Both men heard the zipper of the tent slide open, and turned that way. Jenny emerged, still wearing the brown camouflage trousers, but with a green wool military sweater for a top.
"The baby's sleeping?" asked Carson.
"Yes. At least she's taking the instant milk, and keeping it down."
"Did we wake you up?" asked Doug.
"I slept a little. I was listening to your story." She sat down on a folding chair between the men. Zack was still snoring softly in his sleeping bag, blessedly oblivious.
Carson said, "There's hot water in the thermos. You want something?"
Doug went to a box and returned with a brown paper pouch. He tore it open and made the cocoa, mixing it in a mug on the table. Jenny sipped the warm liquid and stared into the space between the two men. Her long blond hair, mussed and matted on top, spilled across her shoulders in the absence of the fur hat. Her bangs hung almost to her honey-colored eyes. She spoke quietly, because Zack and the baby were still sleeping. "I found something in one of my pockets."
Jenny placed a small Ziploc bag on the table. Inside was a thin black rectangle: a pocket-sized notebook. Carson opened the plastic bag, withdrew the spiral-bound booklet, and opened it. She looked at Doug and said, "I'm glad you got away--that was an incredible story. It brought back a lot of my own memories. Do you guys want to hear it?"
Carson nodded and Doug said, "Sure."
She sipped her cocoa, then took a deep breath and began. "You were describing the January earthquake. I was already away from Memphis for the second one, but I was there for the first. My family lived in Germantown, that's between where the two rivers almost come together. The Wolf and the Nonconnah, like you were saying. It's about twenty miles south-east of downtown Memphis. That meant it was one of the only ways out of the city when the bridges went down. Our house shook but it didn't fall down, thank God. We had some cracked walls, but we were lucky: a lot of houses did collapse. It was Saturday morning, or I would have been at school. My school pancaked, so we were lucky it happened when it did. In Germantown, the earthquake shook us around and broke some things, but I didn't see it kill anybody. Not directly. Roads were buckled and cracked all over the place, so you couldn't drive very far without making a lot of detours. The main thing was the gas and electric went out, and the water. That was all right at first. We've had tornados and ice storms that knocked out the power. We weren't too worried. It always came back on in a few hours--or at least by the next day.
"Only this time, the power didn't come back on. Not a blink, nothing. The whole system was down--telephones, cell phones, ATM machines, gas stations...everything. On the second day, when we were lined up at the Safeway supermarket, that's when it started to get crazy. The store employees said you had to pay with cash. But the ATM machines didn't work, so how could you get cash? People who didn't have enough cash started to get angry, real angry. And all of the ATM machines I saw were smashed open anyway. Looted.
"By then the refugees from Memphis were starting to walk out to Germantown. I'd been waiting in a line all the way around the block with my father, and then these people walking out of Memphis just started cutting in line and pushing right to the front. Mostly black people, and Germantown is mostly white. It got ugly fast. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and yelling.
"People started saying we were stupid to wait while everybody else cut in line, and then they started pushing inside too. Police were there trying to keep order, but they gave up. What could they do? Shoot everybody? The police were a joke, useless. We waited in that line for six hours, my father and I. We were probably about number five hundred in the line to get inside the Safeway, and then the mob just pushed ahead of the line anyway. The supermarket was stripped bare to the walls by the time we got inside. There was nothing left. Nothing you could eat or drink, anyway. We felt like fools for wasting half of a day waiting in line, but who could you complain to? Nobody. We were fools--for acting civilized.
"We figured the electric company would get the power back on in a few days, or a week at most. Water became a big problem right away. Our neighborhood was on city water, and it stopped during the earthquake. We were lucky because we had a swimming pool, so it wasn't so bad for us. It cracked during the quake, but it still had a few feet of water at the bottom. We shared it with our neighbors on each side of our house; we let them dip it out with buckets. We used our propane grills for cooking, and for boiling the water to drink.
"And then on the third day more and more refugees started coming. That was Monday. Little groups at first, then big crowds, and then just continuous, like a parade. Mostly blacks from Memphis. Lots of them were pushing shopping carts full of stuff. Their own stuff or looted stuff, who knows? Our street was only one block off Poplar Avenue, it ran parallel to it. Poplar's a big street; it goes all the way into Memphis, and the other way it goes out to the country. We had a lot of people walking through our neighborhood. I mean thousands, like a stadium letting out, and we were a block off of Poplar.
