‘Keep your head down, don’t make eye contact, and above all don’t do anything to look pretty.’
It was a daily litany of routine that I could barely stand anymore that was rivaled only by having to deal with how bad I smelled. Even the slop in the battered tin that my hands were wrapped around was almost beyond my ability to cope with in terms of smell or taste.
I wasn’t entirely positive as to what it was that I was eating, but I had prayed over it and I hadn’t been told by my God not to eat it so I ate it. Every cursed hack worthy bite of it each day I was blessed to even be fed.
I found my secret spot in the barracks where for a few moments each day I was fortunate to be out of sight of anyone. So far I had never been bothered here yet, but things could change. So far today the record seemed to be in no threat of being broken.
Shivering, I dipped the battered spoon I kept hidden in a pocket into the runny broth and brought a bite up to my lips. It was at least warm, that much I could say about it, but otherwise having to daily consume it was like being in some proverbial dimension of hell. Being imprisoned, as I was, only made the aspect of being in hell more so in terms of appearance.
We were told though that the conditions outside were even worse. I’m not sure I believed the guards on that one entirely, but before being rounded up I had seen unspeakable things take place. Things I would never have believed possible. Things that no matter as bad as this forced incarceration had been could not equal.
Still, I wanted to be free of this place, with its tall barbed wire walls and guards that would grab a hold of a boy or girl and haul them off to be raped by the whole squad watch as a sort of payment for protection services. No this place was hell and however bad as it had become on the outside in the last 2 ½ years I didn’t care so long as I managed to at least die or live with dignity free from this daily torment of fear and expectation of pain.
The meager portion in the bowl was gone and I tucked it and the spoon away within my tattered cloak for tomorrow providing if whether we would be fed or not. As of late that wasn’t always the case. In fact the days of missed feedings were getting more and more frequent. The population of three thousand or so refugees only grew sicker and more malnourished because of the missed feedings.
I was the healthiest person I knew and yet in order to survive I had learned the wisdom of acting like I was sick and partially out of my mind in order to fit in with the rest of my inmates that I would barely classify as being human anymore. Precious were the moments of the day when I could be alone and not having to pull off an act of half addled craziness. In these few blessed moments I often took the opportunity to speak to God, who in effect was my only surviving companion in this place of hell on earth. He was the only one keeping me sane. Truly, without Him I would be as lost as the rest of these poor souls.
Closing my eyes, I clasped my hands together and said, “Lord, you got me through another day. I…… I’m grateful for the food I’ve been given.” A single tear streaked down my face, it was hard to choose to be real and not someone embittered by life’s circumstances.
“I hope for something a lot better soon, but if that’s not the plan then so be it. I’m still your girl. The people here are getting sicker and sicker and I fear where this is going. I’ve tried to speak to some of them of You, but nobody wants to listen. They’re all so bitter and full of hate because of how they’ve been treated. Please keep me from becoming like them. I don’t want to give up on my hope that this will change and get better, but oh God you’ve got to help me! I…… I’m falling…… I can’t…..I……”
Immediately I hushed as the presence of my creator washed over me and suddenly everything was made better, even though my surroundings remained the same. I waited for God to speak to me either audibly or through the Spirit, but nothing came. I was on the verge of asking Him why He’d told me to be quiet when a disturbance at the door of the barracks caused me to hunch further back into my hiding spot.
Two guards came in and immediately my breathing sped up and yet I did my best to halt the rapid rise and fall of my chest. If I was found here by them it wouldn’t matter how ugly I had made myself to appear as they were nothing but something worse than an animal in their treatment of those they supposedly guarded. I had learned from new arrivals over the years that had been moved in from other FEMA camps that the conditions imposed were universal, if not worse in other places.
The government, it was clear, had fully intended for this type of treatment of its citizens and it seemed to me an act of cruelty that they hadn’t just lined us up and shot us on the day we had arrived. Maybe that was the point. Someone or something wanted us to suffer.
