Read A New World: Taken Online

Authors: John O'Brien

A New World: Taken (9 page)

As I wait, the sound of a vehicle approaching penetrates my little hideout.
I am nestled behind a downed log next to a tree.
Peeking out as the sound increases, I observe the red pickup truck pass by.
The sound then diminishes.
I barely see a part of the overpass leading from the highway to the north part of town but it is enough to see the truck momentarily as it crosses.
The noise of its engine fades and then disappears entirely.
I figure this is as good a time as any to cross.
The sun has lowered to just above the hills to the west.
Nighttime is approaching.

“What in the world am I doing?”
I say softly to myself thinking about being out at night.

The night runners aren’t fun when in a group.
Being out solo with no place to go is a nightmare.
I think back to Greg’s comment about not thinking this all of the way through.
At this moment, I’m not so sure I did.
It sure seemed like a good idea at the time.
With a last listen and look across the road through the scope of my M-4, I rise and creep to the very edge of the trees.
The tall grass waves very slightly from a gentle evening breeze; almost unnoticeable.
The gray highway stretches left and right out of my line of sight.
I would prefer to cross on a corner but seem to be short of those right now.

Hearing nothing, I rise and proceed at a crouch through the tall grass raising the stalks behind me to minimize my trail.
Gathering myself at the edge of the road, I dart across when I’m reasonably sure the coast is clear.
Heading through the grass on the other side, I make for the opposite tree line and settle in just inside.
I look back and see a trail through the grass on this side.
It just looks like a small game trail but if anyone is looking for something like that in particular, they’ll know someone passed recently.
The trail will disappear by morning as the evening moisture weighs the grass down.
When it rises in the morning with the coming of the sun, my passage will be completely obscured.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you run like the exact opposite of a gazelle?”
Greg asks through the radio.

You’re the next contestant on kissmyass,” I respond pressing the mic.

“Good thing I shaved nice and close this morning then,” he replies.

“Hope you have plenty of Chap Stick handy,” I return.

“Greg, this is Lynn,” I hear on the radio and think
uh oh

“This is Greg, go ahead, Lynn,” I hear him respond.
I want to crawl deep into a hole right now.

“I heard your last transmissions, is Jack going in?”
Lynn asks.

“Who said I was talking about Jack?”
Greg replies.

“Because I know how he runs.
Is he going in?”
I hear her ask again.

“Well, um, yeah,” he answers.
Thanks for the sell-out
, I think but with a kidding aspect.
As a team, we can’t hold anything back and I should have let her know.

“How many are going in with him?”
She asks.
I’m not worried about anyone else hearing our conversations as our tactical radios don’t have a scan function.
We switched frequencies so anyone would be hard-pressed to find our current one.
Lynn knows this as well or wouldn’t be asking for information like that.

“Hang on, let me count,” Greg responds.

Are you kidding me?
He’s going in alone again.
Jack, this is Lynn, over,” Lynn calls.
I press the mic and make static noises.

“Jack, I know better than that.
Nice try,” she says as I release the button and stop transmitting.

“Hey there, hon.
Sorry, little trouble with the radio cords,” I say.

“Uh huh.
I can’t leave you alone on the playground for a minute can I?
What are you doing and why are you going in alone?”
She asks.

“I’m just going in for a look around, that’s all,” I answer.

“I know your ‘that’s all’, Jack.
It means you’re going in with a half-assed plan and will wing it if something happens.
Jack, really, be careful, okay?”

She knows me too well
, I think.
“I will.
I promise.
I’ll call you when I get back,” I reply.
I don’t hear a response but picture her words, “fucking men,” as she strolls briskly away from the radio.

I sigh and wait for a moment listening and looking to see if my crossing has been observed.
Assured that I wasn’t seen and am the only one in the vicinity, I edge back out along my trail in the grass to the edge of the road.
I backtrack, again raising the stalks to the vertical position erasing my trail; or at least making it less visible.
Close to the trees, I gather several clumps of grass.
I find a concealed place to hole up in until dusk approaches.
Separating the grass stalks, I remove my vest and insert them into the back molle straps, taping them into place before donning the vest again.
I spray on the scent mask making sure to run it through my hair and hoping the odor of the people in the camp helps mask my individual scent as well.
I wrap a shemagh around my head.
I use the shemagh outdoors depending on the circumstances.
If there is a chance of a chill out, not only does it keep you warm but it also minimizes the steam emitted when breathing out in cold air.
The cloth traps the moisture and minimizes any visible breath.
Every little bit helps.

The air chills as dusk begins.
The sun once more gives warning that its time is drawing to a close.
I rise from the bushes and slowly make my way to the edge of the trees.
I see the chain link fence through gaps ahead and look to make sure I’m close to where I saw the limited gap in light coverage.

