I dreamt about the dumpster.
When we first came here, I dreamt about it a lot. There were a variety of dreams, all horrible.
In one, Mae and I burst out the front door, see the legs of the high chair sticking up over the lip of the dumpster and know that our baby sister is head down in garbage. But, before we can do anything about it, one of the evil men grabs us and drags us away.
This one dream, at least, reunites us with Momma, however briefly. But Dawn is lost.
The dream I woke from that morning is the worst of them, though.
Mae and I burst through the front door, see the legs of the high chair sticking up over the lip of the dumpster and fling ourselves inside, just as we did in real life all those years ago. We work together to raise the chair enough to get Dawn’s face out of liquefied muck before she drowns—but we keep dropping her back in! She barely gets a chance to draw a breath, and then—splat! Down she goes; over and over, until we’re sobbing with exhaustion.
It may well be that this happened in life; I don’t remember all the details, but God knows, getting her out of the chair had been an ordeal. I don’t know how we did it.
Anyway, in the dream, by the time we get her free of the damnable buckle device, we’re sure we’ve killed her. But she draws in a shaky breath, and we hug her and tell her we love her.
At last, we ready ourselves to climb out, using the high chair as a ladder, just as we did back then. But when we look up, there he is: the man who dragged Dawn’s chair through the door and threw her into the garbage. “Well, looky what we have here,” he says, smiling. There’s an evil gleam in his eyes. He raises his gun and looks over his shoulder. “At least we won’t have to take out the trash,” he says, and someone behind him laughs. Then, just before the gun goes off, Momma starts to scream.
I sat up in bed, gasping. I was alone. We haven’t shared a bed, or even a space, for quite awhile now, but I found myself wishing we were all still small enough to be cuddled together. I needed a hug, no doubt about it.
The shower curtain that serves as my door was pushed aside then, and Dawn crept inside and crawled into bed with me, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “How did you—?”
“Know?” Mae finished as she, too entered and squashed her way into bed with me. “Bad dreams.”
“Not me,” Dawn declared. “But, I could feel you…”
“Well, you weren’t down therein that valley with us, thank God,” Mae said.
“I’m glad you could feel me, though,” I added, and hugged my sisters tightly. “That was bad…”
We don’t fit in one bed anymore, but we made it work until morning. We slept without further dreams.
As I drifted off, I whispered, “I don’t want Sid to go…”
Sid and I might be too much alike.
He won’t listen to reason; you can’t tell him anything. He’s stubborn and won’t change his mind once he’s made a decision.
(You see? I’m self-aware and understand my worst inclinations! I recognize that I am not always the best judge of…anything.)
I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted he had to know where the road behind the church goes.
“Vance will be there,” he said.
He’s wrong when he thinks going with Dad makes me feel any better about things. He’s always assuming that, and it’s annoying as hell.
I woke up angry with my father; I always wake up angry with him after having one of the dumpster dreams. I know it wasn’t his fault; nothing that happened was his fault. But he wasn’t there when we needed him, and I can’t seem to get over that.
I get angry with myself, too, especially on days like this, when I start the morning by being cold to the man. I wish I could bring myself to explain it to him; I’m a brat—I just can’t.
Since Sid wouldn’t be talked out of it, I decided to go along with the salvage crew and investigate the other trucks and the warehouse. I’m not up to going into the valley—I don’t even want to set eyes on it from above, honestly. But I knew I could be useful in the village, and at least I’d be nearby instead of at the compound.
Ash came along, too, and so did Danny, but Mae and Dawn were “over it”, in Mae’s words. They stayed home to clear a space for anything we might return with.
I can’t deny that I felt very nervous when I watched Sid, Dad, Zach and Mary head off to the church with Gramps and a few others. I wanted to throw my arms around him and beg him to stay with me.
Weak; I can’t stand to be weak. But it’s true. I didn’t want him to go. It felt…bad. Wrong.
Ash poked me in the side as I stood watching. “Stop it,” he commanded. “You’re giving yourself the whim-whams.”
“Whatever that means,” I retorted.
“You know exactly what it means. Just stop.”
I nodded and we turned our attention to the trucks.
We already knew that one truck had cases of toothbrushes and toothpaste that had been carefully packed—we’d helped ourselves to some, and had been delighted to find that the toothpaste had survived all this time without turning into solid chunks—the heavy plastic the cases had been wrapped in had done its job.
“Don’t unwrap the boxes,” Morty commanded. We unloaded the cases and stacked them on the small utility trailer he’d hauled down behind his ATV.
We had only hauled down three trailers on this trip. There was no road from the compound to the bridge and it didn’t make sense to try to do too much at one time. Whatever we might find, it had been here for quite some time and there was no rush moving it.
