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Green Valley Farm, Forsyth, Georgia.


Sep 1, 2014
A gentle ding sounded through the airplane cabin and the "fasten seatbelts" light turned on overhead. Tara Shepherd woke with a start at the sound, then looked around the cabin in a sleep induced haze. She was so tired, even now, after sleeping for God knows how long on the plane. A soft voice came over the intercom next.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the pilot has turned on the fasten seatbelts sign in anticipation for our arrival into Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. We expect to be on the ground shortly."


The plane touched down with Tara holding onto the armrests in a white-knuckled death grip. She relaxed when the plane turned onto a taxiway and sat back in her chair.

"You okay," the man sitting next to her asked.

"Yeah," she said with all the smile she could muster. "Landings just...bother me."

"You fly a lot," he asked.

"I...have. I'm done now, I think."

The plane stopped at the terminal and everyone stood up at once to try to get off. Tara took her carryon from under the seat in front of her and disembarked when she found an opening. She made her way to customs where she was asked the standard questions. Then...

"Have you been sick lately? Cold? Flu? Anything?" Another agent scanned her forehead.

"No. Nothing." The man with the thermometer nodded and Tara was allowed to continue on her way. At the baggage claim she retrieved her duffel bag and waited. Normally her parents would have been here by now to pick her up, but for some reason they were late. They arrived twenty minutes later.

"Hey sweetie," Her dad, Aaron said with a hug. Her mom, Brandy, gave her a hug and a kiss as well. "It's so good to have you home! Is everything okay? Are you hungry? Do you need something to eat?"

"Yeah," Tara said. "But can we just go home? I'll get something to eat there. It was a long flight and I'm really tired." Her parents agreed, and they loaded up in the truck for the drive home. On the way the three engaged in small talk, mostly about the things that had happened since she visited last. How the horses were doing, how her cousin won second place at the state fair for her hog, how grandma was expecting her at the next Sunday dinner, and (again) how the horses were doing.

The ride home was over soon enough, and while Tara took a quick shower her mother fixed a light dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fried okra, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. She took her peas in a bowl so that the juices wouldn't run, and she ate them first. Next was the okra, then the potatoes, fried chicken, and she finished with the cornbread, washing everything down with a glass of sweet tea. There was enough left over "in case company came over", but they never did. It would all be put in containers and stored in the refrigerator until tomorrow where she'd probably finish it off for lunch. After dinner everyone sat in the living room, and when Tara began to doze everyone went to bed.


It was hot. It was always hot. And dry. They were driving along the road. She sat in the front seat of the second vehicle. An explosion. The first vehicle flipped over onto its top. Another explosion. Behind them this time. Gunfire. Fighting for their lives. The smell of gunpowder, burning rubber, and...charred flesh. An explosion.

Tara sat up in bed. She could still hear the gunfire in her head...oh, wait. That was the rain on her window, the explosions were, instead, thunderclaps. A flash of lightning and she looked over towards the window. The thunder came sharp, then followed with a rolling rumble from west to east. She stood up and walked over, looking outside. She watched the storm rage for several minutes. Then, another lightning flash. She waited for the thunder before returning to bed. Usually after one nightmare she could make it through the rest of the night.

If the dead would just leave her alone.
Tara rode the four wheeler along the fenceline on the north side of the farm. On the front rack of the ATV she had strapped a shotgun, and on the back was a small bag of tools. Aaron had asked her to check the fence while he took a quick drive down to Macon to take care of some business. Brandy stayed behind, spending the afternoon watching TV and doing some housework. The trip to Macon was usually uneventful anyway, especially for Tara and Brandy, but Aaron would probably bring home Captain D's or something. He usually did. It was a typical day. Birds flew overhead and bugs made an ungodly racket in the trees.

The fence was largely as she suspected it would be. Secure. One of the electric wires was loose so she had to tighten it a bit, but that was the extent of the vulnerabilities. Once she'd finished checking, she turned her four wheeler around and drove back to the barn where all of the fence controls converged. She reenergized the north section and let the cows and horses out before heading back into the house.

"They're talking about this disease tonight on TV. I thought you'd like to watch it."

