"I was only about twenty feet up the driveway when somebody shoved something hard in my back--a gun. He said, 'Stop right there. Where are you going?' I didn't recognize the voice. I said that I was coming to see Bobby. Like it was any normal night, but there was nothing normal about it. He asked if anybody was with me, I said no. He whistled, and Bobby came down. I told him what had happened at my house, how it was taken over by refugees, and that my parents were dead. I'm sure I was hysterical. It was kind of a blur, what had happened the last three days since the quake.
"Bobby said they were leaving that night, just as soon as they finished packing. He brought me into their garage through the side door. They were packing their SUV, a Suburban or something big like that. They had lots of lamps and flashlights turned on in there. In their garage it was so bright, it was almost like the regular electricity was still working. Bobby's father listened to my story. Then they made me wait in the laundry room while they talked about bringing me along on the trip. Only it wasn't just Bobby's family that was going that night, it was three families.
"I could hear what they were saying through the wall. They were arguing about me because they had all agreed not to take anybody outside of their group. They had already turned people down, left friends behind, so it wasn't fair if I went. That sort of argument. All of the seats were taken. Their trucks were jammed with stuff inside and up on their roof racks. They were going to some hunting place down in Mississippi, and they knew from the police radio that the Mississippi National Guard was going to close all the roads the next day, to keep out the Memphis refugees. The Buchanans had police radio scanners, night vision goggles, and guns all over the place. This trip down into Mississippi was their bugout plan. That was the first time that I ever heard that expression, 'bugout plan.'
"They had all agreed to a plan, and that meant no outsiders, none at all, but Bobby and his father were on my side. I think the hunting place belonged to one of the other families; at least that's what it sounded like to me. They compromised, and agreed to take me about twenty miles out past Germantown, but not to their place in Mississippi. They said it would already be too crowded at the hunting cabin with three families. They wouldn't budge on that. They were even yelling at each other about it. They were not happy to see me show up, that's for sure, but they took me.
"I rode in the middle seat of the Buchanans' Suburban, squished in with Bobby's two younger brothers, with his little sister on my lap. She was about seven or eight, not really so little. Bobby's mom was in the front middle, and Bobby was on the right side, by the passenger door, with his rifle. Literally riding shotgun, except with a rifle. The third-row seat and all the way to the back was piled with boxes and bags right up to the ceiling. I mean, from right behind my head to all the way back was just full up to the roof, every inch. When we pulled out, the Suburban was the front vehicle of the three trucks, like the convoy leader. Bobby's father drove with night goggles on, and his headlights turned off. They put little green chemlites on the front and the back of each truck, that's how they saw each other. The ones without night goggles, I mean.
"It was wet and cold out, nobody was walking around, thank God, and there were almost no cars moving, at least not from what I could see with the streetlights out. A city is a completely different place when the lights go out. I guess all the Memphis refugees had found houses to take shelter inside of--one way or the other. There were a few cars driving, but not many. Sometimes we put our headlights on, but most of the time they were off. They had walkie-talkies to communicate between the three trucks. Sometimes the trucks had to go slow and kind of weave around telephone poles and things, but at least the wires didn't have any electricity in them. For once I was glad about no electricity--funny, huh?
"I was hoping that they'd just sort of forget that I was there, or maybe take me along to be a babysitter. I was being quiet, just a perfect nanny with the little kids, keeping them calm. It felt so warm and safe in the Suburban that I never wanted to leave it. I couldn't believe that they would put me out, no matter what kind of agreement they had with their friends. And all the time I was trying not to cry about my parents and my friends back on my street. But what could I do to save anybody? It was everybody for themselves.
"We almost made it out of Collierville. That's the last real town in Shelby County, the county Memphis is in. After Collierville, it's mostly open country. I'd been on that road lots of times, so even in the dark I kind of knew where we were. We were almost through Collierville, but a bunch of wrecked cars were smashed together in a tight spot between some buildings, and we had to backtrack. We messed up the convoy order turning around, and our Suburban ended up in the back of the line, number three. I couldn't see much of anything outside, it was too dark. All I could see was the green chemlite on the truck in front. We were driving down a small side street between houses, and somebody started shooting at us. No warning, no nothing: just shooting. I almost had a heart attack again, and everybody started screaming at once.
"And not just one gun was shooting at us, there were at least two of them, you could tell by the different booms and bangs they made. The truck in front was hit. They were yelling in the walkie-talkie that they had people shot. It was pure panic. Bobby's father stopped real fast, and he and Bobby jumped out with their rifles and ran up to help their friends. A bunch of stuff that was loaded behind the middle seat fell all over us when he hit the brakes. I stayed in the Suburban with the kids and Bobby's mother; we got down as low as we could.
