Stay or Go

Posted: July 25, 2015 in 01 Stay or Go
Tags: , , , , ,

Phil Baker made a compelling argument for Tate and Doyle to remain at his high bluff compound in the Hill Country of central Texas. When he had finished his speech, he let the subject drop. Tate Hamilton, once a long haul truck driver, was left to mull over her options, stay at the protected refuge or leave and find her family? Phil’s retreat was a safe place to stay, but if she stayed, she would never learn the fate of her family.

Phil spun the wheels of his chair and rolled toward his wife sorting bedding for the latest arrivals. There were a lot of people to feed at Phil’s compound and sleeping arrangements to make. Phil’s family included six adults, his two girls, John and Mary’s two kids, Ben, Gina and her baby. The couples and Gina each ended up in bedrooms while the kids were left to sleep on pallets on a second story sleeping porch.

Doyle turned to Tate. “Well, what are your thoughts?”

Tate shrugged as she picked up her own quilt and walked toward the leather couch. “Guess I’ll think about it.”

Doyle and Tate, as outsiders were offered the large L-shaped couch in the den. She threw her quilt over the seat and back to retrieve later if she got cold. Doyle threw a pillow on a pallet on the floor and within minutes was snoring softly.

Ben, Phil’s nephew Tate had rescued, complained he was too big to bunk with the little boys, and he didn’t want to hear the young girls chatter all night, so he opted to sleep in the den with Doyle and Tate. He curled up with an Army blanket and pillow on the short section of the sofa opposite Tate.

Tate and John offered to be part of the guard rotation, but Phil declined. He announced they deserved at least one night’s sleep. John and the other guards walked outside leaving the occupants of the house to settle down for the evening. Phil disappeared to his third story look-out in a cubical on the roof, and the room grew quiet.

Tate shifted her position for the third time in as many minutes trying to get comfortable. She slid the cushion, under her butt, back in place then folded her hands behind her head while she listened to John’s heavy steps on the boards outside the window, as he strolled the wrap around porch. She lay awake thinking about Phil’s offer of a place to stay.

“Psst,” Ben whispered. “Tate, you awake?”

With the moonlight through the windows, Tate studied him. “Yeah. I’m awake.”

“You know, I played a lot of games on my X-box. One was killing monsters. This is like that in real life.”

“Yeah. I supposed that could sum things up pretty well,” Tate answered, wondering where the conversation was going.

“I’m not sure I can do it,” he whispered; his voice catching. “They‘re people.”

Tate swung her feet around to rest on the floor. In the moonlight, she could see Ben huddled against the arm of the couch, with tears glistening in his eyes.

“You can’t think like that. The walking-shit-bags aren’t people now. They’re just dead bodies moving because they were infected by an engineered virus.”

“But…” he whispered.

“But nothing. If you hesitate, you’ll be a danger to yourself and everyone around you. I know this sucks Ben, but you have to forget they were people and see only monsters ready to tear you and your family apart.”

“Are we going to make it?” he whispered. “I mean people. Can we recover from this?”

“All we can do is try to survive.” Tate sighed. “You need to get some rest, now.”

Ben slid down on his end of the couch. “I guess you’re right. Good night.”

Tate closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but instead mulled over her and Ben’s conversation until exhaustion took over.

Tate woke to the smell of coffee when dawn barely peeked through the trees. Phil’s wife, Emma, was busy in the kitchen making biscuits and white gravy with ham. By the time Phil appeared, Doyle and Tate were already moving around. When they had both gotten a cup of coffee, he asked them to follow him outside. He rolled out on the porch in his wheelchair and pointed Tate and Doyle to two woven-willow chairs.

“Have you thought about our conversation?” Phil asked.

Doyle slapped his leg and snorted. “I’ll be damned. You really want us to stay?”

“This is a big decision you’re making, considering you have known us for less than twenty-four hours,” Tate answered.

Phil nodded. “I got a chance to see you both in action. With me being in this damned chair, we’ve only got four able-bodied men, and that’s counting Ben as one of them. That’s not enough. If these people are going to survive, I have to have good people to help.”

