Authors: Robert Schobernd
We rejoined our friends. "I'm guessing Shane was walking along the flat spot and his left foot slipped in the mud. It skidded down the slope and into that groundhog hole. He was thrown off balance and fell sideways breaking his leg. He surely screamed in pain from the compound fracture, and the bear heard him; he likely lost his rifle then. Later, after he'd worked his leg free, blood was flowing, and the hungry bear smelled him. It and the cubs would have recently woken from hibernation and were hungry."
Richard said, "The bear probably charged him like it did us. His drew his handgun and fired several shots before it got him. The blood back there where the bear was laying proves he hit it."
Harshly, Larry said, "Lets skin that damn'd bear and cut it up to take home. We'll eat it in honor of dad."
Another doe was shot and field dressed on our way back. Dusk was upon us when we got home, and we had lots of fresh meat to distribute. Excess meat was hung in the smoker before the fire was started, and then we headed our separate ways.
Kira and our children met me at the door. Instead of eating supper right then, I opted to read a story to my young-uns. When the story ended, I helped Kira wash them for bedtime. With the kids down, we were alone. Kira sat beside me on the couch as I ate; she seemed absorbed in thought. She remained quiet as I relayed the details of our bear hunt.
When I finished, she snuggled and looked at me with moisture in her eyes. She couldn't keep the pain from her voice, "Vivian is pregnant. She'll start showing soon. I can't imagine what she's going through."
The next morning, I took a team of draft horses and continued the plowing that had begun the previous day. The twenty acre field lay across the road from our cabins. Martin Radcliff Jr. joined me a quarter-hour later. At mid-morning it occurred to me that I'd only noticed a few people out and about for the last hour or so. I stopped the team for a short break and walked to the edge of the field for a drink from the one-gallon plastic jug I'd placed there before starting to plow. A strong breeze carried the sound of singing from the cabin area to me. A large number of voices were singing hymns. I squatted on my haunches in the warmth of the sun as I slowly swallowed several drinks of water. I rose at the same time people began to emerge from the horse barn. That was the first organized church meeting I was aware of. There was work to be done, so I went back to the horses and watered them. Shortly, Tony joined me in the field with another team.
Our next monthly group meeting was scheduled to take place in six days. As the days crept by, many of our group seemed unusually reserved. They surreptitiously avoided me and Kira. I learned Richard's family, Vivian's family, and several others were purposely shunned also. I'd tired of all the innuendo crap and longed for the confrontation that was building. Some of this group had been my closest friends starting over twenty years ago; we'd faced countless dangers daily for over ten years and now they were acting like cowardly strangers. In the last three or four years, some of us had drifted apart, and I'd formed close relationships with others. Still, I resented their behavior and felt they should have known they could broach and discuss any subject with me. An errant thought took hold of me suddenly; the conspirators had also singled out my present closest friends and supporters. Their complaints had to concern major issues if they were applied not only to me but included my friends.
Time passed quickly, and we were soon into the first week of April. Our entire group was busy from dawn to dusk every day. The garden acreage was plowed, disked and harrowed and divided into twelve equally-sized plots. Some eager folks had even begun planting.
Kira reminded me one morning that our monthly meeting was scheduled for early that afternoon right after lunch time.
About half the people were already in the horse barn when my family arrived. Folding chairs were still being placed in the open area between the stalls that bordered both sides of the barn. I took my place in front of the group and waited. Morgan and Andrea were the last members of the Leadership Committee to arrive and be seated on chairs at either side of me.
I stepped forward and the chatter dissipated. "Before we start, let's take a moment in memory of two great friends who passed away recently. The first was our doctor, Ira Sparrow. And more recently, we suffered the loss of another great friend of the group, Shane Holescheck. Both of these men were a positive influence on the group and assisted their neighbors in any way they could help. Each of them will be sorely missed for different reasons." I waited an appropriate amount of time with my head bowed before continuing. "We're entering the beginning of our sixth year at our new home site. Once again, it's planting season, and hopefully we'll raise another bumper crop as we saw last year at harvest time. Thank you for all your hard work.
"The Leadership Committee met several weeks ago and gave its approval for the production and distribution of wine in limited quantities. The making of alcoholic beer and whiskey is still prohibited along with smoking materials..."
"That's pure bullshit!" Jesse Pitchford jumped up and pointed straight at me. "I'm tired of you running this group like a dictator."
"Jesse, I don't run the group, the committee does. What specifically is your complaint?"
"If I want to smoke or drink alcohol, that's my business not yours. You're still up my butt because I won't do the group exercises."
I looked across the whole group. Several adults had gained weight over the years and were looking portly. "Doc pushed the exercise routines and good eating habits to help people stay healthy. We remind folks of the exercise programs that are held three days a week, but for several years no one has been mandated to attend."
Kelly tugged at Jesse's belt and he sat, but he continued to glare at me hatefully.
"Now, can we move on, or does anyone have more issues to address?" I was ready to speak when John Alton rose and stood beside me.
"Tom, there is another thing a majority of us take issue with." I waited and glanced at the committee members on either side of me. Several looked anxious. Doc's last conversation played in my mind. "Several of you, both men and women have continued to carry sidearms. Since the zombies have been eradicated, we feel that is unnecessary and want the practice changed. We don't want to live in an armed camp as if danger is expected every minute of the day. It's time for everyone to relax."
The breath I'd been holding slipped out; at least their feelings were finally in the open. "While you're getting things off your chest, are there any other issues you want to bring up?" I knew the answer and was ready to deal with it. To hell with political correctness.
