“Just because she’s from another religion, does not mean her belief is not accurate in some form,” Rune spoke up for Maddie.
She gave him a tight hug, but looked wary of the people glaring at her.
This comment did not sit well with many gathered in the lobby.
The long festering resentments were flowing to the surface very quickly.
Friends and family members were arguing with each other. The stress was overwhelming. Everyone was on edge. Everyone was afraid.
“Maybe the Baptists had it right. Maybe it isn’t safe here,” Art said at last.
“If we can’t trust our leadership to look out for all of us.”
“They’ve been excluding us a lot lately. They tossed out Blanche without a vote!” someone shouted from the back.
Travis winced and shook his head. “We made a choice at the time-”
“You cut us out of that decision,” Ed said sharply.
Kevin moved to stand with Nerit. “Everyone standing here knows how hard it has been on those we voted into leadership roles. They’ve suffered losses just like the rest of us.”
“Maybe looking out for our own best interests is the way to go,” Ed decided at last.
“I don’t understand where this is coming from,” Travis protested. “This fort is doing damn good right now.”
“A lot of us are tired of not feeling we have a choice about what goes on,”
Gretchen said. “No offense, Travis, but it’s damn hard in this world to give our lives over to other people.”
Ed nodded slowly. “Don’t mean nothing personal. I may be a might angry, but I’m damn scared. What happens if something goes wrong out there and someone opens a gate or a door they shouldn’t. I dunno if I can trust y’all”
Katarina looked at Ed, her expression was full of pain. “Bill died trying to protect this fort.”
“I know that, Katarina. I know that. But...I don’t like feeling like I’m not in control of my own life. Gimme a truck and some ammo. I’m more willing to take a chance out there on my own at this point.”
Silence fell over the room. Then slowly people began to whisper among themselves. Katie could feel Travis’ hand trembling and she knew he was hurt and trying to hold his temper. It was hard not to be trusted after all they had worked to achieve.
“Let them go,” Eric said from near the front desk. “Let whoever wants to leave the fort take what they need and go.”
“We need them here. Everyone has a role to play in the upcoming battle,”
“Some of us don’t want to be here for it,” a man near Juan snapped.
More voices rumbled through the vast room, disagreeing and agreeing.
“We can do it without them,” Jason called out.
Peggy stood smoking her cigarette, looking pale. Katie tried to reach out to her, but Peggy turned and walked away through the crowd.
“Very well. If you want to go while the going is good, go. We got extra vehicles out there. But you’re on your own once you’re gone,” Travis finally said.
Nerit looked around the room thoughtfully. Katie noticed Kevin’s hand was resting on her back in a gesture that seemed more for his comfort than for hers.
“If you are going, you must go tonight,” Nerit finally said.
“Why is that?” Gretchen asked. There was an edge to her voice, but it sounded more like frustration than anger.
“The zombies arrive in the morning. At 9:20, the first zombies will cross over the first line.”
“And how do you know this?” Art asked sharply.
“Ralph told me. The zombies arrive early. Tomorrow. The battle is tomorrow. If you’re going to leave, you need to leave now,” Nerit said in a firm, strong voice.
“And why are we supposed to believe this?” a voice Katie didn’t recognize called out.
“Because she knows what she’s talking about.” Calhoun moved through the crowd. He looked haggard and held a tape recorder in his hand. “I’ve been taking care of the communication center, monitoring for alien transmissions. Got this instead.” He held up a tape recorder and hit PLAY.
“If anyone can hear us, we were trying to get back to the fort, but we can’t get through. There are thousands of zombies near the junction of 16 and 1456. They’re everywhere. We had to make a run for it. We’re going to have to head back to the Baptist Encampment. Hello? Can you hear me?
This is Milo and Susan. We were trying to head back but they’re everywhere.”
Katie tried to remember the junction they were talking about and realized quite quickly it was close to town.
“I gotcha,” Calhoun’s voice said on the tape. “You head back to the crazy Baptists and stay low. Make sure their demon-possessed leader don’t do nothing stupid. We’ll fight off the zombie clones and let you know when it’s clear.”
“Thanks, Calhoun. Just thought I ’d give ya heads up,” the voice answered, then Calhoun hit STOP.
The silence was, as they say, deafening.
“Can I go with you?” a voice called out.
It was Belinda. Juan’s one time crush and Mike’s widow. She pushed through the people to Ed’s side. “I want to go, too.”
Juan lowered his eyes and his mother squeezed his arm gently.
“Okay. You can come. Let’s roll within the hour,” Ed said.
Then the room was full of people arguing and crying.
Chaos filled the lobby and Katie put down her head and wept.
The paddock was full of people as Durangos were loaded up with carefully doled out ammunition and MREs. Jugs of water were rolled up to each vehicle and loaded. Bags of clothes and personal effects were tossed into the trucks. A small pink backpack full of toys was packed into a back seat.
Families gathered around departing members, in some cases still fighting bitterly, with others it was a tearful farewell.
Ed strode through the throng to his designated vehicle with Belinda in his wake. Gretchen stood nearby with a few other people and her gaze followed the old hunter. If she had designs on going with Ed, they were shot down by Belinda joining him. Ed’s sons were already in the backseat arguing over something, holding their shotguns.
Travis and Juan leaned against a nearby pallet loaded with bricks watching sadly. Six vehicles were leaving. Twenty-three people in all.
A young woman picked up her six year old daughter and pushed her into the back seat of a nearby truck, buckling her in, while two men climbed into the front of the Durango. Travis remembered her name was Cindy and he smiled slightly at her as she gave him a sad look. Then, determinedly, she circled the vehicle and climbed in.
“They’re probably all going to die,” Juan said finally.
Ed saw to Belinda getting safely into his vehicle, then walked back to the two men. His grizzled face was worn and his eyes tired, but his jaw was set firmly. As he drew near, he thrust out his hand.
“Boys, it’s been good,” he said.
Travis didn’t hesitate to take his hand and clasp it tightly. “We’ll miss you.”
“We did good here, but gotta move on,” Ed said.
Travis gave Ed’s hand one firm shake, then stepped back. Juan stepped forward to grip the older man’s hand tightly.
“I will. I’ll take care of Belinda, too. This place has been good and bad for all of us. Hope you guys make it through tomorrow okay.”
With one more nod, Ed set his thin lips into a line and walked back to the Durango. Around him, other people followed his lead and climbed into their vehicles as well.
Travis exhaled slowly as the massive doors opened. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw Peggy sobbing as she watched Gretchen leave. A few people were still pleading with those in the Durangos to stay as the long line slowly began to roll out of the fort.
“Can’t be helped,” a voice said beside them.
They turned to see Rune standing near them.
“Look, Dude, no offense, but you’re still a city boy at heart and you don’t quite get it at times. Texans stick together as long as there is a common enemy. That will get fucked up if two things happen: religion; or you feel you’re at the mercy of someone else. Things go fine around here most of the time cause we got those dead folks trying to eat us. But right now, people are feeling mighty powerless and they’re gonna either fight or run.