Author's Note: Daria Morgendorffer and her fellow characters from Daria are owned by MTV/Viacom. All other characters in this story are the property of Doggieboy. This is fan fiction and no money or other items of value have been exchanged for this story.
Part 3: Linda and Beyond
On Sunday morning, Daria and Jane had packed the SUV, a Ford Explorer, as full as they could get it and still allow whoever drove it to see out the back through the rearview mirror. Jane had siphoned all the gasoline out of Larry Carter's car and that of the three men they had killed in the front yard Sunday night.
Before they left, Daria examined Jane's arm once more in the bathroom. "Well, Jane, you are in disgusting good health. You're healing very well, and I think we should take out your stitches. Since I don't have a chainsaw handy, I'll just use scissors."
"What if it starts to reopen?" Jane asked, her voice nervous.
"There's packaging tape in the kitchen," Daria said. "I was going to take it with us." She saw Jane's uncertain smile and added, "I'm not joking. If you start to reopen, the tape will hold you together until you've healed a little more."
"Maybe you should leave the stitches in another day."
"Oh, don't be such a baby, Lane."
"I'm serious, Daria. Let's leave them in one more day."
Daria saw Jane's determined look, raised her hands and backed up slightly. "O.K., Jane, calm down. One more day."
Jane sighed in relief and said, "Thank you. Now, I'm ready to scoot."
They walked out onto the back porch and Daria pulled the door shut. "How much money did you count up earlier?" she asked.
Jane consulted a notepad briefly. "Thanks to our late host and the others, plus what we already had, we now have 1,322 dollars and 17 cents. That's not counting those gold and silver pieces and the old coins we found in Mr. Cord's bedroom."
Daria got behind the wheel of the SUV and Jane climbed in the passenger seat. "I don't know if money will be any good for now. But if it is, we'll be ready."
"That's why we have all the trade goods, too. I'd bet the beer and whiskey will bring a good trade price."
Daria started the vehicle and pulled out on the highway. "I hope you're right. Now, if I read that map from the house right, we're somewhere near U.S. 219, within ten or so miles from Grantsville. Let's go there first."
"Frostburg is bigger," Jane pointed out as she read the map's city and county index. "Maybe more chance of a rescue center there."
"True, Jane, but we may find something we need in Grantsville."
As Daria drove, the two noticed the quiet look of the area. No children played outside, no laundry dried on clotheslines and little activity could be seen at all. In fact some homes looked totally abandoned. At a few houses, there were rifle or shotgun barrels aimed at them from behind barricades or doors until they passed on. One house had several people working around and on a tractor, but two of them were armed. All of them watched the SUV with cautious interest until it passed.
Jane held her .357 in her right hand and constantly looked around as Daria drove. "Damn," she said quietly, "you can just feel the fear in the air."
"People don't know what to expect," Daria said as she turned east on U.S. 40. "Others may have already run into some bad guys, like we did."
It took them nearly fifteen minutes to drive into Grantsville. No roadblocks stopped them, but the town had an tense, armed feel to it. They knew that they were being watched. But when they came to what looked like a small grocery store, Daria pulled into the parking lot.
"What are we doing here?" Jane asked nervously. "I don't think those armed men will let you in the store."
"I'm going to see if we can do a trade," Daria said and handed Jane her pistol. "Just stay in the SUV. Let me handle it." She reached into a jacket pocket, pulled something out and grasped it in her hand.
Jane looked at Daria as if she were nuts. "What do we need here so bad that we're willing to do a trade? We've got food, blankets, guns, and clothes, along with a lot of other stuff. What's so important that we have to stop?"
Daria sighed and looked into Jane's eyes with a small smile on her face. "Feminine hygiene products, Jane. Any more questions?"
"Oh," Jane looked away and blushed. "Sorry. Forget I asked."
"Don't worry, I will."
Outside, Daria walked up to the men. One man stepped out as if to greet her, but he glared at her and said bluntly, "We're not open and we won't be for awhile. We don't have enough food to sell to outsiders."
"I'm not here for food," Daria said. She was careful not to make any sudden moves. "I'd like to buy some...feminine hygiene products."
The man lost some of his hostility, but said, "Until I find out where, or even if, the U.S. government stands, I can't accept money. Sorry."
"How about this?" Daria held up a quarter-ounce U.S. gold bullion coin. "Think we can do a trade here?"
The man's eyes widened at the sight of the gold coin; he relaxed and gave Daria a genuine smile. "What kind of trade are you thinking of?" he asked.
"Well," she said and returned his smile, "the face value of this coin is ten dollars, so I thought that you'd 'sell' me ten dollars worth of pads and tampons for this coin. Do we have a deal?"
The store owner nodded and turned to a young teen boy sitting near the door. "Junior, escort this young lady to the health and beauty aisle and help her get ten dollars worth of what she needs."
"O.K., Dad," he said and they walked into the store together. He waited until the door finally shut, then he turned to Daria and looked her over slowly. "You're cute."
Daria resisted the impulse to insult him and roll her eyes. "Uh, huh," she said as they walked to the aisle. The boy opened a paper bag and handed it to her.
The boy looked at the door quickly and leaned close to Daria. "Hey, beautiful, what kind of food do you like?" he asked.
"What kind of food do you like?" he asked again.
He glanced at her with a smirk and then stared at the door. Then he whispered, "I'll give you a pizza kit if you give me a gold coin, too."
Daria looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "What if your dad catches you?"
"Cover it with pads and tampons and he won't want to look. That kind of stuff grosses him out. Mom has to keep her packs hidden or it'll get him sick."
She pulled a one-tenth-ounce gold coin out of her pocket. "Give me four and we have a deal," she said in a quieter voice.
"Two," the boy countered.
"Three," Daria countered back.
"Deal." The boy took three pizza kit boxes and laid them sideways in the bottom of the bag. Daria handed him the coin and he said, "O.K., choose what kind of the 'female' stuff you need."
Daria grabbed several packs of pads and tampons, which added up to just over ten dollars in value. The boy snagged a box of generic facial tissues and put it in the bag as well. Then, he grabbed a 14-ounce bag of M&Ms and also put them in the bag. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"I like giving pretty girls chocolate," he said. "Every girl I know likes chocolate."
Daria closed her eyes briefly and resisted the impulse to laugh. Instead, she looked at him and gave him a quick kiss. "Thank you."
The boy's smile widened and he shivered. "No," he said. "Thank you. He then put a bag of corn chips in the bag and hid them under the assorted feminine products.
"You'd better relax that smile or your dad will know something's up." The boy calmed himself down and winked at her and she gave him a small smile in return.
They stepped back outside and Daria turned to the store owner. "Thank you for doing business with me."
"My pleasure," the man said and looked over his gold coin. "Anytime."
Then she turned to the boy and said, "Thank you, too."
He raised his eyebrows a couple of times real quick and said, "You're welcome."
In the SUV, Daria handed Jane the sack and said, "Wait until we're gone to look over our stuff." She started the ignition, then replaced the pistol in her holster.
"Oh? What'd we get?"
Daria pulled the SUV back onto U.S. 40 and headed east out of town. "We got pads and tampons, but we also got three pizza kits, corn chips, and a bag of M&Ms. The food was extra."
"You shoplifted?" Jane asked. "I heard the man say he wasn't going to sell you food."
"Not only did I trade with the man, I also traded with the boy. He's the one who traded with me for the food. I used two of the gold pieces."
"Isn't that a bit much, Daria? The feminine stuff I can see. The food I can't, because we have food."
"They're pizza kits, Jane. P-i-z-z-a."
Jane closed her eyes and shook her head. "Where are we going to bake them, smart ass? An SUV has a lot of extras, but it doesn't have an oven."
Daria gave her a weak smile. "Don't worry. We'll find someplace with an oven before it goes bad."
Jane snorted in derision. "Compared with Pizza King, it's already gone bad. Oh, well, better than no pizza."
"That's my point, Jane."
Jane looked at her for several seconds, then said, "Let's try to make our trade items a little more...valuable. You should have gotten more food in a trade."
"In a few months, five gold coins may not even get us that much." Daria sped up to fifty as they got further from the town. "This is still new to us. Here's something else new for you to think about. When we left this morning, we had a full tank of gas and five extra gallons. When we use all that up, where are we going to get more gas?"
Jane blinked and looked ahead. "I don't know."
"Neither do I. It's very likely that gas may not be sold around here for years, except on the black market. Five gold coins may get us five gallons, or none. Gasoline is like food. You only have so long to use it before it goes bad. If the refineries aren't up to speed, I'd be shocked to see us get any gas after...a month, maximum."
Jane frowned and shook her head. "You know, Daria, you are really a fount of cheerful news. How do you know that?"
"It's an educated guess, that's all." Daria glanced at her, then looked back at the road. "I don't want to lie to you, Jane. It won't be cheerful, most of the time."
As they arrived in Frostburg, they came upon a roadblock manned by National Guard soldiers and slowed to a stop in a line behind two cars, a truck and an RV. The soldiers who talked with each driver seemed laid back and relaxed, but Daria felt it was some kind of ruse. Their backups look like they're ready to shoot as the slightest sign of trouble, she thought.
