Monthly Archives: April 2012

Chapter 47 -Belt Fed Revolution

Luck was with us.The truck o’ hammers roared to life without even a hesitation.  John assured me he knew of a place nearby that had several Bobcat type machines that could be used to set up the range the way I had specified.

I was enjoying the silence during the ride which naturally, being called John, he had to ruin with attempts at small talk.

“What did you do?” he asked startling me out of my reverie.

“Do?”

“Yeah.” he smiled trying to be congenial. “Before all this. What did you do?”

“I digged holes.” I said and looked back out the window.

“You digged . . .”

I cut him off. There was no need for this conversation and besides I had other things on my mind.

“What was that place we passed on the way in? It looked like it had electricity.”

“Oh, that. It’s a library. After we took the town, a few of the people that agreed to live by God’s decree were allowed to remain and keep certain services running.” the emphasis he put on decree told me that he was a true believer.

“Awesome.” I said this mostly in response to my internal monologue about the fanaticism in which I found myself enveloped. “So let’s stop there. Maybe some books I can use to help build Michael’s army.” I had no doubt that if I’d suggested we stop just so I could nose around an immediate denial would have resulted followed by John either eventually caving in or his untimely death. I was good either way.

John nodded enthusiastically “That’d be a great idea! And while we’re there I can send an email to my family in Florida . . . I’ve been worried about them. I pray every night that God keeps them safe or if he can’t, that he’ll take them to heaven swiftly.”

“Sometimes all you can do is pray.” I muttered trying not to show my excitement that there was internet service here.

“Amen, brother. Amen.” John reached over and patted my hand.

I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t know their jargon well enough to continue this line of discussion so I hoped that he was satisfied. I watched the streets of the town and saw people going about what had become their daily business. As far as I could see Michael had begun his ethnic cleansing locally. No one here had so much as a tan.

We reached the library after a few minutes more silence had passed. I tried not to tip my hand by bolting out of the truck and rushing to a computer in the library.

In front of the squat building several vendors were present  selling various items  off small folding tables. I glanced at the assemblage of junk uninterested but stopped when when a man reached into a squirming cardboard box and pulled out a puppy.

The man was thin and had clearly held a job that involved him being office bound, probably behind a computer screen most of his day. I looked in the box and saw there was one more puppy inside. Both dogs looked to be German Shepherds. The man jabbered something at me and I looked at his face for the first time noticing his jaw was greatly swollen with a lump the size of a baseball  just under the jawline extending down to his neck. He held the puppy out to me and smiled the hole in his mouth showing several recently broken teeth.

I couldn’t understand what was being said and I had more important things on my mind so I waved him off giving the puppy’s head a scratch as I walked away.

****

Inside the library was a bored looking woman with a still slightly plump figure. I had seen only men walking around in the town and assumed that Michael had either killed, driven off or just taken the town’s women back to his camp. The fact that this woman was essentially wandering around loose and appeared no worse for wear told me something was clearly amiss.

John smiled at her and turned to me “You’re in for a real treat now. This is Miss Janie, Michael’s sister.”

I stuck out my hand without hesitation and smiled. “Pleased to meet you.”

She shook my hand and smiled politely back. Miss Janie was a woman of no words. I waited for her to speak. She only looked at me. I broke eye contact and looked at John hoping he had something to add but he was stood there smiling mindlessly at her.

“May I use one of the computers?” I asked feeling a weird creeping sensation up and down my spine.

Miss Janie smiled and pointed to a set of carrels with dark computer monitors in them. I left John to stand and look at Miss Creepy and sat down at the computer.  I was surprised that the internet was still working; I felt starved for news.

I checked the national news providers and websites, starting with CNN and Yahoo. The news there was clearly regurgitated government spew, but there was still some worth to it. The Netherlands and Germany had left the European Union and shortly thereafter, Germany had subsumed several former nations under one umbrella forging the Independent Teutonic Union. The most amusing note in that story was that Germany had ‘invited’ France and after what was reported as a staunch refusal France quietly joined the ITU in the middle of the night after German peacekeeping forces had volunteered to help stabilize the region. As American military personnel had been forced for one reason or another to return to the States, the new Teutonic state gobbled up equipment stored at bases across Germany. The equipment  had been labeled ‘irretrievable’ by the powers-that-be giving Germany a powerful and well equipped new army.

Greece, Spain and Portugal were smoking craters by most reports, their populations having run rampant when it was clear the government could no longer provide services or even food for them. Italy held out the longest of all, but was eventually overrun when the conflicts of multiple factions spilled out beyond their unofficial borders turning the whole of the country into a war zone.

The result of all this turmoil lead to the German ITU stepping forward as a leader in Europe and putting together a new territory which now stretched from Hungary to a few miles inside what used to be Spain. This was accomplished with the aid of their Scandinavian cousins, but with the understanding that the newly formed Imperial Norse Coalition, made up of Norway, Sweden, Denmark,Finland and a few Finno-Ugric border states–would retain their independence.

In most of the former European Union a wholesale slaughter was declared against Muslims and others whose only crime was having an Arabic sounding name.

The governments of several countries had apparently even offered a reward for those of Arabic descent to be turned over to authorities for immediate deportation. Most  vessels requisitioned for the task of transporting people back to the Middle East either sunk or disappeared shortly after launch.

England was no help to anybody, being embroiled in a new civil war on three fronts. Between the resident Muslims, the Scottish and the Irish, the whole of  the communications  grid in Great Britain had gone dark. Despite calls for peace from several countries including the U.S., Blighty was undergoing a bloodbath not seen since my Ancestors stepped foot on that ground.

There were, strangely, no reports of what was happening in Michigan to be found anywhere in the mainstream media. I crossed my fingers and typed in westernrifleshooters.wordpress.com and hoped that the site was still up. The site hadn’t been updated in a couple of weeks, but contained a few reports on similar pacification efforts the government had enacted in California, Texas, and Idaho, but there was little news available other than that.

I typed in battlefieldusa.wordpress.com and hit enter. The site had news that was a couple of days old, but provided a little more information. Californian’s had fought off a takeover attempt by the resident Mexican population and had pushed most of them across the border into Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. Word had it that a new group of Mexican fighters had amassed near Edinburg, Texas and were getting ready to push into the region.  Fed forces had showed up in Texas armed for bear, bringing B-52’s with thermobaric fuel-air bombs, typically referred to as Daisy Cutters determined that there would be no second Alamo. California had been particularly troublesome as the citizens of that state had managed not only to defeat the Mexican uprising, but also pushed out the Feds shortly thereafter.

No information was available on what had happened in Idaho, but rumor had it  the situation was similar to what was happening here in Michigan. All reports were showing that the government was stretched thin trying to put down uprisings that kept sparking like wildfires.

I finished up by trying to look at a few other sites but they had either been shutdown or not updated in months. I sat back satisfied with what I’d learned. I wanted to check on how things had been going between in the fight at the Federal Reserve, but I got a tap on the shoulder from Miss Creepy. She pointed to her wrist and then to a sign next to the monitor that indicated computer use was limited to 15 minutes per patron.

John had been busy not chatting with Miss Creepy, so he had a few minutes left  on his terminal. I told him I would be waiting outside when he was through, but I don’t think he heard me.

****

I stood outside and stretched since my knee had a habit of getting stiff if I sat for more than a few minutes. The puppy hawker had a customer at his little table and the men were arguing over one of the puppies. I wandered over curious to see if the other man could actually understand the guy with the broken jaw.

I stood there for a couple of minutes, getting a smile from Mr Brokejaw and being mostly ignored by the other guy. They were haggling over the price of the puppy and going back and forth over items the other man– his distinguishing characteristic being mostly dirt and a hair style I’d heard referred to as a ‘Jew-fro’– had to trade.

I decided to get back in the truck and leave the men to their dickering when I heard Mr Afro making his final pitch.

“That dog barely weigh ten pound man! I ain’t givin’ you alla dis when it gon’ cost least dis much just to fatten him up!”

Mr Brokejaw tried to redirect the negiotiations by holding the dog up by the scruff of his neck, pushing it out toward me, smiling and saying “Tayth guh!”

I stopped and turned toward him. “Are you trying to sell me this dog? To eat?”

Mr Brokejaw smiled and nodded thrusting the puppy at me again. I looked at Mr Afro careful not to stand too close lest his cloud of dirt jump on to me.

I pointed at Mr Afro “You are trying to buy this dog, for what? A meal?”

“HEY! Fuck you man! Tryin’ get up in my bidness! Go mind ya own fuckin’ bidness, mothafucker!”

That was enough for me. I smiled at Messieurs Afro and Brokejaw. It had been a long while since I’d let my predator out to play. I drew the Nagant revolver and shot two rounds into Mr Brokejaw’s face dropping him with a slightly surprised look still on his mangled features.

Mr Afro froze for a second also looking surprised. In my left hand was my new Ka-Bar. I turned swiftly and jammed the blade into Mr Afro’s throat, twisting the handle up toward the top of his head. Mr Afro’s torso was drenched in a gush of blood as I continued to press the tip of the blade up into his soft palate.

Since he was taking his time to die regardless of the help I was giving him, I knelt down beside Mr Afro. “You. Don’t. Eat.  Dogs.”

I figured it was only fair to explain his transgression to him though he would never have a chance to repeat it. I prised loose the Ka-Bar and watched Mr Afro gurgle and thrash a bit as he finally bled out.

I saw that John was a few steps behind me and lowered my gun. He stood staring at what I’d done and then nodded.

“Trash.” Was all he said as he walked past them to the truck.

I went over to the box where the puppies were and held out the blade to the puppies and let them have a taste. It was only fair since they were going to be a meal for Mr Afro or some other depraved monster.

I wiped the blade off on my pants after the puppies had cleaned it of blood. The little balls of fur sat in the box looking at me expectantly. I nodded at their curious looks and picked them up out of the box and started toward the truck. As soon as my back was turned the other vendors who had stood watching descended upon the corpses stripping them of everything possible they could sell. I glanced back for a second watching as a scuffle broke out between two vendors,  each of whom were in possession of one of the late Mr Afro’s shoes.

