Nothing was working and Thor was becoming more and more lethargic. Richards didn’t say anything but I could tell that he and Elsapet were both worried. What I didn’t know until I fussed was that Thor was allergic to all of the cillin type antibiotics and also couldn’t take tetracycline or sulfa meds. Had I had any of that stuff and had given it to him I could have killed him without meaning to. Why didn’t he tell me?
Instead I took my frustration out on Richards like a lot of people do to the health care helper. “Then why don’t you try other stuff?” I asked him.
“That’s it Rocky, that’s all we have and it’s stuff that will hurt him worse than the infection will,” Richards said.
“Not pills!” I yelled.
Elsapet tried to calm me, “Rocky, you are tired, you have not slept since the battle. You …”
“Yeah … me … I mean like me …” I stopped frustrated that my frustration was making me sound just north of crazy. I took a deep breath. “Look, when I was little my body kept changing so fast that it either didn’t recognize the amount of any medicine they gave me or I reacted badly to it. And I was sick a lot when I was little …”
I heard Alfonso mutter sotto voice, “You were little?”
I turned and he knew he’d stepped just a little too far over the line. “Yes I was little … maybe not what you think of as little but I was smaller. I didn’t pop out the size of the flaming Jolly Green Giant,” I snapped. I turned back towards Richards. “The doctors didn’t know what to do for me. I’d get sick, because I was ‘special’ they’d put me in the hospital, they’d pump me full of medication that might or might not work and sometimes I got well, sometimes I got worse, and sometimes they’d send me home still sick expecting me to die. My mother and grandmothers started ignoring most of the doctors except for a couple of them, one of the researchers, and this old army nurse because they treated us GWBs like real people instead of test subjects and guinea pigs, things to be studied. After all, if the ones in charge of my treatment plan were just going to send me home to suffer or die then there was nothing to lose. Actually what my family did for me, in the long run wound up helping some of the other GWBs too.”
“Rocky, I’m still not understanding,” Elsapet said but Richards had a suddenly intent look on his face.
“OK Kid, you tell me, what backwoods folk remedies are we talking here?”
“Well don’t make it sound like I’m about to tell you to carry a buckeye in your pocket to ward off rheumatism. I’m talking about real medicinals. Garlic, goldenseal, Oregon grape, black walnut, plantain, barberry – that’s internal stuff. External stuff for infections is tea tree oil, lemon, lavender, chamomile, thyme, myrrh, cloves – but some of that stuff can be strong so it has to be diluted.”
“Rocky … Kid … I don’t have any of that stuff and I don’t think there is a working herbalist around here.”
I turned away frustrated then was struck by something I remembered and turned back. I bent down and not knowing whether he could hear me or not said, “Thor, I’m not running away or leaving you. I have to go do something but I’ll be back. I promise. Just hold on.”
I grabbed my back and dug out some Ziploc bags I had in there.
“Rocky?” It was Pilbos and Grandmother Chuckri was with him.
“Grandmother says that if you can find what you are looking for she’ll have a pot of water boiling when you get back.
I stopped, looked at him in gratitude and asked Pilbos, “How do you say thank you in Armenian. I want to tell her.”
“You already did. She understands English; she just doesn’t speak it very well because she’s missing half her dentures.”
I nodded to them both and then took off at a jog. It seems that God had a purpose for making me belly crawl to the tree line. There’s nothing like getting up close and personal to the ground with your nose. I remember smelling the distinct odor of garlic … wild garlic. Now I just needed to find it again.
Thirty minutes passed before I was able to find a patch of it. I’m sure people must have thought I was crazy sniffing around the ground like a blood hound but the smell from the battle kept wafting in my way. When I did find it I fell on it like I’d found gold and carefully dug up what turned out to be a good sized patch. It wasn’t in prime condition … wild garlic is best picked in the summer and fall … but it wasn’t too dry either.
As I was coming back in I was met by a couple of women from Olive Branch. The older of the two said, “My man said you were out here foraging for something.”
“Yes ma’am but I need to …”
“Lands, is that … is that wild garlic?” she asked cutting me off when she saw what I had.
“Yes ma’am but I need to …”
“Is there more of it?”
“Yes ma’am, but please I need to …”
“Well, then don’t just stand there lollygagging girl, go do what you need to but I want to talk to you when you’re finished.”
