Freeman Militia Center
Steve Johnson was beginning to wonder what he had gotten himself and his daughters into. After four men rescued his daughters from a human auction, Steve and his three girls had decided to accept the group’s invitation to join them at the shelter where they lived. In Steve’s mind, anything was better than the FEMA shelter where he and his family had lived for the last several months.
Upon their arrival at the location of the Freeman Militia Center or FMC, as it was called by most of the residents, it quickly became obvious that the place was the virtual opposite of the FEMA shelter. The FEMA camp was a place where laziness was common – almost encouraged. The FMC was a place only for those who were willing to work and work hard. Peace, to a certain extent, was ensured by the U.N. guards at the FEMA camp, but the guards were corrupt and frequently took advantage of the residents. At the FMC, one man – the owner of the farm where the FMC was located – and his deputies laid down strict guidelines and punishments, applicable to all. The tense equilibrium of the FMC’s post-apocalyptic society was frequently interrupted by fights, stabbings and, every now and then, gunfire. Rarely, however, were mala in se crimes committed – crimes that were morally wrong.
A fan of the Western genre, the camp reminded Steve of many of the movies he had watched growing up. The FMC was not unlike a dusty, rowdy frontier town out of a Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie.
Canvas military tents comprised most of the living quarters. A few families had acquired their own smaller tents and lived together away from the larger collection of tents. Steve and his girls arrived at the camp with little more than the clothes on their back. They were housed in separate tents – Steve in one of several tents that housed mostly single men who lived in the camp and the girls in one of the few female-only tents.
With few marketable skills, Steve was assigned to work slaughtering livestock. The girls were each assigned a job as well. The two older girls were placed in the kitchen as cooks. The youngest of the three sisters was appointed as a miller. From 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening, she turned the crank on a manual grain mill grinding various grains into flour to be used in the bakery or kitchen.
Everyone in the camp had a job – regardless of age or ability. The simple rule was, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The camp was a hard place but, on the whole, a fair place.
Justice was meted out as simply as the “no work, no eat” rule. Theft was punished by requiring the individual to compensate his or her victim and then, as a preventive measure, thieves usually lost a finger or a hand, depending on the amount or value of what they had stolen. The only official medical treatment offered to thieves after their amputation was cauterization. As often as not, the cauterization resulted in an infection that, without proper treatment, could end in death. Proper treatment was hard to come by. There were very few repeat offenders.
Other crimes were met with similarly harsh penalties. Rape and murder were punishable by death – usually by hanging or beheading. Ammunition was too precious to waste on a rapist or murderer.
Interestingly, there had yet to be a single rape and only one murder in the nearly six months that the camp had been taking in refugees. Everyone in camp was required to stop work and witness the hanging of the one murderer.
Fair fights were allowed to be settled between those involved. An unfair fight could, however, end up with those on the more heavily balanced side facing fairly stiff penalties. Disparity of force fights, where two or more individuals attacked a lesser number, were usually punished in a manner similar to theft. To pull a knife or a gun on an unarmed opponent could result in an attempted murder charge. Consequently, while fights were not infrequent, they were usually fair.
The founder of the FMC, Johnathan T. Hood, sat as mayor and sheriff. Mayor Hood, as nearly everyone deferentially referred to him, was a former Marine Gunnery Sergeant. He had seen action in nearly every conflict in which the United States had been involved during his twenty-year stint in the Marines.
Only Hood’s fellow Marines were allowed to call him Gunny. Fewer still knew why Gunny Hood had started the FMC outside of a small town down in the very southeast corner of Nebraska where it butted up against Kansas and Missouri.
Despite his patriotism and service to his country, Hood had long bemoaned many of the policies of the U.S. government as well as the direction society in general had taken. When he retired from the Marines, Hood returned to his native Nebraska and purchased the farms adjoining the family farm where he had grown up. In all, Hood owned four sections of rich farm ground and mature timber.
After his elderly parents passed away, Hood was left with a large farm and neither anyone with whom to share it nor anyone to help him work the land. Over a glass of single-malt scotch one evening, Hood hatched his plan.
Hood’s original idea was to develop his farm into a combination retreat and training facility for his Marine buddies. The farm was plentifully populated by both large and small game. The ten-acre pond, created by damming the creek that crossed the property, was stocked with fish and there was plenty of space to keep all sorts of necessary skills sharp.
After dozens of conversations over the course of the years, Hood’s plan changed. The U.S. economy was sliding down a slippery slope and Hood’s friends convinced him that their money would be wisely spent developing the farm into a self-sustaining refuge from what might eventually result as the economy went off the deep end.
Now, nearly ten years later, Hood sat in a rocking chair on the front porch of his cabin at the top of the highest hill on the farm. There were times when he found it hard to believe what the FMC had become. It wasn’t exactly what he had envisioned when he had approached a dozen men and a couple women with whom he’d served in the Marines to propose that they join him in funding the development of the FMC.
Hood had never dreamed that military tents would dot the landscape of his farm. He had never even considered that he would some day become the mayor and sheriff of what was essentially a small town. Ten years ago, when he’d started all this, he’d imagined nothing more than a few of his closest friends and their families.
What had happened was quite different. Hood had heard about or encountered others who were struggling to survive and had, selectively, offered shelter to what eventually added up to nearly 150 people. Some were invited because of their skills. Others were invited simply because Hood, or one of his deputies, had found a soft spot in their hearts for someone in need – someone who would fit into their society.
Occasionally an individual or group who just didn’t quite fit in would be invited to the FMC. There were a few trouble-makers and a handful of folks that tried to work as little as possible. Still, on the whole, Hood felt good about the little corner of civilization that he and his cohorts had carved from what was left of the world.
Hood had few regrets, but he was a realist. This relative Utopia couldn’t last forever.