"You know, Daria, I'm getting tired of roadblocks." Jane said and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Really? I thought you'd look forward to the chance of being stripped and searched by kids barely old enough to smoke."
Jane gave her a sideways glance and laughed. "Actually, I look forward to seeing you get stripped and searched after I tell them you kidnapped me."
Daria held in her laugh and rolled her eyes. "Remember what you told me several days ago. 'We don't have to like it. We just have to deal with it.'"
They were waved up to the guardsman then and Daria pulled up and stopped, her window down. A corporal in his late twenties looked them over briefly and smiled at them. "Ladies, you're welcome here in town, but a lot of stores are closed for the time being."
"We wanted to check out a shelter," Jane said. "We need some potassium...um, potassium..."
"...iodide," the solder finished for her and nodded. "Not a problem. They're also giving away food since the Army had a stockpile near here and we're so close to three bombed areas. Plus there's still room if you need a place to stay." He pointed down the street. "Drive to the third stoplight and turn left. Go north until you get to the high school. The parking lot's very secure."
"What do you mean by 'very secure'?" Daria asked.
"We shoot any looters we catch breaking into cars." He smiled proudly. "We have a lot of Guardsmen and women in this town and 95 percent of them are on the job here in some capacity. No security problems, except for the five we had to shoot. After we shot them, things really calmed down then." He backed away from the SUV and waved them on.
Daria followed the directions given to them by the soldier and stopped at an impromptu guard shack set up at a high school parking lot. A young man carrying a rifle walked up to the SUV; Daria saw that another man kept an M-16 on standby and watched them from the side of the guard shack.
"Hi!" the young man said and smiled at the two girls. "If you two need shelter, my house is just five blocks from here."
Daria held in the comeback she wanted to use. One should never insult an armed man, she thought. Instead, she smiled back and said, "Thank you, but we're here to see about getting medicine and maybe food."
He nodded and looked them over slowly, his smile still on his face. "Sure," he said as he looked back up. "Just park where you can find a spot, go to the front entrance and follow the directions. But remember, the offer of shelter still stands, my charming ladies."
Jane smiled as well and said, "If we end up back here in Frostburg, we'll get in touch with you."
The man pulled a business card out of his left breast pocket and handed it to them. "I'm usually here, in some capacity, until six. So if you do come back, go to the address on the card after six."
Daria took the card and read it. "Thank you, uh, Doug. We will." She drove on into the parking lot. "I wonder if he's related to Upchuck."
"I was thinking cloned until I saw his dark hair," Jane replied. "I wonder how many cards he had when he started out."
"Probably a hundred." Daria found a parking spot about 200 feet from the front entrance, about three rows from the sidewalk. "I think he liked your chest. Really, Jane, you shouldn't stick it out like that."
"You're one to talk, Daria. You should keep your blouse buttoned. Giving free peeks to imitation Upchucks. The real one would be jealous."
They exited and locked the SUV. Jane stared at it for several seconds, then noticed Daria's questioning glance. "I'm trying to memorize the SUV. Remember, we just recently got it."
Daria nodded and said, "I just realized, what if we get pulled over? If they do an ownership check, we can get arrested for auto theft."
Jane smiled and pulled a paper from an inside jacket pocket, along with a note pad and a driver's license. "I've been practicing Mr. Cord's signature and I already know how to copy Dad's autograph. Mr. Cord sold Dad the SUV three days before the war for 5,000 dollars, at least according to the title here."
"It would have been nice to know that, Jane. When were you planning on telling me?"
Jane shrugged and did her best to look innocent. "I forgot. Sorry."
They walked up to a recently erected sign put up near the school entrance. It was written in all caps and to the point.
"WARNING! THIS PARKING LOT IS BEING WATCHED AND PATROLLED. IF WE CATCH YOU BREAKING INTO VEHICLES, WE WON'T ARREST YOU. WE WILL SHOOT YOU. WE ARE REQUIRED TO USE DEADLY FORCE.
"IF YOU ACT SUSPICIOUS, WE WILL DETAIN YOU, IF NOT SHOOT YOU. WE ARE UNDER MARTIAL LAW AND SO ARE YOU. DON'T MAKE US PROVE IT.
"THOSE SEEKING SHELTER, USE THE GREEN DOORS. ALL OTHERS, USE THE BLUE DOORS.
Daria made sure her jacket was buttoned at the waist and the pistol hidden, while Jane popped a bubble as she chewed gum. They approached the blue doors, where a line ended just inside the first set of doors.
A second sign, handwritten, was set up on an easel just past the second set of doors.
"Local citizens are eligible for one week's supply of rations. You must present either a receipt of a recent water bill or your last property tax payment stub.
"Transients with a Maryland I.D. or driver's license are eligible for a three-day supply of rations. All others are eligible for a one-day supply.
"Be thankful for what you get. Many people in other areas are getting less. Many more are getting nothing."
"I suggest we play it cool in here," Jane said in Daria's left ear quietly. "I don't think they're going to take shit from anyone."
"I'd say that you're right on that one," Daria whispered back. "Hopefully, we'll get rations that taste good."
"Don't hold your breath. I've heard that Red Cross rations were pretty gross."
As the line slowly moved to the processing tables, Daria found herself looking over the shelter interior and the people there. Despite the distance between Frostburg and Lawndale, there was always a slight possibility that her parents or Quinn, or even Trent, were all there.
"Hey, Daria!" Jane said suddenly.
Daria turned to her and asked, "What?"
"That woman at the far table. Doesn't she look familiar?"
Daria looked and her mouth dropped open in shock. "That's...that's Sandi's mom. What the hell is she doing here?"
Jane stood on her toes and looked into the shelter. "If she's here, then maybe there's other Lawndale people here as well."
Daria looked around as well. Please, God, let them be here. Let them be here. But they saw nobody else they knew and reached the table.
Linda Griffin looked up as she said, "Your name, please..." Then her face paled. "Ohmigod! Omigod! You're...you're Quinn's sister! Are other Lawndale people with you?" She jumped to her feet and searched the line behind them.
"We weren't in Lawndale on Saturday morning," Daria said. She knows that I'm Quinn's sister and not her cousin?
"You weren't in Lawndale?" Linda's confusion was very evident. "Where were you?"
"We were in West Virginia when it all started. We've been trying to get back and this is as far as we've gotten."
Just then, a man in his mid-thirties with a nametag with the name "DAVID" printed on it came up and asked, "Is there a problem here, Linda?"
Linda put a smile on her face and turned to face him. "I've just come across a couple of my friends from Lawndale," she said. Daria and Jane glanced at each other with their eyebrows raised and Jane mouthed, Oh, really? "Would you mind if I took a break now, David? I'll get them their supplies while I find out what's happened with them."
The man gave Linda what seemed to Daria an intimate smile. "Sure thing, take your time and I watch your spot for a little while."
Linda's smile widened. "Thank you, David. I really appreciate it." She gave his left arm a slight squeeze and his smile widened even more.
To Daria and Jane, it was like watching Quinn at work on the three J's. Linda was just a whole lot better and more refined at it than Quinn.
Linda guided Daria and Jane behind the tables and down a hallway newly labeled, "SHELTER STAFF ONLY." She looked back at Jane as they walked and asked, "You're Vincent and Amanda Lane's girl, aren't you?"
"Guilty as charged," Jane said. "Unless, of course, there's a problem, in which case I plead the fifth."
The older woman laughed and took them in what was normally a small office space for two teachers. The desks were taken out and replaced with a cot with two folding chairs. "My room here, or at least until the shelter shuts down." She guided them to sit on the bed and continued, "Helen let you drove to West Virginia? By yourselves?"
"She doesn't know where we are," Daria protested and looked away, briefly ashamed. "It was a spur of the moment road trip and we've been trying to get back ever since. What are you doing here?"
Linda sighed and sat in one of the folding chairs. She gave them a rueful smile and said, "KSBC had a weekend employee teambuilding conference outside of Frostburg last Saturday morning. It was supposed to be in May, but they found out they could do it in April at half the cost and moved it up."
"Hell," Jane whispered. "Talk about your bad timing."
"Indeed," Linda agreed. "We were eating lunch when the Washington bomb exploded. Ray Wilson, our lead sports anchor, tried to rush us back to Baltimore so we could get home. When the Philadelphia bomb went off, he was blinded and drove head first into a utility pole. John Laren, the assistant station manager, was up front with Ray." She swallowed and closed her eyes. "They...died instantly in the crash. Cindy Parker, the KSBC celebrity reporter, was in back with me. I had buckled myself in, but she hadn't. The crash snapped her neck in two and she died in my arms not long after."
There was several seconds of awkward silence, then she wiped tears from her eyes. "We were just a block or so from a fire station. The firemen there rescued me and brought me here."
"Have you tried to get back to Lawndale?" Daria asked.
Linda looked at them and more tears filled her eyes. "Lawndale is off limits now. They evacuated it after the bombings. Besides...besides..." She looked away, her hands over her face.
To Daria, it seemed as if Linda aged in front of them; she watched as the older woman forcibly reined in her emotions.
