Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 1


Had a bad episode today.  Should have known I was in for a hard time after Victor knocked over the rolling rack of breakfast trays and then had a meltdown.  By the time Roland and the other boys got him calmed down enough that Devil Woman stopped threatening to send him to Lock Down I was bad sick to my stomach.  The static in my head was so loud I wanted to bang my head on the floor.

Roland saw and told Caro to take me for a walk.  Usually I would have headed straight for the gazebo but it was raining so we went to the empty floors to walk.  That's when I heard the voices.  They were getting so loud even Caro could hear them.  Roland always says that since they never tell us anything we have to listen when we can so we can take care of each other.  So that's what I did but I listened too hard, too long before I was fully recovered.

Roland says we can't get caught listenting because we could get in trouble and sent to isolation or maybe even Lock Down.  So I was being careful before Caro and I left the mechanical room.  They were way too close so I decided to pretend we were playing tag.

But the man with Mr. Waverly got a call on a comm link.  The pitch of the squeal was the straw that broke the came's back.  Poor Caro.  She missed most of her Tri-V show taking care of me.  She said that it's OK but it's not.  I need to figure out a way to make it up to her.  She's such a good friend.

I missed dinner.  I'm waiting for last bed check and for them to locak down the ward and turn the electric off and then I'll pull my bag out of the closet.  There isn't a whole lot left.  I can't wait for the rain to stop to see if there are mushrooms in the woods yet.  I also need to see Roland and tell him what I heard so maybe he can piece things out.

*****

"Roland?  You awake?"

There was a creak and then a voice whispered, "Yeah.  Is there a problem Georgie?"

"No.  Just need to tell you stuff."

"Stuff about the people that were put in the old Terminal Wing?"

"Yeah."

"Ok.  Roll my chair over here.  Ol' DW pushed it to the wall again."

There was no need to explain.  Ol' DW - short for Devil Woman - was one of only two nurses employed at Pickering and she was as much a resident as her charges due to pricking her finger on a sample during the original Terror Blue Attack.  She acted out her anger at life with passive aggressive zeal aginst "the children" at every opportunity.

As Georgie helped Roland into his wheelchair she noticed a reddened patch of skin.  "Roland ..."

"I know Georgie."

"I'll put some Aloe on it."

"OK," Roland said nonchalantly despite the location of the forming pressure sore.  All of "the children" exhibited little to no modesty.  Of them all Roland and Georgie might have but circumstances and living arrangements had molded their natural instincts into a high level of trust and dependence on each other.  Some might fight the staff touching or seeing them, but with each other they were completely oblivious to the social norms of adolescence.

Once Roland was seated and upright, he and Georgie rolled to what was once the nurse's station but was now just one more storage space.  On the walls were childish drawings, a years-out-of-date calendar, and several posters of the variety designed to remind staff of good hygiene and went to report an incident for write up.

While Georgie went over to a stack of boxes and pushed them aside to gain access to an ancient first aid kit, Roland levered himself up and leanted over the old desk.

Georgie came back and lowered his overalls enough to put aloe gel on the sore and a clean homemade bandage.  Anyone watching her would have seen she was surprisingly competent.  In fact George was the "doctor" for most of what ailed her peers.

She said, "Victor is supposed to help you do your exercises so this doesn't happen.  You can't cover for him if he isn't."

After a brief pause Roland admitted, "He's getting worse.  He's too angry and won't listen anymore.  I ... Idon't know how much longer he'll be with us."

"Sadly but realistic Georgie nodded.  "We haven't lost anyone in almost two years but Victor is getting dangerous.  He pushed Pamela three days ago and she would have fallen down the stairwell if Joey hadn't caught her hand.  Victor is too big to act out like this.  I saw Mr. Waverly and Mrs. Carver talking."

"I know.  Victor got another write up.  One more and he'll got to Lock Down."

