Tag Archives: Gods

Chapter 56 -Belt Fed Revolution

“Nasty habit” I muttered to myself as I slid over the top of the berm amidst a volley of gunfire from behind me. This was combat evolved. I had been in several hairy situations but never anything quite this dumb had I yet  attempted.

I laid flat on the ground for a moment just trying to listen. A group of men were making their way toward the rifle crates by attempting to  skull drag.  Whoever taught them this technique was going to get a thank you card from me. As the men moved their butts rose into the air just enough to make them stand out even in the deep pool of inky darkness that existed this far away from the floodlights.  I cursed my luck when it occurred to me I’d left my nightvision back in my quarters. I adjusted my position on the ground waiting until I saw the tell-tale movement again. I swung the Mosin in their direction and angled my body as best I could to make the shot, laying as I was on my left shoulder.  Once again Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’ popped unbidden into my head as I saw a butt rise up into the night.  I fired slightly in front of the shape hoping to score a hit in the torso. I couldn’t guarantee that I hit the man, but that particular hill stopped moving shortly after I pulled the trigger.

I saw another movement there; this time a head raised up to look around. The head stayed raised for several seconds and I didn’t hesitate trying my luck as I snapped off a shot in that direction. This time I didn’t have to guess whether or not I’d hit as I saw the head shape become tragically malformed in an instant. The other men that had been trying to sneak up to the weapons suddenly realized that not only were they in a combat situation, but were taking direct fire.  Lacking discipline or a better idea they stood up and ran for it.

A volley of fire from behind me answered their impromptu retreat cutting the men down as they fled.

I proceeded to low crawl in the direction of the house hoping the women wouldn’t be so effective in their firing if they should see me. As I crawled along I heard the sound of wounded men calling for their mothers. The irony was not lost on me and I altered course in the direction of the first voice I heard. As I approached the man I could see that his wound was actually little more than a flesh wound, just a graze on his neck.  I pulled the Mosin up so I could grasp hold of the fore stock and plunged the bayonet deep into his neck, eventually pulling it out when I heard a satisfying gurgling noise.

I continued crawling, the only sound coming to my ears was that of my own efforts in crawling along on the dewy grass. I risked a look back toward the berm but my vision being so affected by the floodlights I couldn’t make out any details on this moonless night. I stopped crawling and let out an audible sigh and thought–why did my life of late seem to be composed of doing utterly stupid things?  I was overcome by the desire to laugh. I’d done a lot of stupid things sure enough; I’d also succeeded beyond all reason in doing them.

I knew the All-Father wouldn’t let me go on like this forever but as long as he appeared to be on my side. . .  “Ah what the Hel.” I said and stood up and waved to the women behind the berm “CHARGE THE HOUSE! NO PRISONERS!”

****

Not being shot immediately in the back was a good sign. I slung the Mosin over my shoulder and began limping quickly toward the house in the still night. Either everyone had died out on the field or their good sense had taken hold and they’d decided not to turn out for the fight.

I moved as fast as I could manage firing off the occasional shot as I went–if I saw a man down I meant for him to stay that way. I covered the ground to the house much faster than I would have imagined as I encountered no resistance along the way. As I approached what I thought might have been the guard I’d tried to shoot earlier I saw the look of relief flood his features when he recognized me.  I raised the .357 and put him down before he could form the words to ask what was happening.

I paused there a second standing over his body, making myself a lovely target. It wasn’t often I got this chance, I thought, and I had been silently asking Odin for a lot of help. I leaned down over the man and drew the valknut on his forehead.

I spoke quickly then into the night air “Odin! Mighty Destroyer!  Beloved of Frigg! Accept now the sacrifice of blood I offer; this man killed by my hand. I take nothing from him, leaving all to you”  I reached down to check his pulse and was surprised to find the man was still breathing.  Sweet Louise  in hand I drew the blade across his throat dispatching him to the finality of afterlife.

It sounded a little crazy to say those words outside of a dream, but I had nothing left to hold me back. In days gone by I’d often pictured what living free might be like, but even then I could not have summoned up this image.

The back door of the house swung open its frame banging against the weathered siding as another of Michael’s minions stepped through the portal. I raised the Nagant revolver to fire at him and saw the confused look cross his face. I pulled the trigger only to hear the hammer fall on an empty cylinder. I tossed the gun to the ground and leapt at the man, Sweet Louise in my hand. The blow wasn’t movie perfect severing a body part in slow motion as I landed, but it was effective enough as I managed to draw the blade across his face at least temporarily blinding him.

He stumbled away from me, the shock of being wounded by a man he thought an ally no doubt causing his mental gears to gum up.  I swung the knife again this time making good contact with his throat. The blood flowed from his neck like a river.

