February 24th – I’m dreading tomorrow. Just dreading it. I don’t know how ready I am for this. There’s a church service and it is going to be a community wide memorial service. So many dead, especially now that there has been time to check all of the homes along the river.
Tuesday was a beautiful day to end so tragically for so many of us. Us. What a word. So many “us”’s have been torn apart.
Rand, Austin, and I were enjoying the day by sitting on the porch letting a lunch of fried rice and egg rolls settle. I had cut the first bunch of bok choy just that morning and couldn’t wait to use it. Suddenly Rand cocked his head which told me I needed to focus on some sounds beyond Austin talking about Woofer’s latest adventure. I had to hold my hand up to quiet him so I could hear what had caught Rand’s attention.
It was gun shots. Not an unusual sound with so many people having to feed their family by hunting; however, it was the pattern and frequency that was unusual … and the fact that we were hearing it from at least two different directions.
Rand ran inside and turned the radio on that Bill had gotten for him with shares from the stuff I had taken to the last swap meet. He tuned it checking some of the frequencies that he knew Henderson’s men used and brought it out to the porch. As soon as he heard what was going on we began to put the animals in the barn and go into lock down.
“Babe, I want you and Austin to stay in the house. Take Woofer in with you. Fraidy is in the loft so don’t worry about her. I’m going to get in the hunting blind I built up in that old oak. I don’t want you to come out for any reason … I mean it, for no reason.”
No, I was not happy but what he was doing made the most sense and it was a plan we had discussed several different times. Before we locked ourselves in we agreed that today was a good as day as any to show Austin the dormer room and that’s what I spent the next little while doing and explaining that this was something else, just like the pantry and storage space in the barn, that was ours to know about and no one else’s. Austin is a good kid. The last few days have been very trying on all of us but not because he has given us any trouble. Rand said that Austin said as bad as things have been he still feels safer with us than he has since his step-brother had given him to the blue helmets.
The day was nerve wracking. Rand came back to the house a couple of times and then we locked down for the night. By morning it was all over and we never saw even a single shot on our road. But it didn’t take a bullet to wound our spirits.
Rand hadn’t really slept during the night. I tried to stay up with him but I just couldn’t; my body refused to obey. We were up for good about three thirty in the morning and he was packed and ready to hit the road when dawn was still just a hope on the horizon. Hatchet was saddled and the animals taken care of earlier than usual. I was standing outside watching him lead hatchet around the screen when we heard another horse coming at a full run; a crazy thing given how dark it was.
Rand nearly shot but the rider was small and leaning over the neck of the animal barely able to hang on. Rand got the animal under control just in time to keep Tommy from being thrown. He slid down to the ground in a heap. Between sobs we made out, “We need help. You gotta come, you just gotta. They’re all … “
Rand picked him up and carried him to the porch and then into the house, into the kitchen. In the light of the lamp we saw it; the blood. None of it was his but by the time we got the bare bones of the story we still didn’t know for sure who it belonged to. Life changes so quickly, sometimes it even ends before it begins.
Laurabeth was the first attacked and she is still the worst off. Or maybe it was Jonathon, Tommy didn’t know for sure. Jonathon had left right after breakfast to hook up with a cousin, he was trading work for the use of some tool or other, what it was no longer important. Everyone in and around the house were busy doing whatever the day called for and then suddenly Laurabeth screamed followed by the booming of a gun.
Tommy isn’t sure of anything after that except that they were far outnumbered. Raiders were trying to take the animals … and in broad daylight. That’s bold … or desperate … or maybe both. They also attacked the Shack and most of the other occupied dwellings on their road which is why it took a while to organize mutual aid for the neighbors; there wasn’t a house that didn’t have some kind of injury. At the same time River Road was being hit and hit hard. Over there it wasn’t individual hits on homesteads so much as they threw fire bombs in houses and barns creating complete confusion. As people ran out to take care of the fires they were ambushed. The pirates-turned-land-raiders were smart enough to avoid the Henderson Ranch and the military compound.
It’s been days and we still don’t have a good timeline of events. Maybe that will come later. We’ve been too busy tending to the injured, burying the dead, and holding the hands of the grieving.
The injury to Laurabeth wasn’t life threatening, not then. Brendon is hurt and he lost a toe when he was shot in the foot by a raider trying to keep him from running off. Alicia and Missy are all right but in no condition to try and manage the household they have been left with, especially not with two infants, both needy; Ken has ordered them to bed as much as possible simply because he is worried they are still within the risk zone of a post-birth hemorrhage.
