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egyptprincess

11:11 – Chapter 34Posted: July 25, 2012

January 2, 2012

A small, capped truck rolled past the hotel at mid morning.

It was my watch and I didn’t know what to do, so I stared with a thumping heart as it traced eerily past. Just as it was about to disappear from sight, its brakelights flickered and it stopped near the Shari’s restaurant.

“Fuck!” I shouted. “Up! Everybody up!” I barked into my walky talky.

I scrambled back to our now lavish and comfortable front door observation post, featuring a small bar, fridge, coffee table, stools, a plush light green velour couch and a well-squirreled-up stereo system that offered luxurious volume and complex symphonic depths.

The truck’s reverse lights came on.

I peered through the Mauser’s scope and groaned as I tried to zero in on the truck, which had stopped again but in a vantage point that told me whoever was driving it was looking in on us.

Andy’s voice asked me “what do we have?” — as I clamped an eye onto the truck, which sat idling about 90 yards to the northeast.

“Must be the marquee,” I said, squinting into the scope.

“Pretty much stands out,” Andy said.

“What should we do?” I asked, feeling the deadly curve of the trigger. Crosshairs wriggled jerkily in the blurry gray of my vision, with the driver’s side window the general target.

“Dunno,” Andy said. “There’s as many people like us — trying to avoid the volatile insanity of the cities, as there are banding together and warring one another.”

“Like the Republicans and Democrats,” I said flatly.

Andy stepped around the lame joke. “And then there are folks out there, as you know, who carry a much bigger stick who cannot be seen by the dim evil brutes who act on impulse as opposed to reason — like myself and that old Scottish prick, as you say. One just can’t be too careful.”

The driver’s side door opened on the small Nissan truck and a burly, bearded man stepped out and arched his back in a stretch.

“He can’t not have noticed that someone is here,” I whisper-shouted into the baby blue walky talky.

“He can’t hear you,” Andy snorted behind me. “Shoot him!”

I tossed a ‘yeah, right’ look at him as he moved toward me.

His immediate laugh didn’t reassure me that he wasn’t kidding but the rational and survival-first part of my brain, which had pretty much taken over control of the whole show that was me, fumblingly agreed it was probably the most prudent choice. I peered into the scope and found my target.

The man was about six feet tall, around 250 pounds and in his late thirties. He looked like a guy who’d climb out of a logging truck or walk into a hardware store in search of a sewage ejector.

I started when he looked directly at me — or it felt as though he did as I had his head lined up in the scope. His dark eyes blinked and his mouth wrinkled with some kind of observational twitch. He was surely looking at the glowing marquee sign of our hotel, declaring ‘Vacancies.’

Hex appeared behind us and yawned, “What’s that?”

“Glad you could join us,” Andy said with partial amazement.

“Mmmm,” Hex responded.

The man walked to the tailgate of his little truck and pulled his pecker out. A fat stream of yellow gushed out and splashed on the road.

“Nice,” Andy said. “Shoot him!”

I glanced at him again and he smiled broadly and shrugged.

“He knows we are in here, so should we go out and say ‘hello?’”

Andy, his voice light and louder than before chirped, “yes, why yes we shall” and he punched Hex on the shoulder. “Off ya go cowboy. Go see what Blutto wants.”

Peterson now joined us and Andy yelped, “No, wait Hex. Peterson, you go out and see what Grizzly Adams wants. And if he asks you for directions to Yellowstone, shoot him in the face.”

I shot another look at Andy who wasn’t looking at me and smiling or laughing this time.

“What?” I asked, my voice sounding like Terry Jones in the Spam sketch.

“Man, you woke up in a strange mood,” I said, fumbling with the rifle to get a bead on the man again.

“Must be alone,” I said, bringing him back into controlled, deadly focus. His back was to us now and he was looking up the road.

I stiffened when I spotted the pistol in a holster hanging down at his thigh. “Gun,” I noted.

“Shoot him,” Andy said again and chuckled.

I stepped back from the gun and said with disdain, “Be my guest. Fire away.”

