Tag Archives: prepper

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 47 -Belt Fed Revolution

Luck was with us.The truck o’ hammers roared to life without even a hesitation.  John assured me he knew of a place nearby that had several Bobcat type machines that could be used to set up the range the way I had specified.

I was enjoying the silence during the ride which naturally, being called John, he had to ruin with attempts at small talk.

“What did you do?” he asked startling me out of my reverie.

“Do?”

“Yeah.” he smiled trying to be congenial. “Before all this. What did you do?”

“I digged holes.” I said and looked back out the window.

“You digged . . .”

I cut him off. There was no need for this conversation and besides I had other things on my mind.

“What was that place we passed on the way in? It looked like it had electricity.”

“Oh, that. It’s a library. After we took the town, a few of the people that agreed to live by God’s decree were allowed to remain and keep certain services running.” the emphasis he put on decree told me that he was a true believer.

“Awesome.” I said this mostly in response to my internal monologue about the fanaticism in which I found myself enveloped. “So let’s stop there. Maybe some books I can use to help build Michael’s army.” I had no doubt that if I’d suggested we stop just so I could nose around an immediate denial would have resulted followed by John either eventually caving in or his untimely death. I was good either way.

John nodded enthusiastically “That’d be a great idea! And while we’re there I can send an email to my family in Florida . . . I’ve been worried about them. I pray every night that God keeps them safe or if he can’t, that he’ll take them to heaven swiftly.”

“Sometimes all you can do is pray.” I muttered trying not to show my excitement that there was internet service here.

“Amen, brother. Amen.” John reached over and patted my hand.

I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t know their jargon well enough to continue this line of discussion so I hoped that he was satisfied. I watched the streets of the town and saw people going about what had become their daily business. As far as I could see Michael had begun his ethnic cleansing locally. No one here had so much as a tan.

We reached the library after a few minutes more silence had passed. I tried not to tip my hand by bolting out of the truck and rushing to a computer in the library.

In front of the squat building several vendors were present  selling various items  off small folding tables. I glanced at the assemblage of junk uninterested but stopped when when a man reached into a squirming cardboard box and pulled out a puppy.

The man was thin and had clearly held a job that involved him being office bound, probably behind a computer screen most of his day. I looked in the box and saw there was one more puppy inside. Both dogs looked to be German Shepherds. The man jabbered something at me and I looked at his face for the first time noticing his jaw was greatly swollen with a lump the size of a baseball  just under the jawline extending down to his neck. He held the puppy out to me and smiled the hole in his mouth showing several recently broken teeth.

I couldn’t understand what was being said and I had more important things on my mind so I waved him off giving the puppy’s head a scratch as I walked away.

****

Inside the library was a bored looking woman with a still slightly plump figure. I had seen only men walking around in the town and assumed that Michael had either killed, driven off or just taken the town’s women back to his camp. The fact that this woman was essentially wandering around loose and appeared no worse for wear told me something was clearly amiss.

John smiled at her and turned to me “You’re in for a real treat now. This is Miss Janie, Michael’s sister.”

I stuck out my hand without hesitation and smiled. “Pleased to meet you.”

She shook my hand and smiled politely back. Miss Janie was a woman of no words. I waited for her to speak. She only looked at me. I broke eye contact and looked at John hoping he had something to add but he was stood there smiling mindlessly at her.

“May I use one of the computers?” I asked feeling a weird creeping sensation up and down my spine.

Miss Janie smiled and pointed to a set of carrels with dark computer monitors in them. I left John to stand and look at Miss Creepy and sat down at the computer.  I was surprised that the internet was still working; I felt starved for news.

I checked the national news providers and websites, starting with CNN and Yahoo. The news there was clearly regurgitated government spew, but there was still some worth to it. The Netherlands and Germany had left the European Union and shortly thereafter, Germany had subsumed several former nations under one umbrella forging the Independent Teutonic Union. The most amusing note in that story was that Germany had ‘invited’ France and after what was reported as a staunch refusal France quietly joined the ITU in the middle of the night after German peacekeeping forces had volunteered to help stabilize the region. As American military personnel had been forced for one reason or another to return to the States, the new Teutonic state gobbled up equipment stored at bases across Germany. The equipment  had been labeled ‘irretrievable’ by the powers-that-be giving Germany a powerful and well equipped new army.

Greece, Spain and Portugal were smoking craters by most reports, their populations having run rampant when it was clear the government could no longer provide services or even food for them. Italy held out the longest of all, but was eventually overrun when the conflicts of multiple factions spilled out beyond their unofficial borders turning the whole of the country into a war zone.

The result of all this turmoil lead to the German ITU stepping forward as a leader in Europe and putting together a new territory which now stretched from Hungary to a few miles inside what used to be Spain. This was accomplished with the aid of their Scandinavian cousins, but with the understanding that the newly formed Imperial Norse Coalition, made up of Norway, Sweden, Denmark,Finland and a few Finno-Ugric border states–would retain their independence.

In most of the former European Union a wholesale slaughter was declared against Muslims and others whose only crime was having an Arabic sounding name.

The governments of several countries had apparently even offered a reward for those of Arabic descent to be turned over to authorities for immediate deportation. Most  vessels requisitioned for the task of transporting people back to the Middle East either sunk or disappeared shortly after launch.

England was no help to anybody, being embroiled in a new civil war on three fronts. Between the resident Muslims, the Scottish and the Irish, the whole of  the communications  grid in Great Britain had gone dark. Despite calls for peace from several countries including the U.S., Blighty was undergoing a bloodbath not seen since my Ancestors stepped foot on that ground.

There were, strangely, no reports of what was happening in Michigan to be found anywhere in the mainstream media. I crossed my fingers and typed in westernrifleshooters.wordpress.com and hoped that the site was still up. The site hadn’t been updated in a couple of weeks, but contained a few reports on similar pacification efforts the government had enacted in California, Texas, and Idaho, but there was little news available other than that.

I typed in battlefieldusa.wordpress.com and hit enter. The site had news that was a couple of days old, but provided a little more information. Californian’s had fought off a takeover attempt by the resident Mexican population and had pushed most of them across the border into Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. Word had it that a new group of Mexican fighters had amassed near Edinburg, Texas and were getting ready to push into the region.  Fed forces had showed up in Texas armed for bear, bringing B-52’s with thermobaric fuel-air bombs, typically referred to as Daisy Cutters determined that there would be no second Alamo. California had been particularly troublesome as the citizens of that state had managed not only to defeat the Mexican uprising, but also pushed out the Feds shortly thereafter.

No information was available on what had happened in Idaho, but rumor had it  the situation was similar to what was happening here in Michigan. All reports were showing that the government was stretched thin trying to put down uprisings that kept sparking like wildfires.

I finished up by trying to look at a few other sites but they had either been shutdown or not updated in months. I sat back satisfied with what I’d learned. I wanted to check on how things had been going between in the fight at the Federal Reserve, but I got a tap on the shoulder from Miss Creepy. She pointed to her wrist and then to a sign next to the monitor that indicated computer use was limited to 15 minutes per patron.

John had been busy not chatting with Miss Creepy, so he had a few minutes left  on his terminal. I told him I would be waiting outside when he was through, but I don’t think he heard me.

****

I stood outside and stretched since my knee had a habit of getting stiff if I sat for more than a few minutes. The puppy hawker had a customer at his little table and the men were arguing over one of the puppies. I wandered over curious to see if the other man could actually understand the guy with the broken jaw.

I stood there for a couple of minutes, getting a smile from Mr Brokejaw and being mostly ignored by the other guy. They were haggling over the price of the puppy and going back and forth over items the other man– his distinguishing characteristic being mostly dirt and a hair style I’d heard referred to as a ‘Jew-fro’– had to trade.