“Whoa,whoa,whoa! You can’t bring those things in here!” John was holding the passenger’s door closed with one hand.

“What things?” I asked slightly perplexed.

“The DOGS! What do you think?!” he said as he slammed a hand down on the door locks.

“What? I can’t bring Sako and Tikka in the truck? They’re harmless.”

John shook his head. He was resolute. “You are not taking those things with you. I don’t care! You’ve done too much already!!! How am I going to explain those things to Michael?!?” he cried.

I looked down at my dogs and then smiled up at John. “If you refer to Sako and Tikka as those things one more time, I will put you out with the rest of the ‘trash’. Now, open the fucking door and take me back to the camp or you can go back alone.” I let the unspoken threat hang in the air between us.

John sat there unmoving. I shrugged and walked away carrying Sako and Tikka in the crook of my arm trying to keep them in check as they wiggled and strained wanting to be put down.

I had gone about a quarter mile when I heard the box truck rumbling up the road behind me. I stopped and stood off to the side of the street as John pulled up next to me.  He stopped the truck and leaned over to open the door. I climbed in and sat the puppies on the seat between us, enjoying the ride back  in silence.

****

It had gotten to be late in the afternoon and we still were not yet back to camp. Sako, Tikka and I had become fast enamored of each other and I spent a good deal of my time playing with them during the ride.

Sako was busy chewing on my finger when a thought occurred to me. “What’s the deal with Miss ” I almost said Creepy but caught myself “Janie?”

John lit up like a Vegas street. “Oh, it’s something of a miracle! When the devils minions rose up the first time years ago, she was just a young woman. Miss Janie had a vision. Michael, Miss Janie and their Mother were leaving church one night–now Michael was still a boy, barely five years old– a group of godless niggers jumped them! Right at the church! Miss Janie she tried to talk sense to them.” John was practically vibrating in his seat as he recounted the tale “Well one of them heathen blacks threw something and it hit Miss Janie, but she didn’t go down!, No, sir! She stood up straight and tall, blood just drenching her all over!” I noted that John’s voice had begun to rise in pitch. Sako and Tikka noticed it too and began emitting a stressed whine. “Miss Janie she was overcome with the spirit of the LORD! I tell you, she started speaking in tongues and the spirit came over her so strong that she gouged out that heathen asshole’s eyes!” His voice reached a crescendo at the last word he spoke.

When he picked up the tale again his voice was hushed as if in awe “The spirit was so powerful, Miss Janie bit off her tongue. Them niggers killed Michael and Miss Janie’s mom.  Raped Miss Janie too, all except the one she blinded.” He shook his head. “Police showed up of course, useless as ever in time to clean up” he laughed harshly “might as well be janitors with guns, much use as they were.  Those boys didn’t do hardly no time in prison of course.”  John’s voice was picking up steam again “When Satan’s minions rose up this time, Michael came to lead us and we went right to those niggers houses and strung them right the fuck up!” John bounced in his seat and clapped his hands joyously “How we celebrated that night.” He gave me a conspiratorial smile “Miss Janie, she kissed me on the cheek. After.”

I considered all this but said nothing, trying to digest the information and all the ramifications it held. By the time John had finished his story we were within sight of the camp. The work crew had not yet shown with equipment needed to prepare the rifle range.

Not surprisingly to me, the other group that had disappeared with the Mosin parts had not returned either. Maybe things here weren’t quite as neatly sewed up as had originally appeared.

It turned out to be largely irrelevant. Michael had been called away by some urgent matter and had left camp with his personal god-squad shortly after we had gone to town.

I told John to have someone unload the truck we’d brought back and where ever the stuff ended up we’d make that the tool shed. I grabbed one of the hammers and stuffed it into a belt loop, then gathered up my puppies and headed off to my quarters.

I was intercepted by Donnelly before I took more than a few steps.

“Sir? You’re supposed to be instructing the men?”

“That is a question, Donnelly.”

He cleared his throat “Sorry, sir, I’m just trying to remind you?”

I stopped and turned toward Donnelly. “The gear we were sent to retrieve has not yet arrived, thus no instruction will be taking place today. Secondly, next time you ask me a question that is meant to be a statement, I am going to cut off your fingers and feed them to my dogs.”

Donnelly blinked and was silent.

I turned and began walking back to my quarters once more. I had just managed to get the door open and was bending to set Sako and Tikka on the ground when I saw a shape move in the shadows of my room.

The puppies had no problem with this and rushed the figure while I stood with the door partially open trying to decide between slamming the door shut or just shooting at the movement.

My dilemma was resolved in a heartbeat when a tremulous female voice came from the shadowy figure. “W-w-welcome home.”

I didn’t recognize the voice, but if it was a woman from this camp she probably didn’t pose much of a threat to me. My choice in words was eloquent as always as I dealt with the unwelcome surprise “Cocksucker!”

The woman blinked and retreated at the sound of my voice. I stepped fully into the room and pulled shut the door behind me. Sako and Tikka liked her right from the beginning which was good.

I smiled at her and held my hands up trying to appear as non threatening as possible. “Excuse my language. I wasn’t expecting anyone. . .”

I moved over to my cot and sat down. Today had been oddly exhausting.

She nodded and kept her eyes glued to the floor. “I’m Paige. I’m your . . . your woman.” she said and began to move toward the cot, slowly unbuttoning her blouse.

“Easy there, keep your shirt on!” I said holding up a hand to stop her. She didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. Women never did. “Look, I get the way this camp works, okay? But you are not my woman.

She looked uncertainly at me. I looked at the bandage that covered her partially exposed breast and felt sick at the idea of anyone trying to bed this woman right now, especially me.

“Did Sarah talk to you? Talk about me?”

Paige shrugged slightly. “She said you could be trusted.That-that you were different somehow. . . ”

I laughed a rare genuine laugh. “Yep. You could say that.” I held out my hand and Tikka came over to sniff it. I patted the bed and he stood on his hind legs to check it out. Satisfied, Tikka did his best to Jump on the bed but wasn’t quite large enough. I helped him out a little and within moments we were joined by Sako.

I relaxed on the cot and played with the dogs.  Paige moved to the corner farthest from me.

“I don’t want you like that Paige.” I said as a yawn fought to escape me.

The look on her face would have been comical at any other time.

“Let me rephrase. I’m not interested in being your master, having you serve my ‘needs’ because it’s your duty.  Understand?”

Paige nodded but she clearly wasn’t buying it.

I shooed Sako and Tikka off the bed and stretched out. “We are where we are, Paige.  For now you’ll have to keep up appearances, do what any other woman would do around here–clean up, take care of the house, those kind of things–but the only thing I’m going to ask you to do is stay awake.” I untied my boots and Paige hurried over to pull them off me.

I held up my hand again to stop her. “Just keep watch while I’m asleep. Anyone looks like they’re heading this way, you wake me up before they get here. Okay? That’s all I need from you.”

Paige looked unsure, but nodded an stepped away from me moving to stand by the window to keep watch as I asked.

“Oh yeah. . . and watch the dogs while I’m away. Don’t let them tear the place apart and try to make sure they get fed.” I told her as I turned over toward the wall. I felt something poking me in my side. “Here. This is for you.” I said as pushed myself up and removed the hammer from my belt. ” Keep it hidden, don’t use it unless you have absolutely have to. Appreciate it if you don’t beat me with it in my sleep.” As I was falling asleep I thought I heard a small laugh from her, but it might have been just a part of a dream.

Chapter 46 -Belt Fed Revolution

Michael turned away from me apparently satisfied that I was falling into line.  He walked back toward the crate of rifles and finished pulling off the blanket, to reveal a few large cardboard boxes sat next to the weapons crates.

“At least one of us thought ahead” he boasted as he turned the box around so the label could be read. “I know these are the best scopes you can get. When you get back you can have the men attach them to their weapons.”

I smiled appreciatively and opened the box pulling out one of the Leupold scopes. I’d never used a Leupold myself, but I was aware that they were considered one of the best commercially available scopes you could buy. I made the appropriate ‘ooh and ahh’ noises as I examined the scope, but didn’t bother to tell Michael that unless he had a gunsmith handy these lovely pieces of equipment were about as useful teats on a male hog.

Before we left to retrieve the rest of the Mosin parts I asked to be given a tour of the range where we’d be doing our shooting. Michael gave us permission to tour the facilities and shortly a golf cart appeared to take us out to what was just a large empty field.

I raised a hand to shield my eyes and looked off into the distance. I saw nothing but undeveloped land.

“I hate to be a problem here, but I’m not going to be able to properly train riflemen here.” I turned to Michael to head off his anger before it got brewing “if you want men who can shoot like Marines we’ll need to change . . . everything.”

I explained to Michael how a Marine rifle range was set up and the equipment we’d need to make this happen. The mood swings he was experiencing here were probably going to lead to one tuckered out little dictator, but to his credit he listened to me and told John to take a crew with us into town to get the tools and supplies needed.

What I needed more than anything was to get away from Michael and his insanity. I asked John to assemble the men we’d need to get the supplies and then asked Michael for his permission to walk alone back to the house.

Michael was having none of it, instead assigning a guard and my aide-de-camp Donnelly to shadow me as I made the walk back. Donnelly was unarmed as far as I could see and the guard with me wasn’t particularly attentive. I considered trying to take his rifle and make my escape now that we were far enough away from Michael’s guards. I grunted and shook my head a bit. I couldn’t just flee. I had given my word.

Even if it killed me, I was going to help the women escape this place and Gods willing do unspeakable things to Michael until even death wouldn’t be enough of a release.

****

When we finally entered the town I was surprised to note that there were still people there. Even more of a surprise was the fact that some of the businesses were open and at least one of them appeared to have electricity.