Doyle nodded. “I ain’t got anyone expecting me; I was just looking for a place to hunker down. I’ll take you up on the offer.” He turned to Tate. “What about you, girlie?”

Tate looked at Phil, unsure of what to say. “Since I left San Antonio, I’ve been heading to my cousin’s place. It’s remote, and I’m hoping my mom and sister made it there.”

“The roads are pretty bad right now; lots of cars and dead out there. Maybe it would be safer to wait a week or two before you head out, again,” Doyle advised.

Phil added. “I don’t want to pressure you, but Doyle might be right. The roads have all the city folks trying to get somewhere safe and ending up being part of the problem. That’s exactly what happened in Bandera and Bandera Falls. Out-of-towners brought infected with them. Only took one or two to take down both towns.”

“You might be right,” Tate mumbled.

“You could stay here and wait it out.” Phil offered.

“I appreciate the offer, but you have too many people already for a four bedroom house,” Tate answered.

Phil chuckled. “I’ve been thinking about that, too. If you help us with the housing situation, and you still want to go, I’ll add two full fifty-five-gallon drums to my previous offer. That would be an extra hundred gallons of diesel, plus supplies to get you to your family.”

“All that for a day of hauling?” Tate asked.

Phil shrugged. “Yep. That’s the deal. But if you change your mind along the way, you’re still welcome to stay.”

“What did you have in mind to solve the housing problem?” Tate asked.

“There’s FEMA trailers at Boerne about twenty miles south on Hwy 46. If we could get three or four of those brought back here, it would alleviate the housing issue. We’re going to have to upgrade the septic system, but water is no problem. I have two wells. We’ll have to do some plumbing work and lay some piping, but otherwise, we should be alright.”

Tate laughed. “It sounds like it’s more than a couple days of work.”

“Yeah. But, if we can add a couple trailers full of provisions, we’d be set for months,” Phil answered.

“It looks like you’ll need a few more than that,” Doyle pointed toward the gate. “Look outside the gate.”

Tate and Phil turned toward the gate and saw three vehicles sitting outside the wrought iron barrier. John and Bill with rifles in hand rushed out of the house and up to where Phil sat staring at the vehicles.

John asked, “What are we going to do about them?”

Phil reached for the wheels on his chair and rolled toward the gate. “John, you and Bill cover us.” Both Tate and Doyle followed Phil.

A man with a bat in his hand stepped out of the front vehicle. His eyes darted from left to right as if expecting an attack at any moment.

Phil rolled up to within a dozen feet of the gate and looked out at the three vehicles. Doyle and Tate stood on either side.

Outside the gate sat a relatively new Ford F-150, a minivan, and an old Chevy Impala. Tate stepped away about ten feet from Phil to get a better look at the occupants. There were two men still sitting in the truck the leader had been driving. In a light green minivan smeared with blood sat a young couple with the heads of two small children peeking over the seats. The Impala sat behind the van with an old man wearing a baseball cap and a gray-haired woman at his side. The back seat seemed to be filled with boxes and stacks of supplies.

Phil scowled at the man outside the gate. “George, what do you want?”

“Your little escapade at the ball field yesterday burned down the Electric Co-op. A bunch of us were staying there. We need a place to stay.”

“Who’s in this WE, you’re talking about?” Phil asked.

Tate turned at the sound of running steps behind them. Ben raced to Phil followed by John and Bill. Ben cupped his hand and whispered something at Phil.

George opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted when Phil demanded. “What are you trying to pull? You have more vehicles at the edge of my property.”

The driver of the Impala stepped out of the car and walked up to the gate. “Shut up, George. Phil, twenty of us, got out of the co-op. We got women and children and have nowhere else to go.”

Phil nodded at Ben, John, and Bill. “Call them up here. Pull up to the gate, one at a time. The vehicles will sit outside until we bring ‘em in one at a time. Everyone gets checked for bites before they step through the gate.”

George started to protest, but Phil held up his hand. “My place, my rules.”

“I’m the mayor of Bandera –” George protested.

“And this ain’t Bandera! Anyone don’t like my terms, turn around and go back down the bluff.”

