In the doorway Lincoln stepped out onto his small, enclosed porch, feeling the twitch in his upper lip turning into a scowl. The huge tree in his front yard towered over his house, blocking the sunlight so he could see the large crowd huddled together on his lawn and driveway. The space felt small with his almost six-foot frame filling it as he eyed each person. All of them avoiding eye contact like they’d come to secretly gawk at the neighborhood anomaly. He recognized most of them by name, wondering how long it’s been since he’s actually spoken to any of his neighbors.
They never bothered with him before. Always whispering behind his back. Calling him bat shit crazy. The kooky neighbor that came along with the neighborhood. Harmless, if you don’t bother him. But never an actual word said to him.
Within a few months of living in Dessarillo, Texas, his neighbors had turned his house into an ominous staple of the neighborhood. His street was the furthest back from the main road. The last block where both ends of the street swing around to take you back toward the main front entrance, a type of cul-de-sac. His little, brown house became the destination for all the neighborhood kids to pull pranks. The one girl scouts avoided when selling cookies, and invitations were lost the minute his name was written on the card. Not once, was Lincoln ever thought of in a friendly way. He wasn’t considered a neighbor, more like an attraction. The local gossip.
Breaking Lincoln’s train of thought a question rippled over the crowd directed at him. “What do we do?” it was a strong, take charge tone belonging to Wyatt. The conformed, heartthrob of the neighborhood stepped forward making his presence known, branding him the leader of the mob. Lincoln recognized the panic set in his amber eyes, as Wyatt squinted, flinging his hippie hair out of way, trying to hide the fear by a nervous smile.
On the lawn the others subtly moved inward trying to get as close as they could without invading Lincoln’s space. They wanted to be close enough to hear his advice, but far enough to run back home so they won’t have to stay and chitchat afterward.
A surge of energy making Lincoln’s heart pound made him flex his hand as icy rage built silently, threatening to crack through his weakening tolerance toward them. Each face a reminder of the ridicule he endured for years living next to them. Oh how he’d love to shout obscenities at them while brandishing his Glock 17 from its holster and watch as they trampled each other to scurry back home with their tail between their legs. Only the law stood in his way, but not for long. All in good time, he thought.
Wyatt spoke up trying to fill the awkward silence, “Maybe we should go over what supplies to buy?” Lincoln’s jaw clenched but he wanted to scoff at Wyatt’s question. The fury threatening to consume him as he kept it contained. You stock supplies before the panic; Lincoln kept the thought to himself with a smug expression. Allowing the silence to fuel the tension, letting their fear stoke the desperate situation they’ve put themselves in. After all, Lincoln’s only doing what he does best, keeping to himself. Something his neighbors thought was a blessing until now.
Everyone sat in denial. All the signs were there if you searched for them. Overpopulation, abnormal weather, new epidemics, the growing tensions between countries, all of it public information, and ignored. Lincoln stopped ignoring it after the horrendous attempt the government made to evacuate the city of Houston for Hurricane Rita. Panic and fear fueled from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina had the entire city fleeing.
Like the rest of Houston, Lincoln evacuated, only to sit on the side of the road out of gas and slowly dehydrating. No one bothered to stop and help, people were desperate to escape, giving into the primal beings we evolved from millions of years ago. Concerned for their own survival.
Hours went by as he walked in the roasting heat until he reached a gas station. They tried to charge him five dollars for a bottle of water. He drank it and said he left his wallet in the car, then offered to wait for the police with them when they made the threat. Price gouging was the bigger crime, and he easily called their bluff. In a feverish rage, he stole a gas container right in front of them, filled it up and left without paying for that either.
Back in his car, he didn’t follow the traffic out of the city. Instead he rode home in the opposite direction with the stolen gas fueling his car vowing never to be vulnerable again. The next disaster he’d have to endure, he’d be prepared. No one would be able to take advantage of him and he’d survive without help. He learned the only person you can truly depend on is yourself.
