Hot as hell doesn’t begin to describe the temperature here. It’s so humid that breathing takes effort. Jules and I have been walking for three days in the same direction. We found an old set of train tracks a few miles from the complex gates. We figured that we could keep to the tracks and hide in the nearby forest in the event that a train came along. Three days later and we’ve not seen the first vehicle at all.
Yesterday, we did come up on an abandoned community. I’ve heard that there’s a lot of small places like this that are wholly preserved. At some point over the last 10 years, the Regime just cleared a path in a twenty mile radius all the way around the complex- which is approximately 20 miles in and of itself. They apparently felt that having people so close to them was a threat, so they just went in and recruited or murdered all the inhabitents.
These places feel eerie now. Just as if someone was eating dinner, then decided to run away all of the sudden. I suppose that may be exactly what happened. This place is further than the standard 20 miles, but I can’t say for sure how far it is. We covered the ground quite quickly and I think we are around 30 miles or so away from where we started, covering around 10 miles a day or so. Maybe more, no less.
We scavenged for supplies and found a few bottles of water and some canned fruit. That will help keep us from starving for a few days or until I can make a bow to hunt with. The best find was an old tattered, yellow paper map. Granted, it is well over a hundred years old, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’ve been studying the map as much as I can. It’s got landmarks noted and notes in the margins. The Mississippi River is clearly noted. We passed a rusted old sign an hour ago that said Jonesboro, Arkansas. Based on the map, Jules and I have decided to head southeast towards the Mississippi River and home.
“You’re really quiet, Allie” Jules says from behind me.
“I’m thinking about the route home. ” I tell her. Continuing along. ” I can’t wait to be there. I just can’t figure out how we can get across the Mississippi. It’s not like we can just swim it. ”
” I’ve heard there are catfish the size of a truck in it. I’m not interested in so much as touching the water. I’m way too cute to be eaten.” Jules says seriously.
“Ummm, ok then.” I said laughing. “Drowning isn’t on my list of favorite ways to die either, so that’s out. We really need a plan. ”
“Allie, we’ve not been friends long and I don’t know much about you, but what I do know is that you are a control freak. Have you ever not had a plan? Ever been a rebel and just went with it?” Jules asks.
“No.” I respond. “I don’t like surprises. Papaw Saul always preached the 7 P ‘s. So they’re ingrained in my head to be ready and prepared at all times.”
“The 7 P ‘s?”
“Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance” I respond grinning.
It takes us two more days to get to the river. We’ve been walking along the shores trying to find a way across the large expanse. I’d hoped that the tracks would have a bridge or soemthing across it, but yesterday, they started veering north. So we altered our course. There’s lots of places with docks, but no boats anywhere to be found either. Likely scavenged long ago. So week keep walking down the coast.
On the outskirts of what was once a large metropolis, it’s now a bustling port. People are everywhere, but no one looks to be announcing their loyalty to the Regime. However, no rebels are apparent either.
“What kind of town is this?” Jules pipes up from my side. “How can we trust anyone? How do you know whose side are they on?”
“I’ve heard of places like this. They’re neutral, called Sanctuary cities. Papaw Saul said they’re for people who live with their heads in the sand. They’re here for people on both sides of war to do trading. Problem is they’re infested with people from both sides. We have to tread carefully. Whatever you do, try to avoid drawing attention to yourself.” I explain to her.
We change our appearance as much as possible. Using some clothing that we scavenged from the abandoned community, we appear to be dusty younger looking boys. I smear some ashes lightly on my face to appear to have a 5 o’clock shadow. We both pull our hair up and don old baseball hats to hide our hair.
We wander around the outskirts of the city for hours, looking for a way to blend in. I’m seriously concerned about our safety here. I don’t care if they call it a “sanctuary” and say that they don’t expedite people from either side. I’ve met one too many people that have been abducted in places such as this and immediately shipped back to the Regime or killed for their associations. Jules and I tread carefully, sticking to the shadows and avoiding eye contact.
” Do you have anything to trade or any money?” Jules asks. ” What are we going to do for supplies?”
” I brought my pack and I have a little bit of cash in there. We really have no choice. We have to have supplies if we plan to keep going. ” I say reluctantly warily eyeing the trading post ahead of us. ” It’s now or never. Let’s do this.”
We walk into the store avoiding eye contact with anyone. It’s apparent by the looks from the other patrons that we are getting, that we have a funky smell going on. A lady rushes past with her shirt over her face. A teenage boy grins at us and turns to his friend and whispers loudly, ” I wander if they know how to use soap?” My face colors at the comment, but I keep my head ducked and attempt to blend in, gathering the supplies we need. I make sure to add some soap in the pile too.
