Chapter 68

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Laird flexed his triceps, scrutinizing his musculature in the bedroom mirror. He'd lost some of his bulk but was still toned, still much stronger than the average man. That was in part, because of his ability to consume masses of protein, even under the circumstances. The food he'd been able to procure during Supply Runs had been nothing short of miraculous. But he'd retrieved not just food. He'd returned with gasoline, engine oil, batteries, flashlights, clothing, etc.

Kay had revealed her concern about how he'd obtained these supplies and he figured she had harbored these feelings for quite a while. It was only natural. For months on end, the runs had yielded very little and then one night, they'd come home with the tractor trailer bearing not just a handful of staples, but boxes of goods. Laird had simply lied, saying he'd gotten lucky and that had been good enough. Other than whether more of it was available, nobody seemed to give a damn how food was acquired. They were just grateful to have it.

Even Grant had said nothing. But then, in exchange for his silence, Laird had agreed not to reveal Grant's solemn visits to his old house or to the hospital parking lot, the final resting place of his wife and daughter. Wes was foolish. Well, maybe not completely foolish, but certainly gullible. Charles, who had accompanied them multiple times, was level-headed, but not wise enough to figure something was amiss. Plus, Laird often hid some of the prize findings for himself, storing them away deep within the Walker House silo.

Because of what he had been able to discover and accomplish, Laird thought that Community's members sort of owed their survival to him. That wasn't arrogant of him, it was simply the truth. Someone gave you something, then you were in their debt. Besides, he came to believe that the trips had taken a toll on his health. Sure, he still felt strong, but things about him were...changing. His beard, for example, grew in heavier than ever before, the stubble harder and harder to shave. It now sheared off in tiny, hard chips that sometimes ruined two or three razors before the job was done. And his limbs felt less flexible...even rusty at times.

Leaving the mirror, he threw on a tee shirt, then stuffed some extra clothing into a bag. The days were warm, but the night could sometimes bring a chill with it. Therefore, he made sure to pack a couple of sweaters and two varieties of jeans: regular and a heavy, fleece-lined pair, just in case. There was no telling what he, Kay and the kids might run into, but one thing was certain: they were not coming back.

From the top shelf of the closet – one only he could reach – he pulled down a shoulder holster and slid it on. He moved across the room to the bureau. From the back of the bottom drawer he withdrew one of two Glock 17 pistols. These, he'd also retrieved during one of the runs. He loaded it, tucked it into the holster, then threw on a heavy sweatshirt to conceal it. When he made the attempt to steal the tractor trailer, there could be a problem and Laird was determined not to let anyone get in their way.

He reached back into the drawer to take the other pistol but couldn't find it. Tossing aside all of the clothing, he found the drawer empty. No pistol. Maybe Kay had taken hers already.

He climbed the stairs to the first level and entered the children's room. Kay was there helping them pack their own bags. "Almost ready?" he asked. Kay nodded. "Good. It's close to go-time. I'll go pack the food." He turned away and said, "Oh, do you have the other pistol? It wasn't in the drawer."

Kay shook her head. "No. Where could it be?"

The hairs on the back of Laird's neck bristled. Was she telling the truth?

His wife turned to Lance and Audrey. "Did you guys see Mom and Dad's pistols?" The children shook their heads. She turned to Laird. "We have to find them."

Again, a wave of uncertainty washed over him. He didn't misplace things. Ever.

"Yes," he said. "We'll find them." He left the bedroom and went into the kitchen. From the cupboards he grabbed some canned goods; meats and vegetables, some fruit packed in syrup; a good sugar source. Then he took the can opener from one of the drawers, along with a decent knife, which he wrapped in a towel before depositing in the bag. There were also crackers, cookies and some protein bars. Lastly, a couple gallons of spring water. That was all he would take as the weight would slow him down. Besides, once they reached their intended destination, there would be an abundance of fresh food.

Fresh food...It sounded too good to be true and yet, he knew it to be so. He'd seen it with his own eyes; a world where there was plenty for everyone. A world where the horrors of this place didn't exist. He'd been there. And this time, he would take Kay and the children with him. Getting back to it might prove difficult. Another reason for the Glock. Laird would let the weapon do the talking.

"Laird?"

He turned to face Kay. "Find the Glock?"

She sighed. "I need to know exactly what your plan is."

"You just need to trust me, Kay. Everything's going to work out."

Kay shook her head. "No. I, as your wife and partner, need to have a clear understanding here. I don't know what we're getting into...what we're getting our kids into."

"Lance and Audrey will be fine. You and I will be fine. Once we get to the tractor trailer, it'll be smooth sailing."

"And then what? Where are we going?"

"A place."

Her brow furrowed. "A place? That's all you can tell me? Not good enough."

"Kay, if we don't hurry, we risk losing our chance. Have I ever led you astray?"

"That's not the point! I've never just leapt into anything in my life, even here, in this place, I'm sure as hell not about to start. I know that we're safe here in Community and safety is paramount."

Laird stepped closer to her and took her hand, which she surrendered hesitantly. "No, Kay. We're not safe here. Not anymore. Haven't you noticed people acting strangely? Mitchell...you think he's normal?"

"He's always been a little off. So what, we just keep our distance, as usual."

Laird shook his head. "No, he's a lot off. There's something very wrong with him. And whatever has happened to him, is going to happen to everyone, sooner rather than later."

"What are you talking about?" she asked, stepping away from him. "You're not making any sense."

"There's something not right with Community. The whole place. Can't you sense it? It's like the land is...infected or something."

Her face contorted with what looked like fear, be it genuine or feigned, Kay said, "Laird, please...I'm scared. You're not thinking clearly."

"Goddammit, Kay!" She shuddered in surprise at the outburst. Lance and Audrey appeared in the bedroom doorway, concern evident on their faces. "I've seen it out there," he pointed toward the silo's exterior door, one flight above. "Everything's lifeless...colorless, for Christ's sake. Everything's gray...except Community."

"Which is why we must stay," she replied.

"Community is unnaturally lush." Laird slammed his fist on the kitchen table. "You ever wonder what the hell is growing out in the fields, Kay? What the farmers are caring for? Ever wonder why it is we never eat any of the vegetables? Why nothing is ever fucking harvested!"

Appearing offended, Kay glowered at her husband. "Nothing has been harvested because nothing is ripe yet."

"Nothing is ever ripe here, Kay. Ever. As in the entire time we've lived here." Laird crossed his arms over his chest. "That's the other thing – exactly how long have we been here? I've noticed that whenever I try to figure that out, I can't. It's like my memory is fogged over. Like something doesn't want me to remember."

"Who are you, anymore, Laird?"

"Kay," Laird pleaded, reaching for her hand, "come on, we have to leave."

Shaking her head, she stepped backward, now displaying what Laird thought to be not worry or concern, but a steadfast determination. Her expression changed from that of loving wife to a cunning adversary. From the other room, the children emerged and came to their mother's side. Lance was holding the other Glock. He raised it toward Laird.  

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