BY WANDA BELL
Copyright is held by the author.
“THEY’VE DECLARED our neighbourhood a military zone.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Why would I kid about something like that?”
“We’re on a cliff, overlooking the lake. It’s a strategic location, apparently.”
“The government is out of control. We own our homes. This is a good neighbourhood —”
“It doesn’t matter — everyone must vacate by tomorrow at 6 am.”
“Six a.m.! That’s crazy. How do they expect us to do that? Where will we go?”
Helen and Jerry had recently moved into their new home. It was a dream house, with an in-ground pool, lovely landscaping and a fantastic view overlooking Lake Glenn. Technically it belonged to the bank for the next 20 years, but they were determined to make it theirs. They had pooled their savings to cover the down payment, with help from both their parents, but now had virtually nothing left for an emergency, let alone this catastrophe.
Jerry placed the proclamation from President Landrey down on the coffee table. This was too surreal to believe.
“Let’s just wait to see what happens in the morning,” Helen suggested as she bit her lip, holding back her tears.
At that moment the phone rang. Jerry picked it up and said, “Hello.”
Helen could hear an agitated male voice on the other end and wondered who it could be. They, unfortunately, hadn’t made friends with anyone yet. With their busy work schedules they simply hadn’t had the time. The cold weather was also keeping most people inside, so they thought they would start to mingle more once spring arrived.
“Who was it?” Helen asked after Jerry finished the conversation.
“Bill Farmington — I’ve never met him before; he’s at #79 and he’s just calling everyone in the book that lives on our street. He wants to organize the neighbours to stop the demolition tomorrow. We’re supposed to meet at 5:30am at the corner of Arnold and Sycamore, that’s where the letter says the evacuation will begin.” Helen and Jerry lived just eight houses from that corner.
This was too much to take in. Why so little notice? Helen and Jerry read the document over and over again. All houses were to be removed and a huge military pavilion erected. There was no mention of compensation, and even worse, if they resisted or refused to leave, they would be charged with treason and promptly imprisoned.
Both knew that fighting in the war had escalated recently, but that was half way around the world. Random terrorist bombings were also becoming more common, but to infringe on their rights like this. It was mind boggling!
“Are you going to join the resistance? Do you think it will stop them? Should I pack our things?” Helen began to cry as the questions poured out. Jerry held her close, but he had no answers. How was he supposed to protect his new bride, his new home? He didn’t even own a gun! He felt so helpless.
Since the conscription bill passed three months ago they had worried each week as new recruits were randomly chosen. Either one of them could be called to duty; both men and women were eligible, even pregnant women. A month ago Helen’s friend, Tricia, had received notice and even though she was three months pregnant they wanted her. She had been given a desk job, but her husband Frank couldn’t cope with the loss, and had been drunk ever since! It was madness
Jerry embraced his wife and inhaled her floral perfume, jasmine. He wouldn’t let their new home be taken away. He’d meet with Bill and the others. He had to stand up for what was theirs.
After a sleepless night Jerry left the house, telling Helen to stay back as he had no idea what to expect. It was now 5:55 and Helen could see a convoy of trucks approaching, and hear the rumbling of bulldozers. She stood at the door peering down the street. Jerry had refused to let her join him. They had argued about it, but he had insisted. It looked as if only a dozen or so people had showed up. Some of her neighbours were frantically loading their possessions into vehicles, and others had already left.
She heard raised voices, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Suddenly a gun was fired, and she jumped. Pop, pop, pop, she heard the awful sound again and again, about twelve times. Helen was shocked, but she couldn’t just stand there; she grabbed her coat and raced down the street towards her husband. She could see the soldiers loading the bodies onto the truck. They weren’t being careful with them, but they were setting them neatly on benches around the perimeter of the box.
A soldier wearing fatigues marched towards her, and a few other women who were approaching as well. “Stop right there,” he commanded. “These traitors have been tranquilized and will be delivered to Queens Prison immediately. The demolition will commence, as planned.”
Crying at the sight of Jerry’s limp body Helen blurted out, “You can’t do this.”
“We can and we are,” the soldier spoke sternly, then he raised his gun as one woman raced past him.
“Murray!” she yelled. Pop! The soldier shot her in the back and she dropped heavily to the ground.
“Vacate your homes or you will be arrested too.” Another soldier approached the small group that had now formed; he picked up the woman and flung her over his shoulder as he turned back towards the truck.
