Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C16

Chapter 16

The Wake

Two days later, Chris, Daniel, Atticus, and Popeye all sat at Atticus’ house, in his huge, eat-in kitchen, drinking coffee. Grandma Bennett, Kim, and Brielle came into the kitchen, fixed themselves a cup, then sat in the breakfast nook.  As they all gathered in the Carpenter kitchen, they watched the flatscreen on the wall. Suddenly, a newsbreak came over the airwaves. Popeye and Atticus leaned forward in their chairs to give it their full attention, as did the rest.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Crystal Cades,” said a young, blonde reporter with a gleem in her eye.

“And I’m Andrew Waller,” said the handsome, dark-haired male reporter who sat next to Crystal.

“We have breaking news. News channel twelves has just received word that the bodies of forty-four prison inmates who escaped from the Tennessee State Maximum Security Penitentiary in Sugar Village, were pulled from the waters of the Mississippi River early this morning. Twenty-seven of the escaped convicts have been arrested and returned to state custody and thirteen of the prison escapees have been apprehended in the surrounding states and are awaiting extradition. However, thirty-six escaped convicts are still unaccounted for.”

“We believe that an online security breach caused the security systems at the prison to shut down, which caused a massive exodus of inmates from the prison on Halloween night. However, that has not been confirmed at this time,” the young, male news anchor reported.

“But there is an even more bizarre twist to this story,” Crystal announced, “It has just been reported that fifty-four people, mostly Glover County and Thomasville city officials and prominent business leaders, are missing. Among the missing are Sheriff Bobby Earl Crabtree, his wife Rita Winchester Crabtree, and son, Mason. Also among the missing are Deputy Ashton Childers and his wife, Sarah, Deputy Grant Lindsay and his wife Misty. We will continue to give updates as more information comes in.”

Grandma looked at Kim and Brielle.

“How’s Raina?” she asked.

“She’s holding her own. She lost the baby, but the doctor says that she can still have children. It will probably be another week before she gets out of the hospital,” Kim answered.

“From what I’ve been told, Chess County Hospital is a good hospital. They’ll take care of her. She’s not out of the woods yet and Kim and I are going back this afternoon to stay with her. The doctor is keeping a close eye on her and will continue to update us on her condition and her progress.” Brielle added, “Paul is with her now.”

Cindy and Shannon came into the kitchen after overhearing the new broadcast and everything that was said. Shannon and Cindy fixed themselves each a cup of coffee as Grandma Bennett took two large pans of raspberry muffins out of one of the ovens and sat them on folded towels on the counter.

“So, what do we do? Do we report it? Do we keep quiet about it? I mean, chances are pretty high that they’re all dead and almost no one knew that those tunnels even existed,” Cindy said, “Chances are also pretty good that the child trafficking ring and Satanic cult were all killed in the collapse.”

“We still have to report it, Cindy,” Shannon said, “They’re all dead, but we still have to report it. Not only is it the right thing to do, but their could be a few of them who weren’t in the tunnels when they collapsed, or who survived. And, if so, do you think they’d ever stop doing what they were doing? Someone must investigate this or more children might be harmed. I don’t want that on my conscience and I’m sure you don’t. And none of the rest us want to carry that burden either.”

“You’re right,” Chris said, “But realize that this could go much higher than just the county officials. They probably had bigger bosses over them and we’re going to get a lot of press over this.”

“Surely, they could keep our names out of it,” Atticus said, “Maybe say something to the effect of, ‘very reliable sources submitted evidence of’ blah-b-blah?”

“I don’t know. We might, and I say, might be able to keep our names from getting any ink on this. But if we do, it’ll only be for a while. Stuff like that has ways of leaking,” Popeye warned.

“That’s true. But we still must do the right thing,” Daniel said.

“But what if the big bosses decide to come after all of us? And not only that, what if the state and federal law decides to prosecute us for taking the law into our own hands?” Grandma Bennett asked, “Don’t get me wrong. The children who are being exploited need to be rescued and kept safe and this stuff needs to come out in the open. I’m all for that. But I’m also for keeping us out of the public eye.”

“None of us want to either be running for the rest of our lives or stuck in some witness protection program. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. And these children?” Brielle said.

“Hopefully, that won’t be necessary,” Chris said, “If they’re all dead, which they probably are, it’ll be easier to stay out of the witness protection program and live the rest of our lives in peace. Maybe the people who investigate this will keep our names confidential. We need to hang onto hope.”

“I hope you’re right, Chris,” Daniel told him.

“At least all the kids have been returned to their parents. How are the girls, Brielle?” Kim asked.

“They’re still upstairs asleep. The girls have slept a lot since they’ve been home. They’re so exhausted,” Brielle answered.

“I’ll contact a few friends of mine who are still in the CIA and see if I can’t get them to pull a few strings to keep you all anonymous,” Daniel assured, “I’m sure they’ll get it done.”

“I feel a lot better knowing that. Thanks, Daniel,” Chris said.

He then looked at Grandma Bennett, then at Brielle and Kim.

“In the meantime, we’ll send the evidence to several white hats we know who are battling this child-trafficking epidemic and we’ll do our best to keep you all incognito. The evidence will be safe with Daniel. And we’ll keep copies. Miles will keep one and Shannon and I will keep one. Daniel will put other copies in a safe location. We don’t want any of the evidence to be kept in Thomasville. So, Brielle, you and your family should be safe. Atticus, you and Jo should also be safe. Kim and Raina, Popeye…everyone here can go on with your lives,” Chris continued.

“Welp! Our job is done here. I’ll go ahead and book us all a flight back home,” Daniel said.

Brielle dug into her purse. She took out an almost overstuffed, small, sealed Manilla envelope and handed it to Shannon and Chris. Chris took the envelope and opened it.

“It’s all there,” Brielle told them, “You can count it just to make sure.”

Chris looked at Shannon.

“She helped us get Kelsey back. I think that’s payment enough. Don’t you?” he told her.

“I agree,” Shannon replied.

“Keep it. You’ll need it for airfare back home,” Brielle said.

“Brielle, we’ve got enough to last the rest of our lives and to leave to the kids once we’re gone. You need this money more than we do. You helped us get Kelsey back and that’s worth more than what’s in this envelope. Keep it and spend it on those babies,” Shannon urged as she passed the money back to Brielle.

Brielle’s eyes flooded with tears before she said, “Thank you. Thank you so much!”

“No. Thank you! You and your friends helped save Kelsey’s life and the lives of all the kids,” Chris told her.

A week later, as they all stood at the entrance to the airport, Atticus, Popeye, Big Bruce, Malcolm, and Bruce stood in front of the first checkpoint and shook the hands of Chris, Daniel, and Miles. Brielle, Jane, and Grandma Bennett hugged Shannon, Cindy, Kelsey, and Alexandra.

“I can’t thank you enough, Brielle told Shannon. At least I can breathe now, and I can raise these girls in peace.”

“Have you thought about moving away from Glover County, Brielle? I just can’t imagine wanting to stay there after all that’s happened,” Shannon said.

“Thomasville is my home. All my family are there. I might move again a few years from now after the girls are grown. But until then, I want to stay put. After all, I just bought my house just over a year ago and I’m not ready to pull up roots and start over in another area just yet,” Brielle told her.

“I completely understand,” Cindy told her.

“Me too. Moving is a huge chore,” Shannon added.

After hugging, Kelsey looked at Jane and smiled.

“You got my number and address programmed into your phone, right?” Kelsey asked.

“Absolutely!” Jane answered.

“You call if you ever need us,” Alexandra told Jane.

“We sure will,” Jane assured, as Bruce walked over beside her and put his arm around her waist.

Malcolm put his arm around Brielle’s waist as all the Bledsoe’s bid their goodbyes and headed toward the first checkpoint.

Atticus, Malcolm, Popeye, and all the Bennett’s and McCauley’s waved goodbye as the Bledsoe’s were searched and passed through the checkpoint. The Bledsoe’s then gave one last wave goodbye before disappearing into the crowds of people.

As Atticus, Popeye, and the Bennett’s and McCauley’s headed across the parking lot toward their parked vehicles, a huge passenger jet screamed overhead as it ascended into the blue sky.

THE END

Notice:

This is only the second draft. Now the editing process begins as I send the hard copy to my editor and friend to critique. The plot in the story will not be changed but errors will be corrected and there will probably be a few additions before the final publication. Thank you so much for reading and for being the extra sets of eyes I needed. I also thank you for your feedback, the positive and negative. It will help me to write even better in the future! Bountiful blessings to each and every one of you!

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-9

Once the surface doors opened and they were lifted above the ground, the elevator stopped. Chris then shifted into drive, floored the gas, and peeled down the wide gravel road toward County Route 16. Atticus followed.

Chris looked through the rearview mirror.

“We’ve got to get away from that platform. The water pressure will blow it sky high and water will shoot into the air like a damn geyser!” He said as he sped toward the highway, slinging dirt and gravel.

As dawn began to break in the east, Popeye, Alvin, and the rest cheered when they saw the two vehicles come up through the ground in the distance and take off down the wide gravel road.

