Odyssey: Finding Home 1 Ch. 02byjennyb2492©
The truck was almost full when Liz arrived. Though they had never said how many hostages they planned to take, it seemed the truck would hold about twenty women, and unless there was another truck they would be leaving soon. She reflected on her "luck" – there had been probably about 100 families present.
She was helped up the back stairs and seated on a hard wooden bench. It was a standard troop truck with two benches facing each other; the canvas had been rolled back for now since the weather was nice. She felt her bound hands being secured behind her. The guard pulled something out of his pocket and moved towards her head. She shrank back in fear.
"No need to worry, miss. I won't hurt you. It's going to be a bit windy in here and if we don't do something with your hair it will be a tangled mess by tonight." He gently gathered her long hair in his hands and deftly wrapped a hair elastic around it to secure it away from her face.
The courtesy surprised her. "Thank you," she managed as she looked him in the eyes. He smiled briefly then moved away to do the same to several others.
Three more places remained. But instead of another woman, a soldier entered the truck and laid a pallet down on the floor, crowding their feet. A moment later a shaky Lindy was escorted up the stairs, but instead of sitting her down on her damaged bottom, they helped her down onto the pallet on her side. Her hands were now bound in front of her and secured to something at her waist, making it possible for her to lay down. She lay there with her eyes closed.
Liz reflected on what she had seen so far. Despite the bizarre circumstances and Lindy's punishment, they had all been treated with courtesy and a concern for their well-being. And even Lindy's caning had had a kind of logic to it – it had not been done capriciously, and she had to have known there would be a consequence, and now that it was done they were obviously taking pains to care for her. At the same time, it was plain that breaking the rules had strong consequences.
At last two guards entered the truck and sat at the end of the benches. The stairs were removed and the tail swung up and secured. The truck started up and they were moving out of the gates of the Armory.
As they drove down the streets of her town, Liz wondered if she would ever see it again. She tried to shake that feeling off, telling herself that this was a brief hiccup in her life, and in a bit things would be back to normal. She would be back, safe in her parents' house, going back to school, maybe even finding a boyfriend, eventually starting to look for a job. She tried to hold on to that idea as they made their way towards the town limits. For some reason, though, she couldn't help but feel that a new chapter of her life was starting, a feeling that grew as they left the crowded town and started into the countryside.
Behind the truck stretched an endless line of vehicles, many of them troop trucks filled with soldiers. It seemed that the militia had kept its promise – they were indeed withdrawing back across the border. After about a half-hour, her truck stopped; Liz assumed they were at the crossing since the area was filled with soldiers dressed in the blue of the Alaine militia.
The young men stared at them; some with genuine interest; some with barely disguised hatred. Liz felt the fear return. She saw a couple of leering soldiers approached the truck and walk around to the side, behind her. She tried to follow their movements over her shoulder, straining her wrists as she twisted around. One of them lifted a hand and started to reach towards her as she tried to pull away. Just before he could grab her, though, she heard a loud click by her ear and she startled, looking to her side to see the barrel of a rifle next to her head, pointed at the two men.
"Go on, now, you two. These ladies are none of your business. They belong to Chairman Weiss and you know that, so get back to whatever you're supposed to be doing."
They grumbled but moved away, their disappointment obvious. The soldier holding the rifle secured it and sat back down.
"My apologies, ladies. We've been keeping the canvas open for the air and those two bozos should have known better, but I promise we will see you safe to your destination, which is the militia base at New Bergain."
New Bergain was at least five hours away. Liz sighed; it was going to be a long and uncomfortable day.
The truck started up again, and thankfully they left the stares of strangers behind. Liz looked around at the countryside; she had never been across the border before and somehow, though they were barely a mile from the border with Edwal, everything already seemed different. After a while of bumping down the road, she turned her stare back inside the truck.
Most of the women had turned their gazes inward and were slumped over, some with their eyes closed. A few, like her, were looking around, and they met each others' eyes with interest, though none struck up a conversation with her yet. There were a few very young women, girls really, probably about the age of the cutoff of 18. Most were in their early 20s, probably either young married or unmarried with fathers who fought. Only two seemed close to the upper limit of 40; probably women whose husbands had fought, but who had no children. She thought about this and was thankful for the kindness of not removing mothers from their children.
