As Father Doherty was emerging into consciousness, a realization came upon him of what a remarkable and incomprehensible thing he was doing. After years of meekly providing food and barely adequate shelter for those poor souls who found their way to him in desperate need, all of a sudden he was thrust into taking an action he would never have thought himself capable of. But deep in his heart, in the depths of his soul, he felt settled. What he was doing was right.
Slowly, he got up from his chair, careful not to wake the teenager at his side. Emo, as he introduced himself to others, seemed to be a solitary soul, not expecting, or even wanting anyone's attention or approval. By all appearances, he just wanted to be left alone. But the young man inside, Marsden, seemed to have an insatiable craving to be wanted and needed for something.
Father Doherty knew that giving the boy the attention he needed without triggering his defences might be a bit of a challenge. But fortunately, he had had months of dealing with a contrary little boy that would have most people throwing their hands up in frustration. His months with Ty had shown him that it was possible, just with acceptance and tolerance, to gain such a person's trust. In fact, after months with Ty, spending time with Emo was actually something of a pleasure.
After putting away his blanket, Father Doherty caught sight of the satellite phone. He made a mental note to himself that once they were on the road again, to plug it into its charger so that it would be at full power when it was needed. He didn't actually know when he would be needing it, but the way things had been going the past few days, he felt that it was a prudent precaution.
At the back of the bus, it took a few minutes for Father Doherty to find his luggage, stored in a heap with many other suitcases. Once he had his things, he quietly made his way off the bus and to the public facilities to 'freshen up'.
* * * * *
When Father Doherty returned to the bus, he found that most everyone was in the process of waking up. He smiled when he saw the two young men who had joined them the day before. He didn't know what their story was, and years of helping those in need had trained him not to speculate. They would tell him if and when they were ready. But what he could tell, just by observing them, is that they were the best of friends. The comfortable and playful way they interacted with each other refreshed his soul. The recent trauma that they had been through didn't seem to have diminished their ability to trust, or to see the world as a beautiful place, full of wonders.
When he saw Art and Euan looking at him, he approached and quietly said, "Boys, I know things here are a bit primitive, what with there being no hot water. But I found that if you just dampen your washcloth under the cold water and not get into the shower's spray, it isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. It's going to be a long day, and I think it might look just a little bit better to you if you take the opportunity to wash up."
As he turned, Father Doherty noticed that Emo had been listening. Father Doherty walked to him and asked, "Emo, I'm sorry for asking a favor of you first thing in the morning, but would you mind going with the guys to kind of keep an eye out? I'd feel a lot better if they weren't left on their own."
"Sure, Father." Emo said in an obligatory tone that sounded like he wasn't entirely happy with the chore, but Father Doherty caught a hint of something in Emo's expression that told him that the boy wasn't as put out as he acted.
As he seemed to be about to walk away, Emo stopped and quietly said, "I don't have any clothes with me. I only have what I'm wearing."
"Don't worry. I saw where they put the spare clothes." Euan said cheerfully, then drew the older teenager to the back of the bus.
When Art, Euan and Emo had all gathered towels and fresh clothes, they made their way to the front of the bus. As they passed Father Doherty's chair, Emo paused long enough to whisper, "Thank you for trusting me."
* * * * *
After a few minutes of reading his Bible, Father Doherty was surprised to realize that it had actually been a few days since he had had time to do so. Such a simple thing as a quiet, unbothered moment had become quite elusive, recently. He smiled to himself as he went back to reading, promising himself that he was going to enjoy the quiet time, no matter how short-lived it turned out to be.
Father Doherty looked up, wondering about the sound of laughter approaching from outside the bus.
As the boys climbed onto the bus, he could tell that something was wrong with Art; something had upset him. Emo's expression was definitely unhappy, but somehow different from Art's. Euan, on the other hand, was nothing short of giddy.
"Is something wrong?" Father Doherty asked as Art passed his chair.
Art didn't respond, and seemed to move a little faster, trying to get away.
Emo kept pace with Art and avoided Father Doherty's gaze.
"What happened?" Father Doherty asked Euan with concern.
"When we were in there washing up, there were some other guys in there, too. Me and Art and Emo kind of kept to ourselves, and everything was going fine. Then this guy walked up to Art. This guy was really old; I mean, like, thirty! Anyway, he walks up to Art and says, 'I got a real nice piece of meat you can have if you want it, Kid'. And then he kind of reached for Art to... well, I don't know what he was going to do. But then it hit me, this old guy was hitting on Art, I mean ART, in a public shower room! I mean... I couldn't help it. All I could do was laugh. I think that surprised the guy because he kind of got this hurt look and ran off after that."
"Well, I'm glad that nothing worse happened." Father Doherty said quietly.
"Yeah. Me too." Euan said in a small voice, then Father Doherty noticed that the boy was obviously fighting to contain his laughter.
Father Doherty raised his hand and faked a cough, trying to hide his smile.
Recognizing the gesture for what it was, was all the encouragement that Euan needed to break into fresh gales of laughter.
* * * * *
After a few minutes, Emo came back to the front of the bus and stepped around Father Doherty to take the seat beside him again.
Father Doherty glanced at him, but Emo seemed to have all his attention focused outside the window.
"I'm sorry." Emo said under his breath as he continued to stare, off into the distance.
"Why would that be?" Father Doherty asked quietly.
"You trusted me and I didn't do anything to help. In fact, I don't know what came over me. I just sort of froze." Emo said and Father Doherty could barely see a tear glistening on his cheek.
"I forgive you." Father Doherty said gently. As far as he was concerned, Emo hadn't done anything wrong, but his years as a priest had shown him that sometimes people just needed to hear those words.
"Thank you, Father." Emo whispered, then placed his hand over Father Doherty's on the armrest and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Father Doherty decided to take a chance. He lifted his hand from Emo's, then placed his arm around Emo's shoulders to draw him into a hug. "Marsden, if what happened bothers you, then you might consider thinking of what else you could have done. As it is, there was no harm done, and you are all back here, safe and sound. So, I would suggest that you use this as a lesson so that you will be prepared if, in future, you find yourself in a similar situation."
"I will. Thank you, Father." Emo said as he snuggled into the hug.
"There is one thing that puzzles me. You were there, perhaps you can tell me. Why was what happened funny?"
"I don't know, Father. But Euan really saved the day when he started laughing like that. Maybe I'll ask him about it later."
* * * * *
The smell of breakfast cooking had everyone anxiously waiting for it to be served. The sun was up and peeking out from behind a fluffy white cloud, but otherwise the sky was blue.
A heavy-handed knock on the door caused nearly everyone on the bus to jump out of their seats.
"Come in!" Father Kinsey practically yodeled.
"I have no idea how anyone can be that cheerful in the MORNING." Father Franklin grumbled as he folded his blanket and put it in the overhead compartment. "I can't even begin to function before I have at least two cups of coffee, let alone be so full of joy... and you're happily working away at making breakfast."
The smiling figure of Keith came in, "I figured I'd come over and rearrange the seats, so you can have a little bit more room to move around." he said casually, then walked to the first two seats and flipped up a few tabs on the floor. Within a few seconds, he had those seats fastened back to the floor, with the backs against the wall, leaving the floor space before them open.
"I had no idea..." Father Doherty remarked in wonder as he watched Keith work on the next row.
"Yeah. It's nice to be able to switch it up now and then, especially when you spend a lot of time on this thing." Keith said frankly.
"I can imagine." Father Doherty said with a nod.
"I can't believe how good that breakfast smells. Let me help you set up the tables, so you can eat without holding stuff on your laps." He pulled out several folding tables, and the others helped him set them up.
"Keith, why don't you and your family join us for breakfast. There is plenty here to feed us all. I figured there might be some extra hungry people this morning." Father Kinsey beamed.
"Thanks. I noticed the wonderful smell when I walked by. Made my mouth water. Emmogene was talking about opening a can of something for us for our breakfast. I'd better hurry and tell her before she does that. No use wastin' that food. We'll be right back. Thanks again. You have no idea how much this means to me. I hate them damn little sausage things. I don't think Gunner likes 'um much either." Keith said before he disappeared out the door.
"Sausage things?" Father Kinsey asked with a grin.
"Probably Vienna Sausages. Emmogene always seemed to think that they were nature's perfect food." Father Franklin said with a thoughtful smile.
