Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The New Geek Empire: Part Nineteen

The New Geek Empire
Part 19

They started on me as soon as the engine came to life. I wanted to ask them just as many questions but I had a truck and very heavy trailer to drive around some very dangerous curves. “Ash. Ginger. Cut me some slack until we get across the highway; we’re loaded to the gills here. Imagine trying to drive the school float along River Road and you’ll see what I’m up against here. And I’m going to have to take the long way around to avoid the worst of the hairpins.”

That explained the situation to them in just a few words but well enough that they shut up for a while. I gave them the promised wet naps and also gave them a bag of muesli and some bottled water.

“Easy on the muesli if you’ve been eating crappy or it will tear you up and we can’t stop anywhere around here,” I warned them.

Ashley took a few cautious nibbles but it wasn’t long before she was asleep. I felt rather than saw Ginger crawl into the front seat since I was driving without lights so I asked her how she was doing. She answered, “Ashley is preggers.”

Realizing it might be her way of deflecting questions about herself I decided to respect that and went in the direction she took. Quietly so as not to wake anyone up in the back I said, “I saw. Should I ask if it’s Aston’s?”

A little protectively she said, “Not around her or it’ll upset her and every time that happens she starts puking. Some of rest of them asked the same thing and that’s when the … what do you call it … the scism or split or whatever happened.”

Confused I asked, “So she and Aston aren’t together?”

“No. Not her and Az. Us and … you know … Matt’s group. Kinda started when we got tired of playing dress up at the same time everyone else started taking it too seriously. When Ashley and Az got caught some of them got really freaked about it and said some mean things.”

“What? Were they afraid it was contagious or something?”

Catching her off guard I made her snicker a little but then she was quiet again until we crossed the highway heading out and away from town. She must have been thinking because she surmised, “You lived … are still living … on a farm.”

It was a statement, not a question. “Uh … more like a homestead than a farm, though I suppose things being what they are I could reclaim the land of all my grandparents on both sides and no one would care or notice.”

She said bleakly, “Care? Probably not. Notice? That’s something else and I promise you don’t want that to happen. Getting noticed is as good as getting killed.”

For the next little bit the road was straight but we still crawled along at a snail’s pace. I decided it was time and asked quietly, “You up to telling me what’s been going on?”

She turned to look at Ashley who still looked asleep as she leaned against Kelly’s car seat. Turning back around she pushed her hair back away from her face. “There wouldn’t happen to be clean clothes where we’re going would there? Or maybe a place to wash what I was able to bring with me? I feel all skuzzy.”

I wasn’t willing to share some information yet. “I know where I can get some clothes the right size or at least close enough that we can alter them to fit,” I told her thinking of the first trailer we had salvaged from. “I guess the guys need outfitting from the skin out too.”

“Yeah except that Aston and Reggie go commando so we won’t have to worry about that part.”

I cringed. “Geez Ginger … TM freaking I.”

“Huh?” she asked, looking confused. Then she gave an honest to goodness giggle. “Sorry. Forgot what a prude you are.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Not a prude; just some things should be left to the imagination.” Then I shuddered. “And then again, some things shouldn’t.”

Her smile slowly faded and she started fidgeting. “Those clothes aren’t in town are they?”

“Uh uh. Why?”

Breathlessly she whispered, “Don’t want to go back there … ever. Or at least not for a long, long time.”

Carefully I asked her, “Did these guy you mentioned … did they … you know … hurt you or Ashley?”

In a voice gone nearly dead she asked, “Do you mean did they rape us?”

Quietly I said, “Yeah. Unfortunately that is what I mean.”

She shook her head. “Not me or Ash. They got a couple of the other girls though … a couple of the guys too though you wouldn’t ever catch any of them admitting it. They got some sick jerks travelling with that circus.” She shuddered. “Ash and I got lucky and we were able to stay out of the path of the worst of them except for the last time. We made the mistake of trusting a couple of women that looked like they’d … you know … been hurt by those guys. But it was a stupid trap. They’re the ones that burnt Ash’s face. What a bunch of bent witches. They said she was too pretty and that she deserved it because she was … was bad to other women.” Even more protectively she said, “Ash is not like that. You know she isn’t and never has been.”

“Easy Ginger. I know Ash was never nasty like some of the pretty girls could be. And she put her money where he mouth was and took a lot of heat for kicking Renee off the squad when she pulled that prank on those girls in band. You don’t have to defend her to me. I’ve been on the wrong end of that stick too often not to know the ones at school that held it.”

She shuddered and started reliving what had happened. In a voice full of guilt she said, “I … I couldn’t make them stop. My best friend and all I could do was watch. They tied me to a mail truck. I tried to get free but I couldn’t get my hands out of the hand cuffs. Ashley was screaming and then they hit me a couple of times because I wouldn’t stop crying. That’s when Aston showed up. But …”

“But?”

