Day of N
Hunter rapidly moved up with Zeki while Vernon and Ramsey quickly followed. This quickly made the area a bit crowded and made the sheriff a bit nervous since it made it harder to keep track of the five survivors.
After a few seconds of debate, the sheriff glanced down to Gage, "Hey, we're getting a bit crowded up here. You should go help Angus with Devin and the three of you get to the truck, back it up to the offshoot, turn around and back it back up here. There isn't enough room up here for everyone. Just make damned sure you keep your eyes open, cause until you are back with us, you all will be seen as an easy target."
Gage gave a thumb's up, but paused to walk up to the body of the first man he shot. He looked over the body and then grabbed the rifle and glanced up. "Hey Vern, you should use this to cover one side and Ram should take the other, just in case someone does show up. This way if there is a firefight we don't use our own ammo."
Vernon looked at the rifle and begrudgingly nodded. "OK, but it's awfully big for me. I think I'll go with the 30-30 up here. I at least know I can shoot it since I used one when we went hunting last winter."
Gage shrugged as he rifled the dead man's pockets and came up with a couple of handfuls of extra ammo. "Fine, then I'll take these since I didn't have much to start out with."
The sheriff let out a snort, "Check the floor of the truck on the passenger side. My son left some stuff for you all including plenty of rounds for your rifle."
Gage let out a long breath, "I'll look, but I can't take any more weight. I'm pretty much at my max load."
Hunter glanced over to Vernon, "Dude, I'm going to need Gage's help with first aid…"
Vernon nodded as he grabbed the 30-30 and glanced around, "Um, any more bullets for this?"
The big guy nodded and pointed to a badly singed framed backpack. "A box and a half stuffed into the upper left pouch."
Gage appeared taking a couple of deep breaths before getting a hand the rest of the way up by the sheriff. "Man what a load!"
The sheriff snickered, "You could always get rid of the grenade rifle and ammo. That would save you a good ten to fifteen pounds."
This got a short gasp out of the injured woman, "You have grenades?"
"And a grenade launcher!" Gage stated with a degree of pride. "Ain't no way I'm getting rid of it!"
Hunter moved up to the woman and knelt, "And he knows how to shoot them thanks to our assistant scout master. Now let me take a look at your shoulder."
From inside the cab of the train the boy spoke up, "I should have joined scouts!"
This got some laughter out of the sheriff, "Young'an, it was only after the bombs fell, he was taught…"
Vernon interrupted, "But thanks to him, all of us but Zeek have taken hunter safety courses and have had firearm training with NRA guys. Most of us went both pheasant and deer hunting too!"
"Yeah, definitely should have joined scouts." The boy grumbled and he pulled his sister tighter into his side. "I've never even shot a BB gun!"
Hunter glanced into the cab and smiled at the boy. "Most troops aren't lucky enough to have a leader like Mr. Korbal. It was way less fun and exciting before he joined us."
The woman winced as Hunter took a closer look and used some water out of his canteen to wash around the wound.
"Sorry…" Hunter started only to get cut off.
"Kid, getting shot is nothing compared to the flash burn from the bomb. Hell, this isn't even as bad as when I clean the back of my head and squeeze crap out of those two blisters back there."
Hunter slid forward and took a look. "I think those are more like cysts. If I pack them with bits of clean gauze maybe we could soak up enough junk to let them dry out, but it would really hurt. At the moment I need to get the blood from around the bullet wound to stop."
"Bleeding doesn't stop on any of us as quickly as it should, nor do these damned blisters stop filling up." The big man stated.
Gage looked at the man with some fear but moved over to him and looked at the blisters. "Um, Hunter, this doesn't look or smell right."
Hunter stood and glanced over, "Gage, take over here. Let me take a look."
The sheriff moved out of the way as the badly burned man, who had moved the weapons to the front of the train, stayed put well away from the others, put his back to the metal side of the locomotive, and slid down with an exhausted sounding sigh. "Guys, maybe you should look at this gentleman first."
The man waved the sheriff off, "Take care of them and my kids. It's too late to help me. I was on the dock my son, Levi, was swimming off of when the bomb hit. The water superheated in the flash and anyone close to it was scalded. Almost everyone who was on the water got it way worse than those on shore did because of the steam off the lake. It was all I could do to cover Rivka with my body, but I wasn't fast enough to stop my daughter from looking into the blast itself. My skin is starting to rot and die. My own kids can't even stand the smell of me anymore. I can barely stand my own smell, and it is getting worse."
This got a whimper out of the girl, showing she was at least aware of what was being said, but neither she nor her brother said a word. This, in turn, told the sheriff they had already accepted this fact. It also explained the venomous of the 'I'm not your son' comment out of the boy. Levi knew his father was about to die and didn't want to see anyone try to take his place.