* * * * *
Father Doherty noticed that Art seemed to be deep in thought, so he quietly settled into the chair beside him and asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Art was obviously startled and it took a moment for him to say, "I've never been in a situation like that before. I don't know what I'm feeling right now."
"I think that's natural." Father Doherty said gently.
Art turned and looked at him for a moment before asking, "Might I have done something to make that man believe that I would welcome such a proposition?"
"No." Father Doherty said simply, then explained, "I think what you encountered was a predator. And I'm sure that it was his hope that you would react like prey. You didn't do anything to deserve it, and you have nothing to feel ashamed of."
"Perhaps. However, in future, I believe I will be taking my showers in a more private setting." Art said seriously.
"You can do that if you like, but all you'll really accomplish by doing that is limiting yourself. I think a better way to deal with it is through strength, not weakness." Father Doherty said carefully.
"How do you mean?" Art asked cautiously.
"Rather than running from the possibility of another such confrontation, maybe you should prepare for it. Think about it. What could you have done differently so that that man wouldn't have approached you?" Father Doherty asked in a leading tone.
Art thought for a moment, but finally shook his head in defeat.
"Do you think that if you took one or two of the adults with you, that the man would have dared to approach you?" Father Doherty asked with a smile.
"No. I doubt it." Art said slowly.
"That way you won't be limiting yourself and hiding from the possibility of it happening; you'll be facing it with strength."
"Thank you, Father. I will consider what you've said." Art said with a slow nod.
"But it probably wouldn't be a good idea to ask any of the priests to go with you to shower... there are people who might have issues with that." Father Doherty said jokingly.
"Yes. So I've noticed." Art said as a smile found its way onto his face.
* * * * *
Several people looked up as the door opened.
Emmogene poked her head through the door, followed by Gunner and Keith.
"Damn, Keith, you're right, it does smell like heaven in here." Emmogene gushed. "Kinda makes me sorry I was so damn rude earlier... kinda."
As they made their way farther onto the bus, Gunner stopped and stared at the boys.
"Hi... I'm Gunner." The little boy said as he tried to sound confident, but he didn't quite pull it off.
Art and Euan both smiled at him and introduced themselves.
"It's nice to meet you, Gunner. My name is Arthur, but you may call me Art." He said, as he put out his hand for Gunner to shake. Gunner tentatively shook Art's hand as he continued to stare at him.
Finally, Gunner said, "You talk funny."
"I come from a different country. I'm from England. Everyone there talks like I do. To me, it sounds like you talk funny." Art said gently.
"Nuh uh! Mama says I talk real good!" Gunner said defensively.
Art and Euan laughed at the little boy's reaction, then Art gently said, "You're mama's right, Gunner. You don't talk funny at all."
"My name is Euan." He said as he also offered his hand to the little boy.
"Yoon?" Gunner asked slowly.
"U. N., Euan!" He said with a smile.
"You don't talk funny, like Art does." Gunner said frankly.
"No. I'm from Canada. That's not too far away from here, so I sound more like you do." Euan explained gently.
"Daddy says we're gonna go to Canada and shoot us a moose!" Gunner said seriously.
"I've told him that when he's older, we're going up north to do some hunting." Keith explained with a smile at his son.
"Oh", said Euan.
"You're not a bunch of tree hugging animal rights nut jobs, are you?" Emmogene asked as she looked around.
"That depends. If you kill a moose, are you going to eat it?" Euan asked as he looked her in the eyes.
"Every last little bit, and we'll use the hide, too." Emmogene said firmly.
"Then I've got no problem." Euan said simply.
"We'd better get over to the table and get breakfast before it gets cold." Father Franklin said as he led the way toward the huge breakfast which was now drawing everyone's attention.
Emmogene smiled at Art and Euan. "Thanks for being nice to Gunner. He doesn't have many friends his age, and it is nice to find young'uns who are polite, and kind. Most kids nowadays seem to be kinda standoffish."
"I like him, Ma'am. He is very polite and his curiosity about our speech is really refreshing." Art answered.
"Would you like some bacon?" Emo asked, as he passed the platter toward Gunner.
"Yes, please." Gunner answered, and it was obvious that he was surprised by being asked.
"I always fix his plate for him." Emmogene explained casually.
As breakfast continued, plates of food were passed around, and everyone made sure to hand them to Gunner, who seemed totally awed by being included just like everyone else at the table.
Trav took another helping of eggs, smiled, and said, "Malcolm is a really good cook."
"Malcolm?" Emo asked casually, and Trav gestured at Father Kinsey.
"Emmogene, you certainly have done a good job with Gunner. He's a very bright and polite young man. I'm very proud of you and Keith. I really wish I hadn't been such a prude. I hope I can make up for it, from now on." Father Franklin admitted.
"I guess I might have been a bit hasty, judging you and your friends. The boys all seem to like you, and I have to admit that kids usually can tell what kind of person you are, and they don't cotton to bad folks. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm glad you called. I've missed you."
* * * * *
Once the breakfast was finished, Keith showed the boys how to fold down the tables and store them in a narrow cabinet that was made exclusively for that purpose.
"I think we need to start figuring out where we're going to go next, where the best places to stop and rest are, and so forth," Father Doherty said, wanting to get everyone on track for the coming day.
"It seems as though we have been elected to chart our way out of this mess, so maybe we need to find out what our best course of action might be. I know we have to be heading west, but we need to know the safest and maybe easiest route to take. Art and Euan, you two have been talking to the truckers; do you suppose you could find out if any of them know what our best bet is, on getting through to the West without being stopped?"
The boys seemed to glow with pride, having their contribution acknowledged, then Art said, "We would be happy to help."
Father Doherty smiled at the pair, then turned to Greg and said, "Do you think you'll feel up to driving until lunch?"
"I was planning on driving the whole day." Greg said honestly.
Father Doherty shook his head and said, "There are enough of us that there's no need for you to do that. I just wanted to be sure that you weren't too tired from driving all that way last night."
"I'll be fine, Father." Greg said with an appreciative smile.
Father Doherty paused for a moment then thought to ask, "Has anyone checked on Ahmid, this morning?"
"I checked on him when I first got up." Father Kinsey answered. "But, honestly, I haven't thought about him since I started making breakfast. Could somebody go check on him, and find out if he is hungry, and if so what he would like for breakfast?" Father Kinsey asked.
"I'll go." Emo offered and headed back to the little sleeping area.
* * * * *
"Ahmid, are you awake?"
The man slowly opened his eyes.
"Ah... to be honest, I really don't know. Everything looks so weird. There's just one of you, right?" Ahmid asked blearily.
"Well, you had a bullet removed, then you had some kind of sedative. You've been sleeping for quite a while." Emo explained. "I can bring you some food if you'll tell me what you would like, and I'll get you whatever you want to drink."
"Thank you, young man. I'm starting to feel more awake, now, and I am feeling hungry. Something smells really good. Is that bacon I smell? God, I love bacon. And I wouldn't mind some eggs."
"I'll be right back with breakfast."
* * * * *
Emo went back to the kitchen and asked Father Kinsey to help him get Ahmid into a sitting position.
Once they had Ahmid sitting up, he seemed to be a bit more coherent. "Thank you... both of you. I am feeling much better. I think I could eat now... and, could I have some coffee?"
"Of course you can. Here, these eggs are scrambled. Since we didn't have any fresh ones, these are powdered ones, but they tasted pretty good. But the bacon's real!" Emo enthused, "What do you want in your coffee?"
"Black will be fine." Ahmid answered, and Emo went to get the coffee.
Father Kinsey smiled. "He's come a long way since he got here. I don't know how Father Doherty does it, but he seems to connect with kids in a way that makes them trust him almost instantly."
"I must say that I am very surprised and pleased to find so many fine people gathered together in one group. I have never encountered so much pure kindness from anyone before, and what I have found since coming to the mission has given me hope... something that I have been sadly lacking for many years, now."
Emo came back carrying a tray with a mug of coffee and a cup of juice. "Here's your coffee. Would you like some orange juice? I brought it, just in case."
Father Kinsey smiled. "I think you should drink the juice, if you can. You haven't had any liquid since we brought you in here, after the bullet came out. You need to rehydrate. Orange juice is better for doing that than coffee is. Since coffee has so much caffeine in it, it will most likely pass right through you."
"Yes, that sounds good. I do like orange juice. I will drink it, but first, I NEED my coffee."
