Chapter 50 -Belt Fed Revolution

My quarters were empty except for the dogs. I slipped inside happy to be out of sight of prying eyes. I sat on the bed and removed my weapons, stuffing the Ka-Bar into the bag with my medical kit.

I kicked off my boots and slid my revolver under my pillow. I stared at the door and pondered what Preston had said. Why would Michael be making up stories about my past? What purpose did it serve? Between that and trying to figure out a plan to even the odds with the men of the camp my brain was working at full capacity.

I fell asleep without even realizing it.

There was a person laying next to me in the bed. My eyes snapped open, and I went into full alert. I caught a whiff of Paige’s natural scent. For a brief moment I felt her soft warmth pressed up against me and the rhythm of her snoring. I pushed myself up out of bed, my heart racing, layers of pathology suddenly reasserting themselves. It had been so long since I’d touched another human being for any purpose other than to kill I didn’t know what to do with them anymore.

Paige was rudely awakened by my movement. Her eyes popped open and she reached for her hammer. To me she whispered “What is it? Is something wrong?!”

I had my revolver in my hand and was sweating profusely. I lowered the gun, gently releasing the hammer as I did.

“Sorry” I looked at her.  I hadn’t realized how attractive she was until this moment. “Bad dream” I shook my head as if trying to clear the lingering remnants of my dream. “What–what were you doing in bed? With me?”

Paige’s face turned a lovely shade of bright pink. “I don’t feel so good. I just wanted to lie down–I didn’t think you’d mind.”

My brain kicked into neutral for a moment as I examined her. She had a long graceful, almost swan-like neck with blonde hair that reached down past her shoulders. I guessed she must have weighed only a bit more than she did now since she didn’t look quite as ‘deflated’ as the other women in the camp, even given her current circumstances.  When she’d lifted her dress to remove the hammer I’d given her it wasn’t exactly lost on me that she had, long, very shapely legs. I realized I was taking a mental inventory of her, breaking her down to component parts. I stopped when I thought of her breasts and how Michael had marked her. It didn’t actually serve to make her any less attractive, but it did stop my prurient line of thought when I remembered.

I felt my hand flexing on the grip of the revolver and  forced it to relax. I suddenly became aware of an odd feeling  below my waistline and quickly sat down. The last thing I needed right now was for Paige to freak out over a biological reaction I had little control over.

I tried to cover up more than my physical discomfort by engaging her in small talk.

“We haven’t really had much chance to talk since, ” I shrugged and looked around “well since we were thrust into this little arrangement.”

Paige nodded and smiled almost making eye contact with me.

I asked her the question I dreaded. “What do you do? Er, what did you do? You know, before?”

Ugh. I wanted to kick my own ass. I hated asking this question far more than I hated answering it. I took a breath and prepared to make small talk until the sun rose if it were necessary.

Paige smiled and rose to take the bait. We talked for hours into the night, and yes, I even answered the question about what I used to do back when there was a world and a civilization inhabiting it.

Paige and I switched places after a while, with me on the bed, Sako and Tikka curled up in my lap. I laughed, knowing that it would be considered incredibly stereotypical, but women really did enjoy talking about themselves, or failing that what terrible people their friends were.

I got a good chunk of Paige’s life story out of her before I drifted off again.

****

I was floating somewhere in between wakefulness and sleep. I didn’t believe the things my senses were telling me but they didn’t seem implausible either. In my own personal twilight I felt the warmth of a body pressed up against my own. On my feet were fur covered shoes filled with sharp little things that occasionally poked me in the toe or scraped across my ankle.

The scent of a woman was in my nostrils and it was enticing. Suddenly my feet were cold, my furry shoes gone and bouncing across the bed.

The movement of the dogs woke me up. They jumped off the bed and were sat in front of the door alerting to something there. My eyes snapped open as I saw the door begin to swing inward. I hurtled Paige’s sleeping form and threw a kick at the door frame slamming it shut with great force. Paige sat bolt upright in bed, reaching under the pillow for my revolver, handing it to me without being asked.

I gave her a quick smile and eased the door open. A red faced Donnelly was standing there doing his impersonation of a man about to die from some coronary event.

I let out a deep breath and surreptitiously handed the revolver back to Paige as I squeezed out the door.

