After putting gauze on my cut, Luke found some Saran Wrap and wrapped it around my leg to keep the dressing dry. Then he located a plastic bag and taped it over my injured foot. He helped me limp to the bedroom and then into the ensuite bathroom where he’d put a plastic patio chair he’d found in the shower. “Will you be okay or do you need help getting in?”
“I’m okay”, I said. I didn’t want him to see me naked unless it couldn’t be helped.
“Holler if you need me. I’ll put your suitcase in the bedroom.”
I thanked him and he shut the door on his way out.
The shower was heavenly. It had been weeks since I’d found a place to stay that had solar panels, well water and a septic system. Cities and towns were out as municipal services had shut down shortly after the virus had made it‘s way through the population. Sometimes I’d find a suitable place, but there would be a few dead bodies in it, even though I tended to stop only at places with no vehicles in the driveway. I didn’t have the stomach to remove bodies and I doubted that would have got rid of the smell anyway. I only stayed at any place one night, as I wanted to get on the road as soon as possible the next day to continue to look for other survivors. So most of my bathing was done by cold water sponge bath or a sponge bath with water heated over a fire in houses I found with a fireplace. In the summer, if I was near a lake, I’d bathe in it using biodegradable soap.
Needless to say, I spent as much time as I could justify in the shower this first day in the fire station. I didn’t want to drain the tank, as Luke wanted a shower as well. So I forced myself to get out after a while. I sat on the edge of the bathtub to dry myself, then hopped into the bedroom. Luke had put my suitcase on the bed, which I appreciated. I got clean clothes out and put them on then hopped to the door and opened it. I hopped to the closest chair in the office and sat down. I was beginning to feel like a rabbit, hopping all over the place. It was tiring.
Luke came in from the kitchen a couple minutes later. He had had a shower, but had obviously taken less time than I did. “Feel better?” he asked?
“I’ll help you into the kitchen and we can figure out what to have for a late lunch. Do you cook?”
“I’m a farm wife. Yes, I cook!” We both laughed. He put his arm around my waist and I put mine around his and I hopped my way through the office and into the kitchen. I sat down at the table.
“I can give you something for that headache now that you are out of the shower”, he said. “Are you allergic to any medications?”
“Yes, ASA”, I replied.
“Oh boy, that will limit you in what you can take. I’ll give you a couple Tylenol.”
“Thank you”, I said as he shook the pills into my hand and then set a glass of water in front of me.
“Our choices for lunch seem to be canned soup or frozen French fries.”
“Soup is fine. Hey, is that a bread maker I see on the counter?”
“Yes, I believe so. Though I’m not familiar with kitchen gadgets.”
“I’ll take a look and see if all the ingredients I need are here. If they are, I’ll make a loaf this afternoon.”
“You need to stay off that foot.”
“There has to be a stool somewhere in here that I can sit on.”
“I’ll look around for one. I’m thinking of going to the next city after lunch and finding a hospital to get some supplies from as well as crutches and a wheelchair for you. And some casting materials or an air cast boot. I don‘t think you have a concussion, otherwise I wouldn‘t leave you. You don‘t have any symptoms other than a headache and you looked fine when I checked you out, except for your blood pressure and pulse, which I will check before I leave. If they haven‘t come down, I will wait until tomorrow.”
“Crutches would help me get around a lot better. I‘d prefer a boot to a plaster cast.”
“Is there anything else you’d like me to get for you? How are you for your medication? Do you have enough?”
“I’m getting a bit low. I was going to look around for a pharmacy one of these days.”
“Write down the names of the drugs and I’ll get some.”
“I can give you the prescription bottles and my chart from my cardiologist‘s.”
“How did you get that?”
“I went looking for it after everything fell apart. Figured I might need it some day. He kept a paper chart as well as one on the computer.”
“That was a wise thing to do.” Luke set a bowl of vegetable soup in front of me and sat down with his. He pushed a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve over to me. “I found this sticking out from under the toaster.”
I read the paper, it was done up on a computer.
“To Whomever is reading this:
You have either survived the virus or are immune to it and you have stumbled upon the fire station. Welcome. Come in, make yourself at home.
We, the last firefighters from the station who are still alive, have gone off somewhere remote to die so that you won’t find rotting, stinking bodies in here.
