Second Dead

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Chapter 31: Again the book

“What the hell is that?” Theo asked.

I looked up from my book, anxious and on guard. I failed to discern anything to cause alarm. Confused, I turned to Theo.

“Oops.” He grinned. “That. What is it?” He tapped the notebook.

“I’m not sure,” I lied. “At first, I assumed it to be a chronicle of Nana’s school, and it might be. But, it’s hard to read. It’s about a war and the aftermath, at the dawn of what we call history, about 3000 B.C. At least that’s the date my mother wrote down with a question mark.”

I lapsed into silence. I did not tell Theo what I now knew to be the truth. Maybe I hoped to discover I was mistaken. Yet, I had witnessed these events unfold, with Nana, in my dreams. I feared for my mental state like never before.

Insanity would be welcome. Rational and scientific, it was quantifiable. How could I convey to others, much less accept myself, the other possibility which now swirled around my troubled mind?

I told Theo to let me read and I would tell him a story he would not believe.

“Man, I miss George.”

It took less than an hour to finish the book. “Nana wasn’t crazy,” I said and gazed at Theo.

“Ooo Kay.”

“What do you remember about her?”

“Well, good food. She always treated me okay. Until she started to call me evil.”

Theo had met Nana several times. The last few encounters were unpleasant. Not just for him either, Nana called a lot of people evil.

“What would you say if I told you she wasn’t calling you evil, but warning you?”

“I’d say you’re off your rocker.”

“Yeah, just the kind of thing that could get a person locked up in the old world. Wouldn’t you say?”

Theo didn’t reply.

“Listen to this.” I flipped through the book. “And to the muster of the army of King Lục Dương Vương it assembled as follows. Three spearmen per archer, accompanied by a champion of the sword held in reserve and attending to the needs of the archer. To the count of one hundred squads he formed to a company, seven companies to an army there were. Seven armies followed him into battle this day.”

I gazed at Theo. “Sound familiar?”

“Uhhhh.”

“Dad’s vaunted fighting formation. Come on, you see it.”

“Yeah, all right. I get that. Your mom wrote this and he decided to try it. It worked. Big deal.”

“Damn it. Don’t you get it? It’s the Xích Quýs fight against the Sống chết.”

“What’s the Xích Quý?”

“I don’t have a clue,” I replied.

Theo chuckled nervously. “Sống chết, that’s what your mom calls the moaners.”

“Yeah. She does.” I waited for Theo to connect the dots.

“Think about this,” I continued. “Why were we so prepared? Mom bought two thousand pounds of rice, weeks before California fell. Hell, months before any of this really made the news. Back when it was just some exotic unknown disease, Mom knew enough to prepare. You saw our basement; it was nuts. Be honest. We all thought she’d turned into a hoarder.”

“Are you honestly asking me to believe? Shit,” Theo whispered. “Fat lot of good it did Nana.”

I had more to tell him if I dared. An idea had blossomed in my mind ever since we left the house. Yet what would Theo, what would anyone, think of me if I told them what I suspected? No, not suspected, what I knew to be the truth. I mustered my courage and decided I had to tell someone, and that someone might as well be Theo.

Theo kept his eyes ahead. I stared at him while I thought about what to say. Before I could speak, Dad’s voice came over the radio. Theo and I jumped.

“Vector tango, take the next right and head for the red barn.”

“Roger that, Papa bear.” He tossed the radio back into the cup holder, turned to me and in complete seriousness said, “The question is, how did your nana know?”

Later. I would tell him later. I lacked proof. Besides, I needed to talk to Mom first, find out what she knew.

“I don’t know.” I sighed. “But she figured it out. Maybe from her school. The monks were in the news a couple years back. So they were obviously still around.” I fell silent and tried to remember why they had been in the news.

Theo pulled off the tracks and onto a rock road. He followed the tree line toward the barn. Snow fell from an evergreen tree. Water dripped from branches. We pulled up to the barn and waited for the other vehicles to park.

My thoughts turned to my mother. Institutionalizing your own mom had to be tough enough. However, to find out she had been sane all along? That’s brutal.

Susan and Klara walked past. They split apart at the barn door and took up guard positions at opposite sides of the building. Dangerous. I needed to bring this up with Dad, I decided. Again.

Dad lined up Mom and Chris to go into the barn with us. I took my position behind the three and inserted a fresh clip into my rifle. Dad beckoned to Anthony. I remained silent while Dad explained his function was to cover me while I protected the three pokers in front.

“If there’s any offing to be done, we’ll take care of it. You just watch her back,” Dad explained.

Theo and I exchanged knowing looks. He hobbled past to open the barn door. At Dad’s signal, Theo and Jane pushed the large door aside. It ground noisily on the metal tracks.

It took less than twenty minutes to check the barn and we were relieved to find the building empty. Dad opened the loft door and told those below to park the trucks.

***

Everyone but me found something to do. I headed down to the black SUV to check on Laura. Jane tended to Jenny, who sadly did not seem any better. I looked to Jane for reassurance but received none, only a shake of her head.

