Author's Note: Daria Morgendorffer and her fellow characters from Daria are owned by MTV/Viacom. All other characters in this story are the property of Doggieboy. This is fan fiction and no money or other items of value have been exchanged for this story.
Part 4: Carthage
Nearly fifteen minutes later, Jane returned to the bedroom and laid some clothes on the bed. "We can still go if you want to, Daria, or we can stay awhile. I'll leave it up to you."
Daria got out of bed and grabbed the panties. She sighed and put them on. "We leave, but check out the house first. You're going to have to help me with my bra. I don't want to chance making that tear any bigger."
Jane watched as she started putting the bra on, then moved in when Daria was ready and hooked it together.
"Did you see what kind of music this guy had?" Daria asked. "I'm in the mood for something funny or stupid."
"He had some Ray Stevens and Weird Al tapes."
Daria pulled on the blue jeans, zipped them up and buttoned them. "I don't care for country much, but Ray Stevens is funny. Let's take them all." She then pulled on a T-shirt that advertised Six Flags Great Adventure theme park and looked down at it. "I can't believe I chose this thing back at the church."
Jane smiled at her. "When things calm down, we need to go to a theme park. Someplace where we can be silly, have fun and let our guard down."
Daria picked up the holster Jane had laid in the bedroom, made sure that none of the animal waste she had fallen in was on it, and put it on. "My pistol?" she asked. When Jane handed it to her, she held it in her hand and against her chest. "I will never go unarmed again, Jane. Never. I doubt that theme parks will let me in with it." She looked away. "I don't know if I could ever do something like that anyway. Too much has happened and too much water has flowed under the bridge." She holstered the weapon, then put on her boots.
Jane watched her silently for several seconds, then said, "It was just an idea, Daria."
Daria gave her a small smile. "I know." She moved up to Jane and hugged her. She smiled even more when Jane returned the hug.
A search of the house revealed that the occupants had left and in a hurry. The dressers had been cleaned out, as well as most of the food. The girls found barely enough food to fill an average plastic Payday bag. The real treat came when they found the washing machine and dryer. Before they left, Daria washed her waste-smeared clothes, as well as any dirty clothes they had from before.
Two hours later, they left the house and drove further down the county road. In the distance, they could hear gunshots, but it was impossible to tell whether it was for hunting, fighting or just goofing off.
The woods thinned out occasionally in cleared out areas or valleys where they passed homes. As in the woods, some of the homes were occupied and others not.
Jane grabbed a Weird Al tape and put in the SUV's tape player. While the song Gotta Boogie played, she listened to the lyrics and a disgusted look appeared on her face. She glanced at Daria and said, "Ugh."
Daria shook her head. "Definitely a man's song."
They listened to I Love Rocky Road and Buckingham Blues, then Weird Al launched into his version of Happy Birthday.
As the song continued, Jane asked, "What's Cycle 4?"
"I don't know," Daria asked. "Maybe a pet food. How old's the tape?"
Jane glanced at it. "1983."
Then they heard Weird Al suddenly start singing about World War III, with people being turned into crispy critters and other asides about the subject.
Daria suddenly ejected the tape, opened the window and threw it outside. "I cannot laugh at that, not now, probably not ever."
Jane looked behind them briefly, then grabbed a Ray Stevens tape. "Let's try this one."
As they listened, The Streak came on and they smiled as they continued on.
Nearly a half-hour after they had left the house, they came to another dog pack, feeding on something that had been run down at the side of the road. Daria stopped about a hundred yards from the pack, blinked and asked, "What are they eating?"
Jane pulled the .10 gauge shotgun out of the backseat and opened her window. "I'll find out." She leaned out the window, aimed the shotgun and fired.
The shot hit two of the dogs. One fell dead and the other yelped in pain and ran in circles nearby. The other dogs ignored what had just happened and continued to feed.
Jane looked carefully and dropped back into the vehicle. As she closed the window, she said, "It's a big animal. Maybe a deer, horse, or even a cow. I can't tell."
Daria put the SUV in park, glared at the animals and pulled her pistol out. "Let's kill them."
Jane put her left hand on Daria's pistol and shook her head. "We can't kill every wild dog out there, Daria."
"No, we can't," Daria said in agreement. She pulled the .357 and her arm free. "But we might be saving some little boy or little girl somewhere else a nasty death. We might even be saving ourselves from a later dog attack. We can kill these bastards." She stepped outside of the SUV.
Jane watched for a second as Daria braced herself and shot the pistol at the animals. "Oh, boy," she muttered, traded the shotgun for the .30-06 and got out herself.
By Daria's third shot, she had only hit one dog. After her second miss, she said, "Crap. I can't seem to shoot straight."
"I can," Jane said as she shouldered the rifle stock, cocked it, aimed and fired.
One more dog fell before the others took off at a run. One stopped about 50 yards away from the dead animals, turned and barked at them.
"Let's go, amiga," Jane said gently. "He's too far off."
Daria glared at them through narrowed eyes, then nodded. "Yeah."
They got back in the SUV and continued on their way. Jane took Daria's pistol and reloaded it in silence. She noticed Daria's tense expression and said nothing.
After nearly a half-hour, they drove into a small village called Carthage, which consisted of a dozen or more homes scattered around a general store. The store itself was closed and the homes appeared dark. A couple of the homes looked to be looted or otherwise damaged.
On the other side of the village, they came to a recently built United Methodist church with a mostly full parking lot and armed guards outside the main doors and in the parking lot. A painted sign hung over the church's marquee and read, "CARTHAGE UMC REFUGEE CENTER. SERVING GOD BY SERVING YOU."
Daria pulled into an empty space in the church's parking lot and Jane turned to her quickly. "What's going on, Daria? Why are we stopping?"
"I want to see if they have a doctor here," Daria said as she put the vehicle in park and shut it off. She stared at the church. "See if they can treat me for rabies."
"Rabies? But you weren't bit."
A tear ran down Daria's right cheek. She looked at Jane and took a deep breath. "Dogs are well renowned for licking themselves all over and saliva is a transmission route for rabies. The tear on my back hurts and...and...and I'm scared to death. If they have a doctor here, maybe he or she can start a prophylaxis treatment." More tears ran down her cheeks. "I'm scared, Jane." She tried to hold in her cries. "I'm very scared. Help me."
Jane quickly got out of the SUV, went around to the driver's door and escorted Daria to the church steps, her arm around her friend's shoulders.
A man in blue jeans and a sweater stepped up in front of them. He had a pistol in a shoulder holster, as well as a shotgun in his left hand. He noticed Daria's tears, but said, his voice cautious, "We're kind of full, ladies. Not much room left."
"We were attacked by dogs," Jane said and looked at him, "and my friend here was scratched in two places by them. If you have a doctor, we'd really appreciate having him look at her, maybe treat her for rabies, too."
The man smiled then and took Daria's left arm gently as he walked both of them to the front door. "Actually, Doctor Wilson's a she. My wife, Kathy. She's a G.P. in Martinsburg, but she's been here to help the community since last Tuesday. How long ago were you attacked?"
"This morning," Daria said as they walked into the church. She wiped her eyes.
At least 100 people were in the church from what the girls could see. Sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses, cots and regular mattresses were spread out in a community room and the nearby hallways. The man led them to a door labeled "PASTOR'S OFFICE" and knocked on it. "Kathy? I have a young lady here who needs your help."
The door opened and a small, slender redhead in a white jacket stepped out. "What happened?"
Jane looked at her and said, "We were attacked by a dog pack this morning and Daria was scratched by two different dogs in the attack. We weren't bit, but we wanted to play it safe."
Kathy nodded. "Smart idea, given a dog's reputation for licking everywhere they can, including their paws." She had Daria sit on a picnic table set up as an examining table. "Now where were you scratched besides your neck?"
"My back, near my right shoulder blade."
Kathy looked at Jane and said, "If you will excuse us, I'll examine and treat your friend."
Jane started to retort, but Daria touched her left arm, smiled weakly and said, "I'll be O.K., Jane."
The doctor smiled as well and said, "The kitchen is two doors down the hall. There should be something good there, ready to eat."
"I am hungry," Jane said and patted her belly. "I'll try to save you some food, Daria."
As Jane left, Kathy said, "Your friend's really protective of you."
"We're best friends. We've protected each other and saved each other's lives. If she hadn't been with me this last week..." Daria looked down.
"I understand. Why don't you take off your jacket and your blouse, uh, Daria, right?"
"Yes, that's my name."
"O.K., Daria, call me Kathy. I'm a member of Carthage UMC and I never could stand for them to call me Dr. Wilson." She smiled briefly then. "The handsome gentleman who brought you in here is my husband, Denny."
Daria smiled and removed her jacket, and as a result, exposed the .357 in its holster.
"Why don't you remove your weapon, too, Daria? You won't need it in here."
"It came in real handy when the dogs attacked us," Daria said and unbuckled the holster. She laid it on the jacket. "It also helped in dealing with...bad guys who tried to attack us earlier."
"I understand, Daria. I've seen some of what the 'bad guys' have done already. We have a couple of rape and robbery victims here."
Suddenly, a terrier came out from behind the desk and Daria jumped at its appearance. "It's O.K., Daria. My dog, Benji. He's rather tame and has had all his shots."
Daria removed her blouse, then the doctor removed both bandages and cleaned off the area near the shoulder.
"How did you clean the wounds, Daria?"
"I showered immediately after," Daria said, "and soaped up my neck repeatedly. Jane soaped up my shoulder and rinsed it off several times, then immediately after the shower, she cleaned both off with rubbing alcohol, before coating them with antibiotic salve and bandaging them."
Kathy smiled and nodded. "That does help a lot. While rabies is an important fear, God alone knows what those dogs have run in before you encountered them. It could be several different kinds of fecal matter or any other kind of contaminant. Keeping it clean is the most important thing you can do. You may not actually need the rabies treatment, but we should do it anyway, for safety's sake."
"That's why I came here looking for a doctor. I didn't want to take a chance with rabies."
"You seem to be very smart, Daria. Have you had an immunoglobulin vaccine before? Basically it's a rabies pre-exposure shot, similar to what house pets, such as Benji here, are given."
Daria looked at her and blinked. "No. I didn't know humans could get such a shot."
Kathy shrugged. "Veterinarians and their workers commonly get it, as do some of those who work with animals, like at zoos and nature preserves. Fortunately, for you, Daria, I have ample supplies of immunoglobulin and the rabies vaccine. I'll start by giving you half of the immunoglobulin near the tear on your shoulder and the other half in your left thigh. You need to remove your pants, please."
Daria glanced at her in confusion. "You don't have to give me shots in the belly?"
Kathy shook her head and smiled. "I can do it that way if you want, but it's rather painful."
"Uh, no." She stood up, removed her boots and took off her jeans. "I'll trust your judgment on this one. How did you have ample supplies for rabies?"
The doctor smiled as she opened a cabinet and removed several items. "When I was in pre-med, I read a series of survivalist novels." She readied a shot, then prepped a spot near Daria's right shoulder. "In the first novel, right after the war had happened, the main character was attacked by a dog pack. He barely avoided getting bit before shooting the lead dog." She gave Daria the shot and the teen tensed in response as the medicine was injected into her. "After the events of the last week happened, I worked at the hospital in Martinsburg for two days straight, then got as many supplies as I could use and came back to Carthage. I happened to remember...I think his name was Ben Raines...his predicament with the dogs in the novel and decided to be ready for rabies. Given the prevalence of rabies in this part of the U.S. before the war, it doesn't hurt to be ready anyway."
The dog moved up to Daria and stuck his nose against her left knee. She gave the dog an uncertain smile, then nearly jumped as he moved up on her leg for a little "doggy" action.
Kathy quickly grabbed the terrier's collar and pulled him off Daria's leg. She said, "Oh, no, you don't," she said and escorted him to a side door. "You wait in the closet until I'm through." She shut the door behind the dog, looked back at Daria and said, "Sorry about that, but at least that's a sign he likes you."
"That's O.K.," Daria said and watched as Kathy prepared the second shot. She looked away as the doctor gave it to her intramuscularly in the left thigh. When the needle was pulled away, the doctor rubbed the spot with a cotton swab and said, "Now I have to give you the first of five doses of anti-rabies vaccine, Daria. You and Jane should stay here over the next month, since I have to do this over a 28-day period."
Daria's expression was that of shock and she looked down. Tears filled her eyes. "We've been trying to find our families. We were away from them on the first day and we know they were evacuated from our homes in Baltimore, but we don't know where they are."
Kathy looked at Daria and thought a few seconds. "You'll get the first shot now, but the second one has to be three days from now, the third one in seven days, the fourth on in 14 days and the last in 28 days. Where were you planning to go to look?"
"We were going to try in Frederick first, then go to the north of Baltimore."
"From what I've heard, Frederick is overwhelmed with sick, especially those suffering with radiation sickness." Kathy prepared the rabies vaccine and then gave her the shot. She disposed of the needles, turned to Daria and took the girl's hands in hers. "I want to pray for you, Daria. Will that be a problem for you?"
Daria blinked and felt ashamed at her tears. "No. I'm not a Christian, though, and neither is Jane."
