For a few weeks, Freddie and Diana lost themselves. There was the sun that fell in long lines across their bodies, the sound of the birds out the opened windows, the supply of potatoes and herbs and the fires that they cooked over on the grassy area behind the cottage that overlooked the hills.
But there was always a sadness in their lovemaking, They felt like the last lighthouse keepers in the world when the lights had been snuffed out around them and the ships had been moored forever. Diana talked about Melissa, about wanting to go back to the forest to find her. Freddie said they would be captured again and sent to the front if they returned. The war had moved on from Beckley but when they walked into a nearby forest they caught a glimpse of the blackened city from afar. Sometimes the sound of guns beyond the escarpment would remind them that the battle went on.
The outside world occasionally intruded in other ways when wild-eyed men appeared in the lane outside the cottage and they warded them off with their guns and some scraps from an old meal.
When the crack appeared in paradise it was on a peerless blue day that reminded Freddie of the first days he came to the cottage. They were lying in bed when they heard a hard slam as if someone was trying to beat the door open. It was followed by a silence that was more eerie.
"Is the window open?" Freddie whispered to Diana.
Freddie crept out of the bedroom into the darkness of the hall. The door was still shut hard. He moved into the sun room and a blinding light seared him. He moved back from a sharp blow to the temples and was knocked to the floor. A heavy and muddied boot was on his neck. He saw the light slid down the barrel of a gun and saw a man with a heavy red beard towering over him.
The man spat and Freddie recognized the gesture from another time.
"Where is she?"
He saw now the long scars down Carson's arm but was alarmed to see how robust he seemed to be.
"I thought you were dead," he said involuntarily.
"Then who would be around to punish you and that slut? And where's my daughter."
Freddie could only moan under the boot that was crushing his windpipe and point back to the road.
"What have you done with her?" Carson said, his voice low and metallic like a grater.
Freddie didn't know if he meant Diana or Melissa and couldn't speak anyway.
Carson finally kicked him across the floor and left in search of Diana. Freddie heard shouting and a struggle and Carson was back in the room holding Diana's arms behind her neck with the shotgun pointed at her head.
"I should execute you now, but that's too easy and painless. Get up slowly and get out to my truck."
Carson kicked and punched at them as he pushed them down the hall. They were suddenly outside and the blueness was upon them. Freddie's head was ringing and he wanted to throw up.
They formed a ragged triangle outside the car. Freddie looked at Diana and the message she was giving him from her narrowed eyes. To get in the car was almost certain death.
"Get inside," yelled Carson.
Freddie moved a step towards him. "Look Carson. I know we may have got off on the wrong foot but there no need to be enemies. We have food. You look like you need it."
As he said it, Freddie felt the stupidity of his padded words. They were words from another world that weren't suited to this one. Carson had a pronounced limp and was riddled with scars but he had the look of a survivor. Freddie imagined a cave somewhere, a terrible hole where he did nameless things to his victims.
Carson was humming quietly. None of Freddie's words seemed to register. Then there was a sharp movement was Diana broke away. Freddie knew she was heading for the shed where some more guns were stored.
Carson grunted and let a couple of shots loose. Diana crumpled to the floor.
"Oh God," said Freddie.
Carson continued humming. Freddie saw Diana sit up, clutching her foot. He wanted to go over to her but knew he'd be gunned down.
Carson pushed him hard against the car. "Maybe I just need to deal with you now. I can take her with me."
He raised the gun. A shot rang out hard and angry in Freddie's ear. Then to his amazement, he saw Carson lying in the dirt, blood gushing from his chest. Freddie thought the rifle had misfired. Then he saw them. Two men in combat gear were standing in the drive. He saw the Humvee and the old insignia from a bygone time. In the days when there was a nation they used to be Feds.