Linda now had a neutral look on her face, as if she were about to read a news story about a ship sinking or a plane crash. But her eyes were still wet. She said, "Last Saturday morning, Tom drove Sandi and her Fashion Club friends to Mall of the Millenium. Sam and Chris went with them. I called him up on his cell phone as I was eating my lunch. He had left the children at the mall while he was getting the oil changed at a Quik-E-Lube across the street."
"But Mall of the Millenium is between Baltimore and Washington!" Daria said quickly.
A tear ran down Linda's right cheek as she looked at the floor. "I know," she said. "I was criticizing him over the phone for his poor per...I mean, something stupid." She took several deep breaths and suppressed her cries. "My last words with my husband were...insulting." More tears ran down her cheeks. "I've been hoping beyond hope that Tom got to the kids and took them all out of there. But every night, I've dreamed that they all died in the firestorm from Washington." She broke down and cried.
"Quinn was with them?" Daria asked, her voice a higher pitch than she intended.
Linda looked up and nodded as she cried. "She...she showed up before I left for the conference."
Daria stared ahead in shock. She remembered that Quinn had left the house earlier than usual that day to avoid contact with Helen, who had the flu. She thought about what Linda had said about her last words with her husband and also remembered that her last words to Quinn were an insult. Oh, God, let me have a chance to make it up to her! She closed her eyes and began crying as well.
Jane sat still and uncertain of what to do. She lightly touched Daria's left shoulder and Linda's right shoulder, then closed her eyes as they cried.
After several minutes, Linda's cries subsided and she gave Jane a weak smile and nodded. "Thank you."
"No problem," Jane said and looked at Daria.
Daria kept her face covered as she continued crying. My sister, my sister! Oh, God, I want to die! Quinn! Oh, Quinn!
Linda put both of her hands on Daria's shoulders and gripped her gently. "I'm very, very sorry, Daria," she said and sniffled. "I'm so very sorry. Right now, I feel as if I'm just a shadow of myself. I do understand what you're going through. Both of us are in the same boat." She glanced at Jane and said, "Actually, you know nothing about your family either, do you?"
Jane shook her head. "My brother was at home when I left. One of my sisters is in North Carolina, but I don't know where everyone else is."
Daria moved her hands down and looked at Linda through tear-blurred eyes. Mom, I wish you and Dad were here, she thought. I need you both so bad. She thought of the times that Helen complained about Linda, calling her a harpy and a bitch and many other bad things. In the past, she had pretty much agreed with her mother, or at least didn't disagree. But now she saw Linda through different eyes. The woman before her was a hurting mother and regretful wife, one who seemed very scared and very alone.
"I can talk to David and get you two a place to stay here," Linda said. "I can even get you a job to do here. It...it keeps one occupied and other things off your mind."
Daria shook her head. "I've got to try and find Mom and Dad," she said and took a deep breath. "I need to check other shelters." She then took off her glasses and wiped her eyes.
"I'm with her," Jane said. "I've got to find where Trent is."
Linda looked at her for several seconds, then at Jane, then she looked down at the floor. "May God forgive me for this, but I don't want to leave here. I'm scared to death to leave." She looked at them. "There have been bad things happening closer to the destroyed areas. I don't know all the details, but some of the ones here from the Pittsburgh area have been robbed, beaten, even raped. Others have been murdered. David said that the same things have been happening near Washington, Norfolk and Philadelphia. Probably also at the other destroyed cities, as well."
"Do you know what cities were destroyed?" Jane asked.
"I only know of some," Linda told her. "The four I mentioned, plus St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Dallas, New York City, and I heard Las Vegas was, too, though that doesn't make any sense."
"Probably someone's idea of a joke," Daria said. "It was more than likely Nellis Air Force Base."
"That's the strange thing," Linda said. "Outside of Norfolk, the targets seemed to be just population centers. I don't understand it and neither does David."
"Can I ask you about David?" Daria asked her and briefly took a deep breath. "He seems...close to you."
"He wants to be," Linda admitted. "I met him at the teambuilding conference. He's a programming director of the local public broadcasting station. He remembered my interview with Rosalynn Carter and all the other silly news stories I did and told me that 'I' pushed him into a telecommunications career." She laughed. "I thought he was using an original pick-up line on me. I still do." Then her smile faded and she sighed. "I'm in my mid-40s, Daria. As far as I know, Tom and the children are...gone. Everything that I was, that I had, that I've been, is now radioactive and untouchable. I have nothing. I am nothing. David's almost 10 years my junior. Several young ladies have put the moves on him, but he...wants me." She closed her eyes. "Here's where I feel like some evil witch. I...I'm with David now. When the shelter shuts down, I'll be living in his home."
"What if Tom is still alive and shows up?" Jane asked.
Linda looked at her. "I'll go back to him. I already talked about that with David and he understood. He's been trying to contact the other shelters to see if he can find my family. The main problem we have is a lack of communications. Many areas near the bombed cities suffered massive electronic disruptions. Even areas not bombed suffered some disruptions."
"We saw a lot of stalled cars on that Saturday," Daria said and nodded. "Ours wasn't affected. Has he found any shelters with Lawndale residents in them?"
Linda shook her head. "They're using UHF equipment in trying to contact other areas. We can't raise anyplace between Cumberland and Atlantic City, or north of Raleigh, North Carolina, or south of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. We know that there's other shelters in the area. The city of Frederick has a lot of refugees, but we can't contact them yet." She stood up and wiped her eyes. "I need to take you to a doctor," she said to Jane. "I just noticed your bandage and if you are going to check out other shelters, you should be checked out first here anyway."
"Do you love David?" Daria asked.
"I don't know him well enough to love him," Linda said as she looked at Daria. "But I don't want to end up a homeless woman dying alone at the side of the road, either. I can grow to love him."
"What if we find Tom and your kids out there?" Jane asked. "What do we tell them?"
"Send them here," she replied quickly. "Send them to me. I'll take care of the rest."
They left the room and Linda led them down the hall to what was normally the school nurse's office. A tired-looking older man turned, and on seeing Linda, he gave her a weak smile. "What can I do for you, Linda?" he asked and looked at the two girls with a questioning glance.
"These two are friends of mine," she said. "They've been out away from home since...since it all started. Could you check them out, make sure they're O.K.? Especially Jane here, since her arm's been injured."
"Sure thing," he said and nodded and motioned the girls to come in. He led Jane to the examination table and had her sit on it. "What happened to your arm?"
"A guy shot at me," she said. "The bullet nicked me, but I got away from him."
The doctor removed the bandage and looked with interest at Daria's sewing job. He turned to Daria and asked, "Is this your handiwork, young lady?"
Daria blushed, especially when Linda moved in closer and looked at the injury. "Yes," she admitted. "It wouldn't stop bleeding and pressure bandages wouldn't help."
"Why didn't you try to go for help?" Linda asked and looked at her.
"Two towns wouldn't let us in to begin with," Jane said. "We finally found shelter at an abandoned home and Daria fixed me up there as best as she could."
"It looks better than I would have expected for sewing thread," the doctor said and nodded thoughtfully. He glanced back at Daria. "How did you sterilize it?"
"Rubbing alcohol," she said. "After I finished, I cleaned it regularly and applied anti-biotic salve. I didn't know what else to do."
He smiled. "You did a good job, except that stitches aren't normally done like that. Usually, each stitch is separate from the others." He glanced at Jane. "You have a scar. I hope that isn't a problem."
Jane smiled. "It makes me look tougher than I really am," she said.
"I'm going to remove the stitches. Your arm's healed up nicely." He grabbed a pair of scissors and after he snipped each stitch, he looked at Daria again. "You apparently kept your cool while you did this. Most people would have panicked."
"I almost did," she admitted.
He pulled each stitch out with tweezers and deposited each piece in a nearby trashcan. "Any other injuries to report?"
Daria nodded. "I was temporarily blinded by the Philadelphia bomb flash and some guy punched Jane in the nose. I think it improved her looks."
Jane stuck her tongue out at Daria, who resisted the impulse to smile and stick her tongue out as well.
"Why did he punch you in the nose?" Linda asked.
Daria and Jane looked at each other briefly and Daria took a deep breath. She said, "He wanted to rape us. We got away from him, too, before he could do anything else."
The doctor gave Jane's nose a brief exam and said, "As long as you can breathe, I wouldn't worry about it." He opened the door to the next room and said, "Sam, I need you to see if these girls have been irradiated." He turned back to the girls and added, "Actually, I doubt you have been. Had you two been irradiated, this injury wouldn't have healed as well as it has. But it's better to be safe, than sorry."
"Has there been a problem with radiation sickness around here?" Jane asked. "We've been afraid of the snow, wind and any rain."
"We have about 50 or so radiation sickness victims," Linda said. "Most from the area east of Pittsburgh. None of them were from here."
"Thank God that Atlanta, Chattanooga, or Knoxville wasn't hit," the doctor said, "or we'd have a lot more. The problem is that when the wind eventually shifts, we'll get fallout from D.C. or Philadelphia. Fortunately, a lot of the particles are already decayed. But not all of them. Have you two taken any potassium iodide yet?"
Daria shook her head. "That's part of why we're here."
"Well, Linda can get you what you need after Sam checks you out." The doctor turned his attention to finishing up on Jane's arm and Daria went to get checked out for radiation exposure.