Uncle George is stoic. There isn’t much else to call it right now. Brendon and Mick are both hurt, Mick worse but not by much; he was kicked and clubbed in the head and is still suffering bouts of vertigo to go with his broken ribs. Charlene and Janet are both shook up badly. Charlene had to escape a couple of men … you can imagine what they were after. Anthony is the one that saved her; he got injured in the process and it will be some time before he is able to go on a road trip with Ram. Janet, after initially looking like her frailty was going to be the end of her, has found strength from someplace and has been an unbelievable help in tending to the wounded of which there are still way too many.
Ram and Bill left a yard full of dead raiders that tried to attack the Shack. Concha, Marta, and Rubio have been welcomed into the community with open arms after they came to the aid of many of the community that had been standing in the Shack’s yard when it was hit. Rubio, fortunately or unfortunately, is an old hand at street fighting having survived the mean streets of Little Havana and Little Haiti during the post-4th wave period when you did what you had to to feed and protect those under your care. I heard stories that are hard to believe, but which Bill says are true, how he took on armed raiders with only a large knife. More than half a dozen were found nearly decapitated.
I believe that Clyde and Melly may finally have gotten over whatever was holding them back. One of the few good things that has come out of this nightmare. Clyde nearly tore one of the raiders to pieces with his bare hands when he threw Roo against the side of the house. The little boy practically bounced off. His little arm is broken and Ken thinks his kidneys may be bruised as well. After getting Melly and Roo to a reasonable amount of safety Clyde took off and along with Ram and Rubio cleaned up the remaining raiders around their immediate farmsteads. Bill handled the radio and tried to coordinate some type of response with Henderson and with the military who were split between River Road and all the clean up between there and the Crenshaws.
Mrs. Withrow’s little house and the big house have both sustained quite a bit of damage. Rand and I finally convinced her to come home with us last night just until we could get her windows fixed and some working shutters built that she could manage by herself. She may not be by herself for long though. There is a special needs boy who lost the aunt and uncle he had been living with; he’s fifteen and strong as an ox and loves Mrs. Withrow to death. I guess even calling him special needs isn’t the right thing, his IQ is a little low but only noticeable if you see him try and read or do math. He’ll always need someone to help take care of him but only because he is more interested in other people than in taking care of himself.
I haven’t named everyone in the family, that part of it is tied up with what happened over on River Road.
The raiders hit nearly every place over there at the same time. Lots of fire damage, lots of death by ambush as people rushed out to save their animals and their buildings. Mr. Winston and Aunt Buzzy died instantly, cut down by the cowards that had thrown the fire bombs. Then one was thrown into the main house. Julia and the baby were upstairs.
Why does this have to be so hard?! Something just isn’t right that things like this can happen. I just don’t understand.
Ron had been out in their far woods hunting some dinner when he saw the smoke, by the time he made it home the barn and the house were raging infernos. He saw his aunt and his father in law dead of gunshots and he ran around looking for Julia and the baby. And he found them when he heard a puny little cry coming from behind the old fruit house. He slowed down as he noticed a trail of blood from the back yard porch to the small structure.
He turned the corner and there was Julia and his son. She was clinging to life just long enough to tell the story and to make sure that someone would come for the baby. The fire had traveled up the old wooden structure in moments, preventing Julia from being able to escape down the stairs. She’d thrown some of the baby’s things and a few other odds and ends out the window and then climbed out onto the verandah roof in an attempt to get away from the fire and jump down without hurting the baby. She made it to the edge when a raider stepped out and shot her in the leg. The roof was just thin sheet metal and when she fell, one of the trusses broke, the roof came down and a burning beam pinned her legs. She was able to save the baby and crawl to safety. She died in Ron’s arms of shock and whatever other damaged she had sustained from the bullet and the fall. But mostly from the fire. I overheard Ken telling Rand and Uncle George that she’d been burned clear down to the bone on one leg and he doesn’t even know how she got free much less as far as she did.
Ron is a mess; some say close to being certifiable from grief and shock. At one point Ken even suggested it might help to get him drunk but Ron won’t go near the stuff. He says never again, everything that has happened is payment for his past sins; that it is his fault that his family was killed and his farm burned to nothing. But for a little while after Julia died he still had enough left to think about getting the baby to Ken to make sure he wasn’t hurt. The military were coming in by that time after the raiders, but there were no medics there at that time. He was able to reason out that the baby would need to be fed and the only one that could do that was a woman that was already feeding a baby. He thought of the Crenshaws and after gathering up some of the baby’s things he started walking that direction as his own grey had run off.
About a mile after crossing some fields he saw a horse hung up in some bushes. It’s sides had been lathered and the reins hung to the ground. The saddle was cockeyed as well. The poor thing was too tired to do much more than skip to the side a little as Ron approached it. Then he recognized the horse. He’d traded it to …
There's just no good way to say this. Jonathon is dead. Somewhere between the farm and his cousin’s place he was shot once with a large gauge shotgun. Death would have been near instant but when his body fell from the saddle, one leg hung up and his body was drug by the fear crazed horse … a long ways. There wasn’t much … forget it, this isn’t a memory I want to save anyway. Whoever reads this sometime a million years from now will just have to use whatever passes for an imagination then.