He held the mug in both hands which seemed to get steadier as he sipped the strong black liquid.
"I need to thank that young lady who took out the bullet. I'm afraid I wasn't very brave. In fact, I was scared half to death when she started, but, now that it is over, I feel so much better."
"We'll send her back here to talk to you, after you eat. What else would you like besides the eggs and bacon?" Father Kinsey asked.
"I think I would like some toast... and, could I have some peanut butter on it?
"Of course you can. Emo, do you know how to make toast in the oven? Or would you rather that I do it?"
"I'll go. If you'll tell me how, I'll do it. Sometimes I feel like I'm a waste, so when there is something I CAN do, I'd really like to do it."
* * * * *
After a brief explanation of what to do, Father Kinsey and Ahmid watched as Emo hurried away to make the toast.
After a few minutes, Emo came back with Jingo and the toast.
"Hey, man. You feelin' better? You look better. I w's 'fraid you'us gunna get yurself some o' that Gang green shit."
"Thank you, young lady. I think you might be right. It was getting worse every minute. I don't think I could have taken it for much longer. I must admit that when I saw the knife, I almost lost it. But, when I saw your eyes, I knew you were just going to help me, and from then on, I simply put my trust in you. It means a lot to me that you cared enough to want to help me. Thank you again."
Jingo blushed. "You're welcome... Ahmid. I had my orders... get everyone safely out of danger. To me, that meant doing whatever was necessary to keep everyone alive. I was pretty sure you wouldn't have made it much farther with that damn bullet in you, and nobody else could do it. I'd done the same thing so many times before. I can't even remember how many it was. When you have to survive on the streets of Chicago, you learn how to do what needs doin' and you just fuckin' do it." When she saw Ahmid smile, she grinned. "I'm real glad you're feelin' better."
Ahmid finished his two slices of toast and yawned. "Could someone please help me lay down again. I still feel tired."
Emo took the tray back to the kitchen, then Jingo and Father Kinsey gently slid Ahmid back down onto the bed, covered him with the light blanket, and headed back to the main area of the bus.
* * * * *
Once they were back on the road, Art and Euan took turns on the CB radio and worked as a team to try and find the safest way for them to travel west.
Jim was monitoring the AM broadcast radio band, picking up bits and pieces of information about what had been happening while they were sleeping, which was being broadcast from one of the major 50,000 watt stations in Chicago. Unlike the night before, Jim listened to the radio with headphones so that he could hear it more clearly.
"It looks as though Ashwood has been pretty busy. He voided the election, claiming that he wouldn't surrender power to someone he called a terrorist. He declared Martial Law, closed all the airports, and ordered citizens to stay in their homes. He ordered anyone who is driving to either go home or park their vehicle and find somewhere to stay. It sounds like he's trying to stop people, who may be planning to fight back, from communicating with each other."
A few minutes went by, while Jim listened to the continuing newscast, which repeated a lot of information and occasionally added a few new items.
"They just reported that as of 8:30 eastern, 7:30, here, all communications have been cut, to everywhere outside the US. They said that there's been no explanation as to why that was done."
When Jim finished his announcement, some conversations started up again, with everyone speculating as to what the sitting president had in mind, and the general conclusion was that he was just plain nuts, not to mention power hungry.
"Holy Shit." Jim yelled. "They just said that the Governor of Texas announced that Texas has seceded from the United States, and declared war on Ashwood's Government."
It only took a few minutes before another interruption made him stop and listen.
"The radio station just got word from the new Mayor of Chicago that things are getting kinda messy in Chicago, and apparently protests which are occurring in many other cities are becoming violent, so he is announcing what he would like the citizens to do, in very specific detail."
Euan walked down the aisle and got everyone's attention. "There are some major roadblocks ahead and Big Noise says we need to turn off of the highway at the next dirt road we see, off to our right. It runs through some farmer's land, but it is a clear path and not too badly rutted, and he thinks we can all get through there, and avoid all the cops and soldiers or whatever they are."
"Well, he hasn't steered us wrong yet. I suppose that we should follow his suggestion." Father Doherty said simply.
When they got to the road, it looked pretty ratty, but given the alternative, it did seem to be the best way to go.
* * * * *
They followed the trail which had apparently been made by some harvesting machinery, till they passed the major buildings of the farm or ranch, or whatever they call it. Several people had come out of the various structures and seemed pretty surprised to see some three hundred odd vehicles making their way past them, and back onto the highway.
"Wow! That was quite a ride." Emo gasped, happy to get back on blacktop, and looked at Father Doherty.
"Yeah. Kinda reminded me of one of the coasters at Six Flags." Father Doherty answered.
"Big Noise says we should be good for a hundred miles or so, if we stay on this road." Art told them.
* * * * *
"I can't believe this!" Jim shouted. "They just bombed Kansas City. The Chicago station got the report from some Ham Radio operator, and he said the entire downtown is gone, blown to smithereens, whatever they are. The blast area was something like two miles or more in diameter, and there is major damage to roads and buildings for miles in all directions of the city."
"Do you think we should stop, or even turn back? I mean, it sounds like the people in Chicago are fighting and winning. Maybe we should just go back." Emo asked hesitantly.
"I don't think that would be a very good idea, Emo. We are already pretty far away, now, and it wasn't easy getting this far. If we were to go back, we might actually be killed trying to get past the roadblocks we got through coming this way. Besides, we have a destination now, and at least the hope of a safe place to stay, so I think we should press on." Father Doherty answered, then quietly added, "And I promised your brother that I would bring you to a safe place."
Out of nowhere, Artimus suddenly asked, "Is there any way we could go to St. Louis and check on my family?"
"Well, that would be as bad as trying to go back to Chicago, or maybe worse, since it is totally out of our way, and certainly just as dangerous, in terms of roadblocks and the military. Our chances of making it there are slim to none, I'm afraid." Father Doherty replied, sadly.
"I have an idea." Art answered. "We've been talking to Big Noise, and some other truckers along the way. Maybe we can use the CBs to pass the word along to find your family and let them know where you are and tell them where they need to head, to be safe."
* * * * *
After Art had contacted Big Noise, the call went out with all the information that Artimus had, on his family, including their full names and address. Things slacked off for a little while.
Then Art got the word that Artimus' family was safe and that they were considering getting out, too.
Big Noise said they were told that Artimus was fine and on his way to Kettle Falls, and they were invited to head that way, too.
"Big Noise says he wants to join our convoy." Art announced. "He says he has a truck full of frozen meat, and since Kansas City is not really ready to receive his payload, that he now owns it, and would like to get it to a place where it can feed people, instead of rotting and being thrown in some landfill."
"Tell him he's welcome to join us. We'd be more than glad to have him with us." Father Doherty answered.
* * * * *
"I'm not sure what's coming up, but they just said to stand by for a very important announcement. And they didn't sound one bit happy. I'm going to turn up the radio, so we can all hear it, so I won't have to repeat it." Jim called out suddenly.
He unplugged the headphones he had been using, and turned up the radio.
"This is Chicago's news and information station, WGN Chicago. I'm Angelica Sumner and this is the news. We have been receiving reports, from multiple sources, that Austin, Texas has been attacked, by our own military. Details are sketchy at best, but we have at least three different reports from reliable sources, that missiles were fired from one or more United States military ships which targeted the city of Austin Texas, and that those missiles were loaded with some sort of nerve gas. It is unknown at this time how many people lost their lives, and what, if any, steps have been taken to help those who have survived. We do not know if the Governor and members of the State Legislature survived or were among the large number of fatalities. There has not been any word from Texas state officials thus far."
Father Doherty slumped forward putting his head in his hands. "Dear God." he said, "I never thought anyone could stoop to such a vicious thing as this, to kill uncounted numbers of people in cold blood, solely to further his own agenda and power trip. Lord, please watch over those who survived this needless tragedy, and give them strength to overcome the horror of this day."
Everyone else was silent, except for the occasional sniffles and sobs, as everyone took in the situation, and tried to fathom how anyone could have conceived such a horrible thing.
"Please give us the strength and guidance we will need, to not only survive this day, but to be able to help others in their time of despair and agony. Amen."
Everyone joined in on the Amen.
They had just finished the prayer when Jim cried out again. "No! He couldn't have. He unplugged the headphones again, and everyone heard.