“Look here,” Danny said, pointing to the lettering we could barely see through the thick plastic wrap. “Shampoo!”
Oh, glory! We’ve been making our own soap for a long time now. It is strong-smelling and not at all pleasant to wash your hair with. I could hardly wait! I felt a genuine smile stretch across my face, temporarily wiping away the dread lingering in the pit of my belly.
Morty used his tools to open the warehouse doors and he and his friend Barry went inside to make sure the place wasn’t overrun with spiders and snakes.
There were plenty of spiders, as it turned out. I’d already had enough of them in the trucks, so I was happy to stay outside, taking boxes from Ash and Danny as they unloaded them. That first truck hadn’t been full, by any stretch of the imagination, but there were several cases of toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner (wow!) bar soap and laundry detergent in big boxes.
At the very back, Danny found a crate of lotion. I had a feeling those would be a wash—most of the lotions we’ve found over the years had thickened into gummy paste. But, one can hope!
Jenson and Dean had gotten into one of the other trucks. “This one is a bust,” Dean declared. “Mice. They had a field day in there.” He pointed over his shoulder, and I came around the back to look inside.
The smell was horrific, and I took several steps back. “Get out of there, Jenson,” I ordered. “You’ll end up breathing that crap in!”
Jenson, who had his back to me, turned around. He had his face covered with a double layer of bandana, but I could see the grin in his eyes. He climbed out and he and Dean pulled the door closed. “It’s too bad,” he said. “Those were pretty nice blankets back in the day.”
“They’re garbage now,” Dean added. “I feel like jumping in a river.”
I shuddered. Mice were a plague on the land, in my opinion. Just glancing into the back, I knew there had been a nice load of sheets and blankets inside, but Dean was right—they were garbage now, full of droppings and urine and probably hundreds of mice of various ages. Ugh.
Danny had joined me. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “They always manage to get in! Pee-yoo!”
“It’s too close to the rest to set fire to it,” Ash decided.
I rolled my eyes. Not that I couldn’t see his point, but fire was one thing we didn’t mess with. Dangerous. Our camp fires are closely guarded at all times.
Mort and Barry came out to us. They, too, had masked up, but their eyes were dancing with excitement. “We’re going to need a bug bomb,” Barry chuckled. “But there’s a good haul in there, once we get it cleaned up.”
I waited expectantly. Morty said, “There are four big generators, brand-spanking-new in the crates! A dozen full propane tanks, too.”
“Oh my God,” Ash cried, dashing away and into the warehouse. He was back quickly. “Big tanks, Penny.”
“It looks like they expected to use them to fill smaller tanks for the houses here,” Barry added.
“How’d this place not blow up or something?” I asked.
Mort pulled his bandana down, and with it wrapped around his neck, he almost looked like a cowboy. The blue cap on his head, with the words “How the hell did I get this old?” embroidered on it, ruined the image. “Good insulation,” he said.
“Too bad the blankets weren’t in there,” Dean remarked.
Morty, curious, took hold of the door handle on the truck. “Don’t do it,” I said. “It’s beyond nasty.”
Mort raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“Mice,” Ash explained.
Mort jerked his hand away and backed off a few steps. Yeah, he’s a cowboy, all right. I giggled.
“You shut it,” he growled. I giggled harder. He looked horrified and disgusted, and it struck me funny because I knew I must have made the same face just moments earlier.
Suddenly, all the laughter left me in a terrific “Whooo!” of air, and I sat down hard on the pavement.
“What is it?” Morty cried. “Is it your asthma? Do you have your inhaler?”
“No, no!” I cried. “Something is wrong. I’m fine. Something is wrong, Mort. Please, go get Sid!”
“He’s with your—”
“Go get them both! Go get them all! Something’s wrong!” I was starting to cry, and damn it, I hate that.
But I could feel it—Sid and my father were in some sort of danger. I struggled with my rising gorge, but in the end I bolted to my feet and ran off to the edge of the paved parking lot and vomited.
When I was able to stand up straight, Ash and Danny were there to steady me. We turned as one and watched as Morty and Barry rode into the village and up toward the little church. “God, I hate this place,” I groaned.
“What was it?” Danny asked.
“Evil.” I shook my head. There was no way to explain the feeling I’d had. I just knew Sid and Daddy had walked into the middle of… of evil.
I was shaking. Jensen and Dean joined us, staring at me like I had two heads or something. “It’s a cursed place,” Dean said. “Feel it?”
“I’m going to the church,” I said, and started walking. For a small village, the church seemed to be an unusually long way from us…