By Michael Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
— 11 —
“Who knows?” shrugged Tom. “I’m just reading signs. A big natural disaster would be wall-to-wall news. This time the power went out and stayed out.”
“All over the place,” Emma added. “What could cause that?”
“Tornadoes and hurricanes wouldn’t cause that big an outage,” Tom continued. “Earthquakes are local events. Sunspots, maybe. It happened in the 1800’s.”
Emma looked skeptical, “Don’t they have satellites to detect sunspots?”
“Yep, they do.” Tom nodded. “Although I’m not sure what anyone could do about it if they detected it. The electrical grid wasn’t really designed to deal with it, and they probably figured they’d just fix whatever broke after the fact.”
Emma started drawing small squares and circles while she listened, “How does that apply to us? Can’t the government send the Army or FEMA or something?”
Tom pushed his bowl away. “Most of our combat military is deployed overseas, right? If something happened to the continental US, they would be stuck where they are, and we’d be on our own.”
The next question was a struggle, “If it’s a war?”
“Same story,” Tom shrugged. “I can’t get my head around what I saw back at the roadblock. I can understand moving refugees to places where they can be resettled. It happened after Katrina hit New Orleans. But shooting people and breaking up families makes no sense.
“But if they need people for the Army like you said,” Emma ventured.
Tom shook his head, “There’s easier ways to go about it. With the number of guns in this country, I expect they’d be turning away volunteers once word got out that we’d been invaded or something.”
“The Sheriff said he was getting five hundred dollars for everyone he took to Montgomery,” Emma sat back in the chair and hugged herself. “You think he knows what’s happening?”
“Bob’s an ass, but he’s not particularly crooked,” Tom rose and lit the gas under the tea kettle.
Emma sniffed her disdain, “Before you showed up he was making it pretty plain how I could avoid being carted off.”
“I’m sorry I was so late getting back,” Tom’s look was serious as he turned to face her. “I expect he’s as in the dark as he claimed, and doing his best to keep things together around here. If he can get rid of his refugee problem by dropping them off with FEMA, then he won’t ask too many questions about what happens to them.”
“So what do we do?” Emma asked.
Tom scratched his chin stubble, “I need to go look at something. First thing tomorrow, pack lunch for all of us. When I say first thing, I mean it’s still dark out.”
“All of us?” Emma was surprised. “Where are we going?”
“Unless you’d rather wait here to see who stops by.” Tom shrugged.
“Pass,” Emma flipped the paper over and started making a list.
Tom turned off the kettle, “Bob said some of the transformer stations had burned. I know where one of those stations is, and I want to have a look at it.”
“How far is it Mr. Lewis?” Caroline pushed a tree branch out of her way, and Jeremiah had to jump out of the way as it whipped back at his face.
“Over the hill and along a piece,” Tom replied over his shoulder. “When we get to the highway, we’ll almost be there.”
“Young lady, I’ve asked you not to let branches hit folks as you pass,” Emma scolded.
Caroline made a show of carefully moving and releasing the next branch, “Sorry Mama.”
Tom turned to look behind them, “Jeremiah, keep an eye out behind to make sure nobody is following.”
“You afraid of wild Indians?” Emma teased.
Tom’s tone was serious, “Something like that.“
Emma pointed past Tom’s shoulder, “I just saw a car go past.”
“That’ll be the highway.” Tom motioned for them to stop, “Y’all wait here, and keep quiet.” He turned left and was quickly lost to sight in the tangle of second growth forest.
Emma found a blown down tree, “We might as well sit and rest until he gets back.”
Jeremiah spotted movement along their back-trail, and touched Emma’s arm, “Mama, look.” A few moments later Tom stepped into view, and everyone relaxed.
“It looks like this is a good place to cross,” Tom said as he came up. “We need to go quick and quiet, but we will NOT run. If we see a car, just keep going calmly like we’re hurrying to get across the road. We don’t want to look like we are running from something or trying to hide. Just a family crossing the road. Got it?” Nods all around, “OK. Let’s go.” He waved the kids forward, and as they reached the edge of the trees, he took Emma’s hand. “Camouflage,” he winked at her.
They could smell the burned insulation and metal before they could see the transformer station. As they broke the trees into the high-tension right-of way, the hanging wires looped and snaked through the high grass. “Don’t touch or step on those,“ Tom warned. “They are probably not dangerous, but we don’t want any accidents.” Emma took both kid’s hands and lead them carefully around the obstacles.
The station had obviously burned intensely. So intensely the chain link fence around the property had melted. Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out a small brass cylinder shaped like a wine bottle and a stubby plastic cylinder with a brass cup over one end. He showed to each in turn, “We’re looking for something like these. Let’s start here and work our way back to the road along the treeline. If you see one on the ground, let me know.”
Tom looked at each of them seriously, “We’re going to spread out to search. If somebody stops, I’ll talk to them. Caroline and Jeremiah, you two slowly walk over to your mother. If something happens to me run into the trees, and make your way home.” Tom placed Emma next to the trees, and spread them out in a line extending into the right-of-way.
As the line moved, Tom split his attention between the ground and the station trying to understand the tale of the damaged equipment. When they had come to the midpoint of the station’s long rectangle Emma called out. Tom looked at the kids, “You two stay there to mark our line,” and hurried over to where Emma stood.
The plastic shotgun hulls had been out in the weather long enough to dull the brass at their base, but not long enough to fade the markings on the plastic. Tom used a stiff grass stem to turn one over, “Slug.” He turned over the other seven hulls, “All slugs.” He rose and walked toward the station.
Emma followed, and caught up to him at the edge of the station’s concrete pad, “What does it mean?”
Tom could see the large jagged holes in the equipment cabinets and cylindrical transformer cooling jackets, “It means this was intentional.”