Hex stepped between us and grabbed the machine gun. “Want me to do him?”

The pause was leaden. I was about to start formulating a new idea about Andy when he laughed out a “no!” Then ordered, “Peterson, go have a talk with our curious friend. Don’t tell him anything. Just feel him out and be careful. He might be a complete frazzle case and could unload on you. Make him think we’re legion in here, too.”

Hex’s face displayed amazement and he shook his head to make a statement to Andy, who caught his meaning. I noticed a small smile flash on Andy’s face.

Peterson scuffed up to the door and handed his shotgun to Hex, who snatched it from him with a petulant rattle, and grabbed a walkie-talkie. Hex was acting like a child deprived of a new, fascinating toy and his daring rage made him scratch into his forearms, alternating like a squeamish Nancy after walking through a swarm of mosquitos.

I felt a light nausea and wanted to punch Hex in the face. He’d disturbed me off and on since I met him but I could now clearly see he deeply yearned to obliterate the bearded man, who started comically when Peterson appeared from behind the tastefully erected barricade of planters and vehicles, disguised to appear natural.

He raised his pistol and Andy shouted, “Bob!”

“What?” I hissed In half panic.

“Shoot him!” Andy yelled as Calder and Crest stumbled into the lobby.

By the time I got an eye down the scope, Hex perforated the dry winter air with a rip from the machine gun. The lobby window exploded.

Unfamilar and untrained with the weapon, which was Calder’s expertise, his first burst with the M249 stitched up Peterson’s right leg, into his right buttock cheek and shattered his hip. He spun in a tight circle, as if his shoulder had been clipped by a speeding truck’s side mirror and the walkie-talkie flew from has hands.

The bearded man ran for his truck. I followed him through my scope and my finger pressed against the trigger. Another ear-smashing burst from the 50 calibre made me duck for cover and I didn’t see the big man skitter against the side of the pickup and fall heavily against the street. The truck jerked and darted forward.

Andy was shouting instructions at Calder and Crest.

“Grab that fucking gun from that idiot. Get after that fucking truck!”

Andy grabbed Hex by his shoulder and tossed him backward. Calder sidled to the weapon and slapped it with disgust. The truck was out of sight.

Andy leapt through the hole in the large lobby window and raced to a truck parked beside the garden that fanned out from the marquee. Without realizing I was doing it, I was on his tail and leapt into the truck beside him.

We spun from the hotel, past Peterson who lay motionless on his side and the torn body of the big man. Andy expertly pushed the truck around vehicles down the road but the small pickup was already out of sight.

Our recent activities around the hotel pronounced our complacency, and created an unsolvable maze of icey tracks.

We came to a junction where we could turn back toward town or head north up Highway 97.

Andy selected a course of action without pausing and we bounced wrecklessly up Highway 97. Within minutes we spotted the Nissan racing madly down the highway and Andy floored the truck. I snapped my seatbelt on and felt the Glock in my hand. In my panicked forward momentum I forgot to grab a rifle or shotgun.

I noticed Andy didn’t have a gun on him, either.

It took several miles of whiteknuckle mayhem before we were on the Nissan’s backside.

“Shoot at that fucking truck,” Andy shouted.

Cool air cracked into the truck as the window rolled down. I had never shot a gun from a moving vehicle before. My hand bounced up wildly as the truck veered violently past wreckage on the road.

“Shoot that truck!” Andy ordered again.

I tried to take aim and squeezed off a shot. I had no idea where the shot went but I was sure it was well off target.

Another shot exploded from my hand and I pulled the gun in. “I don’t have a clue where those shots are going and I only have a few rounds left,” I shouted.

Andy swore and the truck exploded forwarded. As we burst toward the Nissan, its taillights came on and Andy swore again. The big F-250 smashed into the Nissan and it skittered madly forward. Its bumper dropped and smashed against the undercarriage of the Ford.

As we braced ourselves against the clattering violence below us, the Nissan’s canopy hatch flapped open.

“Is that a… girl?” I blurted.

