The screaming man’s name is Peterson. He still has bad dreams but he says not every night. He doesn’t like a lot of loud noise either so I’ve shown him the places he can go to soak up quiet. Chaplin goes with him. I think they look after each other because Peterson helps Chaplin when his twisted leg won’t hold him up or pulls and draws on him. I am making an infusion from some herbs to help but it takes time.
They have been here two weeks and they have had a sad time of it. Two of the men on stretchers are now dead. There is nothing I could do. They both came to live here with infections already deep in their bellies. It was all I could do to manage the pain they were in. A Euthanist showed up and too the men away when one of the staff said their pain was inhuman. Then one of the women – a quiet one that had been held prison by the enemy and treated badly – ran away. They searched and found her below a really tall tree; she either fell out or jumped, either way the results were the same. All three are now in potter’s field.
They put the whole terminal ward on lock down for that. After two days Roland tried to talk to the Director but she was mad because she said the soldiers don’t belong here and were creating problems. The lockdown was lifted when some man in uniform came and talked to the soldiers. A Euthanist was there too. Roland is pretty sure the soldiers were being asked whether they wanted to die or not and if they did they could take care of it right there and get it over with. I’m not sure but I could tell the Euthanist was disappointed that she hadn’t been needed.
I was worried for a bit that the Director would ask her to take a look at Victor but that didn’t happen. Victor is in permanent lockdown but at least we know he is still alive. I wish I could go check on him and the others that have been sent there but that is the one place I cannot go. It is down in the basement and can only be accessed by a special entrance in the administrative offices that stays locked all the time. None of the staff will tell us what goes on there, not even Nurse Cassie would. She said though we had better just never get put there because no one will ever get out once they go in.
It is the only thing Roland and I are really afraid of. When Nurse Cassie was dying she tried to tell us the secret of lockdown but she was so weak by then all we could understand was the word “purgatory.” We looked it up and it is not a place we ever want to be.
I explained this to the soldiers but I think they think I am exaggerating and telling a spooky story. Most of them at least listen to Roland now that they’ve met him. They still act like I’m sick with something catching. One thing did happen that was nice.
DW took one of my earplugs and then accidentally on purpose forgot to warn us they were having a fire drill. I was caught off guard coming back from looking for Mr. Waverly. The bells were so loud. It felt like my head was going to explode but I got outside and got counted so I didn’t get in trouble. Then I helped with those of us that get upset and scared by the surprise drills. Then I had to help with some of the soldiers. There was too much talking and then DW blew the all-clear whistle right beside me.
I had a brown out in my head. Only half of it was working and only half of that was working right. I came to myself in the gazebo. Caro was patting my hand but Peterson had his hands over my ears.
He said, “Your friend Roland said this would help.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Figured this gives me a chance to payback what you did for me.”
Caro said, “We don’t payback, we’re all just friends. That’s what friends do. We take care of each other.”
I nodded. “Uh huh.”
“Well, I’ll try and remember that. Now are you two ladies ready to go in? Smells like rain is coming shortly.”
Caro’s eyes got real big and then she giggled. I think it was being called a lady. It was funny. But what was even funnier was when we were walking back and ran into Lt. Johnson. I could tell he was uncomfortable but no mad uncomfortable. He was confused uncomfortable with no mad in it which made for a nice change. Still I thought it was better that Caro and I went away.
Lt. Johnson looked at the girls who were already turning away and said, “Wait. Uh …”
Georgie asked, “Is someone sick?”
“No. Uh … look is that old lady like that all the time?”
Caro whispered, “I think he means DW.”
Georgie patted her shoulder and gently nudged her to join another group of “the children” heading to the garden. After she left and they all waved happily back at Georgie she turned to the two soldiers. “Please be careful. She can make things hard.”
Peterson said, “You talking about Nurse Kilpatrick? Why don’t you complain about her?”
“It doesn’t work that way here. Besides she’s as much a resident as all of us are. She is the only adult left from when we were all born.”
“What happened to the others?”
“Nurse Cassie,” Georgie and Roland had explained who she was in relation to how Georgie knew how to take care of people. “She found out that three of them came with us … including DW … and three of them went someplace else. She never told us what happened to the three that went someplace else but I know that DW is the only one left here.”
“What happened to the other two?”
“On died in isolation. She cut herself on purpose and it got infected. The other man tried to run away and was put in Lockdown and was never seen again. Nurse Cassie came to replace him on staff. I guess Mr. Waverly and Roland have told you the rest.”
“Yeah.” Lt. Johnson sight, looked mildly irritated with himself and then pulled something from his pocket. “Here.”
Georgie took what he offered and then froze when she saw it was a small plastic baggie of ear plugs similar to her own pair.
Peterson shook his head. “I should have thought of that.”
“I …” Georgie was confused now herself.
“Go on. Take ‘em. It isn’t like I’m ever going to be in the middle of ordinance going off again. Doubt if I’ll ever even see a rifle range.”
Georgie shrugged. “Maybe Mr. Russell will help you.”
“The Head of Grounds and Security. Once a month he sets up what he calls a proficiency test and makes all of the staff take a turn whether they want to or not. Maybe he’d let you take a turn since you are soldiers.”
With that Georgie forced herself to give the earplugs back but Johnson wouldn’t take them.
“Keep ‘em, we’ve got more. Just don’t let that nurse spot ‘em.”
Georgie nearly blinded the two men with her smile before she ran to find Roland to tell him of her new treasure.
Embarrassed Johnson complained, “Damn those kids are too easy to please.”
“You dropping the word freak?” Peterson needled him.
In disgust he griped, “Like Waverly says, we’re all freaks now. But that hag better no try nothing with me. Damn drunk.”
“Yeah, she’s getting her toot on from some place. That kid Roland calls it her homemade medicine.”
“Don’t give a damn what they call it, hooch is hooch. Can’t believe they’d keep a drunk – functioning or not – on staff taking care of a bunch of def … er … kids.”
“Chaplin and I have been watching them. It’s more like those kids look after each other. The ones that aren’t too bad off take care of the ones that are.”
“What about Waverly? He’s an orderly.”
“He’s more a facilitator than anything else. He only gets involved if there’s a problem. I know for a fact he’s got some kind of feud going with the Hag … the kids call her Devil Woman … DW for short.”
“Suits her,” Johnson said dryly. The two men made their way slowly back to their wing. Then Johnson grumbled. “You know what that kid Reginald did? He drew a picture and told me to stick it on the wall by my bed.”
Peterson snorted. “Got one too. The kid said it is to make me feel happy. How the hell can anyone be happy in this crap heap? Place looks like one of those horror movie settings.”