Oh brother, she reminded me of one of the ladies at church that used to hold you talking your ear off, never letting you get a word in edgewise and then fussed when you were late getting somewhere like it was your fault she’d held you up. I ran inside and with the help of the Chuckri women we had the garlic washed and simmering for broth.
I explained to Richards while other people listened. “Everybody knows you can’t eat solids with a fever so the broth will be perfect. If he can drink this down – and I’ll feed it to him through a straw if I have to – then with the next batch I should have some wild greens to cook with the garlic. Greens and garlic makes some of the best broth for people who are sick and need to build their system back up. It has antiseptic properties that give a similar result to antibiotics only with less immediate results. And I know where to look for the goldenseal since I’m pretty sure that Oregon Grape doesn’t grow around here.”
After I fed a reluctant Thor a cup of the broth and made sure he got down more water as well I left to go “hunting” again. Foraging takes a lot of work and time. At home I already knew where different types of wild foods and medicinals were to be found - the women in my family had been cultivating some of those plots for over a century – but Illinois might as well have been the moon for all I knew about it. On the other hand I did know the normal type of habitats of the plants I was looking for.
As I left the gate that was in the process of being repaired - Uncle Bedros, Ludvig, and Tovmas were helping with that task – I was again followed by the two women from before only two others had joined them. One of the newcomers asked, “What are you looking for?”
I was close to getting upset but tried to be polite and said, “Goldenseal.”
“I saw some over behind the compound. Come on and I’ll show you.”
I was flabbergasted. She looked at my face and then laughed. “I used to be really into the all natural food plan … real paleo woman going the all hunter gatherer route. I haven’t had as much time for it the last couple of months but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost the habit. What else do you need? I’ve got some dried calendula, chamomile, lavender … I’m assuming it is for your man?”
“Yes!” and then she and I started talking with the other three women watching what we gathered, how, and then asking what it was good for.
The goldenseal was a little trampled but since it was the rhizome I was after that didn’t matter too much. I only took a little because it was kind of an endangered plant plus I knew that my mother had a patch of it marked off in the woods at home.
I traded the fresh rhizomes to the woman whose name was … and I cannot believe that her parents would have cursed her like this … Stormy Day. “If you think that’s bad then you’ll cry for me when you find out my middle name is Wendy.” She smiled and I couldn’t help but laugh a little with her rather than at her.
It took two days … two days of combined efforts of the garlic and goldenseal as the primary antiseptics plus whatever else I could … quite literally … dig up. I also wound up giving him some blackberry tea when the effects of the fever and some of the other remedies turned his guts to water.
“No … more.” I’m sure he felt like he was sloshing around with all the broth and teas I was all but force feeding to him.
“Thor, I know you are hurting. I know you don’t like feeling out of control of the situation. I know lots of things because I’d feel the exact same way in your shoes and have felt the exact same way as you are feeling and it really bites boogers. But if you don’t drink this broth right now I will sit on you, hold your nose until you are forced to open your mouth to breathe and then pour it down your throat with a funnel.”
Richards who was standing nearby said, “Uh, Rocky, not the best idea to threaten a man who will get better and may one day have you at his mercy.”
“Fine. If that’s the price then I’ll pay it and willingly. It’s not like he gave me a lot of choice when I had that fever before.”
Thor grumbled tiredly, “So this is pay back?”
“No you thick headed Neanderthal. This is me loving you enough to do what is going to keep you in this world, get you back on your feet soonest, so that you can then turn around and pitch your fit or whatever it is you want to do to exact your revenge on me. So too bad. I want you to live and get better and until your big bad self is able to get up and chase me around you are stuck with it.”
A tired snort and chuckle short circuited my righteous indignation. “OK, just wanted to clarify.” Thor was tired and still far from well but he was still Thor and I nearly broke down in tears of relief. That isn’t to say I didn’t have to do everything, up to and including bribery and trickery, to get him to … er … take his medicine.
And I was exhausted and cranky and didn’t always do the best I could have not to take it out on the people around me. I began to be able to manage a few hours of sleep here and there. It was eight days after the battle and we told the Olive Branch thank you for their hospitality and we did a final clean up of the area that we had been staying in.