Inside the gun store was pretty much as John had described, all of the guns had been taken and most of the ammunition as well. I noticed that the few boxes of ammunition remaining were mostly old mil-surp stuff .303 Enfield and the like as well as some unusual calibers like .22-250, .204 Ruger and several dozen boxes of 16 gauge shotgun rounds. Michael’s people had secured the store against further incursions by bolting steel shutters over the broken windows and leaving a patrol to keep an eye on the place.

One cabinet that had not been opened caught my eye. I grabbed a flashlight from one of the work crew and shined it over the display and shook my head. The Gods. They can be cruel and capricious. Or perhaps Michael’s god -squad showed up before the looters had a chance to crack this particular nut. On the whole I’d still bet on the cruel and capricious Gods and their sense of humor.

I looked around until I found the right tool. A Ka-Bar. It hadn’t really hit me that I no longer had my Sweet Louise until I held this new unmarred version in my hand. I jammed the blade of the Ka-Bar into the display case and worked it around until I managed to crack the wood around the lock. I smiled as I lifted out a nearly pristine Nagant  M1895 revolver . Even better was the fact that it had been retrofitted with a cylinder allowing it to fire modern ammunition.

I went into the back room and found a couple of cases of .32 Magnum rounds and loaded the revolver, smiling secretly inside. John however was not about to let me walk away with the gun.

“Michael gave me specific orders. You are not to use or have a weapon except during training! I will not  allow you to take that gun.” John threatened.

I did the only thing I could think of. I placed the barrel of the gun against his eye and put my finger on the trigger.

“Your choice, Johnny boy. I can take this revolver and you can tell Michael and get marked for your troubles or I can mark you right here and now and free you from that that ever happening again.” I said waiting for him to make his choice. I gave him a little time to consider before speaking again. “Or option three, I take the revolver, you don’t say anything and continue to suck down oxygen.”

John swallowed hard and nodded “Okay, take it!Just keep it hidden! And please don’t take the knife . . .at least do that, okay?!”

I smiled at him. “This knife is not a weapon, it’s a tool.” I sheathed the knife “And yeah it’s going with me. Sorry.” I kept the revolver pointed at his face until he recognized this was non-negotiable.

When, after a while, he offered no further protest I lowered the gun, wedging it into my belt and lowering my BDU shirt over it. I’d figure out a way to carry it hidden later. “Oh, and John? let’s keep all this between us all right? If we get back to camp and anything goes awry. . . well let’s just keep it between us. Health reasons. Right?”

John nodded and let out a deep breath. “Fine. As far as I know you grabbed that while I was looking for the rifle kits. Deal?”

I nodded “You have my word on it.”

****

The work crew loaded up everything left in the store and then disappeared, leaving us to go and find another box truck.  We were going to hit a hardware store and afterward we needed to find a place that had heavy equipment to get the range set up properly. I was hoping none of Michael’s people had any experience with heavy equipment so my stalling tactic could be pushed even further as a reason his people weren’t getting trained.

We found a delivery company across town with several large box trucks and a couple of flat beds. We checked out the trucks and discovered that most of them were loaded with cargo of some sort or another, mostly useless things like telephones and office equipment. One truck, mostly empty had one pallet up near the cab. I climbed in to see what the box contained. A smile struck me briefly as I removed the plastic and prised open one box with my Ka-Bar.

I knew I could sell this as necessary, assuming the truck started. John climbed in behind me to see what I’d found. “Tools. This will save us a little time at the hardware store anyway.” I held out a titanium hammer with a skeletonized frame and a wicked looking head.

John nodded disinterestedly and tossed the hammer back in the box. “Cool. Let’s see if we can get the truck started; I’m ready to get this done and get back.”

I looked at him hoping my predator wasn’t poking out. “Sure thing. Let’s be about it!” I smiled and we climbed out of the truck. Cruel and capricious the Gods may be, but sometimes, just sometimes they tossed you a softball.

Chapter 45 -Belt Fed Revolution

I spent a pretty restless night in my quarters with nothing to do and too many thoughts running through my mind to permit sleep to come. I did drift off here and there, but would wake at every strange noise.

Whatever you could say about Michael and his people, they were certainly dedicated. I kept a watch on my watchers and other than seeing them be relieved by other guards there really wasn’t much slack in their routine.

I finally settled in at some point during the night sitting on my bed with my back against the wall just as the sky was beginning to lighten. I must have drifted off again because I found myself unsettled and confused by my surroundings when I heard my door opening.  I have always been lucky in that when I wake up I am instantly awake with no noticeable lag in my cognitive faculties; the door hadn’t opened far when I jumped up off the bed and planted my foot against the bottom, placing all my weight against the door.

Whoever was trying to enter my quarters yelped in pain as I forced the door closed on his foot.

“Ever heard of knocking?” I asked, lowering my center of gravity and leaning as fully into the door as I could. My uninvited guest pushed on the door  trying to withdraw his trapped foot while calling me some unseemly names. He managed to do all this without swearing which was impressive.

“Pete’s sake, SORRY!” He finally relented and stopped pushing against me “I was sent to wake you.We don’t knock here or lock doors. Michael says it’s against the rules of fellowship!”

I satisfied myself with a peek around the door frame and saw that the guard wasn’t holding a rifle so I eased the pressure off and let him withdraw his foot. “You might want to mention these ‘rules’ to new people. May save someone a broken foot . . . or worse.”

Part of me still wanted to cup-check the guy for opening my door without knocking. I stood aside and let him enter “Is there coffee?”

The guard shook his head and smiled apologetically. “No coffee here. Not allowed, sorry.” The guard, who according to his name tape was called Donnelly handed me a small ditty bag full of hygiene products and a towel “takes some getting used to, I know. I used to drink a pot of coffee with my morning coffee, y’know?” he laughed.

“Let me guess, gruel for breakfast? Bread and water for lunch?” I muttered as I pulled on a fresh pair of socks.

“No sir, not quite. Although I think this morning’s breakfast is oatmeal . . .”

I stared at Donnelly until he quit talking. “Where’s the head in this place?”

“Head? The . . . ?”

“Where is the bathroom? Look, if you’re going to be barging into my room it’s only fair that you make an attempt to know things so that when I ask questions answers are on deck, yes? Now, where is the head?”

“Uh, yeah. Yes, sir, follow me.” Donnelly was flustered but at least he knew the layout of the camp. We eventually made our way to the  head following a winding path through several tents which I would not remember to arrive at a fairly well equipped outdoor shower setup complete with a several composting type toilets.

Donnelly came to a version of parade rest as I pulled the curtain closed to handle my ablutions. I pulled the curtain aside slightly and saw Donnelly standing there staring disinterestedly out at the camp. “Uh, you’re dismissed?”

Donnelly turned his head slightly toward the sound of my voice “No sir. I’m to escort you and be and your aide-de-camp. You need something I’m your man.”

I grunted angrily “Fine. Go get me a cup of coffee. Do not return without one or you are fired.”

****

The Gods ruled in my favor. As I stepped out of the little shower area Donnelly  held out a cup of coffee, a wisp of steam rolling out of the mug. It was instant coffee but I drank it down with the same relish I would have a cup of Starbuck’s finest.

I had to consider what I was going to teach my students. I’m a damn good shot, but how do you explain a lifetime of doing to someone? I didn’t even know what kind of weapons we’d be using. I handed the empty cup back to Donnelly and strode off as though I knew where I was going. Donnelly sounded rather perturbed as he caught up to me.

“Uh, Sir? Um, the field is this way, but we–well, you– have to meet with Michael first?” Donnelly said trying to get me to break stride.

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Well, uh, I’m–I guess, I . . . ” he stammered

“What did I say, Donnelly? You must know things when I ask, otherwise one of us is going to look pretty dumb, when he’s standing alone and I have wandered off to find another cup of coffee. Now, are you asking me or telling me?”

“I’m, uh. . .  I’m informing you, sir. Michael told me to bring you over to him before you got started.” Donnelly stepped around to place himself in front of me. “Please, sir?” Donnelly held out an arm to redirect me toward my meeting.

I relented and let Donnelly lead me away.  As we walked I began to notice how the camp was laid out . The land appeared mostly flat but formed something of a natural bowl shape with the outer edge of the bowl being a little over a foot higher than the main concentration of buildings.  The living quarters were arranged close together yet a good distance away from Michael’s house, making me wonder if that was intentional. There weren’t any guard towers, but given the shape of the land high towers weren’t necessary.

There were a lot of things that could have been improved here in terms of security, but if the guards were even partially attentive getting out would be impossible, which left me with one option. I was going to have to bring someone in.

Michael was busy discussing some logistical matter with a man I’d not seen before but he stopped long enough to wave me to a seat.

“Stephen, I want you to see what you’ll be working with” he waved at a large square shape covered by a moving blanket “and discuss some further training with you. Tell me, brother, do you think you can train your fellows? Do you think you can make these men into an army?”

I was caught off guard by this. He may as well have asked me if I could run a successful space program. I needed to stall him on this. No way was I going to train an army for this light bulb and anyone in their right mind–by my estimation anyway– would be trying to train a guerrilla  force, not a conventional army. I didn’t intend to share that little nugget with him either.

The storm clouds gathering behind his eyes told me that hesitation was not the expected answer so I tap danced around the mine field a little to appease him. “It’s just kind of a lot to consider. I mean, do you have anyone else with military experience or am I supposed to do this on my own? I can handle things like PT and drill and the like, but I need a whole support structure . . .”

I let him to chew on that a little. My refusal to immediately give him a yes had forced an uncomfortable pause into the discussion. I hadn’t forgotten his threat to mark me either. If he tried though, he was likely to find out that I presented a much different challenge than a terrified woman who hadn’t even attempted to fight back.

Michael suddenly smiled, his little shark’s teeth gleaming dully in the early morning light. “That is how I know God has sent you to lead my Army, brother! He never just gives us what we need, he gives us a challenge, makes us  work for what we need!” Michael grabbed our hands attempting to pull me and the still unknown man to the floor “let us pray! Let us give our thanks to God!”

I resisted. It was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake but I could not do it. I covered as best I could by clutching my knee and grunting a little.

