We use the hour before landing to review what terrain lies ahead and to plan our next stops. Eighty miles a day is doable, but we’re not in the greatest condition. The pain in my leg is beginning to subside, but I still haven’t been able to take a good look at it to see the damage. And the cut in my side, although it has stopped bleeding, still keeps me from doing much bending.
The few hours of sleep I got has definitely helped to improve my mood and should give me the stamina necessary to push forward. I just hope it will be enough with all of the odds stacking up against us.
The Geek says Wisconsin is made up of mostly hills and lakes, which won’t make our course easy. He also says the area is completely littered with trees. That should help keep the SPs from seeing us from the sky, but will make it difficult to find a good path to run on. Still, the weather should be nice and cool; and having water around every corner will make it easy to stay hydrated.
“Whatcha thinking about?” Eve asks lightly.
“Oh, nothing. Just kinda surprised we got this far.”
“Really? I thought you were the one who always says you’ll find a way.”
“Well, yeah, but, you know, I somehow manage to always be surprised when it happens.”
“There she is,” calls Charlie over the headset. Below us is a winding river, making its way through the farmland to a city ahead where it connects with yet another river. The city doesn’t look all that big, but does seem to stretch on a ways. We fly over a peninsula positioned in the middle of a lake.
Charlie directs our transportation to a nearby helipad which is placed on the rooftop of something looking a lot like a medical facility. In only a matter of minutes, we’ve landed in the middle of a large H.
“Alright, kids,” Charlie smiles, “this is where we part ways.”
“Really?” I ask, disappointed.
“Yep, I guess they’ve got something planned for you two, but I’m not going to be able to make it.”
“Why?” Eve asks.
“Well, to be honest with you, I probably could, but I won’t. You know us old folks, always looking to get back into hiding, right?” He chuckles.
“So, what’s going to happen to you?”
“Alvin set me up with a meeting in order to find a place to hang low until things settle down. Guess I’ll be calling Eau Claire home for now.”
“I think it’ll be perfect for you, Charlie,” I say. And I believe it. Anything has got to be better than living underground. Charlie reaches his hand back to us and I shake it. Eve leans forward to give him a long, awkward hug.
“Alright, kids. You two be safe, alright? I don’t wanna have to be airlifting you out of any more battlefields, okay?”
“No promises,” I laugh.
A group of people exit the rooftop doorway and pull us from the chopper. Not much is said to us as we are led to a couple hospital beds and told to wait.
“What do you think this is all about?” I ask Eve.
“I’d guess it has something to do with the blood all over your shirt.”
“This?” I say, shrugging as I look at my side. “Aw, it’s nothing.”
“Let’s just hope whoever they’ve got coming to check us out says the same thing.”
Two men in lab coats enter the room quickly and silently. Before I can protest, one of them has already managed to cut off my shirt and is wiping my cut with some sort of liquid. My skin loses feeling quickly. I look over to Eve and see the other man flashing lights into her eyes.
“What’s going on?” I ask the man as he pulls out a small needle.
“You’ve got a pretty deep cut here, Mr. Rhodes. I’m just going to stitch it up for you to keep it from getting infected.”
“Oh,” I say lamely as I watch him push the needle through my skin, deftly sewing me together with nimble fingers.
“Is there anything else I should check out while you’re here? Any other injuries?”
“My leg,” I say, unable to remove my focus from the stitch work occurring on my skin.
“Right or left?”
“Okay,” he says as he ties a tiny knot at the end of the black thread now holding me together. He slides the chair he’s sitting on down to my lower half. “Where does it hurt?” he says as he begins pressing on my leg.
“Right in the middle. It’s not so bad now, but feels pretty sore.”
“Can you move it?” he asks as he lifts my knee.
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Great. That’s a good sign. Why don’t you try putting some weight on it.”
“Okay,” I say as I slowly swing my legs over the side of the bed.
“Careful now,” he says as he presses his hand against my back. “We don’t want to re-open those stitches.”
“Okay, doc.” I put my left foot on the floor first and shift my weight onto it before finally putting my right leg down and balancing my weight between the two.
“Are you putting weight on the leg now?”
“Yes, sir,” I say. The leg still aches, but it’s not getting any worse.
