Suddenly, I remembered something and slammed on the brakes. I got out of the truck and walked back into the station. In the kitchen, I found my medications in the cupboard Luke had put them in. Next I had to find my chart that he had put somewhere after he read it. I went into the office. He was still out cold. I looked around on the desk and found it. Good. I stood for a moment trying to think of anything else I might have forgotten, but nothing came to mind so I headed back out to the truck and got in.
I turned left and headed west. That’s the direction I’d been going when I crashed my car and Luke found me. I’d told him that I was planning on getting to the west coast, where the winters were milder and it would be easier to keep warm. I had changed my mind when I decided to get away from him. I was only going west to fool him, should by chance, he figure out which way I went. I couldn’t see him doing that, but I wanted to make sure.
I drove a few miles, then turned down a side road. At the next road, I turned east and drove well past where I thought I was directly in line with the fire hall before I turned and went up to the highway. I had decided to go home to my husband’s and my farm in Ontario and spend the winter there. It was familiar and well suited to survive the cold, snowy weather. Since I had rerouted the solar panels that were providing power to the milking barn to send it to the house, I should be okay for electricity. Before the world went to shit, we had to draw from the grid in winter, when there was so little sun. We had intended to add more panels so that we wouldn’t have to do that and, in fact, we had purchased them but had not gotten around to putting them up.
There was almost a full tank of oil as the heating company automatically topped it up once a month. A couple Franklin stoves, one in the rec room and another in the living room, provided a good deal of the heat for the main floor. The master bedroom had a working fireplace, as did one of the guest rooms. But I didn’t intend to sleep upstairs. I thought it would be easier to shut the door to the stairs, which would keep the heat from the stoves down on the main floor. I could pull one of the sofa beds out or I could make what had been our office into a bedroom and bring a bed down from the second floor. I’d probably wait until my foot healed to do that. Sleeping on a sofa bed for a few weeks would be fine.
As I drove, I thought about what had happened at the fire hall. How dare Luke treat me like that! Is that what the people left in the world are going to be like? Did he treat his patients in the ER like that? I knew he couldn’t have given them enemas and got away with it, but he did say something about having ways to make them comply.
I drove for about 7 hours, then started keeping my eye out for a place that looked suitable to spend the night. Just after I drove through a small city, I spotted a farm that looked like it might be good. I pulled into the laneway and got out of the truck. There weren’t any vehicles there, indicating to me that there might not be any bodies around. I crossed my fingers that that was the case.
The first thing I did was check the small barn out. There were four stalls, and no animals, live or dead. Mama and Baby could stay in one. What to do with the chickens? I had an idea. I went to the truck and took the tarp off the cages, then got my hammer from my toolbox. Back in the barn, I looked around and found a container of nails. What farmer doesn’t have nails laying around? I nailed the tarp to the open part of the stall to make sure the chickens couldn’t get through the bars.
Next, I got their feeder and set it up in the stall with some feed in it. The second feeder, I used as a waterer. I found a bucket and got water from a water trough outside. It wasn’t the best, mostly rainwater, but it would do for tonight. I’d have to locate some bottled water. Then, I got another stall ready for the bovines.
Once everything was set up, I got the cow and calf in, then the chickens and set out to check the house out. If worse came to worse, I’d sleep in the barn. There was lots of straw to use to make a bed.
There was no power, but I did find a generator in a shed. I checked the gas and it was almost full. Good. That would allow me to open some canned food and heat it up on the stove. There was enough wood to start a fire in the living room fireplace and have warmth for the night. I couldn’t find an oil tank, so I presumed the heating system was natural gas, which quit working months and months ago. At least it was only late Sept. It wasn’t getting too cold at night.
