Friday, April 27, 2018

"Tamer" - PART V



Jesse Wolter dabbed at his wife's forehead with a damp facecloth. She'd had a severe fever for 2 days and was burning up. Her skin was dry and she couldn't hold anything down, even water.  The bed sheets were stained with urine and fecal matter, and, even with the windows open, the smell was overpowering inside their cramped, hot apartment. Jesse didn't dare move her to change the bedding...she was much too sick to disturb. Wearing dish washing gloves, he just tried to clean up the mess in place with a bucket of bleachy water. He was exhausted from caring for her and had stolen snippets of sleep here and there.

This latest flu epidemic had broken out earlier in the week and Marla Wolter had contracted it. No surprise there. She worked at a pre-school and working parents, lacking day care money, routinely sent their sick children to school. Marla was often sick and fighting a cold or flu passed on to her by some sick just came with the territory...and it had played hell with her resistance and immunity system.  She lived in a near constant state of exhaustion or illness.

Jesse went to the kitchen and fetched a bottle of Pedialyte from the refrigerator, inserted a straw, and placed it to Marla's lips. When Marla had first fallen ill, he'd made a beeline to the market and snatched up a few bottles while he could and before it was gone. This flu seemed to be very aggressive and spreading fast, and the news outlets were reporting the same and advising everyone how to avoid catching it.

"Come on baby. Take a sip. You have to", he whispered as gently as he could.

Marla had been in and out of consciousness. Her eyes slightly opened and slowly moved as though searching for the source of the voice, but were unable to focus. Her lips moved ever so slightly, as though trying to form words, but nothing came out. Jesse sighed, then set the bottle down. This was pointless he thought.

"I need to take her to the hospital", he decided. 

Going downstairs, he asked his neighbor Ray if he would drive them to the hospital, explaining how ill Marla was. Jesse and Marla didn't own a car, couldn't afford gas, registration, insurance and all the upkeep on Marla's salary, their sole source of income. Afraid to contract the virus, Ray declined but offered his keys after eliciting a promise from Jesse that he would disinfect the ride after using it.

Jesse scooped Marla from the bed and carried her as carefully as he could down to the car. He laid her across the back seat, then softly closed the door. Jesse drove Marla to Good Samaritan Hospital, parked in the emergency room lot and carried her inside. The waiting room was filled to capacity with anxious and sick people, adults, children, and elders, all hoping to be seen. Two hospital security guards were trying to quell some kind of dispute between two men in the waiting room. An elderly man lay on the floor and a Paramedic was attending him.

The room smelled horrible with the stench of feces, urine, and illness.

Jesse went to the admittance window and asked the clerk what kind of wait he was looking at. She had black circles around her eyes and looked tired and frazzled. She looked up at him.

"Sir, I have no idea. All of our beds are full and we're operating with reduced staff. Many of our staff are ill and have not been able to come in to work."

She also told Jesse that there was no point in going to another hospital, that all of the area hospitals were equally overwhelmed by this virus. The clerk told him that the supply of TAMIFLU was exhausted. She added Marla's name to a long waiting list.

"She needs rest and fluids" was her parting comment.

Jesse realized they would never be seen, turned around, and carried Marla back outside and drove her back to their little rental, determined to nurse her back to health.

Marla died quietly in her bed sometime the following morning.

Jesse had dozed off during the night, and when he awoke, found Marla not breathing and unresponsive. He called 9-1-1, but only received a busy signal and a message "ALL CIRCUITS ARE BUSY, PLEASE TRY AGAIN". Grief filled, Jesse held Marla in his arms, rocking back and forth, and crying over the loss of his beloved wife. They'd barely had a year together, and now all their plans and dreams were shattered.

Unable to summon any assistance, Jesse knocked on Ray's apartment door and asked to borrow his car. Ray answered the door, and Jesse could smell vomit. Ray looked like he had fallen ill, and handed over the keys. Although he couldn't know it then, 2 days later Ray would be as dead as well.

Jesse wrapped Marla in a blanket and loaded her into the car and returned to the hospital. A Security Guard told him that the hospital morgue was filled to capacity, but that a temporary morgue had been established at the Army National Guard Armory on Hedding Street and to go there. 

Jesse drove to the Armory slowly. He knew it would be the last time he would be in close proximity to his sweet wife. He arrived and a Guardsman wearing latex gloves and a surgical face mask handed him a clipboard and form to fill out, then accepted Marla's corpse and placed it inside a green vinyl body bag. Jesse helped the soldier move Marla into the bag and as he did, he reached out and held her hand on elast time, taking a moment to memorize her hand, the simple wedding band, and her nails painted softly pink like her now silent lips. Her hand slid from his and the bag zipped closed over Marla's face, enveloping her in eternal darkness, and with her, his life.

The pandemic ran another 3 weeks and then burned itself out. Mankind was effectively destroyed, and it became obvious to Jesse that the long promised Apocalypse had come and with it a new reality. The stench of rotting flesh and pestilence filled the air and the survivors started to try to figure out how to exist in the new era.

Jesse had sheltered in place for the pandemic, and then another couple of weeks beyond that. Power had failed, government had collapsed, and now famine and disease were starting to take their toll. Decaying corpses were everywhere...on the streets, in cars, in homes and hospitals, and no one to remove and burn them. It was a horrendous nightmare scenario.

Santa Clara County had been home to almost 2 Million people, but was now reduced to somewhere around 500,000...a mixed bag of desperate, starving humans without any semblance of government to control them or reel them in if they went off the rails. There were criminals, mentally ill, and the soon-to-be criminal and mentally ill...and all vying for the few remaining resources. People had become little more than predatory animals, shooting one another for a few cans of protein, liquor, or whatever plunder could be gained by taking the holder's life. Gangs of hyper violent roving marauders preyed upon the weak and defenseless survivors, reducing the population further.