"There was a lot of shooting, and it was close, very close. Shooting and yelling, and the bright flashes from guns going off. I mean hundreds of bullets--I was just hoping they were our bullets, going out. It's funny how you can think of something like that, at a time like that. It was the loudest thing I ever heard in my entire life, it sounded like machine guns. Bobby had an Army rifle like yours, one that takes thirty bullets at a time in the clip--I mean magazine. So did his father, and they both had lots of extra magazines in pouches. Bobby's mother had a big pistol. She was scared to death, I could tell. She kept saying, 'We should have left yesterday, we should have left yesterday, I told him and told him, we should have left yesterday!' The boys were crying, the little girl was hysterical--it was basically a nightmare. Another nightmare.
"After just a few minutes, or maybe just one minute, Bobby and his father came back to the Suburban. They had two people with them from one of the other families who were shot and wounded. Or maybe they were just hit by glass, I'm not really sure, but they had blood all over them. The truck that had been up front after we got turned around couldn't drive anymore. Its motor was ruined, and it had flat tires. That's what they said. The men were all yelling and screaming at each other, and they were yelling that I had to get out. Just like that. I wasn't part of their group. They had a deal, and it was the group first, and no room for strangers, period. Bobby's father said, 'I'm sorry, Jenny, I'm so sorry.'
"There was no room for me, not when they had to put two more people in the Suburban and two more in the other truck that wasn't shot up too bad but would still run. And there were all the boxes and backpacks that fell over onto the middle seats when they stopped so fast. It was all yelling and screaming and crying, it was another nightmare from hell. They had people bleeding, but they were too afraid to stay there and do first aid. They had to get moving, and they had to fit two extra people into each truck. They were screaming and crying and yelling at me, like I had brought them bad luck or something. I had broken 'the plan.' I guess I was their Jonah, that's how they saw it. I can't blame them, in a way. I felt like bad luck. Jonah, that's me." Jenny sniffed and wiped away tears with her sweater's sleeve. After a deep sigh, she continued.
"And so ... I was put out on the side of the road, right there near the end of Collierville. Bobby gave me a flashlight and a pistol, a little .38 revolver, just put them in my hands and got back in that Suburban, and his father hit the gas pedal. They took off, just like that, heading down Route 86 toward Mississippi, trying to get across the state line before the Mississippi Guard blocked off the roads. I was pretty damned depressed about not going with them to their hunting cabin in Mississippi, but at least I'd gotten past Collierville, and now I had a gun and a light.
"There were railroad tracks that went along our road heading east, and I figured less people might be on them than on a real road, so I just started walking. At least I had a good head start over most of the people walking out of Memphis: I'd made it all the way to the outskirts of Collierville. I heard later that most of the refugees couldn't drive out of Memphis. Most of the roads were blocked because of earthquake damage, and when everybody tried to drive out at the same time, it just gridlocked and then it turned into a gigantic gun battle. They used to call Memphis 'Mogadishu on the Mississippi.' After the earthquake, I guess it really was. So most of the people in Memphis had to either walk out, or just stay where they were and take their chances finding food and water. At least I was ahead of most of the walkers. It was something like seventy miles to Mannville. I figured that I could hike there in a few days, and get to my uncle's house. Boy, was I ever way off on that guess! It ended up taking me over a month.
"So I just hoofed it down the tracks, walking slow and careful, not using the flashlight because I was afraid people would see it coming and then they'd lie in wait for me. I knew the railroad went way, way to the east, because when I'd gone that way with my family, I could usually see trains running parallel to the road. I actually liked it better walking at night; nobody could see me, and nobody was out wandering around. Nobody jumped me or anything...at least not on that first night. I kept the revolver in my hand the whole time, and I would have shot anybody who came at me, but nobody did.
"By morning, I had made it to where a two-lane road crossed the tracks. Down to the south I could see a little town, sort of a village. Just some houses, really. I was starving by then, literally starving, and I needed water bad. It was worth a try. I walked about a mile south on the road, between bare fields, and then I came to the town of Brandonville. It had one of those cute little welcome signs, with the population and the elevation. Just a few hundred people, I think.
"I walked up to the very first house I came to; it was set way back from the road on a few acres. They had some religious things outside, crosses and Jesus and Mary statues, so I hoped they would treat me nice. An old couple lived there, and they opened the door for me. They could see from way off that I was only one girl by myself. I explained that I was walking all the way from Germantown to Mannville. They let me in, I think because they wanted to hear what was happening back in Memphis. They had a radio that ran on batteries, but they couldn't get any local news and the national news didn't make any sense to them. All they knew from the radio was that an earthquake had hit above Memphis. Well, shoot, they didn't need a radio to tell them that?they felt it! Everybody did for hundreds of miles around. And there were aftershocks all the time too, and every time you thought it might be another big one starting. You could never relax.
"They let me sit in their kitchen, and I told them my story after they gave me some lemonade, and biscuits with butter and jelly to eat. They had an old-fashioned cast-iron hand pump right behind their house that went straight down to its own water well. Let me tell you, there's nothing better than a hand pump when your electricity goes out, or your city water pipes get broken. You'd know what I mean if you ever had to haul twenty gallons of water back from a community well almost every day for a year. Even if you had a wagon to carry the water like I did, it's still hard work pulling up that bucket rope forty or fifty times and handling all those jugs. But I'll bet I'm stronger now than most of the boys at my old high school. Sorry, I got sidetracked. Simple things like water pumps leave a strong impression on you when you have to use a bucket well for a long time.
