Before She Kidnaps
In the Garden of Good and Evil
“I got your gun! Now I give the orders!”
Both the woman and the much larger man stood in a darkened, windowless room, lit only by wan firelight flickering in from some unseen exterior source. It was chilly, but not near as deathly cold as outside; a fact to which the female could well attest.
The man with his hands in the air wore black leather gloves, combat boots, a bulky black sweater, and khaki “contractor” pants with multiple pockets. The holster strapped to his thigh was conspicuously empty.
The woman with the gun wore a heavy, vintage leather aviator jacket way too big for her. The jacket was lined with fluffy wool exposed by the fashionably open collar. She’d worn large holes in the knees of her faded jeans – they weren’t bought that way. Flat, cloth sneakers shod her feet. Her heart fluttered, and not just from fear of getting caught; could she really shoot this guy?
“Here’s the deal,” the woman warned, trying hard to keep fear out of her voice, “We get discovered and you’re the first to get it!”
“Yes 'am, Mandy!” her prisoner cried. “Ol Edgar ain’t gon’ be doin’ nuthin’ to upset ya missy, no ways no how!”
“Stop it! I advise you to take this seriously.”
“Yeah?” Edgar quipped, dropping his hands. “Well, how’s this for serious? Stick that gun in the right pocket of that awesome aviator jacket and hold onto it. That way, I can pretend you’re my prisoner rather than the other way around. It’ll keep the first person who sees us from lighting you up like a Christmas tree!”
“Fair enough,” Mandy admitted, slipping the pistol into her pocket. “Now get me out of here!”
He led her out of the unpowered freezer that had served as her prison and across a large, poorly lit industrial kitchen.
“Where is everybody?” Mandy asked. “Don’t you guys take turns here as kitchen staff to prepare meals for everyone else in the ski lodge?”
“No. All this stuff runs on energy we can no longer supply. Families prepare food in their own rooms.”
“Doesn’t that cause fires?”
“Tell me about it,” moaned Edgar. “By regulation, everyone must keep a bucket of dirt in their room, because we ran out of fire extinguishers a long time ago. Oh, and we inspect rooms every day.”
“’Inspect rooms?’ You mean you spy on people in their own homes?”
“Literally every day. It’s that, or this whole place would be swamped in sewage, vermin and disease. Trust me.”
Edgar opened a door, and they left the dark kitchen into a brighter, gray light. Mandy gasped in wonder...
“Ladies and gentlemen!” crowed Edgar with grandiloquence, “Welcome to the Family Garden Experiment! Watch what you say though, because the corn has ears, and the potatoes have eyes!”
The structure, about 8 feet tall but otherwise the size of a high school gym, was an obvious recent addition to the main building. Mandy figured it had to be behind the ski lodge, because she’s seen no trace of it when she’d earlier approached the front of the building. Before she was captured.
The semi-transparent structure was made of plastic sheets stretched over a wooden frame. Blocks of green flora growing in raised wooden beds were interspersed with stationary exercise bikes. The bikes were attached by automotive drive belts to weird devices. Mandy recognized corn, peppers, garlic, cabbage, and tomatoes, plus beans on long vines supported by wooden lattices. There were many other plants, including flowers.
The air was thick, warm, and wet, while pervaded by the rich, loamy aroma of tilled earth. Right in front of Mandy, heat billowed from a 50-gallon steel drum with a chimney of metal segments leading up through a wood-framed hole in the roof. Other such drum-stoves were stationed throughout the room. People had clearly worked to keep the walls, floor, and equipment clear of dirt and mud, though they had not been entirely successful.
Mandy realized her view to the outside was obstructed. She stepped close to a wall; bubble wrap had been attached to the inside of the plastic sheeting.
She stood up, backed away from the wall, and then stumbled over something. Only an embarrassing little dance kept her upright.
“Has it started already?” her prisoner smirked.
“Has what started?”
“You stumbling around like a drunk, that’s what. Watch what you eat.”