I smiled at Donnelly as I approached him. No reason to make my prey bolt before I had a chance to kill it. As soon as I was within reach of Donnelly I seized him by the throat and drove him to the ground.

“The next time, Gene, you try and enter my quarters without permission will be the last thing you ever do. Have I made myself clear in this?” I asked slightly releasing the pressure I was applying to his hyoid bone.

Donnelly nodded. Flecks of spittle had formed at the corners of his mouth and stood in stark white relief to the bright red-going-purple of his face. I eased my weight off his chest and broke the hold I had on his throat.

Donnelly sat up hands at his throat and gasping for breath.

I looked at him. I had always been a fan of Wanderlei Silva and his propensity for soccer kicks must have rubbed off on me as I had to restrain myself from delivering my self-styled version of that kick to Donnelly’s head.

“Micheal or training?” I asked him in a voice that was almost a hiss.

He coughed more trying to calm himself and regain his breath. “Mi–Mi” he heaved.

I grabbed his chin and titled his face up to meet mine. “Michael?”

He nodded. and I let him go. Out of the corner of my eye I had seen Paige open the door, peaking out watching quietly with an almost joyous glee in her eyes. I stepped back into our quarters and began to get dressed.

I looked out the window and noticed how dark it was. I reckoned it to be around 0400 as I got my gear on and headed out the door toward Michael’s house. Donnelly was nowhere to be seen.

I kept my features expressionless but inside I was laughing, giddy as a school girl. Violence– it turns out–does solve problems. Must be in the application. Violence also cured what ails you apparently. As soon as I’d kicked the door shut my knee felt like a knife had been jammed into it, but know I was moving along at a decent lope, barely aware of any pain at all.

I reached Michael’s house and noted there were several guards there that had not been present before. There were in uniforms I probably would have laughed at at any other time being dressed in a combination of blue and black ‘urban’ camouflage patterns.

Two guards were on the door and those I did recognize. They waved me through without so much as a glance and into the house. I hadn’t seen the upstairs level of Michael’s house which was furnished in Early American-Creepy, complete with sepia toned photos of  what I guessed was Michael and his mother. I had to wonder how much Norman Bates was charging to decorate a place these days.

I was ushered into a room that was darker than the rest, mostly due to the heavy velvet wall covering that seemed to drink in the available light. I heard the sound of a motor starting somewhere outside and was instantly blinded as the house lights came on.

“Ah, here’s our Brother Stephen!” I felt someone take my hand and place it on the back of a chair as I tried to rid myself of the afterimage  while my eyes adjusted.

Michael continued “I’m so sorry, brother to have you woken so early. I know you have a full day of training and such to do today.” Something was placed in front of me. My sense of smell was working just fine. Coffee. I inhaled deeply of it. My eyes finally cleared enough I could make out Michael’s face as well as the guests seated at his table. One face smiled broadly at me, while the other gaped almost open mouthed.

“I wouldn’t have brought you here if it weren’t important. These two gentlemen are militia fighters like us. This is Adam Starke,” he said pointing at the Marine who was just a shot away from needing to hold his sides to contain the laughter “And this is. . .I’m sorry, was it Mr Toole?”

I shot Starke a look and the smile dropped almost instantly from his face, but it was too late. Michael had seen the recognition pass between the three of us.

I nodded and extended my hand. “Mr Starke. Nice to formally make your acquaintance. ” I turned and offered my hand to Tool who would not deign to shake it at first “Mr Toole.” I nodded to him. “Nice to see you both again.”

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Chapter 49 -Belt Fed Revolution

Sarah came to my quarters that night and did actually look at my wound which was healing well. Sako and Tikka fought with each other over who would get to swarm over her first  when she finished. Sako pulled it out by a nose, literally. Tikka was on his way to flop down on Sarah’s foot when Sako jumped over him  snout-planting into the floor by her feet.

Sarah bent down and rubbed Sako’s head. “I’ve checked you out, now tell me what’s going on and make it quick. I don’t have much time tonight.”

I waved Paige over. “Show her what I gave you.”

Paige hiked up her skirt and slid out the hammer I’d given her. Sarah took the hammer from her and examined it, smacking the head against her palm.

