Tag Archives: fiction

Chapter 48 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

“Gene?”

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

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

“Do what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

“Can I borrow you for a minute?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Brother Stephen,

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

Yours in Christ,

Michael.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“DOWN!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 35 -Belt Fed Revolution

This was exactly what I wanted at this point in my life. And during the end of the world to boot. I wanted to be caught up in drama and games, especially when the loss of my life would be the end result.

No, wait. No, I wanted the opposite of that! That’s right, I remember now.

I had listened to Mr Leader or rather General  Leader and decided that I had no interest in who was right or wrong or who thought they had the best interest of the state at heart. I was content to let these lunatics slug it out between themselves and let the looters sort it out as they picked through the wreckage at the end.

“I’m going to do you a favor, Finn.” Mr Leader droned as he fiddled around with his pipe “I’m going to clue you into the big push, so when you’re talking to your friends over there in injun country, you have a semblance of a clue.”

“You know, actually, I don’t need to know–”

General Leader waved my objection aside “It’s all about Lansing. Detroit has been a statewide loss leader since before the turn of the century. There are manufacturing concerns there we’ll want to open when we start to rebuild, but for the most part we consider those locations to be hardened–more or less immune –to attacks from citizens. Lansing though,  is where FedGov is setting up their defenses. Lansing is where they’ve massed a good deal of their troop strength, but more importantly their leadership and the head of their logistics and supply ops are contained within the city limits.”

General Leader stopped and eyed me curiously for a moment. I couldn’t remember having fallen asleep, but from the way he was eyeballing me, I figured I must have been snoring. I hoped to get out of this soon, so I prompted him with “Uh huh?”

The General nodded and continued “The MVDF wants to get in there to push out FedGov, but not to oust them, just assert that they are in control of the state. The PLM on the other hand wants them out period; once that’s accomplished, Michigan is going to cut ties and declare itself an independent republic with a constitution based on the founders work that spells things out in plain language.”

“Uh huh. And you’re just the person to lead the Sovereign Republic of Michigan into a bright and glorious future?”

The General, his finger templed at his lips, smiled and shrugged expansively. “At least until the state gets back on its feet.”

“Mm hmm. Well, you can run your government, your state and your war without me, thanks. I’ll be your message boy, but that’s it. I made a deal with the MVDF. I do this thing for them and I walk. I’m offering you the same thing; no more, no less.”

He regarded me for a moment then smiled and leaned his chair forward so it rested on two legs “You’re not in a position to be dictating terms. You will do as you’re told or you will regret it.”

I leaned forward in my own chair until we were close enough that our noses nearly touched. “Actually, I’m in a perfect position to set terms. You can keep me here as a prisoner wasting manpower to guard me and resources to keep me alive or you can kill me. Either way your mission dies on the board.”

General Leader stayed face to face with me, the stench of pipe smoke radiating up to me “Or option three, we torture you until you feel like cooperating.”

I laughed in his face. “You have time for that? And do you really want to entrust someone you’ve tortured to carry your interests forward after that?” I shook my head and leaned back. “No. I’ll do my part and then I’m out. Take it or leave it.”

I was so good at making friends and influencing people. I thought maybe I could write a book about it, but like taking prisoners writing just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

General Leader considered this for a while. Finally he stood and made a gesture to one of his lackeys who disappeared outside, opening one of the large service bay doors. Moments later I heard a familiar sound as my Jeep was brought into the service bay.

The lackey handed me the keys with a sadistic grin. “Sorry ’bout yer windows.” was all he said.

The front windshield of the Jeep was intact but that’s pretty much where it ended. The buckshot had eaten up parts of the door panels and all the windows on the driver’s side.

This was going to seriously effect my trade in value. I opened the door and got in, my revolvers and Ka-bar were on the passenger’s seat and my rifle was in the back. I put the keys in the ignition and the Jeep turned over without complaint.

The General appeared at the driver’s side door and leaned in. “You’re right in one respect. I can’t make you do what needs done and expect it not to rear up and bite me on the ass. I can tell you you really need to think about the future, your own and that of the state. Think about what role you want to play in that future. You can either get with the winning team and help us rebuild, or you can be part of the trash and vermin that we end up dealing with.”

I shifted into reverse and looked into the rear view mirror. I could see the big Ford dually sitting outside. I looked back to the General. “Thanks for the advice, comrade. I’m sure we’ll all do what we can to help the Party obtain its goals and drive the unbelievers into the ground beneath our heels.”

With that I let out on the clutch, the Jeep whining loudly as I backed it up, and aimed for the Ford. I hit the gas a little and slammed into the front of the grille crushing the skull and its glowing eyes. The ersatz owner of the truck ran outside in time to see me back and slam into the front of his ruined ride a second time.

He stood there gape mouthed as I put the Jeep into first and rolled up next to him. I gave him a wink and stuck my hand out forming my fingers into a gun and mimicked shooting him.

