The next day Dad moved our beehives out near the sink where it was warmest despite it being the wrong time of year to do it. When I asked him why he said, “It is important for the bees to survive Dacey. We don’t know how long Heart Rot is going to be a problem. So far it hasn’t stopped pollen from being produced, it has just caused the plants that are producing the pollen to be sterile or for any resulting fruit from non-sterile pollen to rot and before it is edible by humans.”
“Then why be worried for the bees? It sounds like they’ll have enough to eat even if we don’t,” I asked still not quite understanding.
Dad for all his gruffness and high stress levels always was pretty patient with Daniel and I, even when the questions might have seemed senseless to him. “Dacey, you see that people are burning any plant or tree they consider to be contaminated as they try and stop the spread of Heart Rot. And they aren’t going to go to the effort of planting flowering crops if they aren’t going to produce anything for humans to eat. If all the plants and trees are destroyed or disappear then the bees won’t have any pollen to collect and eat. They’ll starve even quicker than humans will. People will also destroy beehives trying to get to food once they become desperate if not before. I’ve seeded over this area in wild, hardy grasses trying to hide our tracks and the BLM acreage with all of its diversity will hopefully give our bees a chance. I also wish I could find a way to bring a hive in and out of the cave to use in the grow rooms to help pollinate the plants in there but I don’t know if it is worth the risk; they might just as easily bring Heart Rot in with them.”
I must have still looked confused because Dad added, “Look at it this way Dacey, it is just another piece of just-in-case planning for the future. We need the bees for the future if and when Heart Rot goes away. Just like the seeds we are using in the grow rooms, if we don’t take care of them now we won’t have them for later. To be honest I don’t know for sure if what I’m doing is going to help but it can’t hurt; and it is free and easy enough for me to do and as a personal bonus in my opinion it will irritate those feds to no end and get a little of our own back.”
I wasn’t stupid but I was only thirteen and the reasoning skills my father used were those of a mature and thoughtful adult; I was still just a kid. Only a few days later the final nail in the coffin of my childhood would be pounded in with a vengeance.
Dad said he had an itchy feeling in his bones so we spent the next two days moving the remainder of almost everything we owned to the cave; only a few bare necessities remained in the house . Momma thought he was over reacting but she was never one to argue or get in his way when he was in a certain kind of mood. He’d heard from one of his friends in another state that there was a rumor that Peacekeeping Troops from the UN had been deployed on US soil and were coming into conflict with the Chinese troops already here with regard to the existing food supplies. The rumor had it that the resulting conflicts were being suppressed in the media because some US citizens had been killed when they got caught in the middle.
We were sitting down to breakfast the next day, my brother and I barely awake even though we were late getting ready for school, when suddenly the kitchen door was kicked in.
“Down! Everyone down on the ground!!”
“What the Sam Hill?! Clyde what is going on?!!” Dad yelled at the town deputy that we all recognized from church.
“You have to listen to me John. Get down and do what you’re told. This isn’t our call. I can’t stop this … already tried. The only thing we’ve managed to do was for them to let us go in first to try and avoid any more trouble than what is already coming.” Deputy Clyde Baker was clearly upset though trying not to show it. This man coached my softball team. I went to school with his daughter. All I could do was look at him but he turned away refusing to meet my eyes.
We were then ordered out of the house and told to sit down under the tree. Dad and Jeff sat on either end of the family with me beside Jeff, Momma beside Dad and Daniel between us. Daniel was very agitated. The sudden intrusion into our normal morning routine and all the noise had him visibly upset bordering on out of control. Momma had her arm around him on her side and I was holding his hand on mine, trying to help him the only way possible.
Men in fatigues with blue berets and blue ascots were in our barn and kicking in doors all over the house even though there was no reason for them to; nothing was locked. We could hear crashes and bangs from inside both buildings. I looked over to my Dad who looked ready to blow. I went to move in his direction but was stopped when Jeff leaned against me forcing me back against the hickory tree we were sitting under. When I looked at him he had a forbidding look on his face that said, “Mind your p’s and q’s and don’t move.”