A movement at her feet brought her attention back. Lindy was shifting, trying to stretch a little, and she made a small noise of pain.
"Sir?" she ventured to the sergeant in the back. "Is it permitted for us to talk to each other?"
"Since you have been polite and respectful, you may."
"Thank you," she replied, getting the message that speaking was a privilege that could be quickly revoked.
"Lindy?" Liz asked softly. Lindy's eyes opened slowly and focused on Liz.
"I'm Liz. How are you doing?"
"It hurts. A lot. And I'm so thirsty."
Liz looked down the row at the soldier she had addressed before. "Sir, she's thirsty. Is there any water?"
His companion, a corporal, reached between his feet and produced a jug and some cups. He filled the cup and knelt down next to her, helping her sit up since her bound hands made it hard to get any balance. She cried out in pain as the position forced her to sit on her bottom. He helped her drink part of the cup and then looked back at the other man.
"Sir, would you grab me a couple of pain pills?" The sergeant went into a bag and came out with a bottle and removed two pills which he handed to his partner. Lindy looked at him distrustfully.
The sergeant spoke. "Hon, we're not into prolonging your agony. Besides, these pills will only take the edge off. And you have to be able to function. Now please open up." She looked like she would still refuse, but Liz spoke to her.
"Lindy, I saw the bottle, they are just regular pain pills. They could have refused to give anything. I think it's OK to trust them." Lindy looked at Liz for a moment and then opened her mouth and accepted the pills and the water that followed. The corporal helped her lay down again and resumed his seat at the end of the bench.
They traveled on for a long time. Here and there quiet conversations had begun between some of the women. At some point they stopped in a small town to fuel up. One by one the sergeant and corporal escorted the ladies to the restroom. When Liz's turn came she found there wasn't even privacy to pee without being watched. They let her aching arms loose long enough to take care of business, but when they moved to rebind them she broke down.
"Please..." she pleaded. "I won't try anything. It just hurts so bad..."
The sergeant looked at her silently. Liz knew there was no way she would win this argument so she stood passively while he fastened them again. As they left the restroom she noticed a crowd had gathered, watching quietly
"Do they know who we are?" she asked.
"Don't know for sure. We haven't announced it, but word has a way of traveling fast. There were a number of men in the militia from here. Some of them didn't come home."
"Oh, god...." she whispered. It was one thing to hear about the loss of life from the safety of your own home; it was another to see the faces of those left behind. Liz knew she held no responsibility for what happened but she felt the weight of guilt descend on her anyway.
As soon as she was re-secured, she was offered a cup of water which she drank gratefully. It dawned on her that she hadn't eaten since ...dinner yesterday? They had been so enthralled with listening to her father's story this morning she hadn't consumed anything except for a cup of coffee. Her stomach, upon being reminded of this fact, growled loudly. The sergeant paused and chuckled.
"Dinner will be after we get to the base."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you for the water."
He moved down the line, stopping at one point in front of a sullen and angry-looking young woman. As she opened her mouth to speak, Liz knew it wasn't going to be good.
"Get away from me you bastard. I'm not going to pretend and be all nice to you. I'm sorry my father didn't shoot every one of you dead." The sergeant froze along with everyone else. Then, very softly he said, "Would you like some water? It's going to be a long time until you get any more," and he brought the cup to her lips. To Liz's surprise, the girl took some water into her mouth...and then suddenly spit it out into the sergeant's face. There were gasps; they all knew this was bad.
Calmly, too calmly, he reached behind her and unhooked her handcuffs and pulled up on her wrists, forcing her to stand up bent over. He motioned for the corporal, and together they released the cuffs while holding tight to her wrists. They brought her hands to the front, refastened them, and dragged her, struggling, to the front of the truck, closest to the cab. They raised her arms up and hooked the cuffs to a bolt in one of the roof struts. She was pulled up almost on her toes. The corporal produced a gag and when she refused the order to open up, he grabbed her hair and yanked it backwards. As her mouth opened to yell, he quickly shoved it in and secured the straps around her head. She seemed stunned by the turn of events and began to look frightened.
