Our schedule got a little wobbly because of the holiday, but we are back at it. Here's Part 8 of our story. Hope you're still liking it. It's going fun places. Well, fun for the writer. The characters may not agree as much.
For those of you here, enjoy Part 8.
And if you need to catch up, you can do that here.
Welcome to the End//Part 8: J.R.
“Hello,” calls a voice from the nothing. “It’s me. J.R. Don’t shoot or anything.”
Our little square of people relaxes.
“Good evening, J.R.,” Walter says. “Come. Join us by the fire.”
J.R.’s small frame steps out of the dark, and we can see that he’s carrying three dead rabbits by the back haunches. They swing slow at his side, and Walter and I stand to greet him.
We haven’t seen J.R. in a few days. He’s not a camp regular, but he does pass by a couple times a week. He’ll sleep here overnight then leave in the morning. He has a wife and kids he’s looking for. We talk about it after he leaves. None of us think they’ve survived, but none of us have the courage to tell him that either.
He lays the rabbits on top of a plastic bucket that we’ve turned over and use as a table. Walter scoops them back up and pulls a large knife from the holder attached to his belt. He walks away from the rest of us. He’s going to dress the rabbits. We have a makeshift spit that we’ll roast them on. J.R. always brings food.
He and I walk back to the fire, and he makes a bee-line for my chair. I catch his shoulder just as he’s about to sit. He turns to me, and I shake my head a very quiet no. He pulls a folding chair up to the fire and sits. If this had been just a couple days later I would have let him sit in the chair, no problem. But it wasn’t. The chair is new, and I don’t need anyone thinking it’s already community property.
“How you been, J.R.,” Maggie asks.
“I’m alive,” he says and slips down deeper into the chair. He pushes his feet out in front of him and lets his chin fall to his chest. Alive, but barely.
“Glad you survived the other night,” Maggie continues.
J.R. nods softly. “Spent it at a camp over in Mesquite. By the big tower. They are calling the place Paris now. Never been, but assuming it’s still standing, I’m betting the French place is a little different.”
We all chuckle at his joke. It’s not great, and I don’t think any of us would argue that, but it’s nice to have a bit of levity.
A wailer screams from somewhere that’s probably nearer than any of us would like. Half a dozen others respond. Everything in camp stops for a moment or two then all of us relax.
“What’s it like out there? South?” I ask. I’ve kept myself focused on this camp and downtown. I don’t really know what to do next. I don’t know that any of us do, any of us but J.R. Are we all waiting for something? For the wailers to move on? For things to get back to normal? For the nightmare to end? Or are we all just waiting to die?
J.R. adjusts his position in his seat. He sits up straighter, pushing himself up by the elbows. “It’s different, I guess. The wailers are more aggressive. There are more of them. I don’t know if it’s confidence in numbers, or what. But you have to be on your toes now. And it’s not just in the dark that you see them. They are coming out during the dusk, before the sun is completely gone.”
I think we all knew that there were more wailers now. The volume of the responses to the initial calls had increased too much for their not to be more of them. But I hadn’t expected that they’d become bolder. Out at dusk would become out in the afternoons would become out always. The relative safety we felt in the sunlight was about to disappear.
“When I was over at Paris,” J.R. says, “there was talk of a church in Oklahoma. One where survivors were congregating. Starting another civilization, or something. Honestly, surprised a church from here hasn’t done it first.”
“Who’s this talk from?” I ask. It’s important. If he knows this person then the info is legit. Worth considering, storing away. If this is just coming from someone who was at the camp for a night then maybe it’s not true. But even if it’s not … I don’t know. Maybe everything is worth hanging onto.
J.R. doesn’t answer my question. He’s staring into the fire, letting the tongues of flame burn themselves into his retinas. Sear his eyes. He’s lost somewhere in his own head. We all give him a couple of minutes to spend wherever it his he’s mentally wandered off to, then I break the silence.
“This church have a name?”
A beat then he responds: “Sorry. What? Oh. New Hope Fellowship. Wait. No. Tabernacle. New Hope Tabernacle.”
“Fitting,” Maggie says.
“Too fitting?” I ask, because the name seems a bit perfect.
“Just what I’ve heard.” J.R. has lost interest in the church. His mental excursion has unhinged him. We’ve lost him for the night.