“Fantastic,” he says as he lifts a chart off the end of the bed. “I’ll still want to get some x-rays on it to be sure and I’ll definitely want to make an actual visual exam, but I highly doubt it’s broken.”
“X-rays?” I ask. “We don’t have time for that.”
“Well, I can’t recommend ignoring the leg, Mr. Rhodes. I don’t even think walking on it would be wise until we can be sure the injuries aren’t severe.”
“No X-rays,” I say again, walking to Eve who has now been left alone. “We have to go.”
“As you wish, Mr. Rhodes, but I must warn you against any strenuous exercise while you have those stitches. You could run the risk of popping them open and—“
“Doc, you obviously have no clue who we are,” I laugh as I take Eve by the arm and walk out the doors into the hallway.
“Mr. Rhodes!” the doctor calls after us. I smile as we make our way down the hall following the signs which lead to the exit. Once we make it to the front doors, we are greeted by a man wearing a tie and a giant smile.
“Mr. Rhodes. Ms. Gardner. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says as he walks after us, trying to catch up. “I’m Gary Hartmann. I’ve been tasked with bringing you out to the festivities and offer you anything I can along the way.”
“You got a shirt?” I ask, feeling the brisk wind against my bare chest.
“Oh, most certainly, Mr. Rhodes. The welcoming committee has gathered some articles of clothing they believe could be useful to the two of you, figuring a change of clothes might be appreciated.”
“Great, Gary. Lead me to ‘em.”
Gary has us change direction and we are led down the main path toward a van idling in the parking lot. Once we enter the van, he points at a box of clothing and tells us to choose whatever we like. I dig through and find a baggy white T-shirt with the words “Curd’s the word” on the front. I quickly pull it over my head as well as a green sweatshirt I find in the pile. It has a large yellow G on it. Eve doesn’t appear interested, although her clothes are looking pretty ratty.
The van takes us down the road a short distance to a large outdoor park where there are banners, balloons, music. . . and people. A large crowd has gathered in the area waiting for us to arrive.
This makes me nervous. I look over to Eve and see she has the same concern.
“So, um, no one said anything about a party,” I state.
“Charlie did say they were going to have a feast,” Eve shrugs.
“But, a party? Is that even safe, considering our status as wanted fugitives?”
“I don’t know. Probably not.”
“Are the rebels usually this, um… excited?”
“Cyrus, I’ve never even heard of Eau Claire outside of knowing it used to be one of the main producers of munitions for the country.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any less anxious, Eve.”
“Yeah,” she says as the doors to the van open to show us a crowd of several hundred people eagerly awaiting something.
The crowd erupts into cheers as we slowly exit the vehicle. There are banners saying things like “Good Luck Eve and Cyrus,” and “We love you Cyrus!!”
I don’t like it.
We follow Gary through the crowd to a table in the middle of a covered area. A woman, whom I’d guess is in her mid-twenties, steps up to greet us, shakes our hands, and turns to the crowd. She has a microphone in her hand. The crowd silences as she begins to speak.
“Good morning, Eau Claire!” she yells.
“Morning!” they yell back. The excitement in the air is thick. It makes me very uncomfortable. The woman turns to Eve and me.
“Eve and Cyrus, we are so excited to have you here.” The crowd erupts into cheers again. The woman quiets them and continues. “I know you’re in a rush to complete your job, so I’ll try to keep this short.”
“Yeah right!” a male voice yells from the crowd.
The woman blushes. “Okay, I deserve that. But this time I promise. We are so excited to be able to help you two on your journey across this great nation of ours. Now, we heard you were involved in a bit of a scuffle last night and might not be feeling the best, but we hoped you would be interested in telling us about yourselves. Is that right, Eau Claire?”
“Speech, speech, speech,” chants the crowd.
I look at Eve. She shrugs and whispers, “Um, this is your run, remember?”
“But–” however, I’m cut off by the woman shoving the microphone in my face. I turn to look at the crowd, feeling my cheeks warm.
“Um,” I begin. The crowd silences at my voice. “Well, I don’t usually talk too much in front of a crowd, so, um, yeah. It’s really cool that you made this meal for us. So. . . thanks.” I quickly push the microphone back toward the woman.
