Little Miss Sunshine
As had become my morning ritual, I tore off yesterday’s calendar page and read today’s.
The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity.
“Looks like I have a healthy helping of the latter,” I muttered to myself. I still had bandages on my chest from where the Cougar had torn through my vest. Thankfully, the heavy duty nylon had saved me from being completely torn to shreds.
It was great having Sarah around. She was a bit shy at first, but after a couple days she made herself right at home. The first night I let her take over my makeshift bedroom and I spent a lumpy night on the couch out in the garage.
I picked up some drywall and lumber from the big blue store of happiness and proceeded to remove the wall in-between the two former offices. After the wall was down, I built a new one with a foot high gap between the wall and the ceiling so the heat from the fireplace would heat both rooms, but still allow the girl to have her privacy.
It had nearly been a week since the attack and all I knew about Sara was that she’d turned twelve years old on event day. Some birthday present- the end of the world as we know it. Kat was surprised that I’d found another survivor, especially one so young. I still didn’t know how she’d been protected from the event. She wasn’t very talkative about that. The two girls chatted for hours while I prepped the mountain lion, to make him into a rug.
As dinner time approached I felt like making something special. I broke out the Dutch oven and thawed a couple of chicken breasts and bacon. I skinned an onion and began peeling some potatoes.
Sarah finally appeared after the charcoal was merrily burning and the bacon was sizzling in the bottom of the oven. “Have a nice chat with Katrina?” I asked.
“Sure did. I’m happy there’s another girl to talk to.” The smell of bacon became intoxicating. “So, what are you cooking?” she asked.
I finished dicing the last potato and turned to look at Sarah. “It’s an old camping favorite of mine, Chicken and Potato Delight*,” I announced.
“Mmm, sounds delightful.” She chuckled, “Is that bacon?”
“My dad always used to say, ‘Bacon makes everything better.’”
“Yes he is…,” she said then looked away, caught off guard by speaking about her father, “… or was.”
She needed something to do. “Hey Sarah, can you open that can of cream of chicken soup for me?”
She didn’t say much else while we finished preparing the meal. Once everything was combined in the cast iron cooker I sat down on the old couch.
“Want to watch a movie while dinner is cooking?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “Which one?”
“Why don’t you pick something?”
“Umm, okay,” she said and began digging through the boxes of movies. I hoped she wouldn’t pick some sappy chick flick. Hey, I’d just grabbed everything off the shelves in the video store, I didn’t take the time to cherry pick. There was no telling what was in some of those boxes.
After a few minutes she pulled out a shrink-wrapped Blu-Ray movie. “This one looks good. Monster Hunter: International.” She handed it to me and I flipped it over.
“Hmm, PG-13 are you sure? Won’t you get scared?” I chided her.
She rolled her eyes. “Gosh Marty, I’m a big girl, I think I can handle it.”
I read the description on the back cover:
“Five days after Owen Zastava Pitt pushed his insufferable boss out of a fourteenth story window, he woke up in the hospital with a scarred face, an unbelievable memory, and a job offer.
“It turns out that monsters are real. All the things from myth, legend, and B-movies are out there, waiting in the shadows. Officially secret, some of them are evil and some are just hungry. On the other side are the people who kill monsters for a living. Monster Hunter International is the premier eradication company in the business. And now Owen is their newest recruit.
“Owen finds himself trapped between legions of undead minions, belligerent federal agents, a cryptic ghost who’s taken up residence inside his head, and the cursed family of the woman he loves.
“Business is good . . . . Welcome to Monster Hunter International.”
“Whoa, this sounds like my kinda movie.” I shot her an odd look. “I figured you would go for, you know, those mushy love stories.”
“What, the kind of tripe where a wimpy guy wins over the ditzy girl with wit, charm, and flowers? Ewww, gross,” she said, a sour look on her face.
“Let me guess, you had three older brothers?”
“Nope, just me.” She paused. “Dad always wanted boys, and well, Mom… she died when I was two.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I didn’t really know her.” She paused for a bit longer. “Well, anyway I ended up being raised by my Dad, uncles, and Grandpa on a steady diet of football, camping, guns, and guy movies.”
