The small blonde, lying in a heap at my feet looked terrible, overly skinny and dried out.
I closed the door, checked she was breathing and laid her flat. She was skin and bone, A Woman in her mid thirties, her skin felt like she was a century old. She had no marks on her face, no sign of the disease.
The flat reeked like a bad pub toilet, I found a tea towel in a kitchen drawer and wet it from my army canteen.
I slowly rung it out over her parched lips, still unconscious, she swallowed by reflex. I wetted the cloth and repeated, delivering perhaps two tablespoons of water over ten minutes. After wiping her face, I had a look around.
A small apartment, kitchen (bare, not a thing to eat), living room, one bedroom and what was probably a bathroom, The stink emanating from behind that door made me leave its actual existence to my imagination.
Above the dead TV, a framed poster. "The Morning Crew" with three heads plastered over a local radio station logo. Steve, a balding 40 ish funny man, Stuart a mid 30s bloke, the serious one, the straight man. and finally the mid 30s Jose, the very likable ditzy dumb blonde. The Woman laying comatose on the floor.
My preferred morning radio companions. Josella Playton. She came across as a very good natured, though super dumb blonde, It had to be an act, nobody could be as stupid as she was on air and live alone unsupervised. But she was entertaining, she was also a little famous for some book that she had written several years ago. It was in the process of being made into a movie I think.
The flat reeked, I gave the sleeping girl more water, then went to retrieve the rest of my gear from the stairwell. I'd assumed this would be a scoop and run mission, "Hello are you ready to go" was not how this would play out. If I had to stay here for more than a few hours, I had to get away from that stink.
My pry bar made short work of the other units doors. The first three had corpses inhabiting them, The air quality was no better than Jose's.
The second last door, the unit next door to Jose's, met my needs. Clean and deserted.
The girl was very easy to carry. worryingly so, she was so very underweight.
As I deposited her in the clean double bed, she stirred. "water, please"
I'd been in hospital only once in my life, after the small operation, the nurses would not give me water, only a small amount of ice chips. I decided to stay with the wet tea towel, She weakly suckled on the damp cloth, after three more, she came around a little.
"More, please give me a proper drink". stupidly I did.
She rolled and weakly vomited the water over the floor. My good works, wasted.
I went back to the original method, she greedily suckled, like a newborn. The effort tired her out and she fell back into sleep.
I continued to drip feed her, understanding her desperate need of hydration.
Half a bottle, perhaps half of that made it inside her, the rest spilled on her face, her skin seeming to soak it up.
While she slept, I transferred my gear, made the apartment door secure and cleaned up the mess on the pristine white carpet in the bedroom. It was only water, she had nothing left inside her.
She lapped up another half bottle while she slept. I thought it best not to push my luck, It would be a shame for her to vomit this water as well. so I let her sleep. I settled on the lounge and took the time to inspect one of the army MRE (meal ready to eat) bags I had snagged earlier.
I'd crammed ten in a back pack, so I was ok with sacrificing one to curiosity.
Night was coming, I had only my headlight, Jose's apartment yielded the torch, an Eveready Dolphin, its battery almost flat. The sixth and final flat on that level contained was also empty, it did have some large ornamental candles and a 24 pack of bottled water. Both came with me, back to our new digs.
Not being a smoker, I was at a loss as to how I might light the candles, until I looked at the MRE. A little container with about ten matches. it took two to get the unused candles alight. One I left in the living area, the other I took to Jose's room, she was awake when I entered "who are you, where am I"? she croaked.
Though tempted to answer with "I'm your biggest fan" whilst grinning like a lunatic, she probably already had enough "Misery" in her life, and didn't need any more. I gave her my name, and explained as gently as I could why we had moved next door, while she sucked on a wet cloth. I still wasn't sure she was ready for real water.
Before I left the room, I found out that the likable dumb blond was partly an act. She wasn't likable and she wasn't a blond.
Even in her weakened state, laying pale and helpless, she berated me for burglarising her neighbours home, and worse still, involving her in the crime. As I fed her more water, she asked if it was me who had shown up this morning in the "big yellow dump truck". I answered in the affirmative. She opened up on me again, I was, it seemed a murderer, running down those poor innocents. As soon as she was able, she would be reporting me to the authorities. Muttering something about crimes against humanity, she slipped back to sleep.