Equally true was the loss of medical services. No doctors, no hospitals, there would be no where to go for care should one become bludgeoned, stuck, or gunshot. Jesse realized quite quickly that stealth was going to be key to survival...staying off the radar, moving in shadows, and being unseen. A gunfight was to be avoided at all costs. Even if you survived the fight, a wound could lead to sepsis and ultimately, death. 

Jesse had been raised to be self-reliant. His father had been a Marine Scout-Sniper and served in the California Highway Patrol. His Pop had taught him marksmanship, hunting, and basic woodsman skills. Jesse wasn't religious in the least, but was psychologically solid, and in spite of the situation, never once considered ending his life. Rather, this was just a new challenge to meet and overcome.

He reasoned that the best course of action was to bug out and get as far away from the city as possible, and so he chose a few items, loaded a pack, and loaded up his scoped .30-30 Marlin 336 rifle. He had two boxes of shells for it, and strongly doubted he'd find any in the future, so conserving the precious ammunition would be essential.

Jesse had recalled staying at Henry W. Coe State Park, an 87,000 acre state park outside of Morgan Hill, just south of San Jose. Isolated in the foothills and with abundant game and fresh water, it seemed to Jesse an excellent place to bug out to. He loaded his belongings into Ray's car and drove south and then east far up into the hills. Arriving at the park, Jesse found the unit abandoned and the Ranger quarters unoccupied. He positioned his vehicle to block the narrow access road, and then set up housekeeping.

Life had reverted to something reminiscent of that of 1700's Frontier America...primitive and work intensive. Everyday was active, whether it was trapping small game, hunting deer, or gathering fire wood. He spent his evenings studying nature guidebooks from the park's gift shop and then self-guiding the trails looking for medicinal and edible plants he could use.

Life was going well, or as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Jesse had wintered in the park and done well. He'd even established trade with some survivors down in Morgan Hill, a family named Read, which ran a small store. They foraged and scrounged for anything useful, and Jesse had traded dried meat, herbs, and other possibles for cartridges for his .30-30 and a .22 rimfire he'd acquired.

The Read family had been kind to Jesse, and he stayed with them on occasion.  The Read family consisted of father James, wife Maria,  3 boys and 1 girl children, and an elderly cook housekeeper, Helen. Jesse was especially fond of the little girl, Gina. She was a chubby, happy little girl with blue eyes and short bobbed blonde hair, and filled Jesse with hope for the future. He often watched her play and day dreamt of him and Marla having had a little girl of their own.

Willie and Michael Harpe had been criminals all their life. Their father, a career criminal, had been in and out of prison all his adult life. The few times he was home on parole, he'd modeled skill sets for his sons, skills like battering their mother, drunkenly raping her repeatedly, sometimes with foreign objects while bound and sometimes in concert with other men and women. As adolescents, the boys committed their first Arson and in their teens, had been taught by their father how to commit forcible sexual assault, and had become accomplished rapists and burglars.

Known to local law enforcement as "The Harpe Brothers", they'd followed in Dad's footsteps and begun a lifelong series of stays in custody, first Juvenile Hall and later in adulthood, jails and prisons. They'd been diagnosed Sociopathic and Parole and Probation officers had deemed them "Career Criminals"...wholly unsuited for rehabilitation, and yet, the system kept releasing them onto the streets. 

It was just an ironic fluke that they were free on bail when the collapse occurred. More ironic was the fact that both had won nature's lottery and had a natural resistance to the virus. Alive and without the Rule of Law, let alone any authority to enforce it, they found themselves "living the dream" and free to do anything they wished with no one to stop them. They wasted no time applying their skills robbing, raping, or murdering anyone who crossed their path. To label them hyper-violent was an understatement; They absolutely lusted for blood. Not content to just shoot people, they were especially fond of the knife and axe as their primary tools of the trade.  

The Harpes were nomadic criminals, and wandered the Santa Clara-Santa Cruz region, plying their trade wherever they went and whenever opportunity presented itself. They were wise enough to realize that there was a limited supply of women for satiating their hunger for sexual assault, so they tended to let them live. Men were different. When a woman could not be had, a man would do, and then they'd enjoy torturing him after the act, finally killing him when bored with the game.

On one victim, they had bound him to a tree and built a fire before him. They'd then opened his abdomen, drawn his entrails out, and slow roasted them over the fire, drunkenly laughing hysterically at his screams until he finally died of shock. For macabre fun they poked fun at the dead man, offered the corpse drinks, and poured alcohol down his throat.

A few months earlier, they'd passed over from the coast, through the Santa Cruz mountains, and now were setting their sights on Morgan Hill. They'd heard tell of a family there operating a trading post and best of all, with womenfolk to victimize. They decided that they would be a good opportunity, both for fun and plunder. 

A week later, they arrived in Morgan Hill and had identified Read's trading post, a ranch style home on a large lot. They'd conducted surveillance, watching through a battered pair of field glasses from an abandoned home they'd entered under cover of darkness. The Harpes had become very adept at planning attacks, making detailed notes of family members ages and descriptions, weapons, and pattern of life. They saw that Read was not well armed and sometimes foolishly left his weapon in the house while outside the home.

They made their plans....

Jesse arrived at Read's trading post about 10 or so in the morning. Without power, his phone had long since stopped working, so no digital time, and besides, calls were non existent. It was strangely quiet around the property, and he reckoned the children should've been up and around, playing outside. He walked up to the house and knocked on the door. No response came from within. He knocked again and when no response came, became alerted and shouldered the .30-30 carbine.

He tried the door and it was unlocked and swung open. He was instantly greeted by the odor of death...urine, feces, putrefaction. In an instant, he knew this would not end well. Peering inside but not entering, he listened but heard nothing.  His sixth sense was really pinging hard now, and he cast a glance over his shoulder, nerved-out thinking that someone might slip up behind him.