“They made it! Yeeeah!” Miles cheered as he jumped to his feet, then pumped one fist up and down. Alexandra jumped up, then leapt into Miles’ arms before he twirled her around and around. Popeye and Alvin gave each other high fives, then hugged each other as they cheered. Jo and Oliver hugged each other in the back.

They then jumped into the vehicle before Popeye cranked the ignition and backed away from the bushes. He then turned onto the gravel road and headed back to 16. Finally he turned onto the County Route and floored the gas, heading in the same direction the others had.

As they passed what they’d referred to as the Elysian Fields, a huge geyser of water shoot high into the air, blowing the platform over a hundred feet in the air.

“Damn!” Alvin shouted in amazement as he watched the huge fountain of water shoot into the air, then slowly lose its power.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake, four dark figures crawled out of a makeshift well, deep in the woods, then broke into a run, disappearing  into the night. Once they were clear, the well began to overflow with murky water. The water spilled over onto the ground for about twenty minutes, then subsided.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-8

“Oh, shit, Chris!” Daniel shouted.

Seeing the rocks fall, the water pour, and Chris swerve about thirty feet in front of him, Atticus’ eyes widened.

“Holy Mary Mother of God!” Atticus shouted as he drove the second vehicle about twenty feet behind Chris. He swerved to miss the pile in the road.

“Son of a bitch!” Malcolm screamed from the front passenger seat as he grabbed the dashboard.

Although they all had their seatbelts on, they still put their hands out to brace themselves.

The eyes and mouths of both Brielle and Cindy opened wide, and their arms flailed as the two women felt themselves rocked by the force of the violent swerve of the SUV.

Just then, as they all thought that things couldn’t get any worse, “Oh, SHIT!” Chris, Daniel, and Jesse yelled over the comms as pieces of brick and stone began to give way and go flying across the road in front of them as new, pressurized streams of water squirted from the walls like someone had turned on a fire hose.

Fuck! Get us the hell outta here!” Big Bruce yelled.

Seeing what was happening ahead of them, Malcolm flinched in his seat.

“Whoa!” He yelled.

Brielle and Cindy screamed, and terror filled Atticus’s eyes as he yelled, “Get dooown! Everybody! Down in your seats!”

Malcolm, Brielle, and Cindy ducked down as large, golf ball and baseball-sized hunks of brick and stone turned into projectiles. The projectiles torpedoed across the archway with such force that they smashed into the wall on the other side of the road. And the pressurized water behind them sprayed with such force that it reached the opposite side as well. More chunks continued to fall from the ceiling.

Atticus swerved violently, doing everything he could to dodge the falling chucks and flying projectiles. Ahead of them, Chris did the same, weaving back and forth as more pieces fall from above them and flying pieces either whizzed past their vehicles or dinged up the sides of them.

The occupants inside both vehicles either grunted or cried out as loud thuds sounded from the projectiles hitting the sides of the vehicles they were in.

A huge hunk came flying through the side windshields that were next to the rear of the second vehicle, shattering the glass to pieces. Cindy and Brielle screamed as they got down in the seat.

Keeping his eyes on the road and trying to dodge the debris, Chris saw a glimmer of hope when he noticed that they were now approaching the foot of the incline. Brielle turned and looked through the back windshield. She could see for a long distance down the straightaway from whence they had come. Cindy also turned to look back.

The two women’s eyes widened as they saw a huge section of the tunnel collapse about a half mile back and a loud rumble shook the entire tunnel as a huge rush of white water came barreling after them.

“Ooooh, SHIT! Atticus, punch it! Get us the hell out of here!” Brielle screamed in panic, while Cindy screamed, “Go-go-go-go-GO! Just GO!

They reached the incline, speeding up it as it grew steeper. With the gas pressed to the floor, Chris and Atticus continued to guide the SUVs up, up, up the steep incline, further, and further still, until they finally reached the platform at the end of the road and tunnel. Chris slammed on his breaks before coming to a stop on one side of the huge platform. Atticus’s vehicle came to a screeching halt beside them.

As the platform began to lift the two vehicles up in the air, then through the hole in the ceiling of the tunnel, the rumblings below grew louder and louder.

“Oh, come on, come on!” Chris groaned as the elevator slowly took them up to the surface. Daniel, Jesse, and Big Bruce only sat there, each holding his breath.

Atticus sat in the second vehicle beside Chris, praying anxiously.

“Please help us, Lord!” he prayed while Malcolm sat in his seat, on pins and needles. Brielle and Cindy sat silently in the back, holding on to one another tightly as the white wave of the lake, churning with bricks and huge chunks of cement, gained speed not far behind.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-7

Atticus took aim, squinting one eye into the scope of his gun.

Suddenly, as the High Priest raised the dagger high over the shrieking baby, Atticus fired once and his bullet entered the back of the Satanic High Priest’s head and exited the center of his forehead, producing a red cloud around him before he fell to the floor behind the sacrificial table on which little Kennedy lay.

The other cult members gasped, not knowing what had just happened. As several of them ran toward the pulpit and table that contained the crying baby, Atticus, and Chris fired a hail of bullets and took out about twelve of the running Satanists, keeping them away from the child. Jesse then fired his shotgun at even more Satanists as they ran toward the baby. Big Bruce also began firing.

Amid the melee, Brielle and Cindy tore off their hoods, signaling to the gunmen on their team that they were the good guys. Brielle ran up on the stage and quickly unfastened Kennedy from her restraints while Cindy fired her gun at three cult members who charged her, raising their daggers. The Satanic trio dropped to the floor and didn’t move. She then fired her gun at two Satanists who ran on stage trying to attack Brielle. Daniel fired his gun, wounding yet another four cult members.

Brielle finally freed Kennedy from her restraint and lifted her in her arms. As she began to run with her baby in her arms, another cult member tried to block her way. Shifting the baby to her hip and holding her with one arm and raising her gun with the other, Brielle fired several shots in lightning-fast succession, killing the Satanist who tried to block her. Atticus then came running out on the stage from behind the red curtains, firing his weapon to keep the rest of the cult away. He and Malcolm joined Brielle, firing their guns, shooting their way through the crowd and clearing a path to the front doors of the underground sanctuary. Jesse and Big Bruce begin running down the catwalk and then down the stairs to the bottom.

Once they were out of the sanctuary, there were only about ten cult members standing.  The remaining cult members started giving chase, running toward the front doors. After Daniel pitched a smoker into the sanctuary to confuse them, smoke filled the sanctuary and Atticus took the grenade that hung from the loop on his belt and unclipped it from the ring. He then pulled the pin, turned around and threw it into the sanctuary at the remaining cult members before he, Chris, Jesse, Big Bruce, Malcolm, Daniel, Brielle and Cindy met in the tunnel outside the sanctuary and began running back toward the fork and remaining vehicles as fast as their feet could carry them.

They heard the blast about three seconds after they began running and the blast was so loud, it shook the tunnel and they heard the roaring sounds of the sanctuary collapsing. The blast shook the tunnel such that cracks spidered across the arched ceiling of the tunnel and water began to spray or pour from the newly developing cracks.

Chris, Atticus and the rest of the group stopped and looked up at the leaking ceiling.

“Holy shit! Get to the cars! Fast! We gotta get the hell out of here!” Atticus screamed.

As Popeye, Alvin, Miles, Jo, and Alexandra continued to watch, they felt the ground shake under them then heard a muffled boom in the distance. The sound came from the direction of the lake.

“What the hell was that!” Popeye cried.

“Damn! Did you feel that?” Alvin asked.

“Earthquake?” Jo asked.

“Nah! That was no earthquake,” Miles said, “That was a blast from a freakin’ grenade.”

Meanwhile, Chris, Daniel, Jesse, and Big Bruce jumped in the first vehicle. Atticus, Malcolm, Brielle, and Cindy jumped in the second vehicle. They then heard another loud roar as the tunnels shook with a vicious tremor.

Jeee-zus!” Jesse groaned as he looked out the window and noticed more leaks springing from the walls and ceiling.

“Oh, shit, Chris! You better punch it, man!” Big Bruce said nervously.

Chris turned on the ignition and threw the van into reverse. He then spun it around, shifted into drive, and floored the gas. The loud scream of squealing tires echoed throughout the tunnel as Chris took off.

Atticus followed suit, then took off behind Chris as the leaking from the ceiling intensified.

Further up the tunnel, Shannon, Raina, and all the kids reached the end of the underground road. They drove onto the elevator platform and stopped. Suddenly, they heard a distant boom behind them. The boom was followed by a tremor that rocked the vehicle and frightened everyone inside, prompting Kelsey, Jane, Roxie, and Brenda to gasp in horror.

“Hang on, everybody,” Shannon said as the platform began to rise, lifting the vehicle up. The set of doors automatically opened above them and they ascended through the ceiling of the tunnel toward the surface of the ground.

Popeye sounded over the comms after watching across the field and seeing a vehicle rise up from underground on the secret elevator. The vehicle then proceeded up the gravel road toward County Route 16.

“Shannon is that you?” he asked.

“In the flesh, Popeye. All the kids are with me. We got them all out safely and we found Raina, but she’s hurt really bad. We’ve got the get her to the hospital,” Shannon responded.

“I gotcha, Shannon,” Popeye said with a sigh of relief.