After hurricane Rita, Lincoln moved from Houston to north Texas settling in Dessarillo, where he’s been for over ten years. Shunned by his neighbors as a radical enthusiast, and asked why he wasted his time and money on things he’ll never need. The corner of his mouth lifted slightly, amused at his sudden popularity. It’s programmed in their DNA to survive. By any means possible. His extreme prepping lifestyle doesn’t seem so peculiar to them now. Not when it’s convenient to have him as a neighbor and they need his expertise.
Lunatic turned messiah.
“All we need is a little guidance on whatever you think is happening. The nationwide curfew can’t be for our protection, and I don’t know if you know, because you don’t have any children, but school has been postponed until further notice. Is an attack coming? How many people can fit in your shelter?” Wyatt was desperately trying to get Lincoln’s attention any way he could. All the information pouring out of him to ease the tension building on Lincoln’s green lawn that people were trampling. The man is scaring people by just standing there scowling with a glint of insanity in his eyes, Wyatt thought.
“The children should be taken in first,” a female raised her voice above the murmurs. Several people hollered in agreement. Snapping his head in the direction of the voice Lincoln’s lip curled in disgust. Yes, because I want responsibility of everyone else’s child while the world goes to shit, he thought. Continuing the conversation, they talked amongst themselves ignoring Lincoln and the repulsive expression on his face. Pretending like he didn’t exist gave the situation a bit of normalcy, and they grasped onto it like a lifeline.
“He can’t possibly take them all in,” a pretty woman named Camille spoke up making her way to the front of the crowd, showcasing all three of her children, one of them just a toddler. They were smaller versions of Camille with pitch black hair, and dark brown eyes with Hispanic heritage. Lincoln’s gaze fell to the littlest one because he could see the edge of a diaper and there’s no way in hell he’s changing diapers.
“We could have a lottery,” Wyatt suggested, “so it’d be fair, and no one would have a clear advantage. The children would be randomly selected.”
Arguments broke out about siblings staying together and adults staying with the younger children. From one person to another Lincoln’s eyes darted across the crowd as they debated who he’d have in his bunker. His bunker. The heat rose above his neck seeping into his face as he blurted out enraged, “What kind of ass hole makes children wonder whether or not they’ll survive with a complete stranger? And for that matter, what kind of parent just gives their children away to a stranger that they never completely trusted in the first place?”
He couldn’t quietly stand by and listen to them discuss who would survive in his bunker with him.
“You’re not a stranger,” Camille said softly, giving him a kind expression, the first ever.
They were all staring at him now that he actual spoke out. Surprised Camille knew he existed, Lincoln narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive position asking, “What’s my favorite color?”
One small voice spoke up, “It’s the Texas colors,” Camille’s middle child pointed to the steel sign with the Texas flag on it. It was nailed to the front of the house for everyone to see. Different types of guns bordered the flag and at the bottom it read ‘Don’t mess with Texas’. Lincoln was almost tempted to say ‘I’ll take that one’. He didn’t disagree with her because at least she tried. That’s more than he can say for the others.
“I’ll say this once, and only once. My bunker is exactly that, mine,” Lincoln announced in a voracious tone, continuing in a low bark Lincoln asked, “What makes you think I want strangers in my bunker? Especially other people’s children.”
A collective gasp. Stares of shock. Hands to the heart. Wide eyes. Jaws dropped. Distressed expressions. Lincoln’s boots never budged from the ground in cowardice as they judged him, nor did he avoid eye contact. If anything his expression became extremely arrogant at the thought they assumed he’d let people in. Not a bit of shame crept over him. He didn’t retreat inside his house or say another word to try to alleviate the shock of his words. Never in his life has he felt obligated to explain his lifestyle or decisions to family members, so he wasn’t going to start now with strangers.
No one expressed any interest in Lincoln’s lifestyle except to ridicule it. How the idea of him allowing people into his bunker came about he has no idea but he never offered or even hinted that it had room for more people.
Someone finally spoke up, “Because they’re children.”
“They ain’t my children,” Lincoln answered quickly his words lashing out like a whip.
“But they’re innocent.”
