Haven Page 7

One hand went up. The kid it belonged to said, “Just a little. It’s no big deal.”

Turning back to Bodo, I smiled. “See? Not a problem.”

Bodo nodded slowly, glancing down at the kittens with a slight frown before turning to go. He didn’t say a word all the way back to the group of kids he’d been eating with - the undertaker crew. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or just jealous.

“You like them?” Paci asked.

I was petting the babies who’d both decided they needed attention and were crawling all over each other to get to my fingers. When one of them latched onto the tip of my pinkie finger and started sucking, my face split into a grin so huge I thought my face would break. “Yeah. I like them.”

“Better come up with names for them,” he said, walking into the alcove to be with his tribesmen. “No one likes to be anonymous … not even cats.”

I thought about following him into the alcove but quickly decided against it. Things were weird between us and now especially so. I didn’t know for sure that the kittens were some sort of personal gift for me from Paci, but it felt that way. And if it felt that way to me, it must seem that way to the others.

Out of respect for Bodo, I had to tell Bodo what had happened between Paci and me while he was gone from Kahayatle, and I needed to tell him soon. I didn’t like the feeling that something was going on beneath the surface that he wasn’t aware of. It made me feel guilty and wrong.

I resolved then to tell him everything that evening when it was time for bed, knowing I would be risking everything by doing it and also knowing I risked everything by not doing it.


All of the able-bodied Miccosukee and Creek kids joined the undertaker group and helped dig the mass grave where we planned to put the remains of the bodies from the fridge. We worked for five hours straight, using shovels we found in a big room full of gardening tools. Apparently, the prisoners had done the landscaping at the prison, or they’d had the means to do it anyway, and I for one was grateful for that particular punishment. It meant Bodo had everything he needed to manage our garden.

“So what’s next?” Jamal asked, leaning on his shovel, sweat pouring down his face.

“We have to move the ashes to the grave,” said Ronald. “And it ain’t gonna be pretty either.”

“Do we have time to do this today?” I asked, looking at the sky. Dark clouds were gathering in the distance, and a rumble came several seconds after a flash of lightning.

“It’s going to rain,” said Yokci, following my gaze. “Maybe we’d better do it tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow works for me,” said Flick, climbing out of the hole we’d dug. It had several feet of water in it and smelled very swampy. Flick was covered in muck and didn’t smell much better than I did.

Derek walked over and stood next to me. “What do you think? Try and beat the rain or give up for today?”

“I say we give up for the day.” I was riper than ripe now and wanted to take advantage of whatever downpour we might get to shower. “Let’s set up some water collection before the rain comes.”

“I think Peter’s already on that,” said Jamal, pointing to a small group of kids off in the distance. They were crouched over something on the ground, and a large tarp had been positioned near a downspout coming from the roof.

I smiled. I could always depend on Peter. “Good.” I faced the digging crew. “Okay, everyone. Let’s call it a day.”

Sighs of happiness came from everyone standing around and a couple diggers laid down on their backs. I walked over to the nearest one and nudged him on his arm with my toe. “Rob, did you guys bring anything that could be used as a shower thing?”

“Nah,” he replied, staring up at the sky. “We didn’t have time. We had to get the hell out of there before we got our asses beat any worse.”

I sat down next to him. “So what exactly happened, anyway? I probably should have asked before now, but I’ve been so busy worrying about these damn corpses I couldn’t deal with anything else and not lose my mind.”

“Well, they jumped us, basically. Some of us stayed and fought, but the rest just scattered into the swamp. I know most of them were running to the ranches, setting up to defend the cattle and stuff. I don’t think the canners had enough manpower to deal with the whole group of us, though. I think our people will be okay at the ranch. At least for a while. Some of them will probably go back to the swamp after the canners have cleared out, but it’s hard to say.”

“But can they stay there indefinitely? At the ranch I mean?” I had never been to the ranch and had no idea what it even looked like.

“Maybe. There are three of them, and they’re all basically out in the open. We’d set up some small towers so we can look out and try and keep an eye on any people approaching, but if the canners come at night, those towers are useless. The dogs are a little help with warnings and stuff, but it’s not like here.”

“So what are they going to do?” I was stressing now about the idea of my friends losing their lives and also the cattle being turned into barbecue dinners. The idiot canners didn’t seem to realize that food could be renewable if they just left some of it alone. They were like eating machines.

“I have no idea. We told them to come here. I think that’s what they’ll eventually do if they can.” He sighed heavily, looking over at me. “I think we need to go back … to see what happened and do what we can to get people over here.”

I felt sick. “You’re right. We need to do that. And sooner rather than later.”

Rob sat up. “You mean that?”

“Of course I mean it. What kind of an asshole do you think I am.”

Rob smiled humorlessly. “No one would blame you one bit if you told everyone out there to go to hell.”

“Don’t be stupid. Just because Kowi and Trip had to make a hard decision I didn’t agree with, it doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly enemies. This world is too nuts to draw lines in the sand like that.”

