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.

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