Somehow or other we did manage to sleep, at least until the rain started which was after what should have been lunch time. When we woke up Jeff and I did our business and then I tried to get Daniel cleaned up without letting him get too chilled from the rain. He was already sounding congested and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. He’d done the same thing a couple of times before because he wouldn’t keep his coat or shoes on. We all watched him as much as we could but sometimes he would sneak out in the middle of the night and sit on the porch roof. That’s when Dad nailed his bedroom window shut even though it was a fire hazard.
“Jeff, how long do you think it is going to take us to get home?”
He was trying to help me get some water down Daniel. Daniel wasn’t fighting us but he wasn’t helping either. I could tell my brother was in there somewhere but he had buried himself deep and didn’t seem interested in coming out any time soon.
“I think we can make it tonight, before morning anyway. If it was just you and me I know we could with no problems but with Daniel …,” he trailed off. “Dacey, has he ever been this … this bad?”
“No. Not ever. And I think he is getting sick … I mean like sick sick, not sick in the head sick. Hear the pops and wheezes when he breathes in and out?”
“Yeah, I do. And that’s not good Dacey. If … look, I’d find us a place out of the rain but I don’t think that is such a good idea. We need to get some decent food into Daniel, some soup or something like that. I ain’t kidding when I say I could use some better food than I’ve been eating too. You aren’t much better off no matter that you haven’t complained. We also need to find some place to keep Daniel so that he feels safe and will come out of … of whatever this is. The only place of I know to do that is the cave and … I just want us to find our hole and crawl in for a while, give me time to think. It is just a matter of time before they send trucks out into the woods.”
Jeff was older than me but he wasn’t an adult any more than I was. I knew he was doing the best he could but he seemed so sad and even a little scared underneath the guy stuff he had going on. I thought to maybe lighten his load a little. “If we can get to the cave we’ll be good and hid for a while. Dad set it up for the end of the world and this is doggone close to it I guess. I haven’t even really thought about … you know … missing them and stuff yet. But I wouldn’t worry too much about them sending their trucks after us.”
Jeff started eating another morel and nodded. “Yeah, probably … actually might depend on who won last night. The Blue Hats had superior numbers at the camp and decent firepower, but a lot of their people seemed to be civilians. Those Chinese dudes … they didn’t have as many as far as I could tell, but they had the same firepower. The big thing is they looked to be a trained force and if they came from the southern border they would have also had battle experience. Some of those UN people seemed like they were scared of the woods … they acted like they’d gotten some kind of terrible disease just ‘cause they got a few little chiggers.”
“I don’t mean that … though now that you mention it some of them women on our side were nothing but big scaredy cats and jumped at nothing all the time. What I meant was that we don’t have to worry about their trucks or the buses.”
Jeff stopped chewing in mid-bite and gave me a look. “This wouldn’t happen to be about what you didn’t tell me last night would it?”
I shrugged, “Yeah, sorta.”
“Sorta?” he asked suspicious.
Then I did a little song and dance trying to keep from getting the lecture I knew was coming. “Well, like you say you’re feeling … I couldn’t just sit around doing nothing. I read about stuff like this in social studies and saw it on the History Channel. They were trying to indoctornate us. It was like a cult or something. So, to keep from being brain washed I decided to fight back. One night I snuck out and put a lot of clay and gravel in all of the fuel tanks out in the parking area. I killed the engines so they had to stop bringing more kids.”
Jeff’s jaw got real stiff and he squished the mushroom he was holding in his fist. His eyes kinda got buggy too. After he managed to swallow what was left in his mouth without breaking his teeth he looked at me and said real careful, “One, it’s ‘indoctrinate’ not ‘indoctornate’ and you know it so don’t pull that little girl crap with me. Use that dumb girl act on someone stupid enough to fall for it. Two, you better be glad Daniel is right here or I swear I’d blister your backside better than Uncle John ever did. Three, a little bit of dirt and rock in the fuel tank ain’t gonna ruin no engine.”
Getting mad because he wasn’t recognizing just how good a thing I did I told him, “One, I’ll call it anything I want to. Two, you and what army? And three, it wasn’t just a little bit of dirt and gravel, it was a lot of it.”
He started breathing through his nose like Mr. Norris’ cranky bull. It took him three tries before he could say anything back and he was still chewing on the words as they left his mouth. “Dacey … you … you … Now you listen here girl. Uncle John would want me to look after you and I’ll do it but you are going to by God have to listen to me ‘cause … ‘cause I don’t … I ain’t never …” He stopped again. “Look here, you can’t go around taking chances like that. Not ever again.”
I threw my chin out still mad at him. “Don’t try and tell me what to do. You’re the one that wants to run off.”