I heard a noise I couldn’t identify, like thunder speaking words. As  I knelt down to draw the valknut on another offering, the noise abated.The sound was me. I had found my warcry, though the contents of such were a mystery to my ears. I stood over the fallen form and shouted it again and I knew: this was it. This was freedom.

I entered the house without thought or care. I was beyond gone and thought only of  the blood I had yet to spill. No one was visible in the living room area and I had my doubts that anyone was still in the house at all, but I had to check. I ran into the meeting room where my troubles had begun anew with the reappearance of O’Toole. Part of me hoped that Starke hadn’t deprived me of the chance to kill him just yet.

The meeting room was open as was practically every drawer in the place. Michael was getting away, I knew, but he had stopped to find something.  I stood there indecisively for a minute to see if my brain would magically supply the answer. I couldn’t wait. As I turned to go search the basement I heard a noise outside and saw several figures run past the house’s front window. A truck was weakly turning over somewhere out front. The thought struck me like a bolt of lightning; keys!

The trucks had been used several times since our run into town to gather the supplies for the range and the keys couldn’t just be left with the trucks overnight or they’d risk losing both them and likely a few women.

I unslung the Mosin and charged the front door, roaring now, bellowing like a wounded animal. I dropped to my knees as I cleared the door and took aim at the plethora of figures in front of me not caring if they were men or women. I fired indiscriminately hoping the driver of the truck would set himself up for me by turning on the headlights.

I waited for several breaths firing and loading as people ran past where I knelt. None of the trucks headlights came on and I began to think I had either miscounted the vehicles I could see or Michael was already gone. I stood up and fed rounds into my revolver and the Mosin as if I was on autopilot, until suddenly the Gods smiled on me. No headlights, but there, I saw the grass light up as the driver of the truck stepped on the brakes.

The truck was too far away. I’d never be able to cover the distance in time. I took the Mosin in one hand and knelt again in the wet grass, listening to the screams all around me as the remaining men tried desperately to figure out where the enemy was. I couldn’t see into the cab of the truck, but I could see the windshield.  I used the Mosin’s sling to force my arm into an inverted triangle and rested my elbow on my knee.

I squeezed the trigger and immediately cycled the bolt. The truck had not stopped moving but I could see the spiderweb of cracks where I’d scored the hit. I fired two more shots and still the truck came on, nearing the point where it would have to turn out of the driveway to enter the main road. I cycled the bolt once more and forced myself to become aware of my breathing. As soon as I finished my abbreviated exhale I squeezed the trigger scoring yet another hit on the windshield. I ejected the round and slammed the bolt home, firing again before my next inhalation of breath and waited.

The truck continued forward but  its forward momentum was lost, the wheels turned straight again no longer trying to make the turn. I heard a cheer go up and looked behind me where several women had gathered and taken up firing at my target. I did not speak then, only my warcry came out, still a mystery to my ears as I stood and charged the truck.

Men were poring out the back of the box truck now but they posed no threat to anyone. As soon as their feet hit the ground they began running in no particular direction, just so long as it was away from the sound of gunfire.

I opened the driver’s side door of the now motionless truck and pulled the body out. I shook my head at the figure that hit the ground and laughed seeing a group of five shots no bigger than a softball in the man’s chest. I buried the Mosin’s bayonet in the corpse and drew my revolver as I cautiously peered into the cab, seeing a small figure huddled on the passenger’s side footwell.

With a strength I didn’t know I had I jumped toward the cab, grabbing for the exterior handle as I felt my foot land awkwardly on the step. As I made contact with the handle and braced myself I felt the revolver slip from my grasp. I stared down in surprise, the light from the truck’s interior showing the blood that now covered most of my torso and hands.

Michael was crouched into a ball and trying to make himself even smaller as he clutched a sawed-off shotgun to his chest. Michael let out a terrified yelp as I hit the side of the truck and pointed the shotgun at me. I couldn’t reach Sweet Louise without letting go of the grab handle I was hanging onto. As  I tried to find my balance and reach forward to grab at Michael, the door behind him opened, multiple hands reaching in to snatch him away.

I jumped down off the truck searching for my revolver in the light spilling out of the truck’s cabin. I spotted the gun under the trucks fuel tank and grabbed it   hurrying now to get moving in the direction of whoever had stolen my prey.

I ran to the passenger’s side of the truck and saw a group gathered there in a tight circle, their backs to me. I saw movement from the circle followed shortly by a scream that touched a part of my brain long-buried by millenia of evolution. I pushed my way through the circle  and saw a lupine form huddled there atop another.  My brain almost refused to accept what I saw, but there was no denying what was plain.

