He had taken off his fatigue jacket and had a olive drab t-shirt on. Even from here I could see he was well built for a kid his age. I turned back to Maggie. “So basically you taught him all of,” spreading my hands in a small circle indicating the platform and miming shooting a gun, “this?” She nodded, “Yep” she drawled, “dat thar is a smart yung man alrite” and giggled, her blue eyes sparkling. I chuckled at her attempt of the southern accent, and became self conscious of my own, which must have sounded odd to her considering where we were. “By the way,” I asked, “just where exactly are we?”
She cocked her head at me for a moment. “Don't you read signs?” and she chuckled at her own unintended pun. I nodded, “Yeah, I do kinda, but I've been paying attention to what roads lead where and don't care mostly what town or state I'm in.” She shook her head, obviously thinking I'm odd. “You're in Crawford county Indiana, just outside of a spit on the map called Carefree.” I nodded in thanks and sat in thought once more. I looked up and saw her watching me. I felt like a canary in a cage with the cat outside.
“Alright,” I began, “my story, I guess I owe it to you.” She held up her hand for me to stop, then stomped on the floor of the platform a couple of times. The vibration reverberated throughout and caught the boy's attention, who must've turned to look at her. She looked beyond me and then her hands flew for a moment, paused then flew around once more. Flew was the best description I could come up with for her signing to her son, her movements were fluid and her fingers twisted into rapid shapes. Her hands danced around her lovely face I thought to myself romantically thinking. Stop that!
“I wanted James to hear your story, I was asking him if he was about finished with his chores and/or if he was at a place where he could stop. He'll join us in a moment.” she explained. I nodded and asked, “Was it hard learning to sign?” As she answered she still moved her hands in time with her words. “No, I learned about the same time that James did. His father never bothered but then we lost him early on, so it's just been me and him and we get along pretty good.”
“Where did you two learn it from?” I asked just to make conversation until James joined us.
“James learned at the deaf-school he attended, we have, had a neighbor who's son was James' classmate at the same school, so she taught me whenever I was at home and I learned most of it from books and computer programs designed to teach signs on my lap-top.”
I shook my head in wonder. I knew deaf people communicated by signs, but never saw enough of it to really appreciate the complexity of it all. Before I could ask another question, James came around from behind me with a folded camp chair of his own and opened it up next to his mother but put it at a slight angle so he could watch both her and me at the same time. He sat down and opened up the cooler and then glanced at his mother, who gave him a nod and he pulled out a familiar red can of soda.
He never took his eyes off me as he cracked open the tab and took a small sip. He then turned to his mother made flat palm sign from his mouth arcing downwards to her and she replied “you're welcome” signing it with her hand flat, palm up and drawing it towards her. Then James looked at me again before putting the can into one of the holders in the arm of the camp chair. Without preamble he launched into his first question, which Maggie interpreted automatically.
“How long you plan on staying?” I half expected Maggie to chastise him for being so blunt but she didn't. I tried to act relaxed but at the same time put on an air of respect for the “man of the house”.
“Well, I originally had planned on moving on after getting what I needed from the store, until I ran into you two. I appreciate your help with the walkers and I want to say that you're a damned good shot with that rifle of yours.” I paused to allow Maggie time to interpret what I said. “But now things have changed somewhat and I ,” James interrupted quickly, voicing the word as well as signing it. “How?”
My eyebrows raised and I thought long enough to word my answer carefully. The last thing I needed was suspicious mistrust in a new group. Something I've always been careful about. There were a lot of scavengers about and lawlessness was becoming a way of life. Unfortunately the walkers didn't take care of all the bad ones that kept the local law enforcement agencies busy. So I had to be careful with how I integrated myself into a group, however small so to not cause any problems.
“I tend to be a loner” I began, “I don't usually stay with a group for more than a couple of days, but sometimes, depending upon circumstances I may be as long as a week.” The boy's face darkened at this, which I hurried along my explanation, “but that's because we're in a situation where there's walkers around and moving off too quickly would've been bad for me and for them. As for right now it seems that we're relatively safe so I probably won't be here for more than a day or two. I could use some rest after spending the night on that roof.”
After Maggie finished signing, almost after a moment I finished talking, the boy sat still and then nodded to himself. “Then you'll move on?” he asked suddenly, “where?” I looked at Maggie who seemed interested in the answer herself. Damned if I didn't feel like I was being interrogated. I tried not being on the defensive. I knew it wasn't necessary but the animosity put off by the boy was hard to ignore. What did he think I was going to do. Kill him and rape his momma? Fat chance of that considering that both of them could very likely kick my ass soundly and tie me up to a claymore. Still, I couldn't blame his mis-trust. Obviously his momma was all he had in this silent and now terrifying world he was in.
“Honestly? I can't say because I don't know. I guess I'm fulfilling an old dream of mine of seeing the country and right now what a better time to do it. Everything and everyone I've ever known is gone and I got nobody. For right now that suits me just fine.” I concluded.
James looked at me in that same hard, analytical way of his. Trying to see a glimpse of a lie or contradiction in my story. I knew he couldn't and wouldn't. I had no reason for lying to them. We fought for each other's survival and saved each of our lives so I counted us even, each of us owing the other nothing as far as I was concerned. But I've learned that sometimes that view-point isn't always shared.
After a long moment James seemed to relax and sat back in his chair and just watched me. I looked over at Maggie and waited for any other questions they might have. She had one more to ask.
“Are you hungry?” I nodded yes and said so.
Edited by DeadCave, 29 December 2011 - 07:38 PM.