Tony and I have decided to stay a couple of days with the Sequoias. Their leader Xu has graciously invited us to spend as much time as we wanted here provided with help out with the chores. Tony is out hunting with the boys. Xu’s wife Palesa gave him a grocery list of things to bring back for dinner. Palesa was very insistent that Xu find everything that was on the list.
I have been sitting around most of the day. I did help prepare breakfast and wash the dishes. This gang has a large number of toddlers and smaller children. I am amazed their infant survival rate is so high. A large majority of the women here look as if they are pregnant and couple of them look as if they were about to give birth any day now.
Xu’s wife Palesa already has two children and it looks as if she is going to have another. I like Palesa she has a sense of humor and a very happy disposition. I asked Palesa if it is hard raising her children out here in the wilderness. Palesa assured me that it was actually very simple. This is amazing because I have seen at least a dozen girls have babies back home since the virus and only two of them delivered babies that survived more than a week. Aleece is one of those babies. I hope Aleece and her Mom Casey are safe and happy somewhere. Aleece must be getting very big by now. I wonder if she is crawling yet.
Tony and I are taking our time returning to Bear Country. By now, Bear Country would have elected a new leader. I hope it was Sheriff Pete. All the soldiers that survived the ambush headed back towards Ft Shasta. Their walk was going to be a long one. I wished them luck in their journey and asked them to be safe. I again apologized for the trouble I caused.
Tony and I didn’t travel very far yesterday or today. We stayed in a hunter’s cabin last night. It was filthy but it was better than sleeping out in the open on the hard ground.
I have had enough sleeping on the ground to last a lifetime. The cabin was near a stream. Tony accidentally scooped a fish out with his hands. He spent the next hour in the icecold freezing water trying to catch another one and never came close. The one fish barely gave each of us three mouths full but it was good.
Today we went exploring. I don’t think we covered more than a couple of miles. Tony and I stumbled across a gang of naturalist called the Sequoia. Relax they were friendly. Their gang leader offered us a place to stay for the night. Tony is out bathing in the creek with the men. I plan to go with the women as soon as he gets back.
It would have been a painful way to die. It wasn’t a straight drop to the bottom. Tony and I would have hit every rock, boulder and tree stump on the way down. Then we would have lingered alive for a couple of hours before finally succumbing to blood loss. I didn’t want to die that way.
I backed off the edge of the cliff and fell into Tony’s arms. There was clapping and whistling from the soldiers. I didn’t realize they were all standing there. I apologized to Tony for everything I had said a few moments before. Tony kissed me on the head and thanked me for not jumping. Tony and the four soldiers that had survived the ambush led us around the woods for more than an hour trying to find the graves of Yates and the other soldiers they were able to bury. I wanted to say goodbye.
We had almost given up looking for the graves when one of the soldiers accidentally stumbled upon the gravesite during a moment of rest. We held a small goodbye ceremony in the woods for Yates and the other fallen soldiers. Each of the graves was marked with a cross of twigs. The nametag from the soldier’s uniform was pushed into the bark.
I found Yates and said my goodbyes. I apologized for getting him into this trouble. Tony knelt down beside me and whispered in my ear that none of this was my fault. I didn’t put General Yates into this grave. I wish I could believe that. There is a small boy at Ft Shasta who is now without a father.
I couldn’t take another step. I was thirsty and weak from hunger. After a moments rest and drinking practically all of the water in Tony’s canteen, I asked about Yates and the other soldiers. Tony looked at me and shook his head from side to side. He said Yates struggled to survive for a couple of days. Many of Yates’ soldiers died from injuries they had received the day of the ambush. I refused to accept what Tony was saying. I started making plans to find Yates and the others. Tony grabbed me by the shoulders and gave me a shake. He said there weren’t any others. I said there had to be others. We were in a convoy of four trucks with at least 30 people. We had guns. General Yates would not have gone down without a fight.
I pulled away from Tony. I called him a liar and said a few awful things I now regret. I knew Tony had to be lying. He was jealous I chose Yates over him and I told him so. I stomped off into the woods. I don’t know where I was going but Tony followed. I stopped at the edge of a cliff.
For a moment, I considered jumping. Tony asked me not to jump. He said he had something important to say to me. If I still wanted to jump after he had finished he would jump with me. Tony said he loved me and that he only let me go with Yates because he wanted me to have a happy and safe life. The morning the convoy left Bear Country Tony realized he had made a mistake in allowing me to leave.
Tony borrowed a horse from Joshua of the Spurs. He caught up to the convoy shortly after the attack. Yates and several of his soldiers were left for dead. I was nowhere to be found.
He had to straddle my entire body to keep me from struggling free. I continued to struggle until I saw his face. At first, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I closed my eyes very tight and counted to three. When I opened my eyes again he was still there hovering over me with his hand over my mouth. Without saying a word, Tony mouthed for me to be quiet. I hugged his neck and did as I was told.
Four of Yates’ soldiers accompanied Tony. Tony woke the other soldiers enslaved with me one at a time. The other captives sleeping in the area were also given the chance to escape. Only a handful chose to do so. The others were unable to comprehend what was happening. They just turned over and went back to sleep. The guards watching over us were tranquilized by the same darts used to capture us. They would be asleep well into the morning hours. I kicked them both in the side as I stepped over them. It was the least I could do for the hellish way they treated us. I am hoping this security breach gets them into a heap of trouble.