Kathy smiled. "It doesn't matter. I can still pray for you. I pray for all my patients. It's been a part of my practice since I graduated medical school." The doctor closed her eyes, gripped Daria's hands and said a prayer for Daria's healing, and for hers and Jane's health, protection, and help in finding their families. She also prayed that Daria and Jane would always know the presence of God in their journey.
In what served as a lunch room, Daria found Jane eating a plate full of beef and noodles. She got herself a plate as well and sat down to eat.
"Well, what's the plan, Daria? Are we going to stay the night or try for another place? I think we should at least spend the night myself."
"We need to stay at least three days, Jane. The rabies vaccine has to be given five times over a 28-day period."
Jane had started to take a bite of food and sat the fork back down. "What? What about finding our families?"
Daria held up her right hand and said, "Calm down, Jane. I have an idea. The second shot has to be in three days. We leave here after I get that shot and try out the Hagerstown or Frederick areas. Then we either try to come back here for my third shot or try to get it there. Kathy said that we could leave and come back for my shots. She's going to prepare a shot record for me on her letterhead to use at other shelters for the other doses."
Jane leaned back and nodded. "I like that idea. I don't like the idea of coming back here, however."
Daria drank some fruit punch. "It beats dying of rabies, Jane."
"True." She held up her cup of punch. "Here's to hoping we don't have to come back."
Daria held up her cup and they touched cups.
"Cheers." they said in unison and smiled.
Time passed slowly for Daria and Jane at the church. Most of the members were friendly, but mainly concerned with their own problems or those of their loved ones. Others talked with them, either to witness or to check on their well being. A few, however, were hostile and glared at the girls whenever they were near.
Jane would return their glares, stare for stare, but Daria turned away, anxious to avoid a confrontation.
One time when she and Jane were alone at one of the dinner tables, Daria said, "All the discomforts of high school, at no extra charge."
"Most of these people are actually cool, or at least nice," Jane replied, "but I've felt more love and friendliness from Ms. Li than I have from some of these others." She saw one man look at her and turned her head away quickly. In a quieter voice, she added, "I have to talk to you about something."
Daria noticed the man's look and Jane's reaction and waited until he left the lunch room. Then she asked, "What happened?"
Jane looked up at her quickly. "What makes you think something happened?"
"You looked away from that man real quick, while you glared at the others. So what happened with him?"
"His name is Keever, Bruce Keever. He...he asked me to meet with him in the back of the graveyard beside the church...for sex."
Daria's eyes opened widely. "He propositioned you?" she asked quietly. "But he has a wife and a kid! I saw them together after dinner last night!"
"I know." Jane shuddered and crossed her arms over her midriff. "I'll be glad when we leave here. When he talked to me, his eyes stayed right on my chest the whole time." She closed her eyes, shook her head and grimaced. "He made me feel dirty, and all he did was look at me and talk."
"Some crappy kind of Christian," Daria muttered and frowned towards the door he exited.
"I don't think he is a Christian, Daria. I said something like that to him and he said that he'll worry about that when he becomes one. I think he's just here because of his wife and kid."
"Try not to be alone with him," Daria said and reached across the table. She grasped Jane's left hand in her right. "If it weren't for my second rabies shot, we wouldn't even be here. I'm sorry."
Jane gave her a small smile. "It's not your fault, amiga," she said. "I'll just make sure we aren't alone anyplace."
"I've had to bite my tongue several times," Daria admitted and released her hand. "Several times, I've wanted to be more honest in my words and thoughts. I knew it wouldn't be appreciated..."
"...and you do need the rabies shots," Jane finished for her. "I understand, Daria." Then she smiled. "You owe me big time for this, however."
"At least a year's worth."
Daria returned her smile. "If we find someplace where I can get that many pizzas, I'll buy them."
In the early afternoon hours, Daria assisted a few ladies in cleaning up the kitchen and dining room, while Jane entertained some small children with a puppet show. A young teen who looked to be either 13 or 14, came up to Daria away from a couple of other girls and chomped on her bubble gum loudly.
"Can I, like, ask you a question?" the girl asked.
"You just did," Daria said as she wiped a table down. The girl and her friends briefly reminded her of the Fashion Club.
"Never mind. What do you want?"
"When you and your friend...um, like, uh, do it, like, what kind of 'dirty' things do you do?"
"Excuse me?" Daria stopped and stared at the girl.
"When you're, like, in bed together. Like, how do you do it? Seeing as you're both girls and all."
Daria blinked, shook her head and sighed. "What makes you think that Jane and I are lesbians?"
The girl blushed and said, "Mrs. Johnson said that you two have, like, secret signals and codes that you use on each other. Love codes, you know."
"Who's Mrs. Johnson?"
"Oh, she's a member of the women's prayer circle. A real old woman, you know. She's been a member, like, forever. She says, like, that she can tell...tell a...lesbian...from a mile away." The girl whispered the word 'lesbian'.
Daria looked at the girl and then at her friends, who watched from across the dining room. "Jane and I are best friends. You have a best friend, don't you?" The girl nodded. "You're best friend is a girl, right?" The girl nodded again. "Does that make you two...lesbians?" The last word was whispered and the girl blushed again and shook her head furiously. "Well, if Jane and I were lesbians, why would we tell you about it? It wouldn't be any of your business, nor Mrs. Johnson's either."
"I didn't mean to, like, upset you," the girl said quickly and backed up slightly.
"Don't believe everything you hear," Daria said and turned her attention back to wiping off the table.. "I've never heard of any 'secret codes and signals' that people use, except for groups such as the Masons."
"Oh, yeah, my daddy's a Mason, you know. Uh, well, thank you."
Daria sat at the table and shook her head as the girl walked away from her. Jane then walked up, two cups of punch in her hands; she conspicuously chomped on her chewing gum, and gave her friend a big smile.
"Like, Daria," she said in mocking voice and handed her one of the cups, "like, you know, what did you two talk about, you know?"
Daria looked over the tops of her glasses at Jane, shook her head and said, "You don't want to know."
Jane sat down and leaned on the table in front of Daria. "Sure I do. That valley girl wannabe and her clique have been eyeballing us since we came to this church. So what did you two talk about?"
For several seconds, Daria looked at Jane and then smiled. "She wanted to know what kind of 'dirty' stuff we do together, since we're 'obviously' lesbians."
"We're that obvious?"
"Really, what makes her think we're lesbians?" Jane leaned forward and whispered, "Maybe she's a mind reader. If that's the case, your thoughts about Trent alone would make her go blind. They nearly make me blind, and I'm just an empath."
"No, I think you're actually a psychopath." Daria took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Or I am after being around you so much. Apparently, one of the old ladies of the church has declared that we're lesbians because of some 'secret codes and signals' we give each other."
"Dang it, why doesn't someone ever tell me what these secret codes and signals are? For all I know I'm 'signaling' you that I want an armadillo pizza with quicksand sauce." Jane put her fingertips on both sides of her head and said, "Are you getting my signals, Daria?"
Daria held in her laughter and smiled as Jane did a poor imitation of the Twilight Zone theme while she slowly turned her head back and forth. "Yes, Jane...you're coming through loud and clear...You're saying that you want me to find you a psychiatrist." She lifted her cup of punch to her lips and sipped.
Jane sighed and put her hands on the table. "You see, I knew that nobody ever taught me the codes and signals. I was trying to signal you that our strip Yahtzee game had to be at nine tonight instead of 7:30. You were supposed to bring the whipped cream and the feather duster. Oh, and don't forget the midget, either."
Daria laughed then and spewed punch on the table. She covered her mouth quickly with her right hand and finally suppressed her laughter. Then she caught her breath and wiped the spilled punch with her cleaning towel. Under her breath, she said, "I'm going to kick your ass, Jane."
"Such language," Jane whispered, "and in a church. I'm all a-flutter."
Daria stood up. "I have to finish what I'm doing here. I thought you were putting on a puppet show."
"I'm done." Jane smiled again. "I'm not sure they'll want me to do it again."
"Uh, oh, are we in trouble?"
"What? All I did was tell the kids that paint-by-numbers sets were the work of the devil."
"If we get kicked out of here, Lane, you can forget that year's worth of pizza."
"Oh, I'll be good." Jane ran her fingers over her lips, as if she were closing a zipper.
Daria gave her a small smile. "If that actually worked, I would've done that to you many times by now."
Daria sat in the pastor's office on the picnic table as Kathy Wilson looked at her shoulder injury. Jane stood beside her and looked as well.
"I don't like the looks of this," Kathy said after a minute.
"What's wrong?" Daria asked.
"Your shoulder injury is inflamed. It's infected."
"I washed it!" Jane protested. "Repeatedly, with lots of soap and water."
"I believe you," Kathy said. "I believe you. Sometimes, an infection can still set in. Daria, were both of your injuries done by the same dog?"
Daria shook her head. "No. A big, heavy dog got my shoulder and a German shepherd got my neck."
"Well, your neck is doing fine and is looking good. But the dog who tore your back must have had...something on its paw and got it in your back."
"What could it be?" Jane asked.
"Fecal matter, battery acid, any assortment or combinations of chemicals and contaminants. It could even be a fungus or a protozoan." She sighed and readied a washcloth with iodine. "This might sting." She cleaned Daria's back with it and the girl tensed as she did so. She put a new bandage in place and added, "I don't have the laboratory equipment to see what kind of contaminant it is. However, fortunately for you, Daria, I have several different kinds of antibiotics. Do you have any allergies?"
"Not that I know of." Jane started to say something, but Daria turned on her and said, "Don't say it."
Kathy looked over and saw Jane look up at the ceiling innocently, then looked back at Daria. "O.K." She opened a cabinet and pulled out a bottle. "Are you taking any medications right now?"
"No," Daria shook her head.
Kathy poured out thirty pills and put them in a smaller amber pill bottle. She handed it to Daria and said, "This is amoxicillin, in the 250mg. tablets. Take one of these three times a day until they're all gone."
"What side effects are there?"
"With this, the main side effects are nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, not to mention a possible allergic reaction. If you do have any kind of reaction to these, such as loss of breath or numbness, I want to know about it immediately, even if I'm asleep. O.K.?"
Daria nodded in agreement.
A wall clock chimed in 2 a.m. and Jane Lane opened her eyes as she heard a noise nearby. She sat up to see Daria sitting up and leaning against the wall, scratching her sides with her hands and her back on a corner trim. "Daria?" she asked groggily. "What's wrong?"
The auburn-haired teen took a couple of short breaths and grunted. "I'm itching," she said. "Must've been that soap I used when I washed up."
"Where are you itching?"
Jane was suddenly fully alert and got to her feet quickly. "On your feet, Morgendorffer. Now. Come on."
"What? I'll be O.K."
"You're having an allergic reaction, Daria. Remember what Kathy said. Let's go tell her."
Daria shook her head in the darkness. "I'll be O.K., Jane. Just let her sleep." Then she started scratching her legs and bit her lower lip as she did so.
Jane grabbed Daria by her left arm and forced her to her feet. "She said to tell her, even if she was asleep. Come on, Daria."
Daria didn't struggle as Jane pulled her to a Sunday school classroom next to the pastor's office and knocked on it.
The door opened and Kathy stood there in pajamas. She yawned and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Daria's having a reaction to the pills," Jane said.
Kathy blinked her eyes several times and grabbed a set of keys on a nearby hook. "Let's take a look." She walked out, shut the door and shuffled over to the pastor's office. She unlocked it, turned on the lights and had Daria remove her clothes.
For a couple of minutes, Kathy looked over Daria's body and shook her head. You're having an allergic reaction, all right. You're breaking out all over. How are you breathing?"
"Like I'm out of breath," Daria replied.
The doctor looked at her and nodded. "I was afraid of that. It looks like we'll have to use epinephrine, which I do happen to have on hand." She prepared a hypodermic needle and cleaned a spot on Daria's upper right arm. "Be thankful. I had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic once. I was given a week's supply of prednisolone to take. A very tiny pill, but also very bitter. Prednisolone would take several days to work, anyway. This is a lot quicker."
Daria didn't even react to the shot. Jane held her hands tightly to keep her from scratching and she was still biting her lower lip. Slowly, she relaxed as the immunosuppresant worked on her system.
Kathy disposed of the needle and went back to the cabinet. "Give me the rest of the amoxicillin, please."
Daria handed the doctor the pill bottle and she sat it on the cabinet. "Aren't you going to throw it away?"
"In normal times, I would," Kathy said as she filled a second bottle with different pills. "These aren't normal times. I can't afford to do that anymore." She handed Daria the bottle. "This is erythromycin. We use it on people who can't take or tolerate any kind of penicillin. Take it as you would have the amoxicillin." She yawned. "Now, let's all try to go back to sleep."
The preacher stood up in the center of the community room and held up his hands to get everyone's attention. "As some of you know, it's that time of year that we go mushroom hunting. I know that the war's still on everyone's mind, but I think it would do us some good to pick a mess of wild mushrooms. Anyone who's experienced at mushroom hunting and would like to go, please raise your hand."
Daria was amused, but kept her opinions to herself. Then she turned to Jane and was shocked to see that her friend had her hand up. "What are you doing, Jane?"