I decided to get back in the truck and leave the men to their dickering when I heard Mr Afro making his final pitch.

“That dog barely weigh ten pound man! I ain’t givin’ you alla dis when it gon’ cost least dis much just to fatten him up!”

Mr Brokejaw tried to redirect the negiotiations by holding the dog up by the scruff of his neck, pushing it out toward me, smiling and saying “Tayth guh!”

I stopped and turned toward him. “Are you trying to sell me this dog? To eat?”

Mr Brokejaw smiled and nodded thrusting the puppy at me again. I looked at Mr Afro careful not to stand too close lest his cloud of dirt jump on to me.

I pointed at Mr Afro “You are trying to buy this dog, for what? A meal?”

“HEY! Fuck you man! Tryin’ get up in my bidness! Go mind ya own fuckin’ bidness, mothafucker!”

That was enough for me. I smiled at Messieurs Afro and Brokejaw. It had been a long while since I’d let my predator out to play. I drew the Nagant revolver and shot two rounds into Mr Brokejaw’s face dropping him with a slightly surprised look still on his mangled features.

Mr Afro froze for a second also looking surprised. In my left hand was my new Ka-Bar. I turned swiftly and jammed the blade into Mr Afro’s throat, twisting the handle up toward the top of his head. Mr Afro’s torso was drenched in a gush of blood as I continued to press the tip of the blade up into his soft palate.

Since he was taking his time to die regardless of the help I was giving him, I knelt down beside Mr Afro. “You. Don’t. Eat.  Dogs.”

I figured it was only fair to explain his transgression to him though he would never have a chance to repeat it. I prised loose the Ka-Bar and watched Mr Afro gurgle and thrash a bit as he finally bled out.

I saw that John was a few steps behind me and lowered my gun. He stood staring at what I’d done and then nodded.

“Trash.” Was all he said as he walked past them to the truck.

I went over to the box where the puppies were and held out the blade to the puppies and let them have a taste. It was only fair since they were going to be a meal for Mr Afro or some other depraved monster.

I wiped the blade off on my pants after the puppies had cleaned it of blood. The little balls of fur sat in the box looking at me expectantly. I nodded at their curious looks and picked them up out of the box and started toward the truck. As soon as my back was turned the other vendors who had stood watching descended upon the corpses stripping them of everything possible they could sell. I glanced back for a second watching as a scuffle broke out between two vendors,  each of whom were in possession of one of the late Mr Afro’s shoes.

“Whoa,whoa,whoa! You can’t bring those things in here!” John was holding the passenger’s door closed with one hand.

“What things?” I asked slightly perplexed.

“The DOGS! What do you think?!” he said as he slammed a hand down on the door locks.

“What? I can’t bring Sako and Tikka in the truck? They’re harmless.”

John shook his head. He was resolute. “You are not taking those things with you. I don’t care! You’ve done too much already!!! How am I going to explain those things to Michael?!?” he cried.

I looked down at my dogs and then smiled up at John. “If you refer to Sako and Tikka as those things one more time, I will put you out with the rest of the ‘trash’. Now, open the fucking door and take me back to the camp or you can go back alone.” I let the unspoken threat hang in the air between us.

John sat there unmoving. I shrugged and walked away carrying Sako and Tikka in the crook of my arm trying to keep them in check as they wiggled and strained wanting to be put down.

I had gone about a quarter mile when I heard the box truck rumbling up the road behind me. I stopped and stood off to the side of the street as John pulled up next to me.  He stopped the truck and leaned over to open the door. I climbed in and sat the puppies on the seat between us, enjoying the ride back  in silence.

****

It had gotten to be late in the afternoon and we still were not yet back to camp. Sako, Tikka and I had become fast enamored of each other and I spent a good deal of my time playing with them during the ride.

Sako was busy chewing on my finger when a thought occurred to me. “What’s the deal with Miss ” I almost said Creepy but caught myself “Janie?”

John lit up like a Vegas street. “Oh, it’s something of a miracle! When the devils minions rose up the first time years ago, she was just a young woman. Miss Janie had a vision. Michael, Miss Janie and their Mother were leaving church one night–now Michael was still a boy, barely five years old– a group of godless niggers jumped them! Right at the church! Miss Janie she tried to talk sense to them.” John was practically vibrating in his seat as he recounted the tale “Well one of them heathen blacks threw something and it hit Miss Janie, but she didn’t go down!, No, sir! She stood up straight and tall, blood just drenching her all over!” I noted that John’s voice had begun to rise in pitch. Sako and Tikka noticed it too and began emitting a stressed whine. “Miss Janie she was overcome with the spirit of the LORD! I tell you, she started speaking in tongues and the spirit came over her so strong that she gouged out that heathen asshole’s eyes!” His voice reached a crescendo at the last word he spoke.

When he picked up the tale again his voice was hushed as if in awe “The spirit was so powerful, Miss Janie bit off her tongue. Them niggers killed Michael and Miss Janie’s mom.  Raped Miss Janie too, all except the one she blinded.” He shook his head. “Police showed up of course, useless as ever in time to clean up” he laughed harshly “might as well be janitors with guns, much use as they were.  Those boys didn’t do hardly no time in prison of course.”  John’s voice was picking up steam again “When Satan’s minions rose up this time, Michael came to lead us and we went right to those niggers houses and strung them right the fuck up!” John bounced in his seat and clapped his hands joyously “How we celebrated that night.” He gave me a conspiratorial smile “Miss Janie, she kissed me on the cheek. After.”

I considered all this but said nothing, trying to digest the information and all the ramifications it held. By the time John had finished his story we were within sight of the camp. The work crew had not yet shown with equipment needed to prepare the rifle range.

Not surprisingly to me, the other group that had disappeared with the Mosin parts had not returned either. Maybe things here weren’t quite as neatly sewed up as had originally appeared.

It turned out to be largely irrelevant. Michael had been called away by some urgent matter and had left camp with his personal god-squad shortly after we had gone to town.

I told John to have someone unload the truck we’d brought back and where ever the stuff ended up we’d make that the tool shed. I grabbed one of the hammers and stuffed it into a belt loop, then gathered up my puppies and headed off to my quarters.

I was intercepted by Donnelly before I took more than a few steps.

“Sir? You’re supposed to be instructing the men?”

“That is a question, Donnelly.”

He cleared his throat “Sorry, sir, I’m just trying to remind you?”

I stopped and turned toward Donnelly. “The gear we were sent to retrieve has not yet arrived, thus no instruction will be taking place today. Secondly, next time you ask me a question that is meant to be a statement, I am going to cut off your fingers and feed them to my dogs.”

Donnelly blinked and was silent.

I turned and began walking back to my quarters once more. I had just managed to get the door open and was bending to set Sako and Tikka on the ground when I saw a shape move in the shadows of my room.

The puppies had no problem with this and rushed the figure while I stood with the door partially open trying to decide between slamming the door shut or just shooting at the movement.

My dilemma was resolved in a heartbeat when a tremulous female voice came from the shadowy figure. “W-w-welcome home.”

I didn’t recognize the voice, but if it was a woman from this camp she probably didn’t pose much of a threat to me. My choice in words was eloquent as always as I dealt with the unwelcome surprise “Cocksucker!”

The woman blinked and retreated at the sound of my voice. I stepped fully into the room and pulled shut the door behind me. Sako and Tikka liked her right from the beginning which was good.

I smiled at her and held my hands up trying to appear as non threatening as possible. “Excuse my language. I wasn’t expecting anyone. . .”

I moved over to my cot and sat down. Today had been oddly exhausting.

