Happy holidays to you and yours whatever your celebrate. Let’s all pray for peace and safety this season and wisdom for our leaders who must guide us through these tumultuous times. I hope that you have a blessed holiday filled with love, family, friends and cheer. You may have noticed I didn’t post last week. (My apologies) So here is a double dose, both episodes 4 and 5 today. Thanks for your support, readership and comments.
By: M.A. Thompson
Jason was up an hour before dawn, had already taken a cold shower and fetched the rope they’d need before he woke Erickson. They barely had a chance to discuss what had happened to Gerald with all the action of the outsiders the night before. The two men walked briskly across the field towards the farm, and towards the manure pits that held the remains of the farmer and his eldest son.
“Damn shame,” Erickson said as they removed the tarp tied over the entrance.
The bodies had settled over night and now only the men’s necks were above the muck. Exhuming them was unpleasant business to say the least. Jason only hurled once, but Erickson wasn’t so lucky. They used the hand-powered water pump at the farm to hose the men off before they radioed for Tony to bring the truck and haul them to the garage for burial preparations. Jim was in the truck when Tony came. Jason half expected it, and was glad he and Erickson had woken so early for the task. Pete was Jim’s friend, and as much as Jim had come to understand death, no one should have to see their friend in such a state.
They all rode back together, in silence. Not many people were around, despite the hour nearing ten am. At first Jason thought Gerald’s death might have something to do with it. People loved Gerald, and the community relied heavily on his farming knowledge. He’d taken a few apprentices as he worked and of course his son’s had grown up on the farm, but no one seemed to know the ways of the land like Gerry. People were probably mourning, Jason thought, it had been a while since they last held a funerals and Jason imagined that people were still reeling from the shock of having to perform a double funeral for father and son. As sharp as the militiamen had been trained, and as dutiful as the rest of the workers at camp had become, there was still a portion of them, even some of the workers, who still saw things through the old lens. Through the lens of the old world where death was an unexpected thing, and comforts extended beyond running water and a safe place to sleep, and strangers were friends waiting to be…
That was it, Jason realized. He’d become so preoccupied with securing Gerald and Peters’ corpses that he failed to recognize the effect the visitors was having on the camp. People weren’t inside their quarters to mourn. They were afraid of what the new guests might have brought with them, or what Jason was going to do to them, or possibly what might be coming from the outside as a result from them.
What was he going to do with them, Jason thought to himself. Find out what was coming from the outside was his answer. There was no question about it. That was all that Jason was interested in, however, he had a sneaking suspicion that the pair would be more willing to cooperate if they were offered citizenship in the camp. Jason had no intention of offering them any such thing, unless of course, either one of them just happened to be an experienced farmer. From the looks of them, he doubted it.
The funeral team, a group of volunteers lead by Jason’s wife Patricia, met the truck as it pulled into the garage. She and Jason locked eyes and he nodded his thanks to her for preparing the team and being ready. Jason left the truck and the garage behind and headed towards the showers.
“Dad,” Jim called after him.
“What’s up son?” Jason replied without stopping.
“I want to see them.”
“Nope, out of the question,” Jason said with finality.
“Because I said so,” Jason knew that excuse no longer worked. His son was no longer a child.
“Tony said it was just a guy and his kid, and-“
“What does Tony know about it?” Jason said sharply.
He knew there wasn’t a single person in the camp that wasn’t talking about the new visitors, but it angered him all the same. Tony should know better, but then again, he’s not much older than Jim.
“Anyway, what are you so worried about?” Jim persisted.
“Look,” Jason started, “We don’t know anything about these two, and until we do, I don’t want them learning anything about us. Maybe not even then.”
“So you’re not going to let them stay?”
Jason was surprised at his son’s line of questioning. On one hand, it was understandable, and even a good indicator that his son was starting to return to the normal social behaviors of a boy of 18. The problem was, those social norms no longer cut it in this world. It’s better than the angry, violent man he was shaping into. He’d have to find a balance between those two worlds, as did everyone, Jason thought, including himself.