Summoning up his courage, he pushed into the house and put his back against the wall. It was dim, the curtains being drawn, and he took his time clearing the house. He moved down the hallway and came to a bedroom. Inside, he observed the Read boys, dead, hung by sisal rope by the neck from the clothing rod in the closet. Their eyes were bulging and their heads dark purple. Their fingers were trapped beneath the rope, apparently having tried to create space of loosen the rope before succumbing to unconsciousness.

In the next bedroom, he found Gina, her throat cut and her bedclothes pulled up to expose her privates. It was obvious the little girl had been sexually assaulted and then murdered. Her eyes were fixed, staring at the ceiling, and her facial skin was ghostly white, the blood having drained from her head. Sickened by the carnage, Jesse's legs went rubbery, and he fought hard to avoid passing out and to keep from vomiting.

Passing the bathroom, he saw the housekeeper Helen. She was gagged and bound to the sink fixtures. Her clothing had been cut from her body, so quickly that corresponding slashes could be seen on her tissue. Her body slumped to the floor and hung from the sink cabinet. Blood had pooled in her legs and lower extremities. Clearly she had been sexually assaulted and then murdered.  Here eyes were open and fixed, appearing as though staring at him.

Moving down the hall, he reached the master bedroom. James Read lay on the floor. His head was a bloody mass of large, deep lacerations, and a large piece of steel pipe protruded from his anus. It was obvious he'd been attacked with a heavy chopping instrument, possibly an axe or hatchet.

Maria Read lay on the bed, nude, her hands bound behind her back with duct tape. A length of rope was tightly knotted around her throat. Her bedclothes appeared to have been ripped from her body, which was covered in cuts, bite marks and huge bruises. Every indication was, like ravenous wolves,  the killers had gone into a frenzy and sliced, bitten, beaten and raped her for hours before finally killing her.  Written in blood on the wall above the bed were the words, "We are the Harpes!" with a smiley face flanking each side.

Jesse's mouth dropped open. He had heard of the Harpes. They were renown for their perverse, psychotic, violent acts since the collapse, and word of their foul deeds had spread throughout the community of survivors...people went about looking over their shoulder for fear of finding the Harpe's coming up behind them. Not a place you wanted to be. Descriptions varied, but rumor held one of the duo was larger and older, the other smaller and having a badly deformed nose.

That the Read's had started to decompose certainly meant the event was at least a few days old. Their blood was caked, dry. He couldn't be sure, but felt the event had occurred in maybe 3 or 4 day's time, maybe 5 as the temps had been cool lately. They had pooling of blood in their lower regions, but the skin had not yet started to bloat or split.

Investigating further, it was quite apparent the trading post, which was situated in the garage, had been ransacked. Looking at empty spots. it appeared maybe food, liquor, tobacco were surprise there. Strangely, the ammunition was untouched, but then he'd seen enough to surmise the Harpe's much preferred bloodying their appeared they enjoyed the personal touch and eschewed firearms.

He walked back out of the house, daring not to gaze upon the family as he retreated. It was more than he could bear.

Jesse studied the scene and recognized shoe prints on the floor; tracks made in blood from the victims. He went outside and cast around the property, picking up their incoming route and their route of egress; two heavily loaded persons making good track impressions and moving roughly north-northwest. Probably heading back up to the San Jose area. 

Pulling a notepad from his coat pocket, he sketched out diagrams of the shoe impressions and rough measurements, including any worn spots on the soles, stride, and how they walked. One of the men appeared to frequently drag his right foot, possibly an injured leg. The other walked with his feet spread outwards at a great angle, suggesting carrying a heavy load or possibly an obese man. For now, it was enough detail to track them.

It would get harder as they hugged urban areas and highways and then he'd need to rely on local, sighting reports, fresh attacks. Man tracking was little different than tracking game. Hunches, knowledge of the quarry's behavior, location of resources; all played into it. Plus criminals as savvy as the Harpe's knew enough to watch their back trail, anti-track, and maybe even counter track, that is, set up an active ambush on a pursuer.

Jesse returned to the house and gathered a few supplies, foodstuffs, some medical items, and a partial box of .22 ammo. He then opened windows, kindled a fire in the living room and walked outside. A safe distance from the house, he stopped and watched the home burn, completely involved.

It would serve as the Read's funeral pyre; an altar and sacrifice to whatever Gods might or might not exist, his own beliefs being the latter. He'd seen no evidence of a loving God, let alone one of intervention in human affairs. To his mind, mankind was merely a fluke, a roll of the dice, an absurd little accident of odds in an infinite Universe.

Until now, life had been about survival, but now, Jesse had a new mission. The Harpes had killed his friends, and they needed to be avenged. His father would understand and agree. Then and there he swore he would kill the Harpes and have revenge. But first, he had to find them. He stood at the door looking out at the foothills. Where had they gone? How much of a lead did they have? Didn't matter.

Jesse turned and began to walk north-northwest, the first of many steps on a journey for justice.


Copyright © Manny Silva, 2018. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Friday, April 13, 2018

"Tamer" - PART IV

The sign on the gate read as follows:



It was late in the afternoon when the bell at the driveway gate rang briefly, then echoed for several seconds in the clear air before fading away and falling silent. Tamer gathered up the Ruger and walked to the edge of the driveway where it dropped-off and started it's decline to the road below. Scanning the area as she went, she glanced down the hill and saw a woman standing outside the gate next to the warning sign and bell she'd rigged.  The woman was accompanied by a small child in a wheeled stroller. The woman appeared unarmed. Tamer called out, "Can I help you?"

The woman called out in reply, "Are you the healer woman? My daughter is very sick. Can you please help us? Please!"  Tamer told the woman to come up and instructed her to secure the gate behind her. she stood and watched as the woman passed inside the gate and then slipped the loop back over the post. This was simply to prevent her goats from getting out. It was no barrier to someone bent on harm; but then anyone on the property without having announced their presence would be assumed hostile and likely shot on sight

The woman made her way up the driveway, and clearly appeared spent. She moved slowly and with great effort. She appeared to be about 35, had tangled blond hair beneath a floppy old hat, was slender [who wasn't?], and wearing tattered jeans, a flannel shirt and a brown Carhartt jacket. She wore a large backpack with two canteens strapped to it. She'd come a ways, no doubt about it.

