Jason barely slowed down when he reached the two men running across the field towards him. They hopped into the back of the truck atop the bags of gravel and sand and charcoal and Jason gunned it again.
“Gerald!” the one gasped through the back window of the truck, “accident… Jim tried…”
The rushing wind and the man’s out of breath’s gasps made it impossible to hear everything, but Jason had heard enough. He pressed the pedal to the floor and the truck tore across the grass towards the farm. As they got closer he could see Gerald’s sons were pacing the edge of manure pit in hysterics. Jason’s stomach dropped like a load of bricks. Please God, no, he pleaded under his breath. Gerald’s too smart to fall victim to that, he tried to tell himself. He barely had the truck in park when he jumped out. Jim came into view from behind the pit with a rope tied around his waist. Jason sprinted for all he was worth toward his son, and screamed.
His son looked up startled at the ungodly scream that erupted from his father. He hesitated a moment, but looked determined to carry on. Jason tackled his son to the ground.
“What are you doing dad?!” Jim yelled, “Gerald’s in there, and he passed out, we gotta get him.”
Gasping for breath he got out the words, “It’s too… late… for Gerald… poison gas… manure…”
“Like hell it’s too late,” the oldest, Pete shouted, “He grabbed the extra rope from Jim’s hand and jumped into the pit before anyone could stop him. James had to brace himself so as not to be pulled in after Pete. Jason fell on top his son and shouted for Peter to get out of the pit. Chris, the younger brother by two years shouted too. Jason couldn’t see from where he was on the ground, but he didn’t need to. Chris’ reaction told everyone the story. Pete had passed out within seconds of entering the pit, and now he and his father were unconscious in the liquid manure.
“Peter!” Chris shouted through streaming tears, “Peter! Get up! Shit!” The boy started pacing frantically.
“Jim, get this rope from around your waist,” Jason ordered, and Jim wiggled free.
“Chris,” Jason said sternly, regaining his feet. The boy carried on as if he hadn’t heard, pacing in circles now, closer and closer to the entrance of the manure pit.
“Chris, listen to me!” Jason tried again. It was useless; the boy was in full shock.
“Pete…Dad!” He shouted, and without warning made for the entrance of the pit. Jason sprang forward grabbed the boy inches before he fell into the pit.
“Get off me goddamnit!” Chris thrashed and swung at Jason who was now pinning the young farm hand and attempting to calm him down. Jim joined his dad and helped restrain the boy as the other men from the truck moved to the edge of the pit.
“What the hell happened?” One of them asked, “What do we do?!”
“Nothing,” Jason said solemnly, “We do nothing, until we know it’s safe to go in.”
“Nothing?” the other man asked incredulous, “but we gotta save Gerald, and Pete, they’ll drowned in that shit!”
“They’re already gone,” Jason said. At hearing that Chris stopped thrashing and began to sob, letting his body collapse. Jason stood and turned to the men.
“Back away from that pit unless you want to end up like them,” Jason stood moved to the edge to peer in. It was a grisly site. Gerald and his eldest son’s bodies were limp and sunk to the chest in liquid manure, with twisted expressions set permanently on their faces.
“What the hell happened, how do you know they’re gone?” the first man asked again.
“Poison gas,” Jason said, “Methane, to be exact.”
“From the pit?”
“Yes. When conditions are right, that stuff puts out a high concentration of methane, lethal to anyone who breathes it in. Entire families have died from this exact situation,” Jason sighed, “It’s this unseasonable heat.”
“Goddamn,” the second man said, the other just stared silently.
“Jim, take the truck and get Chris to the center, get him under a blanket and tell the nurse what happened.”
“Ok dad,” Jim said quietly.
He helped the whimpering boy up and into the truck, while the other three men set to sealing up the entrance to the pit.
Gerald was too smart for that, Jason though to himself as he helped tie a tarp over the entrance. Just goes to show that even an experienced guy like him can make a deadly mistake. His blood went cold when he realized that it could have been Jim in that hole. To think, I sent him here to the farm so he’d be safe today, Jason thought. He and the other men went about finishing up the chores around the farm for the rest of the afternoon. After collecting the eggs from the coupe and locking up their cow in it’s stable Jason and the other two men began the walk back towards the center. Only then did they see Jackson, Gerald’s German Shepherd laying by the entrance of the pit whimpering. Goddamn it Gerald, Jason thought. He called to the dog who came reluctantly and they all walked back to the center in silence.