Inside the other examination room, a man in his mid-40s motioned Daria to an examination table. "Go ahead and remove your jacket," he said.
"I'd just as soon keep it on, if you don't mind," she said and held it together in front of her.
He shook his head. "I can't give you a very accurate exam with it on. You don't have to take your clothes off, but you do need to remove the jacket."
"It'll be O.K., Daria," Linda said. "Go ahead and take it off."
Daria sighed and removed the jacket. When she saw Linda's and Sam's eyes widen at the sight of the pistol, she wish she had kept it on anyway. She took a deep breath and said, "It's to scare off troublemakers. We've already dealt with several in the last week. I wish we'd had it when we met that would-be rapist."
"Where did you get it?" Linda asked as she stared at it.
"We found it at the abandoned home," Daria lied.
Linda looked at her and said, "This is what worries me about Sandi and the boys, if they're out there in all this. Tom can take care of himself, but what if he's dead and the kids are still alive?" She covered her face. "I'm terrified to leave Frostburg to look for them, partly because I'm afraid of being raped or killed by criminals." She suppressed a sob and kept her face covered.
Sam stopped what he was doing long enough to look towards Linda. He gently patted her shoulder and said, "Situations like this bring out extremes in people. Some do extraordinary good, while others go pure evil. You're right to be cautious." Then he looked at Daria. "As far as I can tell, you're not irradiated, nor are your clothes nor your weapon. You should still take the potassium iodide anyway, because there was iodine-131 contamination from the bombs, though the half life of that is relatively short lived."
He stopped, scratched his chin and looked at Daria. "There's also danger from other sources of contamination as well. With nukes, you have strontium-90, caesium-137 and caesium-134 to deal with, along with iodine-131. The radioiodine itself will be totally gone within the year. But the half-life of caesium-137 is more than 30 years."
"I keep hearing David talk about 'half-life'," Linda said. "What is it?"
Daria looked at her. "Half-life is time needed for a radioactive isotope to half its initial value," she said.
"That's right," Sam said and nodded.
"Would we be able to go back to Washington after 30 years then?"
Sam shook his head. "No," he said. "If I understand it right, caseium-137 will decay in half after 30 years. After another 30 years, it will be one-fourth its initial value. After another 30 years, it will be one-eighth its initial value, and so on."
"It could take hundreds of years for bombed areas to be 'safe'," Daria added.
"Probably closer to a thousand years," Sam said, "if not longer. If plutonium-239 was used...well, the half-life of that is more than 20,000 years. For us, the bombed areas are just...gone." He looked back at Daria. "Do you know what to avoid if you go into areas of fallout?"
"Milk and calcium sources, since strontium concentrates in the bones. You should also avoid fresh fruits or vegetables if they're contaminated by fallout or even possibly contaminated."
"You seem to know your stuff on this," he said. "Most kids are utterly terrified right now because they know nothing about it. They certainly learned nothing about it in school."
Daria shrugged. "I lived near a uranium source when I was younger. It was just natural to look it up."
Jane came in as was checked out as well. When she was found to be clean, Linda took them to a supply room and handed them each a small, plastic-wrapped box.
"Potassium iodide," she said. "Take as directed, but keep any left in case there's another explosion. Now, do you prefer Red Cross rations or military MREs?"
"We have a choice?" Daria asked.
Linda nodded. "I recommend that you don't take the Red Cross rations. They...aren't that good, in my opinion. The military rations, however, do have some good meals in them, all things considered."
Jane smiled. "Do they have any pizza rations?"
Linda shook her head. "No, but they do have some pretty good variety." She walked them to a storeroom, went inside for a few seconds, then came out and gave them each a box. "This is one-week's supply for each of you."
"I thought we were only eligible for three-days worth," Daria pointed out.
"I want you to do something for me and this is a bribe." Linda looked her straight in the eyes.
"Oh?" Daria returned her look. "What do you want us to do?"
"If you see my family, send them my way. I'll stay here in Frostburg, so just send them here. If you find out that they're...dead, try to let me know if you can. The best way to reach us is by radio. Cell phones will be out until they replace the phone towers. All of them around here got burned out by the bombs."
There was a silence for several seconds, then Jane said, "We'll do what we can for you."
Linda smiled and led them to a side emergency exit. "Good. I hope and pray that you stay safe and find your families as well." She then gave Daria a quick hug from the side.
Daria looked at her with alarm, but had her hands full and couldn't respond.
Linda hugged Jane the same way. "I'm sorry if that was too familiar, but you two are the only connection I have with my old life and my home. If you find that everyone's...well, you know, come back here and I'll do what I can to take care of you."
Daria looked at the rations. "Thank you for your help."
"I want to say that I love you," Linda said with a weak smile.
"But you don't really know us," Jane said.
"No, but I do care about you two. Take care of yourselves and don't take any unnecessary risks."
Daria and Jane nodded and left out the side door.
As they reached the SUV, Jane loaded her supply of MRE's in the backseat, then took the box Daria held. "Hey!" she said loudly. "Your box is lighter than mine was!"
Daria looked at Jane with some concern. "O.K., what kind of stunt is Linda Griffin pulling?"
Jane opened the second box and counted the meals inside. "You have a week's supply." She looked confused. "Then what the hell is in the other box?"
Daria climbed in the SUV, leaned over the front seat and opened the first box. She smiled and held up a Geiger counter and a small note. "'You may need this. L.' Looks like a surprise gift from Linda."
Jane shut the back door and got in the front seat again. "Looks like she does care for us. Hope they didn't need it."
Daria set the device in it's case and laid it on the back floorboard, then closed the MRE box up. "If they did, I don't think she would have given it to us." She got behind the wheel and shut the door. "She wouldn't take a chance messing up her new-found security." She started the vehicle and backed out of the parking spot. "How would you feel about having her as a surrogate mother? Would you be willing to live with her?"
"No," Jane said quickly. "We'd clash eventually."
"Probably sooner, rather than later."
The guard they saw as they left was a different man, who waved them on without looking at them. They drove back to U.S. 40 and headed east. At the eastern edge of town, they reached another roadblock and a soldier waved them to a stop. Once again, they were looked over and the soldier said, "I recommend that if you're headed further east, get on the interstate going through Cumberland. The city itself has some nasty traffic problems and probably will for the next week or so."
"Are there a lot of evacuees there?" Daria asked.
The soldier nodded. "A lot of people from the east of Pittsburgh. Apparently they heard about the stockpile of Army rations."
"Would you know about where Baltimore-area refugees would be?" Jane asked.
The soldier scratched his head close to his helmet and shrugged. "Not really, ma'am. Some that came on to Frederick on I-70 went through really heavy fallout from D.C. They have a lot of sick people there and the Army's sending most of the refugees north towards Pennsylvania. Most people went north along I-83, at least that's the rumor. Family from there?"
Both girls nodded, their expressions sober.
He gave them a sad look and said, "Be careful where you go. They're not letting people go east of Hagerstown, due to the massive number of refugees, but so far they're only watching the main roads. Communications east of here are spotty, at best. If you get in trouble, you probably won't get help."
Daria and Jane looked at each other and Daria turned back to the soldier. "We have to try anyway," she said. "Are there any areas you recommend we avoid?"
The soldier said quickly, "Don't go south of I-70, nor east of State Road 27. Those are already official boundaries for no-man's land."
"No-man's land?" Jane asked.
The soldier glanced as three cars pulled up behind the SUV. "The radioactive or bombed zones. No civilians are allowed in there at all. In fact, no one is for at least another month. The radiation gets worse the farther you get in that zone. Then, after that month is up, only military or government crews will be allowed in. Some areas they will never go in. Looters will be shot on sight." He moved his hand. "Move along. Be careful."
Daria drove on and swallowed nervously. "I'm ready to search for our loved ones. But I have to admit, I'm scared shitless."
"Same here," Jane said. "Want to try Hagerstown first?"
"Actually, I want to try Frederick first." Daria drove onto the interstate and sped up. "If our families are there, they may be some of the sick ones." She swallowed again. "I'd like to be there for them, before it's too late. Then, we try out southern Pennsylvania. How does that sound to you?"
"Sounds good to me."
They reached the Cumberland area a few minutes later and found the traffic situation as bad on the interstate as it appeared to be on the city streets. In addition to traffic, the roads had a lot of pedestrians as well. Daria locked the doors and Jane held her pistol out and ready as several different people walked by and looked over their vehicle with interest. When they saw Jane's weapon and how she glared at them, however, they moved on quickly past them.
"This is creepy," Daria said. "If I had known it was going to be this bad, I would have bypassed the city itself."
"Those two who just passed us seemed very interested in us," Jane said as she watched two men look back at them.
"More than likely, they wanted our SUV, Jane. We'd just be a bonus."
Jane lifted the pistol. "I have their bonuses right here." One looked back at her and she showed him the pistol and gave him a grim smile. "Just try it," she muttered. "Just try it."
The man's mouth dropped open and he turned and moved along with his friend.
After a while, they approached the interchange with state road 51. Daria looked ahead and asked, "What's happening up there? Can you tell?"
Jane glanced around their area for a few seconds, then rolled down the window and leaned outside. She looked around, came back in and rolled the window back up. "Looks like a bad wreck."
