Getting By
Chapter 25

Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B

Despite the speech I made during lunch the day after the battle, there was still a great deal to be done to clean up, and the remaining daylight was filled with necessary, if sometimes odious tasks for everyone.

As the sun began to set, the day's work was finally done and those of us not on watch were gathering for the evening meal. I had spent a good part of the day collecting accounts of the action from the day before. I did this for two reasons: I wanted to gain as clear a picture as I could of how our defense plans had worked, and I wanted to know which individuals had performed above and beyond the call of duty so they could be recognized when we finally, 'formally' celebrated our victory.

The story of Amanda's exploits before her capture came to me from several different people, and the more I heard of them, the more my pride in her grew, but there were others, too. Heather, for one. When Amanda went down, Heather tried, despite her wound, to get to Amanda and drag her out of the melee. It was only Matt pulling her away that kept her from suffering the same fate as Amanda, or worse.

Stories of Gunny and Seamus O'Donnell abounded as well. Both had been in the thick of it. I personally watched as Gunnery Sergeant Garcia led a charge to ferret out the remaining invaders who took cover behind the tanks. His coolness under fire and seeming invincibility led his men - the same ones who came out of the waterfall with us - to charge forward fearlessly into withering fire. Because of their swift action, the holdouts inflicted many fewer casualties on us than they would have, had those guys been allowed to remain under cover and pick away at us.

O'Donnell led the group that cleaned out the enemy in the vicinity of the house after it blew. Charging over the berm in the wake of the blast, his men, too, shortened the fight considerably by moving among the enemy and mowing them down at close range, rather than waiting for snipers and hidden rifles to take them down one at a time. By moving in close, they also reduced the number of casualties among the women from the bus. It's a lot easier, at close range, in the dark, to both determine who you're shooting at and to hit your target and not someone next to him.

Carmen Sanchez led the group at the lower mine entrance who helped the People wipe out the detachment in the wash.

Jamaal risked his neck to pull a wounded comrade out of the line of fire and get him to the mine for medical treatment. Crystal Adams was one of the snipers in the hills. Her spotter told how, after making her first kill, she threw up in the rocks, then wiped her mouth and went back to her firing position. All in all, her spotter said, she killed eight of the invaders.

Then, of course, there was Grey Eagle. He had successfully infiltrated the house through a window in the old study, and found the room in which Boris was having his way with Amanda. He had been about to try to take the Russian from behind when the fight broke out outside.

With Amanda tied to the bed, Boris left to discipline his men and Grey Eagle saw his chance. He quickly cut the ropes that bound my wife to the bed and helped her down the hallway. They had to kill one of Boris' men on the way, and that delayed them long enough that the Russian saw them as they dove out the back door. With a bellow, he followed and Grey Eagle turned to face him.

As good as he was, my mentor was no match for the giant and though he did manage to get in a few slashes with his bowie knife, the Russian simply charged through his defenses and began pummeling the old man with his fists. It was somewhat ironic that the act that I feared would take the lives of the two people closest to me instead saved their lives. When the house blew, Boris was stunned long enough for Amanda to help Grey Eagle escape into the scrub nearby.

I took note of all of these, and got Amanda to give me a detailed account of Mark Wyndham's role in trying to save her so that I'd be sure to mention them when we had our 'formal' celebration.

The saddest part of the day was the short burial service we held for our fallen comrades. I tried, again, to remind folks to celebrate their lives, and not be too saddened by their deaths, but such words are little comfort to loved ones and friends who will never again see one who was dear to them. These, I encouraged to grieve, not for the fallen, but for themselves, for what was taken from their lives. I encouraged grief for their loss, but reminded them, too, to celebrate the lives and the sacrifice of those who were gone.

Ruth was busily planning for what she had begun calling our 'first national holiday', and I was happy to turn over to her the names of the people who had told me they would help, including Mrs. Elizabeth Wyndham.

Camille sat with Amanda and me for dinner that night, after a hard day's work in which she and the other women from the bus had pitched in as best they could, and we finally got to hear her story.

"I was the one who got sick first," she told us. "Melinda and mom were trying to take care of me, but they got sick, too. It was all over the news, how the hospitals were inundated with sick people, so we never even tried to go there. There was nothing they could do, anyway. I was out of my head with the Sickness for several days, and when I woke up, I was weak as a kitten. I used to jog five miles a day, but I barely made it from my bed to the bathroom."

Amanda interrupted her and turned to me, saying, "Gavin, I've got a feeling this is going to be a long story. Will you be a dear and ask Ruth for a pot of tea? I'm sure our guest will want some before she's done, and I know I do."

I did as she asked and Ruth was gracious enough to put the kettle on and tell me she would bring the teapot and cups to us.

Camille and Amanda were chatting about their day's activities when I returned.

"Please go on with your story, dear," Amanda told her gently.

