Friday, November 17, 2017

Fourteen. And The End

“This is Brooks County Survivors calling, can you copy, over?” Berg said into mike, and everyone in the camp was crowded around. “The is Brooks County Survivors, over.”

There was a pause. In the pause Reba held my hand tight and I held hers. Berg stood there and he had his eyes closed. A crow cawed in the distance and I could hear the irrigation pump running, and thought I might need to send someone to cut it off.

“Brook County Survivors, Brooks County Survivors, this is Lt. Colonel Henderson of the United States Army, identify yourself. Over. ” The voice on the radio was loud and alien sounding. It was the first voice any of us had heard electronically in a very long time.

“This is William Bergstrom, over.” Berg said and it was the first time I had heard his first name in a while.

“Mr. Bergstrom, are you the leader of the camp we flew over yesterday? Over.”

Berg looked at the people crowded around him and heard voices saying, “yes” and yes sir” and people were nodding.
“Roger that Colonel.” Berg said. “Over.”
“We’re on the paved road outside your camp, about a half mile out. We would like to meet with you. Bring no more than six people. No weapons except sidearms. We will wait for your reply.” Henderson said. “Over”
“We’ll be there in fifteen minutes, over.” Berg said and the camp cheered as one.

“You’re nervous, Berg.” I said as we walked towards the men in the armored vehicle. There were two trucks behind it, and there was a tank looking vehicle with an odd-looking gun mounted on it.
“Excited, actually.” Berg replied. “I never thought we would live through this, and this might be a trap, but they could wipe us out from the air more efficiently than ambushing us.”
“You never stop figuring things out do you?”

The Colonel was a crisp and hard nosed soldier who didn’t want us to get our hopes up too high. There were damn few human beings left anywhere. There groups here and there who had figured out how to build fences to keep the creatures out, but most failed for one reason or another. The Army had landed at Moody Air Force base to figure out if we were viable. And oh, by the way, they had figured out how to kill the monsters. The odd looking gun formed a force field around the monsters, depriving them of their ability to phase out and then a metal spike was fired at supersonic speed into the creatures. Its effectiveness was, the Colonel said with a gleam in his eye, one hundred percent.

Better yet, the monsters seemed to be dying out on their own. Starvation was killing them and they were even eating their own dead now. There were a few reports from other countries of people living in the open again, but those were unconfirmed. Mostly, there seemed to be fewer than one percent of the population left, but the rural areas where people could grow food were doing much better.

“I’ll be frank with you, Mr. Bergstrom.” The Colonel said. “We have an even dozen camps scattered out from here to North Carolina that we call secure and self sustaining. We have more room than we have people, but we’re looking to keep those camps outside our control open. You’re doing okay. Not great, maybe not even good yet, but we can help you get more out of those solar panels, and we can get you a tractor or two. We’ve got a camp building team that can clear more land for you and if there’s a medical emergency we can get a doctor to you. We have one that can visit once a month or so, and if you break out and want to move into that little town, Quitman, is it? Then we can help you secure it, once you have enough people. I see it happening in ten years, maybe, if you can keep doing what you’re doing.”
“We have people who might want out.” Berg said quietly. “Not everyone has adapted well.”
“We’ll take women.” Henderson said. “We have too many men sitting on their butts already.” Henderson drew closer to Berg, “You deal with your issues the way you want, sir, because we quite frankly haven’t the inclination or the resources.”
“Send me your engineers, Colonel.” Berg said after a few seconds. “We could use the help.”
“Roger that.” Henderson replied. “We’ll leave you with some food, dried mostly, and some medical supplies, and some female stuff too. And soap and a solar powered washer and dryer unit.”
“Thank you.” And that was all Berg could say.

Later, in bed, with a single candle burning, I held onto Reba. “You could leave, you know.” I whispered, “There’s some Army officer out there who is looking for a woman. You could marry up in a very big way. Maybe even a General. Could be even better for you than you might imagine.”
I thought she might. I let my hands explore her body, in case this was the last time she let me touch her.
“You remember the Halloween party, the one back in High School, hell, seven or eight years or so ago, before things got really bad?” Reba said.
“The one where the lights went out and they didn’t get them back on for a week?” I laughed. “That was weird. Everybody thought the monsters did it. But it was a squirrel in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“That was me.”
“That was me. That night.” Reba whispered.