"Reports confirm that Oklahoma City has been bombed. The physical damage is less than that of Kansas City, but early reports are saying that this one is, what is called, a dirty bomb, which in plain language means that there is radiation involved. How much radiation, has not been reported, as yet, but evacuation is in progress, and panic is in full swing."
"That man is totally insane. That's all there is to it. I don't know how he thinks he can get away with killing so many people." Father Kinsey blurted out.
Emo practically blanked out, except for the fact that he clung on to Father Doherty with almost a death grip. "Son, can you loosen your hold on me just a little, I don't seem to have any feeling in my arm, where you are squeezing it." Father Doherty gently asked. Emo came round and looked into the man's eyes.
"I don't understand." Emo whispered. "I just don't understand it at all."
"Neither do I, son." Father Doherty answered just as softly. "The only thing I can tell you, right now, is that I know that you are loved, not only by me and the others here with us, but by your brother, who made sure that you would have a chance to make your way to safety. Try to keep that in mind, that he loves you enough to allow you to get out of harm's way."
"Thank you, Father, I can't tell you how glad I am that my brother found you, and that you have been there for me."
* * * * *
"If no one minds, I'm going to leave the radio playing. I don't want to be the only person hearing these reports."
Jim turned the radio up a bit and they heard the announcer say, "We have just learned that a doctor has given instructions for how to deal with a 'Blister Agent' that has been released in Boulder Colorado."
Everyone was pretty much numb by this point. Art and Euan were both working the CB radio to keep people focused on the task of reaching their destination, but they finally felt that the despair was beginning to overwhelm some of their convoy.
Finally, Art came to a decision and walked back from his place at the front. "Father Doherty, could you please take over the radio and give us some kind of inspirational speech to keep everyone going?"
Although Father Doherty had always said that his calling wasn't to a life of preaching, he did the best he could, under the circumstances, and received thanks from several people over the CB radio.
The station had been fading in and out, but Jim had been able to adjust it to keep it playing. This time, however, the signal faded to nothing and he was left listening to static.
"Maybe it'll come back on in a few minutes." Artimus suggested weakly.
"Or maybe it won't." Jim responded before trying to find another station within range.
Within a few seconds, he happened upon another signal and was surprised to find that it was another radio station, but they were rebroadcasting the news from the Chicago station.
The rebroadcast of WGN began talking about the foreign military fighters showing up in many cities. Chicago was dealing with them swiftly and neatly, but other, more Eastern cities, were falling to the invasion.
They further reported that, upon interrogation, captured foreign fighters revealed that they were supposed to incite riots, then help in securing the general populations of the cities.
There was also a report of a mass exodus to the West, but they said government troops were aware of it and trying to stop the flood, sometimes violently. They then announced exactly where the roadblocks were, so people trying to flee West would hopefully be able to avoid them.
* * * * *
"Hold on! We're getting swamped here with all kinds of new information. It looks like... maybe a nuclear bomb? I don't know. Don't quote me on that. Something big... really big, just happened in California. There's too much coming in right now and no one knows what really happened." A familiar voice said. It was the male broadcaster from the night before.
Everyone sat silently, not knowing what to say as the radio announcer went on to recap the events of the day. The litany of destruction seemed to go on and on as everyone listened in numb horror.
When the recap finished, the announcer seemed to have a little more information.
"There has been a catastrophic earthquake centered in San Francisco, California. The city as we knew it is now completely gone. There is nothing left but burning rubble, as is the case in many of the smaller, surrounding cities. The devastation goes on for many hundreds of miles, in several directions, and there is no way to even estimate the number of casualties." The announcer continued bemoaning the loss of life and property.
"Why do I suspect that someone was able to trigger that quake?" Trav remarked, with no trace of his usual clipped gang speak, which caused Father Franklin to look at him for a moment, to make sure it really was Trav.
* * * * *
'A new town.'
'A new life.'
'A new nightmare...'
The young man walked the unfamiliar street with no particular destination in mind.
The morning was bright and beautiful, but the despair that the man carried with him left him feeling nothing but an empty ache.
For two months he had been giving everything he had, trying to get a job. Every day his hope for the future dimmed just a little more. Every night he would count his diminishing savings and try to come up with any conceivable way that he would be able to have anything resembling a normal life with two strikes already against him.
The previous night it had finally happened. He was now officially broke. He might be able to stretch his few remaining dollars to make more than one meal, but there was no way that he was going to be able to keep his cheap, dirty little motel room.
'Too afraid to live, too scared to die.'
He wasn't afraid of work. He wasn't afraid of risk. But the great dark nothingness that was his future terrified him. He wanted to die. After all this time, he couldn't find any reason to hope.
Those few rare employers who were even willing to accept an application from him became stony and silent the moment that they saw his disgrace, the black mark on his soul, the felony.
He had thought that nothing in his life would ever be worse than the two years that he spent in prison.
He was a small man; not particularly effeminate, but shorter than average height and naturally thin.
What had been done to him during those two years haunted every moment of his life.
The rape of his body was almost a footnote. It was the systematic destruction of his soul that he didn't think could ever be healed.
The physical actions were just to reinforce the humiliation and degradation that were heaped upon him day after day.
But throughout the torture, he had hope.
There was a light at the end of the tunnel.
He endured everything for the promise that someday he would be free.
Now he was free... and destitute.
He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned.
There was a filthy, unshaven man, sitting on the sidewalk, with a cardboard sign and holding out a cup, begging passersby for their spare change.
'Tomorrow, that's me.'
As he watched, a group of four men, walking along the sidewalk, approached the man.
Three of the four ignored the vagrant, but the largest of them stopped to fish in his pockets, then deposited his spare change into the homeless man's cup.
A lump formed in his throat as tears welled in his eyes.
'This is my future.'
Not thinking, he changed his direction and followed the four men at a distance, keeping his focus on the large man.
He didn't really have a reason to follow them, but by the same token, he didn't have a reason not to.
One of the men must have said something funny, because the group stopped and erupted into good natured laughter.
As he watched, it seemed so strange, so unfamiliar. The laughter was carefree and joyous. There was no malice. No sarcasm. No joy in someone else's pain.
He wanted that. He wanted to feel that. He wanted to be a part of it.
Suddenly, without warning, the ground began to shift under his feet as a rumbling sound filled his ears.
Fighting for balance, he ran for the doorway of the nearest building. That's what he'd always been told, 'In an earthquake, stand in a doorway'.
The sound of screeching tires, honking horns and breaking glass began to accompany the rumbling as it increased.
A sudden bright flash of pain erupted in his head...
* * * * *
"We need to get him to a hospital."
"For fuck's sake, Danny! Look around! EVERYBODY needs to get to a hospital!"
It took a moment for his addled mind to register the fact that someone was holding him.
With effort, he cracked open one eye to try and make sense of what was happening.
"He's waking up!" A low voice said very near to him.
"Hey, buddy. Are you alright?" A young man asked as he knelt down.
Alright? Not for a very long time... if ever.
"Can you hear me? Do you speak English?" The young man asked in a concerned voice, free of the demanding or condescending tone that usually accompanied that question when people noticed his Puerto Rican features.
He wasn't up to talking just yet, but he was able to manage a slight nod.
Unfortunately, when he moved his head, the pain was so intense that he nearly blacked out again.
"Listen. We've got to get out of here. If there's an aftershock, this whole building could come down."
Bracing himself for the pain, he gave as much of a nod as he was able, to show that he understood.
"Can you walk?"
That was a good question.
His thoughts were so jumbled at the moment, that he didn't actually have an answer.
"I'll carry him." The man who was holding him said in a low voice.
Suddenly, he remembered following the four men down the sidewalk. The man who was holding him was the large man who had stopped to give the homeless man his spare change.
The sensation of being lifted broke him out of his thoughts.
"Hurry, this place is a death trap." The smallest of the four men said as he urged the others to follow.
"It's okay. I'll take good care of you." The large man whispered to him.
He turned his head slightly to look at the man and was shocked. His facial features left no doubt; the man had Down's Syndrome.
"What's your name?" The man asked softly.
"Apollo." He said with effort.
"I'm Jarritt." The man said gently, not exhibiting the slightest effort from carrying a full grown man in his arms.
"Thank you for taking care of me, Jarritt." Apollo said as he rested his head on Jarritt's shoulder and closed his eyes.
"Figures. No cell service." One of the men said from ahead of them. Apollo didn't bother to open his eyes again, but listened carefully.
"I wouldn't bet on landlines either."
