Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Quiet

Sometimes it's so hard to write the words I need to say that I shake. There are moments now and then, events and sights that deeply affect me, which take the thoughts right out of my head.

We searched Shelbyville carefully yesterday, looking for signs of the group of Hispanic people we knew lived there, or at least they did many months ago. Our hope was to establish trade if possible, cooperative effort at a minimum.

First we checked the rural areas around the town itself. We found some crops growing in what had obviously been carefully tended enclosed areas. They had grown wild and dense, many vegetables fallen from their plants to rot on the ground.

We followed tracks as far as they would take us, but they always led to roads. Dead ends.

We searched the town itself, and it didn't take long to find them. A department store, windows carefully blocked but with firing holes left open, surrounded by defenses. It was in this little shopping center, tucked back off the main road a bit and hard to see through the verdant growth that has taken over much of Shelbyville.

We threaded our way through the barriers and traps cleverly arranged around the front of the place. The windows were very secure, the door locked and barricaded. We searched all around the building until we found an obviously hand-made mechanism, a rough but complicated crank that required both hands to use. It took two of us to figure out how to operate it. We got it in the end, and a rope ladder rolled down the back of the building when we turned it.

There were no sentries. Not a single guard.

From the access ladder on the roof, we made our way inside. The total number of them was fifty-four. Thirty were children. All of them were dead.

Everywhere we looked we found bodies. What I have to assume was the entirety of their group died, but none of them alone. Adults were clutching children, older kids frozen in death holding the small, thin frames of toddlers. From what we can tell, all the older people there committed suicide. Guns next to bodies and bullet wounds to the skull made that obvious enough. The decay in the room made it hard to gather facts, but Gabrielle, who was with us on the trip, thinks the young ones caught something that made them very sick. A few of the bodies of the younger children were still paritally intact, and though the adults had pierced their heads to prevent them from reanimating, that wasn't what killed them.

They were thin. So very small.

There was food there, rows of cans and what had once been fresh produce gone to rot. It surrounded them. They had plenty to eat.

Further inspection by Gabrielle led her to believe that whatever hit them, it caused severe gastrointestinal problems. She said there were signs of dehydration and terrible diarrhea, though I haven't had the nerve to ask what they were. It's bad enough that I have those images in my mind. I don't need to dwell on the agony that must have fallen on those poor souls before the end.

The one that forced me to my knees and brought me to tears was a woman sitting on the floor, her back to a heavy wooden chest. Her legs were splayed out before her as she cradled the remains of a small boy, hear head tilted back atop the chest. Her eyes would have been facing the sky, were she alive. Even though both of them were months gone and I could only identify their genders by the clothes they wore, I could see them clearly in my mind. I felt her despair as she looked to the heavens, begging to know why such terrible misfortune had been visited on them. On him. On her.

Even in death, her posture was unmistakable.

It was a tableau too horrible to really grasp. Still forms, wrapped around one another in the last throes of death, finding one last moment of comfort, one last touch of love. Even to the end, they were there for each other. It was a silent scene that said more without words than I will ever be able to express with them.

So many lives lost. So much potential gone. We've seen so much since The Fall, lost so many, that you'd think it would be easier to deal with things like this. It isn't.

Today I mourn friends I never knew. That's all.

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