New Normal

Posted: December 18, 2015 in Book I Terror in Texas
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Della laid the heat gun on the table and handed the prosthetic back to Steve. “That should do it, but I would give that pressure sore a day or two to recover. It’s pretty tender looking.”

“I can’t afford to be out of commission.” Steve slipped the modified plastic of the prosthetic onto his right leg. He pulled himself up to stand and his weight settled on the prosthetics. He took a step and the tender flesh of his stump sent knifing pain up his leg.

Della pushed the chair up behind him and he collapsed into the seat.

“I’m useless in this chair.”

“Humor me.” Della retorted. “You have to give the nerves time to recover. I plan on going over to the clinic and see if they have a topical that will ease the pain.”

Steve slid both prosthetics from his legs and reached over his shoulder to drop them into bag hanging from the back of the chair.

“Maybe one or two days.” Steve conceded. “I’m still not sure this place is as good as it looks. I haven’t given up on heading up to the place where Randy is staying.”

Della brows furrowed. “I agree off the beaten path is a good idea, but I’m not sure I want to live around Randy. The last time I saw him he really wasn’t stable enough to even hold a conversation without going into a tirade about the Iranians and crazy theories.”

“Look, something scared the shit outta him on his last mission.  Who knows, maybe this was it.”

Steve ended the conversation by placing his hands at the side of the wheels and made a two-wheel one-eighty turn. The wheelchair headed across the cafeteria leaving Della to follow as he called over his shoulder. “Let’s get some breakfast before Zack leaves. I want him to go with me to look around without a guide.”

Della and Steve made their way through a small gathering of people to a serving line and picked up trays. The breakfast choices were limited to dry cereal, scrambled eggs and biscuits. To go along with the biscuits, they offered a steaming white sludge they called gravy without meat.

Steve winked at Della.  “It looks more like paste with fly droppings floating on top than gravy.”

Della chuckled. “My granny would have been beside herself to see white gravy without sausage.”  She suddenly grew silent.  “I’m glad she didn’t live to see this world.”

“I know.” Steve answered.  “My folks were killed a few years back.  I understand the feeling.”

They approached the steam table and a woman wearing a white bibbed apron looked up and smiled.  “What can I get you folks?”

Both Della and Steve settled for eggs and biscuits, no gravy. At the end of the line, a young girl handed each of them a single serving of butter and small dollop of jelly in a plastic container.

“Since you didn’t get gravy, you can have butter and jelly folks. Sorry, but we have a limited supply of both.” The girl smiled. “Rationing.”

Della laughed. “If you knew what we’ve been eating for the last week you’d realize what a luxury it is just to have a taste of butter or jelly.

Steve dropped the condiments on his tray sitting on his lap and grinned at another young woman handing him a cup of coffee.

“Plenty of coffee for now, so come on back for seconds.” The woman advised.

“Sounds great, appreciate it.” He gave her a wink and reached over the sides of the chair to roll toward a table where Zack sat eating his breakfast.

Zack looked up from his tray as Steve rolled across the floor to the edge of the table and placed his tray in front of him. He locked the wheels just as Della settled on a chair across from Zack.

“Well, you get the sticks fixed, man?” Zack asked before taking a bite of biscuit soaked in gravy.

“We’re good.” Steve answered as he began buttering his biscuit. “How did you sleep last night?”

“Not real good. I know they did right by Jimmy, burying him and all, but I keep thinking about his mom.” Zack shrugged. “Are we going to stay here for a while?”

Steve looked to Della. “I don’t know. At least for now it seems safer than the open road.”

“We can’t go back to San Antonio.” Della answered just as Sandy approached the table.

“I’m not leaving here.” Sandy commented as she sat down at the table

“It’s not our decision if we stay or go.” Steve answered.

Zack looked up. “You mean they might not want us to stay?”

“I don’t know.” Steve answered. “I want to check their defenses before we make any long term decisions. Everyone seems friendly and willing to welcome us, but for now let’s just look around and see how they’re set up.”

Sandy waved across the room at a pair of young woman settling at a table. “Well, I’m staying. Those two invited me to move in with them in a house. We have a wide-screen television and everything.” She picked up her tray and walked away.

Della started to follow Sandy, but Steve reached out. “No. Let her be. We have no right to tell her what to do.”

“But….” Della began then closed her mouth and sat back down.

“She wants some semblance of normal. I don’t blame her. If she’s found it here, well, let her be.” Steve commented.

Zack looked at Steve as he used his fork to scoot his last bit of biscuit through smears of gravy. “If you’re going to look around today, do you want me to push your chair?” He wiped at his mouth with a wide grin.