"The whole fucking hotel's caved in!"
"What the fuck are we gonna do now?"
"Let's see if we can get to the car. If we can, then we can head back to San Diego."
"I bet they're going to close the roads until they can check to see if the earthquake caused any damage."
"Well, I'm open to other suggestions."
"Let's check first to see if the car survived. Once we know that, we can make plans from there."
"Jarritt, how's your friend?"
"He's fine. I think he's asleep. His name's Paul-o." Jarritt said cheerily.
"Do you need any help carrying him?"
"No. He's not heavy at all."
* * * * *
Apollo realized that at some point he must have actually fallen asleep.
It wasn't until he felt his weight being shifted that his eyes automatically opened.
"Sorry. I didn't want to wake you up, but we're here." Jarritt said softly.
Apollo noticed that Jarritt had placed him in the rear seat of an SUV.
"It's better than nothing, but not by much." One of the men grumbled.
"Well, it looks to me like our choices are to stay here, or to start driving... does anyone have any other ideas?"
"No. Stay or go are about our only options."
"What about you, Paul-o? Do you need for us to take you anywhere?"
Apollo shook his head slightly, still very aware of the ache in his head.
"Do you live in Anaheim?"
Apollo shook his head again.
"Look. Gerry and Myron live in San Diego, so that's where we're trying to go. If you don't want to go with us, you'd better tell us right now."
Apollo thought for a moment. These people didn't know him, and if they did, they probably wouldn't want anything to do with him. But, it felt so good to be included, to be treated like he was... normal. Not like something tainted and tarnished beyond redemption.
"If you go with us, I'll take care of you." Jarritt said softly, so that only Apollo could hear.
Apollo looked at Jarritt and saw the honest concern that the young man had for him.
"Okay." Apollo whispered and gave Jarritt a brief smile.
"He said that he'll go." Jarritt announced to his friends happily.
Apollo could see that the other three were a little bit surprised by the announcement, but none of them did more than shrug before climbing into the SUV.
* * * * *
Jarritt's large framed body took up most of the back seat, but that suited Apollo just fine.
His much smaller body seemed to fit just right, in the remaining space, and being so close to Jarritt was like being surrounded, protected, almost... loved.
"Son-of-a-bitch!" Gerry screamed then made a sudden right turn.
"What's up?" Danny asked with concern.
"Motherfucking road's closed. We're never gonna get out of this fucking town!" Gerry screamed.
"If we keep driving around like this, all we're going to accomplish is running out of gas, then where will we be?" Myron asked reasonably.
"What do you want me to do?" Gerry asked in obvious frustration.
"Let's stop for a few minutes and calm down, then maybe we can come up with some ideas of what else we can do." Myron said calmly.
"I'm sorry I'm being such a bitch. You know I love you, right?" Gerry asked in a much softer voice.
"I know. And I don't even mind you being a bitch when the situation calls for it. Just, right now, it's not helping." Myron said with a smile.
Apollo looked around where they had stopped.
It was a really nice neighborhood.
He had only been in a neighborhood like it once before.
As he sat in the SUV, the memory flooded over him. Sitting in the car, waiting on his 'friends' to finish getting their things... or so he had stupidly believed.
Looking back, it was so obvious that they were going to rob the house, but the thought had never crossed Apollo's mind. He just believed whatever his 'friends' told him. Of course, when the police showed up, he was counted amongst them, no better, no worse.
And what had his willful ignorance gotten him? Two years in a federal prison as an accomplice to 'breaking and entering' and burglary.
As he stared off, replaying distant memories in his mind's eye, movement outside the car caught his attention.
"Y'all see that?" Apollo asked suddenly as he pointed.
Everyone looked at him, then turned in unison to follow his pointing finger.
"That ain't right. Them punks don't belong in a neighborhood like this, and they're about to be startin' some shit!" Apollo said firmly.
It took a second for his words to register, but when they did, all the guys opened their doors to pursue the thugs that were walking up to one of the houses.
As Apollo tried to get up, Jarritt pushed him back down and said, "You're hurt. You stay here and we'll take care of it."
"I'm not staying in the car. Not this time." Apollo said firmly.
Jarritt seemed to be uncertain, but finally said, "Okay, but stay with me. If anyone tries to hurt you, I'll stop them."
Apollo had to fight down his welling tears as he exited the car behind Jarritt.
Although it sounded like a tired cliche, those actually were some of the sweetest words that anyone had ever said to him.
The sound of breaking glass caused all five of them to start running toward the house.
"What do you want? Get back!" A woman screamed from inside.
Danny was the first inside. As soon as he spotted one of the thugs, he kicked into 'football mode' and performed one of the most spirited tackles of his life.
Myron and Gerry were next. Although neither of the men seemed to be exceptionally big, both obviously knew how to fight.
Jarritt and Apollo brought up the rear.
There was one man left and Jarritt went right for him.
"Check on them. Make sure they're not hurt." Jarritt said to Apollo as he grabbed the man by the throat and started to lift him off the floor.
"Are you alright? Did they hurt you?" Apollo asked as he hurried to the older man and woman, cowering against the far wall.
"What do you want from us?" The woman asked in a trembling voice.
"Nothing. We saw these guys breaking into your house so we came up here to help you." Apollo said in a soothing tone.
Apollo heard a sickening ::SMACK:: and glanced over his shoulder to see Jarritt releasing his opponent into a heap on the floor. From the look of it, the man had a broken nose, cheekbone, jaw... basically, his face was broken.
"You're not going to hurt us?" The woman asked in a more steady voice.
"No. We were just driving by and saw these guys, who looked like they were up to no good." Apollo said gently.
"Thank you." The woman said before breaking down into relieved tears.
"Mother! Fucker! Stay! Down!" Gerry screamed, accenting each word with another punch to his opponent's face.
"FREEZE!" A loud, commanding voice called, exactly the same as you hear it in just about every police show.
Apollo immediately raised his hands above his head and froze in position.
The others were slower to react, but finally did stop moving.
"Lana, Kurt, are you alright?" A voice asked from behind Apollo.
When the man walked around him, Apollo was surprised to see that instead of a police officer, it was a man in an impeccable suit.
"Yes. Thanks to these young men, we are." The woman, Lana, said with nervous relief.
The man turned to look at Apollo for a moment, then said, "You can put your hands down."
Apollo slowly lowered his hands, but kept cautious watch on the man.
The man turned and said to his men, "Get this trash out of here."
Apollo flinched at the harsh tone of his voice and expected to feel rough hands dragging him away at any moment. Instead, a large hand gently cupped his shoulder and a low, gentle voice whispered, "Are you okay?"
Apollo turned to see Jarritt looking at him with worry.
"No one got near me. I'm fine." Apollo said with a smile that showed just how grateful he was for Jarritt's concern.
"Mr. and Mrs. Reed, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but it isn't safe for you here anymore." The man in the suit said to the older couple gravely.
"We just need to fix the window on the door and everything will be fine." Lana said as she clutched her husband at her side.
"No, Ma'am, it won't be. I don't even need to interrogate these guys to know that this wasn't a random home invasion. You were specifically targeted. Just because this attempt failed doesn't mean that you're out of danger."
"We knew it might come to this." Kurt said gently to his wife.
"Do we have time to pack a few things?" Lana asked as a tear slid down her cheek.
"Yes. Of course. Jack, will you help Mrs. Reed gather some things?"
"I can do it myself." Lana answered in a frustrated tone.
"Ma'am, please try to understand, you are a target. Their goal will be to capture and/or KILL you. Someone will need to be with you at all times."
"So are we going to have to live as prisoners from now on?" Lana asked between sobs.
"No. We just need to be extra careful until we can get you to a secure location. Then you'll be able to live normally." The man said compassionately.
"Sir, we've got a problem." Another man in a suit said as he approached.
"They didn't hurt you, did they?" Jarritt asked Kurt and Lana with concern.
"No, honey. Thanks to you and your friends, they didn't hurt us at all." Lana said as she smiled for his benefit.
"You're nice... Like my mom... I miss her." Jarritt said softly and it appeared to Apollo that he was about to cry.
"Oh, you poor, brave boy." Lana said as she stepped away from her husband enough to hug Jarritt.
Apollo was about to step out of the way but was too slow.
Then he realized that being caught in a loving embrace wasn't a bad thing. It was completely foreign to him, but he couldn't deny that it was the sort of thing that he would very much like to get used to.
