Saturday, July 23, 2011

Indivisible Chapter 18

Chapter 18
Vaughn eased his truck to a stop at the end of a long line of cars.  He could see red flashers ahead and black body armor, tinted face shields, M-16s and shotguns, and German Shepherds sniffing undercarriages.  He turned off his engine to save his precious gas.  He had to save what he could as his ration card was nearly exhausted.
A little blue credit card with a JP Morgan Chase logo in the corner arrived in the mail along with instructions on how to “replenish” it with one’s own bank account for a modest $5 transaction fee (collected by JP Morgan to cover their administrative costs, of course).  The card, implemented by Executive Order, was designed to combat “hoarding” which was supposedly at the root of the tenfold increase in the cost of fuel. 
Without the card, gas purchases were not possible.
Vaughn waited a full hour before Brooke finally became agitated.  Her diaper was soiled and she was hungry which was no way to pass the time while immobilized in a car seat.  Vaughn pondered unfastening her and letting her crawl around in the front but who knows what kind of police response that might illicit.  He reached down for his baby backpack and took out a box of USDA powdered milk, poured a tablespoon’s worth into a sippy cup, topped it off with a bottle of tap water and vigorously shook the concoction.  A scum coagulated on the bottom of the cup but this was normal for the USDA powder.  Brooke hadn’t tasted real milk in two months.  And she hadn’t had any fruit for two weeks.  The oddest thing for Vaughn was walking into a grocery store produce section that was once brimming with bananas and peppers and grapes and finding the cornucopia replaced with bins of potatoes, turnips, little sour apples and sugar beets.  What the hell can you make with a sugar beet?  Can you even eat a fucking sugar beet?  Yet there they were, three bins of the produce section, overflowing with beets.
A soot-belching eighteen wheeler roared past.  It looked common enough save for the gray geometric hues of urban camouflage painted on the trailer walls and the blue eagle’s eye logo that glared down at him as it decelerated.  The jack-hammering of its engine brakes startled Brooke and she started to cry.  Vaughn tried to calm her with his pathetic singing of “Do you know the Muffin man? The Muffin Man?  The Muffin Man?…”  She calmed a bit but only out of curiosity.
A winter fog swept in while they waited which cast an eerie pall over things.  Slowly, the inspection team emerged from the haze, making their way down the cars ahead.  Vaughn was thankful he didn’t bring his shotgun this time as, by the looks of the storm troopers, they were Feds and not very flexible about those sorts of things.
Vaughn guessed that someone must have failed inspection.  Ahead of them, a car was redirected off the road and onto the shoulder and the driver was pulled out and handcuffed.  He was summarily shoved into a gray van and spirited away.
Vaughn turned on the radio.  The mainstay for the past several weeks was the incessant news about this or that government edict or how those sneaky Chinese bastards had allowed one of their oil wells to blow out off of Cuba.  It made no sense as Vaughn recalled that the U.S. government had nationalized all the Gulf wells a few weeks earlier.
But this morning there were no news reports, only music.  Even the talk stations played music.  I suppose they’ve finally run out of bullshit, Vaughn thought as his inspection turn came.  He started his truck again for about the tenth time, and pulled forward twenty feet.
“Papers please,” a trooper asked.
Vaughn produced his license, registration, proof of insurance, ration card and travel permit.  So much fuss over a twenty mile drive.
“Where you headed?” The trooper barked, voice muffled by his opaque face shield.
Vaughn couldn’t help but think he looked like some sort of Star Wars imperial goon.
“My mother’s house.  She’s watching my daughter for a few days while I look for work.”
“You know you shouldn’t be on the highways today unless absolutely necessary.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a lot of terrorism.  They had to call in the Army last night to get things under control,” explained the trooper as he looked over the inside of Vaughn’s truck while another officer scanned his undercarriage with a mirror and a sniffing Shepherd.
“I don’t know about any of that.  I just want to get to my mom’s.”
Vaughn was not feeling much like kissing ass but he was savvy enough to avoid a display of ‘contempt-of-cop’ which would probably send the trooper into a rage.
“Just stay out of downtown.  And try to stay off the roads.  Stop wasting gas.  Conservation is your patriotic duty.”
Vaughn couldn’t resist.
“Duty?” He asked, snidely.