I smiled. “Well, they obviously taught you how to shoot straight,” I said as I put the disc into the player. “So, where did you get the M1 Carbine?”
“Oh, that old gun?” she said, pointing to it in the rack across the room. ” That was my grandpa’s, he brought it back from Korea. One day last year, when we were shooting at the range I was having so much fun blasting soda cans with it, that he said I could keep it,” she said with a smile.
We started the movie and sat down on the couch. Bandit snuggled up to Sarah, put his muzzle in her lap, and promptly went to sleep.
We watched the movie on the big screen. Every fifteen minutes or so I would run over to the Dutch oven, take off the lid, stir the mouth-watering mixture, and hope I didn’t miss any of the action while I stirred the pot.
As I watched the movie it soon became apparent that whoever was advising the crew and actors on the use of firearms actually knew what he was doing. Nobody had fingers on triggers unless they were firing. Slides didn’t lock back after two shots. The hero actually had to reload when he ran out of ammo. The good guys were careful with their muzzle control; they didn’t point their guns at their buddies in front of them. It was great.
After the movie and dinner were over I needed some questions answered.
“So, what did you think of the movie?” I asked.
She smiled while scratching Bandit behind the ears. “That was totally awesome! I really loved the way they portrayed the elves! Oh, and the vampires were how they should be, vicious predators looking for blood.”
“I thought the dream sequences were incredible.” Good she was talking openly, now it was time to get some answers. “Hey umm, Sarah, I’ve got another question for you.”
“How did you and your father end up not being, well, you know, taken?”
She didn’t speak for a while, her jovial mood instantly vanished. “Look Marty, I don’t really want to talk about… before.”
“I’m sorry, Sarah, I really do know how you feel. I had a beautiful wife and two adorable kids,” I said, pointing to the collage of Christmas and birthday photos plastered on the wall. “They were taken from me, and as far as I know they’re gone forever.” Tears began to well up in my eyes.
“I… I… know.” Was all she managed to say before she started crying. Damn, this wasn’t what I’d planned.
“Way to go, doofus,” Noid chided.
“Hey, Goldie, I’m the one who should be sorry,” I said. “You’ve been through a lot.”
She stood up, disturbing the dog. “I never said thank you.”
“I never told you ‘thanks’ for taking me in,” she said. “I was going crazy on my own ever since dad…”
“Did someone say crazy?”
“Shh, don’t talk about it,” I told both of them.
She came over and hugged me. I was shocked, she hadn’t even shaken my hand before. The wounds on my chest still hurt. “Sarah,” I gasped.
She started laughing and let go. “Sorry, I forgot about your cat scratches.”
After I recovered I asked, “So, what do you want to do tomorrow?”
“We need to go get Kat.”
I laughed. “Oh, good one…” I looked at her face, she was dead serious. “Wait, what about winter? It will be here soon and driving across the country with pileups at every intersection… I don’t even have the plow mounted yet,” I protested.
“There isn’t any snow yet, Marty, and besides you… err we need her.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Well, you know…”
I shook my head. “Whoa, hold on now little miss let’s take one thing at a time. Yes, we should go get Katrina, but repopulating the planet is the farthest thing from my mind right now.”
She shot me a dubious look.
“Hey, yes, I’m a man but I don’t have a one track mind. Can you imagine having a baby, and raising children… in post apocalyptica?” I put on a sarcastic tone. “Oh gee, the baby’s sick, why don’t we take little Johnnie to the pediatrician? Oh, we can’t, they’ve all taken the apocalypse off!”
Sarah sighed and shook her head. “Someone will have to have children sooner or later or the human race will go extinct,” she argued.
“Look, I’m not going to continue talking about this with a girl almost young enough to be my daughter!” I said.
She crossed her arms and shook her head again. “Fine! But we still need to go get her.”
I walked over to the workbench and unfolded a map of the lower 48 states. “I’ve been planning how to get to Kat, ever since I contacted her. Come take a look.” The map had a bunch of different routes marked on it with an assortment of bright colored markers.
“Okay, so the most direct route is almost a straight shot from Idaho through Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa, until it finally gets to Massachusetts. It’s somewhere around 2,700 miles.”
