I spent a pretty restless night in my quarters with nothing to do and too many thoughts running through my mind to permit sleep to come. I did drift off here and there, but would wake at every strange noise.
Whatever you could say about Michael and his people, they were certainly dedicated. I kept a watch on my watchers and other than seeing them be relieved by other guards there really wasn’t much slack in their routine.
I finally settled in at some point during the night sitting on my bed with my back against the wall just as the sky was beginning to lighten. I must have drifted off again because I found myself unsettled and confused by my surroundings when I heard my door opening. I have always been lucky in that when I wake up I am instantly awake with no noticeable lag in my cognitive faculties; the door hadn’t opened far when I jumped up off the bed and planted my foot against the bottom, placing all my weight against the door.
Whoever was trying to enter my quarters yelped in pain as I forced the door closed on his foot.
“Ever heard of knocking?” I asked, lowering my center of gravity and leaning as fully into the door as I could. My uninvited guest pushed on the door trying to withdraw his trapped foot while calling me some unseemly names. He managed to do all this without swearing which was impressive.
“Pete’s sake, SORRY!” He finally relented and stopped pushing against me “I was sent to wake you.We don’t knock here or lock doors. Michael says it’s against the rules of fellowship!”
I satisfied myself with a peek around the door frame and saw that the guard wasn’t holding a rifle so I eased the pressure off and let him withdraw his foot. “You might want to mention these ‘rules’ to new people. May save someone a broken foot . . . or worse.”
Part of me still wanted to cup-check the guy for opening my door without knocking. I stood aside and let him enter “Is there coffee?”
The guard shook his head and smiled apologetically. “No coffee here. Not allowed, sorry.” The guard, who according to his name tape was called Donnelly handed me a small ditty bag full of hygiene products and a towel “takes some getting used to, I know. I used to drink a pot of coffee with my morning coffee, y’know?” he laughed.
“Let me guess, gruel for breakfast? Bread and water for lunch?” I muttered as I pulled on a fresh pair of socks.
“No sir, not quite. Although I think this morning’s breakfast is oatmeal . . .”
I stared at Donnelly until he quit talking. “Where’s the head in this place?”
“Head? The . . . ?”
“Where is the bathroom? Look, if you’re going to be barging into my room it’s only fair that you make an attempt to know things so that when I ask questions answers are on deck, yes? Now, where is the head?”
“Uh, yeah. Yes, sir, follow me.” Donnelly was flustered but at least he knew the layout of the camp. We eventually made our way to the head following a winding path through several tents which I would not remember to arrive at a fairly well equipped outdoor shower setup complete with a several composting type toilets.
Donnelly came to a version of parade rest as I pulled the curtain closed to handle my ablutions. I pulled the curtain aside slightly and saw Donnelly standing there staring disinterestedly out at the camp. “Uh, you’re dismissed?”
Donnelly turned his head slightly toward the sound of my voice “No sir. I’m to escort you and be and your aide-de-camp. You need something I’m your man.”
I grunted angrily “Fine. Go get me a cup of coffee. Do not return without one or you are fired.”
The Gods ruled in my favor. As I stepped out of the little shower area Donnelly held out a cup of coffee, a wisp of steam rolling out of the mug. It was instant coffee but I drank it down with the same relish I would have a cup of Starbuck’s finest.
I had to consider what I was going to teach my students. I’m a damn good shot, but how do you explain a lifetime of doing to someone? I didn’t even know what kind of weapons we’d be using. I handed the empty cup back to Donnelly and strode off as though I knew where I was going. Donnelly sounded rather perturbed as he caught up to me.
“Uh, Sir? Um, the field is this way, but we–well, you– have to meet with Michael first?” Donnelly said trying to get me to break stride.
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“Well, uh, I’m–I guess, I . . . ” he stammered
“What did I say, Donnelly? You must know things when I ask, otherwise one of us is going to look pretty dumb, when he’s standing alone and I have wandered off to find another cup of coffee. Now, are you asking me or telling me?”
“I’m, uh. . . I’m informing you, sir. Michael told me to bring you over to him before you got started.” Donnelly stepped around to place himself in front of me. “Please, sir?” Donnelly held out an arm to redirect me toward my meeting.
I relented and let Donnelly lead me away. As we walked I began to notice how the camp was laid out . The land appeared mostly flat but formed something of a natural bowl shape with the outer edge of the bowl being a little over a foot higher than the main concentration of buildings. The living quarters were arranged close together yet a good distance away from Michael’s house, making me wonder if that was intentional. There weren’t any guard towers, but given the shape of the land high towers weren’t necessary.
There were a lot of things that could have been improved here in terms of security, but if the guards were even partially attentive getting out would be impossible, which left me with one option. I was going to have to bring someone in.
Michael was busy discussing some logistical matter with a man I’d not seen before but he stopped long enough to wave me to a seat.
“Stephen, I want you to see what you’ll be working with” he waved at a large square shape covered by a moving blanket “and discuss some further training with you. Tell me, brother, do you think you can train your fellows? Do you think you can make these men into an army?”
