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VI

“TENT CITY AND THE TRANSIENT FLU”

Six-point-Zero

SARA HAD LEFT the bus at Osborn Road. She clutched her mother’s hidden medicine tightly to her person. She walked steadily toward Tent City. The barbed-wire walls were just as imposing to her now as they were the day Sara’s mother was convicted on several felony counts for ‘Illegal Dispossession’. That was her third strike and there was a zero tolerance program for repeat offenders. The unpaid citations for solicitation and public exposure (for trying to shower outside) didn’t help Sara’s mother’s cause any. The three strikes law got Sara’s mother Life in Shelter Services. It is bare bones inside Tent City and the life expectancy is ridiculously short. Sara being underage, and having no other kinfolk, had no choice but to follow her mother inside.

Sara knew not to complain. The big bold lettered sign at the entrance told her as much: ’Shelter Services Cures Illegal Homelessness!’ it claimed. Sara had to agree with that.

On the outside vagrants were nowhere to be seen, even though illegals were easy to spot. They stuck out like sore thumbs. Adult vagrants were fast becoming the stuff of urban legends. You don’t doubt they exist but much like Big Foot, their sightings were rare and suspect.

The Shelter Services system had met its mandate. The homeless were either in Tent City (where most citizens felt they belonged), or they were so far off the grid it didn’t matter. As long as the straights, the legals, weren’t bothered no one cared.

Other than students like Sara, day-passes cost money. The adult inmates usually just stayed inside. Without a valid day-pass the inmates were all forced to spend every tick-tocking second in abject squalor inside Tent City. However, this was also were most of the illicit diversions waited for them. There wasn’t any reason for them to go out.

Day passes were very expensive and nothing but trouble waited for the homeless adults outside. They were not welcome. Sometimes a monetary scheme will force them to venture out, but it was usually an act of desperation. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the headache.

Besides, there’s plentiful trade and commerce going on inside Tent City. Goods and services are exchanged for Notes and favors, just like it is on the outside. The industrial size homeless shelter housed a real thriving marketplace in food, drugs and sex. The opportunities for enterprise are there. There’s money to be made.

It was the adult inmates that took advantage of Tent City’s one and only abundant natural resource. Sara supposed they should be used for something. Normally, they’re just running around everywhere. They are unsupervised and nearly feral. But they are easier to catch than bait-fish and infinitely more valuable.

Hungry children make a most reliable and malleable workforce. They toiled for scraps and didn’t know any better. Once you had their trust, there was nothing, (trust me on this) and I mean nothing they wouldn’t do for you. The Tent City children are, hands down, the most productive laborers this side of a South African diamond mine.

And even though the death rate for children inside the City is several times higher than their adult counterparts, the available pool of candidates never pales.

Please, sir, may I have more?

More? You want more?

Six-point-One

Tent Cities has got to be America’s worst kept secret. It’s the nation’s 800 pound gorilla at the breakfast table and everyone’s ignoring it because we’re all in on it. There’re no scathing editorials de-crying rampant abuse. There’s no such thing as homeless advocates. The Tent Cities kept the seedy underbelly of the dependent classes swept into the gutter and off the streets. The illegals were kept shut of the decent folk.

The discontinuation of Welfare and the Food Stamp program was one of the cornerstones that returned the nation to prosperity. Following the Black Monday stock market collapse, the elimination of these entitlements for the poor became the foundation of the New American Contract.

Social Security and Medicare continued unabated, but the mandatory retirement age increased to seventy years old for early retirement and seventy-five for full benefits. Obviously, most of the illegals never reached that milestone. Even if they were entitled to benefits, odds are quite long they’d live to see it.

The status quo remained unchanged. No one dared to complain. The only ones who might complain were the homeless inmates themselves. No one cared too much what those smelly, infectious illegals felt about the subject. If it took the average person sixty hours a week just to keep a roof over their heads and feed their kids don’t expect them to feel too sorry for the dregs.

Instead of prejudice based on religion, race, age or gender, everybody got together to hate the homeless. Despising them was the national past-time and the butt of many late night monologues. They are illegals. Containment camps are the only suitable place for those who willfully break the law by being homeless.

The average American loved this centralized set-up for corralling the poor. Between all the privatized Shelter Services, county jails and state and federal prisons, the average working Joes and Janes hardly had to think about the poverty stricken, drugged up, disease infested homeless anymore. Out of sight equals out of mind. They were rarely ever seen so they pressed on the daily thoughts of the workers not.

Not thinking about the poor came easy to all those who still had jobs. The streets became empty of illegals and crime went way down. It’s a watershed moment, the resurgence of the working class. Workers have an address, proof of employment and legal tender. They have the lawful right to be out and about. They are legals.