We have stocked the cupboards and pantry with canned food. There are dry goods in storage bins so that vermin don’t get into the packages. There are two deep freezes out in the vehicle bay, behind the ambulance, that we have filled with meat and frozen foods.
The power should be on - those solar panels next to the station are ours. The thermostat is set low so that the furnace will only come on in the coldest of weather. This is to conserve the tank of oil. There’s an oil dealer on the edge of town, there’s a map under this piece of paper. You can check it out and see if it hasn’t already been raided if you need more.
There are plenty of beds if your party is large. Also, there is a bedroom behind the office. That was our captain’s. She hopes you find it comfortable.
The station is on well water. It is clean, you do not need to worry about drinking it. There are spare pumps in the office in case it malfunctions.
The two ambulances in the vehicle bay have some medical supplies. There’s a hospital in the city about a half hour away where you can get more and equipment, if you need it. The small town here has a couple doctors’ offices and a pharmacy. There is also a grocery store where you can get more non perishables and cleaning supplies, personal care products etc.
If you see a beagle hanging around, he’s our mascot. His name is Sherlock and he’s 3 years old. He is very friendly and would love it if you would take him in. There is dry dog food in one of the bins and canned food in the pantry. He gets a cup of dry mixed with a bit of canned twice a day.
Stay as long as you want. We only ask that when you go, you leave the station neat, clean and tidy for anyone else who needs it.
Michelle and crew”
“That blows me away, Luke. They were dying and they went off to do so so that nobody who stopped at the station had to find the bodies.”
“And they made sure the place was well stocked with food and supplies.”
“I hope Sherlock comes around. I love dogs. Beagles are great.”
“Did you have a dog?”
“Oh, yes. A few over the years, we were farmers. Mandy got the virus - from what I heard, dogs, cats, horses, pigs and some cattle breeds, mostly dairy, were affected - almost 100% mortality. Which means we might see some that survived. Did you have any pets?”
“No, I was too busy to give time to one. What kind of farmers were you?”
“Dairy. We had a herd of 100 milking cows plus heifers for replacements. We also grew our own feed and some wheat for extra income.”
“Dairy farming was a hard way to make a living.”
“All farming is hard, but we made enough to meet our needs. In Canada, we had quotas, so there wasn’t the problem of too much product that you had in the States - so the price we got for our milk was more than it cost us to produce it.”
“I take it you lost all your animals?”
“Yes. All the cattle, horses, the dog and barn cats. Our chickens survived. When I realized I couldn’t stay there and couldn’t take them with me, I butchered them and put them in the freezer. There is solar power to the house and barn. I rerouted the panels connected to the milking barn to the house to make sure there was enough power to keep the freezer going through the winter. It’s a “just in case I end up back there” move. If I don’t go back, maybe someone looking for shelter will find it and be able to eat.”
“That had to have been hard to do.”
“It wasn’t too bad. I didn’t get particularly attached to the chickens and we did our own butchering anyway so I was used to it. The hardest was burying the dog and horses. Anyway, let’s get off this morbid subject, shall we?”
“Great idea, Juliana! Is there anything you want me to get while I’m out foraging?”
“The rest of my belongings.”
“If I have room in the car, I’ll get them. Anything from the city?”
“Depending on what stores you go in, some DVDs or books. If there’s anything by Robin Cook, he’s one of my favourite authors but I haven’t read anything in years as I just haven’t had time. So any book they have, I probably have not read.”
“I’ll see what I can do. What do you want to do while I’m gone?”
“I’m thinking I might have a nap. I’m wiped right out.”
“I can help you get to the bedroom if you like.” He assisted me through the office and into the bedroom, then he got his equipment and took my blood pressure and pulse again. “Much better!” he declared. “Your blood pressure is 140/85 and your pulse is 75. Still a tiny bit high but I’m satisfied with it for now. I think you can be left alone for a few hours.”
I gave him my prescription bottles and medical chart, which was in my suitcase. He took them and said he’d read the chart later. Before he left, he brought me a couple bottles of water from a case in the pantry. I layed down and pulled a blanket over myself. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
When I woke up, it took me a moment to get my bearings. I’d found this happened every time I slept in this new world. Most of the time, I was at a different place than the day before so I needed to orient myself and remember where I was. The pain in my broken foot reminded me of what had happened that morning.