Lincoln snorted and in a sarcastic voice, “Really? So, your kid never played ding dong ditch at my house? And which one of you fuckers wrapped it in toilet paper? Not to mention the dog shit I find on my lawn.”
“Lincoln, now is not the time to be petty,” Wyatt softly chastised, the others agreeing verbally or nodding.
“Oh-ho,” Lincoln raised his voice and eyebrows in surprise, “so you do know my name. Is now not the time to be petty because it’s convenient to get my help? If the world wasn’t going to shit would you be standing here in front of me—let’s say,” he shrugged his shoulders and blurted out the first thing that came to mind, “watch a football game?”
Silence. That’s what he thought. Lincoln refused to be their patsy.
Someone groaned a strangled, haunted, animalistic sound echoing over the neighborhood. Eyes bounced around and necks jerked back and forth trying to pinpoint the sound and where it came from.
“Who is that?”
“Well now I’ve seen everything.”
“Holy smokes he’s still alive?!”
“What the hell is he doing in Dessarillo?”
“The KING is back!”
“Don’t be an idiot. It’s Burt, he dresses like that every Halloween, goes to the conventions in Las Vegas.”
“Isn’t he too old for that?”
Lincoln craned his neck over the crowd, and his nostrils burned from a pungent odor, the people around him also noticing it. Lincoln’s eyes burned trying to wave the smell away, someone is proud of that he thought. It lingered causing people to wander in order to get away from the nasty stench giving Lincoln a clear view of a man slowly dragging himself across the road to the meeting—he never agreed to—on his lawn.
“Oh hell,” Lincoln mused to himself, “I guess he was supposed to warm up the crowd before I came out.”
In a sparkly, glaring white and glittering gold, crisp jumpsuit, with oversized dark black sunglasses, and a black wig, Burt continued, crossing into the open road stumbling off the curb into the middle of the street at the same time a car came screeching around the corner.
Screams pierced the silent neighborhood watching in horror as Burt bounced off the car, rising like a star, the reflection of the white suit making everyone squint as their eyes lifted with him. Burt rose ten feet in the air and then belly flopped against the pavement. A puff of gold glitter showered down upon him ending the show for the night. Shocked gasps filtered throughout the throng of people, and no one moved for several seconds, waiting for Burt to signal he was okay, to give some kind of sign that he was still alive. Tires screeched to a halt. The noise snapped several folks out of a daze and sprinted to the scene to help.
Mouth wide open with her hands still on the steering wheel, Patty couldn’t believe she’d just hit someone. He was just standing in the middle of the road! Not to mention the damage he probably did to her car, she thought. Her guilty conscience soon evaporated and the more she thought about it, the angrier she became, quickly coming to the conclusion that the man caused his own accident. Pushing the thick lenses up the bridge of her nose, she narrowed her green eyes in the rearview mirror at the people amassing around the man in the road instead of checking on her.
Lincoln observed from afar, half the mob dispersed toward the accident in the road. He watched as Craig knelt beside Burt and checked for a pulse. Face planted on the pavement with his arm twisted the wrong way Burt twitched at Craig’s fingers. Everyone held their breath as Burt struggled to lift his head off the ground, turning to Craig’s touch. Relief flooded through the crowd at Burt’s movement knowing he escaped death.
Several people circled Burt kneeling around him covering the lower part of their face with their shirts, and obscuring Lincoln’s view of the man. Lincoln couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, he wondered if anyone had called for an ambulance yet. Shifting his gaze around, he took one step backward noticing everyone distracted by the accident. He could easily sneak back into his house. They had everything under control. Lincoln swiveled, had one foot over the threshold when the blood curdling scream echoed over neighborhood. Lincoln left his door wide open trying to shake the off the goosebumps on his arm. An icy shiver ran the length of his spine as he watched the people surrounding Burt immediately back away from him.
All the shouts and shrieks and chatter mixed together into a static that no one could understand unless you were standing right next to the person you were talking to. Only one person could be heard above the rest. Lincoln pinpointed the haunting sound by following the trail of blood. Craig had fallen backward, splashing everyone in the vicinity with the red liquid arcing in the air. His hand clearly missing two fingers.
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