Invasive in Minnesota

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Chapter 8

It was a little over a day later when Jason awoke. He saw the color green. His skin had a greenish tint to it. There was a breathing mask on his face and countless IVs in both arms. They had performed numerous tests, he was badly infected, he could feel it moving around inside him. Besides the plants devouring his insides, his chest and shoulder were on fire, at least it felt that way. He was bandaged all over. He was thirsty beyond belief, but before he asked for water he spoke the words, “Where’s my son?”

Within a minute there were 20 people in the room. Through his mask he asked again, “Where’s my son?”

Tony was one of the first people there when the man spoke. They were pretty sure this was the guy the Green Berets couldn’t catch, the guy from the woods. Tony was wearing thick rubber gloves and a face mask as he approached the man. The idea of giving the guy adrenaline had been bandied about; but the information he held could be valuable beyond belief. His son had recovered completely and was in the next room. In a room with a grass floor, the boy had air-conditioning and cartoons. The samples of vines they had collected from him were dying or dead.

Since being cured, the little guy had drunk more juice and water and eaten more sandwiches than seemed possible a five-year-old. The little tyke preferred tuna fish, but they were watching his mercury content and every other sandwich was bologna. He liked mustard and Miracle Whip. He was on sandwich 50 or around there.

The General wasn’t far behind Tony. He was stuck in a yellow hazmat suit, his skin looked horrible, his health was in rapid decline, he had trouble standing up.

They had built up the Army tent around Jason so they didn’t have to move him much. Jason had survived 23 hours of surgery. Bullets were removed and they then sewed him up and sent him to recover. His bandaged chest, right above where his heart was located, was white gauze, now dotted with specks of red. When he finally opened his eyes, Jason saw people looking down at him. Above them all was a green waving, the sound of flapping. He asked again, “Where’s my son?”

Standing next to an Army nurse, Tony snapped his fingers. An Army woman also wearing thick rubber gloves disappeared and soon returned with Greg. They stayed on the other side of the room. Lying on the Army issue bed, Jason weakly smiled when he heard, “Dad?”

He answered with a coughing fit, he spitting up some blood, “It’s alright, buddy.”

Greg asked, “When can we go home? They won’t let me walk over to you.”

Jason wanted to sit up, but was unable, “Don’t come over here. You don’t want to get sick again.”

He heard his son’s confidence and was proud, “No, dad, you made it so I’m not sick anymore. It’s okay.” He heard a small scuffle as Greg tried to make his way to Jason’s bed. Jason couldn’t see it, but he could hear it. He said weakly, “Don’t, Greg. Don’t approach me. You’ll get it again, I think.”

He heard, “I love you, dad,” and then his son was gone.

Tony had been planning on doing all the talking but the General was impatient. Pushing everyone aside, his yellow plastic suit crinkled as he shoved his way front side barking, “How did you do it?”

Jason coughed a little and asked, “Could I have some water?” An Army nurse had a water bottle ready. As she bent the straw and almost had it to his lips, the General shooed her away.

Looking down at him, the General asked again, “How did you cure it?”

Jason smiled and said weakly, “You can’t duplicate it, can you?”

The General had a dizzy spell and wavered over Jason. He said with urgency, “I’m dying here. We need the cure.”

Jason was weak. It was a smile he couldn’t hold on to. “Please, water and a phone. I need to speak to my wife.” The nurse once again tried to put the straw into his mouth. Her rubber gloves squeaked as she did so, but once again she was brushed back by the General.

The General was no stranger to death. He had ended the lives of many people, be it by pushing people off of cliffs or out of airplanes or by injecting them with incurable diseases, or by sending them into teleport doors they couldn’t figure out where they’d transport to. He raised his hand to pound Jason on the chest. He wanted to send a message, but fell backwards. Tony caught him. As Tony escorted the General to a chair, he motioned a nurse to give Jason water. She did, he emptied it and asked for more.

Tony considered torture. For a split second, he thought about using the little boy to gain leverage but with his daughter in mind, he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Pacing back and forth on the grass, he bit his lip. Whatever he was to do, he needed to be quick. The phone in his pocket was the type of phone that connected directly to any military satellite, be it Navy, Army, Air Force, etc. He took it out as Jason finished his second glass of water.

Jason gave him the phone number and Tony held the phone up to Jason’s ear. Hearing his wife answer made Jason’s heart flutter. She said, “I don’t usually answer unlisted phone numbers, but hello?”

Jason’s wife Missy sat at her sister’s kitchen table. Her house was located in southeast South Dakota. The kitchen floor was a 70’s orange. Missy’s sister constantly complained about the floor. The four children who were with Missy, Greg’s siblings, were running around the house and playing with their cousins. The baby cooed softly in her carrier. Missy and her sister had been discussing what Missy should do. Twice with the kids she tried to get back to Melrose. She got very close but was turned away. She even tried on foot by herself, but the Army caught her in the woods and turned her back. When she had called Jason’s number, it said unlisted. Her sister chain-smoked while looking at her and said, “I am at a loss, this is new for me.” Missy had tried every person she knew in Melrose, but they were all off the grid and all unlisted. She marveled they could get to everyone so fast.

Missy said, “He would do everything he could to get back to me and there’s no way he would let anyone touch Greg.”

Her sister asked, “And the Army didn’t tell you anything?”

She nodded no, “They just chased me away.”

They sat at the table, cigarette smoke curling up into the air, looking at each other. Her sister asked her, “And he didn’t use the satellite phones? Why wouldn’t he?”