“Yeah,” the trooper answered. “You heard me.  Your ‘duty’.  Your duty to quit wasting resources and your duty to stay out of our way so we can do our job protecting dumbasses like you.”
Vaughn felt the hot blood pump into the vessels in his face.
“I don’t think I actually ever asked for your so-called ‘protection’.”
“Oh.  You’re one of those types, eh?”
“What’s ‘one of those types’ supposed to mean?”  Vaughn asked.
The trooper shouted to the other officer who was still scanning the undercarriage.  “Hey O’Reilly, I got me one of those disrespecting types here.”  His face shield turned back to Vaughn.  “What d’ya say we do a full inspection on your vehicle, eh?  How ‘bout we just pull you over to the shoulder there and impound your truck?  What d’ya think a that?  Maybe you’ll get it back in month or two…what’s left of it, anyway.”
Brooke started to cry again.  Vaughn looked back at her catching a glimpse of her blue eyes reflecting the sinister trooper in black armor and shielded face.  Vaughn knew he had to swallow his pride.
“You’re right,” he offered in a conciliatory tone.  “That would be unpleasant.  Please forgive me for not being more understanding.  I know you guys are under a lot of strain nowadays.  Where would we be without you guys protecting our freedoms?  I’m sorry.  I’m just wearing thin I guess.”
“Well don’t ever forget it.”  The trooper turned to the other goon, “Everything check out?”
“Looks good, here.”
“Okay.  Move along.  Try showin’ a little more respect next time.”
“You bet.  Absolutely.  Thank you, sir.”
The trooper walked around the front of the truck and past Brooke’s window.  Brooke’s saucer-like eyes were transfixed on him as he passed.  She began to squirm in her car seat.
“Hang in there, kiddo.  We’ll be at Nanna’s soon.”
“Where’s mommy?”  She asked.
“She’s coming home soon,” Vaughn answered reflexively. But as he looked at her in the rearview mirror he noticed that she was still watching the trooper and pointing at him with her tiny index finger.
“Where’s mommy go?”
Vaughn started the truck and drove forward but Brooke’s little head swiveled and remained locked onto the trooper.  When she lost sight of him she melted down into screaming.
“Mommy!  Mommy!” she cried.
“Shhh,” Vaughn answered.
“Mommy!  Mommy!  Mommy!”
The last of the black storm troopers disappeared as Vaughn pulled away from the checkpoint but Brooke didn’t stop screaming until they got to Nanna’s house.

Vaughn carried little Brooke into his mother’s apartment where he was greeted by Nanna.
“What are you gonna do?” She asked as she took Brooke from his arms.
“I don’t know, mom.  All I know is that Brooke can’t stay with me.  The kidnappers might call any time and I can’t leave Brooke alone anymore.”
Vaughn’s mother sniffed a little and dabbed her right eye with a wad of toilet paper which was the closest she ever got to crying.  She was a hardened woman, a farmer’s daughter, toughened by a twenty year marriage to a self-destructive alcoholic.  Living with an addict either hardens you or turns you into zombie…that is if the addiction doesn’t get you too.  Zombies always played the ‘defenseless victim’ card and the worst insult anyone could ever put to Mrs. Elena Clayton was to call her a ‘victim’.  She loathed victims.  Victims give power over to their assailants.  Mrs. Clayton found that behavior to be repugnant.  She was a survivor, not a victim.  She chose to live.  Zombies do not choose life…they choose existence which is a different thing entirely.
“What is going on down here?”  Vaughn asked as they went inside.
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Clayton answered before blowing her nose.  “It’s really bad, Vaughn.  Cell phones don’t work all the time.  Power goes out every day.  It’s hard to get any news.  All the cable shows and channels are switched around.  They don’t say anything other than talk about terrorism and the Chinese and how we all need to be patient.  It all sounds like bullshit to me.  Are they getting things under control, Vaughn?”  She asked rhetorically while dabbing her eye again.  “I go to the store and there’s almost nothing to buy.  It’s all different brands, now.  Most of it is stamped with that devil hawk’s eye.”
“It’s an eagle eye, mom.”
