Short Story: “Just Before Dawn”. May 5th, 2020.
Tracey awakened screaming. She gulped in lung-fulls of air forcing herself to focus on her breathing; struggling to remain calm knowing the consequences if she lost control altogether.
The chill in the air caused her to shiver on this mid-fall morning. A glance at the digital clock confirmed it was 4:00 a.m. Tracey reached for her iPhone and checked the temperature, 35 degrees was tolerable. She flicked on the fireside and set it on low, and moved into the kitchen, pleased to discover she’d prepared the coffee last night. She poured a large mugful, heaped in the sugar, and grabbed her Marlboro.
The sitting room offered comfort and she flicked on the table lamp and settled herself down with the nicotine and sugar hitting her system and bringing with it the pleasure of treasured memories. The days before the uprising had been filled with warmth and laughter. Her husband Kyle was a quiet man prone to overthinking, but he had a wicked sense of the ridiculous, he made her feel safer than any other person ever had, dead, or alive.
Memories of that last morning together forced themselves into her reality. They’d been seated right here on the sofa, with a mug of steaming coffee each and their ever-present cigarettes. Kyle placed his arm around her shoulders, “You snored last night.” He’d said with a smile.
Tracey grinned up into his face, “I snored? I could have done far worse after that spicy Thai curry you made for dinner!” the thought caused her to giggle and Kyle had laughed with pleasure. “You’re wicked. You know that, right?”
“I’ve had the best teacher sex can buy.”
The warm banter had continued for a few minutes before Kyle had grown still and Tracey watched the process evolve and waited on his thoughts.
“Troubles coming, honey, and it’s coming soon.”
“I know. Folks are angry. That’s not a recipe for calm.”
“They’re angry with good cause. The police have been too heavy-handed dealing with the long ques for food. That guy died last week, and they’d said it was accidental even though the video showed clearly that it was no such thing. The use of excessive force was abundantly apparent. People are hungry and they’re watching their children cry with the need for more food. The lack of freedom has finally broken them.” He grew silent again and then half-whispered, “It’s happening everywhere right across the country. You need to be prepared. I want you to promise me that you remember everything we discussed in preparation for this time coming. Tell me you have?”
“I remember. The bug-out kit is fully prepared, and I have another ready as well in a different location.”
Kyle expelled a sigh of relief, “Good, that’s good, honey. So, what do you have me doing this morning?” he gave her his smile.
“We need groceries. I’m sorry, I know the lines are long but the coffee’s low, we’re out of toilet paper and milk, and a few other essentials and I want the makings of an omelet for dinner if you can get them.”
“I’ll head off soon as they open, make me a list … you know I’ll forget something if you don’t.”
Tracey had nodded in agreement. “I’m impressed when you make it to the supermarket at all. Last time you came home with a tank full of gas and the morning paper instead of the groceries you’d gone out to buy.”
Kyle’s face burned and he shrugged, “Perfect is boring. You hate to be bored.”
Tracey laughed with pleasure, “You know me so well.”
Tracey watched from the deck as her husband carefully backed the SUV down the steep driveway. She gave him a wave of farewell and stood watching until the car disappeared from view. It had begun to sleet, and visibility rapidly became obsolete. Another cup of coffee beckoned and then she’d focus on dressing and preparing for her day.
She showered and pulled on a warm black tracksuit and runners then headed into her home office and logged on to her laptop. Her diary confirmed she had five clients to call this morning. The pro-bono case was causing the most concern, her client stood to serve a life sentence for murder. He had insisted on pleading not guilty despite the pile of evidence stacked against him. She lit another smoke and began re-reading and cross-checking every incident.
Tracey checked the clock for the hundredth time since 8:00. She grew concerned that Kyle had been distracted again and lost all track of time as he was prone to do.
She began calling his phone when 9.00 o’clock rolled around and her calls all went instantly to his messages.
When 1:00 p.m. came she was becoming frantic with worry. What if there’d been an accident? He could be hurt and undiscovered even laying in a ditch somewhere. After all, the road would have been slippery with the sleet that had begun just as he left the house. Her thoughts spiraled and she watched the clock and waited. At 5:00 p.m. she rang 911 … the number constantly rang out. “Fuck! What the hell is happening?”