"I did this back at the commune, Daria. It was actually kind of fun." She shrugged. "I never ate them, though, but my 'hunting' skills were highly praised. Mainly because I found more morels than anyone else."
"I always knew you were a show-off."
Jane laughed and stood up. "You're just jealous."
At the entrance, the preacher spoke to the five volunteers. He handed each of them long plastic ponchos, rubber dishwashing gloves and plastic bags. "I know you're probably used to picking mushrooms with your bare hands, but we're adjusting to the new reality we now face. Keep the ponchos and gloves on, in case of radioactivity. Be aware of your surroundings, cause I don't want anyone to fall off the side of a cliff, even if they aren't that tall. Oh, and Mitch, don't corner a rattlesnake this time. The last thing we want Kathy to have to treat is a snake bite." Polite laughter filled the room. "I know that each of you is armed." He then looked at Jane. "How about you, young lady?"
Jane patted her right hip and said, "I'm armed and ready to go."
"Good." The preacher smiled and held up his hands. "Before we go, let's bow our heads and have a prayer."
Jane closed her eyes and shifted her weight from one foot to the other as the prayer was said. As the prayer was finished, they were taken towards the woods at the back of the church and each given a portion of land to check out. Jane's portion was across a creek and into the woods. Each person split up and went to their assigned areas.
Outside the church and coming from around a corner, Bruce Keever smiled as watched Jane's poncho-covered form disappear into the woods. He put on his camouflage jacket and followed her.
Jane didn't have much luck this time around. All she found were three morels, but she continued to look intently. She moved slowly as she looked. When she found the fourth mushroom, she picked it, bagged it and said, "Hope the others are doing better than I am."
A faint sound behind her caused her to turn around suddenly and she found herself face to face with Bruce Keever. "Nice place to be, baby," he said and leered as he looked her over. "Real private and secluded."
Before she could yell out, he grabbed Jane in a hug and slapped one hand over her mouth. With his other hand, he yanked open the top of her poncho and pushed his hand inside her shirt. He laughed as she struggled. She dropped the bag of mushrooms.
Jane broke out of his hold and quickly punched his left jaw. "Keep your hands off of me, you son of a bitch! If you want to do that, go palm your wife!"
Keever laughed and rubbed his jaw. "You hit like a girl," he said and suddenly punched her in the belly.
Jane fell back and away from him; she landed on her knees and fought to keep from retching.
Keever smiled as he added, "Of course, as long as you make love like a girl, that doesn't matter." He lifted her poncho and reached to her right hip. Then he removed her pistol from the holster and looked it over. "Girls like you shouldn't carry such big guns. It's mine now. Take off your clothes." He removed his jacket and laid it over a nearby oak tree branch. Then he laid the pistol at the base of the tree.
Jane got to her feet and watched as he pulled up on his shirt. She reached in her jacket pocket and sighed in relief when she found the .38 still there. "So you think I hit like a girl, huh?"
The man pulled his shirt off and hung it on the tree branch as well. He fiddled with his belt and frowned at Jane briefly. "I told you to strip, girl. Do it!"
She glared at him, pulled the pistol out of her pocket and cocked it. "I also shoot like a girl, you bastard."
Keever looked up and froze as he saw Jane lift the pistol and aim it at him. "Oh, shit," he said and she pulled the trigger.
The bullet struck the man in the middle of his chest and he fell to his knees. He looked up at Jane as his eyes glazed over and he fell silently to his side.
Jane lowered the pistol, blinked, and pocketed it. Then she picked up her other pistol and holstered it. She saw a cliff some 20 feet away and moved to Keever's body. She looked around and saw nobody in any direction. The pistol wasn't very loud, but she wanted to be sure. After several seconds, she bent over, rolled his body to the cliff and shoved it over with her right foot. Then she tossed his jacket and shirt over the side as well.
She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. "That's what I get for volunteering," she said and picked up her bag. After what had just happened, she couldn't look for more mushrooms. Her mind just wasn't into it.
The thought of Mrs. Keever and their little boy came to her mind and she now understood what Daria meant when she said that she couldn't stop thinking about Larry Carter's family. "Dammit!" she said and slowly walked back towards the church.
She found that she was the third person to return, behind two elderly men. One of the guards had a Geiger counter and scanned their ponchos, gloves and the mushrooms. As they were found to be clean, she stripped off the gear and went back inside the church.
Daria waited near the entrance and smiled as Jane came in. But then she saw her friend's expression and instantly moved up to her. "What happened?" she asked quietly.
"Later," Jane said and looked away. As they walked alone to their blankets, one of the elderly men followed them.
"Excuse me, miss," he said. Jane turned around and her face turned red as the man reached her. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Jane kept her voice steady. "Why wouldn't I be all right?" she asked back.
"I saw what happened out there. Are you all right?"
Daria looked from one to the other and asked quietly, "What happened?"
Jane looked down and took several more deep breaths. "I'm fine."
The man put a gnarled hand on her left shoulder. "I've known him since he was a little boy, miss. He's always been a...problem...and he liked being that way. I hate to say this, but Lisa and their little boy are better off without him. He's put the moves on several teenage girls and young adult women at the church and our concern for his family is what's stopped us from kicking him out before."
Jane looked up at him, then at Daria; her eyes glistened with tears. "I've screwed things up, Daria."
"What happened?" Daria asked. "Tell me."
"The man I told you about yesterday? He followed me into the woods and attacked me. I killed him and left him out there. You haven't got your shot yet and we're going to be thrown out and I...I...I..." She sat down on the blanket, buried her face in her hands and started crying.
The old man pulled a folding chair near Jane and sat in it. He gently laid his hands on her shoulders and said to Daria quietly, "Put your hands on her, too. I'll pray for her, and you as well."
For the next minute, the man prayed, his voice barely heard by Daria and Jane. He prayed for both girls, to be kept safe in God's hands, for Daria's healing and for Jane to understand what had happened. "Miss..."
"My name's Jane." She looked up at his face. "Jane Lane."
"Jane...that's a beautiful name...my granddaughter in Arizona is named Jane. There's an old saying that goes like this. 'A man saddles his own horse and shoots his own snakes.' You did nothing wrong out there, Jane. He got what he has been asking for all along. You did the right thing."
"I know I did nothing wrong," Jane said. "What I'm upset about is that Daria hasn't had her second rabies shot yet and that we're outsiders and..."
"Enough of that. You two are our guests and will be taken care of as long as you want to stay here. I guarantee that."
Daria looked at him and said, "After I get my second shot, we plan to go on. Our families are out there and we need to find them."
He nodded and said, "I understand. Don't say anything about what happened. He..has taken off in the past. We know he has a girlfriend several miles away and that he goes to her on occasion. That's what will be assumed this time."
As the hours went on, Jane calmed down and she and Daria worked on sweeping and other kinds of busywork..
But as dusk approached, Jane had to leave the dining room when she heard Mrs. Keever ask someone there, "Have you seen Bruce? Do you know where he is?"
On the third day after the dog attack, Kathy pulled Jane aside and asked, "Have you paid attention to Daria's condition?"
The teen nodded and said, "She's under stress, but she hasn't broke out anymore. Heck, we're both under stress. We want to leave."
Kathy shook her head. "It's important that I watch her for at least another four days, just in case she goes into anaphylaxis again. Has she ever had a rash like that before?"
Jane stroked her chin and said, "She had one due to anxiety once. As far as I know, she didn't have an allergic reaction to anything." She looked at Kathy. "What's anaphylaxis?"
"A life-threatening allergic reaction. It can kill within minutes."
Jane's face went pale and she gasped. "Are you saying Daria almost died the other night?"
Kathy nodded. "It could have happened that way. If she hadn't come to me..."
"She didn't want to. I had to force her to get you up."
"I see." Kathy sighed. "Let me talk to Daria about this first."
Later that day, Daria, clad only in her bra and panties, sat in the pastor's/doctor's office as Kathy gave her the second of five rabies shots. She sighed in relief as the needle was withdrawn.
Kathy looked at her as she rubbed the injection site and said, "You aren't going to like what I have to say."
"What?" Daria asked. "What's wrong?"
"I think that you and Jane should stay here at least another four days. That way, you can get the third shot here."
Daria blinked and frowned. "I don't understand. Why would you want us to stay?"
Kathy made a notation on a note pad, looked up and said, "To keep an eye on you. I want to be certain that you're over your allergic reaction."
"But you gave me the epinephrine shot and the erythromycin and the rash cleared up."
The doctor looked at Daria silently for several seconds and said, "The other night you were going into anaphylactic shock, Daria. Do you know what that can do to you?"
Daria blinked and her mouth dropped open. "It can kill a person if it goes untreated."
"That's right. Jane told me that she had to force you to get me. If it hadn't been for her, you could have died within the hour. More likely within ten minutes. At the time, you were already on your way to respiratory arrest and your heart rate had dramatically increased."
"Why didn't you tell me then?" Daria asked, anger showing in her voice. "I think I had a right to know."
"I made a judgment call then and I stand by it. If I had told you then, you might very well have gone into full-blown tachycardia from the panic alone. That can also kill you, by the way."
"I wouldn't have panicked," the teen said sullenly.
Kathy crossed her arms over her chest. "I don't know that, Daria. I really don't know you or Jane. Normally, when I treat a patient, I know them and as much as I can find out about them. That helps me in treating that person more than you probably realize. Yes, I gave you epinephrine and it did help, but sometimes, the relief from that is only temporary." She sat beside her. "Daria, I have prayed more these last 13 days than I did in the previous six months. I have especially prayed for you and Jane."
"For our 'salvation'," Daria said in a slightly sarcastic voice.
"Of course," Kathy replied and ignored Daria's sarcasm. "Mainly, I've prayed for your healing. I'm aware of the hostility that you two have gotten from some of our members. I even know about the lesbian rumors. I've prayed about both things as well. I've also prayed for your families. But the bulk of my prayers for you have been for your healing."
Daria looked at her as she realized what she had heard. "You're afraid that I'm going to die on you," she said.
The doctor nodded, a sad look on her face. "Yes, I am. When someone as old as, oh, say my dad, dies, it still hurts, even though it really isn't a surprise. After all, he's in his seventies. But you're young and I don't want you to die while in my care. That would tear me up." She cleared her throat and added, "It never gets easier, no matter how many times you go through it." She cleared her throat. "I'm done with you now, Daria. You need to come in tomorrow for another check-up."
Daria stood up. "I will let you know if anything about me changes," she said and left the office.
People were gathered around Rev. Harris in the community room as he tuned in a large radio slowly. Since Daria and Jane had arrived, this was a daily activity, but for three days, all they could pick up were voices from stations too far away to understand. Even the big 50,000-watt stations weren't coming in clear enough to listen to at any length.
"At least we know that they're broadcasting," he said after they heard the words "...wash thoroughly and catch..."
Daria sat in the back of the crowd on an outer seat. She nursed a can of Ultra Cola and nibbled on some M&Ms. Jane stood nearby, a cup of coffee in her hands and a vacant look on her face.
A gnarled hand patted Jane's shoulder and she smiled at the old man. She learned that his name was Glen Bates and that he was an elder in the church. She also learned that he was a former Marine infantryman and had killed in the line of duty during the Korean War. He had counseled her about the incident with Bruce Keever and showed her in the Bible where killing was sometimes justified. That helped her somewhat, but it didn't stop the memory of the incident from replaying itself in her mind.
Nearby, three elderly women watched as Glen patted the girl's shoulder and shook their heads. "Look at the way he's fondling that...that...girl," one of the woman whispered loudly to the others beside her. "Shameful!"
Glen turned towards the women suddenly and said loudly, "Would you care to repeat that piece of gossip about me, Lucinda Johnson?"
The woman blushed and stammered, "I...I...I didn't say anything."
"I'm neither stupid nor deaf, Lucinda, so do not lie to me. I may not be pastor here anymore, but I'm not afraid to call you down. I've had about enough of your slander against others and myself."
"Remember Matthew 18, Brother Glen," Rev. Harris said suddenly.
"I'm skipping the first two steps!" he snapped, his glare still on Lucinda. "We'll finish this one later. If Mrs. Johnson will kindly keep her mouth shut, we can hear if something important comes up on that radio."
Mrs. Johnson started to rise and speak, but her friends held her in her seat and whispered to her in quick, firm voices. She stayed in her seat, but glared at the old man, who ignored her.
Rev. Harris looked at both of them for several seconds, then turned his attention back to the radio.
Jane sat down beside Daria, sipped her coffee and asked in a whisper, "What's Matthew 18?"
Daria smirked and looked sideways at her. "It's a chapter in the book of Matthew," she whispered back. "Matthew is the first book of the New Testament."
Jane slapped her left hand over her eyes and groaned as Daria's smile widened. "I know 'what' Matthew 18 is, smart a...alec. But what is its significance?"
Glen whispered, "It's a guideline for dealing with inter-church conflicts between believers."
"Oh," Jane said.
Suddenly, a voice came in clearly on the radio. "...the news to the tri-state area, martial law is in effect for the states of Maryland and Virginia, with a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place until further notice.
