Writing Therapy

Depression is real. And it’s raw. It’s emotional and embarrassing. And we all suffer from it from time to time. How do you deal? What helps you? The following is likely to be long, lengthy, and probably will seem a little crazy. But hey that’s me. Welcome to my world.

Therapy is expensive. I am one of those people who could absolutely benefit from it. I mean, I have more issues than Sports Illustrated and let’s face it, I just can’t afford to take time off and simply talk to someone – that’ll take several hours and I can barely carve off 30 mins of time for myself on a good day. I’m a mom to 5 kids, a wife, a pediatric nurse, and I make homemade jelly for extra money. I have kids running out of my ears. But life is stressful. And mine is chock full of it.

Because of my insanely psychotic schedule, I find myself looking for ways to vent or release stress, or deal with depression. I love to read, but with all these kids in various sports and activities, my mom in the assisted living home and Alzheimer’s disease, work, making jellies and selling them for extra cash, and a big pile of responsibilities, I simply don’t have time to read. I mean, I’m neglecting stuff to take time and write this. Sometimes, I like to put in my headphones and ignore my kids to listen to audiobooks. I don’t claim to be parent of the year and sometimes they get on my nerves. If I just can’t take it anymore and when I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself, I tend to write. I’ve done this for years. Even made an attempt at writing a book. Ha! (Turns out, that if you wanna write a book, you should probably know grammar well. Or at least know where all the commas go. And ADHD is not a good thing to have raging through your brain. The ability to stay on task and finish things is kind of mandatory for a book. I tend to ramble…. a lot. So yeah, the book idea hasn’t quite panned out. )

Sometimes, we – perhaps I should speak for myself and say that I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. When I am feeling particularly down and sorry for myself, I am often faced with another who is struggling way harder than me. I see their hardships. And then I’m ashamed for complaining about my life. It does give me pause and make me take a step back and realize that this is what life is and that the things I’m stressing about aren’t really that important.

BUT……

We all have problems. Some are simple, some complicated, but everyone you will ever meet has problems. And we all stress over them. Often, the people around you are dealing with things that you will never know about. It’s how we deal with our problems that counts.

How do you deal with your problems? And how do you help those around you with theirs?

In no way, form, or fashion do I claim to be a saint. And despite the shame I feel when I recognize the problems in my life are insignificant in comparison with those of others, they’re still a factor in my life and they still must be dealt with. The first thing I do is pray. Prayer helps so much, but I have terrible ADHD. Like so terrible that I’ll be in the middle of getting my Jesus on, and someone will text or call or something distracts me. Even in a quiet place, all alone with no sounds. I can distract myself and loose the train of thought and then I end up rambling to the Lord with so many little trails leading away from my issues, it’s just insane. More like ramble or run on and on about the same things, but I digress. Sometimes I vent to my best friend and she puts up with my craziness because she loves me. And my husband too, bless his heart, he lives with all this crazy. Granted, he causes some of it….

So I write.

Does it solve all of my problems? No. And I don’t expect it to. It does, however, give me that release of emotion that has me so locked down that I can’t think past the problem so then, I can begin to think about the solution. It’s my therapy. The release of emotions that cause that anxiety. I don’t typically publish these things. 98% of the time I delete them. However, lately, I find that I need to share them. Even if it opens up and y’all get to see the real me. I’ll be honest, I’m lying if I say I’ll be sharing everything. There’s no way I can or could. But here and there it strikes me to let people in. When you get feedback about something you’re passionate about or if something you write helps someone else, you in turn find that you’re dealing with the issue.

Rambling, I know, but this is me and how my very special brain works. I hope you can understand what I’m trying to say. For all those little worries that we often put on ourselves and for those big ones that we don’t know what to do or how to deal, try to find your niche. Something that gives you the release to express yourself. I’ve found that writing my prayers helps me. But what helps me may not help you.

If you’re the person who is in worse shape and you really do feel like that weight on your shoulder is weighing you down and that you’re about to drown, stop. Take inventory of your life. Pray. Give it to God even if you think that’s stupid. Think about what is most important. If you need to talk, I’m here. If you prefer a total stranger, well I can help you find one. The point is, find something that helps you past that point. Try anything. Except drugs or harmful intentions. Those are bad and totally not where I’m going with this. You tube how to do something and do it. Write it down. Type it. Call a perfect stranger and talk. Talk to yourself, your dog, an inanimate object. Just don’t let it sit. Don’t give it power over you. Take back your life. Find who you want to be.