“The two Spanish women are leaving, as well as Betsy Johnson.” Berg told me. “Oddly, that’s it. Everyone else is staying put. I got a note from the Edwards family requesting they be allowed to stay, and a few more people asking me if you and Reba were going to leave.” There were a few booms in the distance. The Army was hunting hard around our area.
“What did you tell them?” I smiled.
“I told them that you were going to stay, and you and Reba, along with Ray and Roy, would be taking over more of the day to day operations.” Berg looked relaxed for the first time since I met him.
“What makes you think Reba will stay?” I asked.
“She is in love with you.” Berg replied without hesitation. “Has been.”
“How do you know that?” I was stunned.
“She’s fearless.” Berg told me. “That woman isn’t afraid like most people are. Yet you are the one man in this camp she never looked at when he walked into a room. I noticed it when we were eating lunch one day. She was clearly miserable with Junior Johnson but smart enough not to let it show much, and she was looking around to see who might do. I made eye contact with her a couple of times, but when it got down to it, you were the one man she made an effort not to be around. When you entered a room Reba would find a way to leave. That’s love.”
“Damn.” I said.
“Surely, you weren’t really that blind?” He laughed at me when he saw my face turn red. “Okay, you were.”
“She told me something last night, Berg” and I waded into too much information here and I knew it, “but back in High School we had a black out one night at a Halloween carnival. I was standing by myself in the corner when the light went out and suddenly there was a girl there, and she kissed me hard. I never told anybody about it until now.”
“Reba” Berg said simply.
“Yeah, she kissed me and told me she was in love with me. Eight years ago.”
“That’s stranger than anything that had happened so far.” He said.
“Love usually is.” Reba said as she joined us.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thirteen: End Game

We hurried back to camp and were back inside before anyone knew it. Most of the men were out in the fields and no one knew Berg had left, or where we had been. We took the Johnson family totally by surprise; Eric was taken out of the fields, Sonny was in the kitchen stealing food, and Sonny’s son-in law, David, was chopping wood. We tied them all up and dragged them out into an open area in front of the school and called a meeting. Berg and I went to talk to Sonny’s daughter, Betsy. We pulled her out of the day care center and sat her down in front of Miramar and Lily, Reba came in as we were about to begin. Berg did all the talking.
“Your husband, your father, and your brothers have conspired to kill me. They have failed. As evidence against them I have these two women, plus any testimony that Reba might give…”
“Will give, gladly” Reba added.
“..and you are going to testify against them also. You are going to stand up in front of everyone in this camp and admit that you knew of the plot, and you will agree with all of what we say, and you’ll do it because there is no reason at all to keep you, or your children alive otherwise. I will put a bullet in your children, in front of you, and then tie you to their bodies and leave you outside to be killed and eaten. You have five seconds. Say yes or no, I do not care, but today your entire family will die, and it is only a question of saving your kids. Go.”
Betsy nodded.
“No.” Berg said. “Say it.”
“Yes.” Betsy whispered.
“Get Ray and find Roy, arm them both, put Thomas at the armory with a shotgun. Tell him to kill anyone that isn’t you or me.”
Berg stood in front of the whole camp and like the best lawyer you’d ever see in a courtroom laid out the case against the Johnson family. The two strange women were terrified but they gave their accounts of being kidnapped and raped, in clear voices. They laid out the plot, the messages were passed around, and then Reba said one of the reasons she left the Johnsons was she was afraid she would get caught up in their conspiracies. That wasn’t true, but she made it sound true. Then Betsy came out, and I wondered what would happened if she told that Berg had extorted her into her testimony, but the mother in her won out, and she said what we had told her to say.
I have no idea what might have happened, really, even with all we had, and even with Reba and Betsy, there might have been those that out of loyalty to the Johnsons, might have stood by them. But Martha Johnson, the one person we didn’t think to arrest, charged in and said, “That bitch is lying, we never told her nothing about what we were going to do.” And then she stopped, and realized what she had done.
We passed around index cards and everyone that was over eighteen had to write guilty or not guilty. Over eighty votes of guilty came back, and only five not guilty. We passed out the cards again, and this time it was death or banishment. Death got seventy votes. The people hated Berg, but the idea of me being killed didn’t set well with more people than it did. The people looked around, and once again, decided that what they had was better than anything else they might get.
“I have to do this,” Berg told me, and he reached for my sidearm.
“No” I told him, and he stepped back in surprise.
“Roy!” I called out and Roy came to me with his rifle, and he nodded at me as if he understood what I wanted him to do. Roy had already killed three men for me. If the vote would have gone against us I think Roy would have opened up on the crowd without batting an eye. I took the rifle from him and stepped up behind Martha Johnson and put a bullet in her brain. Sonny was next and he was struggling to get to his feet, cussing and yelling, but the bullet dropped him. Eric sat on his knees sobbing and begging and it was easier now, after the first two, and the bullet ended it all.