“Make sure to contact Paul and let him know that we found Raina. She’s hurt but she’s alive. Tell him to meet us at the hospital,”

“Will do, Shannon,” Alvin assured.

Back in the tunnel, the two vans sped down the paved underground road. Atticus drove behind Chris as the archway continued to spring more and more leaks.

“C’mon, Chris, get a move on, buddy! That damned lake is about to come crashing down on top of us, dude!” Atticus thought aloud but in a breathy voice.

“I’m driving this thing as fast as it’ll go, Atticus,” Chris said over the comms.

“I know. I’m just- I’m nervous as a whore in church. This is not how I want to die,” Atticus told him, touching his earpiece and mic with one hand.

“Amen on that, man,” Chris agreed.

Overhearing the conversation over the comms, Shannon gasped as she drove down 16, speeding toward the bluff.

“Chris, you got to get out of there, honey! Please!” Shannon said as a tear ran down her cheek.

Kelsey looked over at her mother.

“Mom, is Chris going to be okay?” she asked.

“I don’t know, honey,” Shannon answered in a dreadful sigh, “From the conversations I’m hearing over the ear comms, it sounds like the whole tunnel is about to collapse.”

Jane looked up as her eyes widened.

“What??? Oh, God, Ms. Shannon! My mom, Uncle Jesse, and baby sister are down there! And so are your husband and in-laws…and Bruce’s dad!”

Bruce clutched his gold crucifix that hung around his neck. He took the cross, kissed it, and began praying.

Popeye and his group were also listening.

They all sat in the Escalade with looks of terror on their faces. Tears ran down Jo’s cheeks.

“Oh, God! Atticus! Hurry! Just hurry!” she cried.

“C’mon! C’mon! Hurry up and get the hell out of there!” Popeye grunted anxiously.

Back underground, Chris, Atticus and the rest continued to speed through the tunnel. By this time, the road was wet and the walls and ceiling were leaking like a sieve. Atticus turned on his windshield wipers.

Suddenly, several stones in the walls and ceiling began to give way from the water pressure. As a result, a few stones fell from the ceiling in pieces, dropping onto the road in front of Chris, followed by a stream of water that ran from the resulting hole in the ceiling like turning on a spigot.

“Holy shit!” He yelled as he swerved, dodging the pile of large stone pieces, causing the tires to squeal.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-6

Deeper inside the tunnel, Bobby, Ashton, Johnny, Stephen, and Breanna stood over a bound Brielle as she and the rest of the captives were held in a holding area. The rest of the cult members who’d escorted them earlier left to attend the ritual. The chants of the Satanists were loud and in the next room. With her hands and feet tied up, Brielle sat there and gave Bobby a defiant look. The other captives sat behind her, also with their hands and feet bound.

Bobby returned the glare.

“Why do you look at me like that?” he growled.

“Really, Bobby? You don’t know already?” Brielle asked in a defiant tone.

“Well, hell. I guess that would be a stupid question. Because, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a fuck what you think of me. Your opinion of me means shit!” he growled, baring his teeth.

“Likewise,” Brielle bit back.

“You know, Brielle, none of you are in any position to make wise cracks! Being a smart-ass is going to be your undoing, sweetheart!” Rita threatened.

Brielle the Smartass 

Suddenly, before their hooded captors had time to react, Chris, Atticus, Jesse, and Malcolm burst into the holding area and fired a few shots, hitting Johnny and Ashton before they collapsed. Brielle and the over captives, with their hands still tied, squirmed out of their chairs and hit the floor.

Atticus then smashed Bobby in the head with the butt of his machine gun, knocking him unconscious as Chris threw a punch and knocked Stephen unconscious. Breanna tried to escape, heading for the door to the sanctuary, but Atticus fired a shot, hitting Stephen in the back and Jesse blocked the door, pointing his pistol in Breanna’s face.

“All your friends are indisposed now. I wouldn’t move a muscle if I were you, little lady. If you want to see your eighteenth birthday and know what it’s like to finally be a legal adult, you won’t make a sound,” Jesse warned.

After untying Brielle and Big Bruce, Chris removed the Satanic robes from the unconscious cult members, then looked at Brielle and Bruce.

“Untie the rest and you all head back to the fork. Put the kids in the vehicles and wait for Shannon and Cindy. They’re on their way! When they get there. Load all the kids into Shannon’s truck. Tell Cindy we’re going to need her.  Then Tell Shannon to take all the kids back to the surface and wait across the field with Popeye until the rest of us get above ground. Go, do it!” Chris said before he turned to Jesse, “Jesse, you and Malcolm take Breanna to the cellar. Tie her up, gag her, then lock her up. Big Bruce, hang with me and Atticus.”

Atticus stood over Johnny and Ashton.

“These two are dead,” he said.

“Then we’ll get them last,” Chris advised.

Chris, Atticus, and Big Bruce bound and gagged the unconscious cult members with duct tape before dragging them out of the holding area. It took them a while to get them to the waiting vehicles, but they did it without being seen.

Once they got them to the cells, Big Bruce stood as the lookout and Atticus took the keys from Bobby’s police-issued belt. They then drug each of the unconscious cult members into the cells, then slammed and locked the doors.

Next, they went back, collected the dead, then drug them to the cellar and locked them away. After locking the doors to the cellblock, they hurried back to the fork.

By the time they got to the fork, Shannon and Cindy had arrived and Brielle was getting the kids into Shannon’s vehicle. Shannon and Kelsey embraced, crying.

“Oh, Mom! I’m so happy to see you!” Kelsey sobbed.

“I’m so glad to see you too, baby! But we’ve got to go! We’ll have plenty of time for this later,” Shannon told her, “Get in the car, honey!”

They helped the injured Raina into the car and laid her down in the very back, next to the hatchback door. Jane got out of Atticus’s van and joined the kids in Shannon’s SUV. Cindy got out of the vehicle and joined Brielle as Shannon jumped into the driver’s side and slammed the door. Cindy looked at Shannon.

“Go! Get above ground as quickly as you can!” she said before Shannon backed up and swung the car around to face the opposite direction. She then took off.

Now that the kids were on their way to safety, Chris, Daniel, Big Bruce, Jesse, Atticus, Malcolm, Brielle, and Cindy could finally make their move. Daniel, Cindy, and Brielle donned the Satanic robes to blend in with the cult members and keep from being seen. Chris handed Big Bruce a gun, and they, Jesse, Atticus, and Malcolm took their positions.

As Daniel, Cindy and Brielle entered the front doors of the sanctuary in their disguises, the Satanic High Priest stood on the stage of the sanctuary as the parishioners continued to chant praises to their god. The High Priest then spread his hands and arms, then turned his hands, palms down and lowered them, signaling to the evil congregation to be silent.

Meanwhile, as Shannon drove back up the tunnel with an injured Raina and all the kids in the back, she noticed that, on her way out, more sections of the tunnel were leaking from the arched ceiling, then they had been when she was on her way in. In several spots, water rained from the leaky ceilings. In some areas, the leaks were as a sprinkle, in others, a downpour.

Her gut seemed to fall through the floorboard.

“Oh, my God! This is not good!” she mumbled under her breath.

Kelsey, who sat in the front passenger side, looked over at her mother.

“Is everything okay, Mom?” she asked, concerned.

“I hope so, Kelsey. But to tell you truth, I don’t know, honey. This tunnel is leaking awfully bad,” Shannon said in a tone mixed with fear and dread.

“I know. We’re under the floor of a big lake,” Roxie told them.

“Exactly,” Shannon sighed.

“We need to get Raina to the hospital,” Jane called from the back.

“I know, Jane. We’re going as fast as we can, honey. You just keep an eye on her. Okay?” Shannon said.

Everyone in the back were packed in the car tightly and it felt like riding in a sardine can. There were so many people in the SUV that Brenda had to sit in Andy’s lap on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Roxie sat in the middle with Nanda in her lap, and Bruce sat on the passenger side. Then Jane sat in the second back set next to the hatchback with Raina’s head in her lap. Jane rubbed Raina’s shoulder.

“It’s gonna be okay now, Raina,” she assured softly, “Just hang in there.”

Bruce turned around, looked at Jane, and placed his hand on her shoulder.

“I love you,” he mouthed silently.

“I love you too,” Jane mouthed back.

Suddenly, they began to drive up an incline. The incline grew steeper and steeper and Shannon pressed harder on the gas as they drove upward, toward safety. They drove through another downpour of leaking water as they drove further upward. Shannon turned on the windshield wipers as she continued to drive through the eerie but lit tunnel.

Back in the sanctuary, Atticus took his position behind the curtain of the stage, facing the High Priest’s back. He readied his weapon and poked the barrel through the crack between the two huge, red curtains.

Jesse and Big Bruce took their positions on the catwalk amid the stage lights. They aimed their guns down on the congregation, looking for any sign that anyone might recognize Daniel, Brielle or Cindy and come for them.

Chris took his position on the balcony, aiming his weapon down and watching for any movement among the cult members that might signal danger. Cindy and Brielle blended in with the cult members, walking slowly down the aisle between the rows of pews, readying their guns under their robes. And Daniel took his position at the door, behind the last row of pews.

