After the Crash

Chapter Two

I threw open the flap on our tent and found Maddie laying on my bed. “Scram kid,” I said, “I’m in no mood.” She got up and ran out of the tent. I took her place, laying down on the air mattress. Maddie was Whitney’s daughter; she was eight years old and adorable. Because of this, I had a soft spot for the girl. Whitney never shared information about the father and I never asked, just like she never asked details about my past. We had an understanding. I got up and peeked outside the tent only to roll my eyes as Val, Lola, and Jen were surrounding the new guys. Could I get it through their thick skulls that this was a bad idea? I pulled out one of the two books I’d been dragging around with me and opened it. I don’t know how many times I’d read over the first words of the masterpiece and wondered if Joyce had in fact predicted this, and if the great deconstructionist were correct, had he predicted this very line of questioning and inscribed it into this book. There was now nothing left, but to spend the rest of my life protecting people and understanding this book. Unfortunately, the former took priority and always interrupted the latter. “Ky they are so cute,” Jen pushed through the entrance with Whitney in hot pursuit, “please, can we keep them?”

“Jen,” I sat up and put the book aside, “they’re dangerous.”

“How can they be dangerous,” she walked over to her bag and pulled out a pair of earrings. She put them in her ears slowly, one at a time. I let out a deep breath, showing my disapproval for the action, but she went on. “They’re heading to Boston, they’re strong, military trained, and single,” she let out a smile as she held up a compact mirror to admire herself, “with any luck, I’ll have a husband before either of you hags.”

“So help me God, Jen,” I shook my head, “we do not need more children, and I will not have another pregnancy.”

She looked at me, “don’t worry,” she pulled out three trojan condoms from her bag, “I’m covered.”

I put my hand to my head and then looked at Whitney. “Jen, you know those expire, and anything pre-crash is almost surely bad,” Whitney looked at her. She just shrugged and stuffed them back in her bag and pulled out lipstick. Jen was a hopeless cause. She was Whitney’s younger sister but had not inherited half her sense. She was nineteen and still ruled by pesky hormones. Whitney shook her head, and then appealed to me, “it couldn’t really hurt to invite them into the party, could it?”

I raised my eyebrow, “do you want to test that hypothesis? Wait around for the inevitable I told you so, when we could eliminate the threat preemptively.”

“We need more guns, more protection,” she said.

“Do you not feel safe with me, Whit,” I raised my eyebrow. I tried to swallow the offense.

“Ky, we’re a bigger party now,” she looked at me, “five small children, an infant, five young women who are not going to get their fingernails dirty if they don’t have to, Sarah and Nikka who, let’s face it, are pretty near helpless though they mean well, and then Sam and I only go so far. We need extra hands, and we were just blessed with three capable hands to help us.”

I shook my head, “the lord stopped blessing people when all the churches burned in the crash. The only one sending anything is the devil and his minions, the PCD, and I’ve still little faith that these men are not PCD. They’ll lead us straight into a trap. Whit, we’ve been there, both of us. I refuse to go back." I stood up, "you will forgive me if I do not willingly invite such an option.” She looked like she was thinking, and I shook my head, “do you want to go back, Whit?”

She shook her head, “no, but not all of them have been there and Jen would repress the memory for the prospects of a good-looking man, and they are good looking men.”

I sighed, “where have I gone wrong?” She laughed, and I continued, “have I not been teaching these girls to fear all men? Have I not tried to force feed them contempt and caution in an attempt to protect them from exactly what has just plagued this camp?” She nodded, and I continued, “I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone, but their naivety will kill them." I walked over to Jen's bag and pulled out those condoms as my prime evidence. I shook my head, "I can’t keep my eyes on all of you, all the time.”

“You know my vote is with you, Ky,” she sighed, “I trust your judgment.” I gave a faint smile, knowing that it was not enough. “I’ll grab you when everyone’s done eating,” I nodded, and she raised her eyebrow, “unless you’d like to join us.” I shook my head; I wasn’t hungry. I laid back and watched the top of our tent for a while, rehearsing my argument in my head and then opened my book. I read a few pages before Whitney returned to tell me that everyone had finished.