Each grown individual has to have at least twenty Federal Reserve Notes in their pocket at any given time. Anyone can be stopped and legally required to show such proof. It was the way of the world and the law of the land. No tears for the poor were shed by those that needed two jobs to afford a small home, one vehicle and day-old bread.

The Shelter Services (also know as Tent Cities), are considered to be a perfect example and a rousing success. The model began right here in Phoenix. It was so successful clones sprang up in most large city centers across the USA.

At the very beginning of the social experiment, regular school classes were provided for the children of the homeless offenders. The children are allowed, but not required, to go to school until they turn sixteen. At this point the children are expected to get a GED (if they can) and start looking for work. If they found work and could prove it, these children of the homeless got Work Visas, which equaled freedom. These workers are encouraged to live off grounds and be legal. There always are a few success stories, but they are far and few between. Some children make it all the way out, just to come back in. They become so institutionalized the prospect of choice and responsibility prove too much.

Community and junior colleges and public state universities were for the children of the working and professional classes, not the dregs. The rich, of course, had their own educational system.

As far as educating Tent City’s children, the tacit violence and robbery against the teachers squashed that notion real quick. No one had to Stand and Deliver anything.

Besides, most of the City kids made better sex workers and drug mules than they did serious students. Sadly, it’s true and by an easy long shot.

Six-point-Two

Sara took advantage of the free day pass for school, but she rarely went. She only had the dirty suit of clothing she’s wearing and an even dirtier second pair. It was like she had a big homeless kid sign flashing on her forehead. The school didn’t want her there and she felt the same.

Sara spent most of her school days safely ensconced in the main public library on Third Street and McDowell Road. She was very quiet and very careful. The librarian for Sara’s favorite area knew she was a homeless kid ditching school. The matron was put out, at first. Soon however Sara showed her by example how much she craved knowledge. Sara grew on her.

After a time, the librarian even went so far as to give Sara any paperback books that were damaged or discontinued. She even let Sara start her day with a private bird bath in the librarian’s own locked restroom.

Sara loved the library. It was clean, well-lit, warm and quiet. It had thousands upon thousands of volumes, just begging to enlighten her. It was safe. No one messed with her when she hid out in the library. Sara felt completely safe there. It was wholly unlike Tent City where it helps to have a second pair of eyes in the back of your head and a deadly weapon in your hand.

It was a long line Sara waited in, longer than usual.

This is going to take forever to get in, Sara thought then she settled down. It took a force of will, but she did it. Sara had to. She had to remain calm. Getting flustered will just make the cops at this entrance fuck with you even more, girl, and you know this. Mom will just have to wait for her medicine.

So Sara waited her turn with the rest of the kids that were smart enough to spend the day away, school or no. The high walls with their wicked looking barbed-wire crowns stared down at them. Up high above the wire were the armed sentry posts. The three gates (residents’ entry, visitors’ entry and deliveries) the Peacekeeping presence was also quite thick.

Seriously nasty, the Peacekeepers were essentially prison guards but held the same ranking as police officers did on the outside. The Peacekeepers were always outfitted in force, just in case the need should arise for a full City lockdown.

Opening a dog-eared science-fiction paperback, Sara read, stood, and hurried up and waited for her turn.

Six-point-Three

Inside, the complex of the Phoenix Tent City was made up of the abandoned department stores that used to anchor the once thriving Park Central shopping mall. The inmates and their dependents used these huge emptied structures to erect their individual dwellings.

Tent City was reminiscent of African or Haitian shanty towns but only indoors. These dwellings were constructed with whatever materials could be gathered and thrown together. There were no fires, cooking, or smoking allowed inside the mall buildings of any kind. Other than those fire-code restrictions (because the fire dept. would not respond) it was pretty much a free-for-all.

Electricity and running water were provided for Tent City by the city of Phoenix. The juice as it was called by the inmates was controlled by the Peacekeepers from inside their full-sized station. Because of this control riots by the inmates were extremely rare. If one was in the offing, all the Peacekeepers had to do to exert their authority is to shut off the juice. They would do this for even the slightest infractions. The inmates did not want that. They all got very used to having the juice.

The Peacekeepers station was manned around the clock. It sat right up against the high wall where the outer parking lot of the mall used to be. The station was as far away from the stench and mayhem of the main buildings as it could possibly be and still be on the grounds of the City.

Nutrition for the inmates was provided for once a day, delivered via big-bellied helicopters. The great gray machines would hover to within a few feet of the asphalt. The doors would open and the food would be dumped out. It was simple fare such as pre-packaged sandwiches, burritos, corn dogs, pudding, gelatin, breakfast bars, and toaster-pastries. Pretty much anything that would be slow to rot.