The High Priestess emerged from the crowd of devil worshippers and approached the High Priest, holding Kennedy. She then passed the baby to the High Priest. Brielle’s eyes widened under her hood.

“No! Not my baby!” She groaned in terror under her breath.

She quickly approached the pulpit where the High Priest was standing over a table, holding a crying Kennedy. He lifted the baby up high, presenting her to the congregation before laying her down on the table before him. The High Priestess buckled Kennedy’s little ankles and wrists in the restraints that held her still.

The baby began to cry louder, then struggle against her restraints.

“No way you do, goddammit!” Brielle growled as she ran down the aisle between the two rows of pews in which the rest of the cult members stood.

“Brielle, stop! No!” Cindy cried in a grunting whisper amid the eerie organ music.

The Satanic High Priest slowly picked up a dagger from another table that was beside him. The top of the table was lined with a selection of different blades. He then took the dagger and, holding it with both hands, raised it over the screaming baby.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-5

The kids gasped and a few even screamed, but Brielle only jumped back to her feet.

“Can’t handle it, can you, Bobby?” Brielle quipped back before Bobby pulled his gun and started to shoot Brielle.

“Nooooo!” Olivia shrieked.

Luckily, Bobby got a little too close to Brielle and within her reach. She swiftly knocked the gun out of his hands as it fired, provoking startled screams from the kids. Brielle then took it and aimed it at him.

“Brielle! I wouldn’t if I were you!” Rita called.

Brielle looked over to see that Rita had grabbed Olivia. She held Olivia from behind and placed a gun to her head. The other hooded men and women had guns trained on Big Bruce, who held Raina and on all the kids.

Bobby Loses It

“You even think about growing a brain and we’ll drop every one of these pieces of shit!” Misty’s voice roared from underneath one of the hoods.

With that, Brielle dropped the gun and raised both hands in the air.

“Now, that’s better,” Rita sneered as a smirky smile spread across her face.

Suddenly, another hooded person removed the huge, drooping hood from his head. Brielle’s eyes widened as she recognized the face of the person from the news articles and broadcasts. It was Johnny Crabtree himself.

“Now, you were saying?” Johnny said as he flashed a smug smile.

Former Deputy Jason Eves also removed his hood, as did Ashton and other bullies Brielle knew. Sarah showed her face. Then more of the hooded removed their hoods, which revealed the faces of Stephen Crabtree, Audrey Crabtree, Kevin Hearns, and Breanna Lindsay, Janessa Holtz, April Hart, and Samantha Criss. Brielle instantly recognized Jane’s bullies from school and they too were aiming guns at Brielle and the rest of the captives.

The Hooded People Reveal Themselves 

“Where’s Jane, Brielle?” Breanna asked, “I have a special treat for her.”

As Chris drove the first SUV and Atticus, the second, the two groups drove deeper and deeper down the tunnel. As they passed the cell blocks where the prisoners had been kept, Jane recognized them. And she saw that the doors were wide open.

“Wait! Stop! Those are the doors to the cellblock where they took me, Bruce, and the rest of my friends! Kelsey McGregor is also in there!” she cried.

Chris came to a stop and Atticus stopped behind him.

“Did, you hear that, guys? Back up!” he said.

The two vehicles backed in front of the doors. Jane jumped out as did Chris, Atticus, and Jesse.

“Daniel, Malcolm, you stay here and be our lockout! Get behind the wheel and wait for us. If you see anything or anyone, give us a head’s up on the comms!” Chris told them in a loud whisper.

Empty Cells

Daniel and Malcolm each moved from the back, into the driver’s seats of each vehicle.

“The doors are wide open!” Jane whispered loudly.

Everyone ran into the cellblock to find that the cells were empty.

“They’re all gone!” Chris grunted.

They then ran through the doors to the second cellblock and found that all those cells were empty as well, except for the one that housed an unconscious young man dressed only in his tee shirt and underwear. Jesse looked at Chris.

“I know this punk! He hangs with the Crabtree kids!” he told him.

Atticus opened the cell. He then noticed a bucket in the middle of the floor outside the cell that was half-full of water. He then looked up to see water leaking from the stoned ceiling above and into the bucket. He grabbed the bucket as Jesse stood over the man aiming his pistol down at him. Atticus then took the bucket and splashed water all over the man’s face, causing him to jump and stir.

The Hostage

“Wakey-wakey, fuckface!” he said, before the man’s eyes popped open and he opened his mouth wide to scream.

Jesse and Chris stood over the man and cocked their guns.

“Ah-ah-ah! You open your mouth and it’ll be the last thing you ever do, shit-for-brains!” Jesse warned.

Atticus held his gun with one hand and jerked the young man up by his tee shirt. Chris then grabbed a hold of his tee shirt also. The young deputy’s eyes widened with fear.

“Take him, put him in the truck and tie his ass up! He’s got some s’plaaaning to do!” Atticus said, ending his last sentence in true Ricky Ricardo fashion before he and Chris spun him around and shoved him out of the cell from behind. As they walked back to the waiting vehicles, he and Atticus continued to shove the young man with each step he took.

“C’mon, punk! Move your fucking ass!” Chris said as he gave the man an open-handed slap on the back of the head.

As they forced the man into the first van and crawled in behind him, they heard chanting, a loud blast, and screams that came from down the tunnel road.

Suspicious Noises

“What the hell was that!” Atticus called over the comm.

“Sounded like a gunshot! And it sounds like a bunch of people chanting in the background!” Chris said over the comm.

“And screams!” Jesse added.

They came to a fork in the road and Chris pulled to a stop.

“Jane, can you tell us which way to go?” he asked over the comm.

“I don’t know Mr. Bledsoe. They didn’t bring me this far. They only brought me as far as the cellars,” Jane replied.

“Oh, that’s just great,” Chris said.

Atticus got out of the second vehicle and approached Chris in the first. Chris rolled down his window as Atticus approached.

“I still hear chanting and it’s louder now,” Atticus told him, “shut off your motor and let’s listen for a minute,” Atticus said before he scurried back to the second van and shut off the motor. Chris shut off his motor and turned to look at Jesse and Daniel.

Chanting

“Get out, keep a lookout and guard the vehicles while Atticus and I take the tunnels in the fork and have a listen,” he instructed, “Jane, stay inside the vehicle and keep your eyes peeled. Malcolm, you get out and stand guard too. Popeye, have you seen any vehicles going underground besides us?”

“Nope. So, far, it’s been clear, Chris,” Popeye radioed in over the comms.

“Well, let us know if company shows up,” Chris said.

“You bet I will, Chris,” Popeye assured.

Chris and Atticus each stood in front of the fork. They listened for a few seconds. They also noticed water leaking profusely from the arched ceiling of both tunnels. The water looked like a hard rain that pelted the road beneath, creating a puddle that ran down the sides of the subterranean road. They then looked at each other.

“Right fork?” Chris said.

The Fork

“Yup!” Atticus agreed, “And that’s an awful lot of water leaking through that ceiling, Chris! I don’t like this! We’re under the floor of a huge Lake, ya know.”

“I know. I don’t like it either, Atticus. Let’s go,” Chris said as they crept back to the waiting vehicles. They all climbed back inside.

Atticus opened the back passenger door to the first vehicle and grabbed the captive young deputy by the shirt. He then drug him out of the SUV, then shoved him up against the side.

“Alright, start talking, asshat! What’s going on down there! And how many assholes can we expect to walk in on?” he demanded to know.

“I don’t know,” The frightened young man answered.

“Wrong answer, fuckstick!” Atticus said as he openhandedly slapped the young man across the face, before grabbing his shirt again.

Jesse who stood behind Atticus, ridiculed the captive man.

“Goddamn, boy! He bitch-slapped you! Man, you are a fucking pussy, ‘you know that?” Jesse laughed.

Question Time

Chris leaned against the car next to the hostage bad guy and got in his face.

“If I were you, I’d start singing like a little canary-bird!” Chris told their hostage, “This guy here, he’s ex-military and he’s been in combat! Also, one of the Crabtree’s killed his wife and baby years ago while he was fighting overseas. And as if that wasn’t fucked up enough, the guy got off with a slap on the wrist! So, trust me, this guy here?  He’s one pissed off son of a gun. And the last thing you want to do is piss off a combat vet, especially a crazy-angry combat vet! Because a war vet who’s crazy-pissed off? He’ll kill you and then play golf with your goddam testicles! After that, they’ll go home and have cake and ice cream! You won’t even be an afterthought!”

Atticus tightened his grip on the hostage’s shirt and leaned in so close that his nose practically toughed the hostage’s nose. His eyes blazed as he looked the man in his eyes.

“You heard him. Now, sing, you dickless shitbird!” Atticus growled.

Instilling the Fear of God

The man began stuttering and stammering as hot yellow liquid ran out of the leg of his boxers, then down his leg, creating a huge puddle at his feet.

Jesse looked down, then burst into cackles.

“Look at this pathetic lump of shit! Pissin’ his undies like a little baby!”

The captive young man began to cry. As he cried, he spoke.

“They’re having their yearly Halloween Ritual. They’re going to sacrifice a child, a baby girl. Blonde hair, about two-years old. They’re also going to sacrifice all the kids,” the man sniveled, “And maybe a couple of adults because they know too much.”