I got out of bed and went to the bathroom to relieve myself and splash water on my face. I took a look under the vanity and noted that there were various cleaning and personal care products as well as some dog shampoo.
I hopped out of the bedroom and into the office, looking for something to read. There was a HUGE book on the desk. I looked at it. It was called “Under the Dome” and was by Stephen King. I picked it up and hopped back to the bedroom. My purse was on the floor beside my suitcase and I fished my reading glasses out of it before laying down to start the book. It was way too big to lay on my back to read, so I turned onto my tummy and hung my left foot over the side of the bed so there would be no pressure on the broken bone.
It didn’t take me long to get immersed in the book. A couple hours must have gone by when I heard the unmistakable sound of canine nails on bare floor. That must be Sherlock, I thought. Though it sounds like more than one dog. I took a piece of paper out of my purse to use as a bookmark and closed the tome. Even in the apocalypse, I wouldn’t fold the corner of a page over.
I sat up and called out “Sherlock!” and listened. The sound was getting closer and then there he was in the bedroom doorway. What a cute little tri-coloured beagle! “Come here, Sherlock.” He hesitated, then I saw another dog behind him. It came up around him and stuck it’s head inside the doorway. I could tell it was part beagle but not purebred. It was brown and white.
I talked softly to the dogs. They seemed very wary of me. Understandable, they likely had not seen a human in six months. Sherlock was the first to come through the doorway and into the bedroom. I put my hand out for him to sniff and he approached me with trepidation. He sniffed my hand and looked up at me. His tail began to wag. I knew I had his trust and petted his head.
His companion was a little more wary than Sherlock. I could tell the dog was a female. She had tags on her collar, I hoped one had her name on it, but I could not reach out to read them as she was too scared. I’d spook her if I tried. She sniffed my arm as I petted Sherlock. When her tail started to wag, I knew she was beginning to trust me. After a few minutes I was able to pet her.
Both of them desperately needed a bath, but I couldn’t do it alone with a broken foot. I’d have to wait until Luke was back and get him to help. I figured they were probably thirsty and hungry, so I hopped out to the kitchen and found a couple bowls which I filled with water and put on the floor. They headed right for them and drank a good deal. Then I got a couple plastic bowls in case I dropped them and hopped out to the pantry where I found the bin with the dog food in it. Someone - probably Michelle - had labelled all the bins and cupboards. I gave them each a half cup, not wanting to overload their stomachs as I figured they either hadn’t eaten or hadn’t eaten much lately. I could see their ribs - it was evident they were underweight.
Just as they were finishing their food, I heard a car pull in. Sherlock and his friend ran out to the vehicle bay to meet it. Oh, no! Luke did not know the dogs were here and would not be watching for them! I needn’t have worried. When I hopped out there, I saw that Sherlock was giving the car a wide berth and his friend was sticking close to his side. He probably knew to stay clear of vehicles from seeing the fire trucks and ambulances coming and going all the time.
Luke parked the car and I hopped up to it so I could lean on it as I was feeling unsteady on just one foot. The dogs stood well back and barked at him as he got out. “One of those must be Sherlock”, he said to me.
“Yes, he responded to his name. I don’t know what his companion’s name is. I haven’t been able to read her tags yet, I was barely able to pet her.
“They look like they need a bath!”
“They sure do - and guess who gets to do that?”
“Oh, no - not me!”
“Ok, I’ll do it.”
“Not with that broken foot, you won’t!” He sighed. “I guess I’m doing it. I suppose making them stay outside is out of the question?”
“Darn right it’s out of the question!” I gave him a look that said Don’t even think of putting them outside!
“Let me unload the car first. You will have to give me step by step instructions as I have never given a dog a bath before.”
The first thing he got out of the car was a pair of crutches and had me try to walk with them. “They are too high, I’ll adjust them”, he said after I’d gone a few steps. I went into the kitchen and sat down while he tinkered with them, then he had me try them again. Perfect! Good, now I could get around a lot easier.
While Luke finished unloading the car, I put a pot of coffee on. The coffee maker was a commercial one that was hooked into the water supply. That made it a lot easier. When it was finished brewing, we sat down at the table with a cup. The dogs sat by me. “They will get used to you”, I said to him. “Try talking to them and let them sniff you if they approach you. That’s their way of checking you out.”