The child was a girl, around 4, and with light brown hair. She was asleep, and her nose was running like a faucet. In her lap she held a worn and dirty stuffed rabbit; probably a favorite toy from a happier time. She pictured the toy clean and new placed in a delivery room bassinet, maybe a gift from a new Grandmother.  Tamer let out a breath, not excited at the prospect of treating some active infection.

The woman said her name was Ellen Spears and her daughter was Karen. They'd come from near Ben Lomond and had been walking since early that morning. She said people had told her about Tamer and she was desperate for help. Ellen said Karen had been sick for a week and not showing any improvement. Tamer directed her into the cabin, slipping a pocket mask over her mouth and nose and a pair of latex examination gloves over her hands.

Tamer's practice had become so active that she'd basically dedicated the living room as her office and  examination area. She had Ellen move Karen to the couch and began her examination. Karen had a high fever and indications of an active infection. Her breathing was labored and her lungs noisy. She also appeared badly dehydrated.

Tamer interviewed Ellen and learned Karen had been listless and running a fever for over a week, but no vomiting or diarrhea. She'd had trouble getting her to drink water, and Karen was sleeping a lot. It could be viral or a bacterial infection, but either way, the fact it had run over a week was serious. Tamer suspected Pneumonia.

Tamer looked at her shelf and considered her options. It seemed to her the best course was to use a corticosteroid to help the child fight the infection. She had a small stock of such medication she had collected from the Veterinary Hospital, but using animal meds in humans was dicey, though it has [had] been done. It was time for her disclaimer.

"Understand, I am not a Doctor. I was a Veterinary Assistant. I cannot guarantee anything but my best efforts." Tamer explained the risks to Ellen, who agreed it had to be attempted and so Ellen started her care of Karen. She calculated dosage and administered the medication to Karen, then made her comfortable and covered her with a light blanket. She then mixed an oral re-hydration solution and worked patiently to rehydrate the child using a baby bottle. Every little sip the child took was a small victory which went on for hours.

Tamer and Ellen took turns watching over Karen and working to get her to sip fluids. At one point, Tamer stood to go and use the bathroom, but had a back spasm and crumpled slightly. She recovered, and as she did, Ellen suddenly noticed the telltale signs and remarked, "Are you pregnant?"

Tamer nodded slowly in the affirmative, then sauntered out the door to the outhouse. Later, Ellen asked her where her husband was. Tamer was silent, then hesitantly answered, "I...I don't have a husband."

"Well...who's the father?", Ellen asked.

Tamer pursed her lips, and her gaze drifted to the window. She was silent, as though recollecting, and then replied, "I don't know. It was dark. I didn't get much of a look at the man..."

Ellen's hands flew up to her mouth, covering it. "I'm so sorry. I...I didn't realize...please, forgive me."

Tamer waved her hand dismissively. "It's all right. I'm over it. You couldn't have known," and walked off to her bedroom. She laid on the bed and napped. Sleep was the only break, the only escape, from the dismal reality of life...except for the nightmares. Rape. And just when you thought things couldn't get worse...

Two days later, the fever passed and Karen began to show signs of improvement. Another 3 days and she was trying to get out the door and play with the goats in the yard. Tamer was exhausted but her diligence paid off. Karen had been saved.

After some negotiation, Ellen paid for Tamer's services with some silver coins and two 50-round boxes of .22 rimfire ammunition, which she produced from her backpack. She'd brought along a diverse amount of items, including jewelry, coinage, ammunition and even a big mayonnaise jar of pot with which to barter.

Ready to return home, Ellen filled her canteens with water, and removed an old .38 revolver from her pack and shoved it in her waistband. "A girl can't be too careful these days", she quipped.

"You've got that right", thought Tamer, rubbing her hands over her tummy.

Ellen placed Karen in the stroller, but then she hopped out and ran to Tamer and hugged her goodbye. The little girls' eyes were bright and clear, and for a moment, Tamer felt some hope for the world, albeit a fleeting moment. She walked them down to the gate and held it as Ellen pushed the stroller through. They waved their goodbyes and Ellen and Karen took the first steps of their long trek home.

Fortunately, Ellen had established contacts with a few survivors along the route and could rest and shelter up along the way; it was essentially a return to the custom of hospitality that had existed in early 1800's California when structures and families were few.

Tamer watched as they faded from view. She could have no way of knowing whether they would make it home or if she would ever see them again.  Tamer slung the Ruger over her shoulder and walked back up the driveway to the cabin.

As she stepped inside, she was aware of movement from her blind spot, and as she spun she tugged at the 1911 in her waistband. A strong, rough, hand pinned her hand and the 1911 in place. She kicked, bit, and clawed with her one free hand as a rag covered her face.

Just for the briefest moment she whiffed ether...

...and then darkness closed around her, engulfing her. 


Copyright © Manny Silva, 2018. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Friday, April 6, 2018

"Tamer" - PART III

Tamer moved up the road a couple of hundred yards, slowly scanned the area, and then slunk back into the brush. She sat and leaned her back against a tree on a small rise. A deep creek ran behind and below the tree. It was a good spot to watch from, and her neck and back were protected as well. A good Observation Post for a break. Removing a fresh magazine from her pocket, she reloaded the Ruger, then topped up the partially spent magazine from a box of rimfire cartridges she kept in her pack. She sat still, caught her breath, and felt her abdomen, but the baby was quiet. She was nearly into her 5th month, and movement was to be expected. She knew pretty soon she'd have to start taking it easy. She shook her head in disgust. "Easy? Really? What's easy?" Everyday was a struggle, and just getting enough to eat was already a problem, let alone having the luxury of "taking it easy". But then, that's all life was anymore...a daily series of problems to navigate.

