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Before She Saves

by Timothy James Turnipseed 11 months ago in Young Adult · updated 10 months ago
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Hope in the Dark

“They’re going to kill us.”

The woman speaking stood in a short corridor lit by gray sun shining in from windows to her left. Before her was a wooden door, and to her right was a log cabin wall. Behind her was a door slathered with gold paint. A large Peace symbol composed from many pieces of brightly colored glass was glued to that door.

She wore a vintage, heavy leather aviator jacket way too big for her, lined with fluffy wool partially exposed by the fashionably open collar. Her faded blue jeans weren’t bought with large holes exposing her knees; no, those were from wear. Flat cloth sneakers shod her feet, while she was crowned with a pink beanie snuggled down to her ears.

At her feet lay a large, burly man coughing and gagging as he squirmed helplessly on the floor. The man wore black leather gloves, combat boots, a bulky black sweater, and khaki “contractor” pants with multiple pockets. The holster strapped to his right thigh was conspicuously empty.

Lying next to the choking man groaned a young teenage boy, eyes squeezed shut with pain, both hands clamped between his legs. He looked very similar to the girl standing over him; they shared the same serious acne and wore the same maroon windbreaker advertising in white the name and mascot of some middle school marching band. Both youngsters had the holes in the knees of their frayed blue jeans patched with cloth of different colors and patterns. The girl had long twin braided pigtails and metal braces on her teeth, plus she carried a light .22 caliber rifle.

“We have to tie these two up, Bonnie,” the woman decided. “We’ll gag them both and hide them…”

“No, ma’am!” the girl insisted. “We won’t hurt my brother or Uncle Edgar anymore.”

“Help!” the boy howled suddenly. “Help us! Haaalp!”

Harsh electronic screams sounded through the building in continuous clusters of three.

“Someone pulled the Alarm,” Bonnie cried, “Follow me!”

She opened the door, revealing another door across another corridor. Opening that door as well, the girl hustled down a narrow, darkened staircase. Bereft of a better plan, the woman followed, her pounding feet creaking the aged wooden steps.

“It’s the Apocalypse,” claimed the woman, “So how do you guys have power for the fire alarm?”

“Uncle Edgar says that by law, safety systems had to be on backup power separate from the grid. We keep the batteries topped off with bike generators, or this place would be straight ashes.”

Bonnie opened the door at the end of the stairs, and they both rushed into gray sunshine pouring through the walls of a very large greenhouse made from plastic sheets stretched over a wooden frame. Dense, green crops in raised wooden beds grew around them, interspersed with 50-gallon barrel-stoves, their metal chimneys rising through the clear ceiling. Stationary exercise bikes sat about the room, connected by automotive drive belts to small generators. Whoever cleaned dirt and mud from the walls, floor, and equipment had only been partially successful.

“Where are you taking us, Bonnie?” the woman panted.

“Where else? The nearest exit, duh!”

“Isn’t your Security watching the exits?”

Bonnie stopped dead, halting her companion as well.

“You’re right Mrs. Waterson!” the girl whined. “Oh, we are so screwed. We’ll never get out!”

“Sure, we will! We’ll just cut our way through the wall there.”

“And ruin our garden? Just because I hate this place doesn’t mean I want everyone to starve!”

“Relax,” Mrs. Waterson said, soothingly. “A hole in a plastic wall is easily repaired. Our bodies, not so much. And you can call me Mandy, okay?”

“Chief says kids don’t call adults by their name.”

Both ran to the edge of the room. Mandy found a dirty hoe (a gardening tool) and hacking away, she chewed a ragged gash in the wall of bubble wrap and plastic sheeting. Arctic winds blasted in through the gap.

“Ung!” Bonnie grunted, shivering as she hugged her little rifle to her chest. “And I thought it was cold inside!”

Mandy stepped through the hole, sinking into knee-deep snow. Liquid cold soaked into her legs and feet as if she were wearing nothing on them at all.

“Come on!” she cried, turning back, extending her hand to Bonnie. “Hand me the rifle!”

“Yeah, like that’s gonna happen!” the girl sneered, and she pushed through the hole. Mist billowed out like smoke; the greenhouse interior was considerably warmer than the outside.

