If torture was part of testing, then I wanted nothing to do with his future plans for me. Some memories should stay buried in the deepest, darkest depths of the forgotten subconscious, and he’d made me relive and re-experience my most traumatic memories, which is why Dr. Samson had to die, and why I had to be the one to kill him. I’d buried the torture and their criminal interrogation techniques in their attempts to get the formula from me for good reason, because it wasn’t something I had wanted to remember or wanted to ever have to live with.
Even the knowing that I had gotten my revenge and wiped him off this planet didn’t destroy the feeling memory of his disgusting, clammy, white body taking what didn’t belong to him and what hadn’t belonged to anyone, but me. The Commander, whom I’d believed, at times, to be on my side, had also shown his willingness to do just about anything to get his hands on that formula.
The formula I’d developed brought subconscious learning into consciousness, without the use of Mind Enhancement drugs. They wanted it so they could hook up an educational machine to every kid while they were sleeping, and be able to teach them things in their sleep that ordinarily would require the expense of Professors and months’ and years’ worth of grueling education and testing. With this formula, the kid could wake up with eight hours’ worth of learning every day, already implanted in long-term memory. Truly the intelligent design behind Intelligent Design, as they synthesized a new man-made Era in years, instead of natural Eras that could take decades to a century to fully accomplish.
The whistling grew louder. I thought my ears were ringing due to the sting in my leg, after applying the antiseptic, until Mrs. Lawson said, “Do you hear that?”
“It’s getting louder, fast.”
Then there was a noticeable vibration.
“Mrs. Lawson, get down!” I yelled. “Cover the baby, and your head.”
She covered my head too, reminding me of my mother’s hugs.
At the same time as a loud explosion above-ground, the ground we were on and under shook and quaked, rumbled and roared. Dirt fell on top of us. The baby began mewling loudly, but could hardly be heard over all the rest of the thunderous noise.
“I think we’re being bombed. We need to crawl toward cover, under the wood, or we’ll be buried alive.”
Another thunderous roar and reverberating of the earth. A closer one, much louder, and I heard the cracking of wood.
“We need to get as close to the exit as possible, if this place gives.”
We continued crawling along the dirt floor, covering our heads and ears. Had my Dad known that this would happen? Was that why he built this housing underground? Would it hold? It had to hold. I didn’t go through all of this for nothing. I had things to do, places to go, people to crush, businesses to ruin, and a world to save.
After six explosive, ground wrecking impacts, it stopped. I giggled hysterically, which isn’t a funny giggle at all, felt my body and looked around me to make sure everything was still where it was supposed to be and all of us were still alive. Three posts had been crushed, and the area had caved in where we’d originally been taking cover.
“What was that?” Mrs. Lawson shrieked.
“Sshh, we need to just stay here and wait. We don’t know what kind of technology they got, if it’s equipped with heat, voice, or living-person sensors,” I whispered.
“They have that kind of technology?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they had the technology to manipulate the weather. That’s why I have to go back. I have to know exactly what we’re up against. The problem with that is they want me dead.”
“Oh, you know, the modern-day detention for non-compliance and disobedience and not doing as you’re told. They can’t control me, so I’m a liability. I have a formula they need. And, oh yeah, I killed a guy who was working directly for the President.”
“You what? You killed - ? Catina Salsbury, you know very well that you’re not supposed to go around killing people. It’s a crime, and it’s evil, and you could go to hell for that.”
“Yes, Mommy,” I said, bowing my head in mock humility.
“I cannot believe this. Your mother would be rolling around in her grave right now.”
“My dad would be rocking it out in his, waving a lit lighter,” I said, hiding my smile. “Doesn’t it matter to you the reason for why I had to do it?”
“We all have choices, Catina.”
“What if I told you he enjoyed torturing teenage girls?”
“Then you tell the police and report him and get him locked up.”
“Double standards, much? I’m pretty sure when I found you at your house, you were aiming a gun at me.”
“I wasn’t going to shoot and kill you.”
“Oh, I didn’t shoot him. I broke his neck,” I said simply.
That rendered her speechless.
“So if it was the men in black instead of me, you would have let them shoot you?” I asked.
“Well, no, I - .”
“Exactly, don’t judge me. I know a lot more about the world we’re in now than you. That’s why I’m going to keep you and my adorable baby brother alive.”
“What can you do? You’re a child.”
“You’d be quite surprised, quite surprised indeedy.”
After an hour had passed, and nothing eventful had happened, I decided to leave the Hole and check out the damage. We were alive, and we probably weren’t meant to be, but we were. I climbed the dirt entrance/exit and cautiously lifted the plywood covering. About 150 feet away was a massive something, didn’t look like a bomb, because bombs usually explode with nothing left to them, and this thing was intact. A meteor, perhaps. It had crushed the trees like rock to paper.
