Chapter 19: And everything changes…
The mood in the tent was subdued. It seemed the build-up of Hope’s arrival had dissipated and people were concerned about what was going to happen to them. It had only been days since our hurried departure from the Island, but it seemed like forever. There was nothing to do here, fear was beginning to get more of a foothold, boredom was rampant, and whining was at an all-time high. I found it amazing how quickly things could devolve. Honestly, after the conversation I’d just had with a millennia old 6-year-old, I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the pettiness, the blaming, and the general selfishness that I was witnessing.
I pushed a thought of gratitude and camaraderie to the group and was astounded at what felt like an actual wave that flowed forward. In my head I heard “a non-lethal weapon in your arsenal – use it wisely,” and couldn’t help but smile. I looked for Max and Eric and found them with happy, but slightly stunned looks on their faces, like they had just had someone hand them a cookie they weren’t expecting.
I grabbed Eric’s hand on one side and Max’s on the other and returned to the room. It was a little tough opening the door knowing I would find the space empty, but I knew it was for the best. I was surprised to find a single flower resting on the pillow. It was a variety I had never seen before. It looked a little like a cross between an Iris and a Rose, and the most vibrant, unexpected purple I had ever seen. One of those colors people joke about not actually existing in nature. I knew she had left it for me. I picked it up and tucked it into my pony tail. It was a little big and floppy, but it worked.
Eric and I sat in the chairs surrounding the small table, and Max sat cross-legged on the bed. I felt a little off kilter, and hoped one of them would start the conversation. Luckily, I was with 2 men who had no trouble expressing themselves.
“I found a couple of options. One is a place not too far from here. It was a fully functional ranch up until a couple of years ago when the family that owned it were presumed killed in the Malaysian airliner disaster.” Max shared. He went on, letting us know that the state had taken over the property and the animals were all sold off, but the buildings and pasture lands are all in good shape and would be easy to convert. His primary concern at the time was that the land was not known to be good farmland, so it might raise a few eyebrows if we started raising large crops, so we might want to start small on the cultivation and bring back some of the animals to make the ranch profitable. We could use the bunkhouses as singles housing, and build some other facilities over time. It wouldn’t be perfect right away, but had great potential, and the price was right – the state was selling it pretty cheap in hopes of making the ranch productive again.
Eric and I agreed to go look at it with him, and within seconds we were standing in a fairly new barn facility, with a full-dairy equipment setup, a breeding corral, and a lot more modern equipment than I expected. We walked around and Max showed us the bunkhouses, which would only house about 100 people, and that would be tight, but there was also a main house, which could hold at least 10 people, a small foreman’s cottage that could take another few, and some outlying trailers that would hold about another 20 or so. The idea was to put up some pre-fab buildings and get people housed as quickly as possible.
“This has definite possibilities, so what was the second place you found?” Eric asked before I had the chance.
“Weeeellll” Max kind of looked sideways. I knew something was up with that tone of voice. “Actually, I’d like to just take you there so you don’t make judgements before you’ve seen it.” He reached a hand out and Eric looked at me, and I shrugged. I was getting good at that. I grabbed Max’s hand, and Eric grabbed mine. Luckily, Max was one of our stronger poppers and could take us both easily.
The space we appeared in was lush, and green, and nothing in near view except a massive institutional looking structure, with bars on the windows and painted an awful taupe color. I instantly knew what we were looking at. He had brought us to a prison. If it hadn’t been what it was, it would have been downright picturesque. The landscape was rolling hills, with mountains in the background, snowcapped even at this time of year. The sky was the definition of the word cerulean, with only tiny wisps of clouds casting the faintest shadows on the strangely, perfectly groomed grass. If prisons had calendars, I think this one could have been the cover photo. Paint it a sage green, remove the bars from the windows, it could pass for a giant apartment complex. Well, that is sort of what we need, so maybe it could work.
“Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. It was formerly a privately owned prison. We are currently in the US, in the state of Montana. This was one of those facilities that housed low-risk, affluent offenders who could afford to pay for their own plush prison stay. The rooms are not bad, decent sized, walls, not bars, the kitchen is fabulous. It would meet our housing needs immediately as it has a capacity for 2500 inmates, so more than double what we need. It was built out here because no one wants a prison, even a hoity toity one, in their back yard. There are about 2,000 acres associated with it, because, well, this is Montana and they’ve got plenty of land, and again, no one wants to live near a prison. It could easily be converted to amazing farmland and we could add livestock if we want to. And best of all, the company that owns it is going bankrupt and we can get it for a steal.” It was clear Max was excited about this property, and with a little TLC, it could be good for us.
My concern, honestly, was being in the US and too visible to the WSGF. Max smiled. He had done a little research and discovered that the state government of Montana was very firmly attached to its own version of sovereignty. The state was home to a lot of private militant groups, so our type of arrangement was common-place there, and no one would blink twice. Additionally, they made it a point not to butt into anyone’s business as long as they kept their noses clean. We could pretty much count on being left to our own devices as long as we weren’t outed, which wasn’t really more likely here than in Oz.
Eric hadn’t really spoken during this time, clearly trying to take it all in and decide how he felt about it. I could completely understand his trepidation. We had been treated like privileged prisoners once before, and I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with the idea of walking into the similar situation again.
“Let’s at least check out the building. Are we able to get in?” I knew it was a stupid thing to say as soon as I said it. “OK, strike that – are there any alarms or anything that will go off if we pop in?” Eric laughed. It was a nice sound, didn’t happen often enough. Yeah, with him around alarms wouldn’t be a problem either. You’d think after 4 decades I’d remember shit like that.
The inside was definitely institutional, but with a little TLC it could be good. The windows were larger than they looked from the outside, and it was clean, though a bit drab. The beds were all still in place, the mattresses soft and there were even blankets and pillows. Max seemed to notice my thoughts. “They are selling it as a complete unit through the bankruptcy. Luckily, land here is cheap, and it won’t even take all of our nest egg to buy this place. No one wants it, so the price has been dropped dramatically over the last couple of years to where they only want about $1.5M for the whole shebang!”
We walked down the hallways, and it was still a bit odd to see all the door locks on the outside of the doors, but that shouldn’t be a big deal. At the end of a particularly long hall was the kitchen. Max was right, it was so modern as to be scary. It had pot racks on the ceiling with high-end cookware, it had 10 ovens, the center island had 20 gas burners, there were also large Sub-Zero refrigerators, you name it, they had it. Except cutlery. I guess that made sense that they would not leave that laying around, even in a snooty prison. I looked across the room to a large butcher block and turned to Max and Eric.
“This is the place. Buy it.” The puzzlement on their faces was clear, but I pointed to the butcher block table, then reached up, pulled the flower from my hair and tossed it to lay on the table as well. As soon as they saw it they knew. It was the same flower. Fresh. It was something that didn’t exist anywhere else in the world that we knew of, but it was here, on the butcher block table of a prison in Montana. You kinda can’t ignore that. “We’ll offer the group to come and stay, but no one will be forced to. They are free to go their own way with new identities if they choose to, but this is meant to be our new home, for now at least. Max, do what you need to do, and buy this place. Put a rush on it, see if you can rent it immediately before the sale goes through.” And I popped out, back to Oz, needing to find Hope just to clarify things in my own head, but I had a feeling I was too late.
Within the next couple of weeks we managed to sort of get our act together. It was a lot of chaos, but all but 2 of our people planned to join us. Those 2 had decided to stay, and were going to take on new identities and get jobs. While we hated to lose them, their abilities were not strong, they were two of those that were closest to being “normals”. One had some minor agricultural abilities and the other minor healing abilities, and they were in love and wanted regular lives. We discussed with them the need to move on every 10 years or so because of the aging issue, and promised to check in on them from time –to – time in case they changed their minds, but we did not tell them where we were going. Too risky.
Max had been successful in renting the facility and we got started moving in. They were so happy to have someone who wanted the space they were only charging us $1 per month plus utilities until the sale finalized, which, with a fast escrow, should only take about 60 days. I think Max may have had something to do with it, though. His push ability was one our strongest, and I didn’t put it past him to use it to get what he wanted from corporate assholes who had managed to bankrupt their own company. Anyway, in reality, even if that were true, it wasn’t hurting anyone. They were getting nothing for it now, and they were offloading their white elephant for their asking price, so win-win as far as I was concerned.
