Mark Bradford crept into the cramped little army surplus tent that his family had called home for almost two months. His parents were dozing fitfully and Mark knew they must be exhausted after all that prayer and malnutrition.
There was a duffel bag in his corner of the tent. Soon it would be all he would have to remind him of his old life. Everything else had been lost to the almost daily ‘cleansing bonfires’.
It was hours later but the acrid smell of melted plastic, burnt books and things far worse still hung in his nostrils. His father shifted and Mark froze in place. If one of them awoke what would he say? What could he say? That he had gotten up to use one of the overflowing toilets? That he had been praying for forgiveness?
Or would he just run, hoping that they wouldn’t raise the alarm?
He grabbed his duffel bag and crept back outside.
The patrols had dwindled in the wake of Miss Blackwood’s ascension but that just meant they were more random. Crouching down Mark made his way through the tide of filth and garbage that was overtaking the Watervliet Arsenal.
Zombies or no zombies we’re getting out of here tonight, Mark thought.
Near the thrice barricaded main gates a gibbet was being constructed from whatever supplies could be scavenged from the nearby buildings. The faithful and the terrified alike labored side by side, only stopping when exhaustion overcame them; but there was always someone else ready to take their place.
Nothing like a good gallows building to bring people together. Mark thought.
A pair of soldiers rounded the corner and headed Mark's way. Their uniforms were in disarray and they were unshaven, their rifles however gleamed in the half-light. Mark froze, gripping the duffel bag to his chest. People had been killed for nothing less than acting suspicious during Miss Blackwood’s reign. He tried to act casual, tried to project an aura of “These aren't the droids you want, move along.”
The soldiers stopped just a few feet away from him, their weapons and posture at ease, “Where are you going?”
Mark tried to hold his voice steady and failed miserably, “I – I was looking for a place to piss. The bathrooms are kinda gross now.”
One of the soldiers laughed, “You said it kid.”
The other soldier rapped on the duffel bag, his eyebrows raising at the dull hollow sound. “What have you got there?”
“Muh- my grandma's ashes.” Mark blurted out and then winced.
“You take your grandma's ashes with you when you piss?”
“I'm afraid to leave them, I don't want anything to happen to them.”
The second soldier frowned, “Do you really think there will be any more breaking of commandments after tonight?”
The memories of fire and familiar voices screaming flooded Mark's mind. He felt tears well up and decided to run with them. “I don't know!” He sobbed, “I don't know anything anymore!”
Both soldiers stepped back, “Woah there kid. Didn't mean to get you riled up.”
“Just do what you have to do and get back to your quarters and you won't get in trouble,” The second soldier mustered a smile.
Mark nodded and slunk away, wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve. Snivel and cry and they leave you be. He thought, It's like high school all over again.
The rest of his journey went unnoticed and Mark found his way to the motor pool. The others were there already. He found Alec chatting with Harry and Pete while Tony and Ken packed supplies into the Hummer H1 they were going to use to make their escape.
“You should put the sleeping bags beside the M.R.E’s not on top of them. Whatever are you thinking?” Tony said, “This isn’t some kind of a camping excursion you realize.”
Ken shook his fist, “It’s my life.” He said, “Don’t you forget.”
Tony was still grousing, “I have a back injury received during a student protest so physical exertion is not really an option for me. But I think you all undervalue my organizational skills.”
“It’s a big enough umbrella but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.”
“Hey Ken!” Harry looked up from the maps he, Pete and Alec were studying, “Don’t let that hippie get to you.”
Tony bristled, “For your information I am not unaware of the irony that while I once protested the culture of American Military Fascism I now find myself living under its protection.”
“You were always living under its protection.” Harry replied.
Pete grunted and tried to turn Harry’s attention back to the maps. Like Harry, Pete was planning to desert his post and leave the fortified security of the Watervliet Arsenal behind.
Better the zombies than Miss Blackwood’s faithful flock.
“Ok,” Harry cast a glance at Mark’s duffel bag, “what is that?”
Mark shrugged, “Clothes?”
Harry rapped on the canvas bag, “Clothes? Clothes don’t sound like this.”
“It’s my stormtrooper costume.”
“Sheesh” Pete shook his head.
“Well, we might need it.”
Tony waved his arms, “Oh yes, you never know when a sci-fi convention might break out in the middle of this Hell. You’re insane!”
Ken muttered under his breath, “On the ice-build iron sanity is a place most never see.”
Harry shook his head, “Sorry kid. Your toys stay here.”
“But…” Mark sputtered, “But…”
“Did you ever find the codpiece?” Alec asked.
“No... but it’s almost a complete costume.”
“Ugh.” Pete buried his face in his hands.
They worked in silence for a time. Suddenly Alec stopped, “What was that?”
“What was what?” Harry didn’t even look up from giving the Hummer’s engine a final once over.
Alec looked around, “I heard something.”
Tony began to wave his arms in panic, “I knew it! We’re doomed!”...