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CHAPTER 12 – To Kill, To Die

The group discussion in The Judge’s over-sized parlor had been going all morning. Many subjects had come up, and some things better understood. Many opinions and ideas were explored, and some were agreed to. As with any open discussion, especially one in such perilous circumstances, biases could not help but creep in, and misunderstandings could ignite tempers.

“If no one else will teach Emmie to kill – I’ll teach her myself.” Erin Doyle broke eye contact with Charlie and glanced around before she said, “And I’ll also teach her whatever else a woman should know. ’Cause, like you said, she may become a woman a lot sooner than anyone expected a week ago.”

Charlie was flustered. He hadn’t meant it the way Erin had taken it. He just meant that it was a man’s responsibility to protect women. It always has been. A woman shouldn’t have to protect herself, to fight, to kill … not if a man is around.

The Judge nodded solemnly and, with brown daylight filtering through the drawn window curtains, addressed the full gathering in his oversized parlor. He said, “You’re correct, I fear. Assuming we’re able to survive the next few days, or weeks, and if the invaders do leave after accomplishing whatever they came for – I hope it isn’t our annihilation – yes, we are going to have to re-think what we have thought of as marriageable age. If they don’t leave, I’m afraid it won’t matter much. But, if they do, and with modern medicine becoming a dream of a distant future, a normal life expectancy will certainly become considerably less than what it has been. Everything will have to move backwards, including acceptable childbearing ages. We must realize that even in the most adverse circumstances, biological urgings continue. There are strong arguments that such circumstances actually spur these stimuli as an attempt by the species to ensure its own survival through increased propagation.”

“Huh?” said Delmar Reese from the side of the room.

“What I mean, Delmar, is that –”

“Emmie!” Jason Wolfe said from across the room.

Jason’s ten-year old daughter, whose slim body had yet to begin its metamorphosis to womanhood, was standing in the doorway with a look on her face that could have been shock, fear, or anger. A tangle of below-shoulder-length blond hair framed a pixie face in which blazed intense, hazel eyes. Before he could say anything else, she turned and ran up the staircase.

Jason rose to his feet and headed for the hallway. “I’d better go talk to her.”

Charlie didn’t know how much she had heard, or what understanding she put on what she did hear, but it was clear from her look of both panic and betrayal that she took it wrong.

Jason was a new cop in Petaluma, although not a rookie; he had been on another department somewhere out of state, Charlie recalled. He was about Charlie’s age, and he mirrored Charlie’s stocky build except, unlike Charlie’s, his belly was only barely noticeable. He was about an inch taller than Charlie, and he had brown wavy hair that was beginning to recede. His warm, hazel eyes were browner than Emmie’s.

Charlie recalled the icy chills that had raced over his skin when Jason described how he and Emmie had a ringside seat up on the hilltop just north of the Golden Gate Bridge when the invaders hit San Francisco. A silence had crept among the Victorian’s inhabitants as they heard how the invaders’ flyers by the hundreds had swarmed out of a huge, bat-shaped, mother ship that remained hovering thousands of feet above the city. All but invulnerable in battle against earthly jet fighters, they had reduced that city and the others around the bay to smoking ashes. Only three or four had come to Petaluma and look at what they did here.

Adam had brought Jason and Emmie to the Victorian the day before with Erin and Nate. Erin Doyle was a gorgeous lady that apparently had a really bad time of it over at the coast when a couple of psychos caught her before Jason and Nate helped her get away. Nate Remington was a little old mid-sixtyish guy, an inch shorter than Charlie and skinny, and he reminded Charlie of a stressed-leather-covered raisin.

Charlie stood after Jason left and took the serving tray from Claire. She had collected most of the empty cups to take back to the kitchen, and the thing had to be getting heavy. She had a bad leg, as he recalled. Vonnie had said it was only a pulled muscle, but he knew how those could hurt. He had to hand it to the old gal, though; she never complained, and she was always ready to pitch in with whatever was needed.

After depositing the tray in the kitchen, he went back out to the parlor, a huge room that amply served as a combination banquet and mini-ballroom during the Judge’s holiday parties. He cornered The Judge in the doorway. “You really think there ain’t no help comin’ from Washington? None at all?”

The Judge peered down at his friend and slowly shook his head. “I’m afraid not. From what Erin told us of the radio broadcasts her friend heard, which fits right in with what others heard, too, I would say we are on our own. If American military units still exist, they must be separated from higher command and simply fighting to survive. It’s very likely, in fact, that higher command has been destroyed. Washington was probably incinerated just like Jason described San Francisco. From the sounds of it, they struck most of the major cities of the world, and probably military installations, too. And, remember what Jason said about our fighter planes trying to protect San Francisco? Apparently, they aren’t much of a challenge to the invaders. What did he say he estimated the kill ratio … between ten and twenty of ours for every one of theirs? Ground combat may be a little better for our side, but we don’t really know that. Adam killed one with his arrows last night, but how would a gun do? We’ve heard lots of gunshots around town the last couple of days, but we don’t know how effective they are.”

“I’ll just go up and see if I can help with Emmie.” Erin said as she approached the doorway.

Charlie always got flustered when he was around a beautiful woman, and that certainly described Erin. Natural blond hair with its strands of copper, yellow that was nearly white, and rich gold cascaded over her shoulders and framed a face of remarkable, classic beauty. He had seen lots of photographs of Erin’s sister, Shannon, in various magazine ads, and he knew she was one of the top models in the country. But, except for a scar on Erin’s left cheek, he thought she was prettier; she had more meat on her, for one thing. He had always thought Shannon Doyle looked like she needed a few good meals. But, Erin, now, was a well fed, fully fleshed out woman.

