22 October 2023
The road to Bucharest was slow, long and difficult, just as any road of hope stretches out far beyond our ordinary reach and will. They test us. These roads of hope test us.
They ask us to make the kind of sacrifices that break us and take away all pride and folly. Until we are broken and ready to be worked into a new form like a ball of potter’s clay.
Until there is no bravado left to sustain us, these roads of hope are towering trees. They hold the prize out of reach like an ancient tree that holds her forbidden fruit on a high and so distant branch.
A Mercedes city bus, a Ford F350, three Dacia pick ups, and two freight trucks. This was our caravan. What was left of it. We lost five cars along the way. And 20 good men and women.
The villages, towns, and cities along the way were dead, burned down or both. The remains of the dead lay exposed to weather, animals and worms. Cats fed upon their worm-ridden, dead former owners. And dogs fed upon fatted cats.
John paused, lit a cigarette, and took a long drag on it.
There were frequent stops. Cars and debris had to be cleared from the road. There were occasional conflicts: Roman, Focsani, and Buzau. But our caravan had the upper hand. Two out of three fights.
Cristina took the cigarette from John, took a puff, and threw it out the window of the F350.
We have eaten modestly and we have fresh water. We can think clearly and fast. It is a decisive advantage.
We are armed: three AK47s, twenty-four 12 gauge shotguns, and many other crude instruments of self-defense. And killing. We are armed as well as can be expected in a European nation where ordinary citizens never enjoyed the right to own firearms. Neither for our self-defense nor as a guarantee against tyranny and corruption.
John was about to take out another cigarette but Cristina took the pack and threw it out the window. She offered him a bottle of water which he waved away.
It has taken us seven days to get to Bucharest. It’s almost noon. Only a few remain hopeful. Because hope had not been nursed along the way. After all that we had seen on the road, a smoke plume rising from the center of Bucharest promises good – or, maybe, evil.
The road from Europa to downtown was surprisingly clear. That seemed a good sign. A clear road was a sight for sore eyes. They should have breathed sighs of relief but they knew trouble was waiting for them ahead. A clear road into Bucharest was a confirmation of a vision – one of many. Some jokes were made about Bambi being on the menu, tonight.
Most of them laughed for the first time in six days.
They inched forward cautiously. The caravan assumed the same formation it had when they had passed through cities and villages along the way. The two Dacia pick-ups took the lead. One brought up the rear. Behind the lead Dacias, the bus, the freight trucks and the F350 followed.
The AK47s and shotguns were loaded and locked. The pikemen were ready with their pikes and tarps.
If they lost the freight trucks, there would be no return to the country. For some, no return to their families. In those trucks was everything they had: food, water, gas, and things to trade. They would die to the last man and woman to keep them. In fact, they would kill – as the first option.
As the caravan crept toward the center, they passed burned out blocks, empty stores and abandoned cars. There were no remains of the dead as we had seen in other cities. But there were no signs of life. Not even clothes drying on the balconies. It was haunting.
A child ran out in front of one of the leading Dacias and was hit. And then two more children ran in front of the other. A girl was hit and fell under a wheel. The other was knocked down as they hit the brakes. Another two children came out of nowhere and were knocked down in front of the bus. Meanwhile, a sixth child was hit by the F350. The caravan stopped.
In an instant, everyone in the caravan was out on the street. All 30 of us. The six year old girl that fell under a wheel lay still. A boy, no more than 10, was unconscious in front of the bus. There was so much blood.
They could only think of the children.
For children are hope embodied. Children are a sign of good will between God and our tomorrow. Better than rainbows could ever be.
As they attended to the injured children, all hell broke loose…
In groups of five, the pikemen quickly attached the ends of the plastic tarps to their pikes forming giant umbrellas. They moved to cover the three groups attending to the injured children. Wounds were cleaned and bandaged. And the rain of rocks began to fall. A few at first. Then, more.
From behind cars, hundreds of children moved, standing up long enough to launch their missiles and disappearing to take up more ammunition. The percussion of the rocks falling on the umbrellas and metal was deafening at moments.
From the rooftops, molotov cocktails were thrown but all were missing their marks. Splashes of fire followed the umbrellas as the AK47s rattled at the roof tops.
Motorcycles roared just out of sight.
Once the six children were moved to the bus, almost everyone was back in their vehicles. Some of the pikemen from the bus joined the pick-up crews. And the caravan was rolling.
“That wasn’t what I expected,” shouted Zach.
Everyone on the channel heard him. The other two pick-up drivers and sharp shooters: Daniel, Eree, Max, Grace and Lumi. John and Cristina in the F350. Aurel and Ionut in the freight trucks. George, David and Alina in the bus.
“You don’t need to shout. We hear you if you whisper,” Lumi snickered.
“You know it’s like that, sefu. The visions aren’t vids.” John replied. “But you know who’s in the next act.”