“We aren’t going that direction. You’ll just get me all turned around and inside out trying to throw me off the scent. We’re talking about the chance you took. I’m not saying … well, OK … I’ll admit that I might have done something like that when I was your age but you didn’t kill the engines Dacey. Anybody with a little bit of sense could drop the fuel tank and dump out the dirt and gravel. You probably ruined the fuel filter and might have even gummed up the injectors. Might have tore up a few of the diesels maybe … but only maybe … assuming anything made it passed the filter. It would knock and ping and cut out since the filter was clogged but that’s about it unless something happened to mess with the fuel pump too.”
Not ready to believe I wasn’t the heroine I thought I was I asked, “It works in the movies and stuff. If I had sugar or salt I would have used that.”
He just rolled his eyes. “Didn’t Uncle John tell you to stop watching them wild movies you like so much? You can’t honestly think everything you see is real. Remember what he told you: Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”
“Ok Mr. Know-it-all then why did the cars and buses stay parked? Why did they stop bringing kids in?”
“No more room at the inn.”
“We were all full up. There wasn’t room for any more kids, at least on our side of camp, I don’t know about yours. The little boys were stacked like cord wood. Jackson … one of his grandmother’s was Turkish so he’s heard it since he was little … said he overheard a couple of guards saying that they were waiting on another fuel delivery, or maybe running low on fuel, something like that.”
Severely disappointed I said, “Oh.” But then I brightened and said, “But the other stuff worked.”
Jeff started choking on the next mushroom he’d started eating. “What other stuff?!”
“Oh relax, it was a lot easier than spending all that time messing around in the parking lot.”
“Oh for criminey sake … I stuffed up the plumbing to the commandant’s quarters , let some animals do their business in the staff food lockers, and then another time I poisoned a bunch of people.”
None of it went over very well and by the time Jeff was done he’d ripped a pretty good strip of flesh off my pride. I wanted to bash him a good one and was as mad as he was … only he had to stop because he couldn’t keep a straight face.
“You really put rotten meat in the staff’s food?”
“Yeah,” I said angry that he was treating me like a little kid. “I told you I did. The only bad part was when we all got locked in our cabins.”
“That was you?”
“I told you …,” but then I had to stop because he fell over sideways trying not to make any noise while he laughed.
“All … all the … all the guards had … had the trots for … two days. And that’s when they weren’t puking so hard it was … it was coming out their noses!!” He was nearly eating his hat trying not to howl.
Guys, I swear, they find the weirdest things funny. Either way we were back to square with each other. I still got the “Dacey, don’t do stuff like that anymore” talk but that I could live with.
Afraid to ask but knowing I had to, “What happened to all the little kids? I didn’t even think about them ‘til just now when you said something.”
“Some of the kids from the highschool were rounding them up.”
“How do you know?” I asked, worried he was telling me a story just to make me feel better.
“Most of the little kids had older brothers or sisters. I’d run over to find you and saw the little girls being hustled into the woods. I know the same thing is bound to have happened to the little boys as a couple of my bunkmates said that’s what they planned to do if they got the chance.”
“You aren’t just making it up?” I asked still worried that he was.
He looked at me real close, “I make it a policy not to lie anymore than I can help it Dacey. It is too easy to get caught out. My dad taught me that at least.” When I just kept looking at him he said, “I’m telling you what I’m pretty sure happened beyond that I don’t know. I hope no one hung around Nature’s Classroom too long. If I was out looking for kids in this area that’s one of the first places I would go. Now stop teasing yourself over it. It is what it is. I can’t look after everyone else. I’ve got enough on my plate doing for you two.”
Talk died down after that and we just sat trying to dodge most of the rain by staying under the tree. The bugs were starting to bite and the sun was going down before Jeff said it was time to get going. “Dacey, does Daniel sound any better to you?”
“He doesn’t sound any worse.”
“You think we’ll get very far with him like this?”
I looked at Daniel. He was walking on his own … mostly … it just didn’t look like anyone was home behind his eyes.
“I don’t know Jeff. I’ve never seen him like this. I won’t leave him behind if that’s what you’re wondering.”
He got an awful look on his face. “Do you honestly think I’d do that to the kid?”
I felt bad as soon as I saw how hurt he was. “No. I’m sorry. It’s just …”
He shrugged me off but I could tell he was still a little bent despite his words. “Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t have lit into you like that. I’ll carry him if I have to but I’d rather not. The scabs aren’t healed up all the way on my back.”
Then I felt really bad. I hadn’t thought a thing about him getting hurt back when they raided the farm. He must have seen my face. “Like I said Dacey, don’t worry about it. I’ll carry him if I have to, I’d just rather not. It will slow us down even more.”