All that being said, I’m taking my own advice. I’m working on me. I’m finding myself and who I want to be.

This man of mine

Heads up: Sappy post to follow.

Anyone that knows me will tell you that when you think of someone who can give an eloquent speech, my name isn’t going to be at the top of the list. Emotions and expressing myself aren’t my forte. In fact, it’s incredibly hard for me to speak how I feel. So that’s why I’m writing. Let me be clear, I’m not good at this either, but I feel a need to attempt to express myself and perhaps to share it. I’m not sure yet if I will.

It’s 11:24pm. I’ve spent the last several weeks stressing out about how I’m going to juggle all the individual things ongoing in my insane schedule.

My ADHD is in some severe overdrive and I am having anxiety just browsing the financial nightmare we live,juggling schedules and planning. I know it’s just normal regular stressors that everyone has, but to me, at the moment, they feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.

As I’m laying in my bed, stressing about things I cannot change, my husband of almost 18 years rolls over in his sleep and wraps his arms around me. He pulls me close to him and drifts off into a deeper unconsciousness.

I immediately and instantly felt better. You can think what you want about me. You can say anything at all about me and your opinion, while perhaps good or bad, isn’t the one I need. It’s not the one I seek. His is. He is the person I can always count on. He’s been my rock for almost 20 years of my life. I will not go into the deep dark details of our marriage other than to say, like any long lasting relationship, it’s been put to the test. I know that this man loves me and that he is in love with me. He’s put up with all my craziness, all my up and all my downs and at the end of the day, he still loves me. We pray together, we pray for each other, we love as God loves us.

I am selfish. I am moody. I procrastinate. I obsess over the mundane. I’m not worthy of the life I lead. I overspend and I don’t appreciate enough of what I have. I neglect things and people I shouldn’t. I’m not the wife and mother I think my family deserves.

But I’m not completely abhorrent- I have a few redeeming qualities. I can’t quite remember what they are, but I’m not wanting to seek compliments or make this about me.

My husband- the dynamics of his personality astound me. He’s not perfect. He’s opinionated and stubborn and pushy. He’s strict and he’s hard. He’s moody and quick to anger. He doesn’t forgive easily. And he can hold a grudge. BUT- this man- he is kind, he is one of the smartest humans I know, he’s sincere, and he’s a provider- he works so hard to make sure that we have enough and that we have more than we deserve. If our family needs it and it is in his power to obtain it, he will move mountains to get it. When he loves, he loves with his whole heart. And this man chose to love me. To hold me, to turn towards me, to reach for me in even his unconsciousness. He does this often and it is something I have often taken for granted.

I am completely and utterly gutted by this man. I am so in love that even to me it seems like a dream. But I assure you it’s not. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for me. He keeps me sane (or at least some level of it). He’s held my hand in the best of times and in the worst of times and he never complained. I have many, many regrets in my life, but marriage to him is not one of them. I’m writing this because I cannot find the words to say when I want to say them and when I try, they just come out all wrong.

I just wanted to say that no matter how much I try to explain how I feel, I love you just doesn’t seem quite adequate enough. And I’m not ashamed of how I feel. I’m ashamed because I often take for granted the life I lead. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have the best of everything in life. I have the best person by my side- and that is the most important thing- I’m putting this in words so I can remind myself when I feel down that no matter what, I have everything I need.

I’ve noticed friends lately who lost loved ones and I realize that I’m not promised tomorrow. So because of that I am embracing today. I’m holding on tight and I won’t let go. I hope my children find a partner like mine.

So I’m praying. I’m praying that I always feel this deeply. I pray that my friends find something similar. And I’m praying for those who’ve lost what I have.

I don’t know if anyone cares about what I’ve written or how I feel, but for whatever reason, I felt compelled to write and to share it. So I hope you find your life love too.

Chapter 6

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?!?!?!?!?!”

Chapter 5

0330.

BOOM!

Startled by the sudden explosion, I hit the floor first.

BOOM!

The sound comes again. What is that? A bomb? Crawling close to the floor, I make my way to the window. Slowly, rising to the sill, I peek out. Chaos is everywhere. Smoke obscures my view, but I can make out the flashes of lights from gunfire.

BOOM!

A third explosion closer than the first two rocks the ground. Finally, my brain starts to comprehend. I grab my clothes and dress as quickly as I possibly can, I reach for my gun and pack. Opening the bedroom door and rushing to he next room, I am in straight up panic mode.

