Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: I See Angry People (Part 6)
I woke the next day feeling better. My arm hurt like crazy, but at least I could move it. Tommy was waiting outside the warehouse. “Joy’s got you a hot cooked meal for you at the house, come on.”
He interrupted me, “Now, Frank. Looks like you ain’t had a good meal in at least a month. Come on.”
Bacon, pancakes, eggs, and orange juice. “Where did you find this?”
“Find? Hell, Ben and Kathy make it,” Joy informed me.
“Yeah.” She looked at the bacon, “I have no idea what meat this is.”
“Sure smells and tastes like bacon.”
“That it does.” She sighed. “Kathy calls it bearcon. Says it’s all in the seasonings.”
I didn’t say anything. I had a different perspective on bears. Tommy seemed to notice. “He only takes what he needs. What the four of us need.” He grinned, “Bacon’s a rare meal around here.”
Joy continued, “The eggs come from the chickens out back.” She noticed my quizzical look, “Yes, we have chickens. A dozen or so. We let half the eggs hatch. And the bread’s made from corn flower. We grow our own.”
Tommy tapped my shoulder, “And we’ll teach you how we do it.” He looked out the window. “It ain’t much. It’s just enough. But ain’t that all we need? Enough?”
I had to admit he was right.
“We’ve been learning to farm,” I tried to smile, “but we’re not that good at it. Yet.”
“Like I said, we can teach you what we know.” He put his hand on my shoulder, “But. You’ll have to stick around a while to learn.”
Joy added, “And you’ll have to earn your keep.”
Tommy nodded, “That’s the deal. We teach, you work.”
“Sounds fair enough to me.”
They started that afternoon, took me to the corn field, where we weeded row after row of ears. It was back breaking work, pulling the weeds out by hand. “I used to used Dad’s tractor to do this.”
Tommy laughed, “I used to use my tractor to do this.” He pointed at the warehouse. “But, the damn thing takes gas to run. And gas is rare. And a bitch to make.”
I thought my arm was going to fall off, the wound ached like someone was hitting me with a bat. “You make gas?”
“Biofuel. Mostly from corn. It’s got enough alcohol in it.”
I knew I had a lot to learn about living after the apocalypse. “You guys do well.”
“We try.” He kept pulling weeds. “Ben’s not but so much help. Fella’s getting old.”
As we worked, I asked Tommy, “So. About that fence thing?”
He paused, “Yeah. I did say I’d tell you about it.” He started pulling weeds again. “May as well do that while we work. It’ll help kill the time.”
Shortly after everything went to hell, this group of white men came along, with guns. They took every girl they could find with them. Made a long line of roped up girls, like one of them slave caravans you heard about in school.
They said they weren’t going to hurt them. “Girls, women, are in danger. Too many of them are dying since this all started. We need to protect them.”
A few days later, Joy and I found a girl wandering through the forest. We decided to take her to the group. It wasn’t too hard to follow them, they left a clear path through the woods. That’s when we found the fence. It was smaller, just getting started. You could see what looked like a small town inside it. Protected all the way around by the fence.
There were four shacks near the fence, and armed guards in each. “Hello, inside! Anybody there?”
Someone came out with a whole pile of guns, pointed right at me. “Careful, buddy! Careful! I’m not here to fight!”
I pushed the girl forward, toward the fence. “They said you were protecting the women. Well.” I took a step toward the fence, “She’s lost. And alone. She needs protecting.”
The man lowered his gun, and opened a gate in the fence. He let the girl in. “She’ll be safe here.” He pointed toward the town. “Go there. They’ll take care of you.” He turned back to me, “Get lost.” He pointed the gun at me again.
I got lost. Hell, I ran away from there.
Since then, they’ve pretty much cleared the woods around here of women. And they’ve pretty much shot all the crazy men. Not that they aren’t crazy men. But, at least the women are safe. They’re building towns inside that fence. Every town they start, they add more fence. And more guards. And the guards protect the fence. They shoot at anything outside that fence that moves. They don’t ask. They shoot. Like they’re protecting themselves from wild animals.
That’s where we get most of our meat, from around the fence. Dead animals everywhere. Some of the guards don’t even look. They get up every morning, and shoot at the trees. It’s like an armed fortress. A walled off district. And now that they’ve got enough women inside the fence, they don’t seem to care about letting anyone else in.
When he finished the story of the fence, he kept pulling weeds. I paused, “Like they’re making a kingdom of some kind?” I pulled more weeds.
“Something like that.” He pulled more weeds, “But I’m not going near that fence to find out.”
The sun started to get low to the horizon, “That’s enough weed pulling for today.” We headed back to the house. “Tomorrow, we check the next field, for tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, squash.”
“We have to grow everything here.”
So it went for three days. Until Tommy checked on me one morning, “Sunday. The day of rest.” He was all dressed up, even had on a tie. Joy, Ben, and Kathy were with him. “Day of thanksgiving.”
I took the hint, and followed them. We walked down a path through the trees to an old town, not too far from the houses. I saw the burned houses. But there were no body remains. “In case you’re wondering, Ben and I buried everyone that got killed.”
I knew from his eyes, he’d seen a lot of death then. He’d buried a lot of friends. It was written in his eyes. He knew every house, and who had lived in it. Joy cried as we walked through the town. Kathy held her hand.
Ben pointed out places, “That’s where I found my daughter.” He looked at me, “They’d cut her head off. Took her, tied her up. God knows what they did to her. Then, when they were done with her, they cut her head off. And left her body where it was.”
“Ben.” Kathy’s calm voice cut him off. “Vengeance is God’s, Ben.”
I knew though, if Ben ever found out who killed his daughter, he’d have his vengeance. Even if it meant he went to hell.
The four of them led me to an old church, with a granite entryway. The sun lit up the brickwork on the floor of the entrance. It was a beautiful church. Tommy stopped at the entrance, crossed himself, and said, “Forgive us for our sins,” before he stepped inside. We all followed his example.
All the wooden fixtures inside were gone. The church pews. The altar. The cross. Every wooden item was gone. Used to make fires, or to make other things. Maybe things I didn’t want to know about.
Tommy, Joy, Ben and Kathy knelt on the floor, held hands, and silently prayed. I knelt, and thought to myself, “God, if you really do exist, why?” I didn’t know if God was real or not. I knew I didn’t have much time to wonder if he was. I worried about living through another day. Not getting shot, or beaten to death.
I wondered, as I walked on my journeys, why. Why did the world come apart.
That afternoon, back at the houses, I told Tommy I would have to investigate that fence. There were things I needed to know.
“I won’t stop you. But remember, you’re welcome here. You want to visit the fence, do so at night. And don’t lead anyone here.”
We spoke about the fence for a while. About what might happen inside that fence. And about how only an idiot would study that fence, and what was inside. And idiot that had already been shot once, and was bloody likely to get his ass shot again by visiting that place.
“You’ll be welcome here. And we’ll keep teaching you so long as you show up.”
I stuck around another week, working with them. Learning about farming, making corn flour and ethanol. Then, I got ready to return to the fence. There were things about that fence I needed to know.
And I needed to talk to the animals around the fence. Warn them about it, if I could. Tell them to avoid it.
I went to sleep that night, in the warehouse, with Tommy knowing I’d be gone at sunrise.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.