I decided to go back to the city I had driven through and look for some supplies. So I unhitched the cattle trailer and took the truck. At the first gas station I saw, I stopped and picked up a map of the city. It also had a phone book so I took that, too. The first thing I looked up was feed stores. I found one not far from where I was and headed for it. Rodents had got to a lot of it, but I found a bag of cattle feed and one of chicken feed that were intact. I cursed the little buggers, but deep down realized they were just trying to survive, too. After loading the grain onto the truck, I was on my way to the nearest grocery store, where I picked up some canned and dry goods as well as some dog treats. Rodents had got into a lot of those, too. I knew from experience that they love dog food and treats.
Next, I went to an auto supply store and got a couple gas cans, and looked for cars to siphon from to get more fuel for the generator in case I needed it. I filled the cans and put them in the back of the truck.
After going to WalMart and picking up some personal care products and reading material, I went back to the farm. I checked in on Mama & Baby and the chickens, then hooked up the generator and got it started.
I had had no choice but to walk on my broken foot. There is no way I could have done all that on crutches. I kept my fingers crossed that the bone would stay in place.
After getting a fire going in the living room, I cooked the squash I’d picked back at the other farm. I opened a canned ham and had it and squash for supper, along with some Minute Rice. As the fridge was not too bad for grossness - it was mostly condiments that had been left in it - I had put everything in a garbage bag and taken it outside before opening a box of baking soda and leaving it on the top shelf. I put the leftover squash and ham in Tupperware containers. They would be fine in the fridge overnight. The dogs had been fed before I ate and I let them out to do their thing while I made one last check on the barn animals for the night. Mama’s water bucket was low, so I refilled it. She must have been thirsty. I had not yet tried to milk her and decided to wait until I reached my destination and let her settle in. I was thinking of naming the calf Hope, as I thought she represented hope for a new world. The last thing I did was turn the generator off for the night. I didn’t need it and no use wasting the fuel. Besides, it was noisy.
Back in the house, I lit the oil lamp I’d found and settled in in front of the fire with a book and a glass of wine. I’m not a big drinker but I do like one here and there. More here lately with all that had happened in the past half year. Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t drink with a heart condition. Don’t tell my cardiologist, ok? I do not get drunk, I like having my wits about me. Especially this night, when I was a bit nervous about Luke finding me. Perhaps I should have gone down a side road to find a place to stay for the night. But, on the other hand, he didn’t know what I was driving so if he saw the truck, he wouldn’t know it was “mine”. I had backed in and left the trailer behind a shed before I went on my foraging trip. That might have given me away had he driven by, as he knew I took the animals with me.
I put all thoughts of Luke out of my mind and immersed myself in the Robin Cook book I’d brought back from the city. The dogs were laying on the rug in front of the fire. After a couple hours, I couldn’t stay awake any longer and fell asleep on the sofa.
The next day, I decided to stay another night and give the animals a break from travelling, so I let Mama & offspring into the pasture. The chickens seemed no worse for the wear from being in cages all day the day before, they graced me with a few eggs. In fact, more than I needed, so I left what I didn’t need outside for wildlife to claim. After taking the dogs for a walk, I spent the rest of the day relaxing, reading and planning what I would do to prepare for winter when I got home.
Late in the afternoon, I put the bovines back in the barn with some grain, hay and water, and checked that the chickens had what they needed. Walking back to the house, I saw a car go by in the same direction I had been travelling. I froze. Was that Luke? It didn’t look like the car that I had left him a couple miles in the other direction from the fire hall, but maybe he had found another one. Damn. I hope he hadn’t figured out that I had come this way.
Back in the house, I made sure the doors were locked with the safety chains on and drew all the blinds and curtains. The curtains were heavy, but to ensure that light did not show around the edges, I nailed them to the wall. I also made sure my shotgun was loaded and near me at all times, but where the dogs wouldn’t get near it. I hated being so paranoid and cursed Luke for making me that way.
The next day, I was up early, wanting to get back on the road. I packed up the things I had taken into the house and loaded them in the truck before hitching up the trailer and getting the critters on board. I left a can of gas with the generator on the off chance that another survivor stopped here to rest.