"The city of Frederick has been dealing with massive numbers of refugees from the Washington and Baltimore areas. Reports of thousands of cases of radiation sickness as well as food shortages and riots have come into our newsroom. According to U.S. Army Colonel Paul Phillips, Frederick is now closed to entry, while Army and police units restore order to the area.
"The enormous task of decontamination is now underway in the border areas of the restricted zones. Volunteers from area nursing homes, jails and prisons are sweeping and washing public buildings and open areas. More volunteers are welcome, according to government sources. Report to city buildings in your area to volunteer, or for more information."
Daria's expression fell and she closed her eyes as the voice droned on. Jane wrapped her left arm around her shoulders and hugged her from the side.
The news gave details of martial law, of people summarily executed for crimes that normally would have taken months to prosecute. Weather reports from The Forecast Channel were given, including a thunderstorm warning for the Washington area and the area north-northeast of the capital. "However, given that the area is almost totally evacuated, there should be no extra complications there than those already being experienced," the radio voice said.
Directions for basic first aid were given, as well as details on food protection and information of where to go for food and shelter. The biggest portion of programming, however, was devoted to decontamination procedures, for people, vehicles, property and animals.
After twenty minutes, the programming repeated itself and Rev. Harris searched for another station. After several seconds, a male voice boomed out of the speakers, "...Poly Jock-Itch Powder! Ask for it by name! Better yet, have your wife or girlfriend ask the clerk for it by name! Have her also ask the clerk for lessons in how to apply it!"
"What is this disgusting nonsense?" one young mother asked as she covered her daughter's ears.
Daria glanced at Jane and said quietly, "Dr. Neon is back."
"This is Dr. Neon and Pirate Radio is back on the air! I'll give you some info, go off the air and come back on in a little bit. If you think now's a good time to form breakaway nations from the United States, be aware that the U.S. Army is on the move against any militia or secessionist movement that causes any trouble. That includes any tax resistance or racial superiority groups. Already one group near Cumberland, Maryland has been rounded up after they tried to seal off their 'area of control.' At least ten of them are dead and many more wounded.
"An army major told me that while many areas are showing signs of anarchy and criminal activity, order will be restored. He also warned that crimes against people and property will be punished swiftly and harshly. He's not joking, folks. I know of two men who were hung after being caught trying to kidnap a woman. One man who broke into a house was executed by machine gun. Looters caught in the act are being shot on sight. So keep your noses clean.
"Decontamination efforts are already underway in the areas bordering the restricted zones, with volunteers cleaning contaminated buildings and vehicles. Keep in mind that the word 'volunteer' is correct, from a certain point of view. Prison inmates and the elderly have been pressed into service for this task. I know of at least twenty prison inmates who were shot when they refused to work. I don't know what they do to the elderly who refuse. I've even heard rumors that people suffering from high radiation exposures have also been 'drafted' for this, but I can't prove that one.
"I can't get anyone in power to confirm this one, either, but apparently the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been suspended for the duration of the emergency. Welcome to the new reality, folks.
"I'm going off the air now and moving. The feds and their triangulation efforts are still quite good, despite the plastering we suffered. See ya." Then the signal stopped and Rev. Harris tried to find other stations.
Daria and Jane left the community room and walked outside the front doors. The air was cool and the wind came out of the west.
As they walked, they passed one of the church's teen boys, who was on roving watch. As he passed them, he smiled and nodded at them, then continued on his rounds. After he moved several feet, he looked back at them and smiled again. "He likes you, Daria," Jane said quietly. "I found out that his name is Martin Peters and that he doesn't have a girlfriend."
Daria rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, get a brain, Lane. He likes all the girls from what I've seen and some of the women of the church, as well."
"Yeah..." The outside light suddenly blinked and went out. Jane sighed and they waited for several seconds for it to come back on. Sounds of a commotion could be heard inside the church. The lights didn't come back on. "This isn't good, is it?"
"Not if my rabies vaccine needs to be refrigerated, it isn't."
The boy showed back up then. "I think you two should probably go back inside," he said. "To play it safe."
Daria and Jane went back inside as Rev. Harris spoke aloud. "Everyone, calm down! My goodness, we've been through power outages before. We've survived them and we'll survive this one."
"We've not had a nuclear war before, Jack," one man said.
Then Kathy spoke up, her voice loud and commanding. "We have one critical situation here to deal with. One of our guests, Daria, is on a rabies treatment cycle and still has three shots to go over the next three and a half weeks. Rabies vaccine has to be refrigerated. Not only that, but I have other medications that must be refrigerated as well. If the power doesn't come back on, I'll lose those medications and Daria's health will be at risk."
"What about using a generator?" one woman asked. "After all, we have quite a bit of frozen and refrigerated food here that we could also lose."
Glen's voice could be heard. "We don't have enough gasoline to run a generator that many times. I have a no-tech suggestion that we can use, however. I still have a spring house at my place and so do a few of the houses here in the Carthage area."
"What's a spring house?" Daria asked aloud.
"Basically, it's a small building built around an above ground spring. The water that comes out of the ground is cold and in the years before electricity, that's where we stored milk, butter and any perishables. It's always cold in there. Whenever I worked in the fields, I always kept lemonade and Ultra Cola there because they stayed ice cold. As far as the frozen foods go, we'll either have to eat them up, or be prepared to start canning."
The spring house idea was agreed to eagerly and Daria helped Kathy carry medications, while Jane and several others provided armed security. At least 10 others carried food items. The trip to Glen's home was about a quarter of a mile and while Kathy sealed the various medications in glass jars and set them in the spring water, a watch was set up as well. Jane and an old man took the first watch shift. "Don't worry, amiga," Jane said before Daria and the others left. "I put some Ultra Cola in the water, too. So we can still have our caffeine ice cold."
"Ultra Cola isn't that important, Jane," Daria said.
"I'll remind you of that later when you go through caffeine withdrawal."
Daria smiled. "See you in a few hours, Jane."
"Yeah, have sweet dreams about Trent. Oh, wait, you already do." She laughed when Daria blushed and mouthed I'm going to kill you to her.
The next day, Rev. Harris and the church officers met with Lucinda Johnson in what was normally the church nursery. Being the only soundproofed room in the building, it offered the most privacy. The meeting took nearly an hour and Daria noticed how some of the church members watched the closed door with anticipation. She and Jane sat at a corner table; Daria read her copy of the Boy Scout manual and Jane drew something on the sketch pad.
"What do you want to bet that nothing changes?" Jane asked and glanced at her friend.. "Gossipy old biddies don't stop their ways."
"She will, for awhile," Daria said and shrugged her shoulders. "At least while we're here."
Kathy then walked up and sat beside Daria. "Hi."
"Hey," they said in unison.
"I'd like to check you out again, Daria."
"You're not curious about the 'trial'?"
Kathy laughed. "It isn't a trial, but it has been a long time coming. Lucinda once said that I became a doctor so that I could see men naked. By her reasoning, my male counterparts became doctors so that they could see women naked. It's sad, really sad. She has very low self-esteem, so she attacks others to build herself up. They've put off confronting her for so long, and now it's a lot harder to deal with."
Daria smiled briefly at her. "People always think I have low self-esteem," she said. "Actually, I have low esteem of others."
Kathy looked at Jane. "What about you?"
"Me?" She looked up from her sketch pad. "I'm Daria's partner in crime. At least until the authorities catch up with her. Then I'm just a kidnap victim, thanking them for rescuing me."
Kathy looked at her uncertainly and said, "I see that the war hasn't taken the edge off teen sarcasm any."
Before Jane could respond, Daria stood up. "Where do you want to examine me?" she asked.
"Since it's just a simple check up, there's a screened off partition near the organ. With the power off, more sunlight comes in there." Kathy led her off.
As they walked off, Daria looked back at Jane and held up her right fist. Jane's response was to stick her tongue out and laugh.
It was later that afternoon, when Jane heard one man ask another, "Have you seen Brother Glen?"
"Not since this morning," the other man asked.
Jane thought back and remembered watching the old man move towards the woods a few hours earlier. She started to speak and suddenly remembered the incident involving Bruce Keever. She closed her eyes and her mouth and shook her head.
After several seconds, she stood up and looked for Daria. She finally saw the auburn-haired teen as she tutored three middle school students on history, something she had volunteered for the day before. "I'll take care of this," she whispered to herself and left the building.
Outside, she nodded at one of the guards and asked, "Have you seen Mr. Bates?"
Just then, a strong male voice said, "I'm right here."
They turned to see the old man. He walked slowly, his clothes soiled and he appeared exhausted. Jane and the guard rushed up to him, but he waved them off in irritation. "I'm O.K. I'm O.K. Let me go inside."
Jane walked up to the door with him and asked, "What happened?"
Three of the men from inside the church stood at the top of the entrance stairs and one said, "Brother Glen, you should let someone know when you go for a walk in the woods. In fact, someone should've been with you."
"I don't need a babysitter, Rick!"
Another man Glen's age then grimaced and added, "You smell like you fell on something dead, Glen."
Jane's face paled and she gasped. The people around saw her reaction and Glen quickly said, "I fell on a dead raccoon, people. A very, dead and ripe raccoon."
A pre-teen girl who stood in the doorway grimaced and said, "Ewwww! That's so gross!"
"Are you sure you're not hurt?" Jane asked
"I'm fine, Jane, everyone. Just step back. I need to change clothes and get cleaned up."
"What you need is a check up, Glen Bates," Kathy said as she shouldered her way to the elderly man. She took him firmly by his right arm and said loudly, "Doesn't everyone else have something to do? Back off and let me do my job." As the people broke away from the scene, she said to Glen, "You go traipsing off in the woods alone, not mindful of the people here who look up to you, love you and care for you. You are just like a child at times, I tell you."
He laughed briefly as he let her lead him. "You sound just like Jenny did when she was still alive."
"She told us to watch you and to keep you out of trouble, and you know that. She knew what kind of stunts..." Their voices trailed off as they moved out of earshot. Jane moved off to sit near where Daria tutored the students.
Daria looked up from the textbook and said, "Your assignment, Jane, and you will accept it, is to list all the kings of England and later, Great Britain, whose names started with the letter 'E'. Don't spell any name wrong, or you'll do the assignment again with other letters." The three students looked at Jane and laughed, then looked back at their study work.
Jane shrugged as she grabbed a pencil and paper from a nearby table and started sketching. "I need to relax a minute or two. Don't mind me."
Daria looked at her for a few seconds and mouthed Are you O.K.? Jane nodded and mouthed back Later.
After the tutoring session, Jane filled Daria in on what had happened with Glen. They had to wait until dinner before the old man walked out of Kathy's care, cleaned up and in clean clothes. He walked over to the girls and sat down as one of the ladies set a plate of beef stew down in front of him.
"Thank you, Dorothy." To the girls, he asked, "Have you two eaten already?"
Both nodded and Jane asked, "What happened? Where were you?"
The man took a bite of stew, smiled in contentment as he ate and swallowed. "I enjoy a good homemade beef stew," he said. "Very, very filling. As it happens, I was going to tell you what I did. Just between the three of us, I took care of...a problem. Let's just say that the 'problem' is buried now and leave it at that."
"You should have told me," Jane said quietly, yet forcefully. "You could have had a heart attack out there alone. I would have helped you."
Glen sighed, looked down at his plate for a few seconds, then looked sadly at the two. "You don't want to see what I saw. Trust me on that one." Then he started eating more stew and used a biscuit to sop up the sauce.
Daria looked at him for several seconds, then asked, "Why doesn't it bother your appetite?"
"You learn to separate it in your mind." He sighed, then drank half a glass of water. "You have to or else it'll eat you up. In Korea, I saw dead Americans, dead Koreans, dead Chinese and dead everything else. Those who could not...compartmentalize it, keep it separate...went nuts." He finished up the water and Jane refilled the glass. "Thank you, Jane. You know, I can tell who's seen the elephant. A few of us at Carthage have, be it the big one, Korea or Vietnam." He looked from Jane to Daria and back to Jane. "You two have also seen the elephant. Don't ask me how I know. I just do."
"I don't understand," Jane said.
"I do," Daria said. "Dad told me that his dad mentioned it once. It means to see combat and what it entails. But we just...had a few conflicts, not battles."
"Lie to yourself if you want to, Daria. But please don't lie to me. I've seen too much in life, and done too much as well. You don't have to give me details. I've talked to Jane about her recent...conflict. If you want to talk to me about yours, I'll be available."
Daria looked at him silently, then nodded. "Thank you," she said. "I'll think about it."
The next day, Daria had a watch at Glen's spring house with Martin Peters, who normally stood one of the roving watches. After feeling his gaze on her on and off for the first ten minutes, she finally said, "Would you please stop staring at me? It's really making me uncomfortable."
The boy jumped and looked away. "I'm sorry. I'm just not sure what to talk about."
"So you have to stare at me instead? Why? Is a third eye showing on my forehead? Or have you developed x-ray vision and not told anybody yet?"
The boy blushed and swallowed. "I wasn't staring at...those."
Daria nodded, her expression skeptical. "O.K. How did you end up on this watch? I checked the schedule and saw one of the church elders was supposed to be with me, not you."
"I traded with Deacon Jones. I asked for this watch."