"I'm sorry that you miss your mother. Has she passed?" Lana asked gently as she released her hug.
"She died. Danny says that God put her in this world to do a bunch of things, and that when she was done, He took her to heaven where she could be with my dad and wouldn't miss him anymore." Jarritt said bravely as he fought back his tears.
"That's right." Danny said as he walked to Jarritt's side. "She got to see you grow up to be big and strong, and she knew that you'd be alright when she had to go."
"I still miss her." Jarritt muttered as he fought desperately to keep from crying.
"It's okay to miss her, Jarritt. Crying is just telling her how you feel." Myron said as he approached.
"Your mom was the best. If anyone deserves to be honored with tears, it's her." Gerry said as he walked up to Myron and put an arm around him.
"Excuse me, but we need to be moving. Our position may already be compromised." The leader said as he approached again.
"Yes. Then get your man to go with me. I still need to get our things." Lana said as she tried to compose herself after the emotional scene.
"I'll go with you." Another of the men said and gestured for her to lead the way.
"You guys should be going. If word gets out about what happened here, there could be a price on your heads." The leader said seriously as he looked at the gathering of young men.
"Sure. If you can tell us a way to get away from here, you'll never have to see us again. The only reason we stopped here in this neighborhood is to try and figure out what to do next. We've been having trouble finding roads that are clear so that we can get back to San Diego." Danny said frankly.
"From what I've heard about the earthquake damage, San Diego probably isn't going to be accessible for quite some time. But even if you could get through, there are reports of riots and fighting in the streets there. Your best bet would probably be somewhere closer and more rural." The man said cautiously.
"Do you know anyone we could stay with around here, Ger?" Danny asked hopefully.
"I've got some friends that moved to San Francisco about a year ago. I know we could stay with them. But I can't think of anyone anywhere around here." Gerry said slowly.
"Oh. You haven't heard." The man said darkly.
"Heard what?" Danny and Myron asked in unison.
"The epicenter of the quake was in San Francisco."
"How bad is it?" Danny whispered, fearing the answer.
The man shook his head slightly, then said, "It's too soon to know any details. All we know is that it's really bad."
"Then I don't know..." Danny said quietly as he looked at his friends with a lost expression.
"You're coming with us." Kurt said simply.
"I don't think that's such a good idea." The leader said cautiously.
"Steven, I appreciate the position that you're in and I don't want to cause you any trouble. I didn't fight you when you told us that we couldn't go see our daughter and our grandson who were..." Kurt looked at the younger men in the room, then continued, "...injured. You said it would put them at risk if we went to them, so we stayed here like the good little kids you think we are. But this is different. These boys saw what was happening, charged in here and saved our lives, and you said yourself that they might be targeted because of it. I'll make this really simple for you, so you don't have to waste your breath arguing. They are coming with us. Now make it happen! Do I make myself clear?"
Steven held Kurt's gaze for a moment, then finally said, "Yes, sir. Allow me a moment to make some arrangements."
Everyone watched as Steven keyed a small microphone on his lapel and started speaking in a low voice as he stepped away.
"I'm sorry about that, boys. I know I should have asked, but I really do get the sense that we're running out of time." Kurt said apologetically.
"That's fine. Jarritt and I are on vacation here, so we don't have any special place that we need to be." Danny said honestly.
"Myron and I have jobs, but if San Diego is a war zone... well, I think they'll understand." Gerry said simply.
"What about you, Paul-o? Do you want to come with us?" Jarritt asked gently.
Apollo only just realized that he was still being held by Jarritt. The feeling was so comfortable and seemed so natural that he hadn't even noticed.
Before Apollo could formulate an answer to Jarritt's question, Steven rushed back into the room and called out, "Bug out! We're moving!"
"What's wrong?" Kurt asked in panic.
"No time! Everyone, get in the cars! NOW!" Steven said as he took firm hold of Kurt's arm and guided him toward the door.
As they rushed out the front door, they saw three black vans further up the street approaching quickly.
"Hurry!" Steven said as he urged Kurt toward the first of the two silver/gray hummers.
"Kurt!" Lana called out as she was nearly being carried by two of the men in suits.
Apollo felt himself being lifted off the ground and carried as Jarritt muttered, "I'll keep you safe."
* * * * *
Just as Jarritt ducked inside the open car door, Apollo heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots.
"Move! Move!" Steven screamed before slamming the car door and running away.
Apollo pulled loose from Jarritt's arms enough to look out the back window in time to see Steven jump into the hummer that was behind them.
Lana was trembling and crying in Kurt's arms.
"Are you okay, buddy?" Danny asked Jarritt quietly.
"Yeah. And Paul-o's okay, too. I kept him safe." Jarritt said proudly.
"You did real good, Jarritt." Danny said with a warm smile.
"What about Gerry and Myron? Are they going to be alright?" Jarritt asked with concern.
"Yeah. I saw them get into the other car. They're fine." Danny said in, what seemed to be, a relaxed voice.
"Folks! You might want to put your seat belts on!" The driver called out as he raced down the quiet residential street.
Before Apollo could react, he was being scooted off Jarritt's lap and into the seat next to him.
"Thank you for helping me." Apollo said with a smile, then was surprised when Jarritt reached around him and put the seatbelt on him.
"I could have done that." Apollo said quietly.
"Sometimes, when I'm hurt or scared or just feeling really bad, Danny will do stuff for me. It feels nice to know that someone wants to help you. It makes you feel better." Jarritt explained seriously.
"Yeah. It does." Apollo agreed.
"Hang in there. We're getting reinforcements any minute now, then we'll be able to shake these guys." The driver called out anxiously.
Apollo sat forward to look around Jarritt, and quietly asked, "How are you doing, Mr. and Mrs. Reed?"
"Oh, we're fine. This is just a little more excitement than we're used to." Lana said as she tried to compose herself.
"And please, call us Lana and Kurt. After what you and your friends have done today, you've certainly earned the right." Kurt said in a warm tone, but kept the majority of his attention out the window.
"That's it! We're clear!" The driver called out in triumph.
Apollo turned to look behind them and saw three hummers, the silver/gray one from the house before, and two black ones.
"Do you know where we're going?" Kurt asked the driver cautiously.
"Yes. We've been given directions to an open parking area not too far from here. Some helicopters are going to meet us there." The driver said seriously.
"Where will we be going from there?" Kurt asked slowly.
"I don't know. Honestly, no one may know yet. With all the chaos that's happened today.. Listen, the people calling the shots have a lot better view of the big picture. We need to trust them to find the best and safest way to get you to someplace safe, wherever that may be."
"Maybe, rather than taking the mystery helicopter ride, it would be best if Jarritt and I started heading back toward Orlando." Danny said cautiously.
"I don't think you'd be much better off." Kurt said frankly.
"Why's that? As we go East, there should be less and less Earthquake damage." Danny said cautiously.
"Last night, everything East of the Mississippi went dark." Kurt said quietly.
"Yeah. I heard about that, but surely, they've got the power back up by now." Danny said thoughtfully.
"No, they don't. And don't call me Shirley." Kurt finished with a smile.
"So, I'll just rent a car and drive us there." Danny said as he fought down a grin at the terrible, old joke.
"How much do you know about what happened today?" Kurt asked curiously.
"You mean about the earthquake? Only what I saw when it was happening and what that Steven guy told us." Danny said with a shrug.
"No, son. The earthquake was only the most recent tragedy. Kansas City, Austin, Oklahoma City and God only knows where else have been attacked today. If you and your friends decide to go off on your own, of course, we won't stop you. But please think about it carefully. You've got a chance to go someplace safe. Right this minute there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people, who would do anything to get what you're being offered." Kurt said seriously.
After a moment to think about all that he had just been told, Danny finally said, "Please don't think that I'm ungrateful, but I'm not just deciding for myself. It's really important for me to make the right decision here."
"Take the time to think it through." Kurt encouraged.
"How can I know that where we're going is really going to be a safer place than we're leaving?" Danny asked cautiously.
"I think that, at this point, all we can do is trust that these security professionals know what they're talking about." Kurt said honestly.
Danny thought for a moment, then hesitantly asked, "Who are you? Why is it so important that you be protected and taken to someplace safe?"
Kurt looked at his wife for a long moment with question.
When she slightly nodded at him, he quietly said, "Because, two days ago, my son-in-law, Jack, was elected to be the next President of the United States."