I went out. The fire was lighting their faces. It was a cool spring night, and there was muted laughter in the air, a gay sound that I hadn’t heard for some time, or at least not in so robust display. The young girls were shamelessly in the thralls of flirtation with our guests. I could tell that Jen was not the only one to make a trip to her bag, applying her special collection of makeup and jewelry, and each of them threw on their best outfit. If anything, they made us all look quite ridiculous. In these days, women should not be lounging about in skirts or dresses. “Girls,” I looked at the three main offenders, Jen, Lola, and Val, and sent a secondary glance to the shyer periphery offenders, Cali and Cheyanne, “please join the rest of the party on this side of the circle.” I looked over to the side, where the children were playing, “kids, find your parents and sit with them.” I looked at the two separated groups. All my people on my right, Dale taking his place on my left side with the three unwanted guests that he would defend. “Alright, so as you know, we stumbled upon these three gentlemen as they were stalking our children. I won’t imply their intentions,” I glanced over and then back, “as I wouldn't want to prejudice anyone’s decision. One of them was caught in a trap that we set upon arrival and we quickly disarmed the other two. Despite any concrete proof, it seems that these men are not PCD. Because of this, I was moved to allow them food and shelter for one night, and the prospect of joining our party will be held to a vote. Dale will make a case for their presence, and I will make the case against them. Please," I let out an exasperated breath, "base your votes upon logic, not some baser instinct.” I looked at the five girls, who were still making googly eyes at the men. “One at a time, our guests shall stand and introduce themselves to the group. I ask that you remain brief but encourage you to include any detail that may be of use to the party.”

I gestured for the first to stand. He was thin and had managed to keep his hair in the standard military buzz cut. He had light hair, green eyes, and had to be roughly 6’2 in height. He didn’t have the tone of the other two but had more than Sam. He was slightly older than the others, and I'd wager a better rank. He wore jeans, a vest, and a black shirt underneath. He was the one who had been hanging in the tree, which meant he didn’t watch his steps. “My name’s Mac,” he stood and gave a slight wave, “before the crash I was an army medic, I did two tours, and I’m a fully licensed doctor. Before the crash, I had a wife and a daughter." He took a deep breath, "I’m sorry to say they did not make it, but I do respect women and will make myself useful as long as you will have me.”

I nodded in approval and then moved to the second. He looked like a linebacker, big and broad and, if I might add, rather clumsy. He had heavy feet, and he dropped his gun. He too looked tall, but shorter than the other. His musculature was pronounced in his arms. I could see it under his shirt. He looked like a home-grown, mid-western boy with dark hair, dark eyes, and legs like tree trunks. “My name’s Eric,” he said, “I was still in basic training when the crash happened. I’ve never seen action, but I do know how to shoot.”

“Anything else,” I raised an eyebrow.

“No ma’am,” he shook his head, “I’m afraid I haven’t done much else in my life before the crash.”

I nodded, he looked quite young. I then moved my eyes toward the third. Despite lower ranking than the first, he had taken the alpha position in this group. He held his gun tight and spoke with enough eloquence to suggest an education. They were all tall, and I would place him between the two. Both him and Eric were wearing cargo pants and boots. Eric’s were camo, and this one had plain green. He had brown hair. I could tell it was neatly fixed before the crash but had since become a secondary concern. He had scruff, the five-o’clock shadow kind. When I found him, he was wearing a utility jacket, but now he had taken it off. He only had a t-shirt on, which I presume was a show for the girls. “I’m Ren,” he said, “I was top of my training class, saw a tour as a sharp-shooter and then resigned to a base job. There are few men I’ve known to handle a gun better than me,” I rolled my eyes. He stopped, noticing my eye roll, “that’s not bragging ma’am, it’s just a fact.” I nodded my head, and he continued, “I’m skilled in hand-to-hand combat, survival skills, and I’ve been known to talk my way out of some pretty sticky situations.”

I raised my eyebrow, “shall I assume you were a base attorney?"

He nodded his head, “I was.”

“I might ask how many atrocities you helped sweep under a rug, but that’s in the past. I won’t subject you to that line of questioning,” I said.

“Thank you,” he nodded.

“You may sit,” I said. Then I turned my head toward Dale, “the floor is yours, make your case.”

Dale walked to the center as I sat down next to Whitney with my arms crossed. She just laughed at me, as if my expression were at all amusing. Then Dale began. “No doubt, Ky is going to come out here and try to scare everyone. She will call them wolves in sheep’s clothing, but we must see this as it is," he nodded, "a blessing. We are a large party with a lot of vulnerable women and children. We only have two trained gunmen. Simply put, we need more protection, especially if we continue to move toward Boston. It will only become more dangerous. On the road so far, we have come upon challenges, many natural obstacles that men of strength are better suited to deal with than Ky. She will try to convince you otherwise." He looked at me, "she is stubborn, and we know it. But Ky is not, as Val has put it, bionic. I take nothing from you, Ky," he shook his head, "I've met no stronger, more capable woman." He shrugged, addressing the group again, "but she is human and has weaknesses. Numbers are in our favor. Their strength will be to our benefit. And finally, another doctor could not hurt, especially if anything were to happen to Sam.” He looked at me, “we need more protection, more guns, and these men will provide that for food and shelter, of which we have plenty to spare. I rest my case.”

