Monthly Archives: March 2012

Chapter 26 -Belt Fed Revolution

I felt pretty calm as I walked out toward the pavement. I gave a sharp whistle and the scouts head snapped around. He held his rifle ready and I could see him lean his head over and say something. The APC that had been making its way up the road picked up speed to meet me and the scout at the same time.

A voice came through a loudspeaker “Drop your weapons! Get on your Knees!” The voice yelled a couple of other orders at me. I turned to face the vehicle and shook my head at whoever was inside.

The vehicle remained still and the scout froze in place where he was. I waited a beat and said “I’m not dropping anything and I’ll be fucked if I’m going to kneel in the road like a criminal.”

Several moments passed and a head popped out of the APC. The head–which may have been the voice from the loudspeaker repeated the commands– “Get on your knees! Put your weapons on the ground!”

I looked at the face behind the blast visor “Hey comrade, you speak English?” I thought I heard laughter from inside the APC. “Lookit here, chief. You got an APC with a pretty serious gun attached to it. More importantly you have an APC. You read me? I’m a man standing in the street. You wouldn’t even have to shoot me. You could run me over. All I have is a couple of old revolvers and a shotgun” I said hoping the people inside weren’t too familiar with the chunk of metal I had hanging on my hip. I didn’t think the .500 could penetrate the armor of the APC but if push came to shove we’d all find out.

“Are you alone?” Mr Blast-Visor shouted.

“Only if you don’t count the mouse in my pocket.” definitely heard laughter that time. I heard a noise and saw movement from the rear of the vehicle. A couple of guys in their late 20’s came around to the front of the vehicle. I noted that both they and the scout were carrying the M16A2 not the smaller, more maneuverable M4. The two that approached me had their rifles slung across their chests. I pegged them for vets who had probably been deployed not too long ago.

They looked relaxed and friendly, a look I knew meant twitch and die, asshole.I held out my hand “Finn.” The first guy to come around the vehicle took my hand and shook it. “Starke. This is Guerrera.”  I nodded and smiled politely “Gentlemen. You with the MVDF?” There was a barely perceptible turn of the head as Starke and Guerrera looked at each other.

Starke turned and made a motion to whoever else was in the APC and the engine died.  I hadn’t realized how loud the thing was until it shut off. My head was throbbing from the sound.

“Come on out, Tool!” A smaller individual with no rifle appeared next to Guerrera.  I saw the name tape and couldn’t stifle my laugh. ‘ Tool’ was the one that had been yelling at me. Corporal O’ Toole in fact. I shook my head and then I lost it. Damn it. Starke and Guerrera turned their heads to hide their smiles from ‘ Tool’ who was obviously used to this reaction.

When I collected myself, Starke made propper introductions. He pointed at himself  “Adam Starke, staff sergeant with the Marines until about 3 months ago. Private Gabe Guerrera, U.S. Army” he pointed toward the scout who had approached the vehicle when he realized I wasn’t going to try and start a mini war out here in the road “That’s Specialist Steve Patrell, U.S. Army and of course you already met, Tool here.”  Tool was giving me the death glare. “Robert O’ Toole. ” he said with a curt nod. I noticed there was no branch of service mentioned for Tool.

I noticed the chevrons on Starke’s uniform and asked why it wasn’t him giving me orders instead of Tool. “Meh, I gotta let the man have some fun.”

I felt a little bad for embarrassing Tool, but it wasn’t going to keep me from sleeping at night. “I’m Finn. I’d give you my rank, but it’s kind of pointless” I said with a smile.

Starke looked at me appraisingly “You military?”

“From about a millenia ago.”

“What branch?” Starke looked at me  over the top of his glasses.

“United States Marine Corps” I said with a grin.

Starke grasped my forearm and shook vigorously”Hell yeah, devil dog!’

****

We chatted for a moment before I remembered John. I was thinking he might have run for it given the way things had started out.

“Guys, sorry –I know how it looks–but I have a ” I struggled to say the word friend “traveling companion in that house over there.” Looks were exchanged.

“Call them over.” I saw Starke choke up on the pistol grip of his rifle as he said this.

I whistled and called “John! It’s ok, come on out!”

Several moments passed before I saw John peek his head out from behind the house. I waved him over again. I made introductions and kicked back a little and let John recount our story.

Starke interrupted “Hey, I don’t want to be a buzzkill here, but we need to get moving.”

“Oh. Right. Well…” I was looking for words as usual.

“You guys coming with or what?” Starke looked at me “We can always use another man who knows which end of weapon goes where.”

I didn’t want to appear to be too eager, but the idea of riding in an armored vehicle had a certain appeal to it. “Where are you guys headed?”

Starke shrugged the question off “Away from here. We have a supply depot to get to.” I guessed there was something about OpSec that kept him from answering the question. I looked at John. “I’m going to catch a ride with these guys. What about you?”

“Oh no, that’s okay, I’ll just hang out here.” John looked exasperated “Of course I’m coming with you. Get in the damn truck, what are you waiting for?”

I chuckled a bit “It’s an APC, John.”

He called back “Can’t hear you! I’m getting in the truck!”

Starke let out a whistling breath and laughed. “Guess that’s answered. All right, let’s mount up!”

Chapter 25 -Belt Fed Revolution

John got volunteered to help me dispose of the bodies. The show I had put on for the people seem to crystallize things for them and everyone was more or less willing to accept Stephen as their leader. The group he had invited had already taken up residence at his homestead. I heard from most of them that they didn’t really have anything at their houses worth bringing.

Stephen suggested that they send armed patrols to each persons house to get personal belongings, clothes or whatever else could be scraped together the next day.

John and I stayed on until evening and ate a final meal with the group. I kept the goodbyes limited, speaking mostly to Stephen.

“I gotta tell you kid you were born for this. You had these people in line long before I dropped the hammer on those two lightbulbs.” I gestured over to the two small graves John and I had dug.

I stuck out my hand and Stephen took it, grasping it with surprising strength “Thanks, Finn. Y’know…if you ever need a place to stay I’d be okay with you hanging out here.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. I saw a younger predator looking back at me with the same steely glint in his eyes I had been carrying for years. “Nah, I think you’re better off without me around.”

Stephen knew it too, though his offer had been genuine. We finished our goodbyes and I promised that if I ever headed back this way I’d stop in and see how things were going at Stephentopia as some people were starting to jokingly call it.

John had decided to take his chances on making it to Canada and thus following me.  As we said our final goodbyes and turned, Stephen called out to us “Wait, I forgot somethin’!” He disappeared into his house for a few minutes and came back out with a backpack and handed it to John.

John hefted the pack with a slight grunt “What’d you put in here, a brick?” Stephen just smiled and said “It’s a gift for, Finn.” For a moment the budding leader was gone and in his place was the child I had seen but briefly when we went out to hunt.

We waved goodbye again and started walking. Soon the little farm was no longer visible and I reckoned it had to be closing in on 7 ‘o clock. We stayed near the road walking mostly on the soft shoulder prepared to jump if we saw anything or anyone else.

John was walking behind me by several yards when I suddenly stopped.  I heard John ready his shotgun by clicking off the safety. He called out quietly “What’s up?”

“Dunno” was all I could say. Something for sure had my attention but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The sky was dark enough I could see the stars starting to pop up and even without the moon I could see pretty well. I stood as still as I could once more trying to will my senses to be superpowered if only for a second or two.

“No lights!” John jumped as I exclaimed this.

“What?”  he hadn’t noticed it yet.

“There’s no lights, John. Look around.” I pointed to the northeast. We had been walking along U.S. 31/I-196 looking for Blue Star Highway near South Haven. I didn’t see any lights shining up into the sky which would indicate there was a town nearby.

“Son of a bitch. . . you’re right. I’ve driven this road plenty of times and I know there’s a couple of little truck stops that could pass for a town with all their lights on around here.”  John scanned the area and pointed almost east “there’s something.”

I waved him down into the ditch and unslung my rifle. I could see light, but it wasn’t the usual steady glow of flourescents lighting the sky. “Fire.” I said and handed John the rifle.

“How can you tell?” he asked peering intently through the scope.

“Watch the way the light wavers and flickers. You only get that from fire” John handed me back the rifle “I’ll take your word for it.’

“Rule one, John? It also means ‘I’m always right’ “I heard him laugh but I continued to watch the fire for a moment. I stood up and picked off the bits of gravel that had become embedded in my arm. “With that fire, anyone over there can’t see us. Let’s get going.”

John walked a little closer so he could talk. “So what’s up with the lights then?”

“Power must be off. Could be anything. Someone could have taken out a transformer or there could have been a storm.” I offered these explanations and thought they sounded reasonable, but I had a feeling that wasn’t the truth of it.

As night wore on and the further we walked it remained dark all over. If I had to guess, I’d say the grid had gone down here for some reason. All I knew was I didn’t really feel like approaching any of the darkened towns and asking questions so we kept moving.

We walked on for the rest of the night making our slow and steady progress. When the sky began to turn lighter I started looking for a place to hole up. I saw a house not too far off and thought we’d try there. I had my monocular strapped to my wrist again since we had been walking and I lifted it up to scope out the place. The house looked deserted, but still pretty well intact.

As we approached the house I didn’t see any signs of recent habitation. Either the former owners had cleaned up pretty well before they split or the squatters had decided this place was too far out to trouble with. That was fine by me so I began looking around for a place to enter the house.

All the windows were intact and I didn’t want to break one in case anyone was keeping an eye on the place and give away that we were there. The house was old. I noticed a coal delivery chute on one side and tried to open it. I couldn’t even budge the thing. “Finn, come here!”  I had my revolvers in hand and went around the corner prepared to shoot. John was standing at the back door which was open.

