Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter Thirty

A horrific cacophony of rumbling and screeching wakes everyone at what turns out to be one in the morning. Every window in the house rattles hard in their frames. Johnnie immediately wakes shrieking and the other four kids run to their parents’ bedroom scared as well. Scott and Sissy throw on some clothes and go outside about the same time as other people in the neighborhood are pouring into the street. Just NNW of their street there is an orange glow in the sky. The fire lights the night just enough to see there is also black smoke billowing up.

"Explosion you think?"

"There ain’t nothing over there that could explode like that."

"And what was all that racket before the explosion?"

"Train derailment."

"Train derailment?! You think?"

"That’s the direction of where the tracks cross from the west side of US41 to the east."

"There’s a gas station over there too."

"But its been closed for months now."

"Who’s for walking up the road to see what it is?"

"But there’s the curfew, and you know how strict they are about that!"

"Curfew hell. If that fire’s gonna come this way I wanna know before its knockin’ on my door."

About then Barry limps up. "Whoa there. No body better go up there yet. Ain’t you got ears? Listen. That’s automatic weapons fire. You men better get your families hunkered down. Fire might not be the only thing thinking of paying a visit tonight." Then sirens are added to the load of confusing sounds.

Barry pulls Scott aside and whispers, "If you want my guess someone’s done tried to hijack one of those trains. You know the rumors, they’re carrying everything from food to fuel to gold to vaccine. I bet some knucklehead decided to copycat that incident up in St. Louis. The gangs around here are getting bold enough that they could have gotten stupid."

"It could be anything. Whatever it is, everyone needs to get off the street. Damn, there goes Vince. He’s heading up the street," replies Scott.

"Let him go. Some people would rather satisfy their curiosity than use their common sense. He ain’t done nothing but live off his grandparents since he showed up back in October. Doesn’t lift a hand to help them and they gotta be in their 70s. All he does is complain and talk about his big plans that he’s had to put on hold. Guy is a craphead, nobody’s loss if he gets himself shot."

"Man, Barry, that’s harsh. I thought I was the only one around here with that low an opinion of humanity," returns Scott.

As the two men head back towards their homes Barry continues, "Yeah, I’m in good company I guess. I don’t know what your excuse is, but I had to get that way after one of my own boys turned out to be a craphead. Trying to get him out and keep him out of trouble with the law . . . no matter what we did or how much money my first wife and I spent he would just turn around and cuss us for ruining his life and do what he had been doing before. It bankrupted us financially and was one of the biggest factors in our divorce. That boy of mine is – crap, maybe was as I don’t know whether he is dead or alive - just selfish through and through and Vince is just like him."

Another explosion rocks the night followed by more gunfire and the two men flinched and ducked.

Barry hurriedly says, "I ain’t getting home any faster knocking my gums. Look, if things do get bad . . . you are further up the street than I am. If you think you gotta bug out, fall back to my house. We’ll figure it out from there."

"Thanks. If anything comes your direction first, you all head to our place."

"Done. See ya."

Scott, having seen Sissy return to their kids as soon as Barry had pointed out the gunfire, reaches home to find his wife in full General mode. Sissy has already marshaled James and Rose into installing the plywood and reinforcing braces on the few windows they have been leaving uncovered. Sarah and Bekah are moving bedding into Scott and Sissy’s bedroom.

"Hon, can you help finish covering the windows? Then move those book cases in front of the French doors like we talked about? Girls, when you are done with the bedding, I want you to say in there and keep your little brother calm. I’m going to move some of our bug-out boxes into the bedroom. Rose, James, I want you two to roll the piano in front of the front door and lock the wheels."

Scott just lets her go to it. He knows this is her way of staying calm. Since early on they have gotten and kept their property pretty secure. Even if nothing comes of this night, he figures this is a good reminder of why they do it and an even better practice exercise. But he has a feeling this isn’t just a drill. As soon as the kids are secured in their parents’ bedroom, Scott douses the lantern and asks the kids to leave their flashlights off. Suddenly there is the sound of several large vehicles rumbling down the road to stop in front of their house.

