Saturday, October 1, 2011
Posted by Jonathan Martin
"Tell you what," Sam said to the three men standing in front of him, "I'll give you each five bullets for your guns," he said, pointing at the rifles slung across their backs, "if you watch the car and make sure no one steals anything."
For a moment, the men looked confused, and then the largest of the three, a rather tall and rotund white man, responded. "You want us to guard the car?"
"Yep," Sam said in response.
"For how long?" Said the smallest, a black teenager, probably no more than seventeen by Sam's estimation.
"Until I get back," Sam said, looking at the small crowd that had begun to gather outside the doors of the former Walmart.
He had spent the better part of the night sitting on the ridge, watching the lit parking lot, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. In that time, he had watched two patrols of five people each come and go, the second of which leading what looked to be a cow back into the building, the clang of the beasts bell reaching him as a low din. When the sun had begun to rise, more details became clearer, such as the wooden wall that was outside the perimeter of the lamps, and the wind turbines spinning in the frigid wind. Steeling himself, Sam had gotten into his car and drove it towards the structure, noting the solar panels on it’s roof. He drove past a fenced in pond before being forced to halt at a wooden gate, waiting for the guard, an over weight African American woman, came out to greet him. The woman had questioned him about his intentions, all the while keeping what looked to be a semi-automatic pointed at him. She forced him to open the back of the car, and let out a long low whistle at the amount of ammo that he carried. With that, she slammed the trunk shut, pat on it twice and wished him luck.
Sam double checked the locks on all the doors on the car, made a show of hanging the key on a chain around his neck before saying farewell to his hired guards.
“You should go see Anna before she comes to find you,” said the largest.
“Too late,” came the reply from the crowd, which parted to reveal a pair of hispanic men with shaved heads, flanking a small woman who looked old enough to be their grandmother, leaning on a cane.
“So,” the woman said, “You’re the one with the car?”
Sam saw the deference that the crowd gave the woman, and decided to play it safe.
“Yes ma’am, my name’s Sam, and you must be Anna.”
“Damn gringo,” she spat, “name’s Anna Maria.” She walked forward, and her two bodyguards followed at arms length. She moved rather slowly, the cane snapping out ahead of her with every other step, but Sam watched as the crowd collectively held it’s breath, until she stood before the one who had told him to go see her. “Maria, me llamo es Anna Maria, it’s my name. Anna Maria!” She switched between the languages fluidly, and with each word she prodded the man in his massive gut with her cane. Finally, to emphasize her point, she reached up and smashed the end of the cane into his face. Sam heard a crunch as the cartilage in the man’s nose shifted and blood began to pour out.
“I’m sorry, Anna Maria…” Sam began.
“Yes, yes, what could you do, if the damned gringo,” she spat again, “had told you correctly, I’m certain you would have gotten it right, now what can The Bazaar do for you?”
As she asked the question, a blast from what Sam could only describe as a train whistle sounded, and the crowd hurriedly dispersed.
“Ahh, been waiting on that sound all week.” Anna Maria smiled.
“What’s going on?” asked Sam, glancing at the three men still guarding his vehicle, the blood still flowing from the one’s broken nose.
“When was the last time you had bacon?” The old woman asked.
Sam’s mouth watered, “I, I don’t remember,” he managed.
“Well come on in, breakfast is on us, especially if you prove useful.”
Sam followed the older woman, the two of them flanked by her body guards, into the building. The first thing that Sam noticed was the row upon row of cubicles that took up over half of the store.
Seeing his gaze, Anna Maria explained. “Think of the cubes as your own room, each cube is given a letter and a number, so the first cubicle is A1, the the first one in the next row is B1 and so on.” Anna Maria had continued to walk as she spoke, but soon realized that Sam was not following. Smiling, she walked up to where Sam was standing, his mouth agape. “Without all of the video cameras, televisions, radios, and cash registers, we keep all of the coolers the store had, plus another entire row we raided from a nearby Albertsons, running.”
“Do you have milk?”
“Whole only, we haven't bothered with separating it yet. Come on, it won’t be appropriate for me to be late to our meal. I still have our morning Prayer to say.”
Again flanked by the two large hispanic men who had yet to say a word, Sam and Anna Maria walked down the main hallway, the ‘residences’ on their right, and four aisles of coolers to their left. Next came an area occupied by countless folding tables, with everything from sewing machines to tools resting upon them.
A plywood wall stood in between the work area and next, taking up the back quarter of the store. Again more folding tables took up the floorspace here, but the tables were packed with chairs. A line of people had begun to form near the back of the store, where the swinging doors that led to the storeroom stood.
“Come,” Anna Maria, led Sam to where a podium stood at the front of the the makeshift cafeteria. Sam spied a microphone on the podium, and watched as Anna Maria stepped up to it, her bodyguards not leaving her side.
“Good morning everyone,” she began, and the gathering crowd responded back with a ‘good morning’ of it’s own. “I will try to keep this short toady, but after our Prayer, I do have a few announcements.
“Dear Lord, it’s your faithful servants, we want to lift ourselves up to you, on this most holiest of days, this day that you gave us your son.”
It took a moment for the prayers opening to sink in for Sam, and he missed the next few words as he worked out that she meant it was Christmas.
“And we want to say we are thankful for Your forgiving us, sparing us. We, who You have found worthy of Your mercy in these troubling times. And today, as everyday, we ask that You continue to watch over us and keep us safe. Amen.”
Sam heard the crowd respond with an ‘Amen,’ even as Anna Maria continued. “Announcement time. I know it is a holiday and all, but we are still need more firewood, so Garrett, you and your teams don’t get the day off, and that includes your guard teams.” A groan went up from a small number of men that had taken a seat near the front of the line, which Sam realized hid tables of food from his view. “Yesterday, the scavenging team managed to bring in a couple of new boxes of clothes, so if you are below your allotment, check with Cindy and see if she has anything new for you. Also, I heard a rumor that someone has been stealing parts out of the workshop. I don’t need to remind anyone of what we do to thieves, do I? If the parts are returned by the time I leave my table this morning, there will be no investigation, are we clear?”
“Yes ma’am.” Responded the gathering.
“And finally, Sam, come on up here,” she turned and beckoned to him. He obliged, and standing next to her, she continued. “This here is Sam. Go ahead, everyone say hi to him.”
He felt like he had when he had switched schools mid-term in the third grade. He had just moved to Dallas then from Detroit. He had shown up in his Red-Wings jersey, his favorite shirt, and only one kid in his class had even known who they were. Sheepishly, Sam raised his hand in a half wave to his new friends.
“Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself, Sam,” she prompted.
“Uh, OK,” Sam walked up to the microphone, his eyes wide and, despite the cold outside, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. “Well, first…uh. Merry Christmas!” This got a small cheer from the crowd. “As Anna…Maria said, My name is Sam, and I'm from Dallas.
“Is it true you drove here?” Came a shout from the crowd.
“Yeah, the car out there runs on solar power.”
“Can you show us how to make more of them?” Responded the same voice.
Anna Maria, gently pushed past him, taking the microphone in her hand. “No, Sam’s purpose here has nothing to do with his car, or with helping us make more cars. For the last month, I have mentioned the coming war with Graham. Sam is the sign we sought. The war has begun, and Sam will help us win it…”