“You can go with…but I got the chair covered.” Steve answered as he buttered both halves of the biscuit. He turned to Della and asked. “Want to come with us?”

“No. I’m heading for the clinic. I might be able to help out. Besides, it might give us a better chance of staying if I offer my services.” Della answered.

Three hours later, Zack and Steve were heading back to the motel from their tour of the town. The entirety of the town was little more than ten acres, no more than a hundred buildings total. The downtown area consisted of twenty or so buildings around a block square park with a pavilion, park benches and a number of trees.  The middle school and library were located on a side street north of the city building while the motel was located on the south side of the park at the corner of a side street.

“Well? What do you think?” Zack asked.

“There isn’t as many people as I thought there would be.” Steve answered. “The older part of town is cut off from the newer upscale construction out by the Walmart. They blocked off the road and put up barricades and a gate. It looks like they moved everyone behind the gate and then cleaned out all the homes and the new box store then finished up by bringing the extra trailers full of canned goods and supplies into town.”

“So you think we should stay?” Zack asked.

“I’m not sure. I want to find some area maps. Let’s head to that library.” Steve answered. “I want to see how far we are from Randy’s.”

Zack shrugged and began walking toward the small red brick building that served as the town library. “I got nothing better to do.”

Once inside the library, Steve found maps of northwest Texas. He focused on an area that was well away from populated areas and at the edge of the Guadalupe Mountain National Park where Randy Matherson lived.

When no one was looking, he pulled a knife from his cargo shorts and slid the blade down the spine of several pages.  He pulled the pages from the book, folded the paper into quarters, and jammed them into the thigh pocket of his shorts.

Finally, he rolled through the shelves of books to find Zack. He was sitting near a collection of gaming magazines. He looked up and grinned at Steve when he rolled up.

“Ready to go?” Zack asked.

Steve nodded and spun the chair toward the door. They headed for the motel at an easy pace, but Zack slipped behind the chair and began to push. Steve relaxed his arms.

When Steve was quiet for most of the way back, Zack finally asked. “What’s going on?”

“I think we need to move on.” Steve answered softly. “This place is bottled up pretty tight. If an infected makes it inside, it’ll be a disaster. There must be almost two hundred people in town. The only firearms are on the two entrances and half a dozen around town. No one is carrying weapons in town.  Frankly, I’m surprised they managed to put down the first attack.”

“When are we leaving?” Zack asked.

Steve shrugged as Zack rolled his chair to the picnic table in front of the motel. “A couple days. I don’t think they have guns to spare, but maybe they can give us a few bullets. I think they’ll let us keep the truck and the provisions we came in with, but maybe they’ll give us a few supplies.”

“What happens if we can’t keep the truck?” Zack mused.

Steve answered with a shrug. “Walk or steal one of the street vehicles. But they don’t look the type to hold us if we want to go. How much help they’ll be is another matter.”

Lunch was a light affair that left both Steve and Zack wanting more, but they walked from the cafeteria thanking the staff anyway. Della caught up with them and followed to the motel. They settled around the picnic table to visit.

“Well?” Della asked.

Steve answered. “We’re fine for now, but when the supplies run low they’ll be in trouble with being so remote. They’re not even thinking about becoming self-sustaining. No gardens are being planted and there has been no effort made to gather livestock or store up firewood for winter.”

Della sighed. “Meaning, there is a finite amount of supplies and no one is planning ahead.”

Steve nodded. “I can try to talk to them, but I really don’t think it’ll matter. Everyone here thinks the government will resolve the problem and things will go back to normal in a month or two…they don’t want to even imagine differently.”

The next day Steve met with the sheriff and mayor and city council.  He spent nearly an hour talking to the gathering of men and women.  They listened politely then dismissed him.  At the door, Steve stopped to listen.

“I’m not tearing it up my yard.  The government will have this resolved and then what?”

“But Gladys, what if they don’t?” Ollie answered.

“Don’t be ridiculous!  We took care of our own infection in less than six hours.” Another voice answered.

Tony cleared his throat. “At a pretty high fucking cost, too.”

Ollie jumped in. “That young man makes a strong argument for preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.  I think this is the case. We should be prepare….”

“We don’t have enough able bodied people to do what you’re asking.”

Steve sighed and spun the wheels of the chair and rolled away from the city council office.  He met Zack at the door.  With a shrug headed for the motel.

“Well, what did they say?”  Zack asked.

“Let’s start gathering supplies.”  Steve answered.

Two days later, the sound of heavy vehicles approaching the motel woke Steve from a sound sleep. He sat up in bed, slipped on his walking prosthetics and pants before crossing the room to the window.

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