Daria sighed loudly and said, "We're getting off the interstate and heading south on 51. We're just wasting fuel here as it is."
But it still took nearly half an hour for the two to reach the exit ramp and another 10 minutes to actually get in the southbound lanes of the state road. Once they were actually moving and driving south, Jane leaned back and sighed. "How many people do you think were in Cumberland anyway?"
"I don't know. Based on what we saw, I'd say 70,000, maybe more."
Jane consulted a map and read the index. "It says here that Cumberland has a population of some 22,000 people." She glanced at the opposite lanes. The bulk of the traffic was northbound into the city. Very few vehicles were going in the same direction as they were. "I just had a weird thought, amiga."
"What if people are fleeing to the cities for safety? What are they running from?"
"Probably radioactivity. Well, that, or fear of gangs coming out of the big cities."
They drove on for several minutes, then Daria pulled over to the side of the road at an abandoned car lot.
"What's wrong?" Jane asked.
Daria pulled the Geiger counter out and said, "I want to scan the area briefly. See how much radiation is on the ground."
Jane watched her move around briefly and got outside. She held the pistol ready and scanned the perimeter as Daria worked.
Finally, Daria returned to the SUV and they got back inside. As Daria put the Geiger counter back into its case, Jane buckled herself back in. "Well, what did you find?"
"Minimal background radiation, probably always been there." She pulled away from the side of the road and sped up. "I saw an interview with a Navy sailor once, one who served on nuclear submarines. He did a check of the environment of his hometown in Indiana and also on the sub he was stationed on. His hometown had more background radiation than his sub did."
"So Lawndale may have always been 'hot'?"
"I wouldn't exactly say 'hot'." Daria gave Jane a small smile. "It would explain a lot, however. It sure explains Highland."
After several minutes, they found the highway blocked with a mountain of junk just past a turnoff for Green Spring, West Virginia. The sign read, "DO NOT COME ANY FURTHER. YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE. JUST LEAVE US ALONE. GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR US."
"What in the world is this crap?" Jane asked. "God will provide what?"
"I think they're counting on God to protect them," Daria replied. "Must be either a tight-knit community centered around one church...or a cult. More than likely, the second choice. I'd hate to be there when that protection is tested. It won't be pretty."
"So what do we do now?"
Daria shrugged. "I guess we go back into West Virginia." She turned the SUV south and crossed the Potomac River into the Mountain State.
For several miles, they drove in silence, until they came to what looked like a bad wreck just past an intersection with a county road. A semi had collided with a panel truck and effectively blocked the road.
"Damn!" Daria said and frowned as she looked over the area. She glanced at Jane and said, "Looks like we drive down a county road and take the scenic route."
She turned right onto the county road and drove past several fields and farmhouses, but mostly the area was dense with woods. A few of the houses had people near them, but a lot looked suddenly abandoned. Those people they did see watched them cautiously, weapons in their hands. At one house, a woman ran outside, grabbed two children and ran back inside with them in her arms.
"Not particularly friendly," Jane said.
"We're strangers," Daria replied. "Strangers are dangerous, especially now. Don't expect friendly greetings around here."
After a few minutes, they saw no more houses and the trees got thicker, as did the shadows. Jane tensed up and said, "I don't like this."
"We're bound to come out in a clearing soon, Jane."
"Something doesn't feel right to me, Daria. Go slow."
For the next several minutes, Daria drove over the roads at 25 miles per hour and even slower around the curves.
When they rounded one large curve, Daria slammed on the brakes and the SUV stopped 10 feet from the broken edge of the road where a bridge once stood. Thirty feet away was the other broken edge of the road, which went around another curve. The level of the creek was at least 40 feet below the road. "I don't think this was washed away, Jane."
"No," Jane said in agreement. "It's too high off the creek level for a flash flood to get it. I think it was blown up. Look at the blast damage to the trees around it."
"A trap?" Daria asked as she looked around quickly. She pulled her pistol out and laid it on her lap.
"Possibly," Jane said and gripped her pistol tightly. "Back up carefully."
As Daria backed up the SUV, several armed men and women came out from behind different trees.
"Shit!" Jane rolled down her window and said, "Turn us around, Daria! Get us out of here!"
Daria sped up her reverse and spun the steering wheel to turn around. The back of the vehicle went into the grassy side of the road and she shifted gears into drive.
A man and a woman ran up towards the back of the SUV as Daria floored the accelerator. The rear tires spun and threw gravel and mud at them and stopped their run. The man fell to his knees and covered his face, while the woman wiped at her eyes.
One woman appeared near Jane and leveled what looked like an assault rifle towards them. Before she could do anything else, Jane lifted her pistol in both hands and fired two shots into her chest. As she fell back, the woman's finger tightened on her trigger and she sprayed the area behind her. That caused several others in the group to drop down for cover.
Daria sped away as a few people shot at them from behind. One bullet hit a taillight, and Jane leaned out the window to empty her pistol at them. Then she fell back into her seat and rolled up the window.
Neither girl said anything as Daria drove back towards the highway. As they approached the stop sign, Daria gave Jane a weak smile and said, "I'll try the other way, Jane."
Jane breathed heavily as she reloaded the .357. "I'm going to be ready in case we run into more assholes."
"What do you think they wanted? Seeing that there were women among them, they just would have wanted our stuff, wouldn't they? You think they would have left us alone?"
Jane looked at Daria as if she had suddenly started speaking in ancient Greek. "Daria," she said slowly. "Women can be just as cruel as men when it comes to dishing out a world of hurt. I really don't want to find out just how cruel. Neither do you. Trust me on that one."
Daria said nothing for a few seconds, then replied, "I'll take your word on it."
They drove on.
They said nothing as they passed more and more farms. The majority of them appeared to be evacuated, with several also looking looted. As they passed a cemetery, they heard a loud boom and Jane looked around. "What was that?"
"Sounded like thunder to me," Daria said. "See any storm clouds?"
Jane opened the window and leaned her head out briefly to look around. She came back in, closed the window and said, "Rain coming up from our right. Pretty heavy, too, from the looks of it."
"Crap!" Daria muttered and sped up. "As much as I hate to say it, we're going to have to ask someone for shelter until we can figure out if this rain is radioactive or not."
Jane pointed at a farmhouse with the doors all opened. "Pull into that barn. I don't think anyone's here to give us any grief."
"Place looks deserted," Daria said as she drove up the driveway.
"It also looks looted, too," Jane said. "Once you get in the barn, we'll check it out, then if we get a chance, check out the house, too."
Daria carefully pulled the SUV into the barn. Once inside, they found that the barn could be more accurately called a garage. The inside walls were painted white and from what they could see in the darkness was decorated with a lot of posters. The floor was all concrete, smooth except at the entrance. A car in the back of the garage had a cover over it, and there were also several different lawnmowers, two 4-wheelers and two snowmobiles. A loft area over the covered car held several dozen cardboard boxes of various sizes as well as a dozen plastic totes.
Daria stepped out with the Geiger counter and began checking out the interior. As she did so, the rain slowly began and intensified.
Jane stepped out as well, stretched and flicked a nearby light switch. Several fluorescent light bulbs turned on and Daria stopped, then looked at her.
"Lane, you should let me scan this place before you go putting your hands everywhere. You might end up 'hotter' than you want to be."
"Oh? Have you found anything hot yet?"
"No." Daria moved to Jane and ran the probe near her right hand, then scanned where she was at. "So far so good."
Jane looked at the loft area. "Pity there's no hay up there in the loft." She laughed and smiled. "Boy, does that bring back memories."
"You made out in a hay loft?" Daria asked and glanced at Jane. "Doesn't sound like a very fun place to fool around in."
"Don't knock it till you try it, Morgendorffer."
Daria gave her a small smile and shook her head. "And here I thought you lived a clean and chaste life."
"Whoever told you that crap?" Jane asked and laughed again. "I didn't spend all my time on communes making sacks and composting. Hey, I have an idea, Daria. Since you haven't made out in a hay loft, we can scrounge up some hay, take it up there with us, then try it out. You might like it."
"I'm still armed, Jane. Don't make me shoot your ass." She continued scanning the barn's interior.
Finally after several more minutes, Daria stopped and turned to Jane. "It's clean in here at least." Lightning struck several miles away and the thunder reached them. "No leaks either, from what I can tell. If I didn't know any better, I'd say this place is insulated. In fact, the interior looks a lot better than its outside does. Who would insulate a barn?"
Jane pointed at the covered car. "I think that's a Chevy Camaro Z28. Probably in...um...probably in...oh, what word describes condition?"
Jane smiled and said, "Yeah, that's the word! Apparently, this person loved his car." Then Jane sang, off key, "'I'm in love with my car. Gotta feel for my automobile...'"
"Queen just called," Daria said and rolled her eyes. "They want their song back."
"Very funny. Seriously, I'd say this guy really took care of his car. Probably took better care of it than he did his family."
"I can imagine," Daria said and they looked out the open barn door. The downpour continued with occasional streaks of lightning lighting up the area She looked carefully at the house and thought a second. "I'm not too sure that the house has been looted. There's no broken glass."
"They probably hurried away, worried about radiation perhaps."