“Jules!!! Julie!” I call. “Where are you? Are you ok? I hurry into her room and find her unconscious on the floor. The wall to her room is collapsed and rubble is all around. I see an abrasion to her left temple. Feeling for a pulse, I fear the worst. It’s there, but it’s thready and weak. I hurriedly assess her for further injuries and find none. Moving her is risky, but leaving her is not an option. Supporting her neck and spine as well as possible, I pull her from the rubble into the hall. Stopping only to grab her pack and to make sure she’s still breathing, I pull her into the hall.

Think quick, Allie! I say to myself. Looking around for a better way to do this, I set my eyes on the sheets of my bed. Deftly running as fast and as quickly as possible, I grab them and run back to Jules. Rolling her onto the sheet, I pull her out.

Where to go? I think to myself. My gun is on my shoulder and I have two huge heavy packs that we will both need. I’m exhausted and terrified. Who just attacked? Where’s my team? Immediately, my mind kicks into gear. We have trained for months about the proper steps to take in the event of something happening. I heave and Jules is wrapped in a sheet across my shoulders dragging her along the ground. I try to be as gentle as possible and hope I cause her no further injury. I hear the pops of guns nearby. Hoping to avoid any enemy soldiers, I move as quickly and quietly as possible. Fear pushes me on. I reach the randevouz 30 minutes after the initial attack. The team is gone. I’m feeling the panic and bile rise as I realize the magnitude of the situation. My company is under attack, my friend is seriously injured, my team is nowhere to be found, and I have no idea where and who the enemy is at this point.

Looking around, I make a decision. Move out and get Jules out of the line of potential fire. Stopping only to check that my friend is still breathing, I continue on to find safety. I move as fast in the opposite direction of the action as possible. Keeping my eyes and ears open, I make my way to the edge of the complex. The gate to the outside is about 200 yards away. Problem is that there’s nowhere to hide between here and there. If I run straight across dragging my friend, we are bound to both be seen. I gaze to the guard tower. It’s always manned, but tonight it seems a tactical nightmare has occurred. The gates to the city are unguarded. Possibly because the guards are dead or they rushed to help without thinking of the vulnerability that we have been left. Taking advantage of the guard’s abcense, I rush to the gate, throw it open and make a mad dash to the tree line beyond.

It’s been literally years since I’ve been on the other side. Exhilarated and nostalgic, I lean Jules up against a tree and take in an appreciative breath and try to rest and figure out my next move.
______________________________
“Ugh! Where are we?” Jules groans with a hand to her head.
“Thank you, Lord!” I exclaim “I have been terrified you were dying and never going to wake up! Are you okay?” I ask checking her over.
” I’ve got a wicked bad headache and I’m confused as all get out, but I think I’m okay. ” she says, rubbing her temple. “Mind telling me what the hell happened?”

I go through the whole story of how she was unconscious and I drug her here in a sheet. I intentionally omit the whole continually whacking her head as I drug her here part. No need in unnecessary drama. And well, I probably caused the prolonged rise to consciousness….

” Where do we go from here? I haven’t been outside the walls since being captured. ” Jules says.

“I have no idea where we are, for whatever reason, the location has always been a secret. But based on my recollection of history, and what the world was like before…. I got nothin.” I sigh.

Looking around at the sun as it rises over the trees, I search for anything useful to help me decipher where we could be located. It’s flat as a flitter everywhere I look. No landmarks or anything remotely distinctive to help me figure this out. I think about my past and the things Papaw Saul taught me to remember. The most important thing: you can always go home.
The decision is made to find my way back to Sutton Mountain. But first, necessitating needs come first: food and water. Our packs only have MRE’s or meals ready to eat- enough to last a few days and no extra water.

“We need to find some water. I guess the best option is to start walking. So pick a direction and we will head that way. Except back. That’s out. Ain’t no way I’m going back. ” I say to her.

“Move out, chick! I’m ready to blow this joint!” She stands up gingerly. Wincing, but not complaining, she grabs her pack and starts walking.

“I thank you so much for remembering my pack too!” Jules says. Picking up mine, I follow suit.