“To Eve and Cyrus!” the woman says after a short pause, recovering from my horrible speech and bringing the crowd to another round of cheers. “Now, take as much food as you want. And if there’s anything else you need from us before you go, please let us know.”
She continues by directing everyone as to how they should join in on the meal. We are escorted through the piles upon piles of food. There are all sorts of food concoctions, most of which I can’t even identify. I spot a pile of fruits and vegetables and decide those would be the best bet, considering the run ahead of us. Eve is more adventurous than I am, although only taking a small portion of some sort of pasta dish. The rest of her plate is covered with a selection of fruits as well.
We are directed to sit at a long picnic table and dive into our food immediately. We are joined by the woman and her entourage of just-as-eager and cheerful people who look to be about the same age as her.
“Hi guys!” the woman speaks cheerfully.
“Hi,” I mutter back between bites. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. And now, looking at Eve’s plate, I wish I had chosen to venture into the unknown with my food options.
“So, I haven’t had the opportunity to introduce myself,” she says brightly. “My name’s Katie, and this,” she says as she gestures around the table, “is the rest of the Freedom Committee. Trent, Shirley, and Bailey.” They each say hi and wave as they are introduced.
“It’s very nice to meet all of you,” Eve returns cheerfully. “Thank you so much for all of this.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I say, trying to not appear ungrateful.
“Oh, it’s no problem whatsoever. We’re just so happy to be able to help you guys out.”
“So,” Eve says, “the Freedom Committee, what’s that all about?”
“Oh, you know, we try to increase awareness about all the civil liberty abuses going on around the nation. When we heard you guys were in need of a place to recover, we just knew it would be a wonderful opportunity for us to spread the word about our cause.”
“What do you do to ‘increase awareness’?” I ask, figuring I could do a better job at being friendly.
“Oh, you know, we run regular protests around the city; have informational meetings, stuff like that.”
“You all seem to be doing pretty well, though,” Eve starts, “what sorts of things are you doing to allow yourselves so much freedom? I mean, there aren’t too many places that can put together something like this out in the open.”
“Oh, we hold freedom rallies like this all the time. They are one of our best attended events.”
“Freedom rallies?” I ask.
“Yeah, you know, little events to try to raise money and whatever.”
“Raise money for what?”
“To ship out supplies, of course,” she giggles. “Our city’s been doing pretty good, even with all the problems the rest of the country has been having. We have such a strong local farm community, so we never have any issues in making sure we have enough food. We also have a ton of old factories in the area, so, we can build pretty much anything. We’ve learned to be really self-sufficient.”
“And the government’s okay with this?” Eve asks.
“Yeah, I guess. Why wouldn’t they be? Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.”
“What do you mean?” Eve asks.
“Well, it’s not like things were always so good around here, don’t ya know? I mean, we used to produce all sorts of stuff for the nation, but when they started trimming the budget, they all but pulled out of our city. It almost killed the town. We had no money, no options, nothing. Then a group of folks stopped by and dropped off some supplies, seeds mostly. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know where we’d be. So, we thought we should just pay it forward, you know?”
“But, don’t you have to abide to your government-sanctioned schedules?” I ask, thinking this all seems to be too good to be true.
“What?” Katie asks, her smile not seeming to be able to disappear off her face.
“You know, a series of places you’re supposed to be and things you’re supposed to be doing at whatever time the boys in power tell you to be doing it.”
“Umm. . . no,” she laughs. “I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
“Really?” Eve asks incredulously. “But you say you’re fighting the civil liberty abuses. What types of things are you talking about then?”
“All sorts of stuff. I mean, the civil liberties stuff probably takes a back burner to some of the more pressing issues, like getting medical supplies and food and whatever out to folks who need it. People are dying all over, you know, and we’re just trying to do our best to keep that from happening. We know we could do a lot more, but we try to do what we can.”
“That’s really impressive,” Eve responds. “The rebellion has been trying for quite some time to get our movement into the Midwest, but hasn’t had much luck. It’s good to see someone is.”
“What’s been keeping you?” Katie smiles bigger. I notice she hasn’t even taken a look at the food on her plate.
“Well, you know, the SPs kinda keep us from getting very far.”
“Um, yeah, you know, the Street Patrols, the government police.”
“Oh, we know all about the Street Patrols. I just can’t say we see too much of them around here, you know? We get as far south as Missouri and I’m not sure we’ve ever had any dealings with them.”