“Be seein’ ya.” I said as I pulled away.

I looked up in time to see the rear of the pick up truck I had destroyed.  The erect nipples on the naked lady mudflaps would have glowed red with little LED’s just like the skull. I gave a shake of my head and accelerated toward the highway.

Chapter 34 -Belt Fed Revolution

As a Heathen turning the other cheek has never really been an option on the board for me. I’m flexible though and I’d like to think a rational man. I could forgive being struck. That’s the way men handle things. Shooting up my Jeep on the other hand, that was something I was going to need some payback for.

The jackhole that had shot up my Jeep was also the very same that hit me as my new militia friends were covering my head with a pillowcase. The pillowcase was flannel and I liked it. I greatly preferred it in fact to the place I now found myself which I could only assume was a long- abandoned service station.

Large yellowing plexiglas greeted me, heavily scuffed and covered with the same initials I had seen earlier, PLM. The murky light coming through the windows was still enough to keep me at a disadvantage. There were people moving around in the small space, but they kept themselves between me and the light effectively making them little more than shadows.

After some conversation a second chair for my interrogator was produced and shortly occupied by someone with a flashlight which was pointed at my face. I recognized the voice as someone from the fight at the gas station, but it wasn’t the leader who had remained mostly in the truck during that encounter.

“You with us?” the voice began. “Hello?”

“If this is the way you treat all your guests, I’m going to be leaving a very negative note on my feedback card.”

“Sorry about all that. Some people don’t know how to treat valued customers.”  It was good to know people had a sense of humor still. “So what are you then? I mean no offense, but you don’t look like a SEAL, but hey,  FedGov’s gotta be scraping the bottom of the barrel too, am I right?”

“You think I’m a Fed? Wow, yeah they would be scraping the bottom if they sent me. Good looks aside, that is.” I paused. There was no laugh this time. Screw him, I know I look good. “I’m just a guy trying to find a safe place to hole up and ride out our collective failure.”

My captor’s posture changed. “Our failure?”

“You don’t think we have a part in this?”  He didn’t respond so I carried on  “We let the government do this to us.  We had plenty of opportunities to ‘correct’ our ‘leaders’, but we just sat back and let them run the country into the ground all the while thinking we could vote our way out of it, or we’d elect the right guy and he’d fix everything. Tell me you don’t see how ‘we the people’ could have done something before it got to this point?”

The flashlight turned off. “Yeah.” he laughed “I’ve heard something like this before.” This time everyone  in the room laughed.

I was blinking, trying to clear the after image of the flashlight from my eyes. “Does this mean I can go? Don’t I have answer two more questions?”

Another voice chimed in, this time I recognized their leader.  “We know you’re not part of FedGov” He said,the word seemed somehow strung together. “What we don’t know is who you are working for?”

“I’m working for the real Michigan Militia. MVDF.” I looked to the shadows where the voice was coming from “They paid me with a Jeep Cherokee. I think you may have seen it?”

An uncomfortable silence passed. I could see movement from the shadows as several people left the room.

“You have my apologies for that.” He cleared his throat before continuing “However, you’re working for the government and that makes you an enemy of the Patriot’s Liberty Militia.”

I stifled a laugh. “The government? As I understand it these guys are fighting the same people you are. Maybe you’ve heard that old saw ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend?’ I mean, I’m not trying to tell you how to run your war, but maybe you ought to consider at least having a sit down with them?”

Quiet laughter filled the room. “That what they told you? They’re fighting FedGov? Hate to bust your bubble son, but you’ve been had.”

****

Things got a might friendlier after that. I wasn’t exactly welcomed as a long lost kinsman, but I was offered some water and taken to sit at a table with the PLM leader and others.

“So they told you they’re fighting FedGov, eh?”

I shook my head.  “Not so much told me as showed me.” I recounted the fight that had taken place between Starke’s crew and the Fed forces, skirting around things like John’s death and my desire to leave Starke and his friends to their own devices while we got out of dodge.

“What rock is it you lived under?” I couldn’t see who said this. Apparently this little meeting had become a bit of entertainment drawing in a lot of the militia members to fill the room behind us.

Mr Leader waved his hand and the room quieted. “You got a little less than half the story. It’s true FedGov tried to declare martial law, but they did so at the request of the governor.” the old man drew out a pipe and a small pouch. As he was packing it he raised an eye “Hope you don’t mind. Even if you do, though.” he shrugged and left it at that continuing to fill his pipe.

“It’s true, I think, for the most of them–the NCO’s that is–that think they’re fighting FedGov. Their command structure isn’t exactly sharing information down the chain.” He paused to light up his pipe, an aroma of cherries filled the air in the small space. “I was part of that chain. I commanded the 3rd AO–that’s Detroit, by the by–So I know what was going on. Now it may be true what you say, that you were with a group that fought FedGov forces, but the truth of the matter is they and probably those they fought didn’t know the truth of things.”