Abe Rhodes said, “Personally I hate to see ya go. But … I can see where having your own plot of land is a thing to be envied.” He looked melancholy for a moment. “Missing mine and don’t know … well, hopefully this winter will calm things down a might and then I’ll see come spring. Springs a good time for new beginnings anyway.”
Thor was still too weak to ride. The fever and infection seemed to have eaten him hollow. But I couldn’t see him riding in the elder wagon either. The man’s pride was already pinching so I tried to help him thereby helping us at the same time.
As soon as I knew Thor was going to be OK I joined a salvage team that was going back into Cape Girardeau. I actually found everything I needed in one place. It seems that while our enemies may very well have been our enemies some of them were extremely clever and mechanically inclined. They had turned a car and RV lot into a chop shop and were converting truck beds into horse drawn trailers.
No completed rigs remained. I assume that the survivors of the great fire or even other people from the city must have already salvaged them had they existed; but, there were parts. It took me three trips but I managed to bring everything back to Olive Branch that I needed to make a redneck trailer. Lucky for me since I was limited in time and expertise the front part … the horse drawing part … of a couple of models were already together. I took one and the Olive Branch compound took the rest. Then they had truck bed trailers already fabricated and I picked a light weight one with tires that were still in pretty good shape. I also took some cans of tire fix, a jack, and a spare.
The problem was anyway I looked at it, trying to refabricate the wagon so that it would could be bolted to the front half – the horse drawing half – was going to take a lot of work. Thor saved the day on that one.
“Hon, you’re making this too hard and too much work. Were there any fifth wheel attachments at that place you found the rest of this?”
“Fifth wheel … oh, you mean a hitch jaw? The thing a fifth wheel is attached to in the back of a pick up?”
“The place had all the stuff in the back. There might be one in stock.”
“OK, if you can find one make it one of the lightest they have, some of those things are heavy. You’ll need the bolts for it to bolt it down with … and … let’s see … you’ll need a heavy duty metal punch and a good sledge hammer. Since we don’t have a metal drill we’ll have to punch through there,” he pointed to the location he wanted it. “And then set the hitch and bolt it down. Then you’ll be able to attach the trailer …”
“Oh wait, I see it. Sort of like a tractor trailer set up. That’ll give me a smaller turn circumference too that should help on any switch backs.”
“Yeah. We need to sit down and go over our route options. I really, really wanted to take the AT to get home and bypass as much civilization as we can but I’m not sure what shape it will be in and I don’t want to give up the horses.”
He nodded. “We’ll worry about that when we get closer.”
“Rochelle, let’s just get out of here and through Cairo first.”
And that reminded me that we weren’t much closer to our destination than we had been nearly two weeks ago. Pretty depressing. And at this rate cool weather would be setting in before we reached Fairview and it would be plain awful before we would reach my home … our home … the home I intended on sharing with Thor forever and ever.
“Stop worrying it to death Hon. I know you want to get home but we can only go so fast.”
I dropped to my knees beside him where he sat on a blanket soaking up some Vitamin D. “It’s not so much that I’m anxious … OK, maybe a little bit but that’s because I want to know what we have to work with … as I am to show you our home and get things weatherized before cold temps set in. The kind of travelling we are doing will be miserable in winter, if doable at all.”
“Our home?” He emphasized the word our in a funny way that made me take notice.
“Yeah,” I said quietly looking at him. “You said … you said that … Thor? Are you … um … having second thoughts or something?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “No Hon.”
“Then … do you not want to live on the farm together?” I asked still confused.
“Rochelle you said ‘our home’ like … like … I’m not sure what to call it.”
“Oh.” I said still a little confused then a light bulb went on. “Oh! This is one of those guy things. OK, how’s this. I was the only child … and a girl child at that … of the only son that inherited the family farm and land. I never was much of a city girl … you can imagine how well I would fit it … and had never really thought to live any place else except my parents were going to make me go someplace for college to ‘experience the world and make sure what I wanted.’”
“Sounds like a quote.”
“Yeah, and a few fights we had about it too. I had a couple of online universities that I preferred but Dad and Mom … I guess it doesn’t matter now. But either way I had always meant to live on the land and farm even if it was just a subsistence kind of life.”
He said, “Rochelle I already said I’d follow you to your home.”