"Gross. Why would you think that," Tara said, taking a piece of cornbread out of the skillet and breaking off a piece to eat.

"I don't know. Medical stuff. I thought you'd be interested."

"Oh. I don't know," Tara said with a shrug. "If I see it on the TV I'll check it out."

"Have you talked to anyone lately? Any of your old friends?"


"Why not?"

"Mom, I would think that the last thing you'd want me to do was to hang out with those people again." Brandy shook her head. Tara wasn't a troublemaker, but she wasn't an angel either. She had little problem holding a guy's attention when she was in school, and her summer off before basic training was one of partying and debauchery (with that one pregnancy false alarm), moreso than Brandy even knew about.

"I just hate the idea of you being stuck here with no friends or anything. I don't want you to be bored or...depressed."

"So get me a dog." Tara said with a laugh. "I'm fine, mom. I've already applied for the school and I should be getting a letter any day now." I hope. "I'll make new friends. More mature friends."

"Is there anyone from the Army that you can call and talk to-"

"I'm gonna go for a run, mom. I'll be back in a few minutes." Tara left what remained of her cornbread on the table and headed up to her room. She dumped her duffelbag, took her shoes, a pair of shorts and a shirt from the pile. She dressed in her running clothes and headed back downstairs.

"I'm sorry if I upset you Tara."

"What? No. It's nothing like that. I just...I'm done with all of that. I don't want to think about it anymore, okay?" Brandy nodded. "I just have to go for a run. I must have eaten three thousand calories yesterday between dinner and that cruel and unusual punishment they forced us to eat on the plane. I'll be back in a few minutes, okay? We can talk then if you want to." With that, Tara stepped out the door and began jogging up the driveway towards the street.

Please don't want to talk.
The afternoon and evening were relatively free of family drama so Tara was able to relax as well as she could. Still though, Tara felt a bit on edge just being home. The last few years of her life were rotations between the US and Afghanistan, and those times in the US were only slightly relaxing. She came home a grand total of two times while she was in the Army, and the rest of her vacation time was just staying at her apartment near the base and sleeping as much as she could. In her room, she folded her poncho liner and put it at the foot of her bed. She slept on top of the covers now, with just that liner. She remembered herself as a teenager, sleeping with multiple comforters and blankets, buried up to her nose in them.

No way she'd be that restricted and wrapped up while sleeping now. Never again.

Tara walked back into the living room where her parents were watching The Alice Scholaighe Show. Tara sat on one end and propped her head up with her fist on the arm of the couch. She was sitting there to make her mother happy, honestly. Tara didn't give a damn about medical shit anymore. She was never going to get involved with any medical shit for the rest of her life if she could help it.

It was the faces. The blank faces. The lifeless stares.

"Tara," Brandy said.

"Huh," Tara answered.

"Are you okay? I had to call you three times. You're sitting right there."

"Oh...yeah. Sorry. Must've...spaced out or something."

"Do you want anything? Drink? Snack?"

"Oh, sure. Water apple or banana?" Brandy nodded and walked into the kitchen. She looked back at the TV to catch a sentence.

"Like for example, some people claim that the flu seems to affect the animals, and that it's not rabies that's making them sick and rabid but the flu itself. And that in turn makes one wonder if all that violence that we've been experiencing lately ma be somehow connected to all this? What do you think, Mr. Carlson?"

"Whoa!" Tara took the remote and skipped back to listen again. She did it a second time. "That's not normal."

"What's not normal?" Aaron asked.

"Diseases don't jump species like that." Her dad looked at her. "I mean, yeah, we have bird flu and swine flu, and rabies which they have just said that this is not, but nothing affects every thing like I think I just heard them say."

"I'm sure it's nothing-" Aaron began.

"Politicians don't go on TV to talk about nothing, pops. It's either re-election or something we should be paying attention to that they're going to downplay."

Brandy returned to the living room with a glass of water and a banana for Tara. She sat back on the far end of the couch.

"What did I miss," Brandy asked.

"Tara thinks the world is ending," Aaron said.

"I don't think the world is ending." Tara peeled the top half of her banana and took a bite. "I just don't think this guy is going to tell us everything that we need to know."
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