“Okay” she nodded appreciatively “what do we do now?”

I grinned at her. “Had a chance to see any of the camps men tonight?”

Sarah nodded. “I treated three for dehydration, a couple of sprained ankles, various muscle strains and tears.” She stopped speaking for a moment, appearing to think ” One of the guards looked like he fell down a mountain. Broken foot, broken nose, dehydration and a hyper extended elbow.”

“Yeah. It’s going to get a lot worse, too.” I smiled and took the hammer from her. “How many women are in this camp?”

“forty-three  healthy ones, seven in different stages of pregnancy, five including myself too old to be much use for anything. . . ” she paused again looking up at the ceiling “13 girls between the ages of eight and 15.”

I considered that for a minute. “110 men? Not including Michael?”

“Or yourself” she nodded.

“Solid. Can the women get out at night? Or is someone always watching them?”

“We can go to the bathroom,or to the kitchens or if someone sends us on an errand . . . why?”

I laughed and picked up Tikka. I wished I’d watched more spy movies so I could get my evil laugh down.  I discussed the plan in depth with Sarah and she filled in the blank spots I had concerning how the camp worked.

“The next few days I’m going to get started, but I need a meet with Michael first. If anything goes wrong in the meantime or I need to change the plan I’ll send Paige to you with the details. Will that work?”

Sarah nodded, her shoulders showing signs of tension “Paige, if you come to me, you’ll need a good reason beyond your mark. When you’re out in public clutch at your stomach every now and then or fake a fainting spell. Michael and the rest of these bastards will be delighted to think you’re pregnant.”

Paige looked wide eyed at Sarah but nodded, eyes cautiously darting my way.

Sarah held up a calming hand to her “I think if he were going to try that it would have already happened.” Sarah gave Paige a reassuring smile and took the hammer from me to give back to Paige. “Just do as we’ve discussed and let’s  all hope this works.”

****

After Sarah left I laid down on the bed prepared to rest a little before the evening meal was served. Paige had to go and help out with the preparations leaving me alone with my thoughts.

No matter how many times I did the math and tried to factor in my luck I was still coming up short. At best I was outnumbered two to one and had only the possibility of exhaustion and random injuries to act as a force multiplier.

I was going to die.

I closed my eyes and sat back against the wall and pictured my grandfather. He had been a good man. He worked hard, he never let his family go without, and most importantly he loved his grandchildren. I summoned up a picture of his face from long ago and tried to recall his voice. I could only recall a sort of warbling distorted sound I’d heard coming from a tape cassette of him singing.

The memory made me smile but when I opened my eyes I was still faced with the fact that I was going to die. I’d come to peace with the thought of death and hadn’t really been bothered by it even as a child. The only exceptions I had were dying as my grandfather had, riddled with cancer or from old age.

For some reason that thought made me smile even more. How many times had I heard people, even those that counted themselves as men say that they wanted to die peacefully in their beds at the age of 100?

I wished I had a copy of the Hávamál with me, but the words I needed came to mind as though I read from the page.

A coward believes he will ever live 
if he keep him safe from strife: 
but old age leaves him not long in peace 
though spears may spare his life.

Death was what brought me to where I am.  No sense worrying about it now. Before I could follow this train of thought too far Sako and Tikka jumped down off the bed alerting at the door. I removed my Ka-Bar from my boot and stuffed it into my back pocket and opened the door quickly, surprising Donnelly yet again.

“I have some of the things you asked for sir. The rest of it should be here by tomorrow, though we’re having a little trouble getting you a blackboard.” He said holding out a first aid kit, several packages of clotting agent and and small bag to contain everything.

I began stuffing things inside the bag then realized Donnelly was still standing there.

“Yes?”

He smiled and held out one more item “It took some looking but managed to get this for you  myself.”

Wonders never ceased. Donnelly had brought me a fixed power monocular with night vision. It was substantially larger than the one I had lost, but well worth it for the night vision capability. I opened the box and slid the monocular out examining it carefully.

“Well done, Donnelly. No running for you tomorrow.”  I smiled and shut the door in his still smiling face. Of course, no one was going to be doing any running tomorrow, but I’d let him have this little reward.