Somewhere in the distance I heard a small generator kick on as it began to grow dark. The men of the PLM affixed plywood to cover the windows of the small building, while others went out to secure the perimeter. Loud fluorescent lights came on inside. I wasn’t exactly pleased when I saw them beginning to make coffee as I recognized the container they were drawing it from.

“Oh yes, please help yourselves to some coffee.” I intoned wondering what else was going to come up missing from my supplies.

Mr Leader nodded and smiled “Spoils of war, friend.” he tapped his pipe on the edge of the table adding “your donation is greatly appreciated.”

“So what’s my part in all this? If you’re going to kill me, then how about we just get to the show?”

“Your part in all this is you get to be our inside man. You can tell us what they’re planning. Tell us something about troop strength and armament.”

“Actually, no. I can’t tell you any of that. What I can tell you is why I’m here, because that’s what I know. Their man, Major Dwyer?” heads nodded as I mentioned the name “He tasked me with making contact with you, so you could be brought into the fold–as it were.”

Coffee was served. It was weak, but hot and I enjoyed it.

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure anyone on that side is entirely in-the-loop on what the plan is. It’s possible even their officer’s believe they’re fighting for freedom from the Feds, as you call them.”  Mr Leader leaned forward in his chair and looked me in the eye “That being the case, let me make you a counter offer.”

Chapter 33 -Belt Fed Revolution

The town appeared largely empty. There were lights on in a few buildings, especially those nearest the highway, but I couldn’t see movement in any of them. Since I wasn’t doing such a great job of getting noticed by being obnoxious, I decided to act like a typical looter instead.

I saw a gas station-convenience store and decided to make this my target. If I could get gas without being hassled that was a bonus, but I figured if there was a group protecting this town, this gas station would probably be on someone’s priority list.

I shut the Jeep down by one of the pumps and got out, slinging my new rifle over my shoulder. The gas station building was a squat brick affair with a blue metal awning surrounding the top. The roof was designed to keep the rain and snow off while you pumped gas with and had a few flourescent lightbulbs that intermittently flickered away above my head.

I was being watched. I didn’t know where my observer was, but I had definitely gained the interest of the locals. Now I had to hope they didn’t decide to just blow my head off before having a word. I looked around again to see if there were any lumps in the nearest grassy areas that looked out of place, but other than some opportunistic graffiti artist who had painted his or her initials –PLM–on the gas station door and some other things nearby, everything appeared correct in its setting.

I approached the door to the gas station with my head slightly down, keeping my eyes moving back and forth. I reached out to pull open the door to the little gas station building and heard a voice call out in an almost conversational tone.

“That’s about far enough.” said the voice, coming from behind the blue metal awning.

I couldn’t get a fix on the person the voice had come from, but I guessed it was about two feet to my right and above me.

“Funny ain’t it? It’s always the last place you look.”

The voice was silent for only a moment. “Why don’t you get in your vehicle and head on back down the road. There’s nothing for you here, ‘cept maybe a quick an’ nasty death.”

“Aw, but you make this place sound so exotic.” I kept my eyes moving between the awning and the plexiglass windows of the gas station. “There a place around here where I can get some water? Maybe barter for some gas? Famous last words, right? I’m not a looter.

“This is our gas. Everything in town belongs to us now. Get in your truck and get down the road.”

I was pretty sure I was being stalled. The warning wasn’t forceful or threatening enough to make me feel like I was in immediate danger, so I kept watching the reflections in the gas station windows waiting for the real welcome wagon to show up.

“Okay, no problem.” I said. ” Look, let me just get some water for the road. Maybe we can trade? I don’t have much, but maybe I have something you need?”  I grinned when I heard it. The thing about there not being a lot of manmade noise to provide  a screen meant sounds travelled a lot further.

This was especially true when the thing you were trying to screen was a diesel engine that was practically screaming as you accelerated in a blind panic.

I had expected their version of a quick reaction force to at least be subtle. This expectation was shattered when I saw the black Ford F-450 plodding on toward me. Diesel’s were great for a lot of things, but impressive acceleration wasn’t really one of those things.

My new friend on the rooftop wasn’t talking now. I was guessing they figured any single individual that approached their little haven would be shitting themselves by now at the sight of the big shiny black truck coming their way. My pants however, remained unshat. I was in fact pretty confident I could shoulder my rifle and  put a round in the driver of the truck, but I refrained. Such asshattery, fun as it may be, was like to get me killed.

Someone had gone to great expense tarting up the Ford with big chrome smoke stack style exhausts poking up out of the bed and a chrome grille with flames and a skull with red glowing LED eyes. Awesome. I bet if I were looking a the back of the truck there’d be some naked lady mudflaps –with erect nipples–hanging behind the dually’s fender flares.

I made a note to tell whomever was running this show that when you’re trying to make a statement, bullets say it best. I had to decide now how interesting I wanted to make this. I would settle for ‘not dead, but pissed off’ for now.  There was an ice chest next to the gas station door, the large kind that was used to store twenty pound bags of ice. I opened the door and used the lower lip like a step to climb the ice chest and vault myself onto the roof.

The watchman on the roof was alone with just a radio and a Kalashnikov. There wasn’t a lot of room up here and he had remained lying in the prone for concealment. I didn’t have to cover much ground to get to him.

I mounted him and put my knee in the middle of his back placing all my weight there and then evening it out by putting my other knee on his neck. I grabbed one hand and threw a readied zip tie around his wrist. He fought briefly to keep his other hand free, but I shifted my weight from his back to his neck and the additional pressue and subsequent lack of oxygen there took the fight from him.

Once I had him secured, I snatched up his AK and sat my rifle atop the awning. The big Ford pickup was tearing up a field just a few yards distant now making a straight line for the gas station. I ejected the magazine from the AK and extended the bayonet.

The driver of the truck obliged my plan by pulling up almost next to the ice chest. All four doors of the cab were flung open almost as one and people spilled from the inside to take up flanking positions.

I hoisted the AK above my head shouting at them “Geirtýr! Sigr!” and sent the  AK  hurling like a spear through the big trucks windshield, the bayonet sticking nicely in the dash. I ducked as soon as I launched the gun and waited for a salvo to come my way.

“Hold your fire!” I heard someone below yell at the assembled group. “Okay, mister! You let our man go and come on out!”

I laughed . “Lemme think about that for a minute.”

I looked at my captive and shook my head. What was that old quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

“You okay?” My captive was red-faced and ready to spit nails I had no doubt, but I didn’t think I’d done him any permanent damage.

“Screw you!” he spat, his face growing redder.

“Noted.” I shimmied  behind him grabbing his ziptied wrists and pulling him up to his knees. There was an unmanly expression of pain and some swearing, but he got to his knees easily enough. I crouched behind him and got him stood up. If some wanna- be- hero had an itchy trigger finger, I’d rather someone else finds out.

As my captive reached his feet, I heard someone let off a three round burst and I yanked my captive back to his knees. Talk about swearing. This guy let off a string of expletives that would have made a drill instructor smile.

I lay on my back and laughed. I yelled out “Nice shooting there, quick draw! Just remeber friendly fire gets returned by friends when you least expect it!”

I heard several voices yelling and one voice responding in protest.

I went through the process of getting my captive stood up again and called out “Okay! Now that we’ve figured out who’s going to be shooting who in the back during your next outing, how about we all be real cool and have a little talk?”

Another voice, calmer, called back “A’right. Come on up to the edge and let us have a look at you.  Jim, you okay?”

“”I’m fine! I ain’t hurt!’ said my captive.

I pulled him close and spoke in a voice only he could hear ” ‘Kay, Jim, we’re going to walk nice and slow to the edge.  Just remember if you get shot here, it won’t be in the back, so you best hope you’ve no enemies down there.”

Jim nodded and we took the couple of steps to the edge. I still hadn’t identified a face to put to the voice. I smiled as I stepped to the edge and pointed at the truck. “See, I mean you no harm. I even gave you his rifle to show my good intentions.”

A man standing by the driver’s door said something in a voice I couldn’t hear, but I got the gist which was I’d ruined his baby. There was a quick heated discussion that took place between that man and the someone still in the cab of the truck.

This went on for a few seconds and ended when the man at the driver’s side door turned and fired several rounds from his shotgun into my Cherokee.

Bastard.

I drew my revolver and thumbed back the hammer. I saw several muzzles raise uncertainly in my direction.

“Hey partner? I’m going to need your insurance information!” I yelled as I tried to make my profile as small as possible behind my meat shield. I heard a couple of chuckles at that and then the man in the cab stepped out on the driver’s side and waved.

He was wearing a giant stetson cowboy hat and black BDU’s. “The fuck is it with cowboy hats now? There’s no cowboy’s in Michigan for fucks sake …”

I was talking to myself but my captive responded “We got cowboys all over these days.”

I  grabbed my rifle, and gave a wistful look over at my second shot up Jeep in less than a month and let out a sigh. I walked Jim up to the edge of the roof over the ice machine and gave him a little push backwards as I took a chance and jumped over the edge first and onto the ice machine.

I made it all the way to the ground before I got rushed and thrown to the pavement. As I was being flex-cuffed I looked over at the man nearest me and asked “What? Are you guys Michigan State fans?”

I thought I heard laughter before things went all grey and fuzzy around the edges.

Chapter 31 -Belt Fed Revolution

Dwyer was being very casual about this. “The job comes with a promotion. A big one, too. Congratulations Sergeant.”

Clearly there had been a scramble going on before the meeting. Dwyer pushed sergeant’s chevrons and a name tape toward me. I didn’t reach for either. “How about we restructure this sweet deal ? How about I agree to work on a contract basis?”

Dwyer sat back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.”All right, let’s talk. I can’t force you into this, or more to the point, I won’t force you to do this. I’d rather you were complicit and actively trying to accomplish the mission rather than doing it because you felt coerced.”

At least I had some leverage to work with. Money was worthless so there wasn’t much he could offer me in those terms and I was pretty sure I could feed and care for myself, unlike most of the conscripts wandering around outside this office;still didn’t mean I had to give away the farm. Unfortunately the more I thought about it there wasn’t a lot I wanted or needed. Luckily though my mouth jumped into gear before my brain had a chance to stop it.

“I want a vehicle. Personal use. Jeep Cherokee–oh!– and it has to be a stick.” Dwyer looked to Starke who shrugged.

“Okay we’ll see what we can do.” He leaned forward ready to conclude the meeting.

I let out a sardonic chuckle “Not getting off that easy, Major. I’ll help you with your militia problem, but when I’m done, I’m done. I walk away with nothing more than I brought with me.”

Dwyer’s cheeks puffed up with air as he considered this. I could see Starke watching the Major out of the corner of my eye, but couldn’t get a read on what he thought. Dwyer blew out the breath he had been holding and stood with his hand out “Deal.”

I should have asked him before if he had ever been a recruiter, but I took the chance and shook his hand. Dwyer took a piece of paper from his desk and signed off on the bottom. “Take this to supply. Anything you need, just have them write it here and it’s yours.”

I took the paper and smiled. At the very least I wasn’t going to have to worry about coffee for a while.

****

Starke accompanied me to supply, laughing at some private thought. I didn’t like that, didn’t think it could possibly be good for me, but he wasn’t sharing.

The clerk in charge of supply looked at the paper with wide eyes and waved a hand toward the back of the CONEX box. “Help yourself”.

It turned out there were several CONEX boxes filled with various supplies, some from Wal-Mart, some military issue. I grabbed a can of coffee as the first part of my shopping spree and cackled gleefully. People never learned. I’d have joined the Coast Guard as an E-1 if there had been coffee on offer. Dwyer got screwed.

There wasn’t really much in any of the containers that I couldn’t live without. I took a decent looking compass in a ‘shock-proof’ housing and a small Fiskars hatchet from the Wal-Mart stuff. The real shopping began when I was escorted  into a CONEX box filled with what military gear there had been for the MVDF to salvage.

I took a CamelBak hydration system with an extra bladder and some water purification tabs. I also found a box filled with socks and took several pair. Now I was sure Dwyer had gotten the short end of the stick. A man can never have enough socks.

This particular CONEX box was divided into two sections. I had to pass by an armed guard at the second entrance and  was required to leave my firearms with him before being admitted to the back. I figured if they had wanted to kill or imprison me they could have easily done so by now, so I handed over my revolvers and rifle. It was obvious the guard on the door didn’t share my taste in weapons, smirking slightly as I handed him my .357.

He practically giggled when I pulled out the .500. The Private unlocked the door and shouted into the back “Yosemite Sam, coming through!” I walked through the door after flipping the private off in a dignified manner and was greeted by two more guards armed with M249’s. A row of overhead flourescent’s flickered into life and revealed row upon row of M4’s and boxes of ammunition to feed them.

Although I had used the M16 in my day, I wasn’t particularly fond of the gun as it had always been touchy and maintenance intensive. I was ready to leave when I saw  a weapon case poking out, hidden by one of the guards stood in front of it.  I mumbled an ‘excuse me’ as I pushed between the men in these crowded quarters and was greeted by a glorious sight. Laying inside the pelican case was a custom-built bolt-action rifle. Definitely not military issue. The military couldn’t afford something like this.

I picked the rifle up and held it reverently there in the flickering light of the container. I had only seen weapons like this in gun magazines. The gun was massive, nearly 20 pounds but still felt well-balanced for all its weight. I turned it over and saw the heavy ‘competition’ barrel marked .300 WIN MAG. The stock fitted to it was either an Accuracy International model or a very well done knock off. The case contained a second barrel marked .338 Lapua Magnum and several spare magazines.

Attached to the picatinny rail on the top was a scout sniper scope. I flipped open the lens caps and was rewarded with a glance of a P4 reticle.

In my head I began writing a letter. “Dear Penthouse Forums, I never thought this would happen to me…”

I shook myself out of my reverie and asked the guards where the ammunition for this rifle was stored. They didn’t answer the question so Starke, whom I had totally forgotten had accompanied me yelled at them

“AMMO! NOW! MOVE,MOVE,MOVE!”

The guard on his left jumped and turned around quickly locating 160 boxed rounds of .300 Winchester Magnum and held them out to Starke. “Do I appear to be holding a rifle?! About face, numbnut!”

The guards face was coloring rapidly as he spun around and handed me the ammo with a muttered “Sorry,sir.” I barely heard him. I was busy examining the massive cartridges and not trying to hide the wolfish smile I was sure I was displaying.

To Starke, I said “You guys have a sniper here?”

He shook his head “Don’t think so.”

“Right. You guys can have my .243 and the ammo for it. I qualified expert with my service rifle and was later awarded a distinguished marksman badge…I was scheduled to go to Dam Neck after my deployment to tryout the Designated Marksman course.”

Starke just smiled “It’s yours. Dwyer said take whatever you want.”

I worked the action a few times to make sure the rifle was in good order and walked out of the CONEX box feeling and looking literally like a kid with a new toy. Starke was laughing at me for a while before my perception finally snapped back to the here and now. “What?”

He kept on laughing “Man, I’ve been trying to talk to you for the last 5 minutes!”

“Did I answer you?”

“You grunted once and said ‘uh huh’ a couple of times.”

I slung the rifle over my shoulder and looked at him. “I’m sorry. Did you want to stop and talk about our feelings or are you good?”

“Nah, man I’m good.” he laughed again “So do you want to check zero on that thing or what?”

“Hel yeah.” I started feeding rounds into the magazine.

“Whoa there, cowboy! We gotta get off base first.”

I nodded, not really caring where I shot this work of art only that I get to do it soon.  I muttered “good point” to Starke and continued to load the spare magazines.

****

The delivery area of Wal-Mart was bordered by a small wooded lot. A stream ran through the back of the lot and opened out onto a more densely wooded area. The stream itself was wide, but not deep, coming up to just above my knees as I sank into the soft sandy bottom. I took out my ghillie suit midway across the stream and put it on so it covered me and my ruck.

The detergent-perfume smell of the ghillie suit was anathema to the smells of nature and I needed to get the suit ‘broken in’ once more. I spotted a small copse of trees nearby. The ground beneath the trees was covered with ‘canopy litter’  and I laid down and began to roll over.

Starke thought–from the look on his face–that I had lost my mind and he was going to have to shoot me. I popped up satisfied that the burlap was sufficiently subdued.

I took my ghillie suit off laid it on the ground with my new rifle on top of it. I opened my ruck and got the extra magazines out laying them on the burlap as well. When I opened my ruck I saw John’s bush blanket was still inside. I pulled it out and offered it to Starke.

I laid down on top of the ghillie suit while Starke went off to set up the targets. I placed the recoil pad against my shoulder and cradled the stock with my left arm, placing my left hand on my right shoulder with the web of my index finger and thumb just under and supporting the stock.

The rifle fit as well as any glove I’d ever worn, making contact in all the right places. I reached forward to flip open the lens covers and saw a crisp clear picture. The colors inside my scope seemed somehow brighter and sharper than  those around me.

Starke had liberated a couple of flat cement pavers from the Wal-Mart’s garden section and set one at what I reckoned to be about one-hundred yards. I watched him through my scope as he moved even further down range and set up the second target.

I waited until he returned to insert the magazine and the extra round directly into the bore. Starke laid next to me and pulled out a spotter’s scope while stuffing his ears with small neon orange plugs. I looked over at him and he gave me a thumbs up. I took a deep breath and let it out. As I got to the bottom of my exhalation I heard him say “Send it”.

“Sending” I replied in a voice that seemed quiet even with the ear plugs in. I squeezed the trigger slowly and was surprised when the round was launched downrange. The cement paver turned into a cloud of dust and I felt a strange sense of satisfaction having ‘killed’ the paver.

A few seconds later there was the sound of leaves as though the wind had suddenly come up. Starke was still looking through the scope and laughed. “Nice. You got a nice big sapling to bring home for dinner!”

I looked back through the scope in time to see a tree about 8 feet tall fall entirely to the ground. I adjusted my aim and began trying to set the dope for the other target. From the angle I was at, I didn’t have a clear shot at the second paver and so had to aim for center of exposed mass.

I repeated my ritual and at the bottom of my breath heard Starke say “Send it” again.

I was gently but gradually putting pressure on the trigger “Sending.” I felt the rifle recoil almost before I was aware I’d pulled the trigger fully, but this time there was no explosion of dust.

Starke called out “Miss! High, left.”

I ejected the spent cartridge and slid the bolt home once more “re-acquiring.” I adjusted the scope again and called out “re-engaging”. I heard Starke say send it and didn’t bother to reply as I let off the round.

“Miss! High!”

Starke chuckled tersely.”You scared the crap out of him though, look he’s trying to get concealed!”

I peered through the scope tube once more and saw that while I hadn’t hit my target I had knocked it over. I could see the impact of the round just a couple of inches high in the tree trunk where the paver had stood.

I started muttering to myself angrily.

“What was that?” Starke asked.

“I said that was the shooter,not the gun.”

He barked out another harsh little laugh “takes a big man to…”

“suck it.” I finished for him.

I took two deep breaths and got the call from Starke again. This time I replied and sent the round downrange. There was less dust this time, but I smiled happily as I watched the block explode sending pieces everywhere.

“How far was that?”

“Little over 600 yards.” Starke was setting up the bipod on my old .243 “Think this can reach down that far?”

“Without a doubt.”

Starke grinned and fed  rounds into the magazine. I was looking downrange through my scope and froze when I saw a herd of deer.  I reached over and tapped Starke on the arm. He looked at me wordlessly and I pointed down range. The small herd of whitetail deer was just beyond the area where my last kill was. Starke smiled and took aim.

I hadn’t been on the bolt side of my old rifle before and was a little surprised at how loud it was. I looked downrange and saw the deer flopping on the ground trying to get up.

I didn’t say a word to Starke as I sent another round to finish off the deer. I looked at him, my anger apparent. Starke hung his head and was completely silent.

I stood and gathered my gear putting on my ruck and my ghillie suit over it. Starke started to say something and I snatched the rifle out of his hands. “Why don’t you go back to base? I’ll go clean up your mess.”

Starke said nothing but set to policing the area and when he was finished headed back toward the camp. I have no problems with killing animals. Everyone knows how tasty they are. I have a problem with people that don’t kill cleanly. I had always been of the opinion it was unfair to the animals to hunt with a rifle and whatever hunting I had done before in my life was with a bow.

I walked down to where the deer lay and shook my head. I’m not exactly a mother-earth-let’s-all-hug-a-tree kind of Heathen, but I apologized to the deer for my compatriots action. I hated to see animals suffer. I pulled out Sweet Louise and set to field dressing the deer. If this one had made it to fall it probably would have been close to 175 pounds, but as it was I estimated it at just under 150.

I cut the liver away from the rest of the organs and stuffed it back in the carcass. I touched my Ka-bar to the heart and was rewarded with a spray of blood in my eyes. I sat there and blinked until my eyes cleared and then removed the heart.

I hefted the deer up in a fireman’s carry and headed back to camp.

****

When I made it back to camp I took the deer to the chow line and gave it over to the cook and asked if he needed me to skin it. The cook, a small Hispanic looking man smiled broadly and shook his head no.

The cook summoned two men from the improvised kitchen to carry the deer away.

“Wait! ” the two men turned to look at me. I couldn’t tell if they were Hispanic or not, so I asked “You speak English?” They both nodded. I stuck my hand out and put it inside the deer “Liver and heart are mine. Comprende? The rest is for everybody.”

The men smiled and assured me they understood and took the carcass away. I heard a murmur rising from behind me and turned to see Major Dwyer approaching. I figured my appearance, bloody face and dirt covered ghillie suit must have caused a stir.

When Dwyer got close enough he grabbed my elbow to pull me aside. Speaking in a low angry voice, he said “That’s not how we do things here!”

“It’s certainly not how I do things.” I said as I tore my elbow from his grasp.  “Do not put your hands on me again unless a fight is your intent.”

He demured slightly. “Sorry. But troops have the priority here. Any time an animal is taken, it goes to the troops and whatever is left over goes to the civilians.”

I calmed myself slightly and spoke in a voice barely above a whisper “That’s great. Tell you what: how about you write that up in a memo entitled ‘How to Foment a Rebellion’. I understand that the troops need to eat, but if you’re not providing for the citizens in your charge then what’s the point of this fight? Pretty sure the Feds could do the same thing for them!”

Dwyer made to reach for my elbow again but stopped himself and beckoned for me to follow him away from the line of gawkers “You do not tell me how to run this base. You want to talk about fomenting a rebellion? What do you think you’re doing?! Based on this little interaction alone I could have you tried for sedition and …” he broke off suddenly

“And executed?” I finished for him.

Dwyer’s face was bright red and a vein was throbbing up on the top of his forehead.

“Well shit, go right ahead. you’ve got me outgunned here. Hey, better yet why don’t you deliver me to the Feds? I’m sure they’d reward you– give you a nice position with even– since you seem to be following their playbook so closely.”

Dwyer leaned in close “I want you gone. Tomorrow morning. Do not come back until you have made contact with the militia groups in the area. Until then, you are to be considered ‘persona non grata’ here. Do you read me?”

Dwyer spun around and left me standing there without another word. I thought to myself I’m probably going to have to kill that man. I snorted with a bit of laughter as I realized I had drawn my .357 and had the hammer cocked.

“Soon.”

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 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 17 -Belt Fed Revolution

The sun had officially lightened the sky enough that it could be called morning.  I wasn’t sure how far we had walked as I was trying my best to keep us concealed which meant walking alongside the road down in the ditch that separated the state roads from surface roads and homes nearby. The going was slow, made slower by the fact that since it wasn’t the height of summer the state hadn’t been out to mow the grass on the roadside. Twice now I had either gotten my foot tangled in this thigh high grass or tripped over something hidden by its ferocious growth.

It was my ill luck that the Jeep had stopped where it did, a large flat expanse of mostly farmland with corn stubble remaining from last years harvest. I could see an overpass in the distance at what I reckoned had to be a mile and a half and just behind that I saw the green of some tall pines. I stopped in my walking as I spotted a tire I had been about to step in which would have led to yet another fun trip to the ground. I turned to look at John and pointed at the ground to warn him  before I stepped around the tire and kept moving.

My knee was already complaining and my back had joined the chorus, punctuating my gait with a sharp pain every other step. I kept my monocular on paracord lanyard hung loose around my left wrist. I was damned tired of getting ambushed. I worked out a rhythm of about every 20 steps turning back to make sure John was still with me and  every third time I did that I would raise the monocular to scout the area ahead of me while trying to make sure sunlight didn’t reflect off the little plastic lens and announce us to whomever might be watching.

The closer we got to the overpass, the more paranoid I became, sure that yet another ambush was about to be sprung. When we made it to within a few hundred feet I crouched down and waved John up to where I was. John wasn’t carrying as much weight as I was since he didn’t have much of his own gear to bring. He had my shotgun and all the spare buckshot I carried. As John reached my hide, I lifted my shirt and pulled out the little polymer 9 mike and gave it to him. Keeping my voice low I told him to use this before he used the shotgun, unless he had to hit several people at once.

John looked disdainfully at the little pistol and wiped the sweat off it before switching it to his dominant hand. I shrugged and asked “what do you want?” He kept the sneer on his face that spoke words he wasn’t uttering, until I shook my head and said “I’m sure this is not the worst thing another guy has ever put in your hand.” I turned and began moving away before he could respond.

It was strange. I’d gotten used to the no traffic thing, in fact I thanked the gods for it as other drivers tended to light up all my sociopathic buttons almost better than anything else could. What I had gotten used to was the lack of background noise. A lot of the sounds of mankind simply weren’t present anymore, at least not in sufficient volume to drown out everything else. I actually felt my ear move as I strained to pick up any noise that would betray the presence of other people, but I heard nothing.

****

I had checked the bridge for the last time–we were too close now to turn back–and I decided to go for it. I walked up to the overpass slipping out of the high tangling grasses and was instantly rewarded with a cool breeze and the shade provided by the concrete abutments. Ahead in the southbound lane I could see several cars pushed together to make a barricade. All the cars had been burned and a couple showed bullet holes. I saw nothing that indicated danger, but as I climbed over a buttress I could smell shit.

I moved around to the back of the cars and I saw boots laying there, the toes pointing east-west. I leaned my head out just enough that I could see jeans that would have left the boots looking like they were designed for an area prone to flooding reaching about halfway down the boots shaft. As I fully cleared the rear of the car I saw a kid, probably not yet 21 and thin as a rail. He’d been shot at least once in the eye and more across his upper torso. Ambushed or bandit I wondered to myself as I waved John forward.

When he got to the back of the car John was immediately overcome by the smell of shit and gasses escaping the boy’s body. To his credit he managed not to lose his lunch right there, but took several steps away and vomited into the ditch. When he finished I clapped him on the shoulder “Aw, come on, that can’t be the worst smell a guy…” John pulled himself upright and swiped the back of his hand across his mouth as he glared at me. “Save it for your girlfriend, fuckstick!” I laughed and handed him a bottle of water.

The kids blood had run down the roads crown. I followed the path it made with my eyes and spotted several more bodies there, two of which had been stripped naked. One of the remaining bodies was female and still clothed. I figured these people and maybe Mr Cowboy were the bandits and someone had got the drop on them, given the relative lack of destruction. I looked back to Mr Cowboy and saw he still had his sidearm. I blinked when I realized that the kid really was going for the cowboy look, wearing a gunbelt with ammo contained in loops around its girth.

I nudged Mr Cowboy over with the toe of my Cadillac and freed his sidearm from under him. I laughed mirthlessly as I looked at the weapon. A nickel-plated revolver, in .357. I turned the revolver over in my hand and saw the Ruger logo. I pulled the trigger to confirm my suspicions. Nothing happened. Single action revolver. I wondered if the kid had a hank of chewin’ tobaccy and some pemican on him as well.

I bent down and slid the rounds out of his belt, stowing them in my pocket. I emptied the revolver of its rounds, finding three unfired and I laid the revolver on the kids chest. I sat there on my haunches for a minute contemplating what to do next when I saw something flutter underneath the front of one of the cars.  The kid thought he was John Wayne for sure. I picked up a lightly singed cowboy hat from under the car and walked back to the kid covering his face with the hat. It wasn’t much of a burial for a cowboy, but it was the best that I could manage.

I took one of the salvaged rounds back out of my pocket and tucked it into Mr Cowboys shirt. I patted the bullet as it rested there near his heart and prayed that I would meet my end the same way.