I climbed completely out of the Hole and stood, prepared to check it out, but then a whiff of smoke caught my attention, and a crackling in the distance. Forest fire, and we were in the middle of the woods. Wood was food for fire, and our Hole was made of wood. It withstood that huge monstrous thing striking down, but it would easily be consumed by fire.
“Not good,” I said, returning underground, my mind spinning in overdrive of what next. “We got a forest fire, we’re surrounded by woods and brush, and we’re its meal. We need to cover the entrance, as quickly as possible,” I ordered.
Mrs. Lawson got right to work with the shovel and wheelbarrow that had been left in the expansion area. I got another whiff and it was not pretty.
“Man, you guys stink,” I said to my poor decaying parents. Then I had an idea, and it was the best idea ever, because it was mine. I’m not heartless. I’m really not. I would have preferred a proper burial for my parents, a funeral, with all their friends, neighbors, and family to wish them farewell. I would have preferred time to grieve and yell and holler about how unfair it all was, and to tell their lifeless corpses all the things that I couldn’t or didn’t tell them in life. But you can’t always get what you want, and now was definitely not the time to be able to have those things.
Instead, I took the purple earrings that I had pocketed after removing the little chips that had been implanted in my ears, and put them in my mother’s ears.
“I need you to help me, Mrs. Lawson. I need the wheelbarrow. We have to get them out of here before we bury the entrance.”
She looked as though she might vomit.
We shoved my parents into the wheelbarrow with sickening sounds of limp body parts slamming against metal, and wheeled them toward the entrance.
“I’m going to drag them up, but I need you to push them.”
“Oh, Catina, are you sure about this?”
“Positive. I think they would have preferred being cremated anyway, instead of having maggots eat their brains and live in their eye sockets.”
She really almost did throw up, but stopped talking and asking questions. One by one, I dragged their bodies 100 feet away from the Hole toward the bomb or meteor thing, and placed them beneath a weeping willow. I gave my tears and all my losses to that tree. My parents, my childhood home, my forest, my tree fort, all of it to be smuggled under ember and ash. I didn’t have time to dwell as the smoke was growing thick and I could see the leaping flames consuming everything in its path.
I ran to the Hole and threw the plywood entrance as far as I could throw it. “We need to hurry,” I said. Mrs. Lawson and I worked double-time, filling the wheelbarrow with dirt, and packing it against the entrance. I thought it was tears blurring my vision, but then Mrs. Lawson began to cough. The place was filling with smoke. “The holes! The air holes. We need to get them covered before we get smoked to death.”
Finally we had the entrance buried and the holes covered. We were quite literally buried alive, but quite luckily buried alive with shovels, food, water, and all the supplies we could possibly need. Mrs. Lawson, covered in dirt and sweat, collapsed against the cool dirt, while the place began heating up like an inferno. I brought her water.
“How hot do you think it’s going to get down here?”
“I don’t know. How hot an underground cave gets when there’s a raging forest fire above ground isn’t something I learned in all my education. Best to be safe than sorry. The Fountain is probably 30 feet away from here or so. We need to keep digging.”
“The Fountain?” she questioned.
“My and Kay’s pond.”
“It’ll flood the place. All your father’s work, years and years. I don’t think this was his intention.”
“You got a better idea? We could just sit here and figure out the hard way how hot it’ll get, then hope we live through it, after we’re marshmallows! Now dig!”
After digging 15 feet in, Mrs. Lawson stopped, breathing heavily, sweat matting her hair, clothes and body. “A 30 foot tunnel. What if it collapses while we’re in it?”
“Good point. It’ll take longer only one of us doing the digging, but if you stay on the outside of the tunnel, and it collapses, you can at least dig me out. We need supplies and they need to be packed into something waterproof. Stuff for the baby, water, food, and I need two things from my sheet sack: all my father’s letters and his book.”
I continued digging, feeling like death might not be so bad, while she gathered the supplies and took care of the baby, who couldn’t sleep for longer than 20 minutes and always woke up howling.
“Oh, I think both my parents had I-phones. See if you can find one, with a charger.”
20 feet in and looking down the long tunnel, I felt for sure there was no way it would hold. I didn’t know anything about underground digging and tunnels, but I did know the more I hollowed out the area, the more weight was on the ground above me. I gathered the plywood that had fallen, turned it sideways, and wedged it in random places in the tunnel, hoping it would help a little.
The heat was unbearable. My arms felt like lead weights. I was eating dirt, snorting dirt, and crying dirt. It seemed impossible. I slumped against the wall, wanting to waste the last bit of angry energy on punching things, but when you’re 25 feet lengthwise in the ground, you don’t want to go punching around and throwing your weight into places that could bury you.