It was bad, so bad even in his state Ron puked. It was the sound of his being sick and the baby crying that brought him to the notice of one Henderson’s patrols. Ron wasn’t the only one that got sick. Mitch was called and a wagon was sent out. Jonathon’s remains were gathered and put in a long weapon crate so that the lid could be closed.
That is what sent Laurabeth over the edge. She’d been asking for Jonathon and was sure that despite everything he was safe. She dozed, recovering from her initial wound but must have woken up and heard the men quietly talking out in the yard. Somehow she made it downstairs and out to the wagon in the dark without being noticed. Ron looked up and saw her, grabbing her just in time, all she saw was some bloody and tattered shirt material she recognized ... but that was enough. She started keening and … there aren't words for the emotions she must have felt.
During the night the shock – both physical and emotional – caused her to go into premature labor. The baby was small, smaller than even Ken thought it should be given when her due date was. The baby never even breathed once. Rand told me crying that it’s possible the baby was already dead before Laurabeth went into labor but no one is to know that. Only Uncle George, Ken, Rand, and now I do and we’ll take it to our graves. There is no need for Laurabeth to wonder about something like that when she is already as over the edge as she is.
Over a hundred people in the community are dead and that doesn’t count any raiders. No one knows for sure how many raiders were killed. At least forty but maybe more. Whole families were put into the same grave. All the graves were marked as best people could. Many new graves were opened in old church graveyards but just as many took place in back yards and fields. The bodies of the raiders were burned in a large pit; when the ashes cool they’ll be used to fertilize a community garden planned in memorial of the innocents who died.
We’ve been every day from sun up, leaving just in time to get home before sundown, trying to help people as best we can. Gardens need to be replanted. Houses need to be repaired. Meals need to be cooked. Animals need to be tended. Blood needs to be scrubbed away.
Miraculously most of Ron’s animals survived and they’ve been brought over to Uncle George’s. His feed silo suffered only minor damage and all of it has been combined with Uncle George’s for the time being. No one is quite sure what to do about Ron. See, a strange thing happened.
Last night Laurabeth heard baby Stevie … everyone calls Ron’s son by his middle name … crying. For a little while she thought it was her baby, she has alternated periods of being lucid with periods of fantasy. Apparently whatever happened to ultimately cause Laurabeth’s baby to die, she had enough hormones in her system that the baby’s cries caused her milk to come in. She’d watched Missy and Alicia enough to know what needed to be done.
Missy was horrified when she went to get the baby and found Alicia feeding him but Marta who had been there helping said to leave her alone. She said it would be good for her body, help her uterus recover faster and to stop some of the bleeding, and it might help her mind as well. The only thing is that Laurabeth won’t let the baby out of her sight. Most of the time she knows that Stevie isn’t her baby but sometimes she doesn’t.
Everyone has been waiting for Ron to say something but the only thing he does is a few times a day he goes up to the room where Laurabeth is and sits and rocks the baby while Laurabeth sleeps. He hardly sleeps himself. The only time he is still is when he is rocking Stevie; otherwise he is working, doing anything that requires all of his physical strength and attention.
I’ve heard the whispers. They’re calling him cold – no one has seen him cry – or crazy; or worse they say he is both. I even heard that Lucretia woman, now a widow for the second time; that he got what was coming to him after the hellion he’d been as a kid and young man. I walked from around a trough being used for laundry and smacked her across the face with a heavy, wet dirty diaper. I haven’t seen her around since and other folks have learned to step lightly when I’m around and the subject of family comes up.
I could, as easily as any of them, spend time saying Ron got what was coming to him. I’m hardly likely to forget the welcome the Harbingers gave me when I was still new. But the problem is, I’ve walked in his shoes. I’ve lost everything – home and family – and been left in that twilight where grief doesn’t ever seem like it is going to end, in that place where the pain of never ending grief is more comforting than the possibility that it might one day end. There’s nothing I can say to him, not yet anyway. There aren’t any words that will make this better. But at least he has finally been able to cry.
Rand started watching me like a hawk. He’d heard about what I had done to Lucretia. I guess he figured I was just full up and that it was getting a bit much for me to handle. Ken was always watching as well. I couldn’t go near Laurabeth because the one time I tried she took one look at my big belly and started screaming at me to get out. It hurt but I can live with that. I said some pretty nasty things when my family died to people who didn’t deserve it. I know that isn’t Laurabeth talking but the pain.