Missy stood up again and said, “I don’t know, I don’t know. He plans for everything. His parents taught him that He even has a plan for an alien invasion. The only way it’d be like this would be if he were dead or something.”

At that moment, her phone rang. As she picked it up, she cursed herself for not having charged it, 13%. It read ,‘UNLISTED’, the ringtone was a Little Mermaid song her kids had picked for her. Into the phone, she said, “I don’t usually answer unlisted phone numbers, but hello?”

He sounded horrible, but she recognized him at once, “Missy, Plan N”.

Tony jerked the phone away from Jason’s ear and tossed it into a garbage can, saying, “Burn that.” He grabbed another phone, dialed and said, “Have the person on the other end of that call followed.” He looked down at Jason and said, “Why did you do that? What does that mean?” Receiving no reply, Tony left the room.

As the door zipped shut, Jason heard, “I tried to be nice.” The General sat in his hazmat suit and tried to catch his breath. As Jason closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, he wondered if he’d be able to open them again. His last thought was, ’At least Greg’s okay’.

Ripping the license plates off and borrowing her sister’s car, Missy disappeared. Years ago she had been told by Jason, though she never really took it seriously, “Ditch the phone and go, any plan A through Z. Make sure the kids are okay before you leave.” Her sister had been standing at her back door, all of the kids running around the house behind her, arms at her sides with a, ‘What the hell’, look on her face. As Missy peeled out of the driveway, her sister yelled, “Not even a goodbye?”.

Ten minutes later, the sister heard helicopters over her house. Men jumped down and demanded to know where Missy had gone. Missy’s sister couldn’t tell them because she didn’t know. She also couldn’t remember what make or model car her sister was in, even though it was her car Missy was driving.

Forty-five minutes later as she drove up to it, her first thought was, ’This is it?’ As she got out of the car and stood up, she straightened her flannel shirt, like she wanted to look good. He’d told her the address to this place numerous times but never the reason for it. He insisted she remember. “Be ready for anything” he always said, to the point she had wondered if he was paranoid or needed counseling. Along the highway stood the ‘I-94 Twenty-Four Hour Storage’ sheds. In her pocket on her key ring was the key. She fished it out.

As she approached the metal fold-up door, a semi-tractor trailer passed on the highway, rattling the white metal and all of the doors of the storage sheds. She already knew the combination to the lock. It was her children’s birthdays. It was a combination lock that also needed a key; she had both. Opening the white metal was loud as it rolled up above her, spring-loaded. She jumped with the noise. Inside the air was dry and thick. She coughed from the dust.

On the floor surrounded by ancient wooden boxes was a gray, two-drawer slide-out filing cabinet. Opening the top drawer and looking at all of the files, she saw they were alphabetical. She quickly found the letter N. The paper was old, but not so old that it was falling apart. Opening it, she gasped and looked up at the wooden boxes, what she read was:

“If the Government has me, take two of them, then get the most expensive and famous lawyer you can find and have him come get me”.

There was a crowbar hanging on the wall. In disbelief, she grabbed it and opened one of the wooden boxes thinking, “Two of what?”

Four hours later, in Rapid City, South Dakota, Howard Johnson of the Johnson and Crenshaw Law Firm took two more slugs of Pepto-Bismol. It was almost lunchtime. He pressed the button and said, “What am I doing for lunch today?” His secretary didn’t answer, which added to the already numerous reasons he wanted to fire her. He didn’t know if he was meeting the Secretary of State today or, ’Is that Friday?’, he thought.

Howard Johnson adjusted the collar of his tan suit. He wore the pink button shirt today, even though he told his wife it made him look gay. His father had been in the ground only six months, and Howard Johnson inherited his place in his father’s law firm. Asking her again what he was to do for lunch, this time a little more forceful, he was interrupted for the first time ever, by her. “Yeah, I don’t think lunch is the most important thing for you right now.”

In disbelief, he said, “Excuse me?” The door to his office opened. He stood up and went around his desk. His stocking feet brushed through the thick white carpeting. To his left he saw all of Rapid City through big clean windows. His was one of the tallest buildings in town. As he reached the door to his office, a woman entered. He backed up to behind his desk, though he didn’t sit down.

She tentatively approached him, almost tripping because of the thick carpet. He said, “Listen, lady, I don’t know what my secretary told you, but I have a lot to do today.” He saw her reach into her purse; it was a large purse. Then he saw them. She was not gentle, she had two of them. She told him, “These are a kilo each. There are more. I need a lawyer.”

For only one of a handful of times in his life, Howard Johnson was speechless. He looked down at them with his jaw open. They made a ‘thunk’ sound as they landed, scratching his desk. Standing there for almost a minute, not saying anything, he bent to pick one of them up. There was a stamp that said “UNITED STATES CONFEDERACY”. He was delighted to realize solid gold is much heavier in person.

Leaving Missy Black and Howard Johnson, we need to go to 1860. We are standing next to Jason Black’s adoptive great great grandfather, Locklear (remember him?). He is on the bank of the Mississippi River in southern Missouri, it is near midnight, there is no moon or stars, he is one of the few Indian’s who’s been successful in avoiding the White Man. Moments ago, he had been awakened by screaming on the water. Rubbing his eyes he tried to see what the commotion was.

