Authors: John O'Brien
“It’ll be okay, hon.
You’ll get used to it and it won’t be so bad,” the elderly woman says quietly to her.
“But I don’t know where my kids are,” she says with the tears streaming once again down her already wet cheeks.
You just focus on staying alive for them,” the woman says.
“Keep the faith that you’ll see them again.
Hold onto that.”
She hears vehicles approaching, turns, and watches a line of school buses drive along the street in front of the high school.
Her eyes stay on them as they enter through a gate and park along the entrance drive.
People emerge and she watches intently for any sign of her son and daughters.
Many people exit but none that even slightly resemble her kids.
The helpless feeling sinks even deeper.
They are rounded up and taken into the cafeteria building where they sit quietly at tables after getting their food.
Several people next to her attempt to engage her in conversation but she feels too low to respond.
After their meal, they are taken to the gym and allowed to shower.
Fresh clothes are dumped in a pile and there is a scramble amongst those there for clothes that fit.
The posted guards chuckle at the frenzy.
“I’ll never stop being amused by that,” she hears one of them say quietly to another.
She doesn’t have the energy to fight over clothes so dons her old ones.
They are taken to their rooms and that’s where they remain for the night.
The only difference being there are two guards during the evening sitting behind the desk.
At one point, she has to go to the bathroom and asks one of the guards if she can go.
He rises and escorts her across the hall to a door marked “girls.”
To her horror, he enters along with her.
He doesn’t enter the stall but she is mortified having to go with a man so close.
During the night, she hears faint shrieks rising in the darkness every so often and wonders what those are.
She worries they are torturing people or found someone escaping.
They don’t sound like shrieks of pain but she can’t figure out what else they could be.
Rising in the morning, she undergoes the same routine; breakfast, shower, field, and then back to the room.
Time passes slowly and depression sets in; a constant, tired feeling mixed with restlessness.
She is told in the evening that she is being assigned a work team and guided to a different classroom after her shower.
The next morning, she is shaken awake early, taken to breakfast, showers, and then is guided to one of the parked yellow school buses.
They are driven to an open field with partially completed structures and tilled soil.
She is assigned to work in the fields preparing the ground for planting or picking from crops already sown.
The guards around the perimeter are intermixed with the various groups working.
It’s hard work and a long day but at least she isn’t given too much time to think; the work occupies her mind.
Over time, she comes to learn what happened to the world and hearing that makes her even more anxious for her kids.
The sun lowers to the west and they are herded back into the buses for the trip back to the compound.
This is how her days and weeks continue.
The pain is immediate and unrelenting.
Her head throbs with her heart beat and it feels like someone stuck a stiletto in it; starting at her forehead and driving it through her brain and down her neck.
There is first the dull, throbbing pulse followed immediately by a sharp, penetrating pain through the entirety of her head.
With her eyes still closed, she raises a hand and feels a tender bump on her forehead just above her right eye.
Her foggy mind recalls seeing the windshield of the Humvee closing in quickly.
She opens her eyes and the bright light sends pain shooting through her head.
She groans and squints through one eye.
The sight confuses her for a moment.
The white ceiling and part of a hanging light fixture doesn’t fit with the thought of her in the Humvee.
She remembers the red truck and knows she was pulled from the wreck.
But to where?
At first she thinks her and the kids were taken back to Cabela’s but the sight above her doesn’t fit.
Oh shit, the kids
, she thinks and begins to rise.
The pain intensifies and she is struck by an instant bout of nausea.
She lies back down and the pain and sick feeling subside.
She turns her head to one side and sees Michelle sitting upright on a cot with her head in her hands.
Glancing around the room as much as her head allows, Gonzalez notices rows of cots in what looks like a classroom of some sort.
The bookshelves in the back and chalkboard up front give her that impression.
Rolling her head in the other direction, she sees Bri lying in a cot next to her with her eyes closed.
She also sees an armed man sitting behind a desk by the blackboard.
Sitting up slowly and fighting pain and nausea all of the way, she reaches a sitting position and leans over until the intensity of both subside.
“Ah, you’re up.
Good,” she hears the man at the desk say.
She gives a grunt in reply.
“Okay, listen up because I’m only going to tell you this once,” he continues.
She listens but his words don’t really penetrate.
He seems to be telling her rules of some kind.
She hears and takes it in as best she can with her mind feeling like a ball of cotton.
From the substance of the rules, she gathers they have been captured and are being held.
That is in line with their being run off the road.
She looks down and notices her gear has been removed.
Gonzalez then sinks to her knees on the floor and shuffles over to Bri to check on her.
She notices Bri’s chest rise and fall beneath the black fatigue top.