Chapter 4

Speechless, I stand there stunned by the sheer beauty of this man and the manner of familiarity in which he just regarded me. I’m seriously doing the fish mouth thing. You know, where your mouth is moving and the only thing coming out is incoherent babble and drool. Yeah. That’s me. Cheeks flushed, I stop and try to regain some semblance of control. Taking a deep breath and letting it go, I say in my breathless voice, ” Hi, Deacon it’s been a long time and you have changed. A lot.” 
He raises an eyebrow with a smirk on his face, thouroughly enjoying my nosedive attempt at conversation, but says nothing. 
Shaking off my rare moments of girly, I collect myself ( and my jaw off the floor) and I look into those beautiful blue eyes. 
Gah, I bet he thinks I am some stupid airhead little girl with the way I’m acting. Once I have myself composed, I square my shoulders and look him in the eyes.
Then, I look around me noticing that we are not alone and that a crowd is gathered with curious looks on their faces. I can feel my cheeks going blood red and duck my head, looking at the floor. 

“Deke, who is is gorgeous lady here?” A good looking guy with jet black hair and gorgeous lavender eyes says. Turning to me he says, ” I’m Sly. I hope we can be good friends.” Normally words like that would make me think he’s a total douche, but he says it with a big smile and a wink. Clearly, he’s baiting his boss. It earns him a slap on the back of his head from Deke.

“Ouch. Take it easy dude! I’m just messin'” he says ducking. 

“She’s been here like five whole seconds and you’re already starting in.” A tall blonde girl says. 

“Guys, let me introduce you to Allie. She’s our newest edition and someone I used to know a long time ago. ” Deke says with a scowl on his face. ” Allie, the blonde is Julie- she’s going to be your new roommate. Jules, show her to her room.” Turning back to me he says, ” After dinner, we will discuss your job……and stuff. ” 

” Come on Roomie, let’s get you settled.” Julie says turning and walking up the nearby stairs.

I grab my bags and follow her to my room. Upstairs is divided into suites. There are two bedrooms separated by a common area and a shared bathroom. She turns into the first room on the left.

” You can call me Jules. This is my room and that one is yours. ” she says pointing to the door to the left.

Walking into my new room, I start unpacking and trying to settle my frazzled nerves. Jules is leaning on the doorframe when she says, ” That had to have been one of the weirdest things we have ever seen. Deke is usually really reserved and quiet- unless he’s mad- then he’s really loud. But today, he seems weird. How do you know him, again?” 

“We knew each other growing up. He was one of my …. neighbors. We fought more often than not. ” I say. 

He must not be holding a grudge. I’ve seen his reaction to enemies. That’s one side I don’t ever want to be on. ” Jules says with narrowed eyes. “You must not be someone he hates too bad or he’d be acting a whole different way. ” 

Nodding, I say nothing. Does he know that I don’t feel the same way he does about the Regime? Only time will tell, but I’m gonna keep my eyes open. And apparently from his not-so-subtle comment he wants to keep the past right where it belongs. In the past. So many questions are floating through my head. And some I intend to get the answers to …..soon.

Day 5-

since joining the Elite SilentKnights, I wonder if Deke is avoiding me. We’ve only seen each other a handful of times and it’s always when everyone else is around. I’m waiting for the opportunity to find out what he knows. Since our reunion, I’ve had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach that I can’t identify. I’ve been trying to figure out what it could be, but nothing comes to mind. I had expected him to come and get me soon, but every time I see him, he avoids me. Granted, he’s the boss and he’s been busy. Maybe, that’s all it is. I’ll give it a few days and then, I’m going to be finding out about Deacon McLean and our connected past.

*********************

6 months later.

I understand now why they are the Elite.

Every single day has been filled with grueling training. Our day begins with PT for 2 hours- to keep our bodies honed and in shape, then strategy and guerrilla tactics training after breakfast until lunch. After lunch, we have weapons training, and stealth. Some of the time, we will do hand to hand combat and martial arts. Once we feel we have mastered the task of the day, we are allowed free time. I’d always thought that I could hold my own when it came to these things, but being here these days has taught me that I was wrong. It’s going to take A LOT more time to meet the standards and demands of this team. Deke is a master. To watch him training and to learn what he knows is invigorating. All I can think of though is, how did he learn? Who was his teacher?  If I’m to learn as he did, I’m going to need some help.

Oh, I haven’t forgotten my task. But I have found…. Complications. These people, are a family. A unit. And they have taken me into their home and invited me into their family. Tears threaten as I think of what this means. I swore upon the death of my beloved grandfather that I will avenge him. But now I find myself lost and overwhelmed. How do I take these people with me and make them see how their corrupted leaders are using their skills to their own advantages? This morning while in tactics, they were discussing killing the opposition. What if the opposition is right? How do I decide who lives or dies? I find myself flailing emotionally.