“Odd,” Eve says.
“I guess the government must consider you all the flyover states just like the rest of us,” I joke.
“Hey now!” Katie exclaims, still with a smile on her face. “That’s not very nice, you know.”
“I’m just saying–”
“What he means to say,” Eve nudges me, “is that you’ve got a great opportunity out here. If the SPs aren’t watching you, you can get away with a lot.”
“Yeah, except,” I begin, “now that we’re here. . .”
“What?” Katie asks anxiously.
“Well, if they find out where we are hiding out, they’re going to be swarming all over this place in no time.”
“Cyrus is right. Us being here could be very dangerous for you.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it.”
Eve stands up quickly. “No, we have to worry about it. What you are doing here is important. If I had known all of this, we wouldn’t have come here. Cyrus, we should get going.” I join her in standing, excited about leaving the crowd, not as excited about leaving behind a plate full of food.
“Oh, really?” Katie asks unhappily. “But we had a band lined up for you and a place to rest and everything.”
“The longer we stay here, the longer all of you are in very real danger,” Eve says, a sense of urgency growing in her voice.
“She’s right, Katie,” I say, somewhat anxious to get away from the large crowd myself. It’s possible they don’t know about the bounty on our heads, but I’d rather not risk it any more than I need to.
“Okay, if you insist,” Katie whines. “Trent, can you get the van ready to take them out to the trail?”
“Sure thing, Katie,” Trent says as he walks off quickly.
“Oh, we don’t need a van or anything,” I say, really wanting to free myself from their hospitality.
“Don’t be ridiculous. We can drive you to the old bike trail, that’ll get you out of town easily without putting yourself in too much danger in case those Street Patrols are really going to come looking for you.”
“Thanks,” Eve says graciously. “For everything.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about it at all. It’s the least we could do.” Katie giggles again.
It’s not quite as easy to remove ourselves from the event as we hoped. Trent returns quickly, stating the van is readied, but attempting to move us through the crowd ends up being a task of its own.
People clamor for our attention, hoping to receive handshakes, high fives, and whatever else. I’m actually enjoying the attention more than I would have thought.
We make it through the crowd and into the back of the van that had brought us here. Trent stays relatively quiet through the trip. No one else has been allowed to join us on this journey to the edge of town. Finally, Trent stops the vehicle and turns to look at us.
“Is it really that bad out there?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Katie told us not to ask you guys about the rest of the nation, but, well, I mean, from the sounds of what happened in Cheyenne, well, it sounds bad.”
“It’s war,” I blurt out.
“Cyrus,” Eve scolds me. “It’s not good, Trent, but with the work of people like you all and your Freedom Committee, it’s getting better.”
“I sure hope so.”
“All we can do is keep fighting the good fight,” Eve responds. She sounds like she’s a leader of the rebellion or something, giving out those words I feel I’ve heard over and over again in old movies where people are standing up against a common foe. I nod, trying to show Trent I have some faith that what the rebellion is doing is worthwhile.
“Well, we’re here,” Trent says. “This is an old trail that runs through the valley area here. If you follow it to the end, it’ll take you at least ten miles out. I had told Katie I could drive you out to Appleton, but–”
Eve interrupts, “Thanks Trent, but the less you have to do with us, the better. For all of you.”
“Okay, well, this trail should be pretty safe, I mean, I guess.”
“Thanks,” I say.
“Oh, and I almost forgot.” Trent reaches below the passenger seat and pulls out a large paper grocery bag. “Katie put together some supplies for you. We don’t know much about how this whole running thing works, but we thought you could probably use whatever you could get.”
The bag is filled to the brim, much too full to take all of it with us. Trent hands it to me and I take a look through it for items we can use.
“It’s all yours,” he says.
“But, we can’t really–”
“Thanks,” Eve interrupts again, “we appreciate everything you’ve done for us.” I’m getting annoyed with how much Eve has been cutting me off, even if she’s doing it to keep me from saying something rude. I open the door to the van and we exit, taking the large bag with us. Trent rolls down his window.
“If you guys ever come back around this way, look me up, alright? I want to know how things work out.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find you,” Eve laughs. And with that, Trent is gone.
Go to Chapter Twenty-Two