John stood taller and looked pointedly at me. "The heavy weaponry: assault rifles, machine guns, RPGs, hand grenades and so on. We want those and the ammunition for them destroyed."
I'd been warned but still couldn't believe the naivety of what he'd said. Surely the shock I felt at it being exposed to everyone was reflected in my expression. Before I could reply, several of my supporters rose.
Richard spoke next to me above the hubbub. "What the hell is wrong with you people? Have you lost your mind? I don't know that the danger of outlaws has passed and neither can you."
I whistled shrilly to cut through the multiple loud voices. "Stop it, all of you quiet down. Try to stay calm and speak one at a time. Richard, do you have more to add?"
He glanced at the faces surrounding John and Marcie before he focused on his brother, Barlow. "This is so off the wall ridiculous. Are you people so arrogant as to believe we are the only zombie survivors left in the world? How can you think we're all that is left, or that if others survived, they will all want to be our friends. Haven't our past encounters with renegades taught you anything?" Richard shook his head before he stepped back and sat.
I heard another movement behind me. Andrea stood beside me and spoke in a subdued tone but loud enough for all to hear. "Tom, thank you for your leadership over the past years, but..." She paused for a deep breath. "I'm tired of the fighting and killing, sick of it. I didn't attend church during or after college, so it's not like I've been a religious zealot my whole life. That's not who I was or am now. But I believe there has to be a higher authority, and I can't continue to place my safety and salvation in weapons that kill. I have to trust that a kind and benevolent God will provide for us and look after us. I believe what John says makes sense." I watched several people nod in agreement and silently mouth the word Amen.
From the crowd, Kira respond forcefully, "Your God didn't prevent the zombies from destroying the world He supposedly created, and He didn't protect us from them. We protected ourselves and used firearms to do that. As much as I like you, Andrea, in my opinion, your position doesn't make any sense."
Shandrea Jones stood before Kira finished talking. "Please, let's all stay on friendly terms. I agree that in the past the use of firearms was necessary. But that time has passed, and we're no longer in danger. I'm not comfortable living with people packing guns around as if we're in constant danger, and I don't want my children raised in an environment akin to a war zone."
Kira quickly countered her, "Since we've moved here we've not seen any zombies, humans or tornados. But that doesn't mean there aren't still pockets of zombies or evil humans or that a tornado won't hit us before the day is out. I can't fight back at storms, but I can against the other two, and I'm keeping my weapon with me at all times."
Several people spoke at the same time. I whistled and waved them down. "John, when you say we, who are you speaking for? I'd like a show of hands of those adults who stand with John."
Cautiously, glancing around as if fearing reprisal, people stood. I counted twenty. "Now will those against John's proposal please stand. I counted seventeen with me and Kira. I was disappointed but not surprised.
Into the ensuing silence, Mitch stood and spoke. "I understand your longing for peace, I really do. But I saw my father turn to the bible and start preaching to others who wanted to believe something would rise to protect them. It didn't. He and all of the people who followed him died horrible deaths. We've got to use common sense and look out for ourselves, because no one else has or will come to our aid."
The discussion was going nowhere, so I deemed it time to shut down the meeting. "I think we should table the proposal until the next meeting. Think about it in private, and discuss it with people on both sides of the issue. We'll take it up at our next group session."
For three days the situation was tense but calm. I had limited conversations with people on both sides of the guns issue, but my reasoning didn't appear to change the opinion of any of the anti-gunners. The part that saddened me the most was that the adults didn't outright dispute my logic. They simply rejected it and wouldn't brook any alternative.
After lunch that third afternoon, I saw people slinking into John and Marcie's cabin. All of them were members of the anti-gun lobby. A few of them surprised me with their support for the peaceniks. I'd never have thought Morgan, or Martin Radcliff Sr. our police specialist, Albert Gonzales or the Whycoffs would have supported the gun ban.
I was lost in deep thought until Richard's voice sounded behind me. He faced the goings on at John's."I can't believe my brother and Shandrea have bought into this craziness. I've talked to them until I had to simply give it up. It's going to rip a lot of families apart, ours included."
"I'm afraid it's going to be even worse than that. I won't let them destroy any of our weapons, even if someone has to be shot. In order to avoid that confrontation, I imagine my family will be forced to leave."
"If you leave, we're going with you. Carmen and the kids have already accepted that possibility."
He snickered, "I don't know if thanks are in order. We're going, because we'd be afraid to remain here unarmed. Our view of the world doesn't match theirs. I still don't agree that we no longer post guards around the clock."
"Me too. But the majority ruled on that issue, too."
As we watched, people straggled from John's cabin. John was the last one and stood with his back to the wall as he spoke to Jesse Pitchford, Andrea, and Tony. He looked up and saw me and Richard. John nodded several times as he spoke to the others, and then he walked toward us.
When he stopped, he got right to the point; there was no 'Hi, how are you' or 'kiss my butt'. "A group meeting is being called for an hour from now. We'd like everyone to attend. I'll ring the bell so no one misses it."
I asked, "What's the purpose of the emergency meeting? I assume it's an emergency since it wasn't planned ahead of time."
"I... prefer to discuss it at the meeting in front of the whole group."
After John was gone, Richard cocked his head, "I wonder what the hell this is about?"
A frown dogged my features. "I imagine they're prepared to issue an ultimatum about the guns. At the last meeting they showed us they had the majority behind them. That in itself must have made them bolder"
Since the last meeting, Kira and I had talked at length about the possibly of being forced to split off from the main group. She was anxious, pissed and sad all at once. If it came to that, it would again be a tremendous amount of work.