You okay, Allie?” I jump, startled from my day dream. I feel moisture on my cheeks and wipe them with my shirt. And turn to see who caught me. Deacon stands five feet from me with concern in his face. His stance says something about him. Always alert. Always ready.

“I’m alright.” I reply, quietly. “Just had a lot on my mind.” I hate for anyone to see me weak. I don’t want him to think I’m weak, but as I watch his eyes harden, all sympathy gone. The boy I once knew is not this man.

Until he says: “Look Davis, this ain’t daycare, if you can’t handle the pressure and the job, I need to know now. I won’t risk the lives of all my team just because you can’t stop being a girl! Suck it up, Buttercup!” Then, turning on his heel, without so much as a second glance, he’s gone.

I process the words and I can’t help it, I smile. Then the smile becomes a chuckle, then I am flat out laughing so hard tears are once again falling.

q

A long past memory hits me:

Fishing on the river, Loxley, myself, Deacon, and Jenny- Deacon’s girlfriend at the moment- or as Loxley and I preferred to call her- “the flavor of the week”. I was always aggravating someone or something. This particular day, I had been digging for worms to fish and had found quite a few. So many that I wanted to have a little fun. I remember throwing worms at them. Jenny in particular, had a certain issue with worms. She didn’t want to get dirty or touch them. I had been irritating her by just flinging dirt at her all day and mocking her. She complained about everything all day. It was too hot, the sun was too bright, she wasn’t getting a bite, and she didn’t sign up to be the daycare today. Loxley and I were particularly tired of the whining and just wanted to have fun, but she hindered my fun and took Deacon’s attention. So I took a huge hand full of worms and put them down her shirt, another in her hair, looked her straight in the eye and said, ” This ain’t Daycare , princess, Suck it up, Buttercup!” Her screaming and shrieking could be heard for miles. I don’t think she never came fishing again. I’m not sure I ever saw her after that ……


I’m reminded that the boy I knew just grew up into a different man. He’s still there. Just hidden under the layers.

My reverie is shattered all of the sudden by a loud raucous. Ducking my head instinctively, I look around to find my former “prisoner”, Dice holding an air gun and a white flag in nothing but white brief underwear. Shock registering on my face, I don’t know what to say, or think.

” Deke! You bastard! I’m never betting with you again! ” he yells waving the flag above his head!

” You were an idiot for challenging him in the first place! You should’ve known better!” Jules says, coming up behind me.

I turn to her with a questioning look,  “What is going on? ” I ask, amused.

Nodding her head toward Dice, she says, ” That stupid idiot made a bet with Deke that He could get Captain Sorenson to give us special access and privileges to go to the upper level pools and recreation area. Knowing full well that it’ll be a cold day in hell before Sorenson allows us anything.” She rolls her eyes. ” I knew he’d refuse just to be a jerk. The man despises Captain McLean. So Deke agreed to the bet but countered that the looser would have to strip to his tighty whiteys and take a stroll through headquarters with a white flag. Clearly, he knew it was a safe bet!” She sniggers.

Dice just stands there with red cheeks and an embarrassed expression. ” I guess I thought Sorenson might listen to my pleas. Turns out, I was wrong.” He gestures to himself. “Bastard. I’m off to find Deke so I can get dressed again. I thought he’d be standing guard over you since he keeps glowering and threatening anyone who comes within ten feet of you. I mentioned asking you out and he went psycho at the suggestion. So when I get my dignity back, I’m certain that you’ll say yes….” Dice huffs, then flounces off.

As I process those last words, a slow burn of anger wriggles itself up my spine. I can feel the red rosy color in every cell of my body. Threatening people who speak to me?! How dare he!? He has barely spoken to me in days.

“What’s wrong? You look like someone just kicked in your front door and you’re about to annihilate them.” Jules says.

“Has he seriously been threatening people?” I ask incredulously.

Averting her eyes, Jules looks away, becoming increasingly interested in her nails. ” Ummmm, about that…..” She starts and stops. “So it’s just the guys he threatened. And Dice lives to piss him off…so probably.”