"Remain indoors. Repeat, lay low and remain in doors. Hostile gunfire in the vicinity. Remain low and indoors," suddenly blares into the night from a loud speaker, followed by another small burst of gunfire. Scott, peaking through a spy hole he built into the window coverings, sees that the voice is coming from a National Guard vehicle that holds several soldiers with automatic rifles.

"Why aren’t they at the end of the road? Why are the all the way back here?" Sissy asks quietly.

"They might be establishing a perimeter or something like that. I don’t know. Barry said to come to his place if things get bad, but to be honest, I don’t want to drag the kids out and through this. I don’t know what it will come down to. Just be prepared. When was the last time you checked the bug out bags?"

"The other day when I was rotating some of my instant mixes. They are packed and ready to go. We’ll just need to grab water. The kids also have a backpack of food and supplies and ready to go and then they have a satchel of their personal treasures to throw over their shoulders. I even fixed a bag for Johnnie to carry with a little canteen. Oh God, I pray it doesn’t come down to us leaving this house," Sissy says nervously.

"I don’t want to either. But you never know. Go and try and get the kids to at least lay down, even if they can’t sleep. They will probably need the rest later on. Especially James. He’s been acting jumpy again. I think Tom’s boy may have set him off again with all his paranoia and anxiety about how things might go wrong."

As Sissy turned to go they hear, "Halt! Keep your hands where I can see them!"

"Wait man! I live here, down the street with my grandparents! Point that gun some place else man! Don’t shoot!"

"Step into the light! Prepare to show your identification!"

Scott says, "That idiot. That’s Vince Johnson. He doesn’t have I.D. to prove he’s living with his grandparents."

As they watch, Vince is cuffed with a nylon restraint and loaded into the back of a transport holding at least a dozen other people restrained in the same way. You can tell, even from a distance, that he is not happy with his treatment or current circumstances at all.

A sudden disturbance from out back sends them to the windows with peep holes on that side of the house, just in time to see a couple of uniformed officers wrestle a large man to the ground and put nylon restraints around his wrists and legs. A woman suddenly steps out of the darkest back corner of the yard and begins topoint what looks like a gun at the officers.

Without thinking about it Scott rips down the cover off of the window and screams, "Down!! Woman with a gun behind you!!!" The cops drop just as the woman pulls the trigger. Another cop is on top of her in seconds.

"Oh . . . my . . . God. Was that Barry Jr.?!" Sissy whispers in a shocked voice.

"Yeah. It looked like him."

The uniforms take their prisoners out the side gate while one quickly give a thumbs-up in thanks.

The sporadic gunfire continues nearly ‘til dawn. The kids finally fall into an exhausted sleep. Scott and Sissy lean against each other as the last of their adrenaline drains away. The National Guard truck full of prisoners pulls away Vince still among them. A mixed team of guardsmen and local law enforcement officers go door to door checking for any collateral injuries.

As the sun clears the horizon, Scott and Sissy cautiously go outside to survey the damage. After a quick look around they think their only damage is a gate swinging on one hinge and a couple of sections of downed fencing. That is until they got around to the west side of their house; the side that faces the grove.

"I can’t believe we didn’t hear that." Scott says while staring at the damage.

They just look, not truly believing what they are seeing. From the front corner of their house to the back, running in two more or less parallel lines, are small pock marks. One line runs just below the windows in the concrete block. The other runs above the windows and into the fascia that sides the gable end of the house. Sissy shakes while she tries to take deep breaths to keep hold of herself. Scott just stands looking, getting angrier the longer he looks.

"It has to have happened right before that scuffle in the back yard. Or . . . I don’t know. . . there was so much noise and confusion."

"That’s our bedroom wall. The kids were in there. I left the kids in there alone," Sissy says as she finally loses the fight to keep her tears in.