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“You’re more generous than most would be, I think.” Rob stood and offered me his hand. “I’d probably tell them to suck it if they came back to me after rejecting me.”

I took his hand and got on my feet. “No you wouldn’t. You’d forgive them too. My dad always told me that true friends were hard to come by, but even true friends make mistakes sometimes.”

Rob walked with me back to the lobby. “Your dad sounds cool.”

“The coolest,” I said, thinking about him. I felt like crying when I realized I couldn’t remember for a moment what his face looked like. I stopped walking and closed my eyes, focusing hard on one of my distant memories: my dad sitting across the dinner table from me, staring me in the face. Blue eyes, crew cut, square jaw … scar just above his lip on the right side. “Bryn, you can’t stay here. A garden’s out of the question.”

“What does having a garden have to do with staying anywhere?”

“You’ll see. When you start a garden and nurture the seedlings into strong plants that will bear fruit and feed you … you become attached. They mean something special to you. You become part of the land in a way. And you cannot afford to become attached to this house, this land. It will become dangerous here, mark my words.”

I’d scoffed at him; I’d been so naive. “You’re crazy. I know all the kids in this neighborhood. They’d never do anything to hurt me.”

My dad had frowned at me then, getting angry. “You don’t know what people are capable of when they’re desperate. All the things you think are important now … most of those things will cease to exist for you. The only thing that will matter is finding food, shelter, and clothing. The basics. Survival of the fittest. You have to be smarter and tougher.”

I smiled at that. “I’m already smarter and tougher.”

“Yes. You are.” His stressed look dissipated a bit. “But you’re kind-hearted too. And while that might be a weakness to some degree, I hope it will become one of your greatest strengths. If this world has a chance of continuing on and starting over, it will need people like you making decisions.”

I laughed. “You make me sound like the next president of the United States.”

All humor disappeared from his expression. “There will be no more United States. No more president. No more structure of any kind. Remember that.”

I rolled my eyes. “Geez, Dad. No need to be so melodramatic.”

“Come on,” he said, standing. “Let’s go do some drills out in the back yard.”

“Again?” I whined. “Can’t we just take a break just this once?”

“No. No garden, no break. We practice every day until I’m gone.”

I still remembered the feeling that statement gave me. Fear. The day my father walked out the door for the last time was the worst day of my life. Even now, after having battled canners and thought more than a couple times I was going to die, that day was still the worst.

“Hello? Earth to Bryn, earth to Bryn. Come in, Bryn.” Rob was waving his hand in my face.

I blinked a few times and jumped back to the present. “Oh. Sorry about that. I was wandering down memory lane.”

Rob nudged me forward. “I don’t recommend that trip. Too many regrets lying in wait.”

I nodded. “Totally. But I was thinking about my dad, how he said you shouldn’t plant a garden until you were in your final place. The place you could be safe in and become attached to.”

“Is that here?” Rob stopped walking as we arrived at the door to the lobby.

I looked back at the group still wandering near the pit we’d dug and the other kids setting up water catchers. The long weeds swayed in the wind that had picked up as the storm grew closer. The land outside the barbed wire fences spread out wide and green as far as the eye could see.

“Yeah. I think this is the place.”

“Good.” Rob opened the door for me. “I’m tired of running, and I’ve only come from Kahayatle.”

“Speaking of which,” I said, stepping through the door, “let’s make our plan for going back and getting the tribes out of there.”

Chapter Three

I SETTLED DOWN TO SLEEP in a far corner of the lobby, near the alcove that held Fohi and his tribesmen, Peter on my left and Bodo on my right. It was dark in the lobby and the sounds of the continued pouring rain and thunder kept our conversation private. One of the kittens was curled in by my stomach as I laid on my side facing Peter, and Buster was doing everything he could to get a lick in on its furry face. It batted him away with a hiss every time he got too close, but it didn’t dissuade him in the least.

“How’s Fohi doing?” I asked Peter, absently rubbing the kitten’s cheeks. Its purr machine was running strong.

“He’s better, but still not out of the woods. We have antibiotics, but they can only do so much. And we’re going to run out of them soon, and then we’ll have kids dying from simple cuts. I’m trying not to freak out about that, but it’s impossible not to.”

“There has to be something we can do,” I said. “Do you think we could make some kind of antibiotic?”

“Maybe we could trade for some,” said Bodo from behind me.

“Trade who? For what?” I asked without looking over.

“Dat Amazon girl, Kirsten. She can make all dat medicine. Dat’s not a problem for her. All we needt to do is give her something dat she wants and she will do it like a trade.”

“The only thing she wants is sperm,” I said, giggling. The kitten had rolled onto its back and succumbed to my petting. Buster saw his chance and was crawling over very slowly, a serious lick attack on his mind. I could read him like a book, which was pretty easy considering it was a book of about four sentences: Must eat food. Must lick everything. Must sleep. Must doodle. Buster was a simple dog, but I wasn’t complaining; my life was complicated enough.

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