She nodded and kept her eyes glued to the floor. “I’m Paige. I’m your . . . your woman.” she said and began to move toward the cot, slowly unbuttoning her blouse.

“Easy there, keep your shirt on!” I said holding up a hand to stop her. She didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. Women never did. “Look, I get the way this camp works, okay? But you are not my woman.

She looked uncertainly at me. I looked at the bandage that covered her partially exposed breast and felt sick at the idea of anyone trying to bed this woman right now, especially me.

“Did Sarah talk to you? Talk about me?”

Paige shrugged slightly. “She said you could be trusted.That-that you were different somehow. . . ”

I laughed a rare genuine laugh. “Yep. You could say that.” I held out my hand and Tikka came over to sniff it. I patted the bed and he stood on his hind legs to check it out. Satisfied, Tikka did his best to Jump on the bed but wasn’t quite large enough. I helped him out a little and within moments we were joined by Sako.

I relaxed on the cot and played with the dogs.  Paige moved to the corner farthest from me.

“I don’t want you like that Paige.” I said as a yawn fought to escape me.

The look on her face would have been comical at any other time.

“Let me rephrase. I’m not interested in being your master, having you serve my ‘needs’ because it’s your duty.  Understand?”

Paige nodded but she clearly wasn’t buying it.

I shooed Sako and Tikka off the bed and stretched out. “We are where we are, Paige.  For now you’ll have to keep up appearances, do what any other woman would do around here–clean up, take care of the house, those kind of things–but the only thing I’m going to ask you to do is stay awake.” I untied my boots and Paige hurried over to pull them off me.

I held up my hand again to stop her. “Just keep watch while I’m asleep. Anyone looks like they’re heading this way, you wake me up before they get here. Okay? That’s all I need from you.”

Paige looked unsure, but nodded an stepped away from me moving to stand by the window to keep watch as I asked.

“Oh yeah. . . and watch the dogs while I’m away. Don’t let them tear the place apart and try to make sure they get fed.” I told her as I turned over toward the wall. I felt something poking me in my side. “Here. This is for you.” I said as pushed myself up and removed the hammer from my belt. ” Keep it hidden, don’t use it unless you have absolutely have to. Appreciate it if you don’t beat me with it in my sleep.” As I was falling asleep I thought I heard a small laugh from her, but it might have been just a part of a dream.

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 38 -Belt Fed Revolution

I ran to the improvised front gate falling in beside the  guard  kneeling there as he returned fire into the growing dusk.  “Corporal! Sit-rep!” I asked as I knelt next to him and leveled my rifle out toward a group of vehicles at the farthest edge of the Wal-Mart parking lot.

“Not sure, sir.  Guard duty was ’bout the same as every night  then Stevens just goes down. Looked like  he was shot the throat…” I didn’t need to ask who Stevens was. I could see the bodies outside the gate already bled out. I eased myself between the Corporal and the wall and raised my rifle, resting the forward part of the stock on my left arm using the scope to scan the vehicles.  It was only about 150 yards away, but I couldn’t see faces only  feet and the top of an occasional head.

I continued scanning for a few moments seeing occasional muzzle flashes from under the vehicles and hearing the reports of rifles with no idea where the rounds were landing. Even though I didn’t have a great shot to take, I did have a .300 Winchester Magnum and that made up for a good deal  of the cover my targets were hiding behind at such a relatively close range. I was watching the furtive movements behind the vehicles when the Norns stepped up and began snipping threads.

The first kill was pure luck. I happened to be looking at one of the trucks as one of our unidentified OpFor ran between vehicles, leaving his head exposed for a second as he passed by the truck’s sliding rear window.  I almost missed the shot but just then time  slowed to a crawl. As soon as I saw the bill of the man’s ball cap enter the opening I squeezed the trigger and the man disappeared from sight.At the moment I couldn’t actually say I had hit the man, only that I had fired and seen him drop.

My next opportunity came when I saw a head using cover poorly. The top of another ball cap peaked out just behind a mirror of a big truck, the kind used for hauling horses. I squeezed the trigger gently and smiled a bit when I saw the hole appear in the mirror and the hat get ripped from the head it had been on.

Within moments the entirety of the camp had turned out and began taking up positions around and on top of the Wal-Mart building. The people on top of the building allowed us to set up almost in an enfilade-defilade position.

Without a word from anyone firing began en masse. If I had to guess I’d say this was just random shooting as I wasn’t seeing a lot of enemy bodies dropping given the amount of lead we were sending downrange.

The OpFor group was larger than I’d guessed .Their reinforcements began to move up on foot in small groups from the road that lead to the Wal-Mart.  I knelt back down and began to pick them off as quickly as I could. I wasn’t exactly Gunny Hathcock out here, but I was dropping people as fast as I could work the bolt.

I dropped the expended magazine and yelled “Reloading!” though I’m not sure to who. Everyone was busy dishing out their own personal size servings of whoop-ass just then. I slammed a fresh magazine up into the mag well and gave it a tap just to be sure but for some reason it wouldn’t seat. I pulled the magazine out and gave it a quick shake and a tap against my leg trying to get the rounds to settle into the magazine then realized I must have shot up every round of  the .300 Win Mag I had. The rest of it was back at the Jeep in bag I hadn’t been able to take with me because of my knee. The magazine I held in my hand was filled with .338 Lapua which was mostly useless to me just now.

I cursed and shoved the magazine into my pocket. I pulled out the BFR thinking at least I could shoot fairly accurate from kneeling. I had a target lined up and fired. The shot came nowhere near the target I had selected.I took aim again thinking I might be able to walk a shot in. I took a second to slow my breathing and make sure adrenaline wasn’t giving me a case of the shakes.

I focused on one truck I noticed sitting at the far edge of the parking lot. The truck looked familiar for some reason. It was the same truck I’d shot through the mirror to get at the tango that had been hiding there. I gave the truck a long look and was pretty sure I was looking at a black Ford F-450 with most of the front end torn off.

****

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” I stuck the BFR back in my belt as I walked up and down the row of soldiers and armed civilians nearest me calling out “Cease firing!” until eventually the word started spreading down the line and the rate of outgoing ordnance dropped to a crawl.

“Get someone up to the roof and tell them to stop shooting!” I  grabbed a civilian near me and yelled an order I didn’t know if he was capable of carrying out, but I didn’t have time to do any hand holding. I started calling out for Starke who was a bit further down the line than I had walked.

Starke was taking the cease-fire call as an opportunity to deal with the M-16 he was carrying which had double fed on him in the midst of the fight. “Starke! I need you to go get everyone to stand down.”

Starke finally cleared the malfunction in his weapon before he agreed. “Sure thing. What’s going on?”

I winced slightly “I think I might have just shit the bed here. Just try and get everyone calmed down.”

Starke gave me a shrug and headed off to make sure everyone had the order. I began looking around for towel or t-shirt or anything large enough to serve as a white flag. I finally found a civilian who was wearing a dingy, sweat stained A-frame shirt and told him to surrender it or risk getting shot by the OpFor, or if they couldn’t be arsed, I’d find someone on this side to do it.

The man looked more than a little perplexed, but took off his shirt and handed it to me. I made a quick search for a broom or something I could use to  keep the soiled garment away from my face. It’d be cool if I could use it as a flag pole too,  but fire from the PLM was picking up speed and I had to give up the search.

With no firing coming from our side I walked back to the gate and stuck the shirt out giving it a wave. Firing from the other side must have hit a lull about then and I took it as a sign that my decision to sue for peace had been accepted.

I stepped out and waved the flag over my head and felt a weird tugging sensation in my abdomen. Awesome. I survive the firefight unharmed only to pull a muscle during the surrender.

