“Birmingham’s gone, sir.” Major Crumbley never sugar-coated anything. Glynn admired that in her, but she’d never make colonel if she didn’t learn to soften her blows.
“Last intel we had said mechmons and city-eaters pretty much ignored Alabama.”
“It wasn’t mechmons. Birmingham burnt to the ground, three weeks back.”
“Scattered across the countryside, foraging as best they can.”
“Atlanta is still rife with cholera, right?” Glynn was counting on taking 20 from Augusta through Atlanta and on to Birmingham. The civies could travel the three hundred miles safely without having to deal with the mountains.
“Crap almighty!” With Birmingham burnt to the ground, he’d lost shelter for the winter. Two thousand civilians plus six hundred soldiers, starving, freezing come winter. Glynn poured over his maps for alternatives. “If we take 78 north to Athens and follow 129 northwest into Gainesville and then 53 west to 75, we could take 75 north through Dalton and into Chattanooga. That’s what? Two hundred sixty miles? Divided by twenty miles a day marching, plus two days’ rest for every three marched.”
The major rolled her shoulders, “There’s a Wal-Mart about ten miles out. I sent Yarborough and his team to take anything not tied down.”
“Have him give the requisitions officer – Dilts - a copy of the script,” Colonel popped his neck and pulled out his maps. “Original –“
“I know the fruiting routine. Original gets posted on the door.”
“Excuse me?” Glynn sat back and stared at Crumbley. “Insolence will not be tolerated in the 74th, Major.”
“My apologies, sir.” She saluted and left.
“Colonel,” his valet Private Matthews set a tray of stew in front of him. “The major had a brother and his family who lived in Birmingham.”
Glynn glanced up in remorse. He nodded and pushed the stew away. “I hear Rodrigues’ team just picked up five orphans. Take the stew to them.”
“Begging your pardon, sir, but the orphans are fine. Eat the damn stew.” Matthews picked up a load of laundry and headed out of the tent. Glynn had the maps open, the stew forgotten.
“Eat it before it gets cold, ‘cause God knows what it will taste like then.”
Glynn shook his head but picked up the bowl. No spoons, he sipped the greasy broth and used his fingers to pick up what few chunks of vegetables and meat there were. He tried not to think about the taste – something between dishwater and barbeque, with some chunks soft and squishy while others were so hard they like to break his teeth. But he ate it.
What he needed were self-sufficient groups, instead of these dependent, helpless whiny civies. What he needed were people like the Troughtons. “Shit, I forgot about Mickey.” Glynn shouted to his corporal outside the tent. “Johnson! Find a way to get word to Sgt. Michelson. Tell him to forget the rendezvous at Brimingham. Tell him,” he perused the map. “Tell him we’ll meet up at Nashville and head toward St. Louis for the winter. And tell him we need the Troughtons. No holds barred.”
“I’ll send Yolanski and Edwards in the morning.”
‘No. Tonight. Mickey’s got one more week with the Troughtons and rumor has it they’re traveling toward Montana. So,” Glynn used a pencil and ruler on the map. “Tell Yolanski to head south along 75 with due haste.”
That night, as his stomach churned on the greasy sorry-excuse-for–stew, his mind raced along map lines and boundaries: mechmon territory, chewed up landscapes, bombed and burning cities, and open terrain. Highways invited mechmons, but there was no way to transport that many people through woods and mountain passes without losing too many to death and injury. Highways were easier to travel, strenuous paths demanded more calories to burn which meant more food and supplies like boots, socks and medicines.
Glynn rolled over on the thin cot and grunted. He couldn’t sleep; hadn’t slept, had to sleep. He had to move his people as far away from the east coast as possible before it was too late. He sat up and bowed his head. “God, don’t let them nuke the world. OK? Just – help us find a way without that. Amen.”
He lay back down and didn’t sleep.
“Hell, Mickey, if I’d known you’d go domestic on us, I would have brought you an apron.” Yolanski’s words were tempered by a huge grin. The three members of the 74th hugged each other.
Edwards clung to him and whispered, “I have some laundry you could wash.”
Mickey stepped back quickly, jostling the tub of hot water.
“We need to speak to Troughton, ASAP, Sergeant.” Yolanski gently put his arm on Edward’s elbow.
She looked at him and shrugged, “Nothing ventured.”
“I’ve been telling you for months, Edwards, Yolanski would be happy to wash behind your ears.”
”Who says he hasn’t been?”
Yolanski blinked and his mouth popped open.
“See that man over there?” Mickey pointed. “He’s Preacher. Don’t play poker with him, cause you can’t bluff worth a shit.”
”Welcome to Troughtonville, Mr. Yolanski, Miss Edwards.” Jerry walked to the three, flanked as always by Chrissy and Hunter.
“Sir,” Yolanski saluted. “We need to talk. Is there someplace private?
Yolanski blinked again.
“Smartboard, ring the bell for an all-call.” To the Seventy-fourthers, he explained, “Anyone not on duty will come to the fire. We’ll hear what you have to say together.”
Andrews brought up two bowls of gumbo and handed them to the soldiers. Edwards took hers with a gruff grunt; Yolanski smiled gratefully at Andrews. Their fingers brushed under the bowl and both men blushed.
The Troughtons assembled quickly.
“The floor is yours, Mr. Yolanski,” Chrissy held out her hand.
“Colonel Glynn sends his regards and asks that you rendezvous with the 74th at Nashville.”
“I thought the 74th was going to winter at Birmingham. You can’t get to Birmingham from Nashville, can you?” Sally asked.
“Birmingham burned to the ground about a month ago,” Edwards stated.
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.