The sergeant turned to the rest of the women. "I am sorry this is such tight quarters that you are so close to this, but learn from it. We do not tolerate disrespect."
He turned back to strung-up girl. She was wearing a skirt, which he swiftly tucked up; he pulled her underwear down, and tied her legs with rope to keep her from kicking. She was breathing quickly through a hole in the gag with wide eyes as she watched him.
The sergeant stood up and turned the girl towards the front of the truck. Suddenly he released the buckle on his belt, pulling it swiftly out of the loops. He doubled it over, and without warning brought it down hard on her exposed bottom, causing her to scream through the gag and try to dance away from him. The corporal came forward and grabbed her by the waist to hold her still. The belt came down again and again and her bottom grew pink, then red, and then bruised. Very bruised. She was sobbing incoherently by the time he stopped. At a nod from the sergeant, the corporal let her go. The sergeant turned to the terrified women and stated, "it's best you remember every soldier has a belt." He paused to let them all contemplate that. "She'll stay here for the rest of the trip and stay gagged until tomorrow morning." And with that, he turned and walked to the end of the truck, and they both resumed their seats. A moment later the truck lurched forward and they were moving again.
Liz suddenly felt defeated and exhausted, and tears began to well in her eyes. She closed them tight and retreated into her own mind for a while, tuning out everything and everyone else as they started up again. Eventually the rocking of the truck soothed her and she opened her eyes. To her surprise, Lindy was sitting next to Liz, looking uncomfortable but alert. She must have come back aboard while everyone's attention was focused forward on the beating.
"You OK?" Liz mouthed. She was afraid to talk.
The whole truck was silent for what seemed like hours, except for the whimpering of the girl up front. Liz thought about her. Part of her felt very sorry for the girl. She was young and very scared and sometimes fear bursts out in unpredictable ways. But part of Liz did not feel sorry at all. What did she think was going to happen? Did she think she was going to get away with it? That they would just laugh and wipe the water off? Liz knew there were no good outcomes to making these men hate her.
Eventually she noticed the jug of water still sitting on the floor where it had been abandoned earlier. Almost half the women hadn't gotten any, and she caught them looking longingly at it.
Before she knew what she was doing, she spoke up.
"Sir?" she called softly. They both looked up, the sergeant particularly annoyed. She plowed forward despite her fear. "Sir, some of the women never got any water. Could they have some water, please?"
He looked as though he was going to refuse just out of annoyance, but then let his breath out. "Of course. Corporal?" and the other man moved forward to finish. A couple of the women looked at her gratefully. The atmosphere in the truck eased, as much as possible with a bound and beaten girl hanging up in front of everyone.
Liz turned to Lindy. "How are you doing?" she asked softly, glancing at the sergeant to make sure he wasn't going to object to talking, but he met her glance with a curt nod.
"It hurts a lot still, especially every time we go over a bump, but I need to see where we are going 'cause I was getting a little car-sick." She smiled. "Thank you for talking me into the pills. They helped a lot."
"You're welcome. I wish we could have met under different circumstances." She hesitated, wanting to ask more. Lindy sensed it.
" 'Was it worth it'? Is that what you want to ask?"
"I'm going to have to think about that, but I'm leaning towards 'no' ," she smiled. "I panicked, plain and simple, and I didn't mean to injure the man; it truly was an accident; if I ever see him again I will apologize profusely, and then the whole thing escalated so fast I couldn't stop it. My husband tried to calm me but my mother kept making it all worse, especially once we got to the armory, and she had to be escorted out."
"I saw," Liz observed.
"Everyone saw," Lindy stated frankly. She shifted on the bench and suddenly hissed with pain. The conversation halted for a minute while she breathed through the pain.