She leaned her head back and stared out the side window. “God Lydie, you know what he’s like. His old man … he would have killed Aston if he had ever even raised his voice to a girl. He didn’t even know how to fight those witches, not even with me screaming to kick them if he couldn’t punch them. All he would do is take all the hits that those women tried to give to Ashley. He was protecting her … her and the baby … with his own body. And they weren’t going to stop Lydie … I could see it on their faces; they were like crazy or something. It’s like they were using Aston to get payback for anything any guy had ever done to them.” She turned to me and there was something in her eyes that was way on the other side of creepy. “And then that’s when Reg shows up.”

“Reggie was part of it too?”

“Oh yeah. Aston was going down and still couldn’t hit back … but not Reg. Reg came in running full tilt and took the whole pack of hounds down by clipping them in the knees. They threw a couple of punches at him but Reg, man he hits back. They run off and he gets Ash and I untied and we’re trying to drag Aston away when the witches come back with a couple of guys and man they lay into Reg. Reg holds his own but you know, three against one so it wasn’t going to end well. Then these guys everyone calls enforcers show up and break up the party but instead of everything being OK, they haul Aston and Reg away and tell us to run along before they let the women at us again.” She stops and draws a shaky breath. “Next day we hear they’ve had some kind of fake trial and Az and Reg were found guilty of … get this … disturbing the peace and insubordination. They were going to be executed as an example to quote ‘stop that crap from happening again.’”

It was a lot to take in and sounded like a very bad movie … one of those awful indies that go straight to DVD when it should never have seen the light of day to begin with. I asked her, “If they were in such bad shape and going to be killed, how did they get away?”

Another shaky breath preceded her explaining, “Ash and I found out they were being held in the boiler room of the old highschool.”

That told me more than just the content of the words. One of the reasons they had built the new highschool besides the fact of overcrowding was that there were far too many ways to get on and off campus with no adult knowing. The boiler room was the biggest escape hatch for those willing to take the risk. “They didn’t know about the old bomb shelter entrance did they.”

She shook her head. “Probably still don’t. The guards were all high on something and didn’t even notice. We heard about it the next day though when they came around. Ash and I had hidden the guys in my grandparents’ basement and we hadn’t told anyone anything so they couldn’t give us away. We figured people seeing us upset and shook up would be put down to the beat down and to finding out about the guys death sentences. Ashley was in so much pain it wasn’t even an act for her. After they left Matt looked like he wanted to say something but he didn’t dare.”

Finding the statement a little bit of a non sequitur I asked, “Why?”

In a tone that told me she thought I might be missing a few important brain cells she answered, “Because of Marty of course. Ash gave Matt a look that reminded him we weren’t the only ones with something to lose. We don’t know for sure where he’s hidden her but we probably could find out if we put our minds to it. We know where a lot of Matt’s hidden stashes are, by process of elimination she is probably at one of those.”

That made me uncomfortable. Sure Matt had been a two-timing jerk and Marty went along for the ride but turning them over to crazies wasn’t something I would ever consider doing … hadn’t thought the girls would ever consider doing. I nearly jumped when Ashley spoke from the back seat and it answered a few of my unasked questions. “I don’t … don’t think I could have gone through with it … but … but maybe in the heat of the moment I … I might have. I’m not sure I’d want that kind of temptation again. And that’s when I knew we had to get out of there. It scared me how … how easy … how fast we … we could change and be like those other people. I don’t want to be that way Lydie. I’ve got … I’m going to have a baby. I’m …” After a pause she asked in a small voice, “Is it safe where we’re going?”

Still reeling from the details of their story it was hard to answer her. “It was. It’ll stay that way as long as Jax and I can make it. We’ve got Kelly to protect and I’m not going to just roll over and let someone trash my home.” We were nearing the final stretch before we turned onto the road back to the house. I still didn’t know enough so I asked, “Who are these people anyway? They didn’t just appear out of nowhere or fall from the sky.”

Ashley sighed and returned to her quiet turmoil so it was Ginger that filled in some details. “Believe it or not they came on bikes, scooters, wagons … there were a couple of dump trucks and a few buses too that were full of people, but most everyone came under there own power some how. We think most of them are refugees from the cities although there are some prisoners and some psych ward patients in there too.”

“Prisoners and pysch … wha?! Are you kidding me?!” I asked almost loud enough to wake Kelly up.

Ginger shook her head, the filthy red curls weighted with dirt but still trying to bounce at the sudden disturbance. “I wish. The prisoners aren’t the worst ones … at least most of them aren’t. They were from a minimum security prison and were mostly addicts and petty criminals … stuff like writing bad checks, picking a fight with the wrong guy at a bar, or joy riding; you know, stupid stuff. The psych patients and addicts mostly do nothing but jones around looking for something to get high on and self-medicate. The other ones just try and stay out of way of the gang leaders and the guys that run things and are truly bad dudes.”

“Where do they come from?”

