We drove for two days before we came to the settlement. Michael was animated constantly talking about his hopes about it.
"God, I hope they have electricity and hot water. I would love to listen to music while taking a hot shower," he said stepped on the pedal in his haste to get there.
"Don't get your hopes up," Emmi said dryly. She was sitting in the front passenger seat leaning her elbow against the window and proping her chin on her hand. "For all we know the demons have already torn the place apart by the time we get there."
"No, the message has been repeating itself nonstop since we heard it. It has to originate from somewhere that has power and access to a radio transmission," Michael pointed out.
"Then it's probably a bandit camp luring in victims."
"Emmi, shut up. You're not pissing on this. Jesus, this is what we have been looking for for weeks and you're acting like a bitch about!"
I really wished that they wouldn't fight right now. My head was pounding and their sharp voices was making it worse.
"And we shouldn't rush in. We don't know if the message promises is true or not. We barely made it out that trap and Yemina was nearly killed. We can't afford to waltz into another one."
"So we ignore it? What if it is actually a safe place!? A safe place with food and protection? A place that we can stay and not have to drive around and scavenge through houses and stores. And just not have to be scared all the time. For one, just for one night, I want to go to sleep without being scared that a demon is going to cut my head off while I'm sleeping. We can't pass it up because we're scared."
Michael had trouble sleeping? I didn't know that. But then, since we've been traveling with Sunny and Emmi, we haven't really been alone together that much.
I glanced over at Sunny who was nibbling on a candy bar in the seat next to me. She had been quiet since we left the bandit's town. Was she thinking of the boy we had left behind? Thinking back on it, the moral thing would have been to find the boy and take him with us, but we had no idea of where to find him or if he would willingly come with us. Between passing out I suggested it, but Emmi quickly shot it down.
"No way! I'm not having a mini-bandit around me waiting to slit my throat or rob us blind. Let him rot here."
Michael didn't say anything. I think he agreed with Emmi, but was too ashamed to admit it out loud. We left that town and it was only Sunny that looked back behind us through the rear window.
It was a dark night with no moon. It had to be cloudy as there were no stars in the sky. The only light was from the headlights. Michael wouldn't stop driving, he was insistant that it was just a little further. Emmi tried to talk him into stopping for the night, but he refused to stop.
"It's just a few miles this, just a few more miles."
"You said that an hour ago!" Emmi told him. "We can be too easily spotted with the lights on!"
"Then I'll turn them off."
"No! You idiot! We'll crash!"
"Guys," I raised my voice even though it was parched. "Let's not do this, okay? Michael, you can drive for twenty more minutes, but then start looking for a place to park. Emmi, leave him alone and keep your eyes open for St. Johns or demons, alright."
That settled the matter for now. I closed my eyes and must have dozed off because I was awaken by Sunny shaking my arm. "We found it! It's over there!"
My eyes opened and it took several seconds before I noticed the lights in the distance. Street lights, actual street light glowed. Michael was leaning forward that his chin nearly touched the steering wheel. Emmi was leaning forward as well, but while Michael's eyes were bright, hers were hard scanning the distance.
I leaned forward as the car drew closer and we passed a sign stating St. Johns Community. There was a tall brick wall and over it I could see several buildings with outside stairwells going up three stories. Michael drove along the wall and turned a corner. He screeched to a halt when a man carrying a rifle waved at us. Emmi cursed and fumbled at her belt, likely getting her knife. Michael rolled down the window as the man approached.
The man was clean shaven and his jacket looked new. He stood at Michael's window and glanced in at us. "Ya heard the message?"
"Yes sir," Michael replied.
He looked each of us over. I could smell soap and aftershave on him as he leaned in. He seemed to approve of what he saw and said, "Ya don't look it, but I'm gonna tell ya all the same. If ya'll are here to cause trouble, then ya best take it somewhere else. We won't bat an eye to tossing your asses right out of here."
"I understand. We . . .we just want to be safe," Michael told him.
"Then this place is as safe as ya ever gonna get nowadays. Go on to the gate and they'll see if ya can get in or not. Ain't up to me." He motioned us onward.
As the car went forward Michael murmured, "What's the requirements for getting inside?"
"They probably just want to make sure that we're not trouble before they let us in." I assured him, but then I felt a tremor of worry myself. If they turned us away, then where do we go next?
Ahead a man and a woman was waving at us toward an open gate. There was a security checkpoint where another man was waiting. I noticed that he had a holster gun and wore a cowboy hat. A lit cigar was tucked into his mouth and the end glowed brightly. The street lights spread over us as the car drew close. After having lived for so long without electricity, it felt alien to me. Michael parked the car at the checkpoint and the man approached us. He motioned for us to get out. Emmi's lips tighten and I knew she didn't like it. I open the door and stepped out and took Sunny by the hand and held it tightly. I was afraid, I have to admit. Anything could happen now. I was both scared that they would take our things and kick us out or just simply killed us.
The cigar smoker eyed Emmi who had her hand on the hilt of her knife. "Is she going to cause trouble?"
"No! I said quickly. God, Emmi was going to get us tossed out before we even got inside. "We . . .we just been through so much. We've been attacked and . . .we're all on edge. Emmi, stop."
She dropped her hand from the hilt and crossed her arms. The man stared at her for several moments, then turned his attention to the rest of us, "I'm Justin Bobarr, I used to be the Sheriff in the nearby town, but right now I'm the Sheriff of the Community. I'm going to ask you a few questions and then I'll call it in and see if you can come in."
"Why wouldn't we be allowed in?" Emmi asked abrasively.