"At first folks came up and knocked on the door, fairly polite, asking for water and food. They thought we were rich or something, because of our neighborhood. Somehow they found out we had a swimming pool, and they wanted water. That sounds pretty reasonable, but then some of them started sitting all over our yard. At first we hoped they were just 'resting,' but then it went from a few people to dozens to hundreds. We had whole families sitting all over our yard, camping out almost. Then our car disappeared. We could only fit our Expedition in the garage, so our Acura was parked in the driveway. Then it was gone, and the people sitting all over our yard just shrugged. They didn't say anything; they just glared at us like we caused the earthquake or something. I peeked out through the curtains--only my father went to the door to talk to them. On the third day, the refugees went right into our backyard too, and then we couldn't get water out of our own pool. We were too afraid to go outside, not even in the backyard to get water. I was never a racist, I had black friends at school, but this was different. I was scared to death every minute. The people outside didn't seem grateful for the water, they seemed more angry. Resentful, I guess, because we had a little swimming pool. Smaller than this platform we're on.
"In the afternoon of the third day it started raining hard, cold hard rain, and people started banging on our doors. Women. There were men too; in fact, it was mostly men outside. I think they sent the women to knock on the door, just to play on our sympathy. They were pleading for us to open up, and let them come inside and get some shelter. They said they had babies and children with them, please God have some mercy and let them in! And about then there were some loud bangs around the neighborhood, and I just knew they were gunshots.
"My father didn't have any guns. He didn't believe in them, can you imagine that? Didn't believe in them! That's like not believing in rocks, or hammers or knives. He didn't believe in guns! I mean, guns are reality, so not believing in guns is like not believing in reality. Well, some of our neighbors must have believed in them, because we started hearing gunshots, and it was pretty obvious that no matter what happened, 911 wasn't coming. Not with the phones out. The police were not even a factor. I don't know if they all ran away to look after their own families, or maybe they were guarding something more important than our street. Whatever it was, we never saw them around our neighborhood after the second day, during the riot at the supermarket. After that, they evaporated. Disappeared.
"My mother said, maybe we can just let the women and the children in for a little while, as long as it was raining? My father said no, we can't let them inside, not even for a minute. If we do, we won't be able to keep the men out, and once they're in, they'll never leave. They'll take over. We had an ax and a baseball bat for weapons. We barricaded the doors with furniture. The window curtains were already closed tight. Some of the windows were cracked from the earthquake, but the glass was still in the frames.
"My dad told me to get ready to run away if they broke in. I was the younger of two children, and the only one still living at home. My sister, Julie, was away at college in Nashville. I still don't know what happened to her. I don't even know if she's alive... Well, my father said that in case they come in the house, I should be ready to hide, or to run away. He didn't have to tell me why. We all remembered what happened to those kids who were carjacked and kidnapped in Knoxville. They were gang-raped and tortured to death. It was hard not to think about that, because I'm blond, like that girl in Knoxville was, and about the same age she was.
"So I got a hiding place ready in the cellar, and I got a cellar window ready just in case. I had a big meat-carving knife too. Without gas and electric, the house was so cold that we were already dressed like we were outside, so I was ready to run away if I had to. I was wearing jeans and sneakers, and a waterproof green parka with a hood over a couple of sweaters. My father said that we were going to try to get to my uncle's house in Mannville. Uncle Henry. That was our plan. We packed our SUV in the garage for the trip, but with hundreds of refugees from Memphis camped out on our yard and our driveway and all over the street, we didn't think we could make it. We'd have to run over too many people, if they didn't get out of the way--and they wouldn't. It just wouldn't work, there were too many of them. Plus, there were telephone poles and trees all over the roads.
"We were waiting for the refugees to go away somewhere, but it just seemed like more and more were coming every day, walking out of Memphis. And all of them were cold and wet and hungry--and mad. We kept waiting for the police or the National Guard or FEMA or somebody to show up and save us, but they never came either. We listened to a radio that ran on batteries, but they just said, 'Wait in your homes until the authorities arrive.' What authorities? I think the authorities ran away too, like the police. Totally worthless. So we were trapped inside our own home.
"It was terrifying every minute. You couldn't sleep a wink, even after three days. We were hoping and praying that the people outside would just go away and leave us alone! It was raining hard, and the people outside kept yelling and demanding that we let them in. They were banging on the front door and kicking on it, getting madder and madder because we wouldn't let them in. My father yelled back that he had a shotgun and he would shoot if they came in, but it was just a bluff. He didn't believe in guns, remember? Not until he really needed one--and then he only had a make-believe gun. It was quiet for a little while after he said he had a shotgun. We thought his bluff had worked, but then big rocks came crashing through some of our windows, paving stones from our walkway and our garden. Right after that, our front door was smashed in with a metal pole, I think from a street sign. They demolished the door and pushed right over the table we had against it. My father was standing there with his ax raised, and that was the last I saw of him. He never had a chance. A whole gang of men rushed in at once, and they were climbing through the smashed windows too. They all had knives and spears and clubs. I ran for the cellar, praying that nobody saw me. I think they were all focused on my father because he had an ax.