Hunter's brow scrunched up as he listened, "If the water boiled and your son was swimming, why isn't he burned worse?"
Levi responded in a voice devoid of emotion, "I was coming back up after jumping off, so I was pretty deep. My right arm was above the rest of me and got burned. I think I yanked it back and screamed. I remember taking in lots of water and trying to breathe underwater when everything went black, but someone must have pulled me out. I woke up to the guy in the Land Rover you were talking about, giving me mouth-to-mouth. Once I came around he flipped me over and forced me to throw-up a lot of water. He was about to take me with the others to the other town with the hospital, but I saw my dad with my sister being helped off what was left of the dock by a couple of others so I ran to him. The Land Rover guy wanted to take all of us, but Dad wanted to find my mom and brother, so they left saying they would try to come back, but never did."
"With all those bad storms they never got a chance, Levi." The dad stated with as much sternness as he could put into his voice. "Remember, you would be dead without him."
"And living after what happened is some kind of blessing?" Levi responded in frustration. "We can't go home to Denver. There is no chance Grandma's house still exists in Pittsburgh, and Uncle Elias' apartment in New York City must be gone too. Where do you want me and Rivka to go, Dad?"
The man's head dropped into his hands as he cried, "I don't know… I couldn't even find Jonah…"
Levi pounded his right left fist into the floor, "I'm sorry I wanted to go swimming and didn't want to wait for him!"
Ramsey looked in at Levi, "If he had been with you, he would have probably been burned like your dad. You just got very lucky, and yeah, I would say it is a blessing you got out with no damage."
Levi winced and let out a bit of a yelp as he pulled off the racing jacket and held up his arm, "Does this look like nothing to you?"
Ramsey cringed as he saw ripples of skin from the wrist to the elbow. He held up both hands, "Dude, sorry, I couldn't see that!"
Hunter glanced over and got a light push from the burly park ranger. "See what you can do for him first. I'm pretty sure I am either royally screwed or will be fine. Those blisters don't even hurt much anymore."
Hunter looked down, "Mister, you need to get to a real doctor. If you are losing feeling then something is pretty wrong and I hate to say it, but Gage is right. It doesn't smell right."
"Then I am either dead or I need more help than you can give me. Take care of the kids."
Hunter closed his eyes as he forced himself to recall everything he could remember reading about burns and blisters. "Those need to dry out. I hate to say this, but you should pull off all the outer skin, clean it, and see if it will dry before infection and other nasty stuff gets deeper into the skin. If it already has, then cutting out the outer layer of the skin underneath may be the only other option. Without a doctor, it is the best option I can think of."
"Do you have any idea how much pain you are asking me to endure? I'd prefer you shooting me again."
The sheriff looked over at the man, "It may be your only shot at living, and like it or not, I don't think anyone is going to try to force you to do it as big as you are. I can also tell you he may be young, but he is smarter than I'll ever hope to be."
Hunter eyed Levi as he entered the cab. With his gaze fixated on the kid who was very close to his own age, he almost fell as his foot stepped on one of the multitude of soup cans. Like the sheriff had before, he eyed the vast number of cans with some curiosity, but quickly focused back on the task at hand. "So can I take a look?"
"You are the ones with the guns, so do I have a choice?"
Hunter eyed the boy, "Yeah, it's totally up to you. All I want to do is help if I can."
"Yeah, sure," Levi responded in obvious disbelief.
"Hey," Gage spoke up from outside the cab, "you all were the ones trying to surprise us and wanted our stuff."
"And you shot at us first." Levi snarled back.
Ramsey quickly defended his actions; "I only fired a warning shot way up on the engine so the sheriff wouldn't be taken by surprise. Besides, I saw a gun barrel; one of you were aiming a pistol at him."
The father's voice deepened as much as the man could force it to do so, "Levi, knock it off and let them look at your arm. The idea up here was to take them by surprise, and you know it. They were ready for an ambush and won. Don't hold that against them and behave before I give the sheriff here permission to break out a belt and tan your rear-end!"
Levi's shoulders slumped as he stuck out his arm for Hunter to look at. "Yes sir."
"Better. Now be civil and do what they tell you. Your life may well depend on it." The man stated firmly, then looked up at the sheriff, "So… you really are law enforcement?"
The old man nodded as he knelt and tried real hard not to cringe at the smell coming off the body of the man, but failed. The smell was the sickly, sweet smell of gangrene and the even worse odor of the rot of dead flesh. The smell made the sheriff a bit ill, while also giving the man a huge amount of respect for the father's will to continue to cling to what life was left in him.
The man held up his hand, "I know. I am dying from the outside in. Everyone, including my kids, knows it. So don't feel bad; I've already come to grips with it."