“Hold it or we’re gonna lose her.” In the pitch black, Locklear saw the little light they had was sinking. He heard one of them yell again, “It’s going down! Grab the gold!.” Another man answered, “You can’t swim with gold! Are you crazy?” There was a boiler explosion; the ball of fire lit up the night. He saw from the shore a steamboat illuminated for a moment. On the side, though he couldn’t read English, read, CSS Mobile. He saw a man on fire jumping from the boat into the water screaming. Other men were attempting to jump, as the fire spread quickly. He saw a man with his gray-buttoned shirt bulging and chinking, jump from the boat. Straight down into the dark he went, making a valiant, yet unsuccessful effort to swim. Locklear assumed whatever was in his shirt was too heavy for him. Two of the men swam to shore on his side. As they passed within inches of him in the dark dripping and coughing, they never knew he was there.

It wasn’t the first time he had heard the word ‘Gold’. Locklear was arrested a week later for the first time, trying to make it back to Minnesota. He learned quickly how to speak English, he also learned what gold was. For the next four years, he had been enlisted in the Northern Army, the Yankees. When the angry White Man gave him his first rifle, he had been handed an 1857 French Tabatiere. He used that weapon for three years. It was when he was handed a newer model that changed his life, an 1864 British Snider-Enfield.

In his white tent, dressed in a Northern Army Civil War uniform, he marveled at it. Staring at his old gun and the complexity of his new one, he realized something, something his great grandfather had said when he was a little boy, “The White Man, he knows something I don’t, just like I know things he doesn’t.”

Locklear asked, “What is it? What does he know?”

In his great grandfather’s teepee during a snowstorm, fire blazing, his grandfather took another pull from his pipe, shrugged and said, “If I knew that, I would tell you.”

While he stared at his brand new British rifle and all the bells and whistles it had, he realized that one day, that gold that was at the bottom of the river would be reachable. If the white man could come up with a new model gun this quickly, this advanced in such a short amount of time, one day he would be able to reach that gold.

After the war, he found an Ojibwe wife and they had a small family. He taught his son everything he knew; his son taught his son everything he knew. He was wrong about himself being able to reach that gold, but he did pass along the location of it.

In 1960, Jason Black’s adoptive parents, Eagle’s Claw and Blue Heart, took a trip to Missouri along the Mississippi River. They also brought along brand new scuba gear and rented a wooden boat. He had been practicing in the Sauk River. The difference in Missouri was when he went under that first time and sank into the dark water there, he came up a millionaire. Blue Heart gasped when the bars made thumps as he started throwing them in the boat. They had to make six trips back and forth from Minnesota. Blue Heart thought, ’It’s a funny thing, when you are gathering gold, although it’s heavy, it makes for light work’.

There are 32.15 troy ounces in a bar of gold. In 1860, a bar was worth $675.15. In 1960 a bar of gold was worth $1,133.93, whether underwater or not. In 2019, 32.15 troy ounces, was worth $48,102.83. Blue Heart and Eagle’s Claw found a man in northern Minnesota to take the bars for cash when they needed it. He had the equipment for it. Jason had his source as well.

Standing across his desk, watching him with his mouth dropped open, Missy asked, “Is this something you can help me with?” The two bars of gold had scratched his polished desk, but, for the moment, he didn’t care. Howard Johnson looked up at her and thought, ’She certainly doesn’t look rich.

Behind him was an oil painting of his father, Hickle Johnson, in a red and grey plaid suit. He had gray hair. The picture swung outward and revealed a safe behind it. Not caring if she saw the combination, he put the bars inside. She saw papers and a few stacks of cash. Putting the bars on top flattened all the papers. Pushing a button on his desk, he said, “Cancel everything for the week and get the interns in here.”

The secretary buzzed back, “Which interns?”

He buzzed her again, “All of them! Then come in here and take our order, we need to eat.” Unbuttoning his shirt sleeves, he sat down with a notebook and said, “How can I, and my law firm be of service?”

The General kept dozing off. Retracing his steps, he realized it was because he had been walking in front, that was his downfall. Had Tony been in the lead, he’d have been just fine. The second that dead little bitch reached up for him, he would have incapacitated her. Tony, that is, Tony would have incapicated her. The General was a thinker, not a fighter. He had been hungry and wanted to get there first. The way he felt now, he realized he never had any idea what hunger was. He couldn’t eat enough.

Across the room from him was a nurse attempting to set Jason upright. He was in obvious pain; the plants were also eating him. The nurse had a yellow hazmat suit on, and it crinkled as she moved. Attached to the General’s and Jason’s arms were a bunch of IV’s. They drained quicker and quicker each time an old one was replaced. The light in the room was dim; the Army green tent walls moved slightly from the wind.

The last close call like this had been in the late ’90s. A flesh-eating virus had spread throughout a small New Mexico town. He had contracted it then. They found the cure. He had scars--comes with the job. That town in Oregon, however, that had been classic, he thought, ’That pink goo just needed to be burned. We blasted the whole thing off the map and the townsfolk along with it.’ He wasn’t being cold, he generally believed in the greater good and the price America and American’s have to pay sometimes. He felt he might pass out.

Tony had been organizing the destruction of Melrose that had been temporarily halted because they found the cure, well, sort of. He also had to deal with the two soldiers who found Jason and his son. They were being shipped to an Army prison, for now. The stress of this job was causing his hands to start shaking. A woman colonel approached him. She had in her hand a yellow piece of paper, an old-fashioned telegram. She attempted to hand it to him; he was reluctant. He had been with the General for almost three years, close, within months.

Six months earlier, on the anniversary of the day the General and his daughter had been in a monumental fight. He liked to get blind drunk. This was right before the birth of Tony’s daughter. After receiving a drunken text, Tony had arrived at the General’s house and used his pass card and a key to get in. The house itself was a fortress, squarely cement built, lead-lined, inside was a waterfall. It was beautiful and large.