I continued walking forward for a bit, waving the t-shirt over my head while hearing the occasional shot being let off. I was about a quarter of the way to the PLM’s improvised cover when I heard someone from their side yell out “Cease Fire!” I saw heads poke out over the hoods of cars. One of those heads belonged to General Leader and it began moving toward me.

He walked at a brisk pace. I was glad because I suddenly felt very tired. The muscle I had pulled felt like it was on fire. I put my hand on my abdomen to apply some pressure to the muscle and felt a warm, sticky substance there. My hand came away bloody and breathing suddenly seemed like chore.

I staggered a few steps  as I tried to turn around before I fell to my knees.

****

I was surrounded pretty quickly by people from both sides. There was a tense stand-off going on out in the middle ground. Starke rushed out  and began hauling me backward by the sleeve of my BDU shirt. Others from the MVDF camp were trying to help him while maintaining a defensive stance with the PLM.

“Starke!” I thought I yelled but apparently my voice wasn’t all that loud. “STARKE?!” I tried again this time grabbing his wrist with my free hand.

He wasn’t listening, instead focused on dragging me back to the camp. I had a brief surge, from adrenaline or some other substance I didn’t know. I  managed to turn  to the point where  Starke had to drag me almost face first. I manage to get to my knees and fully grab his wrist. He finally stopped pulling for a second.

“They’re not enemies . . . ” Starke must have thought I was in shock as he started trying to drag me back once more.  “Adam! Damn it!” Starke stopped again.

“What the fuck? What? What’s so important? You’re shot in the gut here how about you just hold off on the long meaningful conversation until you get patched up?!”

I ignored him and pointed to General Leader. “He’s the head of the PLM . . . not an enemy.” Fuck, why was it so hard to talk? The words coming out of me felt like cement blocks being mixed in my mouth and turning solid as I spoke. I suddenly felt weak, weaker than I could ever recall and was overwhelmed by nausea.

I noticed now there were bodies all over inside the camp. People were running around tending to the wounded. It was a scene of pure chaos, but I had to get through to Starke. “Truce . . . declare a truce. Go meet with them. . .”

“Yeah, fine! I’ll give him the fuckin’ keys to the city if you’ll just shut up and let me get you taken care of!”

I relented and things got really fuzzy. I heard Starke say “asshole” but if it was directed toward me I couldn’t tell.  I couldn’t tell much of anything except that I seemed to be floating, no longer being dragged, but facing down, looking at the pavement moving below me as I floated along.

Chapter 29 -Belt Fed Revolution

I fell deeply asleep. I guess it worked out for me since I didn’t have to be blindfolded to get to the camp. I woke when Starke was giving the command to dismount.

I stepped out of the APC expecting something resembling an abandoned Army base. Instead I was greeted by trees bordering a parking lot. Still a bit sleepy I muttered “Wal-Mart?”

“Feds know where all our bases are. Also, they’re using them. Figured it’d be best to go some place to hole up where we wouldn’t get shot.” Starke was grinning as he handed me a rucksack filled with the spoils of our battle. I nodded dumbly and shouldered the ruck.

Guererra walked by me and spoke just loud enough for me to hear “Welcome to FOB Assrape.”

At my look he chuckled “You want to keep an eye on your six, otherwise you’re going to get volunteered for something . . . unpleasant.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

Guererra and Patrell shared a laugh and set to unloading the APC. Starke walked over and pointed at a CONEX box still attached to a semi-tractor. “Command.” he moved his finger slightly to indicate another CONEX container surrounded by armed guards “Supply.”

There were groups of civilians milling around aimlessly near  the boxes. Starke jerked his chin toward the group “That’s the Third Michigan Regulars. Civilians that found us and were conscripted.” Starke eyed them with obvious distrust. “They’d join the Feds in a heartbeat if the Feds could feed them three squares a day and keep them warm and dry.”

I nodded but kept my mouth shut. I didn’t come here to join some sad sack cannon fodder unit. I had just about made up my mind to thank Starke and his crew for the ride and see about getting further down the road when Guererra looked over my shoulder and announced “Command on the prowl.”

I hadn’t been in the military long, but I knew enough not to look where Guererra had indicated. As it turned out that was unnecessary. Their commander, a soft looking Major made a beeline for Starke, causing all the men in the crew to snap to attention.

“Sergeant! Did you intend to report in sometime today or were you just going to hang out with your new friend here?” Dwyer tossed a brief disinterested look my way.

Starke snapped off a salute “Sir. We just returned and were unloading our cargo, sir.”

The Major looked Starke over and glanced at the now mostly empty APC. “Very well, Sergeant. The instant you’re finished here, you come find me. Have one of your men get your friend here settled.”

With that the Major strode off.   “Nice to meet you, too.” I said to his retreating form.

“Don’t sweat it, Finn. He spent most of his career behind a desk until just recently; he means well.  And he’s committed to the cause. He’s just trying to get used to being in the field and in combat.” Starke stared off at the Wal-Mart for a second “I’d probably be as headfucked as him if I had to do his job.”

Starke had O’ Toole introduce me to the civilian component of the camp. At first I wondered if I’d done something to piss Starke off, but it occurred to me that he chose O’ Toole because he was a civilian too.

Discrimination was alive and well here. Military and civvies kept their distance and seemed to have set up their temporary camps as far away from each other as possible. I noted some women who appeared to be unattached had strung their camps out closer toward the military side.

O’ Toole wasn’t talking much which suited me fine. “Driscoll!” A man with a mustache out of the Civil War looked up our approach.  When we got closer than shouting distance O’ Toole made a hasty introduction “Driscoll this is Sigurdsson. Show him around and keep him out of trouble.”

Driscoll extended his hand “Jim Driscoll.”

“I’m Finn. Good to meet you.”

“So I take it you’re not military since O’ Toole brought you to us.Civilians don’t normally get to ride with the Mikes. Where’d you come from anyway?”

I didn’t really feel like rehashing John’s death and the fight with the Feds, so I kept it vague. “You said Mikes. What’s that about?”

Driscoll grinned “Kind of a poke at the military guys with all their alphabet soup chatter. They’re not that bad really.  Dwyer just keeps ’em busy.”

“Dwyer? That the Major in command of this…camp?” I chose my words carefully because hobo love palace  while seeming appropriate might cause some upset.

“Yeah. He’s just such a joy, too, let me tell ya.” Driscoll rolled his eyes. “Dwyer has been in charge since I came here two months ago. He was the one that instituted the no fraternization rule for the Mikes. Got to keep them,”  Driscoll paused for effect “pure.”

I was sure there was some kind of message there but I wasn’t going to waste time figuring it out. I’d spent time in enough hostile environments personally and professionally to know when the soup was going to reach a boil. I did have questions though and since Driscoll seemed ready to talk I hung around.

“Two months you’ve been here? The Feds haven’t found you?”

Driscoll shook his head. “They’re busy with the remnants of the civilian militias. Those guys had more firepower than the government knew. At least until the MVDF came along.” Driscoll began slowly drifting toward the supply CONEX box and I followed. “There’s a militia camp north of here,militia mind, not connected with the Mikes. They’ve been pounding the Feds with mostly captured equipment and they keep moving around.” Driscoll smiled “The Mikes here have been trying to establish contact with them, but those guys think any form of government they didn’t personally approve is not to be trusted.”

  The supply area had a smell about it. People say you can smell fear or desperation. I didn’t smell anything but people living rough, eating the same food and living in cramped conditions. If anything the smell was that of the comforts of the old world falling away. Humanity returning to what it was meant to be. That and coffee. The smell of coffee coming from the supply area was so pungent it was making my mouth water.