“Oh, fuck!” Malcolm said under his breath.

“How many assholes are there? And remember, you lie, you die,” Atticus said. And with a silencer screwed into the barrel of his M-16, he pressed the nose of the weapon against the man’s forehead.

Answers 

“There are about fifty of them, give or take,” the man answered as he stood there, sweating profusely.

“How many hostages do they have?” Atticus asked.

“Three adults, one injured. Seven kids, including the baby,”

Chris turned and walked over to the front of the first vehicle.

“Shannon, Cindy, can you hear me?” he asked over the comm.

“Loud and clear, Chris,” Shannon said.

“Are you still sitting across from the courthouse?”

“No. A cop made us. We put up a distraction to get him off our ass, then we drove down here to the bottoms,” Shannon told him.

Shannon and Cindy to Assist

“Okay. You can tell me the details later. Drive to the Elysian Fields, turn onto the access road, and get on the elevator. The elevator is activated by the weight of the vehicle. You’ll be lowered into an underground tunnel and on an underground road. Now, the road will take you underneath the floor of the lake. Follow it all the way to fork. You’ll see two dark-colored vans parked at the fork. Malcolm, Daniel and Jane are still in those vehicles, and they’ll meet you when you get there. We’re going to need your vehicle to transport hostages back up to the surface of the ground. Be careful,” Chris told them.

“We’re on our way,” Cindy assured as Shannon cranked the ignition and took off.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-4

Brielle immediately recognized Brenda’s voice.

“The kids!” She gasped to herself before answering, “Relax, sweetie! It’s Brielle! I’ve come to get you all out of here!”

“Holy shit! Ms. Brielle!” Bruce cried.

All the kids jumped up and ran to the bars of their cells.

As Brielle unlocked the first cell, Bruce’s cell, she stopped and put a finger to her lips.

“Shhhhhhhhhhh! Not so loud! Somebody will hear us and then we’re all screwed!” she said in a loud, gruff whisper.

When she got to Olivia’s cell and unlocked it, Olivia ran to her and threw her arms around her as her back heaved in quiet sobs.

Finally Finding the Teens

“Mom! Oh, God! I’m so glad you’re here!” Olivia tried to whisper.

“Shhhhh! Sweetie, we have to be real quiet! Okay?” Brielle told her.

“Don’t forget Nanda! She’s at the very last cell on the end of the block!” Olivia told her.

After Brielle unlocked all the cells and all the kids were free, she looked at each of them.

“Stay behind me and be quiet. I’m going get you out of here.”

“Ms. Brielle, I’m Kelsey McGregor! Have they notified my mom?” Kelsey asked.

“Your mother is here, Kelsey. She, Chris, Miles, Alex- they’re all here,” Brielle assured.

Olivia took the hand of the scared silent Nanda and took her to Brielle.

“Mom, this is Nanda. She’s the missing girl Popeye told us about,” Olivia told her.

“Okay. Just be quiet and follow me,” Brielle whispered in a gruff voice.

They all crept down the cellblock, through the double doors and into the main tunnel, where they met Big Bruce, who was carrying an injured Raina. They crept single file- Brielle led the way with Olivia directly behind her, then Nanda, Roxie, Kelsey, Brenda, Andy, and Bruce. Brielle looked at Olivia.

Sneaking Through the Tunnels

“Where are Jane and Kennedy?” She asked.

“They came and took Jane, Mom. I don’t know where they took her. They took the baby too and I don’t know where they took her either,” Olivia whispered with tears in her eyes.

“We’ll find them both! Don’t worry. Just stay calm and stay quiet,” Brielle said as she led them down the road in the main tunnel. Across the road was a row of arches in the stoned wall.

Remembering which way Sheriff Bobby, Deputy Ashton, and Misty had brought her in, Brielle began to lead the kids down the same route when suddenly, they heard the drone of a vehicle as it approached.

“Quick! We got to hide!” Brielle said in a loud whisper as they all scattered and hid inside the arches.

The dark van came to a screeching halt and dark, hooded figures with automatic weapons exited the van and approached the dark archways where Brielle and the kids were hidden.

Hooded Figures

Meanwhile, in the field across from Opaque Lake, Popeye and the rest of his group watched closely. They noticed two pairs of headlights approaching the dirt road that led to the lake. The two vehicles slowed to a lurch, then turned onto the road.

Popeye spoke into the mic of his earpiece.

“Chris, it’s Popeye! We’re in position, come back,” he said.

“Hey, Popeye. Sorry we lost you there for a while,” Chris responded.

“I see two vehicles. They just turned onto the road to Opaque Lake,” Miles said.

“Gotcha, Miles. That’s just us. I’m driving the first van and Atticus is driving the second. We’re headed to the elevator in the road- the one Jane spoke of. We’re driving vans we found parked in the tunnels,” Chris told them.

Popeye sighed with relief, as did the rest of his group.

As Popeye and his group watched, they could see the two vehicles parking side by side to one another. Finally, the vehicles slowly disappeared as they were lowered into the ground via the secret elevator.

“Here we go, guys,” Chris said over the earpieces quietly.

“Good luck Chris, Atticus. For God’s sake be careful,” Miles told them.

Getting Closer

Meanwhile, below, as Brielle, Big Bruce, Raina, and the kids were being escorted by six heavily armed, hooded people down a dark, dimly lit corridor, they began to hear distant chants and an organ playing an eerie tone.

“You’ll never get away with this! Never!” Roxie shouted angrily.

The hooded person behind her shoved her forward.

“Shut your mouth, bitch!” the hooded person shouted in a female voice. Brielle instantly recognized the voice- the voice of Rita.

“Up yours!” Roxie fired back.

“Keep talking bitch! Because it’s the last time you’re going to use that sharp tongue of yours!”

“Gee, I’d know that voice anywhere,” Brielle quipped, “Nice to see you again…Rita!”

“Shut up and keep walking!” the second hooded man ordered in a voice that sounded like Bobby. As they continued to walk, the chants grew louder still.

“So, where are you taking us? Sounds like some kind of freak show!” Kelsey said in a smart-alicky tone.

“You won’t be so cavalier for long, Miss Smartass!” Misty growled from underneath her hood.

Chants

“I swear, you’ll rue this day, Bobby! You’re all going to fry for this!” Brielle growled with a voice dripping with bitterness.

“Oh, how naïve thou still art!” Bobby sneered, “You see, Brielle? There’s fantasy world and then there’s the real world. Now, we live in the real world. And in the real world, there’s a hierarchy. And in the hierarchy exists three categories of people. There are The Desirables- the highly sought after and envied, who are at the top- where everyone else wishes they could be. Then, there are those in the middle- they’re the majority. Now, these people aren’t necessarily sought-after and not as desirable as The Desirables, but they do our bidding and stay in line, so they’ll do. We call those people, The Acceptables. Then, at the very bottom of the hierarchy, are The Undesirables- people like you, your little daughters, and the rest of you losers, for instance. Now, The Undesirables get the shit-end of the stick…always. They are the slugs we Desirables love more than anything else, to step on. ‘You see? The Desirables- those at the top decide who bodes well in this world and who doesn’t. We keep track of The Undesirables. We know where they live, when they get a job, when they marry, have babies- oh yeah! We keep track of those things. We flag people like you. We keep a very close eye on you, that way, we can keep you down and out. Because we decide who enjoys success and who endures failure. We decide who we favor and who we oppose. Also, we decide who gets what privileges, perks, and resources and when they get them. In short, we decide who we deem worthy and who we deem unworthy of life and all it’s pleasures. You might say, we have our very own local Social Credit System,” Bobby explained in a tone of evil and glee.

Local Social Credit System 

“You don’t get to decide what I do or how I live. And you don’t get to decide what I get out of life. Only I can decide that. So, fuck you, your little hierarchy, and your Social Credit System!” Brielle bit back.

Bobby only chuckled at Brielle’s last rebellious clap back.

“Oh, if it were only that easy, Brielle. You know how the system is. It’s fucking us all anyway. Hell, I’m just a small-town, country sheriff. So, the system fucks me too, but at least, I have a little bit of power. And shit always rolls downhill. The good thing about having even a little, tiny bit of power is that it keeps you off the bottom, where it lands. The shit that rolls downhill may roll on you and get you a little stinky, but it rolls on past you. But when it lands on the bottom, it stays on the bottom because there’s nowhere else for it to go. It just sits there and rots until the next turd comes rolling down. ‘You see? Not only does shit land on the bottom, it piles up at the bottom,” Bobby continued.

“Maybe. But there’s always a pooper-scooper lying around somewhere,” Brielle quipped.

“I don’t understand you, Brielle. How do you do it? How do you stay so positive? And against such odds!”