I wiped her face down with the cloth while she slept, some from the other apartment undoubtedly came with her to this one. she needed a bath. As I was inspecting my handy work, I noticed that she was a bottle blond, Her roots were showing.
I retired to the living room to check the MRE.
Basically the CR1M (Combat Ration 1 Man) held two meals, one light meal of soup and a lot of snacks, The handy little information sheet suggested the meals be consumed for breakfast and as an evening meal. leaving the soup and snacks, things such as muesli bars, biscuits, cheese and preserved fruit could be consumed at lunch and during the rest of the day, They seemed to pack a fairly generous amount of food. Also tea, coffee, cocoa, condensed milk, sugar, salt, pepper chocolate bars and M&Ms, some kind of hard candy, a spoon and some toilet paper, plastic bags and most importantly for me at the moment. some kind of energy drink powder, probably Gatorade.
I made a weak solution for Jose, figuring the orange flavoured drink may be a little acidic, I didn't to make her sick. The rest of the mix went into another bottle for me. Perhaps the effect was psycho sematic but as the sun sunk beneath the horizon to the west, I started feeling the effects of the drink.
I returned to the ungrateful sleeping woman and fed her in much the same manner I had once fed a motherless kitten. slowly and messily.
Perhaps the effect of the sports drink was real, after about ten minutes, she stirred, appearing to have a little more energy. Only a little more, one couldn't expect miracles.
I kept drip feeding her, despite her ever more strident protests that she needed a lot of water and needed it NOW.
I needn't think that just because I was helping her at the moment, that she had forgotten about the break in, or the murders. Her radio voice had been replaced by a strident whiny voice. She finished by telling me what a terrible person I was. the word "scumbag" was also mentioned.
I assured her that I would take full responsibility for my actions at the appropriate time (which promised to be "never"). and tried to change the subject.
Hoping to divert Jose from her infatuation with "war crimes, crimes against humanity" and "the UN world court", I asked for her end of the world story, how she came to be caught up on the fifth floor of Pinnacle Apartments.
She had thrown a "gathering" on new years eve, just a little shin dig for her friends and neighbours. To cheer them up, simply "everybody" was just so down in the dumps about the nasty business in America. I enquired about that same "nasty business" being in Australia. Just a minor hiccup apparently, the US would arrive any time now to make everything right.
In the meantime, she, and her friends had their party. Only those from inside the building bothered to show, the rest had been so rude, they hadn't even bothered to call. I didn't bother pointing out that they were probably already dead, dying or fighting to avoid that fate, there seemed little point arguing against her "logic".
The power went out at 2am. Some of her friends had already left by that stage, claiming they were feeling ill, though she was sure they only trying to ruin her party. The remainder left after the lights went out (the animals I'd dealt with in the hallway, and the remainder of their meals no doubt).
She'd tried to leave the flat on the first day of the new year, but Ivor Wadsworth "he's the arts critic for the Herald" and Leah Rianon "The Environmental party senator" came running up the hall screaming (the emergency lights had been working at the time), and Lee, a life long Vegan was eating some kind of raw meat. She got scared closed and locked the door, over the past two weeks she had called to them, tried to reason with them, but every time she did, they tried to break through her door.
Probably just my sick sense of humour, but imagining Ms. Rianon chewing on somebodies arm bought me great joy. she was a nasty venomous snake in the grass, intent on destroying anything that didn't fit into her slanted belief system. the number of decent people who had lost their livelihoods when she had ruined their business or their character with her publicly funded war chest was disgusting. What do you know, some good had came from this disaster after all.
Jose finished off the drink, I mixed another bottle, Mixed berry this time, still very weak, I only used about one quarter of the powder, Transferred a tiny amount into an empty bottle and let her drink. telling her to take it easy, reminding her that after so long, her stomach had to get used to having something in it again. Ignoring me, She greedily gulped it down, less than a mouth full. She was rewarded with violent stomach cramps.
The cramps lasted for about half an hour, she was sobbing with the pain. I thought they would subside as she absorbed the water, but they seemed to be getting worse. I took her to the balcony, and tried sticking my finger down her throat. Nothing. The stench from the amassed creatures below should have been enough to make her throw up.