* * * * *
Sammy and the other kids were sharing the Xbox and enjoying one of the racing games when Sammy dropped the controller. His eyes lost focus and he just sat there, completely motionless. The other kids saw Sammy's expression and knew that something was definitely wrong, or soon would be.
He looked around for a brief moment, then jumped to his feet. He was just starting to move across the room when everything around them began to shake. Max, the boy that General Adams had saved from the Salt Lake City mall, had been standing near the back of the room just watching what was going on, still a bit nervous about joining in, now looked frightened, as Sammy ran at him.
"MOVE!" Sammy said, but Max just stood there with a scared look on his face as things all around the room started to shake and fall. Sammy lowered his shoulder, and slammed into the older boy. Max let out a loud 'OOPH' as he was thrown backwards. He hit the ground, and rolled back to his feet just as he had learned on the streets. Before being thrown from his feet again by the shaking of the room, he noticed a large crate fall off a top shelf. It came crashing down at the very place where he had been standing, just a moment ago. Unfortunately for Sammy, he wasn't able to move out of the way quick enough after pushing Max away.
The shaking continued for an eternity, or so it seemed. All around the room, things came crashing down, and kids were screaming. It sounded like a freight train was running on its tracks right next to them. Max couldn't even hear himself as he was screaming.
He was flat on the floor, his arms covering the back of his head, trying not to get hurt as things from all over the room were raining down. He felt something hard and heavy fall on his back, and it knocked the breath from him. He must have blacked out for a moment, because when he opened his eyes next, the room was still, again. He could hear some of the other kids crying, and others moaning in pain.
The door to the room flew open and Eric made his way in. He had to scramble to get around all the scattered debris that had dropped off shelving and onto the floor. Some of the kids were scraped and scratched, but both Sammy and Max were hurt more severely. Max must have hit his head as he fell, and Sammy was just coming back from being unconscious.
Eric's training kicked in, after the shock of seeing all the kids hurt had registered. He looked at Max first, since he was closest, and looked to be conscious. Apparently whatever had fallen on him had only hit him with a glancing blow and had fallen to the side.
"What happened, Uncle Eric?" Max groaned. At any other time, Eric would have been delighted that this boy, who he'd known less than a day, was already calling him uncle, but at the moment, Eric could only think of one thing; his boys were hurt.
Eric was wild-eyed, but his training forced him to stay calm as he kept the boy from moving while he checked him over. Once he was sure that the boy's worst injuries were cuts and scrapes, he helped the boy to his feet, then moved over towards Sammy.
"It was Sammy that saved me. He pushed me out of the way. I was so scared from all the shaking, I couldn't move." Max was actively crying now, as he tried to climb over the debris to where Sammy lay. "Sammy shoved me just in time, or that thing would have fallen right on my head. Look! It actually cracked the floor."
"Don't touch him!" Eric said as he climbed over to get to Sammy. Brian, one of Sammy's brothers, had just gotten to the boy's side, and was reaching out toward him, when he stopped at Eric's words. He looked up at his father with tears in his eyes as he dropped his hand, just as Eric got to his side.
"Is he..." The boy sobbed, while Eric knelt down beside Sammy, and gently touched his back.
Eric looked over at Brian and shook his head. "No. He's alive... he's breathing." Eric heard Brian let out a sob of relief, as he started to gently feel Sammy's back, looking for injuries. He almost jumped when he heard the boy beneath him let out a moan of pain.
"It's okay, Sammy, Papa's here. Don't try to move." Eric said softly. Fate chose that moment to make everything shake again. The kids started to scream, as Eric threw himself over top of Sammy. He had just gotten his arms in place, when he felt something hit him on the back. Whatever it was though, wasn't heavy enough to force him to the ground, possibly crushing Sammy more, but it was enough to make him grunt in pain.
Once the shaking stopped again, Eric pushed himself up and off Sammy, then looked around. Now, there was debris piled in front of the door to the room. He looked around to make sure all the kids were safe, and sent a silent 'thank you God' when he saw everyone struggling to get back to their feet. "Boys! I need you to move everything away from the door. We need to get out of here before something else happens!"
Max and the Trinity immediately moved as quick as they could toward the door. Brian stayed on his knees next to Sammy and Eric. "Sammy, can you hear me?" Eric asked gently.
Sammy moaned softly, but did move his head to look up at Eric, tear streaks marked his dirty cheeks. "Don't move too much. Where do you hurt?"
"My... My arm." Sammy said in a soft sob.
Eric looked; Sammy's right arm was next to Eric's knees, and appeared fine. Eric looked on Sammy's left side, but his left arm was hidden underneath the boy. "Okay, Sammy, do you hurt anywhere else? Your back, your neck, anything like that?"
"No... Just my arm... and my head." Eric looked, and could see the boy had a good-sized gash on his forehead, matting his hair. Eric nodded to himself, then backed up a little bit. "Okay, here's what we're gonna do." He looked up and caught Brian's eyes. "I need your help, Brian, okay?"
The boy nodded, and wiped the tears away from his eyes. When Eric looked again, he saw the strength there that he always saw. This boy was a survivor, and knew how to handle bad things. "We need to roll him towards me." Eric said as he reached across and put his hands on Sammy's side and hip. "As soon as you see his arm, I need you to grab it and hold it as still as you can. If it's broken, any movement will hurt him a lot. Can you do that?"
Brian nodded as he took a deep breath. When he was ready, Eric looked down at Sammy. "Okay, Sammy, we're gonna roll you. I know it's gonna hurt, but we need to do it. Are you ready?"
Sammy nodded, and set his jaw. As soon as Eric knew the boy was ready, he gently, but quickly rolled the boy onto his back. Sammy couldn't help it. As soon as Brian grabbed his arm, and he rolled, he screamed in pain. It didn't take a doctor to see that Sammy's arm was indeed broken. Probably in multiple places. Thankfully, nothing had broken through the skin, but his forearm was swollen, and bruising quickly. There was also a bruise forming on his upper arm, almost right in the middle.
Eric cursed silently to himself as he looked around. "Brian, do not let his arm move." Brian nodded, and Eric looked back down at Sammy. He noticed the boy's eyes were closed, but not closed tight. He'd blacked out again, probably from the pain. That would make his job a bit easier, he thought.
He looked around, and saw that the boys had cleared most of the junk from in front of the door, and had it open. Outside, he could hear people screaming, and other people running past the door, going in both directions. They were only on the second level down, so it wouldn't be too hard to get out, as long as nothing caved in.
"Max!" Eric commanded, and the boy's eyes instantly shot towards his. "I need you to find me two straight boards, or something like that. I need to splint Sammy's arm before we try and move him." Max's eyes were darting around the room before Eric had even finished speaking.
After a brief moment, Max started to scramble over the fallen debris toward the far side of the room, where they kept the Xbox and its games. Eric immediately saw what the boy was after, and nodded to himself. The wooden shelving would work perfectly. It only took Max a moment to break a few of the small boards, and bring them over to Eric.
As soon as Max reached Eric, and handed over the boards, Eric shot him a smile in thanks. Before Eric could say anything else though, Max tore off his shirt, and started to rip it into strips. His eyes met Eric's and he smiled. "Done this before. It's amazing what you pick up on the streets."
Eric just nodded, and then gently moved Sammy's arm to straighten it out. He cringed when he heard the bones crunch, but thankfully still nothing had pierced the skin. He took a moment and secured the boards around Sammy's arm, with the torn strips from Max's shirt. Once he was sure everything was as firm as he could make it, he tore off his own shirt, and ripped it into strips as well. Then he lifted Sammy up slightly to allow Brian and Max to use those strips to secure his arm to his body. Eric was going to have to carry Sammy out, and he didn't want that arm to move at all, if possible.
Once he was satisfied, as much as he could be, he picked Sammy up in his arms, and started to move toward the door. "Make a path for us, guys... we need to get outside now!"
The other boys ran out into the hallway, and stopped traffic as Eric came out of the room moving as fast as he could. "We gotta take the stairs!" Max called out. "The elevator's not working. I just heard one of the soldiers say that." The Trinity nodded as one, and the three brothers ran toward the stairs, Eric hot on their heels, leaving Brian, Scotty, and Max to bring up the rear.