We are able to get as much as we need without any issues or further confrontations. Jules and I make our way to the riverfront. Warily watching for any Regime soldiers, we see none. Scouting around, we find a place secluded along the muddy river. Hoping to bathe, we take turns taking a watch. I take the first watch, then it’s my turn. Jules is antsy and jittery. I rush through a quick wash using the soap we bought. When I’m climbing out of the River, I hear a rustling sound. Looking around, I grab my clothes and throw them on. Pulling my shirt over my head, I’m grabbed from behind an a hand is covering my mouth. A strong arm is across my stomach and a distinctly male scent is behind me.
” Keep your mouth shut and do as I say if you want to keep breathing”, I hear in my ear.
I instantly stiffen, but fear keeps my mouth shut. Frantically, I look around for Jules, but she’s nowhere to be seen. My gut quenches and anxiety settles in my gut.
The voice of my captor is distinctly male. He pulls me to the edge of a dense tree line about twenty yards away.
” You don’t have to be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you, but if you make any sounds, then you will alert an entire Regime battalion to our presence. I don’t really feel like dying today, so unless you do have a death wish, then keep your mouth shut” he whispers in my ear. His grip on me loosens warily. “Nod if you can do that”, he says.
I nod slowly.
Although I am terrified and scared for my life, I can’t help but to turn and get a look at my captor/savior. Instantly, recognition hits me and my heart skitters to a sudden stop. Blonde hair that’s cut close to his head, blue eyes that look like pools of splendor, shoulders in a shirt that looks to be painted on and muscles underneath that clearly display a six pack. Adonis in all his glory.
All the color leaches from my face. Words elude me. It cannot possibly be him! He’s dead! Isn’t he?! Loxley, stares at me from a grown man’s face. Before quick, I launch myself back into his arms and envelop him in a hug that is likely to smother him. Sheer joy is all I feel at this moment and I forget all about the chaos around me.
” I missed you too, Allie.” his emotional voice says quietly in my ear. ” We can’t discuss it now, though. We gotta work on not dying right now.”
It registers to me that he knew exactly who I was. He’s not surprised at all that I’m here.
Those words sober me and instantly I remember Jules. “Oh NO! Where’s Jules? She was standing there watching for me. What happened to her? She couldn’t have been out of my sight for more than three minutes.”
His eyes lower and he looks behind him. “She’s hopefully hightailing it like it told her to toward that copse of trees over there. Come on. Move quietly. We have to go now.
Scrambling up the bank, I realize belatedly, how little clothing I have on. Scrambling into my clothes with my face on fire, I rush after him.
Jules is waiting quietly by the trees as we approach at a run. Wordlessly, she follows me.
We talk little as we go, Lox is questioning us about the attack and what happened, how we managed to get away, etc. We answer his questions as much as possible. Apparently we have made an unspoken decision to trust him implicitly. He’s Loxley. We’ve been friends all my life. But Jules also answered his questions without hesitation. Odd. Why would she be so forthcoming with him?
I note that something is off and that I’m missing something. Now isn’t the time to discuss it, but I get the distinct feeling that these two know each other.
We stop to rest, several hours later. Loxley stops goes to back track to make sure we weren’t followed.
Jules keeps avoiding the fact that she and Loxley clearly know each other. She never once questioned his leadership and blindly followed him. Never said a word to me either.
“So, How do the two of you know each other?”, I ask her.
She gives me a strange look, but shrugs and says, ” He’s been around.” She says vaguely. “Deke knows him somehow. It’s been awhile, but we’ve all met Locke.”
“Locke?”, I say.
” Locke Davis.” she says, clearly confused that I seem to know him, but not his name. ” He’s not part of the regime. I’m not really sure exactly how he operates, but he’s given us an assist on a few missions. ”
That’s all the information she’s willing to part with. I don’t attempt to question her further. I’m stuck on the name. Locke Davis.
Lox is back and we set off. I’m thinking of how to approach the fact that he’s clearly alive and that Deke is well aware of that fact. He could’ve let me know.- jerk.
We walk for days, going up hills that soon become mountains. The terrain is rough and appears to be unsettled. We only rest for short periods of time. Locke seems to know where he’s going , so we follow, keeping pace silently. As we walk, I take the time to study him. He’s not the same person I knew as a child. There’s only a small resemblance to the boy I once knew. I ponder how different our lives have become and it fills me with a sadness deep in my soul. I mourn for who we used to be, who we should have been, as well as for who we have become.
” I think we are far enough away to finally discuss where we’re going? ” I say to his back. He just shrugs, says nothing and keeps going.
” Where have you been all this time? ” I say to his back.
” The day they took you, the Rebels came barging up the Mountain with a vengeance. I was terrified. I knew what they’d done to Saul and couldn’t help but think the worst for you. So I waited until the fight was over. The leaders of the Rebs walked right up to Saul’s front door and walked in. I was stupid and running on adrenaline, so I rushed them from the clearing I’d been hiding in. I thought they were going to loot the place. Little did I know……. ” He stops, he looks odd, as he cocks his head to the side. ” I bet no one has told you. ” He says pondering.
” Tell me what?”, I say suddenly filled with a strange feeling.
“Who the Rebels are. The men behind the rebellion?” he says.