I was sure my actions would result in another Police report, oh well, it couldn't be helped.
Around twenty years ago, I was travelling to town with a few mates, Elfy (so named because his head was a bit pointy and looked like an elf hat) was seriously hung over. "Pull over, I'm gonna be sick", we stopped, he got out and proceeded to not be ill. he tried, but it just wouldn't come. Tired of waiting, one of the other blokes Gordo, walked over to him, gently put his hand on his mates shoulder and buried his fist into the poor blokes mid section. Worked better then ippycack or what ever that stuff is called that models use, I've never seen so much vomit come from one man. "That feels better" he said, thanked Gordo and we continued into town.
Although "the Gordo manoeuvre" worked a treat, after vomiting on the growing crowd below, she informed me that there was nothing worse than a Woman basher and I could expect charges to be laid. Then she spat in my face, and told me I was worse than Hitler.
I threw her on the bed and walked out.
Just like **** and piss, spit wipes off. I was tired and cranky. I wasn't expecting a fair maiden to fall into my arms as I rode in on my white charger. But I sure as hell wasn't expecting to be compared to one of history's monsters, have legal threats (no matter how laughable given the situation ) levelled, nor to be spat at for trying to help alleviate pain. even if the method was a little on the rough side.
Time for an attitude adjustment.
She was awake when I entered, "I'm thirsty". "Be quiet and listen up. I've seen only one other person in the last 13 days, She died as the result of a plane crash "(not exactly the truth, but not exactly a lie either, I wasn't prepared to go into it at that point)", I have seen nobody else in that time, I'm guessing you haven't either. So heres a very simple question. Do you want me to leave, if I do, nobody will come, you will die, so, again, do you want me to go"?
She answered with a very tiny "No". Lucky, if she'd said yes, I was staying anyway, I wouldn't see the only other survivor die if I could help it. No matter how much of a pain she was. It seems you can pick your friends, but you cant pick your family, or fellow survivors of a Ku Klux Klan inspired apocalypse.
So I laid down the law, basically keep her opinions of me to herself, if she wanted to report me to the Americans when they arrived, that was fine, but no comparisons to Hitler and no spitting. Additionally when I asked her to do something, I expected her to comply, I reminded her that the cramps were brought on by gulping down the water she was told to sip. "Do you agree"?, she came back with a very timid "yes".
I returned with another small amount of Gatorade. Reminding her yet again of the cramps, I told her to sip it. This time she complied. She nursed that meagre mouthful for twenty minutes, drinking daintily, mouselike.
While she again slept, I tossed the other units. Searching mainly for water, My current supply would last three or four days at best, it was always good to have a buffer, also I wanted a few spare litres so Jose could have a sponge bath, she stunk to high heaven. I found three more slabs of water and a half full kerosene lantern, as well as a gas BBQ on one of the porches. I was rather grateful for that, I really thought the MREs came with their own little stove, but I was wrong.
I was a little noisy bringing the BBQ back to the unit. Jose cried out, thirsty again. I gave her another small amount of liquid, reminded her again to take it easy.
I thought she looked a little better, and decided to try her on some food. MRE chocolate to be exact.
When I returned she still had half the purple liquid, perhaps she was starting to 'get it" after all.
I broke off a tiny piece of chocolate and told her to let it melt in her mouth.
We continued like that til midnight, her taking small drinks and smaller pieces of chocolate. She said she would like something a little more substantial than crumbs of chocolate. The MRE yielded a portion of beef soup. I heated it in a pan full of tomorrows bath water on the BBQ.
I helped her sit up in bed, and bought in a small amount in a cup, the solids strained off, I gave her a tea spoon and again warned her to go very steady, the remains of the soup simmered in another pan.
As she took baby bites, I asked her about the rest of her time in the flat, after the power had gone out.
The animals in the hall had kept her trapped, and she had very few supplies in the flat, she alway ate out she explained. The small amount of tv dinners (lean Cuisine she called it, same thing) in the freezer started defrosting on the 1st, so she threw them out. I asked why she didn't eat them, they are cooked after all, just cold. Looking at me like I was a fool, and asked how she could eat something that wasn't cooked. Sadly I nodded, how indeed. She had lived on chips and dips, party foods were all she had left. Drinking wine, champagne and mixers, coke, soda water and ginger ale.
