Tag Archives: Ancestors

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.

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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 41 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heathen.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Others?”

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

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

“Enter.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 39 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

I crawled under the tree and immediately passed out.

****

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 23 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

The grave I dug was not deep nor very long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right, John?”

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

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

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

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

“How is what going to work?”

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 20 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 19 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 18 – Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 15 -Belt Fed Revolution

The truck stop was about the same as we left it. My Jeep had remained intact and at first glance I didn’t see anything missing letting me breathe easier for a few minutes. I unslung the .338 and tried to hand it off to one of the truckers. “Well now, that’s fine Finn, and nice of you, but I can’t just let you give this up especially considering how you helped us out.” He told me to wait a second and took the rifle back to his rig. I turned to John and prepared to make my goodbyes.

“Well, ” was as far as I got before John cut me off. “Look, Finn–uh, I’m sort of S.O.L. here now that my truck is done . . .” he looked at me as if expecting I would know what to fill in here. I obliged with “Yeah?” Somewhat uncharacteristically for John he looked down at the ground, embarrassed as if he’d been caught stealing apples off the neighbors tree. “Well, I don’t have anything keeping me here and I was kind of hoping I could, you know . . .” I didn’t. Mentally I was trying to cut to the chase so I could see what he was after, but the closest thing I could figure is he was getting ready to pitch me a time-share in Florida. It had been a kind of long day. “Shit. Look man, I want to go to Canada, okay? I don’t have a truck anymore and I could use a ride!”  Ah, there’s the chase I told myself.

“John, it’s not that I’m against offering a hand in help, but . . .” I tried to think of a nice way to say ‘I’m done here’ but kept coming up blank. ” My Jeep is packed full. I really don’t have room for a passenger and, well. . .” John looked at me inquiringly “I’m kind of done here . . .” Even in my time as a social worker and all the hard luck stories I’d heard I’d never actually seen a grown man give me the puppy dog eyes. Damn it. I love dogs.

I was grateful to be interrupted by the trucker to whom I’d given the rifle coming back with a gift for me. He held out the little black rectangle along with a whip antenna and a 12v power cord. “This little CB won’t let you hear us on our sideband models, but you may at least be able to get some news from folks out there.”  I don’t really know what it means to feel happiness, but relief and gratitude seemed to be good substitutes that most people translated that way. “Thank you. I hope this won’t leave you short?” The trucker just laughed “Naw, man. You gave me that rifle so I can reach out and touch someone just as easily. Fair trade!” We both had a laugh at that and shook hands before parting company.

I had almost forgotten John was waiting for me. I turned around and saw the same heartsick look a dog gives when you scold it for chewing on the linoleum. “Fuck me runnin…yeah okay. Let me go see if I can move stuff around. But I’m not going to Canada. You can ride along with me as far as my gas holds out.” John dropped his salvaged belongings he had carried back from the truck and shook my hand pumping it vigorously. I was worried if he kept this up my arm might literally be ripped off and no way was he driving my Jeep. I took my hand back, somewhat forcefully. “You need to go talk to your buddies here and see if they have any gear they can spare you.  See if anyone’s got some shoes you can use” I lifted my pant leg to show my Cadillac’s, a pair of leather jump boots, my only other souvenir from my time in the Corps.  I pointed at John’s thin soled shoes that the other truckers seemed to favor as well. “We have to hoof it and those aren’t going to last for more than five miles.” John disappeared and I went to sort out the Jeep, shaking my head as I went.

***

I had finished sorting out the Jeep, mainly by pushing stuff over the back seat into the cargo area when John returned. He gave me a very detailed map of Michigan and for himself a few spare cans of food and a couple of bottles of water. No one had any shoes to spare for him.

I got in the Jeep and reached back to open the rear passenger door. John, puppy like stood at the front passenger door looking at me expectantly. I returned his look, waiting for him to get the not too thinly veiled hint. I pointed at the back door and told him to get in. “Why do I have to sit in the back?” he was whining.

“Because I keep the gear I need next to me so I can get at it in a hurry. And because if we meet any unfriendly types, I expect you to take my shotgun and send them off to meet their gods.” I was getting pissed. “Suck it up, Nancy. It’s this or get out and you take your chances here.” When it was clear I wasn’t going to give in, he shut the door and took my shotgun wedging it between his foot and the floorboard.

I let out the clutch on the Cherokee and swung around sticking my hand out the window to wave goodbye to the few truckers that came out to see us off. I didn’t really like the idea, but I got on I-196 to head north. I knew there was a big state park up that way, but it was far enough away that I hadn’t bothered to look at the map just yet. I figured at best if the roads stayed clear and I didn’t have to stop I could make about 200 miles with the gas I had on hand. I hoped that would be enough since I planned to get off the interstate as soon as possible and push my luck with state and county roads.

John caught a case of the ‘Chatty Cathy’s’ as I drove and began telling me his life story. For the most part I ignored him and kept scanning the road for signs of trouble. I was half listening to John, waiting for an interruption in the stream of verbal diarrhea that was flowing out of him when I noticed something he had kept repeating. “John?” He stopped and tilted his head at the sound of my voice. Guy had to be part beagle, I swear it. “You keep saying partner. Are you gay?” He laughed and slapped the back of my seat “You’re pretty quick there! I think I only said my ex-boyfriend’s name about 100 times!” I looked at him in the rear view “Given the fact I killed several men today and am still a free man, I don’t think I need to tell you things have changed.” His head tilted to the other side and I wished for a rolled up newspaper.

“Of all the things I could possibly spend time caring about, your sexual preference is near the bottom of that list, but I’m not everyone else. Get me?” He looked puzzled for a moment “What do you mean?” he asked.  “John, there are no more police as far as I can tell, no courts, no lawyers, nobody is going to come to your defense and make others treat you as an equal. Dig?” the puppy dog look was replaced with one of indignation. I stopped him before he could get on his verbal bike and start in on me “I don’t care. Who you screw is your business as far as I’m concerned. But also as far as I’m concerned who I kill is my business; I’m guessing there are a whole bunch of folks out there think the same now. Mommy isn’t going to come around and make everyone play nice. I’m not saying don’t be who you are, but maybe dim the light a little, yeah?” John sat back against the seat and stared out the window in silence. Apparently I had gotten through to him.

I took the map and began looking for a place to get off the interstate and find my way to a side road. I knew a fight was coming. Now, hopefully, John knew as well. People weren’t going to be “accepting” like they had been when they had the possibility of legal sanctions facing them. “John?” Silence. I pulled out my hammer from beneath my shirt. “You see this?” He looked at it and nodded. “This is Mjolnir, John. The hammer of Thor.” I pressed on. “I’m a Heathen, as in not Christian.” Huffily “And?” 

 “I don’t advertise it, John. I’m still going to be a Heathen and worship the gods and my ancestors, but I don’t go around telling people–usually– because they grew up with things being a certain way.” He nodded slightly so I continued “Remember how Jews and Muslims were treated here? Well, how do you think people are going to react to this? People want homogeneity. Everything needs to be the same or the thing that’s different needs to be removed. Last thing I want now is to get my ass burned at the stake or beheaded or whatever people are going to do to those who are different. There’s a fight coming. If there’s a fight, let’s win.”

I couldn’t tell if I had reached him. I put the hammer back under my shirt and John sat back and returned to staring out the window.

A short time later I heard him say mostly to himself “Let’s win.”

Chapter 4 -Belt Fed Revolution

Gasoline and the ability to travel didn’t effect me as much as it did most people. I didn’t have a lot of friends or relatives that I needed to visit and most of my interests could be done online, but eventually we all felt the pinch and even surfing the internet had to be limited.

Seems like a pretty reasonable idea but it was one most people had a lot of trouble accepting. If it was daytime, you didn’t really need to have lights on to do most things yet people who could barely afford to feed themselves weren’t too bothered leaving lights on all day or keeping their desktops going round the clock.

I’d like to say that I saw all these changes coming and was the prophet that lead my small band of people through the hard times, but that’d be a straight up lie. I saw the changes sure enough and did what I could to prepare for them, cutting the excesses (as few as they were) out of my budget. I gave up on tv since I could provide my own entertainment most times, living by a quote from Anne Herbert that says “libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through  times of no libraries”.

This was one of the things that ticked me off the most about American society. My local library had dvd’s and internet access which was what most people came for. Their actual supply of books probably wouldn’t have filled my small garage, which couldn’t even accommodate a subcompact car.

The things I spent money on that weren’t absolute necessities were things like a solar charger for my e-reader and books and manuals to fill it. I can’t claim that I was a survivalist and spent every spare moment making snares and walking through the woods without leaving footprints or making a noise, but I could–and did–read. I devoured everything I could about bushcraft, weapons and tactics, gardening and identifying edible plants.

Folks have asked me in the days since the United States became an entirely failed enterprise that sent us all scurrying for cover, how it was I managed to survive. Truth is there’s nothing special about me. My gods didn’t endow me with any special powers. I can’t see in the dark and as best I know I can’t fly. And if what I hear from my body is to be believed, I can experience pain.

If anything set me apart from the other survivors –and from those that didn’t — it had to be my grandfather. From an early age I went hunting and fishing with my grandfather and learned to appreciate and respect nature. One of my earliest memories is shooting one of his rifles at a public range. I only had my grandfather for 6 years before cancer took him, but apparently those years helped form everything I would become.

I had a natural affinity for the bow, though unlike others in my family I tended to prefer recurve and long bows instead of compounds. I was an instinctive shooter and early on I discovered I knew before my arrows landed whether or not my aim had been true. Something similar occurred with the guns. While I wasn’t quite an instinctive shooter with a hand gun or rifle, I knew as soon as I pulled the trigger if my shot was good.

I learned how to be accurate with pretty much anything that launched a projectile. Atlatl’s, slingshots, blow guns, even the good old sling–though I wouldn’t have bet my life or my dinner on its use.

During the high times I had stocked up on ammunition; enough to see me through a crisis–I thought–or enough that I could defend my home in case of a bug in scenario.

As money got tighter I stuck to shooting mostly .22’s since I hadn’t thought ahead to buy reloading equipment. I always figured I could rely on my arrows and slingshot to hunt with if the worst came to pass. I was deadly accurate with a slingshot up to about 35 feet, and if I pushed it I might be able to take a deer at 75 yards with the bow if the cover wasn’t too dense.

So I practiced. I practiced shooting on the move and on the wing. I went to a little undeveloped wooded area near my house and built shelters and would spend the night in them to see what I would need to make myself the most comfortable. I learned how to make a fire with a bow drill and a few alternate means and probably most importantly, I ate the plants I was able to identify. And yes, I practiced making snares to catch the rabbits that ruled the evening and pre dawn hours of my neighborhood.

I heard a lot from tv shows about end times “prepper” families that thought they were prepared for everything.  I could only shake my head and wish them the best. I knew there was no way to be prepared for every eventuality, just ways to make it through to the next day.

Unfortunately, even with all this I was still overweight and pushing 40. I was strong, but carrying too much excess gut that my day job wasn’t helping with and between reading and practicing my bushcraft I just never found time to get in shape and I was paying for it.

Most days I walked with a limp that got worse because my job had me sitting down all day and I developed back problems. Because of this I began to modify my ruck so that Iwas carrying only the essentials. this meant that if I had to bug out, I was going to have to leave most of my guns and the ammo for them behind.