Teaching our soldiers is fun. Caro would have really liked playing with them. I used to try and talk to her at her marker in Potter’s Field but it just isn’t’ the same. Johnson told me to stop doing it because she isn’t there.
“Get it through your head kid. She’s up in Heaven with all the other Innocents. She’s now protected from all the crap we live with. Even I know that.”
“Who told you that is the way it works?”
“Mr. Browning. He was a teacher at one of the group homes I lived in right before I aged out and joined the Ranger Cadettes.”
“It’s a program for sixteen and seventeen year olds to prepare them for military service. It’s where I was tested and is how I made it into the training academy and got my college tuition paid for.”
“Do you miss it?”
“Being out there. In the real world.”
“Yeah. I miss being a soldier.”
“I meant being out there. You’re still a soldier. You fought the bad guys didn’t you? And you pulled that … that man … he … he was …”
“Whoa. Put your head between your knees. And as soon as you aren’t the color of the bathroom stalls we’re going back. It’s not healthy for you to sit out here.”
Johnson and the other men watch us all the time now. Especially since work started on the South Wing. I don’t know if it is going to be those gray ops soldiers but I don’t think so because the Director isn’t making a big stink. She’s even been seen smiling and that can really spell trouble for anyone going against her. Either way it helped us to get the men to come into the woods with us without the staff thinking something bad was going on.
Roland let slip to Mr. Russell that it wasn’t fair that the soldiers didn’t think we should be wandering around on our own, that they acted like we need babysitters. Chaplin and some of the other soldiers gave the same basic impression to Mr. Waverly and the other staff. Allie was collecting dishes from the administrative offices and overheard Mrs. Neville tell a couple of the staff that the Director was relieved that our soldiers were finally beginning to fit in and occupy their time doing something useful.
It’s funny to watch the soldiers realize we set everyone up so that we could teach them about our secret food in the forest.
Between bites Johnson and Peterson marveled at the kids industriously loading the large, homemade dehydrator with berries and mushrooms. “Holy hell.”
Georgie told Johnson, “You say that a lot.”
“Hell is not holy. It’s just the opposite.”
“Fine you brat. But what do you expect me to say when I find out you bunch have an industrial size food production set up going on right under everyone’s nose?”
“It’s not industrial size.”
“Not really. We need help if we are going to save food for you too.”
“Explain it again. And slow down so I can keep up this time.”
Georgie rolled her eyes at Johnson’s intentional silliness. “Food isn’t always good in the winter. Sometimes the train can’t make it through and the kitchen staff water everything down. Nurse Cassie showed us how to feed ourselves but we’re careful. If the Director thought we could feed ourselves as well as we do then she’d stop ordering even more food to make her budget really special to her supervisors. She already makes it hard to save anything from the garden and fruit trees … fr … from the greenhouse. Nurse Cassie called what she taught us gorilla gardening. This food, what we find and grow out here in the forest, we save and hide for the lean times. Still, we always run out and now that we have to save food for you too we need more help.”
“What do you think? You aren’t the only ones that eat half the berries you pick. The others do too. Sometimes more, especially the boys. Roland would even worse if he didn’t have to stay on the main trail. When it comes to berries he’s a pig.”
Roland was rolling only a few yards away. “I heard that. Besides I know for a fact you eat your fair share of the mushrooms and wild garlic. Your breath really stinks sometimes.”
“Hey is for horses.”
Johnson held his head like it was beginning to ache. “Ok, knock it off you two. We get the picture.”
Georgie knew they thought they did but come deep winter she knew they would know for sure, especially if the trains were late. Until then she was content to teach them the way Nurse Cassie had taught her. She also like how tired she was at the end of the day because it meant she was too tired to dream.
When she did dream she would wake up with a scream trying to climb out of her throat and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Sometimes Roland suspected but lately he’d been spending a lot of time talking to Nela. Georgie suspected what that mean and Nela – at nineteen – wasn’t all that much older. She just hoped it didn’t cause problems and that Roland didn’t get hurt. Nela either. She liked both of them even if they seemed to be going places she couldn’t go, might never even want to go.