I did manage to slip their leash twice. The first time was when I went snooping through the few things that Julia had managed to throw out the window and Ron had salvaged from the yard. That sounds awful but I had a purpose. The second time was when I basically cornered Ron in one of Uncle George’s small hay barns.
I handed Ron the one thing that I had taken out of the pathetic bundle of things left from his home. “Ron, don’t believe anyone who tells you this is going to be easy or that it will ever go away. They’re smoking dope. Don’t let anyone tell you that this is all your fault either. Sometimes bad things happen and there are so many layers of reasons that we just aren’t capable of understanding it all the way. God doesn’t do things to pay us back, he does things to bring us back. The rest I lay at the door of the poor choices of other people that bleed into our lives.”
When I was sure I had his attention I continued, “I didn’t let anything help me for a long while. I forgot that the people I lost loved me, loved me enough that they wouldn’t have wanted me to be miserable, not even for their sake.” Then I handed him Julia’s Bible. “Out of all of the things she could have picked to save, Julia took the time to put this in with the baby’s things. There are some verses underlined in there, strange that the note beside the verses is in your handwriting and not hers. You know which ones I’m talking about?”
Ron’s voice was rusty but he finally answered, “Yeah. It’s those in I Thessalonians 4. I remember them from her mother’s funeral. She was crying and crying and crying. I didn’t know what else to do. At first nothing seemed to help and then … she read those verses at least once a day. Seemed like they were the only thing that would chirk her back up when she got in one of her moods. I never did understand it, I was just glad it worked.”
“Stop wondering why for a while … about everything. Just take what comfort those verses offer and let the rest wait.”
As I left I heard him sit down and flip some pages and then before I was too much further I heard the kind of painful cries that only a grown man can make.
February 25th – The services were as bad as I imagined they were going to be, at least for me. Other people seemed to find them comforting or cathartic or something. The thing that was different about this funeral was that there wasn’t a single person there that could look at someone else and say, “But you don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t understand!”
Because we all did. The flu, bandits, raiders, hunger, disease, pain, suffering, grief unimagined … we’d all been there, every one of us.
I was going to go back tomorrow and help at the Crenshaws; help with the garden that needs tending and putting the harvested food up. But it looks like I’m not. Uncle George came to Rand and asked that I not come around for a while. Apparently Laurabeth said some pretty awful things last night. I think Uncle George is just trying to protect his daughter, maybe both of us, from any more hurt. Rand was furious but I told him not to be and he’s finally calmed down. I try to put myself in Laurabeth’s shoes and it hurts so much I nearly went into hysterics myself.
February 26th – How do you find normal after what we’ve been through? Rand says he’s going to give it one more day and then if Laurabeth keeps saying nasty things that he’ll just stay home from there on out, or at least stay away from the house for a while.
I also got in a bit of hot water with Rand about what I said to Ron. Apparently Ron told Laurabeth how I'd shared those verses and he shared them with her and now she's focused on it for some reason, but not in a good way. “How did you know he wasn’t going to go crazy and hurt you? You saw the way he was acting? You know what he is like?”
“I know what he used to be like. But to me he’s been changed longer than he was the way he used to be. I didn’t grow up knowing him Rand. When I look at Ron … he reminds me too much of the person I used to see in my mirror every day.”
That brought Rand up sharp. He sucked on his teeth for a while, obviously not wanting to let go of being upset but he finally said, “OK, I can see your point. But, please see mine too. I never would have thought Laurabeth could say the things she’s said to me the last few days. The only time she acts half way like her old self is when she is holding that baby. I don't want you around her until she is more stable. I just don't trust her not to strike out in the state she is in.”
“That baby has a name. It’s Stevie. And none of this is that baby’s fault. I know you did your best to forgive Julia for what she did to you but you can’t be holding that against the baby?”
He sighed and said, “No. No I’m not. I’m sorry if you or anyone else thinks that. This whole situation … God!” He pulled his hair like it would hurt less than what was going through his head. “You want to know what I see when I look at Ron? Me. That’s what I see. It could have been me. I could have been him. I look at Laurabeth and I see you. I look at Stevie and I see Austin or our baby. I feel so bad … I just feel so bad … “
And then I realized Rand hadn’t taken the time to grieve and it was a while before either one of us could get up off the barn floor. Austin stood there for a while with his eyes shuttered and scared until Rand looked up and opened his arm and the kid ran over and crawled into our hug.
Maybe I am too young to be a wife, a mother … maybe young isn’t the only thing I’m too much of. But God put me here and I am a wife and a mother and I’m going to protect this the only way I know how … by giving it absolutely everything I have and then some. There may be people out there planning on trying to take it from me, from us, but they are going to have a fight on their hands. And it’s a fight I plan on winning, even if I have to fight dirty.