The turmoil continued for weeks. Just when Elan thought they had pushed the GPU and the Faction military back, they returned with more firepower and more men. “Hold the line.” Became a mantra and a common cause that bonded the Gitchie Wolves, the Demoiselles, High Park, and the Renegades. Elan was more surprised to see High Park take up arms than he was the Demoiselles. Every civilian who joined the uprising received a crash course of military tactics and firearm instruction that lasted about an hour before they were put into a unit to fight. He wondered if more died than lived as he seen their numbers dwindle day by day.
For some reason, the ruthless yet beautiful Demoiselles seemed like a perfect fit for callous war and ammunition. Hand in glove was the only way to describe it when he glimpsed Daniella toting a rifle across her back and a belt of bullets slung across her chest. She wore cargo pants and a matching camouflage brown jacket. Red plump lips stood out on her angled dark face like a contrast against the gloomy backdrop of crumbling buildings.
Who the hell has time to put on makeup? He thought. OH yeah, she would. If anyone would take the time to powder their nose it would be Daniella. The thought made him smile to himself as their eyes met. He nodded toward her and she smiled before a dark man came to take her away, claiming she was needed to guard another post. Then, Elan didn’t see her again for another two weeks. By that time, her features seemed hardened by the war and she even had dark circles under her big brown eyes that her long lashes couldn’t conceal.
“How are you doing soldier?” She asked through crimson lips.
“Better now that you’re here.” He replied with a crooked smile although he didn’t really mean it that way, he was appreciating the fact that he was hearing a woman’s voice, but she took it as a flirtatious gesture.
Her mechanical arm held the rifle like a toy, and she didn’t seem to be bothered by it’s weight. Daniella was heading out with the rest of the Demoiselles to the borderline of New York and Rhode Island. She said she was going to be trained to lay explosives.
“Ah, so I guess I’m losing my more graceful battle companion then.” He replied as he looked through the sight of his rifle again.
They both kneeled behind a barrier of concrete and while it had been days since they were attacked at this position, they could never be too careful and disregard caution. She leaned against the concrete barrier and said, “well it’s not like I was sharing your mat. We’ve been here for weeks but you know I’m clear on the other side of this mess.”
He looked at her and said, “well at least I still have Quanah and Ouray.” He finished with a gesture towards a high rise. “They got my back.”
She looked up to where he was pointing and then back at him, “ah, a sniper team I see.”
“Yup, I guess they were good for something after all.” He laughed and then the smile erased from her face and her youthful features became rough again.
“I’ll miss you and maybe with luck, we’ll meet again.” She said and then kissed him hard on his lips. He almost fell backward as she leaned into him with a burning passion, she wouldn’t be able to quench. She smelled of gunpowder and sweat but he assumed that he didn’t smell any better having been at his post for days. “Damn I wish we could, just one more time.”
“Well maybe a raincheck then.” He replied, secretly hoping that the day would never come that she’d cash in and demand a night in his bed.
When she left his side, he felt the emptiness seep in, but it wasn’t a longing for her, it was something else. He missed Lacy and he missed his son. He wanted to see Jacob again and as he thought about the tender years of his life, bullets started to fly, and a battle commenced again.
This is bigger than you. Darius told himself as he starred at his dripping face in the bathroom mirror. Over the last few months, the family had to take shelter in the cave 3 times, and it seemed now that the Uprising had conquered New York and it’s coveted port. He managed to keep his family safe and found solace where he never expected it before - in the stories of a mighty God and a beloved people. Something tugged at his mind and bade him to act but act on what?
He wished Kelvin were there. Maybe the wise missionary would have another message to give him, one that would show him the way, the path he must follow like he did when he told Darius to read that story about David. But was the message only about keeping his family safe? He splashed more water on his face and wiped it with a towel.
I will be with you. The words echoed somewhere in his mind, in his soul. He didn’t hear them with his ears but felt them in his being. Like a comforting phrase a parent would tell a child, he heard them but why and from whom did they originate from? The meaning was not clear and perhaps it was something he read and not something intended for him like a sign or a prophetic notion of which he did not understand. Nora called him to breakfast and his stomach growled in response. As he ate his serving of bacon and eggs across from Nora and Lily, he considered the phrase again.
“Good news, looks like we’re winning.” His father-in-law announced, coming into the kitchen to serve himself a plate.”
“How do you figure?” Darius asked, watching Frank put the lid back on the pan and sit down to eat.
The national and local news stations have been down since the war started. The only thing still running were international broadcasts controlled by the Faction and The Maverick pamphlets still being dropped by the Uprising. Both claimed to be winning but the reach of the Faction through television was greater than the announcements dropped by plane at few outlets. But people talked when they sought shelter from the air raids, huddled under bridges, below the earth in the abandoned train stations and even the cavern.
“Because my good friend Allen told me this morning while I went out for a breath of air this morning that the Carsons have taken sides. He has a family member who is a mother of a Carson and she confirmed the rumor to be true. They are aiding the Uprising.” He took a bite of bacon.