Upon hearing this, I do an about face and began to stalk to his room determined to deal with him. What is his problem? He doesn’t speak to me, but doesn’t want anyone else to either? Clearly, he doesn’t feel that I’m trustworthy. Am I not good enough to be friends with his precious “Elite”? Anger that was so quick to flare stops me in my tracks as I realize that he’s right. I’m not trustworthy. I’m a liar. My goal in his life is to destroy all that he knows. To tear his house down.

I find myself wandering and muttering to the secluded backyard in the hopes of some privacy.
“Don’t you know that talking to yourself means that you’re crazy?” I hear a familiar voice say. Closing my eyes, I turn and face Deacon. He’s standing there with a seemly concerned look upon his face.

“You’re only crazy if you answer” I respond. He stands less that 5 feet away with his arms crossed and a strange look on his face that I cannot identify. His face clears and his typical emotionless mask of indifference is in place.

” I was talking myself out of plotting your imminent demise, so you should probably run away and avoid me like you already have been.” I say crossing my arms and trying to adapt a similar facial expression.

Baffled, he says nothing.

“What’s this I hear about you threatening guys who might want to talk to me? “I ask casually.

His eyes flash and he squares his shoulders as if preparing for battle. ” I……” He starts, ” We were children together and I feel a sense of responsibility towards you. Like I need to be a big brother….” he shrugs ” Nobody is good enough for you.”

I can feel the rush of blood and a crash of emotions as I grasp what he just said. He thinks of me as a sister? I can’t deal with it now and I push the thought away as another blooms. ” All you’re doing is making me look like a privileged princess who needs your protection. I can handle myself and I don’t need a brother. I’m here because my family is dead. I have a job to do and I intend to be the best I can possibly be at it!” I turn and hustle away before the emotional storm hits and he sees me fall apart like a baby.


Chapter 3

Our mission complete and our target secure, I give the debrief and we are released for the day. On my way to my small, but sufficient apartment, I look to my left and notice the harried looking officer hurrying towards me. A short, balding man with beady eyes, he’s breathing hard by the time he reaches me.


” Allie Davis?” He huffs. I nod my head
as questions immediately come to me wondering what on earth he wants.

“Yes?” I answer hesitantly.
” Here are your orders.” He hands me a sealed envelope that has an emblem on it. I recognize the symbol- it’s from Alpha Company. My heart starts to pound.

Turning the letter over in my hands, I break the seal and take a deep breath.
TO: Allison Caroline Davis
Report to Alpha Company for assignment under the direct command of Captain Deacon McLean. All missions are to be classified and convert. Under no circumstances are you to discuss your position or anything involved with your assignment with anyone outside of Alpha Company. Report At 0700.

My heart drops to the ground as I release the breath I was holding. Deacon McLean?  That’s why he looked so familiar, my mind whirls as I place his face. Older and far larger than I remember, Deke was none other than my childhood friend and neighbor. His brother, Loxley and the rest of his family think he’s dead  He was reported to be a ghost and the best soldier in the entire regime,until something happened and we never heard from him again. I knew I felt a flicker of familiarity with him, but never had I imagined he was the gangly boy I once knew. Anger surges through my veins. How dare he allow his loved ones to think the worst? As these thoughts come into my head, I feel shame. I’m guilty of the same. Never once have I attempted to contact my friends. I hang my head and hurry to gather my things.
                   *****************
I get to the address that was on my orders to report, but I immediately think there has got to be a mistake. This is an a apartment building. I look to check again. I’m at the address that it says. I walk up and knock on the door. When the door opens, I’m greeted by a tall man with spiked hair and lots of muscles. 
“You Davis?” He grunts.
” yes, sir. I’m supposed to report to Captain McLean. Am I at the right place?”
” Yup. Follow me. He’s this way.” He said turning and walking away. 
I follow him into a brightly decorated room with several comfortable looking couches. In the corner of the room, strumming a guitar quietly was Deke. He looks relaxed and happy. Not what I expected. 
“Hi, Allie,” he says, piercing me with those eyes. “It’s been awhile, huh?”
______________________________________