Andy screamed, “shoot her!”

A flash came from the canopy and Andy jerked the truck to the left and then to the right, screaming, “shoot back!”

As I pushed the Glock out the window a hole exploded in the windshield.

I fired a shot and saw a piece of the canopy pop away into the winds. I fired another, then another and a third shot and marveled as each found its way into the canopy. The hatch clapped shut and the Nissan continued to weave around wrecks and race away from us.

Andy pushed the Ford, pedal down, and we skimmed up to the back of the smaller truck, when the canopy flipped open and, we both noticed, a darker skinned girl — maybe 16 — aimed a rifle at us.

Without knowing I was doing It, I squeezed the trigger of my Glock. The gun fired and the girl fell sharply to her side.

Gawping, I looked at Andy, then back at the truck. His focus was solely on the truck and we pushed up against the Nissan. I noticed he was trying to do a ‘pick’ on the truck and briefly felt impressed with his driving skill.

The Nissan suddenly darted to the right, down a side road. It was a smooth move as we couldn’t follow due to a pair of crumpled cars on the highway. Swearing loudly, Andy locked the truck up and we thudded down into a snowy ditch and across what was once someone’s front yard, across their side yard and onto the road. The Nissan was a few hundred yards ahead of us now.

A mild nausea was clinging to my tonsils, painting each swallow with poisonous knifings.

Andy remained silent and focused on catching the truck.

“I only have two or three rounds left,” I said quietly. Andy didn’t say anything.

The Nissan disappeared over a hill and a bang made us both blurt out fearful curses. The F-250 fell to the right, its front right tire no more. The girl must have hit the tire and the excursion through the hobby farmyard finished it off.

Andy was livid as he battled the truck to a halt. His anger made me want to vomit. I fell out of the truck and puked.

“Next time bring a fucking real gun,” he shouted at me.

I felt wounded, as well as sick. I did my best and I was sure I had shot the girl. Nausea continued to fuss its way through my shock-laden body.

“That was just a girl, right?” I said weakly, wiping at my numb lips.

Andy replied in the affirmative.

“Fuck me,” I said, leaning back against the truck seat. “Fuck me.”

Andy said I did what I had to do and “move on.”

He jabbered into his walkie- talkie and we waited in a thick silence. No one responded.

“Guess we went more than five miles, crap,” he said. “Grab a jacket from the back and grab whatever is of use. We’ve got to take a walk.”

We didn’t have to walk far — maybe a mile — before May showed up in my Dodge, Godsmack blaring.

“Peterson’s dead,” she said flatly, as Andy snapped open the door. He climbed into the back of the truck and I silently slipped onto the bench beside May.

I felt like puking again. In the excitement I had forgotten that Peterson had been shot.

“Bled out,” May said. “Poor stupid bastard.”

Andy stared out the window to the east.

May looked at him in the rearview mirror, wondering if he’d heard her. “I said Peterson is dead,” she crowed.

Andy’s hand shot out and grabbed May’s thick nest of unkempt hair and pulled her head hard against the headrest. She yelped and the truck skewed to the shoulder.

He pushed her head forward and let go of her hair. “I heard you,” he said.

 

When it became clear to Serena that the big Ford was out of the picture, she pulled the battered Nissan over. The power steering was kaput and the concept of alignment was gone, making the truck a challenge to steer but the old woman was able to get the job done. She always did.

Afraid the truck wouldn’t start again, she kept it running. Serena slid out of the truck, careful not to cut herself on the glass from the back window — smashed out so Madeline could get a good shot at the pursuers.

Serena could hear Madeline sobbing.

“We only wanted to let them know,” she said as Serena lifted the back hatch open. She was relieved to see the girl had not been shot. It was recoil from the 30-06 that jerked her sideways, and not a lucky shot by yours truly.

“Your angels were with you again,” she said to her softly. “Same can’t be said for Marvin. Gods bless his soul.”

Madeline’s continued surprise at the shape of her world was troublesome to Serena.