I had only been on the road about an hour when I saw a man walking toward me on the opposite side. My heart skipped a beat but as I got closer, I realized it was not Luke. Relief! Should I stop? I asked myself. A couple weeks ago, I would not have hesitated to, but now, after my experience with Luke, I was afraid to. He saw me coming and tried to wave me down. I panicked and kept going.
I was instantly wracked with guilt. You dumbass, I thought. Just because one man turned out to be a prick doesn’t mean all of them will. The guy had looked desperate when he waved at me. At the next laneway, I backed into it then pulled out and turned in the direction I had come from. I found the man not far from where I’d passed him. He was sitting on the shoulder with his knees up and his arms wrapped around them with his head down.
I pulled up and got out of the truck. Might as well let the dogs out, too. “Hi, I’m Juliana Miller, I said as I approached him. I held my hand out to him.
“Judah Kelly. People call me Jude.” He took my hand.
“I’m sorry I passed you”, I apologized. “I just didn’t know….”
“If I was safe. I understand.” He had gotten up and he looked directly into my eyes. His medium blue eyes had a kind look to them. He looked to be late 40’s or early 50’s, was maybe around six feet tall, had blonde hair with some grey showing through and a widow’s peak. He was chunky but not super heavy. He didn’t have a tan and his hand was soft with no calluses, I could tell he wasn’t used to being outside.
“Like I said, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so mistrusting.” The dogs were sniffing his legs. I was astounded at Molly going right up to him, Luke had had to really work to get her to go near him. I took that as a sign that Jude was trustworthy. Dogs have a sense about people. I should have paid more attention to her reticence with Luke.
“Don’t worry about them”, I told Jude, who was watching the canines warily. “They won’t hurt you. This is their way of checking you out.”
“Do I pass muster?”
“Actually, you do. Molly didn’t take so easily to the last man she met.”
“You are the first person I’ve seen since …. Well, since this all happened. You mean there’s others?”
“I’ve only met one other.”
“I sense that didn’t go so well.”
“It didn’t. Why are you walking?”
“My car ran out of gas a ways down there.” He gestured in the direction he’d come from. “I was looking for another one with keys and gas in it.”
“Why not siphon from one?”
“I don’t know how to.”
“I have a couple cans of gas. Hop into the truck and I’ll take you back to your car and fill your tank.”
“Oh, that is really appreciated.”
We got in the truck and I found a laneway to use to turn around in again. “Where are you heading?” he asked as I drove down the highway.
“To my farm in Canada. I’m going to stay there for the winter and then think about what I want to do come spring.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to go somewhere warm?”
“Like Florida? No way, there are big venomous snakes there - and alligators. Is that where you are from?”
“I kinda figured you were from the south given your accent. I’ll be fine on my farm, it is well equipped to survive the winter.”
“Here’s my car.” Judah pointed to a car on the side of the road. It was headed in the same direction. I could tell it was the same car that I had seen the previous afternoon. I felt relief at the realization that it had not been Luke that had passed the house.
I pulled up beside the car and stopped. I made a decision. “Judah, you are more than welcome to come to my farm with me and spend the winter. There’s solar power, running water and a septic system as well as a couple wood stoves and a couple fireplaces. And a full tank of oil for the furnace.”
“Juliana, if you are comfortable with that, then I will gladly accept your offer. The south might be warmer, but it would be awful lonely without someone to spend the winter with.”
“I’m comfortable, Jude. You passed the canine sniff test and you’re letting them crawl all over you here in the truck. I can tell you are a good person.”
“I try to be. When you are more comfortable, I hope you will tell me what happened with the other man you spoke of. I have a feeling he didn’t treat you well.”
“He didn’t. But you aren’t him. Do you have any particular attachment to that car?”
“No, it’s not mine, just one I picked up in my travels.”
“Okay, let’s get your belongings and put them in the truck.”
“I don’t have a lot.”
We got out and he opened his trunk. He took out a large suitcase. I reached in to grab a smaller one and saw it - a black doctor’s bag. I froze. Maybe it had belonged to the person who owned the car. He picked it up and shut the trunk. Crap, it’s his.