The guards came closer and with shock I saw that they weren’t the usual motley crew. These guards were dressed rather a lot finer and their weapons and boots were shiny. One spoke in perfect English, which was another shock as all the guards were foreigners formally of UN core divisions. The purpose of which was to ensure that they had no qualms in enforcing camp strictures because after all to them we were but foreigners being held within the bounds of our former country of America and thus nothing for them to be concerned about in terms of our welfare or peace of mind, as the stories of what had been done in this facility were unlikely to make their way home across the Atlantic Ocean.
The guards were some distance off from me, but I made out their words clearly, “This place should have been burned a year ago like the others. What a complete waste.”
“Yes, why resources have been allocated this long is beyond me. It’s going to end, though.”
“Yes, I heard the order. Tomorrow we take them all out in the forest and shoot them.”
“Shoot them? Why waste bullets on the likes of these scarecrows? Why not just crowd them into these flea holes and light them up?”
“It’s the order is all I can say. Gives us an excuse to at least have a little fun tomorrow though doesn’t it.”
The other guard snorted, “I haven’t seen one of these relics fit enough to run faster than a two legged cow with milk fever!”
Both men laughed and then left the barracks. I stayed where I was staring wide-eyed into nothingness. At long last I was getting my wish. I would be leaving Earth tomorrow by a means other than my own hand and I would see God and know no more pain. I’d made it to an honorable end!
“No, Tamara.” Came the response from within the corridors of my soul.
My sudden found peace stealing away from me, I choked out with, “What?”
“Tomorrow you run child.”
Shaking I looked about the barracks. Run? Run to where?
No further instruction came and my time away from the others was up. I got up and made to rejoin the pended in citizenry of a once great nation now reduced to talking monsters in uniform and avokeless slaves at the mercy of cruelty’s destiny.
Tomorrow I would run. I had never been one for exercise and truly the last time I’d probably run was when I had been a child.
I definitely didn’t weigh as much as I had before. Truth be told, my condition of being overweight going into this setup of forced incarceration might be one of the chief factors in why I was in as decent health as I was. How ironic that was.
All the years I’d struggled with body image and weight that wouldn’t come off was now a thing of the past and yet the means by which I had reached the present. In this world of the moment, though no such vanity of times past mattered a hill of beans.
In fact, I could see the benefits of being a little fat now as opposed to the ultra-lean magazine imagery I’d always been striving for. The question was did I possess the stamina to make a clean getaway tomorrow?
Whether I did or not that was what had been asked of me and so that would be what I would do. I left the barracks and rejoined the act of fitting in with the rest and acting like I was half brain rotted.
All the rest of that day, though an air of excitement tinged my perceptions of what was around me. That night, though it all changed. For hours I lay awake in my cot, listening to the tormented dreams discontented sighing of those I had been imprisoned with.
Tears streaked down my face as the abject truth of my failure to reach any of them with the saving Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ, made its impact upon me especially hard. I had tried to witness, but I had never succeeded and right now the bitterness of my failure and being unprofitable for the Kingdom of God was crushing.
Tomorrow all of these people were going to die!
I felt like waking them up and speaking to them right now, but I knew it would do me no good. In a way I knew it wasn’t my fault that no one had listened, but the knowledge of the future for these already tormented souls broke my heart even more than the loss of all my friends.
Before everything had come to an end and America had ceased to exist as a nation I had been part of a traveling gospel choir. We had been on tour and had just left Pittsburgh when the lights had gone out and the old church bus had come to a rolling stop.
In the weeks that followed we had scavenged for food and fought to protect each other as best as we could. That said, the utter depravity of humanity unchained and given over to abject paranoia had been staggering. Desperate people did desperate things.
The men of the group eventually left the older women that couldn’t keep up and those younger ones like me who wouldn’t leave anyone behind. Things had gone from bad to worse without any men to help us and one night we were attacked by people so hungry it had driven them over the edge enough so that they crossed every frontier of saneness in order to feed upon their own kind.
I and three other girls had fled barely escaping with our lives. We were picked up soon after that and ferried by the government to this place.