Laura was awake and sat in the back seat. “Hey Laura, how ya feeling?” I asked while I tucked blankets around her.

Laura yawned. “Am I gonna die?” she asked. Her eyelids, heavy from the medication, closed.

Feigning confidence I did not possess, I replied, “Of course not. You’re going to be fine. I promise. God has a special plan for you.”

Laura opened her eyes. “And you as well.”

Her response floored me. She said it with such authority. I stared at her, an uneasy sensation in my stomach. She smiled, closed her eyes and let out a small groan.

Maybe it’s the drugs. She did look pretty stoned. I laughed and kissed her on the forehead. “You want me to get George, you know, keep you company?”

She nodded.

I found George with Carmen. I told them to go and keep Laura company and to help Jane if she needed anything.

Chris hurried down the loft ladder.

“We’ve been followed,” he shouted to Dad.

They ran to the ladder and disappeared into the darkness. Dad came back down five minutes later. This time Susan accompanied him. He called Klara, Jane and Anthony to join us.

Theo hobbled over but Dad said, “Not you, son. Sorry. I need speed on this job.”

Theo shrugged, but stayed to listen.

Dad knelt and scraped debris from the dirt floor. “Here’s the railroad track, and here we are,” he said while he etched a line for the tracks and placed a small pebble to mark our barn. “Here’s the house.” He put another pebble on the ground. “And here’s the road we put off the tracks onto.”

“There’s a set of tire tracks that veer off behind the farmer’s house. No tracks pass the other side. Whoever it is obviously doesn’t want to be seen by us. I’m pretty damn sure they’ve been following our tracks.”

Susan jumped in and said, “The tracks are wide, much wider than any of our trucks. I think it might be a semi or something.”

“Right,” Dad said. “They can’t see us, and we can’t see them.”

“So you think we can get up there without being spotted?” Jane asked.

“That’s my hope,” Dad said. “My fear is it’s the crew we ran into earlier. It’s going to be dark soon and the sky’s clouded up so there won’t be any moon to help us. We have to move now. Maybe we’ll catch them by surprise before they have time to get settled.

“Susan, you and Klara set up here.” Dad pointed to where the road and the farmer’s lane converged. “The rest of us will sneak down this tree line under your cover.”

Dad glanced around. There were no questions so he continued, “Guns and ammo only. Wear camo if you have it, if not, then nothing bright.”

Five minutes later, we were ready to go. I stood in front of the door and listened to the soft drip, drip, drip of water fall from the roof. Susan and Klara, both heavily camouflaged, went out first. They sprinted to the tree line and blended in. Susan scanned the way ahead with her scope. Satisfied, she waved the rest of us out, and we ran to join them.

When we reached the fork in the road, Susan and Klara stole forward to take up their positions. Daylight was fading fast when Susan gave us the all clear. We dashed toward the house. The vehicle, a Humvee, had turned around in the driveway and now faced the road. We worked ourselves around the back of the building in order to take it from behind.

“There are no footprints in the snow,” Jane whispered.

Dad and I crept to the driver’s door. Jane and Anthony did the same on the other side. I glanced up at the machine gun mounted on top and hoped someone had the access hatch under observation.

Dad pointed to the door handle. He nodded and stood up when I pulled open the heavy door. Dad jumped in front. Jane did the same on the other side of the Humvee.

“Hands up and get out. Now,” Dad yelled.

“All clear,” Jane shouted from the other side.

“No need to scream,” the filthy soldier on the driver’s seat groaned. He held his hands up.

“Move,” Dad barked, his pistol pointed at the man’s head.

The officer heaved a sigh and attempted to get out of the vehicle with some semblance of dignity. All he managed to do was drop like a sack of potatoes. His cry of agony rent the air. I shrieked when he fell to the ground, a heap of black skin and grey camo. I did not need to be a doctor to know he had a broken leg. Legs ought not to bend like his did when he fell.

“Jane,” I shouted. “Over here. Quick.”

Dad continued to point his pistol at the officer. “Anna, get his gun.”

I gagged when I caught a whiff of him. Sweat, blood, urine, and feces melded together into the most disgusting aroma I’d ever smelled on another human.

“You must be Papa bear,” the man groaned.

“And just who the hell are you?”

I jumped when I saw a small animal dart to the rear cargo hold.

“His leg,” Dad said when Jane stooped down to look at the officer.

The man howled in pain when Jane twisted his leg.

“Penri,” he rasped, “Major Charles Penri.”

Jane frowned while she felt along the man’s blood encrusted pant leg.

“Medic?” Penri asked through ragged breaths.

“Long time ago. In the Navy,” Jane replied. “I’m Spell, Jane Spell.”

“Hum. Aarrghh. Must have been a change in uniforms recently.”

Jane scoffed, “No sir. Ten-year stop loss. I was assigned to a National Guard unit.”

“Figures. I heard they were tening Korean War vets.”

Jane glanced at Dad. “We got to get him back to camp so I can do something with his leg.”

“Search him first,” Dad ordered.

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