Brielle’s Strong Will and Determination 

“Hell, you don’t know, Bobby? People like you only strengthen my resolve. ‘You see? There’s something you don’t know about the- oh, now, what did you just referred to us as? ‘The Undesirables?’ There’s something about people like us that you don’t understand- couldn’t even comprehend. And that is that we ‘Undesirables’ have a strength and spirit that people like you could only hope to have. We’re not only survivors but overcomers. We have the will and the grit to rise above people like you. Because we have determination that eventually supersedes your power. You see, we’re the real badasses. And I guarantee that if you lost your power and ended up on the bottom, you couldn’t handle it. In fact, your little world would be turned upside down and you’d probably blow your brains out because you couldn’t survive the fall. Because the higher up you are, the further you fall, the faster you fall, and the harder you hit when you land at the bottom. It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s that sudden stop at the bottom. Just ask Big Brother Johnny, Bobby. He could tell you all about that, now, couldn’t he?” Brielle fired back in a calm and cool manner before flashing a smirk.

“Shut the fuck up, bitch! Shut the fuck up!” Bobby screamed. But Brielle only continued.

“Shit Rolls Downhill…”

“Damn! All that effort to take Shannon down! And what did it accomplish? Where did it get him? Where, did it get him, Bobby? It got him sent off to federal prison for the rest of his miserable life! In trying to destroy Shannon Crooke McGregor, he ended up destroying himself in the process. So, shit may indeed land at the bottom. But it also has ways of coming full circle.”

With that, Bobby grabbed Brielle and slung her into the wall.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-3

Popeye put his earpiece back in as he drove.

Miles took his phone out and pulled up his homing app. A map of Thomasville appeared on the screen. He then zoomed in on the red pointer on the map and six homing beacons appeared, representing Chris and the rest of his group. When Miles zoomed back out, he saw two more homing beacons on the other side of the screen, representing Cindy and Shannon, who were still waiting in Atticus’s SUV, parked in an alley across from the courthouse.

“Well, I can see all the homing beacons and so far, there’s no distress signal,” Miles assured.

Alvin put his hand on his chest, letting out a sigh of relief.

Good Signs

Just then, they came to a small clearing. Sitting in the passenger seat, Alvin looked across the field to see that it was dotted with hey bales. Beyond the field, he could see a thin line of trees and the lake beyond them.

“We’re here,” Alvin said, “Chris, if you can hear me, we’ve passing the Elysian Fields now.”

Chris’ voice sounded over everyone’s earpieces amid the crackling static.

“Alvin, did you say Elysian Fields? Alvin, can you hear me? Alvin!”

“Yes, Chris! We’re here! We’re gonna find a place to hide where we can still watch the entrance to Opaque Lake!” Popeye answered

“I can’t hear you, Popeye, Alvin. Shit! You’re breaking up!”

Miles’ eyes grew wide as he looked back at his screen.

“Shit, those homing beacons are moving a lot faster now. Either they’ve been captured, or they may have found a couple of vehicles down there somewhere and took off in them. I sure hope they didn’t get caught.” He said in a tone of concern.

“Are there any distress signals?” Jo asked.

Signals

“No distress signals, they’re just moving a lot faster than they were a while ago and they’re divided into two groups of three, one behind the other, and moving in the same direction. They’re moving west so they’re headed for the bluff.

“Let’s just find a place to hide this car. We’ll worry about it when we’re in place,” Popeye said.

Popeye turned onto a long gravel road across from the Elysian Fields and the Lake. He drove about a quarter mile before finding a thicket of tall bushes about a mile away. He drove the dark blue Escalade behind the bushes, then backed up and pointed the nose directly between two bushes in the thicket, where he could see the Elysian fields and the lakeshore beyond it.

After shutting off the engine, Popeye reached over and opened his glove compartment. He then pulled out a pair of small binoculars and pulled out the eye cups. Next, Popeye switched to night-vision and placed them up to his eyes, adjusting the diopter to get a clearer image and better focus.

Keeping a Lookout

With the binoculars that were hung around his neck, Alvin also watched the field. Miles and Alexandra quietly climbed out of the vehicle, each having their own pair. They got down on the ground, on their bellies, then did an Army crawl under the bushes before beginning their watch. Oliver and Jo just sat there, squinting while watching with their naked eyes.

Back in town, in the alley across from the courthouse, Shannon and Cindy sat parked and with the engine off. Shannon in the driver’s seat and Cindy in the passenger, they listened carefully as the static grew in their earpieces and the voices faded out.

“Damn it!” Shannon said as she took her earpiece out in frustration, “We didn’t think about the bottoms being pretty much a dead zone!”

“Yeah, I just hope and pray they’ll be alright,” Cindy added with a sigh.

All was quiet except for a multitude of sirens in the distance. The streets were pitch dark as the power outage had taken out all the street lights, leaving the whole of Glover County in the middle of an unprecedented blackout.

Spied

Suddenly, the two women heard the distant drone of a car getting louder and louder. Shannon and Cindy looked at each other, then Shannon looked through the rearview mirror and noticed the entrance of the alley behind them. They could see outside the alley and the beam of head lights getting brighter until what looked like a cop car stopped just outside the alley with its spotlight shinning right on the vehicle they sat in.

“Ooooh, shit!” Shannon said in a loud but low voice.

“Holy fuck!” Cindy cried.

“What are we gonna do now?” Shannon asked in a warning tone.

The ladies watched through the side mirrors as the dark figure of an officer got out of the cruiser and the sounds of footsteps clicked in the quiet.

They immediately took off their masks and caps then quickly tossed them under the seats before ruffling their hair with both hands. One of Atticus’s huge flannel shirts and a small blanket lay in the floorboard. Shannon reached back and grabbed them both.

A Clever Cover

“Put this flannel shirt on over that black turtleneck and your ammo belt! I’ll use this blue throw as a shawl!” She advised. Cindy did as Shannon suggested.

The footsteps grew louder, and the officer clicked on his flashlight and shone it on the vehicle as he came walking down the alley toward them.

Cindy looked at Shannon.

“I’ve got an idea! Don’t say anything, just go along!” Cindy whispered loudly as she leaned toward Shannon, grabbed her by the back of her neck, then pulled her toward her. Shannon’s eyes widened, nearly popping out of her head and she just froze as Cindy put her in a lip lock and put a hand on one of her breasts, caressing it.

Cindy still had Shannon in the lip lock when the mystery officer, who turned out to be a rookie deputy, shone his flashlight in the window. His eyes widened face turned red as he stifled a grin. Shannon spun around and lower the window.

“Can we help you, officer?” she asked with a fake but genuine looking smile.

“Um, uh, ladies, we have several inmates on the loose,” The young deputy stammered, unable to contain his shock and embarrassment, “There’s a huge manhunt and it’s covering all of west Tennessee. You need to get home right away.”

A Huge Shock 

“Oh, shoot!” Shannon said, acting surprised, “Thank you so much, officer, we’ll be on our way.”

“Have fun. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” the deputy quipped with a grin before turning and walking back toward his car.

Shannon cranked the ignition as she watched the officer get into his vehicle and pull away. She then began frantically wiping her mouth with the back of her wrist and forearm.

Ptu-Ptu-Ptui!” Shannon spat as she pulled a wrinkled up napkin out of her pants pocket and spat into it. “Blechhh! Shit, Cindy! What in the blue blazes was that!” Shannon retorted.

“Well, I kept us from looking suspicious and going to jail, didn’t I!” Cindy shot back.

Shannon looked at Cindy and Cindy returned the look. They both then chortled, then gave a little chuckle. Suddenly, they burst into loud cackles before Cindy spoke.

“Boy, we’re going to have a hell of a story to tell when this is over!” Cindy giggled as Shannon pulled the vehicle out of the alley.

As Shannon drove, Cindy looked at her. Shannon looked at the dashboard clock. It was a quarter after nine.

A Change in Plans

“Chris and Atticus told us to stay put. You know that, right?” she said.

“Yep. But they didn’t count on us being spied by the cop. So, there’s been a slight change in plans,” Shannon replied.

“So, where are we headed?” Cindy asked.

“To the bottoms. I figure that if we go there, we’re least likely to be seen.”

“I just don’t want to do anything to blow our cover or Popeye’s. And what if Chris and the rest need to come back in a hurry and find that we’re gone?”

“I don’t think they will. We lost contact with them so they’re probably in the bottoms too by now.”

Finding Raina

In the dungeon, Brielle awoke to check on Raina. She too was asleep and breathing normally. Brielle checked Raina’s wounds and raised the cover over her to make sure she was warm. Suddenly, she heard the doors slam shut and the sounds of jingling keys and approaching footsteps.

Brielle remained crouched beside Raina and continued to listen carefully until one of the deputies, a short, rail-thin young man, appeared outside the bars.

“Looks like I’m gonna need to leave y’all here by yourselves. There’s been a prison break in Sugar Village and the sheriff needs every warm body he can get. Don’t worry. You’ll be just fine and we don’t have to worry about you pus-bags going anywhere. You’ll never make it out of these caves,” The deputy sneered.

“Well, before you go, you need to check on my cellmate in here. She doesn’t look like she’s doing too well. She may need medical attention,” Brielle told him.

Tricked

The deputy unclipped a huge ring of keys off his belt loop and took about thirty seconds to search for the right key. He then unlocked the cell and came inside. As he stood over Raina and smirked, Brielle suddenly and swiftly made her move.