"Why?" Daria felt she already knew the answer, but she wanted to hear him say it before she guessed it out loud.
He blushed, but looked straight at her and said, "Because you're on it."
Daria sighed and closed her eyes. "Uh...Martin?"
"Well, Daria, I don't have a girlfriend. Do you have a boyfriend? If not, I was thinking..."
She held up her right hand. "Martin, I know where you're going with this. But I don't know you and you don't know me. Besides, Jane and I are just guests here. We aren't going to be here that much longer."
The boy looked slightly crestfallen. "You already have a boyfriend." He snapped his fingers once. "Darn. That's just my luck."
"I didn't say I had a boyfriend."
"Then, I'm not quite what you're looking for, is that it?"
"Will you stop that?" Daria stood up and moved in front of him. "If you keep putting yourself down, no girl will be interested in you. So stop it!"
His face registered shock briefly, then he smiled. "Sorry. That did sound pathetic, didn't it?"
"It made you sound desperate. Don't try so hard." She moved to the door, looked out, then glanced sideways at him. "You don't believe that rumor about Jane and me?"
Martin rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. Mrs. Johnson tells the truth, except, of course, when she lies. We just haven't seen her tell the truth enough to tell the difference." He covered his eyes with his left hand. "She once claimed that I had set up a spy camera in her bathroom so I could watch her in the shower." He shuddered. "The thought makes me nauseous and I end up wishing I had brain bleach. I wouldn't look at her in the shower or anywhere else. I'm not sick."
"Oh?" she asked, a small smile on her face. "Who would you rather watch in the shower, then?"
"Mrs. Cooper," he said without hesitation, then suddenly slapped a hand over his mouth.
Daria laughed and her smile widened. It's a pity that Jane wasn't here to hear this one. "Now, that's an interesting confession. Isn't she the mother of the twin girls?"
The boy covered his eyes and nodded briefly.
"She's a pretty woman. Does she know this?"
The boy then looked at her, horrified. "Are you nuts? If she didn't kill me first, my folks would! If her husband was still alive, he'd kill me, too."
Daria's smile then turned into a smirk. "A word of warning, Martin. If you do install a camera in her shower, the steam will probably fog up the lens and you won't see that much."
The look on his face also reflected a slight bit of panic. "Please, don't tell anybody about this. You'll get me in trouble with everyone. They'll think I'm some sort of pervert."
"Don't worry," she said. "I'm just teasing you."
He sighed in relief. "Daria, would you at least be willing to be my friend?" He held out his right hand.
She took the offered hand and they shook. "Sure."
Jane was giving another puppet show for the little children in one of the church's smaller rooms. They laughed at the antics of the puppets Kevin and Brittany as they tried to decide on whether or not to watch Sesame Street.
"But, Kevvy," Jane said in a pseudo-squeaky voice and moved the female puppet. "This show is for small children."
"Babe, the Muppets rock!" she then said in an imitation of Kevin's voice. "It's only as long as the Pigskin Channel is off the air, anyway."
Suddenly she heard a loud sound somewhere outside. A gunshot? What's happening?
Mrs. Johnson ran by the room and yelled, "They shot Bill Foster! They shot Bill Foster!"
"Children," Jane said quickly as she picked up a shotgun near her feet. "We need to hide. Where's a good place nearby?" More gunshots could be heard, as well as screams.
A couple of little girls started crying and the children all looked up at Jane with fear in their eyes.
A small boy pointed to a door and said, "That's the furnace room. It's nice and dark in there."
She looked around and saw Glen and two other men moving with their pistols out and cocked. Her older friend saw them and he yelled, "Protect the kids, Jane!"
Jane then opened the door and said, "Let's hide. Hurry!" The kids filed into the room and she followed them. She shut the door and the room darkened. She said, "Why don't all of you pray while I stand guard, O.K.? But do it quietly."
The room filled with the sounds of little children whispering their prayers.
"I noticed your rifle, Daria," Martin said and nodded towards the weapon. "Cool looking .30-06 you have. Have you ever shot it before?"
She said, "Yeah, but it kicks pretty hard. I got knocked on my butt the first time I shot it."
The boy nodded in understanding. "Next time, lean forward slightly. Let your body mass...well, what body mass you have, that is, absorb the recoil. I got knocked back the first time I shot one as well, but I fell back into a tree. Got jabbed by a broken branch and needed three stitches on my shoulder."
Loud, popping sounds could be heard outside and they looked at the front door together. "What was that?" they asked in unison.
"Jinx!" Daria said quickly. "You owe me an Ultra Cola!"
He snapped his fingers, smiled, and said, "Next time you won't get me on it."
Daria moved up to the window in the door and looked outside. She squinted and said, "Someone's out there."
Martin moved beside her and said, "Let me see." He looked, then his eyes opened widely. "Uh, oh." He then shoved Daria to the left hard.
"Hey!" she said and the window exploded inwards; the boy fell backwards onto the floor. He cried out, dropped his rifle and grabbed his left shoulder.
"Martin!" Daria rushed to him, her stare on a quickly expanding blood stain under his hand.
"Daria!" he said through clenched teeth. "They're coming for us!"
She jumped to her feet and readied the .30-06, shouldered it and leaned forward slightly.
"I got one! I got one!" one male voice said.
"I think the other one's a girl," another voice said. "First one to her gets first dibs!"
"Wait! Don't!" a third voice said.
The door was suddenly kicked in and Daria fired the rifle. The bullet hit the man in the neck and he fell backwards as she slammed the door shut.
"Oh, shit, they shot off Bobby's head!"
Daria heard the sounds of more gunfire coming from the church and just outside the building. as she moved to Martin. She looked around for a towel or something to use as a compress, but there was none around. "Dammit!" she said and pulled off her T-shirt. She then moved his right hand and pressed down on the injury with the wadded-up garment. "Martin! Are you still with me?"
He looked at her bra, smiled at her face, then said, "A dream come true and I have to be shot for it to happen." He laughed weakly and tears flowed from his eyes.. "I knew I could get your shirt off if I made the right moves." He slapped his right hand onto her hands, sobbed, and added, "It hurts, Daria. It really hurts."
"I'll do what I can, Martin. Just stay with me and I'll try to get help."
"I'm sorry I shoved you."
"You saved my life. Thank you." She freed her hands, pushed his hand onto the shirt and grabbed her rifle. "Hold that there. I'm going to be ready for them when they try again." With a quick glance at his face, she moved to beside the shut door.
"Eat this, you assholes!" an outside voice cried out and Daria watched a man throw something towards them. Omigod! It's a grenade!
The grenade hit the spring house hard, then it bounced off the wood and landed at the thrower's feet. Then it exploded.
Daria quickly moved over Martin as debris hit the building. The force of the explosion shook them and the spring house, but did no damage. She got up and brushed a little dust from her shoulders.
Then she looked carefully from the side of the window and saw blast damage about 15 feet away from the door and the bodies of two other men spread about. "Wow."
Inside the church's furnace room as the prayers stopped, Jane said, "Stay here, stay hidden. I'm going to see what's going on."
"Be careful, Jane," a little girl said in the darkness. "We love you."
Jane smiled and cocked the shotgun. "I'll be careful, and I'll be back."
She stepped out quietly to see two filthy-looking men drag one of the valley girl-wannabes by her arms. The young teen girl screamed and kicked as she struggled to free herself.
Jane shouldered the shotgun stock, aimed and shot one of the men in the back of the head. As he fell amid a bloody spray, the girl screamed louder and pulled herself free from the other man's grasp. That man turned towards Jane, his pistol in his hands.
The tall brunette cocked the second barrel and shot the man in the center of his chest. As he fell backwards, she yelled, "Get over here!" The young teen obeyed as she cried hysterically. "Get in the furnace room with the little kids! Now!" The girl nodded in her terror and moved quickly to obey Jane.
Rev. Harris showed up, blood on his scalp and a smoking shotgun in his hands. "Are you O.K.?" he asked and panted in excitement.
"Yeah, we're fine. Is it over yet?"
"There's still some attacking Glen's spring house."
"Oh, no! Daria's there!" She ran past the preacher and out the front doors, reloading the shotgun as she ran. As she ran, she passed the bodies of both raiders and church members, as well as armed and still standing parishioners.
"Jane! Wait!" Glen yelled. "Wait for backup!"
Jane ignored him, broke into a sprint and raced towards Glen's house. Several seconds later, a man scrunched down behind a tree, turned towards Jane with an assault rifle in his hands. She shot him in his belly and ran on. A second man shot at her with a pistol and the bullet whizzed by her face close enough for her to feel its heat. She fired the second barrel and shot his legs out from under him. His screams filled the air as she ran on.
Daria heard the shots and the screams of the man, but had no idea what was going on. She squatted near Martin, the rifle cocked and aimed at the door. "You hold on, Martin. Just hold on, please."
The boy laughed, looked at her face and asked, his voice quiet, "What...do I hold onto?"
"You're already injured," she replied and smiled. "Don't make me shoot you as well."
Suddenly, Jane's voice could be heard outside. "Daria! Are you all right in there?"
"Jane? We need help! Martin's been shot! He's hurt really bad!"
Jane pushed open the door, saw Daria with her shirt off and Martin laying on the floor, holding the wadded up shirt on his shoulder. "Damn, Daria, couldn't you wait until we found Trent to do that?"
"Jane! Go get help or I'll shoot you myself."
Just then, Martin's father and five other men of the church showed up. One of them quickly took off his jacket and placed it around Daria's shoulders. She slipped her arms through the sleeves and zipped it up to her neck as the men carried the injured youth outside. Two of the men took over the watch and cleaned up the blood from the spring house floor.
An old door was found inside Glen's garage and the other four men carried Martin on it back towards the church. Jane took the lead and held her reloaded shotgun ready as they walked. Daria walked beside the impromptu stretcher and watched the youth as he groaned and sighed. He smiled at her and held up his left thumb in an "O.K." gesture. Then he winced from a jostle and closed his eyes. Her eyes widened, then she relaxed when she saw that he was still breathing.
Daria noticed Martin's father, John Peters, glance at her and she returned his look. He cleared his throat, looked forward with the other stretcher bearers and said quietly, "Thank you for what you did for Martin back there. A lot of the women and girls here are good, decent people and all, but they wouldn't have removed their shirts like that. Not even to save his life."
"I wasn't exactly happy about it, myself," Daria admitted and pulled the top of the jacket together. "But he needed it more than I did."
"I appreciate it. You and your friend will be in our family's prayers."
When they arrived back at the church, Jane moved back beside Daria and the men carried Martin up to where Kathy was checking out the injured. She whispered, "Did you take off your shirt before or after he was shot?"
"Kiss my ass, Jane," Daria whispered back.
Jane smiled. "There you go, offering again. A lot of talk and no action."
Daria rolled her eyes and shook her head. She said, "To be serious for a moment, Jane, I...I mean, he...oh, hell, it should have been me that got shot. Martin shoved me away at the last second and he's the one who got it instead."
Jane looked at her, amazement showing in her eyes. "Whoa. He took a bullet for you? Wow."
"Yeah. Yeah, he did. Not only that, but before we got attacked, he asked me to be his girlfriend."
"He did?" Jane giggled. "Oh, this just gets better and better. So that's when you took your shirt off, huh?"
"Jane! Dammit, I'm serious! What do I do? How can I ever pay that back? I mean, I turn him down and then he takes a bullet for me. I...I don't know what to do."
Jane slung the shotgun over her shoulder and stroked her chin in thought. "Normally, I'd recommend a candlelit room, soft music, wear nothing but a bow on your neck and give him a night of wild, uninhibited sex."
"Yeah, I know, you do that here and you're suddenly his wife, barefoot and pregnant." She grinned at Daria, who glared at her. "You'd look real cute washing the dishes in a dress and apron, your belly pooched out with Martin Junior inside."
"You're going to look real cute with a stake through your heart and your mouth stuffed full of garlic." She put her hands over her eyes. "I'm serious, Jane. What do I do?"
Jane shook her head and shrugged. "I don't know, Daria. I have no idea. Let me think awhile on it." She waved her right hand towards the people near the front of the church. "Let's see what's going on." They walked forward slowly.
Kathy had several people laying on the ground near the church entrance, their feet propped up. Two elderly ladies helped her as she worked. One man with a Geiger counter checked out each gunshot victim and gave the doctor a thumbs up after he checked each person.
Three of the attackers were still alive. Two of those sat cross-legged on the ground with their hands on the back of their heads. They had sullen, defiant looks on their faces and glared at the two men who guarded them with double-barreled shotguns. The third man was the one Jane had shot in the legs. He was on his back, crying in one breath and demanding attention and help in the next.
"How many did we lose?" the girls heard one man ask. Another answered, "Four."
Daria and Jane stopped near Glen, who stood with Rev. Harris, John Peters and several other men and women of the church. "Why is Kathy treating our people outside?" John asked. "I'd think it would be better inside."
The preacher turned towards him. He held a handkerchief on his scalp as he replied, "We have to take up some of the carpet near the classrooms." He nodded towards Jane. "You saved my daughter's life earlier, Jane. Frances and I thank you."
Jane nodded. "You're welcome."