A detail took the bodies out of the camp and dumped them on the road, and then Berg told everyone to go back to work. I watched the bodies being loaded, with the rifle still in my hand when the helicopter flew by at tree top level. Everyone stood and stared at it and then it was gone again. It was an odd thing. In another life a helicopter might go unnoticed, except at the level it was flying, but I realized there were children in the compound that had never seen one. I hadn’t seen one in years. It was obvious whoever had been at the door on the chopper, as well as the pilots, had seen the bodies being loaded onto the trailer but what of it?

The people stopped work to stand and stare at the sky, wondering what it meant, and everyone wanted to all talk at once. Berg came over and suggested we talk privately, as so we did, Berg, Ray, Roy, and myself, with Reba coming in late. “I’m I in or not in?” she asked. And Berg surprised us all by laughing. “In.” he said. “You’re in deep.”

Before the meeting could really get going there was an odd sound, like rain in the Summer, coming through the woods, loud like, almost like bacon frying, and I could feel the hair on my arm standing up. Then there was a boom that made the windows rattle. I could feel the sound in my chest. We sat in silence, listening, and the sound repeated again, and again, and again. The helicopter came by again, just before dark, and a box dropped out of it with a parachute.

Two men carried the box to Berg and we opened it. There was some MREs, and a first aid kit, and there was a radio.

End Thirteen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Part Twelve

One of the odd side effects of being on a position of power over people is that those people you take care of, in turn, take care of people they can use and promote, and Ray had picked up a follower in Roy Royer. I knew his first name wasn’t Roy but never bothered to ask. Roy was in his thirties, a little older than I was, but he was a no nonsense type of guy who didn’t speak much. He lost his family to the creatures and Roy was one of those men who were single and had no prospects. The idea of going out on sweep missions, which was the most dangerous, seemed to have an appeal to him. I knew that feeling. I handed him a AR-15 with a couple of clips and he looked at me as if he realized he understood that this was a weapon whose purpose was to kill human beings. When we took left towards the Johnson place instead of heading towards Quitman it was Roy who told the man next to him to shut up when he asked where we were going. Ray had taken Roy off the leash and Roy was determined to make the most of it. We went nearly two miles before we saw out first creature. It was feeding on a dead human body, and none of us had ever seen one do this before. I wondered who the dead person was, and hoped it was Miles. We marked it with paint and kept moving.

Roy offered to take point down the Johnson’s driveway, but I hesitated. The driveway was a dirt trail that snaked down to the farmhouse that was a quarter of a mile away. There was a field fence on both sides of the driveway and if one of the creatures waited in the weeds and high grass we wouldn’t see it until we were attacked. This was one of those points in time, I thought, a man showed leadership. Or was eaten.

“Let’s go.” I said and took point. Every ten feet or so, Ray fired a paintball in front of us, and he was getting good, too. Pop, pop, pop, pop, and he covered the driveway from side to side. We got to the house and I felt like we had tapped into a vein of good luck. I pulled the pistol out and decided to walk right in. The door was unlocked and the second I stepped through the door Miles Johnson was there with a shotgun a foot away from my face. I heard a loud click and Miles’ face went blank. There was a blast from behind me and Miles went down with three bloody holes in his chest.

