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Vaxdemic Chapter 14

talexratcliffeNov 15, 2021, 12:06:53 PM

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Chapter 14

I’ve never missed people more than I do when it’s time to cut the grass. It’s been spring for a while now. Ruth and I have been spending a lot of time with the gardens. Right now, we have onions, carrots, cabbage, garlic, and several flowers and herbs that Ruth insists not only taste good but keep the pests away. She’s been teaching me about companion planting. There’s one crop were growing I could really do without, grass.

I’ve always hated mowing the lawn, and that was when gas mowers were an option. In March when the grass started to get high Ruth sent me on a search for a push mower. Not a gas-powered push mower. That weird barrel of blades that people used in the before, before times. I now love gas mowers and miss them more than I thought possible. There are three major reasons why these old mowers suck. One, they don’t cut with just one pass, you have to go back and forth with it to cut the grass down. Two, they are not just work but damn hard work. It take a whole day to cut down the grass. I almost got heat stroke the first time I used it and that was back in March. Three, they require a lot more maintenance than I thought. I have to keep it very clean, and keep the blades sharp or it won’t work right the next time I pull it out, and that will make it a lot harder to use.

However, I can see what will happen if I don’t do this at least once a week by simply walking a few houses down from my own. The grass in most yards is up to my calf, It’s also really spotty and full of all sorts of living things. Abby and Rusty took off into the grass and came back with a small rabbit, and about thirty ticks. Ruth wanted to cook the rabbit for them but Abby took off with it in her mouth followed closely behind by Rusty. They came back an hour later without the rabbit but they didn’t eat their dinner.

Speaking of the dogs, Abby is now pregnant, or so Ruth tells me. I was against the idea for a number of reasons, but I was laid up with an infection when it happened so there’s nothing I can do now. We have more dog food than I’m sure even ten dogs could eat before it goes bad, but training the two we’ve had has been difficult. Both will come when called (most of the time), both will sit and heel (most of the time), Ruth even taught them to speak, which they do with great frequency and volume. All of this took several months of work between our daily chores. Dogs give birth in litters, that means we could have as many as six new dogs or more. Instead of having a duet we’ll have a whole choir, I wouldn’t put it past Ruth to teach them to sing. Maybe I’ll get lucky and one can help me hunt.

Once we were done with the planting, we have a bit of free time. I’ve decided to learn to hunt because we are officially out of meat. After the first week of beans, I was viewing the dogs’ food with and unholy lust and decided right then and there I needed to learn this skill. Abby is not a good hunting dog. I assume the rabbit she caught was an accident because when I take her with me, she’s more interested in running around sniffing everything she can. Rusty won’t leave Ruth’s side. When she’s outside so is he, if she’s in the kitchen, he’s sleeping in the door way. So now I hunt on my own.

It’s funny when I drive somewhere there seems to be animals everywhere, when I go looking for them it’s like they all decided to call in sick. I think they’re on to me. I’ve started using my bike to get around when I want to be sneaky. I’ve put a lot of work into riding it. I can now go almost all day on it, but I really hurt the next morning. I’m also aware that that cougar is still out there somewhere. Ruth tells me they don’t hold grudges; I think she’s wrong. Now I carry both my shot gun and my 9mm with extra ammo and a knife. If we meet, I don’t want to be dinner.

I’ve been riding out farther and farther looking for game. I took a book on hunting from a sporting goods store that said animals can smell people and tend to avoid them. Well, all the animals around me must be very good smellers because I’ve found noting the last three times I’ve gone out. The bike trail near my house goes through all the parks in the city as it rides along the river. These parks are now over grown fields full of bugs and small birds but no deer, turkeys, or anything else large enough to make a good meal.