He continued, "Unfortunately, one of the men you shot was highly radioactive. Even his blood and...was hot." He then spoke to the others nearby. "They're cleaning up what they can, but Kathy decided that it was easier for us to cut out that part of the carpet than to try and clean it. She said that we need a lead-lined container to dispose of the body and anything else radioactive."
Glen thought for a couple of seconds, then looked over at one younger man sweeping up broken glass and masonry. "Jimmy! Come here a second!"
The man strolled over, a broom and dustpan in his hands. "Yeah, Glen, what do you need?"
"Do you still have that lead-lined coffin your grandpa bought?"
The young man looked at him briefly, then nodded. "That old thing? Yeah, it's in the barn. Melissa's been wanting me to sell it, but how do you sell a coffin?"
"Is it still in good condition?"
"Sure. Why do you ask?"
Rev. Harris then spoke. "We need to use it, Jimmy. Some of these dead raiders and their stuff is hot. We need to safely dispose of them."
Kathy then walked up. "Jack," she said to the preacher, "we were blessed. None of our gunshot injuries are radioactive."
"You expected them to be?" one woman asked.
"Some of the ammunition the raiders used is hot," the doctor replied. "So, yes, I did expect it. Here's what we have to deal with. We have three gunshot wounds, and Martin's is the most serious to deal with."
John spoke up, "Can you operate on him here?"
She nodded and continued, "I want to take him up on the pulpit and we move the organ. I need to operate on him as soon as I can. I've already got Jeannie prepping him and after I talk here, I'm going to wash up."
John blinked and asked, "How are you going to put him under?"
The doctor looked him in the eyes and said, "I'm not. All I have is local anesthetics. I will use them, but I'll also need the help of several big and strong men to hold him down in case the local isn't enough." She looked at Rev. Harris. "We need a prayer chain started now, Jack. For Martin, for myself and for the other patients. I'm going to be busy for awhile."
Martha Peters moved up next to her husband and gripped his left arm tightly. John asked, "Could...could my boy die from this?"
Kathy sighed and looked at both of them. "I won't lie to you. Yes, he can die, mainly from shock. He's lost some blood, but I don't believe it was enough to be a problem. I have faith that he will do O.K."
One man spoke up, "What about giving him whiskey until he gets drunk? My brother has moonshine in his room back at my house."
Daria started to mention the whiskey she and Jane had, but Kathy gave the man a short and bitter laugh. "That only works in movies and TV shows, Brad," she said. "One, drunk does not mean anesthetized. Two, alcohol dehydrates the body and that is the last thing Martin needs. Three, he could end up vomiting and inhaling it, which could kill him, or he could end up with alcohol poisoning. I'd be better off packing him in ice until he went numb, and I'm not doing that either."
"What other injuries have we suffered?" the preacher asked.
Kathy looked at him. "We also have five stabbings, none serious, but all requiring stitches."
Jane whispered to Daria, "Why don't you offer your 'expertise'?"
"Bite me, Lane," Daria whispered back.
Kathy added, "Several of our people were punched or had their hair pulled. Three people have swollen noses, there are several black eyes and a couple of missing teeth. We also have two broken bones, one in a child's forearm. One of the raiders stomped on her arm, broke it and laughed."
All those gathered looked at the three surviving raiders. Their looks were hard and angry.
"Vengeance is not the answer, people," Rev. Harris spoke up as he noticed their expressions. "Let's keep our cool, shall we?"
"Justice is the answer, Jack," Glen spoke up. "We need to just shoot them and be done with it."
One person said, "Now, wait a minute," but Kathy whistled loudly and stopped the talk. Everyone looked at her.
"I am not finished talking yet. Of all our problems we now face, the worst is radiation. So far, God has blessed us by keeping fallout from any of the bombed cities away, and I really do appreciate it, because it won't always be that way. Now we are dealing with contamination from other sources. Three of the raiders and their belongings are highly radioactive. Two of those men were killed in the raid." She pointed at a dark-haired man sitting on the ground. "This man right here will die within the next several days, if my guess is right. His dosage level is at least 2,000 roentgens. Probably closer to 3,000. There is no helping him. He has too much organ and cellular damage. Shooting him would be a mercy."
The man heard the exchange and yelled out, "I demand that you do something to help me! You're a doctor! Get your damned ass over here and treat me!"
Jane, Glen and several other people all aimed their weapons at the man and Kathy yelled out, "DON'T SHOOT HIM! We already have to clean up the radioactive blood from the other two." Then to the man, she said, "You are already dead, you idiot. Get that one through that thick skull of yours. If you want to do something constructive with the time you have left, give your soul to Jesus Christ. He's the only one who can help you now." To Rev. Harris and the others, she said, "If you want to execute him, then hang him. We could just let him die on his own, but he will vomit and mess himself before it's all over and I don't think we need to deal with that either."
Then Kathy pointed to a small pile of weapons and assorted junk set away from everything. "This stuff here is too hot for anyone to use or even touch. All of it needs to be disposed of, as well as the top layer of ground it's sitting on. Do we have a lead-lined container to use?"
Jimmy spoke up. "We have my grandpa's old coffin. It's big, Doc Kathy, but it won't hold three men and all their junk."
"Then we'll have to find another lead-lined box, Jimmy. This stuff is too dangerous to leave around."
Daria moved up to Glen and asked, "Why did his grandfather buy a coffin and store it? I don't understand that."
Glen shrugged. "J.D. was a bit...odd, but still a good sort. He paid nearly $1,000 for the coffin in 1957 and at the time it was really a fancy piece of work. He planned to be buried in it, and talked about it often. Then he died in Florida in 1975 and his new wife had him buried down there. The coffin was passed down to his son, then on to Jimmy." He shook his head. "I guess that there was a reason for him buying the silly thing after all. It just took more than four decades to come in handy."
One woman moved away from the injured and came up to them. "Kathy, my old hope chest is lead-lined."
The doctor sighed in relief. "I hate taking your hope chest like that, Cindy, but this is really important. Thank you."
Before Daria could ask another question, Glen whispered, "J.D. was Cindy's grandfather, too. He had a thing for lead-lined items. Old cold-war nonsense that actually comes in handy now."
Jane pointed at a larger pile of weapons and other items. "What about this stuff?" she asked.
"It's clean," the doctor and grimaced. "I should say, it's not contaminated. Cleanliness wasn't in these people's dictionaries. Now, I'm going to prep myself for surgery." She pointed at four men. "Cody, Brad, Gerald and Mike. You've just volunteered to help me. Come on."
As the four men and the doctor left the scene, Jane walked up to the larger pile and pulled an assault rifle out. "Interesting," she said to no one in particular. "An AK-47." She also picked up several magazines of 7.56-mm shells.
Daria walked up and looked at her, then at the assembled church members, who were talking to Kathy and Rev. Harris. "What are you doing, Jane?" she asked.
"I have me a new toy," Jane said and smiled. "This kind of rifle is one of the weapons that Socrates taught us to shoot at the commune."
"That's my rifle, bitch!" one of the seated raiders yelled out. "Put it down or I'll tear you a new asshole!"
Jane smiled sweetly at the man and said, "You're really brave, aren't you?"
"Damned right I am!"
Just then, a man carried his daughter outside. Daria and Jane knew her as Katie, an eight-year-old aspiring gymnast. Her arm was sloppily covered in plaster-of-Paris and she held her hand as the cast dried. She nodded towards the man Jane was talking to and said, "He's the one, Daddy."
The father handed his girl to his wife, pulled a pistol out of its holster and cocked it. He aimed the weapon at the man; his arm shook as he did so.
Rev. Harris moved close and said, "Phil, 'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I will repay.' It isn't worth it. Don't do it."
A tear ran from the father's right eye and he lowered the pistol. "I...I can't do it."
"You pussy!" the raider yelled and laughed. "I'll cut your nuts off and shove them down your throat! You can't use them anyway."
Jane released the assault rifle's safety quietly and said to the father, "Ignore him and don't think anymore about it. You can sleep at night knowing that you have no blood on your hands."
The raider continued his taunts, however. "I'll screw your wife in front of you and make you watch! Then I'll get your little girl, too!" The man's back stiffened, but he and his family still walked back towards the church.
Jane turned her attention back to the man, leaned over and smiled again. "Do you know what the real pity is?" she asked.
"I have blood on my hands." She leveled the rifle and fired several rounds into his chest. He fell back and screamed, a look of total shock on his face as his body went into jerking spasms. Then the body relaxed as he died.
The silence after the shooting was finally punctuated by the wailing of the other two raiders. The irradiated man cried out, "I don't wanna die! I don't wanna die!" Then he started bawling.
Jane looked around at the shocked faces of the parishioners. Even Daria was surprised by what had just happened and stared at her, her eyes widely opened. "Think about it, people!" she said loudly. "Where are you going to keep them? You have no jail. The man stomped on a little girl's arm and broke it! He laughed when he did it and you heard him boast about what he wanted to do to both Katie and her mom."
"We're supposed to turn the other cheek, young lady!" an older woman said. "You just murdered that man!"
Glen then spoke up. "Stop right there, Brenda! You know very well that 'turning the other cheek' does not mean giving in to murderers or rapists."
Jimmy said loudly, "Jane didn't murder that man either, Brenda. We were going to execute them anyway. We have to."
"That's right, Jimmy," Glen said. "Thank you. Everyone, if these people had succeeded in their raid, then the men of the church who survived would more than likely be tortured to death. The women and children would be raped and tortured and probably killed as well. If we jail them, we'll have to guard them, feed them and...they're not worth that kind of expense or trouble." He cocked his pistol and walked up to the man with the shot-up legs.
"Glen, wait!" Rev. Harris said and rushed up. "Let me talk to him first. Give him at least a last chance to accept Jesus in his heart."
"O.K., Jack, I'll wait." He released the hammer and waited, his arms crossed over his chest.
For the next several minutes, the preacher spoke softly to the man. After a couple of minutes, the man nodded and the preacher touched his forehead gently and they prayed together. After the prayer, the preacher moved away and the man looked up at Glen nervously. "I'm ready," he said and closed his eyes.
Several people turned away as the elderly man cocked the pistol again and emptied two shots into the raider's head. The body jerked briefly, then relaxed as the man died.
Everyone's attention turned towards the last raider, who by now was panicked and struggled against his bonds.
"We can't shoot him! Kathy said that he's radioactive!" one woman said.
"What do we do with him?" a second woman asked.
Rev. Harris knelt by the man and said, "You have the same option, son. Accept Jesus into your heart now. Don't put it off. Even if we don't execute you, you heard our doctor. You're dying of radiation sickness. At least this way, you won't have to suffer. If we let you live, you will suffer badly. But we will be quick and merciful. I promise."
They talked quietly and the man bawled as he spoke. The preacher prayed softly and the man closed his eyes as he prayed.
After several minutes, Rev. Harris stood up and walked away as two of the men slipped a rope around the raider's neck. Nearly everyone else, Daria and Jane included, turned away.
Daria closed her eyes as well, but the sudden sound of a loud crunch made her wince.
As the bodies of the dead were buried, Daria sat on a set of steps near on the other side of the wall from the pulpit. Jane helped with the burial, but Daria was too pre-occupied with Martin's operation and how long it was taking.
The sound of a muffled scream reached her ears and she felt a tear ran down her right cheek. Then Jane's voice in her mind said, He took a bullet for you? Wow.
Then she heard her own voice as it said, I turn him down and then he takes a bullet for me.
Kathy's voice then played, Yes, he could die.
Jane's voice then said, So that's when you took off your shirt, huh?
Daria closed her eyes and yelled out, "Enough with the voices, already!"
Jane moved up to her and asked, "What voices, Daria? Nobody said anything."
Daria jumped, startled. "Sorry," she said. "I didn't know you were there. I was just thinking out loud."
"Worried?" Jane asked.
"What do you think?"
"You are. The way you're acting you'd think he was your boyfriend."
Daria just shook her head. "I don't see him that way and it makes me feel guilty, Jane. Why did he do that for me? I'm nothing to him, not really. I don't understand why he did it."
Jane sat down beside her. "Tell me what happened out there, amiga."
Then Daria related the exact events, from her seeing someone outside, to Martin looking outside and suddenly shoving her out of the way and getting shot.
"I'll never complain about what he did," Jane said.
"That's easy for you to say, Jane."
"Yes, it is, Daria. If he hadn't shoved you away, the bullet would have blown your brains out instead of lodging in his shoulder. He will always have my thanks and admiration for that."
Daria blinked and looked at the ground. "I never even thought about it like that. All I've been thinking is how he put me in the ultimate spot."
"Uh, huh. What was his reaction when you turned him down on being his girlfriend?"
"He asked me to at least be his friend. I accepted."
Jane nodded and smiled. "Well, there you go, Daria. Someone once said that there was no greater love than when you're willing to lay down your life for your friend."
"I don't love him!" Daria whispered quickly. "I'm thankful for what he did, but I don't know him well enough to love him. He certainly doesn't know me well enough to love me!"
"He's a Christian, Daria. He already loves you, at least in that way." Jane shrugged. "Maybe that's enough for him to die for you. Plus, he could be old-fashioned and instinctively protected you because you're a woman." Then she whispered, "Maybe he thought that if he got shot, you'd take off your shirt for him."