“Not my home goof, our home … ours … together. See I’m not the first generation where there was only a girl to inherit. It hasn’t happened since the War Between the States when a Charbonneau married into the family but it had happened a couple of times before that. The farm was like … I don’t know … the daughter’s dowry. You understand what I’m trying to say? It’s what she brought to the marriage to make her a desirable partner.”
“Hey you … you’re a desirable partner even without a plot of land.”
I smiled and kissed him and wondered just how surprised he was going to be when he found out that the farm only made up a portion of the family land. We had a bunch of woods that backed right up to the national forest and ran from the top of the peak all the way down to where the Division of Forestry had their land. Most of the high ground wasn’t farmable though we did harvest things from it, but it was the eighty acre farm area that was our bread and butter. The farm land had originally covered more of our acreage but times and necessity had shrunk the cultivated area quite a bit.
“Glad you think so,” I told him. “But do you see? I never meant for the farm to be mine. I always had a dream of someday finding … I mean, I don’t know if I ever really believed that I would find someone … but it was a secret dream that one day the farm and land would be an ‘ours’ kind of place. I mean … are you OK with that?”
“You are honestly trying to turn me of all people into some kind of gentleman farmer?” He was playing with me and I knew it would all turn out OK.
“Who said anything about being a gentleman? If you don’t stop that foul mouth you’ll make the cows blush.”
“Blushing cows. That tempts me just enough that I’ve definitely got to see this place now.”
And that’s all how come the day to leave Thor was riding in semi comfort, even if not particularly happy with it, in a fifth wheel wagon while I drove it with my horse and Thor’s tied to the back. I had tried to pull the wagon tandem with both of them but Thor’s horse completely objected and there wasn’t time to train him to pull.
We had said our goodbyes the previous night in a bit of a hoe down party atmosphere arranged by Mr. Rhodes so it was a very quiet departure with few attending. Mr. Rhodes did show up to wave us off and I wondered if we would ever see or hear from him again. Uncle Bedros had taken a liking to him and had given him directions should he ever get out that way and Mr. Rhodes got a look in his eye like maybe he had a wandering itch that he wanted to scratch someday soon.
It was strange to be on the road again. We weren’t going far, not even fourteen miles; just to Cairo Junction but when we got there and found that the place had been all but razed to the ground in a fire that looked like it had happened the same time as the Cape Girardeau one had we were forced to keep going .
The next town was Future City and it, if anything, was worse that Cairo Junction but it was when we came to Cairo proper that we began to worry. The kind of firestorm that occurred to have done so much damage, including melting and twisted the road bed, had to have been huge. The damage in Cairo looked like it had been before the Cape Girardeau blaze, maybe months before. Cairo was like a ghost town on Mars … eerie, monochrome, and air so still you couldn’t think because it was too quiet.
Hal kept looking around, “I … I don’t understand. They kept saying that their leadership was here … in Cairo. That they had hundreds of followers spreading out from here conquering the new American wasteland. Our people … they swore they saw thousands of people over here. Guns, bombs, that there was no way we could win if we fought them. If … if I had known … I would have taken the kids weeks … months ago … I …”
Surprisingly it was Vika that answered him. “People lie Mr. Hal. People lie. Even people you are supposed to be able to trust, that are supposed to care about you. They fool you and … and sometimes you do things just because they said so and then … you don’t know how you ever could listen to them in the first place.”
Poor Vika. Barely nine and already sounding like someone that had seen a lifetime of pain; grown before she had any business being that way.
It was getting later and I saw that Thor was getting tense on top of tired. And all of the animals were getting tired and snappish. Everyone was beginning to get stressed out. There was no place to stop, no fresh water beyond what we had in the barrels, no grass for the animals. It was a barren wasteland of twisted melted, fallen concrete, and broken glass.
Barkley said to me, “Don’t feel so bad Kid. Cairo has been going this way since I was a kid. It’s an old town that wasn’t kept up. The state politics all but destroyed Chicago and they tried to take the rest of the state with them. There’s sections here untouched by the fire but you wouldn’t know it because they were already in such bad shape to begin with. A shame about some of them old Victorians that had been kept up though … and the Custom House too.”
But when we got to the bridge, the only one that crosses the Ohio River at this place, that I knew we wouldn’t be leaving the area on that day.