He could hear the General singing badly. It sounded like The Steve Miller Band. His hair was disheveled and his blue bathrobe opened. He had chosen Grey Goose Vodka. Tony’s timing was perfect. As the General passed out, he lay back and closed his eyes. In one of his hands was his cell phone. Tony was pretty sure the General had texted him because he was lonely. As Tony picked the General up the General dropped the bottle amid spurts of Steve Miller’s lyrics.

Up the stairs to the General’s room, Tony flopped him onto the bed. As he adjusted and tucked the General in, the General said drunkenly, “You’re gonna replace me. I seen to it. Somethin’ happens to me and they order you to Miller, you’re in trouble. He kills who know too much. After year three your fine.” As the General fell deeply asleep, Tony got a bottle of water and two asprin for his bed stand. He knew two things; the General was usually pretty honest, (to him) and two, he did not want to meet Miller.

Although at the time he didn’t think much of the General’s statements, standing there with the Army colonel trying to hand him an old-fashioned yellow telegram, along with all the other questions being asked of him:

: Sir, do we start burning the turkey’s now?

: Sir, what crimes did the two soldier’s commit. Why are we locking them up?

: Sir, what haven’t we tried with the General? More antibiotics?:

: Sir, can we turn the Sauk River back on now?

: Sir, we found two more people hiding in Melrose. What do we do with them?

: Sir, there’s shooting east of here. Should we check it out?

: Sir, your wife called again. What should I tell her?

: Sir, your daughter is trying to walk. It’s live on Facebook.

: Sir, the Vatican is calling. Father Zimmerman isn’t talking. They want to know why they can’t access their church?

: Sir, the President was just handed a memo about this, but he got distracted, for now.

: Sir, I have sixteen messages for the General. Where should I put them?

: Sir, why is your face all red?

: Sir, we are still missing 18 townspeople. Should we firebomb anyways?

Tony felt like the eye of a tornado of green, as people were circling him and attempting to hand him things and sign things. Next to the yellow piece of paper was the live-stream of his daughter. He grabbed them both, his hands shaking. As his daughter reached her little foot out and attempted to take a step he looked to the paper. It read:

: Upon the General’s death, you are hereby ordered to see Mr. Miller before your next assignment. He will meet you in Madison, Wisconsin.

The fact that there was no address was what scared him the most. When he got to Madison, he’d be hunted down; his daughter would grow up without her dad.

Pushing his way out of the swirling green storm of people, he rushed to the room marked, TOP SECRET. As he entered, the General fell in his hazmat suit face-first to the floor. Tony pointed down at the General and told the nurses, “Get a table in here and get him undressed, down to his skivvies.” As they did so, Tony grabbed Greg from the other room, set him in a chair and strapped him down. It hurt him to do so.

It is an eternal alarm clock for all good parents. When you hear your child crying or screaming, you wake up automatically. Jason opened his eyes and sat up. His shoulder may as well have been on fire. In the yellowing whites of his eyes, you could see the plants moving.

As they attempted to transfuse blood from Greg, he saw his father sit up. He had once seen a few minutes a movie called, “The Dawn of the Dead”, the newer version. He had turned the channel there by accident before his mom turned it off. When he looked at his dad between screams, his first thought was, ’Dad’s a zombie?

Jason swung his legs off the bed. As he stood up, it became clear his legs didn’t have the strength; as he fell, he yelled, “Get away from my son!”

Tony turned as Jason fell. He saw the IV’s fall across the bed as Jason dragged them with him to the floor. There was the sound of crashing.

From the floor, Jason saw nurses scatter away from his son to tend to him. He also saw a woman followed by a guy in a suit. His polished shoes looked different than the shoes of the Army people. As he was lifted back to the bed, he heard them whisper, “He weighs like 50 pounds.”

Howard Johnson had used every favor he had in his back pocket. He had been starting to think, as he did his work in the company limo, that his connections were useless. Missy Black sat across from him wringing her fingers together. As they approached the town of Sauk Centre, he got a call from the Secretary of State. Apparently, there were a few men like the General in the Pentagon and they liked to protect their own. When the Secretary threatened to tell the President on them, they folded and gave Howard Johnson, Attorney at Law, and Howard Johnson alone, access to a one, Jason Black and Gregory Black. Missy stayed in the car. It had satellite and a little television, but she couldn’t help sitting and waiting, looking out the window with her hands on the glass.

In the town of Sauk Centre, everything looked fine. He saw a few people, but no cars, save the Army jeep he was being escorted in. He sat in the back seat. He had brought his briefcase; it was a grey leather. On the way down Main Street, they passed a movie theatre and a closed down Pizza Hut. He looked over and saw an Army guy going through his briefcase. He attempted to reach for it, but the guy in the front seat aimed his handgun at him and he looked away.

As they approached a bridge, the stench of thousands of dead fish attacked his nose. Looking down, he saw Army personnel approaching it with flamethrowers. The flames did little at first. The sky was cloudy. When the jeep stopped, he was ordered out. Stepping down, he was ordered down stone steps to a park where a huge Army tent was set up. He looked up at the sign he walked under. It read ‘Conservation Club Park’. In his suit, he felt out of place.

At the bottom of the steps, he was told to approach the tent, slowly. As he did so, he heard helicopters above. Occasionally, the ground shook. All around him, Army people in camouflage were coming and going. A woman approached him with her gun drawn. She screamed, “State your name!” A now shaking Howard Johnson told her his name. She holstered her gun and said, “Follow me.”