“I’ll do it,” Mrs. Lawson said. “We’ll trade places.”
As reluctant as I was to position her in that death trap, my arms were useless. “Dig only to the point where the dirt becomes moist. Then we’ll know we’re close,” I said.
Then the scariest thought of all came to mind. What if I had misjudged the direction of the Fountain, even by just a few degrees? No, pessimism wouldn’t help me. I could navigate to the Fountain blindfolded and backwards. These woods were my home.
45 minutes later, listening to Mrs. Lawson’s grunts, groans, and heavy breathing, she yelled in excitement. “Dirt’s wet. Well, more wet.”
“Great. Come back out here in the opening, get some water. We need to make our plans now, just in case. I’m having you go out first with the baby. You have to grip the mud and kick upward with your feet, so it doesn’t drag you down. Both of us will have to dig as quickly as possible once we reach the water to fit our bodies out. We’ll dig only large enough to fit our body through, so that’ll stop the water from completely pouring in.”
“No, Catina, I won’t do it that way. I’m heavier than you. You’ll be flushed away like a twig. You go first.”
“Ray’s life is most important.”
“Your father didn’t do everything he did just to get you killed the first day,” she yelled. “Rope. We’ll use rope around our waists. I know I can hold my own. After all,” she winked at me. “In my younger days I won medals and trophies in swim team. Probably could have made it to the Olympics, but I met Charles’ Dad, and gave it all up.”
“I didn’t know that about you, Mrs. Lawson.”
“Well, you young people always look at us old people like we weren’t once you, and had all these crazy goals and ambitions, wanting to be something extraordinary. We grow up and learn that the extraordinary are few and far between, and the majority of us aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do the above and beyond. You’re extraordinary, Catina, just like your father always bragged. He never once, not a day, in all those years, gave up on you,” she said.
I’m sure it was meant as a compliment, but guilt crept into my throat for all the years that I had given up on him, on both my parents, and I’d refused to have anything to do with them up until my sister’s graduation from the Health & Home Program.
I cleared my throat. “So we’re going to separate after we surface. I’m a target and you being with me makes you a target. Do you know a place you can go temporarily that you can keep yourself secret, and where no one can track you, just in case?”
“I do, but I really think you ought to go with me. She’s a good friend of mine from the old days. She’ll take all of us in and won’t speak a word about it to anyone. She’s a widower, lives alone, no children. We’ll be safe.”
“No can do. I have to go my own way for a while, get everything figured out, and keep you and Ray alive, because I can’t exactly take care of him. You’re dead, okay? Like the parents are supposed to be. You need a new name, identity, location, everything. You’ve never heard of me before, have no idea who I am, and have never lived in Marathon. Walk until you find a phone you can use, payphone, store, some passer-byers cellphone. Call this lady and have her come get you in a private location. Then you need to become a Mormon, or Amish, or Mennonite, and join some kind of naturalist community with Ray.”
“Mormon? But –.”
“Please, Mrs. Lawson, just listen. Baby Ray gave me the idea. The naturalist groups will let you join in their community as long as you do what they do. You don’t exactly have to go through an interview process and a background check and you don’t need a license to drive a horse and buggy. They’re naturalists, and survivalists, and they live by a whole different set of rules and protection against the States, understand? That’s where you need to raise Ray. He’s your child and he’s to have the last name of whatever name you choose.”
“But what about - ?”
“The I-phone and charger is in your pack. Keep it off for no less than three months, because they can be tracked. After three months, turn it on and charge it only in the middle of the night. I will find you.”
She nodded her head slowly, understanding, and swallowing the cruel reality down. She’d have plenty of time later to process it all, as would I.
“And Mrs. Lawson?”
“Jane Bombay,” she said quietly.
“I like it. You look like a Jane. Ray Bombay. Not bad at all,” I smiled. “Do not try to contact or locate your son, Charles. I will get word back to you. I promise.”
“How will I know if you’re still alive? How long should I wait?”
“Just trust me. I’ve been pretty good at staying alive so far. I’ll be going into hiding for a while, getting ready. Like Dad taught me, it takes longer to prepare for the war than it does to fight it. Please just have faith. I know too much now, which means I can either let it kill me or I can do something about it. I’m a Purple and I’ll forever be a Purple. Maybe one day I’ll let you know what that means, as soon as I figure it out myself,” I chuckled.
“I don’t think I can have faith right now, Catina. All of this loss and destruction and - .”
“Not to be disrespectful or anything, Mrs. Lawson er Bombay, but God doesn’t have anything to do with what is happening in our world right now. Now is the perfect time to believe in something greater than man, because this is man’s destruction. Now dig and be prepared to hold your breath, and swim for your life, the baby’s, and my own,” I said with finality, cinching the last knot of the rope around our waists.