“Watch what... dude, I just tripped over this... extension cord? What’s it doing here?”
“Winter won’t provide as much sun as we need,” Edgar explained. “So, we turn the LED grow lights on for a few hours after dark. Yes, the exercise bikes we jacked from the ski lodge’s gym have been converted to human-powered generators.”
“Well... where is everybody?”
“This may shock you,” Edgar chided, “But our Chief was recently assassinated.”
“You don’t say?” Mandy sneered.
“Wherefore Jolene has assigned the Team on Garden Duty to reinforce Security until further notice.”
“So... this is your garden?”
“Your observation skills are extraordinary, Mrs. Waterson.”
“So, you guys grow all your food here? Neat.”
“Oh good Lord, no! As big as this garden is, it isn’t near big enough to produce enough food to feed everyone. We rotate the Teams through here to teach our people how to farm. That way, they can make their mistakes here, so they won’t make them in the Spring when failure means we all die.”
Mandy stepped to one of the planter blocks and leaned in.
“You guys garden weird,” she scoffed. “No rows. Just blocks of wooden planters in squares, filled with... potting soil? Yeah, potting soil.”
“You are familiar with gardening?”
“Yeah, my mom got into the gardening hobby for a few years. That meant us kids had to get into the hobby, too.”
“Ah, well these are called square foot gardens. Uses much less space for the same yield as endless rows. Easier to maintain, to weed, better pest control. Much easier to work with hand tools as well. These are squares 12 feet on each side, divided into 9 squares with equal lengths of 4 feet per side. Each four by four is divided into 16 one-foot squares, each we could seed with a different plant.”
Mandy closed on a square full of flowers with puffy, bright yellow blooms. She leaned in; they exuded a familiar musky, pungent perfume.
“Marigolds,” she declared.
“Mexican Marigolds,” Edgar detailed, “Tagetes minuta,” to be precise. “Can you guess why they’re here?”
“They’re pretty?” his captor replied, shrugging.
“Mexican Marigolds have a variety of medicinal uses and can make a bomb yellow dye. But we grow them here because they secrete toxins into the soil that kill weeds, but not most of the plants we use for food.”
“Natural weed killer!” Mandy crowed. “You guys go organic? Good for you!”
“We currently don’t have much choice but... ‘organic’,” Edgar sniffed. “A poor crop yield means our lives. Trust me, we will use all the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds we can find!”
Mandy noticed a hole in the bubble wrap on the wall. She walked to it, and then gently pulled back a flap of bubble layer so she could see clearly through the plastic sheeting. She gasped harshly at what she saw: vast numbers of stumps peeking out of a wide snowfield. Armed people in bulky winter wear on snowshoes, organized in a teams like sled dogs, used ropes to drag sleds toward the distant forest, while other teams returned, split firewood stacked and bound by ratchet straps on their sleds.
“No!” she cried. “You... you’re clear cutting the forest! You’re destroying the environment!”
“We have no oil, natural gas, or any other fuel but wood,” Edgar expressed. “How do you people in the Drug Camp keep warm? Happy thoughts?”
“Can’t you guys just hold off on destroying the forest until the government comes back?”
Edgar squeezed his eyes shut, pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed before answering.
“Mandy, I was in a bunker –an underground city, really -- with a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats, many whom you would recognize. Those people were all that remained of our government, and of course, they had their families with them. We did an inventory and discovered that at current rates of consumption, we had enough food to last 24 months, 60 months if strict rationing was enforced. And good luck ‘strict rationing’ such entitled, egotistical people. When I saw that report, I decided to take Justin’s deal and join him instead. I don’t think the government can save themselves, Mandy. The cavalry’s not coming. We’re on our own.”
“The government will come back and help us!” Mandy insisted, stamping her foot. “They have to! And the forest...”
“Oh, quit crying about the forest. We’re leaving come Spring, anyway.”