“Sorry, about that. If I get down, I may not be able to get back up again.” I let out a weak chuckle, but the look in his eyes let me know that I’d crossed a line.

Michael smiled slightly “Of course. That was thoughtless of me to forget your injury.” He stood and brushed off the knees of his pants. “No matter. Come see what I have for you!” The change in his voice wasn’t fooling me, he was pissed. Fortunately for me none of his guards were around so he could put me in my place.

Michael proceeded to the boxes and began to pull the moving blanket off. I saw one corner and immediately knew what awaited me and the torture that awaited those I was responsible for training.  The faded green wooden crates were so familiar to me I had a psychic flash of exactly what the rifles would look like down to the thick coat of cosmoline that would undoubtedly cover them.

I opened the crate and was greeted by the bane of the modern rifleman, the Mosin Nagant 91/30.  I nodded appreciatively and withdrew one of the rifles and worked the bolt. The action was smooth even with the peanut butter thick coat of cosmoline. I pulled the trigger and slid the bolt all the way out. The protective grease on this shipment had been forced into the barrels. I let out a heavy sigh.

“Well, this is good in a way. The first thing I’ll be teaching is rifle maintenance.” I looked inside to the bottom of the crate “Where’s the rest of it?”

Michael looked confused for a brief second “Oh, don’t you worry, brother. We’ll have ammunition out at the range for you.”

“Yeah, that’s great obviously. But I mean where’s the rest of the kit? The sling and bayonet?”

His face was totally crestfallen “The. . . bayonet?”

I nodded “These come with a whole kit usually. I mean we can do without most of it, but the bayonet and sling are almost as important as the ammunition.” I stood there smiling blandly at him waiting for him to lose it. The great thing about the M91/30 was that even without ammunition or a bayonet it made one Hel of a club. I stopped myself smiling as I envisioned the steel butt plate crushing Michael’s skull after I’d bashed him five or one hundred times for good measure.

The locus of Michael’s anger shifted. “John?! Where are the things I need for my rifles?!”

John. I shook my head. It always had to be some fuck up called John.

John backed water both verbally and physically, raising his hands to ward off being marked.  “This was all there was when I paid for them! I–I I’ll go back, right now and look? Most of the guns are gone but almost everything else was untouched after the townsfolk broke in!!!”

I decided to step in. It’s not that I felt any special attachment to people called John, but I really didn’t want to see this sadistic circus act get rolling.

“I can go with him. The Mosin’s bayonet sort of looks like a screwdriver. I doubt most people would realize it was a weapon.” I offered waiting to see if Michael was capable of backing down twice in one day.

Michael reached up swiftly grabbing John’s crotch and squeezing until he dropped to his knees. “You will take our brother and get everything left in this store. When you are done, report back to me immediately and we can discuss your inability to conduct a simple task.”

John’s face was a deep shade of red and a high keening noise was beginning to escape his pursed lips yet he managed to say “Yes, Michael!” before he was released, folding up in a fetal position with his hands between his legs.

Michael spun toward me so fast I almost raised the rifle  to deliver a butt-stroke to his head. “You will lead them. You will make me an army. You will do this or I will put the mark of Cain on you so all will know you for what you are!”

I wasn’t looking to have my beautiful self marked in any capacity. Michael was making it clear now that he had been pushed as far as he would allow for one day and I honestly wasn’t prepared to argue without having several rounds of 7.62x54r loaded in this rifle for the guards that would try to enforce his edicts.

I raised my hands to try and calm him. I leaned over and helped John to his feet and led him away from Michael’s reach and put myself between the two of them.

“Of course I’ll do as you ask. May we go and get the kits to complete the rifles?”

Michael instantly demurred, his tone and expression changed, looking as if I had hurt his feelings. “Certainly, brother! I can’t expect you to make the omelet if I don’t give you eggs, now can I? Go forth now, gather what is needful.” He smiled broadly “soon you shall bring us glory for his name!”

Chapter 44 -Belt Fed Revolution

Sarah and another woman carted Michael’s victim away and dinner was thankfully cut short after another prayer ritual was performed. This time Michael asked his God to guide him and give him strength. I seconded the last part. He was going to need all the strength he could get if I had anything to say about. After all he was small and I didn’t want him to die too soon.

Before I could escape back to my quarters, Michael waved me over to him. I counted the number of men surrounding the little psychopath and determined that I could take out maybe two of them before I was subdued or outright killed. My plans were forming up to be a little more specific than that so I shelved the plan for now.

“Brother Stephen, I want you to begin your training tomorrow. I need you to teach my men how to shoot straight so we can put down the heathen and their government masters once and for all.” Michael started walking away from me and I thought we were done until one of his protection detail gave me a gentle shove in the back of the head with the barrel of his rifle. I covered the ground Michael had walked with a step and a half catching him in mid-lecture ” . . . to shoot as if you have been born to it is indeed a gift from our Lord. And that’s what I need you to do. Teach your brothers to shoot like they’ve been doing it all their lives.”

“All right, Michael. I should be able to do that.”  Sure and next I’ll teach them the Jesus-trick of water walking, but I didn’t say that aloud.

Michael smiled and waved me close as he stopped walking. “One more thing, brother…if you ever interrupt me again when I’m disciplining a woman I will mark you and have you cast out as if you were one of them.” 

I stiffened slightly and drew myself up to my full height. I did the math in my head again. If I took the guard immediately to my left and used him as a shield I might be able to kill all of the protection detail and drag Michael off before more guards could respond.

I was pretty sure this would work, but I couldn’t just leave people here with this sick fuck. It was that thought that stopped me. Since when did I give a shit about something that was so clearly not my problem? Maybe not taking my meds had turned me normal. I shuddered at the thought.

I smiled at Michael, not caring if my internal predator showed through or not. “You got it, boss.” and I turned toward my quarters not waiting to see if I had been dismissed or not.

****

I was a little surprised to find when I got back to my quarters that no one was waiting for me. I figured there would be at least a little ‘welcoming committee’ to show me the error of my ways, but if I was going to train them I’d need one functioning eye and finger to do it so maybe they’d just wait until I was through.

I still didn’t have a weapon and as far as I was concerned I couldn’t get any deeper into enemy territory which meant I probably wasn’t going to do much sleeping.

I was saved from needing to pace or do push ups to keep myself distracted by a knock on the door.  I thought if this was the welcoming committee they were being uncharacteristically polite.

I was surprised to find Sarah waiting, medical supplies in hand. “I’ve come to check on you.” She pushed her way into my quarters surreptitiously poking the bandage covering my side making me groan and wince slightly. She looked at one of my guards who tried to make his way in as well. “Oh! Are you going to help me? I could use a hand swabbing out the pus in the wound crater . . . if you can handle the smell.” she smiled brightly at the guard.

I thought the guard was literally going to vomit when she mentioned the smell and started putting on a pair of gloves.  Sarah offered him a pair only to have him back quickly out of the room with a muttered “we’ll be right outside if you need a hand.”

Sarah chuckled and shook her head. “What a pussy.”

After extracting a few necessary things from her bag she had me lay down so she could check on my wound. “I wanted to thank you for what you did. I also want to tell you what an idiot you are, but mostly I want to thank you. There’s no telling what he’d have done if you hadn’t stepped in when you did.”

“Yeah. You want to explain exactly what the fuck this” I gestured to indicate everything  “is all about?!? Why, when that little monster treats women like he does, have you stayed? Why hasn’t someone driven a shrimp fork into his eye? No pun intended!”

Sarah shushed me and poured something cold into the gunshot wound making me gasp. “Keep your voice down.” she said, her tone of voice roughly the same as if she’d asked me to pass the salt. “Michael treats me well because there are no doctors here and he needs treatment.” her eyes darted to the door “I stay because of what you saw tonight. I can’t let him do that to people.” She shook her head and sighed heavily. I thought I saw her eyes moistening. “I can’t let that happen and not do something!” She took a cloth from her kit and dabbed at her eyes. “Anyway, he wasn’t like that right away or we wouldn’t have stayed. It’s only been the past couple of months, since they took the town that he’s turned into a monster.”

“Yeah, about that. What do you mean they ‘took the town?’ ”

“After Preston and his son joined up with Michael, he thought he had enough people–men–to force the sheriff out. The local police had been dissolved months before that and the sheriff’s department was stretched thin. It wasn’t so much a negotiation as it was a firefight; the sheriff lost.” Her eyes darted once more to the door “I can’t stay much longer without causing someone to ask questions. . . look, I wouldn’t ask this of you if I had another choice, but I don’t think I can stay here much longer even with my skills.” Sarah was strong. Stronger probably than most men would have been in her situation. She never really cried, but even I could tell what this was doing to her. “I can’t leave either. At least I can’t leave the women here behind. You may be our only chance to get clear. To be free again.”

Good luck to ya, sweetheart. First neck I can snap that has a gun slung around it, I am outta here. You’re welcome to follow in my wake, but don’t expect me to wait on you. These were all things I should have said.

Instead I sighed and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll do what I can. But when I go, I go if you’re ready or not. And be aware, it’s going to be bloody. I can’t envision any exit from here that doesn’t involve a protracted fight.”

Sarah smiled and leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “Thank you. I’ll do what I can to make our exit a little less bloody. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll be in contact soon. Your wound is healing nicely so I won’t be able to use that as an excuse to see you very often and I’m kept busy as it is. . . it’ll have to be Paige.” She nodded talking mostly to herself now.

“Page? What like you’ll write letters?”

Sarah stared at me for a second uncomprehending “Paige is the woman you saved tonight. She’s yours.” Now it was Sarah’s turn to look like she might vomit “You own her now.”

Chapter 43 -Belt Fed Revolution

Michael waved the guards into the room “Call us down a woman and let’s get our friend here some breakfast.” He seemed to be calmer now, whatever flicker of recognition existed between predators seemed to be gone now, his agenda having overridden his good sense.