“It was unlocked.” He smiled at me as I holstered my revolvers and walked in past him. My instincts about the place were right as it turned out. The house was pretty well spotless and empty but showed  signs of furniture having been moved recently. The place smelled of antiseptic and I wondered if a realtor had come out and cleaned the house up desperate to try to sell it.

We went through all the cabinets and closets downstairs and found nothing. I set my ruck on a counter and pulled out my tactical L.E.D. flashlight and clicked it on using all 350 lumens to explore the basement.

There were boxes in the basement, but they contained nothing useful, being filled mostly with dishcloth’s and other kitchen items. Satisfied with my exploration I went up the stairs and put my ruck back on. John had been standing watch in the kitchen where we had entered and I jerked my head toward the stairs “Come on.”

“Finn?” Fuck. I didn’t like that tone.

“What’s up?”

John was pointing out the window so I moved up beside him. I couldn’t see what he was looking at so he moved and I stood where he had been. I saw a patch of gray that looked weird. It got weirder seconds later when the gray patch resolved into a man. I raised the monocular and looked out.

“What’s going on?’ John hissed.

I stood there looking until my brain found a working gear. “Well I’ll be…”

“You’ll be what? Hanged? Arrested? Dipped in shit?”
I picked up my rifle and adjusted the eyepiece to maximum magnification. “It’s a scout. . .”

“A scout? A boy scout?” I dropped the monocular prepared to smack some sense into John but I saw he was being serious.

“Not a boy scout. MVDF if I’m not mistaken” I could see that didn’t mean anything to him, so I explained “Michigan Volunteer Defense Force. Sort of like the National Guard but just for Michigan.”

I moved to the living room and its larger window and watched the scout for a while. Eventually he disappeared. I kept scanning the wooded areas near the house looking for his mate but I couldn’t see anything out-of-place. I don’t know how long I waited but I eventually gave it up.

“Okay, John, go on upstairs and get some sleep. I’ll take the first watch.” I could see he was tired and I didn’t mind being awake right now. Why one scout? Where was the other one? Or for that matter where was the unit he was scouting for?

I kept watch until about 1400 and went up to wake John.  “while you’re on watch if you see anything–even if it’s  animals running–anything that doesn’t look right, get upstairs and wake me.” He nodded “Oh and try not to silhouette yourself.”

“That a gay joke, ’cause I don’t get it?”

“Don’t stand in front of the windows if you can help it. Definitely don’t stand in an open door.” I yawned “just try not to make yourself a target to anyone with a rifle and decent eyesight.”

I headed upstairs and closed my eyes, but my thoughts kept turning over. Maybe the scout had gotten separated from his mates. Maybe he wasn’t a scout at all, just someone lost and trying to get to a fortified position. As I pondered the situation I actually managed to fall asleep.

A short time later John was kneeling beside me, shaking me by the shoulder. “Get up!” he said in a stage whisper.

My eyes were open and I was instantly awake. “What’s happening?” I asked as I stifled a yawn.

“He’s back!” John pointed at the window.

“Who? The scout?” I doubted it was the same person, but the fact that there was another one was enough to pique my interest.

“I saw him a few minutes ago, but I couldn’t tell what was happening. It’s that one from earlier, coming back this way.”

I let John lead the way downstairs and Ito the window he’d been standing at. It took me a few moments to spot him even with the gray BDU’s he was wearing.

“The fuck?” I said to no one in particular. John thought it was directed at him.

“I know! He’s been sitting there for a while” As soon as John stopped speaking I heard it. The sound was as familiar to me as it was to John. A diesel engine changing gears. John looked at me wide eyed.

The typical reactions in this situation are fight,flight or freeze. Maybe add freak out in some cases.  I saw the vehicle, a gray painted APC of some sort. I wasn’t really up-to-date on my military vehicles and this one didn’t look American. I started having a flashback to Red Dawn. Russians? But if it were Russians why would they be wearing the MVDF insignia?

“Fuck it.” I took out my S&W .500 and made sure it was fully loaded and did the same for my .357. I was going to add a new category to fight-flight-or-freeze.Confront like a man. “Gimme the shotgun, John.”

John looped the shotgun on over my extended arm and stepped back. “I’m going to go out there and talk to them. If I don’t signal you after a bit, get out the window and hide yourself. I’ll keep them busy for a second or two.” John nodded and gathered up all his supplies and stood ready. “I’m leaving my ruck here. Carry it down to the basement and hide it as best you can. If you hear shooting wait for a few hours and come back. If you can do it safely, you can have my ruck.”

I stepped out the door and headed off to meet the scout and his friends.

Chapter 24 -Belt Fed Revolution

I couldn’t remember having had this much fun in ages. Certainly not since gas became crazy expensive. Only the truly wealthy drove for pleasure now, but here I was, ripping through this field, the 33 inch tires on my Cherokee tearing up the ground flinging mud helter skelter. The young woman on the seat next to me was certainly enjoying this. She cried out “Look!” and pointed through the windshield to a pair of bobcats we had disturbed.

I tried to turn the Jeep toward the bobcats but the snow was everywhere and I wasn’t getting a lot of traction. I got us pointed in the right direction and hammered the gas pedal. It was too dark to see properly so I flipped on all of the off-road lights turning the Jeep and the area surrounding it into a small pale blue sun. Motörheads “Ace of Spades” was blaring away on the radio in an infinite loop.

From the passenger’s seat area I heard the sound of a belt buckle unlatch as she leaned over and kissed me on the neck. The song on the radio seemed to get louder in anticipation.

I woke up to near total darkness, my interior voice laughing and mocking at the same time.

Oh sure, it’s not because there’s a chick in your Jeep. That’s all normal. Uh huh. You know it’s not real because there’s a radio. Even your dreams are pathetic.”

I couldn’t really deny what the voice said. My dreams were kind of pathetic, but those were old world dreams. As meaningless now as dreams of dragons.

 There was a candle lantern near my bed, but my eyes were well accustomed to the gloom so I didn’t bother with the light.

I could see a familiar lump at the end of the bed. My ruck had been placed there with my boots lined up next to it. Someone had been busy while I was asleep. My BDU style pants were placed on top of my ruck and neatly folded along with my shirt. They even smelled clean.

I got dressed silently in the dark and sat down to slip my Cadillac’s on. For the first time in a while I  felt pretty decent. My back wasn’t bothering me, my knee hadn’t had much of a chance to complain yet and if my pants were any indication I had even lost a few more pounds. This end of the world stuff wasn’t too bad then.

I tried to sling my ruck, but as I grabbed one of the straps it became immediately apparent that its weight had almost tripled. I thought Stephen might have crawled in there, but chided myself and mumbled into the darkness “He’s far too tall”.

I reached into the pack and pulled out something anyone familiar with military surplus could identify immediately. A spam can. I couldn’t see what caliber it was, but given the guns I carrying I was pretty well assured I didn’t have anything that could chamber the contents of the spam can. I reached into one of the pouches on the back of my ruck and grabbed my little wind up flashlight.

I pressed the button and was rewarded with a watery light from the three LED’s. I couldn’t read the language, but  important stuff was plain. 7.62 something. Mosin? Kalashnikov? I shrugged and pulled the spam can out and laid it on the bed. There were two more in my ruck and I removed those also.

I wasn’t hearing sounds in the house so I assumed everyone else was still asleep. I made my way outside so I could get a fix on the sun and figure out what time it was. I opened the front door and saw Stephen sitting in a plastic Adirondack chair. His head moved slightly at the sounds I made and I knew that he was awake.

Propped up next to him on the arm of the chair was what I took at first blush for some AK variant, but it didn’t look quite right. The stock and foregrip were aftermarket polymer, but the length of the foregrip and barrel gave it away. A Romanian PSL. I had always admired these rifles and this one looked to be in fine condition.

“G’morning.”

“Morning, Stephen. Nice stick you have there.”

He smiled appreciatively. “There’s coffee. I made it the way my dad showed me, but I don’t know if it’s any good.” He gestured toward a blue metal carafe on a table with some coffee cups.

I said my thanks and grabbed up the carafe. It was still hot and I didn’t think it would be polite for me to use it as a coffee cup, so I settled for one of the small ceramic mugs and took a seat.

“Got some people comin’.” Stephen said and pointed toward a small two lane track that was probably a lot of fun on a snowmobile. I leapt to my feet and went inside, grabbing my .243 and hoped the lighted reticle scope still had some power.

I ran out and dropped down to one knee behind some concealing junk in the yard. “Um. . .  ” Stephen began “I invited them.” I looked back at him. Damn kid. He had this cool detachment thing down far better than I did. I looked through my scope anyway and saw people shapes at about 1500 yards.

Stephen held the PSL out to me. “Thought I might offer you a trade. My dad’s PSL for that.” He pointed at the rifle I held. I handed over the .243 to Stephen so I could examine the PSL. I pulled back the bolt and to my surprise a live round leapt out of the chamber. I grabbed it before it could hit the ground and examined it. Oh yeah. I was smiling inside, holding this familiar cartridge, running my finger around the odd rim that was part of its designation. 7.62x54r .

“Well as much as I appreciate the offer, Stephen, I’m kind of trying to travel light.” I winked at him before I realized he probably couldn’t see the expression in the faint light of dawn. “I can’t hump all that ammo around, unless you want to throw in a pack mule.”

He looked a bit disappointed, but handed me back my rifle without protest. “So who’s coming?”

“Couple of the neighbors. I went out last night and talked to ’em while you were sleepin’.” Stephen pulled the magazine from the PSL and reinserted the round I had ejected. “Some of ’em are in pretty bad shape already, so they were happy to come. Johnson’s tried to follow me right then, but I told ’em to wait an’ come  later.”

I cradled my rifle in my arms and sat down on a tired looking deck chair to drink my coffee and wait for the guests to show up.