I looked down at my side and saw my shirt had powder burns on it. “Nice shooting, Roy” is all I could think to say.  We left two men outside with one gun, and was about to search the house when Ray held his hand up for us to stop and started talking about searching the barn first, and all the while he was pointing his rifle at the kitchen table. The table had one of those fancy clothes on it, the kind you’d expect Martha to love, and it was long enough for someone to hide under the table. I flipped it over and there was a woman under it. She was naked, wearing nothing but a pair of handcuffs in front of her, and she looked a fright. Ray searched Miles’ pants for the keys and Roy pulled the tablecloth from under the table and tossed it to her. “No hablo Ingles” the woman said in a shaky voice, as she dropped a couple of shotgun shells on the floor. Ray found the keys and motioned for the woman to hold out her hands, but Roy spoke to her in Spanish, and I had no idea he spoke the language, and the woman said something back to him. “She says just throw her the keys and don’t touch her.” Roy translated and Ray nodded. He tossed her the keys and she took the cuffs off.

The woman told Roy that she and three of her friends were trying to get from Quitman to Tallahassee, where they had relatives. They were ambushed by Miles and two other men, and the two men in her group were killed, and she and her friend were taken back here. The two other men didn’t live here, only Miles did, but they had things out in the barn, to make alcohol. A quick check in the barn revealed a moonshine still and some pot plants, as well as a lot of stuff Miles and his gang had looted from house. There was a lot of cash money, as if it might come back in style one day, and a lot of electronics, on the off chance that electricity would be plentiful again, but there were a lot of guns and ammo. The woman told Roy the two other men usually came by at the middle of the day, and always went into the barn first. I stayed in the house with Ray and left Roy in the barn with the other men, and we waited.

A couple of hours later two men, leading a woman on a chain in front of them, as bait we later learned, walked down the path behind the house and went straight for the house. Roy stepped out of the barn and fired three shots and dropped both men in their tracks. The woman froze in terror and the woman inside the house yelled something to her and she stood perfectly still. We got her inside and left the two together in one of the bedrooms and hoped they could find clothes that fit. I told Roy to ask the women through the door if there was anyone else out there and if the place they held the second woman was close. She said there was no one else, and the shack they had stayed was about a half mile away. I told Ray to pick three men and try to find it, and get back quick after making an inventory of the place.

I sent two men back to the school to tell Berg what had happened, and told them not to tell anyone else, and get back here, double quick. Next, I told Roy to talk to the women and see what if they knew anything that might help us. She and heard us coming before Miles did and had unloaded the shotgun, and saved my life. The first woman’s name was Miramar and she was not Mexican but Spanish, as in from Spain. The second woman, Lily, was from Costa Rica. They had been going to school in Valdosta but were hiding in Quitman. When we started savaging the place they got scared and made a run for it, and Miles and his gang had kidnapped the women and killed the men. That sounded far too familiar and I felt the shame rising as well as the blood in my face. We did an inventory of the house, waiting for the others to arrive, and they did. But they had brought Berg with them.

I had no idea the man spoke Spanish but he told the women to open the door, and quickly. Berg told them to come into the kitchen and sit down and they did, but it was clear they were terrified. Berg spoke rapidly to them and they shook their heads. “Fuck it,” Berg said in English, “put a bullet in each of their heads and toss them out of the house right now.”
“Don’t! Stop!” Miramar said quickly, “we’ll talk, okay?”
“You better.” Berg warned, “Because I am all that stands between you being chained to a bed and used as the camp whore. Now, tell me if they said anything about “Daddy” or “Sonny.”

Miramar told Berg that Miles and his crew were going out at night and camping near a place where they had family. They communicated by throwing a tennis ball with notes inside of it to the camp, and received messages the same way. They hung hammocks in trees to avoid the creatures at night, and left when the sun came up. A search of the barn revealed two tennis balls and some notes. Apparently there was going to be an ambush at the Johnson place to kill me, and a coup at the camp once I was dead.

End part twelve