Peter stood upon the wall, watching the spectacle before him. The white piece of fabric that had been the flag of truce lay in a pile still in the center of the flames, the bodies having long since crumpled beneath the weight of their charred bones.
“What do you make of it?” Darrel asked looking out at the killing field. The blood had not been fleeing from the fire, it had spread out and become the number eighty eighty, which still burnt, the flames still nearly waist high.
“I think I know,” Peter said, adding “Open the gate.”
“Are you sure?”
“Do you want a gun?” Darrel asked.
Peter shook his head. “No, this was a warning. A challenge. I’ll be safe.”
“Ok,” Darrel called down the line and soon the heavy wheel that controlled the city’s gate was turning, causing the heavy wooden doors to swing outward. Peter stood between them, spotlights upon him as they did so, and once the opening was large enough for him to pass through, he held up his hand and stepped out into the field. As he approached the smoldering corpses, the fires began to die down and by the time he was upon them they were out. The smell was horrible, causing Peter to cover his nose and mouth with his hand, which did not help at all. Retching, he pulled off his own shirt and used it instead. He ran into the center, grabbed the white shirt and ran back out, gagging.
Once he was far enough away from the bodies that the smell was no longer overwhelming, he held out the white shirt and nodded. It had been his jersey all right. He pictured the red trim, the mesh dark blue. The polar bear on the front had yellowed a little, the hockey stick it held was just as yellow-white as the beast. The numbers on the bag, the name, they had been his as well. Peter Graham walked back toward the gates, which closed behind him, the rattle-chink of the chains sounding loud amidst the low muttering that was coming from all of the guards.
Darrel walked up beside him and opened his mouth to say something, but Peter stopped him.
“They wait for the full moon. We do not stand a chance if we leave the confines of these walls. He is right, this city has become a cage for us.”
“But we have the key.”
“Yes, and we have ammo. You are in charge, but it is my opinion that we need to get that ammo here tomorrow morning.”
“I agree,” He put up a hand and made a gesture, and a man was beside him a few moments later.
“Jason, go tell Robert in the armory to start moving the ammo and any heavy weapons we can get up here. Wait, leave some for the northern wall, just in case.”
“Ok, what about the kids and anyone else that can’t fight?”
“We can move them, there is a ranch a little ways northwest. We’ll give them some provisions.”
“They leave tonight, give them an armed escort and have the fighters come back for tomorrow.”
“Good idea.” Darrel said, and made another signal in the air with his good arm. He relayed this information to the teenager that approached, and he too departed.
“I think we need to talk to everyone tomorrow.” Peter said, climbing up the wooden ladder onto the platform atop the wall that surrounded the city.
“I agree, and I think we have a few thinks we need to do tonight, come with me.”
Peter looked at the man quizzically, but Darrel just smiled before walking off and talking to one of the other guards, leaving Peter staring at the distant glow atop the nearby mountains. Kyle’s father came back a few minutes later and signaled Peter to follow.
“Where are we going?”
“Oh, a surprise I’ve been saving, just in case.” Darrel led him through the winding streets of the city, passed the coffee shop and the school building. They passed a house that had music coming from within, the shadows in the windows indicating at least one person was dancing inside.
“If I didn’t know any better, we’re just out for a night stroll through any town in the country before all of this went down,” Peter said, shooing a buzzing fly from his face.
“We’ve done good for ourselves, thats for sure.” They turned another corner, and three figures, a slightly plump older woman standing between two younger men, stood before a firehouse. “Jordan what is it now?”
“She won’t leave sir,” Said the man on the right.
Peter looked closer at the old woman. Her skin was nearly the red of the planes they had passed over less than a month ago.
“Ah, Tama was it?” Darrel asked.
“Why are you giving these gentleman trouble?”
“You can’t make me leave.”
“Ma’am,” Peter said, “With all due respect, it’s going to be dangerous over the next few days. You are welcome to come back when the fighting is over.”
“Young man, look at me. You think this is the first time I’ve encountered danger? I am eighty three years old. If anyone should be on that wall with a gun, it should be me. Send off some young’un in my place. Besides, I’m so old, no one’ll notice if I am gone.”
“I doubt that ma’am.” Peter said and looked at Darrel. “Your call.”
Darrel laughed. “If only everyone in this town has your gumption Tama. See you on the wall tomorrow.” He nodded to his men, “Escort her back home.” Once the men were out of earshot. “Now about that surprise.” He pulled a keyring from his pocket and opened the side door to the fire station, leading him into the garage. He flipped a light on. “What do you think?”
Peter looked at the two tanker trucks before him. “Are they full?”
“Of course,” Darrel said, “And I know just the place for them.”