****

Before Stephen’s neighbors began to arrive I went in the house and woke John. I wasn’t expecting trouble, but I’d rather be on my feet to meet it if it came our way. John was definitely not a morning person. I had to wake him two more times before I left him to stumble through getting dressed.

Stephen was talking to an older couple when I stepped through the door. Conversation stopped and I found all eyes on me, or more likely on the rig I was wearing and the gun I had slung over my shoulder.

The stragglers were coming in at this point so I waited for them to arrive and enjoyed another cup of coffee. Stephen was willing to give way too much for my rifle. I’d probably have traded him for a pound of coffee, but I wasn’t going to mention that.

Only a couple of them carried weapons. I had to wonder at that. Michigan wasn’t exactly known as a gun-shy state, but the few decent people I had seen lately with the exception of Stephen and his clan, weren’t exactly loaded for bear.

When everyone, including John was present Stephen began to hold a meeting. I stood up and introduced myself.

“Morning folks. I’m Finn” I smiled and nodded at the few that made eye contact “This is John.” John still grouchy stepped forward and offered everyone a sullen wave before collapsing onto one of the chairs.

“What’s yer part in this?” One of the neighbors, asked an elderly man with forest of stubble covering his face.

“Nothing, honestly. I helped Stephen out with a problem he had and he’s given us room and board for a couple of nights.” I waited for a further challenge, but the old man seemed satisfied.

The rest of the meeting was all Stephen. He made it clear to those assembled that John and I were temporary guests and we would be leaving soon. I offered what help I could as they discussed logistics and started making plans. More coffee was prepared and I helped myself. I figured it was a fair trade for the work I had done.

I made it around 11 am when the meeting broke for lunch. Stephen was a sight. He began working people individually while they ate, doing his best to swing them around to his way of thinking about issues they had argued over.

After lunch was over people wandered around and examined Stephen’s steading. Stephen let them look around but he wasn’t showing all his cards yet. I had seen him call a couple away from the barn and engage them in conversation as a distraction. I didn’t like the predatory looks on some faces but I chalked it up to people hard pressed to survive, seeing things they desperately needed.

I listened in on some conversations while doing my best to look like I was doing anything other than eavesdropping. I heard some talk I didn’t like, but I kept it to myself for now. The meeting resumed eventually as meetings tend to do. I was largely tuned out, watching a hawk circle on a thermal in the afternoon sun.

“Well, no offense Steve” My attention suddenly focused on the discussion “But I don’t think you’re exactly cut out to be our leader! ” I stood up at this point deciding to interject on behalf of my host. Stephen shook his head when he saw me stand, so I merely crossed my arms and stood there.

“This is my farm. You want to live here? Eat my food? Then you follow my rules. Don’t like it? You ain’t gotta stay.” I rubbed my chin and tried to hide a smirk. This kid was setting the standard for being the big boss. “If you don’t want to follow my rules, you’re welcome to go back home, but know this: once you leave, you’re out. I ain’t gonna take you in when you run outta food or can’t get water. We have to work together now, if we’re going to survive.”

The old man who had challenged me earlier spoke up “The boy’s right. Fer what it’s worth I wouldn’ta invited most of you here if it was my place.” He picked one of the troublemakers out “Dave, we all know you and your lady friend like that Metha-amphetamin shit.  What ‘re you bringin’ to the table Here?” My .357  in hand, I wordlessly  shot Dave in the head across the circle of those gathered. He slumped to the ground his head nearly falling into the small firepit we sat around.

There were screams and someone started crying. The old man looked at me gape-mouthed. Stephen just stared at me.

“Consider that express rehabilitation.” I picked a round out of my pocket to replace the one I had just fired. “Trust me. You don’t want or need people like that in your group. If you want to make it through this with half a chance everyone here needs to be healthy and willing to work.” I wasn’t telling Stephen that Ol dead Dave there was one of those I had heard talking about what they could take to sell.

I looked at the woman who had been standing next to Dead Dave and took aim once more. I fired and she flopped to the ground a few feet away, dead, but making a weird low-pitched whining sound with her last breath. I looked each of those still gathered in the eye. “You’re welcome. People say that. Usually after others thank them for the favor they’ve just received?” The old man laughed and spat “He’s a dirty fucker anyway! ” That was close enough to thanks for me.

“You can also consider that a statement on how serious is your situation if you’re in doubt of your hosts word.” I looked around and saw shocked faces still doing their immitation of a goldfish. “My name is Finn Arngeirr Sigurdsson. I killed these people. I’m happy to leave my fingerprints and a DNA sample if that will make you feel better, but trust me–no one is going to come along to punish me for that” I gestured toward the two bodies.

My ears were ringing a bit from the .357 but I heard the old man’s wife ask “What’d he say?” The old man flapped a dismissive hand at her and replied ” He said he’s some sorta Viking.” he looked at the two corpses “he was right about them at least. He did us a favor.”

The old man stood and offered me his hand “Thanks much Mr Viking.”

The old-timer didn’t see me roll my eyes at that as he retook his seat.

Stephen restarted the meeting after my little display and smiled as he asked “Anybody got any questions?” This kid was a natural.

Chapter 23 -Belt Fed Revolution

Instead of burying Carl by the roadside where he had died I thought it more appropriate to carry him back to Stephen’s stead.This was a slow process and before I’d gone fifty yards I wished I’d just left him there.

The grave I dug was not deep nor very long.

“Stephen, do you want to say anything?” He remained steadfast and silent.

I rolled Carl into the grave, folding up his legs into a semi-fetal position and covered him over with the dirt.I made sure that when Carl was buried his hat and the Ruger Vaquero he’d been carrying went with him. I asked Stephen if he wanted his brother’s gun but I got no response so I put the revolver in the holster Carl still wore. I didn’t feel right not saying a little something even if it were just for Stephen’s sake. I had been a solitary Heathen for most of my life and certainly didn’t consider myself a goði–a term roughly equivalent to priest– and even though I hadn’t spoken at many funerals I decided to give it a shot.

I started to speak then almost immediately snapped my mouth shut. For  once  it was not due to a shortage of words, but it occurred to me it might be insensitive to say words meant for my people over a stranger. Stephen looked up when I stopped, raising an eyebrow at me like a pubescent, malnourished Spock. “Is your family Christian?” I asked softly.

Stephen shrugged “Dad always said we were, but we never went to church or nothing.”

I figured that was good enough. I began with a snippet of poetry from long ago, one that many people before me have said and even though it felt kind of cheesy to be saying it, it was fitting.

“Cattle die, kinsmen die, you yourself shall one day die. But I know one thing which never dies, the fate of the honored dead”.

I paused to clear my throat then words came to me “I didn’t know Carl, but I am one that has accompanied him down to the barrow.  It is thought that kings and exceptional warriors are called to Valhalla, brought there by the choosers of the slain. Carl it seems was one of those warriors, defending home and hearth even to his death, but it is not ours to know what fate awaits a man. We bring him now to the barrow that he may watch over his home and his brother, causing him no ill as he dwells here until time ends.”

Stephen didn’t say anything, but when I stopped speaking he merely looked at the grave for a moment before heading back into his house. I looked up and saw John standing a few feet away.

“All right, John?”

“I’ll be okay.” He said. “Finn, I’m sorry. I really am. I know how dumb that was…those people could have killed us!”

I laughed “Yeah, they might have killed you. I would’ve made them sorry though if they had killed me.”

John seemed to skip a beat and then he laughed quietly. “Yeah, I bet you would.” We began to walk toward the house, where I was hoping to spend a few hours asleep.

John broke my train of thought when he asked “So how’s this gonna work?”

“How is what going to work?”

“Well, us, this place, Stephen? I mean are we going to take rooms here, try to build the place up? Defend it, I mean?”

I hadn’t really thought about that and said as much. “I was kind of figuring on heading out, John.” He didn’t exactly look surprised, but I could tell this wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. “As far as I’m concerned, this is Stephen’s steading. He’s in charge here. Now, maybe you can handle that, but I’m not made that way.”

He snickered “You mean you can’t handle someone else being in charge?”

I shot him a warning look “No. I can handle someone else being in charge. Like I said, this is his place. I’d be in charge for a while until Stephen was ready, but when he gets there, it’s not going to be a ‘hand over the keys to the shop’ kind of transition. He’s going to take leadership. I don’t want to be the one he takes it from. If you want to stay here and play that role, you go ahead. My plans haven’t changed.” I left John standing there and went into the house to find myself a comfortable place to rack out for a bit.

****

I slept until just before dusk and woke up cursing, my back being twisted up in knots. I found Stephen and John outside cleaning a brace of rabbits. Stephen was doing the work and teaching all at once.

“Stephen” He paused briefly and gave me a half-smile. “I was thinking it’s time for me to move on. I wanted to thank you for hospitality and ask if there’s anything I can do for you before I go?”

His smiled filled in the rest of the way as he spoke “I think I’ll be all right. I know how to operate the equipment here and we got seeds I can plant.” he kind of shrugged as if he’d been expecting this “and there’s a couple of people nearby, some families that aren’t near as well set up as I am. Kinda figured I’d go talk to them and see if we can all get together in one place…I guess try and start over?”

I grunted noncommittally at that. “Well, I’m not going to tell you how to run things. I think you probably can figure that out as well as I could. But starting over?  You know where we just came from; you in a big hurry to get back there?”

He thought it over almost a full second before responding “Nah, I guess not.”

I looked at John “What about you? You going to stay and be Stephen’s hired man?” The look on Stephen’s face said he hadn’t thought of that, but he didn’t really seem too keen on the idea.

John managed to save face a bit when he said that I’d be lost without him and besides who else was there to carry the gear?

