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Authors: Glen Tate

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BOOK: 299 Days IX: The Restoration
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Grant looked around as they were running toward the stairs. He was so proud. Ryan and Wes were running behind him and sweeping the area with their rifles. The lights showed the sweeping. These two were protecting Grant and Pow as they went forward. It was automatic, instinctual. It looked smooth and choreographed, in sharp contrast to all the kids running around and screaming.

As they got to the staircase, Grant realized that they’d never actually practiced this. Going up a staircase with guns was tricky, and the Team had never had a two-story place to practice such a maneuver. No shooting range had this, and the meth house was only one story.

Grant found himself just doing what he’d seen in the movies – hugging every bit of cover and sweeping his rifle up the stairs. It was terrifying because there were so many places up that staircase for someone to hide and shoot them, or even drop things on them. They didn’t have helmets. Like body armor, helmets were one of those “it’d be great to have” items that they never got around to acquiring.

But, somehow, they managed to get up the dark staircase to the second floor. By now, the screaming had stopped. The kids seemed to be hiding. It was quiet except for faint footsteps of running kids above them and the familiar voices of the Team shouting instructions to each other.

Pow tried the door to the second floor room, but it was locked. There was no noise from this floor. Maybe people were inside and had locked it to keep them out.

“I really want to clear this room,” Ryan whispered to Pow, referring to the second floor, “before we go up to the third floor.” Ryan looked around to make sure he was whispering softly enough so that no one other than Pow could hear him. “That way, anyone in the second floor room can’t come out and cut us off from Bobby and Scotty on the first floor.”

Pow nodded. “That’ll have to wait, bro,” he said, “’till we’ve assessed the whole building.” Ryan nodded. They had to find where the kids went and whether there were any threats in the building.

They went to the third floor and also found it locked with no noises coming from inside it. They carefully moved up the staircase to the fourth floor.

The door to the room on the fourth and final floor was unlocked. Pow opened it and Grant went bursting through, sweeping the room with his weapon light.

He saw a sea of little faces. Dirty, frightened, crying little faces. Most had their hands up and then they started screaming. It was obvious that they thought Grant was going to shoot them.

Good, Grant thought. As evil as that sounded, he wanted everyone in that building to be scared of the Team so they would do cooperate and no one would get hurt. Then, if there was no threat in there and things calmed down, the Team could assure the kids that they were good army men, not bad ones.

A weapon light came through the door. It was Pow, who was followed quickly by Ryan and Wes. All four of them were sweeping the room and it looked like it was full of kids.

“Shut up!” Pow yelled. In broad daylight, he was an imposing enough figure, but in the dark, with kit and a rifle, he was positively terrifying. A round of startled screams went up.

“All of you, shut up!” Wes yelled, with an authoritative edge to his voice. “Now! Hands up!”

Most of the screaming died down and hands started to go up. Some kids, the very smallest ones who seemed about five years old, were still crying and not putting their hands up. “Who’s in charge?” Grant yelled out. “Now! Tell me now!”

A skinny college-aged adult waved his hands. “I am,” he responded, timidly. He wasn’t going to move until someone told him to.

“Come here,” Pow yelled. “Slowly,” he said in a normal tone of voice.

The skinny man nervously walked over to Pow. “I’m Tom,” he said.

“Why are all these kids in here?” Grant demanded.

“It’s where we live,” Tom said.

“The second and third floors are locked,” Pow yelled at Tom. “Why?”

“Our stuff is in there. And our kitchen,” Tom answered. “Up here on the fourth floor is where we hide. We would have locked it, too, but you guys got in here too fast.”

Grant hoped that was true about the second and third floors, although the more he looked at these pathetic kids, the more he realized that this was not exactly a Lima commando base.

“Tell these kids to shut up!” Ryan yelled. “We don’t need people to hear us.”

“Everyone, be quiet,” Tom said, very casually and calmly. Slowly, the crying and sniffling trailed off.