“Are you okay, Juliana?”
“Is that yours?” I asked, pointing to the bag.
“Yes, I’m a doctor.” Damn, what are the odds? “What’s the matter? You look terrified.”
I gave my head a mental shake. Don’t be silly, Juliana, I said to myself. Just because one doctor is a jackass doesn’t mean they all are … or were. “No, Jude, I’m just being stupid. Come on, let’s get these in the truck. I’ll put them behind the seats, there’s still a bit of room and I doubt you want them sharing space with chickens.”
Jude left the keys on the visor of the car and got in the truck. I pulled away. “So, what were you being silly about, Juliana?” he asked.
“It’s nothing”, I said.
“I saw the look on your face when you saw my bag. Is the man who hurt you a doctor?”
“You are very perceptive.”
“I assure you, I will not hurt you.”
“I know, Jude. Like I said, I was being silly. What kind of doctor are you?”
“Cardiologist and heart surgeon. I started out as a cardiologist but then got interested in surgery so I trained for that. I ended up doing both, it satisfied both of my interests. What did you do before the virus?”
“My husband and I were dairy farmers. I was a veterinary assistant before quitting to work full time with our cows.”
“No. How about you?”
“Two, a boy and a girl. They were 14 and 16 when they got sick. I’m divorced.”
“I’m so sorry, Jude. Burying one child is bad enough, losing both had to have been hell on earth.”
“All survivors are in the same boat, Juliana. We have all lost all of our loved ones. We just have to keep going and make a life for ourselves. Somehow.”
“Yes, I’ve said similar words. I’ll always miss Ben, but it does get easier as time goes on.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“What I don’t get is why so few? I’ve only run into one other person and you’ve only run into me. There has to be more that survived the virus.”
“It had something like a 99.9% mortality rate, so there aren’t many left, in relation to the pre virus population, but yes, there should be more survivors. Why are you calling off your search so early in the fall?”
“Because I have a broken foot and I need to settle down and stay off of it as much as I can so that it can heal. I have a lot of work to do when we get to the farm.”
“Such as …?”
“First, get firewood. Second, there’s an apple orchard in the area. It’s apple season. I want to get a couple bushels or so to get us through the winter.”
“I like apples but I won’t eat a bushel over the winter!”
“I’ll make apple sauce, apple butter, pies, apple crisp etc. It’s our only fresh fruit.”
“Not too much of the pastry, though. Too many carbs aren’t good. Though I’ve been eating nothing but carbs for the last six months. Canned pasta etc.”
“I know how that is! There’s a freezer full of meat and vegetables at home.”
“Meat will be wonderful, too! I’ve only had canned meat lately.”
“Ever had rabbit?”
“Yes, I have. It’s good.”
“Maybe I can get us one tonight.”
“You said you have chickens in the back?”
“Yes, I found them at a farm. Had to catch them but some feed made it relatively easy. How about fried eggs for breakfast tomorrow? Or an omelette sans milk?”
“That sounds heavenly. What are you hauling in the trailer?”
“A cow and her calf.”
“Where on earth did you find them?”
“They found me. The cow - I call her Mama - came up to the fire hall I was staying at. She was in labour and the calf was too big to come out on it’s own. I had to pull it. I couldn‘t leave them with ….. With the man I was staying there with.”
“Are you keeping them for milk, or meat?”
“They are beef cattle, but I plan to milk the mother. Beef cattle give high fat milk, so I can use the cream to make butter and ice cream. The calf is a heifer so when she’s old enough to breed, I’m hoping there will be a bull around. In fact, I hope there’s one around when Mama goes into season again!”
We kept chatting as I drove. Jude was easy to talk to. I fervently hoped that my impression of him was right and that he would not turn into a prick like Luke had. I kept going back to how Molly went right up to him. Right now, she was fast asleep on his lap. Sherlock was on the seat between us. I had a feeling Molly was going to be *his* dog.