Breakfast such as it was, arrived a few minutes later carried by a harried looking woman whose eyes kept darting nervously over to Michael as she sat down a tray consisting of yogurt and bacon .

“I have to apologize for the limited menu, there wasn’t much here when we took the town.” He said, his small shark-like teeth tearing into a strip of bacon. Michael glanced briefly at the woman who brought our breakfast causing her to jump as though he’d thrown something at her. She lowered her eyes and tucked her head down almost until it touched her chest and fled from the room without uttering a single word.

“When I first got here, long before our savior began to smite this wicked land, the majority of the town was nothing but wastrels. Welfare mothers with litters of children that would only grow up to be a further burden on the righteous. It wasn’t too long before the heathen Muslims began to descend on the town opening their  so-called mosques , those dens of iniquity where they preached naught but condemnation of all that the founding fathers gave to us.”

I slowly ate the plain, room temperature yogurt. It provided a great excuse for me to keep my mouth shut and listen to him rant. The bacon had cooled rapidly leaving a congealing pool of thick grease on the plate. The resemblance of the grease to the yogurt was quickly making me lose my appetite, but I kept taking small spoonfuls as tried to come up with something plausible that would get me away from this whackjob.

Michael also seemed to have a bit of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as he abruptly changed subjects. “So what did you do in the Marines? Oh, I hope it wasn’t some desk job.” He shook his head clearly ruing the woe that would befall anyone that had been in logistics.

“Infantry mostly.”

“Mostly?” he looked disappointed as if waiting for me to tell him I had been peeling potatoes or spinning wrenches in the motor pool.

“I was hoping to be trained as a scout-sniper, but I was injured and then . . . ”

The look on his face changed as the idea of disability was clearly near and dear to him. He nodded “Oh my. Yes. Yes indeed, praise be to his name, oh, but mark me it was in his plans clearly! He sent you to us!” Michael stepped down onto the floor and leaned over to whisper into my ear. “Serve me well, give glory and honor to his name and you will live the life of a king!”

With that Michael patted my arm and began issuing orders to his waiting cadre. “Have our friend here moved to proper quarters,  and send him a woman to see to his needs. 

****

Proper quarters it turned out was a little more than a military style shelter with a cot and small stove laid out among a multitude of similar lodgings erected in a large field.

We were still in early spring so I expected the shelter to be cold, but was pleasantly surprised to find a fire had been started and a clean but worn set of BDU’s were waiting for me.  I uncovered the window and looked out. They might have need of me, but they sure didn’t trust me. There were several armed guards milling around by the tent doing their best to look uninterested in my presence.

I was a little lost at the moment. I cared less about what Michael and his band of crazies had in store than I did the news that my gunshot wound had been fired from someone purportedly on my side. I also wanted to know what had happened to Starke and his group that led to my capture.

I pondered all of these things as I searched my quarters–cell?–for a weapon of some sort. These people had clearly seen too many movies as anything that could be used as an offensive weapon had long since been cleared out. I was desperate enough to get my hands on something that I even examined the contents of the wood stove hoping for an intact stick, but instead of wood the stove was burning pellets.

I stepped outside intent on wandering around but immediately found myself contained within a cordon that didn’t offer room to roam. I was at least able to get a look at the grounds and the house I had seen only briefly as I had been escorted from the basement to my new quarters.

The rest of the area didn’t have much to offer. We appeared to be in the middle of a farmer’s field with the nearest trees being an uncomfortable distance away so sneaking off under cover of night and melting into the forest was probably a no-go option.

From where I stood I saw no men save for the guards making the cordon around me. Women were abundant, but of those I saw outside none even bothered to look up at me. The few times I made eye contact with any of the women they instantly found something far more interesting to observe on the ground closest to their feet.

Having lived the majority of my life outside any mainstream religion I was not overly familiar with certain customs, but I knew that several sects of Christianity treated women as something that neared property or perhaps a particularly beloved pet. A pet that could give you a handjob and then make you a sandwich if you ordered it so.

I gave it a mental shrug figuring ‘to each their own’. It didn’t look like any of the women were physically abused so I had to assume their behavior was associated with their religion.

I decided to go back into my quarters and wait for the other shoe to drop.  I waited until late afternoon going stir crazy being trapped as I was when finally there was a knock at the door. A young man in a uniform that appeared to have been from an upscale hotel appeared and told me it was time to come to dinner.

I stepped outside and my guards no longer tried to pretend they weren’t guarding me. Now they moved with me. I felt important now. I had my own bodyguards. I hoped they would play ‘Hail to the Chief’ as I approached, but alas it was not to be.

Dinner was not the grand affair I had been expecting. I figured a guy like Michael would have some sort of grand dining room complete with servants, but instead there were several picnic tables arranged to form an elongated U shape. My guards escorted me to   the head table so I could be sat near Michael.  I recognized a few of the faces sat around the tables, but no one was making any attempt at conversation with me, so I sat  playing a guessing game with myself about which guard I could overpower and wrest a weapon from.

Michael made his way out complete with his own procession of guards and took his seat at the table. The low murmur that had been going around immediately ceased as everyone lowered their heads. Not knowing what was expected of me I closed my eyes just enough that I could keep looking at everyone. Michael began to speak somewhat informally. I wasn’t sure if this was the ritual food blessing some Christians participated in or some other rite.

I chided myself for my lack of cultural knowledge. I kept my eyes moving taking in everything I could see. The thing that caught my attention right away was the fact that there were no women seated at the tables. I heard the ritual concluding and looked up and began checking faces again. Still no women. I considered that perhaps like the rest of their foreign rites the women remained segregated entirely only to be in the presence of their spouses when in private.

Michael gave a nod to me and smiled. Eventually a few women did appear serving the meal which a watery soup with some woefully under-cooked vegetables and a few small chunks of meat. Given the state of the vegetables I wasn’t willing to try my luck with the meat. I noted some of the other men having the same reaction.

Michael had been busy talking to a man sat to his immediate left when he noticed the lack of enthusiasm with which people regarded the food. He waved the man to silence and took up a spoonful of the soup. Time seemed to freeze and those gathered to hold their breath as his spoon clattered back into the bowl.

I was sitting close enough that I could see Michael’s face turn a fearsome red, veins bulging at his temples looked as though they were squeezing his head causing his eyes to bulge. I stood up thinking for a moment that he was choking and felt a hand grab my wrist and pull me back to my seat.

I looked at the man seated next to me who only smiled and turned his attention back to Michael.

Michael left his seat and jumped on top of the table pointing at one of the serving women his face now turning a dangerous shade of purple “WHORE!” The woman he was pointing at dropped the serving dish and began to scream as she was surrounded by armed guards and dragged before Michael.

“You call this food?! This is not suitable even for swine!!!” Michael was literally foaming at the mouth. Spittle flew from his lips as he screamed at the woman. “I will cast you out! I will offer you up as a servant to all the good men of this holy place!”

Outside of a movie I had never actually seen someone backhand a person, but there’s a time for everything apparently. I watched fascinated as Michael struck the woman. I heard the contact but the she barely seemed to notice the blow even though there was force enough behind it to snap her head to the side.

She was being restrained by two guards and had been forced to her knees so Michael could begin his assault.

“I name you WHORE, DECEIVER!!! You would make us WEAK by stealing the very food from our mouths!” In a flash, Michael ripped the woman’s shirt open exposing her breasts “I mark you so that all will know you for a WHORE!” Michael leaned forward  and bit into the woman’s breast causing her to scream and immediately her blood began to flow.

My hand brushed my hip as I reached for my revolver and came up empty-handed. A few of those gathered here looked away but the majority continued to watch the bizarre tableau as it played out.

The guards let the woman go and she collapsed covering her torn breast with her hands as Michael began kicking her.

I stood again ready to put an end to this and felt my neighbors hand grab my wrist once more. I shook him off and leapt over the table charging toward Michael.

Michael’s guards intercepted me, holding me by the arms so I couldn’t advance on him. In the distance I saw Sarah, hands clasped to her mouth shaking her head vehemently at me.

“Give her to me!” I shouted. “Give her to me, brother so that I might teach her the way. . . ” Shit. The way of what? Jeet-Kune-Do?My mind was racing looking for the right words, but I didn’t have enough understanding of Christianity to come up with the right words on my own. I repeated something I had heard earlier “Let me bring her to Gods love!”

Michael halted his assault entirely. For a moment I thought was screwed, but as he calmed down he smiled at me. “Yes! Let the newest among us be the one that guides this lost sheep back into the good graces of the LORD!” Michael walked around inside the tables speaking as though he sought approval from those seated there to give the woman to me. “Should we not be generous to our new brother? Should we not welcome him among us and allow him to show us, teach us all about GOD’S LOVE?”

There were a few murmurs of assent as the crowd looked at me, some of them resorting to secret speech, words hidden behind hands to discuss the matter. Before much time had passed, Preston stood up and said “Hallelujah!  Praise God! Let him show the woman the error of her ways!”

This was enough endorsement for Michael. He nodded and began applauding me. “Many of you would do well to learn from this man’s example! More of you could do with a dose of the spine he shows as well!” The grumbling got a bit louder, but I heard a few ‘amens’ interspersed throughout.

Michael took the towel the woman had been using to insulate her hands from the hot bowl she had been carrying and helped her sit up.  Almost tenderly he offered her the towel and waved other women forward to tend to her.

I saw Sarah come forward, staring daggers at me as she collected the woman. “Take her to his house, please. See to her care, Sarah. And, thank you.” The amount of deference he showed Sarah was a bit surprising given what I’d just witnessed, but I said nothing about it.

Instead I reached into my pocket and gripped the tiny representation of Mjolnir and swore an oath to my gods that even if caused my death, even if it took from me my last breath, I was going to kill this motherfucker in a special way and over spread out over several days.

Chapter 42 -Belt Fed Revolution

In a lifetime that seemed so far removed I couldn’t even be sure it was me that lived it, I’d dealt with plenty of people who had special challenges and needs. The fact that Michael was a little person didn’t mean much to me, but that he was able to make himself a leader in the times of America the failed enterprise certainly struck me as unusual. As soon as I’d heard the name in fact I pictured a tall blonde man who looked like he’d spent most of his time at the gym.