"I ran down the steps and crawled backwards into my spot behind the old oil furnace. The furnace was cold because we didn't use it anymore since we switched to gas heat, and of course the gas stopped during the earthquake. So we had two different furnaces that didn't work. Anyway, I'd found some plywood scraps to cover my little hiding place behind the furnace, like a false wall. I was sitting on the floor in a little ball, not moving an inch. All I could do was pray. Hold onto my carving knife, and pray.
"The worst part of it was I could hear my mother upstairs screaming. The sound came down through the air ducts to the old furnace right next to me. She screamed and cried for at least an hour, until her cries grew weaker and then they stopped. I felt like such a coward, hiding in the cellar. I could hear them stomping around upstairs, knocking things over and raising hell, looking for food. They must have found the liquor cabinet, because when they finally came down to the cellar, they were drunk. I don't think they even realized there was a cellar in the house; they were probably just checking closet doors and found it by accident.
"I could just tell that they were stinking drunk coming down the steps by the way they laughed and carried on. I don't know how many came downstairs, I couldn't see from my hiding place where I was curled up, but I know there were at least a few men looking around the cellar. I could see their flashlight beams through the cracks of my hiding place. I was never half so scared in my entire life. Not a quarter, not ten percent. I turned the knife around, pointing it at my own heart, holding it with both hands. That's how scared I was. I thought I was having a heart attack the whole time. I had an ache inside that I'd never felt before in my life. Physical pain. Pure fear, absolute terror. I kept remembering what happened to that blond girl in Knoxville?and to her boyfriend.
"I was just petrified that they were going to find me, and drag me out and gang-rape me and torture me to death. I didn't know if I should try to kill myself with that carving knife if they pulled back that plywood and found me, but they didn't. It wasn't a big cellar, it was old and rough and very dark even in the daytime. It wasn't a fixed-up rec-room kind of cellar, especially not on the side where the furnace was. Anyway, they didn't find me, or I wouldn't be here right now telling this story. My mother and father were upstairs when our home was invaded. I was certain they were dead, and there I was, hiding like a scared rabbit behind the old furnace. That was the low point of my life, up to that time. I think my parents stayed upstairs to save me. If they had run downstairs with me, we would have all been killed. Instead, they stayed upstairs and died--died for me, I guess.
"After midnight, when the house finally got quiet, when the party upstairs died down, I eased out of my hiding place and snuck over to the basement window that I'd gotten ready. I didn't even have a flashlight, so I had to move across the cellar all by feel, like a blind person, about an inch a minute. I was so afraid that I might bump right into somebody who might be hiding there in the basement in the pitch dark! My God, that was so, so scary. I was glad I'd gotten the cellar window ready, and that I knew the way by heart. There were bushes outside the window, so nobody could see me climbing out. Once I was outside, it was just barely light enough to see, if you knew your way around. I knew my neighborhood better than anybody, so I could sneak around in the dark, and I made it to a little woods behind our street without being seen. That was the very beginning of my journey to Mannville.
"I had an old boyfriend who lived just a few blocks away. Bobby Buchanan, he was in my ninth-grade homeroom, and our families went to the same church. His neighborhood didn't connect to Poplar Avenue. You had to know your way in; his whole neighborhood was like a big loop, with only one entrance road. You could only drive into it from another direction, not from Poplar. It was on the other side of a creek and a city park that ran along the creek, so I was hoping it wouldn't be overrun with refugees yet. Once when we were going together, Bobby told me that if there were ever riots in Memphis, his father and his friends were going to guard the road into his neighborhood. I laughed at him and said he was paranoid. I know better now. There were no refugees on his side of the park, at least none that I saw, thank God.
"I knew all the shortcuts, even in the dark. Like the little footbridge over the creek that cuts through the park, so I made it to his street okay. His parents still liked me, even though I kind of dumped him. His father was a real gun nut, a deer hunter and all that. He had an entire room in his basement that was full of guns and stuffed animal heads and Army stuff. He even had a little machine to reload his own bullets down there, which I used to think was crazy. I hoped the Buchanans would still be there. Prayed, actually. They had a big property, about an acre. There were two trucks in the driveway. It was so dark I practically had to feel my way, like tonight. I'm lucky, I've always had cat's eyes, and I've never been afraid of the dark.