She laid the Ruger across her legs and then examined the marauder's pump shot gun. It was in poor condition, with surface rust spots. Same with the sheath knife. This man didn't take very good care of his gear she thought...or himself for that matter. She glanced back down the road where she'd dumped his corpse. Still, they might be salvageable, but the fact was, she just didn't have the energy to add one more bit of weight to her burden. She decided she would remove the shells and stash them and the knife and shotgun. Having a hidden cache in case she was disarmed or routed from her cabin made good sense. Whenever she came into extra bit of gear, like a knife or blanket, she'd set up a cache site. She had placed several throughout the valley. She sat and took water from her canteen and watched and listened. A few birds had come out and were chirping as alarm calls. That was good. The birds were perceptive and a reliable alarm system; anyone approaching with negative energy would usually set off a series of alarm calls.

A slight breeze was stirring. the clouds had broken up and now a bit of sun shone through the canopy, dappling the forest floor with splotches of light and shadow. The bit of warmth was appreciated and helped abate the chill she'd felt. From her pocket, Tamer removed a small pouch of Bay Laurel nuts she'd harvested, shelled and roasted in a cast iron skillet. They were thought to have a stimulant effect, but she graded it more like an energy booster, like Chia seed. She munched on the bitter nuts, which she wasn't especially fond of but considered a taste acquired out of simple necessity...kind of like when you were little and your folks made you eat your vegetables...not good, but good for you. Sometimes she'd grind up the Bay nuts into a powder and make a hot drink that somewhat resembled unsweetened chocolate. Real chocolate was a fading memory.

The Bay Laurel [Umbellularia] had become a significant stock-in-trade plant for her healer practice. It was used by aboriginal peoples for all kinds of issues. The leaves had medicinal properties and could be used as a cure for headaches, toothaches, and earaches. Poultices of Umbellularia leaves were used to treat rheumatism and neural pains. A tea made from the leaves could treat stomach aches, colds, sore throats, and clear up mucus in the lungs. Steeped in hot water, the leaves could make an infusion that was used to wash sores.  You could even treat headaches by placing a leaf in the nostril and inhaling the fragrant plant oil.

The episode with Jim Pruitt in her first year following the pandemic had made her realize she was one of only a handful of humans remaining with any degree of medical training or knowledge of mammalian anatomy. Motivated, she'd made her way down the valley and acquired an old shopping cart and foraged her old veterinary workplace for what supplies she could find. The medical office had been looted, but she also knew there was a cabinet in a steel building used for large animal care, and there had found some undiscovered antibiotics, surgery instruments, and other useful items. Although only ten miles, That had been a multi-day trek.

On the return leg, she'd stopped off in the deserted Town of Felton and forced her way into the community library and carried off everything she could find on natural healing and medicinal botanics. Fortunately, Felton had been a kind of bastion of "60's flower Children" and the library had a respectable number of books on the topic. When time permitted...and there was abundant time....she explored the woodlands and riparian areas, identifying and gathering plants for testing. She stored leaves and other botanics in a mix of old Ball and Mason jars she had scrounged from homes and town.

Learning medicinal and edible plants had become an occupation with Tamer, and to some degree a passion. Nature had provided a remarkable bounty of useful plants...a virtual wild pharmacy and supermarket. She had studied books on the California natives and was amazed at the sophistication of their knowledge of useful plants; pain relievers for every ailment,  laxatives, antidiarrheals , natural washes for cuts and sores, skin cleansers... something was available as a natural remedy for every human health issue.
Tamer learned that, Arroyo Willow for example, a native and very abundant riparian tree, held the active ingredient for Aspirin, Salyicic Acid, in its inner bark and leaves, and could be decocted into a tea. And then edibles....plants that met many of the bodies vitamin needs; Manzanita berries for example, high in Vitamin C. Or Miner's Lettuce, another abundant plant, high in Vitamins C, A, and Iron, used by Gold rush Miners to ward off Scurvy.

What was especially amazing to her was when she considered that these "primitive" people had existed for 13,000 years in this sustainable model, living in harmony with the earth, and only taking as much as they required. Then modern Europeans came and became the "Masters" if the earth and pretty much started using up it's resources in just 500 years or so. " could've been so good", she thought, but it didn't matter now. Everything had changed, and man was back to square one, like having to rework a math equation you'd screwed up.

Tamer had stayed in communication with Jim Pruitt and Samantha, and they'd established communication and trading with other survivors in the Scotts Valley region. Over the course of the year, Tamer had established a reputation as a healer woman, and had bartered her skills for seeds, vegetables and other necessary items. The grocer down the valley, Bobby Parkins, had some very painful neuralgia-related issues and so Tamer had become his "G.P." of sorts and traded pain management care for goods. Tamer learned that Bobby resupplied his store by making extended road trips to search abandoned homes and shops to forage for supplies. He made his foraging expeditions using a small trailer he had rigged to his BMW motorcycle. Bobby was a  lonely, sad-faced old man, but he always cheered up when Tamer came by. He liked to reminisce about his wife Hazel [Hazel had perished from the virus and was buried in back of the store]. He was kind and usually threw in an extra can of food for Tamer. 

And Tamer had no illusions whatsoever that supplies would last forever; that someday, the supply of left over canned soups would evaporate, leftover antibiotics would lose their potency, and leftover clothing was finite, and then life would truly return to a primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Big game such as deer were cagey, rarely seen, and hard to ambush. To this end, she worked to increase her knowledge of primitive skills, teaching her self to fish and set primitive traps and snares to catch small game. Constantly battling caloric burn and diseases, it was easy to see why primitive peoples had such a short life expectancy and worked smarter to conserve calories. She managed to scrounge just enough to bind body and soul, but never felt completely free of hunger or worse yet, the fear of going hungry. Some days, there just wasn't anything to eat and life was at those times, unbearable...the hunger, the isolation, the loss of loved ones... and she'd break into tears and wail and then collapse exhausted. Then it was time to move on. Just an ongoing cycle of misery and recovery.