Around noon, I found a grocery store parking lot to pull into. I was hungry and I was sure Jude was, too. First, the critters. I got a bucket out of the space in the trailer that was for storage and filled it with water from a jug I’d filled before leaving the farm I’d stayed at. I put it in the trailer for Mama. Then I filled some small plastic containers I’d found and set them in the cages for the chickens.
I set out a couple containers of water for the dogs. Then Jude and I went into the store, using the flashlights I’d taken from the fire hall. No, I didn’t leave one of the good ones for Luke. I did leave the small one for him. I picked a can of Alpha Getti for my lunch, Jude selected canned beans. “Don’t worry, Juliana, they don’t effect me like they do to most people. You are safe.” We both laughed.
We found a picnic table outside in what looked like it might have been a staff break area. Maybe for smokers. I had a hand held can opener with me and a few utensils. We opened the cans and ate in silence. When we were almost finished, Jude pointed to my wrist. “I see you have a medical ID bracelet. May I ask what for?”
I knew this would come up at some point. “I have cardiomyopathy”, I replied.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Juliana. Maybe the gods were watching out for you when I ran out of gas on the same road you were travelling on.” I smiled. “How long have you had it?”
“About a year. I was told it was very mild.”
“That’s good. Are you on medication?”
“Yes.” I decided I could trust him. “I have my meds with me and I also have my chart from my cardiologist’s office. You may read it if you want to.”
“Since you are offering, I would like to, yes. I hope you will trust me and let me watch over you medically. I know you may not be comfortable with that right now, but if and when you are ready to trust me…”
“Maybe”, I said with a smile. “I’ll give you the chart to read tonight when we are settled in somewhere.”
“That was a good idea to get it before you set out on the road.”
“I figured that if there were any doctors alive in this new world, if I met up with one, he or she might want to read it. Ready to get back on the road? I saw some water jugs just inside the door. I’d like to pull up to it and load a few onto the back of the truck. Just in case we don’t find running water.”
We were soon on the road again and drove a couple more hours before I suggested we begin to look for a place to spend the night. “I don’t want the critters to be cramped up for too long”, I explained to him. We eventually saw a place that had a barn and pasture. And no cars in the laneway. I pulled in and we went into the house first. No bodies. Priority number 1. There was power. Excellent. I had noticed solar panels on the roof. It’s a good thing this apocalypse didn’t happen 30 years ago, before the advent of solar power, I thought. With power, there was running water - well pumps need electricity to run. A septic system out in the country is a given.
I got the animals settled with the bovines in the pasture for a while. This place had a henhouse. There were no dead chickens in it, so I presumed either the farmer had had none at the time or let them go to fend for themselves. I spread some straw in it and set up their feeders and put water in one like I’d done at the last place.
Jude and I took what we wanted for the night into the house. I looked out and saw a rabbit in the yard. Perfect! Fortunately, the dogs were in another area of the house with my new travelling companion and would not scare it away. I quietly got my gun and opened the door.
An hour later, there was rabbit meat in the frying pan. We’d found some canned vegetables and rice in the pantry to go with it. “Oh, this is so good”, Jude said. “I thought I’d never have fresh meat again.”
“Stick with me and you’ll have lots. If you like deer meat, I’ll try to get one when we get to our destination. It’s too big for now, we’d waste a lot and if I’m going to kill an animal, I do not want to waste it.”
After we cleaned up, I got my medical chart and handed it to Jude to read. “I’m going to put Mama & Baby in the barn. I’ll take the dogs with me so they can do their business.”
He was just finishing reading the chart when I joined him in the living room. “Based on what your cardiologist wrote and your test results, it does look to be mild. Would you be okay with me having a listen?”
“Yes, that would be fine.”
He went to the truck and got his bag. “I’ll take your blood pressure first”, he said as he got his cuff and stethoscope out. He wrapped the cuff around my arm and put the diaphragm of the scope just below the inside of my elbow. As he inflated the cuff, I couldn’t help but be aware of how close he was. He had showered while I cleaned the rabbit, he said he had been washing in cold water a lot. I had showered that morning before leaving the farm I’d been at. He deflated the cuff. “It’s 140/80. Is that your normal?”
