“You’re thinking I’m crazy and wondering what mushrooms were included with dinner.” I reply.

“Okay, so you can read minds. My bad. Seriously though, Jack, what is going on?”

“I really wish I knew. All I know is I am getting these images in my mind and I can understand them. I don’t want them and they are coming without my asking for them,” I answer feeling stunned and wondering if I’m not in fact going crazy.

I can normally figure things out pretty quickly but this one eludes me. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have a big idea about what is going on but not ready to face or voice it yet. Something strange is happening and happened, that’s for sure. Exactly what and what it means is anyone’s guess. A flicker of fear surfaces. I mean real fear. Not the anxiety of the unknown or the rush of adrenaline a firefight brings, but fear such as I’ve not felt in a long, long time.

“I’m hungry. Let’s go finish dinner,” I say turning back toward the stairs. “Oh, and Lynn, I think we should keep this to ourselves for the time being. At least until I can figure out what the hell is going on.”

“Yeah, I agree. I wouldn’t even know how to bring something like this up. Most would think you’ve gone off the deep end and others would be fearful,” Lynn responds.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” I ask as we start up the wooden steps.

“No, Jack. I don’t know what is going on inside that head of yours, like I ever did, but I don’t think you’re crazy. Well, any more than you already are,” she answers.

“I’d like to take Craig out and train him on the 130 in between our search for survivors so we have a few pilots who can fly it just in case,” I say as we continue our climb up the wide steps.

“I thought you were heading out to look for the soldiers’ families?” Lynn says.

“Yeah, I was going to head out right away but I want to make sure things are good here first. I think there are some lessons to be learned from our last little encounter with the marauders. The night runners were held at bay to some degree by lighting the perimeter and clearing out the immediate area. I’d like to do the same here before I leave,” I answer.

“I’m sure Craig wouldn’t mind learning but you’ll have to ask him. What are you thinking in regards to clearing the area?” Lynn asks.

“Let’s talk about that in tonight’s meeting,” I answer.

Heads turn in our direction as we approach and settle at the table. Questions arise, with regards to my rising to go stare out of the door, in the eyes that are focused on me but there are no actual inquiries. I pick up the fork, still with its last uneaten bite attached, and begin where I left off before leaving the table. I continue dinner like nothing happened but with the images still flying through my mind. They do seem to have settled into a more orderly fashion and aren’t quite as pervasive as they were when they first came. They are, however, still weirding me out. I’m still not sure they’re even real. I mean, it’s not like I can verify what I’m “hearing.” I can’t just walk up to a night runner and ask. I’m not sure they’d respond kindly to a friendly tap on the shoulder.

A particular image flashes in my mind. I try sending a thought out, an image of thought if you will. It’s a mental scream of, “Shut the fuck up.” The image I get in return is a sense of startlement and that particular sequence of images goes ‘silent.’ Hmmmmm… Interesting, I think forking another bite into my mouth.

The group meeting that evening covers a variety of subjects. Bannerman begins by mentioning that we’re ready to begin bringing in livestock and horses if they can be found.

“The barns and stables are about finished. With the weather holding for the most part, they should be okay outside until the buildings are complete. I mean, I’m no rancher by any stretch but I’ve talked with others who are more familiar with that and they said it should be okay,” he says. “We just need some cattle transport and horse trailers in addition to actually finding any livestock which are still alive. I’d like to send a team or two out to locate some.”

“I can do flyovers in the area to see if I can spot any,” I respond. “I have an idea where some were located before all of this went down.”

“Sounds good,” Bannerman responds. “I think this should be included among the many priorities we have going right now.”

“I agree,” Drescoll says. “Is the plan still to head out right away to look for the families of the soldiers?”

“I was thinking of doing just that but I think we may have to delay that now. I think the folks at the high school had the right idea of keeping the night runners at bay. We do have the walls but that doesn’t mean they are insurmountable. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s that the night runners are extremely adaptable. I’m thinking we should clear the immediate area out soon.”

“Any thoughts on how to go about that?” Frank asks.

“Well, I guess there are a variety of ways we could do it,” I answer. “We could demolish the buildings in the area and deny them a place to stay. If we need to use any of the larger, single-story buildings for some reason, we could drop the roof and install some sort of structure that allowed the light in so they can’t stay in them.”

“How are you planning to take down the buildings? Artillery? Tanks? C-4?” Drescoll asks.

“Is anyone here familiar with using artillery or tanks?” I ask in reply.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Lynn answers.

“I know I’m not and I’m pretty sure if I tried either, the results wouldn’t be pretty.” I say. “I’m sure if I tried operating a tank, or any form of artillery for that matter, there would be people running for their lives.”

“So, C-4 it is,” Drescoll says.

“Yeah, that or I was thinking of using an AC-130,” I say.

“Oh, have one of those in your back pocket do ya?” Greg asks.

“No, but I know where some are located. Plus, it’ll be very helpful for cleaning up the area at night,” I answer. “On the plus side, we’ll also be able to look for any families in the New Mexico area. I’d like to train Craig on the 130 and we’ll be able to fly both 130’s back.”

“So, what do we want to do with the buildings? Skylights or demolish them?” Greg asks.

“We’ve taken most of the supplies we can use out of them. If we were to take the idea of skylights to the maintenance and storage buildings at Fort Lewis, store our vehicles there, and put in some security measures against marauders, that should be sufficient for our needs,” Bannerman responds.

“So it’s demolish them then?” I say questioning the group.

“It makes sense. Plus, if we also clear out the trees and everything around us, we’ll have a pretty long line of sight which can only be a benefit,” Lynn is the first to answer.

“What about the Distribution Centers? Are we still planning to hit those after the family recoveries?” Greg asks.

“How are we on supplies?” I ask Bannerman deferring Greg’s question.

“We’re doing pretty well for the time being. The influx of people will drain us more quickly but we’re good for now,” Bannerman answers.

“So, I’m thinking we reserve going to the distribution centers until we return unless anyone has different thoughts,” I say. No one replies.

“So, we continue searching for any survivors nearby, building the greenhouses, walls, and animal enclosures, and with the training for everyone. I’ll start taking Craig up in the afternoons if he is agreeable and we’ll search for any livestock still in the area. After Craig has a handle on the 130, we’ll head down to New Mexico to pick up an AC-130, do a quick search for families around the Clovis and Lubbock areas, and then start on the DC’s. After that, we start clearing the area out around here and then off to find other families,” I say almost out of breath.

“Sounds like a plan,” Drescoll says with everyone agreeing.

“We’re still under a time crunch with regards to heading out to search for soldiers’ families but I think we can wait until we clear the area first. That’s after we return from New Mexico,” I say.

“I’ll inform the teams at the morning formation,” Lynn says.

She looks at me with a questioning look determining if I’m going to say anything about earlier this evening. I give a slight shake of my head wanting to keep this between us for the time being. At least until I have an idea about what is happening and what it might mean. All I know is that I can understand, to an extent, what the night runner images are saying and can pinpoint where they are coming from like a magnetized needle pointing to north. I’m still not sure it’s real but it feels that way. I suppose those who go crazy or hear voices might feel the same way though. Having lived with being a little crazy for most of my life, I feel like I’d know if the scales tipped dramatically. However, there are images in my mind that are some sort of communication so maybe it has. If they, however, tell me to start mutilating animals, I’ll call it good and leave on my own.

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