Driscoll stepped carefully by the Mikes assembled here and made his way to the front of the supply line. The supply clerk was a young woman with blonde hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a month. Driscoll pointed to me “New guy here, Cheryl.”

Cheryl was busy writing and didn’t give me more than a cursory glance. “Identification please” she said this as she turned to grab a styrofoam cup and fill it with coffee. She pushed the coffee toward me across the desk and continued writing distractedly. I patted down my pockets. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had my license or been asked to show it.

I stuck my hands in pockets containing rounds for the revolvers until I came across a small familiar rectangle. I drew out my battered wallet and withdrew my license handing it to Cheryl. She glanced at the identification for a moment and then looked up at me.

“Velkommen.Snakker du Engelsk?”

I blinked. “Yes. Quite well, too, from what I’m told. Mange takk.”

Cheryl smiled. “Sorry. It’s not everyday you see a name like Finn…”

I cut her off before she could say my entire first name. “Understood. I still have a lot of family in Norway, but my branch has been here since the 1600’s.” I searched my bank of expressions for ‘smile, non threatening’ and think I came up with the appropriate one since she didn’t immediately recoil. “As best I know, the last Sigurd in my family was busy setting England on fire in the eighth and ninth centuries.”

Cheryl handed me back my license. I made a note to throw it away. Even if the government–some government–managed to restore order, I wasn’t going to be participating.

I offered my thanks and took the cup of coffee Cheryl had poured. She gave me a half-smile. “Sorry, it’s one cup per person per day. You’re new so you’re entitled to two. Try and make it last.” 

I stopped mid gulp. “Thanks for the heads up.”

She smiled and wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “I’m off-duty in a while. This is your camp identification. If you need something, bring it back here and give that number to whoever’s on duty and if they can help you they will.”

 I didn’t mean to hang around here longer than was necessary. I reached for the piece of paper, but Cheryl held onto it smiling at me “you know, in case you want to get some clothes or something.”

She let go of the paper and I looked down at my ghillie suit. John’s dried blood covered a large portion of the front and I probably had some on the back as well. I folded the paper and stuck it in my pocket. I thanked her and wandered off to check out the command area.

I was greeted by an officious young man with dark skin and a bad case of razor burn. He shoved a clipboard into my chest “Name and service number?”

I stared at him. “You want my serial number?”

He shook his head “Service number. You’ve been issued a service number haven’t you?”  He looked at me “Oh, sorry…you’re old military. Yes, serial number then. We’ll get you converted to a service number later.”

I realized that with my ghillie suit, new ruck and rifle slung over my back the kid likely took me for a current service member. I reeled off my name and serial number to him.

He looked at me then “You’re new right? MOS?”

“0300.”

He stared at me for a minute longer “Marines? 0300 is…”

“Infantry.” I supplied

He nodded and shoved the clipboard deeper into my sternum. “Sign and date. See Tech Sergeant Ruiz for assignment to quarters.”

I laughed inside and wandered up the steps into the CONEX box like I belonged there. I intended to look around and see if this snowball was going to survive the microwave, but apparently Ruiz had been watching.

He strode over and gave me a curious look  “salute or shake?”

“Uh, shake.” I said and extended my hand.

“Welcome aboard.” he shook my hand and continued ” I have some forms for you over here.”

I had to laugh “Of course you do.”

Ruiz sat down behind a small laptop with a sigh “okay let’s get the basics. Name, rank, service number.”

“Sigurdsson, E-3.” I hesitated at the service number thing having just gone through this. “I haven’t been assigned a service number, but I have my serial?”

Ruiz eyed me up and down “E-3? who’d you piss off?”

I stood there silently unsure how to respond. Ruiz smiled at me, “You look a little old to be enlisted still.” he continued “Okay, so E-3, MOS?” I sighed having a bit of a flashback to days gone by.

Ruiz stopped typing briefly when I told him my MOS and stared at his monitor”Oh, lance corporal . Sorry, Marine. We got people from every branch here.” Ruiz wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “Take this to supply, they’ll get you outfitted.” He looked at my cobbled together gear “They catch you on leave or something?” I was about to respond with a witty go fuck yourself but he just shook his head “Anyway, go get geared up. Supply will give you your BDU’s and whatever else you need. Get cleaned up and report back to Major Dwyer when you’re finished.”

I meant to be down the road, but the idea of new gear and a shower was appealing so I headed back to supply. Cheryl was still behind the little desk inside the CONEX box. She smiled at my approach ‘Velkommen, Finn.”

I smiled and handed her the slip of paper Tsgt Ruiz had given me. She stared at it blankly for a minute.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were military. Why didn’t you say something?” She looked at me with new eyes “Beards aren’t regulation. The Major may want you to shave.” she grabbed two sets of BDU’s and a shaving kit no doubt courtesy of the Wal-Mart. She looked at my rifle next and paused thoughtfully. “We’re short on full auto’s, but we may have ammo for that. What is it?”

“.243”  I said hopefully.

She blew air out in a silent whistle “Let me check.” She left the desk and was gone for several moments before returning with several boxes of ammuntion for me. “Sorry, it’s just Remington white box. We don’t have much in the way of surplus ammo even for standard calibers.” I noted one of the boxes was labeled .357 JHP.

She smiled when she saw my look  “My dad has the same gun. And .357 rounds are something we have a bit of; if you were carrying a 9mm or a .45 you’d be just about S.O.L.”

I gathered the things she had set out for me and asked her to point me in the direction of the showers.

She pointed at the Wal-Mart building proper. “The building still has power, but the lights are off. You have a flashlight?”

I told her no and she handed me a flashlight with a giant piece of wood taped to it. “Sorry, flashlights are getting scarce. You’ll have to turn this in after you get cleaned up.” I nodded and took the flashlight, looking for a place to secure it. “There’s a laundry facility inside, too.” She wrinkled her nose slightly “you may want to get that washed” she said indicating my ghillie suit.

I thanked her and made my way toward the building.

I decided to drop off my ghillie suit before hitting the showers. I handed it to a woman there, a civilian apparently, and thanked her. I hoped the stitching would hold.

I turned on the flashlight and entered the building. Another civilain, this time male, was waiting just inside. “Showers?” I asked and he pointed wordlessly to an employee locker room. “Can I take my gear in there?’

He nodded “Stick it in a locker, just don’t shut it. Otherwise we have to cut it open.”

Upon entering the locker room the smell of mold hit me. I shined the flashlight on a row of lockers and shoved my ruck into the first unoccupied one I saw. I didn’t have to worry about closing the door, as the locker barely contained the near empty ruck as it was.

I stripped down and shoved all my clothes into the locker as well. Standing naked in the locker room in the dark I let out a long sigh. I was ready to find a bed and crawl into it for a year or so.

I shined the flashlight toward the emergency shower stall and stepped in. As the water hit me I could see it was discolored when it reached the shower floor.

“Goodbye, John.” I said and hung my head to let the water wash over me.

Chapter 28 -Belt Fed Revolution

Starke and Guererra were walking alongside the APC as we continued our crawl up to the the MRAP’s. Saying they had been in a fight was putting it lightly. The leading MRAP had almost completely burned down and was riddled with holes from something pretty large. The Second MRAP actually looked largely intact save for flat tires and several holes in the front leading to the drivers area. There was a large spray of red on the windows.

I pried my eyes away from the abandoned vehicles just in time to see the three men outside fade like ghosts into the surrounding area. I swung the PKT in a wide arc expecting trouble.

I had to risk it. “Tool? What’s going on here?” O’Toole wasn’t talking to me or hadn’t heard me. The engine suddenly cut off leaving only the remembrance of the sound ringing in my ears.  I felt a tapping on my foot and looked down quickly into the interior of the APC where Tool was standing with a not-at-all-regulation-issue shotgun that I think was called a street sweeper. Tool held a finger to his lips and pointed to the rear of the vehicle.