Chapter 2

It’s been two years, six months, and eight days since that awful day. Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about it. The hours following the death of my beloved grandfather are a complete blur.  I do not remember his funeral. I can recall my first memory following that event as if someone had snapped their fingers to wake me from a trance. A large burly guard stepped up to me and grabbed me by the arm. He dragged me kicking and screaming all the way to a large covered truck used to transport kidnapped prisoners. I remember the assaults and daily beatings that I received every day for noncompliance to their rules.
Six months. That’s how long it took for me to quell the rage. Then, I began to calculate and plan. Let them think that they were conforming me to their rules all they wanted. Let them think they had won. I was plotting how to bring about their downfall. If they wanted to be stupid enough to give me the tools to become the best soldier I could be, then I would become a sponge and soak it all up. Physically, I had to train very hard. While, I was in shape, I was small and unprepared. I began to condition daily. Soon, while I appeared harmless, I was deceptively lethal.
I am now nearing the end of my initial training and my classmates and I are on edge waiting patiently for our assignments. In all honesty, I’ve been so busy focusing on learning and absorbing every morsal and scrap of information they are teaching that I haven’t thought beyond my initial training. Now as the time is closing in, my only fear is that my talent will not be recognized and I’ll be stuck at a desk trying to prove myself for the next ten years. I shudder inwardly at the thought.
                “Captain McLean, is the senior officer in charge of our tactical unit. He will be evaluating your performance and selecting three members of this class to join his teams if he deems anyone fit. Currently, he is in command of 5 separate teams that specialize in undercover missions, tactical takedown, espionage, and covert missions.” My commanding officer, Lieutenant Segars systematically states. He nodded in the direction of a large dominating man in the corner.
                He is leaning up against the wall with his arms crossed and watching the class with a deceptive calm. I can’t take my eyes off of him. A wave of familiarity rushes over me, but I can’t place him. Dressed in dark, black tactical pants and a black shirt, he has dark thick , finger combed hair, and piercing blue eyes. He is huge and intimidating. At least 6’2”, with broad shoulders, I can’t help but wonder where he finds shirts to fit with all those muscles? He exudes that air of authority that makes men envy him and women want him, but commands every ones attention.
I’ve heard of him, of course. Everyone has. Deke McLean is famous for his ghost team. No one really knows anything about him or his origins, but there are a lot of rumors so who really knows? He’s a very mysterious and private sort, apparently. He’s the man that the leaders go to when they want to get the job done, no questions asked. He has a rather, ruthless reputation, but it’s said that he’s fair to his soldiers- never asking for anything that he himself isn’t willing to do. Rumors have circulated that he won’t tolerate laziness or insubordination from anyone and that the ones who have tried, didn’t make it home from their mission or found themselves reassigned to the most abhorrent jobs.
                His team is the best of the best. Why is he here looking among the newly graduated class of recruits for his elite team? 
                Captain Segars’ voice breaks me out of my reverie, “Captain McLean has specifically stated that he is in need of specialists who are gifted in certain areas of stealth. He is looking for moldable replacements. Some of you will be assigned in the field, while others will be given assignments based on the aptitude that you display for your skills. You will be pushed to your limits and evaluated on your performances throughout the next week. Following that, you will be assigned to a post. Once you are assigned to a team, your team leader will be responsible for the continuation and completion of your training. Good luck to you.”
                As lines were formed alphabetically, I forced my mind away from the strange niggling feeling in the back of my head that there’s something different about Deke. I peered over my shoulder at him and once again I’m struck by a sense of familiarity. Before I can analyze it further, my name is called and all thoughts of the handsome Captain are forced from my mind and replaced with my usual sheer grit and determination to focus and get to the task.

We’re separated into groups of four. Our group consists of myself, Sami- a goth girl who rarely talks, but is shy and sweet, Dylan- a lean cocky boy who is convinced that he’s never wrong, and Asa- he stands about 6’3″ and is built like a brick shithouse- but he’s loyal and good for muscle.
The mission is to plan and execute a search and rescue for a lost operative. We trudge to headquarters and pick up a packet.Our packet is labeled with a big “B” on the front. Inside are coordinates, a list of supplies that will be needed, a brief description of the theoretical enemy and the victim‘s profile.
“Let’s gather supplies and meet at the gate in 30 minutes. I want to have time to plan,so be ready to rock and roll.” I instruct, taking charge. 
” Who elected you leader?”, challenged Dylan. He’s only been out of primary training for about a week. 
“I’m senior officer here. If you knew anything about how we operate, you would understand things like rank and seniority. So shut your mouth and open your eyes awhile. ” I say haughtily.
“But you’re a girl. ” he says stunned that he’s outranked by a female. My look of sheer outrage over his chauvinism sends him stepping back as I get in his face.
” Have you ever planned, participated in, or executed a search and rescue that didn’t involve you looking for your brain?” I snap.
“Well, no.”, he muttered.
” Then until you know more about when to and when not to speak, I advise you to keep your mouth shut.” I say. I know I let my emotions get me, but I need him to understand that I will not be questioned. I may have ranking privileges here, and we do have a way of keeping people in line. I won’t be bullied and I won’t tolerate  it for others either. Best to nip that in the bud now. 