He told me about his trip to the city. “I got lots of medical supplies in case we need them. IV bags, antibiotics, dressings, suturing supplies - I didn’t have a lot with me. I also went to WalMart and got some movies, tv shows and books. There were a few by Robin Cook so I grabbed them for you. And I got your medication. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough room in the car to get your belongings out of yours, but I will do that tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Luke. I appreciate that. Now I have an urge to go to WalMart and raid it.” I laughed.
“I can take you, I brought back a wheelchair for you.”
“There are wheelchairs there, don’t waste space in the car. Hey, they have the electric carts, I wonder if the batteries are still charged?”
“After six months? I tend to doubt it.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. If I could get into the battery, I could probably hook it up to a car battery, but it’s probably next to impossible to get at.”
“Pushing you in a wheelchair is no problem. But it is very dark in there. I was barely able to navigate it using my flashlight.”
I thought a moment. “I bet there are really good flashlights on the fire truck that is left here.”
“You are probably right! I’ll look for them later. We need to get those dogs bathed.”
“First you need to gain their trust. Go get the bin that has the dog food and treats in it from the pantry.” When he came back with the bin, I said “Take a biscuit out of the box of treats and break it in half. Sit down and hold half a treat in each hand. Put your hands down to their level and let them come to you. Be patient. Talk to them in a calm voice.”
It took less time than I’d thought it would for the dogs to approach Luke. Either they figured he was okay or they were hungry enough to put their fears aside for half a biscuit each. “What do I do now?” he asked me.
“Give them another half biscuit, then see if you can pet Sherlock. He’s the bigger one and seems less afraid than his companion.”
Sure enough, Sherlock was the first to let Luke pet him. His companion took the treat then returned to my side. “Give them each a piece of their kibble. That’s better for them than too many biscuits.”
He did as I suggested and finally, the other dog approached him to get the food and let him pet her. I could tell she was ready to bolt if he made a wrong move, but Luke stayed calm.
After a while, I suggested we try to get them into the ensuite bathroom. “Let’s take a small bowl of the food, hopefully it will get them into the tub.”
“You’re going to put the bowl in?”
“No, just hold a piece of kibble over the edge, they should jump in.”
I was right, it worked like a charm. I sat on the toilet lid and told Luke how to bathe them. I know he wasn’t thrilled to do it, but he did it anyway. I don’t think he liked the idea of them being inside when they were so dirty. Before he let them out of the tub after rinsing them off with the showerhead, I suggested he exit the room if he didn’t want to get sprayed. Once they’d shaken themselves off a couple times, I opened the door and let them into the bedroom.
I got my hair dryer out of my suitcase and found one in the closet - I figured if the bedroom was used by a woman, there would be one there. I handed it to Luke. “You dry Sherlock and I’ll do the female.” I laid a clean towel on the bed and invited her up onto it. I didn’t know how she’d react to the blow dryer, but I needn’t have worried. I sat down and turned the hair dryer on and started drying her side. She seemed to like it. After awhile, she layed down and fell asleep. I had to wake her up to get her to roll over so I could dry her other side.
I took the opportunity to look at her tags. One was the standard “vaccinated against rabies” tag, the other was engraved with the name “Molly” and a telephone number, which was useless now. At least I knew her name, if nothing else about her. She looked to be crossed with maybe a sheltie.
“Well, Molly”, I said to her. “Let’s see if you are spayed.” I knew that Sherlock was neutered, that was easy to tell. With females, you can’t tell just by looking. I ran my fingers along the centre of her underside below the umbilical scar. I felt a scar running lengthwise. Yep, she was spayed. She wouldn’t be contributing to canine repopulation.
After we’d dried the dogs off, Luke took the towels to the laundry room. There was a heavy duty washer and dryer. He said he’d wash them tomorrow along with any clothes I had to do.
It was time for supper. We decided to have English style fish and French fries we found in one of the freezers. I shouldn’t be eating that, but we were both tired and wanted something quick and easy. Luke put everything on cookie sheets and put them in the oven. We sat down to wait the 20 minutes it would take to heat up.
“Juliana, you don’t look too good. How are you feeling?”
“Very tired. I slept for a few hours this afternoon, you’d think I wouldn’t be.”
“It’s been a stressful day. I want to check your vitals, then I will read your chart. How is your pain?”