"While I had breakfast the old man walked over to the next house, and then some kids ran around to fetch all their neighbors. I told my whole story again to about twenty people who were standing in their living room. Everybody knew everybody else by their first names. Not like in Germantown, that's for sure. They were all friendly, but I could tell they were afraid. I told them that no matter what, they couldn't let the refugees from Memphis into their town. If they did, they'd get overrun with people, and the refugees would just flat take over and probably end up killing them. I told them what happened on my street, and what happened to my parents in our own house once the Memphis refugees broke down the doors. You could have heard a pin drop in that living room. They were all staring at me like I was from outer space.
"Most of the houses in Brandonville were just a little ways north of Route 57, maybe a quarter mile. That's the road that runs just above the Mississippi border, all the way back into Memphis. The railroad tracks were about a mile to the north side of the town, running parallel to 57. They discussed what I said, and they argued a little about Christian charity and whatnot, but in the end, they decided to barricade the Brandonville roads and not let any strangers in, no matter what. Except for maybe a few folks like me, that came in ones or twos, but no gangs or big mobs. They'd keep them out--no matter what.
"And that was no empty threat. The men were all carrying rifles and shotguns, and some of the women too. The people in Brandonville put up warning signs on the road coming into their little town, and they parked hay trailers across it and blockaded it. Bobby's escape convoy had probably driven straight into a barricade like that the night before, and that's why they got into a gunfight. Anyway, it was daytime now, a nice clear day. A few cars passed by down on 57. Then there was a group of four cars that went by, but they stopped and came back, very slowly. Like they were deciding something. Hunger and thirst can make people do desperate things. Stupid things. Or maybe they were almost out of gas. The gas station was at that end of the town, down by Route 57. They drove on the bare field around the roadblock, past the warning signs, and the towns-people didn't wait for them to get any further. They just opened up on those cars. I was watching what I could see of it from the front porch of the house where I was staying with the old couple. The men from Brandonville just riddled those four cars with rifle bullets, like a turkey shoot. Their rifles all had scopes, so I'm sure they could see exactly what they were shooting at. Mostly deer rifles, you know the kind.
"A man came back to our house, and I heard what happened. There was a lookout hiding down near the barricade, and when he saw that the four cars were all full of young black men, he called back a danger warning on a walkie-talkie. There were probably twenty rifles scoped in on those four cars, so it was just a massacre. But nobody felt too bad about it after they checked the car registrations, and found out the cars were from Germantown, not Memphis, and the dead men didn't match the car registrations. They had stolen the cars, probably carjacked them or taken them after home invasions. The cars were full of stuff that had obviously been looted, including fancy hunting rifles and expensive liquor. I had no trouble believing this at all, not after what I'd been through. I didn't feel one little twinge of pity for those dead gangbangers. Not one little bit. They probably couldn't get their own cars out of Memphis, so they walked out, and stole cars along the way. Probably after killing their owners, like my parents had been killed.
"Somebody in Brandonville had a radio with a giant antenna that could reach pretty far across the country. The folks I was staying with said he was on a ham radio network with people all over the place, including lots of people in Tennessee. He said Nashville and St. Louis were in bad shape too. That's also when I heard about the dams breaking, and wiping out Paducah and Cairo and flooding over the levees all down the Mississippi.
"The radio guy reported what I said about what happened in German-town, and about keeping the city refugees out no matter what. He said that the word was already getting around. He'd already heard lots of stories like mine from other ham radio operators. That was becoming the normal pattern. Every country house and little town became a fort like the Alamo. The locals would guard the roads, barricade them, and shoot any strangers who tried to get in. There was fear, real fear, of those Memphis refugees. I wasn't the only one who escaped with a story about being overrun by refugees. People learned that they had to keep the refugee mobs out of their houses, out of their towns, no matter what they had to do. And they did. They did what they had to do to defend themselves.
"And that's why they call us racists now, on the national radio programs that I hear sometimes. That's why they call us killers and say we committed genocide on those 'poor hungry African-American refugees' from Memphis. They're all Monday morning quarterbacks now, with nice clean hands. It's so easy for them to call us that when they never experienced what we've been through. I know what happens when you let mobs of starving, desperate refugees in. They start out just by asking for water, real friendly-like. But they end up taking over your house and killing your family and stealing your cars. Then they go and do it again to somebody else. So, Doug, it doesn't surprise me one bit that your rescuers shot all of the people that were getting ready to cook you on a fire. I'd probably have done the same damn thing. I have no pity and no mercy left for the 'poor hungry refugees.' I've seen what 'poor hungry refugees' will do when they get the chance. Those girls would have eaten you for dinner if your rescuers hadn't shot them first. That's the only thing you can do with those people. Once the shit hits the fan and they're hungry enough to kill you, you have to kill them first. Before they kill you--and they will kill you."