“I’m at the edge of the tree line between the second and third towers,” I radio Greg.

“Copy that, Jack.
Good luck and call if you need,” he responds.

A View From Inside

She isn’t out for long.
The sound of the van door opening intrudes upon her darkened world.
A dull, throbbing pounds inside her head accompanied by an occasional sharp, shooting pain as if an ice pick is penetrating her skull.
Her eyes are open but the blackness remains.
The fear inside heightens as she recalls the attack and what she assumes is her subsequent capture.
She remembers heading out in search of her kids and her fear mixes with anxiety about finding them.

A pair of hands folds under her shoulders and she feels herself lifted.
The bag over her head is removed and the blinding light of the day increases the pain already in her head.
She is helped to her feet and she glances around as best as she can squinting from both the increase in light and the pain.
She recognizes that she is at the high school and therefore knows she wasn’t out for long.
Standing on her shaky legs with a man on either shoulder helping her, she is walked into what used to be the main school office.
Confusion reigns as to why she was attacked and why they are keeping her.
She is brought into the main secretarial office and placed in one of the brown plastic seats lining the walls.

“Don’t struggle or try to get away and it’ll go easier for you,” one of the men says.

The threat in his voice unsettles her even more.
She knows she is not in a good situation.
Due to the drastic change in her
, the room looks so unfamiliar from the many times she has visited the school for one reason or another.
The office reminds her of her kids and a knot of worry forms in her stomach.
She just wants to get out of whatever she has found herself in and go find them.
Balance would be restored to a large degree if she could just find them or at least know where they are and how they are doing.

The man who talked to her leaves and enters one of the other offices only to return a short time later.
“Come with me,” he says standing by her shoulder.
He and another man help her to her feet once again.

She is placed in another chair and faces a man in camouflage fatigues sitting behind a desk.
The rays of the sun outside filter in through open blinds behind him.
Dust motes sparkle in the air where the bands of sunlight find their way in.
The mostly balding, slightly overweight man stares at her for a moment with his chin resting on steepled hands.
Lifting his head and sitting upright he clears his throat.

“Do you mind telling me what you were doing walking around alone?”
He asks.

“I was looking for my kids,” she replies.

He shakes his head in confusion momentarily.
“How is that you were able evade the ghouls for so long?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I haven’t evaded anything.
I woke up this morning and my kids were gone.
I set out to look for them.
You wouldn’t happen to have seen them would you?
Two girls and a boy, teens.
My son is about six feet tall with blond hai..” she begins to say.

“That doesn’t matter now,” the man says interrupting her description.
“What matters is that you follow the rules around here.
You’ll be put on a work team as soon as your head heals to the point where you can work.
Breakfast is just after sunrise and dinner when you return from the fields.
No congregating or talking.
Any attempt to escape will not be a pleasant experience for you so you can get that out of your head right away.
If you have to use the bathroom, you’ll notify one of the guards and be escorted.
And, there will be no slacking.
Do you understand what I’ve told you?”

She nods not trusting her voice.
Tears well up in her eyes thinking she might not get out of this or see her kids again.
The frustration she felt at not being able to find her son and daughters when she awoke builds along with the anxiety and a feeling of complete hopelessness.
She wishes she could remember anything prior to this morning.
She does remember the flu and some of the past but there is a blank gap between seeing her kids to bed at night and waking this morning.
It’s obvious something has happened and time has passed but she can’t remember any of it.

“Show her to the women’s quarters and put her in with the other injured,” the man behind the desk says addressing the two men standing just behind her shoulder.

The light isn’t as brilliant and blinding as she is taken outside and over to one of the classroom buildings.
Her headache dissipates to a degree but the knot in her stomach, her confusion, the worry, and hopeless feeling remain.

She is guided to a classroom filled with other women and girls who are either sitting on cots or lying on them.
The desks have been removed and replaced with cots covering the linoleum of the classroom floor with small lanes between each row.
A guard with a gun leans back in a chair behind what once was a teacher’s desk in the far corner of the room.
She is given a cot and she lies down staring at the drop-down ceiling and hanging florescent lights.
Her mind is both numb and racing a hundred miles an hour.
The soft breathing of the others in the room, accompanied by an occasional moan, is the only sound.
Sunlight pours through the open windows and a slight breeze blows sporadically across her face.

In the late afternoon, she is gathered with the rest of the women and taken outside to the fields just south of the gym building.
They are given some time to walk around.
She is still numb and merely wanders from place to place staring at the chain link fence in the distance.
Freedom lies just on the other side; so near and yet so far away.
The guards keep a close eye on the group and they aren’t allowed to venture far into the field.
Heartache fills her.
She sinks to her knees, starts to cry, and feels an arm wrap around her shoulder.
Through her blurred vision, she turns and sees an elderly lady.

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