Chapter 2: Outside
Dad was not happy about the time lost. However, as morning wore on, the temperature climbed past forty. It became evident the big freeze had not yet arrived. He decided there would be no forays today. Already up for the better part of twenty hours, he retired downstairs to get what sleep he could.
A tree house built around a cottonwood in our backyard made for a vital asset in these troubled times. The playhouse stood ten feet off the ground. A rope ladder provided the only access. From there, Susan could climb to the top of the tree.
Susan was my younger sister by two years. Already tall, she had long, straight, black hair and Asian eyes set above a perfect nose along with full, pouting lips. At fifteen, she resembled Mom the most. She had grown to be the quintessential Asian-American beauty and she knew it. Being fun, vivacious, popular, and beautiful no longer counted for much and Susan struggled to adapt. As unalike as two sisters could be, I had my dad’s, well, everything. Except height. There I was all Vietnamese.
The noise at Calvin’s had not attracted any unwanted attention. With Susan on watch, the twins, Laura and George, played in the yard as quietly as nine-year-olds could manage. We set about our chores.
Theo and I hauled water from rain barrels. We took full buckets to the patio where Mom strained out bugs and debris before adding bleach. Then we took the buckets into the house and poured them into the bathtub. After several trips, the tub was full.
“Well, we have plenty of water,” Theo said and sat on the toilet seat.
“There’s still the rainwater from the front. Think my mother will let us use some to take a bath?” I gazed at my grubby reflection in the mirror.
“I don’t think Dragonzilla will give up a drop of water until it snows.”
I smiled. Theo acted brave when Mom wasn’t around, but when she was, he became all, “Yes, ma’am, no, ma’am.” What a punk. I think she scared him more than the moaners.
“I’ve got to get out of here soon or I’ll lose my mind,” I said, more to my reflection than to Theo. I put both hands on the sink and leaned forward to stretch my back.
“A few weeks left and then we’re off to your grandparent’s farm,” Theo replied. His eyes lingered over my outstretched figure.
I found myself irritated with Theo. He didn’t understand. No one did. This house had become a prison. More than that, I felt compelled to leave. I might not make it a few more weeks.
“Come on. We’re done with our work until your dad wakes up. We have to get back outside before your mom figures out we’re gone. Let’s go see if anything’s on the radio.”
Theo scooted past me into the hallway. He seemed to sense I wasn’t following so he turned and said, “Come on, outdoors buddy.”
“Fine.” With one final look in the mirror, I pushed away from the sink.
We walked past the thing that had once been Calvin: a man, a neighbor, and a friend. It could no longer stand. Held fast against the tree, its handless arms flailed in the afternoon sun. The beast appeared comical. No, scratch that. The sight broke my heart.
“There she is.” Theo caressed what remained of his car.
Theo arrived at our house in a most unexpected manner. When he crashed through our fence, his car, damaged beyond repair, came to rest in our yard, never to move again. The hood, bent and twisted off its hinges, came complete with a shattered, yet animated corpse. Most of the front grill was missing. All four tires were flat. Still, as Theo liked to say, it had a new battery and a great stereo.
We got into the car and Theo began to change stations. We listened for any signs of a broadcast. George ran up to my window and put his hands on the glass. He puckered his lips, pressed them against the window, kissed the glass a few times and ran off, seemingly pleased with his wit. Just a few more weeks, I reminded myself.
“So, what’s with the stiff?” Theo asked.
“Dad--Well, Mother really, wants to make sure he’s right about the cold.”
Theo turned to the moaner. “I’m sure he’s right, it only makes sense.”
“You know my mother, she wants to be sure.”
Theo snorted. “Yeah, in the meantime we have a moaner inside the fence.”
“Still, she’s right. We need to know how long it will take these things to freeze. Besides, Calvin and Dad were tight.”
“I offered to poke it.”
Yeah, he did. Theo could be surprisingly sympathetic about such things.
“Well, we have ten minutes before the E.B.S. comes on. You want to listen to some music?”
“I would, if you had any real music in this piece of crap.” This time I was the one pleased with my wit.
“Suit yourself.” Pretending to be hurt, he tuned the radio again.
“You had another nightmare last night,” he said after he had run the dial.
“Yeah, the pool of blood dream again.”
Theo glanced at me and then tried the radio again.
It just had to be that dream. Remarkable in its consistency, the nightmare, dream, vision, whatever I elected to call it, disturbed my soul and left me drained.
The voices were the worst of it. A billion voices called my name from a miasmal pool of blood and demanded succor of me. How I knew the number to be a billion I didn’t know. It just felt right. The dreams were getting worse, too. No, more vivid. My dreams were becoming clearer, more real.
At two o’clock, Theo switched to the Emergency Broadcasting Station.
“Broadcasting live from Hermann, Missouri--”
“Crap. Last week they were in Sullivan,” Theo said.
“They’re being pushed farther and farther out,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Shhh,” he hissed.
“--it’s been reported the Governor of Illinois died three nights ago when his evacuation compound was overrun. Although official verification is pending, an Illinois National Guard spokeswoman has confirmed the destruction of the base.
“On the Missouri side of the river, a shoot on sight order has been reissued for the following counties: St Charles, Jefferson, Franklin, Warren, Lincoln, and St Louis.
“All law enforcement and armed service units operating in or around these areas have been ordered by the Central States Emergency Containment Command to shoot anyone trying to flee the quarantined areas. A CenCom Spokesman issued a statement last night reminding all units both inside and outside the contamination zone that enabling, or by inaction allowing, survivors to leave the infested zone is punishable by summary execution.”
I snorted. Infested, that’s what the authorities called it when they had to admit they had lost control of an area and were reduced to shooting and bombing everything in sight.
“Holding the line north to south along highway 19, all citizens east of the highway have been advised by the Governor’s office that services cannot be provided until control is restored. The Governor’s office further announced that the Eastern Command of the Missouri National Guard has been dissolved. All command and control responsibilities have been transferred to Mo. Guard Ozark.”
Yeah right. Destroyed more like it.
“This station will cease broadcasting from this location. We will resume transmitting Thursday, at the top of every hour, from the city of Linn. Now, news from western Missouri.”
Theo turned the radio off. “Linn’s too far to pick up the broadcast.”
“Linn’s well past the farm, too. We are completely outside the pale now.”
“Well, that’s good in a way. You heard them. The Army’s out of control. Shoot on sight.” Theo snorted.
“They’ve been doing that for a while.” I sighed and let my gaze rest on the moaner.
Mom pounded on my window and yelled, “Run, run.”
I jumped out and followed her through the front door. She ran into the kitchen to tape up the spy holes and close the heavy curtains. We each ran to different rooms to do the same.
Finished, I waited at the top of the stairs. The house secure, we went down to the basement and into the back storeroom. The light of a single candle illuminated the room.
“What’s wrong?” I demanded.
“A horde,” Mom whispered.