“I don’t give a damn what kind of eye it is.  What am I gonna do with a forty pound block of cheddar cheese, Vaughn?  What am I gonna do with a fifty pound bag of flour?  I can’t even carry it!  There’s no butter, eggs only once a week, no soap of any kind except for lye soap…and diapers?  What do I do for diapers, Vaughn?  All of them’ve been taken by the hospitals.  I hear it’s illegal to even have them without a ration card.  Can you believe that?  It’s illegal to own diapers.  I don’t understand none of it, Vaughn.  Why can’t the government do something about it?”
“I think they are, mom.  I think they’re just making it worse.”
“My nurse-friend Liz says that there was a huge protest last night at the capitol and that the Army came in and started shooting people.  She said there’s hundreds of dead and thousands with really bad burns and bullet wounds.”  She blew her nose, again.  “She said that these Army types showed up at the hospital early in the morning and started giving everyone orders.”
“Told them that if they have a soldier come in or any male under forty that they are to be notified about it.  Gave the nurses a special phone number and a bunch of army cell phones.  Told them if they didn’t call that they’d be arrested for treason.  Liz thinks that a lot of the soldiers are deserting.”  She went to the cupboard and got Brooke some crackers.  “Liz’s husband says that the government workers are getting death threats and people are setting their cars on fire and shooting into their windows at night.  So many government workers are leaving town that the offices are shutting down.  Liz’s husband says that even Governor Norton left…flew to DC, I guess.”
“What else did you hear?”
“I heard from my neighbor that there’s Police Departments fighting with each other, too.  There’s cops arresting cops and all kinds of turf wars.  This department is with the Feds.  That department is with the state.  Another goes with the county.  And they’re all fighting with each other about who does what.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Nobody knows who to turn to anymore.  No one’s in charge.  It’s anarchy.  Do you want some crackers?”
“That’d be nice, mom.  I can’t stay very long.  The kidnappers might call.”
Vaughn watched his young daughter make her way to the guest room were Nanna kept a stash of toys and books for her granddaughter’s frequent visits.  Vaughn took the crackers from his mom and followed Brooke in, sitting down on the bed as his daughter set her sippy cup and crackers down on the end table scattering crumbs everywhere.  Brooke pulled out her mini tea pot.
“Do you wanna sit on carpet, dadda?”  She asked.
Vaughn looked around first, found two pink plastic teacups, then took a seat on the floor next to her which delighted young Brooke.  She liked having daddy down at her level…down in her world.
“Are we having a tea party?” He asked her.
“We haning a tea parny, dadda,” She answered with a cherubic grin of bright white nubby little toddler teeth.
Vaughn held out his tiny pink teacup.  Brooke poured the imaginary elixir.  He sipped the contents, tipping the tiny cup back with little finger fully extended, making the noisiest slurping noise he could muster.  Brooke giggled happily.  She poured some tea for herself and did her best to imitate her dadda’s silly noises.  He patted her head and brushed her golden hair away from her perfectly round little doll’s face.
“No dadda!” She objected.
Apparently it was tea time and not hair time.
“Do we have any crumpets?” Vaughn asked in a cartoonish pitch.
“Cumpitts?” Brooke asked with a bewildered furrow.
Vaughn had no idea what crumpets were, himself, but he seemed to recall that crumpets were the appropriate side for tea.  He nibbled at an imaginary cake then handed it to Brooke who did the same.  They sipped imaginary tea and ate imaginary crumpets as the bone chilling fog swirled around outside.
“I have to go now, Brooke,” Vaughn explained, not knowing how long it would be before he would see her again.
“Bye bye dadda,” she answered blithely, the toy box having grabbed her attention.
“I have to go get your mommy.”
“Mommy come home,” she replied.
“Mommy, come home,” Vaughn repeated.
He gently grasped her tiny arm and pulled her close, swallowing her up in his arms as if she were a teddy bear.  He muzzled her on the neck with his stubbly face which made her squeal and laugh.  He couldn’t imagine a reason to live without her.
A lump crawled up and lodged itself into the middle of his throat.  He had to escape before it took him apart in front of his mother.  She was intolerant and unsympathetic towards his crying.  He let go of Brooke, pushing her gently towards the toy box,
“I’ll come down as often as I can, mom,” he explained as he made his way to the door.
“She’ll be fine,” his mother answered.  “Just get Jess home safe.”
Vaughn turned back and hugged his mother.

Chapter 17             Chapter 19 will be available Sunday