By Michael Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
— 6 —
“Toledo. Actually a suburb called Ottawa Hills. Just west of Toledo,” Emma said.
“Never heard of it, but I know where Toledo is, and that’s a long way off,” Tom scratched behind his ear. “How were you planning to get there?”
“We were on I-65 headed north through Montgomery. At Louisville I’d catch 71 through Cincinnati. We got forced off 65 by traffic outside of Greenville, and ran out of gas just outside of Selma,” Emma said.
Tom got up and went to the bookcase, “What happened in Selma?”
He poked through the books as Emma continued, “We walked to Selma to get gas, but the police had a roadblock set up at the river bridge. They were sending everyone back. Nobody could get around them because of the river, and people said the Highway 80 bridge was closed too.”
“So what did you do?” Tom asked as he returned to his chair and opened the road atlas from the shelf.
“We went back to the car,” she raised her hands in resignation. “There wasn’t anything else to do.”
“Tom held the book at arm’s length and squinted, “Can’t find my damned readers.”
Emma went to him and offered to take the book. He surrendered reluctantly. “We stayed at the car two days begging people for gas, but the ones who stopped, had it just as bad as we did. Gradually a camp started forming there on the side of the road. Folks were sharing what they had, and some people would fish in the river.” She looked at the page with the map of Alabama, “What are you looking for?”
Tom didn’t hear the question, “How long did that last?”
“A week. Then the riot police came in with bulldozers and fire trucks. They pushed the cars off the road, and ran over the tents, and sprayed people with the water cannons.” Her voice faded. “It was crazy.”
“Railroads,” Tom’s voice brought Emma out of her memories. “Did they have electricity in Selma?”
“What? Yes, they had some lights on the bridges and we could see some lights from across the river.” Emma said.
“If it is only in spots then it’s probably generators,” Tom said. “Their grid is probably down too, and their fuel supply is limited.”
“Why railroads?” asked Emma.
“Probably less traffic, and maybe nobody has thought to block the bridges yet,” Tom replied.
Emma studied the map, “I see a few train tracks marked here, but not many.”
“What I figured,” Tom sighed as he checked his watch. “How are you feeling Jeremiah?” he called into the kitchen.
“Just fine Mr. Lewis,” came the reply.
Emma continued to study the map, “So what do we do?”
“Driving isn’t realistic,” Tom was thinking aloud. “Roads will be jammed with cars and refugees. Any moving vehicle would be mobbed. Overpasses and bridges will be blocked.”
“What about the river?” Emma suggested.
“I don’t own a boat, and we’d still have to drive to get there,” Tom said. “If we found a boat, a canoe would be best, we’d have to travel at night, and we’d be a target any time we stopped.” He stopped speaking as a long series of irregular popping noises sounded in the distance.
Emma looked up from the book, “What was that?”
“Somebody is having a very bad day,” Tom said as he rose from his recliner. “Those were gunshots. A lot of them.” Another flurry of shots sounded as Tom reached the window. The last one came a few seconds later. A single echo signaling finality. Tom turned to Emma, “Where did you put your gun?”
“It’s in..” she started.
He cut her off, “Get it.”
When Emma returned she handed the pistol to Tom who opened the cylinder, “Where are the cartridges?”
“I didn’t want the kids to hurt themselves,” she said.
“Mrs. Pitts,” again the formality locked her breath. “I gave you this to protect yourselves,” the rage evident in Tom’s soft tone of voice hit Emma like a thrown brick. “It is not a magic charm. Without ammunition, it is a paperweight.” He looked her in the eyes, and the intensity of his glare made the air burn, “The world we knew is gone. The old rules don’t apply. Without the desire to live, you will probably die out there. Without the will to defend yourself, your death, and those of your kids could be long and horrible. Do you want your children to die?”
“Of course not,” Emma said.
“Do you want to die?” Tom pressed.
“I don’t know anything about guns, and…” Emma blurted out.
Tom cut her off again, “That’s an excuse, and the time for excuses is past.” Diesel engines interrupted him, and he turned to the window to watch two large trucks pulling up at his gate. Tom did not turn from the window when he said, “Go load that pistol and keep it in your pocket out of sight.”
“Tom Lewis!” a bullhorn blatted. “This is the Dallas Country Sheriff. If you’re in there, come out with your hands up!”
Emma was back from the bedroom by the time Tom had gotten the wedge out from behind the door. Caroline and Jeremiah were standing in the kitchen doorway trying to see out the window without getting any closer. “You kids get in the pantry, and don’t come out until I tell you,” Tom gestured toward the kitchen. Jeremiah grabbed Caroline’s hand and pulled her out of sight.
Emma went to the window, “What do they want?
“Tom Lewis!” the bullhorn started speaking again.
“Won’t know until I go talk to them,” Tom said. “If it goes bad, do your best.” He wrenched the sad remnant of the door out of the frame and walked out on the porch with his hands out to his sides, “What the Hell is all this Bob?”