My and wife and I were really excited as I started up the boat, we were really taking a risky chance. Chance is the price of life and without taking any chances perhaps life wasn't worth living at all, we'd both agreed. I had never quite felt this alive as the spray of water hit my face as the boat crashed through the waves! We were truly going into the unknown, hoping to find some purpose along the way.
On our way, we passed two people who were waving on the beach near a small community about 30 miles from town. I kept looking back to see if anyone would come out to "greet" us, we were armed just in case, thankfully nobody followed. Closer to town the boat was tied on the other side of a small island not visible from shore. I definitely didn't want to risk everything going into town and wasn't about to burn all bridges going there. We boarded the small row boat and motored even closer to town. We tied up in a little slip, gathered our back packs and would travel the rest of the way on foot.
Walking the roadway and passing a burnt out neighborhood, we came across a sign telling all visitors to check in at the station up the hill. As we approached the station, I was surely getting second thoughts as a high fence was sprawled out on both sides. After entering the station, the first question of business coming from a women behind a counter was, why were we there? When we told her we wanted to inquire about our relatives, a small ledger was brought out and sure enough my two nephews as well as her grandson was on the list. Another large ledger was brought out confirming the deaths of my sister, my uncle and his family also her daughter. Her son and the daughter's husband were unaccounted for, but were presumed dead.
We were asked what was in our back packs and told that no weapons of any kind were allowed into the community. After my sidearm was checked in, I let on that there was medicine in my back pack. This drew the interest from a man sitting behind a desk further back. After introducing himself as a council member, I opened the pack and told him I had a proposition for the commissioners. I told him that I needed men to help bring in a crop and other wild edibles to town and that the medicine was a gift of good faith. The man's eyes sparkled and he was really excited when he learned what I intended to bring in.
The council was to meet at seven pm the next night and I was expected to be up and center for it. In the meantime we were welcomed to the community. My wife and I would lodge at the guest quarters and were welcomed to to eat at one of the shifts the community put on. The water was not running as of yet and we'd have to use the latrines. We were told that that we could meet with the young men that we were seeking there at the six pm shift. The councilor and I shook hands and we left for the quarters.
Having a little time before the six pm shift, we walked around a bit. We could faintly smell latrines off a short distance were the people were being housed. A guard was posted at the entry of these places. It didn't take long to to size up the community and we were just shocked on how much this section of town had changed. It looked like a small military base, neat and orderly.
We decided to check the town out from on top of the hill. As we crested the hill, we were just horrified at what we saw down below! It looked like a town that had been blown apart in WWII. The whole downtown area and large sections of the residential area had burned to the ground. Basements filled with water, debris everywhere and the beautiful trees that had graced the town, gone! Burnt vehicles littered the streets. We both just sat down and gazed at the destruction, not saying a word. Tears welled up in my eyes, my hometown was almost unrecognizable. So many fine times and people had enriched my life here! I felt ashamed of myself for expecting something from these people. What could they possibly give me? Overwhelmed with grief, we wept out load as we made our way back to the community.
We pulled ourselves together the best we could, as we approached the "cafeteria". Hundreds of people were lined up outside the building waiting to go in. Making our way to the back of the line we could smell the stench emitting from these people. It just broke our hearts, never had we seen such a poor lot! Most people had sunken eyes and almost no color in their faces. Most were pathetically thin resembling human skeletons, beneath their tattered clothing. The scene reminded me of pictures I'd seen of the Jewish Holocaust. Once in awhile one would look back towards us, I couldn't bring myself to even look up, to acknowledge them.
Not a word was spoken in our part of the line. We held each other tight as we made our way into the cafeteria. We received our bowl of soup, that looked like water with two small chunks of beef in it and made our way to a table in the center of the room. Shortly after we sat down, I could no longer hold my grief back and began sobbing uncontrollably. This created quite a stir as people got up to see this spectacle. Then I heard my name called, then again! I slowly stood up before all these grand people in the room. Never, have I been so humbled!
Slowly a small group of people came towards our table and then two more from the other end of the room. The grandson, his girlfriend, the two nephews, their wives and the family of one of them approached the table as if coming out of a fog. The people who had been sitting with us got up and made way for those coming over. My once "strong as a bull" nephew, now this side of a walking skeleton, helped me down to my seat.
I sat there paralyzed, trying to regain myself, as the group sat down. When I did finally manage to sit up, I looked directly into each one of their eyes, making my way around the table. While doing this I reached down to the fabric of my soul and whispered, "I have a plan". Nobody said a word, but the sparkle radiating from their eyes looked like moonlight dancing on a riverbed.
While outside and of hearing distance from the others, I explained the plan I had and about the proposition I'd put forth the next night in front of the council. All of the people agreed, they'd rather take their chances on the outside with me than to continue to live like this. I assured all of them the work would be hard but the reward of starting over would be worth it. Also, that there might be a chance of having to defend this new way of life, on the outside. The next night, they would also attend the council meeting.