To Jane's surprise, Daria smiled. She said, "Right after he got shot and I had to use my shirt on him, he joked that he knew that if he did the right thing, he'd get me to take off my shirt."
"At least he has a sense of humor, Daria. That's a good sign."
It was approaching dark when Kathy came outside to the others and said, "He made it."
Everyone, including Daria and Jane, cheered and waited for the doctor to say more.
"He's resting. I have him on an IV and have sedated him, so nobody needs to bother him right now."
The next day, Daria sat on a chair next to Martin's bed and asked, "How are you doing?"
"I'm bored," the boy said and sighed. "I want to get up, but Kathy said that I have to stay in bed all day, except when I have to go to the bathroom."
"How did you handle the surgery?"
"With unbelievable hysterics, thank you. I cried like a baby." He sighed. "I will never have to worry about pain again, because I have never felt anything that hurt like that. I know I never want to feel it again."
She smiled. "That's what you get for being a hero." She looked down briefly, then gazed at his face. "Why did you do that for me?"
Martin looked at her and said, "I saw the guy aiming a rifle. My plan was to push you away and then jump aside." He laughed briefly and winced from the pain in his shoulder. "I wasn't fast enough."
Daria swallowed, then said, "If I do something right now, can I count on you to not to take it the wrong way?"
"As long as you make it plain to me, how can I take it the wrong way?"
She blushed and looked away briefly. "This is a thank you for saving my life." Then she leaned down and kissed him on the lips.
When Daria ended the kiss and sat back, Martin exhaled and smiled. "That reminds me," he said. "You saved my life, too. I owe you a thank you as well. May I?"
"O.K.," Daria said and smiled. "Why not?" She leaned down and they kissed again.
When they broke the kiss, Martin looked up at her and watched as she sat back in the chair again. "We're still friends?" he asked.
"We're still friends," she replied and smiled.
"The man who marries you will be blessed," he said suddenly.
Daria blushed again, blinked twice and looked away briefly. Then she looked at him and said, "The woman who marries you will also be...blessed. Very blessed." She held out her right hand and he took it in his. They shook hands and smiled at each other.
The next two days were designated a period of mourning for the Carthage congregation. During this time, Jane's easy rapport with the children allowed her to keep the young ones occupied with games and crafts, despite the unease some parents felt about a teen who could so easily kill someone else.
Also during this time, Daria worked in the kitchen part of the time, and spent a few hours each day helping Kathy in her tasks. She also escorted Martin on his assigned (by Kathy) walks to keep his strength up and helped with his therapy.
On the second day of mourning, Rev. Harris gathered the congregation together and said, "We've been so pre-occupied with our own problems that we forgot that we aren't alone out here. We need to check on our sister church in Morrisville. Since we've been raided, there's a good chance that they've had similar problems as well. I need six volunteers to go over there and check things out."
Kathy stood up and said, "I'll go."
Several members in the congregation shook their heads negatively and one old man spoke up, "Kathy, you are the last person who should go. As our doctor, we can't afford to even take a chance losing you out there."
"I agree, " Glen said. "Martin's still recovering as is our other injured and Daria is still on her rabies treatment cycle, as you called it." Several people muttered agreement with the two men.
"Such a trip is a part of my obligations as a doctor," Kathy pointed out. "I've driven many a backroads around here alone, as some of you very well know. That includes some areas where outsiders are unwelcome."
Rev. Harris shook his head as well. "I'm afraid I have to agree with them, Kathy. These aren't normal times anymore. You're too valuable to risk like that."
Jeannie Lewis, an elderly woman who had helped Kathy during the treatment of the Carthage wounded, stood up and said, "I may be retired, but I'm still a nurse at heart. I'll go."
After several minutes of discussion, volunteers stepped up to check things out, including four of the younger men. Then Jane spoke out. "I can ride shotgun," she said and actually drew several nods of agreement from others in the crowd. Daria looked at her in shock, however, with her mouth and eyes widely opened.
Rev. Harris said a quick prayer, then the volunteers prepared themselves. Jane grabbed the double-barreled .12-gauge shotgun and filled her jacket pocket with shells for both the shotgun and her .357 Magnum. She also slung the AK-47 over her shoulder and took an extra banana clip with her.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Daria asked. "You don't know what you could be riding into."
Jane sighed and looked at her friend. "It feels right to me, Daria. They need someone who can protect them."
"Who are you kidding? Those guys could probably shoot a bird off the top of a tree before they were ten years old!."
For several seconds, Jane said nothing. Then she said, "What's wrong with you, Daria? You haven't said anything about not helping them before."
"It could be dangerous."
"No shit," the tall brunette whispered and looked at her smaller friend. "Amiga, it's going to be dangerous out there for quite a while. Maybe for the rest of our lives. Remember, we're 'damn tough bad guys.' We need to live up to it." She turned to leave.
Daria looked down briefly, then moved forward and grabbed Jane's right arm. "Be careful, Lane," she said. "If you get yourself killed, I'll never forgive you."
Jane laughed. "Don't worry, Daria. I'll not only take care of myself, but these guys as well."
"I'm serious, Jane. If I...if I lose you, I don't know what I'll do."
Jane's laughter grew and she put her left hand on Daria's shoulder. In a quieter voice, she said, "You'd think that we were married the way you're acting."
Daria looked her in the eyes. "I wouldn't go that far," she said, "but until we find our families, you are all I have."
They looked at one another in silence, then Jane smiled and embraced Daria in a tight hug. "I'll be careful, Daria," she whispered. "Love you."
"I love you, too."
Then Jane grinned. "Don't attack Martin while we're gone," she whispered in Daria's right ear. "Wait until I'm back before you whip your shirt off again."
"When I see Quinn again...oh, have I got a lot of stuff to tell her about you. She'll love it, of course."
"Kill you," Daria muttered and looked down briefly.
Jane broke the hug, walked to one of the pickup trucks going on the trip and waved at Daria.
Daria felt tears well up in her eyes, but stood still and waved back at her friend. As the trucks left, she removed her glasses and wiped her eyes carefully. Then she walked back inside the church and moved up to Martin. "It's time for your walk," she said and crossed her arms over her chest.
"You're afraid, aren't you?" he asked as he slowly got to his feet.
The petite brunette started to snap back a comment, but bit her lip and took a deep breath. "Yes," she said. She looked at Martin. "Despite what you think and what you've seen the two of us do, before the war started, we never killed anybody or, to my memory, ever shot a gun in anger." She turned away and wiped her eyes quickly. "I don't want her to take any unnecessary chances."
"Well, I know all of those guys," he said. "Jimmy admires Jane's tough-as-nails approach to criminals, I know, cause I heard him say it."
"He's married," Daria said. "I've met his wife, Melissa. She's a real nice woman."
"He won't say or do anything wrong towards Jane," Martin replied quickly. "However, he might try to hook her up with his kid brother, Danny."
Daria blinked and thought for a few seconds, then smiled. "That ought to be interesting to see."
The drive to Morrisville took less than fifteen minutes, with the slow speeds the drivers took. But about five hundred yards outside of the village, the trucks stopped and Jimmy Smith got out of the lead truck to look through a set of binoculars. He stared in silence for nearly a minute, then lowered the binoculars and sighed. He turned towards the others. "They've been hit," he said quietly. "Pretty bad, too, from what I can see. Lock and load, people, but be careful. The...thugs...are probably all gone by now. There may still be people we can help."
Jane sat in the second truck on the passenger side next to Jeannie. As they drove up to the church grounds, she gasped at the sights they came upon. "Oh, my God," she whispered and stared.
The elderly woman beside her closed her eyes and shook her head.
Two people, both men, hung from a tall oak tree in the front yard of one home next door to the church. Both were nude and their bodies were badly mutilated. Their bodies swung in the breeze.
At least fifty bodies littered the grounds around the church. Most of them were adults, but here and there a child's body laid.
Jane got out of the truck quickly, bent over and vomited. Two of the men in the other truck did the same.
The church building itself and several nearby homes looked partially demolished.
One man wiped his mouth and spat in the dirt. "What...what do we do?" he asked, his voice shaky.
"I don't know," Jimmy said. "As God is my witness, I don't know."
As nightfall arrived, Daria stood outside the church and looked in the direction of Morrisville. "They should be back by now, shouldn't they?" she asked nobody.
She saw two men past the outskirts of town shine a flashlight three times and recognized them as two of the church members. After the raid, Glen and other combat veterans organized a second roving perimeter watch, set out a bit further around the village. Three lights meant that all was well. Two lights meant friends seen. One light, kept on and waved frantically meant danger.
Suddenly she felt someone near her and turned to see Martha Peters. "You're right, they should be back," she said. "Jane is safe with them. Don't worry."
"Easier said than done." Daria was aware that Martha didn't approve of her friendship with her son, but didn't say anything, since she had saved his life.
The older woman gently led Daria back inside, a forced smile on her face. "The radio's going to have some important announcement from the government. I thought you'd like to hear it."
Inside, Daria got a plate of spaghetti and sat down with Martin's family as the radio was tuned in.
"...since the areas of contamination are spread out over a wide area of the United States, each affected area has been split up into regional commands. The commander for the region covering Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia is Major General Bartholomew J. Simpson, United States Army."
A pre-teen boy who sat nearby started laughing and many of the adults glared at him. "Bart Simpson! Don't y'all get it? There's a General Bart Simpson!" He kept laughing. Despite sharing the name of a smart-ass cartoon character, the officer who spoke had a sharp, no-nonsense and commanding voice. "The events of what has been called Black Saturday have had and will continue to have deep repercussions for the United States of America. Under orders of the President, I assume command of the First Military Section, which comprises the commonwealths of Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as the states of Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware.
"I will discuss the various zones of operation within this military section. Those zones are dead zones, red zones, yellow zones and blue zones.
"The dead zones are those areas hit by nuclear weapons and have been rendered uninhabitable. For this listening area, the dead zones are as follows: Washington, D.C. and all areas within 35 miles of the capital itself, Norfolk, Virginia and all areas within 30 miles of it, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and all areas within 25 miles of each city. All dead zones are off-limits and will eventually be fenced in. Any unauthorized person or persons found to be in the dead zones will be shot on sight.
"The next areas are called red zones. The red zones are those areas contaminated by the fallout generated by the nuclear bombing. For this listening area, the red zones are as follows: Hancock and Brooke counties of West Virginia. In Pennsylvania, the following counties: Washington, Beaver, Butler, Armstrong, Indiana, Cambria, Westmoreland, Clearfield, as well as Chester, Montgomery and Bucks. In Maryland, the entire state east of Frederick County. The entire state of Delaware. In Virginia, the following counties: Southampton, Sussex, Greensville, Dinwiddie, Surrey, Isle of Wight, James City, Gloucester, Mathews, Lancaster, Northampton, Accomack, as well as Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier. Red zones are restricted access, military and government only. Any unauthorized persons caught in the red zones will be subject to summary execution by military and/or police forces.
"The next areas are called yellow zones. The yellow zones are those areas affected by evacuations, as well as health, logistical and civil disturbance problems. For this listening area, the yellow zones are as follows: In West Virginia, the cities of Wheeling, Moundsville, Morgantown, Berkeley Springs and Martinsburg, and all areas within 10 miles of said cities. In Pennsylvania, the entire state south of the 30th parallel not already covered within the dead or red zones. In Maryland, Frederick County and all counties to the west of that. In Virginia, the portion of the state east of a line stretching from Winchester in the north to South Boston near the North Carolina border. Only those people who live in yellow zones will be permitted in, as well as those who have been evacuated there. Effective immediately, all travel in yellow zones must be approved by local military and police commands.
"The blue zones are those areas not mentioned in the previous zone descriptions."
Daria covered her face and shook her head. I can't even go back to Maryland? How am I ever going to find Mom and Dad now?, she thought and removed her glasses. I need Jane. What if I've lost her, too? She looked over at Kathy, who was lost in thought as the radio droned on.
Daria's chin quivered and she suppressed a sob. Then she gave in, covered her face with her hands and cried hard. Martin and his parents looked at her with concern, and the boy gently touched her right arm as she cried.
The first move made by the group that Jane accompanied was a perimeter search for any survivors by the men. Jane stayed with Jeannie as she checked each body for vital signs, if any. The teen also took notes in a notebook as the retired nurse identified each body. Some of the bodies showed signs of being fed upon by animals. Before the men had left on their search, they had shot several buzzards and a coyote.
Several times, the elderly woman stopped, sniffled and wiped her eyes. She patted one man's arm and said, "My daughter...dated him when she was a teenager. So many years ago."
A few times, the nurse looked at a body and said, "I don't know this person."
Jane shot one buzzard that landed near a child's body, then looked at Jeannie and said, "Sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it," Jeannie said. "I briefly worked in an hospital in D.C. Gunshots were fairly common there."
No more scavenger animals came upon the scene.
After nearly an hour, two men returned to the church grounds; one of them cried loudly as the second man seethed in anger.
"Eric?" Jeannie asked the crying man. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head several times, sat hard on the ground and bawled even louder.
