AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story about Regents leader Reymundo Morales (Mundo) precedes the action of the novel. This is also a Three Word Wednesday post.
“Diesel,” Jimmy muttered as his spade struck a rock.
Mundo looked across the field at the idled backhoe. The work would go a lot faster if they hadn't run out of fuel for the heavy equipment. “That would be nice, but don’t hold your breath.”
“What about food?” Carlos asked. “They can’t expect us to keep working like this without feeding us properly.”
“No deliveries,” Mundo reminded him. “There’s not much they can do.”
“Bullshit. They're hoarding MREs. Everyone says so."
"They could at least let us rest," Jimmy added.
Mundo glanced up and down the row of exhausted, ragged boys. As the one who had called them together in a spirit of civic duty, he had a responsibility to them. It was one thing to volunteer to help collect the trash and bury the dead, but it was something else to tolerate abuse. He set his shovel aside and climbed out of the pit.
The city employee was a thin, nervous man named Preston. He reeked of garlic and had a cluster of tiny ulcers on his lips, but Mundo could see the tell-tale shadows under his eyes and a faint sheen of sweat on his skin. He would be dead soon, his efforts with garlic and Vitamin C no match for the pandemic virus. Mundo had once felt pity for the grownups as they sickened and died, but now he was merely numb. “We need a break.”
Preston shook his head. “We have to be ready for a thousand more before two o’clock.”
“Just fifteen minutes, so we can rest and have some water.”
“There’s no more water. Maybe they’ll bring some when they deliver the bodies.”
Mundo looked back at the pit, where the rest of the crew had stopped working and watched him with expectant eyes. “We’ll just rest, then.” He motioned for them to lay down their shovels and come out.
Preston reached for the Glock at his hip. “You can’t do that. This is a civil emergency.” His hands trembled as he aimed the gun at the muddy teenage boys climbing out of the trench. “Get back in there. This is an order. This—
Mundo slammed a shoulder into Preston's frail body, knocking him to the ground. The Glock fell out of his grasp, but before he could reach for it, Carlos vaulted himself out of the pit, shovel in hand, and prepared to strike a killing blow.
Mundo held up a hand to stop him, then turned his attention back on Preston.
“Did it ever occur to you that whether we bury a thousand at two o’clock or at two-fifteen makes no fucking difference when the dead in this city number in the hundreds of thousands? In another few weeks, you’ll all be gone, every one of you. It’s the end of the goddamn world.”
Preston's panic turned to the cold rage of fear. “And what’ll you little bastards do then? There’ll be no one to run the electric plants or treat the sewage. No more deliveries of food and fuel. It’ll just be you ignorant kids and a bunch of rotting corpses.”
“In that case, what does it matter if we take a break?”
The man laughed, a high-pitched, hysterical sound. “Go on, then. Rest. In fact, have a party. Call each other on your cell phones if you can still find a signal. You’ll be tearing each other apart soon enough. Without adults to guide you, it’ll be just like Lord of the Flies.”
Mundo wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but he knew an insult when he heard it. Preston was weak, yet still had the nerve to abuse Mundo and his friends, who would be the only authority in the city before long. They would probably screw it up, but how could they do worse than the adults who had created this mess in the first place? “We’ll find a way,” he said. “Too bad you’ll be dead, because you just might've been surprised.”
Before Preston could answer, Mundo motioned to Carlos, who silenced the fool forever with a blow from his spade.
“Well, that’s one who won’t die from the telo,” Carlos said.
Mundo picked up the Glock and removed the holster and extra magazines from Preston's body. Things were getting crazy and being armed would come in handy. With his crew watching him warily, he strapped the gun on. “I'll find weapons for all of you as soon as I can. We won't let them push us around any more.” He jerked his chin in the direction of the road out of the park, back to the city streets. “Come on, guys. Let's go find us some food.”