“Yeah, no. They filter and keep any and all information about their enemies from all of us.” I say simply, shrugging my shoulders. Curious now, I ask. ” Why? It’s not like they’re someone I know.”
“You certainly should, you at least know of them. The brains of this operation are none other than Sam and McCoy Davis. They told Saul they were gonna bring down the Regime or die trying and they’ve held true to it.” he says to me, looking at me for my reaction.
Stunned, I have no words. Pride seats itself in my heart. A strange feeling for me. I’m typically reserved, but his news has me feeling a little stunned.
“Allie, I have to warn you. They’re not expecting to see you. I don’t know if they even know you’re alive. Hell, I wasn’t sure. I haven’t spoken to Deacon in a year or more. They’re hard men and not ones easily manipulated. They’re men that are loyal to the cause at any cost. It may be a family reunion, but don’t expect a huge party. ” he says with concern.
” I don’t like to be coddled, Lox. I’m not looking for a family. ” I say with irritation at the implication that I’m a needy, little girl. At the same time, I do feel that need to know the only blood relations that I have left on this Earth.
As we walk, I can’t help but ponder why I am so unsure of how to feel.
I’ve longed to meet the men who have the guts to oppose the Regime and I’ve dreamed of being able to join in their cause to fight those war mongering, control happy, hoity toity freaks who call themselves “The Regime”. It’s rumored that the Rebels are extremely selective as to whom they will accept, but that they will typically lend aid to all who need it. I’ve heard that their men are all loyal to a fault and they train until they can feel no pain.
There are several divisions of their military forces that are modeled after those of olde with a few twists. In the old days, there was a military with multiple branches who served one government.
Now, it’s similar except that they intermingle – as they did in the olden days, but this time, it’s where they’re all trained together, then branch into their specialties. They don’t always work as individual groups and may have several different groups intertwined and working as one. In other words, each of these is special operations and tactical groups that allow the forces to move in smaller, but more lethal groups to accomplish goals. They have limited air force capabilities as well. The difference between the historical groups and the Rebels is that instead of being separate branches of a whole force, they are all one large group with each subgroup working together to create a super military. They work more with quality instead of quantity.
You’d think with the amount of special training and forces that they have, that they could easily annihilate the Regime. Why you may ask has this not already happened? Because the Regime has several things going for them- they have more men- they quadruple in numbers, they have kidnapped and stolen people like myself and recruited and brainwashed the families and friends of the Rebels, and there are millions of innocent people ensconced in the stronghold that would be harmed during a direct attack. The leaders of the Regime know this and use it to their advantage. This is why you have those small attacks like the one the night of my escape. The Rebels use whatever intelligence they can gather and will either perform an attempt at a search and rescue or a strategic attack.
Lost in thought for several miles, I ponder what happens next, and my mind keeps wandering back to Deacon. In the short time that we have been reunited, he’s been working his way into my heart a little bit at a time. I wonder if it’s because he was a familiar someone and that he reminded me of home, or if he’s really that special. Has my school girl crush continued on? Will I ever find out?
My mind occupied, I almost don’t notice a change in the terrain. Locke is quiet as we pass through a large rock formation. At first glance, it appears to be a solid cliff with no entry, but as we continue on, the wall splits and a large opening appears. There are large solid metal doors. My first thought is that this looks like an old fortress from stories. We come to a stop at the gates and I can’t help but wonder how on earth we are getting through the gates. When Loxley turns walking parallel to the doors and past them to the cliff beyond. There he finds a very small area covered with a bush. he picks up a phone and says. ” Lox here. Reporting as directed. I have two Reg’s with me. Please respond appropriately.
Immediately on alert, I go rigid. I know he was telling me about the Rebs, but why did it never occur to me that he was one?!
Julie is wide eyed and breathing hard. ” You’re a Reb?! What the hell? We just went from one to the other. Now, we are gonna be prisoners here? Oh no! You lied!!” She goes on the attack towards Loxley. He’s got his hands up to protect his face, but makes no moves to defend himself. ” I trusted you, you bastard! Blindly. ” She rages.
I finally step up and grab her from behind. ” Relax, Jules. There’s nothing we can do now. Think. Think. Calm down. Breathe. We will figure this out.”
Seconds after she stops her assault, we are greeted by a handful of soldiers. They make no attempt to subdue her. Just wearily watch us.
A tall dark haired soldier with a goatee and harsh eyes steps forward. ” McLean, What’s the hell do you mean bringing these two here? General is gonna be pissed. You know we don’t hold prisoners here. ”
Lox doesn’t appear intimidated in the least. He steps forward, puts a hand on my arm and says, ” Phillips, This is Allison Davis. She’s here to see the Generals. We got some things to discuss. ”
A collective gasp of suprise gushes from the soldiers.
I look to Loxley in serious confusion. While, Julie looks at Lox with rage, ” MCLEAN? You’re a MCLEAN? What the hell? Who ARE you people?!?!?!?!?!”