A rumble of thunder reached them and Daria leaned back against a wall. "Looks like we aren't going to get a chance to check out the house yet."
"I hope it isn't too long," Jane said and crossed her arms over her chest. "I need to use the bathroom."
"Same here," Daria said. "Let's check out the rest of the barn."
Daria opened a door halfway into the barn, smiled and looked back at Jane, who was trying to open a door on the other side of the barn. "Dibs on bathroom!" Then she rushed inside, shut the door behind her and locked it.
Jane rushed up and banged on the door. "Daria! That's not fair! I really have to go! You'll stink it up!"
"La, la, la la la," Daria's muffled voice reached her ears. "I can't hear you."
"Daria, I'll kick your ass!"
After a few minutes, Daria came out with a smirk on her face and Jane glared at her. "It's about time."
"I had to scan the toilet and the water, Jane. Better to be safe than have really 'hot buns'."
"Yeah, right." She pinched her nose shut and muttered, "I wish Linda gave us a gas mask, too."
A few minutes later, Jane came out with a relieved look on her face. "Let's check the other doors out together, Daria. That way you won't surprise me again."
"You make me sound so evil." Daria looked up at her with a contented smile on her face. "I must be doing it right, then."
They went to the door next to the bathroom and Jane tried the knob. It was locked and Jane reached up above the door frame. "Nothing here," she said and stood on her tiptoes to look above a cuckoo clock nearby. "Ah, here we go." She pulled the key down and stuck it in the lock. "It fits."
"Will you open it up already?" Daria said as she readied the Geiger counter in her hands.
"Patience, chica, patience." Jane unlocked the door, opened it and whistled. The room looked like a bedroom, with a king-sized bed in one corner, a couch alongside a nearby wall and an entertainment center set up on the wall opposite the couch. NASCAR posters shared wall space with Playboy centerfold pin-ups.
Jane and Daria walked in and looked in amazement. "Wonder why he set this up out here?" Daria asked. "Why not have a 'dream' room in the house?"
Jane pointed at one centerfold and said, "Probably wasn't allowed to have 'that' up in the house." She looked at the woman in the picture and added, "You know that she has to suffer from backaches."
Daria looked at the pin-up and said, "I wonder if she was a cheerleader in high school."
Jane looked at Daria. "I know what you're thinking, but Brittany has too much class to do something like this. I hope."
Daria shook her head. "I'd hate to ask what kind of movies this guy had. Probably all triple X rated."
A rumble of thunder reached them as Jane moved over to a DVD and VHS-tape stand. "Let's see...Deep Throat...Debbie Does Dallas...oh! Daria! We're in luck!"
"If you say Debbie Does Highland or Debbie Does Lawndale, I'm going to scream."
"Oh, hush, you. It's something much better than that."
"What is it?" Daria asked and moved up to her.
Jane held up two DVDs. "The best of Sick, Sad World."
Daria looked behind them and said, "This place also has a kitchenette with it." She laughed briefly. "The ultimate 'bachelor' pad. Now we're definitely in luck. All we need is some microwave popcorn, some Ultra Cola and we can watch some 'quality' entertainment." She started moving around with the Geiger counter. "Why don't you close the garage door? That way, if anyone drives by, they won't see the SUV. I'll scan the room while you do that."
"O.K.," Jane said and went back out to the barn entrance; she looked outside as the rain continued in its downpour and shivered. Then she pulled the door down, locked it and walked back to the bedroom, shutting off the barn lights as she did so. When she got back in the room, she hung a thick blanket over the window and positioned it on the curtain rod. "We're ready to relax. Find anything yet?"
Daria looked in the open refrigerator door and said, "Yeah, come over and look at this."
Jane walked over and stared in the refrigerator. "Ultra Cola...in glass bottles? Isn't that kind of...old?"
"You can still get them at a few supermarkets," Daria said, "and at some Ultra Cola bottling plants. But they're expensive. A carton of eight bottles runs about the same price of a case of canned cola."
"So the guy who lived here is very well off. I see that he also liked his beer, too. Plus, he also had onion dip. So what kind of snacks did he have?"
Daria opened one cabinet. "Chips, crackers, candy bars. The important stuff, of course. We have four of the five important food groups represented here."
"What's the fifth group?" Jane asked.
"Pizza, the tip top of the pyramid." Daria stopped, sighed and smiled. "If that oven works and he has the right kind of pan, we can fix a pizza from one of the kits."
Jane's face lit up. "Let's make some popcorn first and watch a few of the shows. Then we can make a pizza."
Within five minutes, Daria and Jane sat on the couch, a bowl of popcorn on the couch between them and each of them holding a bottle of cola. Jane pushed the "enter" button and the show started.
"They haunted his house and cured his backache! Chiropractic Poltergeists, next, on Sick, Sad World."
Daria and Jane looked at each other, smiled and touched their bottles together in a small toast, then settled back to watch the show.
As the DVD ended, Jane yawned and stretched. "I don't think I can eat a pizza right now, Daria," she said. "It's past nine, if that clock is right."
Daria got up and checked the window's lock. "You want to sleep first?" she asked.
Jane blinked her eyes. "I guess. You'll be O.K. to stay up?"
Daria nodded and said, "I want to write a little bit. I'm still a little worked up."
"You just want to watch some of the porn without me," Jane said with a smile.
"I'd rather just take it with us, to trade, if we can." She looked down for several seconds, then glanced at Jane again. "I have a question for you. I hope you don't mind."
"You're my best friend, Daria. Why would I mind?"
Daria sighed. "It's...personal." She leaned back on the couch. "Oh, well. Where did you learn...to fight, to shoot people?"
Jane looked at Daria silently for several seconds, laughed briefly, then spoke. "People think that hippies are all just love and peace. That's not totally true, though a lot of them are. There was one guy named Rook who was a bully at the commune, beat his girlfriend up a lot, pushed others around, a real asshole. Then he tried to beat up old Socrates."
"Socrates?" Daria asked.
"That was what he was called. He always asked questions, made you think about what you did or said. He was, oh, 50 or 60 years old. Rook was almost 30 and thought he was top dog. He attacked Socrates and the old man beat him to a pulp. Then they threw Rook out."
"That doesn't tell me..."
"Hush, Daria, I'm not finished yet. Socrates took me and a few others out to explore the countryside one day. We came across a group of men who had been drinking and had abducted a girl from a nearby town. She was tied up and they were getting more and more drunk. They hadn't done anything to her yet, but we could hear her cry and beg and we could also hear...their laughter and their plans. Old Socrates pulled an Ingram M-10 out of his poncho, ran right in the middle of them and started shooting. He shot one in the ass, creased one guy's scalp and they all took off like jackrabbits." Jane smiled at the memory. "We untied the girl and took her back to the commune with us and got her to her home.
"What shocked me the most was that he had a gun at a commune. I found out later that he had fought in Vietnam. He taught us how to shoot guns, but was really big on gun safety. He kept saying that we may never need a gun, but it never hurt to know, either."
"There's something else." Daria sighed. "You knew something was wrong on that road."
"I can't explain that one. I just...something didn't feel right to me. Maybe I'm psychic."
"More like psycho."
Jane laughed. "Yeah, that, too." She stood up and stretched again. "Nighty-nite, amiga. I love you."
Daria looked up at her, shocked. "You haven't said that since the day it all started."
"I know. I just wanted to say it again."
Daria looked away and blushed. "You're putting me on the spot, Jane."
"You said it pretty easily on that day."
"I also thought we might die on that day, too."
Jane knelt on one knee in front of Daria. "You have nothing to be ashamed of with me. I'm not going to try and embarrass you, at least no more than I usually do."
Daria gave her a small smile. "That really comforts me no end. O.K., I love you, too. Just don't make me say it too much."
Jane smiled. "That wasn't so hard now, was it? Now if I could just get you to add the word 'Trent' to that, you'd be cured."
"You won't be after I'm through with you."
Jane laughed and hugged Daria quickly. "Good night, Daria."
"Good night, Jane. Don't snore."
Within 10 minutes, Jane was full asleep and breathing lightly. To Daria's surprise, she wasn't snoring, but she was cuddled up under the thick black comforter. I have a feeling that this bed has seen more action than I want to know about, she thought. Hopefully, he kept it at least a little clean.
She found a mostly-used legal pad on top of the entertainment center and took it back to the couch with her. She could still hear the rain and adjusted the lamp so that its light wouldn't bother Jane. Then she started writing.
When Jane stirred, she listened to see if she could hear Daria. She heard light snoring coming from the couch and got out of bed to investigate.
Daria sat upright on the couch, her head leaned back and her mouth partially opened. The legal pad was in her left hand and an ink pen laid beside her on the couch.
Jane gently touched Daria's right shoulder and the petite auburn-haired girl jumped in shock, suddenly wide awake.
"Omigod! I fell asleep! Jane, I'm sorry! I'm really sorry! I didn't mean to do that!"
Jane gave her a small smile and said, "Come on, Daria, let's go to bed."
"I didn't mean to endanger us like that! Oh, shit, I can't believe I did something stupid like that! I'm so sorry!"
"Daria, calm down! It's O.K. It's O.K. Go. To. Bed. Now."
"Oh? Are you staying up now?" Daria looked at the clock. "It's only 1 a.m."