I craned my neck around to see what he was pointing at but saw nothing. “John! Get up to the driver’s seat and get us ready to get the fuck out of here!”  I hated whispering; I was no good at it.

I heard John below stepping over the vehicle’s cargo as he settled himself into the seat. “Can you drive this thing?” several moments passed.

“I think so.”

I calmed my breathing and forced myself to focus out. Nothing had actually happened and I was starting to get tunnel-vision. There was a light breeze blowing the high grasses around on the side of the road. I kept the PKT moving, my eyes looking past the sides of the barrel for any hint of movement. I had completed another sweep when I caught a flash out of the corner of my eye. I say flash because I have no other way to describe it: there was movement in the grass that was out of sync with the breeze. I had only a vague idea of where the three scouts had gone and a sudden icy feeling creeping down to grab hold of my testicles and give them a squeeze.

My boys had never lied to me before. “CONTACT LEFT!” I shouted and swung the PKT to where I had seen the odd movement and let off a measured burst. I put several such bursts into the area moving left and right of where I’d seen the movement. Nothing happened for several seconds and I was beginning to feel like I’d called for my mommy because the monster in my closet was threatening to break free.

I had almost entirely convinced myself that I’d just  been spooked when I saw the movement again. A man-shape popped up out of the high grasses with a tube pointed my way. I sent a controlled burst his way, the Russian-surplus ammunition ripping him in half. Before he had hit the ground, I saw more man-shapes popping up, these with AR’s in the M4 configuration.

I didn’t hesitate. As soon as I had a general bearing I began to fire in three round bursts, counting it off in my head. As I searched out targets I could hear intermittent fire from behind me. I saw something large and black being rising up from the same position as the man-shape with the rocket launcher and had a second to register the muzzle flashes before I felt the impacts in the APC’s hull.

I very bravely grabbed the pistol grip of the PKT while I crouched inside the APC and laid down some suppressing fire.I watched as the end of the belt zipped past my face and paused long enough to grab another belt and hurriedly attach the links to the other end. There was an explosion outside and a brief lull in the firing. I risked a look outside and saw a column of smoke rising up from the ground. I guessed this was the source of the explosion and was hoping that was a win for our side.

I caught fleeting glances of more man-shapes bolting for the treeline and I opened fire on them. It may not have been what some people think of as honorable, but I’d rather not give these people a second chance to kill me. I saw several of them fall under the barrage and let it go at that. I could have sent more rounds into the trees but I had this thing about using ammo unnecessarily.

Time passed very slowly for me. After some time I began to see more movement in the area I’d been putting rounds on and I saw movement toward those areas followed by strangled screams and shortly after, silence.

Man-shapes in gray began to emerge from the grass. Patrell and Guererra from the north, Starke from the west and O’Toole from the east. Starke smiled up at me “Good work, devil-dog.”

I smiled back. “Everyone okay?”

Patrell did a quick scan of his mates “Looks like we got one casualty.”

I looked at the four men all of whom appeared to be more or less intact. The strained looks on their faces told me the rest. I wiggled back inside of the APC.

****

There was little more than a shredded torso where John had sat. The interior behind him was sprayed with so much blood it looked like a bad horror movie. Patrell helped me carry him out and lay him on the side of the road.

“Why the hell was he sitting up there in the first place?” O ‘Toole. He seemed more agitated than usual.

“I told him to take your place when you bailed out.” I shrugged.

“Well who the fuck told you to do that?! You’re not in charge here!!!”

I clamped down on my response and looked at Starke. This was his crew, he had to make things right with them. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence it was clear Starke wasn’t going to jump in.

“I don’t know you people, okay? I’m an expeditionary unit of one, got it?  You all have some time together and that’s just tits, but you don’t clue in the new guy the fuck do you expect?”

Starke finally decided to weigh in. “It’s not Finn’s fault, it’s mine. I should’ve made it clear we suspected it was an ambush.” Starke paused to refresh his dip “The Feds have been known to leave some of their motor-pool specials out and pop a few caps in them to make it look like they fell into an ambush. They don’t have the parts to repair something and it makes perfect bait. Win-win.”

Tool tried to glare at me but I met his eyes and he looked away. Too late. I saw the fear.

“Anyone have an e tool?” I asked looking around for a place to dig.

“No time. If this thing starts up we gotta roll. Everyone check bodies for ammo and intel. Tool, check out the MRAP’s, see if there’s anything usable left.” Starke crooked his finger in my direction “You’re with me.”

I fell in behind Starke and we walked off into the high grass.

“I’ve only been in charge for about a month.” Starke said this without ever looking back. “I was 0311. The biggest decision I made was what weapon to use when we were going house to house, you know?” We had stumbled across a couple of bodies and Starke began searching their belongings for anything of use.

I stayed quiet and helped with the search. Starke for some reason seemed to regard me as an equal and clearly he needed to get some things off his chest. “I got thrown into this. I was hoping to go to school or at the very least try to go mustang and get commissioned. Maybe then I’d be better suited to lead, but –man–” he shook his head and looked at me imploringly “I’m lost, bro.”

I winced at being called bro. This man–this kid–was heading for a burnout. I couldn’t have that, not now, not if the regular Army was about to be crawling up our asses.

I tried my best to channel a Drill Instructor. Social Work fluffiness wasn’t going to help here. “Sarn’t I suggest you take a second to yourself if you need to pass some eye water. Go ahead, son, get it all out. I’ll wait. Soon as that weakness gets outta you, you better get yourself unfucked in a hurry. You pull real hard until you hear a pop and when you got yer head outta yer ass, you are going to lead these men and get the fuck out of this shit-hole in a godsdamn hurry, you read me?” I almost laughed at my cliched pep talk and wondered why Drill Instructors always sound southern to me.

Starke looked slightly taken aback. I guess it had been a while since he’d heard things laid out like that. “C’mon son, rub some ooh-rah on that axe wound and lets get moving.”

Starke laughed and with that seemed to be back to the cool, confident and dangerous individual I’d met earlier. We hoofed it over to the treeline careful to keep an eye out for any stragglers or rear guard from the ‘rabbits’ we just ran off.

We had a bit of luck and found some equipment, mostly rucks filled spare uniforms and energy bars. Starke collected weapons and magazines as he went stuffing them into one of the empty rucks he had claimed.

Eventually we circled around to the small crater where the ruins of a pedestal mount for a gun had been. The gun itself was toast, the barrel bent at a 30 degree angle and the receiver seemed to be less than half there.

“The fuck?” I asked of no one in particular.

“Satchel charge. Fuckin’ cabrón’s keep trying this shit. Hopefully they won’t figure out that guerrilla warfare is the new black.” Guererra revealed sharp teeth in his predators smile.

Starke seemed satisfied with his spoils. “All right. Everybody ruck up and let’s hope we don’t have to hump it out of here on foot.”

We made our way back to the roadside and I looked at John’s remains. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were friends, but he had shed blood with me and for me and I owed him something for that. I couldn’t just leave him to rot on the side of the road.

“Wait one.” Everyone but Tool stopped where they were and turned toward me. I picked John’s body up and carried it over to the second MRAP opening the door and sliding him behind the wheel.

I looked back at the faces looking at me. “Maybe when they come along they’ll think he’s one of theirs and give him a proper burial.”

Three heads nodded in unison. I heard Patrell mutter condolences as I went to get into the APC. Starke had been keeping quiet the whole time. Part of him looked as though he wanted to give up.  Must have been the civilian part. The Marine said “Mount up. There’ll be time for payback down the road. Dunno about you all, but I’m gonna get me some!”