Scott wraps his arms around her and rests his chin on her head until she calms down. Finally finding her anger, Sissy grinds out, "We wanted to protect the kids from being hungry, so we prepped food. We wanted to protect the kids from being thirsty, so we prepped water and figured a way to get more when that ran out. We wanted to protect the kids from being sick so we developed an SIP plan and prepped medicines. We wanted to keep the kids safe so we prepped extra security measures and got to know our neighbors. But how the bloody blue blazes are we supposed to protect them from something like this?!!!"

Just as Scott opens his mouth on a pithy comment, Barry and Barry Jr. come through the side gate. "Well, son of a . . . Holy …. Mother F… Damn!" Barry stutters but finally just shakes his head. "Sorry Sissy, but my Gawd. I’m assuming no one got hurt or you all would be making more noise. But man, I’m fired up I’m here to tell you, just seeing this!"

As Sissy sputters a tearful laugh at Barry’s antics, Barry Jr. walks over and shakes Scott’s hand. After receiving an affirmative reply to his question about whether every one was OK he says, "The other guy with me, Bill Nelson, said to send his thanks with mine for the warning. I told Dad what you did back here."

"You’re welcome. You would have done the same had our positions been reversed. So what was this all about anyway?" Scott asks.

"You know how understaffed we are. Since the big sickness its even worse. We’re also dealing with fuel shortages and broken equipment. We’ve had to severely cut way back on our patrols. From what we’ve pieced together thus far is that at some point after dark, someone or a group of someones sabotaged the tracks right there were the train switches from one side to the other. Witnesses said that when the train derailed, a couple of cars slid into that propane store which is what started the explosions. It’s a mess up there. The Lutz Volunteer Fire Department and a couple of other stations in the area are using heavy construction equipment to contain the blazes that are mostly on the west side of US41. We’re lucky there wasn’t anything but residuals in any of the holding tanks."

"So the big racket was the train derailment and initial explosion. But what was with everything else?"

"Its still under investigation but it looks like a group of people – presumably the same ones that sabotaged the tracks – were intent on looting the train after it was stopped. My guess is the plan started getting out of control when they got a bigger accident than intended. Bill was the one to call it in. He had been on his way home after a two week shift, and was just a half-mile north of the tracks when the train derailed."

"Unreal. Did anyone ever say what was on the train that they wanted so bad?"

"Some of those we arrested said they’d been told it was food. Others said money."

"What was on the train?"

"The only thing I’ve seen is machine parts. Bill said he talked to one of the security guys from the train who said it was mostly carrying tractors and spare parts on their way to the ag fields south of here. Y’all are lucky you have a concrete block house. Several houses between here and the tracks are frame and they took a beating."

Sissy asks, "Oh no. Who and how many injuries?"

"The only fatalities so far as I’ve heard were on the bad guys’ side, and most of them are from the initial derailment when one of the train cars slid into where a group of them were hiding. We’ve got two officers with minor injuries, 12 combatants with injuries, and 6 civilians with injuries. One of them, Mr. D next door, has a crease in his head where a bullet went through his wall. He’s refusing to go to the hospital. All the civilians are refusing to go to the hospital."

"Can’t say I blame them," Barry puts in.

Scott says, "Yeah. Truthfully, given all the gunfire we heard last night I would have expected more injuries."

"No lights," Barry Jr. says.


"No electric lights. No one could see what they were shooting at. That’s how we were able to take most of them down. We didn’t bother wasting ammo. We just followed their muzzle flashes."

"Where did civilians get that kind of fire power?"

"That’s one of the things that’s being investigated. That was some heavy crap that’s for sure. They seemed to have everything but the kitchen sink and a rocket launcher. I gotta get back to the station, just wanted to check in and say thanks."

After the men shook hands and parted, Scott says that he is going to walk across the grove and make sure Mr. D’s house is secure. Afterwards he is going to go up in the attic and see what kind of damage they have. That will probably take most of the day. They agree to let the kids sleep for as long as they want. In the morning, after everyone has a full night’s sleep, he’ll mix up some concrete patch and repair the pockmarks in the block work.

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