"No. I'm laying back down. We both need to rest."
"What about our security? We've been sleeping in shifts since it all started."
Jane helped Daria to her feet and led her to the bed. "I've been sleeping lightly more and more lately. Every time you made a noise the last three times I've slept, I've heard it. Maybe I can get a little more rest this way. Besides, it's chilly and we can share body heat this way."
Daria blushed and stopped. Jane looked at her and laughed gently. "I don't want to make out, Morgendorffer. I want to sleep. You know I've just been teasing you, but if you're really interested..."
"I am sleepy," Daria interrupted her and yawned. "So I'll kick your butt later for that crack."
Jane guided her to the bed, removed her glasses, holster and pistol and helped her take off her boots. Daria moved under the thick comforter and sighed from the warmth. Then Jane set the glasses and weapon near where Daria could reach them and also laid down herself nearby. She said quietly, "Good night, Daria."
"Good night, Jane."
"You know, this might be dangerous for me. You might suddenly think I'm Trent during the night and rip off my clothes."
"If I rip off your blouse, Lane, it'll be to use it as a tourniquet for your neck. Go to sleep."
Jane smiled, laid still and listened. After a couple of minutes, Daria settled into a breathing pattern and lightly snored again. She smiled and closed her eyes.
Jane opened her eyes and laid still as she gathered her bearings. The bombs, Larry Carter, the church, the house, Linda Griffin, the garage. But through it all, Daria. She smiled and felt the heat of Daria's back against hers. "Sorry about this, amiga," she whispered and got up. She stretched her arms and legs and looked at the clock. 6:15 a.m. "Man, this war has screwed up my sleeping habits."
She quietly went to the bathroom for several minutes, then retrieved one of the pizza kits from the SUV. "Pizza for breakfast, the ultimate sign of civilization," she said as she looked at the box and laughed briefly. "Have to tell Daria that one."
Daria found herself in a school gym that had been converted into a makeshift hospital ward. She could see people in white tending to patients, but none were close enough for her see any details of their faces.
She came to one bed and gasped at the sight of Sam Griffin. Only a couple patches of hair remained on his head and his face was blotchy and covered with sores. His eyes were white; the irises had totally lost their color.
Daria moved from bed to bed, past people she knew, all suffering in the advanced stages of radiation sickness. She saw Chris and Sandi Griffin, Stacey Rowe (she still had one pigtail, but had lost virtually all her hair) and Tiffany Blum-Deckler. Tom Griffin was in a bed next to Tiffany, but the only way she identified him was by the toe tag that stuck out from the covering sheet along with his right foot.
The next bed held Quinn. She was totally bald, her breath ragged and she appeared very pale. Blood was on her lips and chin and an emesis basin near her had just been used. By the bedside were Jake and Helen, both in their normal workday suits. Daria moved beside them and they glanced at each other briefly and nodded, then looked back at Quinn.
Daria looked towards her parents again, but they weren't there. She looked at the next bed and saw Helen there, no longer in her suit, but in a gown and also showing the signs of advanced radiation sickness. "Mommy," she whispered and reached for her hand.
A gurney with a covered body caught her attention; the attendant pushing it stopped in front of her. Daria uncovered it and saw the body of Jake Morgendorffer, who appeared to have suffered a fatal heart attack. One hand clutched his chest and the other hand held a remote control. Then the body and its features changed to that of Robert Cord, whose eyes opened and stared at Daria.
She gasped and turned to run and came to another bed. The cover came off by itself and she froze in shock at the sight of Jane Lane's naked body, covered with at least two dozen bullet holes. Even her right eye had been shot out. Her body was marble white in color and the sheets beneath her were soaked in blood. "Jane, no, Jane, no, no, no, no, please, no..."
An unseen hand swung her around and she saw another bed. Carefully, she moved to it and the covers again came off by itself and she saw her own body, as naked as Jane's, with about as many bullet holes. The body and sheets were the same colors as the previous time.
"No," she whispered and her body's eyes opened and stared at her. Daria looked down quickly and saw that she was naked, covered with bullet holes and bleeding uncontrollably.
Jane heard the blood-curdling scream and froze briefly. "Oh, shit," she said and ran for the bedroom.
Daria was wide awake and upright in the bed, shivering. Jane quickly moved beside her and was surprised when she was grabbed in a tight embrace.
"What happened, Daria?" she asked.
"A horrible nightmare, worst one that I've ever had." Daria looked as if she were on the verge of tears and she related the dream in a halting, frightened voice. She ended the tale with, "What if this dream is an omen?"
Jane's expression reflected her shock. "Daria, that isn't like you. It was just a dream. It's over. It was just a dream."
"I want to go on today, I want to leave today." She looked down and muttered, "I want my mom."
Jane wrapped her arms around Daria and rocked her gently. "We'll leave after breakfast, O.K.? Why don't you lay back down and let me fix us a meal? Just relax and let yourself gather your bearings."
Daria nodded. "O.K.," she said and released Jane. She laid back down and Jane got up and walked to the kitchenette. She picked up the pizza kit box and read the instructions.
She looked back at Daria, who was now cuddled in a fetal position under the blankets. She smiled at her and sighed. Then she turned back to the pizza box and read the instructions carefully again. As Jane searched the cabinets for the dishes she needed, she heard a light snoring come from the bed.
Daria opened her eyes and breathed in through her nose for several seconds. "Why didn't wait for me to get up?" she asked groggily. "I would have helped you." She sat up as Jane brought her a plate with two slices of a simple pepperoni pizza on it. She took the plate, smiled and said, "Thank you."
"You fell back asleep, Daria." Jane sat beside her. "I wanted you to get a little more rest. Besides, you served me breakfast in bed once. I owed you a return favor."
"You were actually on a couch, Jane, not a bed," she said and took a big bite of her pizza. "Not that it matters much. Aren't you going to eat?"
Jane nodded and handed her a bottle of water. "I'll be back." She got up and got herself a plate with two slices on it. As she returned to the bed, she sat back down beside Daria and began eating as well. After a minute of uninterrupted eating, she asked, "Do you want to talk about Quinn or your folks?"
Daria swallowed her food and looked down. "I miss them," she said quietly. "I miss them so much, it actually hurts me." She closed her eyes. "I want to tell them how much I love them and need them." She sniffled.
Jane nodded in understanding. "Trent knows I love him. I miss him, too." She looked back at the rest of the pizza. "Let's get finished and we can go on. How's that sound?"
Daria gave Jane a weak smile. "If I had been alone when it all started...I think I'd be dead right now. You kept me alive."
Jane wrapped her arm around Daria. "We've kept each other, Daria. We've kept each other alive."
When they finished breakfast, Daria cleaned herself up while Jane searched the garage and bedroom for any items of use. As she grabbed several DVDs and put them in a plastic bag, the lights blinked for several seconds, then came back on. Jane looked at the lights curiously, shrugged and moved to the refrigerator.
Daria walked in the room and said, "Hey, Jane--" The lights shut off again, this time for nearly 10 seconds, then came back on. "--never mind. What are we 'claiming' this time around?"
"I got the Sick, Sad World shows, as well as a few of the adults movies, so we can test your knowledge of sex."
"You mean test your knowledge of sex, Lane. We don't have a DVD player, unless..." Daria saw the player and the TV waiting by the door. "...never mind. I see you're taking care of the Ultra Cola, also. You do realize that if we're stopped by the U.S. Army, we might end up arrested as looters, don't you?"
"How would they prove it, Daria? If we had six TVs and boxes of DVDs, I could see it. Right now, we look like people taking off with our property. It'll look as if we're taking off with our 'prized' possessions. In fact, you should have a teddy bear. That'll make that story seem more believable."
"I don't have a teddy bear."
Jane held up her right index finger. "That's my point. Get a teddy bear, that way when the Army does pull us over, you hold the bear up to your chest and unbutton your blouse and give the soldier a seductive look.."
Daria lifted her glasses, closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Don't make me hit you. That sounds like one of your fantasies, not mine."
Jane stopped for a second, thought and nodded. "You're right. Skip what I said, I'll do that one."
"You're nuts, Lane. Absolutely nuts."
"Well, let's check out the house and see what's available. Maybe you'll find your teddy bear."
Jane carried the TV and the plastic bag, while Daria carried the DVD player. They deposited the items in the SUV, then Daria retrieved the Geiger counter.
They opened the garage door and Daria stepped outside to start her scanning routine. Jane watched in silence, her pistol in her right hand, as Daria did her work over the ground.
"Good," Daria said. "Good...good...good...good...oh, crap."
Jane was suddenly alert. "What? What is it?"
"Some sort of animal poop. Watch where you step."
"Damn, Daria, I thought you found some radioactivity."
Daria turned her head slightly and smiled at Jane. "Well, if you do step in it, you will 'radiate' something badly and will have to 'decontaminate' yourself." She turned back around and continued her slow, careful move towards the house.
"Whatever." Jane turned and looked down the road. The sunshine filtering through the new leaves and branches gave the place a peaceful look. She noted that the recent snowfall didn't seem to affect the leaves much and that surprised her. She smiled as she heard a sound to her left. When she turned to look, she saw a pack of eight dogs running towards them. "Daria!" She lifted and cocked the pistol. "Watch out!"