With any luck, they will end up as slaves themselves.
The escape out of the camp was easy. There was only one moment when I thought we weren’t going to escape. We almost stumbled into a guard patrol but luckily, they weren’t paying much attention to their surroundings. They seemed more interested in the slave they were teasing. No one said a word until we were clearly away from the camp.
Like the day before and the day before I spent my day digging up rocks, washing rocks and building a wall. Yates’ soldiers did the same. We tried to communicate with each other when the guards weren’t looking. It was a challenge. If caught by the guards it would have meant a beating. I watched the guards dish out punishment without cause time after time. The guards seemed particularly cruel to a couple of slaves that could apparently do nothing right. I felt sorry them. I wanted to help but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I watched the other slaves go about their work as if nothing cruel was happening around them. No one flinched. The most common reaction was to move carefully out of the way without drawing attention from the guards. I think it’s a coping mechanism put into place after weeks and months of trying to avoid punishment. I found myself doing it.
At the end of the day, after the guards had finally decided we had done enough work they led us back to our place of sleep. They gave us the same stale biscuits and a drink of water. I tucked myself up against the wall beside a couple of Yates’ soldiers. The wall was one of the safer places to sleep. The guards harassed anyone sleeping near the fire. I don’t remember falling asleep. I woke up ready to fight the moment I felt his hand grab my mouth.
I spent the day digging up rocks and daydreaming about my life before the virus. I think it helped to take myself away from this hellhole even though it was just in my mind. I miss my parents and my bed. Please let this whole thing be a dream. Any moment my mom is going to walk into my room and tell me to wake up and get ready for school. I will suddenly realize this life was just an awful nightmare brought on by bad pizza. I am going to hug my mom and apologize for everything I have done wrong in the past.
I think I actually slept for a little while last night. I propped myself up against the wall and before I knew it the guards were rudely yelling at us to wake up. I refuse to believe this is the way, I am supposed to spend the rest of my life.
Today was a special day. All the slaves assembled in front of the gang leader. I am not certain what he looked like because the guards didn’t allow us to raise our heads. He gave a lovely speech and praised us for our hard work. If thoughts could kill, I would spread his brains all over the rock pile. The guards brought out a wheelbarrow of food. They gave each slave a few seconds to grab something edible to eat. I am so glad I wasn’t at the end of the line.
I want to go home. It has been a long awful day. This is not the new life I was promised. I keep pinching myself hoping I will wake up from this nightmare. I can’t sleep even though I am exhausted. I am finding it difficult to get comfortable in the night because everything aches and it is difficult to sleep on a cold dirt floor. The guards seem to get enjoyment in disturbing our rest period. They walk over us and deliberately kick someone. The guards kicked me in the shoulder, yelled at me and hit me with a stick because I was in the way. I looked at the guard in protest and he beat me for my rudeness. The guards made me kneel for the rest of the night.
I am so hungry. The guards eat continuously thru out the day. They walk among us and brag about how full they are. If my thoughts could kill all the guards would be dead. We are teased with food, I have seen several of the other slaves walk away with a guard and come back later with a piece of fruit or bread. They are surviving the best they can. I am not going down that road. I think I would prefer to die.
I spent the first part of the day digging up rocks. After my midday stale biscuit, the guards transferred me to work on the wall.
If Yates is here, I have not seen him. The guards don’t allow us to speak. They watch over us like vultures. Any deviation in the rules and punishment is swift and painful. I know because I quit digging up rocks long enough to catch a moments breath and had a rod come down across my shoulders.
Rule number three don’t stop working until a guard tells you to quit. I gave the guard a look and he smacked me again. I forgot about the keep your head down rule. I recognize a couple of soldiers from Ft Shasta also here as slaves but I don’t know their names. I never had personal contact with them at Bear Country. I think they are just as confused and disoriented as I am. I wish Yates were here. He would know what to do to get us out of this mess. I have been praying that Yates escaped the ambush.
The guards forced me to work the entire day with practically no food at all, and only two ladles of water. Every muscle in my body hurts. After digging up the rocks, we transport them to be washed. I have bruises all over my back. I have dirt so far under my fingernails that several of my fingers are sore. I stink and I have a headache. Someone pinch me so that I can wake up from this nightmare.
I was resting when our convoy came to a sudden stop. Yates told me to stay put as he jumped out of the truck. He ordered a couple of his soldiers to run to the front of the convoy and find out what was happening. I have never been good at waiting. I hate when others tell me what to do. I prefer to give the orders.
I stayed put for maybe three seconds and then I jumped out of the truck. Yates gave me the “I told you to stay put look.” and in return I gave him the “I’m just stretching my legs look.” It only took the soldiers a couple of moments to figure out what the problems were at the front of the convoy. Someone had dug a ditch across the entire width of the road. There was no way to get across and we couldn’t drive around it because both sides of the road sloped down a hillside.
Yates started giving orders. His soldiers were going to have to build a bridge to get us across. This was going to take a little while so I started to get back in the truck. I vaguely remember the dart hitting me and seeing a couple of soldiers fall. I think I remember hearing gunfire and someone yell to take cover. I don’t know where everyone went. I think fate hates me.