I couldn’t remember having had this much fun in ages. Certainly not since gas became crazy expensive. Only the truly wealthy drove for pleasure now, but here I was, ripping through this field, the 33 inch tires on my Cherokee tearing up the ground flinging mud helter skelter. The young woman on the seat next to me was certainly enjoying this. She cried out “Look!” and pointed through the windshield to a pair of bobcats we had disturbed.
I tried to turn the Jeep toward the bobcats but the snow was everywhere and I wasn’t getting a lot of traction. I got us pointed in the right direction and hammered the gas pedal. It was too dark to see properly so I flipped on all of the off-road lights turning the Jeep and the area surrounding it into a small pale blue sun. Motörheads “Ace of Spades” was blaring away on the radio in an infinite loop.
From the passenger’s seat area I heard the sound of a belt buckle unlatch as she leaned over and kissed me on the neck. The song on the radio seemed to get louder in anticipation.
I woke up to near total darkness, my interior voice laughing and mocking at the same time.
“Oh sure, it’s not because there’s a chick in your Jeep. That’s all normal. Uh huh. You know it’s not real because there’s a radio. Even your dreams are pathetic.”
I couldn’t really deny what the voice said. My dreams were kind of pathetic, but those were old world dreams. As meaningless now as dreams of dragons.
There was a candle lantern near my bed, but my eyes were well accustomed to the gloom so I didn’t bother with the light.
I could see a familiar lump at the end of the bed. My ruck had been placed there with my boots lined up next to it. Someone had been busy while I was asleep. My BDU style pants were placed on top of my ruck and neatly folded along with my shirt. They even smelled clean.
I got dressed silently in the dark and sat down to slip my Cadillac’s on. For the first time in a while I felt pretty decent. My back wasn’t bothering me, my knee hadn’t had much of a chance to complain yet and if my pants were any indication I had even lost a few more pounds. This end of the world stuff wasn’t too bad then.
I tried to sling my ruck, but as I grabbed one of the straps it became immediately apparent that its weight had almost tripled. I thought Stephen might have crawled in there, but chided myself and mumbled into the darkness “He’s far too tall”.
I reached into the pack and pulled out something anyone familiar with military surplus could identify immediately. A spam can. I couldn’t see what caliber it was, but given the guns I carrying I was pretty well assured I didn’t have anything that could chamber the contents of the spam can. I reached into one of the pouches on the back of my ruck and grabbed my little wind up flashlight.
I pressed the button and was rewarded with a watery light from the three LED’s. I couldn’t read the language, but important stuff was plain. 7.62 something. Mosin? Kalashnikov? I shrugged and pulled the spam can out and laid it on the bed. There were two more in my ruck and I removed those also.
I wasn’t hearing sounds in the house so I assumed everyone else was still asleep. I made my way outside so I could get a fix on the sun and figure out what time it was. I opened the front door and saw Stephen sitting in a plastic Adirondack chair. His head moved slightly at the sounds I made and I knew that he was awake.
Propped up next to him on the arm of the chair was what I took at first blush for some AK variant, but it didn’t look quite right. The stock and foregrip were aftermarket polymer, but the length of the foregrip and barrel gave it away. A Romanian PSL. I had always admired these rifles and this one looked to be in fine condition.
“Morning, Stephen. Nice stick you have there.”
He smiled appreciatively. “There’s coffee. I made it the way my dad showed me, but I don’t know if it’s any good.” He gestured toward a blue metal carafe on a table with some coffee cups.
I said my thanks and grabbed up the carafe. It was still hot and I didn’t think it would be polite for me to use it as a coffee cup, so I settled for one of the small ceramic mugs and took a seat.
“Got some people comin’.” Stephen said and pointed toward a small two lane track that was probably a lot of fun on a snowmobile. I leapt to my feet and went inside, grabbing my .243 and hoped the lighted reticle scope still had some power.
I ran out and dropped down to one knee behind some concealing junk in the yard. “Um. . . ” Stephen began “I invited them.” I looked back at him. Damn kid. He had this cool detachment thing down far better than I did. I looked through my scope anyway and saw people shapes at about 1500 yards.
Stephen held the PSL out to me. “Thought I might offer you a trade. My dad’s PSL for that.” He pointed at the rifle I held. I handed over the .243 to Stephen so I could examine the PSL. I pulled back the bolt and to my surprise a live round leapt out of the chamber. I grabbed it before it could hit the ground and examined it. Oh yeah. I was smiling inside, holding this familiar cartridge, running my finger around the odd rim that was part of its designation. 7.62x54r .
“Well as much as I appreciate the offer, Stephen, I’m kind of trying to travel light.” I winked at him before I realized he probably couldn’t see the expression in the faint light of dawn. “I can’t hump all that ammo around, unless you want to throw in a pack mule.”
He looked a bit disappointed, but handed me back my rifle without protest. “So who’s coming?”
“Couple of the neighbors. I went out last night and talked to ’em while you were sleepin’.” Stephen pulled the magazine from the PSL and reinserted the round I had ejected. “Some of ’em are in pretty bad shape already, so they were happy to come. Johnson’s tried to follow me right then, but I told ’em to wait an’ come later.”