Michael gave her a fierce glare, but Emmi kept her eyes on the man, her chin up. The man chewed on his cigar for a few moments studying her, then said, "We can't let just anyone inside these walls. We got good people here and we want to keep the bad out. We got a zero tolerance for any criminal activity inside these walls. I won't lie about it, we have turned people away and even kicked out some. So consider this your one and only warning if you should stay."
"We understand," I said. "We'll answer any questions you have."
"Good. First, name and ages. And how you are related."
I introduced each of us and provided our ages. Emmi quickly corrected me when I said she was twelve. "I'm thirteen now."
"Thirteen? When did you turn thirteen?" I asked her.
"Back at the cabin, but don't worry about it," Emmi said quickly shaking her head.
Sunny tucked her face against my leg as I introduced her. She peeked at the man shyly with both hands grasping my leg. He looked surprised when I told him that I wasn't their mother. "So you've been taking care of these kids all on your own?"
"Well, they've mostly been taking care of me. Michael keeps the car running and Emmi goes hunting." I told him.
"And what of their parents?" he inquired.
"I don't know. I was away from home when the . . .demons came," Michael said. "I haven't seen them since I left."
"And the girls?"
"We're step sisters," Emmi explained. "My mom passed away and her mom left when she was a baby. Our dad . . . our dad isn't here." She glanced down at Sunny who still had her face pressed against my pants leg.
The man thankfully understood her meaning and didn't press for details. "Any illnesses? Do you need any medication?"
I shook my head, "No, we're all healthy . . . healthy as we can be despite the constant hiding and running."
"Okay, one last question. Anyone of you on drugs, junkies, or addicted to anything?"
"No, no, we're clean. The only drugs we've used has been generic aspirin," I assured him.
"Alright, wait here. I'm calling it in. We'll see if the Head Office will give you the okay or not." He turned away and went to the security box and spoke into the phone, "I had some new people wanting in. A woman thirty years old, a boy age fifteen, a girl age thirteen, and a little girl age four."
I held my breath and silently prayed. Surely, they have room. Look at all the buildings, they surely must have some room for us. I couldn't bare to think about what we would do if we were turned away.
The Sheriff listened for a few moments and nodded, "Yes sir. I'll take care of 'em." He hung up and then approached us again. His boots crunched on the pavement and my pounding heart seemed just as loud. "Alright, folks, welcome to the Community."
I released my breath and Michael let loose a soft 'yes!'. Emmi's expression didn't change much, but I could tell that she was little bit relieved, but still wary.
"We got rules here, but it's late and I know ya'll are anxious to get hot baths and get into soft beds so it can wait till morning. I'll arrange for someone to come by and go over them with you in the morning." He took his cigar from his mouth and tapped it to shake loose the ashes. "Now before I have Rhonda show you to your apartment, you'll have to turn in all weapons."
"No way!" Emmi snapped. "You can't take our weapons!"
"Yes, I can, little lady." Bobarr said firmly with gruff authority in his voice. "If you want to be on our side of the wall, then you will turn in all weapons. This is non-negotiable and if you can't handle that, then feel free to turn around and get outta here."
Before Emmi could utter another word, I grasped her arm, "Give us a moment, please." I nudged Sunny over to Michael and had him hold her hand while I drew Emmi with me behind the car.
Emmi was fuming, her jaw set and eyes hard as stone. I grasped her shoulders and whispered, "Emmi, don't ruin this for us."
"I'm not giving up my knife," she hissed.
"You have to. Look at this place. Just look at it!" I pointed behind her toward the interior of the walls. The buildings were untouched, all windows were solid without any cracks and actually looked cleaned. The streets were free of litter and abandoned cars without a sign of damage anywhere. And the pavement glowed beneath the street lights. I pointed all of this out to her, "Demons have not even touched this place. They have electricity here and plenty of food. We'll be safe here, Sunny will be safe here. I know you're afraid . . ."
"I'm not afraid," she said.
"Then be brave, okay?"
Emmi bit her lip and glanced at Sunny was leaning her head against Michael's leg, likely nodding off against him. Then Emmi finally nodded, "Fine. I don't like it, but I'll do, alright. I'll do it."
It took twenty minutes. Once we handed over all of our weapons, he went through our bags and belongings to make sure that weren't smuggling in anything illegal and then gave us the clear. The woman who had waved us in at the gate led us toward the apartments.
The Community had a long drive lined by sidewalks. There was paved walkways that led up to each apartment. Rhonda was a friendly robust woman. She was thick shoulder, nearly like a man's and her hair was cut into a pixie cut. She was talkative and spoke to us as we walked, "We're setting you in apartment C3. That means you'll be in building C on the third floor. You'll be sharing the building with Brian Toby and his granddaughter Margery Toby, but we call her Little Maggie for short. She's about your little girl's age so they'll be able to play together."
I was carrying Sunny who had finally given into her sugar crash and was sleeping with her head on my shoulder. It did hurt my arm, but I was so happy to be there, I didn't care.
Rhonda noticed my arm which was still wrapped up in cloth, "I'm sorry if I'm being nosy, but is that smarting? Tomorrow, Doctor Hanson can take a look at it."
"You have a doctor?" This place got better and better.
"Oh yes. His office is in the Central Building where we have school and our daily meetings. No appointment needed, just show up whenever you need him."
We have access to a doctor. There was no need to fear infection or illnesses because there was someone to help us. My vision blurred streaking the lamp lights into long stars. I wiped my eyes on my sleeve, my joy seeping out of me through tears. "I'm sorry, it's . . .it's just wonderful. You don't know what it's . . ."
"Honey, I know what's it been like." Rhonda's voice was heavy and distant. "A lot of us know."