“You mind if we stay on an extra night? My back could use the rest and I’d appreciate a chance to get all my gear squared away.”

Stephen had already returned to skinning the rabbits but tossed a few words over his shoulder “Yeah, no problems. I think I can even help John out a bit. I’ve got my brother’s old backpack down in the bunker if he can do some sewing, it might even hold together for a while.”

I laughed and looked at John “Well, you heard the man, Suzy Homemaker. Get to work!”

I left John there fuming and went into the house to make ready for our return to the road.


Chapter 22 -Belt Fed Revolution

I needed to tell the kid his brother was dead, but I’ve never been really good at delivering bad news.  I delayed dealing with this by asking Stephen to run me through reloading.  Stephen agreed and headed down into the crawl space to gather brass and primers for the .500  keeping him out of my hair for a few minutes.

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Come here for a sec, would ya?”

As soon as John got within distance I blasted him with a left cross followed by a slightly off center upper cut that caught him flush on the chin. I wiped blood–mine or his I couldn’t say– off my hand. I sat down in one of the kitchen chairs and waited for him to regain his senses. I think I knocked him out for a second, but wasn’t sure; he seemed dazed, but still coherent.

“So rule number one, one more time: You are never in charge.”  I fished around in my pack looking for the anti-bacterial gel for my knuckles and the cut under John’s eye. “Rule two, we don’t hand guns to people we don’t know.”

I sighed and stood up to help John get to his feet. “and not to put too fine a point on things, but…if you’re ever confused about anything, rule one is your friend.”

John nodded and let me put a dab of the anti-bacterial gel on his cheek. “Sorry, I don’t think I have any butterfly bandages.” I offered to stitch the wound up for him but he refused. He wanted to go off somewhere and be quiet, by himself. I approved wholeheartedly and suggested he go keep an eye on the remnants of the fire.

I had to admit, this new world, it had a lot going for it.  No one was pestering me to communicate or share my thoughts . When you have a problem, blast away. It was up to you to decide if blast was best accomplished with fists, guns or whatever else was near to hand. This was downright refreshing.

The more I thought about it I realized that I hadn’t really encountered the issues I expected being off my meds. When something pissed me off, I killed it, burned it, beat it or broke it. Maybe the medication I had to take to get by in the old world was a symptom of the civilization, not a failing in me. Was it possible mother nature had been cranking out people like me to try and thin the herd?

I always put thinking like that down to my dysfunction . In my time as a social worker it was clear to me that the dumber a person was the more likely they were to have about 10 kids: smart people stopped breeding. We’d done everything we could as a species to stop our own evolution. Strong predators make smarter prey, I suppose.

I ruminated on this for a while until Stephen came back upstairs and told me he was ready to show me how to reload my own ammo.

****

I had to admit I was pretty well tuned out. I heard what Stephen was saying, but I wasn’t really there. When I had loaded 10 rounds of .500 on my own, I went outside and sat under the stars. I couldn’t recall how long it had been since I’d slept the night through but I didn’t feel tired.

John was off sulking somewhere and Stephen was working away in the little crawl space loading up his special hand loads for his shotgun. It was nice to have the time to myself.

Eventually I began to see squirrels and rabbits telling me morning had arrived.

Stephen was still in the crawl space but now he was loading something else. The kid was efficient and really knew his stuff. “Hey, Stephen?” the kid jumped like he’d heard a shot. I smiled and wondered if A.D.H.D. was going the way of the dodo now as well.

“Yessir?” He replied coming up the stairs but without the same energy he’d had last night.

“You have a .22 around here?” He smiled and ran off to one of the rooms in the trailer addition and returned a few seconds later with a Marlin Model 60 equipped with a small 4x scope. I grinned at him “I’d ask if you have ammo for it, but…” the smile he was wearing now split his face wide open as he opened one bulging pocket on his cargo shorts filled almost to overflowing with .22 rounds.

I had  heard the soft sound of the rounds in his pockets as he ran back to me and I smiled my approval when he showed me he was ready for the zombie apocalypse.  Provided the zombies were all bunnies or squirrels. I grabbed my slingshot out of my pack and a handful of the little steel ball bearings I used for ammo. I tried to be subtle about grabbing my little e tool off my pack and attaching it to my belt.

“Let’s go find something for breakfast.” I had barely finished speaking and he was out the door.

I followed along as fast as I could. I didn’t see John anywhere around as we walked away from the little homestead. I mentally shrugged and figured if he had taken off so much the better for me.

I didn’t really want to do this, but I couldn’t think of a better way. Stephen and I walked a while each of us taking shots at whatever critters could be found as we went. We had been walking for a while when Stephen piped up with “Where are we going?”

I had hoped he wouldn’t twig to my plan until we got closer, but the kid was pretty on the ball. “Your brother, Carl, you looked up to him?” I cursed myself silently for using the past-tense, but Stephen didn’t notice.

He looked a little embarrassed but he finally nodded “Yeah. Him and my dad, taught me everything about huntin’ and stuff. Carl taught me how to drive…on the tractor.” I nodded and kept walking. There had to be words for this. I knew lots of words, so I knew that if I searched long enough I’d find them, but my brain just wasn’t cooperating.

“Stephen…” Shit! Words! Any words would do! Come on brain, help me out here! “Stephen, I think your brother is dead.” I waited a beat for the explosion but it never came. “John and I, we came across this ambush…” Stephen’s eyes were filled with tears but otherwise calm still. His voice stayed even and flat. “Did you kill my brother?”

“No. Not us.I promise you that” He seemed satisfied with my answer. Moments passed between us before he spoke again.

“Take me there.”

Before we got to the ambush site the soft buzzing sound of flies began to reach our ears. The wind was blowing toward us and the ripe bloated bodies left to the elements were challenging my ability to look like the cool, calm, disaffected drifter.

Stephen must have recognized something about his brother’s remains from a distance. We were probably still a hundred yards from the burned out cars when Stephen took off running.

By the time I made it to the side of the road, Stephen was on his knees next to his brother. Not crying, not really doing anything, just kneeling there. The cowboy hat I’d placed over Carl’s face had blown away leaving it exposed to the birds and whatever else out there might fancy a bit of human flesh.

“This Carl?”

Stephen nodded pressing his lips into a thin line until they turned white.

I turned away to let Stephen say goodbye to his brother and started looking for a place to dig.

Chapter 21 -Belt Fed Revolution

I pulled Jake aside before we made the short walk to his house. “I want to make this clear to you. I have no intention of harming your son. But if you, or your wife or anyone that you may have forgotten to tell me about decides to get hostile? ” I looked at him hoping I had his full attention “Stevie here is going to come with us.” Jake actually seemed to relax a little at this.

The house was close and we covered  ground quickly. The place had originally been little more than a one room shack that had at some point had a mobile home added to expand it. There was a pickup out front and a  small tractor parked by the side of the house. Jake’s wife and daughter saw us coming and had an armed reception waiting. Jake held up his hands to wave the weapons down.

“Tell them to put the weapons on the ground” Jake passed this along to his wife who responded “Them first!” she yelled defiantly.  The men wouldn’t argue with Jake, but apparently his authority only extended so far.

Jake stepped forward and took the shotgun from his wife. Words passed between them that I couldn’t make out. Before Jake had a chance to think about  shouldering the shotgun I had my revolver in hand pointing at him. I was pretty sure I could hit him. In the dark. From 20 feet away. Well, call it 60-65% sure. Jake held the shotgun by the barrel and kept his free hand in the air.

He laid the shotgun on the ground and with a look from him his daughter stepped forward to place the rifle next to it. “Thank you. Stevie, you want to go see your mother?” The boy nodded and walked to her giving me a chance to holster my revolver.

I walked over and picked up the surrendered guns “I’m not exactly opposed to killing; never been a turn the other cheek kind of guy.” I said this looking at Brian. “But I am willing to chalk this up to a misunderstanding in strange times. I’m thinking we’ll take these and drop them off by the road on our way out.” I held the rifle out to John while I looked for the safety on the shotgun so I could stow it without shooting my ass off.

John took the rifle from me and with a shake of his head handed it back to Jake’s wife. “Excuse my friend, please. The wolves that raised him never taught him any manners.” The voice in my head that had been asking why I hadn’t just killed these people and been done with it? It was making some pretty insistent statements about John’s lifespan just about then.

I was doing the math in my head figuring I needed three rounds in the shotgun to get clear of this before I could start hammering the survivors with hollow points. As I started to take a step backwards, Jake’s wife stepped forward telling John “Sorry. I could have handled that a little better” She held out her hand to him and they shook.

John smiled at her “I think you handled it just fine, considering.” I stood not quite sure how to react to this turn of events, knowing only that  the next words I spoke to John were likely to come out of a gun and be spoken in the double-ought dialect.

“I’m Tina. This is Colleen.” She said indicating a girl who from her height and build I guessed was probably in her teens. She laughed as Brian came closer “Looks like you know Brian already.” She said as she examined his swollen face and tutted over the cuts on the bridge of his nose. “Well, are we going to stand out here all night or what? C’mon, I got some soup I’ve been keeping warm on the wood stove.”

Jake turned to me and said “Yeah, come on.” and waved me into their house.

****

Tina dished up soup for everyone and we gathered around a small candlelit table to eat. She  asked Jake if they managed to catch anything to add to the pot. Jake shook his head offering only “Kind of got distracted.”  The soup was thin, but good consisting as it did of mostly onions and salt.

I was not of a mind to continue accepting hospitality from Jake and his family. We exchanged what news we had. I was not too surprised to hear that things out east were still tense. Tina told us of hearing about lots of back and forth fighting between the Feds defensive forces  (the Federal Reserve Defense Force or FRDF as I would later learn). One piece of news that was surprising was that Quebec had finally succeeded in separating itself from the rest of Canada and was actually doing fairly well on its own.