She studied it for a bit and then asked, “So what’s wrong? Shouldn’t that take about two days or so?”
“It would take about that long IF, the roads weren’t clogged with empty commuter cars. We have to assume that the freeways are probably all but impassible in many areas, so we would have to keep to lesser traveled roads.” I traced the route with my finger and stopped suddenly somewhere in Ohio. “What if we run into impassible roads and have to detour for a couple hundred miles?”
Sarah’s shoulders slumped. “Oh, this isn’t going to be a quick trip is it?”
I nodded. “We won’t have towing, roadside assistance, weather reports, maintained roads, or anything else.”
“But there isn’t any snow here so why don’t we…”
I interrupted, “Listen, Goldie, I really appreciate your enthusiasm, but most of the mountain passes are probably getting snow right now. Without road crews we have to take care of things ourselves. If I can get the hydraulics working on the plow then we can use it to move snow and smaller vehicles, but it won’t be a picnic.”
“Why are you calling me Goldie?”
I smiled. “You know, like Goldilocks, and the three bears.”
She took a deep breath. “My grandpa used to call me that.”
“Oh, would you prefer I didn’t?”
“No, it’s okay, he was gone before… and well, I always liked it when I was little.” She absently played with a lock of her golden hair. “What about this route?” She pointed to the green line that went down through Arizona, over through Texas, Alabama, and up the eastern seaboard.
“I’ve thought hard about that one. I think we’d mostly be okay until we got to the east coast, then we’d have two options: One, fight through the congestion of DC, which was difficult enough to make it through before the end of the world; Two, go north in Alabama, through Tennessee and Kentucky, then over the Appalachians, where we’d have snow and ice.”
We sat staring at the map for a while. I’d poured over the map a hundred times. Maybe we’d have to wait until late spring.
“Hey, why don’t we fly?” she asked.
I was starting to get a headache. “Well, that is another option but it has its own problems. I’m not a pilot and learning how on a stupid simulator isn’t like the real thing. We’d only be able to fly during the day, since airports won’t have their landing lights on.” I rubbed my head. “Also, imagine that we’re nearly out of fuel. We approach the next airport on the map and find there’d been two 747’s taxiing on the runway when everyone vanished.”
Goldie swallowed hard. “So we couldn’t land, and then we’d have to try another airport.”
“Which hopefully would be serviceable but then it starts getting dark, and since we don’t have weather reports, we could end up flying into a massive storm, and…”
“Okay, I get the picture.” She sighed. We sat, silently pouring over the map- it felt hopeless. “What about the railroad?”
“Well that option seemed appealing at first, but…”
“But what?” she asked.
“Well, imagine going around a mountain curve and a train just happened to jump the track on the other side. We come tearing around the bend and smack right into it. Plus, we’d be stuck to using rail lines. Detours could take a real long time and I’ve never driven a train before.”
“How hard could it be? All you have is forward and backwards!” she said with a screwy grin. I just scowled at her.
“No, I think we need to stick with the Deuce.”
She thought hard about it for a while. “Hey what about those pickup trucks the railroad companies use to maintain the tracks?”
“Hmm, the ones with the retractable train wheels?” I sat there rubbing my scruffy beard. “Well, that would give us the best of both worlds.”
“Rails and roads,” she said.
“Hmm, that might be an option, but it shrinks the size of our truck quite a bit,” I said as I looked at the Deuce. Its twelve foot bed could hold a massive amount of cargo, and we could pull a travel trailer which would be impossible by rail.
“I really like your idea of using roads and rails, Goldie, but we don’t know how long we might be out there. If we had a breakdown on some mountain railroad…”
“But the old Army truck could also break down,” she argued.
I nodded. “True, but we could hole up in the travel trailer for a few days, and we’ll be bringing the side-by-side ATV which we could use for emergencies to get parts or find a new rig.”
She sighed. “Then what do we do in the mean time?”
“We’ll get you trained on the Ma-deuce heavy machine gun.”
I smiled. “Yup, we’re going to mount one on the roof. You never know what we might run into out there.”
Little girls with big machine guns- what a strange world we were living in.