Without warning, she swept the deputy’s legs and feet out with one foot, then scissored the deputy’s neck between her legs, rendering him unconscious. Next, she stripped him of his uniform, keys, and gun belt. Brielle changed out of her clothes, into the uniform and cap, being sure to tuck her long, blonde ponytail inside the cap. She then grabbed the keys, put on the belt and holstered the gun. Finally, she unlocked her cell.

Brielle looked back at Raina.

“Hang on, girl! I’m coming back for you!” she promised before running to Big Bruce’s cell and unlocking it.

Big Bruce awoke and sat up.

“What the…!” He grunted.

“Relax, Mr. McCauley! It’s me, Brielle!” she whispered, “Raina’s hurt! Get her and carry her out of here! I’ve got to go find the kids!”

Big Bruce Free

And she unlocked the second set of doors and crept out of the cell block. Now she was in the main tunnel, on the access road. She remembered passing another set of double doors on her way to the cellblock when Bobby, Misty, and Ashton had brought her to her cell, so, she ran about fifty years up the access road.

When Brielle came upon another set of steel double doors, she grabbed the ring of keys. It took her about a minute to try about ten keys before she fumbled and accidentally dropped the ring of keys.

Shit!” She swore as she knelt and swiped the keys off the dirt floor.

Because the corridor was so dimly lit, it was difficult to see the keys in her hand as she had to start over and try each key. It took her about five minutes but she finally found the key that fit the lock, which happened to be the very last key on the ring.

An exhaled sigh of relief blew out of her lungs as she turned the key, the lock clicked and gave way, and the door opened.

Another Setbof Double Doors

As Brielle hurried down the cell block, a voice cried out,

“Who is that! Who is it!”

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15-2

“Okay, Shannon and Cindy, stay with the vehicle. The rest of you, it’s time to boogie!”

With that, Chris, Atticus, Jesse, Malcolm, Daniel, and Jane quietly jumped out of the vehicle and crept across the dark street to the courthouse.

Meanwhile, Popeye and the second group were driving west on County Route 16. They topped a hill and began passing deep gullies that were covered in kudzu.

“We’re almost to Sinai,” he announced as he turned his headlights off and allowed the light of the full moon to guide him.

Atticus whispered back over the group comms.

“The drawbridge is down and we’re storming the Castle!” he said.

Going in.

Back at the Courthouse, Jane quietly pointed out a rectangular hole along the side of the courthouse. The hole had stairs that led to the walkout basement. Chris led the group down the stairs to the door. He carefully twisted the handle on the door and slowly pulled it. Sure enough, it clicked open. As the five of them crept inside, Atticus, who was the last person inside and guarding the rear, pulled down the shade over the door window before easing the door closed. They pulled out their flashlights and began searching for the trapdoor.

“That’s it!” Jane whispered loudly as Atticus pulled back a huge area rug in the middle of the wooden floor and found the secret entrance in the floor.

He then knelt and worked to wedge his fingers into the crack and pulled it up. Surprisingly, it was heavy, and Chris jumped in to help. Daniel then shone his flashlight down it.

Going Underground

A flight of wooden stairs led into an underground room. They each crept down the stairs and Atticus and Malcolm closed the doors behind them. The wooden stairs creaked with each step, causing Jane to flinch.

“If somebody’s down here they’ll hear us and that’ll be it,” Jane whispered frantically and gruffly.

“It’s just one of the risks,” Chris said quietly, “You guys be sure and watch out for cameras, infrared trip wires, anything that might alert those bastards that we’re here. Daniel, do you have a hidden spy camera detector app on your phone?”

“I’m already using it, so far, the app hasn’t detected any,” Daniel answered in a quiet voice.

“How good is the app?” Malcolm asked.

“It’s a damn good app, Malcolm. I’ve used it before, and it detected every spy camera in the place.”

“Do you have a cloaking device that could possibly make us invisible to spy cams?” Chris asked.

Taking Precautions 

“Nope. But if I detect a spy cam, I can jam it,” Daniel assured.

“That’s good enough.”

“Honestly, they may not have any down here. If no one but a few VIPs know about these tunnels, and as arrogant as the few people who do know about them are, they might have figured that cameras wouldn’t be necessary.”

“Still. Keep scanning just in case you’re wrong, Daniel.”

When they got to the bottom of the stairs, the room was just as Jane had described, arched entrances of tunnels all around them, each entrance had a burning torch on the stone-built wall beside it. And the arched, brick ceilings of each tunnel were lined with hanging 40-watt bulbs.

Slowly and steadily, they all crept down the tunnel with Daniel in the lead, scanning for spy cameras. Atticus took up the rear with his machine gun held firmly.

They approached a section of the tunnel where the bulbs were blown and pulled out their tactical flashlights to navigate the darkness. Suddenly, tiny squeaks peppered the quiet.

Squeaks in the Dark

“What the hell is that?” Jesse asked in a gruff whisper.

Just then, they all looked up and, by the light of the flashlight, saw a multitude of rats scampering toward them. Just as Jane started screaming, Atticus grabbed her and clapped his head over her mouth, then mouthed, “shhhhhh.”

Chris took a mini blow torch that hung from his belt and aimed it at the approaching rat colony. A stream of fire roasted many of the rats as Chris waved it back and forth. The surviving rats turned and scurried away.

It was about a thirty-minute walk until they came to the underground across road.

“We’re here! This is the access road. And there are the vans they took us in. But there were two more when we were here.” Jane told them.

On the other side of the access road was another archway with two dark vans parked underneath.

“Well, my heat sensor doesn’t detect anyone inside those vans. And I still haven’t detected any spy cams anywhere so far,” Daniel whispered.

“Good! Let’s check out the vans,” Chris said.

The Underground Highway

Chris, Daniel, and Jesse shone their flashlights in the windows of the first van and peered inside. Although the windows were heavily tinted, he could see see inside with the flashlight. Atticus, Malcolm, and Jane peeped in the second van. Chris, peeping from the passenger side of the vehicle, shone his flashlight on the ignition to see that the keys were still in it.

“Hey! Psssst! The keys are still in the ignition!” He whispered loudly.

“Boy, these are some real dumbasses!” Jesse said with a derisive chuckle.

“Not really. Remember, hardly anyone knows about these underground tunnels. So, they know it’s a lot safer down here than it is on the surface,” Chris told them.

“Not in this car! I don’t see any keys,” Malcolm whispered back.

“I can hotwire it if I have to,” Daniel said as he approached the keyless vehicle.

Transportation 

He leaned into the vehicle and quickly searched under the visors and floormats. Daniel then searched the middle console and the glove compartment. No keys. Finally, he reached under the steering wheel, grabbed the wires and fiddled with them. Sure enough, the engine roared to life.

“Okay, everyone. Let’s take the vans and find out where this road goes. Jane, which way to the exit you were telling us about?” Chris said.

“That way,” Jane said as she pointed to their left.

And they all jumped into the vans, three per van, with Chris, Daniel, and Jesse taking the first van and Atticus, Malcolm, and Jane taking the second.

Chris cranked the ignition and pulled out, with Atticus driving the second van behind him.

As Popeye topped the bluff and began to drive down it, Alexandra looked off to the west and, by the light of the full moon above, it seemed that you could see the entire world from the top of the bluff. One could see a section of the mighty Mississippi River and it ran along next to the horizon and disappeared among the trees as it took a curve around an island. On the horizon, beyond the river, you could see the lights of a small Arkansas, town.

Popeye and His Group Reach Sinai

As they reached the foot of the bluff and proceeded down County Route 16 through the bottoms with the headlights still off, using only the light of the moon to see the road ahead, Popeye touched his earpiece as the voices of Chris, Daniel and the rest of who was underground began to break up.

“Chris! Atticus! Can you hear me! It’s Popeye! Chris!” Popeye said louder as a crackling sound slowly grew louder and distorted the voices of those in the tunnel, “Damn it!”

“Shit!” Miles said as he tapped his earpiece with one finger, “We’re out of range!”

“Not only that, but there’s hardly any towers down here so the signal’s gonna be pretty fucked up!” Alvin said.

“Too bad we didn’t think about that before we left!” Oliver said as he shook his head.

“Shhhhit! I can’t hear them either!” Alexandra said in frustration.

Losing Signal

“Than we just better hope and pray they don’t run into something in these catacombs!” Jo said.

Townies, Cronies, and Hayseeds II C15

Chapter 15

The Big Raid

Later that afternoon, the Bennett’s, the Carpenters, the Bledsoe’s, and Popeye and his partners Alvin and Oliver all gathered in the living room. Daniel spoke up.

“Okay. I’ve got a neat little plan that will keep that sheriff and all the sheriff’s deputies busy while we go in and find Brielle, Raina, Big Bruce, and the kids,” he told them, “In fact, it’ll keep most of the locals busy and out of the way.”

“Sounds like you’re going to pull off something huge, Daniel,” Chris said.

“You’ll know when it happens. I promise you. And I’ll let you know when it’s taken care of. And it’s tomorrow night. If we’re going to bust this cult and the child trafficking ring, we’re going to have to catch them in the act and, at the same time, keep the local establishment off our ass. So, we have to create a diversion, and this one’s going to be a doozy!” Daniel told them.

The Time is Now

When Halloween night finally arrived, they all sat at the kitchen table at just after five o’clock that evening.