“Sorry we had to yell,” Grant said, “We didn’t know who you were. Hey, kids, we won’t be yelling anymore.”

“Who’s got the keys to the second and third floors?” Pow asked Tom, in a calmer voice.

“Me,” Tom said.

“Let’s go,” Pow said. “You’re going to open the doors down there. Is there anyone in here with a gun?”

Tom didn’t answer.

Wes brought his AR up from the low ready position and pointed it at Tom’s head. “Any guns?” he asked. Wes, one of the nicest guys on the planet and a gentleman, was not interested in politeness when it came to something that could get him and his Team killed.

“Yes,” Tom said. “I have one. Two others do, also. They’re back there.”

The air instantly felt tense.

“Tell them to drop their guns and kick them over toward us,” Pow commanded.

“Do what he says,” Tom instructed the kids.

They heard two metallic objects hit the ground and slide across the floor.

“Now yours,” Pow said to Tom, who slowly drew his revolver from his belt and set it on the ground. He softly kicked it toward Pow.

“Any more guns?” Ryan yelled. “Last chance.”

Tom said, “No. We only have three.”

Pow motioned for Tom to go out the door. “Come on. Let’s unlock those doors.”

He went out the door with Pow, shining his weapon light right on the back of Tom’s head. The safety was on.

“Moving! Staircase,” Pow yelled down the stairwell to Scotty and Bobby downstairs.

Tom took Pow down the staircase to the third floor and pointed to his pocket. “Here’s the key. Can I take it out?”

Pow nodded and Tom slowly took out a key ring. He needed some of the light from Pow’s weapon light to find the correct one.

Tom put the key in the door, appearing very calm, which Pow took note of. If Tom acted like a hail of bullets would be coming through that door, Pow would have … well, Pow didn’t have a plan for that.

Tom opened the door and motioned for Pow to look inside. Pow shined his light in there. Sure enough, it appeared to be essentially empty. It contained clothes and sleeping bags and even a crude kitchen. Otherwise, it was empty.

“Lights don’t work,” Tom said, motioning toward the light switch. The power had probably been cut off long ago when the plant closed.

“Second floor,” Pow said. Tom closed the door and started to lock it.

“No,” Pow said. “It stays unlocked.” This would allow the Team to properly and thoroughly clear the room later.

“Moving! Staircase,” Pow yelled down the staircase. He motioned for Tom to go down.

They walked down another floor. The whole time, Pow swept in every direction to see any threats. So far, there were none.

Tom opened the second floor door just as calmly as the third floor one. Pow looked in and saw another sleeping floor. There was no one in there.

Pow motioned for Tom to go back up to the fourth floor and followed him. He continued to sweep the staircase. It was a habit.

They got up to almost the fourth floor. “Moving!” Pow yelled to Ryan and Wes.

“Move!” Ryan yelled out, signaling that he heard Pow and Pow had permission to move.

Pow followed behind Tom up the stairs. They entered the fourth floor again.

“Okay,” Pow said, struggling to remember Tom’s name. “What the hell was your name?”

“Tom,” Tom said. “Tom VanDykstra.”

“Okay, Tom,” Pow said. “Get all the kids downstairs to the first floor. We need them in one place where we can watch them. We need to clear this building and we don’t need any kids running around.”

“Are you the police?” a little girl asked from the corner of the room.

“Kind of,” Grant said. “We’re good police. We’re here to put the bad people in jail.” Grant started to tear up as he remembered Cole saying that Grant’s “army men” were going to put the bad people in jail.

“Okay,” the little girl said. “My daddy was a police officer.” Grant wanted to talk to her, but this was no place for a conversation.

“Great,” Grant said, a little abruptly. “Now listen to Tom and do what we say. We need to make sure you’re all safe, so listen to us. We don’t know if there are any bad people in here and we need to find out, okay?”

Many of the kids nodded their heads slowly, understanding the gravity of the situation.