She’d known the girl since her 11th birthday — for six years — and was always impressed with her grip on reality. Even better, was her love of knowledge and the depth of her soul, which was open to everything and to everyone. All that despite being raised in a small, run down trailer on the Pineridge Indian Reservation, close to the Wounded Knee site and spending more time on her own than being looked after, as a child should be.

Serena came upon the girl at a gas station in Pine Ridge. She was sitting in the shade of a garbage bin, alone and nervous. It was the first time she had hitchhiked away from home but her mother had been gone for more than two weeks, and she was starving. Rather than seek help at nearby homes, she stuck her thumb out and found herself in Pine Ridge — hungry, penniless and terrified.

She was trying to figure out what to do when Serena appeared before her — the ghost of an elder.

“Where’s your momma child? Inside the store?”

Madeline shook her head and Serena’s heart ached at the sight of this troubled child. She seemed younger than her 11 years — a product of being kept from the channels of the world, of being isolated and unaware.

While her mother was an alcoholic and disappeared for three or four days at a time, on demented binges in Rapid City, Scottsbluff or Casper, where she did whatever she had to make some money to feed her child, Madeline was loved. She had no siblings and her mother’s family died off or moved away, leaving them nothing but a shack in the rolling, dusty hem of the badlands. When her mother was home, Madeline went to school. When she was away, she was stuck at home. The nearest neighbour was four miles away and Madeline didn’t know how far four miles was. The horizon around her trailer was all she knew.

Starvation dragged across that horizon and down to Porcupine, where she caught a ride to Pine Ridge — where she went to school.

Serena was on her way home to Wind River after visiting with some former pupils on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation when she stopped for gas in Pine Ridge.

While she pumped gas into her Nissan truck, a force turned her head to look to the edges of the gas station lot where she spotted a young girl, sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees.

After paying for her fuel, Serena approached Madeline and after some coaxing, was able to formulate a small picture about what was happening to her.

Serena had been a teacher her entire life — which was pushing into its 21st century.

Originally from Egypt, Serena’s course through time, like Kenneth’s, had utmost purpose.

She arrived in North America 300 years before Columbus — arriving first ashore in Trinidad aboard a battered papyrus boat, before making it to the shore of present day Venezuela, aided by natives who treated her like a queen.

As a younger woman, Serena smelled like a flowering rain forest after a rain — if you could get close enough to her for such a whiff. Men were brought to their knees by her scent. Rather than loathe her for the attention, women found themselves crawling up Serena’s behind — doing whatever they had to do to be able to hear her speak.

She became a legend among the courts of Alexandria and nimbly slipped from one life to the next as time marched on and mortal bodies turned to dust, one after another over so many decades.

Pharaohs visited Serena for advice and paid her lavishly for her knowledge, some fearing her like a child fears the dark. What they didn’t know was that Serena was seeking advice and knowledge.

From the moment she was born, she felt an urge to purpose and a tug toward much greater things.

She was 50 when she began to realize that she was different than others. She’d been slow to age but at 50 she appeared no older than 30.  One night she was set upon by “angry monkey bastards,” as Kenneth would call them, because they believed her to be a witch. Serena was bound and dragged by a mob to a magistrate who deemed her a witch. She was sentenced to be beheaded and burned the next morning.

That night, she swallowed poison, given to her by a troubled guard who pitied the alluring “demon.” Her body was thrown into the Nile, to be devoured by crocodiles, but its cool life-giving spirit brought her back and she sloshed ashore many miles downstream, puking water and wondering why the crocodiles didn’t attack.

From that point on, Serena meandered through time carefully, bent on finding the purpose of her unique life.

In 1005 a.d., she met Kenneth — or Bernard de Besancon,   as he called himself then, a wandering knight from a “dark emerald island.”

She was teaching a group of children in a village near present day Damascus when he rode up with a dangerous entourage of sundry medieval warriors — all bowing to him like he was god himself.

Smitten by the exotic teacher, Kenneth — Bernard — invited the woman and her students to dine with them that evening.