I was caught off guard by this. He may as well have asked me if I could run a successful space program. I needed to stall him on this. No way was I going to train an army for this light bulb and anyone in their right mind–by my estimation anyway– would be trying to train a guerrilla force, not a conventional army. I didn’t intend to share that little nugget with him either.
The storm clouds gathering behind his eyes told me that hesitation was not the expected answer so I tap danced around the mine field a little to appease him. “It’s just kind of a lot to consider. I mean, do you have anyone else with military experience or am I supposed to do this on my own? I can handle things like PT and drill and the like, but I need a whole support structure . . .”
I let him to chew on that a little. My refusal to immediately give him a yes had forced an uncomfortable pause into the discussion. I hadn’t forgotten his threat to mark me either. If he tried though, he was likely to find out that I presented a much different challenge than a terrified woman who hadn’t even attempted to fight back.
Michael suddenly smiled, his little shark’s teeth gleaming dully in the early morning light. “That is how I know God has sent you to lead my Army, brother! He never just gives us what we need, he gives us a challenge, makes us work for what we need!” Michael grabbed our hands attempting to pull me and the still unknown man to the floor “let us pray! Let us give our thanks to God!”
I resisted. It was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake but I could not do it. I covered as best I could by clutching my knee and grunting a little.
“Sorry, about that. If I get down, I may not be able to get back up again.” I let out a weak chuckle, but the look in his eyes let me know that I’d crossed a line.
Michael smiled slightly “Of course. That was thoughtless of me to forget your injury.” He stood and brushed off the knees of his pants. “No matter. Come see what I have for you!” The change in his voice wasn’t fooling me, he was pissed. Fortunately for me none of his guards were around so he could put me in my place.
Michael proceeded to the boxes and began to pull the moving blanket off. I saw one corner and immediately knew what awaited me and the torture that awaited those I was responsible for training. The faded green wooden crates were so familiar to me I had a psychic flash of exactly what the rifles would look like down to the thick coat of cosmoline that would undoubtedly cover them.
I opened the crate and was greeted by the bane of the modern rifleman, the Mosin Nagant 91/30. I nodded appreciatively and withdrew one of the rifles and worked the bolt. The action was smooth even with the peanut butter thick coat of cosmoline. I pulled the trigger and slid the bolt all the way out. The protective grease on this shipment had been forced into the barrels. I let out a heavy sigh.
“Well, this is good in a way. The first thing I’ll be teaching is rifle maintenance.” I looked inside to the bottom of the crate “Where’s the rest of it?”
Michael looked confused for a brief second “Oh, don’t you worry, brother. We’ll have ammunition out at the range for you.”
“Yeah, that’s great obviously. But I mean where’s the rest of the kit? The sling and bayonet?”
His face was totally crestfallen “The. . . bayonet?”
I nodded “These come with a whole kit usually. I mean we can do without most of it, but the bayonet and sling are almost as important as the ammunition.” I stood there smiling blandly at him waiting for him to lose it. The great thing about the M91/30 was that even without ammunition or a bayonet it made one Hel of a club. I stopped myself smiling as I envisioned the steel butt plate crushing Michael’s skull after I’d bashed him five or one hundred times for good measure.
The locus of Michael’s anger shifted. “John?! Where are the things I need for my rifles?!”
John. I shook my head. It always had to be some fuck up called John.
John backed water both verbally and physically, raising his hands to ward off being marked. “This was all there was when I paid for them! I–I I’ll go back, right now and look? Most of the guns are gone but almost everything else was untouched after the townsfolk broke in!!!”
I decided to step in. It’s not that I felt any special attachment to people called John, but I really didn’t want to see this sadistic circus act get rolling.
“I can go with him. The Mosin’s bayonet sort of looks like a screwdriver. I doubt most people would realize it was a weapon.” I offered waiting to see if Michael was capable of backing down twice in one day.
Michael reached up swiftly grabbing John’s crotch and squeezing until he dropped to his knees. “You will take our brother and get everything left in this store. When you are done, report back to me immediately and we can discuss your inability to conduct a simple task.”
John’s face was a deep shade of red and a high keening noise was beginning to escape his pursed lips yet he managed to say “Yes, Michael!” before he was released, folding up in a fetal position with his hands between his legs.
Michael spun toward me so fast I almost raised the rifle to deliver a butt-stroke to his head. “You will lead them. You will make me an army. You will do this or I will put the mark of Cain on you so all will know you for what you are!”
I wasn’t looking to have my beautiful self marked in any capacity. Michael was making it clear now that he had been pushed as far as he would allow for one day and I honestly wasn’t prepared to argue without having several rounds of 7.62x54r loaded in this rifle for the guards that would try to enforce his edicts.
I raised my hands to try and calm him. I leaned over and helped John to his feet and led him away from Michael’s reach and put myself between the two of them.
“Of course I’ll do as you ask. May we go and get the kits to complete the rifles?”
Michael instantly demurred, his tone and expression changed, looking as if I had hurt his feelings. “Certainly, brother! I can’t expect you to make the omelet if I don’t give you eggs, now can I? Go forth now, gather what is needful.” He smiled broadly “soon you shall bring us glory for his name!”