I went back to watching these people, both men and women, do their best to try and destroy our neat little house. Suddenly a window broke upstairs. It was my brother’s bedroom window and that set Daniel rocking back and forth real fast. This was the sign we had all come to know and dread as it was usually the last stage before he completely lost it.
Looking back I know it happened in seconds but even now looking back on it everything appeared to be happen in slow motion so that every action was starkly outlined. My brother stopped rocking and got all stiff; then he catapulted to his feet as if he could no longer contain the anxious energy that had piled up inside him. He wrenched away from both Momma and I in the process. On sensing the commotion behind him, one of the men in the blue berets turned around and brutally swung the butt of his rifle and hit Daniel with it sending him to his knees. Momma screamed and stood up to go to Daniel as he toppled over but another one of the blue berets, not seeing my brother on the ground, thought she was going after his comrade. He raised his rifle, aimed, and shot her. My Dad had come up at the same time. I can still see the shock on his face as he looked at Momma and then the madness that entered his eyes as he turned on the shooter only to be shot by the first blue beret who recognized the deadly threat my father, even unarmed, posed.
The local law enforcement officers ran to try and control the situation but it was too late. Jeff was just able to grabbed Daniel’s foot and drag him back while at the same time throwing himself over the top of both of us, putting himself between us and the resulting gun fire.
When all the noise stopped, Deputy Baker had been shot in the arm and another deputy I didn’t know was dead of a gunshot wound to the chest. Daniel’s face was a bloody mess but he was alive, just unconscious. Jeff had a burn across his back from a stray bullet. And both my parents were dead.
The only clear and certain memory I have of the next couple of hours was after they loaded us into the back of a van. I looked at all the locals that had gathered and said, “You remember this. You remember it real good. And you remember who the traitors are too. Because next time it just might be your family.” I would have said more but Jeff pushed me into the van and sat me beside Daniel who was in a catatonic state of shock.
After they closed the doors and walked away Jeff sat down beside me and said, “Dacey … I’m sorry. But don’t go making things worse right now. Not until we know for sure what is going on and who is in charge.”
We weren’t in the van long before it started up. The van’s driver turned out to be my old bus driver before he retired. “I don’t want to hear a thing from you three kids. You’ve already caused enough trouble for everyone. It’s your own fault things turned out the way they did.”
Jeff looked like he was thinking about going through the wire mesh that separated the cargo area from the front of the van until a ferrety looking guy climbed into the passenger side got in and said, “Shut up Farrell. The girl has it right. You could be next, any of us could. This situation is FUBAR in the extreme. What the !@#$ are we doing anyway?!”
Mr. Farrell said, “I’ll tell you what we are doing. We are doing just like we are told. We take these kids to the drop off point. It will be an example to everyone else and the situation will calm down and blow over then things can get back to normal.”
The ferrety guy just looked at Mr. Farrell hard and then said, “You can’t be that dumb. This isn’t blowing over any time soon. Matter of fact this is just the first of many raids if what I saw on that Fed’s clip board is true. And just in case you start wondering … yeah, you and your brother’s name is on that list. Looks like your farm is about to be taken over.”
“No. You’re mistaken. They said so long as we cooperated we’d be safe.”
Ferrety guy just shook his head before saying, “Maybe you are that stupid. People lie … these type of people lie even more. All they want is for you to stay calm until they get around to gutting you like everyone else.”
“Shut up! You’re the one who is stupid and lying.”
The Ferrety guy just laughed, but not in a funny ha-ha kind of way. Jeff and I were taking care of Daniel but we were also looking at each other silently wondering just what the adults were talking about. We found out twenty minutes later what the drop off point was.
A bus was waiting that was half full of other kids who looked just as shell shocked as we did.
Mr. Ferrell looked at the ferrety-guy and said, “See, they are sending these children to school where they belong and where they’ll get help.”