As she escorted him she said, “You don’t remember anything here. You saw nothing.”

That being said, as he followed her, he saw rows of computers, a closed-off chemical lab with beakers and separators and people working on them. People in hazmat suits coming and going. All of the Army people that saw him were shocked he was there, because it’s wasn’t often you see a civilian this deep.

On the way there, Missy had shown him hundreds of pictures of Jason and their son Greg. Howard was sure he’d recognize them. They entered a room marked, “TOP SECRET”. Inside was the strangest thing he would ever see, and what sucked is that he would never be able to talk about it. There was a little boy he knew immediately to be Greg, strapped to a chair and screaming, along with two sickly looking men being placed onto beds. He assumed they were men, what else could they be, zombies?

The man he would learn to be Tony, addressed the woman who had escorted Howard, “What are you and he doing here?”

She said with a smirk, while pointing upwards and twirling her finger, “This is some shoddy work.”

Tony said, “What is that?” pointing at Howard, “doing here?”

She told him, “Don’t kill him, he knows the Secretary.” She left the room.

Tony held his arms out at his sides, giving the ‘Well, go on’ gesture.

Howard cleared his throat and said, “I am an attorney representing a Mr. Jason Black and a Mr. Gregory Black.”

Tony’s head rolled until he was looking down at the ground. While he did this, Howard realized that the man with the bandages on his chest was Jason. He approached him and put a pen in his hand. Holding out a piece of paper, he drew a red X. Tony saw this too late, but instead of getting angry, he said, “Why, no deal is complete until you shake hands.” Howard immediately grabbed Jason’s hand and shook it. Tony spread a wicked smile.

Jason told Tony he would need three chemists, good ones. He would teach those three the cure. Tony watched them leave the tent and enter the woods on the east side of Sauk Centre. He walked back and forth between the General and the open flap a hundred times, then he did it a hundred more.

Jason had to be carried, a fact he didn’t like. They had given him a shot of adrenaline but that just woke him up, it didn’t make him stronger. As they entered the woods, they walked over fallen trees and rotting leaves. The smell told him he was home, he could feel the earth again. His arm dangled because he didn’t have the strength to lift it. The two chemist soldiers carrying the gear started to feel foolish until Jason pointed. All three soldiers looked down at a red-capped mushroom. The soldier carrying him asked, “Are you sure?” Jason nodded yes.

A mile deeper into the woods, he saw another one. He stopped them and pointed. This one had a sickly yellow cap to it. They used their computer scanners and classified both of them, both highly poisonous. All three of the chemists were very doubtful. Jason told them to gather as many as they could find while he weakly started a small fire.

One of them had with him a large pot, another had jugs of water. Just to be sure, he had them measure the exact ratio of water to mushroom. Too many would kill you, too few would kill you, it had to be just right. The soldiers measured and took notes.

The fire never got to blazing, so the water in the pot never got above a simmer. He had them watching their watches, it was all timed. All three were impatient, but they watched the dying man as he slowly and weakly stirred it. He commented that it didn’t taste very good.

Although they were ordered to only listen and speak when spoken to, one of the chemist soldiers asked him, “How do you know all this?” All three sat up with curiosity.

The truth was so factual it was almost boring, “My father told me.”

When it was ready, and to prove its potency, Jason took the first drink. One soldier stayed with the now priceless formula, another picked him up and started running. The last had in a thermos some of the formula for the General.

As they approached the tent and as Jason fell asleep, he whispered in the soldier’s ear who was carrying him, “Make sure he drinks it, it has to react with stomach acid.” Then he passed out.

Inside the tent he was laid on the bed. Nurses grabbed his arms and fixed IVs to them. Just as Tony was starting to doubt him, he saw for himself the vines start to exit Jason’s body in a hideous display. Among the screaming nurses, he took out a syringe and grabbed the thermos, but the soldier who had carried Jason stopped him and said, “He has to drink it.” So he grabbed a funnel tube and forced it down the sleeping General’s throat.

The General opened his eyes in a panic. His body withering away, he felt weak. He also felt something being jammed down his throat. Two nurses were there to hold him down, but he could only move his arms, he couldn’t raise them. What was left of his gagging reflex fought Tony. The look on Tony’s face was scared. When the General saw this, he relaxed. With Tony fighting for him, he knew he was fine.

When the liquid was poured down the General’s throat, the shaking started to slow. Tony hoped he had administered the medicine in time and he hoped it was enough.

The Sleep Mixture, the name Jason had been told to call it, was created to put someone to sleep who needed an operation, or who had a broken bone that needed to be set. The Ojibwe people had developed it thousands of years ago. Both Jason and the General were asleep for over 20 hours. Saline solution was pumped through their veins every hour. There was a mass exodus of plants from their bodies. Surrounding both men were nurses in hazmat suits collecting all the specimens that hit the floor with bloody splats, writhing as they died. The plants escaped from every orifice. Both men were given sponge baths and the bloody sheets changed every hour.

Now infected, Howard Johnson had to be quarantined. When Tony told the General about this later and how he got Howard to shake Jason’s hand, it always made him laugh.

Tony paced back and forth in the General’s room, now in a hazmat suit himself. Every couple of minutes he would stop and put his hands on the bar at the foot of his bed and look at him. The General’s white hair was dim. The color of his skin, though still pale, looked a hell of a lot better than it did yesterday. There were a bevy of needles in his arms; he was still dangerously dehydrated and near starvation.