“Okay, we need to come up with code names for the places we have to hit,” Atticus advised, “Code for the courthouse will be ‘The Castle,’ code name for Opaque Lake and the posted area near the shore will be ‘The Coastline’, and the field you go through to get to the lake will be ‘The Elysian Fields,’ and code name for the catacombs will be ‘The Pit.’ The bluff will be ‘Sinai’ and the bottoms will be ‘The Badlands.’ And the code name for the Sheriff and his ilk will be “Bogey or Bogies.”

Daniel then moved to the living room and sat on the sofa, typing feverishly on his laptop. All the men dressed in all black, even gloves, masks, and caps, then put their earpieces with microphones intact.

“Daniel, switch over to the speaker,” Chris told him.

Daniel had three other monitors set up on the coffee table in front of him, connection to another keyboard. He set his laptop aside and pecked a few keys on the keyboard that was connection to the three monitors. On the third monitor, showed a media-player type application with a sound system.

Code Names

“Got it,” he said.

Chris began to speak.

“Testing, testing, one, two, three. Testing,” he said as his voice came through clear on the speakers and the green line on the screen began to distort as the sound came through.

“Sounds coming in clear on my end,” Atticus said as he touched his earpiece.

“Clear,” Alvin said.

“Clear,” Cindy said.

After everyone gave the all-clear, Daniel clapped both hands together one time in excitement.

“Perfect, Atticus. Malcolm, one at a time, everyone else test your mics, and if the sound comes through clear, say ‘clear,’” Daniel told them.

Each of the other men did as they were told.

“Great. All the mics are in great working order. All the sounds are coming through on the monitor and your earpieces, equipment is set!” Daniel told them, “Now, let’s check our body spy cameras, then we’ll do a weapons check. And be sure to screw in your silencers.”

Testing!

After everyone tested their body cams and ensure they were all in working order, Atticus took a magazine and put it in his old Army-issue M16A2, then took it back out and put it in a pouch on his belt. Jesse checked the chamber of his shotgun to see two new shells firmly in place he then attached his Salvo suppressor to it. Finally, he tucked a nine-millimeter pistol in his belt. Everyone checked their weapons and attached their silencers. They were all in working order.

Miles tossed a couple of grenades to Atticus. Atticus attached the grenades to two of the loops on his belt. He then checked his ammo pouch to see that it had two magazines inside. Finally, they each attached their silencers to the barrels of their guns.

“Okay, weapons a go, now let’s test our homing beacons.”

Miles looked at his phone to see that each person’s homing beacon was working perfectly.

Daniel grabbed his laptop and sat it in his lap. He then began typing as fast as he could. After fifteen minutes of typing, he stopped and looked up at Chris.

Daniel Sets up a Distraction

“Virus is in. Now, we wait,” Daniel assured, “The county-mounties and local cops will be so busy, they won’t even think about us. Even the locals will be scared shitless, but this is a gun-rich area, so I think they’ll be able to take care of themselves.”

“Whoa! What did you just do, Daniel?” Chris asked suspiciously.

About fifteen miles away, just outside of Sugar Village, a large state maximum security prison sat in the middle of a field. The guards at the first checkpoint sat, looking at the monitors when the system went down. One by one, the monitors went dark.

“What the hell?” The head guard shouted as he jumped up.

Monitors and cameras all over the prison went dark. Next, every locked door made a loud click, then opened. Then, the gates began unlocking and opening. Finally, droves of inmates began overpowering the guards and escaping their confines before running out into the fields that surrounded the prison.

Convicts on the Lose!

“Holy shit!” Shouted the second prison guard.

Back at the Carpenter estate, Daniel pulled up the Glover County Tea forum and waited. Atticus and Grandma sat in the kitchen, listening to the police scanner. Sure enough, the alert sounded.

“Calling all state, county and city personal! There has been a massive prison break at the state maximum security prison in Sugar Village! Assume all escaped inmates to be armed and dangerous! The number of escapees is believed to be in the hundreds. Please advise!” Said an older male voice over the scanner.

Suddenly, Bobby’s voice sounded over the scanner.

“This is Sheriff Bobby James Crabtree; I’ve just put every deputy in my department on alert! The reservists and those off duty have been placed on emergency duty. We will be out in full force! Alert the news medias in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Little Rock, and Paducah. Get all the trick-or-treaters off the streets and send out an internet bulletin instructing everyone to stay in their homes. Halloween just got cancelled!”

Halloween Emergency

Daniel perked up.

“That’s our cue! We got to move now because they’re going to be setting up checkpoints and we don’t want to get caught in the dragnet.” he announced.

” Suddenly, the lights went out, then Atticus’s generator kicked in and the lights flickered back on.”

“Daniel, was that you?” Atticus asked.

“Yep. As an added cover, I cracked into the Glover County electric company and caused a power outage,” Daniel answered.

After they took Grandma Bennett and Kim to the bunker for safety, everyone piled into two dark-colored SUV’s, Atticus’s black Denali and Popeye’s black Escalade. In Atticus’s black Denali were Atticus, Chris, Malcolm, Jesse, Daniel, Shannon, Jane, and Cindy. In Popeye’s dark blue Escalade were Popeye, Miles, Alvin, Oliver, Alexandra, and Jo.

As Chris sat in the passenger seat of Atticus’s SUV, he spoke.

Let’s Ride

“Okay everybody, you know what to do. We’ll head to the Castle and Popeye; your group will head to the Badlands and watch the Elysian Fields! You gotta get down there before they set up the western checkpoint. When you get there, find a place for cover but where you can see the lake and keep watch. Take plenty of photos and don’t move until I give the signal. In the meantime, Daniel, you need to find a way to crack and override the system that monitors the courthouse cameras and doors so we can get in.

“I’m already on it,” Daniel said as he sat in the backseat of Popeye’s SUV, laptop computer in lap, typing vigorously, “Shit, Chris this van is packed. I hardly have any elbow room.”

“We all have inconveniences, Daniel,” Chris told him.

As they drove toward town, the intro to the song, Kid Rock’s “Let’s Ride” played on Atticus’s car stereo.

“Used as a scapegoat and taped to the wall, Bruised and abused on some foreign soil,      Trained to kill baby that’s what we do,      Programmed to bleed red white and blue

C’mon and grab your guns, let’s ride,                        And may your conscience be your guide,                   I’ll say a prayer for you to make it through to the other side,                                                                          Tonight’s the night we fight or die…”

As the song continued to play, they passed businesses where people were outside standing guard with machine guns, shotguns, or rifles held against their chests. They also passed private homes and properties with large men sitting in their yards, armed to the teeth with their weapons. They even spied a silver-haired grandmother sitting on her porch, in a rocking chair, with a shotgun laid across her lap, sipping on a large mug of coffee. A large golden retriever sat on the porch beside her. A pickup truck with a bed full of heavily armed farmers sat off in between rows of bushes.

Armed Citizens

“Boy, these people aren’t playin’!” Jane said, viewing all the armed citizens as they drove.

“Hundreds of escaped convicts on the loose? I wouldn’t be either,” said Jesse, “If I know my wife, she’s probably sitting on the living room sofa holding our shotgun and got my kids hiding in the closets upstairs.”

“I sure don’t blame any of them,” Chris added.

“I probably won’t have a job after tonight,” Malcolm mentioned, “My Lieutenant’s been trying to call me ever since the prison break.”

“You’ve had the last two days off. When you talk to them, just tell them you went to Alabama to see your family and couldn’t get back in time,” Atticus advised, “A story like that should stick like superglue.”

Shannon looked skyward through the windshield.

“There’s a full moon tonight. So, we still need to be careful,” she said.

Atticus kept a police scanner in his vehicle as well. A split second of static sounded, then Bobby’s voice as Chris quickly turned the stereo off.

Bobby’s Arrogance Makes Him Stupid

“We’re setting up checkpoints north, south, and east. We won’t worry about a western checkpoint because the cons will be trying to get out of the state. They know that if they go west, they’ll only run into the river and they won’t make it to Arkansas if they swim across it,” he announced.

Atticus chortled and looked at Chris in amazement.

“Can you believe this moron?” he said.

“For real!” Jesse agreed, “That’s one stupid motherfucker! Because if I was a convict, the bottoms is exactly where I’d be, least likely to be seen!”

“At least we know Popeye and his bunch have a much better chance of getting to the bottoms without running into any checkpoints. So, it bodes well for us,” Chris said.

When Chris pulled onto the town square, about a block away from the old courthouse, everything was deserted and looked like a ghost town. He pulled to a stop in a dark alley across the street from the courthouse.

Preparations 

“Hey, Daniel, what’s the status on that override?” Chris asked.

“I’m uploading the virus now,” Daniel said, “I’ll let you know when it’s uploaded and does its thing.”

“Well, we don’t have a lot of time,” Chris told him.

“Chris, I can’t make this upload go any faster.”

In Popeye’s SUV, Miles spoke.

“Daniel is uploading the virus. It’s taking a minute though,” he said in a low voice.

“Yeah, we heard him,” Oliver said.

As soon as the upload was complete, Daniel sounded over all the group’s earpieces.

“Okay, guys! It’s showtime!” he announced.