****

Dinner that night was thankfully quiet. Michael was present only briefly and that to tell us all that he would be away for the next few days handling military concerns. His cryptic statement wasn’t lost on me, but I didn’t have a chance to question him about it.

I gave a note to one of Michael’s guards asking that it be delivered immediately. The guard, one of the stone- faced ones I’d been working with earlier nodded and stuffed the note in his pocket.

I was quietly eating my dinner which consisted mostly of steamed –once upon a time–frozen vegetables and doing my best to eavesdrop on the conversations taking place around me.  As was often the case when I wasn’t perceiving a threat I let my mind wander. It must have been a while because the next bite of food I took was somehow cold.

Several of the men had left the dining area including the man on my left who was suddenly replaced by the bearded, smiling face of Preston. I nodded a greeting to him and dipped a bit of broccoli in a garlic butter sauce and chewed on it contemplatively.

“I hear you were some kind of war hero?” Preston said without any sort of preamble. “You get to go play in the sandbox or ? ” He let it hang there.

“I was in Iraq for a bit.” I said suddenly wary “I don’t think anyone would call what I did heroic by any stretch.”

Preston laughed and put his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t be modest now. Michael’s been telling us your stories. We all wanted to hear them from you, but Michael said you were kind of . . .” he trailed off searching for words “touchy, I suppose. No offense.”

My stories? What had he been telling these people? I thought about telling Preston I hadn’t seen Michael for more than a few minutes since I’d been here, but stopped when I noticed all conversation had ceased and a crowd had gathered behind me.

“That so?” I said picking up another of the mushy vegetables and chewing it slowly.

Preston nodded enthusiastically “He told us about the time you were in Ramadi and about how you cut down all them Iraqi’s working as a sniper.” He smiled at me then “My boy, my youngest son, he was in Fallujah. Got hit by an IED. He lived for a while, they even sent him home” I heard the tone of his voice change and knew this pain was still fresh for the big man “so we at least got to say our goodbyes. . .”

I turned and presented my hand to Preston. “Thank you. Thank you for your son’s and your families sacrifice and please, accept my sincere condolences.”

Preston’s eyes were watering and the dam was about to burst. I stood and took my plate, handing it to one of the women that had served our food. Ramadi? What in the ever living fuck? I hadn’t even heard of Ramadi until years after my time in service. I could count on one hand the number of magazines I’d expended in combat while I was there.

I went back to my quarters pondering the game Michael was playing here. I couldn’t confront him head on about it, but I wanted to know why he was lying to his people. I felt bad for not immediately disabusing the crowd of the notion that I was some hero, some superman-sniper from the movies, but I couldn’t do that just yet. Not until I knew what Michael was about.

Chapter 48 -Belt Fed Revolution

Sako and Tikka decided that if the bed was good enough for me it was good for them too. When Paige woke me just before dawn, both dogs were curled up by my head deep in the kind of sleep that only small animals and rocks know.

“I saw Gene a few minutes ago, he’s probably coming to get you.” She said as she helped me move the sleeping dogs so I could get out of the small cot.

“Gene?”

“Gene Donnelly? I saw him following you around yesterday?” She was still looking out the window, keeping watch as I had asked.

“Don’t do that.” I said as I looked for fresh socks and slipped on my boots.

“Do what?”

“Don’t make something a question when it’s meant to be a statement. Drives me nuts.”

“Sorry. Habit.” She gave me a brief smile though eye contact still wasn’t being made.

“Here,” I said, doing my best to tidy up the bed “get some sleep if you can.” I hurried to finish dressing before Donnelly came back. “Don’t let the dogs push you out of bed. I’m not going to be upset if you make them sleep on the floor.”

Paige smiled as she bent and picked up Tikka who was straining mightily to lick her face. “It’s okay–I like them. I don’t mind sharing.”

I glanced out the window just in time to see Donnelly heading my way. I quickly tucked my new Nagant revolver into my belt and stuffed my Ka-Bar into my boot, securing it hastily with my boot laces. I could hear the foot steps approaching the door as could Sako and Tikka who remained silent though they stared intently heads cocked to the side. I told them they were good dogs and swept the door open before Donnelly decided to barge in.

