combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2007

The Liberation of Indian Creek


          My name is Carolee. Not Carol Lee, as you might suppose, but Carolee. I don't remember my last name, but I do remember learning my letters when I was small, and tediously printed out C-a-r-o-l-e-e.

          I've waited such a long time for something to happen. I've waited alone, even in the presence of others, and especially on the way to these isolated hills in North Alabama. It pleases me to be alone – at least it did at first. I have a story to tell, but since I have nothing on which to record it or the skills to do so, I must recite it over and over, in my mind or aloud. The hills and the woods hear me, if no one else does.

          Carolee came to the edge of the old highway late on an August afternoon. She was twelve and running away. Not at random; she was searching for something specific ... a place she knew, a place to hide.

          I couldn't have stood it another day, she thought. Those horrid old men and women in that survival settlement. Dodging groping hands, working so I wouldn't be beaten – and the women were the meanest of all.

          She shivered. The area across the old highway was dark and forbidding. Telling herself nothing could be worse than what she had already endured, she tightened her grip on her supply bag and began to cross the bumpy, neglected pavement.

          Not that way, something inside told her.



          "But it's the right way –"

          No. Go south, then cross.

          Carolee's memory of the place she sought was even more vivid than the memory of her parents. She had been six when her world came to an end; she was almost thirteen now. Her parents had died along with most of the population; by chance she had arrived at the settlement. Expecting warmth and welcome, she was quick to understand that she was there only so long as she was useful. There was no love, no friendship at the settlement.

          Her knowledge of what had happened six years before was primitive and sketchy, consisting of overheard conversations among the adults at the settlement. Something had made nearly everybody very sick. The few survivors were the elderly and young children.

          Carolee was robustly healthy; the six-year-old did not understand what was happening to her parents. First her mother, then her father – moaning and thrashing, burning with fever. Her mother had tried to tell Carolee what to do while still able to talk, but shock thrust any instructions completely out of her mind. She sat in her parents' room crying for days, then wandered out of the house and down the street. Seeing a few other people congregating on the corner, she joined them.

          They burned all the houses on Carolee's street before making the trek to what would become the settlement, collecting more survivors on the way, torching every building in sight. Carolee arrived at the settlement with nothing but what she was wearing – sandals and a blue cotton dress.

          Later the old men made their way to the next town, most of the retail stores already looted. There remained, however, probably because of the decimated population, useful goods of all sorts. The children of the settlement continued to grow; clothes for them were desperately needed. Supplies in retail stores were supposedly free of the illness, so long as the old men snatched items from the bottom of stacks or the backs of shelves. Anything wrapped in plastic was also considered safe.

          Carolee had matches and candles, a knife, soap, a saucepan, T-shirts and jeans, and a large beach towel in her bag, along with socks and shoes and some smoked meat and dried fruit. A meager survival kit, but Carolee was on foot, her bag as heavy as she could manage.

          She kept her dark brown hair short, preferring cleanliness to the oily braids most of the girls favored. Her brown eyes glowed with health; her faded yellow shirt revealed the beginnings of small breasts. She didn't know that she was pretty.

          Within an hour Carolee had crossed the road and felt safe enough to turn north through the underbrush. Her thoughts picked up no further warnings.

          I hope it's still there, she thought. Uncle Harry's cabin, her parents had called it, although there had never been an Uncle Harry as far as she knew. The cabin consisted of one room with a wood floor. There had been no furnishings. And there was no obvious approach to the small building.

          Carolee reached the creek first, a narrow rivulet originating from a freshwater spring miles away. She was relieved to see the water was still clear.

          Memories of picnics with her parents at this secret place saturated Carolee's thoughts. She grew dreamy, unaware. Until she saw the three silent figures standing a few yards away.

          She gasped, terrified.

          She realized then the boy with the two dogs was not much older than herself. He held a bow casually in one hand; the late afternoon had grown too dark for Carolee to make out the quiver of arrows on his back or the dogs' color.

          Behind the boy a multitude of forms took shape, all holding bows and arrows aimed at Carolee. She began to tremble, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. She blinked the tears away and the forms disappeared, leaving only the boy and the pair of dogs. She rubbed her eyes, wondering.

          "What is in the bag?" the boy asked.