The Peacekeepers used to stand by during the food drops, but it was far too dangerous now. They used to sit outside their station, not to preserve order, but for their amusement. It was entertaining for them to see inmates beating the crap out of each other for stale bags of chips and greasy beef sticks.

It all changed in one day a while back. A teenager made the horrible decision to rush the helicopter as soon as the drop began. A mob of hungry inmates joined the pursuit as they too rushed the helicopter. The big machine veered out of control, its blades tilting toward the asphalt of the parking lot. As it struck the hungry horde, the shimmering blades sliced cleanly through a few dozen bodies before barely managing to level off and escape.

The carnage left behind on the ground was grotesque. Some of the bigger body parts were still spurting hot arcs of arterial red. That stopped no one.

Without missing nary a beat, the hungry inmates searched the immediate area for food. The helicopter had departed and the drop was terminated. The brave crowd turned to a raging mob. When the few bits of packaged food that made it off the helicopter were consumed, that’s when shit turned real ugly.

Inmates over-turned the still bleeding body parts. When no more food could be had, they turned opportunistic. They fought over the warm body parts, even the bloody strands of clothing. Their faces were crimson and their eyes were mad. Those that were trampled were turned on as well. Shivs of all types came from all points. They cut into the flesh of both the quick and the dead.

The feeding frenzy was finally halted when the Peacekeepers fired a .50 cal tri-mounted rifle into the crowd.

When the riot was over, the dead were everywhere. Most of the fallen had been chewed on, the diners slipping back inside with their prizes of rent flesh. Some of the bones were picked completely clean. The Peacekeepers were stunned and taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the hungry inmates. That’s when the cops were approached by the Peoples Defense League.

The PDL was a well organized crew within the walls of Tent City. They masqueraded as a voice for the illegals. In truth, the PDL was a ruthless bunch of criminals who were in constant pursuit of Notes and power. They shared muscle with El Oso’s LTM, one of the oldest street gangs in Phoenix. Their combined membership was imposing, both in raw numbers as well as the ruthlessness of the rank and file. Members of both the PDL and LTM were jumped-in for life. They were hardcore, loyal to a fault, and armed to the teeth.

The Tent City inmates feared the PDL, almost as much as they feared the Peacekeepers themselves. Together, with their street-gang LTM ties from outside, the cops and the thugs from the PDL were unstoppable.

The PDL was strong enough to put up a good fight against the Peacekeepers, but that would never happen. It wouldn’t be cost-effective.

Following the helicopter incident, the cops and the PDL came together. At the well-guarded pow-wow, the two groups formed a mutually beneficial arrangement concerning the food drops. The PDL would peaceably gather together the daily drop of food. Then it would handle the distribution to the inmates for a price. The PDL split the proceeds of this venture with the Tent City Peacekeeping force.

The food distribution scheme worked out so well for the PDL. Their leadership approached the cops about other valuables such as day-passes, bus passes, food coupons and even the very rare and expensive medical vouchers. The Peacekeepers hated the housekeeping end of their jobs, so the PDL taking those burdens off the cops’ hands was just what the doctor ordered.

The cops still maintained control of the illicit transactions. The gambling, dope, moonshine stills, prostitution and baby and organ trafficking remained under the Peacekeeper’s thumb. That’s still where the real Notes lay.

The Peacekeepers kicked a little back to the PDL. The gang preferred their weekly allowance from the Peacekeepers to be in the form of drink, drugs and access to sex. It was a strong system that worked smoothly with nary a hitch. The ones that suffered the most were the inmates and especially the young ones. However, it still ran well because hungry children make marvelous prostitutes and drug mules.

The cops kept certain areas of the old mall completely off-limits to inmates. That’s were the legal citizens from the outside came to indulge in their red-light district-type desires.

Any drug you can name and a few that you can’t are available. Mules move narcotics in and out. Vicious looking home-made weapons are stock-piled and guarded night and day. There is even a full nursery and play room set-up for customers.

KidzPlay is by appointment only of course.

It’s been said that one could get whatever is desired inside Tent City. From a knob job to a newborn baby with eyes to match yours, you can get whatever your wretched little heart desires.

As with everything else, you must be able to pay.

Six–point-Four

Sara finally made it to the front of the line waiting to gain entrance. She walked toward the open gate on the east wall of Tent City. The fruits of her robbery and her mother’s medicine were hidden as deep and well as any young girl possible could.

The duty officer was leaning against the wall. He was talking with one of the PDL thugs and smoking a salad bowl. The pungent odor of the Mexican pot and the Afghani desert hash hung to those two clowns like an aura of bad tidings.

