Authors: Laura Franklin
We then dove into breakfast as the sun climbed up and warmed us. The day was still clear as a bell. At the first garden we passed I gathered up an arm full of lettuce and squeezed as much of the milk out as I could. I told Ed I’d like him to try to drink it. He shrugged, couldn’t hurt. What a trooper. He knocked it down and just made a face. Then we soaked some of the milk on new bandages and wrapped the wound. I don’t believe he said a word or ask a question. That’s Ed.
I was worried because his arm looked red and swollen, almost like the day it was shot – and it had been quite a few days now. No improvement that I could see, and I felt that meant that soon infection was going to set in. With a wound so high on the arm – I figured that would mean death if we didn’t run into a doctor along the way. I sighed, no use talking about it. I would just have to hope the lettuce milk would work. I kept walking on.
Nothing else for it but to keep moving forward.
Ed had lived in Vermont all his life and he figured we were near Middlebury, which was about ½ way to Burlington. Good, I thought, about 5 more days to go and we could stay in place and start making some long term plans. We got under way and no more was said about wounds or superpowers for a while.
Middlebury looked like a fairy tale gone bad. The streets and sidewalks were wide with lots of big trees in orange and yellow and a few still green. The trees were old and grand with branches that stretched to cover the sidewalks in sweet shade. The houses were big and Victorian, all painted well and like gingerbread homes, with greens, purples, creams and yellows. The colors were enchanting. The buildings were lovely. The dead bodies were putrid.
This was not like other small towns we had wandered through. Those places had people who had gotten sick, headed to their couches or beds or whatever and then faded away. This place was a horror story. We found the normal dead bodies, but it seemed that the survivors here had been hunted down. There were bullet holes in the bodies that were stretched out in the road, or flopped over stalled cars. Some were half-way inside their doorways – shot in the back. Most gross of all, as we made our way to the village green (a park in the middle of town) we saw people hanging from the trees.
Doug had set the village green as a meeting place, but he and the other bike drivers were on the hill just above the park, looking down. He must have recognized us and then turned to keep staring at the corpses swinging in the wind.
“Shit.” Mick laid his hand on Doug’s shoulder.
“You got that right.”
“You’ve been here a little, any idea what happened?”
Doug’s face was white. He didn’t respond right away.
“Mick, forgive me for feeling disgusted by your killing those people before.”
“I didn’t let on, but I thought you over-reacted. You had to of. Just shooting people right in the street. But I knew you were basically a good guy and you were on our side. So I didn’t say anything. I was just going to keep my distance and keep my eye on you.”
As if to emphasize the error of Doug’s way, the wind changed direction and swirled a sick-sweet-rotting smell around us. We all gasped and then sighed as the wind settled back down. Doug hung his head.
“When we hit town, we knew something wasn’t right, well; not like the other towns, right. This whole thing is not right.
“I felt weird and knew I couldn’t hear over our engine noise. So I had us all shut the bikes down. They must have heard our bikes. Of course they could, there is no other real noise in the world any more. Thank god, just two of them. They looked like preppies, totally clean shaven and dressed well even now. But they were cackling, like hyenas. Really.
“I hadn’t even seen the people they hung here. But I saw the bullets in the back of some already and all the other people. I saw the guns in their hands.” He gave out a sob.
“Oh Mick. Mick. If you hadn’t spent our rest time teaching us about guns.” He paused, shook his head hard. “We would have been hanging in those trees. I told our ‘gang’ to get off their bikes and get their guns out without letting the guys ahead see. I called out to them like we were friendly – trying to offer them food to go away. I knew it was useless, but they thought we were helpless. I was just buying time. I pulled out the loaded gun myself. It was going to be 6 against two, but we could still be killed. It was obvious they had experience. But maybe not with anyone who was fighting back on their terms.
“We opened fire when they were laughing at me and bringing up their guns. The sound. I lost my hearing for at least 30 minutes after. It was like I was hearing underwater. I think they got off a shot or two. They didn’t even hit one of us. We were so amped we just wasted them. I couldn’t stand it, I had us all digging a grave in the closest yard. Dumped them in and covered them up. I was numb. I still don’t feel guilty, just numb. They were just young college students. Just so young.
“I pushed us all on, literally – pushing our bikes and heading to the village green. We had to be able to see and hear. Ha, we couldn’t really hear anything. Anyway, it seemed the safest in case there were more of them. Then we saw the bodies hanging. They had to have been up there for days.”
Doug handed something to Mick.
“They were college students?”
“Yes,” was all Doug could say.
Everyone jumped as Ed spoke up, “Spoiled brats. Most expensive college in the 50 states. Pampered punks went crazy.”
Mick shrugged. “We can’t rest here. All’s been quiet so far?”
Doug nodded. “For just under two hours now.”
“Then get on your bikes and head up Rt 7 until you are out of town and set up a camp in some nice shady meadow. We’ll give our horses a workout and gallop out of here – to meet you as soon as we can. We can talk this over when we’re all drinking some coffee or something. Move On Out!”
Mick knew he needed to get them all away from the sight, smell and memory of this place. They would still remember it, but they would do better if they didn’t stick around.