          "My – my –" Carolee quavered. "Then – they're mine!" she hissed. "My supplies."

          "I wasn't going to take anything from you. I merely wondered – we could help each other, you see."

          "Well ...." Carolee began hesitantly listing the contents of her bag.

          The boy nodded. "Good. A towel. We don't have any, just blankets. And another saucepan – and more matches. Matches are important."

          "We?" Carolee said suspiciously. "Who's we?"

          "Angela's ten and Cecily's nine. My name's Donald. When you outgrow your clothes maybe you can let Angela and Cecily have them. We'll find you more."

          "Oh." Carolee was satisfied. Children. That was acceptable.

          "Come with me, Carolee. I'll show you our camp. You're hungry, aren't you?"

          "How did you know my name?"

          "I just know things. Where is Uncle Harry's cabin?"

          "Farther north. You follow the creek. It gets bigger."

          Donald whistled. "Pickett, Elmira. Come." He turned and so did the two dogs.

          "Are you the one who warned me?"


          "But how? You weren't there."

          "Sometimes I can speak to a person's mind. Often I give the dogs mental commands. But I wasn't sure you'd hear. I can't speak to Angela and Cecily; they have nightmares if I do."

          Carolee frowned. "I've never met anyone like you. What kinds of dogs are they? Can I pet them?" "When we get to the camp. They'll accept you as part of the group."

          North of the camp where Donald was taking Carolee lay Uncle Harry's cabin. It faced the creek where a beach composed of sand and mud prevented the overgrowth of vegetation. The creek was about 300 yards from the building whose outside walls had succumbed to kudzu and tangled vines of poison ivy. As dark fell, there was surreptitious activity within and without the cabin.

          Several yards from the front door a sign was planted in the ground. The lettering was barely legible from years of rain and the sign itself was obscured by tall grass. For anyone capable of reading, the sign proclaimed: "Posted. Property of the Roscoe Family, Mary and Kenneth."

          "Donald! " Two little girls ran out, hugging the dogs which greeted the children eagerly.

          "Voices down," Donald said. "How many times must I remind you? Have you seen anyone since I've been gone?"

          "No, Donald." Cecily bit her lip, while Angela lowered her eyes, chastised.

          "This is Carolee. How's about introducing her to Pickett and Elmira?"

          Carolee waited, longing to stroke the silky brown fur. Once introduced the dogs submitted to Carolee's attentions.

          "Donald, they're smiling!" she said, amazed.

          "They do that. They're Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Fine dogs. Good swimmers. Carolee, let's find you a sleeping place and let you unpack. I'll make a fire and heat some beans."

          "Oooh! A big towel!" Angela trilled.

          "Carolee," Donald said, "tomorrow we'll find Uncle Harry's cabin."

          "I can't see my feet," Angela protested.

          "It's too dark," Cecily whined.

          "Don't look at your feet," Donald said. "Watch the dogs."

          A full hour passed as the little party trudged alongside the creek. Carolee's eyes adjusted until she could make out the dark ripples on the water and the swaying of the dogs' tails as they trotted ahead.

          Donald stopped them thirty minutes later. Still and quiet, the little group could hear noises – laughter, talking, the barking of a dog.

          "Stay here," Donald commanded. "Elmira, guard. Come, Pickett."

          Donald and Pickett crept farther until they were out of sight. Carolee found herself taking deep breaths to keep from shaking. It was so dark!

          The girls jumped as Donald and his dog returned. He motioned to them to follow him back the way they had come.

          "There must be at least a dozen," Donald reported. "Some my age, but bigger – some much older. They're dressed in rags and they're drinking, inside the cabin and outside the front door."

          "But the cabin's mine," Carolee said. "It belonged to my parents. Those dirty people can't have it!"

          "We're going to take it back. We can't allow renegades to threaten our camp."

          "How can we possibly take back the cabin?" Carolee asked. "Three girl children, two dogs, and you? How? We have nothing to take it back with!"

          "Oh, we have much more at our disposal than you realize, Carolee. We have weapons – bows and arrows –"

          "Can Angela and Cecily shoot them? I can't."

          "I know, and I don't have time to teach you. We don't want those people wrecking that cabin. But we also have two obedient dogs – and fire. Don't forget fire. I can even shoot flaming arrows."