At first it seemed like the reprieve of all reprieves, until after about six months when we all realized that we had arrived in a place of hell on earth. It had been too much for the other three.
One girl got so weak because she refused to eat the food given to us that she became ill. In a matter of a month she was gone and her body thrown into the camp incinerator. A month after that Ellie tried to make an escape through the barb wire, but got hung up in the wire. The guard towers had shown no mercy on her.
There were still nights I woke up in a sweat hearing the sounds of the gunshots and seeing the way her body had jerked about as the bullets landed. Worst of all they had not removed her body from the wire.
She had been the first to attempt an escape in the FEMA camp and it was made clear to one and all that she had better be the last. Her body was left to rot and day by day the crows picked and tore at the carcass until all that remained were shreds of cloth and a bone pile on the ground. From that point onwards no one was left uncertain as to the reality of imprisonment we found ourselves all locked in.
About that time the American guards were shifted out and foreign speaking ones had been moved in. Most of them were Polish with the remainder coming from other Baltic nations. With their arrival is when the rapes began.
Ellie’s death in the attempt to escape affected me and Sissy, the last girl of the three, in an entirely different way. I remained content to bide my time for a better chance of escape, but Sissy gave up on the very idea of freedom being possible at all.
She had done the impossible in my opinion by turning her back on her faith, one day and going to the guards. They had a standing offer of better accommodations and rations to any who would play the whore for them.
For a year Sissy had taken part in being used as a dishrag day and night as well as cleaning the guard compound, until in emptiness of spirit she’d taken her own life. Now I was all that was left of the South Carolina Gospel choir that had gone too far north and couldn’t find its way back when darkness had fallen.
Tomorrow I would run. Whether to my death or for continued existence I did not know, but I would do my best, even as I had done my best to survive to this day. Tomorrow was all that I had left that I could lay claim to in life and it was firmly clenched in my mind.
I rested the rest of the night and then as the morning began I did nothing but breathe deeply. What I lacked in terms of energy and conditioning maybe could be offset by having extra oxygen to burn.
My father had been a pro athlete and after his career, he’d gone into sports medicine and I had picked up a lot of things just from hearing him speak. He had loved me, but always I could tell he was disappointed in the fact of me being overweight and not following in his footsteps like my younger brother and older sister had.
Now, however, I was lean and while I wasn’t sick or emaciated like many of the others here with me were. However, I was still at a complete lack of vitamins, minerals and above all protein.
Couldn’t be helped. What I did have in bountiful supply was air. I had no limit to how much of it I could gulp down. I fed myself on air and over the course of the morning I completely de-acidified my body and actually felt a lot better than I had in a long time.
Why hadn’t I done this before?
I’d never had a reason to hope before was the answer to that one. Knowing the likely fate of everyone else though continued to burden my soul. Just why was God giving me a heads up to run? Didn’t He care about anyone else here?
I felt immediate contrition at that thought. I knew better.
Softly came the voice of my Maker into my thoughts, “None have listened, save one. None have obeyed My commands, save one. One is enough.”
Numbly I stood shivering in the cold with the rest of the compound. We had been rousted out of our barracks and had been pushed and shoved out into the muddy yard. No explanation had been given and as it was we had been standing here for over two hours of which most of that time it had been lightly snowing.
It was colder feeling than usual today because I had removed several layers of clothing that I had collected from the departed over the course of my long stay here. If I was going to run I needed to be free to move and not encumbered with extra baggage.
Also in these frigid conditions I needed to avoid all possibility of a chance of sweating. Better it was to be cold and dry than cold and wet, but right now as my teeth chattered I sorely missed my missing layers of clothes. In a way it had felt like taking layers of armament off, an armament of filth anyway.
I perked up my head as a metal screeching sound was heard from the nearby forest. I’d heard the sound off and on over the last two hours, but this time the cause of the noise came into view. It was a bulldozer. I swallowed.