"Anyway, I called out for Melinda and our mother, but got no answer, so I went looking for them," Camille took up where she left off. "Holding onto walls and furniture, and stopping to rest frequently, I finally found Mom in her room. She was already dead. Melinda, instead of being in the guest room, was slumped in a chair next to mom's bed. She was delirious with the fever, but had a few lucid moments. I tried to get her to her bed, but she wouldn't leave Mom, saying Mom needed her. Finally, I guess, she must have realized she wasn't going to make it. She looked at me sadly and said, 'Tell Gavin I'm sorry.' A few minutes later, she was gone. I cried over her for a while, and then stumbled to the kitchen for something to eat. There was some dried cereal and canned stuff, but the electricity was out and everything in the fridge had gone bad. I ate a can of stewed tomatoes or something, and some Vienna sausages, then I had to lie down again."

Camille paused as Ruth placed a tray with a pot of tea and three cups on the table, and without saying anything, left. The young lady's haunted eyes were focused on a faraway place and time. "I don't know how long I slept, but when I awoke, I was feeling a little stronger and I was ravenous. I managed to shower in cold water and put on fresh clothing. There was a deli down the block from our condo, so I thought I would go see if I could find something to eat that hadn't spoiled yet. The elevators were out, of course, so I had to go down the stairs, stopping at almost every landing to rest. By the time I made it to the first floor, my knees felt like rubber. I paused in the lobby of our building to regain some of my strength, and wondered how I was going to make it back up to the Ninth floor. It took a lot of willpower to step out into that street, not knowing what was out there. To my surprise, it didn't look much different than any other day, except there was no traffic and no one moving on the sidewalks. The silence was the spookiest part. Stopping frequently to rest, I made it to the deli, only to find it locked up tight, with security bars and the whole thing."

Camille paused to take a sip from the cup of tea that Amanda had poured for her.

"I remembered that the Silversteins, who owned the deli, lived upstairs above it, and I tried ringing the bell for their apartment and knocking on the door, but there was no answer. There was a brick on the stoop that someone used for a doorstop or something and I used it to break the glass in the foyer door. The sound seemed incredibly loud. I slowly made my way up the single flight of stairs to the Silversteins apartment, only to find the door open and Mr. Silverstein lying there, apparently having tried to carry Mrs. Silverstein out. I guess he was trying to get her to a doctor. Anyway, both of them were dead. As much as I hated to, I rummaged through his pockets until I found his keys, then took them down and opened the security gate and the front door of the deli. Anything that needed refrigeration had spoiled, of course, but there were salamis and sausages and prosciutto, and other preserved meats that I could eat, as well as bottles and cans of various things. I sat down right there and sliced and ate a small salami and some bread that, while a little stale, was still okay. After I ate, I felt a little better. I found a bag and put some food in it and headed back to my apartment. I felt okay getting back, but had to rest in the lobby for a little while. While I was resting, one of my neighbors, a guy named Josh, came downstairs looking about like I had felt when I first came out of the fever. I couldn't let him go hungry, so I offered him some of the food from my bag. I guess that was my first mistake."

She took another sip and looked at us like she was asking forgiveness. I could think of nothing to say except, "It's okay, Camille. Go on with your story."

"Well, the first few days were okay. Josh and I kind of hung out together since we sort of knew each other. I mean, before we got sick, I just nodded at him or waved in passing, so I didn't really know him, but afterward, well, he was a familiar face, and I didn't want to be alone. I guess Josh realized how much things had changed before I did. I had started sleeping on his sofa because the bodies in my apartment were starting to, well, you know."

Amanda and I nodded. Even out here in the desert, the stench of rotting flesh had been noticeable for several weeks after the sickness.

"Anyway, one day, I was just sitting there reading, and the next thing I knew, Josh was on top of me, tearing my clothes off. I screamed and told him to get off me, and he just laughed. 'Scream all you want, you stuck up little bitch!' he told me. 'There's no one to hear. No cops to come arrest me, and no one to come to your rescue. You're mine from now on, you snooty little whore, so you might as well relax and enjoy it!' It was just about that time that I managed to get one leg between his and knee him in the groin. I rolled him off of me as he cried. I was going to just go back to my apartment, but I knew he would follow and just break the door down. I took the lamp from the end table. It had a really heavy base, and I think his skull broke when I hit him with it. I didn't wait around to find out. I ran back to my apartment, just in time to hear Melinda's cell phone stop ringing. I ran into the guest room and found it on the nightstand. I checked the missed calls list and saw a lot of calls from you. You just don't know how my heart leaped for joy when I saw that! I knew that if we could get together, things would be all right."

She paused to drink more tea and I thought of something.

'Why didn't you call me back?" I asked.

"I tried," she said, a hint of desperate pleading in her voice, "but there was no answer!"

"That must have been the last call I made before I left the apartment for good," I said, trying to reconcile the time frames from her story with the days after I awoke from the fever.

"I guess so," she shrugged.

"So what did you do next?"

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