That night, two of this world’s six keepers of the holy eyes discovered one another.

Serena couldn’t remember who admitted to being immortal first, but once that turkey was out of the farm gates, the starving wolves of knowledge howled for more.

Kenneth was closer to knowing his purpose than Serena, but remained uncertain as to exactly where he was supposed to go.

His off-the-cuff comment of “having to sail off the edge of the world in order to find my true destiny” stuck with her and in 1190 Serena launched into the Atlantic, from the Canary Islands, in search of her destiny.

At that same time, in New Zealand — a Maori warrior, who would become Hongi Hika, great chief of the Ngapuhi tribe in the late 18th Century, walked carefully over the tempestuous hillsides of Lake Taupo, over the caldera of a rhyolitic volcano. Part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, this volcano has produced some of the mightiest eruptions in Earth’s volatile history.

Always drawn to the caldera, this Maori warrior would learn through the course of his impressive immortality that he was its keeper.

He was also the keeper of present day New Zealand and in 1820 he made the voyage to England where he met with King George IV. Dressed in his traditional Maori garb, Hongi Hika, the name he’d taken for this time, knocked England over and became a celebrity.

While visiting with the Duke of Norfolk, he encountered Kenneth, who was visiting from America, and they became fast friends. His reverential tales about Taupo were what led Kenneth to California, and to his destiny — Long Valley, one of the largest calderas on the planet, at an extinction level boom threatening 20 miles long by 11 miles wide.

Hongi Hika was the last ‘great’ life assumed by Hongi, his original name also.

Aware of the passage of time and mindful of having to hide his immortality, he faked his death in 1828, after being badly wounded in the Battle of Whangaroa.

At the time of the disappearance, he was in Wellington on business.

Kenneth’s path had not led him to the other three keepers of the holy eyes, but Serena’s led her to Carmen Valerio, keeper of Valles Caldera, a 12-mile wide caldera in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico.

She told Serena about Yellowstone.

At around the same time Kenneth and Serena became friends, a Japanese woman was taking her immortality to greater levels.

The keeper of Aira Caldera, in current day Kagoshima Prefecture, needed greater leverage and power, so under the name Tomoe Gozen, she married Kiso Minamoto Yoshinaka. The warrior couple conquered Kyoto in 1184, winning the battle of Kurikawa. This led to war with Minamota Yoritomo, with the pentultimate battle occurring at Awazu, where legend speaks of Tomoe taking more than one head.

Legend also speaks of Tomoe being one of only five warriors to survive the battle and what happened next is unclear. Some say she died in battle; others say she fled east and became a nun.

The others are correct.

Tomoe did flee to the east and assumed a mantle as a nun — living life quietly and preparing for her destiny.

The sixth and final keeper, of Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Indonesia, was Ratu Joyoboyo — an immortal who battled to spread enlightenment throughout southeast Asia. Like Tomoe, he also utilized the wiles of his special life by becoming king of the Hindu Kediri kingdom in East Java in 1135.

His was a generous rule and legend tells he was a just king taking the throne during a dark age of suffering. Swirling talk around his immortality created the story that he was an incarnation of Vishnu.

In ‘old’ age, he abdicated and lived out his days seeking enlightenment and spreading it in his oracles.

Once rid of the shackles of that life and its curious inhabitants, Joyoboya settled near Lake Toba, a 60-mile-long and 20-mile-wide volcanic lake and supervolcanoe. Its last eruption, about 70,000 years ago, is considered to be the greatest volcanic eruption in the last 25 million years and the fallout from its mega-rumblings caused a near extinction event — killing most living things. It is what caused a bottleneck of human development between central eastern Africa and India.

From Lake Toba flowed the genetic makeup of the human species currently awaiting passage to a new world.

Serena took Madeline to the Pine Ridge sheriff’s office and a quick check revealed what Serena feared. Madeline’s mother was dead. She’d been dead for a week — a Jane Doe discovery in Cheyenne. Murdered. It took about an hour for the information to take form, and during the wait Serena slapped together a tuna sandwich with corn chips and pickles for Madeline and the girl wolfed the food down like a coyote moving on a roadkilled peccary.