In preparation for the General’s recovery, Tony had set up trays of food. If the General was half as ravenous as Gregory had been, he would eat a lot.

When the General opened his eyes and said he was hungry, Tony let out a cry of relief. For just a moment, he put his hand on the General’s foot on top of the blanket. He then called out to the Army nurses who rushed into the room with food. As the General started to eat, Tony placed a basket full of vitamins in front of him and instructed the nurses to make sure he ate them. Five cell phones were placed on the General’s lap in front of him. As they started to ring, he asked Tony where he was going. “I’ve been infected and I have to drink the cure. I’ll be asleep for a while. The guy who gave us the cure is in the next room eating. His lawyer knows the Secretary of State. You might need to bargain with them.”

The General replied, “Lawyer? So we can’t just kill them? But we have the cure now.”

Tony said as he left the room, “I know, right? G’night Sir.”

For the first day or so, the General’s arms were weak and he had trouble answering the phones. Tony had done a fairly good job of running things while he was out, of that he made a mental note. Between him and Jason, the Army soon had to do food runs. They took orders. If the underlings hadn’t known better, one would have thought that the two me were competing in an eating contest.

As the General inhaled a plate of spaghetti, an Army sargent came into the room and saluted. The General urged him on with his elbow, his mouth was full. “Sir, we’ve completed the door to door. Some houses had to be burned down to contain…”, he hesitated, men had been jailed for using the wrong words here, “the contaminate.”

The General spoke, “Well said.”

The sargent continued, “What are we to do with the stragglers, sir?”

“How many people did you find hiding?”

The sargent, “About 30 sir.”

“Are they infected?”

“Yes, sir.”

The General thought for a moment, ’It would be nice to avoid a total bloodbath after all.’ The plate he was taking food from had large meatballs. In between eating, which he had been doing constantly since he had awoken, he was able to squeeze words out. “You have them all contained?”

The Sargent answered, “Yes, sir.”

The General sighed, “There is a white container behind you by the door. Take it and make sure every person gets at least two glasses of it. They have to drink it, then they have to sleep. Once they’re awake, turn them loose on the condition they’ve lost all their Melrose privileges. Same deal--they talk, they die. And carefully collect whatever comes out of their bodies during their slumber, for study. Then feed them.” The sargent saluted and left the room grunting with the weight of the container that had TOP SECRET on the side in red letters. It sloshed as he left. As he walked out the door, the General yelled after him, “And destroy what you don’t use!” As the door flapped shut the sargent said, “Yes, sir”.

One of the General’s phones started to vibrate on his lap. Setting his plate down, he looked at the caller ID and mouthed the words, ‘Damn It!’. Wondering how long Tony would be down, he looked hopefully toward the door. He would usually just hand the phone to Tony and say, “I’m not here.” He answered, “Hello”.

“You have Howard Johnson in your custody?”

“To whom am I speaking?”

There was a long pause before the General reluctantly continued, “Yes, I have him. It would’ve been nice if you hadn’t pressed for him to come here. I might add, I didn’t want him here in the first place.”

“Well, how long before you let him go? To whom am I speaking?”

“It’s not that simple. He represents a very valuable man and both of them have been infected. You don’t want to know who I am.”

“Infected with what?”

“That’s classified.” The General hoped that would cut short the conversation. The General waited, but didn’t speak.

The Secretary of State said, “Okay look, I’ve heard about you guys before.”

The General asked, “From who?”

The Secretary of State continued, “Doesn’t matter. What does matter is I know where you are right now and you can’t clean up everything in a two-hour period.”

The General asked, “Wanna try me?”

“Look, my wife and I are supposed to leave for Peru tomorrow morning and I am planning on making love to her. Howard Johnson’s wife and my wife are friends. Right now, his wife is getting up my wife’s ass. And in turn, my wife is now getting up my ass. If you don’t let him go by the end of the day, my wife will not make love to me and I’m going to be forced to get up the President’s ass, who is then going to get up in your ass. Is that clear?”

The General did not like being ordered around(wasn’t used to it), but, he also didn’t really want to be arguing with the President. He sighed, “He’ll have to sign a conditional release form. It’s got pretty steep consequences.”

The Secretary of State replied, “How steep?”

The General said with a smile, “He talks about this, he dies.”

The Secretary of State asked with wonder, “Really? What did you find up there?”

“That’s classified.”

“Yeah, well, if he’s not out by the end of the day, I’ll know about it. My wife won’t let me forget. I’m wondering… the rich client he’s representing, Howard’s got an $80,000 retainer, and that’s just to get started? Anyways, thank you,…General, yes, I’ve heard that name before. Have we met?”

The General reluctantly tried to be cordial, “Thank you, Secretary.” Then hung up.

Howard Johnson opened his eyes, then rubbed them. He had been forced to drink that crap, but he had slept better than he had in years. When a woman in green came into his room, she asked if he was hungry. She then handed him a bologna sandwich and left. As he sat up on his cot, he straightened his shirt and tie. Finding his suit, he tried to make the best of what he was wearing. It wasn’t often he slept in his clothes. Finishing his sandwich, he stood up and left his room to look for his client. The General had made sure he wasn’t disturbed. He unconsciously patted his pocket, but his phone had been confiscated. He wondered if his wife missed him.