“My foot hurts pretty bad. The painkillers you gave me earlier wore off.”
“I’ll give you a couple more in a minute.” He checked my vitals and said my blood pressure and pulse were up a bit from earlier, but nothing alarming. “I’m sure it’s from the pain and your fatigue”, he reassured me as he shook two pain pills into my hand.
He got my chart and read it - it wasn’t big as I’d only been seeing the cardiologist for about a year. Then he got supper out of the oven and we sat down to eat. “According to your chart, your cardiomyopathy is mild”, he told me. I nodded. “But it’s aggravated by stress and overdoing it. You are also symptomatic, not everyone is when it’s so mild. Your medication is working well, but your doctor recommended you get lots of rest and eat well and exercise. Do you exercise?”
“Luke, I am - I was - a dairy farmer. Need I say more?”
“Fair enough, Juliana. But what about now? It’s been six months since the virus.”
“To be honest, I don’t get a lot of exercise. I mostly sit behind the wheel of a car driving all over looking for other survivors. But on the bright side, I’ve lost weight!” Luke laughed.
“You look like you could stand to gain a bit”, he said.
“That is a nice change.”
“With your permission, I’m going to write in this chart, keep track of your vitals, how you are feeling and anything else that should go in there.”
“Sure, that’s fine with me.”
“As you said, it might come in handy sometime. We might find a survivor who is a cardiologist. I can treat you, of course, but a heart specialist would be better. I’ll also document your progress with that foot. I really would like to x-ray it.”
“If you can find a veterinary clinic that has a portable x-ray machine, I can show you how.”
“You know how to use one?”
“Yes, I was a veterinary assistant before I quit to work on the farm full time.”
“Ok, that is something to remember. I may go looking for one. We had them in the ER but technicians and nurses ran them, not the doctors. Now that we’ve finished supper, I want to get an EKG machine from one of the ambulances and see if the battery is any good, then I want to get an EKG and cardiac readout from you.”
“Ok, but the dogs need to be fed first. Just give them a half cup of kibble each. They had the other half earlier plus biscuits. Actually, they can each have a biscuit after as they need to put some weight on, too.”
After clearing the table and feeding the dogs, Luke got the machine from an ambulance. He turned it on and it worked. “Ok, let’s go to the bedroom to do this, then you can go to bed after.”
I layed down on the bed and he put the leads on and turned the machine on again. He looked at the readout. “EKG looks good, Juliana. Let’s see what the readings look like.” He had my chart with him and looked at the printout from my last round of tests, which he compared with the current reading. “It looks to be about the same as your last tests, the arrhythmia might be a bit worse but at this point, I’m not concerned given the stress you’ve been under.” He took the leads off and turned the machine off and plugged it into an electrical outlet to top up the battery charge.
“I’m going to get into my nightshirt and brush my teeth”, I said.
“While you are doing that, I’m going to look for some sheets and change the bed, since we don’t know if it’s been slept in or by who.”
“I saw some in the closet when I was looking for a blow dryer.”
“Don’t take the cardiac patches off. I want to see if the readings have changed in the morning.”
When I got out of the bathroom, he’d changed the bed and I got in. “This is going to feel so good”, I said. “Being warm and in a comfy bed.”
“I’m going to bring one of the crew’s beds into the office. If you need anything, just yell until you wake me up. Get a good sleep.”
“Can you please take the dogs outside to do their thing?”
“Thanks. See you in the morning.”
Luke enticed the dogs out with a treat. A few minutes later, they came bounding back into the bedroom and onto the bed.
I found my mind wandering. I was so glad that Luke had come along after I’d crashed my car. What a stroke of luck! What were we going to do from here? Were we going to stay here at the fire station or would we venture out, looking for other survivors? I was now almost 100% sure there were others. The way Luke talked about writing in my chart, it sounded like he wanted us to stick together. Did I want that? It would probably be wise to do so. He seemed really nice and he wasn’t coming on to me or acting like I owed him something for helping me. Thank God! I was still not over losing my husband, to whom I’d been married for 20 years. We were going to celebrate our 20th in May. Everything went down in March. I couldn’t see myself with anyone else.
I decided I wasn’t going to worry about the future any more tonight and I rolled over and fell asleep to the sound of Sherlock snoring.