There was a flurry of activity and the gates of the compound were thrown open. The coughing shivering massed throng that I was a part of looked from the open gates to an American speaking guard with a bullhorn. He was one of the two from yesterday in the barracks.
“Attention everyone we are closing this camp. We’re taking you to a safer place where you will be better cared for. Now please proceed in an orderly pace through the gates and down that track into the forest where you saw the dozer just come from. There will be food stations left along the way.”
Like a pack of lemmings destined for a cliff face mass suicide the crowd of incarcerated citizenry eagerly took off in the direction they had been ordered to go. The combination of being half addled and the mention of food along with the idea of being anywhere but here took out any better sense of reasoning they might have otherwise formerly possessed.
I moved along with the pack, but purposefully I hung back towards the rear. I felt doing that offered me the best chance of cutting and running when the time came. We were well into the grove of trees and I was on the verge of making my break, when an iron fisted grip seized about my upper arm and swung me around violently.
I gasped and gripped at the imprisoning hand, even as I took in the sight of the foreign guardsmen that had a hold of me. He was looking me up and down with interest and in that moment I realized that I looked far different than I usually did. In despair, I heard him ask in broken English, “Why I don’t see you before? All pretty ones gone, long time ago.”
I said nothing and with a little shock suddenly realized that the column had moved on without me. I tugged upon the man’s grip in order to rejoin the others, but he wouldn’t let go. The departing guards at the rear snickered and one called back in a Slavic language and made the motion of firing a pistol.
The one that held me grunted in affirmation and with despair, I saw the column disappear around a bend and I was left alone with the guard, as the falling snow began to pick up in earnest. The guard’s hold on me tugged abruptly and I found myself forced down to my knees at eye level with the man’s belt buckle.
Breathing shallow I stayed where I was as the man undid his pants with his free hand and let them fall. I made to get up and move away, but he gripped a hand into my hair cruelly and held me in place. With his other hand, he drew his revolver out and cocked back the trigger of it and brought the muzzle of the gun to press into the side of my head.
He laughed and with a cry of anguish I looked up at him, not believing that one could be so evil as this. He fully intended to blow my brains out the moment I finished sucking him off. His grip on my hair only grew tighter. He shifted his engorging penis closer to my lips and with a grin said, “Open.”
I’d rather die and to that end my teeth remained clamped shut even as he pushed his manhood that reeked of foulness against my lips. He grunted angrily and pulled my hair so painfully that I was forced to cry out and he was just on the verge of capitalizing on my slipup, when screams rang out from the forest only to be suddenly drowned out by the rapid percussions of heavy gunfire.
The noise distracted the man and on desperate instinct I acted. My hands came up and gripped at the hand that held the gun and with all my strength I moved his hand to position the gun against the man’s own belly and with effort I managed to depress the man’s finger on the trigger. The gun went off loudly.
The man cried out in consternation and his grip on my hair grew slack and I threw myself away from him. He collapsed down to sit cross-legged in the snow and stared on in horror at the blood pouring freely out of his body.
He began exclaiming expletives in his own language, as well as English, and I took my chance and ran for it. He turned the gun after me and started firing even as he screamed obscenities.
I dodged and a bullet slammed into a tree in front of me blowing bits of bark that stung my cheek painfully. I kept dodging and the gun finally clicked empty or maybe the man was dead, but I was alive!
I was free!
I ran clumsily through the forest in a direction that took me away from both the compound and the scene of genocide further off to the right in the forest. Dully it registered to me that I was headed north. I didn’t much care where it was as long as it was away.
Gasping for breath I looked back. There was no visible sign of pursuit and best of all the snow was quickly making my earlier passage through the forest disappear. As the miracle of the obscuring snow became realized for the true blessing that it was I looked heavenward and gasped out in praise, “Thank you God!”
I was quite warm for the moment, but I needed to keep going. I moved forward still out of breath, but I didn’t run this time. I walked as quickly as I was able to, but as the adrenaline wore off over the course of an hour I feared that my time of freedom would soon be over.