The cop eyed her as she approached. He noted, “Been to the library again, young tongue?” The PDL thug chuckled as he reached for the ceramic pipe.

Sara ignored the both of them, as per her mother’s wishes. She’d been told, time and time again, that talking back to them would only lead to trouble. And trouble, she knew only too well, they can do without.

“She’s growing up good,” she heard the cop remark as she was cleared for re-entry back into the land of the lost.

“Yes, sir,” replied the thug from the PDL, “Put a couple more years on her and she’ll be ready to gobble tricks like no one’s business.”

Sara began walking faster now, trying to get away from their voices.

“Why wait, that tight little ass will command a premium,” was the last thing she heard them say.

“Just you try it,” she whispered to herself. She turned a corner and their foul words were drowned out by the inmates. She was home.

Oh, goody, goody gum-fucking-drops

Sara used a well worn mental path through the City to her mother’s tatty camping tent. She began by going through the wide entrance to her building. The former store still had the smudged faint outlines of Robinson’s-May above it. The smell assaulted her. Sara instinctively began breathing through her mouth.

Inmates were everywhere. Kids and dogs and even a few feral cats were running wild. The adults were scattered about in various stages of inebriation. Sara had to negotiate clumps of trash (some still moving) and around a seven year old child. She was dragging her legless stumps along the cold floor.

“Outta my way, muthafuck,” she said to Sara who gladly obliged.

Sara turned to watch the child dragging her stumps. Her duct-taped palms were slapping the cement floor.

Sara almost fell over a crazy, toothless man who was desperately trying to holler at a rigid store mannequin. He was drooling, foul smelling and trying to convince the mannequin that she should date him by counting off his attributes. There weren’t many, so it didn’t take long. Sara had the misfortune to witness the old coot mounting the mannequin.

All kinds of love in the City

Sara found the escalator. She rode it unmolested to the second floor. Their dwelling was located in an area that was reserved for the sick.

Their home was little more than a camping tent attached to a thin scrap wood frame. Cardboard boxes made the walls and being indoors, there was no need for a roof besides a sheet. And that was to keep the flying feces from hitting you while sleeping.

Inside the ten by ten foot structure was everything Sara and her mother owned in this world. It wasn’t much. It consisted of a couple changes of clothes, two smelly sleeping bags, a tiny brown and white Chihuahua named ‘Beto’ and a few paperbacks books from the library.

Even with so little in the way of worldly possessions, either Sara’s mother or herself had to be in the shack at all times. Or else their very little would become someone else’s very little.

Sara came to the dirty sheet they used as a door. She saw Beto poking its nose through the bottom corner of the door. The tiny dog sniffed the air carefully. When he caught the scent of his master, he went through the sheet and sat at Sara’s feet. Beto was facing the wrong way.

“Hiya, Beto,” Sara said. The sound of his master’s voice allowed him to turn and face her. The dog put up one paw and with his head tilted slightly back he shivered with excitement. Beto looked like a cicada attempting to mate with a porch light. Then the little dog peed on itself. “Aw, poor Beto,” Sara said and picked up her little blind dog. She lovingly scratched his head and spoke to him, “Momma’s home now little one. Momma loves you, yes I do.”

Six-point-Five

Sara had found Beto when the blind dog was trying to cross a busy street. He heard the cars passing on either side of him and became confused. So, he put a tiny paw up to protect himself and peed.

Sara was ten years old when she saw the pitiful creature sitting in the middle of the street. She dodged the traffic to get to him. The cars honked their horns at her. She responded with vigorous one finger salutes at rear windows.

She let the small animal sniff her, before attempting to pick it up. The dog’s eyes on quick inspection looked so weird, but she was standing in the middle of a busy street. She needed to get out of harm’s way.

People in Phoenix can’t drive for shit!

Sara left the surface street and found a small, shady park nearby. They sat and rested at an empty picnic bench. Sara placed the dog on the table. She eyed it carefully. The dog sat fearfully, but it didn’t snap at her. Sara looked at the dog’s face. It was shaking from fear, but Sara’s used a soft, calming voice to reassure him.

The dog had its eyelids pushed all the way back into the ocular cavity. The dog’s eyes were huge, bulbous and poking out. The eyes had tiny holes instead of pupils. They opened and closed, looking every bit like they were smacking kisses at Sara.

Sara noticed how the dog’s huge eyes had tiny black spines when she peered in for an even closer inspection. They also moved independently of each while quivering about. When Sara reached out with a tentative touch, the dog’s crazy eye burrowed deeper into the socket. The little dog yelped with pain as the eye dug in, heading for the brain it seemed.