Just then a soldier in a blue helmet stepped from behind the bus and said in a foreign accent. “No. These are children destined for the re-education camps. Their parents have lost custody due to being militant protectionists and refusing to comply with UN resolution Feed the World.
“But … but … that’s …”
“I would be very careful of your words sir. Your President will be explaining everything tonight in a televised broadcast with the help of the new UN Advisor that has been assigned to the US.”
The ferrety guy asked, “Assigned? By who?”
“The UN of course which in essence means the rest of the world. The US cannot be allowed to continue down its current path. It is unfair to everyone else. The US has always been too rich and too powerful. Now it is not being charitable enough. The rest of the world has empowered the UN to correct the situation. To be fair everyone must be equal in this battle for our lives.”
We didn’t hear anything else as we were forced onto the bus but the two men from the van looked like they were so scared they were about to puke their breakfast. Then the guy in the blue helmet got on the unnaturally quiet bus with us and said, “I have already explained this several times but for your new ones I will do so again. You are being taken to a facility where you will be taken care of so there is no reason to be worried or afraid. We will not hurt you … not if you follow the rules. You may speak quietly amongst yourselves. However if you become … annoying … the rules will change and punishment will be swift and harsh as an example to the others.”
Jeff helped me to position Daniel in a seat so that he wouldn’t fall out and while Jeff lay his jacket across Daniel to keep him from getting chilled, I stuck my jacket by his head like a pillow to keep him from banging into the bus window.
“You OK for now?” Jeff asked in a whisper. At my silent question to his question he said, “I know some of those guys over there from school. I’m going to try and find out what is going on.”
I nodded my head.
“Dacey …” Jeff started.
“Go. I’ll watch Daniel. Just … just come back when you find out anything.”
Jeff paused again and then nodded and slowly and carefully made his way over to where a few older kids were sitting together. I was wiping some more blood off of my brother’s face when I felt a tape on my shoulder.
When I turned I saw a woman with a blue ascot around her neck and a symbol on her pocket that stood for the International Red Cross.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsches?” I shook my head no.
“Vous parlez français?” I shook my head no.
“Parlate italiano?” I gave her a confused look.
Then she asked, “Você fala o português? O habla español?”
My eyebrows went up as I figured out what she was trying to do. “That last one. I speak a little Spanish. Uh, Hablo un poco español,” I said as I see-sawed my flat hand from side to side in the international hand signal for “sorta kinda.” I know I still sounded like a gringa because my Foreign Language teacher used to laugh and say, “They can take the girl out of the country but we’ve yet to figure out how to get the country out of the girl.” I don’t think she meant to be mean because she was laughing and trying to be kind and make me comfortable instead of fearful of my oral language exam but it still hurt my feelings a little bit. I knew all of the vocabulary, it just didn’t sound like I did when I strung them together in a sentence.
But even if I had slaughtered the pronunciation the woman seemed very pleased and signaled for another woman to come over. They spoke together so fast I didn’t figure out what language it was in but it wasn’t the German, French or Italian they’d asked me if I spoke. I glanced over at Jeff and he gave me a quick nod and a wink to show he was watching and to go ahead.
It seemed to take forever but basically the two women wanted to know who Daniel was and what had happened to him. I explained and their face got … got blank. That is the only way I can explain it. I couldn’t tell if they approved of what happened, disapproved, thought it was my fault or just what. All I know is that they stopped being a real kind of nice and changed to being fake nice, gave me what I needed to clean Daniel up and do a little bit of patching up and then got good and away from me and the other kids.
I turned back and did what I could for Daniel and then smiled to myself as I heard the bus driver curse … or at least it sounded like a curse since whatever he said wasn’t in English. He was obviously lost as we’d stopped at a dead end. I knew where we were. It was an old forestry road that dead ended at a spring that the locals called Nature’s Classroom because an old one-room schoolhouse used to be located nearby.