"It is what it is." The man paused and looked into the sheriff's eyes with a look that bordered on hope mixed with desperation. "So, tell me about yourself."
The sheriff already guessed where the conversation would lead. The man needed to find someone to take care of his kids and he was rapidly running out of time and choices. Because of this, the sheriff forced himself to move a bit closer and sat down as close as his nose could stand. "Well, my name is William. I hate the name Bill, so most people call me Will…" William forced a grin, "Actually most just call me Sheriff anymore, and have for over fifteen years. I've been in law enforcement for about half my life, a bit more now. I spent three tours in Vietnam and saw hard combat. Coming back I jumped right into Dallas PD and didn't look back. Until the gang crap really kicked in, I figured Dallas would be where I would stay. But it got to the point where the cops in Dallas started to ignore the small stuff. Hell graffiti in poor areas wasn't even seen as a crime by the time I left. Not wanting to see things go downhill more, I came back home and ran for sheriff. I won the first time by like forty votes, then each year the margin grew. Haven't had a contender for over six years now though.
"I've seen a hell of a lot of bad crap and figured I pretty much knew the worst people could do to each other, but… Well shit, this takes it to a whole new level. I never figured I'd be in a situation like this. The badge doesn't mean squat to anyone who doesn't know me now and I can't blame them. Me and my one deputy are the only ones in law enforcement I know for a fact survived and after some of what I have seen and heard, no one can fully trust anyone they don't personally know. As my own son and grandkids found out, not even those who wear a military uniform and are real soldiers are automatically trustworthy."
"So what are you doing out here?"
William nodded in the direction of Ramsey who was walking around looking out over the landscape with the military rifle ready. "These boys do. They saved my family and wanted to come out here and find their parents who went looking for them once the news started to get so bad. I figured the least I could do was get them to the park. Truth be told, I was hoping we could find a couple of their parents and convince them to all stay with us back in Jennings. We are setting up a refugee camp, and are going to need all the help we can get."
The badly burned man looked over at Gage who was taping a bandage over the gunshot wound on the woman's shoulder. "But they are just boys."
"Boys, yes, but just boys… nope, not even close. Just boys are the ones who are now either starving to death because there is no more food in the panty or are still trying to flip light switches hoping the power will come back on. If these kids were just boys, they would be crying their eyes out about not knowing where their moms and dads are instead of trying to find them. These boys have proven they will stand up for those in need, can shoot, hunt, know some first aid, how to set up a camp, filter water, and have stood up to rogue military men wanting to take my two granddaughters."
William pointed to Hunter as the boy started peeling away some of the bubbled skin on Levi's arm. Levi tried to pull away, but Hunter shook his head and pointed to the clear liquid coming out of the area he had just worked on.
The burned man shook his head, "Levi, I know it hurts, but you have to let him help you."
"I need him to hold still," Hunter looked over with some desperation in his voice. "This all has to come off before it gets infected… It just has to!"
William looked over at Ramsey, "Keep watch on the far side; I'll take this side. Gage, you and um… the one you call Zeek help Hunter. There is no way Levi is going to be able to hold still, no matter how hard he tries. You'll have to hold him for Hunter."
Levi's father nodded. "Levi, don't you dare try to fight them."
Levi gulped down a few breaths of air, while nodding his understanding. His eyes, however, pled for it not to happen even while Zeek and Gage both moved to help hold the kid as still as possible.
William and Levi's father stopped talking and watched as Levi thrashed, forcing Gage to wrap boy in a bear hug with both his arms and legs, keeping Levi's legs and good arm pinned to his side. The force required to keep the kid locked up caused Gage to grit his teeth.
Tears dripped down Hunter's cheeks as he continued to work on the arm, while Zeki held it as still as he could. Levi turned his head to look at his father and the sheriff while doing his best to stifle scream after scream, pretty much failing.
"I'm almost done. There really wasn't as much bubbled up skin as it first looked." Hunter managed to announce as he fought hard not to burst into sobs over what he was putting the kid through. A few seconds later Hunter peeled off the final bubble and broke out a roll of sterile gauze. "Done… Levi I'm done… I just need to clean it, put some burn cream on it, and wrap it. We'll have to clean it every day and let it dry before we wrap it again, but the worst should be over."
Zeki let Levi go as soon as Hunter had the arm wrapped, but Gage kept him pinned. "I want to let you go, but I don't want you taking a swing at me, OK?"
"Keep him held until he calms." The father warned, "He has a temper."
Gage kept a tight grip as he glanced over with a smirk, "I would too if some just pulled skin off my arm; I've got him. I don't think he has much left in him though."
"You may be surprised Gage." The sheriff warned. "Adrenaline can pop up at some odd times. Wait until his breathing is steady and he can speak to you. Then, when you do let go, do so quickly and back away."