The pupil winked at Sara rapidly and brownish yellow pus oozed out around the eye and down the dog’s shivering face. Still he didn’t bite, but Sara got goose bumps all over her body.

Shit, I know what this is. It was in a journal at the library. Oh, God, this is so gross…

Sara removed a bit of cloth and a pair of tweezers from her backpack. The little dog had mature botfly larvae wedged in its ocular cavity, instead of eyeballs. Poor little dude. They had to come out.

Talking continuously to the little dog, Sara got a firm grip on the larvae’s kissing hole. Keeping the black spikes in mind, Sara pulled the little monster slowly out. The tweezers slipped briefly. The larvae tunneled fast, trying to tuck up its tail, but Sara grasped the alien beastie before it could disappear inside.

Centimeter by centimeter Sara pulled on the botfly, fighting against the brave little dog’s fear and pain and Sara’s own repulsion. The fattest part of the parasite larvae was deep inside, the black spikes digging in for purchase.

With a grunt, Sara pulled the botfly larvae all the way out. There was an explosion of pus, blood and the digested dog eye the botfly had been feeding on. The ocular cavity kept leaking foul-smelling infectious fluid, while Sara put the botfly on the table. It cringed at the bright light. The botfly spread its brand new wings to dry the gunk, preparing for departure. Sara trapped it. The extracted botfly was both longer and thicker than her thumb.

Oh, God, Sara thought, I’m going to hurl. But she didn’t.

Fortunately, the next larvae came out much easier. Sara snuck up on this one and it had no time to burrow. If possible, there was even more infection squirting out of this side than the other.

Both of the little dog’s eyes were ruined. There was nothing left of the orbs except for the squashed and sucked dry membranes and thin filaments of nerve cord. The little guy has had those monsters in him since he was a puppy. He probably can’t recall seeing the light of day, ever. The little dog needed Sara to take care of him. It was a miracle he was alive at all.

Sara cleaned up the little dog’s face and now empty eye-sockets. The holes left behind were huge. The tissues inside the cavity were swollen, bleeding and red when they should have been smooth and pink. But the cavities were draining nicely and even the long unused eye-lids began to curl like a nightshade back down to where they were supposed to be.

Sara kissed him on his nose and he licked her face. He sniffed and sniffed at her, imprinting her distinct scent on his permanent memory.

I’m keeping him, she thought.

“I think I’m going to name you Beto,” she told him. Sara removed a bright orange friendship bracelet from her ankle. She tied it loosely about the small dog’s neck. “You’re my dog, now,” Sara told him.

The dog licked her face, as if he’s in agreement.

Now that the eyes were taken care of, Sara noticed how rail-thin Beto was. The poor little thing was starving. She didn’t have anything to give Beto except for the eye-socket squatters.

Payback’s a motherfucker.

They were both drying and almost ready to fly. Sara picked up one and held its wings in a tight pinch. Being trapped made the bastard vibrate crazily. Sara held it under Beto’s nose. He sniffed at it. Realizing all of a sudden what the thing was, Beto bit the botfly in two. The parasite had been feasting on the Chihuahua’s eyeballs for what has to be months now.

Now the tables are turned. Beto crunched a couple quick chews and the parasite was swallowed in no time flat. He ate the last botfly even faster than the first.

A little instant karma is good for the soul, thought Sara. She stood. It was getting dark and time for her to get home to the City.

She couldn’t wait to show mom her new best friend.

Six-point-Six

Beto continued to shiver his excitement as Sara called out to the sheet; “Mom, you there?” Sara heard grunting noises.

“Just a minute, honey,” she replied. Sara could hear her mother trying to stifle a coughing spasm. It sounded chunky and wet. “I have company.”

Oh, great, Mom’s turning another trick, she thought.

Sara was frustrated. She wanted to barge in and pull her mother up from her knees. She wanted to shake her. Sara wanted to shout out that she had over one thousand Notes in the pocket of her ratty old jeans. Her mother didn’t have to suck for bus passes, medical vouchers, or day-old sandwiches any longer.

Sara couldn’t say or do anything. No one in the City can know she had money. If they realized that Sara had more than even ten Notes on her, she’d been beaten and robbed before she could blink an eye. So, she kept it to herself and sat down to wait on the cold cement floor. Sara placed Beto inside her zipped up jacket. She waited for her mother to finish.

Listening to the sex noises and the casually tossed obscenities mumbled by her mother’s tricks always unnerved Sara. It made her sick to her stomach. Normally, Sara would have taken Beto and boogied out of the City and holed up at the library for a while. She stayed, though. She didn’t have a choice. Sara went to all that trouble to procure the proper medicine for her mother. She needed it. Sara’s mother was very ill and she desperately needed the ViraStat injection from kindly old doctor junkie-man. Fortunately for Sara’s stomach, she didn’t have to wait long.