Donnelly was surprised to see me waiting for him as was evident by the lack of speech and rapidly blinking eyes.

“Sleep in this morning, Donnelly?” I said as I strode past him headed toward the area where the crate of hammers had been put out. I hadn’t exactly memorized the camps layout, but the truck was still parked where it had been the previous night.

Donnelly fell in quickly beside me “Sir? We’re supposed to be at the range this morning?”  Without slowing, I  smacked him with the back of my hand hard enough to sting but not draw blood.

“You did not meet me with a cup of coffee and you have been warned about making statements into questions.” I picked up the pace a little eager to get to the tools. I arrived at the crate of hammers and saw sheets of plywood next to the hammers along with a couple of bags of cement. The heavy equipment still hadn’t arrived and I began to wonder if our PT would be conducted digging trenches.

“Donnelly, where is the rest of the gear for the rifles?” I could see his brain working as he converted whatever he was about to say into a statement.

“A-At the range, sir. Came in a couple of hours ago. The men will be assembled out there by now, waiting for you.”

“First rule of combat, Donnelly: no plan ever survives initial contact. I’m going to hit the head and you are going to go find me some coffee. Everything else can wait.” Donnelly started to sputter, but I didn’t want to hear it. It’s hard to build a reputation as a diva if you take the time to listen to people.

****

I did my best thinking in the bathroom. Some things never change. I had to come up with more delaying tactics that weren’t readily apparent and as I hid out  in the bathroom I came up with something resembling a strategy.

I waited until I heard the sound of footsteps before exiting the head. Donnelly was stood before me sans coffee. I was not happy. I held up a hand before he began to speak.

“I don’t want to hear your excuse. Do you have something to write with?”

Donnelly reached into the pockets of his cargo pants and withdrew a pen and small pad. I took the materials and wrote a note. I tore the sheet off and stuck it to Donnelly’s forehead.

“The note reads ‘I am incapable of following orders’. You will wear this all day or until you return to me with a cup of coffee.” I continued to write on another sheet taking time to carefully consider the items I needed then handed the sheet to him.

“I’ll need these things as well, to conduct training. Take it to Michael and get back to me as soon as you deliver the message.” I handed Donnelly back his things and walked off to the training field.

****

When I arrived men were arranged haphazardly over the training field, standing here and there in groups without any sign of order.  If anyone here had any sort of military training it was not evident in their appearance. This would work for me.

I gave a sharp whistle and heads turned in my direction. I saw two people actually assume attention, but the rest just continued to mill around. I searched my memory wondering if I’d ever seen the movie ‘Patton’ but I couldn’t recall anything other than an actor standing in front of a flag.

One of the men that had come to attention had the good sense to call it out, causing everyone on the field to assume a version of the pose and attempt to form themselves into ranks. It was damned amusing.

“I am Stephen Johanson,” I said pronouncing the first part of the last name as ‘Joe’. “I am going to train in you in the proper operation and manipulation of the M91/30 Mosin-Nagant Main Battle Rifle” I saw plenty of blank stares I was hoping indicated  their level of familiarity with the big rifle.

The crates had been delivered to the field along with the useless scopes. I picked one rifle out of the crate and checked the action feeling a bit of warmth in my chest at the familiar sound and feel of the bolt as it moved.

“When I am through with you, you will be able to shoot these rifles more accurately than any multi-thousand dollar AR platform you ever owned or fantasized about.”

I saw Donnelly goldbricking his way toward me with no coffee evident. These people really did not understand the relationship I had with that bean. I gave a quick shake of my head and resumed speaking to the men.

“However.” I said smiling at them  “Before you even touch a live round of ammunition, we will have PT. You will be starting off with a run of 2 miles, led by our own Mr Donnelly here.”

Donnelly arrived just in time to hear me designate him as the Temporary Master Fitness trainer much to his surprise.

Donnelly handed me a note and bent over taking deep breaths from the exertion of walking a message back and forth.

“You have 30 minutes to run two miles. You will not pass Mr Donnelly at any point during the run: anyone finishing the run ahead of Mr Donnelly will run an extra mile.” I turned and did my best to smile magnanimously at Donnelly. “If Mr Donnelly cannot complete the run in 30 minutes you will all be doing push ups until I get tired.”

I handed the rifle I was holding to Donnelly and clapped him on the shoulder. “Go.” I told him and watched the horror on his face as he tried to figure out how to run carrying the rifle. “Everyone, step up and get a rifle. As soon as you have a rifle, start running!”

These men didn’t know it yet, but no one was going to be completing the run in time regardless. I hadn’t mentioned to anyone that I had no idea how far two miles was, nor had I marked out a course for them to follow. I just wanted to make them as tired as possible.

****

After the last man departed I quick time jogged back to the camp to look for Sarah. When I found her, she was doing an inventory of the medical supplies on hand at sick bay. She gave me the prim smile I had come to expect and continued looking at the bottles and plastic cartons laid out before her.

“Can I borrow you for a minute?”

Sarah looked up at one of the men that was posted outside the sick bay and nodded. We walked away from the guard, hopefully far enough to be out of earshot, but still visible.

“I need you to come by and check my progress later” I said in a voice loud enough it should carry back to the guard. I made a show of pointing at my still bandaged area and wincing.

Sarah nodded and began to pull up my shirt. “I’ll do it right now, You don’t need special . . . ”

I stopped her and looked deep into her eyes “I need you to come by tonight and check on this.”

Sarah nodded but made her own show of looking at my wound and giving me a reproving look. “You should have come by sooner!” she said, raising her voice. “I’m busy now, but you should be okay until I’m free tonight. I’ll come by and check on you then.”

I thanked her and jogged back to the training area. I didn’t see anyone coming back just yet and I imagined it had to be close to time for people to return. I took the note Donnelly had brought me out of my pocket and read it while I waited.

“Brother Stephen,

I have received the list you sent and we should be able to get the items you need by the end of today or tomorrow at the latest. I intend to visit you shortly to oversee how the army is progressing. Understand though this will not be a formal inspection as I know you’ve only just begun and have much to do. I have faith that you will be able to bring an army to the field of battle soon.

Yours in Christ,

Michael.”

I didn’t know which god to thank but I was grateful for every delay that I could get away with causing. I folded the note and put it back in my pocket. I looked up and saw the entire group of men returning at a walking pace behind Donnelly.

When he finally got close I noticed that the top of Donnelly’s shoes and his pant legs had drying vomit on them. He wasn’t alone. Several others, mostly the older men and those that were terribly out of shape all looked like they taken a minute to relieve themselves of their breakfast.

“Wonderful gentlemen, you’ve completed your run in only 45 minutes! Stack your rifles up over here and let’s get ready for push ups!” I heard a few groans but no actual complaints.

After the rifles were stacked neatly the men all dropped down onto their stomachs, wisely trying to take a break to catch their breath.

“If you do not have a rifle I better see your butt up in the air, holding at rest position! No one told you to lay down! It is not nap time, gentlemen! Now, UP!”

I had to demonstrate what the rest position was for them, but I’d had a pretty easy day, plenty of water to drink, and was full of energy. I could’ve held the rest position for hours. I was almost tempted to, knowing that would be almost as stressful for them, but I wanted them bone weary, every muscle group protesting.

“DOWN!”

I did several push ups since I was full of energy then sprang to my feet and began counting off as they tried to complete the exercise and smiled a bit as I saw several in the group stop to vomit again. I got bored watching them do push ups after a while and set them on flutter kicks to increase my entertainment level.

It didn’t take long until I saw my first recruit pass out. It wasn’t as much fun for me, but if I could kill a few this way I wasn’t going to be terribly upset. I kept an eye on them and saw a couple more collapse, either from exhaustion or dehydration I couldn’t be sure, but it was close enough for me.

I called a break, dismissing them to quarters. I didn’t figure too many of them would be up and about to cause trouble tonight, but now I had to get ready for my second group, the guards.

The guards were supposed to be the best of what Michael had to offer. I chuckled silently. These elite few were going to get real Marine Corps training. And I could not wait.

I didn’t have to wait long for them to show. The elite force consisted of about 20 guys all with their own rifles and gear. I dispensed with the formalities as they all formed up on the field.

“Gentlemen, get ready for PT. You have 18 minutes to run 3 miles.” I smiled at their expressionless faces. “Now go.”

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.”