Turning, I walk away. I’m done here. And they understand that I’ll meet them back here in 30. They all leave to begin preparations.

__________________________

Two hours into the mission, we have arrived at our destinationan  the mission is underway. Usually “Sims” or simulations, like this are held about 10 miles away from our headquarters and the small city in which we call our home. The scenario facility is used exclusively for our real world simulations. Each member is given a vest and a gun. Each vest has a tracker and can tell the instructions of your location within the spacious 20 mile wide facility. It also can tell if you’ve been hit. The guns are laser operated. They have all of the same feels as a real gun in terms of weight, look, sound, and feel, but they don’t shoot actual ammo. Throughout the facility, they have cameras to monitor your location and activities.

My team works like a well oiled machine. When we arrived, I spent precious time meticulously going over each detail and each person’s role. Everyone is in sync, even Dylan, who learned very fast that this ain’t my first rodeo.

“Target sighted”, I hear quietly from my earpiece. “200 yards to your 3 o’clock. Three guards are visible. Waiting for your go” this comes from my sweet and quiet, Sami. Deceptively quiet, but she’s a crack shot sniper. To my left, I motion for Asa and Dylan to proceed. “You’re a go, Sami” I whisper back as I follow the boys. Our mission goes smoothly and our target is acquired. Once the location is secure, we begin our return to headquarters.

During our return, or “victim” introduces himself as Lt. Seth Johansson aka “Dice”. He’s a good looking man with blond hair, green eyes, and a ready smile. Other than his name, he offers no personal information of himself. He does, however, like to ask questions and chat about anything his mind can think of. Asa and Sami have made instant friends with him. I just join the conversation occasionally, preferring to listen instead. I notice Dylan doesn’t join in and curiosity has me watching him closely. His shoulders are sagging and his head is hung.

“What’s bugging you?” I decide to ask.
He shrugs his shoulders, suddenly, he looks so young to me. “How old are you?” Surely, he’s older than he looks. Thinking to myself, I’ve noticed lately that they seem to be younger and younger. More children orphaned or ripped from their families.

“Fourteen” he says. I stop in my track. I was hoping he looked young for his age, now I’m realizing that it’s just the opposite. He looks older for his age. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just thought you were older than that.” His age explains so much. His reaction to taking orders- especially from a girl, his immaturity. My heart is breaking and I decide that Dylan deserves better.

“So, you did well today. You listened well, and took directions like a pro. Have you given much thought to your future and what you’d like to do?”

“Thank you. I was worried y’all would think I was terrible and that my inexperience would show. As for my future, I think I want to stay out of the field. Computers are my thing. Especially after today. I don’t want to be shot at for real.”

Relief. Relief surges though me and I release the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I struggle to keep my emotions off of my face and locked down tight. “I am proud to hear that, Dylan, I wouldn’t want you to be shot at either. I have a few friends from primary that decided the same. If you want, I’ll help you get settled with them?”

His eyes are hopeful as he looks at me. ” We were under the impression that when you decide in primary and before you go to initiate, that it’s a final decision, and that there’s no turning back.”

“Not true, my friend,” Dice speaks up, “I know several who didn’t do well through initiate and they where given an option to cross over. Thing is, once you go, then that’s the for real final decision. And sometimes, they take into account how far into training you’ve gotten. Take Allie here for example, she’s too far gone. They won’t let her change her mind at this point. But you ‘re just starting, so you’ve got a chance. I’ll talk to them for you when we arrive.”

“Thanks, Man. I’d appreciate it. This job needs y’all who can do it, but I’m a city boy at heart.” Dylan says.

” A city boy, huh? Where from?”  My curiosity is in full force. “I didn’t realize that cities even existed anymore.

“It used to be known as Atlanta before. Now, they just call it Georgia to mark the spot where a Hughes place once was. There is probably only 75,000 or so people there now where there used to be millions.” He notes. “Crime in places like that is unreal. Believe it or not, it’s safer to be here than there.

This brings about a melancholy mood, so we all walk back to headquarters silently.