This was greeted with some ‘hell yeah’s’ and a few expletives directed toward those that had caused this. I said nothing as I took a seat and smiled as the APC roared to life. I used  the remnants of John’s ghillie suit for a pillow and drifted off to sleep as we  started to move out.

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 22 -Belt Fed Revolution

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

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Come here for a sec, would ya?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take me there.”

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

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

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

“This Carl?”

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

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

Chapter 19 -Belt Fed Revolution

It was late afternoon by my reckoning. I tried not to move my head and give away that I was awake. “Feel better?” John. I don’t know what I’d done to give myself away, but there was no point denying it. I stood and was immediately almost doubled over by the pain and stiffness all over my body. “Motherfuckity fucking fucker” was my reply as I tried to stretch out the various aches and pains.

“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” I looked at John, still not truly awake and pulled out my Ka-Bar “No, but I used this to cut the lips off the last person that tested me with their smart-assery.” John laughed at me ” I know, Mr Tough, you kill everyone that blah blah you’re not Arnold Schwarzenegger and this ain’t no action movie blah.”  John held up his handiwork for my appraisal. “Whaddya think?” I was impressed. John had managed to make something like a bush blanket while I slept. I took it from him and pulled on the burlap strips he sewn on. They held tight so I nodded and handed it back.

“Gather up some the loose branches and start tying them in like I did. Once you look enough like a small hillock, go to sleep.” I had to admire his work. A blanket would serve him better than my poncho as concealment and he had a blanket, the bastard. “Anything happen while I was asleep?” He shook his head “Not much. A couple of cars went by. I watched them with your little spyglass. They slowed down by the vehicles up there and one carload actually popped out with about a billion guys ready to go to war.” I just  looked at him until he continued “They got out and looked around” he shrugged “no one attacked them so they decided that they won…or whatever.”

I waited for him to finish his story but other than having spotted a deer across the road there wasn’t much else to tell. “Okay, get some sleep if you can. I’ll wake you when it’s time to move out.” John handed me back my monocular and went off to bed down in the pines. I shook my head and sighed. I was going to have to explain to him how camouflage works before our next stop.

****

About an hour or so after John racked out I heard the sound of an engine on the highway. I didn’t have time to get into position and check it out so I went for Plan B, which involved me making the best use of my ghillie suit and standing absolutely still against the background of the trees. A motorcycle with a passenger and what looked to be a sporting goods store strapped to the sissy bar. I stood stock still against the tree and waited. Before the bike pulled even with our hide, I thought I saw the passenger look at me. Not just in my direction, but at me. Whoever it was didn’t alert the bike’s pilot to my presence, but I was left with the feeling that I had been spotted.

I heard the bike down shift as it approached the ambush site. Seconds later the sound of the engine stopped all together. I grabbed my rifle and ran up to the edge of the road. As I lay in the grass, I took aim at the rider and saw the passenger pull off her helmet. I wasn’t really sure why I did this: I didn’t want to kill them and I didn’t want to take the bike, but at the same time I thought there might be a chance that the passenger would tell the pilot what she had seen. The pilot was still wearing a full face helmet and full leathers. For a moment I found myself wondering what kind of bike it was. Not a Harley, but some sort of loud, throaty V-twin.

As I was taking my trip down distraction lane, the pilot’s helmet came off revealing long blonde hair with a thick dyed streak of blue in it. Two women on a motorcycle. I didn’t envy them. The pilot pulled what I had to guess was a gun from inside her leathers. I couldn’t make it out at first, but when she put in the magazine I realized she was holding an extremely small AR pistol. “What is it with these things?” I muttered to myself. A second later she pulled out another AR pistol.The pilot turned and said something to her passenger and then started moving toward the burned out cars.

The AR pistols in her hands were very small.  Smaller even than the one I’d used  when I ambushed the ambushers what felt like years ago. As she approached the cars something leapt out of the ditch and fell to the ground instantly as she lit it up. “Nice shootin’, Tex” I said,happy my compliment was unheard. I increased the magnification on my scope and saw that she had nailed a deer. Not just hit it, shredded it. I searched my memory for the sound of the guns firing even though it had just happened I couldn’t recall what it sounded like.  Looking again at the deer though, I had little doubt those pistols were full auto.

The pilot looked around the ambush site and I saw her disappear down into the ditch where we had seen the bodies. Night was coming on and my scope could only pull in the bit of light there was, so I hoped whatever the pilot was doing didn’t take much longer. I didn’t like the thought the she may be making her way back toward us, especially since I had no night vision implements to give us the upper hand. I looked around for a rock I could throw at John to wake him, just in case.

I relaxed a few moments later when I saw the pilot make her way up the embankment and start talking to her passenger. I couldn’t hear them, but the body language told me the passenger wasn’t happy with what she was hearing. The pilot just shrugged and pointed back the way they had came which to me seemed unacceptable. The argument continued for several minutes. It went on long enough that I had to wonder why the pilot didn’t just shoot the passenger and get on with it. She was the one in command after all. For a moment I considered helping her out and I reached up to release the safety. As soon as I had decided to shoot the passenger the argument was apparently over.

Both women put their helmets on and mounted the bike. The pilot, instead of just pulling a u-turn actually crossed slowly back over to the north bound lane. I slid down the hill a bit to help conceal my presence and pulled my rifle inside my poncho. The bikers rolled out slowly, much more cautiously than they had approached. The passenger didn’t look in my direction this time, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d been spotted.

I slithered my way back down the hill until I reached the bottom. The sound of the bikes engine faded. I turned over slowly and saw John sitting up against his pack, shotgun gripped tight in his hands. I gave him a thumbs up and bared my teeth at him in approximation of a smile and saw him relax.

I was about to stand up and walk over to him when I heard a voice. A man’s voice followed by several more. The voice was no louder than was necessary to have a conversation, but the voice was deep and cut through the air like a blade.  It took several moments but I got a fix on the voice’s location. I cursed and started to skull drag my way toward John. I knew he’d heard the voice, too, as he was lying prone with the shotgun pointed in the direction I’d heard the voices coming from.

Skull dragging was a pure pain and it took what seemed like a day to make it over to John. Once there I could see one stubble covered head and another covered with a ball cap. I couldn’t make out much of what was said but I caught a few words here and there. I was doing a lot of guessing here I realized, but I thought this was a family, maybe even the ones that owned the fields we were camped between.

I grabbed John’s shoulder and indicated that he should freeze in place. He nodded and I began another slow skull drag closer to the voices. There was no arguing with these folks. Stubble head was in charge. I think he was the father or at least an elder and the others seemed to accept his leadership without question. I envied Stubble head.

After a few moments the group decided to go investigate the area where the shots had come from. One of the voices was saying they thought they’d spotted a deer moving in that direction right before the shots were fired. Satisfied that these people didn’t pose an immediate threat, I turned back to John hold a silencing finger to my lips and told him to get up.

We made it to our feet without any great noise, not that it was likely we would be heard over the sound of frogs chirping away, a sound that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once. I thought for a second about all the hand signals I was using. We weren’t having any communication issues in that respect and made a note to ask John about it later. I signaled move out and pointed in the direction I wanted us to go. John gave me a thumbs up and we began to move.

I was straining my eyes looking for twigs and roots that might trip me. Being this focused on one task was not good, but I didn’t want to make any noise that might give us away. I thought this was an excellent plan and I made a mental note to give myself a gold star later for my awesomeness.

As we approached the edge of the field I froze with one foot in the air yet and flashed the ‘freeze’ sign back at John, hoping he could see it. Stubble head left a sentry at the place where they’d been standing. He didn’t give any sign that he’s seen or heard us before we pulled up only a few scant feet away.  Two more steps and my face would’ve smacked into the back of the sentry’s head.