Jason’s sleep had been restless for most of his slumber, but at last he entered dreamland. It was like he had never slept before. For the first time in his life, he dreamed of an ancient man in a teepee, his red face was wrinkled and he was smoking a pipe. It wasn’t cold, but it was snowing outside and he could hear the wind howling. On the animal skin walls, there were red handprints and drawings of buffalo. He patted his chest and left arm. His bandages were gone, his body didn’t hurt, he was a little boy again. Sitting across from the old man over a roaring fire, Jason felt small. In the dream, he asked, “Who are you?” The Indian took a pull on his pipe and said, “Go for land when he offers, money you have already.”

With a look of total confusion, Jason asked, “Land?” When there was a noise outside his dream, he left the man in his teepee and opened his eyes. He wanted to stay in the dream, but had no control over his exit. An Army nurse bent over him with a sandwich. He immediately wanted to drink the cure so he could be back in the teepee again with the old man, but he knew that drinking more of the cure would be unsafe. It could kill him.

He remembered his father saying something about wisdom in dreams, “Most of your dreams are bullshit, but you’ll know when it’s not. If he visits you, you must be doing something “right.”

Jason asked his father, “If who visits me?”

Eagle’s Claw looked down at Jason and said as he ruffled his hair, “You’ll know him when you see him”.

Thinking about it, Jason realized he would give anything to be back there in that teepee, with that old man.

Howard Johnson entered his room and asked how he was feeling. It wasn’t long before they were called to be in front of the General. Jason asked about his son and Howard told him, “We sent him to be with Missy. I heard the reunion went well. They were driven back to South Dakota.”

Deputy Primus looked out from the basement of what used to be a Red Owl grocery store. She had been eating canned food for a week and hiding from the government. She had been spotted twice. Her green skin didn’t itch anymore, but she didn’t like the color. She could feel those things moving under her skin. They whispered to her.

On megaphones, men had announced while driving around town in their green Army jeeps that this would be their last chance to turn themselves in, but she didn’t trust them.

She remembered them starting the bombing the first time and then stopping. When the bombing started the second time, Deputy Primus walked out onto main street and looked up to see jets approaching, the ground shaking so bad that she saw sidewalks crack in half and the street open up. All around her storefront glass shattered. She had fallen to her knees and started crying as the flames approached her. In hindsight she should’ve turned herself in.

There were plates with carrots and broccoli and dips, meats and cheeses with crackers. As Jason sat down, both he and the General ate constantly. One thing the General didn’t judge Jason on was his hunger. The General thought, ’That part I get.’ Sauk Centre is 10 miles from Melrose. As it was firebombed to hell, the ground shook. Both Jason and Howard jumped every time. The General and Tony didn’t flinch, not once. Both Jason and the General had single remaining IV’s in their arms, and both would soon not need them anymore. They both took a drink of water at the same time.

The General looked to Howard Johnson, Attorney at Law, and asked, “How much of a percentage do you get?”

Howard replied, “I’ve already been paid.” He then went to continue his statement, but he was only able to get one word out, “Confederate…” When Jason’s right arm shot out and landed on Howard’s chest, stopping him from speaking. Howard understood immediately and stopped. He then reiterated, “I’ve already been paid.”

Both the General and Tony looked across the table with curious eyes, both had the same exact thought, ’What was that about?’ A few munching moments passed before the General said with a half-full mouth of meat as the ground shook, “As you can hear, the land you own, which was quite substantial, is no longer available.” With that statement, the bottles of water on the table shook. It reminded Tony of the Jurassic Park scene with the stomping dinosaur and the puddle of water.

The General continued, “We are prepared to offer you a sizable sum…”

He stopped talking when he saw a single tear fall down Jason’s face. It was quickly wiped away, he was shaking his head no. The General looked confused, “Listen, young man, I am indebted to you. It’s rare for me to feel indebted to anyone. You have also done a great service for your country, but I will not be had.”

Jason started laughing, which caused him a lot of pain. He held his right hand out, palm forward, and said, “I’m not trying to trick you, nor make fun. I want land.” Howard Johnson, the General and Tony were all three surprised. None of them saw that coming.

Within the hour, large packages of blueprint scrolls were flown in. Jason and Howard weren’t allowed to see them. From across the room, they heard the occasional crunch of a carrot being eaten and the crinkling of paper as they looked through the maps. TOP SECRET was written on most of them.

With a red marker, Tony had circled numerous places. As they whispered back and forth to each other, Howard heard the words, “since 1983” and “it has to be cleared out.” Other than that, they were kept in the dark for another hour until finally Tony and the General came back to the table and asked them, “Have you ever been to Trapper’s Peak in Montana?” As the General asked the question, the same black woman who had mapped the progress of the vines, poked her head in the room and said, “General, it’s Alaska. They have another one.” The General waved her away quickly, but he had a smirk on his face.

Jason soon learned that part of the Bitterroot Mountain Range, in fact, the highest point was in western Montana. There was a former Army base built into the side of the mountain, there were offices with hidden windows overlooking the valley, secret entrances, and exits. The road there had to be repaved and cleared, but that took the Army just two to three days to complete. Jason would never have to pay a power bill. They gave him a mountain and all he had to do was keep a secret.

After signing a stack of papers, Jason was released into Howard Johnson’s charge. The General had Jason tracked for five years, but he never got an answer to the ‘Confederate’ question or what Howard was talking about. I-94 Storage had a valuable tenant, but it was listed under Jason’s biological father’s name, Joe Madison, who, if you remember was currently serving a life sentence in prison. This was a connection the General was never able to make, nor would Tony.