The rest of Canada wasn’t suffering as badly as America was. Although having a new sovereign state pop up in the middle of its geography made things a little unusual. Apparently Newfoundland , Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada now separated physically had led to them declaring their independence as well.

The remaining world governments were scrambling to make decisions about which new countries to recognize. What little news there was coming out of Michigan wasn’t good, but there hadn’t been any huge changes save for a part of Detroit and one of its suburbs now being under Sharia law. Strangely it didn’t sound like the horror show I imagined so much as all the Muslims in the area trying to exert some control over their communities in the absence of government. Regardless, I was happy enough that Detroit wasn’t on my personal itinerary. I thought at least someone was doing something with Detroit.

I hadn’t realized how tired I was from all the traveling. John continued to talk about his experiences on the road and the things that had happened since. I was ready to get moving. I was waiting for a break in the conversation to tell John just that when I noticed Colleen playing absently with a piece of spent brass.

“Well” I said, clearing my throat “I think I’ll go out and have a smoke.” I stood as I excused myself. “You can smoke in here. We don’t mind” Tina offered with a smile. I nodded “I appreciate it, but I’d like to stretch my legs a bit.” I saw a look flit between Tina and Jake, and my paranoid reflexes went into overdrive. I walked out the door and began patting myself down as if looking for a lighter.

As soon as I cleared line of sight of the door, I ran around the side of the house.  Sitting in the back leaning close to the house was a motorcycle, with a ton of stuff bungeed to the sissy bar. I was right. The piece of brass Colleen had was of the 5.56 variety, the kind of thing that fit an AR pistol for instance.

I hurried back to the front of the little house and leaned against the pickup. I kept an eye on the house as I tried to subtly draw out the BFR that was still stuck in my belt. I thumbed open the cylinder and ran my finger around the top of the cartridges. Brian it turned out had some ill luck. there were two rounds without dimples in them. I spun the cylinder so that the first of the unspent rounds would be chambered and let the BFR settle back into its place in my belt.

I waited a few more minutes and went inside taking my place at the little table. To Jake and Tina I said “Well, I thank you all for your hospitality, but we need to get moving.” I thought I saw a bit of tension drain out of Tina’s face. I scooted my chair back a bit. John looked at me appearing almost horrified at the thought of leaving. As he began to protest the idea, I drew the BFR and fired. The thing  that had been Brian didn’t even have a stump where his head had been. I swung my .357 over to fire at Tina who had just started to reach for  one of the AR pistols she had tucked away.

The hollow point took her full in the face leaving a crater where her nose and eyes had been. I settled the .357 on Jake’s forehead. “Repay lies with lies, that’s my way. But I gave you my word and that I’ll keep. Stevie here gets to keep on living” I smiled at Jake “Colleen, too.” I squeezed the trigger and splattered Jake’s brains against the wall behind him.

John had remained ever so helpful, his mouth hanging open providing a place for the flies to rest before they started depositing their eggs in the newly minted corpses. Colleen looked at me a second before deciding she wanted to make a grab for the AR pistol still laying on the floor. John racked the shotgun and fired it before I had a chance to dissuade her.

Colleen sat up fast almost knocking her chair over in the process. “Now Colleen, ” I began chiding “That’s not nice. You look like you might be a smart girl, Colleen.” She sat staring at me numbly “Do you want to live long enough to find out if you are?” She nodded mutely. “All right, that’s fine then. Stand up, and take your brother over there” I gestured for her to move back against the wall.

“Not my sister.” I didn’t recognize the voice. It was the first words I had heard Stevie speak. “Not your…” Stevie lunged for the AR and snatched it up, pointing the muzzle at Colleen and used her as a backstop for the 5.56 rounds.

It was my turn to provide a place for the flies to land. “The fuck?!?” was all I could manage to say. Stevie dropped the AR and turned toward me closing his eyes. I think he expected me to shoot him.

“Stevie?” He opened one eye.”Hey buddy. I’m not going to …shoot. You.” My brain was suddenly finding words very strange things to try to use. “What happened here, Stevie?”

Defiantly he looked at me and said “Stephen! My name’s not Stevie it’s Stephen!” I nodded and said “Okay, Stephen, it’s fine. Sorry about that, okay?” To his credit he never shed a tear, voice never wavered except for those times nature dictated it must.

“They killed my dad. There was a bunch of ’em. My dad, my brother an’ me, we took a bunch of ’em out, but she” at this he pointed at Tina’s rapidly cooling body “shot my dad in the head! Me an’ my brother we held out as long as we could.”  Stephen turned and kicked Colleen as he moved went to turn on a light. The invaders had kept the place dark, it turned out, on purpose.

With the lights on I could see the blood stains that covered one wall. I could also see the family pictures over the hearth.  I saw Stephen with an older, bearded man I guessed was his father and to his left in the photo was an older version of Stephen. One I’d seen earlier, a cowboy. I muttered to myself and caught John’s eye as it locked onto the picture and filled him with the same knowledge.

“They killed my dad and Carl an’ me tried to get out,” he said determined to get his story out “but we got separated and I got caught by that…asshole!!!” he pointed at Brian. I looked at Brian and wished I could bring him back to life so I could kick him in the nuts and shoot him a few more times.

I wanted a few minutes to process this, but time was never kind. “Stephen,” I started to say, but I had nothing. John stepped up and said “Hey, help me drag these bodies out, would ya?” I nodded finding a task to focus on kicked my brain into gear. “Stephen, you got some firewood around here?”

“Out back, if they ain’t used it all.” He said his face remaining entirely passive.

“All right. Go get a bunch of firewood and start stacking it up. Lay it flat like you’re trying to build a small p…” I had been about to say porch when Stephen said “Pyre. I know.”

John and I dragged the bodies outside and waited as Stephen laid in the wood. I thought I would take Stephen back into the little house while John set the fire, but I knew that wasn’t going to be enough for Stephen in this new world we inhabited.

After piling the wood pretty deep, John and I tossed the bodies on. Stephen surprised me yet again when he set to stuffing in some kindling and sparking the fire himself. John looked at me with wide eyes. I just shook my head and kept an eye on the fire.

Stephen stared into the fire as it became a blaze. We all stepped back as what little fat there had been on his former captors began to melt and add fuel to the fire. I took a moment to admire the big revolver I had hung in my belt for the first time. A Smith&Wesson .500 with a ported 8″ barrel and a compensator tacked on for good measure.

This thing was ridiculous and I loved it. An annoying buzzing started nipping away at the edge of my consciousness and I realized that John was moving closer to me trying to get my attention. I snapped back to attention and acknowledged John. He kept looking at Stephen and jerking his head toward the house.

Stephen and I had been enjoying watching the bodies burn, but I took John’s unspoken advice. I put my hand on Stephen’s shoulder and turned him back to the house.  He offered no resistance and allowed himself to be led. I signaled John to stay and keep an eye on the fire. It was clear to me he found the idea distasteful but he did it without complaint.

Once inside the house all life seemed to leave Stephen. His shoulders slumped and his head fell forward. I thought I could hear crying, but in the dimly lit dining room I couldn’t see and I didn’t push it.

I drew out the BFR and said “I guess this is probably yours?” He sniffed and spoke quietly “It was Carl’s. He never let me shoot it. He could barely shoot it without getting hit in the head.” He laughed quietly at the memory. I laid the gun down on the table and pushed it toward him. Stephen looked at me and shook his head. “Nah, I can’t do nothing with that. You can keep it.” Before I could say otherwise Stephen seemed to inflate “Hey! Come let me show you somethin’!”

He took off like a spooked rabbit and returned with a set of keys. He started to push the dining room table out of the way. I helped him and picked up the table so  he could get at the rug underneath. Yanking the rug back revealed a door set into the floor. He unlocked the door hurriedly and flung it open.

A short staircase opened up on an expanded crawlspace that contained several guns and more brass than a marching band. Stephen ran over to one wall and grabbed a gun smiling broadly at me. “If I’d been able to get this, those fuckers wouldn’ta never touched me!” Stephen had  what looked like a new Kalashnikov, but the magazine didn’t look right. Apparently reading my mind he ejected the magazine and showed me the contents. I smiled. A semi auto .410 shotgun. “Here” he said scooping up a handful of reloads “there’s more here somewhere. My dad and my brother reloaded everything they shot.” I nodded appreciatively and examined one of the cartridges for the .500.

I heard footsteps overhead and Stephen pointed his shotgun at the floor above him. I grabbed the barrel and pointed it down “John?” I called out.

“Where are y’all?” he said “What happ…oh.” John spotted the trapdoor and  moved around so we could see him. I smiled and let go of the shotgun’s barrel. John nodded thankfully and looked relieved that I hadn’t let Stephen shoot him.

I talked reloading with Stephen and it turned out he knew how to handle the equipment. He even had his own special hand loads filling his little shotgun. I looked around the little room and noticed a 12 gauge version of Stephen’s shotgun leaning against the wall. I picked it up and examined it closely. Between the guns, the brass and the other supplies I guessed Stephen and his family could have held out here for about a decade if the place had any decent defenses.

A light suddenly bloomed in Stephen’s eyes and he bolted by me and up the stairs without a word. I looked at John and shrugged. I started up the stairs after him and he suddenly remembered we were there. “Come on!” he yelled as he ran toward an outbuilding like his hair was on fire.

I ran out the door and called over my shoulder to John “Come on, Tinkerbell, let’s go see what has Pan so excited.”  and limped off after  Stephen as fast as I could.

Stephen rushed up to a decrepit looking outbuilding that had all sorts of tire tracks leading into it. From the look of things this is where the tractor normally slept. Stephen was smiling as he threw open the doors. The entire floor of the little barn was covered with fresh dirt.