The Peacekeeper pulled open the sheet and stepped out. He glanced down at Sara sitting on the floor. He winked at her as he buckled his big Sam Browne police belt.

“I would have given you two bus passes,” he told her.

Against her better judgment, Sara stood up quick and replied, “Try it and you’ll be wearing my permanent teeth prints on your dick big man.”

“Oh yeah,” he cried and lunged for her. The cop had his fingers around Sara’s throat and was squeezing viciously before she even realized what had happened. Her mother came to the doorway, wiping her face with a paper towel. “Mouthy little bitch,” he said through clenched yellow green teeth. He spit while he yelled at Sara, killing her in front of everyone.

Her mother’s shock was plain to see. Sara glanced over the cop’s shoulder at her. Sara’s mother knew not what to do. She stood motionless with her mouth agape.

Sara was clawing and punching at the cop’s arms. She could feel them as the inmates turned away from her. No one was going to help. It was none of their business. It had nothing to do with them so Sara knew she was going to die.

Beto began shivering. He was deep down inside Sara’s coat. He crawled up to the opening V at Sara’s neck. He clamped his little sharp teeth down hard on the nearest object the frightened little dog could locate.

The Peacekeeper howled in pain. He released Sara’s neck. The cop grabbed his injured wrist and backed away. He screamed like a child when he saw the bright red blood squirting from his ulna artery.

“I’ll get you!” the cop cried out as he tried to stem the free flow of blood. He stumbled over inmates during his urgent attempt to leave and find help. He probably wasn’t supposed to be down here, where there’s no immediate back up. A Peacekeeper won’t take a piss unless there’s another cop available to hold his dick.

Sara knew what the injured lone cop was thinking. He feared what would become of him if he stayed alone and bleeding amongst the inmates. Sara saw some of them as they rose. They were sniffing at the air like hungry wolves. They eyed the cop closely as he scurried past them. A few started to make a move toward the injured Peacekeeper, but he was able to escape from the building before becoming a cop-ka-bob.

Sara fell to her hands and knees, trying to catch her breath. Her mother still stood rooted to the floor, staring at Sara. Beto licked her cheek. Sara was sure she felt the dog peeing again.

“Are you okay, honey,” Sara’s mother asked her. She finally made it to her side.

“Yes, Mom,” Sara replied between big gulps of air. “I’m fine.”

“Okay,” she said and patted her daughter’s shoulder, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

“Yeah sure,” Sara replied, unconvinced, “We just have a bleeding pissed-off cop who wants us dead, is all. Shit couldn’t get any better, Mom. Jesus.”

“Sorry, Sara,” her mother said. She smiled vacantly and coughed. “Oh, right, I almost forgot,” she continued, excited, “Look what I got for you.”

She handed Sara the bus pass that she’d sucked out of that cop. The same cop that now wanted the two of them dead. Sara took the pass from her mother and thanked her. She was smiling, but was no longer looking at her daughter.

Beads of perspiration were forming all over the sick woman. The sweat was popping out of her pores like morning dew. Her eyes seemed unaware. Sara could literally feel the heat that was now radiating from her mother’s 35 kilogram heat lamp of a body.

“Mom,” Sara called out, “Mom, you okay? You look horrible.”

“Yeah, Sara,” she said. “I’m just feeling a little light-headed is all.”

“Let’s get you inside. We need to gather our stuff and clear out.”

“Okay,” her mother agreed.

They went inside. Once there, Sara gathered the very few items that they could absolutely not live without. It took her about fifteen seconds. She already had Beto.

Sara looked around, saw they were ready to go. She wanted to give her mom the first dose of ViraStat. Sara told her what it was and what it was for.

“How’d you get it?”

“I’ll explain all that later. For now, show me some cheek, Mom.”

“Okay honey,” the sick woman replied. She exposed a bit of underfed flesh. Sara removed the cap of a full ten cc syringe. She gave her the first of five daily doses, two cc per shot.

“Four doses left,” Sara said while slinging her backpack over her shoulders. She cinched it tight around the middle. Beto was zipped up safe inside Sara’s jacket.

Sara helped her mother shrug on the leather top-coat, all the while nudging her out of the shack. Sara’s mom was trying to profusely thank her daughter for the gift of the coat, but Sara insisted they keep moving.

“The cops and maybe even the PDL are most likely on their way back here,” Sara tried to explain to her sick, confused mother, “Do you understand, Mom?” Sara’s mother just nodded weakly. Her color was draining horribly and her chest rattled slow and thick like marbles in a honey jar.

