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.