Stephen opened a door not quite as concealed as the one beneath the house and disappeared from sight. I walked to the hole in the ground and poked my head in.  It looked like a cargo container had been buried under the barn, complete with electric light from somewhere.

I walked into the container and noticed several smaller openings opening onto what I had to guess were other cargo containers. I poked my head into one and saw shelves stocked with food. Each of the little doors could be locked from one side effectively sealing them off from  the other containers in event of emergency.

Stephen looked up at the entrance where John stood gaping. “This is where Carl an’ me were goin’. I lost my flashlight and we got split up.” Stephen looked suddenly excited “now that those assholes are dead, maybe we can go look for Carl?!”

Part of me had been expecting this. Didn’t make it any easier.

Chapter 20 -Belt Fed Revolution

Shit. Shit. Shit. Really? Yup. I sighed mentally. Fine. I was hoping that if I died I could at least avoid looking like a total spastic. I thought of my ancestors and hoped that they were watching. A competing thought said I hope if I die stupid they look away, just for a second.

I had to count on John being the man I thought he was for this to work. I kept my hands up and moved them a bit closer to my head, dropping my elbows slightly. “Good going, dipshit.” I was looking John square in the eye. “What?!? ME?!?” this came out as a shrill bark. “Hey man, I did my part. ” I said as I jerked my thumb at the person I assumed was the sentry standing behind me with his gun embedded in the base of my skull.

“I saw the sentry and stopped. All you had to do was watch my back–and yours–but apparently that was asking too much, huh?”  True to form John went indignant and started getting loud. “Damn it, John!” I was going to push it hard “Would you shut your mouth and just admit you fucked up?! I mean, Hel, this situation could not possibly be any more your fault!”  John went apoplectic. Somewhere inside me a genuine smile was actually being born.  He began to sputter and wave his hands, recriminations flying left,right and center about how I was the trained one and should know that we were being watched. I had to admit, he had a point, but we would discuss that later–if there was a later.

I risked a look at Stubble head who appeared slightly confused but entertained by the show. John seemed to forget that we were being held captive and took a step forward. As soon as he moved I spun to my right and grabbed the barrel of the gun the sentry had been trying to insert into my head. The sentry was surprised, but not totally off guard and tried to get  shot off. I clamped my left hand over  the cylinder of what had to be the biggest revolver I had ever seen.

So far so good on the not dying stupid I told myself and jammed my knee into the sentry’s gonads simultaneously using  my grip on the revolver to smack him in the nose with the barrel. The sentry went down and the BFR was in my off-hand. I really didn’t want to have to fire this cannon, but I didn’t think I had any choice. I drew my revolver and put myself between the sentry and Stubble head and John.

The sentry was moaning and laughing. Of all the reactions I was prepared for, laughter wasn’t one of them. I squeezed the trigger of the BFR and it clicked on an empty cylinder. The sentry stopped laughing, though he continued moaning and clutching his balls. I squeezed the trigger again and again without the hoped for result.

Well fuck this, I thought. I dropped the BFR and drew on Stubble head  as I stepped around behind the sentry. Stubble head froze, John was no longer close enough to him to be used as a hostage. I smiled at Stubble head “I know mine’s loaded.” and pointed it down at the sentry. “STOP! Okay?! Okay?! Just stop, please!”

Stubble head held the blade of his Ka-bar, handing it to John hilt first. “Look, buddy we weren’t going to do anything! The gun ain’t loaded, okay?’ We just wanted to scare you! We wanted to run you off, that’s all!” A voice in my head that I didn’t recognize asked why I hadn’t killed these people already. I thought that was a reasonable question, but it’d have to wait for later.

John took a step back and swung the shotgun up to cover Stubble head. I ordered the sentry to lay down face first while holding his hands palm up and cross his feet at the ankles. The sentry complied and I stood over him hoping there weren’t any more surprises, like some terrific sniper on overwatch with a night vision scope just waiting to perforate me.

To Stubble head, I asked “Is there anyone else out here?” He hesitated. I drew Sweet Louise and stabbed the sentry in the thigh. The wound wasn’t deep but if I pushed it I could hit the femoral artery. The sentry yelped when I stabbed him and tried to reach back for the knife. I delivered a soccer kick to his head and took a step back, putting my foot on the knife sticking out of his thigh.

“Damn it, Jake!” The sentry was spitting blood “Just tell him ‘fore he kills me!” I looked at Stubble head in the wan light provided by the moon. “Yeah, Jake. Tell me before buddy has to adjust to life as an amputee.” Jake spat on the ground “Come on out, Stevie!”

I heard him before I saw him. I couldn’t tell if the kid was really good at camouflage or if I had tunnel vision. A kid I reckoned to be about twelve stepped out into our little circle.

“This your son, Jake?” Jake nodded.  I looked at Stevie. The kid looked a lot like he hadn’t had enough to eat in about 12 years. I couldn’t put my finger on who, but he reminded me of someone. “Okay. Stevie, how about you go over there and stand by your dad?” Stevie didn’t have much to say, but did as he was told.

The voice in my head was pretty insistent that I kill them all.  I liked that idea. I could be rid of these people and John in short order simplifying my life immensely. Instead I took Sweet Louise back wiping her blade on the sentry’s jeans.

“Okay, Jake?”  I was trying to interpret the look in his eyes. I guessed it was something between fear and hatred.”Before you stopped us, my friend and I were trying to get out of here.”  I sheathed Sweet Louise but my revolver remained at the ready. “We don’t want anything of yours. We just wanted a place to hide out until nightfall. We didn’t know anyone had a claim to this place, or believe me, I would have kept going.”

Jake, to his benefit, let go of whatever he was chewing on appearing to relax a bit. He said “Yeah, so…sorry.”

To my captive I said “It’s over, okay? We may not part friends but we can all leave here . . . but you do anything and I’m going to put you down. You read me?”

Jake spoke up “Just get up slow, Bri. I just want to get Stevie home safe.”

I took a step back and kicked Bri’s foot as a signal to get up. He rose to his feet, one hand in the air, one clutching his leg. To John, “Can you do a quick pat down of Jake?” I did the same to Bri keeping my gun out of reach in case he decided he wanted some payback.

“Brian?” I asked. He nodded. “Okay, Brian I want you to reach into your right front pocket and pull out whatever is in there.” He did and pulled out a large folding knife with a nice stag handle.

“Drop it, kick it away from you.” Brian didn’t look too happy about that idea but did as ordered. John gave me the all clear and stepped back from Jake, raising the muzzle of the shotgun. Son of a…I sighed mentally. I added muzzle control to the list of things John and I needed to discuss. I grabbed the knife and the BFR up off the ground and stepped out of what I hoped was the shotgun’s path. I stuck the BFR in my belt letting it hang there like a Civil War era saber. I opened the knife and examined it as best I could. It was marked high carbon on one side. I flipped it over and looked at the maker’s mark but I didn’t have enough light to suss out the design.

“Bet this cost a pretty penny.” This said to Brian. I saw his nod and I put the knife in my pocket. Brian, I could see, wanted to come over and discuss that particular action, but managed to keep himself in check.

For the second time in my life I had prisoners. I had decided previously that I didn’t want prisoners, but once again found myself unsure what to do with them.

I stood there trying to look like I was still in charge while being totally lost. Fortunately my mouth solved the problem before my brain could mull the problem over fully. “You live nearby?” Jake nodded and pointed over my shoulder.

“Bout a quarter-mile that way.” He offered.

“Jake, I’m going to ask you this one time. If I think you are lying I am going to kill you all, right here.” I hoped the tone of my voice conveyed fully the level of bullshit that was acceptable in this situation. “Is there anyone at your house?”

“My wife and daughter.” He said and quickly added “We got two dogs.”

“Good, Jake. Thank you for being so forthright.” My mouth seemed to know what it was doing so I let my brain coast for a second. “Jake, is your wife armed?” He didn’t speak immediately, causing me to sigh inwardly. I had killed in anger, but I hadn’t been forced to confront the idea of killing because I was annoyed.

Jake apparently realized he had screwed up. “YES!” his voice jumped an octave or two. “She has a shotgun and there’s my hunting rifle.”

I considered this for a moment. “Okay, here’s what’s happening. We’re going to go to your house. If Mrs Jake can refrain from shooting us then we’ll all get to walk away peaceful like.” Jake didn’t appear to be happy about this idea but I could see him slowly nodding. “You get to be the point man, Jake.” I walked over to him and put my hand on Stevie’s shoulder. “Me and Stevie, we’re going to hang back and keep our fingers crossed that everything goes well.” Stevie still didn’t have anything to add, so I had to assume he was good with the plan.

I tossed Brian’s folding knife back to him. “Think of it as a peace-offering.” I didn’t know I was capable of being so magnanimous. I lifted the BFR slightly from my belt “This is forfeit. Spoils of war. We all clear?” I thought they would understand I was not actually opening the floor to discussion. Brian was pissed, but at least he seemed happy enough to have gotten his knife back.

“All right guys,” I said in my cheerful ‘it’s going to be okay’ voice I had developed during my time as a social worker. “Let’s get moving.”

Chapter 19 -Belt Fed Revolution

It was late afternoon by my reckoning. I tried not to move my head and give away that I was awake. “Feel better?” John. I don’t know what I’d done to give myself away, but there was no point denying it. I stood and was immediately almost doubled over by the pain and stiffness all over my body. “Motherfuckity fucking fucker” was my reply as I tried to stretch out the various aches and pains.