By the 6th, it was all gone, she started down the twin roads to starvation and dehydration.
I fetched a little more soup and a few drops of the grape flavoured drink, as she partook, she continued. She came up with the idea to make a beacon, a bed sheet for the day and the torch her father had given her for night, She'd had to change the battery, but she figured it out.
I asked about the bathroom and unholy stink, "after the water failed, the toilet didn't flush" she said simply. I asked why she hadn't got rid of her waste over the balcony rail? "Oh, I didn't think of that" she said. I queried why she hadn't raid the other apartments, the three on her side of the hall shared a common balcony. She hadn't thought of that either. instead she lay dying.
From the sixth til the evening of the ninth, she had no water. The storm had saved her.
When it came, she lapped water from the floor tiles, at it blew in. she lapped it from her own arms she even had the presence of mind to fill a few pots, but in the sheltered area, they only got an inch or two of water. With all that water teaming down, she got a drink, but not nearly enough, still thirsty, the meagre amount of water in the pots was gone by the next morning, and she was still thirsty. I asked about the beacon sheet, surely it would have been drenched, she could have wrung it out into every container she had. again, she hadn't thought of that.
By one, she'd had enough to eat, but was still thirsty. I was afraid to go to quickly, I fancied that I could recall reading about major complications from hydrating too quickly. but I also knew that lack of water bought its own issues.
While she slept, I ate the rest of the Beef soup. not bad. I put the Lamb and Rosemary on to boil, I was still hungry.
Raiding another MRE, I mixed up a stronger batch for Jose.
By two AM my lamb was ready, I woke her up and gave her half a bottle of tropical flavoured energy drink, again reminding her to sip it. Yes I sounded like a broken record. She said the smell of the lamb was making her hungry again, I gave her a few slithers, tiny, still after eating them, she felt a little ill. back to soup I think.
The half bottle took her an hour to finish. I gave her the other half, doing my broken record thing and dozing for about twenty minutes.
I woke to groans, The cramps were back and the bottle was empty.
I asked if she needed to vomit, she said she'd try to work through it. ten minutes later, it had obviously got worse. Back to the balcony, after trying to bring up her stomachs contents unsuccessfully, we again reverted to the Gordo method and a rainbow of purple, yellow and beef brown went over the side (actually it was just brown, but I tried to make it sound nicer). Back to bed. and time for another talk.
"Do you want me to leave, be honest, we cant carry on like this, you just start to get some water inside you, and then you make yourself sick, if you want to kill yourself, tell me, I'll get the gun, it will be quicker and kinder". "Noooo, please, please stay, I'll be good, I'll do what ever you tell me too". she pleaded like a scared child.
I mixed the other satchel, Orange this time, using half the satchel in two bottles, made a litre of weak solution .. I gave her quarter of one bottle. It took til sunrise to get half a litre into her. I cooked some chicken soup out of the second MRE, again feeding it to her in dribs and drabs. She had most of the liquid, I had what was left. By nine the day was shaping up to be a corker. a little under 30 and a pleasant breeze coming off the ocean. even with the balcony door all the way open, we couldn't smell the crowd below.
I informed Jose that I wanted her to have a sponge bath. she was not keen on the idea. I pointed out that cleanliness kept germs at bay. she really didn't want to.
I told her it was happening whether she like it or not, she smelled like a rotten warthog and needed a bath.
Putting the water on to boil, I found a large plastic tub in the laundry, I raided every towel in the place and asked Jose if she had any preference on clothing. She seemed very quiet and shook her head.
I found some modest underwear in her unmentionables drawer and a long thing that might have been an over sized t shirt or an undersized nightie.
I returned to the flat as the water boiled.
Carried a small table in beside the bed, for the plastic wash tub. boiling water than a few bottles of cool water. There was enough for a wash, but the amount wasn't generous.
I returned with the towels, Jose watched quietly.
"I'll just get your frilly things and we're ready to go" I said over my shoulder as I walked out.
Less than a minute later, when I returned, Jose lay on the bed, naked.