Michael, this Michael, didn’t even have a beard. He looked soft even in these times which was already becoming a rarity. He wore a short-sleeved button up shirt with vibrant blue pinstripes, buttoned all the way to the top that stretched around his paunch with black slacks that were starting to show the signs of frequent wear. When he offered his hand to me it was soft, without the slightest trace of callouses and his nails appeared to be manicured.

I was almost sure this had to be a dream. I tried for a minute to make the room turn into a drakkar–a Viking longboat– but no matter how hard I concentrated Michael’s beardless face remained in front of me.

Huh. Okay, so I was in fact awake. This made me somewhat happy as I had noticed the tracings of abdominal muscles beginning to form on my midsection no doubt a combination of not eating much and humping around enough gear to keep a small SpecOps team supplied.

I took Michael’s hand expecting it to be clammy, but was a bit surprised when I was greeted by a firm handshake belied by his size and, happily, a dry palm. “Finn…” I coughed and cleared my throat “Pardon me. Name’s Stephen.  Thank you for taking me in here…”

Michael waved a hand as if to make my words vanish. “Well, what kind of Christian would I be if I turned away a man in need?”

I nodded mutely and bit back the responses that would normally meet such an awesome softball question like that. Fortunately I didn’t have to work to fill in that awkward pause as Michael pressed ahead.

“I’m told you’re a soldier? Are you a real soldier or one of those that likes to play soldier in the militia? I tell you we’ve seen our share of those young men! Wouldn’t know their behinds from a bee hive if it were stinging them!” Michael laughed as if this were the greatest joke ever told.

“Marine. Not a soldier” I confirmed for him. “I was doing some special work for the MVDF and . . . ”

Again his little hand waved through the air as if wiping my words from existence. “Yes,yes. I heard going up north to find your family. All very noble.” Something in his tone had changed and I looked into his eyes, letting my inner predator have full reign.

I understood then. If Michael had been an average sized man this would have made sense from the start.  The eyes that stared back at me would have made my predator retreat and look for a different avenue of attack, had Michael been of full size. Seeing the danger close up and knowing he had seen the same I switched to a different tack.

Being a little person I doubt that people had paid a great deal of attention to Michael. He probably hadn’t had to work as I had to fit in to society since most people were already regarding him as different. Not that this was much of a surprise. Until recently most people were so numb–I had to stop myself laughing–people were so numb to danger they’d allowed this to happen. The irony wasn’t lost on me, but I couldn’t be sure Michael would understand why I suddenly found this whole situation hilarious.

The thought of people reading books and playing video games to create lives where they might feel something, to experience anything outside of the numbing barrier they’d created to insulate themselves suddenly struck me as so ridiculous I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Laughing was one of many social skills I was only technically proficient at but Michael was apparently right about the same level as I was with it so he didn’t notice my laughter being out of place or wrong sounding, taking it for laughter at his earlier jape.

Michael joined in with me, laughing as we were at two different things it didn’t seem incongruous to either of us that the laughter went on longer than was appropriate. “Right! So here we are. We have need of man with real experience against the savages. What say you? Interested?”

“Savages?”

Michael nodded all trace of  levity having left his features. “Those that have polluted this great country for far too long. Taken from her people and given back only strife. The savages that have tried to force their culture on us; they take and they take and they take, but they give nothing back. They refused to assimilate and force us to choke on their  culture, their religion, sending us nothing but criminals and terrorists whose only thought is to divide and sew seeds of discontent!!!”

This I had seen before. The preacher had taken his pulpit and was not so much talking to the congregation but shouting at the walls, unheeding , uninterested in whether or not those around him were interested in the message. No, he was on a personal mission and those in his way would either be consumed by the fire that drove him or used to fan those flames into brilliant sparkling life.

“Muslims?” I asked hesitantly.

Michael shot to his feet “Yes! The muck dwellers from the great desert! The heathen and the misguided souls led by the devil practicing witchcraft in their shadowy lairs!” The door opened and the guards looked in, but Michael would not allow his sermon to be interrupted “Those devious servants of Satan, streaming over our borders to take from us, drive this great land to its knees, bankrupting us financially, culturally, morally!!!”

One of the guards looking in added a “Praise Jesus!” to the rant but Michael didn’t even break stride. “The Mexicans, the Blacks, all those who have not embraced this country fully must, I say they MUST! Come to Jesus and be part of his love or they must be culled from the herd! No longer will they be allowed to take and take without ever repaying, for the good book says in Thessalonians if a man does not choose to work, neither shall he eat!”

I understood how this man came to lead. His rhetoric certainly spoke to the underlying currents that had been running through America for years, though he conveniently failed to note that–in Michigan at least–more of his people, white ‘Christians’ had been welfare recipients than had any other group. They’d been the chief purveyors of drugs as well, especially methamphetamine and marijuana, but I knew I was a stranger in a strange land. Confusing things with facts would undoubtedly lead to a bloody end for me and I hated to see their work go to waste so soon.

I had no doubts that I could kill him quickly, but the guards who I noted were armed with funky looking bullpup type rifles were another matter all together. I considered Sarah’s warning a minute before responding. Michael, a sheen of sweat built up on his forehead had probably not noticed my delay just yet.

“Tell me what I can do.”

Michael smiled, a toothy sharks grin  and exclaimed “Glory be to God!”

Chapter 41 -Belt Fed Revolution

I did not know the words yet I understood the language. I had looked into his eyes and immediately knew everything that was necessary for my survival. Follow his orders, burn everything, make them pay for the death of his father.

He recognized me somehow, knew me for his own and he smiled, clasping my hand in his as he threw his head back and laughed wildly  clamping his other hand around the back of my neck he looked into my eyes and I was frozen, watching the small golden ring that circled the pupil of his left eye, writhing, alive in its own right giving the truth to his name telling me “Brenna þá, Finngeir! Sonur minn brenna þá alla!”

And with that he turned back to leading his men not hearing my whispered “já, Jarl Sigurd. . . ” I drew my sword and stumbled along after him to set the English village alight.

The dream was comforting somehow, but short lived. Maybe I just liked it because someone –even if he had to be a product of my fevered consciousness–managed to pronounce my name without making it sound like ‘finger’. The dream dissolved fully when I heard the lock click open. I was instantly awake, but kept my eyes closed.

“I know you’re awake.” Sarah said as she closed the door behind her “I heard the change in your breathing.” She smiled again as she sat down a small collection of tools in an aluminum pan and sat next to me on the bed. “Keep your voice down. There are guards outside that door.”

I nodded and let her tend to my wounds. “Thank you. . .  for everything” I said in a voice scarce above a whisper. She nodded and yanked off the gauze that had welded itself to my side with blood. I think it was safe to assume that the guards outside were mollified with the sounds of pain coming from the room being so very genuine.

“You’re going to have to meet Michael soon. He leads here and is very . . . strict about his followers and their beliefs.” She paused until I nodded. She gave me the little prim smile I had seen earlier and swabbed the hole in my side.  “I’m going to assume that since you haven’t tried to call the guards or disabuse me of the idea that you’re of a Pagan faith, that we’re on the same page here?”

“Heathen.”

She snorted laughter “Oh my. He would just love to hear that!” she shook her head and started putting her tools away. “You just keep that little nugget to yourself and maybe you can get out of here alive.”

“I don’t understand. Why are you doing this? Helping me?”

“I joined this  group with my husband, Oscar, five years ago. Oscar and Michael knew each other from church and we all shared a desire to be prepared. We realized that things were going to get bad and we started looking for a place where we could ride out the worst of it.” She sighed tiredly  “Michael had been buying property here and invited us and some others to come out before things finally hit the fan. Course we didn’t know then how loopy Michael would get. He’s convinced that this is God’s punishment somehow. He thinks he’s God’s Chosen One.” Almost to herself she saidI think that’s why he changed his name to Michael anyway.”

“What about you? You’re not one them? Not a Christian?” She regarded me cautiously for a moment before speaking.

“I’m a Deist. Like most of the Founding Fathers?” she waited until I nodded again. “That quote of Jefferson’s:  it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg? That’s been my stance on it for more years than I care to admit to living.” Sarah stopped to make sure my dressing was secure and with a nod she stood and grabbed up her tools “Just make sure that you nod and smile when it’s appropriate. . . ” She hesitated and turned away before speaking quietly “since there is no rule of law here except that which Michael says it’s just better to go along. You don’t want to end up like the others.”

“Others?”

Sarah shook her head and would say no more. She knocked twice on the door and said “coming out!” stepping back as the door swung inward for her. She turned back before leaving and said “God bless. You get some rest and I’ll be back later.”

I waved her goodbye  back and sat back against my pillow. “The fuck have I gotten myself into?” I opened the bible and pretended to read in case one of the guards stuck his head in. I was in the middle of a bizarre tale about the Christian God sending a bear to kill a bunch of children for making fun of a bald man when there was a knock at the door. I was surprised they would bother to knock but I responded anyway.

“Enter.”

Odin or Preston, I guess poked his head in “You decent?”

“Yes sir.” I nodded and smiled as instructed, not sure who I could trust. I waved Preston to the chair by the bedside. “I owe you a debt of thanks. I’m glad you convinced your son to bring me back.” I smiled weakly. Sarah had given me some pills but I hadn’t thought to ask what they were. Now it occurred to me one of the things she gave me was a pain pill as I felt all floaty and kitten-weak.

Preston smiled and gave his long white beard a tug, squinting at me. “I reckoned we owed ya anyway. You’re with them Voulnteer boys, right? I saw the remains of your uniform. . . ”

I nodded and decided that a lie might serve me much better than truth here. “I was with them, but they gave me leave. I was trying to get up north to check on my family. . . ”

That earned a smile. “Figured it had to be something like that. You don’t look like no deserter, but bein’ shot in the back like you were I kinda had to wonder.”