Jason’s brain was going a mile a minute. We’ll have to get the bodies out in the morning, if it’s safe. The details of such an unpleasant chore turned his stomach a bit. He planned on waking early, before everyone else and grabbing just one other guy to help. He didn’t want anyone else to see them exhuming the bodies, not like that. He sighed heavily. There were only fourteen bodies in their cemetery they erected in the town square. It was a bit of a ghastly location, but it was close and wouldn’t interfere with expansion of the center if and when they needed it. The farm was the first extension, and they barely had enough fencing, as it was, to cover that. The grazing fields were unprotected but they didn’t have enough livestock to worry too much about that yet. Gerald and his son would make sixteen bodies, and the first to die after the take over. He knew the day would undoubtedly come, but he wasn’t looking forward to the procedure. They’d been lucky, he told himself. He recalled what it took to get he and his family where they were, and what he’d lost. At least Gerald and Peter would get a proper burial, he thought. There was little solace in it though.
He they were only about a hundred yards from the center when Jackson’s ear’s perked up. The dog tensed and stared towards the front gates, and suddenly took off in a sprint.
“What’s gotten into him?” one of the men pondered, following the dog’s path. All three of them were staring at the gate as they continued on toward the center. Then the general alarm sounded, three sharp blasts from the air horn.
“Came from the roof!” the other man said.
“There’s someone outside the gates,” Jason said.
All three men took off in a sprint towards the center. The sentinel on the roof who’d sounded the alarm saw Jason approaching and signaled to him. Two people, a man and a boy, armed, but not attacking. Jason read the signs. He unholstered his pistol and made his way to the forward gates. He was proud to see everything around him functioning according to plan. All women and children were making their way into the center, the gates had been locked, the machine-gun nests were alert and trained on the visitors, and guard details were being deployed to the perimeters. The four-wheelers tore across the fields, and signals were being passed between the guard towers and the guards at the gate. Extra men armed with rifles took position on the roof and all the lamps and fires were being put out. Jason was happy they’d drilled so hard over the last year, the group that had once been prisoners of the DDTF were now a well trained group of preppers.
His second in command rushed over to him as he approached the forward guard post.
“Glad you’re here,” he said, “there’s two of them, that we can see. A man and a boy. The roof guard spotted them walking down the main drag and sounded the alarm. Everyone’s in place, sir.”
“Where are they now?” Jason asked.
“About 50 yards off the main gate, the man laid his rifle on the ground, as we ordered and is standing there with the boy in full view of our guns.”
“Have the perimeters checked in?”
“Yessir, no signs of anything along the fences or beyond.”
“Radio them to stay sharp, who knows what this could be,” Jason ordered.
Jason picked up the bull horn from the forward command post, and held the receiver up to his lips. He peered out through the gun port in the sandbag post to get a look at the two visitors. They looked haggard, their clothes were torn, and they seemed to be holding each other up, barely able to stand. It didn’t matter, Jason told himself, they weren’t ready to let insiders in yet. Maybe they would never be, but the standing order was to much anyone away. Now, with the loss of their farmer and their strongest farm hand, there was too much to sort out without letting anyone else in. Still, as Jason examined the pair out there on the road, it was hard not to imagine he and Jim in the same position. Jason shook the thought from his mind and prepared to tell the pair to move along. Before he could issue the command the man began to shout.
“Please! Please help us! We were attacked, and my son’s been injured! Please!”
His cries echoed out over the camp which had fallen tensely silent.
Jason struggled, not knowing what to do next. If they’d been attacked, their attackers could have followed them, and the two could provide important information. On the other hand, this could be the attack, and they could be a decoy, a trojan horse to get them to open their gates. He looked back to his second in command, and signaled. Still nothing from the perimeter. The same from the sentinel on the roof. Damn it, Jason cursed under his breath. They were strong enough, he thought, they were trained, and if the man was telling the truth, they needed to know what had happened. Against his better judgment, Jason signaled the guard to open the gate.