 

Chapter 294

Tom’s Kids

(January 1)

 

 

“Moving!” Pow yelled down the staircase. A faint “Move!” from Scotty could be heard from down on the first floor.

Tom and two older teenagers started to lead the kids down the stairs and back to the first floor.

“You expectin’ anybody?” Wes asked.

“What do you mean?” Tom asked.

“Are any of your people outside and coming back here?” Wes asked. “If they come into the first floor, our men down there will be…” Wes realized kids were listening, so instead of saying “killing” he said, “encountering them.”

“Oh,” Tom said. “No, we’re all here. Trying to wait out the…” Tom didn’t want to say “shooting” in front of the kids, so he said “activity out there.”

Tom still wasn’t sure who these armed men were. They seemed nice. Rough, but nice.

Wes couldn’t help but ask, “Who are all these kids?”

“Orphans,” Tom said. “Not all of their parents are dead. Most of the kids have been separated from their parents. Some were refugees and got split up, others had their parents taken to jail, and a few of them were just abandoned.” As food started to disappear, some parents – the really crappy ones that mistreated their kids before the Collapse – were doing the unthinkable and just leaving their kids to fend on their own.

Wes was trying to fathom how these kids could survive on the streets, during a war, on their own. But he didn’t want to get in a long conversation with Tom, who might be trying to kill him.

“Who are
you
guys?” Tom asked Wes. The Team didn’t remind Tom of the cops and soldiers in town, who were decent to the kids in the beginning, but, as things became harsh and mean, they started treating the kids like a problem. “Get those damned kids out of here,” was usually what they said instead of, “how can we help?” By now, several months into the Collapse, the authorities didn’t treat the kids like human beings, but like rats or some other nuisance.

As it became more obvious that there was no law of any kind, Tom saw that a few of the cops and soldiers started to prey on the kids. They’d beat, or do worse things to the stray kids they found out on the street. The FCorps were the worst. They had some serious psychos wearing those yellow helmets. The pretty girls would be “sampled” and then sold to the gangs. Tom could see, in his mind’s eye, the faces of some of the girls he’d tried to help, only to see them disappear. Maybe they were okay now, maybe they weren’t.

Tom thought about what he would say to Wes when they could talk and he could explain why he was there and how the kids got there. He would tell Wes that he was a youth pastor at a local church. He was twenty-five and loved working with troubled youths. He understood them and could talk to them. He protected them. He even got a few of them to believe in God, which was his ultimate goal, but theology took a backseat to survival nowadays.

He started taking kids into his church before the Collapse. The economy was in shambles and people who used to live comfortably were suddenly poor, which destroyed a lot of families.

One of the most common reasons kids came to the church was that their families needed to move to live with extended family in one house. The older kids didn’t want to go because all their friends were in Olympia, so their parents would let them live at the church “until things got back to normal.” Or some kids ran away and stayed in Olympia.

There were plenty of orphans, too. The number of deaths from crimes and from people going to jail, usually for political reasons or because the police and prosecutors were so corrupt, went way up.

Once Tom had a bunch of kids at the church, the word went out that he would take in kids. The kids who arrived started getting younger and younger. Tom remembered one crying mother who came to the church, handed him a baby and then turned around and drove away in her car stuffed full of all of her possessions.

Pretty soon, the kids were taking up too much space in the church. Tom gave a mini sermon one Sunday about how the government was supposed to be caring for people but wasn’t doing a thing for all these kids. The sermon was met with scowls from the majority of the church members who, by and large, worked for government and didn’t appreciate hearing that. Tom was asked to leave and take his kids with him.

“Not very Christian,” was all Tom could say to the church elders when he was told to leave. “We just want our normal church back,” one of them replied. “No kids running around and no political speeches. Things are hard enough without all that,” he said to Tom. At that point, they wanted normalcy more than to help people.

BOOK: 299 Days IX: The Restoration
4.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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