It took almost two minutes before Levi spoke through his tears and sobs, "I'm good, let go, just let go."
Levi's father spoke up, "Son, when he lets go just lie there, or I swear on the Torah itself I will find someone to beat your ass. Got me?"
This caused Levi to relax even more as he nodded, broke down, and sobbed. As soon as Gage felt this, he released and rolled clear. He looked back, half expecting Levi to come after him, but the kid had nothing left in him much to Gage's relief.
The sheriff gave Gage a nod of appreciation before turning back to the father. "As I was saying, these boys and others like them are the best hope this world has left."
Off on the opposite side of the train a sudden, "Son of a bitch!" came out of the big park ranger as he took out a small hand mirror and started pulling off the blisters off his own face.
The guy stopped as he saw, Hunter, Gage and Ramsey all looking at him. "God-damn-it, if he can handle it, so can I! Now leave me the fuck alone!"
Hunter tossed the man prepackaged alcohol wipe and a sterile packaged scalpel. "At least use these. It's already infected. You don't want to make it worse. Wipe your hands with the alcohol before you do any more and cut as much as you can off, it will be way less painful then pulling at them."
Levi's father had seen and heard enough, "So, Will, I am sure you can guess what I want?"
"I'll make sure they are taken care of," William nodded. "What about you?"
"I'm dead, but I am going to go back to the park and try one last time to find my other boy." He forced himself to stand. "If I do find him, how do I get him to you?"
"Straight down these tracks." The sheriff pointed as he too stood. "Good luck and God Bless."
"I think he just did. He let you and these boys find us." The man moved to look into the cab, knowing it would be the last time he would see his son and daughter. "Kids, Sheriff William is going to take you back to his town. You do what he says…"
The girl leaned forward and sobbed. At the same time Levi looked up and weakly raised his good arm and hand, "Dad! No!"
"Levi, you knew this was coming, now be a good and do what you are told, just like you would for Grams and Gramps."
Before more could be said, the man grabbed a small badly burned pack and slid down the ladder railing.
William moved up to the pile of weapons and tossed down the millimeter pistol. "You better take this. Is there more ammo for it?"
The woman pointed to a grey, kid's school backpack. "In there, an extra clip and a half box of rounds. It's amazing how many people had guns hidden in their cars once we really started to look through things to find useable stuff."
The sheriff quickly grabbed the pack and jumped down from the train. "Feels like a few cans of food in there too. If you find your other boy send him down these tracks. There is only one town before mine and it is small, but does have ten silos to load grain onto trains, they are side-by-side, so two sets of five. Jennings is the next one. It has a large building, followed by four gain silos right next to the tracks. We should have some kind of tent camp set up by the time he gets there. Tell him to ask for Hank, he is my son and the general store owner. He just has to say he is Levi's brother to Hank and he will be taken care of. How old is he?"
"Turns fourteen in less than a month." The man took the second smaller pack and nodded his thanks to the sheriff. "Any lip, don't hesitate. I am one who firmly believes the term 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. All my kids are used to it. Also, as I am sure you have guessed by their names, we are Jewish, but you bring them up the way you feel best. I am leaving them fully in your hands."
"Understood, but I am sure they'll both be fine. God speed."
The sheriff found himself still looking into the direction the man had limped off to as the sounds of the pickup returning came to his ears, followed a few seconds later by the sounds of the massive diesel engines in the locomotive coming to life. He glanced up with wide eyes only to see Zeki looking down with a grin that was almost too big for the boy's small face.
Hunter moved over to the rail and looked down, "Sheriff, Levi and Rivka are both really crying."
"Keep them company until we get back to Jennings, then Hank and I will take over. We need to get out of here. What do we need to do to get this thing moving?" He slapped the side of the locomotive for emphasis.
"Zeek pulled the breakers on the ATP unit which allowed the engines to start. He also took a look and thinks if he goes real slow he can pull the last car back onto the tracks. It isn't all the way off and the car behind it broke off and fell into the ravine when the bridge went. He says the last car's brakes are not working, but it shouldn't be a big issue since it is only one car and this will be a very short train. The rest looks good to him though."
"Then let him give this a try. These rail cars would be a good place to store food since rats and mice will have a hard time getting up to them. I'll take the lead in the pickup."
The sheriff glanced one last time in the direction the man had gone before he walked back to the pickup, noting the tires were not looking good after going over the railroad ties for as long as they had. He almost motioned for Angus to get out of the driver's seat but quickly thought better of it. "So, how about you drive and let this old man sit back, check his blood sugar, eat and relax?"
Angus grinned, "As long as you don't give me a ticket for being too young."
For the first time in several hours the old man laughed as he climbed in the passenger seat. He motioned for the other two boys with Angus to hold on in the back and leaned back. "Take me home, son."