Lying, Serena told the sheriff that she was Madeline’s cousin from Wyoming and she’d look after her. It was as easy as that to drive off with a child.

Serena didn’t realize whom it was she’d come across in Pine Ridge. But when the disappearance occurred and Madeline’s smiling face awaited her when she returned home after witnessing the miraculous events of Nov. 11, 2011, she began to understand what Kenneth had known for decades — not only did a keeper’s destiny involve ‘tending’ to the holy eyes but also grooming angels for the next world.

After the disappearance, Serena and Madeline packed up and drove to Taos, New Mexico, to visit Carmen. They were returning to Yellowstone with Marvin, a Chicago-based computer parts salesman who was left boggling and gibbering in the Farmington Airport the day of the disappearance.

Weeks later, as they finished exploring Carmen’s bailiwick, they came upon the big man and he begged them for a ride and, uncertain as to his story, they let him into their vehicle and lives.

Now he was dead. They’d seen much death the last few weeks. Ever larger bands of crazies patrolled the byways, so Serena, Madeline and Marvin carefully picked their way to Long Valley, then northwest to Crescent City and found the charred remains of Kenneth’s cabin.

They were on their way home, despondent and terrified, when they neared Klamath Falls and spotted a large force of crazies — about 60 strong. The town was burning and they spotted the smoke from miles away, making them stop and, luckily, catch sight of the moving band of human darkness.

Waiting until dark, they crept around Klamath Falls and made it back onto Highway 97, hopeful that the marauders were passed out in the city. Serena’s instincts were as sharp as ever — they were.

Once in Bend, they noticed apparent signs of life at the resort and stopped to consider warning whoever was inside about the approaching gang. Serena insisted that they give it a try. She felt a burning in her breast — a longing — that told her she should stop.

Ignoring Marvin’s grievence she stopped the truck and she got him shot.

Immortality may have been Serena’s friend, aging her so slowly that despite being 2,170 years of age she appeared no older than 60, but she was looking and feeling her age as she helped Madeline back into the front seat of the Nissan.

“In case you should ever wonder,” she said, heaving Madeline into the truck, “what it is like to be as old as Jesus, look at me now.”

She slammed the door closed and scuffed around to her side of the truck. A cool winter morning breeze drifted from the west. Serena gazed back toward Bend and thought of the carnage coming its way. It was the same carnage that had been growing out from every major city and town in the last month, as territorial armies formed without knowing it.

She shook off concerns for those back in Bend. Nuts to them, she thought. Murderous terds. Still, she trusted her ability to tap into vibes and there was a powerful one in Bend.

She jammed the truck into gear and began creeping east on the county road. Uncertain of Kenneth’s condition, she had to get to Yellowstone before she could feel better. She had to get out of this world and she had to make sure her angel Madeline was safe.

A colder wind spiraled up from below the truck and fingered through the broken window into the cab.

 

When we returned to the resort Andy’s mood had lightened, briefly.

Peterson’s body had been carried to a spot near the front door to the lobby. Crest and Calder had done a shoddy job of boarding up the shattered window.

“Get rid of that fucking thing,” Andy said to the two men who appeared relieved when we all returned.

“Let me rephrase — Hex, you fucking idiot. Get rid of that thing and keep watch in pairs,” he added, before disappearing into his room in a prima Donna’s snit.

“Me and Hex will take the first watch. You guys can have the night shift,” May croaked. Seizing the chance to get away from the lot of them so she could smoke a slobber-inducing wad of crack.

I trotted back to my room, had a shower, smoked a gigantic bowl of weed and lay on my bed staring at the ceiling, picturing, over and over again, the girl’s body dropping below the tailgate. The backs of my eyelids were movie screens when I clenched them shut and the oft-copied, soft rennaisance style watercolour on the wall across from my bed flickered with the looping image of a girl falling lifelessly — immediate and quick and horrible.

Ian Cobb/e-KNOW

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