No one had the heart to start talking once they were all around the camp fire. It was early afternoon, they could still get in another good hop forward. No one had the energy for it. I had been quiet the whole time, watching Mick supporting Doug and the others. I knew what they were going through. I had just been there only days ago when I to face these feelings after watching Mick shoot those other people.
“Guys, you know how we were talking about those enhanced abilities this morning?”
Glum nods all around.
“Well, I was thinking when it happened. Thinking about my college courses. So I’m going to say that I am now super smart.” I said it with a laugh in my voice, trying lighten things up; but I also had a purpose.
“My super smart powers are telling me first off that we can’t afford more than today to feel guilty and mope about this. Second off, there is a deeper meaning to all of this, one that is not bad.”
“God says murder is a sin.” Doug was clutching his mug so hard his fingers were white.
“So I hear. But so is suicide, and just standing there not fighting back feels like suicide to me.” I shrugged. I guess I was not quite ready to be of help yet. “I have so much rolling around in my head about this, but I don’t have the words yet. Give me time to get it all in place?”
“Ok, well you guys can feel bad for everyone in town tonight. Maybe say some silent prayers. But I am going to look around some of these old farm houses and fix us all a feast for dinner tonight. We are going to celebrate Halfway There Day. A one-time special holiday.”
Off I went.
I pulled off a Thanksgiving type feast, using a gas oven and stove and some frozen turkey breast, instant mashed potatoes and a stocked farm pantry. Bless those farmers and people with deep freezers that held their cold! It did pick up everyone’s spirits that night.
“Here’s your Thanksgiving girl.”
I turned quickly, it wasn’t often that Ed spoke up. Mostly he just answered questions.
“My arm is better after just one day.” He pulled his shirt down his arm to expose the upper part. Sure enough, there was no red left. In fact, it looked like a wound from months ago, not days ago. “All the swelling was down when I woke up. All the ugly mess was gone when I just checked it tonight. Was the lettuce radioactive?”
“No. No…” I let my words trail off as I thought. “I wonder if
are the ones healing faster? That would finally be one nice thing about this whole AB crap.”
Sue leaned into Ed, in obvious agreement. Then we wondered off to the spots where we were going to settle down for the night.
On purpose, I put my rose crystal right next to my head as I prepared for sleep that night.
Mick saw what I was doing.
“Are you trying to control what you dream?”
“Damn right. This is crazy stuff we are having to deal with. If we have some sort of guiding spirit thingie, then it better reach out and give me something to help all of us with.” I had flipped my hands around in anger as I was talking. Mick caught them and held them together in front of him. He was looking deep into my eyes. No judgment in his look. I loved those deep brown eyes.
“OK. Just don’t be disappointed if you don’t get what you need.”
“I actually think that is a good idea, so I’m going to copy off you and find some granite to sleep on.”
I smiled a thank you at him.
~ ~ ~
I was warming my hands over a bonfire. Watching the flames jump, a bright orange against the black night. My face was getting so hot I could barely stand it and my rear was pretty cold. I turned to heat up my backside. I was now staring off into pure blackness as my eyes were adjusting from the fire to the rest of the world. A few tranquil seconds passed, then I saw a small glowing point in the darkness. It was like the bad guy/Saturn dream, yet this one had no guilt, only a warm feeling of hope. As the glow grew, I could see a figure moving toward me under the glow. He materialized into a handsome priest in typical, if old-fashioned, brown robe get-up. Behind him was a group of shadowy people, they were not taking form as solidly as the priest. Just as he was close enough for me to reach out and touch him. He blinked off, like turning off a TV.
Shit. I didn’t get to ask him anything.
Then I heard jangling and horse hooves. I snapped my head around, ready to fight if some gang was sneaking up on us. Weird. I must not have woken up. I was now standing on a wide dirt road watching a few horse-drawn carriages go by. My right hand gave a strange jerk as I almost dropped what it was holding. I gaped. Really gaped with an open mouth. I was holding a fluffy white parasol. I was in a lacy cream and yellow colored full-length dress. Even on Halloween I would not be caught dead in such a frew-frew costume. But it was not a costume. Everyone was dressed like it was 1900 or something. Hats, long coats, nothing but hands and faces open to the sun.
“Miss Jolene, are you OK?”
I turned slowly to look into Mick’s brown eyes. No. It was an older man with dark hair and grey temples, not Mick’s sandy-blonde head. But this guy had a little scruff on his face, like the first time I saw Mick. It
Mick, but it was also a stranger to me.
“Miss Jolene, what’s wrong?”
“Who, who are you?”
“What? You’re serious. I’m Matt Etulio, I’m your father’s trustee. I take care of all your finances. We’ve been friends for years now, since your father passed.”
“You must have gotten too much sun, come along inside and I’ll get you some water.”
I jumped as a Model-T huffed along in front of me.
“Ha! Those things do take some getting used to, don’t they?” laughed Mick – um – Matt.
Then BAM, the TV was shut off again. I woke up groggy this time, like most people when they wake up suddenly from a dream. But the dreams didn’t fade as I helped with breakfast. I was getting a little tired of camp-cooked bacon and potatoes. No eggs as any in the houses would be spoiled by now. My mind was on pancakes when Mick came up.
“So – I think I got what we were trying for, and some weirdness thrown in. How ‘bout you?” He leaned in to give me a morning kiss.
“I got a priest and entourage coming to help us.”