Howard didn’t like being held against his will. He signed the TOP SECRET papers reluctantly. His wife would pepper him with questions but she gave up eventually. Some nights he would take the gold bars out of his safe and look at them in the dark. He would use them to fund his retirement. When he was able to prove it was actually Confederate gold, it drove the price straight up. There are a lot of collectors out there.

Melrose was erased from most maps, online ones anyways. The Star Tribune tried to cover the story, but its computers kept being hacked and the reporters attempting to write about it were told to, “Let it go.” The entire Melrose area was now roped off and quarantined. Occasionally, teenagers would approach the scorched earth, but rumors kept most of them away.

A few weeks later in the town of Irbil, which is located in northern Iraq, a little boy ran through the bullet-ridden streets with a box the size of a cinderblock. It didn’t have the weight of a cinderblock, so the boy ran easy. His clothes had started out white, but they had turned a dingy ivory color. His tan skin made it easy for him to avoid people. There was a broken-down, rusted car parked in front of a faded brown door on a block no one lived on. The rust from the car sprinkled down to the dirt with every blast; the little boy avoided it at all cost. If the explosives in the car went off, he and everyone within five blocks would be dead. The car was packed in case the American’s found out he was here.

At the same time this package was being delivered, there were 11 other people receiving gifts all across the world. There was a dangerous man in a cabin in north Russia getting a rare comic book. A drug dealer in Columbia receiving a key to the last 2017 Dodge Viper ever made, and where it was parked, the packing bubbles were removed. A high ranking official in the Chinese Army was opening a vase from the Ming Dynasty.

There were cameras set up everywhere, but the little boy still had to knock. When he did he pressed himself against the door knowing that if the car bomb went off, he would be dead. A slot slid open, the little boy looked up pleading. The door was opened and he ran up the stairs. The man with the turban sat back down with his rifle and watched his little TV in the dark.

Up the stairs was a sight that would have made Radio Shack jealous: electronics, stacks of TV’s, laptops. A man with a dark beard was designing a vest that should be able to be snuck on a plane. It gave x-ray results of the insides of humans, bypassing the explosives. He was almost finished. ’Maybe another two weeks and it’ll be ready,’ he thought.

The little boy ran up to him and shoved the box in his lap. He was for a moment startled, but the smile on the boy’s face told him not to be worried. As he opened the box, he could see the boy hadn’t messed with it. He shook it and recognized the sound immediately. Looking down, he delighted in his prize. So dazzled by what was in the box, he unconsciously reached into his pocket and took out a wad of one-hundred-dollar bills and handed it to the boy. Racing down the stairs, the boy disappeared in a flash.

Shining a light in the box, he looked down and saw his Achilles heel, diamond-encrusted Rolex watches. Not able to help himself, he reached into the box and took one out. He was momentarily irritated by the packing material, a weird vine that had a reddish hue. The vines had been wrapped around the watches. Pulling them off was a chore, but when he put on his wrist that first one of the six, he couldn’t stop smiling. That night, as he faded off to sleep, his hands started to itch.

Because the Army didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with right away, he had been able to slip through on the highway, then through the airport. For a week, with all the cash, he had really lived the good life, top-notch booze, lots of girls and lots of food.

In Miami, Florida, it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the birds were singing(The Golden Girls would’ve loved it.). There was an apartment a block over from the beach. It had all the windows shut and the shades drawn. The tiles had a very nice shine to them, there was a Roomba scooting around on the floor mopping. It kept getting caught up in vines that had spread from Scott to the refrigerator and to his aquarium. There were water bottles and takeout boxes everywhere. His phone was beeping constantly, as he was getting a lot of text messages. One from his girlfriend read:

“Listen, asshole, I don’t know what you gave me, but I am at the Doctors right now. CALL ME.”

Another girl texted him, “Are you sure you’ve been tested lately? I don’t feel well. Call me.”

Yet another girl texted him, “Whatever you gave me, I gave to my boyfriend. I’m going to kill you!”

Scott couldn’t read the text messages. Around four in the morning, his heart had stopped beating. He had fallen face down and the vines had taken over his place.

The sun was bright as she got out of her car. She tried not crying as she crossed the road to Scott’s apartment. She kept her hand on her belly as she ran. She wasn’t showing yet, but she didn’t want to lose the baby, his baby. Taking the elevator her pink miniskirt had ridden up her thigh. She pushed it down. He had made a lot of promises to her.

Standing in the dimly lit hall, she could hear him moving behind the door. Not caring what the neighbors thought, she started yelling, “Let me in, you asshole! I don’t care who you have in there, we need to talk!” An old man down the hall scuttled to his room with his key out and a brown grocery bag in his hands. She didn’t notice him at all. As she started to kick his door, her high heels broke, but she was pissed enough she didn’t notice. She also didn’t notice the pain in her feet as she thrust her legs.

Putting her ear up to the door, she could hear he was moving around on the other side. “Ignoring me?” she said out loud. “I’ll teach you to ignore me. I didn’t grow these perfect legs to have some…”, she took a break in speaking to kick hard, with the last strike the door slammed open, “jerk like you to ignore me.”

She stormed into his room. It was dark, except for the light from his aquarium, and the light from his open refrigerator. She saw him on the floor face-down. As she gently approached, she was reminded of Dr. Octopus from “Spiderman” and the way he had all those tentacles sprouting out of his back. It was different with Scott though. His tentacles were coming from his stomach. ’It’s dark in here,’ she thought. She nudged his side a little and tried to get him to react. Behind her, she thought she heard the door to his apartment shut. In a few seconds, she would wonder why it had gotten darker; then something grabbed her.

end

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