We grabbed everything and started moving it to the new location. There were a few bitch sessions because people were having difficulty with the idea of moving into a prison, but once they saw the space, got comfortable in it, and realized it had everything, laundry facilities, hospital and medical equipment, that amazing kitchen, and green for miles everyone was good. I have to admit that while I’m not positive it was the technical definition of irony, it seemed pretty ironic to me that this whole thing had started out because we felt like we were in a luxury prison and just wanted our freedom, and here we were moving our whole species, for lack of a better word, into a luxury prison.
By this time Jessie was looking pretty well rounded. We were looking at the reality of about 6 weeks and most folks would have guessed 6 months, so while not as crazy as things had been with Hope, it was still a pretty rapid progression. There were a few other confirmed pregnancies in the group, though I admit I didn’t pay as much attention as I probably should as the unelected, ambivalent so-called leader of this gang of misfits.
We all spent a little time searching the grounds. Our first week we had a visit from the local – and when I say local I mean about 70 miles to the east – Sherriff. Needless to say nerves were on edge, but unless he was the best actor ever he had no clue who we were and when we told him we were just a group of young people who were disenchanted with the rest of the world he nodded, and smiled, then handed us a business card and said to let him know if we had any questions or ever needed assistance and letting us know that the dispensary in Helena was always looking for new contributors. It was a significant relief that we didn’t have to worry about our crop situation – sounded like the law enforcement in the area was pretty hands-off.
We discovered what had once been a large vegetable garden about ¼ mile south of the building. It had been abandoned and left to rot, but over the last couple of years the plants had gone on doing what plants do, and had re-seeded themselves and it was a bit of a vegetable medley out there. Jessie was beside herself. Plants to play with! I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be long before we had fresh veggies on the table.
I thought how unfortunate it was that none of our talents included renovation or construction. We did have some who just naturally enjoyed doing that sort of thing, but it would be so much easier if there were some “Enchanted” way to install bay windows, fireplaces, shit like that. It certainly would have made updating this place to make it more homey a hell of a lot easier, and we sure as shit didn’t want to bring in outsiders to do the work, so it was going to come down to a slow steady process, and I figured at least it would keep everyone busy for a while, so maybe they wouldn’t notice what I was up to.
Honestly, during this whole period my focus was fucked. I couldn’t think about anything but finding that WSGF guy and making him pay. I’d done what I needed to for Hope and for the rest of the Enchanted, and the cruelty and viciousness of what they had done to Shane had festered. I knew I had done much worse. I had commanded the earth to swallow probably close to 100 people whole. I had watched as a woman’s head was crushed into a slimy gooey mess, and I’d enjoyed it. I was not what society would define as “a good person”, and I could not possibly care less.
I spent a lot of time in my room, which had apparently previously been the warden’s apartment. I don’t know how I ended up here, I just went where they told me. I thought about talking to Eric about moving me to a regular room, but I knew he would just argue that this was where they wanted me. To this day I don’t understand why, and hindsight being 20-20, I should have just left. I should have walked away. Taken Eric and the two of us could plan and plot on our own. Maybe then they wouldn’t have been targets. I mean, I earned the bullseye on my forehead. They didn’t.
By the time Eric was done building new identities for everyone and creating backstops for us as a group and finally found the time to start planning our little miscreant mission of misanthropy I was well into plans that exceeded my capability. I had promised Hope I wouldn’t actually physically hurt any more people. I had done enough of that to be more than even in that stead, but for those that had made the conscious decisions to take virtually everything away from me, I was going to take it as close to the edge as was humanly possible. No. Enchantedly possible, which was a much finer edge, I assure you.
I’m not entirely sure why I even bothered with this part of the story. It’s all pretty mundane, and even difficult for me to believe, and I lived it. It all seems so far away, even now. Maybe it was to convince you that I really didn’t go off half-cocked, as they say. To show that I had patience, that I thought it through before I went forward with my personal crusade. Maybe it was just so you all understood that it was all Me. Once again, am I taking responsibility or credit? I don’t feel bad about anything I did, but I do feel bad about what clearly must have happened after. After all, if you are reading this, I pretty much got us all wiped out, right? Not gonna think about that right now, just too much brain damage to contemplate.