"There's nothing left to help him with Roland.  I've read his chart over and over and looked in all the books that Nurse Cassie left us.  His hyper-thyroid is getting out of control.  He's hardly sleeping, and his mood swings are totally unpredictable.  I got his heart rate better by saving the real salt for his food but the rest of us need salt too."

Roland sighed.  "How long?"

"Maybe a week if he holds to his recent pattern.  No more than that since he only has one strike left.  And if he hits a Staff ..."

"Yeah."  The two were quiet, absorbing the seemingly inevitable loss to come.  Eventually Roland sighed in accpetance and said, "You heard news?"

Georgie told him what she had heard word-for-word.  Roland rolled it around in his head a few minutes before he was ready to come up with a hypothesis.

"They're soldiers.  They are on permanent triage.  But things must be going bad if they've run out of room for them in their places like the VAs."

"Or maybe they're immunes too," Georgie interjected.

"I don't think so, but maybe.  No way to say yet.  I'll ask."

Georgie put her hand on Roland's arm.  "They won't be ready to talk.  Not for a while."

"You get an impression?"

*****

Georgina Pearl Rytech had been born during quarantine.  She, like the other children, had been exposed to the X13 virus in the womb.  She was born prematurely and immune to X13, but not immune to the lack of care she received after her parents died of the disease shortly after her birth.  A common cold virus went through the nursery; most of the babies that caught it lived but some developed complications.  Georgie's cold caused out of control fevers that left her lathargic, weak, and unresponsive.  Up until she was four she had been diagnosed as possibly brain damaged or suffering from an extreme form of autism.  Eitehr, according to federal healthcare guidelines, warranted permanent triage.

When the children were four years old a new influence entered their lives; Cassandra Troy, a nurse practitioner who belonged to a new Christian sect.  They were law-abiding activists, dedicated to ministering to thsoe who, due to force of law, could not access healthcare through the normal routes.  They were also celibate by choice since being in contact with such people often meant becoming permanently triaged themselves.

Cassandra, or Nurse Cassie as the children came to call her, chose her life after losing her only child to an in-the-wild variant of X13 and watching her marriage crumble afterwards.  She knew she would have almost nothing to work with except what she arrived with so she made every pound of her allotted moving weight count.  The greatest thing she came armed with was knowledge.

First she made sure the children were all properly diagnosed.  To her horror, she discovered that most were not potty trained and non-verbal, not due to mental incapacity but due to neglect.  It took two years and some losses but the improvement in the children's ability to interact with their surroundings and each other was so unbelievable that several teams from government oversight investigated.

Nurse Cassie, through her contacts in the outside world, acquired educational material and toys for the children.  Their lives and health improved accordingly.  Two ofthe children stood out - Roland and Georgina.  Roland's only deficit was a damaged spinal column that prevented him from being able to walk.  That happened when an untrained person pulled him from his mother's birth canal.  Nurse Cassie found an old wheelchair in one of the abandoned floors of Pickering and with the help of other staff members, modified it for Roland's use.  Georgie was more difficult though in the end, the "fix" was so easy as to be laughable.

Georgie, it turns out, suffers from an extreme type of auditory processing disorder.  It is unclear whether she was born this way or developed the disorder as a result of the high fevers she had as a newborn.  One day Nurse Cassie observed Georgie playing dress up.  It didn't matter what costume she picked, she had to wear the football helmet with it as well.  If she couldn't wear the helmet she wouldn't play or engage.  Then Nurse Cassie observed the other children giving the helmet to Georgie even if it wasn't her turn.  This evolved into Georgie wearing the helmet all the time.

Nurse Cassie tried to stop this behavior and make Georgie share.  She was startled when the other children refused to cooperate.  It was sweet Caro who informed Nurse Cassie that George came up with really fun games but only if she was wearing her "magic hat."

"It keeps the dragons out of her head."

With that clue and a few additional diagnostic tests, Nurse Cassie was able to discover a way to help Georgie function normally ... ear plugs.  She also discovered Georgie's hearing had a greater range than what was considered normal whe nshe would repeat something she had overheard that most people would not have been able to hear.  She also unconsciously had learned to read lips, and as a side benefit also had an uncannily accurate grasp on facial expressions and body language.