"Liz..." her voice dropped, "what are we going to do? What is going to happen to us? How are we going to survive this?" She searched Liz's face for answers, but Liz had none. She was just as terrified as Lindy. She put her head on Lindy's shoulder and they stayed like that for the rest of the trip.
At long last, they started seeing houses and stores, and then they came around a bend and the militia base suddenly lay before them. It was buzzing with activity, but as they approached, the activity ceased and they became the center of attention. Liz could hear comments, hushed and not so hushed, and a few angry voices hurling insults.
She looked towards the sergeant for reassurance. He looked back at her steadily and said, "I promised to keep you safe, and I will, but I think it would do you good to understand the depth of feeling our people have about what your people did." He and the corporal rose and unslung their weapons as they faced out, giving a clear message that these women were being protected. At first the insults died down, but when they made no attempt to prevent verbal abuse it picked back up again. Liz squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to block it out, but that only seemed only to intensify her hearing. Tears started spilling down her face again.
At last they pulled up before a building. Soldiers formed a gauntlet from the back of the truck to the door, and each woman was helped down and directed into the building. As Liz walked in she saw that it was one large room, with bunk beds lining one wall and tables and chairs lining the other. Bars covered all the windows. It was one big prison.
The only good thing about being in there was that their hands were finally freed. Cries of pain rang out as cramped and numbed arms were suddenly released. The soldiers brought in the young woman who had been punished, still gagged, and Liz grabbed her and guided her to one of the beds. As Liz laid her down on her stomach she moaned with pain and started to reach up to the gag. Liz caught her hands and held on to the wrists.
"I don't think that is a good idea. You probably didn't think about what would happen if you spit at the guy, but you need to think about what will happen if you try to get out of the punishment. Nothing about this whole shitty thing is fair, but fighting back when there is no hope of winning just makes the whole thing worse."
"You've made a smart friend, Amanda." They both startled and swung their heads around to see a man in a captain's uniform standing at the end of the bed. "However, it's too much of a temptation. Sergeant?" and a sergeant moved forward with a pair of cuffs and a waist strap and proceeded to fasten her hands to her waist as Lindy had been earlier.
The captain moved to the center of the room. All their eyes were riveted on him.
"Ladies, welcome to Camp Bergain. I am Captain McDowry. I wish you were here under different circumstances. This is how it will be. You are confined to this building for the duration. You will remain visible to us at all times, and that includes showering and using the toilet. Get used to it. At night you'll be secured to the bed by an ankle, and you are not be permitted out of bed for any reason, so plan for that. You will be given clean clothing and personal items as needed. Any special requests must be reviewed by me, and my approval will directly relate to your behavior.
"Regarding behavior. We expect complete and immediate obedience to all our orders. Failure to do so will result in punishment in front of all the others. I hope the two examples you have seen today show you how serious we are about his. In addition, any large-scale disobedience, or attempts to escape by any one individual will result in punishment for all of you.
"I do not know if you will be here one day or one month. It is possible that you will be back on the truck tomorrow headed home. I hope so.
"A few more rules. Guards will not talk to you. They will not respond to requests. They are not to be touched. My lieutenant will be in and out during the day and it is he to whom you will address your concerns. He can be summoned for any urgent situations as well as for any discipline needed."
He turned and left.
The only thing that happened after that was dinner. Liz and Lindy sat and talked quietly at Amanda's bedside. After a while the doors opened and a large pot and some platters and pitchers were brought in. It was all placed on a table with paper plates and cups and left there. The hungry women descended upon it like vultures. It turned out to be some kind of stew, not too bad, and bread. The pitchers contained water. The only thing to eat the stew with was a spoon made of something strange. They realized why it seemed strange when after about 10 minutes it started to become soft. It was paper, and designed to disintegrate to prevent it being used as any kind of weapon. This truly was prison.
Liz and Lindy were starving but they wouldn't leave Amanda and bringing her over to the food seemed cruel. But she made the decision for them, abruptly getting off the bed and walking over to the tables. A couple of the women fixed up plates of food and brought them over and with an apologetic glance at Amanda they dove in.