“I don’t know what’s going to become of them,” Jason said, “but what I do know is that for now, no one is going near them except for me. Then, I’ll make whatever decisions I deem necessary, including the possibility of letting them stay. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” Jim said, hiding his disappointment.
“Go check on your sister, she should be in class with the other children. Make sure they have what they need for today, and do the rounds for me.”
Doing the rounds was Jim’s least favorite task, but it was an important one. Also, it would keep the boy busy for a couple hours. Jason, as the appointed leader of the camp, made it a point to “do the rounds” at least once a week, more if he could work it. It started out as something casual, something to get to know the people of the community as they began building it together. Now, if he or Jim or Patty and sometimes even Tony didn’t make it around by Tuesday, people began to worry. Once, when Jason and Jim were sick and Tony was busy with runs, now less than a dozen people stopped by their quarters with extra rations, blankets, or just to see if there was anything they could do. It was a good community, a tight-knit and caring one, and Jason realized more and more each day just how important community is in the aftermath.
It always struck Jason just how easy it had been to build such strong bonds. Of course, the necessity demanded by their situation created certain levels of dependency, but the community had grown pasts that. All it took, mostly, was just a visit to each area of the camp, the cooks and storeroom, the guard towers, his militia leaders, the school, the many and his construction crew, the farm… A shot of sorrow panged in Jason as he thought about Gerald and Peter who were at that very moment being cleaned and prepped for burial.
He pushed it aside and headed towards the basement where the makeshift holding cells and interrogation room were located. Maybe this guy is some kind of farmer, Jason hoped. Don’t get ahead of yourself buddy, he told himself. He didn’t like that such a thought had crept up on him. He needed to clear his head. Sure, community was great, but these two were outsiders, and any outsider was a potential threat to the safety of the people and place he’d worked so hard to protect. He hardened his gaze standing outside of the interrogation room, took a deep breath, and entered sharply.
The man was seated, hunched over in the metal chair with his long hair covering his face. He was less nervous than the night before, but he still seemed more like a skeleton than a man. His right hand was freshly bandaged, and he rested it close to his body in his lap. When Jason entered, he turned with a bit of a start, but seemed slightly relieved when he recognized Jason as the man who talked to him the previous night.
“I… I want to thank you for… for the food and for this” he lifted his bandaged arm slightly. The man’s voice was nervous with excitement, shaking, as if he didn’t know what to say, but had to say something. Jason circled him once in silence, and then took a seat opposite the man in the same chair the original commander of the camp sat in when interrogating he and his wife. He hoped to have the same intimidating effect as the commander as he sat in silence and stared at the jabbering man.
“My son… he, I… we haven’t eaten since we escaped the camp, and, well…” the man prattled on against Jason’s cold, silent stare. When the man’s eyes met Jason’s he fell silent. That’s when Jason spoke his first words.
“What’s your name?” Jason asked, with a voice as dry as a funeral drum.
“Ma… Martin,” the man started, “And my son’s name is-“
Jason cut him off with a simple hand motion. Stop. It said. I’m asking the questions, and this is not a meet and great.
“Tell me everything you know about the men who attacked you,” Jason instructed. The man’s face turned sullen, and his eyes glazed over as if the mention of those men had caused a horrible movie to be replayed in the man’s mind. His voice steadied, and grew hollow. He spoke with a hollow detachment.
“They are very bad men,” he said softly. Jason watched the transformation in the man, saw the fear and despair that had washed over his body. It made him nervous. He had seen what man was capable of doing to his fellow man in times of desperation. He had seen what fanaticism can drive men to do, especially in the absence of law and order. He had seen the faces of men who had witnessed the worst of these things and it was the spitting image of the man before him.
Jason began firing questions, “How many are there? Are they a militia, a gang? Is the BigMart their base? Will they follow you here? Do they know about us?”