The portly, old man looked at George, one last time before calling out. “The wife and I agree to your terms, Phil. I’m sure the rest will.” He turned to George and added, “If you got a problem with it, George, pull aside, and let us start lining up at the gate.”

George got in his truck and pulled to the turn-around at the side of the wrought iron fence. He parked the F-150 but stayed behind the wheel.

The old man headed back to his vehicle, stopping to speak to the couple in the mini-van on his way. The green van rolled up to the gate, both front doors opened, and the man herded his wife and two children to the gate. Quietly, without a word, the couple stripped to underclothes and turned around slowly, then dressed and undressed the kids. Phil nodded to Ben, and the gate rolled open.

The woman picked up the kid’s clothes and hurried to the passenger door with the kids in tow. They jumped inside and the man drove through the gate and Ben closed it behind the van.

“Stop!” Emma Nolan stormed through the front door of the house. “Phillip Nolan! You will not do what I just saw, again!” She yelled at the open windows of the van, “I’m sorry!”

Standing at the opening with his rifle in hand, John waved the van to the side the compound. The Impala moved to the closed gate and stopped. Three more vehicles rolled up behind the Impala.

Emma rushed to Tate and pushed a handful of sheets into her arms. “We’re civilized human beings and will not be traumatizing women and children. No more strip searches for women in front of all these men. We’ll do the inspection behind these sheets.” She turned to Phil with a pointed glare.

Phil held up his hand in surrender and called out for two pieces of rebar. A minute later, Ben ran across the yard with two six foot lengths of metal.

Emma crossed her arms and John rolled back the gate wide enough to walk through. Tate joined him with the stack of sheets in hand. She tied a piece from one spiked length of wrought iron fencing to another about five feet away. She tied two more sheets, at either corner. By then, John had pushed both pieces of rebar into the ground. Tate tied the ends of the second and third sheets to the stake. She used the fourth sheet to finish off the enclosure.

The older couple got out of the car, and the woman grinned at Emma. “Bless you, dear. I appreciate this.” The woman stepped into the sheeted enclosure and a few minutes later called out, “I’m ready.”

Emma tapped Tate’s shoulder. “That’s you, dear.”

Cringing, Tate stepped to the sheet and pulled back the edge of the sheet that allowed her to peek inside.

The old woman smiled. “It’s alright, honey. I ain’t got nothing you haven’t seen in the mirror.” She made a slow turn and at Tate’s quick nod, began redressing.

Tate turned back to Phil and gave him a thumbs-up. The Impala entered the compound and parked next to the mini-van. The elderly woman joined the young family on a nearby picnic table in the shade of a large oak.

The occupants of three more vehicles went through inspection, then came through the gate. Only the F-150 sat outside. The old man walked up to Phil. “Don’t know if you remember me, Phil, I’m Bradley Wilson. I’m not much for telling tales, but you better be careful with George. He’s losing it.”

“Who’s with him?” Phil asked.

“His two boys,” Bradley answered.

“You can’t leave us out here,” George called out from the window of the F-150.

Phil called out, “You know what it takes to come in.”

“I got my boys. I’m in charge of this group,” George protested. “I need to be in there to take care of them.”

“Do what I ask then,” Phil demanded.

Finally, George spoke to his sons, then slowly stepped out of the truck. Both younger men followed. They stepped up to the gate and began removing clothes. Following their father’s instructions, they unbuttoned their shirts and removed their shirts then loosened their belts and pants and pulled them to their knees. Meanwhile, George stepped out of his loafers, then pulled off his shirt, and his pants down. He scowled as he turned around.

Phil nodded, then rolled over to the boys.

The older of the two young men appeared to be in his late teens or early twenty’s while the other looked no more than fifteen. The older young man stripped off his shirt and pulled down his pants to hang around his knees. The younger man stepped out of his boots, then slipped off his pants. He did a quick turn, and when he saw Phil scowl, he turned again more slowly.

After looking over George, Phil gave the man a quick nod then turned back to the older brother and sighed, “Boots off. I want to see your legs and feet.”

The young man turned to his father, and George protested, “Damn-it! This is bullshit! Open the fucking gate!”

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