Bang! A huge yellow bulldozer was pounding at the first house. It was too much to take in. Helen sank to her knees sobbing loudly.
“Don’t waste your time. These guys work fast.” A blond-haired woman was tugging at Helen’s arm. “Don’t mess with them, they mean business. The same thing happened on the East Coast, in Shamus Cove, last week. They cleared the whole neighbourhood in three days.”
“I never heard about that.”
“They keep it from being reported. I only know because my cousin lived there.”
Four bulldozers were moving into position in front of the next four houses. This couldn’t be happening! As unbelievable as it was the other women were turning back, they were not going to be shot and arrested
Just then a girl, about eight years old, came running out of the first house, which was now half destroyed. She was in a long, pink nightgown and was screaming for them to stop; she had two brothers still inside.
The soldier who had just tranquilized the woman raised his gun again. At this callous reaction Helen and the blond lady grabbed at his arm imploring him to have mercy. He gruffly snorted, “You have five minutes.”
They ran towards the girl who had now spotted her parents in the truck and was bawling hysterically. Helen directed the girl to show her where her brothers were, and the two women approached carefully, watching for broken glass and nails. Stepping over plaster and debris, they gradually made their way to the boys’ bedroom. On the top bunk bed was a six year old, wearing Superman pajamas, his legs dangling over the edge. He was crying uncontrollably. Rubble was everywhere and the cold air rushed in on the partially open room.
An even smaller boy was curled in a ball, weeping under the covers in the bottom bunk. The blond woman lifted the smallest boy into her arms and wrapped a blanket around him. Helen did likewise with the boy on the top bunk. Michelle, the older sister, had no idea why her parents would abandon them, and kept asking “Why? Why? Why?” Helen understood. Both the parents had gone to protest, like her husband, never expecting this kind of barbaric treatment. They had gone to protect their home and their family, and now their children were alone.
“Where are the children supposed to go?” Helen demanded of the officer. “You have arrested their parents, so what are they going to do now. They are just kids.”
The sergeant grumbled, “It would be so much easier if people just followed orders.”
“It would be so much easier if we were allowed our rights,” Helen snapped back. As soon as she said it she knew she was in trouble.
Thankfully, the blond woman, who knew the particulars of the Cove incident interrupted, “Aren’t there shelters set up to help in these circumstances?”
The soldier grunted at her, “Yes,” and searched in his pocket for a pad of permits. He quickly scrawled his initial on two of them; one designed for children and one for adults, and thrust them at Helen.
“Clear out of this vicinity immediately. I’ve just about had enough from you,” he snarled fiercely.
While calming the children the blond woman introduced herself as Karen Mathews, her husband was away on business, and she was thankful because she knew he would have resisted at the corner as well. She offered to escort Michelle and her brothers to the shelter. The address was on the document and she would be going in that direction on her way to her parents’ place.
Unfortunately both Helen and Jerry’s parents lived across the country so she looked at the other permit, and sadly admitted that she would have to go there, for now.
Helen went home and quickly pulled together a couple of suitcases of clothes and some mementos. She could hear the loud sounds of destruction just outside and they were getting louder as they moved closer to her home. She gathered some photo albums, and her great grandmother’s quilt. It was so difficult deciding what to take, and what to leave behind, but she had to work quickly as she could increasingly feel the rumble of the machinery at work.
She stuffed as much as she could into her car, crying the whole time. The picture she loved most from her wedding was on the hall wall, so she ran back inside to grab it, and sobbed even more as she thought of Jerry.
She drove out of her driveway and couldn’t believe that five of the homes had already been flattened. This was unbelievable.
The address she had been assigned was in a small town about 20 minutes away. It seemed odd that she couldn’t use her cell phone, but then she recalled what Karen had said about limiting the reports. The government certainly has too much control when they can limit the press and cut off your communication at will.
When Helen arrived at the address stated on the document she was surprised to find the shelter was a very small house, tucked in a normal-looking neighbourhood. There was a note on the door which read: Enter with permit code.
She scanned the paper and found the code in small print at the bottom of the page. She punched it into the keypad and the door unlocked automatically. She walked in and the door closed, and locked behind her. A voice message informed her that authorities would arrive within the hour.
She made herself a cup of tea and collapsed into a chair. She had slept so little, and cried so much in the last twelve hours that she was totally exhausted, and fell asleep within minutes.
Helen dreamed of violence, destruction and cruelty. She dreamed of a little boy on a bunk bed.