“Yeah, yeah, Lumi. Yeah, John. The King of Hell…” growled Zach.
The bus and freight trucks moved to the front of the caravan. The Dacia pick-ups stopped out of range of the rain of rocks. The F350 took a right turn.
“Don’t forget to send a post card from the sea-side!” joked Eree as he watched the F350 drive out of sight.
Six motorcycles stopped about 20 meters from the pick-ups.
They were the sergeants at arms. Sergeant rank, Harley Davidson skulls, and the European Circle of Stars were embroidered on the arms of their black leather jackets. Under the jackets, they wore tactical street racer vests over black turtlenecks. On their heads, they wore skull cap helmets.
Behind the sergeants at arms, 36 more riders pulled up in three columns.
Standing at the back of the truck, Zach looked over the sergeants at arms and their bikes. He observed shotguns parked in shotgun holsters on each Harley. The six Harley’s seemed to be identical Crossbones. Vance & Hines shortshots, 16” apes, intake grips and HD bags.
“See this?” Zach asked.
“Yes,” replied John. “How many riders behind the sergeants?”
Zach started counting.
“36,” said Daniel. “42 in all.”
A rider from the front of the center column dismounted his white-washed Fat Boy Lo. He took his goggles off and hung them on the handles of his bike. He stepped forward confidently. Without shoes.
He wore a custom-fitted, white cotton suit. Holding his outstretched arms and open palms above his head, the mysterious rider shouted out to the men at the pick-ups: “Do not be afraid!”
“We have six bogeys standing in the middle of the road 100 meters in front of us. They’re waving at us in a friendly way. European stars and skulls on their arms,” said George as he drove the bus down the road.
“Run them down. Don’t miss.” replied Zach.
“Welcome to Bucharest!” shouted the bare-footed man as he approached the pick-ups.
“That’s far enough,” Daniel shouted to the bare-footed man in the white suit.
He stopped about 5 meters from them, yawned and stretched his neck to the left and the right.
“Those kids back there are some vicious little savages. Just like those kids in the Lord of the Flies! Wow! Imagine that.”
He paused for a reply, but there was none. So he continued.
“I hate kids. They’re worse than rats. All they got is the gimmes. Gimme this. Gimme that. They think the world owes them everything. Something. But they got nothing to give back. They aren’t productive. They’re just takers. And sneaky too.”
He lit a cigarette. Took a puff.
“I hate takers. All of them. Gotta hate the takers! That’s why things are all in the sewer now. It’s a rat paradise!
Yeah, rats. They come in all sizes. They don’t eat well, do they? Like salad. Doesn’t stick to your stomach.”
He took another puff. Tapped the ash off while quickly studying the men at the pick-ups.
“Bucharest is infested. It’s a real problem. Can’t get more ugly than a rat infestation…”
He paused and shook his head in dismay.
“So, let’s get down to business, gentlemen. We sure could use your help cleaning up these streets. Get it going again. Make it better than it ever was – you know what I mean?”
He took another puff.
Elsewhere, the bus plowed through the men standing in the road. The bare-footed man winced. The ones that jumped clear of the bus were hit by the trucks. But George had taken a shot to the chest. He slowed the bus down to a stop before he fell out of the driver’s seat. Someone jumped behind the wheel and two passengers carried George to the back of the bus.
“George is down. I’m so sorry, Zach,” said Alina.
Down the road, the bus started rolling again but the tires had been shredded and they’d have to change them. The trucks parked on either side of the bus and a defensive position was formed.
Back at the pick ups, there was every expectation that things were going to go badly.
“Sefu…” shouted out one of the sergeants at arms.
“Don’t interrupt me, son,” replied the bare-footed man. “I’m talking to friends, here.”
As he turned back to face the men at the pick-ups, he looked at his Rolex and noted the time.
“That’s a shame,” the bare-footed man spoke, flicking the half-burned cigarette to the side.
“There’s not many good men left in this broken city. Good men are falling down everyday.”
The bare-footed man paused to light another cigarette.
Zach studied the man’s face. Blue eyes. Shaven, chiseled chin. Full lips. Almost shaven head. He was a handsome man in his, perhaps, fifties.
The bare-footed man nodded and smiled.
Looking at Zach’s glasses, he covered his eyes and uncovered them like a game of peek-a-boo.
“Peek-a-booo… Who’s watching out there in TV land?”
The bare-footed man took a puff on his cigarette.
“We gotta stop it. Stop the killing and dying. And the taking. We can stop that.
We can stop making hell on earth. You. Me. Us. We.
That’s why we need to stick together. We’ve all lost friends. Families too. It’s all gone to hell…
But my dreams aren’t as bankrupt as my conscience seems to be.”
We don’t need another hero, Tina Turner
The next chapter section (1.2) is [here]. Enjoy!
Your feedback (comment) means much to me.
7 April 2011
Copyright 2011 by Stan Faryna. All Rights Reserved.
Modified on 17 April 2011