“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” I looked at John, still not truly awake and pulled out my Ka-Bar “No, but I used this to cut the lips off the last person that tested me with their smart-assery.” John laughed at me ” I know, Mr Tough, you kill everyone that blah blah you’re not Arnold Schwarzenegger and this ain’t no action movie blah.”  John held up his handiwork for my appraisal. “Whaddya think?” I was impressed. John had managed to make something like a bush blanket while I slept. I took it from him and pulled on the burlap strips he sewn on. They held tight so I nodded and handed it back.

“Gather up some the loose branches and start tying them in like I did. Once you look enough like a small hillock, go to sleep.” I had to admire his work. A blanket would serve him better than my poncho as concealment and he had a blanket, the bastard. “Anything happen while I was asleep?” He shook his head “Not much. A couple of cars went by. I watched them with your little spyglass. They slowed down by the vehicles up there and one carload actually popped out with about a billion guys ready to go to war.” I just  looked at him until he continued “They got out and looked around” he shrugged “no one attacked them so they decided that they won…or whatever.”

I waited for him to finish his story but other than having spotted a deer across the road there wasn’t much else to tell. “Okay, get some sleep if you can. I’ll wake you when it’s time to move out.” John handed me back my monocular and went off to bed down in the pines. I shook my head and sighed. I was going to have to explain to him how camouflage works before our next stop.

****

About an hour or so after John racked out I heard the sound of an engine on the highway. I didn’t have time to get into position and check it out so I went for Plan B, which involved me making the best use of my ghillie suit and standing absolutely still against the background of the trees. A motorcycle with a passenger and what looked to be a sporting goods store strapped to the sissy bar. I stood stock still against the tree and waited. Before the bike pulled even with our hide, I thought I saw the passenger look at me. Not just in my direction, but at me. Whoever it was didn’t alert the bike’s pilot to my presence, but I was left with the feeling that I had been spotted.

I heard the bike down shift as it approached the ambush site. Seconds later the sound of the engine stopped all together. I grabbed my rifle and ran up to the edge of the road. As I lay in the grass, I took aim at the rider and saw the passenger pull off her helmet. I wasn’t really sure why I did this: I didn’t want to kill them and I didn’t want to take the bike, but at the same time I thought there might be a chance that the passenger would tell the pilot what she had seen. The pilot was still wearing a full face helmet and full leathers. For a moment I found myself wondering what kind of bike it was. Not a Harley, but some sort of loud, throaty V-twin.

As I was taking my trip down distraction lane, the pilot’s helmet came off revealing long blonde hair with a thick dyed streak of blue in it. Two women on a motorcycle. I didn’t envy them. The pilot pulled what I had to guess was a gun from inside her leathers. I couldn’t make it out at first, but when she put in the magazine I realized she was holding an extremely small AR pistol. “What is it with these things?” I muttered to myself. A second later she pulled out another AR pistol.The pilot turned and said something to her passenger and then started moving toward the burned out cars.

The AR pistols in her hands were very small.  Smaller even than the one I’d used  when I ambushed the ambushers what felt like years ago. As she approached the cars something leapt out of the ditch and fell to the ground instantly as she lit it up. “Nice shootin’, Tex” I said,happy my compliment was unheard. I increased the magnification on my scope and saw that she had nailed a deer. Not just hit it, shredded it. I searched my memory for the sound of the guns firing even though it had just happened I couldn’t recall what it sounded like.  Looking again at the deer though, I had little doubt those pistols were full auto.

The pilot looked around the ambush site and I saw her disappear down into the ditch where we had seen the bodies. Night was coming on and my scope could only pull in the bit of light there was, so I hoped whatever the pilot was doing didn’t take much longer. I didn’t like the thought the she may be making her way back toward us, especially since I had no night vision implements to give us the upper hand. I looked around for a rock I could throw at John to wake him, just in case.

I relaxed a few moments later when I saw the pilot make her way up the embankment and start talking to her passenger. I couldn’t hear them, but the body language told me the passenger wasn’t happy with what she was hearing. The pilot just shrugged and pointed back the way they had came which to me seemed unacceptable. The argument continued for several minutes. It went on long enough that I had to wonder why the pilot didn’t just shoot the passenger and get on with it. She was the one in command after all. For a moment I considered helping her out and I reached up to release the safety. As soon as I had decided to shoot the passenger the argument was apparently over.

Both women put their helmets on and mounted the bike. The pilot, instead of just pulling a u-turn actually crossed slowly back over to the north bound lane. I slid down the hill a bit to help conceal my presence and pulled my rifle inside my poncho. The bikers rolled out slowly, much more cautiously than they had approached. The passenger didn’t look in my direction this time, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d been spotted.

I slithered my way back down the hill until I reached the bottom. The sound of the bikes engine faded. I turned over slowly and saw John sitting up against his pack, shotgun gripped tight in his hands. I gave him a thumbs up and bared my teeth at him in approximation of a smile and saw him relax.

I was about to stand up and walk over to him when I heard a voice. A man’s voice followed by several more. The voice was no louder than was necessary to have a conversation, but the voice was deep and cut through the air like a blade.  It took several moments but I got a fix on the voice’s location. I cursed and started to skull drag my way toward John. I knew he’d heard the voice, too, as he was lying prone with the shotgun pointed in the direction I’d heard the voices coming from.

Skull dragging was a pure pain and it took what seemed like a day to make it over to John. Once there I could see one stubble covered head and another covered with a ball cap. I couldn’t make out much of what was said but I caught a few words here and there. I was doing a lot of guessing here I realized, but I thought this was a family, maybe even the ones that owned the fields we were camped between.

I grabbed John’s shoulder and indicated that he should freeze in place. He nodded and I began another slow skull drag closer to the voices. There was no arguing with these folks. Stubble head was in charge. I think he was the father or at least an elder and the others seemed to accept his leadership without question. I envied Stubble head.

After a few moments the group decided to go investigate the area where the shots had come from. One of the voices was saying they thought they’d spotted a deer moving in that direction right before the shots were fired. Satisfied that these people didn’t pose an immediate threat, I turned back to John hold a silencing finger to my lips and told him to get up.

We made it to our feet without any great noise, not that it was likely we would be heard over the sound of frogs chirping away, a sound that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once. I thought for a second about all the hand signals I was using. We weren’t having any communication issues in that respect and made a note to ask John about it later. I signaled move out and pointed in the direction I wanted us to go. John gave me a thumbs up and we began to move.

I was straining my eyes looking for twigs and roots that might trip me. Being this focused on one task was not good, but I didn’t want to make any noise that might give us away. I thought this was an excellent plan and I made a mental note to give myself a gold star later for my awesomeness.

As we approached the edge of the field I froze with one foot in the air yet and flashed the ‘freeze’ sign back at John, hoping he could see it. Stubble head left a sentry at the place where they’d been standing. He didn’t give any sign that he’s seen or heard us before we pulled up only a few scant feet away.  Two more steps and my face would’ve smacked into the back of the sentry’s head.

I eased my foot to the ground and stood unmoving while I tried to decide how to proceed. The decision was made for me as a sound like a bird call drew the sentry away from his post. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding and mentally chuckled. I’d drawn Sweet Louise without really thinking about it. I gave the hand signal for John to move up. “Finn?” he called out. I turned prepared to drive Sweet Louise through his stupid not-knowing-to-keep-quiet-mouth and saw Stubble head holding a Ka-bar very much like my Sweet Louise to John’s throat.

I sheathed my Ka-bar and held up my hands. As soon as I did I felt what I had to guess was the muzzle of a gun pressed to the back of my head. Why, I asked myself, why did I call on Odin?

The barrel of the gun pressed harder into the back of my head and I heard a hammer being cocked.

“Figures” I muttered mostly to myself and tried my best to smile at our captors convincingly.

Chapter 18 – Belt Fed Revolution

The bodies at the bottom of the hill had been stripped clean of what people considered valuables. The contents of the cars had also been tossed down the roadside. I noticed a lack of tire irons and other things that made good weapons of opportunity. Mostly there was windshield wiper fluid, jump leads and the randomness that makes up people’s second homes. One item of interest was a roll of burlap three feet wide by 50 feet long. I grabbed this up along with a couple of empty water bottles. Everything else was junk including the bodies.

John was stripping the shirt off one of the larger males and using it to make a pack. A snappy one liner ran through my head but I dismissed it and left him to his task. I crouched at the bottom of the ditch waiting for John to finish collecting the things he thought would help him, all the while I kept scanning with the monocular.

The quiet no longer bothered me. It no longer bothered me mostly because there was little quiet. The sounds just weren’t the sounds I was used to hearing. Red winged blackbirds–highway birds as I thought of them for their insistence on gathering in the median–were calling out to each other soliciting mates and warning off rivals. Combined with the ravens and other birds in the cornfields around us, the birdsong itself was a screen to most noise. Hel, it was deafening.

I looked out to the ravens in the field and apologized for interrupting their meal. My hand went to my hammer beneath my shirt and I called out to the ravens asking them to remember my name to the All-Father. I thought about that for a moment afterward and realized I might not necessarily want Odin as my battle buddy. Instead I thought of my grandfather and my uncle and hoped they were watching with approval.

I looked up and realized John had been standing next to me for some time. I cursed myself again for my less than sterling situational awareness. “Ready?” I asked as I stood. “As I’ll ever be. I didn’t find much on them, but I took what I thought might help.” He dug into his pocket and withdrew a piece of blue metal “Found this too. I needed a knife.” He unfolded the blue metal into what I thought of as a carpet knife. He had a lockblade knife that was fed with razor blades that could be replaced when they wore out. I nodded my approval as I turned it over in my hand. “Find any blades to go with it?” He smiled and held out his other hand which contained a small plastic case of refills.”Sweet.” I said and handed his knife back to him. “Aww, you too!” I raised an eyebrow at him as he let out a laugh. Good to know he had found a sense of humor again. We would need every mental tool at our disposal to make it through what our lives had become.