Rested, Tamer knew she had about 2 miles to cover to reach home. Using her fingers to measure the height of the sun, she realized she would be cutting it close to arriving home at about dusk, and decided to get a move on. She got to her knees and shouldered her pack, and slung the shotgun over her shoulder. She did a chamber check, confirmed the Ruger was hot, and stood. Slowly she worked her way out of the brush, a quiet step at a time, scanning as she went. Then, satisfied it was safe to proceed, left the brush and started back up the valley road.

When she'd walked another quarter mile she spotted a small knoll about a hundred meters or so off the side of the road and a stack of boulders next to it. It was a memorable hillock and a potentially good place for a hide. She dropped her pack and pulled out 2 plastic garbage bags and a roll of duct tape. She hiked out to the hill and inspected the rocks. They formed a small U-shaped wall surrounding a shallow depression. It appeared not only a good stash site, but a defensible position. Placing the shells, shotgun, and knife inside a bag, she rolled the bag and taped it, placed it inside the other bag and repeated the process. She then tapped the rocks to ensure no Rattlesnake was in them, as this was the cold period of the year in which they denned up. Hearing no response, she slipped the package into the rocks and moved a few to better conceal it. Satisfied, she recovered her pack and moved on, arriving home just as the sun began it's slide down behind the Coastal Mountain Range. She watched the sunset and wondered what life was like in those places where the sun was just rising.

Tamer had stopped on a rise in the road and climbed up the embankment alongside the road. It gave her some elevation and she could see her property and the road on either side. She spent some time glassing her cabin and the surrounding area, looking for any persons, or telltale signs of disturbance or an ambush. She studied her cabin closely and saw nothing moved or out of place. She looked beyond the cabin, up the canyon and saw nothing to be alarmed over. Satisfied, she moved on and entered her property, rifle held at a high ready. Her senses were peaked as she cleared the trees on approach to the cabin, swinging wide around it and scanning the whole 360 degrees. Finally, she decided to make entry. Just for a moment, she had the slightest bit of unease. She glanced back over her shoulder and took another look about her. "Was there something...?", she wondered.  She shook it off, unlocked and opened the door and made entry and cleared the interior. Finding everything as she'd left it, she locked the doors and made a small meal before turning in for rest. Within a few minutes she was out.

Across the canyon, two men in camouflage clothing sat in brush on the hillside, looking down on the cabin. One man had a broken nose and the other a long grey beard. Greybeard watched Tamer through a pair of binoculars. "Is that her?" his broke-nosed companion asked in a whisper. Greybeard lowered his field glasses and stared incredulously. "Well it sure the fuck ain't Oprah Winfrey. Dumbass. Who else would it be?" Brokennose flushed, angry, but held his tongue.

They watched Tamer as she made her cautious approach to the cabin and cleared the property. After she'd gone inside, Greybeard whispered to broke-nose, "She's pretty good. Could be a problem," and rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully. He glassed the area a bit longer then said, "Ehh, she can't keep her guard up all the time. There'll be an opportunity to grab her. And grab her we will."

A hundred meters up the hillside, concealed in the brush above and behind the two men, a man sat silently watching through his own binoculars. His clothes were muted earth colors, and he had draped a Sniper's veil over his head and shoulders to break up his outline. His hard eyes, burning with anger and hate, watched the two men intently... a Hawk.


Copyright © Manny Silva, 2018. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

"Tamer" - PART II

Tamara Lyn Lund was her name, but to her friends and family, she was "Tamer". 
She'd gotten the nickname from her maternal grandmother whose Texas accent had difficulty pronouncing "Tamara". It came out as TAME-ER-UH, and then Granny just shortened it to TAMER, and the nickname stuck. Tamer was raised in the Fort Worth suburbs, her parents both worked, dad in construction and mom a part-time schoolteacher. She'd had an older brother, but he'd died in a motor vehicle collision in his late teens when she was quite young and thus didn't remember him well.
Tamer was a city girl but when she turned 14, she started spending her summers working for her Aunt Meg who owned and operated a working ranch.

Aunt Meggie was different. Dad called her "A spurring fool", a reference to a verse from an old Chris LeDou song, and often said that the horse wasn't made that she couldn't ride, and at breakneck speed to boot.  Aunt Meggie did it all. She could ride, rope and wrangle. She could hunt and field dress a Buck, then butcher it in her barn. She was good with a pistol and better with a rifle. A Cowgirl through-and - through, she was known to have a drink every so often, wasn't afraid of a man, and knew how to love hard. Tamer led guided horse rides on Aunt Meggie's ranch and helped the old Tejano ranch hand, Jorge, with taking care of tack and the horses. In her off time, Aunt Meggie taught Tamer to hunt and use a rifle and care for the game they harvested. Tamer was an enthusiastic student and became very adept at these skills.

Meggie also taught Tamer how to use a pistol. She owned a Colt's Peacemaker and an old USGI 1911a1 and schooled her on nomenclature and safe operation of the weapons. A tough Texian Lady, Aunt Meggie had been a Medic and was still a Reserve Deputy Sheriff and had seen a few scrapes in her time. She schooled Tamer on "How to drop your man" and emphasized the importance of double taps. "A wounded man can still shoot back Tamer. Always cover yor bets", was her counsel. Pistols were fine, but Tamer loved the scoped rifle. The ability to reach out and drop game at hundreds of yards before the game even heard the gunshot was captivating. And so it was one summer as they said their goodbyes, Aunt Meggie presented Tamer with a new Ruger 10/22 carbine of her very own. With her father's help, she mounted a 3-9 scope on it and practiced with it at the local gun range every so often. Aunt Meggie also imbued Tamer with a love for animals and so she decided on a career Veterinary Medicine.