They moved out. All eyes were on the two of them as they made their way further and further from the shack they were abandoning. Sara and her mother walked rather quickly until they neared the corridor, out by the back wall. Then they ducked behind a short partition. This covered a downward flight of stairs. Sara peeked over the top of the partition. She saw several families already fighting over their sad little domicile.

I guess you really can’t go home again.

The families were beginning to loudly hurl their colorful insults as well as a few punches at one another when Sara saw them.

Shit!

The cops picked their careful way among the throng of hungry, unwashed humanity. The Peacekeeper force numbered eight strong. They all had night-sticks and Taser units at the ready. They were grouped tight out of fear. The authorities knew how vastly they were outnumbered. The group tried to stay on the main pathway, between the long rows of make-shift shacks.

Sara watched as what appeared to be the leader of the gang of merry men talking into his wrist. Simultaneously he listened to the plug in his ear. The leader was nodding his head and searching methodically around, following instructions as they were relayed to him.

The leader visually scanned the area around the abandoned shack until he spotted the families that were feuding over it. Sara clocked him speaking into his wrist. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but she guessed he realized Sara and her mother had already left.

The group glanced quickly at the single remaining exit, besides the one that they had used to enter the building. It was then that the leader locked eyes with Sara. She had her hand plunged into her coat pocket. It was gripped tight around the handle of the gun. She started to pull it out, but hesitated. Sara only had a few more spare bullets.

The .22 was used mostly for intimidation and to rob bad people of their worldly goods. With a full cylinder of only five .22 caliber slugs, trying to shoot her way out was a fool’s errand.

Then Sara had herself a brain storm.

The leader spoke over his shoulders to the gathered group. He pointed at Sara who now stepped back up to the landing above the stairs.

“Stay down, Mom,” she whispered, “and be ready to high tail it out of here.”

The inmates began to take an interest. It was like live theater with live weapons. They followed the gaze of the armed authorities, locking their eyes onto Sara.

Sara released her grip on the gun and removed her hand from her jacket pocket. As she did this, the men activated their Taser units and flung out their black metal night-sticks. They snaked out to the full lethal length with a hard click.

The entire floor of the former department store fell quiet.

Sara shoved her hand deeply into the front right hand jeans pocket and removed an overflowing handful.

The group leader pointed his long night-stick at Sara. He whispered with a twisted grin toward his cohorts. Whatever he told them made the group laugh wickedly. They began making their way toward Sara’s position.

Inmates were getting their asses out of harm’s way as the group of armed men advanced. Sara lifted her clenched fist above and slightly behind her head. All eyes were on her.

The whole group moved with greater purpose now that their quarry has been located. They were attempting to get Sara within Taser range.

Sara took the clenched handful and heaved it at the men. They all brought their riot shields up to protect their faces as the shimmering coins rained down upon them.

Thirty-seven one Note coins pelted the group of men. The money bounced harmlessly off them and landed spinning and tinkling the cracked and stained cement floor.

The leader knelt and retrieved one of the coins. He sat on his haunches and studied it. He looked baffled, not understanding why Sara would throw money at him. The realization of what she’d done must have dawned on him all at once. He fixed a look at Sara. She could see the fear as it crept into his eyes. The color drained from his face as it was Sara’s turn to smile.

There was the briefest moment of tomb silence.

Oh good Christ…

Six-point-Seven

The inmates attacked. They dove, almost as one, onto the group of armed men in an all out frantic hunt for the money. Bones cracked and cops cried out in pain and fear. A haze of blood spray erupted from the group and the Peacekeepers were Tasering and night-sticking everything in sight. They were making a marvelous mess of things, but they were woefully outnumbered by the half-starved illegals. I don’t think the cops ever trained for this. There was only one ending to this scenario.

The roar of the pack-horde and the screams of fright and pain retreated behind Sara as she rushed her mother down the stairs and outside. Winter darkness had fallen.

Once out of the building, but still deep inside the mall, Sara had a hard time keeping her mother calm. She was nearly beside herself with fright and she looked even sicker now, if that’s possible. They walked as calmly as they could manage toward the nearest exit out of the wall of Tent City.

Sara’s mother had little problem slowing down due to her illness. She nearly stumbled several times, even with Sara tugging her up. She held on to her tight. She didn’t want her to fall. If Sara’s mom did drop, they may as well both just lay down.

A general alarm went up. Sara saw the cops as they flooded the building she had just left in full force. Their faces were contorted with rage. Their breath billowed in front of them. The reinforcements weren’t storming the building armed as weakly as their predecessors. This group came loaded for bear and ready to rumble.