Nurse Cassie quietly molded Roland and Georgie into leaders and caregivers for the rest of the children and taught all of them to be as secretly self-sufficent as possible.  Part of this was teaching them to use natural and holistic medicine.  She also taught them what plants in the private grounds around Pickering were good to eat and/or good for medicinal purposes.  She taught them to garden and established the tradition of the children having a garden with flowers, herbs, and some veggies.  The rest of the staff hardly even gave it a thought these days, it was simply something to keep the children constructively occupied and out of trouble.

Then came the fateful day that Nurse Cassie herself became ill.  It turned out to be a fast moving cancer.  She died with all the dignity with which she had lived and by her own choice was buried in Pickering's small, private cemetery.

She had spent her last months cramming every bit of knowledge she could into Roland's and Georgie's heads.  Most of all thoug hshe taught them how important information and descretion were.  The children already had a loose information gathering system; after Nurse Cassie's death Roland devised a more sophisticated one.

Since he was not very mobile Roland came to view himself as a spider while the other children were the web.  They would catch bits and pieces of information that fluttered by them and he would then weave it into the tapestry and knowledge they had about the staff, their life inside Pickering, and the world beyond it.  For more detailed reconniscence, Georgie's talents came in handy though some days were better for her than others.

*****

"Was Caro able to tell you what Mr. Waverly and the soldier said?"

"Yeah, the words but not much else.  The soldier scared her and she said Waverly was angry."

"He was, but not at us.  And the soldier was scared and didn't like feling that way.  The Director isn't happy either but its more about money than anything else.  There's a colonel but I don't think he will do anything but leave the soldiers here.  He sounded just like the federal investigators do ... only wants to hear things will work according the rules and his timetable, doesn't want to know about stuff that doesn't."

"Same impression I got.  We watched from the window as the soldiers arrived.  About half are on stretchers, most of the rest of them look like they've been in Isolation or maybe even Lock Down.  I've told everyont to stay away until we see if they are going to cause trouble."

"All of the men are like that?"

"They aren't all men.  There are some grown woment too."

"Hmmm.  I wonder ..."

"I said every one Georgie."

It wasn't often that Roland used that tone, and even rarer that he used it with Georgie.  But in this instance he had read Georgie correctly.  "Roland, it's my sovereign duty.  I promised that if I saw someone I could help that I would."

"No.  These are grown people ... especially the men could be dangerous."

"You mean they could be like Benson was."

"Yes, that's what I mean."

Carl Benson had been an orderly at Pickering for three years.  He was also a sexual pervert and pedophile.  Nurse Cassie had tried to get rid of him almost from the moment he arrived.  For over a year she fought with the adminstrators though without proof and only the testimony of deficient children.  Then one day he'd gone too far and Mr. Waverly had witnessed him touching one of the children inappropriately.  Before Benson could be brought up on charges he fell or jumped from the roof.  No one mourned him but it served as a lesson in trust to the children.

"So I'll start with the women.  Maybe that's how we can see which ones are ok and which ones aren't."

Roland clinced and unclinched his fists showing his frustration and concern.  "I don't like it."

"I'll be careful.  Just like I was with Mr. Waverly.  That turned out good."

"Mr. Waverly is a nice man."

"Maybe some of the soldiers are too.  Nurse Cassie said we need to stick together."

"Yeah ... 'we' do.  They aren't us.  They're from outside."

"But they aren't outside anymore.  They live here now."  And while she had the advantage she pushed, "If nothing else we should get as much information from them as we can."

After a short, internal struggle Roland nodded.  "But we still wait a few days and just watch."

Slowly Georgie nodded, knowing that was as far as Roland would go.  "All right.  We'll wait.  And watch."

2 comments:

  1. Enjoyed this chapter, thankyou!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wonderful ! I love your trips down this kind of unique path.

    Oh, Yes, Moar
    Please?.

    ReplyDelete