I eased my foot to the ground and stood unmoving while I tried to decide how to proceed. The decision was made for me as a sound like a bird call drew the sentry away from his post. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding and mentally chuckled. I’d drawn Sweet Louise without really thinking about it. I gave the hand signal for John to move up. “Finn?” he called out. I turned prepared to drive Sweet Louise through his stupid not-knowing-to-keep-quiet-mouth and saw Stubble head holding a Ka-bar very much like my Sweet Louise to John’s throat.

I sheathed my Ka-bar and held up my hands. As soon as I did I felt what I had to guess was the muzzle of a gun pressed to the back of my head. Why, I asked myself, why did I call on Odin?

The barrel of the gun pressed harder into the back of my head and I heard a hammer being cocked.

“Figures” I muttered mostly to myself and tried my best to smile at our captors convincingly.

Chapter 18 – Belt Fed Revolution

The bodies at the bottom of the hill had been stripped clean of what people considered valuables. The contents of the cars had also been tossed down the roadside. I noticed a lack of tire irons and other things that made good weapons of opportunity. Mostly there was windshield wiper fluid, jump leads and the randomness that makes up people’s second homes. One item of interest was a roll of burlap three feet wide by 50 feet long. I grabbed this up along with a couple of empty water bottles. Everything else was junk including the bodies.

John was stripping the shirt off one of the larger males and using it to make a pack. A snappy one liner ran through my head but I dismissed it and left him to his task. I crouched at the bottom of the ditch waiting for John to finish collecting the things he thought would help him, all the while I kept scanning with the monocular.

The quiet no longer bothered me. It no longer bothered me mostly because there was little quiet. The sounds just weren’t the sounds I was used to hearing. Red winged blackbirds–highway birds as I thought of them for their insistence on gathering in the median–were calling out to each other soliciting mates and warning off rivals. Combined with the ravens and other birds in the cornfields around us, the birdsong itself was a screen to most noise. Hel, it was deafening.

I looked out to the ravens in the field and apologized for interrupting their meal. My hand went to my hammer beneath my shirt and I called out to the ravens asking them to remember my name to the All-Father. I thought about that for a moment afterward and realized I might not necessarily want Odin as my battle buddy. Instead I thought of my grandfather and my uncle and hoped they were watching with approval.

I looked up and realized John had been standing next to me for some time. I cursed myself again for my less than sterling situational awareness. “Ready?” I asked as I stood. “As I’ll ever be. I didn’t find much on them, but I took what I thought might help.” He dug into his pocket and withdrew a piece of blue metal “Found this too. I needed a knife.” He unfolded the blue metal into what I thought of as a carpet knife. He had a lockblade knife that was fed with razor blades that could be replaced when they wore out. I nodded my approval as I turned it over in my hand. “Find any blades to go with it?” He smiled and held out his other hand which contained a small plastic case of refills.”Sweet.” I said and handed his knife back to him. “Aww, you too!” I raised an eyebrow at him as he let out a laugh. Good to know he had found a sense of humor again. We would need every mental tool at our disposal to make it through what our lives had become.

****

Our march didn’t have much more to go. Lucky for me as I didn’t think I’d be able to do the marching. The copse of pines turned out to be a bit farther away than I had thought and I was still trying to determine whether or not the fact that it separated two farm fields was a good thing. As we got closer I saw that among the pines were some scrubby little deciduous trees mostly young boxwood  and elms. I wished I’d bought some Real Tree camo; I would be almost invisible here with it.

I chose a spot amongst the leafy trees that had clustered together and dropped my pack there. My back thanked me for it with another twinge of pain. I grabbed my scavenged burlap and begin to unroll it. I used my Ka-bar to cut the burlap into strips and after a bit of rummaging in my ruck I came up with a small sewing kit. I cut the burlap into a few long sections which I left intact and began sewing the smaller strips onto it. John watched me with something approaching fascination.

“Well,well, if it isn’t little Suzy Homemaker lost in the woods!” I laughed at his joke and continued sewing. “Well?” he looked at me as if expecting an answer to an unasked question. “Well what,John?” “What are you making, Ms Homemaker?” he chortled. I stared at him until the smile left his face. “The proper term would be a ‘field expedient ghillie suit’ ” I replied and added “Jackass.” He continued to look puzzled. Fuck him, I thought. It’s not my job to educate the whole damn world.

I kept working on the suit and test fitted it to see if it would cover my ruck when I was wearing it and how far down it would hang. Eventually I came up with something resembling a poncho that covered me almost to the knees. Satisfied with this I gathered up some of the local plant life and began adding it to the suit. When I was satisfied I laid back against my ruck and closed my eyes. “Uh, excuse me?” Well that was nice. I had closed my eyes for about ten whole seconds. “What, John?”  He wasn’t trying to hide his exasperation. I appreciated that since I reading facial and verbal cues wasn’t a huge strong suit for me. “What do you think you’re doing?” I sat forward and looked up at him. “Sleep, John. What I am trying to do is called ‘sleep’. You are on watch and I am going to lay my ass here and rest for several hours.” I tossed the burlap to him “While you are not busy patrolling the perimeter, try to make yourself a ghillie cape, or frilly ghillie dress. Whichever moves you.”

John threw the burlap back at me “Look, I’ve about had it with the damn gay jokes, okay? And what the hell do you mean you’re going to sleep? Shouldn’t we be moving? I mean I don’t know about you, but I…” That was as far as I let him get. I leapt to my feet, my revolver came out and landed barrel first against his forehead knocking him backwards a bit. “Not a democracy, Johnny. This is what I am doing. You don’t like it get gone, but don’t you open your mouth to utter one single word of complaint.” I looked at him to see if I was cutting through his line of bullshit to the part of him that did the thinking. I thumbed back the hammer on the revolver and took aim at him. “This is the last time I am going to have this conversation. Say anything other than an agreement or goodbye.” I walked forward and pressed the revolver to his forehead. For a moment I saw a glimmer in his eye that was telling him to grab the 9 millimeter and meet me and his death like a man. I wasn’t conscious of how much pressure I had on the trigger but we were reaching the point of no return. John just stood there looking bewildered. I dropped the revolver and decocked it.

John stood there rubbing his head. I apologized mentally to my grandfather who had always told me not to point a gun at something I wasn’t going to kill. Although in fairness to myself,I thought, I would have killed John. He relented and held up his hands in surrender. “Okay. Sorry, you’re in charge Mr Stalin” he thumbed away a trickle of blood from where I had bashed him with the gun’s barrel. “But if it’s not too much trouble, would you clue me into the plan?”

I dropped back onto my ruck and holstered my revolver. “I’m going to sleep for a few hours. Then I’m going to wake up and let you sleep. It’s called standing watch.” I made a the motion of a man walking with my fingers “you are going to keep an eye on things while I sleep. If anything looks wrong, you will wake me up and I will go kill it.” I pointed up at the sky “and when it gets dark, we will start moving so as not to make ourselves huge, and in your case flaming, floating,dancing targets to anyone with eyes”.

I closed my eyes and pulled the impromptu ghillie over my head. “And” I said as I kicked out my legs to relax “I’m in charge. I get to make the gay jokes. When you’re in charge you can pick something about me and make jokes about it.” I folded my arms over my chest and swatted at something flying near my face. “And by the way? You’re never going to be in charge.” He threw something at me and I chuckled. I was just able to reach my holster with my hands across my chest as they were, so I drew it out and held it in my hand as I faded off to sleep. As I did I thought I heard John say “We’ll see about that, fuckstick.”