The escapees were greeted by a wide field of stumps peeking up through the snow. The clear-cut area stretched to the grey-green forest in the distance. Already, armed people in bulky winter wear on snowshoes, organized in a team like sled dogs, used ropes to drag a sled toward them, firewood stacked and bound by ratchet straps on the sled.

“Bonnie!” called a beefy, middle-aged man serving as lead dog, “What’s the alarm?”

“It’s the Chavez-es!” Bonnie shouted. “They’ve gone crazy! Help us!”

Now the team dropped the ropes and transferred their guns from their backs or holsters to their hands.

“Filthy illegals!” the Lead growled. “Always a problem.”

“Whoa Dad!” a teenage boy behind him cried, “Racist much?”

“Maybe the Chavez-es wouldn’t be a problem if some people didn’t treat them like dogs,” piped the girl next to him, also a teenager.

“Harold, honey,” cooed a woman beside the Lead, “I keep telling you they’re not illegals anymore. They’re Family.”

“Whatever!” Harold grumped. “Brenda, stay here and guard the load. Everyone else, follow me!”

“We’ll guard the load for you, Mr. Handy,” Bonnie offered. “I’ll make sure your Team gets the credit.”

“Well, that’s awful nice of you kid,” Harold replied. “You too… Stranger. Let’s go!”

Soon the sled team, guns drawn, forced their way into the greenhouse through the hole, expanding it considerably. In the meantime, Bonnie waded through the snow to the sled.

“What are you looking for?” Mandy asked.

“Our snowshoes are homemade. Which means they break, so everyone carries extra. Ah, here they are.”

“Wait!” Mandy cried, spotting familiar equipment next to the firewood stack. “Those are skis!”

“Oh yeah. Mr. Handy and Kevin are also on Ski Patrol.”

“Bonnie, please tell me you know how to ski!”

“Too easy,” the girl preened. “I was on my school’s Ski Team. Uncle Edgar even put me on Ski Patrol before Chief said you had to be at least 16 to pull Security.”

Both hustled to equip themselves with boots, goggles, skis, and poles. Bonnie slung the rifle on her back. The boots turned out to be too big, but there were rags in a box strapped to the sled (Bonnie said they were bandages) and they used the rags to pad the boots.

“Those people didn’t recognize me,” Mandy reported, snapping on a ski.

“That’s because they were out gathering firewood when you killed Chief.”

“Hey I didn’t…”

“The Prophetess I get. She was driving us like slaves while the only ‘work’ she did was spout spooky-sounding BS. And while we went to bed hungry, she got stinking drunk and inhaled all the food she wanted. But Chief… he was one of the nice ones.”

“Bonnie, please believe me. I haven’t killed anyone. Your uncle, he…”

Harold ended Mandy’s defense when he emerged from the hole in the greenhouse and leveled a magazine-fed tactical shotgun at them.

“Hands on your head, both of you!” he growled.

Mandy’s heart sank. She raised her hands…

“Go!” Bonnie shouted. “They won’t shoot me. And if Uncle Edgar wanted it, you’d be dead already!”

With that, the girl pushed off. Mandy pushed off after her, body angled forward, plant her pole by her right foot, then the other pole by her left; kick-glide, kick-glide with all her might.

Mr. Handy bellowed in rage, yet Mandy heard no thunder nor felt searing buckshot slamming into her back. She glanced over her shoulder to see Harold charging them through deep snow. He wasn’t even wearing snowshoes anymore. Others emerged from the mists behind him, but Mandy felt confident; they weren’t shooting, and they’d never catch skiers in boots or snowshoes.

Bonnie really was good at skiing; she kept ahead of her partner, despite the latter’s strenuous efforts. Exertion made Mandy sweat profusely in her oversized aviator jacket. Gasps of freezing air rasped her throat till she tasted blood.

They crossed the field of stumps and made it into the woods. There, majestic evergreens, cloaked in snow, swayed in the icy gusts while the same wind brought other trees to life; bony branches clawing the low grey sky. Bonnie paused against a tree, and her partner soon joined her.

Mandy took off her pink beanie and shoved it over Bonnie’s head, down to the girl’s ears.

“Here,” she told her, “And you must be freezing in that thin windbreaker. Do you want my coat?”

“No,” the girl panted, her pigtails swaying with the motion of her shaking head. “You won’t fit in this jacket.”

That felt like an insult to Mandy, but she realized it was not a purposeful one.