          "Oh, Donald!" Carolee's face crumpled. "We'll set the cabin on fire that way. It'll burn to the ground."

          Donald took Carolee's face in his hand. "Carolee, I promise you. I will not let the cabin burn."

          Carolee was puzzled. "How can fire do us any good if we can't control it? If we shoot arrows into the creek they'll fizzle out. If we shoot them close to the cabin, they'll set everything on fire."

          "You'll see. There are things about me you've already forgotten." Shadows moved briefly behind Donald, but when Carolee tried to focus, they disappeared.

          "All right. We're ready. Let's go."

          Carolee frowned. Ready? she thought. I don't understand this. He has two quivers of arrows, matches in his pocket – and the dogs.

          "I want to get there before dawn. Cecily and Angela, no whining about the dark. You know how to follow the dogs. I will lead; Carolee – you next. Then the dogs and the younger girls. In a single line."

          I'm used to the dark now, Carolee thought. But what is he going to do when we get there?

          Donald stopped about ten yards from the creek. "Girls, get down on your hands and knees, Carolee next to me." Then he commanded Pickett and Elmira to the flanks.

          "Carolee, I'm putting the quivers on the ground and I want you to hand me one arrow at a time. Quickly – as soon as I use one, hand me another."

          Carolee did as she was told, but she was puzzled when she saw Donald shooting his flaming arrows one by one to the near edge of the creek. She had thought he would surely overshoot the creek. Just as she had feared, the fires fizzled out after a few seconds.

          But it was enough to get the attention of the renegades. They came pouring out of the cabin to see what was going on, and they were armed with rifles and pistols. Carolee caught her breath. We're going to be killed, she moaned mentally. Then suddenly the cabin was surrounded by flames. The renegades hesitated, fear on their faces.

          Tears flowed silently down Carolee's face. Uncle Harry's cabin was a symbol of everything that represented the memory of her parents' love. Donald promised me the cabin wouldn't burn, she thought, but there's no way that inferno can be stopped. She could hardly see the cabin through the smoke and roaring flames.

          "Pickett, Elmira, swim!" Donald commanded. And when the dogs obeyed, they were not a mere pair, but close to forty, crossing the creek. Behind Donald an army of archers formed.

          It advanced slowly, threateningly. The pack of dogs charged the renegades, biting legs and arms. Fire roared all around but the dogs didn't stop. Why aren't those dogs afraid? Where did they all come from? Carolee thought. How is Donald going to keep the cabin from burning?

          The unwanted guests panicked and fled screaming into the woods. Once they were out of sight, Donald raised his hand. "Pickett, Elmira, come."

          The pair of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers leapt into the creek, swimming eagerly toward Donald and the girls. The rest of the pack of dogs vanished, as did the army of archers. All that was left was Donald's depleted quivers.

          Then Donald said, "I am finished with the fire. The task has been completed."

          Before Carolee's disbelieving eyes the enormous firestorm disappeared, just as the army of archers and the pack of dogs. As her vision cleared, she saw the cabin, unscathed.

          And she remembered the mysterious figures that had formed behind Donald on two occasions.

          The army of archers, the pack of dogs, the terrible fire – they were all an illusion created by Donald's power.

          "We have more at our disposal than you realize, Carolee" he had said. "There are things about me you have already forgotten."


          I'm seventeen now. There are two dozen of us here. Donald hesitates to take in more for fear we would overwhelm the environment that supports us. We use the cabin for shelter in bad weather and for the ill, but strike our campfires outside. We bathe in the creek and get our drinking water from the spring upstream.

          We take turns guarding day and night. This community is too precious to leave undefended from wandering marauders, though there are so few people near this isolated place there has been little trouble.

          The children of Indian Creek have grown tall and strong. The woods provide us with food; we muster our own entertainment. Later there will be weddings, Donald's and mine first. We'll need to acquire more animals; Pickett and Elmira are aging and trained dogs are a necessity as well as tame cats for rodent control.

          Donald. So special. Nature must compensate for her disasters by creating mutations with the power to deal with new challenges.

          Someday there will be young, and our community will expand to the east.

by Mary Brunini McArdle
... who is a freelance writer of fiction, nonfiction, poems, and plays, with numerous awards and extensive publication credits; she has also taught poetry and military strategy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

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