She hurried across to the television and flicked on the news channel, the pandemonium she witnessed caused her to run for the bathroom as she threw up.
She fixed herself a stiff bourbon and sat again fixated on the scene unfolding in front of her.
What seemed to be hundreds of screaming people were gathered on the downtown streets and the Police cordons weren’t holding. Sporadic gunfire rang out and the screaming intensified. The news anchor struggled to make himself heard. “News update this hour, if you’ve just joined us here’s an update … At approximately 6:00 A.M this morning large groups of people began forming in long lines outside police headquarters, they were somber and silent in the beginning.”
Tracey concurred … the film showed exactly that. There was an urgency about these folks, but so far, no overt aggression.
She longed for a glimpse of her husband and prayed she wouldn’t see him at the same time. Kyle was caught up in this to be sure, but she hoped that he was still in the car and sitting watching carefully in the backup of traffic that must have ensued.
She ran to the wall panel and made her decision. Thanking God that Kyle had seen ft to take preventative measures of security. They were a good thirty-minutes-drive from downtown and this property was in an isolated pocket not seen from the road. That was a bonus. Tracey pushed the controls, initiating the movement detectors that would shoot out flares and a loud alarm if the boundaries of the properties were breached, by car or on foot.
She’d activate the surveillance drone soon.
She stumbled briefly as she ran into the bedroom and retrieved the bug-out backpack from the closet. Dressing hurriedly in clothes suited to the outdoors, she then placed the loaded shotgun on the coffee table where she’d be sitting. The monitor was now sitting alongside her laptop. Tracey checked the contents of the bug-out kit and nodded with contentment. She had everything she’d need for a week at the outside. She hoped her abysmal hunting skills would never be needed. Now all she could do was wait.
The late evening news bought with it tales of loss on a huge scale and flashes of heroism. The police had been overrun and as every city was currently experiencing this coordinated nationwide attack there would be no backup coming, at least until the government stepped in and sent out the National Guard and declared a curfew, she was surprised that that hadn’t happened yet. Grateful in many ways for the delay, as many more lives would be lost under martial law.
Kyle’s words echoed into her consciousness. “The President has lost control, hon. It’s too late to implement the measures to prevent what’s surely coming. People no longer trust the politicians. That will cause a revolt. It’s simply a matter of time.”
Three months later:
Tracey stood watch in the late spring air. She was grateful for the people she’d taken in. Grateful too that she hadn’t shot them as they approached with their hands raised in surrender. Two women and three children aged from just four to fifteen now lived with her. Their company and assistance had kept her sane. She could smell the venison cooking and her stomach rumbled in anticipation, it had been a while since they’d eaten red meat and they all craved it. She bagged enough bush-turkeys to alleviate their hunger, but this meal would be special. Kyle would be proud of how her hunting skills had improved.
She moved the binoculars and ran her eyes across the ridgeline, a flicker of movement caused her to stiffen. There was someone out there, too close for comfort. Tracey ran inside and alerted the others to prepare before she exited the building and set out on foot, dodging in and out of the shelter of the trees and grateful, they’d now grown their spring camouflage.
There it was again, moving slowly down an unseen path and stopping frequently. She homed in the sights and captured the intruder in them. A man by the height of him with a hoodie pulled down over his head. He carried a weapon. Tracey ensured her shotgun was ready.
The male moved closer and Tracey raised the gun, “Stop right there and go back where you came from. I have my shotgun pointed at you and I won’t miss. Place your weapon on the ground now!”
The main did as he was ordered and raised his hands in supplication.
Tracey moved closer. “Okay. Now go.”
“I guess you’re angry about me being late, honey.”
Tracey screamed in joyous recognition of Kyle’s beloved voice, and she ran towards him and was swept up in his arms and held there safe at last.
“So, you got distracted again, huh?”
“Something like that.” He laughed softly.
“I love you.”
She placed her fingertips against his mouth. “I’ll let you show me how much later. But baby you really need to take a shower first.”
“I guess it’s worse than snoring in bed, huh?”
“You got that right.”
Their laughter lifted and echoed around them as they walked back to their home to face an uncertain future. Yet both content in their understanding that whatever may come they’d stand and face it together.
Knowing in advance that the darkest hour was just before dawn.