In 2015, Tamer left home after graduating High School with Honors and got accepted to Colorado State University's Veterinary Medicine program. She completed the first four years, but then ran out of funds and her student loans needed to be paid down and so she took work in Northern California as a Vet's Assistant in a little town outside of Santa Cruz. She managed to rent a small cabin on acreage not far from the Vet's Office, which was on a large acreage in the countryside. Life was good. She loved the rural lifestyle and was gaining practical experience working with the Vet when the world unraveled.

Where the contagion originated, no one knew, but what they did know, was that it was unbelievably lethal. It was the virus Scientists had long predicted, and long feared, would someday strike mankind. A viral strain never seen before and for which there was no defense, no known antidote. Anticipating a reincarnation of the highly lethal 1918 Spanish Flu, they'd begged and plead with political leaders to dedicate funds to be spent on research to develop a "Universal Vaccine" but it fell on deaf ears; after all, there were wars to fight, bombs and aircraft carriers to build...priorities.  Highly transmissible, the virus started in Southeast Asia and quickly spread globally. Hospitals were quickly overwhelmed and then the caregivers themselves began to fall victim to the insidious illness. It wasn't the least bit selective either, and killed all ages by targeting the lungs with a severe viral pneumonia that resisted, no, ignored all antivirals in the medical arsenal. The infectious period lasted approximately 4 weeks before burning out, but the damage was done. Although they could not know it, fully 77% of human life on the planet had lost their lives to the virus. Mother Nature had spoken and had passed her judgment on Humanity, and the sentence was death.

The catastrophic loss of life destroyed infrastructure and production. Without operators, power plant operation collapsed, along with all the associated industries...oil production, gasoline production, farming, food production and distribution, communication, employment. Government collapsed as well...national defense was equally gutted by the infection and ceased to exist. Mankind became a dim memory of what it once had been; all that remained were small pockets of survivors, the lucky few who had won the lottery and by some odd dispensation of nature, had a natural immunity to the virus.

And among the so-called "Lucky Few" was Tamer.  Maybe it was natural immunity, maybe it was the lack of exposure living in a rural setting. Either way, she had escaped the wrath of nature. Early on in the event, she'd been in communication with her parents back in Texas. Aunt Meggie had been the first to pass; the rawhide old horsewoman had succumbed to the disease, then her mother. By then the nation was in a tailspin as people fought one another for the few bits of food and fuel that could be found. The last call to her father revealed he was himself ill and on his way out. He knew it and said his goodbyes, wishing Tamer luck and pledging to always watch over her. Then power generation failed and with it, cellphones and the Internet. There was no way to communicate with anyone, no one to fix it, and there wasn't anyone left to communicate with anyway. Tamer knew then that she was utterly alone in the world, what little remained of it, and her heart was broken.

In the first weeks that followed the collapse, Tamer got mad and vowed to survive at all costs. She'd been taught useful skills by her Aunt, and she felt her parents would want her to go on. She carefully conserved her limited food, and gathered and bleach-treated creek water. But then her supplies started to dwindle, and the isolation began to take it's toll. The lack of activity, the long hours of idleness, the silence...the complete lack of anyone to talk to became unbearable. Finally, she concluded that it was pointless to go on. The world she'd known, the U.S.A. she'd lived in, her friends, her entire family...all were gone forever and there was nothing left to live for. She started ideating suicide and contemplated her options for ending her life. She had the 10/22, but was dubious of her ability to cleanly inflict a killing wound to herself with the smallbore, and she wanted to go fast. Hanging herself equally seemed dicey and she didn't relish strangling and suffering. Cutting her wrists was silly; she'd known a girl who'd attempted it at college and all it resulted in was some nasty scars.

It was during this low point that her supplies were running out and a decision was needed that she heard screams coming from the road below the cabin. A woman's screams. Grabbing her 10/22, she ran out the door of the cabin and a few yards down the driveway. Looking in the direction of the road, she couldn't see anything, but approximated the screams below her rutted dirt driveway. Tamer checked the chamber and magazine and confirmed the weapon was hot, then quietly moved into the trees and chaparral. Shadows fell across her and helped conceal her approach. Her property sat on a hillside and the treeline maybe 50 feet higher than the road. She low-crawled and presently the brush thinned and the scene came into view.  A man was roughly shaking a young girl. He gripped her by the arms and clearly the girl, maybe 15 or so and obviously terrified, was crying and struggling to free herself, but the man was quite large and powerful. An adult male lay on the ground a short distance away, bleeding from the head and apparently dead or unconscious. Not sure what to do, she watched.

Suddenly, the girl bit the man's hand and he screamed as she broke free and turned and ran up the road. The man reached beneath his coat and removed a large kitchen knife and gave chase, bellowing, "YOU FUCKIN' BITCH I AM GONNA KILL YOU!" Clearly, this was not a familial matter, and required action. Tamer brought the rifle to shoulder, slowed her breathing and settled the scope's cross hairs on the man's spine between the shoulder blades. She did her best to track with him, but his movements were jerky, and when she pressed the trigger, the round missed and went into the road soil. Hearing the shot, both the man and girl stopped and looked in Tamer's general direction, uncertain from whence the shot came. The marauder's mouth dropped open, and in fear he dropped the knife and ran full tilt down the road in the direction they'd came. Tamer was relieved; she didn't like the idea of shooting a human being, and frankly wasn't sure she could. "Had I missed deliberately?", she later wondered.