I walked to the center with my arms crossed. “Thank you, Dale, for that compelling argument.” I smiled a strained smile to him, then looked at the rest of the crowd, “though I am offended that he thinks I’d use such a dead metaphor as wolves in sheep’s clothing.” I shook my head, “of course it is a fair assessment but, in the words of a great warrior, I say ‘set you down this, and say besides that in Aleppo once, where a malignant and a turbaned Turk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by the throat the circumcised dog, and smote him, thus’.” I looked over at the guests, “and by smote, of course, I mean kill. That is the only way to deal with a threat to your very constitution. Not to invite them in and hope for the best.” I shrugged and looked at the group, “but I am nothing if not merciful, and was willing to leave them behind, restrained of course, so we could move out before they were able to pursue us, again. After all, these men were found in pursuit of our children. Further, when the first chance presented itself,” I shot a glance at the one called Ren, “one of them attempted to take my gun, and who's to say what he might have done if …”

“Excuse me,” Ren stood up, “I believe your leader is prejudiced against me because I coaxed her into a position where I could easily take her weapon.”

“If you could easily take my weapon,” I raised my eyebrow, “one might wonder why you didn’t? Or how I managed to have you, who so few men are equipped to handle, on the floor face down with my boot in your back and my barrel to your head.” Sam let out a laugh, and Ren sat down. Then I continued, “now, I’m not saying they’re bad men, but even good men are willing to compromise morals for a taste of food. I give you three very important reasons why these men pose a threat to our group. One,” I held up my finger, “Dale argues that they will make us safer, but because of everyone’s lack of decorum and discretion, they now know that, if given guns, they outnumber our trained gunmen three to two.” I shot a glance toward them, “though it would be a bitter mistake to take those odds,” and then turned back, “there is nothing stopping them from turning on us and stealing our food. Might I mention that the PCD is made up of ex-military and undercover officers roam the woods just looking to lure children into their child army, and they collect women your age,” I pointed at the five girls, “in fact, most of us are vulnerable to being collected and locked away as breeders.” I looked at the children and then tapped my ears, which meant they needed to plug their ears. “Two,” I continued, “even if we could trust that they weren’t PCD, they are still alpha males, near their sexual prime, probably around females for the first time in months, maybe years. We invite the threat of rape. If Dale believes that these men could overpower me, then what hope is there for the rest of you, and what about your young daughters? Even consensual relations can pose a threat in these times.” I looked at Jen, “and I don’t care if you’ve been collecting expired condoms, I will not have another Sarah incident, not while we are still moving.” I tapped my ears again, so the children could listen. Then I sighed, “and three, we have made it this far without help, and I have given no one a reason to feel unsafe. Don’t let the presence of men let you regress into helplessness. Everyone here has proven themselves to be brave and capable of their own well-being. If you put all your stock in them as protectors or providers, we risk making ourselves more vulnerable in the future. We have been successful, and we can thrive without them." I looked over, toward our guests, "they have done nothing to prove good intentions. Why should we pretend that weeds or parasites are blessings?” I shook my head and let out a sigh, “I beg you all vote well.”

Whitney smiled as I took my seat beside her. Dale went back to the center, “alright, everyone opposed to their staying, raise your hand.” I rose my hand along with Whitney, Sarah, Sam, and Rosa, Dale’s wife. It wasn’t enough. “And those in favor,” Dale said raising his hand, along with our five younger girls, and even Nikka raised her hand. Dale looked at me, with a cocky grin, “looks like we are seven to five in favor of them staying, sorry Ky.” I rolled my eyes, and he went on, looking toward the girls, “Jen, Cali, I believe the two of you are assigned to help Rosa clean up.” They nodded and moved that way, “Val, you and Nikka will have to move out of the small tent, I’ll take Val, Cody, and Isabella, Nikka, you and Rylee can go join Sam, Sarah, and Lola. We’ll let the guys stay in the small tent.” He looked at the rest of us, “until we can be sure that these men are trustworthy,” Dale shrugged, “we’ll pair up one of them, with one of ours for watch. We have four, two-hour shifts. I’ll take the first with Eric, Ky you take the second, Sam and Ren take the third, and Whitney and Mac can take the fourth.”

“I don’t mind taking a double shift,” Ren raised his hand.

“Great,” Dale nodded, “you can do the second shift with Ky.”

“I’m more than capable of keeping watch on my own,” I looked at Dale.

“Ky,” Dale looked at me, “two pairs of eyes are better than one. If we have the resources, we should use them.”

I looked at him, “but it would be a shame to shoot one of those new resources before the morning.” Dale gave me a look. I rolled my eyes, “fine,” then I looked at the volunteer, “but I will be watching you.”