They had fully automatic shredder rifles. With the force of a Kalashnikov and the wide spread of a shotgun, shredders are the heart-breakers and life-takers. The military usually reserved this level of fire power for use on crowds of armed insurgents.

There are no insurgents, just old and sick inmates in this area. But try telling that to Peacekeepers who just lost some of their own. They were coming for some payback and God better help those who get in their way. Like the children that wandered everywhere. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The little urchins didn’t know enough to seek shelter from the coming storm, so the whole area blew up in chaos.

The cops were going to kill everyone and sort the bodies later. Someone has to pay for spilt cop blood. Sara and her mother’s bodies, they were sure, would be amongst the wreckage.

It wasn’t Sara’s intention to start a riot and get her fellow inmates shot. She didn’t even want the cops to get hurt. Okay, hurt, yes, but certainly not killed. But it was lucky for her that the riot did pop off like it did. This diversion let her and her mother slip past all the cops that were running in while they were sneaking out.

Sara and her mom left Tent City. The gates were sliding shut as they slipped through. The guards in the towers were drawing beads on the building were the riot was still going strong. They missed the young girl and her tiny sick mother. They crept out just as the entire facility went on lock-down.

The screams still followed Sara and her mother as they distanced themselves from the City walls.

Six-point-Eight

The bus stop was just beyond the walls of the City. Sara and her mother went to it and sat down on the hard bench. The distant crackles of automatic fire could still be heard. Sara could feel her stomach as it tightened up into knots.

Sara’s mother collapsed. Sara brought her head down and placed it gently on her lap.

“We made it out, Mom,” Sara told her. She craned her neck trying to find a bus. Sara saw one approaching them from the north. Thankfully, it was very close.

The bus came to a squealing stop, the hydraulic brakes venting some air. Sara had her bus pass out. Otherwise, the driver might have not even stopped. As it was, he was awfully unpleasant.

The bus driver was woefully overfed and morbidly obese. He filled his shiny tan uniform out like the tight green skin over a bloated tick. The bus driver looked like he too could explode at any moment.

He suspiciously eyed Sara as she half-coaxed, half-dragged her mother onto the bus. She sat her down on the nearest pair of seats and then made her way over to pay.

“You’s two ain’t about to bed down on my bus,” sneered the driver.

“Wasn’t planning to,” Sara assured him. She handed over the bus pass.

The driver scanned the plastic card four times before giving it back.

“That was two fares for two passengers and two more cuz y’all smell so fuckin’ bad.”

“Fair enough tub of shit,” Sara replied.

Sara sat next to her mother and held her. The driver pulled the bus away from the curb and continued on his route. As often as the prevailing traffic would allow, the driver tossed Sara and her mother some evil looks in the rearview mirror.

“Where ya goin’ anyway, smart mouth,” he asked her with jowls a-jangling as he spoke.

“Nearest hotel, my good man,” Sara replied.

“Six and a half blocks away,” he told Sara. “I guess I can stand yer stink for that long.”

And I guess I can keep from killing your fat ass for that long, too, thought Sara. “Thank you,” is what she said. That shut the driver up. Sara leaned back and closed her eyes.

They had to make it inside the hotel. An ambulance will be dispatched to a hotel. Then Sara and her mother can go to St. Anthony and get right in. The hospital never makes a paying customer wait. Sara didn’t have the scratch to pay the hospital, but they didn’t know that.

Tears began forming on the bottom rims of her eyes. She slapped them angrily away. She knew she had no time to be a scared child right now. Maybe later she’d let herself be frightened, but not now.

Don’t you dare fall apart, Sara scolded herself. She had no time for weakness. Wait until Mom is taken care of then you can cry and cry until you run out of tears. But not right now, girl. Not right now.

“We’ll be okay, Mom,” she repeated again to her mother. Her lungs were vibrating and foaming yellow and blood onto Sara’s lap. “I promise.”

Sara kept her eyes closed, but not one tear fell. However, she did feel a tickle, deep down in her lungs. That was the first time Sara got really scared for herself. She didn’t want to end up like her mother.

Maybe they could share the ViraStat.

Six-point-Nine

Sara sat alone in the inky darkness of her brand new hiding place. She tried to sort it all out, but she couldn’t. Sara was searching for answers, but could find none at all.

Sara didn’t believe in any kind of destiny. She always considered life to be nothing more than one meaningless set of soul-numbing tragedies after another. She couldn’t accept the presence of any kind of dharma either to blame for her troubles. It was just Sara’s lot in life and things were the way they were.

Things, for Sara, just happenedto be all bad. Which is a crying shame: Sara’s such a good kid….

end excerpt…

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~ by MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. on January 3, 2015.

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