I tried to think how to explain that to him when I didn’t know what happened myself. “We were engaged with another militia gr–” I was cut short by another knock at the door.

A small round face with close set dark eyes peered into the room. “Hello brothers! How is every little thing?”

Preston turned back a smile plastered on his face “Michael! Just talking to our new friend here. Come on in, brother. Sit here, please.” Preston vacated his seat and waved Michael over.

Michael took the proffered chair and smiled at Preston, looking at him for several moments without saying a word.

“Oh! Pardon me, folks!” Preston gave me little wave and started to exit the room “Hope to speak to you again, soon.”

Michael waited a moment longer after the door closed and turned toward me. “Well, praise Jesus! You have the whole flock set a flutter!”

He smiled an oily little smile and extended his hand “Hello brother! My name is Michael.”

Chapter 40 -Belt Fed Revolution

Death was weird, I had to admit. I’d always taken Odin and Thor at face value as Gods, but here they were, looking at me. Talking about me.

“Looks like he’s about done for. Think we ought to try an’ get him to the house?” Spoke Odin as he bent over to look at me.  Thor crouched beside me and placed his fingers on my throat. My eyes were open, but he forced my eyelid up fully and placed one hand over my eye then took it quickly away.

“Dunno, Dad. I think we oughta leave him here, he’s as close to dead as they get.” Thor stood and stroked his thick red beard as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

The two of them stood and stared at me for a minute longer, Odin’s long white beard splitting to flow around his neck as he raised his nose to the wind as if attempting to catch a scent. Finally Odin himself squatted down next to me, pinching my hand “Think he’s mostly just dehydrated. C’mon let’s get him back to camp.”

Thor lifted me in a fireman’s carry, tossing me up on his shoulders as if I weighed nothing.

“Valhöll?” I heard the word and knew I spoke it, but the voice didn’t sound like my own.

I was looking at the ground, but I saw Odin stop in his tracks. “Praise Jesus, he lives! What’d he say, son?”

Thor tried to shrug his shoulders but the gesture was lost with me riding atop them. “Couldn’t say. Sounded like wall pole or somethin’.”

I felt hands on my head and heard Odin say “Pray with me son. Hopefully the good Lord will bless this poor fella with his grace and heal his wounds.”

Odin’s voice dropped an octave or so and I heard him start to speak, but I must have lost consciousness about then as the next thing I recall was laying in a cot next to a small wood-burning stove. Voices began to drift through the void as I eventually began to understand there were several people in the room all talking about me.

Valhöll looked suspiciously like a basement and smelled moldy like one too. Odin was sitting next to me on the bed, Thor beside him in a chair.

“. . .like a soldier. Just look at his clothes.”

“Been prayin’ on him  every night at service . . . ”

” . . . delirious and dehydrated. Kept talking about Odin and going to Vahalla. Poor fella’s outta his mind.”

” . . . just gotta keep praying for him, God will save him, if that’s in his plan.”

“He’s awake.”   I looked up at the old man who leaned over me and realized Odin actually had both eyes, but must squint a lot. Thor leaned over to look at me and smiled.

“Welcome back.” Thor said as he reached up to his head and pulled down a pair of glasses and looked closely at his watch and began to take my pulse. “Thank God I had that combat lifesaver training, else you’d be talking to the good Lord himself instead of lookin’ at me.”

“Jim, Preston, you two come away from the man, let me have a look at him.” said a new voice, one I hadn’t heard amongst the others as they discussed me.

A stern looking woman with wire rimmed glasses and grey streaks in her once blonde hair sat down on the bed next to me and smiled a rather professional looking smile as she began checking me out, recording my pulse and listening to my heart with a stethoscope.

“Doctor?” I croaked out.

She gave me a prim smile and shook her head. “Midwife and nurse mostly, but I’m doing a bit of doctoring on the side now.” She patted my hand reassuringly. “You’re going to be fine, just need a while to heal. Looks like you were shot in the back. Whoever patched you up did a fine job, but Preston said you look like you’d been thrown out of a moving vehicle when he found you.”

“Shot in the back?” I shook my head “I was . . . ”

She shook her head. “Save it . I said you’ll be fine, just give it some time. You can tell us all about it later.” She turned away from me and produced a bible which she laid on my chest placing my hands on the book as she leaned forward applying her own weight on my hands so I couldn’t move them. “You just rest and read the good book. We all have to go to church soon. You’ll be expected to attend to when you’re feeling up to it. . . ”

I started to protest but the look she gave me halted my tongue and the words died on my lips. “Just read the book and get some rest. No argument.”

I nodded and gripped the book tight, closing my eyes and pretending to pass out. The woman shooed all the people out of the dank room and I heard the door close behind her. I was unsettled when I heard the distinctive click that told me the door had been locked from the outside but I figured this would serve as an extra second of warning before anyone else came in to the room.

I opened the book and began flipping through the pages. I had gone through about a quarter of it when I came upon an adhesive note stuck to one of the pages written in small neat script.

I put your hammer in your right pants pocket. DO NOT PUT IT ON. Do not for any reason mention your religion or beliefs to anyone here if you want to live. It’s not safe! Just go along with whatever they say and if I can I’ll help you get out of here as soon as I can. Obviously I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention me or this note to anyone. Doing so will likely result in both our deaths.” -Sarah Wilkins


I reached down and felt the hammer in my pocket. I held it thoughtfully for a moment feeling the edges through the fabric of my BDU pants.

I gently peeled the note off the page and reached over to open the wood-burning  stove and tossed the paper inside watching the flames spark into brief life before devouring the evidence entirely.

I laid my head back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.  Sleep eventually took me away and I dreamed.

Chapter 39 -Belt Fed Revolution

Time passed. I don’t know how much. I was only vaguely aware of things happening around me. I got bits of conversation and was lucid most of the time, but they must have been feeding me morphine at a pretty good rate.

The next thing I remembered in any detail was a lot of movement, noise and being jostled around.The voices around me contained a hint of urgency and a good deal of anger, but I couldn’t piece together what the issue was. I saw faces unfamiliar to me, all of them seemed to be pretty angry  as they ordered me to be quiet and stop thrashing around. I was in one of the boxes and it was moving. I was strapped to a bed and from the feeling the bed was bolted to the floor. There were periods of silence and I was thankful for that, but I was a little more concerned over the fact that I was strapped to a bed inside a semi-trailer and there weren’t any people coming  to tend me.

I wondered if the peace talks hadn’t gone well. Maybe the Feds had come. Could I be a prisoner of war? I decided to operate as if this was the situation until I saw evidence to the contrary. The straps on the bed weren’t leather, but ratcheting tie downs that had padding wrapped around them where they crossed my torso.

I wiggled around in the bed trying to free my arms. Every so often I’d feel a sharp pain in my groin and abdomen and I’d have to stop until the pain subsided and the nausea left me. I kept working at it and eventually managed to get my right arm free. Luck was still with me as the mechanism for the ratchet strap was visible meaning I would at least be able to reach it.

My fingers fumbled with the mechanism for about a year. I wasn’t making any progress with it. I was either too weak to lift the buckle or just not deft enough to work the mechanism. I gave up for a while and let sleep drag me back down.

When I next woke I saw that all my efforts had resulted in the reopening of my wound.  There was a bloodstain slightly larger than my fist down by my hip. I forced myself to clear my head and think about how to get free. I pushed on the strap across my torso and was relieved to feel it give a bit.

I pushed the strap down far enough that I could extract my left arm . With both arms free I was able to release the buckle on the straps across my torso and waist.  The strap across my feet was an entirely different matter. I couldn’t sit up enough to reach that strap and when I tried I was overwhelmed by the pain from my wound.

I tried to use the rails on the side of the bed for leverage to push myself up but I was too weak and my ass was pretty firmly enveloped in the mattress meaning I had to move my weight plus the mattress to get anywhere.

I was soaked in sweat and exhausted. I was prepared to give up for now  and try again after a brief nap, but if I had been taken prisoner that might be a bad– potentially fatal–idea. I braced myself against the bed rails once more and pushed for all I was worth. The top of my left foot was now caught just under the strap and I tried to kick or at least get my hips and leg moving. With a concentrated effort I finally got my foot free.

I smiled as I sat back in the bed and passed out.

****

I woke up feeling clammy and cold. both my feet were now free and I was able to swing my legs over the side of the bed. The trailer seemed to be stationary at the moment which was great because my legs felt rubbery and only barely attached to the rest of me. I looked around for a weapon but no scalpels or convenient bludgeons had been left lying around for me to find.

I took the bloody sheet off the bed and wrapped it around my midsection, tying it as tightly as I could so as to apply pressure to the wound, hopefully staunching the flow of blood. I continued my search for a weapon but aside from a few empty saline bottles and other medical supplies there really wasn’t anything I could use.

I looked back at the bed and had a small flash of insight. Moving as quickly as I could, I grabbed all the straps that had been used to hold me in place and tied the buckle ends into a knot forming a makeshift flail. I folded the ends over and tied another knot so that all the weight of the buckles and S hooks were at one end, giving me a six pronged weapon.

I shuffled to the back of the trailer to roll open the door and make my escape. As I did this I felt the truck start up, idling in place for a bit before  it started moving. I grabbed the handle and pulled the door open just enough to get through the opening and fell to the pavement.I hit the ground and rolled hoping there were no trucks following the one I’d escaped. I managed to get to a clump of bushes and instantly vomited up the entirety of my stomach.

The truck had been stopped at a rest area. The building itself was gone, burned to the foundation, but a few picnic tables remained as well as some outdoor kiosks that had maps and information on local attractions.

According to the map I was in a place called Wayland. It wasn’t familiar to me, but the map showed that I was about 80 miles from Lansing. I managed to walk  toward the forested area behind the remains of the rest stop, looking for a place to hide in case my captors came back. I made it to the woods, losing the bed sheet I’d tied around my midsection in the process. The ground was pretty much all the same; there were no natural depressions I could hide in.  There was a large pine tree which had branches extending to the ground and I decided to make that my base of operations.