Rumors spread like wildfire and some said that the Uprising forces were superior and were crushing the Faction army and the GPU. Others claimed the Faction had some kind of secret technology and they were influencing events in the past that was going to affect the present in their favor. But one rumor seemed believable to Darius and hearing from Frank that the Sigma-C force was fighting alongside the Uprising confirmed those rumors to be true. Frank was never the kind of man to make up stories or fall into conspiracy theories but his outgoing personality and listening skills made him a viable confidant to many people. It made perfect sense to Darius that Allen would confide this truth to Frank.
“Well then,” Darius declared as he picked up his coffee mug, “we may win the war yet.”
He took a sip of the hot brew. He was drinking it black these days with a spot of honey, procured from a local beekeeper. Bartering goods became a necessity and even though many of the shops only carried staple goods such as rice, beans, and flour, track cards were quickly becoming useless as the economy crumbled around them. Milk had become a luxury for some reason so what little they could get their hands on went to Lily.
But the neighborhood seemed to come together during these changing times and Janice procured some seeds from their last meeting from one of the wives who grew her own vegetables. She and Lily planted a large garden in the back, using as much space as they could to grow summer squash, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, and strawberries. It seemed everyone was becoming a farmer these days just to keep their families fed, turning their once green yards into a metropolis of vines and budding fruits.
Since few cargo trains were still moving, it all made sense. The Faction would rather see the people starve, no matter what side of the war they were on. They sent factory workers home, closed up shop in butcheries, and stopped the transportation of goods across the continent. There was nothing left for the people to do except to hunker down and hope they had enough to get them by or take a side and join the war. The Faction still controlled the major train lines, most of the farmlands, and much of the production.
Janice came in from the back yard and announced with vigor, “we have sprouts.”
Lily’s eyes grew wide, “I wanna see. Grandma, can I go outside and see the baby plants?”
“Finish your breakfast and then you can go outside.” Nora said to which Lily shoveled the food into her mouth and chewed rapidly.
“You know, what we really need now is a few chickens.” Janice said as she poured a cup of black coffee.
Frank nearly choked on his food. He swallowed and said, “chickens? They’ll be clucking about all over the place, leaving a trail of droppings behind them everywhere. No, no, no, chickens Janice, we can still get eggs at the grocery.”
“But what if they stop carrying eggs, Frank?” She put her hand on her hips indicating that she meant business, “they already stopped carrying meat. All you can get now is the tin can kind and even those are flying off the shelves. It’s just a matter of time before the eggs are all gone too unless this dreaded war ends. I still think you should think about getting a few hens. We can build a nice little hen house for them on the grass.”
Frank finished the last bite of egg and said, “Janice you amaze me. You went from book clubs and afternoon tea parties to digging in dirt and getting your nails dirty. I wonder what’s next.” Frank was amused by his wife’s new hobbies and optimism, but she was right it was better to grow some of their own food than to completely starve. Who knows what would stop being produced next?
She gave him a little nudge, “I’ll tell you what’s next. You just be ready for it with a ‘yes, dear’ and we’ll be just fine.”
Darius looked out the glass sliding door, at the rows of brown dirt with their rounded tops. He couldn’t see the sprouts, but he knew they were there, tiny shoots of green popping out from the earth with a promise to feed the family. Half the grass in the yard was removed for this garden plot. It was a difficult task that took him and Frank all day to complete with a shovel and a hoe as tools. At least they had something to do besides worry and wait.
Last week Frank picked up two home shelters made of steel and they spent the weekend putting them together and situating each over their beds. Darius didn’t know which would be worse, making the journey to a shelter during an air raid and hoping to get there before the bombs dropped or hunker down under a glorified table and hope that someone comes to dig them out should their home crumble all around them. The thought of being trapped alive inside a demolished house frightened him more. Yet something still tugged at him, like the gentle pull of an anchored boat bobbing up and down with the ocean waves.
The cool smooth touch of Nora’s hand came over his and he looked over at her, sitting next to him at the kitchen table. Lily was finishing up her egg and proceeded to down her cup of milk. He could hear Janice and Frank continue their conversation but wasn’t listening to what they said. He was fixated on the beauty next to him. Fine lines creased outward from Nora’s eyes that never went away. The war was taking its toll on her, but she still had her youthful grace even though she complained that her back ached in the mornings and sometimes she moved slow to complete tasks. He suddenly thought of their first date which was a blind date and how his heart thumped in his chest when he looked at her.
Despite it all, there was a sense of tranquility in her gaze and as he looked into her eyes, he finally realized something for the very first time. There were many shades of green, but Nora’s was particular. Not dark green like leaves or emeralds, not sea green with a touch of blue, they were much lighter than that, subtle. Sometimes he could see specks of gold or brown but mostly they were a light green all around, the color of granny smith apples; two round, perfectly light green apples. Even her personality could be summed up to a granny smith because she was sweet when she needed to be and quietly sour when she was angry.
He kissed her hand and realized what he needed to do next, and it wasn’t to stay there and help with the vegetable garden. His family was going to be safe and now he was needed somewhere else. I will be with you. The words came back again, entering his mind like an uninvited guest with the key to the front door. I know you will. Just tell me what I need to do next.