The nurse turned towards the other man and asked, "What happened, Cody?"
Cody visibly calmed himself down and took a deep breath. "We found Lindy in a backyard of a house nearby," he said. "She was ra...used pretty badly before they killed her." He noticed Jane's confused look and added, "Lindy was Eric's kid sister."
"Oh," Jane said.
"Eric, you stay here with Jeannie," he said gently as he took Jane's notebook and gave it to him. "Help her out."
Eric looked up at him, managed a wobbly, "O.K.", then continued to cry.
Cody looked at Jane and asked, "You're Jane, right?" She nodded. "You come with me and be my backup inside the church."
"Sure," she said and they walked up the steps to the front doors of the church. Just inside the doors, she wrinkled her nose and gagged. "What is that smell?" she asked and coughed.
"Blood," he said. "Lots of it."
"I never knew that blood would smell like that," she said.
"Not very pleasant to smell," he agreed and they moved further into the church.
The church auditorium had at least 20 bodies spread about in it, some on the floor, others draped over or on the pews. A woman's body laid up near the pulpit, covered by a toppled over piano. Dried blood was splattered around the bodies.
Jane struggled to keep from vomiting again as they moved through the sanctuary. "This is what could have happened to us," she said, her voice shaky.
"Yeah," he said grimly and muttered something unintelligible. "If we hadn't fought back against them. What I don't get is why didn't they fight? Every single body I've come across is somebody I either know or someone who looks like they fit in here. There's no bodies of raiders, of punks." He looked at Jane and she saw the fury in his eyes. "Maybe they would have killed me if they had overrun us, but I would have taken as many with me as I could." He sobbed once and bit his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. "It doesn't even look like they fought."
"It looked like they tried to run," Jane pointed out.
"Those outside, yeah," Cody said as they reached the top of a stairwell leading to a basement. "The people in here were raped and tortured...and butchered. They were killed last." He swallowed and grimaced, then spat quickly. "This air is leaving a bad taste in my mouth."
"Mine, too," she said.
He glanced at her. "Follow me downstairs, and be ready. If anyone's alive, good guy or bad, they'll be down here."
Cody and Jane slowly moved down the carpeted stairs, rifles ready in their arms. A door at the bottom of the stairs was torn off its hinges and laid sideways, a bloody palm print near the handle.
Just past the door, a man's body laid in a fetal position on the floor. His clothes and body looked filthy and he stank even more than the other dead did.
"Looks like a raider," Jane said as she kicked the unresponsive body lightly.
"Uh, huh," Cody replied and moved into a darkened hallway. "Someone apparently did fight back."
In one classroom, they found the nude body of a middle-aged woman on a table. Her throat had been deeply slashed. Cody sighed, averted his eyes and left the room. "Miss Hawkins," he said, his voice weak. "My high school social studies teacher." He took a deep breath and wiped his left eye. "I wrote her a love letter when back I was in the 10th grade."
Jane picked up a torn dress off the floor and gently covered the woman's body with it.
He sobbed briefly. "She...turned down my 'romantic' advances, but became like a...a big sister to me. She supported me in trade school." He closed his eyes for several seconds, wiped both of his eyes, then said, "Come on."
The next room they walked into was empty of people, with tables scattered, but no other signs of damage. "Nothing," he said.
Jane stopped, however, and said, "Wait."
Cody looked back at her. "What is it?"
"Something doesn't feel quite right here." She looked around.
"What do you mean?"
"I...I don't know." She moved to a bookcase and looked around. "Someone's in here."
"How do you know that?"
Jane looked frustrated. "I don't know! All I know is that someone's in here!"
Cody stared at her briefly, looked around the room and then moved to the bookcase. He pulled it away from the wall to reveal a small door. It was painted the same lime green color as the wall around it. He pulled a small metal ring, also painted, and opened the door.
The sounds of screaming children reached them and Cody and Jane saw at least ten children cowering in the darkness. At the same time, a soured smell of urine and human waste reached them and they both grimaced.
"Kids!" Jane said loudly. "It's O.K.! We're here to help you! Come on out!"
There ended up being fifteen children, four boys and 11 girls, in the hidden space. The oldest child, a girl who looked to be thirteen, held a torn dress together and came out last. She instantly embraced Jane in a tight hug. "Thank God! Thank God! It was horrible!" Then she broke down in sobs and the children cried as well.
Cody looked at the scene and said to Jane, "Stay here with them and I'll check out the rest of the rooms."
"O.K.," she said as the young teen cried into her shoulder.
After several seconds, the young girl looked up at Jane and said as she cried, "Miss Hawkins hid us from them. Then we heard them get her." She closed her eyes, groaned and sobbed. "She screamed for a long time. Then the screaming stopped, but we were afraid to come out."
"When did it happen?" Jane asked.
"I don't know," the girl said. "Several days ago. We were afraid they were waiting for us."
"You haven't eaten since then?"
Outside, Jeannie checked out each of the children and had them sit in the back of the two pickup trucks. Salvaged blankets from the church and the nearby homes were used to cover them. They ate bread and crackers that the six had brought with them.
Jimmy and the other man, named Nolan, had returned and the retired nurse talked to Jane and the men.
"All of them are in some form of shock," the nurse said. "They're also suffering from a mild dehydration."
"The oldest girl told me that it happened several days ago," Jane said. "That they were terrified to come out because they didn't know if the raiders were still out here."
Jeannie nodded. "That makes sense. I want all of you to search the houses for bottled water or sports drinks. Even soda pop if you can find it. We need to get fluids in these kids. Then after you all get back, we need to discuss...the disposal of all these bodies. We just can't leave them out here."
The men and Jane looked at her silently, then at each other.
Within a half-hour, the five returned with a half case of bottled water, several cans of a local supermarket brand cola and one bottle of a lemon-lime sports drink.
As the children sat in the trucks, the young teen, wearing one of the men's jackets, hovered over them, and made sure they drank the offered drinks, while Jeannie took aside the other five and discussed the bodies.
"I hate to even bring this up," the retired nurse said, "but there are eighty-five dead bodies out here, already in the early stages of decomposition. Unless we have twenty men or a bulldozer we have to take some drastic steps."
"David Albright has a bulldozer," Jimmy said.
"No, he don't," Cody said and shook his head. "Not anymore. Bank in Martinsburg repoed it several days before Black Saturday."
"That's right," Jeannie said. "My son told me about that. He was the one who repossessed it for his bank." She sighed, covered her eyes briefly and looked back at them. "We need to burn the bodies. Gather together all the brush, cut firewood and fuel that you can. We'll burn as much as we can, then bury the..remains...afterward."
The other five stared at the older woman for several seconds, then Jane finally asked, "What about the children? We can't do that in front of them."
Jeannie looked at Jane quietly and said, "After we gather what we need, including any bodies from the nearby homes and inside the church, I figured that you and Eric would take the kids back to Carthage, then come back to help. First, Jimmy, you need to use the Geiger counter to scan the dead bodies, while everyone else gathers the wood and fuel. If there are any...contaminated bodies, they'll have to be disposed of a different way." She looked at the skies as the sun disappeared behind the trees. "We need to do what we can while we still have light."
Back at Carthage, Daria sat alone on the back steps of the church. Martin walked over and carefully sat down near her in the dark. "I'd rather be alone, please," she said and stared ahead. "I don't want to talk right now."
"Would you settle for someone sitting beside you in silence?" he asked. "You're not alone, you know."
"I can't go into Maryland to find my family, Martin," she said and looked at him. "Jane's all I have left from home. If I lose...if I lose her, then I am alone. Totally and truly alone." She sniffled, looked away again, then covered her face for a few seconds.
"Do you want me to leave?" he asked. He could barely see her shake her head.
"No. Stay out here if you want. Just...don't talk."
For several seconds, he said nothing, then he spoke quietly. "I'll just say one thing, Daria, then I'll be quiet. I have an aunt, named Mary. My mom's sister. She's a professor at George Washington University. On Black Saturday, she was supposed to have gone to Mount Vernon for a field trip with her history class. We don't know...we don't know..."
Daria looked at him and thought that she saw his chin quiver. "I didn't know," she said quietly.
He looked at her and said in a slightly choked up voice, "Don't say anything to Mom or Dad about it. They'd be mad at me if they knew I told you. You see, Daria, you and Jane are not the only ones in the dark about family members. Quite a few here have missing family members. Doc Kathy's family is from Philadelphia, I know that."
Daria reached over and put a hand on his left arm and he looked down at the ground. She saw tears streak his cheeks in the moonlight. "My sister was at the Mall of the Millennium on Black Saturday," she told him. "I...I don't even know what to do except try to find my parents. Now I can't even do that."
They looked at each other and suddenly embraced in a hug. Their shoulders muffled the sounds of crying.
It was nearly ten p.m. when John Peters came around to Daria and Martin and shined a flashlight on them. Both teens covered their eyes and protested. "I'm sorry if I interrupted anything," he said, his voice reflecting slight sarcasm.
"We were just sitting here, Dad," Martin said. "Talking."
"Yeah," Daria said in agreement, "about my family."
"I believe you, Daria, Martin, but to others, it may appear improper, you two being out here alone. In fact, your mother wonders where you two went. But the main reason I came to get you is that a truck's on the way here."
Daria got to her feet quickly. "Just one?" she asked.
"We don't know what's going on, yet. Let's see."
The three walked up to the front entrance where at least 25 people waited, including Kathy, Glen and Rev. Harris.
The truck finally arrived, piled up with the children from Morrisville. Several of the adults moved to assist the youngsters out and, under Kathy's direction, led them to inside the church to be checked out.
The other adults besieged Jane and Eric as they got out of the truck. Eric broke through the crowd and ran inside the church and everyone watched him, then turned to Jane.
She blinked and said, "They...they were massacred...over there. Almost all of them were dead."
"What happened with Eric?" one woman asked.
"His sister is one of the dead."
There was several seconds of silence, then Rev. Harris asked, "Are there any more survivors at Morrisville?"
Jane's chin trembled. "No. There are eighty...eighty-five dead bodies there. We need to go back and...burn the bodies."
"Burn the bodies?" one person asked out loud. "That's not right! We can't do that!"
One elderly man, the oldest member of the Carthage congregation, spoke up. "Yes, we can. It's a lot easier than digging out eighty-five plots--or one mass grave--by hand. You've never dug a grave, Joe, so you don't know. It's hard, time-consuming, backbreaking work for one grave, let alone that many. Unless you want to try and get in touch with the county government for their help. How many county employees have you seen since it all started? I haven't even seen a sheriff's deputy since two days before 'Black Saturday'. For right now, we have to take care of ourselves. That means burning the bodies of all those unfortunates."
"Wait a minute," Glen said. "I just remembered something. The Morrisville church had more than one hundred and fifty active members. What happened to the other fifty or so members?"
Jane looked at him. "They could have run off, or been away before. I don't know. We only found eighty-five dead bodies and the fifteen living children. I need to get back and help them."
Daria moved up to Jane, hugged her, and asked, "Are you O.K.?"
Jane blinked and swallowed. "It was horrible, amiga," she said. "Simply horrible."
They broke the hug and Daria said, "I'll come with you and help."
Jane shook her head. "No. Please, Daria, don't."
John Peters said, "I think that both of you should stay here and several of us men go over there and lend a hand."
"We should also take some food with us," Glen said. "Give the men and Jeannie a chance to eat."
Finally, five men took the pickup back to Morrisville, while Daria and Martin took Jane inside the church. They took her weapons while she went to the church's shower, set up in the back of one member's RV, and fed with spring water.
After Jane got cleaned up, she laid down in her sleeping bag and cried, while Daria sat beside her and held her right hand.
Outside a glow could be seen in the night sky towards Morrisville.
Late the next day, four people walked into Morrisville from the direction opposite Carthage. A tall, skinny young man with dark hair led a woman and two young girls carefully towards the church. The woman had thick and dark curly hair. One of the girls was dark haired, while the other had light red hair. They looked around at the signs of damage and grimaced at the smell of burnt flesh that lingered in the air. "What happened?" the woman asked.
"I have no idea," the man said and held a Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum ready in his right hand. He pointed at one ranch-style home. "I'm going to check this house. Maybe we can spend the night there, then check out the next town."
She took his arm and held it tightly. "Be careful."
He kissed her and they smiled at each other. "Don't worry, Pam. I won't take any chances."
She watched him as he walked. He moved carefully with his pistol ready, and a guitar slung over his shoulders.
Author's Notes: This section is chapters sixteen through twenty-two of Apocalyptic Daria, as it was originally posted on the various message boards and ff.net
Thanks for Part Four go out to smk, Brother Grimace, Steven Galloway, cyde, E.A. Smith, Richard Lobinske, echopapa, psychotol, Jonathan D. Parshall, NightGoblyn, Staren, DigiSim, Scissors MacGillicutty, Gouka Ryuu, The Angst Guy, WacoKid, Ranger Thorne, lycissa, UU, Caira and waldnorm for their comments as I posted on the PPMB.
Thanks also to Malevolent Turtle and again to Brother Grimace for their comments on the SFMB.
Thanks also to rachor, cmanuk, and eltf177 for their comments on ff.net.