“Where are we going?” Bonnie continued.

“Home. My husband can help us. His name is Clive.”

“Cool. You know the way back, right?”

“Honestly, not really. But no snow has fallen since I was captured – I think. So, if I find my tracks at the base of the hill in front of the ski lodge, we can just follow my trail back.”

“Can’t the Ski Patrol follow the same trail?”

“Yes, but we have a lead.”

“Awesome. Let’s go!”

And the pair skied cross-country through the snowy forest.

*

Hours later. Night comes quickly to the woods, especially in winter. Mandy felt mounting despair as she realized it had become too dark to follow her trail without a light source… which she did not have.

“Evening, ladies.”

Mandy nearly jumped out of her skin. A shadow emerged from the brush…

A shaft of light speared the dark, revealing a big fellow in a high school letterman jacket crowned with a magnificent cowboy hat. He also wore denim jeans and stood confidently in arctic boots on snowshoes. A rifle slung on his shoulder, and he bore a large handgun in a holster strapped to his thigh. Something like binoculars covered the top half of his face. He held his left arm up to shield his eyes.

“Please get the light out of my face.”

“Clive!” Mandy crowed and kicked to embrace her husband, a ski to either side of him.

“It’s okay, baby,” Clive assured her, returning her hug with his firm, manly embrace. “You almost made it back to the barn. I reckon we’ll hole up there for the night and head home in the morning.”

“Those are your night vision goggles, aren’t they? You never let me use those things.”

“You can use them now. I need my eyes to recover from that solar flare.”

“It’s just a penlight,” Bonnie muttered as the beam winked out, plunging the scene back to darkness.

With Clive’s help, Mandy got the NVGs fastened to her head. The world was revealed to her in hazy green light. Her husband, Bonnie, and the trees around her bloomed in shimmering verdigris.

“Wow Clive! This is awesome!”

“I’m Bonnie,” the girl began, extending her hand to Clive.

“Yes, Major Poe’s niece,” the man retorted, “Why are you here?”

Mandy threw an arm around Bonnie’s shoulders.

“Clive, honey, remember how we could never have children? Well… now we can. Bonnie here is our daughter. At least for a while.”

“Good Lord, woman!” Clive raved, “I want a son I can shape from an infant, not some broken teenager!”

“Clive!” Mandy gasped, aghast.

“No Mandy, I’m serious. That was the problem we kept having with the Foster Care System. The State kept foisting damaged kids off on us. We had to stop it babe, remember?”

“But we can’t just abandon this… this poor child!”

“She's not an orphan, you know. Her uncle's the legal guardian now. We can't just take people's kids."

“Clive, please!”

“You know what her father was doing to her, right? I want to be a dad, Mandy. Not a damned rape counselor.”

“For Heaven’s sake Clive, she’s right here. She can hear you!

“Just being honest Bonnie,” Clive declared “You’re broke, and I caint fix ya. Truth is, you just ain’t worth it.”

Still on skis, the girl let out a harsh sob and kicked off.

“Bonnie wait!” Mandy called, and she kicked off after her.

Edgar’s niece was fast. But unlike her pursuer, she could not see in the dark. Inevitably, Bonnie found a tree the hard way, and went sprawling. Fortunately, the breakaway plastic bindings designed to let the skis come off her feet without twisting ankles or breaking legs worked as designed.

Bonnie popped up and tried to flee through knee deep snow. Mandy skied up and flung her arms around the girl. They both fell.

“Leave me alone!” Bonnie screeched, wrestling her would-be rescuer, “Just let me wander off in the woods and die!”

“No! You’re not going anywhere young lady!”

“You’re just like my Dad! You’re bigger than me, and you’re making me do what you want!”

“Fine!” Mandy huffed, and releasing the girl, the woman stood to her feet.

“You’re free to go, Bonnie. But know this. Wherever you go, I follow. So, if you wander off into the woods and die, you’re killing me, too.”

“Why?” Bonnie sobbed; her voice wracked by despair. “Why would you die because of me? I’m worthless! Worthless!

“Not to me. I love you, Bonnie.”

Bonnie stopped crying, and sniffling, she stood up from the snow.

“Promise you won’t leave me?” she mewled.

“I promise.”

Bonnie threw herself into Mandy’s arms and wept like a baby.

Young Adult

About the author

Timothy James Turnipseed

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

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