****

Our march didn’t have much more to go. Lucky for me as I didn’t think I’d be able to do the marching. The copse of pines turned out to be a bit farther away than I had thought and I was still trying to determine whether or not the fact that it separated two farm fields was a good thing. As we got closer I saw that among the pines were some scrubby little deciduous trees mostly young boxwood  and elms. I wished I’d bought some Real Tree camo; I would be almost invisible here with it.

I chose a spot amongst the leafy trees that had clustered together and dropped my pack there. My back thanked me for it with another twinge of pain. I grabbed my scavenged burlap and begin to unroll it. I used my Ka-bar to cut the burlap into strips and after a bit of rummaging in my ruck I came up with a small sewing kit. I cut the burlap into a few long sections which I left intact and began sewing the smaller strips onto it. John watched me with something approaching fascination.

“Well,well, if it isn’t little Suzy Homemaker lost in the woods!” I laughed at his joke and continued sewing. “Well?” he looked at me as if expecting an answer to an unasked question. “Well what,John?” “What are you making, Ms Homemaker?” he chortled. I stared at him until the smile left his face. “The proper term would be a ‘field expedient ghillie suit’ ” I replied and added “Jackass.” He continued to look puzzled. Fuck him, I thought. It’s not my job to educate the whole damn world.

I kept working on the suit and test fitted it to see if it would cover my ruck when I was wearing it and how far down it would hang. Eventually I came up with something resembling a poncho that covered me almost to the knees. Satisfied with this I gathered up some of the local plant life and began adding it to the suit. When I was satisfied I laid back against my ruck and closed my eyes. “Uh, excuse me?” Well that was nice. I had closed my eyes for about ten whole seconds. “What, John?”  He wasn’t trying to hide his exasperation. I appreciated that since I reading facial and verbal cues wasn’t a huge strong suit for me. “What do you think you’re doing?” I sat forward and looked up at him. “Sleep, John. What I am trying to do is called ‘sleep’. You are on watch and I am going to lay my ass here and rest for several hours.” I tossed the burlap to him “While you are not busy patrolling the perimeter, try to make yourself a ghillie cape, or frilly ghillie dress. Whichever moves you.”

John threw the burlap back at me “Look, I’ve about had it with the damn gay jokes, okay? And what the hell do you mean you’re going to sleep? Shouldn’t we be moving? I mean I don’t know about you, but I…” That was as far as I let him get. I leapt to my feet, my revolver came out and landed barrel first against his forehead knocking him backwards a bit. “Not a democracy, Johnny. This is what I am doing. You don’t like it get gone, but don’t you open your mouth to utter one single word of complaint.” I looked at him to see if I was cutting through his line of bullshit to the part of him that did the thinking. I thumbed back the hammer on the revolver and took aim at him. “This is the last time I am going to have this conversation. Say anything other than an agreement or goodbye.” I walked forward and pressed the revolver to his forehead. For a moment I saw a glimmer in his eye that was telling him to grab the 9 millimeter and meet me and his death like a man. I wasn’t conscious of how much pressure I had on the trigger but we were reaching the point of no return. John just stood there looking bewildered. I dropped the revolver and decocked it.

John stood there rubbing his head. I apologized mentally to my grandfather who had always told me not to point a gun at something I wasn’t going to kill. Although in fairness to myself,I thought, I would have killed John. He relented and held up his hands in surrender. “Okay. Sorry, you’re in charge Mr Stalin” he thumbed away a trickle of blood from where I had bashed him with the gun’s barrel. “But if it’s not too much trouble, would you clue me into the plan?”

I dropped back onto my ruck and holstered my revolver. “I’m going to sleep for a few hours. Then I’m going to wake up and let you sleep. It’s called standing watch.” I made a the motion of a man walking with my fingers “you are going to keep an eye on things while I sleep. If anything looks wrong, you will wake me up and I will go kill it.” I pointed up at the sky “and when it gets dark, we will start moving so as not to make ourselves huge, and in your case flaming, floating,dancing targets to anyone with eyes”.

I closed my eyes and pulled the impromptu ghillie over my head. “And” I said as I kicked out my legs to relax “I’m in charge. I get to make the gay jokes. When you’re in charge you can pick something about me and make jokes about it.” I folded my arms over my chest and swatted at something flying near my face. “And by the way? You’re never going to be in charge.” He threw something at me and I chuckled. I was just able to reach my holster with my hands across my chest as they were, so I drew it out and held it in my hand as I faded off to sleep. As I did I thought I heard John say “We’ll see about that, fuckstick.”

Chapter 17 -Belt Fed Revolution

The sun had officially lightened the sky enough that it could be called morning.  I wasn’t sure how far we had walked as I was trying my best to keep us concealed which meant walking alongside the road down in the ditch that separated the state roads from surface roads and homes nearby. The going was slow, made slower by the fact that since it wasn’t the height of summer the state hadn’t been out to mow the grass on the roadside. Twice now I had either gotten my foot tangled in this thigh high grass or tripped over something hidden by its ferocious growth.

It was my ill luck that the Jeep had stopped where it did, a large flat expanse of mostly farmland with corn stubble remaining from last years harvest. I could see an overpass in the distance at what I reckoned had to be a mile and a half and just behind that I saw the green of some tall pines. I stopped in my walking as I spotted a tire I had been about to step in which would have led to yet another fun trip to the ground. I turned to look at John and pointed at the ground to warn him  before I stepped around the tire and kept moving.

My knee was already complaining and my back had joined the chorus, punctuating my gait with a sharp pain every other step. I kept my monocular on paracord lanyard hung loose around my left wrist. I was damned tired of getting ambushed. I worked out a rhythm of about every 20 steps turning back to make sure John was still with me and  every third time I did that I would raise the monocular to scout the area ahead of me while trying to make sure sunlight didn’t reflect off the little plastic lens and announce us to whomever might be watching.

The closer we got to the overpass, the more paranoid I became, sure that yet another ambush was about to be sprung. When we made it to within a few hundred feet I crouched down and waved John up to where I was. John wasn’t carrying as much weight as I was since he didn’t have much of his own gear to bring. He had my shotgun and all the spare buckshot I carried. As John reached my hide, I lifted my shirt and pulled out the little polymer 9 mike and gave it to him. Keeping my voice low I told him to use this before he used the shotgun, unless he had to hit several people at once.

John looked disdainfully at the little pistol and wiped the sweat off it before switching it to his dominant hand. I shrugged and asked “what do you want?” He kept the sneer on his face that spoke words he wasn’t uttering, until I shook my head and said “I’m sure this is not the worst thing another guy has ever put in your hand.” I turned and began moving away before he could respond.

It was strange. I’d gotten used to the no traffic thing, in fact I thanked the gods for it as other drivers tended to light up all my sociopathic buttons almost better than anything else could. What I had gotten used to was the lack of background noise. A lot of the sounds of mankind simply weren’t present anymore, at least not in sufficient volume to drown out everything else. I actually felt my ear move as I strained to pick up any noise that would betray the presence of other people, but I heard nothing.

****

I had checked the bridge for the last time–we were too close now to turn back–and I decided to go for it. I walked up to the overpass slipping out of the high tangling grasses and was instantly rewarded with a cool breeze and the shade provided by the concrete abutments. Ahead in the southbound lane I could see several cars pushed together to make a barricade. All the cars had been burned and a couple showed bullet holes. I saw nothing that indicated danger, but as I climbed over a buttress I could smell shit.

I moved around to the back of the cars and I saw boots laying there, the toes pointing east-west. I leaned my head out just enough that I could see jeans that would have left the boots looking like they were designed for an area prone to flooding reaching about halfway down the boots shaft. As I fully cleared the rear of the car I saw a kid, probably not yet 21 and thin as a rail. He’d been shot at least once in the eye and more across his upper torso. Ambushed or bandit I wondered to myself as I waved John forward.

When he got to the back of the car John was immediately overcome by the smell of shit and gasses escaping the boy’s body. To his credit he managed not to lose his lunch right there, but took several steps away and vomited into the ditch. When he finished I clapped him on the shoulder “Aw, come on, that can’t be the worst smell a guy…” John pulled himself upright and swiped the back of his hand across his mouth as he glared at me. “Save it for your girlfriend, fuckstick!” I laughed and handed him a bottle of water.

The kids blood had run down the roads crown. I followed the path it made with my eyes and spotted several more bodies there, two of which had been stripped naked. One of the remaining bodies was female and still clothed. I figured these people and maybe Mr Cowboy were the bandits and someone had got the drop on them, given the relative lack of destruction. I looked back to Mr Cowboy and saw he still had his sidearm. I blinked when I realized that the kid really was going for the cowboy look, wearing a gunbelt with ammo contained in loops around its girth.

I nudged Mr Cowboy over with the toe of my Cadillac and freed his sidearm from under him. I laughed mirthlessly as I looked at the weapon. A nickel-plated revolver, in .357. I turned the revolver over in my hand and saw the Ruger logo. I pulled the trigger to confirm my suspicions. Nothing happened. Single action revolver. I wondered if the kid had a hank of chewin’ tobaccy and some pemican on him as well.

I bent down and slid the rounds out of his belt, stowing them in my pocket. I emptied the revolver of its rounds, finding three unfired and I laid the revolver on the kids chest. I sat there on my haunches for a minute contemplating what to do next when I saw something flutter underneath the front of one of the cars.  The kid thought he was John Wayne for sure. I picked up a lightly singed cowboy hat from under the car and walked back to the kid covering his face with the hat. It wasn’t much of a burial for a cowboy, but it was the best that I could manage.

I took one of the salvaged rounds back out of my pocket and tucked it into Mr Cowboys shirt. I patted the bullet as it rested there near his heart and prayed that I would meet my end the same way.