I crawled under the tree and immediately passed out.

****

When I woke I was no longer under the pine tree. I couldn’t remember moving, but apparently I had left the cover of the pine tree and was now propped up against a different tree. There was an odd unfamiliar pressure on my leg . I forced my eyes fully open and was greeted by a large raven looking at me questioningly as it perched on my leg.

I regarded the bird calmly for a moment before I spoke. “Nothing for you today, Huginn. Or Muninn. Whichever one you are. Go and tell the All-Father I’m not dead yet. ” My voice was dry and thin like paper. “You want my eyes, you come back when I’m dead. They’re all yours.” With that I waved the bird away and watched as it flew a short distance to alight in one of the trees.

“Okay. Point taken. If I don’t get moving you’re going to eat my eyes. Got it.” I pushed myself to a standing position and began to walk. I didn’t know which way to go so I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I fell into a depressing rhythm of take a few steps and stop to catch my breath or wretch for a few minutes. I was sure any hunter nearby would think it his lucky day, hearing a lovesick moose hanging about in the forest and come along to put me out of my misery at any moment.

Things became really interesting when I began to pass out. I had resigned myself to my fate and was ready to die here. I wasn’t really bothered by this. I had ended my life as a warrior and was going to die a death that my ancestors could respect. While I wasn’t actually dying on one of Midgard’s many battle fields, I was dying free and alone. I didn’t believe that I would see Valkyrie’s and as a reconstrucionist Heathen, I  had my doubts about seeing Valhalla, but I would die a free man and that counted for something in my book.

I realized that I had passed out in the middle of a small trail in the woods and dragged myself off the trail to lean against a tree. There was a small tree branch nearby that looked like it might have been sheared off during a storm which was just long enough to be used  as a staff. Using the staff as a counterbalance I managed to take a few more shuffling steps. My head was pounding and I was so dizzy I had to force myself to look only at the ground ahead of me. Trying to look at the sides of the trail made me feel as though I was in the outer ring of a centrifuge. I knew death was coming for me now. I could hear it calling my name, but I continued walking; whether it was toward death or from it I couldn’t say. I only knew that I had to keep moving. I was resigned to dying, I just wasn’t resigned to giving up. 

Chapter 38 -Belt Fed Revolution

I ran to the improvised front gate falling in beside the  guard  kneeling there as he returned fire into the growing dusk.  “Corporal! Sit-rep!” I asked as I knelt next to him and leveled my rifle out toward a group of vehicles at the farthest edge of the Wal-Mart parking lot.

“Not sure, sir.  Guard duty was ’bout the same as every night  then Stevens just goes down. Looked like  he was shot the throat…” I didn’t need to ask who Stevens was. I could see the bodies outside the gate already bled out. I eased myself between the Corporal and the wall and raised my rifle, resting the forward part of the stock on my left arm using the scope to scan the vehicles.  It was only about 150 yards away, but I couldn’t see faces only  feet and the top of an occasional head.

I continued scanning for a few moments seeing occasional muzzle flashes from under the vehicles and hearing the reports of rifles with no idea where the rounds were landing. Even though I didn’t have a great shot to take, I did have a .300 Winchester Magnum and that made up for a good deal  of the cover my targets were hiding behind at such a relatively close range. I was watching the furtive movements behind the vehicles when the Norns stepped up and began snipping threads.

The first kill was pure luck. I happened to be looking at one of the trucks as one of our unidentified OpFor ran between vehicles, leaving his head exposed for a second as he passed by the truck’s sliding rear window.  I almost missed the shot but just then time  slowed to a crawl. As soon as I saw the bill of the man’s ball cap enter the opening I squeezed the trigger and the man disappeared from sight.At the moment I couldn’t actually say I had hit the man, only that I had fired and seen him drop.

My next opportunity came when I saw a head using cover poorly. The top of another ball cap peaked out just behind a mirror of a big truck, the kind used for hauling horses. I squeezed the trigger gently and smiled a bit when I saw the hole appear in the mirror and the hat get ripped from the head it had been on.

Within moments the entirety of the camp had turned out and began taking up positions around and on top of the Wal-Mart building. The people on top of the building allowed us to set up almost in an enfilade-defilade position.

Without a word from anyone firing began en masse. If I had to guess I’d say this was just random shooting as I wasn’t seeing a lot of enemy bodies dropping given the amount of lead we were sending downrange.

The OpFor group was larger than I’d guessed .Their reinforcements began to move up on foot in small groups from the road that lead to the Wal-Mart.  I knelt back down and began to pick them off as quickly as I could. I wasn’t exactly Gunny Hathcock out here, but I was dropping people as fast as I could work the bolt.

I dropped the expended magazine and yelled “Reloading!” though I’m not sure to who. Everyone was busy dishing out their own personal size servings of whoop-ass just then. I slammed a fresh magazine up into the mag well and gave it a tap just to be sure but for some reason it wouldn’t seat. I pulled the magazine out and gave it a quick shake and a tap against my leg trying to get the rounds to settle into the magazine then realized I must have shot up every round of  the .300 Win Mag I had. The rest of it was back at the Jeep in bag I hadn’t been able to take with me because of my knee. The magazine I held in my hand was filled with .338 Lapua which was mostly useless to me just now.

I cursed and shoved the magazine into my pocket. I pulled out the BFR thinking at least I could shoot fairly accurate from kneeling. I had a target lined up and fired. The shot came nowhere near the target I had selected.I took aim again thinking I might be able to walk a shot in. I took a second to slow my breathing and make sure adrenaline wasn’t giving me a case of the shakes.

I focused on one truck I noticed sitting at the far edge of the parking lot. The truck looked familiar for some reason. It was the same truck I’d shot through the mirror to get at the tango that had been hiding there. I gave the truck a long look and was pretty sure I was looking at a black Ford F-450 with most of the front end torn off.

****

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” I stuck the BFR back in my belt as I walked up and down the row of soldiers and armed civilians nearest me calling out “Cease firing!” until eventually the word started spreading down the line and the rate of outgoing ordnance dropped to a crawl.

“Get someone up to the roof and tell them to stop shooting!” I  grabbed a civilian near me and yelled an order I didn’t know if he was capable of carrying out, but I didn’t have time to do any hand holding. I started calling out for Starke who was a bit further down the line than I had walked.

Starke was taking the cease-fire call as an opportunity to deal with the M-16 he was carrying which had double fed on him in the midst of the fight. “Starke! I need you to go get everyone to stand down.”

Starke finally cleared the malfunction in his weapon before he agreed. “Sure thing. What’s going on?”

I winced slightly “I think I might have just shit the bed here. Just try and get everyone calmed down.”

Starke gave me a shrug and headed off to make sure everyone had the order. I began looking around for towel or t-shirt or anything large enough to serve as a white flag. I finally found a civilian who was wearing a dingy, sweat stained A-frame shirt and told him to surrender it or risk getting shot by the OpFor, or if they couldn’t be arsed, I’d find someone on this side to do it.

The man looked more than a little perplexed, but took off his shirt and handed it to me. I made a quick search for a broom or something I could use to  keep the soiled garment away from my face. It’d be cool if I could use it as a flag pole too,  but fire from the PLM was picking up speed and I had to give up the search.

With no firing coming from our side I walked back to the gate and stuck the shirt out giving it a wave. Firing from the other side must have hit a lull about then and I took it as a sign that my decision to sue for peace had been accepted.

I stepped out and waved the flag over my head and felt a weird tugging sensation in my abdomen. Awesome. I survive the firefight unharmed only to pull a muscle during the surrender.

I continued walking forward for a bit, waving the t-shirt over my head while hearing the occasional shot being let off. I was about a quarter of the way to the PLM’s improvised cover when I heard someone from their side yell out “Cease Fire!” I saw heads poke out over the hoods of cars. One of those heads belonged to General Leader and it began moving toward me.

He walked at a brisk pace. I was glad because I suddenly felt very tired. The muscle I had pulled felt like it was on fire. I put my hand on my abdomen to apply some pressure to the muscle and felt a warm, sticky substance there. My hand came away bloody and breathing suddenly seemed like chore.

I staggered a few steps  as I tried to turn around before I fell to my knees.

****

I was surrounded pretty quickly by people from both sides. There was a tense stand-off going on out in the middle ground. Starke rushed out  and began hauling me backward by the sleeve of my BDU shirt. Others from the MVDF camp were trying to help him while maintaining a defensive stance with the PLM.

“Starke!” I thought I yelled but apparently my voice wasn’t all that loud. “STARKE?!” I tried again this time grabbing his wrist with my free hand.

He wasn’t listening, instead focused on dragging me back to the camp. I had a brief surge, from adrenaline or some other substance I didn’t know. I  managed to turn  to the point where  Starke had to drag me almost face first. I manage to get to my knees and fully grab his wrist. He finally stopped pulling for a second.

“They’re not enemies . . . ” Starke must have thought I was in shock as he started trying to drag me back once more.  “Adam! Damn it!” Starke stopped again.

“What the fuck? What? What’s so important? You’re shot in the gut here how about you just hold off on the long meaningful conversation until you get patched up?!”

I ignored him and pointed to General Leader. “He’s the head of the PLM . . . not an enemy.” Fuck, why was it so hard to talk? The words coming out of me felt like cement blocks being mixed in my mouth and turning solid as I spoke. I suddenly felt weak, weaker than I could ever recall and was overwhelmed by nausea.

I noticed now there were bodies all over inside the camp. People were running around tending to the wounded. It was a scene of pure chaos, but I had to get through to Starke. “Truce . . . declare a truce. Go meet with them. . .”

“Yeah, fine! I’ll give him the fuckin’ keys to the city if you’ll just shut up and let me get you taken care of!”

I relented and things got really fuzzy. I heard Starke say “asshole” but if it was directed toward me I couldn’t tell.  I couldn’t tell much of anything except that I seemed to be floating, no longer being dragged, but facing down, looking at the pavement moving below me as I floated along.