The adults apparently weren’t prepared to ask any of us local kids for help and stepped outside to argue with themselves and to use a funny looking field radio. Then they argued some more giving me time to remember exactly why I was in the bus to begin with. I looked over at Jeff who then made a move like he was going to come back over to us only his friend put his hand on his shoulder and nodded toward an armed soldier that had gotten on the bus with his rifle out.
After the soldier walked back off of the bus I turned to Daniel only to feel another tap. I thought those Red Cross women had come back but when I turned it was an older girl. “Jeff said to try and not think about it right now.”
I looked at her and then remembered, “You’re … you’re Charlene’s sister.”
“Half sister. My name’s Monica. It would be my luck they would hit Dad’s place on my week with him.”
“Are your parents dead too? What about Charlene? And your brothers?”
“No,” she said quietly. “No but Dad did get beat up pretty bad and he and my stepmom were sitting in handcuffs last time I saw them. I don’t know where Jackson is, he left to go back to our mom’s when Dad wouldn’t co-sign his student loan papers. Duncan is in the back of the bus with Charlene trying to keep her from having a fit of the vapors and causing everyone trouble.”
I couldn’t help it. Something my Dad used to say came tumbling out of my mouth. “Good luck with that. Better sign him up for hazardous duty pay.”
Monica put her mouth on the forearm she had across the back of the seat between us. I thought I’d hurt her feelings until I saw her eyes. She was trying not to laugh. “Jeff has you pegged all right,” was all she said for awhile while we both looked out the window at the arguing soldiers while we tried not to look like we were looking out the window.
Then she asked, “What did those women want anyway?”
“I think they are from the Red Cross, at least I think that is what that red cross and red crescent stand for on their badges.”
Monica got real serious, “You said there was a red cross and a red crescent on their badge?”
“Yeah, like a red crescent moon beside the red cross you see on those trucks that go to disaster areas. Why?”
“The Red Crescent doesn’t have any business being around here. The American Red Cross should be fulfilling those duties.”
I looked at the girl who suddenly sounded a whole lot like a teacher. She blushed a little. “Sorry, don’t mind me. When I get nervous I start using long words. It’s just my Mom is a Red Cross volunteer, there is no reason for the Red Crescent to be in this country.”
I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, that’s what I saw.”
“Huh? Oh … I believe you it’s just that it’s weird. Look, I’m going to get back over there and tell the guys what you said. OK?”
I shrugged my shoulders again. It wasn’t until Jeff came to live with us that I’d ever had much to do with the older kids and even then I still didn’t have much to do with them. They were at the highschool and I was at the middle school; it was like some unwritten rule that we didn’t speak to each other anymore than necessary.
Daniel was in rough shape. It always took a while for him to come around after he’d had one of his outbursts, it like used up a lot of his energy or something, but the way he was acting was something different than I’d ever seen. He was “gone away” much further than I could ever remember seeing him. The fact that he didn’t even notice that his hands were covered up seemed to put an exclamation point on it.
Eventually the soldiers and driver returned to the bus looking like they hadn’t just been about to kill each other, got us turned around, and eventually picked up the highway and headed the long way around town to what turned out to be the old fairgrounds before they built the new ones where they could have drag race and tractor pull. In place of the overgrown grass and broken concrete that used to be all that marked the area, there were tall fences and large portable buildings arranged beyond the old parking lot.
The soldier with the funny accent addressed us again. “You will stand up. You will file off of this bus. You will stand where you are told to stand. You will do so quickly and quietly.” The silent “or else” hung in the air like the threat it was.
It didn’t take long for us to get off, the bus had only been half full. They started by separating us into two groups; male and female. I momentarily panicked until Jeff looked at me sharply and took Daniel with him. He mouthed only one word … “behave” … before giving me a brief wink and thumbs up.
My panic returned when I found myself in a large tent where we were further separated into age groups. The woman from the bus came over and looked at with a brief smile … a real one this time and not the fake one she had used on the bus … and said, “No se preocupe. Tomarán su hermano cuidado de. Prometo.”
Yeah, right. She could say that Daniel would be taken care of, she could even promise, but the fact that she told me not to worry actually caused me to worry even more.