Lying on a basic olive drab cot, Bri seems to be just sleeping.
“What are you doing?”
The man asks rising from his chair.
“I’m just checking on her,” Gonzalez replies although her voice seems to come from a thousand miles away and as if she has a mouthful of marbles.
She knows she has a concussion.
“Okay, just this time and no whispering.
If you talk, I want to be able to hear it,” he says sitting back down and bringing his semi-automatic pistol up.
At Bri’s side, Gonzalez notices cots taken up by other women and girls.
They are either sitting like Michelle or lying on their cots, all watching Gonzalez.
Looking over to Michelle, who is now looking at her, Gonzalez asks if she is okay.
Michelle nods but the movement makes her turn pale and she immediately covers her mouth.
Michelle glances around anxiously, rises, runs over to a small garbage bin, and throws up what little she has in her stomach.
The guard rises and watches alertly.
Finishing and wiping the tears away, Michelle stumbles back to her cot.
“Just lie down, Michelle,” Gonzalez says.
“It will pass.”
Turning back to Bri, Gonzalez looks her over for any obvious injuries.
Her skin color looks good and she doesn’t find anything apparent.
Patting Bri lightly on the cheek, she whispers but loud enough for the guard, who is beginning to sit once again, “Bri.
Bri feels something tapping against her cheek and hears her name being called.
It seems from so far away but becomes clearer with each call.
Pain in her arm flares and the dull throbbing pulses her head in rhythm with her heartbeat.
She opens her eyes and sees Gonzalez above peering down at her.
The fear of the chase and waking with a different view causes a jolt of adrenaline.
Seeing Gonzalez above her calms her to an extent but her mind fills with questions.
“I’m not exactly sure.
Are you okay?
“My arm hurts,” she answers.
Gonzalez asks looking down.
“My left arm.
On the forearm,” she replies.
She watches as Gonzalez unbuttons the sleeves of her top and gently rolls the sleeve up.
The left forearm is swollen and red at about the midpoint.
“Flex your fingers for me, Bri,” Gonzalez says.
Bri brings her fingers to a fist but it’s difficult and increases the pain to the point that beads of sweat break out on her forehead.
She groans as she brings her fingers to a fist once again.
“That’s okay, Bri.
You may have a fracture so don’t move your arm,” Gonzalez says beginning to unlace her boots.
What are you doing?”
The guard asks once again.
“This girl may have a broken arm and I’m making a splint for her.
Can you see if there are any rulers in the desk I can use?”
She asks the now standing guard.
He eyes her suspiciously for a moment and then reaches down to open a drawer.
Rummaging around, he places two long rulers on the edge of the desk.
“You can come up and get them but if you try anything, I won’t hesitate with this,” he says waving his gun.
The guard backs away from the desk and motions for Gonzalez to approach the desk.
She rises feeling the sharp pain shoot through her head.
Nausea grips her.
She pauses to get her balance and waits for the feeling to subside.
The guard gestures impatiently and Gonzalez holds out a hand asking him to wait a moment.
Her equilibrium restores and she walks slowly to the desk retrieving the rulers.
Removing her socks, Gonzalez has Bri hold the rulers in place making sure the ends extend past the wrist in order to keep the forearm as immobilized as possible.
Bri grimaces as Gonzalez ties the socks tightly against her arm.
“If you feel your fingers go numb or tingly, tell me or, if I’m not around, loosen the socks and retie them looser.
How does that feel?”
“It’s still throbbing but better.
Thanks,” Bri says giving Gonzalez a smile which she returns.
“Where are we?”
Bri asks looking around.
“I’m not sure to be honest,” Gonzalez answers.
“Where is everyone else?”
“Michelle is here behind me but I’m not sure where Robert is.”
Bri sighs and stares at the ceiling.
What she took to be an adventure at the start, with the exception of not knowing where her mom is and the possibility that she turned into a night runner, has turned into anything but that.
First her mom, then Nic, and now Robert.
She feels a terrible sadness thinking she is the only one left.
A tear runs down her cheek.
Gonzalez gently wipes it away.
Gonzalez looks to the guard, who is staring out at the sunny day, and whispers, “We’ll get out of here, you have my word on that.”
“It’s not that.
I’m the only one left,” Bri says as another tear follows the first.
“Now Bri, I’m sure Robert is fine.
I think they segregated us.
Look around, there’s only women here,” Gonzalez whispers.
Bri turns her head and looks around slowly.
A small vestige of hope rises as she verifies Gonzalez’ words.
“How are we going to get out of here?”
Bri asks focusing once again on Gonzalez.
“We’ll worry about that when we rest up and feel better.
And, don’t forget, there are the others.
They’ll find us,” Gonzalez says.