The girl immediately ran to the fallen man and began to attend to him. Tamer remained concealed a few minutes and then moved from cover and joined the girl below. She was livid. "WHY DIDN'T YOU KILL THAT MAN!", she raged. "YOU HAD THE CHANCE! WHY?!! DON'T YOU REALIZE HE'LL JUST HARM SOMEONE ELSE NOW???" Tamer had no answer and stood silent. The man stirred slightly. Tamer could see that he had sustained a head trauma and was bleeding, but the head has a lot of vessels and bleeds often look worse than they are. She looked at the girl. "I have some medical training. Let me check him over." The girl moved aside and Tamer conducted a primary survey. The head wound was clotting and bleeding lessening. She felt his extremities and torso and found no indications of broken bones or other wounds. He began to regain consciousness. He became lucid and was able to answer some basic questions that established he was [somewhat] alert and oriented. He claimed no known pre-existing illnesses or diseases and responded appropriately to her testing for feeling in his feet. With no apparent spinal injuries, they then rolled him onto his side and she found no injuries to his back. Except for the head wound he appeared intact.

Tamer then told the girl, "Lets get him up to my cabin and I'll dress that." Together, they helped the man to his feet and guided him on wobbly legs up the drive to the cabin. Tamer cleaned and dressed the wound while the girl kept an eye out should the marauder return. Then she helped the man onto an old sofa in her living room and covered him with a blanket. She gave him a cup of water and he sipped it empty and then asked for another, obviously filled with thirst. She then retrieved her V.A. medical bag and used a small penlight to check his pupils. They were sluggish, but not unequal, and she suspected a slight concussion might exist. Using a BP cup, she checked blood pressure, and listened to his heart with her Stethoscope. His vitals seemed strong and stable and there was no reason to suspect he would not make a full recovery. "Are you a Doctor?" asked the girl. Tamer smiled for the first time in a long several weeks, and replied, "Nope, just a Vet's Assistant." The girl stared, then a big grin spread across her face. "Close enough", she replied. She looked at the man. "He's kind of an old Hoss anyway!", and squeezed his hand. The man smiled back weakly, and the girl kissed his forehead.

They talked and Tamer learned the man's name was James Pruitt and the girl was his granddaughter Samantha Beeman-Pruitt. Tamer learned that they lived on back country acreage a couple of miles up the road from her. They were returning from foraging for food and supplies when they encountered the marauder. They'd abandoned their handcart around a curve just down the road and fled when the marauder overtook them. The sun was dipping low in the sky, and James seemed stable, so with Tamer covering, she and Samantha ventured down the road and retrieved the handcart. It held some canned goods, a couple of sacks of flour, and other supplies. She learned that they had been making trips to trade and barter with the operator of the tiny grocery in the small village some five miles away. It was a long, arduous trek, but their vehicle was long out of fuel and any vehicles with any remaining fuel in the tank had been siphoned off weeks ago.

James fell off to sleep, and Samantha and Tamer sat and talked, this being the first opportunity to speak to anyone since the collapse occurred. They shared their thoughts, fears,  and experiences with one another. It felt good to talk to another human being...another woman.... and to find that they too shared your fears and uncertainty what the future held. Both were keenly aware that the world had changed and all their dreams had evaporated. But Samantha felt that there was hope. Samantha was a Christian and held strong beliefs and felt it unacceptable to end her life, not matter how desperate things became. She told Tamer, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me", apparently quoting some verse from the Bible. Tamer pondered on this, but not having been raised in any religion, didn't feel the same. She saw the situation as a practical matter; that if life wasn't worth living, why go on? What was the point?

Later, Tamer watched as Samantha walked into the trees outside the cabin and knelt down,  then raised her hands to the sky. Curious, she walked out to her. Samantha sensed her presence and turned, smiling. "He's here", she said. Startled, Tamer looked about her, scared because she'd left the Ruger inside the cabin. "Who's here?" she asked. "God", replied Samantha. "He's all about us, here in His creation." She stood and faced Tamer. "Roads, buildings, power, wars", she waved her hand, "They are temporal...the things of man. But this...", her voice trailed off, "...the His work. It will go on long after man is but a forgotten memory. The earth will fade away, but His words will last for eternity." Tamer was puzzled and looked at Samantha quizzically and asked, "Are you a Preacher?" Samantha looked down and laughed gently, then raised her head. Smiling, she replied, "No. Just saved." She turned and walked into the woods.

The following morning, James appeared to have recovered quite well and stated he was ready to resume the journey back to his property. But Tamer talked him into resting another day. She thought it wise, but more than that, was just anxious to have the company a bit longer, so they agreed and stayed another night. That evening they pooled their resources and made a decent hot meal to celebrate James' recovery. For a brief moment, life felt almost normal again.  The next day, James rose early and announced he was anxious to get home and made ready. He and Samantha gave Tamer some of their provisions to show their appreciation for her help. Before going they made a detailed map for her to follow should she choose to come visit them, and promised to visit again on their next trip down the valley road. They waved their goodbye and then set out, pulling their handcart along with them.

Tamer watched them walk out of sight and then walked back into the cabin. Glum to be alone again,she began busying herself straightening up the place. As she was putting the supplies from James and Samantha away in her pantry,  she caught movement in her peripheral vision, just outside the kitchen window. Frightened, she spun fast and saw that a small Buck, a Yearling,  was moving down the hillside in the brush. Tamer glanced at the .22 Ruger leaning in the corner. She doubted the rimfire's ability to drop a deer, and it certainly was not "ethical" hunting, but this was survival...she concluded the chance for fresh meat was worth the risk of a shot.

Slipping out the front door, she stalked to the corner of the cabin and took a knee. The deer was now just fifteen yards away, grazing on a manzanita bush. Tamer decided the only chance would be a shot through the eye orbit in hopes the tiny 40 grain bullet would strike the brain. It was a tough shot, and she knew the Ruger was sighted for 50 yards point-of-aim, so she adjusted her aim and pressed the trigger. The bullet flew true and smashed through the eye orbit and the deer ran down the hill maybe 50 yards, then stopped, swayed drunkenly on wobbly legs, and collapsed dead.

That night, Tamer dined on tender Yearling venison. As she ate, she reflected on the past 3 days. Maybe she could be of some help to restore mankind. She had some medical training after all, and James and Samantha had definitely needed her. She decided to hold off a bit longer on ending her life...


Copyright © Manny Silva, 2018. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.