We started walking. Uphill. Downhill. Through mud and forest muck. Over and through streams that wet us up to our knees when we couldn’t find a better way to cross. I started out holding Daniel’s hand and then had to grab him around the waist. I was scared he was going to wander away from us in the dark and we’d never find him. Finally Jeff said, “It’s no use Dacey, I’m going to have to carry him. He’s falling down tired.”
We tried getting Daniel to hold on but he was limp as a wet noodle so Jeff wound up having to carry him just about like a sack of potatoes. That really slowed us down. We had to stop about every fifteen minutes. Jeff’s face was getting grayer and grayer and I didn’t think it was a reflection of the moonlight.
We finally came to the barbwire fence that marked the edge of the BLM land. I tore my pants helping to get Daniel over but right as the sky was turning pinkish we got to the edge of the clearing where the sink was.
“You stay here with Daniel. I’ll make sure nothing has been touched.”
Jeff finally came back but not before I just about didn’t throw up from being so scared. “Looks OK but it’s going to be worse getting him down into the cave than it was getting over that fence.”
“I know but I think if you go down first and I slide him down to you …”
“No. That’ll leave you out in the open.”
“Jeff, if Daniel falls I won’t be able to catch him before he rolls down to the bottom. The ledge isn’t very big. I might go over with him.”
“Fine.” But I could tell Jeff wasn’t happy. “If you hear anything you lay flat and still and try and hide in the tall grass.”
It actually wasn’t as bad as we worried it was going to be. Daniel must have been awake enough to recognize where we were at and he actually skinnied down the handholds nearly on his own. But that’s the last thing he did on his own.
I nearly came out of my skin as I was going down and came face to face with one of the hens from the coop. She wasn’t impressed with me at all and nearly pooped on my hand and would have if I hadn’t read the signs.
Jeff who’d seen me jump pulled me down onto the ledge and asked, “What’s wrong? Did you hear something?”
“No. Just a crazy biddy startled me is all. I don’t know if the hens have started laying yet, the ones at the house hadn’t. Let’s get Daniel inside and if you clean him up I’ll see what Momma has …,” I stopped, suddenly upset and wanting to cry.
“Dacey, don’t … not yet. Can you hold off for a little longer?”
I nodded and wiped my eyes on a clean patch on my sleeve. Jeff worked the combination on the door and we both grabbed Daniel and got him inside. It was dark as the inside of a pig’s belly and I heard Jeff grunt as he ran into something before he found the switch that turned the lights on.
Only a few of them came on and they were dim. I tried to see what was wrong but Jeff said, “I only turned on the one set and have them on dim; hopefully that will save batteries. Let’s take care of Daniel …”
“You take care of Daniel. I’ll start some soup.”
“Can you get the stove started by yourself?”
“Are you kidding? You know how many times I had to practice doing that before … before … Dad would let up?”
As Jeff all but carried Daniel to the bathroom I grabbed the rechargeable flashlight and went towards the old wood stove that Dad had brought into the cave one piece at a time. The stove pipe went out a dug tunnel where it came out in the woodlot. There were washable filters in several places that caught most of the soot and smell but we’d still need to be cautious of sparks and things like that.
Once I got a fire going in the grate I put a big pot of water on and then grabbed a quarter of chicken soup from the pantry that I dumped into a big saucepan. I threw in some alphabet shaped noodles because Daniel liked them better than other noodles which he said felt like worms on his tongue.
Jeff propped a much cleaner Daniel in a kitchen chair and sat down beside him. I fed them both as much as they would eat; Daniel not much, Jeff could have eaten everything and then some himself but he stopped short and made me eat some too.
“I’m not really hungry. My appetite kinda died and I haven’t felt it for a while.”
“Yeah, some of the other kids were like that. You still need to eat so you don’t get sick.”
“You don’t look good. Does your back hurt?”
“Yeah some, he rubbed a couple of the scabs off.”
“There ought to be something in the first aid supplies …”
“Found it already. I showered while I was cleaning Daniel up; it was the only way to do it.”
We were sitting there half asleep when Daniel slid out of his chair. “Oh Daniel. Jeff, help me get him to the beds. I’ll sleep in there and you can have my room.”
“Naw, I’ve been sharing a room with Little Man here so long I wouldn’t know what to do with a room to myself. Besides, you’re a girl.”
“OK, fine. But what about the chickens and … and checking on the house and stuff like that?”
“The chickens have been doing fine on their own for a while. It doesn’t look like anything got to them anyway. And I’m not up for … for the other stuff, not yet. Let’s just get some sleep first.”
“You promise not to go off without me knowing?”
“I promise. Now come on before Daniel hits the floor again.”