“Have to. We are at way too high elevation to grow food. We need to move someplace where the climate can nurture our crops, not woodstoves and pedal-powered grow lights in a homemade greenhouse, which, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is unsustainable.”
“In the meantime, between cutting and splitting all the firewood we need, keeping this place clean, and pulling Security, everyone in the Family earns their keep.”
“I hate that elitist phrase!” Mandy spat.
“’Earn their keep.’ As if people should have to earn the necessities of life! A person deserves food, clothing and shelter just because they are a human being, full stop.”
“Are you seriously telling me that a man who busts his butt should be forced to turn over the fruits of his labor to another who will not get off his fat, lazy...”
“...I agree that each of us should give according to her ability,” Mandy added. “But each should also take according to her need.”
Edgar gave Mandy a look most people reserve for pedophiles.
“Just because you said that” he growled, “I feel a lot less guilty about...”
“About what? Murdering your Chief?”
Edgar inhaled sharply and turned his back on his captor.
“Justin Goodkind was my brother,” he began. “No, scratch that. He was closer to me than any of my brothers. We served on the same Special Forces team, and I’ve lost track of how many times we saved each other's lives in some Third World hellhole. But his mind... his, his will belonged to that damned Prophetess, no matter what ridiculous...”
“Like what?” Mandy demanded. “What ridiculous... whatever?”
“He wouldn’t let us attack you guys for one. We spied your people out; the Drug Lord doesn’t have enough food to last till Spring, and we’re the only people with food he can reach. Jolene and I suggested we attack you first, by surprise. The Chief actually agreed with us, but then the Prophetess supposedly had a vision, and that was the end of that.”
“You would attack our camp? My husband lives over there...”
Here, Edgar turned to Melody, telling her, “Clive Waterson, the Drug Lord’s Top Dog? Yeah, we are trying to win him over to our side. When you were condemned to hang for stealing food, we thought we had him for sure. Anyway, not attacking the Drug Camp wasn’t Chief’s worst decision. No, his worst was when he agreed with the Prophetess that we ought not move come Spring.”
“And why won’t your Prophetess move?”
“This ski lodge has been in that women’s family for three generations, so it’s easy to see why the witch wants to stay. She insists we can feed everyone with a big enough greenhouse, but we can’t find any more materials to expand this greenhouse, and even if we could, it’s mad unsustainable. We! Can’t! Stay here!”
Mandy could feel Edgar’s frustration, but she relaxed when her prisoner swiftly calmed.
“We will survive the Drug Lord’s attack,” he sighed. “Half the Family is military, Active Duty or ret... well, I guess we’re all retired now. We can deal with a gang of street thugs whose only ‘combat experience’ is murdering helpless people or pulling a drive by. But the decision to stay at this altitude means death for nearly every man, woman, and child in the Family. It is murder, pure and simple. And murderers get executed!”
“So, you framed me for your friend’s murder,” Mandy sniffed.
“Mrs. Waterson, if your husband defects...”
“I’m done talking. Get me out of here!”
Edgar nodded and walked away. Mandy followed, hurrying to match the taller man’s bold strides, hand on the gun in her pocket. Eventually, he led her across the garden to a metal door on the original lodge. The door was fitted with a mechanical combination lock that Edgar opened, revealing an ascending staircase.
“What’s upstairs?” Mandy asked.
“Sadly, the stairs do not talk.”
“Seriously, why are we going into the building? I need an exit.”
“We can’t take any of the exits,” Edgar claimed. “Chief’s been killed, so Jolene has doubled the guard. They won’t let you walk out of here, no matter what song and dance I give them. But if you have the Prophetess...”
“...they’ll let me walk out with her?”
“Exactly. She’s like Jesus to these people.”
“Fine. Take me to your Prophetess, then.”
About the author
Timothy was raised on a farm in rural Mississippi. His experiences have since taken him all around the world. He now teaches at local university, where he urges his Students to Run the Race, Keep the faith, and Endure to the End