It took them almost ten minutes to make it outside. However, what Eric saw out there didn't make him feel much better. There had been over three hundred people in the bunker, and from the looks of it, almost half of them were out here. Many of them injured. "I NEED A MEDIC!" Eric hollered loud enough to be heard over everyone else.
"SIR!" He heard someone shout. "Over here!" Eric looked and saw a man in a uniform waving him over. Eric nodded and ran over to where the man was. He saw the red cross on the man's arm. "Lay him down."
Eric laid Sammy down on the ground next to another man, an older soldier who was moaning in pain. It only took a look from Eric to know what was wrong; the man's hip and left leg were at a weird angle from his body. The medic looked at the cut on Sammy's head, and poured some saline from a bottle over it, to clean the cut. He made sure it was clean before he ripped open a gauze pad and put it on Sammy's head. He looked up at Max who was standing right behind Eric. "Son, can you hold this there, and put a little pressure on it. I don't think it needs stitches, but we need to try and stop the bleeding." Before the man could even finish his instructions, Max was on his knees and holding the gauze pad.
The medic nodded and smiled. Eric caught how tired he was. He spent a moment checking Sammy over, then sighed as he sat back on his knees. "You did as good a job as anything else right now. Until we can get him to a hospital, I don't want to do anything more."
Eric sighed and nodded, stood up and started looking around, looking for Mike. He hadn't spotted him when he heard the medic speak up. "Sir. Do you think you can help me?"
"What do you need?" Eric asked as he looked back down. The medic was now looking over the man that was here before Sammy was. "This man's hip is out of its socket. I can't find anything else wrong with him, but it's causing him a great deal of pain. Do you think you could help hold his hips, while I attempt put the hip back in place."
Eric looked around one last time before he nodded and knelt down next to the man. He had seen this done before, but had never been a part of it. He put his hands on the man's hips, and held tight. The medic stood up, and took the man's leg, ignoring the man's cry of pain. The medic nodded once to Eric, who pushed down as hard as he could on the man's hip, while the medic pulled the leg up and over. The man's scream couldn't drown out the scrape of bone on bone, then the 'pop' as the hip was forced back into place. The man's scream stopped abruptly, and Eric looked down to see the man had passed out. It was probably for the best.
"Thank you." The medic said as he stood up. Eric did the same, and again looked around. The medic's voice brought him back to the present.
"Sir, as soon as I can get some medication, I am going to give your boy some, just enough to keep him out till we can get him to a hospital. I know you want to stay here, but we really need someone directing the people out here. If you could try and get everyone that is able to walk, to head over toward that clearing, it will help us figure out who needs to be treated right now, and who can wait. I just heard that we got a whole lot of help coming in, even from Canada, but it will be at least ten minutes before anything can get here. If we can have some semblance of order out here, it will make things a lot easier. I know you're not really in the service anymore, but I know you still know how to give orders." The man smiled, which allowed Eric to relax.
"Okay." He gave the medic a small smile, then turned toward the boys. "Okay, guys, I am going to need your help here. You with me?"
"Uhh.. do you know where Dad is?" Scotty asked as he hung onto Brian.
"Not yet, but I'm sure he's fine. He'll meet up with us as soon as he can." Eric said, as he pulled both boys close to him. The other boys quickly joined in, all except Max who was still holding the bandage to Sammy's head. He did join in though once the medic put a piece of tape over it and said it was ok to go. Eric was hoping that his own doubts didn't betray the confidence he tried to put into his voice.
* * * * *
It was close to two hours after the earthquake had hit - yes they had confirmed it was an earthquake - and not an attack like they had first thought it might have been. Eric had quickly jumped in, and started to help out the military officers. Even though most of the bunker's population had been civilian, there was still a sizeable military contingent. The one thing the military did well was organize.
While Eric was no longer active duty military; his former rank, as well as his position as Mike's husband, was well known and well respected. He quickly found himself doing most of the directing, and ordering people on what and how to set up the relief efforts.
He was thankful when, less than twenty minutes after the earthquake had hit, several fighter aircraft flew overhead. He was quickly told that Canada had sent down a squadron of fighters to set up a one hundred mile, no fly zone over the area.
Only a few minutes after that, the first helicopter landed, bringing much-needed medical supplies, as well as transporting patients that could not wait. Due to how many people were injured all over the country, there were not many spare supplies, but what could be was dropped off.
The thing that worried Eric and his sons the most was that Mike had yet to emerge from the damaged bunker. Eric had heard from others that Mike would not come out until everyone else was out. Eric also knew that Mike was injured in some way, but didn't know how. That bit of information he kept from the boys.
The boys had been just as busy as everyone else. At the moment they were running 'gopher' errands for some of the medics. 'Go for this, and go for that.' It was something that kept them busy, and really made them feel needed.
Eric was starting to get worried about Mike, but was told over and over that, although Mike had been injured, he refused to leave the bunker till everyone else was out. Eric had to smile, even though he wanted to kill Mike. That was just like the man that he loved, 'never leave a fallen comrade behind... ever.' That was something that Mike had drilled into his men while he had been the head of a special forces unit. He was damned proud of his man, even if he did want to tear a strip off of him for staying down there.
Eric had moved over to the tent that had been put up, and looked down at Sammy who was lying on one of the cots. The doctors there had made the decision to sedate as many people as they could until they could be moved to get treatment. In Sammy's case, the boy's only real injury was his arm, but that would take a surgeon to fix. Since his injury wasn't life threatening, the decision was made to keep him sedated, and thus out of pain.
Eric stood there looking down at their oldest son, and fought back the urge to cry. Sammy had been through so much pain and suffering in his short life, and here he was, once again, hurt. Although, once again, it was because Sammy had taken the pain for someone else. That strength and dedication to family was an inspiration for Eric, and something that made him love the boy even more. He hadn't been a part of the family for all that long, but he quickly won the hearts of everyone.
"He looks so peaceful, doesn't he?" A voice said, from next to Eric, causing him to jump and spin around. Mike was standing there with a small smile on his face, and Eric couldn't help but throw his arms around the man he loved.
"Easy..." Mike grunted softly, although he returned the hug as much as he could. Eric jumped back, and looked Mike over.
"You look like shit." He managed through his tears of relief. The remains of Mike's suit coat were tattered and ripped, while also stained with dirt and blood. He had a bandage tied tightly around his leg, one around his upper right arm, another bandage wrapped around his head, and his left arm was in a sling. "Are you okay?"
Mike sighed and nodded. "Nothing that a few stitches won't heal." Eric looked at him critically before Mike sighed again. "I'll probably need an X-ray on my shoulder. A medic was able to put it back into place after I dislocated it, but, other than being sore, it's working fine."
Less than a minute later, they both turned when they heard the cries of "DADDY!" Even though the boys were trying to be careful, Eric could still see the pain on his face as the boys all tried to hug their daddy. They all needed the same thing, to be able to touch and hold their daddy to know he was alright.
"It's okay, guys, I'm fine." They all pulled back and looked at him through tear-filled eyes. "Really, guys, I know it looks bad, but I'm really gonna be okay." Mike looked up and saw Max hanging back a bit, even though he looked just as worried. Mike held up his good arm to him, and the boy didn't need any other encouragement. Soon he was in his own hug, and soaking up the love that Mike had for him.
As soon as Max broke from the hug, General Richard Adams, the man that helped save Max from the situation he was in at the mall, came over, and also pulled Mike into a hug, although a much gentler one. "I'm glad you're doing okay, Mike." He said, his own voice thick with emotion.
No sooner had they split apart, than two more helicopters came rumbling in. Everyone in their little group knew those helicopters. Mike looked over at Eric with a question, who simply shrugged.
To Be Continued...
All right, you notice I didn't say editor's notes. You see, there were three of us writing this chapter, and I just finished going through it, picking out a few things that needed fixing. However, it is never a good idea to edit your own words, because when you read your own writing, you see what you intended to say, and not necessarily what you actually wrote. Therefore, this chapter will need to be edited by at least one more person, and it would be better if it were looked at by two people.
Now, down to the nitty gritty. Sammy sure did a good deed. Too bad he couldn't have managed to get out of the way of the debris himself. However, knowing Sammy as well as I do, I know he wouldn't have done anything differently even if he had known he would be hurt, himself.
Well, let's hope people get out of that area safe and sound. I'm a bit worried about Mike. He doesn't tend to let people know if he has something wrong with him. He likes to tough it out, so I hope he will let the medics take care of him properly.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher