“Come on Kid. We gotta go,” First Sergeant Wilcox said. Billy didn’t want to leave the cavern even though it was bustling with activity. The vast openness of the high ceiling felt good after the closed in confines of the rest of the base. He promised himself he’d come back and enjoy the openness again.
“We gotta go, kid,” the First Sergeant repeated, breaking Billy’s mood.
“I’m not a kid!” Billy shouted, drawing stares from those closest to them as the sound of his voice echoed off the walls. The attention was more than he could bear.
Billy turned and ran back into the corridor that had brought him into the cavern with all the vehicles. He ran as he had many times before, dodging people in the hallways as he went.
“Crap!” First Sergeant Wilcox exclaimed as he took off after his charge.
Billy didn’t look back. He didn’t need to. This was an old exercise for him. The layout of the hallways became a mental map in his head as he planned his route through the base. He went from one crowded area to the next, always threading through the people with ease. The exclamations of surprise grew further and further behind him as First Sergeant Wilcox, not able to slip through the crowd as easily, pursued him.
“Make a hole!” the First Sergeant yelled, but it was from a great distance. Billy knew he was close to losing the man. A few more twists and turns would put him right where he wanted to be. Billy slowed his pace to a walk just before he took the next corner. The opportunity he needed was just down the hall. He stopped at the doorway marked Janitor Closet, opened the door, and slipped in pulling it closed behind him. The room smelled of musty old mops and various cleaning fluids. He pressed his ear to the door and listened. After five minutes he still hadn’t heard anything in the hallway. The fumes from the closet had started a low-grade headache pulsing in his temples, so he opened the door and peeked out. The hallway was empty.
Billy stepped into the hallway and tried to decide where he wanted to go. He started to head back the way he had come, thinking the cavern would be a good place to be alone. However, while the ceiling in the cavern felt very good compared to the hallways of the base, there were too many people bustling about and Billy didn’t think he’d find a good place to be alone there. His feet stopped of their own accord as he tried to decide where to go again. Finally, he decided to see if the room he shared with three other people was empty.
He walked the halls finding his way back to the barracks area. The entire time he felt his anxiety rise as he turned each corner, expecting the first sergeant to be there, scowling down at him with that look of distaste that seemed to be ever present on his face. He wondered if the man was ever happy with anything.
Finally, he arrived at his room. To his dismay though, all three of the officers were there going about various tasks. They smiled and greeted him cheerfully enough, but company was not what he was looking for at the moment so he closed the door without going in. As soon as the door clicked shut he quickly moved down the hall and around the corner. He needed to find somewhere to be alone.
Something unfamiliar bounced against his thigh. Billy pressed his left hand against his pants pocket and felt the outline of the brass cross Hugh had given him. The image of Theliel floated in front of his eyes. He imagined she smiled at him, and as his memory flashed through recent events, he realized she was the only one who hadn’t been upset with him about anything yet. He resolved to try and find her on his own if he could. Hugh’s ideas sounded hokey but they really had entered into the ether without equipment, and they had been holding those brass crosses reciting the Lord’s Prayer. If they could do it, he could, Billy decided.
He spun on his heel and headed back to the cavern. After a short while he arrived at the very entrance he’d been at a short time ago. He quickly remembered the guard stopping him about his badge, so he dug it out and hung it around his neck by the lanyard. When he looked up he saw one of the many olive colored trucks with the canvas coverings over the bed driving across the cavern, heading toward the far set of doors. As the truck moved past Billy he saw crates of produce and food stacked to the top of the canvas covering. Billy decided to follow the truck, though he wasn’t really sure why. A short sprint later, and after weaving through several rows of other parked canvas covered trucks, Billy disappeared through the large doors after the truck.
It didn’t take long for the truck to traverse the tunnel, emerging into another natural cavern, though smaller than the first. As the truck emerged, Billy heard voices shouting and the pounding of feet heading in his direction. He instantly became worried the first sergeant had found him again, and thought about dashing back down the tunnel. Ten or fifteen soldiers, both men and women, appeared from various places running toward him though they were unarmed. Before Billy could react, they dashed past him and disappeared down the tunnel joking and laughing. As their voices disappeared down the tunnel, Billy realized he was almost totally alone until the driver of the truck shut his vehicle off and got out.
“Damn it, First Sergeant I gotta unload all this crap alone again?” the driver raged. Billy tensed, darting his eyes around for a place to hide and seeing nothing readily available.
“Not my fault you didn’t bring nobody wit choo,” a coarse, rough voice said from behind the truck. Before Billy could move, a stocky, short man dressed all in white except for black boots came from behind the truck and started to release the tailgate. “You kids today is all wussies, let a little work scare you off.”
At that moment, the man the driver had called First Sergeant noticed Billy. “There you go. There’s somebody can help ya. Hey, kid, git yer butt over here. Aw, you better go git him afore he rabbits or you’ll do it all yerself.”
The driver immediately took off running in Billy’s direction. Billy turned to run but the driver was on him before he could get up a good head of steam. “Gotcha.”
“Let me go!” Billy shouted.
“Your bad luck, kid,” the driver said, gripping Billy’s arm. Billy tried to wrench free but the driver’s grip held him tightly. “Ah, ah. You ain’t getting away. Standing orders. Anyone around when a delivery arrives has to help unload. Come on.”
Billy resigned himself to his fate and stopped resisting. The driver didn’t let go until they were standing before the first sergeant. The man looked Billy up and down and grunted. “He looks weak, almost like working by yerself anyways, I bet.”
Billy’s felt heat rise in his cheeks. He ripped his arm away from the driver who’d loosened his grip. “I can work just as hard as you can old man!”
“There’ll be no insubordination here, soldier!” the first sergeant roared. Billy didn’t back down.
“I’m not a soldier in your damned army, old man,” Billy responded, repeating the epithet hard.
“Well, you should still show respect to yer elders, kid,” he said.
“I’ll show you respect when you show me some, old man,” Billy said putting his hands on his hips defiantly. The driver chuckled as he climbed into the back of the truck.
“He’s got spirit First Shirt, I’ll give him that. Tell us your name and we’ll stop calling you kid, kid,” the driver said.
“Billy Ransom,” he said.
“Well Billy, earn some of that respect you want so bad and help us unload this truck,” the First Sergeant said.
“If you’ll tell me your names?” Billy asked, but he turned to accept the first crate the driver handed him. It was heavy and it drove the wind from his lungs as he set his feet to take on the weight. The driver chuckled again.
“I’m First Sergeant Hargrave, but most folks call me First Shirt or Cookie. Some even call me Gideon,” the First Sergeant said, taking the crate and stacking it on a pallet behind him.
“Most people do not call him Cookie or Gideon. I’m not going to tell you what most people call him while he’s here,” the driver said.
“Hey, watch it, soldier. You can call me Gideon or Cookie, kid.” Billy decided not to press the kid thing again.
“I’m Blake. Thanks for helping me out Billy. This is a lot of work to do by yourself,” the driver said, handing Billy another box. Billy handed the box to Gideon and decided he’d help them unload the entire truck. The next crate nearly sent him to his knees but he recovered and passed it to Gideon, flexing his arms after the weight was taken. This would be a long afternoon, he decided.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. For more information about this story please join us on our Facebook page community at www.facebook.com/firstchevalierbooks.