“It’s a wee bit high”, I replied. “Normally, it’s 115/75.”
“It might just be nervousness. You don’t know me and you are trusting me to ‘doctor’ you. I’m going to listen to your heart now. Just breathe normally.” He spent a lot of time auscultating me, listening above each breast, then between them and finally, under the left one. “I need to get under your breast to listen to your mitral valve”, he said. “Are you okay with me lifting the breast or do you want to do it?”
Wow, I had never had a doctor ask that before. They all just went ahead and lifted it. He was so considerate! I decided to trust him. “It’s okay, you can do it.”
When he was finished listening to my heart, he listened to my lungs, having me take a deep breath every time he moved the diaphragm. When he was done, he took the ear pieces out of his ears. “It sounds good, Juliana. There is a slight arrhythmia but like I said, it’s slight. I am not worried at all about you right now.” I smiled. “Well, not about your heart. I am worried about your foot. You are walking on it way too much. May I take a look at it?”
He took my boot off, then the wrapping. The swelling had gone down but it was still a bit puffy. Probably from walking on it. “This is going to hurt a bit, Juliana. I’m sorry but I’d really like to make sure the bone hasn’t moved again.” I’d told him about Luke having to set it twice.
“That’s okay, Jude. If I can walk on it, I can handle you pressing on it.” I regretted those words a moment later! He felt around and holy shit, it hurt! “Sorry again. I don’t feel anything out of place, but you do need to try to stay off of it.”
“That’s really hard to do right now. I get the impression you don’t know how to take care of farm animals so I have to do it.”
“You could teach me, Juliana.” He began wrapping my foot again.
“I will if you want me to. And please call me Julia. That’s what my friends called me.” I don’t know why I hadn’t made that same offer to Luke. I wondered if subconsciously, I did not want to treat him like a friend.
“Julia, I would love for you to teach me how to care for the animals. And that includes cleaning up after them. It’s part and parcel.”
Another wow! I’d had to entice Luke to shovel poop by reminding him of the benefits of having fresh milk and cream. Jude was offering.
He pushed some hair away from his face. “Please excuse the hair, Julia. I normally keep it considerably shorter than this, but I haven’t run into any barbers or hair dressers.”
“You have now”, I said to him. “I can cut it for you.” I explained to him about learning to do a basic cut on men and women so I could cut hair to help put myself through college. He went to the truck and got the suitcase I kept my supplies in and I cut it the same way I did for Luke - with him sitting on the floor in front of me and turning so I could do the sides. He was pleased with the result.
“It looks great”, he said after looking at himself in a mirror. I feel ‘human’ again after a shower, shave and haircut!”
“You look very handsome”, I told him. He blushed. I think I did, too.
After he cleaned up the hair clippings and I put my scissors and cape away, I got my guitar out of the case. “Do you mind if I play a bit?” I asked him.
“Not at all. I’d love to hear you play.”
“I take requests - if it’s a song I know how to play!”
I played for a while, then we called it a night. “You sleep down here in front of the fire, on the sofa bed”, he told me. “I’ll sleep in one of the bedrooms upstairs.”
“You don’t have to do that, Jude. Sleep down here by the fire, too.”
“No, Julia. We just met. I’ll see you in the morning.” He headed for the stairs.
The next day, we decided to stay one more night. It was good for the animals to get a longer break from travelling. Jude took the dogs for a walk in the morning, after he’d joined me to help tend to the other animals. He insisted on cleaning the stalls out and on me sitting down while he did it. I told him how to spread fresh straw and he did a great job.
While he was walking the dogs - he wouldn’t let me come, once again he insisted I stay off my feet - I had a shower and then read my book while I waited for him to get back. We spent the day talking and getting to know each other more. By evening, when we were once again sitting in front of a fire, I was feeling even more at ease with him. “Jude, I’m ready to tell you what happened with the other doctor - if you still want to hear about it.”