“Excuse me,” she said, turning sideways to slip between Charlie and The Judge. She paused for a moment as she looked up into Charlie’s eyes from just inches away and said, “Sorry for jumping all over you. I know what you were trying to say. I guess I’m a little testy.”

She was about an inch taller than Vonnie, and her build was similar enough to Vonnie’s trim, athletic body – even her age was probably within a year of Vonnie – that he couldn’t help imagining … things. When she smiled at him as she went on past, her richly hued hazel eyes like liquid amber holding his, he felt himself blush like a high school kid at the prom.

Charlie and The Judge both watched each cheek of her rear-end take turns making marvelous little sideways twisting movements as she ascended the stairs.

“Remarkable, hmm?” The Judge remarked

“Huh? Wha?” Charlie stammered. “Oh, yeah, remarkable. I mean, she’s so healthy – uh, strong. Yeah, she’s so strong to have gone through what she went through when she … uh, before they got here … you know ….

“And very pretty, too,”

Vonnie’s voice came from right behind him, and his blush felt like it doubled. As he responded to her, though, he prided himself that his reaction was cool enough to not betray his actual lurid thoughts. “What – oh, hi sweetheart. Yeah, I suppose you could say she’s sorta pretty. Kinda in a homespun sorta way … I guess.”

Vonnie and The Judge both broke up with laughter before Vonnie latched onto Charlie’s arm and planted a kiss on his cheek. She said, “It’s okay, honey. Really. I’ll only worry if a woman that pretty doesn’t get a reaction out of you.”

“Oh, you two –” Charlie mumbled. “I’m gonna go out and check on the guards … as soon as I get a drink of water … wish I had a damned beer.”

He could hear Vonnie and The Judge talking as he stepped into the kitchen and figured they were still laughing at him. Hell, it ain’t like I don’t give ’em reasons, he chided himself. Grinning, he couldn’t stop his memory from returning to Erin ascending the stairs. She is a damned good lookin’ woman, though … definitely healthy. Whew!

He poured himself a glass and sipped it while gazing out the window at the gray coating over everything. So much had been destroyed, so much that could never be replaced. Could this really be the end of the United States of America? That was hard to fathom. But, every kingdom, every empire, every culture throughout history eventually fell; and he knew that his country would eventually fall, too. But he sure as hell didn’t think it would happen in his lifetime. After a few minutes, he thought he was ready to look Vonnie in the eye again without blushing, so he headed back down the hallway.

The meeting was still on-going in little separate conversations among small knots of people. Still reluctant to face Vonnie, he stalled by heading toward the front door. The guards out front still needed checking. The Judge and Vonnie were talking with Adam and the guy that owned a bar downtown.

Charlie’s hand just grasped the front door handle when a sudden racket from upstairs turned out to be Jason, Erin, and Emmie taking three and four steps at a time coming down. As Jason rounded the last landing, his whispered shout came out as a wheezing hiss. “Invaders! Close – coming this way!”

Two shotgun blasts from out front eliminated any questions or arguments.

Adam jumped onto a chair and waved his arms to get everyone’s attention. “Everyone – get out! Now! Go, go! Quick – out the back! Take nothing!” he emphasized as he herded them past while urging greater speed. “Small groups – and get away! Don’t hide close by.” Then, waving his arms as though sweeping everyone out the door, he urged, “Go! Now! GO!”

Another shotgun fired out front as Jason, Erin and Emmie joined the rush to the back door.

Adam jumped down to join Nate.

Charlie thought it must be like that inside a rabbit’s warren when the critters get a warning of a badger sniffing around outside for what’s inside. There was confusion, misdirection, and panic, but almost everyone rushed for the back doors. He thought of how some of the Victorian’s occupants were too badly injured, or too sick, or just too old to make a run for it. Still, those that could run had no choice. Anyone that didn’t run like a rabbit would likely die very soon.

Vonnie clutched the baby and looked back at him from the doorway, waiting for him to join her in a flight for life. He skidded to a stop and looked back at The Judge.

The man who had brought so many hurt and homeless people into his home sat on the couch beside an elderly woman who had wandered in from the kitchen. Charlie seemed to remember someone calling her Aunt Gertie. He had no idea whose aunt she was. Aunt Gertie smiled up at The Judge and began telling him about her Sarah Ann, to which the gentleman seemed to devote his full attention.

Charlie spun and told Vonnie, “Go! I’ll – we’ll be right behind you.”

“But, Charlie –” Vonnie’s voice shook with fear.

“I ain’t gonna leave him. Not even if I hafta knock him out and carry him. Go!”

With Vonnie moving to the back door, and to the sound of another shotgun blast out front, Charlie ran across the room and grabbed his old friend’s arm. When The Judge peered up at him with a funny look in his eyes that looked an awfully lot like defeat, Charlie grabbed his other arm and lifted the bigger man to his feet.

“Charlie, really, I –”

“Shut up, Judge. No time to argue. We gotta get away – now!”

“I don’t really –”

“Goddamit, Judge! I ain’t askin’! Now, move it!”

As he pushed his reluctant friend towards the back door, Charlie did his best to avoid looking at Aunt Gertie and the middle-aged woman who joined her on the couch, clutching the old woman’s hands in her own.

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