I cradled my rifle in my arms and sat down on a tired looking deck chair to drink my coffee and wait for the guests to show up.
Before Stephen’s neighbors began to arrive I went in the house and woke John. I wasn’t expecting trouble, but I’d rather be on my feet to meet it if it came our way. John was definitely not a morning person. I had to wake him two more times before I left him to stumble through getting dressed.
Stephen was talking to an older couple when I stepped through the door. Conversation stopped and I found all eyes on me, or more likely on the rig I was wearing and the gun I had slung over my shoulder.
The stragglers were coming in at this point so I waited for them to arrive and enjoyed another cup of coffee. Stephen was willing to give way too much for my rifle. I’d probably have traded him for a pound of coffee, but I wasn’t going to mention that.
Only a couple of them carried weapons. I had to wonder at that. Michigan wasn’t exactly known as a gun-shy state, but the few decent people I had seen lately with the exception of Stephen and his clan, weren’t exactly loaded for bear.
When everyone, including John was present Stephen began to hold a meeting. I stood up and introduced myself.
“Morning folks. I’m Finn” I smiled and nodded at the few that made eye contact “This is John.” John still grouchy stepped forward and offered everyone a sullen wave before collapsing onto one of the chairs.
“What’s yer part in this?” One of the neighbors, asked an elderly man with forest of stubble covering his face.
“Nothing, honestly. I helped Stephen out with a problem he had and he’s given us room and board for a couple of nights.” I waited for a further challenge, but the old man seemed satisfied.
The rest of the meeting was all Stephen. He made it clear to those assembled that John and I were temporary guests and we would be leaving soon. I offered what help I could as they discussed logistics and started making plans. More coffee was prepared and I helped myself. I figured it was a fair trade for the work I had done.
I made it around 11 am when the meeting broke for lunch. Stephen was a sight. He began working people individually while they ate, doing his best to swing them around to his way of thinking about issues they had argued over.
After lunch was over people wandered around and examined Stephen’s steading. Stephen let them look around but he wasn’t showing all his cards yet. I had seen him call a couple away from the barn and engage them in conversation as a distraction. I didn’t like the predatory looks on some faces but I chalked it up to people hard pressed to survive, seeing things they desperately needed.
I listened in on some conversations while doing my best to look like I was doing anything other than eavesdropping. I heard some talk I didn’t like, but I kept it to myself for now. The meeting resumed eventually as meetings tend to do. I was largely tuned out, watching a hawk circle on a thermal in the afternoon sun.
“Well, no offense Steve” My attention suddenly focused on the discussion “But I don’t think you’re exactly cut out to be our leader! ” I stood up at this point deciding to interject on behalf of my host. Stephen shook his head when he saw me stand, so I merely crossed my arms and stood there.
“This is my farm. You want to live here? Eat my food? Then you follow my rules. Don’t like it? You ain’t gotta stay.” I rubbed my chin and tried to hide a smirk. This kid was setting the standard for being the big boss. “If you don’t want to follow my rules, you’re welcome to go back home, but know this: once you leave, you’re out. I ain’t gonna take you in when you run outta food or can’t get water. We have to work together now, if we’re going to survive.”
The old man who had challenged me earlier spoke up “The boy’s right. Fer what it’s worth I wouldn’ta invited most of you here if it was my place.” He picked one of the troublemakers out “Dave, we all know you and your lady friend like that Metha-amphetamin shit. What ‘re you bringin’ to the table Here?” My .357 in hand, I wordlessly shot Dave in the head across the circle of those gathered. He slumped to the ground his head nearly falling into the small firepit we sat around.
There were screams and someone started crying. The old man looked at me gape-mouthed. Stephen just stared at me.
“Consider that express rehabilitation.” I picked a round out of my pocket to replace the one I had just fired. “Trust me. You don’t want or need people like that in your group. If you want to make it through this with half a chance everyone here needs to be healthy and willing to work.” I wasn’t telling Stephen that Ol dead Dave there was one of those I had heard talking about what they could take to sell.
I looked at the woman who had been standing next to Dead Dave and took aim once more. I fired and she flopped to the ground a few feet away, dead, but making a weird low-pitched whining sound with her last breath. I looked each of those still gathered in the eye. “You’re welcome. People say that. Usually after others thank them for the favor they’ve just received?” The old man laughed and spat “He’s a dirty fucker anyway! ” That was close enough to thanks for me.
“You can also consider that a statement on how serious is your situation if you’re in doubt of your hosts word.” I looked around and saw shocked faces still doing their immitation of a goldfish. “My name is Finn Arngeirr Sigurdsson. I killed these people. I’m happy to leave my fingerprints and a DNA sample if that will make you feel better, but trust me–no one is going to come along to punish me for that” I gestured toward the two bodies.
My ears were ringing a bit from the .357 but I heard the old man’s wife ask “What’d he say?” The old man flapped a dismissive hand at her and replied ” He said he’s some sorta Viking.” he looked at the two corpses “he was right about them at least. He did us a favor.”
The old man stood and offered me his hand “Thanks much Mr Viking.”
The old-timer didn’t see me roll my eyes at that as he retook his seat.
Stephen restarted the meeting after my little display and smiled as he asked “Anybody got any questions?” This kid was a natural.