Tag Archives: Michigan

Chapter 40 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doctor?” I croaked out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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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 30 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starke eyed me hopefully.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 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 25 -Belt Fed Revolution

John got volunteered to help me dispose of the bodies. The show I had put on for the people seem to crystallize things for them and everyone was more or less willing to accept Stephen as their leader. The group he had invited had already taken up residence at his homestead. I heard from most of them that they didn’t really have anything at their houses worth bringing.

Stephen suggested that they send armed patrols to each persons house to get personal belongings, clothes or whatever else could be scraped together the next day.

John and I stayed on until evening and ate a final meal with the group. I kept the goodbyes limited, speaking mostly to Stephen.

“I gotta tell you kid you were born for this. You had these people in line long before I dropped the hammer on those two lightbulbs.” I gestured over to the two small graves John and I had dug.

I stuck out my hand and Stephen took it, grasping it with surprising strength “Thanks, Finn. Y’know…if you ever need a place to stay I’d be okay with you hanging out here.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. I saw a younger predator looking back at me with the same steely glint in his eyes I had been carrying for years. “Nah, I think you’re better off without me around.”

Stephen knew it too, though his offer had been genuine. We finished our goodbyes and I promised that if I ever headed back this way I’d stop in and see how things were going at Stephentopia as some people were starting to jokingly call it.

John had decided to take his chances on making it to Canada and thus following me.  As we said our final goodbyes and turned, Stephen called out to us “Wait, I forgot somethin’!” He disappeared into his house for a few minutes and came back out with a backpack and handed it to John.

John hefted the pack with a slight grunt “What’d you put in here, a brick?” Stephen just smiled and said “It’s a gift for, Finn.” For a moment the budding leader was gone and in his place was the child I had seen but briefly when we went out to hunt.

We waved goodbye again and started walking. Soon the little farm was no longer visible and I reckoned it had to be closing in on 7 ‘o clock. We stayed near the road walking mostly on the soft shoulder prepared to jump if we saw anything or anyone else.

John was walking behind me by several yards when I suddenly stopped.  I heard John ready his shotgun by clicking off the safety. He called out quietly “What’s up?”

“Dunno” was all I could say. Something for sure had my attention but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The sky was dark enough I could see the stars starting to pop up and even without the moon I could see pretty well. I stood as still as I could once more trying to will my senses to be superpowered if only for a second or two.

“No lights!” John jumped as I exclaimed this.

“What?”  he hadn’t noticed it yet.

“There’s no lights, John. Look around.” I pointed to the northeast. We had been walking along U.S. 31/I-196 looking for Blue Star Highway near South Haven. I didn’t see any lights shining up into the sky which would indicate there was a town nearby.

“Son of a bitch. . . you’re right. I’ve driven this road plenty of times and I know there’s a couple of little truck stops that could pass for a town with all their lights on around here.”  John scanned the area and pointed almost east “there’s something.”

I waved him down into the ditch and unslung my rifle. I could see light, but it wasn’t the usual steady glow of flourescents lighting the sky. “Fire.” I said and handed John the rifle.

“How can you tell?” he asked peering intently through the scope.

“Watch the way the light wavers and flickers. You only get that from fire” John handed me back the rifle “I’ll take your word for it.’

“Rule one, John? It also means ‘I’m always right’ “I heard him laugh but I continued to watch the fire for a moment. I stood up and picked off the bits of gravel that had become embedded in my arm. “With that fire, anyone over there can’t see us. Let’s get going.”

John walked a little closer so he could talk. “So what’s up with the lights then?”

“Power must be off. Could be anything. Someone could have taken out a transformer or there could have been a storm.” I offered these explanations and thought they sounded reasonable, but I had a feeling that wasn’t the truth of it.

As night wore on and the further we walked it remained dark all over. If I had to guess, I’d say the grid had gone down here for some reason. All I knew was I didn’t really feel like approaching any of the darkened towns and asking questions so we kept moving.

We walked on for the rest of the night making our slow and steady progress. When the sky began to turn lighter I started looking for a place to hole up. I saw a house not too far off and thought we’d try there. I had my monocular strapped to my wrist again since we had been walking and I lifted it up to scope out the place. The house looked deserted, but still pretty well intact.

As we approached the house I didn’t see any signs of recent habitation. Either the former owners had cleaned up pretty well before they split or the squatters had decided this place was too far out to trouble with. That was fine by me so I began looking around for a place to enter the house.

All the windows were intact and I didn’t want to break one in case anyone was keeping an eye on the place and give away that we were there. The house was old. I noticed a coal delivery chute on one side and tried to open it. I couldn’t even budge the thing. “Finn, come here!”  I had my revolvers in hand and went around the corner prepared to shoot. John was standing at the back door which was open.

