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Grandmother’s House

 

Over the river and through the woods our little band of resistors scurried in silence. The young girl in the cart, Rachel, was well-behaved and occasionally burst out in song. Loud and confident versions of “Rainbow Connection,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “Cruel Cruel Summer” by Bananarama. Quiet sounds of marching feet on a black dirt path. The wind in the tall tree tops. A bird call of some sort. And then

Hot summer streets and the pavements are burning
I sit around, trying to smile but the air is so heavy and dry
Strange voices are sayin’ (what did they say?)
Things I can’t understand
It’s too close for comfort, this heat has got right out of hand

It’s a cruel cruel summer, leaving me here on my own
It’s a cruel cruel summer, now you’re gone

It was funny and terrifying at the same time. At first, I tried to quiet Rachel. Her mom was quick to jump in and soothe her daughter’s outbursts. Bits of the song were lifted to the heavens every 10 to 30 minutes. Each time, startling and beautiful at the same time. And she didn’t just start at the beginning. The soundtrack was obviously continuous in her head. She would add her outside voice during odd choruses and verses without rhyme or reason. She was our Greek Chorus, providing warnings and encouragements alike.

Astrid ran back from the front of the line as the sun of the first day was going down. “I think we’re good here, Json. We need to bed down and let people rest.”

I agreed.

“We are going to stop here for the night,” I said. “We will break up into five groups of three, taking turns to keep watch while the rest of us try and get some sleep. We’re just starting the journey. At least for now, I think we’re safe.” I looked out over the dusty and sober faces. “Please keep your eyes open and your phones off. We don’t know when the grid or GPS satellites or cellular towers will come back online. We do know that it would take less than 10 minutes for the bugs to find us from any electronic signal pulsed up into the night sky. Even once. I know you’re tempted. You want to reach out to see if your loved ones are still alive. Maybe they are part of an escape crew like ours. For now, however, please don’t risk our safety by turning on any electronic devices. They have eyes and ears everywhere.”

The night went by without a hitch. After an hour or so Rachel stopped singing to us and fell asleep. Astrid and I took turns sleeping for an hour. Just as the dawn was lighting up over the trees ahead, she came running to my side. “It’s time,” she said. We’ve got to go before it’s daylight.”

We didn’t have coffee or much food, but we rousted everyone and buried all evidence of our camp. We were back on the trail while the coolness of the tree’s shade still protected us from the coming heat. I guessed we still had a day’s hike to Grandmother’s House, an old cave we discovered as kids when we were playing war in the Black Forrest. There were no hoverbikes or other forms of mechanized transportation today. After about an hour, the golf cart gave its final gasp and shut down.

Rachel, who had been comfortably asleep beside her mom, woke with a start and a “Some… Where… Over…!” Her mom reached out a hand and put it over the girl’s mouth. “Not now, baby. Shhhhh. Quiet now.”

We grabbed all the supplies and continued our descent toward the basin below. Bright flashes of light shot off the huge body of water below. I walked for a few minutes trying to get the dazzling light show to lower my anxiety. Just as I was coming back to the present moment I sensed danger. I held up my hand and waved for the crew to stop. I sniffed the air. I peaked my listening skills and turned my head from side to side. I could feel a shift. Something was nearby.

A few mumbles from people caused me to lose focus for a minute. Again, I help up my hand and gestured for them to remain quiet. My heart was a jackrabbit on fire.

I heard a scurry or slip to the left of the trail ahead. It was quiet and subtle. I focused my attention on the dense wood on the left. Silence. Breathe. I held my hand in the air for everyone to understand. Nothing. Pause. Breathe.

Crack.

Like a lightning bolt, a five-foot python shot a red aiming-laser into the group of people behind me. “Get down,” I yelled. Three whisper-quiet darts found the necks of our biggest men. They slumped instantly. Astrid fired her blaster, roasting the matte black metallic snake to a smoking and sparking pile of bits.

“Everyone lay on the ground. Now!”

I slithered over to the three men. They were dead.

“Nobody moves!”

Astrid was on the ground beside me. “We’ve got to get out of here. Move forward. Quickly. What’s your thought?”

“Are those guys dead or sleeping,” she whispered in terror.

“This is not helpful consideration, Astrid. We need to get a plan.”

“Fuck,” she said. I could see the tears being fought back in her eyes. “We’ve got to keep everyone down and quiet. We’ve got to move. They’re going to zoom in on the dead dart-snake. We don’t have much time.”

I stood up. “Please, everyone, stay down. Keep moving downhill, as much as you can. Astrid and I will be around to see if you need any help. Stay on the ground. Keep your eyes peeled. Keep moving.”

It was eerily quiet. I could only hear the sound of feet, hands, and bellies shuffling along the black trail. I scanned the forest floor and the sky above. No sound or sign of other drones. I couldn’t let myself daydream on the sparkling water below. It was time to lead. I was 27 years old. I was prepared for this.

I added one last encouragement. “We’re heading to Grandmother’s House right now. It’s a series of caves on a cliff overhanging the lake you can see below. I’ve been there before. We will be safe there. For now, please be careful, be quiet, and keep your senses on high alert for drones or other agents of the government. They are looking for us. With one dead dart-snake, we’ve now shown them our position. They can’t know our destination, yet, so we’ve still got a chance.”

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