Daria turned quickly, saw the dogs, and turned to run back towards the garage.
Jane shot a German shepherd that was in the lead; the others bypassed its fallen body and continued their run. "Oh, hell!" she muttered and fired twice more. Two more dogs fell, but the others still ran at them.
A pit bull terrier dove at Daria's back and tackled her in the gravel. She cried out as she fell and dropped the Geiger counter. Before the dog could clamp onto her with its powerful jaws, however, Jane shot it in the head and knocked its body off the downed girl.
Daria pulled her pistol free from its holster and turned over. Another German shepherd lunged at her with a growl. Before she could shoot, it was on her; Daria held its neck as it tried to snap at her. One of the dog's front paws dug at her neck.
In her panic, Daria heard Jane shoot the pistol again and again. She cried out as the paw hit her neck again. Oh, God! Oh, God! NO! Finally, she managed to cock her pistol, rammed the barrel against the dog's trunk, and fired the weapon.
The dog fell off of her as if it were pushed away. She shook, sobbed and panted in terror as she sat back up and looked at the dead dogs all around them.
Jane was by her side and helped her to her feet. "Daria! Did any of them bite you?"
"I...I don't think so." She shook as she stood and looked at the dead animals.
"Your neck's bleeding," Jane said.
"Dammit! That scared the shit out of me!" She looked at the pistol in her hand as she shook.
Jane looked her over, grimaced and gave her a weak smile. "Speaking of which, you 'radiate' something awful."
"Huh?" Daria looked at the front of her shirt and pants. "Shit!"
"Precisely. We're not leaving yet. You need to change clothes, get cleaned up and I need to treat that neck injury. I also need to make sure you're not hurt anywhere else."
Daria bent down to retrieve the Geiger counter and grimaced in pain as she pulled herself back upright. Great, now my back's hurt, too. "Wouldn't that be ironic?"
"To survive a nuke bombing, plus dealing with rapists and murderers only to be killed and eaten by dogs."
"Better than being eaten by humans," Jane replied.
"Not necessarily. It'd still be a sucky way to die."
Jane glanced at the bodies and said, "What I don't get is how they kept on coming after I shot the first one. I always thought that dogs were scared of guns."
"These weren't. I'd say they've gotten used to guns in the last week. They may have already...eaten armed people before."
"Damn," Jane said and shuddered. Then she looked at Daria and added, "Let's get you 'decontaminated' so you'll stop 'radiating' that smell."
"Remember when I threatened to feed you to big, ugly dogs?"
Jane shut the garage door behind them and locked it. "Which time? The time I teased you about Trent, or the time I teased you about Trent? Or was it the time I teased you about Trent?"
"I was going to take back that threat, but now I think I'll just knock you out, toss you outside and call for more dogs."
Daria grimaced from the pain in her back. Damned dog did something to me, she thought. I hope it's not too bad. "Lane, I know I said it before, but you're nuts."
"I know. That's what endears me to you."
"Well, if you're going to be nuts, Jane, I might as well be nuts with you." She grimaced again. "My back really hurts, Jane. You need to check it out."
Jane holstered her weapon and took the Geiger counter out of Daria's hands. "Why don't you take this shit off out here and get in the shower?" Then she laughed. "Did you like that one? 'Take off your shit'? Get it?"
"I get it, Jane." Daria rolled her eyes and shook her head. "I just don't want to get it." She started undressing and looked at Jane, who stood in front of her. "Don't watch me while I undress."
"I'm waiting to see your back, Daria. Besides, what's the big deal? We've seen each other naked in gym class before. As well as every other girl in the class."
"I don't make it a habit of looking at the other girls when they're naked, thank you."
"Says you. Or maybe you like to look at boys and their naked bodies instead. Or better yet, Trent's body."
Daria crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm going to kill you. Slowly and painfully."
Jane clapped her hands once. "Come on, Daria. If you're bleeding, then let's get it taken care of."
"Oh, all right." Daria unbuttoned her blouse.
"Da-da-da-da-da," Jane sounded out in a pseudo-burlesque striptease style. "Woo, woo! Yeah, baby, take it off. Woo!"
Daria stopped and blushed. "Forget the big, ugly dogs. I'm feeding you to lions, tigers and bears."
"Oh, my," Jane said and laughed. "Sorry. I'll stop."
Daria removed her blouse and turned around to let Jane see her back. After several seconds of silence, she said, "Well? What do you see? How bad is it?"
"I'm counting your moles and back pimples."
"Wait a sec here, Daria. I'm connecting the dots and seeing what it spells. Let's see...I...L...O...V...E..."
"Jane, I'm serious."
"I'm going to box you up and mail you to Yemen."
"Book rate. I'm mailing you book rate."
"With no air holes. And all your dirty underwear."
"What's wrong with me, dammit?"
"I don't have that kind of degree, amiga," Jane said.
"O.K., smart ass, what's wrong with my back?"
"That pit bull must have gotten you with one of his front paws. You have a tear near your right shoulder blade, about three inches long."
Daria stood there in silence and looked down. Finally, she said, "It hurts like hell. Is it red around the tear?"
"It's still bleeding. Your blouse is torn and blood is all over your back and your bra."
Daria sighed and bent over, her hands on her knees. "I meant the skin itself, Jane, not the blood."
Jane grabbed a paper towel from a nearby workbench and dabbed the area around the tear. "No. But you need to strip the rest of the way and get cleaned up. I'll deal with your back."
Quietly, Daria removed the rest of her clothes and walked into the bathroom. Jane followed her in and started the water. As they waited for it to warm up, Daria glanced at her and took off her glasses. "Do I need sewed up?"
Jane shook her head, took the glasses and laid them on the sink. "I don't think so, or at least, I hope not. Remember, I'm not a doctor, I just play one on TV."
"Oh, yeah, I saw that. You were the proctologist on As the Stomach Churns." She stepped into the shower and closed the curtain.
"I'll soap up your back, Daria!" Jane yelled over the sound of the water. She waited quietly for several minutes, then Daria's right hand came out from around the curtain. She gripped the soap in her dripping fingers and Jane took it. She soaped up Daria's back, made her rinse it off, then repeated the procedure three more times. Then she turned off the water and said to her naked friend, "You wait here and I'll get you a towel."
"Where else can I go?"
Jane smirked and said, "I know you. You'd run outside naked if you thought that Trent would see you in your birthday suit."
"You have to sleep sometime, Lane." She sighed and grimaced in pain. "Just go. I'll wait for you."
Jane retrieved a towel and a bottle of rubbing alcohol from the SUV, then stepped back in the bathroom. Daria had already turned her back towards the door and accepted the towel when it was handed to her. "Dry your front side, Daria. I'll work on your back while you're doing that." Then she opened the alcohol bottle, poured a liberal amount on a washcloth and slapped it on her friend's back.
Daria cried out in shock and pain and gasped as she hit her palms against the shower stall wall. "You didn't warn me!"
"I'm sorry, Daria. I just hope I don't have to sew it up." She cleaned Daria's back and held the washcloth on the injury. "I'll get to your neck as well, but it's stopped bleeding for now. Now dry the rest of your front off."
Daria obeyed her friend and sighed as Jane led her back to the bedroom and the bed itself.
"Lay on your stomach, Daria." Daria did so and Jane moved the washcloth. Carefully, Jane dried off her back near the tear and vigorously dried off the rest of her backside.
"You're probably enjoying this right now," Daria said.
"Actually, I'm scared that you might fart on me," Jane said and laid the towel aside. She retrieved the first aide kit and pulled out antibiotic salve, a bandage and some tape. Carefully, she inspected the injury and applied the salve to it. Then she laid the bandage on top of it and taped it down. "Now, turn onto your left side and let me take care of your neck. Then I'll look for a camera to take pictures for your Playboy spread."
Daria turned on her side and said nothing and Jane looked at her quietly for several seconds. Then she gently patted her friend's side
Jane quietly cleaned up and bandaged the neck wound as well and said, "You just relax some more and I'll check out your clothes. I may just need to throw them away, especially if they don't have a washing machine in the house."
Daria lifted her face off the comforter. "You can toss my blouse, but not my underwear nor my jeans.
"If we can't wash them..."
"Put 'em in a plastic bag and tie 'em up."
Jane moved to the door and said, "Just relax, Daria. Just relax. I'll be right back." She left the bedroom.
Author's Notes: This section is chapters ten through fifteen of Apocalyptic Daria, as it was originally posted on the various message boards and ff.net
Thanks for Part Three go out to echopapa, Brother Grimace, cyde, Prince Charon, smk, E.A. Smith, Robin Sena, psychotol, waldnorm, The Angst Guy, Derek, Richard Lobinske, WacoKid, Wormbait, vlademir1, Steven Galloway, DigiSim, acidgirl and The Sidhe for their comments as I posted on the PPMB.
Thanks also to Malevolent Turtle and again to DigiSim for their comments on the SFMB.
Thanks also to rachor, cmanuk, eltf177 and luckyhorse101 for their comments on ff.net.
Finally, thanks to CINCGREEN, who had a very few suggestions and insights that I didn't think of, even if I don't agree with everything he said.