“It was unlocked.” He smiled at me as I holstered my revolvers and walked in past him. My instincts about the place were right as it turned out. The house was pretty well spotless and empty but showed  signs of furniture having been moved recently. The place smelled of antiseptic and I wondered if a realtor had come out and cleaned the house up desperate to try to sell it.

We went through all the cabinets and closets downstairs and found nothing. I set my ruck on a counter and pulled out my tactical L.E.D. flashlight and clicked it on using all 350 lumens to explore the basement.

There were boxes in the basement, but they contained nothing useful, being filled mostly with dishcloth’s and other kitchen items. Satisfied with my exploration I went up the stairs and put my ruck back on. John had been standing watch in the kitchen where we had entered and I jerked my head toward the stairs “Come on.”

“Finn?” Fuck. I didn’t like that tone.

“What’s up?”

John was pointing out the window so I moved up beside him. I couldn’t see what he was looking at so he moved and I stood where he had been. I saw a patch of gray that looked weird. It got weirder seconds later when the gray patch resolved into a man. I raised the monocular and looked out.

“What’s going on?’ John hissed.

I stood there looking until my brain found a working gear. “Well I’ll be…”

“You’ll be what? Hanged? Arrested? Dipped in shit?”
I picked up my rifle and adjusted the eyepiece to maximum magnification. “It’s a scout. . .”

“A scout? A boy scout?” I dropped the monocular prepared to smack some sense into John but I saw he was being serious.

“Not a boy scout. MVDF if I’m not mistaken” I could see that didn’t mean anything to him, so I explained “Michigan Volunteer Defense Force. Sort of like the National Guard but just for Michigan.”

I moved to the living room and its larger window and watched the scout for a while. Eventually he disappeared. I kept scanning the wooded areas near the house looking for his mate but I couldn’t see anything out-of-place. I don’t know how long I waited but I eventually gave it up.

“Okay, John, go on upstairs and get some sleep. I’ll take the first watch.” I could see he was tired and I didn’t mind being awake right now. Why one scout? Where was the other one? Or for that matter where was the unit he was scouting for?

I kept watch until about 1400 and went up to wake John.  “while you’re on watch if you see anything–even if it’s  animals running–anything that doesn’t look right, get upstairs and wake me.” He nodded “Oh and try not to silhouette yourself.”

“That a gay joke, ’cause I don’t get it?”

“Don’t stand in front of the windows if you can help it. Definitely don’t stand in an open door.” I yawned “just try not to make yourself a target to anyone with a rifle and decent eyesight.”

I headed upstairs and closed my eyes, but my thoughts kept turning over. Maybe the scout had gotten separated from his mates. Maybe he wasn’t a scout at all, just someone lost and trying to get to a fortified position. As I pondered the situation I actually managed to fall asleep.

A short time later John was kneeling beside me, shaking me by the shoulder. “Get up!” he said in a stage whisper.

My eyes were open and I was instantly awake. “What’s happening?” I asked as I stifled a yawn.

“He’s back!” John pointed at the window.

“Who? The scout?” I doubted it was the same person, but the fact that there was another one was enough to pique my interest.

“I saw him a few minutes ago, but I couldn’t tell what was happening. It’s that one from earlier, coming back this way.”

I let John lead the way downstairs and Ito the window he’d been standing at. It took me a few moments to spot him even with the gray BDU’s he was wearing.

“The fuck?” I said to no one in particular. John thought it was directed at him.

“I know! He’s been sitting there for a while” As soon as John stopped speaking I heard it. The sound was as familiar to me as it was to John. A diesel engine changing gears. John looked at me wide eyed.

The typical reactions in this situation are fight,flight or freeze. Maybe add freak out in some cases.  I saw the vehicle, a gray painted APC of some sort. I wasn’t really up-to-date on my military vehicles and this one didn’t look American. I started having a flashback to Red Dawn. Russians? But if it were Russians why would they be wearing the MVDF insignia?

“Fuck it.” I took out my S&W .500 and made sure it was fully loaded and did the same for my .357. I was going to add a new category to fight-flight-or-freeze.Confront like a man. “Gimme the shotgun, John.”

John looped the shotgun on over my extended arm and stepped back. “I’m going to go out there and talk to them. If I don’t signal you after a bit, get out the window and hide yourself. I’ll keep them busy for a second or two.” John nodded and gathered up all his supplies and stood ready. “I’m leaving my ruck here. Carry it down to the basement and hide it as best you can. If you hear shooting wait for a few hours and come back. If you can do it safely, you can have my ruck.”

I stepped out the door and headed off to meet the scout and his friends.

Chapter 24 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“G’morning.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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