I decided today to try my luck closer to downtown. Downtown is less than a ten-minute drive from my house. It’s now about a thirty-minute bike ride. I’d been avoiding downtown because of its proximity to the hospital. It’s been almost six months since everything went down so I assumed there must be no one there. I still took the long way to downtown to avoid passing the hospital by riding toward the train tracks and following them. I just about made it to the first buildings that marked the restaurants and small shops when the smell hit me.

This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to describe but, have you ever been around when someone opened an old grease trap? Or the smell of fresh asphalt? Or been on a beach full of rotting fish? Those would have been preferable to what accosted my nostrils. I nearly fell off my bike. I’m surprised I couldn’t see it.

My first thought was leave, nothing that smelled that bad could be good. Unfortunately, I needed to know what the smell was, even though I was pretty sure I knew. I covered my nose and mouth with a spare shirt I brought and ventured forth. The smell got a little stronger as I entered downtown, but a few streets on and the smell started to fade. After some exploration I found the smell was strongest on the road that led to the hospital. As much as I didn’t want to, I had to check it out.

The hospital sat on top of a small hill that over looked downtown. It was just off the bypass that went through the middle of the city. Until now I had gone to great pains to avoid this exit so I don’t pass the place. When the hospital came in to sight the smell got so much worse, but my make shift mask made it bearable. The hospital itself was fourteen floors tall with large windows marking the rooms. The grime coving the windows kept me from seeing inside. I made my way toward the front doors and found them open. The lobby was full of beds and corpses, or what was left of the corpses. Almost all were rotted beyond recognition. If I hadn’t had to deal with bodies on my foraging, I wouldn’t have recognized them. The floor was covered in what looked like dried mud that spread out from the beds.

Something struck me in that moment. Where were the bugs? Where were the scavengers? The door was wide open surely animals could just walk right in. I walked back outside and looked around. No birds. There were birds all over my property. I saw them everywhere I went, but none here. I decided this was probably a bad place to be. If wild animals wouldn’t touch the carrion there must be something dreadfully wrong. I rode back the way I came. The smell seemed to stick to my nostrils even a mile away.

I went to one of the parks to get back on the bike trail. I just about spotted the high grass of the park when I saw something move. I stopped and moved to the side of the road keeping low. I dropped my bike a quietly as I could and pulled my shotgun forward. As slowly as I could I crept forward. The wind blew in my face as I crawled. A small deer stepped out of the grass and on to the road. It was a tiny thing; it wasn’t a baby but it wasn’t an adult either. It had nubs on its head where antlers would one day grow. It sniffed around, completely unaware of me.

I lined my sights on it, but didn’t shoot. Part of me was screaming that it was just a little deer, it wouldn’t hurt me, it didn’t deserve to die. Another part of me was screaming for meat, I was so tired of vegetables and beans. The conflict raged in me as I watched the deer roam around. One second, I was about to pull the trigger and the next guilt would wash over me. Finally, the deer looked in my direction. We locked eyes for a brief second and its head bent as it moved to run.

I pulled the trigger. The deer moved a few feet before dropping to the ground. I had done it; I had killed another living thing. Part of me was proud and another part was guilty. I pushed down my guilt. I had to survive; meat was important if I wanted to survive. I set about the grisly work of field dressing the deer. I’m going to skip over the gory bits. Until this point, I had only read about how to do this and needless to say it could have gone better. I now have a much greater appreciation for where my meat comes from. I was lucky I brought my bike with the long rack on the back. Cleaned the deer weighed less than thirty pounds by my estimate, but it was still a trial to secure it and bring it home.

Part of me was excited to show Ruth what I had done. We would have meat tonight, and Abby and Rusty would have some bones to chew on. I made it to my neighborhood just as the sun was starting to set. I could hear barking coming from my house. I rushed up the road to see what was going on.

Both Abby and Rusty were outside barking and howling. Ruth sat on the front porch but her eyes looked wrong. She looked confused and scared. I had to say her name several times before she acknowledged me. It scared me more than I was prepared for, but not as much as when she asked if she knew me.

Bob Stackey

April 15, 2021

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