“Listening to them it sounds like all over. Sas … poor Sas … he called them Barbarians. Sas was pretty gone there at the end. If DHS hadn’t …”

I knew we were getting off the topic but something told me it was a piece of the puzzle I needed to know. At one time Sas had been my friend. I wanted to know what had turned a big ol’ teddy bear into Attila the Hun. “DHS were the ones that cleaned the bodies out of town after the water was poisoned.”

“Yeah, only it was more like they drove the trucks and held the guns while the townspeople did the work. And Sas … because he was so big and strong … he was put on some of the worst jobs. You know his story right?”

“Yeah, big brother to six little sisters. Big, happy, two-parent family. Grandma lived with them too I think.”

“Uh huh, and I guess you might have missed that his mom had just had another baby … a boy to make a book end for Sas. I probably know more about what happened because Sas was good friends with my stepbrother Mark.”

“Mark lived with his dad right?”

“Yeah … it freaked Dottie out, she couldn’t figure out why her son wanted to go live with the dad that never paid child support. Dad tried to explain he was just at the age where he needed to know where he came from but … anyway, wrong memory lane … Sas had gone over to Mark’s house for some 24-hour gamer gore-athon the night it happened or he would have … you know … died too.”

Horrified by my suspicions I asked, “All of them?”

“Might have been better if it had gone down that way. The baby was bottle fed from that special formula that was premixed in cans … some kind of allergy. And it was four days before anyone let Sas go to his house – they had that whole side of town cordoned off. It wasn’t poisoned water that killed the baby; I heard it was dehydration.” Both Ginger and I were trying really hard to ignore the nightmare she had just described. “So that on top of some of the other stuff he saw… it … you know … I think something broke. Then when what little bit of family he had left … cousins, stuff like that … took off and never came back, well it was just easier for Sas to play pretend than it was to live with his reality. But I figured Jax would have told you all this.”

Feeling forced to defend Jax I said, “He’s told me some of it but not every single detail. That thing with the baby probably freaked him out. He’s pretty protective of Kelly.”

After another moment of silence as I negotiation a bad pothole Ginger asked, “So are you and him like together?”

Feeling my inner beastie spring to life I told her bluntly and succinctly, “Yes.”

There was surprise in her voice when she responded, “Wow. Matt sure got that one wrong.”

Not that I cared or wanted to get into it I still found myself asking, “What do you mean he got it wrong?”

“He thought either Jax had taken Kelly and run off or maybe they’d had an accident around town and become some of the lost – we’ve had a few of those happen – or that you’d killed him in revenge.”

Barely keeping myself from slamming on the breaks I said, “What?!”

“I know,” she said ruefully. “It sounded stupid the first time he’d said it but Matt has this way of like I don’t know … making things makes sense after a while, even when they shouldn’t.”

In disbelief all I could say was, “I never would have dreamed that Matt would have turned out to be such a demented drama queen. I mean … c’mon I know I can have a hot temper but kill his cousin just because I caught him with his hand in the cookie jar? Guess Marty might have done me a favor rather than a hurt.”

“Maybe,” she agreed. “Matt was starting to … to give some of us … he was just getting … I don’t know.”

Her explanation leaving something to be desired I said, “Explain it in English please.”

She sighed. “OK, but don’t shoot the messenger.” After giving me a look she told me, “Matt wasn’t just always … look, he could be creepy and you know it. Mostly he wasn’t but he could be. But at the same time he could be … someone you wanted to know because he always seemed to have the answers. On the one had you wanted to mess with him because he could be so full of himself but on the other hand you wanted to be his friend but couldn’t because he was like … like so far above you. He was like two separate people competing for the same body. And he would do things that … I don’t know. If anyone else had done them they would have been toast. Girls for instance.”

“Girls? What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

“Geez Lydie. Marty isn’t his first and Matt and Marty have been doing it behind your back since last summer. Everybody kinda figured it out but you … well maybe you and Jax since he wasn’t around all that much and had turned into such a boy scout after Kelly came along … just …”

Outraged I asked, “Just? Just what?”

“Most of us like thought you knew and either didn’t care or where OK with it. He always went back to you so we just figured … that … well … c’mon we just thought you were cool with it so long as you know publically it was you he was with.”

With a high level of snark in my voice I said, “Oh really.”

“Yeah. Ash and I get how stupid that is now. We just didn’t get how stupid until after you came back and laid into them like you really hadn’t known about any of it.”

I shook my head, realizing it no longer mattered except as an ouchie to my pride and Mom had always told me pride goeth before a fall. Right then I couldn’t afford to fall … not even stumble … so I said, “Not important any more I suppose. Matt has obviously moved on but more importantly I’ve moved on. Let’s get back to your refugees.”

2 comments:

  1. I'm all caught up on everything and have been re-reading your completed stories. But I'm on my last chapter of This is me Surviving. I'd like to respectfully request "MOAR PLEASE"!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete