Tag Archives: disjointed writing style

Chapter 46 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded “You have my word on it.”

****

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 40 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doctor?” I croaked out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Chapter 37 -Belt Fed Revolution

Upon reaching the camp I noticed things were greatly relaxed compared to the last time I’d been here. The guards around the supply CONEX were still pretty rigid, but the rest seemed to have settled into a mode that spoke of resignation to their new lives. I could recall having seen this when I was deployed with guards that had been in country before Desert Shield kicked off. Sure, they’d still shoot you if you looked wrong, but they probably wouldn’t bother shouldering the rifle; they’d just shoot you from the hip.

I hit the little two-stroke’s kill switch and let our momentum carry us into the center of the camp which was the erstwhile Wal-Mart delivery area. I had to stand there and blink the grit out of my eyes for a few seconds before I could begin to engage in conversation.

“So what’s the plan?”

Starke shot back “You’re the guy with the plan, you tell me?”

Having seen which side of the loop we were both on, we decided to go Dwyer’s office for my after action report. I didn’t have to wait this time. Being escorted directly into Dwyer’s office suited me just fine. I had some questions that needed answers right now.

Dwyer looked up as we entered, appearing slightly surprised to see me. I waved his opener away before he said it “Yeah, I know you didn’t expect to see me so soon.”

Dwyer gestured to the plastic chairs in front of his desk. I stood back and let Starke take the one furthest from the door. As soon as he settled in, I stepped around behind the desk and drew my revolver, shoving Dwyer’s head down onto his desk. Starke regarded me with the same look I imagine he would have if I’d sprouted tentacles and began to dance. I stripped Dwyer’s sidearm from it’s large, ostentatious holster and pointed it at Starke.

“Relax. I’m going to ask the Major here some questions and I think you might want to hear the answers as well.” Starke nodded and held up his hands, leaning back into the chair slightly.

“Not that I don’t trust you, but I’m gonna need to relieve you of your sidearm as well.” Starke drew his 9mm from the shoot me  holster on his leg holding the grip with two fingers. “Now empty it.” I could see the rage building in Starke and I understood it. When you carry a weapon for so long you get used to its presence and for someone to take it from you carried the same feelings that might accompany having a finger removed with a cold chisel and a hammer.

Even though he didn’t like it, Starke ejected the magazine and pulled the slide back until it locked, letting the chambered round dribble down the mag well onto the floor and set the gun on the desk.

I did the same with Dwyer’s gun, a very nice chrome plated Colt chambered in .45 caliber with what appeared to be genuine pearl handles. A show piece I thought as I examined it. The gun fit Dwyer to a Tee.

“So question number one. Who are you working for?”

Dwyer didn’t answer immediately so I placed the revolver at the nape of his neck.

“What do you mean? I’m working for the governor, for the state of Michigan! Who else would I be working for?!” Dwyer wasn’t shouting which was good. I didn’t need to draw too much attention from the bored looking guards outside.

I considered his response for a moment before switching gears “Okay, let me rephrase. You are working for the governor who wanted martial law declared and wants to continue martial law, with the help of the feds. True or false?”

Dwyer began to try and bluster. This didn’t really work for me. Turns out in the new world there are quicker and better ways to get things done, so I drew my Ka-bar and slid my revolver back into the holster. Placing the blade between his index and middle fingers , I drew the edge over the soft web of  flesh there until I saw a little line of red appear.

Dwyer to his credit endured this well a sharp intake of breath the only hint that  he was not enjoying the days proceedings. Starke stood up and began to protest. I didn’t point the gun at him this time, only stared at him until he resumed his seat. I placed Ka-bar against Dwyer’s eye this time and repeated my question.

“Yes, damn it!Yes!!!”  I was glad that the threat of losing an eye was enough to motivate him as I really didn’t want to strip him naked and cut off his balls. “My orders come from the Governor himself! We want the Feds to know their place, but we don’t want them to leave!”

Starke stared at Dwyer now as if he, too, had grown tentacles and joined me in singing a duet of ‘No Greater Love’.

“Terrific. Now that we’ve answered the how full of shit is this guy question, hopefully we can proceed without need of further crude  demonstrations. Agreed?” I waggled the blade of Sweet Louise in front of his face slightly until he nodded. That was impressive considering he had most of my weight bearing down on his neck.

I stood just behind and to the left of Dwyer, letting him raise his head and rub his neck a bit. I was pretty sure that Starke, if he wasn’t on board was at least swinging that way, but I wanted to be able to cover the both of them just in case. There was one tense moment when Dwyer, apparently without thinking, turned slightly away from me and reached toward a drawer in his desk. My .357 was out of the holster and laid against his temple before he had a chance to close his fingers on the drawer pull.

He held his hands up “I just wanted to get the neosporin out of that drawer there” he gestured slightly with his head. I opened the drawer for him and saw that it did indeed have a tube of neosporin along with a compact .380 semi auto located just deep enough inside the drawer that most people would have missed seeing it from the other side of the desk.

I took possession of the little handgun and, wrapping my hand around the grip as I slammed my fist into Dwyer’s face twice in rapid succession. I had opened a small cut on the bridge of his nose and my hand was on fire from the impacts.

“If you have any ice in the other drawer, you just leave it there unless you want me to send you off to meet your gods.” Dwyer nodded and took a tissue from the box on his desk and placed it against the cut on his nose.

The voice in my head was insistent that I kill him, but I knew I couldn’t do that and hope to walk out of here alive. I took a moment to master my emotion and gave Starke a chance to chime in. “So why have we been killing the Feds if we’re on the same side?”

“The Governor considers it an ‘acceptable loss’. Plus there just isn’t a way to get everyone in the comm loop on this. We can’t exactly fake a battle!” Dwyer’s face had taken on a deep purple hue. I guess being made to answer to an NCO is a blood pressure trigger for some people.

I waved Starke back before he could say anything else. “So you sent me out to meet with the militia in the hopes that, what? They’d agree to your little plan and when they showed up you’d just slaughter them?”

Dwyer laughed. “Not entirely. We have a use for the so called Patriot’s but it’s a plan that’s already happened you see. We’ll be sending a patrol along shortly to pick up the survivors.”

“You total piece of shit. I was your bird dog?”

Dwyer regarded me calmly “In a sense. We knew where they were, but not what buildings they were using and it’d be wasteful to destroy the whole town, so we just added a little something to your Jeep.” Dwyer looked like the cat that ate the canary, his smile was wide “their headquarters probably went up in flames moments after you left.” He shrugged and smiled so broadly I thought his head might split open “I mean, I’m no pilot but I’m pretty sure the guns on an A-10 have incendiary rounds, right?”

A slight wisp of smoke wafted out the muzzle of my revolver before I had a chance to remind myself that killing Dwyer would likely mean a full on shooting-war to get clear of the camp. The room stank of gunpowder and quickly of urine and feces as Dwyer’s bowels let loose.

I swung to the door seconds before it flew open, two guards with M-16’s appearing there looking confused. Their confusion was short lived as they saw Dwyer’s lifeless body sitting behind his desk.

I pointed the revolver at the guard nearest me and fired before he had a chance to swing his muzzle toward me. The second guard wasn’t as slow in aiming, but had been about to order me to drop my weapon before I shot his companion. I dropped him with another round, his mouth still working wordlessly as he fell.

Starke reached for his gun then stopped holding up one hand “I’m on your side here, okay? But we have got to get this shit under control now. Just let me handle it and don’t shoot anyone unless you have absolutely have to.”

I nodded and thought if I made it through this, he and I were going to need to have a talk about my definition of ‘absolute’.  Starke took up his sidearm and reinserted the magazine, pausing for a second to grab the loose round from the floor and inserting it directly into the barrel.

“Okay, come on. We have to get to comms riki-tik.” Starake turned and left the room stepping over the bodies, not glancing back to see if I was following him. In the maze of CONEX boxes and regular semi-trailers there stood a small U-Haul style truck with several confused looking guards around it. They’d heard the gunfire, but no one knew where it was coming from or what they should do about it, so they kept their posts, but now in high alert.

One of the guards attempted to challenge Starke, but he stood down as Starke brushed by him saying   “The fuck out of my way before I shoot you in the dick, boy.” The guard and his compatriots chuckled nervously as we rushed the truck.

Starke raised the door of the truck and stepped inside walking immediately over to a gray phone and snatching it off its cradle before anyone inside had a chance to object.

“All civilian section leaders and all NCO E-5’s and above report to command immediately.”

The inhabitants of the commo truck began to ask questions, but Starke shook his head and held up a silencing hand “Command has issued a change of orders. Your squad leader will be by in a little while to explain.”

Starke looked at me and let out a pensive breath. “Let’s go. You have a meeting to lead” and was out of the truck before I had a chance to respond.

I stood there for a moment wondering if it was too late for me to sneak out of camp. Yeah, probably was.

Before I could formulate anything resembling a plan small arms fire erupted around the camp. I turned back to one of the comms techs and told him “if there’s a general order to get everyone moving, issue it now. After that, I expect everyone in here to get suited up and get out there ready to build a wall of lead,brass and flesh.” I paused for a moment the comms tech was a slightly pasty faced and overweight kid who probably spent most of his time playing Modern Warfare instead of learning how to operate a rilfe. To the blank stare I said “How read?”

The kid jumped up out of his seat and pressed a button before responding “Sir, yes sir!” I muttered something about being called ‘sir’ under my breath and exited the trailer, the sound of small arms fire still intermittently filling my ears.

Chapter 36 -Belt Fed Revolution

It was the worst of injustices. The buckshot had not only taken my windows, but my sound system. I could really go for some Judas Priest right now. Motherfuckers.

I was approaching the turn off to the MVDF when I saw the top of the ramps had been blocked off.  Trucks had been rolled into place and their tires flattened to make them almost immovable. Awesome. Looked like I was hoofing it. I slung my rifle and almost hit the pavement as I got out of the Jeep.

My knee buckled under my weight causing me to flail wildly to try to keep my balance. I managed to stand up by grabbing onto the mirror to take some pressure off my knee. I stood there for several minutes wincing and cursing, waiting for the pain to abate.

I hobbled off to the roadside and sat for several minutes flexing the muscles in my leg, hoping that I’d be able to get underway. I tried several times to walk, but with each step I’d nearly lose my balance as my knee refused to cooperate. I ended up taking the sling off my rifle so I could turn the bipod 180 degrees, locking the legs back toward the stock. This wasn’t exactly the most ergonomically pleasing arrangement, but it made a decent enough cane to help me make it past the trucks at the head of the off ramp.

After clearing the end of the truck I saw something that struck me as surreal. A  large oak pedestal table sat about fifty yards away from the off ramp , complete with chairs. I scanned the area as best I could and noted nothing else that struck me as odd.

I approached the table after a good deal of time passed, hobbling as quickly as it was possible and saw on top of the table a yellow legal pad inscribed with details about myself and my vehicle written on it. I pulled out one of the chairs and sat down, placing my rifle on the table.

I read through the information several times, though there was nothing unusual to be noted about how I was described. Subject is white, approximately 210 lbs, 6’2″ , blonde hair, blue eyes and will likely be sporting a long bushy beard. Expect subject to be driving a Jeep (possibly a Cherokee) or other vehicle recognizable as a technical or specifically well suited to off-road travel (like a Toyota PickUp)–  I scoffed. A Toyota? Not bloody likely!– A side note in a different had been scribbled in the margin. I smiled as I read it he likes revolvers! 

I continued to flip through the legal pad and came across a couple of similar references to other individuals, though these struck me more as the ‘operator’ type of individual by description. Apparently I wasn’t the only bait floating around on this little stretch of the Shit River.

I noted all the descriptions had names at the top of the page then immediately next to it a code name. Great stuff; Snake-eyes, Ace,Wolverine and one called Nightcap. At least they weren’t all comic-book characters. I scratched out my own name and wrote next in its place ‘The Gentleman Caller’. I scratched that out as it was too long a code name and replaced it with ‘Heathen’.

My knee was feeling a little better and I was considering getting underway again when movement caught my attention. I flipped open the  lens covers  and pointed the rifle in the direction of the movement. I took me only a second to find him, a gangly young kid wearing an Army dress uniform which he was buttoning up hurriedly. I maintained my sight picture on him as he turned and appeared to be searching the grass he’d just been in when I saw more movement. I chuckled and shut my lens caps as I saw the kid help a young woman to her feet and get squared away, brushing grass and debris off her back.

My welcoming committee had apparently sneaked off for a little afternoon delight. Hel, I couldn’t blame them: it’s not like there was a ton else to do. Part of me thought I should report the kid for quitting his post without being properly relieved, but I reminded myself I wasn’t part of their military for a reason.

The young couple was saying their goodbyes and taking their time about it. I gave a quick sharp whistle and both heads jerked around to see me sitting at the table. I gave them both a polite little wave and did my best to remain expressionless as the kid hoofed it over to the table, his paramour melting into the scenery, no doubt with a reddened face.

I watched him approach. He had the standard issue side arm and nothing more. Dwyer must have figured they had this place on lock to leave just this poorly armed kid out here. I looked around the area again. Plenty of good hides around here, but if there was a sniper hanging out somewhere he was well concealed and smart enough not to give himself away.

The kid made it to the table and snapped off a hurried salute. “Sorry, sir!”

I laughed “Knock that shit off and straighten your gig line.”

His face went beet red as he bent over to examine his gig line and give his zipper a tug. When he was squared away he looked at the legal pad in front of him and flipped through a couple of pages. I helped him out by setting one of my revolvers on the table and giving him a patient look.

“You’re Finn,sir?” the kid smiled and sat down.

“Minus the sir.” I nodded.

“You weren’t expected back so quickly. I have orders to have you escorted back to the camp. . . without delay.” He smiled sheepishly at me.

“Relax kid, I’m not here to break balls.” I looked over my shoulder “Any chance you can get that moved?” I said indicating the truck blocking my Jeep.

“No, sir. I have an alternate means of transportation though, just wait one while I call it in.” At that he produced a cell phone and hit one button and waited.  He sat the phone down and looked at me “transport will be here in a couple.”

A couple of minutes passed and the kid did his best to make small talk, all of which I ignored. I heard a sound that I first took for a chainsaw motor, but realized it must be a motorcycle as it got closer. I saw the bike, it’s headlight taped WWII style to reduce its signature. Sat on top was Starke, grinning as he approached the table.

Starke didn’t bother with a salute, just gave me ‘the nod’ and asked “You ready?”

“Only if you intend to walk back to base.”

He frowned slightly “Whaddya–”

I cut him off. “I don’t ride bitch. Give me the bike and hoof it back to your camp or go get a car. Your choice. I’ll be right here, waiting.”

I heard him mutter ‘asshole’ as he got off the bike. “Can you ride one of these things?”

I nodded “Since you were pulling on your pecker like you were the first one to ever discover the thing.”

Starke rolled his eyes. “Fine. You drive, I’ll ride bitch.”

“I feel anything poke me in the back and I am going to leave you on the side of the road with a tension pneumo, you read me?”

“Jackass!” he said as I mounted the little bike and kicked it to life.

Starke got on the bike behind me . I felt him give my shoulder a quick thump and I dropped it into gear and headed off to the camp.

It had only been a couple of days and I was already tired of playing messenger boy. I made my plan to get out of the camp tonight, even if I had to cut throats to do it.

Starke tried to say something else but I gunned the little two-stroke motor and drowned him out.

Chapter 32 -Belt Fed Revolution

I went to bed that night with a stomach full of deer liver and onions, the heart sauteed with carrots, I shared with Starke and his crew who provided me a Guinness Extra Stout to wash it all down. It had been ages since I’d had a drink and I must have been somewhat dehydrated to begin with as the one beer made me drunker than I can ever recall being.

Sleep was fitful. I had dreams of my old life. I dreamt of being late for work and behind on paperwork. For some reason my dream self found this all terrifying, but on waking I had trouble recalling why such  things would be of concern. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and sat up in a small tent. I couldn’t remember having crawled into the tent the night before or who might have been displaced by my lightweight self crashing here.

At least I had remembered to take off my boots. I rolled out of the little tent and fished out a pair of my new socks and laced up my Cadillac’s.  I needed water, but wanted coffee. It occurred to me I should have checked to see if the CONEX box with the Wal-Mart stuff in it had a French press. I’d sold myself too cheap.

As much as I felt Dwyer’s policies were unfair to the civilians under his charge, I didn’t feel like sharing my small hoard of coffee with them and given Dwyer’s edict of the previous day I wasn’t sure what my status in the camp was. Things weren’t nearly as bad as I expected.

Patrell came by as I was getting my ruck sorted and handed me a small leather pouch. He took one look at me and started laughing. “Rough night, bro?”

“Hel if I know. I slept through most of it.” I replied as I opened the pouch. Inside was a key and a piece of paper. The key had a stylized Ram’s head logo on it which I regarded with some puzzlement. The slip of paper was a small hand drawn map with details on how to access a cache of gasoline stored nearby and a warning not to use more than five gallons.

Patrell saw my confusion and pointed over toward the Wal-Mart parking lot “I got sent out to find your little request. Hope you like it.” I looked in the direction he pointed and saw a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, black with tinted windows and sporting a small lift.

“Foo-ken A, man.” I smiled impressed with his choice “You want a cup of coffee?” Patrell as it turned out went around prepared for situations exactly like this and produced a small camp coffee pot and and a bottle of water to cook it up with.  We walked over to the Jeep and Patrell set up a small cookstove on the macadam and set the water to boil. This kid really did come prepared.

We stood about silently for a bit watching the water heat up. “Hey!” Patrell almost jumped at my sudden exclamation “This thing got a radio?”

Patrell looked at me like I was new to the century. “Yeah man, it’s got a pretty kickin’ system too. I mean, not as nice as my ride back home, but y’know, nice.”

I grinned at him  and asked “I don’t suppose in the effort to get stuff out of Wally-World the CD section was touched was it?”

Patrell shrugged “hell if I know man. Why, you needin’ your country music fix?”

“Eat a dick.” I told him as  I proceeded to look in the Jeep. There was a knock-off maglite secured in the rear. I snatched it up and took off at a run.  Patrell fell in behind me.

“The hell’s so important man?” he called out as we ran for the store.

“Gotta have some tunes!!” I said and laughed as I trotted up to the open entrance.

Dreams really do come true.

****

I didn’t spend a lot of time looking through the music offerings, but I came up with a winning soundtrack pretty quick. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Sabaton  and much to my surprise Amon Amarth’s ‘Fate of Norn’s’ album. I may only be driving a few miles but I fully intended to rock the entire way.

I started the Jeep, the familiar inline six engine making the right sounds as I put it into gear. I chose Amon Amarth to go in the CD player first and selected ‘Pursuit of Vikings’ as I left the parking lot. The sound system was set up for bass heavy music, but with a bit of fiddling I managed to get it to produce the sounds I wanted.

The Jeep had a nearly full gas tank and a happy Heathen behind the wheel. Now came the part I was dreading. I had to come up with some sort of plan to find the militia group Dwyer was interested in and in the process not get my head blown off by the same group.

I switched CD’s to listen to Sabaton’s ‘Forty to One’, which seemed entirely appropriate, a song about a small force of Polish soldiers holding off the German Wehrmacht in World War II. I drove the Jeep in the same way I would have driven mine, which was to say slowly as I got on the freeway to go the few miles to the town where the militia was thought to be holing up.

I hadn’t come up with much of a plan, but I thought if the briefing I’d received from Dwyer was accurate I might do well just to try and get spotted.  The exit to the town was approaching and aside from being one of the few vehicles I saw on the road, I thought maybe doing something to get myself noticed might be a good plan.

I slowed as I approached the exit ramp and coasted over into the breakdown lane. I was checking for hostiles, but more importantly for my purposes, I needed to get a look at the terrain. The area next to the off ramp looked manageable so I shifted into four wheel drive and did something I’d always wanted to do. I drove off into the little area just to the right of the breakdown lane. Once I’d hit more or less level ground, I floored it.

This Jeep wasn’t as near like mine as I would have preferred, but in typical Jeep fashion it performed without a problem. I accelerated hard, causing the ground– which usually only saw the occasional riding mower– to be torn up, mud flung everywhere. I turned the wheel hard over and did a couple of donuts and did my best attempt at a hill climb toward the areas that ran next to the road.

I stopped when I felt one or more of the tires leave the surface. I’d decided that I’d had enough fun for now and proceeded to slowly climb up out of the little pit.

I made it back to the shoulder and got out to admire my handiwork. I had managed to cover the Cherokee with a good thick coat of mud. I nodded and muttered to myself as I walked around the vehicle checking the tires “Field expedient camouflage? Check!”

I hadn’t heard anything from the town and while I wasn’t exactly sitting there with a pair of Big Eyes I hadn’t seen any potential  hostiles checking me out either.

Okay genius, what now?

Time for plan B. I climbed back into the Jeep and cranked up the sounds. I chose my favorite song by Iron Maiden. ‘Run to the Hills’ and drove into town.

Chapter 30 -Belt Fed Revolution

I dried myself off and dressed, gathering my gear so I could head back outside. Fortunately people weren’t expected to shave in the dark. There was a five-gallon bucket filled with water next to a mirror taped to one of the CONEX boxes.

I was a little surprised when I saw myself. The face in the mirror was edging toward gaunt and my eyes looked almost like deep sunk bruises. My normally pale complexion had taken on a ruddy tone from exposure to the sun and my beard –while not overly long– had gotten very bushy as had my mustache, both of which were changing color turning from a dirty blonde to a lighter color with streaks of red.

I opened the shaving kit which consisted of a disposable razor, shaving cream and a no-alcohol aftershave. I laughed and zipped the kit up mumbling to myself   “not bloody likely.”

I returned the kit and the flashlight to the supply sergeant that had taken over for Cheryl. I asked for and received a ‘hat,sun,hot weather,’ a.k.a a boonie hat. The sergeant handed me one in Army ACU pattern. I tucked the string up inside the hat and stuck it on my head and went to see if my ghillie suit was done.

A different woman greeted me at the laundry and looked at me with no comprehension when I asked for my ghillie suit back. After several attempts at explaining to her what a ghillie suit was, she waved me back behind the counter and showed me everything that was waiting to be put in one of the industrial dryers.

I saw the beaten rag of my burlap poncho and pulled it out. The stitching had held up well and the burlap had even frayed a bit in the washer. The blood stain was still evident though greatly reduced. “Just can’t get rid of your ass, can I trucker boy?” I laughed and hefted the burlap which had to weigh close to a metric ton now that it was wet. I asked the lady if she had a garbage bag and she gave me a used canvas tote with an apology

“Garbage bags are a hygenine imperative. You have to get them from supply if you want one.” It was obvious from her tone this had to be one of Dwyer’s rules. I thanked her for the tote and stuffed my suit inside.

Base security wasn’t exactly lax, but with so many civilians around the guards weren’t paying close attention to people wandering about inside the perimeter. I sat down at one of the communal tables and was marking the routes of the guards seeing where the biggest hole in their patrol was when I felt the slight breeze that had been blowing suddenly change.

I saw a pair of boots –highly polished– standing next to me. “Major.” I said without turning to look at him. He didn’t say anything for several moments and I knew what was expected. I stood and gave him a somewhat flippant salute.

“You’re military then? What sorry sacks-of-shit they dig up these days.” He looked me in the eye, not predator to predator but simply a man used to making  prolonged, uncomfortable, eye-contact. I was betting he was a big hit with the ladies.

“Have you received a duty assignment yet?” I’m sure he was used to either getting fear or respect generated by his oak leaves, but I had been a civilian for way too long to go in for that.

The predator in me was working his way to the surface. This man struck me as a bully and I had never cared for bullies. I drawled a “Naw,sir” at him and waited for whatever was coming next.

He surprised me by nodding “All right. Come see me in command and we’ll get you squared away. Have you had a chance to eat?”

Had I misjudged him? Maybe Starke had the right of it. The man was just trying to do his best to get by; the only difference was he was the one everyone looked to for answers. “Sir, no. I just got out of the shower, sir.” I straightened up a little.

The corner of his mouth twitched up in what I was guessing passed for a smile. “Beards aren’t normally regulation, but I’m not going to bust balls over it. I wouldn’t want to dull a razor shaving that thing off anyway.”

I squinted slightly. Was that a joke? “Yes, sir.” I replied and smiled back uncertainly.

He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. “Right. Get some food in you and I want to see you at 1430 in my office.”

“Aye aye, sir.” I waited until he moved around me to relax a little bit. I sat back down and resumed watching the guards. It occurred to me I had no watch or any idea what time it was. The sky was overcast so I couldn’t get an exact fix on the sun. I scanned the area and found a group of civilians standing single file in a line leading into an area hidden by several stacks of pallets.

I joined the line guessing correctly it was for chow. The civilians in line all stared at me like I decided to set myself on fire and hang around to enjoy the blaze. One by one they all stepped to the side to let me pass to the front. I felt a tapping on my shoulder and turned around. “Mikes don’t wait.” O’ Toole said with obvious disdain. I felt slightly embarrassed and excused myself, stepping out of the line entirely and wandering away from the group.

I saw Patrell standing by the supply area, an eyebrow raised as I apporached. “One of us now, huh?” He shook his head and I could only shrug.

“Guess so.” Right now all I wanted was to get away from everyone, but it seemed everywhere I looked was filled with people military or civilian. “Hey, what time is it, Patrell?”

Patrell had on a digital watch with an oversized dial. He turned the dial toward himself and said “1345.” I thanked him and looked for a place to hide until I could make my escape or until I had to go meet with Dwyer.

There was a trailer parked right against the building with the kind of ladder Wal-Mart employee’s would have used to stock high shelves. I climbed the trailer and saw that there was about a 6 foot difference between it and the roof of the building. I looked around to see if anyone was watching.

If I messed this up it was going to be embarrassing. I ran and jumped at the wall grasping the edge and managed to pull myself up pretty easily. I was duly impressed considering I’d done this carrying all my gear.

I no longer had my monocular having lost it sometime during the fight with the feds, so I had to satisfy myself with using my scope to see the area.

I unsnapped the lens covers on each end and extended the guns bipod to its fullest height. I looked around scanning the area until I found one of the guards I’d been watching earlier.

“Killing anyone in command is a court-martial offense.”

****

I was glad I had wrapped my rifle sling around my wrist or it would have been a neat little mess on the ground below.

Cheryl was smiling beatifically “What are you doing up here?”

“Just trying to get the lay of the camp.”

She put her hands on her hips and laughed “Well you’re certainly forward!”

I stopped and ran the exchange back in my head. When I saw my error I hung my head “Yeah, sorry. not what I meant. I was just wondering how big the camp is?”

Cheryl put her hand on my elbow and turned me back toward the trailer I had jumped up from. “Anyone else would probably turn you in as a Fed spy for doing that, but I’m going to give you a break because you’re new here and Starke vouched for you.”

Even though Cheryl had been smiling and laughing there was nothing funny here. I had not missed the fact that her hand had never been more than a few inches away from her sidearm during the entirety of our exchange. I swung my legs over the edge of the roof and let myself down gently.

No matter. I had a good enough idea of where to probe the perimeter to escape. I decided to head over to command and see what Dwyer had to say. At the very least I might get another cup of coffee before I sneak out.

As I approached the CONEX box the guards on duty there saluted me.I guessed it was probably habit for them to salute uniformed people they didn’t recognize. I thought about the few times I had pulled guard duty and realized they probably didn’t even see me, they we’re just saluting out of habit so some dipshit officer didn’t get his panties in a twist.

I climbed the steps into the command CONEX and waited while a sergeant I didn’t recognize advised me that the Major was running behind. Moments later Starke appeared and grinned at me “ready for your meet with Dwyer?’

I nodded “As I’ll ever be. Does he tend to run late?”

Starke shrugged it off “Grab a cup of coffee if you want. Command doesn’t have the same restrictions on the stuff.”

I asked for and received a cup of coffee from the sergeant at the desk. As far as I was concerned the meeting was already a win for me. Starke and I passed the time talking about duty assignments and making small talk about the base. after a while Dwyer appeared and waved us in to his makeshift office.

 Office was really stretching the term. Dwyer’s office was a corner of the CONEX partititoned off with cheap wood paneling  and contained a small cheaply made computer desk with a ‘ruggedized’ laptop computer open on the desk. Dwyer waved us into a couple of plastic chairs sat in front of his desk,dispensing with military formalities.

Dwyer typed something briefly into his laptop and sighed tiredly as he waited “Finn Sigurdsson. Served one tour in Iraq as part of the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejune. Injured while escorting a convoy of HMMWV’s at Prince Sultan Air Base, separated from the Corps without benefits…” he trailed off as he read giving a brief shake of his head. “Long and the short of it is, welcome back Marine. You’ve been drafted into the service of the Michigan Volunteer Defense Force.”

“Drafted?” I looked to Starke who was concsciously avoiding eye contact with me. “My pension getting reinstated, too?”

Starke decided to join the fray “Look Finn, the truth of it is we need every body we can get. The Feds are busy elsewhere and haven’t committed their full strength here, but the problem is  we aren’t just fighting the Feds. Some of the militias want to scrap as well. We need someone who can act as a go between.”

Starke eyed me hopefully.

 I looked at Starke. “I should’ve killed you when I had the chance.”

Starke laughed and Dwyer remained silent watching the exchange. “I’m guessing my option, should I refuse, is death?”

Dwyer shook his head ‘No. We’re not the feds. You can refuse if you want.” I could feel the but coming. “But unfortunately we can’t allow you to leave if you do refuse.”

I ran through several scenarios in my head. I could easily shoot my way out of the CONEX box, but I didn’t think I’d be able to escape the camp.

Under my breath I muttered “Welcome to FOB Assrape.”  Aloud I said “All right damn it. What do I have to do?”

Chapter 24 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“G’morning.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 22 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Come here for a sec, would ya?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take me there.”

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

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

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

“This Carl?”

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

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

Chapter 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.”