Sarah rose from Michael’s now naked form, her mouth bloodied as though she’d been trying to apply lipstick with a spray gun. I looked around the circle at the women’s faces seeing the vacant hate filled stares mirrored on every face.

I watched for a while as one by one the women took turns kneeling down to mark Michael as he had marked so many of them. Each time a woman knelt the scream that brought chills to my internal predator would issue forth again and again.

Michael begged for mercy alternately calling on his God and trying to plead with the crowd. More women had gathered now in the circle and I turned away knowing I would not get the chance to exact my own revenge.

Eventually the night fell to near silence, the only noise audible was the sound of animialistic grunting and flesh noisily torn by teeth.

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Chapter 52 -Belt Fed Revolution

Starke and I started our walk out to the range with O’Toole and several guards trailing us. Tool had the sense to walk behind us creating a little buffer so Starke and I could speak.

We walked on in silence for a while before Starke spoke up. “Okay, I’ll go first. What the fuck, Finn?”

“Yeah. Yeah.” I chuckled forcing myself not to use any body language in our communication.  “I’m trying to figure that one out myself. How close are your guys?”

“Not very.” he replied “We’re scouting fall back locations. The main body is over 35 miles west of here. Tell me what you need though, maybe I can help out?”

“Did you bring a fire team with you? Enough strength to take this location–because this place is FUBAM.”

“FUBAM?” He asked.

“Fucked Up Beyond Ability to Measure. This place is seriously lacking just a few things to be stone-age compatible.”

“Give me the short and sweet, Finn. My balls are already trying to crawl up inside of me.”

“Slavery. Little fucker treats the women like property and marks them if they displease him. Threatened to mark me too. Religious fanatic, kills anyone not subscribing to his particular brand of crazy–er Christianity.”

I could hear the shrug in his voice “Muslims? I killed plenty of them myself. He’s not the only one to do so since the shit hit the fan. And it’s gone both ways.  Christians in Detroit weren’t exactly treated well . . . some were allowed to evacuate though.”

I stared Starke down as we walked. “You killed Muslims–I’m assuming–because they presented a threat to your Marines, not out of some disagreement about the proper day on which you sacrifice the goat.”

“True enough. Old prejudices. So what can I do?” he asked as he offered me another pinch of his chew.

I lowered my voice to a whisper “Save Tool for me. I mean to kill him myself.”

“Yeah.” I saw him nod his head “We’re definitely going to have a talk about that after we leave. I’ll let him live, but I can’t make any promises about keeping him physically intact.”

“Fair enough.” I said with a laugh “You have comms with the–what are you all calling yourself now?”

“Michigan Volunteers. Our affiliation with the MVDF has kind of fallen to the wayside. We’ve got communications with units close to use, but they’re two man scout teams like us. Patrell and Guerrera are a few miles down the road. We have two other teams in about a 15 mile radius. I can get them here if . . .”

“No time. I have to end this soon. Best thing you can do for me is draw some of his troop strength away. I think we can handle the rest.”

“We?” he asked as he turned to look over his shoulder at the guards following us. “We who?”

“Myself and the women. I gave my word that I would get them clear of this and that’s what I aim to do.”

“Roger that. You think you’ll be able to join us for our festivities?”

“Lansing?” I shrugged slightly “Adam,” I began “War to my people is holy. So much so that we have not one, but four Gods of war. I’ve gotta be honest with you– since this all started I’ve felt like I’m home–but I just want to be on my own. I’m not meant to be around people. Normal people anyway.”

Adam nodded “I’ve been doing some reading– a little bit of research since we met. Isn’t building a tribe supposed to be an important part of your life as well?”

“Innangard–people very close to me–are important. They don’t necessarily have to form a body in which we all physically exist.”

“Don’t be a dick, Finn. I’m not trying to ask you out on a date here. We need you, the Resistance, needs every body it can get. Join us.”

“You realize you’re asking a dead man to help you out? There’s no guarantee I’m walking away from this. Or if I do that I’ll be physically capable of doing anything useful.”

“Yeah, I’m sure this group of warriors, will be the end of you. Meet me in Lansing?”

I gave in. I couldn’t be held responsible for breaking my word to him if I was dead. “I’ll try.”

****

We arrived at the range with just enough light peering through the gathering clouds to make the marked grounds visible. Starke looked at the layout approvingly.

“Looks like home to me. You’re going to train his guys here?”

I smiled “I’m going to turn this into Náströnd.”

I saw Starke raise an eyebrow at me, but I didn’t explain. We walked through the range as it was laid out, Starke offering a few helpful comments here and there about things I had forgotten.

“You have equipment to dig the trenches?” He asked distractedly.

I pointed back toward Michael’s house “Bobcats up there.  Etools if those don’t work.”

“Wait one.” Starke said and walked off to speak to one of the guards. When he returned he was hiding a smirk. “Got something for you.”

A few of the guards took off toward Michael’s house and a moments later the natural sounds of morning were interrupted by the Bobcat engine’s firing up. Starke made a show of changing one of the markings on the field so that the trenches would be connected, allowing those inside to advance or retreat as necessary.

When the guard returned with the Bobcat, Starke immediately began directing him on how and where to dig. The guards not being true professionals did what men tend to do in this situation and gathered around to watch the work.  Starke stood next to me watching and occasionally calling out a command to be relayed to the equipment operator.

I watched the work beginning with some interest. I was starting to focus more on the work than the problems at hand when I felt something poke me in the back. I looked at Starke who was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I reached behind my back and smiled as I gripped the barrel of my .357 .

Starke gave me a wink and held up a finger. I felt something else tap against my back and grabbed that as well, feeling the breath catch in my throat as I felt Sweet Louise’s kydex sheath in my hand. I stowed everything in my improvised blow out kit and gave Starke a nod of thanks.

After a while the trench was coming along nicely and the things I’d asked to have brought out began to arrive, including a chalkboard. Starke looked at me questioningly when he saw the board being set up. It was my turn to wink at him and smile.

****

Dawn fully broke over the range as I called for Donnelly to sound the call and get the troops assembled. As the men began to turn out I sent them all off to get entrenching tools to deal with the dirt the Bobcat was churning up.

The men set to creating a berm in front of the trenches with the excess dirt. Starke smiled at the progress and came over to speak to me.

“How much do you charge to shoot here?” He smiled admiringly at the at way the men were all working to get the range finished.

“More than you’d be comfortable paying–I hope.”

Starke nodded all traces of humor leaving his features.  Tool came over and stood next to us making our conversation come to an uncomfortable halt.

“Your boss is headed out.” Tool said, jerking his head toward Michael’s house.

Starke turned to look and saw a golf cart coming our way. “Hate to do it man, but we’ve got to get moving. we’ve got to rendezvous with another scout team and get our exfil on.”

“You going to take some recruits with you?” I asked watching the golf cart like a cat tracking a mouse.

“Kind of depends on what he says.” Starke nodded his head toward the approaching golf cart “If he’ll let us we’ll take as many off your hands as possible.”

“Works for me.” I offered Starke my hand and we shook. “I’ll see you in Lansing.” I said and turned away before he had a chance to show me his idiot grin.

Chapter 46 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded “You have my word on it.”

****

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 39 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

I crawled under the tree and immediately passed out.

****

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 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 27 -Belt Fed Revolution

I settled into the back of the APC  which had a lot less room than one would have imagined. Presently the back was filled with MRE’s and several boxes of ammunition for the vehicles gun.

Starke had assigned Tool to be the driver which I appreciated as it saved me from having to make small talk with the man. Starke sat down next to me with several papers in hand along with a ruler and a lensatic compass. I looked around at the interior of the APC and was given pause when I realized the lettering inside was in Cyrillic.

“The Hel is this thing?” I said out loud, but mostly to myself.

Starke looked up from his papers “BTR-80. We picked it up at an Army-Navy surplus store.” Starke folded his papers over the ruler and sat back for a moment. “The owner had this thing sitting outside for a few years. We were kind of surprised it started up.” He gestured to the boxes on the floor “That there’s for the little gun up top. We couldn’t find anything to feed the big gun.” at this he gave me a wink “So you see any thirty millimeter shells lying around you let me know.”

“Will do. The other armament didn’t look like a .50 cal.” I stated. I could make out the marking on the wooden cases of 7.62 once more but still I had no idea about the rest of it. Clearly I needed to learn Russian.

Starke nodded “PKT in 7.62x54r. Not much use against armor, but it’ll send the rabbits running.” Starke grabbed one of the wooden ammo cases and handed it to me. “You get to feeling useful sir, you help yourself to one of these boxes and check the belt links. We got caught in a pretty bad firefight outside of Paw Paw. The damn links wouldn’t feed through so we had to get out and personally hand them a can of whoop-ass.”

“Things are bad all over then?”

He nodded “We’ve been fighting the Feds pretty heavy on this side, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Lansing and Detroit.”

I paused for a brief second “The Feds? As in the Federal Government? Like regular Army?”

Starke laid his papers aside and took out a can of dip “Chew.” he said as he handed the container over to me. The last time I had put tobacco in my mouth I had been physically intact and too young to buy beer, but I took the offering gratefully. Starke took a dip himself and leaned back against the wall of the APC “You’re a Michigan boy, right?”

I nodded and Starke eyed me carefully. I was suddenly aware that there was the possibility of this ride coming to an immediate and bloody end.

“The MVDF got called up to help maintain order when the president placed Michigan under martial law.  The militia boys didn’t care too much for that idea and they made it plain.” He chuckled “Turns out those fellas had been buying and importing things a lot more dangerous than full auto AR’s and AK’s.” Starke closed his eyes for a second. I had no doubt he’d probably fallen asleep lulled by the soft growl of the BTR-80’s engine. His eyes snapped open “Yeah, so anyway, the militia’s got hold of some RPG’s, even got some homemade ones as I heard it, and some demilled anti-tank cannons from World War II. Give a man a lathe and he’ll fight you to the death.” Another wink.

“President’s decree of Martial Law didn’t set too well with the governor either it turns out. Especially when some Army weenie showed up and kicked the governor out of his office.” I had to raise an eyebrow at that. I hadn’t heard about a declaration of martial law, but given what I’d heard from others it wasn’t too surprising.

“So anyway, the governor gets good and pissed and starts contacting MVDF commanders secretly. The ones I guess he figured he could trust at least and started giving them orders to reach out to suspected militia leaders about joining forces.” he shrugged as if it were a given “turns out a lot of the militia boys were more than happy to join up and kick the Feds out.”

At this point Guererra poked his head in “Not just the militia’s either.I was regular Army, just home on leave when I got the call. I was in the MVDF before I joined the Army. Figured my oath was sworn to them first.”

Starke nodded “A lot of us feel that way. It’s one thing to ask for the National Guard to come in  and patrol the streets. something entirely different to start dropping ordinance on civilian targets.” The APC jerked to a halt. Starke jumped up front to where Tool sat. “Sitrep?”

Tool scanned the road “Patrell left a marker.”

Starke peered out the window then turned to look back at me “Think you can run that PKT?”

“A Russian gun? I would think a blind monkey could run it.”

Starke laughed “Yep. Pretty much.” He removed the magazine from his AR and checked it before putting it back in. Without a word Guererra appeared AR in hand and the two exited the vehicle.

I stood up as best I could and made my forward to the PKT and poked my head out into the brisk air. The smell of smoke was heavy on the wind. I couldn’t identify it at first but I knew it wasn’t wood smoke. I felt a little less than sure about my competency and wished there were a blind monkey nearby to give me a quick run down of the PKT.

“John, look in my ruck. There should be a small case in there with some glasses in it. Grab those then stand by with a couple of those belts just in case.” I was greeted by silence. It went on for a few beats before I called out “John? You with me?”

“Finn…um, I don’t see your ruck.”

“What?! Oh, shit…” John had done as I asked him and hidden my pack. For some reason I assumed the delay in him coming out after I called him was due to him retrieving my ruck. I thought for several moments but I didn’t recall seeing him with it when he came out.

“Shit,shit,shit. Is it back at that house, John?”

More silence. then “Yeah. I think so.”

I didn’t have much choice. I’d have to deal with it later. “Damn it. Okay. You still have your pack?”

He didn’t hesitate as long this time, but the response still wasn’t immediate. “Yes.”

I sighed. “Okay, hand me all the .500 ammo you’ve got. If you’re carrying any rounds for the rifle, separate those and keep them somewhere we can reach them in a hurry.”

John handed me more rounds than I could count and I stuffed them in every available pocket I had. I told John to make sure the shotgun was loaded and to be ready to jump out if I gave the word.

We waited for several minutes before Starke and Guererra returned. “Looks like the Feds had a pretty serious fight with somebody. There’s a couple of disabled MRAP’s up ahead. We’re going to pull up and see if we can’t scavenge a few things.”

Since we were the FNG’s here I didn’t really want to press our luck, but I figured this diversion was as close as I might get. “Sarn’t?” Starke looked at me “Sarn’t I left my ruck back at that house you picked us up at. You think…”

I didn’t get to finish my question. Starke started laughing “It’s gone, man. We’re crawling out of here for a reason. Feds aren’t far behind us. They’ve been trying to intercept us for a while but we’ve managed to evade,” He smiled wickedly “or at least slow them up. Sorry. Maybe you can get re-geared at our base.”

I didn’t fight it. Shit happens, right? I looked down and saw Sweet Louise hanging from her accustomed spot. I had several hundred rounds of ammo for both revolvers since I’d thought far enough ahead to split the ammo between John and myself. I was down to very little now, my guns, Sweet Louise and my improvised ghillie suit. An old saying from my time in the corps came back to me: Adapt, Improvise, Overcome.

“All right, sarn’t.’ It was all that needed to be said.

Starke nodded and called out “mount up!’ and we were on our way.

Chapter 23 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

The grave I dug was not deep nor very long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right, John?”

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

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

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

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

“How is what going to work?”

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 21 -Belt Fed Revolution

I pulled Jake aside before we made the short walk to his house. “I want to make this clear to you. I have no intention of harming your son. But if you, or your wife or anyone that you may have forgotten to tell me about decides to get hostile? ” I looked at him hoping I had his full attention “Stevie here is going to come with us.” Jake actually seemed to relax a little at this.

The house was close and we covered  ground quickly. The place had originally been little more than a one room shack that had at some point had a mobile home added to expand it. There was a pickup out front and a  small tractor parked by the side of the house. Jake’s wife and daughter saw us coming and had an armed reception waiting. Jake held up his hands to wave the weapons down.

“Tell them to put the weapons on the ground” Jake passed this along to his wife who responded “Them first!” she yelled defiantly.  The men wouldn’t argue with Jake, but apparently his authority only extended so far.

Jake stepped forward and took the shotgun from his wife. Words passed between them that I couldn’t make out. Before Jake had a chance to think about  shouldering the shotgun I had my revolver in hand pointing at him. I was pretty sure I could hit him. In the dark. From 20 feet away. Well, call it 60-65% sure. Jake held the shotgun by the barrel and kept his free hand in the air.

He laid the shotgun on the ground and with a look from him his daughter stepped forward to place the rifle next to it. “Thank you. Stevie, you want to go see your mother?” The boy nodded and walked to her giving me a chance to holster my revolver.

I walked over and picked up the surrendered guns “I’m not exactly opposed to killing; never been a turn the other cheek kind of guy.” I said this looking at Brian. “But I am willing to chalk this up to a misunderstanding in strange times. I’m thinking we’ll take these and drop them off by the road on our way out.” I held the rifle out to John while I looked for the safety on the shotgun so I could stow it without shooting my ass off.

John took the rifle from me and with a shake of his head handed it back to Jake’s wife. “Excuse my friend, please. The wolves that raised him never taught him any manners.” The voice in my head that had been asking why I hadn’t just killed these people and been done with it? It was making some pretty insistent statements about John’s lifespan just about then.

I was doing the math in my head figuring I needed three rounds in the shotgun to get clear of this before I could start hammering the survivors with hollow points. As I started to take a step backwards, Jake’s wife stepped forward telling John “Sorry. I could have handled that a little better” She held out her hand to him and they shook.

John smiled at her “I think you handled it just fine, considering.” I stood not quite sure how to react to this turn of events, knowing only that  the next words I spoke to John were likely to come out of a gun and be spoken in the double-ought dialect.

“I’m Tina. This is Colleen.” She said indicating a girl who from her height and build I guessed was probably in her teens. She laughed as Brian came closer “Looks like you know Brian already.” She said as she examined his swollen face and tutted over the cuts on the bridge of his nose. “Well, are we going to stand out here all night or what? C’mon, I got some soup I’ve been keeping warm on the wood stove.”

Jake turned to me and said “Yeah, come on.” and waved me into their house.

****

Tina dished up soup for everyone and we gathered around a small candlelit table to eat. She  asked Jake if they managed to catch anything to add to the pot. Jake shook his head offering only “Kind of got distracted.”  The soup was thin, but good consisting as it did of mostly onions and salt.

I was not of a mind to continue accepting hospitality from Jake and his family. We exchanged what news we had. I was not too surprised to hear that things out east were still tense. Tina told us of hearing about lots of back and forth fighting between the Feds defensive forces  (the Federal Reserve Defense Force or FRDF as I would later learn). One piece of news that was surprising was that Quebec had finally succeeded in separating itself from the rest of Canada and was actually doing fairly well on its own.

The rest of Canada wasn’t suffering as badly as America was. Although having a new sovereign state pop up in the middle of its geography made things a little unusual. Apparently Newfoundland , Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada now separated physically had led to them declaring their independence as well.

The remaining world governments were scrambling to make decisions about which new countries to recognize. What little news there was coming out of Michigan wasn’t good, but there hadn’t been any huge changes save for a part of Detroit and one of its suburbs now being under Sharia law. Strangely it didn’t sound like the horror show I imagined so much as all the Muslims in the area trying to exert some control over their communities in the absence of government. Regardless, I was happy enough that Detroit wasn’t on my personal itinerary. I thought at least someone was doing something with Detroit.

I hadn’t realized how tired I was from all the traveling. John continued to talk about his experiences on the road and the things that had happened since. I was ready to get moving. I was waiting for a break in the conversation to tell John just that when I noticed Colleen playing absently with a piece of spent brass.

“Well” I said, clearing my throat “I think I’ll go out and have a smoke.” I stood as I excused myself. “You can smoke in here. We don’t mind” Tina offered with a smile. I nodded “I appreciate it, but I’d like to stretch my legs a bit.” I saw a look flit between Tina and Jake, and my paranoid reflexes went into overdrive. I walked out the door and began patting myself down as if looking for a lighter.

As soon as I cleared line of sight of the door, I ran around the side of the house.  Sitting in the back leaning close to the house was a motorcycle, with a ton of stuff bungeed to the sissy bar. I was right. The piece of brass Colleen had was of the 5.56 variety, the kind of thing that fit an AR pistol for instance.

I hurried back to the front of the little house and leaned against the pickup. I kept an eye on the house as I tried to subtly draw out the BFR that was still stuck in my belt. I thumbed open the cylinder and ran my finger around the top of the cartridges. Brian it turned out had some ill luck. there were two rounds without dimples in them. I spun the cylinder so that the first of the unspent rounds would be chambered and let the BFR settle back into its place in my belt.

I waited a few more minutes and went inside taking my place at the little table. To Jake and Tina I said “Well, I thank you all for your hospitality, but we need to get moving.” I thought I saw a bit of tension drain out of Tina’s face. I scooted my chair back a bit. John looked at me appearing almost horrified at the thought of leaving. As he began to protest the idea, I drew the BFR and fired. The thing  that had been Brian didn’t even have a stump where his head had been. I swung my .357 over to fire at Tina who had just started to reach for  one of the AR pistols she had tucked away.

The hollow point took her full in the face leaving a crater where her nose and eyes had been. I settled the .357 on Jake’s forehead. “Repay lies with lies, that’s my way. But I gave you my word and that I’ll keep. Stevie here gets to keep on living” I smiled at Jake “Colleen, too.” I squeezed the trigger and splattered Jake’s brains against the wall behind him.

John had remained ever so helpful, his mouth hanging open providing a place for the flies to rest before they started depositing their eggs in the newly minted corpses. Colleen looked at me a second before deciding she wanted to make a grab for the AR pistol still laying on the floor. John racked the shotgun and fired it before I had a chance to dissuade her.

Colleen sat up fast almost knocking her chair over in the process. “Now Colleen, ” I began chiding “That’s not nice. You look like you might be a smart girl, Colleen.” She sat staring at me numbly “Do you want to live long enough to find out if you are?” She nodded mutely. “All right, that’s fine then. Stand up, and take your brother over there” I gestured for her to move back against the wall.

“Not my sister.” I didn’t recognize the voice. It was the first words I had heard Stevie speak. “Not your…” Stevie lunged for the AR and snatched it up, pointing the muzzle at Colleen and used her as a backstop for the 5.56 rounds.

It was my turn to provide a place for the flies to land. “The fuck?!?” was all I could manage to say. Stevie dropped the AR and turned toward me closing his eyes. I think he expected me to shoot him.

“Stevie?” He opened one eye.”Hey buddy. I’m not going to …shoot. You.” My brain was suddenly finding words very strange things to try to use. “What happened here, Stevie?”

Defiantly he looked at me and said “Stephen! My name’s not Stevie it’s Stephen!” I nodded and said “Okay, Stephen, it’s fine. Sorry about that, okay?” To his credit he never shed a tear, voice never wavered except for those times nature dictated it must.

“They killed my dad. There was a bunch of ’em. My dad, my brother an’ me, we took a bunch of ’em out, but she” at this he pointed at Tina’s rapidly cooling body “shot my dad in the head! Me an’ my brother we held out as long as we could.”  Stephen turned and kicked Colleen as he moved went to turn on a light. The invaders had kept the place dark, it turned out, on purpose.

With the lights on I could see the blood stains that covered one wall. I could also see the family pictures over the hearth.  I saw Stephen with an older, bearded man I guessed was his father and to his left in the photo was an older version of Stephen. One I’d seen earlier, a cowboy. I muttered to myself and caught John’s eye as it locked onto the picture and filled him with the same knowledge.

“They killed my dad and Carl an’ me tried to get out,” he said determined to get his story out “but we got separated and I got caught by that…asshole!!!” he pointed at Brian. I looked at Brian and wished I could bring him back to life so I could kick him in the nuts and shoot him a few more times.

I wanted a few minutes to process this, but time was never kind. “Stephen,” I started to say, but I had nothing. John stepped up and said “Hey, help me drag these bodies out, would ya?” I nodded finding a task to focus on kicked my brain into gear. “Stephen, you got some firewood around here?”

“Out back, if they ain’t used it all.” He said his face remaining entirely passive.

“All right. Go get a bunch of firewood and start stacking it up. Lay it flat like you’re trying to build a small p…” I had been about to say porch when Stephen said “Pyre. I know.”

John and I dragged the bodies outside and waited as Stephen laid in the wood. I thought I would take Stephen back into the little house while John set the fire, but I knew that wasn’t going to be enough for Stephen in this new world we inhabited.

After piling the wood pretty deep, John and I tossed the bodies on. Stephen surprised me yet again when he set to stuffing in some kindling and sparking the fire himself. John looked at me with wide eyes. I just shook my head and kept an eye on the fire.

Stephen stared into the fire as it became a blaze. We all stepped back as what little fat there had been on his former captors began to melt and add fuel to the fire. I took a moment to admire the big revolver I had hung in my belt for the first time. A Smith&Wesson .500 with a ported 8″ barrel and a compensator tacked on for good measure.

This thing was ridiculous and I loved it. An annoying buzzing started nipping away at the edge of my consciousness and I realized that John was moving closer to me trying to get my attention. I snapped back to attention and acknowledged John. He kept looking at Stephen and jerking his head toward the house.

Stephen and I had been enjoying watching the bodies burn, but I took John’s unspoken advice. I put my hand on Stephen’s shoulder and turned him back to the house.  He offered no resistance and allowed himself to be led. I signaled John to stay and keep an eye on the fire. It was clear to me he found the idea distasteful but he did it without complaint.

Once inside the house all life seemed to leave Stephen. His shoulders slumped and his head fell forward. I thought I could hear crying, but in the dimly lit dining room I couldn’t see and I didn’t push it.

I drew out the BFR and said “I guess this is probably yours?” He sniffed and spoke quietly “It was Carl’s. He never let me shoot it. He could barely shoot it without getting hit in the head.” He laughed quietly at the memory. I laid the gun down on the table and pushed it toward him. Stephen looked at me and shook his head. “Nah, I can’t do nothing with that. You can keep it.” Before I could say otherwise Stephen seemed to inflate “Hey! Come let me show you somethin’!”

He took off like a spooked rabbit and returned with a set of keys. He started to push the dining room table out of the way. I helped him and picked up the table so  he could get at the rug underneath. Yanking the rug back revealed a door set into the floor. He unlocked the door hurriedly and flung it open.

A short staircase opened up on an expanded crawlspace that contained several guns and more brass than a marching band. Stephen ran over to one wall and grabbed a gun smiling broadly at me. “If I’d been able to get this, those fuckers wouldn’ta never touched me!” Stephen had  what looked like a new Kalashnikov, but the magazine didn’t look right. Apparently reading my mind he ejected the magazine and showed me the contents. I smiled. A semi auto .410 shotgun. “Here” he said scooping up a handful of reloads “there’s more here somewhere. My dad and my brother reloaded everything they shot.” I nodded appreciatively and examined one of the cartridges for the .500.

I heard footsteps overhead and Stephen pointed his shotgun at the floor above him. I grabbed the barrel and pointed it down “John?” I called out.

“Where are y’all?” he said “What happ…oh.” John spotted the trapdoor and  moved around so we could see him. I smiled and let go of the shotgun’s barrel. John nodded thankfully and looked relieved that I hadn’t let Stephen shoot him.

I talked reloading with Stephen and it turned out he knew how to handle the equipment. He even had his own special hand loads filling his little shotgun. I looked around the little room and noticed a 12 gauge version of Stephen’s shotgun leaning against the wall. I picked it up and examined it closely. Between the guns, the brass and the other supplies I guessed Stephen and his family could have held out here for about a decade if the place had any decent defenses.

A light suddenly bloomed in Stephen’s eyes and he bolted by me and up the stairs without a word. I looked at John and shrugged. I started up the stairs after him and he suddenly remembered we were there. “Come on!” he yelled as he ran toward an outbuilding like his hair was on fire.

I ran out the door and called over my shoulder to John “Come on, Tinkerbell, let’s go see what has Pan so excited.”  and limped off after  Stephen as fast as I could.

Stephen rushed up to a decrepit looking outbuilding that had all sorts of tire tracks leading into it. From the look of things this is where the tractor normally slept. Stephen was smiling as he threw open the doors. The entire floor of the little barn was covered with fresh dirt.

Stephen opened a door not quite as concealed as the one beneath the house and disappeared from sight. I walked to the hole in the ground and poked my head in.  It looked like a cargo container had been buried under the barn, complete with electric light from somewhere.

I walked into the container and noticed several smaller openings opening onto what I had to guess were other cargo containers. I poked my head into one and saw shelves stocked with food. Each of the little doors could be locked from one side effectively sealing them off from  the other containers in event of emergency.

Stephen looked up at the entrance where John stood gaping. “This is where Carl an’ me were goin’. I lost my flashlight and we got split up.” Stephen looked suddenly excited “now that those assholes are dead, maybe we can go look for Carl?!”

Part of me had been expecting this. Didn’t make it any easier.

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.